Monday, November 30, 2009

The church and the New Testament model

An interesting question posed at the 9 Marks blog and one that elicited a distressingly small amount of conversation. The post by Greg Gilbert, Boring Post on Whether We Are Obligated to Follow the Apostolic Model Laid Out in the New Testament in the Organization of our Churches, asks an important question and one that really should have generated more conversation on a blog dedicated to talk about the church (it is called “Church Matters” after all). Gilbert draws from a book by 19th century Baptist William Williams, Apostolical Church Polity. Williams makes the case and Gilbert agrees that we should adopt the principle that the Bible does tell us plenty about the apostolic model of the church. The problem of course is how to apply that principle…

Obviously when you adopt a principle like the one Williams is talking about here, you run up against things in the New Testament that make you stop and think. Wow, should women wear head-coverings? Should we be raising the dead in our services? Is decision-making by consensus (Acts 6) or majority (2 Cor 2)? I think when we're confronted with questions like those, there are two options: You can either wrestle with those texts and faithfully try to figure out what's meant to be normative example and what's meant to be extraordinary narrative, or you can throw up your hands, toss the principle in the trash and say, "See? It's hopeless. What a stupid principle."

That, I'm afraid, is where people tend to go way too quickly. But look: If we think it's true that Jesus cares what his church looks like, and that he has good reasons for what he wants, and that he even might have left us an example of what he wants in the Scriptures, we better be darn sure we're right---we better spend a lifetime making sure we're right---before we say, "Nah, there's nothing there. Either Jesus doesn't care after all, or if he does, he hasn't let us in on it. So here's what I think will work best . . ."

There is the rub, isn’t it? Even if you recognize that the apostolic pattern of the New Testament church is accessible and even necessary, applying it becomes a lot harder. I think Greg is dead on; most people when confronted with this truth tend to just throw up their hands, chuck the apostolic church (or explain it away) and revert back to tradition.

I don’t think that the New Testament provides (or intends to provide) a checklist of how to “do church”. There are a number of commands and restrictions (do not forsake assembling together, I do not permit a woman to teach) but generally what we see are examples and principles. What we are given are plenty of sources for how, and perhaps more importantly why, the church gathers together and what the church did when it met together. What was important to the church in the earliest days, when it was not a comfortable and complacent event? What does that tell us about what we should prioritize? I think if we ask those questions with an open mind, we will find the New testament to be a goldmine of principles that can guide us when we look at the church. It can also be a sobering journey to see how far we have strayed. Regardless, I think the truth of the matter is that the church is precious to Christ and how it gathers is terribly important to Him and (should be) to us. Something so important was not left to chance or the devices of men so let us once again turn to the source to see what Christ would have us do.

Bookmark and Share

Interesting online resource

Dallas Theological Seminary is offering the video lectures of a number of their seminary classes free for download on iTunes. I am a little leery of DTS because of their commitment to dispensationalism but I did download the videos on their intro to Greek class. Check it out, I love seeing a seminary making resources available to the church for free to edify the Body!

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Two books on two misunderstood groups

I started reading Joel Beeke's Meet The Puritans last night. The Puritans are a misunderstood group, even among Christians. The term "puritanical" has come to be a slur, as if seeking holiness and piety in your life is a bad thing. I appreciate much about the Puritans including their devotion to piety and their deep love of Scripture, but I don't know as much about them as I should and I think that outside of a few "Puritan nerds" (ahem, Josh I am talking about you) they are not as respected, read or understood as their works warrant.

The other book I just ordered is The Anabaptist View of the Church. As I have mentioned, I think that the Anabaptists get slandered all the time, especially among my fellow reformed believers. I think some of that has to do, just being honest, with the terribly un-Christian way that many magisterial reformers treated the Anabaptists. It is hard to defend the martyring of the Anabaptists by so many magisterial reformers. There also is a broad brush used that links every Anabaptist with Muenster and the Zwickau prophets which is as dishonest as linking all Lutherans with the ELCA.

I don't expect to find total agreement with either group. I do expect to learn a lot from both, take the good and sort out the not so good as I try to expand beyond the Reformed enclave I have dug for myself. I still cherish the Reformed writers and need to read them more, not less, but I also need to look at the breadth of the church to glean wisdom from men who have come before even if I don't agree with them on every issue.

(Speaking of Reformed books, is anyone familiar with The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews by Geerhardus Vos?)

Bookmark and Share

Prayers please The human creature: frail and fragile

My friend Josh is in need of prayer after a spell of dizziness and a racing heart in mid-sermon today. Please pray for him, his family and his doctors as you feel led.

(I would not be me if I didn't quip that I usually got dizzy and light-headed about halfway through Josh's sermons too. Sorry Josh)

Bookmark and Share

Can Baptists use the adjective "Reformed"

Bob Gonzales addresses the issue in his post of the same name May Baptist Churches Use the Adjective “Reformed”? The Ongoing Debate. Dr. Gonzalez gives a brief intro to the subject in response to those who not only refuse to "permit" Baptists to use the adjective "reformed" but essentially declare baptist churches to not be true churches and therefore baptists to be outside of the body of Christ by virtue of not being a part of a legitimate "visible" church. The debate should raise an important question for all of us who are Reformed. If the marks of a "true church" are the famous "The Word rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and discipline rightly applied", then half of us will always be wrong on the issue of baptism and therefore we must assume that half of our churches are not true churches. This is dangerous and divisive, and worse it is horribly prideful and arrogant.

We need to reexamine the concept of "what is the church" and stop letting people on the fringe declare most of Christianity to be illigetimate expressions of the Body of Christ. People like Dr. Clark who have written much of the Body of Christ out of legitimacy are every bit as dangerous to the Body of Christ as the most ardent fundamentalist and stray awfully close to heresy.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, November 27, 2009

James White on R. Scott Clark

I was glad to see yet another brother taking R. Scott Clark to task for his pompous and divisive stance on who deserves the title of "reformed". James White takes Dr. Clark to the theological woodshed for his inconsistency and his over the top statements. Dr. White makes the perfectly valid claim that while we stand shoulder to shoulder with many of our paedobaptist brothers on so many issues, when it comes to the 16th century cultural holdover of infant baptism their hermeneutic completely changes. Dr. Clark's outrageous claims have been noted here before, including his contention that any church that doesn't baptize infants is not a "true"church.

I especially liked what Dr. White said about infant baptism and Acts 2:39:

2) Evidently there is a Presbyterian Codex of the Bible that has a variant reading at Acts 2:39. All texts that I know of read as follows:

For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.

