Wednesday, August 31, 2011

After you read the prior post, read this

Behind Blue Eyes: Answers for Chloe

A mother knows. A mother knows there is something wrong when she looks in the eyes of her newborn. She knows when her precious baby doesn't hit milestones or reach for her in the the "clingy" stage. A mother knows when her gut and instincts all scream "SOMETHING ISN"T RIGHT" And a mother knows when she would give all that she has to be wrong.
Kind of makes the petty discomforts and disappointments in my life seem quite irrelevant.

Praying right now for Bobby and Jessica. When one of my brothers or sisters hurts, we all should hurt.

Faith in the darkest of times

You need to read this.

Deconstructing Neverland: Our battle: genetics vs faith

Under Christ's Archy

What does that mean?!

Under Christ’s Archy is the title of a new collaborative blog sponsored by Energion Publications that will explore what it means to live under the rulership of Christ. That is a pretty big topic obviously and the people who have been invited to participate are a pretty diverse group. I expect some disagreements of course but what is important is not uniformity. There are plenty of places in the blogosphere where you will only get one viewpoint to reaffirm what you already believe. Instead this is a place for open and honest discussion about what it means to be a Christian both in the world around us and in the community of faith that consists of all Christians. I expect to post on a regular basis over there and I will link not only to my own postings but others as well. The most important thing is to actually live out life under Christ instead of talking about it but with so many conflicting and confusing opinions out there I think there is a great deal of value in having these conversations. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and I encourage you to check out Under Christ’s Archy !

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Old is not inherently Biblical and new is not necessarily worldly

Worldliness is a bad word. It is also a rarely defined word. Typically "worldly" really means "stuff that those people I don't like do" and almost always is directed at the latest fads. Having a coffee bar in your church? Worldly. Electric guitars? Worldly. A pastor who wears an open collared shirt instead of a suit and tie? Worldly. I don’t know of anyone who would embrace being called “worldly”. There just isn’t really a context where this is a positive term.

So at the White Horse Inn a recent post, Does Worship Really Need To Be Exciting? , referenced a book by an atheist who infiltrated the wacky world of evangelicalism (Kevin Roose, The Unlikely Disciple). Out of the mouth of an unbeliever we find that Kevin went to Thomas Road Baptist Church (the church Jerry Falwell founded) and found the “worship” service there was an exercise in overstimulation. Score a point for sober, liturgical (non-Baptist of course) churches!

It is only tragic that it takes someone posing to be an evangelical to point out something that the “experts” themselves either can’t understand or chose to suppress—i.e., that the excitement of contemporary “worship” is more driven by consumerist impulses than genuine gratitude or spirituality.

If you’re drawn toward exciting, contemporary worship settings, know this—we all are! But this is not because it is right; not because it is proper; not because God is truly putting a burden on our hearts to pursue worship of him in this way… it is because all of us prefer to worship ourselves! All of us are idolaters who fashion gods in our own image!

If we like video clips, well then God must want us to watch those while worshiping him. If we like rock music, God must like it too. If we like to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha, then there can only be one reason for this—God must want nothing more than for us to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha! Whatever we like to do, God likes to do it too, right?

After all, we’re too genuine to be self-centered, right? Idolatry is only practiced by people out there, isn’t it? What we want to do just feels so right—how can you argue with that?!?!

I thought the feet up and relaxing while drinking a café mocha thing was hilarious since the early church met in homes, with the meal as a central part of the gathering and likely did so while reclining. The first thing that the early church did was probably not to install pews and pulpits so people would be forced to sit up straight and face the front of the room where the pulpit was.

Of course since the early church met in a form that looked nothing like even the most Reformedest churches and probably looked a lot more like a big family get together, the question can easily be flipped around. Of course God wants nothing more than for us to sit in church in a suit and tie, in a pew, staring forward, sitting and standing when told, listening to one guy up front speak for about 45 minutes and perhaps passing around “a nibble and a sip” in lieu of the Lord’s Supper. Turns out that what we think of as proper “regulative principle of worship” settings might just be as man centered and worldly as the most boisterous contemporary gathering.

I of course had a few comments on this notion:
Perhaps the somber, sober rituals of liturgical worship with its comfortable rhythms is every bit as appealing to the human desire for entertainment as the high production value Thomas Road service. Not all worldly entertainment is necessarily modern. Back a few hundred years ago what we think of as a properly sober “worship service” was high culture.

Rather than asking if a “worship service” is supposed to be modern worldly or older worldly, perhaps we should ask why we don’t see either form in the New Testament church. We might ask why we don’t see a ritualized Supper and instead see shared meals as the centerpiece of the community of the saints, why we see 1 Cor 14:26 as the model of church interaction and mutual edification rather than a one man show monologue sermon. Just because something is more than fifty years old doesn’t mean it is Biblical and just because something seems more modern doesn’t mean it is worldly.
The dirty secret of suit and tie fundamentalism and high church liturgy Reformed "worship" alike is that you can be every bit as worldly with a somber, button-down meeting as you can with a latte bar and a preacher with groovy glasses and skinny jeans. This is the same issue we see with the MacArthur-YRR kerfuffle. Focusing on externals like the clothing style someone is wearing is prime evidence of a largely worldly understanding of worship and the gathering of the church. That doesn’t mean that clothing choices are inherently value neutral. A woman who is dressed immodestly is immodest whether she is wearing a short skirt or she is wearing a sensible dress but is dolled up with make-up and adorned with flashy jewelry. It does mean that when we declare one culturally meaningful clothing style to be OK and another to be inherently worldly, we are missing the boat.

Here is the thing. Some people like the high church liturgical service. Some people like the rock-n-roll contemporary service. Neither of them looks like the early church and neither of them is supportable in other than the most ancillary way from Scripture so both of them are equally worldly and designed to appeal to our personal tastes and preferences. We have been conditioned to think that cultural religious traditions that are a few hundred years old are somehow more representative of a millennia old church than cultural religious traditions that are only ten years old. New is worldly, older is Biblical. A pipe organ is OK, a synthesizer is not (and by the way, synthesizers are never OK no matter the setting).

That is not to suggest that a lot of the stuff going on in “contemporary worship services” is not worldly. I think it is. Is it more worldly than the worship services of many traditional churches? Not really, not when you look at it from a big picture view. The structure of the worship service, traditional or contemporary, is designed to appeal to people. It provides a religious experience of some sort in a controlled and limited fashion. For the most part someone else is doing the prep work, you just have to show up and observe. It is typically predictable, safe, consistent and hassle free. In a word, it is worldly.

We need to quit fussing and feuding over the peripherals in the church and get back to studying the Scriptures earnestly and examining all of our most treasured traditions in light of what we see. Many of these arguments are fighting over something that has never been seriously questioned at a fundamental level in the first place. If we want to stamp out worldliness in the church we need to stop letting the world define the church for us.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Asking the wrong questions will invariably lead to getting the wrong answers

CNN asks the question, What's fueling Bible Belt divorces. Why in areas where people are more “religious”, less educated and married younger are divorce rates higher than the Northeast where people are more likely to have a college degree, more likely to get married much later if at all and far less likely to be religious? CNN thinks it knows the answer....

Youth and lack of education can lead to higher divorce rates, said D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer with the Pew Research Center, who wrote a report on "The States of Marriage and Divorce." There's also an interactive map on the website.

"There tend to be higher divorce rates in states where women marry young," Cohn said. "Education also may play a role. In general, less educated women marry at younger ages than college-educated women, and less educated couples have higher divorce rates."

