Category Archives: Church

The Lonely Text

A tragedy in much of the modern church is the lack of Bible-centered preaching. Perhaps you have sat in on a worship service where the biblical text sits alone by the wall while the one who brought it to the dance goes off and dances with something else. The scenario is familiar to many of us: a Scripture is read and the sermon hardly, if ever, acknowledges the text again.

Whenever I sit in such a service, I look around at all the people filling the sanctuary and think to myself, These people are starving for the Word of God. They come in and out of here each week looking for what the Scriptures have to say, and leave empty handed. It is my sincere hope that folks in such churches have the wherewithal to know that they are being spiritually undernourished and seek to be fed elsewhere.

With so many preachers delivering up “puff pieces” to congregations each week, it should come as no surprise that people are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face in the world. Consider this, according to research by the Barna Group, the top 6 reasons young people leave church are:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twenty somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Popular “puff pieces” will never overcome these six items. The results of Barna’s research indicate that shallow and simplistic sermons simply will not do. A well-read, thoughtful, pastor who has a heart for Biblical preaching, however, can serve as the antidote to the poison that is destroying the spiritual life of so many young people.

So, getting back to the lonely text. There is simply no way that a person can leave church feeling that the Bible is relevant for today if the preacher ignores while instead choosing to tell fluff stories. If you are a pastor: feed the people! Don’t leave the text for that day’s message leaning up against a wall looking for someone else to come along. Be about the work that you have been called to and preach the Word of God.

Persecution of Christians

My family and I watched God’s Not Dead II last Saturday, and everyone agreed it was a quality movie. The focus of the movie is the pressure, or persecution, being applied to Christians living their faith in public. Such a premise is timely considering the numerous cases reported in the news of public displays of religion being challenged through the legal system. Still, much of the world sees what the Christian community is complaining about as nothing but whining. For instance, I recently stumbled across this quote, attributed to Jon Stewart:

Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion… perhaps around their necks? And maybe — dare I dream it? — maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.*

So, in the eyes of Stewart, Christians are simply imagining things. But, it is not just Jon Stewart who feels this way. Many people believe that the Christian community is just crying over little issues and, essentially, making mountains out of mole hills. Even worse, is the fact that there are many Christians who feel this way.

My question, however, is: How long are we to wait before acknowledging the changing tides? Sure, what we are presently seeing is more along the lines of “pressure” than “persecution.” But, after a while, this simply turns into a game of semantics. Belittling the idea of persecution now, on an individual and small-scale level, will allow the ease of transition into more widespread, governmental persecution. We must always remember that Russia was once a staunchly Christian nation that underwent a radical change in a very short period of time.

So, should Christians stand up and speak out when we witness the silencing of the Christian witness in our land of freedom? Absolutely! I cannot help but be reminded of “First they came…” the famous poem from Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.**

In much the same way, I wonder how long before the church can easily change the words “Socialists,” “Trade Unionists,” and “Jews,” for things like “Christian business owner,” “Christian politician,” and “Christian educator”?

* http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1719-yes-the-long-war-on-christianity-i-pray-that-one

** https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392

 

 

 

The Corrosive Effect of Liberal Clergy

If you were to take a look at the church as a whole, you would probably notice that members of the clergy vary widely in their view of Scripture. There are many who have a very high view of the authority and veracity of the Old and New Testaments, and there are probably just as many that have a very low view of the same. Now, when I speak of a “high view,” I am speaking of a view that maintains that the Scripture is, in fact, the inspired, inerrant, Word of God. So, for instance, a person with a high view of Scripture will see the miracles recorded in the Bible as actual historical events. The high view also leads to the recognition of the Bible as the accurate and authoritative teachings of God in regards to morals and ethics.

The “low view” of Scripture, on the other hand, sees the Bible very differently. In this camp you can find an anti-supernatural bias that guides its members in their approach to Scripture. So, a person with a low view of Scripture will question the miracle claims of found in the Bible, and will cast doubts on the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word. As an example, an instructor I had for a class in the Course of Study doubted that Matthew wrote the Gospel bearing his name as well as the account of Jesus feeding the multitude. For him, Jesus simply inspired others to share their lunches. (For another example, click here, or read this post from Albert Mohler).

Now, I should also point out that there are people all along the way between the high and low views. So, now that I have mentioned it, I will move along.

The low view of Scripture (as I have described it) is found almost exclusively among liberal clergy. Please recognize that I am not referring to politics when I speak of liberal and conservative in the context of theology. You can find liberal clergy who are diehard Republicans, and conservative clergy who are died-in-the-wool Democrats.

So, why am I writing this post? Simple. Liberal clergy have an incredibly corrosive effect on the church. In fact, you could say that liberal clergy are the atheists’ “man on the inside.” That liberal clergy have a powerfully corrosive effect on Christianity can be seen in the watered down morality espoused at many churches. Even atheists such as Daniel Dennet and Linda LaScola recognize how effective liberal clergy are in destroying people’s faith (click here to see the article). I see such clergy as a fulfillment of Paul’s warning in 2 Cor. 11:14 that, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (NIV). But, to make matters worse, there are even atheist pastors. It is a sad, but true, thing to say that there are apparently numerous wolves in sheep’s clothing standing in pulpits. Evidence of this is abundant with the advent of The Clergy Project, and a book authored by Dennet and LaScola.