But I cannot tell you how often I hear my Presbyterian brethren handle this text in the exact same fashion as the Jehovah's Witnesses handle John 14:28 (it ends up being merely "the Father is greater than I am") or Arminians handle Matthew 23:37 ("how often I wanted to gather you but you would not"). The clear indication of tradition is seen in how Acts 2:39 is truncated in the thinking of my brothers so that it is simply "the promise is to you and to your children." What is the promise? What is the context? Why leave off the rest of the sentence both in meaning and application? The promise is for the Jews who heard Peter, to their children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." The promise of forgiveness upon faith and repentance, along with the promise of the Holy Spirit, is for Jew ("you and your children") and Gentile ("to all who are far off") based upon God's electing grace ("as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself"). Changing this to merely a statement about "you and your children" involves an eisegetical shift in hermeneutics that my Presbyterian brethren would never allow in discussing the Trinity, justification, or the resurrection, but when it comes to this one topic, all of a sudden things change.

That is excellent stuff. Using Acts 2:39 as a support for infant baptism is so incredible, such a stretch that is boggles the mind that paedobaptists still use it (at least parts of it "your children", while ignoring the context of the passage which has nothing to do with infant baptism). The fact that Acts 2:39 is so often cited as New Testament support for infant baptism is proof positive of how weak the argument really is. I don't always agree with Dr. White in content or in tone but in this case he is right on the money.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why Islam is evil

It isn't because women wear hajibs. It is not because of terrorism. It is not for any of the reasons we often associate with Islam. What is truly evil about Islam is stuff like this:

Two million Muslims are headed to Muzdalifa, Saudi Arabia, to cast stones at the devil in the most dangerous part of the annual hajj pilgrimage, Reuters reported.

Once the Muslim pilgrims get there, they will collect pebbles to throw at walls of the Jamarat Bridge to symbolize the rejection of the devil's temptations.

Two million people throwing pebbles. The enemy rejoices in such petty acts of piety. Pebbles and stones will not defeat nor dissuade the enemy. Nothing but the cross of Christ can overcome Satan.

Bookmark and Share

Give thanks every day

Every day and not just once a year...

A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psa 100:1-5)

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Alistair Begg on the Manhattan Declaration

Alistair Begg has weighed in on the Manhattan Declaration and why he cannot sign it. Like others, he notes that he cares deeply and passionately about the issues raised in the Manhattan Declaration. Even so, there is a fundamental problem that he hits succinctly and Biblically:

In the end, I concluded that I could not sign the statement. As I wrote to the project organizer, “I cannot in conscience sign on with those with whom I have fundamental disagreements on the nature of the Gospel. (I just re-read Calvin in the Institutes, Book IV, section 18.)”

I appreciate the passion and conviction of many of the signers. A cursory reading of my writings will show that I fervently oppose homosexual “marriage” and the slaughter of innocents in the name of choice. I believe deeply in the importance of religious liberty for all who believe, those who believe in Christ as well as those who believe in a false religion or choose to believe in nothing at all. First and foremost though, my allegiance is to Christ and His Gospel and joining in a false unity ultimately is self-defeating.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Bookmark and Share

Is the church a bag of marbles or a loaf of bread?

The Wall Street Journal details the ongoing fallout pitting dissident Episcopal congregations that have joined the Anglican Church in North America against the established Episcopal Church USA, Church Fights for Assets, Members and Legitimacy.

When the members of St. Luke's of the Mountains Church in La Crescenta, Calif., voted in 2006 to leave the Episcopal Church, they never meant they wanted to leave their church.

But last month, they got notice they were being evicted from the 80-year-old stone structure that had been their spiritual home.

The congregants lost a long legal fight for their building when a court ruled that the national Episcopal Church, which represents the world-wide Anglican Communion in the U.S., and the local diocese were the rightful owners of the property -- not the breakaway leaders.

I have written about this before, so I will skip rehashing the details. Squabbles like this are proof positive of the dangers of pride and worldiness in the church. In the spirit of disclosure, a few years ago I would have stood up and railed against them lib’rals for trying to take away these buildings from real Christians. Now I look at the situation and the whole thing just seems sad. Countless people are perishing outside of Christ all around us and these people, in the name of Christ, are suing and countersuing one another over property like real estate developers.

I applaud those who have removed themselves from the Episcopal Church. Long ago, the ECUSA disqualified itself as a legitimate expression of the church by abandoning key components of the Gospel, chiefly by refusing to call sin what it is: sin. The unfortunate reality is that in removing themselves from what has clearly become a schismatic organization, these “breakaway” congregations find themselves up against the legal might of the Episcopal Church and its lawyers supported by case law in America where courts traditionally have sided with the national denominations (yet another example of the danger of the church getting into bed with the state). I do find troubling the way in which these congregations who have left the ECUSA find their identity so deeply linked with the building they used to meet in. What is tragic and regrettable is not that they lost control of a piece of property, it is that the ECUSA has embraced sin and rejected Christ. Buildings are buildings. The apostles didn’t need buildings, pews and pulpits to preach the Gospel and fellowship with the saints. To those in the ACNA, I say that the trade off of losing buildings and keeping the Gospel is a no-brainer.

What I found even more troubling are those who are staying behind precisely because the schismatic denomination controls the building.

Alice Monson, a 79-year-old member of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Hurst, Texas, said she stayed with the conservative faction after the schism in part because it retained control of the sanctuary. She helped paint the Stations of the Cross there. When the church was short of funds, she cut flowers from her home garden to grace the altar.

"To me, it's home," she said. "It's my church. I will stay here."

Asked what she would do if the more liberal faction gains control of the church building, Ms. Monson shook her head. "I'm afraid to address that. It's too painful," she said. "We just keep praying and let the courts take care of it."

This is not a criticism of Ms.Monson. It is indicative of the prevailing view of the church. That building, that congregational organization, that is the church. The church is defined by the place and time we meet, not by who we are. I am sure Ms. Monson is not unique or even uncommon in staying with a local gathering that has abandoned the Gospel because they feel at home. “It may be heresy, but it is our heresy”. A church that has abandoned the Gospel is no church at all, no matter how long it has been there or what the name on the sign says or if it has stained glass windows.

The overarching problem stems from a faulty view of the Church as a whole. Western evangelicals and mainline Christians alike have long overemphasized the local church organization. Please note the distinction. The local gathering of the church is an integral part of the life of the Christian, a visible representation of the common salvation and common confession of the whole Body of Christ. The self-perpetuating local institution that draws from the wellspring of tradition and institutional inertia is perhaps the poorest reflection of the New Testament Christian community one could come up with outside of no community at all.

These are pretty weak analogies but I am sleepy and it is rainy, so give me the benefit of the doubt here.

