Thursday, September 26, 2013

To Unknown

I sometimes receive comments on this blog from people who do not leave their names. Instead, Blogger just substitutes the rather unhelpful name "Unknown." No matter how thought-provoking and/or interesting the comments are, I never post them. I want to know who I'm communicating with. Therefore, please always leave your name when you comment. Otherwise your comments will be non-starters. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

There Have Always Been Dissenters

If you read this blog, then you are probably a dissenter of one type or another. Specifically, there's a good chance that you dissent against many of man's traditions that have dominated church practice ever since Constantine.

You are not alone in your dissent. In fact, there have always been dissenters.

I just concluded reading E. H. Broadbent's classic work The Pilgrim Church. In this book, the author traces the history of dissenters within Christ's church from the early days until modern times. This text is loaded with information (over 400 pages). It's a fascinating look at how some followers of Christ, no matter how severe the persecution, have throughout the ages determined to follow the biblical model for church life. Not surprisingly, many of the dissenters were either killed or disparaged for their practices.

I found this book very encouraging. It's nice to know that the desire to follow Christ's model for his church is not some new fad. Rather, it is what many of Jesus' followers have been doing for hundreds of years. Broadbent discusses in great detail the lives of various Christian dissenters; the book is a rich resource to look up almost any Christian who dared rebel against the church powers-that-be.

Because of its length, I did not read the book straight through. I read some chapters and skimmed through others. I plan to use this text for years to come in order to better come to know those who have gone before us. You will not regret ordering it.

A big thanks to my friend Norm for suggesting it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Great Stuff on Tolkien and Lewis

Click here to watch a dramatic reenactment of a critical conversation between JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Map of Europe: 1000 AD to Present Day

Since I love both history and geography I find this short video fascinating.

Thanks to

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What I'm For

It is easy to write a blog that simply rails against what is wrong in the world. It's more challenging, and beneficial, to hope for positives and offer solutions. Related to the specifically to the church, the same applies. It's not difficult to point to the problems in the church. What's helpful is to point to a better way for the body of Christ.

Stemming from a previous blog post of mine, below is a list of what I'm for when it comes to the church. The list, in no particular order, is positive in nature. It is what I hope the church can 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

This list is important enough to me that I've added an almost identical page to this blog with this topic.

No Longer Reformed, But I Still Love the Five Solas

A decade ago, after about a year in seminary, I became one of those newly-turned-Reformed guys that you just don't want to be around. As the saying goes, I should have been locked up in a cage for a year or so. I wanted everyone to embrace my new understanding of predestination and thought everyone should. I knew I was right and was certain of it (Steve Scott just wrote an interesting post about this entitled The Neo-Calvinist Certitude).

For a while there I even considered myself to be part of the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement.

A few years back I realized that it was all a bunch of ridiculousness. More specifically, it's an example of what occurs within Christianity when a sub-group overemphasizes one aspect of faith and/or practice. In this case the overemphasis is on God's sovereignty. If we actually let the scriptures speak, we see that while God is sovereign over salvation, man has a real, actual responsibility to repent and believe. How do these two truths fit together? I'm not sure. God is the one who knows, and that is good enough for me.

Regarding the term "Reformed," I rejected it a few years ago. I'm done with all labels other than "Christian" or "Christ follower." "Brother" is my favorite.

One of the things that is commonly associated with the Reformed is the Five Solas of the Reformation. I still love these truths, along with the Doctrines of Grace. Therefore, while I reject the notion of being part of some sort of Reformed group within Christianity, I cherish many of the same beliefs about salvation.

The biggest issue that forces me to reject the term "Reformed" is the typical Reformed view of the church. Ironically, the Reformed view of church falls far short of Sola Scriptura. In fact, while the Reformation view of salvation broke far away from that of Rome, the Reformed view of the church itself didn't move all that much. For example, a typical Protestant worship service isn't all that different in form from a Roman Catholic Mass. The only key difference is that the Eucharist was replaced by the sermon.

On my blog I have a page entitled Five Solas. I'm keeping that because they describe much of what I believe. However, I'm no longer Reformed and never will be again. Like many of you, God has revealed to me something far greater that his church can be. I don't want to be constrained by man-created definitions. Rather, I just want to follow the Holy Spirit as he leads us to be the body of Christ as revealed in the pages of the New Testament.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why Don't Atheists Debate Muslims?

