Friday, December 31, 2010

New Wineskins

As we think about reform that needs to take place in the life of the church, we should consider something Jesus said in Matthew chapter 9.

Matthew 9:16-17, "No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."

We see that Jesus' way of doing things went far outside the status quo. The norm of the day would no longer be effective or acceptable. Jesus' message was so radical that the Pharisaical system had to be rejected completely.

How do these verses apply to how we think about the church today? I believe they challenge us to think beyond many of our current practices and dare to ask the question, "Why?" In doing so, we will likely find that some of what we are doing is right on target, some needs a little tweaking, and some needs to be rejected outright. This applies both to how we live as individuals and how we live as the church as a whole.

Of course, if we are going to ask challenging questions about the church, we must have some sort of objective standard to aspire to. We need to look somewhere to show us how things should be.

The fascinating thing is that as far as the church is concerned, the new wineskins we are looking for are also very old ones. We see them in the pages of the New Testament. The church we see there is the standard. We learn what the church is, how it should function, and what its purpose should be. We even see many things not to do and/or to do differently (many thanks to the Corinthians for this).

You and I may disagree somewhat on exactly what this means, but I'm sure we would agree on some things. For example, the early church had a deep sense of community. As we look at church life in this country, community is frequently lacking. Regardless of what local church family you are a part of, the community aspect of your church could probably be improved. This may require some large structural changes or it may simply be a change in attitude on the part of the people. The quickest change we can often make is to begin with self.

My hope is that as the church we will look to the very old church and see it as new wineskins. How can we emulate the things we see there most effectively to reach the lost with the gospel, mutually edify one another, and ultimately bring glory to our Lord? Let us learn from the new wineskins of the old church.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Maybe We're Elbows

I've been thinking a lot lately about the biblical metaphor of the church as a body. Paul tells us very clearly that all parts of the body are needed in order for the body to be healthy. The apostle makes this clear in I Corinthians 12.

I Corinthians 12:12-20, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body."

I find verse 18 to be particularly encouraging. We see that God Himself did the arranging of the body. Considering that this passage falls in the broader context of the use of spiritual gifts, we can take comfort in the fact that God has determined which body parts are which. In other words, it is God who dispenses spiritual giftings. This means that as believers we all have exactly the gifts that God wants us to have.

This falls nicely in line with the fact that Christ is the Head of His church. We all know that the head controls the other parts of the body. In the church, the Head (Jesus) tells all the other parts what to do and gives them the ability to do it.

What does our Head desire that we do? His desire and command is that we serve others within the church family. After all, Jesus left us an example when He said that He came not to be served but to serve. Whatever our gifts, we as the body must use these for the betterment and edification of the church family.

What body part am I? What are you? I'm being a bit silly here, but maybe we should think of ourselves as elbows. Elbows aren't particularly nice looking and they get dry easily; if we think of ourselves this way it might help us be humble.

Despite their homeliness, elbows are important to the life of the body. Just go through an hour without using one of your elbows. It's nearly impossible. Regardless of who we are, the church needs us and we need the church. The church even needs its elbows.

Of course, Paul also says in I Cor. 12 that the body wouldn't function if we were all the same body part. Therefore, let's not all be elbows. Instead, let's trust Christ to determine what parts we actually are. Let's just be sure to think humbly about ourselves. We are indeed needed by the church. We are important. We're just not important enough to think highly of ourselves.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Have a Wonderful Time Today

Since it is Sunday, I'm guessing that you are gathering with your church family today. If you are traveling, you may be meeting with other Christians who you do not normally get to see. Regardless, I hope you have a wonderful time today.

I'm serious about this. When we get together with other followers of Jesus Christ, it should be a wonderful, special, joyous, good time. I'm not writing this to burden you; rather, I want to encourage you to anticipate a terrific time of growth in Christ through the edification of your Christian brothers and sisters.

My hope for you is that regardless of what type of church you are a part of (you know the labels I'm talking about), that you very much enjoy gathering together. Of course I'm not talking about enjoyment in the same sense as, for example, enjoying a movie (yesterday we enjoyed watching the 1977 version of Star Wars). Instead, I'm referring to the unique and supreme joy that comes from knowing and growing in Jesus Christ.

Despite what our Western culture says, we are not primarily individuals. God made us to be communal people. We depend on others, take comfort from others, and need others. Specific to Christianity, we need others to grow most effectively in Christ. As we gather as the church, we have the privilege of building up and being built up - all in the joy of knowing the King of Kings.

My last name is Carpenter. This has been misleading for most of my life since I'm not particularly good with tools. However, I can build up others in Jesus. And, I can be built up in Him. The great part is that this building up is not drudgery. Instead, edifying others and being edified is pure joy. Yes, it is work. It can even be difficult and painful at times. Despite this, it is joyful.

So, have a great time today. Set your goal on building up others in Christ. Take joy in Him as you grow in Him and help others do the same. Have a wonderful time!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Three New Books!

My sweet family has given me three new books. I'm looking forward to reading them all. But where to find the time? And which order do I read them in?

Anyway, here they are:

Generous Justice by Tim Keller

The Rabbit and the Elephant by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna

From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? (I'm sure Alan has read at least two of them).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What if Worship Was Like an NBA Game?

I especially like both the tailgating with communion cups and the pastoral staff starting lineup.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Sunday's Gathering

This past Sunday we gathered with three other families. Here's what happened:

On Saturday we all decided to meet together. One of the other families has a larger home than we do so that became the gathering place.

We arrived on Sunday morning at about 10:30. I was happy to meet one of the wives for the first time; we had heard about each other's existence but had never met. After we entered the house, took off our shoes, and put the food down on the counter we all just talked informally for 20-30 minutes. It was great to be able to simply spend time with these other people. I generally had conversations with the other men, but some with the ladies and kids as well.

At some point along the way we gathered the kids from the recesses of the house and came together in the living room. This family is blessed with a living space that can comfortably seat close to thirty people. Some of the folks sat on the floor while others took spots on chairs and couches. I got to sit between my wife and son. Our daughters were close by.

One man began by saying a prayer. We then spoke words of encouragement, read scripture, sang some songs (one man brought his guitar which was nice), spoke words about what God is doing in our lives, prayed some more, challenged one another, and asked questions of one another. We then turned to Revelation chapter 14 and studied it together (a couple of these families have been going through Revelation together for a while). As we studied it, we commented, asked questions, turned to other relevant passages, and discussed application.

