The men of the Christian Restoration Association have profitability on their minds. Not temporal profitability, which other leadership conferences obsess over, but spiritual profitability which is lacking in the life of many of our institutions.

We are now in the midst of a nationwide upheaval of revisionism regarding the nature of the church. Personal passion, coupled with a desire not to bruise the feelings of the modern church-goer – many of whom have never come to terms with their own sinfulness and resent those who insist they do – have led to the muting of timeless doctrines and long-standing moral standards. Indeed, the very phrase ‘sound doctrine’ is in disfavor giving way to the eminently more fashionable ‘tribal traditions’ – as though the issue of orthodoxy were of no more consequence than the choice of trussing or spatchcocking a turkey when preparing a Thanksgiving day dinner.

In the midst of this depressing demonstration of a generation lacking the nerve to even acknowledge its past, came, in pleasant contrast, the recognition of those who both publicly and privately continue to preach the profitability of all Scripture, God-breathed, both Testaments, cover-to-cover.

This past October, the CRA hosted its 12th Biennial Bible Conference, during which it presented heartfelt and respectful recognitions, known as Sword & Trowel awards, to three men for their lifetimes of distinguished Christian service.

The presentations were measured and moving. Set on a plaque, its most prominent feature is a shield representing the Christian faith. Centered within the shield – a large double-edged sword, bearing the precision and power of God’s Word; underneath which sits a mason’s trowel symbolizing the ongoing work of every generation, skillfully erecting a spiritual dwelling place for God. Finally, each of the opposing sides of the escutcheon bears an inscription: “BUILD the KINGDOM” and “DEFEND the FAITH.” Thus invoking the image of the great builder, Nehemiah, in full battle gear, inspecting the perimeter of God’s city, ever vigilant to the threat of violent opposition.

Not far from these proceedings is a contemporary conference room with walls displaying similar plaques, upon which are the etched names of many others – real names of actual men culled from Restoration Movement archives; the evangelists, and preachers, and missionaries, and professors, and theologians, who, themselves, stood next to one another restoring and defending New Testament Christianity, frequently under dire circumstances.

Displayed alone, these memorials are highly evocative. But they are doubly evocative for their placement, where past directors of the CRA and editors of the Christian Herald are, themselves, venerated.

Attending both the CRA conference and Spire’s virtual conference within days of one another, I could not help but observe the odd asymmetry these two organizations maintain. Together, the two represent the latest and growing fissure in our movement’s fractious history. Here, side by side, lie two competing ideologies in our long twilight struggle. When you think of one, it’s hard not to think of the other.

Mark the differences. At the Spire conference, foreground and background are reversed. Passion is dominant, reason an afterthought. At the CRA conference, reason is foremost, emotion an augmentation. Spire employs the use of story telling and sentimentalism. The CRA, through careful exegesis, cultivates principles used to disentangle the ambiguities of life. The Spire Conference envelopes you in melioristic doctrines of congregational self-improvement; the CRA conference thrusts you into the actuality of spiritual warfare, its crucible of disappointment and courage. One marked by the lack of a definite plan, endlessly pivoting; the other, struggle – faithfully rendered.

At the Spire conference Scripture is peripheral, often omitted. At the CRA conference Scripture is central, integral to every consideration. The CRA Conference does not flinch about its identity: “The Christian Restoration Association’s Bible Conference.” One could refer to Spire’s event using similar language. But they do not. Their marketing reads “Spire Network’s 2020SpireConference. Lead A Movement.” This could just as easily refer to a tech industry convention or to a motivational seminar. If expanding the Kingdom of God is at the heart of what you claim to do, why not incorporate the name of the One on whose behalf the event exists? Is it not written, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord?”

Naturally, these differences reflect the worldviews of their respective leaders. One would expect an opaque identity for an organization so hostile to its past, and the other, an identity so transparently dependent on the Perfecter of its faith. However, these two organizations reflect not just a difference in approach. They reflect, above all, the difference between us.

