Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where Does Renewal Come From

Tomorrow's Wall Street Journal Houses of Worship article is already up and is right in my wheelhouse. Titled The Hunt For The Good Sermon, writer John Wilson asks if preaching is really in bad shape. His conclusion is yes but that is nothing to be worried about.

Preaching—and worship—is in need of renewal because it is always in need of renewal. No pastor, congregation or denomination will ever get it right once and for all.

Really? Is "preaching" and "worship" really in need of renewal?

For hundreds of years, in America or elsewhere, the relative ineffectiveness of the sermon has bedeviled the church. We need more sermons, better sermons, longer sermons. We spend millions and millions of dollars and thousands of hours on training men to give sermons, writing books about giving sermons, going to conferences to listen to sermons about giving sermons. The assumption has always been that what we need are better sermons but rarely is the question asked: is the real problem the system of sermon-centered church gatherings? Is an entire "church" of people observing one person talking week after week a system designed to create healthy disciples who in turn make disciples or is it rather designed, intentionally or inadvertently, to create flaccid and weak milk fed Christians that are dependent on clergy who in turn are dependent on them for paychecks and affirmation, a perverse symbiotic relationship that weakens both parties.

The church is desperately in need of renewal, of real reformation, of restoration but that needs to happen by equipping and releasing Christians, not by million dollar grants "to cultivate excellence in preaching". What if the one thing that we spend so much time, effort, hand-wringing and money on is actually the thing that is holding us all back and has been for centuries?

It is a sobering thought but it is one that more and more people are starting to express to the chagrin of many. We aren't there yet but that day is coming I pray when the church starts moves past performance and gets back to the primitive days of participation.

Nothing to write

Let me clarify that. I am tired and grouchy and I have nothing edifying to write. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Giveaway!

John Mureiko, a regular commenter and industrious fellow, is giving away some great books! Jump over to his post Some Book Recommendations and...Giveway! where he has a solid list of books and John is giving away two of them. All you need to do is leave a comment. Whata bahgain! While you are there look at some of his other posts, since we just got bee hives we liked the post Interested In Learning To Keep Bees? and many others. I am a bit embarrassed to see that John at the ripe old age of 22 has such a lot going on while at 22 I was trying to figure out how to diaper my first kid. Anyway, check it out and enter to win!

Book Review: War Is Not Christian

Keith Giles released his latest e-book, War Is Not Christian, fittingly on Memorial Day. I downloaded it and read it over the last few days and it is a brief but interesting exploration of a topic that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the church.

I have to admit it wasn’t what I expected but that is probably because I didn’t pay attention to the description. War Is Not Christian is a series of shorter writings that generally tie together on the topic of non-violence. I was expecting a more comprehensive, cohesive book but that doesn’t diminish that what Keith wrote is thought-provoking and more than a little unsettling.

Some chapters didn’t seem to fit. I wasn’t 100% sure why they were included in the book. In other places I had to question where Keith was going. On more than one occasion Keith references Gandhi, once saying that he has a “basic faith in Christ” and that he was “not a Christian per se” but that he read the Sermon on the Mount every day. I get concerned when someone who by all accounts denied the divinity of Christ is given a pass because they followed some of the moral teachings of Jesus. I don’t care if Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every hour of every day, denying the divinity of Christ reduces Him to a mere moral teacher. A great one for sure but not the King of Kings and not the Lamb of God.

Having expressed a few concerns I will say that most of this collection of essays is well worth the reading. Even where I disagreed I was challenged to think anew about some of the questions that Keith raised that I have settled in my mind. While I would not use Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as paragons of Christian non-violence, I think Keith raises the right questions and that is enough in this day and age when violence, military glorification and redemptive violence are cheerfully accepted among the church.

This is a quick read and quite inexpensive at $1.99. While it is not in any way a comprehensive look at Christian non-resistance, it was not intended to be and it serves as a good launching point (for a more comprehensive look at this topic check out Guy Hershberger’s War, Peace and Nonresistance). If you are looking for a good introdouction to this crucial topic, check out War Is Not Christian.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A couple of good posts on elders

I liked what Dave Black posted this morning (7:55 AM), replicated below in its entirety:

This Sunday our church will be "ordaining" our elders. Just what is ordination? It is not the conferring of special grace (as in Catholicism). It is simply the setting apart, the commissioning, the consecrating to a particular ministry in the church. As such, ordination is not in contradiction with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. In the Body of Christ there is a principle of equality with functional differences without being hierarchical. From a scriptural perspective, a better word might be "dedication" or "consecration." Since all ministers in the Body have the same purpose -- to serve Christ in the ministry of reconciliation -- all believers are to be dedicated or consecrated to their tasks. The danger we must avoid this Sunday, I believe, is to give the false impression that only these 3 men are somehow "in ministry." In Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 we find lists of the spiritual gifts that the risen Christ has given to the church "for the work of ministry." The basic idea of ordination in early Christianity was not transference of authority but conferring a blessing and petitioning for divine favor. Because the church is a priesthood of ALL believers, the recognized ministry is a representative ministry. To belong to this representative ministry, it is the call that is important and not any rite of ordination. 

Elders are overseers, but as members of the Body of Christ they no doubt also have individual gifts that vary -- teaching, administration, etc. They are shepherds but, like the rest of us, they are also sheep. They are, as Phil. 1:2 reminds, not over the church but extensions of the church. Thus, from the beginning of church history, ordination has never been a cardinal doctrine of the church. Service is what the church is all about -- and all of us are to be servants of Christ. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers would suggest that our elders should view themselves first and foremost as co-members of the Body, under the authority of Christ. Together, leaders and led alike are unified in a Christ-centered and Spirit-filled ministry. In such a setting, ministry does not create a hierarchical organization. The total ministry is the Body of Christ, and He alone remains the Head of the church. In this light, I fully expect that after this Sunday Ed, Jason, and Jason will continue to be called Ed, Jason, and Jason by the congregation, and that without any disrespect. For in the Body of Christ, there can be no higher title than that of brother (Heb. 2:11).

