Friday, December 20, 2013

The Scandal of the Passively-Churched

I'm not merely arguing semantics here with my look at Kevin DeYoung's blog post The Scandal of the Semi-Churched at The Gospel Coalition site.  Yes, I do here look at the meanings of words.  But the reason I can say I am not merely arguing semantics is that the meaning of the following words do have actual application in the real world.

Consider the word "churched".  It has become quite the fad in Reformed churches in the last couple of decades to speak of people in terms of the extent they are "churched".  We have the "churched", "unchurched", "de-churched", "under-churched", and now here the "semi-churched".  I first learned this terminology in an Al Martin-style Reformed Baptist clone church in the mid-90's.  The "churched" were those who were full, practicing, formal members of a church.  The "unchurched" were those who attended every Sunday, listened and took notes of every sermon, attended all the church meetings, helped those members in need, brought great food to the pot luck, and outwardly lived and acted like true Christians in every conceivable manner...except that they had not signed the dotted line on the formal church membership papers (the true litmus test for salvation).

One thing to note about the word "churched" as it compares with the word "church", is that "churched" is a verb, while "church" (ekklesia in the NT) is a noun.  This is important.  In addition, the verb "churched" is in the passive tense.  Its meaning would be this: to have church done to you.  This is in stark contrast to the noun "church" that depicts a physical thing, as the actions relating to "church" are found in biblical imperatives and examples of actions in the Christian life.

There is cause for concern about the "semi-churched" because the semi-churched can only have church done to them when they actually show up.  It simply doesn't matter what other grand things for the Kingdom people may be doing, if they aren't in the one position of being churched, the ones doing the churching unto other people are SOL.  They are powerless.

The bible shows us a few metaphors that are handy in making my point here.  The church is linked to the image of being the family of God.  It is also a body which has members, and the members are individual believers.  Now, if somebody in my family didn't show up for dinner (my wife went shopping recently, and in other cases I worked swing shift), or was out of the house (my oldest son recently had a sleep-over at his cousin's house), all the others in my family would realize it.  The rest of us actually miss the one who is absent.  It makes a big difference in the dynamic of the family.  Sometimes, my wife has all the kids talk on speaker phone when I'm at work on swing shift and they say how they miss me.  Similarly, if my body suddenly was missing a body part, it would be known.  Its function would be missed the entire time the body part was missing.  As an example, a family member of mine woke up one morning deaf in one ear.  No cause was ever diagnosed.  Decades later, the effect is still dramatic.  It affects being able to hear clearly, where sound comes from, how to talk on the phone, on and on.

When semi-churched people are absent, does it make a radical difference in the dynamic of the church that day?  No?  In my experience, I've missed Sundays for various reasons (most of them valid, by the way), and nobody has ever said that my absence caused the body to function in a different way.  I've attended a handful of churches regularly in my life.  Each time I've left a church (for whatever reason), I've never received a call from a concerned soul asking why I was gone and how it is affecting the church.  The shepherd has never left the ninety-and-nine to come after the stray, me.

Maybe the semi-churched are realizing, even if they can't put their finger on it, that their church isn't like a family or a body, and that's why they can go missing.  Maybe they can't take consistent churching.  Maybe the lack of input as body members or family members is noticeable.  If your church doesn't treat you like family or like a body member, there's a problem.  Maybe the scandal of the semi-church is really the scandal of the passively-churched.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

False.  The bible is full, from beginning to end, of warnings and stories of the false.  False prophets, false teachers, false Christs, false apostles, false leaders, false doctrine, false teachings, false beliefs, false spirits, false believers.

In the Old Testament, God warns of false prophets, and not only that, but gives his people a test they can use to determine if a prophet is false.  False prophets are predicted many times.  In the New Testament, Jesus warns of the leaven of the Pharisees' teachings, their false humility, and pretty near curses them to their faces.  He warns of false prophets and false Christs to come, that they will come deceiving, and bringing amazing signs and wonders to lead many astray.  He warns of blind leaders of the blind.  He warns even of a false disciple in his own midst, one that will turn the very Son of God over to a death sentence.  The apostles warn of false prophets, false teachers, wolves in sheep's clothing.  Paul warns the elders at Ephesus that ravenous wolves will arise from their very own group of men.  John warns us to not believe every spirit, but to test the spirits.  Jesus commends a church in the book of Revelation for proving that self-proclaiming apostles are false.

