Archive for January, 2006

The Gospel and Church Culture

The Gospel and Church Culture

David Eagle writes

I had lunch today with a Mennonite fellow from Abbotsford who asked me how the church will need to change in order to more significantly reach into the liberally minded, religiously suspicious Canadian. His question was far from theoretical, as he has a daughter who has disengaged from the church. Her disengagement was not out of anger or a spiritual crisis, but simply because the church didn’t seem necessary. I immediately noticed that he did not use the word relevant (that’s to imply a marketing framework), but necessary (which implies the mission of the organisation).

In think that those in power in conservative centres such as Abbotsford must wake up and realize that we are not dealing with a marketing problem, but rather a problem of core identity. Conservative churches have long occupied themselves trying to package the gospel and the whole “evangelical/pietistic” experience just right so as to attract different types of folks. I think what were finding increasingly is that the problem isn’t with the packaging, the problem is with the fundamental message and worldview that is contained within the packaging. Or, better put, the problem is with the way in which evangelical assumptions affect religious packaging so as to make it distasteful.

I hope that pastors paid attention to the latest election. I hope they realized that in order to get a Conservative government in Canada, you have to silence the relgious voices (particularly the conservative ones) and present a more socially progressive agenda. Evangelicalism, and many of its core assumptions and lifestyle constraints is simply distasteful to many (particularly urban) Canadians.

The dominant Canadian culture and the evangelical subculture have grown so distant from each other it is somewhat like the Jew/Gentile controversy in the early church. We have evangelicals saying the heathen must be assimilated in to church subculture before they follow Christ. In the same way the Judiazers said gentiles had to become Jewish before they could become Christians.

I think your average Conservative evangelical would say: “You want us to water down the gospel to make it more palatable to this generation. The gospel should be offensive. If we make Christianity less offensive we empty the cross of its power.”

I think this argument has a point but it assumes that all that we have in our subculture is the gospel. The gospel should offend, but we do not need to add to someone’s potential offense by requiring people assimilate in to the evangelical church subculture.

In this election a great many Christians became upset at Paul Martin and the Liberals for staking their claim on “Canadian values.” The Liberals implied that pro-life Christians who wish to impose their morals on the rest of the country are unCanadian. The rhetoric was somewhat disingenuous because there were pro-life Liberal’s in the caucus, but it does have an element of truth. Trudeau and his charter, more than anything else, have defined Canadian values. Democracy, individual rights, pluralism, liberal social economics, multiculturalism can at times be at odds with evangelical values.


Organic Church by Neil Cole Part 1

Organic Church by Neil Cole Part 1

Upon Dash’s recommendation I picked up Organic Church. By the end of the book I wasn’t disappointed. Like so many other church leadership / church growth books this work uses organic metaphors to describe how church should function. I’m always a bit wary when we starting using examples from nature as an authoritative guide for how to structure churches.

Much of the book is the typical house/simple/organic church kind of stuff. The church is not an institution it is people, the building isn’t it, church doesn’t happen in one hour etc…

Neil Cole is some kind of charismatic. He talks of dreams and visions and places a big emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I like this because I maintain that one of the key reasons the church is dying is that we place our faith in things we can control rather than God. With no faith we lack real spiritual empowerment.

Cole says “In many of the churches in the West, ministry is done for Jesus, but not by Jesus—and therein lies a big difference.”

I agree whole heartedly. Following this line of thinking will eventually get you to the old debate about how much the Holy Spirit uses planning and do you stifle the Spirit by scripting your meetings. For years I’ve thought that we should plan for the Spirit to do His thing. We must leave at least some elements to chance. The Spirit works through gifts in the body (1Cor 12). Those gifts work best the context of relationships. Relationships cannot be scripted. You can put all the elements together but the chemical reaction has to happen outside of our direct control.

This brings me to another one of Neil’s good points. Most life changing ministry happens in groups of two or three. The bible has examples of two or three doing something a couple of times and I’ve yet to hear somebody say it is pattern for ministry but I think he is right. Most life changing ministry is a couple of people together talking, praying or working together. If you don’t have that you have a pretty lonely church.

I think the church places too much emphasis on large group events. On their own they have very limited value. There is a value in singing songs and some people remember sermons (I don’t). Large group ministry is kind of like pouring water over a car to get it clean. For the most part words from the pulpit wash right over people and a few hours water you would never know anything hit them. These kinds of gatherings provide no place for real fellowship, accountability or community. I’ve never quite understood how some people think staring at the back of someone’s head is community.

