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Eleven evangelical experts weigh in as death toll of New Zealand Muslims hits 50.

Last Friday, Muslim worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, suffered a terrorist attack at the hands of an avowed white supremacist. 50 people were killed, with another 50 injured.

Prior to the attack, the citizen of Australia posted a lengthy manifesto to social media, filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim themes. He then proceeded to livestream the shooting. Some victims originally hailed from Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Given recent attacks on Christians in their places of worship, including many in Muslim nations, CT invited evangelical leaders to weigh in: How should Christians respond to Christchurch?

Richard Shumack, director of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology, Australia:

The thing that came to mind immediately is Jesus’ beatitudes. How should Christians react to Christchurch? With mourning, a hunger for justice, and peacemaking. Christians must mourn with their Muslim brothers and sisters, thirst for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be brought to justice, and put every possible effort into brokering peace in an age of furious tribalism.

I also embrace wholeheartedly the poignant wisdom of Dostoevsky quoted by the Anglican bishop of Wellington, New Zealand: At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, “I will combat it with humble love.” If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it.

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There is legitimate reason to caution against a universal plea toward blind reproduction.

There is a growing awakening to the need of a multiplying church movement within North America, as the best—and likely only—means to bring the gospel within proximity to those who desperately long for good news.

As an advocate of this for many years, both as a church planter and as a pastor of a multiplying church, I am in complete agreement with this idea. I cannot envision a future where the gospel is accessible to all without the permeation of community after community with an Acts-esque behaving church.

But I would caution against a universal plea toward blind reproduction. In the clarion call to church planting, I have observed the launching of new congregations that have not necessarily been, from my limited perspective, a kingdom win.

There are some church ideas that, when are reproduced, actually seem to become more of a missionary liability than a gospel-engaging asset. Let me suggest five churches that, for the sake of the kingdom, should never be reproduced or exported. Please.

1. The Covetous Church: Those whose growth strategies comes at the expense of other churches. When a church planter’s sole idea is to gather the already evangelized in order to acquire critical mass (translation: a salary) and then theoretically execute a plan for the evangelization of his community, that planter is both imprudent and unrealistic.

Although the darkness emanating from the school of church growth has reduced a covenantal commitment to community into a transactional commodity within a free market religious economy, this is not a culture to be perpetuated.

Just because I can sustain a burst of grandeur to launch doesn’t mean my launch should come at the expense of existing churches. Covetous marketing schemes ...

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What we learn about her life and work from two releases of previously unpublished writings.

Years ago, I needed to write a brief biography of Elisabeth Elliot as part of a larger project. I searched for book-length biographies that I could draw on for information about her life and came to the startling realization that, despite Elliot’s status as one of the most widely-known American Christians of the 20th century, there were none available. To complete my project, I had to turn to primary sources.

Elliot loved to read biographies, and she wrote three of them herself. She once said, “We read biographies to get out of ourselves and into another’s skin, to understand the convulsive drama that shapes, motivates, and issues from that other life.” I suspect this is also why we write biographies. I found that after the brief biographical sketch was written, I went on thinking about Elliot, pondering the things that had “shaped, motivated, and issued from” her life. Somewhere in the process of poring over bad photocopies of old magazine articles obtained through interlibrary loan, I had been hooked, captured by the process of trying “to understand … that other life.”

A Fuller Picture

It’s tricky to write about a life. No one has the complete picture—not even the person whose life it is. My parents, who have known me longer than I’ve known myself, see me in a way I never can. Only my siblings know what it was like to grow up with me. Each of my friends knows me a little differently, as I respond to their different personalities. By definition, only I can even hope to know the person I am when I’m alone. Each of these “selves” is a facet of the whole person.

One of the biographer’s tasks is to angle the stage lights, so to speak, ...

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Under James MacDonald, Chicago-area megachurch may have been in “serious violation” of 4 out of 7 stewardship standards, says Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Harvest Bible Chapel had its accreditation suspended this week by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), after “new information” led to concerns that spending under former senior pastor James MacDonald was in “serious violation” of 4 of the agency’s 7 standards for biblical and ethical financial stewardship.

“During the indefinite suspension, the church may not represent that they are an ECFA member or display ECFA’s membership seal,” wrote president Dan Busby in a statement released Friday afternoon. Harvest used to display ECFA’s seal prominently on its online giving page.

