Sunday, October 31, 2010

On the other hand

It is important to temper our celebration of Reformation Day by remembering that the Reformers were just men, and flawed men at that. They were instrumental in recovering the Gospel that had been anathematized by Rome and in bringing the Word of God to the masses in their own language. Of course they left much "un-Reformed". The church was left with many of the same forms that Rome had created and are still with us today. Many practices live on that have no basis in Scripture. The Reformers themselves often persecuted those who challenged them as viciously as Rome, as the repost below indicates. So let's remember the men that God used but remember that Calvin, Luther and Zwingli were imperfect, flawed men and that our source of truth is not the Reformation, it is the Scriptures. Now back to watching Luther with my family.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Today, January 5th, marks the 483rd anniversary of the first martyr of the “Radical Reformation” on 1/5/1527. Felix Manz was executed by drowning in Lake Zurich, the first of a tragically large number of dissenters to be martyred by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. We often think of the martyrs of the reformation era as men and women murdered by Roman Catholic authorities (i.e. Foxes Book of Martyrs) but the ugly truth is that often it was professing Christians murdering fellow believers over issues of doctrine.

Episodes like the martyring of Felix Manz are disquieting because we place such a reverence on the Reformation era and the Reformers. Men like Calvin, Luther and Zwingli are some of the heroes of the faith because of their deep and voluminous writings. Their writings are unmatched for depth and being simply exhaustive. Nevertheless, men like Zwingli and Calvin are redeemed sinners the same as any of Christian and are as flawed as any man. Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), writing a great treatise on theology doesn’t. Zwingli reportendly wrote this regarding Manz two days before his death: "The Anabaptist, who should already have been sent to the devil , disturbs the peace of the pious people. But I believe, the ax will settle it." . My point here is not to burn the Reformers in effigy but instead to remember the courageous death of a fellow believer who paid for his conviction with his own life in a manner that is worthy of any of the great martyrs of faith.

We can dance around this all we like. Technically, Manz was executed by drowning because he broke the law (i.e. was baptizing people) but make no mistake. This was a theological issue being settled by the sword far more than a civil legal issue. He was murdered for questioning the doctrine of infant bapstism as a holdover from Rome. These were the charges brought against him:

"because contrary to Christian order and custom he had become involved in Anabaptism, had accepted it, taught others, and become a leader and beginner of these things because he confessed having said that he wanted to gather those who wanted to accept Christ and follow Him, and unite himself with them through baptism, and let the rest live according to their faith, so that he and his followers separated themselves from the Christian Church and were about to raise up and prepare a sect of their own under the guise of a Christian meeting and church; because he had condemned capital punishment, and in order to increase his following had boasted of certain revelations from the Pauline Epistles. But since such doctrine is harmful to the unified usage of all Christendom, and leads to offense, insurrection, and sedition against the government, to the shattering of the common peace, brotherly love, and civil cooperation and to all evil, Manz shall be delivered to the executioner, who shall tie his hands, put him into a boat, take him to the lower hut, there strip his bound hands down over his knees, place a stick between his knees and arms, and thus push him into the water and let him perish in the water; thereby he shall have atoned to the law and justice. . . . His property shall also be confiscated by my lords."

“Harmful to the unified usage of all Christendom”? I don’t think drowning dissenters was what Jesus had in mind when He prayed for unity among His people in John 17: 21 . I especially like the part where they confiscate his property. Felix Manz was not a violent revolutionary like the men at Muenster. All he sought was “to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with these by baptism, and to leave the rest in their present conviction”. The crime of Felix Manz was shaking up the religious order of things, kind of like another group about 1500 years earlier (see Acts 4: 13-21). By refusing to baptize infants and insisting on baptizing willing adults, Manz was imprisoned several times, threatened with death and ultimately executed by drowning.

What Felix Manz was promoting is the basic belief of thousands of churches and millions of Christians in America, i.e. the baptism of believers and the voluntary association of Christians in the church. Try to imagine if the city council in Louisville decreed it illegal to refuse to baptize infants under penalty of death and further try to imagine if “Christian” ministers in Louisville stood silently while this went on. Manz may have been the first martyr among the Anabaptists but he was hardly the last. We need to remember those who were slaughtered by other “Christians” when we remember the Reformation era.

How I wish we had more Christians today who had the force of conviction of men like Felix Manz, men willing to abandon all for the truth and who had the courage of conviction to stand up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of real persecution, men who were unsatisfied with the “halfway” measures of the magisterial Reformers and sought a full restitution of the Biblical pattern for the church.

Not the center of attention

About the time this is being posted I will be speaking at our gathering of the church. This is nothing new for me, I have delivered a fair number of sermons in my time as a Christian. The big difference is that the meeting this morning doesn't center around the message I am preparing. Most of the time when I was delivering a sermon, the whole gathering focused around that. We did some praying and sang a few songs but the centerpiece was the sermon. If it was a dud, the whole gathering seemed to be deflated. If it went great, well that made the whole gathering seem to be better. This morning our real focus is on the breaking of bread in an open setting where the brothers all can participate, on an interactive discussion of apologetic during Sunday school and on a shared time of fellowship.

I can't even describe how different it feels. While I certainly have spent a fair amount of time preparing what I am going to share this morning, I don't feel the burden of being the centerpiece of what is for most people the focal point of their week as a Christian. I am just a brother among my peers sharing from the Word of God and next week a different brother will be doing the sharing. It is not a perfect gathering by any stretch and there are some things I would change but I am glad that the focus is not on me and what I have to say because that makes it a lot easier to focus our attention where it should be, i.e. on Jesus Christ!

To God Alone Be The Glory!
Soli Deo Gloria!

Happy Reformation Day!

October 31st is the day for an annual reminder of the traditional start of the Protestant Reformation and a reminder of how important these issues are still today.

Sola Fide! Sola Gratia! Solus Christus!

Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo Gloria!


October 31, 1517

On this day in 1517, a German monk nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany and launched a movement that would change the world. While much of the world celebrates Halloween, we will celebrate Reformation Day with popcorn and a private home viewing of Luther.

The issues with Roman Catholicism are as true and pressing today as they were then. Justification by faith alone, one of the cornerstones of the Gospel, still stands anathematized by Rome. In other words the Gospel is declared anathema by the man who styles himself to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. The words of the Council of Trent still stand, and until Rome rejects those teachings there can be no reconciliation between Rome and Christianity.

Today is a day we should celebrate our Lord raising up flawed men like Martin Luther who He used mightily in the propagation of His Gospel against those who would reject it. It is also a day of sober reflection on the constant assault against the Gospel and the perpetual need to guard the faith delivered once for all, and entrusted to the church for all time. Pray that God will continue to raise up men like Martin Luther. We certainly could use some today.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Best of the week entry 5

This one comes from Felicity Dale (thanks for the link Alan!) and talks briefly about meals preventing religious rituals: This helps to prevent religious rituals in a simple/organic church

The third of the four things that the early disciples devoted themselves to was "breaking bread." The second half of 1 Corinthians 11, which discusses the problems caused when some people ate all the food without waiting for others to arrive or even got drunk (!), makes it plain that this was in the context of a full meal (verse 21). It isn't referring to a fragment of cracker or bread and a thimbleful of wine or grape juice taken solemnly and silently together! We know too from Acts 2:46 that the new believers shared their meals together.

Most simple/organic churches meet in the context of a meal. There is something about eating together that enables fellowship, and it's harder to be "religious" where food is involved. Eating together usually involves laughter and sharing, good-natured banter and deep heart-to-heart discussions. As one of our friends likes to say, "How do you spell fellowship? It's four letters:


I agree that it is clear from Scripture that sharing meals together was fundamental to the early church. The church clearly shared lots of meals together and I believe that rather than crackers and plastic shot glasses of grape juice, when the people of God got together, even for the Lord's Supper, it was most likely a full meal and not a religious ritual. It is hard to be religious and put on a show when you are chewing food, talking openly (which is forbidden during the traditional "Lord's Supper" observation) and enjoying actual fellowship.

