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Church

December 29, 2007

The day’s second teaching session was taken by Jeff Noblit who preached a message about the duties of church membership. He said “If you do not get this, you do not get anything. And if you get this, you have about everything.” He spoke of our duty to the bride of Christ. We live at a time when church membership means almost nothing. It’s a disgraceful thing almost to challenge people as to their duties to the church. The church is the centerpiece, the foundation of God’s work in the world and He has no plan b.

He spoke from Hebrews 10:24-25 which reads “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

There were three main points: The exhortation to be about your duty to the church, the motivation as to why we need to be about this duty; the culmination—the end of this duty to the church.

The exhortation to be about your duty to the church - There are two chief words for this point—consider and stimulate. “Consider” means to have your mind attentatively fixed on something. In other words, you must choose to fix your mind on the bride of Christ. You’ll choose to focus here. This is your calling and your responsibility. The word “how” indicates a studying aspect, that you would study the ways you can better serve them. How many of us study our churches so we may know how to serve others? “Stimulate” means to provoke or encourage. The root of this word is the same as “vinegar”—you are to be like a splash of vinegar to these people. The health of the body of Christ and the glory of God depends on people going to church with this intentionality. We are to purpose that we will be a vinegar-like stimulating effect on others mostly through our lives, but also through our mouths when necessary.

The motivation as to why we need to be about this duty - We are to consider how we are to stimulate one another. The Bible is primarily written to churches and not to individuals. Even when it addresses individuals, it is primarily to teach how you can serve within that church family. You need to either accept that and glory in that, or just get right out of the way. We are to focus on the “one anothers”—those of us who are spiritually, miraculously the same through God’s grace. There’s a negative side to this—things that must not occur within the body of Christ. Our motivation must never be to dishonor a brother or sister in Christ; we must never harbor dishonoring thoughts or attitudes towards others. We must always be walking in love. The motivation, then, is that we are all part of one another other as members of the same body.

The culmination—the end of this duty to the church - The author culminates this in the text by saying that we are to do all of this so that God’s love will produce love and good deeds. Love is the primary grace that we should provoke in each other. Sometimes we need others to stir up this love. God has meant for us to be dependent upon other Christians to walk in love and good works. You are not Superman—you must have brothers and sisters in Christ to be the Christian God wants you to be. This should make us want to pray for them and for ourselves. The chief thing that happens is that we should now see the love that God has put in us flowing out of us. This word love indicates a kind of rest—a great rest. Through the merits of Jesus Christ, God is greatly at rest with us—he loves us. The one who apart from Christ would arouse God’s wrath, but through Christ he is at great rest.

We used to bear the image of the earthly and so we loved the earthly. But now we bear the image of the heavenly and so we love the heavenly. There is now a miraculous and even mysterious love for other Christians. All Christians are marked by the image of the heavenly and it draws us together.

There are four marks of this love:

  1. This love is unique to Christians and no one else has it

  2. This love is a delight to God. It delights Him to see this love shared and lived out among us

  3. This love makes us most like God

  4. The love is a fruitful mother. All other graces and all other spiritual works, duties or deeds flow from this love. If it’s not from this love, it’s not of God.

In the final analysis, this love is what most glorifies God. The challenge is to rededicate your life to the bride of Christ, to give yourself to her, and to seek to bring glory to God in this way. You must find a true church and give your life to it.

November 30, 2007

Over at “Cowboyology,” Clint Humphreys has posted an interesting take on the Baptist wing of the Reformed Renewal we’re experiencing today. A former Professor of New Testament at Toronto Baptist Seminary, Clint now pastors Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta. Looking at the landscape of Reformed Baptists, he identifies five streams and suggests that most contemporary Reformed Baptists will fit into one of them. They are:

  1. The Neo-Evangelical Stream.
    Leading Example: John Piper
    Characteristics: Calvinistic convictions arrived at from within the broad mainstream Neo-evangelical ethos.

  2. The Dispensational Stream.
    Leading Example: John Macarthur
    Characteristics: Calvinistic conclusions arrived at out of the generally ‘3-4 point Calvinist’ circles of ‘Dallas’ dispensationalism.

  3. The Fundamentalist Stream.
    Leading Example: Spiritual heirs of TT Shields
    Characteristics: Distinguished from other Fundamentalists by Calvinism and at times non-Premillenial eschatology. Yet still Fundamental in ethos and association (cf. Paisley in N. Ireland, Bob Jones University, etc.)

  4. The Reformed Baptist Stream.
    Leading Example: Al Martin, Tom Ascol
    Characteristics: Often connected with Presbyterians, possessing the same view of the Law’s implication for Christian living, particularly in the form of Sabbatarianism, and 10 commandments as normative for Christians.

  5. The New Covenant Reformed Baptist Stream.
    Leading Example: John Reisinger
    Characteristics: Derived from the Reformed Baptist stream, but broke away from those circles over disagreement about Sabbatarianism and the relation of the Law to the Christian. Tended to emphasize a more Christocentric view of the Law (i.e. Law is fulfilled in Christ entirely, therefore the idea of Sunday as equivalent to a Jewish Sabbath is incorrect). Can draw from Progressive Dispensational circles as well as other eschatological perspectives.

To this list I would add one more:

The Actually Presbyterian Stream. These are people who are Presbyterian by conviction but who have not been able to find a God-honoring Presbyterian church in which to plant themselves. Instead, they joyfully attend Reformed Baptist churches, even while harboring hopes of someday being able to get their children baptized “properly.” John Piper’s church saw some much-publicized controversy about this group of people and many Reformed Baptist churches have plenty of closet Presbyterians attending (even if not as members). I’ll grant that this stream does not represent Reformed Baptist convictions, but it does represent a significant number of Christians within these churches.

Clint admits “There is often overlap between these different streams, and many Calvinistic Baptists would not be associated with any of them in a formal way. However the influence of the various teachers in these streams has had a significant impact within the broader Reformed Renewal of the 20th and early 21st century.”

I’d be interested in your feedback on these. Do you feel these are legitimate categories? Are there any missing? Which do you feel apply to you (if you are Reformed and Baptist)?

The comments section at Clint’s site is well worth perusing as there is some interesting discussion to be found there.

