Friday, October 29, 2010

Why I Love the Five Solas

Why do I love the five solas of the Reformation? I love them because they are truths that focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ in bringing glory to God.

These doctrines should not be divisive among Christians. All the focus is upon Christ. Man is given no credit for his salvation. God receives the glory - as it should be.

As I ponder the five solas, this is what I believe they mean and how they should impact our lives.

1. Sola Scriptura

This is the starting point because the bible is the primary way we know the triune God. Apart from scripture, we could only know enough to be condemned but not saved.

The bible testifies to its own inspiration, permanence, and truthfulness. The bible is full of wonderful truths about God that are continuous blessings from God to us.

Psalm 119:18 says, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law."

Later in Psalm 119:105 we see, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."

In light of the inspiration and truth of scripture, the bible must be the primary and final authority in the life and practice of the individual Christian and the church as a whole.

I do not believe that this automatically means we have to jettison all man-constructed creeds and traditions. However, these must all fall under the authority of the bible. If they in any way conflict with the scriptures, they must be abandoned.

The bible is our ultimate foundation.

2. Sola Gratia

Sola Gratia emphasizes that salvation is completely a gift of God's grace.

God has done all the work required for salvation. We can do nothing to merit being forgiven and knowing God. Therefore, salvation has to be a gift from His gracious hand.

The wonderful verses from Ephesians 2:8-9 inform us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

We must understand that this means God has done all the work of salvation. We have done none of it. Even our faith is a gift.

The beauty of this is that we can rest in His grace while He gets the glory for accomplishing salvation.

3. Sola Fide

One of the primary cries of the Protestant Reformation was "Justification by faith alone." The reason for this cry was that the Roman Catholic Church had for hundreds of years been teaching what amounted to a works-based salvation. The Reformers found faith alone in the bible.

For example, Galatians 2:16 says, "Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."

This is a beautiful truth for us to embrace. We do not have to continually be working for our salvation because it is not something we can earn. We are declared just before holy God not because of any works we do (which could never be good enough), but because of faith.

4. Solus Christus

Jesus Christ is the sole provider of salvation. No one else is needed or even involved. It is Christ and Him alone who stands as our Mediator before His Father.

I Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."

Speaking of Jesus, Peter said in Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Salvation was accomplished on the cross by Jesus Christ. Through this gracious act we are saved. Our faith links us to Christ. Christ stands in our place.

5. Soli Deo Gloria

This is the end goal and result of everything: that God receives the glory.

Jesus Christ's work on the cross and His subsequent resurrection and ascension were for this very purpose:

Philippians 2:9-11, "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Everything we do, in joyful response to Christ, should have the end goal of glorifying God:

I Corinthians 10:31 tells us, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

I Peter 4:11, "...whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

The end goal of the church is the glory of God:

Ephesians 3:20-21, "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

Paul sums it all up well when he writes in Romans 11:36, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Becoming a Statistic

When I was in seminary, the professors repeatedly lamented the fact that the average stay of a Southern Baptist pastor at a particular church was somewhere between two and four years. I heard various statistics, but they all seemed to fall in that range.

I've served as pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church for about 2.5 years. This coming Sunday is my final day as pastor. God, in His grace, is allowing me to finish preaching through the book of Matthew on Sunday (I started about two years ago). What a great way to go out: preaching about our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. We will miss our friends there and look forward to visiting.

So I'm becoming a statistic. Instead of staying for years and years, I'm leaving like so many others.

Well, not exactly like so many others.

It would be interesting to do a study (maybe one's already been done?) to find out the reasons why pastors leave churches after a relatively short period of time. Some leave to go to bigger churches. Some leave because the church grows tired of them. Some leave for moral problems. Some leave just to get away.

Some leave because they feel convicted about it. That's the camp I'm in.

I'm a statistic. So be it. At least I'm not leaving to go to a bigger church because "God has called me to go there." I wonder how many pastors God has "called" to go to smaller churches?

So I didn't stay as long as my professors would have liked. It's safe to say I'm not leaving for reasons they would like either. Oh well.

As a semi-interesting footnote, many of my professors pastored numerous churches in a wide variety of states. I always wanted to ask them why they didn't stay in one place for long.

Elders in Acts 15-16

Let's continue looking at elders, this time in Acts chapters 15-16.

In these two chapters, we see the word "elders" used six times (in bold font below), all referring to the same people.

It is difficult to determine the exact meaning of "elders" in these chapters. Is Luke talking about older wise men in the church in Jerusalem, is he referring to people who have been appointed (such as in Acts 14:23), or is he referring to both? I don't think we can determine from this text.

What can we learn about the role of elders from this passage? Let's see.

This is a long passage, but I'm including it here so that we will all read it again before discussing it.

The passage is Acts 15:1 - 16:5:

1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses."

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 "'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.' 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues."

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 34 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

16:1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Before we discuss the above passage, let's remember the context. Acts chapters 10-11 are critical. In those two chapters, we see salvation come to Gentiles. The Holy Spirit falls in a very visible manner, making it clear that following O.T. requirements is not expected for Gentiles to become Christians.

Now we move to Acts 15. We come across what many people refer to as the "Jerusalem Council." What happens during this gathering? What can we learn about elders?

To sum it up - I don't think we learn very much about elders in this passage.

We see a gathering taking place. We see a problem arise that the church has to deal with. That problem (do Gentiles have to follow the O.T. law to be Christians?) is the focus of this chapter. Elders are mentioned but not highlighted.

Much of the chapter is a lengthy discussion. The apostles are there, as are the elders. It seems that the church as a whole was involved. Verse four tells us that they were received by the church. Verses 22 -23 mention the apostles, elders, and "the whole church" and "the brethren." It is difficult to determine what role the elders played that the whole church did not.

