Monday, February 28, 2011

Make that six things

So R.C. Sproul Jr. wrote an article for the Ligonier Ministries blog titled 5 Things I’m Surprised I Can’t Find in the Bible. In it he looks at a few things that are important but that God has intentionally left vague in Scripture.

Some of what he wrote makes sense. The Bible does speak a lot about marriage but not very much about how to go about getting married. There is very little about the specifics of the church meeting. So the article is not without value. However there was one thing that jumped out at me because I have heard it stated before and it is such an unwarranted leap in a publication that gets a huge audience because of R.C. Sproul Jr.’s famous father that it bears being exposed.

I found it ironic that in a post about five things you can’t find in the Bible, we get the following dogmatic assertion that is likewise not in the Bible and then a huge leap from this non-existent principle to an even more onerous one:

The Bible is crystal clear that women are not to rule in the church, and that we are to submit to the elders over us. See Hebrews 13 for the latter. Thus the Reformers were correct to list discipline as a mark of the true church. If you are not under the authority of name-able specific elders, you are not part of the visible church and thus do not have a credible profession of faith. You should get under authority.

I am down with the women not leading in the church part because that actually does appear in the Bible. On the other hand…does Hebrews 13 tell us that a) church discipline is something carried out by elders, b) that the writer of Hebrews is even referencing elders at all, c) we are supposed to be under the authority of “name-able” elders and d) that if we aren’t, we aren’t part of the visible church and therefore our profession of faith is suspect?

Well, no it doesn’t. One must assume that he is referring to Hebrews 13:17 or one of the top posts in “most abused passages in the Bible”. Here it is:

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

The traditional reading is that Hebrews 13:17 tells us we are to be subject to the pastor of the local church we are members of because of his ecclesiastical office. The problem is that this doesn’t actually appear in the text nor is it implied. I have gone over this before but who are the “leaders” we read of in Hebrews 13:17? Luckily we don’t have to guess or let other people define it for us. Ten verses earlier we read:

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

Ah. So from this reading we see that the leaders are those who spoke (past tense) to the readers the word of God. Perhaps missionaries or evangelists of some sort, the initial preachers of the Gospel through whom God converted the readers of this letter? We don’t really know because we don’t know who the author is or who the audience is other than through conjecture or educated guesses. One thing is certain, it would take an enormous leap to presume that the “leaders” being spoken of who spoke the Word are the pastors of local churches. It doesn’t rule them out but neither does it affirm that contention. Also note that we are to consider their way of life along with obeying and submitting to them. Now we are hardly called to submit just to Pastor Smith at our local church that we selected because of a variety of criteria. In fact, we see lots of submission and subjection going on. Some has to do with elders but others do not. Look for example at 1 Corinthians 16:15-16….

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. (1 Corinthians 16:15-16)

So here Paul tells us to the readers (and by proxy us) to be subject to every fellow worker and laborer. Now if the point of being subject is to defer to their authority in a hierarchical fashion, we kind of have a problem because now everyone has to submit to one another which is inherently non-hierarchical. What seems to be the consistent theme from Hebrews 13:7, 1 Corinthians 16: 15-16 as well as other places like 1 and 2 Timothy’s depictions of elders is that we should seek to be subject to those who serve and live out lives worthy of emulation, not that we should submit to leaders because they were selected to be a leader in a given local church or even that we should be subject only to those who are “members” of the same local church we belong to.

Hebrews 13 says a lot about a lot of things and it has a few things to say about the idea of authority but not what R.C. Sproul Jr. claims it does. It always bothers me and should always cause you to pay close attention when someone airily claims that a whole chapter of Scripture supports the point they are making without attempting to engage in the text at all and you should especially be on guard when they make statements with enormous implications to your very salvation based on these sweeping generalities. The idea that if you are not a member of a “proper” local church with name-able elders who carry out church discipline that you don’t have a credible profession of faith is a dangerous and Scripturally untenable statement. It sounds sweet to the ears of those who embrace certain church traditions but to question the salvation of someone because they don’t cling to your ecclesiastical traditions is arrogant and prideful.

The lesson here is that just because someone refers to a passage of Scripture and is published by a famous ministry doesn’t mean you should just take them at their word, especially not when they are questioning the salvation of other Christians.

Achieving unity means being willing to make the first move

Alan Knox has a vitally important and difficult post on Christian unity this morning, Crossing the Boundaries of the Local Church. Why is this such an important topic? Because unity among believers is essentially non-existent in the church and yet it is something that we must strive for. Why is this such a difficult topic? Alan is quite frank in his assessment here:

The ideology of the local church (as it is practiced today in many sectors) causes sectarianism and exclusivism that tends to divide the church. It could be more institutional local churches or more organic local churches.

In order to promote unity among God’s children, we must be willing to cross the boundaries created by the local church. And, the person interested in living in unity with others will be the one who has to cross those boundaries. Other Christians will probably not come knocking on your door to serve Jesus together with you. You will have to be the to make the first (and probably second and third and fourth…) move.

I think that is quite accurate. The sad and hard truth is that for all of our talk of unity as a concept, the reality is that outside of a few orchestrated events the church rarely shows any semblance of unity outside of our own congregations. A unity that says we will be unified but only on Sunday morning and only with people who subscribe to our every doctrinal distinction is a false unity.

When you get beyond the talk about unity as a concept and try to actually see it happen, the best laid plans sometimes yield little or no fruit. It can be just as easy to be exclusivist and closed off from the greater Body in a home/organic/simple church setting as it is in the most formalized of institutional churches.

Alan talked a bit about what he is doing to make the first (second, third…) move toward seeing real unity. I am haltingly trying to do the same. As I mentioned a few times, we have been meeting on a semi-regular basis with a couple of local gatherings. We are not doing so with the notion of surreptitiously making connections to lure people away, trying to recruit people out of one form of church gathering into another. I don’t want people to leave their current Sunday morning gathering so they can come to my Sunday morning gathering. My goal is not to replace one with the other but to expand on both! That likely means we will rarely meet with the church in our home on Sunday mornings or even on Sunday at all. That is OK because frankly there is nothing particularly Scriptural about meeting on Sunday as opposed to any other day. Sure we see that the church met on the first day of the week in Acts 20:7 to break bread but we also see that the church met in their homes “day by day” to break bread (Acts 2: 46). So if we have other Christians in our home for a Bible study on Tuesday night or to share a meal on Saturday afternoon, that is wonderful and not inferior in any way to a meeting held on Sunday.

My intent when we moved to our new home was to start a home fellowship with other believers. I still believe that a simple church meeting without the frills and worries of buildings and formalities and rituals is the healthiest form of church gathering and I still hope to have fellowship in our home with other believers in a variety of ways but what I have come to believe, and Alan wrote his excellent post about, is that insisting that other believers come to my home to meet in the way I envision is every bit as bad as a local Baptist church insisting people come to them. I want to spend time with the Body of Christ. Period. That means working with other believers in an orphanage in Haiti. It means working alongside other believers in a local crisis pregnancy center. It means going where other Christians are, even if that means there are pews. It means sharing meals with other Christians and opening our home to them. It means seeking out opportunities for unity instead of just being willing to let unity happen. Ultimately it requires a radical break with the notion of the church being defined by where, when and how we gather.

When we start to make demands of other Christians, we inherently start to disrupt unity. That doesn’t mean we welcome heretics without question. That doesn’t mean that those in open and unrepentant sin get a free pass. It does mean that if we truly desire unity in the Body, we need some flexibility. It is far easier and more comfortable to exclude, overtly or subtly, people we disagree with on a myriad of issues. Americans love to divide ourselves over politics, race, ethnicity, sports, etc. and that has spilled over into the way we treat other Christians. I don’t think our Lord is pleased with the thousands of little Christian fiefdoms spread over the land, jealously guarding their “members” so a different fiefdom doesn’t steal them, busily writing up doctrinal statements to keep out the “wrong” kind of Christian, pouring money and resources into sustaining their little kingdoms, tipping our hats to one another in a base acknowledgement of our common faith but never willing to cross the street to shake hands.

