Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Firm as an Oak, but with a boogy beat

My wife and I are exact opposites. She is beautiful, I am not. She is real smart, I just buy books so people think I am. I believe passionately that the toilet seat should be left up, she (oddly) disagrees. Most importantly, she is a "planner", while I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants.

"Planners" are interesting creatures. Above all personality types, they are convinced that their type is the most mature and responsible. While the rest of us are chasing our tails, they are faithfully keeping the wheels of the world turning. They plan, they make decisions, they execute programs, they hold firm to routines.

Yuck!

Not that planning isn't necessary, its just that its not much fun (though planners tell me they experience great joy in such plans and routines). I much prefer to see life through the metaphor of a "dance". If your not hop'n to the boogy beat, your not living life.

This is not to say that life is a party. Some non-planners live that way, and give the rest of us a bad reputation. The "boogy-beat" metaphor is about experiencing the rhythm of life. It embraces change, because life is change. New experiences, and the ability to quickly adjust to new circumstances, mark the non-planner. We embrace change - both positive and negative. Of course, the pagan version of this is essentially a secular existentialism which seeks to live out experiences and create its own meaning within them. The Christian version of this sees new opportunities as an exciting challenge to live for the glory of Christ in a new way. Tragedy, and well as triumph, grants us new possibilities to live to his glory.

...or maybe I just don't like to plan. :o)

With all that said, the purpose of this post is to highlight one area in my life that I have succumbed to being a "planner". Sadly, I'm even an extremely obsessive planner - but only in this one particular area. I understand that to "real" planners this is like saying "I'm pregnant, but only on Tuesdays". Regardless, I'm sticking to my statement.

When it comes to sermons, I am a planner. I make charts & schedules, and have my sermons laid out for the next 2 years. Of course, the boogy-beat side of me comes out now and again, and I freely rearrange my schedule depending on my current rhythm. I am surprised to find out that very few pastors actually plan like this. Most have no idea what they will be preaching on 1 month from now. The falsely-pious among them will claim "the Spirit will lead them", but I usually hear in such language laziness & ineptitude (wow, that certainly was a statement worthy of the most obessive planner).

It is important for a pastor/preacher to be in constant study. For those of you who have complained about my lack of blog activity, I realize I have been rather distant lately (you think this is bad, look at my poor puritansoul blog). My only excuse is that I have been in intense study for two upcoming sermon series. The first is on "Disputable Matters" (looking at Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians). The second--while initially planned for early 2008--has been bumped up much sooner based (way to go Jim & Denise). It is a series on the Names of God.

As one college student put it recently (at a campus event I spoke at), "The Bible [capital "B"] rocks". Well...I suppose it does.

Why abandon my "boogy-beat" lifestyle when it comes to sermon planning? Because some things are deadly serious. Don't misunderstand--I think the Bible has its own boogy-beat, and it calls us to join the dance. Too many people approach Scripture with stale lifelessness or trivialize it by looking for "facts". Scripture has a rhythm, and it calls us to experience the joy that is possible only when we enter this rhythm. The deadly serious part comes into play when people fail to enter the rhythm of sacred scripture. Scripture is clear, failure to dance to the Bible's boogy-beat has eternal consequences. My passion is to help other people understand Scripture's rhythm so they can join the dance. Since eternity is at stake, the issue is deadly serious. No games, no last-moment whims, no poor planning.

Sorry boogy-beat'ers, I have become a planner (well, at least on Tuesdays).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Men of Issachar

While listing the number of warriors various tribes sent to David, the author of 1 Chronicles records an impressive list. Each tribe sent thousands of warriors, skilled in warfare & weaponry...with the notable exception of one tribe: Issachar. Look at the list below:

Judah: 6,800 warriors
Simeon: 7,100 warriors
Levi: 4,600 troops
Benjamin: 3,000 warriors
Ephraim: 20,800 warriors
Manasseh: 18,000 men
Zebulun: 50,000 skilled warriors
Naphtali: 1,000 officers & 37,000 warriors
Dan: 28,600 warriors
Asher: 40,000 trained warriors
Reuben, Gad, & the half tribe of Manasseh: 120,000 troops.

Within the middle of this list little old Issachar is mentioned as providing a paltry 200 men. 200! That's it! 200 lousy guys, while everyone else provided thousands or 10's of thousands.
Cowards? Chumps? Wimps? No, it seems scripture holds these men in high esteem. Look at what the Chronicler says about them:

"From the tribe of Issachar there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives. All these men understood the times, and knew what Israel ought to do." (I Chronicles 12:32 JGV)


While the other tribes provided strength and resources (badly needed, by the way), Issachar provided wisdom. Wisdom is the most precious commodity and the newly crowned King David badly needed it. These were men who knew God's word and knew God's world. Because of this, they knew how Israel needed to proceed in the future.

