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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Altar Calls

This is not a threat, it's just fact. If you don't download the podcast from May 22nd, Hour 2 from Way of the Master Radio, I will be forced to keep blogging about it.

The Altar Call. During the radio call-in show, the conversation eventually lead to altar calls in church. Here are some interesting observations from Way of the Master:
Todd Friel: You know, not that Charles Spurgeon is the authority on everything. (Ray: He's pretty close.) Todd: Very, very close, actually. But when he would do an "altar call" if you will, he didn't have people say a prayer, go out in the aisle, walk toward the stage. Instead, he commanded them to repent on the spot. Don't leave this place until you are right before God! And so the onus was on the individual because he never ever ever wanted to have the sermon be some illiciting of emotion, get them to say a prayer, and then they think that they are saved when the are not.
An observation from Ray Comfort:
I've experimented over the years and I've done this. I've said, "If you want to get right with God, come to the front. Um, "If you want someone", and 80 people responded, so let's just pick out one time it happened, 80 people responded, so I said to them, "When you pray, if you would like someone to come and pray with you, along side you, raise your hand." Not one hand got raised. I was so surprised. And it showed me that people just want to get with God intimately and say "God forgive me," and pour their heart out to Him. And often we put people along side them when really they don't want anyone else with them. It's between them and the Lord.
This does not mean an altar call in itself is evil, though I think we should be very cautious (and perhaps suspicious) of it's use. Here are some of my reservations about altar calls:
    Where is the altar in our church anyway? Typically, we consider that to be the "staging" area of the auditorium. Do we send the message that the platform is more holy than other areas? Are we creating a Holy of Holies when our Savior already ripped that curtain?
    Am I necessary? Most people I have ever heard give testimony of their response to an altar call, probably to a 10:1 ratio, the person remembers the preacher more than the text of the message. That shouldn't be.
    Spritual prestige. I hate seeing "altar calls" at BNYC (seriously, I hate it). Not only do students clamor to the front of a room filled with thousands, but there are video cameras there to record their "commitment." Either peer pressure or popularity is too big a distraction for most of us. Altar calls can often be swayed by the response of the crowd, more than a person's response to the Spirit.

Having been an intinerant speaker at one time, I've felt the expectation from a Body to give altar calls. Somehow, that seems to be a standard to show a church is serious about living out the Word. (I've even had a person leave our church, claiming we weren't serious enough about following it, proven by our lack of "altar calls.") However, in place after place, I have seen an altar call given that has nothing to do with the rest of the sermon. (ie. people responding to trust Christ when the gospel has not been presented, or promising to give up porn when lust has not been addressed) Clearly a person may feel conviction from the Spirit in areas not directly addressed by the speaker or the text, but when the preacher calls for response that is incongruent with his message...I find myself suspicious.

Whether or not I understand why we call them altar calls, I think they can be proper at times, if handled properly. However, like all things, theology must precede methodology.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Sinner's Prayer

During the May 22nd, Hour 2 podcast from Way of the Master Radio (seriously, just download the program and I'll quit talking about it) we're forced to ask the question, "What possibly could be wrong with leading someone in a "sinner's prayer?"

Easy enough question, it seems. However, let me establish the scene for you. A man named Darrel is street preaching when a young man approaches him and says he wants to accept Jesus right then and there. There is an entire crowd around. Temptation may lead us to immediately pray with the guy, assuming the Spirit must be working. However, Darrel is discerning and starts asking questions about why the man wants to come to Christ. Darrel walks him through the gospel again, emphasizing repentance and trust, and the young man seems to nod along. Darrel is almost discouraging the young man from making a decision, yet the young man persists in wanting to pray. Finally, Darrel offers this option: "You pray to God, and then I'll pray for you." Here is the young man's prayer:
Lord, thank you for letting me see the Light among millions. I know for the past few years I've been messing up and I wish I could turn myself into something better. I want more help. I want more strengthening to reach my goals that I want to reach. And not only that Lord, I want to help out all my friends who know how much I did wrong, and they've turned, they've kind of like followed me, and I want them to change back to how they used to be, and how I used to be too.
RC Sproul has stated before that his conversion prayer was nothing glamorous. He certainly didn't understand the doctrines of grace when He prayed to God. However, he did pray, God, be merciful to me, the sinner!

But why be critical of a man's prayer to God? Isn't it just exciting that he is looking toward God? Is there possibly any harm to leading him in a prayer anyway? Couldn't his theology get straightened up during the prayer?

Here are some reasons why it is not a good idea:
    If he's has not come to the place of repentance and trust, the prayer is empty. Christ is the Way, not a prayer. This can not be accomplished simply by lip service (having the words repentance and trust come out of their mouths), but must happen in the heart.
    He's not listening. By the time a person is praying the sinner's prayer, they believe they know what it takes to be saved, and believe that you are confident that they know what it takes. At this point, they are repeating your words, but probably not taking them to heart.
    You give him a false sense of security. The only thing more tragic than a nonbeliever is a nonbeliever who thinks he is a believer. If you pray the "sinner's prayer" with a person who has not truly repented and trusted Jesus alone, you run the risk of that person believing they are saved when they truly aren't. How many people have you talked to who are confident they are saved because they repeated a prayer, but do not identify themselves as one who has repented of sin and trusted in Christ. I know I've met far too many.
Please do not think that I am saying that all people who repeat the sinner's prayer are not saved. I for one, am one who repeated the sinner's prayer. My salvation is not found in that prayer, but rather in the faith God has granted me, starting just before the time of that prayer. However, I've led people in the prayer far too many times and then wondered whether they truly meant it.

So what do you do? I suggest that Ray Comfort is on to something. Have them pray first, and then you pray for them. You can even reiterate how to receive the gospel in your offer. (For instance, "Why don't you confess to God your repentance from your sin, and call on Him to mercifully save you.) This is beneficial for a number of reasons:
    1. If the person does not indicate in their prayer an understanding of the gospel, you have an opportunity to pray for their salvation right then and there. You can call out to God to open the person's heart.
    2. Incidently, if the person has not indicated an understanding of the gospel, they hear you pray that you long for God to open their eyes. Quite clearly they hear that you still long for them to understand the gospel and respond.
    3. Know of people who tend to put spiritual notches in their belt for converts one? Doesn't it seem the glory is taken off of the Lord and placed upon the evangelist? Well, this eliminates that. No one "closed the deal," but rather, the Spirit drew the person to Christ and caused him to call out to God. The evidence of the Lord's work in salvation is all the more clear.
    4. The person did not need you. Discipleship is critical, but discipleship is not a two year program. Discipleship is a life long calling. What if you move away, or the Lord takes you home? Can those you are discipling survive without you? Sadly, there are many codependant relationships taking place under the guise of "discipleship." Having the person go before God, without your direction, reminds the person that they are not dependant upon any one specific man.
    5. Greater confidence in the conversion. I don't know how many times I have finished with a prayer, and the person leaves, and I'm left wondering, "Did they really mean it, or were they just repeating me?" Ugh. How much greater the joy in the situations where I have heard a person declare their own depravity and need of mercy from Christ on their own initiative!
    6. Keeps my eyes on my job. My job is not to win converts. My job is to preach the gospel, and allow God to create the increase. If the Spirit is drawing a person (through illuminating an accurate gospel presentation), then I am not necessary for the conclusion. I just need to present the gospel faithfully and then get out of the way. My success and failure is not gauged by the listener's response, but upon my faithfulness to the Word of God.
    7. It's Biblical. Isn't it amazing how an approach that works just happens to be what we see modeled in Scripture? We don't see a single apostle, prophet, John the Baptist, or our Messiah ever conclude a message with, "Now pray this prayer after me." Do we see them call people to repentance? All over the Bible! Do we see them call out to God for mercy? Again, from cover to cover! But that is all we see. We see them call people to repentance and then challenge the listener to call upon God for salvation. They don't do it for them.
Just another reminder, our theology should precede our methodology.