Values about premarital sex associated with the Bible Belt and rural America may be encouraging people to marry early, at ages when they are likely to have less education and less income to support a long-lasting marriage, according to Naomi Cahn, law professor at The George Washington University Law School and co-author of "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture."

"There's a moral crisis in red states that's produced by higher divorce rates and the disparity between parental values and behavior of young adults," said Cahn. "There is enormous tension between moral values and actual practices."
All well and good. Except that in days gone by, people married at a much younger age, abstained from pre-marital sex at a much higher rate, had lower rates of education than today’s “everyone gets a BA” culture and yet divorce rates were much lower. Even compared to current Bible belt culture this was true. So what has changed?

Perhaps the problem is not getting married young and not going to college but rather a culture that devalues marriage? By almost any measure marriage is far less important as a cultural institution today than it was in prior generations. Today marriage is seen as an impediment to happiness rather than a means, something that traps you rather than fulfills you, an archaic institution that you enter into after you have lived your life and done your thing rather than the best institution for growing up. People see marriage as something to do once you are “mature”, which is ironic. I don’t think it is debatable that getting married in your early twenties is more likely to lead to maturity than going to college for five or more years. The confused masses of twenty-somethings living in their parents basements while wandering through life is not exactly a solid argument for waiting for marriage. Maybe if these kids would get married and have families they would get a clue and shape up?

Compounding this is the general muddled understanding of what marriage is, who should/should not get married and the separation of sex and children from the bounds of marriage. When no one in this country, including people in the halls of secular power and far too many “ministers” in mainline denominations, seems to understand what marriage is and what it is not and cannot be, is it any wonder that marriage is in such poor shape?

Furthermore, CNN makes the classic error of assuming that living in the Bible Belt, going to church and affirming some vague religious identifiers is the same thing as being a Christian. If you look at the divorce rate among people who are markedly more serious about their faith, the divorce rate changes dramatically for the better. Those inconvenient facts never seem to make into reports like this. There is more going on here than a dispassionate report.

Here is the no so subtle message of the article:
"The very fact that people feel less pressure to get married (in the Northeast) means they can be more selective about who they marry and take their time, " Coontz said. "They don't have to rush into it to please parents or avoid stigma of premarital sex."
So the message here is that you can do whatever you want and sleep around as much as you like until you find the “right” person to marry because that will lead to a healthier marriage. Again, that was not the case until fairly recently so what has changed? In spite of advances in contraception and our generally “enlightened” attitudes toward extra-marital sex , unintended pregnancies are still common, abortion is decimating entire populations and sexually transmitted diseases that common contraceptives don’t protect against are rampant. This is the new and brighter future we have been promised if we cast off the shackles of religion and repression?

If I were a conspiratorial fellow, I might wonder if there is not an agenda to these reports. Perhaps putting off marriage and delaying children is not as healthy as we are led to believe? Or perhaps just as likely this is a subtle shot at people in regions of the country that are more overtly religious. Sure people in the Northeast have lower divorce rates, they are getting married at a much lower rate in the first place and you can’t get divorced if you never got married! When you look at the cultural landscape of America littered with shattered families, promiscuity, institutionalized children, desperate couples who waited until they were too old to have children seeking ever more radical and moral bankrupt ways of turning back the natural biological clock, I hardly think that a rational answer is to further devalue marriage.

As the church, we musty be discerning when faced with reports like this. Our response is not to discourage marriage or follow the lead of the world in adjusting our priorities. Our response must be to embrace and encourage marriage in the church, especially among our young people and without apology. I hope my kids find suitable Christian spouses early in life and grow together as a couple through education, work and children and I make no apology for that. Nothing is more important for my children who have professed Christ than a God honoring marriage that is fruitful as God provides. Not a “good” job, not academic achievement. Nothing is more precious and nothing should garner more prayer for our believing children than their future marriage, spouse and children.

The Fo-Mo Chronicles: Glenn Beck, John Hagee and Zionism

Check out this interview with Kim Riddlebarger addressing Glenn Beck's recent tour of Israel...

The Fo-Mo Chronicles: Glenn Beck, John Hagee and Zionism

Sunday, August 28, 2011

More on the Supper

Eric Carpenter has an interesting take on the Lord's Supper and inviting unbelievers: Should the Lost Partake of the Lord's Supper?

What is of key importance is this statement:
One response to this might be to say that we should simply ask them not to eat the bread or drink the cup but still eat the remainder of the meal. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is a faulty separation of the bread and cup from the meal itself. The bread and juice/wine have no mystical power. They represent Christ, of course, but they are part of the broader meal, not in a separate category.
That is very contrary to the way we normally treat the bread and cup. We may eschew transubstantiation and all the trappings that go along with it, but in practice we still exhibit an unhealthy reverence for the elements of the meal over and above the meal itself (if you can call a cracker and a sip of grape juice a meal). Where Christ is found is in the communion of His redeemed sheep, not in the meal that they share.

This meal, this ages old act that transcends cultures, is more than a mere line item on a checklist of religious observation. It is not a passive act but one of the most active and intentional. The meal and the community of the saints partaking of it is itself an active proclamation:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1Co 11:26)
When we break bread and pass the cup, we are not just passively engaging in ritual. We are actively announcing Jesus Christ to the world. Who are we proclaiming this to? Believers who already know that Christ is risen indeed? Or to the lost? Interesting question. every meal shared by the church the Lord's Supper? Or is there something special, something intentional that would preclude unbelievers from sharing it? I am not sure. I need to keep thinking through this. I know this for certain, sitting in a pew in silence while nibbling an oyster cracker or drinking out of a small plastic cup after the words have been intoned from a clergyman bears absolutely no resemblance to the meals shared by the church we see in Scripture. We need to return the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup to a proper place of prominence in the life of the church, more so than singing songs or listening to sermons. It should be the centerpiece of the church gathering, not an add on or a ritual.

Important stuff for us to ponder.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Replay: Men and Boys

This was the post I wrote exactly one year ago, Men and Boys. I think it is just as valid today. If society as a whole and the church in particular doesn't expect and demand boys grow into men they never will. We are rapidly approaching a society where women dominate the workplace, raise children and lead the church while men sit on the couch. By any standard that is a dangerous and unsustainable path.

There is an article in the New York Times that is garnering a lot of attention on a familiar topic, the delay of adulthood or the extension of adolescence, however you want to look at it. The essay, What Is It About 20-Somethings? , is a fascinating and disturbing look at the state of 20-something adults.

The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

I read a take on this topic yesterday from Mark Driscoll. This should have been an excellent post from Mark but it didn’t turn out that way. Unfortunately Mark reverts back to form, going for cheap laughs in lines like this:

The tough retrosexual guys consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, cars, sports, and fantasy leagues, as if being a man is defined by how much meat you can shove through your colon, how many beers you can pound, how fast you can drive, how stinky you can fart, how hard you can hit, how far you can spit, how loud you can belch, and how big your truck is.

Har har har! Guffaws all around!

This is a serious topic but it turns into a chortle fest, although frankly it is a pretty lame attempt at humor. I find it deeply ironic that in a diatribe against men acting like boys, you have a man trying to show how “real” he is by sprinkling locker room humor throughout his essay. Contrast what Mark wrote with this serious and thoughtful post from Albert Mohler on the same topic. Mark Driscoll apparently wants to have it both ways. On the one hand he wants people to take him seriously as a thinker and leader in the church, someone who has valuable insights and opinions (and who is someone that people will buy books from). On the other, he just can’t seem to resist delving back into potty humor to show that he is not some stuffed suit, that he is raw and real as if that makes his opinions more authentic, almost as if he were saying "Hey look at me, I am just as cool as you are but I talk about God too!"

