Monday, March 31, 2014

150 Hours

I've worked 150 hours over the past two weeks. It's crazy. Because of this I don't have time to blog. I may put together a short post from time to time, but for the most part my writing will be sparse. I'm just too tired.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Church Marquee I'd Like to See

As a general policy I'm against church marquees. Far too many of them offer up ridiculous, trite sayings that minimize the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ (to see lots of horrible examples, click here).

There is one church marquee that I would love to see as I drive around in Savannah. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a sign like the one above? All Christians here in Savannah make up the church in Savannah. We are one in Christ Jesus because our Lord has made us so. I'd like to see a church marquee say this. In fact, I'd like to see them all say this.

I'm sad to say that the above sign is not real. I created the fake sign by using this fun site.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lust for Power is the Biggest Divider

When we talk about division in the body of Christ we often talk about doctrine. We can easily come up with a list of doctrines that the church divides over. For example: the meaning of baptism, the mode of baptism, the meaning of the Lord's Supper, predestination/free will, women's roles, polity, purpose of gatherings, and the clergy. We could all easily think of several more.

The interesting thing is that it is not doctrine that is the most common cause of division within the church. Rather, it is lust for power that brings about the most disunity. I've seen this time after time. You probably have, too.

Lust for power takes different forms. It can be power grabs for decision making purposes. It can be church leaders telling others what to do. It can be cliques staying to themselves while excluding others. It can take the form of clashes over stuff as silly as building additions and/or refurbishments.

In the end, power grabs all stem from one thing: selfishness. They are about putting self before others.

Jesus Christ, the one Head of His church, does not accept lust for power. He simply will not have it in His body. Greatness in Christ's family stems from servanthood, which amounts to looking to others before self.

In Mark 10:42-45 we read the following, "And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'"

When we think about the unity of the body, doctrine is not the place to start. Instead, let's look at our own hearts. Only when we are willing to live in humility, looking to put others before ourselves, can we begin to experience true unity in the church.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Is It With Predestination and Division?

There is little that stirs up debate in the church more than the doctrine of predestination. There's also little that leads to strong reactions and volatile emotions more than a hearty discussion of predestination.

Why is this?

One reason the debate rages is that both sides can easily point to bible passages that seem to support what they believe. For every Ephesians 1:3-5 there is an Acts 17:30-31. For every Romans 8:29-30 there is a John 3:16-18. For every Acts 13:48 there is a Romans 10:12-14. And on and on it goes.

Another reason the predestination argument continues is that the two sides (and unfortunately it has become "sides") believe the other side is grossly misrepresenting the character of God. For example, those who emphasize God's sovereignty often portray the other side as describing a weak, powerless God. Conversely, those who emphasize the free will of man say that the other side believes in an unloving, unmerciful God. Both sides frequently employ straw man arguments.

Finally, the two sides usually refuse to actually communicate, instead talking past each other. This only increases the problems.

What can we do about this? For one thing we must realize that this should not be a cause of division. Jesus has made it clear that He expects His body to be united. Christ never made a claim that we have to believe a certain definition of predestination.

Second, let's actually communicate. When we do, we often find that on issues like this we agree on much more than we think at first.

Third, let's avoid straw man arguments. They are unhelpful and only lead to increased division.

Fourth, we may have to agree-to-disagree. This does not mean that we have "caved in" on what we believe, but rather that we will hold to the unity of the body in spite of our differences.

Fifth, we must avoid taking sides. When we avoid this, we make unity much more of a possibility.

Like so many other doctrines, predestination should never be an excuse for disunity in the body of Christ. We can hold to different definitions but remain united in Christ. This can and should be a real unity that includes fellowship as opposed to simply some sort of theoretical "unity in spirit."

Predestination has the potential to be divisive if we are determined to win an argument. It also has the potential to unify the body by teaching us how to live together despite our differences.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


In John chapter 17 Jesus Christ famously prays, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (17:20-23).

Jesus Christ desires that His church be united. The above passage, possibly more than any other in scripture, makes this clear. On the night before His crucifixion Jesus specifically prays for His church to be one. Considering the timing, we see that this is of utmost importance to our Lord.

Too often we act as if unity is optional. We tend to unite with other believers that we already agree with on whatever issues. We shy away from those who differ from us or are just plain different from us. We try to just not really think about them. This is not as it should be. Jesus offers no loopholes for the unity of his body.

In the above High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prays the following amazing things:

1. That we (His body) will be one as Jesus and the Father are one

2. That this unity will lead to the world believing that the Father sent Jesus to earth

3. The glory the Father gave to Christ, Christ has in turn given to us so that we will be perfectly one.

4. That the perfect unity will show the world God's love for us

In essence Jesus prays for two main things. First, our Lord asks for perfect unity of His body just as He and His Father are perfectly united. Second, Jesus prays that this unity will be a witness to the world of his truth.