More to come…


Worship is a lifestyle

Worship is a lifestyle?

Worship is a lifestyle. I hear this phrase all to offten. The idea behind this is that worship isn’t just something you do on Sunday it is your whole life. The problem with this is that once worship becomes everything it becomes nothing. It makes is so terribly difficult to have a conversation about what might be an appropriate expression of worship in a corporate context.

There is no notion in scripture about worship being everything. The most common word translated worship is proskuneo. It can mean a lot of different things but they are all specific and intentional expressions of worship. There is another word translated as worship: sebomai. It carries the idea of reverence and in the NASB is also tranlated devout or God-fearing.

If I said everything in my family life is an act of love for my wife there would be a ring of truth to it. If that was how I defined love it would fall short. I want and need to express my love to my wife directly. There has to be something distinct and specific to our direct expressions of love. If we don’t we fail to adequately communicate that love.

The idea that our walk with God doesn’t end after a worship service is valid. I think the best words to describe living an entire life dedicated to God would be reverent or devout. One might even call it discipleship.


The Internet strengthens friendships

A new study finds the Internet strengthens friendships

Finally some documented evidence of something bloggers have known for a long time. Connecting with people online doesn’t take away from face to face interaction and actually enhances relationships.

The initial warnings about the Internet’s creep into modern lives were dire: Communities would crumble because people would be chained to their computers.

But a new study by Canadian researchers suggests the Web actually expands and strengthens relationships.

“The Internet is adding on to community rather than destroying it,” said Barry Wellman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto who co-wrote the report. “There were a huge number of people running around saying the sky was falling a few years ago. What we found is the sky isn’t falling, that life is going on and quite happily.”

The study, which was released yesterday, examined Americans’ Internet habits and found that computer users have larger social networks than non-users. And, perhaps surprisingly, people who use e-mail actually have more phone and face-to-face contact with their friends, families and associates.

From the Globe and Mail.


Getting out of the political haze

Getting out of the political haze

When it comes to politics it is hard for people to rationally consider all the options. Bene has a post that documents what I’m talking about. Even those who might change their political allegiances from election to election have difficulty seeing past their bias.

After I received a 100% score for Liberal policy on an Internet quiz I asked myself how my opinion might have changed if Harper came up with a given policy rather than the Liberals. If Harper came out with the hand gun ban and I probably would have liked the idea a lot less. Because the guys I had some sort of affinity for were behind the plan I thought it was merely a non-issue. Without realizing it we do this.

I think Christians get so caught up in to a us/them mentality over issues like abortion and gay marriage that it completely clouds their perception. They will support someone and ignore their abundant short comings just because they are pro-life. If they are pro-life then their rivals must be the godless, sleazy, left-wingers. Without a shred of critical thinking assume that anything negative said about this person comes from a media bias. Everything is viewed through a combative rather than rational lens.

Politicians like to use hot button issues to scare us in to their camp. I watched in disgust as Paul Martin attempted to label all those opposed to abortion uncanadian late in the campaign. The Liberals were desperate and wanted a wedge issue to divide the public and move the majority of the electorate to their side.

We become the big losers because we starting acting out of fear. It is our ignorance that forces politicians to play these games, to sway us with disingenuous inflammatory rhetoric. These games have been going on so long the two sides barely understand each other’s base.

The website’s front page talked about suppressing minority (gay/lesbian) and women’s rights. Both are arguably true if you take the left wing skew on things. It is a nasty way of saying your pro-life and anti-same sex marriage. This kind of message and rhetoric might motivate the left-wing base but it would completely turn off a typical Conservative voter.

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Vellacott plans civil action against

Vellacott plans civil action against

In a press release issued 2 days ago Vellacott announced that the VoteOutVellacott website was defamatory and it’s creator will be prosecuted.

After taking a good like at the allegations he takes exception with I’m not sure he has much of a case. Almost every point in the website is taken from the media sources that have been quoted.

Here is what Vellacott considers to be defamatory.

1st Example

“has a history of trying to intimidate and strong-arm his political opponents. It seems he spent his Christmas break this year trying to intimidate a Christian Heritage Party candidate into not running against him;”

The quoted source states

“A candidate in the Saskatoon-Wanuskewin constituency believes he’s the target of strong-arm tactics after receiving phone calls from prominent Conservatives.

The first one came from Conservative incumbent Maurice Vellacott .

