Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Church (Page 1 of 5)

Church reborn – A sermon for the seventh Sunday of Easter (Pentecost)

[This post is the transcript of a sermon I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s text is Acts 2:1-21. You can read it here.

Introduction

I have the honour of preaching on the Day of Pentecost. It’s a particular honour because today is also a significant day in the life of St Giles’ Church, Exhall. Why? Because it’s the final Sunday before our new vicar formally takes up her role. Almost a year of self-examination, anticipation and preparation is drawing to a close, and hopefully we’re all looking forward to moving into a new season filled with hope and possibility.

So as we stand on the threshold between these two seasons in the life of our church, reflecting on the journey that’s brought us to this point and wondering what lies ahead, I’d like us to take a few moments to see what we can learn from what happened to Jesus’ followers as they gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

Gathered together

The first thing I notice in our reading from Acts is that, as Luke, the writer, tells us, “they were all together in one place”. This might seem an insignificant detail, easy to skip over without giving it a second thought. They were all in a room together – so what?

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Book review: Postcards from Babylon by Brian Zahnd

America is an empire, which means the biblical forebear with which it should rightly be most closely associated is not Israel but Babylon. Such is the contention of Missouri-based pastor and author Brian Zahnd in his most recent book Postcards from Babylon: The Church in American Exile, released January 2019.

The parallel between the modern day United States of America and biblical Babylon, that great whore and arch-enemy of Christ, is one that is rarely drawn. Understandably, the average freedom-loving American patriot might initially balk at it. But such is the force and clarity of Brian’s prophetic message and writing that the parallel, once seen, is hard to ignore and even harder to dispute.

All of Brian’s books (see here, here and here) have a prophetic edge, but none so sharp as in Postcards. Now, I realise “prophetic” is one of those words that is sometimes all too easily assigned to a message or book to give it a certain aura of authority and relevance; be assured I do not use it in such glib fashion here. If the hallmarks of prophecy include proclaiming inconvenient truths, urging faithfulness in an age of compromise and holding the church to account, then Postcards is more prophetic a work than most. The great Walter Brueggemann – he of The Prophetic Imagination fame – thinks so too, writing in the foreword:

The more I learn of Zahnd’s work, the more I have deep respect and appreciation for his truth-telling. This book is a reprimand and an invitation to his fellow evangelicals about how the way has been lost and what it will mean to ‘come home,’ because it is a gift to come down where we ought to be! Beyond his immediate circle, however, Zahnd addresses all of us, because all of us in the Christian community in the U.S. are too readily narcotized by the mantras of Caesar, Constantine, and their continuing heirs.

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The long, slow work of God – A sermon for Candlemas

[This post is the transcript of a sermon I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is Luke 2:22-40. You can read the text here.

They came, as called, according to the Law.
Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,
They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,
For God was coming with them to His temple.
Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle
They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,
Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,
Had made a killing on the two young doves.
They come at last with us to Candlemas
And keep the day the prophecies came true
We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,
The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.
For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,
Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

(“Candlemas”, a sonnet by English poet and Anglican priest Malcolm Guite)

Introduction

A week before Christmas, a momentous event happened in our family: our grandson and first grandchild was born. All those long months of preparation and waiting came to an end, questions were answered (“Who will he look like?”), hopes were fulfilled (“I hope he’s healthy”), and our son and daughter-in-law’s world was rather abruptly turned upside down.

You may or may not be a baby person. I’ve always been a bit of a baby person. To hold a young baby in your arms and look into its eyes – into that wide-eyed, penetrating gaze – is to experience a moment of pure, unfiltered presence and a deep feeling of connection.

Becoming a grandparent is one of those experiences that has the potential to shift your perspective on life. As I look at my little grandson, I wonder how my own child suddenly became not just an adult but now a parent. And I can’t help looking back at my own life, recalling what it was like to be a child, remembering the hopes and dreams I once had, and thinking about all the many forks in the road, the myriad choices that have brought me to this moment, with this grandchild, full of promise and potential.

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Author interview: Alan Molineaux, Sea and Islands

Sea & IslandsA little while ago, an online acquaintance named Alan Molineaux announced that he was publishing his first book, titled Sea and Islands: A Search for Evangelical Morphodoxy. I thought it sounded interesting so I approached Alan and he kindly sent me a review copy. As I have occasionally done before, rather than writing a straight review I thought it would be interesting to interview Alan to find out a bit more about the motivation behind the book and its message.

