Friday, December 30, 2011

Apostles Only?

Felicity Dale posted a fascinating question on her blog yesterday: Was the Great Commission given only to the eleven disciples?

I like her answer!
I believe that all of us are called to be ambassadors, those who represent the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world. Obviously, how we do it, and what motivates us is important too.
I have heard the argument made in the past that the Great Commission was only for the apostles or at least is reserved for a few, properly ordained Christians. When I hear that, I just turn to the New Testament itself for proof that all Christians are called and "licensed" to preach the Gospel. Check out Acts 8:1-4 (emphasis added)

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Act 8:1-4)
Preaching the Gospel is not the privilege of a small sub-class of the church. It is the calling of every Christian. Of course we also have to keep in mind that when the Bible speaks of preaching, it is not talking about sermons delivered to the gathered church. There certainly are men who are recognized as elders who equip believers for the work of ministry so that the less mature become mature by observing the example of servant-leaders in the church. But spreading the Good News? That is for every born-again follower of Jesus Christ.

Don't let anyone tell you that you are not called to preach the Gospel if you are a Christian. Don't let some religious group tell you that you need special education or an ordination certificate or a "license" to preach the Gospel. The mission field is far too vast to have most of the church relegated to being spectators in the Great Commission.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year End Giving

It is nearly the end of 2011 and if you are like me and on lots of e-mailing lists, you probably are getting inundated with requests for last second gifts. Ligonier needs a quarter million. 9 Marks needs money. On and on and on. It is easy to just ignore them all and not worry about it. I hope you don't. What better way to close out 2011 and ring in the New Year than by contributing to the care for orphans in Haiti by making a tax deductible contribution that goes 100% to helping orphans rather than paying administrative costs?

I would ask you to consider yet again the Haiti Orphan Project. Why the Haiti Orphan Project? Check out this link to see what your donation can do for a child in need: Two Days to Make 2011 Year End Contribution

I just made a donation via PayPal and it took me all of 45 seconds. Not a huge amount of money but a sum that will go a long way toward making sure that these kids get the chance to hear about Christ, get an education, have a place to live and food to eat.

I know that there are lots of places to give in the next few days but I would ask you to consider carefully and prayerfully The Haiti Orphan Project.


The best prison has no bars

Imagine a prison that needs no guards or fences or gates. A prison where you don't have to worry about prisoners escaping because they don't even realize they are in prison in the first place and they kind of like it anyway. A prison like this exists. It is not in North Korea or China or Iran. It is all around us.

That is the argument being made by Eric Carpenter in a provocative post this morning: The Church Imprisoned. I imagine a lot of people will be offended that Eric compares institutionalized religion to believers in physical prisons around the world. But is a spiritual prison any less confining than a physical one? Give it a read with an open mind. I think he makes some good points....

Some use broomsticks...

Priests brawl in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity

Scuffles have broken out between rival groups of Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics in a turf war at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

Bemused tourists looked on as about 100 priests fought with brooms while cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas, on 7 January.

Palestinian police armed with batons and shields broke up the clashes
Previous clashes between the denominations which share the administration of the church have been sparked by perceived encroachments on one group's territory by another.

....while others use words or religious rules or traditions. Regardless, when Christians attack one another in front of the world in squabbles over territory, pride or rights it brings shame on the name of Christ. Undoubtedly these men thought they were being pious in defending their "territory"  and yet they were brawling in a shrine commemorating the birth of Christ, a birth heralded by the words: "on earth peace, good will toward men". I guess peace and goodwill unless you try cleaning on our sacred turf.

What a picture this sordid event is of the general disunity in the church, a disunity driven by money and prestige and power, all of the things that we are warned about in the New Testament that serve to divide the church.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Politics, Ron Paul, Israel and Division In the Church

Politics is said to make strange bedfellows. It also causes division like nothing else save perhaps religion (and sports depending on where you live). That is especially true in this day and age as we approach the Iowa caucuses and it is bleeding over into the church to a far greater extent that normal. Nowhere is this more apparent than in how Christians, especially Christians we would call conservative, evangelical Christians, react to one candidate in particular: Ron Paul.

It is no secret that I am supporting Dr. Paul but that is not why I am writing this. If you are interested in the reasons for my support for Ron Paul, check out The Arsenal of Liberty where I blog about politics and do so intentionally apart from my main blog. My concern here and why I am writing is my concern over how the candidacy of Dr. Paul is dividing the church, a division that is not caused by him but by the hyper-political nature of American evangelicalism coupled with the strong current of dispensationalism that exists in much of the church in America.

There is a segment of the church that sees support for Ron Paul, who is fairly unique among Republicans in his lukewarm support for the nation of Israel at least compared to any other nation, as somehow being anti-Semitic and therefore anti-God's covenant people. These brothers and sisters see a vote for Paul as an act of rebellion against God. There are also a lot of Christians who are, putting it mildly, rabid supporters of Ron Paul who get angry at any suggestion that someone else might be a better nominee. Over the last week or so I have seen an incredible amount of angry rhetoric on both sides, and I am afraid I have engaged in some of it, between people who are supposed to be on the same side (see for example this post from the Gospel Coalition Evangelicals, Race, and Politics that generated over 100 fairly strident comments on both sides of the RP Divide). Brothers this must not be so.

We cannot draw dividing lines in the church over secular American politics. 

Who wins the U.S. Presidential election in 2012 is not going to make or break the Kingdom of God. If you are my brother or sister in Christ, that trumps your political allegiance and mine. A political liberal who votes for Barack Obama and is a Christian is my brother. A staunch conservative who supports Ron Paul or Sarah Palin or heaven forbid Newt Gingrich but is not a Christian is not my brother and is instead someone I need to tell about Jesus.When Paul warned us about not being unequally yoked he wasn't talking about staying clear of lib'rals! We must be more concerned with our witness to the unbelieving world than we are about electoral victory and right now we are not comporting ourselves very well.

That does not of course mean that we must avoid civic involvement entirely. Just that we need to keep in mind that who we support politically has absolutely zero impact on who we will spend eternity with.

What can we learn from the great Christians of the past?

What can we learn from men like the Wesley's, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, George Muller, Jonathan Edwards?

Well quite a lot. That is why we love to read what they wrote. Many Christians today turn to these men when question comes up. What did Spurgeon think about Christmas? What did Calvin teach about the Lord's Supper?How did George Muller pray? Some of these men were some of the greatest thinkers in world history and what they wrote is precious to Christians today. Our faith does not exist in a vacuum and it didn't spring forth in America a few hundred years ago. It is an ancient faith with roots that run back thousands of years, even beyond the borth of Christ to Abraham, Moses and David.I praise God for these men throughout the ages and the record of their writings that we have today to learn from.

What can't we learn?

Well we can't learn much about what it means to be a Christian. Sure we can read a lot of what they wrote about how to walk, how to minister, how to be a father and husband. Simply put though we cannot learn in the way that is the most crucial, dare I say the most Biblical. The Christian life is not merely a set of doctrinal truths to be affirmed but is a life to be lived. A crucial part of that life is understanding the core doctrines of the church but many of the most important truths involve how we live, not what we believe. I would say that most Christians would affirm that but in pratice we seem locked into a manner of learning that is derived from our cultural expectations. In the West, we learn by lecture. Public schools where most of us spent 13 years of our formative years creates the expectation of learning by lecture and by study. That may be the most common way but is that the best way for a follower of Christ to learn how to follow Him?

