Pentecostalism

A church in exile

Screen Shot 2014 10 21 at 10 16 26 am

Over at First Things, Andrew Walker responded to the reports on the Hillsong press conference in New York in which the church leadership has decided not to take a public position on LGBT issues.

Brian Houston has since clarified his position and explained that he was misunderstood. Andrew Walker’s response is still worth reading. Some good insights from a movements perspective.

First, if I were writing the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. Require the issue. Hillsong is currently on step three. I don’t think they’ll stay there.

Second, a non-answer is an answer. Let’s be very clear on that. It’s also a very vapid answer. What we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist (spirit of the age) is. With non-answers like this, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is. Perhaps Hillsong would rather abide by a “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy on matters of orthodoxy. That’s their prerogative. But let’s be clear that this is not the route of faithfulness.

Third, this isn’t an issue over whether gays and lesbians should or should not be welcomed in church. This also isn’t an issue over whether young individuals within the LGBT community have faced bullying. Bullying of all sorts is deplorable and should be condemned, and not because the Human Rights Campaign says so, but because Jesus says so (Matthew 7:12). What this issue is about is whether the church models faithful obedience to Christ in a way that both honors Scripture and loves its neighbor. Hillsong thinks it’s doing both; but is actually doing neither.

Fourth, Hillsong thinks itself a contemporary and culturally relevant church. Perhaps it is. But as Christians, we don’t get to define what “relevant” means in terms that are unquestioning of what our culture means by “relevant.” I submit that Hillsong is a church in retreat. A church in retreat doesn’t give answers. It doesn’t storm the gates of Hell. It settles and makes peace where there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). A church in exile . . . is one that is faithful amidst the culture, regardless of whether that culture looks more like America or more like Babylon. It knows that it may lose the culture, but that it cannot lose the Gospel. So be it.

UPDATE: Some more wisdom from Andrew Walker following Brian Houston’s clarification. Every Christian leader who wants to remain both faithful to the teaching of scripture and engaged with the culture should take note.

A church in exile

Screen Shot 2014 10 21 at 10 16 26 am

Over at First Things, Andrew Walker responded to the reports on the Hillsong press conference in New York in which the church leadership has decided not to take a public position on LGBT issues.

Brian Houston has since clarified his position and explained that he was misunderstood. Andrew Walker’s response is still worth reading. Some good insights from a movements perspective.

First, if I were writing the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. Require the issue. Hillsong is currently on step three. I don’t think they’ll stay there.

Second, a non-answer is an answer. Let’s be very clear on that. It’s also a very vapid answer. What we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist (spirit of the age) is. With non-answers like this, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is. Perhaps Hillsong would rather abide by a “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy on matters of orthodoxy. That’s their prerogative. But let’s be clear that this is not the route of faithfulness.

Third, this isn’t an issue over whether gays and lesbians should or should not be welcomed in church. This also isn’t an issue over whether young individuals within the LGBT community have faced bullying. Bullying of all sorts is deplorable and should be condemned, and not because the Human Rights Campaign says so, but because Jesus says so (Matthew 7:12). What this issue is about is whether the church models faithful obedience to Christ in a way that both honors Scripture and loves its neighbor. Hillsong thinks it’s doing both; but is actually doing neither.

Fourth, Hillsong thinks itself a contemporary and culturally relevant church. Perhaps it is. But as Christians, we don’t get to define what “relevant” means in terms that are unquestioning of what our culture means by “relevant.” I submit that Hillsong is a church in retreat. A church in retreat doesn’t give answers. It doesn’t storm the gates of Hell. It settles and makes peace where there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10). A church in exile . . . is one that is faithful amidst the culture, regardless of whether that culture looks more like America or more like Babylon. It knows that it may lose the culture, but that it cannot lose the Gospel. So be it.

UPDATE: Some more wisdom from Andrew Walker following Brian Houston’s clarification. Every Christian leader who wants to remain both faithful to the teaching of scripture and engaged with the culture should take note.

Brian Houston issues a clarification

2014 10 16 Hillsong Press Conference NY

Brian Houston has put out a clarification regarding his comments on homosexuality at a New York press conference.

He  explained:

Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.

I was asked a question on how the church can stay relevant in the context of gay marriage being legal in the two states of the USA where we have campuses. My answer was simply an admission of reality – no more and no less. I explained that this struggle for relevance was vexing as we did not want to become ostracized by a world that needs Christ.

He urged people to read the full tex of what he said not just the newspaper headlines.

Good to have the clarification. Even better to be clear from the start. This issue is not going away.

Brian Houston issues a clarification

2014 10 16 Hillsong Press Conference NY

Brian Houston has put out a clarification regarding his comments on homosexuality at a New York press conference.

He  explained:

Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.

I was asked a question on how the church can stay relevant in the context of gay marriage being legal in the two states of the USA where we have campuses. My answer was simply an admission of reality – no more and no less. I explained that this struggle for relevance was vexing as we did not want to become ostracized by a world that needs Christ.

He urged people to read the full tex of what he said not just the newspaper headlines.

Good to have the clarification. Even better to be clear from the start. This issue is not going away.

Assemblies of God reaching multi-ethnic America

Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God (AG) has released its statistics for 2012.

The Episcopalians and Presbyterians (PCUSA) may be in free fall, but the Assemblies of God continue to show steady growth in attendances, baptisms (of the Spirit and water variety), and new churches.

The Pentecostal denomination has aggressively planted new churches in urban areas and immigrant communities. The denomination’s two Spanish language regions have posted the most significant growth.

The racial breakdown of AG adherents in 2012 shows significant diversity. Today the AG closely mirrors the ethnic makeup of the US population as a whole.

Confidence in the gospel, evangelism, and church planting have resulted in a movement that reflects America's racial diversity. This contrasts dramatically with the theologically progressive yet declining mainline churches.

In recent decades, most mainline Protestant denominations in the US have witnessed significant numerical declines. From 1960 to 2011, the United Church of Christ lost 48% of adherents; The Episcopal Church lost 43%; the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 35%; the United Methodist Church lost 29%; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 19%. 

During the same period (1960-2011), the Assemblies of God grew by 498%. By 2012 the AG grew to 3,095,717 members.