Saturday, February 27, 2010

More than one way (to do church)

Tim Keller posted something interesting regarding the need for leadership in the church.

Here are two points that I thought were excellent:

3. We need a great variety of church-models. Avery Dulles' book Models of the Church does a good job of outlining the very different models of churches in the west over the centuries. After qualifying his analysis by saying these are seldom pure forms, he lays out five models. Each one stresses or emphasizes: a) Doctrine, teaching, and authority, or b) deep community and life together, or c) worship, sacraments, music and the arts, or d) evangelism, proclamation, and dynamic preaching, or e) social justice, service, and compassion.

Many evangelicals today have bought in to one or two of these models as the way to minister now in the post-Christendom west. So for example, those who believe in the 'incarnational' (vs. 'attractional' approach) emphasize being and serving out in the neighborhood, smaller house churches and intimate community (a combination of Dulles' b and e models.) Meanwhile, many evangelicals who are afraid of the 'liberal creep' of the emerging church, stress the traditional combination of a and d emphases. Each side is fairly moralistic about the rightness of its model and seeks to use it everywhere.

I feel that our cultural situation is too complex for such a sweeping way to look at things. There are too many kinds of 'never-churched-non-Christians'. There are Arabs in Detroit, Hmongs in Chicago, Chinese and Jews in New York City, Anglos in the Northwest and Northeast that were raised by secular parents--some are artists and creative types, some work in business. All of these are growing groups of never-churched, but they are very different from one another. No model can connect to them all--every model can connect to some.

4. We must develop a far better theology of suffering. Members of churches in the west are caught absolutely flat-footed by suffering and difficulty. This is a major problem, especially if we are facing greater 'liminality'--social marginalization--and maybe more economic and social instability. There are a great number of books on 'why does God allow evil?' but they mainly are aimed at getting God off the hook with impatient western people who believe God's job is to give them a safe life. The church in the west must mount a great new project--of producing a people who are prepared to endure in the face of suffering and persecution.

Here, too, is one of the ways we in the west can connect to the new, growing world Christianity. We tend to think about 'what we can do for them.' But here's how we let them do something for us. Many or most of the church in the rest of the world is used to suffering and persecution. They have a kind of faith that does not wilt, but rather grows stronger under threat. We need to become students of theirs in this area.


I might not agree in total, but I do agree with the principle. There is not a one size fits all solution. I would go further and say that the form is less important than the function when it comes to the gathering of the church. Tim is somewhat unique among the Reformed in that he seems to realize that the goal is not to return to Calvin's Geneva but that instead we can have a faithful expression of the gathered church in many forms. Pride in our form of worship, to the detriment of others, is a danger across the spectrum. House church people sometimes are prideful about not being "churchy" types. Reformed believers think they have the monopoly on proper worship. Plymouth Brethren think that their model of church meeting is the most faithful. Even the Old Order Anabaptist groups fall into this. What we need is more community, more fellowship among the Body and that is going to look different in Dearborn, Michigan than it is in rural Iowa or in Manhattan or in Calcutta or Seoul or Caracas.

The question of suffering is an important one and more than a vague recognition of the persecuted church. Suffering and persecution are part of the life of the church, not something from the past or only in foreign nations. There is much we need to understand about the ideas of humility, suffering, weakness, submission in the Body of Christ.

Give the whole thing a read...


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Friday, February 26, 2010

Tonight - John Piper live at Mars Hill

Check it out here.


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American Exceptionalism

Excellent post on the religion of American exceptionalism today from Dog Wilson at Blog & Mablog. The point is not that America stinks but that even though there are many blessings in being Americam, at it's core America is full of Americans. Americans who are sinners who need the Gospel and don't get a free pass into heaven because they are American citizens.

American exceptionalism is objectionable because it is a false religion, a false faith. It is a smooth and attractive idol, and probably the idol most likely to ensnare conservative evangelicals. The apostle John's warning should be kept in mind at all times (1 John 5:21). David Gelernter has seriously suggested that we treat Americanism as one of the world's great religions. Other treatments of the subject are less adoring, but no less problematic. The problem is that Americanism is seen as a source of ideals, an artesian well of ethics, a fountainhead of standards. This is not just nonsense, it is damned nonsense. I speak metaphorically only, but purveyors of this doctrine need to be splashed around in the village pond for a bit.

To object to American exceptionalism (for I am an American objectionalist) is not to maintain that there is nothing unique about Americans or American history. It is to say that there is nothing religiously unique. We are sinners like everybody else, we need God's grace like everybody else, we are thoughtless when prosperous like everybody else, and peevish when not prosperous like everybody else. Take off an American's boots, and you will find ten toes. Son of a gun.


I am in full agreement that especially among conservative evangelicals, the cult of American exceptionalism is especially dangerous. For many of my conservative brothers and I would include my prior stances here, American exceptionalism is indeed a religion and an article of faith. I don't agree with Doug Wilson on everything (starting with paedocommunion even though it is consistent with paedobaptism) but I think he hit the mark here.

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The death of the Episcopal Church marks the end of the Reformation?

So an essay by Charlotte Hays suggests in the Wall Street Journal. Here is an interesting paragraph:

But Father Bergman not only predicts a mass movement toward Rome. He believes Anglican Use may mark the beginning of the end of the Reformation. There will be "a flourishing of this throughout the world," he says. "Wherever there are Anglicans, there will be people who want to enter Holy Mother Church." As he told a rapt audience at St. Mary's, "If we look at histories, heresies run themselves out after about 500 years. I believe we are seeing the last gasp of the Reformation in the mainline Protestant groups."

Mr. Bergman is a Roman priest who converted from Anglicanism. I would first like to point out the error of saying that heresies run themselves out after 500 years. After all Rome is still going strong after a millennium. I do think he is sort of right, although he is right for all the wrong reasons. I am not sure how much of a mass movement there will be. First of all, there aren’t a ton of Episcopalians anyway. Many of those who are outraged by the Episcopal Church’s wholesale abandonment of Scriptural authority have already left and formed a more conservative denomination. I would hazard a guess that many who are staying are staying precisely because of that same abandonment. Then there are those who are staying behind because that is just where they go to church.

More importantly, as the title of the essay suggests and as Mr. Bergman asserts, is this a sign of the end of the Reformation? In spite of many important areas where the Reformation and the Reformers fell short, the Reformation era was the most important era in the church since the apostolic age. The collapse of the “mainline” denominations is not a sign that the Reformation is over. Just the opposite. As the liberal denominations fall like dominoes, the line between Rome and the church is seen in more stark relief. As civil religion is abandoned and as the cost of discipleship goes up, the principles of the Reformation will become even more important. Far from being over, the Reformation may have been given new life.