That is one of the best explanations of the calling and appointing of elders I have ever read. It is so seductive to let that call turn into a place of pride and demanded privilege marked with titles and demands of deference rather than humility and servant-hood marked by the towel and the basin. It is good and proper and Biblical to recognize men as elders among the church but never to place those men on a pedestal over the church. We should call the church to repent where we have exalted men over others but we must also be careful to not go so far in the other direction that we don't see the need for elders. I certainly need them in my life although I will also say that I rarely find them among those who insist on titles of honor beyond "brother".

The second comes from Eric Carpenter and looks at a familiar passage that comes up when discussing elders: should they be paid? Eric argues in Keeping I Corinthians 9 in Context that the oft quoted passages in 1 Corinthians 9 cannot be used to support paying elders/pastors since they are not talking about elders/passages in the first place! That is very true but often ignored. I also commented that when read in its entirety rather than plucking a couple of verses out that Paul is arguing against being paid for ministry because preaching the Gospel is its own reward and being paid creates a stumbling block to the Gospel. Anyway, read Eric's post but don't take our word for it. Read all of 1 Corinthians 9 and see if you find that it supports  full-time paid professional pastors.

Shopping for orphans

The Haiti Orphan Project has add a new Amazon Wish List of items they need for the orphanage, mainly medical supplies. It is a quick and easy way to provide supplies that will be used to help. I ordered a pack of band-aids for about $6 and some forceps for around $3 and they are on the way. If you can help in this way, follow the link above and pick something out, items range from Gold Bond medicated powder to a portable defibrillator that is slightly more expensive than band-aids. You can be confident that these items will be used to treat sick or injured children in Haiti, providing much needed medical aid to children who don't have access outside of the orphange to even the most basic medical care.

The internet can be used for a lot of not great things but this is one of the ways it can be used for good.

The way of the cross is not the American way

This past weekend was a constant stream of pictures of soldiers, flags and military graveyards with references to John 15:13 and the "ultimate sacrifice". One after another on Facebook, blogs, twitter, Google+. More troubling was that many of those postings came from the same people who post verses of Scripture and talk about Jesus. I wanted to ask them, do you think Jesus wants you to honor the system that leads to the deaths of so many people? I tried to be restrained through Memorial Day out of respect for those who have served, serve currently or have loved those who serve or have died but I can be silent no longer.

How can any follower of Jesus speak of dying in battle while trying to kill others as the "ultimate sacrifice"? The ultimate sacrifice came when God became man, lived a perfect life and gave His life on a cross to redeem those who were His enemies.  I don't expect unbelievers to get that but I would hope that those who claim to be believers would understand this. Based on what I saw I am not so sure that many of us do. The way of the cross at its core is loving enemies, Jesus loving even unto death those who were His enemies and His followers loving their enemies as shown to us by our Lord. We cannot love our enemies while killing them or just as bad encouraging others to kill them on our behalf. More and more I see that the atoning sacrifice of Christ has as a central motivation love of enemy. Yet we have perverted the notion of enemy love, self-sacrifice, humble submission on the pagan altar of individual liberty, economic and political freedom and jingoistic nationalism. Why are we surprised that the church is so astray and powerless in America when it has by and large ceased to be anything resembling the church that Jesus established and when we have abandoned so many of the core teachings of Christ? Recovering the Gospel of justification by faith alone and defending the doctrines of grace is great and all but if we fail to follow Christ all of our high highfalutin' theology is nothing more than an empty intellectual exercise.

Soldiers, whether American or Iranian or Chinese or Canadian, are paid to kill those who threaten the interests of that particular nation. Dressing up that reality in flowery language and cloaking it in nobility doesn't change that reality. That is not intended as a statement to disparage those who sign up for that task, many of whom think they are doing the right thing and quite a few that believe that what they do is compatible with their faith. My beef is not with the individual young men and women who serve in the military. They are doing what our society tells them is a noble task and often they pay for that with their lives while most of the society that tells them how noble they are sits back and enjoys the "freedom" they kill and die to maintain. No, my issue is not with soldiers and sailors and airmen but with those who callously send them off to kill in our "national interest" and even more so with those in the church that glorify and encourage the senseless bloodshed.

Look back at the wars this country has engaged in: an armed rebellion against the authority of the king placed in a position of authority over the colonies in violation of Romans 13: 1-7, creating what many people call a "Christian nation". A silly and pointless rematch war with the English over borders between the U.S. and Canada. Several other wars of territorial expansion. A vicious war between Americans over the right to enslave other human beings that still scars our national conscience today. A war in Europe that was none of our business that took human slaughter to unthinkable new levels. A rematch in Europe to put down a mad dog who rose as a result of our intervention in the prior war and left hundreds of millions of people under the iron fist of Communist dictators who were our "allies", with a second front in Asia where human depravity was on display in a new and previously unthinkable way, a war ended when the "good guys" bombed a civilian population into submission with the one and only use of nuclear weapons. A war in Korea that ended in a stalemate that lasts to this day. A half-hearted war in Vietnam where civilian casualties were horrific and the damage to our national identity we have never recovered from. A couple of wars in Iraq that, let's be honest, were mostly about American economic interests. Tons of little engagements around the world. Finally the longest lasting war in American history in Afghanistan where our "allies" are a greater threat to our troops than the enemy, where we are negotiating with the Taliban terrorists while they are attacking us and murdering civilians and on a regular basis we accidentally bomb masses of civilians. Not quite as noble as the shots of the flag waving in the breeze with patriotic music playing softly in the background make it seem.

We are supposed to be grateful for the freedoms won and defended by those in the military. It is part of our religious culture that we exalt those who died, often in terror and in the earliest years of their life, after having been trained and deployed by the men who run things in this country to kill others. We memorialize them, lay wreaths at the monument to soldiers too badly mangled to identify and sing songs in praise of America in gatherings of the church.

