Monthly Archives: July 2011

Should Evangelicals Become Catholic? (95 steps…)

Our book-klub book is currently a book entitled “How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to Devoted Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps”, written by a sociologist at Notre Dame University who went to Wheaton and Gordon College, and then converted in 2010.  He provides a number of questions or realizations which made him start to seriously consider becoming Roman Catholic. 

The book is very interesting in that it lays out a lot of potential reasons why someone would go from Evangelical to Catholic.  This sort of conversion could be confusing to some– I remember an atheist freind of mine who had seen a Christian friend of his convert from pentecostal protestant to episcopalian, and then again on to Roman Catholic, and his question to me was “isn’t he going in reverse?– isn’t he regressing back towards a less enlightened position?”  Since the protestant reformation is often linked with the enlightenment historically, it can seem that a conversion to Roman Catholicism is a conversion to Medievalism– but yet that is exactly part of its appeal– its historical rootedness.

We have not finished the book yet, but halfway in or better, it is easy to ask the question my good friend Jim asked and say that the author definitely brings up a number of issues and problems in the evangelical world that we need to pray through and think through and work on– but just because there are issues here doesn’t provide an argument that the obvious conclusion is that you should go home to Rome and take on all the problems and difficulties you have there. 

Anyway, we have found the book very helpful for discussion, and it is easy to identify with a lot of the ‘anomalies’– as he calls them– which one might find in the evangelical church.  To understand fully what the author is saying, you really should read his explanation of each one in the book for yourself.  But here are some:

Anomalies
 
1. Begin to feel rootless
2. Start to notice fragmentation and disunity
3. Notice Bible’s inability to settle matters in dispute
4. Start to grow weary of Meaningful worship services
5. Get annoyed and stay annoyed at embarrassing evangelical spokespeople
6. Get tired of church shopping and wonder if churches should be shopped for.
7. Start wondering what the mystery of faith and life are
8. Hear about someone you respect becoming Catholic
9. begin wondering if being relevant is irrelevant
10. Notice American evangelicalisms cultural accomodations
11. Read some church history
12. Wonder where new testament came from
13. Read JR Tolkein
14. Start asking why evangelical churches are so segregated by race and class
15. feel some dismay about evangelical social ethics
16. Begin noticing how aollergic evangelicals are to mary
17. Start to grow bored with white bread and vanilla flavored evangelicalism
18. Note your dissatisfaction with th eheavily cognitive, often rationalist, nature of much of Protestantism
19. Start noticing that evangelicalism seems to thrive on external threats and alarmist claims
20 Begin to see how very thin the biblical basis of many evangelical beliefs are.
21. Start wondering why authors and pubishers of evangelical phophesy books are never held accountable for their failed predictions
22.  Think about why American evangelicalism continually spins off a never ending supply of problematic preachers
23. Notice that too many pastors and leaders seem to thrive by disputing minor doctrinal issues
24. Pay closer attention to any of your own or others primordial emotional reactions against Catholicism
25. Attend one too many bible studies that turns out to be not about the bible, but about opinions and feelings of uniformed participants
26.  Ask yourself why we need a new monasticism when Catholicism still has Christianitiys old manasticism
27.Start wondering if getting into heaven is the core of what Christianity is about
28. Start wondering where the true christian church was for the 1,000-1400 years between the apostacy and the Reformation
29. Notice that evangelical churches have their own man made rituals
30. Ask where the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and Christology came from
31. Read martin Luthers 95 theses
32. Begin to ealize how very modern evangelicalism is
33. Consider the historic sociological connection between the reformation and seculatization
34.  Get to personally know some Catholics who believe in Jesus and are impressive in their faith
35. take note of substandard preaching
36 Entertain the question whether the kingdom of God really stands and falls on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy
37. Wonder what it means to profess one holy catholic and apopstolic church
38. Begin wondering what the difference is between evangelical museum pieces, memorials, and kitsch and Catholic icons, statues and sacramentals
39. Ask yourself why and how what began as a reform and renwewal movement became entrenched as yet another established religious institution
40. start doubting that the next evbangelical renewal movement will really renew the church
41 Read GK Chesterton
42. Take notice of John Paul II
43. Start to wonder if American evangelicalism, not to mention protestantism, actually ever really reforms itself
44. Start to wonder where all the evangelical intellectuals are.

I plan to follow this first blog post up with some comments on a number of these, but I’ll comment on a couple of them. 

