INTERNATIONAL NEWS 19th MARCH 2013
WHY THE AMERICAN CHURCH IS LOSING ITS INFLUENCE
By Steve Strang publisher and founder of Charisma magazine
There is a sense a depression in many parts of the body of Christ in America, as if something is badly wrong? We’re losing influence within our culture as the anti-Christian sentiment grows, yet most churches roll on as if all is well. The situation is exacerbated by this simple fact: We don’t have our act together in the body of Christ. Too often people come to church, are deeply disappointed and as a result are turned off from the gospel. The church promises solutions but only offers lip service. We’ve become excellent at giving people a show on Sunday but lousy at showing them how to actually live.
In fact, most church members are as bound up as those in the world—they’re in financial bondage, struggling with addictions and their families are in disarray. This includes leaders in the church. As John Maxwell says, everything rises and falls based on leadership. So allow me to address the leadership situation within the Church today. Evangelical churches and ministries typically grow when leaders are passionate and have a vision. It doesn’t matter if they have seminary degrees; if they can preach the gospel and if people gravitate to them, they suddenly have a growing church!
But there’s also a dark underbelly to leadership in many new Churches springing up. Often the leaders are theologically untrained and veer from biblical doctrine. What else can explain the numerous theological gaffes that have made the public arena in recent times such as one preacher claiming that God is in fact nine gods or one well known American leader being paraded around his church as a crowned king (amid a sex scandal)? As troubling as sloppy theology is, I’m equally disturbed by leaders’ behind-the-scenes attitudes toward their flocks.
There are too many “my way or the highway” leaders. And I have heard far too many pastors joke in private about having a “backdoor revival” before their church could move ahead. Translation: They had to make some people leave. I recently spoke with two businessmen friends about why it’s hard to find a good church. Both are successful financially and are passionate believers. On the surface, they’re what every pastor needs. Yet after being active in a local church, they both became disillusioned with what they saw and how they were treated.
As they recounted stories of how pastors felt threatened by their powerful personalities and positions, I felt sorry for my friends (for never experiencing the community they sought) and for the insecure leaders they served. Countless other mature Christians have been so wounded by leadership that they stay home on Sunday and “go to church” by watching Charles Stanley or Jack Hayford. They get a good message, some good music and an opportunity to “tithe” to that ministry. Sometimes this is a transitional period. Too often it’s not.
But this isn’t Christian community. Aren’t we supposed to assemble with other believers? Aren’t we supposed to bring a hymn or a Scripture or a prophetic word when we meet? In larger churches this need is met in small groups or in various ministries of the church. There are many examples of healthy churches where this happens. But too often it isn’t. So what’s the answer? I believe more church leaders need to be pastored, mentored and discipled themselves. Like the rest of us, they need accountability and true relationship, which produces a spirit of humility and servanthood rather than an “I’m the bishop, serve me” mentality.
Leaders are held to a higher standard. Jesus said it’s better for someone to be cast into the sea with a millstone around their neck than to cause His children to stumble (Mark 9:42). It’s time for us to wake up. There is a lost world to be won. There are “sheep” who need to be nurtured and discipled in the things of God. It’s the only way a believer can survive in this difficult cultural environment! Until this happens, people—like my business friends—will feel as if they’re drifting. They’ll never really find their place in the body of Christ. And sooner or later, they will “vote with their feet” by going somewhere else—or worse still, nowhere.
Source: Charisma News
WHAT HAPPENS AT AN ATHEIST CHURCH
An “atheist church” in North London is proving a big hit with non-believers. Not many sermons include the message that we are all going to die and there is no afterlife, but the Sunday Assembly is no ordinary church service. Launched in January, as a gathering for non-believers, it is, in the words of master of ceremonies Sanderson Jones, “part foot-stomping show, part atheist church, all celebration of life”. A congregation of more than 300 crowds into the shell of a deconsecrated church to join the celebration on Sunday mornings.
