Christianity 201

January 29, 2016

Why Apologetics?

Red Letter BibleYesterday I was reading an article which spoke of the main purpose of Christian apologetics is to “strengthen the believer.” We tend to think of it as a branch of evangelism, but unless believers are fully grounded themselves, they can’t share their faith effectively, or be able to deal with objections raised by those outside the faith.

The article mentioned a familiar verse:

I Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

But also

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Jude 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(all NIV)

At this point, I want to share the whole article with you. It’s from the website Ratio Christi and clicking the title below takes you to the site, from which you can explore many other resources. (I’ve added emphasis to some of the things the author feels are symptomatic of the shallowness of Christianity in present times.)

Strengthening the believer…

Most have probably heard the saying “if, insert name here, jumped off a bridge would you follow?” The context meaning just because someone else does it, be it popular, or not real smart, would you follow simply for that reason? The point being, a lot of people, do and believe a lot of, well let’s just say strange things. So what does this have to do with strengthening the believer? I am glad you ask!

In Dr. William Lane Craig’s book On Guard, he writes “the purpose of apologetics is to reach the lost, strengthen the believer and to change culture.” I spend, and know God has led me to this point, most of my time attempting to strengthen the believer. Unfortunately, apologetics receives some of its strongest opposition from this group of people. I find this very confusing and extremely frustrating. I mean, after all, apologetics is Biblical, part of the first and greatest commandment, and Jesus used it, as did Paul. But that is not the point. How can professing believers reach the lost, or change culture if they do not know what and why they believe? It has been written about many times before, they cannot. In fact, the majority of professing followers do not know what or why they believe. I was ask recently to back that statement up. Herein lies the point.

As an apologist I felt it to be pretty obvious, (the shallowness of professing believers). I mean, I do this for a living. And a simple conversation with many other professing believers seemed like sufficient evidence. So when ask to provide evidence of my claim I was, honestly, taken by surprise. After all, it has been written about extensively, statistics show the church is declining, as do they show our 18 to 20 something’s leaving in mass numbers, (50-80%). So I thought about what would seem to be a good indicator of, or considered acceptable evidence for, most believers not knowing what or why they believe. Are you ready? Brace yourself, or sit down if you are standing. This could be earth-shattering. But in reality, probably not. Remember when I stated God is using me, through apologetics, to strengthen the believer? Previous paragraph…well, that is a tough “row to hoe” as they say in southern West Virginia. Okay, okay, I will get to the point, or my evidence.

False teachers! Pretty simplistic huh? Why would one use false teachers as evidence for a shallow church? Are you serious? One of the fastest growing “denominations” is the Word of Faith movement. Joel Osteen packs in 45,000 every Sunday. Ken Hagin, Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, TBN, GodTV, Creflo, TD Jakes are all the most popular people and most watched and listened to “Christians.” That is just to name a few. There was a recent Facebook post with Jessi Duplantis and one of his cohorts discussing why they needed private jets. The top selling “Christian” books continuously are written by these people. And one would question the shallowness of professing followers?

What about all of the misquoted scripture one is faced with on a daily basis? We have all heard it from Jeremiah 29:11 to Philippians 4:13. The teaching how to reach the lost by sharing our testimony. By thinking witnessing to someone is inviting them to church. I could go on and on. The evidence is strong. The church NEEDS apologetics. The church NEEDS sound doctrine. The church NEEDS to make disciples. All of which a Biblical commands. Sadly, it would appear the church is in denial!

Please, don’t get me wrong. There are many solid teachers/preachers out there. But if professing followers don’t know what they believe, or why they believe it, how can they possibly distinguish the false teachers from sound theology. Remember, people actually followed Jim Jones to the jungle and killed themselves. And he was extremely popular.

Boys and girls, Christianity is not relevant or popular in today’s society. In fact, it has never been popular. The gospel is offensive. The promise of trails and tribulation does not sound fun. Or happy, blessed, or favored as so often quoted.

I often tell my students that we need to get the majority of professing followers lost so that we can get them saved. Please consider the first and greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37, the next time you consider an apologist that is attempting to strengthen believers too harsh, or not speaking with gentleness and respect. Please read 2 Corinthians 10:5, Jude 3, Titus 1:9, and 1 Peter 3:15.

I pray for the maturity of every professing follower. I ask God that each of you to stop watching, reading and listening to false teaching. Would you at least admit the problem? Would you please commit to figure out what you believe and why?

