Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rick needs nine hundred grand!

Apparently by tomorrow!

Megachurch Pastor Rick Warren Asks for Urgent Donations

Evangelical pastor Rick Warren appealed to parishioners at his California megachurch Wednesday to help fill a $900,000 deficit by the first of the year.

Warren made the appeal in a letter posted on the Saddleback Church Web site. It begins "Dear Saddleback Family, THIS IS AN URGENT LETTER."

"With 10 percent of our church family out of work due to the recession, our expenses in caring for our community in 2009 rose dramatically while our income stagnated," the letter reads.

Still, Warren said the church managed to stay within its budget, but "the bottom dropped out" when Christmas donations dropped. "On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive — leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year," the letter reads.

I noticed that Saddleback is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, so I have no idea what they spend on staff, overhead, buildings, etc. I am guessing that they could cut back on some of their overhead spending on one of their "campuses".

This is not just a shot at Rick Warren and his appeal for $900,000. In the last few days I have gotten tons of fundraising letters from all manner of ministries. All looking for more money. I get that it takes money to have webpages and bandwidth and staff and such. Maybe we could just minister to people without the need for a bunch of money for a "ministry"?

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Where we are going or what are we doing?

I wrote yesterday about the danger of overemphasizing or perhaps more correctly overly concentrating on justification to the detriment of sanctification. Probably a close second in the greater church is a overemphasis on eschatology, how things are going to wrap up in the end. It brings to mind a great Scripture, Acts 1: 6-11:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1: 6-11)

I think we are lot like that: standing around looking up, wondering when Jesus is coming back. The last words of our Lord had nothing to do with when He was returning, it was His reminder to the disciples that they (and we) are to be His witnesses “to the end of the earth”.

We do a lot of looking backward, a lot of looking forward and not too much time in the right now. We have been saved by Divine mercy and I think we do an injustice to our calling if we spend all of our time talking among ourselves about how we got saved and when Christ is coming back. There is a whole world out there full of people dead in their sins and condemned. Not a one of them is going to hear the Gospel because you went to a theology conference or based on your millennial position. Is eschatology unimportant? Of course not. Is justification unimportant? Emphatically no! All I am saying is that we should be spending at least as much time in how we are to live as Christians apart from and as witnesses to the fallen world around us.

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Separation and evangelism

How do we balance the two?

Scripture presents us with two seemingly opposing forces: the call for evangelism and the call for separation. It is often captured in the phrase “in the world but not of the world”. That is fine as a slogan, but how does that work itself out in the community of believers? I would argue (and have just recently) that typically it doesn’t. Let’s look at both sides, starting with the separation side. The most overt verse and the one most often quoted is found in James:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1: 27)

James later in his epistle rightly pegs the source of contention and strife in the church, i.e. worldliness….

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4: 1-4)

James describes worldliness as spiritual adultery, wanting to have Christ as Savior but the world as lord. It is pretty clear from what James writes and likewise it is confirmed by what we see all around us that it is worldly desires that cause the strife and contention in the church. When the church fights about money, when it quibbles about doctrines, when it follows after personalities, all of that stems from worldliness or more specifically an entanglement with and love for the things of the world.

We read something similar from Paul regarding the world, warning us against being “conformed to this world” in Romans 12…

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12: 1-2)

We often hear about being renewed in mind but we need to recognize that the opposite is also true, we are not to be conformed to this world. Three times in John’s Gospel he quotes Christ as referring to Satan as the ruler of this world (John 12:31. John 14:30 and John 16:11). John also speaks of the world in his first epistle….

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2: 15-17)

Jesus is even harsher in His condemnation of the pursuit of the world and His warnings (promises?) of persecution by the world. Read John 14-17. So the world kind of gets a bad rap. Whether it was the Israelites getting entangled with pagan people and their practices in the Old Testament times or the church today adopting the world's standards and methods, being too comfortable or even loving the world is a recipe for disaster.

Conversely, separation as a concept gets the stink-eye in most of the church and not without cause. Separation is most typically linked to extreme fundamentalist movements and degenerates into either extreme isolationism or a focus on external pietism (‘No Pokemon Cards or Harry Potter books!’, as if avoiding those things will make one holy).

So what are we to do?

The solution to worldliness is clearly not being religious. That sort of belief gets a pretty rude treatment by Christ in his condemnation of the empty religious ritualism of the Jews. Unfortunately that is pretty much how most of the Body thinks. If I go to church on Sunday and perhaps Wednesday, don’t watch (many) R-rated movies, don’t drink and don’t let my kids read Harry Potter books or Twilight books or play with Pokémon cards, I am not being worldly. There are not a lot of Christians who openly proclaim their desire to be worldly and most condemn worldliness but you see how they live and wonder what exactly is markedly different from the world.

To compound matters, we have 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 which speaks of the importance of discipline within the church (something that is only really feasible with a regenerate church). So we are not only to avoid entanglement with the world, we are also to enforce pretty serious discipline upon the unrepentant sinner among the Body, “purging” them from among ourselves. All in all, a pretty strong mandate to be separate from the world and from unrepentant sin within the Body.

On the other hand we have a pretty important call to proclaim Christ to the world.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28: 18-20)

That doesn’t have much ambiguity unless you think it applies only to the disciples which I think is an untenable argument given the rest of the New Testament. Nor is it something that is reserved to just a few people (see Acts 8: 1-4). How we accomplish that is another matter. We often get the example of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9, the “all things to all people” passage:

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor 9: 22-23)

That is often (mis)interpreted as being a call to fit in with the world so that we can win the world to Christ. That idea seems to be at odds with what Paul says elsewhere about not being conformed to this world, what James says about being unsoiled by the world and the general principle throughout Scripture of God’s people being segregated from the unbelieving world. It seems to me that the church is called to be a witness to the world, not a sub-category of the world like a Rotary club or a political party.

So how do we sort this out? I think it becomes easy to stray too far one way or the other. I am not talking about people who are in cults in Idaho or those who think that Christian liberty is a license to act like a fool, waving the flag of freedom while pushing boundaries just because they can. “Yeah, I had a beer with dinner and got a tattoo. Whatcha gonna do about it Pharisee!” I am talking about rational people who read the Scriptures and come to a conviction one way or the other that slips into excess. It is a well meaning excess perhaps but excess all the same.

On the one hand (the more common end) there is the worldly church. You see this all the time in churches with marketing strategies and corporate structures. In a lot of churches, the world’s way of doing things is the preferred method. I am not just talking about “seeker sensitive” churches. The majority report in evangelicalism is the flimsiest excuse for community, a minimalist faith that only requires the most cursory adherence (typically in the form of regular attendance and “tithing”). You can be an evangelical believer in the most conservative church and still live in a manner little different from the rest of the world 98% of the week. The vast majority of Christians (my family especially) are pretty worldly by almost any measure in how we live and how we interact with the world. I don’t know of many Christians who are “unspotted” from the world in any real sense and in general I would argue that when we mix the world in with the community of believers, the community suffers far more than the world benefits.

