Friday, January 28, 2011

Quotable – Simeon on Hell

It is certain that the mortification of sin is often painful, like the cutting off a member from the body. But it is no less certain that that pain is followed by much peace and joy. But supposing the road to heaven were ever so thorny, will not eternal glory be a sufficient recompence for our toil? And supposing the gratifications of sin to be without alloy (though it will be found that the delicious draught is mixed with much gall) will they not be dearly purchased with the loss of the soul? Will not the torments of hell be greater than the pleasures of sin? 

— Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 12: Mark-Luke
(London, 1832-63), 80-81

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You Have No Idea What You Are Doing

… but you do it pretty well … most of the time.

That’s my conclusion after reading (again) Grant Osborne’s chapter on semantics in The Hermeneutical Spiral.

You see, when you read the above sentence, you didn’t think about the historical uses of the word “conclusion” or the root meaning of the word “read.” You didn’t think of the multiple dictionary definitions (the semantic domain) of “chapter.”

In fact, the only thing you may have tripped over for a minute is the word “semantics.” And you probably didn’t care enough to look it up.


Because language is actually pretty easy.

Simply put, we know what words mean by the way that we use them every day. And when we don’t know what a word means, we explain it (i.e., define it) by using other words that we do know. (Remember, that’s what a dictionary does … explain a word you do not know by using words you [hopefully]do know.)

People have written tomes on how we use language. Some people use words like locution, illocution, perlocution. There is talk of generative grammar and transformational grammar, of surface structure and deep structure. There’s semantics and pragmatics. And of course, hermeneutics.

And you probably don’t know what any of that means.

And yet you communicate just fine.

Or at least you use words just fine. Your communication problems actually stem from things that usually have nothing to do with understanding what the words mean.

Here’s the rub: When we come to the Bible, we tend to forget everything we actually know and do with language. We treat the Bible like it’s some sort of special language.

So we know that a word only has one meaning in a sentence (when you tell your teen daughter that she can’t go to the mall, she knows that you aren’t telling her she can’t go do the dishes in the sink).

Yet we read a verse and say that a word has two or three or four meanings and spend twenty to thirty minutes building a case for all these meanings as part of the meaning of Scripture.

We know that that “close the door when you come in” means to swing the big slab of wood in the direction that covers up the hole in the wall you that you just walked through. But you don’t think of that long definition, and certainly don’t spend time explaining that long definition. And your mind doesn’t go back to the root meaning of “close” or “door.” You simply do it.

As students of the Bible, we need to recognize that the Bible is not a special use of human language.

It is normal human language just like we use today. Yes, it is between 2000 and 3500 years old, and therefore, we need to do some work on it in translation and definition of words. But we need to recognize that Bible words mean only what they meant back then. And most translations do a good job of putting that into the language that we use today.

For the most part, the language of the Bible is a lot easier than many preachers make it sound like.

And by the way, pastor, at the risk of sounding elitist, if you are quoting “Strong’s” to establish the meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word, then you are unqualified to speak about Greek or Hebrew. And most of the time, it’s unnecessary anyway. Get two or three or four good translations, and a couple of good commentaries, and go with it.

When it comes to the words of God, Let’s not confuse it. Let’s just do what we always do.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Scougal on Religion with a Few Miscellaneous Thoughts

Henry Scougal wrote the following in The Life of God in the Soul of Man. It is one long paragraph in the original, which I have divided for ease of thought.

I cannot speak of religion, but I must lament, that among so many pretenders to it, so few understand what it means:

some placing it in the understanding, in orthodox notions and opinions; and all the account they can give of their religion is, that they are of this and the other persuasion, and have joined themselves to one of those many sects whereinto Christendom is most unhappily divided.

Others place it in the outward man, in a constant course of external duties, and a model of performances. If they live peaceably with their neighbours, keep a temperate diet, observe the returns of worship, frequenting the church, or their closet, and sometimes extend their hands to the relief of the poor, they think they have sufficiently acquitted themselves.

Others again put all religion in the affections, in rapturous hearts, and ecstatic devotion; and all they aim at is, to pray with passion, and think of heaven with pleasure, and to be affected with those kind and melting 39 expressions wherewith they court their Saviour, till they persuade themselves they are mightily in love with him, and from thence assume a great confidence of their salvation, which they esteem the chief of Christian graces.

Thus are these things which have any resemblance of piety, and at the best are but means of obtaining it, or particular exercises of it, frequently mistaken for the whole of religion: nay, sometimes wickedness and vice pretend to that name. I speak not now of those gross impieties wherewith the Heathens were wont to worship their gods.

There are but too many Christians who would consecrate their vices, and follow their corrupt affections, whose ragged humour and sullen pride must pass for Christian severity; whose fierce wrath, and bitter rage against their enemies, must be called holy zeal; whose petulancy towards their superiors, or rebellion against their governors, must have the name of Christian courage and resolution.

