Worship or Evangelism?

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One of the key shifts in worship over the last 75 years has been the move to make worship services primarily about evangelism. For most of church history worship was an offering to God by Christians and a place where the faithful were taught by God through the Word, prayer, and fellowship. It was about Christians and getting those Christians to grow. Evangelism was something different. Evangelism was telling the lost the good news that Christ came, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to save us from our sins. Evangelism aimed at the non-believer. Worship aimed at God and the believer. With the advent of tent meetings, the seeker sensitive movement, church as therapy, and other aspects of the church growth movement worship services became more and more evangelistic.  Continue reading

Signs of Sexual Rot: Diminished Masculinity & Femininity

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If you are looking for a book that will help you counsel someone with sexual problems or work through your own sexual problems then I would recommend Dr. Harry Schaumburg’s Undefiled.   Dr. Schaumburg at the time of this book (2009) had counseled almost 1,500 couples and has been counseling over thirty years with eighteen years devoted exclusively to sexual issues.  In one of the early chapters of the book he discusses how prevalent sexual sin is in the church.  He says that some research puts the number of church members watching porn at 50%. One mission organization told him that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicated a problem with porn. One seminary professor said we no longer ask, are you using porn. But rather how bad is it? Dr. Schaumburg closes with this statement, “This rot in the church must be addressed or the devastation will be incalculable.” He then gives nine indicators of the problem. I will quote the first here and give the other eight in an subsequent post. Why quote the first one in full? It gets at one of the roots of our sexual malaise: rejection of created ordered and a failure to rejoice that men are men and women are women. Here are the two paragraphs under that indicator.  Continue reading

Genuine Submission

Here is a wonderful quote from Stephen Clark’s book Man and Woman in Christ: 

Christians are often tempted by a selective submission [to God’s Word]. Some scriptural teaching is very attractive to them, and they find in themselves an admiration and a willingness to submit to it. Modern Christians usually  find it easier to be enthusiastic about Christian teaching on God’s fatherhood [you can tell this was written in the 80’s] or about love of others. Some scriptural teaching, however, contradicts their desires. Some may even repulse them. To be sure, often the difficulty is genuine uncertainty about how to respond to some part of scripture. Often a person may know that the scripture is saying something on a given subject, but can be uncertain how to understand or apply what is said. Despite some uncertainties, for most Christians there remains much scriptural teaching that is sufficiently clear, or could become sufficiently clear with more investigation, but which they find themselves unwilling to submit to. The genuineness of submission is tested precisely at these points. They prove their submission is genuine, and not a mere pretense, when they submit to the Lord in something which is personally difficult and which may lose them the respect of the world around him. (Emphasis mine)

Where is the Gospel?

Apostle Paul.jpgEvery week at our church we pray for leaders and those in authority. I Timothy 2:1-2 commands the church to do so:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

God’s people are supposed to pray for their civil leaders as well as other leaders, such as police chiefs, majors, city councilmen/women, etc.  Therefore it was interesting to read that Katelyn Beaty, editor at large at Christianity Today, had started praying for the removal of President Trump from office.  On August 16th, following the Charlottesville, VA protests, she wrote this on Facebook.  Continue reading

The Sinews of the Body of Christ

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Book IV, Chapter 12 of John Calvin’s Institutes is one of the clearest, sanest, and most compassionate explanations of church discipline I have read. Here is one of the opening paragraphs, which I will follow up with some comments.

But because some persons, in their hatred of discipline, recoil from its very name, let them understand this: if no society, indeed, no house which has even a small family, can be kept in proper condition without discipline, it is much more necessary in the church, whose condition should be as ordered as possible. Accordingly, as the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so does discipline serve as it sinews, through which the members of the body hold together, each in its own place. Therefore all who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration-whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance-are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the church. For what will happen if each is allowed to do what he pleases? Yet that would happen, if to the preaching of doctrine there were not added private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort that sustain doctrine and do not let it remain idle. Therefore, discipline is like a bridle to restrain and tame those who rage against the doctrine of Christ; of like a spur to arouse those of little inclination; and also sometimes like a father’s rod to chastise mildly and with the gentleness of Christ’s Spirit those who have more seriously lapsed. When therefore we discern frightful devastation beginning to threaten the church because there is no concern and no means of restraining the people, necessity itself cries out that a remedy is needed. Now this is the sole remedy that Christ has enjoined and the one that has always been used among the godly.

