Faithful, Healthy Churches Do This

The New Testament describes three pictures of the church: 

  • The body of Christ, with each believer as a member of that body (1 Corinthians 12).  
  • The building/temple of Christ, with each member serving as a ‘brick’ that’s lined up with Jesus as the cornerstone.  Each member serves as His priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-10; cf. Exodus 19:5-6). 
  • The bride of Christ, with Christ as the bridegroom and the church as His bride (Ephesians 5:25-33).  The family dynamic is a portrait of Christ and His church. 

The word ‘church’ in the Greek is translated from the word ‘ekklesia,’ which means ‘called out ones,’ that is, called out from the kingdom of this world. Christ is present in the church by the Spirit who seals and indwells each believer (Ephesians 1:13-14); and also by His Word and the ordinances in which He has commanded us to preach and observe (Acts 20:24-28; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 2 Timothy 4:1-5).  

A church is marked by unity in Christ with no partiality due to background or race (Ephesians 2:11-22; Ephesians 4:13-14), harmony in coming together with the different gifts (Romans 12:3-8), and is ready to, as mentioned previously, to fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission (Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 28:18-20).  

While each member of the church possesses specific and particular gifts, we see that each person does, should, and must possess the fruit of the Spirit, as found in Galatians 5:22-23: 

For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23). 

Faithful, healthy churches make disciples using specific gifts and the singular fruit each believer has in order to strengthen the whole. Our goal is not simply to make converts and increase our baptism numbers, then leave them on their own. We must engage with those who do not yet know Christ, but we must also engage with those who know Jesus in helping to establish them in their walk.   

Reflection Questions: 

  • How do you understand discipleship? Do you see discipleship as a destination or as a direction?   
  • Do you use your specific gifts God has given you in service to Jesus in the church?   
  • As you look at the ninefold components of the fruit of the Spirit, would you say you demonstrate each of these? If not, with which areas do you struggle? 
  • When you think about engaging with unbelievers, or even engaging in discipleship with fellow believers, what emotion comes over you?  

Six Ways Doubt Creeps In

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Over Holy Week, I read through a wonderful book by D.A. Carson (has he written a bad book?) called Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. In a chapter dealing with who many have named ‘doubting Thomas,’ he outlines six ways doubt in the Christian faith creeps in. Not all doubt is created equal!

  1. Grounded in simple ignorance. You may doubt the things of Christianity simply because you don’t know about Christianity. If you doubt Christianity, is it because of what others have said about it, or by your own investigation and exploration of it?
  2. Systematic moral or philosophical choice. “Here, doubt [is] sliding into systematic skepticism grounded in fundamental moral and philosophical choices” (p. 145). If you believe life is meaningless, or you believe that the world was created by chance out of nothingness, then this is an example of how the rest of your life will follow suit. Are there moral or philosophical choices you’re making that are leading you away from God’s design as outlined in Scripture?
  3. Rite of passage as a function of maturity. Going off to college after being raised in a Christian home and having your Christian presuppositions challenged. “It may take a season of doubt, wrestling, reading, talking, self-examination, even despair, before coming through to a stable stance at the other end” (p. 146). In order for our beliefs to be our own rather than inherited, this ‘rite of passage’ can be a good thing. If you’re in college, have you been challenged to make your faith your own?
  4. A thousand atomistic choices. You start off well, but you make a great number of little decisions away from God’s will and purpose, then at some point you find yourself at a place where you have drifted into unbelief. If you doubt in this way, can you trace it back to where these thousand choices began? Are you prepared to repent, start over, and pursue God’s design in Christ?
  5. Sleep deprivation: Being so very busy that your lack of sleep affects you physically and mentally. This affects entire moods, attitudes, and actions. Are you getting enough sleep? What is your body telling you, and what will you adjust in your life to remedy this?
  6. Some deep, existential crisis: Losing a loved one, growing up in a troublesome home, or another type of pain and suffering can bring about doubt. Has something been troubling you regarding God’s love or care for the world because of this deep, existential crisis?

Are you struggling with doubt? The gospel of Jesus Christ finds a way to explain the need to pursue Him and His righteousness, to understand the place of pain and suffering in the world (after all, did not Jesus suffer, giving us the understanding that pain can have a purpose), and to show that the ultimate goal is for Christ to be formed in us (Galatians 4:19).

Where are you here? If you doubt, which reason best describes what and why? We will follow up in a future post to move through these matters.