(addendum: As soon as I posted this I saw that Al Mohler already addressed this essay. Four hours ago at 5 AM. Seriously. Check it out here)


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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Overemphasizing "church"

Alan Knox is doing a series examining how the meeting of the church is described in the book of Acts and what we can glean from those passages to help us to understand how we should view the church today. I think it is a vital question because typically the accounts in Acts are brushed off as “descriptive” rather than “normative” (That could have something to do with the implications of seeing Acts as more normative than merely descriptive. All things in common, what kind of crazy talk is that?!) I would reject the notion that Acts is merely a nice narrative with essentially no impact on how we meet as the church now. Where else would we look to see how the church should behave and gather than in the earliest days when the apostles were directly involved in the leadership? I don’t think we have improved on the church gathering in the last two thousand years, in fact I would argue (and have) that things have gotten further and further from the Biblical model, the Reformation notwithstanding. His latest post addresses the church gathering in Acts 2:1. Here is an excerpt:

We can also see from this short passage that “gathering” is not the goal of the church. Yes, believers have been gathered out of the world, and yes, we should gather together in order to build one another up toward maturity. However, we must recognize that our calling exists outside of our meeting.

When the Holy Spirit indwelled the 120, they immediately began proclaiming the good news to those who did not know it. I think the Holy Spirit continues to work in both directions today: both drawing us to gather together, and sending us out to those who have not heard the good news.


I think that is a great point. I might go a step further and suggest that we really overemphasize the Sunday morning meeting. The “big picture” purpose of the church is not that gathering. I think we overemphasize the Sunday morning meeting in lieu of genuine community and fellowship among believers. In place of community, we have instead substituted a concentrated couple of hours where we try to cram as much “church” as possible into the schedule. There is no time for casual relationships or getting to know one another because we have to stay on schedule because people are only going to stick around until noon. That is true in most expressions of the church, from liturgical “high church” gatherings to Baptist church meetings to Plymouth Brethren assemblies, even perhaps in “house church” meetings. Our focus is on the form and manner of the Sunday meeting. How should we meet on Sunday? How often? Where, in a "church" or in a home? How often should we partake of the supper? What sort of music? What is our statement of faith, our vision statement? What are our distinctives that separate us from "other churches"?

We worry so much about that Sunday morning meeting that we sorta forget the rest of the week. Perhaps we should actually be spending more time worrying about the rest of the week than we do about the Sunday morning meeting. Crazy talk, I know. It just seems that we ought to be emphasizing the community of believers and our witness to the world a lot more than the form and function of the once a week meeting. It is impossible to jam a week’s worth of community into two hours but we keep on trying anyway.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Don't learn Greek, just read the King James Bible!

Wow. Apparently we need to stay away from those dusty old documents and rely just on the "inspired" King James Bible, at least according to this fundamentalist Bible college (Grace Baptist College in Gaylord, Michigan) that proudly proclaims that it doesn't teach Greek:

Grace Baptist College theology majors are taught a far more orthodox school of thought called “textual evidence.” This school of thought is an in-depth, scholarly, and historically correct approach that equips the student with a far greater respect for the Received Text of the New Testament and the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament without compromising a simple faith in the “Scriptures.” (II Timothy 3:15-16) Thus, "textual evidence” places a greater emphasis upon the Bible’s own built-in dictionary than upon a Greek lexicon or Bible dictionary such as Baker, Davis, Easton, Harpers, or a host of others. While many study aids and published works are introduced to the theology student, the primary text that is taught is the text of the King James Bible itself. For the undergraduate theology major, almost half of the total credits for a Bachelor’s degree are accumulated Bible credits. We are not teaching the next generation of preachers about the Bible or how to critique the Bible; we are training them in and with the Bible. We are passionate in our desire to awaken those who are not aware of the hazards in Greek study. We believe Greek study has been and will continue to be the downfall of Protestant Fundamentalism. Therefore, we boldly stand with true Baptist history in providing this generation with a Bible college that TEACHES THE WHOLE ENGLISH BIBLE.

Well, what do you say to something like that?

(Hat Tip Dave Black)


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Inconsistency in hermeneutic

OK, I wasn't going to post on baptism anymore but I saw this on the MCTS Blog from an interview of Dr. W. Gary Crampton by Richard Barcellos. The interview pertains to Dr. Crampton's new book on why he moved from a padeobaptist position to a credo position. What I found interesting was this exchange regarding the inconsistency in the paedo hermeneutic:

Q3: What are some of the main problems you encountered with paedobaptism that caused you to keep studying?

A3: There were several issues that bothered me about the doctrine of paedobaptism. I will mention only one, and that is there is simply no text in the New Testament (NT) wherein there is any mention of the baptism of infants. This is admitted by some of the finest paedobaptist theologians that have written on the subject. This means, as admitted and taught by these same paedobaptist theologians, that we must go back to the Old Testament (OT) to establish the doctrine. When it comes to the other NT sacrament of the Lord’s supper, however, the paedobaptist theologians do not apply the same hermeneutic principle. That is, the recipients of the Lord’s supper are determined by the NT teaching rather than the OT teaching. The inconsistency here is glaring. Another problem here is that the OT does not mention baptism of infants at all. What this hermeneutic assumes is that the Abrahamic covenant, wherein the male infants were circumcised, is still binding on the NT church on virtually a one-to-one basis, and therefore the infants of believers should be baptized. There are so many difficulties here (which I write about in my book) that they are far too numerous to deal with in an interview like this. The most serious error committed here is that of overstressing the continuity of the Old and New Covenant to the detriment of the discontinuity between the two. The Reformed Baptist doctrine is not in any sense dispensational; rather, it is fully covenantal. It recognizes that there is most certainly a continuity between the two covenants, but there is also a discontinuity that must be seen (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; compare Hebrews 8:6-13).


I think that is dead on especially regarding forcing a one to one correlation between circumcision and baptism.

OK, no more posts on baptism (for now)


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Another great thing about homeschooling

In the public school, if you just aren't getting it you have to find outside help. Stay after school, get a tutor or just fail. In homeschooling, you can adapt! Our kids use Switched on Schoolhouse for school. It is pretty self-contained and self-paced, which fits us well. The kids weren't getting the math module though. So we invested some money and got Teaching Textbooks for math and it seems to be making a world of difference for the older ones. We are actualy taking them backward to rebuild some basics, but that is OK too! We aren't locked into one curriculum, a "one size fits all" curriculum model selected by the school board because we are the school board. Yet another great reason to homeschool your kids, you use what works best for them and you can adapt as you need.


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Monday, February 22, 2010

It is not about morality

Read something interesting/infuriating in USA Today this morning. I am not even vaguely interested in speaking about the golfer in question. What I am interested in was this statement, because it captures the prevailing mood. It was written by Stephen Prothero. Here is the key paragraph:

There are all sorts of lessons, moral and otherwise, to learn from the Tiger Woods affair. One important one is that American citizens take all sorts of paths to ruin and redemption. Christianity has no monopoly over either hypocrisy or saintliness.

