How the Early Church Used Prayer to Make Disciples

Here is a posting by Steven Bruns at Seedbed. From the Apostolic Tradition (circa 215 AD) come these words:

“It is not altogether necessary for [the bishop] to recite the very same words which we gave before as though studying to say them by heart in his thanksgiving to God; but let each one pray according to his own ability. If indeed he is able to pray suitably with a grand and elevated prayer, this is a good thing. But if on the other hand he should pray and recite a prayer according to a brief form, no one shall prevent him. Only let his prayer be correct and orthodox.”

I don’t think most Christians think about their prayers being “correct and orthodox.” Prayer has become anything goes as long as one is sincere. But clearly prayer reflects theology. How people approach God, what it means to pray in Jesus’ Name, what people pray for, how their prayers are ordered, etc., all declare what one believes about the Triune God and the nature of the the Christian life – its goals, its permissions and its restrictions, its focus, its discipline of the passions and appetites, and its release of Godly desire.

In this sense prayer is not just having a conversation with God. It is about bringing order to our lives and fixing our compass points so that we ask and live aright. This is why prayer must be taught and why our Lord gave us a paradigmatic prayer to guide us.

Listen to people pray. Really listen. Not to judge but to process and learn. And then reflect on how poorly we pray – random, disordered, self-focused, truncated and narrow. If the Christian life is being lived as it is prayed, there are a lot of us in trouble.

This is one of the reasons I use the Divine Hours as a prayer guide so that I am not left to the confusion of the moment and its hurts and disappointments. This is one of the reasons many spiritual movements develop prayer books, such as The Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church.

If one prays well, one lives well. Let’s start with learning how to pray.

What Does Pope Francis’ leadership of the Roman Catholic Church Mean for Evangelicals Who Crossed the Tiber?

Pope Francis has summoned bishops from all over the world to Rome to discuss issues concerning families – including hot-button issues like artificial contraception, the Eucharist and the divorced and gay civil unions. The meeting opened on Sunday and is seen as a test of Francis’ vision of a more merciful Church.

I will be very interested as an Evangelical Protestant to see what comes of this. Many Evangelicals have left Protestantism for the RC for its conservative sexual ethics and willingness to fence the table from the divorced (marriage is sacramental in the eyes of the RCC). These Evangelicals have been willing to let some Reformational doctrine go in order to gain some order in the church. Now they will possibly see that moral order eroded.

My guess is that these Evangelicals might leave the RCC over these forays into “mercy” and that the stream of Evangelicals leaving for Rome will dry up. Is Orthodoxy their next option? I must admit that Evangelicalism is willing to do almost anything to fill a pew. It is moral chaos in most Evangelical churches. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone has been turned into a mantra of moral license. Their doctrinal and moral reductionism can’t be reduced any more than it is. The only thing we Protestants are interested in is how many people go to your church. If that number is big enough, you are considered a success and given a place at the table. I don’t think this is an overstatement. Has Rome also caught this virus?

