Sunday, December 10, 2006

Really, what is a church?

In my last post I gave a working definition of "church." Modern American Evangelicalism is struggling to live as the church, grow the church and glorify God in the church and I posit that this is because so few really know what it is. I want to look at three pictures of the church that the Word of God gives us and then discuss their application. Again, as I discussed in the last article, there are universal church applications to all these truths but there also must be local church applications.

One Body
The concept of the church as a body is laid out by Paul in the 12th chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. Paul is speaking here in the context of using spiritual gifts (v. 7). Gifts are given for the common good not to lift up the individual. Then he launches into how that commonality is to work:

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
 14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
 27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Similarly this theme is addressed in Romans 12:4-5 and Ephesians 4: 4-16. A body is an organic unit that works together for a common purpose: the life and growth of the body.

A Holy Temple
In Ephesians 2 Paul uses the body metaphor to teach that Jews and Gentiles are united in Christ and then springs into a new picture.

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I think that we have to work a little harder than the Ephesians or Corinthians did to understand the temple metaphor. In the ancient world temples were huge, ornate edifices built to honor a deity. Who has not seen the Parthenon and the Pantheon? Who has not heard of the splendor of Solomon's temple? But these building were not places where people gathered to worship like we do on Sunday. There was occult (i.e. hidden, secret) worship that went on inside. But the main religious function that they served was to glorify the deity by simply being there and being beautiful.

A Family
Paul routinely addresses his letters to the "brethren." John speaks to the "fathers." Peter talks about "my son Mark." James not only starts out talking to "brothers," but repeats it throughout. Then we come to 1 Timothy 5.

 1Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Here we have laid out the whole family: mother, father, sister, brother. This is how we are to relate to others. Are we talking about the Universal Church? Surely we are but when do I address an older Chinese man as father? Is this not better understood as how I relate to those with whom I worship on a weekly basis? A family is a group of people uniquely set apart from others to love and grow each other.

A body, a temple, a family. What do we learn from this? The first thing I see is sovereignty. While we all have a responsibility to choose a good assembly of believers with which to associate, it is God who places us into the body; who builds us into the temple; who allows us to be born into a family. In our church people must stand up and give testimony how God has led them to come and join our church. It has always amazed me that after giving testimony to being led to our church people will then turn around and leave quietly citing preaching, youth group, children's ministry, music or some other subjective fault for why they are leaving. If God places us in a church, should we not have a clear call by God to leave the church.

Secondly, I see no place in these three illustrations for entertainment, personal benefit, or other selfish motives in deciding where I will worship and serve God. I think that in exercising my responsibility to find a body of believers to associate with I can use denominational distinctive to assist the choice. I believe that one might grow spiritually to a point where one sees doctrinal error which was not noticed when you came.

So in conclusion I see a scriptural mindset we need to inculcate in ourselves. What is my part in the body? How am I adorning the temple of God? Am I committed to my family even when they are imperfect? This is the point of this teaching in the Word. We are created and saved to the glory of God. And we are to live in the church to this end, not to fulfill some petty personal need.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What is a Church?

I know many people who have grown up in church that cannot define what a church is. I don't really know that I can. I have a definition that I think is workable although there is a niggling doubt that it is somehow incomplete.

Before I get to my working definition, I think it is important to ask, "Do we need a definition?" Since most people cannot define it does it need definition. Is the understanding sufficiently clear to negate the need for a clearer casting of the term? The reason that there needs to be a clear definition is that it affects how we choose, join and leave our churches. Without a firm biblical idea of what a church is, even the concept of church membership is moot. If a church is merely a chance gathering of Christians then I can come or go as I see fit. Or, if Matthew 18:20 defines a church than I can stay home and have church with my family. It is important to know what terms mean and the word "Church" is no exception.

Another quick digression is the matter of local vs. universal. I realize that there are some who deny the existence of the universal or invisible church. It seems evident from a passage like Ephesians 5:25 that there is some kind of universal body of all who truly believe in Christ and He relates to that body. At the same time there is clearly a need to focus on some kind of local church who is actually able to work together in time and space to edify each other and to evangelize the lost around them. So my question is essentially: "What is a local church?"

I have this definition from the Catechism for Boys and Girls: "A church is an assembly of baptized believers, joined by a covenant of discipline and witness, who meet together regularly under the preaching of the Word of God."

The key points of this answer are crucial. Assembly is the actual Greek term that has come to translated as "church." It emphasizes the community and the need that we have to be in regular conversation and contact with others who are striving to live godly lives. Furthermore, it underlines that while we have a private duty to the Great Commission there is also a corporate responsibility. Baptized: while I am not at all a Big-B-Baptist, the Bible stresses this step of obedience in the life of true believers. To some the placing the word Believers in a definition of church might have seemed ridiculous. But from the Puritan's "Grandfather Clause" to the modern problem of allowing "seekers" to join churches there is a trend by some to allow membership to those who have shown no desire to repent of sin and turn to Christ in faith.