After much discussion, there is a resolution. The group comes to the conclusion that Gentiles do not have to follow the O.T. law in order to be Christians. The key is that they did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved.

Did the church come to this conclusion on its own? It appears not. They were simply recognizing a truth we have already seen back in Acts 10-11. The Holy Spirit made it clear to everyone in those chapters that Gentiles are accepted by God through repentance and faith.

Also, who came to this conclusion in Acts 15? We learn a lot from Acts 15:23. In the first line of the letter sent to Antioch, it reads, "The apostles, the elders, and the brethren..." The implication was that the decision from the Jerusalem meeting came from the entire church.

So what about the elders? What did they do? What can we learn?

-The fact that they are mentioned implies that they are important to the life of the church. In the space of a little over one chapter, they are mentioned six times.

-The elders are involved in the decision making. While some verses suggest that the decision was that of the entire church, others focus more on the apostles and elders (see 16:4). My guess is that those in the church in Jerusalem looked to the elders as a model to follow in their decision making. This does not imply, however, any specific authority on the part of the elders.

That's about all I can find. Since this is primarily a narrative passage that focuses on other things, we don't learn much about elders. This does not imply that elders aren't important; rather, they just aren't the focus of this passage.

I wanted to look at this passage for two reasons. First, it contains the word "elders," and I intend in this series to look at all N.T. passages that use that word. Second, and equally important, the "Jerusalem Council" is often used as evidence for the authority of elders in the church. The thinking goes like this: the apostles and elders made the decision; apostles don't exist any longer but elders do; therefore, elders now have authority in the church. The big problem with this reasoning is that elders don't have authority in this passage.

We must be careful not to read into passages what isn't there. This passage is remarkably sparse on what we can learn about elders.

I believe we can safely say that Acts 15:1 - 16:4 teaches us the following about elders:

-Elders were part of the church.
-Elders were important to the life of the church.
-Elders were involved in decision making.

Based on what we see in 16:4, we can guess (not be certain) that others within the church looked to the elders as examples in how to think through this problem.

In the end, we don't learn much from this passage. Let's let the bible speak, not add to it, and not take away from it.

To learn more about the "Jerusalem Council," click here to read several posts that my friend Alan has written about it.

An Instruction Manual?

When discussing the church and the scriptures, I've heard this objection given in various ways, "The New Testament is not meant to be an instruction manual for church life." Hmmm...

The good folks over at Participatory Church Gatherings have dealt well with this issue. I encourage you to take a look.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Big Influence

A number of people have asked me why I am leaving the professional pastorate and the institutional church. The answer is that God has convicted me, through what I have seen in scripture, that I need to be involved in simple church life that follows the biblical model.

The biggest influence on me is what I have read in the pages of scripture. We know that God loves His church. I believe that in light of this love, God has given us all we need to know about what He wants for His church in the bible.

A second influence, albeit a much smaller one than the bible, has been the book House Church: Simple, Strategic, Scriptural. This book focuses on what the name suggests: house church life in the New Testament. The book is refreshing because it is full of scripture. The authors look at what the bible tells us about church gatherings, the Lord's Super, the role of elders/pastors, congregational decision-making, meeting locations, giving, etc. Everything is analyzed from the perspective of the biblical model.

The authors do not assume, as most Christians do today, that we have all sorts of freedom in the way we function as the church. Instead, they assume that what we see in the bible is the way the church should be. I agree with them.

I highly encourage you to read this book. You may not agree with all of it (I didn't), but you will probably at least find yourself challenged. You may feel uncomfortable, but it is a good uncomfortable.

If you live near Savannah, send me an e-mail. I have about ten copies of the book at home just waiting to be given away.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Great Family Weekend

We had a great time as a family this past weekend at Magnolia Springs State Park. For the first time in years, our family, my sister's family, and my parents all spent a chunk of time together away from the busyness of life. We went canoeing, walked trails, played games, sat around the campfire, consumed burgers and s'mores, found alligators (to watch, not play with), and just enjoyed being together. Additionally, it was wonderful to have some time to enjoy God through His creation. In other words, instead of just admiring the beauty of nature, I wanted to enjoyed the Creator of the beauty in which I was basking. God is good to show us glimpses of His glory through what He has created.

This is Mary and me canoeing. I would have smiled but the sun was temporarily blinding me (notice Mary's tinted lenses).

Me standing by a fallen tree stump

Caroline by a very dead pine

Gator relaxing in pond / us safely on bridge above

Gator on the prowl

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marrying Yourself?

If you can't find someone to marry, can you marry yourself? This young lady in Taipei is doing just that.

According to the bride-to-be, "It's not that I'm anti-marriage. I just hope that I can express a different idea within the bounds of a tradition."

She goes on to say, "I was just hoping that more people would love themselves."

This is simply another example of what happens when the world rejects God's plan for marriage. The possible outcomes for marriage are now endless. When will people begin marrying groups of people, animals, trees, the moon, amoebas, galaxies, plastic wrappers, lawn chairs, e-mails, etc.?

I guess we can at least hope that this young bride enjoys her solo honeymoon in Australia.

I do have two questions for her:

First, will she keep her own last name or change her last name to her own last name?

Second, if she eventually meets someone she wants to marry, does she have to divorce herself in order to marry that person?

It all ends up in the absurd when we stop following God's plan.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Great Conversation

Yesterday I met three friends for lunch. The food was pretty good. Since I got a salad (trying to "be healthy"), it by default wasn't anything spectacular.

Despite the mediocrity of the food (next time I'm getting a burger), the conversation was great. These three friends of mine serve as full-time pastors at Ferguson Avenue Baptist Church here in Savannah. I must admit that it is refreshing that we all agree on issues related to salvation; we are all Reformed.