Unlocking the door of your church or your house is only the first, tiny step toward unity. Real unity in the Body means stepping outside of your church or your home and going to the Body where they are.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A for persistence, F for stweardship

I got our mail last night and found the newsletter from a Baptist church we used to be members of. Now when I say "used to be" I mean this newsletter has followed us from Kentucky to Northern Michigan to the Detroit area to the Lansing area to Indiana. We haven't set foot in the building since early 2005 when we moved out of the area. Plus I sent them multiple notices that asking them to take us off their roles or transfer our "membership". I even asked them to do move or cancel my membership when I was a pastor at a different Southern Baptist church. The newsletter still follows me. I wonder how many people still show as "members" there who have moved, changed churches or died but still get the newsletter. I will email them again, I appreciate them sending the letter but it sure seems like a waste of paper and money!

Thinkin' about Sunday

Eric Carpenter wrote an interesting post Sunday, Sunday that looks at the danger of overemphasizing the Sunday meeting and under-emphasizing the rest of the week.

For example, yesterday my wife and I had breakfast with a Christian couple we just ran into over the internet. We had never met before but we spent a couple of hours at our favorite Saturday morning breakfast place talking about God, about Scripture, about the church and lots of other stuff. It was a great conversation and very edifying. We prayed together and shared a meal together. While we were there we got to meet an older lady from town and then also got to speak with one of the elders from the gathering we normally attend who was there with his family. He and I spoke a bit and I found out that the four kids who are with them are not their biological children. They had been childless for fourteen years of marriage but recently a different family that was meeting with the church got into an accident on their way home. The parents and some siblings were killed leaving these children orphaned. This man and his wife, childless all these years, opened their homes to care for these children. What a wonderful testimony of how God uses tragedy!

But you see that wasn't "church" because it didn't look like church as we understand it. We were in a restaurant, not a church building. We weren't singing pre-selected hymns. There wasn't a sermon and no one was in charge. It was just a group of Christian spending some time together. Sure we were edified and encouraged but it wasn't what our culture says church looks like and it wasn't on Sunday. It does kind of look like what the Bible describes though.

I think the church really limits itself when we try to cram being the church into an hour or two on Sunday. We miss a lot of rich experiences or at least we downgrade them as being a lesser form of church because it doesn't fit into our cultural expectations. Church is about a lot more, a LOT more than a formal meeting on Sunday. This week, make an effort Monday through Saturday to spend intentional time with other Christians and praise God for the fellowship of other believer seven days a week!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

Movie Review: Get Low

We watched Get Low last night. What a fun, quirky movie! It is kind of dark and not super action packed, and the religious aspects were typical Hollywood fare but it was an entertaining movie regardless. The cast is full of major players: Robert Duvall (who is always good) as Felix Bush, Bill Murray as the owner of a failing funeral home, Sissy Spacek and on. The story revolves around Duvall's character who is a crazy backwoods hermit who has lived alone on his property for 40 years. The story takes places in the 1930's and everyone in town has a story to tell about the crazy man in the woods. He suddenly decides to host his own funeral party while he is still alive to give everyone a chance to tell their wild stories about him. As the movie progresses you find out that his real intent is to finally tell the story of why he lives back in the woods. You get some clues throughout but have to wait until the end to get the full story. Anyway, pretty fun movie!

What makes a cult?

The Fo-Mo Chronicles: What makes a cult?

A look this morning at what makes a religion into a cult.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Speaking of choice

I guess it only applies to those advocating for abortion. If you want to provide information contrary to what the death merchants put out, in other words engaging in free speech and seeking to educate women, you are somehow violating what New York stands for. A recent billboard in New York that pictured a young black girl with the words ""The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb" is directed at the grim reality that 60% of pregnancies to black women in New York City end in abortion. More than half of all black children conceived in New York City are killed in New York. Such a bloody record certainly is drawing the attention of black leaders right? Not so much.

The activist Rev. Al Sharpton cancelled a protest at the billboard site that he had planned for Friday.

"The billboard was offensive, especially during Black History Month," Sharpton said in a statement Thursday.

Nothing could be more offensive for "reverend" Al Sharpton than the truth apparently. It turns out that the billboard is going to be pulled because of the reaction of open-minded, pro-abortion supporters....

"We received a complaint that some people who objected to the billboard were harassing the wait staff of a nearby restaurant," said Hal Kilshaw, a VP for Lamar Advertising. "We heard that there would be a protest tomorrow. There were concerns about problems for people who live or work in the area. That's why we chose to take it down. We are not taking the copy down because we don't think the copy should have been accepted in the first place or that it is too controversial."

Keep mind that the pro-life people are supposed to be the intolerant ones.

The truth is that for acolytes of the cult of death, there can be no dissent, no hint that abortion might be wrong. Rather than engaging the question of why 60% of black children are aborted, leaders in this community instead focus on protest and shouting down any dissenting view. How can you call it "choice" when you only hear one side of the issue?

Giving women an actual choice

I think this is great news today reported from Indiana Right To Life

The board of directors of Allen County Right to Life, a local affiliate of Indiana Right to Life, has announced that it has formally signed a lease for office space at 2118 Inwood Drive, located just a few feet away from Fort Wayne’s only surgical abortion center.

"The lease has been signed and we are in the process of finalizing plans for renovation and for moving into our new office,” states Allen County Right to Life Executive Director Cathie Humbarger.

Advocates of "choice" won't like this of course but what a great way to get a counter-message out to combat the message of death being marketed by the merchants of death.

Headcovering Question for unmarried women and girls

(This is a question for those who practice headcovering. If you want to discuss the doctrine itself, I have lots of posts about the topic and would be happy to engage in conversation there)

As my daughters grow older, the question has come up in the family regarding when it is appropriate for girls to begin covering their heads. Should they wait until the arbitrary age of 18? Should they wait until they are married? What about waiting until they make a profession of faith in Christ?

The headcovering issue gets lengthy treatment in 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16 but it is also tied into the doctrines of gender more globally which go all the way back to the creation order and the Fall. So what is appropriate here?

One pivotal passage gives us a glimpse into what Paul is saying:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.(1 Cor 11: 3)

The language used elsewhere could apply to married women or unmarried women alike but in verse three the appeal Paul uses is the wife-husband-Christ chain, so it appears that Paul could be speaking of just wives. Most English translations translate the word as “wife” througout 1 Corinthans 11 but my understanding is that it could also mean women in general.

I question whether the idea of women praying with their heads uncovered is just applicable to women who are married but I am not at all sure when they should start.

I will say that I don’t think it makes any sense at all for young girls who have not been born-again to cover their heads. That can lead to a simple, legalistic observation of headcovering as “just what we do” and that loses the important underlying doctrines. Many Anabaptist descendent groups do have their young daughters cover, even very toddlers in some cases. I am pretty amazed that they can get very young girls to keep a covering on their heads but if it is something you get them used to, I can see it. I am not condemning those who cover young girls but I do wonder if it doesn’t lead to an empty formalism where they cover their head for no better reason that it is what they have always done.

So what to do? When is it appropriate to cover? Any thoughts?

That figures

We move out of Michigan and the keynote speaker at the INCH homeschool conference is going to be Voddie Baucham. It is almost worth driving the two hours up to Lansing....

Avoiding is easy

It is pretty easy to never run into those in need. If I just go to work, go home to my family and go to church I will likely never run into an orphan. Orphaned children don’t generally wander into a church on Sunday and our corporate security would stop them from getting in to the building where I work. Likewise I will likely never run into a single woman who is pregnant, scared and hurting. Single girls who get knocked up don’t often go to church. Being scared and often alone is bad enough without the sideways glances of disapproval. Widows are pretty common in church but we pay little thought to them. They get Social Security after all. Homeless people? Well there aren’t a lot of homeless people in the suburbs where our comfy churches are and it is unlikely that they are going to hitch a ride to show up to your nice church with its professionally maintained lawn and neat and tidy pews. People who are really hungry, really in need, are not likely to cross many of our paths on a given day.

