Thursday, February 27, 2014

New Blog

I've had this site closed down for a little while during some personal stuff that's been going on. But I'm going to switch gears and be writing on a new blog called "Off the Reservation"

If anyone is still coming here to Reforming Baptist, this blog is retiring and you can go follow me at

Friday, October 25, 2013

What Is Your Church's Front Door? Why Sunday Morning Shouldn't Be

What is the front door to your church? No, I don't mean the front door to the building you meet in, but what is the primary way people find out about your church and get introduced to it? Most likely the answer to that question will be found in the answer to this question: How did you find the church you are in? Most likely you knew what you were looking for and searched the internet or the phone book and visited a few churches on Sunday mornings to get a feel for the church's preaching, music, style and people. Maybe you found it through and advertisement or because you drove by the church several times and saw the parking lot full and thought you'd go in and check it out. Or maybe you were invited to the church through a friend who goes there.

Sunday Services are our Front Door
No matter how many ways you found the church you are now in, you were probably drawn in through the front door of the Sunday service. This is because of the misunderstanding of the church as an event and not as a people. We have lived in a primarily Christianized western culture that goes all the way back to the fourth century when Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Our work week still reflects this by having Saturday and Sunday as the usual days off of work. Because of our western Christendom background, historically, everyone had to go to church. In fact, this phrase "go to church" betrays our thinking of the church as an event or a place. The word, church does mean "gathering or congregation", but it is not the event of the gathering or the place of gathering, it is a people who gather.

How Frequently did the Early Church Use this Front Door?
In fact, the book of Acts does not seem to encourage us to use the Sunday morning gathering as the principle means by which we introduce people to Christ or to the church. Quite the opposite actually. After the famous Ananias and Sapphira incident where the Holy Spirit killed this insincere couple in the midst of the gathered church, we see the reaction of the general public concerning church gatherings...

And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch. 13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,  (Act 5:12-14 NKJ)

They were meeting in a place called "Solomon's Porch" in the temple premises, but nobody dared join the meeting. The gathering was no what we would call "seeker sensitive". Yet, almost a contradictory statement follows in verse 14...believers were increasingly added to the Lord. How did that happen if people didn't dare go to the meetings? 

We even see in the letter to the Corinthians that there is a reference to visitors showing up to the church gathering as merely an incidental thing: 

 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (1Co 14:23 NKJ)

There's not much else mentioned about how we are to treat visitors in the Sunday Service. We should anticipate that people will enter our gatherings to see what's going on, and what they need to see is that God is truly among us 

 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.  (1Co 14:24-25 NKJ)

This isn't a strategy for evangelism, it's just what should be true of our services. We should have heart searching preaching accompanied by Holy Spirit power that would convict the unbeliever and walk away convinced that God is truly with us. That kind of effect cannot be manufactured, but it sure can be hindered by disorderly services, divisions and all the other problems that Paul was chastising the Corinthian church about. 

Besides these two examples, It doesn't seem that the goal of the early church was to promote the gospel through the Sunday gatherings. Yet, the church grew and Sunday gatherings became necessary "so much the more"and believers were encouraged to attend faithfully (Hebrews 10:25). The Sunday gathering is not for unbelievers, it's for the members of the church. Yet, it's almost impossible for you to read this and not wonder "how in the world are we supposed to reach people if we don't put a lot of stock in our Sunday services?" Well, how in the world does the church flourish in places where it is illegal to have Sunday services? It wasn't long until the the early church became the target of heavy persecution and their meetings would have been in secret. So, if the only way we can imagine the growth of the church is through Sunday services, then we're in trouble when persecution comes. 

Yet in Acts, the constant theme through out the book is not that the gatherings grew and grew, but that the Word of God and the gospel multiplied, grew, spread and prevailed: 
Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Act 6:7 NKJ)
But the word of God grew and multiplied. (Act 12:24 NKJ)
And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. (Act 13:49 NKJ)
So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. (Act 19:20 NKJ)

How can the word of God spread through a region if it is constantly confined to one hour a week on Sunday (Or three times a week if you grew up in a church like I did)?

The growth of the church is not by the front door of the Sunday service, it's through the front door of the body of Christ as a people who fill the city they live in with the Word of God which spreads and multiplies new disciples: 
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:22-23 NKJ)

The Body, the church, is the fullness of Christ who fills all with His presence and power.  God’s purpose in saving us was so that the whole of our lives and all of creation would be untied in Christ; He would be head over all things and he would fill all things through his body the Church.

So What? 
So, why do we put so much emphasis on Sunday as the means to introduce people to Jesus when the New Testament doesn't?  Don't get me wrong, Sunday is emphasized as the Lord's Day, but it is the day for believers to retreat and be encouraged by the service of the Lord to go back out into the world to spread the gospel.

Yet all around us, mega church pastors with huge facilities and adoring fans tell us unhelpful things like this which perpetuates a consumer Christianity: 

"We are unapologetically attractional.  In our search for common ground with unchurched people, we’ve discovered that, like us, they are consumers. So we leverage their consumer instincts....One of the things we are most interested in is how easy we are making it for our attendees to invite guests"
 - Andy Stanley. Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (p. 14-16). 

The business of the church is making disciples, but that process is hamstrung by systems like this which only encourage people to invite a friend to a church service where they wrongly assume all the disciple making is being done. When we continue making Sunday as the principle way to bring people to Jesus we are doing exactly what Andy Stanley is doing - attracting consumers. It doesn't matter if your Sunday is a Christianity-light, rock concert, entertainment environment or if it's an old fashioned hymns and expository sermon style meeting, you'll attract customers who are looking for that kind of service.  
So, these kinds of churches have created small groups as a way to assimilate people and keep them from going out the back door. The small groups are inward focused because they are there to create a sense of community, friendship and affinity.

However, that kind of attractional church is not making disciples who make disciples.  They are making consumers who will leave the church as soon as their consumer felt needs are no longer being met. At best, they're making Christians who actively invite people to come to a weekly event but most will have no idea how to disciple others and multiply the gospel through them. 

The front door to the church should be an active, living, loving, group of people who introduce people to Jesus in their neighborhoods, in their workplaces and in their homes. The first disciples were sent out on mission in pairs and were to look for a household to enter when they found a man of peace and they were commanded to stay in that house and not leave it. Why? They were to start with one household and live among them, work with them, serve them and share the gospel with them. It doesn't happen by mass evangelism. 

Entering through the Back Door
Small groups were formed in the last twenty some years as a way to shut the backdoor to the church and retain more people so that they had a sense of belonging and community. What if the back door was supposed to be the front door in the first place? What if the house group was supposed to be the front line of mission instead of the Sunday gathering?
There are a lot of references to the small house gathering all over Acts and the Epistles where everyday life and mission was carried out. 

