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Monday, May 15, 2006

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.

27 Comments:

  • At 2:39 PM, Blogger Simon said…

    Hi brother.

     
  • At 2:52 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i would love nothing more than to call you brother...but according to the grid of Scripture, it appears I can not.

     
  • At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Brad said…

    You've pointed out very well the tendency of labels to decrease in usefullness, sometimes very rapidly. Is a new label really what we need?

    Will we really be saying someday, "Hi, I'm Brad, and I'm an Imputationalist"? Even if we will, how long will it be before we have to come up with a new label?

    By the way, the material on the right hand side of your blog no longer appears on my computer, though it did on another computer last night. Any suggestions?

    Brad

     
  • At 4:09 PM, Anonymous mcgriff said…

    Brad, it is there, but just at the bottom of the screen. At least on my computer that is where it is at.

     
  • At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Brad said…

    Sure 'nuff McGriff.

    Thanks.

     
  • At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Tom B said…

    How does asking someone to clearly articulate the gospel tell you anymore about their spiritual state than them identifying themselves as "Christian," "Brother", or otherwise?

    And at what point does someone cease to be an "outsider", and become a part of the club?

    What if I forget the date that this happened? Have I lost it forever?

    I guess for the time being I will be forced to take people at their word and assume their sincerity, while leaving the labeling and sorting out to someone whose knowledge far exceeds my own. Perhaps to the one that they claim to be saying "yes" to in the first place.

     
  • At 7:13 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    tom,

    is that really the work of a disciple? just take people at their word?

    doesn't Scripture articulate (1 Corinthians 2) that men who are not redeemed do not understand the things of the Spirit. therefore, there are countless people who THINK they are saved (because they attend church, because they said a prayer, because their parents were in a church) but aren't. isn't it our job to find out what they mean when they say "christian" instead of just assuming they are saved.

    if i ask a person who claims to be a christian/born again/a believer/ my brother and yet they give an answer for how they know they are right with God that is contrary to the gospel, isn't it safe to assume they aren't? hasn't something been acheived by asking?

     
  • At 11:02 AM, Blogger ~~anna~~ said…

    Sorry this is totally off the subject...but does anyone know why when I click on Jason's blog, it is a totally blank page. It's been like this since atleast Saturday. thanks...

     
  • At 3:59 PM, Anonymous fisher said…

    how 'bout the most scripturally common and possibly most accurate of all labels - SAINT, holy one, one who is set apart, sanctified one

     
  • At 4:02 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    "Today, you will be with me in paradise." Luke 22:43.

    What do we do with this?

    Is he a brother? Is he a Christian? Is he a believer?

    Did Luke leave the part out where Jesus quizzed him on gospel content?

     
  • At 7:45 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    well, first of all, Luke 22:43 says, "Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him."...

    but if you meant Luke 23:43, let's quickly look at the context (never a bad idea).
    1. According to Matthew 27:44 both criminals were insulting Jesus.
    2. In Luke 23:40-41 the thief acknowledges his fear of God, his awareness of his sin, and that he deserves to be punished, and that Christ is sinless.
    3. Then he calls out to Jesus (in Luke 23:42, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your (emphasis mine) Kingdom." He calls upon Jesus alone for his salvation, even acknowledging that Jesus is the King of Kings.

    There's no need to quiz this man. His declaration shows repentance and trust in Christ, proving he had a more Biblical understanding of salvation than most in seeker churches.

     
  • At 7:48 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    can we also acknowledge the fact that as the Sovereign Son of God who sees hearts, there would be no need for Him to quiz the criminal. But since I am not the Son of God, and can not see hearts, it may be wise for me to do some investigation before just assuming someone has properly responded to the gospel?

     
  • At 7:56 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    appreciate the post "fisher" but i think that the roman catholic church has confused the issue of "sainthood" enough that that term is probably lost as well.

    ok, i'll quit increasing my comment total with my own comments for now.

     
  • At 8:44 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    ok, i lied, one more from me...actually, from an article from Mark Driscoll:

    "Jesus did say that all judgment was reserved for Him. In the end, the matter of eternal life and death is in His hands; Jesus will separate the sheep and the goats. In the meantime, in an effort to be kind neighbors who love those who disagree with us in this postmodern world of pluralistic tolerance, we cannot give a false hope and preach a false gospel that denies the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. As Christians we must make decisions for the purposes of church fellowship and theological follower-ship about who is indeed a Christian."

