Friday, September 30, 2011

Replay of my series on the sword

I reposted my series on Christians and the sword over at Under Christ's Archy. Hoping to stir up some conversation by firing up a controversial topic! Jump over to my post Christ's Archy and Killing for Country and add your thoughts!

We are not called to be rocking chair theologians

Here is another quote from Kraybill…
Jesus also invites us to join the basin trade. He invites us, however, to more than a periodic, ceremonial ritual. He invites us to follow him with lives of service and peacemaking. He calls us to be people of the basin, not saints who sit in rocking chairs pondering the mysteries of God’s salvation. (The Upside-Down Kingdom, pg. 246)
There is a lot of truth in that. In contrast to those who think that ever deeper study of theology is crucial form of worship, Kraybill is arguing that Jesus calls His people primarily to a ministry of towel and basin, of service in love to those in need. Washing feet is a lifestyle of service, not a once a year (if ever) ritual to be checked off of our religious checklist. It is hard to wash someone's feet with your nose stuck in a book!

We need each other

I just finished Donald Kraybills The Upside-Down Kingdom. I should have a generally very positive review up later today or maybe tomorrow. Anyway late in the book he was writing about how we form social boxes that we tend to stay in and how we can take steps to cross those. He makes a point that I think is unusual in stating that these boxes are inherently bad.

This doesn't mean people jump completely out of their boxes. It does mean that in the new kingdom social boxes should mesh in a complementary way. Fellow Christians need each other. The intellectuals need the charismatics. The fundamentalists need the social activists. The young need the old. The complementary nature of the different clusters builds up the whole community so the entire body matures in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul's analogy of the body applies to subgroups as well as individuals. Social clusters need each other to keep things in balance. (Donald Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom, pg. 214)
It drives me nutz when Christians try to change externals to be more relevant and hip and come across like a cheesy parody of themselves. Hey dude, some hair product and groovy glasses doesn't change that you are a middle-class college educated white guy who likes to read.So Kraybill seems to be saying that having a "birds of a feather flock together" mentality is inevitable and not inherently bad.

That seems to fly in the face of our talk of unity but I wonder. If we are trying to be homogenous and hide what makes us different, is that a real unity? Or is unity truly when we see the differences between us, understand and accept them and find unity in spite of them? Perhaps we even find that unity is richer when we enbrace our uniqueness and our differences?

A Post On Church Membership I Agree With

There are a lot of posts on church membership, most making a very shaky argument based on pragmatism in favor of formal church membership, including new member classes and signed church covenants. Here is a great post on church membership by Eric carpenter that I agree with because it deals with the only church membership that matters: A Pilgrim's Progress: Why I'm an Advocate for Church Membership. Here are the key paragraphs:

When we push man-made traditions out of the way and let scripture speak, we see that church membership is simply another way of saying salvation. After all, at the moment a person repents of sin and turns to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior he also becomes a member of Christ's church. He is instantly a member.

The apostle Paul sent most of his letters to churches. In these letters Paul equates "the church" with "the saved." He suggests no other categories or subsets. He never says anything about smaller groups of Christians who are "in covenant" with one another.

When we turn to Christ, we enter the New Covenant with all its privileges, promises, and responsibilities. As Christ's possession, we enter the ekklesia. We are part of this broad, wonderful community with Jesus as unquestioned Head.

Because of all this, I'd like to see everyone in the world become a church member. Let's share the gospel liberally in the hope that many more will stream into life in Christ and become part of His church.
When Christians tell me they are "joining a new church" I assume that means they are leaving Christianity!

There is only one church. It appears in lots of different places at lots of different times. I am a member of the same church as Eric Carpenter in Georgia and John Piper in Minnesota, the same church as Moise Vaval in Haiti today and the apostle Paul nearly two thousand years ago. We have a church covenant, it is the New Covenant established by God and sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ. Like Eric I am eager to see all people everywhere join my church and become members. The only church membership that matters is being a member of the blood bought Bride of Christ and none of us has the right to divide that church. None of us.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What should be our symbol?

The cross was the means by which we became Christians...

The basin and the towel are symbols of what it means to be a Christian...

Shouldn't we identify with the towel and the basin a lot more than we do?

The reaction of every Red Sox fan last night

A quick political diversion

What exactly is "their fair share" anyway?

The Arsenal of Liberty: The Rich Already Pay Their Fair Share

Fun with blog links!

This is well worth reading because it is a)pretty clever, b) took a long time and c) highlights some great blogs...

Deconstructing Neverland: A fictional non-fiction story with a function


I have noticed a lot of chatter about this on the web but this morning I actually watched it for the first time. I am not normally a big fan of "gotcha" on the street videos but the moral bankruptcy on display is incredible. The same worldview that makes abortion acceptable was on display in Nazi Germany. You dehumanize the victim and then killing them becomes so much easier especially if you are not forced to face the results.

Lots of people are "pro-choice" when it is a poll question but it becomes impossible to justify when you actually think through it. This video is about half an hour long and is disturbing in places but we should be disturbed when faced with the barbarism that comes from the killing of innocents, whether those innocents are Jews in Nazi Germany or unborn children in America or non-combatant "collateral damage" in wars. Check out Ray Comfort in 180 the movie and let me know what you think...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It is nice to read something positive for a change

I can be pretty negative but I encourage you to read at Chloe's Voice Yesterday was a good day

Good stuff and a highly needed reminder of the importance of perspective.

I feel called versus we call you

We often hear men say “I feel called to the ministry” or some variation thereof (surrendering to the ministry call, etc.). This usually means that the brother in question feels like he is specially called for ministry and is compelled to go to Bible college and/or seminary, get “trained for the ministry” and then look for a compatible local church to apply for a position.

What if we saw it as “We are calling you” rather than “I feel called”? In other words the local gathering of the church would call men from within the local body to serve as elders/pastors. Perhaps the men they call would not even be seeking that recognition or calling. The primary driver of men being called to leadership would be a recognition by the entire body of their calling rather than an individual decision, a formal recognition of an existing reality.

I think there are some advantages to this. Rather than one guy deciding that he feels called, the local body recognizes servant-leaders in its midst who have demonstrated the qualities of leadership and imitateable lives that are inherent with being a leader among God’s people. It would keep men in the local churches they already know and are ministering in, among people who know them already and in a locale that they are familiar with. We are watching this in a local church group we meet with as one man is stepping down after several decades of leadership and the congregation is looking to call someone from within the ranks to step up.

Do you think a change in mindset from “I feel called” to “we call you” would be healthy for the church?

Replay: An Allegory

I originally posted this earlier in the year and got a lot of feedback on it so I wanted to throw it back out there.

Imagine a young child who has been adopted from a Russian orphanage. We will call him Boris because I assume every Russian boy is named Boris. Everything I know about Russia I learned from Rocky and Bullwinkle and Rocky IV. He has come from horrible conditions but until he left the orphanage, he had no idea how bad things were. Now looking back Boris is starting to understand just what he has been rescued from, not because he decided to be adopted (he didn’t even know he should want to be adopted!) but because someone decided to adopt him. His new family is loving beyond anything he could imagine, something Boris had never experienced before. Sure they had some rules that were different from the orphanage but those rules were in place to keep him safe. Here is his story…

When Boris arrived at his new home, he met the rest of the family. His new family is full of adopted kids just like him! Some came from orphanages in Russia, others from slums in Port au Prince, some from unsuitable homes in the U.S. They were all different colors, ages and nationalities, boys and girls. What they all had in common is that they all were orphans without a father and now they had one, one that loved them and sacrificed more than they could understand to adopt them. They went from unwanted to adopted, from rejected to chosen. Most of them had different ideas of what this new family was like and how things should be done but they all had the same father.

