Random Thoughts on the Year Ahead

Please consider this post as being intentionally below our usual front page standards. “Intentionally,” because we’re coming off of a holiday and I haven’t completely taken my heels off my desk yet.

What I aim to do here is share some pretty much random thoughts on the year past and the one head from a SharperIron point of view.

The year past

Over all, twenty-ten was not a bad year for SI. Site traffic was down about 3% compared to the year before, but from October 1 on, was higher than the year before by a significant and increasing margin. November increased over October and December increased over November. It’s hard to tell yet whether that represents a trend. But I’m encouraged by the fact that we began 2010 with traffic levels below those of 2009 and finished the year well above them.

Of course, site traffic is kind of like church attendance. It’s just the easiest factor to look at to gauge how you’re doing—not necessarily the most meaningful one.

In 2010, we completed our first-ever survey of SI readers. Some interesting results came from the survey. While I can’t say we attempted any specific changes in response to the survey, the results did become a part of the team’s perspective on what we’re doing. And survey responses did shape our discussions on things like approach to moderating, selection of Filings and other posts, and the site’s relationship to doctrinal issues.

Speaking of—another significant event of 2010 was the unveiling of an expression of the doctrinal views of SI’s admins and moderators. It’s a modest start, but an important one. Folks have sometimes (in emails and posts) referred to “SI’s position” or “SI’s view” on this or that. The phrase has never really had any meaning since “SI” is pretty much everybody who posts. But as a way of referring to what the site leadership believes, the phrase has been hollow as well: we never said what we believed about anything beyond the existing Doctrinal Statement. Now there’s a bit more to work with.

Where our handling of doctrine will go in the future remains to be seen.

Financially, we did OK in 2010, too. I’m no CPA,1 and all the crunching hasn’t been finished yet, but I’m pretty sure SharperIron, LLC finished a tiny bit ahead for the year in the dollars and cents department. Thanks to all of our advertisers, as well as those who donate from time to time or use the Amazon box.

Looking ahead

Since the styling and functionality updates in June (“SI 3.1”), we’ve had some intermittent problems with site performance: slow page loads. Some tweaks a week or so ago appear to have helped, but it may be necessary in 2011 to go back to a slightly beefier (but more than “slightly” more expensive, I think) server configuration. So we may be asking for money again soon.

But right now, looking ahead mostly brings writing topics to mind. Though some ideas are brewing on how to make the site a bit more “social” in 2011, I’m mostly looking forward to doing more actual writing—what got me involved in SI in the first place back in ‘05, as a once-a-month writer.

Some topics I’ve been gnawing on follow. If you’re interested in writing on these topics, I’d welcome your perspective as well. Take a look here for details on how to construct your manuscript and get it to us.

What does “depending on God” mean?

I suppose all believers are keenly interested in this subject unless they believe they’ve already figured it out. Reading a few of the early chapters of David Platt’s book Radical piqued my interest again in doing some writing against popular misunderstandings of the concept.

In particular, why do we keep speaking of “depending on God” and “depending on our own strength” as two options when Scripture is clear that in reality, there is no such thing as “our own strength”? And if it’s true that “our own” is an imaginary category when it comes to ability and power, what are we really doing when we fail (which we surely do) to “depend on God”? How do 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 and 1:9-10 help us sort it out?

Thinking biblically about poverty

Platt’s book got me thinking about poverty as well. A recent discussion in Sunday School about what obligations believers and “the church” have for ministering to the material and physical needs of “the poor” meshed with recent discussions here and elsewhere about the “missional” view of the church, “kingdom-now” thinking, and related topics. In addition, as the evangelical mainstream continues to shift leftward toward the liberal social agenda (which has become the doctrine and practice of the old mainline denominations) I’m increasingly interested in chipping away at some of the thinking that underlies this leftward trend.

I’m concerned that a new generation of sharp, devoted, well-intentioned evangelicals and fundamentalists have absorbed some popular fallacies in the areas of poverty and social justice. The results could eventually be pretty serious even in our own neck of the woods.

It isn’t about “politics,” per se, but about what we ought to believe about the nature of human beings individually and collectively—and how to truly help people.

Our society (and many evangelicals as well) seems to be devoting a great deal of energy to “solving” the poverty problem without first going to the trouble to understand its causes. What really helps the poor depends on what really makes them poor to begin with and what keeps them that way. When we understand that, we’re ready to talk about solutions.

Separately from that set of questions, we need to think through how these activities relate to the special purposes God has assigned to the church. But because of where the fight-poverty energy seems to be coming from, I suspect getting the cause-effect issues clarified solves much of the trouble here as well.

So why are the poor poor? The topic is begging for some attention in the year ahead.

Dressing up for church

Why did we ever get into the habit of donning coats, ties and nice dresses on Sundays? More importantly (maybe), having established this tradition for a few centuries (how long, exactly?), why are so many so interested in departing from the tradition now? And is there really any biblically relevant material on the subject?

