Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Let's Have Training Camps

Larry Baden has a good post at pointing out the preference of some churches to teach to the lowest common denominator rather than challenge believers to grow. This usually well-intended action is designed to get people rooted in the faith with the hope for self-taught growth. How often does self-growth happen? Once in a blue moon or less.

The New Testament example of the church is to be a training ground for believers. We should teach the whole counsel of God. It can be done if the church organizes itself in such a fashion that this can happen.

An objection may be brought forward that there simply are not enough teachers to do this properly. Is the problem that there are not enough teachers or that the future teachers are not being trained within the church? The same could be said of encouragers or givers or those showing mercy. Is there a plan in place to develop these spiritual gifts?

Church leaders ask yourselves, "Is there something or someone being wasted because of a wrong emphasis?"

A So-Called Christological Paradigm

Over at Primal Subversion is a quote from Gene Davenport's book, Into the Darkness: Discipleship in the Sermon on the Mount.  It seems the author is claiming an anti-war stance for Matthew's gospel.

While it is true that many since the early church have taken a pacifistic approach to war based on chapters 5-7, the context simply does not bear that weight.  As the Lord is teaching, he is dealing with issues encountered on a personal level, most likely between one Jew and another or between Jew and sojourner.  The idea of foreign aggression does not enter the discussion.

Let's not add to the Bible what is not there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Religion v Gospel? -- Not Really

I came across a blog called Without Void that had a copy of thoughts from Tim Keller on Religion v Gospel. I then did an internet search and found this same list in various forms on many blogs and websites. It is quite popular and accepted. But it raises a question: When did religion become a foe of the gospel? The problem is that we have lost sight of the biblical understanding of religion.

The ESV has these verses in which the translators used the word religion:

Acts 25:19
Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.
Acts 26:5
They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
Colossians 2:23
These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Notice that biblical religion is nothing more than carrying out the duty expected to properly honor God and is to be manifest in both personal and public spheres. Also consider that the beneficiary of true religion is not the practitioner but the recipient of the religious deed.

Getting back to the list then, Brother Keller has compared living according to works with living according to the gospel. That is admirable and useful. But do not call that thing opposing the gospel "religion." Rather it is a self-seeking aberration of the works that should properly accompany salvation. The deeds are performed as an end unto themselves with no thought of them being offered in a way that pleases the Lord.  Call it what it is -- self-righteous legalism.

Lutran Airlines

My uncle sent an mp3 file that's good fun—
Lutran Airlines.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Scholarship or Foolishness?

I read the following short e-mail interchange concerning biblical studies earlier this week which stimulated some thoughts:

Biblical scholar:
Scholarship cannot be religious. The only agenda of scholarship is scholarship.

Does this, then, mean that "evangelical scholarship" is an oxymoron?

Biblical scholar:
I am afraid so, which does not say that an evangelical person cannot do scholarship. An evangelical approach, not to say a plain fundamentalistic one, is legitimate as long as it can be falsified.

That last predicate struck me. Why must an approach be falsifiable in order to be scholarly? What are the implied assumptions for this thinking? I assume it falls somewhere within this spectrum.

        1. Absolute truth does not exist.
        2. Absolute truth exists but is unknowable.
        3. Absolute truth exists and is knowable, but man cannot ascertain it.
        4. Absolute truth exists and is knowable, but man has not ascertained it.
        5. Absolute truth exists and is knowable; man ascertains and rejects it.
        6. Absolute truth exists and is knowable; man ascertains and accepts it.

If there is an absolute truth, one assumes a truth-giver with absolute authority. Option one attempts to eliminate the truth-giver as an impossibility., while the second through fourth rest in the warm comfort that the truth-giver can have no jurisdiction over the actions of the human race because the standard, precept, or grand plan has not been properly communicated. If man cannot understand, he cannot be accountable. Most of human philosophy has fallen somewhere within this range.

The Bible gives a completely different take on this. In Romans 1:18-23 we find the fifth option above as the apostle Paul writes:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Notice that the truth-giver, God, is knowable through what he has demonstrated in nature. Further, mankind deliberately suppresses that knowledge in their unrighteousness turning rather to their own thought processes and replacing God with a charicature of their own individual or collective foolishness. To make matters worse, God has communicated his intentions by way of various people through the centuries. As certainly as God has made himself known in creation (Psalm 19:1-6), he has made himself known in words (Psalm 19:7-11). This dual witness leaves mankind without any excuse.