     
  • At 8:49 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Bro, it was Luke 23:43.

     
  • At 8:53 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Danny comments:

    "There's no need to quiz this man. His declaration shows repentance and trust in Christ, proving he had a more Biblical understanding of salvation than most in seeker churches."


    I respond:

    Are you talking about most people who "attend" seeker churches? Because that is, indeed, the point of a seeker church. That people who do not yet know the gospel will actually come to a place where they can hear it.

    On the other hand, if you are implying that "most seeker churches" do not articulate the gospel, that is another matter.

    How about a little grace for people and ministries who are trying a different approach but have the same goal?

     
  • At 9:54 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Here's a comment I'm bound to delete in five minutes.

     
  • At 9:55 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Nah, on second thought, I'm going to go ahead and leave that one up.

    Cavs in six.

     
  • At 9:56 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    good question gary.

    i'll cover this more later in the week when "church" is the topic.

    however, i have to ask a couple of questions:

    1. am i referring to non-believers who attend a seeker church? sure. and the point of the church may be to bring those people in, but again, what do they need to hear? isn't it that they need to repent of their sin and trust Christ as their Savior? what is possibly the benefit to delaying that announcement to them so that they may come next week and learn more? is our goal to keep them coming to our church, or present their need to come to Christ.

    2. if they start regularly attending a church, as a "seeker" (romans 3 seems to have problems with that term, but i digress), how long do we allow them to attend before hearing the gospel before we decide we've been lax and it's time to pony up and share it with them? do we send the message that it isn't that important after all if we did not see an urgency to announcing it?

    3. however, if the "seeker church" is not filled with regularly attending seekers (as in questions 1 and 2) but rather just curious people checking your church out once or twice, isn't it all the more urgent they hear the gospel clearly proclaimed? what other shot may you have to have the audience? have we done them any good if they visit our church once and don't hear the gospel? what has that accomplished? happy, warm thoughts about God as they still stand condemned for their sins?

    i understand my comment about the thief probably appears as an overgeneralization. as most debates you and i have on this site, it probably comes down to definition. i'm not saying a beautiful building, with casually dressed people who are friendly to visitors and welcoming to the lost is seeker sensitive. my definition is more based on observation.

    from traveling for three years and observing a hosts of churches, as well as watching various media outlets from churches...it has been my experience that most churches that self identify themselves as "seeker driven" and even "seeker sensitive" are so overly sensitive to the concept of not offending that they water down the gospel to eliminate either repentance, the gospel's exclusionary nature, the atoning work on the cross or condemnation of hell to those who reject.

    and from the text, it appears the thief understood all of those concepts.

     
  • At 9:57 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Dude, you have a lot of comments already on this post. What is the record for something like this? I must admit I'm honored to be a part of it, especially if we can eclipse that 20-comment barrier. Sweet!

     
  • At 10:10 AM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    I guess we have eclipsed the 20-comment barrier.

    Brings a tear to my eye.

    Okay, now for some real thoughts:

    (1) It's clear you are big on correct labels and don't like the label "seeker." I'll admit, though, it's probably better than "pagan" church.

    (2) Let's give seeker churches SOME credit for allowing people a place to investigate the Gospel at their own pace. Millions of Americans have felt frustrated, rejected, and preached-at by traditional church. At least some Christians are trying to create a safe place for people to hear a dangerous message.

    (3) Many seeker churches share the gospel every single week. I'm sorry that, in all of your travels, you missed these churches. Believe me, there are a lot of seeker churches doing a lot of good. I guess I can't force you to like that, but it's true.

    (4) I think a lot of seeker churches recognize the need or opportunity to build a relationship with people who are coming. To gain their trust. Sure, they share the gospel every week.

    But, you'd be surprised how much The Bible speaks to issues other than the Gospel.

    Like how to be a good leader. Like how to be a great husband. Like how to have a wonderful family. Like how to treat your enemies. Like how to resolve conflict, ask forgiveness, and learn patience.

    These are the real day-to-day issues people deal with. So you invite them in, talk about real issues, bring truth from Scripture, and show people Jesus Christ is central to ALL of the deepest issues of life.

