It has been a pleasure to participate in some very vital discussions this year, as well as to interact with so many of you who honor me by making your presence known at joelrainey.com. I look forward to more analysis, dialogue, discussion, debate, and "iron-sharpening" exercise in 2007. For now, I'm off to spend two weeks with my wonderful family for the holidays. I pray God's blessings on you, and wish you the best in the coming season!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The story of Simeon is one of those tales that, if televised, would likely be relegated to the Hallmark Channel and never seen as a "Christmas classic." While most pastors will spend the perfunctory amount of time in the first part of Luke 2 this Christmas, this second part of the chapter is often overlooked. Still, Simeon's ability to wait on God amazes me. Verse 25 states that he was "righteous" and "devout," and that this righteous devotion was manifest in the way that he waited. His life really matched what he professed to believe. God had told him years earlier that he would not die before bearing witness to the Messiah with his own eyes, and with strong faith, Simeon clings to this promise . . . .by waiting!
Within one month of Jesus' birth, Simeon experiences God's fulfilled promise. Joseph and Mary, two blue-collar, lower-middle-class parents, bring their newborn son into the temple in Jerusalem according to the custom of the law. At this point, Simeon has been waiting for decades, and his excitement over being able to finally see the Christ-child is evident to anyone in the temple that day. As he takes the infant in his arms, he exclaims:
Now Master, You can dismiss your slave in peace according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation. (Luke 2:29-20 HCSB)
This was the last thing Simeon was waiting for before his death, and throughout decades of waiting, he never gave up. God loves faith like that . . . .faith that hangs on . . . .faith that is willing to wait. But we aren't part of a culture that sees value in waiting. We want instant gratification. In a society dominated by drive-thru lanes, microwaves, TiVO, and 24-hour service, waiting isn't a virtue, its a weakness! If you are waiting, its because you weren't assertive enough, or didn't demand enough.
Perhaps this is why it is such a struggle for guys like me to submit to God in this way. But if I am able to wait, I learn that God keeps His promises. Simeon waited for decades. But in truth, Simeon's people had been waiting for several millenia! The promise Simeon saw was made as early as Genesis 3:15, and restated in Genesis 12, Genesis 17, 2 Samuel 7, Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 53, Zechariah . . . .you get the picture. God allowed centuries to pass before making good on His promise. But in the end, He always keeps them.
But waiting on the fulfillment of God's promise isn't something we do naturally, which is why Luke emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in Simeon's life no less than three times in this passage. The Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit revealed truth to him. The Holy Spirit guided him. And the Holy Spirit helped him to wait.
Without the Holy Spirit, we can't wait. We will jump the gun. We will try to get ahead of where God is working. And we will fail. The Old Testament is full of accounts of men who would not wait on God's promises and failed. For Abraham, it was the conception of Ishmael by Hagar. For Saul, it was the consulting of a medium. For Moses, it was simply striking a rock in anger. But the result of refusing to wait is always the same: sin, shame, hurt, and devastation.
But there are others who did wait on God: Elisha, Job, Nehemiah, Paul. Elisha was protected by an unseen yet innumerable army (2 Kings 6), but not before being faced with the army of Aram. Job was given back double what was taken from him (Job 42), but not before he lost everything most precious to him. Nehemiah saw the completion of the walls around Jerusalem, but not before facing strong opposition from the Samaritans. Paul was able to witness the spread of the Gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire, but was also forbidden by God from entering Asia.
Life doesn't give us a lot of green lights. More often than not, God doesn't say "you can have it now." Most often, he says "you must wait," and then uses the process of waiting to make us into the kind of people He wants us to be . . . .and this drives me crazy!
I'm an active guy. I like to move. I like to work. I like to play. And I like doing all of these things with intensity. Waiting has never been on my list of favorite things to do. But this Christmas, God is working on me by having me wait. Perhaps this is true for some who are reading as well. If so, know that if you give up, you will never know how truly close you were to seeing the fulfillment of His promises to you.
Picture Simeon getting up on the morning of Jesus' dedication, murmuring to himself "I've been waiting on this for 40 years. Is it ever going to happen?" Meanwhile, the Messiah is in town, and his parents are on their way to see Simeon at this very moment.
God's promises and God's answers are closer than you think, because God is closer than you think. If you refuse to wait on Him, you might very well forfeit everything. So this Christmas, be still, be quiet, and wait on the Lord. You won't be sorry!
Monday, November 13, 2006
This mistrust and cynicism toward SBC leaers was hightened just weeks ago when Georgia pastor Bill Harrell publicly stated his desire to deal with what he perceived as two of the most viable threats to Southern Baptists: worship styles and Calvinism. Once again, the blogosphere set fuses ablaze. But just today, the chairman of my trustees at the North American Mission Board cut the fuses loose, and eloquently calls us back to our main task!
Admittedlly, I am a bit partial to Bill Curtis. After all, he is a fellow South Carolinian! Yet his open letter to Southern Baptists speaks to an issue that transcends our home state, and speaks to the very heart of why we cooperate:
Despite our temptation to major on the minors, I’m absolutely convinced that we all know the biggest problem facing Southern Baptists: the reality that there are so many lost people in the world and so few of us are doing anything about it. I’m sure Bill Harrell would agree. As chairman of trustees for the North American Mission Board, let me take a moment to review some indicators of the severity of our problem in North America:
• SBC baptisms are at their lowest levels in 12 years;
• 73 percent of SBC churches are plateaued or declining;
• 11,740 SBC churches reported zero or one baptism in 2005;
• 55 percent of SBC churches baptized no youth between the ages of 12-17 in 2004;
• From 1991-2004, the number of unchurched adults in America increased from 39 million to 79 million;
• Every county in North America is at least 50 percent unchurched (statistics available from NAMB).
It is my understanding that the conservative resurgence was undertaken, ultimately, so that we could have confidence that our agencies and seminaries would equip pastors and churches to fulfill the Great Commission. And in a resulting spirit of unity, we could tackle our biggest problem.
Therefore, I’m calling upon all Southern Baptists — pastors, agency leaders, and laypeople — to consider adopting the following framework for our continued cooperation in evangelism. I offer these suggestions in a spirit of humility and with the sincere desire that our convention successfully refocus on the priority of the Great Commission”
Bravo to Dr. Curtis! You can read his open letter in its entirety here:
As you read Bill Curtis' letter, you will find a brother who called Bill Harrell personally before writing this response, in submission to Matthew 18. You will find a pastor strong in his own convictions, but respectful of the differring perspectives of his fellow Southern Baptists within the parameters of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. You will find true humility that does not seek to arrogantly instruct, but instead pleads with his brothers and sisters as equals. And you will find a Trustee chairman who hasn't lost sight of why we are Southern Baptists! God help all of us to assume such a mindset and spirit!
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
As is usually the case on October 31, churches are taking advantage of the season by sponsoring “trunk or treat” outreach projects, or taking their youth through a “judgment house.” I find it strange that at this time of year, the church pays so much attention to a holiday that has nothing to do with its history and heritage, and so little attention to the historical event that continues to define us to this day. 489 years ago today, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed a 95-point statement of concern to the door of a church in Wittenburg Germany. This single gesture ignited a movement that resulted in the recovery of the Biblical Gospel, the empowerment of the laity, the uncovering of the true church, and probably most important, the escape from something more terrifying than anything our imaginations could invent on Halloween.
Luther had a word for this terror. He called it Anfectung. Although there is no English word that corresponds exactly to the German phrase, we know that Luther was expressing the deepest kind of darkness that one experiences when his worst moments of terror, depression, doubt and despair combine. Born in 1483, young Luther aspired to practice law, but in 1505 after a near-death experience, he fled to a monastery, and would spend the next decade struggling with doubt about the condition of his own soul.
Living under the constant fear of God’s judgment caused Luther to confess with regularity the slightest offense to his spiritual guide Johann von Staupitz. Staupitz, who served as the chaplain of the University of Wittenburg where Luther taught Theology, eventually grew tired of Luther’s perpetual appeals for forgiveness and said to him “God is not mad at you. You are mad at God.”
Eventually, Luther would come to agree with Staupitz’ assessment. Indeed, Luther admitted later on that he in fact hated God, and came to realize shortly afterward that this hatred was but one part of a fallen will that sought to rebel against the Creator. Ironically, it was through his assignment teaching Psalms and Galatians that Luther finally began to develop a different picture of God. He discovered that Jesus, in dying on the cross, took our iniquity on Himself, and subsequently, the penalty for such iniquity. In short, Christ took our anfectung, that terror of God's wrath which the human soul rightly dreads.