Spire is a vessel for saying: sound doctrine doesn’t liberate, it enslaves. The current structure of the church should be overhauled, updated to 21st century standards, not as a result of ideology but on the basis of instinct. It just doesn’t feel right. Reinvent it. Expand it. Start over. The CRA, dedicated to restoring the past, reflects a different sensibility. It believes the Church is a singularly Divine institution and any campaign to update, alter, or to improve its current expression must wholly rest on the grand design of piety. A design which grants liberty on issues of personal preference but requires deference to the principles and precepts of His revealed Will.

And so the chasm continues to expand. The split, instantiated by these two conferences, began two decades ago as the boundless intemperance of the Church Growth movement became a tyranny within our association. In the interim, the banal atrocities midwifed on behalf of a small group of Church Growth demagogues and profiteers have accelerated the division, ultimately demonstrating that dishonesty and aggression don’t pay.

For example, last year’s inaugural Spire conference got off to an inauspicious beginning as Spire’s corporate leaders were publicly shamed on stage by their own keynote speaker. It seems Spire’s benighted ‘leaders’ were intending to use their online platform and downloadable app for unethical financial gains in spite of the health risks these digital venues presented to potential users. Health risks that were clearly made known to them months in advance. This young, sincere, and high-minded speaker, naively thinking he was there to share his testimony, balked when specifically asked how gaming industry strategies could be leveraged to feed church coffers. Seemingly stunned by the question, he pointed out that doing so would only contribute to the nation’s already spiking statistics of depression and suicide. Therefore, he indicated, online gaming strategies used to extend length-of-time visits on church platforms was something the church has no business doing.

You see, while Spire aggressively promoted their online platform as an innocuous social network “to bring leaders together,” the intention was to surreptitiously collect private user data which could then be sold to backend dealers operating in the murky, unregulated bog of Big Data.

This imbroglio (in combination with other well-documented deceptions) caused Spire’s highly acclaimed digital platform to dissolve before ever getting off the ground, simultaneously liquidating Spire’s credibility. Unsurprisingly, Ozymandias lies forever buried and forgotten under the digital sand of an online desert.

Meanwhile, as the dust begins to settle, we see faithful institutions like the CRA under new director John Mitchell (no, not that John Mitchell); Hillsboro Family Camp and Person to Person Ministries under newly appointed director Alex Eddy; and Central Christian College of the Bible under the indefatigable Dr. David Fincher continue to grow, expand and thrive. And these are only a few. But the point is many ICC congregations are sending a message. We are a movement that remains devoted to sound doctrine, as well as Christianity’s first century norms, and there is a tremendous upside for institutions with leaders who program in that fashion. And real losses for those who don’t.

Terry Sweany has served as senior minister of Playa Christian Church since 2006. His education includes a MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Hope International University and a BA from Cincinnati Christian University. He is author of the book Life In Ministry and his greatest joy is helping people deepen their relationship with God. Terry lives in Westchester, California  and is a member of the LAPD Pacific Division Clergy Council. He and his wife, Patty, have been married 34 years and have a daughter and granddaughter.


A Minister’s Plea For CIY

Christ In Youth (CIY) is easily one the most widely recognized institutions operating within our ICC association today. Founded in 1968 by Ozark’s Professor Bob Stacy, it has been a faithful, doctrinally-sound enterprise serving generations of ICC churches and families nationwideBob’s visionary genius and tremendous faith certainly helped set things in motion, but above all, it was his heart for God and humanity which seeded CIY’s success for now over half a century. Much of that success, it should be noted, enjoyed under the steady, abiding influence of Andy Hansen. 

Reaching over 77,000 students yearly, CIY has achieved a venerable reputation among parents and youth leaders alike, extending well beyond the boundaries of even our own brotherhood. And considering the fact that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) make that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday, it’s no exaggeration to say that CIY is on the frontlines of church evangelism itself.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the current directors of CIY face some very challenging times ahead. Already, according to the Christian Standard, it has cancelled all of its fifty-six high school and middle school events for 2020. Additionally, the organization has cut 33 percent of its workforce with more austerity measures being considered. And in the wake of losing the North American Christian Convention, Cincinnati Christian University, and the pervading feeling of drift and disarray within many of our remaining institutions, the specter of losing CIY can only intensify the growing sense that our best days are behind us.

