Monday, May 31, 2010

Bad theology or disunity

This was interesting, John Piper was asked which grieves him more: disunity or bad theology. It is a short clip, listen to his answer.

What do you think?

I think that for many of us, we would rather be disunified than tolerate theological aberrations. Better to block a brother in Christ who is wrong about Doctrine A than to be unified with someone we disagree with. Thus we have denomination after denomination, hundreds of different flavors of churches that agree on 95% of doctrine but keep themselves separate because of this point or that. Eschatology, baptism, music styles, single or plural elder. We have all sorts of reasons to create barriers to fellowship. Now I would certainly agree that someone who denies keys of the Gospel is not someone we should be in fellowship with. Frankly most of what divides us are not issues that rise to the level of Gospel denial. I am pretty sure most of us get that mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are outside of the Christian faith. What divides believers though, that is where we have a problem. I struggle with this and I have pointed that out on this blog. There was a time when I thought it was my mission in life to convert as many people to "Reformed theology" as possible. Theological correctness was the cornerstone of the church. Here is the problem with that....

Disunity is bad theology

I don't care how many theology books you have read or how many times you have gone to the right theology conferences. I don't care how many Spurgeon quotes or Calvin quips you post on Facebook and Twitter. If you don't love your brother, your theology is bad and if you say you love your brother but refuse to be in fellowship with them over a pet doctrine, you are a liar.

Which grieves me more: bad theology or disunity? Both because they are one and the same.

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Today is Memorial Day in the United Sates and as a people we are going to be remembering those who died fighting for America.

Let those of us who know and are known by Christ remember that our freedom was not won or preserved by those buried under a field of crosses in Normandy Cemetery in France, as noble and heroic as their sacrifice was. Our freedom was won on a single cross on Calvary. Our declaration of independence is not found on a parchment in Washington, D.C., it is in the words cried out by our Savior "It is finished!"

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kind of random but...

I bought my wife a new headcover and she is pretty pleased with it, so I thought I would pass on the vendor. It came from Garlands of Grace and they have some pretty nice headcovers for sale. I got her a longer one made from a lightweight chambray that is more of an "everyday" covering. It is made very well and fits very nicely. So if you are in the market, you should check out Garlands of Grace!

(if you are curious, this is the headcovering I bought her from their Etsy store)

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Has Michael Horton gone the way of John Piper?!

Very interesting. Michael Horton, dean of the "Truly Reformed" and host of The White Horse Inn is going to appear on a panel hosted by *GASP!* Rick Warren at the Saddleback Conversation Gathering. The panel is part of The Lausanne Global Conversation and the topic is The Future of the Global Church. Horton will appear as a panelist alongside a number of other participants. It should be an interesting conversation but I have to ask....

I wonder if Horton will get the same grief as John Piper?

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Best of the week entry 6

Comes from Dave Black at 10:03 AM today. Just a simple but profound quote:

Jesus never apologized for calling His disciples to make a clean break with the clinging attachments of this present world.

I know I struggle with many attachments to this present world. What are you clinging to?

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Best of the week entry 5

Comes from David Platt writing about the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. Setting aside the idea of needing a task force to encourage Christians to carry out the Great Commission, I liked what he had to say about changing the priorities of the church where he serves. From the post, Dr. David Platt: Why I Wholeheartedly Support the GCRTF Report … and More:

Now the Southern Baptist church I pastor is tempted to do everything except for what Jesus told us to do. Jesus never told us to construct church buildings, start programs, or organize Sunday School. He never told us to host conferences or events. Instead, he told us to get the gospel to all the nations. Therefore, as a church we have stopped construction on buildings, we are removing programs, and we are reorganizing our structure so that we can more intentionally focus his church on what he said is most important. Now not everything we do is directly for the unreached. For example, many of our families are selling their houses and moving into a low-income area in Birmingham to spread the gospel there. But inner-city Birmingham is not the end goal. We are going into different parts of Birmingham so that we can mobilize that many more people to take the gospel to 6,000 people groups who haven’t heard it. That is what Jesus has commanded us to do.

That is great stuff. It is encouraging when you see Christians stepping back from churchianity to ask hard questions about why we do what we do.

(HT: Dave Black)

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Best of the week entry 4

Comes from Ed Stetzer and features a brief video of Steve Timmis, one of the authors of Total Church. Here is the video:

Dwell London - Steve Timmis from Ed Stetzer on Vimeo.

My favorite line was from Ed on the the traditional role of most Christians in Gospel proclamation is “Pay, pray and get out of the way”. Ain't that the truth!

What I found interesting is that these guys are ministering in Western Europe, which according to Steve Timmis has 400,000,000 people and only 5% church attendance. Their response is to saturate England with communities of Christians. The model of offering lots of big church buildings for people to choose from to attend on Sunday no longer works in Europe (maybe it never did) and it is quickly becoming the same way in America. We need to figure out how to reach people beyond unlocking the doors on Sunday morning and waiting to the lost to show up.

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Best of the week entry 3

Comes from Desiring God and is part of a series on prosperity preachers. In this entry, the concern is Uphold the Value of Suffering. I am reprinting the whole post:

The New Testament not only makes clear that suffering is necessary for followers of Christ, it is also at pains to explain why this is the case and what God’s purposes in it are. These purposes are crucial for believers to know. God has revealed them to help us understand why we suffer and to bring us through like gold through fire.

In Let the Nations Be Glad, in the chapter on suffering, I unfold these purposes. Here I will only name them and say to the prosperity preachers: Include the great biblical teachings in your messages. New believers need to know why God ordains for them to suffer.

1. Suffering deepens faith and holiness.
2. Suffering makes your cup increase.
3. Suffering is the price of making others bold.
4. Suffering fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
5. Suffering enforces the missionary command to go.
6. The supremacy of Christ is manifest in suffering.

I love that. The idea that God promises to bless us with security, money and health in this life flies in the face of what Scripture teaches us. You should check out the whole series on prosperity preachers and if you know anything about Piper you have a pretty good idea where he comes down on the topic!

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Best of the web entry 2

The next post comes from Dan at Cerulean Sanctum and is titled Indoctrinating for Heaven or Hell. Dan takes on the milquetoast expectations we so often instill in Christians. Here is his take on what we portray the Christian life as:

When we look at the American Church today, we have to ask just what kind of indoctrination we are receiving. By and large, the message coming out of our churches sounds like this:

Jesus loves you, even though you sometimes sin. You can rest in His grace and not be worried about doing things for Him except to read your Bible and pray. Show up on Sundays and to the occasional church event. If you are young, go to a good college and get a degree that ensures a solid job working for a reputable company. Find a good-looking Christian mate from among the right kind of people, buy a house, and have 2.2 kids. Make sure those kids are loaded with activities and skills so they can get into an even better, more expensive college. Live in the right neighborhood with the right kind of people who can help you advance in life and build your career. Go on vacations and enjoy yourself. Give some money every once in a while to worthy causes. And most of all, be happy with your Christian experience, even if you sometimes wonder whether it’s really all it’s cut out to be.