After a while we all heard and felt our stomachs growling. This was a good sign to move the twenty feet to the kitchen. The moms went into food-prep-mode (which was quite impressive). We then joyfully partook of the Lord's Supper. We had bread, juice, and lots of other scrumptious food such as pot roast, chicken and cheese casserole, mashed potatoes, and garlic green beans. For dessert - apple crisp, brownies, and ice cream. I'm hungry right now thinking about it.

After the meal the kids scattered again. I went with a couple of other dads to sit back in the living room. We talked for a while abut family, jobs, and church. We encouraged one another with various struggles that we are having. Alice later told me that the ladies were doing much of the same. Interestingly, we didn't segregate by gender for any particular reason; it just sort of happened that way.

After much fellowship and food, we decided to leave for home at about 2:30. No one really wanted to go but we were getting tired. It was nice to be able to go home and rest for the remainder of the day.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Would Happen if Seminaries Began Teaching Biblical Ecclesiology?

I loved my four years at SEBTS. I learned a great deal and was deeply impacted by professors, fellow students, and other friends. Although the time at seminary was stressful, I have no regrets about those four years.

As I think back on the classes I took, there is one aspect that was lacking: an in-depth study of what the bible has to tell us about church life. The church was more assumed than examined. We touched on it in almost every course, but we never studied it in detail. Even in Systematic Theology we only spent a few weeks on the church.

The question I've been pondering lately is this: What would happen if seminaries began teaching biblical ecclesiolgy?

By biblical ecclesiology, I'm referring to what the bible teaches us about what the church is and how it should function in the world. I'm talking about detailed study of every aspect of church life.

I'm not naive enough to think that everyone would come to the same conclusions about what the scriptures say about the church. For example, two well-intentioned Christians could read the bible and come to differing conclusions about baptism, the Lord's Supper, fellowship, leadership, community, missions, giving, polity, gatherings, worship, edification, etc.

Despite these differences, it could only be healthy for everyone in seminary (and all Christians for that matter) to take a long, hard look at what the bible tells us. So, keeping all this in mind, what would happen is seminaries began teaching biblical ecclesiology? I can think of then things:

1. It would generate healthy discussion.

One problem with evangelical seminaries is that everyone agrees on almost all the important stuff. Therefore, conversations often focus on minor details that don't really matter. Concerning church, a big area of discussion is music style. Can't we do better than that by talking about issues of substance? A study of biblical ecclesiology would spur this on both in and out of the classroom.

2. It would teach that asking tough questions and challenging tradition are acceptable.

If we ignore important issues then we will simply do what we have always done. It is far too easy, especially in denominational seminaries, to go with the flow of thought and not ask why we believe what we believe about critical issues. Tradition carries the day when we simply assume truth. A biblical study of the church would force certain uncomfortable questions to be asked and answered. It would also put some aspects of tradition in danger.

3. It would lead to better biblical interpretation.

An in-depth analysis of the church would teach how to study the bible in general. Tough questions would be asked such as, "Is this merely descriptive or is it also prescriptive?" Another key question is, "Is this passage unique to that culture or should we be doing that as well?" These sorts of issues get at the heart of biblical interpretation. This, in turn, would increase the interpretation skills of those involved in the discussions.

4. It would lead to an increased emphasis on community, edification, participation, and unity.

A study of scripture shows the importance of community participation in church life. We also see edification as the primary reason for gatherings. Unity is stressed in all things. Despite this, these aspects of church life are not generally stressed at the seminary level. A study of biblical ecclesiology would force these issues to the forefront.

5. It would lead to a decreased emphasis on the pastor and preaching.

Much time is spent in seminary focusing on two things: the pastor and his preaching. A study of scripture shows us that no one man is the focus of anything (other than Christ). Therefore, at least some of the emphasis on the pastor could be dropped from the curriculum.

As we study scripture we also see that the preaching of sermons did not take place in the early church. Therefore, this could be de-emphasized. In its place, the public proclamation of the word in the marketplace could be stressed.

6. Because of numbers 4 and 5, it would lead to significant changes in the seminary curriculum.

Some classes would remain basically the same (such as the original languages and church history). However, many others would have to change if the seminary was going to take biblical ecclesiology seriously. Such classes would include Expository Preaching, Pastoral Ministry, Pastoral Care and Counseling, Systematic Theology, Administration and Education, Evangelism, and Missions.

7. It would cause denominational difficulty.

Seminaries that are owned by denominations are in a bit of a tough spot. If they teach biblical ecclesiology, they will necessarily challenge at least some of the structures, traditions, and functioning of that denomination. I can't see that going over very well. Will any leadership within the seminaries have the backbone to challenge the powers-that-be? I don't know. Most likely the non-denominational seminaries will have more freedom in this area.

8. It would lead to an increase in church planting.

Many who study scripture to see what it says about the church come to the conclusion that the traditional model of the church cannot function as the bible describes (count me in this group). Therefore, instead of trying to battle for change within the existing structure, they plant new churches after the biblical model. I'm all in favor of this. With our country becoming increasingly secular, most lost people have no desire to visit any sort of church building. However, they are much more likely to respond positively to friendship and an invitation to a home. Church planting also costs very little, making it much more effective for reaching the lost here and overseas.

9. It would lead to an increased zeal for sacrificial missions.

The bible shows us a church that sacrificed to get the gospel to the lost. Will we do the same? This is a challenge for all of us - including me. If we are to take the biblical model seriously, we will do whatever it takes to get the gospel to all parts of the globe. One encouraging thing is that new church plants require so little money that these churches should be able to give much more toward international missions.

10. It might lead to a decrease in seminary enrollment.

I don't know about this one. On the one hand, some people might look in the scriptures, see no seminaries, and conclude that they shouldn't attend. On the other hand, others might be attracted to a seminary that actually dares to ask hard questions and encourage biblical answers about church life. So few seminaries do this that if one did it might see an influx in certain types of students.

In the end it can only be a healthy thing for seminaries to teach biblical ecclesiology. Right now I know of none that do so. Of course they may in specific classes related to church planting, but I'm referring to teaching it as part of the general curriculum.

As I have said, those taking classes (in biblical ecclesiology) would undoubtedly come to differing conclusions about these issues. That's fine and probably healthy. At least the issues would be raised, thought through, discussed, and debated. People would know why they believe what they believe about the church.