Along with these starter questions, I’m interested in how their answers relate to the meaning of clothing styles in our cultural setting and in cultures in general. How is the meaning of one style versus another determined in a culture? Is there any Scripture to back the idea that what we wear says something (i.e., has meaning)?

Then we have a whole set of questions involving how one form of dress vs. another impacts us when we work or worship. The question of impact or results is a separate (though not unrelated) one from the question of meaning.

A major financial services firm (UBS) gave some conspicuous attention to its corporate dress code recently. The reaction has been interesting. Does the business world know something today’s (American) Christians are not willing to seriously consider?

Thinking is fundamental

When we launched “SI 3.1” last June, the new style included a new byline of sorts. It is not prominently displayed yet. Most browsers display it in the page title line (or tab title) when you go to SI’s front page, and it appears in Google hits: “Thinking is fundamental.”

To me, “thinking is fundamental” is stating the obvious and borders on tautology.2 But who can deny that “thinking” and “fundamentalism” have had a somewhat distant relationship for much of movement’s history? The reasons for that are complex, and I’m probably not up to the task of sorting them out, but I would like to do some writing on the subject in the year ahead. It makes perfect sense to me that believers with a worldview built on a solid commitment to the fundamentals of the faith ought to excel in redeeming the mind.3

Looking at the subject scripturally, what reasons do we have to highly value careful and clear (and when necessary—painful) thinking about what Scripture means, about the issues of our day and about our own “movement”?

It’s evident to me that we do not live in a society that has a sentiment deficit. Our culture does not emote too little. We may be reserved and quiet in our interactions with people (especially here in the Midwest), but when it comes to how we arrive at our beliefs about things—do we think too much? Not in Wisconsin. I’d guess even less so in most other places.

Separation

Speaking of clear thinking, though separation has been a rhetorical focus in fundamentalism for a long time, it is not a subject we have given “too much” attention to. Rather—in my view—it’s a subject we’ve (in general) not given the right kind of attention to. The Preserving the Truth Conference I’m slated to attend later this week is encouraging to me on that score. As an idea focused on the preservation of truth and the purity of the church, separation is an area of doctrine and practice that we must not allow to die if we can help it—despite all the confusion and muddled execution that has often gone hand in hand with it.

I don’t know yet what sort of opportunities I’ll have to field my questions, but some I’m taking to the conference this week—and also hoping to see some writing on this year—include these: Is biblical separation merely absence of fellowship to some degree or is it more intentionally censorious? (That is, when we separate are we saying, “We have differences that make it impossible for us to work together on Project X”? Or are we saying something more like, “We have differences that require us to put distance between us and you in relation to Project X because you are wrong”?)

Closely related: what do we have for exegetical support for one option or the other? How does one view versus the other play out in our relationships with ministries and leaders?

And what does “ecclesiastical separation” really mean (especially if it is defined merely as absence of fellowship) for independent Baptists who have each congregation separated from each other congregation as a starting point?

Finally, are there some things current pastors and teachers can do to help congregations and future pastors better evaluate what kinds of differences are separation issues and what kinds are not?

More or less “straight ahead”

So I look forward to what 2011 holds. There is work to do, and I hope SI can continue to be helpful in some important ways to believers in the year ahead.

Notes

1 In fact, I’m pretty sure I excel in making my own accounting more difficult for myself!

2 Added phrase only to try to sound smart. Excuses for using the word “tautology” are so hard to come by!

3 I have dabbled in the subject a little bit here in the past. As fundamentalists, why are we suspicious of the intellect in ways (and to a degree) that we are usually not suspicious of our intuitions or instincts or “heart” (which seems to often mean the same thing)?

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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There are 48 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron,

Looking forward to these proposed discussions in 2011.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Several years ago, a trucker visited our Sunday morning service. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He was clean and did not stand out. After the service, he thanked me for the kindness our church showed to him. The week before, he was in California where he visited a church at their Sunday morning service. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans there. The ushers took him to a nearby coat room and asked him to put on one of the extra ties there because men should at least be wearing a tie to church.

How silly to tell a guy to put a tie on over a t-shirt in order to be in their worship service.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes... extremes in this area are all too common.
At our church, the norm for many decades has been that the pastor and most others who exercise some form of leadership in worship are in dress shirts and ties on Sunday mornings. Less so at other gatherings. In the pews, we've always had a wide variety. I don't think anyone visiting in a coat and tie would feel out of place or anyone in jeans and a "nice" shirt would either. The occasional wearer of shorts, Tshirt and flip flops has not--as far as I can tell--felt uncomfortable either (which I'm not sure is actually a good thing, but that's how it is).