Seriously, isn’t that the indoctrination most of us Christians receive from childhood until the day we die?

Read the rest of the essay to see the reality of what we should be telling people. Good stuff, sobering and frank.

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Best of the week entry 1

Just an excellent post from Alan Knox, Living In the Shadows. Alan argues that much of what we do in the church is reflective of the Old Testament shadows instead of the fullness we find as the church in Christ...

Given my background, it is easy to switch back to thinking that there are holy days on which holy men do holy things in holy places. But, when this begins to cloud my understanding, I live in the shadows and not the reality of Christ. In Christ, all of God’s children are holy people; every day is a holy day; all opportunities to serve are holy offerings; and any place we are is a holy place, because we are the temple in which God dwells.

When do we live in the shadows? When we find ourselves asking questions like these: Should you do that on Sunday? Is there an ordained minister available to do that? Should they be doing that in the church [building]? Why is that person preaching [or teaching, or baptizing, or serving the Lord's Supper]?

These questions indicate a shift back into the shadowy thinking of the Old Testament. Today, in Christ, we have the realities available to us; we do not need the shadows.

Very good stuff. It is easy to slip into this mode and it is likewise very easy to justify our traditional practices in the shadows of the Old Testament that have already been fulfilled.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Christians, the church and Memorial Day

This Monday is Memorial Day in the United States, so most of us not only get a day off, we also commemorate the men and women who have died in the service of the United States military. There are few Americans who have not been touched in some way by this day. My wife’s grandfather on her dad’s side was killed in action during World War II at Anzio Beach. If you go back far enough, most American families have lost someone to war and Monday is the day we remember our fallen war dead.

Across this country on Sunday, many churches will mark Memorial Day. It is not unusual to recognize war veterans among congregations. Many church buildings sport American flags on the podium next to the pulpit. I am certain that many prayers will be offered in thanksgiving for those who died to protect our right to freely assemble for religious services.

Here is my question on an emotional issue for American Christians. How should American Christians view Memorial Day? Should we celebrate or recognize Memorial Day in the gathering of the church? I would argue against it for several reasons.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Jesus taught that “Blessed are the peacemakers”. That seems hard to reconcile with a celebration of war making, even if we are on the “right” side. I have written before on my stance that the Bible doesn’t leave room for Christians wielding the sword and based on that it seems inconsistent to gather with the church and simultaneously celebrate or commemorate those who killed and were killed in wars.

Christians killing Christians

One of the most tragic witnesses the world has observed over the centuries is the grotesque spectacle of Christians who kill, especially when we kill each other. It is quite reasonable to say that in most wars where American soldiers were involved there were Christians killing other Christians. Even in Nazi Germany there certainly were soldiers who were Christians. It is hard to say you love your brother but are willing to shoot him because your nation tells you to. God’s people are united not by nationality but by our common salvation. God isn’t in the business of picking sides between secular nation-states in wars.

I am not sure that being an American is that great a thing for Christians

I am less and less convinced that America is or has been a healthy place for the church. It is commonplace to think of America as the land of great freedom (which it is) and especially for religious freedom (absolutely!). Having affirmed that, I am coming to the conclusion that the very religious freedoms that we cherish and hold dear enough to kill others to retain have been unhealthy for the Gospel witness and for the life of the church. Easy-believism flourishes in America but so does easy-churchism. The great paradox of the church is that where persecution is greatest, the church is often its healthiest. The converse seems true, where the church is most accepted, the witness of the church is the weakest. The persecuted Anabaptists being driven from their homes were probably a healthier manifestation of the church than Calvin’s Geneva. The underground house church in China likewise looks more like what we see in Scripture than the five thousand person megachurch in America. We have come to equate Western religious tradition with the church but that simply does not jive with Scripture. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate living in America. God has placed us here and we will live here in America as long as God wills it but I am not more blessed by God than my brothers in Ethiopia or Brazil because I live here in the United States. That leads me to my final point...

True Freedom is not based on where you live

For Christians, our freedom that we cherish is not found in our Constitutional right to freedom of religious expression or of free speech or the right to keep and bear arms. Our freedom is in Christ because He has freed us from the only bondage that matters. An unbeliever in America has the freedom to sin as he or she chooses but is not truly free. A believer languishing in prison in China is far freer than any unbelieving American, even while imprisoned and possibly tortured, because of what Christ has done. Freedom for an American Christian was not won on a battlefield at Yorktown and was not preserved at Midway. It was bought and paid for on a cross.

I know this is not going to be a popular viewpoint. I love military history. My favorite movie of all time is Patton. We as a family have taught our kids to respect those who serve in the armed forces of the United States for their sacrifice (which is very real) and their heroism (also true). We have taught our kids to love this country as unique in the world and that American exceptionalism is a fact of life. Those are the safe and easy positions, the default for Americans. I am having a much harder time seeing those as compatible with what we should be instilling in our kids. The bottom line, as always, is that we should have more affinity with a fellow believer in China or Tanzania than we do with an unbeliever in America. Just because the government of America says “Our cause is just, now go kill that person” doesn’t mean Christians should dutifully pick up the sword.

I am not saying we cannot commemorate the fallen soldiers of the United States. I just don’t think that we should do so in context of the gathered church.

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Our identity is in Christ alone

Great quote I read a few nights ago in Total Church regarding our identity in Christ.

By becoming a Christian, I belong to God and I belong to my brothers and sisters. It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. To fail to live out our corporate identity in Christ is analogous to the act of adultery: we can be Christian and do it, but it is not what Christians should do. The loyalties of the new community supersede even the loyalties of biology (Matthew 10:34-37; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 11:27-28). If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians.
(Total Church, pp. 40-41 )

We place so much emphasis on "joining the right church" but our identity in Christ means we are already part of the "right" church by virtue of our identity with other believers in Christ. That supersedes everything else.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interesting thoughts on missionary financial support

Contend Earnestly: On the Topic of Missionary Support

I ran across an interesting post (part of a series of posts on missionaries) over at Contend Earnestly. The post asks if we who are not out in the field shouldn’t be more than merely financial supporters but also help to raise funds for the missionaries so they spend less time looking for support. That raised a whole ‘nother question for me, one I have written about before and so I posted a response.