This very blog recently published an essay emphasizing the need for mediating institutions. CIY was among the first of these kinds of organizations to make the list – and with good reason. Take for example, their timely, bold, and consistent stand for complementarian views of gender when preaching to our nation’s youth, providing a much needed lilt to Bible-believing families and congregations everywhere – quietly puncturing extravagant theological indulgences found in other circles. It’s little wonder, then, that ICC churches continue to trust the directors of CIY to provide ladders upon which the next generation of aspiring young Christians can rise.

Put simply, this ministry has acquitted itself well within our fellowship. And now they deserve a certain amount of loyalty from the people and congregations they have served. And, apparently, I’m not the only one to think so. Many churches, grateful for CIY’s existence, are now forgoing refunds for this year’s prepaid deposits, opting instead to turn those deposits into donations. The congregation I serve (not wanting to be left out) has decided to double our pre-registration totals as we calculate the financial contribution we, ourselves, will make in coming days.

Parents and youth programs across the country need ministries like CIY now more than ever. If your church has not yet done so, consider this an opportunity to help extend this invaluable ministry’s evangelistic legacy. If you don’t have kids, view it as an act of solidarity to help reverse the recent trend bedeviling our beloved institutions. Indeed. given the national and personal challenges Bible-believing Christians continue to face, a contribution may never matter so deeply, nor, I suspect, be more profoundly appreciated.

Terry Sweany has served as senior minister of Playa Christian Church since 2006. His education includes a MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Hope International University and a BA from Cincinnati Christian University. He is author of the book Life In Ministry and his greatest joy is helping people deepen their relationship with God. Terry lives in Westchester, California  and is a member of the LAPD Pacific Division Clergy Council. He and his wife, Patty, have been married 34 years and have a daughter and grandaughter.


ICC Church Supports George Floyd Protesters

It’s Sunday afternoon, May 31, and tens of thousands of people are in the streets across the United States exercising their right to free speech. Demonstrations are springing up from coast to coast, and rightly so, in a national paroxysm of rage over the death of George Floyd – an African-American man who had, days before, asphyxiated under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer despite his cries for help.

Predictably, here in California – “where we riot, not rally to live and die,” as the song goes – it was no different. Something I kept tabs on from the comfort of my personal ashram.

Four shots fired” a voice radioed-in over the distinctive patter and static of a police scanner.

14A27 . . . location at intersection of Lincoln and Rose . . . Code 3.”

In fits and starts, details of West Bureau’s tactical response to an unpredictable crowd began to unfold. Mass demonstrations are among the most difficult situations the police have to manage, and this one, with its recrudescent nature, would be among the worst.

The intersection in question was situated one block away from the scrimmage-line established, just minutes earlier, by a phalanx of officers intending to impose order on the growing swell of protesters, bystanders, and journalists. Keep in mind, too much force can escalate the situation — but so can too little.

Being a member of LAPD’s Clergy Council Pacific Division, I immediately recognized the “shots fired call as having come from Venice Beach’s Senior Lead Officer. What wasn’t clear was who, if anyone, had been hit. Above and beyond the safety of the officers – many of whom are personal acquaintances – the safety of peaceful protesters from my own congregation had just become a very real concern.

On this night, Angeleno’s on the west side would see the unthinkable. The Grove, an iconic L.A. shopping center boasting more visitors per year than admissions to Disneyland, was set ablaze. On social media, hard-to-watch videos were coming in from around the city showing images of shattered storefronts, “eat the rich” graffiti, and the aftermath of looting, left behind at Rodeo Drive’s exclusive Gucci boutique. From Santa Monica, a video showed a man (in strong physical shape) stopping to assist a young woman pinned under her bike adjacent to heavy, stop-and-go traffic. But as soon as he stepped out of his vehicle, he was met by a swarm of violent crowd members pummeling him in the middle of the street; young pugilists having no apparent connection to the demonstrations.

The fabric of our society is being torn by hatred, and frayed by distrust. So being the minister of arguably the most racially diverse congregation in Los Angeles (with no clear majority of any one race), and faced with the disarray encompassing our city, I felt a burden to address the erupting violence.

