Are Christians Insiders?


E Free church

From time to time, those who have reason to criticize the traditional church pull out the Pharisee-accusation card. The idea is that Christians in the traditional church are the new Pharisees.

At times, the accusation can refer to legalism and at others to self-righteousness or to exclusivity. The idea is, a la the Pharisees of the first century, these traditional church people believe themselves to be in the know; they get it, do it right, and separate from those who do it wrong. They are insiders and proud of it.

On Sunday, my pastor, Mike Erre, put forth the idea that Christians are insiders, but our problem is that we act in a prideful way because of it.

I have to admit, I bristle at this idea. I don’t think Christians are insiders. Except, we kind of are.

Let me try to clarify.

First, as I’ve laid out in other articles, Christians are not Pharisees (see for example “Who Are The Pharisees” and “Missio Minded“). Pharisees believed they had the inside track with God because of their birth and because of their rigorous adherence to the Law. In other words, they were entitled to a seat on the inside but they had also earned it.

Christians, on the other hand, recognize that we are part of the “all” in the verse, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We don’t deserve right standing with God and can’t earn it. Bottom line, we aren’t special–not in and of ourselves.

Besides our “not Pharisees” status, we also have received a commission to go into all the world and make disciples. “The world” contains people from different religious backgrounds, economic strata, ethnicities, languages, races, nationalities. There’s no exclusivity here. The Church is the least segregated organization on the planet.

Granted, local churches don’t always look like the greater Church, but that’s to be expected. People worship where they live. I don’t have to travel to Japan to worship with Japanese Christians just to put a white face in their congregation.

On the other hand, in the US, particularly in a number of cosmopolitan cities, there is a blend of peoples from different backgrounds. In those instances, the local body should more nearly reflect the great blending we will one day experience in heaven.

But are Christians to separate from the rest of mankind? Jesus said no. We are to be in the world. We are to be light for the world. We are to be witnesses to the world. These are hard things to accomplish if we are off in a corner.

In one respect, being a Christian has nothing to do with me. I don’t have one spiritual provision that every other person in the world can’t have.

So are Christians insiders?

God calls us His children, members of His body, branches on His vine. Anybody can be His child, but only those who go to Him actually are. Anybody can be members of His body, but only those who accept the headship of Jesus are. Anybody can be a branch on His vine, but only those grafted to Him are.

Christians aren’t insiders. We don’t deserve special consideration from God and we haven’t earned His favor. But we are adopted members of His family, invited guests at His banquet. We know Him, are friends with Him, hang out with Him because He’s brought us near. We’ve accepted what He’s made available to everyone.

Are we insiders, then, because we realized the paucity of our own abilities and our great need for a God who could rescue us from darkness?

No, the same information is available to everyone. It’s not exclusive. On this, I trust God’s word:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:18-20)

Suppress the truth. That’s the picture of all of us, except at some point Christians relent. We give up and accept the truth instead. We are like people who can’t swim, drowning in the deep end of the pool. We fight the life guard, try to grapple with him, to push him under so we can keep our head above water. But at some point we either give in and let him rescue us, or we drown.

Are we special? No. Are we insiders? No. Are we in God’s family? Yes. And that’s an exclusive group–only those who have stopped fighting God are in.

So Christians aren’t insiders, but we are sorta.

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – One Realm Beyond by Donita Paul, Day 3


Donita PaulDonita Paul can claim a number of firsts. For example, her DragonKeeper books were the first Christian dragon books, at least that I’m aware of. DragonSpell came out just ahead of Bryan Davis’s Raising Dragons, which I happened to be critiquing before publication. Hers was also the first book CSFF featured back in 2006 when the tour started. In addition, she was the first recipient of the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction back in 2009.

Those are just interesting tidbits and not relevant to the rest of my post–a review of Donita’s latest young adult novel One Realm Beyond, book 1 of the Realm Walkers series published by Zondervan.

The Story. Young Cantor wants to be a realm walker. In fact, he’s destined to be a realm walker, but he cannot go off on adventures on his own until he receives permission from his guardian and mentor. Even then he must first travel to a particular location and choose his dragon partner, his constant, before proceeding to the Realm Walker Guild where he must train.

