Sunday, July 31, 2011

Repost: The church on the margins

Some thoughts from a post last year about this time, The church on the margins. I remain convinced that the church struggles in the West because the church doesn't struggle in the West. Christianity was not established as a safe public religion. It was a persecuted, marginalized faith of misfits and outcasts driven by a Gospel urgency and a Kingdom focus, not a faith centered on a polished professional weekly performance. When the church falls out of favor with the culture and the power brokers stop calling preachers for political support, when being a Christian means persecution instead of comfortable pew sitting, when we are too concerned with being arrested for preaching the Gospel to worry about legal battles over pieces of metal in a cross shape, then we will find the true strength of the church which is manifested in weakness.


(This promises to be a rambling tirade… you have been warned)

It struck me again this morning that Biblical manifestations of the visible church have pretty much always operated at the margins of society. It is easy as Americans to “assume the church” because culturally the church has always had a special place in the fabric of Americana. We assume that what we see is how it was and how it should be in spite of the glaring discrepancies we see in Scripture when compared with our assumed practices. In reality, when you look back over the last two thousand years what you find is that the church has typically been at the margins of society and in many ways remains so today, even in “Christian nations” like America.

Here in America, the church is often hidden within the church. By that I mean that there are virtually no mainstream expressions of the church that present a consistent Biblical witness to the world. They present what the prevailing culture expects the church to look like instead of asking the hard question of what does the Bible expect the church to look like. The overwhelming majority of Christians are found in institutional church groups where the assembled group on Sunday is at best a relatively even mixture of believers and unbelievers. That is not being judgmental, that is simply reality. The aforementioned gathering has only a cursory relationship to the church that was instituted, described and lived by the first disciples.

When we remove our blinders and look at the church as a whole, we find that in most of the world outside of America and Western Europe, the church operates at best on the margins of society. In places like China, Pakistan and Iran we find our brothers and sisters living under constant threat from the authorities and from hostile unbelievers with the tacit approval of the government. For the first three hundred years of the church, it operated essentially as an outlaw religion until the “conversion” of Constantine. During the thousand year period between the conversion of Constantine and the Reformation, the Gospel itself was denied by “The Church” and believers were marginalized and often persecuted to the point of martyrdom by those who deemed themselves the arbiters of the faith. In the five hundred some odd years since the official start of the Reformation, the so-called “visible church” has been characterized by fights over doctrine, political machinations, corruption, hypocrisy and all too often violence.

As I have mentioned a time or two before, I think the decline in church attendance is a positive thing for the Gospel witness. The witness of the church is best presented when it is presented from the outside, from the margins of society to a world that is hostile to the church, the message, the messenger and the One the church serves. It is an infinitely and eternally powerful message that is proclaimed from a position of weakness and by a method of foolishness (1 Cor 1:18). Delivering a 45 minute sermon in a controlled environment to a genteel crowd in their Sunday best that voluntarily assembled to hear that sermon is not foolish preaching. Being arrested for boldly preaching the Gospel to a hostile crowd and continuing to do so when on trial for your life is the foolishness of preaching (Acts 6:8 – Acts 7:60 ). That makes absolutely no sense to Americans but it makes perfect sense when you understand the Gospel, which at its core is about God coming in the flesh to die a cruel and base death on a cross on behalf of creatures who hated Him and loved themselves. The Gospel is about the only Being in existence with any real power setting aside that power to free those who were powerless and frankly unaware of their need for redemption.

What would the church look like today if it was once again on the margins of society instead of smack dab in the middle of it? I think we are finding out as the innate hostility of the world toward the Gospel manifests itself more and more clearly and boldly. The reaction from many corners of the church has been predictable: outrage, hand-wringing, passionate speeches about our “rights” being violated, lawsuits and legal defense funds. I fear that the ugly truth is that we are spending an enormous amount of time and money and effort defending a status quo that actually hampers the Gospel witness. How terribly ironic! Instead of submitting in humility to the hatred of the world and witnessing in spite of that, we are trying to defend our place in the world. Winning the culture war, defending our rights, taking back our country, reclaiming our “Judeo-Christian” heritage, etc. have nothing to do with the calling of the church and I am similarly fearful that there are many who are cynically manipulating Christians in their own quest for power.

Christianity has its genesis in a Man born to a young woman from a no-account town, a Man who lived in simplicity and humility and service, with followers chosen from the most unlikely of men. It is a faith that has as its crowning moment a humiliated and beaten Man nailed to a cross like a common criminal, a faith that spent its first centuries being persecuted and killed for the sake of that Man. It is a faith that is unlike any other religion, a faith that demands nothing from its adherents but faith, a faith that humans are incapable of demonstrating on our own. It is a faith that promises eternal life to come but persecution, reviling and hatred now.

It is hard to talk credibly about that Gospel when we are trying to do so in the comfort and affluence of the Western church, securely ensconced among a culture that cherishes achievement and power. The Gospel does not call us to conquer, it calls us to surrender. We are not called to overcome but to submit. We don't boldly follow Christ into battle, we humbly follow Him in death. What do we have to fear from the world? Better a sword across my neck than a sword in my hand.

(I warned you)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Non-resistance is more than not going to war

Ross Rohde at the jesus virus wrote an interesting piece on non-violence with the catchy title: Non Violence . Boring title aside it is an interesting look at some different aspects of a non-violence or non-resistant stance from the Bible, worth your while to check out and comment on even if you don't agree.

Saving lives one unborn child at a time

Abortion in some areas of America is fairly rare but there are pockets where it is overwhelmingly commonplace. New York City is one of those places and the number of abortions performed each year is staggering. Thankfully there are some people who refuse to sit back and scowl, choosing instead to take action in a simple way to help women choose life for their unborn child. From the Wall Street Journal essay Life and Faith in Hell's Kitchen:
'Safe, legal and rare" has long been the pro-choice mantra, but these days it applies less and less to the reality of abortion. In New York City, officials reported this year that 41% of pregnancies end in abortion—double the national rate. In the black community, the figure is 60%.

Numbers like these motivate the Sisters of Life, a small order of nuns celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. The sisters take traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but they also take a fourth vow "to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life." According to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, once the sisters connect with unwed pregnant women in need, "the battle is half over."
That last sentence cannot be overemphasized. Too many Christians are pro-life in the pew but completely absent in the world where the women who are facing an unplanned pregnancy live. If the only face we present to scared women who are unexpectedly pregnant is that of screaming protestors, we are missing the mission of being pro-life. We who claim to cherish human life need to be out in the mission field where spiritual warfare is really taking place. Our comfy lives of work, school, soccer practice and church on Sunday might be interrupted but what are the chances that most of us are going to run into an opportunity to make a difference and influence a women (or man) considering abortion in our day to day lives? I have no use for the Roman hierarchy but I deeply appreciate the work of these women in ministering to women in need. We will never get the opportunity to be a blessing in the life of those who need it if we wait until they come to us.

Ministry is not a spectator sport.