Here you have your intellects or academics, your legalists, your pietists, and the last group.

I am not sure how to designate them, though it sounds like a lot of fundamentalists I know, but not like all fundamentalists I know.

I suppose that is why it resonates with me some. It is easy to mistake sound and fury as substance, to pretend that picking fights (or picking nits) is the same as defending the gospel and right doctrine. It is easy to label intemperate speech and ill-advised, uncritical tirades as “Christian courage and resolution.”

I am increasingly reminded of the great dose of humility that I need. It’s not the type of humility that pretends I don’t know anything, or at least don’t know anything for sure. I do know a few things, and in fact, about some things I know more than other people do. Humility does not pretend I am the dumbest, most ill-informed guy in the conversation.

It’s rather the type of humility that speaks truly and firmly, but cautiously, that allows others the grace of growth and the dictates of their own conscience.

It’s the type of humility that recognizes that I am not God, and I should not pretend to be. He did not die and leave me in charge, for which we are all glad since I actually slept last night. 

It’s the type of humility that reminds me that I have way more to answer for in my own life than I want to admit, and I surely need to be careful about playing policeman to the world.

Let us not confuse pride and intemperance for courage and defense of the Bible anymore than we confuse uncertainty and tolerance for humility.

Let us, in the words of Scougal, experience “that true religion [which] is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, ‘It is Christ formed within us.’”

Key Ideas About Mission - Contextualization

In continuing my short series of articles on mission and the missional idea, today we turn to contextualization.

Contextualization is a lightning rod. For some, it is a four-letter word. For others, it is the most obvious thing in ministry. The reason for this divide is that contextualization, like missional, means different things to different people.

For some, contextualization means things like using the language of the people you are speaking to (like Spanish instead of English) or applying the Bible to problems people are actually facing in their lives. For others, it means getting tattoos, using street slang, referring to current pop culture, and dressing a certain way. (In fact, some contend that even the wearing of a suit to church is contextualization. They usually claim it is contextualization to a culture that no longer exists. Someone recently suggested I was capitulating to the world by not wearing a suit and tie, itself an acknowledgement about their understanding of the meaning of a suit.)

The rub is that everyone does the first (language) but not everyone calls it contextualization. And some think contextualization only means the second, and they reject it as compromise.

So what does contextualization mean? Well, it depends on who you ask. But I like the simple way that Darrin Patrick puts it in Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission when he says “Contextualization is speaking to people with their terms, not on their terms” (p. 195).

Tim Keller says, “Contextualization is not ‘giving people what they want’ but rather it is giving God’s answers (which they may not want!) to questions they are asking and in forms that they can comprehend.” (This quote is in numerous places including here and Patrick’s book. I first heard it in a series of talks he did on urban church planting in South Africa.)

In order to understand this, we have to first talk about the idea of culture. This is obviously not the place for a full-blown discussion of culture, but for our discussion let’s say that culture is the milieu in which people think and live. It is shaped by numerous forces, both inside and outside of the individual. Everyone lives in culture and everyone, at some level, interacts with culture. This is typically what is meant by “engaging the culture.” The question is, How do we as Christians committed to the gospel interact with people around us in the way that they think and live?

It should be noted, at this point, that engaging culture is not (necessarily) the same as adapting to culture, or transforming culture.

I think engaging the culture can be simply summed up as speaking to the people around us out an understanding of the way that they think about their lives. Or to rephrase Keller, contextualization gives the Bible’s answers to the questions that people are asking in language that they understand.

To further that (and I believe Keller says something similar), it is understanding their questions, then reframing their questions in light of God’s Word, and then answering the reframed questions in a way that exposes and meets their deepest needs from the gospel.

Some point (and IMO with good reason) to the fact that the NT books are contextualized—that is, they are written to a particular audience in terms that they understand, answering the questions they are asking or should be asking, and applying God’s truth to their situation. In fact, the contextualization of the NT is part of what makes preaching difficult: We have to take what was said to a different people in a different time and explain and apply it to the world that we live in. I would go so far as to say that if you think the NT is not contextualized, then we are working from different definitions of contextualization.

You see, the very act of application in preaching is contextualization. It takes the message of the passage and applies it to everyday life in our culture using the ancient Bible to speak into the situations of our contemporary lives. That’s why we can speak of things like the dangers of Facebook or social networking in a message from the Bible written two thousands years before “social networking” was a common phrase in the culture.

So I agree with those who say that everyone contextualizes in some way. We just don’t all call it contextualization.

The question is which culture we contextualize to, and to what degree do we contextualize? And what are limits or constraints on contextualization: How far do we go? Where do we stop?