When at last Cantor starts out on his own, he’s faced with some surprises: a dragon who has picked him instead of the other way around, another realm walker named Bixby looking for her constant, and citizens who aren’t always willing to help him on his way. But the greatest surprise might be that the leaders who ought to be working with the Realm Walkers Guild to secure the safety and just treatment of the citizens, are actually the ones oppressing, robbing them, and kidnapping their young men.

What can two young, untrained realm walkers do to make a difference against the forces of the king? Especially without their dragons (unless you count Bridger, the tag-along dragon who Cantor doesn’t really want).

Multiverse_-_level_II.svg_Strengths. The Realm Walker series takes place in a different kind of fantasy world, more nearly a multiverse than anything. In her first post about One Realm Beyond, Jill Williamson discussed the unique world, offering several maps she found that helped her understand the description.

Interestingly, Bruce Hennigan a guest contributor at Spec Faith, recently wrote about the multiverse, so I had a picture I could call to mind. Whether it’s anything close to what Donita intended, I’ll let other readers be the judge.

At any rate, the whole concept of traveling through a portal from one plane to another is unique. C. S. Lewis, of course, had other worlds in his Narnia series, and Narnia itself could be accessed through a portal of sorts. The various worlds, however, were separate pools contained in a sort of holding place–obviously quite different than Donita’s stacked planes.

Besides this interesting setting, One Realm Beyond has delightful characters and at least one formidable adversary. Each is credible given the parameters of this story. Hence, the fact that the mor dragons can sit at the table with the humans or turn into boulders or trees at will, is plausible.

The story is also intriguing, and as Shannon McDermott noted, a tad darker than previous books by Donita Paul. There’s oppression to fight and a mass murder plot to thwart and missing loved ones to find. The story is filled with conflict which tests the mettle of the protagonists.

In spite of all these strong elements, I think the strongest might be the theme. Often Donita’s books, because they are of the gentler side of fantasy where violence is not as prevalent, are frequently referred to as fun. I’m sure I’ve used that word to describe them myself. And it’s appropriate for One Realm Beyond as well. However, people don’t often couple fun with thought-provoking, but I think that’s what we have in this novel.

All is not right in the very place that should be the seat of justice–the Realm Walkers Guild. Here, where the realm walkers are trained and where leaders of other realms turn for support against opponents of peace and harmony, where those pledged to serve Primen ought to be most faithful and true, there is corruption, plotting, power struggles, pride.

Primen is without apology an allegorical representation of God. He is supreme, he is held in highest esteem, he is served, and he is worshiped. In fact, he is the power behind the guild.

Consequently when the protagonists visit the Sanctuary, a gathering of people serving Primen, there’s a bit of a shock when the large facility only has a smattering of people seated in the pews.

Then there was this description of part of the ceremony:

The homily given by a man in elaborate robes said little other than to try to think good thoughts,. According to the speaker, this practice of thinking good thoughts would order the rest of your life. As if thinking about daises would eradicate sewer problems.

There’s the key, I think. The realm walkers and the guild are supposed to serve Primen, to protect the people, to put things to rights. But they aren’t doing their job. They aren’t speaking truth. And they’re falling away.

In short, I believe One Realm Beyond is a story about the church. I for one am interested in seeing where Donita takes her next book in the series.

Weaknesses. Every book has things a reader can pick at if they have a mind to. Was the pace too slow? Was Cantor likeable enough? Were the characters adequately motivated for each of their decisions? While these are valid things to discuss, many of like kind are in the eye of the beholder.

My hope is that those things don’t distract readers from taking this fun book seriously and thinking more deeply because of it.

Recommendation. I’m all in. Yes, this is a young adult book, but it’s dealing with subjects adults should care about just as much or more. I highly recommend One Realm Beyond and suggest readers get on board now, at the beginning of the Realm Walkers series.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Whose Job Is It Now?


DentistryTwo or three years ago I learned about an inner city ministry called World Impact. I was impressed with the well-rounded approach the organization is taking to reach the unchurched poor living in the cities of America.

Besides church planting, evangelism, and Bible studies, they develop leaders from their converts and train them to shepherd others in their community. They also have schools, sports teams, emergency food and shelter, camps and conferences, job training, and dental and medical care.

