Friday, June 29, 2012

My Ten Favorite Blogs 2.0 (1 and 2)

And the top two blogs are:

2. The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia

Sometimes I think Arthur Sido and I were separated at birth. We agree on so many things it almost seems odd (his favorite sports teams are lacking, but no one is perfect). Regarding the church, Arthur and I have been on similar journeys. Basically, we've both read the bible, noticed inconsistencies in the church, seen that the church can be so much more than we had been a part of, and ventured into organic/simple/house church life.

That all said, I don't read Arthur's blog because he agrees with me on many things. That would be boring. Instead, I read it because Arthur is willing to take on any issue and "call a spade a spade." Arthur writes in a somewhat confrontational manner, pointing out institutional problems, abuses, and nonsensical traditions.

Arthur doesn't talk about only negatives. He does a good job of offering solutions. I appreciate a great deal both his interest in the Anabaptists and his desire for unity within the church.

Additionally, Arthur comes out of an LDS background; this gives him much wisdom in discerning and analyzing theological problems both inside and outside the church.

Read and enjoy.

1. The Assembling of the Church

Alan Knox and I first met about ten years ago when we were new students together at SEBTS. A few years later we were together at the planting of Messiah Baptist Church. We graduated together in 2006 with Masters degrees. Over this past decade I've watched Alan's views on the church change a great deal. I've also watched my own change. I'm just usually a few steps behind him.

Alan has a manner of blogging in which he writes about important topics, raises key questions, and generates much discussion. He manages to do this while at the same time being consistently gracious and not seeming to offend anyone. This is quite a skill when bringing up all sorts of church issues that usually cause folks to get upset easily.

Alan's writing has been immense. In the time that he has been blogging, he's covered almost every important issue related to church life. This is impressive considering that he has been working full-time and studying for his PhD.

When Alan began blogging, some of what he wrote bothered me. Some of it still does. However, I usually end up agreeing with him over time. This is not his intent; rather, he's just trying to be biblical. As I read scripture, I often end up coming to the same conclusions that Alan already has.

My views on the church have been deeply impacted by Alan over the years. I look forward to reading more in the years to come.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Ten Favorite Blogs 2.0 (3 and 4)

4. Simply Church

Felicity Dale writes about simple/organic church in a humble and wise manner. Calling upon years of experience in simple church planting and discipling, her blog focus is the positives that come from this sort of church life. Instead of pointing out the problems in the institution, Felicity spends her time almost solely on issues related to simple church.

This blog is refreshing because of the author's knowledge. She and her husband Tony have been part of organic living for many years. This leads to many blog posts that speak directly to real world things that have happened to them, both good and bad. For those of us who are relatively new to simple church concepts, her blog is a gold mine.

Additionally, Felicity's posts generally have a missional component to them. She is not content to simply follow the biblical model of church gatherings, but also strives to live out the Great Commission through the church. View her books here.

This blog is a great help to anyone interested in simple church.

3. Albert Mohler

Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). That fact might scare some off from reading this blog. It shouldn't.

Dr. Mohler's blog focus is generally the intersection of biblical principles with broader culture. He often blogs about the conflict between cultural norms and biblical teachings. I appreciate his stance on issues such as creation, homosexuality, marriage, and politics. Mohler in particular defends the gospel against the poison that is liberal "Christianity."

Mohler is a gifted writer and avid reader. He's written several books.

It might seem that a seminary president would spend most of his time blogging about denominational types of issues. If that was the case with Mohler, I wouldn't bother with his blog. However, since his focus is topics that impact the entire church, I take the time to read.

As Justin Taylor's blog is a sort of evangelical news feed, Mohler's blog keeps me up to date on the latest key cultural issues.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When is a Church Too Big?

Answer: A church is too big when most of the people don't know most of the people.