Asking Jesus into Your Heart

I had shared previously Al Mohler's concern with the phrase Ask Jesus into Your Heart. His comment was:
But what unfortunately that gets reduced to is an emotional experience of mere affection. And the problem is, there is no suggestion in Scripture that we are justified by our affection for Christ. That is not saving faith, nor is it a substitute...and we need to be pastorally sensitive and that's why it is easy to get in trouble speaking of this. But I listen to a lot of well-intentioned pastors, who as RC said, really want to be evangelistic, they really want to see persons come to faith in Christ, but they have no understanding that in their presentation of the gospel, in so far as that is what they are talking about, they often reduce the gospel to its most emotional and affective dimensions, leaving aside the objective reality of what justifying faith really is.
On Way of the Master Radio, Kirk and Ray recently shared their thoughts:
(Ray) "If you are in the habit of challenging sinners to "Ask Jesus into their life," you might like to rethink what you are saying. You might like to, instead, tell them they need to surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior. When someone asks Jesus into their life it's still "their life." But when he or she surrenders to Him, they give up their life."
(Kirk) "The essence of conversion is to surrender to God. It's to lay down our weapons of hostility and to lift up our hands in surrender. It's to give up your life. Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ, never the less, I live. Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me."
If you've never listened to their show before, I believe this podcast was one of their finest ever. It really reminds us that theology should precede methodology.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Remnant Conclusion

At the Together for the Gospel Conference, I was greatly encouraged to worship with 3,000 like minded pastors. Yet, at the same time, you can feel isolated that you are only worshipping with 3,000 like minded pastors. Certainly, others were not there who agree with the doctrines that were discussed, but each of us experience times where we feel like we are an insignificant minority. This series will look at the existence of remnants, the dangers of believing you are in a remnant and the rewards of truly being in one.I had entire long post created, but have felt conviction that I have not seen enough victory in my self-righteous attitude. I was reminded of this quote from CJ Mahaney at the Together for the Gospel Conference:
I try to ignore that which is discouraging as much as possible. And also, I carry a concern that I would easily become self-righteous if I study too much that which is worthy of criticism. So, I want to study it, I want to impart discernment, but I also want to be encouraged by the evidences of grace that I think are present right here and draw encouragement from God's work in the hearts of so many people in the 20's and 30's that stood here.
Bottom line: God chooses to work in a remnant because then He receives the glory.

I am a very arrogant man. I can try to pass off my propensity for critical viewing as a "difference in giftedness between CJ and myself. However, there are two problems with that excuse:
    1. CJ is clearly a very discerning man...he has the ability to see things with a critical eye.
    2. I know my critical eye can easily lend toward an attitude of superiority.

I praise God that He has given me a passion for His Word and for true doctrine (for I certainly was not out seeking that passion on my own). However, I pray that He protects me from myself, and my tendancy to become self-righteous and boastful of myself. My heart breaks for those I see abandon genuine Biblical doctrine for pragmatism or trendiness, and I used to think maybe I was the person to help inact some change. Lately though (even in the last two days), God has been showing me that I will probably not be the person to accomplish any such task.

For God desires that the boast of the remnant would be Him. I still desire too much (and any amount at all is too much) of the boasting to be about me.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Remnant Dangers

At the Together for the Gospel Conference, I was greatly encouraged to worship with 3,000 like minded pastors. Yet, at the same time, you can feel isolated that you are only worshipping with 3,000 like minded pastors. Certainly, others were not there who agree with the doctrines that were discussed, but each of us experience times where we feel like we are an insignificant minority. This series will look at the existence of remnants, the dangers of believing you are in a remnant and the rewards of truly being in one.Remnants will exist. Since the world does not desire the things of God, I pray by God's grace, you find yourself within the remnant of God's elect.

But for a member of the remnant, God's grace can be just the thing that is forgotten. My sinful nature wants to join the tax collector in declaring, "Thank you that I am not like the others!" Yet, I am just like everyone else. God revealed His gospel message to me not because I am holier, certainly not because I am smarter, and definitely not because I was seeking Him more than others. He chose to reveal the gospel message to me, for just that reason...because He chose to do it. Therefore, if I am not capable of comprehending the gospel message on my own, doesn't it make sense that I am completely dependant upon Him for any other understanding of Scripture?

Israel struggled with pride as the remnant. In John 8, the pride of the Jewish leaders is revealed. They believe they are set because Abraham is their father. Yet Jesus challenges them that they aren't even members of the remnant that take pride in.

The Corinthian church struggled with seeing itself as full of different remnants. Paul challenges them that such faction forming is not noble or godly, but rather based on pride and condecension.

If a remnant focusses on being a remnant, they then cease to look to God and no longer remain a remnant. Yet, if a person continues to submit himself/herself to the Word of God, they will find himself/herself in a minority. But the pride can not be in their minority standing, the pride and boasting must be in God. In Scripture, we see that God preserves the remnant. We also see that God desires to use the remnant as a change agent. They alone do not create the change, but God creates the change, using them. Therefore, the remnant must acknowledge the work of God in their lives, then must understand the work God desires to use them for in other lives. A remnant kept to itself is worthless, but a remnant focussed on itself is destructive.

So now I find myself scared. As concentric circles get bigger, I find myself feeling more and more like a minority. I praise God that our local fellowship, though far from perfect, seems to have a majority view of the supremacy of Scripture and the sovereignty of God. But as the circles get bigger (our district, national fellowship, evangelical associations, Christendom) I find myself feeling like a smaller and smaller remnant. But aware of my pride, what do I do? I have asked enough questions of others to find that many of my observations are shared, but could I still be wrong? Yet, if we are not wrong, I know myself, and I know my pride. He alone can make me a humble change agent, for left to myself...there would be no humility.

A non-influencing remnant is pointless.
An arrogant remnant is sinful.

My God's grace, I want to be set apart to Him, by Him for His purposes...and that can only happen by His grace.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Regarding Remnants

At the Together for the Gospel Conference, I was greatly encouraged to worship with 3,000 like minded pastors. Yet, at the same time, you can feel isolated that you are only worshipping with 3,000 like minded pastors. Certainly, others were not there who agree with the doctrines that were discussed, but each of us experience times where we feel like we are an insignificant minority. This series will look at the existence of remnants, the dangers of believing you are in a remnant and the rewards of truly being in one.It stands to reason that if a majority exists, so does a minority. Yet, we're never quite sure what to do with a minority. Should they conform? Should we protect them? Are they just rebellious? Could they be the only ones who are right? Whatever the decision, and it is not always consistent, one thing we can know for certain is that a minority always will exist.

You can especially count on a minority when it comes to issues of faith. Take a look at the following thoughts from Scripture:

1. Believers will be the minority of a population (Matthew 7:13-14).
2. Not all who identify themselves as part of the church are believers (Acts 20:29; I John 2:18-20).
3. Not all of Israel were genuine believers (Romans 9:6-8).
4. Elijah and Paul both felt this tension (I Kings 19:9-18; Romans 11:1-6).

In a republic, where democracy has permeated even the church, it can be easy to believe that majority rules. However, God did not choose to institute a democracy for Israel, and Scripture indicates it's not His desire for the church either. What makes doctrine correct or incorrect does not depend on the perspective of the masses, but rather, faithfulness to the Word. I think there are two passages that illustrate why the majority opinion can often be the wrong opinion.

