Saturday, March 8, 2014

Slippery Slopes, Boiling Frogs & Camels' Noses

A Parade of Imagined Horribles

I enjoy the DirectTV advertisements, “Get Rid of Cable.” (Have you seen any of them?) All of the commercials begin with a cable customer having a problem with his cable service. Each time the irritated customer’s negative reaction devolves down a slippery slope of wildly illogical and bizarre consequences. The premise of each advertisement is that having cable will inevitably lead to misery and self-destruction. For instance, one of the commercials begins as a bored cable customer waits for the cable repairman. In his boredom, he looks out the window and witnesses a dead body being placed in the trunk of a car. In apparent fear for his life, he attempts to vanish in order to get away from the criminals who saw him looking out his window. In his scheme to flee, he fakes his own death, dyes his hair and eyebrows blonde and attends his own funeral as a man named “Phil Shifley.” The commercial ends with, “you don’t want to attend your own funeral as a man named Phil Shifley, get rid of cable.”  The commercials are hilarious because of their employment of the logical fallacy called slippery slope.

Slippery-slope arguments assume that one choice automatically cascades into a domino of worse choices that ultimately results in a destructive, objectionable end.  Other popular metaphors of the slippery slope are “the boiling frog” and the “camel’s nose.”[1] The slippery slope argument goes something like this:

If you do the first thing,
It will lead to the second thing.
Which will eventually lead to a bad thing.
So, don’t do the first thing.

This debate technique is categorized as a logical fallacy along with other fallacies like begging the question, appeal to authority, etc., because of two weaknesses: 1) lack of evidence of the automatic sequence of one choice leading to another and 2) a lack of proof that the last choice is actually objectionable or wrong.
Now, slippery-slope warnings are included in Scripture and they are anything but fallacies; they are Spirit-breathed truth that must be heeded.  James 1:15 gives us a slippery-slope warning: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Solomon warns of the slippery slope of laziness (Proverbs 24:33-34). Paul adds to the warnings with the slippery slope of “sowing to the flesh” (Galatians 6:8a).  In addition, Jesus warned about the slippery slope of the doctrine of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:15).

The Scriptures warn us that one sin can indeed lead to another sin. But, as I see it, the slippery slope argument is being used today mostly about debatable things. So, rather than reflecting the Scripture’s warnings of one sin leading to another sin, the slippery slope warning is being used to claim that debatable things automatically lead to sinful choices.

Recognizing some of the characteristics of scripturally valid “slippery slope” warnings will serve us well. We will be vaccinated from prematurely sounding false alarms. Such a sieve will also assist us in evaluating warnings and concerns that we receive from other believers.

The reason for this post is a concern that the fallacious version of the slippery slope is being used as a hurtful weapon in the family of God. From my perspective, there seems to be an increasing amount of hurried, haphazard insinuations about ministers and ministries of being on the slippery slope of compromise without any biblical, loving, due process. Seemingly without trial or jury, a believer can warn of another believer’s slippery-slope tendencies and it is embraced as truth. Understand, my issue is not with prayerful spiritual discernment, but rather with this unfounded suspicious divisiveness.  I believe this needless splintering and dividing over (for example) differences with applications of secondary or tertiary separation, uses of certain technology in worship, sources of congregational music, views regarding traditional service formats, etc. are fallacious slippery slopes. 

Below are some consequences from our failing to take pause before sounding-out hasty, suspicious warnings about other believers or ministries.

·      We project our own personal weaknesses and proclivities onto others.  I suggest that we violate the spirit of Romans 14 whenever we assume that because we are weak in faith in a particular area, everyone else must be as well. What may be a slippery slope for me, may be something done in faith and “unto the Lord” by someone else.

·      We practically “muddy” the sufficiency of the Spirit and the Scriptures for moral and ethical formation. As a saint perseveres in their faith, the Spirit and the Word will give them all sufficiency for faith and practice. Erecting warning signs at every perceived slope effectively denies a believer the privilege to “exercise their senses to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). In things indifferent, we are to help our people learn how to think rather than teaching them exactly what to think. That is truly being skilled in the Word. Dr. David Doran brings clarity to this point here.

·      We draw extra biblical lines in the sand that divide us so severely that we lose ministry opportunities in the future. How do we react when someone we have warned of a slippery slope fails to heed our warnings? Do we view them as having been irretrievably lost? By venturing over our self-designated slippery slope have they now gone the way of the world?

·      We call “sin” what God has left in the “debatable” category.  It’s important for us to remember that every activity in life and ministry has not been categorized as “right” or “wrong” in God’s Word. Some areas have been left in the debatable category. That is not to say that God is indifferent about any of our choices. He most certainly is not (Romans 12:2b)!  But like the Pharisees who attempted to fence in the law, we must be careful not to “teach for doctrine the commandments of men” and bind consciences.