Let's pray that God will bring about these changes in our seminaries.

Monday, December 20, 2010

One for the Big Guys

I love this. An offensive lineman almost scores a touchdown on a kickoff return. It's good to see a big guy run.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Blog Design

I've changed the look of the blog because I wanted to make the design more Christo-centric. As I was perusing the Blogger designs, I came across this one that looks remarkably like Lord's Supper elements. Although it does not show the rest of the feast, I believe it's still a reminder of what Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross. The bread is even Matzo and the cup appears to contain (gasp!) wine.

My hope is that when we glance upon the blog we will remember Christ's substitutionary work on the cross.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Preaching for Edification

II Timothy 3:16 - 4:2, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 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."

Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

The above familiar verses are interesting when we view them together.

In the II Timothy passage, Paul instructs Timothy about the inspiration and usefulness of the scriptures. The apostle continues by charging Timothy to preach (or proclaim) the word. We can see from these verses several specific uses for the preaching of the word: teaching, reproof, correction, training, rebuke, and exhortation.

We know that some type of false teaching was occurring in the church at Ephesus. This most likely led to unbiblical beliefs and practices. Timothy, whose specific role in the church at Ephesus is unclear, is commanded by Paul to preach the truth of the scriptures to the church. This is significant because it shows us preaching taking place within the context of the church. The goal of Timothy's proclaiming was the promotion of truth and correction of this false teaching.

As we read this passage we must be careful about what we know and don't know. We know that Timothy was to preach to the church. We do not know that he was a pastor or that he preached sermons to the church body as a whole (I mention these here because I've heard them many times before).

Paul obviously hoped that Timothy would preach the truth in Ephesus and that the people would embrace this by following the truth and changing whatever needed to be changed in terms of both what they believed and how they lived.

Keeping all that in mind, we turn to Ephesians 4:29. We see that all our speech is to be for the building up. Especially in the context of the church, our words are to be filled with grace in order to help others mature in Christ. This was essentially what Paul was telling Timothy to do. Paul desired that Timothy's preaching would counteract the false teaching in Ephesus and build up the church in Christ Jesus.

How does all this apply to us today? As we speak to others within the church, our goal should always (in one way or another) be their edification. Our hope should also be that we will be edified.

One way we can edify others is by preaching the word to them. We need to "think outside the pulpit" in discussing this form of preaching. Simply put, we can powerfully edify others by preaching to them. This can take the forms of teaching, reproof, correction, training, rebuking, and exhorting. All these build others up in the faith.

I believe that God desires that we all preach to one another on a regular basis. The foundation and content of this proclaiming should be the word. I think we've all experienced the power of the spoken word from other Christians. We all have the joyful responsibility of preaching this word to one another in order to bring about mutual edification.

In light of all this, as Christ-followers we are all preachers. Let's all preach the truth to one another.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More of God's Providence

It's fascinating how God showers us with His providential care each day. I realized this again yesterday as I was riding around in a UPS package car.

Thursday was my second day working as a UPS "Driver Helper." I enjoyed my time with the first driver on Wednesday but was switched to a different driver for the second day. As I began to talk with this second driver, it became clear that he is a Christian. Not only that, he is a solid Christian who enjoys talking about the things of God.

When you work in a package car with someone there is quite a bit of time to talk between stops. This gave Neal (his name) and me several hours to talk about who God is, how wonderful He is, and what He is doing in our lives. As we discussed theology, I discovered that Neal is Reformed. This led to great discussions of God's sovereignty and providence. We also talked about many good authors past and present such as Augustine, Edwards, Packer, Sproul, Piper, etc.

At some point I asked what church family Neal is a part of. I'm always concerned about the answer because it tells a lot about what the person probably believes about the gospel. I was relieved and happy to find out that Neal is a part of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah. IPC is a biblically-sound church with a very high view of the majesty and sovereignty of God.

Since IPC follows a traditional church model, there are obviously aspects of church life where Neal and I most likely differ in opinion. I didn't see the point in pursuing that line of conversation yesterday. I did, however, explain to him my current situation. Instead of condemning the traditional church model, I simply told him that for reasons of conscience I needed to leave my pastoral position, get into the regular workforce, and begin gathering with other believers in our home as we see in scripture.

Neal and I were also able to share real prayer requests with one another. He has his struggles as I have mine. This went far beyond "Please pray for the missionaries" to real life issues.

The best part in all this is that we were able to build one another up in Christ. I'm reminded that edification takes place not just when the church gathers for a scheduled meeting, but at all times in all places. Ephesians 4:29 comes to mind, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

In a few hours I will get back in the package car for another round of deliveries. Neal and I will be together again today. I'm not sure what will happen, but I do know who the main topic of our conversation will be: our glorious Lord Jesus. Praise God for His providence!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

UPS and Daycare

A short employment update:

I'm currently working two part-time jobs. For the next week or so I'm working at UPS as a "Driver Helper." That basically means that I take packages from the little brown truck to your door.

I'm also continuing to do janitorial work at a daycare in the evenings.

Neither of these positions is glamorous by the world's standards, but I'm thankful to the Lord for them. Neither pays very much, so I'm still looking for a more stable position.

I appreciate your prayer about this. I know that I did the right thing in resigning from my salaried pastoral position (I'm not saying that all pastors must do this; rather, as a matter of conscience I had to). I also know that God provides and expects me to work.

Please pray for patience and faith on my part. Please pray for my family.

Please pray that God will provide in His perfect timing.

Thank you.

BTW - my blogging frequency will likely drop over the next few weeks because of these two jobs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Caution to My Reformed Brothers

I'm writing this post specifically to those Christians who are Reformed regarding salvation. I'm writing as a Reformed Christian to other Reformed Christians.

Here's my simple caution: we need to be careful. Specifically, we need to be careful that we don't confuse reading lots of books with living lives that please God.

These two things are quite obviously not mutually exclusive. However, we make a huge mistake if we confuse the two. And if you read many of the Reformed blogs and websites, you might think that the most important part of the Christian life is which Puritan from the 1600's you are currently reading.

The interesting thing about all this is that the prominent leaders of the Reformed movement (such as John Piper, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul) don't seem to be confused about this. They write many books and I'm sure read a lot, but when you hear them speak their focus is always who Jesus is, what He has done, and what we should do in response.