(For more info on Sisters of Life check out their webpage. I am sure they can use any donations.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Repost: Preaching yourself out of a job

A comment on my post earlier this week, Equipped for what? , reminded me of a post from a few years ago, Preaching yourself our of a job. If as an elder/leader in the church you aren't equipping people to be independent of you, you really aren't equipping them or leading the church as you should. A perpetual state of the "laity" on the "clergy" does great violence to the purpose and calling of elders in the church. Read on and let me know what you think....


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.

Speaking of politics and faith

Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's unless Caesar isn't getting enough revenue in which case break the law to encourage Caesar to force rich people to render more.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:17 Social Justice Remix)

Eleven arrested after Capitol sit-in against budget cuts

So much for Romans 13: 1-7. The members of an "Interfaith Coalition" made a bold political statement by sitting down in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitiol as a protest against budget cuts.

The interfaith coalition is “frustrated that their pleas to the administration and Congress to protect funding for the nation’s most vulnerable are being ignored,” the release said.

“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer,” wrote the Rev. Michael Livingston, a past president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA). “Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won't allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold.”
“We've written letters, talked with and prayed for our elected officials, and prayed together daily in inter-religious community,” Livingston added. “Today, we ‘offer our bodies as a living sacrifice’ to say to Congress, ‘Raise revenue, protect the vulnerable and those living in poverty.’
Gag. Melodramatic much? "Raise revenue" of course is a new favorite catch phrase of the political left that means "raise taxes on someone who isn't me". What the good "Reverend" seems to miss is that many of these representatives were elected by people who don't want them to raise taxes or incur more debt. They are not just "your" elected representatives, they are also "our" elected representatives and I have been quite happy with the stance of my Congressman.
What do you think? Should we break the law to make a political point? I wonder if this "Interfaith Coalition" would look favorably on someone getting arrested because they were blocking the door to an abortion clinic?

On the debt ceiling fiasco and the calling of the church

The news has been dominated of late with talk of the impeding collapse of Western civilization if the United States doesn't increase our already enormous debt level. As usual, the conversations surround this issue are getting more and more hysterical and nasty. Christians in America on both sides are drawing battle lines over the “solutions” being bandied about (none of which will actually “solve” anything, but I digress). So what to think about this whole issue?

This is not intended as a political discussion but…if I were calling the shots, we would not give the very people who have proven utterly irresponsible with credit (i.e. the Congress) even more credit that we the people have to pay the bills for. If the United States was a person no one would extend them a nickel of additional credit given our spending habits and debt level. In place of some bogus cuts over ten years (which really means they will never happen) I would cut spending below expected revenue for the next fiscal year and use the difference to pay down the existing fourteen trillion in debt. That is just me and that is why I am never going to be elected to office.

So setting politics aside. what are some of the ways this issue should be examined from a Gospel perspective? I have posted on this before but I think given the vitriolic and emotion driven “debate” that is going on we need to soberly and cautiously examine the issue and where (if anywhere) we come down on the issues and how we speak on behalf of the church in the world. The Left and the Right are making a mad dash to grab the Kingdom high ground in this contemporary issue and I think both are on doctrinally shaky ground. Some may airily wave their hands about in a show of pseudo-piety and claim to be above politics but this conversation has and will continue to draw Christians in and we need to be thinking about how this impacts our witness to the world.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It is about function more than form

I really appreciated this post by Steve Scott, From the Pew: It's Not So Much About "Institutional" vs. "Organic". It is pretty brief but here is the pivotal second paragraph:
But even though I do see the house/simple/organic folks' ideas and arguments in the bible and I don't see the traditional/institutional folks' ideas and arguments in the bible, I don't see the ultimate argument as one of institutional vs. organic. What I do believe is foremost is whether a church accomplishes what churches are supposed to do. For example, the "one-anothers" of the bible. Even though I see one-anothers being employed in the church assembly (i.e. 1 Cor. 11-14 and Heb. 10), they certainly aren't limited to when the church assembles together. And even though I don't see passivity in listening to sermons during a "worship service" without any one-anothers during the assembly in the pages of the bible, I would rather attend a traditional/institutional church that has the one-anothers right in all other areas of church than attend a house/simple/organic church that doesn't.
That is right on the mark. As I commented, some forms absolutely make proper functioning easier and likewise some make it much, much harder but I would agree that I am more concerned with how a Body functions than with how it looks.

Equipped for what?

Dave Black said something interesting this morning. The Bible is clear that the church has been given pastor/elders for the purpose of equipping the saints, all of them (Eph 4:11-16). But what is "equipping"? Dr. Black wrote:
Equipping is not delegating. Think about it. Pastors who think they are equipping may only be delegating.
Elders, i.e. more mature and experienced brothers who are servants in the church, are so very crucial to a healthy church. Their value to the church is not in administration or ruling or authority or "vision casting" or whatever else we throw out there as buzzwords. Pastors are to equip those who are less mature so that they become mature and are equipped, prepared and released for the work of ministry. Giving people the tools and permissions they think they need to assist you in your idea of ministry is not really what Paul has in mind here. Every believer. properly equipped, will find ways to minister to those around them. Equipping ministers doesn't mean creating assistants for the pastor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

God's covenant people are an olive tree not a corn field

We seen an image of God's covenant people, especially as it pertains to those of us who are not Jewish by ancestry, as an olive tree in Paul's letter to the church in Rome.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Rom 11:17-24)
Not to overly anthropomorphize this but I believe there are some important lessons to be drawn from this

Olive trees have deep roots and many branches. There are many different branches but all of them are interconnected. The branches on an olive tree are interdependent, all drawing the source of sustenance from the same root system.

Sometimes it seems that God's people are more like a corn field than an olive tree. Corn plants in a field grow alongside but compete for resources. They look identical from a distance but when you get closer there are slight variations.

Whether it is competing for nutrients, bees to pollinate, sunlight, water, whatever, corn plants are competing with one another even though they are after the same goal: making ears of corn.

It seems that the church is like this. We all are claiming to follow Christ and seek to make disciples and teach those disciples. We also are divided up into row after row of nearly identical local churches, all in competition with one another for precious resources: people, money, facilities, influence. My corn plant/local church grabs what resources we can and make a few ears of corn. The corn plant/local church next to me does the same thing. The whole system doesn't look much like the church, much less an adoptive family.

Rows of corn plants in a field makes for good agricultural practice but not very good ecclesiology. We need to constantly remember that we are all grafted into the same olive tree.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Two of my favorite things mixed together...

...empty religious symbolism and patriotism mixed in with "Christianity"!

Tired of not having enough room on your car for your Jesus fish and your patriotic bumper stickers? Have no fear, you can get both in one great product for only $9.95! Introducing the USAFish!

What is this all about you may ask? Glad you did!

The Star-Spangled Fish™ is inspired by the Christian values that uphold our great nation. The emblem is a symbolic reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made to free us from the bondage of sin and of the sacrifices made by all the brave patriots who have kept the USA free from tyranny and oppression.

Absolutely! Rising up in armed rebellion against King George and then killing others because our government said so is just like Jesus going as a lamb to the slaughter and laying down His life for His sheep. Now you may be wondering just which Christian values we are talking about here: Refusing to seek vengeance? Having all things in common so that none among us goes without? Submitting to the authorities God has placed over us (like King George)? Meekness? Humility? Equality for all (white) men?