·      We use fear rather than grace as the primary motivator for sanctification. There are a variety of scriptural motivations for living a holy, separated life. One of those is a reverential fear and awe of God: “Those that fear the Lord depart from evil.”  Yet, we must take care about “crying wolf” about the consequences of ignoring our slippery-slope warnings. Grace should be the primary tutor for teaching us “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and that we should live soberly and righteously in this present world.”

·      In the setting of a local church, we effectively make a charge against an elder. As we noticed, valid, biblical slippery slopes always involve sin. Making an accusation of a church’s slippery slope is an accusation against the elders of that ministry. Participating in feeding a sense of distrust in the hearts of sheep towards their under-shepherds is a grievous sin.

·      Such premature warnings often lead us to un-Scriptural separation and needless division. Divisions, separations, and the parting-of-ways are unfortunately necessary at times before we all join together in united chorus around the throne. However, we search the New Testament in vain in order to find a prescribed separation that is to be done clandestinely without biblical due process.  Rather, we should give diligence to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 1:27). In addition, there is a clear due process for dealing with conflicts (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; Titus 3:10; II John 11).

·      In our zeal we actually teeter on the slippery slope of externalism and legalism. Often were the warnings our Lord gave about cleaning the outside of the cup while ignoring the inner man. Zealously fighting, fencing, and protecting our slippery slopes can unwittingly lead us down the other side of the slope. The warnings of Christ about that slick side of the slippery slope outnumber the other warnings.

Hopefully, such concerns will not be misconstrued as defending a cavalier, libertine approach to debatable issues. May such an equally dangerous and debilitating approach be avoided. “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.” “Flee youthful lusts.” “Avoid all appearances of evil.” “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” But, that was not the burden of this post.  

To conclude, I believe we are doing damage to the flock of God by “answering matters before we hear them.” We hurt the cause of Christ when we slander and judge motives, while at the same time attempting to justify our unbiblical separations. We flagrantly agitate and frighten sheep in local folds by spreading suspicion. Further, we violate the Scriptures by writing off Christian brothers and sisters without practicing the biblical due process of loving, truthful confrontation and exhortation.

The fallacy of the slippery slope is working fantastically for DirecTV. 

The fallacy of the slippery slope is producing fractures in the Body of Christ.

[1] “Boiling Frogs”-Gradual temperatures go undetected until the frog expires in boiling water. “Camel’s Nose-Legend that a camel asked to warm his nose in a nomad’s tent. He ended up taking over the tent and pushing the tent-dweller out into the cold.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meddling With God’s Business: Praying for the Salvation of Unbelievers

 Objections to Christianity are generally more personal than they are philosophical or theological. For instance, it is common for unbelievers to raise few objections to the basic claims of Christianity, while at the same time they are having real problems with “why a good and all-powerful God allowed this or that to happen.”  Their problems with God and Christianity are more empirical and less logical. 

As believers, we may find ourselves in a similar conundrum when faced with the topic of praying for unbelievers. Practically we ask, “Does it really have any eternal, saving effect?”  

May the Lord bolster our faith and resolve to pray for the unconverted!  Consider:           

1.    There is a dynamic connection between our theology and our prayer life.

Praying for the salvation of unbelievers is an exercise in practical theology. Most of us are acquainted with biblical, systematic, or dogmatic theologies. Sometimes we are a bit fuzzy in our understanding of what since the 18th century has been called practical theology.  Practical theology is just that: putting theology into practice. Practical theology is taking the results of our theological studies and through careful reflection implementing those truths into the warp and woof of our individual and church lives.

Our prayers (or lack thereof) for unbelievers to repent and come to faith in Jesus Christ reflect our belief about how a person is regenerated. If we believe that repentance and faith arise out of the inherent capacity of the natural man, then we should spend little, if any, time in prayer for unbelievers to be saved.  In other words, if we believe that it is within the human capacity for an unbeliever, unaided by the Spirit of God, to repent and place faith in Christ, then prayers for God to save them seem unnecessary.

However, if we believe that regeneration is the work of God alone, our prayers for the unsaved will be fueled by our knowledge of the all-powerful, sovereign, saving grace of God.  The Scriptures are replete with declarations that regeneration is the exclusive, glorious work of God: Ephesians 2:8; John 1:13; II Timothy 2:24; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 12:2; I John 5:1; Romans 3:24; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27.
A vivid example of that is revealed in Acts 16:14b where Paul gives the Gospel to Lydia and we are told, “The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. 

Practically, the belief in God’s exclusive ability to “open a heart to take heed” to the Gospel, should reflect itself in our passionate prayers for the Lord “to open the hearts” of unbelievers to repent and believe the Gospel.

