Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Eternal Punishment and the local Megachurch

Two pieces came together for me this week that led to this post.  I'm working on a new website for our church, Cambridge Drive Community Church, and a female friend of mine informed me that she and her husband are now attending one of the nearby megachurches with a typical evangelical theology.

I went to that megachurch's website to check it out and found the ubiquitous "We Believe" page.  Included on that page was a statement that all non-believers are going to eternal punishment in hell.  I have to say that multiple times someone has said to me about that church, "I go there... but I don't believe what they believe."  I'm pretty sure that virtually nobody who attends there really believes what the statement of faith says they believe from the pastors and elders down to the newest members.   I know that is true of my friend and her husband.  Let me explain.

If one truly believes that all of their unsaved neighbors, friends, and family members are going to suffer eternal punishment, then their behavior better change.  They literally better be out there doing everything they can possibly be doing, 24 hours a day, to get those folk saved.  There is simply no activity more important than that.  The church ought to have no activities that are not aimed either at direct evangelism or at training their members to evangelize.  Anything else is a betrayal of the billions of people who are not saved.  Telling your members how to have a better marriage is a waste of time when other folk (or some of them) are facing eternal punishment.  Worrying about responsible financial stewardship is irresponsible when something so big is at stake.  If they really believe what they say they believe, then that would define their sole agenda in ministry and in the life of their members.  When your neighbor's house is burning down, you don't teach a lesson about how to have a better sex life, you dial 911.  When your neighbor is facing eternal punishment... you get it.

Or of course, they could actually believe that and not care... but that is not my experience of the folk who attend that church who I have met.  They are good people with compassion and commitment.  They care about the people in their lives and they care about their community.  They think they're supposed to believe their neighbors are going to hell so they pay lip service, but they really don't believe it or they would do something about it.

I guess there is a third possibility... they believe some people have done things that are so terrible that they deserve eternal punishment and they're willing to allow for some collateral damage.  Some relatively good folk will end up burning forever so the really bad ones get their just deserts.  This time they may say that is the case, but again, I don't really believe it.  To make John Doe burn in hell forever just so Hitler can be punished too seems a bit extreme and again, out of character for the folk I know.

Now there is an alternative.  I am a universalist.  Simply put, I believe everyone gets saved.  That is another discussion and it obviously raises some serious questions, but I will point to a short piece quoted from William Barclay's autobiography where he gives his reasons for being a "convinced universalist."   Likewise, I hold those views based on both theology and scripture and believe they are the proper understanding of salvation. 

We won't have a "We believe" page on our website, but if we did, it would say that we believe that God's love and grace ultimately overcome all and all people are welcomed into God's arms.  They'd never say so, but I think that is what the folk at my local megachurch think too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I'm a guitar player.  I started playing in 1964.  It is a significant part of my self-identity.  It is my avocation, my therapy, and my primary artistic expression.  There have been times in my life when my guitar playing represented a significant portion of our income.  I've played in lots of different bands in multiple styles from funk to pop to singer/songwriter to even a little jazz. 

For about two years, I've been playing bass in the church band.  In spite of the fact that a bass guitar is tuned like the four lowest strings of a guitar one octave lower (which makes it very easy for  guitar player to find all of the right notes on a bass) playing guitar does not a bass player make.  Lots of guitar players think that qualifies them as a bass player but in the end, they sound like a guitar player playing at the bass rather than a bass player.   The bass line requires a different musical vocabulary and needs to be conceptualized in a completely different way than a guitar part.

I knew that going in and worked very hard to actually learn to be a bass player rather than just playing at bass.  I think I've done a pretty good job at that.  Playing bass is fun.  The fact that we have a couple of great drummers to play with makes it even more fun.  And having a good bottom end is really important for the church band.  There are negatives though.  I miss playing guitar.  Playing bass has impacted my guitar technique in a negative way.  And because I have limited time to spend on playing anything, putting time on the bass takes away time from guitar.

About two months ago that led me to place an ad on Craigslist for a bass player for the church band.  That would allow me to move back to guitar.  It is a volunteer position so we've had trouble finding someone.  In the meantime I came across the 10 Commandments for Bass Players.

  1. Thou shalt not *%$* up the groove.  *%$* up the notes if thou must but not the groove
  2. Thou shalt not lust after the guitar player's part.  He keepeth the fun.  Thou keepest the groove.
  3. Be thou not swayed by a drummer with crappy time, for thou art the keeper of the beat.
  4. Be thou not led into temptation before the gig.  After is cool.
  5. Thou pushest thy luck with 5 strings. 6 is a mortal sin, for thou hast no business in the upper register.
  6. Thou shalt not thump with thy thumb nor honk with a pick when thy fingers are the way of truth.
  7. Thou shalt not fear whole notes for they can be the way and the light.
  8. Thou shalt leave the fancy #$@% to thy bandmates so they might wrestle with their own bad taste.
  9.  Thou shalt change they strings once a decade whether they need it or not.
  10. Thou shalt tune thy bass before each and every gig even though it was in tune when last thou  put it away.
A couple don't really apply unless for example the temptation referred to in #4 are the cookies next to the coffee pot.   1, 2, 3, 7, & 8 did remind me of how important the bass part really is... and how much fun I have playing bass.  So, I'm not looking as hard for a bass player.  Who knows maybe I am a guitar player and  a bass player...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


The American Baptist Churches, USA was one of the first denominations to found a retirement plan for its clergy.   In 1911 a number of Baptist leaders, including John D. Rockefeller contributed seed money to start a fund for the "better maintenance of the ministry" and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board was founded.  When I was ordained in 1978, the clear expectation was that every congregation in the ABC would contribute the equivalent of 16% of the pastor's salary & housing to a fully funded retirement account, death benefits, and disability insurance.  That meant that 13% of salary and housing went into a 403B account.  My salary was paltry in those days but thanks to the wonders of compound interest and the general upward trend of the stock market, I have a fairly healthy retirement account these days.  Last week, I received my annual report for that account along with a projection of what my retirement will look like in seven years.  At the same time we received my wife's report, which while significantly smaller than mine for a variety of reasons, makes a nice addition to mine.  I don't know what Social Security numbers are but after making a conservative guess, I felt quite confident about the future for my wife and me.  We won't be rich, but we will be OK and could even afford to stay in our home with a Central Coast sized mortgage payment.

Then I thought about my children... and I worried.  Neither of my adult children have begun retirement accounts and neither has a work situation that provides one.  My daughter is saddled with significant educational debt that precludes the possibility of saving for retirement even if she was foresighted enough to plan that far ahead.  My son's income is not adequate to provide for housing and food let alone for long term planning.  Clearly demographics will not allow Social Security to provide adequate retirement income for them unless there are significant changes made.  I worry for both of them and their families. 

So... dreaming of changes...  I'd like to see a restructuring of the way that college debt works, freeing an entire generation of those terrible burdens.  At the very least, it should be treated the same way as other debt.  At the very most, educational costs should be seen as a social investment in the future of our country.  After all, historically we have provided for free the amount of education required to be a productive member of society.  Today that includes either college or trade school following high school.  A high school education is simply inadequate these days.  Then, for social security... remove the cap.  Social Security is not a retirement plan.  An individual is not making contributions to an account from which they will draw.  It is a tax that funds an important safety net that currently is applied in the most regressive way possible.  And perhaps there should be a means test in receiving the benefits.  Those with income or assets beyond a certain level do not receive Social Security benefits...  Of course, there is the conservative solution for the problem - cut the benefits and push many seniors either into poverty or back into an anemic workforce which already penalizes those with the the least amount of skill or, as Dave Ramsey says, "economic value."