See asking that question just means you are some sort of godless commie pinko that hates America. Everybody knows that America was founded on Christian values. All of 'em! So order your USAFish today and join the other 81,623 red-blooded Christian patriots who "liked" USAFish on their Facebook page! You can even get a USAFish lapel pin or t-shirt so that everyone who sees you walking around knows you are a good patriotic Christian. Don't be a lib'ral like our President, show the rest of the world that America is #1 in the eyes of Jesus!

The Gospel is offensive and divisive

CNN featured a blog entry on their religion page by Carl Medearis. Titled My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing, it starts off with a picture of a grinning Carl posing with the number two man of Hezbollah, a terrorist group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, a group with an upraised fist grasping a rifle as their flag. All well and good, we are to go to those who hate us in love with the Gospel. Here is the thing though. We are to go to them with the Gospel. Not with Jesus as a wise teacher or Jesus as a great leader or Jesus as a prophet but Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, the Lamb who was slain.

The post starts off OK but then turns into a series of well meaning but I think ultimately dangerous statements. A few choice ones are below…

Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity.

Paul certainly wasn’t interested in converting people to a new religion but he was hardly someone who was peddling some sort of fuzzy ecumenical “all religions are the same” monstrosity. Paul was bold about the Gospel and what exactly that Gospel means. What it means is a message that causes persecution and hatred, as Paul himself discovered first hand. If Paul were alive today I have no doubt he would be out taking the Gospel to the hardest places in the world and no doubt he would be persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and likely killed for it.

Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?

He is? Not really. It is true that Jesus breaks down the wall between Jew and Gentile but this creates a different divide, between those who believe and those who do not. We cannot overlook or brush over those differences. The words of Christ show this starkly (Matthew 10: 34-37) that the Gospel will divide even members of families.

When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”

Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.

There is a world of difference between “making disciples” which Jesus defined as including teaching them to observe all He has commanded us and baptizing them. Teaching people to emulate Jesus without acknowledging Him as Lord is not making disciples. Acting like Jesus isn’t the Gospel and isn’t saving anyone.

It may come as a surprise to many Christians that Muslims are generally open to studying the life of Jesus as a model for leadership because they revere him as a prophet.

That doesn’t surprise me at all. Lots of false religions like to invoke the name of Jesus while denying Him as the very Son of God: Islam, mormonism, the Watchtower, pretty much every pseudo-Christian cult out there. Jesus did not come to provide an example of great leadership, in fact by the worlds standards he is a pretty poor leader. What kind of leader takes pains to offend the rich and powerful and often seems bound and determined to drive off followers (John 6:66)?

I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus.

Gee that sounds nice but lets ask a hard question. How do we know how to follow Jesus without doctrine, without studying the commandments and what He taught? The Gospel is not merely a set of doctrinal truths but it is in part a series of doctrinal truths. Either Jesus is God incarnate or He is not. He either died and rose again or He did not. He either claimed to be the only way of salvation or He did not.

Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with. And since evangelicals like to say that it’s not about religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus, perhaps we should practice what we preach.

That elicited an audible groan followed by a facepalm. The last thing Jesus was interested in (and by proxy the last thing His followers should care about) is proclaiming a message the world can “live with”. The world can “live with” an empty, fuzzy message but that same empty message that the world can “live with” is the same empty message the world will die with.

We need to stop exporting American churchianity to the world. I absolutely agree with that. There is no point in trying to get Christians in other parts of the world to look and act like American Christians. An elder in Tanzania or Haiti or Thailand doesn’t need to wear a western cut suit and tie. That does not mean that we need to abandon the truth of the Gospel, the divisive “His way or the highway” message that saves men’s souls.

I admit that I have no experience in evangelizing Muslims. There are plenty of other people with far more experience. I get that we need to use culturally sensitive methods to get a hearing for the Gospel but at some point we need to actually proclaim the Gospel. Nothing less than that is going to do. It may be offensive. In fact I am sure it is. The world is not going to find it to be something it can “live with” but those of us who have experienced the transforming power of the Gospel know that it is something that in the end the world cannot live without.

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Book Review: War, Peace and Nonresistance

Guy Hershberger’s War, Peace and Nonresistance (hereafter WPN) is one of the best treatments of a topic that has been largely abandoned in the church, namely non-resistance as a fundamental Christian virtue. Non-resistance is a deeply Biblical position, not merely some fringe belief held by a few small groups, rooted in command, in example and in the grand tapestry of God’s redemptive purpose. In WPN Guy Hershberger lays out the case for non-resistance as the non-negotiable norm for Christians through God’s fundamental commandment to not kill and the overarching theme in Scripture of loving God and loving others as the greatest commandments. It is difficult to find a better, more thorough treatment of this topic that is also eminently Biblical and conservative in interpretation. This is not a book aimed at hippies and flower children but rather at a people with a sober understanding of sin and the redemptive power of the cross.

WPN spends quite a few chapters setting up the case for non-resistance from the Scripture which is obviously the key, starting in the Old Testament and showing why the OT is less problematic than some think and then moving seamlessly into the New. His exegesis is excellent and virtually impossible to refute. After this treatment, Hershberger moves into the history of non-resistance among the Anabaptists and others and finally into what were contemporary issues in non-resistance, many of which are still applicable today.

In places WPN is somewhat dated, written originally some sixty years ago when the world and America were quite different places. Some of what Hershberger suggests seems wildly naïve in today’s more jaded setting. Much of the Mennonite community has become virtually indistinguishable from more mainsteam liberal denominations, losing their Anabaptist flavor almost entirely. Speaking of Mennonites, WPN is focused almost exclusively on the Mennonite perspective although there are other Christians with a similar non-resistant stance. That makes sense as Mennonites are numerically the largest peace group and Hershberger was a Mennonite. Still it would have been nice to see more about other groups and their non-resistant positions. WPN addresses some issues that normally don’t fall into the discussion of non-resistance, issues like labor relations/unions and race relations. WPN was written shortly before the civil rights movement and some of the language he uses seems a bit jarring to modern ears but that is a product of the times.

In places WPN started to drag a bit, such as when Hershberger dealt with the CPS and other civilian alternative services utilized by conscientious objectors in World War I and II but that may have more to do with the world we live in where we want our information in tweet sized bites rather than extensive and detailed descriptions. At some 400 pages this is a meaty book that requires serious study. It is not a book to breeze through in an afternoon!

I thought his treatment of unionism and the church was excellent and somewhat unexpected. We typically think of non-resistance in the church as an issue of support for war and violent self-defense but Hershberger goes far deeper into a lot of areas that one would not think of initially. Hershberger also spends quite a bit of time dealing with the difference between Biblical non-resistance and the philosophy of pacifism, addressing in particular Gandhi who, while holding some laudable views, was in no way an example of how Christians should respond to persecution and tyranny. Since many Christians like to hold Gandhi up as the epitome of Christian living, this chapter was quite useful as a repudiation of that notion. The chapter dealing with pacifism and other forms of what he described as non-violent coercion were overall nothing short of excellent and would be beneficial to the church today.

