4.26.2011

The LYNDEN CHURCH PARADIGM: A "Signs" & Wonders Movement (Updated)

It must have been an awful scene when Christ walked into the temple of Jerusalem, made a whip of cords, and drove out the money changers. Why did Christ do this? Zeal for the Lord’s house had eaten him up! Radical? You better believe it; his father’s house of worship and prayer had been overrun with false shepherds who had turned the worship of Christ into a business.  It was mockery. It was chicanery, and souls were at stake. They were profaning God’s holiness in worship.  The message of gospel had been trampled underfoot, and no one cared enough to speak out.  The Lord himself had to come as the messenger of the covenant to cleanse his temple from such debauchery and raise it anew.   
My local church phenomenon is a microcosm of what is happening and is being practiced in communities all throughout this nation. Proper evaluation of movements requires a certain measure of exposure. As with any kind of confrontation, sincere love sometimes hurts, especially when it’s honest and direct. Inevitably, I will be charged with being envious, or a traditionalist, or even legalistic for the things that I write here.  But what I write is out of sincere concern for Christ's church and my brothers and sisters in the community. It is time for Christians to stop being passive and care enough to warn those who are being carried away by church leaders who are profaning God’s holiness and turning the church into a den of thieves. I don't have a perfect church, nor do I think I am better than anyone else. I am a sinner saved by grace who now desires to honor and reverence the risen Christ.
 
Extreme Makeover
It has become rather en vogue in our time for churches to change their name from what once identified their denominational affiliation to that which has a more generic and independent Bible church feel.  Changing a name is no little matter for a church.  A name, at least historically speaking, identifies what a church stands for—its conviction, history, creed and more.  Years ago the lines were clearly demarcated. You had mainstream denominations and then some independent Bible churches, but you knew where they stood. A Baptist was a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Presbyterian and so on. Churches, for the most part, were consistent with their convictions and they were not ashamed about where they stood in name, practice and conviction. 
But what really is behind a sudden change in a church name? A church name should convey something of a robust conviction, doctrinally speaking.  Why this movement to make everything generic when it comes to church?  Are we hiding something, maybe embarrassed? Is it just for sake of change? What is the real reason? Part of the answer became apparent to me last week when Lynden was inundated with signs from North County Christ the King Church (Ncctk) stating in glaring red, “We Love Our Church: Ncctk.com”.  The signs were placed in yards and business squares all over town, thousands of them.  The church had clearly launched a sign campaign to draw new members to their church from the community. 

Ncctk, at the moment, is the largest, fastest growing church in town.  They follow the Saddleback model of worship and claim to have a few thousand attendees on a given Sunday.  If you would like to get an idea of what happens on a typical Sunday, you can watch a sermon, or read a series of critiques I did last year. Keep in mind, Lynden, WA is one of the most churched cities in the entire United States.  There are over thirteen Reformed churches within city limits, and then you have every other kind of church represented, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and a whole bunch of non-denominational Bible churches.  In a town of only around 14,000 people this is a remarkable phenomenon. 
Lynden is a perfect study in American suburban Christianity. You can only imagine in this environment how the many churches in Lynden struggle for identity. Merely blocks from one another, how does a church maintain "relevancy" in this setting? Better stated, what becomes of “outreach” in a city like Lynden?  That depends, of course, as to what the mission and mandate is of your church. Churches that reach to the lost in any sort of life changing way, appeal to a certain message (I will explain this in part two). But who really is the target audience when a church positions itself as the greatest attraction in a given community? 

This marketing approach assumes that the consumer has a certain familiarity with the church and should try out the new product that is far more promising than the old. Super-sizing is is only attractive to those who have familiarity with what used to be "regular" or small.  To say it another way, if a church pitches itself based on stylistic preferences, programs, relevant music, alive worship, that is more of a targeted marketing approach upon the “reached” who are stuck in churches which are perceived to be dead than it is to those who have never heard the gospel. The lost don't have the same reference point.
Ever since the mega church movement came on the scene, the shelf life for churches trying to stay on top through marketing is not very long.  Without a robust theology, clearance happens a lot quicker to make way for the new generic on the shelf that has the fancier label. The personality of the pastor becomes the selling point so long as he is able to creatively give quick fixes to people's daily problems.  But all this is extremely fluid.  As Os Guiness states in The Last Christian on Earth,
Thus for ordinary people, the consumption of celebrities is like psychological fast food.  For Christians, it is not only non-nourishing but also a slow and deadly poison.  Those who live by the image die by it too.  And those who worship them are like them.
The church with the most money, the best name, the best facility, the best edge, the most pizzazz, the finest programs, the greatest attraction for the youth, and the strongest influence gains the greatest following, all until the consumer realizes he is not really being offered anything substantial.  If someone offers a better packaged product next door, the consumer is willing to take the leap and try the "brand new" product. Extreme makeovers in this environment are common. Whoever packages their product the most creatively at the moment, gets the greatest demand.

