Get Ordinary, the New Book from Michael Horton

Hey there!Cover of Ordinary, by Michael Horton

I want to tell you about Dr. Michael Horton’s new book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless WorldI just downloaded the book and am excited to read it.

I have heard Dr. Horton discuss this theme several times on his excellent podcast, The White Horse Inn, and I couldn’t agree more with his perspective.

Here it is, in my own words:

The Christian life is lived in the ordinary, the mundane, the typical, the average, the seemingly trivial. Spiritual growth occurs via the daily habits of life and speech and prayer and study and perseverance, not the short-lived experiences of a conference, special church services, “radical” living, or “Xtreme” worship.

As a young pentecostal Christian, I was taught to expect and pursue immediate, miraculous, life-transforming experiences. But, over time I observed that Christians always grow slowly. Our spiritual formation is certain, yes, but also very slow. That slow growth is realized not by extraordinary means, but by observing the ordinary work of God’s providence, and attending to the ordinary means of God’s grace: prayer, hearing God’s gospel word, and receiving God’s gospel meal (communion, eucharist).

These ordinary things are the pulse and heartbeat of every Christian life. What we need is not a new program, or a fresh approach to spiritual growth; we need a renewed appreciation for the ordinary ways God grows us up to be like Jesus.

I encourage you to read Ordinary, and to pursue spiritual growth by deepening your life of prayer, study, and fellowship at God’s table.

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Can We All Be Catholic (Universal) Again?

Dawn and I have three children. They love each other, and generally speak to each other respectfully, treat each other kindly, and get along well. What a joy that is to this average father’s heart. Every parent’s ideal is to have a family where peace and unity prevail over individual differences.

But, God’s earthly family stands in stark contrast to this. His kids don’t seem to get along well at all, and as I bemoaned in Sometimes I wish I could be Catholic, the Protestant quarters of which I’m part, seem to generate the most frequent door-slamming in the family feud. To me, western Protestantism seems more like a concentration of rival wolf packs than a mutually supportive family. Is there a way to repair this?

English: Jesus Christ - detail from Deesis mos...

Let’s Be Realistic

Please don’t misunderstand. While most of our divisions are unhealthy for God’s family, I’m not so idealistic as to think that all Christians should belong to one massive worldwide organization. Dividing into smaller organizations due to geographic, language or cultural barriers is often necessary and wise. Smaller organizations are also more manageable, and can better focus on pursuing the Great Commission where God has placed them. This is not to deny that Jesus instituted only one true, universal (that’s what Catholic means) Church. I’m just acknowledging that local expressions of the universal Church can be self-organized without contributing to disunity.

THE CHURCH & Local Congregations

While I’m on the subject, a person belongs to The Church because he or she belongs to The Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Those who belong to Christ are assured of His promise to reign eternally with Him in His Kingdom. Belonging to a local congregation is an obedient response to one’s belonging to Christ, but it’s not the cause of it. This implies that local congregations of all kinds (good and bad) will always consist of a mix of people who do, and don’t, belong to Christ. It’s a messy world, and so in consequence, a messy Church… for now. Jesus taught in the parable of the wheat and the weeds that He isn’t going to separate the belongers from the non-belongers until the end of the age.

So, What’s The Problem?

I said in Sometimes I wish I Could Be Catholic that I believe the source of the many unhealthy divisions in Protestantism is the bad — sometimes heretical — teachings that seem to multiply faster than you can say the Lord’s Prayer. Roman Catholics don’t seem to have this problem because they have a clear authority structure that maintains a consistent standard of teaching. The absence of such an authority allows Protestantism to continuously mutate into forms that bear little resemblance to one another. Consider the differences between Liberal Protestants, the Amish, Evangelicals, Universalists, Fundamentalists, and Prosperity-gospel Charismatics, not to mention Mormons, all of which are divergent shoots of the Protestant vine.

