Fooled Or Foolish


In Paul’s Colossians letter, he talks a little about his struggle on behalf of the Church—that believers will gain “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.” He goes on to explain why he’s putting such emphasis on Christ: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” [emphasis here, and in the following verses, is mine.]

A few verses later he adds,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

As if that’s not enough, he revisits the issue again:

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head (Col. 2:18-19a)

Paul is making a case for Christians to focus on Christ and who He is so they won’t be fooled by the false teaching that had begun to seep into the Church.

It’s such a timely warning for today too. Health-and-wealth Christians or name-it-and-claim-it believers pull helpless, hurting people into their wake, but so do the universalists who promise no hell. Others, with arrogance, teach that Christians don’t sin. Another group wants to re-image Jesus or lose the “angry” God of the Old Testament, and a bunch more want to ignore the entire book of Revelation.

False teaching to the left, false teaching to the right, and so many Christians being fooled.

At the same time, there are Christians holding other Christians up to scorn because their work for Christ isn’t artistic enough or profound enough or nuanced enough or purposeful enough or missional enough. It seems we’ve forgotten what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, … so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:27, 29)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should purposefully go out and do a bumbling job of the tasks God gives us so that He has a weak thing with which to work. The fact is, He already has a weak thing with which to work—humans.

Some time ago, I had what was at the time, an epiphany: I am small. I didn’t realize so much that I am a small, unimportant human among the powerful rich, famous, and politically connected. Rather, I realized my smallness in light of God’s bigness, His unfathomable bigness.

Then He makes it clear in His word that His plan is to use His people—all of us small ones. Jesus, the head, wants His body the church to hold fast to Him so that we can grow with a growth which comes from God (Col. 2:19b). With growth comes fruit and the fulfillment of the Christian’s directive to make disciples.

None of it happens because we are clever or eloquent or intelligent or personable or influential. The Church grows with a growth which comes from God.

Jeremiah sums this up nicely:

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

It seems to me, the foolish, though they may be criticized by fellow Christians for their inadequacies, are the people God can use, and the fooled—those so enamored with the “traditions of men … the elementary principles of the world … inflated without cause by their fleshly mind”—simply aren’t available because they’re distracted or unattached from the head who is Christ. They are not “seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). They haven’t set their “minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).

The bottom line is that the Apostle Paul was right. Small, weak, and foolish though we be, our focus should be on Christ.

On the other hand, if we bypass Christ for the imaginings of men, we’ve been deluded, deceived, fooled.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in October 2011.

Advertisements

Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

Christians Selling Out The Church


church-in-guatemala

I read it again today on Facebook—the church let down America by voting for Donald Trump. Here’s the heart of the article, written by a friend:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

What possessed [Paul]? What conviction gripped the soul of this Apostle to the Gentiles? I think that Paul believed if the church didn’t live this out, no one would. It is the church’s responsibility, and it’s alone, to manifest the realities of God to the earth, to be the outpost of heaven.

This is why blacks feel betrayed.

This is why women feel betrayed.

This is why Mexicans feel betrayed.

This is why Muslims feel betrayed.

Not because America let them down. But because the church did.

We may very well have voted for the pro-life candidate, but it appears as though we did it at the cost of blacks. Of Mexicans. Of Muslims. Of women. And I, for one, believe that the cost was too great.

I don’t want to get into the demographics of the vote—how women voted for Mr. Trump and therefore ought not be lumped in with those “feeling betrayed.” For the record, I feel betrayed that the Republicans let him run under their flag, but that’s a post for another day.

I also don’t want to address the idea that concern for the life of the unborn should take a backseat to concern for “blacks” or “Mexicans” or Muslims or women. There’s a lot to say about that statement, but I’ll need a separate post to deal with it.

Instead of those things, I want to think a bit about Christians ripping on the Church. I know I’ve addressed this subject before, but I think it’s reaching a crisis point. We’re not talking about progressives or atheists or people of other religions. We’re talking about people who believe the Bible and who are using the Bible to rip the Church.

We Christians aren’t perfect (though a small segment hold to the belief in Christian perfectionism, most of us acknowledge our sin and see the Bible as addressing ongoing sins—see Paul’s confrontation of the church in Corinth concerning their sin of tolerating sin in their body). I’m in no way saying that we can do no wrong or that we don’t have sins we need to address. The condemnation and warnings of Jesus given to the seven churches in Revelation, are ours too.

But in this day when the world mocks and denigrates the Church, we believers ought not join right in!

