Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bind Us Together, Lord!

I am working through one of my all time favorite books, again, with our summer pastoral interns. It is D.A. Carson's A Call To Spiritual Reformation. It has been recently re-formatted as Praying With Paul. This book has served me in a variety of ways. One of the most significant is to help me form the predominant emphases in my Christian pursuit, my parenting and my pastoral ministry. It has assisted me in answering the question, "what should I really be emphasizing?" I have learned(mostly the hard way) that in direct proportion to emphasizing what God does not emphasize in the Scripture I equally de-emphasize what God does emphasize in the Scriptures. If I get lathered-up about non-essentials, I will end up making little of the essentials. Paul prayed for the things that mattered. Paul interceded to the Father on behalf of God's people for the necessary.

Another vital, framing lesson from this commentary on the prayers of the Apostle Paul is the true nature of Biblical unity. Confessedly, for much of my Christian life and ministry I had a very immature, shallow view of Christian unity. I thought it was agreeing or being "like-minded" on every hot-button, secondary and questionable issue. In II Thessalonians 1:3 the Apostle Paul says:

"We ought always to thank God for you brothers, and rightly so because....the love every one of you has for each other is increasing."

Consider Dr. Carson's excellent exposition of this increasing of Christian love and unity:

A close-knit society with shared ideals and goals frequently finds it relatively easy to foster love, tolerance, and inner cohesion Whether we think of the local rock-climbing club, the regional football team, or a socially cohesive local church, a certain amount of fraternal depth is common enough. Of course, such groups may run into terrible division over power politics or a disruptive member or a nasty bit of nepotism, but some measure of transparent love is not all that unusual in such groups. 

Ideally the church is different. It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated, aristocratic and plebeian, disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert-and everything in between. The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them. 

That is why it is always wretchedly pathetic when a local church becomes a cauldron of resentments and nurtured bitterness. This pitiful state of affairs may erupt simply because there is very little at the social, economic, temperamental, educational, or other levels to hold people together. Therefore, when Christians lose sight of their first allegiance, they will squabble. When social or racial or economic or temperamental uniformity seems more important than basking in the love of God in Christ Jesus, idolatry has reared its blasphemous head. (Emphasis mine) When protestations of profound love for Jesus Christ are not mirrored in love for others who profess to love the same Jesus Christ, we may legitimately ask how seriously we should take these protestations. 

Bind us together, Lord!

Oh how good it is
When the family of God
Dwells together in spirit
In faith and unity.
Where the bonds of peace,
Of acceptance and love
Are the fruit of His presence
Here among us.

So with one voice we’ll sing to the Lord
And with one heart we’ll live out His word
Till the whole earth sees
The Redeemer has come
For He dwells in the presence of His people.

Oh how good it is
On this journey we share
To rejoice with the happy
And weep with those who mourn.
For the weak find strength
The afflicted find grace
When we offer the blessing
Of belonging.

Oh how good it is
To embrace His command
To prefer one another
Forgive as He forgives.
When we live as one
We all share in the love
Of the Son with the Father
And the Spirit.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Looking For a Few Good Men

The first challenge that we learn of in the early church was that the Grecian widows were not receiving their regular ‘meals on wheels’.  There were apparently complaints registered that revealed a real need for a system to be created that would faithfully meet these dear ladies’ nutritional needs. The Apostles, the sole spiritual leaders of the infant church realized that if they surged to the rescue they would leave their priorities of prayer and the study of the Word. “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2) What was the solution to this inaugural issue in the early church? Deacons! The word in the original that is translated deacon is “diakonos.” The word literally, as it is used in Acts 6, means to be a “table waiter.”  These men were just like Jesus who, “came not to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.”

            This year will mark thirty-five years in which the Lord has given Trinity Baptist Church good men to serve. We will vote next Sunday, June 7th. When the apostles were challenging the early church about choosing men for this new office of the local church, they said that they should fixate on their spiritual qualifications and godly character. With that in mind, let’s be careful not to yield to worldly spirit in choosing our deacons. Here are some things to avoid.

