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Preaching the Big Picture

QUOTE: “The last few decades have been a period of wanton experimentation in many pulpits. One of the most troubling developments is the decline and eclipse of expository preaching. Numerous influential voices within evangelicalism are suggesting that the age of the expository sermon is now past. In its place, some contemporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congregations—messages that avoid preaching a biblical text and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confrontation with biblical truth. … In far too many churches, the Bible is nearly silent. The public reading of Scripture has been dropped from many services, and the sermon has been sidelined, reduced to a brief devotional appended to music. Many preachers accept this as a necessary concession to the age of entertainment, and thus are left with the modest hope of including a brief message of encouragement or exhortation at the conclusion of the service. … When we preach, we must remember that what we proclaim is not just a little story, and not just a series of little stories. It is the big picture. We are accountable to the big story of God’s work as it is narrated in Scripture. …Our people can have a deep repository of biblical facts and stories, and yet know nothing about how any of it fits together.” — Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler [He Is Not Silent, 10/08] read more

A Fight to Help the Homeless

Despite a sagging economy that’s (literally) leaving more people out in the cold, New York City officials have ordered at least 22 churches to stop providing shelter for homeless people. As temperatures drop below freezing, more churches will be prone to open their doors for those on the streets, yet officials reminded these and other churches that they must be provide beds at least five days a week to be considered an official faith-based shelter. “We really don’t want people sleeping on the streets, on grates, on church steps. We want people sleeping in beds,’ said the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess, who added that the city has 8,000 beds waiting for bodies.

A church in Pittsburgh, however, recently had to fight against county officials for its right to care for the homeless. This summer, a zoning officer for Brookville Borough in Jefferson County cited pastor Jack L. Wisor of First Apostles Doctrine Church for a code violation of “group housing” by allowing three homeless men to live in his church’s parsonage. The pastor was fined $500 in August, while the church was instructed to not house any more homeless individuals. As a reply, Wisor recruited—of all things—the American Liberties Civil Union to help him file a federal lawsuit and argue that sheltering those living on the street is fundamental to the church’s Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach ministry. The result? A day before the case’s hearing, the Brookville Borough council gave the church permission to house up to eight homeless individuals (along with two staff members). Currently the church and borough are meeting to discuss future plans with the homeless ministry. [, 11/22/08;, 11/24/08] read more

Downsizing in the Aftermath of Scandal

The property of an Atlanta megachurch founded decades ago by Earl Paulk is on sale for $24.5 million.

Listed this month, the campus of the Cathedral at Chapel Hill, well known for its neo-Gothic, 6,000-seat sanctuary, is one of the largest religious facilities currently available in the United States, said Matt Messier, a Florida broker and principal of CNL Real Estate Services of Orlando, Fla., according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In recent years, membership at the Cathedral at Chapel Hill has declined from 10,000 regular attendees to roughly 1,000 after a series of sexual misconduct allegations against Paulk, 81. Current pastor D.E. Paulk, who grew up believing Earl Paulk was his uncle but recently learned he was his biological father, said the sale was triggered in part by the church’s evolving mission to be inclusive of people of diverse religions and sexual orientations.

“As we have become a ‘radically inclusive’ church our need for space has lessened considerably. ... If we were to preach an exclusive message we would need more space,” D.E. Paulk said. “The mission of the Cathedral has not changed, only expanded to include all of God's creation—Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, gay, straight, etc.”

D.E. Paulk, who also leads a group called the Pro-Love Organization, has advocated for gay rights in recent years and is an associate of the controversial preacher Carlton Pearson, who teaches that all people, not just Christians, are saved. In an interview with Charisma magazine, D.E. Paulk also alluded to universalism, saying the Cathedral does not seek to convert but to “convince everyone of Christ’s love.”

“We believe that Christ was successful, not a failure,” D.E. Paulk said. “Christ came to ‘reconcile the world to God,’ and we confess that Christ succeeded and ‘finished’ this work. If Christ was successful then the world was converted at Calvary. Salvation, then, becomes an awakening to God's free gift—not a conversion.”

Brandi Paulk, wife of D.E. Paulk and a pastor at the Cathedral, said the church property was valued at $31 million two years ago, but the price was lowered because of the economic downturn. She told the Journal-Constitution that the facilities were not being sold to pay legal expenses related to civil actions involving Earl Paulk, who has been hounded by claims of sexual misconduct since he was accused of committing adultery in 1960.

In February, a judge dismissed the most recent action against Earl Paulk. The lawsuit filed by Mona Brewer and her husband, Bobby, alleged that Paulk coerced the woman into a 14-year affair. The couple and their attorney were ordered to pay more than $1 million in legal fees. They are appealing the decision.

Although Earl Paulk remains archbishop of the church, he is not active in its daily operations. [, 11/13/08] read more

Downsizing in the Aftermath of Scandal, Part II

Atlanta’s Cathedral at Chapel Hill may be downsizing for the sake of being “radically inclusive,” but about 25 miles up the road, another high-profile church is downsizing for another reason: eviction. After failing to pay rent since July and owing more than $400,000 to its landlord, Global Destiny International Ministries, lead by Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, was officially barred from its former meeting place this week. On Sunday, after almost 250 members of the congregation met in a hotel, Weeks claimed his church was “re-sizing … to fit economic times. We are committed to being an absolutely debt-free ministry.” At one point Global Destiny had 3,400 members, but last year lost a reported 1,600 members in the wake of Weeks’ assault of ex-wife Juanita Bynum in an Atlanta hotel parking lot. “People do not understand the cost of running a worldwide ministry,” said Weeks, who has been dogged by numerous financial problems in recent years. “When something like this happens, it’s really an exodus into a new prophecy.” [, 11/16/08] read more

Preacher or Pimp?

