Monday, July 26, 2010

AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, Halter & Smay - Book review

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay have given believers something to chew on with this book.  Realizing as others have that the church has remained too "in-focused" and "consumer-crazed," have called leaders to take a fresh look at what their local assemblies should be doing as bodies of God's people.  In entertaining language the authors have correctly stated the biblical mindset of the church—gathered together for mutual well-being, yet purposefully looking for ways to take the gospel out.  Programs that all too often run their course in months or less are replaced by a fundamental spirit of seeking opportunities for going forth with the gospel.  Mission is not promoted in overt ways as in large crusades, but in determined and caring ways sharing Christ in a winsome manner.

The highlight of the book is chapter seven which asks in the title, “To Gather or Not to Gather: Is that the Question?”  Here the authors begin with a history of how churches gathered and then move toward practical ideas on how to gather while simultaneously having the willing attitude of scattering.  What is done about children, the sermon, and worship in general?  Several pointers are presented to aid the reader.

The authors do sometimes overstate their case and improperly relate the point of a biblical text.  Discernment will be needed in those cases. All told this is a thought-provoking and inspiring book that can be given a fair look.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

AND - Some Initial Observations, part 2

The next nugget from AND comes from pages 184-185 as the authors understand that the average church has one person (i.e., the pastor) doing 90% of the activities in any given Sunday because the whole meeting is centered on him and the message.  They make a case that this makes for an unbalanced meeting.

The church service with a sermon has and always will be necessary and helpful, but if used as the main way of making missional disciples, it falls far short.

Ephesians 4:11-13 gives us freedom in this regard when it suggests that "prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers have been given to equip the body to do the work."  I'm not sure how we took this to mean that God gives us preachers to keep us happy and fed as followers. These gifts…are given to help train church members do the actual work of evangelism, pastoring, and teaching.  Imagine what would happen if the average pastor/teacher who gives 25 to 30 hours a week to preparing a sermon actually gave 25 to 30 hours a week to teaching people how to teach other people the Scriptures?  It would so outpace the amount of biblical discipleship and scriptural knowledge in our people that we'd never go back to the old model!

I am not in total agreement with the authors' theology of church governance as a whole, but this effort to challenge the status quo of the modern pastorate has merit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

AND - Some Initial Observations, part 1

I am reading a book entitled AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church.  I don't think much of the title, but the subtitle explains it.  When finished I will post a review.  In the meantime, I will post from two rare nuggets that intrigued me, and they come from the same chapter.  Today, part one from pages 179-180 has the authors, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, allowing others to describe their fellowship.

What are we like? Well it's difficult to communicate the intangible aspects of our life together, but I'll give it a try.  These are just a few statements that describe what various people have said about our corporate gatherings, and they also serve as a helpful description of the key elements we find in churches that have found a way to gather together without compromising their sending impulse or capitulating to the gravity of consumerism:

→ Relationship first, presentation second
→ Whimsical
→ Everyone's messed up, therefore everyone's safe to be there regardless of their level of faith or doubt
→ Communion table is central, intimate, open, participatory, and the glue that holds the people together
→ Not polished, not excellent, but proficient
→ Sermons as opposed to abstract teaching
→ Children integrated with the adults while augmented with simple programs
→ Outside at least every eight weeks at a park (probably won't work in Iceland in December)
→ Food, lots of food!
→ Simple worship without hype or pretense
→ Leaders who lead through vision and hold the community to higher purposes
→ Orderly, but everyone feels safe to raise a hand, share a thought, or ask a question
→ Sacrilegious, but reverent
→ No "greeters" but everyone friendly
→ No offering but people give
→ No altar calls but people come as part of their conversion process
→ No service teams but everyone lends a hand
That "sacrilegious" creeps me out, and I question "leading through vision" unless what they see comes directly from Scripture.  But the rest makes me want to stand and cheer that a church acts like what the apostles set up in the beginning.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Church Governance

Both the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are conducting national conferences this year and are both considering changes in their respective forms of denominational governance in order to streamline and enable the denomination as a whole.  At least that is the official statement.  Not being a part of either denomination, I do not know fully how either will be affected if ratified, but based on observable human nature and the group dynamics of ruling bodies, both denominations will find their headquarters wielding more power and the individual churches less.