That is sort of true but it misses the point. Christianity is not a moral religion. You can find morality in almost any religion but you can only find forgiveness in one. Islam produces a type of moral person. Mormonism produces very moral people by most standards. Judaism does, Hinduism perhaps does as does Buddhism. All of these religions can create a more moral, self-controlled, socially acceptable person. None of them can bring about forgiveness from sin.

A lot of church attendees think the same thing about Christianity, it is designed to create moral people. They go to church so they can get their kids into church and make them more moral, hopefully staving off juvenile delinquency or teen pregnancy, at least long enough to get them out of the house. Shockingly, all that produces is sullen kids and a mass exodus from “church” when they become adults. You don’t need Barna studies to figure out that church kids leave at alarming rates. Alarming yes, surprising no. Why wouldn’t they leave a fa├žade foisted on them by their parents? Do you wonder why so many so-called Christians believe that there is more than one way to God? You shouldn’t be because they see Christianity as a moral religion, and if the goal is to be more moral why wouldn’t you take the best from whichever religion can give you the most bang for the buck?

Ultimately, no one should seek after Christ to be a more moral person. You should seek after Christ because He is the only hope of forgiveness. Being a more moral person will follow, but it is the result and not the motivation. I would expect someone who is regarded as an expert and who is given an enormous forum like Mr. Prothero to understand that difference. Hope and forgiveness is not found in Buddha or Joseph Smith or Mohammad. It is found only in Christ Jesus.


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Pick a side

I read a very telling article over the weekend at Evangel: Emerging from Emergent Church Evangelicalism. The article is vintage Evangel, which means that it is basically an argument in support of one religious tradition over another. The token Lutheran contributor starts off saying this is not a plug for Lutheranism and then proceeds to…put in a plug for Lutheranism. What is borderline dishonest about it is that the argument perpetuates the myth of the “either-or” when it comes to the church.

The false “either-or” argument says that either you are part of the amorphous emergent church movement and therefore deny the core truths of the Gospel or you are left with the same old tradition bound, program driven church. There is no in-between.

Here is how this trick works. You stake out two positions, one the orthodox church and the other the emergent church. It works pretty well because most of us don’t know anything about the emergent church and know nothing other than the traditional church. The emerging movement is shadowy, confusing and unsettling. It makes a convenient bogeyman and pejorative. The traditional church is warm, safe, familiar and comfortable. You stake these two positions with a World War I-esque “no man’s land” in between. Then you paint the emergent church in the worst possible light, referencing people like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. The emergent movement makes this pretty easy by tolerating all sorts of foolishness and rank heresy. What is left is not so much a defense of the traditional church model as it is a choice between the same old, same old and the new, scary and perhaps heretical emergent movement.

With the two sides encamped across a scarred landscape, it can seem like you need to be in one camp or the other. Not true. I would humbly say that I am as orthodox as anyone I know on issues like the authority of Scripture, justification, etc. That doesn’t mean that I or anyone else must choose between a simple, community based vision of the church and Biblical orthodoxy. I have a great deal of sympathy for some aspects of the emerging movement while rejecting much of its theological liberalism. Likewise, I stand firmly alongside my orthodox, especially Reformed, brothers on the Gospel while simultaneously suggesting that many of the traditional views of the church are flawed.

Don’t let people pigeonhole you. Don’t let them create false either-or choices. What matters is not what is “emergent” versus what is “traditional”. What matters, all that matters, is what is Scriptural. Every belief, every doctrine, every practice must stand up to the scrutiny of the Word of God and whatever is found wanting, no matter how long we have practiced it or who says it is the best way, must be discarded. It is a matter of trust. Do you trust the Bible and the One who authored it or not?


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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Joy as the goal of education

I read some excellent thoughts on homeschooling this morning while sitting home sick. I absolutely agree with this post, Hyper Mommy Gets A Life. Our top educational goal should be joy! Homeschooling should be more than rote repitition and a Bataan death-march through subjects. We need to teach the basics but as importantly we need to instill a joy of learning and cultivate interests. There are some good thoughts in this post, you should check it out whether you are homeschooling or not.


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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Compassion

Sometimes Jesus is portrayed as being a wimp, a pushover, a weakling who has sand in His face at the beach by bullies. He is plaintively wailing for people to accept His forgiveness. He stands outside the door in the rain, knocking and hoping we will let Him in.

Other times we only think of Jesus as the one who drove the moneychangers out of the temple, who pronounced woe on the Pharisees and called them serpents and wolves in sheep’s clothing, the rider on the white horse who is coming to mete out justice. He takes on an avenging God image, more akin to something out of Norse mythology.

The truth is in neither of those extremes. Jesus was bold and firm where it suited Him and He was compassionate where it suited Him. When He was dealing with the religious leaders of the day, His wrath and anger is palpable from the pages of Scripture as His pronounces His judgment upon them. You can almost feel the heat of His anger coming from the pages “Woe to you scribers and Pharisees, hypocrites!” In other places though, Jesus is the very embodiment of a neglected virtue, compassion. When He looked on the lost, like sheep without a shepherd, He was compassionate. When He saw people who were hungry, or were sick, or were grieving, He was compassionate.

When He permitted Himself to be nailed to a cross, to suffer shame, pain and ignominious death in my place, He was compassionate.

Compassion is weakness. So our culture says. Only the strong survive. Get them before they get you. Win at all costs, do what you have to in order to get ahead. Being cynical and cold is smart, being compassionate means you are a sap. Might makes right. Winning arguments is more important than winning souls.

Jesus didn’t see compassion as a weakness or a character flaw.

When you do good for others, what motivates you? Is it an obligation, do you trudge off to help someone else out of a sense of resignation and duty? Is it an exchange, that if you help this downtrodden person God will be required to bless you materially or perhaps even in eternity? Or is it compassion? What are we called to as believers, as beneficiaries of God’s covenant with His people to redeem them from their sins?

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3: 12-17)

Note the way Paul addresses this thought: as God’s chosen ones. God’s elect are expected to act differently because of their status as redeemed. We are to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient. In other words, we are to emulate Christ, to be “Christ-like”. It is interesting that this section is immediately followed by the admonition to Christian wives to submit to their husbands and for Christian husbands to love their wives. As it pertains to husbands, verses 12-17 are especially applicable. Being “the man” doesn’t mean “make me turkey pot pie woman!”. It actually requires a great deal of compassion and patience. We are called to honor our wives, to love them, to be compassionate toward them. Are they “weaker vessels”? Sure (1 Peter 3:7). All the more reason to be compassionate toward them.

I am not super great at this. Compassion is not one of my strong suits. That doesn’t get me off the hook by deciding that compassion is not my “spiritual gift”. We may be gifted differently but we are all called to be compassionate. We are called to put on Christ-like virtues and compassion is one of the most important of them. Compassion for the lost. Compassion for the hungry, for the widow, for the orphan. We certainly should be patient and compassionate with one another as the church. Nowhere should we be more compassionate than with our helpmeet, our joint heirs with Christ. I and many others are so very concerned with being “right” that we fail to be compassionate. That doesn’t mean that where a brother or sister is in error (real error, not just disagreement with me) we should let it go. That also doesn’t mean that we should abandon the truth or even our convictions. Regardless, where we speak to one another our words should be salted with grace. Our words and deeds should be compassionate, meek and humble as much as they are firm, bold and convicted.

