Do We Need the Church?

Originally posted on :


In our fiercely individualistic and overly cynical society the statement, “I don’t need the Church,” has become somewhat of a truism. Typically followed by something like, “I don’t see why I need to go to some building every Sunday when I can experience God just as well on my morning walk?” Faith or, as it is nebulously referred to these days, ‘spirituality’, is viewed as purely a private affair. Church is perceived as some drafty building filled with stuck up, superstitious, people who gather to hear some stuck up preacher foist his opinions on a bunch of mindless drones for an hour. Ironically, these sentiments are increasingly shared by Christians who feel all they really need is their Bible and a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now, it is certainly true that we can experience God on our morning walks (or whilst doing any number of things); it is equally true…

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How Not to Define ‘Atheism’

The Maverick Philosopher is a great blog (far better than mine) and this article, in particular, is very interesting . . .

“Note first that atheism cannot be identified with the lack of theistic belief, i.e., the mere absence of the belief that God or a god exists, for that would imply that cabbages and tire irons are atheists.  Note second that it won’t do to say that atheism is the lack of theistic belief in persons, for there are persons incapable of forming beliefs.  Charitably interpreted, then, the idea must be that atheism is the lack of theistic belief in persons capable of forming and maintaining beliefs . . . KEEP READING . . .”


On Authentic Faith with St. John of Damascus

“God is not interested in what happens to turn out to be good or in what appears to be good. He is interested in the purpose for which a thing is done. As the holy fathers say, when the intellect forgets the purpose of a religious observance, the outward practice of virtue loses its value. For whatever is done indiscriminately and without purpose is not only of no benefit – even though good in itself – but actually does harm.”

God Dragged Me Kicking and Screaming or, Facing My Fear of Vocational Ministry (Part 2)


“You’re a closet Catholic Josh; and I’m going to convince you to convert.” Thus spoke Frank; a young homeless man who had entered the shelter a hopeless drunk and, now, stood before me sober, with a rosary, a Bible, and a huge smile on his face. He and several of our other residents had been visiting St. Patrick’s (a large Roman Catholic Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth) on Sundays and regularly attended catechumen classes every Wednesday night.

I watched in amazement as Frank and his friends transformed their living spaces into little churches–hanging postcards with beautiful iconography and the prayers of the saints on their lockers–and huddled together every day to study the Bible and read the Church Fathers. I noticed a marked change in their behavior as well: they cleaned up, quite associating with some of the rougher characters in the shelter, and became far more compliant with staff. When they were not working, or looking for work, they spent their time discussing theology. Sadly, such a drastic transformation rarely took place among our residents. Which is why their case caught my attention

Suffice it to say, Frank did not convince me to convert that day; but, I was very impressed by his attempt; and, he was right . . . I was a closet Catholic (or, more correctly, a closet Orthodox Christian). Earlier that year, my wife and I had begun to question our Evangelical Protestant worldview. Over time, and through much prayer and study, we had come to doubt the doctrine of Sola scriptura and came to embrace the ancient Christian belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We also began to wonder if there was something to the notion of apostolic succession as well. Soon we began visiting a Russian Orthodox parish on date nights and developed a friendship with the priest and deacon there.

In spite of this, however, we were not ready to convert to Orthodoxy or Catholicism; we still had too many questions and struggled to accept things like praying to saints, Mariology, venerating icons, and other such things.  Therefore, seeing that God was clearly calling me to vocational ministry, we continued with our plans.  I was to pursue ordination through the C&MA.

Yet, something unusual started happening. The moment I submitted my application to the district superintendent (the C&MA equivalent of a bishop), requesting permission to pursue ordination, I began having visions.  These visions happened multiple times a day, and typically when I walked down the street in front of the shelter. They came upon me in waves–that is, I did not intentionally stir up the images I experienced or consciously choose to think about them–and I could not stop having them. It’s also important to note, for the skeptics reading this, that I was wide awake, in my right mind, and not taking any medication or drugs, when they occurred.

What were the visions of? One simple thing: me wearing a robe. In each vision I saw myself walking down East Lancaster (the street I worked on) wearing a black robe (like the one’s worn by Orthodox priests). I was baffled by this. For, although my wife and I were interested in Eastern Christianity, and had started questioning some of our evangelical beliefs, we were far from ready to convert.  Our hearts and minds were firmly set on pursuing a life of ministry within the C&MA. After a while, these visions drove me crazy. Mainly because I couldn’t make them stop!

The visions persisted up to the day I faced the ordination panel–the pastors assigned to interview me and determine if I was to be trained. During my interview, which lasted over two hours, something unusual happened. The first half of the interview was comprised of questions about my personal life and the second half focused on matters of theology. The primary aim of their questioning was to ensure I accepted the C&MA’s official statement of faith.

