Thursday, November 7, 2013

From Pastor to "Normal"

About 1.3 years ago, I left the pastorate for the stake of my family and my conscience. I took an ordinary Monday through Friday job as an academic advisor. While there is a lot pastoral about this job, there are many things I was pretty naive about as I lived day to day in my new vocation. Here is a small list of things that I found difficult as I made the transition.

1) Studying the Bible is hard. While I have clearer time breaks between work and play, I thought I would have more time to read and study but that failed to account for what purpose. I still love it so much. I'm listening to Podcast and lecture like crazy. However, without an avenue to teach, I find it hard to sit down and study something. I miss the forced accountability to study the Bible for a purpose.

2) Getting connected to/at a church is hard. As a theologically trained person, I knew it would be difficult. Also, any church worth its salt would make it difficult for some random person to show up and teach. But just average fellowship is harder than I remembered. As a pastor, people were naturally drawn to a pastor. They want to connect with you. While the relationships also took time to develop, people had more reason to work at it. This time, as just a normal bloke, there is no natural draw to relationship. This could be more to the fact I have two kids where before I didn't but I can't help but think this plays a small part.

3) "Normal" work is harder. Pastoring is hard. Don't get me wrong. The problem is I have to be on constant guard on what I say and how I act. Carl Trueman rightly put it recently the following:
Perhaps it is time for those of us who have ministerial jobs which we by and large enjoy which actually shield us from much of the aggressively secular world out there to spend less time puffing ourselves up as martyrs to a cause or as danger men living risky lives on the edge and instead give thanks for the comparatively easy green pastures in which we have been allowed to lie down. (source)
A "normal" job forces me to skirt the issue plaguing everyone when trying to help them. I can't come right out and tell people you are sinner and it is because of your sin that you are experiencing pain and suffering. I can be subtle and it is great that I work with a bunch of Christians. However, there is always that constant fear.

4) The future prospects are hard. A man with M.Div doesn't have direct career paths outside of church world. So while I would love to get back into church world, I don't see that directly happening in the near future. So do I get more education?  Do I hold I hope of getting back into ministry? I don't like my options. I trust that God will provide and call me to my vocation. I know there is always a prospect of changing jobs but it is the the what I will do that concerns me.

I'm still struggling but I know this is my season of life. It is hard but God is good and I trust in him.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Unwillingly Stoking the "Strange Fire"

There has been a lot of talk about the Strange Fire Conference all around the blogosphere and twitterverse over the last few weeks. One of the arguments made by the continuationists is that the Charismatic movement has helped revived and greatly improved the quality of worship music in this country. Adrian Warnock, a orthodox reformed Charismatic with New Frontiers in Great Britain and outspoken critic of the Strange Fire conference, writes:
It is astonishing to me that the great modern choruses and hymns written by charismatics could be rejected so wholeheartedly. What of such popular songs as “In Christ Alone” written by a team including Stuart Townend, part of the same family of charismatic church’s as myself? Has that song not been a blessing? Has it not, dare I suggest it, added to biblical understanding for many? Does he really reject Hillsong music like [Man of Sorrows], not to mention Jesus Culture, and a host of others? The Charismatic Movement has contributed masses towards worship! Not just the songs, but a renewed passion for God, and dare I say it a more biblical approach to using our whole bodies to worship God at times noisily. [source]
Very few people would raise a finger about Stuart Townend and the folks at New Frontiers or Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music, who is also charismatic. Why? Because they preach Jesus and the Gospel; they make much of sin and the need for repentance. Other than maybe a misguided view of the Spirit's gifts to his church, they are pretty orthodox. Singing their songs may be like a calvinist singing a hymn by Charles Wesley. When we hear them sing about the gospel, we can know they mostly mean the same things as we do. Sin is sin. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is Penal Substitutionay Atonement. God is triune and Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. Suffice it to say, we can know word games aren't happening.

Often times in our hymnody, a good (or great) song comes from a poisoned pen. A heretic can pen a song that sounds great but the author believed the words meant different things. One of reason Arianism spread was by song. It can happen very easily. Andy Naselli offered some helpful advice in an article entitled, When a Good Hymn Goes Bad. He writes about how the Keswick movement that tainted some songs for him. He suggested:
So what do you do if you’re singing a hymn like this with a congregation that is generally unaware about the hymn’s authorial intent? I can think of at least two options: (1) don’t sing, or (2) if the lyrics are redeemable, sing but don’t interpret the hymn according to its authorial intent. In other words, a postmodern hermeneutic may save you from the dilemma of not singing versus affirming error.
While this may work for songs that are now public domain, this advice doesn't go far enough in the modern age of CCLI. What is CCLI someone may ask? This article does a good job explaining it. In a nutshell, whomever owns the copyright of popular worship songs will get paid a royalty based on song usage in churches out of a pool of money that churches contribute too based on size. It is a way of making sure Churches pay for fair use of a persons/groups artistic creation.

