Friday, July 31, 2009

Where are our priorities?

I have been sitting here all day just feeling empty inside thinking about the lack of Biblical priority in the church. That emptiness is turning into white hot anger.

Prepare for a rant…

I don’t have statistics in front of me, but I am confident that a huge percentage of the budget of an average church goes to pay for staff salaries and buildings. We expect pastors to spend upwards of 15-20 hours a week reading and then telling us about what they read and the average church gladly pays them to do that. We have meetings ad nauseum about this program or that, about the budget, about all manner of inane stuff. I recall very recently reading something on a church webpage (I won’t name the church) and I about went through the roof. This is copied directly from their “fast facts” about their "church":

■ Located on 140 acres with land and buildings of current net worth near over 50 million dollars
■ 3,000 parking spaces on about 30 acres
■ Worship Center has seating for over 5,500
■ Pipe organ has 118 ranks; 6,737 pipes
■ Annual budget over $17 million
■ Give approximately 1.5 million per year to missions, the largest contributor of any Southern Baptist Church in the U.S. (my note: that means that 8% of their $17,000,000 budget goes to "missions")
■ Membership—15,000
■ Average Sunday morning Bible study attendance: 3,800
■ Over 300 Bible study classes for all ages.
■ Approximately 7,000 in worship attendance on Sunday mornings in three worship services
■ About 140 full-time staff, plus about 215 part-time
■ 24 pastoral staff
■ Purchased former RC Cola bottling plant, adjacent land, Fall 2001; over $3 million given in two months

What kind of a twisted view of the Gospel ministry would make someone put a list like that out in public and think it reflected well on them? The same sort of mindset that would print up matching T-shirts for over 300 people to wear when getting “baptized” in a circus atmosphere. This is not some postmodern, seeker sensitive megachurch, it is a conservative Baptist church. Is that list supposed to make me want to go there on a Sunday morning? I read that list and wondered what exactly the object of their worship is. It certainly is not a sign of God's providence, it is a sign of idolatry.


There are missionaries sitting around the states who are not going to the world to bring people the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of a lack of funds. Cults like the mormons make missions a priority, meanwhile we can’t be bothered to talk to our neighbors about Christ. Before we spend one nickel on an unnecessary building project (and most building projects are unnecessary in my opinion) or hire one more staff member, we better make sure that every Biblically sound missionary who has raised their hand and said “send me” is on a plane to minister to lost people overseas or right here in the states. Let me go even further. I would challenge pastors to step down and the rest of the men to step up so that staff salaries could go to missionary work. We shouldn't have to pay men to do what the rest of us are called and capable, but too lazy, to do ourselves.

There are innumerable families who desperately want to adopt children but cannot because of red tape and exorbitant costs and there are on the other side innumerable children in horrible situations that are waiting for a family to adopt them. In my time in banking I can tell you without hesitation that many churches are sitting on enormous sums of money, saved up for a rainy day. They save this money because they have such huge fixed costs in the form of buildings and staff. The church in America is enslaved by money. I am just sick inside when on the one hand I think of the gleaming, brand new “churches” in every town in America and on the other hand all of the orphans waiting to be adopted by someone, anyone, who will love and care for them. They don’t want a blackberry or an x-box, they just want a roof over their head, food to eat and to live each day and not be in fear.

There are Christians all over the world that don’t have Bibles in their own language and cannot afford to buy one. They are starving for the Word of God and vulnerable to false teachers and we buy $125 calfskin study Bibles. I probably have more Bibles on my bookshelf than many churches in China have in the entire congregation. We put Bibles in the pews for people too lazy to bring their own Bible to church that sit unread all week long and our brothers and sisters risk life and limb to smuggle Bibles to those without.

There are widows who are lonely and waiting to be visited, but no one does because “that is the pastor’s job”. We subcontract ministry to one or a few men and expect them to minister to everyone else. See the above challenge to “step down and step up”.

If you are involved in a church that meets in an old building, or in a school, or someplace else, don’t give in to the prevailing worldview and go into debt to buy a building that will sit empty all week. Use what you have. If you want to plant a church, don’t wait for a paid minister to come to town, just open your home to the saints. It worked 2000 years ago, it still works today. If your congregation is sitting on $25,000 or $50,000 or more in the bank for a “rainy day”, ask yourself what you could be putting that money to use for that would advance the Gospel.

I am glad Christ cared more about sacrificing Himself so that we could be adopted into His family than He was about building glorious temples to Himself. I wish we had that same level of care for others around us.

An argument against single parent adoption by a proponent of adoption

Voddie Baucham makes a great argument against single parent adoption in a recent blog post. I think adoption is a wonderful thing. I also think that having single people adopt is generally a bad thing for a variety of reasons. Not because single parents are bad people but because intact two parent families with a mother and father are proven to be healthier and frankly are Scriptural. We should not compromise because there are so many kids waiting for adoption by encouraging single parent adoption, we should exhort two parent families to adopt children whether they have their own kids or not, and the church should support that. I would rather see the church help offset adoption costs for couples willing to adopt than I would see yet another church building being built or more staff be added to a local church. A church with $100,000 in its "building fund" could help ten families adopt instead of building a new wing or sanctuary. I would rather have an old, run-down building full of kids who were adopted into Christian families than the finest, state of the art sanctuary. There is an opportunity cost for every penny spent in the church on staff, buildings, programs, denominational bureaucrats and that cost has a real impact on real lives. The more I think about this as I type, the more wound up I get. There are so many kids waiting to be adopted and yet we spend billions every year on staff and buildings. God forgive us for our neglect of the parentless in our pursuit of worldy success and glory.

I especially liked this paragraph:

I realize this argument is politically incorrect. And I am sure there are readers out there seething as they think about the child (or children) who found a home with some sweet, single, godly woman who gave them a wonderful life. However, we cannot make policy based solely on anecdotal ‘success’ stories. The fact that God can use ‘less-than-ideal’ circumstances is an argument for his providence, not an excuse to “put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7 ESV) God intends for children to have mothers and fathers. While he can and has, in his providence, allowed children to reach maturity and come to faith in spite of the absence of one of their parents, it does not negate his model for the family.

I think that is a great statement and contains an important principle. It seems that sometimes we look at anecdotal, “one off” incidents and use that to justify our deviation from Scripture. Pragmatism shouldn’t trump principle, although it often does in our homes, our families and in the church. From education to ministry, we use “reality” to explain away Scripture and that simply is not acceptable. The example does not negate the principle. If Scripture makes a clear declaration, I think it is dangerous to try to use a perceived real life success story to undermine what Scripture says.

Voddie Baucham is rarely politically correct and for that I applaud him. He often will say the things that no one else will say but still need to be said. I am really hoping we can get him to speak at the INCH home school convention in Michigan next year.

2010 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology

The topic for the 2010 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology is out and is: These Last Days: A Christian View of History. I am guessing we will not be getting a bunch of eschatology charts trying to pin down the identity of the Antichrist.

Looks like a good conference. I am excited that we are going to have Alistair Begg, Ligon Duncan, D.A. Carson and Cornelius Venema coming to Grand Rapids in 2010. Should be great and it also is not running at the same time as Together for the Gospel this year so I can go to both.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The myth of value neutral education

Check out this video by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. I don't agree with everything he says, especially the "Christian America" talk, but I think he makes great points about the poison many kids are being fed daily in public schools. We let our kids get fed childish version of Biblical history dressed up as cutesy "Bible stories" and at the same time tell them they are getting educated in the public schools. We cannot say on the one hand say that the historical accounts in the Bible are mere "Bible stories" that are presented like fairy tales and on the other tell kids that they get "educated" in schools where the Biblical truth is denied without reaping the consequences.

