Saturday, October 31, 2009
So what sort of grade does the almost five century history of the Reformation receive? I give it an "I" for incomplete.
Much was accomplished, don't get me wrong. The tyranny of Rome was broken, giving people at least an opportunity to gather in a place that was preaching the unadulterated Gospel. The Scriptures were returned to their rightful place of authority in the Church. The gospel message of justification by faith alone was recovered and without that message there is no Gospel, there is no "Good News" to be declared. The choke-hold Rome held over European nations began to crumble.
On the other hand, we find ourselves in a world where much has not changed all that radically. Modern evangelicalism espouses a deicisonal regeneration model and a "moralistic, therapeutic deism" that smacks of Rome. Even in those corners of evangelicalism where that is not what is preached, we still find ourselves horrible disfigured by our splintering and our endless arguments. We replaced the Roman priesthood with one of our own and adopted the basic structure of Roman worship, replete with liturgies and rituals. Many of the leading Reformers embraced a "magisterial" Reformation that linked the state and the church and left a legacy of wars and a landscape littered with the bodies of Protestants, Catholics and Anabaptists.
So in short, Martin Luther started a great movement but that movement to restore and reform t he Church has been stalled for centuries. We need more bold men like Luther, men who will stand up and call for the Church to be reformed by being conformed to the Scriptures.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Don't know 15%
Don't know 15%
Don't know 27%
I found the 43% yes from black Protestants troubling given mormonism teaching that their black skin is a curse and that until the late seventies when political pressure became too great, blacks were unable to become full members of the mormon church (in that they were unable to hold "the priesthood" and not permitted to do temple work). What these stats tells us is two fold. First, many Christians are completely unequipped and undiscerning to the point that they don't realize that a religion that teaches that God the Father is an "exalted man" that has a body of flesh and bones and that Jesus Christ is a created being and the brother of Satan cannot by nature be a "Christian" religion. Second, it shows us that in the effort to win the culture war, we are allowing ourselves to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For example, check this very honest quote:
One undoubted factor in the search for better relations is that evangelicals and Mormons today unite on various moral issues and feel on the defensive, especially in shared opposition to same-sex marriage. Whatever differences they may have about the nature of God, "when you've been in the trenches together, it often generates new respect," said evangelical attorney David French, who leads the Alliance Defense Fund's (ADF) campus religious freedom project. "The LDS commitment to core values is one that betters our country, without question."
The Gospel is not a political tool. Better to lose the culture war than to put the cross of Christ to shame and deny the Gospel.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The question of what the life of the New Testament church should look like is a complicated one. In modern church life, circa 2009, we carry around an enormous amount of baggage in the form of preconceived notions about “church” that stem from centuries of tradition. That tradition may not have the Biblical record on its side but it has the advantages of presumption, money and inertia. On the other hand, I don’t know of anyone who is satisfied with the state of the church. Recognizing that in and of itself is not sufficient. It is far easier to point out how the church should not look than it is to describe how it should look.
First and foremost, the ministry of the church needs to focus on a central fact: we are, as God’s adopted people, a people chosen by God for His purpose and His glory. He chose us, He bought us, He gave us new life and He commands us to gather together. That central truth needs to override anything else. We are not a voluntary assembly or a bunch of autonomous organisms. We who were not a people are now a people, we who were condemned now stand redeemed (1 Peter 2:10), His people chosen as a remnant before the foundation of the world (Eph 1: 3-6). That fact overrides every other consideration and preference of men. When we choose to declare some people off-limits for fellowship because of a doctrinal dispute, it is not them we are rejecting. It is Christ. Each and every believer was bought with the blood of Christ, so who are we to reject those who are no different than us where it really matters? This is so vital: we don’t choose who to “go to church” with, the membership of the church has already been decided. It is up to us to live in community together. We are also not free to “make it up” when it comes to living and worshiping as a people as we go. The purpose and practice of our worship was not left to chance. The purpose is to glorify God and the practice is shown to us in the Scripture. That is where I will start and as importantly where I will stop as I explore the question at hand.
My focus on the New Testament church life returns again and again to a pivotal passage in Acts and this is where I will focus my response to the question of how a congregation following Jesus Christ should look:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)
This passage really gets to the heart and purpose of the church precisely because it is the earliest glimpse we get into the life and the focus of the nascent church under the direct leadership of men like Peter and James. These men were eyewitnesses of Christ and closer perhaps than anyone else to our Savior during His earthly ministry. If we want to know what the church should look like, we should look here before we turn to modern church manuals or even the giants of the faith in the Reformation era. What could be a better source than the men who were filled with the Holy Spirit, men who wrote much of the New Testament, men who were eyewitnesses to the risen Christ?
(As an aside, if there was ever a time when we would see a heavily hierarchical church with clear division between “leaders” and “followers”, it would be here. After all, who wouldn’t submit to the leadership of an apostle? This should be the birth of the hierarchical system. I don’t see that in these passages. What I see is something completely different. I see a vision of community among the family of God’s people.)
To answer the question being posed, I want to break down the four elements of Acts 2:42 and look at them in more detail.
“they devoted themselves to…the fellowship”
That is a kind of vague idea in a vacuum. My understanding is that the Greek word for fellowship, koinōnia, implies “participation, sharing”. That doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) lead us to a compartmentalized, segmented mode of church life where we elect this hour on this day as our time for “worship” and this hour one Sunday afternoon each quarter as “fellowship”. Acts 2:42 and the subsequent passages describing the church reveal a life of community, one lived out in joy and on a daily basis. Believers in Jesus Christ form a community within a community, a redeemed remnant among a largely pagan world. Community sounds great but what does it mean? I would hazard a guess that virtually every church would consider themselves to be a community, from the smallest country church to the largest megachurch. For that answer we look to the verses immediately following the key verse in Acts 2:42:
And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 43-47)
Does that sound like a “twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday” type of church community? A basic principle that goes along with a life in community is that the life of a New Testament congregation following Christ is not a compartmentalized life. The clear, sharp dividing lines we traditionally have between aspects of Christian life are not in view in the New Testament. This is when we worship, this is when we have fellowship, this is when we are edified. No. We are to live life in community continually and the sub-functions we think of are outgrowths of that community of believers. We gather together as a loving community and because we gather we are edified, encouraged, uplifted. A congregation following Jesus Christ sees fellowship in community as the focal point of the Christian life. Not preaching. Not "worship services". Lives lived out in love and service to one another.