Instead of hymns, the non-faithful get to their feet to sing along to Stevie Wonder and Queen songs. There is a reading from Alice in Wonderland and a power-point presentation from a particle physicist, Dr Harry Cliff, who explains the origins of dark matter theory. It feels like a stand-up comedy show. Jones and co-founder Pippa Evans trade banter and whip the crowd up like the veterans of the stand-up circuit that they are. But there are more serious moments. The theme of the morning is “wonder” – a reaction, explains Jones, to criticism that atheists lack a sense of it.
So we bow our heads for two minutes of contemplation about the miracle of life and, in his closing sermon, Jones speaks about how the death of his mother influenced his own spiritual journey and determination to get the most out of every second, aware that life is all too brief and nothing comes after it. The audience – overwhelmingly young, white and middle class – appear excited to be part of something new and speak of the void they felt on a Sunday morning when they decided to abandon their Christian faith. Few actively identify themselves as atheists.
“It’s an excuse to get together and experience community spirit but without the religion aspect,” says Jess Bonham. “It’s not a church, it’s a congregation of unreligious people.” Another attendee, Gintare Karalyte, says: “I think people need that sense of connectedness and to feel they are part of something. That’s what people are craving in the world.” The number of people declaring themselves to be of “no religion” in England and Wales has increased by more than six million since 2001 to 14.1 million, according to the latest census. That makes England and Wales two of the most secular nations in the Western world.
Atheists are getting more vocal, such as the recent ad campaign on London buses. Figures such as writer Richard Dawkins have made it fashionable to be more assertive about having a lack of religious faith and to think about what it means to be an atheist. There’s no scientific answer to being virtuous, but the key thing is to have some kind of list on which to flex our ethical muscles” Writer Alain De Botton says he wants to promote overlooked virtues such as resilience and humour. He argues for a new breed of secular therapists to take the place of the priesthood and believes atheism should have its own churches.
There is a concern among some non-believers that atheism is developing into a religion in its own right, with its own code of ethics and self-appointed high priests. Jones insists he is not trying to found a new religion, but some members of his congregation disagree. “It will become an organised religion. It’s inevitable. A belief system will set in and there will be a structure.” says architect Robbie Harris. “There is a difficulty that it might become cultish and it might become about one person. You could set yourself up as a charismatic preacher, that’s the danger.”
Fellow congregation member Sarah Aspinall says: “I think Jones should step back and see himself as a mediator and an enabler and just bring people up to speak or read.” Jones says it is very early days and future assemblies will be less about him and more about the experiences of congregation members. He says he has been overwhelmed by the public reaction to the Sunday Assembly and is exploring the possibility of setting up similar gatherings around the country. “I wanted to do this because I thought it would be a wonderful thing,” he explains.
Source: BBC News Magazine
CANADA SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOUR OF MARRIAGE
A Supreme Court of Canada decision that upheld Quebec’s laws which provide rights to married couples that do not apply to couples merely living together has been applauded by pro-family organizations as a recognition of the unique and distinctive role that true marriage plays in society. The court ruled that the Quebec law that excludes cohabiting couples from receiving spousal support in the event of relationship breakdown is constitutional and does not discriminate against couples who choose to live together without the benefit of marriage.
In a close 5-4 decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin wrote, “Those who choose to marry choose the protections, but also the responsibilities, associated with that status. Those who choose not to marry avoid these state-imposed responsibilities and protections.” The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) says that the decision accurately reflects the social science research which shows marriage to be substantively different from living common law. “There is great consensus from social scientists, no matter their political stripe, that marriage is different from living together,” said IMFC’s Andrea Mrozek.
“Unfortunately, statistics reveal that people living together break up more readily and are more likely to have multiple partners. Their children face higher rates of school dropout, more drug use and an earlier age of sexual initiation. And single parents are more likely to be poor. These are some of the harsh statistical realities of living together versus getting married, and it is wise to acknowledge this difference,” said Mrozek. The IMFC points out that providing the same benefits to those living common-law and those who are married contradicts the research, and sends the wrong signal about the importance of marriage for society.