What intrigues me is the movement away from the dressing-up tradition. It is mostly just tradition as far as I can tell, but departures from traditions have some sort of motivational force and I'm interested in understanding what that is, especially in the cases where folks have very consciously (and sometimes outspokenly) departed from the tradition. Why the intensity? And why the trend over the last 20 yrs or so?
There has been a parallel trend in our culture in the business world over the last 20 yrs also. I'm interested in what's really behind that also (though I suspect the pendulum will swing back the other way somewhat over the next decade).

So, for my part, the "why" is more interesting than the "what."

Joel Tetreau's picture

Aaron,

Yes indeed - Straight Ahead! Not sure we have a viable alternative.

For me, the loss of a tie for Sunday ministry has been freeing on multiple levels. I've hated the tie as much for the "attitude" that often comes with the tie, or the dress, or the whatever....almost as much as the discomfort the tie brings to my neck. Most "outsiders" and/or "insiders" don't care if you wear a tie or not. The problem is the attitude that often comes with a certain attire. For the record, I think you can have the same "in your face" attitude with some who go to church casual. For we who live and minister amongst cultic groups that also wear the tie (in our case, our LDS friends) we are faced with a few questions -

1. How distinct does this approach to "dress up," tie us (no pun intended) clearly and distinctively to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
2. Is there a shred of evidence from the NT that the NT church "dressed up" for corporate worship? Is there any evidence they "dressed down" for corporate worship?
3. If it is true (and it may not be true) that a congregation is actually putting up an "unneccessary" bearers to the gospel and/or discipleship by insisting that all should wear coats, ties, etc.....in the year 2011 and with the culture of especially non-traditional believers that most of us want to reach out to.....why would we want to insist that we have a sub-culture of traditionalism that in reality makes us look as much like a mormon than a Christian?

A few more thoughts but those are a few starters. Greatful for a new year.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Mike Harding's picture

Aaron,

Hand me several of your questions when you arrive. I will monitor the discussion time and try to include some of them for the conference speakers.

At this point we have about 250 registrants for the conference and we are expecting more this week. I still have available housing for those who have a need. Simply call 248.689.4555 and ask for Deanna Brammer.

Interestingly, we set up this conference before the recent developments occurred in regard to Calvary and Northland.

Pastor Harding

Pastor Mike Harding

Shaynus's picture

Aaron,

The topics of interest to you are good ones that fundamentalists need to consider biblically and wisely.

In my church plant, we have a wide variety of dress. I'd be interested to learn how various geographies dress differently. What about urban vs. rural? North, South, West? Is New England about as dressy as South Carolina? My church tends to switch up the dressiness level on purpose, in order to de-emphasize it as a point of contention over other more important matters. One day the pastor might wear a suit, the next Sunday, jeans and a sweater. Life is like a box of chocolates...

My church is made up of many young people who grew up in fundamentalism. I think for me the outright ridiculousness of dress codes is hard to combat without some kind of clean break with the tradition of dressing up. I once had a friend at BJU from New England. I once asked him why he dressed up for church. He said it was he wanted God to bless him in the coming week. He said he "dressed up for God so God could bless." That's pretty much false teaching in my mind. I wonder where he picked it up. It probably wasn't taught exactly how he expressed it, but it might have been demonstrated that way. One way to "undemonstrate" this kind of false thinking is to be proactively more about the heart than externals.

For work, I don't wear a tie. That's my corporate culture, and mostly it's the corporate culture in my area in the DC Metro region (outside of Capitol Hill and K Street). In the last three years, the only time I've worn a tie is for a wedding or a funeral. . . even though I wore a tie every school day for eight years at Bob Jones Academy and University.

One other question. Do the main guys at SI draw any income from the site? Maybe that's answered elsewhere. I hope you do.

Shayne

Don Johnson's picture

Joel Tetreau wrote:
I've hated the tie as much for the "attitude" that often comes with the tie, or the dress, or the whatever....almost as much as the discomfort the tie brings to my neck. Most "outsiders" and/or "insiders" don't care if you where a tie or not. The problem is the attitude that often comes with a certain attire.

Hey, Joel, I don't think I get what you are saying here. Are you saying that you personally get an attitude when wearing at tie, or you have perceived a certain attitude in others? If the latter, then the issue isn't the dressing up, but the attitude of some.

Personally, I think the matter of dress is very complicated. It really depends on your environment, the culture of the church and the culture of the community.

I have never emphasized dress in our ministry. When asked if we have a dress standard I have said, "It is good if you are dressed." But I do ask those who serve up front to dress up and not slovenly. That doesn't necessarily mean a tie.

And although we don't make a big deal of it, and have many men who don't wear ties, one of our guys, a new convert (former Hells Angel biker), decided on his own that he wants to wear a tie on Sunday "for the Father" he says. So he comes in a shirt and tie, clean neat blue jeans and cowboy boots. I am hankering after a pair of boots myself, but the cost and "she who must be obeyed" have so far prevented me!

