Spiritual Journey Or Relationship With God?


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Christians have for as long as I remember been concerned about speaking to others in what some refer to as “churchese” or “Christianese.” By this they simply mean the lingo associated with church or with Christianity.

All sorts of specialty groups enjoy common parlance. Writers, for example, talk about their WIPs and choosing a first or third POV, about submitting queries and proposals or preparing one-sheets for conferences. Football fans have their inside talk as well, involving OTAs and mini-camps and drafts or free agency; then there are zone reads and blitzes and chop blocks and pass interference and what is a catch.

For some reason, however, Christians have the impression that when it comes to our faith, we alone in all the world use words that carry meaning to those of us who are part of the group. Somehow, we’ve also determined that the use of “insider” jargon is bad. Hence, every generation or so, someone—a song writer or pastor or author or TV evangelist—introduces a new set of words to identify certain aspects or elements of what we do and what we believe. These, of course, turn into the new jargon.

For example, my church did away with ushers some time ago and replaced them with greeters. Mind you, they are the same people, dong the same function, but we now call them this other, different term. When we still handed out bulletins (we have since gone more or less paperless—it’s California; what can I say!), we suddenly started calling them weeklies. Not bulletins, though they still held the same information they always had.

One of the latest new jargon terms is “spiritual journey,” sometimes referred to as “our faith journey.” The idea is that we are all going somewhere spiritually. Some are seeking and their paths aren’t particularly straight. Some people are further along on their journey and are admonished to be patient with those who are back where they once were. The idea seems to be that we’re all going to get there in time, though some might be going faster and some slower.

No one says this, but I’m assuming some are on the wrong road or are headed in the wrong direction. But generally people only talk about believers or seekers as having a spiritual journey.

In reality, since all people are spiritual, we all have a spiritual journey.

Which brings me to my point. I think changing jargon can sometimes have detrimental consequences. “Spiritual journey” or “faith journey” seems to have replaced “relationship with Christ,” but I think the new phrases are poor substitutes.

As I mentioned above, all people have a spiritual journey. When the Bible uses the analogy of a broad road and a narrow road to describe our “spiritual journey,” there’s no indication that anyone is sitting it out on the side of the road. We’re all on one path or the other. So, what precisely does a person mean when they talk about their “spiritual journey”? Are they referring to their study of Zen Buddhism? Their practice of Hajj? Their participation in any of the six global humanitarian initiatives? Their initiation into and life within the Khalsa brotherhood?

“Spiritual journeys,” metaphorical and actual, are part of any number of religions and religious activities. The door is so wide that a Christian can say to a stranger on an airplane that his spiritual journey is the most important part of his life, and that stranger will have no idea what the Christian believes.

In other words, the new jargon buzz word among Christians actually distances us from … well, Christianity. Now we can sound just like everyone else. We might actually mean, when we say “faith journey” or “spiritual journey,” the process of sanctification in which God is making us more and more like His Son Jesus Christ. But what does the person outside of Christianity hear? Likely the term comes across as metaphysical—this person believes there is more to life than the physical and that’s important to them.

Wonderful, and true. And maybe it’s a starting place. But I can’t help wondering if this new bit of jargon is designed to avoid exclusivity. You know, the kind Christ says He requires:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

People walking around with crosses ought to be noticeable. And if they’re all parading along in the footsteps of Jesus, I’d think people would start to pay attention. I don’t see Jesus setting us up on a “spiritual journey” so much as He is an all-in kind of commitment to a Person. To Him. To the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ.

So I’ll leave other people to their spiritual journeys. I don’t want to be on a path where I’m checking to see how I’m doing in relationship to everyone else. What I desperately need is Jesus. If I’m going to do what Jesus said He wants from those who come after Him, I have to keep my eyes on Him.

In short, I ought not to be paying as much attention to where I’m going as to Who I’m following.

Friends with the World – A Reprise


Sower_oilSome years ago I did a little blog surfing starting with an article published in Church Salt: “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline. Unfortunately, a group self-identifying as Progressives have seemed to take their place.

Whether emergents are a growing or shrinking number, or whether Progressives are the new emergents, isn’t the issue, however. The thinking of both or either group—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside”— is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius. Sadly, this thinking has seeped into the Church.