Here was my question:

Is there not a case to made that missionaries should be self-supporting, not in the sense of raising their own support from other Christians but supporting themselves financially either by saving up their own money or working for a living where they are ministering?

I am thinking specifically of places where Paul speaks of his own efforts to work in place to support himself (Acts 28: 30-31; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3: 6-12) and even in 1 Corinthians 9: 1-14 where Paul talks about eschewing financial support in favor of supporting himself so that the Gospel ministry is not hindered. In one place Paul speaks of getting support from another church (2 Cor 11: 7-10) and sees it as robbing the supporting church (verse 8).

Not trying to be snarky, but I do wonder if we need to rethink our model for missionary support from “Pay-Go” (you pay, I’ll go) to one of self-support where practical. It seems that many missionaries spend far too much time raising funds and reporting back to those who support them, time that could be spent working “in country” which in and of itself is a evangelistic opportunity.

Certainly there are some cases where it is less feasible to become a self-supporting missionary. On the other hand, being a missionary somewhere in the U.S. or in other more developed nations like Europe, Japan or Korea makes it fairly easy to get a “job”. I can see financial help to get in place and get settled, but if a long term missionary is going to minister to a people, why shouldn’t he or she work alongside them?

Should missionaries be supported by individual Christians, local churches and denominational mission boards or should they fund their own way and work among the people they are trying to reach? I wonder how people in other countries see this? I also wonder again, if we are funding missionaries to go overseas shouldn’t we also fund missionaries to come to America?

Important questions.

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Thinking about Acts

As I am reading Total Church, it is really getting my gears working. This morning I was thinking back to a topic that I frequently mull over, the Acts of the Apostles and how it (and other depictions of the early church) apply to us today.

I think if most people are honest, they will admit that there is an enormous disconnect between what we see in Scripture and what we practice in the church, at least in America and the former realms of Christendom. It is impossible to see it otherwise. The early church in the days of the apostles was a day of explosive growth amidst unbelievable persecution. In Acts 8:3 we read that Christians were having their doors kicked down and were dragged off to prison for the crime of being a follower of Christ. Along with persecution the church almost immediately faced false teachers, gross sin, and divisiveness. At the same time growth in the church was exploding, miracles were performed and the world was being changed. The more severe the persecution, the more the church seemed to expand. We haven’t seen anything like that on such a scale since the Reformation era.

Most of us can’t even fathom living like that and that might be in part why we have such a hard time applying Acts to the church. We see so little persecution and experience nothing like the movement of the Spirit that the early church experienced. It seems so foreign, so alien even, that it begins to seem irrelevant to church today, in our culture and context. Acts and the other accounts of the early church have been relegated to mere historical records that are not directly applicable to church practice today. I think it is dangerous to disregard Acts as an interesting story. Clearly the church is the tangible manifestation of the Gospel at work. Unbelievers should be able to see in Christians the fruit of the Gospel proclamation, not in organizations or buildings or people thanking Jesus for hitting a home run but in lives markedly changed. Careful study of the Scriptures can reveal to us important principles recorded for all time that have immediate and direct applicability for the church that are universal and timeless. I think the key is to avoid either dismissiveness or wooden literalism. Either extreme is going to cause trouble.

We are a people called out from the world and that calling is more than being told to go on living as we were before, concerned with the cares of the world, but with an added bonus of a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. Without Scriptural guidance, it is pretty hard to figure out what that looks like. We have seen the results of making it up in our own wisdom in the form of 1700 years of empty religious rituals coupled a perverse blend of church and state that has given us our current hybrid cultural Christianity. I have a hard time reading Acts and looking around at the state of the church and believing that God intended this pivotal book to be strictly descriptive.

It is not enough to be proponents of Sola Scriptura only where we find it practical. Unless we are willing to apply the Scriptural treatment of the church in the same way we do justification, we will continue to see the church stumbling along, even in the most theologically conservative corners, mired in a failed religious system. It is important to note that God has not failed. He still builds His church and He saves His elect. God promised to build His church and that nothing would stand against it, and He has, but that has next to nothing to do with our manmade religious traditions. It is our unfaithfulness and our lack of trust that is at issue. Why do we trust what God has said when it comes to how we are saved and what Christ has done and yet seem so unwilling to exhibit that same trust when we speak of the Bride of Christ and how believers should live and relate to one another and to the world?

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hair gel is not counter-cultural

Many people make the mistake of equating the Anabaptists with some of the more liberal elements of Christianity we see today. It is something I saw hints of in reading The Naked Anabaptist and it seems to be gaining traction. It is almost as if people cannot differentiate between the widely divergent movements that have stood outside of the prevailing traditional church throughout the centuries.

For the Anabaptists, being counter-cultural meant not just standing against the dominant church, whether Roman Catholic or magisterial Reformer. It also meant at the same time standing opposed to the state powers that were inextricably linked with the church and that was simply not tolerated. Anabaptists were slaughtered by the thousands during the Reformation period and did not have the benefit of safe states to flee to. At best there were areas that they were more or less tolerated and that tolerance often evaporated leaving them on the run once more.

In contrast, the “counter-cultural” among the modern church are frankly nothing like the Anabaptists. The worst persecution they face are the frequent snarky blog posts by traditionalist bloggers. In many ways, the various contemporary movements that stand apart from the traditional church are far more like the world than distinct from it. Instead of trying to see the church become more Scriptural, these movement by and large seek to strip away anything that the world finds to be unpalatable in an effort to be relevant. There is essentially no sacrifice for being in this movement today.

Wearing cool glasses and putting styling gel in your hair is not radical and counter-cultural. Having your tongue ripped out so that you cannot preach the Gospel as you are being led to your death by being burned alive or drowned? That is counter-cultural.

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Lay your cares and burdens on Him

My wife and I read this from Spurgeon this morning, from his Morning & Evening devotional. Great thoughts on Psalm 55:22

Care, even though exercised upon legitimate objects, if carried to excess, has in it the nature of sin. The precept to avoid anxious care is earnestly inculcated by our Saviour, again and again; it is reiterated by the apostles; and it is one which cannot be neglected without involving transgression: for the very essence of anxious care is the imagining that we are wiser than God, and the thrusting ourselves into His place to do for Him that which He has undertaken to do for us. We attempt to think of that which we fancy He will forget; we labour to take upon ourselves our weary burden, as if He were unable or unwilling to take it for us. Now this disobedience to His plain precept, this unbelief in His Word, this presumption in intruding upon His province, is all sinful. Yet more than this, anxious care often leads to acts of sin. He who cannot calmly leave his affairs in God's hand, but will carry his own burden, is very likely to be tempted to use wrong means to help himself. This sin leads to a forsaking of God as our counsellor, and resorting instead to human wisdom. This is going to the "broken cistern" instead of to the "fountain;" a sin which was laid against Israel of old. Anxiety makes us doubt God's lovingkindness, and thus our love to Him grows cold; we feel mistrust, and thus grieve the Spirit of God, so that our prayers become hindered, our consistent example marred, and our life one of self-seeking. Thus want of confidence in God leads us to wander far from Him; but if through simple faith in His promise, we cast each burden as it comes upon Him, and are "careful for nothing" because He undertakes to care for us, it will keep us close to Him, and strengthen us against much temptation. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."