The Problem Isn’t New

As one person commented on my previous post, the solution to our disunity is that we obey Paul’s instruction to the very divided church at Corinth: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Wow! Here we have 1st-century Christians in one city and one church who received the gospel from One Apostle and they had trouble believing the same thing? Why? How? — Partly because false apostles who didn’t recognize Paul’s authority came along teaching a different gospel.

Church disunity is a threat to the purity and clarity of the gospel.

So here’s the root of the matter as I see it: Church disunity is a threat to the purity and clarity of the gospel, and the gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes it (Romans 1:16). But what happens to that power if the gospel is no longer clearly understood and proclaimed?

That was Paul’s main concern and mine.

Toward a Solution

Ultimately, I think Christ and His kingdom are not at the mercy of human squabbles. He will accomplish all that is His good pleasure in spite of us, and our divisions will only serve to make His mercy toward us more glorious. But, I hope you, like me, would rather that He receive glory from our faithfulness, not our failings.

So, I have some unattractive, idealistic, impractical thoughts for us to consider on how Protestantism, and ultimately all Christians, can reclaim the unity that gives the gospel clarity. I don’t like some of these, but I think this is what it might take to achieve unity.

1. A recovery of Church unity depends on the efforts of our denominational leaders. They will have to decide that the status quo of disunity is no longer acceptable. Perhaps they would, if they were faced with a grass roots “Christian Spring” or “Occupy” type of movement that calls for unity.

2. To recover unity, Christians need not agree on everything, but we must agree on some set of essentials that we view as non-negotiable. I hope this would include a clear definition of God and Jesus. How wonderful it would be for a whole generation of Christians in all churches around the world to be taught to understand and love the definitions of the Godhead and of Christ’s deity and humanity contained in the statements of Nicea, Athanasius, and Chalcedon?

Two other essentials I would propose are clear definitions of, and priority given to, the meaning of the gospel message, and the mission of the Church. Perhaps, the non-negotiables should go no further than that.

3. To maintain clarity of these essentials, a new trans-denominational doctrinal authority would have to be established. Such an authority should probably given oversight of ministerial training and ordination. Churches should continue to self-organize and and self-govern in regards to their mission, internal structure, ministries and teaching on non-essentials. But Christian unity would depend on their willingness to submit to this authority in regard to whatever non-negotiable essentials are established.

4. We must acknowledge that Christian unity will always be threatened. There will always be personality cults and persuasive hotshots building their own domain. But unity among the majority, would make the errors of the few more obvious and avoidable.

5. I propose we drop our denominational labels in favor of something more inclusive that expresses our faith in the essentials: of God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, His gospel of salvation and the mission He gave to His church. I think just plain, “Christian” would do fine.

6. To recover unity, Christians will have to learn humility and love regarding our the non-essentials, and courage regarding the essentials. We must learn to accept one another for Christ’s sake, but there must be a point at which we are willing to say, “That is not orthodox; it is heresy.”

7. Finally, recovering unity will require entire generations. Whatever plan for Christian unity is ever pursued, it could not possibly be successful in less than 50-100 years. Humpty Dumpty split in a day, putting him back together is a different story.

Finally

I know what you’re thinking…

This all sounds like the makings of a second-rate, sci-fi movie about a dystopian society where the errant are “rehabilitated.”

Yeah, it does.

So, I’m hoping someone has better ideas than me.

Do you think Christian unity is possible? Does it matter?


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Sometimes I Wish I Could Be Catholic

Why would this average, born-n-raised Protestant ever wish he could be Catholic?

— Because Protestantism is a mess!

The Vatican

Back Story & Full Disclosure

I was raised within Protestantism by Methodist parents. Early on we attended what I would call liberal Protestant churches. Then, we moved into the Evangelical Protestant stream where I first heard the gospel, but not in a way I understood. Later, we moved on to Pentecostalism, where I understood enough of the gospel to know that faith in Jesus was my only hope for God’s forgiveness and heaven. At that time I accepted the gospel to be true (as best I understood it at the time), trusted in Christ to save me and began a life of following Him.

