Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Even Internet Myths Can Hold Meaningful Thoughts

This is an Internet myth which is really a good story. It is a shame that someone felt they had to palm off the story as true. But as is true with parables and myths there is often an important message present. Sometimes history is less important then teaching us about reality.

A University professor at a well-known institution of higher learning challenged his students with this question.

"Did God create everything that exists?"

A student bravely replied, "Yes, he did!"

"God created everything?" The professor asked.

"Yes, sir, he certainly did," the student replied."

The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil. And, since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then we can assume God is evil."

The student became quiet and did not answer the professor's hypothetical definition. The professor, quite pleased with himself, boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, "May I ask you a question, professor?"

"Of course," replied the professor. The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"

"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?"

The other students snickered at the young man's question.

The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy.

Absolute zero (-460F) is the total absence of heat; and all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat."

The student continued, "Professor, does darkness exist?"

The professor responded, "Of course it does."

The student replied, "Once again, you are wrong, sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."

Finally, the young man asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?"

Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course, as I have already said. We see it everyday. It is in the daily examples of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist, sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a world that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat, or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

The professor sat down.

The last line attributes the student as Albert Einstein. debunks this urban legend.

Friday, February 23, 2007

SDA Internet Forums

What follows is some information about SDA Forums, it was originally written about 2 years ago and a couple of forums have disappeared most notably the "Voluntary Online Adventist Forum", those defunct forums are deleted from the article posted here.

The Advent of the internet brought many changes to our world; the amount of information freely available is staggering. For those of us in the SDA church the internet has allowed extensive dialog between people near and far away. There are a number of SDA forums which operate exclusively for the purpose of discussion of issues of interest to SDA and Christians in general. So far it could be said that SDA forums are underused considering the SDA population in English speaking countries compared with the small number of users of these forums. Hopefully many more people are reading the messages (posts) on the forums but that is difficult to access. One of the biggest problems with using forums is that the user must type out their message. What may seem as something fun to do for many a writer is looked at as something of a depressive chore to many other people. Technology may someday help overcome that problem, for now most users of SDA forums still use their keyboards to type out their posts. For whatever psychological reasons, some of us love to discuss the things of Christianity so much that electronic forums seem the perfect method. For those of you like me who love to discuss Christianity in its many aspects here is a brief exposition of some of the most popular SDA forums on the internet or sent to your E-mail.


One of the first and probably the oldest active SDA forums is Its purpose is;

“To discuss practical issues of relevance to the Adventist subculture and the world in general.” This is the first SDA Forum known to many of us. Like many of the forums it has had a decline from its best days when there were some 40-50 messages posted per day. Now I would estimate 5-20 posts with an estimated 500+ members. While this site can be viewed online it is mainly an E-mail oriented forum where posts are sent by and received via E-mail. This allows for personal archiving of interesting posts as well as allowing the subscriber to keep up to date by just reading their email. SDAnet offer a digest for those who don’t want to receive the individual messages. As with several of the forums you can also receive SDA news reports sponsored by the Official SDA church. SDAnet offers a searchable index from 1990-2004 by thread, author, subject and date. However it often does not work and best results require that you know pretty closely the date of a post. It is easy to subscribe or unsubscribe to the forum as it is a totally automated system which allows one to post and receive messages the day after subscribing. Compared to the discussions on some of the other SDA forums the diversity of opinions is fairly well represented. Currently the discussions are pretty middle of the road on SDAnet. At times the moderators or the board of SDAnet behave in less then fair ways, but that could probably be said of many forums., “The Un - OFFICIAL WORLDWIDE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST FORUM”, is a bulletin board style forum which boasts the largest membership 1070 users. The bulletin board style means that one does not post or receive posts via E-mail but instead post and view posts from the website. Its moderators have not shied away from taking on tough SDA subjects such as the recent subject titled: “1844 - neither the year nor the event can be supported from scripture”. My personal view on forums is based upon how well the forum handles debate and controversial ideas which are often not represented in any other church outlet. Unfortunately this site requires payments to maintain full posting privileges. So the number of registered users probably does not reflect the number of people who really post since many like me feel that such forums should remain free. However there are still a few sections of the forum where a registered user who does not pay for the service can still post messages but they can’t create new topics [Sadly that is no longer the case however, it is pay or nothing now]. Club Adventist says they charge “less than 10 cents per day to cover the expenses related to the forum (Advertising, Hosting, domain and support expense.” This is not outrageous and in line with such radio talks show websites like Bill O’Reilly. Of course Bill O'Reilly donates all his earnings from the website to charities.