But it was a prior trip to Rome coupled with his studies in the Scriptures that brought Martin Luther to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church was not interested in taking away anfectung, but instead profiting from it! Luther had traveled to Rome because he wanted to see Roman Catholicism at its best. What he found was a cultic center of ecclesiastical power that disappointed him greatly.
This selling of “indulgences,” or offerings by which one could supposedly free himself and others from purgatory, found its way to Wittenburg in 1517 by way of the charismatic Johann Tetzel. Commissioned by the Pope himself to finance the building of St. Peter’s Bascillica in Rome, Tetzel stood in the square of the city and with confidence offered his hearers the opportunity to free themselves and their relatives from purgatory, from damnation . . .from anfectung. His words, while eloquent, stirred anger in Luther:
As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!
At the end of that same month, October 31, 1517, Luther responded to Tetzel’s message with his 95 theses, and the course was set for an ecclesiastical tidal wave that would eventually be called the Protestant Reformation. Lasting more than three generations, this ecclesiological shift has given us the Scriptures in the language of the people, a theologically informed laity, freedom of religion, and most importantly, the recovery of the Biblical Gospel. Though it was not his original intent to separate from Rome, Luther’s subsequent studies brought him to the conclusion that Roman Catholicism proclaimed a false Gospel.
Likewise, Protestants today rightly deny the existence of a priestly class. We rightfully challenge the legitimacy of a papal office, and contend that the existence of the papacy itself only illustrates the soteriological and ecclesiological confusion that is propogated when church councils and tradition are seen to carry authority equal to the Scriptures themselves. We rightfully declare that salvation comes not by the imposed sacramental “works” of the church, but instead by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone! Modern Protestantism owes its affirmation of sola Scriptura, sola Christo, sola fide, sola gratia, and sola Deo Gloria to the legacy left us by Martin Luther.
But such theological axioms by themselves aren’t much of a legacy, unless they demonstrate efficacy in removing the anfectung from which Luther so desperately wanted deliverance. The dread Luther felt prior to his conversion was legitimate, warranted, and deserved. Human beings are born separated from God, become actual transgressors from the moment we are volitionally able to choose, and are as a result the enemies of our Creator. Being the enemy of the One who just gave you the last breath you took is certainly a position in which one should rightfully feel dread. But as Luther discovered, through the substitutionary death of Christ, God has become “both just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21)
While the masses are taking in the latest in the “Saw” trilogy, watching old “Nightmare on Elm Street” flicks and growing sick from eating too much candy, followers of Christ should recognize that for the church, October 31 represents much more than fear. To the contrary, this day represents the beginning of a young Monk’s discovery that God, by himself, without human effort, takes away sin, and the appropriate fear of God’s judgment that accompanies such sin.
Halloween is known by our culture as a time to be filled with fear, with dread . . .with anfectung. But the legacy left us by men like Luther and those who followed serve to remind us every October 31 that God has not given us a spirit of fear! Most on this night will celebrate with “trick or treat.” I’m thanking God for the recovery of the Gospel that made my conversion, and the removal of fear, possible
Friday, October 20, 2006
When I sit down to watch television, my usual fare includes bulletts, buildings blowing up, car chases, and the like. Suffice it to say that while channel-surfing last night, putting down the remote to watch the Tyra Banks show felt a little weird, and this morning, I'm still seeking to shake off the excessive estrogen.
Nonetheless, the subject of "hate" permeated the show, and the contents were not only intriguing, but surprisingly educational. As I went to bed last night, I did so having come to the conclusion that everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE on that show was a homophobe!
The commercial teaser that caught my eye was of a funeral protest conducted by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka Kansas. The Phelps family and their congregation are known worldwide for their "God hates fags" epithets, as well as their loud eccentric behavior, and their recent attempts to disturb the mourning families of fallen soldiers via their loud and arrogant protests.
But the show didn't begin with the Phelps'. Tyra's first guest was Kevin Aviance, the man referred to as "one of New York's most influential transvestite, drag, and transgendered performers." Aviance made headlines in June of this year after he became the victim of violence at the hands of between four and seven men, who beat him severely, robbed him, and broke his jaw simply because he was gay. Aviance is a charismatic stage presence, and a talented performer, even if in pumps while performing. His recent experience as a victim of violence prompted subsequent discussion on the show of how hate fuels such violence. And of course, his emotional words were followed by an even more emotionally charged conversation between Banks and members of the Phelps family.
Overall, the show was about as insightful as spending time in a chat room. But as it went off the air last night, I came to the realization that there really is such a thing as homophobia, and that homophobia has more than one side to it. Speaking to the persecuted church of the first century, Peter lays out instructions for how they were to proclaim their faith in the face of "other-than-Biblical" worldviews and lifestyles:
"But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (1 Peter 3:15-16, NASB)
Two things are necessary in order for this Biblical command to be obeyed: A strong conviction of the truth (which Tyra Banks sorely lacks), and a strong sense of humility in speaking that truth (which the Phelps family sorely lacks).
The very etymology of the term "homophobia" indicates that it does not mean what many in the prevailing culture think it means. When referencing the homosexual community, the term simply means that we are "afraid" of them, that we avoid them . . . .and maybe even hate them. Such things can rightly be defined as homophobia.
When men like Aviance, created in the image and likeness of God, are beaten and abused, the church should be the first to condemn such sinful action, and press for prosecution of the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.
Conversely, feigning "love" for homosexuals while being afraid to speak the truth to them regarding the destructive nature of their behavior demonstrates an ultimate lack of love, and is therefore another form of homophobia. When followers of Christ are called "homophobes" simply because they state that homosexual behavior is sinful, such action not only demonstrates a reticence by our culture to consider what God has to say on the subject, but also the colossal ignorance of a culture that doesn't even know what the word means. In short, Banks exhibits homophobia by her fear of the truth, and the Phelps family is a family of homophobes because while they speak the truth, they do not do so in reverence, and in the good conscience of Christlike behavior. As Charles Spurgeon said over a century ago, anyone who can talk of hell without tears in his or her eyes is not fit to proclaim the Gospel.
The Phelps are very sure of themselves when they state that God hates America, and that Katrina, September 11, and the casualties of the Iraq war are instruments of God's judgment on us because of our acceptance of things like the gay lifestyle. Such statements sound a lot like Amos, Isaiah, and others who correctly interpreted Old Testament historical events as God's judgment on the nation of Israel. But two very distinct differences are worthy of note here: Our nation is not Israel, and the Phelps are not Old Testament prophets!
Present-day believers living under the New Covenant have what Peter calls a "more sure word of prophecy" (2 Peter 1:19) than those before us who were compelled to wait on God to raise up a prophet. As a result, we can only know what God has clearly revealed in His Word. While part of that perspicuous revelation includes the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, we have no reason whatsoever to believe that recent tragic events are the result of God's judgment. We simply don't know why God sent Hurricane Katrina, why He allowed September 11 to happen, or why He allows continued violence in Iraq that results in the death of thousands of our brave soldiers. Statements of epistemological certainty concerning events like these are presumptuous at best, and blasphemous at worst.
Such statements are the result of a homophobic hatred of the homosexual community that is not conducive to our obedience to Scripture, or to their repentance and belief in Jesus Christ. But the other side of homophobia was also expressed last night. While Tyra Banks was rightfully confronting the Phelps, she was simultaneously affirming Aviance's destructive lifestyle.
Such an approach fails to see that there is a difference between "acceptance" of all people created in God's image, and "affirmation" of a lifestyle that will only serve to further marr that image. Contrary to the ignorant meanderings of secular culture, and many churches within mainline and emergent circles, God could not have been any more clear regarding His view of homosexual behavior. To be sure, the truth must be spoken with reverence and humility. But genuine reverence and humility are only present when they coincide with the truth. And the truth is that homosexuality, while sinful, isn't the real issue. It is a symptom of a sinful nature that can only be cured by the blood of Jesus.
Where should we go to find the kind of balance needed to avoid the above extremes? As always, Jesus. In John 4 we see the epitome of this kind of balanced approach. Had Jesus taken the approach of the Westboro Baptist Church, he would have likely greeted the woman at the well like this:
"Hello you harlot! I'm God and you are going to burn in hell if you don't repent!"
While these words would have been true, Jesus demonstrates in this encounter that He isn't merely interested in exposing people to the truth, He also wants to draw them to such truth. So, rather than speak without regard for reverence or humility, He begins the conversation by asking her for something to drink. He came to her where she was, struck up a conversation with her, and broke every Jewish social norm in the process, because He cares more about souls than perception.