Oh how the church is in desperate need of Men of Issachar (and not to be sexist, please note I am now using "men" in its generic context). So many churches are stuck in the rut of the 1950's. According to research and guesswork, 80% of American churches are dying. They have stopped attracting young families. The comfortably attend church services each week, not realizing (or not caring) that they have doomed themselves to failure. The failure is not a moral failure. They are after all remaining faithful. They read & memorize God's word, they seek to live lives pleasing before their Lord, and they serve the church with gladness--sacrificing time, talent, and treasures. They even witness and evangelize as they can. Now, of course they continue to use methods that ceased to be effective 30 years ago--but at least they still try.

No, the failure isn't always a moral failure. It is a failure of wisdom. They know the Word of God (or at least select parts of it), but they have stopped knowing the World of God. They see little need to correlate the truths of the bible to this contemporary age. As the world around them changes, they become more insistent that methods used in bygone years are the solutions to today's problems. Or, in worst case scenarios, they convince themselves that declining size indicates that they are being faithful to the Word. "Narrow is path to righteousness", after all.

But the men of Issachar saw things differently. They knew the only way to move forward faithfully as God's people was through a proper understanding of Word and World. This meant change. This meant innovation. This meant a willingness to do things differently--all for the glory of God and king.

This is why David so highly valued these men. Armies can only defeat physical enemies. Only wisdom can defeat the enemy of our own minds.

The declining churches in America may be holy (and many are), but they are also foolish. Pray that we become as the men of Issachar: that we may know our times, and know how to proceed as a church in this contemporary age.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pretenders to the Throne of Editorial Acuity

As e-mail and other forms of electronic communication (blogs, Instant Messenger, etc.) continue to see rapid rise, we struggle to adjust our editorial standards. For years we understood that personal correspondence was judged by different standards than professional documents or published papers. Yet, since personal letters consumed both time and money--a fact that was not lost on the receiver of such correspondence--it was expected to adhere to certain standards. Even though the sender might not be part of the intelligentsia of society, the document was expected to be free of basic grammatical and spelling errors.

But what are the standards for internet writings? Such works are usually hastily produced, with little willingness to conduct spelling or grammatical checks before publishing. Differences of opinion abound as to proper standards. There are those who say no such standards should exists, considering the sheer volume of these mass produced writings. Others argue for a minimalist approach (the 'old school hand-written correspondence standards), while others strongly advocate for highly professional standards.

These latter two camps have militant advocates. In fact, most people know a few self-proclaimed Internet "editors"--whose chief mission in life is to correct the spelling mistakes of those of us too busy to correct our instances of written faux pas. I myself have been the victim of these unsolicited correctors.

Perhaps we should institute something similar to the "Do Not Call" list for telephone solicitors. It could be called a "Do Not Post" list for Blogs. I'm unsure regarding the technical specs for something of this sort, but am convinced the idea is sound.

Oh, I would appreciate it if you could help me find the flaws in the above article. I would hate to post it publicly with mistakes.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Communion finally made holy

Presently in the United States many--though not all--denominations use grape juice (as apposed to wine) for the Lord's Supper. In the scope of the history of the church, this is a very new phenomenon. In fact, if we could go back in time and tell the Christians of the first 1,800 years that we use grape juice and not wine, not only would they think this odd - but they might also consider it unbiblical. To them, and to a growing body of Christians today, the use of wine is a Biblical command that we have no business "tweaking".

To some, the above paragraph will seem incredulous. It seems plainly obvious to many that the "true" church always used the non-ferment
ed fruit of the vine. Any suggestion that the historic church (including all branches and forms of it) used an alcoholic beverage is seen as heresy, liberalism, and scandalous.

However, much to the embarrassment of modern fundamentalist Baptists, it was a United Methodist man who first introduced the non-fermented beverage large-scale to the church's of the United States.

Previous to this, there was a growing interest in using non-fermented juice in communion. The Prohibition movement in America, which was a secular--not a Church--movement (though it did include church folk), saw first hand the ravaging effects of Alcohol. Surely, they thought, any beverage that could produce such ill effects must be ungodly. This of course posed a problem for church goers. While they were advocating Prohibition politically, they were partaking of alcohol on Sundays. Certainly no respectable follower of Christ could abstain from communion. Unable to live with the tension, calls for use of non-fermented juice became more abundant. However, unless they were willing to hand squeeze the grape just before communion was served (and then only in the correct season), there were few options.

