jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

we are not alone


As stated in the previous post, the church must move away from itself, it must move outside the camp. This has an extra implication for the USAmerican church. We have had a tendency to view things from a very American-centered perspective. We think of the world in the terms of this image.

We must begin to think more globally. And as we move outside the camp in that sense we might just discover that the camp moved long before we did. In the book The Church of the Perfect Storm, Len Sweet states:

In Europe, Christians are almost an endangered species. At the same time that Christianity is dying in the West, Christianity is surging in the East and in the South. The statistical center of Christianity today is in Timbuktu, Mali. The language of Christianity today is Spanish; the color of Christianity today is not white but brown; there are more Christian churches in India today than in the United States. By 2025, two-thirds of Christians will live in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

We live in Post-Christendom, and that is increasingly becoming Anti-Christendom. While some bemoan this fact and long for the good ol’ days, there is no going back. In fact, there are many advantages of Post-Christendom (e.g. people are more commonly arriving at church without prior experience). We must enter into the global village. We cannot continue to base decisions that are based on misplaced religious sensibilities of a very small group of people guided by southern American culture.

15 comments on “we are not alone

  1. The Boyds
    May 2, 2008

    Jon,

    Excellent post! What is the source of your statistics?

    I have observed the results of what you describe as “misplaced religious sensibilities of a very small group of people guided by southern American culture,” at Church of God’s in several states I have been stationed in. The southern white culture has been transplanted all over America and many around those churches just see them as strange.

    The BIG question is does our leadership have ears to hear and eyes to see what is going on globally. If they do then maybe the Church of God does have a future…

  2. Jon Goats
    May 2, 2008

    Jon, The picture you posted says it all.

    On a side note, I have been reading your blog for the past couple of months and it has challenged me and has gotten me to think about a lot of stuff. Thanks for sharing and investing your time. Your labor is not in vain to say the least!

  3. Don
    May 2, 2008

    The Episcopalians have learned this the hard way, as I note here in the context of my experience in the Church of God.

    Having grown up across the lake from Matt, I have to admit that many times I find the prevailing Caucasian culture in the COG very different from my own. That being the case, I think that COG “reapprisers” make a serious mistake by equating that prevailing culture with American culture in general. That mistake colours their concept about many things, including social justice and the real nature of multiculturalism.

    Beyond that, we must also avoid the related mistake of equating cultural imperialism with theological certainty. There are many people who unconsciously equate our culture with our theology, and then proceed to say that we need to adopt a relativistic theology to complement cultural sensitivity and diversity when in fact real Christianity can find authentic Biblical expression in all kinds of places.

    Pentecostal Christianity has been, overall, successful in being naturally multicultural. We need to celebrate that and make the most of it in the propagation of the Gospel.

  4. Tom Rosson
    May 2, 2008

    What a good thread!

    Let’s face it, all of us are victims of our culture. Everyone is shaped by their surroundings. And unless one is exposed to the world, one will always view the world from his/her home perspective.

    Living in Europe, I got used to watching news that covered world events. When I’m visiting in the States and watch the news (including the cable giants of CNN, Fox, and MSNBC), I am shocked at the lack of coverage of world events. And if if they do cover something outside the USA, they feel obligated to share the story through the eyes of American political correctness.

    I mean, they could easily report: “The end of the world is near: Women and minorities affected the most.”

    One of my favorite stories comes from Chris Swift who used to live in the Netherlands. One day he visited a bank in Cleveland, TN. “I would like to exchange some guilders.”

    “Guilders? What are guilders?”

    “Well,” replied Chris, “it’s the money they use in Holland.”

    “Holland? What’s Holland?”

    Patiently Chris replied, “Holland – it’s a country in Europe.”

    “Oh, Europe! I have heard of that country!”

    Indeed, we are not alone.

  5. K E Alexander
    May 2, 2008

    In some ways it is comforting to hear the statistics and to know that what we see happening in our own denomination is part of a larger trend. In other ways, reiterating this reality makes me feel quite sad. Surely a movement that claims to be Pentecostal, i.e. taking its cues from Acts 2, would not fall victim/prey to these trends. We would by definition be trans-national, trans-gender, trans-cultural. This must mean that somewhere, sometime, somehow we “got off the rails”, to use Spurling’s imagery. I AM very excited about what the Spirit is doing…I just want to be where the Spirit is moving. Part of the problem of being middle-aged is that you have your feet firmly planted in one world (the passing one) but your heart in another (the coming one). And our paychecks come from the one that is passing…

  6. Don
    May 2, 2008

    Tom:

    Part of Chris’ problem was rooted in the Dutch themselves.

