Christianity 201

March 7, 2021

Why Didn’t God Stop the Church from Charting Diverse Paths?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In the early days of Christianity 201, a frequent source of material was Jim Greer at the blog Not For Itching Ears: Calling the Church Back to the Cross. Yesterday I reconnected with something he had written more recently, and this morning I discovered it’s been seven years since we featured his writing here. (Not sure why!) Clicking the title which follows takes you to read this directly from his site.

Does God Care About Your Theology As Much As You Do?

“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

My friend stared at me in disbelief. How could I say something like that? We’d been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I’ve lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)

“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!

I can’t argue with that!

What perplexes me though, is there are so many different types of churches. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That’s a big difference. We don’t agree on how many books are actually the official “word of God”. That also seems significant. Some churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with salvation, while others teach that it has everything to do with it. That’s a HUGE deal, right? Others are somewhere in-between.

We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.

Then we have us Protestants!

Protestants agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t agree on who is included in “our”. We agree in the “Atonement”, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe people worked miracles, but don’t agree on when or IF that has stopped.

  • We don’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship.
  • We don’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ.
  • We don’t agree on what it means to follow Christ.
  • We don’t agree on a host of important issues.

The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects. Groups that argue amongst themselves and can’t agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is wishful thinking.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion.   The Father gave a big “Sorry Son, no can do” answer on that one. At least Jesus knows what it’s like to have his prayers go unanswered!

Why did God allow it to happen?

Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost. And God let the Gospel be lost for 1200 years? That leaves more questions!

If purity of doctrine matters so much…

  • Why didn’t God step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Gospel?
  • Why would God allow His church to proclaim a false gospel? One that would consign its followers to hell?
  • Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.

To be fair, Catholics believe the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther come along. It’s understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.

Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. If God is omniscient then he knew what would happen if he did nothing. God foresaw the doctrinal mess that would result. He knew what would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!

He stepped in before, why not again?

We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.

But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split in 1054. It’s not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. He still hasn’t done it. In all these cases, God allowed it to stand. He had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to.

You may counter and say that God NOT acting isn’t proof He doesn’t care. And I’d agree with you 100%. His non-action doesn’t prove anything on either side of the question. What we know from the Bible is that God has acted in human history. At key moments and in powerful ways, he’s intervened to ensure his plan moves forward as planned. But not on this issue. When you consider how significant the Church is to God’s plan, I think his inaction is worth considering.

It matters to us, but does it matter to God?

This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Obviously, the doctrinal differences we’ve killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal. But do they matter to God? Personally, I don’t think so.

Before you get the kindling and tie me to the stake consider what I’m NOT saying. I’m not saying that God doesn’t care about the Gospel or the church, or the world of lost souls. He does. But our petty little arguments?

This isn’t simply a thought exercise. The church in the USA could be heading into a very dark period. The culture is shifting. Their opinion of the church is souring even more. They’re calling some members of the church terrorists. They don’t like that we want to gather together for worship. New political leadership is rising that doesn’t care about religious freedom. What lies ahead? I’m not sure. But it sure seems like dark clouds on the horizon.

If dark days lie ahead, we’ll need to circle the wagon of faith. We’ll need to set aside our petty theological differences. We’ll need to unite around the basic essentials.

Who am I kidding? That will never happen! That would take a miracle and miracles don’t happen anymore. 🙂

That’s my view from the cheap seats. What’s yours? Why do you think God has allowed so much diversity to exist in His Church?


By the same author:

Jim continued this theme with his next article, What Does God Want?

At the end of today’s article, he also recommended an earlier one:  God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!

October 31, 2020

The Value of Tradition(s)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Before we delve into today’s devotional, which is about tradition, I want to remind you of something we shared in 2017, Wesley’s Quadrilateral.

If you jump to the article we posted then, you’ll see some variations on the diagram which place greater weight on scripture, but still incorporate the other elements.

So we’re beginning with the premise that there is a value in tradition…

…It’s been awhile since we last cited Matthew Marino who has a blog called The Gospel Side. I know that linked to him a few times back in the day at Thinking Out Loud, but he only appeared here twice as far as I can tell, in 2013. He describes himself: “Like most adolescent atheists turned Episcopal priests, I’m a bridge-builder masquerading as a provocateur.”

Click the link in the title below to read this at his site. There’s a real edge to his writing I think many of you might enjoy.

The Great Tradition

New folk are often struck by how much Anglicans talk about “the tradition.” People sometimes assume we mean, “That’s just how we’ve always done it.” But that is not what we are talking about at all. Refusal to change is not “the tradition,” just stasis. Jaroslav Pelikan, called that, “Traditionalism, the dead faith of the living.” The Great Tradition is the living faith of the dead. What we mean by “tradition” is robust and life-altering. The Apostle Paul commended the Corinthians because they, “maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2) and, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thes. 2:15). So while Jesus criticized the traditions of the elders (Matt 15:3), the traditions of the Christian faith passed along both verbally and in scripture are applauded.

But what is “the tradition”? When Lancelot Andrewes, the bishop who oversaw the translation of the King James Bible, was asked what Anglican Christians believe, he described the tradition: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries…determine the boundary of our faith.” “The Tradition” is the elemental seed of the faith found and taught in the Church’s first five centuries.

Why not just go with the Bible? Because heresy after heresy and schism after schism arose in those first five centuries. The early church dealt with them and told us how to deal with them. St. Vincent of Lerins referred to the tradition as, “That which has been taught always, everywhere, and by all.” In our era many claim God giving them new revelation. Yet these “new ideas” are always remarkably similar to ideas resoundingly rejected by the Church as novelty centuries ago. “The Tradition” is Mere Christianity, the core of the faith, that which has been passed from generation to generation.

The verb form of the Greek word for tradition, “paradosis” is “handed off” or “delivered.” When Paul said in 1 Cor 11:2, “maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” Paul literally said, “maintain the traditions as I traditioned you.”

He used the same word when he said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). Jude called it, “the faith once for all delivered.” “The tradition” is nothing less than the core of the faith that is handed from generation to generation. It is the baton that must be passed, the irreducible minimum.

It is much more than what I received in my flattened evangelical background that assumed nothing was needed beyond a personal experience of Jesus and a passing knowledge of the scriptures that could be interpreted as a promise towards myself. It is important to know “the tradition” because “the tradition” is not just that which must be received for our lives to be changed. It is “the tradition” that guards that we do not wander into the ditch of narcissism on one side or traditionalism on the other. It is the tradition we must pass on for the answer to Jesus’ question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth” to be a resounding, “Yes!”

February 9, 2019

Trashing Our Own House of Worship

We’re back for a second time at John Rothra’s website. There were a number of articles I looked at today, I hope you’ll visit by either clicking the link in the previous sentence, or the header for the article which follows.