One of the best parts of the book is found in the appendix. WPN contains a pretty comprehensive list of Scriptures supporting the non-resistant position, broken out by topic, as well as historical Anabaptist confessions dealing with the civil government and the sword. The best section was where Hershberger addresses the “problem” Scriptures and hypothetical situations people often throw out to try to provide cover for advocacy of violence among Christians. While brief the answers are excellent and Biblically sound.

The witness of the church has suffered for centuries because we have lost the meek, peacemaking aspects of the faith and replaced them with patriotism, nationalism and militarism. That may serve to make the Christian faith more palatable to our countrymen and lead to a tolerance of the church in society but the impact it has on those we are called to minister to and evangelize is tragic. War, Peace and Nonresistance is a great place to turn for those who have begun to question the embrace and even celebration of violence among the followers of the Prince of Peace.

Repost: Accountability requires community

Earlier this year I posted Accountability Requires Community. It was a response to those who think that formal church membership and authoritarian clergy are required to have a functional system of accountability and discipline in the church. I often see church discipline put forth as a pragmatic rationale for formal church membership in the absence of any Scriptural support but as I wrote, that is a false notion. Many churches with formal membership processes have an utter lack of accounability and often real accountability in the church is found outside of the formal church structures we have created. I was thinking more about it this morning and thought I would put this post back out there.

A few weeks ago I posted this tweet and wanted to expand on it:

True accountability in the Body is not found in church membership and submission to clergy, it can only be found in genuine community among the Body of Christ

What is this accountability? What does that mean?

As the Body we need accountability in areas of doctrine and in areas of behavior. Accountability within the Body in matters of doctrine prevents us from wandering off into error or outright heresy. We need accountability in behavior to help ensure we are living as redeemed believers and not slipping into the habits of our past. How that happens is another question.

I have been thinking about this based on an email exchange with a friend and let me say up front that I don't have all the answers. We are still working this out. At the outset, the traditional view of accountability is inextricably tied into the ideas of clerical leadership and church membership. In other words to have accountability you need formal structure, recognized and authoritative leaders and a membership system. I want to look at this idea of accountability and ask if we as the Body of Christ are accountable to one another or to the local church organization and its designated leaders.

Does accountability in the church mean that the local body of a particular group of believers is to submit to the clergy that have been elected or hired over them? Many times we are led to believe that the Scriptures mandate this so that the elders can exercise church discipline and church discipline and accountability kind of walk hand in hand. There is a real problem with that view, namely church discipline is not something that is reserved to the clergy or elders. In fact what we see in the Scriptures is that what we call church discipline and what is often considered a distinguishing mark of a “real” church is actually something that is carried out by the entire Body. For example, in 1 Corinthians 5 we see Paul addressing a serious sin issue that has been brought to his attention.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
What does Paul call the church to do? Bring this man before the elders for a church trial? No, he is to be “removed from among you”. What does that mean? Paul gives us a picture later in this chapter:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5: 9-13)
Paul is calling on believers in Corinth to have nothing to do with this individual. He is not welcome in their gatherings, not even welcome to share meals with the church. The discipline is administered by refusing fellowship. Anabaptist groups have traditionally carried this out in “the ban”, one of the items in the Schleitheim confession. In another example, Jesus addresses the issue of a brother who has sinned against you (the actual sin is unknown and apparently irrelevant here)

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18: 15-17)
Note here that in the case of a brother sinning against another brother, the wronged party is to address the offender himself and if the offending brother doesn’t listen he is to bring a couple of “others” from the church, who may or as likely may not be elders, and then if that doesn’t work, the sin of the wronged party is to be brought before the church. It is not a “top down” disciplinary process, it is a one on one, two or three on one and finally all on one issue. Even 9 Marks advocates this approach:

Notice also that it is the congregation's responsibility to clean out the old leaven (1Cor 5:7), and to remove the wicked man from among themselves (1Cor 5:13). It is not simply the elders' or deacons' or leadership team's responsibility, and Paul doesn't recommend that they appoint a committee. Preserving the holiness of the church through the godly exercise of church discipline is the responsibility of the whole congregation.
The “penalty” that is invoked with the intent of bringing a brother to repent is the breaking of fellowship. Another less well-known example appears in 2 Thessalonians 3…

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 ESV)
A lazy brother is not even to eat with the church. Don’t think you are going to be a slacker and then show up to the gathered church for a handout during their shared meals! This echoes 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 where we are not to even eat with someone who is sinning. So what is all of this saying to us? Here is what I am gleaning from this;

The ultimate church disciplinary action is the removal of fellowship, denying the unrepentant the community of the church.
This plays out traditionally in some sort of excommunication, a formal process carried out by a church court or similar authority. At some point it often involves denial of the Lord’s Supper/Communion, which in some traditions is a pretty serious. At the point of excommunication the party in question is removed from the fellowship of the saints, from the local body that he or she has been a part of. In Scripture it is not a judicial act but a functional act, a removal from the fellowship of community not a removal of your name from a list.

Where am I going with this? What does this have to do with church membership? Just this. Having an accountability structure in the church requires more than formal church membership and a hierarchical structure. Just being able to say Brother X is a member here because his name is on a list and Pastor Y is in charge because he is the pastor is wholly insufficient to have any real sense of accountability.

The long and short of it is that church discipline and accountability is a corporate activity. It is not restricted to the pastor or the elders. That is clearly true but I often read that we need church membership because how else are the elders going to know who is supposed to be submitting to them and who they are supposed to watch over? My response always is that if you need church membership rolls to know who is part of your local body, you have some serious issues.

The only way church accountability and discipline can function in a Biblical fashion is for Christians to be in close community with one another such that they know one another. Not just “know” as in “I know his name and see him on Sunday morning” but know as in spend time together and have a real relationship with one another. There are a few brothers in Christ that I know I could turn to with an issue if I was in need of counsel. None of those relationships are based on church membership rolls or even regular attendance at church with them. Every single one of them are men that I have built relationships with that transcend the formal church meeting. The relationships we have built mean that I know that I can trust their counsel and their discretion. A guy that I know because we say hi to one another on Sundays is not someone I would have that relationship with.

It is very instructive to see how often Paul writes letters that mention many local Christians by name. Never the "pastor" of the local church but the people in that locality who are Christians. Paul knew the people he was writing to as more than just "First Baptist Church of Corinth" or "Grace Fellowship of Ephesus". These were people he knew and cared about. Take for example the end of his letter to the church in Rome:

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. (Romans 16:3-16)
Do you think Paul knows these people? He knows and loves them by name. We see Prisca and Aquila, refered to as “fellow workers”. Note that Aquila doesn’t carry a title, he isn’t referred to as “Pastor Aquila” or even as elder or deacon (although I did read something yesterday that referred to ‘Pastor Ananias’!). In fact, unless I am missing something, Paul never refers to “elders” or “deacons” or “pastors” anywhere in the letter to the church in Rome. This most beloved of letters, the deeply theological letter to the church in Rome is addressed to everyone: To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints (Romans 1:7) Paul was concerned with all of the Body, not just the leadership. That doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn't turn to the more mature believers in the church for leadership or when there is a problem but I am saying that accountability in the church requires community in the church.