Great news! That means that we get a pass on caring for the poor, the widow, the hungry and the orphans! When Jesus asks, we can just tell Him we would have been happy to help but we never came across any of them.

Maybe not. The commands to be merciful, generous, compassionate, loving are not limited to those who stumble across our path. It might just be that we need to go where the needs are. If Jesus had stayed where He was and waited for men to come to Him, He could have skipped the cross because there wouldn’t have been any. Jesus didn’t wait, He came to seek and save that which was lost. As His followers we are called to go to those who need Him and in doing so we are also going to run into people who are hungry, lonely, scared, orphaned, dirty and maybe smelly. That isn’t a job for someone else, we are that somebody else!

I have spent a lot of my time as a Christian believing that I could get away with waiting for the needy to come to me. If they came, sure I would help! Of course in reality I often looked at these people with suspicion and distrust. I often assumed they were taking advantage of the system and that made me a little irate. As Alan Knox points out, it is impossible for us to be taken advantage of when ministering to the needy. I think a lot of this attitude comes from a combination of evangelical America’s prevailing political conservatism, American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture and often a misapplication of 2 Thess 3:10….

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

As if Paul was writing a white paper for the Heritage Foundation or preparing a speech for the Republican convention. When read in context, Paul is addressing the issue of believers in the church who were apparently taking advantage of the system perhaps assuming that Christ was returning imminently so why should they bother to work?

Merely waiting for those in need of food, of clothing, of love, especially of the Gospel to come to us is not what we are called to do. Nor are we called to look askance at anyone in need to see if they are really needy. We serve Christ by serving others. If there aren’t any obvious needs around, we need to go to where the needs are. Hiding in our homes, our churches, our jobs and our circle of friends to avoid the messiness of ministry is unbecoming and shameful for any believer in Christ.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Garmin Tour d'Haiti Video

The Garmin Tour d'Haiti Video

Check out this great video from the Tour D'Haiti earlier this year!

Tour d' Haiti from The Global Orphan Project on Vimeo.

The ideal church

Dave Black offers what he would consider the perfect church (2/22/11 6:04 AM)

Today, my paper perfect church would be an elder-led, age-integrated congregation that met in a rented facility (no mortgage) and paid no salaries. Instead, offerings would go to the needy and missions. 501(c)3? Out. Self-supporting missionaries? In. So, which is it? The traditional church, or the paper perfect church? Frankly, I think the question misses the point. Jesus promised, "I will build my church." Even imperfect churches. Even churches trapped in tradition. (See Rev. 2-3 for examples of churches that were far from perfect and yet were considered, by Jesus, to be true "churches.")

That sounds pretty good. Where we have been meeting sort of fits that bill except that the local group owns the building rather than renting. There is a huge urgency to evangelize, more so than anywhere else we have met. I think that is in large part due to the fact that almost everyone we gather with is a first generation convert to Christ. These folks did't grow up in safe, comfy evangelical homes where many things were assumed. They came to Christ as adults and at great cost and it is that experience as first generation believers that provides extra zeal. At least that is what I think.

Dave offers an important qualifier and this is where I think we can miss the boat on the gathered church in our consuming desire to see us meet "the right way"...

I do have one piece of advice, however. Put the Great Cause first (Matt. 28:19-20). I cant believe it's God's will that most young evangelicals should spend their lives in the pursuit of "doing church right" when God wants to send people where they're needed most.

That is so easy to miss and yet it is so pivotal, in fact it is the whole purpose of the church in the first place. It doesn't matter if you have a great community, a home fellowship, a church committed to expository preaching that can check off all of the 9 Marks. If you miss this, you miss the whole point. The purpose trumps the form. Of course there are forms that help us achieve our mission and others that I believe impede it. I have come to the point in the decade that we have been Christians where I believe that the traditional church is generally an impediment to the Great Commission focus of the church by emphasizing the gathering instead of the going. That doesn't mean that God is not using Christians in house churches, simple churches, traditional churches, high liturgy churches and no church at all to accomplish His purposes. His purpose and His will overcomes all of our clumsy and error filled efforts.

If we don't have the Great Commission as the overriding purpose of our gathering, something is wrong. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and writing about "doing church right" that was a welcome and needed reminder that we can miss the big stuff worrying about the smaller stuff. The best way to do church right is to keep the Great Commission at the forefront and then to make sure everything we do is done to meet that calling.

Over the counter morning after pills for 11 year old girls?

If you needed further evidence that there is no limit to the abortion industry’s drive to make money at the expense of our daughters, we find Teva Pharmaceuticals pushing the FDA to make the so-called “morning after” pill available over the counter to girls under 17. Read this and weep for our daughters:

Less than two years after the Food and Drug Administration approved Plan B, the so-called “morning after pill” for over-the-counter access by women 17 years of age and older, the drug’s maker is now seeking to lift the age restrictions on the controversial product.

Teva Pharmaceuticals, Plan B’s maker, submitted data from a study in which girls ages 11 to 16 used the drug to prove its effectiveness and safety. Girls under 17 currently need a doctor’s prescription to obtain the drug.

Safe for girls as young as 11? How exactly were they testing this? You have to show ID in our state to buy certain cough medications but now we are going to give 11 year old girls a “morning after” pill over the counter without so much as a doctor’s note? I wonder if their tests examined the long term impact on a pubescent girl of taking a super-charged, high dose of hormones. I am not a doctor but that sounds like a bad idea, especially if it happens on a regular basis. Maybe it won’t kill them the day they take it but what is the impact on an 11 year old of repeated doses of concentrated artificial hormones when she reaches adulthood? Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America points out what should be obvious:

“In any case in which a minor girl would be seeking this drug, there needs to be an adult intervention,” said Wright. “There needs to be a doctor involved, who can find out if this girl is being abused.”

If a 12 year old girls is seeking emergency contraception, isn’t that something that an adult should be aware of, not least of all her parents? Moral issues aside, it is illegal in pretty much every state to engage in sexual activity with a girl that young because once upon a time we recognized that a 12 year old girl is incapable of making an informed decision regarding sexual behavior. That is why we don’t let them vote or drive. This pill is a dream come true for not just teen-aged boys but also sexual predators of all stripes not to mention a green light to engage in all sorts of risky sexual behavior with this pill as a backstop, you know just in case.

There are only two possible motivations for this. One is obviously money and like so many other industries (clothing, music, media entertainment) we see early sexualization of girls as a primary way of marketing to them. The other motivator is the drive to sexualize more children at a younger age, providing more consumers for the services of Planned Parenthood and their allies in the death industry. The message of having the Plan B “morning after” pill available without parental notice or doctor’s approval for anyone to buy over the counter is that teens and pre-teens should go right ahead and engage in sexual activity. No worries, if you get caught up in the moment and fail to use the free contraception provided by your friendly neighborhood school or Planned Parenthood clinic, you can go to Wal-Mart and buy a pill. No limits on age. No limits on how often you take them. It can easily become a de facto birth control pill for girls without the trouble and potential meddling by parents that comes with a doctor’s appointment. Teva Pharmaceuticals and groups like the Council for Reproductive Rights are clearly showing that their concern for profit and dogma trumps protecting our teen and pre-teen daughters.

11 year old girls shouldn’t have a plan A for sexual activity, much less a Plan B.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What forms Evangelical political views?

Is it the Bible?

Here is why I ask. Ed Stetzer linked to an article in Christianity Today that looked at evangelical American views on spending and the Federal government. Not surprisingly, given that most American Evangelicals are more or less politically conservative, evangelicals are far more likely to support cuts to what would be classified as humanitarian aid...

Overall, evangelicals were more likely to favor reductions in federal spending, but like other Americans, they wanted most areas to remain the same or increased.

