Sunday, April 30, 2017

Keeping I Corinthians 9 in Context

In my previous post, I discussed why most of today's church planters ignore the biblical model by setting themselves up as pastors of the churches they have planted. A main reason is finances.

One of the primary New Testament passages that is frequently used to (erroneously) support the practice of pastoral salaries is I Corinthians 9. The great irony is that while I Cor. 9 does not in fact suggest that pastors ought to receive salaries, it does indicate that it is acceptable for church planters to receive monetary support. Thus, if we keep the passage in context, we see that today's church planters have the entire issue backwards. That's what happens when you simply go with the flow instead of following scripture wherever it leads.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Why Do Church Planters Set Themselves Up As Pastors?

When we read through the book of Acts we see Paul travel from place to place planting churches. He and his friends shared the Gospel, helped organize church gatherings, and appointed elders. After a while, Paul's traveling band would leave to go elsewhere, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide the fledgling churches. It is instructive that Paul never remained in one place to act as elder. Elders came from local believers. This was always the practice.

Fast forward to today. Church plants are popping up all over the place (at least if you live in a city that is growing like Savannah). Some of the church plants last; many do not. One commonality among almost all these church plants is that the primary planter becomes the head pastor. He doesn't move on to some place else, unless of course the plant never takes off. For those plants that do last, the planter almost always ends up being the main guy up front.

Why is this the case?

When I attended seminary at Southeastern, the big push in North American missions was for students to move to New England to plant churches. One of the keys was that the planter would become the pastor. For a while the planter was even prohibited from having a job (thus forcing his wife to work). Fortunately, that rule has been dropped. I find it fascinating that for a seminary that loves the bible, it ignores the church planting model we see so clearly in the New Testament.

Back to the question at hand: Why do church planters set themselves up as pastors?

Three primary reasons come to mind.

First, it is all they know. This is the pattern that they have seen, and if they attend seminary it is likely what they have been taught. Instead of allowing scripture to determine their actions, they just go with the flow.

Second, they think it is a path to financial stability (if they can get enough people in the seats). While church planters are not supported by weekly offerings, pastors get salaries that come right out of the offering plate. Additionally, this keeps the pastor from having to do a real job; frankly, he may not have any skills to perform a real job.

Third, they think it is necessary to the church because they are experts with seminary degrees. This faulty mode of thinking stems from the unbiblical clergy/laity divide. The ironic thing was that Paul, who truly was an expert, didn't think the local churches needed him to stick around.

Why does any of this matter? Frankly, who cares if church planters set themselves up as pastors?

It matters because one thing we need in our culture is more churches that follow the biblical model. One of the main ways this will come about is through church planting. However, if the planter rejects the biblical pattern right from the outset, then things are going to go downhill quickly. I'm convinced that one of the largest reasons so many church plants fail is that local believers are not raised up to be elders.

Let's support church planters both with encouragement and money. However, we'd do well to only give to those who follow the scriptural model.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Do Paul & James Disagree on Justification by Faith Alone?

Paul writes, "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" (Galatians 2:16). James tells us, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). What is going on here? Do Paul and James contradict each other?

Click here to read Tom Schreiner's excellent answer to that question (Hint: they don't contradict).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Keeping Our Focus on Christ's Death and Resurrection

Now that Easter weekend is mercifully over, we can get back to largely ignoring Jesus' death and resurrection. Wait, did I just say that?

The church as a whole does not, I'm convinced, actively ignore the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. However, for much of the year these wonderful truths are not the church's focus. Simply put - they should ALWAYS be the church's focus. These two events stand at the epicenter of our faith and salvation. They are of core importance.

Paul reminds us of this in I Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV).

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

The apostle refers to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as "of first importance."

We live in a culture that is extremely busy, if not very efficient. As often happens, the church emulates the culture. Most churches have all sorts of activities. Larger churches, especially mega-churches, have stuff going on all the time. My belief is that all this busyness is the primary cause of the lack of focus on the death and resurrection of Christ.

Let's be less busy. Let's also be like Paul and remember what is of first importance.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Church's Real Easter Problem

It's almost Easter, and that means bunnies, baskets, and colorful eggs. While I find these things somewhat annoying, they are generally not dangerous to the church. Some Christians believe these secular symbols confuse the actual meaning of Easter. I don't believe that. I've never met a Christian adult who struggled to differentiate between bunnies and eggs of the one hand and Jesus, the cross, and the empty tomb on the other.

The church has an Easter problem, but it had nothing to do with PAAS or anything else like that.