When Paul wrote his epistles, he had the advantage of being an apostle, a witness of the risen Lord. Paul spoke and taught with authority and simply saying, "Because I said so", would probably be perfectly acceptable in his teaching. Yet while Paul did appeal to his authority as an apostle on occasion, he more often appealed to the example of his life, the manner of how he lived among believers.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:17)

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. (1 Thess 1:6-7)

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Tim 4:12)

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. (2 Thess 3:7-9)

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Heb 13:7 I know the author of Hebrews in not a settled matter but it fits with my general argument!)
Well sure but doesn't the Bible talk a lot about teaching and stuff? Absolutely! What does it mean to teach? Does it mean to deliver a lecture? To write a book? Those certainly are a type of teaching and they can be very valuable. No one loves doctrine more than I do and I love to read about, write about and argue about doctrine. Talks and books are very powerful tools for learning.

As powerful as they are, they cannot replace teaching by example. We are not learning how to perform brain surgery or how to build a nuclear reactor, something that requires very specific technical skills. We are learning to walk after Him. Imagine trying to describe to someone who has never walked or seen someone walking how a human being walks, how incredibly complex the process of nerves, blood, bones and muscle all working together following commands from the brain transmitted over a complex system that transforms a human being from stationary to in motion with almost no thought at all. On the other hand, I can show you how a human walks quite easily, all you need to do is watch me walk! I don't need to understand physiology to walk! When Paul and the other apostles and itinerant workers lived among the people they evangelized, I don't think they were working through new member classes or systematic theologies. They were living and working and serving alongside them (Phil 4:3) so that the newer believers could observe how Paul and the others lived.

We have much to learn from the great theologians of the past and should cherish what they have to teach us. We have as much to learn and more from our brothers and sisters who are living with us today. May we never get so caught up in looking to the church of the past that we lose sight of the church all around us!

The Gospel is the thing

An important reminder this morning from Eric Carpenter. It can be easy to get caught up in lots of dicsussions about lots of stuff and a lot of them don't amount to much but what really, really matters is where our focus should be. Read Eric's post: What Matters Most.

Our discussions about other issues like soteriology and the church and baptism and gender are important and we should have them but we all must be careful to not let the main thing get pushed aside.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Da Beard

Dave Black linked to an article about facial hair that was kind of fun: Beards: A Hairy Topic in My Household. Especially so since I have elected to grow a beard now that I am 40 something years of age (see below). This may be the first and last time I post a picture of myself on the blog. I don't need to make my brothers stumble out of jealousy for both my awesome blogging and my sheer masculine presence. FYI, I don't have a lazy eye, I am raising one eyebrow.

 In many cultures, beards are a sign of manliness. Among our Amish neighbors beards are only worn by married men and some of the older guys have some pretty phat beards. Like the old Amish guys I have an abundance of grey in my beard

Admit it. You can feel the virility coming at ya, right through the computer screen. OK, quit staring. You are starting to creep me out.

I kind of like it. It is sort of rugged looking and also kind of counter-cultural which I like, especially in a sanitized, suit and tie evangelical culture. Not sure my wife likes it much but of all the dumb stuff I have done in the course of our marriage, this is pretty far down the list.

Irony Alert

I held off posting this because of the Christmas spirit but now.. Pope calls for humility beyond Christmas 'glitter'
Pope Benedict XVI Saturday hailed Christ's humility, urging the faithful to look beyond the Christmas "glitter" and "enlightened reason", and issued a powerful message for peace.

"Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity," the pope told thousands at mass in Saint Peter's basilica.

"Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light," the 84-year-old pontiff said.
The message makes sense but the delivery does not, not from a man wearing costly attire and accepting the obsequiousness of others who bow before him, call him 'Holy Father' and kiss his ring. If there is anyone who embodies the polar opposite of simplicity and humility, it is the man who styles himself Pope Benedict.

Jesus had some sobering words for those who breezily make religious chatter but live lives in direct contradiction to the words they speak, those who live lives of opulence from the offerings of the poor and faithful.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you--but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Mat 23:1-12)
I don’t want this to be seen as an attack on Roman Catholics, many of whom are sincere and faithful followers of Christ. Frankly this makes me sick and it is hardly unique to Roman Catholicism. There is way too much chatter about service and humility among professing Christian leaders who live off the offerings of the sheep. Whether it is a charlatan like Benny Hinn or other prosperity preachers asking for donations that line their own pockets or a pope who dresses in finery that makes him look more like a Caesar of ancient Rome than the simple fisherman they claim to be the successors of, the tendency for organized religion to be used to steal from sincere followers of Christ is appalling.

The only way to combat this is to remove the influence of money on the church. Money for building projects, money for institutional preservation, money for clergy. All of it. Christians should give generously to spread the Gospel to those who have not heard and share unconditionally to meet the needs of those without food, shelter and clothing. That is it. Any other use of money is subject to the temptations of misuse, greed and envy.

Jesus taught that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and that is true even when that love of money is cloaked in empty religious piety.

Running out of people

I read a great essay from Mark Steyn, writing for National Review over the weekend: Elisabeth’s Barrenness and Ours. Steyn looks at the barrenness of Elisabeth in the Biblical account of the events leading up to the birth of Christ and places them in a modern context. I am quoting a large section here because it is just that good:
We now live in Elisabeth’s world — not just because technology has caught up with the Deity and enabled women in their 50s and 60s to become mothers, but in a more basic sense. The problem with the advanced West is not that it’s broke but that it’s old and barren. Which explains why it’s broke. Take Greece, which has now become the most convenient shorthand for sovereign insolvency — “America’s heading for the same fate as Greece if we don’t change course,” etc. So Greece has a spending problem, a revenue problem, something along those lines, right? At a superficial level, yes. But the underlying issue is more primal: It has one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet. In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren — i.e., the family tree is upside down. In a social-democratic state where workers in “hazardous” professions (such as, er, hairdressing) retire at 50, there aren’t enough young people around to pay for your three-decade retirement. And there are unlikely ever to be again.

Look at it another way: Banks are a mechanism by which old people with capital lend to young people with energy and ideas. The Western world has now inverted the concept. If 100 geezers run up a bazillion dollars’ worth of debt, is it likely that 42 youngsters will ever be able to pay it off? As Angela Merkel pointed out in 2009, for Germany an Obama-sized stimulus was out of the question simply because its foreign creditors know there are not enough young Germans around ever to repay it. The Continent’s economic “powerhouse” has the highest proportion of childless women in Europe: One in three fräulein have checked out of the motherhood business entirely. “Germany’s working-age population is likely to decrease 30 percent over the next few decades,” says Steffen Kröhnert of the Berlin Institute for Population Development. “Rural areas will see a massive population decline and some villages will simply disappear.”

If the problem with socialism is, as Mrs. Thatcher says, that eventually you run out of other people’s money, much of the West has advanced to the next stage: It’s run out of other people, period.
We are rapidly becoming in the West a childless culture. A culture that see children as a burden or obligation rather than a joy and a blessing. As women are encouraged to delay or eschew childbearing and modern medicine continues to extend life spans, we are becoming a culture with more grandparents than grandchildren. America is lagging Europe here, as we lag so many other cultural declines where Europe is the undisputed leader but that is largely thanks to our stubborn religious heritage. Each year sees fewer and fewer Americans getting married and those that do marry do so later in life and put off raising a family until the very last second, often waiting too long which then necessitates artificial methods to conceive.

On our current trajectory we are going to be a country that builds nursing homes while shuttering schools, a bankrupt country at that, as a shrinking pool of workers tries to support unsustainable social spending on the elderly. Of all of the threats to American prosperity, demographics is one of the greatest and the most subtle. It is tragically ironic that one of the signs of our cultural “progress” will ultimately be the source of our cultural destruction.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What a difference a year makes!