December 4, 2013

Spiritual Delayed Adolescence

This most important article by Erik Raymond appeared recently at the blog, Ordinary Pastor (tag line: “On this site I try to wear out a path to the cross”) under the title Delayed Adolescence in the Church.  I encourage you to read this at source, and then visit some of Erik’s other articles.

Delayed adolescence is a reality in American families. There is no disputing the massive increase in number of young people that choose to live with their parents late into their 20′s and in some cases into their 30′s. Insurance companies have taken notice of this and have extended coverage of “children” well into the mid to late 20′s. There is no surprise then that while adolescence is prolonged the expreriences that correspond with being an adult are decreasing. Marriages are decreasing while video games sales are increasing. The delayed adolescence of the American youth is a fascinating and increasingly troubling trend.

But I am not a sociologist. I am a pastor. My concern is with the attitude and culture of delayed adolescence in the church. More specifically, I am not here thinking primarily about the evangelical culture that tends to awkwardly squirm away from and therefore curiously mute the conversation of male leadership in the church. I am thinking far more broadly than even this, to the philosophy and theological vision of churches that cultivate and promote a delayed doctrinal adolescence in the church.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read these somewhat shocking words:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

This is straightforward and blunt. The writer is reminding his readers that they are not doing what needs to be done. They are not developing doctrinally like they should. They should know the foundations and be digging deeper to grow in their understanding and application of truth (wisdom and discernment). Instead they are playing in the theological sandbox.

As a pastor I recognize that this falls on the shoulders of the teaching pastor and elders in a congregation. Instead of serving up doctrinal meals each week, establishing a culture where Christians (men in particular) are expected to put in the work to grow, and facilitating ministry to utilize gospel growth—pastors are burping spiritual babies and continuing to feed them blended pears and soft crackers.

Why do we do this? So often the answer I have been given and have read from pastors is a pragmatic answer. We hear some combination of the following:

Doctrine is difficult for people to understand.

Unbelievers don’t have the ability to understand deep theology. And we want to win them to Jesus.

I have to work within my context.

These pragmatic answers tend to make us emotional and sympathetic toward the mission. However, the mission of God is not opposed to the Bible. God would not call you to do something that he did not support and prepare you for. Doctrine and indeed theology are essential to the development of the church and reaching of the lost. Let me give you some examples.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.(2 Tim. 4:1-5)

This is the pastor’s job. In the presence of the judge (Christ Jesus) before God, preach or herald the word of God. This is not optional. It is not up to the pastor’s creative bent or personal desire. His job (if he is faithful 2 Tim. 4.8) then he will preach this word. Not about the word, around the word, from the word…no, he will preach the word.

Now I want you to watch the progression here.

  • v. 2 Preach the Word
  • v. 2 “teaching”
  • v.3 “sound teaching”
  • v.4 “truth” is contrasted to “myths”

The teacher is to teach. This word teaching is also translated “doctrine” in v.3. In other words, preaching, teaching, is to be doctrinal. There is no other way around this.

Well, I suppose there is. If men do not do this then people with itching ears will accumulate teachers who will bring their own doctrine. See everyone has doctrine or teaching. Some of it is just bad and others is good. Those who do not want sound (clean, good, pure) doctrine will clamor for their own stuff. They will get teachers to give it to them.

This is where a lot of our churches are. The pastor is giving the people what he thinks they need. However, his understanding of what they need is what he thinks they can handle or what they seem to want. What is not considered here is what God wants or what the Holy Spirit can handle.

We have a situation today where many evangelical churches are woefully anemic. They are malnourished and the people are eating spiritual Gerbers. Why? Because the pastor is not giving them what they need. Why does he do this? The reasons fly in and are often pragmatic. However, let me add a reason: he doesn’t believe in it. He himself doesn’t love it. It’s not just their problem pastor, it may be yours.

Just as many parents are, in the name of love, aiding and abetting their kid’s delayed adolescence so too many pastors are doing the same for their parishioners.

When we come back to the Bible we see little opportunity to get creative with the game plan. Our job as pastors is to execute the plan derived from the all-wise God. He says give attention to yourself and to your doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). Why? Because it brings salvation to your hearers! Far from being an optional ingredient to sprinkle upon the tops of the plates of the mature doctrine is the essential ingredient in every meal prepared by the pastor. To neglect theology and doctrine is an abrogation of a pastor’s responsibility.