Alan lives in West Yorkshire, where he leads a church as well as running a management training business. He previously worked in the electronics industry and has an M.A. in Pastoral Theology.

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Alan, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about yourself and your book. First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your spiritual journey?

I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church in Manchester, England at the age of fifteen. Having originally trained in electronics, my wife and I planted a church in Norfolk in 1993. Shortly afterwards I began studying for an M.A. in Pastoral Theology. Following something of a personal crisis, we moved to Yorkshire and I returned to business management. It wasn’t long before the urge to plant a church gripped us again and we started a small congregation in Bingley, West Yorkshire in 2008.

During all of this, we have travelled from some of the certainties of Pentecostalism to a wider appreciation of church history and practice.

What would you say is the single most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in all your years in church leadership?

Don’t be so consumed with a vision that you lose your essential self. Many of the leadership events we went to during our early time of ministry massaged our need to “succeed”. Larger churches were presented as the gold standard and we were encouraged to “enlarge our tents” without being fully aware of the cost that might be paid by ourselves and others.

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Some thoughts on Lent, repentance and the power of symbol

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This year I’m observing Lent for the first time.

For most of my Christian life – over thirty years, in fact – I’ve attended Pentecostal churches. Seasons on the church calendar like Lent and Advent barely register on the radar of Pentecostal and other non-traditional churches. However, we’re now transitioning into a local Anglican congregation. What this means in practice is that we’re also still going to our former Pentecostal church every few weeks to keep our daughter company. (Going to both a Pentecostal and an Anglican church makes for some interesting contrasts, I can tell you!)

Anyway, this means I have the opportunity to experience some of the more ancient practices of the church in ways that I’ve never even been aware of before. Thus my observance of Lent.

In brief, Lent is a period running up to Easter during which Christians focus specifically on prayer, repentance, self-denial and charity. It generally begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday), though there are variations depending on which branch of the church you belong to (Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant). This period is intended to commemorate the forty days Jesus is said to have spent in the desert before commencing his public ministry. It is essentially an opportunity to quiet the voice of the ego or the “false self” (what the Apostle Paul often referred to as “the flesh”) and allow certain behaviours and/or thought patterns to die so that the Spirit can breathe new life in their place.

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Some thoughts on the Eucharist, Anglican style

3294797689_811f4439b2_bI’ve written about the Eucharist (aka Holy Communion) before, notably here and here. But today I want to share a couple of brief thoughts about my own recent personal experience of this sacrament.

In recent months I’ve received the Eucharist a number of times in an Anglican church. Being a Pentecostal of thirty years’ standing, there are some key differences in the way Communion is celebrated in these two traditions that really stand out to me.

First, let me summarise how I’ve known Communion to be understood and practiced within the Pentecostal tradition with which I’m oh so familiar.

In the churches of which I’ve been a part, Communion has always been made out to be a Big Deal. There has been an air of solemnity about it, perhaps heightened by the fact that it’s often the only vaguely ritualistic component of an otherwise very free and fluid style of corporate worship. There are two features of the typical Pentecostal Communion that appear to be central:

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Some thoughts on church growth

HillsongSaddleback Church in California, pastored by Rick Warren of Purpose Driven Life fame, recently announced a three-year, $71 million fundraising campaign to finance what leaders are calling its “largest and most ambitious plan ever to expand the mega-church’s ministry”. Yes, that’s right, your eyes didn’t deceive you: I said $71 million.

This is a staggeringly large amount of money, and I guess it’s a fair bet that a good chunk of it will go into bricks and mortar and technology. But I don’t really want to get into a critique of Saddleback Church itself. This news has, however, had me pondering about church growth and how it is understood and pursued, particularly among western evangelical churches.

You see, to me this is a striking example of how much of the western church relentlessly pursues numerical growth as the one and only valid mark of “success”. Indeed, at this point I’d say that a good many churches and church leaders have numerical growth firmly at the top of their list of signs of a “successful” church.

The reason I’m putting “success” and “successful” in quotes is that when it comes to church purpose and vision, I don’t think the word “success” should even be part of the conversation.

All I really want to do today is offer some brief thoughts on why it is that so many western evangelical churches have bought into the “success as numerical growth” paradigm. (Note that I didn’t say “all evangelical churches”, or even “most evangelical churches”… so please don’t shoot me down in flames as a church-hater, because I’m not. I’ve been a paid-up member of evangelical churches for thirty years, and still am as of today.)

So, here are three of the top reasons why I think a great many western evangelical churches are sold out on numerical growth:

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