Best of the week entry 4

Comes from Eric Carpenter on Becoming A Statistic:

When I was in seminary, the professors repeatedly lamented the fact that the average stay of a Southern Baptist pastor at a particular church was somewhere between two and four years. I heard various statistics, but they all seemed to fall in that range.

I've served as pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church for about 2.5 years. This coming Sunday is my final day as pastor. God, in His grace, is allowing me to finish preaching through the book of Matthew on Sunday (I started about two years ago). What a great way to go out: preaching about our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. We will miss our friends there and look forward to visiting.

So I'm becoming a statistic. Instead of staying for years and years, I'm leaving like so many others.

Many pastors leave "the ministry" because of frustration and burnout, something I have written about before. I think it is inevitable that this happens when the weight of ministry falls on the shoulders of one or a few men, something that was never intended. Eric is not "leaving the ministry", he is ministering in a different way and I applaud him for making this huge leap of faith.

I think it is great that Eric is making this enormous move on October 31st, Reformation Sunday. I am praying that like a certain German monk in 1517, Eric will be followed by many others who are seeking to return to a rich Biblical fellowship among believers!

Best of the week entry 3

The next entry is a provocative piece from Stanley Hauerwas, writing for the unapologetic left wing London paper, the Guardian. Hauerwas argues that the U.S. is actually more secular than our neighbor across the pond, Great Britain, in spite of our overt religiosity. His essay, How real is America's faith?, argues that Americans simply have a generalized belief in belief. Here is a sampling:

The British, I have discovered, assume that Americans are more religious than they are. That presumption seems justified in the light of Ed Miliband's declared atheism. As yet no one running for high political office in the US has been willing so to identify themselves. Indeed, it seems to be a requirement of political office in America that you believe in God. Americans seem to think those who rule us must believe in God because, if they do not, they cannot be "moral"– which means they will cheat on their spouses, thus destroying the family, which will bring civilisation to an end.

Yet I remain unconvinced that the difference between Britain and the US, when it comes to religion, can be determined by the faith or lack of it of those in public office. In fact, I am not convinced that the US is more religious than Britain. Even if more people go to church in America, I think the US is a much more secular country than Britain. In Britain, when someone says they do not believe in God, they stop going to church. In the US, many who may have doubts about Christian orthodoxy may continue to go to church. They do so because they assume that a vague god vaguely prayed to is the god that is needed to support family and nation.

Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US. The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny, because it is only the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing, Accordingly, the only kind of atheism that counts in the US is that which calls into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.

America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people that believes it should have no story except the story it chose when it had no story. That is what Americans mean by freedom.

The whole article is very interesting and makes a point I would agree with. Americans by and large are a very religious people but our religion is based more on ourselves and our national identity than any faith in God.

(I first saw this linked from Al Mohler who has his own take on what Hauerwas wrote here)

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Ed Stetzer and looks at how meeting in a non-traditional setting impacts attracting new people:

First, you have to ask the question, "Will the unchurched visit a church that meets in a non-traditional venue?" Survey results indicate that they will.

To a majority of the population -- and particularly the unchurched -- it doesn't matter. While I was at the Center for Missional Research at the North American Mission Board, we asked 1,200 people if knowing a church meets in a traditional church building would negatively affect their decision to visit or join a church. Nearly three quarters of those surveyed expressed that whether or not the church met in a traditional church building made no difference. (This blog is an adaptation of an article I wrote on the subject while working there.)

More precisely, we asked, "If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church does not meet in a traditional church building impact your decision?"

The responses told an important story:

* It would not make any difference - 73%

* It would negatively impact my decision - 19%

* It would positively impact my decision - 6%

* Not sure - 2%

One can hope that this helps to defuse the notion that you have to have a churchy looking building to be a real church. Many church planters have the goal of getting out of non-traditional (and far cheaper) settings and become a real church by buying a building. If we are really about the business of making disciples, it seems that the presence of a traditional building is not only not helping, more than three times as many people (19% vs 6%) say it hinders them than encourages them! Traditional church buildings are comfy places for people comfortably cocooned in American cultural Christianity but they are uninviting places for many people who don;t have that background, the very people I thought we were trying to reach (by insisting they come to us?!)

I thought this was especially interesting:

As you might expect, lily-and-poinsettia church attendees (those who come just on the holidays) reacted more negatively to the idea of coming to a non-traditional church building. (Often the reason they attend church on the holidays is to make some connection with traditions of their past.) Six times as many holiday church goers preferred traditional locations to non-traditional ones.

So traditional churches are super appealing to those who want to show up occasionally somewhere and feel religious. They are not part of the church universal in any sense but they have a place to go where they can reconnect with their traditions and then move on. Church buildings are designed for people to receive anonymous religion instead of being part of a community of believers. This is a great study but one that I am afraid will have little impact on the traditional church and its stubborn and prideful insistence on how "church" should look.

We should seek to attract people to Jesus, not to buildings.

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Dave Black last Thursday (10:10 AM) and has to do with the New Covenant...

After class I jotted down 5 marks of the New Covenant:

1) It preaches Christ alone. He is the only mediator between God and us. This is strong language. We can't tone it down or try to explain it away. There is only one saving Gospel.

2) It liberates from legalism. Our Lord did not come to make life narrow and rigid but rich and full. Abundant life does not consist of things. We may have many material possessions and not have it, and we may have nothing and possess it fully. The abundant life consists of God's grace, pure and simple. And God delights to give us treasures from heaven. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a plutocrat, not a pauper.

3) It eschews all human mediation. In the New Covenant each of us can know God personally. He invites us to learn of Him and promises to give us rest. This is far better than getting information second hand from our professors and pastors. It would be wonderful to overhear everyday Christians who are excited about exploring the riches of God's Word for themselves.

4) It minimizes the mechanics. We are no longer preoccupied with the externals of Christianity. God is not impressed with all of our ornate temples and sanctuaries. Vestments, gold, altars matter not. The simpler our faith, the better.

5) It leads to love of neighbor. We understand the New Covenant properly when we see ourselves as God sees us, as members of a new community that becomes the proving ground of our religion.

I don't want to forget these lessons, I told myself after class was over. "They will all know Me, from the least to the greatest." This is a revolutionary truth. That doesn't surprise me, because the Bible is a revolutionary book. Jesus has created a new community of people that come from all classes, and distinctions between rich and poor or between least and greatest are lessened by holy, loving fellowship and unity.

The New Covenant in Christ that is not like the Old is one of the most misunderstood doctrines in the Bible and yet it is one of the most vital. I am teaching tomorrow on Jeremiah and the New Covenant promise in chapter 31 will be quite prominent!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Very interesting video

Check out this conversation between Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler and Kevin DeYoung.

DeYoung, Duncan, Mohler: What's New About the New Calvinism from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Very interesting stuff. Here you have a very traditional older Presbyertian leader, a young Reformed guy and a Baptist leader. I found the way they were dressed amusing as well. DeYoung, the Young, Reformed, Restless guy is wearing an open collared dress shirt. Duncan is also but he has a sports coat on. Mohler as always is wearing a suit and tie. I am not sure I have ever seen Dr. Mohler NOT wearing a tie. I liked what Ligon had to say in the middle, we are in an increasingly secular culture and as Christians look around we are perhaps more concerned about fellowship with other believers than we are with feuding over secondary doctrines.