November 26, 2007

The Banner of Truth web site features a host of useful articles (1302 at last count). One that I’ve found worth reading and bookmarking is entitled simply “Apostasy.” In the article the author, David Samuel, makes a distinction between two terms that many people mistakenly use synonymously – apostasy and heresy. Apostasy he defines as a rejection of truth that a person once believed. Hence I would be apostate if I were to suddenly reject the doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine I now hold dearly. Heresy, one the other hand, is the addition of foreign doctrines. Thus I would be heretical if I added the worship of some foreign deity to my beliefs.

The first apostasy was when man rejected God. Having once held that God was perfectly trustworthy, man rejected Him and attempted to thrust himself into God’s role. In so doing he dragged himself and the rest of Creation into this state of horrible sin. This first apostasy is the source of all further apostasy. We do not need to look much further into history to find the first heresies and, in fact, much of the Old Testament is a history of early heresies.

The author then turns to the Church of Rome to show an example of a church that is both apostate and heretical, for she has both rejected doctrines she once believed and has added unbiblical beliefs to them. He calls Catholicism “wickedness under a form of godliness cunningly managed” and with Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones and many other eminent Protestant theologians, considers Catholicism Satan’s masterpiece. Catholicism seeks to undermine Christianity not with an obvious frontal assault, but with careful, deliberate and veiled attacks. Francis Turrentin wrote:

“Christ wills that sola Scriptura, inspired by God be received by us as the perfect rule of faith and morals. The Pope denies Scripture alone is an adequate rule of faith, unwritten traditions must be attached. These traditions, together with Scripture, are to be equally adopted and venerated. They are to be held alike as the means of influencing godliness.

“Christ wishes His Word to be believed on its own, because it does not take its authority from man. In our estimation, the Pope wishes the authority of the Word to be derived from his Church. Christ wishes no supreme judge to be acknowledged in ruling on controversies other than God speaking through Scripture. The Pope sacrilegiously claims this prerogative for himself.

“Furthermore, Christ teaches that He alone is the Mediator, appointed by the Father, who alone is the way, the truth and the life, without whom no man can Conic to the Father. Yet the Pope forces innumerable mediators upon us. Mediators who, he says, are to reveal the way to heaven for us. Also, Christ testifies that there is no other sacrifice apart from His own; no other satisfaction by which we may obtain remission of sins and the reward of salvation. But the Pope insists on human punishments and satisfactions, while demanding a new propitiatory sacrifice called the Mass.

“Though Christ established that men are to be saved by grace through faith alone. the Pope includes works as well. Whereas Christ institutes only two sacraments, the Pope decrees seven. Christ ordains that no one but God be the object of cult and adoration, yet the Pope worships creatures as well. Christ declared Himself the sole Head and Groom of the Church, but the Pope grants this to himself as well. Christ subjects Himself to the magistrates, ordering His servants to be likewise subject. Nevertheless, the Pope subjects the magistrates, rulers and emperors to himself.

“Can it truly be said that those who teach such doctrines and defend such dogmas keep the faith of Christ? Or are they not adjudged guilty by the deserts of defection and the fact of apostasy?

Doctrine after crucial doctrine is discarded in the Roman system, only to be replaced with something that is more appealling to man’s sinful nature. Words are changed, meanings slightly altered, so that what is false seems so very close to the truth.

All this leads to the author’s assessment of the evangelical churches. “The Protestant Churches, having largely abandoned the biblical doctrines of the Reformation, which were their raison d’être, are capitulating to the leadership of the papacy and to Roman Catholic doctrine. There are, indeed, other ways that men and Churches may apostatize from the faith - into liberalism, for example, or other faiths - but Rome remains the great threat to the Protestant churches, Satan’s great masterpiece, his counterfeit Christianity by which he deceives the nations.”

With many other Christians, I have often mourned the fact that the contemporary church has so little identity with its Reformation roots. Each year Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and Independence Day, days that hearken back to their roots as a nation. They celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day which also look to the great victories of the past. All nations celebrate similar days – here in Canada we celebrate the anniversary of our confederation on Canada Day, remembering each year the events of the past. Yet Christians have little identity with the Reformation, the event which gave birth to the church as we know it. Along with the loss of the historical view has come the loss of the historical doctrines. The beliefs that gave birth to Protestantism are rarely articulated or taught to evangelicals. Is it any wonder, then, that many churches have capitulated “to the leadership of the papacy and to Roman Catholic doctrine?” And many who have not capitulated have developed apathy towards, a respect of, or even an envy of Catholic doctrine.

A few paragraphs later, in a discussion of the causes of idolatry (which he identifies as: enmity against God in spiritual matters, spiritual darkness and ignorance), the author writes about the critical difference between dialogue and controversy.

I think this explains the ease with which many in recent years have been able to enter into dialogue with Roman Catholics and even Muslims and Hindus. It demands a certain detachment from the truth to be able to do that. You are obliged to put a question mark over it, otherwise you are not genuinely engaging in dialogue, which means, at least in principle, you are prepared to change and qualify your beliefs. I think we must be very careful to distinguish between dialogue and controversy. Dialogue carries with it implicitly this assumption, that you will be prepared to modify and change your position, in the light of the debate, if it so requires you. But controversy, in which all the Reformers engaged, is quite a different thing. You start from what you know and believe to be the truth, and your object is to expose the error and confusion of the opponent’s position and, if possible, persuade him of the truth. It was dialogue in which Satan engaged Eve in the garden. She would have been safe if she had insisted on controversy. When men have not a fervent love of the truth and no sense of abhorrence of error they are in the anteroom of apostasy. It is said that the apostle John fled from the public baths, where Cerinthus the heretic appeared, lest they should fall on him. Today some evangelicals would be glad to stay and engage in friendly dialogue.

He is correct that dialogue carries with it the assumption that there is a question mark hovering over my beliefs. It is very postmodern, in that I acknowledge that though I believe what I believe quite strongly, it might just be all wrong. Those who dialogue enter into their dialogue with that attitude and it is no wonder that they are often persuaded that they are indeed wrong. As Christians we have no need, no right, to dialogue about our faith. We are not on equal footing with others when it comes to the fundamental doctrines.

