Sprout in Hand

“Truly, the Bible as the Word of God has an inherent power, but it is not a coercive power. That is, the Bible does not work it’s effects mechanically. We don’t change just because we read it. Out minds may be engaged in the text, but something must happen in our hearts as well. In the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13.18-23), the seed does not miraculously and independently transform itself into a flowering plant. The condition of the soil effects how well the seed takes root. Our hearts must be receptive to God’s Word in the same way the soil must be rich and conducive to the development of deep roots and luxurient growth. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: ‘What you bring away from the Bible depends to some extent on what you carry to it.'”

Tremper Longman, from Reading the Bible With Heart & Mind

Dialog & Discuss

Boyce College professor, Denny Burk, has posted an interesting warning about a common tactic employed by some with theological agendas – especially those with liberalizing theological agendas.  His post is titled:  Should Churches “Dialogue” About Sexuality?

Having read through it a couple of times I find myself appreciating Burk’s concern.  Burk notes that many a subtle debate may begin with a seemingly reasonable appeal:

“…with the liberals calling for more dialogue about the issue.”

Then, citing conservative writer Rod Dreher:

Ah, the old “conversation starter” or “dialogue” trick. Any time you see a progressive member of your church try this, you must understand that this is the wedge that they will use to pry the orthodox out. The “conversation” will be one-sided, and will not end until the orthodox have surrendered or left, because the progressives will never, ever take “no” for an answer.

While I am not one who is overly concerned about debate, or about being drawn into compromised theology, I have seen this tactic employed.  (For the sake of fairness, I must admit that I have seen the technique attempted by both those on the theological left, and by some on the far right.  It just seems that those on the far right are more likely to quckly show their hand, their agenda.)  So I agree with Burk, we need to be mindful of this, and encourage the people in our churches– or at least our church leaders – to be mindful of this ploy.

However, what Burk is addressing is not the biggest challenge to the church I serve.  Our congregation is pretty well rooted in sound theology and conservatism.  (NOTE: These are not always the same thing, especially when the conservatism is more political than theological.)  For most of our members it is not difficult to get them to accept the authority of God’s Word on any particular subject.  Our  commitment to deep, rich, historic, orthodoxy is one of the primary reasons they are part of the church.  And while we have many who are doing inspiring works throughout our community, it is far more a concern whether we can get some of the others to love and engage their neighbors – most of whom are likely to differ with us on any number of social issues – than it is whether they will be susceptible to trendy Spirits of the Age.

So while I appreciate Burk’s wisdom, I believe we also need to prepare people to “dialogue”.

Dialogue is how we engage people, without requiring that they agree with us as a precondition of  being welcome in our church or wanted as a friend.  Dialogue is one way we are able to express and cultivate love for our neighbors.  Dialogue may be the only way for some to hear what God has to say about a particular subject, as we appropriately bring our understanding of the Word into the conversations. Dialogue about issues in which we (at least) initially differ may be the means by which some hear the gospel for the first time – as the gospel does apply in some manner to all matters.

No doubt some readers will be uncomfortable with my call to dialogue with unbelievers and with theological compromisers (- which usually qualifies them as unbelievers).  But I am convinced that somewhere, somehow, we need to cultivate environments that encourage dialogue – and we must do this for the sake of the gospel.

I don’t feel alone in this thought. It is what Francis Schaeffer called for a couple generations ago.  In his Two Contents, Two Realities, the second content was: Honest Answers to Honest Questions.

I agree that we must be wise, and that there are times when conversation should be cut off – such as when it is apparent that the “dialogue” is not honest but rather a cloak over a subversive agenda. This is what Burk has in view, and so it is why I appreciate his thoughts.  But, just so there is no mistaking Burk’s counsel as an invitation for Evangelicals to hide out in the fortress of the church, I also feel compelled to contend for genuine dialogue, since it is the only way we will have opportunity to hear Honest Questions from our culture to which we may offer Honest Answers from God’s Word.