On the other extreme there are the purists. Some of these take the form of the traditional extreme separatists like the Amish. The Amish and other related groups are separate to the point of being insular. Others come in the form of the hard line fundamentalist movement or (at the risk of getting myself in trouble) there are those who are evangelists for their own distinctives. Isolationist tendencies are understandable. It is easiest to avoid worldliness by avoiding any contact with the world at all. If you don’t have a TV or computer (probably both good ideas), you are in far less danger of being inundated with messages of immorality, licentiousness, covetousness or any of the other myriad sins that flood the airwaves and the internet. Being completely removed from the world is the easiest. However in doing so, it becomes awfully hard to proclaim the Gospel and also it is pretty hard to be unified with the greater Body of Christ in any sort of meaningful way. Plus you can get rid of your TV and computer, eschews worldliness, have your wife cover your head and make your daughters wear dresses and still have heart issues.

So somewhere in the middle is probably the right answer. Like so many areas of doctrine, we need to tread a narrow path that is easy to fall off, either to the right or the left. We cannot ignore the perishing world to focus only on ourselves and our families or even our community. We also cannot become entangled with the world lest we find ourselves becoming “worldly”. I would say that for the majority of the church, the issue is more one of worldliness than it is isolationism.

This whole line of thinking is what has led me to investigate Christian communities. Is an intentional Christian community, living and worshiping and eating together daily, sharing with one another in an Acts 2 and Acts 4 way that also reaches out to the lost through preaching and acts of mercy the way to go? I think it might be a good start if you can avoid the pitfalls like isolationism, prideful separatism and megalomaniac leadership. It only works if you are intentionally reaching the lost. (In fairness to some of the more isolated groups, it is not like most "evangelical" churches do much in the way of evangelism). The community of the church should in and of itself be a witness to the world, something different from and distinct from the world. Our mission as the church is not to win elections or to defend our “rights” or to count pew sitters. It is to proclaim the Christ and to welcome those who have been saved into that distinct and unique fellowship with the church.

I am sure of this. The church is so entangled with the world that it has become in many ways virtually indistinguishable from the world, in the visible gathering of the church and in the lives of individual Christians. There must be a better way.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How or what now?

Where should the emphasis in the gathered church be?

I started thinking about this the other day when I read something Dr. Black wrote regarding Felix Manz:

Whenever we downgrade good works, wherever we make sanctification some kind of appendage to justification, whenever we emphasize more what God does for us than what He does in us, we have become proponents of an unbalanced Christianity. The doctrine of justification by faith is taught in the Scripture, and I rejoice in it! But an emphasis on the forensic and juridical nature of our salvation can easily lead to a light emphasis on the "good works that God has foreordained that we should walk in them." In this regard, Luther's theology was decisively one-sided, and it was his disparagement of good works that caused him to collide with the letter of James.

(note: I looked up “juridical” because I didn’t think it was a real word. Turns out it is. Learned something new today)

So it has kind of been bothering me. Are we overemphasizing justification? I am treading on shaky ground here because I recognize how central the doctrine of justification by faith alone is. Reformed theology spends an awful lot of time focused on justification. It is where our great debates take places, where we write our polemics and where we find our areas of greatest emphasis. It is the subject of many (if not most) of our conferences. This is quite understandable because justification gets to the heart of how any sinner has been redeemed from an eternal hell and made right with God. Without justification, there are no Christians and there is no church. We must recognize this. That still begs the question. Can we focus so much on justification that we ignore sanctification or as Dr. Black describes it relegate sanctification to a secondary doctrine?

In other words, from a practical standpoint within the gathered church should our focus be on the doctrine of how we were saved or should we focus on how we should live now that we are saved? I fear that in our understandable concern to recover the central doctrine of justification by faith alone, we have pushed the role of sanctification into a secondary role in the church. Are we not called as Christians to live holy lives, lives unstained by the world? As I have said ad nauseum the ritualism and sacralism of the traditional church can exacerbate this by giving people a sense of religious fulfillment that is completely foreign to the Bible and that stands in marked contrast to what we are called to as Christians in the Word. We are not made more holy or sanctified by merely eating a cracker and sipping some wine at church, even if we dress it up by calling it a “means of grace”. We are sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit working in us demonstrated by a life that is progressively and demonstrably more holy, a change that is observable in our lives.

God did not send His Son to die to save us so that we could sit around reminiscing about how swell it is to be saved. He regenerated us and left us on this earth to live out the life of a Christian and proclaim the Gospel:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10, emp. added)

And again…

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2: 11-14, emp. added)

I think that passage in Titus is just stunning. It literally made my head hurt today. That passage is going to be a focal point of an upcoming blog post because I think we tend to stop at “bringing salvation for all people” and not focus on what else Paul is telling Timothy here.

The Scriptures don’t diminish the importance of good works at all. Jesus, Paul, James all speak of us living holy lives and doing good works, not to be saved but because we are saved. If we are not living lives that are progressing in holiness and lived out by our works, we are not living a balanced Christian life. So to answer my original questions, yes it is possible to overemphasize justification. I think we can spend so much time and effort thinking about, writing about and talking about how we were saved that we forget what we are to do now that we are saved. It is not so much that we need to focus on justification less, it is that we need to focus on sanctification more. If the church is indeed a gathering of redeemed sinners who go out into the world to proclaim Christ we need to emphasize justification to lost sinners but we need to emphasize sanctification within the gathered Body.

I might be way off-base here. I haven’t had time to really flesh it out. Thoughts?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old skool versus new skool

Is this a fair statement?

New Testament Christianity: The church went out to the world to preach the Gospel to people and then welcomed those who were saved into the church.

Traditional Christianity: Bring people into the church to hear the Gospel preached.

If not, why not?

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Mid-Winter Home Educator’s Conference

There is going to be a home education conference coming to Grand Rapids in January, The Mid-Winter Home Educator's Conference. The conference runs two days, January 29th and 20th. Speakers are Sally Clarkson and Steve Demme. Looks like a good conference, I am not sure we can go because we would need sitters for the kids but I would encourage other homeschooling families in Michigan to check it out.

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Fed to the lions? Sue ‘em!

Read a very interesting article today about a church in a storefront that is disturbing the comedians at the adjoining comedy club with their loud music: Club, Church Clash in Texas. What I find interesting about this article and why it is noteworthy is that it is yet another in a long line of reports of Christians seeking redress through the secular legal system. Up front, I recognize that Paul used the legal system to appeal to Caesar for his rights in Acts 25. Keep in mind though what Paul was up against and why he appealed to Caesar: “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” (Acts 25: 11) Paul was on trial for his life and rightly pointed out that his crime was not against the Jews. In other words, Paul sought a change of venue. The story I am referencing is a little different than the Christian suing Christian situations we see when churches split, this is a civil dispute between a church and a business. Here is an excerpt from the story:

The comedy club complained about the noise; the landlord asked Fresh Oil to leave the building by the end of the year.