This is a generally a good thing. We don't want to muzzle the ox so to speak. Churches should act legally when reproducing content. The problem though is that this means the simple singing of a song on a Sunday and displaying the lyrics will contribute to a ministry that you may or may not want to support. The money given to a church to proclaim the the correct Gospel will subsidize a false gospel if care is not taken.

This very fact should cause us to do all that we can to make sure that if the song is copyrighted that the royalties don't go to something we are against. As many are (rightly) upset if tax money is used to fund abortions, so should they be if their tithes and offerings are used to fund heresy. It should beg the question for us, where do our songs come from? What churches are producing our songs? That's why I laughed recently that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing How Firm a Foundation and had How Great Thou Art in their concert I saw on They were singing songs that were written by orthodox Christians with a different view of God than that they had.

Unfortunately, the modern church has that same lack of discernment. Two organizations mentioned by Warnock as helping the modern church are Jesus Culture and Hillsong. Jesus Culture is based out of Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Hillsong is a church in Sidney, Australia pastored by Brian Houston. Listen to the clips below and tell me how is Houston and Johnson orthodox?

Doesn't both of these guys sound like Health/Wealth Guys and Word/Faith? Do you hear a gospel that glory in the Christian and not the Christ? I could point to numerous examples of crazy things coming out of Bethel and Hillsong. They proclaim a corrupted version of Christus Victor that tweaks the tradition view of justification.

But yet, non word/faith churches sing these songs Sunday after Sunday and they receive the the CCLI royalty money from their participation. They sound orthodox but they redefine traditional Christian words to make them means something different. Like the odorless byproduct of incomplete combustion Carbon Monoxide can sneak into homes to poison, so do these songs in the Church.The Church then turns around and feeds the flame so they can poison us more. What a sad cycle.

Church after church from their pulpits are preaching against a "strange fire" but yet will sing songs that arise from the ashes of those same fire. Why aren't we consistent? Will somethings fall through the cracks? Yes. But shouldn't we be more careful of singing newer things for this reason? While this makes a really good case for public domain hymns, this doesn't excuse us from looking at from where do our songs come from. The language of our songs/prayers show us what we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi. If that is the case, we are all becoming word faith heretics.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Soccer, Hockey and Jesus: A Modern Parable.

What do all of these have in common? Probably not much at first glance. One uses a ball, one uses a puck and one uses nothing (because the Second person of the Trinity is all sufficient in himself). One might say all three have a passionate fan bases All three groups of followers are trying to win the majority of a culture (which wants nothing to do with each of them) over as fan. The "fan bases" want to "convert and disciple" new fans. While being a Christian is not the same as being a fan, some Christians believe that they are like any group that needs to persuade people to "cheer for Jesus and follow him" with more intensity then one would follow a sport.

The objects of devotion is different but all of them have thought the same approach should work in gaining adherents. Let's Try and make the object of devotion more accessible. The thought goes that the barrier to getting people interested is that they are just ignorant to the greatness of the game. The solution is to "dumb down" the presentation to welcome in the new people. We need to figure out the things people hate and fix them. The fanatics would stay no matter what and they would welcome the chance to "roll out the red carpet" to welcome the people to the sport.

Well, it didn't work in Hockey. Fox introduced the "Glow puck" and new people found it confusing and diehards hated it. The NHL became the but of jokes. Also, new people didn't join in to watch. Players claimed the puck bounced different. True fans wanted a high standard of coverage but the "glow puck" changed the game experience so much that no one liked it.

Soccer faced the same problem, tried the same thing and got the same result in the United States. The thought was people just needed to education and American voices. In a recent podcast, Rebecca Lowe discussed how NBCSN was going to tow that line but still do things like Britain. It was agreed that NBCSN would not dumb things down because that has not worked before. If soccer was going to grow, it had to cater to the "real fans" while making sure to any additions would not be obtrusive to what makes fan love the sport in the beginning.

Yet, Christians will still claim we need to change the bad parts and that would make us grow. That has worked so well for things that don't have the gates of Hell lined up against it so it should work when the stakes are higher. Makes perfect sense to me. . . 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Stop abusing these verses!

Here is the secret to reading the Bible: Read it in context! That's it. Basic reading comprehension.Read paragraphs and see how sentences relate to one another. It is that simple. The SAT is more complicated than this. 

