Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Missing the Obvious

May 13, 2019

It’s funny how sometimes you don’t see the simplest things right in front of your face.  It’s nice when you can think of it as funny, when missing the obvious doesn’t kill you or cause disaster of one form or another.  But when you can appreciate the irony of how wrapped up we are in ourselves that we sometimes forget who we are.

Thinking through possibilities for the future for my congregation and family, it struck me today that these considerations all come through the aspect of me.  It was not a pleasant thought at first.  After all, who am I?  Certainly, my ideas and hopes and dreams and whatnot should be more objective than that?  Certainly, how I cast a vision for things should be clear to others as the logical, reasonable way forward?

Yet that’s not the case.  Whether I like it or not, and I don’t.

The cult of personality in our culture is so strong and pervasive that I recoil from it as often as possible.  I’m not here to promote me.  Yet in the process of doing what I do, I do it as me.  And therefore, how I do it is different than how anyone else might do it.  This might not be true in some vocations, but it’s true in mine, and I have to deal with it.  Acknowledge it.  Come to grips with it.  Try not to let it destroy me.  Try to determine if what I propose for others is really as reasonable as it seems to me.  The danger of the I overreaching is always crouching nearby, waiting for an opportunity.

So that needs to be taken into account.  The vision I have may not make sense – at least initially to others.  There’s no way to really escape from that.  It may not be a bad thing, but it’s something very pertinent and real to bear in mind.

There’s so much more to learn, even in just the basic, simple, obvious things.

The Log in Our Own Eye

May 6, 2019

I’m all for mission work.  The task of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to other places and peoples who haven’t heard it already or need greater teaching and grounding in it has been understood to be part and parcel of following Jesus since, well, pretty much Jesus.  This work does need to continue, by all means.

But I’m struggling with an issue in my own Christian denomination, where troubling times and failures on the home front of evangelism are compensated with by directing people’s eyes overseas.  In my local regional polity of our denomination, there is a push to unite our congregations in support of mission work in India.  I think this is wonderful.  There are many people in India who have not heard the Gospel and we should reach them.  It isn’t that I’m against this effort.  But what I would prefer to see alongside it is an equal effort to figure out how to share the Gospel here, in the United States, on the West Coast.

But that’s harder work, and people feel stymied.  There isn’t an obvious rallying point.  People can be hit up for a few dollars to send to India, and know that their spare coffee money pays for entire school buildings and equipping dozens of missionaries.  There is, quite literally, a bigger bang for the buck in this sort of mission work.

But here at home, the situation is not far removed in grimness or urgency than the pictures of overseas children with smiling faces as they huddle over a Bible or a bowl of porridge.  Our children are killing each other, their teachers, strangers.  We’ve lost the ability to discourse civilly on important ideas and concepts.  We’re barely able to love our friends let alone our enemies.  We are hooked on drugs – prescription or illegal – and monumental amounts of alcohol (particularly wine) to help us cope.  The only answers our culture has offered are to legalize drugs or ban weapons or determine that opposing ways of looking at an issue or  the world are due to psychological dysfunction or literal brain damage.

The Gospel is needed here, in the United States, every bit as much as it is in India.  And just because it’s hard or difficult or confusing shouldn’t mean that we ignore this mission field.

Protecting Penance

May 2, 2019

I met with some folks earlier this week for a private discussion, which began in part by them querying my responsibilities as a mandatory reporter.

As an ordained minister of religion, the state recognizes that people may tell me things as part of private confession, and that those things should remain private (the eventual fortunately didn’t entail anything controversial!).  But there are folks who think that this should no longer be the case.

California State Senate Bill 360 would remove the clause in the existing Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act that exempts confessional statements from existing mandatory reporting requirements for clergy.  Some clergy members are speaking out against this as dangerous, and for good reason.

As it stands now, I have to report if I think a child is being abused or neglected, or if I come to that awareness by any number of possible ways.  But if someone discloses private information to this effect, I am not required by law to report it to authorities.   In our day, this sounds like pretty important stuff.  Why wouldn’t a priest or clergy member report possible criminal activity – particularly against children – even within the more narrow confines of Confession & Absolution?

The difficulty is in the relationship of a priest/clergy member to someone desirous of and in need of confidential handling of sensitive information.  I like how Father Pietrzky is quoted in the article – The Catholic Church holds that the information received by the priest in confession does not belong to him.  It belongs to God alone.