Think about it, behind the statement, “we love our church” is a question to the residents of Lynden: Do you love your church (see here)? With influence and resource, they have positioned themselves as the best buy for the consumer. I wouldn’t suggest this so readily had not mailings gone out into the community on more than a few occasions asking if people are tired of traditional, lifeless worship. All this is quite a bit of time, money and resource invested to market the “reached". Though the claim was made that the sign campaign was motivated to invite people to their Easter Sunday worship services, nothing on the signs indicated this—the signs came off to the public as a massive campaign for Lynden churchgoers to “vote” for Ncctk as the best church in the market. They were election signs followed by "ballots" as the entire city of Lynden was personally delivered a flyer of invite to attend Easter services.  What was offerred at the campaign rally? A massive Easter egg hunt and a sermon on “How to become your best you”—a play off of Joel Osteen’s bestselling book.

You can only imagine how struggling churches and pastors felt when this campaign came to their neighborhood. My prayers rise for that little struggling church whose faithful pastor preaches the gospel every week only to face the pressures from his own congregants to overhaul the church and become relevant or they will lose their young people. That is enough to cause quite a few sleepless nights for pastors and their families. How are they to maintain? Sadly, what makes these seeker churches work is sheer resource and lots of money.  From a seekers perspective, the moms and pops seeker churches don’t hold a candle to the strip mall seekers.  A church trying to  be contemporary with twenty year old praise music on an organ will not even be in market when the church next door has a hundred thousand dollar sound system with the most current praise songs and hip band.  In this environment, extreme church makeovers will be frequent, but it begs the question: Can a church really be built with secular means, is this not a church being built without God?  

In the next post, I plan to interact with that question. 
See Part Two

26 comments:

  1. Go get 'em Chris!! I look forward to the next part.

    I too have noticed name changes of churches that removes any sort of identity of who they are. If they aren't proud to have "Reformed" in their name (even in abbreviated form), then one has to wonder where their true convictions lie when it comes to defending the truth.

    Thanks for your hard work in that town!!

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  2. Thanks, Mark. The Reformed are just as much to blame for this, so tomorrow I will address our inconsistencies. Thanks for the response!

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  3. Pastor Gordon, if they brand you as one who is passionate for keeping the law (out of gratitude), a legalist, or use any other derogatory term; then you should take comfort.

    There are many churches (including Reformed) that people may love for the all the wrong reasons. The Lord Jesus speaks to the issue below in Matthew 7 according to final destiny. We need to be most concerned to do the will of the Father in heaven - not our own will.

    Those who love their church but do not love the law of God, practice lawlessness.

    It is more to be desired, even if only amongst few, to be concerned for lawfulness to God’s revealed will (his word) rather than to dwell with many who practice lawlessness.


    Jesus speaks,
    21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

    I Love my Church… what does this even mean apart from adherence to God’s will and law?

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  4. Whoa! I just watched the video link. Just don't know where to begin. If you are guilty of anything, Pastor, it's that you're a lightweight critic.

    This "prophet" says the following about people who have written off the other churches in town: they are wondering "where is a safe place to go to church? Where will they be loved? Where will there be good coffee? Where can they get in and out of the service and still be alive and no one will pick on them or make them feel awkward?" Are THESE the marks of a true church? What of Christ?

    Thanks for your work. My prayer is for the Lord's return before He is subjected to anymore mockery.

    No scratch that prayer, I pray for time and the Lord's mercy on those who teach and are being taught that the Lord's work is completed in what we do, who teach or are being taught that the Lord speaks outside His word and those who teach or are being taught that a lawn sign can be the "wonder of salvation in someone’s life".

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  5. I began to watch the link. The idea that Christ did His part and now it's up to us to do our part should leave us in utter turmoil!

    John 3:30, Acts 17:28, Ephesians 5:15 immediately sprang to mind. And particularly 2 Timothy 4:3.

