Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Telling the Pastor What to Preach?

Two recent events have generated a little thinking on this subject of who gets to decide what to preach. The first was an online discussion about preaching on pornography on Sunday morning. One person objected that it was not a Sunday morning topic, and furthermore, that people in his congregation would be uncomfortable with that topic in that forum.

The second was a news story on our local Fox affiliate, about Epic Church in Rochester Hills, who is having a six week series on the subject of Pure Sex. I saw this story the night it aired, by accident, since I do not normally watch the news. It was an interesting interview. However, this series (similar to what some other churches have done) has brought a great deal of criticism from some people, complaining that a church should not be having such a series.

Which leads me to two questions ...

First, how do we know a church should not have such a series until we hear the series? How do we know that this series (or any other series) will be inappropriate, too graphic, or anything else? Are some not guilty of answering a matter before they hear it? (I wonder if those who complain will be willing to listen to the series, and then biblically address it. My suspicion is that they will address from their cultural concerns, not biblical ones.)

Second, who gets to decide what is preached in a church? Did not God entrust the pastor with that decision? If preaching about sex (something the Bible clearly addresses that modern culture desperately needs to hear) is taboo to some, what about the fact that the exclusivity of salvation in Christ is offensive to others? What about the truth that God is sovereign? Or the truth that the Bible is inspired? All of these are greatly controversial among professing believers. Should we let anyone or anything but the Bible dictate what we preach? (I wonder if those who object would give us biblical guidelines for what should be preached. My suspicion is that they would only give us cultural guidelines, tied to their unique cultural sensitivities.)

My point here is not to discuss whether or not Epic's series is a good thing, though I have no great problems with it. I object to some of their promotional material. I do not know how the pastor will handle the issue. However, I have done enough counseling, and seen enough of life to know that the people who do not struggle to some degree with some sort of sexual issue is a minority, likely even a vast minority. It is the elephant in the room.

I have seen enough TV, billboards, magazines and the like to know that sex is bombarding us from every angle ... well, every angle except the church. In other words, the one place that has inspired revelation about the issue is too often the only place not talking about it, or only talking about it with apologies and disclaimers.

I am not sure I would preach a series like this. But that is not an objection of principle, but one of practice. My favorite way of preaching is through books of the Bible. I am generally not fond of topical series. I am not that creative, and I find it harder to preach topically. I do not enjoy it, and do not do it much.

But it seems that me that telling (or trying to tell) a pastor what he should or should not preach is no one's business but the Spirit. If the pastor preaches something the Bible does not say, then let's deal with that. But I find it hard to agree to objections to preaching about a biblical issue, that affects people's lives every day, particularly when the messages have not yet been heard (and probably won't by most who complain).

Friday, February 23, 2007


Today we desperately need more leaders like William Wilberforce and the Kings and Queens of Narnia who will fight to make good laws, keep the peace, save good trees from being cut down, and encourage ordinary people who want to live and let live.
This from an article about a speech about books, movies and reading.

Now, I am admittedly no expert on William Wilberforce or the Kings and Queens of Narnia, but was their mission really to "save good trees from being cut down"? "To encourage ordinary people to live and let live"?

Does anyone think twice when this kind of stuff is said? Or is it only me?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

At the Diner

I was sitting in the diner this morning, read Hammett’s book on Baptist distinctives, having my three eggs over easy with white toast and strawberry jam, and drinking coffee.

A regular (John) came in, and the conversation somehow turned to hell. Now this regular is an interesting guy. He’s a Korean War vet, a city employee, an outgoing personality (read: talker … who I happen to like, but, man, can he talk). He must come here every morning. One interesting thing is that he knows the Bible, though he apparently never goes to church any more. He claims to believe in Christ, but as I recall from a previous conversation believes that people of all religions can go to heaven (though today he said there is only one church and all the rest are man-made … I didn’t explore that with him so I don’t know exactly what he meant by that).

Anyway, on with the story, he said “Hell is all around us.” He went on to cite the crime, violence, murders, child abuse, and the like as evidence that hell is here on earth. After some small talk about it, (when I say “small talk,” I mean mostly just listening to him go on), I quoted half of something that someone told me long ago.

For those who don’t know Christ, this world is as good as it gets. (The other half is this: For those who know Christ, this world is as bad as it gets.)