Ahab's "prophets." We see Micaiah outnumbered by many prophets in I Kings 22. Micaiah refutes the message of the 400 prophets before the king, as the prophets are standing right there. One can not imagine how Micaiah felt with 400:1 odds. But how could 400 men agree on one message, especially with it being false? The answer from the text is obvious that the false prophets were focussed on the response of Ahab as well as validating one another. Knowing their message was not stable, they sought validity through approval of the king, and one another.

Tim and the Ephesian Church. Paul had already warned the Ephesian elders that false doctrine would crop up within their church (Acts 20:29). He sends Timothy to minister to the church, and instructs Timothy to combat false doctrine (I Timothy 4:1-5). In his second letter to Timothy, he explains how these false teachers will be permitted to have a voice. People will crave their teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-5). In our flesh, we do not desire the things of God. Increasing the number of people does not guarantee the defeat of the flesh, but only creates an opportunity for validation for those who choose to indulge it. Why is the majority perspective often the wrong perspective? Because I know me, and if a room was filled with 300 people who think like me, the chances of false doctrine creeping in have just multiplied 300 times!

I do not mean to suggest that a majority is alwasy wrong. By the grace of God, I pray that an overwhelming majority of people in our Body declare a Biblically accurate perspective on salvation. (Incidentely, those who do not are not actually a part of the Body.) But it means that in our highly pragmatic society, where majority seems to rule, we can not validate something simply because a large number of people are willing to sign on to it. A remnant will not always exist, for a city is coming where every citizen will have the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 21:22-27). But until that day, a remnant exists as a display of God's glory. For if the opinion of man made things right, where would we then boast? (Romans 11:5-6)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I'm looking at starting another series, but some thoughts crossed my mind.

Though I do not write this blog with reaction in mind, I don't want to intentionally drive people away. (I have found you can't write in a way to sollicit comments, but there are certainly things you can do to drive comments away.) I've written a couple of series lately (T4G thoughts, Lines in the Sand) and wanted to get some thoughts:

1. Are they repetitive? Do you feel like the same thing is being said in each post, or is it helpful to address from different angles to see how they truly impact?

2. Do I seem angry? I am passionate (and believe we all should be), but I'm not really angry. While these topics are relevent to me right now, and is a reflection of what I am thinking through, but I'm not angry with any particular person or seeking to shoot someone down. I want to think critically, but I don't want to be a jerk. Does a series make it seem like I'm a jerk?

3. Do you like the graphics? When doing a series, I thought it was somewhat fun to add a graphic so that it's easy to see it tie in. I can post other things beyond the series, but it's easy to find the post reflecting the series. However, if you have dial up, or actually understand art and design and find my futile attempts pathetic, you may find these graphics annoying. Pro topical graphics or con?

Please understand that your comments may not sway what I do. I value feedback, but this isn't a poll. Again, there are things that are on my heart that I want to post, but the odd nature of a blog is that you hope people read it too. Therefore, I want to post my thoughts in a way that is comprehendable and attractive to the reader.

The Real Final Four

Well, here we are near the end of May, and my NBA predictions have completely come to pass. Therefore, I thought I'd break down my Top Four Seeding for the rest of the post season.

1. Dallas. I don't think I ever considered them the best team in the NBA all season, however, they seem the strongest right now. Mark Cuban does not do things to fail, or just for hobby. He does things to succeed. He learned from his early mistakes of bringing in tons of talent and overpaid players and has surrounded Dirk with players who do what they do well. Also, I'm one of those who believed Avery Johnson would be great coach clear back when he played with the Spurs. He is a great leader and a wonderful basketball mind. He has figured out how to get a great offensive team to play solid defense as well. When you play the Mavericks, you now have to ask, "Can we stop them as well as they can stop us?"

If you read this blog at all, you know that I am actually a Pistons fan, so this was very painful for me to post Dallas as the first seed. However, San Antonio is clearly a better team than Cleveland, and Dallas defeated San Antonio. Also, as you will see if you continue to read (though I've probably lost all of my female readership by this point...all four of you), I don't believe Phoenix is as good as Miami, and therefore Dallas will be more rested going into the Finals. That has to help be a tie-breaker.

2. San Antonio. Yeah, I know, they are out of the playoffs. However, I'd just like to illustrate that David Stern did blow it this season. This has been one of the best playoffs, overall, that I can ever remember (to this point). However, I don't believe this is due to the new seeding format (having a goofy system of three divisions per conference) but rather that teams are built well and there is genuine parity back in the league. The San Antonio/Dallas series was one of the best playoffs series of the last three decades, yet the series got buried in Round 2 of the playoffs. Poor move Mr. Stern. This classic series should have been set up for the conference finals. Your two best records in a conference should not face one another in the second round.

3. Detroit. While Cleveland isn't a contending team (yet, but Cavs fans should be very pleased with what they have), I don't think we should downplay Lebron too much. This guy will redefine the rosters of the entire Eastern Conference at some point, IF he remains in Cleveland. Detroit played a hard series, but I believe that acted as an agent to refocus them and the team is constructed in a way not to wear out. I believe the acquisition of Kelvin Cato will actually play a factor in this series as he will be one more big body to foul and wear out Shaq. There team is constructed to take down teams built around one or two stars.

4. Miami. Miami, however, is not built in such a way to take out a complete team. Of course, Wade to rise to a new level and then Detroit could be in big trouble (imagine if Cleveland had Shaq). That's possible, but I think Wade has already taken quantum leaps and probably doesn't have another left in him. Meanwhile, having Gary Payton and Jason Williams at point guard should not be encouraging in the playoffs. Also, anytime you have Antoine Walker on a playoff roster, you have to be a bit nervous, right? But thank you New Jersey for rolling over like a frightened dog and making the Detroit/Miami series so interesting since Miami gets to be so rested!

5. Phoenix. Amare's knee did not just kill my entire fantasy season (and possibly next season too!), but he probably keeps this year from being the greatest playoffs of all time. Can you imagine a conference finals of Miami/Detroit in the East and Dallas/Phoenix (with Amare) in the West...after having Dallas/San Antonio and Detroit/Cleveland matchups in round 2? How can people argue about Steve Nash's greatness? Do you really think Tim Thomas, Boris Diaw or Raja Bell would be this good on other teams? Shawn Marion, maybe, but Nash has a way of making everyone better. However, I think Dallas' offense is closer in quality to Phoenix than Phoenix's defense is close to Dallas'. (Did that make sense?)

I see Detroit and Dallas in the finals...and actually see Detroit winning it all again. This series will be incredible though. Each team has four to five guys who could step up in each game. The edge goes to Detroit with experience, home court advantage and the fact that they probably understand team dynamics a little better.

MVP: Chauncey will win it again. Tayshaun will deserve it (again).

[Update: This article was actually published on Sam Amico's probasketballnews.com. If you are a fan of the NBA at all, you really should be checking out his site.]

Happy Developments

John Piper shared an amazing message about pastors giving "Exulted Exposition." In his message, he lamented that much of the popular church movement calls for lightness and slapstick instead of revealing the glory of God. Yet, during the panel discussion, Mark Dever asked Piper if he saw anything that was encouraging. Piper's response:
What we're seeing, in a most remarkable way, are outcroppings of the awakening of the supremacy and glory of God theologically; that is Calvinism. Whitfield said that he hoped that men would have hearts treasuring the doctrines of grace. We are seeing that amazingly. And these outcroppings don't even know each other exists. It's not anybody making it happen. You've got groups in the Northwest, and groups in the Northeast, and groups in the South, and groups all over the place who are coming into the recognition that God is God and it feels right to let Him be so. How that is going to be translated into worship forms, we're maybe on the front edge. I think if theology precedes doxology and ecclesiology, then we are in for some happy developments.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sproul Speaks 2

Having already covered Sproul's more controversial (yet thoroughly accurate) comments, I thought I'd offer you these gems from his panel discussion:

(I'll occasionally provide context in italics.)