“The investigation has been and will remain ongoing during the suspension as we work to determine whether Harvest Bible Chapel should be terminated, advised of the steps necessary to come into full compliance,” wrote Busby, “or whether they are in fact in compliance with our standards and should, therefore, be restored to full membership.”

On Wednesday, Julie Roys—author of a months-long investigation into MacDonald’s leadership published by World magazine that contributed to his February firing—devoted a blog post to critiquing ECFA’s affirmation late last year that Harvest remained a member in good standing despite what she called “glaring improprieties.”

Roys summarized her findings on Harvest’s “extremely disconcerting, and potentially fraudulent, activity”:

For example, the church has repeatedly used money donated for one purpose to fulfill other purposes. Money given to Walk in the Word, the broadcast ministry of recently-fired Harvest founder James MacDonald, was used to develop a deer herd at Camp ...

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Our message should encompass both Scripture and our congregants questions.

Recently, a group of pastors asked me this question: “Should we rethink the 30-minute sermon lecture in light of the many different ways classroom teaching is currently conducted?” They are part of a year-long initiative by the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Seminary to strengthen the quality of preaching. In an effort to answer this question, the group of pastors asked me to lead a preaching workshop centered on what we know about adult learning.

As I started to prepare, I asked myself, “What is underneath their question about sermon-as-lecture?”

Well, pastors want people to grow. Instead of having our carefully crafted words go in one ear and out the other, we hope for deep transformation. We hope that our communication shapes our listeners’ understanding of God, themselves, and the world so that their way of living would more closely reflect God and His Kingdom.

However, we know that just telling people what they should do is not enough. The old model of education believed that the teacher’s job was to deposit the information into the vessel of the student’s mind for future retrieval. Paulo Freire, who first used the term “banking” to describe this approach to learning, noted that teaching this way results in the facts becoming “lifeless and petrified…detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity.” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed 2000, 71)

In other words, teaching that is not embodied by the teacher and experienced within the relational community is at risk of being nothing but empty ...

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Seventh Circuit rules Clergy Housing Allowance is constitutional, despite challenge by Freedom from Religion Foundation.

For the second time, a popular tax break for pastors has been judged permissible under the US Constitution, despite efforts by an atheist legal group to prove otherwise.

Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s 2017 ruling that the Clergy Housing Allowance violates the First Amendment.

Offered only to “ministers of the gospel,” the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy, CT previously reported. GuideStone Financial Resources has called it the “most important tax benefit available to ministers.”

The allowance is currently claimed to the tune of $700 million a year, according to the latest estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

The October 2017 decision by Wisconsin district judge Judge Barbara Crabb had been a victory for the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), which “jeopardized the benefit for clergy in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin … and many predicted similar consequences nationwide,” wrote CT’s sister publication, Church Law & Tax (CLT) in an analysis.

In today’s ruling, a panel of three judges again refuted the claims of FFRF attorneys, deciding that the allowance passes muster according to two related Supreme Court rulings, Town of Greece v. Galloway and Lemon v. Kurtzman.

“FFRF claims Section 107(2) renders unto God that which is Caesar’s,” wrote circuit judge Michael Brennan. “But this tax provision falls into the play between the joints of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: neither commanded by the former, nor proscribed by the latter.”

The FFRF told the Associated Press it is reviewing its options. ...

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After shedding its for-profit status, GCU becomes a bigger competitor for traditional Christian colleges.

With 90,000 students online and on campus, Grand Canyon University (GCU) now ranks as the biggest Christian college in America.

After a decade growing its bottom line and its enrollment as a for-profit entity, GCU transitioned to nonprofit status in July 2018. Meanwhile, the for-profit college industry that GCU tried for years to leave behind continues to crash.

The Pentecostal Dream Center in Los Angeles has lost $38 million since buying a group of schools that used to be run by the second-largest for-profit operator in the country, the Education Management Corporation, The New York Times recently reported.

Last week, the US government cut off its student loan funds after finding that one of the acquired schools, Argosy University, used loans owed to students for its own expenses, and several of the campuses owned by Dream Center Education Holdings closed, as the US Department of Education recommends bankruptcy.

While GCU has been clear about trying to get away from the for-profit stigma, it was a standout success story amid the industry, avoiding many of the pitfalls that feed into the industry’s bad reputation and other schools’ demise.

“For example, the university said none of its programs failed the federal gainful-employment regulation, its loan default rates are low (6.2 percent), and the university receives 72 percent of its revenue from federal sources, which is well below the federal cap of 90 percent,” reportedInside Higher Ed.