Last year on Christmas Day we were halfway moved from Michigan to Indiana. I had spent the entire day Christmas Eve loading, trucking and unloading our stuff in pretty cold weather to our new house and would spend the day after Christmas doing the same. We got together around a foot tall artificial Christmas tree and opened a couple of gifts in an otherwise mostly empty room. Later my wife and I went to see a movie because the stress of the move was so great.

Today? My house is still mostly quiet. A couple of kids are awake because they are sick but the rest are still sleeping soundly. Everyone is tired and not feeling well but we can just enjoy spending the morning together. We are probably not "going to church" this morning and I don't feel even a little bit bad about that. It is just nice to be with my wife and our children. We have a sense of permanence, of "home" here. It has been a great blessing to have come to know so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ in our new home over the last year. We have a house full of kids and dogs and cats and a little farm to work and enjoy. I am very happy and content. God has been good to us in so many ways and it is my prayer that we extend that same love and mercy and grace to others.

Regardless of whether you do or do not celebrate Christmas, these words still hold incredible meaning for all followers of Christ everywhere:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa 9:6-7)
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My favorite Christmas verse

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Repost: On authority or the lack thereof

This is something I wrote a few years ago and I have been thinking more about this idea of "authority" and leadership in the church so I thought I would repost it to spark some conversation...

I wrote last month:

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

That brings us to the mantra of “submission to authority”. That seems to be the solution proposed in many circles to the problem of individualism in the church, i.e. submit to the men in charge of the local church. It is the "Ninth Mark of a Healthy Church Member" for crying out loud!

Going a step further, it is generally considered an “either or” proposition. Either you accept authority as it is traditionally configured or you don't accept leadership and authority at all. It is just a given that the model of authority we see in the local church is the way it is supposed to be, without question. I have been accused and I have seen similar accusations thrown that about essentially assert that questioning the traditional systems of church government is tantamount to rejection of authority, sort of a Christian anarchy. I reject that dichotomy as false on its face.

I have no issue with what the Bible says about authority. The Word of God is authoritative (2 Tim 3:16). Christ is the head of the church (Eph 5: 23-24) and all authority on heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matt 28:18). We should submit to those in civil authority (Rom 13:1). We also see places where Christ gives authority to cast out unclean spirits to His apostles (Mark 6:7, Luke 10: 19). We do see a passage in Hebrews that speaks of submitting to leaders, Hebrews 13:7:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

So that seems pretty straight forward. Hang on though. Who are these “leaders”? These leaders are spoken of earlier in this chapter in verse 7:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Heb 13:7)

So our “leaders” are identified as those who spoke (past tense?) to us the Word of God. I would expect that for most Christians the guys in leadership at their local church are not the ones who preached the Gospel to them when they were converted. In my case it was Rev. Sheldon Hale at First Baptist Church in Walton, Kentucky. So does that mean that I should only submit to him? That is kind of hard since he is no longer at First Baptist Church in Walton and I haven't been there in years. My point is that we read “leaders” and apply that to “pastors” in the local church. Also, how do they lead? We are to "consider the outcome of their way of life" and we are to "imitate their faith". They lead us by example as well as by teaching and we are to imitate them. This fits neatly with Ephesians 4: 11-16 where we see the goal of leadership in the church is not to be a permanent division but helping others to achieve the same level of maturity as those more mature in the faith. The goal of leadership in the church is not leadership itself but leading others to maturity in the faith (see Preaching Yourself Out Of A Job). Now I may be wrong about the interpretation of Hebrews 13 but I don't think it is as cut-and-dried as it is made out to be.

Hebrews 13 is hardly the only place we read about submitting in the Bible. In various other places we are to submit to one another (Eph 5:21). We are to submit to God (James 4:7). Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22-24), children are to submit to their parents (Eph 6:1) and slaves to their masters (Eph 6: 5-8). We are to be “subject to” those who are serving the church and to all who are “fellow workers and laborers” (1 Cor 16: 15-18), That is a lot of submitting going on. Is that a defense of the traditional idea of submitting to local church leaders? Eh. The “support” for submission to local church authorities seems pretty flimsy in spite of centuries of tradition.

Again, I am not questioning authority per se. I just question whether we express the Biblical concept of authority properly in the local church. In traditional parlance, those having authority in the church are the leaders of the local body, who have authority over us based on our “membership” in that local body and by virtue of their “calling”. “Calling” is church speak for someone being selected based on a vote or appointment by an ecclesial authority. So what this boils down to is that we are supposed to submit to authorities, which typically means the men who have been elected, by whatever criteria, in the local church. The relative merit of one local assembly as opposed to another comes down to the men elected to lead that assembly.

Is that proper? Is it Biblical? Is that what the Bible means by “those in authority”? An authority based on what? A seminary degree, a solid work history as a pastor and a “calling” after a few interviews and sample sermons? I think an enormous leap has been made here. This begs the question: what are the marks of a man called to lead? More to the point, what do we view as the marks of a man called to lead? I am afraid that it may be based on many things that may make sense to us from a traditional and pragmatic standpoint more than from a Biblical standpoint. Being a good preacher, a good manager/organizer, having the proper experience and education, etc are all well and good but the picture we get in the Bible is a bit more complex and counter-intuitive. More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


As someone who is vertically challenged, I give this movie a preemptive two thumbs up

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The servant is greatest of all

Good post by Eric Carpenter on the supremecy of service in the church, Service is Supreme. Lots of Christians are told they are not "qualified" or "called" to certain vocational ministry roles but every Christian is both qualified and called to be a servant and there is no greater calling in the church!

Fore? Oh!

Ah yes, ‘tis that semi-official national holiday known as my birthday. Today is an especially auspicious event as I turn the “Big 4-0” today. I don’t even remember turning 30 but hitting 40 certainly seems to be generating more melancholy. Given my eating habits I was never quite certain of ever living to 40 in the first place so I have already outlived my own assumed life expectancy.

As I look back over the last decade I have piles of regrets, some minor and some quite major. I can’t say that I have been an especially faithful follower of Christ in many respects. Sure I read a lot of theology books and I attended a lot of cool conferences and did a lot of teaching and “preaching” in church but in the areas that really count like loving my neighbor, shepherding my family and serving those in need I really missed the mark. I realize of course that my righteousness before a holy and sovereign God is not reliant upon my own efforts but I also recognize the dangers of and my tendency toward antinomianism in my own life.

Even in my blogging there has been an enormous shift from my first post on March 19th, 2004 to today. Seven and a half years ago I was quite a bit more concerned with Reformed theology, why infant baptism was wrong and why invading Iraq was right. Today I am more concerned with expressing good theology through unity, I still think it is wrong to “baptize” infants and I wish we had never gone into Iraq. I hope that the tone of my blog is more gracious, although I always reserve the right to be snarky and sarcastic where appropriate. Not everyone will agree with me on my timing of course!

As much as I have matured, I am often still grieved at how far I fall short and thank God for His grace toward me. I am not any more deserving of that grace today than I was a decade ago and my paltry baby steps toward maturity in the faith seem awfully pitiful. Through continued prayer, study and fellowship it is my fervent hope that I will grow closer to Him in my walk and my heart.

Anyway, I enjoyed my complimentary birthday breakfast at our favorite little family restaurant with my wife and oldest daughter this morning, I get to come to work to provide for my family today and tonight I get to minister at the pregnancy resource center. I will return home this evening to a house full of children who have a nice place to live, plenty of clothing to wear and always enough food to eat. All more than I deserve. Here’s to the next decade, may it bring more glory to God than the last and may He increase while I decrease.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hell is real and we should take no satisfaction in that

Senator John McCain seems quite pleased at the prospect that the deceased former dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il is bound for an eternal hell. From Politico...
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appears to have no doubt where deceased North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il may have ended up in the afterlife.