Not only are there numerous warnings in the bible about those who are false, there are numerous mentions as to what these false people will do and how they will do it.  We are also told many times what to look for to determine if somebody is false.  These are dire warnings, given with the most extreme urgency and listing the most horrible consequences.  And to finish this, we are not only told about other people being false, we are given lists of sins that we can be tempted with that will take us down the same path.

If you ask me, this is a pretty amazing thing about the bible.  Think about it, and see if you don't agree.  If you question this, consider the following.

What other human group, organization or philosophy - no matter how good the cause may seem - takes such pains to warn others of false deceivers that will arise from within its own system?  Do political parties to this?  Do the Republicans and Democrats warn the public, saying, "hey, future candidates and office holders from our party will take illegal campaign contributions, have affairs with interns, be involved in scandals, take bribes and tell lies, and here are all the signs to tell if they are doing these things"?  Whaaa, heck, no!  Are you kidding?  How about groups that are opposed to, let's say, sexual harassment?  Are these groups going to inform the masses that there are false victims out there that will make up false stories to falsely incriminate somebody to further the cause based on false pretenses, and here are all the signs to look out for in case somebody does?  Again, are you kidding?  How about the police?  They warn all the time about what criminals do and what to watch out for, and they occasionally warn about what to look for when somebody is impersonating a police officer, but do they ever warn about rogue cops and bad apples and corruption from within the department and how to discern?  I can't remember this ever happening.

The bizarre thing is that when there is a big name within Christianity that is proven to be a scam artist, child molester or any other false professor of the faith caught in some huge scandal, or some seemingly innocent group turns out to act like some cult, people act like they're surprised.  People take it as reason to blaspheme God, to claim the bible and its teachings are false, to slander good Christians, to dismiss the whole of religion.  Why would the bible be false because of such things?  The bible predicted it, after all.  We've all been warned.  And it's not like all of Christianity is sweeping all of these things under the rug like other organizations often do.  True, there are cover ups and hiding facts and things like these (which is all part of the false), and there have been large scandals throughout history, but there are also numerous organizations and many more individuals that spend large amounts of time to investigate, uncover and expose the false teachers and such.  The bible even tells believers to expose these things.  Historians point out such things from the past and Christian publications document things happening right now.

Heeding the warnings and avoiding the pitfalls will go a long way to keep from being false.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Strange Fire Misfire

The "Strange Fire" conference held by John MacArthur and friends has caused quite a stir in Protestant circles.  But what is somebody like me supposed to make of all this?  Here it is.

John MacArthur is a cessationist, believing the gifts believed in by the charismatic movement have ceased.  I used to be a cessationist.  I was a cessationist, mainly, because I attended cessationist churches with cessationist leaders and listened to teachers that were cessationists.  The only arguments to the contrary were from continuationists - those who believed that the gifts in question continue to this present day.  Their arguments were mostly brought by the cessationists in order to show how they were wrong.  So, I had a biased view of the issues.

I'm not a cessationist

I stopped being a cessationist when I stopped listening to cessationist arguments and the proof texts they used.  I found that I could not support their arguments from the bible alone.  Their arguments were largely logical conclusions that they reached.  The foremost is the closure of canon.  The gifts of tongues and prophesy were used by God as new revelation because the bible wasn't complete yet.  The New Testament was still a work in progress.  Once the bible was complete, God stopped bringing new revelation because the bible is our final authority.  With the bible complete, we no longer need revelation.

But where does the bible say that all use of tongues and prophesy necessarily introduces new revelation not previously available to God's people?  If prophesy is declaring the word of the Lord, it certainly can include declaring an already existing part of scripture but simply applying it to a given situation.  Same with tongues.  Tongues were speaking to somebody who spoke a different language, but the hearer heard your words in his language.  Why does that necessarily mean new revelation?  In Acts, on the day of Pentecost, those who were speaking in tongues were simply "speaking the mighty deeds of God." Acts 2:11.  Additionally, Paul says in Corinthians that tongues shall cease.  But he doesn't say when.  So, I don't buy the arguments for a cessationist viewpoint.

