Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Family Driven Faith

Voddie Baucham’s 2007 book, Family Drive Faith: What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God, is somewhat controversial in the church. Not because of heretical or radical teachings but instead because it challenges one of the pillars of the modern church model: age-segregation. It is an article of faith that in order to attract people your church needs to offer a comprehensive youth ministry, nursery during “worship” and preferably children’s church so that kids get a tailored experience and more importantly don’t distract the adults. It is all part of the subcontracting culture in America that is an epidemic in the culture and doubly so in the church. The Bible gives us a different story and is quite clear that God calls on parents, specifically and especially fathers, to be the primary molder and educator of the children God has given them. Not the youth minister. Not the public school. Parents.

The fact that this is radical and controversial says a lot more about the state of the “church” than it does about Voddie’s book. I actually found his suggestions to be common sense for anyone with even a cursory understanding of parenting from a Biblical standpoint. God has given many believers children. They are both a blessing (Psalm 127) and a responsibility. The church has a role to play in helping to equip parents, especially fathers, in their calling but the church is not intended to replace fathers in this, just as the church is not intended to replace individual Christians in the work of ministry but rather to be a place of equipping and encouraging.

I was more than a bit shocked to realize that I bough Family Driven Faith in 2008 and am just now reading it!

I really appreciated Voddie’s emphasis on the importance of Christian education. Family Driven Faith is far more than a diatribe against youth ministry, it is a call to Christians to recognize that our choices in educating kids has enormous repercussions on their corresponding understanding of the world. For example Voddie hits a drum I have been beating for a long time, namely that churches should see Christian education as something that we should invest in to help parents and provide an affordable alternative to government schools…

…I am sure that a community of believers that routinely raises millions of dollars to build sanctuaries for one-day-a-week use can find a few coins to help parents give their children a Christian education. (Family Driven Faith, pg. 209)

Yes! I am frankly disgusted that parents are expected to put money in the plate for pay for a building while untold numbers of children from Christian homes can’t afford private Christian education. An education based in Biblical teaching and from an openly Christian position. In my home of Fort Wayne there is a large Christian church with a comprehensive private school. High school tuition is almost $6000 which really is that much but that works out to monthly payments of $548 which is more than most car payments and almost as much as a mortgage! That isn’t even expensive as far as private schools go.

Voddie makes a lot of excellent points but I of course didn’t agree with everything. For a book that I am mostly in agreement with, I did have some issues to quibble over and one big issue that warrants a separate post.

I think Voddie overly relies on Deuteronomy 6 as the basis for his book. Deuteronomy 6 has a specific context for Hebrew parents to remind their children of the Exodus out of Egypt and the Old Covenant promises. The concept is correct as far as parents being responsible for raising their kids, and it does correspond with New Testament teaching, but it smacked of the sort of clumsy application that gives us tithing to the local church and plaques extolling the national identity of America as “God’s people”. Another concern. Family Driven Faith can be discouraging for those who, unlike Voddie, are not able to spend most of the day working from home. I get to work from home a couple days a week plus weekends so like Voddie I am around the house the majority of the time. Most parents are not and with the ridiculously busy schedules a lot of kids have, finding the volume of time is going to be difficult. Morning prayer and devotions is going to be impossible in some cases. I don’t think Voddie at all intends an “all or nothing” approach but it can come off that way.

From a style standpoint, a lot of the material in Family Driven Faith is a rehash of stuff Voddie has written elsewhere. Many of his books sound like the same stuff reorganized and repackaged: same jokes, same quips, same stories. That is kind of petty but it bugs me and as someone who buys Voddie’s books whenever they come out I think I get to make the occasional petty stylistic gripe!

Finally the biggest flaw, and one that is almost a fatal one, in Family Drive Faith is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough, a flaw it has in common with the broader Family Integrated Church movement. Voddie is absolutely right that there is no Biblical basis for age segregation in the church but that is true not just for age segregation. Most of the arguments that Voddie makes against the youth ministry culture are as true for the rest of the traditional church as they are about age segregation! Like the magisterial reformers, Voddie only goes part of the way and in doing so misses the role that other traditions in the church have in leading to fathers that are not equipped to disciple their children and wives. Now as Voddie points out moving toward a full family integration is unlikely to happen overnight and in the same way I think that moving toward a simpler, more Biblical general ecclesiology is also not going to happen overnight. I am encouraged that many people who approach the Scriptures in a way that leads to family integration and homeschooling are also likely to eventually come to fully realized Biblical ecclesiology. It is a hard path but a necessary one.

In spite of a few concerns, Family Driven Faith is an important entry into the conversation about family and education and discipleship. I think Family Driven Faith is an important step in the right direction in spite of its flaws where church traditions are concerned. Reformation takes time and starting with the family is a great first step. Voddie is to be commended for being willing to take an unpopular stance, one that sees him regularly being misrepresented and attacked by some people who should be allies. Get Family Driven Faith. Read it. Be prepared to be challenged in some important ways!

Why Richard Mourdock Over Dick Lugar?

Not sure many people care but I penned some thoughts on next Tuesday's primary election between incumbent U.S. Senator and alleged conservative Dick Lugar versus challenger Richard Mourdock: The Arsenal of Liberty: Why Richard Mourdock?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Harsh Look At Higher "Education"

The New York times seems like an odd place to get a hard hitting editorial on the state and necessity of higher education in America but I read something quite interesting on the pages of the Grey Lady this morning, The Imperiled Promise of Higher Education. The author, Frank Bruni, talks about the mystical promise of college and the corresponding declaration of woe on those who don't go.

Because of levitating costs, college these days is a luxury item. What’s more, it’s a luxury item with newly uncertain returns. 

Yes, many of the sorts of service-industry jobs now available to people without higher education are less financially rewarding than manufacturing jobs of yore, and so college has in that sense become more imperative. And, yes, college graduates have an unemployment rate half that of people with only high school degrees. 
But that figure factors in Americans who got their diplomas and first entered the job market decades ago, and it could reflect not just what was studied in college but the already established economic advantages, contacts and temperaments of the kind of people who pursue and stick with higher education. 

It doesn’t capture the grim reality for recent college graduates, whose leg up on their less educated counterparts isn’t such a sturdy, comely leg at the moment. According to an Associated Press analysis of data from 2011, 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed or, if they were lucky, merely underemployed, which means they were in jobs for which their degrees weren’t necessary.

This is pretty interesting and echoes a lot of what I have been thinking. As he points out the canards about the wage differences between people with a college degree and those without is skewed by all of the graduates 10, 20 or more years ago. Compare that to the very difficult time recent grads have in finding a job.That is the result, I believe, of far too many kids getting college degrees that don't need them and frankly that they have no business getting. A four year liberal arts degree is virtually worthless. It doesn't give you any sort of real skills. It is hardly a guarantee or accurate predictor of ability if the younger people I run into on a regular basis are reflective of the typical grad. It is a very expensive delaying of adulthood, a time of politically correct indoctrination, gross immorality and ego inflation that does nothing to prepare someone for a job in the real world. In fact many community colleges do a far better job preparing kids for jobs and careers at a fraction of the cost and half of the time. We don't need more anthropology grads, we need more people, especially more young men, who have the ability and the desire to get something done.

The big issue, IMHO, is that he university system, like the public school system, long ago stopped being about education and became a huge guaranteed employment racket. Education majors need secure unionized public school jobs to move into upon graduation. Liberal arts undergrads who are afraid to leave the ivory tower need more and more university positions to prolong adolescence "teaching" at a college or university.Meanwhile the American people are coerced into funding this whole adventure because we are threatened with economic calamity if little Susie can't pay for a degree in Women's Studies.

