Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Reflection on Church Planting

In the 1990s I planted a church in a small suburban town near Dallas. At the beginning we had a small start-up group from another local parish. Within a year we had a congregation of around 75 people, and in the next few years we had one of the fastest growing congregations in the Dallas area. It was by intentional design that 90% of our people were previously unchurched, many of them recruited through a telephone evangelism approach. [That worked in the early 1990s, but wouldn’t work today.]

At the beginning we had very little internal conflict; and the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and delight in the Holy Spirit claimed the center of our attention. For a couple of years, we held Sunday worship in a school cafeteria. When we moved to a location in a nearby shopping mall the congregation continued to grow. Our new Mission began to draw not only previously unchurched people, but also a number of people who began to transfer in from other parishes in our denomination. Be aware that Church Growth is not the same thing as transferring already churched people from one congregation to another.

As the number of previously churched people increased; internal conflict began to increase. Characteristic of that was an incident at a baptism. In lieu of a baptismal fount we were baptizing adults in the swimming pool of one of our members. Our music at that time was contemporary gospel music accompanied by guitars [I must say that is not my first preference, but it is what we had, and what was available. I prefer a balanced music program ranging from contemporary to classical, with a good proportion of traditional hymns.]

In The Book of Common Prayer there is blessing of the baptismal water. A new member who had transferred in from a larger congregation was serving on the Altar Guild took me aside and objected, “Now what are we going to do with all the Holy Water?” I was impressed with her lack of empathy with the newly reborn Christian who had just been baptized. Then she asked, “Why can’t we make them sing our kind of music?” By that she meant the kind of music she sang in her previous church. That was the first note of problems yet to come; and it was to be followed up with other similar critiques of our common life as a new congregation. Those conflicts arose almost completely from the previously churched people, and their attitude was going to infect others in the congregation.

As we began to make plans for a new church building our percentage of previously churched people increased, and we had to deal with more serious conflicts. Nothing brings out conflict in a congregation faster than what kind of floor we should have in the worship area, among a hundred other similar details. Some, but not all, of the previously churched people wanted a building just like the building they had in their previous church, after all that is the true architectural representation of what evokes worship. [Make no mistake, my favorite church building is Canterbury Cathedral in Kent where I have attended Evensong a number of times, but that won’t do for America.]

What was the source of the infection that the previously churched brought with them into our mission congregation? The previously churched people brought with them a critical spirit. They were the only authority; their traditions, their presuppositions about the nature of church, and in most of them, their lack of personal faith. What was the source from which this poison arose? The source of the poison was the ineffectively evangelized congregations from which they came. The solution is the evangelization of the Church itself.

What was it that I was missing? I failed to recognize, and speak consistently, to the effect of the critical attitude of previously churched people on our new congregation. Yet even though it aggravated me [and it should have], I brought many of them to faith. Still I had failed to address the presenting problem of their critical attitudes that sprang from their presuppositions about the nature of the church and its ambience. That was going to result in ongoing problems as the congregation continued to grow.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Robin P. Smith, Oblate OSB

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Confessions of a Recovered Fabian Socialist


When I was young and living in Canada, I read “News from Nowhere”, and felt the draw of Fabian Socialism, and voted for the New Democratic Party in Canada. When I immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized American Citizen I also became a registered Democrats. Really, who wouldn’t want to vote against Nixon!

When Nixon was pardoned by President Ford I wrote Ford a letter explaining that as the Rector of a Massachusetts Episcopal Church, and as a Democrat who had voted for Ted Kennedy, I was of the opinion that although Nixon was pardoned, rather than brought to the bar of justice, that the country had had enough of the whole painful saga and that Ford had done the right thing.  I was amazed to receive a personal thank you letter from Ford who also let me know that he had forwarded my letter to Ted Kennedy. 

Subsequently I received a scathing letter from Kennedy asking how, as a man of God, I could take such a sinful position?  To which I replied that as one who had voted for him, but was not as wealthy as him, I wasn’t sure that justice had been done at Chappaquiddick, and if I were he I wouldn’t say anything.  Shortly after that two men in conservative blue suits turned up during a Sunday morning Eucharist, took notes through the sermon, and left at the passing of the Peace.  My guess was that, like many dissenters during that era, my name was on a list somewhere.

I had voted for George McGovern, and I also voted for Jimmy Carter, but the second term for Ronald Reagan made me wonder about the Republican Party. For several years I wavered between the two parties. What finally soured me on the Democratic Party was Bill Clinton’s sexual adventures with Gennifer Flowers.  Regardless of theoretical principals, I just can’t get myself to vote for the Clintons. I can’t get beyond their immorality, fabrications, and their version of big money sponsored government.

When I became a citizen I was never asked where my true allegiance lay.  My allegiance lies with the Kingdom of God and with its King.  That allegiance determines the nature of my response as a citizen of the United States. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Coming Storm

Over several trips to Uganda we had noticed a growing presence of Islam.  On our last short term mission trip to the Diocese of Kinkiizi we led two conferences; one for the clergy and one for the lay pastors.  Our theme was the doctrine of the Trinity and how we relate to the three Persons of the Trinity in our lives and experience.  Preparing the basic outline for the course I had no idea of its relevance to the spread of Islam in Uganda.

We westerners are na├»ve about the doctrines, teaching, and customs of Islam.  Inscribed around the inside of the dome of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in Arabic is the following exhortation directed to the People of the Book, to Jews and Christians, “O People of the Book! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God, and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and say not 'Three' - Cease! (it is) better for you! - God is only One God. Far be it removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son. ... Whoso disbelieveth the revelations of God (will find that) lo! God is swift at reckoning!”

Islam is in militant opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity, and to the Incarnation of the Son of God.  Did you know that lying is permissible in Islam?  That is known as Taqiyya.  The Quran says that a man may lie to his wife to please her, or he may lie to spread Islam.  Unfortunately Muslims will lie about the history and traditions of Islam and their intention to spread Islam throughout the world. Jihad is their equivalent of evangelism, and will include violence as well as other means.  As part of the Muslim outreach Idi Amin started the building of a huge Mosque in the middle of Kampala.  It is known as the Gaddafi Mosque because Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator provided the funds for its completion.  They broadcast their prayers on loud speakers from their mosques and believe that wherever the sound of their prayer is heard belongs to Islam.

The position of women in Islam is degrading.  Muhammad had twelve wives, one of them was nine when the marriage was consummated.  Islam now allows for four wives, including child wives.  A woman is property, and has fewer rights than a man.  In some Muslim communities, men can marry, even for an hour, a prostitute, then divorce her.  That is not considered adultery.   

Islam buys and lies its way as is spreads its doctrine and Sharia law. As Sharia law spreads, persecution of Christians spread.  There are numerous accounts of persecution from Northern Nigeria and other places.  We are already seeing the effects in the United States in cities like Detroit where many of the taxi drivers are Muslim and a single woman may have to wait for a non-Muslim driver in order to get a ride.

Uganda, like other places in Africa, is a spiritual battleground; and it is coming our way.  America with its dry as dust religion may well go up in flames as it comes our way.  In Uganda Islam encounters an intensely personal faith and there are many instances of people won to Christian faith through dreams, visions, and people hearing the voice of God; but what of us with our pseudo-sophistication and cultural humanism?

The best media news available in Uganda is Al Jazeera.  Al Jazeera’s coverage of world events is much more comprehensive than our American media news, but it comes at a price.  That price is an undercurrent, not of anti-Americanism, so much as anti-Christianity.  The problem that Islam has with Christianity is simply that we believe in the Trinity, and that we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.