Friday, April 30, 2010

There is no middle road

Interesting thoughts from Francis Chan...

I like what he said, we seem to think we don't have to do what Jesus said, we just have to memorize what He said and we get a bonus if we memorize it in Greek. Pretty thought provoking without being rude.

(HT: Seth McBee)

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Preachers then and now

The Bible tells us about a lot of men who we would call preachers, men who were prophetic voices. They were pretty distinctive men and were rarely very popular. Look at these men and see if they sound like the local preacher in your town.

John the Baptist

He wore animal skins and ate bugs. He lived and preached on the coming Kingdom in the wilderness. No parsonage and suit and tie for him! His preaching was pretty popular and made him well-respected in the community. Or maybe not...

But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter." And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. (Mat 14:6-11)

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.

O LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? (Jer 15:15-18)

He wasn't really very popular, was he? A sad loner but one who found his delight not in the applause of men but in the words of God.


He didn't find terribly adoring audiences in most places he went.

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2Co 11:24-28)


"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Act 7:51-60)

He didn't get a "great sermon preacher!" when he was done, he got stones.

Those aren't the kind of men we adore as preachers today. Today we want men who can speak clearly, with easy to follow points. We want men who entertain us, even among those who decry entertainment preaching. We expect our preachers to be genteel men, men who are respected members of the community. How many churches would want a pastor who spent lots of time in jail like Paul did? I mean, think of all the committee meetings he would miss, and who would deliver the sermon on Sunday? Instead of him visiting us, we would have to visit him in some icky prison!

Where are the men with prophetic voices, men who are not revered but reviled?

You want to be a full-time preacher of the Gospel? Then do it right. Get rid of the suit and tie. Forget about your standing in the community. Don't fear offending the biggest donors. Don't be concerned about getting the choice speaking engagements. Eschew the titles, the trappings and the honors that come along with being part of the clergy. Let Christ be your audience. You might not be invited to pray at the local prayer breakfast but the true reward will be infinitely greater.

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A quote to ponder

“To people who maintain a separation from many pleasures of society, Christian fellowship becomes pleasure. To those who don’t attend the drama of the theater, the beauty of the ordinances, crowds of worshippers, and powerful preaching are drama enough. To those who don’t belong to secret societies, the church becomes the center of their lives, and invites their undivided loyalty. To people who don’t go to war, mutual aid, sharing of Christian love, and the peace of Christ are their theme. To people who don’t have radio and television, the Bible has a central part in their lives and affections”

(Quoted by Donald Kraybill in On the Backroad to Heaven, Pg. 160-161,)

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Important thoughts this morning

As I sit in the hospital while my wife is having tests, I recalled the Scripture we read this morning before we left home:

"O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. (Psa 39:4-7)

I am sure everything will be fine, no matter the outcome but it is a welcome reminder to read these words and remember how precious our eternal inheritance is.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

If any of ye lack wisdom (teeth)...

Getting my wisdom teeth pulled in about an hour and a half so I expect I won't be blogging anything substantive and if I do it might be more incoherent than usual.

You have been warned.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Answering questions correctly is not Christianity

USA Today is out with a cover story this morning on the changing religious attitudes and behaviors of young adults in America, Survey: 72% of Millennials 'more spiritual than religious'. The story starts out with this summary:

Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

There is nothing really new here. I don’t think it is surprising that young people are less and less religious. If you are exposed at all to people under 30, it is perfectly clear that they see the world in a dramatically different way than the preceding generation. That has been true to some extent for every generation, at least in America. What is more troubling to those who love the church is that so many people identify themselves as Christians without the vaguest inkling of being a follower of Christ means.

Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, "many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only," Rainer says. "Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith."

Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August and released today:

•65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.

•65% rarely or never attend worship services.

•67% don't read the Bible or sacred texts.

Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.

"We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church," Rainer says.

I would ask if those three elements are the most accurate identifiers of a genuine, committed Christianity. By this all people will know you are my disciples if you: read the Bible daily, attend church and pray with others? I think it is invaluable to be in the Word daily, to pray with other believers and to gather with the church but I am not sure if those are accurate measures of how “Christian” a person is.

If I can go on a soapbox here (and it is my blog, so yes I can). I am not surprised by this at all. The problem in the church is not that there is not enough expository preaching or not enough liturgy or not using catechisms. This is not caused because prayer is banned in schools or Ten Commandment monuments have been removed from government property. The problem at its core is that we have failed to recapture what it means to be the church and I trace this back 1700 years. For centuries we have tried to build something that only Christ can build, we have tried to create the church in our image instead of the what is reflected in Scripture.

Our goal is not to raise young people to adulthood who can better articulate doctrines or who will answer yes to the right poll questions. Our goal is to preach Christ and see people transformed. It is easy to make religious people and that is a task that can be accomplished by men. Making a Christian is something that only the Holy Spirit can do. In spite of the evidence that this is something that is impossible for men and possible only through God, we have been trying to “help” God out for centuries. Matthew 19:26 is clear on this but we have abandoned the essence of what Christ was saying there and turned it into a rah-rah song for whatever we have decided we want to accomplish. Instead of trying to get more people “in church” we need to figure out what the church really is. As long as we replace community and transformation with superficial actions and religious observance, we will continue to see organized religion die out. That might just be the best thing to happen to the church since Pentecost.

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Book Review: Deeply Rooted

I finished Lisa Hamilton’s Deeply Rooted last night. It was a thought-provoking work. Ms. Hamilton singled out three unconventional farmers, farmers who bucked the trend of constantly increasing the size of their operation and spent quite a bit of time watching what they do and more importantly finding out why they do what they do. All three buck conventional wisdom and while they might not make as much money as the huge commercial farms they still retain their connection to the land and their community, something Ms. Hamilton argues and I largely agree has taken place in most of the agribusiness world.

I think Ms. Hamilton does a great job painting the picture of each of these farms for the reader. Her vivid imagery is sometimes raw but life on a farm is not all setting suns and green pastures. Life on a farm is dirty sometimes, sometimes ugly and unpleasant. When you eschew the methods of modern agribusiness, it can make life even harder. In a country where meat and milk come from the grocery store in sanitary foam packages and plastic jugs, Deeply Rooted is a welcome reminder of just how much has changed in the world of food.