Sabbath School Network (SSNET) posts are distributed to the group in two formats: note-by-note (ssnet) and daily digest (ssnetdaily). There is no web site view of the discussions like SDAnet. It has an automated subscription process for ease of subscribing. SSNET’s website introduction says: “Anyone is welcome to join SSNET. We have over 600 members from around the world (from at least 36 countries) and from many faiths.” However their guidelines state:” Ellen White is accepted as a messenger of the Lord in the SDA church, and her status is not up for discussion on this list”. It is hard to imagine that the “many faiths” accept that condition. Since so many aspects of the SDA doctrine and issues do or will end up relating to Ellen White or her views. This condition has greatly reduced the diversity of discussion on this e-mail group. By visiting you can also access the SDA Adult Sabbath School Lessons.


The Homepage states: “ADVENTIST FOR TOMORROW a VERY independent discussion forum for Members, Former Members, Friends, Supporters, Detractors, and THOUGHTFUL PEOPLE. Who desire more freedom of expression than is usually found in cyberspace.” From the previous members of Adventist’s Discussion group ATomorrow formed. With very open discussions and members ranging from Atheists and Agnostics to very traditional SDA’s and several Progressive SDA’s, and many former SDA’s. About 150 members estimated by the administrator. This is another Bulletin Board style website which also carries some of the old AToday archives. However as with the extensive archives of SDAnet it is not always an easy task to find something in the archives. But they are usually stimulating reading. Many have said that this is the most liberal SDA forum which is probably true due the diversity of opinions of the posters to this forum. From traditional SDA’s to ex SDA agnostics, with some other denominations and some Atheists thrown into the mix.


Maritime SDA Online is a more traditionally oriented SDA forum. Their website states:”You must be a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to have access to some of the private forums. Exceptions may be granted under special circumstances…You must either believe in or respect the 27 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church…You must also either believe in or respect one of those 27 fundamental beliefs regarding Ellen G White as a messenger of God for both her time and our time.” This Bulletin board website is run differently and somewhat confusingly with public posting and private areas which you must ask permission to view.

The web site states; “As a private Christian Message Board, primarily for the Black/African-American Adventist church, we welcome people of all Christian denominations and ethnicities to post here.” About 230 registered members using a Bulletin board style. A pretty free flowing site with a representation of traditional SDA to Progressive SDA’s.

Conversations about God (CAG) is an E-mail forum which posts a daily digest of the previous days posts on their web site. The web site states; “The purpose of Pine Knoll’s “Conversations About God E-mail Discussion Group” is to use electronic mail as a tool in taking another look at God in light of the great controversy over His character and government. We have a special focus on the weekly Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School lessons.” CAG has some 300+ subscribers most of whom are followers of Graham Maxwell. This forum emphasizes unity of thought and has a fear of discord and debate. If you can fit into its parameters it offers a close family atmosphere, though at the cost of growth and free thought. One might expect to hear from Graham Maxwell on this forum since it is on his web site however I have never seen anything posted by Graham Maxwell either when I was a member or afterward as I have monitored the conversations.

A newer Forum this is another in the Graham Maxwell family of discussion forums. The Website states: " is more than a website; it is an epicenter dedicated to proclaiming the truth about God's character." You can get the idea from that rather gradiose statement that they think pretty highly of themselves. This is also a fairly restrictive discussion group, if you fit it they like you if you offer contrary views they are not so friendly. They do have posters from an atheist to a conspiracy nuts however, you just have to learn what sacred cows not to poke.

The Spectrum message board is another newer forum. The Site says: "Welcome. The Spectrum/AAF Message Board is provided as a service to members of the Association of Adventist Forums and guests, all of whom are welcome to post messages after registration.
In accordance with the purpose of the Association of Adventist Forums, the Message Board exists to promote discussion of important and timely topics." The board has subjects which deal with articles posted on the Spectrum Website as well as related to the Sabbath School Lesson Study Guides and the related articles posted on the Website. This is an under utilized site which should be visited more often. The discussion is free from the limitations which some of the other discussion forums use.

Christian Forums is a large Christian Website with forums for many denominations. The site has a Progressive SDA, a Traditional SDA and a general SDA section and many rules. But they are generally not too restrictive, you simply have to learn in what forums debate is allowed and what forums it is not. It is beginning to have much more activity in the SDA section then in past years.

