Reruns: The Prostitute, the Pharisee, and the Prophet

The Prostitute, the Pharisee, and the Prophet

Posted on April 28, 2007

It looked like another night of degradation, of providing sexual favors to men who’d preach her into hell the following Shabbat — men who enjoyed her presence at night but denied knowing her by day. Miriam hated her life and was beginning to hate herself.

As she walked to her usual spot, she saw two women rushing toward the home of Simon the Pharisee. She could just barely hear them talking. “Simon has invited Jesus of Nazareth to dinner! They say this Jesus can do miracles! Some say he’s a prophet,” the first one said.

“That’s nothing,” her companion said. “He even forgives sins. At least he says he does.”

“You mean, like John the Baptist? Will he baptize us?”

“No,” the second woman said, “you don’t have to go to the Jordan. He just looks you in the eye and says, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ like he’s God himself! Some call him a blasphemer. I heard that he thinks he’s the Messiah,” she laughed as she spoke, “but this Pharisee wants to hear him, so maybe he’s the real thing. At least it’ll be a good show!”

Miriam’s heart leaped at the sounds. “My sins could be forgiven!” she thought. She’d heard of John the Baptist but felt too dirty to see him and be baptized. And now John was in prison and she’d lost all hope of ever being right with God. Maybe this Jesus could really forgive! She knew it was impossible. Any man holy enough to forgive sins would never forgive a woman like her. Continue reading

Reruns: Hiring the Right Preacher

Church Growth: Hiring the Right Preacher, Part 2

Posted on November 29, 2007

churchgrowthl.jpgJust for fun, you know, I thought I’d take a look at the latest Abilene Christian College data on preacher salaries in the Churches of Christ. They gather data each year to help churches know what to pay and preachers know what to expect. It’s interesting stuff.

And the data tells us a lot about ourselves. It may be a step in overcoming some of our problems.

chart-pixia.jpg

This is a chart of 2007 Church of Christ preacher salaries vs. years in ministry. The straight black line is a trend line determined by regression analysis — a statistical method for averaging complex data like this.

The straight trendline shows that salaries do indeed go up with years in ministry, on average. But the increase is $127 per year of service! Work for 50 years and your wages will have gone up $6,000!

Well, this didn’t seem quite right, so I added a trend curve — which you can see. It matches the data pretty well, and shows that salaries top out, on average, at between 25 and 30 years in ministry. Wages start at around $30,000 and then top out at $55,000 or so. And then they decline. Continue reading

Reruns: “Good News and Bad News” (mainly bad, as it turns out)

Churches of Christ in Decline? “Good News and Bad News” (revised)

Posted on April 25, 2008

Dr. Flavil Yeakley, long the unofficial chief statistician of the Churches of Christ, has just published a booklet called “Good News and Bad News: A Realistic Assessment of the Churches of Christ in the United States 2008.” It can be bought from the Gospel Advocate Bookstore for $3.75.

Having just reported that the Southern Baptist Churches are in decline, it seems only fair that we take a look at the Churches of Christ.

From 1980 to 2000, the Churches grew by 45,407, a 2.8% increase, in terms of adherents. From 1980 to 2006, the growth was 2.5%. Now, these aren’t annual rates of growth — they reflect total growth. Hence, the annual rate from 1980 to 2000 was 0.14% (2.8% / 20).

But notice this — the rate for the 26 years from 1980 to 2006 was lower — meaning we were in decline during those last 6 years. Indeed, we lost 0.3% of our adherents from 2000 to 2006, which is a 0.05% (0.3% / 6) per year decline! Now, it’s a slow decline, but there’s no interpretation of the data that makes a loss of adherents a good thing!

On the other hand, the membership numbers show a 0.1% increase during the same 6 years, with a 2.0% increase in membership from 1980 to 2000 versus a 2.1% increase from 1980 to 2006. Again, these are total increase figures, not annual. Continue reading

Reruns: The Franchise Agreement

It’s (Almost) Friday! The Franchise Agreement

Posted on March 12, 2009

The other day, we elders were chatting about the possiblity of canceling Wednesday night services for part of the summer.The volunteers in our children’s ministry are worn out, and the school year has gotten so long that the summer is filled with mission trips, VBS, and such. But it was just talk.

But word got out. Word always gets out. A retired elder grabbed me in the hall. He said he’d heard about our discussion. He had a look of sheer panic on his face.

“You know you can’t do that,” he said with the greatest of urgency.

“You mean politically? There’s nothing in the Bible on it, of course, and the church will support the decision, I’m sure,” I replied — naively as it now seems looking back on this fateful conversation.

“No, no,” he shook his head. “You forgot about the franchise agreement! How could you forget about the franchise??”

I assured him that I had no idea what he was talking about, and I thought sure he’d lost his mind. He was, after all, quite elderly.

It must have shown on my face, because he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I’m not crazy!” He looked deeply embarassed. “When I retired, I guess I forgot to give a copy  to the next guy. You see, in churches of Christ, the senior elder always keeps a copy of the secret franchise agreement. It has all the rules that you think ought to be in the Bible but aren’t.”