To partially quote the philosopher Will Hunting, "You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you could have gotten for a dollar fifty in late fee at the public library". With a trillion dollars in student loan debt, a number that climbs every year like clockwork to keep pace with the ever rising cost of tuition, we are all dropping tens of thousands of dollars to keep kids out of adulthood before plopping them into the world, full of debt and functionally incapable of doing most meaningful work. We imprison people like Bernie Madoff for scamming people out of millions while the education establishment has been bamboozling us to the tune of trillions of dollars. Maybe the wrong people are in prison.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

An ad you probably won't see

Bobby Auner has a wonderful post on what a help wanted ad should look in the church: Deconstructing Neverland: Help Wanted. I have read lots of job posting for "ministers" and none of them sound like what Bobby wrote. I have to say I think that what he wrote sounds more like what a church in the first century would have posted.

Down On The (Sido) Farm

Interested in some farm pics? No? Well too bad it is my blog! It is chilly and windy today but the critters are all out and about.

First one of our hens hatched a small clutch of eggs in some, well in some junk, but has six cute babies! 

Plus a few more pics...

Our oldest ewe and her twin lambs

Our Dexter cow Erica

Thanksgiving Dinner, he is already strutting for his lady friend

The Mama Hen and her brood

Woman, Get Me My Chips Is Not Complementarianism

When I went to Together for the Gospel in 2008 I really appreciated the panel discussions, a group of brothers sitting around and discussing issues with one another rather than standing behind a podium and lecturing. The lectures were great, theologically rich and intellectually deep, but the panels were even better. I have been waiting for this particular panel discussion to come out, Ligon Duncan, John Piper, Russ Moore and Greg Gilbert speaking about complementarianism.

The discussion is set in the context of a traditional local church to be sure but I appreciated the wisdom and the boldness exhibited, especially from Piper who doesn't seem cowed by the prevailing church culture on this issue and yet still impacts millions of young Christians.

I tried embedding the audio file but I don't think it worked. Not sure why blogger lets you embed video but not audio. Anyway.

One of the things that I appreciate is the way that these brothers link how we view Ephesians 5 and the related passages with how we view the rest of the Scriptures. Piper makes the point that the view of the Bible that draws us away from a complementary understanding of the relevant passages in Ephesians 5 is likewise a serious danger to draw us to a place where we get the Gospel wrong. I think we have seen that lived out in the former mainline Protestant denominations that have all embraced an egalitarian view of gender and have all walked the same path toward normalization of sin and abandonment of the Gospel and eventually death. That is why this issue is so crucial and why I bring it up all the time. We start down a dangerous path when we spend more time trying to explain why Scripture doesn't mean what it says rather than trying to submit ourselves to the Word, whether that is counter-cultural teachings on gender or using violence or how we view money.

Greg Gilbert (at around 19 minutes in) makes a great statement, something I am trying to focus on, namely that we come at this the wrong way by focusing on negatives, "what women cannot or should not do in the life of the church". That is exactly right, we should encourage women to serve in the church in every way that God in His wisdom has set it forth. This was just an excellent discussion that pulls no punches.

Now I wish these brothers from T4G would apply the same hermeneutic principle to their understanding of other passages, primarily in the church....

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leaders serve and servants lead

I read one of the best posts on leadership in the church I have ever run across. It is from Keith Giles and is titled For Leaders Only. Now that is not unusual. There are lots of things in the church aimed at "leaders", which usually means "pastors" or perhaps "elders". There are conferences for pastors, books for pastors, blogs for pastors, schools to train pastors. The church is unquestionably leader-centric. So Keith is just jumping in and posting something just for leaders. That will get an approving nod from many other leaders in the church. At least until they read what Keith wrote.

Here is where Keith starts talking crazy. He says that every Christian is a leader and there is no such thing as a Christian who is not...

Therefore, if every Christian is called to be a servant, and if loving one another means serving one another, and if those who serve others are leaders in the Body of Christ, then every Christian is a leader.

That means Christianity is for leaders only.

The more we serve others in the Body of Christ, the greater we become. The greater we become the more authority we are given to serve others. The more we exercise our authority to serve by serving more people, the greater servants we become, and the greater we become in the Kingdom. It’s really very simple.
Now that is truly nuts. How can we run the church unless we have leaders that are distinct from the rest of us? Saying that every Christian is a leader is crazy but it is also very, very true.

There should be no bleacher seats in the church, nobody who warms the bench. Ministry as I have so often said is not a spectator sport. It might look different from person to person but no ministry is more important than another. When my daughter watches children so that another couple can go minister in a pregnancy resoure center, she is being a leader and serving in the church in a way that is every bit as important as the guy preparing a sermon he will deliver in front of 5000 people next Sunday. When a sister makes a meal for a family where mom is sick, she is being a leader in the church by serving. The more you serve and lower yourself, the more of a servant you become and the greater a leader in the church. The irony of our pastor-centric cult of personality is that in reality the greatest leaders among us are unknown to most of us. No one will celebrate the anniversary of their birth, no one will quote something they said from the pulpit, no one will read the books they won't write in the first place. The only people who will know how great they are at leading will be God and those that they served.

Ministry and leadership is not about being "the guy up front" and it is not something that only some of us are called to. Every Christian is a leader but the church doesn't treat us that way. Until the church gets back to the model of real servant leadership and a preisthood of every believer, we will never see the church impacting the world as it should be. Our traditional view of leadership is a disease that has infected the church for over 1000 years but it must be stamped out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anabaptism In Australia

I read this article this morning, Upside-down kingdom down under, and thought it was interesting. It is easy to get into the mindset that Anabaptism is restricted to North America but it has a strong history in Europe (obviously!) although it is not as common today, as well as in South America and Australia/New Zealand. It seems to me that Anabaptism, in a big tent definition sort of way, speaks strongly to a lot of people who are looking for something outside of the rigid, ritualistic traditional church structures. The challenge is to retain orthodoxy while embracing a wide variety of expressions that find common roots in the radical reformation while also being on guard against legalistic tradtionalism. For those who are willing to study the Anabaptists with their mind and Bible open, the tradition speaks strongly to the world and culture we find ourselves in today.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Loving Your Enemies Is Easy To Do In Sunday School

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy (right doctrine and right practice) are so very easy when sitting around the table in Sunday school. When it is neat and tidy we are so at ease with what the Bible teaches us. We read the Bible, affirm what it says and parrot it back on demand. When we leave the comfortable confines of the church building or the theology conference? It gets far more difficult.

We read the Bible but we don’t really read it. We know the catch-phrases and the concepts but it seems that when the rubber hits the road we reserve the right to modify what we read. The words we read just sort of blur together into a meaningless mantra, something we can affirm in theory and spit back in response to a question in Sunday school without hesitation but putting them into practice is another issue all together. I was reminded of this again this weekend. The Bible gives us many commands and many examples of how we should live as followers of Christ and almost none of them are easy. Of all of the commands of Jesus, His commands in the Sermon on the Mount give us the most trouble because they are the most contrary to our natural understanding of the order of things. Nowhere is that truer than in these words:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:43-46)
Virtually everyone loves those who love them back. That is relatively easy. You love me, I love you. When it changes to "You hate me", it becomes so much harder to respond with "I love you". To say and actually mean I love you even though you hate me runs contrary to human nature and our engrained culture. It is so much easier to divide the world into one group of people who I love that look like me, think like me and act like me and another group of people who scare me and probably hate me, people like Muslim terrorists or criminals or any of the other bogeymen that we live in fear of. It might be easier to just love those who love us but loving our enemies is not a nice theory but at the very core of what the Gospel is all about and how we live as followers. Let me explain.

