Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Church, the Mission, and Disciple-Making

Bob Logan writes on “The Relationship between Church Planting and Disciple-Making.”

He begins with, “Jesus never called us to plant churches. He called us to make disciples.”

He ends with, “Church planting, at its most basic level, is a means to that end: a way to make disciples. If we aren’t making disciples, there’s no real point to most of the structures and activities that “church” usually involves.”

How does a well-developed NT ecclesiology reflect on this?

First, NT ecclesiology considers the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:18-20, that Logan quotes to identify the mission. What Logan does not talk about the role of baptism that Jesus mentions. In the NT, baptism is a local church ordinance. It is performed by the local church in the local church as part of the disciple-making process.

What this means is that disciple-making in fulfillment of the Great Commission cannot be separated from the local church because if you separate it, there is no legitimate baptism, no NT way for disciples to identify themselves as disciples. There is no way for disciples to tell other disciples, that, “I’m in. I’m with you because I’m confessing Jesus.”

Separation of disciple-making from the church also means there is no biblical way to evaluate, ordain, and remove teacher/leaders. These things all take place in the body of believers, not outside of it.

Second, NT ecclesiology consider Logan’s final point, which I would suggest is poorly stated. To suggest that the church is a means to an end seems a minimization of the body of Christ. It seems a suggestion that church is all well and good so long as it does what we want it to do, but there are other ways to accomplish the mission, and we are free to choose between ways.

The problem is that in the NT, there are no other ways to accomplish the mission. When the apostles went out in fulfillment of the Great Commission, they started churches. Why? Because they apparently thought that’s what Jesus told them to do.

In the NT, church is where it’s at. That doesn’t mean college ministry is wrong. It means it needs to be rooted in and connected to the local church. It does not exist for itself. It exists for the body of Christ, visibly represented in an assembly of believers who regularly assemble.

It is true that many churches have all kinds of things going on that don’t fulfill the mission of disciple-making. Pastors, feel free to reorganize them to make disciples. Or feel free to get rid of them. Make the shape of your church fit the mission of your church.

Ask the simple question: Does this make disciples?

If the answer is “No,” then change it or get rid of it.

So my advice is to adopt Bob Logan’s type of thinking about the necessity of discipleship. Just don’t consider the church as an accessory. It is the mission.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pharaoh and the Babies, Redux

Yesterday I preached from Exodus 1:15-2:10 where, in ancient history, a Pharaoh rose to power who believed it was permissible, not only to kill babies, but to force others to kill babies.

In his pursuit of this end, he enlisted the help of the medical profession, and then of the population at large.

Today, it seems that Pharaoh has risen again, this time in the guise of “health care” that not only finds it permissible to kill babies, but also to force others to participate in this killing.

The mandate for contraception coverage in healthcare plans does exactly that—it forces employers to pay for the killing of babies if the mother so chooses.Companies who refuse face fines of one million dollars a day.

This is an egregious act, a subjugation of basic human rights and human decency that should be immediately rejected by all humanity. It should provoke a national outcry.

But it doesn’t.

Now multiple cases are wending their way through the legal system of the United States, in hopes of overturning this mandate.

Already circuit courts have given conflicting rulings, setting the stage for a Supreme Court showdown which probably wouldn’t take place until at least the 2013-14 court docket.

Whatever the outcome of these court cases, let us make no mistake about what has occurred: Pharaoh has risen again.

Let us be midwives who fear God more than the king.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, Matthew St. John talks about the Holocaust of abortion, a kindergarten class every week. Like Matthew, I have held my tongue on the Sandy Hook tragedy. But I confess that I marvel that two dozen unthinkably tragic deaths have somehow tipped the national conscience when thousands of lives a day haven’t been able to. And while I am on this topic, I know you can’t have two people on first base, but here’s an article entitled Nobody Said Choosing Life Was Easy. It is worth overcrowding to fit it in here.

At second, Scot McKnight addresses the recent dustup with Lou Giglio. Much has been said around the blogosphere about it, but I think Scot hits closest to the truth when he says, “He could have done the right-er thing by never accepting such an invitation.” The sometimes apparent evangelical fascination with popularity is disturbing (as is the sometimes apparent fundamentalist fascination with un-popularity). The sooner we, and by we I mean all of us who claim Christianity, become satisfied with being Christians, the better off we will all be. Lou Giglio gave his withdrawal announcement here. Interestingly, he says, “Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years.” I suppose that is to be a comfort. Somehow it’s not.