Also check out Do You Know What Your Children Are Being Taught in School? as an additional resource.

I got a chuckle out of this

I was reading about something else and followed a link to the webpage of the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, which is a useful webpage and one I have book marked. The link led to an electronic book of sorts called The Anabaptists and their Stepchildren, I assume that was intended as a clever play on on the title of Leonard Verduin's book "The Reformers and their Stepchildren". I didn't read much of it, but I did read the final chapter: (Ana)Baptists of all countries -- repent!. I laughed out loud at this gem....

Karl Marx, himself a stepchild of the communistic Anabaptists, loved to enjoin: "Workers of the world -- unite!"But, standing upon Scripture, Christian Calvinists now say to all such stepchildren: "Anabaptists of all countries -- repent!"

We therefore call upon all of the various stepchildren of the Anabaptists -- including justified Baptists; heretical Seventh-day Adventists; apostate "Jehovah witnesses"; polytheistic Mormons; and atheistic Communists -- to repent of their great sin of antipaidobaptism (and of all their other sins).

Standing upon Scripture -- Matthew 28:18f and Revelation 7:2f & 9:4 & 12:17 & 14:1 & 21:2,24 & 22:3f -- we now call upon them all to repent of their antipaidobaptism. We call upon them: to bring their babies and their other children to that great King of men and divine Leader of angels, the mighty Archangel Jesus; to get them all baptized on their foreheads with the seal of the Triune God; and then to urge them life-long to improve that baptism.

I think the guy is serious. I have seen a lot of misrepresentations of Biblical, i.e. believers, baptism but I am not sure I have ever seen "antipaidobaptism" linked with Karl Marx, mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and atheistic Communists before.

A looming gender and age crisis in China

There is a report out from China Daily referenced in the Wall Street Journal and it contains a horrifying statistic regarding abortion in China. 40% of all Chinese pregnancies end in abortion. That is 13,000,000 unborn children that have had their lives snuffed out in the womb. That sort of carnage is really unimaginable. The number of lives lost to abortion every year in China is about the same as the number of lives lost during the entire Holocaust.

Even worse, that number, as horrific as it sounds, it might be far too low:

Wu said the true number of abortions is much higher than the reported figure of 13 million, which doesn’t include abortions performed in unlicensed clinics or account for the use of abortion pills in the early stages of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, China continues to see an increase in gender imbalance and will continue to see an age imbalance as their population grows older and that elderly population finds fewer young workers to support them. There is a very dangerous demographic trend in China that is repeated on a smaller scale in other nations: an overrepresented population of young men and a swelling population of elderly. To get a sense for this, it was recently reported just how dramatic the gender imbalance is in China:

A new study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) puts an alarming number on China’s gender gap. In 2005, it says, there were 32 million more males than females under the age of 20.

The cause is no surprise: A one-child policy combined and a cultural preference for boys that leads some prospective parents to abort female fetuses

32 million more males than females. Millions of men unable to find spouses. That spells social and economic catastrophe for China and that can only have ominous consequences for the rest of Asia and the world. The last thing the world needs is a nascent economic and military superpower, armed with nuclear weapons, with an economic crisis and an overpopulation of young men.

We have a smaller scale but just as pressing problem in America. In America we abort 1,200,000 babies on an annual basis. Those are workers who will not be buying products or paying taxes into the gaping maw of the social security system and the rest of the Federal government. We are faced, before we even start to think about adding an enormously expensive and undoubtedly inefficient single payer universal health care system, with an unattainable promise in the Social Security system. The system is already running out of money, a situation that is only going to get worse in the coming years as the ratio of workers paying into the system and elderly receiving benefits continues to tilt in a gray-ward direction. Fewer workers cannot support great numbers of elderly with the same level of benefits without drastic changes or frankly unreasonable tax increases.

The worldview that sees children as a burden on the family, the economy and the environment is leading to a world full of the elderly with no one to support them. How long can it be before the reality of this situation leads to calls for selective euthanasia, to eliminate the inconvenient and the unwanted elderly? That logic seems to work fine for the priests of the goddess “Choice” when it comes to unborn children and given how little we value life anymore, why not eliminate the weak so that the strong may survive and thrive? Undesirables are growing ever more expendable and where in the world does it stop?

The architects of the Final Solution would be proud.

Washing the feet of the saints

Is foot washing normative in the church today?

I am clearly a big advocate of headcovering, both from an obedience standpoint and, if I am honest, from the standpoint of calling the church to consistent practice where Scripture speaks and silence where Scripture is silent. An issue that I find to be similar to headcovering is foot washing. It is similar in terms of it being something practiced by the church for a long time, being more recently abandoned and dismissed as a cultural relic. I fully admit that I have not been as diligent when it comes to foot washing but it is something I have been mulling over for a long time.

We have two sources here, one a passing reference and one big one that really is hard to explain away.

First, we see Jesus actually washing the feet of His disciples in John 13: 1-15. Let’s look at the whole passage, because it is a lengthy account:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13: 1-15)

The key I think is in verse 14-15 where Christ says: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Well, that seems pretty straightforward. Foot washing is obviously a more personal and intimate practice. You can pass around a plate of bread and cups of wine/grape juice but washing the feet of another person is, well, kind of in their personal space.

We also see mention of the washing of feet in 1 Timothy 5:9-10, where we see Paul speaking positively of widows who have “washed the feet of the saints” as being one example of a good work. So in the early church, people still washed the feet of the saints and this practice is not merely described but spoken of approvingly. That is a major qualifier, there is a difference between a mere recording of an event and an affirmative remark accompanying the recollection of an event. It seems like a minor thing but I think it is vital to examine recollections to see if they are merely recollections or if they are accompanied by a qualifier, either positively or negatively.

There is additional mention of the washing of feet in the Old Testament as an act of hospitality and of purification in several places, but I don’t think that those examples are necessarily all that useful in the church under the new covenant. As a practice, we do see the continuity of foot washing into the New Testament and the traditional practice clearly tempered Peter’s response to Jesus washing his feet. The washing of feet has a clear connotation to Peter and other Jews based on the Old Testament, which is at least in part why Peter has such a visceral reaction when Christ says He is going to wash Peter’s feet. I don’t think we should use Old Testament verses to support or perhaps deny the normative nature of footwashing for today.

Based on some slim pickings, we do see mention of foot washing apparently in the early centuries of the church from Tertullian and Augustine (I don’t have solid documentation to back that up). We also see footwashing being a practice of many of the radical reformation churches and still practiced today in some Baptist, Pentecostal and Anabaptist descendent groups (there are quite a few resources about this practice online that I am digging into). I tentatively would say that the washing of feet was a relatively common practice in the early church and all the way up to at least the Reformation and the Radical Reformation era.

Roman Catholics (and apparently some of the Orthodox) still practice foot washing, but is seems to have (like most Roman practices) devolved into a mere ritualistic observation once a year that has lost the meaning of the early church. I am no more interested in rote, ritualistic repetition here than I am in the Lord’s Supper or anything else in the church.

This all raises the obvious question. Is foot washing normative today? Boy it is easy to throw out the cultural card here, well we don’t wear sandals so we don’t need to wash feet today, the purpose is merely symbolic of serving one another, etc. That is always a copout without doing the work of really examining the Scriptures and seeing if the practice is normative today.