Obviously, I had come to the interview prepared–having studied the statement of faith carefully and read the supporting Bible verses–and felt I could, in good conscience, agree with most of what it said.  However, during the interview, all of this changed. The first thing they questioned me on was article four which states that the bible is the, “only rule of Christian faith and practice.” I suddenly found that I could barely answer the question.  A million thoughts flooded my head in a manner of seconds!  Here are five of them:

(1) The scripture verses used to support this article (i.e., 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:15-€“16) did not say that the Bible is the only rule but, rather, that the Bible is good for or profitable for instruction, or that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

(2) In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it state that the Bible is the only rule of Christian faith and practice.

(3) On multiple occasions St. Paul commands us to hold fast to the traditions of the Church (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2).

(4) Nearly all of the other articles of faith the C&MA were committed to contained theological interpretations and vocabulary that are not in the Bible; but, rather, inferred or implied by passages in the bible.  For instance, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ, the doctrine of salvation, and the end times, were all essential articles of faith but not obvious beliefs that would be apparent to someone who picked up and read the Bible for the first time (having no prior theological experience or contact with Western culture).

(5) So, it seemed, therefore, that a large part of Christian faith and practice was dependent upon how we interpret the Bible; and how we apply our interpretations to other areas of life that the Bible never speaks on. But, if this was the case, how do we know which interpretation is correct or true? Are all of them right? Or only one of them? Or is anyone’s correct or true?

These five thoughts hit me like a ton of bricks; and nearly caused me to stop the interview. However, I pressed on–paying lip service to the supporting verses and trying to be as vague as possible without lying.

Then came a discussion about the annual council the C&MA held; in which delegates from all of the churches joined together to discuss and vote on important matters. One of the interviewers stressed that this was a biblical idea; citing the first council in Jerusalem recorded in Acts to back it up. He then asked me if I was ready and willing to submit myself to the decisions made during those meetings?  Again, my head began to race:

(1) Historically, Christians never stopped following this pattern of holding meetings to make decisions on important issues. In fact, after Jerusalem, there were eight ecumenical councils that made proclamations on such important things as: the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Two Natures of Christ, the Canon (what books belong in the bible), and many other important matters. Plus, the Catholic Church continued having large councils to make decisions of this sort up to the present day.

(2) In fact, from what I knew a that point, the Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican churches each had strong claims to being the organic continuation of that same Holy Apostolic Church that held these councils. Indeed, it was highly probable that one of them was the Church founded by Christ in the New Testament!

(3) If I was willing to submit myself to the decisions made at C&MA councils why was I not willing to submit myself to the decisions made by one of the ancient churches which have a more valid claim to authority?

(4) Also, doesn’t the need to have councils to make decisions like this count as more evidence against Sola scriptura?

Once again I bumbled my way through this question; trying hard to ignore the torrent of doubts now swirling around my mind.

In the end I was approved for ministry within the C&MA, made an assistant pastor, assigned a mentor, and shipped off to Houston to work with several church plants (missions) and begin training for ordination.  Before moving to Houston, however, I once again struggled with my call to vocational ministry. This time, not from a lack of desire, but with the uncertainty and doubts that clouded my mind.  Was I really doing the right thing? Was I pursuing ministry in the right church? Was it right for me to teach and preach when I had so many doubts and questions?

I’ll finish this story in part three . . .

In the Footsteps of the Saints

J. Matthan Brown:

As many of you already know, I serve as the pastoral assistant at St. Theodore of Tarsus Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Cardiff. We are excited to announce a ‘Sponsored Prayer Walk’ on Saturday the 3rd of October! Read this great post from the parish priest, Fr. James Siemens, for more details:

Originally posted on Symposium:


It has been a long time since I last posted something, but a forthcoming event in the life of my parish has moved me to hit the keyboard once again.

The Parish of Saint Theodore of Tarsus has been working to serve the people of Cardiff and South Wales since December, 2013. Our specific mission has been to preach the Gospel as faithfully as possible according to the traditions of the Kyivan Church – that is, the Eastern Church into which the people of Rus’ were baptised in 988, then re-united with the Western Church in 1595 – in the belief that, by living out these traditions boldly and in charity, we would be offering the people of Wales the opportunity to encounter the same ancient faith planted by Saint David, in a beautiful and mysterious form that might speak across some of the divides that characterise contemporary society.

To this end, we have endeavoured to…

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On the Nature of Worship with David Bradshaw

“I had supposed that worship is fundamentally an act of communication, in which one expresses to God one’s adoration and devotion and, presumably, receives some sort of message in return. But Orthodox worship is not like that. It is not so much an act of communicating something to God as that of entering into his presence. Better yet, it is to enter into the presence not of God alone, but of the angels, saints, and all of creation, all joined in unceasing praise of the Holy Trinity.”

