Friday, June 30, 2006

Are You Spiritually Well?

Well... are you? What does your spiritual well-being depend on? A helpful meditation over at River and Rhett.

Friday Challenge: Faithfulness and Relevance

Lig Duncan, commenting on a statemtent from David Wells, writes over at T4G:

"those who are most relevant to this world are those who are judged most irrelevant." This instructs us that faithfulness is always relevant, even if our contemporaries don't think it is relevant.

Our Friday challenge: As Christians and pastors, are guided more by the opinions of our contemporaries and what they think is relevant or are we faithful to God's word, despising the judgments of men?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Does Baptism Have Anything to Do With Church Membership?

Dr. Mohler has written a helpful commentary on the recent proposals regarding baptism and church membership in Baptist churches. He states:

...baptism has been understood by all major branches of Christianity, throughout the centuries of Christian experience, to be a requirement for church membership and the fellowship of the Lord’s table. Thus, for Baptists to receive into the membership of a Baptist church (or to invite to the Lord’s Supper) any believer who lacks such baptism, is to receive non-baptized persons as if they were baptized.

Any compromise of Baptist conviction concerning the requirement of believer’s baptism by immersion amounts to a redefinition of Baptist identity. More importantly, it raises the most basic questions of ecclesiology. We must give those questions intent attention in these days. Otherwise, will there be any Baptists in the next generation?

Justin Taylor is hosting a conversation in response Mohler's post.

For my part (and I'm definitely no Al Mohler or John Piper), the issue really boils down to three questions.
1. What is baptism?
2. What is the relationship between baptism (as defined in 1) and church membership?
3. What are the appropriate principles upon which to build a "novel" approach to question 2 (assuming one thinks the scripture is unclear on 1 and 2)?

Some of the discussants believe the Scriptures to be unclear or inconclusive on questions 1 and 2. But everywhere we see baptism on the pages of the NT the subjects are professing believers (not infants) by immersion. Even the great commission from our Lord, if we think the ordering of the words have any significance, makes baptism consequent to credible discipleship. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matt. 28:19). If we ask, "what is baptism?" we should arrive at a definition that rules out any rite that occurs before a person demonstrates a credible possession of saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Then the question becomes what relationship does such a view of baptism have with church membership. Certainly the way Paul assumes that the Christians in Rome were already baptized at least suggests that baptism was either a prerequisite for membership or normally conducted early in one's church membership experience (see Rom. 6:3). There doesn't seem to be any NT idea that one could be a member and not have been properly baptized as a repenting, professing believer in Jesus Christ.

But supposing one doesn't buy the brief argument above? On what principles would we form an alternative to the historical Baptist distinctives on this issue? It seems to me that much of this debate is fueled by a somewhat emotional "fairness" appeal. In other words, "since it would be unfair to exclude someone because they hold a different view of baptism, we should change our policy or reconceptualize the relationship between baptism and church membership." If I'm correct that a "fairness" principle is at work here, I'd suggest that it's an insufficient principle for driving the debate. As one who believes the scripture is sufficiently clear on questions 1 and 2 above, the critical principle it seems to me is "faithfulness," not fairness. We're called to be faithful even with the difficult truths of scripture, and we're called to submit to those truths in loving obedience to the Lord. After all, the next clause in the great commission passage reads, "...teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..." (Matt. 28:20).

Christians of genuine faith and strong conviction have historically disagreed over the matter of defining and practicing baptism. I appreciate the new proposals' effort at reaching visible unity across these disagreements, even though a visible unity alone is an insufficient grounds for driving this change. And I appreciate the way Christians are today discussing these issues with charity as well as conviction. I pray that the Lord would use these discussions to purify His bride.

The Greatest Danger to the Church

"the pastors who pose the greatest threat to the church today will all confess belief in the right things. They will say they believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, that Jesus saves, and even that Jesus is the only way of salvation."

Huh? To see how this is true, read more here.

Gabriel Loves the Church

Gabriel Fluhrer at River and Rhett posted a good, brief reflection on why we should delight in the local church. It's good writing, and it reminds us why all who are called Christ-ian should be thankful to the Lord of the Church for the gift of fellowship in His body. But it's not sentimental tripe; it's a challenging call to be the church. Here's exhibit A:

We who belong to churches must put aside the false face of commercial respectability, be vulnerable and do something radically different from po-mo'ism: SERVE one another. As I heard Pastor Mike Campbell say at Twin Lakes this year: "Your Savior washed feet!" Service to one another in love - sounds pretty John 15-ish to me.

That's authentic community. That's what this world needs, but not what it wants. What most people want is more activities, more programs, more buildings, less preaching, less Scripture, more superficial "service opportunities" - in short, anything to drown out the incessant din of the naggings of unsatisfied conscience. It's always easier to sign up for one more thing than have your lost neighbor over for lunch. It's always easier to give that check (and we need more, don't get me wrong!) for foreign missions than to talk to that co-worker about Christ. The Gospel answers all of these needs, and more. Jesus tells us how to be authentic: worship Him only and serve one another in love.

Fluhrer not only puts his finger on the problem, but also points to the solution.

We live in times that are calling out for something real. We've got it. It's called Christianity by the Book, lived out with passion and self-sacrifice. Heed the call to die to self that you might gain real life. Far from being the most service-oriented, community-desiring generation, we live in the most materialistic, selfish, lemming-like age of insipid nonsense - both in the Church and out - so that the only thing that is truly counter-cultural anymore (even punk is now acceptable as a style of jeans!) is TRUE, Biblical Christianity lived out selflessly. And that only happens when blood-washed, Spirit-empowered, self-denying, Christ-exalting redeemed sinners get together and WORSHIP.

And this is why Gabriel Fluhrer loves the church. Take a moment and think... why do you love the church?

Serve another today... post an edifying comment on a favorite blog about why you love the church.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why Pursue a Pure Synagogue?

Even our Orthodox Jewish friends wish to be careful with who they call "Jews". It's staggering that Christian churches, who understand the eternal importance of genuine repentance and faith, would be careless in helping new and old members "test themselves to see whether they are in the faith."

Einstein Filled with the Spirit? New Pentecostalism Meets Science

At the centenary of the Azusa Street revival, which ushered in Pentecostalism, Calvin College is operating a new project that promises to explore the intersections between Pentecostalism and science. The research project assembles scholars from various fields to make contributions that may result in text books for use at interested colleges and universities. Perhaps this is a part of the new Pentecostalism's effort to be "intellectually respectable."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rick Warren & Synagogue 3000... Cont'd

A couple weeks ago, Rick Warren was scheduled to make his first speaking appearance in a Jewish synagogue. We posed the question, "Would Rick Warren's words at that June 16th event earn him the same treatment that Jesus' received when he spoke in Jewish religious settings?" Apparently, the answer is "no."

According to a press release from Religion News Service, Warren and one of the leaders of Synagogue 3000, a movement to revitalize Jewish religious activity, "engaged in dialogue with an audience of several hundred participants about the need to tackle the enormous challenges of poverty, illiteracy, illness, and hunger that plague the world." Sounds a little like the kinds of questions contestants in beauty pageants are normally asked. These aren't small problems, but what about questions of eternal importance? Instead of discussions about inheriting the world to come, Warren and his host discussed how to "cooperate to promote tikkun olam, the betterment of God's world." Isn't this world passing away? Aren't we looking for another?

And the kick in the head.... Warren has decided to follow up this "historic" event with another. He has invited popular Jewish musical artist Craig Taubman to "share songs from the Jewish liturgy as part of the worship service" at Saddleback. Not only did Warren's talk not result in the treatment we might expect for proclaiming clearly that Jesus is the Messiah and all must repent and believe in Him... it was so far from that that several thousand Christians will now participate in a "worship" service where the theological theme is either the Messiah is not yet come or that there is no Messiah.

