Hymnus Deo

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Meredith Kline, requiem in pacem

Those of you who travel in Reformed and Presbyterian circles will no doubt be familiar with the work of pastor and theologian Meredith Kline. I just received word that he died last night, and so I thought I would pass the word along through this blog. Here is the email I received:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We grieve with the Kline family at the loss of Dr. Meredith Kline last night. Dr. Kline died peacefully after a long illness. Though he is famous for his Old Testament Biblical theology, he is also known by many in the church for his gracious love and gentle spirit, and his love for the gospel of Christ. There will be a service in memory of Dr. Kline on Wednesday April 18 at 11 a.m. at the church. In lieu of flowers, the family (at the request of Dr. Kline) requests that donations be made to Faith Promise care of First Presbyterian Church.

Pray for Mrs. Kline (Grace) and for the whole family at this time of sadness even as we rejoice in the grace shown us in Jesus Christ.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor David


David O' Leary, Pastor

First Presbyterian Church North Shore

179 County Road, Ipswich, MA 01938


Sunday, April 01, 2007


One of the many things that I happily left behind when I departed from Evangelicalism was, as one writer put it, “involvement”. By “involvement”, I mean the sort of mentality that one has to always spend his extra time in the various activities or “programs” of the local church. There is a reasonable theology behind this, though, and that is the notion of the priesthood of all believers and the idea of spiritual gifts. If everyone is a priest in the New Testament church, and every believer is given at least one spiritual gift, then shouldn’t everyone be seeking to use that gift?

I won’t attempt a detailed discussion of the texts that are used to buttress this. It is important to say that the Biblical texts that deal with this are few. And in Evangelicalism, where there is lacking a strong Biblical understanding of the ordination of ministers, some texts that actually apply strictly to ordained ministers are spun into the discussion of, as it is also called, “every man ministry”. Having said that, though, it is clear Biblically that one manifestation of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is that God empowers each Christian to accomplish certain tasks within the context of the body of Christ. This is made clear in, among other texts, 1 Corinthians 12.

But the problem lies in how this theology has been applied in our American social setting. In the early church context, we find an underlying structure to the practice of spiritual service, and that structure is community. Of course, community is another word that is misused incessantly as well. For instance, we speak of the “internet community”. Or we speak of the “global community”. But a true definition of community doesn’t allow for the impersonalness that exists fundamentally in uses like this. True communities are local by necessity, because true communities are personal. But we individualistic Americans love to be impersonal. We become experts at keeping others at a safe distance.

This same love for the impersonal shows up in how we do local church. We set up structures to make ourselves feel like we’re accomplishing something, like we’re doing “kingdom work”, and then insist that everyone else must join us in it. We create programs in the church, which we usually call “ministries” (a misappropriation of a good, Biblical word), and work our dangedest to keep the machine going at all costs. But all along there are huge problems. People don’t create and sustain deep, lasting friendships. Real sacrifice, like what the Scriptures talk about, doesn’t take place. Older Christians don’t take younger Christians under their wings to disciple, and younger Christians, having no pattern to follow, don’t even think of visiting the elderly in the church. Single people aren’t invited to spend time in the homes of married couples, and so section themselves off into singles’ groups in order to find some semblance of community and to stem the tide of loneliness.

This, generally speaking, describes my situation in the church I grew up in. My father died when I was eleven, and I was eighteen before any man in the church attempted to mentor me. He was a blessing when he came along, but I needed someone seven years earlier. Sure, we had a youth group. We had youth meetings every Sunday evening in which we sang, prayed, and someone taught us from the Bible. And once a month we had an outing of some sort or another. But the rest of the week, the youth leaders had nothing to do with us. And the elders of the church made little attempt to impact my life. A couple of them managed to show up on a couple of occasions when I was giving my mother an especially hard time. But, of course, that’s the easy way to do it. Anybody can show up with much bravado and breathe threatings of the fires of hell for a couple of hours. Real sacrifice means getting involved in someone’s life on a regular basis. The other is little more than the stroking of one’s own ego.

Now, I don’t doubt that the youth leaders and the elders of the church thought they were doing exactly as they should. I also don’t doubt that they had some measure of genuine love for those they were responsible for. But that doesn’t change the fact that a real failure took place. If a person is wrong, but sincere, they’re still wrong, no matter how sincere.

As I got older and became an adult, there was no shortage of things in the church for me to do. Everybody had a task for me, and I, wanting to serve God and believing that involvement was the way to go, got myself into every program I could. And I proceeded to burn myself out emotionally and spiritually, the effects of which I carry to this day. Part of the reason, I believe, for my negative experience was this lack of true community.

I’ve visited many churches in the years since leaving my home church, and I’m sad to say that I have witnessed the same things at most of those other churches. People like being busy, and they like making other people busy too. And rarely does anybody ever ask the questions, “Is any of this helpful? Is any of it necessary? How much of it is Biblical?” Relationships are neglected, and then we wonder at the amount of sexual immorality that abounds in the church.

So I guess you can call this venting. It’s just a piece written in frustration. The trick about community, of course, is that you can’t pull it off without the cooperation of others. I do think that God, in His wise providence, oftentimes prevents us from entering community with others, because He sees negative effects it will have on us that we don’t see. I’m thankful that He led me away from the church I grew up in, and if there had been a greater sense of community in that church, only He knows how much harder it would have been for me to leave. Nonetheless, the problem still stands, and I am wearied of it. While the rest of the Christian church in America today may be content with the hollow smiles and casual handshakes, I’m done with it. I’ve had my fill of shallow relationships, and I don’t want anymore.