BILL TO BAN HOMOSEXUAL KISSING ON STREETS OF RUSSIA
Russia’s parliament has given initial backing to a controversial bill banning homosexual ”propaganda” among minors that is said to lead to homosexuals being fined for kissing in public. The vote on the first reading was held only hours after 20 mostly young opponents of the bill were detained by riot police during a kiss-in protest. In the first of three readings, the Parliament backed the measure with 388 votes in favour, one against and one abstention after a brief debate. The strict measure is based on laws passed in Saint Petersburg, the native city of the President, Vladimir Putin, and in several other Russian regions.
The push to enforce the law on a federal level has dismayed rights activists who believe the legislation is the latest in a sequence of repressive legislation against civil society to be debated by parliament. But the Parliament’s family affairs committee chair Yelena Mizulina said she backed a nationwide law that ”protected minors from the consequences of homosexuality”. ”The unbridled propaganda of homosexuality anywhere you look effectively limits the child’s right to free development,” Ms Mizulina said before the bill reading.
Her comments came moments after a group of opponents held prolonged and proud embraces with same-sex partners in open defiance of the bill. Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia at the end of the Soviet era but officials continue to repeatedly refer to homosexuals in official language as ”people of a non-traditional sexual orientation”. Moscow authorities have suppressed attempts to stage gay rights parades over the past seven years. A survey by the Levada-Centre in 2010 found that 74 per cent of respondents thought homosexuality was either ”immoral” or “mentally deficient.”
Source: Agence France-Presse
REPENT, FAST, LAMENT FOR YOUR NATION – SAYS SRI LANKAN BISHOP
The Bishop of Colombo has called members of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka to fast, pray and lament over the state of the nation after what he said was “the collapse of the rule of law”. The Bishop wrote after the Government impeached Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake over allegations of financial and official misconduct. She denies the allegations and her removal was pronounced unlawful by the courts and condemned by the opposition. In a pastoral letter to the nation’s Anglican’s, the Bishop said he wrote “with a heavy heart” about the state of governance in Sri Lanka and added that the Church should not stay silent.
“Such silence will be dishonouring to our Lord and a betrayal of our identity as His people,” he wrote. “I wish to remind you that right from the day of Pentecost, the Church has learnt to say that ‘Jesus is Lord and not Caesar’. Often this has led to suffering and persecution. The Church must always be prepared for this eventuality.” The bishop said the Church needs to repent for its times of silence and of complicity in injustice. He has therefore called for the Church to use Lent as a time to reflect on “what it means to live as a faithful disciple-community of Jesus in the context of our nation today”.
Source: Anglican Communion News Service
POLICE ASK CHURCH TO HELP FIGHT CRIME AND BE A CATALYST FOR COMMUNITY CHANGE
Faced with the task of reigning-in gangs and illegal activity in Phoenix, Arizona, a few years ago, the Police quickly realized the limitations of their resources and turned to the Church for help. The usual cycle of catch-a-criminal, jail-time, and subsequent release didn’t seem to have a lasting effect on perpetrators, who quickly fell back into criminal behaviour. A Police spokesman said, “In the short-term we can be very effective at crime reduction. But if we’re really committed to long-term problem solving, the only way to do it is through partnerships and through relationships ”
As the Police, together with staff and members of local Churches, sought ways to bring lasting change to the community, a program known as The Neighbourhood Roots system was developed. Neighbourhood Roots allows neighbours to come in for emergency assistance with not only food and clothing, but also employment. One of the larger Churches was chosen to house a “career centre” with a bank of computers. It is staffed by volunteers who help with job advice, as well as praying with individuals for their situations. A spokeswoman for the City of Phoenix said, “There’s so many possibilities because people trust the Church.”
Source: CBN News