Chaplaincy or Church? : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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22 Responses

  1. Michael says:


    It seems to me that we’re drawing ever tighter circles around who is allowed in the club.
    Political views mean more and social media facilitates arguing doctrinal minutia that becomes another hill to die on.
    We live in strange times…

  2. Duane Arnold says:


    Over the last three decades, I feel like I’ve watched it happen. So-called mega-churches have taken on the role of being welcoming and expansive, albeit often with paper thin theology. Other churches, many of them aging and some which are new plants, very much seem like clubs. The clubs become delineated by politics, age, style of worship and, in some cases, leadership. Using again the example of my time in NYC, I had no idea of other people’s political views… none! Moreover, in addition to my age group, I had friends in the congregation ranging from 20 years old to others in their 80s. Being in the city, we lacked a large group of children in the church, but did the best we could with the twenty or thirty that we did have… I miss this sort of church. The club model may work in a chaplaincy, but I think it is a death sentence for a church.

  3. Jean says:

    There is a tension in the theology and practice of church between, on the one hand, a church desiring to be in but not of the world, and, on the other hand, desiring to be welcoming.

    There is a spectrum which at one end, for example, holds mass only in Latin or uses only KJV Bibles, and at the end holds seeker sensitive services which only slightly resemble church. Then, there is the Benedict Option for some, and in Revelation John hears a voice which says “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.”

    Duane, what practices or principles have you found most effective for resolving this tension? We want to be welcoming, but without compromising our faith and allegiance to Christ. We want to be welcoming, but the world rejects most of what we believe. How does this all work?

  4. Michael says:


    My answer may differ from Duane’s, but I go back to the original announcement of the Gospel in Luke 2.
    It was “good news for all the people”.
    I believe there are still people who desire to hear that “good news” undefiled by politics or worldly passions and who want to participate in a community devoted to spending that news and living out it’s implications.
    We just have so much static on our bandwidth that people tire of trying to hear it over the noise…

  5. Duane Arnold says:


    I’m not sure that I’ve found “practices or principles” that are effective in all circumstances, but I know a working church when I see one, as I think is the case with most of us.

    From the article and my own experience, I would offer a few possibilities. Firstly, consistent pastoral practice – hospital, nursing home and shut in visitation. Secondly, educational opportunities based in the church at a mature level. Thirdly, involvement of the laity at all levels. Fourth, being intentional in reaching out to a variety of age groups and taking their needs and desires seriously.

    I guess that I would say that in some ways, it more about “practice” than “theology”. We can maintain our theological integrity while adjusting certain practices…

  6. Jean says:

    Duane, you’ve listed some good ideas. Thanks.

    Michael, I agree that the Gospel is good news for all people. But that is not the way most people see it. I agree with many of your social observations. I wouldn’t speak for all churches, but I think some churches marry politics to religion to transform religion in the the good news that they feel their target audience wants. For example, the xenophobia that some church leaders exhibit complements the xenophobia that their followers feel.

  7. Michael says:

    “I wouldn’t speak for all churches, but I think some churches marry politics to religion to transform religion in the the good news that they feel their target audience wants.”

    In doing so they distort the Gospel and stunt the spiritual growth of the people.

  8. Duane Arnold says:


    The very idea that we can classify or quantify the political leanings of either a church or of parishioners is, in itself, appalling and destructive…

  9. Michael says:



  10. Duane Arnold says:

    Again, in NYC, there were services held which, on occasion, city politicians attended. Dinkins visited as did Giuliani. There was never anything made of their political affiliation… BECAUSE IT WAS CHURCH! Also, neither of them “politicized” their visits… because it was church!

  11. pstrmike says:

    The club mentality that is expressed in churches may vary according to the size of a local congregation. Both large and small church provide a sense of identity and in some cases, belonging. I think as a person determines to continue growing (intellectually, emotionally and spiritually), their need for a club can diminish and they recognize a desire for something even more substantial, ever present in their lives. But this change doesn’t always happen on its own, we have to be purposeful in our growth and not fight the temptations to stay in our present state. I wonder if some people’s negative experiences in churches was due to their need for a church, while the church that they tried to be a part of was really a club.

  12. MM says:


    ” I think that too often we read the book as “theology” when we should, perhaps, be reading it as an adventure. ”

    Worth repeating.

    And then you post this “…albeit often with paper thin theology. ”

    How thick does one’s theology have to be?

    Personally as I study the scriptures more and more I find my “theology” getting simpler and less cumbersome.

    I also found your description of working in the NY church enlightening.

    Thank you!

  13. Duane Arnold says:


    “I wonder if some people’s negative experiences in churches was due to their need for a church, while the church that they tried to be a part of was really a club.”

    Absolutely spot on the money…

  14. Duane Arnold says:


    When I refer to paper-thin theology, I’m really speaking of “seeker friendly” situations with little to no theology being evidenced…

  15. MM says:


    My biggest complaint about the type of churches you mention is this; in my opinion they are really all about the men and women one the stage and not God.

    I find there is relatively little, if any, teaching about God (theology) and the way to “walk” daily with Him.

    Of course actually teaching and leading others to walk with Him draws very few people and therefore no fame and fortune.

    How often do we hear a message about God instructing us to treat others with justice and lovingkindness and how that may be the best worship of Him we could possibly do? Maybe this is how one lives their best life now.

    Thank again, I really appreciate what you have written here.

  16. Duane Arnold says:


    Thank you…

  17. Em says:

    Another good read posted here…
    I have a great grandson, Desmond, because his parents are admirerers of the African cleric
    From a dispensationalist viewpoint (sorry) one of the biggest dangers of overlapping politics with the Faith is that it opens a door for Satan to install his Antichrist
    (no he is not Trump… ?)

  18. Jean says:


    Why is it that the church tradition that overlaps politics and faith the most is dispensationalism?

  19. Jim says:

    I don’t get it. I’ve lived in the same county for 48 years. I’ve been a Christian for 38 years, and have been a member of 5 churches, and still have friends from all 5.

    I’d say of those friends maybe 10% at most are overtly interested in politics, with 6 or 7 our of ten being republican. It’s just not something that’s discussed much.

    My free range, “unchurched” Christian friends don’t like institutions, including the govt.

    I have a pretty large sample size. Maybe east coast central Florida is different…

  20. Em says:

    Rhetorical Jean? Oh well.
    It isn’t “politics.” It may, however, be that we look for signs per Matt 24, as the Church has done down through time. .. You do it your way and we watch from a slightly different scenario expectation….
    One should not confuse dispensation with the loosey goosey rapture preachers popular with, perhaps, naive or worse folk today… the ones with the itching ears? ?

  21. Duane Arnold says:


    It seems to be a different time. I have friends stretching back 50 years… I would be hard pressed to tell you their political leanings. It was our fellowship that was important, not who we voted for. Times, it seems, have changed.

  22. Jim says:

    They haven’t changed for me, Duane. Again, maybe it’s where I live. I see it online, but not in real life.

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