In other words, “hell on earth” is the best part of life for the unbeliever. People who claim that life on earth is bad are certainly right. When they claim it is “hell,” they reveal a great misunderstanding of the eternal price of sin. I am just silly enough to believe that hell actually exists, that it is a place of eternal torment for those who love their sin and reject Christ, and that whatever happens on this earth cannot hold a candle to the real place.

As a part of this conversation, John told of taking his father to preach in an Old Regular Baptist Church in West Virginia. He said just as his father got to preaching on sin and judgment, the moderator would signal the other men in the back (“who were smoking and spitting tobacco juice out the window”) to start singing and drown him out because “they didn’t want to hear the Bible about sin and judgment.” It was a pretty funny story, especially when John broke into Amazing Grace in a fashion you could close your eyes and imagine the old church building full of people from the mountains of West Virginia.

John then decided to quote his father again, to the effect that you shouldn’t talk about religion and politics. The irony is that politics is one of John’s favorite hobby-horses in the diner, and religion comes up from time to time as well.

I spoke up to say I love talking about both, but I actually only talk about one: religion. That’s the most important thing.

That’s my love. I will talk religion all day long with someone who is interested. I stay out of politics because I don’t want the church to be tied up in that trivial stuff at the expense of the gospel. I don’t want the message of Jesus tied to my political views, and I certainly don’t want to risk a hearing for the gospel in order to spout my political views. Of course, at times I have to bite my tongue.

So why do I say all this? I guess it just reminds me to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that lies within. Most of these people are ones I have talked to before about Christ, to some degree or other. Some of them have visited our church. Where there is a chance to speak up for the truth of Christ, let not my voice be found wanting, even if only to plant a seed.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Emergent Panel Discussion at NPC

At the National Pastor's Convention, the authors of the aforementioned Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches were assembled for a panel discussion. David Fairchild attended the discussion and gives an interesting review.

Like the Solomon's Porch video from yesterday, this will give another insight into some of the emerging church.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dumping the Mental Desk

A few items banging around in my brain today ...

Henry Morris, in his commentary on Genesis 7:1 says "It is significant, too, that the Lord said 'Come into the Ark,' not 'Go.' God would be in the Ark with them, and although the Flood would soon be unleashed in devastating fury, they were all safe with Him" (p. 190).

Good stuff ... except that the word translated "Come" in the KJV, on which Morris places great significance, is a Hebrew word that means come or go. In other words, the significance of "come" is not found in Hebrew. Morris was a very able scientist, from all reports, who was instrumental in the modern biblical creationism movement. He, from all evidences, was not a Hebrew scholar (nor am I, though I have been accused of having a great short-term memory that got me through Rapid Hebrew Reading in seminary). But even Strong's Concordance, which is not exactly heavy weight lexical data, will tell us that the word can mean either come or go.

So my caution is simply this: When you see someone appeal to a word meaning, particularly in Greek or Hebrew, look it up before hanging your hat, or your soul, on it.

On a related topic (the Flood), I was reading in Walton's commentary this morning. He justifies his rejection of a universal flood on the basis of some evidence he has chosen to believe. He says,"While there is no view I am yet comfortable with, I am committed to the text first (handled with hermeneutical propriety) ... All agree on the theological teaching and significance of the passage, regardless of the extent of the Flood" (p. 329).

Walton goes on to say that this passage is "all about God ... [we] should ... follow the lead of the New Testament, which consistently indicates that the Flood should be a reminder to us of the reality of final judgment" (p. 333).

Yet we must wander how a flood that affects only people unfortunate enough to live in a certain area reminds us of the final judgment, which presumably (and textually) is brought on the same number of people as the original judgment in the Flood. It makes me wonder if Walton and I do "agree on the theological teaching and significance of the passage." (Perhaps, like some in Genesis 6-8, I am not part of the "all" to which he refers.) And it makes me wonder how committed to the text Walton is, when he goes to great lengths to explain why the text does not really say what it says, but actually says something else. And he has done this all on the basis of what seems viable in his mind. Walton, unlike Morris, is an able Hebrew scholar, but perhaps could use some work on his science.

Lastly, some say that you should not use capital punishment because "You don't teach killing is wrong by killing someone." The same idea is used against spanking. One wonders just how consistent these kinds of people want to be.

Is is wrong to arrest someone against their will who is charged with kidnappping someone against their will? In other words, is it right to teach kidnapping is wrong by kidnapping someone?

Is it wrong to imprison a thief, stealing away years of his life? In other words, is it right to teaching stealing is wrong by stealing time from someone?

