August 23, 2014

Whoever Said the Good Life Was Easy?

Contrary to what some believers think, God has not promised any of us a life free from pain and suffering. This may seem counter-intuitive to comfortable, coddled Westerners, but it is patently obvious to believers in other parts of the world.

I try to keep this in mind when thinking about my problems. They are "first world" problems. I've been tremendously blessed. I have been given so much more than so many others. And I'm not thinking only of believers in other parts of the world who are facing real persecution. I look around in my own context, and I see people who are much worse off than I. People whose trials make my own look trivial.

My life has been free from any major difficulties. I've never lost a close friend or loved one. I've never had a major falling out with a family member. I've never been left at the altar or faced a major illness. I've never faced unemployment. I've always had clothes on my back, food on my table, money in my pocket, and a bed to sleep in. Yes, I've dealt with bouts of depression and anxiety, but even those have been relatively minor. I know several people who've been depressed enough to consider suicide. But even in my darkest moments, I never countenanced that. My problems with anxiety, too, are nothing compared to those of others I know of. By most standards, I've lived an easy life.

Despite this, I'm still often dissatisfied. I look at my life, and I know, objectively, that I have nothing to complain about. Despite the fact that my difficulties are relatively small compared to those of others, they feel no less difficult to me. The problems I face, trifling though they may seem to others, are still my problems.

I say all of that to say this: I am weak. Believing, as I do, in the providence of God, I can only conclude that God has blessed me with a relatively easy life because he knows that I can't handle anything else.

August 22, 2014

Ronald Nash on Disagreeing Agreeably

Ronald Nash:
. . . it would be a mistake to think that increasing Christian unity requires that Christians stop disagreeing with one another. Just because people disagree doesn't mean they cannot work together in love. . . . Anyone who seriously advances something like this as the grounds for ending Christian disunity just isn't being realistic. The fact that we disagree is not what is causing tension within the church; the way we disagree is the source of most of our problems. . . . relinquishing the beliefs that divide us is not a necessary condition for loving fellowship and cooperation in the gospel. . . . All of us are sinful creatures, and one persistent sign of that is our reluctance to admit our past mistakes. Perhaps a bit more self-honesty would lead us to admit that some of our convictions on these issues don't come from God's Word after all but are things we've picked up from our surrounding culture and are now reading into Scripture. [1]


1. Ronald Nash, Great Divides: Understanding the Controversies That Come Between Christians (NavPress, 1993), pp. 151-152.

Are Non-Dispensationalists Anti-Semitic?

Ronald Nash:
I do not believe that the Bible teaches that there is a special place in God's end-time plans for the nation of Israel. But I strongly support the right of Jews to exist in peace as a nation. I hold this belief in the same way that I believe the nation of Kuwait has a right to exist free from aggression from a nation like Iraq. I do not believe that the Bible teaches there is any special place in God's prophetic plans for Brazil. But it hardly follows that I or anyone else could reasonably infer that Brazil has no right to exist or that citizens of Brazil can become fair game for any aggressor nation. The absence of any nation-state in God's prophetic plans has nothing to do with the right of that nation to exist or the right of its citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [1]


1. Ronald Nash, Great Divides: Understanding the Controversies That Come Between Christians (NavPress, 1993), pp. 166-167.

August 16, 2014

Spiritual Gobbledygook

I've noticed that Pentecostal/Charismatic believers will often, rather than accuse one of pride or arrogance, say that one has a proud spirit or an arrogant spirit. It's not just those particular sins either. It goes for anything, really. It's never "Bob is overly critical." Instead, it's, "Bob has a critical spirit." Never, "Susan is a manipulative gossip." Always, "Susan has a Jezebel spirit" (the Jezebel spirit seems to be used as a sort of catch-all category for women).

What does all this talk about spirits even mean? Do the folks who talk like this even know? I guess it's supposed to sound more spiritual or something, but it just sounds weird to me. Are there any examples of this kind of talk in Scripture. Did the apostle Paul ever accuse anyone of having a lustful spirit or a divisive spirit?

August 15, 2014

Are We Supposed to Live the Gospel?

I've often heard the young, restless (and sometimes reformed) types talk about living the gospel. I want to ask, though, should we live the gospel? Can we?

Short answer: no.

Here's the longer answer:

All this talk about living the gospel is what I like to call bumper-sticker theology. It's short and pithy. It sounds nice and pious, but, in reality, it's actually shallow and simplistic. With the proper qualifications and explanations, it might even be true, but, taken on its face, it's just wrong.