Dear Church: We Have Much to Rebuild

Under the leadership of Titus, Roman soldiers destroyed the Jewish Temple in AD 70, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy from a few decades earlier (Luke 21:5-6). Since that time, Jews have longed to rebuild the Temple. The Temple Institute was created and has been constructing many of the items used in in Temple ceremonies, including building the sacrificial altar (this is not the same one you’ve probably seen all over YouTube, which was constructed and dedicated by “Temple activist organizations”).

As we learn from Scripture, though (and taught by the Jew of Jews, Pharisee, and zealous defender of the Torah, Paul), the House of the Lord isn’t a temple built by human hands (Acts 17:24). Rather, God makes his home in the hearts and lives of every believer in Christ Jesus as the risen Savior (Eph 3:17; James 4:5).

We, the Church, are the House of the Lord.  Yet, throughout history, we’ve found ways to tear the temple down.

The Church Often Tears Down the Temple

Over the centuries, the Church has persecuted and killed people they deemed heretics.  If you dare deviate from what a priest thinks you should believe or do, then you faced torture and death.  The Church even persecuted fellow believers for reading the Bible in their own language.

Supposed Christians decided to rescue Jerusalem from infidels (mostly Muslims), and attacked and slaughtered many during the Crusades.  Of course, they also killed Jews and other Christians they considered heretics.

And all this in the name of Jesus.

Although some things may have changed over time, the Church still finds ways to tear down the true temple.

In America, self-proclaimed Christians have used the Bible and Jesus to justify racism, segregation, slavery, and other evils (cf. Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women, Herald Press, 1983).  Today, many preachers continue to swindle people out of their money by making unbiblical promises of health and wealth.  The Church spends much effort making sure the world knows everything we oppose and how sinful people are, while often neglecting our own faults and sins.

Christian leaders and local churches attack other Christians over small matters that don’t really affect the biblical gospel.  If another Christian doesn’t hold to our opinions, interpretations, and personal tastes, then they are somehow lower than us, less holy, or outright non-Christian.

One need only look online at how Christians often behave toward each other and the world.  Egotistical pride abounds and ad hominems are standard rhetorical practice.  We cry victim anytime someone does something we don’t like or that we believe impedes our freedoms, yet often refuse to grant those same freedoms to those of other beliefs.

And all in Jesus’ name.

We Have Much to Rebuild

As the bride of Christ, and as the true House of God, we need to speak the truth in love rather than in judgment.  We need to help the downtrodden and helpless (Gal 6:2; Jas 1:27).  We need to preach and practice the gospel, letting love, mercy, and grace flow in and through us.

As God commands us through the prophet Isaiah,

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:16-17

We need to show the world not merely what we oppose, but whom we love.  We need to go out into the world rather than wonder why the world won’t come to us.  We need to seek the lost, comfort the hurting, and care for the needy.  Only then will we start to repair what we so often tear down.

We are the House of the Lord, and we have much to rebuild.

 

July 12, 2018

Big Renovations (Part 2: The Church)

In today’s devotional study, Pastor Clarke Dixon wrote from a specifically Canadian context. I’ve taken the liberty of generalizing his message for our readership here, because the principles certainly apply broadly. However, if you prefer to read the original, click this link.

by Clarke Dixon

We might think that the best days are in the past for the Church… Christianity seems to exert less influence. In many churches Sunday Schools which were once full are now mostly empty. Many churches feel like run down houses which have seen better days.

In the previous post we considered Haggai’s message for those who looked back at the glory days of the temple which could be summed up as “take courage . . . work”. God’s house had been destroyed, but in Haggai’s day rebuilding had begun then halted. However, the run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work!

We also considered that God no longer takes up residence in a temple building, but somewhere far more exciting for us:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

If we are God’s temple individually, then how much more are we the place of God’s residence collectively? What does “take courage . . . work” look like for us today as the Church? What does the renovation of the Church look like?

The building and rebuilding of the Church can be summed up in two words; disciple making.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

But what about opposition to Christianity today? Renovations may seem daunting in the face of societal changes. Temple building was a daunting task in Haggai’s day as there had been opposition to the rebuilding in the years previous. However, with a new Persian king amenable to the task, there was really now nothing stopping them from moving forward. While we may feel an opposition to Christianity here in our day, there really is nothing stopping us from moving ahead! Yes, there is a movement to take Christianity out of the public sphere. But we do not need the Lord’s prayer to be prayed in schools for God to be answering our prayers. Yes, there is a movement away from Christian values. But we don’t need laws against sharing recreational marijuana to share God’s love in Christ. We don’t need society to make discipleship or evangelism easy. What we need is courage. “Take courage . . .work”.

We have the same reasons for courage as the people of Haggai’s day; God is present, God’s promises stand:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. Haggai 2:45 (NRSV emphasis added)

Plus, the day of God’s glory is coming:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.  ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.  ‘And in this place I will grant peace, ’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:6-9 (NIV emphasis added)

Do you see the best days of the Church as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at the glory days of the Church, move forward into God’s glory.



Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (30 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 22, 2018

The Composite Music of the Church, The Song of the Redeemed

Today we’re back with our online friends at Daily Encouragement.

The Song Of The Redeemed

by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber

“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs” (Psalm 100:2). “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

We’ve been enjoying a song for several months titled “Be Enthroned” (included below). It begins with these words:

We’ve come to join the song
Sung long before our lives
To raise our voice along
Heaven and Earth alike

We sang it last Sunday in a missions service and the line that really struck me was “sung long before our lives”. Now of course there are many songs the church sings, some new, some old. Our musical tastes vary which has been a source of some division, minor in some churches and major division in others.

But as we sang the words on Sunday I thought of not one single song but rather the composite music of the church, the song of the redeemed, which is expressed in many different ways.

All over the world today God’s people are singing this “song of the redeemed”, a proclamation of praise to our great Redeemer and reigning Lord. We often consider this in a local church service, but of course singing takes place in a lot of places from large concerts to coffeehouses to families to individuals. They declare:

We’ve seen Your faithful hand
Your mercy without end
A king who bled and died
A God who sacrificed

The song of the redeemed is omnigenerational. The redeemed of all generations sing this song which, as the song we feature today states, was “sung long before our lives”. It will be sung by future generations should the Lord tarry and for all eternity. How we enjoy the line in Amazing Grace that states:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Young children sing the song of the redeemed. Consider the blessing of hearing the children sing in church. We also have the pleasure of hearing our Amish friends sing as we gather round their table following a meal. The children sing the “adult” hymns along with Mom and Dad, verses and all, which is becoming a rare thing these days. So it always brings a smile to our hearts when we hear the youngest child singing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and other such beautiful, timeless songs of the redeemed.

We like to see teenagers singing songs of their faith; young families sitting together bound in a mutual proclamation of belief; choirs and smaller musical groups as well as praise teams.

Older people are still singing the song of the redeemed. Last night Brooksyne described an older lady as rather frail who had just joined the choir. When we first moved to Lancaster County in 2001 for several years we sat in front of Menno, who turned 100 a year or so later. He still sang out the songs of the redeemed, many of the same songs he had led the congregation in singing when he was songleader many decades earlier.