Don’t vote for men simply because they are popular.
Even the godly man, Samuel, had to be exhorted by the Lord about how he assessed men for their qualification for service. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”(I Samuel 16:7) Popularity is not a vice in and of itself. But, conversely, it is not a sign of spiritual qualifications. Let’s go deeper in our selection than just rushing to vote for those who are well known in the congregation. Servants are most often behind the scenes, outside of the public eye.

Don’t vote for men simply because they want to preserve the past.
Disregarding the past is arrogant.  Living in the past is fatal. Rehoboam actually divided the kingdom as he listened to his peers who advised him to dig his heals into the past(I Kings 12). Wisdom is not always found in freezing an era. Be cautious of all of our tendencies to drizzle a romantic glaze on our past.

Don’t vote for men that have a political aspiration.
Living in a Democratic-Republic is pretty awesome, isn’t it! Praise God for the land of the free and the home of the brave! However, I have discovered that some folks incorrectly view the office of the deacon as a sort of representative church government similar to our US Houses of Congress.  They begin to think of their deacons as representatives that seek to lobby for certain special interest groups within the church body. Or, even worse, some seek to “politic” and promote themselves into the office of the deacon.

Don’t vote for men simply because they have deep pockets.
God has given financial means to men and women who are incredible blessings to local church families and para-church ministries. Yet, in evaluating who we should vote for as a deacon, a person’s “bottom line” should not even enter our minds.

So, what should we consider when voting for deacons as we avoid these unbiblical concepts?  Great question! Please read Acts 6 and I Timothy 3 asking these questions:

  • Is this man full of faith?

  • Does this man have self-control?

  • Is this man full of the Spirit?

  • Is this man double-tongued?

  • Is this man addicted to alcohol?

  • Is this man greedy or dishonest?

  • Does this man seek to walk with a pure conscience before God and with others?

  • Has this man demonstrated a servant spirit in our midst in the past?

  • Is this man a “one-woman man”?

  • Is this man leading his family in godliness?

  • Does this man’s wife have self-control?

  •  Does this man’s wife slander or gossip?

  • Is this man’s wife faithful in all things?

Now, what is the result of avoiding these pitfalls and searching for these godly characteristics in choosing deacons?  My friends, here is what can happen!

“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly!”  How’s that for incredible, God-blessed, results?! May the Lord bless our ministry, once again, with such servants! Amen and Amen! 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Seven Signs Of a Committed Church Member


My brother and I had at least one functional set of Tinkertoys during most of our childhood. Tinkertoys came in a foot-long tin tube. The conerstone of the set was a wooden spool that had holes drilled in it. Tinkertoy sticks were included in the set along with caps, pulleys and couplings that you could use to “tinker” with as you built. To tinker with something is to “experiment with” or “test” something. Tinkering is the polar opposite of commitment. In Acts 2:42-47 we get a peek at the early church that has just been animated and empowered by the Spirit of God on the Day of Pentecost. These believers were not tinkering with church. They were committed. What were these vital signs of committed Christians?

1. Love Bible Study. Love Preaching. (“apostle’s teaching”)
Committed Christians gather to hear the Bible preached, taught and to discuss applications of the Bible. They come to church with a notebook and pen rather than a scorecard. As they diligently peer into the Word, they have very little time to stair at the clock. And, committed Christians don’t need to view Chariots of Fire in order to place Sunday services over sporting events. Committed!

2. Participates in small groups and one-on-one fellowship. (“fellowship”)
Committed Christians love being with other Christians. They love being with Christians in small group conversation or just over a cup of coffee. These times of sharing apart from the “big room” provide opportunities to practice the “one anothers” and to discern spiritual needs and burdens. Committed!

3. Makes prayer meetings a really big deal! (“prayer”)
Churches with committed Christians have robust participation in prayer meetings. Committed Christians instinctively know that the church that prays together stays together! These folks don’t dodge prayer meetings by hiding in the shadows and fringes of a church foyer.  No, they make praying with their church family a priority. Committed!