But Bishop Nathan Thomas, the founder and leader of the Pentecostal-charismatic church, isn't going without a fight. Using the slogan "Jokes vs. Jesus," he organized several protests earlier this month, objecting to what he says is religious bigotry and racism. He is consulting with a lawyer.

The church "can't walk away from its assignment," he told his mostly black congregation recently. "We're changing lives."

Across the country, religious congregations are entering nontraditional spaces at an increasing rate, religious experts say, as churches seek to lower their rent and attract worshipers with an informal atmosphere.

A bill Congress passed in 2000 that prohibits zoning authorities from discriminating against religious groups is also encouraging churches' migration into former bowling alleys, old furniture stores and strip malls.

I have no issue with the church gathering in storefronts, bowling alleys, etc. Far better to meet in a cheap space like that than in a spacious edifice with shiny new video screens and an enormous debt to service. I think I do have a problem with the way that Fresh Oil Family Fellowship is responding. We see a number of dynamics at work here.

One is the American epidemic of Perpetual Offendedness Syndrome (P.O. Syndrome). Americans seem to be itching to find something to be offended by all the time. It seems that we are sorely discontented when we are not offended so we seek out places to find offense. Any wonder that controversial blogs attract the most hits? Why is there a market for people like Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann? I seem to recall an old episode of Monty Python where people were professionally insulted. We are not far away from that situation.

Another dynamic is American litigiousness. An integral part of the P.O. syndrome is the release valve of the court system. Are you offended? Sue someone! It never ceases to amaze me that people will decry lawyers in the most vitriolic terms up until they decide someone has trampled on their rights. We don’t hate lawyers; we hate other people’s lawyers.

The third and most pertinent is the misplaced sense of persecution in the Western church. Persecution is not something we should avoid, instead we should kind of expect it and perhaps even rejoice in it (Acts 5:41). Should a church, in the face of this sort of situation, organize protests and seek legal action? Or should they instead respond in meekness and love?

I don’t know the right answer here. On the one hand, I am instinctively against any restriction of religious freedom, real or imagined. There are also a lot of competing facts here. Did the deposit check bounce as the landlord claimed? Is the music coming from their meetings so loud that it disrupts their neighbors? I think we would all agree that if you are playing music so loudly that you are disrupting the tenant next to you, it is a problem. If this were a dance club next to a Christian bookstore, we would be up in arms demanding they turn down their music. If it were a mosque with a blaring call to prayer five times per day and it was disrupting a legitimate business, we would do the same. When it is a Christian church, do we have a different standard?

On the other hand, is this how we should react as Christians? In Matthew 5: 40 Jesus said: And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. Taking your tunic and cloak seems a lot more personal than someone evicting your from a storefront. Do our rights as an American supersede how we are to live as a Christian? Which is more important?

What do you think? Should they stay and fight? Try to come to an accommodation and if they can’t they should pack up and leave?

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Talk is cheap part 1

April asked the obvious question a few days ago. With all of this talk about eschewing worldliness and being better stewards of our finances and our time, what am I doing about it? That is a fair question and one I expected earlier. Talk is cheap and blogging is doubly so.

The first change I am making is a minor one but a good first step. I am canceling my plans to attend Together for the Gospel next year.

There are a number of reasons why I am nixing the trip to Louisville in 2010. First, it is quite expensive. Gas and perhaps a rental car, several nights in a hotel, three meals a day on the road from Monday evening to Thursday night, not to mention the $200 registration fee. Even splitting the costs with other guys still results in an expensive trip in terms of time and money. I have been justifying the cost to myself because of all of the books you get “free” at the conference. It is a huge haul of books, no doubt (well over twenty in total). Does that make it worthwhile?

Nearly two years after the 2008 installment of T4G, I have read 4 or 5 of the books I brought home from Louisville. It is not that I haven’t read any books in the last two years, rather most of the books I have read didn’t come from T4G. There are several books that I got at T4G ‘08 that I probably will never read because I am just not interested in them. I think I am better off saving the money and picking out books to read on my own. I have literally hundreds of books I am interested in reading that I have saved on Amazon and I already have bookshelves full of books that need to be read (although I despair of ever reading Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology).

It is also true that the teaching at Together for the Gospel is outstanding. You get some of the great minds in the church together and sit at their feet for three days. Men like Sproul and Piper, Mohler and Dever are the intellectual heavyweights in the church. On the other hand, there is a lifetime of teaching from these men and others available for free online. I can watch or listen to hundreds of talks from Piper and Sproul for free. The volume of material put out is greater than I could ever hope to listen to, coming out faster than I or anyone else could absorb it. The Together for the Gospel talks will be published online as well, so I can listen at my leisure for free. Besides, I already have access to the greatest teachers to ever live in the Word of God. I need to spend more time in there and less in seminars and conferences. Piper and Sproul and MacArthur are great but I need to hear a lot more from Paul and Peter and James and our Lord Himself.

There are other minor issues. In some way Together for the Gospel feeds into an undercurrent of intellectualism in the church that sometimes smacks of elitism. This is especially true among the Reformed wing of the church and that is the target audience for T4G. Many of the talks at T4G 2008 were very academic and Al Mohler's was so complex I wasn't sure what he was talking about. Christianity is a life to be lived, not a subject to be studied. It is a faith of action more than one of contemplation. There is a place for study and academics, but it is not the first priority in the Christian life. Together for the Gospel is also billed as a “pastors conference” and is part of the “trickle down theology” system in the church where ministers go to seminary and conferences to learn and then come back and disseminate that information to the congregation. I think the more Biblical and healthier method is to have the church gather together and study the Scriptures together instead of sending one or a couple of guys to a conference.

Ultimately, Together for the Gospel is a self-indulgent luxury for me. I get a week away to go hang out and listen to men that I look up to talk about theology. My wife stays home with the kids. It is expensive and it burns almost a week of vacation time (granted I get a ton of vacation time, but still). That is time and money that I could and should spend with my family or in service to others somehow. So T4G 2010 is off the agenda for next year. Maybe I will shoot for the 2012 conference but even that seems unlikely.

A minor step? Sure. It is just one step in a quest to see the Christian life lived out in my life.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Another thing I like about the Anabaptists

As I read through The Anabaptist View of the Church, one of the things I am struck by and that is mentioned over and over by the author is that the majority of the Anabaptists had, at least in doctrine, the right balance between the world and the church. The church was separate and regenerate and was to go out to the world to proclaim the Gospel. A serious discipline was coupled with what we would call a missional worldview. The church was serious about being the church and was also serious about proclaiming the Gospel. Much of the hostility leveled at the Anabaptists stemmed from their missionary efforts. Instead of being primarily a theological danger, the Anabaptists were a threat to the church-state symbiotic relationship and people in love with power will do almost anything to retain power. In many ways their fervor led to their persecution. Our lack of persecution in the Western church says a lot about our general lack of fervor. Anyway, just a few thoughts for this evening. I have a lot more I have written about this topic of the church as separate and distinct and yet proclaiming the Good News to the world in the days to come.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Now that Christmas is over

Back to business as usual. Today we have a couple of excerpts from a news article titled: Evangelical church opens doors fully to gays. Now in a perfect world we could say "Amen!" because they would be welcoming gays in to show them the love of Jesus and call them to repent. Instead, in what is an all too common reversal of the Gospel, we see a "church" that not only condones, but embraces sin:

The auditorium lights turned low, the service begins with the familiar rhythms of church: children singing, hugs and handshakes of greeting, a plea for donations to fix the boiler.