First, the Church is far greater than the collection of believers here in America. Therefore the statement that “the church” let down the list of people above is wrong. Even if American Christians had let someone down, it wouldn’t be “the church” that was at fault.

In reality, the article addressed a type of “Christian nationalism” that I agree with, but oddly, in the midst of this identification came the accusation that the Church was at fault for what happened in the American election.

Sorry, but the Church is an all-encompassing body that includes people of every tribe and tongue and nation which God is preparing as His bride.

Other metaphors describe us as His family; as His body, with Christ as the head; as a spiritual house made up of living stones with Christ as the cornerstone. These descriptions reveal our true identity. We must not be pulled into false ideas about who we are. We must not join the world in bashing the one Jesus died to save.

Besides our true identity we also know the following:

1) false prophets sneak in to steal and kill and destroy. Sometimes the world and even other believers see the false prophets as true and assume the worst of the entire flock.

2) sometimes bodies of believers can become lukewarm or can lose our first love and need to be called back to Christ, but that is not true of the entire Church.

3) therefore, no matter what happens in America, the Church is not to blame.

4) finally, our citizenship, just like that of every believer, is in heaven. This world, including our native or adopted home on earth, is temporary. We’re “just a-passin’ through.”

5) while we’re on earth we testify to the One who saved us, in part by our unity, by the way we treat one another.

So Christians bashing the Church? Not such a great witness.

In truth, Christians need to stand up for the Church, because no one else will. We need to reject the idea that we are responsible for what false teachers teach, unless we give them the pulpit and prod others to come in and hear their message. To think otherwise would be like saying Jesus was to blame for the false teaching of the Pharisees, because, you know, He was there too.

Well, no, Jesus wasn’t to blame for the fact that those religious leaders used Scripture to teach self-righteousness.

We need to keep front and center that the true Church holds fast to the gospel, that Christ died for sinners according to the Scripture, that we ourselves have received a new life in Christ because of what Jesus did on our behalf. Any teaching that contradicts those fundamentals is a different gospel.

We need to stop calling those who preach a different gospel, the Church.

And we need to stop going along with the world to bash the true Church.

Published in: on November 15, 2016 at 7:09 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , ,

It’s The Church’s Fault


donald_trump_rally_10-21-16_30363517352

To the surprise of news analysts and voters alike, Donald Trump won yesterday’s US Presidential election. Today, on Facebook, I’m reading that some are pointing the finger at Christians. One fairly well-known name in the world of Christian communication wrote a post that says the Church “has some explaining to do,” and then launched into racist reasons Christians voted for Mr. Trump

As far as I’m concerned, this is simply the latest version of Church bashing. Three years ago, I wrote “Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil” and I’m re-posting it because I think believers have joined in with the culture at large to fault the Church for . . . whatever. It’s a dangerous trend, I believe.

I 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.

1420878_church_in_the_woodThe 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.

By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


martin_luther_lucas_cranach_1526I admit, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve grown up with so many great gifts—loving parents and siblings, an opportunity for a sound education, attendance in church from infancy on, a middle class existence that ensured I had three square meals a day and a warm place to live and many changes of clothes in my closet. I had a secure and happy childhood, though we moved many times.

Part of my growing up included my spiritual education, so I understood early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

Those seem odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works as the Church defined them. No doubt those who were saved, gained that standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of it.

All that changed four hundred and ninety-nine years ago when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] 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.[43] “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.”[44] (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard about indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Him as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But here we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

The Christian, the Church, and Love for the “Brethren”


Elmhurst_CRC_1964_(3)When I was growing up, we used to reference love for “the brethren and the sisteren,” and I always thought that was such a fundamental Scriptural principle it didn’t need special attention.

That was before I started seeing the way some Christians treat others online. Eventually I ran into a group that defended unkind words directed at other Christians with whom they disagreed. I was floored.

Their central point was that false teachers need to be treated harshly, and to make their case they used several places in Scripture that talk about apostates and those spreading heresy. From there they looked to the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs. Then there’s Paul telling the Galatians they are foolish and confronting Peter for his hypocrisy.

So are they right?

I don’t think so—not the way they use these verses as permission to mock or malign others. The handful of examples they give must be balanced by the preponderance of instruction telling Christians to treat each other, our enemies, all men, with love and/or consideration.