I'm not a continuationist

But neither am I a continuationist.  By that I mean that I don't believe that these gifts are a normative thing for all believers in all ages.  I reject the idea that all true believers must speak in tongues or prophesy, and I also reject the idea that tongues are a second blessing that come at a later time than conversion.  One is baptised at conversion, then a second "baptism in the Holy Spirit" gives one extra gifts.  I don't believe this, and the arguments of the continuationists are the same as the arguments of the cessationists; logical conclusions based on their own interpretations.

I'm neither

I'm neither a cessationist nor a continuationist.  I hear of Acts-like conversion stories for Muslim converts in the Middle East.  I've heard of people claiming to speak in tongues.  But for me, experientially, I've never heard anybody speak in tongues, and I've never had anybody directly tell me they speak in tongues.  And I attended a Pentecostal church for two and a half years!  I'm open to God being God and using what He wants when He wills.  I don't have these gifts, but what if others legitimately do?  I can't prove they don't, and I can't prove they do.

But I can question the extremes on both ends, legitimately.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What the Church Can Learn from a Red Sox Fan

How come "Red Sox Nation is not defined by anything but their love of the Boston Red Sox" but "Churches have rules, they have covenants, they have stuff you have to sign. I know at the churches I’ve been at you had to take classes and get voted in."?

This is asked by Dan Allen in his blog post Red Sox Nation.  He links to this on Facebook with the lead-in, "why the Red Sox are awesome and churches are not."

Dan makes the point that Red Sox Nation (as a biased Giants fan I could re-write Dan's post with my team in view) looks more like what Christianity should look like than Christianity does.  Most of the churches I have attended have preached that "it is Jesus, not Jesus plus something else," yet they have insisted that I must become a formal member of their church or something close to that in order to avoid having my salvation questioned for not doing so.  Why are Christians marginalized for simply wanting to be part of Jesus' followers?

Quoting Allen's two money paragraphs:

The other element of this is what exactly makes one a member of a particular church? To be a member of Red Sox Nation you need simply love the Red Sox. When you go to a game at Camden Yards you are essentially a member of Red Sox Nation gathered at Camden Yards. When you go home to Boston later in the week and go to a game at Fenway you are gathered with Red Sox Nation there as well. Are you more officially a member of either gathering? Are you disloyal to either for going to the other? Of course not. The more places you go, the more games you gather at the more you show your love of the team, the defining trait of being a member. I mean, hell, when you go down to the local sports bar to put down a pitcher of Sam Adams Boston Lager and watch the Sox destroy the Rays, you are a member of the gathering of Red Sox Nation there too!

Churches don’t work exactly like this. You aren’t really allowed to just be part of the group that you are around. You may be allowed to be a guest if you visit family out of town and stop by their church, but if you don’t gather with one group consistantly week to week at the designated meeting place, you are considered a church hopper and somehow, unlike going to all the Red Sox games wherever you can making you a bigger fan, this somehow makes you a less mature, less serious Christian.

Dan makes a good analogy, and I encourage you to read his full post to gain the full flavor of his argument.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Neo-Calvinist Certitude

I've had this post's topic in my draft folder for quite a while.  I simply haven't been able to put my finger on how to word it or how to put my ideas together the best way.  Until now.

One thing that has bothered me for a long time in the New Calvinist movement is the certitude that is so widespread.  Certitude is an absolute certainty about something.  And it's not that any of us aren't certain about our beliefs; we are.  I'm certain about everything I believe, but I also know that I'm wrong about quite a few things.  I simply haven't discovered what those things are yet.  If history (my history) is any indication, I will discover a number of things over the next few years that will cause me to change my view about a number of things.  The next few years after that will produce the same thing.  As iron sharpens iron, I will become sharper because I will allow other iron to sharpen me.

The certitude in the neo-cal movement is something that takes on a different aura.  Many have become so certain about what they believe - all that they believe, and that they are certain about all things - that they have prevented themselves from learning truth. They are so certain about their whole system, they can't learn anything new.  Anything new outside of their system, that is.  It is true that they continue to learn, but they seem only to be able to learn new things that already fit within the system.  Their system.

I think this is what I was getting at when I wrote my post titled, "If Iron Sharpens Iron, Then Why Is The Reformed Drawer So Full Of Dull, Rusty Knives?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stupid Things to Not Say to Those Who Hurt

I ran across a Facebook link to a blog post titled, "3 Phrases Christians Should Quit Relying On" by a blogger named Jayson Bradley.