There was one older boy who had been around for a while. We will call him Fred. Fred kind of knew the ropes in the family. He had been adopted some time ago and had a knack for understanding how the family worked. Because he was older and more experienced, he often helped newer adopted kids figure things out. He knew when dinner time was, the coolest toys, etc. A lot of the newer adopted kids looked up to him. He was just like they were and in fact when he was new to the family a different older brother had helped him get acclimated and learn the ropes. That boy had grown up and moved out and now it was Fred’s turn.

Right away Fred introduced himself to Boris. “Hi! I am your new brother and my name is Fred. It is great to have you in the family! I was an orphan just like you but dad adopted me just like he adopted you.” Boris was very excited. Fred was super nice and older and seemed very mature. The other kids took his lead on many things. The first few days in his new home with his new family were great. Boris met lots of other former orphans who were now his brothers and sisters, part of his family. He was so happy! He never knew what he was missing in that orphanage but now that he had a family he realized how lucky he was! Of course the kids didn’t always get along but for the most part they did because they were a family. Fred was very helpful and sometimes even intervened when one of the kids was helping another. “We don’t want you to do this the wrong way!” he would say and the kid who was trying to help would step aside and let Fred help instead. Fred was always helping and was really busy and Boris noticed that a lot of the kids relied on Fred instead of doing things themselves but that made sense. Fred was better at a lot of things!

One day during his first week in his new family, all of the kids met together in a big meeting in the playroom. One of his new sisters told him they got together once a week, same time and same day, to go over things. What was discussed impacted all of them but they all listened to Fred speak because after all he was the best speaker and had been in the family longer than many of the rest of the kids. Fred talked for almost an hour but he had lots to share and Boris learned a lot.

Boris talked to Fred after the meeting was over and told him what he had learned was very helpful. Fred beamed! “Boris, I love to help my brothers and sisters. I am just like the rest of you, I was an orphan and was adopted and now we are all one big happy family.” Boris couldn’t wait to listen to Fred next week!

A few weeks went by and like clockwork the kids got together in the playroom and sat in a circle listening to Fred. Some of what Fred said was repetitive and sometimes he used words they didn’t understand but that was OK. It was a big help. After the family meeting was over, Fred came over to Boris. Fred asked him if he enjoyed the meeting and Boris assured him he did. Fred smiled. Then Fred said something that startled Boris:

“There is just one little thing you need to understand. When we get dessert, I need you to give me some of your cookies.”

Boris was confused. He asked Fred why he needed to give him some of his cookies. Fred patted him on the head and said “Well I am helping you out and showing you the ropes. That is really important isn’t it? Because I am spending some of my time helping you and the other new kids, I don’t have as much time for what I want to do. Doesn’t it seem fair that you would share with me? It is what dad wants us to do.” Fred smiled and walked over to talk to one of their sisters, leaving Boris scratching his head.

That didn’t make much sense to Boris. He didn’t know much about being in a family but it seemed strange that one of his brothers, who after all was just like him, expected to get a special reward. Dad had never mentioned that. Boris kept thinking about it.

If Fred was really helping, why should he get a reward for that from Boris? The staff who cared for him at the orphanage got paid money to care for the orphans but they were just doing their job and besides they weren’t family. Fred was family. Boris was terribly confused. Boris noticed lots of brothers and sisters in the family helping each other out all the time. One of his younger brothers couldn’t reach a toy he really wanted and an older sister helped him get it down. Once one of his sisters was crying and another of his sisters gave her a hug. In fact the more Boris thought about it, they more he realized that the whole family helped each other. Sometimes they even helped Fred when he needed something.

So Boris asked one of his other brothers, Jacob, about this. Jacob had been around a while and he knew the ropes. He had helped Boris out a time or two and Boris noticed that he helped a lot of the other kids out all the time but Jacob didn’t get cookies from anyone else. At first Jacob smiled and said “Sure, we all give Fred some of our cookies. It is what dad wants!” When Boris pointed out that dad never said anything like that and that it seemed like everyone helped everyone else but only Fred got cookies for it, Jacob started to get upset. “Boris, why are you causing trouble? You are new here but this is just the way we do things. Fred knows more than the rest of us and he shares that stuff he knows with us so we should give him some of our cookies!” Boris started to ask another question but Jacob, his face all red, stomped away angrily. Later that day Boris saw Jacob talking to Fred and both Fred and Jacob kept looking over at Boris. Boris tried asking some of the other kids about this. Many of them reacted the same way that Jacob did but others seemed to have some of the same questions. More than one told Boris that they had asked those questions and it got people upset so they stopped asking them and just gave their cookies to Fred.

That afternoon after nap time, Fred came over and asked Boris to come sit with him. Fred sat Boris down at the table where Fred liked to draw because it had book cases around it and was kind of private. Fred looked at Boris and said, “Boris, I know you are new to the family but you can’t go around causing trouble about this whole cookie thing. The family is in turmoil. We have always done it this way. One of the brothers helps everyone else and leads our family meetings every week and in return the rest of the kids give him some cookies. We have always done it this way and I am sure that is what dad wants.” Boris knew that sharing was important. Dad had made that very clear when he brought Boris home but the way dad described it all of the kids were supposed to share with each other, not just with Fred. Boris didn’t want to cause trouble and he was kind of intimidated so he just kept his mouth shut until Fred was done speaking.

Boris was pretty confused but he didn’t know what else to do so he gave some of his cookies to Fred. Once he did that and stopped asking so many irritating questions, he found that the other kids were more friendly with him again, especially Jacob. Boris also found that he let Fred help others even when Boris could help them. After all Fred was better at it and he got cookies for it. In fact Boris started to like the system. When someone needed help Boris told them to go to Fred. Fred was always running around helping the other kids but Boris didn’t mind. Fred was better at helping.

One morning several new kids showed up, new brothers and sisters adopted into the family! Boris recognized one of the little girls. Her name was Svetlana and they used to be in the same orphanage! She and Boris had the same background and came from the same place and used to play together back in Russia all the time. Boris was very excited to see her! That afternoon Svetlana asked Boris if there were any crayons. Boris knew where the crayons were but he told her to ask Fred. After all Fred was in charge of helping the kids figure things out. Boris introduced Svetlana to Fred and Fred showed her where the crayons were. Later that day Boris had gotten himself some crayons and was coloring away. Boris loved to color. Svetlana came over to where he was and said “Oh, did Fred show you where the crayons are?” Boris shook his head and told her that he already knew where they were and had been using them for a long time. Svetlana looked confused and asked “Why didn’t you just show me where they were?” Boris smiled and told her that Fred was supposed to help people because he was better at it and besides he got cookies from everyone else. Svetlana frowned and walked away. Boris could tell right away that she was going to be a trouble maker.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dueling Billboards

I was perusing my hometown newspaper (the Toledo Blade) this weekend while waiting for my wife to get out of surgery and the main article on the home page was a story about two churches with dueling billboards in Toledo. The article, Debate on gays is writ large, is about two churches in Toledo debating the issue of homosexuality via billboard.
The ongoing and sometimes contentious debate in churches regarding homosexuality is back in the public eye in oversized print, thanks to 10 Toledo-area billboards proclaiming competing messages.

After Toledo's Central United Methodist Church posted a single roadside billboard in late April that said, "Being Gay Is a Gift from God," the Rev. Tony Scott of the Church on Strayer felt compelled to offer an opposing point of view.

The Maumee megachurch this week bought nine billboards that proclaim, "Being Gay is NOT a Gift from God -- Forgiveness, Love, and Eternal Life Are."
Here is a classic "lose-lose" scenario.

On one side is the absolutely ridiculous statement that living in a homosexual lifestyle is a gift from God. God "gifts" people with something He clearly condemns as sin? Would you have a billboard that says being an adulterer is a gift from God? Or that being greedy is a gift from God? Not to go all elementary school here but "they started it" with a billboard that is not only erroneous but also intentionally provocative.