The top choices among evangelicals for the chopping block are economic assistance to needy people around the world (56 percent), government assistance for the unemployed (40 percent), and environmental protection (38 percent). In each of these categories, evangelicals were more supportive of decreasing spending than are other Americans. In fact, evangelicals were more supportive of funding cuts in every area except military defense, terrorism defense, aid to veterans, and energy.

I am all in favor of cutting Federal spending across the board and I don't see anything Biblical about the confiscation and redistribution of wealth by the government. What I found interesting was that not only are evangelicals overwhelmingly (almost 80%) not in favor of decreasing defense spending, almost half are in favor of increasing defense spending in spite of the enormous national debt...

In general, Americans are more in favor of spending increases, not decreases. Evangelicals were more likely to favor an increase in defense spending (45 percent) compared to non-evangelicals (28 percent).

Now, I am in favor of cutting the Federal budget. Dramatically. Like eliminate entire departments dramatically. I am also in favor of big cuts to the defense budget (big being more than $100 billion). I have to ask the question though.

Does it make sense for Christians to support cutting funding for the needy and the poor but at the same time support increasing military spending in the midst of a budget crisis?

What say you? Are the above attitudes reflective of a life formed and shaped by the Gospel?

Boys will be boys, girls will be boys and boys will be girls?

Albert Mohler has weighed in on the Iowa wrestling kerfuffle and as usual he provides a sober, thoughtful and forceful response. Dr. Mohler makes clear the distinct worldviews that are on display here, worldviews that are so far apart that it is starting to seem, at least to me, as if we have two different nations within the borders of the United States. From Boys Wrestling Girls — A Clash of Worlds and Worldviews :

This is insanity masquerading as athletic competition. The controversy over the Iowa state wrestling tournament reveals the fact that this debate represents a clash of worlds and worldviews. In one world — the world that increasingly demands the total erasure of distinctions between men and women — Joel Northrup is considered to be a religious nut. In this world, it makes sense that girls wrestle against boys and that society should celebrate this new development as a milestone in the struggle to free ourselves from the limitations of all gender roles. As if to make this point impossible to miss, Bill Herkelman, Cassy’s father, said: “She’s my son. She’s always been my son.”

In the other world, Joel Northrup is seen as a young man of brave and noble conscience — a boy who defaulted a match rather than violate his conscience. The statements offered by Joel and his father are seen as moments of temporary sanity in a world going increasingly mad. The chivalry demonstrated at great personal cost by this boy athlete is to be celebrated, affirmed, and acknowledged as being deeply rooted in his Christian convictions — convictions about gender, modesty, the treatment of girls and women, propriety, decorum, and sexual purity.

That is precisely correct. America is increasingly divided into two camps, one that sees a teenage girl wrestling with teenaged boys as unthinkable for several reasons, not least the inherent violence in wrestling that runs counter to the way we raise our boys and the close proximity and grappling of two teens of the opposite sex. The other seems to think that anything that distinguishes between the genders is inherently discriminatory and condescending.

Why the focus and fuss about this? I agree with Dr, Mohler that this is ground zero of the cultural clash. When I was wrestling in high school, a mere twenty years ago, there weren’t any girls wrestling that I was aware of. The idea of people in their teens of the opposite sex grappling with one another in public was pretty implausible, primarily because few parents thought it was a remotely good idea to expose their daughters to this and likewise because once upon a time parents said "No" to their children once in a while instead of granting their every whim. I can’t imagine many parents of high school aged girls when I was in school saying to their daughter: “Hey, throw on a singlet and go join the wrestling team”. Today gender confusion and sexual permissiveness threaten to unravel the boundaries of civil society.

The decision by Joel Northrup and his parents is not the work of religious fanatics, it is simply common sense and common decency. Unfortunately simple common sense and common decency are both becoming an uncommon commodity in our world.

Interesting video series

I saw this linked a few times a while back but we never had sufficiently fast internet to watch it. It is a series of BBC videos on Christians who have been excommunicated from the Amish for violations like attending prayer meetings and Bible studies with Bible's in English. It is a fascinating look at the cost of following Christ for these brothers and sisters. It is especially interesting for us as we know many families who have a similar experience. There are six videos but the whole thing is only about an hour long....

Monday, February 21, 2011

Doing some good doesn't excuse murder

Sandra Fish writing for Politics Daily is crying hypocrisy over the effort to defund Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood Defunding: Family Planning's Not a GOP Family Value?. How can you claim to be family friendly and yet defund such a noble organization?! Sandra sez:

When it comes to family planning, apparently the ability to decide whether or when to have a child isn't part of Republican family values.

That's the message the GOP-controlled House sent by voting to cut not only all of Planned Parenthood's $75 million in federal funding for family planning but also the entire $317 million Title X budget. Title X money helps pay for birth control, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, breast and cervical cancer testing, prenatal care, sex education and vasectomies for men. About 4.7 million Americans get health care from clinics funded by Title X money, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence represented his successful gutting of the funding as a victory in preventing abortion, even though the Hyde Amendment, enacted in 1977, prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. And President Barack Obama signed an executive order last year preserving the funding ban under the new health care reform law.

In addition to the money from from Title X, which was signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970, Planned Parenthood and other health care providers receive Medicaid money for health services to low-income people. Under Pence's amendment, approved in a 240-185 vote, Planned Parenthood wouldn't be allowed to receive any federal dollars, including money from Medicaid.

The message here apparently is that Planned Parenthood should be supported because of all the swell stuff they do and we should overlook the abortions they perform. Set aside whether you consider making it easier for young women to be promiscuous and engage in physically, emotionally and certainly spiritually risky sexual behavior to be a societal good for another discussion.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. No matter what value you find in the other services Planned Parenthood provides, those other services cannot offset the grim reality that Planned Parenthood profits from providing abortions. Even if they provided abortions for free and even if they only performed one abortion per year it would make the entire organization unacceptable. Hiding the fact that Planned Parenthood is an abortion mill behind language like "family planning", "womens health services" and "choice" is designed to deceive and distract from the horror that happens behind closed doors in their innocuous looking clinics. Their devotion to the bloody cult of choice taints everything else Planned Parenthood does and makes this organization one that shouldn't receive one nickel of tax dollars.

It is bad enough that we permit infanticide in this country, we certainly shouldn't be subsidizing it.

Over 1000 U.S. servicemen dead

In Afghanistan we have seen over 1000 U.S. servicemen die to liberate that nation. Meanwhile, over nine years later, we find that a man, Said Musa, who has converted to Christianity in that same nation is under sentence of death for his conversion, mistreated in prison and likely to be executed for the crime of following Christ. My brother Said will likely become a martyr for Christ as innumerable Christians have before and receive his reward in eternity, as will those who have tortured him and mocked the name of Christ when they stand before Him to answer for their crimes. I still have to wonder where the leadership of this nation is? Where is the media? I understand the geo-political situation but I still have to ask...

Is this the freedom we are willing to send our sons and daughters to fight and die for?

19 and counting

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD. (Proverbs 18:22)

Nineteen years ago my best friend agreed to be my wife and the mother of my children. We were both very young and we have defied the wisdom of the world by getting married so young and by having so many children, starting so soon after we married. Over the years we have grown up together and grown closer together. I thought I knew what love was when we were wed but over the years as trials have tested and tried us, I understand how little I knew them and how much more I have to understand even today what it means to love my wife as Christ loves the church. Today she is my wife, my helpmeet, my confidant, the mother and teacher of my children and still my best friend. Other than the cross there is no place that God has dealt more graciously with me than in the wife He intended for me.

Happy Anniversary Eva!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What if Joel Northrup had been Muslim or Jewish?

Nothing brings out ugliness and bad writing like a sports reporter who suddenly thinks he has a "serious" topic and a platform to speak about it. The result is normally an ignorant tirade whether the issue is religion or politics or anything else that doesn't require keeping a score. The uproar over Joel Northrup's decision to forfeit in the state tournament rather than wrestle a girl because of his Christian faith has dredged up a nasty, condescending essay from ESPN's Rick Reilly. Granted Reilly writes ignorant stuff all the time peppered with incredibly unfunny jokes but this is especially vitriolic. Here is a sampling:

The Herkelmans -- and most of the state of Iowa -- praised Northrup for being a boy of faith. "It's his religion and he's strong in his religion," says Megan Black, the only other girl who made state. (These were the first two in the state's history. Black lost both her matches.) "You have to respect him for that."