The problem lies more with those who have become Reformed within the last ten years or so. I'm in this group, so this caution applies to me as well. We all know that many good books have been written over the past 500 years or so. We may be thrilled to be almost finished reading Calvin's Institutes. We may think Jonathan Edwards was the most brilliant man ever. We may even dare to try to read some of John Owen.

What is our primary emphasis? Christianity is not an intellectual enterprise where the person with the most knowledge is the most holy.

What does Jesus care about? It's interesting in reading through the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus cares most about our attitudes and resulting actions. He says little about head knowledge.

Let's just be careful. Reading books is great as long as it's a means to an end. That end should be our sanctification that leads to God's glorification. If we become prideful about what we read, then the action of reading leads to the exact opposite of what the authors intended.

Three Questions for Atheistic Evolutionists

I realize that not many atheistic evolutionists read this blog. Despite this, I still want to ask a few questions. In doing this, I'm differentiating between atheistic evolutionists and theistic evolutionists. Although I strongly disagree with theistic evolution, I also believe that a person can be a theist (and even a Christian) and hold this position.

Now to the three questions. These are, I believe, fair questions that need to be answered by atheistic evolutionists. Frankly, I'm curious. So here they are:

1. Does your life have meaning?

2. If you answered "Yes" to question number one, why?

3. If you answered question number two with something like, "Because I give it meaning," would you please elaborate on that?

I'm asking these questions because atheistic evolutionists are becoming an increasingly loud minority voice in our society (especially on secular university campuses). If people are going to hold this position, then they need to answer some significant philosophical questions.

It strikes me that the logical outcome of holding an atheistic evolutionary position is one of utter despair. If life began as a cosmic mistake, and we are simply part of that, then that means that my life personally is a mistake. Therefore, it holds no inherent meaning. If life has no meaning, then what is there to live for?

Monday, December 13, 2010

With My Family With My Church Family

Although the title of this post is a little awkward, it is also accurate.

Now that we gather and fellowship with other believers in our home, something amazing has happened: I actually get to be with my family (Alice, Caroline, Mary, and Bobby) while I meet with my church family. For as long as I can remember we have been separated for one reason or another during church gatherings. When I served as a paid pastor, the situation was at its worst. On Sundays I was so busy that I hardly saw my family at all. This was one of the big factors in my resignation.

During our home gatherings everyone is together. As we sing, pray, talk, etc., I'm not only in my family's presence, but I also get to talk with them, hear from them, learn from them, and be encouraged by them. Kids really do have a lot of great things to say and do. Too often we act as if spiritual gifts "kick in" when a person reaches the teen years or later. Scripture never teaches or even implies this. For the church to be healthy, all its members need to use their gifts for the good of the entire body. This should occur both during and outside of gatherings.

Not only do I want to be with my entire family, at a spiritual level I need to be with them. We build one another up in Christ as we see described in Ephesians chapter 4. It is exciting to hear either Alice or one of our children point out something significant from scripture, tell what the Lord has done in their lives this week, or speak a word of encouragement. And what better way could there be for me to disciple them than by doing so right there in the gathering?

When we look in scripture we never see age segregation of any type when it comes to church gatherings. Instead, everyone was together. This was more than simply a cultural decision. It allows for all of the church to minister to all the church. It also gives the more spiritually mature ample time to disciple (and be discipled by) those less mature.

On top of all this, the children can watch the adults as we interact with one another. Through this, they learn what it is like to be an active participant in church life. This extends beyond structured meetings to all of life.

I love to be with my family. I love to be with my church family. Now I get to do both at the same time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something to Think About

Here's something to think about:

Most church families in our country will gather together sometime today or tomorrow. As this happens, the high point for most will be the worship service. The high point of the worship service will be the sermon. If you doubt that this is the case, just ask most of the people present.

There are two troublesome aspects to this. First, scripted worship services are completely foreign to the New Testament church. Second, the preaching of sermons to saved people is completely foreign to the New Testament church.

This is extremely significant. This means that what occurs during the spiritual high point of the week for most Christians is something that we don't see anywhere in the bible.

Please let me point this out in a different way (and forgive the redundancy). Christians believe in, trust, and love the triune God who has revealed Himself in the bible. As His church, we come together as saved people because of what He has done for us and continues to do for us. We know these things because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the truths of scripture. In the bible, we see all sorts of expectations that God has for His church. We even learn about what God desires from church gatherings.

There is a significant problem, then, when the main gathering of the church and the high point of that gathering are not found anywhere in the bible itself. This is mind-boggling to me. It is stunning.

Scripted worship services cannot be found anywhere in the NT.

Preaching of sermons to the church cannot be found anywhere in the NT.

As we know, most churches that meet tomorrow will nevertheless take part in both of the above.

Is there a better way? Yes there is. The bible itself shows us. The scriptures describe for us church gatherings that are unscripted, free-flowing, and expect and encourage group participation. There may be teaching of scripture, but there is no preaching of sermons (everywhere we see preaching of sermons in the NT it is to lost people). Everyone is invited to use his/her spiritual gifts for the mutual edification of the body.

So I have to respectfully ask, if you are planning to take part in a scripted worship service this week, why?

If you are going to listen to a preached sermon, why?

I encourage you to look to the scriptures to inform your church gatherings. We all, including myself, fall short of the biblical ideal for gatherings. For example, my speech, attitudes, and actions during gatherings are not as Christlike as the bible expects. My hope is that this improves as I walk the path of sanctification.

We all have areas where we can grow in godliness in our lives. How do we know what we should look like? The only place of authority in this must be the scriptures. We must strive to become more biblical people.

Let's all ask how our lives must change in order to come more fully in line with what God has for us and expects from us. This applies to us individually and as church families. As we gather tomorrow, will our meetings look like what we see in the bible, or will they be dominated by man-made traditions? We should at least be willing (and brave enough) to ask the question and see where this leads.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Not So Fun Fundamentalism

Have you ever wondered what it is like growing up in a fundamental, Independent Baptist Church? If you read Churched (WaterBrook Press, 2008) by Matthew Paul Turner, you'll get your answer.

Turner recounts many humorous incidents throughout his growing up years in Eastern Maryland. Most of the episodes focus on his time in the culture of fundamentalism. The themes focus on the traditional, outward acts that many fundamentalists confuse with true piety. Turner recounts many situations where he did not understand the reason behind specific behaviors and teachings, but instead simply focused on the outward acts (like repeatedly "asking Jesus into my heart" just in case).

