Archive for the Rants Category

Why men hate going to church | Christian News on Christian Today

Posted in From others..., Rants with tags , , , on September 9, 2011 by johnfom


Drawing men to the pews may not be as simple as cutting sermons short and throwing out the cringe-making church talk

via Why men hate going to church | Christian News on Christian Today.

Although the linked opinion piece is light on practicalities, it at least leaves you with a counter example, and re-raises a couple of ideas (re WWI, etc) which I haven’t heard for a little while.

If I were to add my own perspective, I’d be looking to point out that churches tend to be run by men for women.  As such they end up not really being satisfactory for anyone.

*Warning: Gender stereotype zone begins*

The reasons for men leaving the church, or just never really setting foot in one, has occupied my thought on and off for close to 15 years now.  I don’t know that I’m any closer to a ‘silver-bullet’ for the problem than when I started, but one thing that does keep cropping up is credibility.

Too many churches seem to have an aversion to genuine challenges to their orthodoxy.  There is an almost palpable fear of probing questions.  Surely, if Jesus is ‘the truth’ then there is nothing to fear from difficult questions.  Churches should be encouraging questions, not offering cliched answers, about suffering, evil, war, politics, euthanasia, abortion, gender, justice… just about everything.

Instead, it’s my experience that some, admittedly learned, guy gets up the front, spouts on about ‘the right way to look at’ some verse or issue, (usually saying the same thing over and over again), everyone says ‘hear, hear’ and goes home to forget the sermon and get on with their lives.  Once in a blue moon the minister/pastor/priest will accidentally say something which gets to you for a while, but that’s relatively rare (sorry to all those who labour over their weekly homilies).

Blokes tend to like to make things, and when they make things they ‘stress test’ them.  You put up a swing for your 20kg kid and you’ll probably jump on the swing with your 80+kg mass (or in my case 100+) just to make sure it’s strong enough.  Put up a shelf and you’ll find yourself hanging from it for a few seconds to check that it won’t fall down under the weight of the half dozen glass trinkets your wife wants to put on it.  When you’re looking to buy a car you’ll check out the crash test info just to make sure it’s tough enough to withstand any other family members practicing their ‘parking by braille’ (of course, we blokes are awesome drivers and never inadvertently curb wheels or bump up against carpark walls) .

Some of the best times I’ve had with other men were times when we were testing out some new boat, or car, or pool, or whatever… putting it through it’s paces to find its limits

My advice to those who want to attract men to church… make your sermon simple and solid.  Then invite all and sundry (really invite, don’t just fling out a rhetorical invitation)  to help you to hit itwith everything they’ve got, and when the smoke clears, whatever still stands is worthwhile.  Stress test your sermons, and let the rest of us into ‘the shed’ to help you do that.

*End gender stereotype zone*

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Golden Vellum*

Posted in Rants with tags , , , on August 15, 2011 by johnfom

*Vellum: calfskin, lambskin, kidskin, etc., treated for use as a writing surface.

I’ve been meaning to write this one up for a while.  I’m a student of the bible but I’m dismayed at the level of idolatry of scripture in evangelical circles.  We call the bible the word of God, but I often think that it is mistaken for THE Word of God a found in John 1:1 (i.e. Jesus).  It must be said that the bible is not Jesus.  Even to a bibliophile such as myself, the bible should be recognised as ‘words about The Word of God’.  The following uses a famous story from scripture as a base in an attempt to highlight how wrong that worship of the bible is.

The Golden Vellum (a ‘Golden Calf‘ parable).

When the people saw that Jesus was so long in coming back, they gathered and said, “Come, let us make a god we can see. As for this fellow Jesus who brought us salvation, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Athanasius answered them, “Get all of the writings, the reports of our history and bring them to me.” So all the people got their writings and brought them to Athanasius. He took what they handed him and made it into a book, a bible, fashioning it into a canon, giving it gold-gilt pages. Then they said, “Here is the word of the Lord, which brings salvation.”

When the Synod of Hippo Regius saw this, they said “Let these writings be read at all the meetings of the Church.” So, the people gathered for selected readings from the canon, giving reverence to the bible and engaging in worship with it. Afterward they sat down with themselves to eat and drink.

Then the LORD said to Jesus, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought to salvation, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from me and from care for others, and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a book. They have bowed down before it and sacrificed their loyalty to it and have said, ‘Here is your god, Christians, who brought you salvation.’”

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Jesus, “and they are a stiff-necked people. My anger burns against them, but I wish to make them a people for me.”

When Jesus approached the Church and saw the bible and the things his Church had done in its name, his anger burned.

He said to the Church leaders, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

“Do not be angry, my lord,” they answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to us, ‘Make us gods who we can see. As for this fellow Jesus who brought us salvation, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So we told them, ‘Here is a book containing all of the wisdom of God. There is no truth other than what is in here.'”

