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April 2005

April 30, 2005

I can’t deny that was a little apprehensive about this book before I began it, even though I had not read any detailed reviews and had little idea of the content. Just a few days before I began reading I had seem an interview with the author, Donald Miller, in “The Door Magazine” in which he had been terribly sarcastic and quite crude (judging by the number of words that had to be “blanked” out). It left me with an impression of the author that was not altogether favorable.

April 29, 2005

I was recently asked to work on a rather strange project – a web site dedicated to teaching the Bible through limericks. Yes, limericks – commonly known to be the lowest form of poetry. While I was certainly glad to work on the project and to help the poet bring his ministry to a wider audience, I secretly doubted that anyone could really learn anything from a limerick.

I was wrong. As I was inputting a limerick the other day I learned something. It was something that fascinated me too. This particular poem was about King Solomon and reflected on whether he really understood the law of God.

The passage the poet pointed to in his explanation was Deuteronomy 17:18. Allow me to share a few verses from that chapter:

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”

Imagine that. When a new king was appointed, one of his first tasks was to transcribe for himself a copy of the law. A search through various commentaries has revealed disagreement as to whether this included only the book of Deuteronomy or whether it included all of the books of Moses. Those who believe it was only Deuteronomy point to the fact that this book serves as an abstract of the moral and judicial law and this would have been of greater importance to the king than the books of Leviticus and Numbers which were concerned chiefly with the ceremonial law. On the other hand, those who believe that he had to transcribe the whole of the Pentateuch show correctly that these books provide a foundation for the entire system of beliefs. I don’t suppose we will ever know with any sense of certainty. But that matters little for the purpose of this decree is abundantly clear.

It is not as if the king did not already have access to the law. Certainly he would have had many copies he could have turned to. There would have been copies available from the priests as well as the copies previously transcribed by his forefathers. So he did not have to write the law due to necessity, as if this is the only way he could have access to the words of God. It is also important to note that he would have had full access to scribes who could have done the writing for him. As king he would have had any number of options for having the law made available to him.

That the king had to engage in this laborious and time-consuming task, which surely would have taken many months of work, shows the emphasis of God upon obedience to His Word. While the affairs of the kingdom would have been pressing against the new king, God commanded that he dedicate the first portion of his time to writing the words of the law. Before he could commence his work as leader, he had to dedicate himself to knowing and understanding the law of God.

How often do we, who have far less responsibility than the king of a nation, prioritize worldly concerns over the study of Scripture? Do we dedicate ourselves to knowing and understanding Scripture in the same way God commanded these kings? God does not command us to transcribe the Bible (thankfully, as there is much more of it now than there was when Moses wrote Deuteronomy), but perhaps it would be of great benefit to us if He did.

Recently my friend Bill has been journaling his way through Psalm 119, transcribing the biblical words and then rewriting them in his own words. You can see an example here. Bill will undoubtedly soon have a deep and lasting understanding of this Psalm as a reward for his diligence. Imagine the benefit to the king of Israel in transcribing whole books!

Let’s return to our passage. It continues, “And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life.” The king was not to merely put away his document to serve as a memorial to his hard work – a trophy to stand as a way of legitimizing his reign. Far from it. God commanded that he continue to read this version of the law for the rest of his life. As long as he was king, he was to continually return to the law, lest he forget the commands of God.

There are not many homes in North America that do not have at least one Bible in them. But it is not enough to have a Bible. Unless it is being diligently read and studied, it is of no benefit. Many years ago I watched the movie Without A Clue, a spoof on Sherlock Holmes. At one point a woman visited Holmes’ apartment and asked if he had a Bible. He said that he did, and that he always kept it as his bedside. He then ran to his room to fetch the Bible where it was serving to prop up the short leg of his bed. Many people have little more respect than this for the Word of God. Unless it is continually circulating in the heart of the Christian, the Word is of little effect.

The passage concludes with God’s reasoning behind requiring the king to continually read the law. “…That he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.” By immersing himself in the law of God, the king would be empowered by God to keep and do the laws, thus bringing honor to the Lord. The law of God stirs the heart to fear God. The fear of the Lord is not a terror brought about by distrust of God’s character or purposes, but is an understanding of His awesome perfection, grace and holiness that manifests itself in a life of praise, thanksgiving and worship. We cannot have any of this if we do not know Him.

The application of these verses to our lives is clear. Know the Word of God. Do not merely read it, but diligently study it, allowing it to penetrate deeply within your heart. In that way you can have assurance that you will learn to fear the Lord, to keep the words of His laws and statutes, and to do them.