Hell is a big theme in the book. One of my favorite passages tells of a Sunday School teacher burning a Barbie Doll's feet in order to show what Hell is like. As the Sunday School room filled with toxic smoke, all the kids scrambled out of the room.

Another favorite comes from part of a single sentence. Turner writes on page 149, "When Mrs. Snover (another Sunday School teacher) finished teaching us about Jesus' miracle of turning water into Welch's grape juice..." Priceless.

Although the book is a quick and funny read, it is also serious and somewhat sad in its message. As I was reading along, the thought struck me that Jesus was hardly mentioned in the book at all. I found out why toward the conclusion. Turner writes on page 213, "Fundamentalism has little to do with Jesus." This is the crux of the book. Turner's stories show that fundamentalism focuses on outward acts of separation from the world that give a message of works-based righteousness.

The only problem I had with Churched was that Turner lumps some things in with fundamentalism that do not belong. An example of this is the infallibility if scripture.

In the end, this book is a good read. Not only is it enjoyable and well-written, but it acts as a good warning to all of us to watch out for falling into the trap of works-based righteousness.

While fundamentalism has little to do with Jesus, biblical Christianity is all about Him.

(I received this book for free through the WaterBrook/Multnomah Blogging for Books program.)

A Few Important Conclusions

Most of my writing on this blog is based on a few important conclusions that are directly related to the bible. After reading the scriptures, I've concluded (as have many of you) that the bible is inspired by God, truthful, authoritative, and inerrant. I believe these conclusions are a gift from the Holy Spirit as opposed to any brilliance on my part.

Keeping the above in mind, I've come to a few other related conclusions:

1) The bible is sufficient.

The issue of sufficiency is one that has become a battleground over the past 15 years or so. Among those who believe the bible is true and authoritative, there remains a debate about the sufficiency of the scriptures. In a broad sense, this issue comes down to whether or not the bible gives us all we need to know. I believe it does.

This obviously does not apply to all details of life. For example, the bible does not tell us that we should root for the Georgia Bulldogs instead of the Auburn Tigers (although this would be a good idea). Instead, the bible gives us all the information we need about areas of importance.

2) The bible is sufficient for all of the Christian life.

Closely related to the first conclusion (but a little more specific) is the idea that the bible is sufficient for all aspects of the Christian life. The idea is that the scriptures provide for us all we need to know to be right with God and live lives that please Him. We don't need anything else than the scriptures to understand both salvation and sanctification.

3) The bible is sufficient for all of church life.

This conclusion is again a little more specific than the one that comes before it. When we are saved, we immediately become part of the church. For the remainder of our lives, we walk the path of sanctification as part of the church. In doing so, we grow in Christ and help others to grow in Christ.

I've come to the conclusion over the past year or so that the bible is fully sufficient for all of church life. In other words, the scriptures tell us all we need to know to function as the church in a manner that pleases God.

This particular assumption is based on a few things: God's consistency, God's clarity, and God's love. First, God told Israel in the OT exactly what He expected of them and how they were to function. He does the same with His church in the NT. Second, God is clear in His word in what He expects of us. In reading the bible, we don't get the sense that He has left out anything important. Third, God is loving. He tells His covenant people His expectations so that we can please Him and not fall under His wrath.

Since the bible is sufficient for the life of the church, this means that all we have to do is look in its pages to see how we are to function. It tells us all we need to know. This is exciting. As we read in particular through the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles we see the church in action. We see what they did correctly and what they needed to change. Acts, I Corinthians, and Ephesians are absolute goldmines of information about what the church is and what it should look like.

If we have questions about church life, we can simply look to the bible to answer them. I've been amazed to see that the scriptures tell us everything we need to know. We don't need to add to the bible or take away from it. If we find ourselves asking significant questions that the bible doesn't answer, then we should probably step back and see if we have failed to ask more fundamental questions in the first place.

If we come to the conclusion that the bible is in fact sufficient for church life, this will automatically lead to some revolutionary thoughts about Christ's church. You may see different things than I do, but one thing is for sure: what we see will all actually be contained in the bible.

If we submit to this sufficiency, it will probably cause us to ask some very hard questions about how we live our lives individually and as part of the church. It may make us ask questions as to why we do what we do. We will most likely see some practices within our local church body that are blatantly absent from the bible.

If the bible is sufficient, then we all have some decisions to make.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You Write the Caption

I stumbled across this photo today. There are so many things I could say. Rather than that, why don't you write the caption instead?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Leader" or "Leaders"?

Several weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine who has been a salaried pastor for a several years. Please let me say at the beginning of this post that this man has faithfully given of himself as he has served the church through good times and bad. My intention is not to say anything negative about him. Rather, I simply want to point out two different ways of thinking about leadership within the church.

We were talking about my resignation from the professional pastorate. The two of us (obviously) have different opinions on this issue. As we were talking, the subject turned to leadership within the church. After a few minutes, I realized that we were saying two very different things. While my friend repeatedly used the term "leader," I kept saying "leaders." This may at first seem like a small difference, but in reality it is a large one.

I know that my friend believes in strong pastoral leadership. In particular, the "senior pastor" must lead the church as it strives to follow Christ. Therefore, when he says "leader," he is referring to the senior pastor. I, on the other hand, was saying "leaders" because I was envisioning people within the church (both elders and non-elders) who lead through servanthood and holiness of living. They lead by example.

The conversation was pleasant enough, but I'm not sure that it accomplished much. Since our views of church and the pastorate are so different, it was almost as if we were speaking two completely different languages.

The more I ponder this conversation, the more I see what the confusion was. We were thinking of leadership in terms of how we think of the church. If the church is what the bible describes plus additions such as the big building, the programs, the budgets, etc., then leadership almost has to come in the form of one strong senior pastor. Someone has to be in place to keep track of all of the stuff that the scriptures do not talk about.

However, if church is what the bible describes and no more, then leadership can fall into the hands of multiple people. In fact, each person in the body can show leadership in his or her particular areas of giftedness. The elders should primarily display leadership through being sacrificial examples of servanthood to the body. No one man is needed to take care of all the extra stuff.

How we view leadership in the church necessarily stems from how we view the church itself.