At least they used to.

Hold that thought.

A week ago I stumbled upon a PBS program called The Paradise. After two weeks I’m ready to say this is the next best thing to Downton Abbey (season four begins Jan. 5, by the way ;-) ). A particular exchange caught my attention in the second episode.

First, The Paradise is the name of a store. I missed the very beginning, but it appears to be a clothing store attempting to cater to the wealthier citizens in England during the 1800s. The owner has faced some opposition to the idea of “ready made” clothes which are considered inferior products.

But for the sake of this post here’s the pertinent event in the story. Someone abandoned a newborn baby boy–a foundling–at the doorstep of the store. The owner is discussing with one of his workers what to do with the infant, and she remarks that people used to leave foundlings at the doorstep of the church. The owner pauses, then says, The Paradise has become the new church.

Sadly, too true, I thought. A commercial venture, a corporation, doing what churches once did.

But as I think about “what churches do,” a couple thoughts run through my mind. For far too long it seems to me churches have let others care for the foundlings and the poor.

There are any number of reasons for this, but at least here in Southern California, there has been an awakening–a realization that “the mission field” with its ripe harvest is downtown as well as across the border or on the other side of an ocean.

World Impact is one parachurch organization that is seizing the opportunity to do in the inner city what missionaries do overseas: provide for the physical and spiritual needs of the people.

But now I wonder. Will World Impact continue to provide dental and medical service for the poor? Will doctors and dental technicians and nurses and dentists still give of their time and ability to help the needy? Or has the government taken over that job?

Clearly, there’s still much Christians can do to help the inner city poor besides dental and medical care, but I can’t help wondering if churches won’t be more and more marginalized as government grows. But maybe if we had paid attention to our inner cities sooner, government wouldn’t have taken health care over.

I suppose the real question is, what else should we be doing to help the people our society is trampling?

Who are those people? I think most of us would say abuse victims or the disabled. Some would add women who are single and have decided against abortion. Still others would include prisoners and their families.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But who is falling through the cracks? Someone with vision needs to look at what the church is doing to reach gangs and the porn addicted and college fraternities and any number of others. Because if we don’t reach them, The Paradise or the government will come along and offer to be the new church.

Published in: on October 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off  
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Going Along To Get Along


bird ruffling feathersDon’t make waves. Don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Don’t rock the boat. Those were phrases I grew up hearing that basically said, don’t say what you want to say because you’ll upset someone.

Underneath the admonition is the kind intention to spare someone’s feelings. You don’t want someone to get upset or feel uncomfortable or confused or irate or off kilter. You want to keep people happy.

Sure, it’s a good sentiment if it isn’t taken too far. But the problem is, our western culture is, in fact, taking the concept too far. The result is, we no longer speak the truth.

Christians have fallen into this same pit. We sometimes don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable, and sometimes we hold our tongues because we don’t want to suffer the outrage from others if we say what we believe.

I understand this latter position. I had an encounter last week on another blog that put me under verbal attack. I was accused of being of questionable intelligence, falsely pious, cruel, dishonest, abusive, creating intentional harm, being snide, having an attitude that was “as Christ-like as a festering pile of donkey scat,” and more. Above all, some said people like me were the reason they didn’t want to be known as Christians.

So do I relish tangling with people who I know might well unleash such a diatribe again? Not so much. It’s easier to keep quiet, to say, I’ve been in the verbal battles in the past and I don’t need more.

I used to think such rancorous exchanges could be avoided by treating others with respect. Except, some people think you don’t respect them unless you agree with them. Some people read evil intent behind every word.

At other times I’ve had people assume they know my position on a matter simply because I’ve stated a view that’s similar to someone else on their blacklist. In this last foray, I was accused regarding my opening comment of trying to prevent others from speaking.

I did say there are voices intent to drown out the message of God’s hope and help with accusations against the true Church. This statement, I was told, constituted me telling those against abuse within the church to stop talking.

What we never got to was this: the true Church doesn’t condone abuse. Does abuse exist within the ranks of those involved in Bible-believing churches? Sadly, I’m certain it does. However, writing off all evangelical churches and all evangelicals as refusing to ask questions, to look at the truth, and to accept those who are digging behind the scenes is . . . myopic. Or filled with hubris.