The positive side to all this is that by accepting who God is and what he has done for his creation, we can be reconciled to him for our sinful disobedience. And what has he done for us that deserves all this accolade?  Only give the ultimate gift, his son, to cover and remove the sin that separates us from him. The apostle Paul wrote that he had "delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A "New" Hymn

Being on this theme of hymnody, I offer to the reader this one written some 1300 years ago which I found recently at The Lutheran Hymnal Online.

A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing
by The Venerable Bede, 673-735
Translated by Benjamin Webb, 1820-1885

1. A Hymn of glory let us sing:
New songs throughout the world shall ring:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ, by a road before untrod,
Ascendeth to the throne of God.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
And with His followers they see
Jesus' resplendent majesty.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. To whom the angels, drawing nigh,
"Why stand and gaze upon the sky?
Alleluia! Alleluia!
This is the Savior!" thus they say;
"This is His noble triumph-day."
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. "Again shall ye behold Him so
As ye today have seen Him go,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In glorious pomp ascending high,
Up to the portals of the sky."
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. Oh, grant us thitherward to tend
And with unwearied hearts ascend
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Unto Thy kingdom's throne, where Thou,
As is our faith, art seated now.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. Be Thou our Joy and strong Defense
Who art our future Recompense:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
So shall the light that springs from Thee
Be ours through all eternity.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

7. O risen Christ, ascended Lord,
All praise to Thee let earth accord,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Who art, while endless ages run,
With Father and with Spirit One.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #212
Text: Acts 1: 11
Author: The Venerable Bede, 735
Translated by: Benjamin Webb, 1854, alt.
Titled: "Hymnum canamus gloriae"
Tune: "Lasst uns erfreuen"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Book of Psalms for Worship

Crown and Covenant Publications has recently released their newest psalter, The Book of Psalms for Worship. This edition purports to complete the revised wording begun in their 1973 psalter, The Book of Psalms for Singing.

I would venture that most people have never sung from a psalter, and if they have, it was the old Scottish metrical from the 17th century. From my perspective, they are difficult to read, much less sing, because of the stilted English used to put the psalms into rhyme and meter. The wording is familiar, since it is similar to the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible. That psalter is foreign-sounding to modern ears and needed work. The revision process undertaken by these brethren makes this an accessible resource for the Christian community.

Perhaps someone might question using a psalter. The notion somehow sounds antiquated, but with the dearth of good new hymnody, why not turn to an ancient and eminently biblical collection of songs for use by a local congregation. Most of the selections are unknown to the typical church member and would help satisfy the desire for something new by offering something old.

Some may balk at psalm-singing as somehow anti-dispensational and claiming the promises of Israel for the church. Not so. It is merely a right understanding of the church's relationship to these works that is needed.

Do you want to sing a new song unto the Lord? Sing from the psalter.

Hatchet Jobs on Hymns

Warning! Pet peeve alert!

One thing that really jerks my chain is the way hymns are treated. For example, this past Sunday one of the songs was "And Can It Be?" by Charles Wesley. This lovely and powerful hymn has five verses. Our song leader reduced it to three. I was crushed. How would it be if Top 40 songs got treated the same way? Can you imagine singing only 60% of "American Pie?" And how do you cut out 40% of "Streets of El Paso?" If you are going to sing a song, sing the whole song.

For whatever reason, "worship leaders" think that they can cut out verses of hymns in a willy-nilly fashion as the mood fits. Not so. Hymns are constructed with a purpose in mind and a message to convey. Part of the story is being cut out when verses are omitted.

And do not get me started on tempo. A hymn is not a dirge, people.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Church or Kingdom?

Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren has a good, short piece on a faulty distinction being made between working for the Church and working for the Kingdom of God.

My guess is that those who promote the latter see the church today as being in ruins similar to John Nelson Darby in Ireland and Alexander Campbell in the U.S. about 150-175 years ago. Basically, the  message was that the institutional church had abandoned its proper place and something needed to be salvaged from the vestiges: allow what was called "church" to self-destruct while true Christians were to come out and continue the work of the Lord. And therein is the faulty thinking.