If I may be so bold, I see a "new, New Calvinism" taking root among those who hold to the Five Points of Calvinism to varying degrees, the authority of the Scriptures, a high view of God's holiness and sovereignty as well as His mercy and grace and the Five Solas of the Reformation (faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory!) but don't hold to the church culture and traditions normally associated with being "Reformed". It is that jettisoning of these church traditions that makes arbiters of "Truly Reformed" so incensed because in spite of the calls for semper reformanda, that only applies as far as constantly returning to the confessional standards in the eyes of the "Truly Reformed".

It is encouraging to see that so many people are embracing the Doctrines of Grace but see no need to cling to the traditions that surround it. These three brothers hold to those traditions but they have been profitable to learn from for many who don't. Our focus should be on the sovereignty of God in salvation, not on whether piano playing is allowed or the mode and recipients of baptism.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A terrible irony

I refreshed the article I referenced in the previous post and was heartbroken to see this ad on the page. In the midst of an article about how to dispose of murdered children is an advertisement for Sparrow Hospital with the words "Inspired by Life" and a picture of a newborn child. What a contrast that this child is held and loved while another is thrown in a dumpster.

How precious is a newborn baby! What a miracle, what a wonder! How many millions never made it to this point since Roe v. Wade and are never held by a mother or a nurse or a proud grandparent? What a terrible legacy this country has embraced, a legacy of millions upon millions of the most innocent among us who never had a chance to be held and loved. It is a stain on the legacy of this nation and the shame of the church that we spend more on our own comforts than we do on fighting for the lives of these children.

Trying to regulate Moloch worship in Michigan

There is legislation that has been introduced in Michigan to regulate the disposal of aborted babies, requiring either medical cremation or burial at the request of the mother. This was sparked by the recent discovery of large numbers of aborted babies in garbage bags in the dumpster behind an abortion mill, individually placed in plastic baggies, many with the mothers name attached to the baggie. Apparently the humane thing to do is require that these tiny victims are “properly” disposed of.

Following an investigation of the matter by the Michigan attorney general, which was recently completed, state Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, announced Wednesday he has co-sponsored legislation to require doctors and clinics to medically cremate an aborted fetus, or bury it if the parents request it. Failure to comply could be punished by three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

"When I was notified of this, I was horrified," Jones said. "I couldn't believe it."

I understand what Representative Jones is trying to do and I appreciate his efforts. Having said that, it is naïve for people to think that abortion mills are treating aborted children as anything other than something to be disposed of as cheaply as possible. What is truly horrifying is not that aborted babies are tossed in a dumpster. The truly horrifying part is that women pay a “doctor” to kill the defenseless baby inside of them, babies that are entirely dependent on their mothers and yet those mothers choose to fix their “mistakes” by killing that child. In a world where worship of self-gratification is the highest religion, there are far too many “doctors” who are willing to sacrifice children on the altars of Choice and Lust and Profit.

These “doctors” are not doctors at all. They are not healers in any sense of the word. They are assassins with diplomas from a medical school. People hire assassins to kill someone else when they don’t have the nerve or the ability to do it themselves and that is all abortionists are, assassins pure and simple. We shouldn’t be nearly as worried about how aborted children are disposed of as we are about what would lead a woman to pay an assassin to murder her own child.

I have a better idea. Since they are labeling the baggies with these children in them anyway, instead of requiring the clinic to incinerate the remains, give them to the woman that the child came out of. That way she can exercise her “choice” in how to dispose of this child that she paid to have torn from her body. These clinics make it all so neat and tidy. Come in the front door pregnant, go out the front door not pregnant. Meanwhile, the child you came in with is unceremoniously discarded in a plastic bag in a dumpster in the alley. Start making women carry the fruits of their “choice” out in a clear plastic bag and let them see that the cost of that visit to an abortion mill is far greater than a few hundred dollars.

One of the most horrifying forms of idolatry in the Bible was when the Israelites adopted the pagan practice of offering children up as a fiery sacrifice to false gods like Moloch. America is not Israel under the Old Covenant and the gods being sacrificed to are not Moloch but the high priests of the cult of “choice” are every bit as bloodthirsty in slaying children to appease their gods. Perhaps they are worse because they are not motivated as much by a false religion as they are by simple greed. There is nothing that can make the disposal of these children “proper”, not burial and not cremation. They had their humanity stripped from them when their mothers offered them up to these assassins for a small fee. Regulating the disposal of their bodies only makes this horrible crime a little more respectable.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Been out of touch

I haven't been blogging the last couple of days because of extensive travel for work and a lot of other stuff going on (including my wife's nephew suffering a severe accident at their family farm). I also am speaking this weekend at our assembling of the church so I have been prepping for that. There are some important things going on with us that perhaps we can share soon and I have been pretty preoccupied with thinking about political stuff, but I hope to get back on track here soon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The next book to read

Just got a review copy of Why Four Gospels? written by the esteemed David Black courtesy of the good folks at Energion Publications. From the book description....

In Why Four Gospels? noted Greek and New Testament scholar David Alan Black, concisely and clearly presents the case for the early development of the gospels, beginning with Matthew, rather than Mark. But this is much more than a discussion of the order in which the gospels were written. Using both internal data from the gospels themselves and an exhaustive and careful examination of the statements of the early church fathers, Dr. Black places each gospel in the context of the early development of Christianity.

Though Markan priority is the dominant position still in Biblical scholarship, Dr. Black argues that this position is not based on the best evidence available, that the internal evidence is often given more weight than it deserves and alternative explanations are dismissed or ignored. If you would like an outline of the basis for accepting both early authorship of the gospels and the priority of Matthew, this book is for you.

It is not a huge book so it should be accessible for someone like me with limited academic background in this field. I was a bit startled that the bibliography was twenty pages long! Looking forward to reading the latest from Dr. Black!

(I probably should start doing more reading of books instead of blogging about books I am gonna read)

New book I am reading

I just got a new book from the library that has been very interesting so far in light of my upcoming trip. Written by Phillipe Girard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, just came out last month so it is an overview of the history and culture of Haiti including the recent earthquake. I read through the introduction last night and was encouraged. It seems that Girard, while pulling no punches, is also not going to lay all of the blame for Haiti’s woes on Western colonialism. As he points out in the intro, there are lots of countries that have similar backgrounds and have experienced similar struggles but are in far better shape. It is interesting and instructive to see how far Haiti has fallen. Girard points out that at one time the United States saw Haiti as an economic and military threat!

Haiti was clearly a tragic situation long before the earthquake. I am hoping that Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation will help me to understand the underlying situation in Haiti. It is important to simply be willing to go to Haiti and other places where the physical and spiritual needs are so immense but the long term goal should be to see Haiti more self-sufficient. To understand how that can happen, you need to understand how they have arrived at this point. I will have a review once I complete the book which shouldn’t take long.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More thoughts on the Sabbath

When I was reading up on Christians and the Sabbath for my post last week on that topic, I came across some posts that led to others that led to others and one led me to Do Reformed Christians Confess the Sabbath? by R. Scott Clark (he of "churches that don't baptize infants aren't 'real' churches" fame). It was a pretty typical snarky diatribe against non-Reformed people, against credobaptists and the obligatory shot at people who use the term Reformed to describe themselves but don't meet Dr. Clark's approval. Nestled in the midst of an otherwise very predictable post was this interesting statement (emphasis added):

It is interesting that the same lot of people who are going to the mat for 6-24 creation (I’m thinking of Al Mohler here) seem to miss the primary message of Gen 1: God sanctified (i.e., made holy) one day out of seven as a matter of creational order. The creation narrative culminates in the Sabbath, which was a testimony to Adam of his eschatological heritage should he fulfill the probation. The Mosaic law itself, in Exod 20:8, testifies to the creational origin of the Sabbath principle. God worked six days and “rested” the Sabbath. On the basis and example we too are to work and rest.