On confusion between the usage of justification and salvation among evangelicals. The word sozo, "to save," is used in every tense of the Greek language. There is a sense that we were saved since the foundation of the world. We were being saved. We are saved. We are being saved. We shall be saved. And so the complete work of redemption is described generically under the rubric of that broad term "salvation."

On the danger of confusing justification as the same as salvation. So works that proceed from our justification (sanctification) are very much a part of our total salvation. The point is they contribute any merit to our justification. When we make this confusion, the first casuality is the importance of obedience, and we end up with an incipient antinomianism (lawlessness.

What are a lot of evangelical pastors saying is the gospel? Having a personal relationship with Jesus. Having a purpose driven life. Having a God who loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. A belief that God loves them unconditionally. All of those are clear manifest substitutions for the gospel. The gospel is an objective thing, the person and work of Christ, which is subjectively appropriated by faith, and by faith alone.

People who want so much, who have a real passion for evangelism, in their desire for evangelism, forget the evangel.

Al Mohler, on his concern with the phrase, "Ask Jesus into your heart." But what unfortunately that gets reduced to is an emotional experience of mere affection. And the problem is, there is no suggestion in Scripture that we are justified by our affection for Christ. That is not saving faith, nor is it a substitute...and we need to be pastorally sensitive and that's why it is easy to get in trouble speaking of this. But I listen to a lot of well-intentioned pastors, who as RC said, really want to be evangelistic, they really want to see persons come to faith in Christ, but they have no understanding that in their presentation of the gospel, in so far as that is what they are talking about, they often reduce the gospel to its most emotional and affective dimensions, leaving aside the objective reality of what justifying faith really is.

Back to quotes from RC. I think that the second most wide spread doctrine of justification in our culture and in the church is justification by works. We've not communicated the gospel to our own people. They still are trusting in what they do, and in what they acheive to get them into heaven. That's the second, it's not the most common doctrine of justification. The biggest doctrine of justification out there is what I call justification by death. All you have to do to be justified is to die, because everybody who dies goes to heaven. That's what we run into out there. So justification by faith alone and what it means content, objectively, has been woefully obscurred.

On an address he gave at a Christian Book Publishers meeting. Everybody keeps asking us, "Are you saved?" "Are you saved?" My question is, "Saved from what?" And I gave the answer to that, and the answer was, "We're saved from God." And you would have thought I gave them the most radically novel idea these people had ever heard...We're saved from the wrath that is to come. Who's wrath is it?...We're saved by God, from God. But when you have preachers telling everybody that God loves you unconditionally, who's afraid of the wrath of God? What does the unbeliever hear when you say, "God loves you unconditionally?" What does he hear? "So, I can do whatever I want! I don't have to repent. I don't have to flee to the foot of the cross. God loves me unconditionally, there are no conditions."

Sproul Speaks

With the release of the panel discussions from the Together for the Gospel we get to pick up some of the great wisdom of RC Sproul.

Question posed to RC:
There are men in this auditorium, right now, who believe that the Seattle Seahawks were robbed, and that the referees are to be held responsible, in effect, for the victory of your Pittsburgh Steelers. I wondered if you had an opinion?
RC's answer: (condensed down)
Yes I do.

As Augustine told us, we must always be able to distinguish between faith and credulity. And just because Seattle fans think they were robbed, that's a matter of credulity. Because, objectively, as I always am when it comes to the Steelers, the league office reviewed every call in that game. And the only call that the league office said was wrong was the block below the waist call on the quarterback (Hasselback) after the interception.

The touchdown by Roethlisberger, I saw it ten times on Tivo. I can stop it where I want, and about midpoint in his flight he broke the plain.

On the touchdown that was called back. No question that the receiver pushed off. Offensive interference. Now they didn't have to call that. Many times they do not. But the guy did commit offensive interference.

The biggest no call of the game was on the one touchdown that Seattle did score, the one receiver picked Troy Polamalu, which is illegal. That one should have been called back.

The good news for Seattle is that they don't have to pick last in the NFL Draft on Saturday.

The good news for Pittsburgh is that they have to pick last.
Who am I to argue with a man of his distinguished mind?


A roadblock to actually considering the doctrines of grace is often, "Yeah, but then you guys see no reason to evangelize." Ignoring both the fact that history shows churches that embrace these doctrines are typically the most missional churches, they also misrepresent the process of proclaiming the gospel in God's process to bring His elect to Himself.

Like most things that are taken too far, hyper-Calvinism has done a great disservice to the doctrines of grace. A hyper-Calvinist believes that since God will bring His elect to Himself, it is not necessary for them to preach the gospel, for life is just a fatalism and our actions have no effect. This is a distortion of biblical truth.

However, as I was recently listening to a speaker ignore the gospel for forty minutes and then call people to trust in Christ, a funny thought crossed my mind. "Is _________________ a hyper-Calvinist?" It seemed to be the only explanation, as this man seemed to believe that people would come to Christ through his ministry despite his neglect of preaching the gospel.

It was ironic, because I am sure this man would abhor the title of Calvinist, finding it far too exclusive and condemning. Yet, his actions seem to be that of one who has taken the doctrines too far. He claims to believe the gospel but does not see his need to clearly articulate it.

So just throwing a question out there:

Are churches that claim believe the gospel, but hesitant to boldly proclaim it, actually evidencing the doctrines of hyper-Calvinism? Or is it just that their actions look the same?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lines in the Sand: Church

In our currrent era, it is considered impolite to expose differences. Instead, "true love" is expressed by seeking common ground. However, the church (and individual believers) have lost their relevance as they have sacrificed the truths that make distinction. The following is a series devoted to drawing the line between genuine Biblical faith and not.

What if the church did not have lines?

I've often heard people say that the church should be the most accepting place on earth. Is that really true? Should we accept heresy? Should we accept insubordination toward God? Should we accept sinful indulgence? Should we accept those who wish to teach that Jesus is neither human or divine? Due to the exclusive nature of the gospel, the church should probably be the least accepting place on the planet.

Before you choke on your bagel, assuming I want to start a commune, allow me to explain. Acceptance is being aware of the facts and willing to live with them. I accept that my Rangers will never actually field a competitive team, therefore I do not get upset when John Hart continues to ignore pitching. Is that how the church has been called to act? No believer will see a complete eradication of sin until glorification. Should we then, as a corporate Body just accept sin or should we fight against it? Should we throw our hands in the air, acknowledging that we will all make interpretive mistakes with the Word, therefore deciding not to even try? It seems that God has called us to strive for holiness (1 Peter 1:13-23) though the world whispers in our ear to just live with it.

Instead, the Church should be the most acknowledging place on earth. Nothing should surprise us. When heresy creeps in, there should be an active humility, knowing that we could all easily fall into a similar error, followed with action to remedy the situation. When an unbeliever brings all of their sin with them into our church, we should acknowledge that they are a slave to sin, and therefore seek to show them the freedom from sin offered by Jesus Christ. When those who are in the Body fall into a regular pattern of sin, again there should be a humble recognition that it can (and probably will) happen to all of us, and that's why the church is to work together to sharpen one another. Acceptance learns to live with it. Acknowledgement is not surprised, but graciously works to resolve the issue.

To return to my illustration. If John Hart (and other members of the Rangers front office) were to acknowledge their lack of pitching, they could then do something about it. It does not mean they immediately fire every pitcher we have, but rather they consider all issues, from their draft process, to the coaching/training their players receive. Then they begin a process to resolve the situation.

