Jul 10, 2012
There may be an occasional post here, but As He Is will be my focus going forward. See you there!
Jan 1, 2010
How I long for my children to know the love Lisa and I have for them. If they learn nothing else while they are in our house, I want them to know the fact that we love them because I believe there is nothing else that will shape who they are more than that. Why do I say that? If they know love from us, it will make more sense to them that their Father in heaven loves them the same way. And knowing that love changes everything.
Dec 17, 2009
Over the years I’ve heard a lot of talk about problems with denominations. I and many others are saddened by the division that is within the body of Christ today—I think we’re well over 1500 different denominations in the US. Historically, when a group of Christians reaches some sort of impasse in discussing (or not) a particular topic or issue, they split into two or more groups. Those groups often have little interaction going forward, and new denominations spring up as a result.
Paul seems to decry this way of doing things in 1 Corinthians 1. In essence, when we form denominations 1) we place ourselves under names other than Jesus, and 2) we divide ourselves from other believers. As a result, there is a pragmatic denial of the reality that we are all one in Him (see Ephesians 4 and Galatians 3 also).
Leaders of various groups/churches, including myself in the past, will recognize some of these issues and try to remedy the situation by arranging regular or semi-regular meetings. The hope is that there will be unity of heart and mind among the leaders, and there is at times. But the reality is this: there will never be true intimacy in the relationship. It will be like holding hands over a fence—it’s a start, but there are still huge barriers. And this says nothing of the lack of intimacy for the rest of the folks that don’t set up meetings.
There may be exceptions, but there is little inter-denominational “receiving of one another as Christ receives us” (Romans 15:7). In my opinion, denominations exist because we can’t figure out how to have real relationships with folks we disagree with. Rather than hash out our differences and continue to fellowship together, we go our separate ways. But that’s another topic……the main point is this: the reality that we are one in Christ is lost in the words that we place in front of the word ‘church’ in order to define ourselves.
Many of my conversations on this subject in the last eight or so years have been with folks who have considered finding fellowship outside of the typical American church setting. They have pursued something different for a variety of reasons, one of those being frustration with the pattern I’ve very loosely outlined above (note the irony J). But actually, those outside the “institutional church” do the same thing: we define ourselves by the word or words in front of church.
There are several different names groups will use to describe the way they fellowship: house church, home church, organic church, simple church, etc. What becomes the big deal? With the first one it’s the house. The location of the meeting is the defining characteristic of the church. With organic or simple church, it’s the way in which we meet. More important that what is the defining aspect, though, is what isn’t, namely Christ.
What defines us as believers? It’s Jesus Christ. It’s a person. He is the One who shapes everything we do, believe, and say. He is the reason we meet, He is the One that builds His church, and He is to have supremacy in all things. I personally feel that all of these names, from “Our Savior’s Holy Ghost Super Power Temple Baptist Church of God in Christ” to “house church” distract us and others from Him. Something else becomes central, something other than Jesus, and when that happens, the fullness our unity as believers is lost, for it is rooted in Him.
Dear brothers and sisters, especially those who meet in non-traditional settings, this may seem like splitting hairs. But names of any sort do nothing short of denying the reality of who Jesus Christ is. He is One, and we are one in Him. When we give ourselves names, be they general (such as “home church”) or specific (such as “First Baptist Church”), we fragment the Body of Christ and call ourselves by names other than His. Our practice undermines the unity we have. Non-institutional believers, take note of the long-term fruit of what has happened throughout church history. In our day we must choose a different path.
When Paul spoke of the churches in the New Testament, he referred to them as “the church in (fill in the name of a city)” or “the church that meets in so-and-so’s house.” He didn’t place another name in front of church; the fact that the believers were the church was of primary importance. And then the apostle distinguished the churches from each other based on the city they were in (if there was one gathering in the city) or the home they met in (if there was more than one gathering in town). This wasn’t based on doctrine or style; it was only descriptive enough for everyone to know who he was talking about. The church in each city seemed to live in unity when it was healthy. It’s not necessarily that they were intimately connected with everyone single believer in town, or that they all always met in the same place as they grew in size, but they were always of one mind. Christ had churches that were truly one in Him.
May we as the Body of Christ live in the reality of the unity that we have in Him, regardless of where or how we meet.
May 12, 2009
But in spite of that, we do need to understand what it means. And I would argue that most Christians don't really know what the scriptures are saying when they talk about fellowship. And in addition to the question of what fellowship is, I would ask this: do we need it? The assumption in virtually every Christian circle is yes, but biblically I don't think that holds water. First, though, what is fellowship?
I don't really want to come up with a definition in the strict sense; I'd like to try a different way of defining it. But I will mention the Greek word most commonly translated as fellowship: koinonia. It appears 20 times in the NT, notably Acts 2:42, where the believers in Jerusalem have fellowship with one another and all things in common, and 1 John 1, where he speaks of our fellowship with Christ and with one another. Koinonia relates to participation and community, and I think those ideas are at the core of what it means.
Interestingly enough, those passages aren't the ones that tend to come up in the discussions I have with others about fellowship. For me the conversation about fellowship begins like this:
Person X: "Where do you go to church?"
Me: "We don't." (sometimes I give a longer response)
Person X: "Oh......then what do you do for fellowship?"