Most advocates of contextualization run quickly to Acts 17 which tells the story of Paul on Mars’ Hill. It’s a fascinating and instructive story. There, Paul speaks to a culture of idolatry, quotes their own poets, confronts them with bold language, and calls them to repentance. There, they say, Paul contextualizes the gospel to the culture.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is another frequently invoked passage. There Paul models for us change in order to adapt to the Jew, the free, the weak, indeed all people. Therefore we, they say, should be willing to adapt our lives wherever necessary in order to communicate the gospel to people wherever they are.

However, is all of the preaching and teaching on contextualization I have heard and read, I do not recall ever seeing 1 Corinthians 2 included. I think this is the most overlooked passage in the contextualization debate. Here, Paul specifically avoids a practice of ministry that may be successful but in fact may fail to demonstrate the power of the Spirit at work through the preaching.

Contextualization-ists seem to fail to consider the fact that Paul intentionally avoided things that would be more readily understandable and acceptable to the culture because he wanted to make sure the offense of the cross made effectual by the power of the Spirit was front and center.

To be fair, I have never heard anyone suggest that we should compromise the gospel. In fact, they often emphasize the desire that the only stumblingblock be the gospel. Our language, our cultural traditions, our preferences should not be the stumblingblock. On this, I think they are right. Yet there is some legitimate debate about what cultural artifacts may compromise the gospel. And we need to be aware of that.

So here’s my conclusion (and let’s be honest, some of you jumped to here to see what I would say, but that’s fine; now go back and read the basis for what I am about to say): I think contextualization is not only unavoidable, it is necessary. We have to preach the gospel to people in terms that they understand, applying it to the problems that they experience, reframing their questions by the light of the Bible’s revelation about needs, and showing them how God’s Word answers the real questions they should be asking.

I think everyone recognizes that we must contextualize. It’s why the 1st grade Sunday School class in your church does not have lessons on how to be a better husband or wife. It’s why the application of the Bible’s teaching on obedience in your pre-school class doesn’t include teaching on tax evasion. It’s also why your Senior Saints’ class does not include lessons on the necessity of obeying their parents.

But in our contextualization, we must take great care to understand the Bible and the culture that we live in. We have to speak into the culture, not out of it. We need to walk beside the culture, not in the culture. We must not confuse or compromise, even unintentionally, the message of the gospel.

And quite frankly, I am suspicious about the value of South Park references or “Resurrection” tattoos for the carrying out of biblical mission. We must recognize the radical call of the gospel to transformation, and the radical sufficiency of the gospel for salvation and discipleship.

I think the paradigm Marva Dawn offers is helpful here:

We need both words, alternative and parallel, for describing the church. To be parallel will deter us from being so alternative that we do not relate to our neighbors; to be alternative prevents our parallelism from moving closer and closer to modes of life alien to the kingdom of God.[1]

I think the contextualization debate needs a robust interaction with 1 Corinthians 2 and 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. I fear that too often, contextualization-ists are trying to turn the light on for blind people. And it matters not how bright the light is. If a person is blind, they are not going to see. And the new Calvinists should believe this more than any, I would think.

I fear too often that contextualization-ists are becoming the show—they are the attraction and their speech, even their “hard words”—their calls to gospel faith and repentance—are couched in verbiage and rhetoric that hides the power of the Spirit.

My encouragement to us is simply this: Know your mission field and speak to them and to their needs in ways that they can understand. Be wary of employing their sinful worldview as an argument for the biblical worldview. Learn their culture enough to be able to use it to show how they are asking all the wrong questions and looking for an ultimately unsatisfactory answer.

Above all, trust the power of the gospel clearly proclaimed. After all, the gospel, not our cultural awareness and homiletical creativity, is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). And how shall they believe without hearing, and how shall they hear without a preacher (Romans 10:14).

[1]Dawn, “Worship to Form a Missional Community,” (Direction 28/2 [1999]), p. 141. Dawn highlights the need for churches to teach people how to worship in the language and customs of the new life, something with significant implication with cultural issues.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Bible In One Sentence

Here’s an interesting exercise. What strikes me is how well commas and conjunctions work to make one sentence (and difficult communication).

It is also interesting to me how few these have much room for the judgment of God, which seems undeniably a part of the Bible’s message.

Here’s my answer: God wins.

It’s actually one sentence. It includes everything.

If I were compelled to contemporize it, or apply it, I would put it this way: God wins, so you better be on his side through Jesus.

They’ve Gone and Done It Again

Well, Michigan finally has a new football coach.

And in my view, they probably just made it worse.

Sure Rich Rodriguez held hands and sang Josh Groban at a football dinner. And there was that embarrassment in the bowl game. And there were some practice violations.

And then there were loudmouth fans (most of whom never coached a sport a day in their life assuming that yelling at their TV set doesn’t qualify as coaching).

They were complaining that no progress was being made under RichRod.

