on these days in the American Restoration Heritage: May 3-9

Among the things that happened this past week in the American Restoration Heritage history:

May 3

* May 3, 1824 – Before both God and man, what does true honesty – or dishonesty – look like in the pulpit? What place ought prayers and sermon notes have – or not have – in connection with sermon delivery? And, did Alexander Campbell ever skip school, cheat on exam, or receive corporal punishment in his youth?

Today, in an article in the Christian Baptist entitled “Pulpit Honesty,” Alexander Campbell us gives answer to all of the above. He writes:

“When I was a boy I sometimes played truant, and fearing the ferula, I would sometimes write off my lesson on a slip of paper, cut according to the dimensions of my book; and with this before me, I was enabled to translate with some degree of fluency. I was lately reminded of my boyish tricks, when attending ‘the divine service’ of a popular divine, of a neighboring county … His text was, ‘Among whom shine ye as lights in the world.’ After a ‘solemn prayer’ for divine assistance in delivering a suitable message, he opened his Bible, in which he had very ingeniously inserted his manuscript. He held the book in his right hand, and with considerable sleight of hand turned the leaf seven or eight times, during the pronunciation of this heaven dictated message. He must have read 14 or 16 pages of matter, no doubt well arranged and condensed. His eyes turned askance to the right, at proper intervals, furnished his tongue with inspiration. Thought I, this is a sure method of obtaining an answer from heaven for a suitable message: first to have it in writing, and then to ask it from God. But the recollection of the double portion of the rod, which I used to receive for such a trick, (for I was whipped, when detected, first for not having my lesson, and secondly, for striving to cheat my preceptor) brought such a train of reflections to my mind, that I was ready to charge the parson with having been the cause of ‘my thinking my own thoughts,’ while ‘he was shining a light in a dark place.’

“I thought that the sacred desk was never elevated to be a protection against the detection of theft. I thought how deleterious to morals was such an example. To see a character so sacred, on so sacred an occasion, strive to cheat the eyes of gallery critics, by the agility of his fingers, and the charms of a well directed glance of the eye. In vain to remonstrate against hypocrisy when the finger is separating the concealed leaves; in vain to recommend honesty to the youth, when the pen, and perhaps the words of another, are made to speak what was never felt, and to act the part of a prompter behind the curtain; in vain to teach sincerity in our prayers to God, when the parson prays with apparent sincerity for a sermon, while he has it in his pocket. In fact, I was so mortified by this clerical fraud, that I could not but commend the honesty of the Catholic priest, and the Episcopahan curate, who, when he reads his sermon, manfully and honestly lays it before him in the presence of all, and never dares to ask from heaven what he has in writing, as if to impose upon the superstition of his hearers.”

* May 4, 1824 – How ought a church leader handle the reception of an anonymous letter? Today, in the same issue of the Christian Baptist just cited, we learn how Alexander Campbell dealt with such.

Today, Campbell responds to a man who has sent him an anonymous letter containing seven questions. Campbell responds to the anonymous request by answering the man’s questions … in public print, in the Christian Baptist. Yes, he publishes the letter and his responses to the seven questions … and then, taking the gloves off, adds seven questions of his own for the man to respond to in reply, the first of which reads:

“What is your name? Should you honor me with another epistle and suppress your name, I cannot answer it, because I could not then consider you an honest and well-meaning lay-man who fears not the light.”

Campbell’s response brings to mind the “bubbles” superimposed over fight scenes in the original ‘Batman’ TV series (e.g. – “WHAM!,” “POW!,” etc.).

May 4

* May 4, 1842 – The future president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, pays a visit to Alexander Campbell and Bethany College.

Davis is impressed with Bethany College and so, leaves William J. Stamps* of Wilkinson County, Mississippi, his favorite nephew, with Campbell for enrollment in Bethany. In a lengthy letter published in the August 6, 1903 edition of the Christian Evangelist under the title “The First Graduating Class of Bethany College,” J.A. Dearborn tells of how Davis esteemed Alexander Campbell and his work. Dearborn writes:

“I remember … that Jefferson Davis remained at Bethany for several days, and that he was said to be a warm admirer of Mr. Campbell and sympathized with the grand religious enterprise that Mr. Campbell had in charge.”