One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

“Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with but have not come to a consensus about. The New King James says it this way:

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

The ESV is a little different, but I think the intent is the same:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

In the context of “adultresses” in the previous verse, these translations seems to me to make James’s intent clearer. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary, “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church/Progressives have introduced. Here are a few: God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. The Bible is mostly a myth. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

It doesn’t take much to find article after article after article by people professing to be Christians who espouse these “progressive” views.

Of course many claim that thinking in a fresh way about their spirituality or about God or about their religion has revitalized their spiritual life.

So … can thinking that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

Yes, lies. The world says humans are good, not sinners in need of a Savior. The world sees Jesus as just a man, not God in the flesh. The world looks at the Bible as a bunch of man-contrived rules, not the very word of God. Whenever the views of someone professing to be a Christian align more closely with what the world says than what God says, there’s reason to believe that the thinking of the world may be killing off true faith.

In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold. So, too, with pretend Christians who deny that God is a righteous Judge, the Sovereign who does what is right.

An older version of this post first appeared here in February 2010.

Jesus And The Dirty Dozen


During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept—sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church, some inside the church and some without, seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if Christ’s interaction with the non-religious of His day is a blueprint for how Christians today are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios—wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too—on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the brave woman who hid the messengers.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with—were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different—he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. Now they came to Jesus, and the cleansing they received wasn’t a momentary thing. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

This article first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Church’s One Foundation


Baptist_Temple_cornerstone“The Church’s One Foundation” is an old hymn of the Christian faith penned by Samuel John Stone.

Written specifically to counter a false teaching that was creating schisms in the church in South Africa, this and a series of eleven others were designed to reinforce the Apostle’s Creed. The opening lines of this hymn are as follows

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord

It is this foundation I want to focus on in light of my recent posts about the Church. As it turns out, I wrote a post entitled “Jesus Christ Is Lord” some years ago, and I don’t think I have much to add. So without further preamble, here is a reposting of that article.

The Bible reveals Jesus as many things—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, but it seems that the one thing God will make clear to all people at some point is that He is Lord.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

When I think of “Lord” I think of authority. Interestingly, it was Jesus’s authority that caught people’s attention early on. The gospels record that people questioned the authority with which He taught, they wondered about (and some doubted) His authority over unclean spirits. And His disciples were especially amazed at His authority over elements in nature.

I’m also curious about the way that Satan interacted with Jesus in the three temptations recorded in the book of Matthew. One was a concession that Jesus was master over physical elements, acknowledging that He could turn stones into bread if He wanted. Another was a concession that He, or at least His Father, was master over the angelic host.

The third is the one that seems different. In the temptation involving who would rule the kingdoms of the world, Satan seems to be saying, in his offer to trade, that he had the power but God had the authority.

Jesus being God would then have that same authority.

Sadly, people in today’s western culture seem eager to bring Jesus down. For some time, other religions have acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and it seems that view of Him is flooding into our Christianized societies. Hence, to many He is little more than a guru.

Even professing Christians belittle Him by limiting His work on earth to a “this is how it’s done” example for us to emulate. Given that Jesus lived a sinless life, we can undoubtedly learn by studying what He did and said. But Jesus as example should not supplant Jesus as Lord.

What Jesus said wasn’t just good thinking, wise advice, logical, helpful, and moral. It was right. It was true.

He spoke as the one person who knew the Father and who could reveal Him. He spoke from a position of omniscience, without any misconceptions or delusions. No one else could speak this way. Only Jesus. Only the One who is over all.

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col 2:9-10, emphasis added)

I find it especially interesting that Jesus’s half brother James started his letter “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” Here’s a man who could have claimed a special relationship with Jesus on a human level but chose instead to identify himself as a servant for life to the Lord. Essentially he took his right to say what he was about to say from his relationship with Jesus as Lord.

When I think about the fact that those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I get a picture of how God wants us to view Jesus.

Church And Edification


St-Damase-Eglise_churchA primary function of the assembly of the Church is to edify believers. But what does “edification” mean? The basic definition is “the act of building or building up.” In relation to the church, the meaning expands a bit: “the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness” (Strong’s Lexicon).