The three farmers she selected are kind of characters, each with a pretty interesting personality. I am sure that is intentional, after all the book needs to be readable as well as educational. I don’t think these three are typical of non-confirming farms but they do provide a great insight into the mindset of people who were raised to be farmers and ranchers but decided against getting on the economy of scale treadmill. It is one thing to woodenly detail the operations of a farm, which is only mildly interesting. Getting into the minds of these farmers is where the really interesting stuff happens.

It is indisputable that the agricultural world has changed dramatically over the last century and the pace of change shows no sign of letting up. Ms. Hamilton does a very good job of telling us about the downside of this revolution, farmers becoming producers, people disconnected from the land and from where their food comes from. On the other hand, feeding your family has become, at least for the majority of people in Western nations, something of an afterthought. I can get up from my computer and get to four grocery stores in less than ten minutes, each one chock full staple foods, dairy products and fruits and vegetables. The food is consistent, predictable and cheap. How healthy it is, well that is a different story but the market delivers what people demand. I am confident in saying that short of a major crisis, we are never going back to a world of gardens and small farms, of local produce. Perhaps Deeply Rooted will serve as an encouragement to others, as it has been for me, to think more about food and the choices we make. Food, water and shelter are the essentials of life and we really only pay attention to one of those. As bad as the mortgage crisis was, a food or water crisis is infinitely worse. Deeply Rooted is, pun intended, food for thought.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

A nation born of rebellion against God

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

With these words, the Declaration of Independence begins to list the grievances suffered under the despotic rule of King George over the English colonies in America. After a lengthy list of grievances, the Declaration declares that the colonies are no longer under the rule of England but are instead free and independent.

Powerful words. Solemn words. Words that, at least until recently, were taught to all schoolchildren and words that are part of our American lore. I am in awe of the power and eloquence of the Declaration and the subsequent Constitution that at one time was the law of the land in America. So that is great, we all agree that America is swell. So what is the point? Here is where I am going with this: Are these statements in the Declaration of Independence the founding words of a Christian nation, a country founded on "Judeo-Christian" values?

Simply put: No.

Why in the world would I say that?

Because America was birthed by an ungodly act of rebellion against authority.

Yikes! Stay with me here. This is a long one but I think it is important and thought provoking.

This post is not intended to bash America. I would not choose to live anywhere else in the world unless I was led to do so in God's providence. I love my country, in fact I love my country more than may be healthy as a Christian. I am also not saying that the founding fathers were wrong or that the end result is bad. Clearly America has been a force for more good than ill in the world. This statement is intended as a wake-up call to the church. Evangelicals must remember that being an evangelical Christian must of necessity take priority over being an American. I hear lots of lip-service to that effect but practically speaking our American upbringing impacts our doctrine and practice in some troubling ways. There are no special secular nations, even ones where the founding is full of religious overtones. I think this is important because there is such a blurring of the distinction between the church and America that it sometimes seems as if we are evangelists for American culture more than witnesses of the risen Christ. So if you will, please indulge me for a few minutes to explain why I would make that assertion.

The core issue here is one of submission. Submission gets a bad rap in the church in America because it is either tip-toed around or it is used as a club. Americans don't like to submit to anyone for any reason. The Founding Fathers decided that at some point they no longer wished to submit to King George, to pay his taxes without representation. I think most historians would agree that King George was a poor ruler. So it is little wonder that the colonies eventually revolted. The question we are pondering here is a dramatically different one: Is our submission to authority based on the worthiness of the one in authority? That is an important question because we are called on to submit all over the place in the Bible, a subject we looked at yesterday when the church gathered.

Let's take a look at what the Bible says about submission to authorities and it says a lot.

The first place I want to look is at the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1)

Paul is somewhat vague here. He exhorts Titus to remind Christians to be submissive to authorities. Who these rulers and authorities are doesn’t get much clarification but I certainly think that Paul is at least implying governing officials. The following sections of Scripture reinforce this idea quite powerfully.

Next we have a powerful statement from the lips of Christ Himself. Pay careful attention here.

He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:0-11)

Here is Christ, mere hours away from His death on the cross, telling Pontius Pilate that he has no authority (including the authority to condemn Christ to die) except that which he has received “from above”, i.e. from God. Stop and think about what Christ is saying here. Pontius Pilate received his authority from Caesar. So by proxy Caesar has been granted the authority by God to put Jesus Christ to death. I can’t overemphasize this point that the most unjust and tyrannical government ever faced by Christians was given its authority directly from God and it used that authority to crucify Christ and persecute the church for the next three centuries. Roman Emperors like Nero and Caligula make King George look like Mr. Rogers in comparison. Ponder that as we move forward.

Next, a look at what Peter wrote regarding this issue. I think this is important as well because this is not a “Paul-only” doctrine. It is something found in the words of Christ and Peter as well as Paul. Just once in Scripture should be sufficient but for purposes of staking a position I think it adds even more weight when there are multiple sources.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Please note a few things here. Be subject to every human institution, emperor and governors. Not to be subject to only the just rulers or those you voted for. Remember again as a frame of reference that when Peter says “emperor” he must be referring to Caesar and when he refers to “governor” that likely refers to men like Pilate. Verse 17 is especially telling; we are to honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God and honor the emperor. Honor Caesar? Absolutely.

Next up is Romans 13, the seminal passage on human governing authorities.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13: 1-7)

There is no authority other than those God has instituted. That would obviously include the Roman empire and of course the good ole United States of America. Wouldn’t it similarly include Nazi Germany? The Stalinist Soviet Union? Castro’s Cuba? North Korea? England under the reign of King George? Lichtenstein! All of the above. So Paul is saying that by resisting the authorities placed over us, we resist God and bring judgment upon ourselves. We are to submit and pay taxes, whether we consider them just or not.

Look at what precedes Romans 13, keeping in mind that the chapter breaks are not in the original. What Paul wrote right before this passage is vital to understanding Romans 13: 1-7.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 14-21)

That is important to remember. Christians in Rome would be facing persecution just as Paul himself, a frequent guest in prison cells, was subjected to. In the face of such injustice, the natural response as an American is to overthrow the scoundrels, the whole refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots thing. Paul is saying just the opposite and we must consider the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13 as one continuous thought. Is the government unjust? God will judge that nation. Are the rulers despotic? God is the one who will avenge their injustice, either immediately (see the death of Herod in Acts 12: 20-23) or at the Judgment seat. “Don’t tread on me” is not a concept that would be understood by Paul.