At third is this article about the idea of a Christian Seder. I have never been a fan of doing it (and in fact have never done it). I think this article gives some good reasons why.

And last, here’s an article about Bill Bright’s fasting testimony. Bill says,

As I waited upon the Lord, the Holy Spirit gave me the assurance that America and much of the world will, before the end of the year 2000, experience a great spiritual awakening. This divine visit from heaven will kindle the greatest spiritual harvest in the history of the Church. But before God comes in revival power, the Holy Spirit will call millions of God's people to repent, fast, and pray in the spirit of 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

2000 came and went over a decade ago, and perhaps my memory fails, but I don’t recall any great spiritual awakening. So was the Holy Spirit wrong? Or does this yet again expose a major fallacy in the continuationism movement? Perhaps there is a third way, that Bill Bright doesn’t know how to discern the words of the Holy Spirit. If this third way is correct, then I have an answer: The Bible. We discern the words of the Spirit by the Bible. That keeps us from making these kinds of predictions.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Weird News Week

Is it just me, or is it really weird that the two biggest current news stories (aside from gun control … maybe more on that later) are a story about a guy who had a pretend girlfriend (I dare one guy to claim he never had one) and a guy who took drugs in professional sports (Did anyone believe he didn’t?).

Is this a slow news week or not?

I used to be a huge cycling fan, back in the days of Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France. I think the Tour is hands down the toughest, most brutal, athletic contest on the planet since the days of gladiators. I rode in a few amateur races back in the day.

But I find it unremarkable that Lance Armstrong took performance enhancing drugs. In fact, I think the drug issue has taken the shine off of virtually all major sports record, most off baseball. Barry Bonds may be a great hitter, but he was dirty. So was McGwire. So was Sosa. They don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with Hammerin’ Hank or the Babe.

And by the way, International Cycling Union, stripping Armstrong of those seven titles will not strip the vision of Armstrong’s backside from all the other riders who finished behind him seven times.

Perhaps it is fitting that Armstrong admits all this on Oprah’s network. Ironic that such a huge non-story gets pub on a network that apparently no one watches unless it gets replayed on an actual TV station.

And hear me out on this one: If you defund cancer research because the guy who is leading the charge took performance enhancing drugs, shame on you.

Double shame.

Triple shame.

Get off your high horse and help people who are researching cancer. Lance Armstrong’s drug use should not the be reason you don’t help people find cures for cancer.

And Manti Te’o. What’s there to say about a guy who has a pretend girlfriend?




So there’s a college football played with a pretend girlfriend who may have knowingly lied about it.

Where’s the news there?

If you think this is significant, then you have serious needs in your life. Needs like reality. A job. A hobby. A book to read.A sock drawer to organize. Something. Anything.

Let’s move on.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

An Accidental Admission?

Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll writes a recent article about 16 things he looks for in a preacher. There's actually some pretty interesting stuff here, worthy of some consideration.

But there is what can only, to me at least, be regarded as an accidental admission. He says,
If we do wedding songs after a funeral sermon, I’m emotionally confused. Likewise, if we’re singing melancholy hymns after a big motivational sermon, I’m also emotionally confused. So, you and the guy in skinny jeans with the guitar have got to get this figured out together.
What's this?

It sounds to me like an admission that music has meaning. After all "wedding songs" and "melancholy hymns" are descriptions of music, and an acknowledgement that certain types of music don't fit certain occasions.

This seems a point we should all recognize. And in fact, we probably all do.

I think this statement by Driscoll is at the heart of the music discussions that are (increasingly less frequently) taking place in churches.

Now I can be remarkably flexible about what music you and your church use. Of course that doesn't mean I would use it. It simply means that God hasn't appointed me the bishop over your church.And you might not use the same music or kind of music I would use. I am actually okay with that.

But we need to quit with the silly little comments that "music is neutral" or "any kind of music is okay if you put good words to it."

My guess it that you don't believe that when you put your kids to bed at night. And you don't believe that when you are in the gym getting a good hard workout. And you don't believe it when you are taking your wife out for a nice romantic dinner.

So why pretend like we believe it at church?