“they devoted themselves to…the breaking of bread”
One of the areas that I have really changed my stance on is the breaking of bread. I used to be a “fence the table” guy, keep the unworthy away. I loved the story of John Calvin blocking the table of the bread and wine with his own body to keep heretics away. That was then. I have concluded now that the Lord’s Supper should be a unifier instead of a divider, a common cup and loaf where we celebrate our common salvation and declare our Savior’s death, resurrection and pending return (1 Cor 11: )
When you deny someone the Lord’s Supper, you in essence are declaring them unfit for fellowship. I think it is disingenuous to say that you consider someone a brother but refuse to share the Supper with them unless they meet your approval on secondary matters of doctrine or on church practice. Who should we not break bread with? Scripture gives us this answer as well:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5: 9-13)
Is it too great a leap to suggest that if we as the church deny the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper to someone, we in essence are labeling them a sinner unfit to even eat with? I don’t think that is intentional but I think if we strip away the layers of tradition and ritual that surround the Supper we find that this is the net result. I don’t see the Supper as a doctrinal club but rather a joyous shared meal, a meal mind you and not a little emblem that represents a meal. The Lord’s Supper seems to describe a meal in the New Testament, so why should the church in 2009 accept a trivialized, ritualistic and infrequent substitute? We are to live in community with one another and what is more intimate, more communal than sharing a meal with one another? The congregation following Jesus Christ is one that lives in community and fellowship with one another, in “church”, in our homes and in the sharing of a meal with our brothers and sisters.
“they devoted themselves to…the prayers”
Prayer is one of the greatest areas of glaring weakness in the church (as well as in my own personal life). Saying we need to be a praying church is easy, explaining what that means can be harder. Prayer cannot be a rote repetition. Reading back a prayer someone else wrote strikes me as contrary to the spirit of prayer in the New Testament church. Listening to someone else pray for everyone else also seems to be a cheap substitute. Prayer is simultaneously an intensely personal act as well as something that clearly is a corporate act. Look at this account in Acts 1.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1: 12-14)
Here we find the church immediately after the ascension of Christ and the first thing that the church was doing was gathering in prayer. What do we see here? First we see everyone gathered together and “all of these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer”. It strikes me as inconsistent to think that one of the men prayed and everyone else listened. A more natural reading was that they were all praying. Prayer is a personal and familial act with a God who restored our standing with Him. At the cross when Christ breathed His last, the veil was torn asunder (Mark 15:38) and opened the way of grace and mercy that allows us to pray with Christ as our advocate (1 John 2:1)and intercessor (Heb 4:16). Why would you let someone else stand in between you and the Savior? Prayer is the privilege and responsibility of the entire body of Christ and a congregation following Jesus Christ will exhibit prayer among the people as something to be desired for all, not reserved to the few.
“they devoted themselves to…the apostles’ teachings”
This is one that seems to get lost in the search for community and fellowship. Perhaps because doctrinal precision is often (perhaps rightly) linked with legalism and religious formalism. Nevertheless this is a non-negotiable. The danger of an emphasis on community is that we can lose sight of our common confession. I have zero interest in an assembly if we abandon the core truths of the Gospel in return for pseudo-fellowship. The church consists of God’s people in unity but that unity has a foundation. We are unified in our common salvation and our common confession. Let me be clear: there can be no genuine Christian fellowship where the Gospel message is altered, watered down or subsumed. The doctrines of the Gospel ought to unify us, not divide us. Where we see doctrine dividing brothers, we have a problem. Having said that, there are many passages which speak to the seriousness of doctrine. Space and brevity prohibit a full listing but even a cursory examination of the Scriptures demonstrates the level of concern that the writers of the New Testament for doctrine.
The congregation that follows Christ loves Him, loves His Word and finds itself searching the Scriptures as individuals and as an assembly. How can we love someone we know nothing about? How can we say we love Him if we don’t seek Him in His Word?
There is neither need nor room for speculation about what the gathering of the church is supposed to look like. We have been left a series of examples and commands that give us an adequate framework for the life of the community of redeemed believers. The Scriptures don’t contain set prayers or liturgies or church bulletins so why do we find them so vital to our church life? The congregation that follows Christ is one where simple community and fellowship, united by a common confession under the Gospel, has as their focus the only worthy object of worship, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our struggle is not to create whole cloth a worship system. Our struggle is instead to avoid the sort of traditions and rituals that humans have infected the worship of God with since the beginning. Scripture does not lay out a specific, liturgical schedule of events to govern the lives of believers nor is one desirable. All too often we have tried to push Scripture aside when it comes to the gathering of the New Covenant people as the church and replaced it with our own pragmatic solutions, rituals and traditions which may bring us comfort and a sense of being religious but bring little glory to God. Isn’t bringing glory to God what the gathering of the church is supposed to be about?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
An hour into the “Fireside”, I was feeling very burdened and discouraged when my blackberry buzzed. At that time of night, it was unlikely to be a work related email so I slipped it out of my pocket and read an email from my wife. It simply said:
I'm covered and Praying.
I love You, Eva
What a comfort and joy to know that in the midst of a sea of lost people being deceived, my wife was at home, thinking about me, chastely covering her head and in prayer. What a great comfort for a husband to have a wife who prays for him! I still was heartbroken for those around me but having prayer support at home strengthened me.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The church is way too comfortable, inert, mechanical. The last thing the church needs is more apathy, more going along with tradition. I hope that I am able to shake the branches, tip sacred cows and stir the pot. All in a way that brings glory to God.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The question that really faces churches, particularly church planting pastors, is how they will define success. Will we develop a mindset that views success as something that might not immediately put “butts in the seats” on a Sunday morning? If so, do we really want all of our time, energy, resources, money, people and gifts going in to a church structure, whatever that might be? What might it look like if we became more outward focused? What if we had churches that didn’t believe that all ministry was simply up to the pastors?