2.    Jesus, Paul, and the Scriptures guide us in our prayers for unbelievers.

Over 700 years prior to Jesus being “made sin for us” on the cross, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the Christ would pray for unbelievers to be saved: “. . . yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).  This prophecy was fulfilled through one of Christ’s seven statements from the cross when He said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The Apostle Paul is also an example to us of praying for the salvation of unbelievers. In Romans 10:1, Paul declared, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”

Further, when the Apostle Paul gave instruction to Timothy on “how to behave in the house of God,” he mentors him with the inspired words, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people . . . . This is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4).

“Intercession for all people pleases the God who desires all to be saved.”[1]

3.    See intercessory prayer as a means for the salvation of unbelievers.

In God’s exclusive, sovereign, saving work of unbelievers, how do our prayers for their salvation work into the saving formula? Well, in Acts 7, when Stephen was being stoned, he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).  Standing in the audience of this brutal stoning was a man named Saul. In answer to Stephen’s prayer, this Saul would be converted and become the Apostle Paul. Jesus’ prayer of “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” was answered by one of the malefactors calling on Him for salvation. In God’s grand plan, He is pleased to use our prayers as a means of accomplishing His sovereign work! Every prayer that we pray for an unbelieving soul is captured by God and interwoven into His saving purposes and decrees. Consider the vivid picture of this providential mingling of the “prayers of the saints” with the sovereign judgments of God in the “early edition” laid out for us in Revelation 5:8 and Revelation 8:3. Yes, our prayers for the unsaved do matter. They do mean something in the saving purposes of God.

4.    Pray for the Holy Spirit to do His regenerating work.

The success of evangelism is dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; I Corinthians 2:14).  Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration in John 16:8-11:

And when he (Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

The Spirit of God is the One who reveals to an unbeliever that they are sinful. The Holy Spirit also reveals the need for an unbeliever to obtain an alien, outside righteousness and his spiritual bankruptcy. Finally, the Spirit of God convicts of the upcoming, righteous judgment of God that the unbeliever is under. With the knowledge of the Spirit’s exclusive convicting work, we should pray that the Spirit’s convicting work would happen in the hearts of unbelievers.  “Spirit of God, please convict _______________ of their sinfulness, their need for the righteousness of Jesus Christ and of the just judgment that is coming upon them if they persist in unbelief.”

5.    Be longsuffering in your prayers just as God is longsuffering with the lost.

God has patience with people. We are told particularly that He has this patience with those who are unsaved: “The Lord is patient . . . not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Peter 3:9b). If the Lord has such eschatological patience with the unsaved because of His desire to see them repent, we must seek the Lord’s strength to have the same endurance in our prayers for the unsaved. Let’s bear long in prayer for them.

"Until the gate of hell is shut upon a man, we must not cease to pray for him. And if we see him hugging the very doorposts of damnation, we must go to the mercy seat and beseech the arm of grace to pluck him from his dangerous position. While there is life there is hope, and although the soul is almost smothered with despair, we must not despair for it, but rather arouse ourselves to awaken the Almighty arm." 
C.H. Spurgeon

[1] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, The New American Commentary, vol. 34 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992), 89 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Soul Felt Its Worth

I love hearing a stirring ministry of “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve!  For me, that song seems to encapsulate my emotions and feelings at Christmas better than any other carol or Christmas hymn. Surely the angels had to have sung something similar to those lines on that winter night in Bethlehem! Particularly arresting is the line, “Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”  Perhaps in our noble efforts to have a Christ-centered Christmas, we have overlooked the value placed upon human souls by the incarnation of Christ. The "soul should feel its worth!"  So, does the manger, the shepherds, Joseph & Mary, the Christ Child, the wise men, and the barn animals of the nativity make your soul feel its worth? Jesus asked, “what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”. He also asked, “what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Christmas is the greatest communication of how valuable human souls are to God! Eternal souls are what Jesus came to rescue. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son….to redeem those who were under the law!” The incarnation communicates the greatness, glory and love of God, for sure. But, it also communicates the love God has for our individual souls. When you consider the nativity this year, let the message of the Gospel make your “soul feel its worth!” Such love for our souls contemplated will cause us to fall on our knees!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth! 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

You Asked! 2:42 Life Groups FAQ's(Frequently Asked Questions)

The following questions were submitted during a combined Sunday Classes on Sunday, December 8, 2013 through anonymous surveys.

"How do the 2:42 Life Groups work?" 

You can learn the details of 2:42 Life Groups here. There is also a Why Small Groups? video clip that you can view here. In addition, there are some excellent video clips of Russ and Tori Camp that can be viewed here and here.

“Will the 2:42 Life Groups replace, cancel, or change the Sunday evening service?”