Then the 55-year-old pastor with spiked gray hair and blue jeans launches into his weekly welcome, a poem-like litany that includes the line "queer or straight here, there's no hate here."

The Rev. Mark Tidd initially used the word "gay." But he changed it to "queer" because it's the preferred term of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people invited to participate fully at Highlands Church.
Tidd said Highlands is not a one-issue church but one committed to social justice. He describes it as "radically inclusive but still rooted in the essentials of the Gospel." The church discourages promiscuity and encourages healthy lifelong relationships.

Tidd said he supports gay marriage and would perform same-sex blessings if asked. A gay man in a committed relationship sits on the church's board of trustees.

"Our position is not one of lenience, but a matter of justice," said Tidd, a married father of five. "It's not that we don't acknowledge the reality of sin. It's not a sin to be gay or act in accordance with your nature."

Healthy lifelong relationships? There is nothing at all healthy in living in a grotesquely sinful lifestyle while a man who claims to be an elder in the church of Christ affirms and applauds. The summary of this article is a man who tells people in rampant sin that their sins are OK, that Jesus loves them in their sin instead of Him dying for their sins. That this church is described as "evangelical" shows why that term has lost any meaning. The most telling quotes were near the end:

"We reach an understanding of the Bible not just by studying God's word, but by studying his world," Tidd said. "If you think he's the author of both, they both inform each other."

If evangelicals can disagree about end-times theology and baptism methods and still be considered authentic Christians, he thought, why can't the same tent hold disagreements about homosexuality?

Well Mr. Tidd, that is because one can believe in infant baptism or dispensationalism and still be saved. One cannot call what is sinful holy and be saved. I find it incomprehensible that someone who is supposedly an elder in the church is so ill-informed about the fundamentals of theology. My older kids know better than that. His attitude though holds some warning for us all. He stated that the world informs the Bible as much as the Bible informs the world. That is far more common than many people would admit. There are far too many doctrines in the Bible that run smack up against our comfort zone and in those cases the world typically wins out. "Sure the Bible says X,Y and Z but that was then, this is now." When you let the world define the Word, it is not that great a leap to start to welcome sin in the church. Whether it is comfortable, or easy or acceptable, the Word must define the way we see and live in the world.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Cancer For Christmas

Deliver Detroit: Cancer For Christmas

It is easy, at least for me, to blog about stuff that is academic or pointing out what is wrong in the world. It is much harder to write when it is an issue that hits close to home. My brother James writes a very real, very honest post today about his mom who was just diagnosed with cancer. Stop over and give it a read. Join me in praying for James, that the Lord our God would lift him up in this time. Join me in praying for his mom for healing, both of body and heart.

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A great deal on Ussher

If you think Ussher is an R&B singer, you can't spell and are at the wrong blog. Solid Ground Christian books is offering Bishop James Ussher's A Body of Divinity at the low price of $14.95. It lists for $26.60 at Amazon, so this is a pretty great deal on this 500 page classic.

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The real meaning of Christmas

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

The Incarnate Son of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us, came at the appointed time to fulfill the Law and the prophets, to not just be a babe in a manger but to be a sacrifice for sins. He came not to live but to die, to satisfy the justice of God demanded by the Law and making propitiation for the sins of His elect sheep. The image of Christmas is not merely of a manger or figures in a creche but rather of a lonely cross where He would suffer and die. Without the cross, there is no Christmas. Praise God for His Son who left behind a perfect and glorious fellowship with the Father to live a life of poverty so that we may someday enjoy that same fellowship! Thank God for the redeeming sacrifice and the undeserved adoption that we who know Him and are known by Him enjoy.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The sinking of the Danny F II

A few days ago I read an article about a ship, the Danny F II, sinking near Tripoli. 11 crew members died (at last count) and also the cargo was lost. The cargo in question was livestock, some 28,000 cattle and sheep traveling from Uruguay to Syria, a trip of over 5000 nautical miles.

So what? Perhaps the least interesting story I have ever linked to? Here is the so what and what came to mind when I read the article.

According to the Bible, Noah's ark was pretty big:

This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. (Gen 6:15)

A cubit is about a foot and a half, so the ark was 450 feet long and 75 feet wide. The Danny F II was 665 feet long and 92 feet wide. Keep in mind that the ark had minimal living quarters and no engines or electronics. The Danny F II had a crew of 77 and was built to travel thousands of nautical mile so it carries a ton of fuel along with the crew and livestick. So very similar in size when you consider just the cargo capacity.

Lots of skeptics scoff at the flood account. How would you get all of those animals on one ship. But here is a modern ship made to sail around the world (thousands of nautical miles), not merely floating, and it had a cargo of 28,000 sheep and cattle. When you think about how many different species the ark would have carried, especially how few land animals are really big, is it all that inconceivable that you could carry a pair of each and seven pairs of the clean animals? So next time someone scoffs about the ark, just think of livestock carriers we have today and try to imagine 10,000 sheep and 18,000 cattle on one ship. Doesn't seem that far-fetched at all, does it?

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?

When Jesus was feeding people and doing miracles, they loved Him. Who wouldn't!? Then He had to mess it up by talking about stuff that was kind of weird to those who were following Him:

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." (Joh 6:53-58)

At this many people had the same sort of reaction we see today, they voted with their feet:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (Joh 6:60)

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (Joh 6:66)

Those who didn't like what He had to say were not His sheep. It was hard to hear, this teaching that Jesus had for them. Jesus knew that many who ate the food He provided were not His sheep because He knew from before time began who His sheep were. How did He know? Because they were predestined to believe (Acts 13:48), given to the Son by the Father (John 10:29). It must have been jarring to them to hear these words but it was awfully easy for them to turn away and look for a way to fulfill their needs somewhere else.

Most of the church is OK with what Jesus was saying in John 6. We understand, at least academically, what Jesus meant. The who Jesus is? That we have little problem with as Christians today.

The way we are to live? Now that we have issues with.

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luk 12:33-34)

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mat 22:37-39)

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 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. (Act 4:32-35)

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (Jas 4:4)

And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luk 9:23-24)

When you read those verses, do you say "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"? I like my new car. I like my cable TV and my high speed internet. I like my convenience and luxury, even those things that I don't recognize as being luxuries. We fool ourselves by convincing ourselves that we can live among and with the world and remain unspotted. We want it both ways, forgiveness of sins and an eternal reward then and worldly pleasures now.

