Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What Religion ARE You Here?

Dear Friends,

It was a few years ago that an older visitor introduced herself before the service and told me that she had grown up in the Foursquare Pentecostal church. But after the service, she approached me with a confused expression on her face. “So what religion ARE you here?” she asked. It took self-control to restrain my inappropriate sense of humor and not reply, “We’re Muslims, ma’am.”  And of course what I told her was that we were a non-denominational Evangelical, Charismatic church. I watched her confusion turn into a look of disbelief. We just didn’t fit into her Protestant experience. I could understand why...

The praise music that day had been celebratory, loud, contemporary. People coming into the presence of God. Tears running down faces; hands raised to the heavens. Ah yes. Very Pentecostal. The worship that morning had included a tender, vulnerable time under the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Okay.. so they’re definitely Charismatic!! But then, throughout the service, an emphasis on the Trinity and the Word of God. Could they be Evangelical? No, because the pastor wore a clerical collar, a significant time was spent on the liturgy for the weekly Holy Communion and Mother Teresa was used as the sermon illustration. They all recited the Lord’s Prayer and they even have an altar with lit candles. So, maybe they’re Catholic? They definitely don’t look like any Pentecostal church I’ve seen! But wait..the pastor – or was he a priest? – had a strong emphasis on what he called their “3-11 Ministry” from Luke 3:11. He talked about helping others in need and they even gave their entire Christmas offering to a missions group who digs wells in undeveloped countries! Maybe they’re one of those  progressive “Social Gospel” churches. But, could you believe that sermon? All that talk about the ancient church and the handout with the 2,000 year old prayers and praying three times a day with the Eastern and Russian Orthodox church and on and on about the beauty of church liturgy! And the pastor has a beard! Oh my gosh! Could this be an Orthodox church?

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There was a large sign on the outside of a First Baptist Church that read:
Pastor Conflicted After Reading Church Fathers.

I can relate to that!! Knowing what the Apostolic and Church Fathers taught the early church can really mess up a Protestant’s way of doing church today. It has been said that, “ read deeply in history is to cease being Protestant.” Disturbing yes, but in truth we may need to cease being “Protestant” in order to become the authentic Christian church. Because something is missing. And while we don’t need to convert to Catholicism to find it, we may need to look back to the father of our Protestant faith, Martin Luther, to restore it.

Martin Luther failed in his efforts to reform his Roman Catholic church back to the biblical ancient church and he inadvertently started the Protestant Christian movement. But if Luther could look today at megachurch Vegas-style services, progressive social justice churches and prosperity preachers, he would not recognize his beloved church. That’s why there are those today who have called for church reform and who started the “Ancient/Future” church movement. This is not a fad or the latest trend in Evangelical churches. It’s a movement to reform the Protestant church and return it to the rich biblical and spiritual treasures that are found within the liturgy and practices of the ancient church. We need to “Lutherize” the church!

Conservative theologian and scholar J.I. Packer called evangelicalism a “stunted ecclesiology rooted in our alienation from our past.” And as early as 1977, a group of Evangelical church leaders issued a historic document which stated in part: “We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scripture and the Spirit made us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures..” (You might want to read that last part again)

The Ancient/Future Church seeks to restore us to our past and focuses on traditional Apostolic teaching that embodies authentic Christian faith and on living out that distinctive faith in community with others. They embrace symbols, sacraments, contemplative prayer, and living in the Presence of God with an emphasis on sacrifice, service to others and a rejection of worldliness.

New Hope Family Church is biblically-rooted in the ancient teachings and traditions of the early New Testament church which is why we can be ecumenical in our services today. It astonishes me to think that, where we hold our Wednesday service, I am the pastor of a church of (mostly) Roman Catholics along with Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Episcopalians, Baptists, and a former leader in the Church of Scientology! Our “Ancient/Future” church strives to replicate the early church which was Evangelical, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were Liturgical, practicing rituals and traditions established by the Apostles and early church fathers. They were Charismatic, believing that the Holy Spirit imparted spiritual gifts to each one to be used in ministry to others. And, they lived out a Social Gospel, doing for others as Jesus would have us do for Him.

"So what religion ARE you here?"
"We're Christians, ma'am."


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