In any case, I think there can be an unhealthy emphasis on the "Baptist uniform", but at the same time our folks tend to dress more formally on Sunday than they do the rest of the week.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Todd Wood's picture

Religious culture and tradition has a powerful, monolithic sway.

LDS culture has piggybacked on to the conservative Christian traditions of American forefathers and seem to be doing the best in a very large bloc way in our country for maintaining "Christian Sabbath". In my mind, it seems a competition between three blocs: OPC, Baptists, and LDS. Baptists are fragmenting on their traditions. The OPC is a smaller group. So I think the winner goes to the LDS.

I wear Sunday dress. I carry a Bible based on the KJV tradition. I walk into a church with a steeple, etc., because this is rightfully my Christian heritage. Probably, it is a complicated combination of bad pride and good pride and being so irked by the ongoing onslaught to supplant every precious trapping of my faith.

If I continue to wear a "Sunday Best" in days ahead, I try to inwardly think of being removed of all my filth and being clothed in the best - the dazzling, radiant robes of Jesus Christ. Other reasons have become so increasingly LDSish or shallow for me.

And if all my religious traditions get swallowed up by the larger, monolothic culture, what have I lost really?

Nothing.

I count everything but loss that I might gain Christ. Christ is everything.

Shaynus's picture

Todd brings up another aspect of the dress issue. How does Sunday Sabbatarianism contribute to the idea of dressing up more than normal to church?

Also, if a tradition goes awry, what are the ways one might go about combating misapplications of tradition?

Todd Wood's picture

And I do not preach nor maintain any requirements for others . . . those in leadership, membership, or visitors.

Except modesty and beauty of appearance and heart that is winsome and attractive as sons and daughters of the great high King. This can appear in a vast variety of colorful, cultural ways.

You will have a difficult time seeing that among the large army of young LDS missionaries sent around the globe.

Shaynus's picture

Todd Wood wrote:
You will have a difficult time seeing that among the large army of young LDS missionaries sent around the globe.

In vibrant shades of white, black and bicycle?

Steve Davis's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
So why are the poor poor? The topic is begging for some attention in the year ahead.

Great question. A good read is Keller's recent book, "Generous Orthodoxy." I don't have the book with me as I write but three reasons I recall that he mentions are oppression, calamities, and personal choices. Might be a good place to start in the discussion. Generally, it seems that liberals lean heavily on the oppression side, conservatives on the personal responsibility side. The truth is that it is more complex.

Shaynus's picture

Steve,

I think the book you're talking about is "Generous Justice: How God's Grace makes us Just." I have it and am reading it now.

"Generous Orthodoxy" is another topic. Smile

Shayne

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Mike Harding wrote:
Aaron,

Hand me several of your questions when you arrive. I will monitor the discussion time and try to include some of them for the conference speakers.

At this point we have about 250 registrants for the conference and we are expecting more this week. I still have available housing for those who have a need. Simply call 248.689.4555 and ask for Deanna Brammer.

Interestingly, we set up this conference before the recent developments occurred in regard to Calvary and Northland.

Pastor Harding


Thanks, Mike. I'll bring them along.
I have mixed feelings about the size the group... glad it's that many, though part of me was thinking "small and intimate" might be easier for dialoging.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Clothing serves functional and social purposes. Functionally they guard us from the elements and enable us to expediently perform the necessary tasks of life. Socially they act an a uniform which provides information about one's person to those with whom they will interact. Some settings require a great deal of adherence to a specific and prescribed protocol such as military or religious contexts. The smallest detail can communicate rank, privilege, duty, and occupational vetting mechanisms. On the other hand, as the scale becomes less complex many social contexts require casual attire at most. This is based on overall social norms and standards.

The period when social norms and standards begins to changes inevitably will bring conflict between the traditional class and the emerging class. Sometimes the new class will bring well considered ideas that meet with broad social appeal and adjustment and sometimes they simply bring practical changes that are not based on complex thought yet still pass muster for social acceptance. Additionally they may accept, in large part, much of the tradition passed on to them with little modification, seeing and understanding its value. But sometimes the emerging class brings with them persuasions of their generation that are ill-conceived and arrogantly maintained forms of personal attire and decorum that are not one of principle in the least, but that of lingering immaturity and excessive license.

But where many modern traditionalist fail is where past traditionalists seemed to have understood in enough numbers to convince the next generation, namely that there is more than the matter of mere preference on many points of attire that have gone into the development, establishment and reinforcement of clothing norms and standards.

An examples.

When a Minister communicates his sermons in the formal setting of the assembly in what many call the sanctuary (as opposed to a Sunday school class where he may be instructing less formally) why do many wear the uniform of a suit or dress pants and a blazer?