So when Christians gather together, one of our primary functions is to promote the spiritual growth of others.

Paul said this to the believers in Corinth:

When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor. 14:26a-33)

I understand that some people believe speaking in tongues, interpreting them, and prophesying were gifts that have ceased, but setting aside that controversial aspect of this passage, there are some very clear principles. The main point seems to be this: When you assemble as the Church, everything should be done for the purpose of edification.

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about edification in a different context, but he uses it in juxtaposition with pleasing our neighbor and doing good for him instead of pleasing ourselves.

I’ve heard a number of sermons about church not being about me “getting something out of it,” but about giving. I understand that, especially in light of this idea that all is to be done for edification. That means my participation is to be done for the edification of others. I’m not sure non-participation can be edifying to others.

At the same time, however, what did Paul mean when he said, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment”? Isn’t the idea of “passing judgment” connected with determining the truthfulness and the value of what was spoken? In other words, we who listen need to do so actively, testing the spirits, judging whether we’re being taught aright.

We aren’t to judge whether the speaker was entertaining, however. We’re to judge whether what he said exhorted us to godly living, to following Christ more consistently, more correctly.

There’s one way a preacher can be sure to exhort the Church: preach the gospel—that is, the good news about Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus begins in Genesis and continues throughout the entire Bible to the last verse in the book of Revelation.

It’s the story of God’s reconciliation with fallen humans and how the restored relationship with God turns our lives right-side up. When a preacher opens God’s word and explains it more fully, he is giving the Church the exhortation we need.

Honestly, we don’t need a pep talk. We don’t need pats on the back. And we don’t need to be accused or condemned. The Holy Spirit can incite and encourage and convict of sin, all through the teaching of God’s word.

I guess there’s a fine line between a pastor’s manipulative prodding and his faithful instruction and exhortation. I guess that’s why I believe in expository preaching.

When a pastor is working his way through a book of the Bible, he addresses the topics that the next passage up brings. A pastor who teaches topically, on the other hand, may never get to some very needed subjects, while he may brow-beat his congregation with the topics he thinks they most need to hear.

Still, what Paul said to the Corinthian church makes it clear that edification is really the responsibility of all of us. We aren’t to assemble ourselves together and then behave selfishly. It’s not about me; it’s about us.

Of course church is also about worship. That’s another one of the main functions of our gathering. But I think corporate worship is different from private worship. The Corinthian passage seems to say as much.

Paul tells those believers that some of them needed to exercise self-control—a nice way to say, shut up and sit down, it’s someone else’s turn to talk. They were not to talk over one another. They were to listen to each other so they could learn from one another. They weren’t to be in their own private world of ecstatic worship that ignored everyone else. When they were together, they were to do what would edify others.

I’m thinking that a part of worship in many evangelical churches might be leaning toward the “private” instead of the “corporate” when it comes to worship. Of course, I’m not in other people’s churches, so I don’t really know. But churches seem to fall into trends. I don’t know if worship leaders and pastors are watching videos and copying each other or going to conferences or what, but it does seem as if there’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses. And Sometimes I think the Joneses just might be heading off to left field.

I’d rather see a church follow the instruction of Scripture instead of the latest fad.

Published in: on January 11, 2016 at 6:46 pm  Comments (8)  
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Church: How?


St._Paul's_Baptist_-_west_sideHow do we conduct church in the twenty-first century?

Above all, I think we should look to the Bible to show us what we are to do. Sadly, in western society, our church services are too often run as if they were a slick entertainment-style program. Everything is planned out ahead of time and fit into a slot, and horrors if someone should run over or go off script.

And yet, our former pastor said repeatedly that his sermon wasn’t entertainment, that we weren’t an audience sitting back and determining whether we’d been properly entertained. We were participants, he said, active agents in the process, not passive judges.

So which is it? A slick program or a vibrant interaction, believers with each other and with God?

I don’t think the Bible indicates anywhere that Christians assembling together should be a slick program. There isn’t support for such a notion in Scripture.

We are to do things orderly, but even in giving that admonition, the Apostle Paul left room for the spontaneous.