Contrast this approach with a statement made last night by one of the Phelps daughters, who said she had no desire to make friends with unbelievers. Or why don't we make this a bit more personal: What would you think if you saw your pastor sitting at a bar talking with a homosexual couple? How would you perceive your pastor were you to encounter him on a street corner sitting on the sidewalk talking to crack-addicts? If we want to speak the truth (and we should) the first step in that process is to meet people where they are . . .to love them enough to be their friend, even if this new friend never comes to faith in Christ, and never repents.
Pehaps, in retrospect of last night's program, this is why so many believers don't make friends with unbelievers: Those unbelievers might never become believers. They might die without Christ and leave us with the horrifying realization that a good friend has gone to hell. That's hard stuff! Sure, its easier if we just keep our distance. But that isn't our calling.
But Jesus doesn't make friends just for the sake of making friends. Before this initial conversation is over, we hear this phrase:
"Go call your husband and come here."
She responds, likely with her eyes to the ground; ""I have no husband."
And Jesus then begins to speak the truth. We can't be afraid to love them, nor must we fear telling them the truth.
Kevin Aviance, and the thousands of men and women like him, are human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Like the rest of us, they were born dead in their trespasses and sins, and this sinful nature has manifest itself in their lives via homosexuality. The only answer to this dilemma is that which answers all other dilemmas; the message of the cross and resurrection spoken with conviction, humility, and love. Anything less is just plain homophobic!
Saturday, September 30, 2006
For weeks preceeding the Joshua Convergence, implicit salvos have been tossed toward "the Memphis group," and those who signed the document. It has even been suggested that those who were a part of this group are politically-correct, closet moderates who want to turn back the progress that has been made since the 25-year-old Conservative resurgence began. Calls have been issued for signers of the Memphis Declaration to "come out of the closet." While I certainly cannot speak for every signer, I will speak for myself. The following are "for the record," and I invite any and all to ask any question they desire regarding anything they read here. As soon as time permits (I do have a day job) I promise to answer every one of them to the best of my ability. Please know that each word is prayerfully written in a spirit that desires reconcilliation among brothers. My hear breaks to see the kind of division that has risen as a result of the events of the past several months.
1. I am a signer of the Memphis Declaration. Though I did not attend the Tennessee meeting, I agreed to have my name placed on the list of supporters. I did not do this because I wanted to attack any individual, nor did I want to make any overtly political statement,and I do not believe this declaration makes any effort to do either of these things. I do however, believe there is a move afoot in our Convention to narrow the parameters of cooperation among conservatives. I believe that many who fully affirm the BFM 2000 are marginalized, and in the case of the International Mission Board, now barred from service because they hold to minority Biblical interpretations that are NOT outside the bounds of our common confession.
The Declaration, as best as I understand it, makes no accusations toward any person. In fact, it is a very introspective document, and my support was added only after much introspection on my own part. (See http://joelrainey.blogspot.com/2006/05/spiritual-authority-and-memphis.html)
Since the release of this document, I have heard many make accusations toward certain signers, but I have yet to hear anyone pose a Biblical argument against the document itself. If anyone can point me to ANY part of this document that is clearly unBiblical, I will contact Marty Duren immediately and ask for my name to be removed. If you cannot find anything unBiblical in the document itself, I ask you not to mallign those of us who signed it simply because we signed it.
2. I am in basic agreement with the principles of affirmation released at the Joshua Convergence, and find no contradictions between these principles and the Memphis Delcaration. The one article with which I take issue is that which deals with holiness, and suggests that abstention from alcohol is one mark of holiness. #3 below will elaborate this point.
3. Regarding alcohol, I am a tee-totaller by conviction and practice. I wrote the policy in my association that forbids funded church planters from consuming alcohol as a beverage, and I preach that the wisest thing to do is to abstain. These are my deeply-held beliefs. At the same time, I see no Scriptural evidence for claiming that one ascends to a higher level of holiness because they give up this particular liberty. Though I believe abstention is the best prevention against alcoholism, I have no basis in the Word of God for judging my brother who chooses to drink in moderation. This is NOT an advocation of drinking, as I do not personally condone the practice. It IS however, an advocation of Romans 14:13-23.
4. I thank God for the Conservative Resurgence. Because of men like Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson, W.A. Criswell and others, I am a two-time graduate of an SBC seminary I would have NEVER attended 25 years ago! I have NO desire to return to the days when our Convention sent an "unclear sound" regarding our understanding of the nature and authority of Scripture. Many men like those named above worked hard to reform our denomination, and as a result, I was able to attend a seminary where the Scriptures were honored. As a result, I received a quality evangelical education that most of these men only dreamed about. I will never forget what their service provided me!
5. I am an inerrantist, who fully affirms the BFM 2000, as well as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I do not, however, believe the BFM 2000 is inerrant. Are there statements that could have been better worded? I believe so. Are there statements which could be interpreted differently by two individuals? Of course. The BFM 2000 was written by our best theologians, but even our best are not perfect, and even our best are unable to draft a confession of faith that perfectly combines the specificity a theologian desires with the ambiguity that is sometimes necesary when trying to accomodate various points of view on non-essential issues.
I further believe this statement should serve as an instrument of accountability for those who are employed by SBC entities because our churches, on a national level, have stated that these are their deeply held and cherished beliefs. But when we spend the kind of time exegeting the BFM that we do exegeting Scripture, we have crossed the line into creedalism. One must also remember, that the SBC does not only exist at national, but also at state and local levels. Again, it is the CHURCHES at those levels who should decide which statements should be employed as accountability instruments for their denominational employees. As an associational servant, I wish that all of our churches fully affirmed the BFM 2000. Still, it is my responsibility to serve ALL of our churches, regardless of whether they affirm this document.
6. I consider myself to be a straightforward, grab-the-bull-by-the-horns, Bible-centered, expositional, no-holds-barred, hell-fire, Jesus-is-the-only-way, unconcerned-about-popularity, evangelical Baptist preacher. As the first "post-Mohler" graduate of Southern Seminary to pastor one particular and historic Kentucky church, I was malligned, misrepresented, mischaracterized, and unduly judged by several fellow pastors who saw me as only a "narrow-minded fundamentalist." When God's Word speaks, by His grace I will speak, loudly at times, and without apology. Conversely, if the Bible doesn't address an issue, I try my best to shut up about it in the pulpit.
7. I consider it not only sinful, but also a complete waste of time to address personalities, and therefore have done my very best to speak only of positions and actions. I believe it is wrong for someone to automatically assume the worst about our SBC leaders. I also believe it is wrong for someone to imply that one is "liberal" or "against our leaders" or "seeking power" simply because they take issue with something one of our leaders has said or done.
8. I believe that all of the following are godly men who have served their churches and/or denomination well: Paige Patterson, Adrian Rogers, Marty Duren, Jerry Vines, Frank Page, Johnny Hunt, Bobby Welch, Wade Burleson, James Merritt, Tom Ascol, and Jerry Rankin. This list of faithful men is certainly not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it meant to suggests any sort of category or hierarchy of godliness. I also believe that all of the above-named men, in addition to myself, the Apostle Paul, and the rest of humanity all the way back to Adam, are fallen sinners who are constantly in need of God's sustaining and sanctifying grace. This means that all of us will, from time to time, say and do things that are displeasing to Jesus Christ.
9. Having thoroughly read both the Memphis Declaration and the Joshua Convergence statement, I believe that to divide into warring factions behind these two banners is tantamount to Burger King seeking to put a Home Depot out of business. These statements address two different issues, and I would venture a guess that if all would stop beating their plowshares into swords for a moment and read both documents, the Joshua faction would find agreement with the repentant spirit, and the Memphis faction would find agreement with the need to continue standing for truth.
10. I fear that if we continue the current and very foolish exchange of words between each other, many of us will violate the standards of 1 Timothy 3, which insist, among other things, that we be "uncontentious" (v.3) and as a result render ourselves unfit for the office to which we have been called.
11. Finally, I do believe there is still a "battle for the Bible." I just don't believe that with regard to the SBC, it is an "internal" battle. There is, as there always has been, a spiritual war for the truth of the Gospel. Unfortunately, we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time shooting at each other.
Many years ago, the British Navy arrived on the Atlantic coast near what is now Quebec. They were told to wait until reinforcements arrived and then begin attacking the city. Growing bored with the wait, the commander of the British fleet decided to do a bit of target practice, and so he ordered his gunmen to fire the ships cannons with the goal of destroying all the statues of the saints, which sat on top of a nearby cathedral. By the time reinforcements arrived, most of the ammunition was used up, and there were insufficient military resources for the British to soundly defeat the French. Two hundred years later, Quebec is still a french city, because the British decided to "fire on the saints" instead of the enemy.