Enemy love is at the center of the Gospel and a critical component of the Christian life, far more so than “going to church” or “tithing” or “voting Republican”. What makes loving our enemies so critical to understand and practice is that loving your enemies is the very embodiment of following Jesus and walking as He walked. Jesus didn’t come to give His loyal fans a helping hand, He came to redeem His sheep while they were dead in their sins, enemies of God and by nature children of wrath. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate act of loving His enemies by dying for His sheep. If Jesus only loved those that loved Him, He could have skipped the cross because none of those He died for deserved it and none of those He loved first loved Him. Just the opposite is true. We love Jesus because of the change wrought in our regenerate hearts, a change that came about because He first loved us. Jesus didn’t meet us halfway or 90% of the way or even 99.99999% of the way. He first loved us (1 John 4:19). You won’t find many church goers who would argue with that. Sure that might quibble over the details but at the core they would affirm this idea. Start to put it to the test and you start to get a different response.

I got into a fairly detailed and at times heated discussion this weekend regarding whether we are ever, as followers of Christ, justified in using violence in self-defense or the defense of others. I take an absolutist position that we are never called to use violence, even when confronted with someone bent on violence and even when “innocents” are at risk. The responses to that position were predictable, emotional and often angry interspersed with lots of hypotheticals like the old standby “what would you do if someone were going to hurt your family” presented as a trump card. Say you would do whatever it takes to defend them and you are a hypocrite, say you would not use violence to defend them and you are a coward. It is a cheap rhetorical trick designed to end a discussion without dealing with the issue.

Believe me when I say that I get it. As a husband and a father, as a man, my natural impulse when I think of my family in peril is to react violently, to protect them by any means necessary. The thought of someone so much as threatening to hurt my family makes my blood boil. That is just natural. Of course there are lots of other natural inclinations that I have that I certainly would not follow. Our focus needs to be on what Jesus taught and what He modeled, not on trying to find loopholes or hypothetical’s to excuse our disobedience. Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, in fact He promised us just the opposite. That is hard to swallow if you have a view that only extends to this life but as His redeemed sheep we should have eternity in view at all times.

Here is the real kicker. I don’t know what I would do if someone threatened my family. I am a gun owner many times over. In the heat of the moment what would I do in that circumstance? I know what I should do. I am not as certain that I would try to resolve the situation peaceably, which is precisely why John Piper doesn’t own a gun. Even John admits that he doesn’t know what he would do in that situation faced with a hypothetical intruder who in all likelihood doesn’t know Christ and I don’t know what I would do either (and for that matter in spite of the chest thumping pseudo-machismo most other men who are awfully brave behind a keyboard also don’t know. I have never had to do so but I imagine that shooting and killing another human being is not as easy as it is made out to be). Call the police? Tackle the intruder and hang on until my family escapes? Thump him with a heavy object? Shoot him in the leg? I hope I never have to make that decision and I further hope that if I did that I would have the strength to make the right decision.

I do know this. Jesus told us to love our enemies (Matt 5: 44-47; Luke 6: 27-36). Paul likewise taught us to overcome evil with good and leave vengeance to God (Romans 12: 14-21). Those teachings are as unambiguous as any in the Bible and we shouldn’t waste even a second trying to find ways to wiggle around them. We should instead actively be pursuing ways to love our enemies even if (perhaps especially if) the prevailing culture and human nature teach us something else. Loving our enemies is central to the Gospel message and the life of the disciple. It is a key component of living a Kingdom oriented life rather than a moralistic, religious life. Where we find that our personal opinions, preferences and inclinations clash with Scripture we should strive to be conformed to Christ rather than the culture.

It will almost never be popular but being popular has never been what the Christian life was supposed to be about.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Inviting Wolves Into The Flock

Liberty University, one of the largest "Christian universities" in the world, announced it is hosting mormon Mitt Romney as the commencement speaker in May.

Now the GOP nominee and potential future President of the United States certainly is a great speaker to have but what message does this send? The final speaker these kids will hear before being sent out into the world is someone who denies Christ and is part of a religious movement that intentionally and vigorously targets Christians with a false gospel.

What do you think, is this appropriate? Would Liberty invite a devout Muslim to speak or an atheist? If not, why a mormon?

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed unless of course you agree with his politics and he will advance your agenda if elected. (Gal 1:8-9, Culture Warrior Standard Version)

Ditching Dating

Few topics in the church cause as much angst as parenting and few topics turn ugly quite as quickly. Parenting is almost universally considered to be one of the highest callings in the church and many parents are hypersensitive to any suggestion that they way they parent is "the wrong way" because it is seen, and sometimes intended, as a suggestion of being unfaithful in that calling. It is a minefield and so many times we just avoid the conversation because many of us have seen the way things get out of hand. All you need to do is read a widely disseminated blog when it talks about homeschool vs. public school. Anyway, that doesn't change the reality that being Christians and parents at the same time is fraught with peril, bad advice and overwhelming influence from the culture and the world and because of that we need to think about and work through these issues. I don't think it is loving to just shrug our shoulders and assume that every parenting choice is value neutral. There is no silver bullet in parenting but when it comes to raising children I think the Scriptures give us guidelines on how we should approach topics like education, discipline and dating. My post today has to do with dating, something that I am unequivocally and unapologetically opposed to.

I made this comment during a Facebook discussion on the topic of dating today, a conversation that was triggered by a somewhat tongue in cheek post titled So You Want To Date My Daughter? ...

I wasn't a Christian until I was around 30 and I absolutely would not want my daughters dating anyone who was like me when I was young. Did I turn out alright? I think so but I certainly carry a lot of baggage around from those days, baggage that impacts my marriage to this day. I don't believe in having my daughters dating guys that are not in a place where they are thinking about marriage in the hopes that they will settle down and grow up. I know lots of young men who are in their early twenties and are marriage minded now. If one of them is interested in one of my daughters then I would love to have a conversation with him. If they are not in a place where they are ready for marriage, they need to look elsewhere. I am not a believer in dating for the sake of dating.

I am dead serious that I would not want nor will I permit my daughters to date someone who is like me when I was their age. That is a harsh reality check for me to write as someone who has always had a pretty high opinion of myself. When I was in my teens and early twenties I was someone I don't care much for now. Even though I was dating and then married to my wife during most of that time I wasn't the sort of guy that my daughters should seek out as spouses. I think the post about "you want to date my daughter" raises some great points even if I don't agree with all of them or even the premise of dating in the first place. That doesn't mean locking your kids away until you find someone for them to marry but it does mean an intentionality in preparing your kids for marriage that goes beyond teaching them to date without being sexual active. That is part of it, a huge part of it, but the emotional toll of dating is every bit as real as the physical toll of being sexually active. Teaching our kids, especially our daughters, to guard their hearts is every bit as important as teaching them to guard their purity. 

How then should teens and even young adults interact with other teens and young adults of the opposite gender? Giving them some tools and then sending them out to "date" until they find someone they "fall in love with" to marry? I don't think so. Getting that emotionally involved with someone that is just a "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" is a recipe for disaster. I don't think that dating and having your heart broken, getting over the break-up and then trying it again with the same eventual result until you finally find someone is a necessary life experience that prepares you for a successful marriage. Quite the opposite in fact. It teaches you that if you don't like the one you are with you can just move on and find someone better. The culture of sexual promiscuity and rampant divorce in our culture is not the result of parents not letting their children date. There must be a better way. Not a uniform, cookie cutter way but a different way.

These words seem foreign to our ears. That is not how things are done. Even in the church we simply modify the "date, fall in love, fall out love, break up, find someone new, repeat" cycle with some youth group activities and some moralistic teachings on abstinence. It is painfully obvious that the church culture utterly fails to prepare young people to find their spouse just as it utterly fails to equip them for the work of ministry. I would hazard a guess that many church going parents have had far more conversations and are more deeply involved in the decision about where their son or daughter is going to go to college than about who they will marry. I would also say that picking one college over another has almost no long term impact on a happy, God honoring life but who you marry is one of the most crucial decision any Christian who is called to marriage will ever make. Just look at a Christian couple you know that has been married 30, 40 or more years and you will see that God knew what He was doing when He made men and women in such a way that they rely on each other.