Perhaps the most important part of the article is the author’s wisdom, culled from John Owens, about how we can avoid apostasy. He lays out several important steps:

  1. A preeminent concern with God’s glory. Meditating upon God’s glory and the current state of the church may well lead us to mourn for all we have lost.
  2. Continual prayer. We are to continually pray for the restoration of the primacy of proper doctrine in the church.
  3. Constant testimony. An open and avowed profession of, and contending for the faith and the truth of the Gospel.
  4. Keep careful watch over your heart. We must remember that our hearts are deceitful and wicked and will seek to lead us from the inerrant and holy word of God.
  5. Beware of the world. We must be careful not to allow the customs and habits of the time to indiscriminately infiltrate the church.

The article, then, provides a brief overview of apostasy and provides the most prevalent example of apostasy in the Roman Catholic Church. But best of all, it instructs us how we can guard ourselves against falling into such error. You may like to read the article yourself. If so, you can find it here: Apostasy.

More on this subject tomorrow.

September 26, 2007

Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Emasculated Theology…

Review of Everything Must Change by Brian McLarenThose of us who have been keeping a wary eye on the Emerging Church know that to understand the movement we must understand Brian McLaren. Though it is not quite fair to label him the movement’s leader, he certainly functions as its elder statesman and his writing seems to serve as a guide or compass for the movement. Where he leads, others follow. It is with interest, then, that I turned to his latest book Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. It is a book that promises to electrify the Emerging Church and, if history is a reliable guide, to further polarize it from those who hold to more traditional Protestant beliefs. My plan in this review is simple: I’m going to give an outline of what the book teaches and then interact with it just a little bit.

November 16, 2006

Two months ago, Suzanne Sataline published an article in the Wall Street Journal. The article was cleverly titled “Veneration Gap: A Popular Strategy For Church Growth Splits Congregants” and dealt with churches that had been split apart through the attempts of their leaders to convert them to the Purpose Driven paradigm. Last month I wrote an article that was, in part, inspired by that one. I wrote about the church’s dirty laundry and expressed concern that Christians should be very careful in what they say to the media.

Sataline has once again published an article in the Wall Street Journal and, once again, it discusses problems in the church. Sataline got in touch with me not too long ago and we spoke on the phone for some time. I could see that she was hunting for stories. She has trolled around the blogosphere looking for tips on interesting and controversial articles. She found what she was looking for with the topic of plagiarism. Her latest article, published yesterday, is called That Sermon You Heard on Sunday May Be From the Web. The subtitle is “Rev. Moon Buys His for $10, Others Get Them Free; ‘Sizzling’ vs. Plagiarism.” It begins like this:

The Rev. Brian Moon says he has come up with ideas for his sermons after water-skiing, while watching “My Name Is Earl” on TV and while working on his 1969 Buick muscle car. He also finds inspiration on the Internet, as he did in August when he preached about “God’s math.”

“People are drowning, drowning in their marriages, drowning in their careers, drowning in hurtful habits,” Mr. Moon told his congregation at Church of the Suncoast, in Land o’ Lakes, Fla. “They need someone to rescue them and bring them on the raft. They need people driven by God’s addition.”

Those words, it turns out, were first uttered three years ago by the Rev. Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. His Web site, creativepastors.com, sells transcripts of this and others sermons for $10 each.

Moon defends his use of another pastors’ sermon, saying that there is no sense reinventing the wheel. When he finds a good sermon he feels there is no reason not to use it. He also feels that there is no need to give credit to author of the sermon or to notify his congregation that the sermon is not his own. “If you got something that’s a good product, why go out and beat your head against the wall and try to come up with it yourself?”

Sataline says “The widespread buying of packaged wisdom has touched off a debate about ethics, especially after incidents in which pastors have resigned over plagiarism allegations. Some members of the clergy say sermon sales diminish religious oratory and undermine both scholarship and the trust between ministers and their flocks.” She then provides quotes from a variety of Christians, some of whom are in favor of using other peoples’ sermons, and others who feel this is nothing short of plagiarism. She writes of a church that was damaged by a pastor who plagiarized his sermons and refused to stop doing so. She quotes Rick Warren and Steve Sjogren, both of whom are advocates of preaching other people’s sermons without providing attribution.

My reaction to this article was two-fold. First, I considered the problem addressed in this article.

I consider what pastors are doing when they preach another person’s sermon to be plagiarism. An article on Desiring God’s site attempts to define plagiarism and does quite a good job of it. “The essence of plagiarism is to give the impression that the ideas or words of another person are actually your own. This can be done intentionally (in which case it is outright theft) or unintentionally-but either way it is wrong.” It is important to note the words “give the impression.” A pastor who preaches a sermon that is not his own is typically attempting to give the impression that he wrote the sermon—that he did the research, studied the Bible, thought of appropriate stories or analogies, and assembled a convicting message. And yet, when the sermon is taken from another person, none of this is true. The pastor may have modified elements on the sermon, but he has not invested the time or effort in serving his congregation by doing the long and hard work of sermon preparation.

A couple of weeks ago we had a touching moment in our church. My pastor, immediately before he began to deliver his sermon, addressed the congregation, thanking them for providing him with the opportunity of being supported in the privilege of spending his weeks studying the Bible. As a pastor, he feels his most important responsibility (and his greatest privilege) is in studying God’s Word, and then delivering that Word to the people. In an interview I conducted recently with Mark Dever, he said much the same: that a pastor’s primarily responsibility is to serve his church by absorbing himself in the study of the Bible. Rarely can a church outgrow the pastor. The pastor must lead the way in studying the Word. This must be his primary occupation and must take precedence over other tasks, and even important tasks, such as pastoral counselling or providing leadership.

A pastor who plagiarizes sermons is clearly not fulfilling his primary responsibility. He is not investing time and effort in studying the Word, in understanding the Word, and in helping others understand what God has taught him. Furthermore, he is being unethical in allowing his congregation to believe that the sermons he delivers are his own work. I don’t think it is always wrong to preach sermons written by another person. I heard of a pastor who preached a series called “Sermons I Wish I’d Written.” He did not try to pass these sermons off as his own, but simply wanted to provide his congregation with what he considered some of history’s greatest sermons. Surely this is far different from a person who preaches those same sermons while pretending that he has written them himself.