I am a teacher though, and spent the majority of my working life in a classroom. To be an effective teacher, a person needs to prepare, so the idea of just showing up and letting the Spirit move, which denominations like the Quakers once upon a time believed, doesn’t seem wise.

Perhaps, like so many other things, we’ve become so dependent upon our own abilities or ideas or inventions, we no longer see the wisdom in trusting God. Be that as it may, I don’t see churches going back to a “no pastor” system where they meet together and wait quietly for someone in their midst to receive a stirring of the Spirit and share what God has “laid on their heart.”

I can’t say that I’d want to return to that type of church service either. I believe we are to love God with all of our mind, as well as with all of our heart and all of our body. I see great value in learning from a teacher who has done his homework, who has studied and prepared.

Our interaction, then, is with the content the preacher presents. We should not be caught up in whether he’s told us a good joke or a touching story, whether he has a good video clip to support his point or includes information flashed on the screen via his PowerPoint.

None of those things is wrong, just like it’s not wrong to quote a passage from a novel or include a short drama. These are methods, they are not content. The method should not be The Thing.

What church needs to do is involve people. The assembling of ourselves together should be for edification—that is, “the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually” (Oxford American Dictionary). Paul spent long hours instructing believers on his way from church to church. See for example Acts 20:7b—“Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”

In that instance, of course, the young man Eutychus wasn’t as involved in the teaching as he should have been because he fell asleep. But the point here is, Paul wasn’t prepared with his thirty minute talk that he’d polished to a well-rehearsed shine. He was teaching what the people in Berea and Troas and Thessalonica and Colossae and Philippi needed to hear.

This instruction actually follows the model Jesus gave to his disciples after his resurrection. He spent chunks of time opening up Scripture to them about Himself.

The issue of the edification of believers becomes clear not only by example but by instruction. In one of his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul addressed the topic of using gifts in the church. He included what many today call the ecstatic gifts—prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, healing. Whether a Christian believes those gifts came to an end after the first century or where he believes they are on going, is immaterial for this discussion. The point here is what Paul says about preaching, or instructing the body of Christ:

For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Cor. 14:7-9)

The priority, in other words, was to be the people in the congregation learning from the teacher—whether that was instruction in the word of God or praise and thanks. None of it was to be a solo effort. All was to be done for the edification of the others.

Church also fulfilled other important functions, not the least of which was to provide communion—the remembrance of Christ’s death by the breaking of bread and drinking from the cup. Jesus had commanded His disciples before His crucifixion to “do this in remembrance” because our relationship with God the Father hinges on our relationship with the Son.

What He did at the cross is central to the Christian faith. Without an understanding of His death as an atonement for our sins, Christianity is an empty religion, not a means of rescue from the kingdom of darkness.

The Church is tasked to pass on from person to person and generation to generation the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. This too, of course, is interactive, as is all of church—at least, as it played out in the first century.

No slick programs. Just preaching and taking communion, helping the needy and singing.

Yes, the church also took care of the poor in their midst. I don’t see them giving to the poor outside their fellowship. though perhaps they did, and undoubtedly individuals did. But the church itself set up a plan and a program to take care of the needy, particularly the needy widows who had no other means of survival.

In their day, they were at the mercy of others. There were no pensions or social security, and an elderly woman without a husband had no means to provide for herself. God in His great love for the least directed the church to care for them.

Another “how did they do church”—they sang. I’ll need to elaborate on singing in the church another day because it’s become a much more complex issue than . . . well, I suspect than any in the first 1900 years of the church ever dreamed it would be.

Suffice it to say, that first and foremost the church is to edify believers. That’s pretty much a non-negotiable.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Church: What And Why?


St-Damase-Eglise_churchMy church is in transition, which is a nice way to say, we are foundering. We are a church that had, for fifty years, been known for the teaching of the word of God. We conducted what would be considered a traditional worship service. We prayed, read Scripture, passed the offering plate, sang—some hymns, some choruses, some contemporary songs—but mostly we listened to expository preaching.

From the instruction of God’s word, we slowly began to reach out. As long as I’ve been at that church, we’ve been actively supporting missionaries, but we also began to involve ourselves more directly with the community. We do various things for the homeless. We’ve started a tutoring program in a nearby school which ended up leading to a church plant. We’ve had a prison ministry and involvement with international students at a local university. We have participated in programs for unwed mothers and have a vibrant ministry for the disabled.