Three Non-Scriptural Views of Inspiration–and the Scriptural One

The phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” or “The Lord spoke” occurs 3800 times! The plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is the orthodox view that every Word is inspired (breathed out) by God. Yet, there are (at least) three non-Scriptural views of biblical inspiration. Do you know someone who holds these views? Do you? Geisler and Nix said it right:

Just because God condescends to man’s level to communicate His Truth to them does not mean that He has to compromise His Truth in doing so. Adaptation to human limits does not necessitate accommodation to human error… God uses anthropomorphisms when speaking to man, but He does not use myths (II Peter 1:16). [Source]

  1. Neo-orthodox view of inspiration:  This view means that God is so far removed from His creation, that in no real way does He reveal Himself in creation. This view denies that the Bible is the Word of God, but simply uses words to point to the true Word of God, Jesus.  God uses these documents to create an encounter with the reader, and that helps the Bible become the Word of God to them. Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Emil Brunner (1889-1966) proposed this idea as a way to combat 19th century liberalism, those who tried to find the “historical Jesus” but discounted the biblical account of Jesus’ life.
    1. Two important attributes of God:
      1. His transcendence : above all– He exists outside of space and time.
      2. His immanence: among all–He is also present in creation
    2. Beware of pantheism: God is all.
    3. Beware of deism: God is Creator but removed from all.
  2. Limited  inspiration: The Bible contains the words of God, but isn’t in its entirety the Word of God. Sees Scripture as essentially a work of man where God helped some. “God guided the human authors but allowed them freedom to express themselves in their works, even to the point of allowing factual and historical errors. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit prevented doctrinal errors.” [Source]
  3. Dictation theory:   When one or more persons says something and another records it exactly as is stated.  The one doing the writing is only a recorder and none of his style, vocabulary, and influence occur in the finished product. [This] excludes the style of the one doing the writing and is instead an exact copy of what is said by the speaker. [Source] No reputable scholar has held to this for centuries, but it’s important to understand.

What do we hold to?  Plenary verbal inspiration. That is, every word is inspired. The Greek word is theopneustos: “All Scripture is breathed out/inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Matt Slick tells us more:

Verbal plenary inspiration means that every word found in the Bible is given to us by God(verbal), everything in the Bible is authoritative (plenary), and every word is also divinely directed (inspired). But, this does not mean that everything referenced in the Bible is also morally proper. For example, the Bible might record someone’s lie or a murder even though lying and murder are not approved of in Scripture. But the recording of the events is under the direction of God and is accurate.

The verbal plenary inspiration applies to the original manuscripts, also known as the autographs. It was the originals that were penned by the prophets and apostles that were given by God, authoritative, and  divinely directed. [Source]

Bruce Milne tells us, “The Biblical writers were uniquely superintended by the action of Almighty God through His Spirit in all factors influencing their message.” [Source]

In closing, I bring before you a conversation between Billy Graham and his former evangelistic partner turned secularist Charles Templeton.  He noted: “All our differences came to a head in a discussion which, better than anything I know, ‘explains’ Billy Graham and his phenomenal success as an evangelist.”

In the course of our conversation I said, “But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.”

“I don’t accept that,” Billy said. “And there are reputable scholars who don’t.”

“Who are these scholars?’ I said. “Men in conservative Christian colleges?”

“Most of them, yes,” he said. “But that is not the point. I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s word.”

“But Billy,” I protested, “You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.”

“I don’t know about anybody else,” he said, “but I’ve decided that that’s the path for me.”

You may be struggling with the plenary verbal inspiration for any number of reasons. I urge you to take a look at the Scriptures. Read them for what they have to say. Ask God to help open His Word (and His Son by His Spirit) to help you understand and see what this Book is truly all about.

 

Music Monday: Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn and Jazz Piano

 

This is the tale end of a BBC 4 special (I would guess sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s) between premiere jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) and pianist/conductor Andre Previn. Music is about technique, yes, but it’s also about joy and you see this joyful collaboration take place here. Should you wish to watch the entire hour-long interview, watching it here:

Together Thursday: That’s Right–We’re All in This Together

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At our most recent church council meeting, I posted three statements that I was hoping our leaders would absorb. They are:

  • We’re all in this together.
  • Whatever it takes.
  • Till Christ be formed in us (from Galatians 4:19).

It’s this first phrase that caught my attention. Unwittingly, as I was preaching from Acts 4:23-31, I read this verse:

“Now when they [Peter and John] were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them” (4:23).

“Friends.” What a beautiful word to describe the community of believers!  It comes from the Greek word ἰδίους which means “own,” as in their own. The KJV translates this as “their own company,” while other translations put forth “companions.” Either way, they were all in it together.

The third phrase is what they were ultimately in it for: Christ being formed in them. This purpose caused the apostle Paul to be in anguish, wishing to see this happen in the Galatian church (and no wonder he was in anguish, given the trajectory the Galatian church took).

Sadly, churches develop rivalries and camps. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, we see where the Corinthians had favorite preachers. In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul sought to resolve an issue between Euodia and Syntyche. In 3 John 9, we encounter a man named Diotrophes “who likes to put himself first, [who] does not acknowledge our authority.” And should we list off all the issues regarding false teachers, we could read on these for a good while.