If we ever wonder whether or not unity matters to God, all we have to do is read John 17. Jesus directly connects the unity of His church with the Great Commission. Another way to put it is that our oneness as a church impacts the way the lost view Jesus.

Unity is not an option. Too much is at stake. Therefore, we must put aside personal preferences, live lives of humility, and embrace the perfect unity that Jesus wants for His body.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick Struggles to Define the Trinity

St. Patrick's Day is a massive celebration here in Savannah. On this day our city swells from about 200,000 to close to one million. Little of the celebrating, of course, actually has anything to do with St. Patrick. Regardless, I'm sharing this fun little video on the day named after him:

Monday, March 10, 2014

What is Unity and How Do We Achieve It?

In order to strive for unity within the body of Christ, we must know how to define it. After all, how can we reach a goal if we do not even know what that goal is?

In a previous post I offered this definition for unity: unity is a togetherness of mind and spirit that looks to the good of the group without demanding sameness within the group. You may have a different and possibly better definition, but I imagine there would be many similarities to mine.

How do we achieve this unity within the church family? Paul answers this question in the well-known passage of Philippians 2:5-11. The difficulty is not knowing how to bring about unity; the struggle is actually living it out. The reason for this is that unity comes through humility. Paul writes the following in 2:5-11:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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.

In this much loved Christ Hymn, Paul tells us that unity stems from humble living. The apostle then shows us the greatest example in history by discussing the work of Christ on the cross. Jesus died not only as a sacrifice for our sins, but also as an example of the servanthood we are to show others.

Paul's desire is that the Philippian believers display "the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." How does this occur? Through humbly thinking of other Christ-followers before self.

As we ponder what brings unity, we see that intellectual agreement on a certain set of doctrines is not what is important. Rather, what is critical is attitude and action. When we follow the path of Christ, considering others better than ourselves and treating them as such, we will indeed have sweet unity in the body.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Unity or Uniformity?

Is the call for unity within Christ's church the same as a call for uniformity?

This question is an important one because it directly impacts whether or not we even understand what unity is. I'm convinced that a better understanding of unity within the body will lead to an increase in actual unity of the body.

What is uniformity? Uniformity is the demand that everyone in a group thinks and acts the same way. It allows for little to no variation. A good example of this is the military. Everyone is basically expected to think and act the same. If any variation exists, it is both small and inconsequential.

Is uniformity the same as unity? In a word - NO.

What then is unity? I suppose we could come up with a number of definitions. Here's mine: unity is a togetherness of mind and spirit that looks to the good of the group without demanding sameness within the group. Any group of any kind can have unity. The church is only one of many. However, since the church is led by the Holy Spirit, it should be easier for the church to have unity than any other sort of group. How sad it is, then, that the church struggles so much to be united.

One thing that leads to this struggle for unity is the faulty expectation of uniformity. When we look in the bible, we don't ever read demands for uniformity. For example, only a relatively small number of core doctrines must be believed in order for a person to be part of the church. As for what we might refer to as secondary doctrines, there's no demand for uniformity. We appear to have some measure of freedom in what we believe about these. We are never told that unity can or should be sacrificed over non-salvation issue doctrines.

Another issue is worship style. Related to this is music. Frankly, these don't really matter when the church gathers. As far as I'm concerned, just do whatever is edifying in the Lord. Just don't let preferences get in the way of unity.

As the body of Christ, if we are truly looking out for the good of others then we will be united. I might hold many differences in doctrine and/or practice with a brother, but if I am striving to edify him in Christ, then those differences won't really matter. However, if I demand that we believe and act exactly the same way, it will actually drive a wedge between us.

Striving for uniformity leads to division.

Striving for unity leads, not surprisingly, to unity.

In the end we see that unity and uniformity are actually closer to being opposite than the same. Because of this, let's jettison any expectations of uniformity within the family of Christ. Instead, let's live united despite our differences.

Friday, March 7, 2014

United With Whom? With Everybody?

Jesus Christ calls his body to be united. This is undeniably clear based on text after text in the New Testament. John chapter 17 is probably the prime example, but there are many others. In light of this, with whom exactly are we to be united? Is it only with Christians in our local church family? Is it with all believers in a denomination? Is it Christians we get together with to care for the poor and/or reach the lost? Is it all believers? Is it simply everybody?

In I Peter 3:8, Peter writes, "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind." Peter is writing to persecuted Christians over a fairly wide area. He instructs them to have "unity of mind." The apostle puts no restrictions on this; he's writing to Christians everywhere. This indicates that all the Christians who receive this letter are to be united.