How easy it is to rest in Christ when things are going well! How much harder though when things are going wrong or in our case when you are waiting on something and growing impatient, how much more tempting to "help God along". It is precisely in those times of turmoil when it is most tempting to grab the reins that we must rely even more upon God. Those were timely words for us to read this morning. Funny how that works.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Out of work pastors

I am not sure how I missed the original article since I read the Wall Street Journal everyday but last week there was an interesting story on the increasing number of pastors who are laid off: Joblessness Hits the Pulpit (HT: Dan Edelen). As giving goes down in the midst of the recession, church budgets are hurt and that means that many local churches with large paid staffs are finding themselves in the unenviable position of laying off pastors. Losing your job is jarring for anyone but it is especially emotional when your job is as a pastor. I would imagine there is a great deal of bitterness and emotion on the part of the pastor who loses his job and the congregation that is left behind.

This situation is causing a great deal of consternation among church administrators.

Some church leaders fear donations won't reach prerecession levels as long as unemployment stays elevated. Church surveys report that giving dropped off sharply beginning in November 2008, when the overall unemployment rate was at 6.7%. Since then, contributions have slipped in tandem with rising unemployment.

I think that captures the mindset, tragically so. The recession is bad and joblessness is not getting better but it is seen as a problem because giving at the local church is down. Huh?! The real problem we face is that people are unemployed and hurting, and the church is not able to help because it has its own budget woes to worry about. When times are good and giving is up, churches spend and spend on buildings and staff and then are shocked when giving goes down and they can’t afford their huge expenditures. The cost of supporting a local church is crippling and leaves the local body of believers in a pickle when giving is down.

I wonder how many of these men who have lost their jobs are still ministering in that local body of believers? I would imagine a lot of them are looking for new jobs at new churches. We hear all the time that being a pastor is not a job, it is a calling. When the local church can’t support that pastor financially, it sure starts to look like a job though.

The local church should support the community of believers when times are tough, not ask for even more sacrifice from that community to support itself. All the more reason we should follow Paul’s example:

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28: 30-31)

I am not trying to bash pastors who are on staff and get paid by the local church. I am merely trying to be a voice of warning and caution. The days ahead are not rosy for the church model we are used to. We only need to look across the pond at Europe to see what the future holds. It might not be next year, or the next decade but it is coming. It is high time that the church gets out of the budget and fund collection business and gets ready for a future where the local church is not warmly welcomed in the community. We better start to figure out how to minister to people, how to reach the lost with the Gospel, how to be a community without the benefit of million dollar budgets and plentiful church buildings and we better start to figure it out right now. The days ahead for the church look a lot more like 1st century Rome than 20th century America.

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Up Next: Total Church

The next book I am reading is Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

I read through the introduction last night and already am intrigued. I like what Chester and Timmis laid out right at the beginning, the idea that we can do church in a different way and yet still maintain theological orthodoxy. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not enemies! The groundwork right up front is that the church must have as her focus Gospel (Word and mission) and community. I would say a lot of churches, especially in the Reformed streams, get the Gospel right but community is woefully lacking. In many other churches there is all sorts of community but the Gospel is diminished or watered down or even neglected entirely.

Based on the reviews I have read and the introduction to Total Church, I am very encouraged. It seems that more and more we are seeing a realization in the church that we have lost our sense of community, that we are so concerned with telling people how to get saved and how they got saved that we have no idea what to do with them after they are saved except…talk to them about how they got saved. They key will be for the church to let go of the traditions that interfere with community while holding firmly to the Gospel. I am hopeful that this book will be a great step along that path, more like Hellerman's When The Church Was a Family and Belcher’s Deep Church and less of a “keep doing the same thing, just do more of it and quit griping” book like Why We Love the Church. I will post snippets as I go.

This will also be the last “church book” I read for a while. I have been ingesting a steady diet of them, from The Anabaptist View of the Church to Deep Church to When the Church Was a Family and now to Total Church, so I am going to look at something more doctrinal to give me time to digest what I have read. Probably Jerry Bridges Respectable Sins will be next, a book I was given this weekend and that I have wanted to read for a while. I am also intrigued by Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt, which is in my shopping cart and will be the next book I buy when I get another Amazon gift card. There is an interesting exchange on the webpage of the Gospel Coalition where Kevin DeYoung reviews Radical and David Platt responds to his review. Predictably Radical troubles DeYoung because it sounds like it calls out traditional Christianity for its lack of radicalism and our unhealthy focus on what takes place within the four walls of "our church" to the detriment of the rest of the world. Platt seems willing to take on the affluence we see as our birthright as Americans while DeYoung seems afraid to offend the wealthy who put the most money in the plate. You can guess which side I come down on.

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Book Review: The Naked Anabaptist

Stuart Murray's The Naked Anabaptist is a unique book. There are lots of books on Anabaptism but almost all of them are historical in nature. They described who Anabaptists were. Murray describes who (some) Anabaptists are. A subtle but important distinction.

The Naked Anabaptist is less a primer on Anabaptism than the story of why some modern Christians have been attracted to elements of the Anabaptist movement. If you are looking for a comprehensive history of the Anabaptists, this is not the place to look. However, if you are interested in how Anabaptism is influencing one corner of the church in the U.K., this is a great place to start. The Naked Anabaptist is a fresh and accessible view of a very old movement.

I appreciate that Stuart Murray is willing to take on and address the flaws in Anabaptism, especially some of the problems he perceives in historical Anabaptism and its most common manifestations today among the "Big Three", i.e. the Amish, the Hutterites and the Mennonites. I don't agree with all of his criticisms (for example his disdain for the patriarchal aspects of historical Anabaptism which he considers a cultural anachronisms but that I see as Scripturally faithful) but he is willing to call it like he sees it and there are many problems that have become entrenched in Anabaptism over the last four hundred years.

There are some problems with the book. Too much repetition, too many blanket assertions, too many sweeping generalizations, too many cutesy catch-phrases.