We received a great deal of helpful feedback from our folks about this. Originally, we believed that we should include the Sunday Evening Service as a 2:42 Life Group and rename it, “Sunday Evening Bible Study.”  For a number of our folks, that was not well received. So, as a result of that counsel, we are going to continue to call this meeting the “Sunday Evening Service.” Pastor Kyle will continue to lead the music, child care and 3’s and 4’s junior church will continue, and Sunday evening opportunities to contribute to an offering will, also, continue to be available. One change will be the option that folks will have, beginning February 2, to either participate in the Sunday Evening Service or one of the 2:42 Life Groups offered on Sunday evening. In addition, we are adjusting the time to 5:30pm beginning January 5. That change is actually to make the service more of an option for families with young children, who are not participating in the Sunday evening 2:42 Life Groups. We have heard from young families over the years that the Sunday evening service would be more of an option if it were offered/ended earlier. So, the Sunday Evening Service can continue to be a “family time” for those who enjoy it in that way.

“Should we have a congregational vote about 2:42 Life Groups?" Does the Constitution and By-Laws require a vote?”

2:42 Life Groups are a new meeting opportunity that will emphasize more personal application in Bible study, fellowship, and prayer. As a new meeting  opportunity (like cottage prayer meetings, deacon care groups, “Friday Night at the Fullers,” ABF Fellowships, etc.), it falls under Article VI-Meetings-Section 1: Regular Services, E of our Constitution and Bylaws which states  such special emphasis meetings can be organized “as the pastor senses the Lord’s leading.” Removing one of our regular meetings (Sunday evening service, Wednesday Service, Sunday School, etc.), however, would have required our asking the congregation’s pleasure for a Constitutional and By-Law change.   I am personally grateful that I have this constitutional elasticity to organize and call for these more intentional and personal discipleship groups as I have been sensing the Lord leading. What peace and assurance He has given me that this is His will for our church family!

“What about the children? Is there a plan for child care? Will the children and teens be losing an opportunity?  And, will there be something for the teens?

In all of our research regarding small group discipleship meetings, addressing the needs of child care and children were near the top of the list! Here is how we are planning:

1.     There will be around 5-7 of the 2:42 Life Groups that will offer “children’s ministries.” These groups will be clearly marked in the 2:42 Life Group Leaflet as well as on the online menu. Those groups that offer children’s ministries will offer them for nursery to 5th grade.

a.     For those 2:42 Life Groups offering children’s ministries, the Group Host will be able to evaluate the registrations throughout the “off-month”(January, May, and September) so adequate ministries can be established for the ages and number of children coming to the 2:42 Life Group. (For example, my wife and I are hosting a 2:42 Life Group at our home and Becky is organizing the crafts, Bible lesson, snack, etc., that the children will be able to enjoy.)

b.     The 2:42 Life Groups that host children’s ministries will have special training sessions with our Pre-School Director,  Heidi Beaman, to review together our child-safety procedures and protocols.

c.      2:42 Life Groups that host children’s ministries will rotate their qualified women children’s workers each week to participate in the children’s ministries. There will also be opportunities for teen girls to assist.

d.     The option for children’s ministries at the Sunday Evening Service will continue to be available on Sunday evenings at 5:30pm.

2.     There will be 3 or 4 of the 2:42 Life Groups that will offer a teenage Bible study option. These groups will be lead by an adult or college student through a weekly Bible study.

So, overall, the 2:42 Life Groups are actually going to provide more opportunities for our children rather than less!

"Why has it taken so long to finally offer this opportunity? You have been talking/preaching about it for over two years!"

I like to think that we tried to be deliberate, prayerful, patient, and thorough in our planning. And, that is why it took so long. Introducing such a systemic alteration to how we do discipleship in our local church is a gigantic undertaking.  Multiple formats have been vetted and we believe this one is the best fit for our ministry. That kind of research takes time, unfortunately.

"Will this negatively impact our other meetings like Sunday Classes, Wednesday Evening, etc.?"

If by negatively, it is meant to mean numerically, yes, there is that possibility. There will be some who are attending these others venues who will choose to attend one of the 2:42 Life Groups that meet at the same time as one of the other meetings. But, when prayer, Bible study, and fellowship are being enjoyed, there is hardly any real negative impact. All positive!

"How will the 2:42 Life Groups cause us to “come together”? Will this divide or create cliques?"

We are commanded to come together (Hebrews 10:25), on the Lord’s Day for corporate worship.  Other opportunities for intentional discipleship should be carved into our schedules. The 2:42 Life Groups gives all of our folks that desire to participate in those kinds of opportunities!  Cliques are built upon the common denominator of selfishness (I Corinthians 3). Discipleship is built upon a community of committed disciples who desire to have some grace-fueled spiritual pressure added to their lives!

"Was there 100% agreement and support for the 2:42 Life Groups from the deacons? If not, what were the concerns?"