While the three phrases the author uses are not specifically aimed at people confronted with hurting people, two of them he specifically ties to suffering.  The three he lists are:

  1. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
  2. “God told me . . .”
  3. “I’ll pray for you.”
For why you should never tell somebody that God doesn't give them more than they can handle, Bradley suggests,

"It’s just dumb: People go through more than they can handle all the time. Whether it’s the loss of a child or a slow death from cancer, people are going through things you can’t possibly imagine. Would you tell Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle?”

(Hat Tip: Sara's Hillbilly Husband)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Maybe the Part-Time Churchgoer Smells the Coffee

Hat tip to Arthur Sido (who blogs at the voice of one crying out in suburbia) for pointing out a post written by Trevin Wax at the Gospel Coalition blog.

Wax writes about the "part-time churchgoer" so prevalent in today's [even a faithful] church.  He constructs a fictional couple, Geoff and Christine, who have children and serve faithfully in their local church.  Geoff is even a deacon.  But as faithful as they may think they are, they miss quite a number of Sundays to engage in other activities.  Without knowing it, they are "part-time" churchgoers.  Please read the short post here to understand what I am writing about.

My purpose in this post is to call attention to a point that I think is completely missed by both the author and most all of the commenters.

So Geoff and Christine miss church to engage in sports activities for their kids, go on vacation, take care of sick kids, host visiting family, and several other reasons.  What's the big deal? 

Getting right to the point here, Geoff and Christine may think it's okay to miss church because they aren't missed at church when they aren't there.  Nobody will notice.  And the reason nobody will notice is because the "body of Christ" that Wax attempts to portray really doesn't function like a body.  You know, like the body that the apostle Paul writes about in his epistles.  After all, if the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?

Imagine your body missing a major organ or other part.  If I woke up today totally blind in one eye it would affect me for the rest of my life, or until whatever temporary problem disappeared.  If I suddenly had surgery to remove a kidney, the results would be drastic.  If I were missing even one single toe, my foot planting on the ground on every step would be altered enough to give me posture problems or hinder my ability to run. 

Why do we think Paul used the metaphor of a body to describe the church?  It is because any body part that is missing would cause such a notable difference that we would suffer as a result.  But when Geoff and Christine miss church, does it noticeably affect the rest of the body?  It affects the body when the pastor isn't preaching and there's a guest in the pulpit.  But why wouldn't the body suffer the same when Geoff and Christine are absent?  Each member has the same care for each other, after all. (1 Cor. 12:25)  I don't ever recall a time where I was told that the body had a more difficult time functioning because I wasn't there on a given Sunday.  People never tell me that we were missed greatly by not being there. Is the pastor more important than Geoff and Christine?  If so, then there is a problem with the church they attend.

Maybe Geoff and Christine have noticed (or maybe they haven't) like we have that fellowship with other Christian families involved in sports is often better than the fellowship at church.  Why would that be?

The answer could be that the problem isn't with the people who don't show up on Sunday, but rather with the church that doesn't truly miss its absentees; the church that is about program and structure and not people.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Out of Context

One recurring theme I have noticed with respect to bible interpretation throughout my experience within evangelicalism is that people routinely take bible passages out of their context and use them as stand-alone ideas.  It's almost as if each verse in the bible is its own text, completely separate from other verses that surround it.  Sometimes, the passage in view is applied to life in a way that is good, but that application isn't what the passage meant.  Other times, the passage is completely misinterpreted and also applied in a wrong way.

An example of the latter is, I believe, 1 Corinthians 2:2:

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. (NASB)

Many interpret this as Paul giving an example of the Christian life that we all should follow.  All he knew was Jesus Christ and him crucified, the simplest expression of the gospel, and that's all we need to know, too.  Knowing anything more than this just complicates everything.  After all, all you need is Jesus, right?

But this is a faulty interpretation.  If the stand-alone verse was put back into its context, we would see that this was not Paul's example for all of us, but rather a unique strategy he had in dealing with the Corinthian church.  A strategy that he didn't use in Ephesus, but there he rather gave them a great deal of difficult doctrine.

