Protestants: The Most ‘Catholic’ of Christians

New confession by high-profile theologians gives post-Reformation unity a URL.

The most obvious effect of the Reformation—which celebrates its 500th anniversary this year—is division.

It is estimated that more than 33,000 different Christian denominations now exist throughout the world, and much of this is blamed on the Reformation. While not everyone thinks this is a problem, it is a source of concern for Protestants, who are the heirs of Martin Luther’s movement that has tended to create new churches rather than reform existing ones.

The “Reforming Catholic Confession,” released today, aims to demonstrate that—despite “denominationalism”—Protestants are remarkably unified.

Additionally, the new statement of faith, crafted by a team of Protestant theologians and church leaders, aims to show that Protestants are actually more catholic (meaning “universal”) than Roman Catholics, who demand allegiance to the Roman pontiff, or than Orthodox Christians, who reject the claims of Rome but still rely heavily on apostolic succession to guarantee faithful Christianity.

So far, the confession has garnered more than 250 signatories, with a wide swath of Protestant denominations and traditions represented by initial signatories such as Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, philosopher William Lane Craig, biblical scholar Tremper Longman III, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez (a CT board member), and Billy Graham Center for Evangelism director Ed Stetzer (a CT blogger).

The list is primarily scholars and academic leaders, but nearly 20 percent are denominational leaders, pastors, or ministry leaders. Signatories hail from 25 different countries and more than 110 institutions (80 from …

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Questioning Why God Questions

If He wants to have meaningful relationship with us, it will require dialogue.

Why do children ask lots and lots of questions? Aren’t they capable of understanding the answer the first 15 times their parents respond? Why do people make statements about their views instead of asking each other questions? Shouldn’t we be quick to listen to others’ ideas instead of simply asserting our own?

Why does God ask questions?

Isn’t he supposed to be all-knowing?

The ability to ask questions is part of what makes us human. Animals have significant communicative abilities—the ability to signal, to gesture, and to vocalize. They can problem-solve and even reason, as Mexican ecologist Constantino Macías Garcia found in house finches that line their nests with cigarette butts as a chemical deterrent against ticks.

But animals lack the metacognition required to ask questions. Metacognition refers to the ability to think about thinking and implies more than merely taking action or responding to inputs.

Peter Carruthers, in his article “Meta-cognition in Animals: A Skeptical Look,” explains that thinking in humans and animals can be divided into two systems: a lower level that is reactive and a higher level that is reflective. In Carruthers’s classification, animals can make statements because statements come from the lower level of thinking. They can reason that some types of nesting prevent ticks. But animals cannot ask questions, because animals cannot think about the possibilities that questions could evoke.

My cat, Sitka, can tell me he needs food (“meow”), and command me to get him food (“meow, meow, meow”), but he cannot ask me what the food is. He lacks the higher level of abstract thinking needed to ask questions. Being a cat, he probably …

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Missions Sunday: Enhancing Character Development through Soul Care (Part One)

Soul Care is a lifestyle of regular, ongoing, non-crisis activity that promotes growth and development of the whole person into maturity.

As Richard stood staring out his office window, he knew something was wrong. His enthusiasm for ministry that had accompanied him for nearly thirty years was gone. He was tired, spiritually dry, and growing bitter about his situation.

Soon after making the move to the home office a decade earlier, Richard realized that the title ‘executive director’ principally meant ‘fund raiser.’ But his organization was in need of much more than money. As with most traditional North American mission agencies entering the twenty-first century, his was working its way through deep organizational change. Richard had spent several years contending in the stressful whitewater that so often accompanies major transitions.

Richard was suffering from burnout. It was obvious that he had not adequately cared for himself. There was no mentor, no margin, and no genuine accountability in his life. Some might even go as far as to say that he only had himself to blame. After all, CEOs should know better.

But is it completely fair to say that this missionary-turned-mission executive was the only party responsible for what was happening? Granted, Richard’s lack of self-leadership led him down this road, but another question (and one which is seldom asked) is legitimate: How could the mission have allowed Richard to ignore his self-care? Where were the checks and balances?

While this true story did not end in tragedy, it does leave us with a couple of sobering questions: First, how many missionaries in our ranks are struggling and, as a result, are discouraged, unable to perform at the top of their game, feeling trapped, or may even be teetering on the brink of personal disaster?

Most agencies do well at providing pastoral and professional …

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Trump Backs Churches Suing FEMA over Harvey Aid

President also donates $100,000 to Samaritan’s Purse for Texas hurricane relief efforts.

Four days after three Texas churches sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for barring them from relief funding, the President took their side.