Me: "Well, we meet with some other believers in homes."
Person X: "Just as long as you aren't forsaking the gathering of the bretheren......"
The passage they often refer to is Hebrews 10:24-25:
"...let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." (NAS)
I appreciate the intent behind those questions. Its usually out of genuine concern for me and my family. But at the same time I'm not sure it comes from a full understanding of what fellowship is. Most folks stop reading in the first half of verse 25--"do not forsake assembling together." But the writer isn't just saying get together with other Christians; he elaborates: encourage one another....stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Its not getting together, its what happens when you do. There's 'one-anothering' that ought to go on when we come together.
But what happens in the majority of gatherings? One brother gets up in front and gives a lecture while everyone else sits and listens. Greetings are exchanged (sometimes only when dude up front tells you to.....), and everyone goes on their way. Don't get me wrong--lectures are fine. I've heard many great lectures. But that ain't fellowship. And yet, if I'd responded to the question by saying, "we go to da-ta-da-ta-da church," they probably wouldn't have thought twice about it. Of course, I know not every gathering is like that. This isn't at all about institution vs. non-institution. Gatherings in homes can be devoid of fellowship in the same way--I've been to some that are. It's very different than that.
Here's the thing: 'fellowship' is held over the heads of many Christians as something that we need. We're told we have to be in fellowship or we'll go off the deep end. And sometimes examples are cited of folks who left and now who knows what's happened to them. But do the scriptures say we need it? I would say no. In fact, there are numerous examples of folks who didn't have fellowship for long periods of time. Consider:
- Moses was in the desert for 40 years;
- John was exiled on Patmos, and he seemed to do just fine;
- John the Baptist lived alone in the wilderness for a long time;
- Paul spent more time alone in a prison cell than with other believers in the later years of his life.
These men didn't set out to be certain they had fellowship/community/another person who followed God with them in whatever they did. They followed Him, and that led them into times of great and deep fellowship, as well as times of being alone.
Another side of it is that fellowship may not happen in the way we would expect. Personally, I've been in a situation with less fellowship recently, and what we've had has looked very different than I thought it would. When we moved to Champaign we knew some believers that were already here, but a lot of the relationships never developed into a "meet together weekly or more frequently" sort of thing (for a variety of reasons....and not because we didn't want them to). The most significant fellowship I’ve had since moving here has been with Lisa. For some reason I feel that we are trained not to associate ‘fellowship’ with our family conversations, but in reality that’s a big part of why we got married. We have always had deep fellowship with one another; I’ve just grown to appreciate that more.
But apart from that I think Father had a two and a half year period of less fellowship in store for us when we came here. We talked about attending a Sunday gathering, and even went to a couple of meetings. We had folks over to our place in hopes of something starting. We met in another family's home for a while. We have enjoyed the time with believers that we've had here, and we'll probably keep in touch with some of the folks. But none of it really became what I expected: a group of Christians we can share life with in a deeper way. A lot of it seemed like us trying to make something happen that the Lord didn't want.
Then, I walk off of the plane in San Antonio for my audition in January, and within 12 hours I've had deep, significant fellowship in Christ with a group of 20ish Christians I'd never met. I had a sense immediately that these were believers that we could live life with. It was to the point where I didn't really care about getting the job; I wanted to move and hang out with these people. It has been so easy since He has orchestrated it, and it was like banging my head against the wall when we tried to do it ourselves. As I've reflected on our time in Illinois, I think Father wanted us to have less fellowship. There were things that needed to be worked out in me, and chances are that wouldn't have happened if things had been different.
Would we have rather had more fellowship while we were here? Absolutely! Did we die spiritually because we didn't have it? Quite the opposite. Did we violate the scripture from Hebrews 10? I don't think so. All it says is "don't forsake." If there are believers God wants you to meet with, meet with them. Don't blow that off. Taking the verse beyond that is an exaggeration. I don't think it means you have to meet with whatever group of Christians is in your town. Even if you find a group, fellowship is deeper than just getting together with other Christians. He needs to lead us. And if there isn't anyone around that He wants you to meet with, He will sustain you, just like He sustained Paul and John. And they didn't just get by--they flourished.
So about fellowship I would say this: its deeper and different than just meeting together, it isn't a requirement, you won't go off the deep end if you don't have it, and God Himself will lead you into it.
May 7, 2009
What is the effect of Adam's sin (original sin) on us today?
The easiest way to talk about this might be to walk through the second half of Romans 5.
12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
Death came through one man--Adam. That's the first implication of original sin. We die because our father Adam sinned. But if death is the wage of sin (6:23), then there must be some connection between Adam's sin and us. If there's no sin, there's no death, right? So at the end of that verse Paul says that "all sinned." What does that mean? Does it refer to our individual sins? I would say no; he instead takes a detour to explain that phrase. I'll elaborate on this as I go, but I think the overarching point Paul is making here is a comparison between Jesus and Adam. We would expect him to follow his "just as" in verse 13 with a "so also," but he doesn't. We don't get the "so then" until verse 18--"so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." The comparison, then is between one act (Jesus death on the cross) leading to righteousness for many, and one act (Adam's sin in the garden) leading to death for many. If this phrase referred to individual sins, the comparison would break down, since we are not saved by individual acts of righteousness.