Huh. The primary message of Genesis 1 is the institution of the Sabbath. Really? Even though we don't see anything about the Sabbath until the Exodus from Egypt. I think Dr. Clark is missing the difference here between culminates and concludes. The Genesis 1 account concludes with God resting on the seventh day but it culminates with the creation of man. See when I read Genesis 1, the primary message I see is not the seventh day. It is God creating the heavens and the earth, God creating ex nihilo all that we see around us and on the sixth day God's crowning achievement, creating man in His own image. The day of rest is what He did after He carried out His primary purpose of creation and creation was not merely a vehicle to get Him to that seventh day. Genesis 1 is not a story primarily about the Sabbath. It is a story of creation by the Creator, a grand framework to understand who God is and who man is in relation to Him. It serves to introduce us to God and His majesty and to explain the great question that has troubled men for thousands of years: where do we come from?

In this view of Genesis 1, it is almost as if all of the work of creation, including creating man in God's image, only serves the purpose of giving God something to do for six days until He institutes the Sabbath which becomes Sunday morning church services. I don't think you will find a similar viewpoint regarding the Sabbath as the primary message of Genesis 1 among very many contemporary Reformed brothers.

The more I read and ponder what the most militant "Reformed" brothers teach, the less I see of the New Testament in it. I think Dr. Clark is right about this when he says:

It’s interesting to see where the Young, Restless, and Reformed fellows depart from the Reformed confession. What exactly in the Reformed confession animates them? So far as I can tell the only aspect of the Reformed confession that they really like is the doctrine of divine sovereignty (predestination and providence). Everything else seems to be negotiable.

I would agree with that. The younger generation is not content to merely ask "What is Reformed" as if that is the end all and be all of Christian maturity but instead seeks to ask "What is Biblical". Even the question that forms the title of his post: Do Reformed Christians Confess the Sabbath? is asking the wrong question and makes it seem as if "Reformed Christians" are a separate and intellectually superior class of Christians, not like those ignert evangelicals. For me, I embrace the Reformed confessions where they reflect the Bible, i.e. in soteriology, the grand and glorious doctrines of God's sovereign grace in salvation. As for the rest of it, I have no qualms about chucking it to the side, not because I am rebellious or think I am smarter than those Reformed brothers who have come before me. It is because in far too many places I know what is considered "Reformed", meaning the culture and traditions that surround confessionally Reformed Christian groups, and I don't find it to be faithful to Scripture. What exactly am I referring to?

A priesthood of specially set apart holy men. Holy buildings where God's people worship. Special days that are set apart for worship. A tithe system to support the priests and the holy buildings.

That is not "Reformed".

That is simply Old Testament worship dressed up in New Testament language.

I want no part of it. The church, established by Jesus Christ and described in the New Testament, was not a Sabbath keeping/observing church. If the very beginning of the Bible culminates in and is primarily about the Sabbath and if "Sabbath confessing" is so vital, why are men like Dr. Clark left arguing for it from the Old Testament, from highly shaky inferences and from silence? Why doesn't the Bible speak of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath and why is Sabbath confessing not mentioned as part of the functioning of the church?

I will leave the memorizing of "Reformed" confessions to the scholars and traditionalists. There is plenty of Kingdom work to be done that we are called to and none of it requires us to memorize the Three Forms of Unity or to argue about who is or is not "Truly Reformed. Arguing about interpreting traditions is precisely the sort of foolish, vain and prideful wasting of time that the Pharisees engaged in and we saw how that was received by Jesus.

So do Christians, Reformed and not, "confess the Sabbath"? Of course!

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb 4:9-10)

He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is our Sabbath rest, not just on Sunday but every day. Praise God for that!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The love of money is Crystal clear

I think I have shown remarkable restraint this week by not commenting on the recent news that the Crystal Cathedral has filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors. A lot of attention is being paid to this around the secular media as well as among Christians and there is just the faintest whiff of condescension among the more orthodox brethren that this has befallen what can only be described as a theologically squirrelly group. My concern today is not with the Crystal Cathedral but what this whole episode says about the church as a whole.

The Crystal Cathedral is just a very public manifestation of a broader problem in the church culture in America. It is not limited to “prosperity gospel” folks but is something that is widespread. The numbers may be smaller but the issue with debt and money is the same. That problem is that the church seems to have no conception of how to be good stewards of money:

The local church in America is in love with money and what money can do for the local church.

It is well documented how much Christian churches spend on themselves in the form of buildings, mortgages, staff, programs, upkeep, etc. and that spending, as long as it is on “my church” seems to be OK. When “my church” spends a huge percentage of its giving on itself, that is necessary for Gospel work. When someone else spends that money, especially when it is a huge sum and I disagree with them theologically, it is a sign of poor stewardship. One man’s poor stewardship is another man’s necessity. I read a Facebook post yesterday by a ministry that was shaking its head ruefully at the foolishness of the Crystal Cathedral while at the same time this organization and the associated church are spending millions upon millions for buildings. I guess it is OK to spend lavishly on facilities when you have the right theology.

As I write this on a Friday, I wonder how much money is tied up in church buildings that are mostly empty today and have been most of the last week. Tens of millions? Hundreds of millions? The number is enormous and is unsupportable. Before the orthodox start wagging their fingers at the Crystal Cathedral for their fiscal irresponsibility, they need to look at their own church budgets.

Cholera Outbreak In Haiti

Amidst the recovery from the devastating earthquake comes news of over 130 deaths from a fast moving cholera outbreak:

A fast-moving cholera outbreak north of the Haitian capital has killed at least 138 people, a U.N. official said Friday.

Another 1,526 cases are also part of the outbreak, said Imogen Wall, the U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman in Haiti. All the cases have been reported in the Lower Artibonite region, north of Port-au-Prince, she said.

"This is a situation that's developed very quickly. It's only been 48 hours and we've already got 138 deaths confirmed," Wall told CNN.

She called the situation "a serious development, partially because cholera is a very dangerous disease, and it spreads very fast, but also because it's unusual to Haiti," she said. "There hasn't been an outbreak here in decades."

Please be in prayer for the people of Haiti and for those who are ministering to them. Given the lack of infrastructure in Haiti, this situation can get even more grim very quickly. We take for granted that we have abundant sources of clean water in America but this most basic of human needs is by no means a given for millions of people around the world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Russ Moore weighs in

Russell Moore weighs in on the Gospel Coalition question: How do Christians work for justice in the world and not undermine the centrality of evangelism?

I think his answer strikes the proper tone. Here is a snippet:

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

The short answer to how churches should “balance” such things is simple: follow Jesus. We are Christians. This means that as we grown in Christlikeness, we are concerned about the things that concern him. Jesus is the king of his kingdom, and he loves whole persons, bodies as well as souls.

Christ Jesus never sends away the hungry with, “Be warmed and filled” (Jas. 2:16). What he says, instead, as he points to the love of both God and neighbor, to the care of both body and soul, is: “You go, and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37).

This is a vital question and one that can get off kilter easily. Dr. Moore's answer really hits the nail on the head: follow Jesus. If we know who He is and what He has done and what He taught and just simply follow Him, we will always be on the right path.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It cannot be one or the other, it must be both

The Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism is going on this week in South Africa and some people are (rightly) concerned that in the desire to address issues of social and moral concern, Gospel proclamation is being left behind. The Gospel Coalition is asking four Christian leaders to address the question: How do Christians work for justice in the world and not undermine the centrality of evangelism?

This is an important question. I would affirm that there is a concern here. Doing acts of mercy is not the Gospel. Giving someone food or medicine without telling them the Good News of Jesus Christ, who He is, what He did and how that saves His sheep, is not the Gospel.

I would also absolutely agree that there is no greater act of mercy than preaching the Gospel to the lost. Feeding a lost person without telling them about Jesus just makes this life a more comfortable place to go to hell from. Conversely a person who is born-again and starves to death is infinitely and eternally better off than the richest unbeliever in America. The Gospel proclamation is not one of the calls of Christians, it is the call and everything else is secondary.