In the end, the church does have one man as senior pastor. This is always the same man. His name is Jesus Christ. No one else need apply. The rest of us instead have the joy of together leading as servants under the benevolent rule of Christ.

Varanasi Hit Again

In 2006-2007, our family had the opportunity to serve the Lord for several months in the city of Varanasi, India. Varanasi is considered to be the holiest city in all of Hinduism. Even if you have never heard of it, you've probably seen photos of people walking down large stone steps to bathe in the Ganges River at Varanasi.

Because of its religious significance, Varanasi is occasionally the target of terrorist attacks. According to news reports, a bomb detonated today at one of the busiest locations along the river. At least one person has died and about 20 are injured. Read more about it here and here.

Above all else, the city of Varanasi needs prayer for spiritual awakening to the glorious grace of Jesus Christ. Although some Indian Christians live in Varansi, it is Hinduism that dominates all of life there. Muslims make up a significant minority.

Please pray for the people of this city.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Freedom and Restriction in Discussion

We met yesterday in our home with a couple of other families. We discussed scripture together, sang songs together, prayed together, encouraged one another, and challenged one another. After an hour or so in the living room, we all moved into the kitchen to celebrate the Lord's Supper. We partook of it as a full meal, remembering what Christ has done for us. As we ate, we continued to discuss a wide range of topics.

As I think back on yesterday's gathering, one aspect that strikes me was the freedom we all had in our discussions. Everyone was allowed to speak. No one was limited by age, education, position, status, occupation, knowledge, or even time. No one person was in any way elevated above anyone else. We were all free to build up the body through our words.

As we began, I turned to I Cor. 14:26 to make the point that all things needed to be said for the purposes of the building up of the body. This was the overriding principle for speech: everything said was to be done for edification.

This provided us all with a freedom that was exhilarating. Right there in the middle of the church gathering we could say anything the Holy Spirit had led us to say - as long as it built up others. This restriction has a scintillating effect: it causes those speaking to always look to the good of others instead of themselves.

Freedom in speech forces people to come out of their comfort zones. Those who would talk a lot (like me) need to learn to talk less. Those who are naturally shyer need to try to speak up. This freedom carries a responsibility to be actively involved. The body needs each member to contribute. I suppose this is why Paul says in 14:26 that "each has a hymn..."

So there is freedom and there isn't. There isn't in that we are not allowed to say just whatever might pop into our heads. This would probably lead to self-centeredness, blabbing, or chaos. We must only speak what will build up others. On the other hand, there are no man-made restrictions placed on speaking; each one is free to speak at any time. No one person or small group of people does most of the talking.

I noticed something else related to all this. During the discussion, we all had to exercise self-control. Or, better yet, Spirit-control. We all know that impulsivity of speech can lead to big problems in life. This is certainly true in church fellowships. Therefore, we must continually ask ourselves what the motives are behind whatever comes out of our mouths.

For our family the learning experience continues. I love to speak during gatherings, but even more I love to hear others speak. It is wonderful to mutually build one another up through words of grace proclaimed in the gathering.

I'm happy for freedom to speak. I'm happy for freedom to listen.

I'm happy for restriction for the purposes of edification.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Acts 20:7 Gatherings

Acts 20: 7 says, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight." Read the entire passage here.

The context is Paul's third missionary journey. Luke is with Paul (notice the word "we"), as are several others who assist Paul. They have arrived at Troas. Acts 20:7 and following describe what happens at a church gathering.

As we read 20:7-11, we see three aspects of the meeting that stand out. I'm not talking about the miraculous healing, but rather three characteristics of the gathering that would have been repeated when the church got together. First, they met on Sunday. Second, they gathered together to break bread. Third, they spent significant time talking with each other.

Since Paul was present, we can safely surmise that he gave approval to this church gathering. Since this is the case, it makes sense that our gatherings today should closely follow this model. But do they?

First, the church in Troas gathered on Sunday. Most churches in the USA still gather on this day. Does this hold much theological significance? I would say no. Certainly Jesus' rising from the dead on Sunday is important, but to say that a church gathering must occur on this day of the week seems rather silly to me. Despite this, most churches assemble this day.

Second, the church in Troas broke bread together. But notice something significant; this appears to have been the purpose of their gathering. The text says, "when we gathered together to break bread." The best assumption is that this describes the celebration of the Lord's Supper, which would have been a full meal. Does the meal have theological significance? It certainly does since we are commanded to celebrate it. It is a tangible reminder to us of Christ's death, resurrection, and promise to return. Despite this significance, most churches celebrate the Lord's Supper relatively infrequently.

Third, Paul talked with them long into the night. Luke uses a word that tells us that Paul talked, discussed, had a conversation with them (he did not "preach" to them. The KJV got that translation incorrect). In fact, the word Luke uses for what Paul did is closely related to our English word for "dialog." Take note that Acts 20:11 tells us, "And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed." Part of the reason he spent so much time with them most likely had to do with the fact that he wasn't in Troas very often. However, we still see that this church spent significant time conversing. Their gathering was one of multiple-direction conversation. Is this theologically significant? The simple answer: Yes! What might the people have said? Hebrews 10:24-25 provides us with a clue, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

In light of what we see of the church gathering in Troas, of which the Apostle Paul was a part, we should ask ourselves if our gatherings measure up. Do we look like them?

-Do we meet on Sunday? Frankly, this probably isn't that important as long as we are gathering regularly some time. Interestingly, this is the one aspect of the Troas gathering that most of today's churches emulate.

-Do we meet together to break bread? In other words, do we come together to eat, celebrating the Lord's Supper? This is certainly significant theologically. It is also an act of obedience. Let's celebrate this full meal together as a joyful occasion.

-Do we spend time talking, conversing, engaging in dialog with one another? This is extremely important. It is how we stir up one another to love and good works. We should ask if our gatherings provide us with ample opportunity to speak in a relaxed setting with one another. If not, then why not?

Let's let the bible inform all we do. This short passage tells us much about church gatherings. We would benefit a great deal from reading it and learning from it. May we strive to be a part of church gatherings that look like what we see in scripture.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Elders in I Timothy 5:17-21

Here we go. This is the final post in this series looking at elders/overseers/pastors. First the text:

I Timothy 5:17-21, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.' 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality."

This passage applies directly to elders so we can safely draw some conclusions.

