Resource Saturday- Unwrapping the Temple of God

July 11, 2009

In my experience, most American Christians tend to have a rather limited view of the temple of God.  They would probably be able to tell you that the Temple was in Jerusalem, that it was destroyed at some point, and that your body is a temple (cf. 1 Corinthians 6.19, which, in my opinion, is the second most misused verse in the Bible behind Revelation 3.20).  However, over the year and a half the Spirit has lead me into studies which show a much deeper importance to the Temple, an importance which drives me to believe the Temple should be the focus of all our eschatalogical dreams as Christians.

Of course, to make sense of this requires first a proper understanding of what the Temple is and second enough time to go from cover to cover in the Bible seeing what God has revealed about the Temple to us.  For my part I will tell you that the Temple, properly understood, is the place where the presence of God dwells with man.  Thus we see that in the physical temple, the presence of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, and today the presence of God dwells in the church and the individual believers which make up the church.  But what about at all other points?  What about before the Temple was built in Jerusalem?  What about after it was destroyed?  What about in the end time?

This truly is a rich subject, so rich in fact that I just recently finished reading a 400-page book on it.  Now, I know that not everyone has the time (or patience) to read a book this long, but if you ever want to give it a try, G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission is well worth it.  When I first found this book sitting on the shelf in Southern’s LifeWay I immediately bought it and nearly skipped class just to start reading.  In fact, I was a little disappointed when I found this book because I had decided myself that I would right a treatise on the Temple for my Ph.D (should I ever go for one) and now I know that someone has beaten me to it.

If the sound of that book is a little too intimidating for you (and honestly, 400-pages scares me as well) then at least take a listen to this sermon from Sojourn Community Church a few weeks back.  It is on 1 Kings 8 where Solomon prays over the Temple in Jerusalem and in it Daniel Montgomery offers an introductory glance at this very deep, very rewarding theme in Scripture.

Am I Not Called to (Ad)Minister?- John Piper on Avoiding Sacred Substitutes

April 27, 2009

Having just concluded my reading of John Piper’s excellent book on pastoral ministry, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, I thought that I would share one more thought from it that was very convicting to me.

In the chapter entitled, “Brothers, Beware of Sacred Substitutes,” Dr. Piper develops an idea of how the Christian minister is to allot his time based around the text of Acts 6.2-4, 

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The life of the Christian minister is full of starts and stops, interruptions and diversions away from the biblical calling to “preach the word” and to “shepherd the flock of God” that is among them (2 Timothy 4.2, 1 Peter 5.2).  Expanding on this, John Piper notes that “most of [the interruptions to our spiritual growth] and most of our busyness is ministry-related, not ‘worldly’.”  By this he means that most of the distraction comes not in the form of sinful diversion but disguised as good, seemingly essential, administerial and care related ministries.  Such was the case with the elders in Jerusalem who were being side-tracked by the dispersion of meals and other provisions to the widows in their fellowship.  This is undoubtedly a good thing, and yet its goodness does not make it superior to the elders call “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v.4).  Looking to contemporary examples, Piper remarks,

And what opposes the pastor’s life of prayer [and thus his whole calling] more than anything?  The ministry.  It is not shopping or car repairs or sickness or yard work that squeezes our prayers into hurried corners of the day.  It is budget development and staff meetings and visitation and counseling and answering mail and writing reports and reading journals and answering the phone and preparing messages. (p.61)

Honestly, even though I am not yet officially “in the ministry,” I understand this difficulty quite well.  As a servant in the church and one who wants to contribute as much as I can currently within the scope of the ministry that I have, I often find that I simply spread myself too thin by assuming that every responsibility that comes up which seems remotely related to what I’m doing is a dire task that I personally need to respond to.  Thus I find myself committed to meeting people at 5 different locations and 4 different times, while simultaneously calling businesses trying to schedule events or place merchandise orders, which undoubtedly pushes my day out in both directions, shortening my mornings and my nights, making me feel more pressed to pray than I am comfortable with, and so I just short-change it and resolve to be in prayer “the way I should be” the following day.  I let my desire to be everything to everyone in my public ministry interfere with my devotion to God and reliance on him in my private ministry.  This is precisely what the psalmist is speaking to when he says, 