[* Not many months later, in early 1843, Stamps dies on the campus of Bethany College from injuries he suffered in a fall while ice-skating on nearby Buffalo Creek.]

* May 4, 1871 – Today, a letter penned by the famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee is published in the Apostolic Times.* It is a letter Lee originally penned to a friend, telling him of what he (Lee) thought of Alexander Campbell:

“As Dr. Symonds said of the great Milton, so may I say of the late President of Bethany College, ‘That he was a man in whom were illustriously combined all the qualities that could adorn or elevate the nature to which he belonged. Knowledge, the most various and extended virtue that never loitered in her career, nor deviated from her course. A man who, if he had been delegated as the representative of his species to one of the many Superior worlds, would have suggested a grand idea of the human race. Such was President Campbell.”

* [Both Campbell and Lee are dead when this letter appears in the Apostolic Times; Campbell having deceased in 1866 and Lee having passed on in 1870.]

May 5

May 5, 1889 – Today, one week after “Harrison’s Horse Race,” a one-armed preacher organizes the first Restoration Heritage church in the newly opened “Unassigned Lands.”

The church is located in the city now known as “Guthrie.” With the land run a week ago, Guthrie went from non-existence to being a city of ten thousand, quite literally, overnight. James M. Monroe leads the church’s organization efforts and he and Dick T. Morgan serve as shepherds of the twenty-one member congregation. The fold for this little flock is a 12′ x 15′ cabin that has walls, but doesn’t yet have a roof or floor.

Guthrie? But, what of Oklahoma City, you ask? A nineteen-member church will be organized there one week from now. Guthrie (Logan County) will serve as the capital of the Indian Territory until the region is granted statehood in 1907 and it will serve as the capital of Oklahoma until 1910, at which time Oklahoma City takes over that role. Oklahoma City is located just north of the center of the state and Guthrie is on the northern edge of what is now the greater OKC metroplex.

What do we know of James M. Monroe? Monroe is born in northeastern Ohio in 1843. During the Civil War he serves as a Private in Company G of the U.S., 42nd Ohio Infantry Regiment … yes, your memory serves you correctly, the 42nd Ohio is the regiment James A. Garfield raises up and leads. Monroe suffers the loss of an arm in the siege of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863. His debilitating wound marks the end of his military service, but affords him time to attend college – Hiram College, Alliance College, and Butler University (where he receives a Master’s degree). In the 1870’s he serves as a college professor and president in California. In 1886 (in Ohio) and 1890 (in Ohio) he makes unsuccessful bids as a candidate for Congress on the Prohibition ticket.

By 1904 – fifteen years after the land run and still three years prior to statehood – the land now known as Oklahoma can claim to have over three hundred Restoration Heritage churches with over sixteen thousand members. At least one congregation can be found in every county of the state and no community with a population of least one thousand is without a Restoration Heritage church.

[A sidenote: The northern half of Oklahoma and the southern half of Oklahoma are somewhat different from each other and no small part of those distinctions can be traced back to who settles these areas. A much higher percentage of the earlier settlers in north and northeast Oklahoma come from states that were associated with the Union during the Civil War than do those who comprise the populace of the south and southwestern portions of the state. Many of the those living in the southern half of Oklahoma came to the land from Texas (which aligned itself with the Confederacy). The evidence for such can clearly be seen by simply walking some of the older cemeteries in the state. Gravestones inscribed with the initials “G.A.R.” (“Grand Army of the Republic;” i.e. – the Union Army) are far more common in the northern half of the state than in the southern half. Walk some of the cemeteries on, or shortly after, Memorial Day and you’ll notice a much higher percentage of small Confederate battle flags posted on graves in the south than you will on graves in the northern portions of Oklahoma. In fact, southeastern Oklahoma is still referred to by some today as “Little Dixie” and a community once existed in my home county in south-central Oklahoma (Stephens) that was known simply as “Dixie.”