Feel free to check out any of the forums and if you know of any others please post them in the comment section.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Matt Redman Beautiful News Review

It is probably a problem in a review of one of your favorite artists when your favorite song on the CD is the hidden track. But I am afraid that is the case for Matt Redman’s latest CD Beautiful News. When reviewing a favorite artist the review will typically gauge the new CD against his previous material. So someone who is consistently good, who then puts out another good CD is subject to a bit more criticism then a new artist with an equal CD. What I tend to expect is one or two excellent songs such as “ O Sacred King” or the “Heart of Worship”. This CD is not a disappointment but it is also not his best work.

The best song is the first track, the “Beautiful News”, the hidden track is derived from one verse of the “Beautiful News”. It is done in a very distorted sound and frankly sounds great though it is not the way we normally hear Matt Redman. “There’s a God who came down to save / show the world His amazing Grace / There’s a God who came down to save / and He calls your name / It’s a beautiful news."

Redman has been very consistent with his modern Worship style of music. The music is uplifting and encouraging with the love of God. I enjoy the worship songs but I think the people in the churches need more then songs that praise God using the repetition of Christian buzz words. Songs such as “Greater Song” which acknowledges that we need to present the message of God in a better way I think are important to spur the thinking of people. While I would like to see Redman incorporate more complex themes into his music, what he does, he does very well. The second best song on the CD is “Thank You for Healing Me” which is a very comforting song and something that every person at some time would be in need of hearing.

You can hear a couple of songs from the CD on Matt Redman's MySpace page

And on his Website, just press the little play symbol to hear samples from the new CD

I decided to listen again to Matt Redman’s last CD “Facedown” before rating this CD. I think the previous CD had more catchy songs but it reminded me of just how much Redman uses the symbolic Christian words in place of the meaning of those words. His second song on Facedown is "Nothing but the Blood" which is a very good song but requires people to understand what the blood represents. Unfortunately we as Christians have come to distort the meaning of such things. "What can wash a way our sins/ nothing but the blood of Jesus". A s we move farther and farther away from the time of sacrificial blood offerings we should seek to use the real meaning rather then substitute ill understood words for our message. The blood offerings never did anything and the blood of Jesus is symbolic of the very life of Jesus. So what washes away our sins? It is the very love of God, which is the same love for us as Jesus. The church needs to move toward reality rather then the language of 2000 years ago when the church was attempting to bring into it their Jewish brothers.

Comparing this with some of his previous work I will give it 4 stars which is a bit less then Christianity Today does.

Maybe I am being too hard on the CD because he is one of my favorite artists but it does not strike me as one of his best works though it is certainly better then much of the modern worship music available.

Monday, February 19, 2007

More on 3ABN

There are a few interesting news items regarding 3ABN. Though I am sure many of the readers of this blog don't spend too much time watching 3ABN, since they are a popular representative of the Seventh-day Adventist church, though not officially a part of the SDA church, it is of interest even to those who do not hold to the traditionalism of the 3ABN theology.

Recently Adventist Today put out an article over the resignation of Tommy Shelton and the accusations of sexual abuse:

By Edwin D. Schwisow, for ATNewsbreak (09 February 2007).

Facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, Tommy Shelton, production manager at Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN) and brother of 3ABN President Danny Shelton, announced his retirement in a December 31, 2006 broadcast of 3ABN Live. Although not owned or operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, many of 3ABN’s employees and volunteers are Adventist Church members. In a telephone interview with a representative of Adventist Today, Danny Shelton confirmed that his brother had left the employ of 3ABN for “health reasons.”

On a related 3ABN subject there is a letter circulating from Linda Shelton which calls for the 3ABN board to release the information showing that she was adulterous in her marriage to Danny Shelton. The Letter is posted on

It was the false accusation of adultery which caused the loss of my marriage, my reputation, my employment, and everything else. I challenge the 3ABN Board to produce the "irrefutable evidence" which caused a co-founder, a life-time Board member, Vice-President and Secretary of the Board to be removed in that May, 2004 meeting! I am asking, no demanding, that the information is made public, at my request! Cast aside these pretended desires to "spare me"! The world is waiting with baited breath!

It is about time that Linda Shelton called the board to account for their actions. Why Christians think they will be better off hiding information and evidence I don't understand unless they think that they will be found to be deceptive themselves. To declare someone guilty but refusing to show the evidence of such guilt is hardly the American view of justice. It does have more in common with totalitarian organizations however and that is a problem for contributors to 3ABN, or it will be a problem when they discover the truth.

As time goes by and Danny quickly remarried it does appear that the evidence was not as claimed by the leaders of 3ABN. Now that Linda has asked to see the evidence I think it is time for 3ABN to come forward with what they know or do not know.