So what say you? From a consistency stand point, should we wash the feet of the saints literally today? Should we dismiss this as a cultural issue of that day? Should we try to replace the washing of feet with another form of selfless service that makes more sense in today’s world? Keep in mind as you respond some of the other practices we assume are normative today and whether or not the evidence in the text is as supportive of those practices as it is of foot washing.

My conclusion will come later.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So here is a question

If a man has all of the qualities of an elder and has been in fellowship with a local gathering of the church for an acceptable length of time (say, two years) but is not a formal "member" of that local body, can he be recognized by that body as an elder?

Drawing the sword on behalf of the Gospel

Romans 13: 1-7 speaks of the relationship between the civil government and the Christian. Christians are to be subject to civil authorities and indeed, as hard as it can be sometimes to accept for some of us, those in authority over us are not there in spite of God's will but because of it. We also should see in Scripture a clear line of difference between the sphere of the secular world and the Church.

What then do you think of this from the Belgic Confession, one of the Three Forms of Unity for Reformed denominations and beloved by many of the Reformed denominational churches (emphasis added)?

Article 36: The Civil Government
  • We believe that because of the depravity of the human race our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. He wants the world to be governed by laws and policies so that human lawlessness may be restrained and that everything may be conducted in good order among human beings.

    For that purpose he has placed the sword in the hands of the government, to punish evil people and protect the good.

    And being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, subject to God's law, of removing every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship.

    They should do this while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them, with the means belonging to them.

    And the government's task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word.

    Moreover everyone, regardless of status, condition, or rank, must be subject to the government, and pay taxes, and hold its representatives in honor and respect, and obey them in all things that are not in conflict with God's Word, praying for them that the Lord may be willing to lead them in all their ways and that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all piety and decency.

    And on this matter we denounce the Anabaptists, other anarchists, and in general all those who want to reject the authorities and civil officers and to subvert justice by introducing common ownership of goods and corrupting the moral order that God has established among human beings.

Keep in mind that the Belgic Confession is still used widely among those who are in historically Reformed denominations (I differentiate between being "Reformed" versus being in a church that is part of a "Reformed denomination"). Many of them have modified the content of this article because it is so patently unbiblical but the same mindset that wrote Article 36 in its original form is what crafted the rest of the Belgic Confession.

I was curious to see what Reformed commentators had to say about this. I didn't find much but I did find a commentary on the Belgic Confession by Kim Riddlebarger. Riddlebarger’s defense of article 36 focused far more on the alleged errors of the Anabaptists than it did on the erroneous view of the relationship between the church and the state intended by the authors of the Belgic Confession. I find the mindset that lumps all Anabaptists in with the Muenster Rebellion and therefore arbitrarily rejects anything they wrote or believed to be intellectually lazy.

I agree with Leonard Verduin that the Reformers, Luther and company, were faced with a difficult task. To stand up for the Gospel in the 1500’s was to invite being struck down by the sword, so the Reformers by and large embraced the protection of the state and in doing so preserved their own lives but dangerously intertwined the church with the state. Out of fear of the sword, they in many cases embraced the sword. We can look back and be critical of that but we also aren’t facing a slow death by being burned alive at the stake. Nevertheless, we need to keep that context in mind when we read the confessions and where the confessions or the magisterial Reformers or the Anabaptists are incorrect or need clarification, we should be willing to do so.

I am not anyone's idea of a pacifist. However, I find the idea that the church should embrace the state to raise the sword to strike down heretics repugnant. There is a legitimate role for the state to promote an orderly society but the church should not use the state as muscle to enforce its doctrines and promote one faith over another. We see the results of this sort of thinking with the turmoil after the beginning of the Reformation, when Rome had "heretics" put to death, where Protestants killed Catholics and where both magisterial Reformers and Roman Catholics had Anabaptists put to death. In every case, the state was used as the sword for the church to enforce its doctrines. I think you are hard pressed to argue that the time between the rise of Constantine and the beginning of the Reformation was a golden age in the church. In times and places where the state has used prison, the sword and the stake to enforce loyalty to the church, the Gospel witness has suffered. Even men we admire like John Calvin need to be held to account where they err. In places where Calvin approved of and later defended the state taking the life of Servetus, he erred and we should not fear to say so. In places where the confessions call for things that are unbiblical like the state enforcing doctrine with the sword, we shouldn’t try to explain it away, we should acknowledge that the authors of the confessions were in error.

Having too high a view of the creeds and confessions leads to defenses of things that are on their face indefensible. I appreciate the confessions as useful aids to our study. I would be in fundamental agreement with most of the 1644 and 1689 London confessions, and find much I agree with in the Belgic and Westminster confessions especially where the confessions address the nature of God and justification. Taken to an extreme however, confessional devotion can be dangerous. I think you see signs of this when men respond to questions of doctrine with quotes from confessions, as if the confessions are settled matters and unquestionable. As Article 36 proves, there are plenty of places in even the most cherished confessions where we need to hold what is written up to the light of Scripture. Being old and carrying the label “Reformed” does not place a document above examination or reproach.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heat, light and perceived gender inequality

When it comes to the issue of women in the church and the home, there tends to be a lot more heat than light. I want to take a step back and move beyond dueling prooftexts and look at the issue from a systematic way. When we approach this issue, it is easy to devolve into empty and angry rhetoric. It can be an emotionally charged issue in contemporary culture. One side claims that the other is capitulating to feminism and ignoring Scripture and the other retorts that their opponents are subjugating women and using the Bible to perpetuate an ancient patriarchal system. That isn’t very helpful. Let’s examine what the text says and make note of what the text does not say.

I want to start off in 1 Corinthians 14: 33-35. I think 1 Cor 14: 33-35 should be our baseline when we approach this issue because 1 Cor 14: 33-35 is the most restrictive passage when it comes to the role of women in the church. Let’s look at the verses in question:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1Co 14:33-35)

Lets look at what the text says and doesn't say. Paul says that in all of the churches of the saints (a universal principle), women should keep silent. Not at certain times, not in particular context. To clarify, Paul gives us an alternative. If women have questions, they should ask their husbands at home. It is kind of hard to reconcile that with a nonexistent context that permits them to speak. Paul closes with a similarly hard hitting statement that it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. He doesn't qualify that statement.

Taken at face value, women shouldn’t make a peep in church based on 1 Corinthians 14: 33-25. Silent is a pretty strong word in English and I assume it is similarly unambiguous in the Greek. So is shameful. There is nothing in the text itself or the surrounding context, nothing, that would imply that Paul means anything other than what he says here.

So we are left, taking 1 Cor 14: 33-35 in a vacuum, with women prohibited from so much as clearing their throats in church. When we are faced with a text like 1 Cor 14: 33-35, we have a couple of choices. We can decide it is just too draconian and that Paul must not have meant what the text says and find some way to disprove it or at least find a loophole around it. Or we can do the work of clarifying what Paul meant with the tools we have been given, i.e. the rest of Scripture.

In order to figure out what these passages in 1 Corinthians 14 mean and are intended to convey, we need to examine the context. By that I mean the context that is provided, not assuming a context that isn’t there. If the Scriptures are truly sufficient and inerrant, we must assume that the Holy Spirit led these men to write what was needed and in such a way that it would be clear to those who need to use it in the first century as well as the twenty first century. Fortunately, this is not the only mention of the “silence doctrine”. We also have 1 Tim 2: 11-15 which gives us a more complete picture.

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1Ti 2:11-15)

So Paul is clarifying here what is prohibited by giving two specific examples. This is not a complete prohibition on women speaking, but it is a prohibition nonetheless. Women are not to teach men and women are not to be in authority over men. Paul makes no mention of singing, he makes no mention of praying. Teaching and having authority regarding men. So when you take these two passages together, you get a picture and one that has been the standard in conservative Christian circles for a very long time. Something being around a long time never is proof in and of itself, but with passages like these two that are pretty unambiguous that have received pretty consistent treatment throughout the centuries, longevity and universality are excellent supports for the doctrine.