How can someone extrapolate from their own experience and draw conclusions about all other evangelicals and evangelical churches of whatever denomination? As I see it, someone who reaches such a conclusion might have an unhealthy idea about himself.

So ought Christians to stand by and let people slandering the true Church and maligning God’s name do so in order to avoid confrontation?

I don’t think so.

I know people have said–I think quoting C. S. Lewis–you don’t have to defend the Bible. That’s like defending a caged lion. In reality, all you have to do is let him out and he’ll defend himself.

But when it comes to the Church–well, believers are the Church, so it seems we ought to defend Christ’s bride.

In the end, the best defense is a good offense (not a quote from Scripture, but I’m sure the principle is in there somewhere ;-) ). Peter says it’s our good deeds that will win over unbelievers, though some will only get it “in the day of visitation,” which I think means Christ’s return, or the day of judgment–in other words, not necessarily in the immediate future.

I have no doubt that good deeds speak volumes. I also know Paul said we are to speak the truth in love. It’s not loving to let someone live believing a lie. It’s also not loving to call people vile names.

So Christians, I believe, need to have a determination to speak the truth and not go along to get along, and yet to do so in a way that is different from the way non-believers engage those with whom they disagree.

Speaking the truth articulately without name calling, insinuations, snark, dismissive or condescending comments ought to mark Christians. And in the internet age, speaking clearly without rancor might be the greatest witness we can offer.

Leaving Church Is Not OK


short term mission groupThere’s been some buzz on the Internet this past week because of an article at CNN Belief Blog entitled “Why millennials are leaving the church.”

The idea is, church is this way and it really should be that way, but pastors aren’t getting it, so millennials are leaving. There have been articles rebuffing the conclusions, notable from
Trevin Wax
via the Gospel Coalition and posted at ChurchLeaders and Brett McCracken at the Washington Post.

Last I checked Scripture, though, severing an arm from the body would only make things worse, not better. So why are millennials leaving the body to which they belong? Are they so selfish that they have no interest in fitting their gifts into the whole or have they been so poorly taught that they don’t realize their withdrawal is harmful to others and to the whole? Or are they not actually part of the body to begin with?

I suspect it has more to do with teaching than anything else. I suspect there’s a certain portion of the millennial exodus that is nothing more than fad chasing. At one point the author of the original article said “church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular,” then she explained that liturgical services are more authentic.

Excuse me? How does that make sense? What is more performance oriented than a scripted service with everyone playing his part? But if the conclusion is true–millennials are choosing liturgical worship over evangelicalism and calling it more authentic–then I suspect it is little more than following a fad.

According to the author, millennials want an end to culture wars, but she also says they feel their church makes them choose between compassion and holiness and that church should be a place where their gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender friends feel welcome. In other words, millennials don’t mind choosing between compassion and holiness if they get to choose their version of compassion.

What millennials need to hear is that it is not compassionate to allow people to live according to the dictates of their own heart rather than according to the standards of our sovereign God. What millennials need to hear is that God has answers to their questions and that they need to search the Scriptures to see what things are true. What millennials need to hear is that believers form a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

The Church is not a club you can quit. It’s a family, a body, a temple, a bride. We have a head and we have a a role we are to fulfill. We have gifts we’re to use as good stewards to build each other up.

Quitting? Do Marines quit because they don’t like military food? Or the Sargent in command over them? Or the soldier lining up next to them? Or the early hours they must keep?

Millennials are not children. They can decide, just like any generation, whether or not they will take up their cross and follow Jesus. If they don’t see other people in their local church following Jesus, perhaps they can be the trail blazers. But leave the Church?

That’s simply a way of saying God has messed up. His plan to put together a people to represent Him on earth isn’t a good one, and we are going to go it alone instead.

Does Church have to follow a certain Western model? Of course not. The Church existed in the East before it existed in the West. And it exists in the Far East today where there is no freedom to worship as we can in the West. What does the Church look like there? Not much like gatherings of believers in the US, I’ll bet.