Cooperative Program giving has slipped in a very noticeable way, 85% of our churches are plateued or declining, over 3500 churches close their doors for good every year in our nation, and North America is the only continent on the planet where the Kingdom is not advancing. We can't keep fighting each other. We MUST place these petty differences aside (and YES, I do believe our differences are largely petty) and work together to see the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.
For Southern Baptists, I think this can now only begin in one way. Joshua needs to take a trip to Memphis . . . .and Memphis needs to welcome him with open arms!
Friday, September 29, 2006
If you can't laugh at this, not only are you a brief-wearer, but your briefs are probably two sizes too small! Enjoy!
Monday, September 25, 2006
For the past several weeks, I have been immersed in missions work here in central Maryland, and have been consequently unable to contribute to the rowdy online discussion that is the blogosphere. Nevertheless, I have been able to take some time to read much of what is being said out there regarding first, second, and third order doctrinal issues, and as I observe the way in which various bloggers are addressing these issues, I have come to the conclusion that some wear boxers, and others wear briefs. Some are tight-fisted, gut-wrenched, red-faced, and stressed-out about everything, as if the rise or fall of the evangelical world depends on everyone else coming to their understanding of what it means to be a "conservative." Others are just as theologically sound, but not angry about it.
What I aim to do in the next few paragraphs is draw a distinction between the two. But before I do, a word of clarity is in order: If you are here looking to justify belief in an self-contradicting Bible, women pastors, the notion that being gay is cool with Jesus, the idea that one can enter the Kingdom without a personal relationship with the King, or any other clearly unBiblical idea, I'm afraid you have come to the wrong place. My purpose here is to distinguish within evangelicalism between those who are able to hold to sound doctrine without blowing a gasket, and those who can't.
To be totally transparent, I have to admit that I had a lot of fun with this, so don't take it more seriously than I intend it . . . .but do take it seriously enough. Below are, in my opinion, the marks of a "boxer-wearing" evangelical:
1. He can accept, and even embrace "mystery." Brief-wearing evangelicals have a very hard time with uncertainty. They feel that they must be able to answer every question regarding their faith. Ask them about the problem of evil, and they will have an answer. Ask them about the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and they will have an answer. Ask them about puzzling texts in the Bible, and they will have an answer . . . because they MUST have an answer. Brief-wearing evangelicals confuse certainty with omniscience, and live with the understanding that to say "I don't know" only reveals that they haven't spent as much time in the Word as they should have.
Boxer-wearers, on the other hand, know that "I don't know" is sometimes an appropriate answer, especially when it is the honest one. They are certain of Christ's literal and physical return, but at the same time, they aren't losing any sleep over the fact that they keep waffling back and forth between respective eschatological positions. While there are some issues on which they are certain, they recognize that others have been debated for centuries, and that if Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others didn't settle it, the likelihood that our generation will settle it is pretty miniscule.
This doesn't mean that boxer-wearing evangelicals don't think about such things. But at the end of the day, boxer-wearers apply the truth of Isaiah 55 to their own feeble minds, and conceede that compared to God's wisdom, all the human wisdom in the world is tantamount to the kind of collective ignorance one might find in an internet chat room.
2. He can hold a position without holding it against people. Brief-wearing evangelicals seem to always gravitate from issues to personalities. For example, a few years ago, John R.W. Stott announced his temporary advocacy of annihilationism. Many brief-wearers responded by not only rightfully taking issue with Stott's position, but also by anathematizing Stott from their libraries. Similarly, the vitriolic debate now taking place in the blogosphere regarding SBC issues is largely caused by a shift of focus from positions to people. I for one have been dissapointed to see substantive issues worthy of debate within the SBC largely reduced to divisions regarding whether one loves or hates Paige Patterson.
A boxer-wearer understands the differences between people, personalities, and positions. He is the kind of person who can hold strongly to a complimentarian view of gender issues, while simultaneously sitting across the table from a female with "Reverend" behind her name without either being intimidated, or himself trying to intimidate her. He can flatly (and rightly) reject Stott's annihilationism while still showing great appreciation for Stott's overall work and contribution to the church. The boxer-wearing landmarkist doesn't assume that the non-landmarkist has a weak ecclesiology. The boxer-wearing non-Calvinist doesn't assume that his 5-pointer brother is unevangelistic.
Those holding positions in opposition to the boxer-wearer leave the dinner table with the impression that he is very sure of himself, but he is also a very nice guy! In short, boxer-wearers see certain positions as unhealthy, but they don't see those who hold such positions as the enemy.
3. Their Orthodoxy is Humble. Joshua Harris was the first person I heard use the term "humble orthodoxy," and I have adapted the phrase into my own vocabulary since first hearing it months ago.
Brief-wearers have no problem with honesty, but they struggle with humility. Areas of disagreement with others regarding non-essential issues (for example, one's interpretation of the Baptist Faith and Message) includes not only confidence in one's own position, but also a sense of condescension toward those who disagree. Brief-wearers not only prefer briefs. They see briefs as superior. Boxers are liberal!
By contrast, boxer-wearers are able to take a firm stand on secondary and tertiary issues, while at the same time enjoying friendship with those with whom he differs. The boxer-wearing abstentionist can have lunch with someone who orders a beer. He can enjoy Christian friendship with someone who differs with him on the mode of baptism, and can even share membership in the same church with someone who has an opposing view of election.
Which one are you? Honestly, there are days when I am both. And I suspect, if each reader would be honest with himself, he would come to the same conclusion. I'm working hard at becoming a boxer-wearing evangelical, because I want to maintain the balance between conviction and cooperation; between certainty and humility.
This doesn't mean that I think the recent issues being debated are not worthy of good, robust argument. It does mean that we need to relax a bit!
Southern Baptists in particular have argued about a number of things over the past several months: landmarkism, Calvinism, alcohol, blogging, glossolalia, censorship, et. al. None of these issues is unimportant, but the vitriol I have witnessed of late brings me to the conclusion that maybe what some of us need is a good old-fashioned pair of cotton boxer-shorts. . . .
. . . .speaking of which, I think the dryer just buzzed!
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Now, before you delete this blog from your favorites, call me a heretic, and write to discontinue your subscription to this weblog service, read on to see exactly what I'm talking about here.
Even a casual comparison of Biblical Christianity with the life and worldview of many Americans today reveals a strong antithesis, and my friend Spencer Haygood has expressed more eloquently than I could, how Rosie's words, when removed from her own intentions, seem to ring true in a way that should call us back to genuine Christianity. Regarding Rosie's comments, he says:
What she meant is wrong and foolish. But what she said is right and profound. Radical Christianity — that is authentic and passionate Christianity as the Bible defines it, seeking to love the Lord God with all one’s heart and mind and soul and strength and to love one’s neighbors as oneself — is not “just as” but probably is “more” threatening than radical Islam in a country like America — a culture committed largely to self-love, self-promotion, self-seeking! Radical Islam may disrupt business, inflict harm, cause ruin, and take lives through its terrorist tactics. But that’s not nearly as threatening to the secular American culture as a biblical world and life view that changes business and heals the harmed and reclaims the ruined and transforms lives through the power of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. May God give us such reformation and revival as will make us radical, biblical Christians in these days when the church seems bound in this Babylonian cultural captivity.
Well said! And you can read the rest here:
Saturday, September 09, 2006
When I arrived in Maryland in January 2005, Dave was working with Horizon Church, a new start in the Owings Mills area of Baltimore, and simultaneously launching a second church on the north side of the Beltway. He and Clay Carver had already worked tirelessly for four years prior to my coming to see a church multiplication movement in the northeast, and the results of their labors are still seen today in Horizon Owings Mills, and Horizon Towson. Combined attendance at both churches is near the 300-mark, a mega-church in the northeast!
Like many apostolic-type planters, Dave acquired a case of "itchy feet" several months ago, and in bitter-sweet fashion, we said goodbye to him last month as he and his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Dave will be working with the Arizona Baptist Convention to start a church in the University area while simultaneously beginning work toward his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona. I know he would covet your prayers.
Like anyone else with church planting experience, Dave could certainly share his past experiences with you. But instead, he has elected to share his present experiences with you. Via a new online weblog, you can learn about all of the ups and downs of starting a new church as it is happening!
In fact, these online adventures have already begun, and you can see them here:
The first podcast and weblog are already up, and videos are coming soon. Pray for my friend Dave, for the establishment of this new church, and for the unreached peoples of Phoenix. This new resource will allow you to do this more intelligently, while learning first-hand, and on the fly, what it takes to establish a new, local expression of Christ's universal body. Dave is a solid guy with a passion for mission. I hope you will join me as my family and I hold he and his up in prayer.