The current law indicates that any kind of private communication could be exempt from mandatory reporting, not just the more narrow confines of confession and absolution.  I could see an argument being made for a more narrow exclusion to mandatory reporting, but then again that would complicate matters considerably.

The reality is that priests and ministers have a unique role and relationship both to their parishioners and those who relate to them in their professional capacity.  I’ve heard private confessions from people wracked with guilt over things they’ve done in their lives.  I’ve heard horrible things.  Nothing, thankfully, that was ongoing or led me to believe that anyone was at risk of harm, but still things that are hard to hear.  Just as it’s hard for them to say them.

But it’s my job to hear these things, a direct command from Jesus to those who would become his church.  I am to convey his forgiveness to these people, for these specific sins.  Some might argue that the same thing can be accomplished in general or corporate confession, or through privately praying to Jesus.  But Christians have long understood that we have an enemy who works against the hope and confidence we are given in the death and resurrection of the Son of God through our baptism.  We’re prone to sitting in church, or at home after prayer, and telling ourselves that the forgiveness the priest or minister declares isn’t really for me.  Not for what I’ve done.  For everybody else, sure, but not for me.

Private confession provides very specific assurance of forgiveness by Jesus’ authority and command.  This is exclusively something that has to do with our relationship before God.  Who else on earth can someone go to in complete honesty?  Who else can someone verbalize things to, and then hear forgiveness promised to them due not to the civil or criminal justice system but solely and completely based on the death and resurrection of the Son of God?

I understand people’s concerns – that ongoing harmful or illegal behavior will continue despite confession & absolution.  There may be the idea that crime could be curtailed if clergy were forced to be mandatory reporters for child abuse.  But of course once established for one class of crime it would be a slippery slope towards mandating reporting for any illegal activity.

All I can say is that in over a decade I’ve never heard a confession that involved child abuse or any other major crime (murder, etc.) or anything that would even remotely incline me to report, or wish that I could.  Perhaps it isn’t really crime or child abuse this bill is after.  Perhaps it’s just another attempt to eradicate freedom of religion.

 

 

 

 

 

Jumping for Conclusions

April 23, 2019

Like many of you, I watched in sorrow as Notre Dame de Paris burned at the start of Holy Week.  And like many of you, I heard many news reports declaring that, even before people were able to investigate fully, the cause of the fire was accidental, related to an antiquated electrical system, perhaps.

News stories have left it at this, at best.  CNN has no new updates on the cause or investigation after almost a week.  The New York Times runs stories (like this) that presume an accident and leave no room for deeper exploration of the event.  But that’s not unreasonable, is it?  I mean, it must have just been an accident, right?  Even though it happened at the start of Holy Week – the holiest time of the Christian liturgical year?  I mean, you’d need additional evidence before you start hypothesizing that perhaps it wasn’t just an accident, right?

I didn’t hear about other attacks on churches in Paris in the same rough timeframe.  Here’s an article that deals with whether US media should bother to report on Christian sites being attacked in Europe (fortunately the article thinks that they should be reported on, but the reality is that they by and large are not reported on in the US.)But this article pointed out that Notre Dame was  not the only church having difficulties in the days leading up to or including Holy Week.  Like the Basilica of St. Denis.  Another article indicated that a recent arrival from Pakistan had been arrested in conjunction with some  of the vandalism, though the article did not mention the man’s religion.  And in the weeks that followed, as Christians around the world suffered violence and death, there has been a marked reluctance to identify causes.  The article’s title – Taquiyya – is reference to a Muslim doctrine that permits Muslims to lie about their religious adherence when necessary.  What about the arson at St. Sulpice in early March?  Didn’t hear about that either, and Newsweek apparently is only mentioning it because the priest there is cautioning against Notre Dame conspiracy theories.

Didn’t hear about these events?  Or about many other similar events?  How curious.  There’s a story here about it.  Here’s a story with an editorial insert to assure readers that they aren’t insinuating that Notre Dame was anything but an accident, despite all these other horrific acts of vandalism or sabotage to other Christian churches.  Articles such as this go out of their way to quote people – religious  people especially – who claim that Christian houses of worship are not being singled out for attack.  But this is exactly what seems to be happening, whether the media wants to acknowledge it or cover it or not. Christian news sites are far more willing to say the difficult reality – attacks on Christian churches are on the rise, and that those attacks with links to Islam are increasing dramatically.

