Immigrant Exodus

A couple of times before, at least, I have discussed the fact that we are seeing an immigrant exodus from the United States. Though there are still quite a few Brazilian immigrants around where I live, for example, the numbers seem to be thinning noticeably. My wife and I know people who have been picked up by immigration authorities. Some have been deported, others have cases rolling through the immigration courts. American citizen children have been packed off with their families to their parents’ home countries where they rarely speak the local language well. They will adapt, of course, but you can be sure that many of them will be returning when they turn 18.

A recent study by an anti-immigration think tank suggests that tougher law enforcement is what has removed so many people from the United States. This makes sense. People don’t like to fear a knock in the middle of the night and generally don’t want the anxiety of driving without a license (because federally-backed ID requirements have made state driver licenses nearly impossible to obtain for undocumented residents). Some have been deported, but many more have left willingly.

The study mentioned above suggests it was law enforcement, not the failing economy, that pushed immigrants out. That may be, but I do know that in Brazil the economy is now improving and their currency is currently very strong in comparison to the dollar. Could it be that all the returning workers, some with fresh skills and many with a nest-egg, are re-invigorating their home country’s economy? I don’t know, but I do know that in tough economic times, the last thing an economy needs is a shrinking market and a diminished entrepreneurial work force.

My prayer is that the Western world in general, and the United States in particular, develops ways to encourage legal immigration as well as economic and cultural exchange. Xenophobia, such as I have seen come from certain sectors of our society, is fear-based and ultimately ungodly. Hospitality is the only healthy way forward. As for me and my house, we will continue to attempt to serve the nations, especially but not exclusively Brazilians, who have found their way to this nation’s shores.

See also:
They Are Leaving
I Was Saying It

Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (4)

If you moved into a new town and there was a strong and growing Evangelical church, and a weak and declining Christian church, which would you likely attend?

This question has bothered me since the first time I read it a couple of weeks ago. Of course I understand the intent of the question, which is to test “brand loyalty” to the independent Christian Churches, but I have a hard time imagining the scenario.

Taking the question literally as possible, I will imagine first that I’ve moved to a town where there really are only these two churches. If the weak and declining Christian Church was that way only because of an aging membership, not because of some deep dysfunction in the congregation, I believe I’d go there. If whatever leadership was there didn’t mind, I’d start children and youth activities for my kids and invite their friends. These might or might not take place on church property, but I’d see it as necessary. If there were no preacher, I’d offer to preach. That is all because of who I am, though. I have experience in church leadership and have theological and ministerial training. My answer to this question is influenced by all that.

Now, imagining a more realistic situation where there really are more churches than just those two, or where there are neighboring towns within driving distance, here’s what I’d do:

First, I would check the town for an a cappella Church of Christ (that is, after realizing that the independent Christian Church had problems). If there was one and it was healthy, without too much sectarianism, I’d take the family there. If not, I’d keep looking.

Second, I would search the neighboring communities for a healthy church of either independent or a cappella backgrounds.

Third, if no church of either of the above branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement were available, at least not one in good conditions for a small family, I’d start looking at Disciples of Christ congregations.

Fourth, if no other option presented itself, I’d probably end up attending the evangelical church, but would start a Bible study in my home with a view toward it becoming a house church, then possibly a new congregation.

UPDATE
The complete series of posts on this topic:
Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (1-7)

Guest Post on World Convention

The following was received as an e-mail from someone who found my blog, as she herself explains. Wanting to share it, I asked and received her permission to publish it here. Today is the first day of the World Convention, so it seems appropriate. My thanks to Sara, and I hope for updates from her and others who attend World Convention.

______________________

I found your blog while Googling “World Convention,” and I appreciate the information you have provided. I am a deacon at Vine St. Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville, and I was very much excited a couple of years ago when I learned that World Convention was coming to Nashville. To my surprise, it has been little mentioned in my congregation; and after my Googling experience I suspect this is true within congregations of all three groups of the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Nonetheless, there was a sign-up table for World Convention volunteers at my congregation’s annual committee sign-up event. I will be working two afternoon shifts at the information desk and am looking forward to it. I also agreed to coordinate meals for international guests staying at our church. As it turned out, so many people were denied visas that we ended up with no one staying there.