4. Fights for commonality & unity. (“had all things common”)
Committed Christians “wrestle” for unity. They pursue peace. Paul said to the Ephesians to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Committed Christians know that they will have to literally “wage war for peace.” That war is often internally as they deny themselves, defer to the preferences of others, and refuse to speak or think evil of others. Committed!

5. Gives generously.(“with glad and generous hearts”)
When the Spirit of God indwelt these believers it appears their clenched fist became an open-hand. Committed Christians understand their faithful giving supports their ministry locally and their missionaries globally. But, it wasn’t just their tithes, they used their talents to meet the needs of others. Committed!

6. Worships Passionately (“praising God”)
Committed Christians “enter His courts with praise.” Staging and mood lighting aren’t needed to stimulate spiritual and truthful worship. Spirit-filled believers sing! Spirit-filled believers sing and praise passionately. Committed!

7. Shares the Gospel Regularly.(“day by day those where being saved”)
No church is a committed church that is disobedient to the great commission. No Christian is a committed Christian who is disobedient to the great commission. Committed!

If you can’t do these seven things in your present local church, leave.
Whenever a newborn baby is born, vital signs are checked. These seven vital signs should be present in a Spirit-filled local church. If you can’t happily do these seven things in the local church you are presently attending, you should leave. Prayerfully seek a local church that you can commit to. Friend, don’t attend a church simply because of the presence of friends, family or long-held traditions. If you can’t be committed, leave, and find a church where you can stop tinkering and be committed!

Come, all Christians, be committed
To the service of the Lord;
Make your lives for him more fitted,
Tune your hearts with one accord.
Come into His courts with gladness,
Each his sacred vows renew,
Turn away from sin and sadness,
Be transformed with life anew.

Of your time and talents give ye,
They are gifts from God above;
To be used by Christians freely
To proclaim His wondrous love.
Come again to serve the Savior,
Tithes and off'rings with you bring.
In your work, with Him find favor,
And with joy His praises sing.

God's command to love each other
Is required of every one;
Showing mercy to one another
Mirrors His redemptive plan.
In compassion He has given
Of His love that is divine;
On the cross sins were forgiven;
Joy and peace are fully thine.

Come in praise and adoration,
All who in Christ's name believe;
Worship Him with consecration,
Grace and love you will receive.
For His grace give Him the glory,
For the Spirit and the Word,
And repeat the gospel story
Till mankind His name has heard.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Christian Perspective on Cremation Versus Burial

No hearse. No body. No procession to the cemetery. Cremation has steadily increased as an option for dispensing with a body in the United States for unbelievers and believers alike. In 1960 just over 3 percent of bodies were cremated. Today, over 50 percent of corpses are cremated. Here in New Hampshire we are above the national average with nearly 60 percent of dead bodies being cremated. Most people make decisions about cremation versus burial because of utilitarian reasons. Cremation is significantly cheaper than traditional burial. Other benefits like the transportation of the body, flexibility on the timing of a memorial service, and benefit of the environment are offered in support of cremation.

Cremation is also encouraged because of the commemorative ways you can remember your loved one. For instance, the ashes can be used in a hour glass, preserved in a teddy bear, mixed with the ink of a tattoo or painting, used to create jewelry, sent to space in a satellite, or even used in celebratory fireworks!

Are there other considerations that the Christian should ponder beyond the utilitarian and sentimental benefits of cremation over burial?  Well, the Scriptures do not clearly condemn or commend the practice of cremation. In such areas believers are exhorted to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). Below are a few items to function as a filter when considering the option of cremation.

The Scriptures ascribe a dignity to the human body.
From creation (Genesis 1:26-27; 31) to resurrection and redemption (I Corinthians 15:35-49; Romans 8:23), the Bible gives dignity and value to the human body. This is in contrast to the platonic dualism that viewed the spirit and body as separate entities. Even a corpse in Scripture is referred to with personal pronouns, or even by the person’s name (Mark 15:45-46; John 11:43).  However, the ultimate value is given to the human body in the incarnation (Hebrews 2:14). The eternal Son of God got a body. Would it have troubled you if the body of Jesus had been cremated following removal from the cross?