Because of the room our Constitution and Bylaws gives the pastor to call for new meetings as he senses the Lord leading, there was no vote necessary. However, at our November 12, 2013, Deacons’ Meeting, our chairman, Peter Whitehouse, called for a vote of support for the 2:42 Life Groups. The chairman made the following motion:

“We as a deacon group are in support of the 2:42 Life Groups and we want to encourage our pastors to begin seeking leadership for this new opportunity.”

The motion was seconded. A vote was then taken in which there was unanimity of “yeas” with two abstaining.

"How will the 2:42 Life Groups impact us financially?"

Based on the context of Acts 2:42-47, such an intentional focus on Bible study, fellowship, and prayer resulted in generosity (“sharing as each had need”) and evangelism (“added daily such as were being saved”). I believe the impact financially will be positive, resulting in more grace-motivated generosity!

"If the 2:42 Life Groups fail, will the pastors take responsibility for the failure?"

Yes, absolutely! While a methodology can certainly fail, Bible study, fellowship, and prayer always succeed!  As pastors, we live under the constant knowledge that “we shall receive the greater judgment” (James 3:1) and we will “give account” (Hebrews 13:17). Yes, we are fully responsible.  Scary.

"What will we be called now, because this is not a “fundamentalist” meeting format?"

Fundamentalists have met in small groups throughout their history, just like Christians have ever since Pentecost.  Now, admittedly, in the last 25 years, most cell and small group ministries have been part of broader evangelicalism. However, the heart of the “original fundamentalism” was a solid, unflinching commitment to the authority of the Scriptures. That being the case, small group discipleship is sprinkled all over the Old and New Testaments. And, it was the chosen methodology by our Lord Jesus. So, maybe we will be called “followers of Christ” rather than “fundamentalists.” That’s not all bad!

"Is this an “accept this or move on” proposition for the TBC membership?"

Not at all.  Little changes for those of our congregation who decide not to be involved in the 2:42 Life Groups.  Of course, I desire all of our folks to plug in to one of these discipleship groups. But, honestly, some of our folks are practicing the “one another(s),” exercising their spiritual gifts, and growing spiritually through the present meetings that are offered. That is just fine. For many, however, this meeting format is going to encourage spiritual growth in a significant way. How can anyone be against that?

"Will this make Sunday morning worship meetings longer?"

No. We will continue to have about an 80- to 90-minute worship service on Lord’s Day mornings.

"Why do we tolerate people squashing our joy about a new opportunity like this? They don’t have to participate!"

Change always causes a reaction. Sometimes these reactions do not demonstrate a Spirit-filled, Scripturally controlled, individual. We should be patient with these folks, like the Lord is with us (II Peter 3:9).  Oh, that we could “rejoice with those who rejoice”!

"What about missionary presentations/reports and special meetings like evangelistic meetings?"

Missionary presentations and furlough reports will continue on selected Sunday Evening Services during one of the “off” months of January, May, or September. Missionaries will also have an opportunity to present or report in occasional combined Sunday Classes. 2:42 Life Groups will not meet during evangelistic meetings, or other special meetings.

"What if my spouse, family, or friends are really against the 2:42 Life Groups but I like them? What do I do?"

Be patient. Each of us comes from different backgrounds and each of us has had different experiences. All of that contributes to one’s opinion of meetings other than the traditional  “familiar four.”  Most open-minded believers will discerningly observe something new. Allow for space to do that.

"Have you thought about the potential problems? Liability? Teachers who teach wrong doctrine? Winter travel?"

Yes! It seems like we have had endless strategy sessions vetting all the different scenarios and challenges. However, issues like liability, teachers who go astray, and travel in the winter have been carefully considered. The 2:42 Life Group Manual will be available to all the participants. There is also a Leader/Host Manual provided for the leaders and hosts. These documents deal with all the ins and outs of 2:42 Life Groups and with as many potential problems we have been able to foresee. No doubt, following the first trimester, we will add to our manuals with items we have learned.

"What if this change causes people to get mad and leave?" 

It will grieve me just like it does when anyone leaves our church. I usually lose sleep. I rehearse in my mind what I could have done (or not done) that would have potentially kept them at Trinity. But, at the end of the day, when I lay my head on my pillow, I have to ask the question, “Am I mobilizing our church to accomplish the mission that Jesus commissioned us to accomplish?” If making changes to ministry methodology to align more properly to Scripture prompts someone to leave, as painful as it is, we must obey our pastoral conscience.

"Don’t you think there has been too much change at TBC? Phew!"

While you can be sure that our hands are not hovering over the “change button,” I do believe that intentional, biblical change is good, not bad. “A growing church is a changing church.” Change just to “change” is disruptive and disorderly. However, change that is Scripturally informed and Spirit-driven, needs to be embraced by God’s people. I also push back against the notion that there has been a lot of change at Trinity. Over the last 16 years I have been at Trinity, there have been very few systemic changes to the ministry methodology.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Under-Committed: Idolizing Earthly Commitments. Bored with Eternal Ones.

