I have devoted a considerable amount of time in the past to covering prophetic issues, polemics and apologetics, and will certainly continue to address issues that pertain to those as they arise. However, you are going to notice a difference in my teaching this year as I begin to present more material on doctrinal issues, going back to basics. I have felt the need for some time, as a matter of fact, to publish a series of lessons on the spiritual gifts, and also want to give some attention to teachings the Church holds concerning Mary the Mother of Jesus. Therefore, in coming months we will be writing on those subjects. Also, I have had some requests from some friends and others to repost a research thesis I wrote in college some years back on the gift of tears in lieu of Syriac Patristic writings, and with more comprehensive reference material I plan on presenting a revision of that here too. Another thing I want to begin featuring is some church history material, as I feel like a lot can be learned from certain aspects of Church history in regard to some things - two in particular I want to address are spiritual renewal movements in the history of the Church and I also want to do something on the yurodivi, or "fools for Christ," in the Eastern Christian tradition. Over the course of 2012, you will be seeing a lot of this material, and I hope it will be interesting reading and that it will enlighten you to some things that maybe you haven't heard before from a fresh perspective. Fresh perspective is something I try to maintain in these articles, because in my collective experience and study I have gained some insights into things that many writers have missed, and I feel that they will enhance our understanding of the way we study Scripture and also our spiritual lives as we individually live them. We must, as II Timothy 2:15 says, "study to show ourselves approved," and often with that study comes some challenges that can rock our world and make us totally rethink some long-held beliefs on things. That, folks, is however what is called spiritual growth, and it is lifelong. I still discover things at times, and sometimes I find I was wrong in some previously-held position I may have had and it can be difficult to accept at first - I have struggled with that many times, but God is merciful and gives me the wisdom. No doubt, many of you have been there too, and although it can be painful it is also nothing to be ashamed of. Keep that in mind as you read anything - my posts or other material - because I grow too, being a fallible human with the typical limitations we all have.
That being said, I want to share something now with you all that is a little on the personal side. Over the past several years, I have been on a spiritual journey of my own, and originally thought that I was supposed to be part of an independent Catholic group I have been corresponding with for several years called the Synod of Saint Timothy. The many friends I have made among the Synod are wonderful people, and they are some of the best examples of Christian spirituality I can document at this point. However, in the past year or two, I have been doing some soul-searching, and it seems as if God has been directing us to an Anglican Catholic Church parish for a reason, and recently being licensed as a Lay Reader by the ACC has confirmed something I have long thought about but was apprehensive to act on. That being said, as of this year I am going to be formally affilliating with the Anglican Catholic Church and will make that my official church home for good. I still will remain in good fellowship with the Synod of Saint Timothy, and as Christians they are still some of the best people I have had the privelege of knowing, but a formal identification with them is not practical as they do not have a parish church close by nor do they have the resources at this time to do a lot of church planting. Therefore, I begin the year as formally an Anglican Catholic, but be assured my beliefs and convictions are still the same. I am also coveting your prayers about possibly pursuing the permanent diaconate in the ACC, as opportunities are starting to present themselves and some friends of ours have sort of sparked that thought with me. That being said, I have a spiritual vision I want to share with you all now too.
For anyone who has been following my blog articles for any length of time, you know that there is a crisis in the American Evangelical denominations as some bizarre things are taking root in them that are sending alarms in the church world. A couple of weeks back, I reviewed and wrote something here regarding an article that the Metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church, Archbishop Mark Haverland, authored entitled "Our Baptist Friends and Their Difficulties" in the September-October 2011 issue of The Trinitarian, the Anglican Catholic Church newspaper. I noted that the Archbishop observed that due to a growing secularization in American Evangelical groups (he focuses on the Southern Baptists, but it could equally apply to the Assemblies of God, Nazarenes, and other denominations as well) could mean a potential audience for the message of the ACC and other traditionalist Catholics and Anglicans - in other words, the Archbishop says there is a mission field ripe for our harvest! That being said, recently my good friend and fellow Falangist comrade Christopher Rose brought to my attention another article that pretty much anchors this - it was an article authored by Adelle M. Banks a couple of days ago entitled "Churchgoing Has No Effect On 50% of Americans, According to Survey." In her article, Banks notes that 46% of people attending churches in the US, according to a Barna survey, don't feel like they have been impacted by what they hear on Sundays. The people she is referencing are not Unitarians or Episcopalians either, but supposedly "born-again" Evangelicals! This actually comes as no surprise to me, as you will see by my past articles, because many churches in the US are so watered-down and "seeker-sensitive" that they have no real substance and people are starving - doesn't the Bible say something about that in Hosea 4:6 - God spoke through the prophet to backslidden Israel and proclaimed "My people perish for lack of knowledge." The "knowledge" it talks about is not just any random recitation of facts, but rather the knowledge of the deeper things of God, which many churches neglect these days - most offer a junk-food diet of fluff and entertainment rather than discipling their people, and as a result people are dying spiritually. To tie all this together, what the Archbishop said about a potential audience among these disaffected Evangelicals along with the fact most churches are neglecting to solidly disciple these people means a potential and radically different new mission field, and THAT is where I am going now, because it is something I feel the Lord is stirring within me personally.