I am concerned that in some sections it smacks of a vague political liberalism that is co-opting Anabaptism. Self-sacrificially sharing material resources and refusing to defend one’s self are not the same thing as 20th/21st century liberal activism and from my readings on the Anabaptists, “social justice” was not even on the radar. The Anabaptists were not hippies holding peace rallies amidst the opulence of the West, they were a hunted and persecuted people who nevertheless refused to take up arms to defend themselves or to defend a nation-state. Statements like this: "Peace is at the heart of the Gospel because the mission of God is to bring peace to the whole of creation" (pg. 129) are common in The Naked Anabaptist and are theologically sloppy at best. I think Stuart Murray understands that the Gospel is more than liberalism couched in religious terminology but I can also see how some people would read statements like that and draw the wrong conclusion. I was also troubled by his admiration for the Emergent church movement, especially those among that group who champion what looks dangerously like "another gospel".

In spite of some areas of concern, The Naked Anabaptist is a book I recommend. Read it with your eyes wide open but if you are interested in something other than the church as usual, you should definitely read it. It can be easy to see Anabaptism as something from hundreds of years ago that only lives on in history books and modern day anachronisms like the Amish. The reality is that Anabaptism still influences the church today, in subtle ways and more recently in more overt ways. The great challenge is not to mirror or adopt all of 16th century Anabaptism but to learn from the Anabaptists in a way that is faithful to Scripture. After all, that should be the goal of every Christian from every tradition.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Trying to make nice with the world is not our mission

This morning we have, courtesy of the USA Today opinion pages, another sad example of someone who professes to be a believer trying to make Christianity compatible with the religion of the world. The essay by Karl Giberson (who is a professor at Eastern Nazarene College), Atheists, it's time to play well with others is ostensibly supposed to be a chastisement of atheists for not being nice to Christians who have capitulated to evolution but ends up being a personal attack on Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.

This is incredibly encouraging. A conservative evangelical seminary has just hired someone who has warned that Christians who deny scientific facts are in danger of becoming a "cult." This might suggest that Ken Ham and his Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., are becoming less relevant, as they speak for — and to — an increasingly smaller band of hyperconservative biblical literalists. Ham's followers, ironically, are exactly what Waltke warned us about — a cult, with their own separate science.

Actually, Answers in Genesis is pretty widely accepted among a wide swath of evangelicalism. Far from a secretive cult, they are quite out in the open about what they believe and their beliefs run to the mainstream of evangelical thought. They are something of a one-trick pony but the organization is hardly cultic and the suggestion that they are is venomous and juvenile. The danger in the church is not people denying “scientific facts”, it is teachers in the church who claim that “science” trumps Scripture and then cry foul when haters of God are not willing to play nicely in the sandbox. Christianity is not just one worldview among myriad other competing worldviews in the sandbox of ideas. Christianity is the truth of God revealed to man. There is no sandbox. You either have that truth or you don’t and where you come down has eternal consequences.

This essay by Karl Giberson just demonstrates the foolhardiness of trying to find acceptance among the world. The world is not interested in compromise and consensus because it hates the One who has declared Himself through creation, through His Word and in the person of the Son. This is not an issue of evolution vs. creation, this is an issue of those who hate God and those who love Him. I can sort of understand why some believers are so desperate to be liked and approved by the world. It can be hard to be ridiculed and an outcast but the truth of the matter is that it comes with the territory of being a follower of Christ. God did not give us an expectation that the world would like what we have to say nor that it would embrace us as messengers. Just the opposite, the world is going to hate us and revile us because it hates the One we declare. Why would someone who is a professor at Eastern Nazarene College want to make the message of the Bible more palatable to appease unbelievers? I for one would rather face the ridicule of the world and persecution even to the point of death than to surrender to the world.

Mammals that evolved from single-cell organisms don’t need a Savior because they would not be substantively any different from a cow or a monkey. Human beings, created in the image of God as humans, need a Savior. If man was not created as man, then there was no garden. There wasn’t a Fall and there is no need for salvation. If you want to chuck the Garden and the Fall, you might as well toss the cross and the empty tomb.

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More thoughts on shepherding: Ephesians 4

I posed a couple of questions last week, Thinking About Shepherding, regarding the theology and practice of shepherding in the church and now I want to get at trying to answer those questions.

The first place I want to look are at the two Scriptures where shepherding is directly related to someone other than Christ, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 5. I am going to start with Ephesians 4: 11-16. Ephesians 4 is where we see much of the conversation turn because it typically is the only place in an English translation where the word “pastor” appears (although it is rendered “shepherds” in the ESV) and that word, which carries so much meaning in the church, attracts a lot of emotion. There is a lot more here than “God gave the church pastors”…

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4: 11-16)

Ephesians 4 needs to be carefully broken down to see what Paul is saying. All too often I hear Ephesians 4 quoted with a strong emphasis on the servants given to the church and not so much on what these servants (pastors, teachers, evangelists, apostles) are called to do for and in the church.

Why did God give these servants to the church?

- To equip

Who are they called to equip?

- The saints (i.e. everyone in the church)

Equip them to do what?

- The work of ministry (so everyone in the church is in the ministry business)

How do we know they are they equipped?

- They are mature in the faith (i.e. all Christians)

What is the sign of a maturity in the faith?

- A full understanding of the measure of Christ, a unity in the faith, not taken in by deceivers.

It goes without saying that some people in the Body are more mature than others. Those who are more mature should equip those who are less mature, those who have been Christians longer should equip those who have been Christians for less time. One of the key qualities in an elder is that they not be a recent convert so that they will not become prideful and led astray (1 Tim 3:6), which goes hand in hand with Ephesians 4: 11-16. Elders are to help equip Christians to come to a fullness of understanding in the faith. The three tier system where you have: 1) elders who are really mature, 2) some non-elders who are pretty mature and 3) lots of non-elders who are mostly immature even though they are not recent converts is not Scripturally healthy.

Ephesians 4 is speaking of the entire Body of Christ coming to a maturity of faith, not of making sure that the local pastor is orthodox so that the sheep are not led astray. This is so important because the truth is that elders of churches, even the famous guys like John MacArthur, are sheep and sheep tend to go astray. Unless the entire Body is equipped, empowered (I hate that word) and mature/maturing in the faith, it will be flabby and susceptible to false teachers or at least teachers who teach only a particular flavor of the truth with their own biases. All Christians are called to the work of ministry, not just a select few, but in order to do that they need to be equipped and then unleashed.