    (5) I appreciate and value your right to disagree and do things differently.

    (6) The only thing that matters is that Christ is preached, and for this, I will also rejoice (Philippians 1:15-18) and let God deal with the motives AND the fruit.

    Cavs in six.

     
  • At 1:04 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    it was only a matter of time before lists reared their ugly head, so...

    1. comes down to the definition of church. is it a gathering of believers or something else?

    2. i praise God the faithful people in my church and family did not wait for me to discover the gospel "at my own pace." just because the world doesn't like preaching doesn't make it bad either...romans 10 seems to present it as a vital element of conversion.

    3. a bold declaration of the gospel will chase some away no matter what you do. in my experience, churches that put such a focus on the unknowing visitor tend to present the gospel in an almost "undercover" fasion. i'm not interested in a paragraph on the back of the bulletin, or a few sentances in the closing prayer. i'm talking about not being ashamed of the gospel and boldly declaring it during the entire time together as a Body. (more on that tomorrow)

    4. you say the Bible speaks to other issues than the gospel, but then say that all kinds of issues relate to Christ...that is my point exactly:

    leadership is best learned in light of the King of Kings humbling Himself to take the form of an infant to serve His elect by dying for them.

    again, my ultimate task/goal as a husband is not to get along with my wife, or to have better sex...it is to model Jesus Christ and His love for the church in the way i respond to her.

    how can a family better treat one another than when they see that we can be adopted as sons of the living God through faith in Jesus Christ?

    treating your enemies...i think Jesus again displays the best model of that as He hung on the cross. Romans 5, Him dying even while i was His enemy may be a key passage for that as well.

    resolve conflict. matthew 18 seems to show that i need to ever keep in mind the perspective that i am a needy beggar before a merciful God, and in doing so, i will have the kind of humility that will make conflict resolution much more godly.

    ask forgiveness...do i even need to illustrate how forgiveness is first understood in examining how God forgives?

    patience--God is not slow in keeping His promises, but is patient, desiring that all might come to repentance...a righteous God not destroying this planet seems to be the ultimate picture of patience to me.

    to try to handle any of those situations outside of the concept of the gospel is not to offer them theology (a working understanding of the character and nature of God that impacts their lives) but therapy (man's attempt to fix the problem). i would argue that theology, not therapy is the job of the church.

    5. (i was wanting to see, "there is no 5," but since there was...thank you. however, i'm not interested in just doing things different. i want to do things biblically. there are certainly things i need to learn from you that help me in that approach. but there are times we should be able to freely discuss disagreement and should be driven to the Word to search for answers. if we find that there is grace extended from the Word to practice and issue according to preference, then we need to extend grace to one another.

    the trick becomes, what do we do when one may be practicing something another considers not to be biblical while the other thinks it is a non issue?

    6. contextually, the passage you quoted is not dealing with message but motive. paul did not care that some were preaching the gospel just to see paul get in trouble, but was pleased that atleast the gospel was being preached. but turn back a few pages to galatians 1. paul gets pretty heated up when the message is distorted...it actually becomes no gospel at all! check paul's ministry manual he wrote to timothy. look and see how many times he calls timothy to defend, teach, correct, contend for the message.

    you're right, i have no clue what a person's motivation should be. but with the help of Scripture, it's not that hard to evaluate the purity of their message...in fact, it's considered pretty noble to do so (Acts 17:10-12).

     
  • At 1:39 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Okay, here are my responses, that will match your comments by number.

    (1) No, it does not come down to your definition of church. We both agree that it is a gathering of believers. But sometimes, the church - the gathering of believers - decides to do outreach ministry. Some churches do their outreach ministry on Sundays. Why is that a problem? It's just a different approach.

    (2) Again, the good seeker churches present the Gospel every single week. Each person does indeed go at their own pace, and then - when the Spirit calls them - they come.

    (3) I'm sorry that you've seen churches that hide the gospel. How a church decides to "boldly declare" it is a matter of style and method, which isn't worth debating.

    (4) All of your points are my points here. We agree. So we start the discussion on leadership, marriage, or whatever - common problems or needs for all humanity - and then we teach from the Scriptures on those topics - but ultimately, YES, Christ is the model and the power for any of these things in their God-ordained form. I agree with everything on your list, and I wonder if you see that your list was supporting what I had said in the first place?