1. Rootlessness: Many evangelicals I know feel disconnected from any particular church, and denominationalism, which gives one a sense of roots and lasting tradition, is quite simply dying.  Evangelicals have focused so much on criticizing tradition and in some cases (like in the Evangelical Free Church) intentionally tried to downplay the denomination, that often people have little rootedness to a church or denomination.  The Evangelical Free Church I loved as a kid is in many respects gone now– its become a much different kind of organization– gutted of its historical roots (swedish/norwegian), with little of its historically congregational appeal, and much more efficiently run from a corporate home office.    Obviously there is a rootedness in your own personal faith in Jesus, and your own devotional life, etc– Jesus will not leave you or forsake you– but that in itself does not provide social rootedness that we are talking about here.

2. Fragmentation and disunity:There is no doubt that in this era of fragmented evangelicalism, it is easy to wonder where your home is– what your real roots are, spiritually.  What does it mean to be evangelical, when so many call themselves one?  And the typical solution for Evangelicals seems to be: if you can’t find  path to follow– start your own.  Simple Free exemplifies this, as do many of the young churches which spring up weekly across the country, unafiliated, or affiliated to networks like Acts 29, etc.   At some point, it is easy to become discouraged with all of this splintering, and begin to wonder how to have unity in Christs church.  One option is to unify under a single organizational structure– the Roman Catholic Church.  But I am not yet convinced that the unity Christ is talking about is about an institutional unity like that. 

3. Settling matters of dispute:  We all like to have matters settled, and it is sometimes hard to deal with a lack of resolution.  Scripture of course provides the boundaries and the foundation of our Christian worldview and beliefs– but how should we interpret it, and how should we choose whose interpretation to follow?  These sorts of questions can prompt one to long for a unified authority to provide an authoritative reading of Scripture passages and positions.  Evangelicals carry a heavy burden of having to decide doctrinal points and social views on their own from Scripture.  The Berean tradition was always for each person in the congregation to be reading their own Bibles and wanting to make sure what was preached was accurate.   But at some points, we wish someone would tell us how to understand things (and at that point we turn to whoever our favorite popular theologians are within the evangelical world– and again we are faced with a decision as to who to turn to for our advisors).  This sense that I have to figure this out on my own with my Bible and me can become tiring.  But: if I choose to have the Roman Catholic church decide for me, then I am responsible for whatever the RC church’s view is on these topics.  That doesn’t absolve me of responsibility.  Ultimately, there is no way to escape this responsibility of having to choose…

I am not going to go through all of these, but two more this time:

5. Get annoyed or embarasse about evangelical spokespeople: Of course there are times when we wish we weren’t associated with Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, and some Evangelicals go out of their way to try to distance themselves from these folk.  But honestly– this is not in itself a good reason to become Roman Catholic.  One important difference between Evangelical leaders who say stupid things or who have moral failures (like the evangelical leader who spoke against homosexuality and then was found to be having gay massages in Colorado, etc) is that the evangelical church as an institution did not systematically cover up in a habitual manner child molesting among its clergy.  Some evangelical leaders fail.  But generally speaking we have not ignored and covered up the failings of our leaders in the same way that we seem to see in the Roman Catholic church. 

6. Church Shopping: Of course anyone who has tried to find a new church knows how tiring and frustrating it can be.  At some point its easy to just throw your hands up in the air and decide that the decision seems somewhat random anyway, and we all know no church is perfect.  This point in itself is true– and we need to think not of what this church can do for me, but also of what I can do for my church– however, becoming tired of searching for a church is not in itself a reason to decide to become Roman Catholic, of course.

Again, this book is very useful for challenging us to think about our own evangelicalism.  I look forward to finishing it.

Andy

Simple Free’s Uganda Connection

Two weeks ago, Simple Free hosted our ‘missionary’ to Uganda, Ryan Youtz, and our Ugandan friend Pastor Abel, who started the ministry that Ryan works for.  They both recently came from Uganda, an African country bordering Southern Sudan, Kenya, and former Zaire, among others.  Their ministry, which is called Ravens Ministries, is aimed at young Ugandans who are entering into worklife.  Some of them did not receive a full education, and so they are in danger of turning to drugs or prostitution because they are unable to support themselves, and in some cases they are without parents. 

Ryan came to Simple free looking for church fellowship in 2009, and we quickly came to realize that his heart was for Uganda.  We prayed with him for an avenue to get back to Uganda, where he had been for a while shortly before.  Through one of our nights when we had my sister Linda come share about her family’s ministry in Kenya where her husband is a doctor, Ryan got connected with some friends whose daughter is working in Mongolia, and through that connection he came to find a mission with which he could raise support to go to Uganda to help pastor Abel.