This song from Sovereign Grace Music, that shares the same title as this blog,  is a three verse meditation on Romans 1.7:

Verse 1

Grace and peace, oh how can this be / For lawbreakers and thieves / For the worthless, the least / You have said, that our judgment is death / For all eternity / Without hope, without rest / Oh, what an amazing mystery / What an amazing mystery/ That Your grace has come to me

Verse 2

Grace and peace, oh how can this be / The matchless King of all / Paid the blood price for me / Slaughtered lamb, what atonement You bring! / The vilest sinner’s heart / Can be cleansed, can be free /  Oh, what an amazing mystery / What an amazing mystery / That Your grace has come to me

Verse 3

Grace and peace, oh how can this be / Let songs of gratefulness / Ever rise, never cease / Loved by God and called as a saint / My heart is satisfied / In the riches of Christ / Oh, what an amazing mystery / What an amazing mystery  / That Your grace has come to me

TAG

Oh, what an amazing love I see / What an amazing love I see / That Your grace has come to me / Oh, what an amazing love I see / What an amazing love I see / That Your grace has come to me

© 2013 Sovereign Grace Worship

Small Self Righteous

In a post yesterday I indicated a disappointment with the prevailing tendencey to use size of  a congregation as a measuring stick of the value or vibrancy of a church.  It would be easy for some to assume by this defensive posture that I am among those who despise large churches.  Not so.

My home church is a large church – a very large church.  3000-plus members; and roughly that same number in weekly attendance.  It was this church where my wife and I met.  It was in this church where my relatively new faith began to take on roots, and where I learned the importance of global evangelization.  This church is faithful. This church is fruitful. And this church is flourishing.  I am proud (in an appropriate way, I hope) to have been sent out by this church, into ministry.

It is not the size of the church that matters to me, but whether it is faithful, substantive, and bearing fruit comensurate for it’s capabilities.

It is those churches who believe growth itself is the primary objective that disturb me; those who seem to feel that they are doing God some favor by packing people into seats, willing to serve up anything that will draw a crowd, even at the expense of the gospel, and then call itself an expression of the Body of Christ.  I hold such places with no esteem.

On the other hand, I get equally chagrined when I encounter those from small congregations who assume they are somehow better for no more reason than they are  small. (Like the cartoon above.)  While small is not necessarily a vice, neither is it necessarily a virtue.

To paraphrase Paul from Galatians 5.6:

Big congregation or small, it makes no difference. The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.

More Than Numbers

June 2, 2014

Miracle Gro

Here is a needed reminder:

I’m not so sure God cares how big your church is. Seriously. If your numbers aren’t “growing,” so what? I’m also not sure that the sign of a vibrant healthy church is ever-increasing growth, significant growth. It seems to me that the sign of a vibrant, healthy fully alive church is one where God’s people are growing in love, knowledge, and insight, not numbers. I’d rather be in a church like this than a church that is “growing” with greater numbers of people with shallow faiths who do not love well.

Where did Paul ever rebuke a church because their numbers were not growing by some set of hoped for percentage points?

Great point. I would add: Or Jesus, in his Letters to the 7 Churches in Revelation 2-3

I get the church growth rationale.  And I agree with some of the foundations of it, at least as it was originally developed as a mission strategy. But the American obsession with Bigger is Better has distorted much – maybe most – of the good that the original proponents of church growth may have intended.  Many of us have misapplied the whole concept of growth and mistaken it as the measuring stick for God’s blessing.  Size of a congregation is about as good of an indicator of being blessed by God, as is wealth an indicator of worth; or better still, as height an indicator of greatness.  (In other words, not a valid standard at all.) Consequently, faithfulness and substance is often subverted by gimmicks and pragmatism.  Whatever works to get them in… right?

Years ago, while I was servivng a fast growing congregation (that a year later showed the evidence of serious fractures), a good and gifted friend was “languishing” in a church that could not quite break the 100 barrier – even on Easter.  He was discouraged –  to put it mildly.  To encourage him, I offered a parallel thought.  Knowing of a huge community college in his city, I asked about the number of students who attended the school. He said he estimated 50,000 – 60,000 students.  So I observed that the school must be some impressive, prestigious place.  After all Harvard has only 6000 or so students.  The guy who is president of that community college must be thought of as having had 10 times the success as the guy who can’t lead a school any larger than Harvard!

He got the my point of my sarcasm.  It is a ridiculous analogy to compare a community college with a school with the history, the resources, and he selectivity of a Harvard.  Size is no indication of anything.  And neither is size any measure of a church.