The traditional view of the church is like a bag of marbles. Each marble represents a “local church”. We are technically in the same bag but other than our common container, we are merely shifting and autonomous entities. It doesn’t matter how long you stir and shake a bag of marbles, when you open the bag and pour them out they are still all marbles.

The church should be like a loaf of bread, an image often used to describe the body of Christ which is also how Christ describes the church (as His Body). In a loaf of bread, there are many ingredients but once they are mixed and baked the individual components become indistinguishable. You can tell what they add to the loaf but it is still one loaf.

Is that analogy perfect? Nope. It is not even a very good one but I hope it conveys the point. The church is so much more than a loosely knit patchwork of local church organizations that have more in common and fellowship with denominationally similar churches hundreds of miles away than with the church that gathers next door. The church is infinitely more than the incorporated entity, the traditions, the religious accoutrement, the building. You can take the building and the pulpit and even the name of the local church. Give me Christ and give me fellowship with His people.

Bookmark and Share

John MacArthur on the Manhattan Declaration

John MacArthur has weighed in and not surprisingly has some strong words to say about this declaration of fellowship with Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. I think that while he doesn't mince words (and when does he ever!), Dr. MacArthur raises some important points, first and foremost that the Gospel is the only solution to the ills described in the Manhattan Declaration.

(UPDATED: with link included)

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The solution to individualism is community Newton on the problem of Congregationalism

My friend Josh posted a quote from John Newton’s collection of letters, Wise Counsel, that I found interesting. The point of the post is that many corners of evangelicalism are tainted with a radical individuality, a "me first" mentality. I understand the concern. Many Christians, or at least many church goers, are consumers who seek a congregation to become “members” of that fits their needs and wants: "What does this church have to offer me and my family?" Where I have trouble is with the proposed solution: submission to authority. While I agree with the danger of individualism, I question whether submission to a man who holds an ecclesiastic office is going to solve the problem. The perceived refusal to submit to authority is often bemoaned in certain corners of the church as a major ill in the church. I would argue that the true, underlying issue is that the church lacks love and fellowship in community, without which service, leadership and discipline cannot exist except as a mere external adherence.

The solution to radical individualism is not authority. The antithesis of individuality is community, not hierarchy. We don’t overcome individuality by elevating certain individuals to rule over the others but rather through selfless service and ministry to one another. It is only when the whole Body ministers and serves one another that individuality is overcome.

I have more thoughts on this for a later date (when I am less tired and puckish)

Bookmark and Share

Wanna see someone excited about being preggers?

My friend Ed and his wife Jenny are expecting their first and they are just a little bit excited!

Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hate Crimes Spike! Terror in the streets! Roving gangs of vigilantes spotted!

Or maybe not. You certainly would get that impression from the title and tone of this article from the Detroit Free Press. Titled Antigay, religious-motivated hate crimes rise, the impression you get from the title is that there is a wave of new hate crimes being committed by religious people and people who don’t like homosexuals (probably because they are religious). Here are the first two paragraphs:

Reports of hate crimes against gays and religious groups increased sharply in 2008, according to new FBI data released today.

Overall, the number of reported hate crimes increased about 2%. These same figures show a nearly 11% increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and a nearly 9% increase in hate crimes based on religion.

The message: people who are really religious or who think homosexuality is wrong are a violent hate crime waiting to happen. The problem is that the numbers don’t show anything of the sort. This is, at best, editorializing by giving a deceptive title to an non-issue report.

These are just rough numbers:

Total "Hate Crimes" in 2008: 7783

Attributable to Religious Discrimination: 1556.6

Attributable to Sexual Orientation: 1291.98

Total Hate Crimes Involved in Categories: 2848

What comes next in the article seems to imply that perhaps this spike in “hate crimes” is not really happening at all.

The FBI does not compare year-to-year trends in hate crimes, saying the number of agencies reporting changes too much. And in fact, the bureau cautioned that the increase reported today might well be due to more agencies tracking such incidents.

In 2008, 2,145 different agencies reported hate crimes incidents, while the year before 2,025 agencies did this reporting.

In total, there were 7,783 hate crimes reported to the FBI last year, and seven murders were categorized as hate crimes.

The FBI recognizes that this is hard it measure and therefore difficult to draw conclusions from. So what do we really see? We are looking at maybe 300 new “hate crimes” out of a population of 300,000,000. So your chance of being a victim of a “hate crime” is 1/1,000,000. To the people who are victims of these crimes, it is no doubt horrifying just as it is for anyone who is the victim of a crime. These numbers are statistically irrelevant. We see a very small increase in actual numbers of crimes (crimes that are criminal acts regardless of motivation I might add) that is quite possibly attributable in large part to an increase in the number of agencies reporting “hate crimes” (about 6% more agencies reporting) and an ever expanding definition of what constitutes a “hate crime”. Based on this sort of reporting, we can expect an article that highlights “Arrests for false reports of children drifting away in homemade hot air balloons spikes 100% in 2009!”

Even the FBI who compiles the data is cautious to not draw any real conclusions here. No such restraint is shown by the Associated Press. Why is this newsworthy? Not because it is inherently newsworthy but because it advances a particular agenda. That agenda is one that whispers that all devout religious people are inherently harboring violent tendencies. This is a “news” report aimed not at reporting news but influencing public opinion.

I think we all know where this is leading. It can only be a short leap from preaching repentance from sin to accusations of inciting “hate crimes”. This is coming and anyone with their head not in the sand can see it. The question really is not if, it is not even when, it is what. When this time comes, what do we do about it? What do you or I do when being a Christian stops being socially acceptable, when preaching the Gospel leads to real persecution and perhaps prosecution? I know this, men and women who are disciples of Christ will preach Christ crucified in season and out of season, no matter the cost. I actually look forward in some ways to those days; days when being a disciple is going to cost you something. It is way too easy to be a churchy person, to be a “member” of a church and convince yourself that you are right with God. When real persecution arises, I am convinced we will see genuine revival in America.

Bookmark and Share

Ecclesial differences?

I mentioned the Manhattan Declaration last week and wanted to put out a follow-up. At first blush the document seems rock solid but on closer examination (in light of the nature of the signatories across Protestant, Roman and Orthodox lines), there are some troubling aspects. I have highlighted the paragraph that concerns me and many others below:

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

So here is my problem. Are the issues that divide Protestants and Roman Catholicism (the institution, not so much individual Roman Catholics) merely “ecclesial differences”? Is it not the case that one of the wedges that drove these two groups apart was the very Gospel itself and that those varying understandings of the Gospel are mutually exclusive? I understand the goal here but my concern is that we are putting the priorities in the wrong order. I certainly agree that the primary duty of the believer is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ "in its fullness". Is that possible when the differences are so great?