    The message that I heard made more mention of "prophesy" than Biblical teaching. Christ has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word, the Bible. The only way to know God is to understand His Word. What is He like? What does He hate (yes, he hates many things)
    Or are we more comfortable to "do our part" as we see fit?

    When our children saw the signs we talked about what we love. We are very thankful for our church, but our first love is:

    I love my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buired, He decended into hell; The third day he rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and siteth at the right hand of the God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead;I believe in the Holy Ghost; I believe in the universal church, the communion of the saints;the forgiveness of sins;The resuurectin of the body; And the life everlasting.

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  6. I begin by expressing my appreciation for Rev Chris Gordon's critque of the relevant driven church.

    Within my lifetime, I have observed a fundamental change in the way pastors, elders, and laymen think about the church and the way they do church?

    This tetonic change in large part is do to the influence of the church growth movement and several very successful large mega churches, who have redefined the way many Americans think about the church. Under this new model of doing church, leaders have learned how to build the church by through secular means, by applying the social sciences to the church. For example, I remember reading men like Peter Wagner, an early church growth guru, who was one of the first men to promote the idea that we could grow the church by applying the social sciences to the church. Back, in the 70's and 80's these men were instructing eager students how to market the church. Through their instruction and influence the skill set of a Pastor has been altered from that of theologian, pastor-teacher to that of a savy eunteprenuer, who understands how to market the church, create an efficient organizational structure, motivate people to serve, and possibly most important the ability to vision cast. Under this new model, the minister is more of a savy business man, than a shepherd.

    This was really pressed home to men, when one of these church growth doctors, told me that I would be better served by getting a business degree than a seminary, degree, which emphasised theological training. This position was defending with the following line of thinking. After all the church is God's business, and we should strive to do God's business in the most professional manner possible. Is it any wonder that so many churches have become market driven, developing consumer orientated programs for everything under the sun. This secular philosophy of doing church has resulted in a church, which emphasises cultural relavance resulting in a compromised gospel and a dimished view of God.

    Consider the words of the Prophet Jeremiah "My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good." I can't imagine that God's assessment of the secular market driven church would be any kinder, especially, when one considers the doctrine of God, which this model presupposes. In this model God is small and man is large.

    Those who defend this secular model, make the assertion that the means does not matter as the long as the message is preserved. But they fail to recognize that the means and the message are inseparable. For example, the second commandment forbids the use of visible images in worship, including all images of God. And therefore the only visible images, which can be used in worship are those, which Jesus Christ has ordained, water-baptism; bread and wine-Lord's Supper.

    My last point, is that this secular relevant driven model of doing church, has resulted in the profaning of worship. The worship service is often so informal, causual, and lacking any true proclamation of the law and the gospel, that the holiness of God is altogether lost.

    Can anyone honestly say that this kind of casual worship conforms to the teaching of God's word in Hebrews chapter 12. "Therefore, since we are recieving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 12:28,29

    Rev Mark J. Stromber Belgrade URC

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  7. Have you called Christ the king to ask them what the signs are about? That may resolve some of your issues with the signs.

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  8. Dear Anon,
    Yes, two URC pastors went to the main office, talked with the secretary, requested to speak with one of the ministers and was told he couldn't without an appointment. So the secretary explained the philosophy of the sign campaign.

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  9. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for the fine response. My next post will foucs on your point that the church today is being built with secular means and therefore is being built without God. You ask, "Can anyone honestly say that this kind of casual worship conforms to the teaching of God's word in Hebrews chapter 12." Nope.

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  10. Thanks for this - we've been talking about these signs for the last week and really appreciate your thoughts.

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  11. Thank you, Jon. Glad they help. Next week I will critique the whole mega church model of "doing" church. Stay reading.

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  12. WWJD--Would Jesus ride around in a bright yellow van from the 60s selling himself?

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  13. I noticed that in the Guest Opinion in this week's Lynden Tribune a local lady wrote about this topic. Interesting...

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  14. Thanks for the great post pastor. I agree that the Christian zeal in the U.S. has shifted gears. Christ is not a commodity to be traded, advertised, or dealt with as such. “I love Christ” is my conviction, and yes, I will proclaim it on the hilltops joyously! But to market Christ in such a way that reflect business, politics or the like brings Him down to us as a tangible good to be offered. It’s a dangerous path to go down. In the free market society we live in, we would continue to offer others “the best church around.” Conviction is in the heart and will flow out from there in our lives through the working of the Spirit, not signs, banners, and flashy services. I implore everyone to evaluate what true worship is.