Now enters Dr. Th
omas Welch. A faithful member of the United Methodist Church in Vineland, NJ (seriously, that was the name of the town - how ironic), who was deeply impacted by the Holiness movement (with its corresponding Prohibitionist stance), was elected Communion Steward of his congregation. This position proved problematic for Dr. Welch, as well as for the church. Since Dr. Welch was fiercely and passionately against the use of alcohol, he refused to even touch the wine to be used in Communion. Things couldn't go on this way for long - but Dr. Welch has a plan. 20 years priors to this Ephraim Bull, of Concord, MA, successfully produced the "Concord Grape" (after performing over 22,000 crossbreeding experiments). Using this new grape, as well as Louis Pasteur's process, Dr. Welch successfully pasteurized grape juice. When he initially substituted this new non-fermented beverage for wine in his local church, there was an uproar and the church refused to use it. Eventually, however, Dr. Welch won them over and the permanent substitution was made. Finally, (in Dr. Welch's mind) there was a "Christian" alternative to the godless use of alcohol in Communion.

Dr. Welch, and his adult son, soon began to market this beverage to other local churches. It quickly caught on. In 1893 they handed out thousands of free samples at the World Fair. Soon, Dr. Welch's son gave up his denistry practice to run the new company full time. A few years later, William Jennings Bryan (then Secretary of State, and a key player in the later Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy within the Presbyterian Church), shocked the world by using Welch's Grape Juice instead of wine at State functions. Although heavily mocked in the media, it popularized the product--making it a big hit within American churches.

Don't believe me? Go to the following links to see for yourself.

Christianity Today: Brief article concerning Welch & Grape Juice
United Methodist Church: History documenting Welch & the beginnings of using Grape Juice
Obituary of Dr. Welch: Written by his son, and detailing his efforts at introducing Grape Juice


The Western church's aversion to alcohol has more to do with the Prohibition movement than anything taught in Scripture. Another blogger has correctly noted that the use of wine is both attested by the bible and history (see here). Also, it is interesting to note how the church succumbed to the secular movement known as Prohibition. This secular ideology has infected sectors of Evangelicalism & almost all of Fundamentalism. This is not to say that Prohibition has nothing to teach us. Wisdom is found even in worldly systems of thought. I for one am convinced of the dangers of alcohol (see below regarding my personal position). However, it is one thing to say something is a good idea, it is another thing altogether to curse something as evil that God has granted as a permissible gift.

PASTOR JOSH'S POSITION ON THE USE OF WINE/ALCOHOL:
My family and I practice total abstinence regarding alcohol. This was not always the case. Before entering pastoral ministry I would occasionally have a glass of wine. However, working with recovering drug & alcohol addicts for 5 years convinced me that I must be very careful to avoid placing stumbling blocks before weak believers. Therefore, I choose not to use alcohol---not because it is wrong to do so, which it is not---but because of my love and compassion for my weaker brother and sister in Christ. Alcohol is indeed permissible for the Christian--but I doubt whether it is beneficial (though on the New Earth it will be).

Let me share a story. During our honeymoon in New Hampshire, my wife and I purchased a bottle of Maple Syrup that came in a glass whiskey bottle. It was labeled "Northern Comfort", an obvious spoof on the real whiskey brand called "Southern Comfort". We have kept this bottle of Maple Syrup all these years, as a memory of that wonderful trip as newly weds. While we lived in Grand Rapids, the bottle was in our kitchen window as a decoration. Since alcohol was never part of our life, we didn't think of alcohol when we saw the bottle. Having to go away for a week-long ministry conference, we asked a dear friend to house sit for us. In years past, this single young woman had greatly struggled with alcohol use. During the week, we received a hysteric phone message from her saying that she refused to step foot in our house again. After returning home, and after tracking her down, we realized that she saw the bottle and thought it was real whiskey. To her, no true Christian would have such a thing in her home. Her faith was not strong enough to allow the use of this beverage. We did finally convince her that it was just maple syrup, and the story ended rather well (considering). But to Amy and I it did underscore the need to avoid placing stumbling blocks before the weak. For this reason (and because we don't wish to see our children become addicts), alcohol is not part of our life.


IS IT UNBIBLICAL TO USE GRAPE JUICE IN COMMUNION:

No, I don't think so. We should be honest though and admit that the New Testament practice was the use of fermented wine. Please, none of this silliness that the "wine" of the Bible really meant "grape juice". But as I read Scripture, the issue in communion is not whether or not the "fruit of the vine" is fermented or not, but that the "fruit of the vine" is being used. Therefore, I don't see how it really matters if one used wine or grape juice.


If I were to visit a church and discover that they made use of real wine, this would not offend me. It is biblical, and therefore it would not be wrong. This is what Jesus and the early disciples used. For any church that I pastor, however, we will always use grape juice. Why? For several reasons. First, I don't think it matters biblical what you use (as long as it is juice from a grape). Second, younger children can participate (since many parents, even if they used alcohol, would not want their young children to do so). Third, I have not seen the situation where grape juice has offended someone, but I have seen it where the use of wine has. Fourth, we avoid being a stumbling block to those struggling with addiction.