13for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
As we discussed, sin was not counted before the law was given through Moses. But, says Paul, death still reigned between Adam and Moses. The people's individual sins were not counted against them, but they still died. Why? They had a connection with Adam's sin--this would be imputation. This is a major implication of original sin: Adam's sin is imputed to us, and that is enough to make us worthy of death. Even apart from our individual sins, we would die because of this imputation; even if we didn't sin "like the transgression of Adam," we would die because of his sin.
15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
In addition to discussing the similarities of Adam and Christ, Paul also shows the differences. The emphasis remains on one trespass and one act of righteousness (the free gift). Not only does he show that the transgression and righteousness are opposites. He also points to there being greater certainty of the grace of Jesus Christ (verse 15). He points to the gift covering over many trespasses, not just one (verse 16). And he points to the reign we will have over sin and death in Christ (verse 17). Everything about our righteousness in Christ is much more certain and greater than our sin in Adam.
18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Summary....Paul shows in verse 19 that Adam's sin was disobedience, and that Christ's righteousness (and therefore a righteous life) is rooted in obedience. So to summarize, two of the implications of original sin for us are that Adam's sin is imputed to us, and that is why we die; and we can better understand what Jesus did for us on the cross by comparing that with what Adam did in the garden.
Now, one of the other things we discussed was the "sinful nature." That isn't the thrust of what Paul is considering here, and there are other passages that would be good to consider for that topic, but there are a couple of places that seem to allude to it. The first is verse 13: "sin was in the world before the law was given..." And the second is verse 19: "by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners....." I mention that, but I'd like to see if you have any thoughts on the above before digging into other passages.
Jan 24, 2009
Do those things really work against each other? Does talking about the love of God mean you have to be soft on sin and holiness? Can you make God too loving? I personally find myself thinking differently about these things. Certain scriptures point to a different interaction between these ideas than the opposition to each other they are characterized as having.
Paul speaks of both sorrow (2 Cor. 7) and kindness (Rom. 2) leading us to repentance. There are times when its appropriate to be direct and harsh with sin, and there are times when speaking about the kindness of God, His tolerance and patience, will fight sin. Paul also talks about speaking truth in love, meaning that truth is a part of love, not opposed to it.
This all may sound rather rudimentary, but in terms of practice I have hardly ever seen this lived out the way Jesus did. I don't think He was trying to balance grace and truth, I think He was loving. His love for people absolutely manifested itself in different ways, be it showing grace to an adulterous woman or throwing tables around in rage, but love was always present.
Why does love have to be soft on sin? Actually, let me rephrase that: how can love be soft on sin? And how can truth be separated from love? Is it even possible to make God "too loving" or "too nice?" I don't think so. He still hates sin, and He always will. But He is love.
Perhaps more on this later....
Jan 13, 2009
The main issue I have them is that they try to boil down truth to a list of statements. The fruit often is that if you agree you can hang around and if you don't you are told to go elsewhere (explicitly or implicitly). The problem is that truth isn't a list of statements or doctrines, it's a person. That person is Jesus (John 14:6). And the way that people are known is through relationship. I can tell you all about my wife, but if you don't actually spend time with her you won't really know her (and you probably wouldn't say you knew her). There has to be relationship for you to truly know her.
So if truth is fully expressed as a person, and known and understood in a relationship, a doctrinal statement falls woefully short in conveying it. Doctrinal statements and creeds aren't necessarily wrong, but usually they become the way that believers free themselves from having relationships with other folks. If someone disagrees, just ship them off to another meeting down the street. That doesn't build up the body in the way that discussion and dialogue does, and it also keeps the body from truly being the body. The reality is that our basis for fellowship with other believers isn't believing all of the same things. The basis is whether or not Jesus has received us (Rom. 15:7). If someone knows Jesus and has been received by Him, we are to received them just as He did. And in the context of the relationship that develops, we wrestle with the differences we have in how we read the scriptures, trusting Him to unify us in the process.
Jan 12, 2009
I can point to several points in my life where God has spoken very clearly to me through monetary things. Going to college, time on staff with InterVarsity, traveling to Egypt, going to grad school.....God spoke very clearly through financial means in all of these instances. So when I scheduled a saxophone audition with the Air Force Band of the West in San Antonio, TX, I took note of the ways that he took care of the expenses for the trip (they don't pay to fly you down).
First, a free plane ticket was given to us. Then, someone said they wanted to pay for a rental car, which I needed to get around while I was there. Then, a stranger offered to let me stay in his home for free while I was there (more on this in a moment). And after that someone gave me some extra money for food, gas, etc. So instead of potentially dropping $800 on getting to Texas, I was basically going for free. We were thankful.....
I arrived on Saturday night for a Monday audition and drove to Adam's home. Adam posted a comment on house churches in a random forum this summer, and Lisa found his info through an internet search. I told him a bit about myself and asked if I could stay with him, and he said ok. I was excited to have been divinely placed in the home of a brother with whom I could so quickly have real fellowship. Not only that, but Sunday morning I went with him to a meeting with a group of believers and was greatly blessed to hear their testimony of Jesus. It was indeed a joyous trip, and I hadn't even done what I originally went to do.