Burials in the Bible are the norm and cremations indicate condemnation.
God’s Word describes specifically the normative practice of burial. In fact, the body of Joseph was carried around for over 40 years awaiting burial (Genesis 50; Exodus 13:19). And the only time we read of God conducting the funeral of anyone, we discover that God buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34; Jude 9). However, when the burning of the body is described in the Bible rather than burial of the body, it is regularly descriptive of God’s judgment, rejection, and condemnation (Joshua 7:24-25; Amos 2:1; II Peter 3:7).

God’s people have consistently chosen burial and rejected cremation.
While appealing to Christian tradition is certainly lower in the sieve of a believer’s decision-making process, it is not unimportant.  Cremation is not new. It was the pagan option for dealing with a dead body. John says that the Jews rejected cremation and “. . . as is the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:40). In I Corinthians 11:16, the apostle Paul challenges the Corinthians in regard to the cultural norm of a woman being veiled in worship by saying, “we have no such  practice, nor do the churches of God.” So, in considering how the saints of the past have dealt with issues, we need to consider if they made their choices because of theological and biblical reasons rather than utilitarian and commemorative reasons. Such an inquisition reveals that as Christianity spread, cremation decreased. Our forefathers thought that burial honored the body, best pictured the gospel, and most accurately demonstrated the future hope of resurrection.

So, God’s Word, while not giving specific instruction about cremation, is not silent about God’s opinion. God is not indifferent on any issue. He has an opinion. Our love for Him and others motivates us to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” 
(Ephesians 5:10; Romans 12:1-2).

Ultimately, for decisions in which God is silent of specific instructions, we must "prove what is acceptable to the Lord."(Ephesians 5:10) And, we must allow for differences of application in that process.

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;"
(Romans 14:7-9)

I no longer fear the grave
Christ has come
Took the sting of death away
Through His saving blood
Though my body fails and my flesh grows weak
Till my final breath, to this hope I’ll cling
Jesus lives and so shall I
I’ll be raised from the dust with Christ on high
Jesus lives no more to die
And when He returns, with Him I’ll rise
Jesus Lives!  

-Sovereign Grace

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

10 Traits of Christian Consumerism

Why are many churches more like the Love Boat (10 percent serving the 90 percent) rather than being like an aircraft carrier (everyone on board is vital to the mission)? How did we become so contrary to our Lord Jesus' example when He said, “I came not to be served, but to serve and to give my life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)?

Perhaps, one major cause could be that our churches have conformed to the spirit of our technological age, the age of the customer. Like nearly every segment of our society, have Christians become perennial shoppers?  Has the church and its ministries become commodities that we shop for?  Have we become Christian consumers? Has Christian consumerism saturated our churches like a virus? 

Researcher George Barna remarked, “Most churchgoers have not adopted a biblical worldview, they have simply added a Jesus fish on the bumper of their unregenerate consumer identities.”  Ouch! 

Webster defines consumerism as “the promotion of the consumer’s interests.” 

You might be a Christian consumer if. . .

10. .....you view yourself as a customer who is to be served.
 “May I take your order?” Such is the greeting at our local fast-food drive-through. Why not at our church? I mean most of us check out the amenities list for hotels we are considering before we book, don’t we?  Pool? Breakfast? Exercise room? Wi-Fi?  Bed bugs?  Christian consumers come to church primarily looking to get something as well. That “something” might be inspiration, entertainment, programs for their children, affirming messages, etc.  The consistent benedictory question from Christian consumers following a church gathering is, “What did you get from church today?”  And it’s not just the members. This mindset causes pastors to be tempted to try to offer better services than their competitors. 

