The megachurch bubble?

There was the dot.com bubble and, more recently, the real estate bubble, markets that grew and grew until they they burst.  Some experts are saying that we may be in for a megachurch bubble:

In the 1970s, only a handful of churches drew more than 2,000 people on Sundays. Now they number in the thousands.

But the collapse of the Crystal Cathedral near Los Angeles, which is being sold to pay off more than $40 million in debt, has prompted fears that the megachurch bubble may be about to burst.

Most megachurches — which earn that label around the 2,000-attendance level — are led by baby boomer pastors who soon will hit retirement age and without suitable replacements in the pipeline. And some fear the big-box worship centers with lots of individual programs no longer appeal to younger generations.

Skye Jethani, a senior editor of Leadership, a prominent evangelical magazine for pastors, compared megachurches to the real estate market of a few years ago.

“If you asked people back in 2007 if the housing market was doing well, people would have said yes,” he said.

Jethani said megachurches have become so big that their economics are unsustainable. They often have multimillion-dollar mortgages and hundreds of staff members. That works while a church is growing.

But churches often shrink when a longtime minister leaves, Jethani said.

“If you are a church of 400 people and you lose 200 people, you can still keep going,” he said. “If you are a church of 10,000 and you go down to 5,000, you may not be able to survive.”

via Some fear megachurch bubble may soon burst | The Tennessean | tennessean.com.

The article goes on to quote other people who deny that megachurches are creating a bubble ready to pop.  What do you think?

HT: Tim Challies

Happy New Year!

Sunday is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the new church year.  So happy New Year!

I have a question for you, one that I have been unable to answer, but I’m sure you readers can answer it for me:   Last Sunday we celebrated the last Sunday of the church year, in which we contemplate the final victory of Christ the King at His return.  It was a big deal, a fitting climax to the long, long season of Pentecost.  But we don’t move from that to Advent, which is a full week away, always beginning on a Sunday.  So what’s the story of the last week of the church year?  Specifically, what’s the last day of the church year?  Saturday will be the equivalent of New Year’s Eve.  Doesn’t it have a name and some meaning?  It seems odd to me that the church year seems to just fizzle out.

I would think there would at least be a saint’s day.  In the Catholic calendar, every day, as I understand it, is devoted to one saint or another.   There is St. Andrew’s Day on November 30.   But what saint is honored on November 26?   I had thought that the specific day of the month might vary from year to year.  (Is the first Sunday of Advent always the Sunday after Thanksgiving?  Since Christmas is always on December 25, perhaps there is some consistency.  So in the secular calendar we have Thanksgiving, Black Friday [!], but then, again, what is Saturday?)

I have found that among the readers of this blog are people who are experts on just about everything, up to and including quantum physics and beyond.  So who knows about the church year?

Confessing churches in Canada

In the Reformation, the catalytic issue was the sale of indulgences, but the underlying issue was the authority of the Word of God.  Today the catalytic issue has to do with sexuality, but the underlying issue, again, is the authority of the Word of God.  So says Matthew Block, Communications Manager for the Lutheran Church-Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran.   (He comments sometimes here as “Captain Thin”!)

He has written an interesting article about how this is playing out in Canada, specifically in the Anglican Church of that nation, which, as here, has split over the issue.  Matthew also notes the new affinity that is being explored between the new conservative Anglican bodies in Canada and the USA and conservative Lutheran church bodies (the LCMS and the LCC).

See Standing firm: The cost of confessing the Word of God.

Matthew also has an interview with J. I. Packer, the evangelical Anglican (I bet a lot of you didn’t know this popular writer is both Anglican and Canadian) whose church was one of the first to break away.   Note the distinction he makes between “ecumenism” and the possibilities of “partnership” among “confessing” church bodies: J. I. Packer on Biblical Authority, World Anglicanism, and Ecumenism.

I do like the terminology:  “confessing churches” is better than “conservative churches.”   “Confessing” means that they confess their faith rather than change or downplay it.  We Lutherans speak of being “confessional,” meaning adhering to our Lutheran confessions of faith.  I suppose “confessing” can refer to various churches that confess their own various theologies–Anglican, Calvinist, etc.–as opposed to those that have no particular theology.