What can we learn? The answer is quite a lot.

1. Elders are multiple.

2. Elders rule.

We must be careful with the term "rule." In the scriptures we never see elders who rule in the sense of what a king or dictator does. In fact, within the church we don't see anyone with any sort of power over anyone else. In 5:17, Paul is emphasizing the tasks of coming alongside, giving aid, caring for, helping, etc.

3. Elders who rule well should be considered worthy of double honor - especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

This one is loaded. Toward the end of this post I'm going to talk about what I believe "double honor" means. Let me now address "preaching and teaching." The original language says "word and doctrine." We must be careful not to read modern ideas back into the text. We simply see that these elders worked hard in teaching of the scriptures. We do not know the context, although church gatherings do make sense. Beyond this, we must not guess.

4. Two or three witnesses are required to admit a charge against an elder.

5. Elders who persist in sin must be rebuked in front of the church. This occurs as a warning to the others.

Let's return to the term "double honor." This is a significant phrase because it is the primary text used to support the idea that pastoral salaries are biblical. But is that what Paul is talking about? Let's see.

How can we know what "double honor" means? We must look at the specific words used in the immediate context and the broader context.

Paul says that some elders are worthy of "double honor." Interestingly, he then gives two examples of labor that is rewarded with what it deserves. A working ox deserves grain and a laborer deserves wages. Paul is showing that certain actions should lead to certain responses from others. Please notice that Paul does not say that elders are worthy of "double wages." The apostle could have used the specific word for "wages," but he chose not to. Instead, he used "double honor." This suggests that double honor is different from wages.

We can also look to how Paul used the term "honor" in two other places of close proximity within this very book. In I Timothy 5:3, Paul writes, "Honor widows who are truly widows." This is exactly the same Greek word for honor that he uses in 5:17.

What is Paul talking about? He is discussing how the church should care for widows who meet certain standards. It seems clear that Paul is talking about gifts, including financial ones. However, Paul is in no way suggesting that the church should pay regular salaries to widows.

The other occasion of the word "honor" comes in I Timothy 6:1. In this verse, Paul writes, "Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled." We clearly see that slaves are supposed to show honor (same word again) to their masters. What does this mean? It means respect. It certainly doesn't imply anything financial. Since when have slaves had to pay salaries to their masters?

We can learn more about the probable meaning of "double honor" by looking at the immediate context of the passage. I Timothy 5:19-22 deals with the issue of respect that should be shown to elders. If "double honor" means respect in 5:17, then the passage flows nicely in context. However, if "double honor" focuses on finances (or especially salaries), then there is a sharp and awkward change of emphasis between verses 18 and 19. Because of this, the context suggests that "double honor" refers to respect.

So what does all this mean? What can we conclude about "double honor"? I believe this phrase in 5:17 is primarily speaking about the church showing respect to the elders who labor in teaching the scriptures. Secondarily, it leaves open the idea of financial gifts from folks within the church. On the other hand, it does not suggest or imply that churches paid regular salaries to elders.

All the evidence points to these conclusions: Paul does not use the term "wages." Instead he uses "double honor." Paul writes the term "honor" two other times in close proximity. Neither of these suggest salaries. The widows passage does leave open the option of giving financial gifts. Finally, the context of the passage itself speaks of respect.

Therefore, let us show respect to elders within the body. Let us especially show respect to those who labor in teaching the scriptures.

Interestingly, the scriptures as a whole indicate that we should show respect to all people, both inside and outside the church. Also, all Christians ought to labor in studying the scriptures. Let us strive to teach the bible to others, both in what we say and in how we live.

Midlife Crisis?

Let's see: I just turned 40 years old, my hair is "thinning," weight is getting increasingly more difficult to lose, and I quit my job last month. That sounds like a recipe for a midlife crisis.

A few days ago one of my kids playfully asked me if I had ever had a midlife crisis. I responded, "I'm having one now." The reality is, however, that this is nothing of the sort.

The whole idea of the "midlife crisis" is simply a way of our society trying to explain away self-centered people (usually men) who run away from their responsibilities to pursue pleasure of various sorts. It's not any kind of legitimate mental problem; rather, it's selfishness.

My hope is that my current situation is nothing like what I've described above. I can't control my age or my balding. I'm working on the weight - inconsistently. As for the job, I resigned for reasons of conviction. I've explained that numerous times on this blog (such as here).

So is it a crisis? No. God is in control and will provide.

I'm not running away from my family or moving to Hawaii. Rather, I'm trying to serve God by living church life as we see it described in the bible.

My not being employed would be a crisis if God did not exist, was not loving, was not omnipotent, or was not faithful. He is all of these.

It's no crisis.

Starting Point for the Christian Worldview

Albert Mohler has written an excellent post entitled The Knowledge of the Self-Revealing God: Starting Point for the Christian Worldview. I encourage you to read it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Think He Thinks I'm An Alien

Last night I met a man who probably thinks I'm an alien.

I was mopping when the owner of the daycare came by (we had never met; I'm employed by a cleaning company that contracts with the daycare). I was introduced to him by another worker as, "the preacher man." When I heard this, I purposely glanced behind myself as if to look for anyone else who could be a "preacher man." The owner then said not to be ashamed and to preach if God has called me to it (he does appear to be a Christian). I then said that all Christians should proclaim the gospel of Christ. He proceeded to give me a blank look. I could tell this conversation probably wasn't going to go anywhere profitable. He was beginning to think I'm an alien.

The daycare owner then asked if I'm Baptist, Methodist, etc. Sigh. I told him simply that I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. He responded, "Ahh. Non-denominational." Upon hearing that, I said that denominations can't be found anywhere in the bible. He gave me another blank look. This was further conformation to him that I'm an alien.

A couple minutes later has was talking with the worker who had introduced us. The owner was saying something about how having a lot of kids was too much work (ironic since he owns a daycare). Keep in mind that the other worker has five kids and I have three. When he pointed this out to the owner, the owner acted like we were both crazy. I guess he thinks even three kids are a lot these days. I responded to all this by saying that kids are a gift from the Lord. That statement went nowhere. Instead, the owner just looked at me. He was now convinced beyond a doubt that an alien is cleaning his daycare each night.

As I thought about this, I began to realize that although we both claim to be Christians, the daycare owner has a very different worldview than I do - at least as far as church and family are concerned. He believes in the popular "preacher man" view of the pastor. I clearly do not. He seems to support the existence of denominations. I do not. He thinks more than two kids equals a burden. I do not.