Consider 1 Corinthians 3:1-4.  Paul gives his reason for limiting his knowledge while among the Corinthians:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.  I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?  For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? (NASB)

The Corinthians were very immature believers, so they needed the simple milk of the gospel, and not meat that the mature could eat, such as those in Ephesus.  It is difficult to have discussions sometimes when misinterpretations are ingrained into a particular culture of belief.  How to make progress in getting a culture to change its way of thinking is an extremely difficult task.  If not impossible.  Maybe only the Holy Spirit can accomplish such a thing.  Let's ask for the work of the Spirit within our church cultures.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Alan Knox on Being a Member of Christ's Body

I've been a long time reader and commenter on Alan Knox's The Assembling of the Church blog.  His latest post "replays" an old post of his where he looks at what the NT says about being a member of Christ's body.  He compares this with what we commonly know as the modern concept of church membership:

What did I find? I found that the modern concept of “church membership” is completely different than the scriptural idea of being members of the body of Christ and members of one another.
One helpful tactic Alan uses in his post is that he quotes every passage in the NT that has to do with membership.  He finally points out a number of things regarding the use of the body/member metaphor, including:

We become members of the body through an act of God not because of something that we do or something that we choose.  We do not choose to be members of the body nor do we choose those with whom we are members.

This is an interesting conclusion given what most of us have been taught about church membership.  I agree with Alan on this point.  Read his post here.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Was The Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus) The Rich Young Ruler? (4)

Read all posts on this idea here.

"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today." Acts 22:3

I have written several posts on the idea whether Paul was the rich young ruler from Matthew 19.  Here in this passage, Paul gives his story to the Jews in Jerusalem, and mentions that he was brought up in Jerusalem.  I had not noticed this before.  So, my original question about where Saul could have been during the life and ministry of Jesus has been answered.

Saul was brought up in Jerusalem, and was a Pharisee, so he certainly would have been aware of Jesus.  I cannot imagine that he would have not had direct contact with Jesus given Jesus' record of talking with religious leaders and going to all the feasts and being the center of attention so many times.  Check out all of my posts on this topic here.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Legalism and the Tyranny of Outward Appearance

As bad as legalism is - the adding of extra-biblical rules to either define sin and righteousness or to add requirements to salvation - the extra emphasis placed on outward appearances as part of that legalism is much worse.  A church can teach no drinking, no smoking, no dancing or no going to movies in its legalism and produce some self-righteous people, but when it teaches to refrain from making any outward appearances that reflect any of these things in the way we live, dress or move to a new apartment, it can create some pretty hard core Pharisees with very toxic doctrine.

I've had the misfortune of attending several churches where a heavy emphasis was placed not only on do/don't rules, but on outward appearance.  Or maybe it was fortunate in a way because now I know how to notice those things and avoid them, and tell others.

One of the verses often twisted out of its true meaning is 1 Thessalonians 5:22, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." KJV  I'll give an example of how this is used with relation to drinking, smoking and moving to a new apartment.  Back in the day before either self-storage or cardboard recycling became popular, when people had to move the best source of cardboard boxes to pack one's belongings was the grocery store. So, we'd go to the store and ask for boxes, and the stores were more than willing to give the boxes away because that relieved them of breaking all the boxes down and placing them in the garbage dumpsters.  Many of the boxes were empty cases that originally contained alcohol and cigarettes.  So when you moved, those boxes were visible to those who helped you move or to bystanders in your new and old neighborhoods.  By using a Marlboro or Budweiser box to move, the outward appearance driven legalists would claim that you were giving an "appearance" of evil, even though anybody with half a brain could deduce that you were merely using discarded cardboard boxes to move.  It simply didn't matter.  This placed a heavy burden on anybody when moving, because they had to take extra care to pick and choose wisely which boxes to use.

Another personal example is in driving expensive cars as giving an appearance of evil of spending lots of money on vanity and ego when you could drive a modest car and give the rest of the money to print gospel tracts or similar spiritual things.  My brother has spent his entire career in the auto service/repair field.  The shops have great policies for family members of employees, namely that repairs are performed "at cost."  Our m.o. was to have me swap cars with him in the evening, and he would drive my car to work the next day, have it fixed, and swap back that evening.  Well, one time my brother got a great deal on a used BMW 5-series car, and I needed a repair that could only be performed over the weekend.  So we swapped cars...and it dawned on me that I had to drive to church on Sunday!  In a BMW!  The Pharisees would certainly notice my display of vanity (it would be assumed until proven otherwise that I was acting quite worldly), and I was trying to figure out how to park several blocks away without anybody noticing, etc.