A couple of comments on this.

First, notice the connection Calvin makes between different societies/communities. Cities, families, and businesses need discipline to function well. Why would it be any different in the church, which “should be as ordered as possible?” All societies need certain things to function well, including good leadership, discipline, rules, order, a level of freedom, etc. Each society has different tools to enforce their standards and the civil realm deals  primarily with the outward man while the church deals with the inner man. But the principles remain the same. If a father can spank a child and a magistrate can discipline a citizen then church leaders can discipline their congregants.

Second, notice that for Calvin church discipline is not limited to excommunication, but includes, “private admonitions, corrections, and other aids of the sort.” One of the biggest mistakes made in any discussion of discipline is always running to end point, such as spanking or capital punishment. But discipline is much broader than this. Churches fail when they focus on excommunication and leave out pastoral visitation and other types of private admonitions. Excommunication should normally come at the end of a long line of smaller disciplinary exhortations.

Finally, note the different images Calvin uses to describe church discipline, a bridle, a spur, a father’s rod to chastise mildly. Each carries with it a different level of severity and a different purpose. Church discipline, if it is going to be effective and honor Christ, must take into account the person, their personality, the nature and gravity of the sin, past sins, etc. Just as a good parent wisely administers discipline so good elders and pastors do the same. To treat all who sin with the same level of discipline is folly and a recipe for tyranny and rebellion.

Book Review: Jesus and Pacifism

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical InvestigationJesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation by Andrew a Fulford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rate a book based on its stated aim. I do not expect a book of 100 pages to accomplish what a book of 500 pages will. If the book is about Calvin, I do not critique it for failing to adequately discuss Luther or the Westminster Assembly. Fulford’s brief, but clear and precise critique of pacifism is excellent and accomplishes perfectly its stated aim. Three things stick out.

First, the initial chapter is a brief lesson on hermeneutics or how to read the Bible charitably. So many authors refuse to look at the Biblical, historical, and social context thus they end up reading Paul, Moses, and Jesus in ways that are directly at odds with how their contemporaries would have read them. Fulford begins by laying out the context in which Jesus spoke. Once this is done pacifistic readings of the Sermon on the Mount become less plausible.

Second, Fulford lists the six key arguments pacifists use and refers to these throughout the book. This is helpful in keeping up with the various arguments as well as his own refutation of them.

Third, he does a good job with his analogies between war, police work, excommunication, and even parenting. In other words, coercive force of various kinds is necessary and commanded by God in a world of sin. Once this premise is granted pacifism becomes untenable.

For a book of so few pages it does the job. The foundations on which pacifism are built slowly erode through careful exegesis and logical thought. I would highly recommend the book for those who are looking for a short introduction to the subject. He said he is writing a full length treatment. I am looking forward to that.

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Dangers of Confession

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Even though we are commanded to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) this does not mean that confessing our sins automatically accomplishes the goal, which is forgiveness and transformation into Christ’s image.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer mentions three specific dangers of confessing our sins and I want to add one more. First, there is the danger of being too general in confessing our sins.

For the sake of this certainty [the forgiveness of sins] confession should deal with concrete sins. People are usually satisfied when they make general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of the human nature…when one sees his own specific sins. Self-examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession. Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confession to a brother and thus miss the good of confession.

When we confess to our brothers we need to be specific with the sin. Give it a place and time and a biblical name.

Second, he notes that there should not be one person that everyone else is confessing to. This will burden the person being confessed to and thus it will all become routine. Instead of being able to shepherd each individual through God’s grace the confessional will become a place for “the spiritual domination of souls.” He also says in this section that anyone who hears confessions should also himself be confessing to others.

Third, there is the danger of confession becoming a pious work, a source of pride. I confess my sins. Do you? Here is what he says about that.

For the salvation of his soul let him guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. If he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious, and impure prostitution of the heart; the act becomes an idle, lustful babbling. Confession as a pious work is an invention of the devil.

To these three dangers, I would add the danger of confession becoming a substitute for repentance and change. Here is the problem with a lot of accountability groups. They confess their sins to each other and often in very great detail, but there is little change. Everyone leaves feeling better about themselves, but no one leaves ready to stop sinning. If confession is a substitute for real change it is a lie. I am not saying that once a person confesses they will never commit the sin again. But I am saying that after confession we should find ourselves climbing the mountain of holiness not sitting at the bottom feeling good about ourselves.