What is the overarching message here? It strikes me that God is sovereign over all nations, not just Western democracies but all nations, and that God will judge those nations. We all understand this and accept this, at least in theory. Submission is an easy topic to talk about but when you apply it as a practical matter, it gets messy and sometimes flies in the face of certain ideals that we hold dear. This issue is one that is easily turned from “Scripture says” to “Well, I think”.

So that brings me back to my original point. Was the founding of America a “Christian” action? I have to say “No”. No matter that the lofty ideals espoused by the Founders sound pleasing to our ears or that we can argue that no secular nation on earth is a better one. The notion that America was once a “Christian nation” and needs to return to that state is demonstrably false because the very founding of America was done as an act of rebellion against the very authorities that God had ordained.

Am I missing something here? Is there anything in the New Testament that would lead a follower of Jesus Christ to think that we are called to overthrow unjust rulers? Should we pray for our leaders? Well certainly we should and that is perfectly Biblical. Should we take up arms to overthrow them? Absolutely not, not even if they force high taxes on us or unjust laws. Not even if they persecute the church and not even if they put Christians to death. God will avenge, not us and we are never called to return evil for evil, even when we are sure that our cause is right. We shouldn’t turn to George Washington and Patrick Henry to form our beliefs regarding human government. Our model for how we should relate to the government is found in Scripture, in Paul and Peter and most especially in Jesus Christ.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Would Liberty invite an Muslim to speak at commencement?

I doubt it and as a "the world's largest Christian university" they certainly shouldn't. So why in the world is this happening?

Jerry Falwell Jr., chancellor of Liberty University, announced Friday that Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, will deliver the commencement address at the Lynchburg campus’s May 15 graduation, the News & Advance reports.

“Beck is one of the few courageous voices in the national media standing up for the principles upon which this nation was founded,” Falwell said in a news release.

Can you imagine if a famous Muslim imam was the keynote speaker? At least Muslims are monotheistic unlike Glenn Beck. I wonder if Jerry Jr. knows that Beck is a mormon and that as such he is a member of a church that considers Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church founded by his father and pastored by his brother, to be an abomination? The announcement on Liberty's webpage makes no mention of the fact that Beck is a mormon and believes that Jesus Christ is the brother of Satan, only an oblique mention of the diversity of speakers invited to speak at Liberty. So much for not being unequally yoked.

I guess at Liberty, having the right politics trumps the Gospel.

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American Christianity

America is a wonderful country, the freest nation in the world. We have a level of wealth that unimaginable around the globe. We can travel freely as we choose and thanks to an incredible interstate highway system, I can drive from mid-Michigan to Charlotte, North Carolina in a day if I choose. Outside of a few Hollywood types who have become insane from the wealth provided by the very country they hate (Sean Penn, I am speaking to you), America is the envy of the world.

However, America is not a "Christian nation".

This notion, so incredibly prevalent in American evangelicalism, is hazardous to the church.

Here is where I think this comes from:

a. X, Y and Z are American values

b. Lots of Americans are Christians (or at least go to church)

c. Therefore X, Y and Z are Christian values

This is problematic for a number of reasons, not least because it leads to people misapplying patriotic American values as doctrines of the church. Take the right to self-defense for example. It is a core American value. Someone tries to take your stuff or hurt you or your family, you have every right and indeed every expectation as an American to shoot them. We accept that and then turn it into a Christian value. The problem is that we just don't see that in Scripture and just the opposite is true. It seems to me that the message of the Bible is that as meek and humble followers of Christ, those who have gladly given up their claims on their private property and even our very lives, we would rather be defrauded, stolen from or killed instead of returning evil for evil.

The amount of "Christian" schlock merchants peddle with patriotic images of flags and bald eagles interspersed with crosses and a generous helping of Psalm 33: 12 quotes (heads up, Psalm 33:12 is not talking about America and America has never been a nation who's God is the Lord) is frankly embarrassing. God's elect are found among every tribe and every nation and every people. There are far more believers outside of America than inside of America. There are far more unbelievers in America than believers and that is true for every other nation and has always been true, even in our idealized vision of Calvin's Geneva or the days of the Puritans. An unbeliever in America is infinitely and eternally worse off than a Christian being tortured in a North Korean prison.

We need to stop assuming that material prosperity and the various rights we have as Americans are a sign of God's special favor upon this land and her citizens.

Tomorrow I have on tap a post explaining why it is silly to even think of America as a "Christian nation".

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Best of the week entry 4

A Pilgrim's Progress: What I Don't Like About "Why We Love the Church"

In what is becoming a pattern, Eric Carpenter has a late entry but a good one. Eric reviews DeYoung and Kluck's Why We Love The Church and does a very fair and Biblical job of it. This is a vital book to read and understand because, to paraphrase Eric, it is widely recommended in the broader church and it is also a pretty poor defense of institutionalized Christianity. I agree that if this is the best the institutional church has to offer by way of a defense, it is in worse shape than many of us originally thought.

(for my less thorough review, see here)

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Best of the week entry 3

My next entry comes from Alan Knox in a post about a subject near and dear to my heart, community. His post, Man-made or (super)Natural Community?, talks about the difference between genuine and artificial community:

As I have been thinking about these waterfalls, especially in relation to the man-made waterfall, I wonder if our churches are similar. Could it be that many of us are not experiencing real Spirit-created community, but instead are we experiencing something that is contrived, controlled, and man-made?

I’m thinking specifically about alot of “small groups” of people who are placed together because of age, interests, etc. Placing people together does not create community, although it could certainly allow God opportunities to create community. The question is, are we trying to create something, or are we allowing God to create the community. If we are allowing God to create the community, are we giving him complete control, or are we setting limits for him. The more we become involved in trying to create community, the more contrived, controlled, and man-made it will become. It will not be a community that finds their identity in Christ and shares fellowship in the Spirit. Instead, it will be a group of people who find their identity in a certain person, location, time, etc.

I think that is great. Throwing people together for a couple of hours doesn't create community. Community is the result of salvation, exhibited by lives lived together in love and marked by self-sacrifice. We hear so much talk about fellowship and family in the church but the reality is that it doesn't seem genuine. It is contrived and artificial because we are trying to substitute ceremony for community. If we stop trying to dictate to God the terms by which we will be in community, we might just find ourselves in the sort of close-knit community the Bible describes and that many of us long for.