Not simply because they wish to convey a serious treatment of their person or with respect to others so that their attire will not serve as a distraction but as well and not always mentioned, as a service toward God's work. It functions as a covering, which is precisely what a robe and its paraphernalia does for those in denominations that use them.

What do I mean? A uniform covering functions to lessen the personal expression of the person underneath of it and maximizes their work, namely to communicate the Word of God (and for others this includes sacramental functions). The Pastor is not in the pulpit to maximize his personal expression. Therefore clothes that unduly call attention to his unique or proprietary tastes, are for many, immature indulgences that detract from his service for God in communicating.

Such details on many matters of clothing that involve men and women are points unlearned by many today who desire to maintain certain traditions because they to recognize their value. And such points, often when presented, genuinely do impact those in the emerging class. But if all they have for the most part is tradition for tradition's sake and not principles of any real significance, then it is likely they will be much more willing to either set aside or greatly modify valued traditions if the mood strikes them.

Now this example is not with the unmovable conclusion that all Ministers in all pulpits must where some sort of suit, blazer and dress pants or a robe in order to be properly attired. It simply is an example to make the point of why certain clothing has been chosen and became traditional in its use and it is far more than social preference in many cases. There are thoughtful reasons for many of its details.

Steve Davis's picture

Shaynus wrote:
Steve,

I think the book you're talking about is "Generous Justice: How God's Grace makes us Just." I have it and am reading it now.

"Generous Orthodoxy" is another topic. Smile

Shayne

You're right. Had the wrong "generous" on my mind. Keller's book is outstanding. The other one less so. Thanks.

Steve

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Shaynus wrote:
He said he "dressed up for God so God could bless." That's pretty much false teaching in my mind. I wonder where he picked it up. It probably wasn't taught exactly how he expressed it, but it might have been demonstrated that way. One way to "undemonstrate" this kind of false thinking is to be proactively more about the heart than externals.

This is an interesting argument. Will have to get it into my notes along with Joel's "in your face attitude" that goes with wearing a tie.
... but the latter is easy to answer since he already answered it (thanks, Joel!)

I've personally never detected any correlation between that particular attitude and the wearing of a tie.

Shaynus wrote:
For work, I don't wear a tie...

Well, me neither, except Sundays. Once in a while, I've gone to the office dressed up. Based on the results, it may be something I should do more often.

Shaynus wrote:
One other question. Do the main guys at SI draw any income from the site? Maybe that's answered elsewhere. I hope you do.
Shayne

Actually, nobody gets paid, besides me, which is why I'm taking my private helicopter to Troy in a couple of days.
I do have to fly it myself, though. Bummer.
No, seriously, there was a bit of an investment involved in "obtaining" the site in '08. I was glad to do that, since Jason had sunk a fair amount of capital into the project... and needed to be free of that heading into his new ministry. But it'll be a while yet before that is earned back (not much longer I think). Some of what comes in goes to paying for trips for interviews or other site-related writing.
(And I'm taking the Ford Focus to Troy by interstate)

I'm thankful for a fine bunch of volunteers who never complain about not getting compensated!

Shaynus's picture

[quote=Alex Guggenheim

What do I mean? A uniform covering functions to lessen the personal expression of the person underneath of it and maximizes their work, namely to communicate the Word of God (and for others this includes sacramental functions). The Pastor is not in the pulpit to maximize his personal expression. Therefore clothes that unduly call attention to his unique or proprietary tastes, are for many, immature indulgences that detract from his service for God in communicating.[/quote]

So Alex, it's not about the suit necessarily. It's about not calling attention to yourself by means of dress. A hearty Amen to that. The context that one finds oneself will really determine what exactly is calling attention to the self, as opposed to ignoring the self and focusing on the Word.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Don,

I'm suggesting that many (not all) who "dress up" with tie, etc....for "church" think that this some how, "adds" something to their "sanctification," "worship," "standing." That's the first error I'm targeting. The second error is the judgmental attitude that many of these folk will have towards other believers who do not share their "standard" for Sunday dress. I'm suggesting that both errors undermine the work of the gospel and the real growth of believers. Sorry I wasn't clear the first time.

Happy New Year my man!

Straight Ahead!

Joel Tetreau

PS - Don, you have to try preaching without the tie. I bet the extra oxygen will be a great help to you. It makes the preacher more pleasant to listen to. I know I'm much more relaxed sense I ditched the tie. Ditch the tie my man...be free. Peace!

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Bob T.'s picture

Location, location, location. If you want to feel out of place in a southern California church just wear a tie. The exceptions are the Mormons and the KJVO Baptists. You can tell the difference of the two. The KJVO Baptist will be the guy with the out of date tie. The KJVO Pastor is the guy with the $1500 suit and latest flashy tie.

