Not authorized to burn incense

On the separation of church and state, post-Constantine.  Emphasis mine:

“For into your hands God has put the kingdom; the affairs of his Church he has committed to us.  If any man stole the Empire from you, he would be resisting the ordinance of God: in the same way you on your part should be afraid lest, in taking upon yourself the government of the Church, you incur the guilt of grave offense. ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.’ We are not permitted to exercise an earthly rule; and you Sire, are not authorized to burn incense.”

– A letter from Hosius, Bishop of Cordova to Constantius; Documents of the Christian Church

They have done absolutely nothing.

Postscript: As an example of how modernism continued to haunt some confessional Protestants, here’s a quotation from E. J. Young’s December 6, 1955 letter to Carl Henry in which he declined serving on the editorial board of Christianity Today:
As you well know, Carl, there was in the Presbyterian Church a great controversy over modernism. That controversy was carried on by Dr. Machen in part. There were many who supported Dr. Machen in his opposition to unbelief. On the other hand there were many who did not support him. When matters came to a showdown and Dr. Machen was put from the church there were those who decided it would be better to remain within and to fight from within.   
. . . Since that time I have watched eagerly to see what would be done by those who remained in the church. They have done absolutely nothing. Not one voice has been raised so far as I know to get the church to acknowledge its error in 1936 and to invite back into its fold those who felt constrained to leave, or those who were put out of the church. . . . What has greatly troubled me has been the complete silence of the ministers in the church. They simply have not lived up to their ordination vows.

— Dr. Hart, No Ecclesiology, No Identity. 

The greatest need in American churches.

Pews with desks.

Too long have American legs fallen asleep while scribbling notes into journals, Bibles, or the margins of the church bulletin.


For an example, see St. Columbus Free Church in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Let the Reformation begin.



Welcome to the struggle

Dr. Trueman had some insight onto the recent economic struggles of clowns:

The reasons for the decline in the clown population seem complex.  Increasing levels of good taste, higher literacy rates, and increasing self-respect in many parts of society have probably taken their toll on clowning communities.  Indeed, why would anyone want to be a clown when the same skill set makes politics an easier and more lucrative option?  

Should we consider it more bullish or bearish based on his final analysis?  I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out.

Worth it for the heavenly celebration alone

There is not much more to be said about Don Miller-gate, but some deep reflection is certainly due.  While I am saddened by the depth of their roots into the Church, I am thankful for Miller’s words so they may be engaged and corrected with the truth of Scripture.  If even one sheep is called back into the flock of the faith, it will be worth it for the heavenly celebration alone.

On his blog, Mike Cosper offers great analysis and suggests the solution is not a new way to do church, but the old.

Rather than a robust engagement with God’s people, God’s word, and God’s Spirit through interactions with one another, songs, prayers, scripture readings, and the Lord’s Supper, we think of Sundays as merely preaching and music. Rather than an immersive, formational environment shaped by the physical architecture of space and the spiritual architecture of a Gospel-shaped liturgy, Sunday Morning is a platform driven spectacle, led by mega-celebrities at mega-churches and would-be-celebrities and smaller churches. Rather than a challenging and diverse diet of milk and meat, celebration and lament, confession and assurance, we’re fed a pump-up-the-jams hype fest that culminates in a “You can do it!” sermon and a marketing pitch for membership. It’s an environment that feels hostile to doubt and suffering, unless your goal is to overwhelm them both with enthusiasm.

I realize I’m guilty of caricature here, as there are many, many churches that break this mold. But I think it’s fair to say this much: in the past, corporate worship was seen as an immersive formational experience, wherein the church calendar and liturgy slowly shapes Christians to live Kingdom-oriented lives in a fallen world; today, the gathering (shaped by revivalist sentiments and revolutionized by new technology) is meant to be a catalytic, emotional experience. We aim to be spectacular, rather than regular. We aim for instant gratification rather than slow, steady change. 

As James K.A. Smith argues in Desiring the Kingdom, all of our gatherings are formational – even the gatherings that aim at spectacle. Where a more traditional approach aims at an orientation towards hope in the coming kingdom and patience in affliction, the contemporary model often aims our hope in the institutions, leaders, and experiences of Church. Our hope is built on the coming sermon series, or the upcoming evangelistic push, or the ability of the pastor to inspire us, or the ability of the worship leader to “usher in the Spirit of God.”  Practiced regularly, week-in and week-out, these efforts shape us to love and hope in a particular way, and like any idol, it will ultimately disappoint us. 

To this, Miller, like so many others, has said, “No thanks. Doesn’t work for me.” And in this sense, I don’t blame him. But his solution is no less tragic. His new liturgy will orient his life around himself or around his work, and these masters will be as cruel and disappointing as any mega-church or celebrity pastor has ever been. 

So yes, I think Miller needs to be challenged and corrected. But I also think his comments reveal the tragic lack of spiritual formation in many of our churches today. They remind us that many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers; for why we sing, preach, and pray.   

The solution isn’t trying harder to please religious consumers and church shoppers. Instead, we need to look to the old paths, where the good way is, and keep telling the only Story that gives us a sense of ultimate hope in this tragic and broken world.