Why this shift?
The reasons for organizational change are numerous.  Assuming honest souls at the helm, the changing demographics, obstacles, and vision lead the list.  In other words, the desire for relevance, couple with pragmatism, drives the organization model.  This works well in business where the customer is king and desires change regularly as taste and technology move with ever-increasing velocity and products brought to market to meet demand.  The "goodness" of a good or service is defined by how it meets a felt need.  In the case of the gospel, however, the goodness is infinite being derived from an infinite, therefore unchanging, source—God himself.  That being so, it is reasonable that the delivery and administrative systems surrounding this commodity1 are also of an infinite, unchanging character.

What is the correct model?
We know from Scripture that there was a church in each city where the gospel was received.  Within those churches elders were appointed and recognized (Acts 14:23; 15:2-6; 20:17; Phil 1:1; Titus 1:5).  The local churches were self-supporting and self-governing but worked in community with other churches to meet needs as they were made known.  Itinerant brethren (Eph 4:11-14) would share as the Lord worked and gave utterance so that all the churches were teaching, believing, and operating in similar fashion.

What happened?
Then, as now, internal and external forces worked on the churches.  Persecutions and heresies were common enough to recognize the ablest man in the church to be the primary care for the flock with the elders assisting.  We know that in the second century Ignatius of Antioch had been so designated, and he mentioned others as well.  For the next couple of centuries, the bishops worked within a framework of councils to guide doctrine and practice, working as a type of world-wide or region-wide elder board.  Over time, however, some cities and their bishops claimed preëminence because of past political and apostolic prestige.  By the time of Leo the Great in the fifth century, Constantinople and Rome were the recognized heads of the Eastern and Western halves of the church respectively with a full-fledged hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority.

What now for PC(USA) and LCMS?
The PC(USA) has abandoned its anchor in order to join other denominations being blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine.  They are a combination of liberal and post-modern, hoping to identify with both but failing in everything save their self-aggrandizement.  On the other hand, the LCMS has not yet gone this far, but the early signs are there for destruction.  The shoals threaten, and a change of course can yet right their way.  Let us pray other gospel-believing churches not go the same direction.

1 Please pardon the business references to the gospel and the Lord's things, but they seemed to fit the paragraph's thesis and make the point.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Kingdom Life, Alan Andrews, General Editor - Book Review

It is a pleasure to find a book on spiritual formation that does not wander aimlessly in philosophy and mysticism.  NavPress has assembled ten essays (the cumulative result of the Theological and Cultural Thinkers Group) geared toward living the kingdom life in the everyday world.  The book is subtitled A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, and to this end it generally holds true.

The book is divided into two major sections, process and theology, each having elaboration on specific elements of spiritual formation: community, commitment, conforming and transforming, work of the Holy Spirit, primacy of scripture, etc.  A different author elaborates on each element, giving a broad and practical background to the subject as a whole.  Beyond this, discussion questions are given at the end of each chapter to aid in reflection and discussion.

A weakness of this book is the first process chapter by Dallas Willard.  In trying to explain the necessity to enter into the kingdom life, the author enters overly subjective waters as he is want to do.  Another is the chapter on missions by Paula Fuller who interjects racial reconciliation into the subject of missions leading the reader in an unnecessary direction to build her case.  In spite of these, the book is a good resource for understanding how and why the believer seeks to be built up in Christ.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Mormonism Series

Fellow blogger Glenn Chatfield has been working on a series of posts on the fallacies within Mormon doctrine as he has time.  As a former Mormon, he has a good understanding of what they teach and can compare it to the biblical position.  Here are a few current ones:

Mormonism's Gospel and Salvation

Mormonism's God and Jesus

Joseph Smith's "First Vision"

For all the posts, just click on the mormonism label at the bottom of one of his posts.