On the other side, I doubt that the nine rebuttal billboards are going to do much other than draw a line in the sand. I agree with the content of the message more or less. The method not so much. Perhaps the better method might be to equip the 2500 members of The Church on Strayer to go forth, meet and get to know homosexuals in Toledo and minister to them in love. Billboards don't seem to be a terribly effective ministry tool. It looks kind of like the big church one upping the little church. I'll see your billboard and raise you eight!

I used to think that winning arguments was a great way of winning people. Experience has shown me otherwise. I am pretty skilled at debate and arguing but vanquishing someone in an argument is more likely to leave them resentful and me feeling smug. That is not helping me and it certainly is not helping anyone else. What would be helpful? If Bill Barnard and Tony Scott, the two pastors in this kerfuffle, would actually sit down and talk with one another. If both of these men are Christians, they are adopted brothers with the same Father, not enemies on opposite sides of an ideological debate. They sound like reasonable men who live and minister in the same city, a city I of course know very well and also know is hurting in many ways. Instead of communicating via billboard and soundbytes in interviews, how could they find a way to minister to the lost and hurting in Toledo?

There is a time and place for spirited discussion. There are lots of issues we need to clarify, lots of truths we need to stand firm for, lots of ways the world is trying to chip away at the fundamental truths of the Gospel. But there is also a place, often overlooked, for sincere believers to remember what unites us and what our calling is. That is hard to do with dueling billboards.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not one or the other

Russell Moore hit a grand slam with his post Gospel or Justice, Which? Dr. Moore looks at the odd way that the church tends to divide and separate issues of justice and personal evangelism, as if you can have one without the other. As he points out, it is not a matter of "either or" but rather it is "both and" (emphasis mine)...
So how does the church “balance” a concern for evangelism with a concern for justice? A church does so in the same way it “balances” the gospel with personal morality. Sure, there have been churches that have emphasized public justice without the call to personal conversion. Such churches have abandoned the gospel.

But there are also churches that have emphasized personal righteousness (sexual morality, for instance) without a clear emphasis on the gospel. And there are churches that have taught personal morality as a means of earning favor with God. Such also contradicts the gospel.

We do not, though, counteract legalism in the realm of personal morality with an antinomianism. And we do not react to the persistent “social gospels” (of both Left and Right) by pretending that Jesus does not call his churches to act on behalf of the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless, the vulnerable, the hungry, the sex-trafficked, the unborn. We act in the framework of the gospel, never apart from it, either in verbal proclamation or in active demonstration.

The short answer to how churches should “balance” such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grow in Christlikeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the king of his kingdom, and he loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.
That is really the whole problem. We spend so much time arguing about this nicety of doctrine or that point of theology that we forget that if we simply follow Jesus everything else will work itself out. If the church really followed Jesus we wouldn't have thousands of denominations and independent non-denominational churches competing with one another for resources. We wouldn't have people breaking fellowship over the color of the carpet. We wouldn' have budget battles because we wouldn't really have budgets. The Gospel would be preached and the poor would be cared for.

This conversation has been hijacked by Christians on both sides, by people like the late Jerry Falwell and like Jim Wallis, two men who are different sides of the same coin, i.e. using religious language and pliable Christian followers to achieve political goals. I appreciate a voice like Russ Moore who refuses to pick and choose between two priorities that are supposed to go hand in hand, not engage in hand to hand combat.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Laudable Links

Is it just me or is there a lot less blogging going on?

Anyway, my favorite blogging this last week was from Keith Giles with a four part series on the Prince of Peace





He threw an addendum out there to kind of give a flavor of what some early church leaders taught on the issue of non-resistance and non-violence: CHURCH HISTORY 101 - QUOTES OF PEACE. All good stuff, we really desperately need to reclaim the witness of peace and non-violence in the church in America.

Guy Muse had a post that was pretty funny until you think about it a while and then it became very unfunny because it points out a glaring blindspot, Sure-fire ways to avoid becoming a missionary. I certainly don't think that every Christian is called to foreign missions but I do think that every single Christian, without exception for "gifts" or training or calling, is called to the mission field.

Daryl Wingerd writing for Christian Communicators Worldwide had a great post How To Find A Wife. It is good advice that goes both ways. Young Christian men and women should be focused on serving God and preparing to be a husband or wife rather than worrying about who they will marry. We need to teach our children to look forward to marriage but to also prepare for it. Young men should be preparing to raise a family, love and lead their wife and be a provider as well as spiritual leader. Good stuff.

From across the pond Christopher Dryden posts on Prayer, Schools, The State and The Kingdom Agenda. Christopher asks some penetrating questions about the relationship between the state and the Kingdom, worthy questions indeed and at the same time reminds us that the vestiges of Christendom are hanging on for dear life in many places around the world.

This morning Bobby Auner is asking some familiar questions that some of us who are simple/organic church advocates run into a lot. How do we maintain unity with the rest of the church that is institutionalized?  His post, Love covers a multitude of disagreements, hit home for me. When I go spend a Sunday morning at a traditional church I sometimes feel like I am doing something wrong! It is a narrow path indeed to seek restoration in the church while maintaining unity with our brothers and sisters, even when they are doing things "the wrong way".

It is easy to lose sight of things

It is easy to get caught up in the problems of the church. I spend a lot of time stewing about it and fretting about it and praying for it to change. All for good reason if not always with the right spirit. However in my zeal for restoration in the church, I can forget how loving God's people so often are. For those who don't know, my wife tumbled from her horse on Friday and broke, nay she shattered, the bones in her left ankle. Long story short she is coming home from the hospital today with a plate and 9 screws holding the bones together. Needless to say that is going to leave her laid up for a while.

The response from God's people has been what it always is: loving and generous. People are praying for her all over the country. Our friends at the Mennonite church we often meet with are bringing meals over. When the church is in need, we often see Christians coming out of the woodwork to help one another. When one hurts, the church is so often right there alongside.The church is at its best not when we sit neatly in pews but when we get our hands dirty to help one another in love.

I love the church. I  love the people of God. I long to see us live as one, in unity, fellowship and community with one another. When I see how we can pull together to help one another I can't help but dream of how we could be an incredible witness to the world if we can shed our divisive traditions and come together. I know that will be the reality some day as we share the wedding feast of the Lamb but there is no good reason we can't start to see that today.

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)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Can a pastor "step down"?

Interesting question from my friend James. He ponders this idea in his post on Rob Bell, Rob Bell, Mars Hill Pastor of Grandville, MI. Mega Church Steps Down. I am not interested in Rob Bell but James asks an interesting question, one where we take the answer for granted but maybe shouldn't.

As James points out, elders/pastors are given to the church. Can one be a pastor and then decide to stop being a pastor? Were they ever really a pastor in the Biblical sense to begin with?

Check out this post and weigh in!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pro-life on abortion but not on capital punishment?

Thanks for the link to this essay by N.T. Wright from Kurt Willems.

I have always been a pro-death penalty guy. It never even occurred to me that perhaps there was a conflict in being a pro-life, staunchly anti-abortion Christian and yet a firm supporter of the death penalty for capital crimes. After all just look at Romans 13:1-7 and besides there is no way to draw an equivalence between an innocent child murdered before she was even born and a criminal being punished justly for the crimes he has committed.

I have been having a harder time reconciling that lately. The whole thing with Troy Davis just smells bad. I am not enough of an expert to know what the truth is but I know this. He is dead and nothing is going to change that and there was some lingering doubt. Read what N.T. Wright had to say about American Christianity and the death penalty about a week ago. I think our brothers and sisters around the world look at the church in America sometimes and must be bewildered at our embrace of militarism and capital punishment. That doesn't mean that they are right (or Wright!) and we are wrong but it should cause us to rethink our position from the Scripture and skip the cultural platitudes...