Is one right and the other wrong? Not at all. Church really is about substance, not style. That’s something the author of the article got right. The substance, however, includes Christ living a sinless life, leaving us an example to follow in His steps. So the Church is tasked to be both compassionate and holy. It’s not an either/or proposition because Jesus wasn’t compassionate and not holy. His example was both/and.

In the end, millennials need to be told the truth. If they have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son, if they believe with their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He died once for all, the just for the unjust, that God raised Him from the dead, and as a result that Jesus nailed their certificate of debt to the cross, then they are living stones being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, well-pleasing to God through Jesus Christ.

In other words, they’re in.

If people are leaving, they need to be evangelized, not accommodated.

Published in: on August 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm  Comments (16)  
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Where Does Criticism End And Bashing Begin?


569937_hammerinIn Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil and “A Tool Of The Devil: Christian Fiction Or Christian Fiction Bashing?” I question the approach of some toward the Church and toward Christian fiction. Could it be that tearing down the Church, that bashing Christian fiction plays into Satan’s hand?

Is that idea the same as saying no one inside or out of the Church should criticize it, that readers ought not critique Christian fiction?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “bash” figuratively to mean “criticize severely.” The question, then, seems to be, what qualifies as “severe”? OED thesaurus gives some great synonym suggestions, but instead of simply listing them, I want to give my thoughts on what qualifies as bashing. Others may have a different take on the term, and that’s fine. For me someone is bashing when the criticism

    * becomes personal (e.g. the author is shallow; the pastor of that church is hateful)
    * generalizes (e.g. Christian fiction is shallow; Christians are hateful)
    * exists for itself, either to make the writer look clever or to curry favor with potential readers. The opposite would be to give constructive evaluation that could help the writer/church or that is intended to warn away potential readers/church-goers from something harmful. (e.g. “Christian fiction is nothing but Amish romance”; Why Men Hate Going to Church or 52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday)
    * is based on rumors and not facts (e.g. Christian fiction doesn’t engage the culture; Christians are hypocritical)
    * jumps on bandwagons (e.g. “I don’t read Christian fiction because it’s so poorly written”; “I don’t need to go to church when I can worship God just as well at the beach”)
    * becomes angry or insulting (e.g. nobody in his right mind reads that stuff; nobody in his right mind would go to that church)
    * questions the integrity of others without foundation (e.g. they’re just doing it for the money [applied equally to the writing industry and churches])
    * parrots others (e.g. Christian fiction is preachy; Christians must like fantasy because their bible is full of it)
    * doesn’t let up. OED calls this “railing against” something or “complain or protest strongly and persistently about” something. (e.g. Christian fiction isn’t realistic because it doesn’t allow curse words; Christians are homophobic)

The bottom line is, criticism is not wrong. Constructive criticism can be helpful. Authors join critique groups or employ beta readers on purpose to receive feedback that tells them what’s wrong with their manuscript. Churches have any number of ways of receiving feedback too–all designed to help the group improve and flourish.

I wouldn’t write reviews if I didn’t have the freedom to point out weaknesses or to narrow my recommendation to the group of readers I think would enjoy a book. If I had to lavish praise all the time and make recommendations to everyone, then why bother? Reviews are designed to help, but they often contain criticism.

So criticism isn’t the problem. Criticism is different from severe criticism. And my guess is, most of us know bashing when we hear it or read it, but for some reason, we let it slide, maybe even join in (yep, I hate to admit it, but I’ve been there, done that).

I’ve singled out tearing down the Church and bashing Christian fiction, but I suspect this whole bashing thing might be a problem, containing the seeds of bullying. But perhaps that’s a post for another day.

What are your thoughts on the difference between bashing and criticizing? What did I leave out?

Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil


1420878_church_in_the_woodI know some people will be thrown off by the idea that the devil has an active strategy to pull down the Church, but I think it’s a reasonable conclusion.

First, the Bible teaches that we have an adversary—not a flesh-and-blood opponent and not an advocacy group for some political ideology. Our adversary is spiritual. Paul says

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Peter identifies our adversary as the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

We’re also told that we are not to be ignorant of his schemes. On the contrary, we are to be alert. Consequently, we should pay attention to what the devil is doing. Many Christians know he’s not running around in red tights or holding a pitchfork. But what precisely is he doing?