Paul's principle work was done among the Ephesians in this setting according to: (Act 20:17-21 NKJ)
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 "serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 "how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 "testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul also mentions to the Thessalonian church how he worked among them in daily life imparting his life to them, not only his teaching:

(1Th 2:7-10 NKJ) But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9 For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe

Do we really think that this was confined to a Sunday service? It doesn't say he was in their homes, like the Ephesians, but it is certainly implied since he was among them night and day.

The "Church of Corninth" for example was probably made up of several smaller house churches which Paul refers to as "Households":

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household , that there are contentions among you. (1Co 1:11 NKJ)
Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. (1Co 1:16 NKJ)
I urge you, brethren-- you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints--16 that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us. (1Co 16:15-16 NKJ)

Jesus' model for discipleship was to choose twelve men to personally do life on life with and people who were added to His disciples came through this small group. Even more intimately, Jesus had a group of three whom He invested more time with at a more personal level. What if all house groups could operate this way? As leaders emerge, they begin their own by inviting family, friends, neighbors and co-workers into their household group as their first contact with Christian living and the Christian message. 

How can the gospel grow and spread widely and quickly? It can be done when every single person in the church is in the game and is equipped to play with more than just an invitation to a Sunday event. When they have a small community of people whom they can work with, be accountable to, learn with and live with before others, there is a multi-faceted opportunity for the gospel to be transmitted to others with greater effectiveness and portability than the increasingly demanding and expensive Sunday gathering. Sunday should be simple and only carry the essentials of worship - confession, adoration, singing, fellowship, teaching and sacraments. These are for the building up of the saints to go back out on mission as the people of God bringing the front door of the church to every neighborhood that they live in! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Musing over the Strange Fire Conference

Last week I returned from a church in Tacoma who are openly Reformed Charismatics and returned to listen online to the Strange Fire Conference hosted by Grace Church in Southern California. The church I was with for a week is a strong gospel preaching and gospel loving church that I am confident should not be lumped into the "Strange Fire" that John MacArthur is trying to expose. I attended Shepherd's Conference earlier this year and have been anticipating the fall conference that was supposed to expose and denounce the Charismatic Movement. I listened to about seven of the sessions, which was enough for me to get the gist of what was being claimed and denounced. I  have to confess first of all, that I am biased in favor of any critique against the Charismatic movement, and because I know I have this bias, I have to consciously think critically against that bias when evaluating what is said and what is refuted so that I can be as objective as possible.

During the week of the conference, I followed some blog posts and tweets to get the reactions of Charismatics about what was being said. Most of the reactions, in my opinion were weak such as: "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater"; "Paul said not to forbid speaking in tongues"; "millions of people are going to hell, and he's condemning other Christians!" Ironically, these are the same kind of retorts I hear from Fundamentalists when their movement gets criticized. However, I found it disheartening that those who are rough on the Fundamentalist movement and its excesses are calling for a softer approach to the Charismatic movement when it's excesses are much more wide and damaging than anything that the worst of Fundamentalism can produce!

I found that most of Phil Johnson's and John MacArthur's criticisms of "Jesus Culture" "TBN" and the rank and file Pentecostal who has dreams and visions were spot on. The millions of Oneness Pentecostals, Charismatic Catholics and upwards to 90% of Charismatics who believe in the Prosperity Gospel should be enough evidence that the movement is erroneous from its roots. Personally, I have met many Assembly of God people (including some of my own family) who have a solid understanding of the gospel (although it's an Arminian flavor) and should not be broad brushed as unbelievers.

I also recently had a conversation about the continuation of sign gifts with Jeff Vanderstelt of Soma Communities in Washington last week when I was attending Soma School. He claimed that the Holy Spirit is still at work today in the church as He was in the first century church. After one of the sessions, I asked him: "have you seen people healed of withered hands? Have you seen people speak in tongues miraculously like in Acts 2 and seen people raised from the dead?" He told me he's seen two of those. He saw someone pray for a man and saw his deformed arm physically become well. He also said that he was preaching with a Spanish interpreter once and the interpreter stopped interpreting because everyone was able to understand him. He finished the message preaching in English as he thought he was doing while the entire audience listened to him intently. Now according to MacArthur's criteria, either Jeff Vanderstelt was straight up lying to me and is a complete fraud or God actually performed those miracles. (I know there are some who wouldn't mind just labeling him that way based on other things that they would disagree with) However, after having witnessed the fruit of the Spirit evidently displayed by this man for a week (specifically humility) and the Christ-centeredness of his message, I
don't believe that he's lying and that God has done some miraculous things as he claims.

What he described to me as an isolated incident that God chose to sovereignly intervene by His power, and it lines up with the same kind of miracles that were performed in Scripture. He did say that he didn't believe anyone can claim to have a gift to do these things repeatedly, but that God still performs them when He wants to. He also denied that the gibberish we often see as "tongues" is not real tongues. Real tongues is known languages to the hearer, unknown to the speaker. This seems to be a reasonable stand to take on the issue. We can't put God in a box and tell Him that based on our fallible interpretations of Scripture, He cannot and will not exercise His miraculous power however He may choose to do so.

I listened to Steve Lawson's lectures on the positions taken through church history by spiritual giants such as John Calvin and John Owen. However, it was basically preaching to the choir, because if you come from the Arminian, Wesleyan side of the church, you're not going to be convinced away from your presuppositions simply because some Reformers and Puritans don't agree with you. At the end of the conference, MacArthur mentioned these two streams of the church and claimed the Reformed stream to be the tradition of pure doctrine and basically, the true church. The long line of Reformed heritage as apposed to "Free Will or Arminian" heritage is the purer stream in my opinion, but to claim that it is the true church is almost as bad as Baptist Bride-ism.

So, my closing thoughts are these - The Apostolate and the office of prophet is closed being used as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20), and thus so are the signs and wonders to confirm them also closed. However, the possibility of God performing miracles through the preaching of His word or the prayers of His saints is not closed. God is sovereign and free to do whatever He pleases and we should not necessarily seek to do these miracles but rather rejoice if God chooses to do them because they will clearly be in line with Scripture and the gospel message if they are authentic.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An upside down church: How two words translated in the KJV have derailed our mission

One of the advantages of struggling early in ministry as a young pastor is the opportunity to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others before you're too influential to hurt too many people. I have not had what others would call "success" because it would have deceived me into thinking I've been doing it right all this time. Instead, each failure, challenge or obstacle has been another opportunity to stretch my understanding as I seek to know the truth about what the true church of Jesus is supposed to look like in 2013 in Fremont, California. Over the past six or seven years our small church has gone through too many tectonic shifts that have been necessary to strip us of all of our false understandings of what the church is and how it operates. We went through the shift in ideology from Fundamentalism (separation centric) to a more gospel-centric approach to ministry. We shifted from a top-down, leadership structure to a plurality of elders that are more like fellow worker, servant leaders instead of executives. We have been learning what a contextualized church should be and do in the midst of a foreign culture. However, the one thing that we've always struggled with has been how evangelism should be done. I was taught to do evangelism only one way in Fundamentalism - personal, door to door confrontational "soul winning" and there IS no other way. How to go about fulfilling our mission has been elusive to me because I was taught how to manage a church as a religious organization in a Christianized society, but not as a shepherd / missionary.

