“Sit Back, Relax and Enjoy the Service” May Be Killing Your Church

Karl  Vaters has some highly provocative and probing thoughts on our approach to “church” and getting people to attend our weekend worship gatherings. – STEVE

Sit back, relax and enjoy the service” may be one of the most dangerous sentences ever uttered in church.

It sits on the Bad Idea shelf next to “Let’s erect a building and tell people they have to come here if they want to worship Jesus.”

I expect promises of great customer service in a restaurant, on an airplane, or in a movie theater. But the idea that church is a place where we pay others to do ministry as we sit passively, consuming and passing judgment on the product being offered, may be the greatest single reason for the anemia of the modern, western church.

The church is not a customer service business. We’re a community for life transformation. We do not exist to serve passive consumers, but to equip and activate disciples.

But, like the monkey stubbornly clinging to the apple inside the cage, we’ll never free ourselves to be biblically active communities for life-transformation until church leaders let go of our  please-the-consumer mindset.

Let’s Stop the Bait-and-Switch

It’s bait-and-switch to tell church-goers that we’re here to serve them, only to teach them a few months later, when they attend the membership class that – surprise! – you’re not supposed to be a consumer after all. You’re here to do the work of ministry.

And then we wonder why they don’t step up and help out more often. It would be like going to Starbucks until you achieved Gold Card status, only to get handed, not just a Gold Card, but a green apron, too. On a volunteer basis, no less.

Bait-and-switch doesn’t create passionate, worshipful, loving disciples. It creates angry, confused and resentful religion-shoppers.

Change “Sit and Watch” To “Come and Participate”

Years ago, I realized that this was a problem for our church, so we stopped offering sit-and-watch events as our church’s main front door experience.

Simply put, we don’t waste our time and money on religious stage shows to entice non-believers to come to church any more. Instead, we invite them to spend time with us as we live life together. 

For instance, twice a year we have an event we call Share Day, in which the entire church body divides into work groups after church on Sunday to serve together on various community service projects. On most Share Days, we have participants that have never attended the church before, because we’ve invited them to help out.

When we fill up Christmas bags to bring to needy children in Mexico, we offer empty bags to our unchurched friends, neighbors and preschool families to fill up. And they do!

Even on Christmas Eve, we have a pre-service time when families can get together to make ornaments, decorate cookies and take a Christmas photo together while snacking on goodies and warming up with hot apple cider. Why? This may be the only time a lot of people – especially visiting family members – will visit a church this year, so we give them a chance to interact, not just sit and be talked to.

When community service and/or interactive fellowship is someone’s first experience with a church body, it sets an important precedent. They know right up front that this is what church is all about. It’s where we live life together in service to God and as a blessing to others.

People Want to Worship, Connect and Give

The church was never meant to be a religious stage show..

And, let’s face it, even if it was, Small Churches don’t have the resources to put on as good a show as our big church counterparts. Oh, who are we kidding? Even megachurches can’t compete with the quality of entertainment people can access 24/7 from the phone in their pocket.

But we can be great at worship, community and generosity.

When someone decides to get out of bed on Sunday morning to go to church for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – they’re not doing it because they don’t have other entertainment options. They’re doing it to meet a need they may not even fully realize yet.

They want to connect. With God and with us.

A great, interactive Small Church may be the best place on earth to do that.

FOR MORE KARL VATERS

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CLOSING A CHURCH

John Frye shares his reflections on closing a church.  What can we learn from this? – STEVE

Closing a Church (John Frye)

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.35.58 PMThe Closing of a Church, by John Frye

Last Sunday the local church where I have served as pastor for nine years closed. Thankfully, it closed well, but not without tears. The church had a faithful, yet roller-coaster history and for reasons too cumbersome and complex for this post, the decision to close was a “severe mercy.” Severe in that it is always hard to end a church’s history and merciful because the faithful folks who hung in to the end were fatigued and needed a clear, sharp decision about their future.

I had to do some painful soul-searching. When I agreed to take the call to be the part-time, interim pastor of the church, I was told, “John, you may just be there long enough to give the church a good burial.” This potential (short) future of a ministry did not set well with me. I thought, “No church is going to die under my watch.” That was nine years ago.