The song of the redeemed is omnigeographical. I consider the song in a mission context with the redeemed singing from, “every tribe and tongue and people and nation”.

An older contemporary song (although still modern!) many of us will recall has these words:

It’s the song of the redeemed rising from the African plain
It’s the song of the forgiven drowning out the Amazon rain
The song of Asian believers filled with God’s holy fire
It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation
A love song born of a grateful choir

All over the world God’s children are singing this song of the redeemed. We are declaring in scores of different ways our foundational belief that He is worthy.

Be enthroned upon the praises
of a thousand generations
You are worthy Lord of all
Unto You the slain and risen King
We lift our voice with Heaven
Singing worthy Lord of all

Today we urge you to join us in singing the song of the redeemed.

 

 

December 12, 2017

Thinking about Different Types of Congregational Worship

But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
I Cor. 14:26 NLT emphasis added

It’s been six months and a good time to make another visit to Seven Minute Seminary. This is a 7-minute video teaching today. I don’t like defaulting to videos, but this particular organization, Seedbed, always provides us with material that leads to deep thought. Rev. Glenn Packiam is Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He sees the three paradigms in use in our gathering services as being (1) Encounter, (2) Formation, and (3) Mission. “While it’s tempting to privilege one model over the other, a deep theology of the Holy Spirit can help the church keep these purposes of worship in healthy tension.”


Bonus item for those of you who like church history:

While deciding which video to include today, I was interested in the title of this one, “The Birth of Band Meetings.”  If you want to hashtag this, the category would be Pietism.  He describes it as a Protestant movement that predates Protestantism itself. John Hus (aka Jan Hus) was key to this movement, as was Count Zinzendorf (aka Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.) And you thought church history was boring.

“The band meeting was a form of discipleship that helped small groups of men and women practice intense vulnerability and confession of sin together. It helped sustain the Methodist revival in the 18th century, which was preceded by other versions of this spiritual renewal across Europe. Watch this Seven Minute Seminary video by Dr. Scott Kisker [professor of History of Christianity at United Theological Seminary] as he traces the history of this powerful spiritual discipline.”

Other hashtags here would include The Moravian Church and The Religious Societies Movement. And Oxford Methodism. And John Wesley. Hey, one movement leads to another. Watch this. It’s really fascinating if you’re a religion nerd like me.

 

 

 

August 5, 2015

Knowing Our History

Church History 2


Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 

Today we pay a return visit to the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Dallas-Fort Worth pastor Zachary Lee. To read this at source, click the title below.

9 Basic Reasons to Study Church History

For many, just the word “history” brings up bad memories from high school.  When I hear the word “history,” I think of random things such as Charlemagne, carpet-baggers, Huguenots, dates, times, presidents, and a bunch of things I forgot until we studied WWII (which was actually interesting).

For most Christians, church history is the same way. We don’t really know much about it. We know a little about the Apostles in the book of Acts, then there is a bunch of stuff we think is weird and too “Catholic,” and then there is the Reformation, and here we are today with prosperity preachers and Joel Osteen.

So is church history important? Is it useful for discipleship? How much should we study it? My hope is to briefly sketch why I think church history is important for evangelicals today and is actually a gift from God to help us understand how to apply his Word. Why study church history?

1. Church history reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith.

We have a tendency to think the church really began in our lifetime with cool pastors, conferences, and podcasts. Or, we have a tendency to think the church really began at the Reformation. We forget that there has always been a remnant. There has always been a true church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church and the gates of Hades never have. People loved Jesus in the early church (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, et. al.), in the middle ages (Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, et. al.), in the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, et. al.), in the early modern era (Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, et. al.), and in the modern era (Machen, Henry, Barth, et. al.). On the one hand, church history protects us from thinking our denomination is right and everyone else is wrong (most of our denominations are less than 400 years old), and, on the other hand, it reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith dating back more than 2,000 years.

2. Church history helps us rightly interpret the Bible.

God’s Word is meant to be interpreted within the community of faith. When an individual just runs away from the church and doesn’t listen to instruction from others, he usually starts a cult. We must interpret the Bible as we bounce ideas and interpretations off one another. And we don’t just bounce ideas off of those around us. We use the larger community of faith including the writings of Christian brothers and sisters who have passed away.

3. Church history helps us hold to correct doctrine.

Though God’s people may err in certain doctrinal matters, certain teachings like the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the second coming are always held as truth by all true Christians. Church history helps us see what God’s people have always believed and what doctrines the majority of Christians have seen as essential. It helps us continue to pass on the “once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints” gospel (Jude 1:3). There is a saying that, “new kinds of ‘christians’ are really just old kinds of heretics.” Knowing correct doctrine helps us guard against false teachers and religious sects today.

4. Church history helps us guard against reading our culture onto the biblical text.

Church history helps us see how other cultures have interpreted the Bible and see where some of our biases and prejudices pop up. For example, the topics of homosexuality and gender roles are rather controversial subjects today but almost completely agreed upon throughout most of church history. If we are teaching about these subjects in new ways, this should cause us to ask if we are reading our culture onto the Bible and making it say what we think is important today instead of what it actually says. Another example is that in America many Evangelicals think drinking alcohol is sinful. Seeing that this is a unique idea in post-prohibition America (and is not thought to be sinful in almost all other times and countries in church history) helps us put this issue in perspective.

5. Church history helps us see where we might be defending our traditions instead of the teachings of Scripture.

It is vitally important to know what the church has believed at each point in our history and why. That keeps us from “drinking the Kool-aid” and just doing what our denomination says. It is important for a Lutheran to know what Luther thought. It is important for a Presbyterian to know what Calvin thought. It is important for a Baptist to know about the radical reformation and English separatism. It is important for a Pentecostal to know about the Wesleyan holiness movement. It is important for an Episcopalian to know about the Anglican Church, the Reformation, and Thomas Cranmer. The list could go on and on. Knowing which historical actions caused certain beliefs is essential for challenging our views according to the Bible.

6. Church history helps us know how to address situations today.

I can’t think of any issues today that the church has not already dealt with in its past whether that be grace, politics, denominations, ethics, pastoral ministry, etc. The old adage, “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it” is true of church history as well. By studying church history we can avoid stepping on landmines by seeing who has stepped on them before. We can copy what the past has done well and avoid some of the mistakes they made.

7. Church history brings humility.

If you hold a theological view or an interpretation of Scripture that almost nobody has ever held then you can know that 99% of the time you will almost certainly be wrong. The burden of proof is on the person who is holding a “new” view. This should humble us and keep us from thinking that everyone else was just too silly to see things like we see them today.

8. Church history helps us minister to others.

If I know the history of someone else’s ideas, denomination, or theology, it allows me to know how best to minister to them. It lets me know where they might be off and what issues they may misunderstand.

