Thursday, September 3, 2015

Positive Acts - Wham!

Acts chapter 2 is amazing. I don't pretend to understand all of it, but I love it. It's difficult for me to comprehend "divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them," but I know it means that the Holy Spirit showed up. He came powerfully and forcefully. Wham! And when the Spirit arrived, Christ's followers changed. They transformed from fearful folks cowering in the shadows to bold witnesses for our Lord. Peter is a wonderful example. From denying Jesus to proclaiming him, Peter changed radically.

These changes in Christ's followers are all due to the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christians did not do this on their own. Rather, God kept his promise to send his Spirit. And send he did. The world has never been the same since.

Immediately after that first Gospel proclamation at Pentecost the crowd was stunned and convicted. We see the power of the Spirit in their response. Luke writes in 2:37-41:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Three thousand!

The truly exciting part of this for us today is that this same Holy Spirit resides within us. We have access to this same power. I wonder sometimes if I have any clue just how powerfully the Spirit would like to live through me. Most days, I generally stumble along just trying to get basic tasks done. I think I need to begin praying for the Spirit to wake me up spiritually to see what he wants to do with me. Maybe you need to do the same.

The encouraging thing is that the Holy Spirit of Acts 2 is the same Spirit today. We have not been left on our own. We simply need to joyfully follow his leading.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Positive Acts - A Promise with Orders

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Well this is certainly a familiar verse. We've all read and heard it hundreds, possibly thousands, of times. And while familiarity doesn't breed contempt when it comes to scripture, it can dull our ears. Do you see the amazing promise in the above verse?

The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon those with Christ at his ascension, but the implication is that the Spirit will soon. We see this happen in stunning fashion at Pentecost. And when this occurs, they certainly "receive power." What sort of power is Jesus talking about? It is the power to unashamedly, boldly, and effectively proclaim the gospel. This happens immediately in Peter's case. He goes from denying Christ three times out of fear to preaching Christ crucified even when the religious leaders tell him not to.

This promise has a purpose. One of the primary reasons the Holy Spirit came was to empower Christians to be witnesses for Christ all over the earth. The Spirit is not limited to certain places, as if some locales or situations are too difficult for him. Instead, the Spirit's presence with all believers ensures that we have all we need to be effective witnesses for Christ wherever we go.

In just one little verse Jesus provides his people with both a promise and orders. The promise is of a person - the Spirit - who will make their evangelism efforts successful. The orders are to be faithful witnesses wherever and whenever.

This should give us great hope. The Holy Spirit is as alive and active today as he was then. Also, we have much easier means to get our witness to the ends of the earth. It is the church's responsibility to see that happen. Let's work together to make it so.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Positive Acts

The book of Acts is a goldmine for the church. Throughout the book we see the church functioning in various ways and places. Much of this is positive in nature; some not so much. Although Acts is a narrative in genre, the models left for us provide us with bountiful information to instruct us in how to live today (we cannot ignore it just because it is narrative). Whether or not Acts is prescriptive or merely descriptive in nature is a matter for another time. My purpose in these upcoming posts is to look at positive aspects of church life we see in this book. You will quickly find (no surprise here) that I believe the majority of Acts is prescriptive.

I'm doing this in part because I love the book of Acts. I'm also doing it because I want to be able to focus on the positive for a while. Interspersed among the posts in this series will be posts of other types, some of which will no doubt be more negative. So be it.

Today's church institution has picked and chosen from Acts to support its traditions that stem mostly from man's ideas. I have no interest in this. Rather, I simply desire to read about what Luke shows us through his journey with the early stages of the church. God has given us this grand narrative to inform how we interact both with each other and with the world.

The church as a whole would do well to examine Acts more extensively and alter its practices to come in line with the positives we see there. I'll begin this look in Acts chapter 1. Does it contain anything positive? It certainly does.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I Really Do Try To Be Positive, But...

Blogging is a lot of fun. If it wasn't, I wouldn't do it.

Blogging about the church and how it interacts with culture is also enjoyable. Again, if it wasn't, I wouldn't bother. If you read this blog much you may not think that I like writing about church life. I say this because most of my posts (or so it seems) have a negative tone. As this post's title suggests, I really do try to be positive. However, in light of the current state of the church in this country it is difficult to focus mostly on the positive.

I suppose some of this stems from the fact that I was raised in the institution, stayed there for almost forty years, worked as a missionary, and worked as a professional pastor. I've seen most of the problems first-hand. It's not pretty. Meanwhile, much of my experience in simple church life has been theoretical. I know what the bible says about the church; however, I've only been part of simple church practices for a few years. I still have much more information to draw on about the institution than I do about simple church life.