It is in vain that you rise up early
     and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
     for he gives to his beloved sleep
. (Psalm 127.2)

God bless John Piper and his wise insights into the trappings of the Christian pastorate; how I have benefited from them as much as any writer outside of God’s inspired word.  Again, if you are or plan to be involved in the pastoral ministry and you have not already read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, you need to obtain a copy and immediately bump it up to the top of your reading list.

What We Believe- Article XI, Evangelism and Missions

April 3, 2009

This week we are starting to head into articles dealing with more practical matters for the church and how it operates and views the world.  The first of these articles is article XI concerning evangelism and missions:

XI. Evangelism and Missions

It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.

Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 6:1-8; Matthew 9:37-38; 10:5-15; 13:18-30, 37-43; 16:19; 22:9-10; 24:14; 28:18-20; Luke 10:1-18; 24:46-53; John 14:11-12; 15:7-8,16; 17:15; 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2; 8:26-40; 10:42-48; 13:2-3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 3:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 2:1-3; 11:39-12:2; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 22:17.

Given that the major emphasis in most (all?) Southern Baptist churches is on missions and evangelism, one would expect this to be a very solid article.  And reading it over, it doesn’t seem to disappoint.  The one thing that we have to be careful of is checking to see if they actually say too much and overreach on what the Scriptures actuallt call us to in sharing the message of the gospel.

The opening statement is very bold: “It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations.”  Many will dispute this and say that Jesus’ commands in Matthew 28.18-20 and Acts 1.8 were directed only to the apostles, but this fails to account for why many who weren’t there, say like Timothy or Titus or Apollos, felt inclined to fulfill it as well.  Instead we see that everywhere the apostles go they not only preach the word of God but that also encourage others to do it as well.  So, unless they missed the interpretation of Jesus’ commands right from the start I think it is safe to say that the Great Commission(s) is meant for all believers.  

The statement that it is a privilege echoes Peter’s sentiments that we are a chosen people that now “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9).

After making such a strong declaration of our calling to do evangelism and missions, I am very impressed by the way that the BF&M then proceeds to say, in so many words, “But still, evangelism and missions is not to be done out of plain obedience.”  This is important.  A lot of people, even a lot of great theologians (RC Sproul comes to mind right away) will argue that the reason why we do missions is because Christ commands us to.  That is a good reason, but I think it falls short of what the Bible actually says.  Now, I know that RC comes from this angle because he is arguing for why we should do evangelism and missions if God has already set out to save all and only the elect who have been chosen unconditionally from before time, but hear me out: if our gospel witness comes just from pure obedience then we are missing the point.  When we are regenerated we are adopted into God’s family.  This then should produce a love in us for the family and thus a desire to see all of the members of the family (i.e. the elect) brought home and reconciled with the Father.  So, we have this longing and the Scriptures tell us that the only way to see it happen, to see them reconciled, is through their hearing and receiving the message of the gospel (cf. Acts 4.12, Romans 10.9ff).  Viewing our participation in evangelism and missions as simply fulfilling an obligation sets it up as an item on a checklist that we can cross off eventually without having completely sold ourselves out to doing it, which of course is the breeding grounds of legalism.  Viewing it as our internal desire to see the whole family reconciled makes it a lot more personal and more accurately conveys the spirit of him who called us (cf. Galatians 4.1-7).

