Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

When Your Church is Foundering: What are you doing?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

This is why I love Frank Turk, aka centuri0n.

What can I do now that my church is foundering?

I’m going to give you a secret to my success in influence my church, and do with it what you want: people who know me, and live with me, and talk to me find out quickly that I love God and the Bible in more than just a theoretical and theological way. The Bible makes sense to them when they see how I live. The question of “how real is Jesus” is solved for them when they meet my family and have lunch with me. So when they show me a Nooma video, having never read my blog, and I say to them, “I’m not sure this fellow got the Bible right—can we check?” The context of that statement for them is that my life is actually getting the Bible right already.

I don’t have any kind of perfect life. If you could measure sanctification with scientific devices, to measure mine you would need something which measures angstroms and not cups or pounds. But I have sacrificed the time to demonstrate this to people because I love them and care for them. Have you done the same for these people for whom you are grieved, and troubled, and deeply, deeply concerned?

I’m feeling conviction and inspiration.

Christians & Community Service, from The White Horse Inn

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

There was some great stuff in this week’s episode of one of my radio shows—The White Horse Inn—concerning Christians, local church programs, and community service.  I’ll start with the quote, add some comments, and then mention a bit about the show itself, for anyone who’s interested.

You can listen, or read my transcription.  The quote is from  The Foolishness of God, starting at timestamp ~25:30.  (Note: If you’re reading this entry from The Future, it might be a broken link.)  In context, they’re talking about the church itself doing outreach programs in the community.  Should that be the mission of the local church?  (I’ve added some bold to the key portions.)

Ken Jones: “I’ve mentioned this before, but I have people that will ask me, because of where my church is located [in the inner city], ‘What kind of programs do you have in your church?’ [...] A few years ago, when they were having mayoral elections in the city of Compton, and again the question would come up, ‘What is your church doing?’  And I happened to notice that we had, I think, four block club presidents in our church, [...] and the person that was the moderator for the mayoral debates was a member of our church.  None of these things were done as programs or outreach from the church, but it was individuals who were members of our congregation, making the contribution to the city of Compton, as residents of the city of Compton, not as representatives of Greater Union Baptist Church.

[...]

Mike Horton: “And don’t you think, to put the best construction on it, that a lot of people when they’re doing this, they’re not saying, ‘I want our church to get the credit for this, I want it to be on the news that we did some great thing,’ but rather, ‘When a cup of cold water is being offered, I want it to be offered in the name of the Gospel.’  And in actual fact that motive is perfectly understandable, and the Church does have a diaconal, charitable role to play, but that really we should be telling people, ‘Look–certainly do that in your neighborhood, offer a cold cup of water in the name of Christ, certainly care for your brothers and sisters who are suffering in the body of Christ. But be concerned about people out there who are not just a mission field to you, but who deserve your neighborliness, your love and your friendship, just because they are bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh.  They are fellow human beings, God made them in His image.  And you can work side-by-side in the Peace Corp or in Red Cross, you don’t need to start your own evangelical world relief organization.  There are plenty of them out there already where you’re not raising money again to duplicate another bureacracy.  Go be a part of those things, and you’ll be working side-by-side with non-Christians in those volunteer organizations in a way that not only gives you an opportunity to do good to the people you’re serving, but also to explain to your non-Christian co-workers why you’re doing what you’re doing.’

Things I love about this episode:

  1. They express evangelical concerns about “social gospel“–concern that our works of service will end up replacing the gospel instead of adorning the gospel.
  2. They express the idea that proclaiming the Gospel is the primary mission of the Church.
  3. But they avoid the pendulum swing.  They don’t jettison community service.  On the contrary.
  4. They manage to challenge the evangelical tendency to serve & “love” people because we see them as a mission field.  “No, love these people because they deserve it as fellow human beings.”
  5. The message is, Get out there and be involved!

There’s more to be said–for instance, I doubt that “evangelical world relief organizations” are necessarily bad! But in general, these thoughts seem to be an important part of a mature approach.

The White Horse Inn ”is a nationally syndicated radio talk show hosted by Michael Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, Kim Riddlebarger and Ken Jones. On the air since 1990, the show features a regular roundtable discussion of Christian theology and apologetics.”  (About the hosts.)  The theme of the show in 2008 was “Christless Christianity”.  The theme of 2009 is “Christ in a Post-Christian Culture”.  They also publish a bi-weekly magazine called Modern Reformation.

Who is Church for?

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Here’s a brief interruption to my “Homosexuality & Hypocrisy” series.

The Church is the only society that exists primarily for the sake of those who are not its members. — William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1881 – 1944)

I’ve been thinking about this quote since I heard it a week ago.  (I’m not sure about the exact wording–Google reports many forms.)  How true is it?  Or maybe put the question this way:  In what sense is that sentence true, and in what sense is it not true?

It’s clearly true in this sense:  For every Christian, evangelism and acts of service are part of our discipleship.  Part of being like Christ.  Our lives should include an outward orientation.  Part of following Christ is loving people.  So as Christians, part of our lives is supposed to be for the sake of those outside the church.