JobK's picture

Rather than being "a topic begging for attention", the reason for poverty is clearly articulated in the Bible ... it is a direct consequence of the fall of Adam. This is not to say that it is a sin to be poor (as one prosperity teacher that I used to oft remit money to claims). Nor is it that people always - or even often or usually - are poor because of sin ... we can consider the words of Jesus Christ against that type of thinking regarding the man born blind, or also the false accusers of Job. Instead, just like illness, famines, violence, wars, natural disasters, death etc. poverty is one of the many maladies that entered the earth as a direct consequence of the fall. Both liberals and conservatives have political and cultural reasons for attempting to obscure this Biblical truth, whether one's goal is to highlight economic policies that fail to redistribute wealth or personal/cultural behavior that act against accumulating wealth. Both views tend to exalt themselves against the words of Jesus Christ when He said that the poor would be with us always. A perfect (or nearly perfect) economic system will no more eliminate societal or individual poverty than will a perfect cultural/moral climate. Consider that in the absence of both an industrialized society and nearly universal access to education, it was impossible to have anything but a large underclass, and even when those things are present, a "small" such underclass will exist. And as we are seeing with the rise of China and India, it appears that the world economy can only support so many large heavily industrialized nations because with industrialization and education comes an increase in expectations for standards of living, a fact which liberals evade by scapegoating the wealthy, and conservatives evade by scapegoating labor unions.

As far as the response to the church to poverty ... well the first thing is to adhere to a separation of church and state. Whatever the aims of the church in this regard, we cannot expect to advance them by dealing with fallen states, moreover we shouldn't even want to try even if it were attainable. So, best to withdraw from the battle between the left and the right's competing versions of the social gospel for both are heretical in rejecting the fact that Jesus Christ stated that His kingdom is not of this world. After that, the church's first and primary responsibility regarding the poor is helping other Christians. This is not an option but a mandate, and it is impossible to read the instructions to the elect, whether it was Israel of the Old Testament or the church of the New Testament, and claim otherwise. The prophets revealed to Old Testament Israel was that a major reason why the country was coming under judgment was their neglect of the responsibilities to the poor that God gave them in the Sinai covenant. Jesus Christ stated that Christians who refused to address to the poverty and suffering of other Christians were not His sheep but goats, and that point was enlarged by James in his epistle when he stated that faith without works is dead. In the church in the early stages of Acts, they made sure that all the needs of the poor were met, and position/office of deacon was created in order to better meet the needs of the impoverished widows. Later on, Paul made a large point of collecting an offering for the Jerusalem church that was suffering from poverty, oppression and famine from the wealthier Gentile churches, and delivered a stern rebuke to the wealthy Corinthians for refusing to share their food with the poor during the Lord's Supper. Regarding poor Christians, we cannot pretend as if 1 John 4:20 does not exist, and being a liberal concerned about the lack of social programs that "should" be helping this person or a conservative concerned whether helping this person "enables a poverty culture and prevents this person from taking personal responsibility" is allowing earthly views to crowd out what the Bible explicitly, repeatedly states about the elect's responsibility towards our own poor from the Sinai covenant until even among the latter books in the New Testament to be written.

Now while poverty of other Christians must come first, we cannot ignore the poverty of non-Christians. Now I am against the idea that we should use our charitable acts as overt evangelistic tools, or to bear witness of the church's virtues to the world. I view such things as public relations at best and cynical, self-serving manipulation at worst. Instead, we should look at it as our role in "common grace." Jesus Christ stated that God sends rain for the just and the unjust. Rain does not merely make it cooler, mind you, but also has economic implications: it allows crops to grow to feed oneself and to be bought and sold, and further having a patch of land that sees a bit more rainfall than others provides economic value to the land itself. So, just as God sends rain to the just and unjust, He also sends it to the rich and the poor. God is Lord of all, God sustains all, God shows mercy and love to all, whether rich, poor, elect, non-elect, just, unjust etc. And we are not merely to attempt to follow God's example. Instead, as the church, we are Jesus Christ's own body. So, when we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, give medicine to the sick etc. we are participants in God's common grace, His causing it to rain upon all. Participating in God's common grace is meritorious for the Christian whether any conversions come of the charitable work or not, for God most certainly feeds, clothes and houses the non-elect.

So long as we restrict our motivations to obeying God's commands to help the poor without attaching any "strings" to it (i.e. attempting to "fight poverty", solve social ills, "bring communities together") I have yet to see the Biblical case (and by that I mean an actual Biblical position and not merely a human opinion justified with creative use of selected Bible texts) made against helping the poor, and poor Christians even more so.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Don Johnson's picture

Joel Tetreau wrote:
Don, you have to try preaching without the tie. I bet the extra oxygen will be a great help to you. It makes the preacher more pleasant to listen to. I know I'm much more relaxed sense I ditched the tie. Ditch the tie my man...be free. Peace!

I dunno, you're sounding kind of legalistic about it.

But... I don't wear a tie on Wednesdays...