In short, God’s word faithfully preached has spilled out of the church building and become active, alive.

Some years ago, however, a new “movement” started in America, a type of push back against the traditional Church. As so often happens, the movement itself faded from prominence, but some of the ideas remained and even began to be incorporated within churches at large, our own included.

Meanwhile, there was the megachurch phenomenon that offered another model for churches to follow, and suddenly “church” in America seems to be more about style and keeping up with the Joneses than it is about doing what the Bible sets down for people who believe in Jesus should do.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the subject. First, what is the Church? It’s not an institution set up by humankind, though we operated as if it were. We choose leaders and have boards (or teams) pay bills and build buildings and hire people and act in many ways like a business put together by a group of people.

In fact, the Church is the body of Christ, who is our head. The Church is Christ’s bride. The Church is the family of God. All these metaphors portray the close relationship the Church has to God. He is the leader, we are His servants, His functionaries, His intimate partner.

But that’s the Church, not a church. A local church is part of that Body, part of that Church universal.

The local church exists as an arm (or a hand or a foot or a liver) of the Church universal, though many denominations make up that Body. And believers as we assemble ourselves together, in obedience to Scripture, are unique parts of the local body—the fingers, the toes, the nose.

Our coming together is an act of obedience, but it is also an act of need. It is in church that we both receive and give. We receive encouragement and instruction in the word of God so that we can go out into the world and serve. We also give according to the giftedness God has equipped us with, so that the entire body grows. Those who are equipped to teach, do that. Those who serve, find places where they can serve in the church, and so on.

But God set this all up, not people.

Our challenge today is to ignore the whims of society and the cool new trends in order to be what God intends the Church to be. I don’t think a church should lose sight of what the Church is supposed to be and do.

If the local church doesn’t equip the saints to be people who live out the word of God, where else will believers receive such instruction? From Scripture, true. But I don’t know about other people, I first heard I was should regularly read God’s word from someone in church.

Churches aren’t perfect—that should be a given since they are made up of sinful people, redeemed though we are. Nevertheless, they serve as the gathering place for believers. This false teaching that has been introduced about “seeker friendly” churches needs to be held up to the light of Scripture.

Clearly no one should be turned away from church. Everyone is welcome. But churches don’t exist to evangelize. They exist, or ought to, in order to equip believers. If nonbelievers want to come and learn what believers are learning, it’s possible God will use His word to open the eyes of their heart. Praise God if that happens.

But the purpose of church is preparation for those who already believe. It’s not up to the “professional class of ministers” to give the gospel to “seekers.” It’s up to our teachers to prepare us to serve God day in and day out. We who believe need to go out into the world and share Christ, love our neighbor, love our enemy, do good to those in our world. Church prepares us to do what we’ve been called to do. Or it should.

Published in: on December 29, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments (5)  
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Clouds Without Water


Lookout-960x700It’s been a delightfully cloudy day here in drought-ridden Southern California. I heard via Facebook from a friend who lives in the middle of the state that they were having rain. Ah, if only our clouds would produce some rain. But the weather forecast gave us only a fifty percent chance of getting measurable precipitation from this weather event.

So I look with longing at the gray sky, the unproductive sky that promises by appearances to bring us what we need, only to disappoint in the end.

Jude uses these kinds of clouds as a metaphor to describe false teachers. They looked promising on the outside, but like a tree that appears healthy and productive, yet doesn’t yield any fruit, false teachers don’t give what hungry hearts need.

Perhaps the worst trait of these false teachers is that they create division in the Church. They are “hidden reefs in your love feasts” and care for themselves, not for others. They are mockers who follow their own lusts; they cause divisions, are worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:18-19).

I’ve been thinking about division in the church of late. Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) So we are to love other Christians—that’s unequivocal. But love doesn’t always look like unity.

I mean when a child disobeys a parent and receives discipline, there may be a time when the relationship seems to hang in the balance. The child is angry and rebellious and determined not to give in. The parent is frustrated and adamant and determined not to give in. Where’s the unity in that?

So love doesn’t always look like unity, though the appearance might be passing.