As the ministry entered into its final two years, issues in the church’s DNA, frictions with members, and the inability of the church to negotiate healthy change, the church entered into what our denomination calls an “at risk” status. Using a medical metaphor, the church went into cardiac arrest and was on life support in the last eight months to a year. It’s hard to get a church on life support to become more missional. Energy levels drop and morale flounders. I came to a hard realization: churches do die and this one was dying under my care.

At our denomination’s once-a-year annual meeting, I would attend as a delegate from our church. Delegates celebrated and voted into the denomination new church plants and churches switching denominational affiliation. Delegates also were informed of and voted on churches that closed. I knew that churches do, indeed, die. Yet, I would always say to myself, “Not the church where I serve. It won’t happen.” A pastor’s pride, a leader’s stubbornness can sometimes become the block to the larger purposes of God. I had to wrestle with this.

My experiences as a pastor have shaped my ecclesiology. I no longer idolize big churches (mega-brands). I was the teaching pastor of one of those for 24 years. I ended my ministry there very wearied and in a dark-night-of-the-soul condition. On the other hand, I no longer think little churches only have one future: to grow into healthy, missional communities. John the Apostle’s pastoral wisdom in Revelation 2-3is very significant to me. The only glorious One is Jesus who walks among the lamp stands, his local (real geographical) churches. As a pastor I am owning into the ragged humanity of the “body of Christ,” glorious as she will be in the consummation.

Big or small, churches are fragile because of the lingering power of the Fall in and on human relationships. Let him who boasts, boast only in the Lord.

WHY MIGHT WE GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER?

Michael Kelly has a great blog about faith life.  This post gives us much upon which to reflect. – STEVE

WHY MIGHT WE GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER?

by Michael Kelly

The writer of Hebrews gave a very practical instruction in Hebrews 10:24-25:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Don’t give up meeting together. Translation?

Keep going to church.

Which when you say it like that, sounds pretty dumb, right? Of course we know that we should keep going to church. But if it’s it that simple, then why give the instruction? In other words, what might keep us from meeting together?

For the Hebrews, it was persecution. This letter was written to a group of persecuted Christians who, based on what we read in the letter, were teetering on the edge of going back to their former way of life. That’s why you find such a strong emphasis on perseverance – it’s because those who persevere to the end show their faith to be true and authentic. For these Christians, then, one of the ways (and maybe even the primary one) that they demonstrated their lasting commitment to faith in Jesus was the fact that they were willing to keep showing up.

This was no small thing for them.

Showing up and meeting together marked them as a community of believers, and when they were marked they were targeted. Property was seized; prison terms were handed out; jobs were lost and livelihoods were in jeopardy. But on they came.

I, however, don’t live in a situation like that. Is there then any value in giving a command like this to a society where there are no restrictions on going to church and meeting with other Christians? Of course, the answer is yes, but we get to that answer by asking a similar question to the one we asked of the Hebrews:

In an affluent and relatively free society, safe from persecution based on religious preference, what might keep us from continuing to show up? Many things I suppose, but at least these two:

1. Convenience.
I know, I know – the church is right around the corner, right? Just down the road? At worst, on the other side of town? But despite the proximity and availability of local congregations, the call to meet together challenges our sense of convenience.

We live in a culture that’s microwaved; we want what we want, when we want it, and what we want is NOW. Meeting together, though, is a long range strategy interjected into a short term society. Relationships of trust and mutual sharing don’t automatically happen; they develop over time. A gospel-centered worldview isn’t formed overnight, but through the process of hearing the same thing over and over again. The ability to recall and apply Scripture to specific life situations doesn’t happen automatically but slowly over the course of listening to others do the same.

All of these things involve time, and therefore all are inconvenient. This fact all by itself might make us give up the long road of meeting together and instead just look for the DVR version of the church so we can skip to the high points.

2. Discomfort.
Meeting together – showing up at church – is (and should be) uncomfortable. That’s because truly meeting together involves a level of self-disclosure that hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

That’s the difference between “meeting together” and “meeting together”. In the latter, we aren’t spectators; instead, we are active participants, longing for not just a connection with others but the kind of connection that will truly help us follow Jesus. And because that kind of connection is only inspired by walking the difficult road of confession and transparency, many of us aren’t ready.

It’s just easier to stay home.