My Ten Favorite Blogs 2.0 (5 and 6)

We continue today with:

6. Jon's Journey

Jon dares to ask questions that you aren't supposed to ask. That's the primary reason why his blog comes in so high on this list. He doesn't just challenge silly aspects of the institution, but also inquires about issues that many of us think are settled. This frequently makes me more than a little uncomfortable, but it also makes his blog worthwhile.

Jon has been writing a series recently on baptism. As usual, he asks good questions.

He even dares to call into question the penal nature of Christ's atonement. On this particular issue, I disagree strongly with Jon's conclusions. However, I admire his willingness to ask the question.

If I thought Jon was simply asking questions for the sake of asking questions, I would not bother reading. If I thought he was some sort of heretic, I wouldn't spend the time on his blog. However, his questions seem genuine and come from one who loves Christ.

If you like a good conversation and being made a little uneasy, take a look.

5. Between Two Worlds

Justin Taylor's blog keeps me up to date on all significant happenings within the evangelical institution. The author posts several times per day, often linking to interesting stories and happenings. I view his blog as a sort of news feed on the broader American church.

Taylor writes from a Reformed perspective; therefore, his links often focus on that segment of the church. I somewhat sympathize with this (I'm Reformed in soteriology but not ecclesiology).

Although I often disagree with his conclusions about church issues, the information he presents is helpful. In particular, I like to know about new books being published by various writers; since Taylor works at Crossway, he frequently blogs about this.

A word of caution: Taylor's blog is part of the Gospel Coalition blogs. These bloggers for the most part are staunch defenders of the core aspects of the institution. Most of their blog commenters are the same. Therefore, if you leave a comment on Taylor's blog, or one of the others, that challenges the institution, be prepared to be quickly criticized.

Think of this blog as an evangelical/primarily Reformed news site.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Ten Favorite Blogs 2.0 (7 and 8)

The countdown continues:

8. Dave Black Online

Keeping with the seminary theme from yesterday, Dave Black's blog comes in at number eight. Dr. Black is a New Testament and Greek professor at SEBTS. I had the privilege of taking a class from him that focused on the gospel of Mark in Greek. Dr. Black is an interesting individual with a varied background. He was born in Hawaii, did his doctoral studies in Switzerland, and now lives on and runs an operational farm in rural southern Virginia. He is a prolific writer.

Dave's blog is as varied as his background. He writes on all sorts of things ranging from farming and gardening to surfing and the church. His greatest passion, however, is world missions. He and his wife visit Ethiopia a few times each year to both minister to Christians and witness to the lost. It is clear that the Great Commission is a driving force in Dr. Black's life.

Dr. Black just announced on his blog that he's going to soon be taking a break from blogging. I both understand and admire it. However, in my own self-interest I hope his blog break doesn't last too long.

7. Beyond Evangelical

Like Dave Black, Frank Viola has had a significant impact upon my life. The difference is that while I spent time with Dr. Black, I've never met Frank. Despite this, his influence has affected me deeply. This has come in the form of his writings. In glancing at my bookshelf, I realize that I've read seven of his books. Three in particular have challenged my thinking about what the church is and how it should function (Pagan Christianity?, Reimagining Church, and From Eternity to Here).

On his blog, Frank writes a good deal about both organic church life and personal spiritual growth. The specific topics are somewhat varied. Frank's writings are challenging because he asks hard questions and seeks biblical answers. If you are willing to think outside the evangelical box, then this is an excellent blog for you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

My Ten Favorite Blogs 2.0 (9 and 10)

And so it begins. The following are numbers 10 and 9 from my blog Top Ten List.

10. John Armstrong

John's blog is a fascinating and challenging one to me (you'll see that theme running throughout this entire list). This blog focuses explicitly and primarily on ecumenism within the church. John's desire is to see growing unity in the body of Christ.

I appreciate that John refers to himself as a "missional-ecumenist." He literally is on mission to foster increased dialog and resultant unity of the church.