Evangelicals and Orthodoxy – Why Some Left Evangelicalism, Why I Stayed

I just returned home from a Patristics Conference. As always happens at these Patristic conferences, I find oodles of former evangelicals who are now Orthodox priests. When I self-identify as an Evangelical, a Baptist no less, they find their way to me and tell me their story about their years with this or that Evangelical tradition. Is there a common thread? Yes. It is the shallowness of a historical consciousness among Evangelicals and their free-floating worship forms that skip over the demands of the mind and bend toward the individualistic without creating a sense of the people of God moving through time. I hear this time and again. They are correct, as far as I see it. At times these things drive me insane. But I have stayed with Protestantism, Evangelical Protestantism, Baptist Evangelical Protestantism. We bring something to the table these other great worship traditions have failed to highlight, primarily conversion through the new birth, experienced through conscious faith and repentance. These sacramentalized traditions diminish the crisis of faith, the choice between the broader and the narrower road. They fill up with parishioners who have no conscious experience of regeneration, even if one allows for the mystical nature of it and that the work of the Holy Spirit is as the wind. I have so many Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends who deeply love Christ and rely upon him for salvation through a living and worshiping and holy faith. We disagree on how it is Jesus saves. We agree that Jesus saves. I think knowing how Jesus saves is mission critical to deep spiritual growth and to passing on faith to the next generation. I think personal knowledge of the Bible is essential to vital faith. I don’t see how there can be a healthy spiritual community without these elements. Therefore, I remain a Protestant. David Wells is right. It takes courage to be Protestant. Of 2.5 billion people on planet earth who profess to be Christians, 1.5 billion are Roman Catholic. 600 million or so are Orthodox. Of the remaining 600 million or so that are Protestant, a large number of those are liberal Protestant. Evangelical Protestantism is not the lone Protestant position. We are small and stampeded by heresies, wildnesses, and sheer embarrassing goofiness, whether it be a Benny Hinn or a Joel Osteen or a Jimmy Swaggart. No, Evangelicalism as it has developed is not intuitively and naturally a great good. It has to be defended and constantly put through extended rinse cycles to repair itself. It is maddeningly susceptible to disease. But it has a role in the great Body of Christ. I do greater good, I believe, in the long run by remaining faithful to my tradition than trying to leverage it in Orthodox or RC churches where it is swallowed up and silenced.

The Politics of Bible Translation

Yes, translating the Bible is political act. The act of translation is done with a particular audience in mind who will buy, or hopefully buy it, when it comes to market. Whether or not it will be financially successful affects the translation process.

For instance, when I was in seminary one of my Old Testament profs was on the translation committee for the New International Version. Often he would come back from translation meetings pretty steamed. The politics of “sellability” kept getting in the way. An example is the translation of the Hebrew word that in the KJV is “strong drink.” The actual meaning of the word is “beer.” But the argument was that Christians would not buy the NIV if it included a word like beer in it. So they kept the KJV wording in their first edition. Later editions used beer.

Scot McKnight reflects of the tribal nature of Bible translations here. He is right on.

I tend to use the ESV, partially because it reminds me of the old RSV, which the ESV translation committee used as its beginning point, having bought the copyright of the RSV. I used the RSV in college and through seminary. Then I switched to the NIV, not so much because I wanted to but it was becoming the defacto version of the churches I belonged to. Every so often I went back to the RSV. When the ESV translation came out, it became my default translation, though so very few Evangelicals use it. The NIV continues to dominate. In certain contexts I will use the NRSV for the worst of reasons – I have it in large print!! Easier on the eyes. I know. Not a good enough reason. But I’m too cheap to buy a large print of the ESV. Most of my friends who have tried the ESV find themselves uncomfortable with it. It does not flow easily. It does maintain the theological vocabulary of the KJV, keeping certain terms though they are not part of our contemporary vocabulary – like propitiation, sanctification, etc.

Two Experiences of Multi-Racial Worship

Yesterday I had two multi-racial worship experiences. The first was the Southern Baptist Super Saturday church training event in Brockton, MA. Most people don’t know how diverse the SBC is. No one is planting more ethnic churches in America than Southern Baptists. I and two others from my church were the only three Caucasians at the event other than some special resource people. A significant number of the brothers and sisters were from the Caribbean. The second was at Bridgewater Baptist Church in Bridgewater, MA. Once again, Sharon and I and Dick and Michele Golden were the minority by a bit. The dominant feel was, once again, multi-racial.

Just a few observations. One, how friendly the fellowship. Not only did everyone say hi, but even the young people approached and greeted. It was impossible to be left alone, very much unlike the dominant white churches I have been a part of. People might say hi, but they move on quickly without extended engagement. There were lots of hugs and kisses.

Two, the two events were like conversations more than top down formal religion. No one talking down but talking around – like around the table.

Three, no one sat in the back away from the group. People were down front, seriously down front.

Four, even though there was a serious equality, there was also evident a great respect for the Pastors. I could see it, feel it. And the Pastors were comfortable in that role.

Five, taking care of people was highlighted. People are down and don’t need to be handed another brick. I had the sense if I was in a serious moment of need, they would be the people who would care.