But the question, as the writer of Hebrews put it, is where do you want to find yourself as the day of the Lord is increasingly approaching?

Probably not on the couch.

IF JESUS PASTORED YOUR CHURCH, YOU’D NEVER GO

Came across this interesting in Crosswalk by Dr. Julie Barrier. Think about it.

 

A scruffy homeless dude pops through the door of the church house with his motley entourage. The trendy thirty-somethings sitting near the aisle gagged at the stench of their sandals reeking of foot odor.

Honestly, is this the new pastoral candidate? And who is his crew? They weren’t invited! The parking lot attendants were already upset. The fig trees shading the front door were a little scraggly, but one word from the new guy and they curled up and withered. Instantly. This man was a wizard.

He strode confidently to the front, set the pulpit aside, and sat down. Nina Smothers spent hard-earned cash for that wooden lectern in honor of her dead, departed hubby Harold. She dashed out of the sanctuary in a huff. With great authority, this Jesus asked all of the wealthy elders to stand. These guys were the cream of the crop. They never missed a Sunday, lived exemplary lives and were model husbands and fathers. He commended them for their efforts.

Here’s the kicker! Jesus asked them to withdraw all of their savings, cash in their 401K’s, stocks and bonds. Porsches and BMW’s must be returned to the dealership and their pricey suburban homes listed immediately. Everything must go. (Sounds like a “going out of business” sale…) Finally, He challenged them to turn over their net worth to the World Vision fund to help dying widows and orphans in Bangladesh. This tight-knit group of top-shelf leaders shook their heads, grabbed their stylish children and sadly left the room.

The crowd was definitely thinning.

Finally Jesus delivered His “sugar-stick” sermon from Luke 8:5-15. The remaining congregation perked up their little ears. Francis Chan described Jesus’ words in this way: Jesus started His sermon by saying, “Gee, it’s great you all came…be sure and bring a friend next week!” Not. He told an enigmatic tale about sowers, seed, paths, rocks, thorns and good soil. “He who has ears, let Him hear.” Then He retired to the front row. Even His band of brothers scratched their heads. Peter piped up, “What a weird story! What was that all about?” Jesus’ cryptic answer still confounded His boys. “To you it’s been given to know. I speak in parables-seeing they may not see, hearing they may not understand.” The natives were getting restless. Pew-huggers in the back slinked out when Christ was not looking. Jesus whispered, “I’m not going to spend my ministry watering rocks or fertilizing thorns!”

Now here’s the conundrum. Luke 14:25 tells us great crowds accompanied Him. This place was a mega-church. Big video screens, screamin’ band, cushy seats and a coffee bar out front. Why would Christ blow this amazing opportunity?

Christ stood to offer the invitation. “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t love me more than Father, Mother, even his own life, he can’t follow me.” (Matthew 10:37-39) Jesus continued,  “Are you really sure you should be here? Hate your father, wife…leave them all for me. Count the cost. I’m telling you about the cost of following me up front. Pick up a cross and come and die.” The silence in the church was palpable. Instead of an emotional invitation with crowds streaming to the front, there was a massive exodus through the back door. One kid filmed the fuming mob’s departure on his smart phone and uploaded it to YouTube. Two million hits.

The smelly twelve were left. Jesus mumbled, with great sadness in His voice, “You’re not going to stick around either, are you?” (John 6:67)

Peter piped up, “Where else shall we go? You’ve got the truth, the living words.”

The offering was non-existent. No money was raised for the offsite campus with the video feed. In fact, if we were true to Scripture, Jesus would have whipped the ushers, turned over the offering plates and screamed that this was “God’s house of prayer.” However, the ushers and the rest of the comfortable Christians split a long time ago. The scraggly teacher never made it past His first Sunday. He was fired on the spot. An Abercrombie model with killer people skills took His place.

Francis Chan ended his sermon on this subject with this compelling statement. “Are we obeying the most obvious truths of Scripture? I want to be real salt, good soil…the real deal. Be intimate with Jesus. Love Him enough to take up your cross no matter what!”

If Jesus were the pastor of your church, would you go?

This article was inspired by Francis Chan’s compelling sermon “If Jesus Were the Pastor of Your Church, You Probably Wouldn’t Go.”  

