Thursday, May 31, 2007

Assimilation Pastors...

At the onset let me admit this post is a bit random. Generally speaking I prefer discussing something more substantial, but I will allow myself a brief sojourn into the territory of critiquing the seemingly benign.

Have you ever been in a larger church that has multiple pastors? I'm not talking the typical church with a 'senior' pastor and 'youth' pastor. I'm talking about churches that have 4-5 pastors or more on staff. I had the privilege of serving in a church with a pastoral staff of three. I enjoyed the ability to 'specialize'. The ability to concentrate on fewer domains of ministry, along with the wonderful opportunities of fellowship provided by multiple staff, makes this a very desired system.

Churches in these situations may have a Pastor of Counseling, Senior High Pastor, Seniors Pastor, Children's Pastor, Families Pastor, Visitation pastor, or a other number of positions. One particular position--the Pastor of Assimilation--greatly annoys me. Now, the actual duties of this position are wonderful, and I am in full agreement with the concept of it. I just hate the name. Every time I hear it I am reminded of the Borg from Star Trek. Come on....what on earth are these churches thinking. This position is designed for those who are NEW to the church. Those of us who grew up in church may well tolerate the name, but have these churches even considered what new believers or unbelievers would think when they heard this term?

It sounds like a cult, or some sort of meat-processing plant, or even a Nazi prison. In my mind, it conjures up images of a B-sci-fi movie where some steroid-using muscular actor playing a half-human/half-machine says in a monotone voice, "I must assimilate you".

So, unless these churches are planning on processing meat, or turning people into the Borg, I suggest we come up with another name.

What about these options:"Newcomers Pastor"; "Pastor of Early Discipleship"; "New Believers Pastor". OK, OK...so these are a bit awkward. But what about the good old traditional standby: "Associate Pastor". Its vague, but leaves opportunities for further clarification.

Ideas are welcome. Think of them quick before you are assimilated.

Friday, May 25, 2007

More books yet...

Another package arrived. I forget I even ordered these. What delightful fun!

1. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Mark Dever)
* Pastor Dever's understanding of the scriptural "marks" of a biblical congregation. Mark #1 is Expository Preaching, and everything that follows is solidly bible-centered.

2. By Whose Authority: Elders in Baptist Life (Mark Dever) - Booklet
* Dever's argument that the biblical pattern of church government must include a plurality of elders.

3. A Display of God's Glory: Basics of Church Structure: Deacons, Elders, Congregationalism & Membership (Mark Dever) - Booklet
* A short and broad overview of the basics of a church government structure patterned on scripture.

4. Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life: A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents (Mark Dever, Editor)
* An excellent collection of 10 reprints of historic documents regarding baptist polity--including some very rare finds. An undeniably important contribution to the current scholarly attempt to form an historic baptist identity

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New books have arrived...

Today I eagerly tore open the boxes containing the newest addition to my family.

1. The Creeds of Christendom, 3 volumes (Philip Schaff)
* A reference work detailing most of the important creeds of the Church's history. An invaluable collection of data.

2. Crucifixion (Martin Hengel)
* A highly scholarly look at the crucifixion. It is a formidable survey of classical literature & other historical sources of information on the subject and illuminates the stigma which would have been attached to this punishment.

3. Christianity and Liberalism (G. Gresham Machen)
* This actually replaces a much-loved volume I previously had in my library. Sadly, that volume disappeared--along with the countless notes I wrote in its margins. To borrow a book that is never returned...surely there is no greater crime.

4. The Christian Mission in the Modern World (John Stott)
* Recommended by a friend and former fellow elder at my previous place of ministry. John Stott calls the church to embrace its dual mission of evangelism/discipleship & societal reform.

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I feel the need to make a break between the books mentioned above and those that are mentioned below. To put those that follow in the same category as above seems almost barbaric.
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5. The Greatest Generation (Tom Brokaw)
* I am looking forward to reading through this book in the next couple of days. I bought it for background material for an upcoming sermon. While I cannot place it in the same class of books as above, it still has the makings of a powerful book.