It almost seemed too good to be true, so I figured there was no way I would actually win the audition. Six of us were there to play, and I was chosen to play first in the morning round. I sought to walk humbly with Jesus as I went, and He heard me as I asked for peace while I played. They picked prepared pieces that I was very comfortable with, and I had played the two most difficult "sight-reading" excerpts. After playing and then sitting around for a couple of hours I found out I was one of the four selected to move on.
The second round consisted of playing lead alto with their big band (they have a concert band and a big band) and improvising. All of that went very well, and after another couple of hours they told me I was the one they wanted. Lisa and I waited until today to formally accept the position, just to allow God time to speak if He wanted. But as I look back on the experience, I think I can say that this is one of the most clear ways that God has spoken to me (us) in some time. We are thankful to have a job in a time when many are losing theirs, and to know some believers in the new city we are moving to. I'm excited to see what He has in store for us there....
....after basic training. :)
Jun 1, 2008
So, regarding authority........I agree that it's going too far to say that there isn't any authority in the body. The question is one of where that authority rests. Obviously we would all agree that the ultimate authority in the body rests with Jesus. He's the head and He builds His church. He has all authority on heaven and earth (Mt. 28). He lives in us who believe, and we who believe receive gifts by His Spirit. The instruction in the scriptures is for us to be subject/submit to one another (Eph. 5:21, 1 Pet. 5:5--see below) because the Lord expresses Himself through all of us (lots of stuff in 1 Cor. 10-14 about that). He vests authority in the church as a whole (Mt. 18:15-20, Eph. 1:22-23), and so subjecting ourselves to the church as a whole is part of that. I appreciate the body passage in 1 Cor. 12 because it points to the need we have for one another. And a practical expression of the fulfillment of this is in 14:26, where each brings something for the building up of all. There should be an openness to hearing what the Lord would say through any believer. This is not without discernment, certainly, but the body as a whole does that, too (see the end of 1 Cor. 14).
In addition, Jesus expresses His authority through a couple of different means. One is official authority. God gives authority in several relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, king/rulers/government and the people of a nation. The authority in these relationships comes because of the position and doesn't change. If the person under authority is asked to do something against God's will, or if the authority is improperly expressed, disobedience may be appropriate, but the authority is still there as long as the same person is in the position, "in office." Bush has authority as long as he's president. We may not obey everything he says, but we should be subject to him--that is, treat him with respect, consider how he says the country should be run, etc. Folks in these "offices" are set over other people.
But that type of authority is actually discouraged by Jesus among the church (Mt. 20:25-28). A second type of authority, one that is organic and not official, comes from communion with Jesus. The Head signals the hand to move, and it moves. The hand doesn't have authority in and of itself, but it expresses the will and authority of the Head. Sometimes God uses the hand, other times He uses the knee, or the mouth, or the spleen. Those parts have authority when they express Christ, when they function as they ought to function, not because of what parts they are. No part is above another; they all need each other. And no part has the authority all of the time; authority is fluid based on the will of the Head who gives it. The focus is on the function, not the person or office.
Naturally the more mature brothers and sisters will more accurately express the will of God in what they say and do, and those that do express it should serve as a model for those who are younger. Also, God gives some brothers and sisters particular gifts that are to help the rest of the body function as it ought (Eph. 4). But those folks need the rest of the body in the same way that the rest of the body needs them. And God even shows a propensity to speak through the things which are lower/less. So to give the more mature/gifted folks the floor or to give them authority beyond the authority that comes from the Spirit moving in them undermines the authority of Jesus and limits the full function of the body.
It makes sense that the more mature believers would share more, offer insight to others, correct, etc., but if they monopolize the time as most pastor-types do they actually end up quenching the Spirit. You mention in your email that the Spirit is like a wind (pneuma). When believers come together they don't know exactly how God wants to speak. He will place things on the heart of just about everyone if they are filled in Spirit, and the body will grow as it should only if the full expression of this is allowed/realized. The authority of the Spirit is expressed in the entire body, not just through one or two brothers. And the only One who has authority over believers is Jesus. It isn't given in the scriptures to any man.
Note: 1 Peter 5:5 is interesting. In most of the translations I've read it says we should "clothe ourselves in humility," but if you look at the Greek it says something closer to the KJV: "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." The word for subjection/submission is used twice, once for younger to older, and once for all to each other. I'm certainly no Greek scholar, but it seems like the Greek is more extreme than most modern translations give credit.........score one for the KJV?
Thanks for prodding this. It's a relatively new idea for me, and I'd like to know if I'm off my rocker or not. Another place to look if you want someone to explain some of this better than I could is on Frank Viola's website (no, not the Cy Young Award winner....). That's at www.ptmin.org. He has a book on there called 'Straight Talk to Pastors' that is short and explains a lot.
May 27, 2008
A Critical Response to the
I am in agreement with the vast majority of the Westminster Confession. Points with which I have scruples are listed and commented upon below:
CHAP. I. - Of the Holy Scripture.
