Saturday, September 29, 2012

Do Not Let Worship Style Obscure the Preached Word

I confess that I am not favorably disposed even toward necessary ceremonies, but that I am opposed to those that are not necessary.  Not only have I been (and still am) incensed by my experience under the papacy, but the example of the Ancient Church is also disquieting to me.  It easily happens that ceremonies become laws, and after they are established as laws, they quickly become snares to men’s consciences.  Meanwhile pure doctrine is obscured and buried, especially if those who come after are indifferent and unschooled folk who are more concerned about ceremonies than they are about mortifying the lusts of the flesh.  We see this even among those who are now living; strife and divisions arise when everybody follows his own opinion.  In short, contempt for the Word on our side and blasphemy on the side of our opponents seem to me to point to the time of which John prophesied when he said to his people, “The ax is laid unto the root of the trees,”* etc.

At all events, since the end is close at hand, it does not seem to me that it is necessary (at least in this blessed time) to be too concerned about introducing ceremonies, making them uniform, and fixing them permanently by law.  The one thing that needs to be done is this: the Word must be preached often and purely, and competent and learned ministers must be secured who are concerned above all else that they be of one heart and one mind in the Lord.  If this is achieved, it will undoubtedly be easy to secure uniformity in ceremonies, or at least to tolerate differences.  Without such internal unity, on the other hand, there will be no end to differences and no way to deal with them, for those who come after us will claim the same right that we exercise, and flesh will be set against flesh, a consequence of corrupt nature.

Martin Luther, Letter to Prince George of Anhalt [July 10, 1545]

* Matthew 3:10

Friday, September 28, 2012

Love for Christ Manifest in Tender Care for the Flock

For the pastor of sheep has his flock following him, wherever he may lead them: and if any should stray out of the straight path, and, deserting the good pasture, feed in unproductive or rugged places, a loud shout suffices to collect them and bring back to the fold those who have been parted from it.  But if a human being wanders away from the right faith, great exertion, perseverance and patience are required; for he cannot be dragged back by force, nor constrained by fear, but must be led back by persuasion to the truth from which he originally swerved.  The pastor therefore ought to be of a noble spirit, so as not to despond, or to despair of the salvation of wanderers from the fold, but continually to reason with himself and say, “Perhaps God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil.”* … Rightly therefore did the Lord say that zeal for the flock was a token of love for Himself.

John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, II.4

* 2 Timothy 2:25

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reminiscing on the Liturgy

My early years found me in the Methodist church before and through the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren.  Thinking back on that time, I must admit that the regularity in the order of worship and church year is something I miss.  Why is that?  It certainly was not the sermon content each Sunday, since I was easily bored and looked for ways to spend my time, even occasionally reading my Bible: imagine my surprise upon discovering the great stories heard in Sunday School were actually found there.  Nor was I impressed by the collective fervor of the congregants who I could tell were going through required motions because the Order of Worship specified a certain action from the group.

What then held my attention during the hour-long periods over the years?  It was what I learned through creeds and hymns.  You see, I actually paid attention to those things.  From early childhood, solid biblical input was instilled through weekly readings from the Old and New Testaments according to the lectionary, as well as repetition of the Lord's Prayer, Apostle's Creed, and Nicene Creed, plus weekly singing of "Doxology" and "Gloria Patri," short choruses full of praise and acknowledgement to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the one God we worship.  Great hymns of the faith full of rich content were wonderfully accompanied by an organist.  And while the responsive readings were peculiar to me, I recognized that important things were being spoken.

While I remembered little to nothing of spiritual profit from what was taught from the pulpit, those things caught from the periphery were foundational for my later spiritual growth, after the rebellious years of later teens and early twenties.  And for this I am thankful and longing to recapture in a substantive way now decades removed from it.