I have mixed emotions about this blog. For the most part I loudly applaud John's work toward oneness of the body. However, I also think the author has a tendency to downplay significant theological differences between groups of Christians (for example Protestants and Catholics). That may be a bit unfair of me. It may be that because of John's emphasis on unity, it only appears that he minimizes what are real roadblocks to unity (such as different understandings of the gospel itself).

Much of the theological blogosphere focuses on differences within the church. My blog is certainly not immune to that. It is refreshing to read a blog where the main theme is unity. We would all benefit from more blogs like John's.

9. Between the Times

BTT is the official blog of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (where I attended). A first glance, the idea of a seminary blog might seem stuffy and boring. Some undoubtedly are. BTT is different.

The reason I like BTT is that it focuses a great deal on application. The main thrust at Southeastern is the Great Commission. Therefore, the authors at BTT (various professors) write a great deal about living out the Christian life in the world and carrying the gospel to the ends of it.

I also enjoy the fact that while BTT gets involved in SBC issues, it tends to take a balanced, level-headed approach. Unlike some other seminaries, jumping into in-house Southern Baptist fights is not a focus at BTT.

As with any other blog, I don't agree with all that is written at BTT (in fact, I only agree with this blogger all the time). However, for being a blog that is based in the institution, BTT dares to push the edges of the envelope at times. The authors do not give the sense of being locked in theological towers. Rather, they are clearly living in the real world.

If you have any desire to read a seminary blog, this is a good one.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Ten Favorite Blogs 2.0

A few years ago I wrote a series of posts about my favorite blogs. Things have obviously changed in my life quite a bit since then. Therefore, I thought it would be at least semi-interesting to revisit my blog Top Ten List.

Disclaimer: this is entirely subjective. Most of the blogs focus to one degree or another on church issues. Some of the blogs I agree with most of the time. Others I don't. All are thought-provoking.

On Monday-Friday I'll count down from #10 to #1, with each day's post highlighting two blogs.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Spirit vs. Word?

There is a thought among some believers that concerns me. I'm referring to the idea that the Holy Spirit might lead us to do something significantly different than what we see in scripture. It is a pitting of Spirit vs. word.

I've seen this idea written about in blog posts and in comments on this blog. Many times the concept of Spirit vs. word is brought up to say that certain NT passages (usually in the epistles) do not apply to us today. Especially in the area of women's roles in the church, passages such as I Corinthians 12-14 and I Timothy 2 are discounted as not being directed at us because we are in the Spirit.

One passage that is often abused by those who espouse a Spirit vs. word approach is II Corinthians 3:5-6. Paul writes, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

These folks point to the final sentence in particular. They say that it is the Holy Spirit who gives life (I agree with this). They then make the leap to saying that parts of the NT are the letter which kills (with this I disagree). Interestingly, they seem to pick and choose which parts of the NT are the letter that kills, for they never reject all of the NT.

The big problem with their use of II Corinthians 3 in this way is that they are ignoring context. In 3:3 Paul writes, "And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." In 3:7-8 we read, "Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?" Please note that in both 3:3 and 3:7-8 Paul mentions writing on stone.  This refers to the Ten Commandments specifically and the OT law in general. Therefore, when Paul talks about the letter that kills he is discussing the OT law, not the letters of the NT.

Additionally, it is absurd to think that the God who inspired the writings of the NT would have his Spirit contradict them and encourage us to disobey them. II Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If we think that God inspired the NT but that the Spirit contradicts the NT, then we don't have a biblical understanding of the Trinity.

The truth is that no contradiction exists between Spirit and word. They always agree. The Spirit can certainly tell us to do things not addressed in scripture. However, he will never lead us to do anything that flies in the face of scripture.

Spirit vs. word does not exist in the mind of God. It should not exist in the mind of his church either.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are Mormons Saved?

A few days ago I asked whether or not Roman Catholics are saved. My answer is that we would do well to get to know Catholics individually before making any judgments about their salvation.

But what about Mormons? Are they saved?