9.  .....you regularly compare your church with other churches and ministries.
In his excellent book, The Age of the Customer, Jim Blasingame suggests that a major paradigm shift took place from the age of the seller to the age of the customer. He traces the beginning of this new era to April 30, 1993, when the internet became commercially available to the general public. (Thanks, Al Gore! :-) ) With access to the World Wide Web, the customer overtook a major advantage that the seller had for millennia previously: product information and user-generated content. Have you noticed how much we rely on customer reviews? How many stars (****) did they receive?  It is so fingertip easy to Google any product, person, or business with our tablet or smart phone. Sometimes, a customer can actually know more about the product through user-generated comments than the seller. Christian consumers equally have employed these powerful search engines in comparing and contrasting their church with the one across town, or ones across the country. The Christian consumer has the ability to compare and contrast goods and services offered by other churches without ever even being a guest of those ministries. 

8. .....you allow other activities to compete equally with the Lord’s Day.
Can you remember “blue laws”? That time in our country’s history when the government actually encouraged our culture to, if nothing else, alter their normal daily rat race? Those days are long gone. Our society is no friend of grace. A Christian consumer allows the Lord’s Day when the church-gathered celebrates Jesus’ victorious resurrection to be rivaled with other cultural activities. Cultural consumption that is scheduled on the Lord’s Day like athletic events, optional vocational time (overtime), family events, and other entertainment activities are legitimate competitors to worship for the church consumer. Christian consumers attend church a lot less frequently than they use to. Thomas Rainer comments, “stated simply, the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago.”   If some of us actually rehearsed how many Lord’s Day services we have missed in the last 52 Sundays, we would probably be shocked. While many of us used to average missing 3-4 Sundays for vacation, work-related travel and sickness, we are now averaging more like 10-12 Sundays missed. That increase is mainly due the competitors we have allowed to go up against the best day of the week. Imagine that! We consider ourselves committed members of a local church when we have missed over a quarter of her collective gatherings!  Unashamed consumerism. 

7. ....you habitually critique your church’s ministry and ministers.
I have seriously considered becoming a “mystery shopper” (those privileged “employees” who get free meals, and certain department store items if they will visit certain business establishments and act like a simple customer). Actually, they are evaluating the service, product, and atmosphere. They fill out surveys about their experience after every shopping experience. That is also the time that they turn in their receipts. Church consumers are like “mystery shoppers,” only they are not compensated. Church consumers are in survey mode from the prelude to the postlude and everything in between. Critiquing the music, the message, other attendees, and the leadership’s management style are considered to be their ministry gifts. 

6. .....you never really let your roots go deep in church commitment.
One of the main reasons that small New England towns have resisted large department stores like Walmart from coming to their towns is because these large, corporate, one-stop shops often dismantle those faithful and beloved “Mom and Pop” stores that have become such a vital part of the culture of these quaint New England villages. Customer loyalty is an entire branch of business theory. Keeping your customers when everyone is trying to win their business is a significant skirmish. But, I guess that is the beauty of capitalism. Yet, this type of consumerism shows up in the church by Christians resisting the accountability and commitment of church membership. Christian consumerism reveals itself when a regular attendee or member suddenly, without warning, stops gathering with their local body and suddenly emerges with another.  

5. .....you leave your church over preferences. 
Are you a Target or a Walmart person? McDonald’s or Burger King? Coke or Pepsi? Would you ever consider divorcing your spouse over a difference of opinion in one of those preferences?  Hopefully you answered, “Of course not! I am committed to my spouse, and such petty differences could never divide us.” Consumers, however, are driven and divided by preferences. Whatever product and business will cater to their tastes and preferences, will get their business. Christian consumers do the same thing. They will leave their church family where they have attended for a decade or more over a preference—music styles, children’s ministries, dress, preaching methods, preferred translation of the Bible, etc.  Yep, a church consumer, who agrees with 97 percent of their church’s initiatives, mission, and methods, will divorce their church family over the 3 percent of preferences.
4. .....if you tend to be focused on instant gratification.
Consumerism often dodges arenas that require discipline. After all, the thinking goes, “Why would I work and wait for something that I can purchase and have right now?”  We live in the “age of instant.” If we need a book, we can download the ebook immediately. We have K-cups for our coffee and OnStar in our vehicles. And our cable televisions are set up with “on demand.”  We want it, now! When Christian consumers reflect this “on-demand” spirit of the age, they, too, avoid those areas of church life that require discipline and waiting. For instance, Christian consumers would be more inclined to attend a Christian movie or concert than they would to attend a prayer meeting with their church family or sit under a Bible book series that would increase their doctrinal depth.  