To those who served and are serving, I appreciate and understand your zeal and your commitment but I do not wish you to kill to preserve my "right" to vote for the same people who send you to kill and be killed, to accumulate wealth, to have a Starbucks and McDonalds on every corner so I don't have to put forth any effort to feed myself, to send my kids to $35,000/year universities while the children of other Christians around the world cannot even read, to throw away cheap mass produced food after gorging myself while orphans starve, to have endless entertainment to stupefy the mind, to put on a religious show on Sunday and to live my life however I see fit regardless of how that impacts others. Those "rights" have no real value and are actual in direct opposition to the values of the Kingdom of God. Too many of us, myself included, see the values of the Kingdom as something for the eschaton, something to be enjoyed in eternity. Those values will certainly see their fulfillment and culmination after the Judgment but as followers of Christ we are to model those values here and now as a witness to the world. Instead we often live like the world with a religious veneer of cultural piety and cheer on those who kill on our behalf so we can keep playing church while pursuing those things that are in direct opposition to what Jesus taught.

To those who feel compelled to serve in the military: Please do not kill even one more person so that I can live my life in direct opposition to what my Lord modeled and commanded. I would rather live under persecution and in poverty than to enjoy what the world has to offer that has been secured by the blood of another.

I don't hate America, although a few years ago I would have made that charge to anyone who wrote something like what I wrote above. I do hate what America often stands for and I am grieved that the church in America embraces it so wholeheartedly. If American Christians had half as much zeal for evangelism and serving others that we do for living and pursuing the American Dream we would have a far different church and we would likely see real persecution from the world. God has placed me here in this country and here I will stay until He sends me somewhere else but being born within the artificial boundaries that define one country as opposed to another does not and cannot define who I am in Christ. Nor do I see any of the "liberty", "freedom" or "rights" of America having anything to do with the way of the cross.

We should not hate anyone, not the soldier who fights for America nor for those they are sent to kill. Following Jesus is about denying self and loving others, even and especially our enemies. The world will never have its fill of wealth, of sin, of bloodshed so we must demonstrate a different way. It will never be popular and no one will wave a flag in our honor but it is the life we are called to.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thoughts On God and Kingdom

Good post today from Eric Carpenter, God and Kingdom. I am encouraged to see so many Christians asking the culturally unpopular questions about the intermixing of the church and the political/national/military concerns of one particular secular nation-state over all others. As Eric says in one of his comments, this is a difficult conversation to have because church-going, red-blooded, patriotic, flag waving Americans don't like anyone asking the hard questions about where our loyalty lies.

I am more and more convinced that the intertwining of patriotism/nationalism/militarism with the culturally understand notion of "Christianity" is far more damaging to our witness in America and abroad then most other doctrinal heresies. Make no mistake, claiming America as a special land and dividing our loyalty between Christ and country is a heretical practice little different from mormonism or other cultic faiths.

Repost: Some other Americans to remember today

As we remember those who lost their lives in war, let us also remember millions of other Americans who have lost their lives but don't get a national holiday...


So I did a little legwork (using Wikipedia so take it with a grain of salt) regarding the number of American soldiers killed in major war operations in our nations history. Here is what I came up:

Revolutionary War 5000
War of 1812 2200
Spanish American War 3000
Civil War 365,000
World War I 117,000
World War II 418,000
Korean War 39,000
Vietnam War 60,000
First Gulf War 150
Operation Iraqi Freedom 4500
Afghanistan 1514

Grand total 1,015,364
That number is only those killed in action and it is a huge number. Over 1 million young men primarily, killed in the prime of their lives over the course of 235 years.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of Americans aborted in 2008:
So if my numbers are correct, that means that in one year we killed more Americans through abortion than have been killed in action in every war we have ever fought over 200 years.

If we are going to remember Americans who have lost their lives today, we should also remember the most innocent, sacrificed not for freedom and liberty but under the banner of "choice".

Repost: Freedom Doesn't Come At The End Of A Gun

Today I am reposting my Memorial Day posts from a year ago. This is the first one, a reminder to the church in America that true freedom can only come from one place and that an American living in the land of the free and the home of the brave who doesn't know Christ can never know true freedom and the believer languishing in prison in China knows a freedom beyond anything the world can offer.


Today is Memorial Day in the United Sates and as a people we are going to be remembering those who died fighting for America.

Let those of us who know and are known by Christ remember that our freedom was not won or preserved by those buried under a field of crosses in Normandy Cemetery in France, as noble and heroic as their sacrifice was. Our freedom was won on a single cross on Calvary. Our declaration of independence is not found on a parchment in Washington, D.C., it is in the words cried out by our Savior "It is finished!"

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My honey is raising honey (bees)

Our Latest Project...

Our bees are indeed busy as....well busy as bees already. I have no idea when we would expect honey from them, this is kind of my wife's project along with the kids who helped her build the hives (we have another hive not place yet) and paint them. At some point I imagine we will have a base more attractive than cinder blocks but this works for now. I know nothing about bees but that hasn't stopped us from any of our other projects!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Preaching The Gospel To Unbelievers Is Bad?

I watched this video from Todd Friel yesterday and it just rubbed me the wrong way for a number of reasons. Give it a look see...

I think where this goes wrong is where discussions like this often go wrong: at the beginning. Todd assumes that "preaching" means "sermons" and that this sort of "preaching" is what the Bible means when it talks about edification, equipping and discipleship. As I have stated over and over, we always see preaching done in the New Testament directed at unbelievers and never see a single sermon associated with the gathering of the church. It is only because we have adopted and modified the Mass that we assume that watching a speaker deliver a prepared speech somehow equates to preaching and this "preaching" is at the heart of the gathered church. The church as an event we attend is invariably going to attract sheep and goats so to decry some for trying to share the Gospel with the lost is foolhardy. If you are going to have a performance driven event, you might as well reach the lost while you are at it.

Todd seems to confuse our cultural religious expression of church (showing up on Sunday, sitting in a pew and somehow being spoon fed via sermon until we magically become mature) with the purpose of the church demonstrated and revealed in Scripture. These are all common topics I post about so no need to go any further on that.

That misunderstanding about the purpose of the church is not all that surprising. What I did find especially troubling was his "baby bird" analogy, the idea that we are continually showing up on Sunday to be spoon fed. The Bible talks about those who never seem to get beyond theological infancy

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  (Heb  5:12-14)

The author of Hebrews seems remarkably disdainful here. He seems to think that these people should be further along than they are and is disappointed that they are not. Keep in mind that these are people surrounded by a pagan culture unlike anything we can imagine, coming from a legalistic reinterpretation of the Old Covenant community and without the myriad "benefits" we have: a complete Bible, a deep cultural tradition of Christianity, ample resources. Yet the author of Hebrews expects that they will have moved beyond the "milk stage" into the more mature "meat stage", or moving from spiritual infancy to adulthood.