God Dragged me Kicking and Screaming or Facing My Fear of Vocational Ministry (Part 1)


Picture Courtesy of GoodGuysWearBlack.Org

My mother tells me that when I was five years old she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. After listing several of the typical things little boys aspire to–a superhero, a policy officer, a fireman, etc.–I suddenly grew quite.

“You know what Mommy,” I said, evidently in the most serious tone, “what I really want to be is a pastor.”

When I was twelve I remember, during a time of private prayer and reflection, feeling very strongly that God was calling me to be a pastor and this filled my heart with joy. It gave me something to look forward to and to prepare for; a goal in life.  But, then, something changed.

When I got to high school I began to challenge this calling (big surprise I know). I became enamoured with art and music and spent all of my free time drawing, making independent films, and playing music. Leading up to graduation I became obsessed with being a professional rock star and dedicated every waking hour, outside of school, to an alternative/punk band I played the drums for. Touring the world and playing music was the only future I could imagine. The idea of being a pastor seemed increasingly irrelevant and positively boring.

This obsession carried on after high school as well. I moved back to my home town in Texas and began writing and recording my own music. Soon I befriended another young aspiring musician and we formed a band that played in venues all over Dallas and Fort Worth. Much to the consternation of my beautiful new bride, my friend and I spent nearly every waking hour rehearsing, writing, recording, and even choreographing our show.

Over time we began to see success. We performed at a local ‘battle of the bands’ and, within minutes of starting our set, had nearly half the auditorium crowding the stage and screaming. We lost the competition because we hadn’t brought enough people (part of your score was based on how many people bought tickets specifically to see your band play); yet, were swarmed by throngs of ‘fans’ asking for our autographs after the show. Even the band that won praised our performance. Soon we were offered a regular spot at a club in Deep Ellum Dallas and receiving invitations to play at other popular clubs as well.

In spite of this apparent success, I was a failure. I was neglecting my wife, neglecting my school work (yes, somehow I managed to stay enrolled at Tarrant County College), and performing poorly at work (surprisingly, playing in a band didn’t bring home the bacon). Most importantly, I was ignoring God.

For in the midst of everything I knew, deep down, that I was not meant to be a rock star and that, in truth, I was simply running away from vocational ministry. Music had become a false god in my life.  You see, there is nothing wrong with music, or art, or working hard at doing these things well. In fact, these things are GREAT goods that MUST be pursued to the best of our abilities for the glory of God. No, the problem wasn’t music; the problem was me. I was behaving like Jonah; I was fighting the Lord, running away from His direction, and had made an idol out of my song writing.

When this finally sunk in, I begrudgingly quite the band and began to focus on my studies at seminary. I had enrolled before the band broke up in a somewhat half hearted gesture at obeying the Lord.

While my experience at seminary was enriching and instilled in me a love for learning, it also opened up a new temptation. I began to obsess over philosophy and theology. Again, these things are GREAT goods and MUST be pursued. The problem was not with academics or learning; it was with me. I was still only half-heartedly serving the Lord and trying to find anything more interesting and important than fully embracing vocational ministry. Soon all I spoke about was philosophy and I began to obsess over the idea of earning postgraduate degrees and becoming a professor.

After graduating with a bachelor of arts in humanities I determined to apply to the University of Dallas to pursue a masters degree in philosophy. During this time my family and I (we now had two beautiful girls!) lived in a run down apartment and I worked as a manager at a homeless shelter in one of the most dangerous streets in the US. My wife was not comfortable with my decision to pursue further studies at that time, reminding me of my calling to vocational ministry. I knew she was right, but was too stubborn and selfish to admit it. Something was holding me back; something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I believe it was partly because I had a distorted view of what being a pastor actually entailed. I thought it meant abandoning my love for music and my love for learning and scholarship; and being someone I wasn’t.

Two incredible things happened that changed my life.

First, I literally lost my ability to write. I had visited the campus at UD, gotten references from former professors, and filled out most of the application. All that remained was a personal statement, expressing why I wanted to study philosophy, and containing a brief intellectual history. Only a few short paragraphs; easy right? Except that every time I sat down to write nothing happened. This went on for several weeks and I began to get stressed (as did my wife, who wondered why I hadn’t completed my application with the deadline quickly approaching). I remember spending six hours at a Starbucks and only typing one sentence. Something was desperately wrong.

The second thing involved alcohol . . . lots of alcohol.

At the homeless shelter I worked at the residents and guests were required to attend chapel before each meal. Most of the time local pastors would lead the service but, on occasion, someone would cancel or a spot would go unfilled. In the case of a vacancy I would often step in to preach the sermon and lead a prayer. Accordingly, I was known as being a preacher among many of the homeless men and women we served.