May 6

May 6, 1864 – The birth of a child has, for the first time, made you a parent. You have been thrust into a brave, new world! What do you need to know, and always remember, most of all? And just what sort of advice or help might you expect to receive from your father or father-in-law at such a time? Or, looking from the other direction, who can understand, much less communicate, the depth of joy and thankfulness, pride and hope, that well up in the heart of a grandparent at the birth of a grandchild? And, just how is a parent to relate well to his adult child and son-in-law with sensitivity and the offering of advice?

We learn some of the answers to these things as a man pens a letter today to his son-in-law and his youngest daughter upon the birth of their first child, a girl. The letter’s author is Alexander Campbell, the recipients are John & Decima Barclay, and it is the birth of Virginia Huntington Barclay that provides the occasion. The Barclays are overseas at the time, in Larnaca, Cyrpus. Let me encourage you to read this letter very slowly, so as to truly savour the state of mind and the choice of words and phrasing by father-in-law/grandfather Campbell.

“My dear son and daughter:

“We cordially congratulate you in the reception of an heir from the Lord. This is a rich and precious gift from the Lord, which the wealth of the richest monarch on earth could not purchase, though possessed of all the gold of Ophir. It constitutes you parents, and lays upon you an obligation of paramount importance. For such a precious gift kings would sometimes give a kingdom. But all the gold of Ophir could not purchase it. Still, it is to be nourished, cared for, protected, and brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Many are the duties incumbent upon us for such a present from the Lord. In the reception of it our heavenly Father virtually says to us: ‘Take this child, educate, and train it for me, and great shall be your reward.’ It is, indeed, withal, a pleasing task. But to secure this, the Lord has wisely, kindly, and deeply planted in the maternal and paternal heart – a paramount affection. Mothers have more generally a deeper and a more enduring natural affection than fathers. Because, we presume, they need it most. Their faithful efforts are, indeed, well rewarded. Children generally love their mothers more than their fathers; and so, me thinks, they ought; for a mother’s affection is generally stronger and more enduring than a father’s.

“But there are exceptions to all general rules. We have all, if observant, seen some of them in this case. To love and to be loved is, in all the relations of life, the richest and the greatest blessing, on earth which we can achieve. We cannot buy it. We must earn it. To be loved we must love. But to love not only our friends, but our enemies, is required by the great Teacher. This is godlike. When we remember this, we cannot but examine ourselves. And, indeed, it is to us all-important that we should habitually examine ourselves, and say to the Lord, ‘Search me, O Lord! and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and show it to me, and lead me, and guide me in the way everlasting!’

“We have peace and tranquility in our position in [West] Virginia. College is in session, with a considerable increase of students. And, were it not for our newspapers, we should not know that there was any war in our country; for which blessing we should be most grateful to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Everything here moves on in its wonted channel. Civil wars are very uncivil things, and wholly contraband to both the letter and spirit of the gospel of the God of peace.

“Your description of the island of Cyprus, published in the April number of the ‘Harbinger,’ has been read with great interest and pleasure, as we learn from all quarters. It is, indeed, a feast to us all; when finished by you, we shall dilate more fully upon it. I am not sure, indeed, but that a full history of it from your pen would be a most useful and interesting volume. … Think of it, and gather and keep all documents of interest, … and on your return give a history of your whole tour. I am constrained, though with reluctance, to close this scroll with an apology. All our family at home unite with me in all affection to you and Decima, father and mother.

“Most affectionately,

“A. Campbell”

Sadly, “Virgie” will live to see only eighteen years of life here. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it is her gravestone that is by far the most unique and elaborate of the nearly three hundreds graves that comprise the Campbell Cemetery in Bethany (Brooke County), West Virginia.