This is a significant question for several reasons. Mitt Romney is going to be running for the white house as the Republican candidate. Like it or not, this legitimizes Mormonism in some people's eyes. Additionally, some high profile pastors such as Joel Osteen believe that Mormons are saved. Osteen has much influence even though his theology is bankrupt and vapid.

So what about it? Are Mormons saved?

If they hold to stated Mormon beliefs, then then answer is a sad but resounding "No." They deviate too far from core doctrines of the faith to be in Christ. This has been written about by many people in many places; therefore, I have no desire to get into many details. Let me just mention that for Mormons the primary goal in life is to eventually reach godhood status. This violates multiple aspects of orthodox Christianity (to read more about why Mormons are not Christians, click here).

A related question is whether or not an individual Mormon is saved. I'm referring here to someone who attends a Mormon church. My answer is that it is possible but not likely. We've all had Mormon missionaries knock on our doors. The nice young men never start out by speaking about the wacked-out Mormon beliefs. Instead, they try to make it sound palatable to Christians. They describe it something like just another denomination that has further revelations about Christ (The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and The Doctrines and Covenants). It is possible that someone who is a Christian could be duped by Mormons into thinking that Mormonism is valid. This would have to be a fairly ignorant Christian, but I can see how it could happen.

That said, I do not know how a true Christian could attend a Mormon church for any length of time and not smell a rat. Eventually it would become apparent that biblical Christianity and Mormonism are significantly different. In particular, the teachings on the person of Jesus Christ deviate a great deal from what we read in scripture.

To sum up, I believe that an ignorant Christian could be deceived into attending a Mormon church for a relatively short period of time. However, if that person is truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, he will discover that Mormons are in fact not saved.

To read a comparison chart between Christianity and Mormonism, click here.

To read more about Mormonism from someone who has both lived and escaped it, check out Arthur Sido's blog entitled The Fo-Mo Chronicles.

We should remember that Mormons are outside of Christ and therefore need him. They are not our enemies. Rather, they are people lost apart from Christ. Let's share the true gospel with them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Visit with Christ Church Anglican

Most of our church family traveled about two hours away this past Sunday to spend time together at a lake in South Carolina. Although this sounded very nice to Alice and me, I am both exhausted by work and in chronic pain. Therefore, we decided to stay close to home and rest.

Since we had nothing scheduled, I decided to visit an Anglican church here in Savannah. The reason for my visit is that Christ Church Anglican has taken a strong stance for the gospel. A few years back they departed from the Episcopal Church in the USA. Christ Church left, quite simply, because the Episcopal denomination has drifted from the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Last year Christ Church was forced by the courts to surrender their building to the Episcopal Church. It is their stand for the gospel that made a visit worth it.

Another reason for my visit (our daughter Mary decided to come along with me) is that I had never been to an Anglican worship service. I knew going into it that it would be very "high churchish" and based in the Book of Common Prayer.  Although worship services are not my preferred manner of gathering with the church, I desired to express Christian unity by meeting together.

I knew I was in for something different when a number of folks walked down the aisle in robes to begin the service. It felt more Catholic than Baptistic. However, the themes were Protestant in content, focusing on the gospel of grace in Christ. In particular I loved the music. We were treated to singing "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "Amazing Grace," and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." The recessional was to the tune of "Crown Him with Many Crowns." These are some of my favorites.

The teaching was excellent. The rector preached on the topic of the Kingdom of God. I appreciated his willingness to tackle a subject that many Christians know little about. I wish we had been able to dialog, but this was a worship service after all (no talking allowed out of turn). I was pleased that there was a time of prayer when anyone present could voice whatever prayers they had.

The entire service had an atmosphere of reverence, awe, solemnity, and majesty. There was clearly deep respect for who God is and what our place is before him. I respect the effort the staff put into arranging the service.

That said, I struggle with the very concept of worship services. I've written on this before so I won't go down that path here. Suffice it to say that this service was like any other in that it was led by the clergy, the laity were generally passive, it was scripted, and preaching was the biggest single component. There was little interaction between the people until the ceremony was concluded.