I thank God that the church has always had those who were willing to draw the line in the sand. God has used men like Augustine to expose the error of Pelagius, or Irenaeus to refute the gnostics. What kind of oppression would the church still find itself under if the Reformers hadn't been willing to stake their liveson the claims of the Word of God. In fact, the Reformers typically drew three lines in the sand, regarding the church. A genuine church:
    1. Preached the Gospel.
    2. Practiced Church Discipline.
    3. Properly Administered the Ordinances.
Not surprisingly, those three criteria all protect one thing: the gospel. By clearly preaching the gospel, it both allowed the unrepentant to hear the message of Truth, the saved to glorify God in His work on their behalf, and reminded the church of the message they had been entrusted. Church displine not only helps us see the need to pursue purity, but it also allows the church to distance herself from those who choose to dilute or distort the gospel. (Did you realize church displine is to be our response to false teaching as well.) Biblically, it is not the picture of immediate excommunication, but rather a slow, deliberate process with restoration always as the goal. But the gospel witness must be maintained in our church. Lastly, the ordinances of baptism and communion should not be seen as outside of the gospel witness either. Both are beautiful visual displays of the person and work of Christ. The church must guard that the ordinances do not become a participation in salvation, nor should they be eliminated, and therefore diminish the church's witness.
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:1-7).
In the gospel, the glory of Christ is seen. In light of this message, we see the glory of God in the face of Christ. We should accept no substitutes. Because God has removed the veil from our eyes, we should not return to our own ways so that people know that we accept them. The church should acknowledge how the veiled will act, and boldly declare the gospel (in word and action) to display the light of the glory of God as revealed in His Son.

Drawing the line is not an act of condemnation, for the world stands condemned already (John 3:18). Drawing a line is an act of love and hope, making sure the message is not compromised.

(Also, if you are interested, Mark Dever offers a wonderful list of the 9 marks of a healthy church.)

Humility 2

In effort to help my fellow brothers in Christ from the Cleveland area maintain their humility, I've regularly taken pleasure in reminding them of things like Jordan's shot over Ehlo, Mesa's blown save in Game 7 and an assortment of John Elway highlights.

However, I'm starting to wonder if God isn't using this man to bring a little more humility into my life.

I knew I never should have read that book! Now, even my Pistons are affected by it.

T4G: Paneling is Up

The panel discussions from Together for the Gospel are now available.

Check them out. I believe they are truly edifying and are a part of what made the conference so unique and beneficial. I was really hoping they would eventually offer these, and I think they will be an asset to the Church as well.

Four Mountain Evangelism

I was listening to a podcast from Way of the Master Radio this morning when Todd Friel offered this evangelism outline. I don't know if this was his idea or not, but I thought it was a pretty cool outline to consider.

Four Mountain Evangelism
    Mount Sinai
On this mount, we receive the 10 Commandments, God's righteous standard. If we are honest before that standard, we realize that there is none righteous, not even one.
    "Sermon on the Mount"
Lest we fall into thinking a heartless adherence to rules acheives righteousness, Christ preaches about our heart condition in the midst of obedience. We see that the problem is not just that we sin, but that we sin because we are sinners.
    "Mount" Calvary
Jesus offers to be our propitiation by laying down his life in crucifixion. His death and resurrection appease the wrath of God and offer us life eternal if we will turn from our ways and place our faith in this message.
    Mount Zion
Jesus is going to return to this earth, fully displaying His office of Conquering King. Every person will have to give an account to Him. Are you ready?

Of course, I am not advocating a cookie cutter method of evangelism, where you just walk up to a person and spout off "The Four Mountains," but I could see this being an intriguing conversation with a nonbeliver. I especially like that it displays the gospel message is the thread through all of Scripture (something I've been passionate about lately, if you can't tell).

Lines in the Sand: Preaching

In our currrent era, it is considered impolite to expose differences. Instead, "true love" is expressed by seeking common ground. However, the church (and individual believers) have lost their relevance as they have sacrificed the truths that make distinction. The following is a series devoted to drawing the line between genuine Biblical faith and not.

Why do we preach? Hasn't the culture changed enough where the church could find a better means to reach people? Is preaching really a central tool that God desires to use in the lives of believers and nonbelievers alike.

Consider the following:

Jesus, our Great Example, preached. (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 11:1; Mark 1:38; Luke 4:18; Luke 4:43)
Jesus called His disciples to preach. (Matthew 10:7; Mark 3:14; Mark 16:15)
Members of the Church were called to preach. (Acts 10:42; Acts 16:10; 1 Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:2; 2 Timothy 4:2)
Preaching is a beautiful part of God's process of conversion. (Romans 10:13-15)

Preaching is not dialogue. Preaching is not conversation. Preaching is not story telling. Preaching is not teaching. Preaching, according to the original language, is "heralding." But what do we herald?

From the time of Christ's ascension, according to the Word of God, the church has preached:

that this (Jesus) is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and dead--Acts 10:42
"good news" or gospel--Acts 13:32; Acts 14:7; Acts 14:15; Acts 16:10; Romans 1:15; Romans 10:15; Romans 15:20; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 9:16; 1 Corinthians 9:18; 2 Corinthians 10:16; Galatians 1:8; Galatians 2:2; Revelation 14:6
Christ crucified--1 Corinthians 1:23
Christ Jesus as Lord--2 Corinthians 4:5
Him (Jesus) among the Gentiles--Galatians 1:16
the unfathomable riches of Christ--Ephesians 3:8
these principles--1 Timothy 6:2
the Word--2 Timothy 4:2

Clearly, "the gospel", "good news", "that Christ has been appointed Judge of the living and dead", "Christ crucified", "Christ Jesus as Lord" and "the unfathomable riches of Christ" are all ways of saying the gospel. The evidence is overwhelming that we are not called to preach self-fulfillment, how to have a better marriage, End-times timelines, or political activism. We are to preach the gospel...that's what we've been called to herald.

Aha, you say, What about Paul's exhortations to Timothy. Doesn't he call him to preach the Word and to preach how masters and slaves can get along. To which, I say, "Let us consider the context..."

When Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word in 2 Timothy 4:2, he is speaking to Timothy of the need to preserve sound doctrine. But nestled in the midst of Paul's exhortation is, "do the work of an evangelist" (one who heralds the evangel). Within the context of preserving sound doctrine, the gospel must be proclaimed.

But was Paul encouraging Timothy to preach more practical messages when he told him to preach about slave/master relations? It was certainly something to be addressed, but look closely at how Paul says to resolve the issue. He encourages the slaves to show respect to their masters because they are brothers (adoption together into the family of Christ) and they are partakers of the benefit as brother and beloved. The purpose and attitude to accomplish God glorifying response is in investigating the gospel.

Christian preaching must be centered around the gospel.

A few things that I do not mean by that:

Introduction/Conclusion. I am not saying that Christian preaching must just include the gospel. Recently, I was at an event where a speaker was sharing his thoughts. In his message, he quoted a verse in Isaiah and a couple of other random verses as he went. His message was largely about having a positive attitude and "being a conquerer." Then, when he was closing up, he stated, "I only believe this life of fulfillment can come to those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don't have that relationship, I encourage you to pray after me." His prayer then, to my surprise included repentance from sin, and a trust in Jesus alone for salvation, Who is your Lord and Master. Though I was encouraged to hear that he atleast mentioned those elements in his prayer, this is not Christian preaching (Do not misunderstand my definition. I am not saying that he is not a Christian, God alone knows, or that his message was demonic, though I did find several points contrary to Scripture. I am just saying his message lacked the very elements that make Christianity possible and distinct.) Using the gospel as your introduction to a topic, or your conclusion is not Biblical Christian preaching. We are not managers of an appliance store, giving people a gospel bait and switch. We should not allure them to the message by promising happiness, better income, better earthly living, and then try to tack Jesus on with it. The gospel must be the main thread going throughout the message.

