Tag Archives: church

Book Review: China’s Reforming Churches (Bruce Baugus, Editor)

As I was reading China’s Reforming Churches I was struck by how ignorant I am regarding the history of the body of Christ in China, and how uninformed I am regarding the present state of Christianity there. My personal politics and very limited one and two person removed exposure to China has created a caricatured view of the country, the culture and the state of the church in this largest of all nations on earth. China’s Reforming Churches offers three wonderful challenges to readers who, like me, have been guilty of unintentional bigotry.

First, the Introduction and first three chapters offer a very detailed history of the Presbyterian and Reformed movement in China over the last 200 years. There is some overlap in the details covered, which I didn’t enjoy, but the coverage is comprehensive and lays a foundation for a more well rounded view of the contemporary Chinese church.

Next, many of the contributing authors are Chinese pastors, and several chapters compiled by North Americans, are posts and articles written by Chinese Christians or interviews of local Chinese pastors and elders. Reading their words, and their thoughts about their own culture can quickly dismantle one’s muddle of misconceptions.

Finally, there is no way to read about the contemporary church in China without coming to the conclusion that while the book is titled “China’s Reforming Churches” it should really just be titled “Reforming Churches.” So much of what is written about the church in China could, with the change of only geographical reference, be said about the churches in Canada, or the United Kingdom, or Australia, or the United States. I was startled at how familiar the struggles were, and how universal the answers should be. While this book is written about China, it is a book about how to maintain and grow healthy churches, and how to effectively train pastors and how to engage within culture. The answers are as true in my home church as they are around the world, in China.

While almost all of the book was fantastic, Chapter 9 was a red herring. The discussion of one and two kingdom theology is complex, and universal. It is surely a matter of great discussion in China, as it is across Western reformed Christianity, but VanDrumen’s chapter was irrelevant to the rest of the subject matter. I was disappointed in its inclusion in an otherwise helpful book.

China’s Reforming Churches  is a wonderful book. It is an intensive read, and won’t be consumed in an afternoon by the pool, but it is worth the time and effort to gain a more accurate view of our brothers and sisters in China, and to reflect on the global needs of the Universal church.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an electronic copy for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one.

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Things We Learn When we Aren’t Trying

All winter I lived aware of the possibility of losing power. Every time a winter storm was predicted we went through the discussion of how much water we had, and wood for the stove, and meals that could be cooked on said wood stove. We had candles and an emergency flash light. I had spare blankets for the children’s beds.

In the irony of 2014 weather, it wasn’t a winter storm in which we lost power. It was Tropical Storm Arthur. Jonathan and I have lived through a number of hurricanes and tropical storms in our years in Georgia, but this year these places seemingly traded weather, and neither fared so well.

We lost power at 8:30 Saturday morning while cooking for a church breakfast. On Sunday morning I told the children, “this is just like camping, except we got to sleep in comfortable beds!” On Monday morning I muttered to Jonathan, “I’m so over this! I just want a shower.” And when I was woken at 4:30 Tuesday morning to the beautiful sound of our toilet tank filling with water and the blinking 12:00 on my alarm clock, I said, “thank you Lord!” with no sense of flippancy.

Over all, I am pretty pleased with how our little family fared. The children mentioned T.V. only once. We cooked and ate our own food. We had enough water to drink. We spent a lot of time outside working in the garden. (The pea trellises did not approve of Arthur’s Saturday rampage.) Jonathan and I read more and went to bed earlier. I even got to the point of asking a friend if I could borrow her laundry scrub board and hand crank wringer to do my own laundry by hand. (The Lord gave me back power before I had to do that, but I was, at least, willing to try.)

I was also so encouraged that in the midst of personal inconvenience, a good number of our church congregation still arrived at church for both services. Some of them (*coughflewellingwomencough*) looking just as put together as any other Sunday. Some of us looked a little worse for wear. Our worship, however, continued despite our circumstance; possibly even sweeter for it.

So we learned we are capable of enjoying life with less convenience, and we are renewed in our thankfulness that we don’t have to. We are grateful for things we often take for granted, and are grateful for the time and place in which we live and once more thankful for the church to which The Lord has called us.