However, we disagree on many things related to the church and the role of the pastor/elder/overseer. For about two hours yesterday we discussed these things. It was not an argument. Rather, it was a healthy dialog about what the church should be. I was reminded that although we disagree on substantive issues, we actually agree on more than we don't. I really appreciated that one of the men said, "You can speak openly here." He said it with a smile on his face as if to tell me not to worry. They weren't prepared with some sort of attack.

I believe I brought up some things that will make them think. They brought up some things that I am pondering today (such as the impact of the synagogue on early Christian gatherings). It is good to be challenged in a gracious manner. They did this for me.

I wish I could say that all my interactions - whether by e-mail, phone, or letter - have been of this kind. They have not.

Back to yesterday. It was terrific. I'm so glad for men of this kind who are willing to just sit down and have a solid and fun conversation about important things. What a relief it was to know that no one was going to get angry and stomp out of the room! As followers of Christ, we should all be able to converse about important things without losing our tempers. That's what the world does. We ought to be different.

I'm thankful to the Lord for yesterday. It was a wonderful reminder of the unity of the church even when we disagree on some things. I hope to have many more conversations of this sort.

Then and Now

Thanks to my good friend Micah for this one.

Courtesy of AiG

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Question: What is the Best Church?

Answer: the church (there is only one)

Ephesians 4:1-6 "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (emphasis mine)

What Should We Do About the Sabbath?

(Warning: this will not be some sort of groundbreaking post with many new ideas. If you have thought through this issue, then feel free to stop reading right now.)

So, what should we do about the Sabbath mentioned in scripture? How ought we handle it as members of the New Covenant?

The following are two bible passages that can inform our thinking:

Romans 14:5-6, "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks."

Colossians 2:16-17, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

We can learn a few important things about the Sabbath which should help us make solid decisions about it:

- Followers of Christ will have different but valid views about the Sabbath.

- We must each be convinced about the significance of the Sabbath and then act on what we believe.

- Let us do whatever we do to please the Lord.

- The Sabbath is similar to other ceremonial aspects of O.T. law.

- The ceremonial aspects are shadows of Jesus Christ. Christ has fulfilled them all.

- We should not be judged by others or judge others about the Sabbath.

What then is the application for us today? I can see four key things:

1. We have freedom regarding the Sabbath (and let's be honest; none of us keeps the Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening anyway).

2. We should not judge anyone else or be judged by anyone else if we differ in beliefs regarding the Sabbath.

3. Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest.

4. Let us do all to please Christ.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Apollo 8 Genesis Reading

I love this video. The NASA Apollo 8 mission was the first to fly around the moon. On Christmas Eve 1968, the astronauts read from the Genesis account of creation.


On my blog sidebar I have a widget from Joshua Project that shows an Unreached People of the Day. The man in the photo to the left represents the Shaikh of Bangladesh - today's unreached people group.

The Shaikh are a predominantly Islamic people who speak Bengali. They are also a large group: almost 133,000,000 people. Most distressingly, according to Joshua Project, the Shaikh are 0.00% evangelical Christian.


I hope we take some time to think about this. This people group, which is well over 1/3 as populous as the entire USA, has no significant Christian population whatsoever. If we believe in a real place called Hell, then statistics like this ought to be chilling to us.

I don't write this post to guilt anyone. Rather, I hope simply to help everyone remember just how serious the need for international missionaries is. For people groups like the Shaikh, if they have no significant Christian population among them, then who is sharing the gospel? How can they hear the good news?

Let us do all we can to support international missionaries. Let's work beyond the confines of denominational lines to get the gospel message to all the nations. Let's remember that many peoples still haven't heard the news that so many of us deeply cherish.

For more specific information on the Shaikh, click here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

This Must Be Jesus' Mug

John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

I Peter 5:4, "And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Overseers in Philippians 1:1-2

"Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (ESV)

Above is the familiar greeting at the beginning of Paul's letter to the Philippians. This is a typical Pauline way of opening his epistles. If you look at other greetings you will see that many are very similar. This one is unique, however, in that Paul mentions the "overseers and deacons." Because Paul uses "overseers," which is used interchangeably with "elders" regarding role in the church, I'd like to mention a few things we can glean from the opening of this letter:

1. Christ is the head. Paul reminds the Philippians of this by referring to himself and Timothy as servants of Christ Jesus. If Christ is the head, by implication no one else is.

2. Paul writes to the church. The contents of the epistle are directed to the church family. Paul even uses the word "all" to emphasize that he desires that everyone in the church hear what he has written. The apostle does not choose any special, select group of people to receive the letter.

3. Paul reminds them at the beginning that they all are saints. Paul is assuming that everyone in the church is, in fact, in Christ. Because they are in Christ, they are all considered to be saints. This is not because of what they have done, but because of what Jesus has accomplished. Notice that Paul does not elevate anyone to special status within the church. All are saints.

4. Paul writes to the entire church in Philippi. He assumes that all the Christians in Philippi compose the church at Philippi. Paul does not see any artificial divisions within the church such as we have today. Another way of putting it is that the whole church in that area was the church in that area; Paul saw no division in Christ.

5. Paul recognizes overseers and deacons. Paul mentions, almost in passing, the reality of both overseers and deacons in the church. In the manner he does this, Paul seems to be telling us at least two things. On the one hand, overseers and deacons are necessary and important for the life of the church (and they should be multiple). Otherwise, he would not have mentioned them. On the other hand, the brief manner in which the apostle mentions them after he addresses the church as a whole tells us that the overseers and deacons are significantly less important than the church body. We can safely infer that Paul sees them as existing to serve the body as opposed to being served by the body.