What keeps you from a life of service to God? For me it is the twin temptation of comfort and security. I accept the world's social contract to do what it tells me to do in return for warmth and security. I am safe, I am warm, I am never hungry just so long as I walk as the world says to walk. When I contemplate walking as Jesus calls us to walk, it scares me. I try to assuage my guilt by assuming that what Jesus wants is for me to worry about my kids, but even in that it is self-serving.

Lots of Western Christians talk about this. Almost no one actually does much about it. Like the teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, it becomes an academic argument for us, something to ponder perhaps but never to live out. The ways we can twist those text from Jesus around and make them fit our lifestyles is brilliant. It is also dishonest. When we feel twinges of guilt, we put a couple more bucks in the offering plate. We get more religious because religion makes us feel good about ourselves, makes us seem holy to ourselves and those around us. Religion allows us an out, a way to feel like we are doing God's will while in reality we are doing our own will. It insulates us. Meanwhile live and raise our kids to look like the world and look on contentedly as the world dies all around us.

When are we going to stop playing church and start being the church?

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Circumcison and baptism

I wanted to direct you to an excellent study of circumcision and baptism over at The Gospel in Real Life. Very clear and concise, good stuff that you should check out. It seems that there is a linkage many people draw between physical, Old Covenant circumcision and New Covenant baptism that needs to be looked at. Check it out!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ron French reprint

The Lansing State Journal reprinted Ron French's unbalanced editorial suggesting that homeschool kids in Michigan are at risk from their parents because the state of Michigan isn't watching them closely enough (see here for my original post). No sign of course of the HSLDA's rebuttal of his article. Also, one of the LSJ's bloggers John Schneider has jumped into the fray with a blog post about homeschooling. The level of discourse you see from both the article and the blog post provides plenty of reasons to homeschool your children!

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We are living a lie

(Angry blog rant warning)

We have it all backwards

As Christians we are called to be the church, to live as the church distinct from the world and to go out into the world to proclaim Christ.

Instead what we have is most Christians living in the world, as the world. Rather than being distinct from the world, we are virtually indistinguishable from the world. In place of going out to proclaim Christ to the world, we occasionally come out of the world to go to church and hear someone else proclaim Christ to us.

Do you see where I am going with this? Instead of “in the world but not of the world”, we are mostly of the world and occasionally we come out of the world to be the church. Even when we do that, what passes for the church is often little more than a charade, a rude facsimile of what the church should look like.

Is it any wonder there is no Spirit, no power in the church? The church is an afterthought, an add-on to the week. Even the most devout among us are only marginally less worldly than the most devout atheist. When we do make it to church, we get a mostly empty religious ceremony that doesn’t even bear a superficial resemblance to the church that the Apostle’s knew. In many ways the visible church has replaced the Jewish leadership as the promoter and defender of religious ritualism and woe to the Christian who questions the system.

We have embraced the world’s social contract of security and complacency. In trading persecution and the reviling of the world for creature comforts, we think we have won something. We think we have the “best of both worlds”. We are living a lie. We miss the best of what it means to be the church and we get a full measure of the worst of what it means to live in the world.

We live our lives by and large to earn and consume. Then we raise our kids to do the same thing, hoping that they earn more and consume more than we do and thus have a “better life”. Where is the sacrifice, where is the service, where is real ministry? Where is the sort of properly expressed joy in the church like we see here….

…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5: 40-42, emphasis added)

They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus! Where are their cries of “Persecution!”? Why are they not getting on the phone with their lawyers or holding rallies? Why didn’t Peter’s agent get him booked on ‘Larry King Live’? How did they respond to being beaten and suffering reproach for the name of Christ? They went from house to house preaching Christ and even went to the temple, the most visible sign of Jewish religion, and did not cease to preach Jesus as the Christ.

We live our lives in safe cocoons, worried about what others will say especially what other believers will say. Just go along, keep your head down, be content living in the world. It is your vocation after all. Is it really your “vocation” or your calling, is that really how you are called to exercise your spiritual gifts: go to work to pay for stuff and go to church on Sunday to fulfill your religious obligation?

What is God calling you to do? If the answer doesn’t include persecution, suffering, bearing the cross daily I think you are looking in the wrong place for the answer to that question.

(Angry blog rant ends. Actually scratch that. Just getting started.)

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

The first Christian in Australia

The Bible refers to Christians as "saints" in a whole bunch of places. For example:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1Co 1:1-3)

Now it turns out that there haven't been any Christians in Australia until now:

Australian Woman to Become Country's First Saint

Pope Benedict XVI has approved the second miracle needed for an Australian woman to be declared the country's first saint.

Benedict approved a decree saying that a miracle occurred thanks to the intercession of Mother Mary Mackillop, who helped spread Roman Catholicism across the Australian outback in the late 1800s and is known for her pioneering work among the needy.

Mackillop died in 1909 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

That is kind of surprising. I would have assumed there were lots of Christians in Australia. To find that the first one was discovered this year and is a woman who has been dead for 100 years was a shock. Anyways, congrats to Australia for its first Christian!

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Was He serious?

A portion of this Scripture was my "scripture of the day". Really got me thinking....

And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. "Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." (Luk 12:22-40)

Think about that for a second. Actually, don't think about that for a second, think about that for a lifetime. Was that just hyperbole or is Jesus serious here?

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The irony of this story appearing in the DETROIT News is lost on him

In one of the most ignorant hit pieces to grace the pages of a major newspaper in a long time, Detroit News writer Ron French makes the case that because of a couple of issues of overt child abuse, homeschool kids are in danger in their own homes from their parents and that the state needs the authority to monitor homeschooled kids. His article Lax home-school laws put kids at risk links a few isolated cases of child abuse, which is already illegal, to homeschooling which is perfectly legal in the state of Michigan. Because homeschooled kids are not in the public school system where the teachers can allegedly spot and report abuse, they are in danger.

Michigan has one of the most lenient home school laws in the nation, giving tens of thousands of families the freedom to teach their children in the manner they want without government interference. But timid and sporadic enforcement of the law's minimal requirements has been exploited by some unscrupulous parents hiding abuse or educational neglect.

Because the state is barred from collecting any data on home school students, it's impossible to know how many parents may be abusing the law or how well those students are doing academically. But at least two deaths can be traced to parents pulling their children from public schools to squelch abuse complaints, authorities say. In both cases, parents claimed they were home schooling their children despite having no books or educational materials in their homes.

Others have used home schooling as an excuse to keep children at home to care for younger siblings or ailing parents, without providing any educational materials.

Just what can be done in such cases -- and who can do it -- is so unclear that some officials call a false claim of home schooling a "get-out-of-jail-free card."

"As long as home schooling is as lax as it is," said Charlotte Smith, a state Office of Children's Ombudsman intake officer, "it's an avenue for parents to hide abuse."