Dr. Welch gave us a good thing, even if he was a little nuts in his desire to do so.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Things to consider as we redo our Church's advertising

These signs reminded me of my two trips to India. Traveling throughout Asia is certainly a new experience. I was actually offered a bottle of the infamous cola pictured below.....I couldn't bring myself to drink it. As to the other sign, I'm not sure what it means. :o)




Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Need for Community

I wrote the following post for another blog. This will be the only time I repost material from that site here. It is group blog run by the guys over at Destination North (see side bar for blog address). I strongly encourage you to check it out. JG

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THE NEED FOR COMMUNITY

"God’s purpose for man is in the church." So declares Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his first published volume (Sanctorum Communio). Of course, we didn't need Bonhoeffer to tell us this. He, in fact, only came to this understanding based on reading sacred Scripture.

In the garden we see that God is not satisfied with his very "good" creation until the climax of his creation--man--is placed into a communal setting (brought on by the creation of Eve). Later, God is not content with the calling of the individual person Abraham; instead, he expresses his intent desire to create out of this one man an entire people. At the foot of Mt Sinai the children of Israel are brought together in a great 'assembly' (LXX Greek: "ekklesia") as they are formed in the new community (the "people of God"). Much later in Biblical history, Jesus declares to Peter that he (Jesus) will build his church (Greek: ekklesia), the new "people of God". Later, Paul speaks to his "brothers and sisters" within this ekklesia in multiple epistles. We are exhorted to such things as "bearing each others burdens" "forgiving one another", "confessing one to another", "building up one another", "loving one another", and so on.

Yet it our modern Western context, it is the individual--not the community--which receives priority. Yet, by design, we were never intended to live this way. Don't get me wrong. The spirit of 'rugged individualism' has brought about great prosperity and strength in this country. And it should not be denied that there is a strong individual element in scripture. God does call us as individuals to repentence. We must individually make the choice to follow him (and yes, my fellow Calvinists, a choice must be made). But the precious truth of scripture is that as we make this choice, we become part of something greater than ourselves.

Bonhoeffer understood that repentance was the avenue of entry into the new community and the exit out of the community of Adam. The new community is unlike other communities in that the Holy Spirit lives in it. In trusting Christ, men are made members of the divine community. Being a new creation, they come to know the meaning of agape. Love seeking a response means communion with God and man. In classic Bonhoeffer language (borrowed from the continental philosophers in vogue during his day), this loving communion meant self-surrender to the "Thou" before man — either God or man.

In other words, the community was more important that the individual.

To be in community means that we exist for others. The great Other (or, as Bonhoeffer expressed it, Thou) is of course the Triune God. The Biblical language for this is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart...". God, the great Other, takes priority over the individual person. We exist for Him, and His glory. But God is not the only "other". The second "other" is found in part two of the Great Commandment, when we are commanded to "love our neighbor". Here Scripture refers to the human community. For Christians, this finds its fullest (though not only) expression in the NT Church. We exist also for the benefit of the Church. Our strengths, resources, spiritual gifts, and energies are to be used for its good.

Does this mean the individual is unimportant? Not all all. What it means is that we can only find our fullest expression as individuals within the presence of Christian community. When we have been called out of the bondage of sin by the power of Christ, we are called into the presence of the Christian community. It is only here that we learn what it means to live in the Spirit, to understand the truth of His word, and to serve and praise Him as He intends. It is only here that we discover our usefulness for the Kingdom. It is only here that the giftedness of others can be used to equip us & strengthen us in ways we could never do ourselves.

In a very real sense, to refuse to live within Christian community is not only a denial of what it means to be a Christian (and of the work Christ has begun in you), but also a denial of what it means to be human. As the old saying goes, "No man is an island". Nor were we ever intended to be.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Perhaps there is a better way

As our church enters into a new fiscal quarter, finances are necessarily on my mind. There is much for which to be thankful. Last quarter (Oct-Dec) the Lord blessed us with a very solid quarter financially. But we also understand that this is Northern Michigan -- and this has been a very tough winter thus far. As the slow winter economy takes its toll, everyone is struggling. January's tithe levels marked a 5-yr record low for our church. In the community, requests for financial assistance from area churches are at an all time high, people are losing their homes, jobs are scarce. Add to that the addiction to drugs and gambling common to this area and the financial crisis takes on epidemic proportions. According to other area pastor's, they have never seen the economy this bad in Northern Michigan in the past 20 years.

As I was surfing the web I came across this photo. I certainly can understand the financial pressures of a church. But perhaps there was a better way to communicate the message. What do you think?

Friday, February 9, 2007

Growing Old in Christ

[Found this an another blog - thought you would enjoy]

Old age enables us to spend long days alone with the person we’ve been shaping all our lives. That one who walked and talked with God throughout a busy day finds that he now has long periods of uninterrupted fellowship, joys of various sorts in contemplations of past, present, and future. His inner voice does not crack as he sings the old hymns of the faith. He can send up a prayer at any time for any sort of request. His life is full and blessed. Yes, his life is excellent.