Having ministered here for most of my life, including during the ‘92 riots, I understand better than most the world in which our church exists. For example, many of our members come out of a religious tradition where the minister functions as a central figure sought out during times of trouble, pain, or loss; a trusted community leader addressing issues of social welfare, public policy, and at times, even calling for community activism. Therefore, from this perspective, any willful avoidance of this high-profile case of injustice on my part would not be viewed as a reassuring, much less respectable option. I needed to respond and to do so with flesh-and-blood urgency.

I strongly began to suspect God’s providential hand was at play when our associate minister confided in me that his thoughts and prayers had resulted in precisely the same conclusions. Specifically, that God might use our longstanding, bi-racial friendship in combination with a strong, unifying message to cut through the dispiriting circumstances. So we shot a brief video and distributed it to our members through the church’s usual online channels.

Rather than beginning with the immorality of rioting or looting, we consciously began with the precious loss of George Floyd’s life – a life created in the image of God. We reaffirmed that while a preponderance of law enforcement officers aren’t racist, it is still incumbent upon families to instill character and to talk to their sons and grandsons about what happens when being detained by police, emphasizing the need to go the extra mile. Again, not because all law enforcement is bad but because evil exists in the hearts of men and no one can predict the mindset of any one particular officer.

We stated, unambiguously, that any clear-eyed search for truth in Minneapolis would surely find that an injustice had, indeed, occurred and was endemic of attitudes we thought we’d long ago learned to reject. That the piercing image of George Floyd’s final minutes, repeatedly played over and over on social media, was just the latest example in a long litany of documented police brutality.

Our message centered on God’s Word (not the divisive philosophies and platitudes of political parties). That Christians should protest evil wherever it’s found, but we should do so in a righteous way. That any Christian seeking justice should, first and foremost, come to the Throne Room of Grace in preparation for  taking on societal structures that perpetuate evil, because the cultural breakdowns we are witnessing are spiritual in nature. Specifically, they are a result of the church’s failure to teach sound doctrine and society’s rejection of a value system established by God.

Our intent was to prompt our viewers to reframe events from a spiritual perspective of hope, integrating one’s faith, if need be, into public expressions of protest. A behavior modeled by the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts, when protesting the injustice of being illegally, and brutally beaten by local law enforcement.

37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed.”    – Acts 16:37-38

Perhaps, most importantly, we appealed for putting words into action – pointing out that, otherwise, we are simply contributing to the noise. The last thing we need are stilted conversations and seminars punctuated by banal slogans or failed nostrums leading us nowhere. These do not produce reconciliation. What we need are men, women, and families willing to associate with others from different backgrounds with the intention of serving them; or, perhaps, with the goal of working together to serve those in the community who are truly less fortunate. That’s reconciliation, because only then are you part of the solution – accomplishing the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do

Within twelve hours of posting, the video was already the most viewed content we’d produced all year. Most significant was the overwhelming positive feedback. Calls and voicemails tremulously expressing heartfelt gratitude, some repenting from recent acts of reactionary hatred, others describing a tearful catharsis as they listened to their ministers give voice to what had been, up till now, only repressed thoughts and feelings. Best of all, one of our newer African-American families contacted the church wanting to know what was required for baptism and how they could be more involved serving the church.

And while no church is perfect or without its share of problems, it seems to me we’ve struck a blow for something rare: an enduring harmony involving people from all kinds of backgrounds based solely on the Word of God.

Terry Sweany has served as senior minister of Playa Christian Church since 2006. His education includes a MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Hope International University and a BA from Cincinnati Christian University. He is author of the book Life In Ministry and his greatest joy is helping people deepen their relationship with God. Terry lives in Westchester, California  and is a member of the LAPD Pacific Division Clergy Council. He and his wife, Patty, have been married 34 years and have a daughter and grandaughter.


Twilight Age Of The ICC Movement?

Two decades ago, at the turn of the millennium, many in the Restoration Movement had a sense that we were living at the dawn of a new age—a bright and forward-looking era marked by an affiliation with the largest church in America (Southeast Christian Church) and crowned by church growth breakthroughs that might both accelerate and unify us. Our movement had real problems, of course, and the day that was dawning would bring challenges of its own, but it seemed that something exciting was afoot.