My biggest struggle was with the celebration of communion. Instead of being a full meal, it was the typical wafer and drink. The people lined up in a row, received the cracker from a rector, then handed it to another rector who dipped it in wine and then stuck it into their mouths. This reminded me way too much of a Catholic Mass. Worse than that, it looked nothing at all like what we see in the bible. Because of these issues, Mary and I abstained from taking part.

Despite these differences, I am very glad that we attended on Sunday. The people we talked to before and after the service were very kind. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ; therefore, I desire to be united with them. The folks of Christ Church have a love for the same Christ Jesus that I do. Spending time with them was a joy.

The worship service is something that I enjoyed, but would not want to take part in every week. It might, however, turn into something we do occasionally. The music is tremendous, the teaching solid, and the atmosphere one of awe. These are edifying aspects of their gathering.

I'm thankful for any church body that stands for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We may have significant differences in secondary doctrines, but we remain united in our head, King Jesus.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

In Chronic Pain

For the past several weeks I've been experiencing chronic pain in my left thigh and lower back. I'm not sure what the cause is, but I believe it has something to do with my sciatic nerve. To be blunt, it hurts a lot.

Compounding the difficulty is that I'm currently working about 60-65 hours per week. Most of that requires me to be on my feet on a concrete floor. I'm grateful for the job, but the combination of (sciatic?) pain and concrete is not a good one. I feel like I should invest in shares of ibuprofen companies.

There are various forms of physical therapy that help relieve this pain. However, they are all fairly expensive. We have medical insurance but have to meet a deductible before it kicks in. Therefore, for now at least I'm not going down that path.

I know God is in control of this situation. He is sovereign. I'm trying not to ask why this is happening, but it can be a struggle sometimes when I can barely do my job.

I'm writing this post to ask for your prayer. Please simply ask that God's will be done. I'd love it if God would take the pain away fully and immediately, but sometimes He has much better plans than that.

The pain has gotten to the point that when I get home I pretty much collapse on the couch. This is not good. I need to be more active at home in the few hours I have with my family.

Thank you for praying.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

United in a Person

When we read through the New Testament we repeatedly come across the phrases "in Jesus," "in Christ," and "in Him." Everything we have in this life is a gift of God through Jesus Christ. He is in every way our cornerstone.

Specifically, Christ is the source of our unity as his followers. He made salvation occur, he chose each one of us, and he unites us. Our togetherness is based in him.  We are united in a person.

Too often within the church we act as if our unity is based upon a set of beliefs. We see one group of believers holding to this set, while another holds to that set. The implication is that we can only truly be united because of what we have deemed to be important.

Jesus never said that our unity was based on a list of any kind. Rather, it's based in him. Of course, we must believe in the Jesus of the bible to be one in him. However, the unity is strictly in him and not in our own lists.

As I read John 17 what strikes me is the absolute lack of loopholes for unity in the church. Christ expects his body to be one. He gives no way out. The language of John 17 strongly implies that this is not some sort of theoretical unity. Rather, Jesus is talking about real unity in the trenches of life.

In light of our unity in him, nothing should separate us from brothers and sisters in Christ. This does not mean that we will hold to all the same beliefs. However, our differences should not divide us.

Fighting for unity is something that takes effort. Let's face it: it is easy to hang with the people we agree with. For me, it's simpler to spend time with believers who hold to simple church principles. I admit it.

God is not pleased if I only spend time with believers who hold to simple church principles. The Creator demands that I be one with all his followers. He demands the same of you.

There is no way we can be one if we view our unity as based in a statement of beliefs. We will always have some differences with most other believers. Lists might bring clarity of thought (and thus aren't all bad), but they also tend to divide.

If we rightly see that our unity is based in Christ, then it can be a reality. He is the source and the enabler of unity. We are one in him. As we talk with other believers, when our focus is Jesus it tends to unite us. Let's spend a lot of time talking about him.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Are Roman Catholics Saved?

"Are Roman Catholics Saved?"