Finally, we are hit with the question of how we should go about doing evangelism and missions.  This again is a place where I think the BF&M gets it just right.  It says that we are to try and ”win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ. ”  Of course, I am not a huge fan of the language of us “winning people to Christ” since I think this puts too high a value on our actually abilities, but the principle expressed is absolutely correct.  Our first weapon is a verbal witness, for “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10.14b), and then this is to be followed up with a consistent Christian lifestyle and all other means of witness which do not contradict the commands of Scripture.  I think we have all been guilty at one time or another of witnessing only through “lifestyle evangelism,” whether we meant to or not, and I like the fact that the BF&M takes a clear stance that this is not the proper type of biblical witness.  Of course, we shouldn’t expect all of the people in the church to be George Whitefield, especially right out of the gates, but that is why the SBC has invested so much through LifeWay into evangelism training courses and through NAMB and IMB for missionary training.  This is far and away one of the biggest advantages of being in the SBC.

So, going in there was a concern that maybe the BF&M would go too far in its assessment of the Scriptural writings on evangelism and missions, but honestly, I think they did an excellent job in staying true to the word here; and even though this is not a popular way to live– I know I struggle with placing enough focus on evangelism myself– we would all do better at fulfilling God’s call on our lives if we truly embraced what this article says.

Stuck at Go- A Case Study in the Failure of Modern Evangelism

March 31, 2009

Since deciding to take this past year as a period of casual learning before jumping into seminary and formal pastoral education, I have found myself taking part in several church and generally “Christian” activities.  One of these is an evangelism group in which people are meeting weekly to learn a system of evangelism and then heading out to use it in attempt to reach people who have indicated an interest in our church.  To be honest, I am excited to be going out for evangelism and trying to take people the message of the cross every week, but I could give or take the particular system we are being trained in.

The system isn’t one of the fancy named deals like F.A.I.T.H. or Evangelism Explosion, but is a mixture of the general principles involved in these, all centered around the “Bridge to Life” tract put out by The Navigators.  I would imagine many Christians are familiar with this illustration; it is the one where man and God are separated over a chasm caused by sin and the only way for man to make it to God’s side is by the cross of Jesus, which allows him to choose eternal life over eternal destruction.  Now aside from the fact that this is an unabashedly Arminian presentation and that it utterly abuses passages such as 1 Timothy 2.5, Revelation 3.20, and John 6.47, this system does attempt to teach reconciliation with a righteous God through the grace of the cross and so I stomach going through it, even if I won’t necessarily plan on using it once on the field.

However, this past week, instead of being with my usual evangelism partner I teamed with another highly active member of my church, a slightly older guy (late 30′s-early 40′s), who serves as a deacon and teaches children’s Sunday School.  We had one prospect to visit, a Korean family who had come to our church the day before and who my partner casually knew through involvment in the public schools.  What happened during our visit was indicative of my greatest fears in the style of evangelism we have been taught, a style not that different from most other evangelical congregations, and served to further bolster in my mind the weakness of the modern Christian church’s view of salvation.

So we arrive at this person’s house, knock on the door, introduce ourselves, and get invited in.  We sit and make small talk for a minute, finding out what they thought of our church and how it was that they came to visit us.  Then, since my partner had a previous rapport with the family, I let him lead in with a testimony about his salvation experience and follow that up with the “key” question: “If you were to be in front of God for judgment tonight, what would you say to him about why he should let you into heaven?”  This, in some variation or another, is the basic first or second question in most contemporary evangelism schemes (the other being, “If you were to die tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?”), and their response is then used to lead into the gospel presentation if anything other than a “faith” answer is given.  However, on this night, the question was short circuited right from the start when our prospect told us that he is not particularly concerned with the afterlife but prefers to focus on how he lives his life today.  You could tell it from my partners eyes– our system has no ability to respond to that– and that is a problem.

Honestly, the objection that this man raised is (a) not in itself a bad train of thought, and (b) increasingly common in our postmodern culture.  Heck, I even find myself in this place often times, not that I don’t care about the afterlife, but that I find my motivation in living for God being more focused on how I serve him practically day-to-day and less in where I’ll go when I die.  The problem is, if a person really doesn’t invest too much in thinking about heaven and hell, what good does the “key” question do?  Moreover, why is it that we have left our congregations so inadequately prepared to deal with a very simple and prevalent kink in their system?  