Compassion is not a virtue valued by the world but for those who are the recipients of the ultimate act of compassion, it should be of infinite value to us.


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Be careful who you declare to be cut off

Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in again…

Ah, my old friend paedobaptism. I try, I really do try, to let sleeping dogs (or infants who are suddenly dribbled with water) lie. Then all of a sudden, minding my own business, I run across something and just have to speak out. Les Prouty posted two essays on baptism, one from Dagg on the Baptist perspective and one from Benjamin Shaw of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on the paedobaptist perspective. Mr. Shaw’s essay, Thoughts on Infant Baptism, ponders the question of what value is there in baptizing an infant

A question often asked of those who argue for infant baptism is, “What good does it do the infant?” Those who ask this question generally think they have nailed the defender, as there is no obvious benefit to the infant. The infant hardly seems to be aware of what is transpiring, let alone being aware of any benefit. Many who were baptized as infants, coming to faith as adults, desire to be baptized as adults, rationalizing that their baptism didn’t mean anything to them.

Mr. Shaw then launches into an explanation of why that perfectly valid question misses the “true meaning” of baptism. The truly disturbing part of the essay comes a few paragraphs later and it was this doctrinal stance that prompted me to write this post.

God takes the covenant sign seriously. Thus a child, who would otherwise be a member of the covenant people, God considers him to be no part of the covenant people if he does not have the sign of the covenant. So a child of believing parents who is not baptized is considered by God to be none of his. It matters not how much care the parents may lavish on the child, or how much they may teach him the Bible. They have disobeyed God on one point, and their children are cut off.

Wow. Isn’t that a dangerous line of reasoning? God cuts them off based on the action or rather inaction of their parents? It seems that Mr. Shaw is creating a division here between the elect and the covenant community. In other words, you can be elect and not be part of the covenant community one the one hand and on the other hand one can be part of the covenant community and not be in the elect. I really don’t understand how you can seriously say that someone is part of the New Covenant community and yet that person will spend an eternity in hell.

I have to wonder though, if a child is one of God’s elect, is that child elect based on receiving baptism as an infant? If an infant that is born of believing parents is not baptized, are they “cut off” from the covenant community regardless of being born-again later? The language Mr. Shaw uses sounds very sound and reasonable but when you start to dig into it, you find that there are troubling implications when faced with the stark reality of the New Covenant.

The argument is that circumcision is the sign of membership in the Abrahamic covenant and baptism is the sign of membership in the New Covenant. Mr. Shaw points to Colossians 2: 11-12 as evidence of the linkage between circumcision and baptism. There is of course a problem with that argument as evidenced by what the text actually says.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2: 11-12)

Now a cursory examination of this text might give one the impression that circumcision=baptism more or less. Is that what is going on here? Certainly not. I would argue that there is a linkage here that is unwarranted. It is pretty clear that even when the New Testament is speaking of circumcision, when it comes to the New Covenant community it is speaking of the circumcision of the heart. That is Paul’s point in Colossians 2, not that we should treat physical circumcision and baptism as one and the same. Physical circumcision was a type and shadow of the inward change that would be wrought in believers. In fact, physical circumcision is spoken of in an almost negative light (see Galatians). Likewise, we were “raised with him through faith”. That is not indicative of water baptism at all but rather baptism of the Spirit. Water baptism does not correspond neatly to circumcision as the paedobaptist would argue, instead physical circumcision corresponds to circumcision of the heart (see Ezekiel 36: 26-27).

What is the basis for covenant membership in the New Covenant (you know, the one that is called “New” and “not like the old” for a reason)? It is not water baptism. We need to of course look at the New Covenant, originally prophesied in Jeremiah 31 and affirmed as being mediated by Christ in Hebrews 8:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31: 33-34)

The overall error here is failing to recognize that while the covenants have many similarities, they are not the same in purpose, mediation and administration simply by virtue of being a covenant. The covenant with Adam is not the same as the covenant with Abram. The covenant with Moses is not the same as the New Covenant. They are all part of the grand scope of redemption but they cannot be viewed as being virtually indistinguishable other than name. The heart of the New Covenant is the forgiveness of sins. There are none who are still in their sins who are in the New Covenant community and there are none who are forgiven of their sins who are outside of that community, water baptism not withstanding. The defining mark of the New Covenant community is not parentage or physical signs, it is faith that stems from an internal change. What is really ironic is that infant baptism flies smack in the face of the core fundamentals of Reformed theology, the idea of election, monergistic regenerations and effectual calling. My Reformed paedobaptist brothers will stand firmly for the core doctrines of Reformed theology on the one hand and then essentially sidestep them in defending infant baptism. When Christ “instituted” the Lord’s Supper, He was quite specific about this:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26: 26-28)

The New Covenant is in His blood, a blood that is poured out for the forgiveness of the sins of His elect. There are clearly non-elect children of believers and if you follow Reformed theology, especially particular or limited atonement, it naturally follows that His blood was not shed for them. As such, they are not beneficiaries of the New Covenant promise and in no way should be given the sign of that very covenant. Galatians 4: 21-31 seems applicable here as well regarding the idea of two covenants, one physical and one spiritual. Paul is directly dealing with the Jewish influence in the churches in Galatia who are insisting on applying the sign of physical circumcision to Christians. Paul is adamant about this:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

If you are saying that water baptism corresponds to circumcision, then you might as well say neither baptism nor unbaptism counts for anything. In Christ Jesus, the Savior and the mediator of the New Covenant, what counts is faith. Not water baptism, not physical circumcision, not parentage, not church membership.

This is so pivotal. I would not argue that this should be a point of separation between brothers at all, but baptism is an important and hotly contested doctrine. What is being described here by Mr. Shaw seems to be, taken to its logical extreme, a cutting off of people from the covenant community of God not based on their status as one of the elect or based on being born-again, but instead based on the action or inaction of their parents. That certainly was true in the Old Testament (see Genesis 17:14) but it has no warrant in command or example in the New. Those who are, following the admonition of Genesis 17: 14, not circumcised will be cutoff but again, the defining characteristic of the New Covenant is that we are circumcised in the heart, not a circumcision made with hands and baptized by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not by water baptism.