Every area of life imaginable was subject to the outward appearance nazis, and they certainly made their fair share of comments about anything you could imagine.  They also made their fair share of judgments about people in their hearts without ever saying anything, thus condemning others without anybody (except God, hahaha) knowing about it.  I should know, I was taught to be such a person, and it wasn't until later that God was merciful in showing me the tyranny of this way of thinking and living.  Your rich uncle buys you a pair of designer sunglasses (costing nothing to you)?  Tough, you're putting worldliness on display.  Being thankful to God and your rich uncle for providing a helpful item at no cost, is, well frowned upon becuase of the outward appearance. 

People subject to this type of legalism can be spiritually crippled for a long time, even eternally.  We shoud instead learn from Jesus when he says, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24.

Monday, March 25, 2013

News Flash: I'm Not the Chief of Sinners

...and neither are you.

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.  Apostle Paul - 1 Timothy 1:15 KJV

It is easy to think that we are to view ourselves as the chief sinner.  Many have taken this verse as a recommendation from Paul to do so.  We should be at the point of seeing our sin so much more than we see the sin of others, that we can make this statement: "I am the chief of sinners."  But should this be our attitude?

It may speak of our piety; but it may equally - or more so - speak of our pietism.  Some people seem to boast in how great of sinners they are.  Should this be the case?  There's a reason Paul speaks of himself as the chief of sinners, and it's not so that we will think the same of ourselves.  It is because he really was the chief of sinners.  After all, he pursued the church, dragging people from their very homes into prison and to death in order to destroy the Christian church.  He was the most violent persecutor of Christ's body there was.

Me?  Well, although I am a sinner, I haven't done the things he did.  And you haven't, either.  On the flip side of the coin, I'm not quite the zealous apostle he was after his conversion.  And neither are you.  God turned the worst of men into the best of servants in his kingdom.  There is no fault in realizing that some people are worse sinners than we are, and some people are better saints than we are.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I fall somewhere in the middle.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Five Pint Stoutist

What do you get when you cross a religious holiday, religious humor, the official drink of the religious holiday, a bacon shortage, and another reason for Calvinists to act like Calvinists?  You get the Five Pint Stoutist.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Elders Behaving Badly (2): How To Deal With Them

Continuing with the topic of spiritual abuse by church leaders, I came across a post by Gene Redlin regarding how to deal with those who mislead.  Here, Gene lists some scriptural direction for the believer:

TEST THEM: Believe not every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they be of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. (I John 4: 1)

MARK AND AVOID THEM: Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Rom. 16:17)

REBUKE THEM: Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. (Titus 1: 13)

HAVE NO FELLOWSHIP WITH THEM: Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ephesians 5:11)

WITHDRAW FROM THEM: We command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which ye received of us. (II Thes. 3:6)

TURN AWAY FROM THEM: Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:5)

SEPARATE FROM THEM: Come out from among them, and be ye separate and touch no the unclean thing. (II Cor. 6:17)

Although not every context of these passages deal specifically with those who lead, there doesn't seem to be any prohibition from applying them to church leaders.  I think I've done each of these in relation to church leaders.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What Is A Fundamentalist?

We all hear much about fundamentalism and fundamentalists in the news and on the internet, whether religious, political or from another area.  What I'd like to do here is provide a working definition of "fundamentalist" in the context of the Christian religion.  So, more specifically, what is a Christian fundamentalist?

I would say that a fundamentalist is: one who reduces the Christian faith to a core set of fundamentals of his own choosing.

While I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with identifying a set of core beliefs within Christianity, a problem arises when something lies outside of those core beliefs.  Can they be viewed as Christian, or can Christians live life outside of those core beliefs?  The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of a hundred years ago or so saw liberal theology attack certain ideas of historic Christianity.  Conservatives reacted by concentrating on five "fundamentals" of the faith: 1) inspiration of the bible and inerrancy of Scripture; 2) The virgin birth of Christ; 3) Christ's death as atonement for sin; 4) the bodily resurrection of Christ, and 5) the reality of Christ's miracles.