Having said all of that, there is clearly a disconnect in much of the church between proclaiming the Gospel and living out the life of those transformed by the Gospel which is why we have conferences like Lausanne in the first place. I would ask not just How do Christians work for justice in the world and not undermine the centrality of evangelism? but also How do Christians evangelize the lost while not neglecting the works of justice and mercy that we are called for?

The first leader to respond, D.A. Carson, responded that one way the problem is solved by getting the Gospel right and that in doing so justice will naturally follow:

The gospel is the good news of what God has done, especially in Christ Jesus, especially in his cross and resurrection; it is not what we do. Because it is news, it is to be proclaimed. But because it is powerful, it not only reconciles us to God, but transforms us, and that necessarily shapes our behavior, priorities, values, relationships with people, and much more. These are not optional extras for the extremely sanctified, but entailments of the gospel.

That is very true and believe me I can (and have) spent all day showing where people get the Gospel and its implications wrong. It is fine and dandy to say, as Carson does, that proclaiming the Gospel will lead to the alleviation of temporal suffering but at the risk of wrathful comments I will suggest that the real life outcome is not the neat “one to one” correlation that Carson seems to suggest and while his answer is eminently theologically sound, in practice that is not where we see Christians focusing.

I would go further and suggest that the church spends an awful lot of time and effort and money on activities that are neither Gospel proclaiming or works of mercy. Proclaiming the Good News to the lost is the very heart of the life of a Christian. Caring for the poor and for widows and the orphans gets a lot of mention in the Bible and is clearly important to the early church and the focus of their giving (see my post of why we give here). On the other hand, monologue sermons, building campaigns, choir practice, Vacation Bible School, pastoral sabbaticals, Sunday school, harvest festivals, theology conferences, “worship” concerts, weddings and funerals are absent from the Bible but that is where we spend most of our time and effort and money.

So what is the core problem?

First, I don’t think that the problem is so much an issue of emphasis, it is that there are too few Christians who are doing the work of ministry. You can coach the fundamentals in basketball all day long but if you put one guy on the court against five, he is going to lose. When the work of evangelism is subcontracted to just a few people or the work of mercy is relegated to just a few people, the harsh reality is that one or the other (or both!) is going to suffer. Amidst all the preaching and sermonizing people get the message that proclaiming the Gospel and ministering to the hurting is something for some of us to do, those who are “gifted” or “called”. The truth of the matter is that it is the responsibility of all Christians and that the men we recognize as elders are called to equip everyone else for the work of ministry, not merely by teaching us from the pulpit but by demonstrating by their lives how we should live so that we can imitate their lives.

Second, people just simply don’t hear it said that being a disciple of Christ involves far more than membership in a local church. Calls for real sacrificial living are few and far between. When have you heard it said from a pulpit that you may need to set aside saving for retirement to help orphans and widows? Or that you should sell some of your stuff and give the money to help a brother or sister in need? Or that the pastor of your church is not only not able but not called to carry the entire burden of ministry and Gospel proclamation for a local church? The reason for the disconnect between the Gospel and action is that the moral imperatives that come along with a redeemed life have been reduced to church attendance and “tithing”.

Third, the Gospel witness and works of mercy are not competing priorities, they should complement one another. Conversely overemphasizing one while neglecting the other weakens both. I like what the second leader interviewed had to say (Ray Ortlund):

It’s a good question. But I would also ask, “How can Christians neglect the work of justice in the world without undermining evangelism?”

The problem is not an overemphasis on one or the other, it is that often the emphasis is on neither and it must be on both. The way we ensure that we don’t forget evangelism or mercy is to first, as Carson says, make sure we get the Gospel right. Second, equip all believers and give them the ability and encourage the inclination to do ministry in the world, to think outside of the church building for ministry opportunities. Third, be bold and clear that the life of a disciple of Christ is not one of insulated middle-class values and comforts but instead a self-denying, cross bearing life that will rub the world the wrong way.

What are your thoughts? How do we balance the imperative of Gospel proclamation with the entailments of works of mercy?

Monday, October 18, 2010

A ransom for many

I found something interesting in Psalm 49 yesterday, something I am sure I have read before but that really resonated with me yesterday…

Why should I fear in times of trouble,
when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another,
or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
and never see the pit. (Psalm 49: 5-9)

Money can’t buy you love and it also can’t get you out of the pit. Trusting in your wealth is fine for this life but it will be utterly worthless when the time to deal with your sin is before you. That leaves us in a pickle. If we can’t trust ourselves and certainly not the one thing that we are conditioned to think will bring us security, i.e. money, then where can we hope?

A few verses later we see hope for the believer.

This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
yet after them people approve of their boasts.
Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me. (Psalm 49: 13-15)

Ah, so God Himself will ransom his soul from Sheol. Lest we think that this only applies to the Psalmist, we see this idea of ransoming souls in the words of Christ:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

The King of Kings. He came not, as was His due, to be served but instead to be a servant. He came not to rule but to give His life to ransom many from hell.

This idea is repeated later by Paul:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim 2: 5-6)

Also later in the song sung by the four living creatures and the twenty four elders around the throne of the Lamb:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5: 9-10)

The idea of ransom is a fascinating one. I know I am hampered because I am relying on a particular English translation here but I would imagine that this concept of ransoming captives is consistent in the original. There is such a rich variety of ways that the Bible describes what has been done on our behalf and ransom is an especially interesting phrase. When someone is held hostage or captive and a ransom is demanded, the one being held is helpless and dependent on some outside entity for their rescue. The payment must come from someone else. In the case of sinners what makes it worse is that there is no other person who can pay the ransom for us but what makes grace so amazing is that Jesus paid it all.

Of course, taking this theme a step further, there is the idea of too many people held captive by sin developing Stockholm Syndrome and starting to love the one who holds us captive, i.e. our own sins. The only cure for this universal Stockholm Syndrome toward sin is the new heart that comes when the Holy Spirit regenerates the stony heart of a sinner and makes those who are dead in sin alive in Christ.

The more I look at the Bible, the more I realize just how precarious and hopeless my situation was before God intervened to save me. I was dead and thought I was alive. I was lost but didn’t know it. I thought I was a good person but I was skipping merrily on my way to hell. It gives me chills now to think of where I was and what He has done. How can we remain silent about that, how can we leave the proclamation of the Good News to other people? We must, all of us who have been redeemed must, tell the world how Jesus is and what He did.

Jesus paid the ransom and He sets the captives free!

Christians and the Sabbath

There is a very interesting article I wanted to point you to on a very interesting topic: the Sabbath observation and Christians. It appears on the webpage of the Gospel Coalition and has already inspired over 200 comments which is a lot even for a widely read blog like TGC. People get very agitated over this topic, especially those who argue that Christians are required to observe the Sabbath on Sunday. The post, Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians? , shows up on Justin Taylor’s space but is actually an excerpt from Tom Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law. I found it quite fascinating because this is something that I have been bouncing around in my head for some time now.

Shockingly, I have an opinion on this topic. Please pick your jaw up from the floor before continuing. I think there is solid evidence that Christians routinely gathered as the church on the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday) but I don’t buy into the notion that Sunday is the “Christian Sabbath” or that Christians are bound by Sabbath observation at all. Jesus is the Christian Sabbath, He is where we find our rest! Outside of a couple of passing references to the church gathering on the first day of the week we notice an utter lack of evidence to indicate that the early Christian church under the direct leadership of the apostles observed any sort of Sabbath-esque observations that would in any way correlate to the cultural observance of Sunday as a special day. The Sabbath was a big deal in the Old Testament and not following it was a capital offense. If it had a similar meaning to the New Covenant church (made up in large part of gentiles who were never Jewish in the first place), it would certainly bear some sort of mention for the church.