But what does “the Church” exist for?  When we meet together in a local church, what are we doing?  Aren’t we coming to be built up & fed?  To be challenged, encouraged, convicted, held accountable, comforted, consoled, rebuked, taught?  In that sense, doesn’t the church exist to build up the members?

That is, after all, what Jesus commissioned Peter to do–feed His sheep.  He commissioned Peter as a shepherd–a pastor.  The leaders of the church exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-16).

Of course, we don’t come to be passive.  The leaders aren’t the only ones who serve.  On the contrary, 1 Cor. 12-14 tells us that we are all given gifts by the Spirit–”To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”–and each member of the body is needed.  So we come together to love and serve one another.  When we’re fed, it’s “for the work of ministry”.

It’s interesting, though.  In these three passages, the purpose of gathering together is talked about in terms of building up the Body.  In that sense, the church–seen as a local gathering of followers of Christ–exists for the sake of its members, not for its non-members.  We gather to be fed, and to serve one another.  When we gather, it isn’t directly for the sake of people outside the church.  Except…

It’s not quite either/or.  The two sides come together, in at least these ways:

  1. The church sends out missionaries.
  2. When we are fed & built up, that means that we grow in discipleship.  And discipleship includes loving those who do not know Christ.  Our edification does include an outward aim.
  3. Feeding & equipping Christians to serve can mean organizing community service efforts.  Or it might not.  Instead, a church might help its members get plugged in with existing community service groups–or encourage & exhort its members to serve in “unorganized”, random acts of kindness.  All three can be good.

But however the church handles community service, we should be sure that we are adorning the gospel with good works–not replacing the gospel with good works.

On Statements of Faith

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

At my local church, we’re looking at revising our statement of faith. We want to clarify some of what’s there, and maybe address some additional issues & practices. So I’ve been having a few conversations with people about the general subject of statements of faith, and have some thoughts, as well as a question:

Do you know of any additional ways to handle these concerns? Do you know any churches that handle these concerns particularly well?

What Does It Mean? What Does It Do?

A statement of faith is something around which the church unites. It says, “This is what we believe”–but how does that work out?

In churches with member rolls, becoming a member typically includes agreeing to the statement of faith. But my church doesn’t have member rolls. So what are we saying? Are we still saying, “We expect that if you make Hope your church, then you agree with this doctrine”? Are we saying, “We expect that you will not try to lead people away from these beliefs, even if you disagree”?

Should someone be put out from the church if they reject the statement of faith? If they disagree on the nature of the gospel? If they disagree on the authority of Scripture? If they disagree on the role of spiritual gifts? If they disagree on the destiny of the unevangelized? If they disagree with the church’s stance on the Rapture? Which of these should be included, and what should be the nature of our commitment to it?

(more…)

Spiritual Gifts — Getting Past the Term

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The other night, in the discipleship & spiritual growth class I’m taking at my church, we were discussing spiritual gifts.  The question came up of how to distinguish between spiritual gifts and natural traits/talents.

Many non-believers are good at things that are also called spiritual gifts–like administration, or teaching.  But spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, in believers.  So does that mean that if you were good at it before you began to trust in Christ, then it’s not a spiritual gift?  But then there’s also Eph. 2:10, which says that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ for good works that he prepared in advance for us to do.  So he made us in ways that are suited to the tasks he has for us–natural traits are the work of God, too!  How do you figure out which is which?  Do you need to?

Maybe it’s helpful, maybe not…  The question that I prefer to think about is, “How can I act so that God works through me?  How can I serve the Body of Christ?  How can I care for the people in my community?”  When I read 1 Cor. 12, that seems to be what spiritual gifts are about.

Check out verses 4-7:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Key point: Gifts are activities.  They’re ways to serve.  These activities of service are manifestations of the Spirit, and they are intended to help the Body.

So, the major question to be asking is:  Does God work through me in this, for the good of others?

It’s not even a question of, “Am I good at this?”  Two teachers might be effectively identical in the way they teach–but the Holy Spirit might regularly move powerfully when the one preaches.  Or you might have people who are totally uninspiring & dry in how they share the gospel–but when they do, the Spirit brings people in.

And when you find a way that you can serve people–something where God works through you–don’t you want to press into that?  Isn’t that something to pursue, whether or not you know precisely what to call it?

Infant Baptism in the Early Church, & Rebaptism

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I’m pretty much done with my recent entries on infant baptism, but I found a couple more resources on the subject–about infant baptism in the early church.  They come from Triablogue.

Enjoy!

  1. The Catholicity of Infant Baptism v. The Owen
  2. The Alleged Catholicity Of Infant Baptism

On a related subject, the Internet Monk has been writing about rebaptism lately.

  1. Rebaptism: What Is It?
  2. Rebaptism: How Did We Get Here?
  3. Rebaptism: Where to from here?

Added a Baptism Comment

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Update:

Anyone following my discussion with Mike Burgess on baptism may want to know that I’ve added a new comment. (I may write one more entry on it, then I’ll be setting aside the topic for now.)