While the original intent of defining fundamental beliefs may have had its merits, I believe it had a long term negative effect.  Fundamentals came to be viewed as all that was necessary for the faith.  One who takes this approach is a fundamentalist, and that is where I get my definition.

But the Christian faith consists of much more than fundamentals.  Just as a championship sports team may execute the fundamentals of the game very well, they also do most everything else in the game well.  Take music as another example.  A fundamentalist ideal might be that all music must be explicitly Christian with religious lyrics.  A song on the radio about how a sunny day makes people feel better isn't explicitly religious, and therefore may be viewed as unchristian or even sinful in and of itself.  Is it part of the Christian faith to sing about what God has created?  Sure.  But not necessarily to the fundamentalist.

The key problem as I see it with fundamentalism and fundamentalists is the tendency to reduce the faith, rather than expand it.  Different fundamentalists reduce the faith to differing sets of beliefs.  This is why fundamentalists don't often agree with each other.  One thing I try to do when I read the theological beliefs of others is to determine if any reduction of the faith has occurred in their arguments.  This has been tremendously helpful over the years to me as I have developed my own beliefs.  Are you a fundamentalist?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Elders Behaving Badly: Speak Up or Hush Up? (1)

"But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints;"  Ephesians 5:3 NASV

"Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret."  Ephesians 5:11-12 NASV

In the debate that has taken place over the rise of so-called "spiritual abuse" or "survivor" websites and blogs, one argument that has been made is that such people ought not discuss any sins of spiritually abusive pastors due to the above verses.  But before I go any further, I want to note that there has been more than one way that this passage is interpreted.  And the interpretations I have come across can lead to opposing beliefs about speaking up.  They are...

Hush Up

I have heard this interpretation my entire Christian life.  People have been taught to interpret these verses so that we should be silent about sin.  This is not a rare interpretation, and I think it has led to comments like this one.  The commenter asserts that it is shameful to even talk about their misdeeds.  Here's the thinking behind the interpretation.  "...for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret." v12.  One grammatical possibility for this verse (and there are more than one) is this.  I emphasized the word "even" to show the point.  Not only is it disgraceful to speak of the things done openly, it is even disgraceful to do so in secret.  So we can't discuss the sins in question among us, even in secret, for it is a disgrace.  So, in this interpretation, the speaking about sin is what is in view and it is disgraceful.  The sin itself is not in view.

This is given support by the same type of interpretation of verse 3.  The two interpretations go together.  "But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints."  This interpretation puts forth the idea that the names given to various sins should not be used in our conversation.  The sins should not be named.  And this is proper among saints.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, or a coincidence, that some of the people speaking out against the abuse blogs are people influenced by John MacArthur.  I found a site that compares commentaries of scripture, and if you scroll down far enough here, you will see that he warns about describing sin in his Eph. 5:12 comments.

So what does this interpretation have to say about exposing sin, as in "but instead even expose them"?  As the commenter said in my first link, we expose sin by the light of our proper living before God.  The summary of this "hush up" view is, "we shouldn't discuss or name the sin, but expose it by godly living.

Speak Up

A "speak up" interpretation might look something like the following.  Contrary to the "hush up" view, the disgrace mentioned in verse 12 lies not in speaking about the sin, but in merely speaking about it in secret.  Secrecy is not where the sin should be spoken about, but rather it should be exposed: "but instead even expose them."

And the exhortation in v3 to not have immorality named among the saints does not mean that we should not name sin, but that none of us should commit those sins so that the name can be pinned on us.

This does appear to be a difficult passage to interpret and apply consistently.  I will attempt to speak more to it in another post.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Strange Fellowship

One time I was at a pizza parlor and in walked a group of about ten people.  I tend to be a people watcher, so I looked at this group.  It immediately struck me that there was something strange about them.  So I kept looking to see what it could be.

It wasn't long before I was able to see that no two people in this group seemed to "go together."  There were no similarities that I could use to put a label on things.  It wasn't a group of three women with Gucci bags talking about where they got their last mani-pedi.  It wasn't a couple of dudes wearing the same team's jerseys getting a seat for the game that would be on TV.  They didn't have conference nametags on, and it wasn't a sports team in uniform.  It seemed a random collection of ages, clothing styles, hairstyles, economic status, etc.