When it comes to women teaching men or being in authority over men in the church or the home, Scripture is unequivocal that this is not to take place. I feel quite comfortable in making that assertion without qualification.

Similarly, when we look at the issue of elders, there is no room for varying interpretation. Every mention of elders where we can draw a conclusion assumes that elders are only men. This makes sense given the above passages. Elders lead and elders should be able to teach. If women are permitted to be elders but not permitted to teach, that quality makes little sense (note: I understand and agree that the Paul’s letters to Timothy are not qualifications for being an elder, but they do contain qualities to be sought in an elder).

So what does that allow women to do? Watch kids in the nursery and prepare potluck meals? Hardly. Women have a cherished and valuable role in the church and in the greater Christian community. It is a patently false notion that because women are not called to lead and teach in the church, they have no value. Dare I say again that this is perhaps the result of the same sort of mindset that exalts clergy over the laity? It is another false dichotomy, either women must be allowed to teach and exert authority over men regardless of what Scripture says or women are unequal and being degraded in a patriarchal system. I say that is rubbish.

How about prophesy? There are several mentions of prophetic utterances by women in the New Testament. We read first of Philip’s four daughters prophesying. That is all we know about them, so we should be cautious to applying doctrine based on that verse. We also read that women should cover their heads when prophesying and praying in 1 Corinthians 11. (As a side note, if you are going to defend women speaking in church by using 1 Corinthians 11, you better have a wife who covers her head. Similarly, if you are going to use 1 Cor 14: 33-35 literally to prohibit women from teaching, you probably should have you wife cover.) This is important to emphasize: women prophesying does not negate the commands of Paul regarding women teaching or holding authority over men. That then raises another question: what do we know about prophesying and does that mesh with what Paul is saying in 1 Cor 14: 33-35 and 1 Tim 2: 11-15? In Acts 2: 17-18 we see a repeating of the prophecy of Joel that when the Holy Spirit comes upon people, men and women will prophesy. In Acts 19:6 we see prophesy being spoken of again in conjunction with the outpouring of the Spirit. In 1 Cor 14 we see prophecy alongside speaking in tongues, again a working of the Holy Spirit. We have the verse in Acts 21:9 about Philip's virgin daughters prophesying, with no detail and no specifics. I think it is safe to say that speaking prophetically is a miraculous working of the Holy Spirit and as such is different than the regular teaching that occurs when the church gathers. It certainly seems that prophesy is not limited to men. It also is equally clear that prophesy is a sovereignly designated event through the power of the Holy Spirit and is not normative in the church.

What about praying? We also know that women prayed when the church gathered. We see this from the depiction in Acts 1:14. We also see that women are involved in prayer in 1 Corinthians 11. What is not specified is if they were in silent prayer or if they audibly prayed. What would be consistent with the overall theme is that they prayed along with the men, but that the men audibly prayed and “led” the prayers in the assembled body. Again, this is seeking consistency in practice and not creating contradictions where none appear. Is a prayer uttered by a woman silently or in her home or in a group of women less authentic than one uttered in public by a man? If it is not, and it is clearly silly to even think so, why the concern? It strikes me that again we see a subconscious reverting to the idea of a clerical superiority.

As a side note, there are several excellent treatments of the prophesy/prayer issue at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood site. Here is one I liked, Gender Based Boundaries for Gathered Congregations: An Interpretive History of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I don't agree in lockstep with every conclusion but it covers a pretty wide range of topics including several from other viewpoints and even minor quibbles within the complementarian ranks.

Women are not only permitted to teach but are encouraged to teach other women. Titus 2: 3-5 speaks of this. No one ever would assume being a wife and mother is easy work. We have so many wise older sisters in the church and yet we also have a lot of young wives and mothers. Get them together. We don’t need more preachers and we don’t need more Sunday school teachers. We need more intergenerational wisdom being passed on.

There are some ancillary issues that we need to work on regarding the roles of the different genders in the church. When Paul is writing about restrictions of women, he is referencing the home/family and the church. So what does that mean for women in the secular world? What about women witnessing to men who aren’t Christians? There are plenty of issues that still need prayerful consideration. Our approach should always be to prayerfully consider what is in the text and if something is unclear, search the Scriptures for clarification. In our sinful state, the Scriptures are not always as clear as we would like. That is why we have a Bible instead of a pamphlet. We should seek clarification from within the text, not outside the text. I am confident that everything we need to know in this life can be gleaned from the Scriptures and that we should never find ourselves “filling in the blanks”. Our task is a difficult one, working through these issues in the Scriptures takes hard work. But to paraphrase Lionel Woods on an unrelated subject…

“Whenever we come to the bible and something is tough, we must find ourselves surrendering to it, or we find ourselves shaping the God of the bible in our own image.”

Amen to that brother!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Showing honor to our wives

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1Pe 3:7)

How do we honor and esteem our wives?

We do not esteem our wives by asking them to do what we have been called to do. Abdication of leadership in the church and the home is not a sign that we honor our wives, it is a sign that we are lazy. I fear that some of my brothers who are seeking a Biblical ecclesiology have not only cast the baby out with bathwater, they have inadvertently slipped backed into the institutional thinking that places a premium on preaching and teaching over all other callings in the church. All callings in the church have value and by exalting the role of leadership and preaching by insisting that Biblical roles be set aside betrays the idea that all members of the Body of Christ have a vital but different role to play. More on this later.

We do not honor our wives by telling them that how they were made and to what they were called by our mutual Creator is inferior and that in order to be valuable in the eyes of God they need to ignore His Word and listen to the values and standards of the world.

We esteem our wives by recognizing and taking joy in their unique womanhood. We honor our wives by honoring their callings. We honor them by not only recognizing but taking joy in the differences in nature and calling that God has ordained. Equality in salvation does not equate to uniformity in calling.

We honor our wives by taking joy in them and in recognizing their unique and irreplaceable call as our helpmeets. We show honor to our wives by protecting them and by leading in the home. By respecting her and demanding that same respect from our children and from others toward her.

Most of all we honor our wives by loving them as Christ loved the church. He loved His elect so much that He laid down His life for us. How many of us can say that we love our wives in this way? I know I fall far short of that but I strive to live up to that lofty goal in my own imperfect and inadequate way. Our wives are heirs with us in salvation and the blood that Jesus Christ shed for them is as precious as the blood He shed for us. The same one who died for His sheep, men and women alike, ordained roles that suit and complement one another in the church and the home.

Honor His Word by honoring our wives and by honoring womanhood.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

If only Sodom and Gomorrah had a single-payer health insurance system


Every now and again someone makes such a mind-numbingly ignorant claim that it just demands a response. An article Monday in USA Today’s On Religion column is fits the bill precisely. Most of the articles published in the On Religion column are written from a weird, wishy-washy ecumenical position but the one today takes the cake. Titled Would God back universal health care?, the author Oliver Thomas makes a (very poor) case that God supports universal, government run health care. His logic is a faulty as Pat Robertson’s when calling for the U.S. government to assassinate Hugo Chavez.

When someone makes a statement like this, the entire argument is cast in poor light:

In ancient Israel's agrarian society, even the land itself was to be returned to its original owners every 49 years so that a family's underlying source of income could be protected and sustained. While some Christians conclude that the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their militant homosexuality, I think the Bible reports otherwise. Instead, Ezekiel 16:48-49 suggests that it was because they neglected to care for the needy.

