Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Biggest Problem at T4G

As I have already mentioned, I had a great experience at the Together for the Gospel 2010 Conference in Louisville. Almost every aspect was terrific.

I did mention that the crowding was a bit of a problem, but even that is a stretch. Although there were 7000 people, almost everyone acted graciously toward one another.

So, what was really the biggest problem? That's easy: There was no stated biblical definition of what the church is and how it should function.

This may not seem like a big problem since the focus of the conference was the gospel and not the church. However, we must keep in mind that it is the church where the gospel is manifested in this world. The world does not see or hear the gospel apart from the church.

In the opening address of the conference, Mark Dever asked an important question (you can watch him by clicking here). He asked how the church we are a part of displays the gospel (that is a paraphrase). In other words, how do people see the gospel in the life of the church?

It must be clear to all of us that if the vehicle of gospel proclamation is the church, then we must understand both what the church is and what is does. We can only do this by looking to scripture.

At the conference, however, the church was more assumed than anything else. The speakers, of course, mentioned that the church is people. The church is followers of Jesus Christ. The problem was that after that, when they spoke of the church, they seemed to rely more on tradition than bible. The church they spoke of is the traditional, institutional church that we see today in the modern West.

This is a significant problem. During a conference that spends a great deal of time looking to scripture to define the gospel, it seems that the speakers would also look to scripture to define church belief and practice. This did not happen.

Why is this? I believe the problem is that so many current church practices, especially the ones that seem "to work," are almost never questioned. They just happen and keep happening.

Where do we live out the biblical gospel? In the church.

How does the world hear and see the biblical gospel? Through the church.

Since this is the case, if we want to live out the gospel and proclaim it according to scriptural standards, then we must let the bible inform all our church belief and practice.

This conference, as great as it was, was also a good reminder to me of the importance of not assuming anything by tradition. We must be biblical in all things.

13 comments:

Stephen Newell said...

Eric, I'm guessing you aren't aware of the larger body of work done by Mark Dever and 9 Marks, which is pretty much the entire answer to your concern. Also, this larger body of work would have been known by the vast majority of the attendees of T4G (of which I was one).

Eric said...

Stephen,

Thank you for commenting on my blog.

Actually, I'm quite aware of the work that Mark Dever has done, especially through IX Marks. In fact, I have six of his books. I respect Him a great deal. If I did not, I wouldn't have attended T4G.

The point of this post was that at this particular conference no one stated a biblical definition of what the church is and how it should function. Since the gospel is proclaimed by the church, it would have been very beneficial for at least one of the speakers to address what the church is head-on.

This is a problem that happens frequently in our country. The church is assumed and not questioned.

As for Dever, I did appreciate his challenge in asking us how our churches display the gospel. He had a great opportunity right there to define the church.

honeyandlocusts said...

At any conference such as T4G, there are always going to be things left unsaid, necessitated by time constraints. I agree that it would have been nice to hear a more detailed explanation of the understanding of "the church" by the speakers, but I don't think that the lack of such an explanation is evidence that they do not have a correct and biblically informed view on the subject (not that you've accused them of such).

In a way, I think the book handouts are one of the ways that the speakers attempt to cover topics not specifically addressed from the stage. While not exhaustive, some of the books ("The Trellis and the Vine" and "The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love", for instance) do touch on the doctrine of the Church. Certainly anyone who follows the greater body of work from these men will see their positions on this and many other doctrines not outlined in a three day conference.

Mark | hereiblog said...

When Christians come together for a conference, especially pastors, a lot is assumed. There is only so much time and resources to address specific topics. Also, if you're a pastor and don't have a working definition of a church then maybe you should not be a pastor.

If we did a reductio on your argument we'd keep pushing back asking questions. We assume the Bible is inspired, we assume Jesus is 100% God & 100% Man, we assume we should sing praises to God, we assume we should pray in Jesus name, etc.

Would you mind doing a post on how you would have put this conference together? Should every conference be the same in content? Do you apply this reasoning to each sermon you preach?

Thanks.

Eric said...

Honey and Locusts,

I agree with you that the books help a great deal. That is a good point.

In this post, I am in no way suggesting that a full doctrine of the church should have been elucidated. Clearly, the theme of the conference was the gospel itself.

However, I would have appreciated it if someone had taken just five minutes or so to define biblically what the church is. They could have mentioned what the bible says about church versus common traditions we hold in the church.