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Best of the week entry 2

The next entry is a pretty scholarly work by Martin Salter, writing for the journal Themlios. Encumbered with the lengthy title Does Baptism Replace Circumcision? An Examination of the Relationship between Circumcision and Baptism in Colossians 2:11–12, Mr. Salter puts together an excellent examination of this pivotal passage:

The thesis is that the paedobaptist understanding of Col 2:11–12 is illegitimate. First, we shall see that the verses are primarily polemical and thus require caution in drawing firm conclusions regarding sacramentology. Second, I will argue that there is a disjunction for Paul between physical and spiritual circumcision, and it is the latter to which Col 2:11 refers. Third, I shall demonstrate that ‘circumcision’ and baptism do not signify precisely the same realities in these verses. This issue is important and relevant for church practice. If baptism replaces circumcision and signifies the same realities, then as a covenant sign it ought to be administered to infants of covenant members. If, however, we can demonstrate that such a link does not exist, it calls into question practices based upon such a connection, to the extent that they rely on Col 2:11–12.

Simply a great and deeply academic study of the issue of infant baptism vis a vis Colossians 2: 11-12.

Frankly I have not seen this passage used all that much in defense of the paedo position. It strikes me as just the opposite; Paul is speaking of the contrast between circumcision done with hands and the circumcision of the heart. I don’t even see this passage speaking of water baptism at all but rather the act of regeneration. The very next passage speaks of those who were dead being made alive again, a reference that can only be speaking of regeneration: And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses (Col 2:13) . The only way I see it being applied to infant baptism is if you just assume that any time the word “baptism” appears in the New Testament it automatically is speaking of infant baptism.

Good stuff. Mr. Slater is a student at Oak Hill Theological College in London which means he is a pretty smart cookie. It is kind of heady but still accessible to someone without a doctoral degree and it demonstrates the kind of scholarly work that we still need in the church. Scholarly study has its place for certain but that place is not at the top of a hierarchy but in the role of serving the church. As I tweeted earlier yesterday, there is no place for ivory towers in a faith where God washed the feet of His disciples.

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Best of the week entry 1

My first entry is an article on the first female rabbi, called a “rabba” in Orthodox Judaism from the Wall Street Journal, Not Everybody Is Ready for an Orthodox Rabba. It is not a blog per se, but it is interesting.

Enthusiastic applause greeted Sara Hurwitz when she stepped to the podium last month to address a gathering of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance in New York. Two months earlier, Ms. Hurwitz's mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, had given her the title of "rabba," or female rabbi, making her the most visible woman to join the Orthodox clergy. "The community is inspired, electrified and supportive of women functioning in rabbinic roles," Rabba Hurwitz told the audience. That support, however, is far from universal.

In February the Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox organization, blasted Rabba Hurwitz's title as a "radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition" that "must be condemned in the strongest terms." Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz warned, "We cannot allow someone whose guide is 20th century feminism . . . to hijack and attempt to redefine Orthodoxy."

It is interesting that Orthodox Judaism has some of the same issues that mainline Protestantism (and increasingly Roman Catholicism) has in regard to the role of women.

This is an issue I run into on a regular basis. I find myself in agreement with a number of people on the need for real Reformation in the church but I find that sometimes it goes overboard. Replace the professional clergy with a real priesthood of all believers? Yeah! Quit spending so much money on buildings and programs and spend more on carrying out the work of the Gospel? Yeah! Recognize women as elders in the church? Um, hang on. The difference is that while there is no hint of a professional clergy or capital campaigns to add million dollar additions to church buildings or reducing the church to an hour of theater in Scriptures, the Bible does speak frequently and clearly on gender roles.

I think that this is an area that a lot of religious groups struggle with, the struggle between what ancient writings describe and what modern society demands. I don’t see that capitulating to the culture has ever had a positive impact, especially among Christians where gender roles are determined not by tradition but by Scripture. In gender roles as in the church and in justification and all other issues, Selectiva Sola Scriptura, the Scriptures I selective choose alone, we are not given the luxury of cherry picking which parts of Scripture we will and which we will not choose to follow.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Packing heat in church. Seriously.

This is the most stunningly ignorant thing I have read in a long time. Published today in American Vision is an article titled: “Bring Your Pieces to Church” Sunday. They are not kidding. Here are a few choice quotes from the article:

Christians should be aware that the use of force in preservation of life is a biblical doctrine (Ex. 22:2–3; Prov. 24:10–12; Est. 8–9; Neh. 4; cp. John 15:13–14). Likewise, those who possessed weapons in Scripture are often said to be well skilled in the use of them (Judg. 20:15–16; 1 Chron. 12:1–2, 21–22). We can only surmise that 1) God gave them talent in this regard, and that 2) they engaged in target practice regularly. Further, under biblical law, to be disarmed was to be enslaved and led to a disruption of the economic order due to government regulations and monopolies (1 Sam 13:19–22). But the mere presence of a couple weapons had psychological effects that put criminals to flight (1 Sam 13). There is a reason why Scripture tells these stories: they illustrate the defense of life, liberty, and property in the midst of a fallen world (and fallen governments).

Oh my. Here we see eisegesis at its worst and the perverse blurring of the laws of theocratic old covenant Israel with modern day America. For example, the one New Testament scripture quoted here is John 15: 13-14. Does John 15: 13-14 call on Christians to pack heat and gun down bad guys in vigilante actions? The passage reads:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:13-14)

Note that it doesn't say no greater love has one than this, that he will gun down someone. Laying down your life and shooting someone else are the precise opposite actions. Here is another gem....

But we should also begin to exercise our inviolable rights. Every able Christian should own a firearm, and each should seek instruction and training in how to use them. This includes handguns, shotguns, and rifles, each of which has a particular strength in self- and home-defense. Elders and pastors should teach on the topic and its history, and should help aid church members in obtaining fitting pieces and proper training in legal settings.

Ah, I must have missed that in 1 Timothy. An elder must be capable of hitting his target and qualified to teach others how to shoot to kill. That clearly is what is the biggest problem in the church today, not enough Christians owning and using guns.

This all makes perfect sense in light of the New Testament teachings of Christ. NOT! What we see in the New Testament is not arming ourselves against oppressive governments and criminals. Just the opposite. How often was Paul falsely accused and persecuted and yet his response was to just preach the Gospel, not taking up arms against Caesar. Christ died without even defending himself against an unjust magistrate. The early disciples mostly died ugly deaths and did so without raising the sword to defend themselves. Christians used to respect martyrs, now we bemoan that they were not properly equipped and trained with guns to defend themselves.