3. .....if you are always on the lookout for the cost-to-benefit ratio. 
The saying “bang for your buck” actually referred to actual explosives. It has come to mean getting a fair return, or better, on your investment. Economically, this is wise. Spiritually, such thinking leads to a “keeping-of-score” attitude. It is the tit-for-tat mentality. “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” Christian consumers also keep score. They have a balance sheet. Christian consumers know how much they have invested with their money, talents, and time. Like every good investor, they want to see it come back to them, with interest. If they visit a person who is sick, they expect a visit when they are sick. If they give generously, they expect recognition and influence—the cost-to-benefit ratio.

2. .....you regularly turn down opportunities to serve.
How awkward it would be if I were asked to mop the floor of a restaurant I was dining in. Everyone knows that customers get served; they don’t serve. Christian consumers don’t serve much either. They have a lengthy list of reasons why they are not serving or why they are “under-serving.” Excuses like “I’m just too busy,” or “I need time with my family,” or “I am working through some things” are offered. The truth is, the very nature of a consumer is to evaluate every opportunity by asking “How will this benefit me?” 

1. .....you rarely share the Gospel.
Owners take the mission of the company to heart.  Christian owners take the mission of the church seriously as well. Christian consumers, however, don’t gather with their church family in order to be equipped for mission. They gather to consume and leave with certain desired commodities.  A very simple test to evaluate our possible consumer Christian mind-set is to ask ourselves how focused are we really on sharing the Gospel?

“When we approach Christianity as consumers rather than seeing our faith as a comprehensive way of life, an interpretive set of beliefs and values, Christianity becomes just one more brand we consume along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express identity….the demotion of Jesus Christ from Lord to label means to live as a Christian no longer carries an expectation of obedience and good works, but rather a perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences.” –Skye Jethani 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Essentially Literal: The ESV @ Trinity

       It has been my privilege to preach and teach from the King James Version of the Bible at Trinity Baptist Church for nearly seventeen years as youth pastor and now senior pastor.  In 2002 I was introduced to the “essentially literal” English Standard Version of the Scriptures. It rather swiftly became my preferred translation for private study, family altar, and counseling. However, having “cut my teeth” spiritually on the King James Version, I, like many in our church, have a fondness and appreciation for its beauty and accuracy. Yet, desiring to “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,” (Nehemiah 8:8b), I believe that Trinity Baptist Church will be best served by my preaching from the English Standard Version. I believe that we should transition to the English Standard Version of the Bible because of its accuracy, clarity, consistency, and beauty.

Accuracy – An “essentially literal” translation

     Modern translations of the Scriptures, like the ESV, are based upon an eclectic or critical text of manuscripts. The primary benefit to that textual foundation is that these manuscripts are older and closer to the time of the actual writing of the original autographs. I believe that the availability of more manuscripts and the age of manuscripts for modern translations compared to the limited and later manuscripts available for the translation of the King James Version benefits us with a more accurate, attested translation.

     In addition, the English Standard Version translators sought to follow a formal-equivalency (word-for-word) translation philosophy rather than a dynamic-equivalency (thought-for-thought) approach. Truthfully, it is nearly impossible for one language to be translated into another language in a wooden, word-for-word, literal translation. So, we should consider all English translations of the Bible in somewhat of a spectrum between the dynamic, thought-for-thought and the formal, word-for word poles. It is really more a matter of gradation. So, it is actually difficult to see exactly when one translation crosses the line from formal to dynamic equivalency.  There are a host of modern translations, however, that have opted for dynamic equivalency as their translation philosophy. This is not a wholesome translation philosophy in my opinion. We read commentaries for interpretation help, not our Bibles. I appreciate the ESV for allowing the ambiguities, difficulties and ancient idioms to shine through in an essentially literal way so that we can be confident of its accuracy.