Church membership is neither a necessary nor sufficient component of a community of accountability. The big problem with formal church membership is of course that it doesn't appear in the Bible. It is strictly, 100% a manmade invention. I won't go into all of the factors that led to its formation but it doesn't come from Scripture. The other problem that is more pertinent to this conversation is that it a) doesn't necessarily foster community where accountability can take place and b) in many ways can hamper it by creating a false sense of community based on membership and a human based authority system. Even the reality of a clergy-laity distinction hampers this. The division between the clergy and laity means that a) most laypeople have an arms length relationship with their clergy, b) the clergyman has few if any brothers that he is accountable to in his local church because after all he is the pastor, c) many laypeople defer to their leaders rather than seeing accountability as something that they are personally responsible for.

Christians who want accountability and Biblical church discipline will only find it in community and community requires that we live our lives together, not just a few hours on Sunday but as an intentional part of our everyday lives. It requires letting people into our lives and being willing to be part of the lives of others. That is inherently messy and messiness is anathema to the Western church world. We like church to be scheduled, orderly, predictable, clean and preferably at arms length. We don’t want people in our homes or in our business, we prefer to go to a neutral site where everyone can smile and get along for an hour. We can keep doing that and living weekly as strangers in the same room or we can get away from the pews, church bulletins and anonymity to find that our brothers and sisters in Christ are just as messed up and in need as we are!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A weak man proclaiming a mighty God

Check out this brief post from the Gospel Coalition page, Paul's Downward Trajectory. I think it is fascinating. The way we think of Paul typically (this powerful preacher, fearless apologist, deep thinking theologian) is not how Paul describes himself. Paul saw himself over and over as unequal to the task, a weak man who found that the weaker he was, the more God was glorified. We could use more of that attitude in the church. There is no place for celebrities and fanboys of those celebrities in the church, only for weak bondservants who make much of Christ.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I am not sure which is sillier

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another the word 'Christian' in the name of your tax-exempt organization." (John 13:35 , American Christianity Re-Mix)

Oh boy....


The National Weather Service has issued a severe sarcasm warning for Northeast Indiana. Sarcasm will be heavy at times with golfball sized snarkiness. Easily offended people are warned to stay indoors.


Things were getting boring in the blogosphere. Rob Bell's Love Wins has been dissected, debunked and launched a thousand new books. The Emergent Movement, whatever that was, has died off. Pretty much every mainline denomination has already permitted openly homosexual clergy.Things are getting pretty tough for the perpetually offended among us.

Then, like a welcome rainstorm in the midst of a drought, here comes Campus Crusade for Christ changing their name! Like manna from heaven!
ORLANDO, Fla., July 19, 2011 – Campus Crusade for Christ in the U.S. is changing its name to Cru. The new name will be adopted in early 2012. The U.S. ministry hopes the new name will overcome existing barriers and perceptions inherent in the original name.
I am not sure which is sillier, the reasons Campus Crusade gave for changing its name (We believe wholeheartedly that God has given us this new name), the new moniker they have chosen (CRU? What are they, an 80's heavy metal band?) or the absolute over the top, frothing at the mouth reaction to this announcement by so-called conservatives.

I swear. Sometimes conservatives put liberals to shame with our eagerness to get offended. I have to admit there was a time when I would have jumped all over Campus Crusades for Christ, er, CRU because that is easier than doing actual Kingdom work, laboring in the fields for the Lord of the Harvest. Now? Not really interested.

Listen. I don't care if you call yourself the "New and Improved Lollipop Gang" if you are out doing the work of our Master. Likewise I don't care how many pious names you string together for your organization if your idea of mission is reading a book about why the missional movement is dangerous. The early church was too busy being persecuted and proclaiming Christ and loving one another to worry about the names of their competing organizations (or to even have competing tax exempt organizations). We are victims of our own "blessings" of prosperity, cultural acceptance and too much time on our hands. Sometimes I think a little real persecution is just what the doctor ordered for the church in America.

Continuing the conversation

Alan posted a response to my recent post Where Do We Go From Here? that is garnering some good conversation. A common theme is that it is hard to fellowship in a worship service after being in a simpler gathering. I get that. Who ever said being in the church was going to be easy?! Check out the conversation and perhaps jump in...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where do we go from here?

Alan has been asking that question in his post, Why Keep The Worship Service? It is part of an ongoing conversation that has spanned several blogs and posts. I don’t see the conversation as being about “worship services” per se, rather it is more about what do we do about unity in the church in the face of serious disagreements about what the church means and how it functions together.

This is an important conversation for those who embrace a simpler, more “organic” form of church and reject the institutionalized form of the local church. Coming to what we believe is a clearer understanding of what the Bible teaches about the church is one thing. What we do with that knowledge? That is a different issue entirely. I think our tendency has been to stop darkening the doors of local church buildings and start doing our own thing as we understand it from the Scriptures.

In so many places when there is a disagreement in the church, it devolves into “we” are right and “they” are wrong. “They” need to get on board with “us”. The problem is that in the church there is no “they”, only “we” and “we” need to find ways to get along and getting along is more than a vague agreement that we are family, family that never spends time with one another.

I am not advocating closing down house churches, trooping back into traditional churches, signing up for membership classes and dutifully sitting still in our pews until the offering plate comes along. I am saying that we need to find ways to actively reach the huge number of Christians who are not sold on simple/house/organic church, not to “convert” them to being house church people but to be unified with them as best we are able.

Art Mealer made a great comment on Alan’s post and I wanted to repost part of it here:

For me, this means I prefer gathering with the saints I gather with regularly on other than Sunday morning. That leaves us free to also join in with/visit other local congregations when they meet on Sunday. I see my Christian coworkers in the workplace/classes as fellow local church folk, and treat them with that respect and mutual concern.

I’m also coming to think the best way to help the local church change (read that as the bunch of presently separated churches in a single locality) is to see functional alternatives, sort of what the Thessalonian did for the churches of their day, that continue to network and connect/reconnect among varieties of saints. With changed lives and more intimate, encouraging, accepting ways of being together becoming more evident, and by staying in contact/communion/fellowship with others in other sorts of congregations/at work/classes/neighborhoods, we might have the best chance for substantive local church change.
I think that is fascinating and Biblical and it is reflective of where I am coming to. I am unwilling to abandon the simple gathering of the church that focuses on multiple voices, open participation, mutual encouragement and edification, all carried out in the context of community and fellowship. I am also unwilling to abandon those millions of Christians around the world and specifically the hundreds of Christians who live right around me that are part of traditional churches. So some sort of compromise might be in order and like it or not that compromise, the proverbial first step, is almost certainly going to have to come from us. That is so…un-American but it is also so…Biblical.

I hope I am moving past the “angrily shaking my fist at the institutional church” phase. It was cathartic in a way and if I am honest gave me a prideful sense of superiority but it is generally unhelpful in fostering unity in the church and unity is a "first tier doctrine". That doesn’t mean that I am not going to speak out against the institutionalization of the church or the professionalization of ministry or any of the other topics that I typically write about. What I am going to try very hard to do is to examine these topics in the context of how we can overcome the barriers to fellowship we encounter and how to foster community in the church in the context we have while working in unity toward a more Biblical expression of the church.