There are certainly differences, regrettable and often sinful differences, between believers. Our prideful dogmatic stances that lead to separation on issues that are important (baptism) and far less important (the end times) have shattered the unity of the church and it is something we need to repent of. Having said that, I don’t see the differences between Presbyterian and Baptist brothers to be on par with differences between Protestants and Roman Catholicism. One is a difference in how we respond to the Gospel, the other is over the very nature of what the Gospel is.

Where am I going with this? In a nutshell, as critical as the three issues dealt with in the Manhattan Declaration are (abortion, gay marriage, religious freedom), I think we cross a dangerous line by linking arms with those who, in my opinion, have distorted the Gospel of grace into something…else. The Gospel, while simple, is not a place for us to seek the lowest common denominator and “enemy of my enemy is my friend” may work in warfare and politics but it has no place in the proclamation of the Gospel. I fear that in our zeal to see a common good we are forcing the Gospel into the backseat. No political victory or culture war struggle is more precious than the Gospel. We need to be careful about who we join with and call “brother”. It can be tempting to pool resources and provide a united front in doing social justice (adoption, fighting hunger, etc.) but we can lose the Gospel message in our zeal to do good works. There can be no justice outside of the Gospel proclamation. We must always put the first thing first.

(As an important side note, Albert Mohler who is one of the signers, addressed why he signed the Declaration. I am not sure I agree with his reasoning that this is not a theological document. What do you think?)

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Christian Archy

My copy of Dr. Dave Black's newest publication, Christian Archy, arrived this morning. It is a short (less than 50 pages) but important little book that examines the Kingdom:

In Christian Archy, Dr. David Alan Black examines the New Testament to find the truly radical and all-encompassing claims of God's kingdom. In doing so, he discovers that the character of this kingdom is widely different from what is commonly contemplated today. Its glory is revealed only through suffering — a point that Jesus' disciples, then and now, have been slow to understand. This truth has tremendous implications for church life. The kingdom of God is in no way imperialistic. It has no political ambitions. It conquers not by force but by love. It is this humble characteristic of the kingdom that is a stumbling block to so many today. Christ's claim to our total allegiance is one we seek to avoid at all costs. But there is only one way to victory and peace, and that way is the way of the Lamb.

Looking forward to reading and reviewing it!

Bookmark and Share

Dr. Joel Beeke on "Cultivating Holiness"

The Mid-Michigan Reformation Society: Audio from Dr. Joel Beeke

Check out the audio from Dr. Joel Beeke, speaking to the Mid-Michigan Reformation Society last night on "Cultivating Holiness". It was a very challenging and convicting but also very practical and encouraging talk. Check it out, I am certain you will be blessed and edified!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience

There is a new ecumenical declaration that has just been released, The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. It is a lengthy, sober, thoughtful and solidly reasoned call for Christians to exercise their conscience in the public square.

The Manhattan Declaration deals with three primary issues: abortion, homosexual marriage and religious liberty. Signatories include men like Dr. Moore and Dr. Mohler, Tim Keller, Chuck Colson, Timothy George and James Dobson as well as men like William Donohue of the Catholic League, several Archbishops, Anglican Primates and Orthodox leaders. It is a veritable who's who of Christian leaders.

Here is the body of the declaration:


We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

So what do we think of this? Is this a sober and appropriate declaration of Christian conscience in the public sphere? Is this an ecumenical capitulation in the name of political issues? Is this an unwarranted distraction to the church from Her mission of proclaiming the Gospel? Does this declaration not go far enough?

What say you? (Please read the whole declaration first)

Bookmark and Share

Real growth amid real persecution

Very encouraging article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the persecuted but thriving church in China

In the northeast part of this city, not far from the old Friendship Hotel, stands a boxy little cinema specializing in anime. A nondescript building on a nondescript thoroughfare, it's hardly a place a tourist would notice, much less a visiting president. Yet had Barack Obama wanted to understand something of the real China, his time would have been better spent here than at the various state dinners, Forbidden City photo-ops, and carefully managed town-hall events that consumed the balance of his trip this week.

At 10 a.m. Sunday, more than 500 members of Shouwang church gathered at the cinema for a service. Shouwang, founded in 1993 by pastor Jin Tianming, is one of the city's largest unregistered churches and counts around 800 regular members. But until last weekend, they had never once been able to meet in such large numbers in an indoor space in Beijing.

Shouwang is what is known in China as a "house" church, meaning that it is an unregistered entity in a country where all religious groups are supposed to report to the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Officially, the Chinese government counts some 10 million Protestants and four million Catholics belonging to registered churches, which proscribe evangelical activity and preach a patriotic dogma.

But Chinese and foreign observers alike believe the number of Chinese belonging to underground churches may now exceed 100 million people. That figure has grown rapidly as more and more Chinese, particularly well-educated city dwellers, turn away from Communist Party atheism.

Life has never been easy for the underground churches, and recently it has gotten a lot harder. ...Whatever the reason, Shouwang in recent weeks has been forced to hold its services outdoors, including during a snowstorm, as attempts to find an indoor space were repeatedly rebuffed. Twenty minutes into Sunday's service, Pastor Tianming announced that "some of our brothers and sisters are being held at their homes and have not been able to come to church. But we are all one body in Christ, so we will wait for them to start the service."

After another hour of singing and praying, the congregation suddenly broke into applause—one of the detained members had apparently talked his way out and arrived. The service got underway; by the time it ended a second detained elder had arrived. The previous Sunday, it was Pastor Tianming who had been detained.

What a wonderful testimony of the power of faith in the Body of Christ! In a land where being a Christian carries a heavy cost, the faith is flourishing and the church is vibrant. In our land where there is essentially no societal cost, the church is flabby and foundering. Don’t think for a second that there is not a correlation here. We saw this from the very beginning of the church:

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:1-4)

That is what persecution looks like. We often speak of persecution in America but honestly most of us have never experienced real persecution. Carrie Prejean, American evangelicalism’s newest poster child for persecution, is about to become really rich when her book money starts rolling in and her “persecution” comes from not winning a beauty pageant where she sauntered around 95% naked and more recently for being a little too cavalier with clothing around cameras on a number of occasions. Not really comparable to being stoned to death like Stephen, being martyred in a Roman coliseum, burning to death on a stake or being arrested for going to church in China but she is getting all the plum speaking assignments and interviews on T.V. I don’t think an updated versions of “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” would devote a chapter to Carrie.