We must do better. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first....

A Historical Moment Nearly Missed at the SBC Meeting

Al Mohler helpfully reminds us of one historic occurence at this year's SBC meeting in Greensboro... and no, it' s not his discussion with Paige Patterson.

Why Pursue Regenerate Church Membership (Part 3: To Prepare Members for Heaven)

Over the past week we have been considering a number of reasons why local churches and church leaders should be concerned to pursue a membership comprised of Christians giving evidence of true repentance and faith. We've seen that the advantages of pursuing a regenerate chuch membership are many, enhancing the corporate life and witness of the church (part 1) and the joy and fruitfulness of the pastor (part 2).

In this post, we consider how pursuing a church comprised of born again members fosters the holiness of those members. Personal holiness is a call placed on the lives of all God's people. And the pursuit of holiness is aided by fellowship with others of the same mind and spirit.

1. A regenerate church membership helps members awaken to righteousness. The Apostle Paul commands the church at Corinth to "awaken to righteousness and do not sin" (1 Cor. 15:34). Why did Paul issue such a call? Interestingly enough, because he recognizes that there were those in the church that "do not have the knowledge of God." In other words, unregenerate members were causing a kind of spiritual and moral stupor to set in on the church, and this was a matter of "shame" for the church. Working to be sure that those who are members of the church are people with a saving knowledge of God should help to awaken church members to true righteousness in Christ.

2. A regenerate church membership helps members pursue personal holiness. The Lord's high priestly prayer includes a petition that His followers be kept out of or unspotted by the world, sanctified by the word of truth (John 17:14-17). The Lord's prayer is reiterated by apostolic commands to separate from the world (2 Cor. 6:14-17) and to walk in the light of holiness (Eph. 5:7-12). These apostolic instructions and the Lord's prayer are fulfilled in part by the separation between darkness and light that these passages call for, and in part by the way individual church members spur other church members "to put off the old man... and put on the new man" of righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:8-11; Titus 2).

3. A regenerate church membership helps individual members to "shine as lights in the world." That's Paul's goal for calling the Philippians to be "children of God wihtout fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation," that they "shine as lights in the world" among that lost generation (Phil. 2:15). Shining as lights in our generation is our calling as well. The church corporately and individual Christians illumine their surroundings more effectively when unclouded by the poor "witness" of "professing Christians". Being indiscriminate about church membership is aking to hiding our light from the world, placing it under a basket through carelessness or indifference. Rather, we should "let our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

4. A regenerate church membership helps individual members prepare for heaven. I really despise that cliche that says, "Don't be so heavenly minded you're of no earthly good." It's flatly unbiblical; the scriptures instruct us in precisely the opposite way. We're no earthly good unless we're heavenly minded! If a person is raised with Christ, they should seek those things above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. They are to set their minds on heavenly things, not earthly, because their lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-3). But the unregenerate does not have such a life. He can't help but be earthly minded (1 Cor. 2:14). Prayerfully pursuing a regenerate membership should aid in helping everyone to look heavenward, to prepare for the coming of the Lord, to anticipate individually and collectively seeing our Great God and Savior face to face. How often have we been distracted from this blessed hope because heaven has not been our focus? How often have we given ourselves over to petty temporal, earthly matters instead of engaging in warfare and refusing to be entangled with the affairs of this world (2 Tim. 2:4)? How often have we failed to progress in holiness because we have not kept before us the hope of seeing him and being like Him (1 John 3:2,3)? May we be better fitted for heaven through an increasingly pure church.

5. A regenerate church membership better prepares individual Christians for suffering. The apostle Peter tells us that the consequence of doing good and living a holy life is sometimes suffering. To suffering we were called because "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps..." (1 Peter 2:20-25). Perhaps the weakest aspect of the church today is its unwillingness to suffer, its desire to avoid suffering at all costs and to justify it with a false gospel of health and wealth. Peter says, "to this (suffering for doing good) you were called" (1 Pet. 2:21a). Removing the leaven from our Christian lives likely increases the odds of suffering. But removing the leaven is part of what prepares us for suffering as we "commit our sould to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (1 Pet. 5:19).

We should desire a regenerate church membership because it will help individual Christians to prosper in holiness, to shine as lights in a dark world, to endure hardship and suffering like a good soldier, and to long and look for heaven with a pure heart. When a significant proportion of our members are unexamined for a saving knowledge and experience of the gospel, many of our flock will have their lights dimmed, their gaze lowered, and their hearts attached to this world. For the blessing of individual members, let's pursue a regenerate church.

Friday, June 23, 2006

So What Does It Mean to Be "Regenerate" Anyway?

Recently, we've been considering the question, "Why pursue regenerate church membership?" (Part 1 and Part 2) To this point, we've been assuming that most readers understand what we mean by "regenerate." For those wanting a good primer, see the following article.

Friday Challenge: M'Cheyne on Church Discipline

Yesterday Tom Ascol posted the following encouraging Robert Murray M'Cheyne quote on church discipline. Given the general state of disrepair re: church discipline and our current series on recovering a regenerate church membership, M'Cheyne's quote makes for a good Friday Challenge. How does it challenge your thinking about your pastoral ministry and/or your membership in the local church?
When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline. I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach. I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labour in word and doctrine. When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence. It was a duty I shrank from; and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether. But it pleased God, who teaches his servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God--that two keys are committed to us by Christ, the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible, the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith. Both are Christ's gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.
From Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne by Andrew Bonar, pp. 104-5.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The next time I'm asked what it means to be "Reformed"...

The next time you get that very puzzled or impatient, frustrated look when you tell someone you're "Reformed" theologically, remember this helpful definition and discussion from Tim Challies. It's worth the read, and worth using as a primer with folks who aren't quite clear on such categories.

Why Pursue Regenerate Church Membership? (Part 2: For the Sake of the Pastor)

Yesterday we began a series of posts examining the question, "Why pursue a regenerate church membership?" In yesterday's post, we considered the benefits of seeking regenerate church membership to the life and health of the local church. Today, we consider the advantages of a regenerate church membership for the person and work of the pastor. How does prayerfully and patiently working to ensure that the members of your local church are Christians (to the best of your ability) contribute to a healthier pastoral ministry and experience?

1. A regenerate church membership helps the pastor in his accounting before God. Pastors are those who must give an account before God for their stewardship of the souls entrusted to their care. The biblical aim is to create a context and climate where they can take on that awesome task with joy that profits the congregation (Heb. 13:17). We want pastors to conclude with Paul that their congregations are "their boast in the day of the Lord" (2 Cor. 1:13,14), "to very gladly spend and be spent for their souls" (2 Cor. 12:15a). Removing or preventing unregenerate persons from membership clarifies who the pastor is to watch over and who it is God will call him to account for on that day.

2. A regenerate church membership increases the affection shared between a pastor and the congregation. Consider Paul's longing and love for the congregations he established! To that troubled church in Corinth he wrote: "You are our epistle written in our hearts..." (2 Cor. 3:2); "O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open" (2 Cor. 6:11); "Open your hearts to us... for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together" (2 Cor. 7:2,3). He penned these words to a church apparently filled with carnal members, unregenerate persons. These appeals coincide with the letter's exhortations to turn from worldliness and live as people born again by the Spirit of God. Regenerate membership goes hand in hand with mutual affection between a pastor and a congregation.

To the Thessalonians the apostle wrote, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and our joy" (1 Thes. 2:19,20). Pray that every pastor would boast in his congregation, find joy in the ministry, and an increasing mutual affection with those entrusted to his care for the glory of God. And pray that the path to such blessing would at least in part be cleared through a regenerate church membership.