Monday, August 28, 2006
But a quick perusal of his ministry website, along with a July 22 edition of the Miami Herald, assured me that Amy had heard correctly, which means only one thing: Satan is gunning for the Hispanic population in North America!
Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, a 60-year-old native of Puerto Rico, was for a time an evangelical pastor. But 20 years ago, after founding the ministry Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace), his message began to become more nutty with each passing year, until finally reaching official nut job status in 2004, when he claimed that the spirit of Jesus Christ had been reincarnated in his body. In short, Miranda now refers to himself as "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords" with ever increasing frequency.
An examiniation of Miranda's message clearly vindicates Solomon's wise reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. Part ancient Nestorianism, part new thought metaphysics, part Prosperity Gospel, and part Liberation Theology, Miranda's "gospel" is tailor-made to a 21st century Latin-American immigrant culture.
There are a few differences, however, between Miranda and the Christ whom he presumes to be. First, having declared that sin and Satan are both myths, Miranda has conveniently forgotten that messages like those preached by his ilk are conceived by an enemy who disguises himself as a good guy (2 Cor. 11: 13-15), as well as the fact that those who say what Miranda says are devoid of truth, and lie to themselves as well as everyone else (1 John 1:8).
Second, in his quest to found "God's government on earth," Miranda is taking quite some time to accomplish this goal. The real milennium is established with one word from the real Jesus. (Rev. 19:20-21) With over 100,000 worshippers, Miranda has certainly established a following. But Scripture tells us that when He returns, the real Jesus will be able to take care of assuming control of all the Kingdoms of this world quite well on his own.
Third, The Herald noted that Miranda travels everywhere wearing a bullet-proof vest and surrounded by a tight security detail; a fact that in retrospect seems a bit absurd if his contention that sin is no more is really true. Again, the real Jesus needs no such protection, but instead comes back as a white-haired, fiery-eyed warrior wearing a robe drenched in His enemies' blood, with a tatoo up his thigh, to slaughter all who oppose Him. I read nothing in Revelation 19 that would suggest the neccesity of a security detail.
Fourth, Miranda claims that he never opens a Bible (hey, I might have found the problem here!) or prays, rhetorically asking "who am I going to pray to?" The real Jesus, by contrast, was filled with Scriptural wisdom (Luke 2:52, 4:4-13), and constantly prayed to the Father.
Perhaps, if Miranda would pick up the very Bible of which he claims to have no need, he might see a clear picture of himself there, and as a result, recognize his true identity:
Let no one deceive you in any way, for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God . . . .For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming." (2 Thess. 2:3-8)
Or maybe he would find himself here:
"See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will lead many astray." (The real Jesus, quoted in Matthew 24:4-5)
In short, although claiming to be the Messiah, Miranda is but one very insignificant antiChrist in a long line of antiChrists that Jesus warned us about. Worse yet, God in the Scriptures has condemned Him. As such, he is the most pitiful of the pitied.
These incidents should trigger pity in the hearts of genuine Christ-followers. Furthermore, they should call our attention to our evangelistic impetus. Hispanics will likely be the majority ethnic group in North America within the next half-century. As they go, so our culture will likely go. Men like Miranda should serve as a solemn reminder to the church that if we don't reach the lost with the Gospel, some accursed individual or group will reach them with an attractive alternative (Galatians 1:6-9)!
One day, in the not-too-distant future, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda is going to come face-to-face with the One who has marked him out beforehand for damnation (Jude 4). In that moment of truth, how many of his growing number of followers will join Him in hell? The answer to that question may very well depend on our commitment to engage our immigrant friends with the message of the real Jesus.
Alexandra Alter, "Divine or Dangerous: He's got Disciples" The Miami Herald. July 22, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
In commenting on the Times column, Driscoll offers, among other things, 10 ways to destroy your denomination, and the same principles hold true for individual churches. His list is below:
In summary, here are ten easy steps to destroying a denomination:
1. Have a low view of Scripture and, consequently, the deity of Jesus.
2. Deny that we were made male and female by God, equal but with distinct roles in the home and church.
3. Ordain liberal women in the name of tolerance and diversity.
4. Have those liberal women help to ordain gay men in the name of greater tolerance and diversity.
5. Accept the worship of other religions and their gods in the name of still greater tolerance and diversity.
6. Become so tolerant that you, in effect, become intolerant of people who love Jesus and read their Bible without scoffing and snickering.
7. End up with only a handful of people who are all the same kind of intolerant liberals in the name of tolerance and diversity.
8. Watch the Holy Spirit depart from your churches and take people who love Jesus with Him.
9. Fail to repent but become more committed than ever to your sinful agenda.
10. See Jesus pull rank, judge you, and send some of your pastors to hell to be tormented by Him forever because He will no longer tolerate your diversity.
The rest of Mark's post can be found here: http://www.theresurgence.com/md_blog_2006-08-21_now_the_mainline_churches_make_sense
Since he writes more eloquently than I could on this subject, I encourage all of you to check this one out. Let us never seek so hard to become "relevant" to our culture that we become irrelevant to God and His Kingdom!
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Chandler assumed the pastorate of First Baptist Church, Highland Village, Texas, in December 2002. Almost four years later, the church has a new name (The Village Church), a totally new structure, and has grown from 160 to over 3000 in 6 weekly services, while almost killing its new pastor.
At 32, Chandler already seems to have the wisdom of a guy with decades of pastoral experience. Of course, hearing his testimony leaves you thinking that the last four years have advanced his life by at least that many decades! While in Seattle this past May, I had the privilege of being blessed by his testimony, and reminded of my own limitations.
Evidently, the casualty rate in ministry has fostered an issue dear to Chandler's heart, and his recent post at Resurgence illustrates this concern. He states:
Why does this keep happening? Why do we keep losing sharp, young, godly men to bitterness and despair? Am I in danger? I found myself praying and thinking for the next few hours. I always want to go back to the life of Jesus when it comes to questions of surviving ministry.
This post, and his recent message "Gravity: The Weight of Pastoring and the Knowledge of Christ," will be required reading and listening for my Pastoral Theology students at Capital Seminary this fall. If you are a parishioner seeking to understand the heart of a pastor, the blog and online message will give you a brutally-honest inside look. If you are a pastor, your heart will reasonate with Matt Chandler, and if you heed his words, they just might save your ministry!
Read the blog at:
Hear the sermon at:
Visit The Village online at:
Monday, August 07, 2006
While the national media debate Mel Gibson's fate, the church has largely remained silent and somewhat paralyzed by an event that has obviously caught us off guard. After all, two and a half years ago, Gibson was touring evangelical churches all across the world peddling his new film The Passion of the Christ as a tool of evangelism. Once again, someone the church at large held up as an icon of strong faith has fallen. But this isn't the first time the church has been surprised by bad behavior from those celebrated as strong believers, nor will it likely be the last. And in the midst of the media frenzy, Christians must ask deeper questions about our propensity to look to men rather than to God.
From TV evangelist Jim Bakker's arrest to NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's divorce to singer Michael English's extra-marital affair, the list of men vocal about their faith who have fallen is a long one. I remember hearing about Gordon's rumored extra-marital affair and subsequent divorce, and immediately recalling his strong testimony before thousands of people in Indianapolis at a Billy Graham crusade just four years earlier. Likewise, many who idolized Michael English during the early nineties were crushed when it was revealed that the singer had kept secret an ongoing affair with a fellow Christian artist. Given our experience with placing people on pedestals as role models, one might think evangelicals would learn from history. Such is, regretably, not the case.
Unfortunately, our penchant for the idolization of men (and women) can be credited in large part to our hermaneutic. From the cradle, evangelicals have taught their children that the stories in the Bible are about "good guys" vs. "bad guys." Abraham is the father of a nation who, with his strong faith, was willing to filet his only son. David is the strong King of Israel who slaughtered Goliath. Solomon was the wise King who arbitrated a scenario between two mothers that would have otherwise been impossible in a pre-DNA testing age. Elijah is the great man of God who called down fire from heaven and killed the prophets of Baal. John the Baptist was the great preacher who called all to repentance. Peter also was the great preacher at Pentecost.
We teach the Bible as if it were full of stories about heroes, when in reality it is simply a story of sin and grace. Perhaps this is why, when men like Mel Gibson demonstrate that they are, well, men, we are so shocked. We forget that Abraham was, at heart, a liar, David an adulterer, Solomon a pervert, Elijah a whiner, John a doubter, and Peter an indecisive hot-head. We forget that their moments of greatest strength were so because of God's empowerment which overcame their depravity.