    Back in the early 1980’s, I was negotiating with a shipyard in Rotterdam for the repair of a large pile hammer. They presented me with six-figure prices denominated in Dfl. I was puzzed by this until I found out that this is the way they made their currency symbol. It stood for Dutch florins, which is what they used to call guilders!

    If Chris had brought this up, he’d still be stuck with his Dutch money!

    Kim:

    People’s view of multiculturalism in the church is influenced by their secular experience. Most Americans’ experience has insulated them from having to consider foreign influences, but that is changing, and it will be reflected in the church.

    I know that I’ve found my international business experience very valuable in my work in this very multicultural church of ours.

    Multiculturalism can have unintended consequences, too. I’ve mentioned it before, but Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and others have received a brutal lesson in multiculturalism from Nigeria and other African provinces. But the Episcopal Church experience also shows that the American church that sticks to its traditional demographic will really have no future.

  7. The Boyds
    May 2, 2008

    Kim,

    I think your right! I believe that we Pentecostal have the greatest potential to overcome these trends due to our emphasis on reliance on the Spirit, and using the narrative in Acts as a guide. However, we have valued our traditions above our pursuit of the Spirit and ignored Paul’s flexibility as he engaged different cultures in the power of the Spirit.

    – Following the Spirit requires us to commit to being FLEXIBLE. We must be willing to listen, obey and apply. As Paul engaged the Greeks at Mars Hill he engaged their context with the truth. All through the book of Acts Paul is agile and flexible when engaging both the Jewish and Gentile cultures. We are for the most part static in the North American Church of God.

    – The average churches are strangled financially by the tithe of the tithe. Which translates into being hindered not helped by the Denomination. While most are doing the best they can, if they are engaging the world, they are not, like Paul, Incarnational.

    As I see it, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. However, we still have the greatest potential to reach this Post-Christian context. But first, we must embrace/love) who we are a Pentecostals rooted in following the Spirit (not brag or talk about it so much – LIVE IT ) and following the New Testament missionary model more then we love our southern white tradition.

  8. K E Alexander
    May 2, 2008

    So when the tithe of tithe is reduced (and the Seminary, Lee, Missions and the other MUCH-NEEDED ministries supported by that $$ are forced to scale way back) will we be missional, relevant, on the cutting edge, following the leading of the Spirit again??? Apparently, it IS all about money.

  9. dennis j adams
    May 2, 2008

    Amen! Great stuff as always. Again you are a great fisher GS4.

    GF

  10. Don
    May 3, 2008

    Kim, I don’t think that “it IS all about money” is a fair characterisation of what Matt is saying.

    Let me hasten to add the I, like you, are one of those who stand to lose with the TOT allocation cuts. My department (Lay Ministries,) like everyone else, is facing a 20% reduction of that allocation. We like to think that we’re “cutting edge” in what we do; after all, we’re the bunch that’s bringing Leonard Sweet to the GA (and there are differing opinions about that, too.)

    Going through a cut of this magnitude is a little like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ description of death; you go through stages of denial, anger, etc., but in the end it happens, short of a miracle. It’s not pleasant, and when resources are diminished people’s “fight or flee” instincts can lead to some very strange things. But enough of the amateur clinical analysis…

    I think there would be a reduction in the TOT even if everything else remained equal. Our economy is very unstable today, and lay people pass on their reductions to their local churches, which in turn kick that reduction upstairs, if you please.

    Beyond that, I think it states the obvious that a sizeable segment of our ministers do not repose the level of confidence in their denomination that they did in the past. There’s also a “value for the money” issue. Both of these perceptions vary from one minister to the next. How deeply this feeling permeates our General Council will be the underlying issue at the GA.

    It’s a fallacy, however, to say that all of this is unique to the COG. Evangelical Christianity in the US is facing a general crisis of leadership. As was the case in Germany before World War I, society’s changes are leaving large segments of the church behind, and the leadership–which tends to have seniority–is facing a situation it wasn’t prepared to deal with.

    Beyond that, local churches have options and resources beyond the denomination they didn’t have before. Local churches–especially larger ones–don’t simply use everything their denomination puts out any more. That cuts both ways; we in DOLM find ourselves resourcing churches outside of the DOLM in many ways that help us meet our budget. I personally have aided reasserting Anglicans with my Prayer Books and other Anglican resources for four years running now. The medium you’re reading now is a big facilitator of that.