We should not fear persecution or reviling nor should we seek the approval and admiration of the world. Persecution is often a sign of God preparing to work wonders among His people. When revival comes, I fully expect it to come on the heels of persecution and not in the comfort and complacency of our modern evangelical cocoon. We should pray for our persecuted brethren that they are encouraged, strengthened and that they persevere. We should never pray for them to become like us.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5: 10-12)

To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Cor 4: 11-13)

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Waging the wrong war for the wrong reasons

April Luebke linked to a post about the blind eye we turn to socially acceptable sin while railing against sins targeted in the "culture wars". From the blog Extreme Theology:

As long as those who believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, who zealously wage war with the forces of immorality in the culture refuse to understand that they are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, not the Republican Party, and are called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Name to ALL sinners left and right, socialist and capitalist then there will continue to be something TERRIBLY wrong with Conservative Evangelicalism!

There are a lot of very valid points in the post. Some of it is over the top. Are corporations “evil”? Are these faceless “corporate executives” evil? Eh. Not any more so than anyone else. Is capitalism an evil system that exploits the poor? Not any more so than socialism. Let’s keep in mind that every corporation is merely a legal construct and every corporate executive is an employee paid to do one thing: maximize profits. They act on behalf of shareholders who more often than not are ultimately the dentist who lives down the street and your retired parents living off a pension. Where corporate executives are complicit with breaking the law, either knowingly or through neglect, they should face the legal consequences. We should also realize that improving the working conditions for a child in India or Thailand might make their quality of life now better but leaves them in the same state for eternity absent the Gospel. Eliminating sweat shops is a noble goal, but it is not the Gospel.

Having said that…

It is very true that the culture war is the wrong war for the wrong reasons and is often used as a cynical tool of politicians to gain power. The culture war is not about taking the Gospel of Christ to the world, it is unfortunately mostly about conforming the world to a “Judeo-Christian morality”. The order is all wrong. I find homosexuality to be abhorrent and I oppose homosexual marriage as an abomination. I also abhor heterosexual couples living together and to the same extent my own frequent, catastrophic failings in this area. I find abortion to be a bloody stain upon our nation and I would do anything within the bounds of God’s Law to see it overturned. I similarly recognize that I have harbored hatred and resentment against others in my own heart. What it comes down to is this simple fact: the culture war will never be won because we were never called to this war in the first place. We are called to simple, humble, quiet lives where we live out the Gospel and proclaim the Good News to a lost and dying world. That doesn't mean we are disengaged from the political world but it does mean we recognize the limitations and realize that winning elections is not carrying out the Great Commission. The only way that we will see true change come to anyone is through the transformation of the Gospel and that is something that no Congress can legislate and no court can enforce.

Bookmark and Share

The future of the Southern Baptist Convention

I ran across a very interesting article recommended by Tom Ascol, written by Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford at Between the Times. The topic was the future of the Southern Baptist Convention and there are a lot of important questions asked, sacred cows tipped, oxen gored and conversations started!

Here are a couple of choice quotes:

The SBC was formed as a network of local churches who partnered together for the sake of mission. In the last 50 years, however, she has become more and more of a denominational bureaucracy. We must help our denomination return to her roots. The SBC of the twenty-first century must be a missional network, just as the churches of Acts were a missional network. Our focus must be the gospel, and our means of cooperation must be primarily “churches partnering for the sake of mission.” Thom Rainer has urged our churches to simplify and streamline so as to maximize their effectiveness, and we think that this applies to our convention as well. The roadmap for revisioning the SBC, as well as any institution or entity within the SBC, will always involve two ideas: local church and missional cooperation.

Man, I love talk like that! I especially love it if people listen and take action. What a novel concept, seeking to see the SBC look like the church in Acts! I came to Christ in a Southern Baptist church and while I see the strengths of the SBC, I also see the weaknesses. One of the biggest weaknesses is that in a lot of the SBC, Baptists are enamored with being Southern Baptists and the size and strength of the SBC has made it ripe for bureaucracy and layers of hierarchy that inevitably lead to wasted resources and territorialism. Far too much of the giving in the SBC goes to supporting the bureaucracy, as if the churches exist to support the SBC instead of the SBC supporting the local church.

This is going to cause people to get riled up!:

One issue that we might examine is our name. We are the Southern Baptist Convention, but “Southern” neither describes who we are or who we want to be. Perhaps we should modify our nomenclature to better describe our nature as a transregional network of churches.

This issue has been whispered as long as we have been Christians and I am wholeheartedly in favor of revisiting the name. “Southern” may describe the historical nature of the SBC, but if the SBC wants to be a worldwide network of cooperating churches it may be worthwhile to consider nixing the American regionalism of the name. Right or wrong, “Southern Baptist” carries a lot of baggage (much of it self-inflicted) and I think that more than a unifier among SBC churches, it serves as a divider. Conversely, I also am not so naïve as to think that a new name is going to fix everything but it might be a step in the right direction and an admission that things need to change. Being a “Southern Baptist” convention is hard to do when you are in all fifty states and around the world.

What are some challenges ahead for the seminaries? One challenge the seminaries face is how to locate as much of our education as possible in the local church. Is there a reason not to return certain courses of study, such as pastoral ministries, to their native environment in the local church? Another challenge we might face is how to provide the most affordable seminary education. Are there ways we can streamline our institutions? A third challenge is for the seminaries to reject the temptation to be divisively competitive and instead commit to being a network of truly cooperative campuses. Such a network could, for example, provide a combination of on-campus and distance education to international missionaries in a way more beneficial that what is offered presently. A final challenge is for the seminaries to remain vigilant to ensure that our professors are doing theology primarily for the church and secondarily for the academy.

Oh my, that is outstanding! Right now, Southern Baptist seminaries are, IMHO, overly academic, incredibly expensive, divorced from the local church and insulated from the world. I have often complained that the process of sending young men away from the local gathering of the church to get an expensive seminary degree that “qualifies” them to do ministry and then having them move somewhere else to be in “ministry” is incredibly counter-intuitive and Biblically irrational. If the role of the seminary is to serve the local church, stop taking young men out of the local church and start doing more to disciple them right where they are, so that they can minister and serve locally until God moves them.

I spend a lot of time railing about the institutional church but the most important thing should be the most important thing and that is always the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are questions and conversations that need to happen in the church. Every time someone has a knee-jerk visceral reaction to “the way things are done”, it hampers the Gospel ministry and serves the institution and not the church. If the SBC can get beyond institutional inertia, tribalism and barrier erecting, it can be a great force for spreading the Gospel. The SBC came back from the brink of heresy in the “Conservative Resurgence” but there is a long way to go. Conversations like this one are only a first step on a long road but any journey worth taking always starts with a first step.

Bookmark and Share

Another denomination splits

A movement has occurred among ELCA churches to split away from the denomination over the issue of homosexuality. This was inevitable and is a sad reminder of the influence of the world on the church, an influence that allowed to run unchecked invariably leads to heresy and schism.