That people should be held or Joined together is a state of nature. People can not be counted on to do what is right or even to act in their own self-interest. One only has to witness a crisis where people will do foolish things instead of banding together for their own safety and the common good. Mankind is in need of accountability to accomplish almost any worthwhile task. This joining is two-fold. First is an agreement for Discipline. Our salvation starts with justification when we are judicially declared righteous in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately that is only the beginning. It is interesting that it is not Paul, Peter or James who tells us how to confront sin among believers but the Lord Himself in Matthew 18. We need to pursue holiness and we need to encourage it in others and we need to be ready to let others pursue holiness in us. This kind of "iron sharpening iron" sets up the second part of the covenant. Witness is the feet of the Gospel. The Church as a corporation can not witness without the individual lives of the members. The members can witness so much more effectively when it is not just their story but a multitude of witnesses all saying to the world, "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

And all this is accomplished by the regular Meeting of God's people to encourage each other to discipline themselves to holiness and to spread the Gospel. As they sit under the regular Preaching of the Bible they are built up and equipped to allow the Holy Spirit to fill them with the mind of Christ and to go out into the world to tell others the good news!

I hope that this gets you thinking about what your view of Church is. In part 2 we will look at how this should impact our church life and, we will look at practical implications of this viewpoint. It is important to know what we are talking about. Everything we believe about church membership, church purpose and methodology is based on what we believe a church really is.

So, now you have my definition. What is yours?

Pastor Appreciation

There is an excellent article here about appreciating your pastor. It lists some scary statistics and some good suggestions. It is well worth reading.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Recommended Reading

Dan Philips over at Pyromaniacs has written another great article excoriating the kind of mushy post-modern thinking that is increasingly common in evangelical circles.

Christian Duty: An Oxymoron?

Is the concept of "christian duty" an oxymoron? To hear many people in Evangelical Christianity today it seems so. Just mention the term in sermon or conversation and see if people don't start to squirm and mutter about "legalism" and "phariseeism." Recently there has been a resurgence of the whole "Lordship Salvation" controversy. It touches on this issue. Do I have a duty to obey God as Lord and Master and is that duty somehow tied to my salvation or assurance of salvation?

I do not think that I can conclusively solve this debate when great men have fought across the field without victory. But, I will wade in with my little two cents!

The concept of duty is definitely a New Testament one. We find the word in the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ when he tells his disciples that men ought to pray and men ought to worship (Lk 18:1; John 4:20). The word is used 104 times in the NT and it is frequently translated as ought, should, or must. It comes from another Greek word that is often translated as "bound." Sometimes these are references to things that need to be done like, "I must work the works of Him that sent me…(Jn 9:4). But there are plenty of things that we must do. They are duties. We are bound to do them.

Here is a brief list:
•We must be compassionate and forgiving (Mt 18:33)
•We must not be troubled by the world situation around us; we must preach the gospel (Mk 13:7-10)
•We must speak the gospel (Lk 12:12; Ep 6:20; Col 4:4-6)
•We must observe the sabbath (Lk 13:14)
•We must pray (Lk 18:1; Ro 8:26)
•We must worship God in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24)
•We must obey God rather than men (Ac 5:29)
•We must go through trials (Ac 14:22)
•We must be generous (Ac 20:35)
•We must be humble (Ro 12:3)
•We must know some things (1 Co 8:2; He 2:1; He 11:6)
•We must encourage those who minister to us (2 Co 2:3)
•We must walk in a way that is pleasing to God (1 Th 4:1; 1 Tim 3:2-15; Ti 1:7; 2 Pe 3:11)
•We must follow godly leaders (2 Th 3:7)
•We must be gentle (2 Tim 2:24)

Here is the rub. By what are we bound to these duties and what do they accomplish. Doing duty can never accomplish any form of salvation. Throughout scripture we are reminded of our inability to please God or measure up to His standard of righteousness. The best verse is Is 64:6 where the prophet posits that even if we could be really righteous it would not be enough to earn favor with God. Our only hope for salvation is Christ. So what then is this duty?

The fact that our duty does not save us in no way obviates us from that duty as some would simplistically have it. The idea that we can partake of God's saving grace and mercy and yet be unchanged is absurd. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. But the work of Christ is to save us from the sin that separates us from God. So this saving faith must perforce include repentance from the sin or else we have nothing from which to be saved. And the evidence of this saving faith is revealed in how we do our duty to God and others.

The Westminster divines state, "The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in … their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind." This is not the drudge duty of slavery but the joyful duty of the family. I do not need to instruct my children of their duty to receive gifts from me. I rarely need to be reminded of my duty to eat my supper that my wife has prepared. My wife does not need to remind me of my husbandly duty to her. These are duties that we willingly perform.

So Christian duty is no oxymoron! It is what a heart that has submitted itself to Christ will joyfully and willingly perform. The reason that we have these duties enumerated to us is that, in the bent of our natural man, we do not know these duties. We are like children who have never seen a wrapped present and so do not understand the joy that comes from unwrapping and receiving the gift inside.