Why does this longing arise?  From reading my blog, you know that I have a dissatisfaction with Evangelicalism as commonly practiced.  For many years my family met with the Plymouth Brethren which gave me opportunity to study my Bible and teach often: I am grateful.  Having been gone from that way of meeting a few years, I can objectively state the strengths and weaknesses of their practices.  Now in a non-denominational Bible church, I am firmly within the very church culture that currently annoys me.  I am not saying there is heresy—not by any means—but there is an abundant reliance on some undefined moving of the Holy Spirit in planning and decision-making.  I understand the mentality having seen it among the PBs previously, and it always bothered me then.  But I digress.

Am I just on a sentimental journey, remembering a past time in the best light?  That is possible, but assemblies such as mine could learn a thing or two from a more formal liturgy.  For instance, the lectionary was first concocted to teach Christ and the whole counsel of God.  Use it, whether the history one-year or the revised three-year.  This would help to keep the pastor from making topic changes in order to "scratch an itch."  We have enough of those where I attend, and they are annoying.  Also, we need songs with better content: I have blogged on that before, so I will not pursue it.  And, I miss repeating the creeds.  Absorbing those declarations was difficult at first, but what excellent, concise statements of faith they are, imperceptibly becoming part of me due to the repetition.  I dare say that my understanding of the Godhead had a thorough foundation because of them.

A danger looms in that congregants could slip into the same semi-catatonic state as liturgical groups who do not know preach the gospel or do not care that the gospel is being proclaimed.  And some would fear that there would only be hymns with the only organ instrumentation: as good as these are, they are not strictly required.  (I wonder how the divine liturgy of John Chrysostom would sound using a bluegrass band.)  And dare I say that the greatest objection would be that the Holy Spirit is being stifled.  Having been in the more free-form groups enough years, the issue is not structure, but desire.  A meeting of open sharing can grieve and subdue the Spirit just as quickly, and sometimes more so, as following a prescribed order.

Is this whole concept old-fashioned?  Yes and no.  They are certainly old, some portions even centuries old, but they are what the historic church regularly professed and maintained on a weekly basis.  On the other hand, because they are ancient, we know they are enduring.  The old is not kept because it is old, as certainly as the new is not introduced because it is new.  Neither tactic works.

As a parting thought to help articulate what I have been thinking, I offer the following from Bill Cwirla (Hacienda Heights, CA, 2003):
Though it’s often called “traditional worship” by those who engage in “contemporary worship,” that’s really only half the truth.  Liturgical worship is historic worship, the way Christians have been worshiping for nearly 2000 years.  Some of the phrases of the liturgy go all the way back to the new testament.  Liturgical worship is also biblical worship, not in the sense that the Bible demands we worship this way, but that nearly every word of the liturgy is a quotation from Scripture.  Liturgical worship is also Christocentric worship, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness and life of the sinner right in the middle of everything.  That’s the important one, remember?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are Christians the Antibody or the Contagion?

Bill Muehlenberg has written a good piece reminding Christians of how the world responds to Christ and his church.  He rightly reminds us that by virtue of believing and obeying the gospel we cause trouble because the world does not want to hear it, but most Christians go out of their way to dispel any confrontation with the world system.  He relates this biblical example that includes a great quote from J. M. Boice that explains how the apostle Paul and the early church were viewed.
In Acts 24 we read about Paul’s trial before Felix. In the opening five verses we finding this amazing discussion: “Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation.  Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.  We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world’.”

Everything there was nice and quiet, until this Christian troublemaker came along.  And he seemed to have the habit of causing riots wherever he went!  Even if we understand that this is not exactly a friendly witness giving testimony here, there is nonetheless heaps of truth here.

The unbelieving world could only see trouble when they encountered the followers of Jesus. Wherever they went they seemed to stir up trouble–even causing actual riots on a number of occasions.  But Paul and the disciples of Jesus must of necessity be seen as troublemakers, because of their revolutionary message.