Keep asking those questions Brent. Sometimes the answer you get is not the one you expect and it is not one that people like to hear. That doesn't mean we shouldn't ask the question...
I have a burr in my saddle about something and it led me to thinking about the feudal system. As you probably know, this was one of the primary modes of economics and government in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, a thousand year period between the 5th and 16th century (which coincidentally is about the same time between the rise of Roman Catholicism and the start of the Protestant Reformation). One of the keys was the idea of fiefdoms in a feudal society, where small, quasi-independent local lords ruled over a fiefdom. They had their own castle or stronghold and their assigned peasants. Those peasants, as I understand it, like the lord were loyal in some way to the king of the land but their real loyalty was to the local lord. After all, he was the one they knew and who provided them with protection and to whom they provided service.
Each “local church” in fact if not in theory operates like a fiefdom. There is a king, Jesus Christ, that we pay homage to but our real concern is on our local fiefdom called the “local church”. We recognize other fiefdoms as more or less legitimate, i.e. other local churches, but because they are THAT church and not OUR church, because they have a different worship style or affiliate with a different denomination we stay clear of them. Sure there are people hurting or in need in other areas but our focus is on the people in our fiefdom. Let the lord, er pastor, of that fiefdom, um local church, take care of his own people. We have problems enough of our own to deal with. Thus we become focused on the issues and problems of our own little fiefdom even as we claim to recognize the universality of the church. Essentially we live our lives on our own plot of land and isolate ourselves from the greater Body of Christ.
Even the economic system works in a similar fashion. The “members” of the local church work the land and pay a portion to the pastor. The pastor in return provides them with doctrinal protection and services that they don’t want to do themselves, like visiting the sick and the widows. A feudal lord was granted his position because of lineage and power, a pastor is granted his position by his education and ordination. The medieval lord had a sword, the pastor has his pulpit. Peasants weren’t allowed to have swords lest they rise up against the lord, church members stay clear of the pulpit lest they wonder why they pay someone to do what they could do themselves.
On the other hand, you can go too far the other direction and make the Roman mistake of overemphasizing the link between interconnectedness and centralization of power. Medieval Rome had a virtual monopoly on Christianity and maintained that grip by any means necessary, even if that meant putting malcontents to death. Neither the neo-feudalism of the traditional church or the stifling authoritarianism of Rome represents the Biblical church.
The proper and I believe Biblical road is to see the Body of Christ for what it is, all of the redeemed everywhere and for all time. That means that in truth and not merely theory that the Presbyterian down the road and the Christian in Tanzania are members of the same church as you. They are not relegated to distant relatives because they are in a different “local church”. One of the things that has been hard for me to get used to is that different speakers each week at church. I have to say I am coming to enjoy it. I like that we have guys from other assemblies come and speak to us. It shows an interconnectedness that is missing from the fiefdom church model we are so used to. It is almost unthinkable to have a someone other than the pastor teach. If he leaves for vacation, he arranges "pulpit supply" from outside of the congregation. Why not do as the Bible teaches and disciple men in the local gathering to maturity so that they can also be part of the gathering of the church in a meaningful way? I have my own theory about that.
It is not a good thing when you can see parallels between Monthy Python and the local church. I am just saying.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Which one was the Lord's Supper as we see it in the Bible?
Just good clean fun, blowing steam after a year of dealing with other people’s kids!
MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP — A police report that details an evening of troubling incidents among a group of Haslett Public Schools teachers involving drug use and “drunk shaming” is prompting questions about the teachers’ behavior and institutional accountability in this suburban community near East Lansing.
The police report addresses a number of incidents that took place at an end-of-year party hosted in 2007 by a Haslett teacher and attended by several other teachers from the district. The police report was provided to Michigan Messenger by one of those teachers, Veronica Piechotte, who says she was victimized by her colleagues that evening and that neither the Haslett school administration nor the legal system had acted on her complaints until Michigan Messenger began its inquiry.
According to the account Piechotte gave police the day after the incident, on the last day of school in 2007, Piechotte and five other Haslett school teachers, Lauri Etheridge, Timothy Beebe, Brian Town, Daniel McKinney and Heather Woodworth, joined their colleagues at an East Lansing bar to celebrate the beginning of summer vacation. As the party moved from the bar to McKinney’s house, things took a turn for the worse. The people involved dispute some of what happened during the evening, but each of them spoke with police at the time, providing a contemporaneous, first-hand account.
According to the police report, Etheridge, Town, Piechotte and Woodworth stopped at Town’s home on the way to McKinney’s house, which is a short distance from the school. There, according to the report, they decided to smoke marijuana and Town produced and provided the drug for the three women, who went to the garage to smoke it. The teachers then continued on to McKinney’s house.
Later that night, after more alcohol consumption by all involved, Piechotte crawled between a coffee table and a sofa in McKinney’s living room. There she passed out
According to the report, Town and Beebe decided it would be “funny” to draw on Piechotte’s unconscious body. …Much of the writing was sexual and crude. McKinney and his wife, as well as Etheridge and staff member Phil Rutkowski, watched the drawing. McKinney took pictures with his digital camera, and at least one person took pictures with a cell phone.
(Please note that the article cited contains a number of graphic depictions, so read the whole thing at your discretion.)
As you might expect, the school district sprang into action when they found out that they had pot smoking teachers engaged in this sort of activity. Or not…
While criminal charges were never filed in this case, Haslett school officials — according to police records, emails and other documents provided by Piechotte and an interview with Superintendent Mike Duda — were aware of the incident and took little if any action in response to it until Michigan Messenger started examining the case.