We are not saved by water baptism nor are we in or out of the New Covenant community of Christ based on being water baptized either as an adult or as an infant. This idea of two churches, one a “visible” church with people in the covenant community who are not elect and another, “invisible” church, is an error and has no place under the New Covenant administration. I remain convinced, ever more so the more I study it, that infant baptism is a holdover from Rome, one of the areas that the magisterial Reformers left “unreformed”. Taken as a series of unrelated proof texts, infant baptism can be marginally defended but when you examine the role of water baptism in the grand scope of Scripture, especially in light of the New Covenant and the contrast between the external “types and shadows” that prefigured the New Covenant and the New Covenant internal changes (circumcised hearts and baptism of the Spirit), there simply is no Scriptural justification for “baptizing” infants.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Holy crap

I came across a really great essay by Walter Russell Mead The Holy Crap Must Go. I haven't read any of his other writings and he is targeting his essay at "mainline" denominations but the message is a great one. Here are some excerpts...

That’s a pretty good description of where the American church is today: there’s a lot of holy crap on the premises, and it is long past time for a good housecleaning. The American church is staggering under the burden of a physical plant that it doesn’t use and can’t pay for; it staggers under the burden of dysfunctional and bloated denominational and professional structures that it can no longer carry; and it is crippled by outdated ideas about what it needs to do its job. All these buildings, bureaucracies and assumptions may have been holy once, may have played a real part in advancing God’s work, but for a lot of them that time has passed.
---
Without even questioning it, most churchgoers assume that a successful church has its own building and a full-time staff including one or more professionally trained leaders (ordained or not depending on the denomination). Perhaps no more than half of all congregations across the country can afford this at all; most manage only by neglecting maintenance on their buildings or otherwise by cutting corners. And even when they manage to make the payroll and keep the roof in repair, congregations spend most of their energy just keeping the show going from year to year. The life of the community centers around the attempt to maintain a model of congregational life that doesn’t work, can’t work, won’t work no matter how hard they try. People who don’t like futile tasks have a tendency to wander off and do other things and little by little the life and vitality (and the rising generations) drift away.
---
Those bureaucracies, institutions, and assumptions: It’s holy crap and it’s got to go.

What would we do instead? Scale down and build a mission-centered church. Perhaps instead of the large dioceses stretching over several counties or in some cases whole states, a ‘diocese’ should consist of a collection of house churches or other congregations in a single town or urban district. A bishop might oversee half a dozen house churches — and hold down a day job in the secular world. Paul did.


Just great stuff. Again, written from a "mainline" perspective but just as valid for most evangelicals today. Give it a read!


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who is going to feed us?


I read something interesting in the Wall Street Journal. It was an interview with Stephen Green, the Chairman of HSBC, one of the biggest financial services companies in the world (emphasis added). One paragraph really caught my eye…

"The fundamental aspect of globalization is urbanization, which is spreading everywhere. There isn't a single country in the world that isn't getting more and more urbanized, even the ones that are already quite urbanized, like this one and America," he says. "Last year was the year when we crossed the point where more than half the world's population is in big cities. By 2050 it will be 80% of people who live in cities."

When I read that, I asked the question (as did my wife when I shared her): who is going to feed all these people living in the city? There is nothing more fundamental than food and water. Who cares how your 401(k) is doing when you can’t feed your family?

There is a rapidly widening chasm in America between small, niche or “boutique” specialty farms and enormous corporate megafarms. The “family farm” is going the way of the horse and buggy. It is becoming harder and harder to make it as a traditional family farm. Margins are too thin, prices are too volatile, credit is too hard to come by, farm ground is too expensive and passing farms on from one generation to the next is becoming tax prohibitive. It is impossible for a young couple to start farming a traditional grain and livestock operation full-time. A self-sustaining farm of several hundred acres is going to cost millions just by itself and that doesn’t even count the hundreds of thousands of dollars in machinery and equipment. So smaller farms disappear as the older generation dies and the younger generation moves to the city and jobs in the service industry. Meanwhile the big farms get bigger. A farm with 25,000 dairy cows can operate on thinner margins than one with 75.

America, especially in the Midwest, is an interconnected spiderweb of railroad tracks, grain elevators and shipping terminals, all designed to facilitate moving vast amounts of grain and livestock from millions of small family farms to large processors. As family farms die out, that chain will wither and die. Instead of thousands upon thousands of medium sized family farms, we will have a shrinking number of corporate farms. The food supply chain is getting narrower and narrower and that means that it is more susceptible to some sort of disaster. Farmer Hayseed going bankrupt is one thing. The neighbors will buy his land and his equipment and keep farming. One of these enormous corporate farms goes under and it could have a serious impact on the food supply.

Forget the stock market or the automotive sector. The greatest threat to our economy and long-term economic future is the loss of our agricultural system. Other countries can build cars and computers but no one else can match America’s ability to produce food. Our greatest national resource and our area of greatest competitive advantage is being squandered. Will anyone notice before it is too late?




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A History of the Bible from Ancient Papyri to King James

We are going to an interesting exhibit at the University of Michigan this weekend on the history of the Bible.

From ancient Egyptian manuscripts on papyrus to Medieval manuscripts to the printed book, you can follow a path of documents that led to the creation of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible. These direct ancestors and related works were spread across nations, peoples, and languages. If you have seen this fascinating exhibit before, look for it this time in the Audubon Room, on the first floor of the Hatcher Graduate Library.

The earliest documents on display are Egyptian papyri, including examples of a census record from the year 119 and the oldest known copy of part of the New Testament. Medieval manuscripts document the preservation of the text until the invention of movable type printing by Gutenberg around 1450. The early printed Bibles include versions in Latin and Greek, and several that show the struggles among various political factions and church reformers to control the translating of the Scriptures into the language of the people. See the King James Bible of 1611 that became the accepted standard.


Should be pretty interesting, kind of a weird exhibit at a super secular school like Michigan. My friend James invited us so we get to spend some time with him and meet his fiance. Good times!



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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Piper on pastoral burnout

John Piper posted a journal entry from his early days in ministry, back in 1986: How I Almost Quit. It was a time when he was frustrated and unsure about his ministry....

Are you so discouraged you don’t know what to do next? I want to help you get through this. Maybe this will help.

The following quote is from my journal dated November 6, 1986. I had been at Bethlehem 6 years. If you have ever felt like this, remember this is 24 years ago and I am still here.

The point is: Beware of giving up too soon. Our emotions are not reliable guides.


What follows are the writings of a pretty discouraged brother. The point is not to give up or give in, because you never know what might happen or how God is going to use you.

I intend no disrespect to John Piper. His heart is in the right place. Here is what makes me nervous about that. A lot of pastors might read that and be encouraged for the wrong reason. See, 24 years ago Piper was discouraged and almost "quit" and look at him now! He is one of the most famous pastors out there with a worldwide ministry, a huge church in multiple locations and is one of the (if not the) most sought after conference speakers out there. He pumps out book after book and is in many ways the face of the resurgent Reformed movement in America. So if it works for Piper, why not me!

The reality is that the last 24 years for John Piper are not typical for most ministers. A frustrated 30 something pastor shouldn’t look at John Piper’s journal and think that he has hopes to someday see a ministry like that. I guess it is possible but probably not. For most vocational ministers, the future doesn’t hold keynote addresses at theology conferences or perennial status among the bestselling Christian authors. It is more of the same that is currently frustrating them.