Yet, time and time again, I hear smart men trained in Seminaries and leading churches ignore these simple rules of English and make things say something that it does not. An aspect of these verses might have some truth but the context prevents certain conclusions from being drawn.

Here are the easiest verses to get wrong:

Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The misguided meaning: God is over all things so trust in him not matter what. So when bad things happen, don't worry. You will prosper. 

The reality: Unless you are a Jewish Exile, this verse isn't for you. It is meant to be of encouragement to the Jews in Babylon. Read the entire chapter. It does speak to God's faithfulness but not as a universal truth.

Proverbs 29:18 - "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint. . ."

The misguided meaning: We all need a vision for our life and our churches. If not, we perish or die or something. Get a vision for your life.

The reality: There is a second half to this verse. "but blessed is he who keeps the law." Proverbs are set up in couplets in order to highlight the meaning. No Bible, no guidance. With the Bible, there is wisdom and blessing. This has nothing to do with "vision" as we see it.

Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

The misguided meaning: If I believe in Christ, I can do anything I want and he will hook me up.  The patron verse for athletes.

The reality: Paul states this while he is facing suffering. He can endure suffering or wealth in Christ. It is a picture of contentment, not abundance. 

There are more but these are the worst offenders.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Defibrillating the Healthy?

I was singing a song the other day at Church that was talking about how as a Christian that we are asking God to revive us again. I got to thinking is this a Biblical desire for Christians to sing about? Just stop and consider what revive means. It means to bring back to life or to make alive again. But isn't this what happens at regeneration? When God through Jesus's work on the cross by the Holy Spirit takes a dead man and makes him a new creation by giving him a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone, doesn't that sound like revival of a human? Wouldn't this be like attaching a defibrillator to someone with a healthy sinus heart rhythm?

I know the Old Testament talks about people being revived again. Psalm 85 is titled "Revive Us Again" and talks about restoring the relationship God has with man to allow the people of God to rejoice after a time of rebellion or spiritual non-activity (or deadness).  Same with Lamentations 1 and Isaiah 57. Other than that, Nehemiah 4 quotes Sanballat and Tobiah mocking Nehemiah about "reviving" the walls of Jerusalem.

Hosea 6 is the most interesting because it seems to foreshadow Jesus. It says:

6:1 “Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
2 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up
    that we may live before him.
3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”
4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away.
5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
    I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
    and my judgment goes forth as the light.
6 For I desire steadfast love[a] and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
8 Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
9 As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.
10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
    Ephraim's whoredom is there; Israel is defiled.
11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed,
    when I restore the fortunes of my people.
(Hosea 6:1-11 ESV emphasis added)
Jesus quotes from this chapter but notice verse 2. That sounds an awful like the resurrection.It sounds like revival has happened already. It sounds like resurrection, the act of receiving new life after death, is the revival of which the Old Testament speaks. In Christ, we have a revival already so do we really have to ask for it to happen again? Does it matter that we don't feel it?

It is no wonder that the New Testament does not say "please revive us again." They talk about being made alive (1 Cor 15:22, Eph 2:5, Col 2:8, 1 Peter 3:18). Often it is a past tense manor like this has happened. Paul mentions a revival of the Philippians' concern for him but nothing about asking for revival in the church like we often discuss it. Nothing about a renewed vigor or feeling of life because it is implied that it has already happened.

What we need more is the reality that we have been given new life in Jesus. Trust in our baptism, the Lord's supper and the preaching word as means of grace, showing us what is real and what is living. Allow the gospel to be preached to us and instead of trying to recapture something, why don't we enjoy what we already have received? Why do we feel need to ask God for something that he has already given to us and ways to actually know that this as happened?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Editing the Bible the Biblical Way

The History Channel has be airing a 10 hour miniseries on the Bible. The goal, as described by the creators, was to help cure some of the Biblical illiteracy in the world today (see here). Since it is a 10 hour series, some things can’t be covered. The Bible’s story line had to be edited. If it was read from start to finish, it would take 69 hours. That time would include the telling the story of Jesus four time, the story of David at least twice, multiple visions about the same time frame in the prophets and repeating of moral imperatives (like Deuteronomy does to Leviticus or James might do with Proverbs).

Plus, some context would have to be given since a written media is being transferred to a visual media. The Bible is more a library of 66 books that do tell one story, but if read straight through, it is more like a Quentin Tarantino movie then say a Cecile B. Demille movie. Regardless, some details would need to be added since The Bible is not a screenplay. There is no blocking, set design and much ink spilled over minor details like costumes. So unless some creative licence is used, the Bible won't translate directly to TV.