The problem here goes beyond internet pornography or video games. Those are merely symptoms of the problem and are examples of the market responding to reality. The deeper issue is that society no longer demands that men take responsibility as men and it does so by negating the single greatest maturing influence upon men: women. Getting married and having children pushes men into maturity. Having a wife and children to care for has an amazing effect on men but that is no longer a priority in society. Our cultural norms now tell women to put off getting “tied down” by marriage and kids and instead to give men what they want without expecting anything of them. What was interesting from the Times article was the impact of sexuality on maturity. We are living out the old and seemingly quant saying “Why buy the cow when you are getting the milk for free?”. It is little wonder young men don’t grow up, they are able to have all of the benefits of being an adult man without any of the responsibility. Instead of career, marriage and family maturing men, society waits around for men to become mature on their own and then get married and get a real job. Little wonder that without anything pushing them, men are acting like boys later and later into life.

I am a big believer that boys need to be prepped for being a man sooner rather than later but we find that a lot of what we value in society acts in opposition to this need. A big culprit is college (yes I am banging that drum again). Colleges have turned into hiding places where kids who have, against their will, become legal adults can extend out their childhood by 4, 5 or even more years of going to school. The line between “higher education” and “finding a place to hide until I can move back home” is getting pretty blurry. The other obstacle is enablement, parents and women enabling men to keep living out the behavior that prevents maturation. It wasn’t that long ago that men who lived at home or were unable to hold down a job were not terribly attractive to women and their parents were completely disinterested in having adult kids back in the nest.

This has a significant impact on the church. We already deal with a dearth of young men in the church. Scratch that, we have a serious lack of men at all and of those who do show up not many are terribly engaged. I would hazard a guess that the leading predictor of how engaged a man is with the church is his marital and family status and I am confident that studies would bear that out. The lack of men, especially mature men, in the church puts additional pressure on women to “fill the gaps” where men are absent and that leads to unbiblical usurpation of roles that they are not called to. In addition, more and more of the burden of ministry falls onto the shoulders of the few men that do step up in the church.

We are rapidly becoming a society of women, women without husbands and without children and that is unhealthy. More women are in the workforce than ever before as more men drop out. More women are putting off having kids until later in life or never at all. More kids are being raised by strangers in daycare and public schools and at home by women without husbands. More men are losing jobs and unable to find new ones, leading to a swelling population of men without jobs, wives or children and that is a dangerous situation.

Men and women were made to be together in the bounds of marriage and raising children together. Family both requires and fosters maturity in men and without the tempering influence of wives and children many men will stay in perpetual adolescence for decades. It is high time we demand that men and women alike grow up and start acting like adults instead of kids who can buy alcohol and drive cars.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The death of faith

If faith is not dead in America, it is almost there.

I am not talking about faith in God, however that is defined. That seems alive if not well in America. I am talking about the general lack of faith in the cultural institutions that have defined America. I think that as faith in the cornerstone institutions that we have trusted for most of our history fades, Americans become more and more unsettled and adrift. People I know seem far more disgruntled, disenchanted and all around discombobulated than I can ever remember.

Report after report shows that American faith in their institutions is lower than ever before and slipping by the day. I can’t think of an area where that is not true.

Americans have always had a healthy distrust of government but it has reached a fever pitch of late. I guess a government that has racked up a $14,000,000,000,000 debt on one hand and is clearly not going to keep obligations it has promised on the other will do that. Add to that ethical scandal after ethical scandal from Larry “Tap Tap” Craig to John Edwards and culminating with Anthony Wiener and you have a toxic mix that has all levels of government getting low marks from Americans.

Sports are another formerly trusted institution. Americans love sports. Sports stars have always been heroes looked up to by young boys and old men alike. The names of the great athletes of our history are part of our vocabulary. The Babe. Gretzky. Jordan. Elway. We know the stats of our favorite players and the fight songs of our favorite college. A major part of our identity, at least for men, is based on our sports allegiances. Those days are rapidly gone, lost in a time when opposing fans are beaten and assaulted at games. College athletics is increasingly viewed with cynicism. Little wonder. Cheating is rampant and when the marquee programs are caught, whether fairly minor stuff like Ohio State or a booster giving cash to players and paying for prostitutes at Miami, the response is most often “well everyone does it”. The NFL lockout with millionaires fighting billionaires over the revenue we give them, rampant performance enhancing drug use in baseball and other sports, an NBA lockout, misbehavior including criminal misconduct by players, all adds up to a populace that has a love-hate relationship with its sports.

Banks? Please. Banks used to be sober places with people in suits and marble floors. People came to banks hat in hand to ask for loans or to open accounts. Bankers were, if not universally loved, at least universally respected. Banks were downtown, fancy buildings that had a place of prominence in the community. Today? Retail banks are more like Wal-Mart with checking accounts and with the added unpleasant bonus of high pressure sales tactics. The big banks? They are best known for bailouts, TARP money and their CEO’s sitting in front of Congress, one group of rich white guys making a big show of badgering another group of rich white guys and neither one of them really caring because at the end of the day one group goes to a fundraiser probably funded in large part by the second group and they all laugh at the saps at home who watch this happen on TV and think something is getting done.

The “church” (defined as local church organizations that hold regular religious services on Sunday) has been dying out for years. Report after report shows that while Americans remain highly if vaguely religious, church affiliation is on the decline by almost any measure. “The church” has a long tradition in America as an overtly religious land, not a “Christian nation” because by definition there is no such thing but as a nation that proudly embraces religious freedom and has had a long and overly comfy relationship between the state and the church. The church has long served as the medium for marriages, for burial, up until recently for caring for the poor and orphans, for education, for health care. Today that relationship is unraveling in spite of attempts by some people to stop any dismantling of the religious church-state union. Scandals have rocked the church like every other American institution, from the Jim Bakker fiasco to modern charlatans in the “health, wealth and prosperity” movement, Ted Haggard, bankruptcy at the Crystal Cathedral, politicization of the faith by men like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, pop culture silliness like “Left Behind”, on and on and on. Little wonder people have given what the culture declares to be the church the stink eye.

On and on. People have lost faith in unions, in businesses, in schools, in virtually every corner of America and Western culture the bedrock has shifted and people are unsettled.

This is a unique time in America. The cultural institutions that we have known and trusted for centuries are showing their flaws and warts. I think it is also a golden opportunity for the Gospel proclamation. As people become unmoored from their cultural institutions and find themselves with nothing to turn to in hard times, our national pride and self-sufficiency shattered by the stroke of S&P’s downgrade pen, we might find people are interested in the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not the “Jesus as an American action hero” nor the “Jesus as a VW bus driving hippie” but the Jesus of the Bible who is not terribly interested in being wrapped in an American flag or heading up a prosperity Ponzi scheme. The mission field in America is wide open and has been for a long time. There are plenty of unreached people groups in America and many of those groups are among the most religious Americans. Will the church rise to the occasion and embrace the opportunity? Or will we wallow in self-pity while bemoaning the past?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ready for some football?

I certainly am! For those of you who might be interested, I have a fantasy football league running (in addition to my long running league of former co-workers). I would love to have some of the people I interact with on my blog join in and take a pummeling at my hands. I have mad fantasy football skillz. It is a known fact.