Donald Trump tweeted Friday night:

Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).

Becket, the religious liberty legal group representing the damaged churches, applauded his remark, saying, “It’s great that the President sees that FEMA’s policy of treating churches worse than every other nonprofit is wrong.”

Jack Graham, a Trump adviser and Dallas pastor, applauded the President, but indicated some hesitancy around the case. “Christians and churches give & serve willingly but very thoughtful of the President to desire to support our work,” he tweeted.

Several have suggested that churches offer services out of a sense of charity, and not to be compensated. “Yes, there are church-and-state issues here, but here’s another question: What church would ask for federal money to do the Lord’s work?” wrote John Fea, Messiah College history professor. He went on to say that churches should use their own resources to care for the needy and turn to FEMA only if they run out.

Trump donated $1 million toward Harvey relief efforts, with $100,000 going to Samaritan’s Purse, the aid organization run by Franklin Graham, another of the President’s evangelical advisers. As of last week, Samaritan’s Purse had five centers set up in churches across the Texas coast, and had gathered more than 2,100 volunteers and completed work on more than 200 homes.

Operation Blessing International also received a $25,000 donation from Trump.

The …

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Interview: Keith and Kristyn Getty: Singing Isn’t Just for Sunday

Why congregational worship is a feast we prepare all week long.

The Christian musical landscape includes dozens of widely known worship leaders and recording artists but comparatively few hymn writers. Of these, Keith and Kristyn Getty are preeminent. Their songs are enormously popular (over 40 million people sing “In Christ Alone” in church services each year, according to their website). And in June, Keith—who is from Northern Ireland—became the first contemporary Christian musician to be honored as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, an award given by Queen Elizabeth II. Over the last decade, the Gettys have been leading seminars around the United States for pastors and ministers of music. This teaching work forms the foundation of their book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. Steve Guthrie, professor of theology at Belmont University (and head of the school’s Religion and the Arts program), spoke with Keith about reinvigorating the Christian practice of singing, in congregations and families alike.

With so many difficult issues facing the church today, why give special attention to congregational singing?

As evangelicals, we take the Bible as our authority. And when we look at the Bible, we find that, actually, the second most common command is to sing. It wouldn’t come up that often if it weren’t extremely important to God. Yet when Kristyn and I started studying this, we realized we couldn’t find good books on singing for ordinary people.

In 2013, we did a series of leadership lunches where we would ask the participants: “What’s the first question you ask about music in church?” And we got a whole range of answers, from production to musical style to personality to presentation. But …

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The Beginning of Dementia Isn’t the End of Grace

How the church can come to the aid of sufferers and their loved ones.

In the era of modern medicine, a great many human afflictions can be treated, if not cured outright. Medicines easily defeat diseases that once would have killed us, while prosthetics and pain-relief drugs help us adapt to disabling symptoms and incurable illnesses. Dementia, unfortunately, remains neither curable nor especially treatable—and it is only getting more common as our population ages.

Dementia is especially fearsome in a culture like ours, one that treats autonomy as essential to human flourishing. Losing the ability to think and make rational decisions is always a profound loss, but it is especially terrifying for people who value independence so highly. Thankfully, Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by physician John Dunlop is an excellent companion in thinking through the questions that dementia raises.

The first half of the book covers some basic theological precepts about sin, illness, and the body, as well as medical and scientific details about dementia. Dunlop then describes the daily experience of those who suffer from dementia and the people who care for them. Plenty of books and resources contain this sort of information, but this book remains immensely useful for anyone—pastors, family members, or even people in the early stages of dementia themselves—seeking basic facts about the disease and subjects like in-home care or nursing homes. Having spent many years caring for demented people at every possible stage, Dunlop helps readers step into the non-slip socks of a person with dementia and understand his or her frustrations and sorrows.

For the rest of the book, Dunlop asks whether we can find any grace in dementia. To do this, he first confronts the assumption that makes people …

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Should Christians Keep Advising a President They Disagree With?

Leaders inside and outside Trump’s inner faith circle weigh in.

With each controversial decision or remark President Donald Trump makes, his evangelical advisers come up against mounting pressure to resign and cut their ties.

“This is why @rev_rodriguez and I have refused to leave the faith advisory council,” Tony Suarez, vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) tweeted Tuesday, following the White House decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the next six months.

While Trump pledged to end DACA during his campaign, Suarez and NHCLC president Samuel Rodriguez have spent months lobbying to protect it for the sake of family unity, meeting with the President to defend their case as recently as last week. In their eyes, access to the chief executive—and the opportunity to influence him on political matters important to the church—is worth it, even if the decision doesn’t turn out their way.