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  15. Salt, would be curious to know what was said, was if favorable, or a concerned writer?

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  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you! To all of the above. It brought tears to my eyes to read the article and the comments following, especially that of Rev. Mark Stromberg. It helps me to verbalize some of the things I have been experiencing. This kind of mindset is making its way into our churches as well and I appreciate the insights I have received today.I am a member of Providence Canadian Reformed Church of Hamilton, Ontario. I am grateful to sit under the faithful preaching of my pastor and the supervision of faithful elders. This same pastor has also introduced me the Gordian Knot and many other Reformed sites which help me grow in knowledge both of the riches of the gospel, and how the gospel relates to the "way we do church". Coosje Helder

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  17. I can honestly see both the good and bad in this idea. I can see the frustrations with the idea by people in and out of this town, because it can appear that the church is an "Audacious Organization". But, I also can see that people took the signs the complete wrong way. How so? It's evident that a lot of people have a deep rooted history of pain brought on by bad church experiences, or that they have an inability to view people using new means to creatively draw people into a loving congregation due to their hearts and mindsets being stuck in a deep unsettling religious spirit along with a need to cause uproars in their community. Could the signs have had more explanation with more energy put into describing their purpose? Absolutely. Are there a lot of people unhappy with these signs? Absolutely. Are there also a lot of people happy with these signs and their creative way to grab people's attention? Definitely. Do people who think that the idea of a "Ministry Machine" is a terrible way to "Abuse the name of God to 'Market' a Church or Ministry" need to take a step back and process the idea more deeply? Yes. Churches have taken the ability to use advertising and incentives to their advantage, and some have taken it too far, I'll give you that (ie: the rodeo in the commons of the church which was listed in an earlier comment- come on now, that's just cheesy, if anything). But really, honestly, step back and forget your substantial amount of (or lack there of) schooling and remember what we're all here to do. We're here to reach people for Christ and bring them into HIS church family. Regardless to your denomination, regardless to your choices in the style of service you present, regardless to the type of worship you enjoy- regardless to all of this, we are here, doing God's calling: To bring people to HIS church. If you don't like how someone goes about doing these things and you feel that you have a need to write about it, great- that's your freedom to do so. But I caution you, first, check your true heart intent in doing so, because it appears you (Gordon as well as commenters) are using the mighty power of the internet to continue the ever growing separation of THE church body with your words of disapproval, not for the sake of protecting the church, but due to a fear.

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  18. Dear Anonymous (I do require names on these particular posts to keep things honest, but I will publish yours),

    There is so much confusion in this response it’s difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the “deep rooted history of pain and bad church experiences” that you raise. I take this charge carefully, because I know it has become an excuse for people to run to a church where they can hide, keeping their sinful lifestyle without question. But what really is your concern, legalism? This has happened. But in a lot of these cases, the church was doing the best it could to exercise the Lord command to discipline wayward members, and, knowing that blood also has a “deep rooted history" of trumping the truth, people left angrily in direct disobedience to the Lord’s command to honor the authority of the elders (Heb. 13). That’s one possible reason. The other reason is because “doctrine” became a threat to people who wanted to maintain their own spin on their version of the American Dream. In a town that once valued two worship services on a Sunday in any given church, what happened? Why were they dropped? Is worshipping our risen Lord legalistic. It’s pretty evident you are of this background. So were people made more spiritual by staying home? Was a deeper love for HIS church, as you point out, really developed? Do you really think deep thought provoking expositions of the Bible are now happening?

    All of this was a slippery slope that opened the door for anything. And you conveniently ignored these questions poses in the article (along with almost everything else). What were the limits to what could be done in worship? Who defined those limits? Could anything be done? The Reformed confessions used to regulate these things and provide some uniformity for churches and to prevent this stuff from happening. Why didn't they matter anymore? Were they old traditions of man or biblical ones? If anything has been evidenced in churches across this land it's that once you begin to build the church upon the wants of the people, there is no restraining what comes next. So all restraint can be removed in the name of Jesus so that we don’t appear to be legalistic? Too much education or not, that is called antinomianism, and those who practice it the apostle says their judgment is just.