Ravens ministries helps young Ugandans by providing them with school fees to go to vocational school to learn basic computer skills, or to learn to be electricians or carpenters, or even pianists (there is a severe pianist shortage in Uganda actually, and they make good money).  Housing and food are also provided– no strings attached.  Ravens ministries can support a student like this for about 125/month, and Ryan and Abel provide personal interaction and accountability, advice and direction to these young people. 

One wonderful thing about this kind of ministry is that it is very practical in helping young people on the edge of losing hope to gain skills which make them self sufficient.  Although Ravens ministries is quite young, one of their 3 graduates has come back and supported the ministry financially with the money she now makes with her job she received after going through school with Ravens Ministry help and support. 

It is not uncommon for Ugandans, especially women, to find that when others help them, there are strings attached– something else is wanted in return for the ‘help’.  So it is very surprising and remarkable to these young people when they find that there really are no strings– nothing is expected in return except that they work hard to make use of their schooling to help themselves.

Ryan works for pastor Abel’s ministry, but he is under a mission agency which allows him a lot of autonomy.  His expenses are low, so he can live on just over 1,000 per month support.  Simple Free and friends of simple free provide a strong share of Ryans support, but Ravens Ministries can always use help to sponsor more and more youth to be given help and direction for their lives.   When you realize that it only would cost about 1500/year for  3-5 years to change the lives of these Ugandans forever, it seems like a doable task with real tangible outcomes.  In short, for the cost of some short term missions trips churches often send high schoolers out on, we could transform the life of Ugandan forever. 

With so many big ministries with high overhead costs and distant vague goals, its so great to be able to support dear friends who have an effective, efficient, and fairly simple ministry which seems to really utilize resources well for powerful and concrete ends for Christ’s purposes. 

Pastor Abel is in the US for the first time ever in his life, along with Ryan as they meet some supporters and try to find new support.  If you know someone or a group who may be interested in learning more about their powerful ministry, let us know or contact Ryan Directly.  The site for Raven’s Ministries is: http://www.ravensministries.org/

Here is a recent article about their ministry in the Omaha World Herald: http://omaha.com/article/20110705/NEWS01/707059930 

in the Council Bluffs newspaper: http://www.southwestiowanews.com/articles/2011/07/03/council_bluffs/news/doc4e0e70d6cd2eb038837664.txt#small

We are so excited for what Pastor Abel and Ryan are doing in Uganda.  A simple vision to make a practical difference in the lives of Ugandans.

May God have mercy on us all!

America, Patriotism, Religion, and the 4th of July

I am thankful to be able to live in the United States, and on the 4th of July I am especially grateful for the liberties and freedom we have, and for those before us who made it possible.   One of the freedoms I am most thankful is freedom of religion– our freedom to worship as we please, according to conscience. 

I  am thankful we don’t live in a society which does not allow freedom of worship, and which allows free discussion of various religious points of view, even as that means that people who believe differently than me have as much freedom as I do.    America has been an amazing experiment, and even though people are concerned about the current state of our country, our politics, and our society at large, I am still so thankful to be living here. 

I appreciate some patriotic songs more than others– especially when singing them in church.  One reason I am sometimes apprehensive about singing songs praising our country in church is because in can sometimes (if not done appropriately) seem to mix church and state too much.   I wouldn’t feel comfortable singing a song praising our church, for example, and some songs seem to praise our country (again, I love my country, and I love my church, and I love my wife– but I feel strange singing songs at Church about my love for them). 

But all that said, I especially love certain songs we sing at church, and one we sang yesterday especially: America the Beautiful

I think I like this song because it not only speaks to what our country is, but to what it can be.  There are many wonderful things our country has done and been, but without a hope for the future, a country will die I think.  So its good to have lyrics which point to the constant-reforming mindset which has hope for what we can be, even if we aren’t there yet.  That is especially encouraging at a time in our history when people often seem to talk like we have seen our best days and things are getting worse.  That sort of talk and attitude can’t inspire people to their best.

So the first stanza goes:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Of course I love the lyrics which give us pictures of the beauty of the country, but I especially like “and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea”.  This is a good hope for us, a good thing to strive for– brotherhood.  Unity is not something we feel as often in a country where we are not sure what it is that unifies us.  In a country of divisive politics and self-centered agendas, it is hard to maintain the hope of brotherhood and unity.  It is a struggle to maintain that sort of hope, and much easier to give in to the shrill voices of doom and disaster, or the melancholy cynicism which has already given up hope of anything better. 

