Friday, October 9, 2009

Faith Healing

Another sad example of people misapplying the principles of Scripture.
On the last day of Kent Schaible's life, his parents and pastor intensely prayed over his 32-pound body, which, unbeknown to them, was ravaged by bacterial pneumonia. When the 2-year-old boy finally died at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 24 inside the family's Northeast Philadelphia home, the pastor called a funeral director to take the boy's remains to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office.

At no time that day, nor in the week-and-a-half prior, did Herbert and Catherine Schaible seek medical treatment for their son despite his sore throat, congestion, liquid bowel movements, sleeplessness and trouble swallowing, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said in court yesterday.

"All it would have taken is a simple visit to a doctor for antibiotics or Tylenol, maybe, to keep this child alive," she said during the couple's preliminary hearing.

After the two attorneys representing the Schaibles argued for their innocence, Municipal Judge Patrick Dugan held them for trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.
Taking your child to the doctor is in no way a demonstration of a lack of faith. Unfortunately, this could've been avoided had this couple's pastor known anything at all about the way God works. God is active in this world. He is not a passive spectator watching everything that happens to us. He's also totally sovereign. Each event in our lives is part of his plan, but we also must realize that he has ordained that these events come to pass through secondary causes.

God chooses to use natural events and real people to accomplish his will here on earth. That doesn't mean supernatural things don't happen, but we have plenty of evidence that secondary causes are God's chosen means for getting things done. God installs the leader of this nation, but he uses the votes of real people to do so. In the same way, God is the great physician, but he heals people through the work of doctors, nurses, and advancements in medicine.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of the dangers in not having a strong grasp on doctrine and Biblical teaching.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More on Coral Ridge

One of the issues surrounding the current schism within Coral Ridge PCA is the assertion by new pastor Tullian Tchividjian that politics should not be preached from the pulpit. This question of how involved church leaders, and pastors in particular, should be in local and national politics has interested me for some time. I'm a very opinionated and politically informed person. My initial tendency is always that the church should be actively involved in influencing the political realm at every level and in every way, but is that the Biblical view?

We had a discussion about this a few weeks ago in our officer training session, in which our pastor talked about what he called the traditional southern presbyterian view on the church and politics. It's traditionally been taught in churches like ours that the purpose of the Sunday morning worship service is, well, the worship of God; and that the pastor's priority is the exposition of the Word of God to the people. The southern presbyterian view is that it's the pastor's job to inform the people from the pulpit concerning the Biblical principles that govern every area of life - including public policy and political thought. It is then incumbent on the individual members of the church to go out and apply those principles to every aspect of their lives, and to the political and public policy debates. When church members get involved in the local school board, run for other public offices, and vote for candidates that align with Biblical principles as outlined from the pulpit on Sundays, the church is then indirectly, but effectively, influencing the political landscape.

I've always found it disturbing to hear pastors telling members which candidates to vote for in elections, and using their pulpits to endorse certain campaigns. It happens quite a lot in many of the black churches here in Macon, where a church service can resemble a political rally at times. (On a related note, the "reverend" Jeremiah Wright is coming to Macon this month to "preach" at St. Paul AME.) However, I also tend to think that we as Christians have a duty to be involved in our government and in the making of public policy.

So, is Tchividjian correct in steering Coral Ridge away from it's high profile association with the religious conservative movement under Dr. Kennedy? There is no question that Dr. Kennedy sought to directly shape the political landscape both through his preaching and related ministries. His sermons, which were aired on television and radio for years, would often take on legalized abortion, homosexuality, evolution, and the idea that America had strayed from its founding Christian principles. He was a member of the Moral Majority, and was constantly quoted as wanting to "reclaim America for Christ." Some have accused him of being a Dominionist - of wanting America to be ruled by Christians, according to Biblical Law - however, I don't see his teachings going to quite the extremes of Christian Reconstructionism.

Tchividjian, on the other hand, seems to fall more in line with the southern presbyterian model, and is certainly of the opinion that preaching should be expository in nature. While I have a tendency to enjoy hearing Dr. Kennedy calling America out, I also tend to think that preaching should be more focused on explaining the Scriptures. Don't get me wrong, the Bible has a lot to say about many of the hot button political issues of our day, and when a pastor is preaching from the whole of Scripture he should not be afraid to explain the truth on each of these issues. It's difficult to know where to draw the line.

I suppose my view is that the pulpit is the place for revealing God's will through his Word, and that pastors should stick to doing just that. If that means pointing out what the Bible says about a particular political issue, then so be it. But politics shouldn't be the dominant topic of discussion on Sunday mornings. On the other hand, we are called to change our culture, not withdraw from it, so it's up to us as members of the body of Christ to go out and apply the principles explained to us from the pulpit in our communities.