The church is an organic unit whether or not we like its condition. What is sickly or self-destructive affects the whole and needs to be dealt with. Semper Reformanda is not a uniquely confessional slogan but one that each local church, denomination, etc. needs to realize for itself.

The work of the Kingdom is accomplished by the church. Why do we think it can be trashed for something new?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Aspiring to Greatness

I aspire to greatness. Does this surprise you or strike you as something sinful? May I say in response: O that all men would do likewise! Someone is asking, "Can Christians really do that? Don't you know that the Christian life is one of sacrifice and humility." As a matter of fact I do. Let me ease the shock and clear up the confusion. First, we need to dispel the notion that greatness is bad. Consider two Old Testament examples and what the Lord told them.
Abraham - And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)
David - And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. (2 Samuel 7:9b)
Both of these men received unconditional promises from God that their names would be great. And what was the basis of the bestowal of this generosity? God's good pleasure. As David tells himself it,
Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. (2 Samuel 7:21)
So God certainly bestows greatness on whom he wills, but can someone aspire or attain to greatness? That is the real question, and one his own disciples asked. Late in Jesus' earthly ministry, James and John (with their mother [Matthew 20:20-28]) approach him with a request:
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." Mark 10:35-37)
Talk about audacity, but what else would one expect from two brothers nicknamed "Sons of Thunder?" This was the same pair who previously had asked the Lord if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village who had rejected Christ (Luke 9:54). At this previous occasion in Samaria, the Lord's response was to turn and rebuke. They needed a strong word. This time he reacts somewhat differently.
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. (Mark 10:38-41)
No doubt about it, these two had moxie. They had seen John's end at the hands of Herod, so there was no preconception of an easy life. And they had both been enabled to perform some mighty signs in Galilee while spreading the gospel of the kingdom. They were certain of being able to pass throgh whatever lay ahead. Notice that Jesus agrees they will have to endure things. He gives the impression that they will finish their earthly life well. As for the high places next to the throne, that has already been promised. Now the other disciples have their collective noses out of joint because these brothers asked for such a favor. Maybe it is jealousy. After all, the twelve had been together for quite awhile, and Peter was part of Jesus' closest men. He saw and did things most of the others did not. The Lord sets the matter straight.
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  (Mark 10:42-45)
He gives an example of Gentile leaders and their philosophy of rule, the iron fist, and tells the twelve that things will be different for them. What does he say? "But whoever would be great among you..." Jesus does not chastise any of them for aspiring to greatness, not once. What he does is instruct them on how to be great: be the servant and slave of all.

Aspiring to greatness does not mean that we are seek our own glory. There is an important difference. James and John appear to have fallen into that somewhat. They acknowledged that the glory belonged to Jesus, but they wanted to be identified with it as much as possible. All glory belongs to God. He does not share with another.

I fell into the same thinking myself when as a younger believer, I thought I was God's gift to the Sunday School program and Youth leadership. After much maturing I have realized that the greatest satisfaction is the time and energy poured into others of whom I have had the privilege to help in their respective lives. Looking back I can appreciate what Paul said of the church at Philippi, "you are my joy and crown."

Yes, I aspire to greatness, but it is the greatness brought about by pouring myself into younger men and women and helping them grow in the grace knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Radio Static

Today I found the following Facebook status:
Hell's radio stations: Rush, Glenn, Sean & Alan, Contemporary Christian music with no commercial interruptions . . .
Lest anyone think these are the words of a liberal secularist bent on destroying the church and all that is sacred, the man who shared these thoughts has an M.Div. from a U.S. seminary and a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from University of Edinburgh. He currently teaches at a seminary in the U.S. I realize that with these credentials, he could still be a wolf amongst the flock, but I have known him personally for over 30 years and think his opinions have merit.