Sure it is off campus and outside of the school year and perhaps legally there is not much they could do about it. Nevertheless, this is another example among the many of the mixed bag of people you get in the public schools. That is true of every industry. There are bad people in banking, in veterinarians offices, in garbage companies. The difference is that you don’t turn your kids over to those people to raise for most of the day. You do turn them over to the public schools and I guess you are left with hoping your kid makes it through school without being taught by drug users and imbeciles.
You might raise your hand here and say, not in my school! We have a “good” school. Really?
According to Wikipedia (and I have no reason to doubt these stats), Haslett has a median family income of $69,806. Not exactly an impoverished area. Also from Wikipedia:
Haslett was named 42nd best place to raise your kids in America by BusinessWeek in 2007. It was rated this based on five factors: math and reading test scores; cost of living; recreational and cultural activities; number of schools; and risk of crime.
In other words, this is a “good” school. Kids aren’t getting shot. Lots of kids go to college. You could do far worse than to send your kids here. Haslett is a very nice community with excellent schools. Yet in this school, five teachers decided to “celebrate” the end of the school year by getting drunk, stoned, one to the point of passing out followed by juvenile antics.
Now I recognize that there are tons of great people teaching in public schools. There are Christians who devoutly believe in our Savior. There are plenty of teachers who celebrate the end of the school year in ways that don’t involve marijuana. On the other hand, there are apparently many that do. I don’t think this is normal or accepted among teachers but how many of us really know? My point is not that all public school teachers, or even most, are drug users and sophomoric.
Here is the thing. You really don’t know. You might get the fine, upstanding perhaps even Christian teacher. Or you might get one of these knuckleheads. You have virtually no say in the matter. You don’t interview and hire or even get a chance to talk to most teachers before they are hired by your school system.
Are you sure you want to roll the dice with your kids? Maybe they get the good teacher. Maybe the get the one who just happens to have some weed at his house in case of a party emergency. Maybe you have no idea from a five minute teachers conference which one is which?
Think about it.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Since ministry is a matter of function and not of status, we would do well to allow various gifted teachers to do the formal teaching in our churches. If I understand Eph. 4:11-12 correctly, all pastors are to be teachers, but not all teachers are necessarily pastors. A good spiritual leader, as I have said before, delights in setting people free to use their gifts for the good of the Body. This means that the regular pastor-teacher may have to yield to other gifted teachers. You say, "But they can't teach as well as I can." All the more reason to allow them an opportunity to hone their skills in the crucible of teaching. According to 1 Tim. 3:2, all elders are to have the gift of teaching, and it would be very healthy to allow them to share the burden. Members of your congregation may well be shocked to find their regular pastor-teacher sitting down while another gifted teacher gives the formal instruction that day, but what a message that would send about every-member ministry. It is unfortunately so radical a concept that it may take time to become accepted. I was delighted to see in our congregation a gifted teacher in our church filling the pulpit when our pastor was away recently. How glad I was that we didn't go outside our Body and bring in a guest speaker. There was no need for it; we have several excellent teachers in our midst.
Amen to that. That picture of leadership is something we should seek and pray for.
Thanks Gloria Steinem!
Great quote I am lifting from Josh Gelatt's blog (that he lifted from somewhere else!)
"Moralism – - the idea that we merit God’s favor by being good – - is the deadly enemy of Christian parenting. Moralism trusts in its own goodness, virtue, and principled intentions to get a “not guilty” verdict from God on the day of judgment. It is deceptive. A cloak of morality over an unregenerate heart can make it difficult to discern the child’s true spiritual condition." William P. Farley
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Well, why not?
I think this is a great idea!
If the purpose and pinnacle of the gathering of the church is for the people to hear one man give a sermon, then why shouldn’t we just listen to the very best men via teleconference or even recording? We hear all the time that the problem with the church is that we need more and better expository preaching. With all love to my friends who preach and in full recognition of my own limitations in preaching, I would say that you get a much better expository sermon from Piper or MacArthur than you get from virtually any senior pastor in any local church in America. If the goal is to hear a solid, expository sermon why not get the best sermon you can get? Better yet. What if you broadcast Bob Kauflin every Sunday morning on a tape delay “leading the worship”? What is the difference between Bob on video and a guy up front telling you what songs to sing? Bob is going to give you a “better”, more polished and professional song leadership. The accompaniment will be on key, the singing will be perfect, the songs will be properly vetted. How about we film Ligon Duncan praying and reciting 1 Corinthians 11 over a huge pile of oyster crackers and pallets of grape juice? Then we could ship portions out to churches observing the Supper that week and splice in the footage of Duncan blessing it prior to passing around the platters.
For most Christians in traditional churches on a Sunday morning, they are primarily sitting and watching. Does it really matter if they are watching a guy in-person on stage or Mark Dever on a video feed? I think taking the traditional model of evangelical church life to a logical extreme, why not do this? Just think, we could take up the offering and put it into the bank and then the central church could sweep the money into one big account and distribute it. That is how mormons do it. Instead of squabbling about carpet colors at the local level, let a regional super senior pastor figure it out. For those of us who are Reformed, we could break it down regionally. Albert Mohler could get the south, MacArthur everything west of the Mississippi, Piper the Midwest and Northeast and Dever could run the east coast. We could appoint under-under shepherds in smaller areas, Steve Lawson in Alabama, Kevin DeYoung in Michigan, etc. No more boring, wandering sermons. No more butchering of “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.
I think this idea has real promise.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I have been wondering about the topics I tend to blog on. I often focus on behavioral issues, Christian life issues like homeschooling or headcovering. I have noticed that there seems to be a backlash against this of sorts and it is not without cause. There are way too many people who are nitpicky, whether it is over issues like the King James translation of the Bible as the only acceptable translations or who is able to label themselves “Reformed” or any of a myriad of extra-Biblical traditions that have taken on the gravity of binding commandments. Give this reality, perhaps we should just focus on the Gospel proclamation and not worry about the ancillary issues. Rules divide so let’s stay clear of them.