April 28, 2005

This is one of those articles I am going to post even though it goes against my better judgement. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, or maybe there is just something I really want to get off my chest. So let’s talk about Protestants and the pope. Uh oh.

It has been a few weeks now since the pope died and we are finally beginning to hear a little bit less about “John Paul the Great.” I’m not sure if “the Great” is going to become an official suffix, but I seem to see it a lot in the media.

In recent weeks, Protestants have been forced to reflect on the papacy and the Catholic Church in a way most have probably never done in their lifetimes. Many who are now Christians were not when the last pope died, and many were not even alive at that time. The pope’s death gripped the entire world and monopolized media headlines for weeks. It has caused everyone to think about John Paul and the system he represented.

The Internet has given unprecedented numbers of people the opportunity to express their thoughts about the pope in a public forum. Very many, for better or for worse, have taken full advantage. I have taken a special interest in those written by Protestants, as this situation has afforded an opportunity to measure Protestant feelings towards Catholicism. It has been like plunging a meat thermometer into the body to check the temperature of the church. And unfortunately I think it is still raw.

It seems every article I read about either John Paul II or the newly elected Benedit XVI begins the same way. The author lauds the pope for his promotion of the dignity of life and his desire for Christian unity. He generally also applauds the pope’s stand for the objectivity of truth. He may mention abortion, euthenasia and other contentious issues. And then, having praised him, he gets to the heart of the matter, stating that despite all of this we need to remember that Catholicism is still unbiblical at heart. When I read this, I can’t help but think of Jesus as He confronted the Pharisees, who had corrupted the simplicity of the Gospel. I do not recall Jesus first bringing out five points of agreement and affirmation before expressing His disgust for their errant doctrines which kept men bound in their guilt and made a mockery of the Scriptures. So why is it that in our day we feel the need to bring out several points of agreement with the pope before mentioning, “Oh, by the way, he dedicated his entire life to promoting the veneration of Mary and to teaching a Gospel that is completely at odds with the clear teaching of Scripture!”? Should that not be the first point we make - the fact that the Gospel he taught was a false Gospel? That it was anathema?

Only a couple of paragraphs in and I am already off-track. I apologize. Allow me to get back to the point of this article.

When I hear the reaction of many an average Protestant to the death of the pope and the installation of a new one, I am continually drawn to the Old Testament and to a clear parallel between the ancient nation of Israel and modern-day Evangelicalism.

I am sure you are familiar with the story of ancient Israel. Using Moses as His mouthpiece, God rescued His people from their bondage in Egypt. Time and again He revealed Himself in miraculous ways as He led His people towards the Promised Land. Eventually He led them into this land and handed it over to them with only a few conditions. Time and time again, the Israelites grew hard, doubting that God had their best interests in mind. They continually rejected the covenantal conditions. God offered them a nation led by the Lord - a theocracy with God Himself as the head of state, ruling through men He appointed to convey His will. But the people wanted more. “All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

God gave the people a perfect form of government in which He was their Leader. But the people wanted more. Actually, the people wanted less. They wanted a man to rule over them just like the nations all around. They cried out to Samuel to “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Samuel, heeding God’s instruction, warned the people of the dire consequences of turning away from God’s leadership and placing themselves under a king. This king would take the best of their men to serve him, he would take their daughters for his service and would take their land and money. God warned that the time would not be far off when men would cry out because of this king, but that God would turn His back, leaving them to the consequences of their actions. But they persisted. “The people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Like an infant disregarding the wisdom of his parents, Israel thought they knew best. God told Samuel to listen to the people and he appointed Saul to be leader. We all know how that turned out. While Saul was a poor leader, many who followed him were far worse. Throughout the Old Testament we see the consequences of the people’s choice. Surely they reaped what they sowed.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that many Protestants are heading in this same direction. I am seeing more and more Protestants expressing that the pope is their head. They may not express it that plainly, yet they believe it none the less. It seems that many Protestants are suffering from papal envy. While they may not be demanding it yet, as the Israelites did of Samuel, it seems that many are looking to the pope as the head of the church rather than Christ. They are lamenting the fact that Christianity, as God has decreed it in His Word, does not provide us an earthly head.

God has given the church all it needs. He has graciously given us His Word and Spirit to direct us and His Son as our Head. We are rich beyond all measure. But it seems that some people want more. Or should I say less? Does this not bring as much dishonor to the church or our day as it did to Israel? Is the church rejecting God today just as Israel rejected Him thousands of years ago?