I don't necessarily blame Todd here, even though as someone who frequently posts discernment videos pointing out the errors in other you would think he would be past the stage of sitting around with his mouth open to be "fed", i.e. listen to a sermon. The church is structured in a way that locks people into perpetual spiritual infancy by constantly spoon "feeding" them via sermons, Sunday schools and rituals rather than equipping them with the expectation that they will come to a level of maturity and actually begin doing the work of ministry. The flip side of this is a spiritual dependency where Christians are perpetually dependent on their clergy to do the work of ministry while the rest watch. If you doubt this, visit a typical local church and see how many long term "members" have not served the needy or shared the Gospel with someone who is lost in the last six months. Few evangelicals can express even the most basic theological concepts. We have churches stuffed with Bibles, books, tracts, sermons and Sunday school that are also populated with milk level immature Christians.

The author of Hebrews exhorts the readers of his letter to come to maturity by constantly practicing their powers of discernment. How do we practice our powers of discernment? How are we fed and equipped? By picking out a "church" and listening to a sermon each week? Clearly not since that was not the practice of the early church so it hardly seems to make sense that the author of the book of Hebrews would imply that. The pattern clearly seems to be that being a disciple involves on the job training, i.e. being actively involved in the work of ministry and emulating the example of others, younger men emulating and imitating the elders and older, more mature women teaching and training by their example the younger women. In other words, getting saved, getting basic training and getting out of the pew and into the mission field all around us.

The trouble in the church is not that our sermons are aimed at the goats, the problem is that the sheep are being spoon fed astroturf and never being truly equipped. It is inexcusable that in a nation with millions upon millions of professing "Christians" has such lackluster participation in the work of ministry and such theological shallowness. Something is clearly not working and a solution that boils down to "more of what is not working" is doomed to repeating the cycle.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Does it really matter?

So we send money to help orphans, does it really help? Does it matter? These small amounts I am able to donate are just a drop in the ocean of need, why bother?

That is a question answered here: What difference does it make? and in this video:

Every little bit helps and every donation helps a real child have hope in the midst of hopelessness. Watch this video and see what a difference you can make in the life of an orphan, showing them the love of Christ. Please help if you can by donating to The Haiti Orphan Project and know that your donations go 100% to help children like the ones in this video, real kids who need food and shelter and most of all love.

Book Review: Erasing Hell

In response to Rob Bell's tragically popular book Love Wins, Francis Chan wrote Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up and it is both a timely and critical treatment of a crucial topic. The topic of the reality of a literal hell is one that is divisive and also one we cannot get wrong. I don't think anyone is going to spend eternity in hell for getting baptism wrong since half of the church (or more!) is wrong on that issue but if we miss on this issue we run the risk of missing the calling of the church and that has eternal consequences.

Chan's Erasing Hell is often emotional and gut wrenching but while it is highly accessible for even the novice student of the Bible, it is also very thorough in a short book and intellectually deep. This is not a difficult book to read from a reading comprehension standpoint but the material is tough. Like Francis I have looked around at crowds in airports and on trains and been struck with the reality that many, if not most, of them are outside of Christ and bound for a very real hell. Pretending that it all just works out in the end might be comforting but it is a huge disservice to those who have eternity outside of Christ as their current trajectory.

Chan doesn't, and really can't, do a deep study of every single passage but he does look at all of the major text that deal with hell and ties them all together well. I especially appreciated his inclusion of Romans 9 in the discussion, a chapter that makes people squirm and when coupled with the doctrine of an eternal hell Paul's words in this chapter make people upset. Combining God's sovereign election in salvation with an eternal hell seems us but it is not really our place to question God on this (or anything else)

As Chan points out many times, the issue is not whether or not we want to believe in a literal hell but will we? There is nothing more asinine than someone who says "I can't believe in a God like that". We don't have a pantheon of gods to choose from, there is one God and we can either believe what He says or deny Him. The issue is whether or not God has decreed an eternal hell and if we believe Him when He reveals that truth to us. I think Chan makes a great case from Scripture that hell is indeed real and that the various iterations of "Christian Universalism" are untenable from Scripture when you look at the Bible as a whole and look at the alleged supporting proof-texts for universalism in context. The question then becomes what do we do with this revelation. Do we pout and impotently stomp our feet because of our perception of God being "unfair" or do we redouble our efforts to take the Gospel to the lost, acting as God's ambassadors to declare the very real penalty for sin but the glorious provision for salvation in Jesus Christ?

This was not a pleasurable read because the topic is so very weighty and the reality of hell is overwhelming but it is a necessary topic for the church to get a handle on. I recommend Erasing Hell for anyone who needs a good introduction to this topic and especially for those who have run into the oxymoronic "Christian Universalism" and are looking for a cogent response based in the Bible.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Worthwhile Interview

I have been travelling on business the last few days and got a lot of reading but no blogging done but I came across this interview with Jon Zens and wanted to pass it along: An Interview With A New Testament Scholar. Jon is a compelling scholar and has some really valuable insights which I appreciate even when I diagree with him on some issues. I especially appreciate his efforts to introduce more people to the Anabaptists. As he points out in this interview the Anabaptists often get mischaracterized as heretic by many who have never really studied them. Check it out!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A great essay from Al Mohler

As a companion link to my prior post, Al Mohler gets the floor on CNNs Belief Blog and posts just a great essay that deal with all of the common objections to condemnation of homosexuality: The difference between the holiness laws of national Israel and the universal laws regarding sexuality, the "what about slavery or polygamy" canard, he deals with the utter failure of the church in regards to divorce as it changed the culture and ravaged families. He really hits all of the important points in pretty short order given the general Biblical ignorance of the populace and the commenters at CNN in particular. Check out My Take: The Bible condemns a lot, but here's why we focus on homosexuality. Dr. Mohler states forcefully that this is "the most pressing moral question of our times". That might be a bit of hyperbole but his point is well taken that this is not an issue where the church can turn a blind eye.