“We made a commitment to our child’s lacrosse team and we want to demonstrate integrity by being at every practice and game. We can’t let the team down.”

“I made a commitment to getting this business off the ground, and working this amount of hours is just par for the course.”

“We are committed to our family. We protect our family time and getaways vigorously. That’s our time.”

“I am committed to seeing my son enter an academically elite college.  We have framed our family life around this commitment.”

“We have been married for thirty years! We are committed to one another.”

Committed. It is a heroic word. It smells of strength and tenacity. People who have commitment can be trusted, relied upon. We all should desire to be committed. Commitment means to be dedicated to a cause or an activity. Fidelity. Loyalty.

Interestingly, commitment is a moral quality that isn’t uniquely “Christian.” We all know unbelievers that are committed. I can think of various unsaved friends who have an admirable allegiance to their family, country, vocation, and friendships. They are just committed people.  Love them!

Even the statements listed above expressing commitment could be stated by either believers or unbelievers.  So, clearly, Christians do not have a “corner” on commitment. But, it does beg the question, “Should a Christian’s commitment be different?” In other words, should believers have a commitment that is qualitatively or categorically distinct?  I believe that the answer is a really loud “YES!” Sadly, however, many times a Christian’s commitments are not much different than their unsaved neighbor’s commitments (family, vocation, fun, friends, etc).

“Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” That is the Christian’s perspective, or should be. We should be committed to things “above” more than “things on the earth.”  Too often, though, we are under-committed. Solomon said all is “vanity under the sun.” Being “under-committed” is living life from a horizontal perspective. It is being committed to things under Heaven while being indifferent or uncommitted towards eternal things above.

It is fascinating to read in the Book of Acts that the Church, being recently birthed and animated by the Spirit, was committed to some uniquely Christian categories. We read in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”  The words “devoted themselves” is a translation of the Greek word, proskartereo, which means “to give unremitting care to; or to be tenaciously committed to.”  Clearly, “vintage” Christianity featured Christians who were committed to the Church. Committed to studying the Word. Committed to fellowship. Committed to prayer meetings.

So, how does such a vintage commitment compare with Christians today who place a higher premium upon their commitment to their children’s sports than they do their children’s opportunity to gather with the church?  What contrast is there with families who idolize family time but refuse to commit to membership and involvement in a local church? And, what about an adult Christian who voluntarily allows their employment to receive a more loyal commitment than their commitment to their church? Well, one thing is for sure, such “under-commitments” are altogether different than the commitment to things above that the early Church modeled.  There really isn’t any wiggle room on this observation, is there? If our churches resemble the early Church, and if our lives are filled and controlled by the Spirit, we will be committed to the Church. 

Think about it. None of us parents are surprised when we hear from our town league soccer coach that practice will be every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:00-8:00 pm. In fact, we expect it. We don’t think of such regularity of practice as moralistic or legalistic. Yet hear a sermon preached to you or your children about putting our commitments to church life above other “under-commitments” and you will be considered Puritanical and legalistic. No professor is considered moralistic who gives a syllabus of assignments at the beginning of a new semester. But challenge God’s people for a commitment to giving, praying, serving, or witnessing and you will be labeled a Pharisee. Why the double-standard?

Are you “under-committed”? Do you find yourself conscientious about earthly commitments but ambivalent with heavenly ones?


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Good News For Homosexuals!

On Wednesday, June 26 2013, the homosexual rights movement received good news in two favorable rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. The first ruling entitles same-sex married couples to federal benefits. The second ruling, effectively made California, the most populous U.S. state, the 13th state that allows same-sex marriage. These decisions by the U.S.Supreme Court follow the change in policy by the Boy Scouts of America to allow homosexual youth to join the Scouts. More good news for homosexual activists?

Defense of Marriage Act: September 21, 1996

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed by large majorities by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in September of 1996. DOMA allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. However, the ruling on June 26, 2013, considered certain parts (section 3) to be unconstitutional by ruling that same-sex married couples are entitled to federal benefits. In addition, by their ruling concerning California’s Proposition 8, the nation’s highest court, again, effectively reversed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, by ignoring the will of the people of California. Good news for homosexual activists?

Definition of Marriage Act: Genesis 2:24

However, there was an earlier Definition of Marriage Act that continues to be unaltered.  It was uttered by the Creator, the Judge of the Universe, acting as the Supreme Justice of the Peace at the first wedding ceremony: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  There was an inspired Defense of Marriage Act issued a few millennia later through the Spirit of God speaking through the Apostle Paul to an extremely immoral culture: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Our God has defined anddefended marriage as one man with one woman for a lifetime, so we have no need to fret at the decisions of a majority of nine black-robed judges. The Judge of the Universe has spoken. The endless debate over the genetic or environmental genesis of homosexual inclinations can cease. The confusion is silenced before the Lord.  Heterosexual, monogamous marriage has been defined and defended by our Great God!  This is good news for homosexuals!