Talk radio
Let's start with the political commentators. I admit to listening to the first three men within the past 24 hours via radio and internet feed and have periodically over the years. Each is well-known for his conservative political opinions. There is one thing I have learned from listening: though they each purport to believe in God, each approaches socio-political problems from a humanist perspective. Glenn warns of the rampant spending and uncontrolled "czars." Rush trumpets American ingenuity and exceptionalism. Sean argued with Michael Moore about what constitutes a Christian viewpoint of capitalism. They each cited Jesus' words to bolster his case. Frankly, I doubt any of them knows what a biblical perspective looks like: pray for those who rule; care for widows and orphans in their need; live as resident aliens (because our citizenship is in heaven), seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, etc.

Does that mean I should avoid politics or not speak out? Not at all. When Tertullian wrote The Apology, the intended recipients were "Rulers of the Roman Empire"--the first words written in the treatise. This he did in the face of persecution. It seems no less important to do so while living in a free state, but that does not define us. We are not being made into the image of the Founding Fathers but into the image of Christ.

Contemporary Christian Music
I might be able to count on one hand the number of songs that have been written in the last twenty years having meaningful content. By that I mean words that do not dwell on my feelings or dwell on my relationships or repeat endlessly or repeat endlessly or repeat endlessly or repeat . . .

Music has purpose, and no, it is not to make us feel worshipful on Sunday morning. In the church it is a teaching tool. Look at Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Notice that there are two participial phrases: 1) teaching and admonishing; and 2) singing psalms and hymns spiritual songs. Paul is connecting these thoughts to help believers understand that music is to be doctrinally sound. On the whole, CCM does not fit the description, yet churches insist on using the popular choruses ad infinitum. Many hymns are no better. We just need to be more careful of what is being taught by the praise band.

Someone will say, "But the songs speak to me where I am." Fine, listen to mainstream country. Those artists and songwriters can say it much better. For worship I expect something that points me to the Lord of the universe. Someone else will retort, "But the psalmist talks about feelings." Yes, he does, but the ultimate focus is the person and work of God.

Ask yourself this question: Is my radio-listening governing me, or am I governing my radio-listening? By that, I am saying that you can listen to whatever you desire, but make sure it is active listening "with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:10).

If You Really Want Your Church to Grow…

Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated in order to get back on track.  Check out this blog entry from Dr. Jim West.

Monday, October 5, 2009

When God's People Pray -- An Initial Review

I have been exposed to the six-part series When God's People Pray by Jim Cymbala. The following are impressions of what the author is teaching based on viewing two sessions and working through accompanying study material.

Prayer is needful. Brother Cymbala exhorts Christians to pray and enjoy the blessings of entering into this rich communication with our God and Father. Bravo! Christians do themselves a disservice by not going before the Lord.

Pray correctly. Prayer is not haphazard but a deliberate act of entering into worship, fellowship, and representation for others. Even Jesus' closest disciples saw the need to learn how to pray (Luke 11:1-13).

Lead by example. It has become clear that this series is meant to exhort people to pray based on what has been implemented at Brooklyn Tabernacle. Christians should be examples for others, assuming they are living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). Paul was continually asking believers to follow his example (Philippians 3:17; 2 Timothy 2:1-2) as well as looking to others (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

Prayer causes God to act. This is a popular notion that Jim Cymbala echoes to the DVD listeners. Two specific cases are given.

  1. The Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians as a result of their prayer. The Bible does not give the prayer content of those first 120 men and women. For all we know, they were asking the Lord that their carryout Chinese dinner would not be cold by the time it arrived. Yes, it is facetious but no more so than the author's statement.
  2. Every revival in history started because people saw their shortcomings and prayed. Every example in Scripture says differently (2 Kings 22:8-23:25; Jonah 3; Nehemiah 8-9). There we find the word of God, whether written or spoken, as the instrument causing people to understand their need, then seek the Lord in prayer.
Truth is based on experience. Time and again the author relates Brooklyn Tabernacle's experience from the early beginnings of his ministry until the present. As mentioned above, these are good to know and heed, but then Scripture is brought in to support their theology of prayer and application of current meetings and format. Should this not be the other way around? Experience can never be the standard. It changes daily.

One disturbing comment was made by an interviewee. She said that her salvation experience was real because of what she felt. Feelings are also not our standard. The basis for salvation is the finished work of Christ on the cross. We know we are forgiven because the final work is done, not because we feel good.

As I stated in the beginning, there are good things being taught, but the viewer must heed Paul's instruction
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)