You should be able to sign up by clicking here: Green Acres

Let me know in the comments if you sign up!

The heart of the church in America

Dan Edelen has a thought provoking post on church budgets and spending priorities. Here is a snippet from his post Your Church’s Budget–And Why It May Grieve the Lord
As much as we talk about being others-centric in the American Church, our church budgets don’t reflect this. We really are too self-centered. For many churches, the Great Commission is thwarted by building and physical plant maintenance costs. When a church allocates little money for outsiders, it grows into itself and withers.

If you are a church leader, consider a different way of budgeting that better reflects the Kingdom of God. If it means not erecting a $10 million building so you can use those funds to finance the education of single moms in your community instead, then cancel the groundbreaking ceremony. If it means a Sunday School teacher who has been out of work gets to keep his house because you set aside monies for this kind of help, then go for it.

We live in disconcerting times. If we don’t adjust the way the Church spends money, we won’t be the first choice when lost people come looking for answers. The Church will look like any other worldly, tightfisted corporate entity, and no one is running to Megabiz Inc. for salvation.
If Paul was making the budget for your church would it look like your current budget? If he was writing the checks, would the “payable to” line look like the cancelled checks in the church bank account today?

I don’t think any honest assessment of the church can avoid the truth that our fixed maintenance expenses are hampering our ability to care for those in need in the church, much less those outside of it and that we are far more concerned, by and large, with catering to existing Christians than we are in making new disciples. Buildings cost money. Staff costs money. Sunday school materials and other programs cost money. So does clean water and food and shelter for an orphan. So does sending a missionary to a unreached people group. So does helping a family in your church pay their bills when dad loses his job. There isn’t enough money in most churches to pay for all of this and so something has to give. All too often what gives is not what we should be sacrificing.

Jesus said: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21). Do the spending priorities and budgets of the church in America say that our heart is for the least among us, for our brothers and sisters in need, for the lost person down the road or around the world? Or does it say that we are mostly interested in empire building, in our own comfort, in religion? I don’t think we really want to ask that question because we don’t want to hear the answer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Who is the host?

When we gather for the Lord's Supper, who is hosting the meal? Is it our meal to host or His? I loved this comment on a prior post regarding "fencing the table" from Alan Knox...
It's either the Lord's Table in which case he serves as host and invites all he accepts, or it's our table in which case we get to serve as host and invite whoever we choose.
That is really it in a nutshell. It is His Table. It is His Church. We are His Bride. When we lose focus on who it all belongs to, we get into all sorts of trouble like denying the fellowship of the Supper to other believers that He has elected, called, justified and adopted.

New book from Energion

There is a new book release coming out from Energion Publications written by Van Parunak. I have met Van a few times and know his son and daughter-in-law so I am eager to read his book on the very touchy and emotional topic of divorce, Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage. I hope to read and review it shortly, I think this is a crucial topic that the church really struggles with and has a hard time addressing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The error and grievous sin of fencing the table

There was a day when I would have had no problem denying what I understood as the Lord’s Supper (i.e. a bit of bread and a sip of grape juice) to someone who was “baptized” as an infant. They were not properly baptized, they were in rebellion against Scripture and until they repeneted and were properly baptized they had no place at the Lord's Supper. I had a great deal of sympathy for those who “fenced the table” and loved, like all of my other Reformed brothers, the story of John Calvin bodily throwing himself over the elements on the Table to keep the Libertines away. My stance here has changed profoundly.

I admire Russell Moore in many ways. I appreciate his stance for a Biblical understanding of gender and look forward to his leadership as the new President of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Few Christian leaders have done more for the cause of parentless children through adoption than Dr. Moore. Even on issues where I disagree with him I find him to be thoughtful and not impressed with himself. That is why I found his essay on closed communion, Table Manners, so distressing. No one is a stronger advocate of a true credobaptist position than I am but I also see that the Christian who was “baptized” as an infant is still my brother and I have no right to deny him the fellowship of the broken bread and the fruit of the vine.

Dr. Moore’s first reason for a closed communion position is both unpersuasive and insulting.

First of all, open communion usually rests on the all-too-typical Evangelical presumption that the Lord’s Supper really isn’t that important. Communion is, as Flannery O’Connor’s infamous socialite conversation-partner once put it, “a wonderful symbol” but that’s about it. The issue isn’t the event itself, but the insult of the exclusion, in the same way that 1950s and 1960s civil disobedience wasn’t about how great the food was at the Woolworth’s lunch-counter.

Too often in our contemporary Evangelical church culture, the act of barring a member from the table seems quaint or even meaningless. After all, who really cares if he is deprived of a wafer and a splash of grape juice?
That is dead wrong. Not that the Lord’s Supper is meaningless in the greater part of the Evangelical church because it is. Likewise it is somewhat true, who cares if they are barred from a wafer and grape juice? That isn't what the Supper looked like in the first century and it is not what it should look like now. That isn’t the point. It is dead wrong because for many of us who see the Lord’s Supper as incredibly precious it is far too important for us to bring division to the Table. I would say that infrequent, ritualistic observances of the Supper in place of a meal are more indicative of a low view of the Supper than an open communion stance. Then Dr. Moore makes another erroneous statement.

This is why many low-church Protestants have shared historically with their high-church brothers and sisters the conviction that the Supper must be tied to discipline (1 Cor. 5:11). The table is not just an individual reminder of the gospel; it is the very locus of church fellowship, the place where we experience Christ present in proclamation and in one another. It is here that we experience a foretaste of the wedding supper to come, and where we announce those we hold accountable to struggle with us until then. The church is “recognizing the body” of Christ (1 Cor. 11:29) by defining the boundaries of communion at the table in terms of those who are in union with Christ and who are able, should they deny him, to be disciplined.
Here Dr. Moore is comparing not being an official member of a particular local church or having been baptized as an infant with having illicit sexual relations with your step-mother (1 Cor 5: 11 and corresponding context). The assumption here is that unless the authorities in the church are able to monitor you (something that seems pretty hard in a church the size of the one Dr. Moore serves in), you are presumed to be guilty of sin and barred from eating with the church until proven otherwise. I think he completely misrepresents what Paul is saying in 1 Cor 11:29. The entire context Paul is speaking of there is self-examination, not a clergyman determining which Christians are or are not worthy of eating at the Table. Then the capstone: denying the Table is not divisive, it just means we “take the church seriously” (and by implication those who don’t practice closed communion do not take the church seriously).

This doesn’t mean we don’t receive each other in Christ. It doesn’t mean we make ultimate our differences. It means we take the church seriously. And it means we long for the day when we know, face-to-face, what Jesus means when he says the word “baptize.” We hope patiently for the glad eternal morning when we’re seated at one table with one Lord and one communion, and where there isn’t a fence in sight.
Actually that is exactly what closed communion means. We don’t receive one another in Christ if we refuse to share the Table with one another. You are welcome to sit in a pew and listen to me talk and you are welcome to drop money in the offering plate but when it comes to nibbling some bread, you are prohibited?

The early church devoted themselves to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). Not just the mere ritual we have turned the Supper into but a full fledged meal among the Body of Christ. When Paul gathered with the church in Acts 20: 7-12, they weren’t gathered to listen to a sermon, they gathered to break bread. The sharing of the Lord’s Supper among the church is one of the most precious expressions of our shared salvation. To turn it into something else, to deny the fellowship with other believers because of a disagreement over baptism that has divided the church for hundreds of years, is a perversion of the intent and purpose of the Supper. How incredibly disappointing to read this from Dr. Moore.