I'm seeing more and more of the younger generation of believers displaying an almost knee-jerk reaction against the evangelical church's association with the "Christian right." Unfortunately, I think it almost always seems to be an overreaction. So many of the leaders within the so-called "emergent" movement are so heavily focused on running away from the issues typically emphasized by traditional evangelicals like Dr. Kennedy, that they end up glossing over or totally leaving out the true Gospel, replacing it with just another warmed over version of the heresy of the social gospel. It's probably true that the younger crowd of believers these days would not respond well to Dr. Kennedy's brand of preaching. However, I hope that we don't go too far in our attempts to appeal to the surrounding culture.

I'm excited about Tchividjian and the possibilities he represents for moving our denomination into the future. I hope, and have every confidence, that he will remain true to the Word of God.

Coral Ridge Presbyterian

It's difficult to watch what's happening at Dr. Kennedy's Coral Ridge Presbyterian, however it is very indicative of some of the issues bubbling under the surface within our denomination right now. So many of our churches, like our own FPC Macon, are finding it very difficult to come to grips with what it means to be relevant while also remaining faithful.

I'm only just now learning about the situation at Coral Ridge, but the news today that 2 elders have resigned from the session of this very influential church is disturbing and sad. After reading some of the back-story, it sounds like it's the typical situation that more and more conservative, traditional evangelical churches are starting to have to face these days: the culture has changed, and the younger generation of pastors wants to change the ways we are reaching it.

A while back, after the death of D. James Kennedy - a man I admired greatly - the church voted by a wide margin to offer the post of senior pastor of Coral Ridge to Billy Graham's grandson, Tullian Tchividjian. Tchividjian had been the pastor of New City Church - a smaller congregation of mostly younger people, which he merged with the existing congregation of Coral Ridge. It sounds like he also brought in his own leadership team, replacing many long-time staff. Evidently, Tchividjian also decided that wearing a robe while preaching was not necessary (I know it seems silly, but this has been quite the controversy in our denomination. We had the same little outburst within our congregation when our head pastor started wearing a suit several years ago), and also has stopped what he calls "preaching politics from the pulpit." Dr. Kennedy was a founding member of the Moral Majority, and one of the leading voices in the religious conservative movement. More on that later. Other changes included moving toward a more contemporary worship service (the good ole worship wars - also a big issue within the PCA right now), and modifications to evangelism and other popular programs.

Evidently, a group of 6 influential church members, including Dr. Kennedy's daughter, took advantage of the unrest these changes were causing and began organizing resistance to Tchividjian. After writing letters to the congregation and circulating a petition suggesting he be fired, Tchividjian had the members banned from the premises. It seems a bit harsh, and it certainly offended my innate Baptist congregational sensibilities - at least initially. But if this was done in accordance with the requirements for church discipline, as laid out in our Book of Church Order, then the case could certainly be made that they were causing disunity within the congregation and refusing to submit to the authority of the session. About a month later, after nearly 400 members had petitioned for a vote on Tchividjian's removal, the church held a congregational vote which overwhelmingly confirmed support for the new pastor.

Now, we obviously don't know all the details, but my guess is that Coral Ridge had a significant portion of long-term, probably older members, who bristled at the changes that their new pastor started making. I can't speak to the specifics of what happened, but it's possible that TT (I can't keep typing that name over and over again) may have tried to institute these changes a little too quickly. I know that a similar fallout would probably occur if some of these same changes were made all at once in our church. I can sympathize with some of the long term members who have supported the church for years, both financially and with their time, only to see these "young whippersnappers" come in and take over, a-changing everything they worked so hard to establish. However, if these changes were made with the approval of the session, as long as they were acting within the guidelines of our constitution and the Scriptures, then I see little room for argument.

Perhaps the new leadership didn't handle everything as well as they could have, but it's also true, at least according to TT, that many of the dissidents didn't follow the Biblical model of confronting fellow believers. In this Christianity Today interview, TT suggests that his critics should've come first to him personally with their grievances, as is outlined in Matthew 18. Instead, and this is still according to TT, they immediately began undermining him and the church leadership among the congregation. If this is in fact true, then I have to say that he was probably justified in breaking off communion with these members.

This just illustrates that even those churches who have a strict set of guidelines for the government of the church will still have to deal with the fact that pastors, elders and members are always going to be sinful, fallen people. These kinds of problems will always exist within the church, as long as different people hold different views about what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, this particular conflict is being played out in front of the entire nation, and is not exactly helping win people to Christ. Many former members of Coral Ridge have already splintered to form a new church, and it looks like there is little hope for reconciliation.

I have to say that my initial reaction to what I've learned is that Coral Ridge's new pastor and session have acted correctly in what is a very unfortunate conflict. I'm sure there are things they wish they'd done differently, but my guess is that Tchividjian has the best interests of this congregation at heart, and is implementing what he thinks is the best plan for reaching people for the Gospel. Changes of this nature will always create schism within such a traditional, conservative denomination; but perhaps they are necessary for reaching the current culture.