Really? God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of a failure to provide single payer health care? That is funny because Jude 1:7 specifically references the sin of sexual immorality, i.e. homosexuality, when speaking of Sodom and Gomorrah. Not to mention the fact that the account of Sodom and Gomorrah itself depicts the desire for ungodly sexual congress as at the very least a contributing factor in the destruction of Sodom. Was there other sin going on in Sodom and Gomorrah? Surely. In their pride they lived in all manner of ungodly ways and indeed they flaunted their ungodliness. The final straw was the desire to commit ungodly homosexual acts with the angels staying with Lot. Regardless, it is dishonest to suggest that the account of Sodom and Gomorrah is a support for government run universal health care in America in 2009.

The silliness continues with a paragraph that suggest that the parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable about health care. The parable about the Good Samaritan is a response to the question of “who is my neighbor” and not a recommendation that health insurance is a universal right. Notice that in the story of the Good Samaritan, he freely and willingly gave from his own pocket to care for the man waylaid by robbers. That is vast difference from a confiscatory tax system run by a secular bureaucracy.

Here are the problems (two of the myriad of problems starting with playing fast and loose with the text) in this column. First, America is not ancient Israel. If Mr. Thomas wants to return us to ancient Israel’s theocratic system so that the poor are cared for, perhaps he would also like to return to the systems of capital punishment that came along with it. You can’t cherry pick the parts of the Old Testament you like and leave out the stoning.

Here is the other problem. Jesus cared for the poor. He called on His people to care for the poor. To make the leap from that to a system of confiscatory taxes that provides lower quality care at higher costs is unwarranted and dishonest. You cannot substitute Christian charity with a secular national system of health insurance. Jesus commanded His followers to care for the poor themselves, not to overthrow the Roman government and institute universal health care. The New Testament is not any more a support for universal health care than it is for socialism because the early church freely gave all that they had and shared all things in common. A secular government cannot be substituted for the Body of Christ.

So what should Christians think of universal, government run health care? Well, the most important thing I think to keep in mind is that there is not a “Christian” position on universal, government run health insurance. Not in support and not in opposition. The government providing a system of insurance funded through taxes is not a Christian issue. Jesus was neither a socialist nor a libertarian. Trying to use the Bible to support or oppose universal government run health insurance is false on its face. I oppose government health insurance because I think that the history of government interventions like this universally have poor results. I don’t oppose this system based on Christian convictions because it is not a Christian issue. Government programs are not a form of Christian charity.

If you want to make an argument in favor of single-payer, government run health care, I say go for it. I don’t buy it, but go ahead and make it. Just don’t twist the words of the Scriptures to support a position that is not even vaguely referenced in the Bible.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I too am a man

I was reading in Acts chapter 10 tonight and read this:

And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man." (Act 10:24-26)

As I read that I pondered. If Peter is the first pope and all other popes follow in his line of succession, and if Peter refused to let Cornelius bow before him and worship him, why then is it considered proper to kneel before the current pope and kiss his ring or in prior traditions kiss his toe?

We came, we saw...

We broke bread, we fellowshiped, we opened the Word of God and we prayed this morning with God's people. That was good enough for the earliest church. Why do we make church so complicated?

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Act 2:42)

Friday, July 24, 2009

To my egalitarian friends

Here is a rock solid rule: Whenever you find yourself standing alongside Jimmy Carter, it is time for you to move! Run, don't walk!

Jimmy Carter says religion used to subjugate women

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Former President Jimmy Carter has urged religious leaders to repudiate teachings that he says justify cruelty to women.

Carter, a Nobel laureate, described in an article in the British newspaper The Observer his "painful and difficult" decision in 2000 to leave the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades.

Carter, who teaches Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., said the decision became "unavoidable" when SBC leaders adopted a new consensus faith statement "quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be 'subservient' to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service."

Carter said that went against his belief "that we are all equal in the eyes of God."

President Carter used this as his excuse to announce that he has indeed left the Southern Baptist Convention. He has only announced it around 23 times, just in case anyone missed it the first couple of dozen times. For some reason he seems to think that people care and miss him in the Southern Baptist Convention. As Dr. Mohler points out in an excellent blog post on this grandstanding by America's most attention grubbing former President: Individuals are not members of the Southern Baptist Convention, and there is no mechanism for individuals either to join or to resign from the denomination. Dr. Russell Moore dealt with this issue with just a touch of smarminess filling on the Albert Mohler show along with Dr. Randy Stinson, Executive Director of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Good stuff, give it a listen here.

At least President Carter admitted this much:

Carter acknowledged that some New Testament teachings can be used to support male superiority, but he countered that carefully selected Bible verses can also be used to defend slavery.

"The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women," Carter said. "They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter."

The canard that the Bible supports slavery is as ridiculous as the idea that the Bible supports incest because it deals with the subject and describes events. An honest reading of the Bible will show that the Bible not only does not support slavery, it also does not support the subjugation of women unless you wrongly define subjugation as Scripture mandated boundaries based on gender.

President Carter was a pretty poor President and he makes an even worse theologian.

Who needs family anymore?

Family is the core foundation stone of civilization. Always has been. Man marries woman, they have children, they raise children to adulthood and then those children get married, etc. The survival of the species depends on humans reproducing themselves and the family has provided the primary means by which that happens.

It is also true that the family has always been under assault. This attack is not something that has happened since the beginning of the Obama administration or even back to the Clinton administration. It should be obvious that for a very long time, the family unit has been the target of those who see any sort of boundaries on behavior to be akin to repression. All the way back to the first few chapters of Genesis we see this, from the Fall involving the first married couple to the murder of Abel. Having said all of that, we are seeing the pace of deterioration accelerating. The new administration gives a nudge and a wink to homosexuals. The mass media portrays family life as repressive and celebrates all manner of sin and perversity. The family is crumbling all around us and there is plenty of blame to go around. Here are a few of the culprits…


The first and the most obvious form of assault on the family is the redefinition of marriage. Make no mistake, homosexuals dressing up and having a “wedding” is not about expanding the joys of marriage to everyone, it is about making marriage irrelevant for anyone. If a couple of guys can marry one another, if marriage is redefined to be primarily about health insurance and seeing people in the hospital rather than being about a covenantal relationship between a man and woman for life and the having and raising of children, then marriage stops having any meaning whatsoever and might as well be chucked as a quaint historical anachronism. Even setting aside the issue of homosexual marriage, marriage is under duress from all corners. Marriage has become just one possible outcome from dating, instead of being an expected state. More and more people are perfectly content to cohabitate and never get married, and no one seems to see this as a problem.

Day Care and Public Schools

The public school system has taken on the task of not merely “educating” kids, but warehousing them. Many parents dread summer because they have to figure out what to do with their children after 9 months of shipping them off all week. Not to be cruel, but many parents spend an obscenely small amount of time with their kids. The baby is born and mom is back to work in six weeks or less. Off goes the infant to daycare to be stored until mom or dad can pick them up, being cared for by a stranger. It is heartbreaking to see women at daycares carrying tiny babies in to a storage facility in their car seats or half awake toddlers stumbling in the wee hours of the morning to a daycare. Public school is daycare writ large with hordes of barely controlled kids overseen by a handful of disenchanted teachers.