One who griped and complained through the years will find much more to complain about in the declining years of body and mind. More things other people do now cause greater reaction than through previous years.

Irritating sounds become even more irritating. Nothing becomes less irritating; more things cause irritation. Life becomes increasingly more difficult to endure to the end.

The declining years are not always all we had expected. One who loves to travel and looks forward to visiting several places after retirement finds instead that the body is not up to the rigors. Travel is more pain than pleasure. One who looked forward to spending hour after hour reading unexpectedly finds that his eyes no longer can stand steady reading for more than an hour or two. For many, old age is living in a different type of world.

The aging process affects everyone differently. There is a marked difference in the way people who are devoted to God enter old age. They get sweeter. Any church is greatly blessed to have senior saints who are fully devoted to God in their old age. Others can see the glory of God in their kindness and patience and humility. Will you be devoted in your old age?

It doesn’t happen automatically. You don’t turn 65 and retire and become devoted to God. As we age, we just become more of who we already are. If you are not devoted now, you won’t be devoted later. If you want to finish your life devoted to God, live a faithful devoted life now. Be committed to prayer and God’s word and serving in Christ’s church.

When we have the strength and stamina, we can take care of things ourselves.

But there may come a time when we can’t do what we used to do; when we can’t drive our car anymore; when we can’t keep up the home we are living in.

What do you do then? Well, if you have been depending on God each day, that’s what you continue doing. God is no different; He just has different lessons.

Those who are older, because of their closeness to eternity, have a clearer vision of true values. Simeon had been told that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Christ (Messiah), and so he waited, and looked for and expected the arrival of the Messiah (Luke 2:26). Picture him, visiting the temple wondering, “is this the day.” “I’m getting old, Lord. My joints are hurting; I get tired so easily. It’s not so easy climbing these steps to the temple.” Younger folks walk past him quickly. He seems to be in the way of people who have somewhere to go. He sits down in the midst of many people in the temple, but his thoughts aren’t there. He’s seen much of life. He has seen fads come and go. He’s been to many weddings. He’s been to many funerals. Many of his contemporaries are dead. He knows he is on the threshold of eternity. So he is looking beyond this world. His values are different. He knows there are things more important than money and possessions, than clothes and beauty, than popularity and good times.

Many churches have been blessed with numerous senior saints devoted to God in their old age. They stand on the threshold of eternity, living with a daily dependence on God, thereby testifying to the truth of His Son. Such senior saints who are devoted to God in their old age are not prejudiced.

They have seen that people are people no matter their background, and that God loves all. Jesus came to be the Savior of all men.

We are blessed to have such seniors in our midst. We are honored by their presence. We don’t always recognize the treasure God has placed with us.

We would be wise to get to know better these senior saints who are devoted to God in their old age. You will surely be blessed to invite them to your home or to visit them.

God has a place of service for everyone who is devoted to Him, no matter your age. But this is especially true for senior saints. God has a place of service for each senior saint. Even by the way they live their life they are testifying to truth. God has placed in our midst some senior saints, fully devoted to God in their old age, who have a clear vision of values because of their closeness to eternity and who are living daily with a dependence on God. Our senior saints who have been walking with Jesus in this life have grown accustomed to His presence. They know that only by knowing Jesus Christ can a person have peace concerning death and eternity.

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This article was written by Dr. Warren Vanhetloo, a professor at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. You can subscribe to his writings by emailing Dr. Van at cbsvan@sbcglobal.net.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Why are Baptist so scared?

Two things before I begin this post:

First: This article is about Calvinism & Reformed theology. I don't intend to post on this topic too often, it just happened to come up again.

Second: I need to take a moment and explain the seemingly 'anti-baptist' language I tend to use. I was born a Baptist (clearly a little diaper-wearing pagan, who eventually accepted Christ, but still a Baptist). I graduated from a Baptist college, and graduated from a formerly Baptist though still presently baptistic Seminary. OK, so my wife is a former Presbyterian, but I am a baptist by conviction, and am proud of our heritage (which goes back to the Protestant Reformation - sorry to burst your anti-historical bubble) and beliefs. So, I tease/mock/make fun of Baptists as an insider. Sometimes it is meant in good fun, sometimes it is to challenge a movement that I dearly love.

In today's mail, among the piles of extreme fundamentalist 'hate-everyone-but-ourselves' newsletters & magazines, there were two items that jumped out to me. The first is the Feb edition of "The Baptist Voice" - a ministry publication of Lancaster Baptist Church & West Coast Baptist College. First of all I have no idea why I am even on the mailing list. One of the articles in the paper was titled "What's Wrong With Calvinism?" In the article "Dr" John G. critiques 'Total Depravity", "Unconditional Election" and "Limited Atonement". His critiques are nonsensical & fluff (to be expected), filled with concern over the undeniable comeback of Calvinism within Baptist churches.