Now practically speaking, I don’t think that sitting in a pew among thousands of other people in a mega-church is doing much of value. Getting to know people in a smaller, more intimate church setting (under 150 people perhaps?), that strikes me as helpful. Get to know them and be known by them. Expand your circle and make new friends. Invite people to your home, have get togethers, Bible studies, prayer meetings, go out to dinner, have a picnic, go camping, something, anything, with other Christians especially if those activities can also be used for evangelism. Spend time with them on Sunday morning. There is an old saying, why do people rob banks? Because that is where the money is. Likewise with all of those church buildings we like to decry, that is where you are likely to find the highest concentration of Christians. Give that Sunday morning time up for the unity of the church. If you have a truly organic church, you can meet on Saturday afternoon or Thursday night. Give up that Sunday morning for the sake of Christ and His Church and invite others to share your life.

What do you think? Am I compromising too much? Not enough? Is this unrealistic or is it not a problem at all?

The church puzzle

It seems sometimes that the study of the church is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. There are so many pieces, all that fit together to form a picture of the Bride of Christ. A few pieces for elders, a few for fellowship, some for community, others for prayer. You put them in place and seem to have a complete picture.

Then, once it seems like you have all of the pieces in place and have it figured out you realize that what you thought were the borders are actually places where more pieces fit in. The puzzle keeps getting bigger and more complex and the more you think you have figured out, the more you realize just how much you have left to learn.

Here is an example from my life.

I came into the church after a lifetime of atheism and five years of mormonism so my knowledge of the Bible and what it says was pretty limited. Our first experience with an evangelical church was First Baptist Church in Walton, Kentucky. I quickly embraced most aspects of Southern Baptist doctrine and polity. This is how a church should look, like a Baptist church! I had it figured out! Ta-da! Puzzle complete!

Well before long I ran into some Southern Baptist material put out by Founders Ministries. It was my first introduction to Reformed theology and while skeptical at first because it didn't match what I was hearing from the pulpit, I gradually through study began to recognize in Scripture what Reformed theology was talking about and started to embrace it, within the context of a Baptist church congregation of course. I had it figured out!

A few moves and a variety of experiences later, I was firmly entrenched in a traditional church setting with a Reformed and Baptist doctrinal stance. As I continued to study Scripture and look at books and writers outside of the Reformed camp, I started to question the traditional church model and found pretty quickly that asking those questions was not popular. What I saw each Sunday (and the fact that I looked almost exclusively at Sunday in the first place) seemed to not mesh with what Scripture says. That was pretty jarring and the more I studied, the more of what I thought I understood about the church started to unravel. I used to think that expository sermons were a crucial mark of a “real” church. As I studied Scripture, I found that there was no example of what we would call an expository sermon to be found. I used to think the local church was functionally “pastor-centric”, while Scripture is more “servant-centric”. Church in the Bible seemed to be far more than the Sunday morning meeting. As I continued to study, I started reading guys like Alan Knox and Dave Black and lights started coming on. A simple church gathering with a focus on participation and edification was the way to go. I had it figured out!

As I explored options in simpler, more participatory meetings I found more and more people who had come to similar convictions, many out of backgrounds that we awfully similar to where I was coming from. That was an enormous blessing and support to me, and reinforced what I was coming to understand. I also started looking around and realizing that there were many, many Christians who were (not in a rapture kind of way) left behind in the institutional church. These poor folks needed to be rescued from religion! I was just the guy to do it! So not only was I going to move out of the institutional church and into a simpler church gathering, I was going to lead the rest of my wayward brethren out as well! I had it figured out!

Huh. A lot of those people didn’t want to move. They liked where they were and they were still my brothers and sisters in Christ. What should we do about them? Tough luck Chuck, you can come to our proper, Biblical simple meeting if you want on Sunday morning instead of warming a pew! That doesn’t seem in keeping with the spirit of community and unity among believers and counting others as more valuable than myself. So what to do with all of my fellow believers who are not convinced by the arguments against institutionalized Christianity? Is insisting on my way or the highway (even when “my way” is actually right) better than organized religion in the Body of Christ? That is where I find myself today and it turns out, I don’t have it figured out. I am seeing my church puzzle as more complicated than I ever imagined back in the days when the “complete” puzzle was a nice Baptist church with a steeple on top and plenty of parking.

Here is the thing. That doesn’t mean that each successive new piece removed an existing piece. I don’t think we should baptize infants even though I don’t attend a Baptist church. I don’t think that the doctrines of grace are wrong just because I am not part of a confessionally reformed congregation. I don’t think the church should meet in a traditional setting because a simple/house church model is incomplete. The pieces are being added, not replaced. Now some of the pieces that represent the traditions of man turned out to not have fit after all, I had just crammed them into place and now I cheerfully feel free to pluck those out and discard them. I have also noticed others removing pieces that do fit and replacing them with ill-fitting pieces. By and large though, I am seeing the puzzle expand and as it expands it should be doing more to foster community among believers

I think I may be at a point where I am finding some additional pieces that should reconnect me to the rest of the church that I and many others have “left behind”. More about that in the next post.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mohler on reparative therapy

Just an outstanding essay from Al Mohler on the controversy swirling around Michelle Bachmann's husband and rumors of the use of "reparative therapy" to reorient sexual orientation: Reparative Therapy, Homosexuality, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Dr. Mohler hits all of the right points here regarding the Bible's unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality, both acted upon and the desire itself, along with the reality that the only "therapeutic" for sin is a progressively sanctified that comes from a regenerate believer. I think this is must reading because it avoids the frequent extremes on this highly visible and emotionally charged issue: either complete acceptance and embrace on one side or unequivocal and angry condemnation on the other.

Here are his concluding comments:

Christians cannot avoid the debate over reparative therapy, nor can we enter the debate on secular terms. We must bring to this conversation everything we know from God’s Word about our sin and God’s provision for sinners in Christ. We will hold no hope for any sinner’s ability to change his or her own heart, and we will hold little hope for any secular therapy to offer more than marginal improvement in a sinner’s life.

At the same time, we gladly point all sinners to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. [Romans 10:13] We hold full confidence in the power of the Gospel and of the reign of Christ within the life of the believer. We know that something as deeply entrenched as a pattern of sexual attraction is not easily changed, but we know that with Christ all things are possible.

And, even as Christians know that believers among us struggle to bring their sexual desires into obedience to Christ, this is not something true only of those whose desires have been homosexual. It is true of all Christians. We will know that those believers who are struggling to overcome homosexual desires have a special struggle — one that requires the full conviction and support of the body of Christ. We will see the glory of God in the growing obedience of Christ’s redeemed people. And, along with the Apostle Paul and all the redeemed, we will await the glory that is yet to be revealed to us.