For years, many of the bigger Evangelical and Pentecostal groups in this country have pushed missions - I was a Missions major in college, and I remember hearing a lot of terminology about the "10/40 Window," "Fields Ripe Unto the Harvest," etc. I have seen the mission teams going to Africa and Asia, and also inner-city ministry, etc. However, something tragic has happened - many of these same denominations today are placing a lot of emphasis on that - and in the wrong spirit I might add - while so many people in the pews are spiritually starving. There needs to be a re-evangelization of American Evangelicals, as many of them are apostasizing fast as they give into entertainment-led church and statistics rather than proclaiming the Gospel. That of course has created a couple of different types of Evangelicals. The first type is the poorly-discipled - they identify as Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, etc., but they lack a fundamental understanding of what being a Christian is all about and may even question cardinal doctrines such as the reality of hell or even the Lordship of Christ. The second type is the disaffected churchgoer - these people are sincere believers, some being pillars of the church, who feel out-of-touch with many things going on in most of the larger Evangelical denominations today. They feel in their spirit that many things going on are not of God, and many of them have tremendous testimonies of where God has brought them. However, the "New Church Order" has no place for them - they are often called "obstacles," are accused of having "religious spirits," and some have even found themselves thrown out of churches they helped to establish all because they felt a check in their spirit about some of the innovations being brought in. It is the ostracism of this second group, as a matter of fact, that has led to the rise of the first. Thing is, this presents a challenge to the rest of us - we have the same Great Commission and the same Scriptures that contain it as Christians, and these people need to be reached. And, it is time that we independent Catholics and Anglicans seize that opportunity and start aggressively evangelizing these people. I was one of the disaffected myself at one time - I felt like a square peg in a round hole in many Evangelical churches in recent years due to the fact the "worship" and other stuff seems foreign to me and the spirit of such things is just, well, wrong...God is not in much of what is going on. Becoming an independent Catholic has given me the underpinning I need spiritually to grow and maintain the spirituality and faith I have, and thanks be to God for good people in the independent Catholic movement who reached out to me. Now, I am feeling it is my turn to do likewise, and my vision is to view American Evangelicalism as a mission field to reach out to. This year, my biggest challenge will be to present this vision to the Archbishop and get his input on it, as this is something that is uncharted territory. In doing so, of course, some attitudes and ways of doing things need to change in the ACC and other independent Catholic and Anglican churches, and I want to address some of that now too.