    I think it’s going to be necessary for our leadership, in one way or another, to restore that confidence. It is my opinion that the denomination exists to support the local church, and not the other way around. That’s based on Our Lord’s own principle of servant leadership, pure and simple. Matt and I have discussed this in another forum. Unfortunately, all we can do at our respective levels is our best, because the job of restoring confidence is something we can help with, but is ultimately in the hands of others.

  11. Johnny Taylor
    May 3, 2008

    It appears that most of the comments have focused on the last sentence of the post. I wonder if our “problem” is the same “problem” among other church communities. Perhaps its not a bad thing if “Christianity is dying in the west” When it dies, maybe the church will arise!

  12. The Boyds
    May 3, 2008

    Kim,

    Money is an important issue. I suppose that is why Jesus talked about it so much. It evokes strong emotions when someone or something threatens our presumed source of financial security.

    In the three states I have been stationed since leaving Cleveland I have heard the testimonies of several pastors who have struggled for years, barely making ends meat working sometimes two jobs just to keep the local Church of God a float. One pastor told me he asked the State Overseer for help when he could not pay the heat bill in the middle of winter and the SO told him they could not assist him and to be sure to send in the tithe of tithe. This is just one story of many.

    I recognize your comment, “And our paychecks come from the one that is passing…”
    God is continually teaching us all to rely completely on Him. In many ways, the Church of God has not embraced the New Testament concept of community where we give or sell what we have to care for those in our community in need. We talk a good talk and make promises but when the rubber meets the road often people are left out in the cold.

    So, I will do my part to help and protect those who are in desperate situations. And I will and have given sacrificially to help those in need. I will also not be silent in public or anonymous on the internet.

    I believe you are correct; the present world is passing away. And those caught in the middle will feel torn between the two. Especially when their financial livelihood is involved. I am ministering outside the gates, as Dr. Crick would put it. But, I can’t ignore what is going on back inside the gates.

    Finally, I agree with Don. The denomination should exist to support the local church. Today in our system they are more of a burden than a support. There are many complex issues that are hindering us from being missional in the US. And missional is not new. It is just a new way of talking about the kind of ministry Steve Land and his family did in inner city Atlanta.

  13. K E Alexander
    May 5, 2008

    It’s not that I disagree with ANY of the statements people make about the way money is spent. I’ve been in Cleveland for about 16 years of my adult life and I’ve been in pastoral ministry with relationship to the Sate and General offices for about 21 years so I know, I know…

    And yes, money is important and budgets are theological statements.

    My problem with the TOT reduction trumping every other discussion is that the reduction doesn’t really get at the problem and, in effect, makes a bad theological statement. What is NOT being addressed in these discussions is the disgust with HOW the money is spent, especially at the top of the pyramid. What will be cut when the TOT is cut are the expenditures/salaries/benefits at the bottom of the pyramid. Bad spending should be called into account but not in a punitive way but rather a disciplinary one.

  14. The Boyds
    May 6, 2008

    Kim,
    Very true! We need to address the specifics of how the money is being spent.

    With that in mind I requested on April 22nd E-mailed Dr Walker asking him for a copy of the most recent audit of the spending/budget of General Headquarters.

    I understand that several other pastors have requested this also so they may be backlogged. But, I have not heard any response. So, I e-mailed 2 other executives last week asking for the document.

    I understand from other pastors that the HQ is requiring a confidentiality statement be signed stating you will not discuss what is in the report with others or give it to the press etc. From my reading of the minutes, I see nothing about a confidentiality statement being required.

    It seems like they are making it very difficult to get to the real numbers and avoiding accountability by using this confidentiality statement.

    So I wait… but not for too long!

  15. harry l. burchell, III
    May 12, 2008

    Another excellent source for thoughts on this is Lamin Sanneh’s “Whose Religion Is Christianity: Christianity Beyond the West.”

    I am reminded from this of parts of Bonhoeffer’s “secular theology,” basically saying that so much has been added to the faith that it is barely recognizable and that much needs redone (and I vehemently disagree with the “God is dead” theologians who use this to make their point). When the focus on Christ becomes paired with anything else, including nationalism, I think the odds of killing Christianity are exponentially increased. Also, what happens to loving our neighbors if we think we’re the only people in the world?

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This entry was posted on May 2, 2008 by in globalization, missional.
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