Again, I understand the motivation for this attitude and have no small amount of sympathy for it. It is something of a badge of honor and piety to claim that you are focused only on the Gospel and not bogged down in minutiae. On the other hand, an awful lot of the pages of the New Testament are taken up with the issue of how we are to live as Christians, as individuals, families, the gathering of the church and with unbelievers around us. Much of the Old Testament revolves around the character of God and that doesn’t change nor can we as believers live as if it has. I worry when people dismiss clear Scriptural teaching, whether under the auspices of not being “legalistic” or in a pseudo-pious, “I focus on nothing but the Gospel” attitude. All of those pages of instruction in the Bible are not merely filler around John 3:16 but serve a vital purpose in guiding Christians in their life after being born again, navigating the tricky waters of living as Christians in a lost and fallen world, and living as redeemed sinners in community with other redeemed sinners.
The problem stems from being unable (or unwilling) to differentiate between commands and rules we find in the Bible. They are treated as one category and are treated as if they were identical. In a snap shot, I find the following categories in Scripture: Old Covenant commandments (like temple sacrifice, purity laws, tithing); Biblical revelations regarding the nature of God that are obviously unchanging (the Ten Commandments); New Covenant commandments (proclaim the Gospel, gather together, love one another); descriptions of events that are not prescriptive in nature. As an example, the New Covenant Christian has no need to sacrifice in the temple. A New Covenant Christian is obliged to have no other gods before the one, true God. We are to gather together as a non-negotiable command, to love one another and our neighbor, to preach the Gospel, to care for the poor and a myriad of other commandments by which we demonstrate our love for Christ (If you love Me, keep My commandments). The view that once you become a Christian, you don’t have any rules is great for Outback Steakhouse (No rules, just right) but it is eminently unbiblical. We are under grace, not the Law but the truly redeemed believer doesn’t live as if there is no Law.
I also don’t buy into the “if you are convicted” argument. We cannot look at commandments and pick and choose the ones we wish to follow based on our own personal convictions. “Well, I know the Bible says stealing is wrong but I am not convicted about it”. That is clearly silly but it is the basic argument I hear all the time. If the Bible gives us a clear command or principle, I don’t see not “being convicted” about it as an excuse we can find anywhere in the Bible. “I know the Bible says we are to love our neighbors, but I am just not convicted about this issue”. Really? Not being convicted is code for “I recognize what the Bible says but for whatever reason I don’t want to obey”. If I claim, as I do, that the Bible specifically says that a woman should cover her head when praying I am either right or wrong on that issue. Either I am interpreting 1 Corinthians 11: 2-15 correctly or I am not. Your personal conviction or mine is irrelevant here. Where I fail to love my brother as I should, and I do fail here, I recognize my failure and repent of it; I don’t hide behind a lack of conviction to excuse it. Commands in the Bible deserve our attention and consideration.
Conversely, there are many Christians who have the opposite problem. They don’t find enough rules in the New Testament to satisfy them so they start making up rules (KJV Onlyism, no card playing) or misapplying Old Testament rules by ignoring context and applying them to the church. Or in some cases, they think that applying moralistic rules to people will somehow sanctify an unbeliever or make a non-Christian at least act superficially like a Christian (the “make America a Christian nation again” crowd). This tends to appears in the fringe fundamentalist camp like the nutcase burning Rick Warren books and non-KJV Bible in North Carolina to make a point. If the point he is trying to make is “I am a loon”, then mission accomplished. There are two problems with this camp. The first is that they are making rules and yoking believers with those rules that are inapplicable or entirely absent from the Bible. The second is that they often are misapplying or flat out ignoring the rules that do appear in the Scriptures. Until we can get ourselves straightened out on the clear teachings of the New Testament within the Body of Christ, we should avoid trying to “Christianize” America.
What we are left with is an either-or dichotomy where you either keep every rule you can find in the Bible without a shred of context and perhaps even making up some up or you chuck the whole thing and base your actions on your own conscience and convictions.
There are some general things we should remember when it comes to rules and commandments.
Read the Bible at all times and in all places in light of the cross.
It is true in many cases that Old Testament laws don’t apply to Christians because those laws find their fulfillment in the cross, in the person and work of Jesus Christ. I find laws like Sabbath observation, tithing, etc. to be abrogated under the New Covenant. But there are also important principles that I think still apply to believers because they are reflective of the nature of God and His Word. Even if we are not called to a specific, 1/10th tithe that does not mean that we are freed from giving joyfully and sacrificially to those in need and to support the Gospel proclamation. We are not bound by Sabbath laws and rules about purification but that doesn’t mean we are freed from sanctified lives or from the need and command to gather together as the people of God. In many cases, the standard for the Christian under the New Covenant is higher than for those under the Old. For the truly regenerate, these rules and laws and commandments are not a heavy burden, they are a delight.
Don’t yoke believers under burdensome laws where Scripture is silent but also do not be silent where Scripture speaks.
Where the Bible speaks, let it speak. Don’t argue with it, don’t try to explain it away. The New Testament has a lot to say about how we are to live, worship, behave in these days after the cross. We should diligently seek to hear what Christ has to say in His Word, not striving to find a work around to avoid obedience. Trying to muzzle the Bible is neither pious nor proper. But where the Bible is silent, don’t feel obliged or justified in filling in the blanks.
Sanctification is our goal, not moralism.
Sanctification cannot be mandated or legislated. Sure you can make people adhere to laws to promote moralism without changing the heart. That however is not the goal of the church. A truly sanctified individual will exhibit high moral character without coercion. External piety is actually pretty easy for humans to exhibit, heart change comes only through the working of the Spirit and we cannot dictate to Him where and how He operates.
Don’t let the motivation or behavior of some dissuade you from following God’s Word.
I try to be aware of this in my own life as I have the tendency to see certain behaviors as dividers. Homeschooling our kids or my wife covering her head should be done to honor God and bring glory to His name, not to exalt ourselves over others. I stray over that line frequently but my failings are not God’s failings, and the behavior of some does not negate the commandments of God. Me being rude or someone else being judgmental about an issue is not a license to ignore what Scripture says.