I agree with everything written here, but I do think it is worth noting that because of the early date of this document, it does not specifically affirm the more contemporary doctrine of biblical inerrancy. There is little doubt that the writers of this confession would have done so had the controversies of the 17th Century led them to express such a position. Please allow me to take this opportunity to say that I personally believe the scriptures to be inerrant in accordance with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
CHAP. XXI. - Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day
7. “As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.”
No evidence in the scriptures has been sufficient to convince me that Jesus intended for the Sabbath to move from Saturday to Sunday. The Sabbath is distinguished from the first day of the week in each of the gospels (Mt. 28, Mk. 16, Lk. 24, Jn. 20) and in Acts (13:14-15, 42-44; 16:12-15; 20:7). Christians certainly seemed to meet on the first day of the week in the scriptures, but this does not mean that the Sabbath was “moved.” History indicates that this may have developed later and been cemented as common practice upon the acceptance of Christianity by the Roman Empire under
8. “This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”
While observance of the Sabbath is a blessing if one feels led to keep it (Mark 2:27-28), doing so is not required of Christians (
CHAP. XXIV. - Of Marriage and Divorce
5. “Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce. and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.”
While divorce in the case of adultery is allowed in the scriptures, remarriage while the spouse is still alive is not (
CHAP. XXVIII. - Of Baptism
1. “Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”
Admission to the visible church occurs once a person repents, believes, and receives the Holy Spirit; this occurs before baptism (Acts 10:44-48).
3. “Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.”
Much of the significance of baptism is lost in sprinkling; when a believer is baptized by immersion there is a more literal picture of our burial and resurrection in Jesus (Romans 6:4). Therefore immersion is a more correct interpretation of the act of baptism; there may still be room for sprinkling if there is no feasible alternative.
4. “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.”
I see no solid evidence of the practice of infant baptism in the scriptures, nor do I see evidence of its practice in church history before the 3rd Century. Baptism accompanies repentance at every mention in the New Testament, and infants are not capable of understanding their sinful nature, their need for Jesus, and repenting in response. Therefore they are not to be baptized.
7. “The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.”
Baptism should only be administered one time once a person is saved. If a person was baptized as an infant, they may be baptized again later in life once they begin to follow Jesus, since their infant baptism was not accompanied by saving faith and repentance.
CHAP. XXIX. - Of the Lord's Supper
3. “The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.”
Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that only a special class of “clergy” can administer/lead the Lord’s Supper. Also, in the scriptures, the Lord’s Supper was not a special ceremony; it was part of a meal, the “love feast” (Jude 12). Jesus instituted this practice during a meal, and the Corinthians also practiced it as part of a meal (1 Cor. 11:17-32). So the most accurate observance of the Lord’s Supper is as part of a meal, not as a ceremony. The shift to a more ceremonial form occurred around the time of Tertullian, and was complete by the late second century.
CHAP. XXX. - Of Church Censures
1. “The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His Church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of Church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.”
The governing of the church is not in the hands of officers, but in the hands of the church itself. All of the letters written by the writers of the New Testament were written to the churches themselves, not to the elders or some kind of officers. The instructions given by Jesus do not leave governing/confronting sin in the hands of the church as a whole (Mt. 18:15-17). The discussion of circumcision in Acts 15 was not left to only the elders, but to the whole church (15:22).
2. “To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed; by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the Gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require”
“Officers” did not exist in the New Testament church. All authority (exousia in Greek) was given to Jesus (Mt. 28:18); nowhere in the New Testament is exousia given to one believer over another. And the Greek vocabulary used for official leadership is noticeably absent from the scriptures (such as arche—ruler, time—officer, and hazzan—worship leader, just to mention a few). Rather than being named, selected, or appointed as an “officer,” men who functioned in the roles of elders were recognized by the travelling workers (Paul, Timothy, Titus) so that others would know to consider what they had to say. Nowhere in the New Testament is there mention of a static office which someone must fill. Therefore, again, the power to do things like censure is vested in the church as a whole, not in an official.
4. “For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the church are to proceed by admonition, suspension from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the Church, according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.”
Suspension from the Lord’s Supper as a punishment for sin does not appear in the New Testament.
CHAP. XXXI. - Of Synods and Councils
1. “For the better government, and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called Synods or Councils; and it belongeth to the overseers and other rulers of the particular churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ hath given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene together in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the church.”
Churches as a whole, not officers, should decide who takes part in Councils.
Statement of Faith
The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for the salvation of men and the Divine and final authority for Christian faith and life.
There is one true God in all existence, in all places, and in all time, who is the Creator of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is true God and true man, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He lived a life without sin and died on the cross, a sacrifice for our sins according to the Scriptures. He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, at the right hand of the Father, and He is now the only mediator between God and man.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and, during this age, to convict men concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, regenerate the believing sinner, and indwell, guide, instruct and empower the believer for godly living. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit no one would come to saving faith.
Man was created in the image of God but fell into sin and is separated from God. Adam’s sin has been passed on to man, leaving us sinful from our mother’s womb and enslaved to sin in this like. Only through regeneration by the Holy Spirit can salvation and spiritual life be obtained.
That the shed blood of Jesus Christ and His resurrection provide the only grounds for justification and salvation for all people. This justification and salvation is obtained by grace through faith alone for all who believe; and only such as receive Jesus Christ, by faith, are born of the Holy Spirit and thus become children of God. By His blood and resurrection we are reconciled to God, are freed from enslavement to sin, and overcome death.