Then I flipped open the latest edition of the Baptist Bulletin - the official organ of the GARB. This magazine is in a much better class than the Baptist Voice, and the GARB is not so anti-Calvinistic as some of our more extreme fundamentalist cousins. In this edition, they reprinted an article by Leon J. Wood (a great scholar & a man whose writings I highly respect). Sensing a growing resurgence of Reformed theology within Baptist churches, they decided to reprint this article. While not critiquing Calvinism per se (with the exception of limited atonement), it does seek to distance itself from Reformed Theology. While I disagree with Wood's article, it is scholarly, irenic, and balanced.

However, Wood does seem to believe that "THE" Baptist position on eschatology is premillennial Dispensationalism. This seems odd, considering for the first 300 years of Baptist history our views were fully and consistently Reformed (though there were always Arminian versions of Baptists). The premillennial variety of Baptists did not arise until THIS CENTURY (early 1900's). He also tries to establish that Baptists do not agree with Covenant theology. I would agree SOME baptists don't (the dispensational variety). But regardless of what some fundamental groups want to think, Baptists have for centuries held to Covenant theology. It is wishful (and perhaps intentionally misleading) thinking that equates "Baptist" with "dispensational". I would agree with Wood's assessment of the other distinctives (views on autonomy of the local church, mode of baptism, & subjects of baptism). FYI: I am a dispensationalist, but there is a difference between wanting Baptist to be dispensational and making the incredulous claim that they inherently are so.

The real question is what are these baptist groups afraid of? Are they afraid their constituents will finally figure out that they have mislead them as to the true nature of our Baptist heritage? Are they afraid we will discover that Baptists have been Calvinists for over 400 years? Are they afraid that we will discover that only SOME baptists in the last century converted to Dispensationalism, thereby rejecting the Covenant theology position held for over 400 years?

The issue is not whether one is a Calvinist baptist or not (I am), or a Covenant Theology Baptist or not (I am not). The issue is why some Baptist groups are trying to redefine & so narrowly define what it means to be Baptist.

Biblical theology (a.k.a. the doctrines of Grace) has still got our 'Arminian Baptist would-be power holders' running scared.

Bible Versions - a few more

A few weeks back I listed several bible versions, with comments regarding each. Since then, a few interesting things have happened. Several friends contacted me wondering why I failed to mention the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and the Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSV). Also, an employee from the publisher of the New Living Translation (NLT) contacted me and informed me of a recent update to that version. In fact, she even sent me a review copy (I already updated my NLT comments, see here).

The last piece of straw to break the camel's back was when someone asked me about the American Standard Version (ASV). The problem is I can't remember who asked me this. Maybe I just dreamed it (as yes, sadly, preachers do dream about congregants asking questions like this). Either way, an expansion of my earlier post is needed.


American Standard Version (ASV)

This version has become the foundation for several modern American revisions (including the NASB, RSV, NRSV, & ESV). Due to its superb scholarship and translation faithfulness it has been called the "Rock of Biblical Honesty". In the late 1800s British & American scholars teamed up to produce the Revised Version. This was an update of the KJV to less archaic spelling and greater accuracy of translation, including use of better Greek manuscripts. It was agreed that the British scholars would have the final say in translation, with the American scholars being allowed to "Americanize" the translation at a later date. In 1901 The American Standard Version of 1901 was published, and is the work of over 50 Evangelical Christian scholars. FYI - I use the ASV almost daily, and I always consult it for sermon preparation.


Revised Standard Version (RSV)


To a large degree, this bible version is an old friend. Sadly, it is difficult to find nowadays. The RSV was a revision of the ASV (American Standard Version, 1901) during the 1950's. It is lauded as one of the first bibles to be embraced by Catholic, Orthodox, and most Protestant groups. Of course, many evangelicals reacted against this. However, regardless of who used this Bible, it was a solid, scholarly, and conservative translation that probably did not deserve its negative press. It retains much of the majestic beauty of the King James, but is limited by archaic wording (though better than the KJV in this regard). It also caused much controversy because (in the OT) it rendered words according to their OT Jewish usage, instead of being read through the lens of the NT. For example, in Isaiah 7.14 the Hebrew word 'almah' is rendered as 'young woman' instead of 'virgin'. The Gospel of Matthew quotes from this passage and renders the word as virgin (this is because Matthew quotes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT, which uses the more specific Greek word for virgin). Actually, from a technical standpoint, the RSV was right to render it this way. They strongly felt that each word of the Bible must be taken in context. In this context the Hebrew uses the more vague word young woman (which doesn't speak to the issue of virginity, but also doesn't deny it). Conservatives saw this as unnecessarily confusing.