6. The Complete Poems and Plays (T.S. Eliot)
* Actually, this probably should be placed in the above category, as T.S. Eliot was a premier philosopher (who only pretended to be a poet). Excellent stuff. However, Eliot is one of the more difficult poets to read and understand.

7. It Takes a Village (Hillary Clinton)
* Now you know why I needed to make a categorical break. Trust me, its only for sermon illustration purposes (actually, I do concede many of her points in the book--and there is some semblance of biblical truth in her work--albeit twisted into a secular humanistic framework. Scripture does teach that we are created for community, and in large part this means we can only fully develop to our potential within a vibrant community. Hilary's only problem is that it seems she's forgotten about someone names Jesus...(who is to be the center of this community, or else it will never work).

8. It Takes a Church within a Village (London & Wiseman)
* An evangelical Christian response to the above.

Prayer: Merciful Father, as I read grant me keenness of mind, capacity to remember, skill in learning, subtlety to interpret, and eloquence in speech. May you guide the beginning of my work, direct its progress, and bring it to completion. You who are true God and true man, who live and reign, world without end. Amen.

* this prayer is taken from a portion of a prayer uttered by St. Thomas Aquinas

Resolution A

The Puritans are known for living orderly lives. They truly understood the value of time and determined to use every moment to the glory of God. One method they utilized to make the most of their time was by the means of Resolutions. These were the 16th-18th century equivalent of 'core values' (though with some differences). Perhaps the most famous Resolutions were those written by the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards.

I've decided to try my hand at some resolutions of my own. My goal is to list several (the puritans would list scores and scores--I will probably be more meager).

Resolved, never to go into any company where I cannot obtain access for my Master.

Commentary: This statement is essentially missional in nature. It highlights that I am first and foremost a servant and ambassador of God. Serving Christ is not a 9-to-5 job. There is no moment in the day when I am 'not a Christian', nor (in my specific case) where I am 'not a minister'. To forget who I am, or to forget my mission--even for the moment--is a great blasphemy.

Prayer: Merciful Father, may I have the discipline to use my time in this short life for your glory, the strength to do so consistently, and the hope that my service unto you will be pleasing in your sight. Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Scandal rocks the ETS

For a few years now I have been a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. This is a good, solid organization that is marked by its commitment to scholarship and learning. However, it has being rocked by various 'scandals' in the last several years.

A few years back it confronted the "open theism" position--officially deciding that it was not consistent with its beliefs/heritage but refraining from removing certain adherents to open theism from its ranks (FYI--Open Theism, sometimes called Freewill Theism is a radical version of Arminianism that denies God knows the future. Prophecy in the Bible is simply God's best "guess" as to what might happen. Furthermore, it claims that God can't be blamed for evil because he can't see it coming. When it happens, he is just as shocked as we are). Many scholars were upset with the ETS for not allowing "free discussion" on this issues. Apparently some people think that officially making a stand for any belief is intolerant. Other members began to call for a more robust doctrinal statement that would solidify ETS' evangelical heritage.

Currently, the ETS has a "bikini" statement of faith in that it includes only two articles: 1. the Trinity, and 2. The inspiration & innerancy of Scripture. Actually, the official doctrinal statement is as follows: "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory."

However, the current scandal is by far the biggest that has rocked the ETS. The current sitting president (Beckwith, who recently resigned) has left the Evangelical faith and has been fully restored to the Roman Catholic Church. Below are some supporting documents that might be of interest.

The Executive Committee's official statement regarding the issue: Click Here

Beckwith explains his reasons for resigning from the Presidency: Click Here

Beckwith explains his reasons for resigning as a member: Click Here

Of course, as many people point out, Beckwith can--even as a Catholic--abide by the doctrinal statement. Therein lies the problem. If a Roman Catholic can in good conscience believe the doctrinal statement of an Evangelical organization, in what sense is that organization Evangelical?

Now please understand that I am in no way bashing Catholics. I wholeheartedly support the Evangelic-Catholic dialogue that is currently taking place (a series of documents have already been published under the title "Evangelicals and Catholics Together). While I don't always (or even often) agree with the results of these times of dialogue, the are helpful to the cause of Christ.

