Sunday, February 26, 2012

Missions in II Corinthians

II Corinthians is a fascinating letter because it is so personal. We learn a great deal about Paul himself in this epistle as he defends his apostolic ministry. We unmistakably see that suffering usually accompanies faithful gospel proclamation. From beginning to end, this letter is stuffed with valuable information related to our missions effort today (for the first post in this series, please click here).

Is there a key passage? I don’t know that I would call the most important, but 2:14-17 stands out as key. Paul writes:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

What can we learn from these verses?

1. God deserves all thanks for the victory.

Paul understands that it is God alone who deserves the thanks in the missions effort. Although Paul goes through much suffering and would be considered a “loser” by the world’s standards, God makes Paul’s efforts successful. Paul in this passage describes God leading them in “triumphal procession,” as if in a victory parade. When we read the book of Acts we see this again and again. God deserves praise for anything positive that comes about when we share the good news. Toward the end of the passage Paul asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?” The unstated answer is obvious: God.

2. God spreads his fragrance to both those accepting and rejecting him.

Paul understands that it is ultimately God who spreads the gospel everywhere. Although Paul is used as a vessel, it is God who makes it happen. The apostles are pictured here those used by God as spreaders of a fragrance/aroma. As a smell permeates a room, the gospel permeates wherever it goes. Acceptance of the fragrance brings eternal life while rejection means continued eternal death.

3. Our duty is to sincerely proclaim on person: Christ.

In defending his apostleship, Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that he never asked them for money. He did not “peddle” the gospel. Instead, he and his companions lived in sincerity in Corinth, speaking of one person – Jesus Christ. As we read in I Cor. 2:2, Paul, “…decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Putting it all together, we see that God deserves thanks and praise for his victory in spreading the fragrance of his glorious gospel to the lost. Some will accept to life, while others will reject to death. Our duty is a simple one: sincerely live and proclaim Christ.

Previous posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark
Missions in Luke
Missions in John
Missions in Acts
Missions in Romans
Missions in I Corinthians

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Question: if you choose to gather with the church in a manner that differs significantly from what is described in scripture, why do you do so?

I've written quite a bit about what I think on this issue; now I'd like to hear more from you. My purpose in this question is not to bash anyone, to tell anyone that they are sinning, or even to win an argument. Rather, I'd just like to know the reasons and discuss them.

In the past I had one reason for gathering in ways that we don't see in the bible: tradition. I even worked as a salaried pastor for a few years, embracing all sorts of things we don't see in scripture.

As for things that differ significantly from what we read in the bible, I'm not talking about stuff beyond our control such as where we live. For example, you don't need to move to Ephesus or Corinth to attempt to be biblical. I'm referring to what happens when Christians come together, how it happens, who's involved, and why it occurs.

So, what do you think?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Out in Left Field

With spring approaching, that means baseball will be starting soon. This reminds me of the phrase “out in left field.” These words refer to being outside the norm in some area of thought or action.

Well, when it comes to church practice, I’m out in left field. Way out in left field. In fact, I’m on the warning track near the fence.

Recently I was thinking about the general Roman Catholic expression of the church. I also pondered the general Protestant expression of church. Then there’s where our family is when it comes to the church. The startling thing is this: when it comes to practice, the Roman Catholic and Protestant expressions have much more in common with one another than either does with me. To keep the baseball analogy going, if Rome is at home plate, and Protestantism is at the pitcher’s mound, then I’m practically beyond left field in the bullpen on the other side of the wall (I apologize if you are not familiar with baseball terminology; I still struggle with cricket even though I’d like to understand it).

Our family frequently feels this “left fieldness” when talking with other believers. When we speak of Jesus, we are all on the same page. This is wonderful. However, when we begin to talk about Jesus’ church, things often get a little uncomfortable. I’m not referring to arguments, but rather a lack of understanding.

I suppose this is the price we pay to follow Christ as the church he designed. Not only are we far outside of Rome, but we are far outside Wittenberg and Geneva as well.