What about someone who kidnaps someone and locks them in a room, such such as this guy recently did in St. Louis? In other words, can we teach them that locking someone in a place with no way to escape is wrong by locking them in a place with no way to escape?

Of course, the sharpest readers (and probably the rest as well) will immediately see through the foolish of these pretended arguments. The question is, why don't people see through the equal foolishness of the arguments used against spanking and capital punishment?

While there may be good reasons to be careful with the use of capital punishment and spanking, can we not dispense with the nonsense?

Enjoy your Saturday ...

Video from an Emerging Church

Steve McCoy has posted a video from Solomon's Porch, the church of Doug Pagitt who recently spoke at the National Pastor's Convention and contributed to the book, Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, a "five-views" kind of book.

This will be an instructive video for those interested in seeing a short presentation of life inside an emerging church. It will confirm much of what you think.

It will also tempt you to think they are all alike. They aren't. So don't think that. Pagitt is much closer to the position of Brian McLaren than he is to Mark Driscoll (who also spoke at the NPC and contributed to the book Listening to the Beliefs of Emergent Churches).

Updated to fix links and spelling. Sorry Steve.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Food for Thought

Many American Christians see themselves, consciously or unconsciously, as consumers of religious goods and services provided by churches. They "pay" for the goods and services by their presence, participation, and giving, but they always retain the right to go elsewhere if they find a producer (church) that offers better goods and services. They justify leaving their church because "it isn't meeting our needs." How different is the perspective of the New Testament! The church is like a family, and one cannot retain the right to transfer families; the church is like a body, and one amputates a part of the body only under extreme circumstances. Joining a church is an expression of commitment to the fellowship, not a commitment to having one's needs met. (From John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, p. 236.)
I am reminded of a phone call I got recently from someone (a wife ... mmmmmm) looking for a church for their family. They were attending a good church not far from here (which is closer to their house than we are). She asked about ministries for the age groups of their children. I told her that our elementary age group was pretty small, and our college age group was essentially non-existent because we did not currently have anyone in that age group.

She commented on how important that was for them in deciding on a church. I wanted to say to say, "The reason we don't have those ministries here is because everyone looking for them goes where they already exist, rather than committing to come here and be a part of starting that ministry." I managed to refrain from saying it, but hung up the phone somewhat disgusted and discouraged by the consumeristic view of ministry and church that a twenty plus year Christian had.

Churches will never have certain ministries until people commit to being a part of the ministry. And if you insist on having that ministry before you will commit to the church, you might be a part of the problem of consuming the church rather than serving the church.

On another note,

Sin in us keeps us from ever being as good as our right beliefs should make us. The image of God in unbelievers keeps them from ever being as bad as their wrong beliefs should make them (Tim Keller, from Connecting Audio Session, 8:05).

If everything in our lives ties to what we believe, as I believe it ultimately does, this statement holds both truth and fiction. It is true that sin affects believers negatively, and the image of God affects unbelievers positively.

However, it is also true, that at any given moment, our beliefs are being revealed by our actions. The particular action might not reveal our belief of two hours ago, or two minutes ago, or two seconds ago, and the action might not reveal our belief of two hours from now, or two minutes from now, or two seconds from now.

But in the moment, our beliefs are revealed by what we do. A person who chooses to get sinfully angry, reveals that at the moment, he does not believe God's plan for handling conflict will successfully address the problem for the resolution he desires. A person who chooses to become immoral reveals that at that moment he does not believe that God's plan for sexual satisfaction will truly work. These people might say all the right things, and might practice those right beliefs at certain times. But in the moment, their beliefs are truly revealed by what they do.

This is why pastors, teachers, parents, leaders, and disciplers (did I leave anyone out) must constantly address what we believe as well as what we do. Addressing what we do is convenient because it is easy, requires very little time and involvement. But addressing what we do will never bring long-term change until we also address what we believe.

So we must learn to ask the question, "What beliefs about God and his word did you reveal when did __________?" And then shut up and endure the silence while people think.

Note: Tim Keller is a popular mentor of sorts for conservative emergents. He is in the PCA, and pastors Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is worth listening to, if you want to further your understanding of what contextualization is. If you prefer not to understand contextualization, you can read some blogs.

Here are some sites where you can listen and read stuff by Keller.
A Collection of links to Keller's preaching and writing
Another collection of links to Keller's preaching and writing
The Movement - Redeemer Urban Church Planting Center e-Newsletter