A few days later he drove to my house and handed me an ancient, dusty document, plainly labeled “Franchise Agreement.” And as old as it was, the lettering remained very clear.

The retired elder leaned close and whispered in my ear. “Now it will all make sense. All the gaps, and silences, and peculiarities — now you’l understand.”

And now, you’ll understand. Continue reading

Reruns: How Do I Know If God Has Called Me to a Task?

How do I know if God has called me to a task?

Posted on July 20, 2007 by Jay Guin | Edit

jesushealing.jpgI’ve had this question posed to me several times. It’s not an easy one for a couple of reasons.

First, when the New Testament speaks of a Christian being “called,” it usually means called to obey the gospel. On the other hand, when Jesus calls James and John to follow him (Matt. 4:21 ff), they are being called to “be fishers of men,” a very specific task.

Second, although we have many examples of God calling an individual to a very particular task–Abraham, Moses, Gideon, the Apostles, among many others–I can find no doctrine that Christians are, as a body, each called to a very specific task.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to suppose that God no longer wishes particular people to take on particular tasks. For example, we know that the Spirit gives particular spiritual gifts to us, and we are called to use those gifts in God’s service. If my gift is encouraging, then I’m called to be an encourager. In this very real sense, as everyone has at least one gift, everyone has at least one calling.

However, I know many people who feel called to a very particular task, and know of no reason to doubt the reality of what they are feeling. It would be very consistent with God’s nature to sometimes appoint specific people to specific tasks. Continue reading

Reruns: Adding Fried Chicken to the Lord’s Supper

Posted on March 8, 2007

CommunionIt’s often been said that if we could add instruments to our singing, then we could add fried chicken to the Lord’s Supper. But I’ve been doing some reading, and it seems that the early church did, in fact, add fried chicken the Lord’s supper (well, lamb was more likely, but you get the point). In fact, they added an entire meal, the equivalent of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and banana pudding.

They had a great example to follow. Jesus added, at least, lamb and bitter herbs. We know this because he instituted communion as part of the Passover celebration, which is a full meal (Num. 9:11).

Luke describes the Last Supper in more detail than the other Gospels. In chapter 22, Luke describes Jesus blessing the cup, first, and then the bread. Luke then records,

(Luke 22:20) In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Hence, the second cup, which is the cup we emulate in our services, was separated from the bread by a supper — a full meal. Jesus could have done this in any order he wished (he was Jesus, after all), and Luke could have edited the account to omit the meal, as the other Gospel writers did. But I think Luke wanted us to read about the meal, because the common meal was also an important institution to the early church.

Jude 12 talks about “love feasts” celebrated by the early Christians. We know from history that many early Christian churches had weekly or even daily common meals called the love feast. Many took the Lord’s Supper as part of the common meal. The meal served multiple purposes. It allowed Christians to share with those in need, it allowed a profound sense of community to form, and it made the Lord’s Supper truly a supper.

Everett Ferguson writes,

Jesus instituted the memorial of himself at the last supper in the context of a meal. It seems that a meal provided the most convenient context in which the Lord’s supper was observed by early Christians. … The Didache [late First Century] also sets the eucharist in the context of a common religious meal. The Roman governor Pliny [ca. AD 110-115] places the Christian gathering for a common meal at a separate time from the “stated” religious assembly.

Early Christians Speak, p. 130. The love feast was an important part of the early church. We know from 1 Cor. 11 that it’s not essential, but we know from Jude that it was permitted, even honored. And the historical evidence is nearly as old as the New Testament.

This fact destroys a number of false assumptions about the Lord’s Supper. First, it’s nowhere required to be in an auditorium. The early church usually met in private homes — with full kitchens and dining room tables ready for serving food. May we worship with kitchens and dining halls? How could we not and honor the teachings of Jude? Indeed, the Lord’s Supper was, in fact, very often a supper. I’m confident the early church would have upset had there been no kitchens available!

Second, communion is not required to be quiet, somber, and ritualistic. The Jewish Passover is often a lively celebration. Neither is communion required to be part of a formal worship event, between an opening prayer and a closing prayer. Rather, the early church often conducted the love feast, including communion, as an event separate from the formal assembly. The social element was considered among the dearest features of the event. People talked and enjoyed one another’s company.

Third, obviously, our theology prohibiting additions is just wrong. Yes, we may add a full meal to the Lord’s Supper. Of course, we can’t add evil things to the assembly. Neither may we add things that frustrate the God-given purpose of the assembly. But plainly permission was given to do the expedient thing. Therefore, we need to seriously reconsider those arguments that assume that additions are always wrong. They’re not.

Finally, the whole “five acts of worship” idea clearly contradicts both Biblical and early Christian teaching. The love feast was an act of worship but an optional one. Therefore, there was no set number of “acts.” We made the rule up out of whole cloth.

Run, Run Rudolph

Jerry Lee Lewis classic performed by Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead —

Covered about 50 times on YouTube, and this is the clearly the best version.