I think Schreiner strikes the proper tone with this:

Now it does not follow from this that the Sabbath has no significance for believers. It is a shadow, as Paul said, of the substance that is now ours in Christ. The Sabbath’s role as a shadow is best explicated by Hebrews, even if Hebrews does not use the word for “shadow” in terms of the Sabbath. The author of Hebrews sees the Sabbath as foreshadowing the eschatological rest of the people of God (Heb. 4:1–10). A “Sabbath rest” still awaits God’s people (v. 9), and it will be fulfilled on the final day when believers rest from earthly labors. The Sabbath, then, points to the final rest of the people of God. But since there is an already-but-not-yet character to what Hebrews says about rest, should believers continue to practice the Sabbath as long as they are in the not-yet? I would answer in the negative, for the evidence we have in the New Testament points in the contrary direction. We remember that the Sabbath is placed together with food laws and new moons and Passover in Colossians 2:16, but there is no reason to think that we should observe food laws, Passover, and new moons before the consummation. Paul’s argument is that believers now belong to the age to come and the requirements of the old covenant are no longer binding.

I look at this in sort of the same way as the Passover. Should Christians celebrate the Passover with a special Passover observation? I don’t see any reason to do so. The Passover, both the actual event in Egypt and the subsequent observation of it by the Jews, was a shadow of the cross where Jesus became the Passover lamb for His people with a once-for-all sacrifice. We break bread and share the cup with one another now as a remembrance of what He did and a declaration of our future hope. I don’t celebrate the Passover because I was not saved out of the land of Egypt, I observe the Lord’s Supper because I was redeemed by the broken body and shed blood of Christ on the cross. The Passover and the Sabbath and all of the other observations that set the Jews apart from all of the other people are vitally important for Christians to understand but only because they give us a fuller picture of the person and work of Christ. To my eyes a Jewish family observing the Passover is a sad picture because the Lamb of God who was slain has already come and fulfilled all righteousness. We should absolutely be intimately familiar with the Old Testament but we must be so in light of the New Covenant in Christ, viewing the Old in light of the New.

The pseudo-Sabbath observation of Christians strikes me as being similar to the myriad of ways we try to apply Old Covenant/Old Testament symbolism to the New Testament church. We seek to duplicate the Levitcal priesthood with a clerical class. Many Christians refer to church buildings as “the House of the Lord”. There is lots of talk about tithing. Christians are not Israelites in the sense of the Old Covenant nation-state of Israel. We can eat pork and we are not required to circumcise our sons. While there absolutely is continuity between the Old and the New, there is also a radical discontinuity that seems to be lost when Christians read the Old Testament as if the cross never happened.

The crux of it is this: we are called to a much higher standard than the Sabbath observation. We are not to live as the world during the week and then set aside one day (Sunday) as holy. We are to live every day as redeemed aliens in a lost world. I guess if you want to treat Sunday as special, that is your business but if it starts to become “I am more pious than you because I treat Sunday as some sort of Sabbath day” malarkey or you start to see that as a mark of faithfulness, it becomes problematic.

Anyone care to make the case that the Sabbath day observation is still binding on Christians?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

More Michiganders Heading to Haiti

Amidst all of the election news and hand-wringing about the Wolverines latest loss was a wonderful story in the Detroit News on a medical missionary team from Michigan heading to Haiti, Michigan group returning to aid Haiti quake victims :

A week after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Dr. Karl Bandlien traveled there from Michigan to treat the countless sick and injured. Roughly nine months later, Bandlien is again answering the call to help.

Bandlien of Highland Township is one of about a dozen church members from Michigan departing today on a Christian relief mission to Haiti.

Despite the record amount of international aid following the disaster, scores of families are still living in encampments or on the streets. Living in unsanitary conditions, many are in poor health, Bandlien said. Those with untreated injuries will now need care for what have become chronic wounds, he said.

"That's the sad reality," said Bandlien, a 61-year-old surgeon at Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne. "We feel that this is a situation that is crying for a resolution, and we are going to do what we can."

Bandlien will join a medical team of clinicians from around the United States. Together, they will operate for one week a motorized clinic in Carrefour, a hillside town of about 400,000 that was the quake's epicenter. It is located 10 miles south of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Nine months after the quake, only 2 percent of rubble has been cleared and 13,000 temporary shelters have been built — less than 10 percent of the number planned, according to the Associated Press. In January, a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti — the poorest country in the western hemisphere — damaging the National Palace, U.N. headquarters and orphanages. The quake killed at least 230,000 people and left millions homeless. Also, a storm last month ripped through Port-au-Prince and destroyed thousands of tents, serving as a reminder of how vulnerable the displaced still are.

I am not too sure about the sponsoring group these folks are involved with but I am glad to see believers going to those in need.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Best of the week entry 3

Comes from Alan Knox and is actually a series of posts on church polity. This is a topic lots of Christians like to argue about but the series (which starts here) has been strictly informational so far. If you are interested in the church, this is a nice primer for the various systems of traditional church government.

Best of the week entry 2

Next entry comes from Dan and is a troubling post about Christians Failing the Sniff Test

The last few days, I’ve been unable to shake this thought: In what ways do American Christians appear different from their non-Christian neighbors?

I’m sure each of us knows of people who volunteer their time to help the less fortunate, take opportunities to seek out deeper meaning in life, are kind and considerate, who engage in common rituals, pay their taxes, love their kids, help their neighbors, work hard to better their community, shun the obvious sins, and are generally nice, fine people.Yet those same folks make no pretenses of being born-again believers in Jesus.
Christians have their own sniff test to pass, though the aroma is far more pleasing than a simple lack of BO. At least it should be. The sniff test. What really bugged me as I thought about this passage is that I’m no longer certain if the Church in America today smells any different than the world.

In a lot of ways, too many Christians in America ARE little more than peddlers of God’s word. In fact, we’ve somehow made being a peddler of God’s word a good thing, as if it shows commitment to a spiritual life! Even worse, too many of us aren’t even devoted enough to be a peddler of God’s word. We just kind of exist. Just like that nice, fine non-Christian who pays his taxes and volunteers to read to elderly people a few times a week.

Seriously, I think that too many of us have substituted rituals for genuine knowledge of Christ. And for those who claim genuine knowledge of Christ, what of their lives makes them smell different from the rest of humanity? What does genuine Christianity look like in America 2010?

You should read the whole thing. This is something I have written about as well and is very disconcerting. Does the Church, especially in America, look even marginally different from the world? More often that not, the answer is no.

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Jorge Claudio, writing as a guest blogger for Ed Stetzer. Jorge makes an interesting comparison between Pharaoh's dream that was interpreted by Joseph of the fat years followed by lean year and how Joseph lead the preparations for the lean years:

Similarly, God has put today's church in charge; God has given the church the responsibility of executing His plans in both: 'fat cows' and 'lean cows' times. But, does the church have the same attitude? Has the church performed like Joseph in preparation for times like these?

I respectfully believe that the church is not facing circumstances but rather, consequences. For generations the church has failed to be ready for times of limitations and scarcity. Somehow we have "conformed to this world" by acting like the world.

This is the United States of America. For many this is "a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (we praise the Lord for that). But, this is a land where society and culture has taught generations of people (including us and our children) about abundance, about the importance of having more, of having bigger, of just having. This is a land where leaders are elected based on economy, taxes, and jobs - translation: based on the impact in our pockets. This is a land where people have learned to live in the border of financial collapse and to be 'happy' with it. This is a land where churches (or church members) had somehow supported that lifestyle with the assumption that 'fat cows' will always be among us. Now the church lives the consequences of not being able to do more when needed, because the church was not prepared.