In the life of the Christian, our regeneration / conversion is not the end of the story. It is in many ways the beginning. A thirty year old who comes to a saving faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the Gospel has perhaps six decades of life ahead of them. How a redeemed sinner is to live in relationship to the world around him and among God’s people is not some ancillary topic and it is something where confusion and misinformation abound. We should carefully and prayerfully search the Word to see what it has to say about our lives.
We shouldn’t expect pagans to act like Christians, we should expect them to act like pagans. As intramural questions among Christians though, we can and should spend time asking how we should now live as the Body of Christ in a way that is faithful, sanctifying and glorifying to Christ. We are given rules and commandments not as a burden but as a blessing.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I would highly encourage you to check out this post from my friend Josh Gelatt regarding the issue of man-made rules. The post is interesting and the discussion following is...spirited.
First, the white robe, among other things, helps emphasize the office of the pastor and de-emphasize the personality of the man in the pulpit. Sometimes it is hard to be led in worship by an elder or pastor who is a good friend or a peer or even (especially) one who is younger. To help us get over this feeling, the church has traditionally placed special robes on her ministers when they conduct worship. This helps the people to remember that it is not just good old Jeff Meyers up there; rather, the Lord’s ordained minister is leading us into God’s presence and speaking God’s Word to us. Strictly speaking, the worship service is not conducted by Jeff Meyers anyway, but by the robe of office that Jeff Meyers happens to be filling at the current time. We submit to the office, not to the man, during worship.
Interesting that it is hard to be led in worship by a "peer". I guess that implies that pastors are not our peers which makes them...our superiors? I would also agree that it is hard to be led in a authoritarian sense by a friend. On the other hand, I would say it is far easier to be lovingly guided by the men I know and trust precisely because they are my friends instead of some clerical office holder. I guess I would rather be ministered to by (and conversely be a minister to) my friend who I know rather than my friend who is supposed to be transformed into an office based on a robe he wears. I listen to council from my friends like James and Josh and Rick and John because they are my friends and know me, not because they are being paid to "lead" me. Vestments separate people. That guy is the pastor, he has a robe on. You are not, no robe for you! This again lays bare the disconnect between saying we are a priesthood of all believers in theory but have a very distinct priestly caste in practice.
Take off your robes. It is OK to be just a guy, to be the peer of the other redeemed sinners in your gathering. All authority has been given to Christ, not to humans with ordination certificates or seminary degrees or clerical robes.
HONOLULU--At a time when President Barack Obama is pushing for more time in the classroom, his home state has created the nation's shortest school year under a new union contract that closes schools on most Fridays for the remainder of the academic calendar.
The deal whacks 17 days from the school year for budget-cutting reasons and has education advocates charging that Hawaii is drastically cutting the academic calendar at a time when it already ranks near the bottom in national educational achievement.
While many school districts have laid off or furloughed teachers, reduced pay and planning days and otherwise cut costs, Hawaii's 171,000 public schools students now find themselves with only 163 instructional days, compared with 180 in most districts in the U.S.
That poses a couple of problems. As the article points out, the Obama administration has made having kids in school more hours a year, starting earlier, one of the hallmarks of its “education” policy. So here is his home state cutting back on the school year. But I don’t think the big issue is “education”. Here is the real problem:
"It's just not enough time for the kids to learn,'' said Valerie Sonoda, president of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association. "I'm getting hundreds of calls and emails. They all have the same underlying concern, and that is the educational hours of the kids.''
Riiiight. Maybe it is me being cynical, but I am thinking that the real problem is not as much education as it is supervision. What are working parents going to do when their kids are not being warehoused by the state on Fridays? I imagine that the outraged parents are more likely outraged by the inconvenience of having their kids home 17 days of the work week unexpectedly. If the real concern was education, it is easy enough for teachers to assign extra homework (since home in the evenings is where an awful lot of school takes place anyway) or even, GASP, some independent reading projects that require more than scribbling notes and regurgitating information. Oh no, this has nothing to do with education and everything to do with inconvenience.
This event is not isolated, but is the very real direction we are heading. It is really interesting in that it pits two groups against one another because of a violation of an unspoken but very real social contract: Schools will continue to suck money out of the community in return for warehousing kids for most of the work day so that both parents can work outside of the home. That is the deal and it has been in force for all of my life. That is being broken as schools, bloated with bureaucracy and overpaid staff, find that revenue is not keeping up with expenses. So in the balancing act between keeping staff employed and “education”, keeping staff employed wins out.
It should be interesting to see how this pans out. The recession we are in is exposing the funding issues in education, as public schools keep coming with their hands outstretched to ask for more and more money at the same time people are losing jobs and their homes are losing value. The old system where housing prices kept going up and therefore property taxes, the main driver in most states of education funding, also kept going up is clearly broken. Ask a homeowner in Michigan who has seen the real value of their home plummet with no corresponding drop in their property taxes or even in many cases an increase in their taxes. I wonder if you put it to a vote, lay off some staff or close school on Friday, how parents would vote? I would bet the “lay of staff” stance would win out.
As the economic world changes and America’s dominance diminishes we are simultaneously seeing a precipitous decline in the birth rate in America along with a rise in the number of kids in private schools, charter schools or homeschooled. If there 1 million kids homeschooled in America and you figure an average class size of 30 pupils per teacher, that works out to some 33,000 teachers who are not employed because of homeschoolers. Add to that the millions more that are in public and charter school and you can see why teachers unions are so incensed whenever anyone mentions schooling alternatives that don’t include union teachers. As the teachers unions get more desperate, expect them to push even harder to restrict home education and fight tooth and nail to shut down charter schools. Lest you get the impression that I think teachers unions have no purpose, let me quote a few more lines from the article:
The new contract, approved by 81% of voting teachers, stipulates 17 furlough Fridays during which schools will be closed, with the first happening Oct. 23. The teachers accepted a concurrent pay reduction of about 8%, but teacher vacation, nine paid holidays and six teacher planning days are left untouched.