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  19. For example, notice the inconsistency here; a rodeo in the commons is cheesy but a painted up 60’s dodge van with video games and gadgets to win the youth for Jesus, isn’t? See what you just did, you were able to make a judgment against rodeos but I am not, and am charged for not taking a step back and processing the “ministry machine” more deeply. Ma’am, I really don’t know how much more deeper to go here, it’s a dodge. You illustrate the point of the article perfectly here. You have proved it to be a subjective choice based on the dictates of your own heart. I am arguing against what is being done Scripturally on the basis of 1 Cor. 2, among others.

    The biggest concern in your response is the charge that I am using the internet to divide the body of Christ. I would only correct you in this, I am using the internet to divide truth from error in the body of Christ—that is a much more honest critique. Have you not read Luke 12, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. "For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. "Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." Why would Christ bring division and not peace? It is precisely because his truth “divides” and is “narrow” and is “confrontive”, and “separates” sheep from wolves.

    You seem to be suggesting here that we shouldn’t question anyone or anything lest we be viewed as divisive? Have you read the pastoral epistles? Let give you an example: "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. In light of your response, I fail to see why you would not charge the apostle Paul with the same divisiveness. I encourage you to read through Christ’s addresses to the seven churches in Revelation. Many of them had totally apostatized from the truth, and the judgments were severe. I am only doing my reasonable duty by sounding the alarm.

    We are specifically commanded to test the spirits to see whether they be from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Back in catechism in the CRC in my younger years, I remember my godly teachers instructing me about the three marks of a faithful church: 1) Faithful preaching of the gospel, 2) The right administration of the sacraments, 3) Church discipline. If these marks are diminished, woe to those who refuse to defend the honor of Christ’s body, HIS church.

    Thanks for engaging the subject. Blessings, Chris

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  20. The name of your church is united. What is uniting about slamming another church? Perhaps you should be called Divisive Reformed Church.
    Can't really see where all this is what Christ would be pleased with.

    Salty

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  21. Dear Salty,
    Thanks for commenting. As I stated elsewhere, this should not just be viewed as a slam on this particular church, but a critique of an accepted model of worship that is decidedly unbiblical. All faithful churches are "united" in the truth, not falsehood. Christ was quite condemning of many of the seven churches in Revelation, even threatening to spew one out of his mouth for its compromises of the truth. Paul admonished Timothy not to be timid in exposing error--after all it’s called a warfare for a reason. Where do you expect the warfare to be? If Satan can come as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness, it would be a tragic compromise on the part of those who know what the words teaches to say nothing! You should know I do this because deep down I care for the souls of those who I believe are involved in practices that are disobedient to the Word. Christ commends the church in Ephesus for not tolerating the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Why should we not have the same zeal for the purity and holiness of Christ’s body? You don’t have to agree with me, but why not approach this by sitting down and thoughtfully reflecting on the arguments and then responding.

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  22. Interesting perspective on NCCTK. Just a couple of questions. Did they suddenly appear or did they begin with a few in an H.S. Gym without all the big money. Doesent a large portion of the money collecte go to India and Haiti? I do not attend NCCTK. I do agree with you on the yard signs, kinda cheesy and a waste of money.
    Kerry/ Lynden

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  23. Hi Kerry, thanks for the questions and commenting on the blog. Not sure as to whether it began in a gym, but I do know the model of ministry, patterned after Saddlback, was a quick draw here in Lynden. It was the extreme answer to what was perceived to be the dead orthodoxy of the Reformed churches. They pandered to this perceived problem in Lynden and it was immediately successful. Just because the problem exists, doesn't mean I have to except their answer to the problem. My article here is concerned to expose the unbiblical approach of the model itself.

    As to your other questions, many of the mega churches use great manipulation to promote giving to third world, impoverished nations. Not sure about ncctk specifically, but what is rarely submitted is a public break down of what is actually sent over seas. And, I'm pretty sure that that salaries, spending, budgeting, is all kept from the common people. Spending repors might be quite exposing if such info was made public, as it should be. Just because one makes a big public deal about helping Haiti, India, doesn't mean all that much is actually being sent over. It might be shocking to find out that much of the money is supporting the massive labor force of the mega church. Most of these positions are wasteful.

    I would also argue that the less attention a church brings to its overseas missions activities in this regard, the more they are blessed in them. After all, Christ did say we should do our good deeds in secret, not parading them for public approval. Just some thoughts. Chris

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