You see, in times when people (of all ages) are vulnerable, weak, confused and desperate, these would be GREAT times to expand ministries, but the church was not prepared for times like these. Instead of cutting, the church should be increasing counseling services, creating community support groups, providing emergency assistance, expanding Bible studies, planting new churches, etc., but the church was not prepared for times like these.

Personally, I believe that 'fat cows' will be back. But I wonder... Will the church be ready for the next cycle or will it miss yet another God-given opportunity?

This is a great analogy and a very sobering question. Not perfect by any means but I like what it has to say about the lack of vision in the church and the myopia that our cult of “my church” has created. When times are good and people are prosperous, the church responds by building more buildings, hiring more staff, investing in new audio visual equipment. When times are rough and people are hurting, the primary focus of the church is not on how to minister to those who are hurting but how to maintain the machinery of the church. What is tragic is not that church staff are losing their jobs, although that it is an individual hardship. What is truly tragic is that when times are bad, the church is not in a position to step up because it saw the fat years as an excuse to get fatter, not to be positioned for the lean years.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Changing from Come and Hear to Go and Tell

Alan Knox pointed to a great post by David Fitch on the kind of leaders the church will need in North America in the future. (Here’s a hint: The answer is not more of the same). David focuses on the type of pastors we will need but I think we should focus more generally on the kinds of leaders we will require because if we try to rely on pastoral leaders in the future, it is not going to be adequate.

These are his ideas for what these leaders will look like.






Powerful stuff, visionary stuff. Whether or not you agree with his assessment and his recommendations, you have to appreciate that he is looking outside of the blinkered culture of the church that looks at the future and sees everything the same as it is today. The world is changing and the cultural Christianity we grew up with is unraveling. The next generation of church leaders needs to be able to function outside of the comfortable confines of seminary and traditional churches. The next generation of leaders are not going to have a lot of the support structures that we have come to take for granted and are going to need to be, as David says, more self-sufficient, more creative and more willing to let others take part in leading the church.

Like a lot of people, including myself, David sees the church moving into a few camps, an ever increasing megachurch presence, a rapidly declining and dying traditional church and a burgeoning but hard to wrap your arms around organic/missional church movement. I think that is dead on and that the evangelical church of the future in North America is going to be dumbbell shaped, with a large number of Christians involved in giant churches on one end and a similar number of Christians involved in diffuse communities on the other end. I especially liked this comment regarding the ever larger “megachurches”:

Whatever you might think of these forms of church life, the reality is that these large mega centers are good at making Christianity work for already existing Christians. They lack the flexibility however (and the cultural dynamic) to engage the many less affluent unreached contexts of the West.

I think that is somewhat accurate. A co-worker mentioned to me yesterday that there was someone she knew professionally that went to her church but she never realized it because they went to different services. If you don’t even know that a person attends the same church as you, how are you really a functioning faith community? Churches of that size fulfill, however poorly, a need for busy suburbanites to get their church booster shot at the beginning of each week, provide a place for them to take their kids in between all of the other stuff going on in their lives and giving these busy Christians an identity (I am a member of “Insert Church Name Here”). For reaching the lost outside of those comfortable with the church culture? Not so much. We absolutely need to change our mindset from “Come and Hear” to “Go and Tell”. It seems that lost people are less likely and less comfortable with “going to church”. That makes not going to them….not an option.

We certainly need more big picture, visionary discussions of the church and when questions are raised, we likewise certainly don’t need a bunch of knee-jerk responses, we instead need more conversations and Scripture studying. Defending the traditional model, calling for more preaching, ever more intellectual pastors, etc. might be good for selling books and being invited to speak at conferences but I am not sure at all that it is effective in spreading the Gospel.

As You Were

In a comment in my recent post about elders, Mark said:

I believe the Spirit weaves the tapestry, and, as in Acts, when the apostles came through and appointed elders, they simply recognized those that were already functioning in that capacity.

I would agree with that. Someone shouldn’t act or function differently based on being recognized as an elder. This is something that seems so common-sense, so eminently supportable from Scripture and yet it doesn’t seem to be as commonly held as perhaps it should be.

Being an elder is a recognition of what you are already doing, rather than you starting to do something new because you become an elder. In other words, you don’t function as an elder because you have been recognized as an elder, you are recognized as an elder because that is how you are already functioning. Someone doesn’t start to teach because they are an elder, they are already recognized as being able to teach. You don’t serve the church because you are an elder, you are an elder because you are serving already. You don’t become a better husband because you are an elder, that is who you already are. The qualities to be desired in an elder are qualities all Christians should be seeking to exhibit and elders exemplify those qualities and therefore are leaders because we should be emulating their model and example of how to live.

The Tour d’Haiti

Les from the Haiti Orphan Project was on a local TV show talking about the needs of orphans in Haiti and the upcoming Tour d’Haiti. Check it out!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who leads in the church?

My friend Josh posted not once but twice yesterday, a virtual blogsplosion! His second posting caught my eye and I would like to direct you to an interesting topic. Josh addresses the question of whether the local church should be elder-led or congregation-led. His answer was “yes”, i.e. both are true. Here is his summary from Q&A: Should the Church be led by Elders or by the Congregation?

Absolute elder rule and absolute congregational government are not found in the New Testament. What we do find is the clear command to "submit to one another" (Eph 5:21). I fear that those advocating an 'absolute' form of church government do so (at the expense of clear biblical teaching) out of a refusal to submit. Sadly, we have congregations who refuse to submit to their biblical leaders and we have biblical leaders refusing to submit to their congregations. All of it is sin.

Scripture doesn't give us details. It does not provide of list of things the elders can decide on and a list of things on which the congregation must decide. It does give us (1) clear examples that the congregation made real decisions, (2) clear examples of the congregation being involved with the decisions of the elders/apostles, and (3) clear commands to submit to spiritual leaders. Some have termed this Elder-led Congregationalism.

What do you think?

I think the majority report in conservative evangelical churches is that the elders rule and often the functioning of those local churches is a de facto single elder rule.

There clearly is something in Scripture that distinguishes men who are recognized by the church as elders. Perhaps it is their age (hence the term “elder”) or their maturity in the faith. Whatever it is, it is clear that certain men are elders and by implication other men are not. As Josh also points out, while the qualities to be desired in an elder are quite clearly spelled out in Scripture, the functioning of elders in the church is not nearly as clear.

I would also say that there are men that I respect and would submit to their counsel who are not officially recognized as elders or deacons in a local church and likewise I have met plenty of men who are elders and deacons in a local church that I wouldn’t follow to Dunkin Donuts. As I have written before, Josh is one of those men who I respect for his counsel and also is an elder in a local church. It is important to note again that I am not now nor have I ever been a formal member in a church where Josh is an elder but that doesn't negate the value he has to me as a leader. We are currently gathering with the church in a local group with three elders who I respect deeply and have no issue submitting to, but they also serve without pay and involve the entire local body in decision making and leading and teaching.

This is an interesting topic, run over and check it out and leave a comment or three…

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why do we give?

The other day, Eric Carpenter had a blog post about something R.C. Sproul wrote on tithing. I read the same thing from Sproul and had a similar reaction and as I said in response I have a hard time taking Sproul seriously when the topic turns to giving when I get daily pleas for money from Ligonier.

What I found interesting was a comment from Alan Knox:

First, refusing to put money in an offering plate in order to support an organizational structure is not the same as supporting the church. In the same way, refusing to put money in an offering plate in order to support an organizational structure is not the same as failing to support the church. In fact, if you see the organizational structure as detrimental to the church, then perhaps it is better NOT to support that organization.