From beginning to end, the Bible has one hero, and that hero is God! He is the grand protagonist throughout both testaments, and the human "heros" are essentially no more than His enemies whom He has brought near to Himself and made friends.
Paul echoes this when he tells Timothy in his first letter to preach that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Paul understood that from the perspective of the cross, there are no heros, but only those who have been saved by grace. Therefore, as he ministers, he does so not as the great missionary-hero who sweeps in to save the heathen, but rather, as a trophy of the same grace he proclaims to those who will listen.
This perspective will put an end to the myth of Christian heroism. Even in his brightest moments, Mel Gibson is no hero. All good things that resulted from the Passion are so by God's design and power. Conversely, the recent Gibson episode doesn't make him any worse than he has always been. Anti-semitism and alcoholism are simply two expressions of a sinful nature that plagues each one of us. Such a realization will produce the right response from followers of Christ: forgiveness and restoration to one who claims to be our brother, and who has asked for help.
With that said, don't read between the lines that I think we should take Gibson's actions lightly. This is not my point at all. In fact, the restoration process is one that can only properly take place within the bounds of church discipline. The point however, is that what sets the Christian story apart from all others is that it isn't about heroism, but grace. We should expect that adherents to other religious faiths would be shocked by Gibson's actions. Their teachings all appeal to human goodness and human works as a means of acheiving salvation. But true Christianity realizes that apart from God's common and special grace, human goodness is a myth. Therefore, when professing Christians fall, we should condemn the behavior, but not the person. We should express dissapointment, but not shock. We should administer discipline, but not wrath.
"Mad Mel" messed up! Rest assured, he won't be the last! May the church use moments like these to remind ourselves that none of us wear a cape, and only One wears a crown!
Monday, July 24, 2006
Largely due to the phennomenon of globalization, the ethnic and cultural landscape in North America is becoming more heterogenous every year, with the anticipation that by 2050, there will no longer be a majority Anglo culture in our nation. Major North American cities now share more in common with their sister-metroplexes across the ocean than with the small towns located just a few miles from city limits. In my own mission field of central Maryland, over 160 different languages are spoken, and in some places, such as the Howard County seat of Columbia, all ethnic categories are outpacing Anglos in population growth by double-digits!
Given these striking realities, one would think that those who claim the most commitment to the propogation of Biblical truth would be modeling that commitment via an aggressive missiological strategy to reach all people. Instead, the past two decades have seen Evangelicals basically ignoring those whom God has sent our way, and crying out for the next most effective strategy for reaching people who are just like us!
Such ambivelence toward those of other cultures is not new. In fact, Jesus contended with such cultural myopia in His own disciples. In John 4, He leads His disciples through Samaria toward His ultimate destination of Galilee. Samaria was definitely the wrong side of the tracks, and as far as the disciples were concerned, it had been that way for over 700 years. During the 8th century B.C. the Assyrian army had invaded this same area and scattered 10 of Israel's 12 tribes to the furtherest corners of the earth, leaving only a few in this area who eventually intermarried with the Assyrians, resulting in a new mixed race called the Samaritans. To the Jews, these were "second-class citizens." The disciples of course want nothing to do with this area, or the people who occupy it. But Jesus has other plans, which include a divine encounter with a woman at Jacob's well. Yet in spite of this life-transforming event in her life, the disciples still don't get it, and their ignorance and missiological near-sightedness become the impetus for one of Jesus' greatest challenges: "Look I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest."
In short, Jesus says "you think the harvest is in Galilee, but I have brought you through this place you don't like, and to a people with whom you will not associate, to show you that the harvest is here as well . . . . right in front of your eyes! Look!"
As Reggie McNeal well notes; "It's amazing what we don't see when we aren't looking!"
Fast-forward 2000 years, and we find the same problem. Those we are successfully reaching in North America are, for the most part, exacly like us. As for the few other groups that are successfully being reached (i.e. Asians, Hatians), the credit belongs less to an aggressive North American missions strategy and more to the indigenous evangelical history out of which these groups come. But what kind of attitude causes such a disjointed approach to mission?
For years, Evangelicals have required International Missionaries to learn the language, adopt the dress and cultural practices, and immerse themselves totally in the culture of the people they aspire to reach with the Gospel. But when similar moves are tried in North America, a double-standard results, as many churches simply trying to contextualize the Gospel are accused of compromise.
The cause of this double-standard is multi-faceted, but at the source is an assumption that the United States, unlike every other geo-political nation-state in the world, is monocultural. Because terms like "multiculturalism" were hijacked early-on by the political left in an attempt to bless sinful behavior, Evangelicals have reacted sternly against any suggestion that the term just might have some redeeming quality. One well-known seminary dean even exclaimed that in America "We have ONE culture," and in a moment of imperial superiority invited all to "come and join it."
This is the common misunderstanding: This dean, like many Evangelicals, believes that because our nation shares the same system of government, a common currency, a lingua franca, and a geo-political boundary that we as a result are all a part of the same culture. Nothing could be further from the truth! These boundaries alone do not define a culture.
Further complicating this issue are those on the other side of this debate, who seem to find "people groups" in just about every sub-strata of American life. The result of this kind of thinking is the manifestation of "cowboy churches," "biker churches," "Gen-X churches," and "35-to-40-year-old scored-greater-than-120-on-18-holes-bad golfer churches." Phillip Connor of the Center for Missional Research rightly states that while innumerable affinity groups could be identified in our culture, "it is a stretch to say that each of these population subgroups constitutes an actual 'people group' as defined in the original Greek text found in the Great Commission."
In short, as a biker, I can freely attend the church of which I am a member, and find teaching, encouragement, ministry, and friendship from those who have never availed themselves of the priviledge of mounting a Harley! To put it succinctly, the singular fact that I ride a motorcycle does not produce a significant barrier to my ability to hear and understand the Gospel.
What then does cause significant barriers to hearing and responding to the Gospel? Being a biker in and of itself produces no significant barrier. But what if I am an Hispanic biker immigrant who works two jobs to support my family? To such a person, a church full of white people speaking English, driving Lexus' and meeting at 10:00 on Sunday morning might be an issue! What follows is but an example of the investigation that should be taking place in and around every major metroplex in the US:
The language they speak: Several years ago I was working in North Africa. I was to land in southern Spain, receive briefings on the work to be done, and then cross the Mediterranean Sea to the African continent for a week. After many hours of delayed flights, I found myself re-routed from Chicago and Madrid to Newark and Zurich, Switzerland, finally touching down on the costa del Sol some 12 hours past my scheduled landing. Moreover, my contact had given up on meeting me and had returned to Africa. Of course, being an American, I spoke not one word of Spanish. I had no national currency, no way to get to my destination, and no guidance. After finally locating the phone number of my contact, it was wonderful to communicate with someone who understood me, and who I understood. To me, the English language had never sounded so beautiful!
Likewise, while those from other nations usually come to our shores with some working knowledge of our language, hearing their own dialect instantly removes all communication barriers! It is imperative, as we begin to investigate the various people groups in North America, that we identify the common languages, both official and tribal, that exist among these people. Furthermore, North American missionaries called to reach these people should do all within their power to make the Gospel available in the "heart language" of the people. Connor notes that those living in North America who represent the most unevangelized areas on the globe (i.e. the Middle East, Eastern Asia) appear to have the fewest number of indigenous churches available to them. While a number of barriers must be breached for this to change, the language barrier is, to many of these groups, primary.
The demographic context in which they are found: This of course, addresses a host of issues such as race, income, education, marital status, living conditions, and even age. While much criticism has rightly been leveled at "generational theory," I find that many are throwing out the baby with the bathwater by stating that a person's generational grouping is of no consequence. While it is correct that much of what was published in the past concerning generational theory was aimed primarily at white suburbanites, I still contend that this is still an important factor in determining an appropriate missiological response. For example, African-Americans born prior to 1964 had much different experiences than African-Americans born after 1980, and these various experiences will affect both the metaphysical and epistemological grounds of their respective worldviews.
Likewise, there has been an increasing dichotomy between residents of rural areas as opposed to those living in the nations' cities. Much of the world and life view of these two groups is formed, at least in part, on the basis of their location. Such a factor cannot be ignored when considering how best to reach people. In fact, most of the church planting failures I have witnessed came as a result of missing this key differentiation. If you are in a socially-conservative rural area, you simply cannot "copy-cat" a ministry model perfected in the city!