New Revised Standard Version
(NRSV)

Conservative Christians have generally shied away from the NRSV. It was produced by a translation team sponsored by the National Association of Churches, an ecumenical organization seen by many as suspect. The NRSV also brought on the fierce controversy over gender-neutral renderings in Scripture (i.e. using person instead of man), its following the RSV rendering in Is 7.14, and a host of other issues. It quickly became accepted in mainline circles (United Methodist Church, Presbyerian Church USA, Episcopalian Church) and in scholarly circles. Catholics have never officially endorsed it, and it has been rejected by Orthodox churches.

To be honest, it is not a bad translation. The problem really isn't so much in its controversial translations (which I probably agree with more often than not) as it is with the extreme liberal groups that are associated with it. Rightly or wrongly, it has tainted the entire translation. The New American Standard Bible was the Conservative response to the NRSV. However, the NASB was a substandard bible version that tended to be overly stiff and awkward. Until the publication of the ESV, conservative Christians have not had a faithful, accurate, and noble alternative to the NRSV.


Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSV)

This is the modern version that I am least familiar with. One of our deacons uses it and loves it - but I can only provide you with information gleaned from Broadman & Holman and the web community.

This version of the Bible was planned and sponsored by the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (renamed "LifeWay Christian Resources" of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 & published by Broadman & Holman). It was conceived as a replacement for the NIV, which became controversial to some after the International Bible Society acknowledged in 1997 that it was revising the NIV with "politically correct" gender-neutral language (now found in the TNIV) and so in 1998 the Sunday School Board began work on the HCSV. Rather than being a revision of a previous version, the HCSV is a fresh translation from the original languages (as is the NIV).

About a third of the team members are Southern Baptist. Other team members are Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians (PCA), Congregationalists, Church of England, Church of God, Evangelical Free Church, Methodists, Evangelical Mennonites and Episcopalians.

In general, the CSB translation is slightly more literal than the NIV, but much less literal than the NASB or the ESV. In various ways the text is simplified (long and complex Greek sentences are broken up into smaller and simpler ones) and made easy to understand by interpretive renderings. The Holman Christian Standard Bible has an unusually large number of marginal notes giving other manuscript readings and alternative renderings of the text. There seems to be at least twice as many of these notes as is usual for English versions. When the notes offer an alternative rendering, it is usually more literal than the rendering in the text. This is very impressive and more than makes up for any translation inadequacies. All in all, this seems to be a worthy general use bible, much in the vein of the NIV.


Much of the comments about the HCSV were taken from the following source: http://www.bible-researcher.com/csb.html

Children & Catechism

As you can tell by the side links, I am really into creeds & catechisms. Of course, these in no way rival the importance of Scripture. However, they have proven their worth in instructing believers, protecting against heresy, and fostering a love for Scriptural truths. They are authoritative insofar as they accurately represent Scripture.

My two oldest children (ages 10 & 9) have recently inquired about being Baptized. To a pastor (particularly of the Baptist variety), this is a deeply meaningful and memorable experience.

But...I have never felt children should be baptized simply because they have requested it. Certainly a sincere declaration of faith is needed, but I have always felt children should demonstrate a basic understand of faith & should diligently work to prove themselves in this area (in fact, the very concept of 'faith' demands this). Historically, the church (universal) has made use of creeds & catechisms for this purpose. Now, memorization of these is not something I am requiring of other children in my congregation - but for my own children I insist upon it.

I just finished making some flashcards for the kids. The goal is for them to memorize the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism (with a few slight changes to represent baptistic views - probably closely following Spurgeon's adjustments). In order to be baptized, they must memorize the first 38 questions (also the Apostle's Creed and the first question in the Hiedleberg Catechism). To participate in the Lord's Supper, they need to memorize the section on the Law of God (roughly 40 questions). I will find some other reason to have them memorize the final 30 questions or so.

They just received the cards tonight...

...their response was less than ideal.

Luckily, my wife comes from a conservative Presbyterian background and grew up with the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

As our children were questioning the need for this (and my daughter even questioned the legality of it, but I reminded her that she was too young to hire a lawyer so therefore could not present her case to the courts), I took the opportunity to explain its importance.

In seminary one of my profs told a story about a young female student who took a systematic theology exam. The subject was Christology (or, the study of the person and work of Christ). She performed miserably on the exam, failing to answer even one question. Attempting to minimize her failure, she wrote a note on the exam: "Prof. _____, although I don't know much about Christ, you can't deny that I love him with all my heart. That's all that really counts." The professor disagreed. I remember him telling us that claiming to love someone you refuse to get to know proves that our love is not genuine.

This of course doesn't not mean the only way to prove our love for Christ is to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It does, however, mean that we will spend the rest of our lives seeking to learn more and more about Him. So many Christian go through their life knowing almost nothing about their Savior or the faith He has called them to. This is not love.