If you are a vocational minister and are burnt out, don't keep pressing forward in the hopes of being a world famous pastor. Keep pressing on knowing that you likely won't and that in spite of that you want to keep doing what you are doing. I would add that if you are burnt out and frustrated, the solution is to let go. Let go of the ministry of the local church. Let others, expect others, to step up and serve each other and you. There may be mistakes, there may be clumsy moments. It will almost certainly not be neat and tidy, definitely it will not be professional and polished. But it will involve the whole church and it will lift the load that one man was never intended to bear.



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joshgelatt.com: 8 signs that you may no longer be a Premillennialist

joshgelatt.com: 8 signs that you may no longer be a Premillennialist

Funny stuff!


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A New Radical Reformation

Are we in a new Reformation or a new Radical Reformation?

Something is changing in the church. The staid, safe cultural church that has been the hallmark of 20th century America is fading fast. Something new is coming or perhaps is already here. New movements are springing up all over the place. At the same time many of the traditional bulwarks are crumbling. Denominations hold less sway than ever before. America is becoming a progressively more secular country or perhaps more accurately a more vaguely spiritual, less overtly “Christian” people. Poll after poll reflects the reality that Americans are less concerned with orthodoxy and more with self-fulfillment. Truth be known, I think it has always been this way. Now people are more willing to abandon the safety of religion and act according to their nature instead of hiding in the church. Amidst the turmoil, I think we are seeing a new Reformation taking place, or more accurately a new Radical Reformation.

One of the drivers of the Radical Reformation was access to the Word of God. In the Bible, translated into the vernacular of the people, regular people found a source of information that had been closed to them and that access led to people asking questions. Those questions led to actions, some that were not so good but many that were very positive. Where Rome once controlled the flow of information and access to the Bible, even among her own priestly caste, now the Word was widely available. In the same way, information is now available to virtually everyone that was not easily accessible even a decade ago outside of the halls of academia. It is much harder for the professional scholars and theologians to control the discourse in the church. With the advent of the internet we have easy access to materials and opinions outside of our own local church. In online booksellers like Amazon and smaller, niche book stores like Monergism books the average Christian has easy access to hundreds of thousands of books. No longer restricted to the local public library and the church library, Christians can buy all sorts of books that they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to and via the internet have access to opinions that once were unreachable. This unprecedented access is leading to dramatic change today just as it did nearly five hundred years ago. People are asking questions and finding out that many, many others have the same questions. The flipping of the switch that turned on the internet in many ways is our modern day version of nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.

Like the original Radical Reformation, the new found freedom has led to many excesses. In the Radical Reformation, all manner of kooks found an outlet. Freed from tight controls, some people invariably will go too far. It is like business casual dress. Most workplaces no longer require suits and ties for men and skirts and hose for women. That is great for the most part but in every office I have worked in there are those who take it too far, wearing clothes to work that would make a prostitute blush or dressing like you literally just rolled out of bed. In the same fashion on a much larger scale, people freed from the bounds of tradition invariably are going to spawn a few bad apples. In the Radical Reformation those bad apples led to the Munster Rebellion and the Zwickau Prophets. Today we see all sorts of excesses, less violent for sure but just as troubling. Dangerous doctrines like denying salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone, the sufficiency of the Scriptures and the exclusive nature of Christ as the only path to redemption have all crept back in to the church.

For far too many people, the excesses of a few are reason to reject the whole. That is unnecessary and unhealthy. Just as the extremists and heretics in the original Radical Reformation died out and left behind a wonderful heritage in the mainstream Anabaptists (a heritage that I would argue is at the heart of most evangelical churches and the very establishment of the United States), so too I believe that God’s people, armed with His Word and indwelt by the Spirit, will stand fast for the faith once for all delivered to the saints and those seeking to poison the church will eventually grow weary and move on to greener pastures. God’s people will survive and honestly this turmoil is good for the church because in far too many ways the church has grown flabby, comfortable and complacent. Content to be an acceptable social structure in the broader secular community, the church has essentially lost its witness to the world.

There are many other similarities between the original and modern Radical Reformation. As in the Radical Reformation, we find that those who question the status quo today are all lumped together. Just like all Radical Reformers are lumped together as “Anabaptists” even though many of the most infamous bear no similarity to the majority of Anabaptists, so too any who dares raise their hand today and ask “Why?” are shouted down as part and parcel of some heretical camp. The entrenched traditional forces are lashing out at those with the temerity to ask questions but in doing so the tone and anger is such that the defenders of tradition finds themselves increasingly out of the conversation, relegated to blogging at each other and harrumphing about them durn lib’rals.

One major difference is that at least in this iteration of the Radical Reformation, the forces of tradition don’t have the ability to put dissenters to death. Unable to wield a literal sword, they are reduced to the sword of mockery. Instead of burning “heretics” at the stake, they now burn strawmen. Some (perhaps much) of what has come out of this new Radical Reformation is both silly and dangerous and frankly deserves to be examined, found to be in error and discarded. Unfortunately what is actually happening is that in place of a scalpel and a discerning, keen eye, we have a sledgehammer and a blindfold. Many blogs I read as recently as a year ago I find insufferable to read today. In the witch hunt to root out heterodoxy, many defenders of tradition are incapable and unwilling to examine their own firmly held traditions. In doing so they become guilty of the same sort of errors, of a different sort but errors nonetheless, of those that they spend so much time attacking. When men like Jim Belcher write a very mild attempt to reconcile competing camps, he is attacked by the watchdogs of orthodoxy for being insufficiently virulent.

Let me be clear again, there are plenty of people teaching squirrely doctrines. That does not mean that everyone who questions the status quo is a heretic and frankly it is utterly unhelpful to paint everyone with the same broad brush. We stand amidst a sea change in the church. Rather than playing the part of the Inquisitors, orthodox thinkers would be far more useful being involved in the conversation. Change is coming and in many ways this change is a good thing! I so desire to see the church become a light to the world, a radical witness of changed lives and a place of sending out Christian to proclaim the risen Lord instead of a social club. I for one would rather be involved in being a voice that is willing to ask “Why?’ but still be a champion for orthodoxy than be a spectator throwing stones from the safe confines of my local church or seminary.

Viva la Radical Reformation!



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Monday, February 15, 2010

Two worthwhile posts for your review today

The first is from Alan Knox: Justification and the church meeting. Alan asks the question: how should the doctrine of justification impact our view of the church. Very important question. I think we all tend to put doctrines into silos and don’t allow them to interact with one another. I think that many of the doctrines of Reformed theology should lead to a more unified church instead of a more divided church. More on that idea in an upcoming post.

The second is from Lionel Woods: Loving The Church Without All of the Organizational Trappings. Lionel takes on those who insist that if you question the trappings of the traditional church, you somehow don’t love the church. As Lionel aptly points out, just the opposite is true. We question what is traditional because we love the church and many of us are very concerned that what is taken for granted lacks Scriptural support. The least loving thing we could do would be to just go along because that is how we do things.