For the two dozen or so evangelical leaders who signed on to advise Trump in the campaign and have gone on to enjoy an open invitation to visit him at the White House, what should they do when their convictions as Christians counter what the President says? (This scenario came up as many believers challenged Trump’s “two sides” approach to Charlottesville last month.)

Here’s what several advisers themselves have said about why they remain involved—some evoking the Old Testament prophets speaking before kings as well as Jesus himself dining with tax collectors—and what fellow Christian leaders think about the line between when to offer counsel and when to step away.

Should Christians keep advising a President they disagree with? Responses arranged from “yes” …

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God, Guns, and Oil

A Los Angeles church seeks the good of its neighborhood by confronting crime and environmental distress.

One of the first things that Richard Parks learned after moving into South Central Los Angeles is that Bible studies and liquor stores don’t mix.

In 1992, Parks and a few friends moved to LA following the riots sparked by the acquittals in the Rodney King trial. It was an act of faith, inspired by Parks’s experience as a summer intern with John Perkins and the Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mississippi. The friends found a pair of rental houses just off Jefferson Boulevard in the Exposition Park neighborhood and set up a tutoring program at a storefront around the corner.

There was just one problem.

Their new home was not far from Lucky Liquors, a haven for crime in the neighborhood. The store served cheap beer and sold cups full of ice with their liquor, encouraging customers to hang around outside the store and drink, according to city zoning department complaints. Prostitutes and drugs dealers often hung around the store as well, and the street nearby was littered with broken bottles and other trash.

Then there was the violence. In their first year in LA, Parks says, there was one homicide at the store and more shootings than they could count.

“We quickly learned that gunfire was a call to hit the floor and pray,” he said.

One night as the bullets smashed their walls, the friends prayed the Lord’s Prayer—“Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Afterward, Parks was furious.

He’d grown up in a quiet suburb, where the kind of chaos he saw on a daily basis in his South LA neighborhood would never have been tolerated. So why was it tolerated in his new community?

The next morning, he and his friends set out to answer that question—and to shut down Lucky Liquors as a public …

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Do They Know It’s Labor Sunday?

The century-old observance is scarcely observed, but its concerns remain current.

Unless you are part of the United Church of Christ, you likely do not know that Labor Sunday is coming up September 6, 2009. I’ve never encountered this observance in a lifetime of attending assorted denominational and non-denominational churches. The UCC website suggests ways to bring the concerns of workers before the congregation, but Web searches on “Labor Sunday” plus the names of other denominations bring up only very old documents like a 1907 Assembly Herald (Presbyterian) and a 1911 Herald of Gospel Liberty (General Convention of the Christian Church). The latter declared, “This day stands for the united action of the churches in the field of industrial life, a fact of supreme importance in the history of religion. … And yet how many preachers, and how many church members are familiar with the ‘Social Creed of the Churches,’ and its requirements[?]”

Though Labor Sunday precedes Labor Day on the calendar, Labor Day is the older holiday. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, either Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, proposed the holiday in the early 1880s. In the middle of that decade, municipalities across the country declared a “workingman’s holiday” on the first Monday of September. Congress recognized the date in 1894. Typical celebrations included a parade, intended to demonstrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” speeches, and amusements for workers and their families.

Churches organized alongside labor interests in the first decade of the twentieth century.

In 1907, the (Northern) Presbyterian Department of …

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A Prayer and Confession of the Church in America During These Days

A prayer of Daniel as a model of repentance.

As I write this, I am reflecting on what took place two weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia. My heart breaks over the division, hatred, and strife that we face in this country over the issue of race. I freely confess that I’m no expert or wise sage who can speak profound thoughts about this situation. Others like Ed Stetzer and Karen Swanson and Wendy Martin have spoken more eloquently about the politics and institutional issues at play, calling for change.

I’m simply a Christian who cannot help reacting to such tragedy.

The history of humankind is replete with stories of one group seeking to dominate another. As far back as we have historical record, there is evidence that humans have failed to treat one another with dignity. Any student of the Ancient Near East historical record will recall the constantly shifting boundaries as one empire after another swept through the lands, conquering and dominating everyone in their path. Our more recent world history is no different: one nation colonialized another, often taking those people as slaves, dictators leading genocides, human trafficking…

Why do humans seem so driven to grasp for power by pushing others down?

Even the apostles struggled with this urge. “Jesus asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:33-34). How many times, I wonder, did Jesus catch them arguing about who would be the greatest?

And are we any better today?

How many church congregational meetings have I sat through, listening to parishioners fight over who gets to have things their way?

How many hours of speech full of judgments, racism, sexism, and classism have …

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