 

To read the whole short post I quoted at the top, click: A Healthy Vibrant Church May Never Be Big

 

 

Adam & Eve (Red-Blue)

by Ray Ortland

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  Genesis 2:24

It is not true that the Bible teaches multiple views of marriage, and therefore the Bible’s clarity is diminished on this question.  The Bible does record, for example, that “Lamech took two wives” (Genesis 4:19).  But the Bible is not thereby endorsing polygamy, but indeed is casting doubt on polygamy.  The role of Lamech in the text is to show “a progressive hardening in sin” (Waltke, Genesis, page 100).  We invented polygamy, along with other social evils.  But God gave us marriage.

The Bible defines marriage in Genesis 2:24, quoted above.  Here is what this very significant verse is saying:

Therefore.  This word signals that Moses is adding an aside to his narrative.  It’s as if we are sitting in Moses’ living room, watching his DVD of the creation of the universe (Genesis 1) and of man and woman (Genesis 2).  At this point he hits the pause button on the remote, the screen freezes, he turns to us post-fall people watching these amazing events and he says, “Now let me explain how what God did so long ago is normative for us today.  Amazingly, we still retain something beautiful from the Garden of Eden.”

A man shall leave his father and his mother.  In a culture of strong bonds between the generations, this is striking.  A man’s primary human relationship is no longer with his parents or ancestors.  He breaks away from them for the sake of a more profound loyalty.

And hold fast to his wife.  A man, in marrying, enfolds his wife into his heart.  He rejoices to identify with her: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23).  At every level of his being, he becomes wholeheartedly devoted to her, as to no other.

And they shall become one flesh.  “One flesh” is essential to the biblical view of marriage.  It means, one mortal life fully shared.  Two selfish me’s start learning to think like one unified us, sharing one everything: one life, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, one mission, and so forth.  No barriers.  No hiding.  No aloofness.  Now total openness with total sharing and total solidarity, until death parts them.  Moreover, Jesus explained that, behind the word “become,” God is there: “What therefore God has joined together . . .” (Matthew 19:6).  Marriage is not a product of human social evolution.  Marriage came down from God.  And he defined it for us.  He has the right to.  It belongs to him.

One mortal life fully shared between a man and a woman — this is marriage, according to the Bible, because Genesis 2:24 is not a throw-away line.  Its very purpose is to define.

What’s more, the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to take our understanding a step further — an amazing step: “We are members of [Christ's] body.  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:30-31).  Did you notice his logic?  “We are members of Christ’s body.  He loved us.  He chose us.  He gave himself up for us.  He embraced us.  He is with us.  He will present us someday in splendor.  All of this glory is ours, because we are united with him now and forever.  Therefore, this is why, our union with Christ is the reason why, a man and women get married and live united as ‘one flesh.’  Human marriages are miniature social platforms on which the gospel is to be displayed.”

Marriage is a gospel issue.  That is the ultimate reason why clarity about its definition matters.  People who depart from, or fail to stand up for, the biblical view of marriage are taking a step away from the gospel itself.  The whole Bible is the story of the marital love of God, as I demonstrate in this book.  Our whole lives are that story, if we have eyes to see.

Marriage is more than human romance, wonderful as that is.  Marriage is the display of Christ and his Bride in love together.  A beautiful, tender, thriving, Ephesians 5-kind of marriage makes the gospel visible on earth, bringing hope to people who have given up believing there could be any love anywhere for them.  That is why biblical marriage deserves our courageous loyalty today.  And that is why, in our increasingly secular times, biblical marriage is under pressure.  Its true meaning is understood and embodied and sustained only by the power of the gospel.

We can’t turn the clock back to the days of the Christian social consensus the West has foolishly thrown away.  But we who say we believe the gospel can and must stand up for the biblical definition of marriage.  We must cultivate beautiful marriages ourselves.  We must suffer social rejection bravely.  We must pray for revival.  We must wait for the inevitable collapse of every false view of marriage.  We must lovingly serve all who suffer for their foolish attempts at false “marriages.”  And we must go to church this Sunday and worship the living God with all our hearts, so that we ourselves are sustained for faithfulness over the long haul, because this isn’t going to be easy.

***

Read more from Ray Ortland’s excellent blog: Christ is Deeper Still

Resurrection Day!

Here is a lyrical poem from Odd Thomas, reminding us of the significance of this day.

Happy Easter!

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