Give them both a read, good stuff!



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How should a 1st century faith talk?

There is some hubbub over the pond as it were regarding a sermon given by one Angus MacLeay. According to the Daily Mail, he said something shocking in a sermon: Wives should submit to their husbands. Now, I am not going to get into the arguments regarding submission and the role of women in the church, not into the similar admonishments for men to lead in the home and to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (i.e. giving His life up for her). What I found interesting was this one quote from the article:

One woman churchgoer said she was ‘disgusted’ by the sermon, adding: ‘How can they talk that way in the 21st Century?’

Another, who also did not want to be named, said: ‘We’re supposed to let our husbands talk for us and remain silent? What kind of medieval sermon is that?’

Here is the thing ladies. Christianity is not a 21st century faith. It is a faith founded in the 1st century and it is not dependent on the approval of the culture. It is a faith where the truth was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and it is not the Bible that needs to change to conform to the culture. Nor should we expect the culture to conform to the Bible. We should proclaim Christ and those who are born again by the power of the Spirit should seek to be conformed to the Scripture, not to have Scripture sliced and diced, molded to our preferences. Ours is a faith where a man was murdered in a most unpleasant fashion to save those who hated Him from an eternal hell. That also doesn't fly in our sanitized world but it is who we are. If you are a "church-goer" who doesn't like that, stop "going to church" because that is the church that Christ established, ordered and died to redeem.


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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Things you think about at 4 AM with a bunch of sick kids

With apologies to Alan Knox for hijacking his "Scripture....as we live it" series....here is one of the ways we "live out" Scripture today....

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church the pastor, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord him (or his wife) add them to the prayer list so we can listen while he prays for them on Wednesday evening. (James 5:14 remix)



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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Here is a question for you

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison (Rev 20:1-7)

How did John know in his vision that 1000 years had passed? Did he have a calender?


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By this all people will know

What do you think of this from Dr. Black (2/13/10 7: 00 AM)?

I am not a big fan of that method or of any method of evangelization for that matter. I once asked a man in Ethiopia what he and his fellow believers were doing to reach their neighbors for Christ. (They live in a village that is almost 100 percent Muslim.) His answer was simple and to the point. "We live holy lives before others," he said, adding, "And we love and forgive them when they persecute us." Mind you, these were the words of a man whose 8 year-old daughter had just been beheaded because her father was a Christian. Love borne of faith and the Spirit effects a breakthrough of the boundary between the two kingdoms!


I like it. I like it a lot. All of our outreach, all of our "evangelism strategies", door to door, street preaching, etc. is fine and dandy but what of the witness of our lives? When we left mormonism, the first thing that happened was a couple of Christians, one a local pastor and one who was our neighbor, stopped by our house. They didn't try to practice some sort of "Romans road" method or "Can I ask you a question?" They just were there, loved us and listened to us. On the flip side, a lot of our efforts at evangelism are undone by the lack of a witness in our lives. We spend lots of time trying to get people to "come to church" and what they often get there is not a loving community but an interruption in our lives for a few hours. Why not invite people, not to church, but to your home? Or out for coffee? Are we afraid that we won't be as slick in evangelizing them or that it is something only ministers can do? That in a church building is the only legitimate place to present the Gospel? Think about how ineffective most outreach events are and then ponder what would happen if every Christian was a witness to the world in our love and our lives.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

All people will know that we are His disciples because we love one another. Not because we "go to church" together, because we love one another and love one another in a different way than the world. Our very lives ought to be a witness to the world, that we are different from the world. Not that we are religious but that we are different, our lives are motivated by something completely different from what the world says we should focus on.


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Friday, February 12, 2010

Once more on Sproul and headcovering

OK, so I gave up and had James Lee just post the audio to his blog. So if you are interested in actually hearing the audio from R.C. Sproul on headcovering, check it out over here!


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Thursday, February 11, 2010

More than one way

I was just reading this on Albert Mohler's blog re: a new report out from the Presbyterian Church USA (emphasis added):

A majority of church members, pastors, elders, and specialized clergy describe themselves as moderate, liberal, or very liberal in theological outlook. Less than half of church members (44%) and elders (48%) report a conversion experience. Interestingly, ministers were not asked that question.

In general terms, elders were slightly more conservative in belief than other church members. Female pastors were significantly more likely (51%) than male pastors (23%) to identify themselves as liberal or very liberal. Among other ministers (identified as "specialized clergy"), 62% of females identified themselves as liberal or very liberal, compared to 45% of males.

Majorities of all groups indicated agreement with the statement, "There is life beyond death." But the most significant theological question concerned the exclusivity of the Gospel and the necessity of belief in Jesus Christ for salvation. On that question there was great division, with over a third (36%) of PCUSA church members indicating that they "disagree" or "strongly disagree" with the statement that "only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved."

Among ministers, the division is even more apparent, with 45% of pastors disagreeing with that statement and fully 60% of specialized clergy disagreeing. Roughly 20% of both pastors and specialized clergy reported themselves "neutral or unsure" about the question.

How tragic is that? I think I am more troubled by the 20% of pastors that are not sure about the issue of the exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone. How can you be a vocational minister, doing this for a living, and be "neutral or unsure" about the Gospel?


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Irony Alert!


John Piper is indeed fallible......and he is dead(ly) wrong in this case


I was reading something my friend James Lee sent me the other day. It was an article written by James White of Alpha & Omega ministries regarding something John Piper wrote on why he (Piper) does not own a gun for self-defense. I was working on a blog post about what White wrote and how it applies to self-defense/non-resistance but something seemed familiar about it. Sure enough, I blogged about this very A&O post a year and a half ago and had a very different take. I would say now that I was completely wrong in my assessment. I like what Dr. White had to say about the topic because it reinforced my own opinions. So now I find myself retracting what I wrote in July of 2008. I have more to write about this topic but I found it interesting to see how my thinking had changed on this topic (like many others) over the last year and a half.


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The role of denominational seminaries

Fantastic thoughts from Dave Black on Wednesday, reprinted here in their entirety:

The denominational seminary has a vital role to play today. It can either reflect and teach a one-man ministry pastorate, or it can reflect and teach that pastors/elders are equippers and strategists and catalysts seeking to revive the ministry of the so-called laity so that North American Christians can carry on a peoples ministry as seen in the book of Acts. Title, formalities, and traditions often hinder the latter approach. But in fact many seminary professors are leading the charge in recovering the priesthood teaching of the New Testament. They do not call into question the existence of elders in the New Testament. They do, however, challenge the elders in their classes to work toward a more strategic use of their pastoral skills in the deployment of the entire congregation for the fuller exercise of every believer's God-given priesthood. In my opinion, this should be the blueprint for education whether in the seminary or in the local church. Unless elders take seriously their charge of equipping, the church (and the seminary) will retain a much too exclusive concentration on the church as a clerical and sacramental institution.