Christ is the Lord of all the cosmos. We must come to Him in belief that He is able to save us as the one that He is. As we enter into His Kingdom we take upon ourselves duties. They may look just like the duties that our previous religious background had saddled us with. The difference is in the heart that informs our obedience.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Dying for Freedom

If you made it through the last few days without hearing someone say, "Freedom ain't free!" then it probably just reflects American ambivalence to Veteran's Day. Being married to a Canadiene and reading BBC news, it has struck me how much more seriously this holiday is to our friends. You might want to look at this article to see what I mean. Of course we did not lose a whole generation on the fields of Flanders like they did.

But at this time when we commemorate people who fought and died for freedom, I can't help but think of those who are dying for what is not freedom. All around us are people that are fighting to remain free to do what they want to do; to be free from God. And yet what they are pursuing as freedom is not at all freedom but slavery to sin and selfishness. As our country becomes increasingly post-modern we are seeing a tremendous rise in anti-christian attitudes and paganism. At my workplace I have coworkers who are witches and who will (almost) literally spit at the name of Jesus. And yet, from my point of view they are in a prisonhouse of sin.

These thoughts lead me closer to home. What about those who are Christians. Evangelical Christians are increasingly looking more like the world around us. And even in Fundamentalism the stain of worldliness has crept in. We have been set free from the enslavement of sin and selfishness but are we really living in that freedom? Or has our Christian liberty become an excuse for allowing ourselves to be enslaved again. Are we simply the house slaves who have nicer clothes and quarters than the field hands?

As we celebrate those who died for freedom, I cannot help but think of the one who died to make all men free. He died to free men in this life and to give them life that will never end in the hereafter. And He suffered like no other man has ever suffered, even those who endured the unimaginable hell of World War I. And He gives the freedom to all who will reach out and accept it humbly!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Confronting Leaders

For the second time in 6 months a high-profile evangelical leader has been found to be in sin. Now, I have no wish to delve into salacious details or pontificate about hypocrisy. I am all to aware that if I had been present when Christ said, "Let the one without sin cast the first stone," I would not have been the last to slink away. But there is a trend here that I have been thinking about for the last 3 days.

An accusation comes to light. A leader is lovingly confronted by men who love him. Lies are told and smoke screens are thrown out. After a passage of time the leader acknowledges that he did indeed sin and tried to cover it up.

So, I have been wondering how you avoid this. I have a thought (of course! I am a blogger. Duh!) But I would like to hear the thoughts of any who read this as well. So here is the scenario. You are a church leader. It has come to your attention that the pastor has been involved in some kind of behavior that is not in keeping with the scriptural qualifications of elders. How do you handle it?

My initial thought

I would pray about it and of course be sure that there is some substance. (Although, often in this day and age even a baseless charge needs to be dealt with carefully.) I would then share with my fellow leaders the information I have. Some will say I have just jumped out of Matthew 18 and I am aware of that. I will explain why. After praying with the other leaders for forgiveness and repentance and making sure that we are in the right frame of mind and spirit to confront sin, I would lay out the accusation to the pastor. I would then ask him to no speak. I would ask him to take some time and get before God in prayer about how he should handle the situation. I would then schedule a meeting later to hear his reply. I would make it clear that we would wait to hear his response before passing any judgement.

My rationale

In both situations that I referenced above, a man was confronted with strong accusations. He immediately replied and went into "spin" and damage-control mode. My first impression is that some consideration needs to be made of the society in which we live and the human nature that we are saddled with. By confronting such a leader fairly and openly and then giving him time to think about his reply instead of getting his reaction I think that we would open up the door for immediate confession and start quickly on the path of reconciliation. A moral lapse like these 2 cases means that such a man is not going to be eligible for ministry. But why compound that crushing news by setting the man up to lie and dissimulate? My rational for confronting corporately instead of first confronting individually is this. I think that these kinds of accusations have a large corporate component. I think they require corporate response. This is not an issue between me and a brother. It is a problem between the flock and the pastor and it requires handling at that level.

Well, that is my well-considered (ok, three-day) opinion. I look forward to hearing your remarks.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Foundation of the Law

Have you ever noticed that the Ten Commandments start in verse 3 of Exodus 20? Any view that we take of the Law and its application to the modern church has to take into account the foundation of the Law found in Exodus 20:1-2. I see three points here.

God Spoke
One of the fantastic claims of scripture is the hundreds of times that the Bible claims to be the direct revelation of the God of Heaven. We know from Paul that "all the writings are given" by God. But whenever the scripture bothers to point out or set out a specific passage as being from God that it deserves our special attention. So apart from any restatement of these commands in the New Testament there is something of importance here.

I am the Lord, thy God
All the following remarks are predicated on God's identity as the self-existent, immutable, creator God. He identifies this specifically with His personal nature by emphasizing that He is our God. He is not some aloof prime mover. This is a God who loves His people and He is revealing Himself to them so that they might love Him.

I have brought you out
His interest in the well-being of His people is reiterated by His deliverance from slavery. God could have very well given the law while the people were in Egypt. He could have used that to determine who really had a heart for Him and delivered only them. But He delivered all the people and even a significant number of Egyptians that followed them out and then He revealed Himself in His law.