I grew up as a devout member of the Church of Christ, fourth generation in one of my family lines. In college I suffered from major depression, and I wanted nothing further to do with God. Nonetheless, on the first weekend that I lived in my first apartment I passed a Methodist Church, a Presbyterian Church, a Church of Christ, and two Lutheran Churches [not to mention two synagogues] to attend Vine St. I knew that the Disciples shared a heritage with the Church of Christ, and I was particularly attracted by the shared belief in baptism by immersion and weekly communion. After a year of attendance, I joined, thirty-nine years ago this November.

Some of us who have left the Church of Christ (and there are a number of us at Vine St.) have been described as “whiners” who don’t appreciate the heritage our parents and grandparents gave us. All I can say is that some of us left the Church of Christ with real scars, which can take time to heal. But I am thrilled to attend an event with all three groups represented. May God bless all of us this week!

Sara Binkley Tarpley

Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (3)

Is your commitment to the Restoration Movement primarily doctrinal or familial, or both?

Both, but it wasn’t always that way. My entrance into the Restoration Movement was the result of the study of Scripture and the conclusion that, like it or not, this was the best way to go. I was terribly reluctant about the Movement in the beginning. As more and more of my contacts were within independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and the a cappella Church of Christ, it was only natural that my wife would come from this church background. Once I married her, my commitment to the Stone-Campbell Movement became familial as well as doctrinal. When the doctrinal part slipped and I would rather gone somewhere else to church or slept in (depression made me lethargic) my wife insisted we keep going. Now, even if my wife were not a factor, I believe I’d stay within the Movement anyway for doctrinal reasons, though not the same ones that once drew and kept me.

UPDATE
The complete series of posts on this topic:
Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (1-7)

A Brief Review of “The Shack”

There’s been quite a bit of blogger buzz about “The Shack,” written by Willliam P. Young, so I decided to buy and read it. Having finished it, my impressions are mixed.

To begin, I am a bit concerned about the depiction of God the Father. No, I didn’t mind Him being depicted as a large Black woman, although that does run rather contrary to Biblical depictions of Him as Father (feminine references to God exist but are far more rare and limited in the Scriptures). Rather, I was troubled that He was depicted at all. Western Christendom lacks a certain respect for God in this regard, not being satisfied with the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. On the other hand, I loved how the author described the relationship of love between the three Persons of the One Being that is God, and so far as I could tell the trinitarian doctrine seemed orthodox enough.

God and time was another problem I had with this book, because the author adopts the classic view that was received with some modifications from Plato. God’s knowledge of the future is shown as thoroughly complete, though somehow this isn’t supposed to interfere with human free will, and ignores the many passages of Scripture that speak of God changing His mind or taking a different approach in response to the actions of His creatures. However, considering that my view is most definitely in the minority, I shouldn’t argue too much with the use of the traditional perspective in this book.

One more area of concern was with regard to “responsibility and expectation.” The way this portion was written gives off an odd sort of mushy, pop evangelical vibe. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 NRSV). Yes, they are commandments in the context of a relationship, but they are commandments nonetheless. This antinomian feel in the book was somewhat off-putting to me.

This book may bring some to those experiencing tragedy. I’m not sure. I can’t say for certain whether it would have helped me deal with the sudden loss of my father a few years ago, and I suspect the words about God’s peace being with the victim in the story may come as little comfort to those who grieve. The book is, after all, a work of fiction.

Have you read “The Shack”? If so, what did you think about it?

Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (2)

Do you feel as strongly about being a part of the Restoration Movement today as you did fifteen years ago? What, if anything, has changed?

Fifteen years ago I was 17. That was the year I left the Roman Catholic Church after having studied the writings of all the major world religions and several minor ones. Those were the days before Internet, so the study was slow, depending on books and correspondence. I had time, though, on those long summer days and winter evenings on the farm. When I left the Roman Catholic Church, I joined a Presbyterian Church. If I had even heard of the Restoration Movement (I don’t think I had), I apparently wasn’t too impressed.

I came into this Movement very reluctantly at age 19, not wanting to believe that baptism (rather than a “sinners prayer” or an act of God’s independent sovereign grace independent of my faith) played a role in becoming a disciple of Christ. I had never attended an independent Christian Church/Churches of Christ, but came into contact with these churches through one of their Bible colleges. I only came to love the independent Christian Churches as I preached for them as a supply preacher on weekends, sent out by the Bible college, and then was supported by them to go to Brazil on a summer mission internship with one of their mission agencies.