My encouragement to you is that left field, while lonesome at times, is a wonderful place to be. There are others there as well. You may have to look to find them, but they are present. At the same time, let us continue to fellowship with our brothers and sisters who remain in Wittenberg, Geneva, and even Rome.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Missions in I Corinthians

We learn much about missions in the beginning few chapters of this epistle to a troubled church. In particular, Paul’s letter informs us about what we should say and how we should say it.

As for the key passage, we'll focus on I Corinthians 2:1-5. Paul writes:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

In these familiar verses the apostle provides us with four key principles for missions:

1. Effective missionaries spend time with lost people.

Paul resided for about 18 months in Corinth on his second missionary journey. Notice the terminology he uses in the above passage. Paul writes “when I came to you,” “among you,” and “I was with you.” It may seem obvious, but we are much more effective missionaries (either here or overseas) when we spend a great deal of time with those we are attempting to reach with the gospel. This will likely require sacrifice.

2. Effective missionaries do not depend on fancy speech or human wisdom.

Paul describes himself in detail when he arrived in Corinth. We make a mistake if we think that Paul won people to Christ through complicated arguments depending on the wisdom of this world. The apostle states clearly that he, “did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” He continues by writing, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom.” He could not be any clearer. We must avoid the temptation to follow human reasoning and/or fancy rhetoric when we share the good news of Christ.

3. Effective missionaries depend on the power of Christ in the simple gospel message.

As opposed to rhetoric and man’s wisdom, Paul focused on the simple yet profound message of Jesus Christ and him crucified. Paul lived this and proclaimed it. Paul admits coming to them “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” His message was one “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” This harkens back to Acts 1:8 where Jesus says, “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.” Paul relied on the power of God to penetrate the vileness of the human heart with the truth of the gospel. Paul understood, as should we, that God does the saving. Our duty is to proclaim the unadulterated gospel to the lost and wait to see what God does. The Creator of the universe needs no help in regenerating hearts.

4. Effective missionaries know that faith must not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul understood very well that faith comes from the power of God. We can safely assume that Paul comprehended at an intellectual level the truth claims of the gospel prior to his meeting with the living Christ on the road to Damascus. However, it was Christ penetrating his heart on the way that changed Paul forever. Thus he can say faith truly rests in God’s power. If we try to persuade people that Jesus is Lord through our own wisdom, despite our best efforts we will fail. It all depends on God’s power to save.

At a personal level, I Cor. 2:1-5 gives me great comfort and peace. Sometimes I struggle to know what to say to a lost person. This passage reminds me that it's not up to me. I just need to be faithful to share the basics of the gospel. God does the rest. That might sound somewhat cliche, but it's the truth.

Previous posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark
Missions in Luke
Missions in John
Missions in Acts
Missions in Romans

Monday, February 20, 2012

What I'm For

I desperately do not want this blog to be a litany of things I’m against when it comes to the church. Rather, I hope it is more of a description of what I’m for. In light of that, I’ve compiled below 25 things I’m for when it comes to Christ’s church. This list is in no particular order, but describes what I believe the church both can and should be.

I’m for:

1. A Church that honors the Triune God in all aspects of life

2. A Church that cherishes Jesus Christ above all things

3. A Church of equal laity with Christ as the one and only Head

4. A Church that follows the lead of the Holy Spirit in all things

5. A Church that is most notable for its love

6. A Church that is united in Christ

7. A Church that knows that it is saved through the gospel of grace alone through faith alone

8. A Church that easily forgives when wronged

9. A Church that sacrificially takes care of the needy and suffering both inside and outside the church

10. A Church that unashamedly proclaims the truth of the gospel in an understandable way

11. A Church that sees each Christian as a brother or sister and each non-Christian as a potential brother or sister

12. A Church that lets nothing hinder the taking of the gospel to the ends of the earth and works with all Christians everywhere to make this happen