No wonder David exclaims:
O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes! Then I will not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. I will praise you with uprightness of heart, when I have learned your righteous judgments.

The Law shows our need of the Grace of God and God's Grace empowers us to keep His Law out of love for Him.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Education Matters

I have already posted once today so I will not belabor this. There is an excellent post about Classical Education. I believe passionately that this methodology is the best way to prepare ourselves to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

The Wonder of God's Law

I have been a bit hung up on this whole Law of God thing for a while. Thankfully this is a small blog so I don't have to worry about losing readership, advertising revenue, etc! This is just how I am. My mind locks on something for a while and I mull it over. Anyway, Dan Philips had another of his magisterial posts this week that launched me even more down this path. So on with it….

The Wonder of God's Law. I have been in Psalm 119 this week and the thing that jumps out as you read is that David is very hung up on the Law. Now, you can try and wiggle around and equate this to the extant Bible of his day and there is some good in that. But in the end, you have to admit that what David was overwhelmed with and what he was spending his time looking at and what he was pondering day and night was the Law. He didn't have the Pastoral Epistles or the Prophets.

So why do we spend so little time even looking at God's Law? Let alone marveling and meditating. Why can many evangelicals not even name the main commandments let alone tell what they mean and provide application to modern life. Is our view of the all-sufficiency of all scripture really that deficient?

My thinking was also stirred by Phil Johnson's testimony and how he used 1 John 2:3-6 to minister to kids who had grown up in Christian homes without showing any sign of regeneration.

And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that says, I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keeps His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him. He that saith He abides in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.

Now, what commandments are these? Jesus, always kept God's law in practice and principle and thus was able to stand up as a second Adam and be a perfect substitute for us. The point is that just as He upheld God's standard of righteousness we should also strive to keeps God's law. Not to earn salvation! That is impossible and foolish. Christ already has done all the earning! We strive to keep the Law of God because the founding principle of the Law is to love God with all our heart, soul and strength. And this keeping of the Law merges us into the Law of Grace and allows us to proclaim the gospel to the world by demonstrating that we know and love the One True God.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Application of the Law of God

In my last post I talked about the Operation of the Law of God. That brought some comments about the Application of the Law of God. So how applicable are the principles of the Ten Commandments to 21st century Christians?

There are several problems with this question. First, many people have a view of the Law that Moses brought to the people that holds that people were saved by keeping the Law. Then Christ came and provided a new way to come to God. The problem with this view is that it establishes a paradox where some are saved by faith while in the past people were saved by their own work and merit. Hebrews however, clearly shows that all the OT saints came to God in faith.

Second, and more important, there are those who want to comb through the NT to find which of the Ten Commandments are reiterated and thus still applicable to us today. My first thought is that they all are because Jesus told the Pharisees that the Commandments where summed up by, "Love God; love others," and that all the scriptures "hang on this." If we understand that this rubric: love God; love others, is the Law in a nutshell then all the law is still applicable. My next answer to this thought is that if the Law is principial and if God is immutable why is there even any question as to whether there is any application to us? Of course there is! God is not changeable and so the principles by which we relate to Him will not change either.

Now I had some comment about the specific example I used from Commandment IV which gives us the Sabatical Principle. I used this because I think it is the one of the most glaring examples of how the Evangelical Church in America is turning away from God. Our whole view of the Lord's Day is off. Christians rarely ever even call Sunday "The Lord's Day" any more. To many it is just a random day that someone chose and decided to have church on. So therefore if we want to have church Saturday evening and then hit the lake all day Sunday that is fine too. The idea that God desires that we take 14% of our week and set it aside to worship Him is lost on most who call themselves Christians. And the concept that observing the Lord's Day might require some sacrifice of preparation is really not on the radar screens.

So the point is that God gave us His Law to teach us what He is like; to inform us of our duty toward the God who has reached out to us in mercy and showered us with grace; and to elucidate how far short of His Glory we have fallen. The Law is wrapped up in the Gospel. It marks out our deadness; and delineates Christ's perfect righteousness. Then we can appreciate our Lord as we see Him spill His own blood. Then we are driven to cry out, "Wash me Savior, or I die!." And how can we go on making excuses for not keeping the Law? We do not keep the law out of any need to earn God's favor because we have already seen that it was an impossible task! We keep the covenant out of our deep love and respect for the One who turned away His just and righteous wrath from us toward His own Son!

We do not need to put the Ten Commandments in the public schools or fret about them being removed from the county courthouse, but they should be present in our homes and in our churches. The Ten Commandments will not fix our society beyond convicting people of their innate inability to please God, however, for those who are part of the Kingdom that is coming, they are indispensable.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Operation of the Law of God

The Law of God. It was given by God through Moses and preserved in the Pentateuch. When Jesus started His public ministry He made clear that He was not coming to lay aside the Law but to fulfill it (Matt 5 ff.-Sermon on the Mount). As we move on into the Gospels we start to see a conflict that we often call Law vs. Grace. There is a lot of material in the NT about not living under the law. Many Christians today feel that the Law of God is not very applicable to them. This seems to be at odds with Paul's statement to Timothy that "all the writings are God breathed and are profitable…."