If a mosque is attacked anywhere in the world, the outpouring of sympathy is monumental.  But if Christian churches are attacked and their adherents slaughtered, there is little mention at all.  Some sites are willing to show the unusual lengths that many prominent politicians in our country will go to not to acknowledge acts against  Christians, and not only to not question Islamic extremism, but use attacks on Christian churches as an opportunity to denounce Islamophobia.

Americans can enjoy or depend upon a basic NIMBY attitude (not in my back yard) to justify ignorance or disinterest.  But ignorance and disinterest are the necessary fertilizer to allow acts of violence to crop up and proliferate.  As many have pointed out, regardless of whether Notre Dame was an accident or not, as lamentable as the destruction to the building is more lamentable still is the atrophied state of Christianity in France, in Europe, and increasingly in the United States.  In many real senses the death of church buildings is a sign of the death of the faith itself in large numbers of the population.

I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories.  Nor do I think that Muslims are behind any and every attack on Christian sites or people.  Neither should we turn a blind eye – or have our eyes blinded due to lack of coverage or investigation – if there are real and credible threats.  And as a reminder to all those folks out there so aghast that our President might belittle or mistrust media and news outlets, it’s slanted or non-existent coverage of this kind that lead not just the President but many others to distrust our media and news outlets, suspecting them of partisan politics and skewed reporting to support it.  Be objective and let the chips fall where they may.  This used to be the ideal and goal of news outlets and journalists.  I don’t blame people for suspecting that this isn’t the goal any longer.

Rebuilding What?

April 18, 2019

Like many of you I watched in horror as the images and live-feeds of Notre Dame de Paris engulfed in flame flickered across my computer screen.  I’d last been there in 2016, and that was my third visit in my lifetime.  It’s an amazingly beautiful architectural achievement.  The crowds are lamentable but, since I’m part of them, it’s hardly reasonable to complain.  Each visit I stood in increasingly long lines to march up the steps to the twin towers.  Last time I snapped a Facebook photo of one of the rose windows that miraculously survived the recent conflagration.

Now it has been grievously damaged by the fire, and will require substantial rebuilding.  But the question becomes whether it should be rebuilt as it was, the reflection of nearly 1000 years of changes and additions?  Or should it be made into something new, something representative not of its past but rather today or the future.  A reflection not of Christianity and the God of the Bible, but rather some undefined representation of a now mostly undefined French or even European culture.

It may sound strange that people would want to reimagine a Christian house of worship – particularly one so famous – into something not a Christian house of worship.  But there are those who are promoting exactly such an idea, as this article describes.

There would indeed be a bitter irony if this beautiful place of worship was recreated into something atheistic or secular.  While numbers have undoubtedly dwindled in recent times, worship is still something that occurred in Notre Dame each day, the last service about an hour before the fire broke out.  But with houses of worship – even great cathedrals  – falling into disuse and subsequent disrepair as the European exodus from the Christian faith nears completion, it’s hardly surprising that many people see them as nuisances rather than useful places for continued Christian worship.

 

 

Book Review: Death in the City

April 15, 2019

Death in the City by Francis Schaeffer

 

I was skeptical of this book just based on the title, but I’m very glad that I set skepticism aside to just read it.  Schaeffer ranks up with C.S. Lewis in my personal opinion for his ability to blend Biblical, theological and philosophical ideas in a compelling fashion for our time.  He considers this an integral aspect of four core books, three written by himself (Death in the City, The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason) and one written by his wife Edith (The L’Abri Story ).  I’ve read all of them except Escape from Reason, so you can trust I’m going to acquire that one before long.

Death in the City is a series of lectures Schaeffer delivered in 1968 at Wheaton College.  From some of the things he says, you can already see how much has likely changed not just in our culture at large but even at a Christian university in the past 50 years.  Yet Schaeffer sees already in 1968 what the  larger church in America is only just now admitting – our culture is post-Christian.  Christianity and the Bible are no longer defining aspects of our culture and,  what’s more, they are viewed more and more as contrary and undesirable by our culture.  These lectures diagnose the cause of this situation and offer preliminary thoughts on what to do about it, hopefully leading towards “reformation, revival, and a constructive revolution in the orthodox, evangelical church”.  Towards this end Schaeffer draws on the prophet Jeremiah and St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.