 

I AM OFFENDED AND TROUBLED

BY STEVE DUNN

Duck Dynasty is everywhere. The largely unscripted reality show has captured the cable-waves and rocketed A&E Network to the top of the charts. It has already generated a fortune for Walmart and other retailers–secular and religious–by pasting the face of the Robertson clan on every imaginable household item.

Anyone who has watched the show will know that Phil Robertson and his clan are conservative Christians, staunchly patriotic, sometimes outrageous in their opinions, and firm in what they value–which leans heavily towards traditional American values.

I’ve enjoyed a few episodes with friends, but my reality TV tends to lean towards The Voice, The Sing-Off, and Major League Baseball.

It was only a matter of time before these high profile and often delightfully humorous self-proclaimed Christian rednecks would fall afoul of the media and liberal political establishment with their narrow definition of “free speech.” Phil set off a firestorm.

Now A&E has suspended him, his family has threatened to stop making the show without him. (I don’t believe for a minute that a profit-driven network is going to jettison its most profitable possession nor that the Richardson family will abandon their income and platform.)

I am both offended and troubled.

I am offended when the self-appointed guardians of the Constitution continue to extend the defense of free speech to pornagraphers, the worst of America’s haters here and abroad, people whose sexual orientation offends so many of their neighbors, and people whose politics are left of center; but have singled out conservative and evangelical Christians as people whose views threaten to destroy the fabric of society. The bias has now become so obvious that even some of my most liberal friends have pointed it out (although I see few pushing back against it).

Phil Robertson is an American citizen–living in the land of the free and the home of the brave–a land governed by its Constitution. He is entitled to the same rights and at the very least, the same tolerance that we extend even to most unsavory citizens of this land.

But I am also troubled by my conservative Christian friends, many of whom profess to share the same belief in the truth of the Bible as God’s Word and the commitment to live by its commandments and teachings–who roar back like cornered lions every time they are not treated with respect, or where their rights are undermined. People who now often define their worth and identity by the rights they have in the Constitution, rather than in living by God’s truth.

And this is my reason–three statements by Jesus.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.” – Matthew 5:11 New Living Translation

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16.33 New Living Translation

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15.18-19 New Living Translation

I simply am concerned that we as Christians take the world’s views PERSONALLY, as attacks on us when they are really attacks on Christ. Too many Christians want to stand up for Jesus without paying the price of rejection and opposition that Jesus said to expect if we were being faithful to him in a world that WOULD BACK AWAY.

We have a persecution complex, or better yet–a rejection complex.

And in our vehemence and in the manner of our communication we often show the world that we do not really trust in God to make things right-and that the acceptance of men is more important than faithfulness to God.

Or that being left alone to believe what we want to believe (even if it is the truth) than paying the price of truly being salt and light where we will stand out from the crowd who often cares little about God.

Something to think about and to pray about.

(C) 2013 by Stephen L Dunn

THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER

I am an evangelical Christian. Unfortunately because so many Christians have abandoned authentic discipleship and think of the Great Commission as a marketing tool, I feel compelled to use the adjective. I am also a life-long Republican who found both candidates being offered by the major parties to be persons with whose values I was at odds. I found Rachel Evans blog about THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER to be right on (and no, I do not agree with every theological or social position that she holds) and believe her thoughts grow from a deep concern for the most important thing that matters – “faith expressing itself in love.” (By the way, this is not a quote from Rob Bell–it is from Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus – Galatians 5.6) – STEVE DUNN

The Real ‘Evangelical Disaster’

When Republican Governor Mitt Romney lost the presidential election earlier this month to incumbent Barack Obama, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary classified the election as “an evangelical disaster.”

Concerned also by state measures legalizing gay marriage, Mohler said that, aside from the 79 percent of white evangelicals who voted as they should, the “[evangelical] message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.”

“If we do not become the movement of younger Americans and Hispanic Americans and any number of other Americans, then we will just become a retirement community,” he told NPR. “And that cannot, that cannot, serve the cause of Christ.”

As a young evangelical myself, I confess I have grown tired…no, weary…of responding to comments like these with some honest suggestions for how my fellow evangelicals might avoid said retirement, only to be discounted and disparaged for believing the earth is more than 6,000 years old, for voting for Democrats from time to time, and for daring to serve communion to gays and lesbians. The fact that I can affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, that I am an imperfect but devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that I am passionate about spreading the gospel, and I believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and still my evangelical credentials are constantly being questioned and debated reveals just how narrow evangelicalism has become.