Six, at Bridgewater Baptist, I was seriously impressed by how much the younger appeared to be a part of the church, as in, their church. They weren’t a group set apart. In churches I have pastored, this group sits together, leave together, hang together. At Bridgewater they entered into the fuller congregation.

Seven, modesty of dress. There was no overt sexuality like I see in my usual church circles. I might not be totally clear on this, but my wife and I saw a dominance of dresses that weren’t fashion statements accentuating human form. I am so used to it being otherwise that the contrast was a bit stark.

These observations are random and are not meant as data leading to any serious conclusions. But the experiences were illuminating and reminded me of just how much of a bubble I live and worship in.

Saturday Night Worship, Children in Worship and Family-Based Youth Ministry

Sharon and I are going to a Saturday night service tonight. I love Saturday night services. There is something about them that seems to loosen people up, make them more conversational, and give the service less “official-ness,” which has some real upsides for me. It also allows for people to hang a bit, have families over afterwards, go out for coffee or dinner. Many years ago I went to Saddleback’s Sat evening service. They have huge windows so people, particularly those with young ones, can be out on the patio enjoying the sun and manage the children more easily. There are no children in the inside service at all. They could see us, we could see them and it all felt very good. (BTW, Saddleback Church was one of my best church experiences in visiting. One could feel the healing power of the place, the peace that was there, and the very intentional process of inclusion without giving the bum’s rush. Rick Warren’s teaching style is not what I prefer, but his warm spirit, confidence in Christ, belief in fresh starts and humble presence create encouraging atmospheres).

Children in the service is an issue that churches need to intentionally manage. By manage, I mean know what they are doing, do it intentionally, and communicate it to guests and regulars alike as a decided philosophy of worship. I remain convinced that doing real soul work with adults while children run amuck in the service is virtually impossible. I remain convinced that for many a mother serious alone time in adult worship to meet God is mission critical. To do this she needs to know that her children are being given the best experience in their programs. I also remain convinced that children should be in the service for at least a portion of the community’s worship. In some churches, like Saddleback, you can go all the way through high school and never actually be in the worship service and regularly see adults respond to Jesus together.

Churches create hothouse conditions for spiritual growth for each age segmented group and then wonder why when kids go away to college they don’t know how to do church and don’t go. BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TAUGHT THEM!! Everything they have been given at church is built around them and then when they enter the larger and more diverse worship of adult years, they don’t know how to give up preferences and tastes for the sake of the larger group.

One of my most important experiences as a child in church was the wonderful way that I saw other adults love my parents and love me. They were all like uncles and aunts to me. I loved them. I wasn’t trying to get away from them. The kindnesses they showed to our family were so much a part of our lives, and the way that mom and dad spoke of them around the house created a sense of something beautiful. It was a seriously big family.

I never had a youth group or youth pastor. I served the church and entered into adult responsibilities in the way i could. I handed out tracts along with my dad on the street corners in downtown Norfolk inviting sailors to church. I went on the church bus with my dad to pick up the elderly, the poorer who could not afford cars, the children whose parents did not go. I helped count change from the offerings so dad could get it deposited. On and on it goes. I don’t think it ruined me.

One of the critical books that was popular for awhile is Family Based Youth Ministry, published by InterVarsity Press. It is a stunningly honest book. The author did his research to identify the factors that led children to live out authentic Christ following in their adult years. Guess what didn’t make it onto the list – youth pastors and youth groups. What did make it onto the list big time was giving children serious contact with adult Christ followers and bringing them into the adult community as children. The book’s author has a huge youth group in a large church. He is not asking churches not to do youth groups but to do youth groups with these kinds of factors in mind. I haven’t seen many churches develop a firm philosophy on these things. Most parents are simply happy if their children go to youth group. They haven’t thought through the question of what will turn their youth-group-going child into an adult member of the spiritual community. They just assumed it would happen. BTW, it doesn’t!!!!

The church we will visit tonight is Bridgewater Baptist Church, near Bridgewater State University. Here is their website.

Here is the link to the above mentioned book.