Obviously this is a large subject and I only want to touch on one small part of it today. That is the working of the law. On its face the law seems to be pretty straightforward. "Thou shall not do such-n-such." But Christ Himself peels away this veneer and reveals that there is much more there. Our Lord told the crowd that the prohibition on murder was really a prohibition on hatred. This could not have been something new that He was teaching; they should have known this already.

So what do I mean by the working of the Law. I think that in our fallen state we have real difficulty thinking like God. In our flesh we seek technical or procedural laws. We want an algorithm that says: "If you see X; then do Y." But God does not legislate like this. His law is "Love me; love others." The Decalogue is a series of refinements on the overriding principle of Love. Throughout the books of Moses we see "case law" given to exemplify how the principles of the 10 Commandments look in real life.

So the Law of God works on the basis of principle versus procedure. How does this impact the modern church? Well, when one looks at the 4th Commandment and says, "I am not bound to observe the Sabath!" then one can start to have Saturday services or call off evening service on Super Bowl Sunday. But when we observe that part of loving God with all our hearts, souls and and minds includes keeping the Sabatical Principle of the Fourth Commandment it leads us to a whole different mindset toward our Sunday worship.

Another example that hits close to home is the Second Commandment. Many Christians would be hard-pressed to imagine how they could violate this command of God. Again let us consider the principle embodied here that there is a right way and wrong way to worship God. I think we are commanded that we are not to allow the surrounding culture dictate how we worship the One True God. Does this not speak to so much to how we do church in America today?

This principle versus procedure thought brings to mind the example used by many including John Piper and Jim Berg to name just two. We would never expect to be given a list of procedures of how to behave in a marriage relationship. "When it is the anniversary, thou shall give the wife flowers." But we all understand how the principles of marriage dictate what we do on important occasions like anniversaries.

The essence of Christianity is to have a restored relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Spirit. Every relationship has rules or laws. Very few if any of them are the technical or procedural types; most are principial. That is how God's Law works.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

St. Paul on Blogging

When I first announced my entry into the Blogosphere my dad responded typically. He did not jump up and down with excitement; he did praise my first article (published on Stuff Out Loud); and he issued a warning. He challenged me to study II Timothy 2: 16 and allow it to inform anything that I was going to do in blogging. I have been doing that.

I find this advice of Paul to Timothy as one of those amazing places where a 2000 year-old document seems to speak as though it was written yesterday. Truely, this is the Word of the Lord! Paul has just told Timothy to be diligent in his ministry and to accurately handle the Word of Truth. Then he says, "But, avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness… (NASB)" WOW. Surely this speaks to those of us that blog.

Every time some new technology comes down the pike the church has to make a decision. It can take the Naysayer position. This is what the Amish did about 200 years ago. It is also what the Roman Church did during the Age of Enlightenment. Or the church can take the Naive approach. This is where it accepts every new thing as being morally neutral and tries to incorporate it into church. I can think of no better example of this than American Christianity with its Christian Rap, Christian Theme Parks, Christian Self-Help, and Redeeming Everything. In the middle of these extremes is the Wisdom decision. In wisdom the church evaluates new things, discards those that are useless and adapts those that are usable to spread the message of the gospel. The best example is how the early fundamentalists seized on the power of radio to make an end-run around the increasingly liberal denominations and take their message directly to the people. Radio was one of the cornerstones of early fundamentalism.

Along come weblogging, now known as blogging. It took a couple of years to catch on but by 2005 Sharper Iron, Pyromaniac, et al where a growing part of the phenomenon of Christian Blogging. Some have raised serious concerns about blogging and bloggers and have said that the church should not participate in this medium. They may have a point from Paul since there is much "worldly and empty chatter." There has been many unloving things said and much that is not true. Should Christians leave the bloggosphere or would that be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I believe that there is much good in blogging. I have read many great articles by young and mature Christians that I would not otherwise have access to. I have been encouraged; I have been provoked to think; I have been pushed to study by bloggers. I believe that blogging allows Christians that would otherwise never get to "provoke one another to love and good works" to do this over many miles and even around the world. I really think that blogging is going to change our view of information in the next ten years.

So where does that leave us with Paul's remark? Like so many things, (ie. meat, circumcision, wine) I think that he would conditionally say that we should blog. I see a parallel between the world of the blog and Mars Hill where Paul so boldly came with the gospel. But Paul never holds back from telling us what love should inform our actions. Love of God and love for the brethren must shape every liberty and every action. We must avoid "wordly and empty chatter" that attacks, confuses, discourages, and harms our brothers or sisters. We may not participate in any blogging that undermines the Kingdom. We must always "speak the Truth in love."

