Then there are those fun projects that lead to the emission of giant belly laughs, such as reading the Louisville Courier Journal and watching Christian television. I can always find something on TBN to scare the kids. Jack Van Impe carrying on about human/animal hybrids or Benny Hinn knocking down half an arena with a little bit of hocus pocus. Ah, good stuff!
Saturday evening, I was channel surfing quickly before hitting the sack and stumbled across "The Hour of Power." The Rev. Robert A. Schuller was speaking about his plan to increase membership at the Crystal Cathedral to one million. Yes, you read that right, one million members.
I was concerned that a fairly serious building project would have to be undertaken, and then I read an L. A. Times article that explained Schuller's scheme. According to the Times, "The other main goal of the new senior pastor is to recruit as church members a million people around the world who watch the 'Hour of Power' broadcasts or view church programs on the Internet."
That begs the question: Does it matter if a Christian joins a local church?
Church membership entails a commitment to formally join a body of believers for the purpose of living visibly obedient lives before Jesus Christ, and the world. The people of God exist to demonstrate God's glory (I Peter 2:9, Is. 43:6-7). While we are called as individuals to live in obedience before God (Rom. 6:1-4, Rom. 12:1-2, Col. 3:5-11), there is also an affirmative duty to be part of a COMMUNITY in obedience to God. The Apostle Paul says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). Christians are to be "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other" being "imitators of God" (Eph. 4:31-5:2). In short, we are to be together.
The New Testament is also filled with numerous "one another" commands. We are to be "devoted to one another" in love, "honor one another," "live in harmony with one another," be at peace with one another, and so on (see Rom. 12:10, 16; 14:13, 19; 15:7, 14; I Cor. 6:7, 7:5, 12:25, etc.)
Likewise, the author of Hebrews commands us to meet together, for the purpose of spurring one another to love and good deeds. These things cannot be accomplished from behind a television screen.
As the church of Christ, we also have practical obligations to one another's souls. In my church we speak of formative and corrective church discipline. Formative discipline is inherent in the preaching and teaching of the word and the exercise of church ministries. The goal is to conform ourselves to the image of Christ.
Corrective discipline occurs when a member is found in sin and the church seeks his/her repentance and restoration. One problem with Dr. Schuller's plan is that it makes corrective discipline impossible. How are elders in California going to care for the souls of viewers in south Florida, or London?
But discipline is largely ignored in the church anyway, as I noticed in this article in the Louisville Courier Journal. According to the C-J, a local man, Kevin Talley, scored a centerfold layout with Playgirl magazine in the spring of 2005. The Playgirl spread brought a small amount of local fame to Talley, who attended several red-carpet affairs during the Kentucky Derby festival. Talley also spent weekends signing pictures of himself and copies of Playgirl at a seedy local establishment.
In December, Talley received an email from Playgirl editor in chief Jill Sieracki indicating that he been voted Playgirl's Man of the Year. He was offered a cover and photo spread, a contract worth an estimated $25,000 to $30,000.
Talley ultimately turned down the offer, after asking "What Would Jesus Do?" Really. Here is how the C-J tells it:
Talley also considered his faith. Baptized at Southeast Christian Church in 1996, Talley attends Saturday evening services. As he grappled with how to proceed, he thought back to what he'd been taught in the church.
"We are all given challenges in our life that we can overcome if we just ask for help. I'm definitely not a holy roller, but it became more and more evident that this wasn't the right path," Talley said.
"I've got my morals. I know what's right and what's wrong in my world."
Baring it all -- again -- was decidedly the wrong thing to do, Talley decided.
But don't misunderstand. Talley isn't sorry he posed. "Would I do it all again? Yes, because I didn't know (then) what I know now about myself."
Southeast Christian Church, where Talley is a member, is a mammoth local mega-church, complete with a retreat center, 400-person chapel, newspaper, and racquetball courts. When asked about Talley's previous involvement with Playgirl, Southeast administrator Cindee Coffee said that while they were disappointed, "We're encouraged that he is attending Southeast, growing spiritually and beginning to make wiser choices."
While church discipline takes a back seat in our Arminian dominated churches, America’s religious leaders are discussing weightier matters. A group of 86 evangelical bigwigs issued a "call to action" on global warming. At a press conference in Washington, "the signers urged U.S. lawmakers to pass a law requiring that emissions of carbon dioxide be reduced."
Among those signing the statement were several Southern Baptist leaders, including pastor Rick Warren, Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School and David Dockery, president of Union University. Hmm, just think of all the trees that could have been spared if the "Purpose Driven Life" had never seen the light of day. Other signers included Todd Bassett, national commander of The Salvation Army; Paul Cedar, chairman of the Mission America Coalition; Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; and Richard Stearns, president of World Vision.
The climate initiative was undertaken after other prominent Evangelicals sent a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals urging that no official possition be taken on global warming because there is disagreement among on the severity of the problem. Signers included James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family; Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University; Donald Wildmon, head the American Family Association; the Rev. Louis Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition.
Finally, there is John Hagee. In the bizarro world inhabited by the likes of Hagee, American foreign policy is driven by striped-pants Arabists who have an anti-Israel, and probably anti-Semitic bias. To stem the anti-Israeli predisposition of American institutions and defeat the various pro-Palestinian parties that are obviously dominating the scene, Hagee has teamed up with the likes of Benny Hinn, Rod Parsley, and Jerry Falwell to launch Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
CUFI, says Hagee, will be a "Christian version of AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. The goal is to organize Christians to put pressure on Washington "to stop pressuring Israel to give up land for peace."
A 2002 analysis by economist Thomas Stauffer, which likely won't interest General Hagee and company, calculated that since 1973, Americans have poured $1.6 trillion dollars into Israel. Yeah, sounds like they're getting a raw deal to me.
So there you have it. To be a Christian in this day and age, one can attend a giant church on Saturday night, or simply watch the festivities on the tube, and have no contact with other believers or church officers. Posing nude once for all the world to see is troubling and disappointing, but surely no cause for church discipline. I mean really, didn’t Jesus have a relaxed attitude about sin? As long as we’re taking care of the important matters, like sending letters to your congressman expressing support for onerous environmental regulation or demanding perpetual war on behalf of another nation, everything will be just fine.