I like what James Montgomery Boice has to say about this: “A literal translation of ‘troublemaker’ would be ‘pest,’ but it was stronger than what pest usually means for us today.  For us ‘pest’ usually means a nuisance.  But in earlier days of the English language, ‘pest’ meant ‘plague,’ an idea that we preserve in the stronger but somewhat archaic word ‘pestilence.’  What they were saying was that Paul was a plague of mammoth proportions.  He was an infectious disease.  He spread contagion.  Tertullus was suggesting that if Paul were set free, he would spread turmoil, disorder, and maybe even rebellion throughout the empire.

“This was the charge the Jewish rulers had brought against Jesus Christ at the time of his trial, and for the same reasons.  They knew that the Romans were not interested in religious matters but were intensely concerned about anything that might stir up trouble.  Before Pilate the Jews accused Jesus of making himself a king to rival Caesar, and here before Felix they accused Paul of causing turmoil.”
The question to answer is clear: are you considered a plague for spreading the truth and light of Christ, or are you trying to "live and let live" between the church and the world?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pogo Was Correct: We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us

But in our case, human prudence and selfishness, and the lack of training and inclination to yield ready submission are a very great obstacle to advance in virtue, amounting almost to an armed resistance to those who are wishful to help us.  And the very eagerness with which we should lay bare our sickness to our spiritual physicians, we employ in avoiding this treatment, and show our bravery by struggling against what is for our own interest, our skill in shunning what is for our health.

For we either hide away our sin, cloaking it over in the depth of our soul, like some festering and malignant disease, as if by escaping the notice of men we could escape the mighty eye of God and justice.  Or else we allege excuses in our sins,* by devising pleas in defense of our falls, or tightly closing our ears, like the deaf adder that stops her ears, we are obstinate in refusing to hear the voice of the charmer, and be treated with the medicines of wisdom,† by which spiritual sickness is healed.  Or, lastly, those of us who are most daring and self-willed shamelessly brazen out our sin before those who would heal it, marching with bared head, as the saying is, into all kinds of transgression.  O what madness, if there be no term more fitting for this state of mind!  Those whom we ought to love as our benefactors we keep off, as if they were our enemies, hating those who reprove in the gates, and abhorring the righteous word;‡ and we think that we shall succeed in the war that we are waging against those who are well disposed to us by doing ourselves all the harm we can, like men who imagine they are consuming the flesh of others when they are really fastening upon their own.

Gregory Nazianzen, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus, 19-20

* Psalm 141:4
† Psalm 58:5-6
‡ Amos 5:10

Monday, September 24, 2012

Understanding the Burden of Pastoral Care

Against the backdrop of many men and women who project and esteem themselves as somehow deserving of their pastorates and droves of doting followers, Gregory Nazianzen's confession of inadequacy after his ordination stands as a stark contrast.  May those who have care over your soul be like-minded.

I did not, nor do I now, think myself qualified to rule a flock or herd, or to have authority over the souls of men.  For in their case it is sufficient to render the herd or flock as stout and fat as possible; and with this object the neatherd* and shepherd will look for well watered and rich pastures, and will drive his charge from pasture to pasture, and allow them to rest, or arouse, or recall them, sometimes with his staff, most often with his pipe; and with the exception of occasional struggles with wolves, or attention to the sickly, most of his time will be devoted to the oak and the shade and his pipes, while he reclines on the beautiful grass, and beside the cool water, and shakes down his couch in a breezy spot, and ever and anon sings a love ditty, with his cup by his side, and talks to his bullocks or his flock, the fattest of which supply his banquets or his pay.  But no one ever has thought of the virtue of flocks or herds; for indeed of what virtue are they capable?  Or who has regarded their advantage as more important than his own pleasure?

But in the case of man, hard as it is for him to learn how to submit to rule, it seems far harder to know how to rule over men, and hardest of all, with this rule of ours, which leads them by the divine law, and to God, for its risk is, in the eyes of a thoughtful man, proportionate to its height and dignity.  For, first of all, he must, like silver or gold, though in general circulation in all kinds of seasons and affairs, never ring false or alloyed, or give token of any inferior matter, needing further refinement in the fire;† or else, the wider his rule, the greater evil he will be.  Since the injury which extends to many is greater than that which is confined to a single individual.