Conservative members of America's largest Lutheran denomination announced that they are splitting from the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, making it the second mainline Protestant church to undergo a major schism over the issue of homosexuality and related matters of biblical authority.

The U.S. Episcopal Church has experienced a similar split, with whole dioceses attempting to leave, new Anglican churches formed and a series of property fights in the years since the 2003 consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

On Wednesday, an 11-member steering committee of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal), meeting in New Brighton, Minn., said it cannot remain inside the 4.7-million-member ELCA after the denomination agreed at its August churchwide assembly in Minneapolis to ordain partnered gay clergy.

That decision, CORE said in a statement, created "a biblical and theological crisis throughout the ELCA and conflict in local congregations."

"We are not leaving the ELCA. The ELCA has left us," said Ryan Schwarz, a steering committee member from the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in McLean, Va. "A lot of people who are planning to leave are telling us, 'We need you to form a new body that is like a traditional church body.' "

Christ calls us to be unified but a unity based in anything other than the truth is a lie. It is unfortunate that this became necessary but Scripture is clear on this issue.

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." (1Co 5:9-13)

Unrepentent sin cannot be brushed aside in the name of fellowship and unity. At some point though, these brothers and sisters need to recognize that the issue of homosexual acceptance runs in the same vein as female clergy. It may be a slight overstatement, but wherever we see normalization of homosexuality in the church, it is invariably preceded by the ordination of women. That may be very un-P.C. to say but it is a pretty easy line to draw.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spurgeon on robes

I get a chuckle out of this every time I read it...

“Except a duck in pattens, no creature looks more stupid than a Dissenting preacher in a gown which is of no manner of use to him. I could laugh till I held my sides when I see our doctors in gowns and bands, puffed out with their silks, and touched up with their little bibs, for they put me so much in mind of our old turkey-cock when his temper is up, and he swells to his biggest. They must be weak folks indeed who want a man to dress like a woman before they can enjoy his sermon, and he who cannot preach without such milliner’s trumpery may be a man among geese, but he is a goose among men.”

—C.H. Spurgeon

Reproduced from Tony Reinke

(HT: Dave Black)

Bookmark and Share

What makes a healthy church Podcast #2 - Counting Coconuts

My friend Josh has a new podcast out on what constitutes a healthy church. Give it a listen, but don't mind the banjo music.

Bookmark and Share

The show must go on!

Or must it?

I have been reading the autobiography of George Muller and it is a wonderful testimony of a man of simple faith and powerful prayer. His writings are not lengthy and eloquent but they exhibit the sort of deep faith that I long for. Here is a quote from his writings:

The anointing of the Holy Spirit helps me greatly when I preach. I would never attempt to teach the truth of God by my own power. One day before preaching at Teignmouth, I had more time than usual, so I prayed and meditated for six hours in preparation for the evening meeting. After I had spoken a little while, I felt that I was speaking in my own strength rather than God's power. I told the brethren that I felt as though I was not preaching under the anointing and asked them to pray. After I continued a little longer, I felt the same and therefore ended my sermon and proposed that we have a meeting for prayer. We did so, and I was particularly assisted by the Holy Spirit the next time I preached. (The Autobiography of George Muller, p. 35)

I love that! If only I were humbler and more self-aware of my own infirmity in the way George Mueller was! If only more men in the church recognized their own inability and eschewed self-reliance. I know from personal experience, the more prep time and self-reliance in that preparation I had leading up to Sunday, the less effective the sermon was. I wonder how many men would have the self-reflection to recognize that their sermon is wandering and stop to pray with the assembled church? I also wonder how many people in the pews would freak out if he did? Any deviation from script can cause a great deal of consternation among the congregation and the preacher alike. If your gathering of the church is so orchestrated, so rigidly scheduled that there is no room to adapt as needed, I have to ask who you are seeking to please?

Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 16, 2009

Supporting murder as a religious act

Words can hardly describe how tragic this is:

Religious Leaders and First Amendment Advocates Call on Senate to Ensure Full Access to Reproductive Health Services in Health Care Reform

Washington, DC - Heads of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, interfaith and First Amendment organizations today called on the Senate to ensure the final health care reform bill respects diverse religious beliefs.

“It is now up to the Senate to keep health care reform free of religious doctrine and restrictions that will prevent women from making their own reproductive health care choices,” said Reverend Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), which convened today’s news conference.

RCRC includes more than 40 denominations and religious organizations that respect diverse religious beliefs and individual decisions about whether and when to have children. The participating organizations together represent more than 10,000 religious leaders and millions of people of faith who believe that abortion must be safe, legal and accessible.

“We speak as people of faith who support religious freedom and reproductive options,” said Reverend Veazey. “Women must not lose access to abortion services they may need because of a small but vocal group of anti-choice activists.”

Speakers included Linda Bales Todd of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church; Sammie Moshenberg, Director of the Washington Office of the National Council of Jewish Women; Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice; Sandra Sorensen, Director of the Washington Office of the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, and Reverend Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

They say that their purpose is: "RCRC includes more than 40 denominations and religious organizations that respect diverse religious beliefs and individual decisions about whether and when to have children". I support that as well. If you don't want children, don't have sex. But if you do have sex and become pregnant, you have no right to murder that child in the name of "choice". This organization is nothing more than an advocacy group for infanticide. To form a religious coalition with the goal of making it easier to murder an unborn child is abhorrent. I don't care what the name of the organization is, or what "churches" it represents or how noble they make their group sound, at the core this is little better than the idolatrous inhabitants of Samaria who worshiped other gods, sacrificing their own children in the fires.

The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. (2Ki 17:30-33)

You cannot serve God and Baal, you cannot say you fear the Lord and also serve this bloody god called "Choice". You want to be "Pro-Choice"? I say fine. Here is your choice: God or Baal. Choose one or the other because you cannot serve both.

Bookmark and Share

Download 'Deep Church' for .98!

Christian Audio is offering a download of Jim Belcher's Deep Church for only .98! Check it out here. I encourage you to spring for the .98, I already read the book and I am downloading it anyway to listen to in the future! Use coupon code DEEP09

(Hurry, only lasts until noon on the 18th!)

Bookmark and Share

On religion and terrorism

Dinesh D’Souza has an interesting editorial in USA Today’s On Religion column, Don't blame God for terrorism. The impetus is the recent shooting at Fort Hood by Nidal Hassan, a man with links to Islamic radicals. D’Souza argues that the all too common charge by atheists that religion leads to violence is patently false. It is the rallying cry of many a best selling atheist author and it sells books, so there is little wonder the claim that religion is awful and leads to violence is repeated so often and so shrilly.