I think the reason for this is greatly due to our understanding of our mission as a church from one particular verse in the Bible that has been translated in a less than helpful way for the last 400 years: 

Matthew 28:19 KJV Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

What's wrong with "Go": What's wrong with this translation? First of all, "Go" is not an imperative verb, it is an aorist passive deponent participle which is better understood "as you are going". The going is assumed, but it's not the going for the purpose of making converts, it's the going of everyday life: "Wherever you go, wherever you find yourself, wherever your life is lived" is the idea. The going is a phrase dependent upon the real imperative verb in the sentence which leads us to the second problem...

What's wrong with "teach": "Mathateosate" is the aorist imperative verb that is translated teach, but is better translated "make disciples". The NKJV and most other modern translations get this right. This is the verb that controls the other participles (words that act like verbs - specifically "go, baptizing & teaching"). Most of us who are not KJV Only know this, but our understanding of "making disciples" is still dependent upon our old KJV understanding of "teaching". If you ask the average Baptist or Bible Believing Christian what it means to be a disciple, they'll probably answer with something along the lines of a learner who sits at Jesus' feet and absorbs information that is taught like a student. This isn't entirely wrong, but it's far from being all there is to it. 

Our whole idea of making disciples is information transfer and absorption. We think that life transformation happens when someone gets enough of the right information. We get this from our western cultural understanding of education which has been greatly influenced by the ancient Greeks in which the disciples of Plato or Aristotle were students in an academy. Thus, most of our ministries in the church are fashioned more after the school of Aristotle than the school of Jesus. We have Sunday School classes, Bible Studies, books, Christian Schools, even classroom style worship sanctuaries with a lectern (pulpit) and platform. This is all well and good. Teaching is necessary as verse 20 tells us, but our idea of teaching is still limited to the academy. Thus, our evangelism is also influenced by this way of thinking. If you make Christians into disciples by information transfer, then that's all it takes to make non-Christians into Christians as well. Thus, we pass out tracts with gospel information written on it. We go door to door to tell people the information or data of the gospel or if you're a Willow Creeker, you invite unbelievers to a "seeker service" so they can hear information transferred to them by a professionally trained public speaker. If they're lucky, they may hear a little gospel too. On a mass scale, both traditionalists and contemporaries will have "revivals" or "crusades" in which they invite masses of people to hear the gospel information given by a really good public speaker! 

Both of these methods just seemed incomplete or inadequate to me. So, I've been paralyzed between the two searching for how it's supposed to really be done. Much of my frustration with mission has also been exacerbated by the way we think of the church as well. We've been conditioned with the idea that we must build effective, well managed churches that have great Sunday services in order to make converts into disciples. However, more often than not, what we've ended up with is a top heavy organization that requires tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain a building, pay salary to professional staff, pay for advertising through websites, printed materials, radio ads, or the old fashioned way of canvasing the area with nice tract/invitation fliers.  In addition to this, we absolutely MUST have the best music, child care, children's programs, coffee and donuts before the service, and the whole atmosphere has to be comfortable, friendly but not too demanding. Elaborate processes must be followed to gain visitors, make good impressions, connect with them, get them to return and get them assimilated into the church's programs and the eventual goal is to get them to give money and start serving in some way to keep the machinery going! The input of man hours and hard earned dollars is astronomically enormous and what do we get for it??? 

We still get the typical 20% of the people doing 80% of the work and out of that 20%, even fewer are actively sharing their faith and bringing new people to Christ. Pastors get burned out and are recycled through most churches every 7 years or so. Meanwhile, the 80% of people in our churches are half-hearted in their commitment to anything. As pastors, we know they are not really living spiritual lives nor reading their Bibles no matter how many different kinds of "read-the-Bible-through-the-year" schedules we give them at the beginning of each year. Sin, division, immaturity and apathy reign in most of our congregations. Is this what Jesus had in mind when He told us to go make disciples? It's not what we see in the book of Acts. Yet we read Acts, and chalk it up to the Holy Spirit's outpouring and miracles as if the church will never again be as powerful as it was at the beginning. 

Yet, every year, hundreds of new books are published on how to make this process a little better, but after 40 plus years of church growth techniques and philosophy, we are still getting the same dismal results. The definition of insanity has been commonly described as doing the same thing over and over or harder and harder while expecting a substantially different result. So, most churches and pastors are really insane! I was feeling the results of my own insanity and I know there has to be something more! Something that's real! God doesn't design dysfunctional stuff. We do! 

We have the church totally backwards, upside down and inside out. We think if we build the church, then it will produce disciples. But Jesus told us to make disciples and He will take care of building the church (Matt. 16:18). We keep tying to do His job and we stink at it. He didn't tell us to build churches. He told us to make disciples and he also told us how to do it: "as you are going...baptize them and teach them the things I've commanded you." 

"Make Disciples as you go" should be the way we understand this command. But this cannot be understood by our old inadequate definitions or else we'll get sucked back into the vicious cycle of doing what we've always done.

So, first of all, what is a disciple? There are many ways to define it, but essentially it comes down to two things - someone who is being conformed to the image of Christ and is actively working to make others the same. Jesus called them "fishers of men" (Mark 1:17) who follow in His steps. Now, the church, as dysfunctional as it is, has disciples being made who follow Christ in their life and reproduce disciples themselves, but it's not too many and it's in spite of our church structure, not because of it. Even in the most unhealthy churches, there are people caring for one another, praying for one another and doing the general "one anothers" together because we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit keeping us limping along from complete failure.

The pattern for making disciples is found in the life of Jesus. He took twelve guys (the size of a typical small group Bible study) and did life with them in the way that God taught parents to disciple their children in:

Deuteronomy 6:6-9
"And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.
 7 "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
 8 "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
 9 "You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Discipleship was teaching along the way as you did life together. It was relational and intentional. It was done in the context of daily life "as you are going" (Matt.28:19). Likewise, evangelism happened the same way as Jesus encountered unbelievers with his discipleship community (the 12) in everyday life: The woman at the well, passing by of a funeral, walking by the pool of Siloam, eating at someone's house that invited him over, at feasts, etc... There were times of teaching the multitudes, but the multitudes were not the way Jesus made his disciples. He called them out one by one and they were introduced by one another and they were found along the path of everyday life lived with gospel intentionality. 