Wacko Exegesis. Often called eisegesis. I am not talking about doing something goofy with Jesus. We do not need to turn Him into the ark that Noah was safely in, or into the male lover in Song of Solomon. However, we can see the gospel message in the story of Noah (he found favor in the eyes of the Lord), who was graciously preserved by God as part of His preservation of mankind so that He could reveal His gospel message. Furthermore, Jesus, like us, is an earthly decendant of Noah. In Song of Solomon, we do not create some disgusting context where suddenly we are to imagine ourselves in an erotic relationship with Christ, but rather, we are encouraged as married couples to enjoy a satisfying sexual relationship together. Why? Because our marriage relationships are a picture of the covenant relationship that God has entered into with the Church. Our motivation for healthy marriages (and our standard) is an accurate display of the gospel message in our union as man and wife.

Call to salvation only. Some people become concerned that gospel-centric preaching becomes a call every week for people to get saved. What's left for the believer who is in attendance? Don't they every receive meat, application, exhortation? Or is the message strictly aimed for the unbeliever? Actually, the pastor is called to shepherd the sheep. Therefore, my message should be directed at the believers in the room, not the unbelievers (Though I am glad they are there and am praying that God would do a work in their heart to cause them to be submissive to His Word). The character, nature and person of God is no more clearly articulated to us than through the gospel message. Therefore, there is no greater source for application, motivation and understanding than in considering our life issues in the context of the gospel. The believer is never called to move beyond the gospel, but rather, to offer ourselves to God "in view of His mercy." Genuine meat for the believer is not found in searching out things other than the gospel, but by searching deeper into the gospel to see how it relates to other things.

Sadly, much of the preaching the world hears today is not Christian. It may be presented by Christians. It may be presented to Christians. But it is not boldly displaying the distinction that makes us the Body, the gospel. The gospel is either tacked on at the beginning, alluded to at the end, ignored all together, or seen as something applying to the unbeliever only. Perhaps this lack of Christian preaching (again, a heralding that clearly proclaims the Christian message--the gospel) is why many churches are scoffing the need for preaching today and are looking for other alternatives.

As a pastor, I would love to see a line drawn in the sand for preaching. Not so that we could ostracize others or feel puffed up about ourselves. But rather, because like Paul, I feel compelled to preach the gospel. But I know I am weak, and I could use the accountability of others who also feel this compulsion to the gospel message that I keep my eyes on the task before me. Only by His grace can that be acheived.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Parenthetical Statement

From Josh Harris, given at Mark Driscoll's Reform and Resurge Conference quoting Mark Dever, who shared this at the Together for the Gospel Conference (I think I just set my hyperlinks-per-sentance-fragment record):
What we need is humble theology—theology which submits itself to the truth of God's Word. “Liberal” theology—theology which does not view Scripture as finally trustworthy and authoritative—is not humble before the Word. Churches which are tentative and decry dogmatism may sound humble, but it is not truly humble to do anything other than to submit to God's Word. Christian humility is to simply accept whatever God has revealed in His Word. Humility is following God's Word wherever it goes, as far as it goes, neither going beyond it nor stopping short of it. The humility we want in our churches is to read the Bible and believe it—everything God has said, dogmatically, and humbly! It is not humble to be hesitant where God has been clear and plain.
Amen Mark via Josh Harris via Mark!

In my effort to be succinct (which I tend to fail) and be clear (which I usually fail), I fear that my posts can sometimes come across as "know-it-all-y." I truly desire to teach only what the Bible teaches, but also all that the Bible teaches. I agree with Dever that to pretend not to know what Scripture does say is not truly humility. (I am not saying that all that Scripture says is clearly articulated, but the gospel certainly is.)

Lines in the Sand: Media

In our currrent era, it is considered impolite to expose differences. Instead, "true love" is expressed by seeking common ground. However, the church (and individual believers) have lost their relevance as they have sacrificed the truths that make distinction. The following is a series devoted to drawing the line between genuine Biblical faith and not.

If a Christian is one who has properly responded to the gospel message, and the gospel is a particular set of facts, why is it that we classify things as "Christian" that do not include the gospel?

The fact that something is created by one who is a Christian does not make their work orthodox. Television, papers and the radio are all quick to articulate that all opinions expressed through their media are not necessarily the views of the management. It's even generally understood that some of the thoughts expressed in the comments section of this blog are not necessarily compatible with my personal views or thoughts. We generally understand that...at least until we reach the "Christian section" of any media.

To illustrate (and humiliate) allow me to give an example. In my youth, I was a fan of Stryper. As a whole, most people were willing to acknowledge them as a Chrisitian band. (They even placed Isaiah 53:5 in their logo.) Yet, fans were thrown off with the Against the Law albumn. For me, and many of my peers, it was our first exposure to the "cross-over" attempt in music. What were we to do with this albumn? Eventually, my tastes in music changed and the "Styper debate" became a moot topic. However, it leaves us to ask when something is considered Christian and when it is not.

If a Christian author decides to write a book about pet grooming, does that make it a Chrisitian book? Certainly a reference to Christ is not the solution either, otherwise The DaVinci Code would belong in the Christian section. Is accuracy about Christ the standard? Can't a history book have accurate information about Christ yet not enough information to be considered Christian? Isn't the standard again the gospel?

What about an author who decides to write advice for marriage, men's issues, church growth or even weight loss? Is it a Christian book if it declines to present an accurate portrayal of the gospel message? (Don't hear me say that it should then be avoided; that is not my point. But rather, if it is devoid of the gospel message, wouldn't it be wise to say it is a book written by a Christian, but not necessarily a Christian book?) Again, if the only way one becomes a Christian is by repenting of sin and trusting Christ for salvation, and that salvation is made possible through the historical events that took place, then one is not a Christian without the gospel. Therefore, how could we deem a book, movie, album, etc as Christian if it lacks the most central information to the faith?

Here are the common objections (followed by my rebuttal) that I receive to this question:

"But the author/musician/film maker/etc was targeting non-Christians." Ok, then they should have no problem identifying it as something other than Christian, if that was not their attempt. But if they desired to introduce non-Christians to the Christian message, what in the world are they doing leaving the gospel out? Usually, the response I get is that they don't want to scare the reader away, but hope to stir up a desire to for the person to investigate issues further. I'm left to wonder a few things:
    Do we really have time to fool around? What if your book was the last they got the chance to read? What if something happens in their life that prevents their ability to "investigate further."
    Are you that sure of yourself? Are you really that confident that you will be so compelling that people will search out more of your work, or will dig further?
    Why would we need to tease? I hate when a sports radio host says, "Something incredible happened in the NBA last night, stay tuned and will tell you after the break." It drives me nuts. However, it works. I stay on the radio station (and listen to all their commercials...which is their point) just to hear the news after the break. What possibly could be our reason to feel we must "tease" with the gospel. If they are interested, they are ready. There is no advantage to making them wait until your next book/movie/album.
He/She is producing this for believers, and therefore is assuming you know the gospel and is moving on. or The gospel really wasn't his/her point. He/She wanted to address something else about the Christian faith. Please explain to me what issue in the Christian faith is not completely centered on God's redemption story to man? What area hasn't the cross of Christ affected? The idea that we can "move on" from the gospel is a farce that has infiltrated the Church. When you "move on," you "move away." A few reasons why the gospel should be articulated especially when you are writing to believers:
    1. It's glorious! What is more thrilling than sharing that though I have rebelled against my Creator and deserve His just wrath, He instead offered His Son as the payment for my sin, that He would then offer to my account the righteous life of Christ, all made possible, not by anything I have done, but simply through the gracious offer of our God. If you are a believer, do you remember the first time you responded by repenting of your ways and trusting in Christ alone for your restoration to God? Why wouldn't we delight in declaring that?
    2. Again, what area of Christian living isn't radically adjusted by the gospel? Finances? Marriage? Parenting? Employment? Contentment? They are all redefined by the gospel and our ability to honor God in all those areas is only possible when viewed through the lens of the gospel.
    3. It keeps the glory on God and not man. As a fallen man, I am so quick to want to steal the glory deserved by God alone. The gospel is the message that drives me to my knees and reminds me Who deserves all the glory alone.
    4. A non-believer will consume it. If you've produced something for publication, there is no way that it won't eventually cross the eyes or ears of an unbeliever. Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of the chance to share the "good news" with them.
I am not saying that everything ever published by a Christian must be a Christian work. Even with this blog, I will write articles about the NBA, my family, current events. I do not see that as improper, and do not believe the Christian must consume only that which is Christian (which would be impossible). But I do believe that when we call something Christian simply because it is about the church, about Jesus, about morality and any other good topic, yet avoids presenting the good news, we are placing the gospel under a bushel.