By now, it has become unavoidably evident that the Independent Christian Church wing of the Restoration Movement has experienced the beginning of this new millennium less as a dawn than as a twilight age. This century has certainly seen its share of new technologies as well as tectonic shifts in culture and ecclesiology. But all of these have seemed somehow to strain our brotherhood more than enable us.

Despite good news and opportunities on many fronts, we have not, as a fellowship of congregations, been able to translate these into confidence or hopefulness. What has really defined the Restoration Movement’s twilight age has been a widespread failure to understand (like the culture at large) what is missing or what has gone wrong – a collapse of some of the preconditions for flourishing that we cannot quite explain to ourselves.

Case in point, the leaders of the Spire Network have reduced the attendance of our national convention from 10,000 to 1,500 almost overnight. And given what they say they believe about attendance metrics, it’s hard to find a rational for Spire’s continued existence. Perhaps the defining moment of this overly produced affair was President Rick Rusaw’s closing ceremony admission that Spire had failed to launch – as promised – their much valorized online platform due to its weak and dismal support.   

I am not, here, offering a comprehensive explanation of these predicaments – needless to say. Although I have attempted that in previous writings. Rather, I want to highlight one particularly important cause that these issues have in common – and  that tends to be overlooked.

Everyone knows that Americans have long been losing faith in organized religion and religious institutions. At this point, it’s a cliche. But what is at stake in losing that faith? How has it played out in the Restoration Movement, and what are the implications for the future?

Currently, few of our leaders appreciate the vital role mediating institutions play in our pluralistic association of independent churches. Besides being entities that separate us from centrally-controlled denominations and inoculating us from self-defined, post-denominational churches crowd-sourcing theology under low-level accountability, they provide rules and customs for how RM churches self-organize and work together outside their own walls. They are formal and informal organizations, protocols, and doctrines that mediate the space between the individual Christian and other Independent Christian Churches at large. This is the world of parachurch work, missions, conferences, church camps, regional and national youth programs, local evangelistic associations, institutions of higher learning, and organizations such as the Christian Restoration Association. Most of the work of our movement is conducted in this shared space.

Just drive around the country and count the number of church camps, Bible Colleges, CIYs, and missions that would not exist but for the shared resources of ICC churches. Without the mutual trust and cohesiveness among local congregations, few of the truly great doctrinally sound institutions we take for granted would be standing today. Churches poured millions of dollars into ICC institutions across the country in the spirit of providing ladders, within reach, upon which the aspiring could rise.

And out of that space, it was the North American Christian Convention that best showcased our national coalition of like-minded, autonomous congregations voluntarily submitting themselves to an alliance centered around a coherent theology. The NACC deliberately protected the supremacy of the local church.  Indeed, autonomy was so sacrosanct that the convention was set up to have no internal constraints on the consensus of its churches. Put simply, the convention was defined by the churches, rather than the churches being dictated to by an insular group of convention directors. The NACC, through its shared space and consensus beliefs, distinguished us on a national level from the rest of a generic, and somewhat amorphous, evangelical world.

Traditionally, when Christians attended the NACC, their presence was, itself, an act of solidarity. Behind the scenes, congregations of every size and culture participated in the maintenance of our standards. Downstream from the administration, convention-goers commented on its communal nature, characteristically pointing to its reunion-like atmosphere. But the essential element which brought our congregations together, and enabled those individual relationships to flourish was an underlying cohesiveness and trust that only comes from a system that could apply doctrines and values more or less uniformly.

Closely related to the convention was an impressive booth exhibition of competing and complementary institutions which kept the RM rooted, as they all existed to assist the Church mold, shape, and improve us – forming us into Christ-likeness. They also served as a counterbalance to any arbitrary power of self-appointed aristocrats or special elite class. Each display represented more than just another privately-owned, ministry-related service, missionary group, or advancement in technology. Each free-standing establishment helped to diffuse power and control throughout the broader association of our movement writ large.

Congregations who share programs, customs, doctrines, and plain old history are simply more likely to work out their differences and problems without looking to some centralized authority to do it for them. In short, a shared culture builds trust, which is essential to the health and progress of our future.