All of that from a tropical storm in the North Atlantic.


Book Review: Loving the Church by John Crotts

There was a time in my life that I was frequently heard to say something like, “I love Jesus. It’s the church I can’t stand.” After my husband finally rebuked me for the sentiment, The Lord took me and Jonathan through an intense period of studying what the Church is and what a church should look like. He used it to radically change my view of the Church from one of barely disguised contempt, to a deep love and appreciation for the beauty of the Bride of Christ.

Because of that, I was excited at the opportunity to review Loving the Church by John Crotts. The doctrine of the church has been the subject of a great deal of works through Church history, but has fallen out of favor lately in our individualistic western Christendom. I was encouraged to see a contemporary book calling the people of God to love the very thing for which Christ gave His life. I eagerly “opened” the digital document and dived into the pages to see what John Crotts could say to a contemporary audience to encourage us in loving the Church.

Written in a hybrid of fiction and exposition, Crotts attempts to personify the many views of church through fictional characters meeting together in a coffee shop. The characters express their views and ask some questions in a conversational manner, and the balance of the chapter discussion is a study answering the questions raised by these “everychristians.” It is not a new approach to this sort of study, and while it is not my favorite style, I understood why Crotts may have chosen to employ a more personalized flavor to the subject. After chapter three, the coffee shop discussions faded into the background for me, and I scanned them before reading the “real chapter” in depth.

Crotts covers his subject in 12 chapters broken down into two sections: what is God’s family, and how you fit into God’s family. His intention, according to the acknowledgements, is to offer a sort of survey of the key ideas, encouraging folks to explore further on their own. It is certainly a very broad strokes study, broader in some areas than in others, of a complex and detailed subject.

While titled, “Loving the Church,” I really think “Some Thoughts on the Church” may have been a better title. After reading this, someone wanting to withdraw entirely from the church may be willing to re consider their stance; but there is little in the book itself to draw someone to a deep and abiding love of the church. The content of the book was devoted far more to the expressions of the visible church than to the mysteries of the invisible one. In a study of the Church, there are two lenses through which we can truly perceive her wonder and beauty. The first is the doctrine of our union with Christ, and the second is the expression of that throughout history. This book alluded to the first very casually in a few sentences and ignored the second all together.

I was disappointed in “Loving the Church.” I felt that the subject matter, as deep and rich as it is, and as truly integral to our Christian life, deserved more.


Assemble!

She either loves him, or she’s on the fast track to villaindom

My kids are into the Avengers. And by “into” I mean “slightly obsessed,” so I know the theme song to the cartoon very well. They make me yell “Avengers Assemble” every time, and as I do, the lyrics lodge themselves in my cranium. It struck me, the ten thousandth time I heard it, that certain portions of the lyrics could actually pass for a contemporary worship song.

Avengers Assemble!
Always we will fight as one
‘Til the battles won
With evil on the run
We never come undone
Assembled we are strong
Forever fight as one

Sounds like something you’d hear on a station that is “safe and fun for the whole family,” doesn’t it? It’s all fine and good as a theme song for a cartoon series about mythical folks doing incredible things (with style) but when those same sentiments are expressed in connection to the body of Christ I get a little twitchy. Super heroes are entertaining, and even educational, but in real life we are not the heroes of our own stories. We are not a collection of enhanced people, made even more remarkable by having come together in a common purpose. We are not the Avengers.

God is the hero of our tale, and we are the rebellious masses fighting Him and each other as He builds us into a Bride He cherishes. Instead of a great unified force, the fact that we ever agree on anything is a tribute to the transforming power and grace of God’s work in our lives. For super heroes to be even more super together is rational. For the Church of Christ to have not only survived, but thrived, blossomed, spread across the entire globe, is the sort  of foolishness in which the Lord specializes.

Sure, the Avengers are cool, but let’s not be deceived: the church built on the covenant promises of a faithful God is SO MUCH cooler.