Why this blogger?
If you are wondering why I mention this blogger above others that might be mentioned, a note of explanation might be in order.  First, he is a good apologist, studying his material and presenting it in a logical, well-reasoned manner.  Second, we know each other personally and over time have come to appreciate the other's work.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Songs, Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Doctrinal Truth

This week I stumbled across a blog maintained by Dan Engle entitled Necessary Roughness.  Those familiar with American football will understand the title's play on words.  OK, I like it whether you do or not.

As I was reading through some posts, one from June 20th caught my eye: Good Hymns Confess Specific Truth.  Intrigued by the title, I read through this short entry.  I especially appreciated this:

We have a treasure in Christian hymnody that maintains correct doctrine and faith in the Truth. Our hymns must do more than not confess false doctrine; they must confess true doctrine. It is not sufficient that we believe in a god, but the God that revealed himself to us in His holy word.

As pastors and musicians choose hymns for worship, they should be care not only to choose tunes that people sing but choose lyrics that embed Biblical truth into our minds and hearts.
Have I sung hymns with questionable or unbiblical content?  Yes, back when I did not know any better.  Nowadays I keep quiet rather than sing the disagreeable parts.

After reading what Dan wrote, I followed a related link to here.  The point of this post is that we need to agree that lyrics must be biblical before we discuss how they are delivered via the tune and instrumentation.  He rightly states

The aim of a lot of Christian popular music is to praise God without laying out a lot of doctrine that would be offensive to some denominations.
It is no secret that Contemporary Christian Music lyrics are written blandly as not to offend, thus improving acceptability with an end to improved sales.  The church should not be in that same business.  We have doctrine to teach and with an obligation to teach it well.  Musical lyrics are a great tool to this end.

I am not addressing arrangement, tempo, or stylization at this time.  I definitely have my preferences, like using the original melodies for hymns, but do not wish to jump into rock vs. Bach as Dan Engle mentioned.  For the record, I am listening to Mozart's "Mass in C minor", K427 ("Great Mass") while writing this.

We need to learn proper doctrine properly.  Sometime take your Bible and read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:32.  What jumps out as a recurring theme? that God is to be obeyed, and to obey one must know what he requires.  This should be common sense in the local church.  Considering that most preachers spend about 20 hours preparing a message that correctly explains what Scripture says, should not the same level of care be put forth to ensure the music's message?  I do not expect the music leader to spend a proportionate amount of time as the preacher because the roles and tools are different.  However, the desire to properly express truth should be as great.

Finally, as an aside, how about we recommend to music leaders that the next time they wish to introduce a new song to the congregation, try something from a little-used author like King David or Venerable Bede or Ambrose or possibly this 9th-century work by Theodulph of Orleans:

1. All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David's royal Son,
Who in the Lord's name comest,
The King and Blessed One.
4. All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
To Thee, before Thy Passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.

2. All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
The company of angels
Are praising Thee on high,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.

5. All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

3. All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
The people of the Hebrews
With psalms before Thee went;
Our praise and prayer and anthems
Before Thee we present.


Any takers?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Quoth Todd Wilken: What Does God Say?

On the July 8, 2010 broadcast of Issues, etc., host Todd Wilken shared the following:

A theologian asks this question first and foremost, "What does God say?" And the theologian says what God says, uses God's vocabulary, and thinks in the terms God has given. What does God say?

Amen, brother!  I would only widen the scope to every believer, not just theologians.

Willful Ignorance of the Gospel's Effectual Work

Here is another jewel from the pen of Arnobius.  He makes the case that his opponents are willfully ignorant of the character and works of Christ and his followers, as well as the effect of the gospel in changing lives in the Roman empire.  He finishes by pointing out that their response is driving them away from faith and mercy.