In those moments when there’s a struggle, when love desires unity, a mending of the brokenness, there’s a temptation to yield for no other reason than to restore togetherness. And in the back of my mind, I’ve thought, isn’t that what love is supposed to do?

But here is this passage in Jude saying the mockers, the ungodly ones who have crept into the Church, are causing divisions. Is it the responsibility of believers to yield to the demands of the ones creating division, the “persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v 4b)?

So how do we know who is turning grace into a license to sin?

I’d say, we have to turn to the authority of God’s word to answer that question. Who is advocating a departure from the clear instruction of the Bible?

In our culture there are progressives who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” by re-imaging Him or reducing Him to a mere man or stripping from Him the miraculous power He demonstrated day in and day out.

There are also people on both sides of the sex wars who ignore Scripture’s instruction to husbands and wives, who care more for themselves and their advancement than they care for God’s name and glory. Talk about divisions!

The sad thing is, these progressives, these feminists or advocates for the manoshpere, are clouds without water. No rain comes from them to wash away the grim, to water the soil, to produce a crop. In other words, all their rhetoric doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, they create divisions in the Church. They are the problems.

But what are the rest of us to do? Hating disunity, do we capitulate?

Sure, OK, if you want to believe the Bible is true as a metaphor and not literally true, we’re fine with that. We don’t want there to be any division in the church. Or, sure, if you want to believe that a husband as the head of his wife can—or should—dominate her and control her instead of serve her and sacrifice for her as Christ did for the Church, we don’t want to actually denounce you, because, you know, unity. Or how about this one—sure, if you want to believe that there are certain things we have to do in order to be saved, that’s your choice, so you can be part of our church and teach in our Bible studies because we don’t want to offend you or cause division.

The people following God’s word are not causing the divisions. It’s the people who are departing from the Bible that are causing divisions. What are we who believe the Bible to do—rail against the offenders? picket? leave for a different church?

The latter seems to be the choice of a good many Christians. Or maybe it’s just leave without the “for a different church” part.

But leaving isn’t an option, God commands us to assemble together. And any other congregation is as likely to have hidden reefs as the one we’re thinking of leaving.

Here’s what Jude tells believers to do:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

I’ll distill that into four points:

1) grow some spiritual muscle by praying, maintaining your relationship with God, and looking forward to life with Him.
2) have mercy on people who are doubting
3) save others
4) have mercy with fear on those living in sin

What does it look like to have mercy on those who are doubting or who are living in sin? That’s another whole blog post, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve hurling invective, in person or on line.

Reprise: Can’t We All Just Get Along?


When some people talk about Christians loving one another, they have in mind something akin to the secular idea of tolerance: we’re all supposed to accept other people where they are, how they are, regardless of what they believe. If it’s “true for them” than who am I to judge? The only belief that isn’t tolerated, it seems, is the one that says there is an authoritative right and wrong, a moral standard to which we all are accountable.

Now I fear that this wolfish tolerance attitude has stolen into the church dressed up sheepishly as love.

I fear this for two reasons. First, Christians have God’s direct command to love one another, but a false idea of what that love is can serve as an excuse to ignore Christ’s mandate. All Christians who aren’t exactly like me, then, don’t qualify as a brother I am to love, opening the door to partiality — something James speaks against unequivocally.

I fear this false love taking up residence in our churches for another reason: it fosters an “anything goes” mentality. No longer will Christians pay attention to what the Bible says about various issues because love is more important than “petty” differences.

Love is more important than petty differences, but what happens when “petty” becomes “any”? What happens when “petty” includes salvation, inspiration of Scripture, humankind’s sin nature, heaven and hell, the deity of Christ, the creation of the world, God’s role as a just judge, and any number of other beliefs clearly delineated in Scripture?

I find it particularly interesting that in one of the great passages about unity in the church, where Paul compares us to a body, with various parts fitting together to make a functioning whole, he includes the importance of sound doctrine.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:11-16, [emphasis added]).

So if we’re supposed to grow up into Christ, think for a moment about Christ and tolerance. Would we hear Him say, Can’t we all just get along? Not likely.

I suspect He saw a good bit of bickering from His disciples. After all, they discussed who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee tried to do an end-around to get her boys into privileged positions.