One evening, just before the sun went down, I walked from the main building to a storage facility directly across the street. Suddenly I heard a voice screaming my name, “Joshua! Joshua!” I turned and saw one of our regulars stumbling down the street, obviously inebriated, and headed in my direction. “Joshua!” he cried again as he came up to me and grabbed my shirt, “Don’t fight God’s calling! Don’t fight being a preacher! You must preach!” I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him. Soon he drifted off, stumbling down the street and shouting random things at passers by.

The next evening at precisely the same time, as I crossed the street to go to our storage facility, I once again heard a voice shouting my name, “Joshua! Hey, Joshua!” I looked up and, to my great surprise, saw the same inebriated homeless man stumbling down the street in my direction. He caught up to me and grabbed me by the shirt again, the smell of alcohol nearly overwhelming, and stared at me in the eyes, “You must not fight God’s calling! You must be a preacher!” he shouted in a raspy voice. Once again, only this time somewhat shaken, I put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him. This time tears streamed down my cheeks. He then carried on down the street in his drunken stupor.

The following evening . . . you guessed it! . . . it happened again, only it was  a completely different man. Just as drunk and smelly, but delivering the same message, at the same time and in the same place as the other two incidents.

That night I cried. The tears I shed not out of sadness or fear or anger but from the overwhelming feeling of love. The love of a God who cared so much for me that He took time to speak directly to me; and through the most unlikely people in the most unlikely of places. I also felt extremely humbled. I told my wife what had happened and we agreed that I should stop pursuing an MA in philosophy at that time. Instead, I was going to apply to become an ordained minister in the C&MA*.

I contacted the District Superintendent (i.e., bishop) and went for an interview a few weeks later. After that I submitted a formal application. In the application I had to write several pages explaining why I wanted to become a pastor and provide a brief account of my spiritual history. Astoundingly, after months of writers block, I wrote everything with ease.

This, however, is only the beginning of my story. It has been five years from the day I was accepted into the C&MA’s ordination program but I am not yet a fully ordained minister. I am now living in the UK and about to begin my studies to become ordained as a deacon in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  So, what’s up with that?

I’ll explain in part two . . .

*C&MA does not stand for ‘Country Music Awards’, or ‘Christian Mormon Association’, and is not some kind of cult. It stands for ‘Christian & Missionary Alliance’-an evangelical denomination which originated in New York in the 1800’s after a Presbyterian minister broke from his church to reach out to Italian doc workers.








On the Limits of Science with Alvin Plantinga

“Of course we don’t expect science to give us the answer to just any question. Science can’t tell us whether slavery is wrong, for example, though it might be able to tell us about some of the social or economic consequences of slavery. We don’t expect science to tell us whether, say, Christian Trinitarianism is true: that’s not its business. (Nor does it make much sense to suggest that since we now have science, we no longer need any other sources of knowledge–religion, for example. That is like claiming that now that we have refrigerators and chain saws and roller skates, we no longer have need for Mozart.)”

There is no “Us or Them”

Originally posted on :

“We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them”

– Gungor

Last year Gungor released a delightfully dark, lyrically deep, and musically sophisticated album entitled I Am Mountain. Michael Gungor, the band’s founder and front man, also wrote an honest and insightful blog exploring his doubts about biblical literalism and fundamentalism. As a result, they were heavily criticized and even anathematized by many conservative evangelicals (Cf. Ken Ham, Q90 FM Radio, & Al Mohler).

On a personal note, I was living in Wake Forest at the time the controversy broke out and very disappointed when, at the last minute, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary canceled a Gungor concert I had been planning to attend for six months.

Gungor recently released a new song entitled “Us for Them” (which is embedded above). I find the…

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Let the Little Children Come Unto Me …. Why Noisy Children in Mass Are a Good Thing.

(Here’s an excerpt from my wife’s new blog This Beautiful Dust. She’s an amazing writer, a deep thinker, and one of the most godly women I know. For the full article just follow the link to her blog . . .) 

I was sat in Mass today. Well. I use the word sat liberally … i was squatting, standing, kneeling, wrestling, rocking , shhhh’ing and sighing and sometimes sitting. I saw many smiles as I endeavored to maintain peace among my brood.

I had a feeling our mid – Mass circus was not amusing or endearing to a lady in the pew behind me. It became evident when the command to offer the sign of peace was given, and she merely glared at me and didn’t offer her hand … but to everyone else she did.  Every mishap, saw a more intense pursing of the lips.

There would have been a time when this broke my heart … in a I’m never going back to Mass until my children are 18 kind of way  … but something I have learnt is how much Jesus delights in His little children and instead, I smiled, because I knew our little busy family’s antics were a little thread in the sanctifying work in the hearts of every soul that heard the cries or observed the perpetual movement and so I smiled, and crossed for the lady of pursed lips, for I knew that Jesus would be working in her hardened displeasure . . . KEEP READING