9. Church history is a reminder of God’s grace

Instead of looking like a bride we as God’s people have a history of looking more like a harlot. What is interesting to me is just how un-Christian so much of church history is. We have a history of shooting ourselves in the foot. However, just like Israel in the Old Testament, God loves his beautiful, messy, disobedient, lovely bride . . . the church. It is a reminder of how kind God has been to keep his promises despite our failures to be faithful to him. It is true that “if we are faithless he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).

In all this we know that only God’s Word is perfect and history is our imperfect attempt to play that out. However, church history is a helpful guide and companion on our journey in the Christian life and it is God’s gift to help us be faithful.

 


Church History


 

I was impressed again with the thought-provoking articles at GCD, so tomorrow we’ll spend an extra day there, this time hearing from a different writer.

November 18, 2013

The Importance of Tradition

Today’s thoughts are from Brandan Robertson at the blog Revangelical, where it appeared recently under the title, We Cannot Give Up Our Traditions.


So then, our friends, stand firm and hold on to those traditions which we taught you, both in our preaching and in our letter.

– 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Tradition. Tradition is an essential part of the Christian faith. It is one of the highest authorities we have as a community of Jesus followers. Any professor of Christianity would refer to a three legged stool of authority for the Christian faith: The Bible, Tradition, and Reason. Upon these three things, it has been traditionally been held, our faith sits upon. Now I have some serious disagreements with this model. I would say there is a four legged stool, the fourth leg being “Experience”. But that’s beside the point. The reality is that for most evangelical Christians, there stool only has two legs: The Bible and Reason. This is a sad reality because in this thinking, we have become afraid of any and all things that look “religious”, “mystic”, or “catholic”. And as we have reduced our faith to this modernistic approach, we have lost nearly all of the richness, broadness, and mysteriousness of our faith. It has become black and white. Sing songs, pray prayers, read the bible, go home. That is our faith.

But I want to propose that Paul, Peter, Clement, Justin Martyr, and all of the other Christians that lived from 30 A.D. to about 1650 would not recognize our version of Christianity and would probably be highly offended and in direct opposition to all we do in our worship services. I know that’s a bold statement. But I really feel like it’s true. But the problem is, we Evangelicals have tunnel vision and tend to think that our way is the way and that most Christians are just like us. But nothing is further from the truth. The reality is the Western Evangelical non-traditional Christianity is the minority. We are the odd ones out. We are outnumbered by far by the number of Christians who attend churches and live lives based on Christian traditions such as Liturgy, The Church Calendar, Mystical Practices, Corporate Written Prayers, Eucharist, and the plethora of other traditions that have been an essential part of the Christian faith.

Thankfully, God is working in the hearts of the younger Western Evangelicals who are growing weary of our disconnected, un-rooted, and weak faith. We are seeing the value of the third leg of our stool and are putting it back in place firmly. We are coming back to tradition and we are realizing we are part of something much bigger than our mega-churches. We are finding the mystic wonder of being connected and unified with millions upon millions of Christians around the world who are celebrating the same feast as us at the same time, who are partaking of the same Eucharist, praying the same prayers, and practicing the same practices. Tradition is a way to unite people to the past and future. We do it in our families and we are commanded to do it in the family of God. Tradition does not only enrich our corporate worship experience, but also deeply enhances our spiritual life and connectedness. That’s why Islam is so unified. Because for thousands of years, five times a day, Muslims from every nation of the earth prostrate towards one central location of the earth at the same time. What a powerful image. What a powerful tradition. What an amazing experience.

The traditions of our faith, such as the church calendar, cause us to contemplate, reflect, and journey deeper into our faith day by day and year by year. My prayer is that churches and individuals in the Evangelical world will wake up to the profound need for tradition as well as the direct command to observe both Scriptural and Oral Traditions of Christianity. This is what we Revangelicals are desiring. These are the types of Churches that are being planted. This is the future, and the past, of the Catholic Christian Faith.

I just want to give a shout out to my brother, Aaron Neiquist, the worship Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL who is leading the way in the Revangelical worship renewal. Willow has been engaging in full-fledge liturgies for a few years now and they are incorporate both contemporary and artistic style with ancient Christian tradition. It’s absolutely amazing! Check him out at his project website called “A New Liturgy”.

In line with the flow of this post, let me end with a traditional Christian benediction to you:

The grace of the beneficence of your only-begotten son, our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ are now fulfilled. We have confessed his saving passion, we have preached his death, we have believed in his resurrection, and the mystery is accomplished. We give thanks to you, O Lord God the Pantocrator for your mercy is great upon us, for you have prepared for us those things which the angels desire to behold. We ask and entreat your goodness, O Philanthropic One, that since you have purified us all, you join us unto Yourself, through our partaking of your divine mysteries. That we may become filled with your holy spirit with the longing for your true love, may we speak of your glory at all times, in Christ Jesus, our Lord, through whom the glory, the honour, the dominion, and the adoration are due unto you, is of one essence with you, now, and at all times and unto the age of all ages. Amen.

Liturgy of St. Basil, 300 A.D.

October 24, 2013

Teaching Emphasis versus Liturgy and Sacrament

NIV Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

With the exception of some early Christian writings, we don’t have a lot of concise snapshots of the early church better than the closing six verses of Acts 2. But ask anyone with even a superficial knowledge of church history, and they’ll tell you that the way we do church in 2013 doesn’t follow the pattern known to those who came before us.

This article didn’t have a specific scripture reference, but for people processing their faith at the “201” level, it raises issues worth thinking about today. It’s from Matthew Marino who has a blog called The Gospel Side, where this article appeared recently under the title, Spiritual Baseball: The Unlikely Path to Intimacy with Jesus.  Send Matthew some stats love by clicking the title to read at source.

Liturgy

Every once in a while you meet someone and immediately sense they are wise and grounded. One of those for me was a Roman Catholic youth pastor. We met some fifteen years ago at an outdoor cafe. While the coffee cooled he made small talk by mentioning the Protestant activities his children were involved in: Awana, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life, and attending a Christian high school. I laughed and probed just a bit: Was he a wanna be Protestant? He laughed back and said, “Absolutely not. It’s just that it is pretty hard to come to faith in my Church.” His answer baffled me. Why, I asked, would he choose to be involved in a church in which it was hard for his children to come to faith? How, I wondered, did he not see himself as making my point for me? The jovial youth minister grinned again, handed me a pen, pushed a napkin toward me and said, with the hint of a smirk, “Make a list of your ten favorite authors.”

I scratched names on the napkin until he reached over and grabbed the pen, and said, “Ok, I’m stopping you at fifteen. I notice that of your fifteen favorite authors, thirteen of them are liturgical Christians.” I had never heard the word ‘liturgical’ and didn’t want to admit it, so I glossed over that detail and asked him what his point was.

He asked, “Why do you like those authors: Nouwen, Lewis, Temple, Wesley, Chesterton, Wright, Manning, Stott?”

“I guess because they write as if they have intimacy with Jesus,” I said.

He answered without hesitating, “Exactly,” he said, “I’m in my Church because it is how you become intimate with Jesus.”

“O, come on!” I objected.

