Thursday, February 28, 2013

Secularized Time

Gerald Bray writes on our current cultural situation,

Things have gotten so bad that even supposedly "Christian" publishers now put out books using the so-called "Common Era" dating system, which is nothing but a secularization of the (politically incorrect) Christian calendar.

This in a chapter entitled "The Rejection of God's Love by Human Beings."

To this I say, "Amen." Is time a good gift of God's love, to be received and gratefully acknowledged by us as such? Is the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord the centerpiece of time? Undoubtedly, yes.

If and when our pagan culture turns back the clock and structures the calendar according to pagan notions of time, Christians can certainly get along. But we must carry in our hearts and structure into our churches the hope of what time means in Christ. Otherwise we will have been effectively secularized.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Bible Shining Full Strength

God's Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Of that we have no doubt. We all know, however, that it is possible to use God's Word foolishly. We use it with dimmer switches, not wanting it to reveal too much about us. Satan himself does not hesitate to use the Word if he thinks he can deceive someone with it! Light becomes darkness.

So how can we let the Word shine full strength, not shading it to fit what we want but opening ourselves up to it in faith and love?

As we lead up to our seminar on Christian ethics which begins in April, I would like to share some examples of those who have attempted to answer this question. These examples are not all created equal. Some are stronger and some are weaker. Some are richer and some are poorer. Yet through engaging with these thinkers, we can gain wisdom about how we use the Word.

The first example is Richard B. Hays in his weighty tome, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Hays helpfully gives a "diagnostic checklist" to assess how Scripture is used to answer the ethical questions we all face. Here is his list in outline form.
  • Descriptive - How accurate/adequate is the exegesis of texts used?
  • Synthetic
    • Range: How comprehensive is the scope of texts employed?
    • Selection: Which biblical texts are used and not used? Is there a canon within the canon? How is the selection determined?
    • How does the interpreter handle texts that are in tension with his or her position?
    • What focal images are employed?
  • Hermeneutical
    • What is the mode of appeal to the text? What sort of work does the Scripture do? What sorts of proposals does it authorize?
      • Rules
      • Principles
      • Paradigms
      • Symbolic world
        • The human condition
        • The character of God
    • What other sources of authority do the interpreters rely on?
      • Tradition
      • Reason
      • Experience
  •  Pragmatic - The fruits test: How is the vision embodied in a living community? Does the community manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)?
Hays intends that we take this list as a means of developing discernment, not as a method to generate fool-proof lists of rules to live by.

This list is quite substantial and worthwhile. Even though I am convinced that there are serious weaknesses in the way Hays puts this list into practice (see some critique here), the list itself is challenging in a good way. It definitely challenges us to go beyond simplistic proof-texting, which amounts to finding what we want in the Bible and ignoring the rest.

Importantly, this list also challenges us to go beyond simplistic principalizing. Principalizing, or the process of abstracting general truths from specific circumstances in the Bible, is not wrong in principle (pun intended). Yet it is also quite easy for us to mute the authority of Scripture in this way. We naturally find the principles in the Bible that fit with our preconceived notions and filter out as impossible those principles which clash with what we think of as normal. In fact, I believe that naive principalizing may be the most common current strategy by which American evangelicals tame the Bible. Hays won't let us get away with that!

More to come later. I'm looking forward to this seminar, and covet your prayers as I prepare.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Few Links

It's been quiet on the blog this week as I focus more time and energy into preparing for our upcoming seminar on Christian ethics. So to keep you from being bored out of your minds (since I know you depend on this blog for quality entertainment), and to encourage some good reading, here are a couple links to articles you should check out.

What to think about Tim Tebow withdrawing from speaking at First Baptist Church in Dallas? Carl Trueman has the answer.

Ed Stetzer is a church-planting/church-growth guru among Southern Baptists. As I attempted (a feeble attempt, but an attempt none-the-less) to become well-equipped for church planting, in 2004 I read his book Planting New Churches in a Post-Modern Age. I had and still have significant concerns about flaws in his approach. David Doran exposes the flaw of failing to define what it means for churches to thrive biblically.

And just for fun:

We Have Peace with God

One of the offerings that God gave to Israel was not designed to make peace with God but to celebrate peace with God. The peace offering, sometimes called the fellowship offering, was the only sacrifice that the common people could partake of. As they came confessing sin and praising him, God fed his people with the offering that had been set apart to him. By doing so, God said to them, "Your sin has been atoned for, and we are at peace. You are my friends, and I will bless you." Powerful joy enveloped the worshipers. This is what prompted the psalmist to write, "Let them offering sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!"