So early in the 21st Century we have a new technology. It can be used for good or ill. It cannot be completely avoided. Let us follow Paul's advice and "accurately handle the Word of Truth" so that the Truth can illuminate the world!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My Way

This past week (August 25) there was another tremendous article over at PyroManiacs called "You can go your own way." In it Dan Phillips talks about the response of two men when told by God that they are to be allowed to go their own way. One is ecstatic; the other cries out for God to have mercy and not allow him to go his own way.

Dan's article reminded me of a point made by Jim Berg in his book Changed Into His Image. In the book Dr. Berg posits that all God would need to do to destroy us is to withdraw His grace and allow us to have our own way. This was and is a powerful thought that pops into the forefront of my mind from time to time. It needs to crop up much more often. My flesh and my heart are sinful enough that if God allowed me to have my own way I could and would destroy my very life.

Two things Dan brought out that really arrested me: first, the response of a Godly man when presented with the chance to go his own way is, "Oh Dear God, no, please no!" We must cultivate in ourselves a sensitivity to our own selfish desires and be quick to call for divine help when we start to pull in that direction.

Second, "Autonomy. It is the essence of Hell, it is sin's direst judgment, it is the Christian's most horrifying fear." What a great truth. Especially in America where autonomy is the end all and be all of our existence. I was reminded again of how much I need to depend on God; of how completely I must operate in the power of the Holy Spirit; of how I require the mind of Christ to do anything good.

In closing I quote Dan again, "The rebel's greatest fear is that he would be denied the desires of his heart. The saint's is that he would be abandoned to his."

O Lord, give me Your desires, Your thoughts, Your motives! All mine are worthless dust while Yours are glory, life, and benefit to all the World.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Whom Should We Quote?

Over at Pyromaniacs I ran into an interesting article several days ago. In dealing with guilt by association (hereafter referred to as GBA) they got into a discussion about a situation where John MacArthur quoted a liberal theologian. I have some personal experience with this type of thing.

One of the most horrifying examples of this type of thing occurred last year. I was listening to a wonderful message by the ever eloquent and loquacious Church Swindol. He preached on of the best messages on the inerrant inspiration of the Word of God that I have ever heard. He could have preached it at the most fundamental of fundamentalist churches or schools and they would have been pleased. Well, that is, until he got to the close. He closes out with a story about Karl Barth telling some friends that the most profound thing he has learned in life is: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Now, how do you finish a sermon on the inspiration of the Bible with a quote by the poster-boy of Neo-Orthodoxy?

The situation that TeamPyro is discussing is altogether different. There is nothing wrong with quoting from liberals and apostates. The problem with bad theology is rarely total error. It is the problem of 99% pure water mixed with the 1% pure poison. And since we are talking about what men have said and written it is fairly easy to glean some of the good stuff from bad theologians.

The problem is when men like Barth and Bonhoeffer get quoted in glowing terms that make them sound like great Christians. The thing to get upset about is when such men are held up as exemplars of the Christian life and are called great men of God.

But the issue at hand is how to deal with quoting from such men. First, I would say, that my own pastor does not need to give a disclaimer every time he quotes from some shady theologian. I know where he is and as long as he is not praising liberals I am happy for him to quote pretty much whomever he wishes. Second, when I listen to men like John MacArthur, John Piper, or Chuck Swindol, I listen fairly critically. I am not under the weekly pastorate of these men so I am not as familiar with them. Therefore, I listen and the warning light comes on when they quote from apostates. Again, as long as they are not making out over such men I can accept that.

The bottom line is that I worry if my pastor is moving into error. If some guy on the radio or podcast is preaching a lot of crazy stuff I shut him off and stop listening. I don't think we need to have the big tabloid exposé in the blogosphere every time someone says something that sounds a little off to us!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I Love BJU

I love Bob Jones University. I do not say that lightly or just to grab attention. It is really true.

I decided long ago not to be apologetic about the school or my affiliation with it. I decided to simply be grateful. So many alumni can not see any good that God produced in their lives through BJU.

I think that I would be a far different person if I had not gone to the World's Most Unusual University. I know the struggles and tendencies of my heart and a less conservative institution may have allowed me to get into far more trouble than I had opportunity to find in Greenville.

There are certainly things I would like to see change at my alma mater. If the university wants to form an alumni committee I would gladly serve on it. However, until then I will go on thanking God for my time at BJU and praying for the health of that institution.

This article was inspired by Bob Bixby.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I Will Always Be A Fundamentalist

I will always be a fundamentalist. Some might marvel at so categorical a statement. I know there have been hours of blogging on the subject from such luminaries of the blogosphere as the Pyromaniacs and Bauder. This is actually the stuff that first lured me into blogging. So I have read a lot of it and mulled it over for a while now.

My first thought is that, while I am an American, I do not feel responsible to answer for every kooky thing that every American does. More specifically, I generally identify myself as a Republican, however I do not have to agree with everyone else who identifies themselves with that label. Some like John McCain hardly seem to warrant the label given some of their positions. To many GOP members my conservative views may seem to place me far to the right of the mainstream party. The point is that we don't let others define us. We don't allow the misuse of labels to change who we are.