You bring forward arguments against us, and speculative quibblings, which—may I say this without displeasing Him—if Christ Himself were to use in the gatherings of the nations, who would assent? who would listen? who would say that He decided anything clearly? or who, though he were rash and utterly credulous, would follow Him when pouring forth vain and baseless statements?  His virtues have been made manifest to you, and that unheard-of power over things, whether that which was openly exercised by Him or that which was used over the whole world by those who proclaimed Him: it has subdued the fires of passion, and caused races, and peoples, and nations most diverse in character to hasten with one accord to accept the same faith.  For the deeds can be reckoned up and numbered which have been done…in all islands and provinces on which the rising and setting sun shines; in Rome herself, finally, the mistress of the world, in which, although men are busied with the practices introduced by king Numa, and the superstitious observances of antiquity, they have nevertheless hastened to give up their fathers’ mode of life, and attach themselves to Christian truth.…But all these deeds you neither know nor have wished to know, nor did you ever consider that they were of the utmost importance to you; and while you trust your own judgments, and term that wisdom which is overweening conceit, you have given to deceivers—to those guilty ones, I say, whose interest it is that the Christian name be degraded—an opportunity of raising clouds of darkness, and concealing truths of so much importance; of robbing you of faith, and putting scorn in its place, in order that, as they already feel that an end such as they deserve threatens them, they might excite in you also a feeling through which you should run into danger, and be deprived of the divine mercy.
The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 12

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dad Life

I hope you enjoy it like this dad did.  As Norm Crosby used to say, "I resemble that remark."

Dad Life from Church on the Move on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Preach the Pure Gospel

We live in a free country, where it is nobody's concern whether you go to church or not.  In accordance with God's will, it should be the preachers goal to proclaim the Gospel to his listeners until their heart melts, until they give up their resistance and confess that the Lord is too strong for them and that from that point forward they wish to remain with Jesus.  It is not enough for you simply to be aware of your correct teaching and your ability to present doctrine correctly.  These are indeed important matters.  However, no one will benefit from them if you mingle Law and Gospel.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel, Concordia Publishing House, p. 458-9

Friday, July 2, 2010

Philosophy without Works Is Dead

Christians are well aware of the Scripture that states:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-17, 26)

In first-century terms, James was saying that talk is cheap and good works need to back up words with actions that demonstrate a commitment to Christ.  The world has a different colloquialism for the same thing: Put your money where your mouth is.  Things were not so different in the early church.  Arnobius of Sicca challenged the pagans that their alleged belief systems, based on philosopher's teachings, does nothing because there is no actual change in their lives.
What virtues did you follow in the philosophers, that it was more reasonable for you to believe them than for us to believe Christ?  Was any one of them ever able by one word, or by a single command…to check the madness of the sea or the fury of the storm; to restore their sight to the blind, or give it to men blind from their birth; to call the dead back to life; to put an end to the sufferings of years; but—and this is much easier—to heal by one rebuke a boil, a scab, or a thorn fixed in the skin?  Not that we deny either that they are worthy of praise for the soundness of their morals, or that they are skilled in all kinds of studies and learning; for we know that they both speak in the most elegant language, and that their words flow in polished periods; that they reason in syllogisms¹ with the utmost acuteness; that they arrange their inferences in due order; that they express, divide, distinguish principles by definitions; that they say many things about the different kinds of numbers, many things about music; that by their maxims and precepts they settle the problems of geometry also.  But what has that to do with the case?  Do enthymemes,² syllogisms, and other such things, assure us that these men know what is true?  or are they therefore such that credence should necessarily be given to them with regard to very obscure subjects?  A comparison of persons must be decided, not by vigor of eloquence, but by the excellence of the works which they have done.  He must not be called a good teacher who has expressed himself clearly, but he who accompanies his promises with the guarantee of divine works.
The Case against the Pagans, Book II, cap. 11

¹ A form or reasoning or argument, consisting of three propositions, of which the two first are called the premises, and the last the conclusion. In this argument, the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises; so that if the two first propositions are true, the conclusion must be true, and the argument amounts to demonstration.  (Webster's 1828 Dictionary at

² In rhetoric, an argument consisting of only two propositions, an antecedent and a consequent deduced from it; as, we are dependent, therefore we should be humble. Here the major proposition is suppressed; the complete syllogism would be, dependent creatures should be humble; we are dependent creatures; therefore we should be humble.  (Webster's 1828 Dictionary at