This is one area of agreement that I have with the emerging/postmodern mindset.  We cannot just focus on trying to automatize evangelism and teaching God.  There are many legitimate variations on Christian thinking and experience that the modern evangelical framework is impotent at addressing, but that the church should not have any trouble dealing with.  Unless we train our people solidly in the Bible, and not just in some cute, 5-page presentation intended to astonish unbelievers into submission, there is no way that they will be able to stand a chance in the well read, broadly spiritual age we are living in, and their ignorance will continue the stigma against the church as being a simple-minded, anti-intellectual hot bed of judgmental radicals.  

The Scriptures really are sufficient, but unfortunately modern evangelism is neglecting a great portion of them in trying to advance easy believism, turn-or-burn Christianity.  This was one example how.

Kill the Self!- Further Ranting on the Sad State of Individualism in Our Churches

March 22, 2009

Indulge me for a minute, but I think I just want to take a day to stand on my soapbox once more.  Yesterday I spoke on the idea of corporate repentance and how it is what we should be seeking when we realize that we’ve been engaged in a corporate lifestyle of sin as the people of God.  I also spoke earlier this week about community and how God gave us the church as a collection of people so that we would not be forced to suffer alone.  I think these two things are interrelated in a very pertinent way.  We have elevated the role and the responsibility of the individual so high that it is the ultimate end of our gathering.  We don’t even have any conceptual frame for the covenant community of the church as it was meant to be all along, and so when we engage God’s Word on Sunday morning– which, let’s face it, is the only time when most people are really engaging God’s Word– we approach it with a fully self-centered mindset.  ”What can I get out of this?”  ”What must I do now?”  ”What do the Scriptures have to say to me?”

This is wrong.  And here’s what it does.  It makes us, as Christians, when we evangelize, to say things like, “You need to get things right with the Lord!”  Like we’ve got it all together and were just waiting for you to catch on.  I heard a speaker Friday night and he was talking about Christians and he said that people can tell who Christians are because they have “Peace, purpose, and direction.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of Christians, and very few of them embody all of these characteristics.  As a matter of fact, I know several Christians who I would say don’t possess any of these.  Yet when we present the gospel as “you getting your crap together with God”  (that’s essential what this is saying, right?), then how else should it come off but as a calm, collected, mentally stable individual.  That’s what God wants, isn’t it?

Of course not!  And what could be more isolating than telling someone that being a Christian means you have it all lined up, all figured out?  If this is the case, when exactly was the apostle Peter saved?  He doesn’t seem to have much peace in Galatians 2 when he is too concerned about his image with the Jewish Christians to do what is right in regards to the Gentile Christians.  None of us would say that a Christian has to be sinless, but practically that is the standard we are setting.  No room for doubt.  No room for confusion about our purpose in some circumstance.  Christians are individuals who have it all together.  

So, if that is the case, why bother with the church?  A few chapters after we see a rather confused Peter, we receive this instruction from Paul: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load” (Galatians 6.1-5).  In the church, we are to correct those who step out of line (like Peter), but we’re also to bear with the burden’s of each other.  Does that picture a collection of people who are individually good-to-go, who individually have everything worked out, peaceful and right where it’s supposed to be?  Certainly not.  It pictures a hot mess of imperfect people struggling to keep their heads above water as they try to understand the purpose of their new heart and survive the battle between it and the sinful flesh which they still reside in!  This is what the church is composed of.  Not individuals who are “right with God,” but a body of people who all have the shared the experience of “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3.5) and now are constantly at the foot of the cross trying to figure out what the heck happens next.