The Christian Case For Sin?

It seems like there is a contest between the religion pages of the Huffington Post and CNN to see who can post the silliest and most ridiculous pieces on Christianity. CNN might have pulled ahead with a post by Mark Osler titled The Christian Case For Gay Marriage. I will wait, hopefully in vain, for the article on "The Christian Case for Stealing" or "The Christian Case for Murder" or "The Christian Case for Adultery".  As ludicrous as that sounds, up until just a few years ago there would not have been any sort of semi-serious outlet for a article with that title. Mr. Osler starts off with this gem:

What I see in the Bible’s accounts of Jesus and his followers is an insistence that we don’t have the moral authority to deny others the blessing of holy institutions like baptism, communion, and marriage. God, through the Holy Spirit, infuses those moments with life, and it is not ours to either give or deny to others.

Perhaps Mr. Osler's Bible is missing a few pages, like for instance 1 Corinthians 5.....

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1 Cor 5:9-13)

You don't have to look very far to see that the authors of the epistles, post-cross and ascension, absolutely recognized homosexuality as an extreme form of sexual sin (later on in the very next chapter 1 Cor 6:9; Romans 1: 24-26; 1 Timothy 1:10; Jude 1:6-8). So if we are not to associate or even share a meal with people in the church in open sin, doesn't it seem to make sense that we would not extend to them the Lord's Supper or baptism, certainly not solemnizing what the Bible abhors by calling their relationship a "marriage"? If someone showed up at the gathering of the church where you meet and said "Sorry I am late, I had to steal this car so I could make it, stopped by to have an adulterous tryst with the lady down the street and intentionally ran over a little old lady in the cross walk. So, where are the plastic cups and crackers?", I would hope that you would not extend to them the blessings of the Lord's Table.

Mr. Osler then goes on in his flowery and vacuous essay to try to link acceptance of homosexuality with Peter's issues with eating with Gentiles, a completely untenable link especially when you consider that the same guy who rebuked Peter for not eating with Gentiles (Paul) is the guy who wrote so strongly against sexual sin and those who would try to use the grace of God as cover for their continued perversion. The New Testament is clear that what we eat doesn't really matter and the distinctions that separated Jew from Gentile have been done away with. It is also clear that homosexuality is still a gross sin, something that needs to be repented of, not celebrated.

There are lots of sins in the world, it is true. Homosexuality is certainly singled out, multiple times and specifically but there is a tendency to overemphasize opposition to homosexuality while turning a blind eye to other sins like greed, divorce, etc. The reaction we should have is not to brush over or normalize homosexuality but to be honest in confronting other sins within the church. People like Mr. Osler are not extending grace to those that the Bible says are trapped in sin by trying to pretend that the Bible doesn't say what it clearly says in order to placate the culture.The cure for cancer is not to cheerily tell someone they are not sick at all and send them on their way and the cure for sin is not to tell people that Jesus died so that they could keep on sinning. So-called "gay marriage" is going to be a highly divisive issue in the upcoming years and clearly the fickle winds of the culture are blowing in favor of recognizing homosexual relationships as "marriage". That may be true and I don't really think the church should spend a ton of time or effort combating secular, civil "gay marriage" but nor should we offer the truth as a sacrifice on the altar of political correctness in a vain attempt to placate the pagan culture and curry favor with the world.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Some Final Thoughts (For Now) On The Family Integrated Church Movement

I posted my review of Voddie Baucham’s book Family Driven Faith a few weeks ago and since Voddie is probably the most “mainstream” proponent of the Family Integrated church movement  (FICM) I think he is the best representative of the  movement as a whole. As I mentioned in my review, while I am leery of any "movement" in the church, I have a lot of affinity with the FICM. I appreciate the serious way they approach and treat the Scriptures and their unapologetic stand on the teaching of the Bible in matters of gender. They have taken what is an unpopular but correct stance against the consumerist mentality that has given us the modern “youth ministry” and age-segregation model. By and large they are guys that I would love to sit around and have coffee with. However, while there is much to commend in the FICM there is also a lot left “un-Reformed”. There is no better example of this than in this paragraph from Voddie’s book…

First there is no clear biblical mandate for the current approach. I have to choose my words carefully here, since I do not wish to intimate that churches with youth ministries are heretical or unbiblical. I fully recognize that many of the things we do in church today are not found in the Bible. We would be hard pressed to find a church building (as we know it), a pulpit, or a microphone in the book of Acts. So I am not arguing that the fact that something is not specifically mentioned in Scripture means that it is absolutely forbidden in today’s church. (Family Driven Faith, pg. 179, emphasis added)

Mull that over for a moment if you will because it is an exceptionally honest statement from a well-known and generally respected guy in the church, someone who defends the so-called Regulative Principle of Worship. Many of the things we do in church today are not found in the Bible. He mentions pulpits and buildings. You can add clergy, monologue sermons, seminaries, ritualized “Lord’s Supper”, "church membership", on and on. In fact the more you study it, the less of the traditional church you find in the Bible. We aren’t talking here about some lib’ral “mainline” Protestant here, we are talking a Reformed, sola scriptura group of churches and an uber-conservative spokesman in Voddie Bacuham and he bluntly admits that we do lots of stuff that isn’t in the Bible. That raises this important question:

If we claim to believe what the Bible teaches but the stuff we do isn’t in the Bible, why do we do it?

The answers are all over the place. Some people will insist that in fact most church traditions are in the Bible, at least in their church traditions. It requires some exegetical gymnastics to find them but they are allegedly there nonetheless. Others will appeal to pragmatism or culture or tradition. How can we have an orderly meeting if everyone is allowed to talk? How can we have church discipline without membership lists? How can we prevent heresy if no one is "in authority"? These and other questions are understandable given the propensity for people to wander but they place little trust in the Holy Spirit and the ability of the "average" Christian to read and understand the Scriptures.

I am not saying any of these extra-biblical traditions are inherently bad but I would ask where we find the support for them and what do we do when these traditions impede what the Bible does describe and command, as they so often do. If our traditions impede "one anothering" or if our traditions prevent us from being in fellowship and community with other believers, isn't the solution to get rid of the traditions? Somehow the church survived and even thrived in a much simpler setting in spite of rampant persecution and it is hard to argue that as we have surrounded ourselves with traditions that church life has improved at all.