May 7

May 7, 1827 – Have you ever come to be viewed with suspicion simply because you read religious writings penned by those who see things differently? Have your ever found yourself on a trajectory away from some matters you once held to dearly in terms of faith? Have you ever found yourself shot at by the very people you felt sure would support you in your quest for more certain faith? Have you ever been shaken to the very core because it became clear to you that a great many others are infinitely more concerned with status, tradition, control, or power than they are with Scripture, truth, consistency, or purpose?

Well, no matter what it feels like, you’re by no means alone and it isn’t a new experience. And, by means of a letter by “S.E. S______,” reproduced today in Alexander Campbell’s Christian Baptist (CB), we’re reminded of such.

“Brother Campbell,

“You will, undoubtedly, be surprised to hear of the unparalleled proceedings of ‘The Northumberland Particular Baptist Association,’ relative to the Little Muncey church [in Mingo County, WV; the opposite end of the state from Bethany]. I never knew any body of men, religious or political, guilty of such glaring inconsistencies, before. Neither did I think that any body of people, regarded even MEN, would have hazarded their reputation in such a manner. It is some time since I become convinced that confessions of faith, when used as TESTS of orthodoxy, are attended with great mischief in the church of God. Of this I was convinced by the proceedings of the above association.

“As soon as I was thoroughly convinced, I publicly, unequivocally, and solemnly entered my protest against them, and drew upon my head the united opposition of the sects in this country. Some declared me to be a SOCINIAN [Unitarian]. Others affirmed that I was a UNIVERSALIST. Some of the Baptists were apprized of my taking The Christian Baptist, and consequently blamed YOU with my ‘departure from the faith.’ The news had no sooner reached the WHITE DEER, than THOMAS SMILEY said he must be put DOWN. This FIELD MARSHALL mounted his ROZINANTE [‘Rozinante’ was the name of Don Quixote’s old, broken-down horse] and hied [hurried] him away to Shamokin [in Pennsylvania], to the largest division of this little army, and gave orders that they should be in readiness the next August when the whole forces would be collected, (or rather REPRESENTED) in that place, to transact important business. He informed them that ‘a certain young man,’ who had, not long since been ORDAINED, had renounced ‘THE PHILADELPHIA’ [the Philadelphia Confession of Faith of 1742], and all other confessions of faith. He reminded them that they, by their delegates, had solemnly subscribed it, and concluded by expressing his hopes that they would never relinquish it. He also hoped that they be forward to contend for it at the NEXT ASSOCIATION.

“Having heard that WAR was declared against me, I declined attending the association that year, as a DELEGATE. I, however, attended, as a spectator, the second day. Not long after my arrival the GENERALISSIMO began cannonading. I returned a few shots. Night coming on, we could not get into actual engagement. I was in hopes the storm of battle would blow over.

“The next morning, however, they fired at me at least one hour with a LARGE GUN, which they obtained from NEW-JERSEY. It contained nothing but BLANK charges. They spent one hour more in firing at me with a POP-GUN, which they called HENRY CLACK. Finding that I was still on the ground, the CHIEF-GENERAL concluded that he would let loose upon me. But some of the most influential members of the Shamokin church, hearing several gentlemen declare that they would leave the ground ‘if Mr. S______ was not allowed to speak,’ determined that I should have the next SHOT. I arose and had the satisfaction of seeing some of their VETERANS leave the ground before I concluded. The FIELD MARSHALL endeavored to rally his forces, but in vain. I knew of but one who would stand by me in the day of battle, but to my great surprise I heard, a NON-COMMISSIONED officer of the Shamokin department declare that my cause was just, and that he also renounced confessions of faith. ‘I then thanked God and took courage.’

“There are several in this department who are disgusted with ecclesiastical tyranny; but they can’t fight – I am, however, not alone. The people in this section of country, who have never been MARRIED to creeds, I believe, are universally opposed to them.”


“Moreland, the 30th of January, 1827”

[Note: In his letter, S.E.S______ placed emphasis on certain words by two means: italics and ALL CAPS. In the reproduction of his letter above, I’ve retained S.E.S______’s use of ALL CAPS where he used them, but have converted his use of words in italics to ALL CAPS.]