13. A Church that accepts suffering as a part of the Christian life

14. A Church that gives liberally and generously but not out of compulsion

15. A Church that spends the vast majority of its giving on others

16. A Church that clings to scriptural truth in all aspects of life

17. A Church that views itself as a people as opposed to an institution

18. A Church that stuns broader society by its good works

19. A Church that dies for others

20. A Church that seeks justice for the wrongly treated in this world

21. A Church that is composed of peacemakers

22. A Church that exhibits personal holiness and self-control

23. A Church that gathers simply, striving to follow the biblical model

24. A Church that assembles for the purpose of mutual edification

25. A Church that embraces each member as a key component of the body

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Four Books, Four Quick Reviews

Despite my busy work schedule, I've managed to do to little reading over the past few months. I'd like to share some brief thoughts with you about four books:

I love short books. They usually get right to the point, don't add fluff, and remain focused. This is the case with Jon Zens' Christ Minimized? A Response to Rob Bell's LOVE WINS. In only about 60 pages, Zens thoughtfully counters Bell's unbiblical, vague, and illogical arguments. Zens also shows that despite what Bell claims, Bell is in fact a universalist. Additionally, Zens is gracious in his approach; he doesn't bash Bell while rebuffing his ideas. Because Bell is influential in this culture, I recommend this book. As a bonus, it is inexpensive.

I admit to reading this book in part because it has caused some controversy. Tullian Tchividjian's primary thesis in Jesus + Nothing = Everything is that Jesus is everything. We'd all agree with that. The controversy, I think, is that Tchividjian believes that our main duty in the process of sanctification is focusing on what Jesus has done for us. He almost implies that what is required is a thought process (about our justification) as opposed to striving for holiness and obedience. If asked, I doubt the author would state it in quite those terms, but that's the idea that comes through the pages of the book. Despite this, I enjoyed this text because Tchividjian spends a good amount of time discussing Colossians, one of my favorite books of the bible. The author simply glories in the gospel. This book is worth the time.

I normally enjoy Frank Viola's books a great deal. His Pagan Christianity? and Reimagining Church have had a great impact on me. Because of that, I was surprised by Revise Us Again. Frankly, it seemed a little dull. In this book, Viola questions various aspects of living the church life. He challenges the reader to think outside the traditional church box. In that respect, it might be good for someone to read who has always ingested traditional American evangelicalism without question. This book would also benefit new Christians. However, if you have already asked hard questions of yourself and sought biblical answers, then don't bother with Revise Us Again.

Sometimes books are simply disappointments. That's the case with Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura. The main problem with this text is that the author shows little objectivity. He seems to set out from the beginning to show that the Reformed idea of church is the most biblical. The book could more accurately be entitled, "A History of Sola Scriptura from a Reformed Perspective." Mathison criticizes Roman Catholicism for depending too much on tradition, but then criticizes Anabaptists for discarding tradition. The author tries to show that it is Reformed churches that are most in line with the early Christian creeds; he does not make a convincing case. Mathison portrays all Anabaptists as being the same. This is simply not the case. Anabaptists were a diverse group. Finally, the book is too long (over 350 pages). If you are interested in the doctrine of sola scriptura, buy a different book.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Missions in Romans

In this letter full of wonderful truths about Jesus Christ, what are the most significant verses for world missions today? (For an explanation of this series, click here.)

My first thought was Romans 15:18-21, "For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God — so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.'"

While the above passage is significant, I believe two passages that almost mirror one another are the most important for our understanding and practice of world missions today. These are most critical because they act as bookends to the letter itself. In the introduction and the conclusion of Romans, Paul specifically mentions both "the obedience of faith" and "all nations." See the two passages below:

"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ..." Romans 1:1-6 (emphasis mine)

"Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen." Romans 16:25-27

By bookending this key doctrinal letter with these two passages, the apostle is making it clear to us that the gospel is for the obedience of faith for all nations. Notice that the gospel is not just for all nations. It is not just for faith for all nations. It is for the obedience of faith for all nations.

The acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior requires more than intellectual agreement with a list of doctrinal truths. While these are important, the gospel demands repentance. A life change must occur. While this is brought about by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, we must comply by "putting to death the deeds of the body." This message must be heralded to all people groups around the globe.

These verses have much similarity to Matthew 28:19-20, in which Jesus commands his disciples to "make disciples of all nations." One aspect of this is "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." As in the introduction and conclusion to Romans, we see the importance of all nations and obedience.

The initial act of obedience to God is submission to the gospel. This continues through a life of faith and obedience. It is this gospel that frames the epistle to the Romans that we must carry to the uttermost.

Previous posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark
Missions in Luke
Missions in John
Missions in Acts

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why Infant Baptism is Not an Issue in Simple Church

Jesus Christ gave baptism to his church as a wonderful celebration. He designed it to be an outward act of obedience by believers to show the world and the church that they are in Christ.

Quite sadly, baptism has become a source of great division within Christ's church. Multiple denominations exist as a result of baptism alone. Throughout history, scores of Christians have killed and been killed over this issue. What Jesus meant for beauty has often been reduced to pain.

I'm happy that this is not the case in the simple church. Although my experience is somewhat limited, I'm thrilled that baptism is a source of unity and joy rather than pain and division within house church life.

One of the primary reasons for this is that infant baptism is not an issue in simple church. Only believers are baptized (I realize that exceptions may exist; I'm speaking about the general rule). Why is this?

The reason is simple. It comes down to method of scriptural interpretation. The method is one of following what the bible commands, teaches, and models for us about church life. The bible shows us churches that meet simply in homes for mutual edification. The bible also only shows us believers being baptized.

Christians who are attracted to house church life are also convicted to follow biblical baptism practices. This results from consistency in biblical interpretation (it is certainly possible that some parents within simple church will desire to baptize their infants. If this occurs, my hope is that the local body they are a part of can remain united while finding a way through this disagreement).

In general, infant baptism is not an issue. This allows us to rejoice in baptism without there being any angst about it. For this I am very thankful.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Not a Ticket to Heaven

Local church membership is a scourge upon the church. It is based solely in man-made tradition. There is utterly no biblical basis for it whatsoever. Local membership causes unnecessary division between brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is not just a church issue. It is also a salvation issue. Many people who give no evidence of a relationship with Jesus Christ are depending upon their church membership certificate as some sort of ticket to heaven. What a dreadful situation this is.

God has called his church to be one. A tangible way to encourage unity among the greater body of Christ would be to jettison the idea of local church membership altogether. It is not only unneeded but harmful to the body.

Edification for Infiltration

The church gathers together for the purpose of edification. This is done to the glory of God.

What tangible result should come from this edification? The answer is infiltration. As we grow closer to Christ through mutual upbuilding, we are more prepared to infiltrate the world as incarnational Christians. What does this look like? Simply put, we look like Jesus (despite our faults) to the lost.

Specifically, edification ought to bring about a deeper desire for holy living, a deeper desire for serving the needy, and a deeper desire to proclaim the gospel of Christ.

We are Christian infiltrators into Satan's realm. We must be prepared for battle. The gathering is the preparation place.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How to Blog

My only reason for this post is that I simply like the above graphic. As for real blogging advice, I have only one thing to say: blog about what you know and are passionate about. And if you don't have a blog, start one.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Do We Have to Follow the Ten Commandments?

Question: Are Christians required to follow the Ten Commandments?

In my experience (for the limited amount that is worth), most Christians believe that we do have to follow the Ten Commandments.

I differ from most of my brothers and sisters in Christ on this issue. I do not believe we are required to follow them.

My primary reason for this position is that the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus came to fulfill the law. He did it because because we cannot. He freed us from the law to follow the Spirit. Paul's letter to the Galatians is all about this issue.