The peace offering has much to teach us in our worship today. Join us this Lord's Day to be touched by this joy.

Come We that Love the Lord (#223)
How Sweet and Awful Is the Place (#238)
Psalm 23b
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 15:19-33; Psalm 54
New Testament: Luke 9:23-45

Worship, Wisdom, and Work Series: The Peace Offering and Our Worship - Leviticus 3; 7:11-38

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sorry Grandpa, That Don't Count

Last year I had the honor of participating in The Conference on the Church for God's Glory in Rockford, IL. There I presented a little study on baptism and the Lord's Supper. Recently, I received a good question from a brother who read the paper online. I expect that many people have the same kind of a question, so I'd like to attempt to give a bit of the answer here.

In the presentation, I argued that "baptism must be administered by the church, which is to say, by particular churches. Each local assembly which is a true church is an expression of the body of Christ at that time and place, and no other person or institution is authorized by Christ to administer baptism. Baptism should not be administered by grandpa in the backyard pool or by Joe counselor at the local Christian camp. To do so risks making baptism a merely human act that God has not authorized, on the one hand, and on the other hand it fails to unite the one baptized with any real expression of the body of Christ." 

That argument prompted this question, "Philip baptized the Ethiopian in the middle of the desert. The jailor and his family were baptized that same hour of the same night that they heard the gospel. Lydia likewise. All of these examples were not performed by the church as a body. Isn't any person who is a baptized believer part of Christ's church? If so, based on the examples from scripture this statement concerning who should baptize or where and when seems to be in error."

In response, I wrote what follows. I don't think it was the best response possible, but perhaps it is helpful. I submit it to you for your judgment. 

In each of the cases you mentioned, as well as most other instances in the book of Acts, there was no local church to represent Christ in that place at that time. There was, however, an apostle to baptize in Jesus’ name. The church began with the apostles’ ministry. When they baptized, they were acting as authorized representatives of Christ. The apostles eventually moved off the scene, but the church carried on Christ’s commission by baptizing and teaching all that he had commanded....
The question then becomes, “Who is authorized to represent Christ today by baptizing those who receive the Word?” For you see, when we baptize someone we are claiming to be enacting what Jesus does by his Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). That’s a big claim. Can just anyone who feels like it do it? Could my seven year old daughter, who is a believer, claim to be enacting the Spirit’s work and then proceed to baptize someone? Furthermore, how can others know that one is a believer and a representative of Christ? Just because I say I am?

Today we tend to reason simplistically like this:
  1. Each individual believer represents Christ.
  2. Each individual who represents Christ is authorized to act publicly on Christ’s behalf.
  3. Therefore, each individual believer is authorized to act publicly on Christ’s behalf (and we then quickly assume, to baptize people).
But this reasoning leaves important truth out of the equation. It is true that each believer represents Christ, but not each believer purely as an individual. Each believer represents Christ as a member of his body. To say that each believer represents Christ purely as an individual is like saying that I can be married purely [read: solely; in isolation] as an individual. But this is impossible, for marriage by definition includes a spouse of the opposite sex. I cannot be a husband without having a wife. I cannot be a Christian, representing Christ, without being placed into the body of Christ.

Another analogy to tease out a little of the importance of this corporate connection: As an American citizen, if I travel to another country, people will look at me as a representative of American people. That is legitimate, for that is what I am. Nevertheless, the fact that I represent America on that level does not authorize me to enter into a treaty with that country, to give federal money to that country, or to wage war on that country. I am not a representative of America in that sense.

So it is in the church, the body of Christ. We all represent Christ, but there is order to how this works out. Since baptism is a public admission to the body of Christ, the rite which enacts our initiation into the body of Christ, it is a function of the church, not of any individual within the church. The church is the people, but no individual is the church. Christ has established offices in the church and has given pastors and teachers to the church so that the church is equipped to carry out his work (Eph 4:11-16). There is structure and leadership to the way the church operates. No individual can claim to publicly represent the church and act on behalf of the church without being authorized by the church. No matter which way you slice it, if you have a biblical understanding of baptism as I attempted to put forward in my little study, you will end up with the necessity of the church.

One further thought. Claiming the authority to baptize, and thus to admit people to the church, correlates with the authority to discipline, and thus to remove people from the church. Can any individual believer, purely as an individual, pronounce another person outside the body of Christ? No. This is the prerogative of the church, not of any individual (Matt 16:13-20; 18:15-20). We certainly don’t want a crowd of “protestant popes” running around, each claiming to be the real vicar of Christ, excommunicating people whenever they want to. Likewise, we don’t want a bunch of individualists running around, each claiming to be the real representative of Christ, baptizing people whenever they want to. 