"At least two deaths". When you only have two deaths that can be linked in any way to homeschooling, using "at least two deaths" is a cheap way of implying that their may be countless kids killed in their homes by evil homeschooling parents. So based on two incidents, incidents that have only an ancillary relation to homeschooling, Mr. French wants the state of Michigan to have greater control and oversight of homeschooling. This editorial is typical stuff from those who think that the state, not parents, knows what is best for kids.

The tragic irony of this is that Mr. French, writing in Detroit, thinks that kids are safer going to a public school because of the increased "oversight". Tell that to the seven kids shot on June 30 in front of a Detroit Public School:

Gunmen in a green minivan opened fire on a group of teenagers waiting at a bus stop near a Detroit school on Tuesday, wounding seven including two who were in critical condition, authorities said.

Tell me again, where are kids "safest" if that is the concern? That is just one of the many incidents of school violence in the Detroit schools. Not to mention the report on education in his own paper that sported this headline: Detroit parents want DPS teachers, officials jailed over low test scores. Might I suggest that the problem with education in Michigan, whether in results or safety, is not found in "lax" homeschooling laws but in the public school system. My kids are getting a good education and are very unlikely to get shot in front of my house. Detroit kids have the worst math scores in the country. He wants to give the same people who give us results like that more control over education in Michigan? Public school teachers have a hard enough time trying to teach kids math and English, I think it is insane to add to that "child abuse spotter".

Mr. French, writing for the Detroit News, ought to focus his energy on the shooting gallery that we call the Detroit Public School system. Leave the parents of Michigan who choose to educate their kids at home instead of turning them over to the state alone. We aren't the problem.

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association wrote an excellent rebuttal to Mr. French, you can read it here.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Here I stand

It has been a theologically tumultuous couple of years or so for me. One only need look back at my posts from a few years ago and compare them to my current posts to see that I have had some radical changes in my thinking. From the topics I post about to the blogs I link to, my focus has changed quite a bit. I decided that given the seismic changes to some of my positions and the occasional misrepresentation of those positions (some in jest and some not) it is necessary to clarify where I stand. Please note that I have turned off the comments for this post. This is not a post designed for conversation but for clarification. I might at some point do some follow-up posts to flesh some of this out but by and large I have addressed these questions in the past in greater detail. This overview is necessarily incomplete in that I am unable to address every single issue and some issues I am still working out, so I reserve the right to modify and clarify these stances as needed.

So here is what I believe, my “statement of faith” if you will. This is unfortuunately a very long post but I am not going to break it up because I plan to link to this post in the sidebar to hopefully avoid accusations and mischaracterizations in the future.

First and foremost, I hold the sixty-six books of the Bible as authoritative, inerrant, clear and sufficient. Interpreted properly (Scripture interpreting Scripture, the New Testament interpreting the Old Testament) the Bible provides all that we need to know in this life about God. It is not exhaustive in the information it reveals about God but it is sufficient. We should reject any so-called revelation or any traditions that run contrary to the teachings of Scripture. Likewise we need to recognize that the Scriptures are authoritative in the life of the individual Christian as well as in the life and outworking of the church. In other words it is all we need to know in faith and practice, for how we are saved and how we should live. While commentaries, creeds, confessions, etc. are useful tools in aiding our study, they are merely tools and not inspired nor authoritative. Where disputes arise among Christians, they should be settled by Scripture not by dueling confessions or by trump cards like “Well Calvin taught …”. Pragmatism has no place where Scripture has spoken. Where so-called “science” or “philosophy” contradicts Scripture, it is Scripture that I stand upon. As such, I recognize as literal the miraculous events of the Old and New Testament and hold to literal interpretations of doctrines like the six days of creation, the death and resurrection of Christ, the virgin birth and a literal, conscious hell for the unbeliever. The Bible and the Bible alone is my source for authoritative teachings and everything else bows before the God breathed Scriptures.

I believe that in the Bible we see the revelation of God whereby God created man in His own image but that in spite of the perfect fellowship Adam enjoyed, he willfully sinned against God and was cast out of the Garden. Adam is the representative head of all mankind and thus all successive generations of men were inherently sinful and lost, under the condemnation of a just and holy God. Throughout the Old Testament we see two things happening, the Jews failing to keep the law and God promising in prophecy, types and shadows the coming of a Messiah, His own Son. In due time Jesus Christ who is fully God became flesh and dwelt among us, He lived a perfect and sinless life and in doing so fulfilled the law. I believe that He died on a cross on Calvary, was buried and rose again the third day and having fulfilled His purpose and having made propitiation for the sins of His sheep, He has ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God until the appointed time when the dead will rise and all will stand before the Judgment Seat. I am in complete agreement with the historic ecumenical creeds, the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, as statements of the faith which, although not authoritative in any sense, do provide a basis for common understanding among Christian brothers.

I believe in and hold firmly to the “Five Solas”: Sola Fide-Sola Gratia-Solus Christus-Sola Scriptura-Soli Deo Gloria

Those five phrases roughly translate into: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone revealed under the authority of the Scriptures alone for the Glory of God alone. That is eminently Biblical and foundational to the faith. We may disagree on the details of how that works but the essence is the same. I would also suggest that anyone who disagrees with the essence of those “Five Solas” is preaching another Gospel. That is a serious charge but if you declare that we are saved to any extent by our own works, if you accept extra-Biblical revelation or tradition as authoritative, you are preaching “another Gospel” and I stand with Paul in declaring that anathema (Gal 1: 8-9). That is not to say that there are not Christians who have a misunderstanding of the Gospel. Paul refers to those in Galatia being led astray by the false preachers as “brothers”. In those cases, it is the responsibility of the Christian to show the one in error “the way of God more accurately” in the same way that Aquila and Priscilla taught Apollos in Acts 18: 24-28. For those who are preaching “another Gospel” though, it would become an issue to break fellowship with.

I also hold firmly and unapologetically to the “Five Points of Calvinism” as expressed in the acrostic TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Preservation of the Saints. Calvinism is not about Calvin and would be just as true (although called something else!) if Calvin had never lived. In holding to these Five Points I do not exalt Calvin above other men nor do I find Calvin’s flaws to reflect upon the validity of Calvinism. Even as I find the Five Points to be an accurate system to help explain the Biblical doctrines of grace, I don’t see these “Five Points” as issues to divide over. I would not break fellowship with a brother who doesn’t agree with limited atonement. I would certainly open the Word and talk to him about it, but this is not an issue to break fellowship over. The “Five Solas” and the “Five Points of Calvinism” are critical issues in that they speak to the grand story of redemption and how a just and holy God redeemed a remnant of lost humanity. This is an area where I am in agreement with many of my brothers and they are truths that need to be taught more, not less, in the church.

Where I find myself at odds with many of my brothers is in how our salvation is lived out in the gathered church. In many ways I would be described as a “radical” in the sense that I don’t see any room for pragmatism or compromise or tradition in the gathering of the church. Like the Biblically orthodox majority of Anabaptists, I seek a return to the more primitive expression of the church. This may be more properly described as a Restoration rather than a Reformation. The Roman Catholic church was not and is not an institution that can be “reformed” because it is fundamentally flawed at its core. It has never been a Gospel organization and as such can never be reformed because it was never orthodox in the first place. We should turn to the 1st century, not the 16th, when seeking to fix what ails the church today. The best teachers on the church are not Luther and Calvin but Christ and Paul.