In the end while there is much to be commended about the Family Integrated Church Movement, it falls down where so many other reform movements have stumbled: a stubborn clinging to the most entrenched, and often the most harmful, traditions of the church. Like the magisterial reformers, Voddie and others like him are “Halfway men”, the moniker hung on the reformers by the Anabaptists. They do get credit for taking a stand against the prevailing winds of the religious culture that insists on age segregation and erasing gender distinctions but it as a whole doesn’t go nearly far enough and ends up with a slightly more Biblical  gathering that ultimately is at odds with the Bible itself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A timely reminder

Thanks to Robert Martin at the Abnormal Anabaptist for his reminder that today is the anniversary of the martyring of Anabaptist Dirk Willems. If you don't know the story of Dirk, it is one of the most poignant reminders of the principle of non-resistance and enemy love that marks Anabaptism. Dirk was imprisoned by the Roman Catholic authorities for the crime of Anabaptism but managed to escape before his execution. From the Mennonite Quarterly Review we pick up the story as Dirk was pursued by his jailers:

Seeing him escape, a palace guard pursued him as he fled. Dirk crossed the thin ice of a pond, the "Hondegat," safely. His own weight had been reduced by short prison rations, but the heavier pursuer broke through.

Hearing the guard's cries for help, Dirk turned back and rescued him. The less-than-grateful guard then seized Dirk and led him back to captivity. This time the authorities threw him into a more secure prison, a small, heavily barred room at the top of a very tall church tower, above the bell, where he was probably locked into the wooden leg stocks that remain in place today. Soon he was led out to be burned to death.

By stopping to save his persecutor, Dirk Willems was recaptured and lost his life in a horrifying way, the combination of burning and suffocation that made being burned at the stake so agonizing. That makes little sense to us. Why would you help someone who was trying to capture you so that you could be burned at the stake? Serves him right, let him drown! It doesn't seem very sensible to us but to the Anabaptists who took the teachings of Christ literally and seriously there is nothing more Christ-like than loving your enemies even unto death.

We need to recover that vision of complete sacrifice that has marked the lives of so many disicples of Christ, many of whom lost their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Being a follower of Christ is not easy, it is not safe and it will cost you your life one way or the other but it is the only way for a believer to live.

Blogging Through Hebrews: Hebrews 3: 7-19

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:7-19)

These twelve verses deal with two main subjects, the hardening of the heart and entering God’s rest. These are consistent themes that run throughout Scripture but that I think cause some misunderstanding.

The first theme is the idea of hardened hearts, the prideful heart of man in rebellion against God and seeking even to supplant God. The clear teaching of Scripture is that man’s heart is naturally far from God even when his actions are religious in nature and designed to make one right with some deity based on personal performance and good works. The only solution is supernatural, the removal of the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

The other major teaching here is the notion of rest. This life is one that rarely has much rest. Our culture has us engaged in a constant cycle of frenetic activity broken up by “vacations” that are usually more stressful than our normal lives. The Old Covenant pattern was of the Sabbath rest, setting aside one day from our labors after working six in the pattern of God who created everything we know in six days and rested on the seventh. Is that the pattern we see after the cross? I don’t think it is and I don’t believe that is what the writer of Hebrews is speaking of.

What is the rest promised to us as beneficiaries of the New Covenant? Not a piece of land in the Middle East. While the Egyptian exodus and the promised land prefigure the coming New Covenant, they are not the same. What about Sunday? That is culturally acceptable but the problem is apparent: the Bible doesn’t make the link between Sunday as the first day of the week and the Jewish Sabbath observance. So what is this rest? The answer is simple: Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In Him we have rest from the rat race of labor to try to please God and in eternity we will be at rest with Him in glory. As we will see in the next chapter, everyone who has come to faith in Christ is resting from their works (Heb 4:9-10).

Some things simply don’t change. Under the Old Covenant many were prevented from entering the land of promise because of disbelief. Under the New Covenant many will not enter in the rest of God and instead be consigned to damnation for the same reason: unbelief. Those who fell in the wilderness are the prefiguration of those who will be cast into the lake of fire. The imagery should be a sober reminder that God is by nature unable to break His own word. When we read the warnings about the consequences of unbelief in Scripture, we had better take them very seriously indeed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What About Widows?

I ran across a post today about "church membership" that throws down the common trump card of enrolling the widows in 1 Timothy 5 as a defense for a formal system of church membership. Here is the passage in question.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. (1 Tim 5:9-16)

See, see! They made a list of widows! Ipso facto the early church kept all sorts of lists which must have included formal lists of "members" even though that is never mentioned. Case closed! Or is it?

Is "church membership" implied here? Only if you have already decided on church membership as a practice and are searching for justification for that tradition. What is Paul saying to Timothy? He is describing the parameters for a woman who has been widowed to be financially supported by the church. This passage parallels Acts 6: 1-6 where certain widows were being neglected in the daily distribution and men were called to make sure all of the widows were cared for. Paul is addressing a specific question here: which widows should the church support? This conversation happens in the context of the more general responsibility of the church to care for one another and really has nothing to do with what we consider to be "church membership".

Paul tells Timothy that the church should include in their financial support those women that are actually widows of a certain age (at least 60), having only been married to one man (not dealing with remarriage here as we see below, I assume he meant divorce or polygamy) and being a woman with a reputation for good works. Younger widows are not included but are to be encouraged to remarry and believers who have widowed relatives should care for them directly. What we have are parameters for including a widow in the financial support of the church. Does "enroll" here mean what we would think of as enrolling someone in a program? Maybe. Did they write out a list of widows that qualified? That doesn't necessarily follow. As the church would know one another, it would seem to make sense that the women in the church who were widows would be known to the church and those that met the qualification Paul lists out would also be known. I don't know that they would need to have a list here. I know the people in our gathering of the church that are married, that have kids, that homeschool, that work in this profession or that. I don't need a list to know who the homeschooling parents are. The problem in the church is not that we don't have enough lists, it is that we don't spend enough time together to really know one another.

