Category Archives: Church

The Cozy Church

The recent murder of a Catholic priest at his church in northern France, by two young men claiming allegiance to Islamic State, brings starkly to Europe a morbid taste of the horrors that have terrorized the church in parts of the Middle East for the past several years.

Yet sadly, and unbelievably, the response of the church in the West seems little changed. There are expressions of regret and some outrage, but few calls for action of any kind. This is despite the fact that the massacre and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Christians from their traditional homelands in Iraq and Syria surely constitutes one of the most shocking crimes of this century.

It drives me almost to tears that too many Christians in the West seem so indifferent to what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

It is not only the Middle East. The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, an American organization, has launched an appeal to help the thousands of Nigerian Christians who are under siege from Boko Haram. It calls this the “most neglected” crisis.

Maybe there is an element of “compassion fatigue” in all this – an inability to comprehend the scale of it all, of one disaster following another, and therefore confusion about how to respond. I know I suffer from this myself.

But I also wonder if we in the West have become too cozy in our faith.

American Christian writer Eric Metaxas, author of a biography of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, used that word “cozy” in a recent address to The Bridge conference on Christian persecution.

He said that the problem with the German church was that it had become too cozy with the state and too comfortable with its position in society, and thus it overlooked the persecution of Jews. He said it sometimes seemed that the church in the West does not always understand its obligation to come to the aid of Christians who are being killed for their faith in many parts of the world.

I have been asked to preach the sermon soon at my church, to fill in for our pastor. I believe the church sometimes does not understand God’s role for it, and I am taking as my text the passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus instructs His disciples in the Upper Room, before the Last Supper. To their shock He shows His servanthood by asking to wash their feet.

I believe that John included this incident to demonstrate that the disciples had not fully understood Jesus and His teachings, despite having spent several years together.

Something similar had already occurred after Jesus miraculously fed thousands of followers with bread and fish. Mark wrote that the disciples did not understand the meaning of this event either.

For my sermon I have some amusing examples from more recent times. I live in Australia. More than 200 years ago British explorers began sending back reports of this land and the unbelievable animal life they had encountered, such as the kangaroo and the platypus.

This caused consternation among some Christians. One wondered if God had somehow made a mistake when He made Australia. Or perhaps, asked another, had this strange place simply been God’s rehearsal for the true creation? Or did the Northern Hemisphere God have a mischievous Southern Hemisphere rival? One writer suggested that Australia must have been formed after the Fall, with God creating monsters like kangaroos in order to terrorize Adam and his offspring.

It seems that, in its cozy state, the British church – or some elements of it – was unable to accept the universality of God’s love and Jesus’s sacrifice.

I cannot help fearing that the church in the West, too cozy, does not understand our obligation to help our persecuted brothers and sisters.

Do You Need Your Youth Pastor?

Some years ago I was chatting with local Baptist pastor Dr George Lazenby, still then preaching each Sunday at the age of 90 (he has since gone to be with the Lord). He told me that he was writing his autobiography.

Knowing Dr Lazenby as I did, I had no doubts his story would be provocative, and so it has proven. He gave me permission to publish the following excerpt, about our society’s – and the church’s – fascination with youth.

We are living in a time when the ageing population is now seen as a threat. The next generation may well make demands that the present taxation system cannot carry. Which seems to fly in the face of the belief that we should retire earlier than was the case when 65 was the usual age for retirement.

This is not to say that retirement should follow that pattern, but that it appears to be a waste of what experience can give. And this attitude has somehow spilt over into the church.

The emphasis today is on youth, and pastors for youth are seen as essential. When seeking a pastor, few churches would be likely to consider a man in his sixties.

Some of the most impressive preachers I have listened to have been old men.

I shall never forget hearing Dr. A.J. Gossip preach in Glasgow in 1938. He made his way slowly up the stairs leading to the pulpit. He seemed so frail. His thin white hair covered what seemed to be a small face lined by age.

But when he preached!

I could do no more than listen entranced at the way he opened the scriptures. Age had not diminished his preaching ability – it had enhanced it.

Reading Christian newspapers, I am continually confronted by churches seeking youth pastors. As far as I recall, I have not read one which focused upon the needs of the elderly in the congregation.

People over the age of 50 often comprise the greater part of the congregation. They have their special needs. Many are facing the closing years of life – and with it the prospect of sickness and death. To their needs many churches seem deaf.

Subjects that come within the category of ageing and death would be regarded as morbid and consequently avoided. The elderly are left to work things out for themselves without hearing what the word of God has to say about these matters.

Why must the emphasis be so frequently on the needs of youth?

Hey, We’re Going to Steal Your Pastor

A while back my church voted to call a new senior pastor. The man in question accepted our call. It seemed we were stealing him from another church. I have a question: aren’t there some ethics involved in this?

At our church business meeting, the pastoral search committee moderator (a retired senior police officer) said light-heartedly that some of the committee’s activities had of necessity been kept secret, so that other churches not find out we might be trying to steal their pastor.

pastorIt was a long meeting, and towards the end we learned that the man we were calling was just two years or so into a three-year contract with a particular church. I didn’t know the details of that contract. Maybe it could be cut short at any time. But the impression we gained at the meeting was that he would be breaking his contact to join us.

When someone raised a question about this, a member of the pastoral search committee simply said that, according to its website, the candidate pastor’s church regularly changed pastors.

Which seems to be saying – if others are doing it, why shouldn’t we?.

What sort of message is that? I sent my three kids to Sunday School and church youth group precisely hoping that they would learn about transcendent values, about right and wrong and about not following the ways of the world.

Nine days before the meeting, which took place in December, one of our pastors told the congregation that, some months earlier, God had revealed to him that around Christmas time we would be appointing our new senior pastor, and that the man would be aged 39 (exactly the age of the candidate pastor). At the meeting itself, the members of the pastoral search committee spoke in detail of how God had led them to believe this man was the right person for our church.

It would have taken a brave church member to speak out against the man, and few did. The vote in his favor was overwhelming. (For the record, I also voted in his favor.)

Now I know that God can over-rule the law of contracts, not to mention criminal law, natural law and any other law. But I’m not sure that our church should.

I was also uncomfortable that the man we called was pastor of an expatriate church in Asia. I would imagine that such a church might face a long and expensive process in finding and bringing over a new English-speaking pastor.

Frankly, I’m confused.

What does anyone else think?