The difference between Biblical nonresistance and pacifism

Take a look at this lengthy quote from Guy Hershberger

Believers in Biblical nonresistance find the social gospel and the pacifism of religious liberalism inadequate, not because they do not contain some fine ideals, but because they have a wrong conception of sin, of Christianity, and of the kingdom of God. The New Testament sees a great gulf between God and the sinful world, a gulf which will continue until the final judgment, for not until then will sin be brought to an end. The kingdom of God which the New Testament speaks of is brought into existence only through the supernatural power of God Himself. It is made up of Christians who have experienced the saving grace of God in their personal lives; who have been saved from the sinful world to a life of service to God. Such Christians are concerned for the welfare of humanity, and their influence on society may be considerable. But such changes as this influence may bring about within the sinful society of the world, however worth while they may be, do not constitute the kingdom of God. The kingdom is made up only of those who have been redeemed from, and called out of, the sinful society.

The great mistake of modern religious liberalism has been not to see this very important point. It has confused the kingdom of God with mere moral improvements within sinful society, and in doing so has identified the Kingdom of God with the sinful society itself. It has rejected salvation by faith and substituted a shallow, optimistic social evolution. Instead of receiving the divine will from a God who speaks from His throne above, religious liberalism speaks of experiencing God and practicing the presence of God in a way that makes Him identical with human experience. But a God who is identical with human experience is not God. Having emptied God of His reality, religious liberalism no longer speaks the word of truth in condemnation of sin. The liberal church becomes a mere social agency, engaged in a variety of activities, which too often do not lead to any clear-cut and positive action. When a Christian earnestly believes is that the Sermon on the Mount was spoken by the Son of God with authority from heaven, and that this same Son of God will someday sit in judgment upon this evil world, he will go into action for God. And when an entire Christian brotherhood is possessed by this same faith it has the essentials for a solidarity which makes it possible to have a peace witness that commands respect and produces results. But when Jesus is thought of merely as a religious genius, as a product of human evolution, and when human society is thought to possess within itself the powers for its own healing, then men will adjust themselves in harmony with that world. And when the Christian church once adjusts its program in harmony with the sinful world, it has lost its own soul.
(Guy Hershberger, War, Peace and Nonresistance, pp 84-185)
I think a lot of people recoil at the doctrine of non-resistance because they equate it with left wing political pacifism. Pacifism brings to mind images of hippies doing "sit ins" during Vietnam, people spitting on returning troops coming back from 'Nam, peace marches, Gandhi, etc. When you mention pacifism that is what comes to mind and that doesn’t sit well with middle class, red blooded conservative Christians.

Here is the thing. It doesn’t have to.

I am in substantial agreement with Hershberger on this. Biblical non-resistance is a whole different doctrine than the philosophy of pacifism or what he calls non-violent coercion or resistance (think Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.). Gandhi was not a Christian, MLK Jr. may have been but the way of the cross is not hunger strikes and mass marches. I think Hershberger does a great job delineating the differences between Biblical non-resistance and pacifistic philosophy. Non-resistance recognizes the role of the state in a sinful and fallen world.
The core of Biblical non-resistance is not really a “war or no war” question but rather a recognition of the sinful state of the world and a submission to the will of God, whether that will includes going to a foreign land as a missionary or giving your life as a martyr for Christ. Christians are called to not seek their own “rights”, whether those rights include personal possessions, or the right to seek legal redress in a court or to defend yourself from harm or the seeking of retribution of any kind for being wronged by another. Rather than seeking justice for ourselves, we are called to declare the justice of God to others through the proclaimed Gospel and in acts of love, fulfilling both the Great Commission and Great Commandment. In doing so we will be persecuted and hated and reviled. That comes with the territory and is all part of the way of the cross.

Many of my brothers and sisters have taken the peacemaking ethic and moved beyond what the Bible teaches and into the realm of social engineering. This was apparently the case when Hershberger penned his book, War, Peace and Nonresistance and it is just as true today. It is understandable and in some ways laudable if naïve, given that many well-meaning attempts to eliminate poverty have institutionalized it instead of improving the situation. We need to recognize and reconcile the ideas that we are to care for the poor while simultaneously remembering that we will always have the poor with us, just as we will always have war, hatred and lust. That is simply the reality of living in a world groaning under the weight of sin and that will not be “fixed” until Christ returns in judgment. Our response to the reality of a lost and sinful world is to follow Christ: declaring the Gospel and serving the poor and downtrodden.

The nations will wage war. The powerful will oppress the poor. People will lie, cheat and steal. We as ambassadors of Christ are called to be apart from that, taking no part in squabbles over wealth or wars on behalf of nation states. Our calling is simply to preach Christ and Him crucified. That is not fatalistic, it is simply realistic and Biblical and not much has changed in the 2000 years since the cross.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2: 1-2)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two good posts

First, Bobby Auner compares two conferences he went to this year: Two Conferences, Many Differences.

The first conference was Ligonier Ministries conference. Big name speakers. Huge venue. High production values. The other was the Threshold conference, held in a conference room of a Holiday Inn. From Bobby’s description, there was lots of interaction and relationship building whereas Ligonier was mostly about the speakers.

There was a time when the big, high production value, professional conference was really appealing. When I went to Together for the Gospel in 2008 I was really eager for that sort of doctrinal teaching. I was with a couple of friends and we hung out, had meals together and spent a lot of time browsing in the book store between sessions. When your focus becomes fellowship and relatonship, I think a gathering like Threshold sounds far more appealing.

Meanwhile, Eric Carpenter asks a question: Are Salaried Pastors Necessary?

Are they necessary? No. There is not only no Scriptural support for a professional, salaried clerical class, there is also nothing in the functioning of elders and the church at large that would support the notion of a professionalized clergy. That is where Eric makes a great point. The issue is one of how do elders function in the church more than to pay or not to pay because the function of elders, understood Scripturally, determines the answer to the pay question.

That brings us to the more pertinent question. Necessary is clearly out. Is it helpful? This is a more complicated question. I think most people, other than the most staunch defenders of institutionalism, would agree that the church can get by without a salaried pastor. But is having that salaried individual helpful to the church? I don’t think by and large that they are (no shocker). Not because pastors are not dedicated and not because they don’t work hard. Rather, as I have said before, it is because having a salaried employee of the church who is seen as being responsible for ministry and study tends to make the rest of the Body apathetic about ministering (that is the pastors job) and studying the text and asking the hard questions. The way he framed the question is interesting. Elders/pastors are very important in the Church. The question really is about whether the way that elders function and our expectations for them is on par with Scripture. It is on that level that the salaried/professional pastor really comes up short. Paying him is really ancillary to a misunderstanding of the function of elders in the first place. If elders/pastors are supposed to function like we traditionally understand it, then a salary might make sense but when we view elders as Scripture depicts them, paying them a salary makes no sense at all.

Two good posts worth your time to check out!

Catching up

Our internet wasn't working all weekend, so I am trying to catch up a bit on my reading. The good news is that because of the lack of internet access I was able to read a 1000 page book over the weekend, so that was nice but I feel totally disconnected. Looks like there are several good posts I need to check out and probably link to plus some actual substantive blogging of my own at some point as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What is the church?