Since the church is the people where the gospel is lived and the people through whom the gospel is proclaimed, a clear definition would have been a positive.

Eric said...

Mark,

The tone of your comment concerns me. You seem upset that I would dare to question some of what went on at T4G. Why is this the case?

Additionally, it should be clear from other blog posts I have written that I enjoyed the conference a great deal.

Jugulum said...

Eric,

I have trouble discerning the tone that you perceived in Mark's comment. But whatever tone you do perceive--Mark did critique your post. He in no way said "don't question"--he explained why he thinks your question wasn't a valid concern.

I'm sure you don't want to simply dismiss people who address your concern by changing the subject to tone. So... What do you think of the content of Mark's comment?

C.L. Bolt said...

Eric,

Tone can be difficult to discern in this medium. I did not find anything concerning in Mark's comment.

He does appear to have some good arguments though. Could you address those?

Eric said...

Jugulum and C. L.,

Thank you for your comments.

We'll just have to disagree about the tone of Mark's comments. Nevertheless, I'll go ahead and address what he has said.

I agree that we make certain assumptions anytime we get together as Christians. Otherwise, we would be falling all over ourselves in explanation.

That said, this conference focused upon the gospel. As I have said, the gospel is lived out in the church. The gospel is proclaimed by the church. Therefore, we should take some time to discuss what the church is. An additional reason this is important is that the church in the modern West has many traditions that are unbiblical. These may get in the way of the gospel. We should be certain to differentiate which of our church practices are biblical and which are not.

As for Mark's final three questions, I'm not sure if he really wanted answers or if he was just trying to make a point. However, I'll answer anyway.

"How would I have put this conference together?" I would have done it in exactly the same way, but I would have asked at least one of the speakers to describe what a biblical church looks like. That could have taken 4-5 minutes.

"Should every conference be the same in content?" Please no. That would be boring.

"Do you apply this reasoning to each sermon you preach?" That depends on what reasoning Mark is talking about. I have never spoken in a large conference like this. In the church where I serve, I'm preaching through Matthew which builds upon itself week by week.

Frankly, I'm surprised that so many people seem concerned that I have made one critique of what was, in general, a great conference.

Mark said...

Eric,

What concerns me is your questioning of my motives. Why is this the case? Had you read what I've written on "celebrity" pastors you'd understand that I have no qualms questioning T4G or any such venue. I appreciate the brothers who commented after me who understood that I was just inquiring.

I thought my questions were valid and I was attempting to give you more to think about. That said, I apologize that I caused some offense even if I don't quite understand why. Maybe I've been blogging too long. :)

Anyway...T4G has a minimal statement on the church in their documents. I would not think that a conference such as this would not need to define what church is to a group of pastors. And it might be especially tough given that there were presbyterian, baptist (both single pastor and elder) and even charasmatic (I sat next to one) pastors present. Given your follow-up comments here that you would have accepted even a brief definition, maybe it would have been helpful. This is why I asked the questions I did so I may understand a bit more clearly.

Even when if we did define church this would not alleviate other assumptions. So part of my questioning was to push back in this area. It was to try and make the point that there will always be assumptions. Just like I tried to demonstrate with my rhetorical questions at the end. I also tried to get readers to think about being consistent in holding themselves to the same standards as they hold others to with these questions. I'm not saying you don't do this, but it's part of the *thought* process. The sharpening process, if you will.

Sorry for the long comment, but given your comment I felt the need to explain a bit.

Mark

P.s. I grew up in your neck of the woods. I believe you know a good friend of mine named Russ who pastors in Rincon. You can find his name on the "my testimony" page on my site. :)

Eric said...

Mark,

Thanks for the clarification.

As for the definition of the church, the reason I desired it has to do with the sad state of the church in the West. My hope, which I'm sure is shared by everyone else, is that the church will be healthy so the gospel will be lived out and spread. A healthy church is a biblical church. That's why I wanted to hear it from someone at T4G.

As for Russ, I know him. He is a great guy.

sosipater said...

Eric,

You not so bad yourself... and neither is Mark! Good discussion. Wish I could have been at T4G with you guys.

Russ

Mark said...

Russ,

If it makes you feel any I better I wish you could have been there too! Remember, it's the thought that counts. ;)

Mark