In the second place, although a man has kept himself pure from sin, even in a very high degree; I do not know that even this is sufficient for one who is to instruct others in virtue.  For he who has received this charge, not only needs to be free from evil, for evil is, in the eyes of most of those under his care, most disgraceful, but also to be eminent in good, according to the command, "Depart from evil and do good."‡  And he must not only wipe out the traces of vice from his soul, but also inscribe better ones, so as to outstrip men further in virtue than he is superior to them in dignity.  He should know no limits in goodness or spiritual progress, and should dwell upon the loss of what is still beyond him, rather than the gain of what he has attained, and consider that which is beneath his feet a step to that which comes next: and not think it a great gain to excel ordinary people, but a loss to fall short of what we ought to be: and to measure his success by the commandment and not by his neighbors, whether they be evil, or to some extent proficient in virtue: and to weigh virtue in no small scales, inasmuch as it is due to the Most High, "from Whom are all things, and to Whom are all things."§

Gregory Nazianzen, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus, 9-10, 14

* A person who has the care of cattle.
† Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12
‡ Psalm 37:27
§ Romans 11:35

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Not 10 Commandments, but 10 Results?

This week I have been listening to Dr. Lane Burgland in a five-part series on biblical interpretation.  Though I have listened to teaching on this subject matter in the past, each instructor gives different insights.  During part 4, he uses an example from the Decalogue (Exod 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21) pointing out two features I had not seen before.

The lists are the same, but the reasons for Sabbath observation are different.  As the Law was given after the the exodus, God tells the people that the Sabbath was to be remembered because he rested on that day.  Later, as the people are about to go into the Promised Land, the Sabbath was to be set aside as a time to remember what God had accomplished.

These are not contradictory but give two sides of what the Lord was trying to teach his people.  In the former, the people of Israel were to rest from their labors as a good gift to his people.  The latter is a reminder that the people of Israel were no longer in bondage.  There was rest from their labors.  Both of these are types of the spiritual realm wherein we are to set aside time for honoring the Lord and remembering our own deliverance from the bondage of sin through the work of Christ's atoning sacrifice.  We are to live as free men serving God (1 Pet 2:16-17).

No commands are given.  Dr. Burgland states that there are no imperatives (commands) in either list, but all are indicatives (statements of fact).  Everything mentioned is to be typical of the believer and a natural outflow of what God had done and was doing in his people.

I am uncertain about this, not being a Hebrew scholar, but if correct, the implication is clear: no amount of good works will put us in a better position with our Lord and Savior.  We believers are already accepted in the beloved, and no closer position can be earned.  Since this is a New Testament theme, I am inclined to say that there is more grace in the Ten Commandments than we give credit for.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is Your Assembly Characterized by the Same?

But with us there is no desire of vainglory, nor do we indulge in a variety of opinions.  For having renounced the popular and earthly, and obeying the commands of God, and following the law of the Father of immortality, we reject everything which rests upon human opinion.  Not only do the rich among us pursue our philosophy, but the poor enjoy instruction gratuitously; for the things which come from God surpass the requital of worldly gifts.  Thus we admit all who desire to hear, even old women and striplings; and, in short, persons of every age are treated by us with respect, but every kind of licentiousness is kept at a distance.  And in speaking we do not utter falsehood.… As for those who wish to learn our philosophy, we do not test them by their looks, nor do we judge of those who come to us by their outward appearance; for we argue that there may be strength of mind in all, though they may be weak in body.