That kind of self-promotion was the thing Jesus wanted them to do away with, I believe. Leadership was to mean servanthood, and the greatest was to get on his knees beside a basin of water to wash his brother’s feet.

In contrast, nowhere do I see Jesus telling His disciples to take a soft stand on truth. Instead, He was rather in-your-face about the matter. He spoke regularly and authoritatively from Scripture, and His pronouncements divided people. He knew this would be the case.

What He wanted, though, was those believing the truth to stand together, to serve each other, to look out for one another’s interests, not just their own.

That’s the love the church needs, not the “Can’t we all just get along,” pseudo love the world calls tolerance. That’s the love that will let people know what “Christian” really means.

This post, sans a few minor changes, first appeared here in June 2011.

Do Christians Need To Obey The Mosaic Law?


The_Crucifixion011If you spend much time around Bible-believing Christians, you’ll undoubtedly hear something about grace. We’re saved by grace, not by works. And yet in any number of conversations, these same Christians will bring up something found in the Mosaic Law. Just this week I referenced a verse in the Law in regard to capital punishment.

So are Christians “cherry picking” when we say we’re to keep the Ten Commandments, but don’t have to worry about the dietary laws or about stoning people for breaking the Sabbath?

The notion that believers under grace are picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they want to follow is easy to understand. From the outside, it certainly looks inconsistent. But the truth is, there are passages of Scripture that are game changers.

The first of these is Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus fulfilled the Law. Peter explains it a bit more: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

How does Jesus’s death fulfill the Law? On our own, we cannot fulfill the requirements of the Law. Jesus basically said as much in the Sermon on the Mount. Not just what we do falls under the law, but what we think—the anger or lust or covetousness in our hearts. Sin requires sacrifice. Christ’s death was the sacrifice “once for all” that fulfills the requirements of the Law. Paul fleshed this out in several of his letters. In Galatians he said,

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (2:16)

Paul explained that it is Christ’s work on the cross that saved us from the Law and its requirements.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—

Another game changer is the establishment of the Church. In the Old Testament God chose Israel to represent Him to the rest of the world, but after Christ came, His followers are God’s representatives on earth. The verses are 1 Peter 2:9-10.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

The Church, made up of peoples of every tribe and tongue and nation, isn’t under a single government as Israel was. Their national law was to be God’s Law. But not so the Church.

Then why do Christians go on about the Bible, including the books of the Law?

Game changer number three: 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

The Old Testament, just like the New is to teach, reprove, correct, train—not so that we can work our way into God’s good graces. Rather, Scripture equips us for every good work.

Paul, in Philippians, calls this the “righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” We are saved in order that we might do good. We don’t do good in order that we might be saved.

It’s an important distinction.

The Bible, then, from cover to cover, reveals God: His character, His qualities, His work, His plan. It’s not a list of rules. It’s a revelation.

We who have been saved by grace ought logically to be about God’s business, doing and living the way He wants us to. In fact, game changer number four shows us that “faith” isn’t alive unless it translates into a changed life that cares about what God cares about:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:19-20)

So what about those dietary laws? Mark addressed this issue when he explained something Jesus said about the legalistic Pharisees:

And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) [Mark 7:18-19]

The issue came up later in the book of Acts, this time in the context of God making it clear that He was including Gentiles in the Church. Here’s the part of the passage that deals with the dietary laws:

Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.

A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!”

But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 1

Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 10:9b-15)

God wasn’t just talking about food, as the rest of the story reveals, but He was nevertheless also talking about food.

The short answer to the question is this: God revealed His heart throughout the Bible, including through the Law. We aren’t under the Law, but it can and should inform our good works which we do as a reflection of the faith we have in Christ. Jesus summed the law up by saying we are to love God and love our neighbors.

Love means protecting some against predators. Are we also loving the predators when we do so? I think so. People who get away with murder don’t realize they are sinners in need of a Savior. They think they are the gods of their own world and can do whatever they want. God’s judgment reveals the truth: He is God and we are not. If we love our neighbor who is facing God’s judgment, we ought not be silent. (We also ought not be strident and mean spirited, but that’s another issue for another day.)

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