Even if we assume that there was a formal list of widows, which is not at all apparent here, does that logically lead to a formal list of church members? Not hardly. First and foremost, the Bible makes no mention, not even an implication, of a system of formalized local church membership. Second, the notion of church membership requires an understanding of the church as it is practiced today where local churches compete with one another and people see their primary allegiance to individual and divided local churches rather than to the community of believers as a whole which is the model we see in the New Testament. If the church related to one another as brothers and sisters in an adopted family, church membership would be irrelevant. Finally the system of church membership is based on a pastor-centric, authoritarian church model where people are expected to "submit" to clergy based on their membership in a local church and the title the clergy holds. This is the very antithesis of Biblical leadership where we follow men based on the manner of their lives rather than by the titles they hold, men we follow out of love and respect not as an obligation of our "membership".

"Church membership" not only is absent from Scripture it serves as a fake substitute for real relationships. Being a "member" of a local church doesn't do a thing to foster relationships and having a real relationship makes "membership" irrelevant. The fact that Paul created parameters for widows to be supported financially by the church is completely distinct from the issue of "membership" and trying to imply that the enrollment of certain widows is evidence of church membership is eisegesis of the worst kind. The defenders of "church membership" would do themselves and the church a favor by encouraging us to live sacrificial lives in relationship with one another instead of defending a man-made tradition we adopted and adapted from Rome.

Try not to say: Awww! I dare ya!

My apologies to Detroit fans

Let me apologize. On Friday April 13th I made a Major Announcement, namely that I was changing loyalty from the Indians and Browns to the Tigers and Lions. Going into the day on April 13th the Tigers were 5-1 and looking like legit contenders to win it all. Since my announcement? The Tigers have gone 12-17 and look like they couldn't hit a t-ball. I guess this was predictable as is the fact that the Indians are in first place with a team of nobodies and cast-offs. Oh well, as they say it is a long season, a marathon and not a sprint, etc. With Verlander at the top of the pitching staff and Miggy and Prince eventually getting it together I am sure they will be fine. I better hope so or my house might get egged by hordes of angry Detroiters.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Membership. That word doesn't mean what you think it does.

This is an oldie but a goodie: The Scriptural Language of Membership . Alan Knox looks at the passages containing the word "member" that are often (mis)used to insinuate some sort of system of formal church membership. The traditional use of formal membership, as I have written numerous times before, is nothing more than a method of controlling people, of exerting power and authority in a misplaced manner that usurps the Kingship of Christ. Because it is so deeply entrenched in the cultural understanding we have about the church, the powers that be and those with a vested interest in sustaining the system defend it by any means possible, including outright misrepresentation of Scripture to meet a preset agenda. This should not be so.

When you are born again you become part of the Body of Christ, united with Him by adoption and united with every single other Christian without restriction or differentiation. That union doesn't depend on membership classes, or votes or affirmation by anyone other than Christ and it cannot be controlled or revoked or limited by anyone else. If we say we love one another but only on our own terms we make a lie of the great commandment and a mockery of everything the Bible teaches us about the church.

Choose abortion yes, choose real milk? No.

This is a bit of a rant and has nothing really to do with the church or theology. You have been warned.

I read yesterday about yet another example of the government going after a citizen for the crime of selling raw milk. Like many other incidents it seems a complete overreaction on the part of the government. I understand the need for food safety, although I question how "safe" our mass produced, factory farmed food really is, but these sorts of incidents go way beyond "food safety". This is not raw milk being sold to unsuspecting consumers at Wal-mart, this is a completely natural product being sold to willing consumers who pay more and go out of their way to purchase a product.

When did we get to the stage where the government has to OK every single decision in our lives? Something as simple as choosing to sell raw milk to willing consumers that are seeking this product out has become a criminal offense. If I were a suspicious person I might wonder if the large commercial dairies and grocery retailers were perhaps encouraging this sort of heavy-handed behavior by Federal agents.

The government has arbitrarily declared that a woman has an inviolable Constitutional "right" terminate her pregnancy at any time, ending the life of her child as a matter of "health care" in the name of choice but that same government declares that same woman cannot be trusted to choose of her own volition to buy milk that has come straight from a cow. You know, where milk comes from.

It only makes sense, it certainly is healthier to cram cows into confinement facilities, breed them to become udders on four legs, feed them a completely unnatural food, cram them with hormones and antibiotics to make them produce as much milk as possible without getting sick due to their unnatural living arrangements, milk them with huge machines and then processing milk by pasteurization so it can be shipped and stored for weeks instead of consumed fresh. 'Cause you know, that sounds so much healthier than feeding cows their natural food, grass, and drinking the milk they produce right after it is made.

That makes perfect sense.

How far away are we from government mandates that every American be covered head to toe in hand-sanitizer and encased in bubble wrap before they are allowed to leave the house? We pump our kids full of antibiotics for every sniffle, sanitize every surface of the house, keep our kids from getting dirty or being exposed to anything that is not "sanitary" and then wonder why so many kids are allergic to everything under the sun.

A woman has the right to choose to kill her unborn child but that same woman doesn't have the right to buy non-government approved milk.  Why exactly do we trust these people to control every aspect of our lives?

The Proper Use of Galatians 3:28

Eric Carpenter has a very nice post today about properly understanding Galatians 3:28 in his cleverly named post: On Galatians 3:28.

Eric tackles first what Galatians 3:28 and the surrounding verses are saying within the context of Paul's entire letter and he then addresses the most egregious misuse of this verse, namely trying to imply that it negates what Paul writes in other places regarding gender roles and functions in the church by nmaking a verse about salvation into a verse about gender roles and functions. There is no end to the mischief that comes from ripping a verse out of context and trying to make it fit into a preconceived notion. Eric's post is firm but gentle and hits just the right note on one of the most misused passages in Scripture.

Why Spurgeon Was 'The Man'

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The real source of all the problems in the church today

The church has issues. Lots of them.

I think I have it figured out the main source of all of our problems.

Look at this sampling of great theologians from the past...

John Calvin
John Knox
Menno Simons

J.C. Ryle

Charles Spurgeon

The great theologians of the past were often men with awesome beards. Thick, beefy man beards. No goatees even. Real beards. You know you can take these guys seriously. A man that serious about his facial hair is going to take his theology just as seriously.