The point is, Jesus is enough to bring us all together under one banner of the gospel. Why? Because the goal is for “Christ [to] be formed” in us. In Romans 8:29, Christians are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Christ in us, we in Christ!

We are all together because we are one in Jesus! Let’s do whatever it takes to see others know this life-saving, life-giving truth!

What P.I.P.E. Are You Smoking?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German preacher and theologian who helped the Christians endure the opposition and persecution of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany wrote one of the most influential books of the 20th century, The Cost of Discipleship. If that book, he wrote a paragraph about ‘cheap grace,’ that is, a grace that is all about receiving all the benefits of Christianity (heaven, eternal life, forgiveness of sin, etc.) but not wanting the cost. He wrote this:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Bonhoeffer wrote this in the middle of Germany’s persecution from the government in 1937, but what he writes here is timeless. This quote provokes some questions:

  • Forgiveness we love, but do we really want to turn from sin that strays from what God wants?
  • We like being a part of the church–but do we want the church to provide discipline and boundaries and to keep you accountable?
  • We love how taking the Lord’s Supper ministers to us, but do we do so with a humble and confessing heart?
  • We love grace, but are we willing to be and make hopeful, joyful disciples that are growing in the things of God?
  • We love the empty tomb, but are we willing to have grace that brings the picture of our sin at the cross of Christ right to our front door?

I do not know of anyone who likes pain. I get the sniffles or a little headache and I’m ready to go to bed for two weeks. Somewhere along the way we believed that any kind of pain or discomfort was always a bad thing. That we are ones who are the recipients and beneficiaries of God’s blessings and assume that is a love for God Himself.

The cost of being and making hopeful, joyful disciples is an exchange of life (yours for His). The cost of being and making hopeful, joyful disciples is realizing two things:

  1. There is no joy like the joy of Jesus in rescuing us from our sin and our brokenness (see 1 John 1:4).
  2. There is no hope like the hope we have in strengthening us in the midst of trouble (John 16:33).

When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin (that is, the Jewish Supreme Court) in Acts 4, they did this even though the 40-year old man they healed was standing right among them. The Sanhedrin were smoking a pipe that many in our day smoke as well:

Power: Many of our churches are filled with power brokers. They are descendants of this group of people here. They would pray outloud in public with ornate robes so people would see their spirituality. They also would silence anyone who spoke against them (just look at the cross of Christ).

Influence: They influenced the direction of the entire culture. They intimidated, and folks around them were deathly afraid of being excommunicated by them.

Position: They loved their position. Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:1-12 (NET):

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long. 6They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. ©NET

Education: Their rabbinical schools were rigorous. You had to have a dizzying intellect to pass. These folks loved their degree! (I wonder what they would say to Charles Spurgeon or A.W. Tozer, who never graduated from seminary?)

Yet in Acts 4:8, what did Peter have? “And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit…” and then he proceeded to wax them truthfully and lovingly. “Uneducated and common?” Yes, but “they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Granted, Luke may have meant they were part of his rabbinical cohort, but another meaning could apply to them and to us.

Many today are smoking a pipe rather than seeking the Spirit. They love power and the powerful, they love to influence to their ideas and agendas, they love having a title and position, and hold education as a premium.

But what about closeness to God? Fullness of the Spirit? Pursuit of Christ? You see, when you start smoking that pipe, even if the truth is in front of you, you will still hold on to what you have because you would rather have your identity rather than have your identity be hid in Christ!

Theology Tuesday: What Does It Mean to ‘Save?’

What do we mean today by the verb to save? Ask someone at random on the streets of Seattle what the verb “to save” means, and what will be the response? Someone who is worried about his financial portfolio may reply, “‘Save’ is what you’d better do if you want money set aside for a comfortable retirement.” Ask a sports fan what the verb means, and he may reply, “‘Save’ is what a fine goalie does; he stops the ball from going into the net, and thus saves the point.” Ask computer techies what the verb means, and they will surely tell you that you jolly well better save your data by backing it up frequently, for otherwise when your computer crashes you may lose everything.

The mockers in verses 41 and 42 [of Matthew 27] do not mean any of these things, of course. They are saying that apparently Jesus “saved” many other people—he healed the sick, he exorcised demons, he fed the hungry; occasionally he even raised the dead—but now he could not “save” himself from execution. He could not be much of a savior after all. Thus even their formal affirmation that Jesus “saved” others is uttered with irony in a context that undermines his ability. This would-be savior is a disappointment and a failure, and the mockers enjoy their witty sneering.

But once again, the mockers speak better than they know. Matthew knows, and the readers know, and God knows, that in one profound sense if Jesus is to save others, he really cannot save himself.

— D.A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, p. 26.