We have to find some way to bite this rampant individualism in the bud before it kills off anymore of our people.  When the question of assurance is always framed in the individual context, of if you have peace with God, if you understand your purpose, if you know the direction of your life, then it is a scary, lonely road– one which we feel like we are unable to invite others to walk along with us.  Too many people sit clammed up on Sunday morning because they buy the facades that everyone else has put up;  facades that declare our “Christianity” because they demonstrate how put together we are.  Unless we can blast through that crap and see that all of us are just a bunch of broken vessels that God has had mercy on though we in no way deserve it, we are only going to continue alienating people and building a church which is no church at all but just a smattering of people sitting alone in the pews, carefully avoiding being exposed.

There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Corporate’- Recovering a Biblical View of Repentance for the Church

March 21, 2009

For this week’s Sunday School lesson I have been studying chapters 29 and 30 of the book of Isaiah.  In these passages we see various warnings and condemnations directed at the people of Israel.  I particularly found myself keying in on verses 12 through 14 of chapter 30:

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,”Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

The accusal of despising God’s instruction (cf. 30.9) through relying on “oppression and perverseness”  really hit me as a horrific charge, and the subsequent images of a pregnant, forbodeing wall crashing down and a dish being obliterated made this all the more moving.  If there is anything that Christians today major in it is trusting in oppression and perverseness in place of a right regard for the Word of God, and to be able to open a discussion of this on Sunday morning should certainly generate plenty of thought as to just how we are guilty of this.

However, as I continued working on the lesson, I knew that I wanted to wrap up with how we should respond.  Of course, the typical idea for response would be to present the gospel and present Christ as the eternal, unchanging savior who died once for all to pay for our sins– this is correct certainly.  But, thinking about the recent emphasis in my life on working through our issues in a true covenant community, I noticed something else about the charge: it is directed to “a rebellious people.”  This is not just the failing of one person, some ostracized screw up out of the people of God; this is an indictment of the whole nation.  Yet even that isn’t such a great revelation, as we know so much in the Old Testament, particularly the prophets, is an acknowledgment and warning over the failings of the whole people.  What really struck me was this: if the condemnation fell against the whole people, then how were they supposed to respond?  As individuals?  No.  They were supposed to correct it as a whole people as well!

The perfect picture of this would be the response of post-exilic Israel in Nehemiah 9.  Following a renewal of understanding in the law and of the transgressions which they had committed leading to their exile from Jerusalem, this is what Nehemiah says about their response:

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. (Nehemiah 9.1-3)

These people stood, confronted with their sins, with the years of rebellion and following the ways of the world right before them, and corporately they rallied together, opened God’s Word, and confessed their sins.  As a people, they separated themselves from those outside the covenant and confessed together where they had gone wrong.

Likewise, why should we not join with the others in the church, all of us who have in one way or another despised what God has commanded, and be in repentance together?  Sure we have examples of personal sin and personal repentance (see David in 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51), and we are all responsible for our own individual sin (Ezekiel 18.20), but we also  frequently see the people repenting as a whole because they were all guilty of some sin that had crept into their collective,  accepted way of life.  So are we, so is the church.  We are all guilty.  We are all complicit in rebellion together.  Yet never do we call for corporate repentance for what we’ve done wrong.  

It is my belief that we will see a greater, quicker, and more lasting change in the church, in all of Christianity, if we were to learn how to do this.  How to not sit back every Sunday and pretend like we’ve got it all together.  Like we did not in some way despise God’s Word this week, did not rely on oppression and perverseness instead.  No, we just sit around and wait until someone is caught in “unacceptable” sins and then harass them into individual repentance; which only serves to make us more self-righteous and smug as we continue strolling down the road of rebellion ourselves.  We must confront the sins that we are all guilty of– self-sufficiency, pride, slander, materialism.  It’s all there, we know it is.  But every Sunday it is just the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

God charged the whole nation for their  sins, and it took the whole nation joining back together in recognition of their corporate failings to rightly repent and return the people to their God.  Can we embrace this idea as well?