It certainly is true that many horrible things have been done under the cover of religion. The Inquisition springs to mind along with Islamic terrorism and the Catholic-Protestant wars that have raged and influenced European and American politics for centuries. It is also true that many men have used religion as a tool to gain power, no different than nationalism or racism. Having acknowledged that freely, let me also throw some numbers at you: 11,000,000 + people murdered in the Holocaust. Nazism was essentially an secular state religion with nationalism and racism as its creed and Adolf Hitler as its focal point. Over 1,600,000 Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge which officially outlawed religion. More recently we see North Korea, by all accounts of the most repressive nations in the world with barbaric living conditions. Atheistic Cuba is another of the world’s great oppressors of her own people. Communist China has been a repressive nation for decades. Of the highly religious states that are also the most repressive, they are universally Islamic, which should further discredit the blanket condemnation of religion as repressive we cavalierly hear from atheists speakers and authors who profit from their empty rhetoric.

As D’Souza points out, an absence of religion is hardly a recipe for a utopian existence. There is not a more religious developed country in the world than the U.S. and we are the envy of the world. The most horrifying conditions in modern times are most often found in the most secular of developed states, places like the former Soviet Union, communist China, Cuba and North Korea. There is far more danger to liberty and freedom (individually and corporately) from a powerful state than there is from a powerful religion.

There have always been and until Christ returns always will be people who are so power hungry that they will employ any means to obtain and retain power. That is not fatalistic, that is simply reality. While Adolf Hitler clearly had a murderous, irrational hatred for Jews they also provided him with a patsy, someone to focus attention on and help propel his rise to power. As the daily news shows us, human nature hasn’t changed much. There is still plenty of hatred and perversion in the world.

Atheists who point the finger at religion for all of the world ills miss the bigger picture. The Bible gives us the reason for all of the evil and suffering in the world and its cause (sin) and the solution (Christ). The Bible never paints a bucolic picture of life in this world. The difference between the bleak picture of humanity presented in the Bible and the hopeless view of life promoted by Thomas Hobbes of a life that is “poor, nasty, brutish and short” is hope. In spite of all of the talk about “hope” we have endured over the last year or so the reality is that outside of Christ there is no hope in this world and we are forced to endure a Hobbesian existence of pain and suffering, mercifully coming to a swift and probably unpleasant end.

In the end, atheists make a fatal error by blaming God and belief in Him as the cause of all human suffering when in fact it is God alone who provides a way to alleviate and ultimately conquer that suffering. I will concur with the dangers of religion, but I find the dangers of religion to be of eternal consequence rather than temporal. Empty religious expression, whether Islamic or Buddhist or even pseudo-Christian religious expressions, have eternal consequences but in this life it is hard to make a serious argument that the presence of religion worsens human life or that the absence of religion improves it. History itself refutes that claim, sealed with the now empty buildings in places like Auschwitz and in the blood soaked ground of the killing fields in Cambodia.

Bookmark and Share

If multi-site is OK, why not online?

Eric Carpenter linked to a CNN article about online churches and it reminded me of a prior post where I made the argument that this is just the logical next step for churches.

Hjalti á Lava was searching his iPhone for a Bible app when he stumbled across Church Online, a service of Web site Soon he was regularly logging into the Oklahoma-based cyber-church -- some 4,100 miles away from á Lava's home in the Faroe Islands, west of Norway.

"It allows me to connect with others and have conversations about the message," says á Lava, who shares his faith with other believers in the site's live chat room. "Technology allows us today to have fellowship across borders and cultures."

In doing so, á Lava joined growing numbers of Christians worldwide who are migrating from the chapel to the computer. A map on the Church Online site showed users from 22 countries logged into a recent service.

Online religious services offer convenience to those who are too isolated or infirm to attend a real-world church. But can worshipping via a computer offer true spiritual fulfillment?

pastors and parishioners cite their 24-hour access to interactive tools and social-networking platforms to show their online experiences are as meaningful as those that take place with face-to-face congregations.

Even this seemed in step with modern evangelicalism:

Links allow congregants to "raise their hand" and publicly commit to Christ, while prayer requests and one-on-one guidance are a click way. Sermon notes can be shared and discussed. And many online churches are aided by volunteers, allowing them to hold services several times each day.

Well, how much different is that from "making a decision" in response to a sermon, walkin' the aisle, signing the card, raising your hand? Clicking a button from a computer is as Scripturally as walking an aisle.

Ultimately my point again is that if the primary purpose of "going to church" is to hear a sermon and some music, why not just do it online?

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jim Belcher on Mission and Unity

Good stuff. Jim's basic point is that mission and healthy unity run hand in hand. If the church isn’t missional, it can’t be healthy and if the church isn't healthy it can’t be missional.

I like this quote: The Reformed tradition has splitting down to a science.

Bookmark and Share

Why is church dull?

Why is church so dull? A psychotherapist diagnoses the Sunday ritual. - By Stephen W. Simpson - Patrol Magazine

Ok, let me start by saying that Patrol Magazine looks like a pretty standard "post-evangelical" liberal webzine/magazine that makes its living in part by taking shots at conservatism. I certainly don't endorse all or even much of what they write. I am sure that I would have a vehement disagreement with many of the writers on a myriad of issues. Having said that, I find that the substance of what Stephen Simpson wrote to be right on target. It is very thought provoking and the issues it raises are worthy of consideration even if (or perhaps especially if) you find yourself in disagreement with what is being said.

You may also find the title of the article offensive and provocative. I am sure that is the intent and by getting in a froth out of the gate, you kind of are reacting exactly as expected. I will also say that if you are honest, even a "good" church can be kind of dull. At churches that are vibrant and exciting, I am in agreement with this statement from the article:

As much as postmodern evangelicals bandy about the word “community,” our gatherings have changed very little. Stylistic alterations might add some hipster flair, but the focal point of the liturgical week remains theater. A dozen or so people perform for a few hundred that sit, stand, kneel, pray, and sing on command. We squeeze real community into the gaps, between events with a hierarchical structure. Not only is this a long way from Biblical models of the early Christian church, it’s a breeding ground for messy group dynamics. And, again, it’s boring.

Church today, whether a cathedral, a mega-aluminum warehouse, or a little wooden building in the country, has little in common with the New Testament church. In the first century there was still teaching, prayer, and worship, but the early church was about community. Paul’s letters paint a picture of people living together and collectively figuring out what it meant to follow Christ. The authority of the leaders and teachers wasn’t a forgone conclusion. They were in dialogue with their congregations. Paul himself often had to defend his position of authority and many of his letters are part of an ongoing doctrinal debate. You get the sense, however, that even theological issues were somewhat secondary. The focus was a meal, not a class or a worship service. Some early Christians enjoyed the community meal so much that Paul had to tell them to tone it down because they were partying a little too hard.