This is a perfect example of what happens when you start to think that Christianity and American conservatism are one and the same. I will note, hopefully unnecessarily, that my conservative credentials are above reproach especially with respect to 2nd amendment rights. But being an American political conservative is not the same thing as being a disciple of Christ. We are not called to be dispensers of justice. We rely on the sovereign Lord of the universe to judge and dispense justice. We live in a world crushed with the weight of sin. That will never be set right by violence, even "justifiable" violence but only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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That which is free is perceived as having no value

I was having a conversation with a brother at church Sunday. We were talking about the local homeschool athletic group and how changing the way it was funded had a radical impact on the group. Previously they tried to offer it for free to make it as accessible as possible and because of that they spent a ton of time and effort fund-raising. In return, some of the parents who had kids in the program became pretty entitled and wanted more, not less, from the program that they were not even paying for. So the decision was made to start charging a fee to participate. By changing the structure so that parents paid for their kids to participate, those parents had some skin in the game and really had to want to have their kids playing. It had some meaning to them because they were personally invested in it.

As an aside, I think the same principle applies to the public schools. Sure you pay for it, but only in the most ephemeral way. Most people have mortgages and as part of your monthly mortgage payment you pay into an escrow account that funds property taxes and insurance. Your $900 monthly payment might only be “paying” $800 toward the mortgage principle and interest, the rest is held aside and paid on your behalf for property taxes. Through the intricate and intentionally murky world of tax laws we pay a ton of different taxes without really thinking about it. So for most people the public school is there to be used and you are paying for it whether you like it or realize it or not. Because it is perceived to be “free” or at least free in the sense of expected, few parents are terribly engaged with the public school outside of sending their kids there and the occasional meeting at parent-teacher conferences. On the other hand, there are enormous expectations that parents have for the public schools that cross the line into complete unreasonableness. Parents expect to put their kids on a bus at age five and have their kids become well-educated, nice to others, properly socialized and suitable citizens of the United States when they cross the stage at 18 wearing a cap and gown. They expect all of this to happen with as little inconvenience as possible on their part. Little wonder the public schools are broken or that private schools where parents pay tend to get much better results at a lower cost. But I digress.

Getting back to last Sunday, our conversation turned to the church. For many Christians, the local church is "free". A small percentage of people fund the majority of most local church expenses and a small percentage of people (often the same group) do most of the work. The rest of the people, at least in churches with perhaps 100 "members", attend Sunday services, bring their kids to AWANA and VBS, get counseling when they need it, are “married and buried” in that church and have to invest little more than an hour or three of their time during the week. Even during that minimal time investment the only expectation is that they sort of pay attention and remain mostly quiet. What scares people of all stripes when considering real reform in the church is that the Body is going to be asked to contribute, to be involved. There is going to be a cost. It might not be financial but it may be something far more expensive: their lives. I think it scares pastors who are afraid people will say the wrong thing or do something the wrong way and it scares the laity who don’t see themselves as qualified or called to serve in the church.

I also think this has something to do with how we view grace. I don’t think that it is even a debatable issue that what is called “easy believism” or “cheap grace” is rampant in the church. With a focus on getting people (and even worse very young children) to make a superficial gesture in order to be declared saved, grace has lost any semblance of meaning. In the effort by evangelicalism to make being a “Christian” as easy as possible, the reality of a transformed life, dying to self, the hatred of the world, the whole life sacrifice that comes with being a Christian is lost.

As long as “going to church” is as simple as a tie and showing up more or less on time and nothing more is asked of people, the church will continue to be just another optional activity to be worked into our schedules. Church cannot be an event, something you slip in and slip out of when convenient. For far too many people, there is no cost to being a “Christian” in America and so it has little value. If you are pining to see more people who are sold out for Christ, then you need to stop selling out the Gospel. No one is doing a lost person a favor by peddling a cheap substitute Gospel that makes someone who is lost into a religious person that is lost. You cannot buy your salvation but being saved definitely carries a cost. There is a cost to taking up your cross daily but that burden is truly light as a feather in light of the wonderful value that it brings.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Draft Day!

Ok, a couple of times of year are big sports days for me. I don’t watch a lot of sports on TV, hampered by our eschewing of cable/satellite, but I do still follow sports. The NFL Draft is one of my favorite sports-related events of the year which is kind of weird since no one is actually playing a sport. You can tell I am not the only person who loves the Draft based on the NFL spreading it out from two days to three this year.

So if you will indulge me, here are my hopes for today. As a Browns fan, I really hope that the Browns either select Eric Berry (Safety, Tennessee) or move down in the first round and get more draft picks. Berry is pretty widely considered to be an elite prospect at an undervalued position. If the Browns could move down and get some additional decent picks (i.e. not sixth round) and still get a difference maker on defense in the secondary, that would be great (like Earl Thomas, also a safety but expected to go much lower than Berry). The Browns need lots of help. In the second round I expect them to take Colt McCoy, quarterback from Texas, a guy who has the best football name for a Texas football player ever. I mean seriously, Colt McCoy? Sounds like a name from a bad Western. He might not last until the second round though. Much as I love Tim Tebow, I wouldn’t want the Browns to take him until the third round and I think someone like Jacksonville is going to grab him earlier than that. I do hope that Tebow goes in the first round and has a great career. After the second round, the Browns have three third rounders and need them all for more defensive help, a running back and wideout perhaps. When you are as bad as the Browns, you need lots of pieces.

It should be interesting to see what separating the first round from the second and third, giving teams almost 24 hours between the last pick of the first and the first pick of the second round to make trades, does to the dynamic of the draft. Instead of rolling right into the later rounds, now there is a lengthy delay to think things over. Tomorrow should hopefully be interesting and poor Mel Kiper, who has the best job in the world, might have a complete meltdown.

As a sidenote, how fun would it be if the Lions passed over Suh and took Dez Bryant in the fine tradition of the Lions drafting wide receivers that bomb in the first round?

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On being called

Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs fame has an interesting take on Francis Chan leaving his pastorate to do “something else”. I applaud Chan’s decision but I agree that the use of being “called” to describe it is potentially unsettling.

Is the language of “calling” not one of the most overused in the church? We hear it said all the time that so-and-so has been “called” as pastor of a particular church. What does that mean? Was there some sort of mystical call, as Dan describes it an Abram-esque calling to leave one place and go to another? If you made a decision to leave one church for another, whatever your reasons, that is fine. Does you making a prayerful decision that involves resumes and interviews amount to a calling? If I leave my current job for another, am I called to do so or did I choose to do so?