Another reason for my struggle to be positive is that so many people in leadership within the evangelical church have no desire to make needed changes. To use a Southerism, they "just keep on keepin' on." It's the same thing week after week after week after week. The pastor preaches, the people sit dutifully, the babies cry in the nursery, the ushers take up the offering, and nothing of substance happens. Yucky.

In light of my negative bent, I want to do something proactive to change things up. Therefore, beginning soon I'm going to work through the book of Acts, looking for positive aspects of church life that we can apply to today. Starting in chapter one, I'll attempt to glean the positives from the text. I'm going to purposefully ignore the more negative texts, such as Ananias and Sapphira.

I have no idea what will come of this. Maybe I'll transform into a more positive blogger like Dave Black. Maybe not. Either way, a trip through the book of Acts is always a positive trip to take.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why the Institution's Top Priority is Self-Preservation

Institutional Christianity has three non-negotiable characteristics. First, the leaders are "experts" from outside the church family who are paid salaries to preach, marry, baptize, and bury. They are administrators (otherwise known as pastors). Second, scripted religious ceremonies that take place on Sundays are the high point of the church week. These we know as worship services. Third, expensive buildings are the location for large church gatherings, but these edifices sit mostly empty for the vast majority of the time. They are so ingrained in the life of the church that the buildings are often referred to as "the church."

The above three attributes - pastor(s), worship services, and expensive buildings form a sort of unholy Trinity that stifles church life. These three go largely unquestioned by the vast majority of Christians.

One of the three in particular is the primary reason that self-preservation is the top priority for the institution. That one is the building.

Institutional thinking goes like this: Doing ministry occurs primarily in the building. A church building requires significant money. The need for money requires a focus on giving by the church to the church. This leads inevitably to a focus upon self-preservation. This is part of the reason why pastors usually preach at least an annual dreaded "stewardship series" (translated as "Why you should be giving more money to the church").

Further exacerbating the focus upon self-preservation is the pastoral salaries. This can consume a massive portion of the church offerings. The pastor, who usually does most of the preaching, therefore speaks repeatedly about how "God wants you to give to the church." After all, the pastor's income depends upon it.

The constant need for money by institutional churches actually has very little to do with true ministry. Rather, it stems from local churches needing to pay their bills; and their two largest bills are the building mortgage/utilities and pastoral salaries. This necessitates self-preservation as priority numero uno.

Many churches like to say what the most important thing is to them. Some say the Great Commission, some say caring for the poor and needy, others say preaching and teaching, while others say prayer. None of these are accurate.

When it comes to the institution, the dirty little secret is that the top priority is unfailingly one of self-preservation. Everything else falls in line after that.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Simple Church Bloggers and Their Murky Theology

It's an odd thing that so many simple church bloggers have murky, soupy, grayish, ill-defined theology. It's odd because most Christians who blog about simple church life do so out of biblical conviction. They read what the bible says about church life and then say, "This is the way it should be now." They, myself included, then look to the institution and say, "No thanks!"

Now to the odd part. A significant number of bloggers who espouse simple church principles at the same time call into question numerous points of theology that the church as a whole is in general agreement upon (or at least used to be). It's weird. Many of the same simple church people who point to the bible for church life then ignore the plain teachings of the bible when it comes to theology, salvation, cultural issues, etc. It is a strange situation indeed.

My biggest concern is the simple church bloggers who call into question Jesus Christ's atoning work on the cross. It appears to embarrass them just as it does the liberal "Christians." This is extremely problematic because the atonement is at the heart of salvation. Simply put, if there is no atonement there is no salvation - period. Jesus certainly did more for his people than just die on the cross in their place, but he did die in their place. It was a substitutionary, penal atonement. Those who call this into question are left with an empty theology of salvation.

Speaking of salvation, a good number of simple church bloggers don't hold to a literal existence of Hell. Now, I'll say that I myself am not sure of Hell's specifics. However, I'm certain that it is an eternal place of torment; whether or not that is physical or emotional in nature I do not know. I do know that it is a spiritual Hell that will last forever. Some in simple church prefer annihilationism; this apparently squares with their understanding of a loving God. Apparently they conveniently ignore the holiness of God in coming to this conclusion.

Delving deeper into the issue of salvation, I've found that most simple church bloggers detest the doctrine of predestination. That's unfortunate since the bible tells us that some are, in fact, predestined. Some bloggers go far beyond rejecting predestination and instead hold to a near universalism. Yuck. As for the process of sanctification, I've read bloggers who basically say that since God saves and loves, it's O.K. to go right on sinning. Yet again, it requires a great deal of ignoring the bible to make a claim like this. God expects increasing holiness post-salvation.