While I appreciate much of what was accomplished in the Reformation, specifically the denial of the Mass as heretical, the recovery of the authority of the Scriptures and the reaffirmation of justification being by faith alone, I am not seeking a return to the 16th century Protestantism. I find myself in agreement with the assessment of the early Anabaptist leaders who referred to the great Reformers like Luther and Zwingli as “half-way men”, men who we on the right track but who didn’t follow through. Much was corrected but far too much was retained.

This is not merely a dispute over infant baptism. It is no secret that I find no Scriptural basis for infant baptism and that I think it is an erroneous practice that misunderstands the purpose of baptism and misapplies it to those who not only have not but cannot exhibit the requisite repentance to be baptized. Infant baptism is a traditional practice that is a leftover from Rome and one that should have been eliminated during the Reformation but was not. Because of the long tradition and the emotional nature of infant baptism, it has been retained hundreds of years after the church broke free from the grip of Rome. Infant baptism applies the sign of covenant membership upon those who cannot possibly have demonstrated that they are indeed part of the Christian community. Having said that, infant baptism is just one of many areas where I see the Reformation as incomplete.

I believe that the entire system of clericalism, like infant baptism, is likewise a holdover from Rome. While not without its attractiveness to humans, by and large the division of the Body of Christ into professional clergy and passive laity has crippled the Body and left most Christians in a state of perpetual spiritual infancy. The practical result of a professional, separate clergy has been generations of general apathy, passivity and ignorance among the laity and overburdening, distance and pride among the clergy. I believe that the Scriptures paint a far different picture, one where all members of the Body minister to one another. I don’t see room for professional clergy, distinguished from the laity by office and education , being supported by the giving of that same laity. Ministers who are employees of a local organization have a necessarily different set of motivations from those who serve voluntarily. Paul found his reward in preaching the Gospel free of charge (1 Cor 9:18) and likewise we should not “hire” elders nor pay them a regular salary. Elders of all stripes should support themselves like Paul, by the labor of their own hands and not from the giving plate. Where elders are in need, the church should support them. That might include monetary support but it is no different from any other believer who should be ministered to by the church. We should recognize elders from within the local gathering, not by hiring men from outside of the local gathering.

On the church. I stand firmly on the doctrine that the church consists of all God’s elect, all who ever have, are now and ever will be regenerated and come to faith in Christ through God’s sovereign choice. There can be no unbelievers in the church by the very nature of the church. I reject the idea that the church is the fount of salvation in the sense of the Westminster Confession which declares in an echo of Roman Catholic teachings that outside of the visible church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (WCF Ch. 25, II). This teaching is an affront to the Word of God since we see no example of this anywhere in Scripture. On the day of Pentecost, where was the visible gathering of the church? Where was it when Cornelius and his household were saved? Where was it when the Ethiopian eunuch was saved? Where was it when the penitent thief on the cross was saved? The teaching that says “This organization is the true church and that one is not and therefore you cannot be saved outside of this organization” is more akin to mormonism than it is to the New Testament.

I also hold that the New Testament example of the church is the model we should base our practice upon, rather than the leftover traditions of Rome. The visible expression of the church is a voluntary association, one that cannot be coerced or inherited. That visible gathering is not an organization or a hierarchy and by its nature stands apart from the world while proclaiming to the world the risen Christ. The notion of Christendom, that the church and the state can exist in partnership is an abomination that led to Rome and the state churches of Europe. Formal church “membership” is foreign to the New Testament church.

I recognize and cherish that God has set aside men as elders to lead the church through service. Christians should submit to one another and should recognize as elders men who exhibit the signs of maturity and service we see described in the New Testament. Elders/pastors do serve an important purpose in the church, specifically to serve, instruct, encourage and equip others with the goal of bringing all Christians to a maturity in the faith (Eph 4:11-16). That doesn’t mean that the elders should always teach because how then would others grow and how would the whole body be edified as we see in 1 Corinthians 14? Elders are a gift to the entire Body, men who have achieved a maturity in the faith and exhibited by their lives that maturity. They have no authority outside of that granted them in Scripture and are not rulers in the church.

On the “Sacraments”. Neither baptism nor the Lord’s Supper are functions of the clergy as is commonly accepted by most of the church. There is simply no Scriptural command or example to limit the act of baptism or the “officiating” of the Supper to a specially ordained man or class of men. Baptism is an outward expression of an inward change, an act of obedience in response to being born-again. It is not to be applied to infants or to children who have parroted back a rote prayer, nor should it be withheld from one who makes a credible profession of faith in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal. Note the word I use is “ meal”. The degeneration of the Lord’s Supper into a somber ritual, infrequently held and consisting of tiny scraps of bread or sips of grape juice misses the nature of the Supper as a memorial to Christ and a prefiguring of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb to come. The early church devoted themselves to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42) and did so frequently, perhaps daily, not once a quarter or even only every Sunday (Acts 2:46). We likewise should break bread together as the Body of Christ far more frequently than we do.

We read from Paul on the pages of Holy Writ that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10). Our Savior likewise had some less than complimentary things to say about the desire for wealth (see Matt 19:16-24, Mark 4:19, Luke 6:24, Luke 12: 13-21, etc, etc, etc). We see that truth lived out all around us, every day. Unfortunately we see this also demonstrated on a regular basis within the church. Few things divide the gathered church more than money and few things segregate Christians from one another while simultaneously associating us with the unbelieving world like wealth. The Church far too often resembles the unbelieving world around us more than the gathered, redeemed sheep of Christ. The early church saw the love of money and possessions to be of no value but instead sold what they had and laid it at the feet of the apostles such that there were none among them who went without. The reward of the believer is in the life to come and so we should neither seek nor desire riches and wealth in this life. Christianity is not a branch of capitalism nor is it a type of socialism. It is something else entirely. The gathered Body should deal honestly with the world but we should deal in a distinctly counter-cultural way with one another. Our relationship to one another is a testimony to an unbelieving world and one that in the church in the West often looks little different from the rest of the world.

Money is but one of the ways in which the distinction between the church and the world has been blurred. The church must be separate and distinct from the world. Where believers try to mix the world and the church, it is the church that is changed and not the world. If the church resembles the world, the witness of the church is damaged. It is little wonder that so much about the gathered church is appealing to the world because it is indistinguishable from the world. If the unregenerate world can look on the church without revulsion and disdain, something is wrong. It is not the goal of the church to be appealing to the world but to present a contrast to the world. When we adopt the world’s methods and values, we lose the distinctiveness of the church which again is a testimony to and an indictment of the unbelieving world. Merely avoiding the “wrong” kinds of movies is merely scratching the surface of what it means to be unstained from the world (James 1:27). I contend that in the ways that truly matter, most of the church and I include myself in this condemnation live in a manner that is virtually indistinguishable from my unsaved neighbors.