Update: has a whole section about 3ABN for those interested:

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sermons Part 2 The Local Church in the Postmodern World

This is part two, please read the post which appears following this post first. It's a Blog thing!

The Local Church in the Postmodern World

We as human beings tend to not like change. We resist change until we make a change and find we like the change. Then it is embraced, if it works then change is good but our fear is that it won’t work so change is often feared in some way. The Postmodern world is a world which has seen vast amount of change in the 20th century change has lead to the postmodern philosophy which questions our underlying foundational ideas. These are called in the jargon of philosophers meta-narratives.

A metanarrative can include any grand, all-encompassing story, classic text, or archetypal account of the historical record. They can also provide a framework upon which an individual's own experiences and thoughts may be ordered. These grand, all-encompassing stories are typically characterised by some form of 'transcendent and universal truth' in addition to an evolutionary tale of human existence (a story with a beginning, middle and an end).

That covers pretty much everything it seems to me, in other words we are at a stage where the old axiom “question everything” is becoming part of everyone’s experience. Of course we know that is not true, we know that there are millions of people who don’t bother to question anything, they don’t want to think enough to question they want to be entertained and let someone else do their thinking for them. Then there is the political correctness which holds that some things cannot be questioned. For instance there has been a call to remove scientist’s credentials or remove them from their jobs if they question the concept of human caused global warming. In the scientific world theories can rarely be proven but are rather subjected to falsification. The idea is to question the theory, yet because of political correctness the theory is not to be questioned. This means, for the Christian church we have to deal with a wide range of questioning and/or non-questioning.

Frankly to most of us the post-modern worldview is the same thing we have had all our lives, just in recent years it has been granted a more determinative status. Most of us grew up in a post-modern world .That actually fits in well with what the philosophers were saying, as they talked of the post modern philosophy well before I was born. Now that I have used the jargon I can move on to the substance. The human needs have not really changed in the last 50 years nor are they likely to change in the next 50 years but the way the local church deals with people needs to change and probably should have changed over 50 years ago, not all churches of course but many, maybe most.

I began this series by mentioning my Pastor’s sermon. What he appears to want is that the church members take up some or much of his pastoral responsibilities. The presentation was somewhat confused but it seems he wanted to know who would like to be trained to take on some of his responsibilities and he would start some type of training for them.

The problem is that he should have never gotten into that situation. The spiritual gift of being a pastor was never meant to refer to one guy taking care of one hundred to five hundred people. It is about people caring for other people. Granted it is probably not any more abundant then the gift of teaching but we don’t just have one teacher in a church why must it be one pastor. The answer is our tradition has made it that way. No doubt there is a control issue involved with all this, which dates back to the 4th century when one Bishop per city was begun and no doubt it is also a control issue within each denomination. I won’t get into that here because I think in many ways it is irrelevant because the denomination will only change from the ground up. The local church is not only the front lines of the denomination they are the leaders of the future of the denomination. (I use denomination because this is a problem throughout the Christian world and is not unique to the SDA denomination).

If you look at what the New Testament church did you see that it was run by the Bishops, which many denominations call the Elders. These Elders were responsible for the organization and overseeing the operations of the community of Christians. But it was the community of Christians who were told to take care of each other as well as those who had no one to care for them such as the widows. The issues of the New Testament church may not even be too similar to our own circumstances. Even so we don’t have a lot on how they did things and we know that the structure changed pretty radically in the centuries that followed. It is quite possible that there is no Biblical example or historical example for the modern or postmodern local church. This should not be too surprising considering the number of cultures in the world; one method may not work in every culture, or for the education level of any particular society. We have to look to our own needs for solutions especially now when Christianity is on the decline through most of the Western world.

Our tradition of using the pastor as our spiritual caretaker has prevented the local church from developing into the multilevel care that would seem to be more useful. We don’t care for people near as much if we don’t know them. We don’t know them because we don’t have occasion to talk to them in meaningful ways. We don’t know what is going on in their lives or their families lives because we don’t talk to them. Asking someone you don’t really know about their family is today about the same as saying “how are you doing”, it is used as a greeting but most of us know that the proper answer is “good”. We know very well that they don’t really want to know anything in detail. Even if we did want to tell them something about our lives if we don’t know them we are not likely to trust them with such information.