3. A regenerate church membership protects the congregation and the pastorate from false teachers and teachings. Surely false teachers are among the people of God today, creeping in with perverse Christ-denying doctrines and blemishing the love feasts of the redeemed (Jude 4, 12; 1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Cor. 11:3,4; Eph. 4:14; Phil. 3:18,19; 1 Tim. 1:5-7). Guarding the doctrine of the church is ultimately a congregational responsibility. It is the congregation that is to "withdraw" from false teachers (1 Tim. 6:3-5) and pronounce anathema on those teaching "another gospel," even if it comes from an apostle (Gal. 1:8,9). The congregation must be prepared to defend the gospel and the teachings of the Word, but to do that effectively it must be comprised of born-again members whose minds are captured by Jesus and the truth of His word.

4. Given all the above, a regenerate church membership should help with the widespread problem of pastor fatigue and burnout. Members who understand gospel priorities, who love from a sincere heart, have been given a new heart, who think with the mind of Christ, who appreciate the eternal labors of shepherds are members who pray and work to make pastoral ministry a joy, rendering to their overseers the kind of honor and affection they are due (1 Tim. 5:17-21).

May the pastorate be made a place of great blessing for both the men who serve as pastors and their congregations through an increasingly pure church membership! Next time, Lord willing, the benefits of regenerate church membership to members of the congregation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why Pursue Regenerate Church Membership (Part 1: For a Better Corporate Life)

Last Friday (June 16th) we ended the week with a challenge to reflect on the failed SBC proposal "Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership." At the heart of the proposal was a call for churches to reestablish the practice of church discipline. In large part, the aim of better membership reporting and of practicing church discipline is to make sure, to the best of human ability, that the membership of a local church is comprised of regenerate or "born again" individuals.

But in this world of pragmatism with its emphasis on visible "success," the question might be asked: why should local churches pursue a regenerate church membership? Doesn't an attempt at accurate church rolls (read smaller numbers) and church discipline inevitably mean a less successful (read smaller) church?

In this series of postings, I want to offer a number of reasons why local churches should work to have their membership be comprised of regenerate, active Christians. Today's reasons focus on benefits to the local church, to the corporate life of Christians.

1. A regenerate church membership promotes unity in the church. When a significant proportion of a church's membership is made up of carnal or unregenerate persons, factions, cliques, disputes and strife are bound to result (1 Cor. 3:1-4). Moreover, a threat to church unity grounded in gospel truth is nothing less than a threat to the integrity of the gospel message itself (John 17:17, 19-21). Preventing unregenerate members from entering the number will strengthen the unity of the church and strengthen the church's evangelism.

2. A regenerate church membership protects the reputation of the local church. The members of a local church should desire a testimony of "simplicity and godly sincerity" (2 Cor. 1:12). Our conduct should put to shame those opponents with evil intent toward the church (Tit. 2:7,8). However, the conduct of non-regenerate persons puts the testimony of the local church in jeopardy with the unbelieving, unchurched world.

3. A regenerate church membership advances the work of the local church. When the people of God are pure from vessels of "wood and clay" made for dishonor, then the remaining vessels are "for honor, sancitified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21). "Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works" (Titus :8). The people of God are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10) and the local church is to equip them for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). But the unregenerate will either be hindrances to the work of the church, poor imitators of that work, or workers who do good things but obscure the truth and power of the gospel with non-gospel-centered motives. How many of us have had first-hand experience of this at some carnal, conflict-filled member's meeting?

4. A regenerate membership spreads love in the congregation. The love with which the Father loved the Son is to be in the followers of Jesus (John 17:26). This love is the new commandment and a sign of genuine discipleship (John 13:34, 35). Members of the church are to love one another as Christ has loved us, laying down our lives for each other (John 15:12, 13; Eph. 5:2). This love is supernatural. If we would have churches that are not just friendly after services but truly marked by a God-like love, then we must have churches with members born from above, regenerated by God's Spirit.

5. A regenerate membership causes the church to grow in the proper way. The main purpose of the public church gathering is the edification of the church (1 Cor. 14:26). The main purpose of spiritual gifting is the edification of the church (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12). The church is to be built up into spiritual maturity and strength. Edifying the body is made more difficult when a church takes into membership persons who may not be regenerate. Significant amounts of time will be given over to problems and concerns stemming from that portion of the membership whose self-interest trumps the collective interest of a mature and growing church.

6. A regenerate membership submits to the word of God. The life of the local church is immeasurably improved when its members submit themselves to word of God. Such submission provides the basis for unity, mission, conduct, and doctrine. The spiritually-minded are to acknowledge and receive the Scriptures as commandments from the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thes. 2:13). But discerning spiritual things in this way is not possible for the "natural" or unregenerate person (1 Cor. 2:14). And those who do not obey the Scriptures are to be marked and avoided (2 Thes. 3:14). When we prayerfully identify and avoid those who rebel against the word of God--those who are likely not to be regenerate--the local church is aided in her submission to her Head, Christ Jesus the Lord.

These are just some of the benefits of prayerfully, patiently, lovingly, and discerningly working for a local church membership comprised of people professinig and evidencing regeneration through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In future posts we'll consider benefits to pastors, individual members, and persons excluded from membership. Until then, let's pray that the Lord would be giving His under-shepherds wisdom as they tend to the flock of God among them.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Role of Women in the Church... Again

Andreas Kostenberger has written an excellent treatment of 1 Timothy 2:12. It's well worth the read. Justin Taylor interacts well with Kostenberger's article. Good reading on the role of women in the church.

Monday, June 19, 2006

To be relevant, or to be faithful? Is that the question?

My dear brother and co-laborer in the gospel, Mark Dever, offers some challenging reflections on the intriguing relationships between relevance and gospel orthodoxy and the strange bedfellows that often arise when we choose to either be faithful and clear with the gospel... or to assume the gospel and pursue culture-piercing relevance.

Resources for Christian Worship

Perhaps the most active post on this upstart blog has been "Strange Fire? Hip Hop Gospel." And perhaps that has drawn some attention because it strikes at a fundamental question: How does God desire and deserve to be worshipped?

This weekend I found a couple of helpful resources for folks interested in thinking further about that question. You might check out the lecture series over at the Institute for Christian Worship for some challenging insights. And for you blogophiles, check out my friend Bob Kauflin's blog on worship and more. You might also enjoy perusing on worship by Don Whitney, and the musings of the brothers over at Doxologue. May Christian worship be distinctive and God-exalting in its all-of-life submitted to God through faith-filled following of Jesus Christ emphasis

Friday, June 16, 2006

Mohler on Larry King Live

Our friend Justin Taylor has posted a transcript of last night's episode of Larry King Live, where Al Mohler joined several other panelists to discuss the ordination of homosexuals in the Episcopal church. Tim Challies has offered good commentary on the event as well. Check them out, and praise God for Dr. Mohler's faithfulness in holding out the gospel and the authority of scripture in matters of faith and conduct!

Friday's Challenge: A Sad Blow to the Pure Church

Of the many highlights of the SBC Convention in Greensboro this week, perhaps one of the saddest was the failure of the Convention to consider the proposed Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership offered by Tom Ascol. The resolution essentially proposed a further step in church reform by calling Southern Baptist churches to keep accurate membership rolls by removing the roughly 50% of the non-attending 16 million+ that are reported by the Convention, and by urging them to return to faithful practice of church discipline.

Ascol has offered some helpful reflections for those reform-minded among us. The resolution should be a no-brainer to folks who want a church comprised of regenerate, gospel-loving, service-attending, life-sharing, evagelistic, God-glorifying, sold-out followers of Jesus Christ. But sadly, only some 25-40% of the messengers at the Convention voted in favor of hearing the resolution.