I'm always relaxed though, tie or not.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

D Ameen Jr's picture

I'm not new to SI. But this would be my first post. I'll share a few personal thoughts which will probably upset a lot of people. :O

Dressing up for Church is not even an issue that comes up here in Hawaii. Its like dress out here is a non-issue. We're like another country out here, very unlike the mainland (lower 48 states), with a mix of so many cultures. There is truly no other place in America like what we have out here. Even with my examples below, some of you may still not understand.

The idea of dress and clothing for church to us out here feels to me like the idea of the KJVO people. Let me explain: They spend so much time on the translation and other baggage, that their focus and worship is off balance. To put it another way, so many churches (even good ones) think it bizarre to even have any hang ups on bible translations. Its just a non issue to many, and almost comical (or even embarrassing) that some churches even make the KJV bible an issue. In much the same thought, its almost comical to hawaiians the way people on the mainland focus so much on dress codes in church, etc.

Honestly, We're happy that people just 'show up' for church! Often I wear an aloha shirt when I speak or preach, and I'm the senior pastor! To the people here, it doesn't make one iota of difference in their minds whether I wear a necktie or not. I certainly would never be caught dead wearing a full suit on a Sunday morning. For one thing, its too hot!

If my attitude seems arrogant or insensitive to many of you, let me say, that I grew up in SE Michigan and wore suits every Sunday in church for over 20+ years. Dress did seem important, but after about 8 years out in the Pacific, God has expanded my views on this.

I'm just sharing honestly about what worship is like in other cultures, yet a culture still in America.

A while back I received a phone call from a mom and family on vacation (we get lots of these). She said they saw our signs and wanted to attend in the evening service, but had been at the beach all day. They definitely wanted to worship with us since they would be passing by our church on the way back to their hotel. They said all they were wearing was their bathing suits! They asked if that was ok to attend as such. They did say that had some 'cover ups' over their bathing suits. My response was that as long as they were modest they were most welcome. So they came! They happened to be a fine family (in my estimation). Respectful mom, 3 teen kids, 2 daughters, 1 son. Not a single person of our church family that evening service had any problem with the way they were dressed. We had our regular service, and they shared how they were very blessed and thankful for the Bible teaching they received. They even gave an offering of substantial amount (and we don't even collect an evening offering).
My thoughts on that particular situation are this: I didn't know what to expect. At this point in my life, God has humbled me so that I had absolutely no feelings of judgement toward this family that came in their swimwear (but were mostly covered up). Through this God further reinforced to me that worship is not about the externals, but heart issues and willingness to learn.

Most of our members attend sunday mornings in aloha shirts or polo shirts, women do wear skirts and dresses, but some of them wear pants and shorts. Some come with flip-flops on. I have never once made an issue of this, taught on it, or preached on dress standards. I do teach modesty as a biblical principle though.

Further, I would be foolish to try to 'impose' mainland dress standards on the hawaiians in our local church. Well, this of course is my humble, but bold opinion. Our focus in on giving honor and respect to our majestic Creator, making Christ and God's holy Word the focus of our worship and ministry. I'm not saying that many of you in your churches don't do the same, but this issue of external dress codes in church needs to be addressed more fully.

I'd better quit before I'm banned after my first post on SI. 0:)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

David, thanks for posting. You are now banned.... no, it's usually a good bit harder than that to get the boot. Smile

Bob T wrote:
You can tell the difference of the two. The KJVO Baptist will be the guy with the out of date tie. The KJVO Pastor is the guy with the $1500 suit and latest flashy tie.

Yeah, those KJVO's are to blame for everything we don't like.

Why are the poor, poor
(Boy is this a multi-topic thread! ... but the article was multi topic so I guess I can't complain)

JobK... appreciate your thoughts on it. I don't think anybody here is in doubt that poverty is a result of the Fall. But we can be more specific. In study so far on the subject, I have found at least three major causes of poverty in Scripture... each with several subpoints. Two of the three are directly related to personal sin either with "the poor" as the victims or the poor as the self-destructive perpetrators.
An entire book could be written on subject I'm sure and a pretty thick one if it includes a look at some solutions in response to the causes.

On the dress issue... it's often hard to boil folk's observations on the topic down to arguments. But some are identifiable: (these are obviously all points against dressing up...)

  • no record of folks dressing up in the NT
  • pride and fashion show issues
  • attitude of superiority?
  • undesirables dress up (like Mormons and KJVOs)
  • it doesn't matter to the people
  • it's a cultural thing (so you have to do what makes sense locally)

I'll not attempt to weigh the merits of these here but I think it helps to congeal the arguments.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Two more thoughts:

to JobK on poverty: agreed that believers have biblical responsibility to care for other believers. As for the political part of it, when we cut through all the mechanics of politics and the rhetoric, there is a real core difference between the liberal approach to poverty and the conservative one. These are not two equally unbiblical perspectives because one is built on directly rejecting a biblical view of human nature and the other is built on embracing the biblical view.
But there is a great deal of diversity on both left and right nowadays and few bother to look at the core principles.