As we are now, we are left with a majority in each local church who don’t know each other. Rarely communicate with each other and therefore don’t particularly care for each other. What is often heard is that we have a great desire for a caring church yet we have been promoting an uncaring church by our tradition of isolation and passive church attendance. My feeling is that a church that cares for her fellow members will then take that caring out into the community at large. That kind of caring inside the church will also attract people to the church, as well as stimulate people to want to involve others from outside into their church. Because the church will then have something to offer, something more meaningful then a good praise band or high church music or a possibly entertaining sermon. Our tradition has told us that we have “the truth” and we have assumed that is all that is needed. It never was “the truth” and today the postmodern questions claims about some group having all “the truth” and we have to address the reality versus the tradition. The local church is not only theological it is sociological and we have in general failed on the sociological perspective.

I am not a very outgoing person, so my perspective is certainly different from the extrovert but I think my perspective is represented in many and maybe even the majority of people within the SDA church. Here I have to get more specific because I am dealing with my experience. Of the friends I have had through my life in the SDA church I got to know those people through the Sabbath School discussion classes or through someone that was in the class with me. (This is opposed to the Sabbath School lecture classes such as Doug Batchelor does, that are mere sermons). Having friends in church is an integral part of the goal of the local church. Or rather it should be the goal, numbers in attendance is often the goal but numbers are misleading the world of religion. A Recent Duke Study says:

Americans’ circle of confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona.

“The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology at Duke University and one of the authors of " Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades."

Most sociologists consider these “discussion networks” to be an important social resource, providing counseling and other valuable help in people’s lives.

My experience does not mean Sabbath school is the answer, it is rather a useful tool and maybe it would be wise to consider something similar for the time which is now wasted in sermons. Unfortunately with our high regard for traditions we have not built our churches to serve the congregation’s needs. We spend millions on large sanctuaries which don’t offer many possibilities for doing other things besides “passive resistance”. A term here by which I mean sitting silently in church resisting the call of God to be an active Christian, to actually share our thoughts and feeling with others. Certainly other denominations have taken the lead in this area by building churches with multipurpose buildings and furniture. The Latter Day Saints with their inclusion of gymnasiums and even outdoor picnic areas or shelters have realized the need for the social aspects of church.

With the limitations of each local churches building facilities it is likely that each church would have to make changes in stages should they decide that there should be change. I would like to encourage people to think about making changes. Areas of theology are not the only traditions that cause limitations in the Christian churches, our very local church practices should be reconsidered.

It may be that I have taken too many words as Solomon would say, though my goal is not just to present information or my opinions but to persuade. But if I were to sum up my position it would be: “create a church that creates friendships, friendship lead to teamwork and teamwork to outreach and outreach creates friends.”

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sermons: Training Ground of the Passive Church

I started this a couple weeks ago but wanted to put it up as soon as possible after the sermon I heard at my home church this last Sabbath.

In a recent interview on Clifford Goldstein stated in the comments section:

The first question, from Tim. The fact is that in the 26 years I’ve been in this church I’ve been bored out of mind with corporate worship service. It’s has often been the low point of my whole SDA experience. Now some churches and some pastors have been better than others, and some even pretty good, but as a whole I have gotten very little out of it. What I’ve learned I’ve basicially learned on my own, which isn’t that hard. I mean, we’re dealing with SDA theology, not Quantum Electodynamics or something. It’s not that hard.

Clifford is not the only one that has found Christian church services to be boring and unrewarding. The following is posted on website about a letter written to the editor of a newspaper:

"Dear Sir:
I notice that ministers seem to set a great deal of importance on their sermons and spend a great deal of time in preparing them. I have been attending services quite regularly for the past thirty years and during that time, if I estimate correctly, I have listened to no less than 3,000 sermons, but, to my consternation, I discover I cannot remember a single one of them. I wonder if a minister's time might be more profitably spent on something else?

That letter triggered an avalanche of angry responses for weeks. Sermons were castigated and defended, but eventually a single letter closed the debate:

"Dear Sir:
I have been married for 30 years, during that time I have eaten 32,580 meals — mostly of my wife's cooking. Suddenly, I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I have received nourishment from every single one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago...

There is a great deal of wisdom in that letter. I have heard countless sermons over my lifetime — many were memorable and many more were not. The truth is, I can't even remember everything that I have preached — that's why God created databases! However, I know that many of the sermons which I heard have made an impact in my life. I pray that the sermons I deliver do the same for others.

And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

The author at has thought he has answered the question. By some type of repetition the listener is changed though the listener does not even know he has been affected. How many of us would want our doctors or other professionals to have been trained by such an osmosis type of education. To graduate and be told you are ready now even though you can’t remember what it is you have supposedly been taught.