He pointed at the napkin and reminded me it was my list. He then said something that took me a decade to understand, “If you want true intimacy with Jesus, it will probably happen in a liturgical church: Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, old-school Lutheran.”

We sat there another half hour and I decided that what he was saying is that if the spiritual life were a game of baseball, then first base is a relationship with Jesus. If one does not get on base, nothing else matters. That was why his kids were in evangelical activities. Second base might be knowing the Bible. Third, giving your life away in service for God and the Kingdom. But a “home run,” in the Christian life, is intimacy with Christ…what the Orthodox masters call “theosis” – a fulfillment of the image of God. I left that meeting wanting to “make it home,” but without the least awareness that, for millions over the last 2,000 years, the “home run” I longed to experience has been a common one in liturgical traditions.

And yes, I do realize that statement sounds arrogant and just plain incorrect to evangelical ears. After all, every evangelical church in America has a healthy collection of members who left the liturgical world precisely because they hadn’t gotten “on base” in a liturgical church.

What you may not realize is how non-normative the American 4 song/sermon worship format is in the scope of things. For 3/4 of Christian history, the liturgy was the only form of Christian worship. Even today, nearly 3/4 of the Christians on the planet worship God in the ancient pattern of Word and Sacrament. That doesn’t make the liturgy better, worse or more or less biblical, it does say that what most Christians know as “worship” is a bit of an outlier.

I am not saying that liturgical churches are perfect or have more holy people or that there are not dead liturgical churches…I’m fairly sure that dead liturgy might be the worst sort of dead. Just that for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

…for the lion’s share of Christians who have ever lived, worship was not song and sermon but Scripture and Supper.

I didn’t understand what my Catholic friend was talking about precisely because I had been to a liturgical church a few times and found it repetitive and, frankly, numbing. What I discovered was that the power is precisely in the repetition…that, as a rough rock in a stream becomes a smooth stone from years of water flowing over it, the Christian is formed into the image of God when we surrender ourselves to the three-fold pattern of daily immersion in the Scriptures, weekly feeding in the Eucharist, and the annual cycle of the Christian year, combined with contemplative practices like those of the desert fathers. I have found that these are re-orienting my perception of reality, the way I view time, life, and the world around me, in ways that words on a page cannot fully capture. It is freeing me to love those who oppose me and work for the good of those who seek my harm.

You may not be interested in walking the path to the ancient Church, known in Anglicanism as “the Canterbury trail.” I was not either. Ironically it is a journey that has given a depth to my walk with Christ that I never imagined. Like someone who has never tasted ice-cream, I didn’t know what I was missing.

What about you? If you have walked with Jesus for several decades, is intimacy/spiritual union something the church you worship in is nurturing in you? In what ways, corporately and individually are you finding intimacy with Jesus? Or have you, like many, given up on intimacy with God as having a corporate expression? If so, I invite you to the sandlot to play ball.

August 20, 2013

Smith Wigglesworth

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“If God has any type of hall of fame up in heaven, Smith Wigglesworth is definitely going to be in it.”

~BibleKnowledge.com

First, let’s deal with the obvious distraction: Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947) would be a great name for a character in a children’s story. Okay, done. In truth, the man was a great pioneer of the Pentecostal movement who believed in the limitless power of God.  You can read more about his story at Wikipedia. His many books are still in print as are a number of themed books which deal with his various teachings on scripture, faith, healing, healing, prophecy, etc.

Smith WigglesworthGreat faith is the product of great fights
Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests
Great triumphs can only come out of great trials

“The secret of spiritual success is a hunger that persists…It is an awful condition to be satisfied with one’s spiritual attainments…God was and is looking for hungry, thirsty people.”

There is a fruit of the Spirit that must accompany the gift of healing and that is longsuffering.

You cannot help distresses coming. They will come, and offenses will come, but woe unto those that cause offenses. See that you do not cause offense. See that you live in a higher tide. See that your tongue cannot move.

Is salvation and healing for all? It is for all who will press in and get their portion. The word can drive every disease away from your body. It is your portion in Christ, Him who is our bread, our life, our health, our all in all.

If I read the newspaper I come out dirtier than I went in. If I read my Bible, I come out cleaner than I went in, and I like being clean!

I can get more out of God by believing Him for one minute than by shouting at Him all night.

God has given us much in these last days, and where much is given much will be required.

There are four principles we need to maintain: First, read the Word of God. Second, consume the Word of God until it consumes you. Third believe the Word of God. Fourth, act on the Word.

BibleKnowledge.com,  aChristian.com, MyBibleQuotes, World of Quotes, Good Reads, Holy Christian Life, The Life Experience,

Here’s a longer quote I found online. At first it seemed rather quaint, and the punctuation is a bit unclear, but I’ve developed an appreciation for this man’s style:

”A dear woman was marvelously delivered and saved, but she said I am so addicted to smoking, what shall I do? ”

Oh,” I said, ” Smoke night and day,” and she said, ” In our circumstances we take a glass of wine and it has a hold on me.” ” Oh,” I said, ” Drink all you can.” It brought some solace to her, but she was in misery.

She said, ” We play cards.” I said, ” Play on! ”

But after being saved she called her maid and said, ” Wire to London and stop the shipment of those cigarettes.” The new life does not want it. It has no desire. The old is dethroned.

A clergyman came. He said, ” I have a terrible craving for tobacco.” I said, ” Is it the Old Man or the New? ” He broke down. ” I know it’s the Old,” he said. Put off the Old Man with his deeds. One said, ” I have an unlawful affection for another.” I said, ” You want revelation.” Seeing God has given you Jesus. He will give you all things. He will give you power over the thing, and it will be broken, and God broke it. ” Allow God to touch thy flesh.” Now He has quickened thy spirit. Allow Him to reign, for He shall reign until all is subdued. He is pre-eminently King in thy life over thy affection, thy will, thy desire, thy plans. He rules as Lord of Hosts over thee, in thee, through thee, to chasten thee and bring thee to the perfection of thy desired haven.”

So where would Wigglesworth fit into today’s church environment? One writer puts him in the Word of Faith movement — he is definitely most Charismatic — but I believe that was a different climate than the prosperity preaching we associate with Word of Faith today. The same writer believes that Wigglesworth advocated for a holiness which is both unattainable and not Scriptural, but again, none of can claim to know the dynamics of the spiritual walk of another. So for some of you, this is a good place to end today; but if you want to explore that article further, you can link here.

January 25, 2013

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today

One of the joys of producing this rather unique approach to devotional reading is that we get to include material from a broad range of doctrinal viewpoints while at the same time insuring that our readers don’t get liberal theology mixed in Evangelical teaching.  Today is no exception.  The view expressed here on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit — the side to which I am somewhat inclined — stands in contrast to the cessationist view that says the supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased at the end of the apostolic age.

I encourage you to read this at source. You’re somewhat on your own today for scripture look-ups; I recommend Bible Gateway.  The post is from Scott at The Prodigal Thought and is titled Seven Reasons The Gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Today.