What We Believe- Article IX, The Kingdom

March 19, 2009

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After a weeks hiatus we are trucking along with our journey through the Baptist Faith & Message.  This week we are in the ninth article, focusing on what Scripture tells us and we confess as Southern Baptists in regards to the Kingdom (of God):

IX. The Kingdom

The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God’s will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.

Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Matthew 3:2; 4:8-10,23; 12:25-28; 13:1-52; 25:31-46; 26:29; Mark 1:14-15; 9:1; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 9:2; 12:31-32; 17:20-21; 23:42; John 3:3; 18:36; Acts 1:6-7; 17:22-31; Romans 5:17; 8:19; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 11:10,16; 12:28; 1 Peter 2:4-10; 4:13; Revelation 1:6,9; 5:10; 11:15; 21-22.

I will be honest, this is an awkward article to me.  As I look back at the confessions which I would say have a Baptist flavor to them I am unable to find any that pay particular attention to the idea of the Kingdom of God the way that the BF&M does.  Even the forebearer of the BF&M, the New Hampshire confession, makes no separate article for discussing the Kingdom.  Yet, all the way back in the first BF&M there it is, though I am baffled as to why?

Now, I say that it began in the first BF&M, but really, if you read that version you will find that it is quite dissimilar from the article on the tabel today (see here for a comparison).  For instance, the 1925 version seems to picture the Kingdom of God in a highly personal manner, expressing it as “the reign of God in the heart and life of the individual in every human relationship, and in every form and institution of organized human society,” whereas the 1963 and 2000 versions take on a much more corporate vision: “The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King.”  This again begs the question of why we are even talking about the Kingdom of God if we have so radically changed what seems to be the focus of it?

All that said, I do not disagree with most of what is said here (other than the emphasis on the word “willfully” in discussing the acknowledgment of God’s kingship).  I do not however find it very interesting or illuminating.  The big thing I wish it would do is to more clearly connect the way in which the church and the Kingdom interact/overlap.  Here is a statement from elsewhere which I find informative on this matter:

The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness.  The gospel of Christ is still the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 20:25), the good news of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  The church makes its message credible by manifesting the reality of kingdom life. [The Reformation Study Bible, p.1489] 

John the Baptist declared that “the kingdom of heaven [was] at hand” as he looked towards Jesus (Matthew 3.2).  Jesus declared that “the kingdom of God [was] in the midst of [the Pharisees]” (Luke 17.20-21).  Today, Christ is seated at the right hand of God, with all things placed in dominion under him and with him as the head of the church (Ephesians 1.20-23).  So, as the church we are under Christ’s reign, and therefore, being strangers and exiles still on this earth, we should live as the citizens of heaven that we are, paying respects to our king and making his glory known all throughout the land of our sojourning (Philippians 3.20, 1 Peter 1.1, 2.9).

This idea is simply omitted from the BF&M’s discussion on the Kingdom, due in no small part I would imagine both to a lingering fear of declaring the church to be the Kingdom of God (a la Roman Catholicism) and the modern influence of dispensational theology upon Baptist thought.  It is unfortunate, however, that this occurs, since otherwise we are left with the Kingdom of God appearing to be some abstract eschatalogical idea and not what it really should be to us: a daily reality of the sovereign reign of Christ demonstrated through the church, which will one day be fully consumated in a visible, earthly Kingdom.

Rocking the Cutting Edge of the 16th Century- Time Magazine on the Influence of the New Calvinism

March 18, 2009

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In case you may have missed it (and honestly, I don’t know how much press this got because I was out of town last week) but recently Time Magazine released its 2009 edition of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now,” and among these, listed at number 3 overall, was the New Calvinism.  Pointing to the influential ministries of guys such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Al Mohler, Time said that (in true pop culture fashion) “Calvinism is back”! 