Some may think he stands on our shoulder opposite our guardian angel whispering temptations into our ears. No. For one thing, Satan is not omnipresent. It’s highly unlikely, then, that he’s picked out an average Christian to lure into an illicit affair. (Our own sinful nature actually does an adequate job of presenting us with those kinds of temptations, so Satan doesn’t need to make that one of his schemes).

Still others think we need to go toe to toe with Satan in the same way Jesus did. There might be an instance when this is true, but I don’t think it’s the common scheme Satan uses. Even if he confronted men like Francis Chan or Tim Tebow, luring them with pleasure and power, it seems like a small reward for the investment of his time.

So what’s his great strategy?

Jesus told us one part of it. He identified Satan as a liar and the Father of lies. His grand plan, then, is to attack that which points people to the truth.

Following the Great American Awakening, then, rationalism opposed belief in the work of the Holy Spirit. It was all emotionalism and imagination and superstition.

“Higher criticism” came along to undermine the Bible, to question its authority, its inerrancy, its inspiration.

So now we have no Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, and we have no sure Word of God to exhort and testify of the grace of God.

But Postmodernism still values community, and Jesus Himself said that the watching world would know we are Christians by how we love one another. A worshiping, caring community of believers in Jesus Christ serves as a testimony, a witness, to this culture that God transforms lives. So Satan’s next scheme, it seems, is to go after the Church.

Here are some of the ways I see this attack taking place.

1. False teachers – people who preach as true something that contradicts the Bible directly or something that magnifies one segment of the Bible to the exclusion of other parts.

2. Those who do immoral things in the name of Christ or in spite of the fact that they are known by His name.

3. Collaboration with the culture–a type of “bend, don’t break” attitude toward morality which, in the end, makes us look eerily similar to the unsaved we’re supposed to be winning for Christ.

4. Honoring tradition more than we honor God’s Word. For example, I had a pastor I respected greatly preach against syncopated music. Another one I know preaches that there were twelve apostles and no more, though Scripture clearly identifies more than twelve.

More than that, there are segments of the church that by doctrine choose tradition over Scripture. Hence, the Pope can declare that believers are not to eat meat on Friday . . . until a new Pope says they can.

The emergent church, of course, attacked the “traditional” evangelical church for honoring tradition more than it should be honored. Although I’m not sure what the offensive things the traditional church was supposed to be doing that was so egregious, I suspect one aspect was the spit-and-polish show that has become the Sunday morning worship service.

Other complaints seem to center on the fact that there are sinners in those pews! Well, that’s hardly something that will change whether the church is traditional or a small house assembly or one that meets out in a park. Hypocrisy, pride, greed, gossip, lust, it all follows us wherever we go–which is why Paul admonished believers to lay aside the old self with its evil practices, why James said to put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.

All these attacks against the Church should renew our efforts as part of the Body of Christ to create the community God intended. We are to represent Him to the world–not by haranguing the world to act more like Christ when clearly no one without Christ could possibly live a holy life, when we ourselves are works in progress. Rather, we should go back to basics.

First we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I think it’s important not to rush past that most important command to get to the love-your-neighbor second command which people apparently want to emphasize these days.

Mind you, I don’t see how we can create loving communities without loving our neighbors. But I don’t think we can manufacture this love from our own nature. This extraordinary bond between rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women, corporate execs and day laborers, comes because we first love God with all of who we are.

We don’t see ourselves as special or deserving or important. No matter who we are or where we fall in the pecking order of society, we can never be more special, deserving, or important than God. He is the one we are to magnify. And He’s asked us to do that by serving each other.

This is the clear teaching we need to focus on. This is the best way to counter Satan’s lie which would have us believe the Church is finished, washed up, on its way out.

God’s bride? We may appear a little tattered around the edges, but our Bridegroom has not forsaken us. He will bring His Church through, and as we submit to His plan for us, we will be the testimony of His amazing love and transforming power to the world, He intended from the beginning.

Published in: on June 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (5)  
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Missio Minded


Cades_Cove_Missionary_Baptist_Church_(2672713466)Don’t ask me why, but Latin is in for some reason–hence we’re talking about “missio” instead of mission at my church. But we’re just following a trend. There are a number of “missio” web sites, all focusing on what God has called the Church to do.