I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that it’s a sad testimony to the state of thinking among Ann Arborites when going from three wins to five wins to seven wins isn’t considered progress. I’ll admit to not being a genius, but I think more wins is better than fewer wins. Even Michigan State people know that’s progress.

Sure they didn’t beat MSU, OSU, or win any other big games. They struggled a lot. The defense was pathetic, if it could even be called a defense. The offense was schizophrenic.

But RichRod had a tall order. He had to come into a starched shirt environment of “old money” types and break the mold.

You see, I think Lloyd Carr left in 2007 for a reason. The handwriting was on the wall for him. The UM program was stagnant at best, and probably could be accurately described as declining. People were whining big time about him and his play calling. He was getting some relatively good recruiting classes and not bringing home the bacon with them.

On top of that, the “Big 10 football” he was coaching (the three yards and a cloud of dust) was not winning nationally. If you doubt that, just take a look at the Big 10 bowl record. It isn’t particularly pretty. And if that isn’t enough, look at the schools that are winning. They don’t play “Big 10 football.” But they know how to beat “Big 10 football.”

So UM hired RichRod. He was at least their second choice, and perhaps their third. It was bungled from the very beginning. And it brought a different personality and a different style of playing. But it was one that had worked wherever he had gone.

He had the big job of taking a declining program playing a subpar style of football and turning it into something that could compete nationally.

And that takes time.

Sure he made mistakes. Lots of them. He seemed out of touch at times.

And recruiting was subpar, though I imagine it’s hard to recruit someone who isn’t convinced your going to be their coach in two years because the style that he coaches and the style you want to play is not popular where he is trying to get you to come and play.

But the luster seems gone from Michigan, at least for a time.

For evidence, see how hard it has been for UM to find a coach. UM alum Harbaugh stiffed them for the NFL and Les Miles decided to stay at LSU. Petersen, Pinckel, and others wouldn’t even talk to them.


Only they know. But apparently even Boise State, and who knows where else, is considered better than UM these days.

My guess is that this didn’t make it any better.

How will Brady Hoke do? Who knows. He has had success at schools with a different level of competition. And let’s face it, winning against the competition at Ball State or SDSU isn’t the same as winning against OSU, MSU, PSU, Wisconsin, or Nebraska.

My guess is that they were closer to winning under RichRod than many thought, and they were closer to winning under RichRod than they are now. This probably set them back two to three years while they go after a different style of player.

And when the “old money” gets tired of another rebuilding program, they will have to start again.

On the upside, perhaps the coach from Ann Arbor Pioneer will be available then, because he might be the only one left who will take it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Dress for Church

Dress in church is a hot topic for some Christians. I have heard reports of churches that have clothes closets for visitors who come in “inappropriately dressed,” which means all kinds of things. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

There are those who think that you should “give God your best” (who never seem to show up in a tuxedo or a formal dress). There are others who think it doesn’t matter (who are pretty easy to spot).

The Bible, so far as I can recall, says two things about dress in church. In 1 Timothy 2, women are told to dress modestly, with a list of what that means. Interestingly, the list does not include plunging necklines or rising hemlines, both of which I oppose in church (and most other places). It actually includes jewelry and personal adornment.

What’s the principle? Do not call attention to yourself.

In James 2, the church is warned about treating people based on the clothes that they wear.

What’s the principle? Do not let clothes be the issue that includes one in the church or excludes one from church.

So how should we dress for church?

I think there are a lot of people who, IMO, try to hard to “dress up” and “look sharp” for church. They make a bigger issue out of it than they should. I think the are others who, IMO, try to hard to “dress down.”

First a disclaimer. I grew up in a suit and tie culture. I learned to tie a tie as a very young child because my dad tied his ties and I wanted to be like my dad. My mom would cut the tie to a length that would work for me but she couldn’t do anything about the width, so think the wide ties of the seventies on a five or six year old … the knot was as big as my head (insert your own joke here). I wore a tie almost everyday from the time I was in 9th grade in 1983 until the day I left my job in retail sales for the last time in June of 1993. I actually did wear a tie two days into my first ministry position until I figured out I didn’t have to. I like ties. I like suits. In church, that is my comfort zone.

Having said that, I don’t wear a suit or tie very often these days. I will wear one to marry you and bury you (in neither occasion will you be thinking about me), and on rare other occasions. Why? Because of my community. I get the sense that the last time most people wore a tie and coat somewhere was their senior prom. And they probably rented that one. 

Do you know the only time I see someone in my community in a tie? Here’s a hint: It is the same guy I see many mornings in the diner. He usually sits about three or four tables away and getting ready to go to his job at City Hall. He’s the judge. I am not sure that is a good model to follow for the people I want to reach.

You see, I think this is a wisdom issue. The Bible gives no directives on the matter, and therefore Christians, in whatever time and place God has providentially placed them, should use their wisdom.