“He was trying to intimidate me a little bit and he was trying to, I would say, give me a little bit of a guilt trip for (running),” Dale Sanders, the Christian Heritage Party candidate, said of the phone conversation he had with Vellacott on Dec. 29.”

2nd Example

“in the 2000 election ‘squashed a nomination challenge through decidedly undemocratic means;'”

The quoted source states

“They railwayed me out of it, it’s as simple as that,’’ said Chuback, who is so angry with the CA he’s supporting Liberal candidate Bill Patrick in the Nov. 27 federal election.

‘I’m young and good looking and I went into that meeting (with the nomination committee) and I could tell they were in awe. I thought I was going to get a shot at it. But I didn’t because he (Vellacott) was scared he was going to lose. His flunkies backed him.’’

A senior party official accused Vellacott of taking the low road to win the nomination.”

3rd Example

“attempts to undermine a Reform candidate contesting a by-election because he didn’t share the same religious beliefs as Vellacott;”

The quoted source stated

“It isn’t the first time the MP has been accused of meddling in the democratic process. Last year, the executive council of the Reform party — the predecessor of the CA — issued a severe reprimand to Vellacott for allowing his executive assistant to publicly discredit the nomination of byelection candidate Jim McAllister, according documents obtained by The StarPhoenix.”

4th Example

“committed “political mail-fraud [that] cost you thousands of dollars;”

The quoted source states

“Party member Tom Ballantyne, who backs Harper, said party politics has nothing to do with it. He said it’s

a matter of right and wrong.

‘It bothers me that he is using the taxpayers’ mailing system to do this. If an MP wants to back an individual and speak on their behalf, OK. …

Franking is a term used for mail sent through the government system on an MP’s expense account regarding constituent business and stamped with the MP’s name. The letters sent by Vellacott are clearly marked as coming from the House of Commons.

Arnold Murphy, who works in Prince Albert CA MP Brian Fitzpatrick’s office, has received a handful of complaints about the mailings and explained that MPs must be careful about what is in the letters.

‘It can question things, criticize the government and raise various issues but it can’t be a campaign for someone,’ he said.”

5th Example

“decided to pocket the allowance that MPs are given to rent accommodations in Ottawa;”

The quoted source states

“Luckily, the Reform MP for Wanuskewin didn’t have to travel far to get some shut eye. His bed, a scant two feet from his desk, folds to a couch during daylight hours.

“It might sound a little strange but having a hide-a-bed in my office works out well,’’ says the slim, bearded Vellacott. “It’s really all I need; it’s quite comfortable.’’

With options of renting accommodation, staying in a hotel or bunking down in his office, Vellacott chose the latter. A recent change in the House of Commons rules allows for members to stay overnight in their office quarters. Few members take advantage of the option, preferring to rent an apartment or stay in nearby hotels.”

6th Example

“tried ‘to stop a 13-year-old child from getting potentially life-saving cancer treatments.'”

The quoted source states

“Vicki Pelletier brought her three children to the rally to show support for parents’ rights. She is galled that government would force intrusive medical care on Tyrell Dueck.

‘It doesn’t seem right. It made me mad. It made me really angry. That’s wrong,’ she said.

Reform MP Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin) agreed, saying that ‘the care of children is the domain of families and that parents must have full responsibility in Canadian society to nurture and provide for children.”

Examples 1, 2, 4 and 5 seem to communicate something very similar to the quoted source. I’m not sure Vellacott’s government mailings to support Stockwell Day in the Conservative Party leadership campaign constitutes “mail-fraud” but I considered it unethical.

The quoted source for example 3 doesn’t mention anything about anyone’s religion.

I think Vellacott has a legimitate beef with example 6. It should state something like “supported a family that refused life saving medical treatment for their son.”


Audio on Vellacott call online

Audio on Vellacott call online

Technorati can find you wonderful things. After listening to the audio I’d say the voice has a distinct accent, and it certainly isn’t someone in Vellacott’s traditional demographic. You can find a link to it here.


Breaking news about Axworthy

Breaking news about Axworthy

News has hit the web that someone from Chris’s campaign office called in to a cable show and accused Vellacott of sexually assaulting a church secretary. My guess is that it was an over zealous volunteer. From my interactions with Chris I highly doubt he would sanction something like this. Why would anyone attempt such a thing from their own campaign office?

I hope that the video and audio of the tape is released and the person responsible be held accountable.


