Monday, November 14, 2011

Is history repeating itself?

Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who feared not the faces of men, and were ready to lay down their lives in the cause of their God, would have tolerated it, for a moment, in the Christian Church.

Baptist hero Richard Furman wrote the words above in a document entitled "The Views of Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States." The first edition of this pamphlet was published in 1822 and a second edition was produced in 1838, some 13 years after Furman's death. For decades this biblical defense of slavery became the model for Bible-based arguments in favor of owning people in this country. Baptists and many other Southern evangelicals were just sure that there was nothing wrong with holding slaves and they adamantly claimed to have the Bible on their side. On the other hand, other Christians, mainly in other parts of the country, made biblical arguments against slavery.

These days we think Southern Christians were wrong to defend slavery back then and we are ashamed of the biblical arguments made by Furman and others. We repudiate their take on the scriptures as adamantly as they clung to it.

This bit of history is one thing that concerns me about the prevailing position of evangelicals regarding homosexuality. Most evangelicals, including most Baptists, say today that all homosexual behavior is wrong and they point to a handful of biblical passages to support this claim. But some other Christians interpret the scriptures in a more affirming way regarding homosexuality.

Is it possible that someday Christians will look back on the prevailing position of Baptists and other evangelicals on homosexuality today in much the same way that we look back on the position concerning slavery of Richard Furman and other Baptists of the 1800s? Whatever your answer to that question, we have got to learn to talk about this issue in a healthy way. We've got to figure out a way to discuss this important topic with a humility inherent to the realization that we see as through a glass darkly--we don't know it all.

And we've been wrong before.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A decline in spiritual vitality in churches

According to a recent survey, the percentage of U.S. congregations reporting high spiritual vitality declined from 43 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2010. Did those numbers sink in? That's a drop of 15 percentage points in five years.

The article linked above reporting this news also notes the unsurprising fact that, according to research, "spiritually alive churches are the most likely to grow." Even so, it appears that there has been a precipitous decline in spiritual vitality in churches of this country. Why?

I think one reason for this disturbing decline is that church folks are just too busy, and not necessarily with church work. Oh, there are some church folks who are certainly overworked in doing church work. But I fairly regularly have folks who do not hold many if any positions in the church who tell me that they are too busy to participate in events designed to promote spiritual vitality.

Because so many folks are time poor these days, here at Woodhaven Baptist, we just launched a non-event-based approach to encouraging spiritual vitality to supplement our event-based programs. In a nutshell, the new initiative involves pairing men and pairing women in the church who commit to gather once per week for prayer, fellowship and discussing a reading assignment. Each pair meets at a time and place of its choosing and decides on its own pace of reading. Furthermore, each person in each pair is encouraged to invite an unchurched friend, neighbor or co-worker to join the group. So each group is composed of a maximum of four men or four women, two of whom are church members and two of whom are not.

It is the most flexible plan for relationship building, communal prayer, and outreach that I can imagine. We will continue to hold various church events designed to foster greater spiritual vitality. But it is just getting harder and harder to find times for church events that many folks can attend beyond Sunday morning (and even Sunday morning is not as easy as it used to be it seems).

Will our new non-event-based approach to promoting spiritual vitality help in a time poor culture? We just launched the plan yesterday, so that remains to be seen. But if many folks say they are too busy even for a plan so flexible, then I see only one alternative: Encourage our people to simplify.

We should probably encourage simplification anyway.