We can't live the gospel (and we shouldn't try) because the gospel is the good news of the sinless life, substitutionary death, and miraculous resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. These events are unique. Unrepeatable. Christ lived the gospel. We are called, not to live the gospel, but to believe it. We are then enabled by it (through the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit) to live in a way that is consistent with the gospel. If that's what people mean when they talk about living the gospel, then they should say that instead because words matter, and there is a big difference between living the gospel and living consistently with the gospel.

August 14, 2014

The Villars Statement on Relief and Development

I recently finished reading Why the Left Is Not Right by Ronald Nash, an excellent book which introduced me to the Villars Statement on Relief and Development. I was so impressed by the statement, that I wanted to share it in its entirety. So, here it is:

PREAMBLE

In the spring of 1987, a group of forty evangelical Christians from around the world gathered in Villars, Switzerland, to examine the topic of “Biblical Mandates for Relief and Development.” For five days, we engaged in intense discussion, debate, and private reflection, our energies focused by a number of prepared study papers. As a result of our consultation, we who gathered at Villars have the concerns enumerated below. We encourage other believers to consider these issues in light of the Scriptures and their relevance for implementing Biblical relief and development.

A WORLD IN NEED

The extent of hunger and deprivation around the world is a reality haunting modern times. Confronted with disaster, disease, and chronic poverty, relief and development agencies have provided massive material assistance. Yet for all the resources expended, hunger and deprivation appear to be increasing. The sad reality is that so much effort has produced little in long-term results.

This reality calls us as Christians to reassess the work of relief and development in light of God’s Holy Word. It is our conclusion that the consistent application of Biblical teaching will require a reorientation of relief and development practices, and that this may involve a change in our understanding of human need and in strategies to relieve suffering.

“Relief and development” is an expression that recognizes two Biblical principles. Relief refers to the insistence in both Testaments that the people of God must help the hungry and oppressed. Development stems from the Biblical vision of a people exercising their proper stewardship of God’s gifts—of societies that are productive, healthy, and governed justly. Together, relief and development envision substantial improvement in economic and human well being.

We acknowledge our own sinfulness and fallibility, and we recognize that other committed Christians may not agree with all our convictions. Nevertheless, we are compelled by God’s Word and by the reality of human suffering to share our convictions with Christians and others. We do not claim to have spoken the final word. Thus, we offer the following conclusions of the Villars consultation for the research, dialogue, and open debate among all who claim Christ as Lord.

ISSUES OF CONCERN

With this as our goal, we raise our concerns over the following issues:
1. The failure to operate from a distinctively Biblical perspective in both methods and goals.
2. The tendency to focus on meeting material needs without sufficient emphasis on spiritual needs.
3. The attempt to synthesize Marxist categories and Christian concepts, to equate economic liberation with salvation, and to use the Marxist critique, without recognizing the basic conflict between these views and the Biblical perspective.
4. The emphasis on redistribution of wealth as the answer to poverty and deprivation without recognizing the value of incentive, opportunity, creativity, and economic and political freedom.
5. The attraction to centrally controlled economics and coercive solutions despite the failures of such economies and their consistent violation of the rights of the poor.
6. A disproportionate emphasis on changing structures without recognizing the frequency with which this only exchanges one oppressive structure for another.
7. The danger of utopian and ideological entrapment, whether from the left or the right.
8. Neglecting to denounce oppression when it comes from one end or the other of the political spectrum.
9. Focusing on external causes of poverty in exploitation and oppression without confronting those internal causes that are rooted in patterns of belief and behavior within a given culture.
10. The need to make conversion and discipleship an essential component of Christian relief and development work, and to carry this out in conjunction with the local church.
11. The need to apply the teaching of the Bible as a whole in the areas of personal life, family, and work, but equally in the shaping of the culture and social life.
12. The need to reaffirm the Biblical support for the family as the basic social and economic unit and its right to own and control property, and to stand against any ideology that would diminish the family’s proper role in any of these areas.
13. The need to oppose a false understanding of poverty which makes poverty itself a virtue, or which sanctifies those who are poor on the basis of their poverty.

BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

In response to these issues we draw attention to the following Biblical teaching and its implications for relief and development:
1. God created mankind in His own image, endowing man with freedom, creativity, significance, and moral discernment. Moreover, prior to the Fall, man lived in harmony with all of God’s creation, free from pain, suffering, and death.
2. The devastating reality of sin and evil, hunger, oppression, deprivation, disease, death, and separation from God is the result of man’s rebellion against God, which began at the Fall and continues through history.
3. The causes of hunger and deprivation, therefore, are spiritual as well as material and can only be dealt with adequately insofar as the spiritual dimension is taken into account.
4. Man’s rebellion against God affects every aspect of human existence. The Fall resulted in God’s curse on creation and in destructive patterns of thought, culture, and relationships, which keep men and women in bondage to poverty and deprivation.
5. The work of Christian relief and development, therefore, must involve spiritual transformation, setting people free from destructive attitudes, beliefs, values, and patterns of culture. The proclamation of the gospel and the making of disciples, then, is an unavoidable dimension of relief and development work—not only for eternal salvation, but also for the transformation of culture and economic life.
6. When people were held in bondage to hunger and deprivation by unjust social structures, the Bible consistently denounced those who perpetuated such oppression and demanded obedience to God’s law. The Biblical emphasis, then, is not on “sinful structures,” but rather on sinful human choices that perpetuate suffering and injustice.
7. God’s ultimate answer for suffering and deprivation is the gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ, who broke the power of sin and death by His own death and resurrection. The decisive victory was won on the cross in the atoning death of Christ for all who would believe Him. The final victory will be accomplished when Christ returns in power and glory to reign with His people. Until that time, all who claim Jesus as their Lord are called to care for those in need as the Holy Spirit enables them, and to share the only message of true hope for a broken world.

CONCLUSION

Therefore, in light of the issues raised and the Biblical perspective outlined here, we encourage research, dialogue, and debate among all who claim Christ as Lord, so that we may serve Him more faithfully and work together more effectively.

August 11, 2014

The Church Is Not A Business and Pastors Are Not Employees

"Anyone we can hire, we can fire."

I actually heard a church member utter words to this effect at a business meeting once. He was referring to one of his pastors.

This kind of thinking is rooted in the idea that the church is a business and the pastors are mere employees. There's a word for this kind of thinking. That word is worldliness, and it's a form of sin.

The local church is the outpost of God's kingdom on earth (Matthew 16:18-19). It is God's household—his temple, his family (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). Yes, the church is an institution. It has members and meetings. But the fact that it conducts business does not make it a business.

A local church, biblically speaking, does not hire its pastor. The congregation recognizes men called by God and sets them apart for ministry (Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22). The congregation then supports those pastors—financially and otherwise (1 Timothy 5:17). Then the congregation must submit to those pastors (Hebrews 13:17). As long as the pastor meets the biblical qualifications (Titus 1:6-9) and faithfully carries out the duties assigned him by the Lord Jesus Christ in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and as long as he is willing to continue in those duties, the congregation has a duty to follow his lead and make his job a joy (Romans 13:1; Hebrews 13:17).

Brothers, treating your pastor like a hireling is worldly and sinful. He is your brother in Christ, and, as long as he meets the biblical qualifications for his office, he is appointed by God to watch over your soul. You have no right to undermine or buck against his God-given ministry because you just don't like his style or because he's just not a good fit here. Those are not biblical reasons to remove a pastor, and complaints like these reveal the immaturity of those who offer them. Nor are these excuses for gossiping or forgoing church attendance.

If you are one of those good ol' boys who treats the church like a business and believes your worldly success ought to translate into power and influence within the local church, then you need to ask yourself a few questions: Why is it that I cannot bring myself to submit to those whom Christ has placed over me? Why is it that I find it so difficult to respect spiritual authority? Why is it that I use my minor differences with others as an excuse to forsake the regular assembling of God's people? Why is it that I refuse to view my pastors as my brothers in Christ? Is it, perhaps, because they are not my brothers in Christ? Is it, perhaps, because I'm not actually converted at all?

Brothers, our pastors protect us from wolves (Matthew 7:15; 1 Timothy 1:3-11) . Let's do our best to protect them from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Timothy 5:19-20). Don't let these unwitting agents of Satan cause division among God's people (Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:10).

August 09, 2014

Has Lifeway Finally Grown a Backbone?

It seems that, in light of the recent controversies (see here and here), Lifeway has pulled Mark Driscoll's books (read all about it here).

I am puzzled by this decision. Lifeway continues to sell books by other scandal-ridden ego-maniacal mega-church CEO types (like Stephen Furtick and James McDonald). Not only that, Lifeway has no compunctions about selling the outright heresy being peddled by prosperity preachers like Benny Hinn and T. D. Jakes.

Ironically, though Driscoll is almost certainly unfit for ministry (this would be the case if only a fraction of the charges against him are true), he's much more theologically orthodox than these other teachers. In fact, despite Driscoll's many sins and shortcomings, his books are, for the most part, quite good. I'd recommend Driscoll's writings over those of Lifeway darlings Rick Warren and Beth Moore in a heartbeat.