American Christians and the death penalty

You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty. Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world. As far as they were concerned, their stance went along with the traditional ancient Jewish and Christian belief in life as a gift from God, which is why (for instance) they refused to follow the ubiquitous pagan practice of ‘exposing’ baby girls (i.e. leaving them out for the wolves or for slave-traders to pick up).

Mind you, there is in my view just as illogical a position on the part of those who solidly oppose the death penalty but are very keen on the ‘right’ of a woman (or couple) to kill their conceived but not yet born child...

From where many of us in the UK sit, American politics is hopelessly polarized. All kinds of issues get bundled up into two great heaps. The rest of the world, today and across the centuries, simply doesn’t see things in this horribly oversimplified way...

While we’re about it, how many folk out there were deeply moved both by the reading of the 9/11 victim names and by the thought that if they’d read the names of Iraqi civilians killed by your country and mine over the last ten years we’d have been there for several days?
What do you think about that?

Knowledge, Edification and Worship

Alan has a really timely (for me anyway) post this morning on edification and worship, Worship, Jesus Christ, and Gathering with the Church. Alan ends up his post with the statement: Edifying the church is worship. Lots of people would agree with that but the devil is always in the details. Namely, what does edification mean? This was timely because of something I read earlier in the week and a conversation with a co-worker this morning.

What I read earlier was a post from Credo Mag with the clever title: Put the theology book down and do something that matters. The point was that many people see theology conferences and the reading of theology books as a largely empty exercise and that we should be doing something more tangible (the text was from an opening address at a theology conference)….
What are we doing here?

I’m sure we could walk out this building and, within five minutes, find any number of hurting people desperately in need of care and attention, longing for a meaningful conversation, needing to hear the Gospel. People who are cold, hungry, lonely, and lost — forgotten, neglected, and abused by a sin-fractured world.

Yet here we sit, ready to spend an entire day presenting papers, hearing arguments, and discussing abstract ideas apparently far removed from the real needs of everyday people. How does discussing epistemology, hamartiology, ecclesiology, or the intricate details of ancient historiography really help people come to Jesus and begin healing their broken bodies and souls?
The author of the post, Marc Cortez, came back and argued that studying theology is worship and therefore was a worthwhile exercise. His comparison between modern theology conferences and the council of Nicea in the fourth century is quite a stretch but his argument is a persuasive one for many people, especially many pastors who see studying theology as an integral part of their calling.

Then this morning I had a long conversation about “church” with a co-worker. He told me that he attends a very large (four services consisting of thousands of people) church. I asked him how well he knew his “pastor” and he was pretty sure that he (the pastor) didn’t even know my co-workers name. What my co-worker liked about his church was that it was fairly anonymous, no one was asking him about his business, and the sermons have him some practical tools for everyday life.

These two examples seem quite different. The hardcore Reformed academic types spurn and mock the “give me something practical” sermons while the more pragmatic average America churchgoer sees those highly doctrinal and intellectual sermons as boring and not applicable to our everyday life. But both of them are aimed at the same thing: information. On top of that there is the “worship” component. I go to church to “worship” and to learn something that will help me. It will help me be a better dad or it will help me to understand a theological nuance better but ultimately it is aimed at something I can internalize.

Is that what we see “church” intended to do in the New Testament? I don’t think we do. Let's look at a couple of key passages…

First I would put forth 1 Corinthians 14. Paul speaks of “building up” and “encouraging” here as well. A lot. The church gathers to be built up and there is an informational component here but I don’t think Paul is concerned with the church being built up just for the sake of having better informed Christians. There seems to be more to it…

Next I would turn to Hebrews 10: 24-25….
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
We hear this passage referenced a lot, normally as a club to make you feel bad if you don’t “go to church” on Sunday but the reason we go is just as important as the going itself. According to the writer of Hebrews it seems the emphasis is on the “why” of the gathering and the “why” is that the Body is to encourage one another and stir one another up to love and good works. In other words the gathering is focused on the subsequent going, not on the gathering itself. Our edification, our “building up” is done with a purpose and that purpose is to love others and serve them. That service means caring for their material needs for certain but more importantly to minister to them spiritually, especially for those who don’t know Jesus Christ. To do that means we have to go to them, not just read about going to them or listen to a sermon about going to them. We must go but that can be scary if we are not prepared...

What about those pastors and elders and other leaders in the church? Is their role to pass on information, to make us better informed about theology or practical living? I don’t think so…
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Pastors are not called to impart “head knowledge”, or at least not exclusively, but as more mature believers who live praiseworthy lives worthy of imitation they are called to equip other believers to DO the work of ministry. Therein lies the issue with the sermon. Sermons are one way and the preferred way to pass on doctrine and other information but sermons are quite poor at equipping people. For example, imagine that in training people to be surgeons the training consisted exclusively of lectures. Lectures on how to cut someone open and sew them back up. Lectures on how to talk to patients and their families. Lectures on what to do when something goes wrong. Lots and lots of very good lectures and lots of discussion about surgical theory. Never any practical instruction, never any training where a student watches an experienced surgeon perform open heart surgery and talk to patients and react when something unexpected happens. Never any time when the new student performs surgery herself under the watchful eye of her instructor. Upon graduation the newly minted surgeon is given a scalpel, sent into a surgery room and told to perform heart surgery. Think they might freeze up? Little wonder most Christians have such a hard time witnessing to other people. They have been told about it over and over again but rarely see it happen. Little wonder also that many Christians are uncomfortable with ministering to those that are hurting and in need. They have read about it and heard it lectured about but have little first hand experience and in real life it is messy and scary.

So certainly the gathering of the church has a “knowledge” component to it. There is no sense in equipping people to do the work of ministry if they don’t know who Jesus Christ is or what the Gospel means. There is also absolutely a sense of “worship” when we gather but if our “worship” only makes us feel better and doesn’t drive us to love and serve others it isn’t really worship at all. Edification builds up the church (see an older post from Alan on this Edification as worship) but that building up the church is not merely educating the church but also equipping the church for the work of ministry and encouraging us in the work of ministering and the doing of good works.

Worship that doesn’t equip and encourage Christians to carry out the work of ministry is not true worship.

Knowledge without example does little to aid in ministry.

Edification that doesn’t equip isn’t truly edifying.

A thought about the sacraments

I saw this somewhere the other day and I liked it a lot.

Love is the only sacrament of the New Covenant church.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A little gratitude wouldn’t hurt

I was at the local pregnancy resource center last night volunteering. Pretty good night, got to talk to some folks, play with a little two month old baby, helped give out some free stuff to help people with material needs. So all well and good. All good that is except for a young woman who was upset because we didn’t have the right size of diapers that she needed. She got a bit snippy and that didn’t sit well with me.

So I was thinking, hey how about a little gratitude here lady! You know that whole thing about beggars and choosers and how you can’t be both? Sheesh! It isn’t like she did much to “earn” those diapers.

So I thought about me and God and the unmerited favor He has graciously shown me. I didn’t get some free diapers. I was saved from an eternal, conscious punishment in hell as the due and just penalty for my sins. A small pack of diapers costs a few bucks. The infinitely gracious gift I received came with a price tag of life, the shed blood and sacrificed life of the very Son of God. That is kind of a big deal.

How do I show my thanks to God for His grace?

Well I am often pretty selfish, especially in things like making disciples and caring for the poor. I rarely am as faithful as I should and I could be in things like loving my wife or raising my kids or even loving my neighbor. Sure I thank God before meals but that is often perfunctory and I am really bad about thanking Him for everything else I should be thankful for. I would, if I am being honest, rather drink coffee and dink around on the internet or play a video game than actually interact and serve people. I complain and crab and grumble and moan and often share that with you here on my blog.


Maybe I have no business being outraged that someone isn’t as grateful and appreciative as I think they should be.