Institutionalized Churches

How can the church be blamed for this collapse of the family? Isn’t the local church the only bulwark against the storm? It has tried but it also has failed and in fact may have made it worse. Not out of malice but out of a misplaced sense of duty. More and more the local church has taken on a life of its own and become the place where we “do church”. By providing a neat and compact package that only takes a few hours a week, where a paid professional and a small group of dedicated volunteers has done all the prep work, “doing church” has become easy, painless and mindless. You just show up at the predetermined time, we will whisk away your kids, give you a lesson that you don’t need to prepare for or think about ahead of time, provide you with songs to sing, prayers to listen to and a sermon performance. After an hour or two of your time, you are free to go and not worry about your faith for another week. If you think your kids need something more than that, you are free to drop them off at a number of preplanned activities but don’t worry, we don’t expect you to participate or even stay at church for them. Just drop them off and away you go, we will do the rest! Many local churches divide up families as soon as they hit the door. You don’t worship together as a family, you worship with other demographically similar people.

Social “Security” and Medicare

When family units are the foundation stones of a society, families care for one another. You can hardly argue that to be the case today. Little wonder. Why would a child shipped off to daycare out of convenience feel compelled to care for their elderly parents? Good for the goose is good for the gander. Children do not feel obligated and society does not encourage children to care for parents as they age. Better instead to warehouse them in nursing homes until they die, to be visited as often as guilt requires but certainly not so often as to cause inconvenience.

Family requires some sacrifice and setting aside personal desires for the good of others. Families are inconvenient and the response to that inconvenience is to pay someone else to do the work for us: daycare, schools, clergy, nursing homes, the government. As a society we value individual convenience over shared sacrifice. Whether intentional or not, we see many forces that are working to make families obsolete by replacing them with government/schools/churches/social contracts. What was once focused on the home is now focused on the external. Where we had families, now we have networks.

This toxic environment will not be overturned by legislation or by sermons. The only way this will be changed is one family at a time saying enough is enough. I am terrible about setting aside what I want to do for the good of the family, but I am trying to get better so that my kids will not grow up seeing family as an onerous burden but as a joy to be cherished and shared. We need to spend time with our kids, and you can’t make up for that with a nice vacation once a year. We need to make marriage and family the expectation for the future for our kids, more so than college and career. We need to care for one another and especially the most vulnerable among us: children and the elderly. If we don’t make a change and make it soon we are going to end up like Europe where family means very little, where getting married is something to be ashamed of. We don’t have many generations left before it will be too late.

A church by any other name

Alan Knox posted a very interesting look at the word translated "church" in English translations, ekklesia. The ekklesia in context looks at the different ways ekklesia is used. I think it is a useful study, we far too often superimpose what "church" means to us in contemporary culture when we read "church" in our Bibles. We must always be careful to read what is actually in the text rather than what we think/wish was there. We are all held captive to some extent by our presuppositions, but studies like this help us cut through our presuppositions and get to the meaning of the text.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Free Book from John Piper

You can download the new book from John Piper, Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ. Click here.

This is from the description. It is a PDF file, not terribly huge.

The price William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton paid to translate the Word of God, pave the way for missionary mobilization around the world, and lead the hostile to Christ was great. Yet their stories show how the gospel advances not only through the faithful proclamation of the truth but through representing the afflictions of Christ in our sufferings.

A liturgical two-fer!

Children to be baptised as their parents are married

The Church of England unveils a two-in-one wedding and baptism liturgy today as it seeks to make peace with families “living in sin”.

The “hatch-and-match” service allows couples to baptise their children after the wedding ceremony. Parents can even get baptised themselves.

The aim is to encourage cohabiting parents to marry as the Church tries to become more relevant to the way people live their lives, but critics said that it appeared to sanction having children out of wedlock. One bishop described the idea as “nutty”. The liturgy, costing £272, is being sent out to dioceses and parish clergy today.

Hmmm. Not sure what to say about that. I do have plenty to say about this paragraph later in the story though...

Stephen Parkinson, of the Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith, said: “The proper place for a baptism is not during a wedding but during the Sunday morning act of worship so the congregation can welcome a new Christian. It is a shame that what should be a bride’s day now stands to be hijacked by screaming kids.”

Um yikes. There is so much that is wrong with that statement: the "proper" place for a baptism is Sunday morning. That is Biblical for sure, "What prevents me from being baptized?" said the Ethiopian eunuch? "It isn't Sunday morning, you will have to wait" said Philip. Baptizing a child makes them a Christian? Um, no. The picture in the article shows a small child, a child that probably can't talk. Baptizing them is not welcoming a new Christian, it is getting a little kid wet. The wedding is the "bride's day"? Isn't there a dude there as well and isn't a wedding about a covenant before God?

What is really scary is that the Church of England thinks Episcopalians are too liberal!

Career paths for our daughters

My buddy James sent me this YouTube video from a homeschool convention in Illinois...

I loved near the end when one of the young women was asked what she wants to be. She said "I want to be a mom and homeschool my kids". Praise God for this young woman and her parents! That is a far nobler aspiration than being a business executive or a lawyer or even a doctor.

What is our desire for our children, particularly our daughters? To conform to the world’s view of success or to conform to the quiet, humble life of those called to follow Christ? I don’t think that there is anything wrong with them being a doctor or a teacher or a business leader. I also think we do them a disservice if we don’t raise our daughters to view being a mom as being at the very least as important as having a “career” and in fact we should be raising our daughters to view motherhood as the preferred “career”! It is hard in our parental pride to look at our daughters and not see them as special, as different from other kids. Our two older girls are 16 and 12 and are incredibly bright. Blessed with being natural and voracious readers, with creative minds and appetites to learn it is easy to dream of them being doctors or vets or any number of professions. Sure being a mere “stay at home mom” is fine for the daughters of other parents but my girls are special. They certainly are, as are yours. All them more reason to encourage them to make their own choices but to view being a wife and mother (and educator!) as being a wonderful, God honoring choice and one that is even more valuable to society and the church than being a lawyer or an engineer. We have let the world’s idea of success and prestige infect our thinking and in doing so have neglected to place the proper importance on parenting in general and motherhood in particular. Few Christians would deny the beauty and value of motherhood. Let’s make sure our daughters hear that message from us, loud and clear.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two more blog posts on being Biblical over being traditional

The first is from Seth McBee, an initial post in a series on examining the Lord's Supper. Check it out at The Ins and Outs of Communion: Introduction.

The other is at Eric Carpenter's blog Must we follow the biblical model in all things?

Both are excellent looks at how we worship in light of the Biblical record. Check them out!

Another Review of "The Jesus Paradigm"

Deliver Detroit: Book Review of "The Jesus Paradigm"

My friend James also posted a review of The Jesus Paradigm...

Are baptism and the Lord’s Supper (exclusively) a function of the local church?

Well of course they are!

Aren’t they?

It is a settled matter in most church traditions that baptism is carried out under the auspices of the local church by clergy or at least by ordained men. The same holds true of the Lord’s Supper. Designated “the sacraments”, these two activities have been given a special place in the life of the church. Why is that? Yes they are vitally important but are they restricted Scripturally to a ceremony in an officially recognized and defined organization?

Saying that “It is our tradition” does not mean that it is proper and especially does not mean that other expressions are inherently wrong. Does the command and example of the Bible demonstrate to us that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are functions of the local church? Or is it the case that people hear the Gospel in concert with the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, repent of their sins and are baptized. After they are baptized they begin to fellowship in community and joy with other believers and that includes the breaking of bread.

Let’s look first at baptism.