“I can only express satisfaction that the Dear Leader is joining the likes of Qaddafi, Bin Laden, Hitler and Stalin in a warm corner of hell,” the Arizona senator – not one to be wishy-washy with his words – said in a statement Monday.
A professed Christian expressing satisfaction that someone is in hell? That is simply grotesque. I am reasonably sure that the individuals Senator McCain mentioned are likely to spend eternity in hell. I am 100% sure that there was (or is) a place right alongside them for John McCain, a place that he will avoid only through the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. Not because he is a Republican or a "war hero". John McCain is not less deserving of hell than Kim Jong-Il or Osama bin Laden and being an enemy of the United States does not make one more deserving of hell than someone who wore the uniform of the U.S.A.

For the first time I am ashamed of my vote for John McCain in 2008.

Asking Questions Is OK!

I read something I liked a lot this morning from Mark Altrogge. Mark’s post, It’s Not Wrong To Question Your Pastor, makes the point that it is not only OK but healthy to compare what you are taught with Scripture and
It’s not wrong see if what a pastor preaches lines up with the Bible. A pulpit doesn’t make you infallible.

Some pastors give the impression that to question them is insubordination. Pastors aren’t a different breed of Christians, but sinners just like the people they preach to. I always try to discourage people from calling me “Pastor Mark” or “Reverend” (though I will accept “Your Highness” from my wife). I tell them “pastor” is just my job description. I say if you’re going to call me Pastor Mark, then I’m going to call you Carpenter Bob.

I like that he recognizes that the laity are not “subordinates” to the pastor. I also really like that he discourages people from addressing him by the title “pastor”. That drives me crazy, especially when people use their title in their facebook profile or when commenting on the internet, as if we are supposed to give them special deference because of their job title. "Well sure your comment was inane but you have 'pastor' in front of your name so I will keep quiet!". Baloney!

I am more concerned that this is even an issue, that Christians are uncertain if they are “allowed” to question their pastors. I posted this comment on Mark’s page:
What should trouble us is that this is even an issue, that the church culture often leads to Christians feeling as if they are not permitted to raise questions of their pastors. Elders are supposed to be servant-leaders who equip the less mature members for the work of ministry and provide examples in their lives of how Christians should live. I work for a very large corporation and wouldn't even think of calling our CEO and questioning him but we should never have that same distance between the servants we recognize as elders and the rest of the Body.

Where do we get the notion that holding the title of “pastor” or “elder” makes one above question? Certainly Christians shouldn’t be in the habit of nitpicking and seeking ways to tear someone down but in my experience in the church it is far more likely that Christians feel intimidated into silence rather than emboldened to badger their pastor with questions. I recall quite clearly when my friend James asked a very pertinent and respectful question to the pastor of a church we both attended. As soon as he mentioned he had a question, you could see this pastor tense up and assume a defensive posture. His question was pretty much dismissed by this man. Needless to say neither of us attended that particular gathering for much longer.

We are supposed to be a family, a family that believes in a priesthood of all believers. A family can’t function if some brothers are intimidated into silence by their more elder brothers. If a man claims to be an elder but sees your questions as impertinent or insubordinate, he isn’t much of an elder and probably isn’t someone you should be following in the first place.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Education, work and skillz

More about work. Sorry! This post is something I have been hashing over all week and some of the concepts well before that. Some basic facts to begin with from a Biblical standpoint. I think it is quite clear that the Bible honors work. The Proverbs are full of praise for the one who works and conversely chastisement for the sluggard…
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6-11)
In the New Testament the apostle Paul often spoke about work. In his final tearful words to the Ephesian elders in Miletus Paul said….
I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33-35)
Paul saw work as something honorable because it didn’t burden anyone else and makes it possible for Christians to use the fruit of their labor to care for the weak and needy. Paul, if anybody could make this claim, didn’t need to work a job because of his status as an elder but he seemed to be more concerned with his example than his rights. So he worked, and from what we read in Scripture worked quite hard. Conversely Paul had little good to say about those who refused to work…
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
Note that Paul is not chastising the poor, many of whom did (and do) work hard for little gain. This is not his “let them eat cake” moment. He was instead speaking of those who can work but refuse to. Paul himself saw working as not only a way to earn money to help care for the poor and a way to avoid a stumbling block to the Gospel (1 Cor 9:12) but also a form of discipleship, providing an example for other brothers and by extension for us on how we should live, i.e. earning our bread by the labor of our hands. That brings us to today, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, a nation with a trillion dollars in student loan debt and millions of Americans out of work.

I am one of the many Americans who have a four year degree in something with essentially no directly applicable vocational skills. I majored in Political Science and minored in History and from all of those classes I sat through (or didn’t), the books I read, the papers I wrote, etc. I got virtually nothing of any value in the “real world”. I have learned more about both history and politics in the years since earning my degree simply by reading decent books for minimal or no cost. In the eyes of our culture I have accomplished something quite special, something that allegedly sets me apart from those who merely graduated from high school. This mindset translates into the work world. Without a college degree, many employment opportunities are simply out of reach. The jobs I apply for almost universally list some iteration of “four year college degree” as a minimum requirement. How in the world can you be expected to possess the skills to sit in a cubicle and reply to emails without a semester or two of Women’s Studies or Sociology?

I have read two news articles in the last week that raise important questions regarding the sacred cow of college. The first was on NPR, Airplane Mechanics: A Farm Team For Everyone Else? , and the topic was the shortage of aircraft mechanics around the country and it turns out that it’s quite a severe shortage.
There are hundreds of open positions for skilled blue-collar workers and airplane mechanics — and it's been this way for years. In this economy, how can that be possible?

"These are very technically qualified positions. It isn't something that you can take an individual right out of high school and teach them how to do it," says Anita Brown, head of human resources at AAR's Oklahoma City facility for the past 28 years.

Brown says airplane mechanics at her company start earning between $12 and $15 an hour, while veterans who have their FAA Airframe and Powerplant licenses top out at $28 an hour.

Yet AAR can't keep these positions filled. Brown says the company has at least 600 open jobs. "I know Indianapolis needs about 283 [and] we're just shy of needing 200 people. They also need people in our Miami facility; we're a worldwide organization," she says.

$28 per hour is $58,000 per year. The skills you learn as an aircraft mechanic are also not only useful in maintaining aircraft but also in many other industries: metalworking, electrical work, welding, etc. Our local community college, Ivy Tech, actually offers an associates degree program in Aviation Maintenance Technology. Tuition at the Ivy Tech is $107.80 per credit hour and the program can be completed with as few as 72 credit hours, or total tuition expenses of $7,761.60. One year at Indiana University is $9,524 and I am not sure what percentage of IU bachelor degree grads make $60,000 per year anytime soon after graduation.

Then I read this morning about the looming shortage of machinists from Fox News,
On the Job Hunt: Machinists in High Demand:
America's economy was forged by machinists. But today, a quarter of the nation's welders, engineers and steelworkers are getting ready to retire. And as budget-strapped school districts cut shop classes, fewer young people are entering the trade.

The result is a shortage of skilled workers to build and run the machines that run our lives.

"There's a huge demand for machinists," says veteran machinist Louis Quindlin." They're needed both in manufacturing, and the industrial maintenance side, which is repairing equipment, either pumps or valves, for refineries, water companies, waste water companies..."

The article makes an important point, namely that a lot of the skilled machinists are rapidly approaching retirement age and very few kids today have much in the way of marketable skills to replace them. Someone needs to pay for Medicare and Social Security in the future and a shrinking pool of workers making low wages in service industry jobs for a ballooning population of retirees is untenable.