Imagine if someone tells me, "All white people are racist." Do I start wearing shoe-polish on my face and try to be non-white? No, I am caucasian and I cannot change that. I can try to articulate to this individual that they are wrong and even that they are racist for espousing such an idea. Or I may need to just walk away and leave this individual with their crazy delusions.

The fact is that I believe there are certain truths that are core to True Christianity. These truths are revealed by God in His Word. That means that His Word has to be infallible and preserved or else we don't know anything. These truths are fundamental and no one who denies them can be called a brother nor can I have close fellowship with such a one.

Furthermore, I want to be with others who hold to the same Truth. And I really don't want to try and fellowship with any form of modernist or liberal who wants to slap the name of Christ on their chest but deny the Power of the Gospel. These are the hallmarks of fundamentalism. KJV only, certain musical styles, clothing and worship styles are not definitive. Anyone that wants them to be definitive of fundamentalism is wrong. I refuse to let them redefine who I am.

One important point I want to make is my attitude toward Christian brothers. One becomes a follower of Jesus by faith alone in Christ alone. There are lots of Christians out there who are not fundamentalists. There are two ditches or curbs that define the road I take here. The first is that I do not need to have a holier-than-thou attitude toward people who are not fundamentalist. I cannot look down on them. I do not need to try and "convert" them. Second, I do not need to try and bend my beliefs to snuggle up to them. That is the mistake that defines new-evangelicalism. My responsibility is to love all those that love my Lord. I need to encourage them to believe. I do not need to convince all my SBC and PCA friends to leave their churches and join a fundamentalist assembly.

Now you have seen a little bit on my identity crisis. The crisis is over. I will always be a fundamentalist.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Blogging for the Kingdom

We all go through times in our lives where themes are constantly coming up in our daily devotions, in sermons and in conversations. One idea that the Spirit seems to keep raising in my heart over the past several months has been that of Kingdom Relationships.

All I am saying with the idea of Kingdom Relationships, is that we have to relate to people, all people, within the context of Kingdom Relationships. My relationship with my spouse needs to be one that prepares her to be a citizen of the eternal kingdom. My relationships with my children should prepare them for the day that they bow before that eternal throne. My interactions with my coworkers should be such to encourage those who are entering into the kingdom and compelling towards those who are not already submitting to the King. I submit to you that our interactions with everyone on this planet with whom we have any contact must be contributing to the building up of the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But, does that really hold true in the blogosphere? This has been the subject of much discussion on the Christian forums of cyberspace. I have witnessed many a discussion that turned from its subject to harsh words of disagreement or accusation over anything or nothing. You may well have seen hijacks of interesting threads turn to inane discussions or crazy accusations. Is this behavior in keeping with the Truth? Again, I postulate that all our interactions must be kingdom focused. Even in cases of contention and confrontation we must conduct ourselves with a care that we do not turn away those who need to enter in nor do we savage those with whom we will worship for all eternity.

All this is readily agreeable. There is a practical problem however. It comes in two parts. The first should be readily apparent to all. We have the great mandate of Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love. We must speak in a way that shows love. It is always easier to communicate when we speak to people face to face. Oral communication is the next easiest. The hardest is realm in which to communicate is that of written words. It is so difficult (even in this age of emoticons ;p !) to communicate our intentions accurately. That means that participants in email, blogs and chats need to be that much more wary of how they express themselves. I believe that this problem is also helped by identification. On a blog, when I feel like garythegreat89 is attacking me it is hard to imagine this cyberbabble of a name as a brother in Christ. When participants clearly identify themselves and open themselves up to reproof and correction by publishing their email address they are less likely to be lighting up the flamethrower.

The second part of the problem is accepting confrontation in grace. Whenever someone comes to us with criticism, rebuke, reproof or correction we need to accept it as from the Lord. Even when it is mostly untrue there is almost always some element of truth that we can take and allow the Holy Spirit to use. I think of the strong words that Paul uses at the end of 1 Corinthians 4, "What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?" The apostle apparently felt warranted to say that his demeanor toward them would be based on their response.

So my admonition to any who reads these words is that we all must speak the truth in love, hear the truth with grace and proclaim the truth of the Kingdom!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Standing on the Rock

This blog is called Standing on the Rock. I decided to call it that because I think that an important part of life is to have a stable foundation spiritually, philosophically, emotionally from which to observe the world. As a christian there can be no other foundation than Jesus Christ, His divinity, His life, His eternally efficacious work (1 Cor 3:11).

Now, I did pause before deciding on this. I do have some political and social subjects I would like to address. Can one do that on a blog with a religious title like "Standing on the Rock?" I think one certainly may. I am reminded of Bob Jones Sr's saying that, "For the christian there is no separation between the secular and the sacred." This always raises american hackles and some will quickly trot out the ol' separation of church and state. And my first reply is that speaking in the public forum and legislating a state religion are apples and monkeys. My view is that a religion that does not affect our view of society, history, science and politics is no religion at all. The framers were intent on keeping the government from establishing one sect or denomination and then discriminating against others. Anyone who has read the founding fathers cannot help but notice the incessant references to God, God's Word, Creation and Divine Law and Providence. There is no hypocrisy in discussing cultural issues from a religious perspective. There is no intolerance in declaring one option better than another based on economics, culture or morals.