The word evangelical means, in the Greek, “gospel” or “good news” (evangelion). And so an evangelical, in the most basic sense of the word, is simply someone who is committed to spreading the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. There are plenty of Hispanics, plenty of young people, plenty of African Americans, plenty of Republicans, plenty of Democrats, and plenty of people around the world who believe this to be true, and yet Mohler will not be satisfied until American evangelicals become a monolithic and reliable voting bloc that keeps his preferred politicians in power.

This, I believe, is the real evangelical disaster—not that Barack Obama is president and Mitt Romney is not, but that evangelicalism has gotten so enmeshed with politics, its success or failure can be gauged by an election.

It’s this idea the “cause of Christ” is to vote against gay marriage and for tax cuts, and that the hope of evangelicals lies in election day returns. It’s this idea that a Christian worldview is something we can vote for because it fits on a ballot.

When I tell a reporter or a new acquaintance that I am an evangelical, inevitably the person will respond, “Oh, so you are a Republican?” Sadly, evangelicalism has ceased to represent the Kingdom of God, which transcends all political parties and national allegiances, and has come to represent kingdoms of this world. And so the strengths and weakness of evangelicalism are conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican Party.
The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This happened long before the 2012 presidential election.

It happened when we turned the Bible into a conservative position paper and Jesus into a flag pin.

It happened when Liberty University invited Donald Trump to speak in chapel because devotion to the GOP matters more devotion to the teachings of Jesus .

It happened when we traded the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord to the bad news that our influence in this world is limited to how much power we can grasp.

It happened when we restricted “Christian values” to one or two social issues while leaving others out.

So I will try one last time.

Want to win young people back to evangelicalism?

Then start preaching the Gospel again.

Start preaching the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Caesar is not.

Start preaching the gospel that drew both tax collectors and zealots—political enemies— to Jesus’ side.

Start preaching the gospel that God so loved the world that God became flesh and lived among us, taught among us, loved among us, died among us, and rose again among us.

Start preaching the gospel that through Jesus, we find reconciliation with God and with one another.

Start preaching the gospel that they will know we are Christians by our love—not by our votes, not by our protest signs, not by our power, not by our campaign contributions—but by our love.

But fair warning: If you start preaching this gospel—this gospel of reconciliation and peace—you will attract more than just Republicans. You will attract people of all backgrounds and races, political persuasions and theological preferences. You will attract rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. You will attract people like me who are concerned about defending not only the unborn, but also the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the war-torn. You will attract people like me who love Jesus but know that no single vote, no single political party, can represent my values in their totality or bring the kingdom of God to pass.

If we start preaching the gospel again, we will have to get used to ethnic, theological, and political diversity because we will share our lives with people whose ultimate allegiance lies with something greater than a political party, greater than a ballot measure, greater even than the highest office in the world.

We will share our lives with citizens of the Kingdom of God.

We will be evangelists, bearers of good news.

And no matter what happens in the halls of power, we will never be part of a disaster. Instead, we will be part of a stubborn and relentless movement of hope—the kind of hope that can heal the world.

We will be true evangelicals.

RE-IMAGINING THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION

Re-Imagining Theological Education | 3DM from 3DM on Vimeo.

KINGDOM NEIGHBORS

by Steve Dunn

Maybe I am naive, but I take seriously the words of Paul to the Corinthians.

“12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many …  25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” ( I Corinthians 12:12-14, 25-26)

I believe that individual congregations are part of that Body called the church. That means each church has a part in the kingdom plan of our Heavenly Father. We are not programmatic competitors nor doctrinal adversaries. We are partners in the work of Kingdom, but more than that, we are interdependent parts who really need one another.  And we need to exhibit far more concern for the health and well-being of one another.

When congregations flounder in problems or are weakened by conflicts, what is our response? Do we pray for them or do we sit back and watch and then scoop up their losses to swell our numbers and increase our statistics (or staff our Sunday School since we have already burned out the teachers we had)?

Do we offer to help our sister congregations regain their unity and health?