Over the years I became pretty sectarian about the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and a cappella Church of Christ. I believed there were Christians in other fellowships, but that they really needed to come into the Movement. I became paranoid, believing there were conspiracies going on at high levels in the Movement to undermine the “Restoration plea.” I still think there are power plays and a sort of insider system with the independent Christian Churches, but don’t particularly care and certainly am not worried.

My sectarianism broke with the end of my ministry with Sunrise Christian Church in Farmington, New Mexico. What I experienced there as a church’s whipping boy and work horse (most of the members probably had no idea what was going on, I now realize) together with the sudden death of my father and compounded by the hardships we faced as a family trying to start over in New Jersey among the Brazilian immigrants here caused me to want to flee the Restoration Movement. I felt as though I had wasted years of my life on this Movement. I was equally broken and bitter.

My wife’s dogged determination that we had to attend church as a family and that no church outside the Movement was an option anchored me (or, I would have said, chained me) to this fellowship. Ultimately, what brought me back out of near-agnosticism was nothing inside the Movement, but rather the writings of C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald and N.T. Wright.

Though I am no longer angry or enthusiastic about the Restoration Movement, I am comfortable within it. It makes sense. The plea to be Christians only, however naive it may seem, is very appealing. I don’t take this as a “leap over the centuries” or an accomplished ideal realized in the present Movement, but as a personal, daily commitment of faith. Restoration remains very important to me, as it means that whatever the truth of Scripture really is, despite my dearly-held traditions, that is what I’ll follow. Rightly taken, it is the attitude of a learner. Unity is also key to me, as it requires humility for me to admit that what I believe may not be all there is, and that Christ followers from other faith backgrounds and ethnicities not only have important things to share with me, but are themselves truly seeking the Way of Christ.

So, do I feel as strongly as I once did about the Restoration Movement? The answer is no. I neither love nor hate the Movement with the passion I once did. Instead, I feel deeply and honestly about the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, and am glad to be a part of it.

UPDATE
The complete series of posts on this topic:
Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (1-7)

Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (1)

A couple of weeks ago the Christian Standard published the responses received from “six leaders in our fellowship” to questions regarding the relevance of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. This week, in honor of the World Convention that begins on July 30th, I plan to answer these questions for myself on this blog, but I would also like to know what you think. Let me know in the comments on this post, or on any of the upcoming in the week-long series.

The Questions:

Do you feel as strongly about being a part of the Restoration Movement today as you did fifteen years ago? What, if anything, has changed?

——————————————————————————–

Is your commitment to the Restoration Movement primarily doctrinal or familial, or both?

——————————————————————————–

If you moved into a new town and there was a strong and growing Evangelical church, and a weak and declining Christian church, which would you likely attend?

——————————————————————————–

Do you believe the Restoration Movement is just as valid in a postmodern environment as it was in the environment of the modern age? Why or why not?

——————————————————————————–

How important are the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper? Do you think your view on these two issues is more conservative than your parents (and/or your children), less conservative, or about the same?

——————————————————————————–

To you, what is the most compelling element of the Restoration Movement?

_________________________

The Christian Standard articles on this topic:


INTRO: Does the Restoration Movement Matter?
Restoration Movement Q&A 1
Restoration Movement Q&A 2
Restoration Movement Q&A 3
Restoration Movement Q&A 4
Restoration Movement Q&A 5

UPDATE
The complete series of posts on this topic:
Does the Restoration Movement Matter? (1-7)

Multi-Site Church Arrives in Previously Unreached Kirksville, Missouri

This morning I picked up an e-mail from my mother in northeast Missouri, and among other things she told me that a new church is moving into Kirksville, the city where I was born. It’s a multi-site church called The Crossing.

It is no secret to regular readers of my blog that I’m not very fond of mega-churches. Multi-site church is, to me, mega-church gone to seed. Please understand, I am not denying the Christian faith of those who lead or participate in these types of churches. I simply reject the methods for myself and wouldn’t consider joining a church of this variety.

A few years ago in Albuquerque I attended a seminar on church growth, sponsored by Standard Publishing and Church Development Fund, which was really just a presentation of multi-site methodology. A pastor from Community Christian Church (click that link, give it a minute and a guy named “Jeff” will walk on carrying what looks like a cup of Starbucks coffee and offering to help…how much more white suburban middle-class can you get?) presented a DVD about how his church works, then followed up by answering our many questions.

