Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • We publish our Q&A with Preston Ulmer, lead pastor of Doubters Church in Denver, Colorado. I like this quote especially: “When I was in college, serious doubts about my faith drove me into depression and anxiety. After having a season of doubt and leaving the faith personally, I found someone willing to disciple me, patiently helping me reconstruct my faith. Through the seeking and doubt, I returned to the faith and found God to be an unchanging God who I could commit to even in the face of uncertainty.” Isn’t it amazing how God uses our personal experiences–whether good or bad–to shape our ministry to others?
  • Chris Railey asks whether experiential is the new contemporary: “Emerging generations don’t want to sit and listen; they want to participate and experience, and this in many ways is the essence of Pentecostalism.” Amen to that!

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John Lindell | Influence Podcast


John Lindell recently reached an important ministry milestone. Lindell is lead pastor of James River Church, a multisite congregation in and around Springfield, Missouri. He has led the congregation since 1991. On Sunday, June 26, he preached a sermon from the final verses in the Gospel of Mark, and in doing so, completed sermons on every book of the New Testament.

To mark this milestone, I sat down with John for a conversation about expository preaching—that is, preaching through Scripture in a systematic, sequential fashion. In addition to making a case for why preachers should preach expository sermons, John gives practical advice about how to do so more effectively.

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • John Lindell and I talk about the case for expository preaching, that is, preaching through Scripture verse by verse. John is lead pastor of James River Church, a multisite congregation in and around Springfield, Missouri. Yesterday, he completed a series on the Gospel of Mark and in doing so finished preaching the entire New Testament. We have a good talk about the why and how of Pentecostal expository preaching.
  • We note a new Pew Research Center report on how many digital devices Americans have. “For the first time, more than half of U.S. households contain a cellphone but no landline, according to a recent report from Pew Research Center.” My own family is on the cusp of being what Pew calls “hyper-connected,” with ten or more devices in the household.

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Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey writes about two key components of strong ministry marriages: “Setting goals together and making decisions together are two powerful components of any strong marriage. And they will help you become a better leader, too. But all of this presupposes that you are praying for and with your spouse. No amount of counseling, reading, self-help or peer advice can match the power of a praying spouse. Praying together makes setting goals and making decisions together that much easier. But it also sets your hearts on what is most important: your relationship with the Father above.”
  • Phil Steiger reviews The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher: “I believe there is a lot of value for a pastor in The Benedict Option. Dreher forces us to pay attention to some of the significant and seismic changes in culture, but more than that, he produces some tangible suggestions. And I agree with him that we can’t just do business as usual and expect better results.”
  • George O. Wood–aka, “Dad”–talks about one of his favorite pastoral prayers: “Lord, help them to lay foundations that are strong enough to bear the weight You will later place on them.”

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Thursday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Joy Qualls highlights the value of civil discourse: “People are desperate to see examples of healthy communication and positive relationships. It is incumbent upon us, as leaders who claim to represent Christ, that we model for one another how to engage in civil discourse that honors who we are as people created in the image of God who are all in need of healing from our argument culture.”
  • John Davidson talks to Kyle Dana for the Influence Podcast about the top three financial mistakes pastors make about their future. Kyle says the one thing you can do today to positively affect your financial future is simple: “Make a plan!”
  • Kathy Cannon offers advice about creating space for God: “I cannot pour out to others unless I consistently refuel by spending time in the presence of God, and that doesn’t happen by accident.”
  • We note Barna research showing that most U.S. pastors report excellent family relationships. “U.S. pastors have more positive views of their family relationships than the general population.” My view of my family is certainly positive…

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Apostles of Disunion | Book Review


“The Civil War was fought over what important issue?”

That question begins and ends the 2001 edition of Charles B. Dew’s Apostles of Disunion. It appeared on a test administered to prospective citizens by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. According to the INS, either “slavery” or “states [sic] rights” was an acceptable answer. This binary option, in Dew’s words, “reflects the deep division and profound ambivalence in contemporary American culture over the origins of the Civil War.”

Today, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the test. The current version of that test, updated in January 2017, includes this question: “Name one problem that led to the Civil War” (emphasis in original). Acceptable answers include “slavery,” “economic reasons,” and “states’ rights.” After 152 years, Americans still don’t agree on the cause of the Civil War.