I think I need to get away from that cultural mindset that expects something tangible from people in return for service. I shouldn’t be doing things to get a response. I should be serving others as a response to what God has done for me. I have no idea what was going on with that young woman. She might have been completely out of diapers. She might be about to be evicted. Who knows what is happening with her. I certainly don’t. I am the kind of person that assumes the worst of people. It fits well with my belief in Total Depravity. Of course in reality the least appreciative person I know is me. Maybe I can cut other people some slack....

What's In A Name?

The Southern Baptist Convention is considering a change to its venerable name yet again…
The president of the Southern Baptist Convention formed a task force to study the possibility of changing the name of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

“The convention’s name is so regional,” SBC President Bryant Wright told Fox News Radio. “We are going to think through potential names that would better describe us without such a regional geographic limitation.”
Here is my suggestion. Drop Southern. Drop Baptist. Maybe even drop Convention.

Denominational identifiers, like local church identifiers on a grander scale, serve to divide and distinguish. We are this and therefore not that. We believe in this secondary doctrine but do not practice that secondary doctrine. We are us and you are not us. You are probably a Christian but not our kind of Christian. You can’t teach in our local church, you perhaps cannot even break bread with us, if you identify as that and not this.

The name Southern Baptist Convention carries a ton of baggage. It is “Southern”, i.e. the Southern United States, and it is “Baptist”, i.e. a specific set of secondary doctrines and practices as well as certain cultural and political expectations. I have been a member and even a pastor of several Southern Baptist churches and you can find them all over the country and all over the world. Even if you acknowledge the historically Southern heritage of the SBC and the importance of Baptist faith and practice the questions remains: Is the name Southern Baptist Convention helpful or harmful in carrying out the global mission of the church and in fostering unity and cooperation among various Christians? I think it is great for fostering uniformity and erecting boundaries, not so much for aiding in unifying the church.

Here is another example. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church or OPC for short. Founded in the 1930’s as a reaction to liberalism in “mainstream” Protestantism, the name draws a clear line in the sand. We are not just Presbyterians, we are Orthodox Presbyterians. So what does that mean for other Presbyterian denominations? They are not Orthodox? I think you can make that argument when speaking of the PC-USA but what about the PCA? They seem like pretty decent folk apart from that “baptizing” babies thing. I think they are pretty Orthodox. What about the rest of the various and sundry Presbyterian and Reformed denominations? Are they not orthodox or perhaps less orthodox than the OPC? Why not name the denomination the “We’re right and you’re wrong Presbyterian Church” or “WRYRPC”? Check out the accompanying chart and see if you can figure out the maze of Presbyterian denominationalism. If we spend more time fighting over which subset of a subset of a faith tradition is right than we do in preaching Christ to the lost and performing acts of mercy and grace, I would question just how orthodox we really are no matter what the name of a given denomination might say or which Reformed confessions we subscribe too.

I am firmly convicted that naming local churches and denominations in ways that draw lines in the sand that act to corral and divide are harmful to the church. So my recommendation to the SBC is to drop the “S” and the “B” and the “C”. “Christian” is the only title or identifier any of us should ever need or want.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Repost: Thinking about theocracy

I have been exploring the murky world of theocracy/Christian Reconstruction/Dominion Theology again and looked back at a post I wrote about this time last year. The more I look around at the church in America and the more I read thinkers outside of the approved circles I formerly restricted myself to, the more dangerous this thinking becomes in my eyes. I understand it, I really do but that doesn’t change the faulty and dangerous blurring of the very distinct line between the church and the state. Not in a First Amendment sense, although that is applicable in this case to an extent, but from a New Covenant, “tribe and language and people and nation” and “there is neither Jew nor Greek” sort of way.

As I read more about the Biblical prohibition for followers of Christ to take up the sword, seeking vengeance and engaging in violence, I am more convinced that the church needs to speak up about those who seek to not only preach Christ and Him crucified but also seek to enforce Old Covenant Israeli laws on unbelievers outside of the covenant, by force if need be.

More to follow on this topic…

A lot of Christians really struggle with the Old Testament. It doesn’t get the same emphasis in the church that the New Testament does, it is full of strange events and it is pretty confusing to someone who is only familiar with our cultural Christianity. This makes it doubly hard to understand a lot of the New Testament, especially in places like the book of Hebrews which many Christians find very difficult to understand and interpreting the foundations of the Lord’s Supper and the cross in light of the Old Covenant. Because of this, there is an inconsistent application and misunderstanding of a lot of what we read in the Old Testament. For example, how many times have you seen this verse…

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

…applied to America, often shown festooned with a bald eagle and the American flag? Of course, like so many verses plucked out of context, when you look at it in context it seems silly to apply it to America:

Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king's house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’

“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” (2 Chronicles 7: 11-22)

What is being spoken of here is specifically directed at the nation of Israel and the land given to them by God and the temple built to honor Him in that land. Verse 14 is talking about an actual drought, plague of locusts and disease on the land. It is not talking about American citizens voting for Barack Obama or banning government sanctioned prayer in secular schools.

The Old Testament contains moral precepts and commandments and it also contains a number of laws that are applicable to the nation of Israel. While the moral precepts of what constitutes sin are eternal, the response to them is not.

For example, the Bible consistently and especially in the OT is clear that homosexuality is an abomination, a perversion of the natural created order and purpose of men and women: You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). As a response to that, the civil law of the nation of Israel set forth punitive measures in response to this behavior that include capital punishment: If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13). Sexual immorality like homosexuality and adultery and other perversions of naturally ordered human sexuality are both a violation of God’s law and a reflection of the immorality of the people who are being supplanted by the Jews. As such, God commanded His people to purge this immoral behavior so that this nation would remain pure and set apart. By purge I mean put to death. The dividing line between Jew and everyone else was clear and bright and inviolable, in fact the sins of His people throughout the OT are often associated with the Jews adopting the practices of the people of the land (worshipping false gods, burning their children, immoral behavior).

All well and good but here is the problem. The New Testament is clear that by the cross Jesus has shattered the dividing line based on ethnicity and nationality. No longer are we Jew and Gentile, divided, but one people united in Christ:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2 :14-16)

Under the New Covenant, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). In America (or any other country) we are not “God’s people” by birth and nationality who need to return to God. We are a mixed nation of believers and unbelievers, elect and non-elect. No amount of legislation or school prayer or GOP congressional victories are going to make the unbelieving majority of Americans into God’s people and unbelievers, by their very nature, don’t seek the face of God. That is why they are unbelievers and that is how they stay until acted upon by God.

Thus we have the problem with some of the fringe movements in the “Christian Right” who espouse dominionism or other forms of theocratic rule. God sends us to proclaim the Gospel to all nations, not to conquer or rule over those nations or institute some sort of new model of ancient Israel in a secular state full of unbelievers. I have been doing some reading on this topic today and I am concerned because some of the advocates of this sort of thing run in the same circles I do and I think these advocates are dangerously influential on homeschoolers and others. I don’t homeschool my kids to turn them into some sort of conquering army to take over the culture and the halls of power in America, I homeschool them out of obedience and because I want them raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I don’t see that Calvinism taken in its most basic form leads us to seek theocracy, just the opposite in fact.

God is not calling His people to conquer and reign. His Son already conquered sin and already is reigning at the right hand of the Father. Let’s be sure that we don’t use patriotic fervor and misapplication of the civil laws of Israel to advocate what God has not commanded us to do.