6. Paul wishes the church body grace and peace. The apostle's desire is only for the best for this church. The remainder of this letter is an exhortation to joy in Christ and unity of the body. Notice that Paul quickly moves away from mentioning the overseers and deacons. If we were not reading carefully, we could miss their being mentioned altogether. Again, this shows us that Paul did not view overseers as holding any sort of special, elevated, separated-out status or position within the church.

This greeting gives support to the idea that overseers and deacons exist within the church to serve the church. Servant-leadership in the name of Christ is the key (Paul uses Jesus' name three times in this short greeting).

Elders in I Corinthians 9:14

In I Corinthians 9:14 Paul writes, "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." (ESV)

Many times I have heard this verse used as justification for modern-day pastors earning salaries from their churches. This verse is applied directly to them because, they reason, they "proclaim the gospel."

However, the reality is that this passage does not apply whatsoever to pastors. Nowhere in this verse or the entire passage does Paul even mention elders, overseers, or pastors. Simply put, elders do not appear here (read I Corinthians 9 here).

Paul is discussing those who travel from location to location proclaiming the gospel. He seems to have apostolic workers and evangelists in mind. Since they travel around, they need financial support. Elders, however, since they come from local congregations where they live, do not need this support since they can have regular jobs.

We should also keep the broader context in mind when studying this passage. Paul is discussing the issue of Christian liberty. Paul is not willing to use this liberty, as it relates to receiving financial support from the Corinthians, because he does not want it to in any way hinder his proclamation of the gospel.

We do know that Paul received financial support from the Philippian church, thus showing that it was acceptable for apostolic workers to do so.

Back to the issue of elders. In the end we must come to the conclusion that when Paul wrote this passage, he did not have elders/overseers/pastors in mind. The context excludes them altogether. Therefore, this verse should not be used to justify modern pastors receiving any sort of financial support.

(There is another passage pertaining directly to elders which is used by many to support pastoral salaries. That passage is I Timothy 5:17-18. I'm going to address those verses in a later post.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Goat Sacrifices and Stampedes

Click here to read a tragic story about an argument over goat sacrifices leading to ten deaths during a Hindu festival in India. Pagan practices always lead to negative results. We have much to be thankful for that Christ is our once for all sacrifice.

Hebrews 5:27, "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself."

Hebrews 9:26, "...for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."

Hebrews 10:10, "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Hebrews 10:12-14, "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."

D. A. Carson on the Gospel

D. A. Carson is one of my favorite authors. He is a brilliant theologian, a good writer, and converses knowledgeably about a great number of subjects. Carson writes the following about the gospel in a chapter entitled "What is the Gospel? - Revisited" as part of the new book For the Fame of God's Name (p. 162).

"The heart of the gospel is what God has done in Jesus, supremely in his death and resurrection. Period. It is not personal testimony about our repentance; it is not a few words about our faith response; it is not obedience; it is not the cultural mandate or any other mandate. Repentance, faith, and obedience are of course essential, and must be rightly related in the light of Scripture, but they are not the good news. The gospel is the good news about what God has done. Because of what God has done in Christ Jesus, the gospel necessarily includes the good that has been secured by Christ and his cross work. Thus it has a present and an eschatological dimension. We announce the gospel."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In the News Again

Last night we had a great time taking part in the Light the Night Walk in the historic district of Savannah. This was a large fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Our son Bobby is the "Honored Hero" for this year here in Savannah. Because of this, we have been in the news a bit lately. Earlier this week, we were in the local newspaper. Yesterday morning we ended up on the local T.V. news. Read the article and watch the video by clicking here. Bobby comes in at the 00:57 mark. I start blabbering at abut 1:14.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Elders in I Peter 5:1-6

This post is part of an ongoing look at the role of elders/overseers/pastors in scripture. The previous posts:

In today's post, I want to look at one of the most important passages in the bible relating to this role. I Peter 5:1-6 is critical for at least a couple of reasons. First, Peter uses forms of all three Greek words for elder/overseer/pastor. Second, Peter tells us much about both the actions and motivations of those who would serve as elders/overseers/pastors. As with previous posts, for the sake of brevity I'm going to use the term "elder" unless there is a specific reason not to.

Peter writes:

"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you..."

We can learn a tremendous amount from this passage. I'm going to point out what I see, but I'd love your feedback as well. Comments please.

We will see a few things that we have already discovered in the Acts passages.

So, what does Peter tell us?

1. Elders are multiple. N.T. churches always had more than one elder.

2. Elders are among the flock. Elders serve amongst people they know. They are not from the outside.

3. Elders are to shepherd the flock. This is a command. This seems to have a fairly wide range of meaning. We can at least say that shepherds care for the flock. This is where we get the word for "pastor." There are other aspects to shepherding such as feeding, guiding, leading, and protecting. We must be careful how far we go with these assumptions. To be safe, I think we must limit ourselves in this passage to the concept of caring for the flock.

4. The flock belongs to God. It is "of God." Jesus Christ is the head of His flock.

5. Elders exercise oversight. This seems to refer to caring for the spiritual well-being of the flock. This is where we get the word for "overseer." Let's be very careful not to allow our modern ideas of overseer (boss, ruler, master) intrude on how we understand this word.

6. Elders are to serve willingly and eagerly, not because of compulsion or for shameful gain. These words speak to the motivation to serve. The motivation must be one of sacrificial service. Our Lord came not to be served, but to serve. Let us follow this example.

7. Elders are not to domineer, but are to be examples to the flock. This is probably one of the most important statements about elders in the entire N.T. Peter expects that elders will not place themselves in positions where they can domineer over others. This is very important. Instead, elders are to be examples to the church. This may be the most important part of being an elder. In fact, elders are probably selected by the Holy Spirit and recognized by the church because they are already being godly examples.

8. Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd. The one true senior pastor of the church is Jesus Christ.

9. Christ will give the crown of glory. It is difficult to know who receives this crown and what it is. However, there is no doubt that it will be a good thing. This should motivate us all to serve diligently regardless of whether or not we are recognized as elders.

-Verses 5 and 6 are often left out of this equation. I believe that is a mistake. These two verses show us that the overall context is one of humility and mutual subjection.

10. Those who are younger are to be subject to the elders. We must understand this correctly. This is not the same as being subject to a king or even a boss. The idea is that those who are younger will listen to and follow the godly examples of elders who are caring for the flock. The elders lead by example more than by word. The younger follow this example, not because of the men who do it, but because they are following Christ.

11. All in the church are to show humility toward one another. We are all to think of others before ourselves. This includes elders.

12. All in the church are to humble themselves before God. We have no reason to be prideful since God has given us everything. Part of salvation itself is humility before the God who saves. Elders are to serve with this humility in mind.

We have seen a great deal in these few verses. We learn about what elders are to do and what their motivation should be. Elders should be, first and foremost, godly examples to the church who desire to care for the church. Their main duty is service. They do this together, not alone. They remember that the church belongs to Christ, and that He - the only real senior pastor - is returning one day for His church.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Experience and an M.Div. Do Not Mean I'm Qualified to Plant a Church

I'm fascinated by the wide range of responses I have gotten and continue to get when I tell people that I'm leaving the professional pastorate and starting to gather with Christians in my home. As I expected, some of the responses have been positive, while others have not.

There is one response I was not prepared for. When I've talked with some folks, usually pastors, they have given approval (not that I asked for it) to the idea of me planting and leading a church in my home. Please let me be clear: if a church starts, it will be God who plants it. I'm happy to be a part of it. Also, it is God who will lead it. Again, I'm just happy to be part of it.

It is the pastors I have talked with who assume that I will be both planting and leading it (several posts ago I spoke of me planting a church in my home; I regret the use of that language. The Holy Spirit is the real planter). They have approved for basically two reasons: A) I have experience as an institutional pastor, and B) I have an M.Div.

These same people do not approve of much of the simple church planting that goes on because they see too many problems with it. Of course, these are pragmatic problems. These same men cannot and will not try to speak against simple churches from the scriptures because they are unable to do so.

Let's be clear about what is going on here: these pastors, who should look to the bible for their answers, are instead looking to their own experience and reasoning to stand in judgment over whether or not a simple church plant should take place. They believe I'm somehow qualified because I have experience in institutional church leadership. Frankly, I have no idea why my experience in that should matter at all in simple church life. The two are very different things altogether.

It is true that simple churches have problems. Tell me any church anywhere that has not had problems. People are sinful; thus, problems exist. To think that my background will keep that from happening is absurd.

In the end, the most disappointing aspect of these conversations is that these men clearly believe that I will be something extra special in the life of this church plant. That must be the case if they think that I alone could keep problems from happening. What this shows us is that they believe in the clergy-laity divide, where "The Pastor" holds special status. This is an unbiblical idea.

When it comes to the church that will, God willing, gather in our home, I don't know who the elders/overseers/pastors will be. In Acts we read something interesting about that. In Acts 20:28, Paul is talking with the elders from the church at Ephesus. He says, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." Who made them overseers? The Holy Spirit did.

As for this house fellowship, the Holy Spirit will eventually select elders. I hope we have the discernment to understand who they are supposed to be. I might be one; I might not. Either way is fine.

I'll also be happy if this church gathers in multiple places. In fact, it will be a relief (especially for my wife) if we can meet in other homes as well. Additionally, we plan to be gone once in a while. The church isn't going to depend on me.

The church is led by the Holy Spirit. The church is owned and governed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is absurd for anyone, pastor or otherwise, to give approval to some churches but not others just because of the background of one person involved. It shows a complete misunderstanding of what church leadership should be.

This new church doesn't depend on me. If it thrives, it will be because of a reliance upon our great God.

Experience and an M.Div. mean little as far as qualifications go. Planting a church needs one primary thing: complete joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It also needs a secondary thing: commitment to love others before self.

Piper on TVs and Movies

I've written several times on this blog about why we don't have a television and the benefits that have come from this. We also only go to the movies once in a great while. I think I saw one film last year - Toy Story 3.

I'm encouraged that at least some other Christians feel the same way. John Piper has this to say about television:

"It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ."

Read the whole thing here.

48 Books for 68 Dollars

As they seem to generously do each year, Desiring God Ministries is offering 48 copies of Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ for only $68.00. This is an evangelism-focused offer; each copy has to be given away for free. The book is terrific for evangelistic purposes because it is short and focuses on the person of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Random Thoughts for 10/13/10

These are some short, somewhat random (at least in order) thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.

-Christians should be the nicest people in the world. That may not seem too deep theologically speaking, but it is true. I wonder why this so often is not the case.

-Job Fairs are good for making you humble. I attended one yesterday here in Savannah. I saw many people, including me, all hoping to land what amounted to jobs that weren't that attractive. I'm glad God is sovereign because if I have to rely on my own skills and abilities to get a job, I could be unemployed for quite a while. That could be part of God's plan, but if it is I know He will provide.

-I'm a sports fan. That's one of the reasons we got rid of our T.V. - so I wouldn't watch so much. Last night, via the internet, I saw something very thoughtful happen after the Texas Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays to advance to the ALCS. Since one of their players struggles with alcoholism, the team decided to use Ginger Ale for their celebration instead of champagne. I realize that the whole thing of spraying one another with liquid is pointless, but it was nice to see a team alter what it normally does for the good of a teammate.