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Plagues and God’s Fame

For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. For if by now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. (Exodus 9:14-16)

Ross Blackburn in The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus (New Studies in Biblical Theology), says this:

While Israel’s liberation is crucial in Exodus, the Lord’s words [in Exodus 9:14-16] make it clear that liberation is not the reason for the succession of plagues.This is not to downplay the Lord’s compassion for Israel or his remembering his covenant, but simply to say that neither of those things accounts for the manner in which the Lord overcame Egypt and released Israel. … It is the Lord’s desire to be known throughout the land that accounts for the plagues, and therefore the narrative of chapters 5-14 (pp. 40-41).

Here, I think Blackburn (in this paragraph at least) hits on something very significant with respect to the message and motif of the Bible, namely, that the plagues were not primarily about redemption but about demonstration. God was not first and foremost freeing his people. There were other, more direct, and less painful ways to do that. God was rather showing off. He was flexing. He was demonstrating his power.

And significantly, he was demonstrating his power to people who did not believe, and in fact, were never going to believe because he had already hardened their hearts (Exodus 4:21).Yes, it was designed (and cited often in the OT) as a reminder to Israel of God’s power to deliver and rule, and as a motivation for faithful obedience and worship. Yes, it also called people from other nations to faith (such as Rahab in Joshua 2). But the purpose is bigger. It was for all nations, not just one or two, to see his power. And that is perhaps one reason it is recorded for posterity.

So God was not directly redeeming anyone through the plagues. He was bringing incredible disaster, pain, and suffering in order to make himself famous and fearful.

Thus, I do not see how we can accept the idea that redemption is the main theme in light of passages like this that are only secondarily related to redemption.

The main motif of the Bible is not how God redeems people. The main story line is not primarily redemptive. It is doxological, or to put it more laymen’s terms, the Bible is about the fame of God demonstrated among all nations, through his power, his ruling providence, his deliverance of some of the people, and his judgment of the rest. It is ultimately about how God wins—by redeeming his chosen people and destroying all the rebels.

So let me put it a dangerous way that many won’t like: Redemption is a means to an end. It is not the end.

The end of all things is the fame and glory of God in all his creation. He brings about this end through a variety of means, including little things, big things, painful things, joyful things, judgmental things, affirming things, destructive things, redemptive things.

Redemption is a means by which God glorifies himself. Ephesians 1 makes this explicit.

Now the plagues can certainly be preached redemptively, Christotelically in a variety of ways. Perhaps chief among them is not to find Christ in the plagues, but to find judgment in the plagues:

“If God does this to Pharaoh in all of his power, what do you imagine he will do to you? In fact, we don’t have to imagine it. He has been gracious enough to tell us what he will do, and when He does it, you will long for the days of flies, boils, hail, darkness, and the death of one child.

But in true gospel fashion, God has provided the satisfaction of his own judgment by judging Christ, not for the hardness of Pharaoh, but for the hardness and sinfulness of our own sins. He has poured out on Jesus all of the judgment that we deserve. And by his grace he softens hearts rather than hardens them. And he calls you to trust in Christ as your stand-in, rather than standing in the face of God’s judgment for yourself.”

But notice how I did not find Christ in the plagues. He is not one of the flies. He blood doesn’t fill the Nile. The spear of Calvary doesn’t lance the boil. And he doesn’t die as the firstborn of the house.

Christ stands in relation to the text as the one who spares us from the final judgment of God, and he does it, not when we paint blood (his or any other) on the doorposts of our hearts. He does it by dying for us. We need only trust him only.

Yes, I said that intentionally: We need only trust him only.

Faith alone in Christ alone is the answer to God’s judgment. Else you face it on your own.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Couple of Resources on OT/NT Issues

Here are two recent resources on the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament.

First, a shorter one: This article by Michael Vlach is one of the most helpful summaries and interactions I have seen. It is a short (fifteen pages) and accessible work that outlines various approaches. It does not attempt to resolve the issues, but rather to lay out the positions and show some questions that should be asked of each position.

Vlach’s article is excellent for those relatively new to the discussion. But I think it would also be beneficial for those familiar with the topic. Vlach’s strength is his simplicity and clarity (something we could all stand a bit of).

Second, a longer one: Greg Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Kindle edition) is a new work, but is imminently readable and understandable. At a few points, Beale tends to be repetitive (though not identical which can cause some confusion). But overall, this is a very helpful work. At 192 pages, it is not intimidating, but it is also not simplistic.

Reading Vlach’s article as an introduction to anything else on this topic would undoubtedly be helpful.