If pastors want to see their members grow and break the cycle of prolonged spiritual adolescence in churches then we have got to belly up to the table and do what God says. Otherwise it is selfish, unloving and insubordinate to God.

If you are in a church where your pastor is not teaching the Bible but skimming the surface week after week, lovingly point out Heb 5 and 2 Tim 3-4. Show him how you need to be taught and built up (Eph. 4) in order to grow in unity. Demand to be fed like a newborn baby demands milk (1 Pet. 2). If they refuse then go somewhere that will feed you.

I don’t write this lightly. It is with a heavy heart in my country and city where being a-theological is often celebrated rather than confronted. If God is going to bring revival in churches then he is going to do it the way he always has: via preaching of the Word of God.

November 4, 2012

A New Take on APEPT

Ephesians 4:11-13

New International Version (NIV)

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It’s sometimes called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church.” Sometimes it’s just abbreviated as APEPT:  Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher.

It’s often applied as helping a church determine its vision and the particular models that church should utilize to fulfill the five-fold mission.

Many times it is presented in terms of “finding your spiritual gift” types of sermons. You are asked to look at your abilities and gifts and determine if you see yourself as an Apostle (literally ‘sent one,’ missionary, church planter) or Pastor (literally ‘shepherd,’ caregiver, prayer warrior, etc.) or Evangelist (or ‘proclaimer,’ one who spreads the ‘evangel’ or good news of salvation, or a Christian apologist) or Prophet (not one who ‘foretells’ but one who ‘forth-tells’ who speaks into peoples’ lives often utilizing gifts of knowledge and utterance) or Teacher (one who searches the scriptures and opens understanding of doctrine and application.)

You’ve been to places where this was explained, and perhaps you’ve tried to look at your own potential areas of Christian service in this context.

Some people, like Australia’s Michael Frost for example, believe that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

Today, I want to look at it differently. I want to consider what your church needs. I want to ask you what type of gifted person you need right now personally. (Be sure to click the linked verses in each section.)

I/We Need an Apostle

This means, that we’re looking for a “sent one” to come into our community who wants to do ministry or just shake things up. Right now, where I live, I often speak about “watching the horizon for some young buck to appear over the horizon with a guitar slung over his shoulder, who is interested in doing a church plant, so that we can support them in what they want to accomplish.” Maybe you need someone to help you with an existing ministry project. Maybe you’re a pastor who needs help. Maybe you need someone with an expanded vision who can give you the extra kick you need to get something done for The Kingdom. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Pastor

I know this applies to so many of you reading this. You need someone to put their arm around your shoulder, or give you a good hug. Someone who will pray with you. Someone who will walk with you through a tough time. Maybe you’re in a church led by a rancher, but you really need a shepherd right now. Maybe you’re alone and just need to know that someone cares. In a megachurch world, we tend to focus on great preaching at the expense of great pastoring. You need someone to pray with you for help, for wholeness, for healing.  (see I Peter 5:2)

I/We Need an Evangelist

Maybe someone you know hasn’t crossed the line of faith, and you’re praying for someone to step into the picture who can help close the sale. Maybe you’re having a tough time defending the faith with people who are closed or apathetic to the Christian message. Maybe it’s you, yourself, who isn’t clear on how salvation happens, or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of this whole church thing, but suddenly riddled with doubts and needing assurance of salvation. You need to connect with someone with the heart of an evangelist. (See Romans 10:14 this is a different take on the reference for Apostle.)

I/We Need a Prophet

Either individually or as a church, you know you need someone who will speak into your life or the life of your congregation; someone not afraid to tell it like it is; someone possessing insights that can only come through supernatural words of knowledge and wisdom; someone willing to identify sin.  (See I Corinthians 12: 7-11)

I/We Need a Teacher

You know when you’re hungry. You know when you’re thirsty. Sadly, many individuals and churches are dying of thirst and dying of hunger; ironically, at a time when more Bible study resources, courses and Christian colleges  are available than have ever existed at any time in history. There are, to be sure, some great Bible teachers out there, but in many local churches, there has been a weakening in the richness and substance of Bible teaching. You know when you’re getting milk when your body craves meat. (See Hebrews 5:12-14 also Luke 24:27)

God gave these gifts to Christian leaders — and the rest of them — because he knew that we needed them individually and collectively. Seeing the available list of gifts can help us identify what particular needs should presently be met in the hours, days and weeks to come. Perhaps now, you’re clearer on what specifically to pray for.

~Paul Wilkinson