I wish there was some line in the sand, a way to delineate that which is "gospel-centric" (is that a word?) from that which is not. For something that simply avoids being anti-Jesus or anti-Biblical does not seem to be the standard for that which is Christian.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lines in the Sand: Evangelism

In our currrent era, it is considered impolite to expose differences. Instead, "true love" is expressed by seeking common ground. However, the church (and individual believers) have lost their relevance as they have sacrificed the truths that make distinction. The following is a series devoted to drawing the line between genuine Biblical faith and not.

"Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21). The world is full of those who would call themselves Christian but are not. That's not information to celebrate, and we certainly can't take pride in knowing Christ while others may be deceived. ("For what do you have that you have not received?" We have nothing to boast in but Christ alone.) However, we should be motivated to proclaim the gospel to others, and to partner with those who do likewise.

But what is "the good news," our evangel?

Consider the list of five elements of the gospel that John Piper provided at the Together for the Gospel Conference:
    1. The historical events that took place. (ie. virgin birth, sinless life, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension).
    2. The effects of the historical events. (ie. redemption, forgiveness, justification, etc.)
    3. How the effects of the historical events are transferred to us. (ie. by faith alone and not of works.)
    4. The truths about us in light of receiving the effects of the historical events. (ie. adoption as sons, friend of God, ambassador, etc.)
    5. Enjoying God forever because He has redeemed us by His gracious offer through faith in the historical work of His Son.
Whether you agree with Piper's list or not (which I believe is quite Biblical), my point is to notice that every element of the gospel is founded upon the historical events that took place. Paul seems to be saying this as well, when he said that Christ's death (for our sin), His burial, His resurrection and His appearance to many were of "firstmost importance" (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). The gospel is certainly more than an intellectual knowledge of historical events, but it can not be less than that. Without the historical events, you are without a gospel.

Yet many want to claim they are preaching "the good news" without mentioning any of these details. Or, just as confusing, they want to emphasize a higher element of the gospel (ie adoption as children) without discussing the foundational elements before it. Humanitarian aide, counseling and encouragement are good and biblical expectations for believers. However, without a presentation of the cross of Christ (at the bare minimum) you do not have the gospel. Without the gospel, there is no ultimately good news.

So why draw the line? It helps churches assess what they are doing. It helps believers assess what we are doing. If a man claims to have evangelized, or presented "good news" to a group, yet was able to avoid discussing the cross, our sin, or His payment, then we know we may have follow up to do. Not for our sakes, and certainly not so we can prove we are right. The stakes are much greater:
for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom R510 they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" (Romans 10:13-15).
In God's amazing grace, He has allowed us to be fellow ministers of reconciliation as we declare the message of salvation. If He's done all of the work, the least we can do is desire to present it clearly.

Lines in the Sand: Christianity

In our currrent era, it is considered impolite to expose differences. Instead, "true love" is expressed by seeking common ground. However, the church (and individual believers) have lost their relevance as they have sacrificed the truths that make distinction. The following is a series devoted to drawing the line between genuine Biblical faith and not.

The Problem with Past Labels
Many times we try to identify those whom God has called to Himself with different names and titles. Unfortunately, this practice, even when titles are borrowed from Scripture, has proven rather inadequate over time.

Christian In Acts 11:26, we find that Antioch is the first place that referred to Jesus' followers as "Christians." Without a doubt, these "little christs" were given the name due to their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The name started as a recognition of true devotion to Jesus Christ. However, as Jesus' name spread, and people enjoyed the benefits of living in proximity to Christians, many people began to adopt the name. A casual look at Barna surveys (whatever you believe about his conclusions) will show that many call themselves christians but do not believe in a Biblical Christ. The name no longer means a disciple of Jesus, but rather means an conservative American, or even a church goer. To many in the west, "christian" simply means a non-atheist.

The Way Paul began to persecute those who belonged to The Way (Acts 9:2). It was probably the earliest designation for those who were considered a sect of Judaism. However, as Judaism continued to reject the Messiah, it became clear that these followers of Christ were not merely a sect. Two thousand years removed, "The Way" is a pretty vague classification. Organizations like The Way International have also taken the name hostage.

Born Again Wow, Danny is reaching a new low, you're probably thinking. Now he's decided to debate the words of Jesus! Obviously, that would be foolhardy. However, when Jesus explained to Nicodemus his need for spiritual birth, He was not instituting a title for the spiritually reborn for all of eternity. This too has been taken hostage by others. No longer is my spiritual birth tied to the atonement paid by Jesus Christ and His transfer of righteousness to me through faith alone. Today, being "born again" can refer to any kind of spiritual awakening regardless of the nature of the spirit. I also believe those within Christianity have distorted the initial point of "born again," turning it into a "one time decision" rather than seeing that it is an introduction to new life evidenced by your continuation as a new person.

Believer Do you believe in God? Do you believe the Bible? Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe Jesus died on a cross for you and me? Do you believe Jesus provided your salvation? While a genuine follower of Christ believes all of those things, a belief in each of those things does not ensure salvation. James 2:19 states that even demons believe in God and that He is One. The object of our belief must be defined.

Brother In my humble opinion, this has plagued the church the most. If a man identifies himself as our "brother," then who am I to say otherwise. However, 1 John 3:1 reminds us that we become children of God, that is not our natural position. Becoming brothers and sisters is not something born out of our own will, or out of a compassionate choice to be unified. We only become adopted into God's family through Jesus Christ, and those who haven't come to Christ are not my brother and sister. It sounds rude to need to hear a clear articulation of the gospel before counting someone else as your brother/sister, but to do less lowers the bar of the gospel.

I've spent some time trying to think of a label to give a person who has repent of their sin and trusted Christ's atonement on the cross alone for their salvation. Christian, born-again, believer or "the way" do not give us an indication of the person's spiritual condition. Contrary to contemporary thought, labels are useful and unavoidable. It is helpful to have a term to identify people rather than "those-who-have-repented-of-their-sin-and-trusted-Christ's-atoning-sacrifice-alone-for-their-salvation." However, we can not use those terms alone as a tool of evangelism (Are you a Christian? Are you a believer? etc.)