But the ETS is an EVANGELICAL organization--at least it claims to be so. Yet they have always resisted having a more robust doctrinal statement--out of the false belief that this ensures "open discussion".

Yet there are some truths that are beyond discussing. There are some tenants of the faith that should not be debated. As Evangelicals, we of all people should know this. For the sake of honesty, and congruity with our very name (ETS), our organization must adopt a more robust statement of faith.

Yes--I am a member of the ETS.

Yes--I will continue to be so.

Yes--I believe Dr. Beckwith is a sincere believer who knows Jesus Christ as Savior.

Yes--I believe he has made a serious error & has blinded himself to clear scripture truth.

Yes--I believe the ETS will ultimately fall unless it redefines who it is.


Prayer: Merciful Father, may we stand for truth. May we stand for unity. May we stand, always and forever, for you, our Glorious and Loving God. Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The power of a touch...

Have you ever noticed the repeated references to Jesus touching people. Pick up and read one of the Gospels and you will find that Jesus certainly was no 'ivory tower' figure. He was down in the dirt with everyone. He was approachable and 'real'.

As best as I am able, Jesus is my paradigm for life and ministry. Certainly as a Christian I want to live like him, but also I want to minister like him. In the early months of my pastorate there were several people irritated with me because I did not identify myself as "Pastor Josh" when speaking with people. Not that I hid the fact I was a pastor--in fact I never do. In every conversation with someone I just meet I make sure to say that I am a pastor at Indian River Baptist Church. But I just call myself 'Josh'. No titles, no letters behind my name, no pedigree.

Why? Because Jesus didn't go by titles--though he used them occasionally. He didn't walk around saying "Son of God Jesus" or "Messiah Jesus" or "Savior Jesus" or even "Rabbi Jesus". He was just 'Jesus'. He wanted people to know Him, not his title. He wanted to be real, to be approachable.

Of course, his message was a stumbling block to many--but his life was not. He allowed nothing in his life that would unnecessarily separate him from people. Whether it was physically touching outcasts, or refusing to set himself above others, Jesus was committed to being real.

There are so many people around us that need to be touched. Not only must we give them the message of Jesus, but we must be approachable as we do it. What action, title, clothing style, automobile, or any other thing do you have in your life that unnecessarily creates a divide with others? Remove it, and be like your Savior.

Prayer: Merciful Father, help me be Mission oriented-Mission driven in all I do. I exist to serve you, and to love others. I freely give what I have freely received. Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Wilberforce on the decay of culture...

In preparation for last week's sermon I found a wonderful quote by William Wilberforce. Though I didn't end up using it in the sermon, it is too powerful to pass up. Interestingly enough, the context of this statement is regarding the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, which was the focus of last Sunday's sermon. William Wilberforce strongly believed that without this core doctrine (as well as the other precious truths of the bible) culture would most certainly rot and decay.

"As the unique doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, as might be expected the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment." (from "Practical View of Christianity").

We must never forget that we are the salt of the earth. Salt preserves. Christians must--as long as God permits--"preserve" this world from continued decay and the judgment of God. In a very real sense, it is only the presence of Christians that keeps the immoral world around us from experiencing the full extent of God's judgment. To strip the gospel of its truth-claims, to water-down doctrinal preaching, or to reduce Christianity to its 'warm-n-fuzzy' elements is to cease being salt and invite the ultimate downfall of culture.

While it is arguable that America was ever a "Christian" nation in the fullest sense of the term, it is clear that America was began with a large percentage of the population holding in common certain doctrinal truths (e.g. that God created the world, that humanity is created in the image of God and therefore there is a sanctity to life, that there is a higher power to which we are answerable, etc). Also, much of the country opening believed in specifically Christian doctrines (the deity of Christ, the need to repent of sin and live a holy life, the return of Christ, the primacy of Scripture, etc). As these doctrines and beliefs slowly began to vanish, so have the morals. The morals of this country are a logical consequence--or product--of our beliefs.

As the song goes, 'we need to get back to the basics of life...'.

Prayer: Merciful Father, thank you for the truth you have given us. May we believe it and live it--in a spirit of humility, love, and complete confidence in you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The votes are in...