Now the question we face is how does this happen? How do Christians become mature in the faith, how are elders and other leaders in the church supposed to equip believers? I think the state of the church and the maturity level of most believers speaks to the ineffectiveness of “sermon listening” and Sunday school as the sole or even primary method to equip believers. Some of that may have to do with how we restrict teaching the Body. We can see that teaching is something elders are supposed to do but teaching is hardly restricted to elders. For example older women are to teach younger women (Titus 2: 3-5). In Acts 18: 26 we see the husband and wife tandem of Aquila and Priscilla teaching Apollos and there is no indication that Aquila is an elder. He might have been but he is never identified in this way. Paul exhorts Timothy in 2 Tim 2: 1-2 to entrust Paul’s teaching to “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”. That certainly should include elders but again it is not restricted to them. I have found that when I teach others I benefit from that at least as much as those I am teaching.

When we look at the next example, 1 Peter 5: 1-11, I think it will shed some additional light on the question of how elders are to shepherd and equip the Body.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Best of the week entry 5

Comes from Jasmine Baucham, daughter of Voddie Baucham, and she addresses the topic of young women and college, Should Young Women Go To College:

All I want to do is to encourage young ladies to rethink their presuppositions not only regarding education, but in regards to the aspirations that your education leads you to.

However, I can share with you, as a young woman, some of the reasons I decided against going off to school. It was more important for me to remain under the protection of my father and the discipleship of my mother than it was for me to travel cross-country to sit under the discipleship of others. I believe my primary calling is towards my home, and there is no other place I’d rather be, here in my family’s home for now, and, Lord bless, someday running a home of my own and educating my own children. I had no desire for a career that would take me away from that sphere. I believe that a Christian home is the best training ground that young women can be afforded, and that the safest place a young woman can be is under her parents’ authority.

For too long in our culture, parents have been training their daughters in the exact same way that they train their sons, launching their female arrows to go through life the same way their male arrows do. Fathers have been abdicating their duty to protect their daughters, mothers their duty towards discipleship and guidance. Young women have not only lost their femininity, but they’ve lost their desire for the biblical role that the Lord has called them to. We no longer want to be wives and mothers, and we no longer realize the power of that calling. As a result, many of us no longer realize what a unique time in our lives this can be, not only to take advantage of our ministry to our home and families, but the minister to others through that sphere.

I appreciate that she and her parents have taken the time to ask serious questions about the cost and the purpose of college education rather than just assuming that we need our kids, especially our daughters, to go to a traditional college and incur a ton of expense and debt. Very though provoking essay and written far better than a lot of stuff that comes from graduates of traditional colleges I might add!

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Best of the week entry 4

It is no shocker for me to say that I disagree vehemently with almost everything R. Scott Clark writes. Even when he is right on the subject, he is more often than not wrong on the practice and implications. In spite of that very faint praise indeed, I liked a lot of what he had to say about the increasingly embarrassing and tragic Ergun Caner debacle and what it says about the carnival atmosphere found in much of evangelicalism. In his essay Ergun Caner, the Legacy of Revivalism, and Show Biz Dr. Clark rightly points out that the desire to "make converts" (as if humans can make converts!) encourages us to adopt any methodology that seems wise to the world to make that happen and I believe leads to churches full of unregenerate people who place their hope in a "decision" they made in the heat of an emotional response. Rather than a personal attack on Ergun Caner, and there are plenty of those out there, Dr. Clark looks at the system that led to men like Ergun Caner gaining prominence.

Of course, I can't just let this go without at least one parting shot:

Praise God many covenant children never remember when they did not believe. They feel no need to embellish their personal stories because they don’t live in an ecclesiastical culture where that sort of narrative is highly valued.

The reason many "covenant children" don't remember their conversion is that they were never converted in the first place. But I digress. Good essay, give it a read!

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Best of the week entry 3

These aren't blog posts but they are interesting if you are into food production.

A Backyard Battleground to Save the Honeybee

Pasturing Pigs: MSU organic farm benefits swine, students, researcher

There is a real cost that comes along with cheap food.

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Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Eric Young and is an excerpt from R.C. Sproul, asking a question that I think advocates of free will cannot answer. The post is titled R.C. Sproul On The Serious Answer All Arminians Must Answer:

The biggest question any semi-Pelagian or Arminian has to face at the practical level is this: Why did I choose to believe the gospel and commit my life to Christ when my neighbor, who heard the same gospel, chose to reject it?

That really gets to the crux of it. So many people hear the Gospel, often at the same time and from the same person but only some respond. Why? That is the question that can only be satisfactorily answered by the submission to the sovereign grace of God in salvation. Good stuff and humbling.

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Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Albert Mohler on the topic of relics and arks and other attempts to find tangible evidence to bolster our faith. Dr. Mohler's essay Real Enough? — Relics, Gopher Wood, and the Sufficiency of Scripture takes on this touchy issue and does so in his normal, thorough and Scriptural way.

Archaeologists remain skeptical about the claims, and the controversy is likely to continue for some time. But Christians should not give too much attention to such claims in the first place. Our confidence that the account of the flood and Noah’s ark happened in space, time, and history is grounded in the Bible, not in remnants of ancient timber.

If archaeologists later agree that the fragments are indeed from Noah’s ark, that will be a matter of real interest to Christians, but this should add nothing to our confidence in the Bible. If the fragments are determined to be authentic or, most likely, if there is no consensus at all, this will not detract anything from the truthfulness, authority, and sufficiency of the Scriptures.

Our confidence is in the Bible as the Word of God, not in gopher wood.

Couldn't have said it any better myself!

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Justification and Community

Justification and community. Two inseparable friends that are too often kept apart in the Body of Christ.

I am slowly coming to a better understanding of how inextricably linked these two are. In the church, like so much of our lives, we tend to put things into silos. Justification goes here. The church community goes there. Friends and family go over there. A proper understanding of the Kingdom demands that we view all of life through the lens of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We are saved out of an eternal hell but we are also saved into a community of faith. That community is not something that can be forced but it is something that should occur naturally when allowed to flourish among believers. Having said that, Christian community is only as sound as the understanding of the person and work of Christ in the people of the community. Christian community is based in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

It is possible, but not healthy, to become so fixated on the cross and deep conversations about justification that we lose sight of the community of the redeemed. The life of a disciple of Christ is more than being born-again and then waiting around for the Second Coming or death, whichever comes first, interspersed by going to church on Sunday morning.

It is possible, but quite dangerous, to become so fixated on unity and community that we lose the wondrous truth of the cross work of Christ. Justification by faith alone, the imputed righteousness of Christ, the secure salvation purchased by Christ.