Part of the price—and benefit—of this transaction is that these institutions can demand a certain amount of loyalty from the people and congregations they serve. Some demand a lot of loyalty, others just a bare minimum. You don’t have to give up your life for a national convention, but you do have to show up, respect your peers, and subordinate some of your interests and desires for the good of the whole.

In the past, all of us had a role to play in the NACC. And if it is ever relaunches, rebuilding trust in its next iteration will require the people within it — that is, each of us — to be more trustworthy. And that must mean, in part, letting the distinct integrities and purposes of this national forum shape us, rather than just using it as a stage from which to be seen and heard.

To be sure, a major source of our recent decline stems from the fact we increasingly rejected the idea that we should bend to the shared standards of the NACC; instead we demanded that the convention bend to us. Rather than be a mold that constrains us by reminding us how to behave, the NACC became a platform that we stood upon to perform and preen for attention. As I’ve argued many times now, the NACC is one particularly important example. But the examples are everywhere. 

Jerry Harris uses the Christian Standard as a platform for multi-site church propaganda because he puts his utopian sensibilities above God’s Word, the lessons of history, and the consensus of our movement informed by its most respected scholars. Caleb Kaltenbach may certainly have a point about the church’s response to same-sex attraction, but he uses it as a platform for his own crusade of celebrity – endorsing products, expanding his brand, and addressing issues for which he has no expertise. Here he uses the Christian Standard to bestow undeserved plaudits upon Tim Harlow’s latest book which impugns God’s character as “discriminatory” against women. Kaltenbach, careful never to actually stake out a controversial position, papers over the book’s most controversial claim by simply pretending it doesn’t exist. His review can only be taken seriously by people for whom truth matters less than style; that is, for whom a book endorsement is nothing more than an exercise in branding and PR. Once you start looking around, the list of people who use our institutions like cultural ATMs—staking out credibility that isn’t theirs to buy celebrity and authority they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford or deserve—starts to seem infinitely long. Meanwhile, others are demeaned as bitter, atavistic ax-grinders for simply pointing out, for example, that particular church growth experts who – in an effort to prop-up their dystopian narrative of ministers living isolated, feckless lives – pass-on fake statistics so they can then present themselves as heroes. That these self-serving waypointers consider this a reasonable way of selling their services betrays either a fundamental ethical illiteracy or a deeply troubling readiness to mislead. Whatever the case, it’s just another sad entry in the growing log of demagogues cashing-in on the reputational capital of an institution for their own agenda – even if it includes deception.

There have always been opportunists in every age. But healthy systems can usually fend them off like a weak virus. The dismaying thing about the moment we are in is that demagoguery is in such high demand. The current custodians of our conventions, both national and regional, no longer fight to fend off mavericks or upstarts; they now try to attract them. Indeed, what has replaced these Institutions is a strange enterprise made up of religious celebrities fostering a culture that is fundamentally antinomian, pragmatic, and cynical about all claims of integrity.

In the past, before Church Development Fund‘s appropriation, the NACC did many things. One of its historical functions was to blunt and divert the power of demagogues and the masses that listened to them. This was once understood and celebrated by our leaders. Not so today. That structure has long been demolished.

And once the demolition crew had finished, those who might be more naturally inclined to build something new discovered they were left to follow leaders who lacked a blueprint of what a better alternative would look like. In the face of a staggering rebuke to Spire’s pragmatic leadership agenda, we see their corporate leaders on their hands and knees amidst the wreckage they created, searching for the ideals they were all too happy to smash when they were in power.

As it turns out, chopping down a good institution with the aim of building a perfect one is the perfect recipe for destroying a good institution. Because when you destroy existing cultural habitats, you do not instantly convert the people who live in them to your worldview. You alienate them.

What’s worse, our scholars and theologically oriented leaders have lost their place of honor in the moral life of our movement. They have lost the ability to speak for a set of norms and ideals that, even if many Christians chafed against them and found them burdensome, were taken to be proper aspirations.

We cannot regain our bearings until we set this straight. If we are to create the conditions necessary for a revitalization and for a resurgence of cultural vitality, if the foundation for healthy church autonomy is built upon biblical morality, then we must uphold the significance of our scholars and intellectuals in our movement’s public life.