Here's the Friday challenge... despite the decision at the convention, will all who love the Lord's bride work for her purity by faithfully praying for and bringing reform to the membership practices of our local churches for the Glory of God? Below is the proposed resolution from Ascol. Read it and let me know what you think...

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Thomas Ascol

Whereas this 148th annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention marks the 26th anniversary of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention; and

Whereas at the heart of this resurgence has been a determination to return to an unashamed commitment to the inerrancy and infallibilty of the Bible as the written Word of God; and

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas the inerrant, infallible Word of God instructs us not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16), but to put away lying and to speak truthfully to his neighbor (Ephesians 4:25); and

Whereas in 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicated that there are 16,267,494 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas well over one half of those members never attend or participate meaningfully in the life of any local Southern Baptist church and are thus no different than non-members; and
Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord̢۪s teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior̢۪s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Indeed! Brian Thornton at Challies.com has a good review of John Frame's recent introduction to systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord. Good read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rick Warren and Synagogue 3000

Pastor Rick Warren is scheduled to speak at a June 16th event sponsored by a group called Synagogue 3000 (S3K). The group's press release says that they exist "to revitalize synagogue life across the country." Warren spoke to the group in 2005, but this time he will be speaking for the first time in a Jewish synagogue at an event called Friday Night Live. Here's the group's description of the Shabbat service:

Friday Night Live (http://www.sinaitemple.org/religious/FNL.php) is a unique monthly Shabbat service designed for ages 25-40 that combines live music with spirituality and insightful commentary, with the spiritual leadership of Rabbi David Wolpe and the music of Craig Taubman. FNL attracts over 1500 Jews from the Los Angeles area and beyond. Following services, Sinai Temple is transformed into a Friday night hot spot with opportunities to meet new people, engage in stimulating discussion with a featured speaker, dance, groove to a live band or just schmooze with other young professionals.

I wonder if Warren's talk in the synagogue will earn him the same treatment Jesus received for his talks in synagogues? Or will only produce some good ol' purpose-driven schmoozing?

I wonder if Warren will tell his audience that the key to revitalizing synagogue life across the country is to repent and trust in the Messiah, Yeshua?

What do you think?

Effectual Calling

Several readers posted questions in response to Dr. Patterson's comments on effectual calling during his discussion with Dr. Al Mohler. Dr. Patterson's comments seemed to confuse effectual calling with human initiative. Below are a few statements on effectual calling. I pray they are of help.

Frances Turretin
Charles Spurgeon
R.C. Sproul
Robert Shaw


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Live Blogging the SBC

A couple of brothers at Thoughts and Adventures are live blogging the SBC. Check them out for up to the minute summaries and reflections.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Rumble in the Jungle…. The Thriller in Manilla… and the Battle in the ‘boro: Mohler vs. Patterson

I'm at the Southern Baptist Convention this week, where two titans in the SBC engaged in some friendly intra-Christian sparring over soteriology. Paige Patterson, leader of the grassroots resurgence that moved the Southern Baptist Convention to conservative theological grounding over two decades ago, discussed with Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the doctrine of election.

Anticipation hung in the air. The glitterati and the paparazzi all turned out. A historic event occurred at the Southern Baptist pastors’ conference. Two of the Southern Baptist Convention’s greatest theological pugilists accepted a three round bout for the title of election.

What follows is a rough transcript I banged out during the session. I pray it is an encouragement to all in the great work of the gospel.

Round 1: Patterson

The real question is whether or not you’re here on your own free will. Disagreements are inevitable. I know that many have billed this as a debate, but this is not a debate. As I understand it, I have a two-fold assignment: (1) to demonstrate how my particular view of election aids with evangelism and missions, and (2) to show how it is that two folks with such disagreements can get along with each other. Appreciate Mohler’s courage. With pain and agonly from eye surgery he is here and sharing.

What is it that I appreciate about most Calvinists? And I underscore the word “most.”
1. They usually lead pious lives.
2. They understand that theology is crucially important, unlike a lot of others.
3. Until recently, almost all Calvinists were very clear about the dangers of the Charismatic movement.
4. They understand that the purpose of everything is to glorify God.
5. They never err on inerrancy.
6. They are crystal clear that salvation is by grace alone.

However, what concerns me about some Calvinists is a certain logic. Some Calvinists seem to think that:
1. If you are not a Calvinist you must be an Arminian. Actually, I’m neither. Is does not logically follow that if you are not a Calvinist then you must necessarly be an Arminian.
2. If you are not a Calvinist then you do not accept the doctrines of grace. I believe in the doctrine of grace… that salvation is by grace alone.
3. If you are not a Calvinist then you do not believe in the sovereignty of God. I do believe in the sovereignty of God and that God is sovereign enough that He can make a man totally free and at the same time not jeopardize his sovereignty.
4. Also, I am unable to appreciate antinomian tendencies in some Calvinists.
5. And I am concerned about a person not being completely forthright before any pulpit committees. I have this concern about dispensationalists as well. There ought to be absolutely full disclosure about what you believe and what you plan to if you were to take the leadership of a church.
6. There is a kind of compassionlessness about the lost world that appears among some Calvinists. This is not true of all Calvinists. There is a strong mandate to preach the gospel within the system of Calvinists. But a compassionlessness often develops in some.

Why I am not a “Dordtian” Calvinist. The Canon of Dordt is one statement I cannot accept.
I cannot find in the biblical witness any statement that supports irresistible grace. It makes salvation coercive. If irresistible grace is true then a person cannot choose what he/she will do.
1. The biblical case for universal atonement is entirely too compelling in my estimation. I find very compelling the idea that Christ died for all men presented repeatedly on the pages of scripture.
2. There are two precise statements that link the doctrine of election with the foreknowledge of God.
3. I desire to see a God who is a God of justice and goodness. It seems to me that Calvinism does not maintain this view of God. R.C. Sproul writes, “God desired man to fall into sin. God created sin.” I cannot endorse a statement like that at all. It makes God the author of sin and puts people into the position of condemnation. He created people for no other purpose than to damn them. It is impossible to find justice in that in any way at all.
4. I believe that too often Calvinism ends up being the death knell for evangelism in many people.
5. I cannot subscribe to Calvinism because I am a Baptist. As Richard Muller in his article, “How many points?” (1993 Calvin Journal), points out, Calvinism is a system and Baptists are inconsistent for not buying into the entire system of Calvinism including church-state relations and infant baptism. If I say I’m a Calvinist I cannot help to take part in Calvin’s positions.
6. And I can not agree with many of the statements made by John Calvin. Like, “Scripture clearly proves that God by his eternal immutable counsel determines once for all by his pleasure those who will be admitted to salvation and those that will eternally see condemnation.”

How does the way I look at salvation and election assist us in understanding evangelism and missions.

1. I believe it is God’s will that every human being be saved. I don’t believe all will be saved. I believe that straight is the way, and narrow is the gate, and there be few that find it. But, it’s not God’s will that any should perish (1 Tim. 2:3-6; also 2 Pet. 3:9). I appreciate the article by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Ken Keithly (sp?), “Salvation and the sovereignty of God,” where he argues that in Calvinism one has to posit two wills of God: a revealed will and the secret will of God. It is better, Keithly argues, to speak of an antecedent will and a consequent will—an antecedent will that wills all to be saved and a consequent will that allows people to be saved.

2. I believe the death of Christ is an atonement for the entire human race. Is. 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” The first “all” must mean the same thing as the second “all.” If all have sinned, then the atonement was for “all.” (quoted John 1:29; Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:2). To me the references to the universality of the atonement are absolutely overwhelming.

Conclusion
I believe the bible teaches that humans can resist God and his overtures. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matt. 23:37; Quoted also John 4:10).