I hear about debates between Christians and Muslims occurring quite frequently. I hear the same about Christians and atheists. You can find these, for example, on almost any relatively large college campus.

Why, then, do I never hear about atheists debating Muslims? These two groups certainly have very significant differences in belief and practice. Why don't they debate often?

Two factors are involved. The first is that Christianity is still the dominant religion in the USA. Therefore, other groups want to debate Christians.

However, another even more significant factor exists as to why atheists and Muslims almost never debate one another. The reason is that while Christianity comes from God, neither atheism nor Islam does. The source of the Christian belief system is, to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer, the God who is there. God is not the source of either Islam or atheism (Satan is). The Devil cannot create, but he is good at distortion. Both Islam and atheism hold specific beliefs about God. Both are terribly skewed.

Since we desire to reach both Muslims and atheists with the gospel, we don't often discuss the source of their beliefs. However, the truth must be told. Both are Satanic in nature. In fact, any beliefs that wage war on gospel truth are from the Devil.

My wish, and I hope yours as well, is that all Muslims and atheists will come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They, by definition, do not currently know the one true God. This is because their beliefs stem from the wrong source. In the end, this is why we see so few (if any) debates between atheists and Muslims. Why, after all, would Satan debate against himself?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ask "Why?" Five Times

In the world of business we constantly ask the question "Why?" in order to improve. Many of you know that I work for JCB here in Savannah. We ask ourselves "Why?" over and over to get to the bottom of things. Especially if we find a problem we ask "Why?" in order to determine the root cause. If we do this five times we usually come to the answer. We have to follow this pattern in order to effectively compete with Caterpillar, Bobcat, John Deere, Kubota, Case, Takeuchi, etc.

Christ's church is most definitely not a business. We are not in competition. However, we could learn a little from the world of business. Specifically, it is beneficial to ask "Why?" concerning every aspect of church life. Is there a good reason for why we do this, this, this, this, this, etc.?

Asking "Why?" can certainly be uncomfortable. The answers we find often force us to change. This is not very easy. If it was, we would have done it already. We all probably need some change in the way we live as part of Christ's church. This will look different from person to person and church family to church family. The need to ask "Why?" applies to all churches, from the most institutional to the most organic.

The one answer that "Why?" will not accept is "We've never done it that way before." We tend to criticize other believers for using that answer, but to be honest we all think it from time to time. Change makes us uneasy. Sometimes it almost hurts.

Despite this, we all ought to dare to ask "Why?" of ourselves. We need to begin individually and only then work outward. Jesus told us to take the plank out of our own eye before pointing out the speck in our brother's.

Ask "Why?" I dare you.

Friday, September 6, 2013

What if the Good Samaritan Had Seen the Man Getting Beaten?

The best class I took in seminary was Christian Ethics. Part of the reason for this was that the professor was excellent. The second reason was that ethics is basically applied theology. We were able to discuss what the bible has to say about all sorts of real world issues.

One day in class we were talking about what responsibility we have to defend others. The professor posed an interesting question. He asked what the Good Samaritan should have done if he had seen the man getting beaten. In the Luke 10 passage the Samaritan man happens across the beaten man well after the crime has been committed (click here to read the passage). We know that the Samaritan does the right thing in the situation: he sacrificially cares for the man. Jesus commends him for his actions.

But what if the Samaritan was walking along and stumbled across the beatdown in action? What then should he have done?

This is one of those tough questions because it is not directly addressed in scripture. On the one hand, Jesus was a man of peace. His teachings make this very clear. On the other hand, Jesus desires that we care for the poor and needy. Someone getting beaten up is certainly needy.

It has been ten years since I took that Ethics class. I've been pondering an answer to the question the entire time. Despite this, I'm still not sure of the right answer.

I've come to this somewhat shaky conclusion (which is open to change in light of better scriptural understanding on my part): if the Samaritan had come upon the beating taking place, he should have intervened. What would this look like? His first response should be to approach the situation and tell the criminals to stop. If they did not, he should begin yelling, calling for help, or anything else that would scare them away (for us today, we could call 911). If none of this worked, I believe the Samaritan should have tried to step between the criminals and the beaten man. This would probably require him to take a beating as well. If all other courses of action were extinguished, the Samaritan should intervene physically, but only in defensive manner to attempt to drive the men away.

I'm not thrilled with my own answer, but it's the best I've come up with so far.