-This past Saturday we experienced a very small example of the Lord giving and the Lord taking away. We received an e-mail from a friend offering a Guinea Pig for free. We decided to accept the offer. This was a blessing to our daughter Mary who really wanted a pet she could play with. We had a Russian Dwarf Hamster, but it couldn't do much more than run in its wheel. It was not cuddly. Well, just before the Guinea Pig arrived at our house, we realized that the Dwarf Hamster wasn't moving. Simply put: it died. We buried it, and a little while later the Guinea Pig arrived. I think of it as an upgrade. We do see, however, that the Lord both gives and takes according to His perfect timing.

-If you suggest on Facebook - as I recently did - that Christian women should not wear bikinis and Christian men should not enjoy women wearing bikinis, watch out! While some people will heartily agree with what you have written, others will beat you up with "Christian liberty" and "Judge not lest ye be judged." Modesty has certainly become a thing of the past in most sectors of our society, including much of the church.

-In thinking through the issue of creation and Genesis chapters 1-2, it bothers me that the creationism issue has been framed by many as a "culture war" issue. I think it is actually bigger than that. I believe it is an issue of biblical interpretation itself. If we say that Genesis chapters 1-2 should not be taken literally (and I realize there is a little wiggle room in what this means), then where do we stop with this method of interpretation? A fair reading of the text suggests that God's actions are explained literally to us. If we reject this, what else do we reject? How far do we go in this? I believe it is impossible to reject a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2 and then turn around and accept a literal interpretation of other key truths of the bible like the resurrection of Jesus. And if there is no resurrection, there is no salvation. We must be consistent in how we interpret scripture.

-Regarding simple church/house church life, one of the primary reasons I hear people reject the concept is that these same people "have seen it and it doesn't work." I've read and heard many variations on this same thing. Basically it boils down to the fact that these people have in their own experience seen house churches that have not worked (usually blown apart or fallen into false teaching). Therefore, they conclude, house churches cannot work in our culture and should not be trusted or attempted. This reasoning is problematic for one main reason: it doesn't involve the bible at all. The biblical model shows house churches. Do they have problems? Of course they do - they're made up of people. However, this remains the model. Therefore we should at least accept the idea of house churches existing. We must let scripture inform and lead our decision making instead of our own experiences.

-Yesterday I had a wonderful two-hour conversation with a friend of mine. He is heavily involved in institutional church ministry, but he is also open to simple church ideas. We don't agree on everything, but it was refreshing because he is willing to ask hard questions about the Christian life, including the church, and also try to find the answers. We are in agreement that the American church is in a desperate crisis of discipleship. We had a good time talking about ways to combat this problem. We certainly don't have all the answers.

-If you attend a Southern Baptist seminary, you will in general receive an excellent education. The best part will be your original language classes and your theology classes. The most disappointing classes will be those that mention the church but don't really deal with what the bible says about it. Regardless, if you plan to attend, go here.

-We are in a dangerous spot if we automatically avoid books that have been given a certain label by others. One of these labels is "emergent." For example, I've been told to avoid certain books "because they are emergent literature." The problem is that the word emergent has come to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. My point is simply this: let's let the book stand on its own merits and not be afraid to read it just because of a subjective label someone else has given it.

-I just received this book in the mail. I'm looking forward to taking a while to read it (over 500 pages).

-Read this excellent post about how to write about those with whom you disagree.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"It Is Well"

In my previous post, I in essence pointed out a number of books that are not worth reading. This book, although the focus is not the church, is definitely worth the read.

It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement is one of those texts that is simply a joy to read. Part of the reason is the topic. I love spending time pondering the stunning atonement of Jesus Christ. His work on the cross for us should leave us in a continual state of awe.

One reason I really enjoyed this book is that the authors (Mark Dever and Michale Lawrence) focus on fourteen different scripture passages that deal directly with the atonement. Each chapter in the book discusses one passage. This book is actually taken from fourteen different sermons that they preached on the atonement. In that way, It Is Well is a little different than most books because it reads like you are listening to sermons.

We cannot think too often on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. This book will help you in that. Enjoy.

More Than a Little Skeptical

I apologize up front for the negative sounding post title. You'll see why in just a bit.

Let me back up a little. It is odd being Reformed in one sense of the word, but definitely not in another sense. I'm enthusiastically Reformed when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. Count me in as far as God's sovereignty is concerned related to the salvation of sinners. I love the doctrines of grace and the 5 solas. I realize that none of this is news, but I just wanted to state it again.

On the other hand, count me out when it comes to the Reformed doctrine of the church. While I certainly think men like Luther and Calvin made some very good changes of Roman Catholic Church practices, they still kept too many of the problems. For example, they kept both the ceremony and the focus on one person. They also kept baptizing babies. The nonviolent Anabaptists, despite their troubles, were much more biblical ecclesiologically than were the Magisterial Reformers.

In light of this, I'm more than a little skeptical about a new post at the Ligonier Ministries blog. In a piece entitled, "Doctrine of the Church: Recommended Reading," we can find numerous books on the church. So what's the problem? All these books look at the church through a Reformed lens. Some will do this more than others, but in the end they will all be very much the same. I highly doubt that any will really challenge the sacred cows of today's churches. It's one thing to say that the church should be, "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." It's another thing to say that the church should be biblical in both what it believes and what it does.

Our Family in the Newspaper

The Savannah Morning News has a nice story this morning that focuses on our family's journey through cancer. As most of you know, we were serving in India in early 2007 when our son Bobby (pictured here) was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. We hurried home to Savannah, where we dove into hospital life. God graciously carried our family - especially Bobby - through several months of chemotherapy.