Of course we would be remiss to read about this issue and to neglect asking why pastors feel it necessary to preach other peoples’ sermons. I’m sure that in some cases pastors are simply lazy and are looking for a way to avoid what can be a long, tedious task. But in many cases I suspect pastors preach these sermons because they feel their congregations will demand a certain quality and a certain level of entertainment that they cannot provide. The spirit of pragmatism lives in the church today and I know of many pastors who have succumbed to it. They feel that their congregations will be better served by a sermon that is witty and contemporary than by a pastor who absorbs himself in a week-long study of the Bible. Some churches expect far too much of their pastors, demanding that they be leaders and entertainers more than preachers. Some pastors are not allowed sufficient time to adequately prepare their sermons. In many cases, the pressure for plagiarism may well originate in the pews and not in the pulpit.

After considering the problem addressed in the article, I considered the article itself. The fears I felt when speaking to Sataline have been confirmed. Though not a Christian herself (I know because I asked her), she clearly has some interest in church-based controversies and is likely to continue writing about them for she told me that she has many other stories she is working on. Why she has this interest in the church I do not know. But I would urge caution to other Christians in speaking with her or with other unbelievers who are seeking stories about the church. As I said in this article, I think it is wise to exercise care and discernment in speaking to the press. Here is what I wrote last month:

My opinion towards commenting to the mainstream media is that I am exceedingly cautious. There are several reasons for this. First, I see little reason to provide examples of Christian infighting to the world. There have always been and will always be struggles within the church and, in general, I think it is best that these remain within the church lest they damage the church’s testimony. Second, I see little reason to hope that the press will somehow help or resolve the issues that we wrestle with as Christians. Without the Spirit they cannot properly understand the issues and without the Spirit they have no hope of commenting on them in a way that is truly helpful. Third, I have little confidence that the press will be honest and unbiased in their presentation of information. If I did not believe this before MacArthur made his appearance on CNN, I certainly believe it now. In short, while the press may give wide exposure to a particular problem, and while it may somehow seem to validate a particular blog or blogger, I don’t know that it is at all helpful.

I don’t know of many people who would talk to the press about the problems in their families. If I found that a local reporter was attempting to write a negative story about my wife, and if she approached me asking me for stories about Aileen that she could use, I would never help her! I would explain that I love my wife and would never do anything to hurt her. Likewise, I love the church, for we are a family, and I would be very hesitant to air out her dirty laundry in front of the world.

March 28, 2006

At the Together for the Gospel blog, C.J. Mahaney has challenged the other contributors (Mark Dever, Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan) with two questions. “What is the gospel? What is the most serious threat to the gospel in the evangelical church today?” I thought it would be a good challenge for me to think about this and attempt answers as well. But before I do so, I’d suggest we back up just a little bit and define evangelical before we define gospel and discuss the most serious threat it faces today.

Evangelical

We will begin with a brief examination of the word evangelical.

The word evangelical used to describe a well-defined theological position. What made evangelicals distinct was their commitment to the authority of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ. Now “evangelicalism” is a political movement, and its representatives hold a wide variety of theological beliefs�from Neuhaus’s Roman Catholicism to Jakes’s heretical Sabellianism, to Joyce Meyer’s radical charismaticism, to Brian McLaren’s anti-scriptural postmodernism.

So says Phil Johnson. And he is right. Evangelical has a historic meaning, but one that has largely been lost. The word has become so inclusive that it has really lost all meaning. “These days it means everything” says Phil, “and it therefore means nothing.”

So what is the historical significance of the word? An evangelical used to be a person who stood firm on two key convictions: the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. These correspond to the doctrines of sola scriptura, which was considered the formal principle of the Reformation, and sola fide, the material principle of the Reformation. Yet today most professed Christians would barely be even to articulate such simple, fundamental doctrines.

So what happened? The following is adapted from notes I took on a seminar led by Phil Johnson at the 2006 Shepherd’s Conference:

An evangelical is no longer a person defined by theology but by experience or church membership. Evangelical has been stripped of doctrinal content. Mainstream evangelicals have been assaulted by movements that seem to be motivated by removing the doctrinal distinctives: The lack of theology in the Church Growth Movement, the anti-intellectualism of the Charismatic movement; the neo-ecumenism in Promise Keepers and other movements, the new understanding of justification in the New Perspective on Paul, the denial of propositional truth in the Emerging Church, and so on. These have all worked to the detriment of evangelicalism. So now, evangelicalism which was once a movement defined by doctrine, understands doctrine to be divisive and of secondary importance. The obvious casualty in all of this is the gospel. Catholics and Protestants have long agreed that the heart of the debate is the gospel, but now people would have us believe otherwise.

When we discuss the serious threat facing churches today, I intend to focus only on evangelical churches that would qualify under the historical meaning of the word.

Gospel

When we talk about the gospel, we tend to think of a particular message - a presentation aimed at convincing people to “accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” But in the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we can see that he used the word with a wider meaning. John MacArthur explains (in Ashamed of the Gospel):

The gospel—in the sense Paul and the apostles employed the word—includes all the revealed truth about Christ (cf Rom. 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:3-11). It does not stop at the point of conversion and justification by faith, but embraces every other aspect of salvation, from sanctification to glorification. The gospel’s significance therefore does not end the moment the new birth occurs; it applies to the entire Christian experience. And when Paul and the other New Testament writers spoke of “preaching the gospel,” they were not talking about preaching only to unbelievers (cf v.15).

The gospel, then, is a message that draws us to God, but which we continue to need and to love throughout the Christian life. So let us define the gospel calling.

I am particularly drawn to William Tyndale’s definition of gospel: “Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy… [This gospel is] all of Christ the right David, how that he hath fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and overcome them: whereby all men that were in bondage to sin, wounded with death, overcome of the devil are without their own merits or deservings loosed, justified, restored to life and saved, brought to liberty and reconciled unto the favor of God and set at one with him again: which tidings as many as believe laud, praise and thank God, are glad, sing and dance for joy.”

This good news made Tyndale so exceedingly glad that he could and would not reject it, even at the cost of his life. He was strangled and burned at the stake for his desire to bring this news to all men through the translation of the Scriptures.

Tyndale, like many others before and after, understands the gospel call or message as being comprised of three essential components:

  • The bad news - The good news is only good when we understand the bad news. The bad news is that all men have sinned against God. All men were in bondage to sin and overcome by the devil. They are without merit and deserve nothing good.

  • The penalty - The wages of sin are death. Those who transgress against God are condemned. Because we have all sinned against God, we are all living in a state of condemnation and are wounded with death.

  • The Savior - Jesus Christ died to pay the just penalty for our sin. Having fought with sin, death and Satan, and having overcome them, He offers restoration of life, reconciliation with God and full justification.