In many ways, I’m happy about that, but recently World Magazine raised the question whether or not this emphasis on “being the hands and feet of Jesus” might not be the new legalism (see “The New Legalism” by Anthony Bradley). That thought crossed my mind again this past Sunday.

Part of it has to do with the fact that some people link the Church to Pharisees, in essence saying their problems are the same ones we in the Church now have.

What were their problems? They were trying to deal with the “secularizing” of their religious society. They believed (at last) that they were to obey God’s Law, but in the process, they added their own interpretations. Those became traditional practices, enumerated and revered much the same as if they were God-given law.

In the end, the Pharisees clung to what they believed about the Law and they rejected the Messiah to which the Law pointed.

Is that like the Church? Uh, no. The Church is the gathering of people who accept Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.

True, we do believe we are to obey God’s Word, but not as a means to reach God but as a result of His having reached us.

It is also true that we may misinterpret what God requires of us. We are still sinful people with hearts bent toward pleasing ourselves. We still are susceptible to false teaching that tickles our ears.

As a result, we do constantly need to be called back to listen to the authoritative Word of God and to the Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth.

But that’s the point. This new missio emphasis seems to miss the fundamental upon which our doing must be based. We must first hear the Word.

Jesus made this point several times. For example when He was told his family was outside, not being able to get past the crowd, He responded, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Notice, first we who are in His family must hear the Word.

The fact is, anyone who hears God’s Word will encounter what He says in the book of James:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (Jam 1:22-25)

Of course, this passage makes it clear that hearers are only fooling themselves if they don’t put legs to the Word.

James was not initiating some kind of new teaching. Rather, he was picking up on the theme Jesus had proclaimed:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matt. 7:24-27 – emphasis mine)

My point is this, the only way we know we are to act on God’s Word is by first hearing God’s Word. The measure, then, of those who actually are hearing God’s Word is the acting out of what they hear.

So maligning the Church for not being missio oriented is misplaced criticism. Those who are part of the Church that is truly hearing God’s word will already be doing. Those not hearing the Word, don’t need to be told to do–they need to be told to hear.

Those deluding themselves? No amount of prodding toward doing will make a difference. Those folks need to keep looking in the mirror of God’s Word and stop walking away.

I think that’s what’s happening to a lot of people who fill the pews on Sunday. They hear the Word proclaimed, then they go off and live Monday through Saturday without listening to so much as one word from God’s authoritative Scriptures. An hour on Sunday is not going to get the foundation of the house built.

So here’s the point. Anyone truly missio minded will first be Biblically minded. Doing starts with hearing.

Published in: on May 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off  
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A Christian Is Who Again?


On the eve of the US Presidential election, the great buzz in my little corner of the Internet has not been about politics but about Christianity. It seems my writing friend Mike Duran stirred up a hornet’s nest with his post entitled “The Anti-Evangelical Hate Machine.” In it he called to task a number of “progressive Christians” who have spewed vitriol onto evangelical Christians.

The response included a heap of additional garbage hurled at evangelicals. Here are a few samples:

“Maybe you wouldn’t carry the sign yourself, but do you silently agree with the sentiments of the Westboro Baptist Church… “God hates fags!” Because if you feel these issues have somehow been settled beyond all doubt, you haven’t really been paying attention. Both on the left or the right, it is easier to simply dismiss those who disagree, as opposed to the more difficult and adult work of figuring out how to coexist.

Don’t stay stuck in the sandbox if you feel you can step up and talk to the other adults.” (from Britt)

“Oh, get off the cross already. We need the wood.

The problem with religious liberals is that for far too long we’ve tolerated bullying and bigotry from the likes of you people because we adopted a “turn the other cheek” approach. Well, we’re done with that, and we’re reclaiming Christianity. You’ve turned it into something monstrous, hurtful, and oppressive, and yet you’re whining that we’re persecuting you.” (Ceryle Alcyon)

“You see, if you don’t pay him the respect of taking the time to comprehend what he is writing about, you end up looking even more shallow, petty, and mean-spirited than he could ever depict. ” (Jeri Massi)

As I was thinking about this apparent divide, what Scripture says about the Church popped into mind. We are the bride of Christ; the body of which He is the Head; living stones built into a temple of which He is the cornerstone; branches attached to Christ, the vine.