The problem is that as churches have evolved they have remained with traditions that were best used for people at a time when the congregation was illiterate and books were rare and expensive. When knowledge was something that only a few had and the expression of information from that knowledge had to go to the unknowledgeable and the uninformed the sermon took the lead. It has remained by tradition the centerpiece of today’s Christian churches even though the masses are literate, have access to all types of reading material and recorded material, both audio and visual. Society has changed yet the church has not. It may be that because of our traditions we believe that if this is what happened in the New Testament church it is what the ideal is forever more. Hard to believe as we don’t segregate men from women. (Well I guess the shakers did, when was the last time you saw one of them?) We don’t tell the women to be silent so why is it that we should hold so tightly to the example of the early church. The early church had no Pastor over the congregation or paid clergy. Those are later practices which have become our traditions.

The local church is not a hospital for sinners or a museum of the best of Christianity. It is a group of like minded people who get together to support one another in their lives and become equipped to serve as ambassadors for God. The Sermon as the centerpiece of the Christian church have become the plaque of the religion. We have trained our members to become passive. Fulfilling their duty to God by once a week hearing someone preach at them what he thinks is the word of God. Half the time it is not a message of God and three quarters of the time it will be logically flawed, yet as with the letter above we expect the good intentions to pervade the audience as they passively listen, trained not to interrupt the sacred proceedings. The thinking ones in the group may interrupt in their minds but they must be silent and if it is brought to the sermonizer’s attention they will likely be thought of as troublemakers.

Are sermons really what the modern Christian church needs? Ecclesiastes tells us of the wisdom of using few words yet our religion centers on listening to many words. Meaningless are the words which fly over us because we sit in passive silence waiting for someone to tell us what God wants us to do. As our society gets lonelier and lonelier why is it that we want to sit in a large group of people, silently?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know the people at your local church; to know about them, to have real conversations with them? Not the kind of meaningless and inane conversation we hear at the so called sharing time when people get up to say “nice to see you, what’s your name, welcome to our church”. We don’t know the people in our congregations because we are trained not to know them. The biggest congregational attendance is for the so called main worship service. This consists of singing (sometimes interminably long singing) and then the message delivered in the form of a sermon which can range from 10 minutes to interminable depending upon the personality of the local pastor.

Of course there are going to be some people that we know and can have real conversations with before or after church. Over time we actually do develop friends at church or at church related activities like our schools. This has been the saving feature of churches at some point there would be somebody we might be able to call a friend at our church and then we begin to feel at home in “our” church.

We play church so badly because it has become a formalized tradition of how a Christian should act. We have the tools and even the tradition of Sabbath School which produces interactivity with other people, thoughts and feeling actually expressed, opinions shared and knowledge exchanged. The part of our local church which offers the most to individuals is the least attended part of our services. The part of church where people can actually get to know each other, where discussion can take place is nothing but a sidelight that prepares us for the grand passive sitting at the sermon.

The news in the past few years has spoken of people getting together and bookstores and coffeehouses to discuss issues and make friends and express themselves. While our churches struggle to get people to come early enough for Sabbath school to discuss issues and make friends and express themselves. The disconnect I would submit is that we have created a false idol out of the sermon and replaced real social interaction with the quasi human interaction of passive listening. It is a phenomenon that has helped to create multi-thousand member churches. These churches no longer have anything like the Sunday school for adults of past generations, just a period of singing and the sermon and home. These mega churches still have some type of smaller group activities but with greatly reduced numbers even when all the groups are combined compared to the main sermon services.

The problem it seems to me is we want to be a church community but we discourage the elements that make us a community. The bonds created by knowing and caring for someone personally, has been replaced by the weaker bond of being at the same place as someone else and sitting quietly.

Continued in Part 2 The local church in the post modern world.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ecclesiastes 5 Rich Man Poor Man

However you look at it you have to wonder about our lesson author or editor. This week the lesson for Sunday begins with the following:

However much Solomon in Ecclesiastes, as in Proverbs, focused on practical living and moral injunction, he did so always with an awareness of the reality and presence of God. Here, too, in these lines, Solomon expresses not only the reality of God but the closeness of God; that is, God cares how you approach Him, God cares how you talk to Him, and God cares about you paying your vows to Him. Solomon's God, the God of the Bible, isn't the God of deists, some distant deity who created the world and then left it to its own devices. If so, we would truly have reason to despair.