Twenty years ago when I was in school, we offered many vocational programs but even then those programs were turning into holding tanks for trouble-makers and kids who just didn’t make the academic cut. In my day those were the kids with the long hair, jean jackets and cigarettes. Today high schools are almost entirely focused on preparing students for college. People don’t move to a school district because of an awesome welding program, they move to the school district that has the best college preparatory programs. I am not even sure if schools still offer shop, woodworking and home economics classes because they are so concerned with state achievement scores and getting graduates accepted to college.

What really stunned me was this stat:
From refineries to manufacturing plants, companies are hiring-- with starting pay as high as $30.00 an hour.

"A good, top level machinist can actually earn more than a manufacturing engineer these days," says Don Castillo, a manufacturing manager at FM Industries in Fremont, California.
$30 an hour? That is huge, $60,000 per year. Not a lot of people make that much per year, even people with college degrees. By the way, our local community college also offers a plethora of programs in applied technology leading to careers as machinists and if you live near a decent sized town, you probably have a community college that also offers these programs for a fraction of the cost and half of the time of a bachelors’ degree.

Most kids, in fact the overwhelming majority, are not going to grow up to be doctors. Everyone knows that. We certainly don’t need more lawyers. Accounting and actuarial work is always needed but is painfully boring and being an actuary especially requires serious math skills. Engineering and the various medical professions (like physical therapy, nursing, etc.) are in demand but are also academically rigorous and medical professions like nursing often require weird work schedules. Most degree programs at traditional four year universities have minimal application in the work world and based on what I have observed having a liberal arts degree is no longer any sort of indicator of a person’s ability to think critically, speak in public or solve problems. It is mostly a measure of their ability to make it through four years of schooling interspersed with lots of drinking.

So why are parents not encouraging our kids to learn a trade of some sort? It is cheaper than college, pays well and is in demand. What is the problem? Are we averse to having our kids work with their hands?

In a way I think it is exactly that. Going to college has been painted as an integral part of the “American dream”, the gateway to middle-class life. High schools, especially in the suburbs, proudly (or not) wave around the stats of how many of their graduates go to college. Colleges feed this with academic reports that paint dire pictures of life without a four year degree. When you lump all of the high school grads or even high school drop-outs in with those with some sort of technical training, you are going to get skewed numbers. As the articles above demonstrate, young adults with some minimal training in a marketable field are going to live quite comfortably without the expense of a college “education”.

There is a theory called the military-industrial complex that suggests that an unhealthy relationship exists between the military, the government and the industrial world that supplies armaments. I think there is a lot of truth to that idea and that something similar exists in the world of “education” where the education establishment keeps pushing the idea that you must go to college to be successful which in turn leads to demands to the government to “make education affordable”, a notion they accomplish by making it possible for kids with no income and no credit to borrows tens of thousands of dollars in unsecured student loans which in turn allows those same education institutions to keep raising costs, thus defeating the notion of making college education affordable. As the chart to the right shows, the cost of college is exploding compared to the rest of the economy but no one bats an eye until the student loans need to be repaid and the early twenty-something with $100,000 in debt, a degree in Art History and a minimum wage job becomes a vagrant protestor with Occupy Wall Street.

Sending your kids to community college to learn a marketable skill is not failing as a parent. We have spoken with our oldest son about getting a two year degree in some sort of computer field, getting a job and letting his employer pay for the bachelors’ degree. I would be just as fine with my sons getting some sort of applied technical degree instead of a degree in psychology or English. Just because someone gets dirty at work and wears jeans instead of khakis doesn’t mean they are a failure. Maybe we should be less eager to have our kids get expensive sheepskin status symbols and more eager to have them learn marketable skills? Instead of leaving school and entering adulthood with a six figure debt load, aren’t many of kids better off with no debt and a marketable skill?

More on work

Here is another video I liked from Doug WIlson.

Academics & Work: Has the church damaged the Protestant doctrine of vocation (Part 8 of 11) from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

I especially liked his line that we seem to see the non-clergy, i.e. the laity, as "breeders and tithers", a necessary evil in the church.

That is actually quite good. Is that how we sometimes see "regular" Christians, as merely pew fillers and tithe payers, an audience for the preacher to preach to? Don't we see the pastor and missionary as somehow better or more important than the rest of us? Keep in mind that Doug is a pretty traditional guy and still he sees this.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This illustrates it perfectly

Check this out from Pursuing Titus 2...
By now the outrage has gone viral. Suze Orman told a young couple that they couldn’t possibly afford for the wife to stay home when they have another baby because, among other things, when they have a new baby, their expenses “will go up $700-$1000 a month” due to having to pay for “diapers” and “this and that.” I don’t want to go into the whole financial situation of this particular couple (like the fact that they are already spending more than the two of them make together and, therefore, probably need way more help than this post is going to provide), and I don’t really want to criticize Suze Orman. Maybe she just pulled that number out of her hat, but also maybe it reflects the misguided norm of our Western consumer culture as applied to babies. And that’s what I really want to talk about. That $700-$1000 a month somehow sounded reasonable enough to throw out there on national television, and the young couple (who already had one baby) meekly nodded their heads. Plenty of seasoned thrifty family types are arguing that it’s ridiculously high. But I, being a details person, wanted to explore how high it really is and how much better a creative family could do.
She goes into a great deal of detail and is quite reasonable I think. You should read the whole thing to see how silly and dangerous Ms. Orman's statement truly is. We are not as thrifty as Mrs. Parunak but no way adding a new baby added $700-$1000 per month. Did our kids wear brand new clothes? Nope. Did my boys occasionally wear pink jammies? Yep! A lot of the expenses that people think are "necessities" are really just frivolous. Now some kids have special needs and cost a lot more but those same kids are the ones who need their mom more than others.

So many families are indoctrinated with the dogma that you simply cannot afford to have children and if you do you can't have very many of them and if you somehow manage to have a kid or two there is no way you can stay home.

It is a lie.

Worse it is a lie swallowed hook, line and sinker by many a Christian. Enough is enough! You can have as many children as God blesses you with. You can stay at home with them and raise them up. You can make ends meet and make sure you kids have everything they need. You can do it!

The vocation of motherhood

Doug Wilson has a series of videos on the theology of work that I just stumbled across and they are pretty interesting, coming as they do from a particular worldview and doctrinal position. The most recent one is fascinating, an interview between Doug and his daughter Rachel Jankovic on Motherhood and Work: The Vocation of Motherhood. There is a lot that I disagree with Doug Wilson on, from the role of elders to infant baptism, but I loved this interview...

1--The Vocation of Motherhood from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

I found one line she said to be very interesting. She suggested that the work of staying at home is what drives women to the workplace (at around 1:17). That may not be true in every case but I can't tell you how many times women I work with have made remarks about there being no way they could deal with staying at home and caring for their kids "full-time". When I tell co-workers that my wife stays at home with our eight kids and also homeschools them, they get a look of horror on their face, as if somehow there is something intellectually stimulating and satisfying about working in a cubicle festooned with pictures of your children. 

As a culture we have so stigmatized motherhood as a vocation and calling and created such a horrifying picture of stay at home motherhood of the constantly weary, covered in drool and wearing frumpy clothes mom that we have made mothers afraid of motherhood. Rather than women seeing motherhood and child-rearing as the preferred state to be abandoned only as a last resort, women seem to default to working outside of the home and only reluctantly coming back home when they simply can't afford the child care any longer.

The devaluation of motherhood and marriage is all around us. It was reported yesterday that the percentage of married people in America has hit an all-time low and is heading for minority status. I am hardly surprised that is the case, in fact I am a little surprised that it is not even worse. Why would we expect unregenerate people to embrace an institution created by God for His people and as a picture of His Son and the church indefinitely? What troubles me is that the church, rather than standing in opposition to this trend and seeing family, marriage, motherhood and fatherhood as opportunities to witness to the world instead seems more interested in embracing and outdoing the world at its own game. Some of the most popular women writers in Christian circles seem to take delight in denigrating and mocking the Scriptures because they find that Biblical teaching on motherhood interferes with their own "gifts" and ambitions.