For several years, GCU has been compared most closely not to fellow for-profits, but to another Christian institution whose distance education program became a runaway success: Liberty University.

GCU and Liberty were viewed together, as CT covered in 2014, as the for-profit ...

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A Supreme Court cruelty reveals how we can love our neighbors.

Had Domineque Ray been a Christian, he’d have been executed with a chaplain kneeling by his side, praying with him. But Domineque Ray was not a Christian, and he did not want a Christian chaplain. He wanted his imam present in the execution chamber instead.

At a January 23 meeting, the warden at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, refused Ray’s request. Ray’s imam, who has ministered at Holman for years, would have to watch the execution with the media. It’s policy, the warden explained. Ray asked to see the policy, since it was news to him. The warden refused. It turns out the policy wasn’t actually written down.

That was Wednesday. By Monday, Ray filed a complaint, saying the policy violated both the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment. The district court rejected it and said his execution should go forward: “Ray has had ample opportunity in the past twelve years to seek a religious exemption.” But the appeals court said Ray had a “powerful Establishment Clause claim. … Alabama appears to have set up precisely the sort of denominational preference that the Framers of the First Amendment forbade.” The claim might have been made at the last minute, the appeals court said, but that doesn’t mean Ray delayed.

It was a compelling argument. But on February 7 the Supreme Court issued a short 5–4 decision, saying Ray’s complaint had come too close to his execution date. That evening, he was executed.

Court observers, First Amendment scholars, and religious liberty advocates across the ideological spectrum were flummoxed and flabbergasted.

“In my 30 years of writing about religious freedom, I ...

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“The biggest barrier to reaching cultural Christians is that there is no clear starting point for a conversation.”

Ed: How do you define cultural Christianity?

Dean: Cultural Christianity is difficult to define because there is no established category that exists for this religious group. I believe it begins by understanding that this is an actual religion. Cultural Christians claim to be Christians, but by that claim they mean they are not atheists, agnostics, Jewish, or Muslim. They would quickly answer “Christian” if asked to indicate their religion, but the reasoning for the claim of Christianity has nothing to do with Jesus Christ or his gospel.

Cultural Christians are theists, consider themselves to be good people, and believe they go to heaven when they die. Exactly who is this god, what makes one good, and how one qualifies for heaven are questions the cultural Christian is not prepared to answer, or see as relevant.

These are people who are Christians by heritage, morals, and affiliation, but not by actual conversion, or convictions about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is a mistake to think of cultural Christians as only consisting of those in the Bible Belt, because a generic theistic belief exists all over our country, and shows up on polls and surveys as Christian.

Ed: What was your own experience of having grown up culturally Christian?

Dean: I went to our neighborhood mainline Protestant church every Sunday as a kid, unless I was sick or on family vacation. I was familiar with Bible stories such as David and Goliath and Noah’s Ark, had the Lord’s Prayer memorized, and knew that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem.

I attended a Fellowship of Christian Athletes retreat when I was 13 years old and heard the gospel for the very first time. Yes, I grew up going to church every Sunday and had never ...

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After an unflinching look at its racist past, SBC’s flagship seminary aims to honor a more diverse population on campus.

After overhearing a tour guide honoring the early leaders of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, Latevia Priddy felt like she had to speak up.

“It’s like you’ve given a one-sided version of the history of Southern,” Priddy, a biblical counseling student, explained later to a staff member at her campus job. “These men did some very awful things and refused to recognize people who looked like me as actual people but viewed them as property—and we’re praising their names. That’s not a fair assessment of history.”

When Priddy was asked to share more about her concerns, it marked a significant moment in her experience as an African American at the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), where she led a student group promoting racial reconciliation. “What’s fair and good and right is for us [Christians] to be truthful about what happened in the past,” she said.

Last December, Southern Seminary publicly owned the truth of its ugly racial history in a 70-page report chronicling the institution’s ties to slavery and claims of white superiority, including details down to how many slaves its founders owned and quotes from leaders’ theological defenses of inequality.

Though the SBC confessed and condemned the denomination’s early support of slavery in an official resolution in 1995, Southern’s reckoning “goes much further,” said Thomas Kidd, a Baptist historian at Baylor University. “It names names. It gets much more specific about who committed what sins and how.”

Several black students at Southern told CT they already knew about slave ownership among ...

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