I truly hope it is not. The bondage that the kings of Israel brought to God’s people is light compared to the spiritual bondage of following a man rather than following the true Head of the church.

April 27, 2005

Have you ever noticed that when someone says, “Don’t look at that!” you immediately look at it? I remember as a kid I used to delight in finding something gross and rotten and disgusting and showing it off to my friends, seeing who would flinch first as we dug around with sticks inside some rotten carcass. Perhaps I was a disturbed child but I don’t think my experiences were unusual. After all, there are any number of web sites that specialize in showing off the disturbing images of war, violence and stupidity. People have a fascination with spectacle. How else do we account for so-called reality television?

April 26, 2005

Several days ago I posted an excerpt from an essay written by D.A. Carson that is published as the introductory chapter of Worship by the Book. Carson suggested that some Christians have come to worship worship instead of worshipping God through worship. He says, “This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like ‘Let’s forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.’ The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three of four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God – not by singing about doing it, but by doing it.”

Over the past days, these words have been playing in my mind, and have been causing me to examine every worship song I encounter. I listened to some of the worship albums I have accumulated over the past years and was struck by how true Carson’s words are. Carson also writes, “Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.”

This morning I thought of Sonicflood’s self-titled debut album. This one rocked the Christian music scene when it arrived a few years ago and immediately many of these songs went from nearly-unknown to exceedingly popular. Take a look at the lyrics for “I Want to Know You” (In the Secret):

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for You
‘Cause I want to know You more

I want to know You
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more

I am reaching for the highest goal
That I might receive the prize
Pressing ownward, pushing every hindrance aside, out of my way
‘Cause I want to know You more

I had to conclude that song really says nothing of substance about God. As the Christian sings this song he pleads to know God more, to hear His voice and to see His face, yet all this time he probably has the Bible sitting on the pew behind him. As Carson says, after you have sung this song through a few times you are no farther ahead. This song will not help you know Him, hear Him, touch Him or see Him. Consider another favorite from the same album:

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see you, I want to see you

To see you high and lifted up,
Shining in the light of your glory.
Pour out your power and love,
as we sing holy, holy, holy.

Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
I want to see you

I want to see you
I want to see you

For sake of brevity I removed the portions of the lyric that are repetitive. This song is similar to the last in that it pleads what the songwriter wants to do (he wants to see God), yet it brings him no closer to doing so. Granted this song has at least somewhat more depth of theology to it than the first example, but it still does not bring the person any closer to what he desires. We can tell God that we want to see Him, but that does not make it happen!

Allow me to provide one final example. Here are the lyrics for “You Are Worthy of My Praise” by David Ruis.

I will worship (I will worship)
With all of my heart (with all of my heart)
I will praise You (I will praise You)
With all of my strength (all my strength)
I will seek You (I will seek You)
All of my days (all of my days)
And I will follow (I will follow)
All of Your ways (all Your ways)

I will give You all my worship
I will give You all my praise
You alone I long to worship
You alone are worthy of my praise

I will bow down (I will bow down)
Hail You as king (hail You as king)
And I will serve You (I will serve You)
Give You everything (give You everything)
I will lift up (I will lift up)
My eyes to Your throne (my eyes to Your throne)
And I will trust You (I will trust You)
I will trust You alone (trust You alone)

Once more, the lyrics of the song do not express any worship to God. They talk about all the things the songwriter (and thus the person singing the song) intends to do, but does not actually do it. We do not worship God by telling Him that we will, at some point in the future, worship Him. It is akin to a husband heading to work and instead of telling his wife that he loves her, telling her that he will express his love for her at some other time. That is not an expression of love!

I wonder if we shouldn’t term these “songs of procrastination.” After all, by singing them we are procrastinating the very thing we claim to desire. Why not forget “In the Secret” and instead sing a song that will tell us about God and how we may know Him? If we want to know Him so badly, perhaps we should just end the song and open the Scriptures. Instead of telling God “I will worship you” and “I will bow down,” why don’t we just do it! Worship Him and bow before Him instead of just expressing the desire.

Thankfully, there are many songs that do this. Last week I purchased the new album by Jars of Clay. I have never been a great fan of Jars of Clay, but I do admire their musical ability, and realizing that their new album was recordings of traditional hymns, I could not resist. The album is excellent and you really ought to buy a copy for yourself. I can’t imagine anyone regretting it. But I digress. The first track of Redemption Songs is “God, Be Merciful to Me” which was penned by Jo­seph P. Hol­brook. It is an adaptation of Psalm 51. I can hardly imagine a better song to lead an album or a worship service.

