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Calvary Santa Fe

I hadn’t visited Calvary Santa Fe in a while, but a couple of Sundays ago we encountered a problem we sometimes do (our toddler went down for a nap at almost exactly the time we should have been leaving for church) and I decided to visit Calvary again and catch what I could rather than miss church altogether.

First of all, let me say that the sermon I heard is part of a series; the series is available for download [link], and the MP3 for the sermon I heard is here [link]. I don’t really have much to say about it except this: if I understand correctly this is meant to be expository (as opposed to topical) teaching, but this sounds to me like topical (as opposed to expository) teaching. I tend to make the distinction this way: expository teaching proceeds linearly (and we hope deeply) through the text where topical teaching takes an idea, phrase, or word from a text and follows it laterally across Scripture. In this case this sounds like a topical teaching taken from Philippians 2:5-11 on the phrase “the mind of Christ.” But I digress.

It saddens me to say this, but I believe this is a dying church. This year they consolidated their Sunday services, and when I was there the sanctuary was about one-third full. The bulletin mentioned that the church’s October budget was $58,000, but that the previous week’s donations were $3465. If these numbers are accurate and representative, they’re taking in a quarter to a third of what they need to make budget. There was a prayer request in the bulletin that appears to suggest that two staff members are seeking employment. Also, they may have structural problems as well; this is a church with ordained pastors, pastors, and deacons, but the bulk of the pulpit teaching is being done by the non-ordained pastors. But since I don’t know what the distinction means I’m not sure I’d put much emphasis on it.

The speaker was Andrew White, one of the two young non-ordained pastors. He has a clear enthusiasm for and a high regard for Scripture, and I really couldn’t tell you whether he’s going to grow into being a pastor or not. Preaching/pastoring is both difficult and labor-intensive, and a man needs a lot of hours both in study and in the pulpit before he can properly be called a pastor or a preacher, and not everyone who starts out as a young preacher (or even a young seminary graduate) makes the difficult journey. That’s no shame on White; he’s just setting out to do something difficult, and apparently in a difficult environment because of the health of the church.

I would encourage readers to listen to the sermon at the link above, as it strikes me as being typical of the mindset of a lot of Young Restless Reformed types: it includes affirmations of unassailable truths, but it is heavily larded with a kind of confrontation narrative, where we true Christians are contrasted with various aberrant groups that are rarely if ever named, but include

  • Mormons
  • Muslims
  • New Agers
  • secular types
  • Prosperity Theology folks

And so much time is devoted to casting anonymous aspersions that it’s hard to pick out what constitutes a vital positive Christianity apart from simply not being aberrant. This is one of the things that troubles me about YRR folks and reminds me of my fundamentalist roots. I am given to wonder just how many people at Calvary are tempted by e.g. Prosperity Theology. I understand that a lot of this sort of teaching is rooted in the idea that a “pastor should protect the flock from wolves,” meaning “false teachers,” but if that flock isn’t in danger from a particular false teacher I’m not sure how much protecting is really being done if there’s no practical threat.

I wish I had an optimistic or encouraging payoff here, but I don’t. While I don’t wish this church any ill I have a hard time imagining what its recovery would look like. Fortunately for them that’s not strictly speaking necessary. I’ll look forward to checking in with them in a few months; I hope for their sake they’re in the midst of a turnaround by then.

 

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