The questions they are asking: Ed Stetzer has observed that while 20% of the US population still wonders about what will happen to them when they die, the other 80% are largely ignored by Evangelicals because our canned evangelistic approaches are only addressing the question of life after death. While a person's eternal destination is one of the most important reasons we practice evangelism, we must meet these people at their point of concern, and for many, that concern simply isn't about the afterlife. Our task as missionaries to North America is to discover the questions that disturb the various groups we are trying to reach. No matter what they are asking, the Gospel is the answer! But in order to know how best to present that answer, we must make sure we are reaching them at their point of greatest perceived need.
The bottom line of all this is simple: We excel in reaching people who are exactly like us, stink at reaching anyone else, and as a result, at least 2/3 of the 320 million people living in the US are without a relationship to Jesus Christ. If we want that to change, we must stop deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are still a "Christian nation" with one culture, one voice, one purpose, and one set of beliefs and values. Over the past half-century, Jesus has been in the process of bringing the nations right to our door. And unlike the church in any other nation, American Christianity has the means and resources to take the Gospel to them all. But the one thing required for this is that which we have not yet done: Lift up your eyes and see the harvest!
Discover more helpful information at the Center for Missional Research by clicking the link below:
Connor, Phillip. 2006. A Biblical Missiology for North American People Groups. Accessed 16 July, 2006 at www.namb.net/cmr
McNeal, Reggie. 2003. The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Occassionally, I read a book or other resource that piques my interest enough to reccomend it to another. But rarely do the contents of a book move me to reccomend it to any and all. This is why I find 2006 an odd year, because less than months into the appointments in my PDA, I have found at least one book per month to be (in my opinion) indispensable to pastors and church planters.
For the next two and a half weeks, I will be attending the Southern Baptist Convention, and then helping lead a team of over 300 volunteers from Maryland to Mississippi to help with hurricane relief. There are many others who will be "live blogging" from the Convention. (see www.sbcoutpost.com, and www.stevekmccoy.com, for just two examples) While I appreciate each of their unique perspectives, adding my own to cyberspace would likely only clutter up the place. Plus, I want to take the time when I'm not working on my SBC committee assignment and spend some quality time with the family, and I've discovered that laptop computers can pose a great barrier to familial intimacy.
To be sure, there are things worth writing about that I will address soon enough. Look for this site to become very active again around the first of July. For now, let me leave you with the following reccomended reading, which in sum is far more substantive than my own feeble contributions.
Each of the resources below is reccomended for various reasons, and I am certainly not endorsing all that you will read. But the information and inspiration to be gleaned from the following resources will be invaluable to pastors trying to get their arms around their ministries, as well as their contexts. Therefore, I reccommend the following as "must-reading" for the remainder of 2006.
Barna, George. 2006. Revolution.
I know, I know. The biggest complaint about this book is that is touts a very weak ecclesiology, and this complaint is legitimate! But sense when do we expect a statistician to articulate a robust understanding of such things?
The same rule that holds true for Barna's other works hold equally true for this one. If you read Barna as a theologian, you will either finish the book very angry, or very confused. However, if you read him for what he is (i.e. someone with his finger on the pulse of both the church and the culture), you will glean much-needed knowlege from his "descriptions", while taking his "prescriptions" lightly at best. Like his past works, this one is dead-on in its description of the context where the western church currently finds itself.
Murrow, David. 2005. Why Men Hate Going to Church
Anyone who thinks the church is "masculine" enough will find this book by Discovery Channel producer David Murrow very frustrating. But if you, like me, believe that many local churches have been stripped of their "guts," (or maybe even stripped of other body parts a few inches south of there), you will find this work a breath of fresh air. With breathtaking candor, Murrow speaks of why men don't lead, don't attend, and honestly don't care when it comes to local church participation. The careful theologian will find himself at odds with Murrow on a few points. But over all, this book presents a much-needed clarion call for the church to get back in touch with its masculine side!
Mahanney, C.J. 2004. Humility: True Greatness.
If you are wondering which book will best compliment your Bible as you do your private devotions this summer, I'd give this one a look. C.J. Mahanney is the embodiment of the very thing about which he writes, and the challenges he issues will have you looking beneath your manners, your public prayers, and your fained humble spirit in order to kill every last vestige of pride in your being.
Why is he so passionate about slaying this particular sin? If his definition of pride is anywhere near accurate, you will strengthen your focus to slay it too! Pride, according to Mahanney, is "when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence on Him." In short, Mahanney skips right past the "symptoms" of pride, which we so often mistake for th real thing, and helps the reader face the ugly nature of this gross sin for what it is.
Roberts, Bob. 2006. Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World.
If you are a pastor trying to grow your church and have Kingdom impact with a spiritually "empty tank," this book contains jet fuel! And Bob Roberts isn't just casting a vision for community transformation and global impact. He and his church are living it! You will be challenged afresh to reorient your thinking and that of your church concerning God's definition of "success" and "obedience." This book lays out solid and real pictures of the Kingdom of God on the move, and will be one of the most pleasant drinks you have ever had from a fire hose.
Stetzer, Ed and David Putman. 2006. Breaking the Missional Code.
I'll be finished with this one by week's end, but I'm already praying that pastors in my area will get this book so that they can "get" this book. Stetzer and Putman remind readers in chapter after chapter that our North American mission strategy now must be taken from the pages of veteran foregin missionaries. More than this, they give readers the practical steps neccesary to know their communities fully, and thereby reach them more effectively.
Look for a more complete review of this book in particular on this site later in the summer.
Well, one more day of work and I'm off to Greensboro! I hope to meet many of you there. As for the rest of you, pop in from time to time to post and say hello, or continue sending email my way. I hope everyone has a great summer!
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Every once in a while, urban legend makes its way into the church via an imagined controversy. While such conspiracy theories are usually harmless, they can also sometimes stir up needless strife within the body. With regard to the issue of Calvinism and all the noise recently made about it across Southern Baptist life, I am wondering whether this is a true threat as many contend, or simply a scapegoat so that we don't have to examine the real issues behind our problems.
I was reminded of this today after coming home from the office and picking up my latest copy of National Liberty Journal. (Yes, I admit to getting, and sometimes even reading this monthly apologia for the Republican party.) On the front page, Dr. Ergun Caner, President of Liberty Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia, forwards the idea that one of the biggest threats to the unity of Baptist churches is Calvinism. Caner states that "it has become so commonplace in Baptist life, many of us just skim past the articles. In a Baptist paper recently, I read: "Another Church Splits Over Calvinism." Baptist news agencies have begun to investigate this mounting issue."
I hear similar things from pastors from time to time, but have yet to find anyone who can point to a definite example of a church that literally split over this issue. And one would think, given the large numbers of Baptist churches rent in two each year, that at least one tangible example could be presented.
Adding to these thoughts, I should probably reveal at this point that I personally lean very heavily in the Reformed direction. But I've never been angry about it, never attempted to convert a church to it, and honestly detest much of what has been said over the past decade by BOTH sides of the debate regarding this issue.
This is not to say that when I get to texts like Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 that I simply skip over them for the sake of "peace", and I would hope that those who have a different view of these texts would resist that temptation as well! It is however to say that I have always challenged my people to be good Bereans, examine the text for themselves, and draw their conclusions, not based on their pre-conceived notions, or on my opinion, but on the text as it stands. And what has been the result of this approach? In my first pastorate, the church doubled in average worship attendance over a three-year period and saw 60% of its growth come from people turning from their sins and placing their faith in Jesus Christ. I later planted a church that continues to make Kingdom impact, and has helped to birth two other churches. Presently, I get to ride the wave of what I truly believe will become a church planting movement in central Maryland. How did my understanding of the "doctrines of grace" affect this? Well, for one thing, I understand that I didn't accomplish any of the above. God by His grace chose to do it through me even though I didn't deserve it!
To be sure, I'm aware of the fact that there are a few Calvinists out there, "green" in the ministry, usually just out of seminary, who can cause quite a stir. But I have yet to see any examples of such young bucks tearing into a helpless church and leaving them broken. In every case like this I have seen, the congregation, showing much more spiritual maturity than their young pastor, simply fires the guy, and the trouble is over! Al Mohler (himself a five-point Calvinist) has wisely said that any seminary student who becomes convinced of Calvinism should immediately be detained in prison cell for a "cooling off" period! But while I appreciate all the perceived angst over what some believe to be false doctrine, I'm simply not convinced that this threat is real. To use a southern metaphor, I think it is highly possible that the whole "Calvinism debate" is no more than a theological "snipe hunt."
That said, I was surprised to hear Dr. Caner speaking of this "threat" as if the destruction of the entire Southern Baptist Convention were imminent because of it! But frankly, the more I read of his front-page article, the more I came face-to-face with categorical fallicies, undefined and mis-defined terminology, and broad sweeping generalizations. Honestly, given Dr. Caner's past track record of "debate," I should have expected no less. But I was hoping for much more from a seminary president who touts himself as the "intellectual pit bull of the evangelical world."