Monday, September 19, 2011

There is no such thing as a silver bullet in parenting

There is a sobering article about homeschooling making the rounds on the internet. It was written by Reb Bradley but it has gotten a lot of circulation thanks to a link from Josh Harris (his post that excerpted the entire article has over 100 comments and counting). The article, Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling: Exposing the 7 major blind spots of homeschoolers, is a powerful statement on home education especially as it pertains to our motives and our expectations as parents. There is a very real sense in which the homeschool magazines and culture can give you the impression that home education is the silver bullet, the perfect antidote to worldly kids. Just educate at home and like magic you get great adults on the other end. I don’t think that attitude is intentional but it is real and it seems to me that many homeschooling parents are prone to beating ourselves up for not living up to that expectation. It always seems like everyone else has the perfect homeschooled kids and that we are failing.

It is a very long article but here are the seven major blind spots he identifies:

1. Self-centered dreams
2. Family as an idol
3. Emphasis on outward form
4. Tendency to judge
5. Over-dependence on authority and control
6. Over-reliance upon sheltering
7. Formulaic parenting breaks down relationship

I have thought a lot about this article and the implications of it for home educating families in general and my family in particular. It has been especially pertinent to me because I see myself in a lot of this article. Do we fail? Oh my do we fail. Again and again. Do we tend toward insularity and even stifling our kids? I think so. Are our motivations for homeschooling as pure as the driven snow? Not on your life. Do we lazily try to simply control our kids instead of cultivating a relationship with them, a proper and Biblical one to be sure but a relationship nevertheless? Absolutely.

Yeah, as a family we have our share of issues when it comes to homeschooling. Our extended families are not supportive of the decision, we often feel like we are spinning our wheels and it can be incredibly frustrating. I often feel like we need to “do more” and we do but that is not the core issue that we need to address.

Most of our issues are heart issues in us and in our kids and that would be true if we sent them to a private Christian school or even a public school. Let me say it more clearly because I think this is the point of the article even though some people seem to see this as a “gotcha” to rail against homeschooling: Homeschooling is not the problem nor is it the solution. Parenting is never easy. Sinners, even redeemed and born-again sinners, parenting other sinners, even redeemed and born-again sinners, is fraught with trouble and pitfalls.

In spite of all that, just because homeschooling your kids is not a guarantee of “success” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I am firmly convinced, in spite of my failures and the perceived failures of other parents, that everything else being equal homeschooling is the best avenue for Christian parents. Christian private schools are of course an option but I have three concerns there. First is the cost which is outrageous in many private schools. Even if we could afford it, does it make sense to spend $10,000 a year on private school for our kids? Second is that Christian private schools are a pretty mixed bag, there are some really good ones and others that are not so great. Third and perhaps most importantly, sending your kids to a Christian school is still subcontracting out the hard work of raising and educating your children to someone else and those “someone else’s” are probably by and large strangers. Public schools? Don’t even get me started. My opinion of the public school system is that it is by and large a hugely wasteful and expensive scheme that serves to employ as union teachers as possible while providing “free” daycare for parents. Even if we weren't Christians I would probably homeschool our kids.

His essay is chock full of excellent quotes but the comprehensive message is what is important. While this is aimed at homeschooling families a lot of what Reb has written applies just as much to any parent. Christian parenting is about more than making our kids behave in a certain way. It is about showing our kids Christ, how He lives in and through us. Talk is cheap. Actions that demonstrate what we are talking about, lives that are examples to our children, is what counts.

I think it is important to again emphasize that this essay is not a condemnation of homeschooling but rather a richly needed corrective and encouragement for those who choose the often difficult and socially unacceptable path of home education. Many of us, in our zeal for educating our kids at home, have created an inflated promise of the end result when in reality as we all (should) know the end result is under the sovereign dominion of God and not our human efforts. I really desire to be better parents in all aspects of our parenting, including educating our kids at home and I was challenged and encouraged by Reb's essay.

Home education is not a magic formula that will ensure your kids turn into great adults nor is public schooling a guarantee of having your kids grow into drug dealers. However I sincerely believe that home education should be the preferred choice for Christian parents. I make no apology for that but I also try to shy away from being an evangelist for homeschooling. My reasons for home education are many and I am not going to rehash them again but you can find them in various places on my blog. Whatever you choose for your children, I would encourage you to read Reb Bradley’s essay because it applies to parents of all sorts. I am going to print it off and refer back to it on a regular basis. We all need all the help and encouragement we can get!

Book giveaway

My friend James is giving away a copy of Francis Chan's book, Erasing Hell. You can enter by leaving a comment at his blog on why you think this topic is important: Deliver Detroit: Book Giveaway: Erasing Hell. This sounds like a pretty good book on an important topic and entering is as simple as leaving a comment so check it out!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Booklet Review: The Politics of Witness

I call this a booklet review because Allan Bevere's The Politics of Witness is only 62 pages of texts, making it much larger than a pamphlet but somewhat undersized as a book. The size is just about right however because this booklet and the others in the Aeropagus Critical Christian Issues series make no attempt to be comprehensive voices on a given subject but rather are high level overviews and introductions.

Allan draws a very convincing portrait of the changes in the witness of the church starting with everyone's favorite whipping boy, Constantine. The more I read, the more convinced I become that the so-called Constantinian Shift was the worst thing that has happened to the church in its nearly two thousand year history and most of the negatives that have been linked to the church in the centuries since (the religious wars in Europe, the Crusades, the persecution of the Anabaptist's, etc.) can be tied back to this event in the fourth century.

I especially liked the chapter, It's Israel and the Church, Not Israel and America where Allan calls out Jim Wallis and the religious Left as being mirror images of Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right, both sides employing a faulty hermeneutic. America is not Israel and America is not the church and the sooner we understand, the better off we will all be!

The Politics of Witness is full of quotable material but I liked this one a lot and found it applicable in today's never-ending political campaign season:
My great concern is that when Christians in America want to play the role of prophet in Pharaoh's court, they end up looking, not like the wise sage, but the court jester that gets used by the king for his or her own comical and unsavory purposes. (Bevere, The Politics of Witness, pg. 49)
It is more and more apparent to me that both political parties pander to people of faith in different ways for the coldly calculated purpose of gaining and retaining political power. The church has been the patsy of politicians for far too long!

If there is a weakness in The Politics of Witness I would say that it comes from Allan not fully exploring the way that the traditional model of competing and autonomous local churches that focus on Sunday morning ritual religion hampers our witness (for example using the idea of calling certain people to ordained ministry). He touches oh so briefly and tantalizingly on it on page 61, less than a full page from the end of the book,and leaves the reader (at least this reader) wishing for more. Allan alludes to the problem by writing:
...the politics of witness can probably only begin to happen in small enclaves of Christians who desire to be such a faithful remnant...I am saying that it is quite unlikely that any established congregation will be willing and therefore able to undertake such a (not so) modest proposal (Bevere, The Politics of Witness, pg. 61)
That is an idea that needs more fleshing out.

It seems that the result of what Allan is saying is that the church is appealing for many people because it supports their view of America. I think that a church that is not part and parcel with American values and patriotic fervor has no appeal to many churchgoers. Take away the flags and the morality and watch what it does to attendance. We desperately need to embrace a view that sees the church as a witness to the culture, not as a far too comfortable part of the culture. I would highly recommend The Politics of Witness as a great stepping stone and conversation starter. What a great tool for a short small group discussion! If you are like me and sense something is drastically wrong with how we understand the church, this is a great book to study.

(Please note I was provided a copy of The Politics of Witness free of charge and without obligation to provide a positive review)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Where is true freedom found?

While enjoying the hospitable setting of gate C21 at Detroit Metro Airport on Wednesday, I watched part of a speech by Rick Perry at Liberty University. Early in his speech, very early on, he said:

There is no greater force for freedom than the men and women of the United States military.

Said in front of a presumably largely evangelical audience to raucous applause .

Excuse me?

I get what Perry is saying and why he is saying it in a political stump speech but the notion that the United States military is the greatest force for freedom in the world is a ridiculous statement for a professing Christian to make, especially in front of a Christian audience.