Here the lesson study guide acknowledges that the writer of Ecclesiastes always writes with an awareness of God yet just last week the Lesson study stated:

Lesson 5 Sunday

Solomon is, again, looking at life from a worldly perspective, from "under the sun." These words, though, are somewhat interesting when you consider who is writing them: the king himself

Or this from Sunday January 14

Solomon, old and bitter, had lost his way; hence, all the knowledge and wisdom he acquired meant little to him. In contrast, the wisdom he talks about in Proverbs is a wisdom centered on a knowledge of God, the source of all true wisdom and knowledge. This point is brought home even more powerfully when Solomon links knowledge and understanding with God as the Creator (Prov. 3:19), which proves again how the foundation of all knowledge and wisdom begins with Him. Notice, too, that this wisdom isn't just abstract theological concepts regarding the nature of God or the limits of omnipotence. Instead, in these verses in Proverbs we can see a practical element. True wisdom will be reflected in how we live our lives. Solomon, as he lost his way, lost the true wisdom he once had, and he found, instead, only the worldly kind, the kind under the sun. Hence, in his mind it all became vain, meaningless, even a source of pain.

The first quote in this post is actually true, the next two are the manipulations of the lesson study guide to for whatever reason to portray the book as that of a bitter old man talking about life apart from God. I hope the lesson study guide can carry on with the view from this lesson that “he did so always with an awareness of the reality and presence of God.”

From Tuesday’s Lesson:

He would be appalled, for sure. The Lord has provided more than enough of everything for human beings here. Though the causes of poverty are complex, there's no doubt that greed, corruption, and covetousness have made it a lot worse.

No question, those who have made themselves rich through the exploitation of the poor will find themselves face to face with an angry God.

Has God really provided more then enough for everyone? How has he made such provisions? Last quarter we read of the story of Joseph who took from the people of Egypt their grain and stored it and then sold it when famine came; selling to those from other countries also. What happened to the Lord’s provision? What is more likely is that God has supplied the raw materials to provide for life but random natural events can prevent the ability to provide necessary food. On top of that man can destroy his environment. For instance overgrazing and deforestation can destroy the productivity of the land. Then there is overpopulation, something that can lead to insufficient food as well as cause one people to invade the territory of another people with the result of wars.

Poverty is indeed complex and it is far more then the rich exploiting the poor. In the larger scheme of things it is the cooperation between people that produce economies that benefit all of the society. Even the luxuries are made by people who need employment.

The first verse of Ecclesiastes 5 is important to the theme of the book, listen and think and develop wisdom:

1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ecclesiastes Tangent Part 2

Reflecting on my previous post there are two questions that have been raised in the comments section. They are related to Sam Harris’ anti-religion book the End of Faith which as I get farther into it I see is heavily influenced by his acceptance of Eastern philosophy. In any case his view is that religion is bad because faith without any evidence is unreasonable and right now the Islamic radicals are threatening many people’s lives and liberty. Thus the fundamentalists are a danger to civilization and he assumes the Christian fundamentalists will be just as dangerous to civilization and the fundamentalists are allowed their fundamentalism because of moderate Islamists and moderate Christians. Therefore in his thinking moderates in religion are just as bad for civilization as are fundamentalists. So if we ignore his guilt by association argument that says a fundamentalist Moslem is the same as a fundamentalist Christian we are still left with the idea of moderates making fundamentalism more acceptable. It is not the greatest argument it is equivalent to saying anyone with a religion of any type is responsible for the bad behavior of another person of another religion. If people of one religion recognize that it is ok to have faith in another religious philosophy, that religious freedom should be acceptable to society. Such pluralism will also allow fundamentalism.

Aside from the numerous personal suppositions that Sam Harris uses he is very right that faith has to be based upon evidence. Our suppositions about evidence however may be quite different. But for our purposes I want to discuss what it means in Christianity, does fundamentalism work at all or is it something that moderates don’t accept in their religion but use the same terminology and presuppositions as the fundamentalists.

Both moderates and fundamentalist Christians frequently use the term “word of God” in reference to the Bible. No doubt this is because at times in the Bible “the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness”, word of God came to Nathan, saying.” The word of God in these instances indicates that the person received a message from God. Certainly the Bible as a whole and in its parts can be seen as containing messages from God. However the fundamentalist carries the conclusion farther by adding to the subject two other ideas, inerrancy and infallibility. These two elements create the effect that instead of the Bible containing messages from God the whole thing is a message from God that has no errors in it and is infallible. This leads us to Glenn’s comment:

II Timothy [3:16] is usually the verse cited to justify biblical inerrancy, inspiration and the like. And since the only Bible available to the author of II Timothy (assumed to be Paul) was the Old Testament, than the OT in this reasoning is perfectly authoritative, infallible, etc.