Looking back, few actually hated the NACC or the role it played. But many were indifferent to it. And indifference alone is enough to invite the rust of human nature and utopian sensibilities back in. We must all understand that recognizing our good fortune is the first step in securing the future for posterity. That means expressing our gratitude for it – not merely our arguments to defend it. And few things would better demonstrate gratitude for our core principles and ideas than reestablishing a national convention. For such an act would revive our identity, while providing an antidote to the present feeling that things are out of control. Ironically, both things it was originally designed to do.

Terry Sweany has served as senior minister of Playa Christian Church since 2006. His education includes a MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Hope International University and a BA from Cincinnati Christian University. He is author of the book Life In Ministry and his greatest joy is helping people deepen their relationship with God. Terry lives in Westchester, California  and is a member of the LAPD Pacific Division Clergy Council. He and his wife, Patty, have been married 34 years and have a daughter and grandaughter.


The New Era

*note below.

(This is the third and final esssy of three)

We are in the Post-denominational era and what do we do?

We now come to the fifth paradigm, which might be called Dominionism, that could help sustain the Restoration Movement in the Post-denominational era. An era in which we find ourselves at odds with the same spiritual opposition, but with a different facade: not the old external challenge of centrally-controlled Protestantism, but a centrally-controlled Pragmatism which has taken root within our own ranks.

Dominionism does not define success in terms of size, nor solely as doctrinal purity, but in the expression of Kingdom values. And those values identify one supreme value, what Paul refers to three times in the first chapter of Ephesians as “the praise of His glory.”

That is the credo of the Church.

In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul answers five questions every mission statement asks:

  1. Who are we? The children of God (v. 3-5)
  2. What do we do?  give glory to God. (v. 6, 12, 14)
  3. How do we do it? By bringing all things under the dominion of Jesus Christ. (v. 10, 22)
  4. Why do we do it? To fulfill the instructions of our head (Jesus Christ), so that His body (the Church) is fully developed. (v. 23)
  5. When do we do it? From now until the fullness of time. (v. 10)

Put more simply: We are the children of God seeking to glorify God, by bringing all things under the authority of Jesus Christ until God’s Kingdom is made complete.

Beyond numbers. Beyond treasure. Beyond humanitarian efforts. Beyond mere orthodoxy. The Church exists to bring all things under the dominion, the tutelage, the subjection of Jesus Christ. Beyond evangelistic campaigns for the human heart – which are essential but not sufficient – we campaign to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on the world in every area. In the practice of medicine, the administration of government, the application of justice, the world of finance, the facilitation of social science, the sphere of family life – all things are brought under the subjection of Jesus Christ through the moral agency of the Church. This makes the Church the quintessential institution for a civilized society, for it is the pillar and foundation of all truth.

So, then, Dominionism views the engine of the Church, not as the will to build a crowd but the will to glorify Jesus Christ in all things. Dominionism is not utopian. In fact, its attractiveness is precisely that it has appropriate contempt for the fiction of Tribalism. It shares Realism’s insights about poorly conceived models of unity based on revolutions of human nature rather than revolutions of our new nature in Christ.

Moreover, Dominionism asks for a sacrifice from its adherents. Realism does not. It merely provides confirmation for orthodox tenets and beliefs. Dominionism is an improvement over Realism. What it can teach Realism is that the pursuit of sound doctrine is not just an end but a means, an indispensable means for securing spiritual strongholds. Dominionism expresses itself through Christian values, which are inherently more sensitive to those who suffer, less belligerent to those who don’t yet agree and generally more inclined to win the support of others. Don’t get me wrong, Realists are correct that protecting sound doctrine requires “taking special note” of those “who must be silenced” and “reprove them severely” of false doctrines (2Th. 3.14, Tit. 1:13). But that technique, no matter how satisfying, has its limits. At some point, you have to implant something, something eternal and life-giving. And that something is implemented as Christians praise the glory of His grace.

But where do we start?