May 8

May 8, 1886 – Imagine a Presbyterian Church inviting you, a Restoration Heritage preacher, to “hold a meeting” for them. Yes, imagine that.

Today is a Saturday, and every night this week T.B. Larimore has been preaching at the Presbyterian Church in Florence, Alabama. No, the Restoration Heritage churches in Florence have not borrowed the Presbyterian’s building in which to conduct their own evangelistic effort. Rather, Larimore is conducting a meeting at the invitation of the Presbyterian Church in Florence. The local paper, the Florence Gazette, reports that his preaching this week has been “to large congregations” and “with marked effect.”

And yes, like you, I’m still working on that “imagine” business.

May 9

May 9, 1895 – Why is it the greatest antagonism is typically shown between people who have the least differences, while kinder and gentler words and ways are selected for those with whom we have far less in common? Is it not because money and material things are worth so very much to us? And do we think those of the world who are yet to believe, don’t notice?

The year 1906 is generally recognized as the year the major split in the Restoration Heritage is officially recognized. But, of course, the rip in the fabric of the heritage had been growing for several decades prior. Serious church fights are all too common from the 1860’s onward and, as a result, lawsuits over church property have steadily increased.

Due to this very problem a letter from the pen of Thomas R. Burnett is published today in the Gospel Advocate. Burnett counsels brethren to take the hit and not take matters of church property into civil courts for decision. But, his letter also speaks of the great bitterness that boils in the hearts of many brethren who disagree over matters such as church government, instrumental music, missionary societies, and open or close communion … his own heart, not excluded.

“Brethren, proceed to re-establish the ancient order of things, just as if there never was a Church of Christ in your town. Gather all the brethren together who love Bible order better than modern fads and foolishness, and start the work and worship of the church in the old apostolic way. Do not go to law over church property. It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. Build a cheap and comfortable chapel, and improve it when you get able. It is better to have one dozen true disciples in a cheap house than a thousand apostate pretenders in a palace who love modern innovations better than Bible truths.”

“True disciples” and “apostate pretenders.” (sigh) One has to wonder how the division between our religious ancestors might have played out – and what witness of Christian spirit might have been given to the world – if churches then had simply not sought to own property at all in the first place, choosing instead to gather together as the church first did in Jerusalem – in public places and in private homes. And, some of us wonder why churches need to own billions of dollars property today … and whether Christ’s kingdom is really better off for it or not.

links: this went thru my mind

Following are links to five articles that I’ve found to be interesting and helpful.

Archaeology, Israel & Jerusalem: Nose Falls Off the Skull of Gordon’s Calvary

“Visitors to the Garden Tomb of Jerusalem are usually shown the “Skull” identified by Charles Gordon as part of the case that this spot may be the authentic site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. On February 20 the bridge of the skull’s nose collapsed during a storm.”

Churches of Christ & church decline: The 2015 Churches of Christ in the United States

“… the average congregation size has declined … to 124 adherents per congregation. … The Christian Chronicle reports that the same figures reflect a 7.8% decline in membership since 1990, reflecting about 100,443 souls. … The 1990s were a time of plateaued growth … — essentially flat, even though it was a time of rapid population growth. … the rate of decline is accelerating. A lot. … The loss of members, adherents, and congregations is … doubling roughly every 15 to 20 years. … During this same period, the population of the United States has grown … the nation is growing at twice the rate at which the Churches of Christ are declining.”

Distraction, faith & focus: The Wheelchair or the Throne [required reading]

“Our enemy is an expert at distraction. If he can get our eyes off that throne and on the pain and uncertainty of the world, then we are doomed to walk this life in fear and agony. He knows that and he loves every minute of it. … Refuse to focus on what you can see and set your minds on things above. Look away from the evil and drama that saturate our lives and fix your eyes on the King of Glory. Only there will you find healing and hope.”

Documentaries, history, Jesus & media: Finding Jesus: Review of Part One

“… as a docu-drama, I thought this was better than many of them, and I look forward to the remaining five episodes.”