I am persuaded that we should dress in a way that does not stick out in the community among the people we are trying to minister to. Remember the principle of modesty in 1 Timothy 2? Do not call attention to yourself.

In order to do this, you need to understand your culture. You need to know what people in your community are like, what they wear to work and to leisure.

Someone recently asked me what I thought about how SS teachers, ushers, deacons, etc., should dress in church. My response was this:

Since the Bible gives us no directives, it is a wisdom issue for the church, and I really can’t answer that question for a community I don’t live in and don’t know anything about.

I would ask the business owners what kind of dress they require for their public employees (receptionists, salespeople, etc.). I would look at the salesmen, who make a living convincing people to buy something from them. I would look at school teachers who teach everyday for a living. Why? Because these are the kind of people who regularly communicate with others in the community, and they probably dress in a way that makes sense in their community.

These days, I preach on Sunday morning in a pair of dress pants and an open collar during the summer and a sweater during the winter. I could very easily wear a suit and tie. I did for years. But that’s not my community.

As with many things, I think we probably just need to open our eyes, be sensitive to the people God has called us to reach, and be sensible in our thinking

Monday, January 10, 2011

Preserving the Truth Conference

This past weekend, I took the opportunity to attend the Preserving the Truth Conference, hosted by First Baptist Church of Troy. I don’t attend a lot of conferences, but this one was close, so I could stay at home at night and not spend money on a hotel. It was cheap, so I could afford it without feeling guilty. And some friends were going to be there that I hadn’t seen in a while. So I went. And overall, I enjoyed it.

I won’t comment on all of it, but instead I will just hit some highlights that I think are worthy of reflection and consideration.

My friend Chris Anderson spoke Friday night on Gospel-Driven Separation from the book of Jude. It was an old theme he has written about elsewhere—that we should love the gospel more than the fight over the gospel. We should love salvation more than separation. Separation is not relished; it is only necessary as a last resort. Chris publicly said what many have said elsewhere and some do not like to be said, namely, that our separation should not be driven by the alphabet (SBC, IFB, IFCA, GARBC, FBF, BJU, or whoever else). He even mentioned the “red meat” that preachers throw to the crowd to generate “Amens” (if you aren’t a Baptist, you probably won’t know what that means). Ironically, even after saying that, I think his comments on separation got louder “Amens” than his comments on the gospel. I tried not to LOL at that; I only smiled.

Someone (I am not sure if it was Chris) also mentioned the history of fundamentalism, and the fact that “stay in and fight” and “come out” are both legitimate options for biblical obedience. It is good to remember that “come out” doesn’t have to happen at the same pace for everyone. And just because some “stay in and fight” does not mean that they are applications of Romans 16:17-18 (see below) or 2 Thessalonians 3 or 2 or 3 John.

Dr. Mark Minnick followed Chris with a message on The True Fundamentalist Position on the Gospel. The title is an interesting one, if not a bit staggering. But I think Dr. Minnick, in his usual manner, handled the topic well, spending most of his time working through Romans 3:21-26 showing that the gospel is the imputed righteousness of Christ to the believer based on who Christ is and what he did.

However, I was disappointed that Dr. Minnick never got to the response to the gospel—faith and repentance. I think this is the real issue in fundamentalism. Few, if any, disagree about imputed righteousness, but a great many disagree on whether or not an unbeliever has to accept who Jesus is in order to be saved. IMO, FWIW, this session could have more profitably dealt with the nature of saving faith. Perhaps another session would have been profitable on this topic. At the end, he kind of threw in a bunch of stuff quickly about separation that perhaps would have been better done with more time.

During the panel discussion on Saturday, Minnick clarified the difference between the gospel and the response, but I do not remember him saying this during the message. It would have been helpful to clarify what he was talking about and what he was not talking about.

However, as usual with Dr. Minnick, he painstakingly worked through the text so that in the end, whether you agreed or not, you could clearly see how he derived his position from the text.

Dr. Doran preached from Romans 16:17-18 where he explicated the “dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching.” He helpfully emphasized that the “teaching” is apostolic teaching, not your personal preferences or even convictions on matters, and furthermore, that the issues in view are issues of eternal significance that tear at the fabric of the gospel. In other words, it is not the teaching you received from your pastor, seminary prof, or whoever. It is what the apostles themselves taught, and it refers to things which may cause people to stumble and end up in hell. What you learned in your church is included only if it is what the apostles actually taught.

Dr. Doran also clearly established his rejection of Rice’s position on secondary separation, which will disappoint those who think he is giving up fundamentalism.

This is a message well worth listening to for those who try to use Romans 16:17-18 as a bludgeon against all those who might use a different style of music, or prefer a different translation, or God forbid, have pulpit fellowship with someone “questionable” in their minds.