First he calls us to diagnose the root cause of the massive cultural shift he identifies in 1968 and we are dealing with more openly in the early 21st century.  That cause is a turning away from the truth and reality of God, as per Romans 1:21-22.  This leads to an isolation from God, and the necessity of hearing the Law of God on this issue.  People need to be told that they have abandoned God and his Word and are bearing his judgment.  This message needs to be given not only to the increasingly pagan culture around us but to the Church as well.  The Church has failed to teach and preach God’s Word fully and faithfully which has in part led to this turning away from God’s reality and Word.  He argues – contrary to what the Church has assumed for many years – that this word of judgment needs to come first in evangelism.  That the message of grace and forgiveness means nothing if there is no awareness of true moral guilt and therefore judgment by a righteous and holy God.

He then goes on to diagnose the malaise affecting our culture, as witnessed in skyrocketing rates of depression and other mental illnesses as well as attempted and successful suicides.  Evolutionary theory and natural selection have reduced man to insignificance, the mere accidental byproduct of millions of years of accidental genetic variation.  We have no significance, and we have no moral compass.  Everything is up for grabs and is ultimately meaningless and arbitrary.  If all we are is a random collection of atoms, and our fate is just the dissipation of those same atoms, then everything in between is a sham construction, the work of manipulative genes seeking to determine their continued existence with no other end or purpose than moving on to the next generation.  It is a bleak and dismal reality, one that many materialists try to rally against but ultimately fail.  Either man is significant and has meaning, as per the Biblical account of creation, or man is accidental and meaningless.

Schaeffer paints a picture of these two very different positions and their corresponding outlook on reality in Chapter 9, The Universe and Two Chairs.  He reduces reality to a single room with no doors or windows.  There is a man sitting in the Materialist  chair and a man sitting in the Christian chair.  The materialist begins an investigation of  the room.  It is his life’s work, and he includes everything and  utilizes the scientific method and every branch of science to compile multiple tomes on the nature of the room.  The Christian is duly impressed by this, but responds after reading through it all that the materialist’s compilation is incomplete as it does not take into account those aspects of reality that the scientific method is insufficient for.  He takes out a Bible and says that this book describes more  of reality because it includes the things that the Materialist’s observations and experiments can’t touch.  The Bible does not invalidate science, but it does specify limits to what it can (and should) tell us, and itself provides additional information that scientific compendiums can’t.

Schaeffer then points out that far too many Christians operate in what he terms unfaith.  They function primarily in their outlook on life and how they live their lives as though they sit in the Materialist chair, even though they claim to sit in the Christian chair.  They affirm doctrines but don’t see how those doctrines apply to their lives.

This is a good book.  It is a challenge to the Church not to hold back from saying the hard things that God says in his Word.  To say them in love, but to say them unflinchingly as well.  Schaeffer is convinced – as I am – that only Christianity can offer an adequate alternative to the materialist world-view adopted so readily by Western Christianity over the last 150 years.  While some of Schaeffer’s other writings are at times difficult to make sense of, this is a very clear and lucid diagnosis of Christianity and Western culture.  Well worth the time  for this relatively short (130-ish pages) read.

 

 

 

 

 

Interpreting Authority

April 9, 2019

We had our monthly gathering of pastors in our denomination today.  We come together spanning a stretch of territory just shy of 100 miles in length, and we were at the far southern terminus of our area today.  The study we started briefly on had to do with proper pastoral authority.  What authority does the pastor have (and not have), and where does he derive it?  It’s a theological discussion with a rich tradition, but not one that I’ve had to have many conversations with lay people about.

But it coincided with some other thoughts on authority and how we interpret it.

Two out of the last three weeks I have worshiped in places that sing the song “Our God”  by Chris Tomlin.  It’s got a catchy rhythm and, while being somewhat vague on details, is a fun song to sing.  But both times it was used, the bridge got me thinking:

And if our God is for us then who could ever stop us

And if our God is with us then what could stand against.

Now these words are true, but I wondered how the people singing and swaying along to them interpreted them.  In both settings there was no further explanation of this very strong claims.  And barring interpretations, people are prone to filling in their own explanations.

The words  could easily be interpreted to mean that as followers of Christ we can’t suffer any setbacks, any failures, any disappointments, let alone any meaningful persecution or violation of the rights and privileges which we – as American Christians in particular – have come to enjoy and expect.

God is indeed for us and with us, and as such we are indeed conquerors in Christ.  But we need to remember that Christ conquered through his death, and his command to his followers was not to go out and dominate culture and society and politics but rather to pick up their crosses and follow him.  To expect the kind of suffering, even, that Jesus experienced and, perhaps, to even be killed for our confidence and faith in him.