Some years ago, as I worked my way through the New Testament, I noticed over and over this theme of treating one another with love. In the gospels, the emphasis is on loving our neighbors and loving our enemies until we get to John. Jesus then makes His strong statements about Christians loving Christians so that the world will know we follow Christ.

John then drew the conclusion that love for the brethren (and sisteren 😉 ) is one sign that a person does in fact truly follow Christ:

  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
    – 1 John 3:10-11 (emphases mine)
  • We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
    – 1 John 3:14
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    – 1 John 4:7-8
  • Starting in Romans Paul fleshes out what it means to have love for the brethren, and for all men:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
    – Rom 12:11-18 (emphases mine)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    – Rom 13:10
  • He gives a more lengthy explanation to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), then includes instruction to love other Christians in a number of his other letters:

    • to the Galatians – “but through love serve one another”
    • to the Ephesians – “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
    • to the Philippians – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”
    • to the church in Colossae – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
    • to the church in Thessalonica – “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you”
    • to Timothy – “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion”

    The writer to the Hebrews continues the theme:

      “Let love of the brethren continue.”

    As does James

      “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”

    And Peter

      “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

    Believe it or not, these passages are nothing more than a representative sample. How can a Christian miss the fact that love for one another is central to true discipleship? As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

    Does Scripture tell us to stand against false teachers? From my study, I believe it does, but not to the exclusion of the clear command to love believers and all men, to be kind, to restore others with gentleness, to pursue peace with all men, to refrain from speaking against one another and many, many more similar indisputable relational instructions.

    So how did Christians bashing Christians or Christians bashing the Church or Christians bashing sinners—on the Internet or by letter or face to face—become something we believers seem to think is just fine?

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2010.

    The Church Is Not Perfect


    Wolds_Way_Stile_-_geograph.org.uk_-_285429I’m sensitive about church bashing which seemed to be in vogue not so long ago. When someone started talking about the Church it was almost always to tell readers or listeners what the traditional church had done wrong. Sometimes the tone was quite snarky. It’s those old people, the grannies in their denim dresses and the old codgers with their belts up around their chests. They keep the church from growing, from being alive and vibrant.

    Ugh!

    The Church is not perfect, and never has been. Even in the first century, Paul and Peter and Titus were writing about false teachers and false doctrines and how believers were to go about sorting truth from error.

    From what I understand, our first line of defense against false teaching is the Bible. Surprise, surprise. Truth is the best weapon against error. Paul even calls the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians when he lists off the armor the Christian is to put on in our fight against spiritual forces.

    Part of using Scripture against error is our discernment—our ability to check to see if “these things are so” as the Bereans did.

    Now these [Berean believers] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

    The other part is to hold each other accountable as Paul did Peter when the latter started treating Gentile believers differently once the Jewish Christians showed up. Suddenly it wasn’t OK for Peter to eat with the uncircumcised as he had been. Paul called him on his hypocrisy.

    But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all . . . (Galatians 2:11-14a)

    The rest of the chapter records Paul’s argument against what Peter was doing.

    Paul also stood up against the Corinthian church, confronting them on various issues in his first letter. In Phil. 4 he openly urged two women who weren’t getting along to solve their dispute, and he asked another member of the church to help them.

    Not only are we to troubleshoot for each other, we have responsibilities, older women to teach the younger and older men to teach younger men.

    Then there is the leadership. Peter says clearly, elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). But even they have requirements.

    No one in the church is above God’s standard. He’s given us means by which we can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. Not following the way of the world, not believing “a different gospel,” not following the lure of deceivers who John warns us about (2 John 1:7), not getting caught up in visions or beliefs someone with an inflated ego invents and foists on the church (Col. 2:18).

    Holding people in the church accountable is not Church bashing, and it isn’t an attack on our unity.

    If it were, Paul would have torn the Church apart instead of building it up.

    In fact, he did what a good overseer is supposed to do—he taught the people what Scripture meant. And he challenged them to live what they knew. His reprimands, as he made clear in 2 Corinthians were because he cared for the people he regarded as his children in the faith.

    Perhaps that’s the point of greatest difference between the first century Church and today’s western church. We are distracted by what worship style we like, how many people we have signing up as members, how much money we’re getting in, how many people have the church app on their phones, and on and on. But who cares enough to step up and say, Stop sinning! It’s wrong for you to sleep with someone you aren’t married to. Or to get drunk (even at college). Or to cheat on your income taxes.