We should recognize and honor motherhood as the high calling that it is, in a realistic fashion recognizing how very difficult it often can be, but supporting and equipping women in this great service to God and the church. We hardly need yet another writer telling women that they need to be more than "just a mother" or "just a wife", as if those are degrading and unimportant things. Of course we should also realize that in this world merely telling young women to stay home and let us know how that works out for them is not proper either. The church exists in large part to equip every member for maturity and ministry and few ministries require more equipping, encouraging and maturity than the raising of children. The church should be pulling out all of the stops to encourage young women to embrace being a wife and mother but also making sure that we are supporting them in that vocation with love and wisdom, especially from older women (Titus 2:3-5). Unfortunately fewer and fewer older women have much experience in this area as more and more of the older generation of women have spent their mothering years working outside of the home.

Being a mother is every bit as important as being a missionary to far away lands even though few churches will put your picture up on their missions board. I wish they would! I would love to see a bulletin board in the foyer of churches with pictures of moms and their kids at home. We should love them and support them. I think it is a far better use of our offerings to financially help out a family in need so mom can stay home than it is to pay for another professional minister or supporting some denominational bureaucracy.

Honor moms. Support them. Love and encourage them. Nothing will have a greater impact on the future witness and mission of the church in America than strong families.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Repost: Gospel Grocery Stores

I put this up last year and I think it helps to get at the way different "forms" of church function in either helping or hindering the intent of the church gathering....
An interesting story recounted in Total Church:

The Bible calls the church a family. It describes the church as a community that shares together. The church is a body whose members perfectly fit together. We belong to one another. Our friend's church was neither a family or a community. It had no vision for involvement in its immediate community. The truth is, it was not really a church according to any New Testament definition. It was a preaching center. You drove to their large parking garage for your weekly dose of religion just as you traveled to the out-of-town supermarket for your weekly groceries.

(Total Church, pg. 194)

That definition describes an awful lot of churches, big and small. We have had a similar experience in a large Baptist church in northern Kentucky. We sat in the same place every week, down to sitting in the same pew, and we sort of recognized the people around us. The people on the other side of the "sanctuary"? Not a clue. They were anonymous people in their Sunday best. We kind of knew the people in our segmented (younger married adults w/ kids) Sunday school class but virtually everybody else was just an anonymous guy in a suit or woman in a dress we jostled with in the foyer while collecting our kids from the nursery. We went there because they had a big youth and childrens program and because the preaching was consistently decent (unlike our prior smaller church where the preaching was poor at best, the fellowship was sketchy and the only kids in the church were ours and the pastors).

Why do we go to grocery supermarkets? Why is there a new Super Wal-Mart springing up daily? Because it is easy, quick and convenient. We go to a supermarket instead of raising our own food because it costs us less, it is predictable and it takes less time. Rather than work all week to grow, harvest and prepare our own food, we go to the store and get what we need in one fell swoop. I can walk into a store right now and in half an hour get enough food, in sufficient variety, to feed my entire family of ten for a week. I don’t know the other people shopping and I don’t need to because knowing them is irrelevant to what I am there for.

The church is treated much the same. We can get all of our religion in one stop and it only costs us some time and a check in the offering plate. I can go to one of dozens of local traditional churches on Sunday morning and drop my little ones off in a nursery to have a little activity but more importantly keep them out of my hair so I can “worship”. My middle school kids have classes, my high schoolers get classes with a hip youth pastor. My wife and I can go to a prepared Sunday school class and then sit in a pew for an hour, sing a few songs, listen to a prepared talk and then head out in time to be home for lunch.

Many (most?) institutional churches are grocery stores for religion. Quick, easy, in and out and plenty of different ones to choose from. This one makes you mad? Go shop somewhere else. Your only attachment is selection, price and service or in the case of a local church music style, preacher and denomination. It makes little difference to me if I go to Wal-Mart, Meijer or Krogers for my groceries. It impacts the store but only a little. There are lots of local churches I could go to that would be the same way, ranging from hip churches with cool music to somewhat more traditional, orthodox churches. No one would notice us if we were careful (although with eight kids, when we show up at a church it is like chum in shark waters and it is hard to blend in). We could show up a few Sundays at one church and then go somewhere else for a few weeks. We could maintain a great deal of anonymity beyond a smile and handshake.

The church should be more like a community garden and less like a supermarket. That might mean we need to spend a lot of time together. We might get a bit dirty in the process and there are going to be disappointments. Things might not turn out like we hope. If you have a garden and plant tomatoes, sometimes some of the tomatoes will have bugs in them or turn brown or fall off the vine before they are ripe. Sometimes it rains too much and sometimes it rains too little. If you go to the grocery store, you can pick just the best looking tomatoes and pretty much know what you are getting. It may not taste as good as a home-grown tomato and it might have been soaked in pesticides before it was shipped from California to Michigan but it is predictable. We demand too much predictability in the church, we want to know when to show up, what to expect and in what order. Deviate from the “order of worship” in the bulletin and people will be in mass confusion. Lots of people defend the institutional church by pointing it out that it is full of imperfect people but we try to make the gathering of the church as homogenous and easy as possible.

Gardening is hard work, dirty and unpredictable but the rewards are often wonderfully and immeasurably better than “store bought” produce. The church works in much the same way. Unplanned and unscripted is scary because you don’t know what you might get but I would much rather have somebody stumble over a thought or endure periods of silence than sit through another carefully scripted service designed to deliver the maximum religion for the minimum cost. The church is not something we can cram into a couple of hours a week and the goal of church should not be to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can mark a check box on our religion shopping list. Sermon? Check. Singing at least three songs? Check. Shaking the preachers hand? Check. Out at noon and lunch away from the rest of the church by 12:30? Check.

The church is not a list to be completed, it is a life to be lived with one another.

Yet Another Reason Politics and Faith Don't Mix

The political world is abuzz with news that a staffer for Newt Gingrich referred to mormonism as a cult during a focus group, a statement that led to his firing from the campaign of Newt Gingrich, moral paragon. This is reported in the Iowa Republican but it is national news. From their webpage...
A participant in a focus group organized by and McClatchy newspapers lost his job because of comments he made during the event last week. Shortly after participating in the focus group, Craig Bergman was hired as the Iowa political director for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

The controversial comment came in regards to Mitt Romney’s prospects, if he captured the GOP nomination. “There is a national pastor who is very much on the anti-Mitt Romney bandwagon,” Bergman said. “A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon…There’s a thousand pastors ready to do that.”
There is an awful lot going on with that statement and none of it good.

First and foremost. Mormonism is a cult. In terms of its theology as well as its overtly cultic practices mormonism is a textbook example of a pseudo-Christian pagan cult. That is obvious to any student of that religious group but it certainly is not something that is going to be acceptable in the secular world of politics. In order to navigate the world of national politics with any success, you need to be very careful about what you say and calling the faith of a candidate a "cult", even if it is true, is simply unacceptable. Ironically the man Mr. Bergman signed on to work for prior to being fired is a Roman Catholic convert, a religious organization that long was considered "the whore of Babylon" by most Protestants (see the sort of non-PC language used to describe Rome in the older Protestant confessions and creeds, they make calling mormonism a cult sound like a Hallmark card)

The other biggie is the notion that God is more concerned with American politics than He is almost any other issue. I am not sure that the Presidential election season in America is more important to God than the ruler of Saudi Arabia or the mayor of a town in Japan. Far too many "pastors" seem more interested in who wins the White House in 2012 than they are in the lost, the hungry, the orphan and the widow right in their own neighborhood.