It is my conviction that as an evangelist of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is far above every other calling I have, I believe that the statement is placed upon us heavily in scripture that we are to persuade men. Paul stood in the synagogues every Sabbath to persuade men (Acts). “I become all things to all men so that by all means I might win some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Human agency is involved in persuading men to come to Christ. “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

Ladies and gentlemen, one day I am going to stand before the judgment of seat of Christ. When I stand there, one of two things is going to happen. Either my Lord will look at me and say, “Paige, you just about exhausted yourself going everywhere telling men that I died for them. You told them to come to Christ even though some would not come. Paige you done all that while telling them that my atonement was limited. Paige you shouldn’t have done that. You were wrong to tell them that.” I suppose that’s possible. But even so, he will smile at me and say, “I am thankful you worked to get the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

Or he may say, “Paige you didn’t believe in Calvinism, but you traveled to the ends of the earth. Well done thy good and faithful servant.” My fervent prayer is that whatever your position you will join me in taking the gospel to the ends of the world

Round 2: Mohler

The genus of this (discussion) is in a friendship that is stronger than mere personal affection. It is a friendship in the gospel. I hope that is what characterizes us as Southern Baptists. A friendship that transcends everything.

What in the world is the doctrine of election? It is God’s gracious purpose to save sinners through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

I’m thankful this morning we’re here to talk theology. This is good and healthy. It is a sign of maturity. We may be the last people alive who can have a disagreement. If we can no longer talk theology we’re soon to taste the dust of death. I’m so thankful we’re talking theology because it recognizes the significant and sovereign work of God that gave this denomination a second chance. If it wasn’t for the conservative resurgence we may be here considering some resolution on homosexuality.

As a young student, one of the seminal moments in my life was hearing a debate where Dr. Patterson defended the atonement. He wasn’t like very much on Southern’s campus in those days. But, I heard the heart and mind of a theologian who defended the substitutionary nature of the cross for the glory of God—sinners by grace through faith may be acquitted.

We’re talking theology because we’re a gospel people. If we’re a gospel people we must talk about what the gospel is. If we’re going to talk about what the gospel is then we must also talk about what the gospel isn’t. As you know, there are false gospels all around us.

I’m a Calvinist. But I’m not here to wear that label. I am a Calvinist. Dr. Patterson said he is not a Dordtian Calvinist. And in one sense, neither am I.

For example, regarding irresistible grace, I do not believe that a person can be drawn to Christ against his will. The Bible is very clear that people do resist God. But once the grace of God begins in a person, it will be carried on to the end. The will of God works in a person such they begin to will what God wills.

We all in one sense believe in limited atonement; there are no universalists here. Reading the scripture we must come to wrestle with the fact that God is a choosing God. He chose Israel, he chose sinners.

This is a conversation among close friends. This has happened before in the history of the church – John Wesley and George Whitfield. Their relationship was sometimes rocky over their theological differences but they labored together in the gospel. Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody were good friends even though they would have differed on some of these issues. And they cooperated in evangelism, with Moody preaching in Spurgeon’s pulpit.

We share a number of affirmations. We affirm the inerrancy of scripture. It is no accident that there are no great Arminian affirmations of the inerrancy of scripture. We believe in the inspiration of scripture. We believe that the will of God was to conform the will of men to His will in setting down in scripture His word.

We affirm substitutionary atonement. The logic of substitutionary atonement fits only within the umbrella of the Calvinist scheme. The entire worldview where substitutionary atonement makes sense in a worldview where the sovereignty and lordship of God fits.
We both believe in the unconditional omniscience of God. No limited theism. All of us insofar as we believe the Baptist Faith and Message and more importantly scripture means that in the very least God created this world knowing who would come to faith in Jesus Christ. All of us believe at least that. Some of us believe more than that but none of us less than that.

We share a belief that once the work of salvation is accomplished in the life of the sinner, and the sinner is transformed by the work of God, he cannot fall away. We do not believe that the human will works in such a way that it can will itself to be saved, will itself to be unsaved, to be saved again, and so on. We are not Nazarenes.

And we share a common history. We stand here as part of a great Baptist movement and evangelical movement that believed in world missions an evangelism and cooperation. This is a more recent history that is part of a stream that has brought us to this place.

What binds us together in these affirmations is the well-meant offer of the gospel. If anyone denies that well-meant offer of the gospel let him be anathema. There is the danger of hyper-Calvininsts. There is the danger of Calvinists who are hyperactive. There is the danger of the hyper-Calvinist. If someone claiming to be a Calvinist says, “therefore we should not present the gospel to all people,” they are in direct contradiction to the Bible and to Calvinists. And, not surprisingly, such folks belong to small churches. They don’t reproduce.

If you ever find a vibrant hyper-Calvinist movementt you’ve just found an oxymoron.

Problem in Calvinism: There is a tendency toward a debating personality or a confrontation on these different points of theology. It’s healthy to study God’s word to find out what the gospel is. It is not healthy when a person would drive across the state to debate Calvinism, but won’t drive across the street to share the gospel.

I do not believe there is any person who would respond to the Lord Jesus Christ and would be denied. I believe emphatically that “whosoever will” of scripture, but I also believe that it’s not just a potentiality but an actuality, the “whosoever will” do.

For whom did Christ die? Christ did in one sense die for all, but not all are saved. When we’re talking about God’s sovereignty, we’re also talking about God’s sovereignty taking place in space-time history. There were people who lived and died before the incarnation of Jesus Christ. We will never be able to come up with something that meets the secular or liberal notion of fairness when it comes to when people are born or where they died or lived. None of us can take credit for our proximity to the gospel. But it is our responsibility to take the gospel to others.

Two Impossible Persons
I’ve said it before, there are two impossible persons. The person who doesn’t wish to respond but is drawn to Christ against his will, and those who wish to respond but can’t.

If we’re going to wrestle with election, we have to come to terms with Romans 8, 9, and 10… and by the way they are in the Bible in that order. I do believe there is resistible preaching… because by the way there are a lot of preachers who resist Rom. 9. Where God has the right to create vessels for wrath. Then in Romans 10 you have symphonic resonation… call… preach… sent… faith by hearing.

I want to follow the model of the Apostle Paul of persuading men. Persuading though can be taken too far and become an effort to manipulate. The means of persuading given in the word of God is preaching the gospel. Only God himself can effectually bring about the effectual call of God. And we really do know this. When we send out evangelistic teams we don’t say “Good luck.” We pray that God would open eyes and open hearts. We all pray like Calvinists.

How does Calvinism help us in evangelism?

The doctrine of election gives us confidence knowing that God does call sinners to repent and believe. We don’t have the ability to read the human heart. We just know there are sinners who need to hear the gospel, thus we preach the gospel to all persons knowing that God does save.

We know that God’s glory is in the gladness of the nations in coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ. And thus the nations rejoice. Eagerly, freely, joyfully preach the gospel. Preach the gospel in obedience to Christ and do so knowing that God saves sinners.

Round 3: Q&A

Please demonstrate one example from the Old or New Testament where someone came to the Father or the Son without first being called, instead of coming on his or her own supposed free will. Conversely, can you demonstrate anyone having come on their free will and not being destroyed or castigated in response?

Patterson: No one comes to God without the effectual calling of God. The calling of God is made to all men, and then men must decide whether they will come or not.

Mohler: It’s a false antithesis. I do not believe the sinner’s will is contravened by God. The Lord’s will as the initiating will wills the human will to will what is the Father’s will. I’m resistant to the word “free will” because there are a lot of ways our wills are not free. We are not free to not sin. However, choosing is real.

Can we historically argue that Southern Baptist 5-point Calvinists are a detriment to the church’s fulfillment of the great commission?

Mohler: No.