The second lyric is great as well:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.

America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

These lyrics are refreshing because they admit that America has flaws, and hopes that God will heal them.  It also points to the importance of self control, liberty, and adherence to law (justice) as foundational cornerstones of our countries strength.   Our founding fathers had ideals of liberty and freedom which are remarkable and continue to be our guide and vision of what we hope for, despite our flaws.  And what makes me especially hopeful is to know that such noble ideals could come from leaders who themselves were blind to some of their own flaws.  For example, most of us would say slavery didn’t fit with the vision of liberty of our country– yet a lot of the founding fathers had slaves.  Some think that diminishes the origins of our country– but I don’t.  I think it is a real reason for hope to realize that flawed finite humans could give birth to such noble ideas which still inspire us to better things.  It was in fact that vision from our founding fathers which eventually led our country to outlaw slavery which was so prevalent at the founding of our country!   It is easy to point out flaws in todays leaders and government– but the hope I have is that such good things have come in the past from flawd leaders and governments– so good things will probably come from our own as well.  Commitment to our country and our values does not mean that we think we are perfect, or that our history is not without its dark moments.  One can be a patriot and admit flaws– especially if we continue to hope to correct those flaws.  Patriotism is more about hope and devotion than it is about blind cheering.

Patriotism is sometimes confused with nationalism.  Patriotism is devotion and faithfulness to your country.  Nationalism is when you think your country is superior to all others. Now there may b e some ways in which the US is supeior to others– in terms of GDP, military strength, etc.  But surely that isn’t why we are patriotic.  The fathers of our country were patriots long before we had the largest GDP or Military strength in the world, and hopefully we can be patriots if ever we don’t.  Patriotism is important for any country to prosper.  France, Great Britain, Germany, Egypt, Australia and Japan all need a strong sense of patriotism in order for their countries to prosper and succeed– as much as the USA needs patriotism.  Patriotism is commitment to your country, and if we are not unified in commitment to our country, we are in trouble.  But again, this doesn’t mean that you think that your country is superior to all others.  I can be a devoted father, but that doesn’t mean that I think my kid is superior to all others.  I can be devoted to my job faithfully, but that doesn’t mean I think my job is superior to all others.  I am super devoted to the state of Nebraska– I love it, I’m a huge fan, and I’d rather live here than most other places.  But I’m not going to say Nebraska is superior to all other states– I don’t need to go there.   My devotion doesn’t have to lead to my having a superiority complex. 

The third stanza goes:

O beautiful for heroes prov’d
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine.

First, a strong country will require selflessness, a willingness to put the good of others above our own.  That is harder and harder to find today, but this song reminds us of it in our forefathers, and encourages us to it today.  To live a selfish self-indulgent life is the opposite of this.  Additionally, this lyric points to the refining process– God bringing it about so that the good we have is also noble.  Many good things come through ignoble means, but the hope here is that the good we have will be brought about in noble ways, not through oppression or inappropriate means.    We hope our country will be able to prosper and gain without that gain coming on the backs of others who suffer so we can have it good.  This is a hope for just gain…

The last lyric points ultimately to a hope:

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

The dream of the patriot ‘sees beyond the years’– it is based in a hope for things to come.  So if anyone gives up hoping for America, they are no longer a patriot.  This is a challenge to any of us who feel surrounded by cynicism and despair talk.  Strangely, it is sometimes comforting to wallow in a funk about how bad things are and how good the good old days were.  But that is not patriotism, and its is, frankly, not very useful.  It certainly isn’t what has helped bring about the good things we have in our country. 

I am not too convinced that God loves Americans more than anyone else in the world, although God has certainly blessed us in ways other countries could only dream of.  That leaves us with a great responsibility, even when it is difficult, to do what we can to live selflessly and for the greater good. 

At this fourth of July, in the midst of a period where people seem more likely than ever to retreat into an isolationism and shield themselves from the rest of the world, to feel hopeless or overwhelmed with all the changes we are experiencing so quickly– it is important to remember in thankfulness what God has done for us, to remember how good we really do have it, and to recommit ourselves to faithfully hope for good things not because our hope is in our country, but because we hope in a God for whom all things are possible.

May God have mercy on us all.

andy