There is a sense in which the second and third answers are correct. The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 alarmed the South. Southerners feared that a Republican administration would violate their states’ rights and harm their economies in the process. Because they couldn’t see a way of keeping their states’ rights inviolate and their economies flourishing with Lincoln in the White House, they seceded.

And yet, citing “states’ rights” and “economic reasons” as causes of the Civil War is also profoundly misleading. Think of it this way: Why did Southerners think a Republican administration threatened their states’ rights and economies? Because they felt that Lincoln and the Republicans would interfere with their “peculiar institution,” slavery—the source of their region’s economic wealth and the reason for the constant invocation of states’ rights against federal power. Economic reasons and states’ right might have been proximate causes, but slavery was the ultimate cause.

The South seceded from the Union in order to defend the ideology of white supremacy and the practice of slavery. Next time you read about a conflict regarding a Confederate monument or the Confederate battle flag, keep that fact in mind.

But don’t take either my word or Charles B. Dew’s word for this conclusion. Take the word of the various men profiled in his book, men specifically commissioned by Southern states (e.g., South Carolina) to advocate the need for other Southern states (e.g., Virginia) to secede from the Union and form a new Confederacy, an advocacy that occurred in late 1860 and early 1861, prior to the attach on Fort Sumter. “Over and over again,” Dew writes, “they called up three stark images that, taken together, constituted the white South’s worst nightmare.”

Below are the “three stark images” together with representative quotes from secessionist commissioners:

  1. Racial equality

“Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality” (William L. Harris, Mississippi commissioner, in a December 1860 speech to the Georgia legislature).

  1. Race war

“Under the policy of the Republican party, the time would arrive when the scenes of San Domingo and Hayti, with all their attendant horrors, would be enacted in the slaveholding States” (William Cooper, Alabama commissioner, in a December 1860 speech to the Missouri legislature. He was referring to the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), in which Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters.)

  1. Racial amalgamation

“Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property, and her institutions [i.e., slavery]; nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government [i.e., “the equality of the races, white and black”] destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection [i.e., the Haitian Revolution], consigning her citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans” (Stephen F. Hale, Alabama commissioner, in a December 27, 1860, in a formal letter to Gov. Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky).

In his 2016 Afterword, Dew notes that he reviewed the commissioners’ speeches and formal letters afresh and saw with greater clarity how “economic themes formed a significant undercurrent in their case for secession.” But once again, those economic reasons focused on slavery. After quoting various commissioners, Dew notes: “The two largest industries in the Old South were staple crop agriculture and the [internal] slave trade. No other economic activity came even close to these two enterprises. So they had to figure in the secession commissioners’ argument, and they did.”

With the defeat of the South and the abolition of slavery, Southern partisans recast the ultimate cause of their struggle. The result was the so-called “Lost Cause,” the defense of Southern culture in which the centrality of slavery was downplayed. In light of what secession commissioners said about the cause of their struggle before the Civil War, however, the Lost Cause can only be seen as egregious historical revisionism. The South seceded from the Union in order to defend the ideology of white supremacy and the practice of slavery. That was its ultimate aim and the reason for its invocation of “states’ rights” and “economic reasons.”

Next time you read about a conflict regarding a Confederate monument or the Confederate battle flag, keep that fact in mind.

 

Book Reviewed:
Charles B. Dew, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, 15th anniv. ed. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2016).

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Wednesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Mike Burnette issues a stirring call to expository preaching: “Preach the Word of God with boldness; lead people to surrender fully to God’s will and God’s Word. Study and prepare, and come ready to capitalize on this precious time so you can give your best in delivering God’s Word. Then watch as it becomes alive and active in individual lives, transforming people from death to life, and bringing them to new life in Jesus.”
  • Karen Blandino talks about the power of relationship building in ministry: “When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.”
  • We note a frankly alarming statistic from a recent Gallup poll: “Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all U.S. adults say a doctor should be able to end the life of a terminally ill patient if the patient and family members request it. Fifty-five percent of those who attend church weekly agree with that stance, along with 66 percent of those attending church nearly weekly or monthly. Almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) of those who never attend church are in favor of legalizing euthanasia.”