The church's big Easter-related problem is the focus upon "Holy Week," with particular attention on Easter Sunday. While there's nothing wrong with the week and day per se, what it does is take the church's attention off the other 51 weeks of the year. This week will be full of special services (ceremonies) focused completely upon the death and resurrection of our Lord. However, not long after Easter Sunday, the church will gradually look elsewhere. While Christ's death and resurrection will not be ignored, they also won't be the focal point.

As followers of Jesus, we have the privilege and pleasure of celebrating his death and resurrection 24/7/365. When we gather to celebrate the Lord's Supper (a real meal by the way), it should always be in memory of what Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection. That's what the early church did.

The institutional church loves high, holy days. It allows for more special ceremonies in special buildings led by special people. However, the early church saw no need for any of that. Instead, the first century Christians got together regularly to talk, eat, sing, and generally share life. The celebration of Jesus was never relegated to specific occasions, locations, or people. Rather, everybody celebrated Jesus' death and resurrection all the time.

A lot of good things are going to happen this week. I love all the discussion of what Jesus did and what it means for us. The trouble begins next Monday. Let's do all we can to keep the focus upon our Lord's death and resurrection. What could be more important than that?

Monday, April 10, 2017

65 Hours X Two

I haven't blogged much lately because my work schedule has increased dramatically. For each of the past two weeks I've worked 65 hours. This coming week will be more of the same, but I'm thankful that we may actually have a three-day weekend (Good Friday is an official JCB holiday; I don't know why, but I'll take it).

I do plan to publish a post this Wednesday on the church's real Easter problem.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

To Beard or Not to Beard?

I decided to have a bit of fun last week. When the weather begins to turn warmer it can be difficult to decide whether or not to keep the beard.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What Do You Do When You Gather?

"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." (I Cor. 14:26, ESV)

"What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church." (I Cor. 14:26, NET)

"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (I Cor. 14:26, NKJV)

On this blog I write quite a bit about the reason for church gatherings: mutual edification.

This topic is critical for at least three reasons. First, the scriptures are clear that this is in fact the purpose of the church coming together (see for example I Cor. 14:26 above in three different translations). Second, many Christians today have no idea that this is the reason for meeting; instead, they believe it is for "worship" (which they have no ability to define). Third, the church is in desperate need of more mutual edification. This is the only way it will move past its largely immature state.

Keeping in mind that God wants us to gather for edification, I have a specific question for you: What do you do when you gather?

I'm not speaking in generalities here. Rather, I'd like to hear specifics. What do you do personally? Also, what does your group do?

I'm not going to jump on you for anything I disagree with. I may question you on it, but nothing disrespectful. Frankly, my hope as always is to learn through challenging discussion. That said, what do you do?

I'd very much like for you to leave your answer in the comments section. Thanks.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fellowship on the Run

The more I run and race, the more I realize that what I enjoy most is the fellowship. About one week ago I ran in the Skidaway Island Marathon, in suburban Savannah. This was my fourth lifetime marathon (marathon distance is always 26.2 miles). I'm very happy to say that this was the best of the four - not fastest, but best. I wasn't in much pain, and the experience was fabulous. The primary reason for this was the fellowship that I experienced pre-race, during the race, and post-race. The photos I've included tell the story. The first two are of me hanging with friends before the race. The third and fourth photos were taken around mile seven. The fourth picture is key because it shows me running beside Christine, who was a 3 hour, 30 minute pacer. It was her job to finish in that time; I just went along for the ride. We talked for much of the race. Around mile 18 I realized that all the other runners in our group had fallen off the pace. Therefore, we just kept talking. It was great because it helped me keep my mind off the discomfort while hitting the wall just after mile 20. I ended up finishing, as you can see in the following two photos, in 3 hours, 27 minutes.

After the race, I was able to spend more time with friends I've made in the Savannah running community. The last photo is the best. My biggest supporter in this endeavor is my wife, Alice. A runner herself, Alice spent this morning assisting me. She was there at mile 19 to hand me some Gatorade and GU. She was also there at the finish. There is a reason she is known, at least to our family, as Awesome Alice.

A special thanks to Endurance Race Services for yet again putting on a superb race!

My hope for you is that you combine fellowship with activities that you enjoy. Maybe you don't like to run. That's fine. What do you like to do? Whatever that is, try to make it a time of community.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Priesthood of All Believers?

This meme/comic has been around for a while. I believe I've even posted it here in the past. However, it's so on point that I'm putting it up here again. The simple fact is that one person giving a lecture to a silent audience week after week is the complete opposite of the priesthood of all believers. How sad it is that within Protestantism the sermon has essentially become a sacrament. Most people tolerate it because they think they have to. How much better it is when the entire body actively functions during the gathering to build itself up in Christ!