I raise this question because it has been floating around ever since the Reformation. Because we live in a country that has millions of both Protestants and Roman Catholics, it is worth asking.

However, there is a problem with the question itself. It assumes a simple yes-or-no answer for all Roman Catholics. The reality is that it isn't that simple.

My guess is that there are millions of Roman Catholics in this country who know Jesus Christ as Lord. There are also millions who do not.

I'm also guessing that there are millions of Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. who love Jesus. I'm certain there are many who do not. Even within the non-denominational crowd both exist.

We do well to avoid lumping Christian groups together as a whole. We do much better to ask the question of one person at a time. A better question is, "Is that particular Roman Catholic saved?"

Of course, the only way to truly know the answer to the question is to get to know that Roman Catholic. When we spend time with people we can usually tell whether or not they know Jesus (God is the final arbiter in this, but we can usually make a pretty good guess).

A funny thing has happened to me along the way in life. My Protestant background suggests strongly that Roman Catholics do not know God because they are simply trying to work their way to heaven. However, when I have gotten to know a number of Roman Catholics, I've found that many have a deep love for Christ. They may use some different terminology than I do and have differing practices, but their commitment to Christ seems genuine.

It is easy for us to fall into the trap of holding onto a straw man argument when thinking of Roman Catholic theology. It is not a monolith. Beliefs vary. All do not agree with the Pope on everything.

Let's get to know people personally and talk about the things of God. When we do this, we gain a much better understanding of whether or not they know him. This gives us a real answer to the above question, one person at a time. This is much more accurate and valid than making judgment calls about entire groups of people.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What About Musical Instruments?

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled Hymns and Simple Church: Not a Simple Fit. Scott left an interesting comment to that post, asking, "I was curious do you know of any NT passages that prescribe or describe instruments being used to accompany singing in Christian worship gatherings?"

It's a great question because it's one that most of us never think about. We automatically assume that the use of musical instruments in church gatherings is fine. I grew up going to worship services that had beautiful organ music. Questioning that never came to mind.

Let's ask the question. What about musical instruments?

When we look at NT church gatherings we see singing. The most well-known passage describing this is Ephesians 5:18-20. Paul writes, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

What about instrumental accompaniment? We don't see it anywhere in the NT that I know of (please correct me if I'm wrong on this one.)

What about the Old Testament? Interestingly, we find plenty of examples of musical instruments when we look there. The book of Psalms in particular is full of references to the use of instruments. For example, the final Psalm (150) says, "Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!"

This is an interesting situation. We see instruments in the OT but not the NT.

Let's ask a related question. What is the purpose of the church gathering? The NT's answer is clear: body edification. In light of that, we should ask whether or not musical instruments help or hinder edification. There is no easy answer to this question. On the one hand, many Christians truly enjoy listening to instruments as part of the gathering. However, these same instruments can be loud and dominating. They also have a tendency to create passivity on the part of the people. The active gathering can slip into a passive show of sorts. When church families sing with no musical accompaniment, more people tend to actually sing. Also, more folks feel free to bring songs to sing because no one has to know how to play the music that goes along with them.

What then is a good answer to all this?

It seems that musical instruments could be used some of the time when the church sings together. However, the biblical evidence suggests that this should be the exception rather than the rule. For example, during a gathering the body might sing four songs. Maybe one of those could be accompanied by an instrument. If a musically gifted person desired to share that gift, he or she could always sing a solo along with playing. The key is that the instrument(s) not take over the gathering.

Of course, there are all types of church gatherings. Some may be much more appropriate for instrumental usage than others. In the end, we should be careful to avoid the usual default of using instruments all the time in gatherings without even asking whether or not it is beneficial.

It's a question worth asking.

What do you think?