An interesting discussion going on over at Patheos on that topic regarding a post by Scot McKnight, Perplexed about the Church? 2. Scot is looking at some of the ways we define the church, including the early confession of "I believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" as well as the more "modern" Protestant Reformation ideals of the Word rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered and church discipline rightly practiced. The conversation has gotten somewhat heated but the points being raised are important ones. You should check it out, I am knee deep in the conversation already (shocker, I know).

Our financial priorities

A few things you need to know…

A Christian who is not quite able to articulate the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is still saved and will spend eternity in Christ.

A Christian on the “wrong” side of the baptism issue (and let’s face it, one way or the other a lot of us are wrong about baptism) is still invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

A Christian without a pew to sit in or a bulleting to refer to or a preacher to listen to is still saved.

On the other hand….

An orphan who starves to death is still dead.

A young woman sold to a sex trafficker is still enslaved.

An unvisited widow is still lonely and alone.

The billions of people in the world who have not heard the Gospel are still lost and under the condemnation of their sins.

The church, the combined Body of all Christians everywhere, has a finite pool of financial resources and, just being honest, a huge percentage of those resources are found right here in the U.S. of A. So this question of financial priorities is especially important here. Even though we are incredibly wealthy, we still have limited resources. So we make declarations with how we invest our ministry money.

Are those funds going to minister to those in need, whether that need is food or shelter or help with addictions or most importantly of all the need for Jesus Christ who is presently absent from their lives?

Or is it going to help those who are already Christians become “better” Christians?

This is not an "this and that", it is an "either or" scenario. I don’t mean to belittle the importance of sound doctrine. I think the church needs more, not less, of it! I also think that if the church was functioning the way it should be, we would have far more mature Christians and those mature Christians would be both making new disciples and mentoring and equipping those disciples. That sort of discipleship is cheap in terms of money but expensive in terms of time. We are Americans and like to pay others to do stuff for us but when eternal souls are at stake, when widows and orphans and enslaved women and children are in need, we need to make some hard choices about where we invest in the Kingdom.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I love theology!

I love studying and even arguing about doctrine.


I also love seeing an orphan who has lost everything smiling. I love seeing an orphan who has a place to sleep, food to eat and a school in which to learn. I love seeing an orphan laugh.

I love orphans more than I love talking about or listening to someone else talking about theology.

So when I get an email soliciting me for money, yet again, to keep a ministry in operating to the tune of over $17,000 every day and over $6,000,000 a year, I have to decline. I think I will send some money to the Haiti Orphan Project instead. I need to see an orphan getting a hot meal and a bed more than I need another podcast or radio program.

The noble calling of motherhood

Motherhood Is a Calling (And Where Your Children Rank)

Loved this post from Desiring God!

Netflix for used books?

I put out a book review yesterday and several people indicated they are interested in reading the book I reviewed. I am going to mail my copy to a friend rather than him buying another new copy. Another friend recommended a different book that I would like to read. So I am thinking…why keep buying new books? I have a ton of books that I have read already that are on my shelf. I might read them again someday but I have plenty to keep me busy for quite some time. I am sure others do as well. So why not exchange books with other folks rather than buying new ones? Sending a book via the postal service at the media mail rate is pretty cheap. Takes a little longer but it is not very expensive. Perhaps the sender would pay the minimal cost of mailing the book out to an interested party and then when that person is done they would pay the mailing cost to send it back or even to send it to another person who was interested. Sort of like Netflix for used books.

For example, the book I am sending is 6.4 ounces, well under 1 pound. According to our friends at the U.S. postal service I can send that book via media mail for $2.41. New that same book is $10.19. Because I am not an elected official, I can recognize that $2.41 is much less than $10.19 even though I haven’t passed a math class since the 80’s. I will spend more than that on lunch and many people spend that much on those  pseudo-coffee drinks at Starbucks.

I usually use my debit card reward points to buy books but that is drying up (thanks Federal government!) and I am loathe to spend money on more books. I would rather spend a few bucks to ship books to other people and get books in return as needed. That helps support my book reading habit without taking away from funds that could be used for ministry.

I am thinking that the people who read here regularly have a combined library that would be pretty impressive. Why not spread the wealth? If there is interest I can put together a list of books I have available and see if anyone wants to read them. There are probably some books that I am less likely to drop in the mail because of the size of the book or if it is a book I reference regularly. I also have a small number of books that are out of print and kind of rare. Other than that they are fair game.

Any interest in this?

Saved by grace

I loved watching this video testimony from the members of the band Adam's Road, a musical group made up of former mormons saved by grace.

It brought back a flood of very familiar memories for me. It can be easy for me to get so caught up in what I am writing and reading and thinking that I forget where I came from, forget that just ten years ago God saved me from my own self-righteousness and my arrogance in thinking that I could earn my own salvation. I think it is crucial for all of us to remember where we were as enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins and how God saved us from ourselves. It helps to humble me when I start getting too big for my theological britches to remember that I was so deceived and so self-assured until God shattered that self-reliance so that I could see the cross and my own sins nailed there with Jesus. When you see God that way, His body broken and pierced for my our transgressions, it should humble us and take us back to the foot of the cross where Jesus made peace between God and those who were His enemies by means of His own blood.

Praise God for every single sinner He has saved in His sovereign will and especially those saved from man-made religion like mormonism!

If you haven't read my testimony, please do so especially if you read here periodically. It will help explain where I came from and as I look back help explain why I have such a visceral reaction to religion, to hierarchy and to man-made authority structures that come between me and God.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Driscoll eating his peas

(I am going to use "eating your peas" as a code for anything unpleasant in honor of our President and his condescending comments the other day. FYI. Until it gets boring.)

So Mark Driscoll posted a response of sorts to the issue raging in  the blogosphere that I blogged about yesterday. Apparently the email campaign worked, not to silence him but to call him to account a bit:

I then put a flippant comment on Facebook, and a raging debate on gender and related issues ensued. As a man under authority, my executive elders sat me down and said I need to do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context. And, they’re right. Praise God I have elders who keep me accountable and that I am under authority.
Mark is going to actually engage the issue more, not less and I am glad for that:
So, we are working on a new website where I can speak to these real issues in a fuller context. Lord willing, sometime in September, after my trip to Turkey with my family and a lot of other people, and then some recovery time, we will launch a new website.

In the past, I’ve not had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues, and so I’ve erred in sometimes doing so in places like Facebook, Twitter, and the media, where you can have a good fight but don’t have the room to make a good case.

The first content on the new website will be about gender, and much of it will be around a book my wife, Grace, and I have completed together called Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, to be published by our friends at Thomas Nelson in January.

Both Grace and I will be blogging at the new site on issues related to gender and marriage, including mistakes we’ve made, sins we’ve committed, and convictions we agree on. And, we’ll have lots of other content on other issues as well. Until then, have a great summer, and a sincere thanks to all my critics who sometimes have good wisdom that helps me out.
What I am hoping comes from this is more serious writing from Driscoll and others on gender issues. We certainly need more people to talk about this given the massive confusion in the church regarding men and women and the sheer volume of references in the Bible. As I mentioned, Mark is a very bright brother and when he isn't being juvenile makes some great points. Lets hope he stays away from silliness and gets down to the serious issues.