The Gospel and the Gospel alone is not only the greatest source of freedom in the world, it is the only true source of meaningful freedom. Let me say something I have written a dozen times before. The “freest” American who is outside of Christ is eternally in bondage. The poorest, imprisoned Christian languishing and perhaps tortured in the prison of some repressive regime is far more meaningfully free. We have lost what it means to be free because of our love of the world and what it offers us. Who wants to be hated and persecuted and ridiculed when you can be accepted and applauded and affluent?

The truth shall set you free. Not economic security. Not military superiority. The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The chosen method of spreading this true freedom is a most unlikely source, a simple Christian telling someone about Jesus, not an American solider liberating Iraq or defeating Nazi Germany.

I like a lot of things about Rick Perry as a candidate. When he starts talking like he did Wednesday at Liberty or invokes the notion of being divinely “called” to run for President it makes me nervous and reminds me why so many Anabaptists eschewed being entangled in secular government. Placing our faith in anything other than Jesus Christ, whether that faith is in the military or our culture or money or religious institutions, is deadly dangerous and must be stamped out in our hearts, our homes and the church.

The Limits of Romans 13

Please take a look at my newest post at Under Christ's Archy on the topic of Christians submitting to government while living as servants of the King: The Limits of Romans 13

Would love for you to comment over there and share the post with others you think might be interested!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mission as worship

Mission is one thing. Worship is another. The only time that they meet is when a missionary comes to our "worship service" to tell us about what he is doing, show us some slides and ask for money.
That is kind of the attitude that dominates the church world. Not in those words but certainly in how we act and what we emphasize. Dave Black calls that false division out with a new essay, Missions As a Lifestyle of Worship. Here is an extensive quote, I hope Dr. Black doesn't mind:
For this reason, I can’t be content any longer to talk about a missional theology without at least exploring its implications for its transformation potential. God’s concerns are much bigger than the typical church’s concerns. Take worship for example. Understood biblically, worship is not a gathering of individual Christians seeking an intimate experience with God. Rather, worship is the offering of our lives sacrificially to Him daily (see Rom. 12:1-2). Worship is not merely an occasional activity of the believer. Instead, it defines the core of Christian discipleship: We are called to be worshippers in every sphere of life by participating in the Triune God’s mission in the world. This can take place only through intentional “neighboring” practices and in relationship with non-Christians. The key is for ordinary Christians (like you and me) to develop their capacity to serve their neighbors in love. The work of the Spirit is crucial to this renewed participation in society. Christians are to embody the ethics of Jesus before a watching world, providing it with a limited but powerful glimpse of what it means to be a bearer of God’s image. The Gospels clearly present Jesus as constantly moving into unfamiliar territory across cultural barriers and social lines. And at the heart of it all is the cross – the profound need for reconciliation through Jesus Christ, in whom God has acted to overcome the enmity of human sin. True Christian discipleship always means taking part in Christ’s ministry in the world in a dynamic yet concrete fashion.

Thus, when we speak of worship today, a much wider definition is needed. The church does not gather in order to worship. Believers gather as worshippers who have found their vocation in sharing in the community of Christ as He sends them like sheep among wolves to minister to the needs of others. This, as I said, represents a major paradigm shift in my own understanding of Christian worship. As I see it, too much of what passes as Christian worship today is unaffected by the world. It stands aloof, isolated, and ingrown. The incarnation and crucifixion are sung about but the realties behind these truths are rarely put into practice. Rather than participating deeply in the life of the world, the church holds itself apart from the world. This leads, in turn, to a highly individualistic conception of discipleship – a kind of anthropocentricism focused solely on an individual relationship with Jesus that fails to take into account the wider fabric of the Christian community, not to mention the Triune God’s life and activity with all creation. What remains is a watered-down, emasculated version of worship in which the vocation of the church as a missional, worshiping Body is severely diminished.
I spent quite a bit of time in the mindset that is prevalent in the church, especially in the conservative, highly academic corners, that sees "worship" as the purpose for the gathering of the church and "worship" defined as making believers into smarter, more discerning and theologically astute Christians. The assumption was that we needed to constantly refine our doctrine within the church, making disciples who were theologically mature (as we defined it) and this would inevitably lead to service and evangelism (i.e. inviting people to church). The problem with this mindset is that rather than leading to the assumed results we end up with Christians that are better and better informed and less and less engaged in mission. Church becomes an end in and of itself rather than a vehicle to reach a greater purpose, the purpose of carrying out God's mission in the world as His ambassadors.

A study of the New Testament gives us a far more robust, vibrant faith. It takes Paul out of the imaginary study full of scrolls where he spent his time preparing sermons and puts him out among the lost preaching Christ, working for a living among unbelievers, encouraging and equipping the church for the work of ministry so that they would not become overly dependent on him. It shows us a church under unimaginable persecution but simultaneously filled with joy, living in community and on fire for missions. There was little room for denominations, seminaries, committee meetings and mission boards because there were simply too many people who needed to encounter Jesus. I read the New Testament and then I look around and wonder what happened. It seems that comfort, ease, affluence happened and we have found it easier and more comfortable to turn inward, acting more like the world every day and yet reaching that same world less and less. We need to get back to the church as a distinctive, salty witness to the world that is not only distinct from the world but reaching that same world for Christ.

Loving our wives

Russell Moore wrote a great essay today, Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson that was tragically made necessary because of yet another crazy statement from Pat Robertson, this time saying that a man should feel free to divorce his wife to marry another if his current wife is suffering from Alzheimer and "no longer there".

Pat Robertson’s cruel marriage statement is no anomaly. He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross. They have given us a politicized Christianity that uses churches to “mobilize” voters rather than to stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel.

But Jesus didn’t die for a Christian Coalition; he died for a church. And the church, across the ages, isn’t significant because of her size or influence. She is weak, helpless, and spattered in blood. He is faithful to us anyway.

If our churches are to survive, we must repudiate this Canaanite mammonocracy that so often speaks for us. But, beyond that, we must train up a new generation to see the gospel embedded in fidelity, a fidelity that is cruciform.
Virtually every time Pat Robertson opens his mouth, claiming to speak as a Christian, he makes a fool of himself and shames the Gospel to the unbelieving world that is laughing at him. I especially appreciated this line, that Christians are to "stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel". What a great statement. The church has no use for power or acclaim or status. When we try to mirror the way the world operates, our witness suffers. We have seen this again and again as the church has sought to take hold of the sword, to claim earthly crowns, to build new and improved temples and to gather and consolidate power.

The world may agree with Pat Robertson although even many unbelievers know that what he is suggesting is just wrong and runs contrary to our deepest held moral convictions. If we are to reflect Christ in our marriages as a Gospel witness to the world we must keep in the front of our mind the love shown by Christ for His Bride in spite of the uselessness and unfaithfulness of those He chose and called to Himself.

Dr. Moore's essay is both a wonderful word and a tragic necessity.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

That creaking sound you hear.... me being stretched! My (used) copy of John Yoder's The Politics of Jesus came today. I am looking forward to reading it once I finish Donald Kraybill's The Upside-Down Kingdom. I expect to find some very challenging stuff in Yoder's book and a lot of stuff I flat our disagree with. Vehemently.

In the interest of fairness, I am looking to get a used copy of Peter Leithart's Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom. It is a newer book that in large part directly takes on Yoder and other critics of Constantine and the resulting world of Christendom. I expect to find a lot of stuff I disagree with here as well but given the importance of the topic and my involvement in the Under Christ's Archy project I think these are worthwhile books. I expect to find a place between Yoder and Leithart, a solid middle ground but who knows, I might come down more strongly one way or the other. The important thing for me is to think critically, read widely and avoid only reading from a narrow point of view on the "big issues" in the church. I look forward to reading and sharing from these books.

When rabid Calvinists (don't) attack!