If we really want to be like Jesus we're going to have to insist on full participation of all Christians in the edification and evangelism ministries of the church. No pastor can fulfill the responsibility Christ gave to each believer. This gives our generation the gigantic task of continuous reorientation.

For once, I have nothing at all to add.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In defense of dudes wearing dresses

I read an interesting and fun post at Evangel (and that is getting more and more rare, that blog has degenerated into a theological version of fight club with loads of weird posts from a Lutheran guy). The post was a defense of the wearing of vestments, something that I have little use for. Whimsically titled Sartorial Eye for the Clerical Guy the comment section is really the interesting part.

Whether it is a Roman "pope" wearing lavish robes or an Orthodox cleric with a crown or a Protestant minister wearing vestments, it all serves the same purpose: drawing a visible distinction between one set of believers (the ministers) and another set (the laity). Allegedly it is a sign of the "office", but I am afraid there isn't much support for that. I like what one commenter said: What external sign of their office did Jesus and the apostles wear, other than a towel wrapped around the waist of the Savior while He humbly washed the feet of the apostles? It is a striking contrast to think on the one hand of our Savior setting aside His outer garment and girding Himself with a towel to serve His disciples and on the other hand men who dress up in finery while claiming to be bringing glory to God through their opulence and prideful attire. God doesn't need dudes in dresses, fancy buildings or any of the other worldly and costly accoutrement that we fill our churches with (at great expense) allegedly to bring glory to God.

This comes down to one central point. Nowhere do we see a defense of clerical robes in the New Testament via example or command or principle. Quite the contrary, we see that wearing clerical garb creates an unbiblical distinction between classes of believers. That may explain why defenders of vestments invariably turn to the Old Testament for support while failing to recognize that we are not Old Testament national Israel but the church, the people of God and in the church we have but one High Priest and His raiment is exceedingly glorious, putting to shame the filthy rags of man and his self-exalting holy attire.

It strikes me that the wearing of vestments is falling into the same sort of trap we see in many places in the church, misapplying an Old Covenant type to the reality of the New Covenant church. The ceremonial robes worn by the priests in the Old Testament were symbolic of the priests being set apart. As the New Testament makes abundantly clear, that old and inferior priesthood has been done away with in the person of Jesus Christ and His office as our great High Priest.

I guess we could just chuckle and brush it off as just a quaint tradition in the church like so many other traditions we hold to. I have a hard time with that. Traditions are fine in the gathering of the church so long as they don’t interfere or negate the teachings of the New Testament regarding the church. All too often we see traditions in the church being used to divide believers: vestments, titles, stages and pulpits. All of these have the double whammy of having no Scriptural support and simultaneously working against what we see and are taught in the Scriptures. If your ministry is based on your titles and offices and garments, what value is that for the Body of Christ?



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The American Patriot's Bible?

Egad. I got an advertisement in my email today for this little gem...

THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW 'A LIGHT FROM ABOVE' SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot's Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation's history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the New King James Version Bible text.

There is so much that is tragically wrong with that, I am not sure where to start. I agree that the formation of America was done under God's sovereign rule. So was the creation of Liechtenstein and Zimbabwe.


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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Peace

The word English word “peace” shows up over and over again in the New Testament. I am sure it is several different words in Greek but I think the general gist of it is probably the same. Jesus spoke often of peace:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)


That is a real peace, a peace in spite of peril, a peace in spite of worldly security. Sometimes it seems to be speaking of the standing of men with God, like in Colossians 1:20 where Paul says that Christ reconciled us to God, making “peace by the blood of his cross”. Other times it seems to be a real-time peace, something we can enjoy to an extent now and something we should seek. When Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers", it would seem that He is speaking of a present time making of peace, not a future eschatalogical fulfillment. It is not a naive ideology of "peace" that expects the world to be peaceful toward us if we are peaceful toward it. It is a peace that comes from knowing that we are secure in our Savior in spite of any persecution or even death that the world might hurl at us. What does a Christian have to fear in death? Why would anyone who has a confidence in Christ have a fear of death? That is why we can be peacemakers in a world that sees that as weakness.

Paul on occasion also mentioned peace when writing to the church. By occasionally, I mean all the time. For example:

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:7; See also: 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1: 3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 1:3; 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4 to name a few)

Is this peace spoken of again and again merely a future reality? Grace to you now but peace to you later on? I don’t think so. I think that in reflecting the grace shown us by God the Father, we out to also be reflecting and seeking peace by seeking to live peaceably, by being peacemakers, by being meek and humble as a witness to a world that mocks humility and adores arrogance.

When we read what Paul wrote to Timothy in the "pastoral epistles", we often focus on the functional aspects of his writings but Paul seems to focus far more on the personality aspects and in those personality aspects Paul focuses on some very counter-cultural qualities.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2: 1-2)

I have come to really cherish what Paul is saying here, that our great desire is not to win political victories over those who rule us or to see our church budget grow but that we may live peaceful and quiet lives. Even in the sort of men who we should recognize as elders, this idea of peace crops up:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2: 22-26)

Look at that list. Pursue peace along with those who call on the Lord. Patiently endure evil. Gentleness. Kindness. Not badgering them. Not beating them over the head. If you want to be a servant of the Lord, being patient, seeking peace, being kind is every bit as important as being “able to teach”. We are not called to merely look forward to the future peace of eternity, but to earnestly seek after it now. How rarely do we think of these qualities instead of reviewing a man-centered resume of accomplishments and credentials? In another place, Paul speaks of our response to the world:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom 12:18)

Paul is a realist. It may not be possible to live peaceably with others but that is not because we will not live peaceably with them but that in spite of our efforts they will not live peaceably with us. That doesn't mean that someone who refuses to live peaceably with us gives us license to ignore this admonition. Indeed, Paul follows this up in the very next verse to admonish us to never avenge ourselves (Rom 12:19). Never is a pretty strong word but not one that Paul chose carelessly.

How that picture paints a contrast with our triumphalist, man-centered and worldly religion! When the unbelieving world looks at the church, it doesn’t see peacemakers, humility, grace, recipients of mercy who are dispensers of mercy. What is the witness of the church to the unbelieving world? By and large it is: anger, hypocrisy, money, power, politics. The world sees Christians as people who live the same way, react the same way, respond the same way as every other unsaved person during the week but then get together on Sunday mornings to show how pious and moral they are. Our Scriptures say "Blessed are the peacemakers" and "Overcome evil with good" but our churches say "Sue for your rights!" and "Get the terrorists before they get us!"

Shouldn't the church be a reflection of our Savior in emulating His humility, His sacrifice, His service, His peacemaking, His love? Rather than a mirror that reflects the image of the Savior, we are too often like a carnival funhouse mirror, a distorted reflection of His image. Why should we expect people to follow Jesus when we who have taken His name upon ourselves fail to do so in any sort of meaningful way?


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