Just a quick note to inform everyone that I won the election for a seat on the local school board. At this point the vote count is still unofficial, but they felt confident enough to unofficially declare a winner.

There were 2 other write-in candidates, both of whom seemed very qualified for the position. Pray that I may serve this community well, use wisdom in decision making, and bring glory to God through all that I do.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Politics and the Church...more thoughts

In my last post I reflected on the nature of a Christian's involvement in the political arena. However, another equally important dimension needs to be considered; namely, the nature of political involvement in the Church arena.

Presently in the United States churches take one of two positions:

Position A: Highly Political

Advocates of this position can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. Many African-American churches, for example, have for years maintained a high level of political involvement--including regularly hosting political leaders to speak in their pulpits. Many liberal churches likewise use the Sunday morning pulpit as an avenue to deliver politically-based messages--generally calling for social action of some sort. Likewise, their conservative cousins use this time to deliver politically charged sermon calling for its members to take action on any number of conservative issues. These sermons (both on the liberal and conservative side) cover every thing from the standard moral issues (abortion, etc) to big government to health care.
The Christian is called upon to do his or her duty and 'cast a vote' in accordance with that church's particular ideals.


Position B: Total Political Avoidance

This position is growing more and more common, especially among America's growing Evangelical sector. This point-of-view maintains that the church--and most specifically the Sunday morning service--is a time for worship & scripture study alone and that politics has no place. Extreme examples of this even include preaching on the key moral issues of the day.
The book Blinded By Might is a good example of this type of thinking (though Ed Dobson--the author--did not advocate the extreme view, and did preach on moral issues).

My Position:

As with most things, I can be found somewhere in the middle. I refuse to publish overtly political pieces in the bulletin, will not allow political literature on our information tables, and abhor the thought of rallying my congregation to 'get out the vote'. Too many pastors confuse Christianity with Republican or Democratic causes. Our chief mission is to share the good news of salvation, equip the believers, show mercy to the suffering, and worship of our awesome God.

However, the church also has the twofold duty of (1) applying scriptural truth to everyday life--including political life; and (2) influencing society with the profound wisdom of Scripture. The idea that the church should only be considered with the "spiritual" and not the "physical" (whether that be politics, culture, art, education, or anything else) is actually a Platonic idea and not a Biblical one. Scripture is full of practical wisdom, and both the individual as well as the larger society will benefit from following it (as well as suffer the consequences for refusing to do so).

Therefore, the church has the duty to teach its members to think biblically so they can properly make political decisions. Likewise, we have the duty of standing against culture on issues that directly touch the moral issues of scripture. We are called to be modern day prophets confronting culture with the truth-claims on the Bible. We must make a stand against the damnable killing of babies or the infirm. We must take a stand against blatant (or even hidden) racism and sexism. We must stand to defend against the evil agendas to force non-biblical expressions sexuality (homosexuality, open marriage, trans-gender lifestyles, etc) upon our little children.

But, we cannot forget that this is not our chief mission. Our chief mission will always be (1) loving God, and (2) loving others. While we must address the political issues of the day, we must never do so at the expense of our true mission.

Perhaps if we get back to the issue of teaching people who Jesus really is, we can do far more political good than trying to win elections.

Prayer: Merciful Father, show me the path of wisdom. Make my mission to be so dear that I will never forsake it. Yet also give me the wisdom to influence a pagan culture around me for your glory.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Entering the Political Arena...

I've recently made a decision to run for political office. Well...perhaps the word "political" is too strong, but I am running for a position on the local public school board. As a full-time minister and a professional counselor, adding another "hat" might be considered ill-advised by some. In fact, some Christians--particularly those of the almost-clinically-insane-fundamentalist** variety--will consider it almost sinful for a "pastor" to do such a thing. I can already here them ask, 'what hath Jerusalem do to with Rome?'*** Surely, it is maintained, a "pastor" who would run for a school board position must be a flaming liberal who has abandoned any semblance of Christian faith.