Today, still early in the 21st century, we can see clearly the two great spiritual challenges on the horizon: the inexorable march of Pragmatism and the continued drift toward a theological melting-pot called Evangelicalism, both of which threaten to irrevocably disequilibrate our affiliation.

But those problems come later. They are for midcentury. They are for the next generation. And that generation will not even get to these problems unless we first deal with our problems.

And our problems are the crumbling of our institutions and a monomaniacal ecclesiology which crudely reduces the mission of the Church down to a single, mind-numbing criteria: how big is the crowd?

For many, the demise of the North American Christian Convention followed closely by Cincinnati Christian University was a concussive blow, but for all of its shock and surprise, it is simply an old problem with a new face. Both events felt like the beginning of the end, an initiation of a dark new history, but it was a return to a familiar history, the 20th-century history of liberal theologies and centralized control.

To be sure, the anomaly is not the RM of today. The anomaly was the 1980s and early 1990’s – our holiday from history. An interval of dreaming between two periods of reality. So that by the time evidence of our own existential crisis began to show – in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s – our pose of bewildered by-standing only compounded the reality.

A reality from which the events of the last year awoke us, indeed, startled us into thinking this challenge was new. It’s not. What is new is what happened not over the last year but well over a decade earlier when we discovered denominations were in decline: the emergence of Evangelicalism and its melting-pot expression of the Christian faith.

What are we to do?

Five schools, five answers.

The Pragmatists (described in the first essay) are willing to defenestrate anything that gets in the way of their nihilistic pursuit of bigger crowds or more control.

The Protectionists want to maintain status quo by simply ignoring what’s happening outside their walls; pull up the drawbridge and defend the Independent Christian Church Fortress, all the while refusing to acknowledge they have no moat.

Then there are the Tribalist. They like to dream, and to the extent that they are aware of doctrinal standards, they don’t like them. They see our Movement – being used for anything other than Humanitarianism – as an expression of selfishness and pride. And they don’t just want us to ignore doctrinal soundness, they want us to yield it piece by piece, by subsuming ourselves- as good and tame tribesmen – to a new evangelical framework.

Then there is Realism, which has the clearest understanding of the rising chaos —charting faithfully just how unmoored from truth we have become. But in the end, it fails because it offers no vision. It is all means and no ends. It can not adequately define our mission.

Hence, the fifth view: Dominionism. It can — or could, or should — in the upcoming decade, rally Christians to join in the struggle over values. It seeks not only to restore but to vindicate the doctrines and practices of first century Christianity. And to do so by glorifying Jesus Christ collectively and expressing our values publicly, as both the ends and means of our movement.

I support that. I applaud that. But I believe it must be tempered in its aspirations so as not to be hijacked by a social justice agenda of do-goodery Humanitarianism. It must be targeted, focused and limited by our mission. We are concerned for all who suffer, but we come to aid only in contexts wherein our deeds can be freely and openly attributed to Jesus Christ – His glory is paramount. (John 12:5-8)

In the late 1990’s, disillusioned by the death of so many ICC congregations, coupled with an equally shaken national gathering, our brotherhood came to the edge of the abyss. This past year we find ourselves, once again, peering over its edge. But this time the threat is internal.

Were that the only difference between now and then, our situation would be hopeless. But there is a second difference between now and then: the rising foreknowledge of a transparently reckless agenda, designed to benefit a tiny group of unprincipled elitists. That evens the odds. Don’t misunderstand, the venal nature of the current establishment opposing our values is something beyond our control. But our commitment to express those very same values is within our control. And if we act wisely, constrained not by illusions or fictions but only by the limits of our mission – which is to seek His glory (rather than our own celebrity) as an antidote to nihilism – we can prevail. 

*Correction: It has been pointed out that the term “Dominionism” is already in common use but with a very different meaning. An effort will be made to avoid this confusion in the future. 11/19/19 11:23am PST 

Terry Sweany has served as senior pastor since 2006. His education includes a MA in Miarriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Hope International University and a BA from Cincinnati Christian University. He is author of the book Life In Ministry and his greatest joy is helping people deepen their relationship with God. Terry lives in Westchester, California  and is a member of the LAPD Pacific Division Clergy Council. He and his wife, Patty, have been married 32 years and have a daughter and grandaughter