I have friends and brothers in Christ who I disagree with over issues like: church membership, baptism, paid clergy, soteriology, ecclesiology, gender roles and on and on. Not one of those brothers in Christ will ever be denied the fellowship of the Table by me. I have no right, none whatsoever, to declare a fellow Christian ineligible to share the Supper with me. God Himself has decreed who belongs to His Son. Who am I to relegate some of those redeemed sheep to second class citizenship over secondary issues?

Why are people cynical about the church in America

Maybe in part because our tax code allows “pastors” to claim special tax privelages on their second homes…
Tax Break for Clergy Questioned

Congress scrutinizes every nook and cranny of the budget for possible revenue, a surprising court decision is allowing clergy members to buy or live in multiple homes tax-free.

The U.S. Tax Court ruled that Phil Driscoll, an ordained minister and Grammy Award-winning trumpeter who went to prison for tax evasion, didn't owe federal income taxes on $408,638 provided to him by his ministry to buy a second home on a lake near Cleveland, Tenn.

Under a provision of the tax code known as the parsonage allowance, first passed in 1921, an ordained clergy member may live tax-free in a home owned by his or her religious organization or receive a tax-free annual payment to buy or rent a home if the congregation approves.

The Tax Court ruling, made final in March, extends the parsonage allowance to an unlimited number of homes, which may be owned either by the religious organization or the clergy member.
The article goes on and gets more seedy…

There is no restriction on the value of the home that can be claimed under the exemption. The chief limit is that the annual payment to buy or rent the home may not exceed its rental value, Ms. Aprill says.

In January, the Senate committee released the results of an investigation into several high-profile ministries that raise money through radio, television and the Internet. It cited evidence of large parsonage allowances at several groups, although the groups declined to answer questions submitted by the committee, citing constitutional protections.

According to the report, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, who lead Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas, live in an 18,280 square-foot lakefront parsonage on 25 acres. The report said county officials valued the church-owned property at $6.2 million in 2008.

David Middlebrook, a lawyer for Mr. Copeland, says the house is "a wholly owned and appreciating asset of Kenneth Copeland Ministries.…The ownership and operation of the parsonage is completely in accordance with IRS rules and regulations."

Mr. Driscoll, who won the Tax Court ruling, leads Mighty Horn Ministries of Greensboro, Ga., which had income of more than $6 million from 2005 to 2009, according to tax filings.

I am not sure how you call an 18,000 square foot home worth millions of dollars a “parsonage”.

I have long been of the opinion that, while I am in favor of people paying as little as possible in taxes, the clergy tax break is a bad idea. It puts the state in the position of being at least partially in the role of influencing decisions in the church. Clerical pay, which I am against in the first place, is a complex beast. The less the state has to do with the church, the better. Get rid of special tax treatment for parsonages and clergy pay. Get rid of the tax deductibility of contributions to churches. Let Christians give sacrificially without getting a benefit from the state.

What do you think? Should the church in America accept special tax treatments, even if that means that contributions are potentially made with ulterior motives? Or should the church reject any favorable tax treatment from the state?

Only one object of allegiance

Eric over at A Pilgrim's Promise has decided that when it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance he is taking a stand: never again. His post No More Pledging Allegiance echoes many of the things I have come to believe, namely that as a Christian who follows a Savior that demands complete allegiance to Him and Him alone I cannot in good conscience recite a pledge of loyalty to a republic and a piece of cloth.

More and more brothers and sisters are examining anew the cultural trappings of American Christianity and finding it incompatible with the life of a disciple. I for one am glad to see this.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Baptists and War

The Andrew Fuller Center at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is hosting a conference on "Baptists and War". It looks like an interesting conference and I am trying for free tickets by linking to Credo Magazines post on the conference (see here for link). I would actually really like to go and Louisville isn't that far away so it is a doable drive. Check out the conference, I am hoping even if I don't win the free tickets that audio will be available after the fact. Maybe if I win I can crash at Al Mohler's house?

Why do we still educate our kids like we did in the 50’s?

I verified the date on my computer this morning, it is indeed the year 2011. As I drove to work this week, the roadways were festooned with children standing at the end of their driveway waiting for the school bus to pick them up and whisk them away to school for the day. This is as much a part of the warp and woof of American life as the crop cycle and the sports seasons from the opening day of baseball to the Super Bowl. There is very little fundamentally different from the way kids are educated today compared to when I was school age or even my parents. Therein lies the problem. The America of 2011 is a vastly different place than the America of 1961, technologically and culturally.

The basic process of educating kids is hardly different from half a century ago in America. At the same age, kids start school getting onto buses that take them to the same or very similar school buildings that are structured the same way they were decades ago. The buildings look the same: an office, water fountains, a gym, hallways full of lockers interspersed by classrooms full of desks facing the front. The classes are organized the same way. All children of the same basic age from the same basic geographic area are put into the same class and taught the same subjects the same way. Kids that are not up to “grade level” are held back. Kids that are way ahead of grade level are either bored to tears or pushed ahead a grade. Most kids just trudge along in lowest common denominator classes so rather than being challenged they are being spoon fed. The result? Failure.

As the world changes, our educational system tinkers around the edges and yet we wonder why we are rapidly “falling behind”. The rest of the world is catching up and passing America by and our response is “more of the same!”, i.e. more money.

There are almost 2000 public schools in Indiana, all of them doing the same basic thing the same basic way. Sure the methods are modified but the essential model is the same. Classrooms full of children grouped together based on their age and where their home is. Those 2000 schools are full of teachers all recreating the wheel in school after school. Thousands of teachers teaching American history. Thousands of teachers teaching math, English, science, etc. Some very good teachers and some really bad teachers and for students it is all luck of the draw or based on the size of their parents mortgage so that they can attend “the best” schools. Meanwhile other kids in lower income school districts have to make due. The solution proposed by the educational bureaucracy and teachers unions is always more money. More staff, more spending, more classrooms, more union employees putting money into the coffers of the education unions and paying tuition into university education programs. Left out of the equation are parents and students, the very people funding this giant Ponzi scheme and the very people being shortchanged by it. To compound matters, many young people want to help kids get an education but the one and only road to doing that boils down to getting an education degree with some sort of specialization, doing your student teaching and then being stuffed into the same system that has turned countless bright eyed and eager young teachers into disgruntled and discouraged school employees. Not every teacher of course but the grind of trying to teach kids in the 21st century by mid-20th century methods is enough to wear even the best of us down.

I am not suggesting I have the right answers. After all I have no skin in this game because we have intentionally elected to live in a state with some of the most favorable homeschooling laws in the country. That doesn’t mean that this conversation doesn’t need to happen. In a nation drowning in computers, tablets, iPads, smart phones, Kindles, etc. how is it that we still stick millions of kids on busses to repeat the same process that has been used and increasingly has been shown to be failing for decades? How can an education system designed for an agrarian society where typewriters were the high tech invention of the day produce results in a day and age when technology is exploding? Simply adding computers to the classroom setting is like putting a GPS on a horse and buggy. It is high time that we completely revamp the entire education system. Video conferencing? Charter schools? I don't know all of the answers but I know that we were are doing is hugely expensive and not working.