We have to deal with the same question that Jesus put to the Jewish elders regarding John's baptism, albeit in a different context. Is our baptism from heaven or from men?

Take My Blood

"Father, take my life, yea, my blood if Thou wilt, and consume it with Thine enveloping fire. I would not save it, for it is not mine to save. Have it Lord, have it all. Pour out my life as an oblation for the world. Blood is only of value as it flows before Thine altar."

Jim Elliot wrote these words in 1948. One thing is certain, whether he consciously reflected on it or not, he understood an important aspect of the significance of the old covenant sacrificial system. At every turn in Israelite life, it called for complete consecration. Israel was set apart to the Lord, and that included every dimension of her existence.

It is really no different for us today. In Jesus, because of his work of redemption, we are living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. This worship, or service, is the foundation of a whole new way of life that puts into practice the will of God. Join us this Lord's Day as we see what the old covenant grain offering can teach us about building a culture of faithfulness.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
Give of Your Best to the Master (#538)
Trust and Obey (#525)
Take Thou Our Minds, Dear Lord (#551)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 15:1-18; Psalm 40
New Testament: Luke 9:1-22

Worship, Wisdom, and Work Series: The Grain Offering and Our Worship - Leviticus 2

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Giving Joy and Grief to Church Leaders

In our seminar on church membership, Justin passed out a little checklist to help apply Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." The checklist is summarized from Life in the Father's House, chapter 4.

Help leaders enjoy their ministry
  • Believe in Christ - 1 Thess 2:19-20
  • Walk in obedience to Christ - 3 John 3-4
  • Cultivate and preserve unity in the body - Phil 2:1-2
  • Pray for them - 2 Cor 1:10-11
  • Express personal love and loyalty to them - 2 Cor 7:5-7
  • Seek their counsel and direction
  • Receive their reproof with gratefulness - Prov 9:8
  • Believe the best about their character and decisions - 1 Cor 13:7; 1 Tim 5:19
  • Work beside them in ministry - Eph 4:12
How to bring leaders grief
  • Be indifferent about salvation and fail to examine ourselves regularly 2 Cor 13:5
  • Sin against Christ or fail to grow in him as we should
  • "Bite and devour one another" - Gal 5:15; sow discord among the brethren - Prov 6:19
  • Make no effort to affirm our love for them or know them personally
  • Seek counsel merely among friends or outside the church, especially when we do so in the realm of the ungodly - Psa 1:1
  • Respond to their loving reproof with insults or callousness - Prov 9:7
  • Distrust their motives and judge them unfairly or too hastily - 1 Cor 4:1-5
  • By being 'pew potatoes' who think our only responsibility for involvement in the church is to warm a seat

Friday, February 08, 2013

An Unstoppable God; an Unshakable Church

This Lord's Day, missionary Jeremy Pittsley will present the Word to us as we assemble in Jesus' name. We look forward to hearing how the work of Christ is advancing and how we can participate in it.

Come, Christians, Join to Sing (#67)
Salvation! O My Soul Rejoice (#291)
Hark! the Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)
For My Sake and the Gospel's, Go (#695)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 14:33-56; Psalm 67
New Testament: Luke 8:40-56

An Unstoppable God; an Unshakable Church - Acts 5:17-32

P.S. Do not forget our baptism service at 1:30, which will be held here. Many thanks to Austin Bluffs Church for the use of their facilities!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Burn All of It

Nations ask (or tell) people to give up their lives for the sake of the nation, social groups demand conditions for membership, employers require loyalty and commitment. We may think that offering sacrifices is not important in our enlightened era. Haven't we grown out of that? But the reality is otherwise. All of us have loyalties, and loyalties demand sacrifice. Ultimate loyalties require our lives. We are worshiping creatures. We will always act this way. Even something as unimportant as a football game can grow to consume an entire life or an entire society. Why do we do this? Because through the sacrifice we hope to get real life.

Is there a sacrifice which truly does make us at peace with Ultimate Reality? Is there a sacrifice that not only consumes us but also remakes us into all that we were meant to be?

The answer is yes. Join us this Lord's Day to learn of it.

Arise, My Soul, Arise (#174)
'Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies (Tune: Hamburg)
'Tis the Christ (#150)
Look, Ye Saints (#163)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 14:21-32; Psalm 50
New Testament: Luke 8:19-39

The Whole Burnt Offering and Our Worship - Leviticus 1