We must also be willing to draw a line (and hold to it) to determine if a person is truly one of God's sheep. For, to quote Mark Dever, the wolf does not hand you a business card that says "wolf" on it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

T4G and Greenville

I appreciate what "Eric from Kansas" posted in the last article: I think the whole document, it is a very needed line in the sand for this generation. Some may ask, "Why the need to draw the line?"

I think Greenville provides the perfect example. Within the last few months, the Greenville Ministerial Association has begun associating with the Mormon Church. Just a couple months ago, a ministerial meeting was held at the Latter Day Saints Temple. Then, just last week, the head elder of the Mormon church, who identified himself as the secretary of the ministerial association sent a letter to our church, inviting us to an informational meeting.

Eric Knight, a local pastor in the community who I've had the privilege of working with before, wrote an editorial to the paper, imploring people to ask their pastor if he participates in the GMA, and if so, why he would allow a cult member to become an officer in such an association. I appreciated Eric's letter, though I've talked to at least one pastor who isn't thrilled with the idea of his parishioners questioning him. (As if pastors don't need accountability too.)

But how did things get to this point? How does a group, originally formed around the gospel, begin to allow a person who believes Jesus and Satan are brothers, men can become gods, and God was created be allowed fellowship? It happened a long time ago. It happened when they began letting clergy who believe righteousness is infused instead of it being imputed into their fellowship. And that could only happen when the gospel quit being defined and started being assumed.

That's why documents like this are helpful. That's why even in a rural conservative community like ours, we still need to define who is truly together for the gospel.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

T4G and FGBC?

I have to admit, the biggest disappointment at the Together for the Gospel Conference was the lack of Grace Brethren representation. To my knowledge, there was one other Grace Brethren pastor (Brad Kelley) and a handful of faithful laymen from another church in our district there with me and Jason. Of course, a lack of attendance could be chocked up to a number of reasons:
    1. Busy Schedules. (A pastor on our staff had to miss the conference due to grand jury duty.)
    2. Illness (I knew of a couple of guys who wanted to be there and health prevented it)
    3. Sold out. (I know another pastor who tried to get into the conference once he heard about it, but was turned away because they were out of available seats.)
    My ignorance. (There may have been men there that I didn't see, or didn't know they are members of the Fellowship.)
I know that attendance at a conference like this is not a sign of a church's health, nor of a pastor's commitment to the gospel. However, I couldn't help but wonder if church growth seminars and modern church marketing strategy retreats will get a better representation from the Fellowship than a conference dedicated to that message which provides our salvation.

Fortunately, the conference provided a document of affirmations and denials that pastors can look at to determine the level of their cooperation. If you are a member of our Fellowship, I urge you to take a look at this document (.pdf file you may need to "save as") and then answer the following questions:
    Do I agree with this document?
    Would I be willing to sign such a document to make my views known and public?
    Why or why not?

Why Carnivorous?

As the first year celebration of Carnivorous Caribou, I've decided to give some articles explaining how things got where they did. You can find the first post here.

Initial reason: I liked the unexpected nature of a meat eating caribou.

Secondary reason: Upon responding to the call of God to preach, I believed that alliteration was an obligation. Therefore, Carson City Carnivorous Caribou seemed a great fit.

Why I continue to like it...

We should all crave meat...not steak, burgers or chicken, but real teaching. Consider the author of Hebrews frustration with the church in Hebrews 5:11-14:
5:11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 5:13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
My heart breaks that doctrine has become viewed as a foe, instead of an ally. Much of evangelicalism sees careful articulation of doctrine as divisive, instead of seeing how the called are unified around it.

So why a Caribou?

Because I am a bag of hammers. We are not creatures who naturally crave meat. But God has to do a supernatural work in our lives to create the appetite for solid food. I do not desire solid food because of my personality, but God has put a passion in my heart to know Him more. And with that knowledge comes emmense joy in Who He is. That seems unnatural, foreign, even alien to us. And that's what makes it so beautiful. That's what is so glorious. He chose to reveal Himself to me. He chose to redeem me. He chose to draw me to Himself. He chose to give me a desire to know Him more fully. He gives me joy in the process of knowing Him better. In and of myself, that process is about as natural as a caribou eating a steak.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

He's arrived...

Not only is he in Greenville.
Not only has he started working at the church.

He has also entered the blogosphere! (Obviously, Jason helped him pick out the "ever-so-original" blog address.)

Captivating Summary

My wife has just done an excellent review of the popular book, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge.

This book has been quite popular, and unfortunately isn't the most biblically accurate presentation of women's issues. Charity does a brilliant job of being gracious yet theologically sound. I highly recommend you read these posts. (If you liked the book, I think it's good to read her evaluations to see if they have merit. If you haven't read the book, I think it's important you know what others in your church are reading.)
    Captivating: Intro
    Captivating: Does God Need Me?
    Captivating: Essential Beauty
    Captivating: Romance and Seduction
    Captivating: Healing
    Captivating: Conclusion

After hearing some of the quotes from the book (many of which didn't make her posts), I was greatly disturbed to hear of this book's popularity. I had considered writing my own review of it, but clearly the church is better served by her doing it. She did a fabulous job. (I'm captivated not only by her beauty, but her sound mind and love for the Lord.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Legacy of the Caribou--Humiliation

As the first year celebration of Carnivorous Caribou, I've decided to give some articles explaining how things got where they did. You can find the first post here.

Carnivorous Caribou has had a long tradition of humiliation. Humiliation should never be confused with humility. Humility, is a virtue, a character trait of a person pursuing godliness. One only becomes humble as they rightly consider their status before God and there absolute need for Him. Humiliation, on the other hand, is typically the by-product of pride. Humiliation is typically when your deficiencies become apparent to you long after they have been manifested to others. There are a few ways that the Caribou has humbled me involuntarily:

    First Pick
The Caribou first took shape as my fantasy basketball franchise. Having never been introduced to fantasy sports, I did not think it necessary to consult a magazine or gain any advice. I was given the fifth pick in the draft (my highest pick ever, in over a decade). Owners one through four did not seem to need much time for their decision. I could have used more time. With my first pick ever, and the fifth pick overall, I selected John Starks (I didn't realize head-butting Reggie Miller did not gain fantasy points).
    Carniverous Caribou
That's right. For about the first five years of my team's existence, I didn't even spell the name correctly. Nothing like looking at my team parking sign that has the mascot spelled incorrectly.
    Championship Season
Finally, in 2001, the Caribou brought home a championship. Why is that humiliating? Because that's the only time the Caribou have ever placed above fifth place at the end of the season.

The Caribou...one more way of trying to humble this proud man. God willing, as the humility increases, the humiliation may decrease.

T4G: The 5/20 Principle

Though the major theme of the conference was defining and uniting around the gospel message, there was a secondary principle that kept coming back to me. One of the guys, quoting someone else, made this statement:
As pastors, we often overestimate what can be accomplished in five years and underestimate what can be accomplished in twenty.
That point was re-enforced (either in word or example) by speakers who have given decades to the same work. I was convicted about my impatience. I was further convicted when I realized that I usually turn to self, and to may planning, during those moments of impatience. I no longer depend on God to do His work, but step in to accomplish my own. I want Grace to affect generations to come. Seeing that kind of change requires time.

In the four years I have been here, I have never entertained the thought of going elsewhere. I've never thought about leaving, but I don't know that I've consciously thought about the inverse. Have I thought about staying around long enough to allow God to do genuine change in my life and this Body?

By God's grace, I pray He:
    -keeps me pure, allowing me to remain qualified to the calling of elder.
    -continues to grow me, making me adequate to the task.
    -continues to give the Body grace and increased paitience to deal with me.
I Corinthians 4:7 has continued to run through my mind:
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
God has graciously allowed me to serve a wonderful body of people. I pray that He continues to give me that gift.