Your kids don't need to date in high school or even as a young adult. They don't need to "just get out there" and see what they find. There is nothing about the culture of casual or even serious serial dating that better prepares a young person for married life. Nothing. There is also not a black and white either-or dichotomy between keeping your daughters locked up in a closet until their wedding day and a free for all, hope the best approach. Let me be clear that I don't think that means a compromise with the culture. Setting an 11 o'clock curfew instead of midnight is not exactly what I mean. What I am talking about is setting forth clear guidelines to look for in a spouse. My daughters should look for men who are serious about the faith, serious about marriage and family and men who are starting to exhibit the characteristic of godliness. I don't expect a twenty year old to have a fully fleshed doctrine of family and marriage (although men and women used to accomplish more before their twentieth birthday than many of us do in our entire lives today thanks to the prolonged period of "adolescence" that excuses and encourages immaturity. Different soap box.) but they need to be growing in their faith. Likewise my sons need to be the sort of men that a Christian parent would want their daughter to marry. It is absolutely necessary that parents help create opportunities for their kids to get to know other kids of the opposite gender. That requires some work especially if your kids are homeschooled. We are struggling with this but that is our fault, not the fault of this principle. I would expect that any young man who is interested in one of my daughters would first speak to his own father and then to me before he approaches my daughter and that if my sons are interested in a young woman that they would first speak to me and then that young ladies father before approaching her.Most importantly, until a young person is ready to start looking for a marriage partner they have no compelling reason to be "dating" or courting. One on one exclusivity is something that there is plenty of time for when both parties are ready to get married. If one or both parties is not at that stage, why do they need to date? 

Of course not every Christian teen that dates is going to end up heartbroken and sexually active just as the opposite charge that Christian teens who grow up in a "strict" household are going to turn into wild sex crazed adults as a backlash against their repressive parents is not true. Ultimately the measuring stick is not pragmatism or even results. It is how we as parents should raise our children. Dating is completely absent from Scripture and is a fairly modern invention. Having a more permissive parenting culture has obviously not led to happier, better adjusted adults but any suggestion that perhaps it is unhealthy is met with scorn and often anger. There is a better way. It requires work and it requires patience but that comes with the territory of being a mom and a dad. The culture and the world don't have any say over how you raise your kids. You do. God gave these kids to you to raise. Not to the TV, not to the government or the schools or even the church. They are your calling, your ministry and outside of seeing them come to Christ as God wills there is nothing more important you can do for them than preparing them and guiding them in finding their lifelong spouse.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A little after work country drive

We needed to move our stallion and don't have a trailer big enough for him so we transported him the old fashioned way (with permission from our Amish friends first of course before snapping this photo). He is on a gravel side road here but the first mile of the trip was on a busy highway and he didn't much care for getting passed by semi's!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not A Monolithic Movement

Like almost anywhere else in the church, the house/simple/organic church is not a monolithic movement although it is sometimes stereotyped that way. There are Arminians and Calvinists, home schoolers and public schoolers, complementarians and egalitarians.

For example, Frank Viola posted today on the topic of women in ministry, Rethinking Women in Ministry. Ironically it seems he views "ministry" in the same way that the traditional church does, namely as the person "leading" from "up front". His essay is being widely read and cited today. I found it pretty lacking in persuasion if not in volume but then again I already have a pretty firm position on this issue. While Frank's position is the majority report among simple/house church types (notably also Jon Zens, another prominent leader in the house church setting that holds to egalitarianism), it is by no means the only view.

A Facebook friend, who seemingly disagrees with me and agrees in part with Frank, sent me a great link to something written by Steve Atkerson writing for the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, has a very different and far more traditional understanding of gender relations and functions in the church. His essays, Correctly Interpreting 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (Part 1) and (Part 2) come to a very different conclusion than Viola. No surprise I find Steve's essay far more compelling and a lot better interaction with the text rather than appealing to external sources to override the text in favor of a culturally palatable interpretation. I especially appreciate that Steve makes the obvious point, one that is missed by many who quote 1 Cor 11: 2-16 as a defense of women teaching/speaking in the gathered church, namely that those passages in no way refer specifically or even infer that they are directed at church gatherings.

Anyway, these are great essays on both sides and they demonstrate that far from being a simplistic, lowest common denominator movement, many proponents and practitioners are in fact serious Biblical exegetes who take the Word of God and its study quite seriously. If you have a fair amount of time, give both of them a read and let me know what you think!

Hi, we are from headquarters and we are here to appoint some elders

Eric Carpenter tweeted something interesting this morning regarding elders...

That is straight out of Scripture and yet as Eric points out that is absolutely not how it typically happens in most of the church. In Scripture the picture that comes out is that apostolic workers, itinerant evangelists if you will, came to an area and preached the Gospel. In response people were saved and those people started meeting together as the church. The apostolic workers, men who lived and worked in the area, led these gatherings for a while and then moved on but based on lives lived together they appointed men who were demonstrating characteristics that should be emulated by the church and who were more mature in the faith as elders to lead by example once the apostolic workers moved on. My how far we have "progressed"!

Granted, the local churches in America are not by and large brand new church plants. They are not newly formed groups of new believers, many of them have been in place for decades or even centuries. We don't really have any apostolic workers who have any sort of universally recognized authority. Can you imagine some men from the Southern Baptist Convention traveling around  the country to local churches and telling them "We are here to get to know the men in your church and once we do we will appoint those men we see fit as elders"? In some places in the SBC that might be welcomed with the muzzle of a shotgun. So how do we keep the spirit of what happened in Scripture within the culture we have to deal with?

Well there isn't an easy answer here. This is one of those places where we cannot try to just copy from Scripture because the world has changed. What we can do is strive to keep in place what the Scriptures teach about elders. We can still appoint men as elders from within the local body rather than going out to find hired guns from outside of the church. We can choose men based on their character and manner of life rather than their oratorical skills and educational attainment. We can select men who joyfully work for a living rather than paying men to "serve". We can recover the ideal of elders being part of the body, laboring alongside the body and providing an example to the body rather than ruling over the body.

We cannot and should not try to replicate everything about the first century church. We simply cannot. That doesn't mean that we cannot glean crucial truths for how the church should function, how Christians should relate to one another in the church and in the home and in the world. I don't expect that apostolic workers will appoint elders around America but local churches can certainly appoint mature brothers as elders based on the explicit teaching and example of the Word. Pragmatism, the winds of culture preference and tradition are poor sources for how the church should function.

This Is How Cults Get Started

Read something interesting yesterday. A blogger was talking about those darn sheep grumbling against the clergy, Guarding Against The Grumbling. He has found a convenient and common way to dismiss that, simply see yourself as pastor in the role of Moses and anyone who complains (and complaining is a pretty subjective notion, one man's complaint is another man's sincere question) gets placed in the role of ungrateful Hebrew.This is my comment on his post (assuming it gets past moderation)...

Well that certainly is convenient. As pastor you set yourself in the role of Moses and anyone who doesn't toe the line is in the role of grumbling Hebrew. If anyone doesn't get in line behind you, they are merely grumbling. Your will is indistinguishable from God's will so if the sheep don't follow where you lead they are opposing God. I think this is how cults get started.... 
Does that seem harsh? Maybe but this is dangerous ground. It is far too easy to insert ourselves into the Bible, almost always as the good guy. How often do you hear passages where Paul is writing to Timothy, a man never identified as an elder or pastor in the church, applied to local church vocational ministers? All the time and hardly anyone questions it.