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What do you call it when you do the same thing over and over for half a century and expect different results?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Michelle Bachmann and submission

I think I have shown remarkable restraint in not posting about Michelle Bachmann's answer to the "as President would you submit to your husband?" question from the recent GOP debate. It is kind of in my wheelhouse with the whole confluence of gender, the church and politics all in one. But my good friend and brother Josh Gelatt took up the gauntlet in light of what Michelle Bachmann said and more specifically what Stephen Prothero said. Prothero, writing for CNN, claimed that Bachmann responded to the question by addressing respect, not submission and thereby ducked the question. In his post, Michelle Bachmann's Wonderfully Biblical Answer, Josh takes issue with Prothero's statement.
But it is Prothero who misunderstands. The companion passage to Col 3:18 is Ephesians 5:22, which is more well known and most likely serves as the basis for Bachmann's earlier comments about submitting to her husband. In Ephesians 5:21 Paul commands all believers to "submit to one another", and then he gives several ways that submission should take place. Verses 22-33 are specifically about the mutual submission within the marriage relationship. Verses 22-24 deal with the wife's submission to her husband, and verse 25-32 deal with the husband's submission to his wife. He then offers a summary of his entire argument in verse 33.
There is more to his argument obviously but for the sake of space, I only reprinted a paragraph. You should read the rest. This is my lengthy comment to Josh:
I am also not a huge fan of Bachmann and I liked her answer even less.

A couple of thoughts regarding "mutual submission" Certainly Christians are to submit to one another (Eph 5:21). However as you say Paul's thoughts don't end there. Paul launches next into a series of examples of submitting to/obeying others using the example of husbands/wives, parents/children and masters/slaves.

Paul uses the imagery of the church and Christ in Ephesians 5, verses 23-30. As Christ is the head of the church, so the husband is the head of the wife. The church submits to Christ and Christ loves the church so much that He gave Himself for her. Likewise the wife is to submit to her husband and the husband is to love his wife. Would you describe the relationship between the church and Christ as mutual submission?

In speaking of submission and giving examples, Paul gives several examples as you point out, examples which continue into chapter six. Paul says that slaves should obey their masters. Is mutual submission expected there? Paul also says that children should obey their parents. Is mutual submission being demonstrated in those relationships? My believing children are not on equal footing with me, especially not now given their age. I love them but I do not submit to them. Likewise Paul tells masters who own slaves to stop threatening their slaves. Not that they should free them (although certainly one would hope that would be the case but the example of Onesimus and Philemon is instructive where Onesimus is now more than a slave but a slave still nonetheless, Philemon 1:16 ). The relationship between slave and master is still intact even though they ultimately have the same master in God. I just don't see mutual submission set forth as the standard in any of the three examples Paul addresses.

Wives should submit to their husbands "in everything" just as the church submits to Christ in everything. Husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church. Children should obey, i.e. submit, to their parents and parents, esp. fathers, should love their children and not provoke them to anger. Slaves should obey their masters and master should treat their slaves as is fitting in love, knowing that both slave and master (and parents and children, husbands and wives) have one who is Master over all. It is instructive that nowhere do we see anyone called to compel anyone else to submit/obey. A wife's submission to her husband is an act of obedience to Christ just as a husband's love for his wife is an act of obedience. We cannot and should not try to make anyone submit to us but we should seek to obey God out of love and obedience to Him.
I don't think we should spend a bunch of time trying to make people submit to us. I find it unseemly when those who are supporters of clericalism suggest that Christians who are not "under the authority of godly men" are in disobedience and perhaps not even regenerate. Likewise I don't feel the need to "make" my wife submit to me. Having said that I wish Michelle Bachmann would have answered differently. Much as I dislike Prothero I think he is right, she avoided the question and as he also pointed out when you make your evangelicalism a part of your personae as a candidate, you need to be ready to "give an answer" just as Mitt Romney is going to get questions about his mormon underwear. What do we expect from a press that is antagonistic to any expression of faith? She should have answered yes or no or refused to answer the question. Her response was a dodge. She knows what the questioner was getting at and I found her answer to be inadequate and inaccurate.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Are elders held to a higher standard than other Christians?

What a silly question! Of course they are!

Hang on.

It is common to hear that pastors/elders are held to a higher standard because they are to lead and be examples to “their flock”. I read something this morning that made that very point regarding a certain famous pastor who claims to get visions while in the pulpit and how such behavior is unbecoming a man who is a pastor. Our cultural understanding tells us that elders have a higher standard of behavior than others Christians. I don’t think most Christians would object to that notion if the question were put to them. Is that really true? I am not asking if elders are called to lives of holiness. Obviously they are. The question is whether “regular” Christians are held to a different, presumably lower, standard. I don’t think so.

“Au contraire!” you may say, Scripture is replete with calls for Christians to emulate and imitate the lifestyles of leaders in the church, including elders (see: Hebrews 13:7, 2 Thess 3:7, 9; 1 Tim 4:12, 1 Peter 5:3). Very true.

The key is found in Paul’s letters to Timothy ( 1 Tim 3: 1-7 ) and Titus (Titus 1: 5-9). Paul is saying that for someone to be an elder, they need to exhibit certain qualities. So Paul is not telling Timothy to recognize and appoint as elders men who have the potential, with the proper training and ordination, to become men of character that we should emulate but rather to appoint as elders those men among the local body who already were exhibiting those traits.

Is lying acceptable for an elder? What about murder or adultery or stealing or blasphemy? Well of course the answer is no. Is lying, murdering, adultery, stealing or blasphemy acceptable for any Christian? I should think the answer is also a firm no. What about false teaching? Of course elders should not hold to or expound false teaching. Should a “regular” Christian not be held to that same standard?

We need to be very careful about the religious stuff we declare. When we see a two-tiered set of standards for elders/pastors and everybody else we have crossed a dangerous line. I really dislike it when we apply Scripture differently to some Christians versus others or when someone says things like “thinking about this issue pastorally”. There is no such thing as a follower of Christ that is not called to a life of obedience and service and no Christian is left unequipped or unqualified as all Christians have a new heart and are a new creation. It is not so much an issue of expecting too much of elders but rather expecting too little from the rest of us. We need to stop expecting less of “regular” Christians and start expecting, equipping and encouraging every Christian, regardless of title, to live lives worthy of the Gospel by which we were saved (Phil 1:27), a Gospel that is the same for the man in the pulpit or the guy in the last pew.

So what exactly were those apostles' teaching anyway?

Guy Muse looks at an oft referenced and oft misunderstood verse from Acts 2 in his postThe M Blog: The apostles' teaching. What exactly did Luke mean when he wrote that the early church devoted itself to the apostles' teaching? A lot of people think that meant listening to a sermon on Sunday but I don't think that is what Luke meant. Luckily Guy has a good answer for us:

The apostles taught what Jesus taught. Nothing more, nothing less. Do we know what Jesus taught? Are we obeying those teachings? Knowing what Christ taught is one thing; obeying and living that teaching is quite another. Any new follower of Christ who obeys what Jesus said to do is a disciple. But can one rightly be called a disciple who knows these things but does not really obey?
That is a great explanation. As I posted a few days ago, obediece is not legalism and as Guy asks, can someone who doesn't follow Christ's teaching really be called a disciple? This is an important topic and one fraught with peril but that shouldn't dissuade us from asking the questions and working out the issues. Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. There is not really much that is clearer than that simple statement anywhere else in the Bible.

Being merciful without increasing dependency

The Global Orphan Project has a great program, GO Threads, that is a wonderful way to help orphans in Haiti and Uganda. For $20 you buy a school uniform for an orphan but, and here is the key, the uniforms are made by local businesses in Haiti or Uganda! This is not only providing clothing for orphans but also creating jobs for Haitians/Ugandans and best of all any profits go to helping those same orphans with other expenses! What a great system!