The panel discussion was particularly good, IMO. I listened to the panel discussion from the FBF meeting and this panel discussion is what that one should have been. There was some disagreement. There was some good exchange. We all found out that Dave Doran claims to be the right of Mark Minnick, though to those of us looking on it didn’t appear that way. In fact, to those in the audience, it appeared that Kevin Bauder is certainly the most far-left guy there, aside from Mike Harding who had his own little place. Harding was so separated, even from this group, that he wouldn’t even sit down with the boys.

There are some bloggers who will not be surprised that Bauder is on the far left, since he is reputed to leading a mass exodus out of fundamentalism. It is perhaps good that some weren’t there to hear this, because if you haven’t heard this it will be easier to maintain with a straight face that Bauder is surreptitiously commandeering fundamentalism to erase its existence and blend it with conservative evangelicalism.

In this discussion, the issue of the response to the gospel came up. Dr. Doran said he believes that Ryrie’s position (redefinition of biblical repentance) is more dangerous that MacArthur’s, even though MacArthur has been unclear on some things, though I think Doran stopped short of calling Ryrie’s teaching a false gospel. I actually agree with Doran, and no one on the panel challenged him.

The relationship of “who’s going to who” (in terms of fundamentalists and evangelicals) also came up and I thought it was a good exchange.

There was a good discussion on seminaries as well.

I would like to have seen a bit more interaction on the charismatic issue. There was some, but the question was put forth essentially “What happens when we become non-cessationists?” instead of “What are the ramifications of fellowship with non-cessationists?” Both are interesting topics worthy of consideration, but the latter is probably of more importance than the former.

I am also reminded that a panel discussion with seven members is a built unwieldy. Two or three, perhaps four is there is enough variety, is a better number.

More generally, there was a pretty broad age range, and I would be interested to see some data about the breakdown of ages and where they came from. Perhaps some database wizard at FBCTroy can work us up a report. There were enough young guys there to remind me that just because you can grow a little facial hair (and now have permission to do so) does not mean that you should. And if you do, please enlist a wife or someone you trust (if those are not the same person) to give you some advice on how to trim it.

There was also a wide range of dress, which I comment on here for only a couple of reasons. I actually didn’t wear jeans or shorts, which means I “dressed up.” I did see a few guys in jeans (made me jealous … I know, gross immaturity there. I sure hope I grow out of this one). I did see a number of people in coats and ties (and not just the speakers), even though the conference information said “business casual.” I suppose some people just like coats and ties, even on Saturday. It’s a cultural thing, I know (yes, it really is a cultural thing; no, you aren’t more spiritual because you wore a suit on Saturday at a conference where business casual was the order of the day). It was just interesting to see the variety. And no, I don’t care what you wore, or wear. And I am kidding about being jealous of jean wearers. I went back to the old paths today with my trusty Levi’s. Again, it was just interesting to me.

You can listen to the audio at the Preserving the Truth website.

It was good to see some old friends and make some new ones, and it was good to be home at night.

All in all, some interesting stuff.

Quotable – Sin and Now-ism

Sin produces in all of us a tendency toward ‘now-ism,’ which means we forget three things: who we are (betrothed to Christ); what he is doing now (preparing us for the final wedding); and what we are supposed to be doing now (remaining faithful to him).

— Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 242.

The genius of the Christian life is a focus on eternal hope. Those who are too strongly tied to this present age will find it hard to place their joy in the next one.

May God wean our souls from the paltry subsistence of the “Now” and create in us a deep and abiding hunger for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 07, 2011

One Further Question

Building off my two previous posts (here and here), I want to pose one more question.

Is all non-fellowship the same? Is there any category of “lack of participation” that is not “separation”?

There are some who argue that all fellowship is non-separation, and all separation is non-fellowship. In other words, there are two categories: fellowship and separation. To the degree that we are in fellowship, we are not separated. To the degree that we are not in fellowship, we are separated. This idea is based on the idea that fellowship is things held in common. Where we hold things in common, we are in fellowship. Where we do not hold things in common, we are not in fellowship.

There are others who strongly object to this because it does not leave room for simple non-participation without censure.

I have typically been of the first position, and I have great sympathy for it. Some might even say fellowship. I do think that all non-fellowship is some sort of separation. But I am almost persuaded (cue the invitation hymn) that a two-option position is unworkable because it does not leave room for simply non-participation.

Let’s take, for instance, a pastor in California. I won’t name him, but the guy I am thinking of is a graduate of the same seminary I went to, and he has planted a church in California. Are we fellowshipping or separated?

The answer is neither. I have nothing to do with him, not because we disagree, but because we are separated by a few thousand miles. I know the guy, and have talked to him at a few conferences. I like him. I think he is a doing a great work and rejoice about it. But we have no fellowship. However, several local pastor friends (who may or may not claim me as a friend) do have ministry fellowship with this individual. They have sent money, people, and resources to help. They have even had him to preach at their church.