Now certainly I get that people can be complainers and pastors sometimes get the brunt of that. I am sure people complain for silly reasons but they also raise legitimate concerns that often get lumped into the category of grumbling. Of course that is what happens when you set yourself up in an employer-employee relationship and mix religion into it. If we are all serving together for the glory of God there is not much to complain about but when you declare yourself the expert, the professional, the specially anointed one and then expect to get paid by your employer the local church, what do you think is going to happen? We have fundamentally altered the relationship between believers and especially the way that the church should relate as it applies to leaders. Rather than peers we work and minister alongside of and learn by observing the manner of their life, we have carved elders out into a separate caste in the church and made them distinct from the rest of the body. We call them "Pastor this" or "Reverend that" and truth be known not much else tickles the ear quite like getting addressed by a title of honor (Matt 23:5-7). In the same way not much else divides up the church and leads to grumbling like creating a ruling class in the church and if you think that the grumbling only goes one way you are fooling yourself. The traditional church system is almost perfectly designed to foster grumbling, resentment, apathy and division. Maybe that is not what Jesus intended.

When we were mormons we were told that when the prophet spoke, the discussion was over. A common tactic of cults is to say that anyone who doesn't follow the cult leader without question is rebelling against God. That is what Joseph Smith did, and Brigham Young and every mormon false prophet since. That is what David Koresh did and Jim Jones and modern false prophets like Victor Hafichuk did and do. It keeps people in line. This is serious, dangerous thinking and it infects the church in so many places. 

Don't grumble. Don't complain. Don't follow any man who sees legitimate, even hard, questions as rebellious thwarting of the will of God.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Every child is deserving of life

Ready for an encouraging and challenging read? Something more uplifting than my normal stuff? Check out the latest Ethiopia Vignette from from Becky Black, Life and Death in Burji: Aki and Tiblett.

Becky tells the story of helping a mortally ill women get care for the last hours of her life. In the midst of this sadness, as my sister ministered in love to a woman who was going to die, God in His sovereignty presented an opportunity to save another life. Becky met a woman with a child that was near death, just another Ethiopian baby that died in childhood. Tragic for certain but what can we do?

We can love. When Jesus looked at humanity before the incarnation, it would have seemed hopeless to anyone else. Mankind is full of hatred, greed, anger, cruelty. Man wanted to supplant God. not worship Him. Why bother? Jesus bothered out of love because that is what He is, perfect love coupled with perfect holiness. It was love that led Him to take on flesh, to become like us in every respect and to be tempted and suffer and finally die for His sheep.

In America we slay perfectly healthy children in the womb because they are "unwanted" or simply inconvenient. Yet here is a sister, a world away with needs all around her, who saw a child that by any practical measure as the world defines it was not worth saving and she poured her heart out for this child in prayer and service.The result? Well, read Becky's post and see what a throwaway child looks like today. Even tough guy that I am, I got a little misty eyed.

Why are Christians so obsessed with issues of life? Because of children like this. Children that no one would miss outside of her family and yet saved for something wonderful through God's sovereign hand. It was no coincidence that Becky was in a position to take a dying woman to a clinic where she met this child and her mother. These opportunities to affirm life and show love are all around us everyday. We must simply trust God and do what Jesus would do. We can never go wrong doing that.

Church Leaders Gone Wild

Steve Scott is continuing his look at spiritual abuse and his latest post, Elders Behaving Badly, is centered around a facebook conversation he had with Kevin Johnson. Here is a snippet:

In Reformed circles, we are happy to eject men both out of the ministry and the church on what may seem the smallest of theological technicalities (cf. Frame, "Machen's Warrior Children") but we will not take similar action when similar men abuse their ministerial authority and use the leadership they have in ways that are unfaithful to God. This is a huge inconsistency that shows us where our real loyalties lie as Reformed church men and women. Often, we demonstrate that we care for our doctrines and our pet leaders more than we care for our fellow believers. And, that's just idolatry.

That is just excellent. The irony of a movement where the latest pet peeve is “celebrity pastors” even though the adoration given Reformed celebrity pastors is so over the top that it has become embarrassing is as rich as it is tragic. Men can visit conferences surrounded by handlers to keep the little people away or beg and cajole for funding so they can build ever larger temples to showcase their rhetorical talent and no one bats an eye. Step off the Westminster Confession reservation by one foot? Bang, you are branded a heretic and booted from polite company.

There are many “pastors” who run their little religious empires like petty despots. Whether men like Mark Driscoll who seem to have no problem with firing guys who don’t meet their standards (standards that are completely extra-biblical) and run enormous empires or local church pastors who see any question, no matter how innocent or sincere, as an affront to their “authority”, these sorts of abusers are out there. It is telling that Driscoll’s detractors are more concerned with whether he uses salty language than they are with his grotesque and unbiblical view of church leadership. As Kevin points out, all sorts of minor theological points can get you kicked out of the Kool Kids Klub that goes by the label “Reformed” but gross misuse and misapplication of spiritual authority doesn’t make the list. Of course there are a great many pastors who don’t act like this but the temptation and the structure that leads to spiritual abuse is omnipresent. The old power tends to corrupt thing.

My hands are not clean here. In various times and places I have engaged in this sort of behavior, whether overt abuses of “spiritual authority” or by smacking around someone who is less theologically astute (or at least is less impressed with how clever they are) than I am. There is way too much jockeying for position between “churches” that compete for money and members with other churches or ministries that scramble to attract a larger percentage of the finite pool of giving, often leaving the smaller ministries feeding from the bottom while the big name, famous ministries get the lion’s share. All of this because we associate visibility and brand recognition with success. Having “A wholly owned subsidiary of Mars Hill Church, Inc.” as part of your brand is going to draw people in while “Nobody Ministries With No Money, Recognition or Flair” is not.

What is this? It is not the ekklesia of Christ. It is not the community of redeemed sheep supporting one another and building each other up for the mission of Christ. It is some sort of bastardized religious power game where the strong devour the weak, where the less able members of the flock are culled out by men who have declared themselves shepherds. When one group of Christians puts an offer to help on the table but with the caveat of the church being "helped" getting absorbed, having men terminated, having other men deemed unacceptable and removed from leadership and driving away those who are not drinking the Kool-Aid, the Kingdom of God is not in view. The desire to supplant God and build the kingdom of men is on full display.

The solution is obvious. Actual servant leaders who lead by example rather than by decree. Men who serve out of a love for Christ, not as a profession and for a paycheck. Elders who are unconcerned with the ecclesiastical titles they hold or the honors bestowed by virtue of education or “ordination”. That sounds so simple and just rolls off the tongue but the entrenched powers in the church make this difficult, perhaps impossible. Too many men, too many organizations, too many institutions are reliant on the status quo. To shake things up is to threaten those who hold power and many of those who are threatened react like any authoritarian leader does when threatened: they lash out, they accuse, they obfuscate, they distract.

Christian, you don’t need someone to be “in authority” over you other than Christ. If someone is serving and living a life that reflects the sort of life that the Bible says we should emulate, follow them. If someone is waving around their credentials and titles and education and achievements and telling you that you have to follow them because they are a “pastor” or “reverend”, they are a liar and a wolf. Flee from them as you would from any other mortal danger. Jesus did not give any of His sheep the right to abuse any of His other sheep.

Dead is dead

They had been travelling with Jesus for a while and it had been a pretty grim trip. News had reached them that Lazarus, a man beloved by the Master, had died. They had travelled for days and when they arrived Jesus was so distraught by the sadness He found that their Master wept. Jesus wept!

When they arrived at the place where Lazarus was buried, He stopped just short of tomb and said “Take away the stone” and the men rolled it away leaving the tomb entrance open. The crowd was buzzing. What is He going to do? The stories of the miracles that accompanied this man were legion. Now what is He going to do? This man is dead four days and here is this prophet saying all sorts of peculiar things and now he has opened up the tomb. The anticipation was at a fever pitch but Jesus stood still and silent.

After half an hour of silence had passed, the people were starting to get antsy. He was just standing there. “Uh Jesus? I don’t mean to speak out of turn here but what is going on?” asked Peter, who could always be counted on to ask the obvious question. The Lord turned to him and gave him “the look”, that mix of pity and annoyance that was reserved for Peter. “Peter, I am waiting for Lazarus to make a decision to come out of the tomb.”