The new agreement also guarantees no layoffs for two years and postpones the implementation of random drug testing for teachers.
Now there is a noble goal for the union, negotiating out random drug testing for teachers! See, teachers union do have a purpose, protecting teachers who use illegal drugs from detection.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev 20:4-6)
I am going to suggest that the 1000 years is not a literal thousand years and that in apocalyptic vision there are many things we don't and should't use a wooden literalism to interpret and that perhaps the first resurrection being spoken of here is the new birth, the regeneration of dead sinners into life by the power of the Spirit and the Word of God. We will see how that goes. I am not expecting to change a lot of minds but I am hoping to shake the tree a little bit so that some of my brothers might not take Scofield at his word about everything he wrote.
Friday, October 16, 2009
A recent editorial in USA Today exposes the overwrought hand wringing that comes from the secular elites of the world when faced with a religious person who is actually serious and expressive about their faith. The article focuses on athletes and faith with one particular target. Tom Krattenmaker, writing for USA Today, runs out a thinly veiled hit piece called And I'd like to thank God Almighty
You can, and perhaps should, have a discussion about the outward religious expression in athletics. On the one hand, I find the over the top “I would like to thank God” a bit disingenuous from many athletes who don’t seem to thank God when they lose. On the other hand, there is a solid core of people who are genuine believers throughout the sports world, the guys who don’t generally run people over in their Bentley while drunk and high, who don’t organize dog fighting rings, who don’t get stupid drunk between baseball games and hit their wives. These people take their faith seriously and I would never ask them to not recognize and praise God, win or lose.
Underlying this conversation is a deeper issue Mr. Krattenmaker exhibits in his editorial. He doesn't so much have a problem with exhibitions of faith. He has a problem with Christianity. At least Christianity from Christians who take Christianity seriously. I would assume that he would have no problem with vague, fuzzy ecumenical Christianity that stands for nothing other than being nice to people. But woe to the athlete that dares say what is obvious: we can’t all be right. His particular target is an easy one, Tim Tebow, the homeschooled, prison ministering, Christ proclaiming missionary who also happens to be the most visible player in college football.
But there's more to his story. Tebow does his missionary trips to the Philippines under the auspices of his father's Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. The Tebow organization espouses a far-right theology. Its bottom line: Only those who assent to its version of Christianity will avoid eternal punishment. The ministry boldly declares, "We reject the modern ecumenical movement."
Good for them. The modern ecumenical movement being referred to is not seeking Christian unity around the truth of the Gospel, it is seeking unity with almost anyone by watering down or denying the Gospel. I went to the beliefs section of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association and their statement of belief is pretty standard stuff. I might quibble with a watered down decisional regeneration position and their dispensationalism stance, but otherwise what they believe is what orthodox Christians have always believed. There is nothing new or scary here. Meanwhile, Bob Tebow's group runs an orphanage in the Phillipines that cares for around 50 orphaned children. I wonder what Tom Krattenmaker has done for orphans lately?
Again, the Bible teaches that anyone who does not have faith in Christ goes to hell. Jews, in spite of the horrible way they have been treated, do not get a free pass anymore than Muslims do.
The Tebow organization's literature estimates that 75% of the Philippines' inhabitants "have never once heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ." This in a country where more than 80% of the citizens identify themselves as Roman Catholic.
If Mr. Krattenmaker bothered to do any research, he would realize that this is the position of most of Protestant Christianity over the past five hundred years.
But there's a shadow side to this. If their take on God and truth and life is the only right one — which their creed boldly states — everyone else is wrong.
Not a mere abstraction, this exclusiveness sometimes morphs into a form of chauvinism and mistreatment of non-Christians. Witness the incident with the Washington Nationals baseball team in 2005, when the Christian chaplain was exposed as teaching that Jews go to hell. Then there was the New Mexico state football team, which was the target of a religious discrimination lawsuit in 2006 after two Muslim players reported being labeled "troublemakers" and were kicked off the team by their devoutly Christian coach. The case was settled out of court and the students transferred.
A “shadow side”? That is the reality of religion. By believing in belief system A you are implying that every other belief system is by default wrong. The major world faiths are inherently mutually exclusive. But Mr. Krattenmaker has a guaranteed way to get around that: consult a public opinion poll!
What this comes down to is a bigoted but completely expected attack by an unbeliever on Christians who have the temerity to actually believe what they say they believe, to be open in saying so and to reflect those beliefs in their actions. I don't think Tim Tebow is a saint even if he is a Heisman trophy winning, evangelizing, homeschooled, soon to be multimillionaire virgin. I do think that he is facing a tough road because the world loves to worship famous people but hates people who follow Christ. Tim Tebow is going to face a long, hard road. Being rich and famous doesn't make your life easier and that is infinitely more true for a believer. More than fansites, more than money or accolades, Tim Tebow needs prayer because he is going to be a target of small minded people like Tom Krattenmaker.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Energion Publications will host a blogging/essay contest. Entries are open immediately and will close November 2, 2009 when Dr. David Alan Black’s new book Christian Archy is released. Judging will take place during the first week of November, and winners will be announced by November 16.
To enter, simply write an essay in answer to the question: What should a congregation following Jesus Christ in ministry look like?
If you are a blogger, post the essay on your blog and link back to this post, then also e-mail email@example.com just to make sure. We will add your post to the list of those participating. If you are not a blogger, e-mail your essay in either Word document or Open Document Text (OpenOffice) format to firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate in the e-mail that you are entering the 21st century church contest.
Entries will be judged in the following areas, with each area receiving a score of from one to ten:
- Biblically rooted
- Historically aware
- Clear and Concise
- Overall impression, including appearance, discussion generated, and anything one of the judges wants to include
Note that 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 may conflict in the approach of some people. That is why there will be three judges, who come from different theological traditions:
Geoffrey Lentz (GeoffreyLentz.com), associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Pensacola, FL, doctoral student at Drew University, and author of The Gospel According to Saint Luke: A Participatory Study Guide.