Tatian, Address to the Greeks, 32

Monday, September 17, 2012

Believers, Sin, and the Mercy of God

From Johann Gerhard (October 17, 1582 – August 17, 1637):

That some [sins] are called venial and only some are called mortal is not because of the nature of the sins but because of the mercy of the Father, the merit of the Son, and the sanctification of the Spirit.  This distinction does not pertain to all people in general but only to the reborn.  It is not to be taken from the Law which accuses and condemns all sins regardless of their type and size, but from the Gospel which demonstrates that sins of weakness and ignorance and corrupt lusts are not imputed to those who believe in Christ if they resist them; that is, if the reborn,
  1. acknowledge these evils which dwell in their heart;
  2. grieve seriously over them;
  3. ask and believe that they are covered by the merit of the Mediator as by an umbrella;
  4. by no means relax the reins upon them but resist them by the Spirit, crucifying the flesh along with its desires.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Disjointed or Besieged: The Effect of False Teaching

Glenn Chatfield has posted a quote from Kenneth Wuest on how following false teaching is like being incapacitated from a dislocated joint.  This reminded of a podcast I heard with another good illustration of how false teachers and teaching affect us.

Imagine ancient warfare where there were walled cities and the enemy would come and surround the city, lay up siege works, and wait letting no one in or out.  The attacker's intention was to starve the residents to the point of submission before running out of their own stores.  During an effective siege, conditions inside the walls would become dire.  People sought anything to fill their stomachs.  Scripture relates how during a siege of Jerusalem, Rabshakeh shouts to the inhabitants that they were doomed to consume their own waste (2 Ki 18:27)—this from experience in siege warfare.  Another scriptural instance is Ben-Hadad's siege of Samaria during which one mother swindled another into eating the latter's son as a shared meal (2 Ki 6:28-29).

Satan attempts the same in us with false teachers.  Their instruction cuts us off from the pure milk of the Word with the intent to starve out what is true.  We become spiritually emaciated and become willing to take in whatever appears nourishing, though it may have no nutritional value at all.

The remedy is to be strong in the Lord in the full armor of God (Eph 6:10-20).  The battle is ever before us, so we must remain vigilant, and holding fast to the truth.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gene Veith on the DNC Convention

The Democratic National Convention was full of angst about how “middle class” Americans are having such a hard time, how “the system is rigged against them” (as Elizabeth Warren put it), how the rich control everything, and other evocations of national misery.  But if things are so bad and electing Obama will solve the problems, why hasn’t he done anything about them so far?  As someone has noted, the Democrats are sounding like they are running against an incumbent President Romney.  But their guy is the one in office!  Their rhetoric is geared against the status quo–but they are the status quo!

Posted 13-Sep-2012 at Cranach: the Blog of Veith

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Keep It Simple—Still

I found another church father who continues in the same vein as a post from earlier this week: when sharing Christ and the gospel, be simple and sincere.
Let us leave the harangues of the rostrum, the facile eloquence which glories in the multitude of words.  When we have to speak of our God and Savior, we will use an unadorned sincerity of speech.  Faith is not strengthened by displays of oratory, but by the truth itself.  We should aim not to make long dissertations which may charm a popular audience by the flowers of rhetoric, but to find weighty words which, presenting the truth in its naked simplicity, are such as become the gospel of Christ.
Cyprian, To Donatus, 2 as translated by E. de Pressensé

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Worship Music Is a Serious Matter

A melodious idea, sober in outline and expression, indicating the general feeling by some simple and exquisite points, accompanied by a few harmonic intervals—such is the work of the ancient composer.  If it is asked how it was possible out of such primitive elements to create really beautiful works, we reply by simply referring the reader to some of the early Christian compositions—the Te Deum, for example.

The character and object of Christian worship led the Church to reproduce this simple art, so pure and so well adapted to her sacred songs.  She was the guardian of the best traditions of classical music in an age when degenerate art, borrowing from the East and still more largely from Egypt, sought by the combination of instruments and of voices to excite and stimulate evil passions, especially in luxurious feasts, which, like the theaters and pantomimes, were the nurseries of all vice.*

E. de Pressensé, Christian Life and Practice in the Early Church, 307-8

* See Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, II.4.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Keep It Simple

There have always been church leaders and teachers who desire the attention of men, honing their rhetorical skills to influence people, but this is not what they were called to do, as Paul stated of himself:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:1-2)
Arnobius of Sicca recognized this same distinction and rightly related that fine speech accomplishes nothing in spiritual matters, but we are to communicate the truth plainly and apply it as balm to the sick soul.
Let that pomposity of style and strictly regulated diction be reserved for public assemblies, for lawsuits, for the forum and the courts of justice, and by all means be handed over to those who, striving after the soothing influences of pleasant sensations, bestow all their care upon the splendor of language.