Does any wrong-headed decision suddenly become right when defended with religious conviction? In this age, don't we know better? If my God told me to poke the elderly with sharp sticks, would that make it morally acceptable to others?

Wrong-headed? What makes this wrong-headed in Reilly's eyes is that it is based on faith and conviction. Apparently assaulting an elderly person is the same thing as refusing to attack a young woman for the sake of a shot at personal glory. One has to wonder, if the boy who forfeited rather than wrestle a girl because of his convictions had been a Muslim, would Reilly have been so arrogant and condescending? I imagine a lot of his boldness would suddenly go missing. Would ESPN have run the column if he mocked the faith of a Jewish kid? Riley goes on to say:

"We believe in the elevation and respect of woman," the father told the Des Moines Register, "and we don't think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns -- full contact sport is not how to do that."

That's where the Northrups are so wrong. Body slams and takedowns and gouges in the eye and elbows in the ribs are exactly how to respect Cassy Herkelman. This is what she lives for. She can elevate herself, thanks.

Apparently Reilly is not only a sports writer, he is an expert at parenting. In our family, we teach our boys not to hit girls, even if they start the fight. Laying hands on your sister is unacceptable and that applies to every woman. There is no situation where gouging a young girl in the eye is a sign of respect for my boys. I don't question Joel Northrup or his parents. I am trying not to question the parents of Cassy Herkelman. She is their daughter and if her parents want to allow her to put on a singlet and get involved in a violent, very close contact sport with boys her age, that is their business. It would be nice if people like Rick Reilly would be equally respectful of parents who rightly see boys wrestling girls as a line in the sand that they will not cross. Of course this is precisely the sort of mockey and derision we should expect from the world.


So a month ago I mentioned that we visited a "Mennonite" gathering and ended up walking out in the middle of the service. Well we were eating breakfast at our normal Saturday spot yesterday in Harlan when one of the pastors from that church recognized me (we had met before the service) and came over to say hi. He remarked that he didn't get a chance to talk to me after the service. I was thinking "Of course not because we got up and walked out" but I restrained myself and just nodded noncommittally. Kind of awkward. Anyway, the horses, chicks and sheep are all fed and now it is time to feed me, the wife and my young'ns.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Review: Waiting For “Superman”

I have been looking forward to watching Waiting For “Superman” since I heard about it and finally got the chance to watch it last night. It was a gut-wrenching movie that takes the situation in our public schools beyond abstract statistics and into the lives of parents and children who are desperate to get into a better school and get out of one of America’s failing public schools. They are mostly younger kids and because of where they live they are on the path to a dropout factory high school if they don’t get into a charter school. Even one young lady in a very nice suburban school is trying to get out because even in an affluent school district, the schools are doing a poor job of preparing all of the students for the economy of the 21st century instead of preparing them for niche jobs as worker bees in the 1950’s. The movie follows these families and intersperses their experiences with interviews of innovative educators who describe the incredible obstacles to trying to reform the school system, most notably the teachers unions that are so politically powerful that they have successfully blocked any sort of real reform for decades.

What is especially heart wrenching is watching auditoriums packed full of parents and kids desperately hoping that their child is selected at random to attend a charter school knowing that if their child doesn’t get picked that they are destined for a much harder road to college. As the names are read off and the kids are not selected, you can see how crushed the children are and perhaps even more so the parents. (spoiler warning!) Ironically the one kid who did get into a charter school is the young woman from California who lives in a neighborhood of million dollar homes and attends one of the nicest looking schools I have ever seen.

It was an interesting juxtaposition that the day we watched Waiting For “Superman”, teachers unions in Wisconsin were encouraging their members to skip work to protest changes to the collective bargaining arrangements in that state and Democratic lawmakers went into hiding to avoid a vote. The public school system is entirely about the entrenched interests and those interests, as the movie points out, are all about the adults and not the kids. That is readily apparent as the movie showed scenes of rooms full of screaming teachers yelling and gesturing at Michelle Rhee of the D.C. public schools for daring to make hard decisions and take a tough stance in the worst public school system in the country.

There are good teachers and there are bad teachers and I think the system wears down good teachers over the years. When you look at the next classroom over and that teacher is putting forth minimal effort and getting paid the same as you, where is your incentive to work harder? What we are left with is an education establishment that I believe has as its goal nothing more than getting as many union members into the educational system and keeping them there no matter what. The good teachers, and there are lots of them, should be rewarded just as high performers in any private organization are rewarded for excellence. They should be allowed to innovate and adapt and they should be encouraged to take risks. The bad teachers should be managed out the door before they can do any more damage. No private organization would survive with the same work rules as a public school (see: Automakers, American). If we are as serious about education in this country as we pay lip service to, we must shatter the monopolistic hold of the public school teachers unions. The teachers unions hold good teachers back and keep bad teachers employed and that is doing nothing to help our kids.

I would highly encourage any parent with a child in the public school system or really anyone who is concerned about the state of American education and what it means for the future of America to watch Waiting For “Superman” .


A few more pics!

Programs instead of the Kingdom

From Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity:

For millions of Christians, the great failure of the church is its failure to be a resource for producing and encouraging the life of discipleship. Instead of discipleship, the church has taught a life of rule keeping, with the rules set not by Jesus but by religion and traditions. Long ago the church replaced the Kingdom of God with church activities and priorities.

(Mere Churchianity, pg. 101)

A great story from the sports world

There was a high school sports report that I really liked. It had to do with a female high school wrestler in Iowa winning in the state tourney for the first time ever.

I didn’t like it because I think it is swell that a girl is wrestling in the state tourney. I find that highly inappropriate. I liked it because of the reason she won. The young woman, Cassy Herkelman, won when her opponent Joel Northrup, the fifth seed at 103 pounds who came in third in the state tourney as a freshman last year elected to forfeit the match. Here is why:

Northrup, a sophomore at Linn-Mar (Iowa) High, cited his personal faith as the motivating force for his forfeit. The withdrawal ensures he can finish no higher than third at the tournament, which follows his third-place finish in the 103-pound classification as a freshman.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy and Megan [Black] and their accomplishments," Northrup said in a statement given to the media following his official forfeit. "However, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times.

"As a matter of conscience and faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa."

That is praiseworthy indeed. In a world where personal accomplishment trumps many values, this is a wonderful stand by this young man. I wrestled in high school and getting to the state tourney is a dream and lifelong goal for many of these young men. To willingly forfeit against an opponent as a matter of conscience takes an incredible display of conviction. Wrestling is a violent and close contact sport and Joel is precisely right that it is highly inappropriate for boys and girls to be wrestling against one another. I hope he wins out in the tournament and gets to compete for third place. As a sophomore he will have two more years to pursue a state championship but at least for this year his convictions triumphed over his ambition and for that I applaud him and his family.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Are replacement books the greatest need in the church?

This is going to generate some angry comments by people who misunderstand my point. Nevertheless….

Tom Ascol at Founders posted a request from a brother in the Philippines who lost his entire modest library during a recent rain storm. This brother is a theology professor in the Philippines that is familiar with Founders and that is why he turned to Tom Ascol for help. Tom is asking others to consider donating money to help replenish the library.

I am not saying that Christians shouldn’t help this brother in need out, assuming this is a legitimate request. I get that his theology books are in many ways the “tools of his trade” and are how he makes a living. Losing these books is somewhat analogous to a carpenter losing his hammer and saw or an auto mechanic losing his tool chest. That is not my point. This is my question comes in…

When I made a brief reference to his situation on twitter, I immediately received responses from folks interested in helping. On further investigation, I discovered that one of the best ways that we can help our brother is by supplying him with an e-book reader loaded with excellent e-books. We are also looking at shipping options to send him hard copy books.