Elgin Hushbeck, Jr., author of Evidence for the Bible, Christianity and Secularism, and Preserving Democracy, (all from Energion Publications), and owner of Aletheia Consulting, Inc. Elgin is a member of a Christian Reformed congregation.
Each judge will rate the entries independently. One of our copy editors will also rate the essays, but that rating will only be used to break a tie. Judges will not consider whether or not you use or quote from Energion Publications products or web sites in your post.
I am working on my essay right now and I would encourage you to put one together. It is an interesting, challenging exercise and it really asks the important questions we need to be asking right now. Don’t be intimidated because I am entering the contest, there are prizes for second and third place.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
CANTON, N.C. – A North Carolina pastor says his church plans to burn Bibles and books by Christian authors on Halloween to light a fire under true believers.
Pastor Marc Grizzard told Asheville TV station WLOS that the King James version of the Bible is the only one his small western North Carolina church follows. He says all other versions, such as the Living Bible, are "satanic" and "perversions" of God's word.
On Halloween night, Grizzard and the 14 members of the Amazing Grace Baptist Church also will burn music and books by Christian authors, such as Billy Graham and Rick Warren.
Telephone calls to the Amazing Grace Baptist Church and Grizzard's home were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Ugh. Their webpage is...different.
Kentucky pastor drops flock for his Glock
he Kentucky pastor who drew notice earlier this year for hosting a God-and-guns event at his church is giving up his flock for his Glock.
Pastor Ken Pagano resigned his post last month at the New Bethel Church in Louisville, Ky., after nearly 30 years in the ministry, saying he wants to focus on Second Amendment and church-security issues.
"Thirty years was a good, long run, but it's time for a change," Mr. Pagano said in an interview with The Washington Times. "If I can write my own ticket, I want to get involved more in Second Amendment issues as they affect the church, and I can do more from outside the pulpit than from behind it."
Mr. Pagano said he was considering a career change even before the event, but the ripple effect led him to Rabbi Gary Moskowitz of New York, who has long worked with synagogues on protection from terrorist threats.
Mr. Pagano and Mr. Moskowitz have since teamed up to form the International Security Coalition of Clergy, an organization dedicated to "making the vulnerable less vulnerable," according to their mission statement.
Mr. Pagano advocates a security team of five church members who have at least 40 hours of training in firearms and other tactics. The advantage of using church members instead of a hired guard is that they're better able to separate the regular attendees from the first-time visitors.
The idea is self-defense, not aggression, Mr. Moskowitz said.
"I'm not taking the position that everyone should have a gun. I'm taking the position that every house of worship or any other high-visibility target should have a person or persons trained in the use of firearms," the rabbi said.
I found this part especially hard to swallow....
What some people don't realize is that a pastor isn't a "sanctified sheep," Mr. Pagano said, but a shepherd, the protector of the flock. That includes the physical safety of the parishioners within the church building.
"People have this idea that Christians have to turn the other cheek," Mr. Pagano said. "That's true, but I don't think there's anything in the Old or New Testament that requires them to roll over and die if someone attacks them or their family."
Right out of the gate I think he may be a bit off target (get it, off target! Ha!) regarding the purpose of a pastor. I don't recall "Being a good shot" as a quality we should seek in an elder and I am pretty sure that "protecting the flock" applies to false teachers.
What do you think? Should we put on the whole armor of God, grab the sword of the Lord and lock and load before we gather with God's people?
Monday, October 12, 2009
I wonder if this is what Paul meant?
Graham's 2 CEO posts boost pay, draw critics
Concerns about his rising financial compensation during tough economic times have prompted evangelist Franklin Graham to temporarily give up future contributions to his retirement plans at the two charities he leads.
As president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, he receives two full-time salaries and two retirement packages. Last year, his total compensation from the two Christian ministries was $1.2 million.
The size of Graham's total 2008 compensation - $535,000 from Samaritan's Purse and $669,000 from Charlotte-based BGEA - drew questions from nonprofit experts interviewed by the Observer. They doubted that one person - even the energetic, globe-trotting Graham - can do two full-time jobs leading organizations that employ hundreds and spend hundreds of millions around the world.
The question this article raised for me was: does it matter? More specifically, does the form of the Lord’s Supper matter? Is a whole loaf and a common cup “better” than a cracker and a tiny cup? Is there something inherently better about unleavened bread versus regular bread or in wine versus grape juice? This is an area where I have come to a radically different view than I used to have. I get that we want to be as close to the original as possible but even in the most liturgical of churches the Lord’s Supper is little more than a ritual. Where is the pre-meal footwashing? The reclining around a table? The loving fellowship. How can we have a grim agape feast? Doesn’t that seem to be contradictory? We worry about the incantation of certain words but seem to have lost the purpose of the Supper in the first place. We have clung to our idea of being faithful to the form but have done so at the expense of the meaning and purpose.
I tend to think we spend too much time worrying about the form of the ritual and not enough enjoying the Supper for what is was intended, i.e. a joy filled fellowship meal where the people of God gathered to break bread and have a meal with one another. Everyone is so uptight about the Supper that it becomes more of a chore and less of a joyous occasion. I gave taken the Supper in a number of churches and there is lots of solemnity but not much joy. What kind of fellowship is there in a bunch of people sitting rigidly in their pews, looking straight ahead and waiting for a plate to get passed to them in silence? Heaven forbid someone crack a smile. You would think we were passing around plates of broken glass and cups of castor oil.
Next time you celebrate the Supper at church, show some joy. We are redeemed from an eternal hell and raised to newness of life in Christ. Rejoice in that if you are going to rejoice in anything! Smile at your wife who will share eternity with as your sister in eternal fellowship with the Son. You can have the perfect liturgy and just the right elements and not have a Biblical celebration of the Lord’s Supper. We are joined together in a celebration of our common salvation in Christ, not sentenced to a lifetime of nibbling bread and chugging little glasses of juice. You can be solemn and exhibit the proper gravity without looking like you are sitting through an 8 AM Econ class.
Try joy on, you might like it!