But when we are discussing matters far removed from mere display, we should consider what is said, not with what charm it is said, nor how it tickles the ears, but what benefits it brings on the hearers, especially since we know that some even who devoted themselves to philosophy, not only disregarded refinement of style, but also purposely adopted a common plainness when they might have spoken with greater elegance and richness, lest perhaps they might impair the stern gravity of speech and revel rather in a pretentious show of sophistry.  For indeed it demonstrates a worthless heart to seek enjoyment in matters of importance; and when you have to deal with those who are sick and diseased, to pour into their ears pleasurable sounds, instead of applying a remedy to their wounds.
From Case against the Pagans, I.59

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Living in the Past to Protect the Future

My friends think I live in the past.  For instance, this morning at Bible study we were discussing the upcoming small group material, John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life.  Out of this conversation I was asked what authors I enjoyed and the first name out of my mouth was John Chrysostom, fourth-century bishop of Antioch.  Both men started laughing and said, "I knew it."

This anecdote is relevant because of a question recently sent in to Worldview Everlasting:
I heard a quote several years ago but don’t know where to look to put it into proper context or who to give credit for the quote, can you help?  It goes something like this: "The trouble with the Evangelicals is, they believe the church started with them."
Think about that for a minute.  You know it is true.  The overwhelming majority of Evangelicals want to leapfrog from the first century to the present, convinced that everything in between is just a lesson in how the church got everything wrong.  In essence they believe their groups, whether founded in the nineteenth, twentieth, or twenty-first century, were established to right the centuries of bad teaching and practice.  That is just nearsightedness.

What you hold as a matter of faith and practice came from centuries of labor in the scriptures.  We have the opportunity to take the long view and see the triumphs, mistakes, and sins of men who were trying to either remain faithful or be self-seeking.  That is just one benefit of knowing the history.

Consider the response to the WE question mentioned above:
As far as I know, this isn’t so much a “saying” as it is an observation made by more historical churches.  The founding of the “New World” gave immense opportunity for new denominations to surface.  Each was convinced that they had found profound new insights into Christianity.  How did this happen? Simple, in the early days of founding the United States, there were plenty of people, but very few historical resources, so Christian groups were left with very little to go about reading and understanding the Bible.  Couple that with a large “anti-Catholic” sentiment, what you have is a formula for ecclesiastical ignorance based on ecclesiastical arrogance.  Mostly what the Evangelicals were able to do, was resurrect old heresies that the Church had dealt with several hundreds of years earlier.

So what we have are groups trying to “get back to the basics” and they don’t really know what the basics are.  It’s quite sad, really.  The reason we pay attention to the history of the Church (both good and bad), is because it shows us where we have gone and where we have gone wrong.
There is more, but this suffices to make the point I wanted to bring out: those who do not study church history and heresy are doomed to repeat it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It's All about Me

Bill Muehlenberg has written a good piece on how a false gospel is being pitched to consumers in many Sunday-morning assemblies, usually because the point of the meeting (one cannot dignify the time as worship) is to please men and magnify the lead pastor.  Here is a portion of the post:
The difference between Paul and many preachers today is that Paul wanted to please only one man: the Lord Jesus Christ. He cared not one bit about pleasing anyone else. But today we are overrun with churches which seem bent on just one thing: pleasing as many men as possible.
[Joel Osteen] is simply affirming everything about their self-centred lifestyle. He is giving them the divine thumbs up for living a totally materialistic, selfish, and sacrifice-free lifestyle. As proof, all one has to do is consider the books he has penned. Simply look at the titles. They are most telling. Here are some of them:

-Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential
-Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day
-Good, Better, Blessed: Living with Purpose, Power and Passion
-Living in Favor, Abundance and Joy
-Every Day a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week
-Your Best Life Begins Each Morning: Devotions to Start Every Day of the Year (Faithwords)
-I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life
-It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor

Did you even see so many “yous” and “yours”? What is the message of Joel Osteen, according to these titles? It is all about me. Me, me, me. The whole world revolves around me. As long as I am happy, and successful, and feeling good about myself, well, that is the gospel message.