I am asking us to think about how we prioritize our giving in the church. This sort of need, a theology professor who lost all of his theology books, resonates with many of us. I have a bunch of theology books and would be quite upset if they were destroyed and would be overjoyed if someone paid to replace them. When the call for help goes out, people snapped to and responded. I remember once when a fairly well known author and apologist had some tech stuff stolen, it was replaced right away by a generous, anonymous donor. When something bad happens that seems close to home or perhaps something that hits an area of our interest, we seem a pretty willing and generous in our giving.

On the other hand, there is such an incredible need around the world for things far more mundane than theology books. Things like rice. Clean water. Soap. Clothes. Bibles. It is very difficult to raise funds for simple charity but when a theologian loses his books, the Body of Christ jumps to fill the need. Why does a man losing his theology books to a flood resonate with us and a child starving to death or dying from contaminated water does not? Is it just that we get so many requests that they blur together? Is the need so great that it seems overwhelming but this one man with a very specific need seems like something we can “fix”? Or is it, and I hesitate to even ask this question, that we put a greater value on theological education than on basic nutrition? That is a harsh question and I don’t wish to impugn motives but I know and can prove from my bookshelf that I have many unnecessary books that I have purchased over the years using money that could have bought Bibles or food.

I wonder. If Tom has twittered about a family in the Philippines that needed rice or a village in Africa that needs clean water, would the response have been as immediate?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Down on the farm

Taking a page from livestock photographer extraordinaire Dave Black, as promised here are a few pictures of our new farm critters....

Taking umbrage

I disagree with lots of my Reformed brethren on lots of stuff but one recent post sent me over the edge. I like Carl Trueman and I own one of his books, but when he starts talking about the Super Bowl and real football, I have to draw the line. Here is part of what he said:

As usual, the Superbowl generates more questions for me than answers. How did a game of one hour develop over time into a game of between three and four hours? Who ever decided that a bunch of predominantly overweight men who stand around doing little other than posing in spandex should come to be regarded as `elite athletes' [sic]? (And, in my opinion, nobody over 200 pounds should even be allowed in a spandex shop, let alone be encouraged to wear the merchandise. Simple aesthetic common sense, one would have thought. Surely it is time the government stepped in to stop the madness?!?). And why do people resent paying the President a few hundred grand to run the world and yet regularly shell out vast sums of cash so that a bunch of adolescents playing a glorified game of playground catch can trouser more money in a month than most of us can shake a stick at in a lifetime?

I am afraid that Carl is embarrassingly ill informed. Predominantly overweight? On offense on a given play there are 11 players on the field. Of those, five of the men are giants on the offensive line and tip the scales at 300+ pounds. They are certainly very heavy men. Overweight? Not in a game where brute strength on the line counts. Besides there are only five of them. In a given formation there probably is at least one tight end, typically a taller and pretty strong guy who needs to be able to run and is hardly overweight. There is the QB and not many of them are overweight (JaMarcus Russell notwithstanding).
There is at least one running back. Does Adrian Peterson look overweight in this picture to the left? On many teams there is a fullback who looks like Peyton Hillis on the right. He doesn’t look overweight and frankly looks like he could snap any soccer player on earth over his knee like a twig. Then there are a couple of wide receivers who are often the fastest players on the team. Five of eleven guys are “overweight” perhaps. Maybe in England “predominantly” means 45%. The defense is a mirror image and often the lineman are lighter and in much better shape than offensive linemen. Perhaps Carl would like to tell Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis that he is overweight?

Just shocking ignorance.

Indiana moving forward on school vouchers

The Indiana House is moving closer to a system of private school vouchers for lower income families in Indiana:

A House committee is expected to vote this morning on a controversial plan to let lower-income parents use tax dollars to pay for private school tuition for their children.


The proposal, which is among the education reforms backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, would allow families whose incomes are low enough that their children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches to get a voucher equivalent to 90 percent of the money that would have gone to their local school district. That's capped at $4,500 for elementary school students, although there is no cap for Grades 9-12.

Families whose incomes are a bit higher -- up to 200 percent of the level at which free and reduced-price lunches are available -- would get half of the money that otherwise would have gone to their local school district.

The Indiana Department of Education said that means a family of four could earn up to about $42,000 a year and receive the voucher worth 90 percent of their public school tuition, and it could make more than $42,000 to about $84,000 a year to qualify for the 50 percent voucher.

I am all for this. It should be self-evident that we are past the point of simply funding public schools just because we are supposed to. In an era of belt tightening, even public schools must be accountable to the tax payers and must be exposed to competition. It doesn’t go as far as I might like, I would be all in favor of parents being given a full voucher for tuition at either a public or private school of their choice and let them decide where every nickel goes but I recognize that there is a overall social benefit for providing universal schooling. So I am a big supporter of this idea because it puts more choice in the hands of parents, it takes more power away from teachers unions and it helps enhance a culture of competition among schools, public and private, to ensure that the best schools get the most students.

As I watch the debate about vouchers, I have a question. What about homeschooling?

Except in the most extreme wings of the education establishment, homeschooling is recognized as a legitimate method of educating children. Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states and colleges are generally recognizing the value of home education and enrolling homeschooled students on a regular basis. Once a fringe movement, homeschooling has become more or less mainstream. When I tell people we homeschool our kids, they are generally pretty accepting of it. But when it comes to the voucher system, homeschoolers are left out in the cold. That really causes a problem with the notion of real school choice when one of the three main methods of educating children is left out of the funding debate.

Just as parents who choose to send their kids to private schools should be able to divert at least a portion of their tax revenue to offset the cost of private school tuition, parents who homeschool their children should also be able to get a “refund” of some of their taxes that go to support public schools. I understand that a sizeable portion of the property taxes we pay on our home go to fund public schools that my children get no direct benefit from. I may not be happy about that but that is part of the cost of choosing to educate our kids at home. If the goal is to make educational choice more affordable for Indiana families, it certainly seems reasonable that we should get a tax credit to offset the cost of educating our kids at home. Homeschooling requires more than glue and macaroni. There are books, videos, curriculum, computer programs, basic school materials that cost money, lots of money. If I have to pay for computers for public schools, why shouldn’t I get to retain a portion of my tax dollars to pay for computers that my own children will use? The most important thing to remember is that every penny that goes to a public school originates in the pocket of an Indiana family. This is first and foremost our money and we, and not the public school establishment, should have final say over how those funds are spent.

If Indiana is serious about excellence in education, we must pursue every possible educational method and seek healthy competition among the competing options. A monopolistic public school system has been failing children for a long time and it is high time that the public school system be required to justify the money it receives and when it doesn’t, those funds that come from the pockets of Indiana families should be reallocated by the people who know our children the best, their parents.

Our children, our money, our choice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Repost: Preaching Yourself Out Of A Job

In light of what I have been writing the last week or so (especially the most recent post Be Like Bob), I thought back to a post I wrote in September of 2009 as I was just starting to reevaluate the traditional notion of the church. I argued that the goal of every preacher should be to preach themselves out of a job, to so equip the Body that the Body no longer is dependent on one man to do the work of ministry. Here is the conclusion of the post:

If you are doing the work of a pastor, you are working yourself out of a job. There will always be more people who need equipping but there should never be just one guy who does it. If the people in the local gathering never get to the point of being equipped and carrying out the work of ministry, you have failed in your mandate. The sign of spiritual maturity is not the ability to listen attentively to someone else for 45 minutes. It is being equipped for the work of ministry. We are not called to watch ministry being done but to be about the business of ministry ourselves.

Here is the whole post Preaching Yourself Out Of A Job


One of my prior “Thought for the day” posts said: “The goal of every pastor should be to make himself unnecessary.” I promised to expand on that, so here it goes.

I base that assertion on Ephesians 4. That is, in the ESV at least, the only passage that uses the English word pastor, which seems odd given how prevalent the pastoral office is in the church. The ESV uses shepherd in one place that refers to someone other than Christ Himself, in 1 Peter 5:2 where it is used as a verb, not as a title. Here is the text from Ephesians 4 in question.