I do hold to some of the traditional views regarding the gathering of the church, not because they are traditional but because they are Biblical. I think it is vital that Christians gather in community, although I would reject the traditional notion that this can be accomplished by a couple of carefully orchestrated meetings for a few hours each week. I also do not see Sunday mornings are some sort of divinely ordained time to meet. I reject the teaching that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. I would likewise hold to the idea of equality before Christ but with roles that are specifically ordained by God for the two genders. I think that radical egalitarianism in the operation of the Body is without Scriptural support and that in fact the opposite is true. Men and women, equal in Christ but different in calling, have specific roles that are ordained by God and gifted into the individual by God. Men are called to leadership in the home, family and the gathered church. Just as the first woman Eve was created as a helper suitable for Adam, so also are women in a similar role today. Women are not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men. I also believe that Scripture is explicitly clear that wives are to cover their heads as a symbol of authority when praying or prophesying. That is not to say women have no role, just that their role as keepers of the home and rearing children is different than that of men by design. Because we have by and large abandoned this God ordained pattern in deed if not in creed, we have women seeking to be in authority over men, men who fail to lead in the church and home, as well as children who are confused and raised by strangers instead of their mothers. Often this is a result of women seeking to “fill in the gap” where men have failed. The solution to men failing to lead in the home and the church is not to have women violate Scripture to take their places but instead to call Christian men to repent of their failure to lead.

I believe in a roughly amillenial view of eschatology. I reject dispensationalism as a system, especially where it wrongly divides the people of God into Israel and the church. Jesus Christ, having inaugurated His Kingom and reigning in heaven at the right hand of the Father, is preparing for the culmination at the Last Judgment when the dead are raised, the righteous in Christ to eternal life and those outside of Christ to eternal damnation. I think it is dangerous to try to use a wooden literalism to interpret the visions of John in his revelation. Where John is seeing images and visions we should recognize and interpret them as such instead of trying to force interpretations on the text. Excessive certitude about the end-times is dangerous and divisive and ultimately unproductive. We know the basic truth that Jesus will return, He will judge all mankind and until that time we are to live together as the church and declare Christ to the lost. That is enough to keep us busy without trying to identify the anti-Christ.

I hold that the New Covenant, the covenant in Christ for the believer, is exactly what it says it is in Jeremiah 31: 31-34 “a new covenant…not like the covenant I made with their fathers…”. Hebrews 8:13 tells us that with the coming of the New Covenant, the Old is made obsolete (speaking specifically in reference to Jeremiah 31: 31-34). We have a new and better covenant with better promises and a better mediator. We should not seek to return to the promises of the Old (i.e. the land) nor should we seek to carry on the practices of the Old (i.e. applying baptism like circumcision to infants).

I believe that the family is central to the life of the church. Families should worship together when the church gathers and the gathering of the church should welcome families of believers. Just as men are to lead in the church, they are also called to lead in the family. The family is the primary means of educating children. It is not the place of the church to educate children and it certainly is not the place of the state. The children of Christians need to be taught from their youth by their parents and that solemn task is not one that can be subcontracted to a "youth pastor" or "children's church".

I also reject most modern exhibitions of signs and wonders as nothing less than charlatanism. Speaking in tongues, prophetic revelation and miraculous healings would fall into this category. That is not to say that God is unable to heal people, He can and does. God has spoken finally and authoritatively in His Son (Heb 1: 1-2) and no longer reveals new revelations. Again, that is not to limit God but it is to say that the exhibitions of the so-called sign gifts we see today are the work of shysters and deceivers and neither take on the form nor fulfill the purpose of the sign gifts in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit certainly still works for the regeneration, edification, sanctification and preservation of believers today. If He was not at work, there wouldn’t be a saved person on earth.

As I stated at the beginning, this is just an attempt to lay out where I stand for those who stumble across my blog and are trying to figure out where I am coming from. Also as mentioned, most of what you see above has been addressed in far greater detail in a blog posting at some other time. I would welcome questions via email if you need clarification.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A quick thought on teaching

It is absolutely essential to have solid, Biblical teaching in the gathering of the church but it is not sufficient to merely have solid, Biblical teaching in the gathering of the church.

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More on multi-site churches

If you saw USA Today this morning, the cover featured a story on “multi-site churches”: Multi-site churches: A new variety of religious experience. Specifically it referenced Tim Keller who is driven all over New York City to preach the same message to different groups. The article is an interesting read and the tone is reflective of the pastor-centric, sermon focused model. This makes all the sense in the world if you think the primary focus of the gathering of the church is to hear a sermon and sing a few songs. The “brand” becomes important whether you are Tim Keller (hip, urban, orthodox) or John Piper (passionate, reformed, energetic). Satellite churches implicitly say that what comes out of their pulpit is better than whatever comes out of another pulpit. Why listen to a mediocre pastor when you can get a great pastor, either live or via video conferencing?

Again, at the risk of repeating myself, why even have a pastor at all? When you have instant access to the video sermons of men like John Piper and if the purpose of the gathering of the church is to hear a sermon and do some music, why bother hiring someone? Even if you pay Piper a nominal fee it would be cheaper than hiring a pastor and supporting him and his family.

Is there a personal touch missing? Some people say yes, like this person quoted in the article:

"I do miss having a pastor at the door shaking hands in the 'check-out line,' " says Lauren Green, drawn to join Redeemer by Keller's preaching. "But I realize that model of a personal relationship with a particular pastor is probably gone."

If that is your idea of a “personal relationship with a particular pastor”, I think you can do without it. Maybe the A/V guy can be the one you shake hands with and instead of saying “Great sermon” you can shake his hand and say “Great broadcast”.

I think the most disturbing thing for me was a line near the end of the article:

Now, Keller frets as he pushes Redeemer toward a $20 million plan for six more sites in the next 10 years.

Think about that number. $20,000,000 to replicate Redeemer in six more sites. I get that Keller is an amazing speaker. I also appreciate that he is highly orthodox, so the message people are getting is a solid one. I have to question whether this is in any way a reflection, in spirit or in fact, of the purpose of the gathering of the church we see in the New Testament. Take the video aspect out of it because that didn’t exist in the first century (and also keep in mind that Christ came, died and rose again and established the church at a specific time and place that did not have this. If he wanted a video-linked church, why wouldn’t He have come in 2010?). Is it proper to have huge churches full of people who don’t know each other and could probably walk past each other on Monday on the street without realizing they were in the same service on Sunday morning? Is it seemly to raise and spend tens of millions of dollars to set up satellite sites?

Satellite churches seem to be the wave of the future. I can really see it in more rural areas. In many areas, you can’t find the flavor of church you are looking for but why bother when you can just watch the broadcast from a satellite location?

To borrow from Alan’s concept…

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting set up satellite churches in every town so that they could get the same sermon from Paul every Sunday they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14: 23 remix)

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