I liked this interview and much of the commenting that followed this post from Ed Stetzer featuring an interview between Ed and Joe Thorn, Ed Stetzer - Joe Thorn and Angry (Fake) Calvinists. They discuss why it seems that there are an disporportionate number of "angry" Calvinists out there. I thought the brief interview was excellent and much of the commenting that followed was as well. As someone who holds to Calvinism proper and someone who long was an evangelist for Calvinism, I understand why the perception of angry Calvinists is out there because frankly there are a lot of people who fit that description. There are entire blogs and "ministries" that are focused on telling people that they are Calvinists and attacking anyone who is not. It is not helpful nor is it edifying but there is a wide enough audience to keep it going. Anyway, give Ed's post a look if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Showing Christ to your co-workers

Geoff Smith has posted a great little post on the Under Christ's Archy blog on how and why we should seek to demonstrate Christ in our workplace. As Geoff points out, where we work and those we work with is for many of us the largest audience most of us have and that is a great opprtunity to show people who we are and the One we follow. Please jump over and check out Geoff's post: Christ’s Archy and the Workplace

Just a short walk

Albert Mohler writes today on the importance of inerrancy, The Devil Is in the Details: Biblical Inerrancy and the Licona Controversy. Dr. Mohler is among the leading champions for inerrancy in the church. Given that questioning the validity and inerrancy of the Bible has become something of a badge of honor among some who are seeking to make their rejection of "fundamentalism" a sign of maturity, this is an important conversation. Of course when it comes to those passages that affirm their own personal preferences, they will die on those hills with the best of 'em.

As Dr. Mohler writes, the devil is in the details. Many people affirm the inerrancy of the Bible but many also inject qualifiers into that affirmation. Some don't seem to see a problem with that but I get concerned when we look at the Bible with out allegedly more advanced and wise modern eyes and declare certain sections to be less applicable today or completely irrelevant for modern believers. There are many, many Christians including some very "conservative" believers who want to affirm the hisotoricity of the resurrection but on the other hand reject the literal creation acount. That leads, I believe, to all sorts of mischief.

The argument often goes that "science", which of course is never wrong or politically motivated, proves that a literal treatment of the Creation account is impossible. So we just cast it aside so as not to offend the world. Of course those same scientists would just as firmly claim that dead men, in a grave for several days, don't get up and walk and talk. The same science that rejects the creation account rejects the resurrection but far too many of us have tried to have our cake and eat it to.

It is not very far. Just a little bit down the road. You can see one from the other. The question really is one of trust. Do we trust the "scientists"? Or do we trust the Bible?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Interesting thoughts on legacy churches

Check out Guy Muse's post today. He asks some very honest questions and offers some pretty straightforward suggestions. I wonder if anyone would even consider them? Read The M Blog: Legacy church services through simple church eyes

A strange and wonderful study in contrasts

A very heartwarming story from a recently returned visitor to Haiti. Check it out at Unexpected, and Unexplained Joy. You will be glad you did. It is hard to explain to someone who hasn't been there how a country can be simultaneously a disaster everywhere you look and yet home to such wonderful children.

Book Review: A Christian Manifesto

I have had a copy of Francis Schaeffer's A Christian Manifesto on my shelf for a while. I purchased a used copy of the original 1981edition from eBay and have been toting it around for years. I finally got around to reading it last week. It was about three years too late! A few years ago I would have affirmed a lot of what Schaeffer talks about. Today I find what he wrote to be misguided and perhaps in some areas a bit dangerous.

I found it troubling in the extreme that in his chapter on the use of force, Schaeffer seamlessly transitions from the American Revolution to Nazi Germany to abortion in the United States. Let me be clear that abortion in the United States is infanticide writ large and is murder most foul perpetrated daily on the most defenseless among us. Yet few Christians would advocate for killing abortionists, overcoming evil with evil. It is a far more cut and dried case than waging war on behalf of one nation-state against another nation-state where innocents will invariably be killed and yet we know that while we are called to strive for the unborn we are not called to gun down abortionists to do so. While Schaeffer is careful to not directly advocate for violence against abortionists, even he recognizes that his arguments could lead to an unhinged person doing something violent.

In other places Schaeffer repeatedly refers to Romans 13 but adds the caveat that only "just" governments that follow God's laws are to be submitted to. The glaring weakness in that argument is that the government in place when Romans 13 was written was....the Roman Empire. The Empire that conquered and occupied Israel, that crucified Christ and that would persecute Christians for many, many years. That was hardly a "just" government and Paul was clearly writing to the contemporary church and not just Christians in a future America. The notion that Romans 13 only applies to governments we decide are "just" is fraught with peril and is a convenient excuse to use force when sinful men deem it necessary, with theological cover built right in.

This was my first exposure to Schaeffer and I was thoroughly disappointed with his writing style as well as the substance of his argument. His arguments seem disconnected with Scripture in spite of the frequent appeals to Christian worldviews and ethics. There are plenty of references to the writings of various Founding Fathers and appeals to Lex Rex but very little real effort at engaging the text itself. Perhaps he did so elsewhere and assumed the reader was familiar with these works. In Schaeffer's A Christian Manifesto I recognize the seed of the movement we see today that is championing a return to a "Christian America" and that mixes political conservatism with Christianity into a seamless garment.  As I mentioned at the outset, this would have been a far more favorable review from me just a few years ago but as I slowly grow in maturity as a follower of Christ I have begun to realize that defending the American way of life and all of our cherished "rights" is not the calling of the church and should not be a priority for His people.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Which will it be?

Each and every follower of Christ must choose one or the other. 

Will it be the sword of vengeance?

Or will it be the towel and basin of service?

You cannot wield a sword while washing feet.

Which will it be?

Repost: An important reminder for followers of Christ

It has been ten years. Ten years ago I remember being at work when news started trickling in about an airline accident. I remember talking to my wife on the phone when the second plane hit and having that sinking realization that this was not an airline accident but an act of terrorism. I remember the impotent rage and the lurking fear knowing that my sister was working in downtown D.C. The days that followed were a blur of watching the news and the realization that a ragtag band of terrorists had pulled off an incredible attack.

Ten years ago I wanted blood. Within a short time of the attacks, I started applying for officer candidate school in the Air Force. I was only one perfunctory interview away, I had passed the tests, done the physicals, etc. I wanted to serve my country while we crushed these terrorists. I saw no contradiction with my primary identity as a follower of Christ and my zeal to defend my homeland. We decided against it because the pay cut was too severe and the required moves to disruptive (of course we have actually moved around more since then than we would have if I had been in the service...).

Times have changed. My post (see below) from last year is far more in line with my current thinking. I don't think followers of Christ should engage in a great deal of reliving the events of 9/11/01 today. Whipping up hatred will not bring back those who were lost. I remember vividly my grandparents hatred toward the Japanese decades after Pearl Harbor, long after the leaders of Japan who led their nation to war were long gone. The same with Germans. We have replaced "Japs" and "krauts" with "Muslim" and Nazism with "Islamofascism". I understand why unbelieving Americans react that way but as followers of Christ, aren't we called to a different standard and a higher calling?

What are your thoughts on the tenth anniversary of that tragic day and the decade of war that has followed?


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. (Rom 12:17-21)

We should never forget what happened on 09/11/2001 but neither should we set ourselves to seek vengeance for those events. The Gospel is never proclaimed faithfully by someone with a sword in their hand or screaming in hatred or burning books. Our first and highest duty is to Christ and His Kingdom, not the national security of America. We as a family will remember 9/11 today, not as a call to vengeance but repentance. We will pray today for Muslims, that Christ will be shown to them in all His glory by the humble and meek witness of His followers. We will also pray for the repentance of those who call for the death of unbelievers and seek to supplant God as the dispenser of justice.

Winning the war on terror will not win a single soul for Jesus Christ.