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. (Eph 4: 11-16)

So where does that lead us? It seems that we like to stop at “equip the saints for the work of ministry” but Paul doesn’t stop there. The wording he uses subsequent to that paints a picture not of a perpetual situation where one man teaches, week after week, year after year, going to conferences, taking sabbaticals, reading books and then feeding that information to “his flock”. The goal is not a perpetual dependence on one man to do the work of ministry but seems to be bringing every else up to speed, to maturity so that we all are mature and all are equipped for the work of ministry.

I think before we can take the word “pastor” and create an office of church leadership, we need to figure out what the purpose of pastors/shepherds is. I think it is harmful to assume things about the function of pastors and create whole systems surrounding “pastoral ministry” that allows us to create hierarchies of senior pastors and various sub-pastors (youth pastor, worship pastor, pastor of this and pastor of that) based loosely on a blend of corporate org charts and Roman hierarchies. It encourages the exalting of pastoral ministry as the pinnacle of Christian faithfulness and leads conversely to a rigid distinction between the “clergy” and “laity” to an extreme (see the prior post about “every member evangelism”).

God gave men to the church to equip the rest of the Body of Christ, i.e. the church. Until the last year, I assumed that meant what most people think it means: we “go to church” on Sunday morning and a specially trained and qualified man preaches a sermon that exegetes the text. In other words “equipping” = “preaching to”. If we are good Christians we pay attention to the sermon, if we are really good Christians we take notes. I question now whether that was the intent of what Paul was saying, and this strikes me as another situation where we look at our contemporary situation and build our doctrines backward. Our concern should be what is Biblical, not what is traditional, not what is Reformed, not what is pragmatic. Those concerns can be addressed but only after we discern the Biblical intent. So what does Scripture say? Do we see men holding a pastoral office in the same way we have assumed for the last five hundred years?

A couple of things:

Scripture doesn’t give us an example of the full-time, vocational pastor that is so dominate in the church today and for many hundreds of years. Paul, Timothy and Titus don’t seem to be “pastors” in the sense we normally think of it, i.e. as an office in the local church organization. We call 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus the “pastoral epistles” but that is a bit of a misnomer. Timothy is frequently mentioned “coming” and “going”, appointing elders from town to town. Timothy was as much a “Senior Pastor” in a local church as my coffee mug is.

When we examine the role of the pastor in the local church and whether or not we should pay men to be pastors or to teach or preach in the local gathering, the place where we turn is often 1 Corinthians 9. It seems to me that 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul both makes his case for financial aid and also explains his rejection of it, should give us a clue as to how this relationship should work. A couple of things jump out at me about 1 Corinthians 9. The first thing is that Barnabas and Paul strike me as more of church planters and missionaries than what we consider to be a pastoral ministry in a local church. In most Bibles there is a map of Paul’s missionary journeys and he and Barnabas (who was in the nascent church in Antioch before being set apart for more of a traveling missionary role) went all over the place planting churches, equipping men and proclaiming the Gospel.

Paul also takes great pains to point out that he did not make use of the right to be paid. That is so crucial and yet so often missed. I could almost see paid ministers as missionaries to local churches. They would come into a church, minister through equipping the men of the church so that they would then be ready to lead the local gathering through serving them and protecting the local body from false teaching but then these paid ministers would move on to another church.

I just don’t see the perpetual paid minister in the same church for decades as being supportable from Scripture. A man who is a local member of a community should be able to support himself by the work of his own hands. That frees him up to help the poor, emboldens him in his teaching and preaching by not being held hostage by a pay check and demands that the rest of the men of the local gathering step up and lead in the church and in their families in a Scriptural way. If we appointed elders to lead the church from among the local community instead of hiring preachers from hither and yon, they would already have jobs, already know and be known by the local gathering, they would know the area they live in and minister in.

Are there men who have a special talent for teaching? Who are really good at it? That is indisputable. Does that mean that only those select few should do the equipping and teaching? I don’t think so.

If you are doing the work of a pastor, you are working yourself out of a job. There will always be more people who need equipping but there should never be just one guy who does it. If the people in the local gathering never get to the point of being equipped and carrying out the work of ministry, you have failed in your mandate. The sign of spiritual maturity is not the ability to listen attentively to someone else for 45 minutes. It is being equipped for the work of ministry. We are not called to watch ministry being done but to be about the business of ministry ourselves.

Be Like Bob

Doesn’t this seem backwards?

While I clearly have not been the market for a paid ministerial position for quite some time, I still get emails from a list service that allows men seeking churches and churches seeking pastors to post their availability or openings for free to like-minded individuals and churches. I keep getting them because I find it fascinating to see the thought process.

Here is what I see regularly on these postings. There are two kinds of men posting their information. One kind is the man who is pretty staunchly Reformed and finds that his theology is not compatible with the local church he serves or his attempts to instill this theology in that church are unwelcome. The other is for men who are in associate, youth or part-time positions seeking a more senior pastoral position. Normally this is how it looks for the second type of guy. A man is serving or starting a small church. Because the church group is small, he ends up needing to work a secular job in addition to what the church pays him. His secular job brings him into contact with tons of people, many or most of whom are lost and in need of Christ. His desire though is to seek a “full-time” pastoral position so he can spend more time addressing the needs of people who are presumably already Christians instead of time out in the world among the lost. This typically means leaving the local church he is at and moving somewhere else where he feels “called”, i.e. they are willing to pay him a full-time salary. Many small local churches have the equivalent of a revolving door on their pastors office because the goal for many men, especially young men with families, is to move beyond a situation where they need to work a regular job and can draw all of their financial support from the church. The model looks an awful lot like the corporate model. Some churches are “entry level jobs” and the expectation is that as you gain experience, you should demand a bigger salary for ministry. Not many people stay at the same company in the same job they had when they first graduated from college, so that model has been imitated in the church.

That seems to me to be backwards. Shouldn’t a pastor, as he carries out his calling of equipping the entire body for the work of ministry, be able to delegate and let go of more and more of the ministry in the local church to other Christians? As he equips and releases more and more of the brethren to minister to one another, he should be freed up in his time and that seems like a great opportunity to cut the financial cord from the church and get a job. It seems counter-intuitive that the more mature a man gets in his ministry, the more removed he becomes from the lost. I think we need a new kind of thinking about this. Here is kind of how it would work:

A small, local church with maybe 60 people in Bob’s hometown has their current pastor retire and needs a new one. They contact Bob who is delighted for the opportunity to minister in the town he grew up in, so he accepts their calling and moves his family to that town. Of those 60 people who are members/regular attenders, about 15-18 of them are adults between 25-65. The rest are children or senior adults. It is hardly an affluent church, they are located in a small town in rural America where the population is pretty stagnant. The weekly offering is maybe $300. The adult believers in the church are a mixture in terms of maturity, some have been Christians for a long time and are somewhat mature, some are relatively new believers or at least fairly immature in the faith. Bob is initially paid a small monthly salary because the rest of the church frankly is not prepared to do the work of ministry in the local Body. They have never been equipped and don’t really expect that to be something they are expected or even permitted to do. Bob intends to change that mindset!

The local church provides Bob with a salary of $400 each month (a full 1/3 of the average monthly giving), which is obviously not enough to support a family. Bob takes a part-time job in his local community to make up his families financial needs above and beyond what the church is able to provide. Each week Bob focuses on equipping the other believers in the local church for the work of ministry in keeping with Ephesians 4: 11-13. Bob makes very clear that the ministry to one another in the local church is the responsibility and privilege of every believer, not just the pastor. Perhaps initially he goes on visits to homes, hospitals, etc. with a few of the brothers. Telling people about ministry is one thing, showing them by laboring along with them is how people are equipped and that is the sign of true Biblical servant-leadership (Phil 4:3).