I am one who unashamedly believes that God still speaks today. You can call me charismatic. Or you can identify me by the more politically-correct theological term known as continuationism. But I believe God still speaks-reveals-communicates today, as he always has done and will continue into the age to come.

Why would I believe such?

I list 7 reasons below:

1) God is an actual living, personal being

Almost every Christian would uphold this statement. And, so, one would only expect a living, personal being to be a communicator, a speaker. I am not sure I need to quote a lot of proof texts (though I could). But it is simply a theological deduction from reading the entirety of Scripture.

Living, personal beings are communicators in so many ways. And so, why would we expect anything less from the eternal personal being? Thus, he will continue to communicate, speak, reveal, unveil, illuminate, until all things are completed. Well, and then he will keep speaking even after all things have been renewed in Christ!

2) Christ is the charismatic prophet and his body is to follow

When I use the word charismatic, I mean it in the sense that Roger Stronstad defined it in his work, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke:

I use the term “charismatic” in a functional and dynamic sense. By “charismatic” I mean God’s gift of His Spirit to His servants, either individually or collectively, to anoint, empower, or inspire them for divine service. (p13)

And, as the living Word, Christ was the greatest prophet to ever exist. Yes, greater than Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah. There has been none like him who spoke and revealed the Father as he did.

Therefore, if Christ is the great charismatic prophet, then by nature, his body is to follow in those same footsteps. The body follows the head. It’s part and parcel to our calling in Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone is particularly marked out as a prophet today. Of course not. But, via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowering, Christ expects his body to get on with completing that which he initiated. Christ is still continuing that which he began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). Thus, we are now not only a priesthood of all believers, but also a prophethood of all believers.

3) The Spirit continues the same work of Christ

This really connects with the former point, but it’s the Spirit who continues the work of Christ. It is he that comes to empower the people of God, all that we might be vehicles by which Christ continues his work. I know this sounds like the A, B, C’s of pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit), but the charismatic Christ sent the charismatic Spirit to gift the charismatic ekklesia-church. One cannot get away from the reality that the work Christ began so long ago was to continue through the current age.

4) The positive affirmation in Scripture that such gifts would continue

I share much more here, but suffice it to say that there are actual Scripture passages that teach such works and gifts would continue. In the article I have linked to, I specifically take time to look at four positive Scriptural affirmations: John 14:12; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; and Ephesians 4:11-16. There are plenty more one could look at and consider, but those are a very solid starting point as to specific passages.

5) Inaccurate interpretation from cessationists

There are the ‘usual suspects’ passages brought up by cessationists. These passages become pointers as to why certain gifts (or ‘sign gifts’) would cease once the full testimony of Christ and the gospel was completed in the New Testament canon. But that’s just it – Scripture actually doesn’t tell us to expect some gifts to cease.

Four very often quoted passages are 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 1:1-2; and Hebrews 2:3-4. I have spent some time considering these passages in this article, which you can click to read more thoughts if you’d like.

As a side point, it is also quite interesting to note that phrases like ‘word of the Lord’‘word of God’, or ‘word’ do not usually refer to the graphe or written Scripture. It can refer to such, but not normally. God’s word – not just that in the text of Scripture – was always being spoken, even if it wasn’t recorded in the canon of Scripture (e.g., 1 Sam 10:10-13 and 1 Tim 1:18-19). Again, it’s part and parcel to be a living, personal being that desires to communicate. Here are some other examples below where the above phrases do not refer to the written Scripture:

  • Word of God – Luke 3:2
  • Word of God – Acts 4:31
  • Word of God – Acts 6:7
  • Word of God – Acts 12:24
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 13:44, 48-49
  • Word of the Lord – Acts 19:20
  • Word of the Lord – 1 Thess 1:8
  • The are countless times the word ‘word’ arises and does not refer to Scripture

6) God spoke through those who were not prophets or apostles

Even if one wants to argue that apostles and prophets do not exist today, there are still plenty of examples of others who were used to speak forth prophecy or used in other extraordinary gifts. Here is a smattering from the New Testament:

  • Stephen (Acts 6:8)
  • Philip (Acts 8:4-7)
  • Ananias (Acts 9:17-18)
  • The 120 believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:4)
  • Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46)
  • Agabus (Acts 11:37-38; 21:10-11) – he was not an apostle, but was a prophet
  • The Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:6)
  • The Galatian believers (Gal 3:5)
  • The Corinthian believers (1 Cor 14)

This should give courage to those of us who are not actually apostles or prophets (most of us!). God wants to utilise his people in such ‘charismatic’ activities since he has been doing such from the beginning.

7) The great testimony of the charismata in church history

I have already written on this topic before, which you can find here. But suffice it to say, there are plenty of examples of God, by his Spirit, speaking and acting out the charismata as found in 1 Corinthians 12.

And, a great resource to look at would be The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal by Vinson Synan. He takes time to chronicle what has happened over the past 100 years or so with the rise of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. In today’s world, it is estimated that there are some 500 million believers associating themselves within the Pentecostal, charismatic or neo-charismatic branches of the church. And the accounts of God’s activity by his Spirit continue on into the 21st century.

Also, another book I have been made aware of, but have not yet been able to read, is Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church by Ronald Kydd.

So, suffice it to say, I find it extremely hard to argue for the cessation, or ceasing, of certain gifts of the Spirit. For me, there is an overwhelming biblical, theological and historical positive case for the continuation of such.

~Scott Lencke

November 13, 2012

To Whom Did Paul Say, “For What I Want to Do I Do not Do”?

While we recognize that Romans 7 is New Testament, we often over-Christianize it and miss out on the Old Testament world that shaped the times of the apostles. Scott Lencke at the blog The Prodigal Thought works through this thought, you’re encouraged to read this at source where it appeared (sans soundtrack) as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

Everyone know The Police song, De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da? If not, you can have a listen and watch here.

Now Romans 7 is difficult enough just on its own terms. But add in the distraction of Sting belting out one of his great hits, well, it’s simply all over (especially after watching the video!).

Why Romans 7 and The Police?

Romans 7 is that chapter where Paul uses the word do so many times. Yes, that chapter! I count 20 times in vs15-20! There we find the famed words,

‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’

Actually, did you know Romans 7 causes difficulty? Not because of The Police, but rather because people have been debating for a very long time whether Paul is describing the normal life of a Christian or non-Christian.

The popular belief today, at least amongst evangelicals, is that Paul is describing a Christian. For starters, it is argued, if Paul says, ‘For in my inner being I delight in God’s law,’ this cannot be reality for an unregenerate, depraved human. Not only that, but what I think happens even more is that we look at our own lives, evaluate our daily living, and concur that vs15 and vs19 speak very truly about us – ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’

Now, while some might loathe the idea of utilizing our experience to understand Scripture, I wouldn’t say it’s completely terrible. I’m an advocate of something like the Wesleyan quadrilateral that recognizes we have more than Scripture alone in helping us understand God’s revelation. Rather this perspective takes a more holistic approach, identifying a) Scripture, b) tradition (there is such things as good tradition), c) reason (not ‘objective rationalism’) and d) experience as important in grasping the revelation of God.