Chaplain Mike on the Sacraments

The third installment from Chaplain Mike on what he is appreciating so much from  his new Lutheranism.  This time he focuses on the Sacraments.  Read the whole post, but here is a sample:

The sacramental perspective takes God’s presence and action in the midst of his creation seriously. Some expressions of faith are essentially world-denying and more akin to forms of Platonism or gnosticism that make radical distinctions between the material and spiritual worlds. From this perspective, God works and we grow “spiritually,” and this world is one we are “passing through” on our way to an ethereal heaven. The Lutheran tradition, on the other hand, rejoices that God is present and working throughout his creation, and that he especially works in and through simple elements like water, bread, wine, paper and ink to communicate his truth and love to his people. He meets us here, and he is leading us to a renewed creation.

Sacramental theology takes the Incarnation seriously. Jesus the Eternal Word, “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Sharing fully in our humanity and the experiences of life in this world, God visited his creation personally, spoke, broke bread with us, wept, touched broken bodies, and even died himself to identify with and redeem all who are in bondage to sin, evil, and death. The Spirit he sent now works through the Word and the Sacraments in the midst of his gathered people to apply the benefits of his saving work.

There is  much to learn about the Sacraments, but the primary shift for me, coming from the evangelical world, was simple. It involved coming to understand them as God’s works, not mine.

I no longer see baptism as something I do to profess my faith in Christ. I see it as something done to me through which God acts savingly. I no longer see Communion merely as something I do to remember Jesus. I see it as his Table, to which he invites me and at which he feeds me.

These practices are the means by which God’s grace in Christ is communicated to me, for in them his promises are made real in my life.

via How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (3) | internetmonk.com.

 

The beam in our Missouri Synod eyes

Friends, you should read the comments on Chaplain Mike’s sacrament post at Internet monk, linked above.  It’s touching how some of his evangelical readers are responding to what he is saying.

I have to say, though, that I’m kind of ashamed that some of these potential Lutherans have come to THIS blog, which Chaplain Mike links to, and are marveling about how all we Missouri Synod Lutherans can say about his joy in discovering Lutheran theology  is to castigate him for joining the ELCA!  There are comments to the effect that, I’m staying away from those LCMS types, but I might investigate the ELCA.   Thus our polemics against the ELCA turn people away from us and make the ELCA more attractive!  That’s not very effective argumentation, to make people agree more with your opponent than with you!

But there is something else that we Missouri Synod Lutherans need to face up to.  Say you are a disaffected “post-evangelical” who hears about Lutheranism.  It sounds like the kind of Christianity you are yearning for.  You are especially fed up with what passes for worship where you are now, and the sacramental spirituality that you are reading about in Lutheranism is more than compelling.  So you visit the local Missouri Synod congregation.   Isn’t it true that it is extremely likely that you will walk into a contemporary worship service with a pastor that is trying to out-evangelical the evangelicals?  You will go into an LCMS congregation looking for Lutheranism, but it may well be that you won’t find it!

I don’t know how many times I have heard about this happening, including from people who read my book Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals.  (In fact, I know that this happened with some of you regular readers and commenters on this blog.)  So if someone finds Lutheranism in another synod–WELS, ELS, even ELCA–do we have the standing to complain?

What percentage of LCMS congregations do you think follow the historical Lutheran liturgy?  Half?  Less than half?  In some areas of the country, far less than that?   I have been in lots of Lutheran services and heard lots of sermons, not all of which distinguished Law & Gospel or even preached the Gospel.  Some of them were as therapeutic and as “theology of glory” and as “power of positive thinking” oriented as Joel Osteen.