Our life in Christ is lived in response to the love Father has shown us in Jesus. His love sanctifies us, compels us to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations, and allows us to experience true freedom. This life is lived with other brothers and sisters in Christ, the true Church, which is composed of all such persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are united together in the Body of Christ of which He is the Head.
It is our blessed hope that at the end of the age Jesus Christ will return to this earth personally, visibly, physically, and suddenly in power and great glory; and that He will gather His elect, raise the dead, judge the nations, and establish His kingdom. We believe that the righteous will enter into the everlasting joy of their Master, and those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness will be consigned to everlasting conscious misery.
"The free person in Christ and the rebellious will always look the same to those who labor under religious obligation, because both ignore the conventions that govern men and women. But there is a major difference between the two. The rebel does it to serve himself and his passions, always harming others in the process and leaving a wake of anarchy behind him. The free person in Christ, however, does so because they no longer have a need to serve themselves. Having embraced God's love at a far deeper level than any method of behavioral conformity will touch, they will guard that freedom even if it means others will misunderstand their pursuits. They reject the conventions of control not to please themselves, but Father Himself."
This came from www.lifestream.org.
May 19, 2008
This is the first year that Lisa and I have not celebrated Christmas. It's something that we feel the Lord has led us to do over the last few years. A lot of different factors have been a part of that process, but I think the central reason we have chosen this is that we don't personally feel drawn to worship Jesus in our hearts through observing that holiday. It's great if others do, but that's not the case for us. Romans 14 seems to imply that either way is ok as long as we are “fully convinced” in our own minds. For Lisa and me, our hearts very clearly lean away from celebrating Christmas.
There are a lot of things surrounding that holiday that we don’t particularly like, including materialism (a sin that I particularly struggle with at this time of year) and the non-Christian origin of Christmas. But I think there is freedom for believers to separate themselves from the way the world celebrates this holiday and still remember the birth of Jesus in this manner. This simply isn’t what we feel the Lord wants us to do. By the way, don’t worry, it’s ok to talk about Christmas with us. It isn’t some taboo subject. We’re open to questions about it, and we don’t want others to feel like they have to walk on eggshells around us either. The same goes for Easter, which we also don’t celebrate for the same reason.
As someone who is not an active part of a group of believers that meets in an institutional setting, I've wrestled a great deal with the question of what is important about being "inside" or "outside." I think it's very easy for folks in both settings to get caught up in that question. Not only that, but my experience on InterVarsity staff showed me that a lot of time is spent on figuring out the best way to "do church." It's the same now that I meet with folks in other ways. So much emphasis is placed on finding the right model.
But the reality is that if believers aren't connected to Jesus, if we don't know Him and walk with Him as a way of life, it doesn't really matter how we come together; God won't move as He truly wants. And if we ARE walking with Jesus, if we do know Him and spend our days enjoying His love, He will move powerfully among us no matter how we come together--don't take that statement too far :) .
To say that it is a matter of whether we meet in an institutional setting or in homes misses the main issues in the church today. The "right model" doesn't matter if we aren't walking with Jesus. I've recently read a book that gets at the core of this, and I highly recommend it to anyone willing to take the time to read it. Please don't let the title turn you off before you check it out, as it could easily do that. It's called So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, and it's available here.
The Lord continues to open my eyes to the system of religious obligation that has been at work in me for many years. So often in the past I've been much more concerned with living up to the expectations placed on me than on simply knowing Jesus more each day. I'd be happy to take some time to explain more anyone that wants to hear, and I may do that sometime soon on this blog.
Addendum: Sorry if this post doesn't explain things very well; The God Journey podcast has a great deal to say about some of these ideas if you're interested in learning more. Please know that I'm not on some crusade to say that Sunday morning meetings in church buildings are wrong or that everyone should meet exclusively in homes. The Lord has each of us where where we are for His purpose. And if you find life in Him in a more traditional setting, I praise Him for that! When I mention the "system of religious obligation" above, I'm not referring a type of meeting; that sort of obligation can exist in any environment. What I am referring to is obeying rules and following certain patterns of life in order to manage our own shame and gain a high opinion of ourselves from others, thinking that this is what God wants from His people--that is religious obligation (at least in part).
I've heard a lot of folks over the years talk about understanding the scriptures "in context." By this it seems that we usually mean understanding a particular verse in the bible within the paragraph or chapter (and sometimes letter/book) in which it was written (we'll call this Context #1). For example, one verse that is often taken out of context is 1 Corinthians : "For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace." I often hear folks try to use that verse as a proof text to say that we should have an understanding of how God works because "God is not a God of confusion." But the context is a discussion on order in worship, and Paul is making no such statement. In addition, the larger context of the whole of scripture (Context #2) clearly shows that the idea that we should relatively fully understand how God works is preposterous (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
Through some reading I've done recently (particularly the writings of Frank Viola--the church planter, not the winner from the Twins and Mets) I think I'm seeing the idea of context in a an additional way (Context #3) that much of the time we neglect. This is in the larger narrative context of the . Take Paul's letters.......they are listed from longest to shortest, completely separated from the narrative that surrounds them. Most of the time, in a good bible discussion, we will mention a few things about when the letter was written, the audience, where Paul was, etc., but I personally have not taken a close enough look at how the story of the church fits into the larger narrative context. So often it seems that historical study and bible study are separated, but for us to have a full understanding of what the scriptures say we need to study both. Perhaps the best way to explain this is with an example........