That is right on. If you view, as I do, most of the organized, tradition bound church as an impediment to the making of disciples and equipping believers, why in the world would you support that system financially? It is irresponsible to keep pouring money into a system without asking the hard questions just because tradition and the loudest voices say so. Unfortunately, a reasonable and eminently Biblical question like that rises to the level of wicked rebelliousness in some eyes. I have been accused in the past of failing to support "The Church" financially. In fact, one guy on Facebook described refusing to put money in the plate to support clerical staff at a local church as "evil". He was dead serious and outraged that anyone would even question the whole system.

Of course the opposite is just as dangerous and un-Biblical. Cynically refusing to give to others is simply unacceptable for a Christian. Giving of our resources in support of one another and the needy is a fundamental feature of the life of a believer and reflective of a changed life. So we ought to be giving deeply of our resources which includes not just money but our time, our love, our compassion, our talents. We need to think through why we give and how we give because just putting some money in the plate and letting others worry about where it goes is and giving little thought to how it is being spent is not healthy or helpful either.

Having said that, Kingdom giving is not the same thing as writing a check to sustain a local church organization and the confusion between the two is a problem. I want to take a lengthy look at giving in the NT church because I think we assume a lot of things about giving, where we should give, how we should give and what the purpose of giving is.

When we see the church giving in the New Testament, there are a couple of important things going on. First, the early church didn't "tithe" in the sense of paying a fixed percentage out of obligation, but gave completely and sacrificially and joyfully. Second, they gave to help others and by helping others I mean meeting the physical needs of believers and others. Let's look at some examples of giving in the New Testament (keeping in mind that the model under the Old Covenant is no longer applicable under the New Covenant in the church so we cannot appeal there for direction). Lets start with Acts 2: 44-45 and Acts 4: 32-35:

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. (Acts 2: 44-45)

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

The first thing that jumps out at me here is that this is a sacrificial giving, not a miserly tithe. I don’t think that this mandates that all Christians have all things in common but I certainly do see the advantages of that among believers and I likewise think that any believer who withholds from another when the other believer is in need has a troubling understanding of money and possessions. You certainly have a hard time reconciling the idea of giving a percentage of what is left over after taking care of all of your expenses and savings for retirement to the church and feeling that you are satisfying the call to support others.

The second thing, and this will be a recurring theme, is that the funds are being given as any had need. Not to fund a program or an institution but going to Christians who were in need. It sounds to me like it was “see a need, fill a need” situation. As someone has a need, it was fulfilled so that none were without. That would mean that some would have far less materially than they might have otherwise (i.e. Barnabas who sold his real estate and gave it to the church to be distributed to others in Acts 4: 36-37) but that was OK and expected.

Next we move to Acts 11: 27-30

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11: 27-30)

Here we see a specific need that was prophesied as besetting the church in Judea that the rest of the church took up offerings for and delivered by hand for the relief of those saints. The church around the region was made aware of a need that wold impact a church in a completely different region and they gave to see to it that the needs of those brothers was met. This is a recurring theme....

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Cor 16: 1-3)

We see here a special collection being taken at the church but not to stay in the coffers of the church in Corinth (and previously Galatia) but rather to be gathered and taken to Jerusalem for the severe need there, spoken of in a number of places throughout the New Testament.

Let’s look at the praise heaped upon the church in Macedonia for their generosity that was so extraordinary that Paul took the time to mention it in his letter to the church in Corinth. Paul devotes virtually all of two chapters to giving (2 Corinthians 8-9) but we often only hear about the "God loves a cheerful giver" portion (2 Cor 9: 6-8) from pulpits as a plea for greater giving to the local church when the offering is down, even though that has nothing to do with what Paul is talking about.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8: 1-5)

In a time of severe trial, the Christians in Macedonia gave generously, “beyond their means” for….the relief of the saints. What a far cry from the situation in America where tens of thousands of churches across the land each have their own bank account, jealously guarded, where untold millions (billions?) are hoarded away for the needs of that local church. Going on further…

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8: 13-15)

The expectation again is that as some saints prosper, they help those who are less prosperous wherever they may be and not just in that particular local church. Given what Paul said about the saints in Maecdonia giving generously even in their poverty, I think that "prospering" means something very different to Paul than it does to us. So that means that we should feel a burden for the care of the saints beyond the “members” of out local church and include other believers in our area and indeed around the world. Can you imagine a traditional evangelical church in Nebraska where they decided that the offering for the next month would be bundled up, 100%, and sent to a community of Christian in Detroit who were suffering? It is hard to imagine because it would seem so out of place and out of character and because almost every local church has monthly bills that need to be paid. Nevertheless, that is precisely what was going on in the early church. Paul continues this conversation in the next chapter where he urges the Corinthians to be ready for the promised offering so as not to be embarrassed by a shortfall (2 Corinthians 9: 1-5). Then we get into the “cheerful giver” passages (2 Corinthians 9: 6-8). That is where the discussion often stops, but Paul goes on….

For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. (2 Corinthians 9: 12-14)

How are they glorifying God? By buying new carpet or adding a new wing on their “church” or hiring a youth minister? By saving money up in their bank account? No, they were glorifying God by supplying the needs of the saints, taking up a contribution for others who are not even part of their local church and who they probably never had and never would meet this side of eternity.

In a more general sense, under the marks of a true Christian in Romans 12, we see this admonition in verse 13:

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

"Contribute to the needs of the saints". Notice that the mark of a true Christian is not sustaining the local church organization, it is again caring for the needs of the saints.

An interesting passage shows up in 2 Corinthians 11: 7-9, where Paul talks about receiving financial support from the church:

Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. (2 Cor 11: 7-9)

What is interesting here is that Paul is receiving support from other churches in order to serve the Corinthian church rather than burdening the Corinthian church and impeding his right to boast in the Gospel (this is consistent with 1 Corinthians 9: 1-23 where Paul talks about rejecting payment for preaching the Gospel so that his getting paid would not be an obstacle to the Gospel proclamation [see 1 Cor 9:12] ). In fact Paul sees the support he was receiving from these other churches as robbing those churches. I think it is fair to say that Paul saw the support he was receiving from these other churches as taking away from caring for the poor and needy among the saints in those areas. Given the lengths to which Paul reminded the church that he worked to provide for himself with his own hands, we can see a picture where caring for the needs of people is seen as the primary reason for giving in the church. Certainly there are occasions when money is diverted to support missionaries and church planters to use the traditional terminology but I tend to see that as the exception rather than the norm.

How did we arrive at the point where we transformed Biblical support for giving to meet the needs of the saints into giving to prop up the machinery of the institution? We give to sustain the church instead of giving to support the need of the Church. Here is what I mean...

You can give generously to The Church, i.e. other Christians as they have need, without giving to the church, i.e. the local organization where you meet with other believers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give to your local church but it does mean that you should be very cautious in doing so. Giving is not the price of admission nor is funding the operations of a local religious organization an especially pious act and certainly giving to the local church organization should not replace giving to care for the needs of the saints, the poor, widows and orphans. I have often heard it said that you should give to your local church first and then after fulfilling that obligation give to others. I think the opposite is more Biblical. We should give generously, sacrificially and joyfully to the needs of others as our first priority. The local church can and should be a part of that giving and distributing but it should not the primary beneficiary of that giving.

If we are people who take the Bible seriously, and most people who read and comment here fall into that category, ought we not see what the Bible has to say about the issue of giving, generosity and money? There are few things more contentious in the church than how we deal with giving and spending. Little wonder when we view these issues as we do, through the lens of tradition, instead of asking what the Bible has to say about it. Before I even started to look at this topic I had an idea of what I thought I would find but I was a little surprised by how overwhelmingly the Bible depicts the act of giving as being something that is primarily designed to meet the needs of others.

What do you think? Am I missing something or overstating my case? How do you think Christians would view giving if it were something that was mostly aimed at meeting the needs (I would argue primarily physical needs like hunger) of others instead of perpetuating the local church?