During that time, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was a big support to us. This coming Friday night we get to help raise money for the LLS by taking part in the annual Light the Night Walk in Savannah. Bobby gets some special focus because of what he went through.

Here is our family's page for the Light the Night Walk. If you would like to donate, please do. Thanks.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Elders in Acts 14:23

Let's continue the discussion of the role of elders/overseers/pastors by looking at the next instance of the word "elder." We find it in Acts 14:23.

Acts 14:19-23, "But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (emphasis mine)

This episode takes place during Paul's first missionary journey (I have always loved the way Paul gets stoned, but then somehow gets up and returns to the city).

On this journey, Paul and Barnabas traveled through parts of Asia Minor. They proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ and people were saved. Churches were started in these different cities. Paul and Barnabas did a U-turn of sorts once they reached Derbe, going back to the cities they had previously visited. When they did this, they encouraged the new believers and warned them that they would likely face persecution. In 14:23, we read that Paul and Barnabas "appointed elders for them in every church." Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted for them, and then departed.

This is a fairly straightforward narrative passage. As in Acts 11:30, the elders are almost mentioned in passing. The focus is on Paul and Barnabas' activities rather than on the elders themselves.

Although this passage is short as it pertains to elders, we can still learn at least six things.

1. Elders are appointed by someone.

In this case, the church planters Paul and Barnabas appointed the elders. We can surmise that these two men looked around the churches and saw who should be elders. They then appointed them. We don't know why particular men were appointed or what they were supposed to do (we learn these things in other passages), but we can safely say that someone appointed them.

Notice that they didn't appoint themselves. This is far different from today when men go off to seminary, graduate, and then basically declare themselves ready "to preach!"

We cannot be certain what Paul and Barnabas were looking for in these men, but it is safe to say they had the characteristics of I Timothy 3:1-7 in mind. In other words, these were probably godly, mature men who lived in such a manner as to be examples to others in the church bodies.

2. Elders should be multiple, not singular.

Let us take note that "elders" not "elder" were appointed in every church. This is a role of multiplicity, not singularity. Throughout the N.T. churches we read of multiple elders.

How easily we ignore this today.

3. Elders are part of the church.

This is implied rather than overtly stated. However, I think we can safely say that Paul and Barnabas appointed men who were already parts of these church bodies. They would have recognized who were already acting as mature examples to others, and would then have appointed them. There is, quite obviously, no way someone could be an example if he was not part of a particular local church in the first place. We never get the idea that, for example, Paul appointed someone from Lystra to be an elder in Iconium.

Again, think how far we have strayed from this model today.

4. Elders are for the benefit of the church.

Acts 14:23 says, "And when they had appointed elders for them..." Notice that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for the good of the people - for the benefit of the church families. So we clearly see that the church is not to benefit the elders (although that will probably happen), but the other way around. This clearly implies servanthood on the part of the elders. It also rules out any type of special status or rock-star type benefit on the part of the elders.

5. Elders are important for the church.

Elders are appointed in every church. Paul and Barnabas would not have done this in every church if elders were not important. We must be careful here. This does not automatically mean that elders are leaders in any type of hierarchical sense. It also does not mean that elders are more important than anyone else. We can simply infer that elders are important. If the role is one of being godly examples of servanthood, then this makes complete sense.

6. Churches should have elders.

Related to #5, we can surmise that elders should be a part of every church. Otherwise, Paul and Barnabas would not have appointed them "in every church." Every means 100%. The fact that there were no exceptions is significant. As there is a tendency in traditional churches to elevate elders (usually referred to as "pastors") to a special status, there is also a tendency among simple churches to react against this by having no elders. Neither of these follows the biblical model.

These are six aspects of the role of elders/overseers/pastors that I believe we can learn from this verse. What do you think?

Semi-Interesting Data on Diversity of Faith in U.S. Cities

Click here to look at a new study from the Barna Group that focuses on diversity of religious faith in cities around our country. I refer to the data as "semi-interesting" because I don't know how valuable and/or precise it is. For example, they asked people if they describe themselves as "Christian." This term has so many different meanings to so many different people that it has, sadly, become almost meaningless. When 96% of Charlotte, N.C. reports that it is Christian, we know we are looking at some skewed data. Anyway, it's an interesting read, even if I'll take the results with a grain of salt.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sproul Asks the Wrong Question

R. C. Sproul is one of my favorite authors and theologians. Nevertheless, I think he asks the wrong question in a blog post entitled "Is Tithing Wrong?" It is short; I encourage you to read it.

A better question for followers of Jesus Christ to ask is, "What principle should govern my giving of the money/resources God has entrusted me with?" (I realize that question ends with a preposition, which is a grammatical no-no. Sorry. I couldn't think of a better way to word it.)

What does the bible say about the issue of giving? In the passage Sproul mentions Jesus does not condemn tithing, rather He condemns the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Interestingly, however, Jesus does not tell us anywhere to tithe. In fact, nowhere in the New Testament do we see the church tithing. So what should we do?

Paul addresses giving very clearly in II Corinthians 9:6-7, saying. "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

We see the early church practice this in Acts 11:27-30, "Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul."

The early Christians understood that giving was a heart issue. II Cor. 9:6-7 makes it very clear that we must each decide what to give at any point in time. This is not to be done reluctantly or under compulsion, but out of joy.

If we want to be biblical people, we will give freely and joyfully. When we do this, we may not even know exactly how much we have given. We need to be "money in - money out" people (in terms of giving to those in need).

Why tithe when A) it is not a New Testament church practice, and B) it is not a joy-filled practice?

Sproul gets it wrong here. Let's give as Paul describes in II Cor. 9.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Buildings, Money, and Passing the Plate

Yesterday I was walking around the historic district of Savannah looking for somewhere cool and quiet to think, read my bible, and pray. Given my current situation, I find myself doing a lot of that lately. I eventually made my way into The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The structure is beautiful but has no religious significance for me; after all, it's just a building.