God, be merciful to me,
On Thy grace I rest my plea;
Plenteous in compassion Thou,
Blot out my transgressions now;
Wash me, make me pure within,
Cleanse, O cleanse me from my sin.

My transgressions I confess,
Grief and guilt my soul oppress;
I have sinned against Thy grace
And provoked Thee to Thy face;
I confess Thy judgment just,
Speechless, I Thy mercy trust.

I am evil, born in sin;
Thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Savior art,
Teach Thy wisdom to my heart;
Make me pure, Thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.

Broken, humbled to the dust
By Thy wrath and judgment just,
Let my contrite heart rejoice
And in gladness hear Thy voice;
From my sins O hide Thy face,
Blot them out in boundless grace.

Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from Thee,
Let Thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation’s joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.

Now this songwriter accomplishes what he sets out to do. He does not merely tell God that he is sorry for his sin, but he asks God to cleanse and forgive him. He admits his sinfulness and his brokenness and acknowledges that God’s judgment is just. He expresses confidence in God’s grace and forgiveness. It is a powerful and moving song. It is a fitting song to begin a worship service so the believer can acknowledge his unworthiness, plead God’s mercy, and rest in the acknowledgement of God’s pardon. Do not think that I am denigrating contemporary music in favor of hymns. There are many contemporary songs that likewise express depth and go far beyond mere suggestions.

Returning to Worship by the Book, Carson makes an analogy between a person who watches a sunset and another person who stands before the same sunset but becomes fixated on watching himself watch the sunset. The first person delights in the beauty of Creation, while the second person can see no further than the act of watching it. In this way he misses the sunset altogether. What folly it is to miss the beauty of the sunset by fixating on ourselves. And what a tragedy it is if we go no further than asking God to touch us or speak to us, but do not use what He has given us to accomplish that end.

April 25, 2005

Over the weekend I did a lot of reading. Actually, it was probably an unhealthy amount of reading, if such a thing is possible. Strangely, Aileen’s absence (you may recall that she was at a women’s conference in Niagara Falls) gave me more time than usual to read. On Saturday I helped my son get setup in his new bedroom and he and my daughter proceeded to spend most of the rest of the day up there, acting out various scenarios, most of which involved them calling each other “mommy” and “daddy.” It’s a good thing they were content there, as the weather was just awful so we couldn’t have played outdoors. When we did go out, though it was only a dash from the car to the post office, we got practically drenched by the downpour.

But back to the topic at-hand. I thought I would provide a few choice quotes from some of the reading I did this weekend. First, a few from Hank Nanegraaff’s book Counterfeit Revival. This first quote is from Stephen Hill, preaching at the Brownsville Assembly of God:

“Now some of you are watching this young man up here. I want to tell you exactly what he is doing, and then I want you to turn your eyes from him. He’s interceding for your soul. Some of you are on the verge – it’s like we’ve got you with a thread and you’re hanging over hell. It’s intercession in the deepest form right here. It’s moanings and groanings, words that can’t be uttered. God’s put it on him. You can’t tell me God doesn’t love you when he will stricken [sic] another young man who loves God with all his heart, cause him to fall to the ground and experience the moanings and groanings and the birth pains. He’s giving birth to you, friend. He’s giving spiritual birth to you. He’s dying for you right now. He’s dying that you might have life.”

This is utter blasphemy, of course. It’s practically blasphemy to use Jonathan Edward’s illustration of a thread hanging over hell in such a matter. But of course it is far more blasphemous to suggest that a mere man is interceding for our sins, and much less that we even need further intercession. To take the moans and groans of the Spirit and to attribute them to a man lost in some state of hypnotic ecstasy is shocking in its flippancy.

This next quote is from Paul Cain, a supposed prophet within these Counterfeit Revival circles.

“No prophet or apostle who ever lived equaled the power of these individuals in this great army of the Lord in these last days. No one ever had it; not even Elijah or Peter or Paul or anyone else enjoyed the power that is going to rest upon this great army.”

Hanegraaff rightly follows this quote with a passage from Jeremiah in which the Lord speaks out against false prophets and warns against the judgment that will soon befall them.

And finally, a quote that I post only for its comedic value. Too often I have heard people speak of God giving them a song or a poem or something else, only to find that what the Lord apparently gave them was of absolutely terrible quality. Read the Psalsm and you will be struck by their beauty and depth. Look at the sunset over a lake and you’ll stand in awe of God’s creative ability. And then consider this song which Kathryn Riss says the Lord gave to her. The title is “New Winos Drinking Song Number One.” This can be sung to either of these tunes: “Tis the Gift to be Simple” or “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”.