Others, particularly those brethren to the left of me theologically, will maintain concern that a pastor will be unable to maintain a necessary separation of Church and state. That is, in their view it would be considered inappropriate to bring faith issues into political office. Conservatives--as distinct from crazy-fundamentalists--would sharply disagree and fervently maintain that I have a religious duty to use this position as a "community pulpit" to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

...all this controversy and I haven't even been elected yet (and, considering there are two other candidates, let's admit the odds are less than decisively in my favor). I think the (implied) questions above are legitimate, and should be answered:

SHOULD A MINISTER HOLD PUBLIC OFFICE

This of course depends on the minister and the unique calling God has for him. For many ministers, the answer will be 'no'. However, such dual roles arevery common in the African-American community because they rightly understand the importance of cultural involvement. Many theologians, particularly those of the Dutch Calvinist variety, stressed the necessity of involvement in community and culture. Francis Schaeffer, himself heavily influenced by Dutch Calvinism, was an outspoken advocate of Christians actively engaging the public sector. Abraham Kuyper, former professor of Theology and Prime Minister of Amersterdam, once declared "There is not one square inch of this world over which Jesus Christ will not declare, 'This is Mine!'". Kuyper was trying to communicate the idea that Christians--even pastors--who believe we must stay in our own little corners of the world are actually thinking very unbiblically.

SHOULD PUBLIC OFFICE BE A "PULPIT"

No. While this may irritate my conservative brethren, public office is not the place to push Evangelism. This is not to say that faith will not inform one's decisions or conversations. Indeed, faith SHOULD inform such things. For a Christian to omit faith would be to omit themselves. Our lives should be so intertwined with faith that it is impossible to separate it out for any occasion. But public office is not the place to preach the cross, to curse society for "abandoning" our Christian heritage (which is a myth anyway. While America was certainly strongly influenced by Christian ethics, it was by no means a "Christian nation"), or to proselytize.

However, a Christian in such a position does have a duty to live his or her life in such a way as to point others to Christ. Furthermore, they have a duty to shape culture through establishing policies that are most beneficial for the community. As history has proven--and scriptures have always taught--virtue is a powerful force that brings stability, peace, and prosperity to a society. Even the ancient Greeks knew this. Both Plato and Aristotle taught much on virtue, and the quest for the "virtuous nation" consumed the Greco-Roman philosophers. Benjamin Franklin, himself no believer, also understood the absolute necessity of virtue (he would even argue, Christian virtue) for establishing a stable society. Ideals such as "honesty", "sanctity of life", "committment", "selflessness", "tolerance", and a host of others are virtues taught to us by God. A Christians role in politics is to shape a virtuous society. As such, it is a most holy endeavor.

Our crazy-fundamentalist brethren wish for all 'true' believers to abandon culture and join them in their intellectual ghetto.

Our cherished, yet over-zealous conservative brethren cannot fathom the two related, though distinct spheres of cultural involvement and Christian mission.

Our wayward liberal brethren try to do away with the sphere of Christian mission all-together.

But a Jesus-follower is called to be "in the world but not of the world".

To be "in" it means that we must shape and influence it to the best of our abilities. We need Christian in the business place, the arts, academia, the professions, and the trades. By being there, they become a cultural force that shapes these domains into virtue-rich sectors of culture.

To not be "of" the world means that as Christians we must never forget that there is another--even higher--involvement to which Christians are called: Christian mission. Though we must be "in" the world (i.e. involved in culture), we must never do so at the expense of Christian mission. Yet the reverse is also true, we must never do Christian Mission (which is more important) at the expense of Cultural Involvement.

Feeding my kids is more important than feeding the dog....but I still gotta feed the dog.

NOTES:

**As I have mentioned before, though must mention again since the human mind is indeed frail and tends to forget, I am a "Fundamentalist"--though in the original and classical sense of the term. I firmly believe in the Fundamentals (core doctrines) of the faith. The "crazy fundamentalists" are those
firebreathers that confuse secondary issues (KJV, Movie Theatres, Clothes, Hairstyles) with the primary issues (core doctrines, loving God, loving others).

***Though that would assume a knowledge of the Church Fathers of the Early Church Period, where this quote comes from. I'm sure our crazy-fundamentalist brethren would not allow things like "information" or "facts" get in the way of their hate-rhetoric.