Many independent Catholics and traditional Anglicans come from Roman Catholic and Episcopalian backgrounds, and unfortunately many of them are very unfamiliar with American Evangelical Christians - their judgements are often tainted by such things as huckster TV preachers, stereotypes of the "fundamentalist Holy-rollers," (a term I heard one of our older church members use derisively yesterday, which I didn't really appreciate too well), and the "Religious Right" and its political emphasis. However, I was raised Pentecostal, and prior to becoming Catholic myself I served as a minister in a major Pentecostal denomination for many years and also graduated from an Assemblies of God college here in Florida, so I have been around it all my life. I have seen the good, the bad, AND the ugly; as I have said many times in the past, the stories I could tell! That being said, I can say that American Evangelicals are actually a lot more diverse than they are given credit for, and have always been - Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, Nazarenes, and others may look alike on the surface, but there are some theological differences. Also, the emphasis on an outreach to these people should by no means be treated in the same way as going to some remote tribe in the Amazon - these are Christians, some nominal and some committed, and there are different ministry needs for these people. Some, for instance, just need a more solid church home - they have been dispossessed by their own churches and want a solid Christian community to be part of. Others have not had a proper Christian discipleship, and need to be taught. Still others are only "culturally Christian" - they may have been in church most of their lives, may even know the Bible and went up on a few altar calls at revivals, but they have no real relationship with Jesus Christ. All different needs, but all need to be reached, and we as the ACC have the capabilities of doing just that. However, it will require some adjustments on our part - for one thing, one Sunday morning Mass isn't going to cut it for some of these people, especially the stronger Christians who are looking for a stable church environment. Although not so much today, in the past Evangelicals used to have no less than three church services as week - Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and midweek. Then, they had interspersed through the year prayer meetings, Bible study groups, revivals, Sunday schools, etc. Traditional Protestant Evangelical Christianity calls for a high level of commitment to fellowship and spiritual growth, and that is not a liability but an asset - they take seriously Hebrews 10:25: "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together..." Most Anglicans and Catholics consider it sufficient to just partake of the Eucharist once a week and maybe a coffee hour afterwards, along with holy days and such, and that is as far as it goes - this works if you are a cradle Catholic or Episcopalian, because you understand it that way. However, if we are to effectively reach the disaffected and nominal Evangelicals, we need to do better than that - bringing back the parish mission (the Catholic equivalent of the revival meeting) would be a good start, as well as weekly informal Bible studies for parishioners as well, maybe focusing on some Anglican and Catholic distinctives as they are based in Scripture and Tradition. Also - and this is for our ACC flock as well - there needs to be a little more education and understanding in regard to Pentecostals and charismatics. Yes, some "claiming" to be Pentecostal/Charismatic have been guilty of some ridiculous excesses, and TBN and other religious TV venues have reinforced a lot of negative stereotypes, so I can understand the chagrin some traditional Anglicans and Catholic have in regard to that. However, let me also say that although no longer part of a Pentecostal denomination myself, I still believe fully in the spiritual gifts, I do speak in tongues, believe in healing, and I do practice what I believe - there is evidence, both in Scripture and in the history of our own Church traditions, that these things are valid and legitimate expressions of Christian spirituality. Therefore, to my readers who are clergy or lay leaders in ACC or other parishes, let me challenge you not to discourage people who may be charismatics from being who they are in your parish communities - give them the guidance they need to avoid the excesses, but also see them as a valuable asset to the spiritual life of your parish family, and they will be a blessing to you. Also, be informed as to what Pentecostals and charismatics are - they are one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity, and they transcend denominations and are thus diverse; there is no stereotypical "typical Pentecostal," I would argue. The ACC needs to have the spiritual vitality strong parishioners with Pentecostal convictions can bring to the table, and they will enrich us as a church too. These are just some things to keep in mind as we see the rich harvest of people the ACC has and can reap.
I want to eventually codify all of this information into a formal letter to Archbishop Haverland sometime this year, and it is my hope to even have a personal audience with him to present this whole thing in person. I have had the privelege of getting to meet and know the Archbishop personally, and he is a man of vision, so this is something I feel will be of interest to him. I just ask for your prayers as we begin to embark upon these tasks, as our work is cut out for us. In the meantime, please keep up with my posts, as I will be presenting some good information in coming weeks as we go into a "back to the basics" emphasis that focuses on certain doctrinal truths and distinctives. I also hope to use this page as my own evangelistic tool to educate and disciple disaffected Evangelicals who are searching God for a church home, and to those of you out there who fit that description, feel free to check out the ACC - we welcome you in our parishes, and hope we can be what God desires for you, because he is listening to your concerns and wants you to be all he has called you to be. God bless you all, and will be seeing you soon.
I wanted to do a little bit of promoting a friend and his products and encourage you to check this out. We have the privelege of getting to see a lot of good concerts here at a local church, Lake Gibson Church of the Nazarene, in Lakeland, and they have one of the best music programs I have heard in years. Their pianist, a fellow named Marlin Nichols, is one of the best Southern Gospel pianists I have had the privelege of hearing, and he has two CD's available of his work.
If you are interested in getting one of these excellent CD's (he has two albums out now, but haven't gotten a chance to get a picture of the second one), you may contact Marlin directly at the following address:
Marlin G. Nichols
2210 Mission Hills Drive
Lakeland, FL 33810
I promise you it is excellent, old-fashioned music that will provide both blessing and enjoyment.