If you feel too serious and kind of blue,
I’ve got a suggestion, just the thing for you!
It’s a little unconventional, but so much fun,
That you won’t even mind when people think you’re dumb!

Just come to the party God is throwing right now,
We can all lighten up and show the pagans how
Christians have more fun and keep everyone guessing,
Since the Holy Ghost sent us the Toronto blessing!

I used to think life was serious stuff;
I didn’t dare cry, so I acted kind of tough
‘Til the Spirit of God put laughter in my soul,
Now the Holy Ghost’s got me, and I’m out of control!

CHORUS:

Now I’m just a party animal grazing at God’s trough,
I’m a Jesus junkie, and I can’t get enough!
I’m an alcoholic for that great New Wine,
‘Cause the Holy Ghost is pouring, and I’m drinking all the time!

Now I laugh like an idiot and bark like a dog,
If I don’t sober up, I’ll likely hop like a frog!
And I’ll crow like a rooster ‘til the break of day,
‘Cause the Holy Ghost is moving, and I can’t stay away!

Now I roar like a lioness who’s on the prowl,
I laugh and I shake, maybe hoot like an owl!
Since God’s holy river started bubbling up in me,
It spills outside, and it’s setting me free!

So, I’ll crunch and I’ll dip and I’ll dance round and round,
‘Cause the pew was fine, but it’s more fun on the ground!
So I’ll jump like a pogo stick, then fall on the floor,
‘Cause the Holy Ghost is moving, and I just want MORE!

Call it a hunch, but I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that God did not give her this song.

That’s enough of Counterfeit Revival. Another book I spent some time in this weekend is, Whatever Happened to the Reformation, edited by Gary Johnson and R. Fowler White. Contributors include Michael Horton, R.C. Sproul, David Wells, John MacArthur and others.

In Gary Johnson’s opening chapter I found the following quote:

“Evangelicals are at a crossroads. Will they return to their Reformational roots or will they abandon them? Alister McGrath has written that while the Reformation should not be allowed to dominate the horizons of evangelicalism, yet the Reformation must remain a focus and defining point of reference for all who call themselves evangelical. B.B. Warfield, however, is more direct. “It is just as well that the world should realize with increased clearness that Evangelicalism stands or falls with Calvinism, and that every proof of Evangelicalism is a proof of Calvinism.” This was Warfield’s way of saying that apart from the Reformation there is no evangelicalism.”

I am sure many will not agree with this, especially with Warfield’s quote. Clearly it was written at a time when Evangelical and Calvinist were seen, by many, as being synonymous. This is, of course, no longer the case, as these words are more often used as opposites. In many people’s eyes either a person is Evangelical or he is a Calvinist. There are some within Calvinist circles who are trying to recover the word “Evangelical” while more have given up on it altogether and suggest allowing it to fall out of use. Last month Matthew Hall indicated his desire to jump off now. And who can blame him?

The next chapter of the same verse, written by Douglas M. Jones is called Dismantling the Postmodern Prison.” Judging by the following words, I presume Jones is no fan of postmodernism.

“Postmodern thought is a wonderful failure of imagination. Few, if any, intellectual currents have made so much out of so little. It has only a small core of simplistic, absolute claims that it reapplies over and over, with little variation or creativity. Yet at the same time it surrounds these stern absolutes with a glow of linguistic foreplay, enticing the bored with polygamous hyphens, encircled sentences, and promiscuous nominalizations – forever totalization, indetermination, inclusion, marginalization. In the end, we see that it is first and foremost concerned not with literary meaning of epistemology, but brute justice. As such it shows itself to be the Iago of modernity, piously denouncing the crimes it demands for itself alone. In a snapshot, self-conscious postmodernism (or poststructuralism or neo-pragmatism) is the view which infers that all social hierarchies are evil from the claim that all knowledge is subjective and relative.”

I suppose this stood out to me because I was taken with the barely-suppressed disgust and sarcasm bubbling just below the surface of his words. “Enticing the bored,” “polygamous hyphens” and “linguistic foreplay” – those terms are both creative and brilliant. I was reminded of Dr. Mike’s recent post about postmodernism. He writes,

“PoMo is insidious: it spreads like a virus throughout the body of Christ, invading reasonably healthy cells here and there. It changes the internal structure of the infected cell and begins to replicate itself. Often the cell has no idea of what has happened, only that some change has occurred and things seem to be different now. … It is also an evolving, somewhat-nebulous philosophy. Of the many heads on this ear-tickling Hydra, one in particular has triggered the present post: PoMo is characterized by an erosion of authority.”