One of the things I noticed right away in Haiti (and you can see the same thing in any pictures of countries in economic distress) is that there is this jarring image of people in a foreign country wearing American name brand clothing. Lots of men I saw in Haiti were wearing Brett Favre gear in Green Bay colors. Apparently there is not a lot of nostalgia for the Favre days in the land of frozen tundra. That is great that they have donated clothing but the downside is that free is always the cheapest. There is no way for little clothing companies to get off the ground. The GO Threads project helps in several ways. Here is why this program is a “better” program that some others….
Simply throwing institutional aid at poverty has never ended it. Never catalyzed personal and lasting transformation. Not even once. To the contrary, it tends to create dependency, rather than dignity.

So our desire through GO Threads is to help pay for orphan care in a way that promotes dignity and production, not institutional dependency. To promote grassroots change. To promote personal connections that matter.

We launch sewing centers that, in their own small way, can begin to change the cycle of poverty in some of the poorest villages of our world. When you send an order to us, you’re not only clothing a child…you’re also giving the men and women doing the work a chance at a better life, with the dignity that comes with having a job and providing for family. These men and women then spend the money they earn in their local economy, helping to create more jobs and giving others a chance to improve their lives, as well. They help put local clothes on the backs of their own precious children. They get out of aid lines and become part of solutions.

Plus, your order helps build a business…one that can invest in equipment, raw materials and employees to compete with large sewing mills…and one that can thrive right there among the poor.

The ripple effects are profound.

That is outstanding! (As an aside there are some important lessons in there that can be applied to America as well.) I appreciate so much the hearts of people who desire to help but how we help can be almost as important as desiring to help in the first place. One of my big concerns is that eventually these orphans in Haiti, Uganda and around the world are going to become adults and then what do they do? By creating small businesses and helping to build a sustainable economy we can help with immediate needs as well as long term financial security and independence.

Of course straight cash contributions are always needed. Orphans need food to eat, places to sleep and schools to attend today. Contributions to the Haiti Orphan Project go directly to providing for the needs of orphans without paying for a bunch of overhead. I would encourage you to give as you are led and are able to both to the Haiti Orphan Project directly to care for the immediate need of orphans and the GO Threads project to help build a long term sustainable economy in Haiti and Uganda to help break the cycle of poverty.

I contributed $20 this morning to send an invoice for a school uniform. Do you have $20 you can spare today?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Can’t. Look. Away.

I have to admit something about what I have been looking at online. I am a bit ashamed to admit it publically like this but here it is. I have followed not one, but two, theological mudfights with all of the vigor of an SEC alum watching the Auburn-Alabama game between delivering pizzas.

Both the generational war between John MacArthur and those young whippersnappers in the YRR movement over beer and the far more unseemly and borderline grotesque arguments over Mark Driscoll and the….vivid…visions he claims to get from the pulpit have sucked me in. There is no venue quite like the world of reformed blogging to take serious issues and turn them into contests of “gotcha!” and one-upmanship comments. I just can’t look away, it is like a serious car accident that causes rubbernecking. The sad thing is that the questions that have been raised are serious and important but have been by and large treated like an excuse to sucker punch someone at a bar (there I go with alcohol references again, don’t tell JMac).

Seriously, I have issues. I think I am going to post a couple of articles about both issues as catharsis.

Says Who?!

Eric Carpenter put out an interesting post on Biblical interepretation, A Pilgrim's Progress: A Personal Preference Method of Biblical Interpretation.

As Eric says, we all to one extent or another tend to interpret certain parts of Scripture differently based on our own preferences or at least based on our own assumptions. I have a certain set of assumptions based on studying the Word and that impacts how I read the rest of the Word. We all do this. The question is how do we minimize this? I think this gets to the point of a post I wrote earlier this year, Toward a community hermeneutic. By adopting the Anabaptist method of a community hermeneutic and not restricting interpretation to the "experts" or the clergy, we provide a medium for interpretation that helps to claify what we are reading. Check out Eric's post, I think it is a helpful and honest admission of something we all struggle with.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mohler on the murderous euphemism of reduction

As I expected, Albert Mohler has penned an essay on the recent New York Times article givign us a glimpse into the horrifying world of “reduction”, i.e. killing one or more children in favor of a single or a couple of children (I first looked at this in a post here: Reduction to a singleton ). The more I think about this, the more tragic it becomes. This entire medical subculture is a result of a culture that on the one hand demands that young women seek after education, career and pleasure for as long as possible and put off child bearing as an impediment to fulfilling the desires the world tells them to embrace and then on the other hand promotes radical interventions to impregnate women who realize they want children but have waited too long. The unintended consequences of this culture are enormous, from designer babies to aged parents raising young children.

Dr. Mohler’s essay This Isn’t Meddling — It’s Murder strikes the right tone. One of the things I appreciate about Dr. Mohler is that he is sober and unflinching when it comes to issues like this but he also always recognizes the underlying issue of sin that drives this and every other aberration. It should be apparent that the “solution” to this is not hand-wringing or angry denunciations. It is Christ. What infanticide hidden under the euphemism of “reduction” is at its core is a symptom of a world wracked by sin being carried out to its logical conclusion. The Kingdom response is not marches or protests or legislation. It is Christ preached and the Way lived, city by city and family by family. Every Christian family that lives in a way the world deems foolish is a testimony to the lost. We don’t need more sermons or political action committees. We need more Christians living as ambassadors of the King in a world that rejects Him.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Interesting post on church planting

I thought this was an excellent post from J.D. Payne on church planting with the ironic title: It’s not about Church Planting.

This was great….
Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches. But, churches can be planted with little to no evangelism being done.

For example, if our annual goal is to plant 12 churches, then all we need to do is gather some long-term Kingdom citizens together into twelve groups, lead them to covenant together as 12 local churches, and we have accomplished our goal. And if we do this, people will sing our praises and invite us to speak about church planting, telling them how they can plant 12 churches in a year. And no one will ask us about making disciples.

But it’s not about church planting. We are called to make disciples—and the first step in making disciples is doing evangelism. For it is out of a disciple making movement that churches are birthed (e.g., Acts 13-14).

Unfortunately, most church planters in North America are more involved in gathering together long-term Kingdom citizens than doing evangelism that results in new churches.
That really captures it. Biblical church planting is not starting a new church to attract Christians who don’t like their current church. It is making disciples that form churches that in turn go forth and make disciples that form churches….and on and on. Simply reshuffling believers is not what we are called to do.

One of the things that worries me about starting up a “house church” is that I am concerned it will simply be a refuge for current Christians who are disgruntled with the institutional church. Heck, I am a current Christian disgruntled with the institutional church! I think we need to get our focus away from church planting and on to disciple making. If we do that the church planting will take care of itself!

Read J.D.’s article and let me know what you think…

Book Review: Long Story Short

This isn't a review in the sense of a book I have read completely and am reporting on but rather on a resource that I am using daily. It is the collection of children's devotionals by Marty Machowski, Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God, and I have been using it for about a month now with my younger kids (6 years old to 12). It is a weekly series of short devotionals that take about ten minutes and are drawn from the Old Testament while frequently linking back to the New. I like it a lot and the kids seem to as well. They generally are remembering the conversations from prior days and how things link together. The level is just about right for younger kids, not simplistic but with concepts that are understandable. Everything I have run into so far has been doctrinally solid and the questions in each days lesson are generally helpful in bringing the Old Testament to life for the kids. I was a little skeptical at first but I am pleased to say I am very happy with this devotional. If you have younger kids and struggle with family devotional time with them, give Long Story Short a try!

