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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Membership Or Ownership?

Church Membership has Rights. Church Ownership has Responsibilities.

Have there been any cases of consumerism that have infected people in your local church? The disease is a silent malignancy in which infected individuals are rarely aware of their sickness.  Consumerism is insisting that everything we are involved in, including our church, be custom-fit to meet our individual needs and tastes. Do you detect the symptoms?  A church music minister encourages the congregation to collectively affirm truth, but he meets resistance by those who only participate in worship that is either traditional or contemporary enough for their “tastes.” Or, spiritual leaders exhort the church to use their spiritual gifts in service and are met with “We just don’t have time.”  A couple desires to be wed in the church, but are unwilling to see the ceremony as a worship service and are completely focused upon the wedding pleasing themselves. But, the unmistakable symptom of consumerism is a failure to make any vital commitment to a local church. Church consumers are in a realm of persistent fluidity and ongoing transition. Like we change our hairdresser, fitness club, pet groomer, or our favorite restaurant, church consumers view their local church as a choice that is always an open-ended question.They are never completely committed. God could "lead them away" at any moment. Church consumers often refer to the church in the second person (“your church,” “your pastors,” “your deacons,” etc.) or, worse, the third person (“that church,” “the church,” “Trinity,” etc.) rather than the first person (“my church,” “my pastors,” “my family,” etc.). Do you suffer from any symptoms of church consumerism? Have you been infecting your spouse and family members? Beware, it’s extremely contagious!

Reseacher George Barna has observed:

“We are a designer society. We want everything customized to fit our personal needs—our clothing, our food, our education. Now it’s our religion.” 

Thankfully, a vaccination is available that has proven completely successful: a Biblical Ecclesiology (doctrine of the church).  One of the ways the Holy Spirit administers this ecclesiastical medicine is through metaphors of the church. The Church is called a body, a building, and a bride, all of which point to the importance and interconnection of each part. A head calls for a body. A foundation calls for a building. A Bridegroom calls for a bride. The bride metaphor speaks of a covenant and of commitment. Perhaps we would do well if we stopped calling “joining” a church as “membership.” Membership, in our time, indicates rights and privileges.  To be a member of something often prompts us to ask, “What do I get?” Like a country club, we begin to look for the perks that membership affords. We become quick to fill out comment cards, and to either cheer or jeer the events and happenings of our club. Perhaps, ownership is a better, more scripturally-informed, title for joining a church rather than membership. As an owner of something, we are committed to the well-being, success, and health of whatever we own. We are vested. It is ours! Membership, then, has rights. Ownership has responsibilities. Here are some of those responsibilities of church 

Rescued People Rescue Others.

The Lord has entrusted every believer with the same Gospel that they are commanded to invest and spread to others (Luke 19:11-27). Owners of the local church are those who share the Gospel. Owners are expected to be “on mission” by seeking to make disciples of all nations. Every owner of Trinity Baptist Church covenants to “seek the salvation of our relatives, acquaintances and all others” (Ephesians 5:8-11; Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 9:3).

Saved People Serve.

Believers are given different spiritual gifts both quantitatively and qualitatively. Yet, every believer is given at least one spiritual gift. Those gifts are meant to be employed, not for one’s own benefit, but for the praise of God and the benefit of others. Owners see themselves as stewards with the resources that God has given to them. A consumer will often only employ their gifts as manipulation if it benefits them. If recognition and appreciation are offered, if the ministry is being managed to their approval, or they are being used in the way they want to be used, they are willing to “serve.” But with those conditions unmet, they bury their talent.

Christians Grow and Change in Community.

Christians are not what they should be. They are not what they want to be. But praise God, they are not what they used to be!  Christians grow. That growth, called sanctification, is a team sport. Sanctification commands in the New Testament are often in the plural, indicating that Christianity is not a solo sport. Consumers often chafe under spiritual leadership, accountability and spiritual pressure.  Distant, non-intrusive Christianity is comfortable for them. Positions on various issues gives them spiritual security; whereas, transparent Christian living makes them uneasy.  Owners recognize that “We are better together!”

Grace Motivates Us To Give.

The grace of God motivates us to give cheerfully, regularly, and sacrificially (II Corinthians 8-9). Owners understand their commitment to give. We covenant together “to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations (II Corinthians 8:14; 9:7; I Thessalonians 5:14; Malachi 3:10; Hebrews 13:7; Galatians 6:6, 10; Luke 10:7).  God has planned to fully resource His church through the grace-motivated giving of His people through their local church. Consumers practice conditional and political giving. Consumers often view their giving not as a commitment but rather a vote of confidence or agreement with the present place of that local church. Owners, 10% of your gross income is a great place to start in grace-giving. From there, let the Lord grow your generosity through His grace.

Will you become an owner of your local church? We call you to a commitment that covenants “to give the church sacred preeminence over all institutions of human origin.”  Will you, like a marriage, fall in love with your church, in spite of her cosmetic defects? Owners share the Gospel with others. Owners use their gifts in service. Owners participate in loving community. Owners generously support their church. Be healed you consumer!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Beyond Dodgeball

Pastor Fuller with Pastors Lamphere & Beaman

“If you look around in your church today, two-thirds of the young people who are sitting among us have already left in their hearts; soon they will be gone for good.”-Already Gone, Ham & Beemer

Alarming stats. The reactions to such a pitiful “success” rate have been varied. Many blame youth ministries because of their almost exclusive emphasis upon entertaining young people. In many cases, such charges are valid.