The reason I bring all this up is that we should take a good, hard look at what we are being taught from the pulpit. If we are being told only those things that we want to hear, it may be that we are worshiping something of our own creation. Christianity was never meant to be easy. Sure, it is easy to slap a label on one’s self and say, “I’m a Christian.” But, it is a whole other matter to actually BE a Christian. Ordination committees should be wise in carrying out their sacred duties, as should pastor-parish committees. And, if these governing bodies fail in their tasks, then Christ followers should prayerfully consider leaving those congregations that are being led by the spiritually blind.

So, at the end of the day, let me say that, if you want to see your faith grow, then you would be better off under the teaching of someone who actually believes what they are preaching.

Is it true that you don’t need to go to church if you believe?

You may have heard someone say that believing in Jesus is “enough,” and that there is no need to attend church. You may, in fact, feel that way yourself. But, the question, however, is whether or not the statement is true. And, it is my contention that the statement is false. So, let me explain.

Now, to be fair, I must confess that belief (the concept of putting trust into something or someone) in Jesus is sufficient for salvation. But, there is more to the equation than most people probably think. You see, many people approach faith in Jesus Christ like an End User License Agreement (EULA). They know they need to check the box in order to enjoy the product, so they do so without reading or understanding anything of what they have signed. Similarly, there are numerous people who have heard that faith in Jesus the Son is necessary for eternal life with God the Father, and check the faith box without having any idea what they have just signed up for.

So, the question now becomes: Does this person have “faith” or “belief in” Jesus Christ for salvation? I believe they do not. Jesus tells His followers to count the cost of being a disciple (Luke 14:28-35). But there can be no counting of the cost for someone who simply checks the block. So, whatever kind of faith a block checker has, it does not seem to line up with what Jesus expects of His followers.  I should also lay my cards on the table and confess that I am on the Arminian side of the house theologically.  So, I do believe that a person can lose their salvation.  And, something tells me a block checker would lose faith, if they ever truly had it, far faster than someone who counted the cost.

But, let’s approach the question of whether or not a Christian should attend church or not more directly. To begin, throughout Scripture faith is seen as both private, something that defines you when alone, as well as public, something that is done in a group setting. In the Old Testament, we see true faith being expressed in the central place of worship, whether the tabernacle or the temple. We see idolatry being practiced away from these central places of worship. In the intertestamental the the development of synagogues takes place worship takes place there. Once we reach the New Testament, we see the Christian community meeting in groups for instruction, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42).

Continuing on, Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV). The point here is that the church, the faithful body of believers, is to continue meeting together, and not be like those that have given up the practice of gathering with fellow Christians. Part of the benefit of such meetings is the mutual support and encouragement found within the faith community.

So, it is clear from Scripture that we should meet together in community with fellow believers. Now, let me wrap this post up with a few closing points. Attending church provides the following, at the very least:

Conservation of Orthodoxy: Trained clergy and the accountability provided by a congregation of fellow believers helps to protect right belief. Though there are many examples of churches, and even denominations, that have gone astray, these are generally recognized as heterodox by the larger church.

Support for Missions: Groups of believers can typically do more to support local and global missions than individuals. Thus, being part of a church body can help us fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).

Support and Encouragement: Church provides a place for believers to find mutual support and encouragement to help navigate the struggles and hardships of life, as well as a place to share joys and blessings with others.

Sacraments: The sacraments are done in community, and there seems to be no way around this. Despite what may have been seen on television, or in a movie, there is no indication in Scripture that a person can baptize his or herself. Nor can you serve the Lord’s Supper to yourself. It just doesn’t work that way.

I could continue to go on, but I will stop this post here – I am not writing a paper, after all. One page on the Word Processor is enough for a blog post.

What Should The Church Do With Marriage?

With the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriages last summer, it is time for the church to take a serious look at its understanding of marriage. There are some who suggest that the redefinition of marriage by the state should have no effect on the church, and to some extent they are correct. After all, churches can still carry out marriage rites as always, and according to the dictates of their beliefs. But, I am left asking the question: what role should the church play in marriage now?

The church does not issue vehicle tags, driver’s licenses, building permits, marriage permits, or any other government documents. The church does, however, baptize, confirm, and marry people. At the moment, the government has no intent that I am aware of to baptize or confirm (though the Soviets did try something like this in their efforts to eradicate religion). It is the overlap between the church’s and government’s role in marriage that causes friction. Many people, especially religious folks, recognize marriage as something sacred. On the other hand, to be recognized as married by the government, a couple must be married according to the government’s standard and have the accompanying official paperwork.

It is my contention that the church should thoughtfully consider breaking its partnership with the government in the arena of marriage. This will obviously have no impact on those that want to have nothing to do with the church in the first place. For a Christian couple, however, this would mean that they could take one of at least three options.