So, my point is that understanding Scripture is not completely devoid of our human experience and encounter with God and his truth.

Thus, having said that, those 2 well-known verses (Rom 7:15, 19) might parallel something going on in our own lives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was given to describe our situation. You see, this banter about whether Paul is describing the Christian or non-Christian life, I think it might just bring us on an adventure of missing the point. Well, I would concede it’s part of the point. But I don’t believe it’s the greater point of Paul in what is our ch.7 (you know Paul didn’t have chapter and verse divides in his letter).

What I think happens is that we gloss over a vital statement. And I suppose we miss the larger context of the letter and the sweeping thought of chapters 6-8. So maybe we start there.

What in the world is going on in Rome? For this letter was written to a particular church in Rome.

Paul is writing to a church that is extremely divided. Why?

Some 6 to 8 years before Paul wrote to the church, the emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from the area of Italy (see Acts 18:1-2). Thus, the church became strongly Gentile. But the successor to Claudius, emperor Nero, allowed the Jews to make their way back into this area of the Roman empire. So we have a church situation that has become mainly Gentile over a number of years, which means you have a strong group of people mainly disconnected from the Abrahamic faith of Israel. Mix in a strong group of Jews desiring to see their great heritage fall to the wayside and you’ve got a bit of a challenge.

So here is a man with wisdom and pastoral compassion trying to help both Jews and Gentiles. You can sense it right throughout the letter.

But what about the difficulty of Romans 7? How does this fit into the Roman context?

Well, we could work through chs.6 and 8, but let’s come back to that. This is where 7:1 becomes all-important.

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?

Who is Paul speaking to?

Jews! Those who know the law.

Yes, Paul does tell us early on in the letter that even those who do not have the Jewish Torah have a law for themselves (see Rom 2:14-15). But, looking at this statement in 7:1, I think it quite clear Paul is speaking to those who know Yahweh’s Torah, as summed up in the Law of Moses.

When you realize that Paul is mainly speaking to Jews, in this little interlude between chapters 6 and 8, I believe it opens up the passage quite a lot.

It’s not so much about whether Paul is describing a Christian or non-Christian, though we can talk about that, and I will. Rather it’s primarily about one who is trying to live under the law.

And so I do believe we can ascribe to a Jew, a good Jew in the context of the first century, these words of Paul: For in my inner being I delight in God’s law (7:22).

Paul’s not really caught up in our debates about prevenient or irresistible grace. He is describing a good Jew like himself based right in the tension of the first century as things were strongly evolving into the light of the new covenant in Christ. For someone who delights in the law but tries to live under the reign of the law, that person is going to find herself or himself in quite a pickle. Such a Jew might end up arguing with themselves, like Gollum and Smeagol, as seen here. Such a major internal war!

This is why the preceding words of chapter 6 become extremely important. Especially statements like these: For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6:14).

The one joined to Christ has been freed from the reign of both sin and law. Law + sin = a jumbled mixture of problems in a Jew. But living under the reign of grace, as seen and expressed in the faithfulness of Jesus, releases one to ‘serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code’ (Rom 7:6). And Paul reminds us of the delivery that takes place in Jesus Christ (7:24-25). Not only that, but ‘through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (8:2).

‘Ok, then. But what about 7:25, part b,’ one may ask?! It says: So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Yes, a good Jew will want to be a slave (or obedient) to the torah-law. But that person living in light of their sinful nature, the flesh, will become a slave to the law of sin. It’s reality for Paul, for any Jew. Again, Law + sin = a jumbled mixture of problems in a Jew. This is why Paul could give his list of achievements for being best Jew of the century, but at the same time list his persecution of Christians (see Phil 3:4-6). Living under the reign and lordship of the law is ludicrous, even making one proud of their accomplishments that are contrary to the will of God (and for Paul, that was watching Christians be murdered!). A proper Jew needs releasing from such a view, being drown in the reign of the grace of God in the faithfulness of Jesus.

Now, there is no doubt we could think about the application of chapter 7 for us, Gentiles, some 2000 years later. Though let me remark that I don’t think it completely possible to think like a Jew, even more a Jew from some 2000 years ago like Paul. Still, we can consider the ease of making our own law (not in a Rom. 2 sense, but from an extreme moralistic framework). And, thus, we try and live an overly controlled life under this law, which really ends up wrecking our own hearts and lives, as well as others’. We have to grapple with the practicalities of living under the reign of law rather than the reign of grace.

But Paul is talking about those who know the law, the Mosaic torah. In this extremely divided Roman church, he is taking time to address his brothers and sisters in the fleshly heritage.

And, so, in a sense, Paul is creating a before and after situation. Jews would have once been driven by their commitment to the precious rule of the law (or maybe they still were). But now it was time to live under the reign of grace, under the new way of the Spirit, under the rule of Christ Jesus. That was the glories of which Paul was proclaiming.

This is what Romans 7 is all about, tucked into the middle of a letter to the church in Rome, tucked in between two very telling chapters, that being chapters 6 and 8. I think if we remember this, it will help us continue to understand what God has done for us and in us through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And it will release us to live more and more under the reign of grace, the Jew first and also the Gentile.

~Scott Lencke

October 19, 2012

Going Against The Flow; Swimming Against The Tide

Another Canadian blogger, Kim Shay posted this quotation from Martin Luther recently at her blog, The Upward Call. I can’t begin to imagine the conflict Luther would have felt has he formulated beliefs that went totally against everything commonly held. This from the Faith Alone devotional collection:

Trusting Christ Instead of People

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them
for he knew all men
John 2:24


No one understands how difficult it was when I first realized that I had to believe and teach an idea that was contrary to the teaching of the church fathers. This was especially shocking to me when many outstanding, reasonable, and educated people shared their views. The church fathers include many holy people, such as Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine. Despite that, my dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ must be worth more to me than all the holy people on earth – yes, even more than all the angels in heaven. When I read Augustine’s books and discovered that he also had been in error, I was greatly troubled. Whenever this happens, it’s very difficult for me to calm my own hart and differ with people who are so greatly respected.

But I dare not accept something just because a respected person says it. A person can be holy and God-fearing and still be in error. That’s why I don’t want to rely on people. As this passage says, the Lord Christ didn’t rely on people either. Furthermore, in the book of Matthew, Jesus earnestly warns us to beware of false prophets, who will come and not only claim to be Christians, but also “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible (24:24).

Rather than trusting the church fathers and their writings, we should crawl under the wings of our mother hen, the Lord Christ, and look to him alone. the heavenly Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). God wants us to listen to Christ alone.


Here’s a bonus Faith Alone devotional from Luther that appeared a week prior at Kim’s blog.

The Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him
and said, “Look, the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29


God’s laws tell us how we should live. They command us: “Never desire to take your neighbor’s wife. Never murder. Never commit adultery. Give to the poor.” It’s good to follow God’s laws in order to guard against outward sins. Before God, however, it won’t work to try to get rid of sin by obeying God’s laws. What does work is stated in this verse: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Isaiah explains that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) and “for the transgression of my people he was stricken” (v.8). Everything points to Christ.

As a Christian, you should hold tightly to these words and not let them be taken away from you. Then you will know that godless people and religious people who hope to satisfy God with their pilgrimages and good works are blind. Many boast of the good works and console themselves by thinking they will get a second chance to be saved. The Holy Scripture, in contrast, says that the sins of the world aren’t laid on the world. John’s sins weren’t laid on John, and Peter’s sins weren’t laid on Peter, for no one can bear their own sins. Rather, the sins of the world were laid on Christ. He is the Lamb of God. He stepped forward to become a sinner for us, to become even sin itself, and to act as though he had committed the sins of the entire world from the beginning of its creation (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Lamb’s mission, role, and function were to take away the sins of the world. The Lamb carried them all.

May 31, 2012

Taking a Screenshot of Faith

You’re 100% sure it was there. You know what you saw. But now the website has changed.

“If only I’d taken a screenshot of the page;” you say.

Websites are constantly being revised. Bloggers change, delete or add sentences. Or entire posts.

Church history is the same. While we usually think of revisionism in terms of the facts of history, with church history, it’s possible to change the actual theology, to suggested that people understood things differently than perhaps they did, or to read the old through the filter of the contemporary.  But often the issue is not a failure of the current generation to grasp the nuances of their faith fathers, but the failure of those who go before to pass on the substance of their beliefs.

At the blog Parchment and Pen, Michael Svigel’s post title really expresses the issue clearly,

Why Study Church History? Reason #3: Studying church history will conserve the faith for the future

The Lord’s brother, Jude, urged Christians “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Greek verb translated “delivered” refers to a sacred trust or tradition. Paul described this tradition as he handed it down to the Corinthians: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand. . . . For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Cor. 15:1, 3). Jude used the same language as Paul for receiving the tradition and sending it forward to the future. In this case the things “received” and “handed down” were the central truths of the Christian faith.

Paul also wrote letters to his younger disciple, Timothy, for the purpose of encouraging the next generation to faithfully convey the core Christian tradition into the future. Paul wrote, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Tim. 3:14). He also said, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). By observing what our spiritual forefathers fought to preserve and pass on, we come to understand and appreciate the need to continue the pattern established by 2 Timothy 2:2. By looking back, evangelicals today can learn how to conserve and convey the timeless message through time-tested methods.

Today the evangelical church is facing numerous serious crises directly related to their inability to make disciples who are passing the faith on to the next generation. To put it bluntly: evangelicals today are dropping the baton but still running the race! According to a 2006 Barna Group study, 40 to 50 percent of kids who were “equipped” in church youth groups walk away from the faith or the church in their college years. Study after study shows that evangelicalism itself is shrinking in America. Mega church and multi-site ministries mask the problem, as far too many of those big box churches grow in number by weakening smaller churches, not by converting the lost or restoring the un-churched. This kind of model of ministry is simply unsustainable. In many respects, American evangelicals are simply failing to pass the faith on to the next generation. Unless this trend is halted, the disaster will be epic.

The incredible challenges we’re facing today aren’t new. Pluralism, cynicism, paganism, immorality, political corruption, war, persecution, social unrest, atheism, skepticism, and me-theism—the early church thrived in that kind of culture, while we’re doing all we can to simply survive. As we look back at the history of the church, the pre-modern, pre-Christian models and methods of evangelism, catechesis, initiation, and life-long discipleship can help us re-think how we face the current challenges in our increasingly post-modern, post-Christian world. By studying church history we can rediscover and restore wise and effective ways to conserve the faith for the future.

It’s not too late.

Here’s a link to previous articles at P&P by the same author.

May 21, 2012

William Booth Quotations

This seemed to be a good fit with today’s post at Thinking Out Loud on the Missional mandate of The Salvation Army, of which William Booth is the founder.


“We are a salvation people – this is our speciality – getting saved and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more until full salvation on earth makes the heaven within, which is finally perfected by the full salvation without, on the other side of the river.”


“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end!”


“Look! Don’t be deceived by appearances — men and things are not what they seem. All who are not on the rock are in the sea!”


“But what is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?”


‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.”


“I must assert in the most unqualified way that it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek the salvation of the body.”


“A man’s labor is not only his capital but his life. When it passes it returns never more. To utilize it, to prevent its wasteful squandering, to enable the poor man to bank it up for use hereafter, this surely is one of the most urgent tasks before civilization.”


“Secular music, do you say, belongs to the devil? Does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him for it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole seven. Every note, and every strain, and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us.”


“In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”


“We are not sent to minister to a congregation and be content if we keep things going. We are sent to make war…and to stop short of nothing but the subjugation of the world to the sway of the Lord Jesus.”


“I want to see a new translation of the Bible into the hearts and conduct of living men and women.”


“No sort of defense is needed for preaching outdoors, but it would take a very strong argument to prove that a man who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse has done his duty. A defense is required for services within buildings rather than for worship outside of them.”


“Faith and works should travel side-by-side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again — until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”


“You must pray with all your might. That does not mean saying your prayers, or sitting gazing about in church or chapel with eyes wide open while someone else says them for you. It means fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God…This kind of prayer be sure the devil and the world and your own indolent, unbelieving nature will oppose. They will pour water on this flame.”


General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once told his students, “If I had my choice, I wouldn’t send you to school, I’d send you to Hell for five minutes, and you’d come back real soul winners.”


Sources: SA UK SiteThink Exist, Christian Quotes, Great Quotes, Quoteland, Our Church, Sermon Central


O Boundless Salvation!

O boundless salvation! deep ocean of love,
O fulness of mercy, Christ brought from above.
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free,
Now flowing for all men, come, roll over me!

My sins they are many, their stains are so deep.
And bitter the tears of remorse that I weep;
But useless is weeping; thou great crimson sea,
Thy waters can cleanse me, come, roll over me!

My tempers are fitful, my passions are strong,
They bind my poor soul and they force me to wrong;
Beneath thy blest billows deliverance I see,
O come, mighty ocean, and roll over me!

Now tossed with temptation, then haunted with fears,
My life has been joyless and useless for years;
I feel something better most surely would be
If once thy pure waters would roll over me.

O ocean of mercy, oft longing I’ve stood
On the brink of thy wonderful, life-giving flood!
Once more I have reached this soul-cleansing sea,
I will not go back till it rolls over me.

The tide is now flowing, I’m touching the wave,
I hear the loud call of the mighty to save;
My faith’s growing bolder, delivered I’ll be;
I plunge ‘neath the waters, they roll over me.

And now, hallelujah! the rest of my days
Shall gladly be spent in promoting his praise
Who opened his bosom to pour out this sea
Of boundless salvation for you and for me.
    
William Booth (1829-1912)

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