When we are baptized, who are we showing our relationship with? Each other or with Christ? With the Church, the Body of Christ, or a local church organization? Is it not the case that when we are baptized it is into the one body, that is the Body of Christ, and not into a local body? We don’t read that we are baptized into two bodies, the universal/invisible church and the local/visible church. Rather, in Ephesians 4 we read…

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4: 4-6)

Also there is this…

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor 12: 12-13)

Keep in mind here that 1 Corinthians is addressed to the church in Corinth but has universal application to all Christians everywhere (and I would say for all time as well). I would argue that the Scriptures indicate that baptism is into the one Body and we are members of that same Body, and that therefore baptism into a local church and membership in a local church are extra-Biblical traditions. Baptism is an identification with Christ, with His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4). We are all baptized into one body, whether you are baptized as a 12 year old in Topeka or an 80 year old in Tallahassee.

What other examples do we see in Scripture?

Acts 2 is the best example because it has both the breaking of bread and baptism in the earliest days of the church. By earliest days, I mean basically the first day! We read in the latter half of Acts 2…

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 37-47)

So what does this tell us? It says that some 3000 men repented of their sins and were baptized. How and by whom we have no idea. Maybe in the river and probably by Peter and the other 11? There was no local church to be baptized into, at least not in the sense that we think of a local church. There were about 120 persons meeting in the upper room of a home (or maybe an inn?), devoting themselves to prayer. That doesn’t really qualify as a local church by our contemporary standards. We read that after these 3000 were baptized, they gathered regularly with other believers, “attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes”. They also had all things in common but defenders of a sacramentalist view rarely espouse that! There are no local churches mentioned.

We also see the example of several baptisms of households where all of the members of a given household believed and were baptized and in none of those accounts does the local church play a role. In Acts 10 we see Cornelius and his household believe and be baptized. Peter was in his house along with some of the other brothers who travelled with him to Caesarea. There is no indication that this was done in conjunction with a local church. In Acts 16 there is Lydia who was baptized along with her household. No mention of a local church. Later in Acts 16 there is the conversion and baptism of the Philippian jailer, and he was baptized the same night: “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.”(Acts 16: 33) There was no examination by the consistory or new member classes or a vote before the congregation. They believed and were baptized. Acts 18 Crispus is baptized. No mention of the local church.

We see the most detailed description of a person being baptized in Acts 8: 26-39. Um, what church was the Ethiopian eunuch baptized into? The eunuch lived in Ethiopia and was on his way to Jerusalem. No mention from Phillip that the eunuch should find himself a good Bible believing church to become a member of. We don’t know much about him but it seems likely that he went up to Jerusalem and fellowshipped with other Christians there, but then he went home. Perhaps he planted a Baptist church in Ethiopia? Or more likely he went on his way with joy and preached Christ when he got back.

Presumably all of the people who were baptized gathered with other believers afterward. That does not mean that they were baptized by or into a local organization. I don’t think we find the identification of baptism with the “local church” anywhere in Scripture. Maybe I am wrong and I missed something but I don’t see it. That is not to say that we can’t be baptized at a local church by a pastor, but I certainly can’t see where we must do so. I don’t see that it is required and normative, nor do I think that baptism is restricted to a local church organization and can only be performed by an ordained individual. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that these traditions and restrictions have at their core not the Scripture but Rome. Control baptism as an entry in the local church, mandate membership, blur the distinction between the Church and the local church and you have a pretty effective control mechanism. This control mechanism was used in medieval times by Rome to control monarchs and other wayward individuals and it seems that the form, if not the function, has survived the Reformation and lives on today in evangelical churches.

So what about the Lord’s Supper? Certainly that is a function of the local church, to be presided, administered and protected by those with the proper authority!

Maybe not.

In Acts 20:7, we see the words “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread”. Does that imply a formal church meeting? It was on Sunday, so it must be a church meeting! In fact they probably started promptly at 11 AM and finished by noon so everyone could make it to Cracker Barrel. So what if they talked together all night to the point that Eutychus fell out of the window and that afterward they talked with Paul even more and broke bread and ate. Does that sound like the last Lord’s Supper worship service you went to? If you read the account, I am sure Paul did most of the talking but we read that he “Paul talked with them” and “he conversed with them a long while”. At your local church, does anyone but the one administering the Supper speak?

What about 1 Corinthians 11, the most detailed exposition on the celebration of the Supper? That is certainly an intentional, purposeful meal but there is no mention of officiating in a local church, no mention of a particular person overseeing it. It is a meal among the gathered church, not a ceremonial ritual as part of the liturgy of a local church. The only way that a liturgical ritual officiated by clergy can be implied is if you approach the text with that presupposition firmly in hand.

Even when the Lord’s Supper is instituted in the Gospels, on the night when Christ was betrayed, it was an intimate gathering and a full meal with Christ and His disciples.

Many of our brothers seem to take more interest in “fencing the table” to keep people away from the Lord’s Supper than they are in examining the Scriptures and following the form and mode we see there. “Fencing the table” is great sounding Reformed rhetoric and has a great example every good Calvinist has heard about Calvin throwing himself in front of the table to keep the Libertines away, but a great story and a church tradition shouldn’t dictate our practices.

The problem is, yet again, that when we read things like “gathered together” and see references to “breaking bread”, we automatically have a picture in our minds of what that must have looked like based on our contemporary experiences. When we read about baptism, we see in our minds a preacher in waders with a microphone over his head immersing a new believer or a minister in robes sprinkling water on a baby. Our contemporary experiences, the traditions we have seen over and over again in church gatherings, is what is comfortable for us and it is all we know. We read things like 120 people gathering in an upper room and that doesn’t register to us. As I have mentioned before, it is the phenomena of “recency bias”, where what is most fresh in our memories becomes how we view history.

So what are the practical ramifications here? Is a meeting in a home, an intentional and purposeful gathering of believers, where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated an invalid expression of the Lord’s Supper and a meeting in a local church organization valid? Is a father who has Biblically raised up his children who then baptizes his children overstepping his bounds but a pastor in a church who has a cursory knowledge of a child exercising proper authority in baptizing those same children? We read often, especially in reformed circles, about fathers leading their family in family worship and making the home a “little church” but when it comes to the “sacraments”, we have to bow to tradition and abdicate the administration and practice to the duly authorized professionals. My four oldest children have all been baptized and they were all baptized by men in the clergy with only a passing relationship with my kids. That won't happen with the other four. The only prohibition I can sense that prevents small groups of believers from intentionally gathering for the Lord’s Supper or one Christian baptizing another is tradition.

(I am certain that all of this has received better treatment by others already, these are just my ideas that I jotted down.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A very thought provoking post

I am not always (or even frequently) in agreement with Michael Spencer, the iMonk, but I thought this post tonight was one of the most open, one of the most honest blog posts I have ever read. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Cooperation with a faith that condemns people?

Should Christians cooperate with other faiths or even no faith at all, even for good causes? It is a tough question, because we want to see ills ended. We want to see abortion end, we want to see starving kids fed, we want to see young girls in third world nations learn to read.

The reason I am thinking about this are two recent events. The first is the appearance of a famous evangelical pastor who addressed an Islamic group. I won't give his name but I will say he is famous for his book that rhymes with "Porpoise Livin' Wife"

"Some problems are so big you have to team tackle them," evangelical megachurch pastor XXXXX addressed the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America.

XXXXX said Muslims and Christians should be partners in working to end what he calls "the five global giants" of war, poverty, corruption, disease and illiteracy.

What about the giant of sin? There is only one cure for that and it is not going to be found in cooperation with Islam or Hinduism or Mormonism. It is only going to be found in Jesus Christ. What it boils down to is this. Every ill in this world can be traced back to sin. The only hope for this world is Jesus Christ. Everything else is slapping a band-aid on the problem.

