Thursday, March 24, 2016

Without the Bible You Can Know about God, But Not About His Plan of Redemption

I grow increasingly tired of some Christians acting as if the bible isn't all that important. I've read some followers of Christ saying that all you need is the Holy Spirit and the world around us to know all you need to know about God. They speak as if the bible is nice to have, but not critical to living as God would have us live.

This is hogwash wrapped up in poppycock.

Of course the bible is important. After all, we would not have any idea who Jesus Christ is if we didn't have scripture. How many people, for example, do you know who heard about Jesus directly from the Holy Spirit? How many learned about him from nature? How many learned about him from the world?

On the other hand, how many learned about Jesus Christ either on their own through the bible or from someone else teaching them from the bible? My guess is a conservative 100%. In God's wisdom, we are able to deduce something of his existence and goodness through nature. However, it is through his written word that we learn critical specifics about exactly who he is, what he has accomplished, and what he expects of us. Psalm 19 spells out for us the difference between God's general revelation (19:1-6) and special revelation (19:7-11):

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

The Holy Spirit is faithful to illuminate our minds to assist us in understanding scripture correctly. The Spirit also regenerates our hearts to enable us to repent and believe. Additionally, the Spirit leads us day-by-day to live according to God the Father's desires. However, the Holy Spirit is generally not in the business of explaining to people God's plan of redemption apart from the bible.

The fact is that without the bible the vast majority of us (probably somewhere between 99 and 100% of us) would have no clue about Jesus Christ. And if we didn't know the Lord, we would have no opportunity for salvation. It is truly that simple.

Therefore, whether some Christians like it or not, the bible is absolutely essential to the Christian life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Republic, Not a Democracy

I don't generally post about politics, but the above graphic is too good to pass up. With religious liberty in this country increasingly under attack, we need to know the difference between a republic and a democracy. My guess is that most Americans don't have a clue. That said, our hope ultimately rests in Christ as opposed to man. Therefore, even if our religious liberty is completely stripped away God will remain faithful. Life will just become much more uncomfortable.

Monday, March 21, 2016

From Columbia to Charleston!

Friday and Saturday were challenging days, but challenging in the good sense.

I participated in the Palmetto 200, a relay race from Columbia to Charleston, South Carolina. As part of a twelve-person JCB team, I ran three of thirty-six total legs that took us from the middle of the state all the way to the coast. My mileage sum was about twenty.

I'd never taken part in anything like this event before. As a team we collectively ran more than 200 miles over the span of about thirty-one uninterrupted hours. We used two vans, alternating between running and sleeping (sort of). One very enjoyable aspect for me was that all three of my legs were far different. On the first, I ran six miles in the early evening from out in the country into a small town. Second, at five in the morning in the dark I ran eight miles through a largely barren section of a national forest. It was so dark! My final leg, in the afternoon of the next day, took me over a huge bridge in the middle of downtown Charleston. That last segment was a long five miles.

The best part of the relay was the camaraderie. Prior to this I did not know many of the other team members very well if at all. It was a blast to spend over a day with people who love to do what I love to do. We had a lot of time to simply talk about all sorts of things. I already cannot wait until next year's relay.

Below are pics of A) me sprinting to the finish line of the relay in order to beat the guy in the banana suit (you simply cannot let yourself be beaten by a banana), and B) the entire JCB team.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Primary Reason Simple Church is Simply Better

The simple church model for church life is not just another model. It is the best model. It is superior to any and all of the man-created, tradition-laced models of church life that dominate the Christian landscape. Simple church, in its various forms, bypasses the shackles that the institution places upon the body of Christ. It frees the church to be what Christ intends for it to be.

Many reasons exist for why simple church is better. However, one particular reason stands out as most important. The primary reason why simple church is simply better is that it recognizes Jesus Christ as its one and only Head.

Objectively and positionally speaking, Jesus Christ is the Head of his church no matter what anyone else does or says. For example, Ephesians 1:22 tells us, "And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church." Later in that same epistle Paul writes, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (4:15). Likewise, we read in Colossians 1:18, "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent."

One of the core aspects of simple church life is that the entire body is active. Everyone uses his or her gifts to serve the church family. No one person is elevated in any manner over others. All are equal in the eyes of God and live this out through sacrificial service (at least this is the way things ought to be). The priesthood of all believers is embraced, all teach one another, and no one is treated as any sort of elevated intermediary between God and man.

Therefore, within simple church life Jesus Christ is not only the objective Head of the church, but he is treated this way on a daily, moment-by-moment manner.

It's not so simple within institutional Christianity. While Christ is often given lip service as Head of the church, pastors confuse the fact. Just go to any worship service (denomination doesn't really matter). Who stands up front on an elevated platform? Who does most of the talking? Who leads? Who has a special title? Who does most of the teaching? Additionally, what are most of the people doing?

You know the answers to the above questions. A small number of folks do almost everything. The church views them as the religious experts. These are almost always the pastors. Everybody else generally sits quietly in rows, singing when told to and speaking to one another for a minute or so if given permission. However, generally what is going on is that the majority of the church sits and watches a performance put on by a small group that is paid to do so. This happens week after week after week.

Within the above institutional framework the pastors act as the daily, functional heads of the church. Jesus Christ fades into the background as the pastors lead the way. Christ is clouded, almost as if a sort of curtain is pulled closed in front of him. Ironically, many pastors have decent intentions. They may even speak about Jesus quite a bit during their sermons. However, their sermonizing often places them in the way of Jesus.

In light of all this, the institutional model must be rejected is favor of a simple one. Is simple church life perfect? Of course not. After all, the church is composed of people. Despite this, the model itself promotes and recognizes Jesus Christ as the one and only Head that he is. Because of this, simple church is simply better.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Danger of Separating Romans 13 from Romans 12

Each Sunday morning our family gathers with some fellow believers in our home. As part of these meetings we've recently been studying through the book of Romans. It has been a joy.