Truthfully, this really is surprising to me.  If they had been doing a list on the top 10 ideas changing the church right now, sure, I would have definitely listed the New Calvinism.  But the world?  Wow!  That really is something.  

The question then becomes two things.  First, can we infer from the rising influence of the New Calvinism (which really is the old Calvinism just with new guys, right?) that there is a global revival in the church?  Second,  can we infer from the rising influence of the New Calvinism if the global church is moving towards orthodox, conservative Christianity?

In the first question, I think that I would have to say ‘No.’  I do not think from the fact that Calvinism is enjoying a resurgence that we can infer that Christianity as a whole is experiencing revival in the world.  It is true that many places such as Africa and the Global South are simply booming with new believers these days, but I don’t know that across the board we are seeing any more people coming to Christ (percentage-wise) than we have over the years past, it is just that the distribution of where believers are has shifted drastically.

On the second question, I do believe that we are seeing a move towards historic, orthodox, conservative Christianity, at least in the realm of theology.  Though there are still plenty of loud voices out there pushing the emergent agenda, it seems that the “Great Emergence” that they have been predicting has been nothing more than sociological wishful thinking thus far.  Particularly when you look to the abundant harvests being gathered in the Global South and Africa, these people are among the most conservative believers in the church today, leading the charge in various arenas such as the recent battle against the liberalization of the Church of England.  They may not all be Calvinists per se, but as Dr. Mohler was so wonderfully quoted in the article, “The moment someone begins to define God’s [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.”

This is certainly something to be excited about.  It is a great day when a movement towards biblical authority and orthodox beliefs gets so large that a secular magazine recognizes how important it is.  Thanks be to God that we are living in a time where great men are being raised up with great ideas and are leading a great impact on the church and the culture.  Unlike the Jews after the exile, God is not silent in our day, if only we are prayerful enough to listen.

See the full article here.

Bitter Wine from the Well-Kept Vineyard- Analyzing Isaiah 5.1-7 in the Western Church

February 26, 2009

This week, according to the wonderful plans provided by LifeWay, I am supposed to be teaching Isaiah 5 to my Sunday School class.  This is an interesting passage, and when I read it for the first time that was just what I thought, “This is interesting,” but that was about it.  I did notice that it had the best verse against frat boys in it (v.22, “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink.”), but as far as something worthwhile for my class, initially I was at a loss.  However, as I kept reading, I decided to cut out all of the “Woes” directed at the men of Judah and focused in on vv.1-7.  Here’s what they say:

Let me sing for my beloved
     my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
     on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
     and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
     and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
     but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
     and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
     that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
     why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
     what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
     and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
     and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
     it shall not be pruned or hoed,
     and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
     that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
     is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
     are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
     but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
     but behold, an outcry!
(Isaiah 5.1-7)

As we read, this starts as a poem from Isaiah to his beloved, God, and then crosses over to be a poem from God to the “inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah.”  In it, both Isaiah and God lament a vineyard which had been prepared by the Lord, cleared of all debris and hindrances to growth, planted and cared for with full provision, and yet nonetheless the fruit of the vines is a bitter product, bringing judgment and destruction upon the vines.  In reading this, the one verse that really struck me was v.4,

What more was there to do for my vineyard,
     that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
     why did it yield wild grapes?

Here God is saying, what else could I have done?  What more could you have asked for?  What was lacking that the vines needed to produce good fruit? and yet they didn’t.  Has God been negligent?  Has God not provided what is necessary for his vines to grow up into healthy plants?  Surely not.  Then why do they fail?