While this audio from a past White Horse Inn episode centers on other types of false teaching, specifically the prosperity Gospel, the connection to the Miller kerfuffle is not hard to make.  Pay specific attention to the 3:30 to the 7:15 mark.  It is not the orthodox calling out false teaching who are being divisive, but the false teaching. The entire audio is worth taking the time to listen through.  Two lines from Kim Riddlebarger stand out:

“Smooth talk and flattery, in Paul’s mind, would be words that avoid the truth.”
“It is the crucified Christ who is so offensive.”
See you in church, Sunday. We both need it.

Scripture forms the church, not the reverse

This brings us to sola Scriptura. Sometimes this great slogan is quoted as if to mean, “I believe in sola Scriptura, this is my interpretation, therefore if you disagree, you are denying Scripture.” To disagree with an interpretation of Scripture is not necessarily the same thing as disagreeing with Scripture itself. To be sure, it is possible to deny Scripture; this is why we have a Confession and Consistories, to prevent and correct mistakes in Biblical interpretation. It does not follow, however, that because one believes in the unique and primary authority of Scripture, that therefore one’s interpretation of a given passage is necessarily correct.  

 By sola Scriptura our Reformed fathers meant to teach that Scripture alone is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, not the traditions of men or even the Church. Scripture is that “norm which norms all other norms.” We confess that the Scripture forms the church, not the reverse. We must then reject those radical Bible interpreters who teach that the Bible has no fixed meaning or that the reader controls the meaning of the text.

– Dr. R. Scott Clark, Hermeneutics and the Creation Wars

What Don Miller gets right

Maybe I should have led with these before critiquing the Emergent Industrial Complex.  Don Miller’s post was not a complete strike out.  He may not have earned a hit, but he did put some contact to the bat in two areas below.

Pastor Todd Pruitt on Reformation 21:

Miller writes some very helpful comments about the goodness of work as a means of enjoying God. Unfortunately he sees this as an alternative to worshiping with the body of Christ on the Lord’s Day. The Reformed faith would be a great benefit for Miller in this for its robust doctrines of creation and vocation. It is the Reformers who reasserted the goodness of work as a means by which we glorify and enjoy God. But this is never to be seen as a replacement to our responsibility to gather with God’s people.”

Frank Turk’s comment on the Pyromaniac blog:

“You know what I like about Donald Miller? I like his certainty. I like the fact that, in spite of his book after book after book after movie about how much [sic] one can doubt what one is taught, he is certain he’s right. 

The reason? At least you can engage someone like that by what he actually believes rather than always swirling down the toilet of PostModernity and their so-called epistemic humility.”

Housewife Theologian Aimee Byrd in an additional article on Reformation 21 has some great thoughts on why it is important that we connect with God according to the way He has willed.  She reasons from Scripture, the authoritative source of truth for faith and practice:

“Interestingly, God has determined that all of us share in a particular so-called learning style when it comes to spiritual growth. He has prescribed a means to bless his people in Christ, the preached Word and the sacraments. And so we have Jesus declaring in the Great Commission how he will grow his kingdom: 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20) 

And we see this very thing in Acts 2:42: 

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

You see, learning my own way isn’t good enough. I need to be changed. And it is the power of God’s Word that does that in the means that he has prescribed. To echo Todd again, “What is more, in Christ we do not have to find ways to connect with God. God has connected to us through Christ!” Let us not refuse the Father’s generosity to bless us in the Son, who is much more than a learning style. He is worthy of our corporate worship, which is an eschatological event. It is a privilege to partake in the covenantal renewal ceremony, where we get a taste of the future breaking into the present. Like Miller, we all get caught up in our week of accomplishing and we slip into our default mode of thinking we are the ones who create meaning. But we are summoned to gather on Sunday, to be interrupted by our own thinking, stripped by the law of God, and clothed by his gospel grace. Only after this receiving Christ through his preached Word and the sacraments are we then sent out as salt and light. 

Miller reasons that he connects with God elsewhere through his own means. God has condescended to connect with his people. I would say that it is imperative that we connect with God the way he has called us to in Christ”


Reading Miller’s post produced a range of emotions to be worked through before hitting “publish”.  Ultimately, I wrote from sadness and deep grief.

Again, Pastor Todd Pruitt:

“I was sad because one cannot be a Christian and reject Christ’s body, his bride, his building. Christians are made and grown in the body of Christ. I was not, however, surprised because this is an all too predictable trajectory for those within the emergent/neo-liberal wing of Protestantism.  


I also admit to feeling sorry for Miller as I read his post. I am not trying to be condescending. He certainly does not need my pity. But pity him I do for his impoverishment of understanding of Christ and his church. As a result he is robbing himself of the very ways that God has promised to nourish him.” 

One final word from Derek Rishmawy of Christ and Pop Culture:

this article breaks my heart, because this is exactly the kind of logic that people latch on to and use as an excuse to separate themselves from the Body to the desolation of their spiritual lives. This is why pastors, preachers, and teachers in the Church can no longer avoid deep, biblical teaching on the Church. If she [the church] is to be healthy and functioning, our people must know what the Church is and why it exists beyond our own need to “connect” once a week.”

Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria!

Bold font denotes my personal emphasis to any quotation. 
I’m happy to clarify and answer any questions in the comments. I reserve the right to delete and moderate as I see fit.