Additionally, we have been freed from Sabbath restrictions. Christ is now our Sabbath. I rarely see Christians actually follow the Sabbath (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) - even those who heartily say that we are still required to follow the Ten Commandments.

What do we follow then? We follow the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 says, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

The interesting thing about all this is that if we follow Christ's teachings we will also end up following nine of the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath is the only exception. Even with that, we follow Jesus, who is the ultimate embodiment of the Sabbath.

In the end, we Christ-followers are not bound by the commandments in stone. We are simply to live for Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Missions in Acts

What is the most significant passage for missions in the book of Acts?  (For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

Answering the above question is obviously a challenging one because almost all of the book of Acts is about missions. Basically all the verses are significant.

The following are some key verses for missions:

Acts 1:8, "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 8:1, 4, "And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles...Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word."

Acts 8:35, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus."

Acts 17:23, "For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you."

I admitted up front that this particular series was going to be subjective. Therefore, you may not agree with me about which verses are most important. Regardless, my belief is that the most critical verses in Acts for missions are found in 13:1-4. The passage reads, "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus."

The critical nature of this passage lies in the fact that the Holy Spirit clearly directs all that is happening. The Spirit decides what, when, who, where, and how missions work will take place.

Luke presents us with a scene from the church in Antioch. We read of both prophets and teachers. These men, who came from a beautifully ethnic diversity, were properly humbling themselves before God and seeking his will. They worshiped by praying and fasting.

At this point in the narrative something amazing happens: the Holy Spirit speaks. I don't know if this was audible or not, but either way the Spirit made known what he desired to happen. There was no doubt or confusion. The Spirit specifically sets apart Paul and Barnabas for "the work to which I have called them." This does not mean that the other men were freed from sharing the gospel, but rather that Paul and Barnabas were to be sent out on a specific mission.

The men apparently all heard the same message. They laid hands upon Paul and Barnabas, submitting to the command of the Spirit. Luke then tells us that the Holy Spirit sent them out.

If we ever get sidetracked into thinking that we have to figure things out as far as missions is concerned, we must remember that it is the Holy Spirit who directs and guides God's mission. He also empowers. We don't need any witty ideas. We just need to be obedient.

I'm reminded of Paul's second missionary journey. He obediently goes out and heads across Asia. We read of the Spirit's specific direction in Acts 16:6-10, "And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."

The Holy Spirit commands and expects our willingness and obedience. He will do the rest. We can trust him in this.

Previous posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark
Missions in Luke
Missions in John

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jesus Christ is Truly the Glorious Lord

Jesus Christ is glorious to an infinite degree. He is everything to us. He is the one and only. He is all. Paul makes this clear in many passages, but what the apostle writes in Colossians 1 may sum this up more clearly than anywhere else. The following verses stir my soul every time I read them.

Colossians 1:15-20 says:

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."

Praise the Lord for being who he is! Praise him for who he is for us! Praise him for what he has done for us!

If You Desire an Interesting Conversation...

If you desire an interesting conversation all you have to do is call into question any one of several key components of the institutional church. I did this last night on Facebook when I posted this comment, "If you've been told that you should tithe to your church, you've been told wrong."

My purpose in the comment was just to make people think and start a conversation. While most of my Facebook posts get little discussion going, whenever I deal with issues like this the comments start flowing in.

Specific institutional traditions to question to generate conversation: the church building, the worship service, the tithe, the clergy, the salary for the clergy, the sermon, and Christmas and Easter. If you question these, be ready to both listen and talk.

The answers you will receive will almost always be based on one of three things: tradition, Old Covenant practices, or supposed freedom we have to do whatever the bible does not prohibit.

Of course, we should always take a look at our own motives for beginning conversations. Winning an argument is not a reason to start talking. However, if the desire is to help folks begin thinking through some of their man-made traditions, then go ahead. Be ready to talk for a while. These are not quick conversations. Rather, they are paradigm shifting and often very uncomfortable for those involved.

Be ready. When you challenge a pillar of the institution it will require a long talk.