What do you think? What should the Samaritan have done and why?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Who Makes Sure You Have Correct Doctrine?"

Since we departed from institutional church life, my wife and I have run into the "correct doctrine" question several times. Specifically, we're asked who makes sure our church body has correct doctrine.

The implication, of course, is that we must be in danger of incorrect doctrine because we don't have a pastor in the traditional sense. This is just silly. Numerous churches have blasphemous doctrine and also have traditional pastors.

When we look in Acts 20 we see Paul charge the elders from the church in Ephesus to protect the flock from false teachers. Therefore, the older men in any church family do bear some responsibility in defending the gospel. However, Paul never says that only the elders have this responsibility.

As Christians we are all priests to God. This is a dual gift and responsibility. As part of mutual edification, we should care deeply that each member of the church family holds correct beliefs about the gospel. Directly related to this, we must look out for each other in our relationships with Christ.

I know how I plan to answer the next time I'm asked who makes sure we have correct doctrine. I'm simply going to say, "We all do."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Jesus Christ is Our Point of Contact

We've all experienced it. We find ourselves in conversations with other Christians. They begin talking about their church. Their focus is the pastor, the programs, the building, etc. This happens to me much more often than I would like. When this occurs, I often don't know what to say. I find myself disagreeing with many of their basic assumptions. When it comes to church life, I often have no point of contact with other believers regarding church issues.

I was thinking about this a few days ago when something fairly obvious hit me like a ton of bricks. I do have a point of contact with all other Christians: Jesus Christ. He is our reason for existence. He is the giver of salvation. He is Lord of the universe. He is truly the one thing all believers have in common.

Now when I get in conversations with other believers I'm going to focus on Christ much more than on the church. This seems appropriate for two reasons. First, since Jesus is our Lord and life, it only makes sense that we would want to talk about Him first and foremost. Second, Jesus is our point of contact. In Him we are united. Instead of bickering over secondary church issues, we can rejoice in the unity we have as brothers and sisters in Christ.

This does not mean that we should avoid all church discussions. There may be appropriate times for that. However, let's make Jesus our starting point is these conversations. I'm no longer dreading talking with other Christians. If they, for example, invite me to their church, I'm going to steer the conversation toward the Lord of their church. This is not manipulative. Rather, it is seeking unity in the One who is our reason for unity.

What do you think? How do you handle these sorts of situations?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Jesus Versus Bible

As I read various Christian blogs, I hear talk that amounts to "Jesus versus bible." Both in blog writers and blog commenters, the statements boil down to the following, "I follow Jesus, not the bible."

Quite simply, I find this absurd. I've never in my life heard anyone say that they follow the bible (as in worship it). All Christians by definition follow after Jesus Christ. He is our God, our Lord, our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. He deserves all our adoration for who he is, what he has done, and what he will continue to do.

I know of no one who worships scripture. I've been in the church for as long as I can remember. I've lived in New York, Georgia, North Carolina, and the country of India. I've also traveled a decent amount. Never have I met even one Christian who said they worship the bible.

What, then, is the bible? The bible is God's special revelation to us. It is one way we know God. Frankly, it is the only way we can know certain specifics about God. For example, how could we know about Christ's virgin birth, Christ's miracles, Christ's teachings, etc. apart from scripture? We could not. The Holy Spirit certainly guides us each moment of the day, but the Spirit is not generally in the business of imparting specific information such as I've mentioned.

Apart from the bible we would know very little of God to distinguish him from many of the other gods the world has to offer. The bible is, therefore, necessary.

That said, we've all made numerous mistakes when trying to interpret the bible. This is our fault. As we approach the scriptures, we must do so with humility. We are wise to consult other older believers when trying to understand the more difficult passages. We will make mistakes in this. However, the bible is not designed to be some sort of tricky book. Rather, it is designed for us to be able to understand it.

In reality, there is no "Jesus versus bible" debate. If you hear anyone saying there is, you can be sure that they are talking about something else. Usually it is a matter of poor biblical interpretation on someone's part. Sometimes it is simply believers not liking a specific teaching that is in the bible.

God has provided us with the bible so that we can know him. Without it we would not know much of what we need to know. This does not, of course, suggest that we bow down to the bible or worship it. On the contrary, Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of that. He is the one the bible reveals in splendor to us.

Jesus Christ and the bible fit together seamlessly.