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Philip Hamburger on Prejudice and the Blaine Amendments | First Things


Over at First Things, Philip Hamburger relates the history of the Blaine Amendments, which prohibit government funding of “sectarian” institutions. My home state, Missouri, has one such amendment, the constitutionality of which is being decided by the U. S. Supreme Court even now. (See Becket Law’s page on the case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.) Scratch the surface of these amendments, however, and you find anti-Catholic and anti-ecclesial prejudices at work, historically at any rate:

Many judges have done their best to sanitize the Blaine Amendments. Rather than face up to the reality of prejudice and discrimination, they have suggested that the amendments are innocuous. Where the amendments bar funds for any “sectarian” institution, the judges have interpreted them to preclude funds for “religious” institutions. And having homogenized all of the amendments to express a general anti-ecclesiastical discrimination, the judges have understood this result to be areligious or “secular” and thus without prejudice or discrimination.

But even the amendments that generally bar funding for religious institutions are inescapably stuck in the mire of theological prejudice. The old animosity against the Catholic Church never entirely went away, but rather was generalized. Although hostility against the Catholic Church softened, it remained distinctively strong, and it served as the prototypical example of what was rejected in all churches. Thus, what changed when states adopted broad Blaine Amendments, and when judges interpreted “sectarian” to mean “religious,” was merely that another layer of prejudice was added—the core animosity toward the Catholic Church becoming the model for a more expansive hostility toward all churches.

At best, this is new prejudice in old bottles; in fact, the dregs of the old prejudice remain, topped off by the new.

Judges tend to miss all of this because they see religious divisions in terms of denominational differences, such as Anglican versus Baptist or, at most, Protestant versus Catholic. But what matters for the Blaine Amendments is another sort of religious difference: that introduced by theological liberalism.

European religion was traditionally fraught with divisions among different churches, each defined by its own distinctive doctrine. But the most profound division in American religion since the Founding has been the division between the theologically liberal and those who are theologically more orthodox. Theological liberalism has split one church after another—to the point that the theologically liberal in different churches often have more in common with each other than with the more orthodox in their own churches. Indeed, the theologically liberal attack on ecclesiastical authority has become the preeminent fact of American religious life, and as theological liberals became numerous enough to enjoy political power, they used Blaine Amendments to restrict not merely the Catholic Church, but other ecclesiastical institutions.

Rather than excuse the Blaine Amendments as expressions of areligious concerns, judges need to recognize that these amendments are products of theological animus. Nativists and other theological liberals allowed their fear of ecclesiastical institutions to lead them into theological warfare against the Catholic Church and sometimes against all ecclesiastical bodies, and the legal results are ugly. Far from merely discriminating between what is religious and what is not, the Blaine Amendments discriminate against Catholic and other ecclesiastical authority and thereby carry out theologically liberal animosities.

To be sure, states in many instances can reasonably choose not to fund churches. But when the Blaine Amendments narrowly single out “sectarian” institutions, or when, as in Missouri, they categorically exclude all ecclesiastically-affiliated institutions, they reveal theologically-driven discrimination.

Read the whole thing!

The Assemblies of God among the Megachurches


Over on my Facebook page, I posted the Facts & Trends story, “Where Are All the Megachurches?” earlier this morning. However, I dug around a bit in the data underlying this story and found out that the Assemblies of God (USA) has the fifth largest group of megachurches among Protestant congregations. Of the 1,667 churches in the Hartford Seminary database of megachurches, here are the top five groupings:

  1. Nondenominational (458)
  2. Southern Baptist (260)
  3. Unknown denomination (187)
  4. Baptist, unspecified (120)
  5. Assemblies of God (109)

Another way to look at this is that the AG has the second largest grouping of megachurches among America’s Protestant denominations. Why? First, factor out the “Nondenominational” and “Unknown denomination.” Then, factor out “Baptist, unspecified” because those churches could belong to one of over 60 Baptist denominations in the U.S. That leaves the Southern Baptists and the AG as discrete denominational entities.

With that in mind, consider yet another way of looking at these numbers. The Southern Baptist Convention claimed 15.22 million adherents in 2016. It has 260 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 58,538 : 1. The AG claimed 3.21 million adherents in 2016 and has 109 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 30,283 : 1. Per capita, then, the AG has more megachurches than the SBC.

Fun with statistics, I guess.

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P.S. If you’d like to review Hartford Seminary’s Data, go here: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/database.html. You can sort by congregation, denomination, state, and size.

P.P.S. I had the joy of working with Doyle and Connie Surratt at SeaCoast Grace Church, one of the churches on the list. Hi, guys!

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