With this good brother, there is no censure. I do not need to rebuke him, call him to obedience, or expose him for some dastardly compromise. I know of no reason to. But neither do I need to pretend that we have fellowship. If we did, “fellowship” would have no meaning that I can see.

Let’s take, for another instance, some pastor who subscribes to what I believe unbiblical positions, and let’s say that he has some influence in my realm of influence. I don’t have any fellowship with him and I can’t really separate from him (because we weren’t together to begin with), but I need to say something in terms of correction or rebuke for the sake of those in my ministry sphere who are being influenced by him. It’s neither fellowship nor separation, so far as I can see. But there is some public statement of caution.

Let’s take, for one last instance, some pastor with whom I have participated in the past but who has now embraced some positions that I think are clearly unbiblical. (I have no friends in this category that I can think of at the moment.) Now that he has embraced these unbiblical positions, I must act. Depending on the severity and visibility of the positions, I may have varying responses.

Let’s say that he has been a regular speaker at my church, and he has now embraced a local flood. I may simply stop having him come, and privately tell him why.

Let’s say that he has switched to being a paedobaptist, which I say, to the chagrin of some of my friends, is no baptism at all. Our churches are close and we now must stop doing some of the things that we have done together. I may have a more public response because it marks a distinct and public change in his church.

Let’s say that he has embraced baptismal regeneration. That is different than being a paedobaptist, or embracing a global flood. That is a clear denial of the gospel that makes participation in ministry disobedience. It requires public rebuke to the degree that he is an influence in my sphere of ministry. (However, I don’t feel the need to rebuke some small church in Texas for embracing baptismal regeneration.)

Let’s say that he has joined up in an ecumenical evangelistic effort. Now my response will be public. It will be a public censure because it is a community wide issue where the church’s name is published as a supporter of a public effort in ministry. I cannot stay silent and let people think that we agree. My non-participation is inadequate, I think. A private conversation will not suffice. I must do more.

My point in all of this is to say that I think at one level, all non-fellowship means that we are separated. But not all separation is equal.

Some separation is merely practical (e.g., distance). Some separation may be philosophical (e.g., different styles of ministry). Some separation may be theological (e.g., global flood, baptism, ecumenism).

In all of these cases, I should respond differently. Some things are merely “agree to disagree.” Others are “censurable,” which is to say we do not merely agree to disagree; we expose and publicly rebuke.

Again, I urge caution based on humility and grace.

At one level, I urge fear—fear that we might take a stand that proves to be the wrong one.

At another level, I urge boldness—boldness to stand and contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Let us treat our body kindly and have a tendency towards skepticism in our understanding. Let us be learners and students.

Let us be humbled by the gospel while at the same time being emboldened by it.

Let us pursue fellowship where we can. Let us embrace separation only where we must.

Two Further Questions

Building on my previous post regarding the purity of the gospel, I want to raise two additional questions regarding fellowship and separation.

The first question is this: Can we have fellowship (meaning ministry participation) with those outside the gospel?

The answer is unequivocally “No.” We cannot reach across the lines of the gospel to participate in ministry with those who deny the gospel because whatever we do with them is not “Christian” ministry. Furthermore, we send a false message that they are Christians when we try to establish “Christian” ministry with someone who is not a Christian.

By the way, I am speaking here specifically of participating in ministry. I am not speaking of a “community cleanup day” whether your church and other local churches might clean up the same city park. I am not speaking of participating in a local food bank where food is given to hungry people. Your church may or may not choose to do this, but that is not “Christian” ministry. It is common grace kindness and mercy.

This leads to the second question: Must we have fellowship with everyone inside the gospel? Or to put it slightly differently, is there anyone inside the gospel that we must not have fellowship with?

The answer is No and Yes. (There are two questions there.)

We do not have to participate with everyone inside the gospel. Our fellowship may be limited by a number of things, including location, areas of theological or philosophical disagreement, or other practical matters. With Paul, we can rejoice that the gospel is preached, even by people with whom with disagree on some issues. We can (and should in some cases), simply agree to disagree and rejoice that God carries out his gospel work through sinners saved by grace, including those with whom we disagree.

However, there are people inside of the gospel (i.e., true Christians) with whom with must not have fellowship. 2 Thessalonians 3 makes this abundantly clear when it commands censure and withdrawal from a fellow believer, namely, the lazy man. Regardless of your understanding and application of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, the salvation of the lazy man is not questioned. In fact, it is presumed in v. 11 where he is “among you,” meaning in the fellowship of the body, and v. 15, where he is to be admonished “as a brother.”

So those who say that there is never any cause for separation from a fellow Christian are denying the plain teaching of Scripture. It is not only permissible; it is commanded.

The question about 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 regards the scope of the command—whether it applies to only a lazy man (or some variation; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11), or whether it applies to all those who walk disorderly and not according to the apostolic tradition, meaning teaching (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6). I have read some impassioned defenses of both options given above by people who I respect and like.