After a year or two, perhaps 4 or 5 of the men of the church have advanced in maturity and are regularly ministering to the needs of the believers in this local church. The church recognizes these men as elders and they begin to shoulder an increasing load of the ministry in the church, again both to “members” and to the community in addition to their secular jobs. As the newly recognized elders help to minister and equip in the local congregation, Bob has more time freed up and is able to work his regular job on a full-time basis. Bob no longer accepts a regular salary from the church. The $400 the church had been paying Bob while he was laboring in ministering and equipping is now freed up so the local church decides to donate all of this to local and global ministries engaged in spreading the Gospel and works of mercy. Bob spends more time at his “regular” job and thus more time among unbelievers than in his office at the church. He still regularly leads the teaching ministry of the church and visits with members but so do the other elders. With more and more of the leaders of the church spending their time outside of the church building, the Gospel is spread and more people are saved. Those being saved are discipled and equipped by all of the elders and eventually come to a mature faith where they are also able to minister to others.

What about Bob? Well Bob is hardly the focal point of the local church although he is certainly respected and likely deferred to because his manner of life is praiseworthy and worthy of emulation (Hebrews 13:7). He sees the essence of Biblical leadership as serving and making much of Christ by making little of himself. Bob works for a living and the fruit of his labor is sufficient to provide for his needs as well as for others, like another church leader from the 1st century (Acts 20: 33-35). Rather than getting his bread from the donations of others, although he might have that right, he labors with his own hands so as not to be a burden on the church (2 Thess 3: 6-12). Because Bob chooses to emulate Paul, the work of the ministry is spread around among the brethren who grow dramatically in the faith and the funds that formerly would have been used to pay him now go to aid in spreading the Gospel, caring for widows and orphans and the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the least of these among us. Bob doesn’t resent that he has to work a regular job, he sees it as a blessing that more men are involved in the ministry and that more of the love offering of the church goes directly to ministry. Besides he gets to meet lots of people who need to hear about Jesus, people he wouldn’t meet if he spent more of his time in his office at church or in committee meetings. He makes a nice living to provide for his family and has excess left over to give to those in need.

Is that “pie in the sky” and unrealistic? It might seem so but I am pretty sure that what I am describing looks more like what happened in the early days of the church than what we typically see in the church today. We suffer from an epidemic of overly low and excessively high expectations in the church. We expect to much of the pastor and that he should shoulder far more of the load than is reasonable and we expect far less of the rest of the Body than we should and tacitly discourage them from ministering to others because they are not qualified or it is something the pastor should do. I know why this seems scary. When you include more and more of the church in ministry, often unsupervised, they are going to make mistakes. They might say the wrong thing. They might be horrible teachers. It is easier and, more importantly, safer to reserve ministry to just those who are the very best at it. That is again how the corporate world works. Those who are best at dealing with customers are in customer facing roles. The detail oriented people who are lacking in social graces work in the back office. The very best and most ambitious become the top leaders. The issue is that we have been called into the family of God, not into a multinational corporation and in a family we are all family members, even the people who are annoying or those who are socially awkward.

We need a shift in thinking among brothers in the church, a shift that doesn’t see getting called to a bigger church as the goal but seeing others equipped and taking hold of ministry right where they are. I have lived in a lot of places and I don’t know of a single places, big or small, urban or rural, that doesn’t have far more need for the Gospel than there are workers in that area. You don’t need to move to a bigger church to be able to minister more, you might just need to get out of the church more often. We need to replace the ladder climbing corporate model with a self-diminishing, self-denying model. I don’t blame most of the men who are pastors and following this model. It is the model they have been taught for their entire lives in a church culture that looks at bi-vocational ministers with pity and exalts the men with the biggest church and the most books and the greatest number of associate pastors underneath him on the church org chart.

This is not something that will happen overnight nor is it a popular idea. There is a whole industry that is devoted to the current pastoral paradigm, an industry that sells books, sponsors conferences and maintains educational institutions. I am treading carefully not to impugn the motives of the men in charge of this industry but anytime you have entrenched interests, change is going to be hard and is going to often attract strident opposition. I don’t really see this as optional shift though. First, I think it is a more faithful, more Biblical way to view ministry in the local church. Second, circumstances are going to force our hands. As America continues to shift toward a European view on religion, American Christians better be ready to adapt to a world where churches, clergy and Christians in general are not going to be as culturally acceptable and the way we have always done things is not going to work anymore (and I would say it never worked in the first place, no matter how commonplace it was). As difficult and jarring as this may be, it is something that is long overdue and something that will happen one small church, one faithful brother at a time. God sometimes works in the dramatic (ex. Sea, Red) and more often in the small, changing and transforming His people through the labor and love of plain and simple faithful brethren. It is my fervent and heartfelt prayer that God will continue to mold His church and His servants, all of them, into the image of His Son. Our epitome is not a CEO in an Armani suit but a suffering servant with dusty feet and dirty hands.


The horses came a little later than expected and arrived yesterday. We dropped them off at a local Amish farm to have their hooves trimmed, it had been a while and they were in serious need of a pedicure. Once all four were done we brought them back and are keeping them in the barn until later today to let their feet recover a bit. I forgot how big they are, these aren't like quarterhorses. When they bump into you it can nearly knock you over! We are making a major effort to convey the need to stay clear of them to the smaller kids because they can be dangerous to small children. So now our barn has chickens, one sheep and four horses and is starting to look more like a farm barn than a self-storage facility! Very excited to find a source locally to rent a chicken plucker as well as a place to buy spices and tea in bulk, the girls are going to be very happy about that (thanks Bean!)

I will try to get some pictures up later today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review: Tithing

So I read Tithing: Test Me In This by Douglas Leblanc. Tithing is an issue that I have done some study on before even requesting the book and I will admit to having a negative predisposition before it even arrived. Book Sneeze asks for an unbiased review, so here it is. This was just a numbingly uninteresting book. It amounts to little more than a series of anecdotes and a diverse group of people stating their personal opinions about why tithing is swell and how, in many cases, God has faithfully given them money mysteriously. Sure it isn’t technically prosperity teaching but there is a certain element of that ideology that runs rampant throughout. I frankly found it not only uninteresting but doctrinally dangerous.

I understand that the point most of the folks interview were making was not that tithing is commanded but a spiritual discipline (hence the name of the series) but the problem remains that in reading the various interviews you get the impression that these folks have done very little to study the idea of tithing as an Old Testament practice and don’t see the difference between bringing your tithe into the storehouse and contributing money to your local church.

There is a lot to be said about faithful giving in the church, about caring for the needs of our brothers, about how Christians should view money. Setting a baseline 10% based on a poor understanding of Old Testament tithing and applying it to the church is unhelpful. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. That might seem harsh but I didn’t come away with anything even remotely redeeming about it.

I received Tithing: The Ancient Practices Series as part of the Book Sneeze program in return for posting an unbiased review.

A powerful post

You simply must read: YOU Feed Them

Dan at Cerulean Sanctum has a powerful, prophetic call today calling out the church for our unfaithfulness in caring for one another. Here is a snippet to give you a flavor of it....

The truth is that God lives in you. He is always in you. Where you go, He is. You are the righteousness of God. Anything is possible because God is working through you.

There is NEVER a reason for a fellow believer to be in want. NEVER. If a local church contains people with plenty and people in want, there’s only one word for that church: Ichabod. The glory has departed.

This issue makes me angry. It makes me furious when the Church has been equipped, approved, and charged with the task by God, yet the people in the Church won’t do the work. They throw it back in God’s lap and ask Him to do the work for them instead. As I see it, that’s a complete dismissal of our identity in Christ and a rejection of the Holy Spirit in us.

When have you heard that in church? When have you ever been told that if you have plenty and a brother or sister in the congregatuon is in need, if you don't meet that need or work with the church to meet that need that you are sinning? You need to read this post, it is one of the most convicting I have read in a long time. How can we say we are following Christ and love the church while letting others in the Body of Christ go without while we enjoy our excess?

What's a trillion dollars between friends?


The news is out regarding the deficit and it is pretty grim.