Peter looked more confused than normal. “But Lord, he is dead”

Jesus replied, “I know he is dead and I can restore him to life but I need him to come to Me before I can do anything”

Well Peter wasn’t the sharpest sheep in the pasture but that didn’t make much sense to him. “Lord, he is dead, how is a dead guy going to come out of the tomb?” Now Jesus was getting perturbed. “Peter, free will is the most important gift I have given mankind. I can’t make Lazarus come to life, he has to decide on his own and if he does I will be right here waiting for him.” At this Jesus turned back to the tomb and resumed his vigil.

Peter wasn’t necessarily a smart man but he was no dummy so he sat down. It looked like this was going to be a long wait and there was no point in standing.

Of course this is not at all how this event played out. In reality Jesus called Lazarus, a man as dead as a proverbial doornail for days, out of the tomb and out he came at the voice of the Lord. Praise Him! He makes the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the dead rise. I don’t know of any follower of Christ that would deny these truths from the Bible. We read and believe that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead just as He Himself rose from the dead. Jesus is Lord and He is sovereign over all creation, both as Creator of all things and Sustainer of all things (Heb 1: 3). The resurrection of the dead man Lazarus was a miracle of sovereign grace. But what about those who are alive in the body but dead spiritually?

This raises an important question. What does the Bible say of those who are outside of Christ, those not yet born again? They are described as spiritually dead (Eph 2:1-2), as dead in spirit as Lazarus was in body. It simply makes no sense that someone who is spiritually dead can execrcise “free will” anymore than someone who is physically dead can simply sit up in a coffin or get up and walk from a tomb. There is only one example of a dead man rising again without external help and His name is Jesus and even He was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit...

It seems so odd to me that we pray and speak all the time about Jesus being Lord of all, from Aunt Mabel's bum knee to the outcome of a football game to more serious isues within the church but when it comes to the most important question, the one that makes all the difference in eternity and the one question where man is least able, in fact completely unable in his unregenerate state, to obey Christ is the one issue where we try to push God aside and tell Him "Back off, we got this". We figure that spiritually dead men just spring to life for some reason while other spiritualy dead men don't even when the Gospel they hear is the same. We don't pray for sick children to heal themselves but we somehow expect dead men to regenerate themselves.

Honestly I am daily more baffled by this notion of the free and unrestrained will of unregenerate spiritually dead men that is an unquestioned article of faith in so much of the church. I am eternally grateful that God did not leave my election up to my "free will". I make bad choices in what I eat and how I spend my free time, why in the world would I want to have free will when it comes to something like eternity?
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Repost: Multi-Site Churches taken to their logical extreme

I was thinking more about my post earlier this week, Mark Driscoll Sez: You Will Be Assimilated and thought it would make sense to repost something I wrote a while ago, Multi-Site Churches taken to their logical extreme. If we buy into the notion that the gathering of the church should be focused on sermons, performance led singing and the occasional ritualized "communion" why wouldn't mutli-site churches make sense? Isn't that what conferences like Together for the Gospel are all about, getting together to hear the best "preachers" give talks complete with dramatic pauses, gesturing, quavering voices, etc.? If you are really into it you can get your picture taken with a famous guy who doesn't know you and post it on Facebook as proof that "I was there and met !"

Doesn't the church deserve the very best preaching if that is what it is all about anyway?


Michael McKinley at the 9 Marks blog, Church Matters, asks if the rise of multi-site churches doesn't lead to just playing a recording of someone reciting Jonathan Edwards sermons for the gathering of the church instead of a live preacher.

Well, why not?

I think this is a great idea!

If the purpose and pinnacle of the gathering of the church is for the people to hear one man give a sermon, then why shouldn’t we just listen to the very best men via teleconference or even recording? We hear all the time that the problem with the church is that we need more and better expository preaching. With all love to my friends who preach and in full recognition of my own limitations in preaching, I would say that you get a much better expository sermon from Piper or MacArthur than you get from virtually any senior pastor in any local church in America. If the goal is to hear a solid, expository sermon why not get the best sermon you can get? Better yet. What if you broadcast Bob Kauflin every Sunday morning on a tape delay “leading the worship”? What is the difference between Bob on video and a guy up front telling you what songs to sing? Bob is going to give you a “better”, more polished and professional song leadership. The accompaniment will be on key, the singing will be perfect, the songs will be properly vetted. How about we film Ligon Duncan praying and reciting 1 Corinthians 11 over a huge pile of oyster crackers and pallets of grape juice? Then we could ship portions out to churches observing the Supper that week and splice in the footage of Duncan blessing it prior to passing around the platters.

For most Christians in traditional churches on a Sunday morning, they are primarily sitting and watching. Does it really matter if they are watching a guy in-person on stage or Mark Dever on a video feed? I think taking the traditional model of evangelical church life to a logical extreme, why not do this? Just think, we could take up the offering and put it into the bank and then the central church could sweep the money into one big account and distribute it. That is how mormons do it. Instead of squabbling about carpet colors at the local level, let a regional super senior pastor figure it out. For those of us who are Reformed, we could break it down regionally. Albert Mohler could get the south, MacArthur everything west of the Mississippi, Piper the Midwest and Northeast and Dever could run the east coast. We could appoint under-under shepherds in smaller areas, Steve Lawson in Alabama, Kevin DeYoung in Michigan, etc. No more boring, wandering sermons. No more butchering of “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.

I think this idea has real promise.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

The purpose of church

I liked Eric's post this morning: Priestly Serving Together

God made us in such a way that we depend on one another, not so that we could all rely on a few to serve the rest. The ministry of the Kingdom is overwhelming when lone rangers try to carry the load themselves but when all of His people shoulder the load it is far easier.

There is no point in a priesthood of all believers if most believers never get to function as priests.

A major announcement

Brace yourself. This is a crucial sports related announcement. What you thought I was announcing something theological like embracing arminianism or infant baptism or something? Or that I was quitting my job to accept a calling to be "Minister of Expository Preaching On Sunday To 40-49 Year Olds" at a megachurch? Bah.

This has been coming for a while. While I have been a Cleveland sports fan (at least in pro football and baseball) for quite a while, I have to say I have had it. I have been patient and long suffering but now it is time to say no more. Starting today I am officially moving my pro football and baseball loyalties to Detroit.

My reasons are myriad. For starters it is just a matter of consistency. Growing up in Toledo, Ohio is a weird experience for a lot of reasons (like having a guy who played a cross dressing solider in Korea on TV as your most famous resident) but nowhere is that more true than in sports. You grow up in Ohio but there are lots of Michigan Wolverines fans. You have “OH” in your address but back in the day we got a lot of TV from Detroit. People read the Free Press and Detroit News but not the Cleveland Plain Dealer. There are at least as many Lions fans as Browns fans in Toledo and almost no Bengals fans. The same holds true with the Tigers versus the Indians. The Tigers AAA farm team is the world famous (thanks to the aforementioned Korean War cross dresser) Toledo Mud Hens. Although the distance between Cleveland and Detroit is similar, the north-south linkage on I-75 seems much stronger than the east-west link down the Ohio Turnpike.

I have been a Michigan Wolverines fan all of my life, mostly out of spite since my dad went to med school at Ohio State. Likewise I love the Red Wings. I have lived in Michigan a lot over the years and have not really lived at all in Ohio as an adult, including two stints in the Detroit metro area (the first time during the glory days of the Red Wings when they  put several Hall of Fame lines on the ice one after another). It has always been a bit weird to root for the Michigan team in hockey and college football but then an Ohio team for pro football and baseball.