This is the message. Of course, for it to be effective in a person’s life, he or she must respond to it in repentance and faith, for this message requires a personal response. With the response comes the rewards - the promise of forgiveness and eternal life.

A very good and reasonably short document about the gospel is The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration.

The Threat

As I pondered the most serious threat the church faces, I was immediately struck by the word apathy which I quickly jotted down on a little sticky note. Not too long after that, I added discernment. I think these two words do a apt job of summarizing what I feel threatens the church. And I think they go arm-in-arm.

In our day churches are filled with people who simply do not care about the purity of the church. There are countless numbers of professed Christians who care nothing for any type of theological precision or defining characteristics of the faith. There is a shocking apathy among those who profess Christ. Coupled with this apathy is a terrible lack of discernment and a lack of appreciation for those who value and display discernment. Too often evangelicals seem not to know how to discern truth from error, and just as often do not seem to care. Apathy and a lack of discernment together make a potent force that forms a serious threat to the church—perhaps the most serious threat we face today.

So many other threats—the pernicious new doctrines that arise, the loss of confidence in the Bible, the rise of teachers and leaders who deny fundamental doctrines—these would be swept away if evangelicals simply stopped being so apathetic and displayed some godly, biblical discernment.

January 25, 2006

I enjoy Ingrid Schlueter’s blog, Slice of Laodicea, and not just because I designed it and it is still near the top of my list of favorite designs I’ve made. Ingrid keeps on top of the trends in Christianity. Her blog is an ongoing source for what is happening in the church. By keeping up with her blog you’ll keep up with some of the worst of what is being introduced to the church under the guise of “Christian.” Often times this is absolutely revolting. You’ll also be informed by the wisdom of great Christians of days past.

Just a few minutes ago Ingrid posted a link to a new product called “The Original Love Song.” Here is an excerpt from a press release dealing with the product:

“Yes, it is sexy,” exclaims Guy Bickel, V.P. of Book 22, Inc., a new independent record label in Tampa, Florida. “It’s also romantic, compelling, sensuous, spiritual, and most importantly, it’s word-for-word from six different translations of the Bible. In addition, the music is so cutting-edge, that it’s tuned to natural Earth harmonics and not the 17th century instituted A-440Hz standard. We think ‘The Original Love Song’ is the most innovative achievement in scripture-based entertainment and enlightenment that’s come down the pike since ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’”

Released in November of 2005, “The Original Love Song” is the first-ever dramatic and literal interpretation of The Song of Solomon. It features a top-notch, movie-style soundtrack, vivid aural imagery, and is already being hailed by some notable Christian scholars as a must-hear for every Christian couple. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular book of the Bible, it deals entirely with love, romance, virtue, and sex.

Dr. [Norman] Geisler sums it up best with his quote, “ ‘The Original Love Song’ is passion at its purest level. It is literally God’s guide to a Godly, sexual relationship.”

“Isn’t this what we’re all looking for?” concluded Bickel.

Ingrid says, “no, Mr. Bickel, that’s not what we’re “all” looking for. Why do we need Christian porno to titillate? I really believe that we’re going to see a day when there will be an evangelical version of temple prostitutes in our churches, acting out the Song of Songs. People are justifying absolutely everything these days by misusing the Bible and worse, for financial gain. That Dr. Geisler would be so excited about this is really disturbing.”

You can read about the product here. You can also listen to audio samples (you may wish to turn down your speakers a little bit if you are at work at the moment).

My first reaction - my knee jerk reaction - to this product was, like Ingrid, one of disgust. But then I began to wonder why that is. There is nothing wrong with “Song of Solomon.” There can’t be - it is part of the sacred Scripture, it is inspired by God and is meant for our edification (and perhaps even titillation). There is nothing wrong with hearing the Scripture read aloud. There can’t be - God intended for the Scriptures to be read aloud. There is nothing wrong with hearing the Scripture read with expression and emotion. There can’t be - God doesn’t intend for His Scripture to be read in a way that is deliberately boring. So now the question is, is there anything wrong with dramatizing the reading of Scripture? And further, is there anything wrong with adding a musical soundtrack behind the reading of Scripture?

For example, listen to this clip which is a minute or so long. If you want to hear a clip that is a little more suggestive or sensual, listen to this one. Having listened to them I have to respectfully disagree with Ingrid that there is anything pornographic about this. But I will admit that this is not to say that such a recording is wise or good. Still, I do not feel this is pornographic or dirty.

I have learned to exercise caution with my snap judgments. A few months ago I heard of The Light Speed Bible, a Bible that teaches speed reading and allows a person to read the entire Bible in twenty four hours (which is to say twenty four hours of reading). I laughed. But then I got one in the mail and tried it out. I have to admit that I very much enjoy the Bible (even if it is in a translation which is not my favorite). I have found it very valuable being able to read an entire book, such as Genesis, in a single sitting. It provides a high level view of the Bible (or a book of the Bible) that has allowed me to see patterns and nuances I have missed in reading the Bible more slowly. Of course one cannot meditate at Light Speed, but the creators of this version of the Bible have taken that into account and suggest that, after reading a book quickly, the reader go back and read at a devotional speed of just a few lines or verses at a time. It is quite a good product and one I have enjoyed a lot. If you are interested, you can read more about it here.

The point is that I’ve been wrong before. I have allowed my judgmental nature to form an opinion on a product before I gave it a fair evaluation. I wonder if I didn’t do the same with The Original Love Song. So I am going to go out on a limb and say that I do not see that this product is necessarily wrong.

Feel free to voice your agreement or disagreement in the comments area. I am willing to be corrected if I am wrong.

(Please do not take this as a knock against Ingrid or her site. I am merely respectfully disagreeing with her and asking for others to help me understand whether or not I am wrong).

January 09, 2006

It was just about a year ago that I was invited to submit an article for publication in a small periodical that reaches a couple of Reformed denominations. The editor told me that they were planning an issue dealing with “-isms” and I decided to write about “ageism,” something I feel is becoming an increasing concern both within the church and without. I posted an expanded version of the article (which for the magazine had a limit of 800 words) on this site.