I've been waiting for Lifeway to start taking some responsibility for the trash that they peddle for profit, but, unfortunately, this isn't it. If I had to guess, I'd say that this decision is a purely pragmatic one motivated by a desire to avoid controversy. If they were really serious, they'd be starting with a bona fide heretic rather than a controversial (though theologically orthodox) figure like Driscoll. Faux-integrity, it seems, is less costly than the real thing.

August 07, 2014

Dr. Strangefire, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cessationism

Over at Pulpit & Pen, Dustin Germain has recently posted a two-part series called How I learned to speak in tongues, and then never do it again. As a former Pentecostal, I can identify with many of the experiences recounted therein.

Here's an excerpt from part one:
He gripped my head with his hands. I braced my soul.  He blew a rush of air and spittle in my face and then  yelled “Spirit be released in Jesus’ name!”But I did not fall as almost every other had. No- instead I felt none of the impartation that I had hoped for, that I had built myself up for. I wanted my knees to go weak. I wanted my legs to buckle. I wanted my mind to be assaulted by a hundred million senses and to come up for air with new words and a heavenly language and the powerful rapture of being so close to God that we shared a secret language that only we knew. Instead my legs remained strong. I did not bend or bow. Instead, despite being nearly hurled towards the carpet, my instincts kicked in and I twisted my body in such a way that I was  able to catch myself on the front row chairs as I reeled back. The speaker, content with seeing me displaced, went back to the center and compelled the praise band up to keep on playing while my friends and strangers laid with their backs on the floor. Their hands were raised slightly at their side and facing heaven, weeping and laughing.
Read the rest here, then check out part two.

August 04, 2014

No Regrets?

I have regrets. Lots of them.

But, wait? How can I have regrets when I believe in the providence of God? How can I have regrets when I know that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)?

It's simple, really. I've sinned. And, though repentance is more than simple regret, it is certainly not less. I have made mistakes, many of them sinful, and, by the grace of God, I have come to regret them. Yes, I've learned from them. Yes, God has used them for my good and for his glory. But, nonetheless, I regret my past sins and failures. If I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would do many things differently. And, if you're being honest, so would you.

It may sound pious to say, "I regret none of my mistakes because God was at work in every one of them teaching me, disciplining me, and making me more like Christ" but it isn't quite biblical. The fact that God uses our sins for good does not make those sins good in and of themselves. If that were the case, then the answer to Paul's rhetorical question, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1) would have to be, "Yes!" Instead, with Paul, I say, "By no means!" (Romans 6:2). Like Paul, we must praise God for using all things—even our sins—for our good, while simultaneously hating those very sins.

I can know that, given God's sovereign control over all things, everything in my life has worked out exactly how it was supposed to. Everything has been part of God's providential plan—his secret will. But, nonetheless, even though the course of my life has never veered from God's plan, I have still violated his revealed will. I have sinned against God. And besides that, I've made many other mistakes that, while not necessarily sinful, were the result of a lack of prudence and wisdom. These mistakes have resulted in much pain and anguish for me as well as others. Only a callous fool wouldn't regret mistakes like those.

Despite the fact that God has used my failures for good, they have not retroactively become victories. Here's a relatively trivial example: I once had a long, drawn-out text message exchange while driving at high speed on a dark road. It worked out in the end. No damage to life or property. Yet, it was still a terrible idea. And this terrible idea did not magically become a good idea just because it happened to work out alright in the end. Similarly, I have a friend who fathered a child outside of marriage. He loves his daughter. Much good has come from his sin. Yet, it was still sin. I know a believer who, years ago, began a romantic relationship with an unbeliever. That's sinful, and sin, of course, is always a bad idea. Yet, by the grace of God, that unbeliever eventually came to faith, and the two are now happily married. It worked out quite well for them, but that doesn't mean it was a good idea. Bad ideas don't become good ones just because they happen to work. Sin does not cease being sinful just because God uses it for good.

So, I praise God for how he has used my many mistakes for good. I've learned many valuable lessons. I've grown closer to God along the way. But, I still cringe at the thought of my past sins. I still regret every mistake.

I wish that I'd been patient those times when I acted rashly. I wish that I'd acted sooner those times when I was plagued by fear and indecision. I wish that I'd been obedient those times when I sinned. I wish that I hadn't taken so many wrong turns before I finally found the right path.

Just because God works all things for good, that does not mean that all things, in and of themselves, are good. The fact that God brought something good out of my sinful behavior does not excuse it. If I'd only done the right thing to start with, he wouldn't have had to.

No regrets? You must be joking.

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