Evangelism, expectations, honesty, hypocrisy, outreach, sensitivity & transparency: Seven Lies Christians Tell [essential reading]

“We mean well, but is the truth really on our lips when we evangelize? … We lie when we claim we are more confident than we really are. … We lie when we claim that unexplainable things are in fact explainable. … We lie when we don’t acknowledge our doubts within the drama of faith. … We lie when we pretend like the Bible doesn’t say some really nasty things when in fact it does. … We lie when we claim we understand other beliefs, faiths and world views. … We lie when we claim that all of our beliefs are a ’10.’ … Finally, and most importantly, we lie (insidious and barbaric lying) when we pretend like we really, really, really love the other person when in fact we don’t.”

links: this went thru my mind


ALS & Lou Gehrig: Put Down That Bucket of Ice Water. Read Lou Gehrig’s Story. Learn About the Science of ALS. Then Donate.

“If social pressure isn’t enough to convince you to donate to ALS research, the heart-wrenching story of Lou Gehrig and the science behind the illness that shares his name should be.”

C-sections, healthcare & pregnancy: The Cesarean-Industrial Complex

“New research finds that compared with those born vaginally, C-section babies go on to have a  22 percent higher risk of obesity, nearly double the risk of celiac disease, a 20 percent higher risk of asthma and type 1 diabetes, and up to an 800 percent higher risk of sensitivity to allergens.”

Churches of Christ, division & fellowship: * What Makes a Church a Church of Christ?; * Top 10 Ways Churches of Christ in America Can Survive and Thrive in the “4th Great Awakening” [essential reading]

* “…  if we are serious about letting the Bible draw the lines, set the standard and call the shots then we need to be as gracious as what we find in scripture and stop saying people aren’t Christians or churches aren’t really churches over matters as serious as anything on this list or as trivial as the crazy things people divide and disfellowship over until they get it all perfect.”

* “How can we look through this cultural maelstrom and not only survive, but thrive?”

Expectations, honesty, parenting & reality: Lies We Tell Our Kids

“When we say they’re smart … they assume school should require little effort. When we suggest they’re ‘amazing’ … they wonder why everyone doesn’t adore them and want to be around them. When we tell them they’re gifted … they get confused that people won’t pay big money for their talent. When we say they’re awesome at their sport … they don’t understand why talent scouts don’t recruit them.”

links: this went thru my mind


Busyness & the speed of life: What Slowing Down Teaches You That Rushing Never Will

“The mother of a child with Down syndrome joins her daughter’s rebellion against hurried living.”

Christianity, culture & society: A Shocking Conclusion About American Christianity [required reading]

“The only way someone can think most of what goes on in American churches is authentically Christian is not to read the Bible, the church fathers, the reformers, and the great thinkers and evangelists of all denominations. … I am afraid that it is becoming increasingly harder to find the gospel in America. It is either wrapped so tightly in the flag as to be virtually invisible or relegated to a footnote to messages about ‘success in living,’ being nice and including everyone. … How like New Testament and historic Christianity is ours? What have we lost?”

Community & complaining: The Monday Rule [essential reading]

“…  the Monday rule … might be stated this way: ‘If you have concerns or the feel the need to complain, do it Monday (or another day of your choice). Please don’t do it Sunday–or when the church is gathered for worship.’ … One of the greatest services leadership can provide the church is the effective handling of the church’s concerns, which includes the timing of such dealings—not just making sure they are heard. Implementing the Monday rule will do more for your church’s weekend assemblies than nearly anything. … A couple of assumptions can be made reasonably about people who complain chronically on Sundays. First, they lack a sense of the impact of their comments on others—especially staff or those whose spiritual frame of heart impacts others that day. Two, they lack spiritual focus during times that are unique in the practice of the church—and their complaining will spread this across the Body if not checked. Three, they likely do this because of proximity. They want to get it dealt with right then—because it could consume their time and energy to do it another time. So, they’d prefer to use yours on their terms rather than deal with the problem another way.”