    We aren’t perfect, so I guess we think we have no ground to stand on when it comes to confronting someone else about sin. I understand that. The key is to deal with our own logs before we do anything else, but Scripture doesn’t imply that we should all ignore the splinters and logs everyone else is walking around with because we once upon a time had our own log. If we still have a log of our own, then that’s the first thing we need to take before the throne of grace.

    But how can we stand silently by and watch wolves come climbing over the walls of the sheepfold? We ought not!

    Published in: on July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
    Tags: , , ,

    Doing Ministry In The Twenty-first Century


    New_Spring_Church_Greenville_2Another pastor has been asked to leave his church—a megachurch, no less, so there’s lots of attention to his failings and his firing. I’m referring to Perry Noble, pastor and founder of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, who confessed to an ongoing overuse of alcohol.

    Apparently he’s been trying to grow his church to a membership of 100,000, and the stress got to him, such that tension developed in his marriage. He turned to alcohol to alleviate the problems and of course, alcohol became one more problem on its own.

    Noble’s statement said: “What we’ve seen the Lord do over the past 16 years has been a modern day miracle. However, in my obsession to do everything possible to reach 100,000 [members] and beyond – it has come at a personal cost in my own life and created a strain on my marriage.” (“Perry Noble enters treatment centre”)

    I have to ask, was the church growth he referred to, a modern day miracle or a result of his obsessive activity? I don’t think it can be both. Either God does the work or man’s marketing techniques does the work.

    I can’t help but contrast Pastor Noble’s obsessive work to grow the size of his church (which apparently is more like a denomination “which claims 30,000 members across 17 cities” [“How Perry Noble’s Alcohol Firing by NewSpring Compares to Other Churches”]) and that of George Müller a hundred and fifty years ago. The latter wasn’t trying for great numbers. He wasn’t obsessive about growing his ministry. He continued building orphan homes as God enabled because the list of children who needed a place continued to grow and grow and grow.

    The only thing Pastor Müller worked tirelessly at was prayer. And preaching God’s word. He didn’t care if he was talking to a small group in Australia or a large church in Chicago. He preached, during the last eight or so years of his life when he felt called as an itinerant preacher, to any and all churches that invited him. Further, from the beginning of his work with orphans and with support for various other Christian endeavors, he laid his needs before God and did not publicize them.

    Today’s churches seem to have capitulated to the organization and the marketing mechanisms used by corporations. We have boards that oversee churches, made up of pastors from other churches, not from a group of elders within the church body. We want celebrity pastors who Tweet and livestream and do Facebook, all for the purpose of growing the size of the “ministry.”

    Gone, it would seem, is dependence on prayer and gone is the centrality of God’s word. Now “ministry” means seminars on addiction and dealing with autism and job loss or infertility or any number of other heartbreaking and difficult situations people might encounter.

    Does no one still believe that the Bible is actually relevant to our times and our problems? Why are we so quick to look to the devices the world has manufactured, to cope with our hurts and sins? Why don’t we pay attention to Scripture instead?

    In fact, shouldn’t we be so plugged into what the Bible tells us about how we ought to walk and please God, that we don’t find ourselves falling into the pit created by following the world’s way of doing things?

    The Church should be like a hospital, I think, for those outside. But for those of us inside? We should be all about healthy habits that keep us from getting sick. What would we think of a hospital that spends the majority of its efforts and resources treating the nurses and doctors who worked there?

    Of course Christians fail, we stumble, we fall, and we need people with whom we can confess our sins. We need people who will walk beside us so that we aren’t adding sin to sin. I’m not suggesting the Church should not provide a support system for those who need help. But that’s the thing—prayer, relationships with other Christians, a study of God’s word should be a regular part of our lives, allowing room for the Holy Spirit to work.

    Churches need pastors who faithfully preach the word of God, in season and out. We need to hear the full council of God’s word, not just messages from favorite passages, hop, skipping, and jumping through the text based on a topic. That’s the way important passages get skipped. That’s why we don’t address addiction in the church or divorce or premarital sex. There are lots of other topics the church simply lets slide—apparently the marketing strategy says talking about a lot of “old time” topics isn’t appealing to the target audience.

    I wonder if God’s heart isn’t broken by us going off on our own to do His work without Him.

    Published in: on July 20, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (5)  
    Tags: , , , , , ,

    Going Along To Get Along


    I’m reposting this article from October 2013 because I needed to be reminded of these points.

    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.