So, instead of spending 30 hours a week preparing for a homiletically correct 45-minute sermon, we should spend the bulk of our time as pastors among our people in everyday life teaching them how to go to work to make disciples, how to do life together with other church members to serve their neighbors and make disciples in their neighborhood. Evangelism will happen on the way to making disciples. 

I know, I're thinking: "Great, let's start a ministry called "Discipleship" and let's have a class in room 101 at the church building once a week and we'll need to buy some good curriculum!" 

You totally don't get it. Get out of the classroom and get into people's homes. Get out from behind the lectern and get out into the neighborhood, get out of the church office and get into the market place. And don't do it alone. Take someone with you! When disciples are made this way, then you will have a church, then you'll need organization, then you may need to spend some money on things that will make this happen on a larger scale. But it will be much more portable, light-weight and less expensive. And the results will be much better than 20% of the people who are committed serving 80% of the customers who are there for the weekly show and sermon. But as long as we keep spending all our time and resources in the Sunday service to be our means of discipleship, we may get a crowd like Jesus got multitudes, but the multitudes turned on Jesus when He didn't give them what they wanted. They'll do that to you too! It's time to cut the fat, and get down to the one and only thing Jesus left us on earth to do - make disciples. And as you do that, expect the crowds of superficial religious customers to go away. But at least you'll have a real church that has a mission bigger than perpetuating its own survival! 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Old Hymns Making a Comeback!

I have been really loving the resurgence of old hymns that are coming back in new music or with new choruses. There are several hymns that have been given a makeover that I hope will be a blessing to you:

O Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) - Casting Crowns
Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) - Chris Tomlin
My Savior, My God - Aaron Shust
Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder - Indelible Grace
Cornerstone (The Solid Rock) - Hillsong
Crown Him (Majesty) - Chris Tomlin
All Creatures of our God and King - Sovereign Grace
O The Deep Deep Love - Sovereign Grace
Jesus Shall Reign - Enfield
Draw Me Nearer - Caedmon's Call
When I Survey (O The Wondrous Cross) - Chris Tomlin
Jesus I Am Resting Resting - Steve Green

What other old hymns do you know of that have new music, new choruses or some new twist that has brought them off the shelf and back into our churches?

Monday, July 08, 2013

To Those Who Are Against the "Gospel Centered" Movement

I can hardly believe that anyone who calls themselves a Christian would have a hard time with a ministry that is striving to be "Gospel Centered". However, there are some Fundamentalist types that I've read on Sharperiron and other blogs that really take issue with this term as if we mean that the gospel is all there is and the gospel is all that matters. They like to jump on the "Gospel Centered" proponents for being dismissive of other doctrines that are equally essential. My hunch is that they are really against the people that are making this stuff popular - people like Tim Keller and other Reformed types as a reaction against them because although they emphasize the gospel, they get other things wrong. So, the objection to "Gospel Centered" is really a reaction against "Gospel only".  I really don't think that the Gospel Coalition and T4G guys are really promoting "Gospel only".  Those critics who think they're more Biblically faithful like to say they are "Bible Centered" or "God Centered". All three terms are fine to use depending on what you mean by all of them.

God-Centered - all that a ministry does is for the glory of God to show forth the holiness and character of God. If this is true then you must be...

Bible Centered - all that a ministry does to glorify God is rooted in Scripture as it's compass and sole authority. Nothing is done without consideration to "what would God think of this?" Therefore: "What has God said about this?" However, to stop here is a mistake. What God has said about anything in Scripture serves an overarching theme and purpose for why the Bible was written. The Bible is not a church manual or a self-help book. It's a story. It's the story of God's redemption of man. Thus if you are going to be "Bible Centered" you must ask yourself - how does this thing we are considering find it's place in the Bible's overall story of the good news of redemption? Thus...

Gospel Centered - all that a ministry does to glorify God is rooted in Scripture so that it is faithfully declaring the story of Scripture: the gospel.

So, if someone is against a church being "Gospel Centered", I have to ask - Who is at the center of the gospel story? It's Jesus (who is God), therefore, if you think you're being "God-centered", then you will have to be "Gospel centered"! Who is the entire Bible about? Jesus! And what is the story of Jesus all about? The good news of His saving His people! The Gospel.

There are all kinds of gospel-less ministries that all claim to be operating under Biblical principles and Biblical authority. From the Apostolic, Pentecostal, full-4-square gospel legalist all the way to the KJV Only, suit and tie wearing, soul winning Baptists: they all claim to be "Biblical" but you'll seldom hear the gospel preached. You'll hear moralism. Oh yes, after the end of a ranting sermon on some pet peeve, the preacher will always give an invitation asking if anyone would like to "get saved"; they'll make reference to the death, burial and resurrection as if by merely mentioning these facts without any further explanation, they've been faithful in sharing the gospel. A Catholic believes in those things too, but it doesn't mean he understands or preaches the gospel.

Being Gospel-Centered means taking every text of scripture and explaining it's gospel implications and applications. There are no doctrines, Bible stories, Psalms, Proverbs or Prophecies that do not somehow garnish the overall gospel plot of the Bible and point to Jesus. If you simply preach from a Proverb to help someone learn how to get along with others better, then you might as well be preaching in a Synagogue or a Mosque. If you can't figure out how that Proverb which seems totally unrelated to the gospel, is the wisdom of God that leads a person to Christ for salvation, then you shouldn't be preaching at all - you have no good news, you have nothing to say. So, if you're boasting about being a Bible expositor and exegete, but there's no gospel woven throughout your exposition, you're blowing hot air.

I remember being rebuked by someone after I thought I had preached a faithful exposition and exegesis of a passage. I was told by a person who came with his unconverted wife, that I had failed to explain how that passage should bring his wife to an understanding of the gospel. As usual, I was offended at first and disagreed with him, but as I pondered on it, I began to see he was right. I thought I was  being Biblical, but I left the gospel behind. I had failed. Without the good news being the center of our ministry, we lack "the power of God unto salvation".

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Difference Between a Missional Church and a Soul Winning Church

I think that the two related issues in all of ministry that has perplexed me the most are the issues of evangelism and missions. Like any truly born again believer, I desire for the good news to be spread far and wide. In our natural zeal, we Christians often run headlong into trying to accomplish the great commission without often understanding that the methods we use can often do more harm than good. Thankfully our sovereign God even uses our worst efforts and still draws His elect to salvation through them.

Growing up as an Fundamental Baptist, it was ingrained in me as early as pre-school to be about the business of winning souls to Christ. When I was a little kid, I would meet other children on the playground at the public park and tell them about Jesus and even get them to pray and accept Jesus in their heart before parting ways.

Without getting into all the details, it was after graduating Bible College that I began to see my way of "soul winning" as problematic. When learning of the doctrines of total depravity, election and the Lordship of Christ, my methodology of soul winning had been completely dismantled, but unfortunately, I was left with the big question: "Well, then how do I go about doing evangelism?" Just preach the gospel at church and hope the elect show up after passing out invitations? Do I knock on doors, give someone the gospel data dump and hope God saves them?