This morning, as I was in the midst of my quiet time, I began to think about the article. I’m not entirely sure why, but I decided that I would revisit the article today, add a bit of information to it, and post it again. I subsequently decided not to do that as there was another topic that came to occupy my mind. But then, as I was browsing headlines in my RSS reader I noticed that Al Mohler has decided to tackle the subject of the elderly in his daily commentary. His article from this morning is entitled (rather verbosely) “ ‘Do Not Cast Me Off in the Time of Old Age’—The Christian Worldview and the Challenge of the Aged, Part One.” It seems that Mohler’s interest in the subject was created by reading an article by Eric Cohen and Leon R. Kass published in the January 2006 edition of Commentary. “Cohen, director of the program in biotechnology and American democracy at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Kass, the former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, have combined to write a most compelling essay on the challenge represented by millions of the aged among us.”

In the first article of this series, Mohler provides a brief summary of the authors’ main points. They show that life expectancy has been rising since the early twentieth century, meaning that many elderly people now experience many years or even decades of infirmity and often dementia. Mohler says:

Cohen and Kass see a coming “perfect social storm” represented by a fast-growing proportion of the elderly and a shrinking number of younger adults who will be able to care for family members, loved ones, and others. Americans are living longer, but the process of death now often involves an extended period of enfeeblement and, in all too many cases, dementia. The authors cite a recent Rand study that indicated that approximately forty percent of current deaths in the United States are now preceded by a period of physical, and often mental, debility that may last as long as a decade. Of course, this may include the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. At present, an estimated four million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. Cohen and Kass report that the number is expected to rise to over thirteen million by the middle of this century, “all of them requiring many years of extensive, expensive, and exhausting full-time care.”

Mohler will continue to discuss this “mass geriatric society” tomorrow and the role of a Christian worldview in explaining and reacting to it. Having read this article, I decided I would, after all, revisit the article I first published last year. It somehow seems timely. At the time I was researching a conference that was coming to Toronto later in the year. In the literature describing the event I noted the following statement which was in the short biography of one of the keynote speakers. “St. Thomas Church in Sheffield, England has grown to be one of the largest churches in England with 2,000+ in weekly worship, 70% of which are under the age of 35.” I was struck by the emphasis on youth, as if this person was a more credible minister of the Word because he appeals to youth rather than to the elderly.

As I thought about this, I remembered an article R.C. Sproul Jr. had posted as he reflected on passing another milestone in life. He said, “When I last crossed a decade barrier in my own aging process, God was good enough to grant me this small bit of wisdom - the Bible honors age, not youth. I came to understand that the disappearance of my youth was something God thought a good thing, and if I were wise, I would agree. Now a decade later and I have been given this bit of wisdom - easier said than done.” Sproul is correct that the Bible honors age above youth. This is not to say that the Bible marginalizes young people, but that it sees them in their proper perspective - as people who are far less wise than the aged. Each year I attempt to complete a study of Proverbs and this is always made abundantly clear throughout the book of Divine wisdom. These verses are typical of the wisdom of Solomon. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him (Proverbs 22:15).” We can compare that verse with Proverbs 16:31 which tells us that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”

Only a cursory search through the other 65 books of the Bible will reveal the common theme that God honors age rather than youth. Allow me to provide just a few examples of the Bible mandate to honor the elderly.

Leviticus 19:32 “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” God commanded that we are to stand in the presence of the eldery to render to them the honor due to them. In Deuteronomy 28:50 God told the Israelites that a curse would come upon them for their disobedience. “A hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.” A hard-faced nation is one that does not respect the old. Perhaps one of the clearest endorsements of God’s commands towards the aged comes from Job 12:12. “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” True wisdom comes from length of days lived walking with the Lord, not with the arrogant impulses of youth. In the story of Job we also see Elihu, who was the youngest of Job’s friends, wait to speak until the older men had spoken their part. He treated Job with both admiration and respect as his elder. Turning to the New Testament, Paul cautioned Timothy that he must “…not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father (1 Timothy 5:1).” He also tells him to treat elderly women like mothers.

The Bible also has much to say about youth. “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die (Proverbs 23:13).” “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother (Proverbs 29:15).” Hebrews 12:6-7 compares new believers, who are immature in their beliefs, to children. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

A clear picture emerges from the pages of Scripture. That God honors age above youth does not mean that God despises youth and that He honors all elderly people. But a person who has lived a long life of dedicated service to God, walking in the paths of wisdom, is surely worthy of higher honor than the youth who has only just begun.

And so we need to ask a question about the church. Does the church honor the Bible in honoring age, or does the church instead honor youth? Or are we a hard-faced church that does not respect the elderly?

In our day many are fearing the aging of the Baby Boomers, worrying that they will become a burden on society that will empty the coffers of pension plans and overrun the health care systems. A new word I have begun to hear increasingly lately is “ageism”, a term which has been defined as “any attitude, action, or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely on the basis of age.” We are all familiar, of course, with racism which subordinates people based on their skin color or ethnicity. While this is surely sinful, we can understand how it comes to happen. One ethnic group outnumbers another, and treat the other group as somehow inferior to themselves. But this makes little sense with age, for, as C.S. Lewis said, “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” We will all be old some day. Ageism is not only unbiblical and destructive to a well-ordered society, but it is also selfish and foolish.

I remind you again of what spurred this article. “St. Thomas Church in Sheffield, England has grown to be one of the largest churches in England with 2,000+ in weekly worship, 70% of which are under the age of 35.” Is this something to boast about? Are we to be proud that we have built a church for the young? Is it boastworthy that the majority of the people who admire the pastor may be in the midst of their youthful folly? Has this church been built at the expense of the aged? Have we built a church that would rather have pews filled with youth than with the elderly? Have we built an institution that subordinates a group on the basis of their age?

It seems to me that the church has forgotten or perhaps deliberately overlooked Scripture’s focus on the value and importance of the aged. While I have read of hundreds of churches that boast about how young their median age is, I have heard of none that boast in the number of elderly members. While new churches are being planted on a daily basis to reach twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, I do not know of any that emphasize reaching the elderly. And while many churches are transitioning to new models of “doing church,” none seem to be doing so at the expense of youth. Surely we have missed the Bible’s emphasis on honoring age.

Many years ago I listed to a memorable sermon dealing with Ecclesiastes chapter twelve. Much of the wisdom of that message, preached in a church that boasted many grey heads, has stuck with me to this day. The chapter begins with the words, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth.” That is God’s call to those of us who have not yet earned our grey hair. When we are young, we are to heed the call of Wisdom, who cries, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge” (Proverbs 1:22)? We must seek after wisdom so that when we are elderly, we can share our wisdom with the young and foolish.