What other issues are there? Well, some simple church bloggers have completely accepted homosexuality; others seem dazed and confused about the whole thing. Many just want everybody to get along. As for women's roles, it appears that the vast majority favor an egalitarian approach to church life (that complementarian thing is just too old-fashioned apparently). Regarding spiritual gifts, nearly anything is acceptable.

What is going on here? I see three major factors at play. First, these simple church bloggers are not being fair or consistent in how they interpret scripture. While they demand a literal understanding of the text when it comes to the N.T. model for church life, when it comes to these other issues they think of the bible as a sort of play thing. Second, these bloggers are clearly questioning both the infallibility and authority of the bible (at least when it is convenient). Third, and possibly the largest factor, these bloggers are bowing to secular cultural norms in a variety of areas.

I admit that at times I'm not consistent while interpreting scripture. Everybody makes mistakes. However, we ought to all try to understand the bible in as consistent a manner as possible. Either it is infallible or it isn't. Either it is authoritative or it is not. As we do this, we must keep factors such as historical context and genre in mind. We should also take a long look at the church's understanding of the issue throughout its history.

The simple church bloggers I'm referring to in this post need to start being honest. They cannot pick-and-choose how they are going to approach the bible. If the New Testament in particular shows us how the church should function, then it also shows us what we need to know about these other issues. To all you murky blogging types, you cannot cling to some scripture and ignore the rest. Either take the whole bible or leave it all.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Linking: "Shut Up, Bigot!: The Intolerance of Tolerance"

Ben Crenshaw discusses both the old and the new tolerance in his fantastic piece entitled Shut Up Bigot: The Intolerance of Tolerance.  The money quote:

We must challenge postmodern thought at a fundamental level and reintroduce the old vision of tolerance into society. This will be most effective if we practice the old tolerance, visibly and powerfully demonstrating that it is possible to hold to objective truths and dissenting views while being respectful and loving toward those with whom we disagree. Such interpersonal virtues are rarely seen in a culture where social media exchanges and comment threads overflow with vitriol. Only by consistently and unfailingly teaching and practicing the old tolerance—and defending its epistemological foundations—will there be any chance of overturning the new tolerance.

Take a few minutes to read the essay. It's worth it.

Meme Sunday Special Edition

Under normal circumstances I'll be using my own created memes on Sundays. However, this comic is simply too good to pass up. I posted it a few years ago, and it received numerous views. What a relief to finally know the truth about Paul's painful condition!

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity" Does Not Support the Homosexual Movement

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Genesis 9:12-16 NIV (emphasis mine)

What beautiful and wonderful words! The above passage is a reminder to us of God's covenant both with Noah in particular and the earth in general. When we see a rainbow it reminds us of God's faithfulness, mercy, and love. He will never again destroy the earth with a flood (even though we deserve it as much today as it was deserved thousands of years ago). The rainbow is a symbol of the greatness and kindness of God.

Fast forward to today. Sadly, the rainbow has been hijacked by pro-homosexual activist groups. Now whenever pro-gay rallies of any sort take place the rainbow is present. In fact, one of the most prominent homosexual symbols is the gay flag, which is basically a rainbow. This is both frustrating and perverse. Those perpetuating and promoting this sinful, vile lifestyle have taken something beautiful and - at a cultural level - attempted to make it their own.

This brings me to Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity. I want to make it clear that the book I edited does not support the homosexual agenda.

Some people might be confused by the cover of the book. After all, the symbol on the front is sort of rainbow colored. Please allow me to explain. Selecting a cover for a book is not easy. I desired something that would convey the ideas of both unity and diversity. The cover symbol does that. It shows different people coming together as one. However, I had no specific agenda or topic in mind. Frankly, homosexuality never even entered my thought process.

As for the book, I cannot remember if homosexuality is mentioned. If it is, the subject is not prominent. While some of the authors may have differing opinions about homosexuality, it is not advocated in the book. If you are wondering what I believe specifically about the homosexual lifestyle, please click here to see a series I wrote about one year ago.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Linking: "America and Uniracial Christianity"

We've all experienced it: American churches are one-race dominated. They tend to be white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. Few churches I have ever been to have had a true mix of cultures and races.

Peter J. Leithart discusses the problematic single race issue in his excellent piece entitled America and Uniracial Christianity.

Sermon Prep?