After having read everything I could get my hands on about evangelism from Ray Comfort and Charles Spurgeon, I still felt somewhat frustrated. I had already rejected the seeker-sensitive version of evangelism because my theology required it: "There is none that seeketh after God..."(Rom.3:11).
I knew instinctively that I couldn't just sit on my behind and become a practical hyper-Calvinist, waiting on God to save people. I (and we the church) have to tell the good news! But how do I do this faithfully, effectively and powerfully? The only tool in my bag was "soul winning" as I was taught as a Fundamentalist. I felt like I was stuck in first gear with no other options! A few years ago, I attended a "Striving Together" mini-conference here in the Bay Area and heard R.B. Oulette and Paul Chappell refer to the Missional movement as just another new-Evanglical excuse to be worldly. Naturally, that got me curious to find out what it really meant to be "Missional". It has often served me well to take whatever my IFB background declares as wrong and investigate it only to find out that they are usually wrong and that what they are against is actually more Biblically faithful than they are. Obviously Chappell and Oulette had no idea what they were talking about when referring to the Missional church.  These aggressive "soul winning" ministries think they have the corner on mission and so they have nothing to learn from anyone else.

After studying various voices who consider themselves "Missional", I think I have a clearer understanding of mission in general and evangelism in particular. Among those I read were: Tim Keller, Dan Kimball, Mark Driscoll, Alan Roxburgh, Alan Hirsch, Jeff Vanderstelt, David Platt, Scott Boren, Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer.

Here are the differences that I have found:

1. Soul Winning - Is concerned only with making converts.
Missional - Is concerned with making disciples.

2. Soul Winning - Is concerned about getting people information about Jesus so they can make a decision to become a Christian.
Missional - Is concerned about making Christ known to people so they will experience Him through the lives of His people and decide to follow Him as well.

3. Soul Winning - Sees evangelism separated from discipleship.  This comes from a faulty theology that accepts Jesus as Savior but not as Lord.
Missional - Sees evangelism as part of discipleship. There is pre-conversion discipleship and post-conversion discipleship. This comes from Jesus' own example of discipling the 12 for three years before most of them actually believed.

4. Soul Winning - Is primarily concerned about a person's afterlife.
Missional - Is concerned about the whole of a person's life. The gospel is not just the ticket to heaven, it's applicable and essential to all of life.

5. Soul Winning - has one approach: confrontational evangelism.
Missional - has more approaches: incarnational as well as confrontational evangelism.

6. Soul Winning - is the approach to evangelism that assumes a Christianized culture that understands and accepts most of Christianity's presuppositions. They just need the right information about Jesus and Salvation to convince people to believe.
Missional - is the approach to evangelism that assumes that we are missionaries in a pagan culture that knows little or nothing about Christian presuppositions. The culture needs to be understood before we can effectively communicate the gospel in their context.

7. Soul Winning - assumes that we have the credibility to be heard because we are Christians in Christendom.
Missional - seeks to earn the credibility to be heard based on humble, Christ-like service to those who need to hear.

8. Soul Winning - Evangelism is a program and a planned event that only the elite participate in.
Missional - Evangelism is a way of life that every Christian can do. Programs and events are only an outgrowth of evangelistic disciple-making that is already happening in the life of the church.

9. Soul Winning - Missionaries evangelize as foreigners in strange, non-Christian countries and do mission overseas while soul winners evangelize unsaved people in a Christianized society at home.
Missional - Every believer is a missionary in whatever place God has placed them. All of the world is non-Christian and therefore, our engagement with people needs to be like a that of a foreign missionary.  We are all foreigners in a strange land.

10. Soul Winning - Is interested in building up one's own local church.
Missional - Is interested in building up the Kingdom of God.

I could say more and give more detail, but these are the differences that I am observing and a holistic view of disciple making that the Missional vision of the church offers empowers every member to be on mission with or without an evangelistic program. Every member can participate in mission through everyday life situations and through their own unique vocation.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Good News for Gays

After the decision to strike down DOMA, gay people celebrated all over the country. It was good news to them. But at the same time, it left Bible believing Christians wondering how to respond. Many are angry and will express their displeasure with Facebook posts that try to raise a million "Like's" in support of traditional marriage. None of which will do any good whatsoever to reverse the decision or change public opinion. All that will do it deepen the resolve of those who support the decision and alienate Christian voices from the free market of idea exchange in the public square.

Furthermore, it doesn't help the situation when Christians angrily protest that being gay is not something that you're born with, it's a choice! All the gay people I know can honestly say that they never consciously choose to be attracted to the same sex. They just are, and that's all they know. So, when the Christian mantra is "you chose to be gay, it's not natural", we don't do ourselves any favors either. From the gay person's point of view, now you're just guilty of slandering and mischaracterizing them. Now, you have really put your own fingers in their ears as you yell at them! They don't hear your words, they only see the distortions of the muscles in your face. To make matters even worse, the gay person hears the angry Christian protesting their right to marry the one they "love" when half of the Christians they know don't even love the one their married to. They can't keep their own marriages together or they are reluctantly living in a dysfunctional marriage that makes them look like nothing more than bigoted, angry, hypocrites.

Ironically, the average Christian Joe hasn't been taught to think too deeply, only to feel what is right and follow his own heart which puts him on the same level as the gay person who also judges what is morally right and wrong based on their own same-sex feelings of attraction. Of course, Joe Christian will point to the Bible and say: "no, it says homosexuality is a sin...see! right here, chapter and verse!" Just because you can point to a chapter and verse, doesn't mean you are thinking very deeply. It maybe only proves that you can read! Our culture doesn't take the Bible as authoritative anymore and so you might as well be quoting from the phone book (which nobody uses anymore). I'm not saying that the Bible isn't authoritative, because it is! It's God's infallible, inspired, inerrant Word. It's teachings establish the basis for truth for us and it frames our worldview (when interpreted correctly in the right context).

 But how do you argue from a book that these people don't think is authoritative? How do you show them that their sexual preference is sinful and unnatural? First of all, the Spirit of God has to convince them of that, second of all, you need to frame the context in the gospel because it's the power of God unto salvation. Quoting verses isn't good enough, you need to give them the good news while you explain to them their own brokenness. Yes, the gospel has the power to save people from homosexuality, even if it doesn't completely eradicate their same sex attraction.

 1. We are all sexually broken - Our brokenness is a result of the fall. Sin has affected all of us and every part of us, especially our sexuality. Man's sinful nature distorts all that God had originally created and declared as good. What does this mean for our sexuality? It means we want more than or less than God ordained and pronounced as good.