The lingo of “I was called” is shaky ground indeed. I am not saying that no one is every called to do something but I am saying that often times we cover up our own decisions by using that language.

What do you think? What is the difference (or is there any) between a "call" and a "decision"?

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What I am reading these days

In case you are curious, this is what I am reading right now. What I read often impacts what I am thinking about and subsequently writing about.

I started rereading through Joshua last night with my wife. It is a book I need to spend more time in, which is probably true of most of the Old Testament.

I am very slowly reading through Joseph Hellerman’s When The Church Was A Family. I know I have mentioned that before and it is taking me a very long time to get through. I only read small bits at a time because it seems that every time I read a few pages I get caught up in a train of thought that derails my reading. I am not sure I have read a book in the last few years that has provoked more thought and that has really slowed me down. It is already heavily dogeared. I plan on reading it again in six months, it should be a quicker read after I have finished it once and noodled it over.

The other book I am reading is a quicker read. Even at 300+ pages, if I really buckled down I could probably read it in a day. Written by Lisa M. Hamilton, the book is titled Deeply Rooted and it chronicles the pretty mundane lives of modern farmers who have eschewed the “bigger is better” model of modern agribusiness and opted for smaller scale farming. It is a touch preachy with the obligatory references to the standard targets of agribusiness (i.e Monsanto) but so far it has been a great read, very inspiring. Food is a choice. Not merely which store we shop at and which brand of cereal we buy but a real choice of how and what we eat and where it comes from. We are nowhere near where I would like to be as a family but that is our goal, a self-supporting and healthier food choice as a family.

I should have these finished pretty shortly and I already have my next Amazon gift card on the way. On tap for my reading pleasure are two more books. One is Your Church Is Too Small which comes highly recommended by a number of sources. The other is The Naked Anabaptist which looks at the principles of Anabaptist thought without some of the cultural traditions that surround how it normally is manifested. In other words, how do we apply the core values of Anabaptism without being Mennonite or Amish? Looks like a good book that fits well with what I am thinking about. You can be sure to hear about both of those books when they arrive.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Doing church in a different way

A very interesting announcement from Francis Chan, pastor of the very large Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. He is leaving as pastor of this church and doing something...different. Here is the announcement:

Francis Chan is stepping out in faith... from Catalyst on Vimeo.

I found what he said at around the 2 minute mark very interesting:

...God wants me doing church in a different way not necessarily the formal Sunday services.

What a concept, ministering in a non-traditional way, being the church outside of a formal Sunday service. I wonder how many other pastors feel this same way but don't know what to do about it. I don't know much about Francis other than he is a pastor and a graduate of The Master's Seminary, but I am excited to see what is going to happen and how God is going to use this opportunity.

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Buy a Camaro for Jesus!

This is just weird but then again not much is as it should be in Detroit these days...

In what organizers said was the first event of its kind in the area, Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit teamed up Sunday with GM and the GM Minority Dealers Association to offer churchgoers a chance to test drive more than a dozen cars.

As congregants left the northwest side church at 1 p.m., Pastor Charles Adams said the idea of Ride and Drive was to demonstrate GM's commitment to minority causes, its employment of thousands of local African Americans and to encourage churchgoers to buy a new GM car.

"Americans now must support American-made products," Adams said outside the church with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, a longtime member. "We are encouraging our church members to take care of their community by buying locally. This is an ethical purpose that is beyond profit."

Ummmm. I am not sure what buying a particular brand of car has to do with the Gospel. Especially in Detroit where there are a lot bigger problems than which new car to buy. No worries though, the moneychangers were on hand!

Banks also were on hand to show potential new car owners how to apply for a loan. The church was chosen to host the event because it has a history of activism, said event spokesman Kevin McCormick.

Come to church, covet a new car, go into debt to buy it! I am sure that is in the book of Acts somewhere....

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Assuming the church

I wanted to expand on some thoughts I had about Eric Carpenter’s post on the assumption of the church at Together for the Gospel.

Of all the many areas of theology we study, ecclesiology is one of the most important and yet it is so terribly neglected. That is not to say that there is not a lot written about the church because there certainly is not a lack of books and articles and blog posts covering the topic. So I am not saying that we don’t study the church at all. What I am suggesting is that we study the assumed church. We study the church from the perspective of what we assume the church means without getting down to the foundational truths about the church. We assume we know what the church is and we base that assumption on what we have seen portrayed and what we have lived with and experienced our entire lives. Because of that, instead of a ecclesiology built from the ground up based on Scripture, we are already 90% of the way into our definition and study before we even crack open a Bible. I would go so far as to say that there is no area of theology where our practices and our beliefs diverge so wildly.

Perhaps this is because while much of theology focuses on God, in our eyes ecclesiology focuses on us. It is about who we are, how we relate to one another, how we relate to the world and how we meet with one another. Ecclesiology just seems more people focused, although it certainly shouldn’t be.

Or perhaps it is because the church is so real. Talking about monergistic regeneration is easy to do in a theoretical sense because it is not something you can see or touch. Substitionary atonement at the cross happened almost two thousand years and thousands of miles away. The church? That impacts my real life, right here and right now. I mean, I have to talk to these people on Sunday and deal with their quirks and foibles. I have stuff to do, schedules to keep, leisure time to enjoy. I find it much easier to swallow the idea of being a sinner in desperate need of a Savior than I do of treating my fellow Christian as a member of the same adoptive family. The church as we see it in the Bible is hard. It is messy and difficult and frustrating. It is way easier to assume the church and avoid all of those potentially messy entanglements.

I think that the assumed church is why we have such trouble having honest conversations about the church and why some people have such a visceral reaction to anyone questioning the traditions we have built up and called “the church”. Calvinism versus Arminianism? Infant or believers baptism only? Pre-, post- or a- millennialism? Covenant theology versus dispensationalism? Nah, those are child's play. Nothing gets the dander up quite like conversations about the church. I can change my opinion on baptism or the end-times and it doesn't really impact my daily life. Changing my opinion on the church can have very real and very difficult implications for how I live my life.

Our assumptions about the church are so ingrained, both in the church and in Western culture in general, that it is difficult to imagine it being anything other than the assumed church. Having said that, I think there is nothing that would improve the health of the church more and that would lead to the church being a more faithful reflection of what God designed than an honest conversation about the church. Lay it all on the table. Have open and frank (and probably heated) conversations about it. Don’t assume anything. If we could really do that, I believe that we would see a far healthier church. By healthier I mean a church that is a viable witness to the world, that draws persecution because it is a threat to the status quo instead of a willing accomplice. A church made up of regenerate believers where every believer has a ministry instead of a few professionals.