The only youth ministry that parents can have confidence in is youth ministry that is firmly rooted in the Scriptures. Trinity Baptist student ministries are seeking to be built upon the following Scriptural principles:

We Value Young People Because God Values Them.

Every child is a gift from God; a reward (Psalm 127:3). When the disciples tried to exclude children from coming to Jesus, we are told that Jesus “was indignant” and said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:13-14).

“It is better to build boys and girls than to mend men and women.”

To imitate the value God places upon children, we believe all the children of our church should be individually and intensely focused upon for their spiritual, social, mental, and physical development (Luke 2:52). That spiritual priority is reflected by the budget, calendar, and staff resources that we direct towards our youth ministries at Trinity Baptist Church.

We also believe that we are responsible to protect our young people physically. The physical safety of our young people is an assignment we take very seriously. All of our children’s workers are members of Trinity Baptist Church and must submit to a background check. In addition, we have designated responsible protocols for all of our youth ministries, 0-18.

We Want to Partner with Parents in Their Efforts to Disciple Their Children.

The Scriptures do not mandate the method for academically rearing our children. Daniel attended Babylon Public High School, Samuel attended Temple Christian Academy, and it’s reasonable to assume that Cain and Abel were both home schooled! However, parents are mandated to religiously educate their children (Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7-12). In fact, as members of Trinity Baptist Church, we covenant together to do this by promising, “To maintain family and private devotions” and “To religiously educate our children.” The primary responsibility of making children “disciples” is given to their parents. We acknowledge that principle, and desire to partner with our parents in their God-given task.

We Believe That Age-Divided Ministry is a Biblical Principle and a Vital Tool in Discipling Young People.

Ministry Attitude

The daunting statistics of young people who have grown up in youth ministries, gone to camp every summer, and even served on various mission trips, but have left the church, can be discouraging. The reaction of many has been to pendulum toward a more integrated, patriarchal model. Indeed, many youth ministries have wandered from equipping and discipling young people to simply entertaining them, thereby dumbing-down the Gospel. This has resulted in spiritually anemic young people and some remaining spiritually dead.  However, we see principally in the Scriptures that Scripture was taught on a graduated level that fit “understanding” (Nehemiah 8:3, 8, 12, 13; Hebrews 6:1). Understanding and intelligibility are vital elements to spiritual growth (I Corinthians 14:19). Everyone acknowledges the necessity of a step-by-step, graduated approach to academic training.  We acknowledge the importance of ministry on our children’s spiritual “level” as well. This is the reason for our providing Junior Church, Sunday School, Truth Trackers, G-4 and The CREW.

Ministry Practice

It is not enough to simply say we have a priority to minister on the appropriate level. We must be actively evaluating and implementing an effective program that accomplishes those goals. Every aspect of our various programs has a purposeful discipleship goal. From breaking into smaller groups to discuss the Word, to playing a game to strengthen relationships and generate opportunity to speak truth into their lives, Trinity Baptist Church seeks to use every aspect of each program to make and develop followers of Christ.

We Are Focused Upon Young People Loving God, His Word, and His Gospel.

The greatest command ever given is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). We begin to love God as He reveals Himself through His Word and when our hearts are opened to and treasure the Gospel (Ephesians 3:16-19). We believe that as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, believed, meditated upon, and treasured by our young people, their hearts will explode with love for Christ which will motivate them to love and serve God with all their being (II Corinthians 5:14). We are ready to preach the Gospel to your children(Romans 1:15-16). We pray and long with you for their conversion. The Gospel alone can capture the hearts of our young people. The Gospel alone will hold our young people to still be serving Christ in 20 years. The Gospel alone will keep them from departing from the faith. Our youth ministry then will be vertically focused as we worship God, love His Word, and relish in His Gospel. 

We Want Young People to Love Other Christians by Practicing the “One Another’s.”

The second commandment, or the “next-to-the greatest” commandment given in Matthew 22:39, is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love for others is a primary goal for all of our youth ministries. Children and young people playing together in the nursery, playing a soccer game, or serving together on a mission trip, are all arenas for building Christian character. They are moments for our young people to grow in relationships with other Christians and those still in need of the Gospel. We believe that as our young people spend time together socially, they learn self-denial, deference, and Christ-like humility. Every activity, event, and regular meeting of our youth ministry has a goal of students growing in love for one another.

We Want Young People to Care About the Lost and to Make Disciples.

The mission of the church and every believer is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). We believe equipping your children to be Gospel evangelists is a God-given assignment to pastors (Ephesians 4:12). It is because of this that we will encourage your child or teenager to take full advantage of all their God-given resources and opportunities to share the Gospel through evangelistic relationships.  We are going to equip them to disciple others as well as to be a disciple. “Disciples-making-disciples.”