Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said

How to tell a real peacemaker? Check out their beliefs not the posters and marches in front of hospitals or funerals clamoring for media attention. Statement on the War in Iraq by the Mennonites (Mennonite Church USA), at the Global Anabaptist Encyclopedia On-line. Also useful for doing some genealogy searches if you have Mennonites in your family tree.

Using this encyclopedia, I somehow wandered into the archives of Mennonite Life, and in the 1950 issue saw an article about the Mennonites who had immigrated to the Freeman, South Dakota area. In the immediate vicinity of Freeman there were 13 Mennonite churches in 1950 (I haven't checked to see what it is now). General Conference Mennonite, Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite Brethren, and United Missionary Church. 13 Mennonite churches to serve 3400 Mennonites. Maybe it's my imagination, but it sounds like they needed a little in-house peace making. To be fair, these 13 churches were the result of different immigrations over a period of about 50 years from three different groups, the Hutterites, the Swiss, and the Low German (Dutch ethnics who were Prussianized who settled in Russia) who spoke different languages and had distinct cultures. There is almost no difference in doctrine--and splits, even within ethnic and language group, have been over leadership, type of clothing (aprons, hats, polka-dot or plain), use of modern technology, etc.

These are not peacemakers.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Battle of the Bands

If you don't like the music at the informal/ contemporary/ ear-splitting gen-x led service, you're probably losing the battle, if history is any indicator and if you are Lutheran. An article in Church History (1936) comments
    "Because the Swedish church in America had failed to train an American ministry, and the men sent from Sweden were unable to preach in the language of the younger people, the Swedish churches on the Delaware became Episcopal churches. Thus was solved the language problem by the group which comprised the earliest Lutheran settlers in Pennsylvania.

    When Henry Melchior Muhlenberg came from Germany in 1742, he found the German Lutherans in Pennsylvania in complete confusion. . . he squarely faced the problem of language and influenced his sons and his colleagues to master the language of the country in order that the gospel might be preached to all, regardless of language or nationality. By 1754, when he was pastor at Trappe, he preached regularly in both English and German. . . in New York City, he preached in Dutch in the morning, in German in the afternoon and in English in the evening. It mattered little to him which language was used in a service of worship. The important thing was that it was the language of the people. "The Language Problem in the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania 1742-1820" by Armin George Weng, Church History, Vol. 5, No. 4. (Dec., 1936), pp. 359-375.
As much as I don't like it, this awful music that changes my heart rate and hurts my ears, "preaches the gospel" for some in a language they understand. Although if it sounds like a non-denominational, all-purpose gathering in a movie theater, is it a Lutheran church and have you lost the battle of the bands whichever way you go?

After Muhlenberg died, many Lutherans went back to using German, according to this study. Squabbles about language continued in Pennsylvania. You find First English and Second English Lutheran Churches in some communities.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What brings in the people?

Library staff use gimmicks to bring people to the library where they can refer them to . . . more gimmicks--movies, games, air guitar--to raise the stats (looks good on bond issue requests and money from the state). What happens if you substitute the word "church" in this entry for library? Does it sound familiar? Who's copying who?

"Another reason the parties and stunts matter is that they attract new users to the library church. When librarians church staff sponsor a "gross-out challenge," Ninja tag, giant chess with human pieces, lego contests, teen lock-ins, garage band nights, improv comedy, American Idol style talent shows, and teen competitions for best videos, photos, and art, they're bringing teens - especially boys - to the library church, often for the first time." Marylaine Block

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What's so bad about the Good News?

After last night's "Scenes from his nativity," a musical banquet performed at our church to coincide with The Friends of the Creche fourth biennial convention in Dublin, Ohio, I was floating. Words can't describe how beautifully the program and music led to the manger of Bethlehem. It began with scenes from the crucifixion in "God so loved the world," by John Stainer, which is really the heart of the Christian faith, and then took us back and developed the theme of the coming of the Savior. The spectacular final piece, "Is it really you?" [Words by Carolyn Martin, Music by Michael G. Martin] was commissioned by TFOC and tells the story from the perspective of one of the Wisemen, asking at the end, "Is Jesus Christ born in you?" Yes, this was a program filled with the hope, promise and power of the gospel.

Then this morning I went to check a date on our church's website, and came crashing to the ground. Such a disappointment. You can find the gospel on our website if you first Google "What we believe" + UALC" but it would be a challenge to find even a snippet any other way. Using the website, you'd have to know to first click on the link for visitors, then click on "What we believe" (it isn't there), then on "What worship means," and then from there follow a link to a pdf file, "What we believe." This pdf spreads at 45% to 2 pages, and is comprehensive. Does that mean shorter items about forgiveness, grace, Christ's death, sin, etc. couldn't be sneaked into other links? (The Alpha link doesn't count because that's an international program hosted by our congregation.) The Visual Arts Ministry, which spent weeks hammering out a mission statement that would explain why we are a ministry to reach the community for Christ and not a committee, is lumped with "fellowship groups," and has no spiritual message at all on this site.

Let's not waste my time and yours here quibbling about the God words or whether programs for visiting nursing homes or martial arts for little kids are really forms of "the gospel." Announcing that "we seek to live in and for Jesus" is happy talk, not the gospel. The gospel tells people about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gentle, non-threatening phrases filled with chummy, non-threatening God words and wussy verbs declare nothing, believe nothing, and move no one.

The emerging church message is not new--it's a battle in Christendom that returns each generation under different names. I attended liberal, main-line Protestant churches with limp messages for 35 years. I know that no one is saved in a liberal church unless like me, they become so desperate for hope and truth, they are driven to look elsewhere. I was that desperate when I attended UALC for the first time in 1974. There were no websites then, or 8 page newsletters, or multiple campuses or large staff. Just a minister (Luther Strommen) with a 3 point sermon, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Let's prepare the webpage so there is room for Jesus this Christmas!