Being entangled with the world is more than cable TV and video games. Some of our deepest entanglements with the world happen in the world of politics but it is far easier to rail against Harry Potter from the pulpit than to risk insulting influential church members by adopting political neutrality. That doesn't mean that government and politics are without value but we need to always keep in mind that the Kingdom of God doesn't rise or fall based on the GOP nominee for President.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Even more on giving

Given the last few posts on giving, I think this is a good time to link back to Alan's posts on giving in the church from last October....


Christians giving directly to others because of need

Christians giving indirectly to others because of need

Christians giving to other Christians who are traveling from place to place

Christians giving to other Christians in response to some service

I think Alan does a great job in breaking down the way the church gave/shared with one another in the New Testament. Take a look at his series and ask if that is what we see in sharing and giving in the church today?

People are not budget items

I mentioned yesterday that world famous Canadian blogger Tim Challies is doing a series on giving in the church. As I expected most of it is little more than a regurgitation of the cultural understanding of “give to the local church to support the local church” dogma. Today he covered the “where” and “how much” question and his answer and more importantly his rationale for answering “where” with “the local church” was quite telling. His first two points were not terrible…
First, the church appoints certain people to be aware of need and responsive to it. In most churches this is the job of deacon who are called and equipped to be both proactive and responsive when it comes to need.

Second, the leaders of the church can identify the most important needs. The elders and deacons work together to identify and determine how to meet whatever needs arise.
That seems reasonable. We see that the early church sold their belongings and gave them to the apostles’ feet to be doled out….
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.(Acts 4:34-35 ESV)
I would point out that elders in local churches today are not exactly the same as the apostles but that is a minor quibble. Now I have never been a deacon in a church except in the sense of deacons being servants and I certain strive to serve wherever I am but I wonder how accurate the assumption is that, i.e. that the deacons are aware of the needs of the church and ensuring that they are being met. I question this for a couple of reasons, one being that in most churches we have been associated with there is not the level of close fellowship that would be required to really know what the needs of every Christian in a local church are (plus our American pride that prevents us from seeking help from friends). The other reason is that in a church budget, benevolence or mercy ministry is but one line item and is rarely (again in my experience) a very substantial one compared to clergy salaries and building maintenance. Still, those first two points seem defensible from Scripture. His third point is that often more can be accomplished by big gifts to a relatively small number of ministries, which seems to fly in the face of the reality that $500 to help a family with heating and food in your local community is probably more Biblical than a $5000 donation to some massive bureaucratic ministry.
Then take a look at reason number four (emphasis added)….
Fourth, the New Testament makes it clear that the church is to set aside certain men to the work of the ministry and some of these are to be set aside to vocational ministry. Most Christians take this to mean that they are to be paid for their work. By making the church your primary means of giving, you are supporting your pastors in the ministry. And, of course, you are also supporting all the ministry of that church, from paying salaries to paying for a building and Bibles and everything else that is needed to keep a church going. If you are at a church week-by-week but giving your money to another cause, you are not supporting and sustaining your own church.
Most of it is typical pay clergy rhetoric but the second from the last sentence was really telling. The mindset that says we need salaried professional clergy and “church” buildings in order to keep going is so prevalent in the church and it is really damaging because the actual people of the church become a line item on the budget and often that line item falls far down the pecking order on the budget. We have to pay for the building and the pastor because without those how could we possible have a church?! Sure the Jones family is beingevicted or having their heat turned off but at least they can come here on Sunday and listen to a sermon in a comfy pew!

This is so contrary to Scripture where sharing within the church and caring for one another was not one of the financial priorities of the church, it was the priority of the church. In the midst of false teaching, violence and persecution against the church and the generally poor conditions of the first century, the church didn’t just “keep going”, it thrived. Today in the midst of unimaginable wealth and cultural acceptance the institutional church in the West is largely spiritually dead and everyone knows it but the proposed solution is always more of the same. More programs, more and better buildings, more clergy.

This is not the time for business as usual. Playing church for centuries has gotten us in serious trouble in the church to the point that the world we are supposed to be reaching associates us with hypocrisy, money grubbing, anger, jealously and politics rather than grace, mercy and love. I can't say that the world is wrong. For all of our talk about “loving one another”, our budgets and financial decisions scream just the opposite. We love religion, we love performance, we love private property. Our fellow members of God’s elect, His adopted family which we were brought into by the blood of Christ and the grace of God? They are just a budget item, somewhere between snow removal and office supplies.

Why do we marvel that unbelievers want nothing to do with “Christianity”? Much of the time I don’t either.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Giving and sharing: Are They The Same Thing?

Tim Challies is doing a series on giving over at his blog. So far it is pretty much boilerplate stuff and you can see where it is heading (i.e. give 10% to your local church first and then to other ministries or direct giving if you have anything else above and beyond that). As I read over it, I started to think about how much I dislike the term "giving". Is "giving" the same thing as "sharing"? Do we see the model of the New Covenant church as "giving" or as "sharing"?

First a couple of definitions, at least in my own interpretation of the terms.

Giving implies that what I have is mine and I give some of it to whatever cause I choose, whether that is a church or the Salvation Army or the National Rifle Association. I give a certain percentage and the rest is mine. It is a gift I choose to give.

Sharing implies that within the community of faith what's mine is yours. I make no claim on what is "mine" because truly nothing is mine. Anything I have is available to any brother in need at any time, without strings attached and without the need for budgets or committees to determine where it goes.

Those are clumsy definitions but I think they are a starting point. When we look in Scripture what do we see, specifically in the New Testament is the church giving or sharing? Clearly the Old Testament/Old Covenant model is "giving" but what about the New? Do we see our traditional notion of "storehouse giving" or is the church "sharing"?

In the one case where the church gathered up money, the example often cited as "proof" that Christians should "give at church", 1 Corinthians 16:1 (see also Rom 15:26 and Acts 11: 29-30 dealing with the same issue), Paul is telling the church in Corinth to set aside money to take to Jerusalem. The church was sharing with their brethren in Jerusalem who were in need and not keeping the money "in house".

In Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32, perhaps the most uncomfortable passages for many Western Christians in all of Scripture, I think what is happening is "sharing", not "giving". They were not writing a check on Sunday morning at church. They were sharing directly to those who were in need and perhaps as importantly were not paying operating expenses but rather meeting the physical needs of the church (presumably food and clothing?)

I have argued in the past that we never see the church in the New Testament treating money as we do, i.e. the giving of offerings to the local church where it is primarily used to fund the offerings of that local church with a small portion being distributed outside of the church organization. I think the distinction between Christians sharing with one another and giving to the local church is enormous and very, very important. What do you think? Is there a difference between giving and sharing and is the way we understand and view money important to how we relate to one another?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I am not sure which is worse

I read this and wondered.....
Perry backs constitutional change for school prayer

(CNN) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry called Sunday for a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in public schools.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," the Republican presidential hopeful went a step further than his previous calls for the Supreme Court to reverse its 1962 decision that banned organized prayer in public schools.

Perry said he would support "a constitutional amendment that would allow our children to pray in school any time that they would like."
Is it worse that Rick Perry thinks that American evangelical voters are such saps that we would be swayed by an empty promise to amend the Constitution of the United States to allow prayer in public schools or that he is probably right?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday, December 09, 2011

Christmas Ornament Giveaway!

Bubbling Brook Farm is giving away some cook Christmas ornaments, jump over and check them out and enter to win!

Christmas Ornament Giveaway

On calling and ministry among Christians: limited or universal?