Patterson: I’d caution my non-Calvinist brethren from concluding that the doctrines of Calvinism mean that our Calvinist friends can not or will not be evangelistic. It is not necessarily inherent in the system and therefore a detriment to evangelism. But a person can be lead to become one of those persons Dr. Mohler mentioned who will drive across the state to debate Calvinism but won’t drive across to street to share the gospel.

Dr. Patterson do you believe there is a difference between hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism?

Patterson: In the early days of the conservative movement in Southern Baptist life, a lot of us were said to be :ultra-conservative.” Well by definition an ultra-conservative is a person more conservative than I am. I think that the same thing is true of Calvinists. But I don’t like name-calling like “hyper-Calvinist”. I think we ought to first ask a hyper-Calvinist what he believes, and then see how that affects his evangelism.

Mohler: Hyper-Calvinism is a technical term that refers to those who subscribe to the system of Calvinism but would deny the well-meant offer of the gospel. There are those out there now, but you have to work to find them because they don’t reproduce.

Do you feel that Calvin would be a five-pointer today? Did he follow the steps of TULIP? Or did his followers overstep their bounds?

Mohler: That’s an anachronism. That’s the kind of question that historians don’t like. I mean… would Calvin have voted for Reagan? You just can’t say. A lot of what we call Calvinism, particularly as defined in his Institutes, appears rather linked. It begins with an explication of the knowledge of God, and of the glory of God. You get to the other issues only after Calvin has given 100s of pages to these majestic themes.

I feel no accountability to John Calvin. I’m a Baptist. I’m indebted to Calvin. But I’m accountable to the word of God and the gospel of Christ. I’m a systematic theologian, in the name of Jesus Christ, not John Calvin.

How might a modern Calvinist harmonize predestination with the parable of the sower and the seed, especially the commentary of Jesus on the types of soil? How would the non-Calvinist differ in his view?

Patterson: I’n not sure how to understand the question. But it seems to me that the parable describes how people will respond to the word of God and the gospel. There will be people whose hearts appear to flower with the gospel but they will grow up and have the word choked out of their hearts. It’s unfortunate that we baptize them at 5 or 6 years of age. And they grow up and walk away from the faith. Such persons were not saved to begin with. Our Lord told us exactly what would happen when we present the gospel

Mohler: For those who were looking for controversy, here it is…. Let me encourage you to promiscuity. That’s the way this text was referenced historically. This text encourages us to the promiscuous preaching of the gospel. We are to preach the gospel to all persons… freely… eagerly to all persons. The sower in this parable was not strategically taking market studies to find out where to preach the gospel. We are friends in this way. We understand the parable in the same way. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to be surprised. That’s why in John 6 we have the 2 universal statements; no man comes to me unless the Father draws him” and “of all that come to me none will be lost.”

How can the two viewpoints live together and work together as we continue to try and reach our world for Christ?

Patterson: Let me say that Dr. Mohler was a pivotal answer to prayer. God raised Al Mohler up. Because of the very way he enunciated the gospel today, the fact that he is a consistent witness for Christ, and believes that he should take the gospel everywhere, that cements us together. Though we differ in some details, I thank God for anyone who will be a faithful witness and consistent evangelist the way he is.

Mohler: It was 20 years ago when I first met Dr. Patterson on Southern’s campus. To know him is to know his passion for the Lord Jesus Christ. I could speak far beyond the time I have about my love and respect for him. But I tell you supremely what my confidence is in paige Patterson—it is that when he speaks to someone he will give them an unalloyed truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. And that he will continue to preach the gospel without respect to whether there is any immediate, visible fruit or not.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday Challenge for the Church

Today begins what I hope will be a regular feature of PureChurch, Friday Challenge. Here I want to take a quote or question from a key figure or incident in church history and leave it in the blogosphere for us all to ponder over the weekend. The inaugural Friday Challenge comes from a hero in the faith for me, Dr. Frances J. Grimke, who served as pastor of 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. ... get this!... for 55 faithful years! Dr. Grimke studied at Princeton College under Charles Hodge from 1875-1878, one of few African-Americans to do so up to that time. The following quote is taken from a sermon entitled "Christianity and Race Prejudice" preached June 5, 1910. How it continues to challenge the church even today! Read it... reflect on it... allow it to question and search you... then let me know what you think. Is Grimke's analysis in 1910 still pressing today?

I raise the question, and it is a question which the church itself ought to consider, Is it occupying the position which it ought to occupy in this matter? Is it standing where it ought to stand? Is it standing where Jesus Christ would have it stand? In other words, is its present attitude on the race question, right or wrong? To this question, in the light of what Christianity is, in the light of what Jesus Christ is, in spirit, in temper, in all that he said and did, there can be but one answer, a negative one. Its attitude is not what it ought to be; it is not standing where it ought to stand. It is recreant to its great trust, as the light of the world; the light within it, on this point, is darkness, is misleading.

One of two things therefore the church ought to do: (1.) It ought to disavow any connection whatever with Christianity, to repudiate it, to give it up entirely, to break absolutely with it, to say frankly: I believe in race prejudice, in these discriminations, I don’t want to worship with colored people, I don’t want to live on the same street with them; I don’t think they are entitled to the same treatment as white people are entitled to; I am not willing to receive them as brothers religiously or otherwise. At the same time I know that Christianity teaches the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man, teaches that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, that we should do by others as we would be done by; I know that race prejudice is not in accordance with the spirit of Jesus Christ. I am not going to give up race prejudice, however; I am not going to treat these people differently. If I can’t hold on to race prejudice, and also to Christianity at the same time, I will give up Christianity; I will not live a lie; I will not misrepresent it by continuing my connection with it. American Christianity is in honor bound to take that position, to cease to call itself Christian. Or,

(2.) It ought to repent; it ought to do differently; it ought to strive to bring its actual life in harmony with the great principles which it professes to accept, to believe in. There is need today for some John the Baptist to go out all over this land, in all of the white churches, among the millions of professing Christians in them, and cry aloud—Repent, repent, cease to be ruled by race prejudice, to make race, color, the condition of entrance into your religious activities, your organizations and gatherings, cease this anti-Christian race feeling, and let brotherly love prevail. “Let the wicked man forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thought” (Isaiah 55:7), is what God says; and that has reference to the man within the church as well as the man without it. If race prejudice is wrong, then the church must forsake it, must give it up. There is no option left to it. It must repent, it must do differently; it must change its course, if it is to remain Christian.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More on Men and the Church

Reformed Blacks of America co-founder Xavier Pickett is sharing reflections on the Washington Post's feature series on black men in America. Xavier contends that it is the church's responsibility to define black manhood at this time of progress and peril.

What do you think is the church's role in defining manhood and, for that matter, womanhood? Is this a serious issue for our time and for the health of the church?

Men, Women, Leadership & the Church

The brothers at T4G are carrying on a timely and edifying conversation about the role of men and women in the church and the home.

Mark Dever contends that a generational divide exists, with younger men seeing the centrality and critical nature of complementarity for the family and the church.

Lig Duncan adds a thorough analysis of the theological implications of the egalitarian position for our understanding of Scripture.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Strange Fire? Hip Hop Gospel

I was intrigued with a recent story in the Charleston Post and Courier entitled "Hip Hop Gospel." The article covers recent moves in some churches to include "hip hop gospel" selections in their services in an effort to reach young people. The article even opens with one vignette where high schoolers who sing in a church's traditional choir have added to their routines a dance move called "the motorcycle" popularized by an Atlanta rapper.

The question is, "Is this appropriate and God-glorifying for public gatherings of the church?" As far as listening pleasure and personal consumption are concerned, I'm a big fan of Timothy Brindle, Shai Linne, and some others. Outreach is one thing, but should this be included in the services of the church, the public gathering of Christians?

The arguments for this trend are all the same: "We've got to reach out to youth with a style they understand." "The church needs to be brought into this century." "Paul became all things to all people." "It's really about the message."