 Sex outside of marriage (fornication) - is less than God intended. He wants more for us - commitment, oneness, security, protection, family and all that comes with the institution of marriage. Fornicating as a casual encounter with the opposite sex (or same sex) is less than what God wants for us.

 Extramarital Sex (adultery) - is more than God intended. To have sexual relations with others while married is wrong because it betrays the very trust, commitment, oneness, security and love that is supposed to be enjoyed in the covenant of marriage.

 Multiple Partner Sex (polygamy/bigamy) - is more than God intended. It overextends a man's ability to love, protect, serve and nurture a woman because he has too many. It also breeds insecurity and jealousy between the wives who were hard-wired by God to be have one man not to be shared with any other.

 Fantasy Sex (pornography) - is less than God intended. It is a lie and fantasy that men and women enter into that denigrates other people into nothing more than sexual objects of our greed for sexual fulfillment. It also begins to shape a person's mind to strip person-hood away from others in real life and to see them as nothing more than object of sexual gratification.

Same Sex (homosexuality) - is more than God intended because it goes beyond the design God created for sexual fulfillment.

Underage Sex (pedophilia) - is less than God intended because it robs a child of their natural development and violates their innocence. Children are not fully developed psychologically, emotionally or even physically. They are not even capable of fulfilling the role of marriage where sex was designed to be enjoyed. It is a wicked crime and abuse of the most vulnerable people.

Inter species Sex (bestiality) - Self evidently perverted. Enough said. This discussion will actually be a point of debate some time in the future as the culture actually morally degenerates to this new low.

Now at this point, the homosexual person could protest and say that if he naturally feels this attraction, how is it unnatural? How is it not God's design? Didn't God make him this way? It's really not much different if I were to tell you that in my heart, I am really a polygamist, and that I really believe that I have the capacity to love more than one woman at the same time...should I act on that? What if my wife was OK with it? No, because it's not God's design. That's my sexual brokenness desiring something that is not God's design. That would be greed! Wanting more than what God has given me. Homosexuality is also sexual brokenness. Adultery is sexual brokenness, having multiple partners is sexual brokenness. There is an interesting piece written by a reporter at the Guardian, a UK newspaper, where he recounts his life as a "serial shagger". This guy's sexual exploits were a self-confessed result of his brokenness as a child. He did not really know what love really was although he "made love" with hundreds of women. This brings me to my next point.

 2. What is love? 

This graphic is a gay interpretation of what love is. It's a human right, it's gay marriage, it's not a heterosexual privilege and so on. The question is: Who defines love? This goes back to the fundamental question - who defines truth? It's relative right? You decide what is true for you and you decide what love is for yourself. If that is your ethos of love, then what stops any of the other expressions of sexual brokenness from being wrong? If a woman wants to love her German Shepherd, and the dog obviously gets "happy" and is willing...why is that only a human right? Why should that be illegal. Furthermore, if a little boy has a crush on his 5th grade teacher, why can't the two decide what love is for themselves and enjoy each other sexually? Fill in your protest here: "_______________". OK, my answer to you is: "Says who?"

 Another question: If love is a human right, then who granted that right? Rights are derived from someone or something with greater authority than the one with the right. Who or what is greater than humanity that has granted that right? If you're honest with yourself, either all the talk about rights, love and marriage are totally meaningless or they get their meaning from God. 1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.

 Love is an attribute of God and therefore it finds its significance and rightful expressions as God dictates and demonstrates. God says of love that it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (I Cor. 13:6). Jesus said that God's Word is the truth (John 17:17). So, to say that you "love" someone of the same sex in a sexual way is not love as God defines it. It is a distortion of love. Is it wrong to love the same sex? No. I love my male friends: I'll name a few - Jon M, Tom P, Bob B, Jeremy S, Dave E, etc... I love all those guys. I'd lay down my life for them and take a bullet for them, but I won't have sex with them! I need male friendship and male love, as God intended!

Likewise, I love many other women besides my wife. But I love her and only her in a way that I do not love anyone else! I love all the women in our church for example. I'd take a bullet for all of them as well, but I won't engage in a sexual relationship with any of them because that would not be an expression of love. It would be an expression of greed. Love "seeks not her own" (I Cor. 13:5). Love is demonstrated by God in Jesus Christ who laid down His life for our soul to restore us from the distortion of sin that has wreaked havoc in our lives through broken relationships, abusive relationships, and failed marriages.

 3. What about my feelings? 
 There are those who say they are "gay Christians" and one asked me if being gay and Christian is an oxymoron. No it's not an oxymoron to be gay and Christian because being a sinner and being justified is exactly what it means to be a Christian! It's no different than being an adulterer and a Christian. We are simul justus et peccator - "simultaneously righteous and sinful" if we are in Christ.

 The difference is which one is your master? Your sexual desires or Christ? If we live a life characterized by following our sexual fallenness, then we are not truly "Christians":

 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthinans 6:9-11

 What you practice reveals what controls you and who is your Master.

 But the gay person might say: "I'm gay, I cant help it, I'm born that way!"
Our response should be: "I know, but you can be born again a different way!"
We were all "born that way" as Lady Gaga sings.

She's part right and yet tragically wrong. She doesn't take into account of the fall and its effects and certainly offers no hope of salvation except to just embrace one's fallen condition as the way God made us - which is a lie.

Our propensity and inclination toward our sinful nature and it's feelings don't go away when we are born again. They now compete with a new nature that desires God's way (Romans 7:17-23). The same sex attraction may never go away, just like a heterosexual man's struggle with lusting after all the beautiful women out there certainly never goes away. It becomes regulated under the Lordship of Christ who becomes our supreme satisfaction and allegiance. The struggle continues until final salvation when we drop this broken sinful body in the ground and are clothed with the perfection that awaits us with Christ! That's the real good news for gays. Not that society has recognized their brokenness as equally acceptable with everyone else's brokenness. They're still broken and need a Savior!

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Life Giving Crucifixion of a Disappointing Church

I don't know if I have written any other blog post that is more vulnerable and more honest than this one. I risk revealing  too much of  my weakness and I risk disappointing some people in my congregation if they should read this. Yet, what I am learning is worth sharing because I know that there are many other pastors like me who need to hear this because they won't get it from anyone else who pastor large and growing churches that are held up for our esteem and admiration.