About dressing up... it is funny to me how guys who can't stand suits and ties assume that nobody else wearing them can possibly be comfortable. (A tip: go up a neck size on the shirt. Might look a little baggy up close but nobody's looking, trust me, and you'll feel much more relaxed with the tie that way Biggrin )

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

In Romans 13:14, the Bible tells us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course we also need to wear clothing that glorifies God.

For many believers today, the suit has been disgraced by Pastors who behave like CEO's instead of servants of the Lord. Some believers just want to see Jesus in the church and in the pulpit and if He is seen, they are satisfied in Him. Just last night, I watched a sermon on the web. The preacher was wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans. It seem obvious to me that this man had put on the Lord Jesus Christ before coming to that platform. I was moved by what I heard. I also listened to another preacher on the web who wears a suit. He is also one of these men who appears to me to put on Christ before attempting to minister to the Word. I am blessed when I watch him. It seems to me that God is pleased with both of these men.

Another issue is money. Kim and I have four children. I simply cannot afford to keep my 13 year old in suits. As soon as you buy him one, which costs a lot of money, he outgrows it. So, we make sure he has a nice shirt and pants for church. I don't think we are at enmity with God over this, do you? My guess is that other families have similiar experiences?

I will confess that I do share Joel T's burden for ties. They are an unecessarily expensive piece of clothing that hangs from the neck that attracts gravy. Biggrin

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Thinking logically or deeply is lacking in our culture overall, but that's no reason for God's children to adopt the lackadaisical attitude of society towards knowledge and instruction. All things being equal, a Christian should always excel.

On the topic of 'dressing up'- dress codes have a long history that IMO has little to do with church culture itself. IOW, folks for eons have worn their 'best' for occasions they considered to be special- weddings, funerals, parties, etc... The nature of the event dictates the dress code. Church has long been considered a formal gathering, and the serious and reverent nature of a worship service has indicated more formal attire.

Our culture is changing, however, whether for good or bad. People come to work in jeans, T-shirts, and flip-flops, messy hair, a variety of body art and multiple piercings. Consider yourself lucky if you are interacting with someone who believes in personal hygiene. You are even more fortunate, if, like, they like speak a language you can, like, understand. Dude.

It seems that if you want to function in our culture, you have to let go of past views of propriety and at least tolerate if not embrace our 'anything goes' society. I can see that some people don't want to let go of ideas of formality and propriety- but does that mean they are legalistic and proud? Or are they still of the mind that we indicate how we feel about an event or occasion by how we present ourselves?

If dress means nothing, then go right ahead and attend a wedding in your Bermuda shorts, T-shirt, and sandals, and see if that helps you win friends and influence people. Then call them all legalistic for thinking you are a Grade A Nimrod.

Clothing/appearance does mean something, and we do have some principles on which to base how we present ourselves- we should always be modest, appropriate for the occasion so as not to draw undue attention to ourselves (as well as to show we do have a brain in our heads), while also being focused on reflecting Godly characteristics such as meekness and temperance.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Quote:
So why are the poor poor? The topic is begging for some attention in the year ahead.

A notable book that deals with underlying causes of poverty and a Biblical/Discerning response is "When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without hurting the Poor.....and Ourselves" I would suggest that a review of this book would help accelerate some good discussion on the topic. Because the ministry I oversee (Urban Transformation Ministries) not only reaches and disciples the urban poor in Grand Rapids, but it also trains churches to respond Biblically and discerningly to the needs of the poor in their own communities, I hope to do what I can to contribute to the conversation.

Quote:
I’m concerned that a new generation of sharp, devoted, well-intentioned evangelicals and fundamentalists have absorbed some popular fallacies in the areas of poverty and social justice. The results could eventually be pretty serious even in our own neck of the woods.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to adjunct at Cornerstone U. with a class on urban ministry and we had a few classes where we addressed poverty and social justice. Even though most of my students came from fundamental and conservative evangelical backgrounds, they had already been exposed and had embraced social justice and poverty issues to a certain degree from a more socially liberal/progressive perspective. They had rejected a more conservative, social/economic worldview of their parents that they grew up with, which they associated with Rush Limbaughs of the world, and were listening to voices such as Shane Claiborne, Bart and Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Jim Wallis, and Rob Bell with not alot of discernment. Now that was going on when the emergent church was still vogue and not dead yet. Nevertheless, the main issue that I experienced with them was their tendency to romanticize the poor. Because they believed poor people were actually Jesus in disguise (Mother Teresa's/Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 25) they were to serve Jesus (the poor) with unconditional love, which indirectly led to absolving the poor of fault or even responsibility.

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