It finally occurred to me that this group was probably a Christian church group.  Later on, I heard several of them talking about a bible study and things that were happening at church.  I had correctly identified them.

When I look back over my church life, I am sometimes amazed at who my friends have been.  In many cases, I see really nothing in common with those people short of being in Christ with them.  And that's the thing that overrides other things.  We then have found new things to do in common.  Things that I wouldn't do with other people more like me.

Not only are many of these people those who have minimal things in common with me, they aren't "normal" people in the usual sense of the word.  They aren't the types of personalities that I might wish I kept company with even if they did have much in common with me.  Many of them are altogether strange.  Of course, they might think the same of me if they really sat down to ponder it.  But that's the beauty of fellowship with those people we simply know as "Christians."  This alone should tell us that it is a work of God.  We certainly wouldn't have planned it this way.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

When Paul Reviled the High Priest

"And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'  And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.  Then Paul said to him, 'God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!  And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?' But the bystanders said, 'Do you revile God's high priest?' And Paul said, 'I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'"  Acts 23:1-5

This passage is one that I occasionally think about, and wonder at the common interpretation.  The only way I've ever heard this passage interpreted is that Paul rebukes the high priest, which is a sin, and is corrected by the bystanders.  Paul then realizes his sin and apologizes, quoting the scripture that applies to his sin.  But something has never set right with me in terms of Paul's "apology."  It simply doesn't seem like an apology.  And something else caused me to come up with an altogether different interpretation.

This something else is when Paul says, "I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest."  In the very next verse Paul says this: "But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, 'Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" Acts 23:6

Now, here's where things don't add up.  Paul claims to not know that Ananias was high priest.  Huh?  How could a Pharisee not know who the high priest was?  That seems pretty much impossible.  It would be like saying that retired Gen. Colin Powell wouldn't know who the president was.  I think Paul new exactly who the high priest was and that the man who issued the order was he.

I think far more likely is that when Paul said he wasn't aware that this man was high priest, he was giving a sarcastic jab to the high priest.  To put it in modern American English terms, Paul was in effect saying, "This joker is high priest?  Coulda fooled me!"  Nothing about this man or how he acted could give anybody a clue that he was God's high priest apart from being told about it.  He was so far out of character as to be unrecognizable as a priest.

I'm wondering if this interpretation would be overlooked by many who feel that an apostle would have such "respect for authority" that he would never say such a thing in that way to a high priest.  But in light of the words Jesus had for the religious leaders, I would suspect his apostle wouldn't be too unchristlike if he followed suit.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Are You "Divisive?"

"Division does not immediately come from disagreement but rather from those who take action upon it." - Kevin Johnson

I've heard countless times from church leaders that to disagree with the pastor/church/doctrinal statement, etc., means one is "divisive."  Holding to beliefs other than the official beliefs of the church is viewed as very problematic, no matter how much a hero Martin Luther is to them in holding to beliefs other than the official beliefs of the Roman Catholic church - an act and an attitude that started the Protestant Reformation - to which they heartily agree.

As you can gather from the above quote, division is caused by people taking action on disagreement.  Divisiveness is the state of causing division.  If I disagree with my church about something, but I resign myself to attending there in spite of my difference, I am not causing division.  I am helping the body remain intact as one.  On the other hand, if I disagree with my church about something, and they ask me to leave, the church is the one that is causing division.  They are dividing me from them.

Of course, there may be a good reason for the church to divide from an individual - such as a failure of church discipline to bring about repentance for a sin committed.  But simple disagreement over a doctrinal issue doesn't necessarily imply that disagreement is sinful.  So, to divide over such a thing, and to be somebody who has a habit of dividing over such things, is what division and divisiveness are.

In addition, to "cause division," as many like to put it, I would have to recruit somebody to my cause and sway them to divide from others.  This is what it means to cause division.  Merely disagreeing with church leaders is not in and of itself the causing of division.  Realizing that there may be others who disagree also and hold to the same view as you and having lengthy discussions with those people is not causing division, either.

So, whenever I hear references to causing division or to divisiveness, I try to make sure just who it is who is doing such things, if they are doing those things at all.