Jesus is merely an appendage to a selfish life here. God simply exists so that my world can continue to go well, so I can always be happy, and so I can always have the good things in life. As long as I am happy and wealthy and successful and so on, I must somehow be doing God a really big favour.
He ends with a quote from Leonard Ravenhill on the true cost of being a Christian.  Read and enjoy.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bringing the Circus to Town

Tim Keller has posted at The Gospel Coalition on the movement needed to change a city with the gospel.  Amid the missional double-speak, he rightly contrasts the work of believers in this world with the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, he explicitly states:
In short, we cannot produce a gospel movement without the providential work of the Holy Spirit.  A movement is an ecosystem that is empowered and blessed by God's Spirit.
Now things begin to unravel.  He describes three circles the Holy Spirit uses, (Contextual Theological Vision; Church Planting and Church Renewal Movements; Specialized Ministries) but, as described, all the work is being planned, initiated, and undertaken by believers, and only if everything is in place will the Holy Spirit work.

The third ring is further broken out into multiple required elements:
  1. A prayer movement uniting churches across traditions in visionary intercession for the city.
  2. A number of specialized evangelistic ministries, reaching particular groups (business people, mothers, ethnicities, and the like).
  3. An array of justice and mercy ministries, addressing every possible social problem and neighborhood.
  4. Faith and work initiatives and fellowships in which Christians from across the city gather with others in the same profession.
  5. Systems for attracting, developing, and training urban church and ministry leaders.
  6. An unusual unity of Christian city leaders. Church and movements leaders, heads of institutions, business leaders, academics, and others must know one another and provide vision and direction for the whole city. They must be more concerned about reaching the whole city and growing the whole body of Christ than about increasing their own tribe and kingdom.
You can understand why I entitled this way: this is a three-ring circus with the Holy Spirit as ringmaster.  The recent Mars landing took less work by NASA than is being asked here.  I guess there is no hope for the gospel to go forth in the world.  Time to pack it in, folks.

How did the first apostles get the gospel out without all that infrastructure?

Maybe I am misreading Keller and being overly harsh, but the work of the gospel seems incredibly simple: go out, make disciples by baptizing and teaching Christ and Him crucified.  Take the opportunities you have and remain faithful to the Word of God.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Prepared for Priesthood

For just as that Jesus (Joshua),* called by the prophet a priest, evidently had on filthy garments …, and is called a brand plucked out of the fire, because he had received remission of sins when the devil that resisted him was rebuked; even so we, who through the name of Jesus have believed as one man in God the Maker of all, have been stripped, through the name of His first-begotten Son, of the filthy garments, i.e., of our sins; and being vehemently inflamed by the word of His calling, we are the true high priestly race of God, as even God Himself bears witness, saying that in every place among the Gentiles sacrifices are presented to Him well-pleasing and pure.
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 116

* Zechariah 3:1-10.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Love and Natural Law

I was struck by a reposting of this image.

From Assumption Church, Windsor, Ontario via Pastoral Meanderings
Lest you jump to conclusions about my position, let me state some things:

  • First, these do interrupt the natural workings of what God has created.  That is undeniable.
  • Second, I do not oppose some family planning.
  • Third, these points are the foundation of what my generation called "free love" and is now called "hooking up."  Life and love are cheap, intended for personal gratification without thought to consequences, and any consequence can be altered in an effort to remove responsibility and guilt.