For me, it is hard to imagine that Paul places his doctrinal teaching below the matter of laziness in a local church. In other words, it is hard for me to imagine that Paul is saying, “Separate from the lazy man and rebuke him for his sin, but do not separate from the man who has embraced some other kind of doctrinal disobedience.”

So my answer to this question of scope is admittedly the latter, that Paul’s commands apply not only to laziness but also to the matter of the apostolic teaching.

Furthermore, I think it applies to matters of apostolic teaching that are clear and “load-bearing”—the weight of Christianity falls on these doctrines.

For instance, the global flood is an undeniable teaching of Scripture. Those who say the flood was local either can’t read what the text says or refuse to accept what Scripture clearly says.

Yet a man who denies the global flood is clearly not on the same level as one who denies the deity of Jesus. He is not even on the same level as a man who questions the limitation of the canon to 66 books (even though the global flood is revealed in Scripture and the 66-book canon is not).

Must we separate from and censure a man who denies a global flood? I don’t know.

I certainly wouldn’t have him to speak at a conference on origins and geology, unless it was to present an opposing viewpoint for a debate. And for me, the fact that he denies a global flood would call into question how sound he is on other things. So as a practical matter, I would probably not participate in ministry partnership with such a one, at least on an ongoing basis. I might participate in an “Origins Conference” with him as opposing viewpoints.

But if you choose to partner with him, that is probably not going to affect our relationship.

Which is to say that if you participate with people I would not, that does not mean necessarily that I am going to refuse to participate with you. I may or may not. I don’t know until you do it and until we talk about it and seek mutual understanding. And if I don’t have anything to do with anyway, I certainly can’t separate from you. 

In these matters, I think we need to exercise a lot of humility and a lot of grace towards others. We need to be humble to recognize that our interpretations might be wrong. Our applications of truth might be wrong. And if we separate over wrong interpretations or wrong applications, we are wrong even if we mean well and do it in good conscience.

There are some who are convinced that they are absolutely right in their understanding and application of passages like Romans 16:17-18, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, and 2 and 3 John that they believe that anyone who disagrees with them is unquestionably wrong.

I may be weak, but I do not have that kind of confidence. I have applications of all three of these passages that I have worked through. And I am willing to discuss them and advocate for them. But I don’t have the conscience that allows me to think that I am the next apostle to hand authoritative commands to others. Humility is not a strong point for me, but even this is too much for my proud heart.

We also need to exercise grace towards others in recognizing that the Holy Spirit is working in them and through them. We need to be cautious in our response. This is not some Rick Warren nonsense about not criticizing what God is blessing. (See I can take a stand.) Quite frankly, I have no way to know what God is blessing. All I have are the Scriptures and the community of faith through which the Spirit works to teach me. Numbers, results, growth, stagnation, whatever may mean God is blessing or not. It may mean any number of things. Since I am a cessationist, I don’t have any way of knowing. So I shouldn’t pretend to know.

I have no problem being critical. In fact, that is probably a problem with me—I tend to be too critical at (most) times. I rarely am too quick with grace and humility.

I would urge us to remember that the fact that someone does it differently than we do does not mean that they do it wrong. We might be wrong. Or there might be more than one way to faithfully carry out gospel ministry.

Purity of the Gospel or Purity of the Church

There have been a few recent discussions about whether or not biblical separation is for the purity of the gospel or the purity of the church. Some profess confusion over why others say separation is over the purity of the gospel before it is for the purity of the church.

The reason is actually pretty simple, I think.

Of course, I actually thought about it, which puts me in a small minority of people, particularly of those who blog. But I digress …

The reason is that the gospel, not the church, is the boundary of Christian fellowship. There can be no Christian fellowship with those who are outside the bounds of the gospel. This is a matter of definition. To be a Christian means to be inside the bounds of the gospel.

The church, speaking of the visible church (whether a particular local assembly or those who profess faith in Christ but are not a part of our local assembly), might contain those outside the boundary of the gospel. With these, we have a false fellowship, which is purely surface and indeed is no fellowship at all.

For me, this does not minimize the church. It simply recognizes that a pure church stands on the shoulders of a pure gospel. It is the gospel that marks the boundaries of Christian fellowship. A church will usually have some false professors in it.

The gospel is prior to the church. The gospel creates the church, and establishes the boundary for the church.

The gospel sets the basis for the purity of the church which we guard by guarding the purity of the gospel.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


"I don't worry about what Kirk Herbstreit says, to tell you the truth," Pryor said, according to the Plain Dealer. "Has he beat Michigan?"

Ohio State quarterback Terrell Pryor, after hearing that Kirk Heibstreit criticized Pryor and other Ohio State players for profiting from selling team related items.