“The ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a ‘thought-for-thought’ rather than a ‘word-for-word’ translation philosophy, emphasizing ‘dynamic equivalence’ rather than the ‘essentially literal’ meaning of the original. A ‘thought-for-thought’ translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.” - Preface to the English Standard Version

Clarity – Archaic language has been brought to current usage.

     The King James Version of the Bible was translated in 1611. Since that first printing, there have been several updates and revisions. Most of us own the 1769 edition of the King James Version which updated some of the archaic language of the 1611 edition.  The English Standard Version provides clarity of the English language that is readily understood by English speakers. Because of the clarity of the English Standard Version, the time-consuming explanation of outdated words is immediately removed from the preaching moment. Such clarity also benefits private reading and Bible study because of the plainness of speech.

     Our desire for clarity goes beyond our desire to edify believers through intelligibility (I Corinthians 14). We have a passion for clarity in evangelism and discipleship as well. As new believers are born into the family of God, we desire for the clarity and plainness of the Scriptures to assist them “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (I Peter 2:2). The English Standard Version speaks the Word of God to men as they are.

“The church of Jesus Christ must constantly pursue reformation. Any body of believers that is bound by its heritage, however splendid that heritage may be, has already begun the drift to heterodoxy. The church must be being reformed. And the sole basis for such reformation is the Word of God. In the hope that God will again visit His church with renewal and life nurtured by the Scriptures, I applaud every effort to put those Scriptures, in quality vernacular translations, into the hands of men and women everywhere.”  D.A. Carson

Consistency – As much as possible, uses the same English word for recurring original words.

     Paul told Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me” (II Timothy 1:13). The ESV, like the KJV, has consistently preserved the great doctrinal words of our faith like grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, and propitiation.

     Also, the ESV, as much as possible, uses the same English word to translate a recurring Greek or Hebrew word. The King James Version translators, in contrast, use more of a variety of English words for recurring original words. The ESV’s more consistent approach, aids the reader in seeing the words the Holy Spirit chose to repeat and emphasize in a given passage or Book of the Bible.

     Finally, when an Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament, the ESV translators seek to repeat that passage in a similar way that it was translated in the Old Testament. This gives the ESV a remarkable translation consistency.

“Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.” - Preface to the English Standard Version

Beauty – Simplicity and dignity of expression.

     The beauty of the KJV language and expression are acknowledged by all who have read, memorized, taught or preached from it. In fact, that beauty of language is one of the most feared “losses” in changing translations. That brings us to another important reason to appreciate the English Standard Version. The ESV translators sought to continue the King James legacy of beauty of literary expression while at the same time reflecting the word-for-word accuracy of a very formal equivalent translation, The New American Standard. I personally believe the ESV achieved those goals. The clearest way to observe the ESV translators’ efforts to maintain that beauty of the King James is to compare “all-time favorite passages” like Psalm 23, John 3:16, or “the Roman’s Road.” These verses have very little literary changes to them so that memorizing them is almost an exact replication of the King James Version’s quotation.

     It is for these reasons that we will transition to preaching and teaching from the English Standard Version of the Bible this coming Lord’s Day, November 2, 2014. While I will be preaching and teaching from the ESV, we encourage you to continue to enjoy the translation that bests assists you in being a “self-feeder.” Just like we have been opposed to King James Version Onlyism, we are also opposed to English Standard Version Onlyism.

     If you were not able to participate in our ten-week study on this topic, and you still have questions about this transition, I hope you will visit the sermon section of our website and listen to each of the messages. You can also contact me with any questions that you have anytime!

Do not give them a loaf of bread, covered with an inedible, impenetrable crust, fossilized by three and a half centuries. Give them the Word of God as fresh and warm and clear as the Holy Spirit gave it to the authors of the Bible. . . . For any preacher or theologian who loves God’s Word to allow that Word to go on being misunderstood because of the veneration of an archaic, not-understood version of four centuries ago is inexcusable, and almost unconscionable.” - Edwin H. Palmer

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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.