That is a very real, very powerful victory indeed!  Satan cannot stand against us in any eternal sense.   Those  who cling to Christ may lose everything else – health, wealth, prestige, honor in the eyes of the world, even our lives – but we inherit so much vastly more.  It is a promise that has held Christians faithful on their way to the gallows or the shallow graves, in the face of guns and knives and fists and fire.

But is that how people today hear it?  And what if they seem to be stopped in their lives?  What if their jobs disappear or that promotion never materializes?  What if their family life is a struggle or they deal with the very real threat of sickness and disease?  Does this song support and encourage them to trust completely in Jesus and endure all things and all losses?   Or does this song leave them without a means of explaining their struggles?  Does it set up a false hope or point them to  the only true hope and definition of victory in Christ?

Only time will tell, I suppose.  But the rates at which people seem to be leaving their faith behind for the none category in survey after survey, the rate at which participation in worship continues to decline, I have to wonder if these kinds of songs – which can and should be so powerful and comforting when provided the proper interpretation – are leading people to a shallow, straw-man sort of faith in a god-djinni who grants wishes and offers protection rather than dies and rises again for them?

Those are the conversations I’d rather be having with my colleagues.  How do we equip our people to face real suffering and loss rather than letting their shallow roots wither and die in the blistering sun of an enemy?  Defending and explicating the proper role and use of pastoral  authority requires, after all, a congregation of people to explain it to and live  it out with.  That might require some more diligent preaching and teaching rather than letting them define their pop hooks by the world’s standards rather than God’s.

 

Pastors Evaluating Other Pastors

March 31, 2019

I’m a pastor.  It’s what I do, and what  I have done for over a decade now.  Not long by some metrics, nearly eternal by others.  I’ve never loved what I’ve done as much, for as long, as I have the office of public ministry.  Whether I’m any good at it or not, however, is largely a subjective matter.  I try to keep this in mind.  The fact that I was certified by a seminary and ordained by a denominational body with a respectable history and some reasonably rigorous standards is  no guarantee that I’m a good pastor.  Psychological evaluations and other metrics by professors and others during my graduate work were all an effort to  ensure they ordained a reasonably competent person rather than turning loose a potentially deadly canon.

But those are all best efforts, not guarantees.  As such I try to maintain a modicum of humility about myself and my work.  And I try to extend that  humility when I find myself in the pew of  someone else’s congregation rather than my own pulpit.

Over the past week I’ve had the opportunity to worship in two different congregations.  Two (or more accurately 4) different pastors.  All within my same denominational polity.  All different in terms of personality, worship  styles and preferences, and a host of other things.   Just as you’d expect differences between people  in any professional field, or just people in general.  Yet somehow, among my colleagues,  there is a dangerous temptation to  pass judgment on one another.  I want to avoid this but find myself  struggling with it as well.

Nobody preached heresy.  Both experiences contained historic liturgical elements of one sort or  another.  One was very traditional and the other was decidedly not.   One was packed full of people well-past retirement age, the other was populated by a staggering number of children, young adults, young couples and families, and a few older folks as well.  One pastor utilized a puppet as an object lesson before his sermon, a holdover from the days when he gave children’s sermons, even though there aren’t any children in the congregation any longer.  The other pastor led a rock band praise team.  Literally.   As the lead singer.

I  trust and pray and need the Holy Spirit of God to work in more ways than I’m  capable of imagining or expecting and therefore, more ways than I might  even think necessary or want.  I have every reason in my own life  and the history of God’s people to expect this sort of lavish, ridiculous outpouring of God’s love and effort.  And like God’s people pretty much throughout  history, I don’t always react to it enthusiastically or affectionately.  I’m prone to critique.  To worry.  To furrow my brows, as some who know me well are fond of  saying it.

I like to think I’m not so traditional as to still be using puppets when there are no children in my congregation.  But I also know full  well that I’m no rock star.  I like to think I have a few surprises up my sleeves, but I also know that I’m undoubtedly far more staid and predictable than not.

Both experiences lead me to naturally compare and contrast what I do with my own congregation and ministry.  They lead me to examine and rethink.  Both experiences showed me successful pastors and ministries where God the Holy Spirit is at work whether I prefer the methodology or not.  And so both ultimately direct me back to the work that God is calling me to here and now, in my own context.  To follow as I feel his leading, even if I’m exploring uncharted paths.  To continue even though there will be those watching and evaluating, some appreciatively and others with furrowed brows.