    (5) The Bible allows for people to do things differently AND Biblically at the same time. That is my point.

    You wrote that:
    "the trick becomes, what do we do when one may be practicing something another considers not to be biblical while the other thinks it is a non issue?"

    I respond:
    It's not a trick at all. Humbly tell the person. Be willing to think through an issue, and be willing to admit that it is your application of "Biblical" that you are working from.

    (6) I don't see you evaluating anyone's message, Danny. I see you criticizing their methods. If you are going to label all "seeker churches," you are addressing an approach, a form, a method, and a style.

    I quoted that passage in Philippians because I believe that the Gospel is the same at most seeker churches as it is with yours. The Gospel message is the very same.

    So what if they don't talk about it for the whole 60 minutes? Maybe they talk about marriage for 57 minutes, so that people really see their need for Christ in that area of their lives, and then share the Gospel powerfully for two minutes - when they are waiting, ready, and desperate to hear it.

    God has given them a different ministry than me or you, and it's quite alright to present the Gospel in different ways, as long as the core truth of the Gospel is not compromised.

    (6) At this point, I think you might be arguing against an enemy that doesn't exist.

    Consider these:

    (1) Seeker churches are formed for the very mission of sharing the Gospel in a non-traditional format. So many of them are sharing the Gospel that I can't fathom the need to spend time critiquing them.

    (2) So many "non-seeker" churches are self-centered, inward-focused, out-of-date churches that care more about comforting the already-convinced that they don't do any outreach or evangelism at all. Why not write something with them in mind?

    (3) Semantics. I bring up other topics that can be used as avenues to share the Gospel, and then you appear to disagree by explaining (in point #4) how each of these topics is a great avenue to share the Gospel.

    I see two different approaches:

    #1 - Begin a discussion talking about the Gospel, and then get to how it influences an area of life.

    #2 - Begin a discussion with an area of life, and then get to how it is influenced by the Gospel.

    Both are valid, but I think #2 connects better with an audience, and leaves them with the main point at the end. That's what a ton of seeker churches - or just great preachers - do.

    (4) Church Marketing - If it's a Gospel-preaching church, then by all means, spread the word! Use the internet, use blogs, use postcards - by any means necessary. I don't think church marketing is a four-letter word.

    I think it's two words that total 15 letters. =)

    Man, that was a long post.

    Cavs in six. You know it to be true.

     
  • At 2:17 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    i think we agree in what you are saying, gary.

    and my reactions may be that there are times that a tone of interjecting the gospel is the mindset. i don't believe it is something i teach marriage for 57 minutes and then present the gospel in the last 3 (man would i love to get an hour to preach every week! my people would hate it, but i'd love it!!!!!) i think you've wasted people's time giving them marriage advice if it hasn't been in context of the gospel.

    but i don't think the answer is presenting the gospel in the first three minutes and then preaching about marriage for the next 57. i think the gospel is the driving force behind the entire message.

    why does marriage exist? to reveal the gospel in a man and woman's relationship to one another.

    why strive for a good marriage? not for personal fulfillment and happiness (though that may come) but to more accurately declare that gospel message.

    how does one improve upon their marriage? by focussing on the forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ and excersing the humility we see in Christ in how we relate to others.

    i don't see marriage as a segue to the gospel, or the gospel as a segue to marriage advice. i see the gospel as the driving force behind all that we do.

     
  • At 2:24 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    A lot depends on your audience and your setting.

    I agree that the Gospel is the heart of a great marriage.

    How you present that is really up to the preacher, the passage, the setting, the audience, etc.

    In an inductive sermon or setting, you leave the most important point for last. In a deductive sermon, you start with it and hammer it throughout. Some of this is teaching style.

    Now, can we get to the part where you bash traditional churches for hiding their lamp under a bowl?

     
  • At 5:38 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Bro,

    I can't help but notice how you've dodged the real controversy.

    Cavs in six.

    Take it to the bank.

     
  • At 10:11 PM, Blogger Gary Underwood said…

    Um, like I was saying?

    Cavs will win series Friday night.

    They're up 3-2, and Pistons have lost three in a row. When was the last time that happened? 1997?

     

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