Until then, let us honor the aged. Let us give double-honor to those with grey hair. Let us stand in their presence and give them the honor God requires. Let our hope and confidence be in the words of the Psalmist who says, “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing (Psalm 92:13,14).”

January 06, 2006

Sometimes my sense of duty seems to come into conflict with my instincts. This almost inevitably leads to duty laying a playground beating on instincts and stealing his lunch money. You see, I attempt to respond to every email that I receive, but every now and then I receive one that just seems like bad news. This happened a couple of days ago. I received one that contained an essay in which the author, with whom I had never had previous contact, claimed that he would prove a popular Christian figure to be unregenerate. I should have just hit “delete.” Instead I elected to reply and gently suggested that people should exercise caution in attempting to prove that other professed Christians are “out.” Here is what I wrote:

You say, “I will show that the author does not personally know the Lord Jesus Christ…” That is a serious charge for one believer to make about another and I am not sure that any of us are qualified to make such statements. I also don’t feel that you proved the statement in your essay. It may be true that [Christian figure] does not believe, but I think we need to show caution and charity towards others who claim to be believers.

In other words, the authors of this article were attempting to prove that a popular Christian leader was not a Christian. Period. When I objected to this, the authors of the essay took the time to explain the reality about myself. I thought you’d be interested in knowing more about me. I received the following email that said, among other things:

Your admonition to us that “we need to show caution and charity towards others who claim to be believers” is not only contrary to Scripture and to the living examples of the Lord and His disciples, it is, as Paul tells you, an evidence of perfect unbelief. You would not be able to say what you did to us unless you have never known the Lord. Yes, you are speaking no differently than do many in nominal Christian circles, while there are few who say what we say, so surely, you might find solace in numbers. However, you will not find solace in the Truth, because Truth does not agree with you. If that is so, and it is, then you need to come to a fear of God heretofore unknown to you, before you can presume to go and teach with the false knowledge you now have of God and Jesus Christ.

The Bible says to “beware of false brethren.” That being so, do you not think that, contrary to your advice, it is a far more serious matter to call those who are not believers, believers, than it is to call those who are believers, nonbelievers? In the former, one aids others into the hands of false prophets and teachers…wolves…and gives godly credit where it is not at all due, while in the latter, true believers who are called nonbelievers, and who thus suffer defamation or denial in Christ for His sake, will endure and become the stronger for it. It happens to us all the time. We suffer persecution for His sake. Do you? We know by your fruits that you do not. Tim, you have much to reconsider. You do not have what you think you have. Thus, we write, for good.

At this point instincts, still wiping their blackened eyes from the beating they had received, glared tauntingly at duty as instinct’s older brother marched over to lay a beating on duty. Not wishing to maintain such a ridiculous exchange I replied:

It was against my better judgment that I replied to your email, but did so out of a sense of duty or perhaps charity. I regret that decision. To now accuse me of having false gods in my life that I am unwilling to forsake is a serious charge and one for which I must believe you have no foundation as you scarcely know anything about me.

I am not interested in maintaining this conversation so there is no need to reply.

But of course, human nature being what it is, these people felt they had to have the last word.

“You have an evil eye and an evil tongue, Tim. You justify the wicked and condemn the righteous. Why then would you be interested in maintaining conversation with us when we do the opposite? Go your way then. You are not prospering now, and having heard the truth, you will prosper even less. Please consider.”

So there we have it. Based on two or three sentences I wrote, the authors determined the following about me:

  • My life shows evidence of unbelief.
  • I am not a believer.
  • I have never been a believer.
  • I am merely towing the line with the rest of my nominally Christian friends.
  • I hate the truth and am thus unqualified to maintain this web site.
  • I do not suffer any type of persecution.
  • I have poor judgment.
  • I justify the wicked and condemn the righteous.
  • I have now heard the truth and will begin to suffer for rejecting this “merciful correction.

Based on this ridiculous little exchange I have added the following caveat to my contact page. “Do note that while I do love to hear from those who read this site, I will no longer read essays or articles that are forwarded to me by an author who has not first established contact with me. In other words, if you have written an article that you would like to share with me, please get to know me first. This is likely to save us both a great deal of aggravation.”

I am going to use this little exchange to springboard a brief discussion on whether or not we, as humans, are qualified to make the ultimate human judgment about another human being. In other words, can one professed Christian say with any sense of certainty that another is unregenerate?

We need to preface this discussion by admitting that it is impossible for us to know with absolute certainty whether any other person is a believer. And yes, this even extends to Martin Luther, John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon. Because faith exists entirely within the heart of another person we can never be completely certain whether or not it is real. We do not have to look far into Scripture and even into our own experience to find many examples of people who seemed to be true believers but fell away. Paul acknowledged this when he wrote, in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Paul knew that some who professed to be believers were not and thus he encourages each of them to continually test their hearts. One terrifying aspect of the final judgment is that there will be many going to hell who sincerely felt they were believers.

In Who Are You To Judge?, Dave Swavely adds the following: “[R]egarding who are the wheat and who are the tares, they [the apostles] left that judgment to God - except in the case of those who were under church discipline. The biblical writers did not attempt to deterine or distinguish true believers from false believers within the church. They accepted people’s profession of faith, as long as it was a credible or biblical profession; and they treated all members of the church as believers, unless the process of discipline proved otherwise. We should therefore do the same.” It is also worth nothing that even the process of discipline dictates that we are to assume that the other person is a believer until the process has actually been completed and the individual has been excommunicated. It is not until that point that we can assume the person is unregenerate.

How we define a credible profession of faith may vary slightly from church to church, but it should definitely contain an affirmation that the person is saved by grace through faith, should affirm many of the doctrines concerning the nature of God and the person should have been identified with the church through baptism or other forms of membership. If a person has professed faith, been baptized and been received into membership his claim to be a believer has a certain level of credibility. Conversely, if he has refused to be baptized and to be received into membership we would have a good reason to be concerned about his profession.

So what are we to do with those who claim to be Christian yet say or do things that seem to contradict their faith? Swavely says the following and I agree with him.