  1. They can get married by a government official, completely apart from the church, and be recognized by the state as married.
  2. They can get married in the church, completely apart from the state, and be recognized by the church as married.
  3. They can get married by both government and church officials, and be recognized by both.

Admittedly, there are benefits to the third option, and this is the route I would advocate for most couples. However, if a couple is aware of the possible difficulties that come with option #2 (think hospital visits, inheritance issues, legal difficulties, etc.), then I think it is a viable, respectable, and God honoring option. The most difficult option from the church’s point of view would be #1. If the church is going to maintain that true marriage is a God ordained institution, then the couple that chooses to marry apart from the church would not be recognized as married by the church.

So, couples that choose to get married outside of the church would be regarded as living together in a sinful relationship and engaging in fornication: sex outside of the marriage relationship. Obviously this will hurt feelings, but the church was not called to make everyone feel good. If the church holds this position, then it means that when a couple that has been married outside of the church wants to join a local body of believers, then that couple will be required to be married in the eyes of the church. If they refuse to be married in the eyes of the church, then membership in a local body of believers should be withheld. Yes, we have all sinned, but when a person comes to the church living in an ongoing, continuous sin and asks for membership, the church should have the moral fortitude to say that the person’s chosen lifestyle is incompatible with Christian teaching and therefore, church membership is not presently an option.

I know there are many who disagree with this position, but this is where my thinking has led me to stand.

Leaving the Crib

I was listening to a podcast from William Lane Craig’s Defenders class the other day and was struck by a particular point he made.  Many people have no desire to grow in their faith.  They are simply comfortable sitting back and never thinking through either what they believe or why they believe it.  For these folks, the idea is that they have a “childlike” faith that has a noble quality, but is this truly the case?

Craig makes the point that many people have what is actually a “childish” faith and not “childlike.”  To have faith like a child is to be fully trusting in one that is greater, stronger, wiser, etc.  This is typical of the faith you see between a child and parent (obviously there are parents who fail miserably).  This is good and desirable.  In fact, Christ expects us to have faith like that of a child (Matt. 18:2-3).

The faith that does not seek to grow and develop is childish.  This is not something to be striven for, but just the opposite.

The Scriptures plainly tell us to use our intellect in our relationship to God.

Matt. 22:37 – Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  (NIV)

1 Cor. 14:20 – Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

So, you can see that we are to have faith like that of a child, but we are to grow and mature in our thinking.   It is important for us to learn about our faith and have the ability to articulate what we believe.

The question then becomes one of where to begin.  If you have never seriously studied the Bible, then I must say that the place to begin is right there.  Don’t just dive in at random places, but have systematic plan in place.  There are many Bible reading programs that can be used to help keep you on track with reading through the Bible in one or two years.  In addition to reading the Scriptures it is also good to learn about the many doctrines of the faith.  For this, I feel a good introduction is the book, Christianity 101 (click here for Christianbook.com)  I read it years ago an like the way he treats varying viewpoints.  His approach allows you, the reader, to come to conclusions on your own.

All in all, it is my hope that each of us seeks to grow daily in our faith.  While we desire faith that is childlike, let us never confuse that with childish.

 

 

A Christian Humanist Pastor?

I recently read an article over at Charisma Magazine (not my typical reading, but one link led to another).  The story dealt with a Presbyterian minister down in Austin, TX who denies the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  What struck me about the article was the way the minister was lashing out at his critics in social media.  The quotes attributed to him were of the sort I would expect from a militant atheist, not a “Christian” minister.

Yes, I put Christian in quotes.  The reason is simple: from what I understand of the New Testament there is no way that this man can be a Christian.  Now, I know that at this point many people will call me judgmental and blah, blah, blah.  But, I am simply going with what the New Testament teaches.

In Romans 10:9, Paul says, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (NIV)

In 1 Corinthians 15:14-17, Paul states,  “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (NIV)

So, as you can see from both of these texts the resurrection of Jesus is a key tenet of the Christian faith.  Even beyond these passages of Scripture the early creeds of the church all affirm the central belief in the resurrection.

Now, this brings me back to the title of this post.  Whatever this man believes, it should not be described as Christianity without some sort of qualifier.  For instance, there is Jewish Humanism.  These are ethnic Jews who do not believe in God, but enjoy the ritual and want to preserve the distinctives of their culture.  In the same vein, I think this man may be walking down a similar path, that of Christian Humanism.

But, this makes for a challenge.  What should be done in the case of the pastor in Austin, Texas?  While I wish no ill will on anyone, the proper thing to do in this situation is for the pastor and the church to part ways.  Even more so, the denomination should defrock the pastor.  To have a pastor leading a church into disbelief is simply irresponsible on everyone involved’s part.

It is vital that we keep a close eye on the leaders of our churches.  With all of the challenges that the church faces from outside, there is no reason that we should sit idly by and watch cancers grow within the body.  And, let’s face it, when you stand up in the pulpit and say, “I don’t believe in the central tenet of the Christian faith,” you have self-selected to be removed from ordained ministry.