As we looked at Romans chapter 12 and then chapter 13 I was struck by the importance of not separating the two in our minds. Of course, it is all too easy to do this since most bibles make a fairly big deal out of the man-made chapter divisions. Even we, as a small group of Christians, tend to study chapter-by-chapter each week. For example, one week we read through and discussed Romans 12 and the following week Romans 13. It would have been simple to miss the relationship between the two if we didn't pay active attention.

The beginning of Romans 12 is a well-known transition point in the book. The previous eleven chapters focused mostly on what God has done in His grand plan of redemption. Romans 12-16 looks primarily at what man's response should be in light of what God has accomplished. Paul sums this up well in Romans 12:1-2, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Paul expects us to be "living sacrifices" to God. But what does this look like? The apostle teases this out through the remainder of the epistle. In chapter 12 Paul lists various expectations of the Christian life. Toward the end of the chapter he tells the Roman Christians to "repay no one evil for evil" and "never avenge yourselves." His language is clear. The chapter ends at this point.

This is where the danger comes into play.

In chapter 13 Paul discusses the importance of being subject to governing authorities. Verses 13:3-4 say, "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."

The danger to the church, if we separate chapters 12 and 13, is that we might fall into the trap of over applying 13:3-4. I've seen this again and again as Christians point to these verses to support our government's nasty habit of invading other countries whenever we feel it is in America's best interests. I've also heard these verses used to defend self-defense to the point of vigilantism.

We cannot ignore what Paul said at the end of chapter 12. As Christ's followers, we are not to avenge ourselves. We are not to repay evil for evil. This hearkens back to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Love your enemies." When we keep these things in mind, we are forced to see that Romans 13 has a much smaller application than what has been popular in modern evangelicalism. In Romans 13 Paul is simply saying that government uses its power to discipline those who would break the law. The apostle is discussing how a nation state functions within its own borders. It has nothing to do with invading other countries. It's got even less to do with any sort of self-defense.

For whatever reason the church in the USA has a tendency to support the military almost no matter what it does (at least as long as there's a Republican in the White House at the time). Romans 13 is frequently used as biblical justification for doing so. This is extremely poor interpretation of scripture.

We do much better to keep chapters 12 and 13 linked (which is what Paul intended). While the beginning of chapter 12 serves as a significant transition point in the letter, the beginning of chapter 13 does not. Paul's thought flows directly from 12 into 13. Therefore, everything in 13 must be read in the context of us being living sacrifices, repaying no one evil for evil, and us not avenging ourselves.

Avoid the danger of misinterpretation. Keep 12 and 13 linked.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The 25 Golden Rules of Running

When it comes to running you may not know where to begin. This could be because you just don't know that much about it. That's fine. Now is as good a time as any to learn. Although running is not complicated, there is more to it than simply putting on an old pair of sneakers and heading out the door.

Click here to read an excellent article that focuses on twenty-five of the most universally accepted rules of running.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Dear Institutional Christianity, I Beg You To Stop Crediting Your Foolish Activities to the Holy Spirit

Institutional Christianity is an odd mix of things based in scripture and things based in man's ideas. For the most part, the aspects of the church institution that are founded in the bible are solid (this of course depends on whether or not they are New Covenant-based ideas, but that's for another post).

The massive problem embedded within institutional Christianity is all of the practices that cannot be supported by scripture. The three-headed monster of the church institution have been, are, and will continue to be worship services/religious ceremonies, salaried pastors, and massive buildings. These three prongs do not invite questioning or challenging by anyone or anything. Trust me, I've tried. It usually doesn't go over very well.

How, then, do those within the institution, especially the leadership, justify their man-made practices? Some make the sad and pathetic attempt to go back to the Old Covenant to support the things they do. This is absurd in light of the fact that Jesus came to usher in the New Covenant, and we can/should all be greatly thankful for that. To point to the Old Covenant as the "way to do church" is mind-bogglingly backward.

Another tactic used by institutionalists is to say that the Holy Spirit led them to do what they've done. I write this post today as a call for this to stop and desist immediately. Please institutional Christianity, stop crediting your foolish, unbiblical activities and practices to the Holy Spirit. You have absolutely no biblical reason for doing so. To do so is to rely on your own imaginations, desires, hopes, and dreams.

It's clear from the outside looking in that some institutionalists see crediting the Holy Spirit as a sort of trump card to silence all debate. After all, who can argue with what the Holy Spirit has led? I'll happily argue, not with the Holy Spirit, but with those who blame the Holy Spirit for their sound and light shows, their puppet ministries, their capital campaigns, their youth groups, their children's church, their massive building debt, their women pastors, their choreographed meetings, their nurseries, their altar calls, their ordinations, their seminaries, their budgets, their fund raisers, etc., etc., etc.

I realize and readily admit that many with the church institution are my brothers and sisters in Christ (however, many pew sitters have no knowledge of God). It is to my brothers and sisters that I send this call: please stop giving credit to the Holy Spirit for the things you do that have no biblical basis. Instead, simply have the chutzpah to say, "We do these things because we like them. That's our basis, that is all, and we're sticking to it."


Friday, March 4, 2016

An Excellent Statement on Christology

I'm not generally a big fan of statements of faith. Although they assist with clarity of belief, far too often they are used to separate Christian brothers and sisters instead of uniting them. However, statements can be helpful if they force us to think about not only what we believe but also why we believe it.

Blogger Tim Challies recently pointed out an excellent statement on Christology by Ligonier Ministries. I encourage you to read it.