Essentially, Community Christian Church works in the following way: there is a handful of campus locations, each with its own pastor. The pastors all preach the same exact message, word-for-word. They have an editor who takes ideas from all on a given text, develops a rough draft, then works it out with them all on a conference call or chat to get a final draft that everyone preaches. It is one church in the sense that it has a single leadership and board for the entire body, but it is in various locations.

From what I read in the article about The Crossing’s new location in Kirksville, they work a little different. Worship is locally led, while the sermon itself is transmitted via satellite.

I’m sorry. It really just looks like McChurch to me. I also don’t appreciate so much money and effort going into a new work in a town already full of Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant and other churches. It doesn’t help to tell me that the others don’t do or “offer” what this church does. It makes me sad. There are inner cities in the United States that could really use some good solid ministry and community development programs. There are Third World nations where poverty and corruption need to be confronted by the servant church with the Good News of the crucified and risen Lord.

I know that white people who drive SUVs and drink Starbucks coffee need Jesus, but there are billions of other people of other tribes, tongues and ethnicities that need to hear about Him as well, and see His church in action.

Read the Kirksville Daily Express article about The Crossing here.

Pra Cima, Brasil

No dia 15 de junho, 1997 uma amiga cantou esta música na hora da ceia da igreja. Foi no meu oitavo dia no Brasil. Entendi pouco português, mas o sentido desta música foi comunicado para meu coração. Diante de Deus fiz um compromisso aquela noite a dedicar a minha vida à obra no Brasil. Desviei deste propósito algumas vezes, mas Deus é bom. Trabalho agora com brasileiros nos EUA, e com a bênção de Deus pretendo levar minha família de volta para o Brasil. A obra de Deus não encerrou.

Evangelical?

For a decade or more there’s been quite a bit of discussion in some circles of the independent Christian Churches about whether we are evangelical. Some congregations bear more similarities with Baptist congregations in their community than with other churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Members in general change membership pretty easily, joining Christian Churches from other fellowships and being received by them in return. To such Christians and congregations, the answer would be “of course we are evangelical!”

This isn’t an easy question to answer. When I first went to Brazil I was told by a missionary working with the Pentecostal Churches of Christ there that I should answer the question “yes.” Anything else, he explained, would create confusion. He was right. Years later in Uberlândia, Brazil I found that if I answered “no” to an evangelical as to whether I was evangelical, they would generally assume I was part of a cult or some odd religion. Catholics were about the same, often taking my “no” to mean that I was with some special movement in the Roman Catholic Church, or else practiced some off-brand faith that wasn’t essentially Christian.

I believe that God is triune, that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is only through the Good News. I believe in baptism for the remission of sins and gift of the Holy Spirit, based on faith and repentance and depending wholly upon the grace of God. I believe that the canonical Scriptures are the written revelation of God, though I do not take a strictly literal view and don’t base my science off of it. This last point would rankle quite a few evangelicals and perhaps even more people in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

The above makes me a Christian, I believe, but not necessarily “evangelical.”

I have two problems with being labeled “evangelical.”

First, in the United States and elsewhere, the term is increasingly becoming associated with right-wing politics and a worldview that I do not believe is biblical. I don’t want to be associated with a lot that is identified as “evangelical” in the media and the popular mind.

Second, it is incredibly limiting to be “evangelical.” I want to simply be a Christian, part of the church universal. I identify strongly and deeply with the Stone Campbell Movement of churches, and thus embrace the oft-forgotten appeal this movement once made to catholicity. By taking the name “evangelical” I may well be setting myself apart from the larger ecumenical endeavor in that I am shoving myself into a category that may not be entirely accurate but that is limiting. It seems to me that a lot of people in Christian Churches and Churches of Christ who speak of being evangelical and who advocate Christian unity are only thinking in terms of fellowship with the Protestant, evangelical churches and denominations.

Depending on the situation, I may refer to myself as “evangelical,” if only to reduce misunderstandings from those who see “evangelical” as a reference to being a Christ-follower. Beyond such isolated incidents, though, I would rather be known as a Christian. Without approving of all or denying the many, I am a part of the church universal, the body of Christ on earth.