Having said all of that, I don’t have much hope for it happening. The entrenched interests who drive most of the conversation in the church have no vested self-interest in seeing the church truly transformed. Perhaps the greater stumbling block are rank-and-file Christians who like the assumed church because it is neat, tidy and easy for them and doesn’t ask much from them (more on that idea later). I just don’t see it happening until we get to a point where cultural Christianity starts to carry a real cost and people are asked to stand up for their faith in the same way that men like Martin Luther and Felix Manz and William Tyndale stood up for our common faith. On the bright side, that day may be coming sooner than we think.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

A timely reminder

A great reminder today from Desiring God Four Hundred and Eighty-Nine Years Ago He Stood. Today is the day nearly five hundred years ago when Martin Luther stood before the Diet of Worms and held fast for the Gospel in the face of threats against his very life. He defied kings and popes in an act that shaped the world. Luther was not a perfect man by any means and I would disagree with much of his theology but on this day in April 1521, when it mattered and his life was on the line, he was right on. May we all be as courageous for the Gospel.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Best of this week entry 4

Goes to Al Mohler, in a great post about the young Russian child who was shipped back alone to Russia by his adoptive mother because he was too difficult to handle. Dr. Mohler gets past the easy rhetoric and addresses what is really happening here in relationship to the Gospel:

The wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this — not one of us is worthy of adoption. In our sinfulness, not one of us has any claim on the Father’s love, much less a right to adoption. But, the infinitely rich mercy of God is shown us in Christ, in whom believers are adopted by the Father. And this adoption, thanks be to God, is eternal and irreversible.

We who are Christians are adopted into the family of God, not because we were the best of the best among humanity but in spite of our flaws and in spite of our failures we remain in that family because adoption is permanent. Think how disappointing we are to God who adopted us in spite of knowing ahead of time how flawed we were. That is the great miracle of the Gospel. I thank Dr. Mohler for this essay and commend it to you.

Check out When Adoption Fails, the Gospel is Denied

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Best of the week entry 3

Dave Black posted an excellent essay on Paul's work ethic as described Thessalonians. It is simply excellent. This is a great example of what you will find in this post:

To all who would follow Him, Jesus gave the same basic message. We must willingly accept inconvenience, suffering, and uncertainty. No genuine follower of Jesus can put comfort, family ties, or security ahead of His kingdom. Jesus never apologized for calling His disciples to a life of sacrifice. Throughout the New Testament you will find that those who followed Jesus often paid a very high price, even with their lives. One such person is the apostle Paul. He sought to serve Jesus and it cost him everything. Not only did he give up all the privileges of his Jewish upbringing, but he surrendered his rights as a Christian apostle to be supported in his church planting ministry. The Bible says that he willingly worked with his own hands night and day so as not to be a financial burden to other Christians. Paul exemplifies what true Christian ministry is. It is a positive sacrifice for the good of others. His life is an example of the proper attitude a servant of Jesus Christ should have today. His teaching about self-support mocks our convenience store Christianity.

I love that phrase: "convenience store Christianity". Dr. Black hits the nail on the head when he points out that we as New Testament believers too often turn to the Old Testament for our models of ministry.

It strikes me as odd that so many people appeal to Paul to support the paying of ministers when Paul himself by word and example supported himself and did so in a hostile climate unlike anything that we would experience in the West. Paul didn't see preaching as something to do in place of a job but as something he was privileged to do in addition to working to support himself and others. I can't imagine that Paul would be pleased by a "full-time" 30 year-old, able-bodied man who derived his financial support for himself and his family by the offerings of widows and the poor.

These are some of the very best thoughts I have read on self-supporting ministry. Check out this wonderful and challenging essay from Dr. Black, The Thessalonian Road to Self-Support.

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Best of this week entry 2

Goes to a very late entry, Eric Carpenter writing this very morning. Eric just got back from Together for the Gospel and shared a lot of thoughts, but he devoted a particular post to the biggest problem he sees with T4G, the assumption of what the church is. Here is are two pivotal paragraphs:

At the conference, however, the church was more assumed than anything else. The speakers, of course, mentioned that the church is people. The church is followers of Jesus Christ. The problem was that after that, when they spoke of the church, they seemed to rely more on tradition than bible. The church they spoke of is the traditional, institutional church that we see today in the modern West.

This is a significant problem. During a conference that spends a great deal of time looking to scripture to define the gospel, it seems that the speakers would also look to scripture to define church belief and practice. This did not happen.

I think that is excellent and very true. T4G is touted as a pastors conference and the assumption is that those who are there are well entrenched in the traditional institutional model of the church. Part of why I didn't go this year was that I felt that this assumption, underlying the whole conference, is an unwarranted and unhealthy one. I personally feel that the biggest problem with T4G is also what draws so many people: the cult of personality that attracts people to hear from the "best" speakers. I would still agree with Eric that there is a disturbing tendency to assume too much about the church that is not Biblical and that is underlying the entire conference at T4G.

Check out Eric's The Biggest Problem at T4G

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Best of this week entry 1

Goes to Wade Burelson. Wade wrote on a hot topic among Southern Baptist bloggers this week, the apparent embellishment of the background of one Ergun Caner, the President of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, perhaps the most important non-SBC seminary among Southern Baptists. What I appreciated was that his focus was not so much on the exaggerations of Ergun Caner and his pretty offensive depictions of various racial minorities and people in the church, not to mention his creative historical revisionism of his own background to make it seem more interesting, it was instead on the cult of personality in the Southern Baptist Convention. This is a problem in the SBC as well as in much of the broader church. We love to go to conferences with the big name speakers, casually mention the book we are reading by the famous author. We love the celebrity culture as much as the world does, except that we justify our hero worship by couching it in religious words. Give Wade Burleson's When Will We Southern Baptists Turn from the Idol of Celebrity to the Gospel Itself? a read.

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Best blogs

Based on my sitemeter, not many people visit here on the weekend. Apparently you people have more important things to do than read my thoughts. Anyhoo, instead of posting anything substantive I am going to post a few links today from the most excellentist blogging I have read in the last week or so. I know you are eager to see if you made the list but I am going to space them out throughout the day. The anticipation is half the fun.

