The Power of Liturgy

When I read this passage from John from this week’s lectionary,

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I hear this,


And then I hear it playing in my head all day long. Is there anything better than singing the scripture, and putting the word of God of in your heart as well as your mind?

As Augustine is supposed to have said, “The one who sings prays twice.”

Two Faces of Race and the Gospel

One of the things that I’ve come to take for granted in the Army is that military chapels and religious activities tend to be more ethnically diverse than their civilian counterparts. The extent of that diversity varies from “a little” to “a lot,” but even the most homogenous military congregations are still more integrated than those you find off post. The last military congregation I served was racially integrated to a degree that I’ve never seen in my own “progressive” denomination. A recent Pew study on racial diversity shows that many of the denominations that talk most about racial equality continue to be some of the most segregated. The funny thing about the members of my highly integrated military congregation was this: they hardly ever talked about race. They were, however, die-hard evangelicals who would make most progressives squirm. The people of that congregation found their unity in the Gospel as they understood it.

That’s one side of the coin. Now, the other.

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Church, Sect, Denomination

At First Things, Peter Leithart looks at David Martin’s 1962 paper on denominations, identifying four areas in which denominations fall between a church (a single, all-encompassing, culture-wide institution) and a sect on the sociological scale.

  • The boundaries of the denomination are not the same as the boundaries of salvation. Denominations see themselves as one valid expression of the wider church.
  • The unity of the broader church lies in a unity of experience rather than a unity of doctrine, confession or organization.
  • The ordained ministry is functionally pragmatic division of labor within “the priesthood of all believers.” Ordination is not primarily an indelible, sacred imprint on character on the ordained.
  • Denominaitons do not maintain the impossible standards of the sect or relax moral standards after the fashion of churches.

Finally, “Martin concludes by observing a connection between denominational organization and Anglo-American liberalism, individualism, and pragmatism. The denomination seems almost designed as the ecclesial facet of American civilization.”

The Army Engineer Who Changed Methodist Conferences

Henry_Martyn_RobertNumerous United Methodist conferences and agencies use Robert’s Rules of Order, or rules derived from them, to conduct their business. Many other civic and religious groups do as well. One might assume that the rules have been around forever. They were actually published in 1876 by U.S. Army Colonel Henry Martyn Robert, an engineer officer. The original title was, Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, but the words on the cover were “Robert’s Rules of Order,” and thus they have been known ever since.

Roberts saw the need for the rules when he was asked to preside over a meeting at the First Baptist Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1863. The meeting devolved into open conflict over the issue of abolition and the chaotic experience and lack of order troubled Robert. He determined that he would teach himself parliamentary procedure before he ever put himself in that kind of leadership postion again. He then put the same organizational and analytic skills to work that served him so well in the Army. He adapted rules and procedures from the U.S. House of Representatives, leaving out the parts that didn’t fit and adjusting others to better suit ordinary “societies.”

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Collegiality among Army Chaplains

Army chaplains should always regard each other as colleagues, even if they do not always regard their colleagues as religious kindred or partners in ministry.

So what do I mean? For my purposes, the infallible Wikipedia’s definition of collegiality is a good place to start.

Collegiality is the relationship between colleagues. Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. A colleague is an associate in a profession or in a civil or ecclesiastical office.

Army chaplains should see themselves as colleagues united in a common purpose who respect each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. The common purpose, however, is not advancing the practice of my own religion or religion in general, but providing for and supporting the free exercise of religion for all. That’s the reason the chaplaincy exists. As a part of the application process, every prospective Army chaplain signs a statement that affirms.

While remaining faithful to my denominational beliefs and practices, I understand that, as a chaplain, I must be sensitive to religious pluralism and will provide for the free exercise of religion by military personnel, their families, and other authorized personnel served by the Army.

Certainly, all chaplains enter the Army with a mandate from their endorsers. My purpose for serving as ordained elder in the Army includes preaching the word, administering the sacraments, offering worship and prayer, teaching the faith and making disciples – for those who want to receive the gifts I offer. I cannot equate, however, my own purpose as a Christian pastor with our common purpose as the Army chaplaincy.

Our common purpose is to serve as champions of religious freedom for all, even for those who want to keep as far away from religion as possible. Our common purpose is to nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the dead. Our common purpose is to facilitate each other’s religious ministry to the people who need the unique gifts each of us have to offer. Our common purpose is to provide for the needs of the human spirit for everyone in the command. Our common purpose to advise the commander on the role of religion in the lives of the organization’s members and in the area of operations. The Army chaplaincy is not a church or a religious institution. Rather, it exists to serve the needs of the Army, to care for its people in one very important aspect of their lives.

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A Christian pastor in Caesar's army