Monday, August 15, 2011

More on the get off my lawn antics out of California

I am not sure anyone who reads my blog anymore finds this interesting but I thought this was a good response to the MacArthur kerfuffle (see my post here): Memo to the Old, Grumpy and Reformed: You are Swinging and Missing | Ordinary Pastor. There are two major factors that hamper the effective Kingdom impact among the contemporary Reformed. One is the clinging to traditions that have minimal Scriptural support and making them fellowship dividing issues. The other is the constant infighting and attacks. I have penned more than a few posts and quite a few comments slugging it out with other Reformed believers over secondary and sometimes silly stuff while people down the street died in their sins. No more. I would rather share a cup of coffee with an egalitarian, Pentecostal, dispensational, Arminian who is out preaching the Gospel to the lost than an uptight, self-important Reformed believer who gets every jot and tittle of doctrine right but can't be bothered to put down his latest book on Reformed theology to witness to someone who is lost or show mercy to someone who is hurting. Doing the work of the Kingdom is perilous enough without worrying about who is sticking a knife in your back because of some pet peeve they can't get around.

Maybe there is hope for college football after all

My friend Craig shared this video of Kirk Cousins, quarterback for the ugly sister of Michigan collegiate football, the Michigan State Spartans:

That is outstanding. It is a privilege to play football in the Big Ten.

You get to play football. In the Big Ten. You get a world class education at all of the Big Ten schools except Nebraska and Ohio State. For free. No other major conference offers the same quality of education except maybe the PAC-10. You don't have a right to to get paid, you are already getting a great education and a priceless opportunity that very few people can even imagine.

But what about all the money the colleges make on athletics?

What about all the revenue colleges make on hyper-inflated, government loan driven tuition and random fees?

What about all of the money they make from grants and foundations and naming rights and endowed chairs and on and on?

Great speech and by the way....


All or nothing

So it turns out that this is not the first generation of Christians. In fact there have been Christians for a couple thousand years. Huh. That hasn't stopped many people from reinventing the wheel over and over again. Nor has it stopped us from picking and choosing from groups who have come before us and seeking to emulate them. It seems to me that neither approach makes sense.

It is both redundant and a bit arrogant to assume that we have things figured out that the thousands of years of the church have not until our enlightened day and age. Rejecting things the church has thought about and worked through just because these positions are old and traditional is frankly dumb. So is picking out a particular historical faith tradition and trying to emulate it in every respect, whether that tradition is 50 years old or 500 or 1500.

Most Christian faith traditions have some things "right" and other things "wrong", recognizing that as we grow we might find, as I have, that some things are not a right as we thought and others are not as wrong as we suspected.

I appreciate the Plymouth Brethren for their strong reliance on Scripture and on their participatory meetings. Some of our best times of fellowship were in a small Brethren assembly. The Brethren can tend toward rigidity and being overly focused on the Sunday gathering. Doesn't mean there is nothing of value there but it does mean that there can be ways to improve.

I have long cherished the Reformed tradition for its strong doctrinal stance and copious written works. Some of the real intellectual giants of the faith are found in this group and you can drink deeply from the well of their writings. Alas there are also to be found in this group lots of things that are not so great, holdovers from Roman Catholicism like infant baptism, formalized ritualization of the church gathering and an unhealthy linking of the church and the state.The magisterial Reformers were often great in theology and rotten in practice.

A rapidly increasing number of Christians are pursuing a simple/organic/house church model. This movement, although I hate that term, seeks to carve away the manmade traditions of "church" and get back to a simpler expression of the gathered church with authentic fellowship and open and participatory meetings. Great people and they are shaking up the church (leading to lots of vitriolic backlash). However meeting in a house in not a cure-all and most people understand this. There is also a huge amount of diversity in this movement and some of it is positive and some is quite negative. There are tendencies toward theological excess, theological liberalism (defined as watering down core tenets of the faith), some insularity and even a tendency to do church in a more or less institutional fashion, just in a home rather than a building. Over all it is a positive step but not without cautions. Just meeting in a home is not a panacea and not every simple church fellowship is healthy.

Over the last few years I have really come to see a great deal of value in the Anabaptist tradition. This faith community has traditionally exhibited the simplicity, persecution and community that are absent in much of the church. Perhaps not in form but certainly in function the Anabaptists seem to reflect the early church the best. The may not gather as the church in the most Biblically faithful way but they live as the church more closely than any of the other traditions. Of course there are some issues. Some modern manifestations of Anabaptism are not really modern at all, embracing not just simplicity and humility but also staying locked into a lifestyle hundreds of years old. Some of these groups also have developed an unhealthy isolationism or even a legalism that borders of a works-righteousness. Other modern manifestations, particularly among the Mennonites, have become indistinguishable from the world and have devolved into theological liberalism.

I am sure there are some wonderful traditions in other faith communities that I am not familiar with.There are certainly plenty of wise, pious and wonderful disciple-making Methodists, Lutherans and others that I don't know much about. That is why I am trying to learn from those who came before in the wider tapestry of the faith. It is easy to just dismiss everyone who has come before us and seek to do a new and better thing on our own. But being disenchanted and disgruntled is not necessarily a sign of spiritual maturity. Nor is slavishly attempting to recreate a movement from years gone by.

So what to do? I think it is foolhardy to try to replicate entire movements from the past, even the first century church. Trying to replicate Geneva in your local church or trying to live as a 16th century Anabaptist doesn't make any sense, nor should we start wearing togas and sandals everywhere we go. I have grave concern over those who seek to emulate Calvin and defend his every statement almost as if his writings carry the force of Holy Writ just as I am concerned with those who retreat to bunkers and peer out at the world as it dies around us. Our faith is an ancient faith that goes back to the first century and that is the where the river of church tradition and practice originates, recognizing that we live in a day and age with electricity, air conditioning and the internet. My point is that as we read church history and study those who came before us we are not facing an all or nothing proposition. We can and we should learn from those who came before in order not to become tradition chameleons but to see how our brothers and sisters have applied the teaching of Christ and the apostles to their lives, their families, their church gatherings and their disciple-making. Where the traditions of the past help to enhance our carrying out of the Great Commission and Great Commandment, we should feel free to joyfully and thankfully adapt and adopt them. Where those traditions interfere? We can and we must reject and discard them.

The traditions of the past and the movements of today are merely signposts along the way. They are not The Way. Just as you are not obligated to get off the highway for every rest area or McDonalds, we are not obligated to take the teachings, traditions and movements of the past as an all or nothing proposition. Use what is fruitful, embrace what enhances and reject what does not. Our goal is not to be "Reformed" or to be in a "simple church" or to be this or that. Our calling is simple: we are called as those who have been made into disciples to make other disciples who in turn will...make disciples. We must let nothing detract from that calling.

Repost:: Why do we give?

Guy Muse has posted a couple of good posts on Kingdom giving versus storehouse tithing (part one and part two). I posted something along these lines, Why do we give?, back in October of last year and I thought it was a good time to repost it and look at what Scripture says about giving (hint, giving to pay mortgages or salaries for local elders is not in there)


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

What I found interesting was a comment from Alan Knox:

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

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

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

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

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

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2: 44-45)

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


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

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

Next we move to Acts 11: 27-30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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