Whether we discuss religion, culture, sports or philosophy we must do it from some framework, some basis. My basis is the Word of God and what it reveals to us about God and about ourselves. Each person must choose between viewing life from God's perspective or from a humanistic perspective. I think that we always struggle to see from God's viewpoint because our fleshly hearts constantly try to infuse man's way into the picture. But thankfully God has promised that His Word and the Holy Spirit will guide us to wisdom that is from above. And we can use this wisdom to analyze all of life.

Standing on the Rock is not about me sharing any higher knowledge. I hope that I can write some things that are entertaining and thought-provoking. I am writing mostly for my own benefit since I need to write to hone my own skills and to formulate my own thoughts.

Any feedback is welcome. Any constructive criticism is appreciated.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Thought About Dan Brown's Work

Unless you have been renting Ted Kaczyski's cabin in Montana for the last 6 months you have heard about The Da Vinci Code.  Clearly such an insidious attack on Christianity must be answered by the church.  Or does it?  The obvious problem is that the book and movie are a fiction, but purport to be factual.  And the alleged historical facts of this story have been used to attack the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and the Inerrancy of Scripture.  Now, last time I checked, these are both core fundamentals of christianity so we have to defend them, right?

The problem, as I see it is that if these are really part of the nucleus of christianity then should not every one who calls themselves a christian know this.  We should certainly not have to worry that any member of our church would be confused by this assault.  Furthermore, if our church is in the business of edifying, building up, and strengthening the saints then our members should be sanctifying God in their hearts and readying themselves to give an answer to anyone who questions the foundational truth on which our faith rests (1 Peter 3:15).

I am an ER nurse.  It is not unusual for someone to come to the emergency room for some seemingly minor problem, only to find out that they have a major problem like cancer. Imagine a fairly healthy person in their early 50's that has a fainting spell and comes in to be checked.  As part of the routine exam we do a chest x-ray.  We are all shocked to see a huge cancerous mass in the left lung.  Everything seemed fine but in just a moment this person goes from being healthy to being very sick.  Their ability to get life or health insurance is completely changed.  This may affect their ability to get a job as well as their ability to keep a job.

Dan Brown has done a great service to the church.  By writing a simple work of fiction, lacing it with an improbably 2,000 year-old conspiracy that has spanned centuries and continents, and then stating that his work is factual, he has revealed a huge cancer in the very breast of the church.  Answering questions about the divinity of Christ and the preservation of scripture should be bread and butter to any true believer in the Way, the Truth, and the Life.   And especially in Fundamentalist circles this should be true.  But The Da Vinci Code had revealed that this is not the case.  Pastors and churches everywhere are scrambling to be sure their people know how to answer this attack and how to springboard from discussing a work of fiction to sharing the message of hope that is the Gospel.  Instead of the church saying, "Bring it on!" she is whimpering, "Wait a minute?!"

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul says, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”  This is the Gospel!  Jesus Christ, the very Son of God came and fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and this is recorded by multiple eyewitnesses in the New Testament!  Every one of us has to know this!  If we cannot defend these truths against all comers, I assert that we do not KNOW them!  If you try to tell me that the earth is flat you are going to get no where with me because I really, really know that it is a globe.  And these truths are just as fundamental.

So, I tell you that you have a huge cancer in your chest.  I guess there are several responses you might make.  You could deny it.  You could ask how it got there.  You could cry and wail and get depressed.  But the healthy response is to ask, "How do we need to treat this?"  Our churches have to be about the proclamation of the Gospel.  The Good News of the Kingdom.  We have to be able to articulate what it is.  Perhaps the reason why the church is having so little impact on our society is that we really do not know the Gospel.  Perhaps the reason that Fundamentalism is in the state it is in (whatever that may be!), is that we really do not apprehend the truth that we purport to proclaim.  So if that is true, we have to get back to the clear teaching of the Word of God.  At it's heart is the message that Jesus explicitly stated that He was God Very God. His disciples understood it, and His enemies understood it.  The Jews killed Jesus because of this truth and He validated His claim by rising from the dead.  His disciples knew He rose, and His enemies knew he rose.  It was attested by hundreds of people.  And it was immediately recorded by multiple authors.

This is not the kind of knowledge that you learn in seminary.  This is the kind of truth that must be taught in Sunday School.  These things are not some part of a complex theory that one needs an advanced degree to be able to speak of. What it is is a fact of history that our children should learn just as they learn about George Washington and World War II.  Furthermore, these are not just pieces of factual knowledge because they are eternal truth.  When we are in God's presence joining in that eternal, joyful, raucous worship service before the eternal throne, I don't think that medical knowledge or quantum physics or Magna Carta is going to mean much to us.  But the Eternal Son and the Everlasting Word will be central to our never-ending existence.

Let us be ready to give to every one an answer of our Great Hope.  And let us build up others that they may to likewise!