Then there is the simple reality that the Indians and the Browns seem to be regressing each year and have no interest in improvement. I get that the Indians are going to be outspent by the Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers of the world but it often seems like the playoffs are a reunion of former Indians players that were traded away year after year for "prospects" that they develop just long enough to trade them away for more prospects. C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, on and on. I don’t expect a World Series champion or even a contender every year but it would be nice to have some sense that the team is trying to improve. The biggest news thus far for the Indians in 2012 is the signing of 93 year old Johnny Damon to provide a "spark" to the offense.THAT should get the fans excited!

The Browns don’t even have the excuse of being outspent given the importance of the draft and the salary cap that has led to such parity in the NFL. It has been just one fiasco after another with them. Poor drafting. Poor coaching. Poor team management. The final straw was early this year when the Browns were desperately trying to give away three first round draft picks to get a shot at Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. I am not sure that RG III is even going to succeed in the NFL but I am sure that three first round draft picks for a possible starting QB when your team has this many holes is foolish. A few years ago the Detroit Lions were historically bad, going 0-16. Last year they were 10-6 and made the playoffs thanks to good drafting and management. With a decent draft this year they can be even better in 2012. Cleveland is looking like a lock to spend the season in the cellar of the AFC North. I was looking at the stats this morning and the Browns scored 218 points in 16 games last year, or less than 14 points per game. With awesome free agent signings like Frostee Rucker, the Browns will be lucky to muster even 14 points a game in 2012. Makes one nostalgic for the halcyon days of Tim Couch.

So I am done. Time to move on Cleveland. It has been a good ride. Actually scratch that, it has been a horrible ride of disappointment and under-performance.

Go Tigers! Go Lions! God Red Wings!


Testing out the new Google+ Link

I am just posting this to see if it really shows up in Google+ automatically

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Go into all the world and make them into North Americans?

Miguel Labrador linked to an older post he wrote but one that is quite timely. The post is titled Christian Missions, Making Disciples and Cultural Contamination and it focuses on the inescapable linkage between American evangelical mission work and Western colonialism. This sentence really got me...
I would have to say the my North American brethren are far more prone to making little North Americans then Making Disciples of Jesus.
That is my great fear, that we are sending out missionaries that are perceived to be trying to spread the American church culture and American cultural values rather than spreading the Gospel. It is hard for me to understand but in many parts of the world the arrival of white Westerners is a reminder of the colonial era and that can create a stumbling block for the Gospel. Because of this, it is incumbent on Western Christians to be especially concerned with what we are taking to the mission field and all the more reason we should seek to equip and support indigenous missionaries rather than insisting on sending American missionaries.

Give it a read, it is quite provocative but it is an important topic.

A War On Women? No. A War On Mothers? Oh Yes.

The news media is beating the America public over the head with their invented notion of a "War on Women", a war of course perpetrated by evil conservatives as opposed to the war on unborn women waged by liberals. I digress. What the past 24 hours or so has shown us is that there is indeed a war going on in the culture but the target is not women in general but mothers. The internet is all a twitter (pun intended) over the intemperate and ugly remarks made by one Hilary Rosen at CNN.

“Guess what, (Romney’s) wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” Hilary Rosen said Wednesday evening on CNN.
These foolish comments, made by a lesbian and homosexual advocate who adopted two children with her now ex-girlfriend, making her an expert on motherhood, suggest that Ann Romney, a stay at home mother of five children, doesn't know the first thing about working. Since Ms. Rosen has had an illustrious and prestigious career, it can be assumed that her children have spent much of their life in the care of professional care-givers while she went to work to do Super Important Stuff like defending huge music corporations from illlegal file sharing. What is raising kids compared to that? Given that reality I can step in and assure her that stay-at-home moms work far harder with fewer breaks than any high powered executive or lawyer or whatever else. As Mrs. Romney has also battled multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, she should be commended for her diligence as a mother, not chastised by someone like Ms. Rosen. Ms. Rosen has finally come out and apologized for her foolish comments but not before she penned an angry screed for CNN.

Spare me the faux anger from the right who view the issue of women's rights and advancement as a way to score political points. When it comes to supporting policies that would actually help women, their silence has been deafening. I don't need lectures from the Republican National Committee on supporting women and fighting to increase opportunities for women; I've been doing it my whole career.
The irnoy of those comments is obvious to anyone. Who made things like government mandated birth control and funding for abortion providers part of the political battlefield? Here is a hint, it was not "the right". For a woman who can with a straight face call abortions on demand and subsidized by tax payers a "women's health issue", reality is not really relevant. I am not sure how aborting tens of millions of tiny women is "increasing opportunities". I guess those women who have their lives snuffed out in the womb won't compete for jobs with other women.

These comments are ignorant but they expose an important worldview. While liberals across the board have been tripping over themselves to repudiate what she said, the underlying view of motherhood and women was exposed for all the world to see. Certainly Mrs. Romney, the wife of a very wealthy and influential man, did not have some of the same concerns that the wife of a bus driver would have but all of the money in the world cannot change the very difficult and often thankless job of being a mother. There is an ugly, unstated but assumed view that women who "just stay home" are somehow "letting down the team" and settling for being "just a mom". Even the cultural assumptions are biased against mothers. We call women who stay home and raise their kids "stay at home moms" but we don't refer to mothers who leave their kids in the care of someone when they go to work as "leave home moms". To stay home and raise your children rather than subcontracting that task out to someone else requires a woman who has the strength, humility and conviction to do something sneered at by a small minority of vocal and influential women, standing against the overwhelming weight of our culture to do what women for thousands of years have done without complaint, namely being the primary caregiver and molder of the next generation.

Millions of women stay home with their children but it has become harder and less common over the last few decades. Many social observers have noted that being a stay at home mom is rapidly becoming a status symbol reserved for precisely the sort of women, like Ann Romney, that Ms. Rosen takes shots at. We cannot have a society where choosing to be a mom rather than an employee is a luxury reserved only for the wealthiest families. If feminists and their allies on the left truly cared about women in general and working mothers in particular they would work to enact policies that make it easier for women to choose to stay home. After all, isn't "choice" the demigod of the left?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mark Driscoll Sez: You Will Be Assimilated

Just saw this on twitter from Mark Driscoll...

Is Your Church Interested in Becoming a Part of Mars Hill?

Mars Hills wants to assimilate have your church join their network! Glad to know that the merger and acquisition industry is ramping up, I just wish it were in corporate America instead of the church. On second thought, it is becoming hard to distinguish between the two.

We are Mars Hill. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Blogging Through Hebrews: Hebrews 2:10-18

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
And again,
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
(Hebrews 2:10-18)
The perfecting work of the suffering of the Savior. That is the real key to these verses and there is not much that better captures the upside-down nature of the Kingdom than the suffering of the King, the Creator giving Himself over to suffering for the sake of His creatures. I loved the imagery invoked of flesh and blood. We refer to our family as our own flesh and blood and by the shedding of His blood and the breaking of His body we are partakers of them and in doing so we gain the benefits that include adoption, redemption, regeneration, propitiation, justification and glorification. He defeated

What a wonderful thing to contemplate, that Jesus our Savior is not ashamed to be associated with His sheep and even to recognize them as family. The intimate way that the church is described: as brothers of Christ, joint-heirs, sons and daughters, the Bride of Christ tells us much about how much Jesus values us and how saving His church brings Him glory and joy. Not just that but Jesus is not some cold, impersonal far off God but a God who understands our suffering, our weakness and our temptation because He was also tempted, made weak and endured suffering. Unlike the false gods of Islam, mormonism and all the rest of the world’s religion, Jesus alone is a God who is both God and man, the hypostatic union that defies understanding but gives us unspeakable joy.

This phrase jumped out at me: deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery . What an interesting and accurate way to describe those outside of Christ. Nothing frightens those without the hope of eternal life like death. The finality and inevitability of it terrifies men and enslaves them in fear. The freedom that comes in Christ that Paul spoke of in Philippians 1:21 should liberate Christians. It is troubling that many people who profess to follow Christ seem as fearful of death as those without hope.