I stayed within the Pentecostal movement for 20+ years, while I slowly became more and more disenchanted with its grasp on Scripture. Ultimately, I faced a my-theology-versus-my-church crisis in 1999 and decided to step down as pastor of my Pentecostal congregation. Today I align myself with the “Reformed” stream of Protestantism (think The Reformation that birthed Protestantism in the 1500’s), because I believe it has the best understanding of the Faith that God revealed through Scripture and His Son.

The Problem with Pro / test / ant / ism

I said all this to admit that I’m a living example of the problem – an average example of the mess that I’m lamenting in this post.

What mess? — The awful, Christ-dishonoring disunity in Protestantism. We are a disheveled tangle of denominations, sects, splinter groups, outright cults, and self-made apostles, prophets and bishops, some of whom hold doctrines that were condemned as heresy by the historic church. These abound because we all follow different versions of Christianity while all claiming to be Bible believers.

The mass media age has compounded the problem by churning out a string of celebrity mega-pastors and mega-evangelists teaching dubious doctrines since the 1970’s. This has the effect of mainstreaming their errors, making it harder and harder for the average American Christian to imagine that any popular and sincere voice might be sincerely wrong.

In such an environment could there ever be a single, authoritative doctrinal voice to straighten this mess out? It seems unlikely.

Too Much Doctrine Isn’t the Problem

You might think doctrine itself is the problem. “Doctrine divides,” some say. “Not so,” say I.

Rather, it’s new doctrines, and bad doctrines, and neglect of the historic, central doctrines of our Faith that has given rise to the mess we’re in. Ironically the seeds of new, bad doctrines took root in a potting mix of highly-educated Protestant Liberalism (birthed in Europe) and anti-educational Fundamentalism (birthed in America) over a hundred years ago. And today they flourish in a mass-produced fertilizer that values subjective personal experiences over objective revealed truths.

Martin Luther, ReformerBut, the giants of Christianity – men like Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Spurgeon – were men of intense study who placed doctrine first. They studied Scripture and those who had studied before them in order to understand the divinely revealed truths that should shape their experience. However today, anyone who can read an English translation of the Bible and gather a crowd can invent a fad teaching, publish a book, influence tens of thousands, and consider himself or herself a Teacher (capital “T”) of the Faith, even if they never heard of the real giants who preceded them. In this context, the core doctrines of Scripture are often ignored or perverted, old heresies are revived, and new teachings multiply like hydra’s heads dividing, and sub-dividing the Church.

Catholics Said This Would Happen

Roman Catholicism doesn’t have this problem.

Disunity is a uniquely Protestant curse.

And here is more irony: The doctrinal seeds that divide us were made possible by the Reformation itself, which gave every averageus a Bible in our own language. The Catholic Church of the 1500’s saw the mess coming and insisted on keeping the Bible in Latin, and in the hands of a few scholars who were responsible for upholding church doctrine. But, the Reformers rightly put the Bible in the hands of ordinary people. However, they never dreamed that so many of them would presume to speak for God while ignoring Church history and the historic creeds, disdaining theological education, and invent doctrines that distort Scripture beyond recognition.

What a sad, sad state we are in. The Protestantism of which I am a part dishonors the very prayer of Jesus for the unity of His followers in John chapter 17.

Is there a way out? Is there a way forward? Better, is there a way back to Protestant unity?

Honestly, I’m not sure that there is, and this disheartens me.

But, I’ve decided that I shouldn’t just accept hundreds or thousands of Protestant groups as normal for Christ’s Church. And if there is a way back to unity, I think we Protestants may have to look to our Catholic friends for advice on what that way may be.

And, I’ll think that over with you in my next post.

Do you think there is a solution to Christian disunity? Does it matter?


Thank you for spending the last few minutes with Average Us. If you enjoyed this post, please share it and/or follow Average Us. Thanks!