    What I DO Like About Church


    Church_ServiceI’ve said more than once that I’ve been spoiled. I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life in one Bible-believing church. Without a doubt, the teaching I received there and what I’ve learned from regular time in God’s word are the causes for any spiritual growth in my life. From what my church has done right and also from what it has neglected, I have developed a few items on my “this is what I like” list.

    First, Biblical, expository preaching. Many preachers use the Bible as their text. I’ve heard preachers who primarily retell the Biblical passage they’ve chosen, putting it in their own words and perhaps giving it a contemporary slant. I’ve heard other preachers who take the main topic of a text and discuss it, using all kinds of research and examples from literature or history or psychology or whatever. I’ve also heard preachers who take a topic and then find verses in the Bible to support what they want to say about that subject.

    None of these are necessarily wrong. They might provide the congregation with helpful knowledge and might facilitate their spiritual growth. But from my thinking, there’s a better way.

    A pastor, as I see it, should not pick and choose what parts of the Bible his congregation needs. In reality, we need the entire Bible, even the hard parts. Some hard parts, to be sure, might not seem to yield “good sermon material,” so a pastor needs to decide how to handle those sections of Scripture. I’m thinking, for example, of passages in Numbers discussing the dimensions of the tabernacle or the laws intended for the Jewish people or 1 Chronicles genealogies or even the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and in Luke. There are lessons to be gleaned from each of those, and a pastor may want to address those in a different way than he would a New Testament letter or a study of a book of prophecy or of history.

    But the point here is this: expository preaching intends to explain or describe a Biblical passage, going into some depth, and generally working through a section from start to finish.

    Expository preaching still uses cross references and still looks into the historical background of the text. But the primary element of expository preaching is to let God say what He said. Consequently we don’t dodge hard verses that say things that don’t square with our theology or that clash with our cultural proclivities. Expository preaching doesn’t chase trends in the church. It doesn’t camp on one topic and hit congregants over the head with the same “thou shalt” week after week after week. The Spirit of God might want to get someone’s attention that way, but the Bible has such variety, written from the perspective of so many different writers, it’s really hard to work through a passage of Scripture and not find something new and diverse.

    Second, singing that’s congregation oriented. I’m of the mindset that corporate worship should be different from a concert. Corporate worship is participatory. We should be engaged during sermons, checking the Scriptures to see if the things we’re being taught are true. We should also be engaged in any singing. Yes, there might be times when our engagement is within as it is when we listen to sermons, but I believe in congregational singing. Jesus sang a hymn with His followers the night before He was arrested, so we have His example.

    Paul says we are to teach and admonition one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). That idea leads to a second point of emphasis: the purpose of the congregation-oriented music is that we might have doctrine reinforced. Yes, singing should also be for worship, but again this is a corporate activity, so we as a congregation should do this together—praising God for who He is, for what He’s done, for the beauty of His person, for the perfection of His plan, for His creation. In other words, praise should be focused on God, not on how I feel about God.

    A third point here is that congregational singing should actually be intended for a congregation, not for a small group or soloist. So I really like congregational music when I don’t have to change keys to keep on singing or to stay quiet until the music comes back into my range.

    What else do I like about church? I like groups of people from our church working to serve others. We once had a vibrant ministry to prisons. I don’t hear about that any more, but maybe we still do it. We also used to participate in a program that provided prisoners gifts for their children at Christmas time. I like missions and short term mission opportunities. I like various activities and services for the poor and needy. Big churches, of course, can offer more varied ways of serving, but I like whatever effort a church makes to serve at home or abroad.

    Along with that, though, I like to see people speaking out boldly about Jesus Christ. Anyone can do a good deed. I think it’s important for others to know we love and go and work and serve because Jesus first loved us. We’re not trying to earn church brownie points or, worse, heaven brownie points.

    One last area I’ll mention today. I like churches that take care of one another. Churches are filled with people, and God designed us to pray for one another and to help one another and to comfort one another and to serve one another. In short, I like churches with people who develop relationships with one another—not always easy to do in big metropolitan areas in the fast pace of today’s society. But all the more necessary because of the disconnect we can easily feel away from family.

    God identifies His Church using a variety of metaphors. One is that we are His children, which makes us all brothers and sisters. That’s something vital I think the church must not lose. No one needs another bureaucratic entity in our lives just because. But we need the church, mostly because we ARE the Church. We need to be with like-minded people, not so that we can settle, but so that we can be empowered to go out and serve and preach and love those around us.

    Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)

    Published in: on May 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm  Comments (9)  
    Tags: , , , , , , ,