Equal Before God
Across the street from my office window, there is a rainbow-shaded sign by the road in front of the Wesley United Methodist Church. The words on the multi-colored sign read,“Equal Before God.”  The sign is absolutely true! The words are very good news for homosexuals! The Roman culture of the first century had wide-spread homosexual relationships. The Apostle Paul addresses not just the homosexuals, but the liars, adulterers, religious, fornicators, priests, thieves, pastors, disobedient, deacons, and gossipers with the same equal before God statements: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks after God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).  He then says that we are all equal before God in this way: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)We are all equally guilty, sinful, and deserving of God’s wrath. For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). But, there is good news! “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). This is good news for all sinners! We are equal before God in our sin. But, we are also equal before God in his willingness to save, wash, and cleanse us from our sin (I Corinthians 6:11)!

Good News for Homosexuals!

Homosexual friend, there is good news for you! Your sinful inclinations toward same-sex attraction are in the sin category like other sexual sins: adultery, fornication, pornography, etc. It is also in the same sin column as other sins like, lying, cheating, anger, laziness, pride, self-righteousness, gluttony, etc. The good news is that Jesus saves to the uttermost! He saves from every sin! He rescues and delivers (I Corinthians 10:13). This is good news for homosexuals to hear and share! Like the sign across the street from my office window, we call out that we are all equally sinful before God, and there is equality at the foot of the cross of Jesus! This is good news, terrific news for homosexuals!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Christians Won’t Join a Local Church (Part I)

"Apart from the church, salvation is impossible."
 –Martin Luther

“If you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, you may well be going to hell.”
–Mark Dever

“In fact, anyone who claims to be a Christian yet is not an active member of a church may not actually be a follower of Christ.”
-David Platt

“So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the word and sacraments.”
-John Calvin

Shocking quotes. No doubt, much of the American dismissal of the importance of local church membership is a reaction to the Medieval Roman Catholic dogma that salvation came from being a member of the Roman Catholic Church. But as these quotations reveal, even the Reformers understood the importance of the local church. Further, they believed that all that were part of the Universal Church would be active, functioning members of a local church. But these sentiments unfortunately don’t represent the current evangelical perspectives of the local church. Bumper sticker quotes like, “I don’t go to church; I am the church,” and “I love Jesus; it’s the church I can’t stand” are more representative of the current view of local church participation and membership. What are the major reasons for dissing the local church? Consider ten reasons why Christians don’t join local churches.

10. The church has a questionable history and a whole lot of hypocrisy.

We use to sing a song written by the Gaithers when I was a boy named, “I’m So Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God!”  This excuse for not becoming a member of a local church basically changes the song to “I’m Surprised You’re a Part of the Family of God!” This excuse could also be referred to as the strange place and weird people syndrome. After all, the critic quips, “the church has a history of racism, the Crusades and worldwide moral and financial scandals.” In addition, the church is accused of being peppered with self-righteous, plastic people. Church rolls are also filled with the weak-minded, emotionally needy, and the socially awkward. In some ways, the only honest response to such arguments is a regretful: “guilty as charged.” But, is that a valid reason for rejecting one’s family?  Being born again, regenerated, and saved all refer to being adopted into the family of God. The church is called a “chosen generation” (I Peter 2:9) which means we all enjoy the same Ancestor and are part of the same “household.” Now, the Scriptures teach us very clearly that this new family is not necessarily made up this world’s “beautiful people;” just the opposite (I Cor. 1:27-28)! So, “I am surprised that I AM a part of the family of God!” The old proverb, “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family” is true, not only in our physical families but in our spiritual family as well. Ever go to a family reunion just to be reminded of the “nuts” that fall every time your family tree is shaken?! But, we learn to live with and love through these idiosyncrasies because, after all, they are family! Pastor Mark Dever asks, “Do you want to know that your new life is real (I John 2:9-10)? Commit yourself to a local group of saved sinners. Try to love them. Don’t just do it for three weeks. Don’t’ just do it for six months. Do it for years. And I think you’ll find out, and others will, too, whether or not you love God.”