I'm one of the 99.99%
I have really benefited from reading the struggles of ministry from guys like Tullian Tchividjian, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll and Andy Stanley but the reality is, a lot of their success can be attributed to who they know, who they're related to, their natural charisma, good looks, business savvy and their dynamic / magnetic personalities along with God's grace to maximize these natural gifts for His kingdom. These guys are one in a 100,000 and are God's gifts to the church (one or two of them may be God's scourge!).  As for the rest of us: the countless pastors and ministers in microscopic ministries dotted all over the country; the many ignoble and non-mighty whom God calls, we read books and attend conferences led by the .01% who have almost no idea how to relate to us. So, as one of those in the 99.99% of plain, feebly-talented, not-well-educated, related to nobody famous, with a dry personality; I hope to share some of what God is doing in my life because He may be doing the same thing through yours as you struggle through what you may see as a disappointing ministry.  This isn't meant to say that I think 99.99% of us are in ministries that disappoint our expectations, but within that number, I know I have met many guys who pastored for 5-15 years and it seemed that nothing good ever came of it - the church split, the church closed, the church fired them and all that seemed to be in the wake of the experience was damage, emotional carnage and disappointment.

The Biggest Disappointment of My Life
So, in the last five years of being our church's full-time, lead pastor I have experienced disappointment in church ministry in the following ways: The roller-coaster effect of growth and decline in three cycles; the revolving door of membership so that the church I now shepherd is almost a completely different list of people than the people I started with; the unfaithfulness of the majority of people in their willingness to serve, attendance, giving, care for others besides themselves and half-hearted commitments. As I struggle with my own heart how to handle these disappointments, the easy solutions quickly surface in my reasoning - look for another church to pastor, look for a job at another church where I don't have to pastor or get a job and resign. The most mundane job doing data entry would be a relief from these emotionally and spiritually crushing weights.

Disappointment Is My Life-Changing Cross
But yet, I hear the Savior say "Thy strength indeed is small, child of weakness watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all! Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I will strengthen thee and help thee and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous omnipotent hand I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress. The flame will not hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine!"

I look beyond my temporal grief and see the Lord there in the yoke with me under my cross, His shoulders next to mine, bearing the load and with His arms holding me up from stumbling under the weight. He reminds me that the crushing disappointment that I now feel with very few sheep was felt in full measure on the day He was crucified. I hear his voice call me and say:

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it."  (Luke 9:23-24)
"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My regenerated heart believes these promises. Nothing comforts or motivates me, but simple faith in these words of life. This faith of mine is not even of my faith is even being upheld by Christ's gracious love and power. I would die if these words of Christ were not true. I will be without any hope if I do not believe Him right here, right now.

Today, I dropped my wife off at work and while we were sitting in the car before she got out of the car, we listened to one of her favorite hymns: "O The Deep Deep Love of Jesus" and with tears in her eyes, she took my hand and said: "honey, that's all we need...the deep deep love of Jesus." At that moment, I realized that Jesus was loving me through her. He was speaking to me through her love for me to remind me of His incredible love for me. I went to my favorite park to pray like I try to do every morning that the weather permits and God met me there in the silence of the garden to unload my burden on Him. He flooded my heart with hope...not that the church will mature, grow, plant churches nor develop into a powerhouse for the gospel in Fremont, CA. but He put hope in my heart that He loves me far too much to give me the desire of my heart without changing my heart so that it is fit to receive such a weight of responsibility. The weight of disappointment, grief, frustration and desperation is the weight of the cross that He has designed to make me fit to carry the weight of a Kingdom-building church. 

My  Weakness is Exposed
I think back to pastors whom I have known who fell under the weight of an ever-growing church because they didn't have the spiritual fortitude, gospel-transformation or selfless love to handle it. The pastor who performed the wedding for my wife and I fell under this weight after nine years of "successful" ministry. He was becoming well-known in the Baptist circles that we were in and He was honored at the big annual conference we attended. Our previous church where we were members was 400+ and growing, had a Christian school, had several full time paid staff,  beautiful property, lot's of money coming from faithful, generous, hard working members and  we were planning on a large building project. But that came to a screeching halt as the pastor succumbed to his own weakness and pride and lost it all.  The truth is, I would have fallen much earlier if I were him. So, how could I ever sit in judgment of him or anyone else? It has been God's gentle mercy to withhold such success at this time. I  probably would have fallen with less than half the success of my former pastor. Yet, at the same time, it is also God's undeserved mercy that I am still afforded the opportunity to pastor one of His churches with all my material needs being met while He provides on-the-job-training. There is no other boss in this world who would give me five years of on-the-job training while being patient with my repeated failures as he provides me health, health insurance, a house, food, clothing, office supplies, vacations and a killer Camaro to drive to work in. God is too good to me, an unworthy, undeserving, worm of a man. He continues to expose my weaknesses because He loves me too much to let me stay that way.

The Life that the Cross is Producing

The first year that I was interim pastor of our church, I had experienced an overwhelming transformation and reformation in theology that broke me free from the bondage of an ignorant legalistic dogmatism rooted in an unbiblical fundamentalism. But exposure to new theology wasn't enough to transform all that was lacking in my preparedness to be a real Christ-like preacher and minister. Theology had to do more than change my mind, it takes a customized crucifixion experience along with it to change my heart. These are the living waters that Jesus has been digging for  in the  well of my heart. He has been pulling out of all the stones of selfishness, lust, idolatry and pride to create a wellspring of living water that will eventually gush out of my soul and water others with (John 7:38):

1. God is teaching me to love Him - Above all,  God is teaching me to really believe and say with King David: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:25-26)
Up to this point, the strength of my heart has been rooted in the works of my hands. Yet,  God has caused most of them to fail so that I will not delight nor desire them. He is weaning me off the idolatry of my own self-justification. "Hallelujah, All I Have is Christ" has become my new anthem.

2. God is teaching me to love the unlovely - Just like a Pharisee, I easily love those who love me and who meet up to my expectations. Those who fail to keep up with me can eat the dust in my rearview mirror. Oh how wicked and selfish I am! Yet Jesus lovingly waits for me to catch up and never leaves me when I fail Him. The people who have disappointed me the most only serve to remind me how I have denied Christ like Peter. Yet Christ lovingly sought him out to extend grace. He is teaching me to love His feeble and weak people like He has done for me.

3. God is teaching me His love - Through it all, God is reminding me of His love for me through patience with me, through His gentle rebukes, through His gracious provision and through the people of God. I am loved by God through my wife, my parents, other pastors, my friends in the church who show concern and patience toward me also.

4. God is teaching me humility - When you grow up in a mega church of 2000+ and then pastor a church of no more than 50 for five years in a row, your pride is violently assaulted. When you take all the administrative skills you learned in Bible College and in your experience at big churches and then fail to administrate the Holy Spirit's wind to blow on your ministry, it is humbling. All the books written by Nelson Searcy, Rick Warren, Bill Hybles, Andy Stanley, Paul Chappell, John Maxwell will not give you what you really need to make a church grow. It comes when the wind blows by the Spirit of God and He does what He wants when He wants to whom He wants and you have absolutely no control over Him! He lovingly makes me boast in nothing but the cross!