If I had known him better, I'd like to have asked him to support anything he said with scripture. Of course, he would not have been able to do so. His worldview, as is so often the case, is based on cultural norms instead of scripture.

What does the bible say about these things?

The bible tells us that all Christians are responsible to proclaim/preach the gospel. The bible also shows this proclaiming happening in the presence of non-Christians. We never see anyone preaching to the church during a gathering.

As for denominations, the bible does not mention them. Instead, the emphasis is upon unity in the church. All followers of Christ are to be one in Him. Division amongst believers is never portrayed as positive in scripture.

Finally, the bible tells us that children are a gift of God. He is the giver of life. The man with many children is seen as blessed. Children are never described as any sort of burden in the bible.

What should I now do? First, I hope to get to know this man better. If he is a Christian, I'd like to encourage him. I'd also like to eventually challenge some of his beliefs mentioned above.

Also, this experience was a good warning to me. It is so easy to simply adopt cultural values about all sorts of things instead of asking what the bible says about them. We can claim to have a biblical worldview, but in order to do this we must ask questions and seek answers through the pages of the bible. Instead of being prideful, my hope is that this man's views will challenge me to take a hard look at what I believe about a whole range of things.

Is what I believe actually biblical? And, is how I act actually biblical? Instead of falling into pride when seeing others' faults, we should be warned to look closely for our own. I hope I have the chutzpah to do so.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Elders in I Timothy 4:14 and James 5:14

Now for the next installment of my protracted look at elders/pastors/overseers in the New Testament. This will be a relatively short post as we examine I Timothy 4:14 and James 5:14. Both of these verses use the term "elders."

To sum up: we don't learn very much about elders in these verses because they are not the primary focus.

In I Timothy 4, Paul is exhorting Timothy to teach sound doctrine and set an example of godliness in the church at Ephesus. Paul writes in I Timothy 4:14, "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you."

Paul is commanding Timothy to not ignore the gift for ministry that God has given to him. This probably had something to do with teaching. Regardless, for the purposes of this post we see that this gift was given by prophecy and recognized by the church as the elders laid hands on Timothy.

What can we learn about elders from this passage? We see that they were important to the life of the church and that they were actively involved. That's about it.

What about James 5:14? James instructs, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord."

This is a somewhat difficult passage to interpret. I'm not going to get into all that now.

What can we learn about elders? I think it is again clear that elders have an important role within the church. This role is a spiritual one - they are called to pray over him and anoint him with oil. Again, the information is sparse.

Complicating all this is an issue that is difficult in many of the passages using the word "elders." The author could be referring to men appointed to a certain role (see here) or the author could be writing about older men within the church body. Not surprisingly, there is likely much overlap between these two groups.

Although the above verses are important, we are limited in what we can learn about elders. As we have seen before, elders are important and active in the life of the church. Their ministry is a spiritual one.

As we have seen in other passages, non-elders within the church seem to be free to do all the same tasks as elders. They would certainly pray for healing.

In the end, we don't learn much - mainly because the focus of the writing is other things.

I have one passage to go in this series - one that deals specifically with elders. It is one that tells us much and is hotly debated. I'll throw my voice into the ring soon as I tackle I Timothy 5:17-18. Yikes!

Creation, Resurrection, Evolution, and Biblical Interpretation

I've heard a number of Christians say that it doesn't really matter how we interpret Genesis chapters 1-2 as long as we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. While I agree that salvation does not directly depend on what we believe about the first two chapters of the bible, I profoundly disagree with the idea that "it doesn't really matter." It matters a great deal because it tells a lot about how we interpret scripture, what our ultimate authority is, and whether or not we are being consistent in how we read the bible.

A simple reading of Genesis 1-2 suggests a literal six day, 24 hour creation. If we hold to the bible as our final authority, then we will come to this conclusion. Since I believe all of the bible is true, I am a young earth creationist.

Christians who are theistic evolutionists may say that they believe the bible is true. However, they look to secular science as their authority on how the universe came to be as it is. Therefore, they believe that God used some form of evolution to bring about His creation. This conclusion cannot come from scripture. Genesis 1-2 does not even hint at this. Therefore, theistic evolutionists force scripture to fit into what secular science says.

We see, then, a significant difference. When it comes to how things are, creationists look to the bible as their final authority while theistic evolutionists look to secular science.

Let's now turn to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a core doctrine of our faith. If you reject the truth of the resurrection, then quite simply you are not a follower of Jesus Christ.

Creationists, like myself, read in the bible that Jesus rose from the dead. The bible says it and I believe it. Despite the fact that secular science rejects the idea that a dead man can rise from the dead three days later, I still believe it is true. This is a literal interpretation of scripture. This view believes the bible is the final authority.

This is where theistic evolutionists who claim to be Christians have a significant problem. By embracing evolution, they have shown that secular science is their final authority. Therefore, the bible is not. Secular science rejects the resurrection. The bible proclaims it. Which will they choose?

Christian theistic evolutionists obviously agree with the resurrection of Christ. By definition they have to. In doing this, they claim that biblical truth supersedes secular scientific theory on this issue. The clear problem is this: theistic evolutionists are completely inconsistent in what their final authority is.

On the issue of creation, they reject the bible in favor of secular science (they would not say this, but listening to them force scripture to say things it doesn't further proves the point). On the issue of the resurrection of Christ, they reject secular science in favor of what the bible teaches.

As the saying goes, "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." Theistic evolutionists cannot fairly claim different sources of authority. Either the bible is true in all aspects or it should be rejected.

When we look at the issue this way, we see how clear it becomes. The position of theistic evolution is one that all Christians must reject. Even many ardent atheistic evolutionists despise the theory of theistic evolution because of its inconsistency. At a basic intellectual level, it is an embarrassing position to hold.

We must be consistent with what we believe is true and why we believe it. The resurrection of Jesus matters, but so does the account of how the world began. How life began is absolutely critical. It is one of the most fundamental questions we can ask and answer. To reject the bible's answer to one of these questions but then embrace the bible's answer to the other is inconsistent and dangerous.

If we are to be consistent in how we read and interpret the scriptures, the only fair conclusion we can come to about creation is that God did it in six 24 hour days, just like it says in Genesis 1-2.