All these point first to a relationship with Christ and secondly to a unified purpose, though perhaps a diverse function.

I can’t help wondering, then, how it is possible for some in the Church to hate others in the church.

Actually, John seems to be saying it isn’t possible.

The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. (1 John 2:9)

The chapter goes on to elaborate, but the point is clear from this verse. It reiterates what Jesus said about the love between Christians being the winsome quality that would let others know we belong to God.

First He said “This I command you [disciples], that you love one another” (John 15:17). Then in His prayer to the Father about us, He said

I do not ask on behalf of these [disciples] alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:20-23)

Love. Unity. These admonitions and goals Jesus has for His followers don’t seem to lend themselves to hate. Or name calling. Or ridicule.

So why the disconnect? People claiming Christ say they hate Christians, or Evangelicals at least, or “Fundies.” Yet they turn around and say the reason they do so is because of how unloving these Christians, Evangelicals, “Fundies” are.

The love of Christ, then, would seem to be for everyone else, but NOT for brothers and sisters of the faith with whom they disagree. Or are they saying these conservative Christians, Evangelicals, “Fundies” aren’t actually Christians?

Some of these “Progressives” are deeply offended that in comments or conversations conservative Christians, Evangelicals, “Fundies” have suggested the “Progressives” are not Christians, so they wouldn’t be turning around and saying the same thing, would they?

But I have a serious problem. The facts don’t add up.

    Scripture says we are one, that if we hate a brother we are not in the Light.
    Progressive Christians hate on conservative Christians, Evangelicals, “Fundies” who also name the name of Christ.

Why this disconnect?

Published in: on November 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Comments (9)  
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Luther’s Protests Go Viral


The date was October 31, 1517. Reformation Day. Martin Luther chose that day to make public the disagreements he had with his church.

The major issue dealt with the practice the church had begun regarding indulgences–”a grant by the pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution” (Oxford English Dictionary). The latest iteration of the practice included selling them, something that contradicts what Scripture says about grace being “the gift of God” and salvation “not of works.”

Luther also protested against doctrinal policies regarding purgatory, particular judgment (judgment given by God that a departed person undergoes immediately after death), Catholic devotion to Mary, the intercession of and devotion to the saints, most of the sacraments, the mandatory clerical celibacy, and the authority of the Pope.

In all, his disputation contained ninety-five points and has become known as the Ninety-five Theses.

What’s particularly interesting is that this document, written in Latin, was translated into German by January 1518. Two weeks later, it was printed and passed around throughout Germany. Within two months, it had circulated throughout Europe.

I can only imagine the despair men like Luther and John Wycliffe and Jan Hus felt at the state of the church. Corruption abounded. For example, one Pope, Alexander VI, the head of the church and according to church doctrine, God’s representative on earth, fathered seven children by at least two mistresses. Beyond that one man’s immorality was the systemic corruption which allowed the church to get rich at the expense of the common man and the increasing departure from what Scripture said.

Yet God was at work. Who knew that a little thing called the printing press would be such a powerful tool in God’s hands to bring about sweeping change. People read Luther’s Ninety-five Theses pamphlet and flocked to hear him speak.

His study, lectures, and writing in the years leading up to and shortly after he made the document public, focused on the doctrine of justification.

From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Catholic Church in new ways. He became convinced that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity. The most important for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (Martin Luther)

Why did the Reformation take off? The time was ripe. People were ready for an end to the corrupt practices of the church, more so once the Bible was translated into vernacular languages. In addition, the means was available to disseminate information widely. This was something new. Because of the printing press, people in England or Italy could read Luther’s thoughts about salvation.

It was the Medieval equivalent of going viral.

I find the story of the Reformation encouraging on many levels. No, the men involved in initiating change were not perfect–not by a long shot. But God used them. That’s one of the encouraging things. He also brought change when it looked like the church couldn’t get much worse.

From time to time, I’ve decried the abundance of false teaching that seems to flood Christianity today. Sometimes it seems like revival is the only thing that could stop the tide, and yet revival seems remote and unlikely. As it undoubtedly seemed October 30, 1517. A day later, the tide turned.

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