I read this and the first thing that jumped out to me was how convictingly accurate this idea is when pressed against the situation of Western Christianity.  I particularly viewed it in light of myself and my own church, thinking how on Sunday morning we get up and head to padded chairs in a climate-controlled building with locks on the doors and coffee on the table, only to complain about how noisy it gets while we try and have Sunday School or how crowded our classes are or how cheesy the music is.  And then, when we go out from that place, we act as if we were never there to begin with and shed the “Jesus Freak” persona until the same time next week.  We pass the time between Sundays without living out our calling, without sharing our faith or living in a manner that is honorable around non-believers (1 Peter 2.11-12).  We chase after the desires of our hearts and claim “Christian liberty” for indulging in all the vices of the flesh which have controlled us since before we came under grace.  

And all the while, God is sitting back saying, “What more was there to do for my church, that I have not done in it?”  We have no need.  We are not under fear of persecution.  But somehow this makes no difference.  Though we lack not, we still seem to be producing wild grapes that make a bitter wine.  

I am just as guilty of this as all of us.  I could share my faith with anybody I want, anybody I see out in the day-to-day world I live in, without anything to fear but possibly rejection.  But I don’t.  I bide my time, saying, “That person seems busy, they don’t want a religious nut intruding on them,” “They’re probably already a Christian; look at that cross they’re wearing,” “I shouldn’t share with that person, I really don’t have time to get wrapped up in a big discussion.”  What is that?  Where does that come from?  There is no freer place in the world to share the gospel than in my context, the American South, and yet I balk at it all the time.  Why?

We are so unaware of what God has given us, or aware but unmoved by it, and in the end what it leads to is wasted fruit, grapes that are pleasing to no one, not worthy of being pressed into wine, only to be thrown out and trambled on the ground.  What will it take for this to convict us?  Will it fall short of the destruction brought upon Judah, or have we already gone too far?

What We Believe- Article VI and Regenerate Church Membership

February 18, 2009

One interesting note as it pertains to what the Baptist Faith & Message has to say about the church is on who it is in particular that qualifies to be a member of the local church. This seems obvious, right? Not quite. Let’s review what can possible be garnered from the text of the BF&M alone:

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

So, it looks like we get that the members must be “baptized believers” and that they are responsible to Christ as Lord.  Sounds good, right?  Well, what about where the New Testament talks about people obeying the teachings of the Apostles and the consequences for not doing so (2 Thessalonians 3.14-15)?  What about the admonitions to break fellowship with “baptized believers” who are sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, a drunk, or a partier (1 Corinthians 5.9-13)?  What about the call to not neglect meeting together for edification and encouragement (Hebrews 10.24-25)?  All these things, loosely what may be said to be the believers responsibility to the church, are simply left out of the article altogether.

As it stands, one could reasonably argue that the BF&M allows for people to be members in good standing of a church with no more than a quick dousing in the baptismal and a tacit acceptance that they really are trying to serve Christ as Lord, but the Bible itself seems to ask more.  Therefore, this past year a resolution on church membership, Regenerate Church Membership (RCM) to be exact, was offered and passed at the annual SBC meeting. The full text can be found here, but this is the gist of it: because of tradition and the clear call of the Scriptures, the SBC “urge[s] churches to maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members.”

The road to get this passed was long and well fought, and thankfully in the end this measure went through.  Unfortunately, given the nature of the SBC, as resolution like this does not have any real teeth as far as implementation, but the fact that the SBC is now on record as doctrinally calling for a regenerate body in the local church, it is just another nail against the easy believism, Free Grace theology which has prevailed among many congregations over the last quarter to half a century.  Thankfully the SBC, though late in addressing it, finally got around to calling for more responsibility in the church among the leadership for keeping tabs on who genuinely is among us that is among us.

As I said to my Men’s Bible study this morning, I fully believe that Scripture teaches it to be easier to be in good standing in heaven than it is to be in good standing in the local church.  This is the way it should be, since God can truly see the heart, but the only evidences men have is by seeing the fruit.  Some will argue that this is all the more reason for Free Grace and avoiding judgment, but I see no way in which that position can be made biblically tenable.

On paper this was a good step and to be applauded.  Now it is necessary to make sure it is put into practice widely enough to make a difference.