Compassion, difficult people, ministry & relationships: People are Such Absolute Jerks (and So Can You)

“I’m convinced that we’ve got to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before we help others.”

Gospel, heaven & salvation: The Gospel Isn’t About Heaven [essential reading]

“The gospel is as much about earth as it is heaven. As much about before death as it is after death. It is the message that Jesus, the one true King, is expanding his reign onto earth. This, after all, is what Jesus called gospel: ‘Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)

Gratitude, humility, mindfulness & the ordinary: Cherish the Ordinary

“We become bugged by ten things in our day that didn’t pan out as we had wished without noticing we were able, still, to swallow our food, drive our cars, read the paper, hear the radio, and go to the bathroom. … Decide to cherish the ordinary.  Men, women, and children are suffering from a terrible (yet acceptable and unnoticed by the masses) disease called ingratitude for the simplest of gigantic blessings.  Stop complaining, whining, and/or sighing. Treasure right now.”

Honesty, nationalism & the pledge of Allegiance: Why Christians Might Want To Abstain From Reciting “The Pledge Of Allegiance”

“… I think we’re having the wrong discussion on this issue entirely. Instead of a constant cultural debate over the wording of the pledge, I think a better question is: ‘Should a Christian recite the pledge of allegiance at all?'”

Preaching, relevance & teaching: Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible

“‘It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.’ That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity: an impatience with the Word of God. …  the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible.”

the church Jesus goes to


I know where Jesus goes to church. Without a doubt. He goes to the church that lives deliberately, boldly, and consistently …

pursuing peace and reconciliation. Though it lives in a world saturated with anger, disrespect, snarkiness, and insult, with a will it refuses to go there. It’s done with living by rage, choosing righteousness instead. It’s not defined by its own insecurities and its ability to utter barbed wit in retort to those who mock it, but by its humble confidence in its Christ and its dependence on the provision of God’s Spirit in every situation, no matter how dark or difficult. Imagine: a church made distinctive to all by not being abrasive and hard to live with.

unruled by its wants. Though surrounded on every side by people chasing after every kind of lust and sanctifying all sorts of unfaithfulness in every relationship, it isn’t seduced to do the same. It doesn’t seek its own will, but whatever God’s will is for it. Instead of searching for meaning in whatever it perceives as sexy (not just sex itself, by whatever is “sexy”), it finds its meaning in its Lord and Savior, for he is enough, and more. Picture this: a church known to the world for its contentment and reliability.

by its words of honesty. Though the culture in which is resides is given over to dishonesty and deception, it quietly walks its talk. It practices what it preaches, not merely what’s “practical” in the moment. Its ways aren’t determined by always choosing what works out for its own best interest, but by going after the truth that true love can truly rejoice in always. Capture this vision: a church perceived as genuine and true by all who care to truly engage it.

extending mercy generously. Though its world is largely driven by retaliation and payback, fueled by fear and the never ending yearning for hard justice, it walks by faith on higher ground. It thrives on the Spirit of compassion, not the spirit of competition. Its life map is not of doing whatever would instill fear in others of it, but to do whatever would help install faith in others in the God it follows. Draw it in your head like this: a church characterized by selfless giving and costly care.

loving the unlovable. Though seemingly all of society continually calls it to elicit indifference, ill will, hate, or anything and everything else that dehumanizes, it chooses to love with the love of the divine instead. By so doing, it traffics in forgiveness, not fierceness or fighting. This is because it seeks its definition not in its enemies, but in him who allowed his enemies to spike him to a tree. Place this before your eyes: a church that will mount the cross with its Lord, and die with him. Daily.

After all, what else could a person honestly conclude after reading what Jesus candidly said in Matthew 5.21-26,27-32,33-37,38-42,43-48?

And so, I have to ask: what might a church become if it understood and made these matters its chief means of worshiping and following Jesus Christ? In a week? A month? A few years? Over the course of a lifetime? Or after several generations?

Would it not become more and more like the One it worshiped? And wouldn’t that be what both the Lord, and they, wanted most of all?

Let’s find out. Let’s go to church with Jesus!