Friday, June 8, 2012


God calls His children to lives of holiness. This takes on many forms, one of them being the physical aspect of life. God has given us physical bodies to bring Him glory. Part of modesty involves covering much/some of the body from public view. There is certainly room for disagreement among Christians over exactly what this means. However, I'm always stunned when I hear how strongly some Christian men and women defend the "right" of Christian women to wear bikinis. I cannot understand it. In light of this topic, I found the following video interesting:

What do you think?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hymns and Simple Church: Not a Simple Fit

In light of how wonderful hymns can be, how do they fit in the simple church? The answer is that it is not simple.

Because of their nature, hymns fit well with a piano and/or organ. The reality is that most folks don't have an organ in their home. Some do have pianos. As in all church families, the music playing is limited to those who have the skill to play the instruments. If someone can play the piano, this makes hymn singing much easier.

Small groups of Christians have, by definition, a limited pool of musical resources upon which to draw. It may be that no one has any musical skill (for example, me).

Of course, no instruments are required for singing any song of any type. Therefore, the possibility of hymn singing should not be discounted out of hand in simple churches. It can be done a cappella.

My encouragement to all churches, simple or not, is to strive for a variety of song types. This responsibility falls on all the people. One person should not be asked/expected to play all the music and select all the songs at every gathering. Frankly, it's not fair to that person to ask them to do that much.

Hymns often require teaching before singing. They are not generally as easy to sing as are most modern choruses. At first, it may seem like work and feel plodding. However, the reward is great.

If you have grown up in relatively large churches, you may have certain expectations as far as hymn singing is concerned. The performance-aspect of singing hymns in the home may at first seem lacking. However, the community side of hymn singing, at least in my opinion, more than makes up for this. I love to watch people's faces up close when they sing deep theology. I take joy in viewing others take joy in Christ in song.

Hymns require some effort. Regardless of how you gather, the effort will be worth it. Select good hymns, sing them repeatedly until they feel natural, and enjoy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: A Great Variety

"And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart." Ephesians 5:18-19

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Colossians 3:16

I love the fact that God provides us with a variety of songs to sing His praises. He did not command us, "You shall sing the psalms and the psalms alone!" God never said, "Those hymns have deep theology. Sing only those and no others." He also did not demand, "I like those modern, hip choruses. That's all I want to hear."

God cares for what is in the hearts of His people. That's why He's provided us with a wide-range of acceptable music. If He limited us to one narrow form, it would be very easy for us to slip into an outward, works-based form of singing. Instead, God enjoys all sorts of singing from all cultures around the world.

The bible verses above show us that God has provided us with a variety of song types. He seems to desire this variety. After all, He created it. If we could travel the globe we would see Christians singing all sorts of praises to the King. While the words we use must be orthodox in nature, the music seems to be able to take on just about any form.

It is fascinating and sad that some churches continue to fight the so-called "worship wars." These wars are based on selfish preferences as opposed to anything in scripture. God likes variety; why wouldn't we embrace this as well?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hymns: A Gift from God to His People

What a wonderful gift from God that we can sing. God did not have to make it this way. Singing did not have to be part of His creation at all. However, God is a God of beauty. I believe He created music because it reflects His infinite splendor and majesty. It provides insignificant us with a means (among others) to voice His praises.

Hymns are by no means the only type of songs. Like you - I'm guessing - I enjoy a variety. What I enjoy best about hymns in particular is the deep theology. The wording of the best hymns is simply wonderful. Most of the hymns on my top ten list are stunning in their depth and grandeur.

Hymns connect us with church history since so many of the best ones were written over 100 years ago. I admit to having a sort of "love-hate" relationship with church history. However, my relationship with the great hymns is simply love. They stir my soul like no other form of music. They often voice what I'm feeling but cannot adequately put into words.

As for the music itself, some hymns are great, some are adequate, and others are stinkers. I suppose this is true of any type of music. It is the great ones that contain both deep theology and wonderful music. I'm saddened that so much of the church in this country is abandoning hymns. Many folks my age and younger have little to no knowledge of hymns. I'd like to see all churches embrace both high quality hymns and high quality modern choruses. My opinion is that churches miss out when their music is lop-sided in any one direction (including those that sing only hymns).