I would suggest that when someone has professed personal faith in Christ, been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and identified with the church, we are then under obligation from Scripture to make no negative judgment about the validity of his faith. That obligation remains even when a professing believer seems to exhibit a lack of fruit, or even if he commits repeated and heinous sin, because in those cases the other members of the body of Christ are called to encourage, admonish, and if necessary discipline him according to the process Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. Each of those means of sanctification are based on the presupposition that in most cases the Holy Spirit is present and operative in the sinner’s life. Otherwise they could not be effective in helping that person to grow in grace and to put away the sin against which we all continue to struggle.

In summary, a person who professes to be a believer and has made a credible profession of faith, should be treated as a fellow believer until such a time that he or she has been removed from fellowship through the process of church discipline or until he or she has expressly denied the primary doctrines of the church. If a person who once professed Christ declares, “I am no longer a believer and I deny Christ” we do not need to wait for church discipline to take effect before we assume that he is an unbeliever. This attitude of caution towards judging the salvation of others prevents church members from building walls between themselves and other believers that would prevent fellowship and would alienate one part of Christ’s body from another. Sinful judgment on our part can lead to a badly fractured church that does not honor God.

Based on this I believe I was justified in urging caution towards the men who wrote me attempting to disprove the faith of another professed Christian. This Christian figure has done much that would require that I urge caution in reading his books or placing oneself under his ministry. However, he professes faith in Christ and insists that he upholds the primary doctrines of the church. Thus I feel that we need to treat him as a brother, loving him as such and encouraging him to correct the obvious error in his life. We can assume that the Holy Spirit is operative in his life and is willing and able to empower him to make the necessary change. We should leave the ultimate judgment to God.

December 19, 2005

In this, the final week leading up to Christmas, Christians continue to discuss those churches that have decided to not hold services on Christmas Sunday. The news, which originally broke following the decision of many megachurches to cancel their services, has put these giant churches on the defensive. Christianity Today’s weblog says, “Whatever the uproar over closing of churches on Christmas Sunday means, pastors and pundits are sure that it means something big. For people on both sides of the argument, the debate shows what’s wrong with contemporary Christianity.”

Believers who are generally opposed to the megachurch movement have used this as an opportunity to point out all that they feel is wrong with the Church Growth Movement and megachurches. Megachurch leaders, on the other hand, have cried foul, insisting that others are merely showing their jealously and are being too judgmental. All-in-all, with the secular press keeping an eye on this issue, it has turned into something of an embarrassment for the church. As CT’s weblog says, “Unfortunately, rather than use the news as a springboard to discuss important issues, the conversation has devolved into name-calling and anathematizing.” That may be overstating the issue a little bit, but there is clearly some truth to it.

Over the last week I have asked myself if I should have posted the article I wrote on the seventh of December entitled “Closed Doors on Christmas.” My fears were somewhat allayed when CT’s blog had the following back-handed compliment about the article. “Weblog does not yet have a comments section (we do have a message board), but there are other blogs where the conversation on this topic hasn’t completely devolved into pointlessness.” This was followed by a link to my article and a couple of others. I continue to believe that I am correct in my understanding of how this situation came about. Here is an excerpt from the article I wrote:

This [decision] is fed by a consumer mentality within the church that sees the unchurched as consumers who need to be led to accept the product offered by the church. [David] Wells is also right in stating that this simply feeds the rampant individualism that is endemic to our culture. These churches have catered to that unbiblical, me-centered mentality. And it is a shame.

But I think there is a little more to the story. The churches that are closing their doors are, by and large, seeker-driven. The leadership of these churches have decided that, because of the incovenience of attending church on Christmas morning, most seekers will not bother making time for a church service. We see this in the words of Cally Parkinson, spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church. “If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don’t go to church, how likely is it that they’ll be going to church on Christmas morning?” she said. If there will not be seekers in church on a Sunday morning, the leaders of these churches do not feel there is any reason to go through all the bother of opening the church doors. If a church’s philosophy of church is such that church services are viewed as being primarily for seekers and driven by seekers, there is little purpose in holding a service that only believers will attend. What we see in this decision is a clear manifestation of the ramifications of the seeker-driven mentality.

I have said a couple of times since I posted the article that my concern was not so much that churches were not having Christmas services, but that churches were not having Sunday services. And further, it was not even the fact that services were cancelled as much as the rationale.

I had not heard before yesterday that Josh Harris had cancelled services at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD where he serves as senior pastor. I was glad to see an article he posted on his blog Sunday morning where he discusses his decision to hold Sunday morning services even though he had previously announced that they would be cancelled. He entitled the article simply “The Wrong Decision.” It was simple and to the point.

I shared the following comments with my church this morning. Sometimes you learn the hard way, but I’m grateful for a patient congregation and the faithful wounds of friends.

“This year because Christmas morning falls on a Sunday I made the decision to replace our normal Sunday meeting with two Christmas Eve services. Since then I’ve come to believe that this was the wrong decision, informed by the wrong priorities.

I made my decision primarily out of a desire to release the staff and volunteers from their normal service on teams like the parking crew and children’s ministry. What I failed to see is that next Sunday morning is an opportunity for us as a church to reaffirm the priority of gathering to worship as the people of God on the Lord’s day. It’s chance to state to ourselves and our families and our community that the worthiness of our God, not the convenience of the calendar dictates our worship.

All that to say, that we’ve decided to hold a Christmas morning meeting next Sunday. We’re going to have one meeting at 11am that will be an hour long. This is going to be a very simple morning. We’re doing Sunday differently so that we can release our army of volunteers. There won’t be any children’s ministry, but feel free to come worship as a family.

I apologize for my misjudgment and any inconvenience it causes you. And I thank you for your patience.”

I admire Josh for this display of humility. It is always difficult to admit error but I suspect this is doubly true in front of one’s own congregation. While it seems that Josh’s motivations for cancelling services were pure (in that they were motivated by concerns for believers rather than unbelievers) , I believe he is right that to cancel services de-prioritizes the corporate gatherings of the church. And, it should be noted, this is true regardless of the motivations for cancelling them. Whether a pastor cancels services out of sympathy for all those people who are required to run a service or because he feels people should be at home with their families or even because he feels a service that does not include unbelievers is not worth holding, the message is consistent: Sunday services are just not that important. And so I am glad that Harris and other pastors like him have taken a stand not for Christmas services, but for the corporate gatherings of the local church. They have not only stated but have proven their belief that church is worth prioritizing.

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