So needless to say, there will be some editing choices made, but how to decide? Base it on entertainment value? Coolness?  In this case, the decision as to what to leave in and what to leave out was based the idea that this was one story about the Love of God with little stories that would make a connection emotionally to the show how these stories changed the world (source here and here). So that is why Sodom and Gomorrah is highlighted while Abraham's interchange with the Pharaoh or why Samson was pick rather than say the story of Judah. I guess if that is the rubric the producers are choosing things then I guess they are doing a good job. (I would argue that there is a greater story line taking place).

Have you considered how the Bible would edit a retelling of the Bible? See what Stephen says in Acts 7:

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said:
“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God's sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father's house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.
“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”(Acts 7:1-53 ESV)
Or what about the book of Hebrews retelling of faith in Hebrews 11?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 11-12:2 ESV) 
Simple Question, what was the point of these stories? What things were left in? What things were left out? What creative license was taken? How does The Bible compare? If it is telling the story of the Bible is different than these, why is that so? If the Bible is edited in a way so that the redemptive work of God is hidden, then you have not edited the Bible in a Biblical Way.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Denominations are good things.

Last week, I said I was no longer comfortable with the Evangelical label as understood by the vast majority of American Christians. The main reason is that it isn’t helpful. It doesn’t tell me anything about what the person really believes on matters of faith and doctrine or what they find as important Biblical stances. Is this just me being a church hater? No, it is actually me being a church lover.

I would want to advocate that there should be more of an emphasis on denominational labels. Why? Because they help me know to whom I am accountable, to whom I should submit, to how leaders are selected, to what I hold as a creed and from what stream . The word “Evangelical” doesn’t do that. If everyone from Benny Hinn to John MacArthur can call him or herself an Evangelical, then why use it? If it’s just a synonym for Christian, then just use Christian. At least that word is a label in the Bible for those of “The Way”. So if Evangelical is not a Biblical adjective, then why can't other ones with a better historical track record be used?

The first thing all of these terms (like Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Quaker, Anglican/Episcopal, Reformed, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, Congregational etc.) have some history so I can look to that to see how they are to be used both in the past and around the world. There is a little more perspective and context. The term Evangelical is less than 100 years old and it has been primarily used in the USA. This is not to say that a Vineyard, a Church of God or a Calvary Chapel couldn't be this is in the future. All of these other labels originated in it's own time and place as well. There is just more data to how these words are used in the everyday language of the church. Either way, whether a lot of history or a little history, I can get some context that Evangelical doesn't give me.

This leads to the second thing. These terms actually speak to something that actually represents beliefs. Presbyterian, Quaker/Friends Church, Congregational and Anglican.Episcopal speaks to the way the church is organized. Baptist speaks to a emphasis on baptism by immersion as acceptance into the church. Reformed and Lutheran speaks to reformation heritage against Roman Catholicism. Same with Eastern Orthodox against the Western Church. Most of these labels were formed around a secondary issue that showed HOW they would dispense grace.Granted, there is more to these labels then Church governance but at least it is a start at understand what makes people differ in Christian understanding.

With this knowledge, I can know how to relate to a fellow Christian. Are they friends, foes or acquaintances theologically? I can know where the authority structure so if I see a Christian with questions, I can refer them to the right place. If they are in need of discipline, I know to whom they need to answer. I know if they are paedo-baptists or creado-baptist. I know views of communion. I know if they are more pietistic or  confessional. Dispensational or Amill. How gifts of the Spirit are doled out. All of these things help with understanding my fellow Christian and helps me to learn what the Bible says.

This strengthens the Church because then I can hold you (and you me) accountable if you believe something different than what your church professes and it helps me to see to whom I can partner with in advancing the Gospel. People can hold an evangelistic rally together but when a convert comes forward to be baptized and one brings a cup and one brings a tub what happens? If one denomination allows female priest/elder and one does not, would that be a problem? But some will say, why can't we focus on what is common between all of the denominations and the most important which are the morals/how we live. My question is can these things really less important than the ordo salutus or the sovereignty of God?  This is a probably why associations are popping up more and more. It allows people to do things together without the accountability structure and "fake" the common ground enough to get things done.

This is why we have last names as a family. When my son is around other kids, people will know for whom I am responsible. People will know we are together and for what purpose. People will know where we live and what we are about. If he or I would start to act contrary to what it would mean to be Staifer, things could be address. Someone else could adopt me and I could change my last name. Now I'm beholden to a new standard. If evangelicalism has its way, we would be a bunch a first name orphans roam aimlessly waiting for someone to give us more purpose and identity for which we are actually longing.