QUOTE: “I was watching TBN and I was watching the Word Network and another Christian station, and I was just switching channels. I realized that with how they were dressed, I couldn’t really tell the difference between a preacher and a pimp. So then, after I listened to some sermons, I realized it was mostly prosperity preaching; for $39.99 you could get the two-set DVD or the CD or whatever. It was like [they were] selling the Word of God. … My thing is, especially in the black community, if a pastor is making millions of dollars—and there’s some reports that some pastors are receiving $35 million—no one in your congregation should be on welfare.” —Hollywood actor Ving Rhames, who studied the lives of various high-profile ministers for his role in Saving God as Armstrong Cane, a man who emerges from prison to become a pastor in his old Los Angeles stomping grounds [, 10/14/08] read more

Haggard Speaks Out

QUOTE: “The first thing I want you to know is I sinned. I really did sin. And I’m very sorry that I sinned. … There I was: 50 years old, a conservative Republican, loving the Word of God, an evangelical, born-again, Spirit-filled charismatic—all those things. But some of the things that were buried in the depths of the sea from when I was in the second grade started to rage in my heart and mind. … I’m very, very sorry that I sinned. My wife—all my sin and shame fell on her. People treated her as if she had fallen. And my children—they all went through carrying my shame.” —Ted Haggard, who formerly served as pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and senior editorial adviser of Ministry Today, preaching for the first time since his infamous sex-and-drug scandal rocked the Christian world two years ago. While addressing the congregants of Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill., led by a longtime friend of Haggard’s, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals revealed that his struggle stemmed from a sexual incident with an employee of his father when he was 7 years old and followed him throughout his life. Though New Life officials announced in February that Haggard had prematurely ended a spiritual restoration process, Haggard said, “I'm a stronger Christian than I've ever been in my life. I have a stronger marriage than I've ever had in my life.” He also passionately questioned how Christian leaders respond when scandals such as his surface: “I believe that [God] gives us opportunities every couple of years to communicate the gospel worldwide through secular media and we consistently blow it. A congressman in trouble, that's the time! A family member gets himself in horrible trouble, that's the time! A preacher gets himself in awful trouble, that's the time!” [, 11/12/08; AP, 11/13/08] read more

War of the Boards

In late October an atheist group in London responded to a Christian evangelism conference’s bus ads by blitzing the city with anti-God billboard ads. This Christmas season in the United States, Christians and atheists across the country are primed to stage a similar billboard war of beliefs. The American Humanist Association is sponsoring ads across the country—predominantly in major cities—throughout the holiday season that ask, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” The organization hopes to install similar billboards in 46 states as part of its “Godless Holiday Campaign.” And starting this week in at least two Colorado cities, a network of atheist, humanist and “freethinking” organizations is running billboards that read: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

“We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you,” said Fred Edwords, spokesman for the American Humanist Association. “Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”
In response, various Christian organizations have vowed to reply with billboards of their own. [AP, 11/12/08;, 11/12/08] read more

Out With the New, in With the ... Old?

October may be marked as "Pastor Appreciation Month," but Robert A. Schuller likely isn't feeling the love this week. On Saturday, the senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, Calif., was ousted from the church's long-running television show, Hour of Power, by his own father, Robert H. Schuller, who founded the renowned megachurch and handed over his ministry to his son in 2006. Though the younger Schuller will continue to lead the congregation, his dismissal from the show stemmed from a disagreement about expanding the show beyond a single personality and including other guest speakers. "The real minister's name that we honor is Jesus, not Schuller," said the elder during Sunday's service, adding that he hoped Hour of Power would continue to air "for decades, centuries to come. Because of that, we don't want one face ... to be a spokesman." Although Robert A. Schuller believed he could carry the show alone, he was overruled by both his father and the church's board of directors—a decision which has strained the father-son relationship. "We're trying to do the best we can and bring about a deeper reconciliation," said one church associate. "[Their relationship] is not irreparable, but it's gone through some difficult days." [, 10/27/08] read more

The Church That Isn't a Church

QUOTE: "I was called to start a mission, not a church. There is a difference. ... You don't try to preach ... what is sin and what isn't sin. A mission is a place where you ask nonbelievers to come and find faith and hope and feel love. We're a mission first, a church second." —Robert H. Schuller, explaining his and the church board's decision on Sunday. For decades, Schuller was known for preaching positive-thinking sermons that appealed to a wide audience, including those turned off by traditional religion. Since taking over three years ago, however, Schuller's son has veered slightly from this path by preaching directly from the Bible and taking stronger stances on various moral issues. [, 10/27/08] read more

Can't We All Just Get Along?

According to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, there are more than 550 "interfaith centers" in the United States—many of which have begun since 9/11—dedicated to combining various faiths in the same house of worship. "I wanted to build a church where Christians are not in charge," says one Seventh-day Adventist pastor who leads the Faith House Manhattan in New York. "We wanted to include all the people who have a right to belong and be partners in the discussion, not as outsiders that need to be converted, but as insiders that we need to be interdependent with." Not surprisingly, many interfaith centers are particularly attractive to women. "Interfaith organizations provide opportunities for women's leadership in a way that oftentimes the religious traditions themselves do not, simply because those positions do not need to be sanctioned by any religious head or body," explains Pluralism Project spokeswoman Kathryn Lohre. [Religion News Service, 10/27/08] read more


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