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine most Christians getting too carried away having a good time together. Church is an adjunct to professional and familial communities. We get up on Sunday, drive, park, sit, listen, sing, pray, chat, and go home. Even if we’re involved in a small group, the relationships are usually secondary. The early Christians learned and grew through relationship. It’s plastered all over the New Testament. Yet, we still structure our religion around one guy, and it’s not Jesus.

Churches often grow for the wrong reason. If you don’t find church boring, it’s probably because of a talented preacher. He’s smart, but moreover, entertaining. Big, active churches are cults of personality, not communities. Try to imagine the Mars Hill in Oregon without Mark Driscoll. Try to imagine the other one without Rob Bell (though at least he had the wisdom to abdicate his throne). Try to imagine Lakewood Church without Joel Osteen. You can’t. When the focus turns to Christ, it’s because a showman gets our attention first. We don’t find God in each other. The Body of Christ has an enormous head atop a weak, flabby body.

I find myself in a lot of agreement with that. As I have said before, you don't get huge turnouts to hear the local country preacher preach, you get huge turnouts to hear the famous preachers preach because they are enjoyable to listen to. Ask anyone involved with a Reformation Society how easy it is to get interest in a meeting with a relatively unknown pastor versus how easy it is to generate interest in a "name brand" Christian leader. Even the idea of community, one of the most vital aspects of the New Testament church, has lost almost all meaning in the modern church. Relegated to an occasional "fellowship meal", a handshake in the foyer and perhaps a small group under the supervision of the pastor, community has become secondary, losing out to "relevance" on one end of the spectrum and "doctrinal precision" on the other. In my mind, the gathering of the church can only be relevant if it is firmly grounded in Biblical orthodoxy aand doctrinal precision is woefully incomplete if it fails to include the community of believers as more than an empty ritual.

What I find most troubling is that it seems that the liberal, theologically squishy brothers are often closer to the mark on "the church" than my conservative, theologically orthodox brothers. There is a definite struggle within the conservative wing of the church between brothers like Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and Jim Belcher on one hand and John MacArthur and the White Horse Inn gang on the other. What is worse, these conversations about the purpose and function of the chuch are virtually verbotten among many brothers as if any question of the traditional model of the church is borderline heresy and tantamount to church abandonment. I think the reaction in some corners to Jim Belcher's Deep Church is demonstrative of how ingrained this defense of church tradition has become. When you are unable to differentiate between church traditions like liturgy, paid clergy, ritualized services on one hand and Gospel issues like how a sinner is justified, there is a deep problem with your theological system.

I would encourage you to read the whole article and comment on what he says.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, November 13, 2009

Business Missionaries

Interesting editorial today on business missionaries, Earning Commissions on 'The Great Commission':

Christian missionaries have always brought institutions from home and planted them in foreign lands. Schools, hospitals and social services are staples of missionary activity. But recently those who spread the faith overseas have realized that it's not enough to educate and provide health care. In the midst of a world-wide recession, people need jobs, and a growing number of missionaries—many of them working outside traditional missionary organizations—are taking their business skills and starting for-profit companies in the mission fields.

Missionary activity is in decline because of the recession. The Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church, two of the largest Protestant denominations, are making steep cuts to their missionary institutions. Yet Jesus' command to disciple all nations still pulls strongly on the hearts of many Christians. While mission agencies are tightening their purse strings, many business owners are turning to their practical, 9-to-5 skills to help fulfill this Great Commission.

The Business as Mission movement began in the 1990s, when globalization allowed Christian business people to build companies overseas. Often they did so without the help of churches. This missions model required some initial capital but no long-term subsidies. Business missionaries could become integral parts of a community, build trust with locals through business relationships, and minister every day of the week—not just Sunday—to employees, vendors, suppliers and customers. In the late '90s Neal Johnson was at Fuller Seminary in California planning a career change. He'd worked overseas in banking and law for decades, and he wanted to combine his business skills with missionary work. But his initial dissertation proposal on business as mission was rejected. "I was told it was not a subject for someone pursuing a Ph.D.," he said. Eventually, the committee relented. Today, Mr. Johnson is the dean of the business school at Bakke Graduate University—an international Christian school based in Seattle but offering courses from Hong Kong to Hungary—whose business program focuses solely on training students to integrate faith and missions with business. When I spoke with him, he was teaching an MBA course in the Philippines.

In the past decade, the movement has exploded, at least in interest among missionary agencies. Steve Rundle, an economics professor at Biola University in California, has been studying business as mission for 15 years. Prof. Rundle says that much of the movement is still informal, led by individual entrepreneurs. Because many business owners work outside of traditional mission agencies, it can be hard to quantify their numbers. But surveys of U.S.-based agencies found that about 5% of their missionaries are working in business, up from almost nothing 20 years ago. At a handful of agencies, as many as a quarter are using business as mission principles of profitability, the production of marketable goods and services and integration of Christianity and evangelism into the business.

The normal model of mission work, at least as we have experienced it, is of full-time professional missionaries doing mission work in a far away land supported by the offerings of Christians back in the U.S. I think I like this idea of missionaries starting businesses in foreign countries and supporting themselves while integrating themselves into the community plus perhaps providing jobs to the community they are ministering in. Instead of some Westerner coming to your country and telling you your religion is wrong, you have a neighbor and someone who lives in your community as part of your community.

What do you think?

Bookmark and Share

What is wrong with people?

There was some news last week about a former clinic director at Planned Parenthood who quit after watching a baby murdered on ultrasound. Now she is claiming that she is being rejected by her church:

Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director whose about-face on abortion prompted her to resign her job, says she's gotten flack for her decision from an unexpected quarter: her own church.

Her Oct. 6 decision to leave Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas - after viewing an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week-old fetus two weeks earlier - made headlines, especially when she ended up volunteering at the Coalition for Life center a few doors away. Her former employer filed a restraining order to silence Mrs. Johnson, but a judge threw out the case on Tuesday.

Now she is facing a different kind of music at her parish, St. Francis Episcopal in nearby College Station, the home of Texas A&M University.

Whereas clergy and parishioners welcomed her as a Planned Parenthood employee, now they are buttonholing her after Sunday services.

"Now that I have taken this stand, some of the people there are not accepting of that," she told The Washington Times. "People have told me they disagree with my choice. One of the things I've been told is that as Episcopalians, we embrace our differences and disagreements. While I agree with that, I am not sure I can go to a place where I don't feel I am welcome."

So let me get this straight. If you are employed at a place that makes money from murdering infants, we welcome you with open arms in the spirit of inclusion and diversity. If you decide that abortion is murdering infants, you find yourself not so welcome? I would be skeptical if this were not so sadly believable.

Bookmark and Share