What is often missing in those refrains is the fact that very often the method and the message are more synonymous than one might first recognize. The desire to reach people is worthy and good -- it's the great commission. But the "hip hop gospel" method (and many others) assumes that we must reach them by entertaining them. Consequently, the world is filled with churches that expend inordinate time, money, and talent in creating an "exciting" and "entertaining" experience for weekly attenders whose knowlege of God remains shallow and man-centered.

Postman is still prophetic... we're amusing ourselves to death. Only now, we're being lead by the secular tastes of our children rather than leading our children by doing the God-centered work of Deut. 6:1-9. Does anyone think it absurd that pubescent posing, posturing, and play define how we worship the supreme Lord of the universe? Doesn't anyone remember that offering strange fire has deadly consequences? Inevitably, whenever there is this kind of mingling of God's people with the world, it is the church that is corrupted (Haggai 2:11-14).

What we need is to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And to do that, we must have our worship regulated by the Word of God. What we sing, pray, and preach must be governed by the Scriptures. We should do those things warranted in the Bible and refuse to do those things prohibited in the Bible. After all, our task is not to be "attractive" but to be faithful (I Cor. 4:2).

The lamentable reality is that the gospel of Jesus Christ come in the flesh, crucified for sinners, buried and raised three days later, requiring repentance from sin and faith in the Son, to the glory of the Father has been missing in much of "gospel" music for quite a long time. Appending "hip hop" only makes it clearer that another gospel is at work. One proponent of adding hip hop gospel to church practice said: "People my age and younger are hooked on R&B and rap. We want to incorporate that, the beats, the rhythms, but we want to keep the (gospel) message." Christians are to be "hooked on" Jesus, despising the world. And certainly we should be suspicious when the article writer has to insert "gospel" in parenthesis to make it clear just what message is being referred to. My sneaking suspicion is that the interviewee wouldn't be able to define the gospel with any precision. And we don't want our children to be unable to recognize Jesus because they've associated the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb who was slain with baggy jeans and tee-shirt sporting, tattooed, do-rag wearing rappers.

A final thought:
It would be better to lose a generation of young people and remain faithful to God, than to be attractive by adopting worldly forms and elements in worship and obscure the only soul-saving, life-giving, new-heart-creating, eternal-destiny-changing, repentance-and-faith-demanding, God-glorifying gospel of Jesus Christ.

Three Book Recommendations for Thinking About Worship:
Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W.H. Thomas, and J. Ligon Duncan III (Eds.), Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (P&R)

D.A. Carson (ed.), Worship by the Book (Zondervan) - see especially Carson's introductory essay, which alone is worth the price of the book.

David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (IVP)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Twist on Reparations

The Washington Post carried an interestesting article in its June 3rd edition of the religion section called "Episcopalians Consider Giving Reparations to Black Members." Now that's an interesting twist to reparations discussions.

Apparently the Episcopal Church is preparing to isse an apology for failing to oppose slavery in the U.S. Some involved in the planning for this statement also want to see the chruch take some action by paying financial reparations to African-Americam members of the Episcopal Church?

What do you think? Is this a worthwhile "twist" to an otherwise stale political debate? Or, is this a "twisted" approach to the reconciliation we have in Christ and the "reparations" he paid to the Father for our sins against Him? Thoughts?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Keeping the Church Pure Through Discipline

The Dallas Morning News recently featured an article covering a dispute between a northeast Dallas church and a former member in the process of being disciplined by that church for adultery. It’s a tough situation for everyone, but praise God for the faithfulness of local pastors and congregations who attempt to obey the word of God for the glory of God in all things!

Churches that would exalt the name of Jesus and the truth of the gospel through faithful Christian living must have compassion and courage enough to exercise church discipline for the benefit of the person disciplined, for the health of the congregation, for the integrity of the gospel, and ultimately for the purity of Christ’s Bride and the praise of the Lord.

Having said that, however, it is important for church leaders to realize that the practice of church discipline is very misunderstood by many, and unknown to most people today. Before exercising discipline, except in the clearest and most egregious cases, care should be taken to (1) build a healthy culture of meaningful church membership where people are committed to and invest in each other’s lives, (2) teach the congregation that discipline is an act of love (1 Cor. 5:1-5), (3) recognize that the vast majority of discipline is formative, positive growth that occurs as the Word is preached and applied, and (4) make sure the leadership understands how to lovingly and wisely administer corrective discipline when needed.

Some resources for those interested in thinking more about church discipline:

  • An excellent one-volume collection historical documents addressing church governance is Mark Dever (Ed.), Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. See especially the chapters by J.L. Reynolds (“Church Polity or The Kingdom of Christ”) and Eleazer Savage (“Manual of Church Discipline”).

  • The Dallas Morning News article includes a helpful appendix of recent court rulings re: church discipline issues.

Reformation 21 E-zine

A new edition of the Reformation 21 e-zine is now available.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Edwards on the Church's Enjoyment of God

I spent Saturday afternoon reading Jonathan Edwards' sermon, "The Excellency of Christ." If you've never read it, I highly recommend it. You're in for a wonderful blessing! After meditating at length on "the admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ", Edwards ends the sermon contemplating the future of the Church. Here's the destiny of the pure Church:

"By your being united to Christ, you will have a more glorious union with and enjoyment of God the Father, than otherwise could be. For hereby the saints' relation to God becomes much nearer: they are the children of God in a higher manner than otherwise could be. For, being members of God's own Son, they are in a sort partakers of his relation to the Father. They are not only sons of God by regeneration, but by a kind of communion in the sonship of the eternal Son. This seems to be intended, Gal. 4:4-6, 'God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that are under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.' The church is the daughter of God, not only as he has begotten her by his Word and Spirit, but as she is the spouse of his eternal Son.

"So we being members of the Son, are partakers in our measure of the Father's love to the Son, and complacence in him. John 17:23, 'I in them, and thou in me,-- Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.' And verse 26, 'That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them.' And chap. 16:27, 'The Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.' So we shall, according to our capacities, be partakers of the Son's enjoyment of God, and have his joy fulfilled in ourselves, John 17:13. And by this means we shall come to an immensely higher, more intimate and full enjoyment of God, than otherwise could have been. For there is doubtless an infinite intimacy between the Father and the Son which is expressed by his being in the bosom of the Father. And saints being in him, shall, in their measure and manner, partake with him in it, and of the blessedness of it.

"And thus is the affair of our redemption ordered, that thereby we are brought to an immensely more exalted kind of union with God, and enjoyment of him, both the Father and the Son, than otherwise could have been. For Christ being united to the human nature, we have advantage for a more free and full enjoyment of him, than we could have had if he had remained only in the divine nature. So again, we being united to a divine person, as his members, can have a more intimate union and intercourse with God the Father, who is only in the divine nature, than otherwise could be. Christ, who is a divine person, by taking on him our nature, descends from the infinite distance and height above us, and is brought nigh to us, whereby we have advantage for the full enjoyment of him. And, on the other hand, we, by being in Christ a divine person, do as it were ascend up to God, through the infinite distance, and have hereby advantage for the full enjoyment of him also.

"This was the design of Christ, that he and his Father, and his people, might all be united in one. John 17:21-23, "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou has given me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." Christ has brought it to pass, that those whom the Father has given him should be brought into the household of God, that he, his Father, and his people should be as one society, one family, [and] that the church should be as it were admitted into the society of the blessed Trinity."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New Pentecostalism = Old Theological Liberalism

In The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Harold Bennett, dean of the Charles Harrison Mason Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center, reports that there is a "new Pentecostalism" on the rise in African-American communities. Like the old Pentecostalism, the new one retains an emphasis on core Pentecostal beliefs: justification by faith alone; the authority of scripture; sanctification; Spirit baptism; speaking in tongues; divine healing; and miracles.