5. God is teaching me to fear Him and not man - The fear of man is a snare (Prov. 29:25) that traps you and enslaves you to the lust for respect, esteem, approval and recognition of others who you allow to sit in judgment over your ministry. It is only God who really knows me and it is His esteem, approval and judgment that I need to be concerned with.

6. God is teaching me the gospel - If I had been getting my approval, self esteem, joy and satisfaction from a successful ministry, I would probably be preaching whatever else it takes to keep it going that way. I would have been looking to pragmatism and programs for the power of God rather than the gospel. God has used books like "Grace Plus Nothing", The Gospel Primer", "Christ Formed in You", Jesus + Nothing = Everything", "Prodigal God" and the T4G Conference to show me the centrality of the gospel!

7. God is teaching me the necessity of the Spirit - I've always heard lip service to the power of the Holy Spirit, but until you experience not having it, you realize how essential it is. You learn to start praying hard for it, because the reality of Jesus' words really hit home:
John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
8. God is teaching me to value what He values - We are concerned with the things that we can see and hold in our hands. God is more concerned about what's in our hearts. God's more concerned about what He is doing in my life than what I'm doing to build His Kingdom. He can build His Kingdom without me or our church, but I can't do anything without the work He's doing in my life. I'm concerned with church attendance, He's concerned with heart worship; I'm concerned about the condition of the building but He's concerned with the condition of my heart.

9. God is forging Godly character in my life - You can't learn patience, longsuffering, endurance, trusting God and loving others in a theology book. It takes a crucifixion to learn that. Jesus is putting to death my impatience, my self-dependence, my anger and my pride through the church of the cross so that He can resurrect me into a godly man.

10. God is teaching me what the church is really supposed to be - If the church would have taken off and kept me busy managing all the people, events and programs, I would not care about community or real discipleship. I would have been content with the superficial busyness of the crowd fa├žade for a healthy church. Instead, God has developed in my heart and mind a vision for what a real church should be: "An authentic community of disciples on the mission of Jesus." The cross of disappointment has forced me to really find out what the real church is and not settle for anything less, no matter how successful Andy Stanley says it is.

11. He has made me thirsty for Revival - Of all unexpected lessons I would have learned, I have become aware of what real Revival is and have become increasingly hungry for God to "do it again".
While others think they are experiencing God's blessing when they employ man-made methods that produce sociological results that can be measured and calculated, I have seen what the real church looks like without real revival. It is a valley of dry bones that cannot live without God's Spirit breathing life into them.  So, I am driven to prayer and the Word!

I don't know what the end of the story will look like for me or for our church. I don't know how stubborn I really am and how much corruption God still has to cleanse me of, but I know this:

Psalm 138:8 The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Essential and Non-Essential Truths

When  I read various blogs, I hear people refer to unity in the essentials and in charity in non-essentials. I have also read protest that there are no non-essential truths. If God has revealed truth, it is essential! The big questions is...essential for what? Well, all truth is essential for life and godliness:

2 Peter 1:3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,

All that pertains to life and godliness is given by God and would then be essential. Therefore, the knowledge of God is vital because it's through Him that we understand and apply that which is essential to being conformed to Christ.

But when Christians talk about "fundamentals" or "essentials", they are not saying that some truths is unnecessary and can be thrown out if one doesn't like them.  To characterize Christians in such a way is divisive and ungodly. If God said it, then it matters! What it is meant by "essential" would depend on what exactly you're talking about. Essential for what? What is essential to be saved? What is essential to join a church? What is essential for inter-church fellowship? What is essential for inter-church cooperation and cooperation in which endeavors?

Essentials for Salvation
Fellowship among Christians is God's general will for all of us:
1 John 1:3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

Any Christian who has believed the gospel and has been born again has fellowship with other Christians at the most basic level - in God. What is essential for this kind of fellowship is believing in what is essential for salvation: The deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ (thus the Trinity by implication), the gospel of which consists of many fundamental doctrines - vicarious atonement, bodily resurrection, justification by free grace through and faith *and conversely repentance*. Even at this most basic level, many new converts will not fully understand imputation, propitiation and some other essential doctrines in the gospel but I can still have brotherly fellowship with a believer who at least doesn't deny them.

Gospel is of first importance! 
1 Corinthians 15:3-4  For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

Those who deny that the gospel is not more important than other doctrines are dangerous people who would cheapen the good news and teach other believers to do the same.

The UBS Translators handbook suggests that "First of All" is both first in time and importance:

Of first importance is literally “in (the) first (plural),” an expression used only here in the New Testament. The phrase can mean “first in time” or “first in importance.” It seems likely that Paul intended both meanings here: “first and foremost”; “of first importance” is another possibility.

"First of all" en protois according to Archibald Robertson's excellent work on word studies means: Among first things. Not to time, but to importance.

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown in their classic commentary concur that "first of all" literally means, “among the foremost points” (Heb 6:2). The atonement is, in Paul’s view, of primary importance.

To put the gospel of saving grace on the same level of importance as baptism for example, is to wrongly exalt baptism to the primacy of that which saves from sin. Paul says in
1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel...
Well, technically yes Christ did send him to baptize according to the great commission in Matthew 28:19, but what Paul is doing here is differentiating the importance of one over the other. The Corinthians were glorying in their baptism by certain apostles, and Paul is trying to get their priorities straight. Their focus on the message of the gospel had been lost.  Now, although there is one Lord, one Faith, One Baptism in Ephesians 4:5,This verse isn't saying that Baptism is equal in rank or importance as the Lord or even the Faith.  The next verse states that the Lord is over all! Even in this triad, the Lord is supreme over the faith and I could say "more important" than Baptism. Even if you don't get baptism right (which as a Baptist, we marvel at how something so clear in Scripture can be misunderstood with the various modes not found in the Bible), we can still have 1 John 1:3 fellowship! Why? Because baptism isn't essential to salvation.

Essentials of Church Membership Fellowship
However, baptism is essential for church membership. We can have 1 John 1:3 fellowship, but we wouldn't be able to have Acts 2:41 fellowship.
Acts 2:41  Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
This is why our church is a Baptist Church and not a Presbyterian Church. There's only one way to be added to our church and that's to be saved AND baptized as a believer by immersion. Me and my Presbyterian brother can pray together (because we have fellowship in the same Lord), but we can't be members of the same church.

Beyond the local church, there would have to be a body of doctrine that other churches would have to agree with together if they are going to have cooperation with each other on certain things. For instance, a Presbyterian and Baptist church may be able to cooperate together by providing a food pantry for the poor in their community but would not be able to cooperate together in financially supporting the same missionaries. Perhaps a Dispensational church and a Covenant Theology church could cooperate by hosting a conference together on the subject of expository preaching but would not be able to do so on the subject of prophecy.

The comparison between Baptists and Presbyterians on the subject of Baptism is a little simplistic. What about those who practice certain things that other churches have convictions against? That will have to wait for another post....