Bottom line. There can be no genuine Christian community where people are unregenerate. There can be no genuine Christian unity where the Gospel is wrongly understood. Christianity is more than a set of beliefs but it is certainly not less than the sum of those beliefs. There is a real danger in putting the community cart before the doctrinal horse. Similarly, there can be no faithful expression of the church where community is forced or absent entirely. The most theologically orthodox church where community is reduced to an hour long "worship service" is not faithful to the Scriptural expression of the church.

I have so much more to learn about this relationship. I am excited about that not so that I can say I am right and that guy is wrong. I am excited about it because it helps to clarify so much of what I see as the disconnect between doctrine and practice that makes the church so splintered and confusing.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thinking about shepherding

We know from many, many places in the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10: 1-16), the Shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), the Lamb of God who is also the Shepherd of His sheep (Rev 7:17). We also see some places in Scripture where shepherding is spoken of in regards to people. We see reference to elders in a shepherding role (1 Peter 5:1-2), we see shepherding as a function in the church (Ephesians 4:11) and we see Jesus exhorting Peter three times to shepherd believers even before the crucifixion (John 21: 15-17). The imagery is mixed and confusing in some ways. Jesus is the Shepherd but He is also the Lamb. We are His sheep but we are also called to shepherding.

This whole topic of shepherds, shepherding and sheep raises some questions in my mind:

Is shepherding an office or a function?

Is shepherding reserved to a select few in the church or is it the responsibility of all Christians?

Is shepherding the same thing as pastoral ministry in a traditional church?

I have some thoughts on these questions but I wanted to throw them out there. In the life of the church, how should we view shepherding?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Participating by attending

What binds us and what divides us?

Traditions in the church are deeply ingrained and hard to shake loose. Because they are so tightly interwoven with the life of the church they become a part of the church and take on an importance and meaning far above what is proper. This can, and often does, lead to dogmatic positions that are unsupportable from Scripture and can change the way we interpret Scripture itself. I offer as exhibit A and exhibit B two examples from sources that are normally solid interpreters of Scripture and theologically orthodox. Please note I am not out hunting for blog posts to disagree with. These are blogs that I link to and read for edification often.

My first example is from The Reformed Baptist Fellowship. In an otherwise interesting post, Seminary and the Local Church, we come across this little comment:

Timothy was a pastor at the church in Ephesus, and it was in that context, while being a pastor, that Timothy was told to train and equip men for the ministry.

See how easy that is? Timothy was a pastor of the church in Ephesus (First Baptist Church of Ephesus no doubt) and likely had a parking spot out front with a wooden sign in Greek “Reserved for Senior Pastor”. Now the Scriptural account of Timothy indicates to me that he traveled all over the place and was not a "pastor" in any sense of the word as we use it today.

This is what is so dangerous about the way we read Scripture in light of our traditions. We assume something without a shred of evidence and then make proclamations based on that assumption. In doing so we create whole systems of theology that are based only loosely on Scripture but that simultaneously become dividers in the Body of Christ. Dangerous, dangerous stuff and so seductively easy to do.

So from that one traditional assumption (Timothy was a pastor in Ephesus) we see support for a whole system of professional pastors including an enormously expensive seminary system and hundreds of thousands of men employed by local churches. The enormity of this traditional assumption cannot be overstated because it is at the root of centuries of church practice that is taken for granted and vociferously defended.

The second comes from 9 Marks Ministries and is part of a lengthy series on the role and function of deacons. It is interesting that they have such a comprehensive series on the role of deacons when Scripture doesn’t say anything about the role of deacons (at least in the sense of specific spheres of responsibility) and in fact says very little about deacons at all. By my count there are five times in the ESV where the English word “deacon” is used, four of those in 1 Tim 3: 8-13. Taken together with the generic reference in Philippians 1:1, that makes seven verses where deacons are mentioned or referenced and in none of those seven verses do we see a “job description”. 9 Marks turns that into seven essays and two book reviews. One that I found especially troubling was How to Separate Deacon Work from Elder Work, not least because it assumes that there are types of ministry that are "Deacon Work" and types of ministry that are "Elders Work". From the essay in question:

Fights occur over issues that don’t clearly fall to either elders or deacons. If it’s clear to all parties who’s responsible for something, there’s no cause for dispute. But trouble occurs when it’s less clear: Is this deacon work? Is it elder work? How much should the elders comment on the deacons’ work? Can the deacons weigh in on the elders’ conclusions?

My answer is a rock solid, “It depends.”

No deacon should object to the elders’ ability to pick Sunday School teachers. No elder should argue with the deacons about the furniture polish used on the communion table. If you have this level of disputes in your church, you need to do some basic teaching about what an elder is, and what a deacon is. Your elders should know they are responsible for the spiritual oversight of the church, and your deacons should know they are responsible for the physical and material needs of the church. If both parties don’t know that, start there.

On the other hand, the tough cases are tough because the issue falls on the boundary line between the spiritual oversight of the church and its physical and material care, or the issue involves both domains.

How do we get here? Here is how the thought process works:

- Tradition teaches that Stephen was a deacon although he is never identified as such in Scripture

- Stephen was involved in making sure that the widows received the daily distribution

- Therefore deacons should take care of the buildings

- Huh?

How much time and effort is wasted in fighting over something that is entirely traditional?

Why is it that when it comes to the gathering of the church we abandon Sola Scriptura in favor of a Roman view that seems to place equal weight on Scripture, tradition and the teachings of our favorite theologians? I can’t think of another topic among the most orthodox among us where bold statements are made without even a whiff of Scriptural evidence.

We all have our traditions. Mainline Protestants have their traditions. Evangelicals have their traditions. The Reformed have their traditions. The Anabaptists have their traditions. House church people have their traditions. Many of these traditions are harmless but some are potentially dangerous. The key is to try to recognize where our traditions are and make sure that those traditions don’t override Scripture or serve as a barrier to unity in the Body. When we elevate our traditions to the level of Scripture, all manner of mischief results and I believe that these traditions are the catalyst for much the splintering in the Body of Christ. We all too often let the minors divide us instead of letting the covenant community of our common salvation unite us.

It is far easier to see and critique the traditions held by others than it is to see the ones we hold most dear. I know that is true with me and I have seen it in effect with many others. The only way to get a clearer view is to submit to Scripture and hold everything up to the pages of Holy Writ. There is no tradition that we should hold as sacrosanct to the point that it trumps Scripture. There are no traditions that fail the test of Scripture that can be used as dividers among the Body. When we draw lines in the sand that are without Biblical warrant, we sin against our brothers and sisters. That is harsh but I wholeheartedly believe it is true.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Piper on membership

Watch this video from John Piper on “membership”. Dr. Piper admits that there is no explicit command or example of membership in the local church but he defends it as implied. I don’t find his line of reasoning very convincing, especially given how big Bethlehem Baptist Church is.