So when I am asked what I am, I say I am a Christian who is currently worshiping in the Presbyterian tradition (a term I stole from Chaplain Mike Mercer). Is this a perfect model? No. There are liberal Reformed Baptist Churches and Conservative PCUSA churches. There are Wesleyan Churches that act liturgical and LCMS churches acting like a Purpose Driven Church (which should just call itself a Denomination since it acts like one). So while there is a push for nondenominational movements and ecumenical gatherings, let remember not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Denominations help the church, not hinder them.

Note: This discussion really challenged my thinking on denominations.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

I am no longer an Evangelical and why that's okay.

I have been on the journey of what Church I should attend after having a bit of a crisis of faith (something I will explore at a later time). The only thing I can truly say, I am no longer an Evangelical and want nothing to do with the Evangelical Church. Christian, yes but not an Evangelical Christian in a popular sense. I still believe in justification by faith alone, by grace alone, though Christ alone and for God's Glory alone. The Bible is my inerrant source for faith, final authority for my Christian practice and the only sure place of the revealed Word of God so that the world may know and repent. If this is what someone means in the historic sense of the word, I could probably go along with that.This is after all what the original fundamentals of the Fundamentals believed against the Liberalism of the early 1900's.

However, the word does not mean that anymore. It has "evolved" to add more than what it was meant to signify. The word has changed to become the junk drawer for all Christians that aren't "crazy" fundamentalists or those "wacky" liberals. The middle of the road are the Evangelicals.The label now includes  these great doctrines of the faith but then adds many more items that aren't the Gospel. To be an Evangelical now means be a republican, enjoy contemporary Christian music, celebrate Christian celebrities, engage in "amazing" outreaches, dream big dreams (because God is "mad" at small dreams)  and do everything "short of sin" to reach people for Christ. It means a certain way of speaking and living in order to be the light of the world and salt of the earth.

The problem becomes the focus of the Evangelical institution shifts away from the evangelion (the Greek word where Evangelical comes from means gospel or good news) onto the ways/method/effects of the evangelion’s proclamation. It removes any meaning from word itself and actually moves these important doctrine, you know the ones that actually makes it good news, to the margin to be ignored. The Gospel becomes a footnote to the important things like life. It's something that is present but not looked at unless a person wants to dig a little deeper (you know to make sure someone isn't a heretic). It doesn't have to be looked once it is there but it has no influence on the practice of the institution.

Seriously, what is your favorite evangelical church most know for? Is it really for the message or is it the way it is delivered? Is it about the forgiveness of sin or about feeling free/happy/fulfilled/destined (which are results of forgiveness)? Is it for the ways they to rile up people to feel alive (aka revive them) or what is proclaim that gives new life (see Romans 10:17)? Is it known for emphasizing social issues in the Bible or emphasizing the Christ of the Bible (see Luke 24:27)? Is it for the leader of the Church or the Shepherd of the Flock (John 10)?

Also, can you remember talking to someone about his or her church and the fact that the real, unashamed Gospel was proclaimed as the real reason they attended? I can’t. When I was a Pastor of in a small town and here in a larger town, the answer to that question usually centers around, “I go here because we are making a difference.” “I go here because the music is great.” “This is where my family has always attended.” “I go here because they take a stand against those Abortion loving Liberals.” Or reasons why do people leave churches? “I wanted to see be around more younger folks.” “I wanted a better youth group.” “The pastor had an issue.” The closest you get to a answer that is based on “the gospel” is “I really feel God is moving  there (or stop moving there if they left)”.

But again, all of these things are not the Gospel. If they do not point to the Gospel so can they really be called Evangelical? If the good news is not the emphasis week in and week out, then what can it be called? All this new meaning of the word does is flatten out all of the distinctive Christian tenants so that only common methods and only actions are left to be proclaimed (more on this in a future post on why I'm anti-parachurch organizations). The Gospel though says I sinned in thought in addition to word and deed. Only an alien righteousness given to me from Jesus' life, death and Resurrection. That's good news. The current approach seems to only focus on external word and deed and not inter thoughts. It focuses on my (pathetic) attempts at righteousness. The Gospel provides a way (the only way) for all these things to change by the power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of his Word.

All of this would be like going into a restaurant, having the waiter describe how great the food is, how much it will change your view of food, how affordable it is, how it is made with the finest ingredients, how it is prepared, how much the other customers love it but then never actually serving the food being talk about. It is no wonder people are left with doubt and constantly complaining about not being "fed". They aren't being fed with the Gospel but yet we label it Evangelical so people are left believing they are getting the very thing they aren't. If this is evangelicalism, I want nothing to do with it.