9. I don’t believe in spiritual leadership or pastoral authority.

There’s some “baggage” oftentimes with this one. Having been under “pastoral” leadership as a child that claims they are untouchable (“touch not God’s anointed”), as well as church leadership that “lords it over one’s faith” causes, even me (and I am a “pastor”!), to bristle and chafe somewhat. But, instances of sinful oversight does not excuse the wholesale rejection of the church for which Christ died. Speaking eschatologically (end times), there seems to be only one institution that the Lord created that is eternal. The family (as we know it), and human government both have expiration dates. But, the church, as the Bride of Christ, exists eternally with her Groom. With that said, those that argue against the leadership roles and offices in the local church have a difficult time explaining how the same God who established the roles in the family and the authority of human government, also established the leadership and oversight of the church (Titus 1; I Tim. 3). In addition, the qualifications and expectations for the two offices of elders and deacons in the local church significantly exceed the requirements for both family roles and human government. Acknowledgement of familial and governmental leadership logically requires consent to ecclesiastical leadership. It is impossible to submit to spiritual leadership according to Hebrews 13:17 without being a member of local church. The commission of Matthew 28 assumes that the one doing the baptizing and teaching will be the one who the believer is to be submissive to (Heb. 13:17).

8. The pervasive influence of aggressive American individualism.

The rugged, Lone Ranger approach to life will collide with the Bible’s use of collective nouns and metaphors to describe the church. In fact, it is well-nigh impossible to read the New Testament without discovering the plural nature of the Church. In I Peter 2:9, the apostle Peter uses collective nouns to describe the church: chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation. Think of the collective metaphors: flock, family, body, and building. Compare the metaphors with such an individualistic mindset. One sheep doesn’t equal a flock.  One person doesn’t make a family. One limb doesn’t make a body. And one brick doesn’t make a building. Add to this the enormous amount of “one another” commands that are to be discharged as we are a community of believers, and you get the clear impression that Christianity is a team sport! While a person can only enter the family of God individually, by faith alone, in Christ alone, he is to live out his life of faith collectively and not in solitude. Clearly, I need the church even if that pushes against my desire for independence. John Piper says, “Sanctification is a community project!”

7. Not being a member provides a quick exit strategy!

 Jesus addressed the problem of disposable marriages and the no-fault divorce mentality in Matthew 5, 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16. There is an unnerving similarity today with how so many Christians view their commitment to a local church. Having such a variety of churches to “hop” in-and-out of, has caused many conservative Christians to view their local church as a divorce-for-any-reason concession. So, the reasoning goes: “let’s not commit to membership with this local church so that if we find something we don’t like, we can “get out of Dodge.”  In the military we call this kind of abrupt ejection being Absent Without Official Leave, and in a family setting we call it desertion. But in a church we say things like, “the Lord is leading us on,” “stirring our nest,” or “redirecting our paths.”  Sometimes, because of the common-law relationship (attendance without membership), that a person has with the local church, they end a 15-20 year relationship with a simple email.

6. I am part of the universal, invisible church and there is no imperative for membership in one locally.

Wouldn’t it be cool to be invisible every now and then? I mean, if you could just disappear, wouldn’t that remove you from all responsibility and accountability for the moment? Or, how neat would it be if we could escape paying our town’s property taxes by appealing to our loyalty to the U.S. Government that would exempt us from any local restrictions or regulations?  That is similar to what Christians are implying by their appeal to “I am part of the universal” or “invisible church.” Truthfully, there is certainly an invisible church. It is invisible to us but visible to God. It is invisible in the sense that we can’t determine who is actually repenting and believing the Gospel. Only the Lord knows that.  Those who have been actually baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ are invisible to us, but visible to God. The Protestants insisted on the adjective invisible to clarify the distinction that just because a person was part of a visible church did not make someone a child of God. The Lord Jesus taught that such a determination would be done at the end of the age when the real Christians are revealed (Matthew 13:30). 

The Bible also teaches the truth about the Universal (catholic) Church. Now don’t be alarmed by the use of “catholic.” The word simply means universal. The Roman Catholic Church believes in what they call the universal church but not the invisible church. Roman Catholics believe that the Universal Church represents all the visible members of the Roman Catholic (Universal) church. What we believe the Bible teaches about the Universal church is that it includes both the Christians that are already “with the Lord” and all the Christians presently on the planet. Maybe this summary would help:

Invisible Church: All the True Christians.
Universal Church: All the True Christians in Heaven and on Earth.
Local Church: Professing Christians gathered together in a committed relationship of accountability and love.

Some would refer to the Invisible Church or the Universal Church as the Church with the big “C” and the local church as the church with the little “c.”  That is a mistake. The word “church” is used repeatedly in the New Testament. Nearly 90% of its uses, however, are in the context of a local church rather than the invisible or universal church. The Letters of the New Testament were written to local churches. Letters like Philippians actually names some of the bickering members in the local congregation! So, what we see in the New Testament is that God expects every member of the invisible, universal church to be a functioning and active member of a local church.  The best way for you to prove your membership in the invisible, universal church is for you to be actively functioning in a local church.