I really loved this section. Not that I didn’t love the rest but what a theologically rich and incredibly comforting section of Scripture this was. I am liking this approach to Hebrews, it is like a sumptuous meal that is best eating one small course at a time, the better to savor it. Wait scratch that, that was far too flowery.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Throwing out the theological baby with the institutional bathwater

I was reminded this morning of a post I wrote back in December of 2008, one of the earliest posts about my concerns with and journey out of the institutional church. It was my way of trying to tie together some of the swirling thoughts that I was trying to reconcile in my head. One thing that I wrote in this post 3 1/2 years ago struck me this morning. Here it is:

I am trying to be cautious so that in my looking askance at the institutional church I don’t fall into the trap of throwing the theological baby out with the institutional bathwater.

That is still a concern for me, perhaps more now than back then. In so many places people tend to swing between the extremes. In abandoning, and rightly so, the institutional church some seem to at the same time chuck anything that the institutional church has ever believed. Just because the Reformers failed to reform the church doesn't mean we should ignore what they recovered regarding the Gospel. I see this tendency to chuck everything in a bunch of places but especially in places like gender roles, boundaries on human sexuality and the exclusivity of Christ. A serious study of the Scriptures will lead to a very different understanding of the church but that same study should lead to a deeper grasp of the Gospel. We just need to be consistent. You can't take Paul at his word in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and insist (correctly) on a participatory gathering but try to ignore or explain away what he said a few verses later in 1 Cor 14: 33-35. The same Jesus who cared for the poor and healed the sick was also preoccupied with the Kingdom of God and unequivocal in needing to be born again.

Below is the entire post, So where is this all going? It is interesting that I am still asking some of the same questions years later, indicating that finding all the answers has been harder than I thought it would be.


So where is this all going?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An' if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know...

Should I Stay or Should I Go? - The Clash

What is up with the meandering, sometimes smarmy, sometimes angry, sometimes resigned ramblings of late on this here blog?

Weary but wary

Fortunately my wife and my children are very flexible and adaptable, so they are being pretty understanding through all of this. I have grown increasingly weary of the institutional church, but remain somewhat wary of the house church. I need to think , study and especially pray my way through a lot of this stuff that is rattling around.

Institutional versus house?
If we recognize that the institutional church as it exists and has existed for hundreds of years and all of American history is not a Biblical model but instead is a cultural model does that mean we must reject it in total? Burn the whole thing to the ground?

I have concerns about the all or nothing model. It can sometimes seem that there are two factions that have drawn lines, planted flags and declared victory. “The house church people are heretic and have abandoned the historical fellowship of the saints, rejected the authority structure of the New Testament church and the proper ecclesiastical structure”. Or “The steeple house people are clinging to a cultural Christianity. It is in the house church that true Biblical worship and gathering of the saints is found, not in programmatic institutional Churchianity”. Both of these extremes seem a bit off. Not that one or the other is not the proper mode of worship. One has the benefit of the Biblical example of house worship. One has the full weight of centuries of church traditions.

Is a hybrid possible? A small church that meets on Sunday for worship, teaching, preaching led by the men of the church? Frequent and meaningful fellowship in the homes of believers or other communal activities?

Ecclesiology versus soteriology?

I am trying to be cautious so that in my looking askance at the institutional church I don’t fall into the trap of throwing the theological baby out with the institutional bathwater. I am and pretty much always have been a “T”ruth kind of guy. Properly gathering together is important, proper worship is important but it should not be at odds with the great theological truths of the Bible.

Can you be Reformed in soteriology and yet question the validity of the institutional church? Many would say no. For many in the Reformed camp, the visible church IS the church and the legitimate church cannot be found outside of the visible church. That is where the Word is rightly preached and the ordinances are rightly administered.Reformed theology is inextricably linked to classic Reformed ecclesiology. But it doesn’t seem to me that there is a contradiction between a high view of the sovereignty of God, especially in salvation or holding to the Five Solas and yet questioning the validity of the institutional church. While some, perhaps many, have strayed that way, it is not an inevitability.

Pilgrimage to Louisville?

In 2008 I attended the Together for the Gospel conference and this morning kicks off the 2012 version. It was a great time in 2008, loved the singing and the teaching and especially the fellowship with some brothers I travelled with and others I met there. Looking back I have no interest in spending the time and money to go back. I am more than a little troubled by the frenzy to buy thousands upon thousands of books in the cavernous book hall. Plus I can listen to or watch the talks later for free. So it was nice to go once but once was enough for me.

Today? It seems to have taken on a life of its own. There are more speakers, a bigger venue and seemingly unlimited hype. Far more than just a conference to encourage, it has become an event where all of the cool kids go. It has even generated a blog post about how to cope if you can't go this year and another post on how to prepare yourself if you are going.

Brothers, can we get a grip here? It is a couple of days of listening to speakers, many that we have listened to dozens or hundreds of times before. If you go, that is fine and dandy but when you come back don't hide away in your office and read the dozens of books you brought back. Go out and preach the Gospel to the lost, serve the least of these in your community, visit the widow and the orphan. Together for the Gospel is not the pinnacle of the life of a disciple.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Visiting The Prisoner

I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:36-46)
Scripture is full of references to visiting those in prison. Jesus Himself was arrested and held by the authorities before being executed. Paul the evangelist and apostle spent a great deal of time in prison. In fact he used this time to his advantage, writing to the church in areas he had ministered and witnessing to his guards. The apostles were imprisoned and held for trial on more than one occasion. The Gospel has often lead to Christians being imprisoned and prison are a huge and increasing mission field for the Gospel.

In America we have a culture of incarceration. There are millions of people in prison right now and millions more that have served time in the past. I cannot verify the accuracy of this chart but it certainly seems reasonable. Starting in 1980 or so the number of incarcerated Americans has exploded. Some of this can be attributed to the increase in population but the rate of incarceration has gone up much faster than the increase in the population. For a lot of the genteel, polite, "Sunday best" American church, prisoners and former prisoners are a scary thought. We like having prisons and jails to keep the bad guys away from us, all too often forgetting that before we came to Christ we were under the condemnation of the most just and holy of all Judges.

So what does this mean for the church? For starters it means that we need to take seriously the words of Christ, both in Matthew 25 and in the Great Commission. Going to all the world with the Gospel to make disciples and visiting "the least of these" in prison go hand in hand. I am certain that there are plenty of God's elect sheep in the state penitentiary just as I am that there are plenty in the crowd at a revival and the pew on Sunday morning. Plus, and not trying to be cute here, people in prison are not going anywhere so we have to go to them. I think the Gospel is often best received, in other words hearts are most prepared, when a person is at the end of themselves and has nowhere else to turn. If that doesn't describe someone in prison, what does?

Jails and prisons are scary, unpleasant places. I have visited people who were incarcerated on a couple of occasions when I was a vocational pastor and it is a weird feeling for someone who has never been there before. I am not sure it ever would be comfortable but that is kind of the point of prison isn't it? I am convinced that "church" is perhaps the least conducive ground for the Gospel presentation. It is far too easy for an unregenerate believer to think they are right with God based on attendance, offering and attire. We need to go to the hard places, the pregnancy resource center where a frightened young woman just found out she is pregnant, to the prisoner in a place that we would never voluntarily go, to the homeless and the prostitute, to the nations where the Gospel is met with open hostility and preaching the Gospel is not mere stagecraft but real life changing and life endangering preaching in season and out.

I am trying to find some resources here locally to get involved in prison ministry. It is not something I want to do. Who wants to go to a prison? It is something I feel I must do for the sake of my King. There is no place on earth that is not His, not the fanciest suburban church nor the darkest prison cell. If I am indeed His ambassador, I must answer when He calls and go where He sends. I will post updates here if and when that happens. I could certainly use your prayers here and I will pray for you to find those hard places with unwanted people that Jesus wants you to minister to.