I know these congregations all pledge allegiance to the same doctrinal standards, to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.   But do they really hold them in actuality?  Perhaps someone could explain to me, humble layman that I am, why, if we demand doctrinal agreement for pulpit and altar fellowship, we can commune with a congregation that exhibits no visible Lutheranism in its public teaching but simply is on the same LCMS roster.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m as supportive of the LCMS and as critical of liberal theology as anyone can be.  But to say that Chaplain Mike, in joining the ELCA, is just joining mainline liberal Protestantism is manifestly not true.  What he is finding in his congregation that he is responding to so gladly is not leftwing politics or feminism or gay marriages.  Rather, as he says, he is finding the centrality of Christ, Law & Gospel, vocation, worship, the sacraments, and the other things he is discussing in his three posts.

Now the problem with the ELCA is that many of their congregations do not concentrate on those Lutheran teachings and that our hypothetical seeker-after-Lutheranism may well not find them there either.  I would go so far as to say that he or she would be more likely to find them in the LCMS, for all of our problems, or in WELS or ELS or another conservative synod.  The problem in American Lutheranism has always been the temptation to conform to some variety of American Protestantism–whether mainline liberal (the ELCA’s temptation) or generic evangelicalism (the LCMS’s temptation)–rather than just being Lutheran.   Chaplain Mike will doubtless find that out.  In the meantime, we Lutherans need to welcome him into our tradition.  We might also think how we might welcome more like him, rather than scaring them away.

 

 

Some Catholics will be denied the Cup

A huge issue during the Reformation was the right of the laity to receive Holy Communion in “both kinds”; that is, to receive both the bread (Christ’s body) and the wine (Christ’s blood).  The practice of Roman Catholicism up until Vatican II in the 1960s was for the laity to only receive the bread.  Clergy were the only ones allowed to receive the wine.

I never understood the rationale for that.  People, such as John Hus, were burned at the stake for insisting on both kinds.  And now at least some dioceses (specifically in the United States, Phoenix and Madison) are going back to the practice of denying the cup to laypeople, except on certain special occasions:

While Catholics across the United States are getting their tongues around the new translations of the Mass, Catholics in two U.S. dioceses will also be taste-testing another change: regular communion from the cup will be disappearing.

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s new directives for communion from the cup, according to the diocesan website, will allow the assembly to receive the blood of Christ “at the Chrism Mass and feast of Corpus Christi. Additionally it may be offered to a Catholic couple at their wedding Mass, to first communicants and their family members, confirmation candidates and their sponsors, as well as deacons, non-concelebrating priests, servers, and seminarians at any Mass,” along with religious in their houses and retreatants. Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin made a similar decision.

The effect of the change, intended or not, is that the blood of Christ will separate some members of the assembly from others, notably priests and deacons (whether they are functioning in their liturgical roles or not), and seminarians and servers.

A close reading of the Phoenix rationale for the decision quickly makes clear a primary purpose: to eliminate extraordinary (lay) ministers of the Eucharist, because too many of them result in “obscuring the role of the priest and the deacon as the ordinary ministers.”

This fear of “disproportionately multiplying” communion ministers is then applied to the feast of Corpus Christi, one of the few times communion under both species will be permitted. In that instance if a parish is lacking enough “ordinary ministers,” “it is common sense that [the pastor] would not be able to judge the necessary conditions as met,” because he would need a “disproportionate” number of lay ministers to distribute the blood of Christ. In other words, no cup—even on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—all for the sake of reinforcing the distinct (and obvious) roles of the ordained.

The diocesan reasoning invokes the 2005 expiration of a Vatican permission granted in 1975 that allowed wide use of the cup but disregards the more general liturgical law that allows the diocesan bishop to make the cup widely available. The diocese even bizarrely argues that communion under the form of bread alone is a greater sign of Catholic unity because most Catholics in the world don’t get to receive from the cup. Because the faithful of the rest of the world are robbed of the fullness of the eucharistic symbol, the reasoning goes, Catholics of the Diocese of Phoenix should be, too.

via You’re cut off: No more cup for the people. | USCatholic.org.

Could some of you Catholics explain why the laity–not just in these two dioceses but apparently in other places in the world– would be denied the cup? I know about the priest/layperson distinction, but what is the rationale for manifesting that in this particular way?

UPDATE:  Thanks to Jonathan for alerting us that the Bishop of Phoenix has reversed his decision.


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