Or do we simply continue to “grow” by rearranging the current kingdom population instead of focusing together on the lost and the unchurched?

BILL HYBELS INTERVIEWS BONO

The singer Bono from U2 is not a Christian and he has deep respect for the faith and its mission. Yet he is often critical of how Christians carry out that mission.  Bill Hybels interviewed Bono in 2010.  The exchange is worth our consideration as we keep our eyes wide open as the church of Jesus Christ.

WHAT IS OUR GENERATIONS GREATEST STUMBLING BLOCK?

From the always insightful and thought-provoking blog She Worships comes a compelling question. We re-post it today for your response.  Steve will had his own reflection in a couple of days.

What is Our Generation’s Stumbling Block?

This week I was researching a topic for work when I discovered an interesting tidbit of church history. Apparently, birthdays used to be a big deal for Christians, and not in a good way. Early in the church’s history, birthday celebrations–particularly those of emperors or kings–were associated with pagan culture and were consequently condemned.

For instance, early church theologian Origen (ca. 185-254 ca.) wrote rather scathingly,

Indeed one of our predecessors has observed that the birthday of Pharaoh is recorded in Genesis and recounts that it is the wicked man who, being in love with the affairs of birth and becoming, celebrates his birthday. But we, taking our cure from that interpreter, discover that nowhere in the scriptures is a birthday celebrated by a righteous person.

At that time, Roman society was big on birthdays. You might even remember that John the Baptist was beheaded in celebration of Herod’s birthday (Matt. 14). The early Christians therefore rejected this practice as a sign of distinction from the surrounding pagan culture. As a result, Christians did not formally observe Christmas for the first 300 years of the church’s existence.

Today, the rejection of birthday celebrations sounds rather silly. Few of us have a lot of theological stock invested in this practice. However, this type of historical eccentricity is not uncommon. Throughout the history of the church, each generation has grappled with issues that were pressing at the time, but became less central or even marginal by subsequent generations.

For another example, consider Christian music today. There are more Christian recording artists than I can count, and worship pastors frequently lead with songs they have written themselves. The present-day church is producing new music every day.

But it has not always been so. Isaac Watts, who famously wrote “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Joy to the World” created quite the scandal with his hymn writing. Born in 1674, Watts lived at a time when the only acceptable hymns came directly from Biblical poetry. Watts bucked this tradition by writing “original music,” a decision that invited tremendous criticism and character attacks. His music was described as “flights of fancy” and “Watts’ whims.” He was accused of arrogance, and his introduction of this new hymn tradition resulted in church debate and division. Today, we take this practice for granted.

For a final example, consider re-baptism. I have heard countless evangelical pastors encourage church members to get baptized on the grounds that the first one wasn’t “meaningful” or “you didn’t really know what you believed at the time” or “you did it for the wrong reasons.” Plenty of modern day Christians would be shocked by this language (in fact, I myself profoundly disagree with the theology behind those statements) but our disagreement is nothing compared to the horror such words would have elicited in the Protestant Reformers.

In his work “Concerning Rebaptism,” Martin Luther decried the above reasons for re-baptism as “godless and hypocritical” because they place greater emphasis on personal faith than on the free grace of God. On the grounds that re-baptism was the equivalent of re-crucifying Christ, many Anabaptists (which means “baptize again”) were executed for their beliefs.

Although baptism, as a central component of the Christian faith, is of far greater importance than birthdays or hymns, I think we can all agree that the Reformers’ response to re-baptism was, in the most extreme cases, wrong. No matter how much I may disagree with another Christian about their views on baptism, I am not prepared to kill them over it.

As you can see, it is easy for a generation to lose perspective. Whether the issue is small or large, our circumstances can magnify a problem in such a way that we cannot grasp its true perspective. Learning this lesson from church history, we do well to remember that spiritual stumbling blocks come in all shapes and sizes. They are not limited to sinful temptations. A theological truth can just as easily become a stumbling block as money or sex.

The church’s track record should humble us. It should also press us to wonder about our own generation’s theological stumbling blocks. What current debate will cause later Christians to snicker or grieve? What are our greatest theological or missional blind spots?

While I have my own suspicions, I also wonder how I can ever be sure. Either way, I think the very asking of these questions is bound to shape us in edifying ways.