The great theologians today? We ll just look at 'em and the problem becomes apparent.

Al Mohler

D.A. Carson

J.I. Packer

John Piper

R.C. Sproul

Tim Keller

Wayne Grudem

Not a beard among 'em. The only decent beards are on Doug Wilson and N.T. Wright. Makes me weep with shame.

I don't trust a man who won't grow a beard and I don't respect a man that can't grow a beard. We need more bearded theologians in the church or things will never get any better. The great apostasy came about at the same time as the advent of the disposable razor. Coincidence?

I don't think so.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sacrebleu! A New Moo!

Once again I set the bar out of reach for the rest of my fellow husbands by buying a funtastic Mothers Day gift for my wife: a 2 year old Jersey heifer due with her first calf in about a month. Once we get her producing milk we should get 45-50 lbs of milk a day which is around 5 gallons of raw milk with super high butterfat and protein content. Cheese and butter anyone?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Please No


How can someone read the New Testament and think that erecting a gaudy 200 foot cross for a cost of $5,000,000 is somehow honoring Christ? Not to mention it looks just horribly tacky.
Developer plans 200-foot-tall cross in Missouri

Public symbols of Christianity are under attack around the nation, but not in Branson, Mo., where county officials have approved a 200-foot cross that will rival American icons like the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge, according to its developer.

Kerry Brown said the “God-given vision” of the Branson Cross came to his father Dean two decades ago after he bought land atop Bear Mountain near the intersections of U.S. highways 160 and 65 in Branson, tourist mecca famous for its country music venues.

“It started as a vision with a 7-foot-tall cross just so people would have a place to go and meditate with the Lord,” Brown told “As time went on, additional portions of the vision came to him and ultimately it was to build the largest cross that anyone has ever seen.”

Brown hopes to have the $5 million project completed by the end of 2013. The cross will feature a 100-foot crossbeam and twin elevators to the 17-story-tall horizontal bar. The project is being funded by donations, and though Brown declined to say how much he's taken in, a website associated with the effort said some $410,000 has been raised so far. Much of the expense will go to preparing the mountaintop site.

Repost: The error and grievous sin of fencing the table

I was thinking again today about the issue of "fencing the table" to prevent recognized believers from joining the fellowship of the Lord's Supper. It is a common practice in much of the church. It is also a gross sin, a misrepresentation of the Lord's Supper and an inexcusable usurpation of the authority of the Lord of the Supper and the Host of the Table. I posted about this last August and decided to repost it: The error and grievous sin of fencing the table. As Alan Knox commented on the original post: 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 as true a statement as you are going to find and it is eminently Biblical. Jesus has not given the authority to fence His Table to any person, not now and not in the first century.  The only invitation any believer needs to come to the Supper is being born-again and the only reason for the community of believers to deny someone the Table is open sin. Last time I checked not being a " member" of a local church was not a sin, especially since there is no command or example of formal church membership anywhere in Scripture.


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 repented 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?

A little perspective

The news is all abuzz about the recent loss by J.P. Morgan Chase of $2 billion. The response has been predictable. More regulations! I offer a little perspective here: A private company make a risky investment and loses. Quick, someone call the government!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A great video from Haiti!

Check this out!


It is amazing how much joy these kids have when by our standards they have absolutely nothing.

Can you join me in supporting these precious orphans? Click over to the Haiti Orphan Project and help feed,  shelter and educate these children that God has such a heart for.

Gay "marriage", North Carolina and knee-jerk progressivism

The latest cause célèbre among the "progressive" wing of the church is apparently normalization of homosexuality. After the free and open election in North Carolina amending the state constitution to reject homosexual "marriage"  the Pavlovian response from the usual crew, Rachel Held Evans and others, is as predictable as it is silly. Appealing to the need to reach the lost we are told that we must not only reach out but affirm the lifestyle of those engaged in what the Bible describes as a destructive sin. Somehow we are supposed to believe that embracing this lifestyle is a winning evangelistic strategy. "Go and sin no more" has been replaced with "Go and sin some more".

No one is more vocal about keeping the church out of politics than I am. I don't necessarily support from a "Christian" standpoint trying to legislate morality although I do agree that there is a compelling state interest in not subsidizing homosexual unions because of the slippery slope it puts us on. However,  I don't really think this has much to do with avoiding political entanglements as much as it does with trying to appeal to and appease the world in order to fit in and be accepted. We want the "get out of hell" card (for those few who still believe in a literal hell) but we also want the friendship of the world. Railing against North Carolina (a state in the south no less!),  "progressives" can moan and rend their garments online and then pat one another on the back for being so loving and sophisticated unlike those gap toothed, bib overall wearing fundamentalists.

The North Carolina law, duly and legally passed by the citizens of that state, doesn't tell people how to live or who they can or cannot engage in sexual activity with or who they live with or go to brunch with. It merely says that North Carolina, like 29 other states and counting, does not afford legal recognition to those relationships just as it doesn't recognize polygamous relationships or casual dating relationships or heterosexual roommates or any of the countless permutations of human relationships other than marriage. If your employer wants to offer health insurance to your homosexual "partner", as my employer does, that is their prerogative. If you want to name your homosexual boyfriend or girlfriend as the beneficiary for your life insurance or 401k or name them in your will, you certainly can. You just don't get the right to demand that tax payers subsidize your relationship.

Of course banning "gay marriage" doesn't save a single sinner but then again telling someone that their sin is swell with God and that He doesn't care if they flaunt their sin isn't going to save anyone either. We need to show love to the lost and that includes telling them what the Bible has to say about sin, that it is abhorrent to God and leads to destruction and that the only way that changes is to repent, i.e. turn from sin, and follow Christ.

As the church we should not be consumed with legal action as a substitute for the hard work of evangelism and justice. Nor should we reinterpret Biblical love to include embracing sin. The Bible gives us clear direction and copious examples of how we balance this but there are too many religious people on the Right and the Left who obviously don't really believe what the Bible has to say except when it can be twisted to support their agenda. The "leaders" in the church who are engaged in this sort of behavior need to be publicly rebuked.