Ultimately what I pray is that God would be glorified rather than myself.  That God would be praised for his imagination and creativity as well as his amazing continuity and steadfastness that can hold so many different people and personalities and ideas together into a homogenous body.  Because if  He’s not behind these various things, they’ll ultimately dissolve and blow away in the wind.  Humbling to  remember, and a good reminder to get back to the work.

And that work remains the same: Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.  By  my fellow men, for a time to be certain, but never by Christ.  Solo dei gloria.

Living What We Believe

March 27, 2019

There’s a funny dichotomy at play in our culture today.  On the one hand, people  with alternative values and ideas about reality are expected not simply to believe these things but put them into practice to transform traditions and time-honored ways  of doing and thinking.  On the other hand, religious people (ie. Christians) and others who find value and meaning and purpose in tradition are told they can believe these things privately (for now) but are publicly castigated and punished if they attempt to live out their beliefs in the public sphere.

I love the headline on this article.  The Christian school is allegedly “denying education” to this young person, rather than simply denying them admittance to their particular school.  The sad thing is here at play are many actual members of the Catholic parish that runs the school, who think that the Roman Catholic teachings on sexuality are a “notion”  rather than a long-standing theological understanding of not only Christians but Jewish people before them.  The situation also highlights the importance of consistency, as making exceptions in one area can lead to the misunderstanding that exceptions are appropriate in all situations.

Evangeless-ism

March 11, 2019

Evangelism is getting harder, according to one of today’s oft-noted theologians and pastors, Tim Keller.  The reasons Keller cites for evangelism getting harder than it was just a few generations ago are several.  Some are external to Christians and some are internal.

First he cites that evangelism  is more complicated in a highly diverse population that does not have a general, cultural understanding of the Bible and Christianity.  Without a common baseline understanding, evangelism requires a lot more effort.  To someone conditioned by our culture to not know what sin is, and once you explain it to them, to reject the notion as depressing or relative means the person trying to witness has a lot more ground to cover.

Next he cites a greater difficulty in sharing the faith because our culture no longer has a basically good attitude towards Christians and the Church – even if they themselves are not Christians or church-goers.  Emphasis on the abuses and sins of the Church both historically (slavery, religious wars) as well as currently (pedophile priests and other sexual scandals across the denominational spectrum) mean we can’t assume the person we’re talking to even thinks Church or God  is a good thing as a whole for society.  I’d argue that in addition to these factors, there is the deliberate downplaying or ignoring of valuable roles that the Church has played historically and currently, whether in the development of universities and hospitals or current social justice issues.

Finally there is the relativism that pervades our culture now, so that any time someone wants to share the truth, that truth is seen as relative and subjective – maybe good for the sharer but maybe not good or necessary for the hearer.  This can in turn lead to a lower level of empathy among people which makes it hard for them to see things from another person’s perspective.

In a typical evangelical response, Keller cites Christians as basically the problem despite the overwhelming issues noted above.  Nor does he mention sin and an active – though defeated – Satan as elements that contribute to the difficulty of Christian evangelism.  I think he would agree with all of those things he just doesn’t mention them here.

He thinks Christians need to be more humble and sensitive in their witness, and I’d argue that’s always a good thing.  He also thinks Christians need more courage, and of course this is always good as well.  Finally he argues that Christians ultimately don’t really care enough about others to evangelize.  Here I disagree.  I know plenty of Christians who care a great deal about others but their efforts to evangelize have been stymied by many of the factors noted above.  That doesn’t denote a lack of love on their part, but rather a reality of our age.  I question the evangelical assumption that every Christian needs to be an evangelist, since there are pretty few Scripture passages that can be interpreted that way (and those that can are often argued as not applying to the average Christian).

Rather than blaming a lack of love, perhaps we should blame churches for inadequatey catechizing their members, teaching them not only what their church believes but also why.  Perhaps we should blame churches that presume that just because people are members they believe everything the Bible or the church teaches, when in reality most of their lives are lived out in thoroughly secularized school and work environments that are actively hostile to Christians and at times seek to make evangelism an actual offense that could affect admissions or promotions.

Yes, Lord, change our hearts.  But also grow and strengthen our churches and pastors to better ground and equip their parishioners in the faith.