Jesus saw that the people were suppressed and that the leaders had encouraged them to try to suppress others and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the Church and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And some of them came to listen to him.

Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, God, says: ‘When you see one who is hungry, feed them. When you see someone naked, clothe them. When you see someone thirsty, give them a drink. Welcome strangers of all kinds, look after those who are sick, and befriend those who have been shunned.’” The people who were for God did as Jesus commanded, and many people came to know God. Then Jesus said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against the your own brothers and sisters, and he has blessed you this day.”

Jesus said to the Church, “You have committed a great sin. But I have made atonement for your sin.”

So Jesus spoke to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves a god of writing. But, please forgive their sin.”

The LORD replied to Jesus, “If they repent, they will be forgiven of their sin. Because of you I will not punish them.”

But the LORD took his blessing from the Church because of what they did with the bible they had made.

New church?

Posted in Rants with tags , , on August 15, 2009 by johnfom

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about church and how the present young generation, and the next generation, are going to express their faith. I have a feeling that the big questions in theology are going to be in the area of ecclesiology.

More recently my haphazard mental wanderings have started going focussing on two partially related points of interest: Urban ecclesiolocy, and Churchless ecclesiology.

The following is a boring rambling of thought that might give you an idea of where I’m at with this…

***Warning! Ramble alert!!!!

In the first thread of thought, urban, I’m trying to imagine what a church born exclusively out of the city would look like. So far there isn’t, to my knowledge, a church which is completely originally ‘city’. The cultures in new cities are usually adaptations of village cultures, small pockets within the larger geographic area of the city. In the old cities I’ve looked at there seems to be an underlying ‘feel’ of the village worldview, but that seems to be breaking down as new(ish) technology impacts the culture.

Geographical boundaries are heading towards becoming meaningless, as are some time boundaries. In terms of travel, for example, most of Scotland can be viewed, with public transport and the proliferation of cars, etc., in a similar way today as a trip of 20 miles 100 years ago. That is to say, about a day’s travel away. People come from every corner of the surrounding areas to cities to work and play. While most church systems are built around local churches catering for local people, ‘local’ is becoming meaningless.

Distance becomes more meaningless when communications technology is factored in. When I was a lad…(Damn! I’ve become one of the four yorkshiremen. The apocalypse is surely nigh.) Anyway, when I was a lad, we used to have to wait for a parent was ready to ferry us around if we wanted to play with our friends. I’ve heard stories, and seen it myself, of how kids are using IM technology and Massively Multiplayer Online Games to play with their friends when transport (Mum’s taxi) isn’t available. Not as a replacement for, but in addition to, regular face to face playground interaction.

So, what would a church, built from the ground up in a culture where geography is largely meaningless, with few or no ties to historic forms, look like? What would the church of a ‘net-native’ look like? What current church forms would need to be kept/imitated to allow a person in relationship with God to recognise this new kind of church as a part of the body of Christ?

***Warning! Rant alert!!!!

This then leads into the other area of thought I’ve been following: Churchless church.

One statistic I’ve seen suggests that the net loss in church attendance in the US is 57000 per year. The article I read that in points out that the US troops lost in the whole Vietnam was was 58000. The situation in Europe is more dire from some accounts I’ve read. Its a largely meaningless comparison but brings a bit of perspective I suppose. More telling for me is the criteria for church attendance used for that statistic. To qualify as a church attendee you only had to turn up at a church once every year. If that’s church attendance, then I should really start claiming for frequent flyer status as I fly about once a year and I watch planes go over head almost every day.

The thing is that many of those leaving the church aren’t leaving faith, just the church. Personally I’ve heard lots of reasons to leave churches but the top of my anecdotal experience are a) churches have no connection to the rest of peoples lives b) some churches have been abusive in their wielding of power, c) many churches have become separated institutions where the people are reduced to being merely life support for that institution, and my personal experience of d) it’s easier to conduct ministry outside the church than inside the church.

Now, a man I consider to be wise (Les Ball) pointed out that any ‘movement’, if it is to survive beyond those who set it up, needs to have structure. I agree. If something is merely held together on the personality of an individual it will die once that individual does. The more I read about the churchless church the more I agree with the ideals of the rapidly growing movement. I also recognise that there are many christians out there in the world craving unrestricted, intelligent gatherings with other christians which don’t include those harmful elements of most institutional churches.

So I’ve been wondering, is there a way to set up a heirachicless, un-institutional ‘church’ which is flexible enough to change with culture and doesn’t encroach on the freedoms of it’s members?

I have some ideas involving ‘cyberspace internet tech in conjunction with real life ‘meatspace’ expressions, but I’d be interested in what you think.  What ideas you might have and also what misgivings.