One topic that is interesting to examine in this way is that of church planting. The NT picture of church planting becomes clear as we study the pattern in the scriptures. is a unique church for obvious reasons, and Antioch was a product of the dispersion of Acts 8. After that a clear pattern emerges. Paul and others would travel to a town. They would preach the gospel, see a group of believers raised up, leave after a relatively short amount of time, usually return to check up on things and maybe acknowledge some elders (they acknowledged elders rather than appointing them), and wrote letters if they heard of problems they needed to address. What didn't they do? Stay for long periods of time in order to direct everything that goes on. They also didn't immediately appoint elders; they left the brethren to figure things out themselves by the Spirit. Several churches, including Antioch and , are never mentioned as having elders. And we don't know that has them until Acts 11--fourteen years after the church began there.
In his letters Paul uses the word 'brethren' 130 times; he mentions 'elders' five times, and he uses the word pastor once. His letters were never addressed to elders; it was always to 'the church.' Time and again we see that the brothers and sisters under the headship of Christ were the ones to discern the direction things should go, even as the churches grew. This picture of church planting is very different from the modern method of getting a few families from an existing place, setting up shop in a living room, and sticking around for the next 10+ years. Also, the role that Paul, Timothy, Silas, Barnabus, and others functioned has been pretty much lost in the Western church. They weren't pastors or elders, they were apostles, church planters, itinerant workers in the body of Christ. They were the ones who watched over the churches until elders emerged, and they did so from afar. A more thorough treatment of this particular matter was undertaken by Viola in an e-book you can read for free on his website--"Straight Talk To Pastors" at ptmin.org. It's an interesting and quick read if you can take the time to check it out.
All of this is to say that I want a better understanding of the historical context of the scriptures. I think God has a lot to say if we are willing to look at what He did chronologically. Lisa and I are reading through the lives of Saul and David in the OT in this manner, which means Psalms are mixed in with 1 and 2 Samuel. I hope to undertake a chronological reading of the NT sometime soon.
Nov 4, 2007
This is an interesting video I found that the folks at Willow Creek put together:
I highly recommend watching it for yourself (it's about 13 minutes), but in a nutshell Greg Hawkins says that the things they have been doing and refining for about thirty years, the "Willow Creek model" of doing church, hasn't achieved the things they wanted it to, so they are conducting research on how to change things. Here are some questions I have after watching it:
- What is the proper goal for a church to have? He points to making folks "far for God" into "disciples of Christ," that is, people who are characterized by their increasing love for God and their increasing love for other people. The things that the church does are the means to that end, and much of what they're doing now involves figuring out how to better make that happen. The basic idea is that if you "do the stuff" you'll love as you ought to love.
The thing is that the scriptures point to something important that is left out of that equation. Jesus tells the disciples that they are to love one another as He loved them (John 13:34). And John reiterates that point: "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19) The life of God is lived as a result of experiencing the love of God. I don't think that Greg or Bill Hybels would disagree, but the model that they have set up is not predicated on that experience. It's very possible for folks to go through the motions without having that experience. I don't think we can set a goal of having people experience God; that only comes by Him. So what goals ought to be set? Can they be set?
- How significant are the changes they are making? Are they significant enough to bring about a different outcome in another thirty years? It seems to me like they're only re-working the same model that they said isn't working. Now they're asking the congregations what works instead of just the leaders. After thirty years and millions (billions?) of dollars, that doesn't seem like enough of a change to warrant following what they're saying again. In my opinion, anyway.......
- What does God think they should do? I know the brothers and sisters behind this at Willow Creek are sincere, that they love Jesus. That's why I find it strange that He is rarely mentioned. At the end Greg says that this research is (hopefully) the means to discover what God is doing and how He is transforming the planet. Where is He in the rest of the process? Is it possible that they're going down a different road than wants somewhere farther back down the line. He regrets that the "centered" folks are leaving, but is it that they are looking for a better church? What if they sense God leading something else in their lives? Or what if they're simply mature enough to seek Him apart from a structure of that sort?
Just a few ideas......anyone else have thoughts? Anyone still look at this after almost four months? :)
Jul 16, 2007
- Gender roles would be handled very differently. It would be inappropriate for ANYONE, not just women, to function in a pastoral/preaching/elder role like those in most Western churches today because NO ONE should have that sort of authority. This isn't to say that there aren't differences between men and women, of course. But the authority set up by God does not run the risk of being compromised in the same way that it does when one person stands in front all the time.
- False teaching might not spread as easily because heresy would be confined to one local church or a smaller group of churches instead of being passed around the country in a denomination.
- Believers in general might be more mature because they would have to play a more active role in building up the body. No longer would one brother with a particular set of gifts do the majority of the ministry to the saints. Brothers and sisters with very different portions from the Lord would play a part in the equipping. The body in this country is dominated by pastor-teacher input, which is very different from that of a prophet or apostle, and those gifts have much to offer. And all believers would likely grow if they had the mindset that they should be prepared to build up others when they are together.