Curiosity got the best of me after a while, and I began strolling around the cathedral. It turns out that if you are going to have an elaborate building like you see above, you also have to frequently ask for money. Apparently anyone can donate for each candle they light if they so desire. I'll admit that I don't understand. In light of all the lit candles (pun intended), there must have been many donations yesterday.

In case a visitor misses the candles, these other two signs are reminders of the need for donations for such an ornate temple of sorts (see final photo).

Before we go any further in bashing Roman Catholicism, we should take a look at ourselves. We may not ask for many direct donations for existing buildings. However, I have seen my fair share of building campaigns that have been hyper-spiritualized when asking for thousands of dollars ("We need this new building to reach the lost" or "Nehemiah built the wall around Jerusalem; in the same way we need to build this new sanctuary").

When we pass the offering plate and use most of the money to pay off large mortgages on large buildings that sit empty for the vast majority of the week, what are we saying about our priorities?

I remember one time about seven years ago when a church we were a part of had fallen behind on its $27,000 per month mortgage (yes, that figure is correct). The pastoral staff made a really big deal about a special offering that would be collected in November in order to get back on schedule with the bank. The church family sacrificially gave just enough to cover the payment. The pastors made a huge deal about thanking God. So, what impact did this have? It completely torpedoed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering that year. That church of 700 or so people gave less than $10,000 to the international missions offering. The reason is simple: they had already given a lot to their own sacred building. Our family wasn't at that church long after that debacle.

A few years later, when Alice and I were appointed as missionaries with the IMB, our appointment service took place at Exciting Idlewild Baptist Church in Orlando (I'm not joking about the name). They had just constructed a new building that cost $80 million (I'm not joking about the cost either).

If we are going to reach the nations, we must stop wasting all this money on church buildings. So what can we do? For churches that already have buildings, may I suggest trying to use what you have more effectively and not build any new edifices. If possible, try to sell some of what you have. Get into homes for meetings as much as possible. Be creative. Do all you can to use the bulk of your money to support missions from your neighborhood to the ends of the earth.

We must get past the idea that God cares about church buildings. In fact, I believe God detests it when a church decides to spend large amounts of money on new buildings. It simply cannot in any way be justified biblically.

What does please God? He is pleased when we honor Him by joyfully obeying Him. Let us give to the needy. Let us share the gospel. Let's use our money wisely in Great Commission fashion as the stewards we are supposed to be.

No more buildings please.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Elders in Acts 11:30

As we look the biblical role of elders/overseers/pastors, we're not generally going to move in canonical order. The order of texts we study will be somewhat subjective based on perceived importance. That said, it does seem fitting to begin by looking at the first use of any of these terms for this role in the N.T.

Because it is unwieldy to type and read "elders/overseers/pastors," from this point forward I'm simply going to use the term that is used in the biblical passage we are looking at.

Today's verse is Acts 11:30, where we read, "And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul."

In order to get a better feel for the verse, read Acts 11:19-30 .

What's going on here? The situation is actually very simple. Some prophets had come from Jerusalem to Antioch. Agabus, one of the prophets, told the church in Antioch that there was going to be a severe famine "throughout all the world." In response to this, each disciple in Antioch gave "according to his ability" to a relief fund of sorts that would be sent to the church in Judea. The church in Antioch sent this monetary gift by the hands of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

This is the first mention of elders in the New Testament church.

When I read this passage, what initially strikes me is how simple and relatively sparse it is on information about elders. We might expect several verses that introduce the position of elder to us. Luke does not give this to us. He simply mentions "elders." It may be that Luke does this because he believes the readers already understand who elders are and what they do.

However, it may also be that Luke doesn't think elders are as important as we tend to think of them today. His language certainly does not imply that elders hold a very significant position in the church. Later bible passages will speak more about the importance of elders, but this one doesn't.

What can we glean about elders from this little passage? I think there are a few significant things.

1. Elders are part of the church. This may seem painfully obvious, but it is worth stating here at the beginning. The elders mentioned here were in Judea, which would include the leaders of the church in Jerusalem but other sections of Judea as well.

2. Elders are trustworthy and do not seek dishonest gain. We can assume that this would have been a substantial offering taken from Antioch (the exact amount is not significant). Barnabas and Saul would not take the money to simply anyone. They would give it to those who could be trusted. This suggests that elders should be men of godly character. Significantly, we see right from the beginning that character is more important than skill or experience when it comes to who elders should be (we see this very clearly in I Timothy 3:1-7).

3. Elders hold some type of leadership position. I think Luke at least implies that elders act as leaders of some type within the church. I hope I'm not reading this into the text (always a danger when we have traditions that cloud our vision). Luke does not define this leadership here. Luke does not say that the elders made the decision about how best to distribute the offering. He does not say any more about elders here. We are simply told that the money went to them.

4. Elders are not extremely significant to the life of the church. Please let me explain what I mean. In modern churches, we clearly see a clergy-laity divide which puts the pastor(s) on a pedestal. This is such a normal practice that it isn't usually questioned. Many people can't conceive of the church doing anything significant apart from the pastor(s) leading it. Luke does not imply that significance here at all. He simply mentions elders. If elders were extremely significant to the degree that the church couldn't function without them leading the way, then Luke certainly would have written more about their role. As we look at other passages, we'll see that elders are, in fact, significant. However, I think we'll see that their significance is both lesser and different than what we see in most modern churches today.

These are four aspects of the role of elders that I believe we can learn from this passage. What do you think? Am I off the mark anywhere (possibly)? Have I missed anything important (probably)?