When we look in scripture, we see singing throughout. God has implanted in His people a desire to praise Him in song. He has provided us with gifted song writers to help with this. Amazingly, God enjoys listening to His church sing. His gift brings joy to us and praise to Him. I thank Him for it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Top Ten Favorite Hymns

Yesterday I briefly posted about one of my favorite hymns. That got me thinking about other hymns that I love. After a moderate amount of time and effort, I've come up with a top ten list of my favorites. Each is in link form to a youtube video of it being sung.

Here's the list, from tenth to first:

10. Amazing Grace

9. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

8. Crown Him With Many Crowns

7. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

6. It is Well With My Soul

5. For All the Saints

4. There is a Fountain

3. A Mighty Fortress is Our God

2. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

1. And Can it Be?

I suppose it is appropriate in some way that my favorite hymn, And Can it Be?, was written by Charles Wesley. I was raised in the Wesleyan denomination and frequently attended church services in a college chapel named after John and Charles Wesley. Even through I now reject the Arminian bent of Wesleyan theology, I am thankful for the Wesleys' work for the Kingdom.

What do you think? What are your favorite hymns?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Changing Perspectives One Person at a Time

A couple of days ago I mentioned that Google Images shows 63 church buildings in a row when you type in the search word "church." Only at the 64th image do any people actually appear.

How can we change this thinking in our broader culture? I believe we do it one person at a time. How is this accomplished? It happens through loving, sacrificial acts of service. It occurs through meeting needs as we see them. It takes place through explaining that we love because God first loved us.

I realize that it is not our duty to change how our culture at large defines the church. However, if our service to others brings about the by-product of changed perspectives, then all the better. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people began thinking of photos like the one on the left to describe and define the church?

One of My Favorite Hymns

I love the great hymns of the faith. "For All the Saints" is one of these. Enjoy!

Thanks to Dave Black for pointing this out.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Missions in I Timothy

I Timothy is a letter written by Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy. At the time of the writing, Paul was most likely under some sort of house arrest in Rome. Timothy was in Ephesus, living as part of the church there. The apostle writes to Timothy to exhort him to stand up for correct doctrine in both belief and practice within the Ephesian church.

(To read the first post in this series, please click here.)

In the midst of this epistle on corrective doctrine, is there anything worth noting about missions? The answer, not surprisingly, is yes. Paul says the following in 1:16 (several translations provided):

“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (ESV)

“Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (NASB)

“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (NKJV)

“But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (NLT)

In 1:15 Paul refers to himself as the “foremost” or “chief” sinner. He’s using hyperbole to make the point that his sins against the church were grievous. In 1:16 Paul explains that God has shown him mercy. Why has God done this? One of the reasons is so that Paul would be an example Christ’s perfect patience to those hearing and responding positively to the gospel.

The book of Acts shows us that Paul traveled from place to place proclaiming the gospel. If those hearing the gospel needed an example of the mercy and patience of God, Paul was right there. He could share his experiences with them. They could see a concrete example of God’s forgiveness right in front of them. There could be no doubt that God does in fact forgive since He was willing to use a former church-persecutor as His foremost missionary.

What can we learn from this? The answer is that we are also examples of God’s patience and mercy. When we proclaim the gospel to the lost, we should share our own stories with them. It makes the truth of the gospel real to people when they hear where we were prior to Christ and where we are now.

In gospel proclamation, we must first and foremost share biblical truths in a manner that is understandable to those listening. However, we should also take advantage the real-life illustrations that we are. We’ve all sinned terribly against God. He’s forgiven us. Let’s tell others about it.

To read any or all posts in this series, please click here.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Just out of curiosity I went to Google images and looked up the word "church." The first 63 (!) images that came up were photos of either the inside or outside (mostly outside) of buildings. Sigh.

It was not until the 64th image that any people appeared. I'm not sure how Google selects which images to show, but regardless this is some sort of statement about how our culture both views and defines the church.