These are just a few ideas..........
Jul 8, 2007
After several weeks of hemming and hawing about it, I finally purchased and read Who Is Your Covering? by Frank Viola. The topic is authority in the church. His assessment is that questions such as the one in the title or "to whom are you accountable?" are really asking the question "who controls you?" It's a question that comes up for those believers who are outside of the institutional church setting as they meet other believers, and often the answer they're looking for is a person (pastor, elder, etc.), a denomination, or something similar. Very much in a nutshell, Viola suggests that the top-down hierarchical leadership structure practiced by the vast majority of Christians in the West is actually quite different from the picture of the church presented in the scriptures. He also says that the offices of pastor, elder, etc., wrongly place authority with man instead of with God Himself. (For related verses, see Mt. 20:25-28, 23:8-12, and Lk. 22:25-26)
Viola then presents a picture of the first-century church characterized by brotherhood and the involvement of every member of the body of Christ in building up, mutual subjection (that is, believers subjecting themselves to one another and authority coming from the Holy Spirit instead of authority coming to a person or persons through an office and demanding obedience), and confidence that the churches can seek the Lord on their own without a single dynamic leader. (Paul had this confidence in the churches he planted--2 Cor. 2:3, Gal. 5:10.) You can't judge a book by its summary :), but that gives you some idea of what he has to say. Feel free to ask questions if you like. Viola has clarified and developed some ideas I have had over the last several years, so I greatly enjoyed the book.
I've started reading another of his books (Covering is #2 of 5 in a series) called So You Want To Start a House Church? So far its a study of church planting as it was done in the scriptures--interesting stuff. I'm sure I'll write something on it soon, as well as something on the things stirring in my heart as a result of reading.
Other things on the backlog: Job, Philemon, how the Holy Spirit speaks
Jun 11, 2007
What's your theological worldview?
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May 31, 2007
Then I looked at the tree out in front of our house. I remember John climbing to the top when he was younger, and now it seems almost twice as high. It provides much more shade than it used to, as do the other trees around our house. Those trees were there long before we moved in, and they stand a chance to be there long after Mom and Dad head somewhere else. They've seen the hottest of summers, the dead of winter, storm after storm, and who knows how many people, and they still stand strong. This passage seemed appropriate:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified." Isaiah 61:1-3
Lord, help us to comfort those who mourn, that they and we may be oaks of righteousness for Your glory. May we stand strong in You while the world changes around us.
May 8, 2007
Tonight I was reading 2 Peter 1, and I was struck by verses 12 and 13. Peter just listed qualities that believers ought to have: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (v. 5-7). Then he writes, "Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder..." At times I feel that I should be beyond hearing about things regarding following Jesus that I already know, and often this is a product of my pride. But shouldn't I welcome encouragement and exhortation from the Lord and my brothers and sisters? This also reminds me that I should take every opportunity to build up another believer, even if I'm telling them something they "already know." Sometimes I shy away from that, too.
I have some thoughts on Philemon, too, but I'll save them for another time--hopefully not so late.......
Apr 24, 2007
Apr 19, 2007
Lisa and I have been reading Jeremiah lately. Chapter 20 is particularly interesting......dude is schizophrenic! Verse 13: " Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers." Verse 14: "Cursed be the day on which I was born!" What?! Reading that reminds me of the freedom we have to be ourselves before God. Jeremiah, David, Abraham, they all spoke their mind, and God allowed it to be included in the scriptures. It's better to tell the Lord how angry you are with Him and others than to pretend you're not angry at all. What a gracious God He is to allow us to say things like "you have deceived me, and I was deceived!" (v. 7)
Here is another quote:
'Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of your evil deeds.'
I'll probably say more about this later, but justice and help for those in need is a BIG deal to God. I want us (Lisa and I) to consider more seriously how we can love and serve the poor more than we are now (which isn't really very much.....).
Did you know that if you have a savings account, you're among the wealthiest 8% of people in the world?
Mar 28, 2007
Also, a question I'm pondering: what does it mean to not forsake the gathering of the bretheren (Heb. 10:25)? I suppose the ensuing words help clear that up--"but encouraging one another..." Not meeting together is contrasted with encouraging. So being in the same room with other believers doesn't cut it. And it isn't that we are to simply receive encouragement; we are to be encouraging. So it seems that fulfilling this command involves being around and encouraging other followers of Christ. So, when you are around other believers, do you seek to build them up and encourage them?
I don't think the American model of Christianity always encourages that, at least not in the typical Sunday AM gathering. One brother shares, and the rest sit and listen to what he has to say. That is a good thing, but for the body of Christ to operate as it ought, for the gathering of the brothers and sisters to not be forsaken, everyone needs to encourage each other when we come together. If that never happens, the body does not grow in the proper way.
It's interesting that that question arose for me tonight. I went running the other night (outside!) and was burdened with a desire to pour my life into believers in a more significant way than I do currently. Perhaps the Lord is pushing me harder than I thought. :)
I won't give a specific date, just so I don't break my word, but I hope to post in a more timely fashion next time. The busiest time of the semester has almost passed, so that should make it easier. May His grace and peace fill you with joy.