What is your take on that passage and argument?

(NASB) 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

Nowhere in that verse is the concept given of inerrancy or infallibility. It tells us about the profitability of reading the scriptures for various life applications. In fact within the context of 2 Timothy the idea is that those scriptures would lead to the wisdom to recognize Jesus Christ.

14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

The concept is that the sacred writings will lead you to wisdom that can see the salvation in faith in Christ. So the sacred writings are not simply a list of God’s commands but an inspired account of God and man, history and philosophy with the intent to lead us back to God and salvation (healing the relationship). Wisdom is developed by the application of information. defines Wisdom as: ”knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.” Wisdom is not found because something is without error or infallible. God alone is infallible, man who is the one recording the messages from God or is the subject of inspiration is not infallible and not without errors, he is not without his own presuppositions whether they are true or false. The insistence upon infallibility in fundamentalism destroys the wisdom factor. Infallibility says that a Sabbath breaker should be killed as per Old Testament instruction. Wisdom is the product of seeking to couple truth with justice and right judgment. It forces people to look at other alternatives and other examples whether they are found in other areas of the Bible or whether they may be examples which come from life around us today or in history.

To this I will add the comment of Bruce:

Is it possible that there is a different interpretation to be had of Deut. 13 (I think it was 13?) than the one that Harris has implied. So often we Christians will say that that doesn't apply to today, they "needed" that strict law at that time because Israel was going through a period of crisis etc. etc.

There are certainly other ways of interpreting the verses in Deut 13, but Harris did not imply anything to those verses. He was quoting them in their context and with their meaning intact. To say that the meaning was for those people at that time in those circumstances is the natural method of interpretation. It is in fact the logical application of the statement. However if Deut 13 is the infallible Word of God then we have painted ourselves into the corner and fundamentalism is our only option. By accepting the fundamentalist view the moderate Christian is very much the accomplice to the fundamentalist view of God in society. We have to move past being a moderate to being a progressive Christian. A progressive Christian is someone who looks at the message without inserting the fundamentalist traditions into the message. To come to a method of understanding the Bible which sees inspiration in the Bible yet allows for the progression of truth and understanding, not only for ourselves but also for the writers of the books.

The question we have to ask is how do we determine what is of importance and what is not to our relationship with God and other people. Strict rules for an ancient civilization may no longer having real meaning for us, and if not applicable to us then we need to understand what the inspirational value to us is. That value of course may just be in knowledge of history, or it may speak of the nature of man or the nature of God or it may even be something that may only aid some of us depending upon what our life situation may be.

This of course leads us to the objection that to analyze the Bible in this way we are placing human reason above the “word of God”. That is the fundamentalist first and foremost objection to Progressive Christianity. The answer is found in the fact that both the Jewish and Christian and every other religion I can think of is dependent upon human reason. We have to depend upon the reasoning of the prophets and the writers of the books of the Bible, we have to depend upon the reasoning of the people around those prophets and writers who held their messages as important and inspired of God. We even have to depend upon human reason when we hear about those people or read their messages. Contrary to Sam Harris’ view religion is filled with human reason. But as with other areas of human reason it is constantly changing and growing. Something that fundamentalism does not like, something that the tradition lovers do not like yet it is something we all must embrace.

The following is an example of something that is useful to show the difference between fundamentalism and a progressive view. The conversation is from the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

Leslie has just gone to church for an Easter service, and in conversation afterward these are some of the statements of the children Leslie age 10, Jess age 10 and Maybelle age 6:.

Leslie: That whole Jesus thing is really interesting isn’t it?

Jess: What you mean?

Leslie: All those people wanting to kill him when he hadn’t done anything to hurt them. She hesitated. It’s really kind of a beautiful story, like Abraham Lincoln or Socrates or Aslan.

Maybelle: It ain’t beautiful its scary nailing holes right through some bodies hands

Jess: Maybelle’s right…Its because were all vile sinners God made Jesus die.

Leslie: Do you think that’s true?

Jess: He was shocked. It’s in the Bible Leslie

Leslie: it’s crazy isn’t it, you have to believe it but you hate it. I don’t have to believe it and I think it’s beautiful.

Maybelle: you gotta believe the Bible Leslie.

Leslie: Why?

May belle: Cause if you don’t believe the Bible…God will damn you to hell when you die!

---From chapter 8