By the way, just as a note to Josh, James and April. If you don' blog, you can't find yourself with a coveted best blog link. Just saying.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Be cautious when contending

One of the favorite verses in the Bible for many arm-chair theologians is found in Jude:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)

It is important to examine who exactly Jude is talking about here. Luckily he tells us:

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.(Jude 1:4)

Now that is a pretty serious issue. Perverting the grace of our God into sensuality and denying Christ. I am not a scholar of the original languages but it seems to me that what Jude is describing here are people who deny Christ in some way as Lord or who try to make grace a license to sin in some sort of sexual sin (kind of since we are forgiven and covered by grace we can sin all we want). Those are major issues obviously. Denying Christ or using grace as a license to sin are gospel issues. Those are issues to break fellowship over and are some of the very few issues where we can break the glass and get out the “Heresy” stick.

So based on that, with whom are we to “contend for the faith”? It sometimes seems…scratch that, it often seems that we are mostly interested in contending for our version of the faith at the expense of other versions. Not a different Gospel but a different doctrinal stand on certain issues. We end up contending with one another under the guise of contending for the Gospel.

I think issues like baptism are important. Not issues to separate over but important. I have made my views on baptism, on homeschooling, on gender roles, on headcovering, on the meeting of the church, etc. amply and loudly known on this blog. I will continue to do so. I am trying to walk a fine line however, a line that is easy to cross. That line is crossed when disagreements turn personal, when fellowship is broken or when salvation is questioned. These issues do not rise to the level of heresy and are not of the same category as what Jude is describing. Having a different view of the end-times is not the same thing as libertinism. Even when the error is serious, as I would categorize dispensationalism, it doesn’t rise to that level.

We all, me especially, need to be careful that in our zeal of contending for the Gospel we don't spend all of our time contending with our brothers. There are plenty of genuine heretics out there without making that tent any bigger.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Salvation makes community

I am reading a great chapter in Hellerman’s When The Church Was a Family on salvation as a community-creating event. It is a staggering chapter that really challenges how we typically view the work of salvation in the Bible, especially what I see (as does Hellerman) as the disconnect in the church between soteriology and ecclesiology.

What was interesting was the way he compared how evangelicalism views salvation and how the Bible describes it. I can’t replicate the very helpful charts here but this is kind of how he broke it down:

Traditional evangelical model:

The relationship between God and a sinner is broken. At the cross that relationship is fixed and now the sinner and God are reconciled.

What Hellerman says the Bible describes is:

The world is estranged from God by sin. Through the cross God has reconciled for Himself a people out of this world.

That doesn’t do it justice by a long shot but you get the idea. In other words, while salvation is one sinner at a time the picture we get in the Bible is not of a bunch of individuals being saved but of a people being saved. The language of "accepting Jesus as my personal Savior" is absent entirely. Our common salvation unites us and our common identity is in being the people of God, saved from sin and saved out of the world. A new people, those who were not a people are now a people.

The language that the NT uses is powerful in this respect. As I was writing this I thought of that great passage in 1 Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2: 9-10)

Notice that it is not “You were once not a person, now you are a person”. It is a people, His people. His is our God and we are His people. The very core of the New Covenant is that we are His people and He is our God (Jeremiah 31:33). We are not merely a bunch of autonomous born-again believers floating around. Salvation is not less than a sinner being redeemed but it is in many ways more than that. We are a new people, a “holy nation”.

What do you think about that? Do you think we are living out the created community of the redeemed in the church?

I am definitely going to need to reread that chapter a time or two.

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God never sleeps

What a wonderful and encouraging Psalm I just read this morning!

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121: 1-8)

No matter where we are or what is happening, no matter what suffering or persecution we face, God never slumbers. He keeps and protects His people. What do you have to worry about, what do you have to fear today knowing that this is true?

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Baptists in Brooklyn

Very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday on the expansion of the Southern Baptist Convention into, well, the North. Recent reports have shown that the Northeast and West are the least “churched” regions of America and those areas are being targeted by the SBC. Given the state of the economy and the limited funding of the SBC, that means something else has to give:

A preliminary report by the task force calls for phasing out longstanding funding agreements to established Southern Baptist state conventions in order to spend the money in places where there are fewer churches. "If we are going to reach a major city like New York City, we need an explosion in church planting to occur," says the report.

The state conventions are going to take a hit here. That probably is OK because I think there is way too much money being collected on Sunday morning that is used to fund the bureaucracy of the SBC and the various state conventions. If there is not as much money funneling back from Nashville, I guess people in places like Mississippi and Texas will have to just get out there and preach Christ themselves instead of leaving it to the paid professionals. I think this is a healthy move for the SBC, moving away from being a regional denomination and back to cooperative organization dedicated to preaching the Gospel.

I did get a kick out of a couple of quotes in the article like this one:

That sense of urgency makes sense to Tara Smith, a worshipper at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, and a home-schooling mother of five. "There are places where they are not even doing church on Sunday night," she said, shaking her head.

No Sunday evening service, the horror! I guess “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have a Sunday evening church service” was what He meant.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Church Supplies?

We have purchased some homeschool materials from and because of that we get promo emails from them all the time. I normally ignore them but I took a peek at the one I got today because it was touting "church supplies". It must be a pretty big seller because there are 4,712 entries under the category "church supplies" on their webpage. It is a laundry list of stuff we assume you need to have a "church". It includes clerical apparel like "Friar Tuck Black Enamel Cufflinks w/ Brasstone Cross". It also features "office supplies", the first 15 of the top 25 bestsellers are all some sort of offering envelope. Some are for general offerings and other special offerings like Easter, "pastor appreciation" and "building fund". Lots of "outreach/visitor" materials, like tracts and doorhangers. How can you possibly celebrate communion without a $309.99 communion tray?

So I guess my question is this. Why do we think we need this stuff in order to be the church? How much do churches spend on stuff like this?

Really, I think all of these supplies amount to little more than props. Props to enhance the religious experience, to make it feel like church. Church just seems so much better if the preacher is behind a pulpit and wearing a suit, or better yet a clerical outfit complete with cufflinks. I feel better about putting money in the plate if it is in an envelope plus it makes it easier for the church bookkeeper to track (it is tax deductible you know). Having a full rack of tracts is easier than getting to know someone and directly witnessing to them of the risen Lord.

Is this really what the church has come to? Supply catalogs and office supplies and dress-up clothes? I cannot imagine that Paul or James or Peter could walk into a Sunday morning service and have any idea that what was going on was a gathering of the church.

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