But how do we know people are truly Christians? We know that some who say very positive things about Jesus are not, in fact, part of his body. Mormons are a prime example of this. Frankly, so are some people who sit in pews on Sunday mornings. What do we do about this?

In Matthew 10:16 we read, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." The context of that verse is persecution. However, a principle we can pull from it is that we are to be wise in our dealings with others.

Another helpful passage is I John 4:1-3. John writes, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already." We are to test the spirits. Anyone who denies core doctrines of the faith is not a believer. For example, if someone denies that Jesus Christ is the son of God, then he doesn't truly know him.

To balance the above verses we must also remember Matthew 7:1 which tells us, "Judge not, that you be not judged." We must avoid a tendency to be too judgmental when dealing with others. Just because someone does not fit our exact definition of what a Christian should be, should do, and should look like does not mean that person is not a follower of Jesus.

Where does this take us? I believe a wise principle is to give others the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing Jesus. If someone says he loves the Lord then we must take this at face value. Only after that individual gives reason to disbelieve him should we call his salvation into question. Let's be gracious in this. It's not our job to be the salvation police.

With whom, then, are we to be united? This is a bit of a trick question. It is actually Jesus Christ himself who has united his body. We are, therefore, in fact united. It is our duty to simply live out this wonderful truth. This encompasses anyone and everyone who loves Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Let's Get Excited About Unity

I really like the photo of that kid to the left. I have no idea who he is, but one thing is for certain: he is excited!

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a tendency to get excited about a wide variety of things. It may be a specific doctrine such as the atonement, predestination, baptism, etc. It may be aspects of church life such as teaching, giving, or missions. It may be specific family-related issues. It may be cultural happenings or political events. We get excited about all sorts of stuff.

The one thing that I don't hear much excitement about is the unity of the body of Christ. Specifically, I haven't ever heard much talk about the importance Christ's church as a whole. Usually the conversation is relegated to how critical it is for local bodies to be united. While that is important, I believe it is equally important that all believers everywhere live as Christ demanded: as one.

I've heard of something called The World Council of Churches. This organization, among other things, strives for unity among believers. That's fine, but in this post I'm seeking something beyond an organization. I'm hoping for a movement in the church toward unity. My desire is to see Christians everywhere desire, talk about, seek out, and behave in such a way that brings about unity.

I appreciate John Armstrong's blog because he discusses unity on a regular basis. I don't agree with all he says, but it's a blog worth reading.

Please let me be clear: I'm not talking about sacrificing doctrine. Rather, I'm hoping for an embrace of a long ignored doctrine: the oneness of Christ's family. We generally act as if Jesus has given us an option here. He hasn't. Our Lord has told us what he expects. It is clear in the New Testament in both the gospels and epistles that Jesus demands unity.

Let's remember that Jesus demands what is ultimately good for us. He wants us to have sweet fellowship within the church. Christ does this for his glory and for our good. Therefore, let's embrace unity as Jesus expects. It is a source of great joy. Now that's something to get excited about!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Putting the Guns Away

The past few years have been quite a journey for me when it comes to church life. I've been all over the place, from a traditional church pastor to a house church advocate. During that time, I've written some fairly harsh things on this blog. Much of it has been aimed at institutional Christianity. While some of the things needed to be said, the tone I used was often not what it should have been. Well, no more.

I'm metaphorically putting the guns away as it pertains to church stuff. I no longer have any desire to fight against all the problems in the church. I'd rather focus on what we, as the body of Christ, can accomplish together. Unity in Christ is going to be one of my main themes going forward.

This does not mean that I'm sacrificing doctrine or somehow "caving in." Rather, it simply points to a shift in focus. There will certainly be times when I will write posts with negative themes (when this occurs I hope I can manage a charitable spirit). For the most part, however, I intend to look at what the church is and can be. Much can be accomplished by uniting with other believers for both edification and missions.

The older I get the more I desire to live a life of non-resistance. This applies to my blog as well. This doesn't mean that I'll accept just anything as valid in church life. What it does mean is that I'm putting the guns away. No more fighting the church wars for me (or, at least not very often).

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Do We Listen Directly to Jesus?

Keith Giles asks an important question in a recent post entitled simply Jesus First. The question focuses on whether or not we listen directly to the words of Christ. More specifically, Keith asks why we Western Christians tend to listen more to Paul than to Jesus. We sort of let Paul be a filter for the words of Christ, using Paul's writings to interpret what Jesus has said. Dare we say that Paul has almost become a go-between for us?

Keith is by no means diminishing Paul's epistles. However, Keith does challenge us to take a hard look directly at Jesus' teachings. Our Lord indeed said some extremely radical and challenging things.  I encourage you to read the post.