Institutions

Posted in Rants with tags , , on February 18, 2009 by johnfom

NightedChrist Church of OxfordOver the last couple of weeks I’ve been turning my thoughts to the idea of institutions.

NightedBy institution I mean an organization, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause or program.  They are usually set up as an answer to some sort of problem or question in society. Most churches are institutions;  institutions initially devoted to the promotion of the Christian message and Christian life.  Goverments are institutions, or in many cases, collections of institutions ostensibly devoted to the promotion of a country’s or a society’s way of life.

Given enough time an institution becomes that other type of institution: a well-established and structured pattern of behavior or of relationships that is accepted as a fundamental part of a culture.  When that happens, one of the main aims of the institution becomes to maintain itself.  After all has become a fundamental part of culture.  If the institution disappears, the culture will collapse.

This is something that has been bothering me though. This seemingly ubiquitous tendancy for institutions to become self devoted organisms.  At some point, given enough time, or given enough size, an institution’s primary devotion becomes sustaining itself.  Sure it’s stated aims, it’s mission statement, it’s goals, etc all point towards what the institution WANTS to be known for, but ultimately it’s primary goal is to keep running, and in many cases expand, so that it can be around to attempt those stated aims.

But what happens when the culture moves on?  Even though an institution may become a fundamental part of culture, culture is a democratic animal.  Everyone who participates in a culture has the power to change it in small ways.  In fact everyone who participates in a culture DOES change it in small ways just by being a part of it!  What happens if the culture changes so much that the institution is no longer fundamental?

What happens if a particular institution is now answering a question that is no longer being asked?

What happens if technology changes society and culture so much that a particular institution is no longer the only, or the best, answer to the question it was set up to answer in the first place?

What happens if the institute has been around for so long, and has gotten so big, that it takes vast resources to keep it running and some people rely on it for their own lively hood?

What happens if an institution begins to cost more in resources, personell and time than it is worth to those who it is supposedly supporting?

In other words, what happens when the problem of the loss of an institution is more  about that the institution will be affected, rather than that the cause or program the institution was supposedly for will be affected?

Lord, Save us from legislation

Posted in From others..., Rants with tags , , , , on January 14, 2009 by johnfom

save-us

iMonk has reviewed and recommended a movie called ‘Lord, Save us from your followers.

The link to the preview of the movie is here

I haven’t seen the movie, only the ten minute preview, but I’m looking forward to seeing it when I have the money to buy it.

It seems to be mainly abot the culture wars in the US, which I don’t see as such a great problem in UK, but it does seem to fit in some way into my own view of how to conduct a ‘culture war’ as a Christian.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Bono, but his comment in the preview is something I can agree with.   He says that he was cynical, not about God, but abaout God’s politics (3:00 in the preview).  I’d say that it is the politics of the church that is at fault, not God himself, but the thought is still a good one.

When God created, he created everything necessary for life.  As part of that, he created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then told Adam and Eve not to eat of it.  What has facinated me for a long while now is that God, omniscient being that he is, knew the potential for Adam and Eve to eat that fruit.  He knew it would happen, and still He left the tree there.

He  didn’t rip the tree up. He didn’t put it in an unaccessable place.  In His infinite wisdom, he didn’t remove the thing that was going to drive a wedge between Him and his creation.  There’s no sarcasm in that statement.  God, who is all-knowing, all-wise, DID NOT make it impossible or even make it hard for the peak of his creation to sin.

Why then is it that we, of limited knowledge and questionable wisdom, see fit to attempt to censor others through legislation, seeking to impose our wisdom of what is wrong and dangerous on others?  How do we come to the conclusion that we should make laws that force others to conform to a Christian lifestyle?

Sure, God has used laws in the past (see Exodus, Leviticus and Deusteronomy in the bible), but even then it was in the contxt of his own people.  He didn’t extend those laws to the nations that were not in conscious relationship with Him.  He didn’t command, implore or otherwise encourage the Israelites to get those laws accepted by the nations they came in contact with.

In the time after Jesus’ physical time on Earth, Paul writes:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? (1 Cor 5:12)

What business is it of our’s, as the church today, to impose our way of life on others? For instance, people in the US recently waged a campaign against homosexual marriage.  I suspect church people involved are the same people who would wage a campaign against a secular government’s attempts to force churches to marry homosexuals or even employ them in a church.  It’s ok to force others to live our way of life, to impose our morality on them, but if they try to modify ours…

Our ‘business’ is to share what we know, and to make disciples. Not to conscript disciples and force others to live as we think they should.  That would be my confession (like the confessional in the movie 6:20).  That I, and the people I identify myself with, have overstepped the bounds of our authority, replaced our wisdom for the wisdom the god we are supposed to be serving.  That we have replace the rule of God with the rule of Law and tried to impose regulation rather than treating others as God treated Adam and Eve by leaving them to make thier own choices in the light of what they know and believe.

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