Here is my problem with this. If you need a system of formal church membership to know who the “members” of the local church are, that is indicative of a problem. When there were discipline problems in the early church (for example 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13), they stopped being in fellowship with the unrepentant transgressor. They didn’t remove his name from a written list; they had nothing to do with him, refusing to even eat with him.

The key here is all about demonstrating a tangible commitment to the Body of Christ, to live out in deed and not just in words the command to “love one another”. I get that. I just don’t agree that it is represented by declaring “this is my church” and therefore “that church over there is NOT my church”. The traditional formal membership system divides the Body into fiefdoms and inhibits Christian unity by turning groups of believers into competitors for members (and their offerings).

How did the New Testament church show their dedication and commitment to one another? Walking an aisle? Signing a piece of paper? Attending the requisite number of “membership” classes? Of course not.

The early church showed commitment to one another in lives lived together, with complete sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, sacrifice of self, sacrifice of rights, sacrifice of property and counted all of it as nothing compared to the joy of community in the covenant Body of Christ.

If you want to show faithfulness to Christ lived out in community with the Body, skip the formalism. Skip the membership classes. Skip the miserly “tithe” envelope. Give yourselves to one another as the church. Take everything the world tells you us important and set it aside as meaningless. That is the path I am seeking for our family, carving out the unimportant and worldly to live in community. I am not sure how that is going to look yet but I am certain that if we focus on loving others more than ourselves and unraveling the love of worldliness, community will naturally result.

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Dirt: It Does a Body Good!

I read a fascinating article this morning on the benefits of letting kids get a little dirty now and then. The article Can Dirt Do a Little Good? appears in the Wall Street Journal and examines the relative health of children in “third-world” nations where hyper-sanitation has not taken hold and kids in Western countries. The article echoes and affirms what I have been thinking for some time.

I fear that in trying to insulate our kids from every possible pathogen we are creating a generation of people who will live to unprecedented ages but will simultaneously live with all manner of health ailments during their lifetimes. From the article…

Allergies and autoimmune diseases were virtually unknown in the U.S. before the turn of the last century, but they began to emerge as modern sanitation, decontaminated water, food refrigeration and antibiotics became more widespread. "There's a whole series of diseases that just emerged in the 20th century," says Dr. Weinstock.

In 1998, about 1 in 5 children in industrialized countries suffered from allergic diseases such as asthma, allergies and rashes, according to the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, a global research initiative. The incidence of peanut allergy in the U.S. tripled between 1997 and 2008, according to a report from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

But such diseases are still relatively rare in Africa and rural Asia, as are Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

In our hyper-sensitivity to keep any dirt, scraped knees, germs, etc. away from our kids, have we created a dangerous atmosphere where we are technically “healthier” but suffer more health problems? It is apparent to me that we are seeing far more people with allergies and asthma than when I was younger.

You aren’t a failure as a parent if your kids are not slathered in sunscreen and hand sanitizer at all times, or if you don’t rush them to the doctor to get an antibiotic every time they get a sniffle. Childhood is messy and dirty and when we try to insulate our kids from the merest whiff of a germ, it appears to have long term health consequences.

Isn’t there a happy medium? We certainly can and should embrace modern sanitation and medicine but the tendency towards using the nuclear option for every sniffle and the attempt to “de-germ” every square inch of our living space is going too far. Let kids be kids. That means dirt and scraped knees, it means runny noses and occasionally eating a little sand. I am not a scientist or doctor, but I think that common sense should be employed here. I am afraid that in our crusade against germs we are going to raise up a generation that will have such weak immune systems that it will be vulnerable to the exact sorts of catastrophic diseases that killed so many in centuries past.

Childhood is supposed to be messy. Embrace the dirt!

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Women baptizing

Here is an interesting question. I have a co-worker who is getting married soon. She is a confessing Christian and her fiancé up until recently was not. He has made a profession of faith and desires to be baptized. So their local church is going to have him baptized before their wedding but here is the kicker: his fiancé is going to baptize him. Well, she is going to actually dunk him and one of the pastors will speak. So that raises an interesting question…

- Can a woman baptize another woman or a child?

- Should a woman baptize a man?

My instinct is to say that no, a woman should not baptize a man. Then I started thinking about it and wondered if that reaction is based in Scripture or not. The question hinges on whether or not baptism is limited to ordained men or elders and whether the act of baptizing a believer is an authoritative act which would run afoul of 1 Timothy 2: 12. There are no examples as far as I can think of where a woman baptizes someone in Scripture. On the other hand, I wonder if there is a warrant for assuming that it is not permitted. I am as firmly committed to the complemantarian position as anyone I know but this is one of those areas where I wonder if we are deciding a question reflexively instead of Scripturally.

So what do you think? Is there a Scriptural reason that a woman cannot baptize someone?
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The toxin of institutionalism in the Body of Christ

Another interesting quote from The Naked Anabaptist...

The Christendom era has left the body of Christ with toxins in its bloodstream - practices, instincts, commitments, structures, attitudes, biases, compromises, and reactions that damage our health and disfigure our witness. We need to purge these toxins from our system. (The Naked Anabaptist, pg. 82)

I really liked that metaphor. The toxin of institutionalism runs through the veins of the Body and will take more than superficial changes to clean out. There are many areas of the church that are deeply influenced by Christendom, including some areas of the church that actually purport to decry Christendom. The sickness of a thousand years of homogeneous Roman rule over Christendom is not so easily cured. We see symptoms of it still today in virtually every corner of the church. We see it in cultural Christianity, institutionalism, militarism and many other facets of life where the distinction between the Kingdom and the world has been blurred and worn down over the centuries.

The perspective presented in this book is interesting because the author is European and Europeans are way ahead of the U.S. in terms of secularization and the death throes of Christendom. We can look to Europe and see where we are headed. That scares a lot of people, the image of empty cathedrals, churches turned into mosques and a general disinterest in religion. I don't see it as frightening so much as more reflective of what the reality has always been. In fact I think that the centuries of Christendom have given Europeans such a distorted view of the church that the past, when Europe was "more Christian", is actually hampering the Gospel witness. Instead of bemoaning the loss of Christendom and seeking to return to the comfort of Christianity in the 16th-19th centuries, we should instead seek to purge the last vestiges of Christendom from the church so that she can be a faithful witness to the world.

While it certainly is going to be more difficult and less comfortable, I think ultimately the death of Christendom lived out in the cultural Christianity of America will be healthy for the witness of the church. We aren't doing anyone any favors by giving them a false sense of security based on religious observation.

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