I deeply appreciate Al Mohler, reading his blog whenever he posts anything, listening to both of his podcasts on a regular basis, etc. (Now you know that whenever someone says that, they next thing they say is going to be a disagreement! That is true here.) Dr. Mohler posted the text of his talk to be delivered at the 208th commencement of Southern Seminary. Most of the talk is a fairly typical application of Paul’s letters to Timothy as directly and uniquely applicable to professional ministers but one thing he wrote late in the talk jumped out at me.
In every believer, the perfect patience of Christ is demonstrated, but in the life and calling of the minister, it is demonstrated all over again.
Did you catch that? God’s patience with us is demonstrated in each person who believes, presumably the patience of withholding His wrath against the unrighteousness of sinners. But a guy who goes to seminary and gets a certificate of ordination? That is a second demonstration of God’s patience that is apparently unique to clergy.

It is gravely disturbing that the commencement address heard by seminary graduates this morning tells them that they are unique in the church by virtue of the sheepskin they will receive in return for gobs of money and the ability to pass graduate level coursework. What does that tell the Christian who cannot afford seminary for whatever reason or lacks the academic prowess to pass Greek or Hebrew classes? Good enough to sit in the pew and contribute, not qualified for "real" ministry?

What is it about professionally trained clergy that demonstrates God’s patience a second time? This notion that there is some sort of divine, supernatural calling that is unique to those Christians who feel compelled to pursue a seminary degree is so foreign to Scripture that to proclaim it requires an enormous assumption based solely in our traditions and church culture. Yet we hear it over and over again even from those who ostensibly hold to a doctrine of the priesthood of all believers that in practice means the priesthood of all some believers more than others.

Again and again we see on the one hand bemoaning of the general apathy of the Body of Christ and on the other  hand embracing church traditions that provide fertile soil for the exact sort of apathy we decry. When we describe those who have elected to attend seminary and pursue vocational clerical ministry as being called in the same manner as Paul: “In the same way, they, like Paul, know that the ministry they have received is just as much a demonstration of God’s grace and unmerited favor.”, we should expect to get the results we see all around us.

I have no intrinsic problem with seminary. If someone wants to spend a bunch of money and three years of their life to get an advanced degree, that is their business. I do have a problem with those who do so being treated as somehow above the rest of the church. Even if we dress it up with the language of service, the reality is that we still see certain men as uniquely called and apart from the rest of the church and that dichotomy is unhealthy and unbiblical. Church leaders, elders and deacons, are servants who lead by example, not rule by virtue of an amorphous “calling” or educational achievement or ecclesiastical paperwork.

I need your help once again

The other night while at the pregnancy resource center I was browsing through a catalog from You have to love a catalog that has the John MacArthur study Bible and a book by Joel Osteen on the same page! Anyway, I saw a product and I am afraid I just don't quite get it. The item is called: New Covenant Prayer Shawl, English/Hebrew with Bag 72 x 22 . What exactly is this you might ask? Well here is what it says:
Add meaning to times of ceremonial prayer with Hebrew tallit (prayer shawl) in white with striped accents in blue and metallic gold. The collar features the Messianic roots symbol and and Hebrew prayer which reads: Blessed are you O Lord, King of the Universe, who has fulfilled all of the law through Jesus the Messiah and has covered us with his Righteousness. Each of the four corners is accented with a different Scripture verse in English - taken from Matthew 14:36, Isaiah 53:5, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and Malachi 4:2. Fashioned of acrylic; measures 72" long x 22" wide. Exquisite in design and workmanship, with tassel trim and ceremonial fringes. Also includes matching zippered bag with embroidered roots symbol; measures 11" x 10.25".
So here is my question. What exactly does that have to do with the New Covenant? See I thought that under the New Covenant there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gal 3:28). I also wasn't aware that under the New Covenant we were called to ceremonial prayers, with or without $25 prayer shawls.

So here is the question. What possible purpose could this serve?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Straddling The Tiber

Read something by John MacArthur today that made me shake my head. It is similar to hundreds of essay and blog posts I have read before and each time it makes me sad. What I read today is a 2009 post from John, Gimme That Showtime Religion
Can the church fight apathy and materialism by feeding people's appetite for entertainment? Evidently many in the church believe the answer is yes, as church after church jumps on the show-business bandwagon. It is a troubling trend that is luring many otherwise orthodox churches away from biblical priorities.

Church buildings are being constructed like theatres. Instead of a pulpit, the focus is a stage. Some feature massive platforms that revolve or raise and lower, with colored lights and huge sound boards. Shepherds are giving way to media specialists, programming consultants, stage directors, special effects experts, and choreographers.
The irony here is rich and tragic. Instead of a pulpit, there is a stage? There has always been a stage that the pulpit sits on and whether it is a wooden pulpit, a glass lectern or a stool where the pastor sits, at least for the last 1700 years, the congregation is merely an audience of mute observers. Some people like upbeat contemporary Christian music, others warmly familiar liturgy, still others lengthy exegetical expository sermons. Whatever. It is all religion, repackaged over and over again for centuries but essentially the same. For example, here are three different packages…
The seeker sensitive pastor leads the service. He wears a particular uniform that marks him as a “man of God”: skinny jeans, a graphic t-shirt and horn rimmed glasses. He does almost all of the speaking and officiates over the sacraments like baptism and communion. The rest of the congregation sits quietly and watched him. He has special educational training and is hired by the church to perform clerical tasks.

The conservative Reformed pastor leads the service. He wears a particular uniform that marks him as a “man of God”: a dark suit and conservative tie. He does almost all of the speaking and officiates over the sacraments like baptism and communion. The rest of the congregation sits quietly and watched him. He has special educational training and is hired by the church to perform clerical tasks.

The Roman Catholic priest leads the service. He wears a particular uniform that marks him as a “man of God”: a priestly collar and priestly robes. He does almost all of the speaking and officiates over the sacraments like baptism and communion. The rest of the congregation sits quietly and watched him. He has special educational training and is hired by the church to perform clerical tasks.
The doctrines are different, dramatically so. The meaning of certain aspects of the service is radically different although the rituals are eerily similar. But when you are sitting in the pew, whether at some groovy church or St. Something or other Catholic Church or Grace Community Church in California, if you aren’t a clergyman you are just an observer. You are there for the show.

I had a conversation the other day online that highlighted for me once again the dilemma of the traditional Protestant apologist trying to discuss ecclesiology with a Roman Catholic apologist, namely that when it comes to the church Protestants have not moved terribly far away from Mother Rome. Each Sunday most Protestants find themselves unknowingly straddling the Tiber River, one foot in the Reformation and the other in Rome and neither in the New Testament.

In some ways you can argue that the form doesn’t matter much. There are Christians in church forms of all types and many of them are doing the work of the Kingdom, in megachurches and in tiny congregations, traditional churches and organic churches. So who cares how it looks? Let’s just do our thing in our way and see what happens.

While I get that and can affirm much of it, I am left with the inescapable conclusion that form does matter because form has such an impact on how the church functions or, more to the point, doesn’t function. Church as event, church as entertainment, church as religious inoculation, church as performance. All of these common unspoken but unmistakable forms of “church” inevitably hamper spiritual growth, reinforce the “leave it to the professionals” mentality and turn the vibrant, living Body of Christ into rows of immobile mannequins silently watching an overburdened man pouring out the fruits of his weekly efforts in the form of a 45 minute speech.

That is why so many of us spend so much time exploring, studying and discussing ecclesiology. It matters! It matters how we gather, why we gather and what we take from our gathering. It is so important that we cannot assume anything, we cannot just accept a tradition because it is 50 or 100 or 500 years old.

Form is not everything but form certainly is something.