If you truly love the Savior, then spend your days discovering who He is.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

What happens when you become a sermon illustration?

A recently acquired friend, and fellow minister in the area, made use of me as an illustration in his daily e-devotional ministry. Being an illustration is an odd experience, it is either painful or just wierd. One's feeling depends upon what you are being used to illustrate:

Option 1 - Illustrating something bad - Luckily Pastor Mike did not choose this option (though I have it on good authority that a few other pastor's in the area have used me for such purposes). It is painful when they are wrong (because you have been slandered), and perhaps more painful when they are right (because you know you its true).

Option 2 - Illustrating something good. Of course, this is the preferred option - though honestly I would rather opt out of both.

Anyway, for what it is worth, below is the devotional that Pastor Mike Sander sent out last week. Enjoy - FYI, you can read more devotionals from Pastor Mike at www.wordcelebration.info

_____________________________________________________

January 30, 2007

“(Elijah said) ‘I alone am left.’…(God said) ‘...I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal…’” 1 Kings 19.10b, 18a NKJV

Sunday was our anniversary. I made the decision to take it as vacation and not be in the pulpit Sunday. So Kathy and I were visitors at another church. I have come to know the new, young pastor and wanted to hear him speak.

Josh was very, very good. The disturbing thing for my ego is that he was born about the time I took my first church! There is something a little unsettling about seeing that many years between me and a colleague and knowing there is little I can tell him about preaching.

But that's great news! God hasn’t stopped calling smart, capable and young pastors. So when the time comes for me to step aside, God will have someone ready, someone terrific. That may bruise my selfish ego, but it warms my spirit.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for trusting your people in my care. And thank You that it never has and never will depend just on me.

- Pastor Mike Sanders
©Copyright 2007 R. Michael Sanders
www.wordcelebration.info

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Recommended Books

This Sunday marked the beginning of a new series, "What on Earth is the Church". I wanted to highlight several of the books I am reading on the subject, and urge you to do your own study on the issue.



All God's People: A Theology of the Church (David Smith)
A very thorough treatment of the Church, looking at it through Historical, Biblical, and Systematic lenses. A solid, conservative, evangelical treatment of the topic.



The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit, Craig Van Gelder

A fascinating study of the church, focusing on its missional nature & as the embodiment of the redemptive reign of God. Highly influential for my thinking.





Models of the Church, Avery Dulles

Written by a Catholic scholar, Dulles enters this discussion by looking at the church from the vantage point of the various 'models' of how the church is 'done'. Specifically, he looks at 5 models: Church as Institution, Church as Mystical Communion, Church as Sacrament, Church as Herald, Church as Servant. Very Catholic in perspective, but the author is a phenomenal scholar, and treats Protestant viewpoints fairly.


The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, Everett Ferguson

I have not gotten far enough to form a fair opinion, but seems very thorough.






What on Earth is the Church?, Kevin Giles

I took the title of my series from this book, though very little of the content. Looks at each section of Scripture and draws out implications for what it means to be church. An excellent Biblical summary of the issue. From what I've read thus far, this book will probably greatly influence my thinking as well.


In addition to these, I am looking intently at various Puritan writings (as always). Hope you enjoy. Blessings.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Signs of a Healthy Church

Another blog [1] I regularly read listed several signs of a "live" church (versus a dead one). I found the list quite helpful, and very telling of our own church. As I look at who we are, and where we are going, I get very excited. I believe the Spirit is breathing new life into our congregation. I know we have many areas in which to experience growth, but the Spirit is blowing and Aslan is on the move!
    1. Live churches’ expenses are always more than their income; dead churches don’t need much money!
    2. Live churches have parking problems; Dead churches have empty spaces!
    3. Live churches may have some noisy children; Dead churches are quiet as a cemetery.
    4. Live churches keep changing their ways of doing things; Dead churches see no need for change!
    5. Live churches grow so fast you can’t keep up with people’s names; In dead churches everybody always knows everybody’s name.
    6. Live churches strongly support world missions; Dead churches keep the money at home!
    7. Live churches are full of regular, cheerful givers; Dead churches are full of grudging tippers!
    8. Live churches move ahead on prayer and faith; Dead churches work only on sight!
    9. Live churches plant daughter churches; Dead churches fear spending the money, time, and talent!
    10. Live churches outgrow their Sunday School facilities; Dead churches have room to spare!
    11. Live churches welcome all classes of people; Dead churches stick to their own kind!
    12. Live churches’ members read their Bibles and bring them to church; Dead churches’ members seldom do!
    13. Live churches’ members enthusiastically support the ministries; Dead churches have no ministries—only functions!
    14. Live churches’ members look for someone they can help; Dead churches’ members look for something to complain about!
    15. Live churches’ members reach out to share their faith in Christ; Dead churches’ members don’t have enough to share.
[1] http://theworldfrommywindow.blogspot.com/