Caner's latest article is but one of a long string of vitriolic outburtsts at those who have differences with him on issues secondary to the Christian faith. Initially, I thought it best to leave this one alone. But if you are a baseball fan you know that sometimes its hard to resist when the pitcher keeps trying to get you to swing at a pitch in the dirt. Sometimes you have to pick the ball up and throw it back in his face!
Therefore, what follows are responses to a five-fold description Caner gives of "Hyper-Calvinism." My reason for this is not to prove one side or the other. The relationship between divine sovereingty and human responsibility has been debated for over 500 years, since before the Reformation, and we aren't about to end that discussion in a single blog entry! Still, my contention here is that if there is trouble over Calvinism in the Convention, it might possibly be caused just as much by those on the other side. And mischaracterizing a person's position is certainly a way to stir up trouble! So let's take a look at Ergun Caner's description of this "danger" called "Hyper-Calvinism."
Says Caner: 1. Double Predestination. Simply put, they believe that a small group of people are predestined, even before the Creation, for heaven, and that the vast majority of the world is predestined, even created for, hell.
This is an interesting way to present this doctrine. First of all, Ephesians 1: 4 states clearly that election, whatever you believe about it, happened "before the foundation of the world." To put it bluntly, Caner's problem with God acting prior to creation isn't with the Calvinists. It's with the Bible
Second, I know of no one holding this view who believes that the saved constitute only a "small number." In fact, when I read Revelation 7, John tells me that the number of the redeemed is so great, mathematics fails at keeping track of them all! Conversely, of those who go to hell, Caner speaks as if these were somehow OK with God until He made a decision to send them there. He forgets the simple Biblical truth that ALL are born dead. Therefore, while a Calvinist may technically believe in what is called "double predestination," no serious student of Scripture believes that "election" and "reprobation" are both active steps of God. "Reprobation," or the sending of someone to hell is done passively. God doesn't actively predestine anyone to hell. He simply allows them to follow their own self-made path of destruction which ends up there. If I die lost, God doesn't have to "predestine" me to hell, because I've been on my way there my whole life!
Furthermore, the contention that the majority of humanity will go to hell is in fact Biblical! Jesus repeatedly states throughout the Scriptures that more will be lost than will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14). This has nothing to do with Calvinism. It is clearly taught in the Bible.
2. Not all babies who die go to heaven. They do not say outright that 'non-elect babies who die go to hell.' They simply say that they leave such issues to the sovereignty of God. This raises the issue of the very nature of God, doesn't it?
For the record, I personally believe that all who die in infancy go to be with Jesus. I make this claim primarily on the basis of David's statement in 2 Samuel, where he looks forward in faith to the moment when he will see his newborn son in heaven.
That said, I have friends who do in fact believe what Caner has described above. While I do not agree, I do appreciate their struggle with this issue, and their refusal to ignore the truth that we are all born dead in our trespasses and sins, and that the "age of accountability" is nowhere to be found in the Biblical text. My own answer to this is that God regenerates the infant prior to death, and I admit that this is an incomplete answer, because it does not address how God does so apart from repentance and faith.
Caner contends that to even discuss such an issue "raises the issue of the very nature of God, doesn't it?" No it does not. It does however, raise the issue of human nature, which Caner seems to completely ignore here. Trite answers to hard questions like this help no one. And lest you think I'm simply living in an ivory tower, I'd remind you that you are reading the words of a father who has six-year-old and eight-month-old sons! What would I do if something happened to one of my boys? If I am given the choice between wringing my hands over whether they were old enough, knew enough, believed enough, or simply placing them in the sovereign hands of the Judge of the Earth whom Scripture tells me always does what is right, I choose the later!
3. God's "love for mankind" must be redefined. Yes, they will say. God does love the world. But His love is a matter of degrees . . .They do not believe that God wants a relationship with everyone. That would go against their system and theology.
Where do I even start? Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists believe that God truly desires a relationship with every person! 1 Timothy 2: 4 says that God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." The problem however, which Caner has completely ignored, is that not all are saved, and both Calvinists and non-Calvinists have their own understanding as to why this is. Neither side would say that there is something or someone more powerful than God who is keeping Him from saving all people. But BOTH sides believe that while God values the salvation of all men, there is something else that He values more. Calvinists say that God values the full display of His glory in both His justice and mercy more than the salvation of all men. Non-Calvinists say that God values man's free will more than the salvation of all men. But neither side, including the Calvinist side, says that God does not have a genuine love for the whole world, nor does either side deny that God is full of sorrow when the wicked refuse to repent. (Ezekiel 18:32)
4. Invitations are an insult to the sovereingty of God. Disturbing as this may sound, some ministers of this stripe have stopped giving invitations in their services.
Caner may be unaware that many non-Calvinists are also jettisonning the formal "invitation." No such presentation is given at Marathon Community Church in Easley South Carolina. Yet this church has grown to over 5000 in nine years without such a man-made practice. His myopic sense of history may in fact be prohibiting him from realizing that this formal way of inviting people to come to the front of a church building is a quite new approach, popularized by the revivalist Charles G. Finney.
Do I personally think "invitations" are an insult to God? In general, no. I came to faith in Christ by responding to just such an invitation.
However, do I think "mood music,"turning down the lights, appeals empowered more by emotionalism than truth, shouting over the music, "programming" people to come forward in order to "get it started," 493 verses of "Just as I Am," and marking such a time as more "sacred" than the previous half-hour spent in the Bible is an insult to God? Yes I do! In fact, I believe such actions border on the blasphemous!
5. Calvinism is the only Gospel. they believe that Calvinism, and only Calvinism is the preaching of the Gospel.
This is simply not true! I have rejoiced to hear the Gospel preached by Methodists, Pentecostals, Free-will Baptists, Nazarene's, and a host of others who would reject the "doctrines of grace." Such a characterization may be rightly fitted on the recent seminary graduate I mention above, but I know of no serious pastor holding to Calvinism who would say such a thing.
I found it interesting that, given all the "differences" Dr. Caner claims to have with someone like me, his description of the Gospel was identical to my own. He writes: "I believe Jesus Christ died to save mankind and offers salvation to every living soul. I believe in the 'whosoever will.' I believe that His love and salvation are extended to every person who will repent of sin and trust in Him."
To the above, I can only say "AMEN!"
So then, what is the problem? From whence comes all of the "trouble" Caner laments?
My own experiences after nearly a decade and a half in ministry have taught me that many times, the issue isn't about doctrine so much as it is about attitude. In a sense, Caner has a point. There is a vast difference between being a "Calvinist" and being a "Calvinazi." But this same point could be turned back on Caner himself. It is one thing to reject Calvinism on what you perceive to be Biblical grounds. It is quite another to mischaracterize, mallign, slander, and build "straw men," and then turn around and blame the other side for "stirring up trouble" or for "causing division," or for "splitting churches."
As a pastor, I have nearly fired staff for pushing Calvinism in the church as if the continued life of the congregation depended on their admiration of TULIP. I have also passed over otherwise qualified and talented staff who were non-Calvinists, and wanted to make an issue of it! In short, I've never hired or fired anyone because they were, or were not, a Calvinist. I have however, put my foot in the hind parts of staff members because they were jerks!
So in the end, I would contend that one side is stirring the waters on this issue every bit as much as the other side. And the sad part of this is that NEITHER side can be as evangelistically productive while yelling across the aisle.
On a more personal note, what can I do to quell this unneccesary struggle? Aside from making corrections as I have done above, I can continue to work with those who disagree with me on this issue, because making Jesus known is more important.
I can also continue to recognize that those who differ with me on this issue are my brothers in Christ . . .and when I say that I don't mean to imply that they are my "little brothers." Some seem to approach this issue in exactly this way: thinking they are promoting "unity" because they "tolerate" the other side even though the other side has what they believe to be a "warped view of God." Such a view is built on sinful pride, and will never put an end to the contention.
John Wesley never thought that George Whitefield didn't really mean it when he called sinners to believe in Christ. Whitefield likewise, never accused Wesley of not believing in a sovereign God. Maybe we should try to learn something from these two men who, while they could not have been further apart on this issue, continued to labor together in the same harvest field.
Since 1845, Southern Baptists have had robust debate about the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsbility. What has kept this discussion healthy is that we have kept it "in house" and "off" the mission field! My call here is simply to stop the madness! Both sides have to stop marginalizing each other, calling each other "extremists," viewing each other as a "threat," and believing that the other teaches heresy.
Both sides preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of continuing to tear each other down, maybe we should try working together to lift Him up!