But the "new Pentecostalism" possesses an important improvement. According to Bennett, it is no longer anti-intellectual. Where the old Pentecostals were seen as "ignorant, religious Holy Rollers," the new Pentecostals seek to "combine faith grounded in classical Pentecostalism and rigorous theological education, and... illuminate the responsibilities of being Christian in the modern world." The new Pentecostals seek to embrace "the importance of informed, critical thought about religion...."

Well, I nearly celebrated the claims to a newfound theological rigor among Pentecostal brethren. That is, until I read Bennett's description of the theological education and practice he proposed:

One valuable path to illuminate this new style of Pentecostalism is through understanding and reading of the Bible.

First, the Bible is an artifact that has come down to us from ancient communities, which are no longer accessible. It requires responsible interpretation for determining its relationship to the present human condition.

Second, the reader or scholar assigns meaning to the Bible and gives it any moral authority that it may possess. It is the scholar, preacher, teacher or layperson who identifies acceptable interpretations and discards those that he or she finds unacceptable.

Third, the psychology of the reader is the most important component in reading the Bible. it is important to understand how prejudices and internal and external phenomena will shape how the thinker assigns meaning to a literary piece.

Fourth, an unacceptable interpretation of the Bible is one that abets humankind in maximizing human potential. A suitable reading of a passage in the Bible should provide a basis for liberation. It can support other ideas and claims that improve the circumstances of the people for whom the text is significant.

Acceptable interpretation, then, is grounded in four principles: reconstruction, context, compassion, and justice.

Reconstruction requires that the reader study and understand the circumstances in the biblical community that might have spawned individual passages. It builds on modern biblical criticism, including social-scientific criticism.

Context recognizes the culture of the reader and pays close attention to the psychology of the reader. It invites the reader to be aware of his or her own assumptions and to make sure that the theoretical framework is logical and well-argued. Then the angle of vision on a text is shaped by the concrete, specific circumstances of the moral agent, in this case this new type of Pentecostal, Afrocentric Bible scholar. The Afrocentric scholar embraces how politics and economics affect biblical interpretation.

Well, it turns out that the new, intellectually respectable Pentecostalism is nothing more than the old theological liberalism. The new Pentecostalism appears to be a blend of the old errors of "higher-criticism," personal subjectivism, and liberation theology.

The old Pentecostalism of William J. Seymour, leader of the Azusa Street revival which began in 1906, believed the Bible was the God-breathed, inerrant, sufficient word of God. The old Pentecostals believed its message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Those old Pentecostals understood that the Bible as God's word was authoritative. They didn't believe the "reader or scholar assigned meaning to the Bible and gave it any moral authority that it may possess." Rather, they understood that the meaning of the Bible was clear and that its moral authority came from God himself and that it was the duty of the faithful to submit to that authority.

If the new Pentecostalism is the old theological liberalism, and it is, then I pray my Pentecostal friends will call out for that ol' time Bible-believin' religion of their forefathers instead. If the new Pentecostalism is a new valuable path, then I pray that Pentecostal brethren would remember that wide is the way that leads to destruction but there is a straight and narrow path that leads to life. If this is the future of pastoral training among new Pentecostals, then I pray my old Pentecostal siblings in Christ would rise up and demand renewed commitment to biblical orthodoxy and faithfulness. If the new Pentecostalism offers intellectual respectability in the "larger guild," then I pray my Pentecostal friends would opt instead for the foolishness of the cross that confounds the wisdom of the world.

As it is written:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
(1 Cor. 1:18-31)

Time for a New Vision of African-American Pastoral Ministry?

The University of Southern California's Center for Religion and Civic Culture launched a new program for emerging African-American leaders called "The Passing the Mantle Clergy and Lay Leadership Institute." The program matches 30 up and coming African-American leaders with Civil Rights-era pastors nearing retirement. Through a combination of classroom training and structured mentoring sessions, the aim is to train these new leaders in three areas: community organizing, economic development, and church leadership strategies.

Community organizing, economic development, and church leadership strategies.... What about faithful preaching of the word of God, disciple-making and missions, biblical counseling, training faithful men who will teach others, and shepherding the flock of God?

Since the Abolitionist Movement, and definitely since the Civil Rights era, the pastor as community leader has dominated African-American ideas about pastoral ministry and leadership. And consequently, the gospel has in far too many churches and for far too many pastors and leaders taken a back seat to... well, community organizing, economic development, political campaigning, and "church leadership strategies" that look a lot like pseudo-corporate business practices.

Is it time African American pastors re-think the predominant Civil Rights model and philosophy that governs so many churches and leaders? What does it profit a pastor to gain the whole world and lose his and his congregation's souls?

"Godcasting"?

Wow! Just when you thought you were getting your arms around the amorphous world of emerging and emergent church, here comes the next installment in the so-called church revolution: "godcasting." The Christian Scence Monitor reports that some churches have dispensed with the need to even have a preacher present at services. Instead, they "godcast" (a ghastly idolatrous marketing term if there ever was one!) an image of the pastor/preacher to a warehouse or movie theatre where "churchgoers" visually feast on a recorded and digitally-transmitted signal.

Proponents argue that "godcasting" is "part of the new ecclesiastical world order where niche marketing... is the name of the game." Others contend that the method is effective at both reaching the under-30 "market" and avoiding the high costs of bricks and mortar church construction. And some attendees confess that the quality is so good that they didn't recognize for a couple of weeks that the pastor wasn't there! It seems Star Trek hologram technology has nothing over "godcasting."

Well, how should those who want a pure church, a church consistently reformed according to the word of God, think about "godcasting?"

First, they should realize that "godcasting" has the potential to deliver very little God. The New Testament makes it clear that the church - living, breathing human beings saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ - is the body of Christ, not the broadcast of Christ. Our experience of the in-breaking kingdom of God occurs among the people of God. Christ's love is made tangible through His people, not through images of His people. This new iconography is about as distorting and idolatrous as the old icons of East and West. For a real, abiding experience of God, join the ranks of His people... commit yourself to loving them and to receiving Christ's love through them as He intends.

Second, be wary of "models" of church that weaken the affection and accountability between pastors and flock. Hebrews 13:17 is appropriate. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." The "old model" of church was instituted by the Lord with certain ends in mind, not the least of which was the mutual blessing and joy that is to accrue to both leaders and members as the leaders "watch over" the flock. Moreover, the pastor-congregation context is one of mutual accountability - each to the other and ultimately to God. Projecting life-sized digital images is hardly the "watching over" of pastoral ministry Jesus intends. And it will never be the "advantage" intended for those who submit to godly church leaders in a convenanted church community.

Third, avoid "models" of church that foster or allow anonymity in the local community. The main purpose of the public gathering of Christians is to edify one another. It's why we're given spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7). It's why certain offices were established by the Lord (Eph. 4:11-13). It's why we are instructed to care for one another in so many places in scripture (Eph. 4:2,32; Col. 3:13, 16; 1 Thes. 5:11; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 John; etc). Life in the Christian church is meant to be lived out heart-to-heart, flesh-to-flesh. And the example of such living by the Lord's design is the pastor (1 Tim. 4:12; Tit. 2:7; 1 Pet. 5:3).

Fourth, and finally, the church is to be a display of God's manifiold wisdom. Through the gospel, God has purposed to create for himself one new body made up - not of niche markets - but of men and women, boys and girls from every ethnic group (Eph. 2:11-3:11). How does a massive digital iPod of a popular pastor beamed to warehouses and movie theaters to homogenous niches of people who passively and anonymously "enjoy" the show reflect God's wisdom and glory? It doesn't. It can't. The old model of church, built upon the Rock, the Chief Cornerstone does. May it ever be so. And may we ever desire a pure church.