Stephen Estock on Discipline

Stephen is our Pastor of Other Assorted Duties as Required. (I don’t think that’s his actual title, but that’s sort of how I see him.) One of his assorted duties had him teaching the large group time of ladies’ bible study for the last nine weeks, and I have really loved it. This week, in wrapping up 2 Corinthians 7 he said this:

“Let’s talk about church discipline, because it’s really misunderstood. When you hear the word preached, and the Holy Spirit uses that to identify sin in your life, that is discipline. When it happens in church, that’s church discipline.”

That statement combined with this blog post about anger, has changed my entire week. That’s why I have been thinking instead of blogging.


So Much More

I think most seminarians probably goes through this experience. His family is in a church, happily serving and he gets asked to do more, and teach more. People begin asking him about things in the bible, and seeking his council, and then they begin to say, “You should really go to seminary.” Pretty soon he’s the guy who is going to be in seminary, and then he’s the guy being sent to seminary.

Then he gets to seminary: a place filled with guys interested in teaching and studying the word; a place filled with people gifted in some of the same things he is. He’s one of eighteen seminary students at church and suddenly he’s not such a unique commodity; he’s a dime a dozen.

Please understand, I’m not talking about Jonathan’s feelings here. I’m talking about mine. There are days that I just want to jump into a conversation – or onto a table – and yell, “My husband is SO MUCH MORE than Chick-Fil-A. He’s a talented teacher, preacher and leader. He has wisdom that is growing every day and he’s  also REALLY FUNNY if you give him a chance. He loves people and wants to see them love the gospel and be changed by it. He isn’t called to sell chicken for the rest of his life.”

I don’t actually do that. I just feel like doing it.

One of the blessings of our church is that they want to give seminary students opportunities. Jonathan and our neighbor David are co-teaching Sunday School with one of the seminary professors, and co-leading a small group on Sunday nights and Jonathan is David’s assistant on Wednesday night in the 3rd and 4th grade Kids Club group. Last night, David was doing a devotional in the midweek service, so I got to help Jonathan in Kid’s Club.

Watching him relate to 13 third and fourth graders brought me back to all the years we worked together, first in youth ministry for a year, then in children’s ministry for two years, then back to youth ministry for five and a half, then, after an eighteen month break, teaching for four years. It was fun, and I saw Jonathan doing the things for which God built him.

I was reminded that I don’t have to tell anyone that my husband is so much more than Chick-Fil-A. God knows. The same God who has created all of these other men to serve the body of Christ and created places in which they are to serve, he has done the same for my husband.

I’m also reminded of something our friend Darrin said back in January: No one’s called to seminary. They’re call to ministry, and seminary is the tool to get there. God has ordained that Jonathan’s seminary training would be so much more than classes and books and reading. He’s appointed Chick-Fil-A to be a part of Jonathan’s preparation for ministry. He might not be called to it forever, but he’s called to it now.

The bottom line is this: it’s all so much more

So much more than I can see, so much more than I can imagine. To quote the song, it’s “more awesome than I know.”


Glimpses of Glory

When we celebrate the Lord’s supper at church the children in Children’s worship return to the service to sit with their parents and observe the sacrament. They observe, but they do not partake, and in sharing the experience, but not the table, we teach our children that while they are members of this visible church body, they are not in Christ, not sharers in His suffering, until He makes them so. It is one of the ways we preach the gospel to our covenant children.

This last Sunday was the mackerdoodle’s first Sunday as an observer. She came down the center aisle to join us in our pew with the eager look she always wears when approaching a new experience. She settled herself between Jonathan and I, and turned her face toward her father, knowing immediately that he was the one to interpret the sights and sounds.

I sat, cradling the snickerdoodle, and watched their two heads bent together as my husband used the bread and the cup to preach the gospel to our beautiful, much prayed for, first-born.

I saw, in that moment, the cycle of life that is the continuing and eternal Church. I saw a father teaching his daughter in the prayerful hope that she will one day be his sister in the kingdom. I prayed that our family will all be able one day to share in this sacrament as a testimony that we are all sharing in Christ.