My election prediction

My election prediction

This election has truly bugged me. My political leanings have shifted all over the map in my life. Like many others I hoped that Paul Martin would be a good PM. I have a deep appreciation for what he did in the 90’s. It hasn’t turned out well. Paul Martin has a lot of ideas but follows through on so little. He claims to hold to the centre of Canadian values but he demonizes a good 1/3rd of the population that don’t agree with him. It seems as if he put the same effort in to governing as he did to staying in power he might even be a good PM. My affinity for Paul Martin’s record as finance minister may have blinded me to the truth about his capabilities. Part of me still wants to believe his main failing is his advisors. The knee cap busting, vindictive “Martinites” who showed so little mercy to Chretien’s cronies. The truth is a good leader will pick the best advisors, not just loyalists waiting for payback of services rendered.

I believe the Conservatives will win this election and I believe that is what Canada wants. We do want change. The people that saved our country from economic despair aren’t necessarily the best folks to lead afterwards. If my read is correct Canadians will elect another minority government because we still aren’t completely sure about Harper. We will be more than happy with a strong conservative minority and we can trust that Jack Layton will keep things from going too crazy. I’d be happy with that. I’m really glad that the NDP won’t back down on Kyoto. Send the Libs back to the garage for a tune up.

Because the Libs will lose that frees me up to vote my conscience with the local candidates. The current incumbent MP Maurice Vellacott has pushed the limits of ethical behaviour on more than one occasion. He used tax payers money to support Stockwell Day’s leadership campaign for the Canadian Alliance. He has tried to intimidate and guilt other candidates in to withdrawing in this election. If I want to clean up Ottawa how does it help to send someone there who shows a willingness to push the limits of acceptable behavior? Isn’t this what we need a change from?

Feel free to leave your prediction in the comments. 🙂


Vote Selector Quiz

Vote Selector Quiz

Your Results:

1.Paul Martin Leader of Liberal Party of Canada, Prime Minister of Canada (100%)

2.Jack Layton Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada (90%)

3.Gilles Duceppe Leader of the Bloc Quebecois (81%)

4.Stephen Harper Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (36%)

Dash sent me his results. I’m not terribly surprised by my results. I really do like Liberal policy. Here are some of the questions.

Do you want your Prime Minister and his or her political party to initiate a federal ban on private for-profit provincial health clinics?

No. If the public system worked then the rise of private clinics wouldn’t be an issue.

I think the problem with health care is the provinces and instead of fixing the system they continually ask for more money. Paul Martin pulled money from the transfer payments in the mid nineties to balance the budget. I think the move had a terrible cost but it was necessary. Ever since the provinces have steadfastly refused to fix health care and just asked for more money instead. The money has been put back in to the system but change is still too slow. If a province wanted to experiment with private delivery of health care funded by the public system they should.

Do you want your Prime Minister and his or her political party to reduce the Goods and Services Tax?

No. I’d much rather have an income tax cut. It is true that lowering the GST will save the poorest of the poor marginally more money because these people no longer pay tax. The purpose of the tax cut is not the help the poorest of the poor because they don’t pay a lot of tax. We have social programs for such things. It is the middle class that are in most need of a tax cut.

Thirty per cent of fuel costs in Canada stem from federal and provincial taxes and surcharges. Do you want your Prime Minister and his or her political party to immediately reduce or maintain current federal tax levels on gasoline?

I’d raise gas taxes and put the money towards public transit. The only way we are going to meet our Kyoto obligations is to hit people and companies in the wallet to get them to change. We must change.

Do you want your Prime Minister and his or her political party to create a national early child care program or deliver a monthly cheque of $100 per child under six to cover costs?

I’m with the Libs on this issue. The big problem is a lack of quality childcare spaces. $100 / month is substantial but it doesn’t help much if you can’t find a place to spend it. The child tax credit already helps families with kids.

Do you want your Prime Minister and his or her political party to legislate mandatory minimum sentences for specified crimes?

No. Crime has gone down steadily for the last 13 years. The key to safe streats is addressing poverty, education, mental health, chemical addictions, abuse, marginalization, racism etc… People assume that criminals think rationally enough to consider the consequences of their actions. If you have decided to rob a bank are you really going to think, oooh, I better not because I’m sure to get 5 years in jail instead of 3. If someone has proven a perpetual danger to society they should be locked up longer to keep the community safe.

Do you want your Prime Minister and his or her political party to implement the international Kyoto Accord aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Yes. The Liberal record is dreadful. If the Cons came out with some substance on their plan for climate change I’d be willing to consider them but it will likely be more stuff like tax breaks for transit users. It is this issue that kills the Conservatives for me.