The other event is an event in Portland called the Season of Service. Run in part by the ministry of Luis Palau, the event has caused something of a ruckus. The event included the participation of the mayor of Portland, an open homosexual who caused a stir earlier this year by first publicly lying and then finally admitting to a homosexual relationship at age 45 with a 18 year old teen. This odd pairing of a world famous evangelistic ministry and an open homosexual politician was the subject of a USA Today article, Evangelism 2.o. From the article:

Out of that realization was born the Season of Service. This year, some 500 area churches — mostly evangelical, but also some Catholic and mainline Protestant — are fanning out across the Portland area to feed and clothe the homeless, provide free medical and dental services, fix up local public schools, and support their low-income students with supplies, mentoring and other resources. All this with "no strings attached," Palau emphasizes, meaning the service comes without the proselytizing that is often associated with Christian missionary outreach.

Service without sermons, aid without the Gospel. FYI, I don't think you can preach the Gospel without using words or any of that other nonsense.

So, here we have two events done for a good causes, but they do so in cooperation with Muslims and a homosexual. Are these event giving tacit approval of Islam, giving it legitimacy, or looking the other way at open sin? Do the potential ends justify the means?

What say you?

Is there a limit? Should we set aside Biblical truth to alleviate suffering? Am I overreacting?

Pray for Dave Black

Alan Knox just posted that Dave Black is seriously ill....

He became sick last week, and the doctor’s diagnosed him with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and sent him home.

However, they have now changed their diagnosis to malaria. Apparently, he contracted malaria during a recent trip to Ethiopia. He is being treated in a local hospital. Please pray for his recovery

Dr. Black is a man who has been increasingly influential to my thinking. I would ask for your prayers to the Great Physician on behalf of Dr. Black

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I am obviously not fan of the mormon church

and I think the events surrounding their "purchase" of this property in Salt Lake City was squirrelly. Regardless, if a couple of liquored-up gay guys started making out on the grounds of your church, you would have them arrested as well.

Mormon 'kiss-in' in Utah leads to shouting match

SALT LAKE CITY – A mass-kissing protest near the Mormon church temple Sunday drew a shouting match between gay activists and a group of faithful Mormons.

For the second consecutive weekend, about 100 people gathered to stage a "kiss-in" to protest the treatment of two gay men cited for trespassing July 9 after they shared a kiss on the plaza owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both gay and straight couples exchanged kisses during the protest.

Demonstrators were greeted at the south entrance by a group of faithful Mormons carrying large signs that denounced homosexuality, prompting a heated verbal exchange
Matt Aune has said he and his partner, Derek Jones, exchanged a modest kiss at the plaza 11 days ago, but church officials contend their behavior was lewd.

"There was much more involved that a simple kiss of the cheek," church spokeswoman Kim Farah said in a statement issued Friday.

"They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language, and had obviously been using alcohol," she said.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

If you were stranded on a desert island...

Eric Carpenter posted a just for fun blog entry, Which 10 Books of the Bible Would You Want?. The premise is asking which 10 books of the Bible wold you choose to have with you on a desert island. The books you would choose give some interesting insight into how we think and how we view the Bible. Run over to Eric's blog and make your selection!

America's number one export to the developing world?

...might just be heresy.

A guy I sorta know (as well as you can know someone from their blog), John Divito, has been actively trying to minister in Uganda to both preach the Gospel and serve as a counter to these false teachers that have flooded Africa. I got to know John because he, like me, was saved out of mormonism. Rather than seeking a nice church in America to pastor, after seminary John and his family have been part of the Africa Center for Apologetics Research, dedicated to refuting false teachers in Africa.

Cultic groups are multiplying and growing throughout Africa. Indigenous sects and extremist charismatic groups are operating almost unchecked—and doing tremendous harm. Making matters worse, pastors are severely underinformed and underequipped for the task of discernment and defending their flocks.

People receiving a false gospel is as harmful as receiving no gospel at all. Watch this series of videos of Benny Hinn in Uganda. People think this is Christianity and Hinn is just one of the litany of false teachers that is infecting Africa and countries around the world.

I would encourage you to check out the webpage of ACFAR and at the very least pray for their efforts and if possible help financially support the work they are doing.

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' (Mat 7:15-23)

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Baptismal Divide

From the Pew: R. Scott Clark Responds - Baptism: A Third View (Part 10)

VERY interesting post by Steve Scott that takes to task two well-known teachers in the church who have in turn called paedobaptism a sin on one hand and declared all churches that don't baptize infants to be false churches on the other. I have posted on both original articles earlier but I think Steve hits a more gracious and appropriate tone in his response to one of the individuals named.

I have long believed that baptism is an issue that requires some division. As I have tried to change my thinking on this, I am starting to think that baptism is not an official function that can only be carried out in the context of a duly appointed officer of the local church institution in an appropriate ceremony. That would necessitate division, because the local institution must declare one way or the other their baptismal stance. I don't see much support for that in the Bible. I still don't see a shred of real evidence in the Bible to support infant baptism but I also don't see a shred of evidence that Christians should divide or worse yet be divisive on this issue.

Still thinking this through...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Matthew Henry on 1 Cor 14: 34-35

I liked what Matthew Henry had to say about 1 Cor 14: 34-35:

They were not ordinarily to teach, nor so much as to debate and ask questions in the church, but learn in silence there; and, if difficulties occurred, ask their own husbands at home. Note, As it is the woman’s duty to learn in subjection, it is the man’s duty to keep up his superiority, by being able to instruct her; if it be her duty to ask her husband at home, it is his concern and duty to endeavour at lest to be able to answer her enquiries; if it be a shame for her to speak in the church, where she should be silent, it is a shame for him to be silent when he should speak, and not be able to give an answer, when she asks him at home.

Quite true. If it is shameful for a woman to speak in church, it is equally shameful for a man to be ignorant of Scripture. Brother, if you expect your wife to be submissive and quiet in church, then you better be ready to answer her questions when you get home!

1 Cor 11 and 1 Cor 14: A contradiction?

A post at The Assembling of the Church, 1 Corinthians 14:26ff – normal or particular? , regarding normative church practices got me thinking. There seems to be a quandary in 1 Corinthians 11: 2-15. On the one hand, we read that women are to cover their heads when the pray or prophesy. But on the other hand a few chapters later we read that women are to keep silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-34). Why have a command about women prophesying with their heads covered if they are not permitted to speak in church?

So is Paul contradicting himself here? Is this command incompatible? Maybe Paul is just musing about an academic issue since women are forbidden from speaking in the church gathering in the first place?

Here is my take. Paul is giving a number of commands in 1 Corinthians (and elsewhere). Women should cover their heads when they pray or prophesy, wherever they may be. Women should be silent when the church gathers. But 1 Corinthians 11: 2-15 doesn’t strike me as a strictly “when the church gathers” command. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul explicitly states: “When you come together”. In the second half of 1 Corinthians 11 when speaking of the Lord’s Supper he expressly states twice: “when you come together” and “when you come together as a church”. In fact, not being a Greek scholar it seems that Paul is making a contrast between the first and second half of 1 Corinthians 11 in terms of application. The Lord’s Supper passages in the second half is a command expressly directed at the church gathering. Conversely, the headcovering passages strike me as a universal principle. A wife should cover her head when she prays, whether in an intentional gathering or at home or anywhere else. The same applies with prophesying. The difference is that women don’t prophesy as part of the church gathering. That doesn’t mean that they never prophesy, just not in the gathering of the church.

See, problem solved!

(The post at Assmebling of the Church is worth your time to check out in it's own right!)