The Reputation of Churches


Studies show that, despite everything, churches still have a good reputation in the United States.
Churches score #3 in the most-trusted-institution category.  This is behind the military and the police.  But far ahead of colleges, labor unions, banks, Congress, and the media (which rates last).
There are, however, variations according to religion and political affiliation.
The two studies are linked after the jump.  (The Gallup study includes Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court [ranked highest among governmental agencies], big business, public schools, and others.  That is more than the Pew study, which focuses on the different ratings given by different groups.)

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Trinity Lutheran goes back to normal after Supreme Court victory

Trinity Columbia
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, just won a landmark  case before the Supreme Court.   The Kansas City Star has an article about the congregation, how it hated the limelight and is now trying to get back to normal.

Sure enough, the church website says absolutely nothing about the case.  The “news” section is all about Vacation Bible School, a new social ministry, and new programs at the learning center.  Not even anything about the new surfacing of the playground.  There are congregations and pastors that would milk the publicity for all it is worth–how the church has made history, how God has vindicated their cause, etc., etc.

So congratulations to Trinity Lutheran, not only for winning their case but for the spirit in which it did so.

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Reformed sign on to “joint declaration” & find no theological differences with Lutherans

Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, & Pope Paul III

Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, & Pope Paul III

The World Communion of Reformed Churches–an association of liberal Calvinists–has signed on to the Joint Declaration on Justification, an accord between the Roman Catholic Church and liberal Lutherans.

The World Methodist Council has also agreed with the document.  The Anglican Communion is expected to do so in a later meeting.

We Confessional Lutherans in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, as well as some other smaller church bodies in that tradition, do not agree with the Joint Declaration.  (And I’m sure the Confessional Reformed folks in the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterians, and other conservative church bodies do not agree with what the WCRC does in the name of being “Reformed.”)

One criticism is that both sides have agreed to use the same language, while meaning different things with that language.  That is not agreement.  Also the accord confuses justification and sanctification, accepting the Roman Catholic understanding that since faith produces good works, we end up being saved by our good works after all.

But the World Communion of Reformed Churches did something else earth-shaking at their meeting in Wittenberg.  They signed an accord with the Lutheran World Federation (the organization of liberal and state church Lutherans) that states, in the words of a news report, “that nothing theological separated the Reformed and Lutheran churches.”

Nothing theological separates Lutherans from Reformed!  There are NO differences between the two on Christ’s presence in Holy Communion? Double-predestination?  The theology of worship?

One wonders which side gave up their distinctive beliefs.  The answer, of course, is that with liberal theology there are not really any distinctive supernatural beliefs, so that the ideology of Ecumenism trumps everything.

If there are no longer any differences, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Communion of Reformed Churches should merge–the accord encouraged them to stop meeting separately but to meet jointly–and cease using the “Lutheran” or the “Reformed” label.

In fact, if they both agree with Rome on the main issue of the Reformation, they should all join the Roman Catholic Church.

Oh, yes, there are still some differences with Rome that liberal Protestants will hold onto with all the zeal of the Reformation:  They won’t give up the ordination of women.  They won’t give up the acceptance of homosexuality and other tenets of the sexual revolution.  On those issues it’s still “Here I stand!”

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Patriotic Church Services?


A big Baptist church in Texas held a special “Freedom Sunday” service, featuring patriotic music, flag ceremonies, military presentations, a sermon celebrating America, and other nationalistic celebrations.  The sort other congregations, I dare say, have planned for the 4th of July weekend.

Several observers are condemning the Baptist service for being “idolatrous.”

Conservative Methodist Mark Tooley describes the service, expresses some reservations, but defends the congregation against the charge of idolatry.   He doesn’t approve of non-traditional worship in general, but he says that there is nothing wrong with churches being part of the local culture and thanking God for their country.  This is his conclusion:  “Nonsacred music and other non-Gospel focused celebrations by churches are best hosted outside of worship.”

I think the main problem with this sort of thing is the same problem with other kinds of “contemporary worship” that says little about Christ or the reception of His gifts.  I hasten to say that not all contemporary worship does that, but this often happens when the impulse to appeal to the culture and thus sacralize it takes priority over Word and Sacrament.

Read the excerpt from Mark Tooley after the jump, along with his linked article.  Do you think this service constitutes idolatry?  Or are such patriotic observances fine outside the church, but not in the context of a worship service?  Or would that still constitute a non-Christian “civil religion”?  How could we apply the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms–which teaches that God reigns over both the spiritual and the temporal realms, but in different ways–to this issue? [Read more…]

How to criminalize Christianity

The United States has freedom of religion, and to say Christians are “persecuted” here is surely overblown, compared to how Christians are treated in other parts of the world.  And yet, overt persecution could conceivably break out even in this land of the free.  But how, given this country’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech?

We are seeing some of the ways this could happen and to a degree is already happening.  The right to religious freedom can be played against other rights that are considered more important.  Thus, religious opposition to certain kinds of sinful behavior can be treated as illegal discrimination.  A Christian’s disagreement with other religions can be outlawed as hate speech.

Another legal argument is taking shape in Georgia, where a college is being sued for not permitting a Christian student from preaching the Gospel, even though he had reserved space in one of the two campus “Free Speech Zones.”  (That a college allows free speech only in “zones” is itself a travesty, both of the ideals of higher education and of American law.  According to the Constitution, the whole nation is to be a free speech zone.)

The college is defending itself on the grounds that the preaching constituted “disorderly conduct.”  And that by calling people “sinners,” the preacher was using “fighting words,” which are legally outside the bounds of free speech.

One can envision a time when the freedom of religion applies only to religions that are universalist, permissive, non-proselytzing, and culturally-conforming.  That is to say, hardly any actual religions. [Read more…]

The history of Vacation Bible School


This week is Vacation Bible School at our church, as well as at others I’m aware of.

Church historian Chris Gehrz at the Patheos blog The Anxious Bench (a blog about church history) gives us the history of this institution, which, like Sunday School, had its origin in ministry to poor children in the big cities.

In 1997, Prof. Gehrz observes, 4 out of 5 churches ran a VBS.  In 2013, the number has dropped to 2 out of 3.  That’s a major decline, but those are still big numbers.

I recall churches I’ve been in debating every year about whether to do it the next summer.  After wondering if it is worth it, we always decide to do it for one more summer.  Then we repeat that pattern of reluctant agreement the next year.

Do you think it’s worth it?  It seems that this is one activity that really can attract the “unchurched,” since parents are often desperate to send their kids somewhere once school is out.  Then again, I wonder if the VBS, as it is now practiced, with its fun, games, songs, and crafts, has the same substantive effect that it did in the early days.  (I would add that CPH has what sounds like a substantive curriculum.) [Read more…]