You can read more about “The PoMo Undercurrent in the Blogdom of God” here.

And that is a snapshot of my weekend. Of course I also read Stealing Sheep, a book which has fostered some interesting discussion in the forums.

Just when I thought I was catching up with my reading, I got a new shipment of books this morning. This included Blue Like Jazz, a book that I have been told I will dislike, but I will approach open-minded. It also included another book by D.A. Carson and some interesting titles by G.I. Williamson. I think I will have to give up on reading some of the twenty seven books on my “to read” shelf.

April 24, 2005

I did not know what to expect from Stealing Sheep. The book was recommended to me and I purchased it sight-unseen. All I knew of its content was the subtitle: “The Church’s Hidden Problems with Transfer Growth.” I assumed this was a book written by an author opposed to the church growth movement who would be offering one more proof as to why this movement was unbiblical.

April 24, 2005

This is something I have wanted to write about for quite some time. Unfortunately I have always put it off because I’ve found that I have not been able to formulate my thoughts on it sufficiently nor have I been able to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. But I think it is an important topic and has been on my mind in recent days. So formulated or not, let’s talk about this.

God has built His church, the body of Christ, around a particular authority structure. Each local body has within it a pattern of authority. The leadership of the church is to be held accountable by the people and the people entrust the leadership with a degree of spiritual authority over them. Some churches place a greater focus on this than others. In my younger days the most dreaded day of the year was the “elder visitation.” On that day two of the elders from the church would come to the house and would spend time with the parents and any older children. They would pray with the family and then ask them questions about their spiritual state. They children would be asked questions appropriate to their age, and after the kids were dismissed, the elders would continue to meet with the parents. While I dreaded this as a child, now that I am an adult I can see a real benefit to it. The local church was doing its best to ensure that the leadership had some sense of the spiritual maturity of the flock and was giving the membership an opportunity to bring their problems and concerns before the elders. It was a beautiful thing.

That practice is no longer widely practiced in the local church body, and it is a pity. In fact, the office of elder is rapidly disappearing altogether from evangelical churches.

Generally ministries within the local church are similarly governed by the church. Each ministry is held to a degree of accountability by the leadership. If I were to teach a Bible study class within my church, I would expect the leadership to take a vested interest and to oversee the ministry. If I were to teach something opposed to the Word, I’d expect them to chasten or discipline me when necessary.

This type of structure exists within the church for a good reason. Christians, like all humans, are prone to wander and to get themselves into all sorts of doctrinal trouble. The church has been tasked with ensuring its members are living lives that bring glory to the Head of the church.

While this type of spiritual accountability is built into the local church, it is conspicuous by its absence on the Internet. Any person can have a ministry online and be free from any real accountability. Blogs are a prime example of this. There are many blogs run by Christians that receive tens of thousands of visits every week. Many bloggers have a far bigger and diverse audience than the pastors within their local church. They can teach, instruct and encourage other believers from behind their personal computers. Unfortunately they can also do great damage. Yet they do all this with no real accountability. I am sure that many, perhaps even the majority of bloggers, have no accountability whatsoever with what they write on their web sites. This seems to fall outside of the structure of the local church.

I am reminded of a story I read a few weeks ago. Apparently there are now tens of thousands of individuals in the United States that make a living by selling items on eBay. The United States government is concerned about this for two reasons. First, these people fall outside the domain of the Internal Revenue Service and usually pay no tax on their income. Secondly, they fall outside the domain of whatever body measures the workforce, so that these thousands of people, while they earn a good living, are considered unemployed. The government is seeking ways of including such people in some category where they can be properly accounted for.

We can make this a metaphor for bloggers. Bloggers fall outside of the usual authority and accountability structures that are built into the church. Sure it is possible that the readers of a site will play this type of role, but it can only be so effective within the confines of the Internet’s anonymity. And we all know that for every person who will hold a person accountable for poor doctrine, there is at least one more, and probably many more, who will applaud it.

The blogosphere is rapidly becoming a primary means of sharing, teaching and disseminating information. Its popularity increases on a daily basis. So what are we to do? How are we to hold bloggers accountable for what they write? What can we do, as believers, to ensure that we are remaining true to the Word, and placing necessary safeguards in place for those times, those inevitable times, when we dishonor our Lord?