Jared Wilson posts a blog about churches PRing themselves rather than simply lifting up Christ in his glory. Yes, we do live in a day in which churches with all the tools that technology gives to us focus on how to get their marketshare in the public square. There is a line there, folks. and it’s easy to step over it without sensing it. Soon the talk in church becomes about how great their church is, in contrast to other churches, and Christ’s glory shrinks.

You can look at church websites and get a sense of this kind of mindset, as in “we are the best _____ around.” Fill in the blank yourself. Jared does a good job of describing this. It takes serious effort to back away from the temptation.

Tim Keller’s Comment on Models for the Church Since the Early 80s

In response to Andrew Wilson’s ode to the Emerging Church, Tim Keller posted this brief overview of models for church ministry with the early 80s. This is the time I was coming onto the scene after seminary. I had already been baptized into ministry through years as a staff worker with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

From 1980-95 – had the Church Growth movement as the Big Thing (and Crusade evangelism as the outreach method)
From 1985-2000 – had the either the Seeker-Church movement or the Cell Church movement as the Big Thing (and lay evangelism training–4 Spiritual Laws; Evangelism Explosion–for the outreach method)
From 1995-2010 – had the Emerging Church movement as the Big Thing (and weekly home meetings–Alpha, Christianity Explored–as the outreach method)

The reality is that each of those movements, though they lost their lustre, left their mark on the evangelical church.

It’s noteworthy that there is nothing like these former movements on the horizon. (At least–that’s how it looks to me. How about you?)

My seminary was critical of the Church Growth Movement and its rootedness in the Homogeneous Unit Principle for ministry, popularized by Donald McGavran. This is simply a way of making the point that people reach people more like them. This seems obvious, but it gave many churches permission to eschew diversity and focus only on their own “people group.” It was theological permission to build churches without feeling guilty about building it around the people who already go there rather than crossing cultural boundaries. Of course, in missions the focus on people groups by such people as Ralph Winter opened up a whole new and positive window on international missions strategy. Instead of looking at reaching the nations as synonymous with geo-political nation states, it sensitized missionaries to the true diversity of peoples and that successful outreach focused on that diversity. Instead of reaching India, for example, the focus now became reaching the “….” people group in India. This released an entire new wave of creative mission strategy and gave new missionaries the power of focus. The prayer book Operation World captures this approach.

The Church Growth Movement rather organically gave birth to the Seeker Church movement, a la Willowcreek. This movement was based on intense sociological analysis of near people groups and building the local church on removing the cultural boundaries that kept new people out. This led to a strategies to sing their kind of music, adopt many of their cultural values, such as convenience, anonymity, excellence, easy parking, and dressing normal. The key word in all these is the word “normal.” The church is to step out of its subculture and mainstream.

In almost a predictable, and once again organic way, there came the Emerging Church movement. This was a reaction to church as an industry, pumping out mega-churches in cookie cutter fashion with its consequent diminishment of the personal. Emergents rejected the cultural values that informed the Seeker movement which, in their mind, too readily accommodated itself to suburban values. Emergents highlighted a more thoughtful, mystical and unique church experience, more like the boutique than the mall. Brian Mclaren, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, and Tony Jones, among others, sought a less dogmatic Christianity, a place for individualism, and demonstrated a distrust of assembly line methods for disciple-making. They also tended to smooth out the rougher lines of traditional Christian teachings – hell, heterosexual marriage, etc. Many would observe that this trend was just mainline denominationalism with its less dogmatic versions of our faith trying to make a comeback. Many of its leaders, who at one time were self-consciously a part of Evangelicalism, have over time drifted away (or been kicked to the curb). Rob Bell is the most famous example of this.

So where are we now? There is no dominant model on the horizon, as Keller observes, or I am just too old to see it. Seeker churches working the formula seem so old and tired as praise teams with 50 year olds try to perform like a new music act. Emergents didn’t emerge, come to find out. They peeked out from the cracks in the church sidewalk and then withered. 

I do think that we are seeing wiser versions of the seeker church popping up – culturally savvy but rooted in historic orthodoxy and orthopraxis. They are putting a choke hold on the more crazy antics of over-the-top seeker churches. 

But that is about as far as I can see, and I haven’t read anything that clearly outlines “next things.”