Baptism Resources

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I wrote my two entries on infant baptism because I’ve been encountering the subject in a few different places lately.  If you’re interested in thinking about the issues, you might check some of them out:

John Piper’s recent sermons

John Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist, is dealing with a question of church membership.  Baptism is a standard requirement for membership–so Baptist churches have to decide, “Should we allow people to become members who were baptized as infants and will not be baptized as an adult, professing believer?”  (Piper would like to widen the existing policy to allow it.)  He has recently preached on How Important Is Church Membership?, and What Is Baptism, and How Important Is It?

The latter is a pretty good basic case for believer’s baptism.  If you only have time for one thing to listen to/read, I would recommend that.

Update: Also, the former is a pretty good case for why Christians ought to be committed to a particular local body of believers.

Debates

Dr. James White (a Reformed Baptist) and Pastor Bill Shisko debated baptism a couple years ago.  I’ve listened to it multiple times since I first downloaded it last year.  It’s a fairly accessible, if you’re studying the issue for the first time.  It’s a well-structured, pleasant debate.  It has some good back-and-forth, some cross-examination, and some audience questions. I would recommend this, if you’re willing to devote a couple hours. Here are the mp3s.

Dr. Robert B. Strimple (a paedobaptist) and Dr. Fred Malone (a Reformed Baptist) debated the subject at Westminster Seminary.  I think Dr. Strimple’s arguments are deeper than Pastor Bill Shisko’s–but I think Dr. White’s may have deeper than Dr. Malone’s.  Dr. Strimple presents a fairly strong case for the covenantal aspects of the paedobaptist view.   (But this debate has less interaction between the two, so I think it’s less useful in some ways.)  Here it is:  The Proper Subjects of Baptism

Some blog discussions

Sparked by Piper’s sermons, there has been some discussion lately in the blogosphere.  Frank Turk (aka centuri0n) has had some entries, with some challenging discussion in the comment sections.  (You’ll find some comments by me.) You can check them out at:

  1. First Up, Lutherans
  2. Kobra Konquest
  3. Corresponds to What?

Segment from Issues, Etc.

Here’s the segment that I mentioned in the previous entry, from Issues, Etc.

“Answering Objections to Infant Baptism” with Pastor Tim Pauls

Going Deeper on Baptism

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Mike Burgess was kind enough to comment on my previous entry on infant baptism.  (Mike is a Roman Catholic, formerly-Reformed, with whom I was previously discussing another matter at Beggars All blog.)  My reply become long enough that I’m going to make it a new entry.

If you don’t mind me dropping by to comment, I’d like to offer a few reflections on your post. I appreciated the civil interaction with you on the Beggars All thread.

When I was Reformed, I was a paedobaptist and paedocommunionist. There is a lot of really insightful paedocommunionist material available on the web from vital, Reformed men. You might look into it simply for research as you ponder these things. I can point to some if you’re interested.

No, not at all! Welcome to my blog.  I appreciate some challenge from various perspectives.  I also want to have a healthy respect for tradition–for the thoughts & reflections & commentary of other believers.  I think that’s an important, even vital part of Bible study.

I’m about to post an entry with links to the sermons, discussions, and debates on this topic which I’ve been reading & listening to lately. You would be more than welcome to add some recommendations.

The point here is that, using the remnant analogy, those Reformed men don’t fit your objection to the “inconsistency” charge.

I’m not sure what you mean by “the remnant analogy”. (Something like, “God’s covenant community has always consisted of the external community, with a smaller remnant of true believers–covenant signs have always been properly given to the children of those who believe, even if those children are not necessarily part of the remnant”?)

Yes, those who allow their children to take communion are not being inconsistent–not in the way I mentioned in my Example 1. I am aware that some do practice paedocommunion, which makes them consistent. But I have heard the argument from someone who does not practice paedocommunion, so the criticism applied. (In retrospect, I don’t know why I said that paedobaptists “usually” require a profession of faith for communion–I actually don’t know what the percentages are. I’m going to correct the other entry.)

Still, I expect that all paedobaptists face somewhat similar questions. If an adult converts and is baptized, and that convert has children, which of their children should be baptized? Infants? Kindergarteners? Teenagers? 25-year-olds living with their parents? 40-year-olds who have their own children, where extended families live under the same roof? Servants & slaves, who (in Biblical terms) are part of the “household”? (I’m curious–do you know Catholic practice in these matters?) (more…)

Thoughts on Infant Baptism

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Infant baptism (“paedobaptism”) has come up in a few contexts lately–some conversations, some radio shows, some blogs, etc.  I’d like to put down some thoughts.

1.) It’s Important

It’s important to figure this out.  We shouldn’t just shrug and say, “Oh well, people disagree.”  If infant baptism is valid, then we credobaptists (believer’s baptists) are withholding something from our children–not treating them as God would have us.  But if baptism is something that a believer does, then those who were “baptized” as infants are not obeying the Lord in his command to be baptized.  Either way, we are missing something.  God commanded this practice for a reason; if we take His commands seriously, we should do our best to understand them correctly.  We should go to the Scriptures, and do our best to understand them correctly.

2.)  It’s Intramural

This is a discussion between brothers in the Gospel.  It is a serious matter, but not one that decides your salvation.  (Though, if you believe that baptizing an infant saves them, it does start to get close to the question, “What is the gospel?”) (more…)