Showing posts with label Ecclesiology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ecclesiology. Show all posts

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Across Language, Ethnicity, Social Strata, Continent, and History

Today at work, I had a long, meandering conversation with a coworker inspired by his looking through some of the material at Pillar on the Rock last night. The fellow in question is a convert to Catholicism who started out as a Southern Baptist—obviously our views diverge a bit on the correct form of church government, as well as a host of other issues.

As I was driving home, I was pondering the conversation with him, and thinking through some of the factors that might lead someone toward Roman Catholicism. For completely unrelated reasons, I was thinking about Christian bookstores, and how very little space in them is devoted to Catholicism—despite the fact that, despite my significant differences with Roman Catholic doctrine, it is far more orthodox than much of the dreck that is pushed front-and-center at the local Mardel. For some reason, the two different thought processes merged together and highlighted just how local much of Protestantism is in contrast to the global unity inherent in the Catholic structure.

Before anyone gets riled up, I'm not suggesting we return to the Catholic church or dump the principles of congregational government. I don't think either would be a good idea. However, I think it is important to reflect on some of the things that have been lost since the Reformation, especially as Protestant churches have continued to splinter and factionalize. There are many problems with the hierarchical structure embodied by the Roman, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. One thing they do well, however, which other denominations do less well the more congregational they are, is consciously reinforce the connection of believers all around the world.

I am united by faith with believers in Peru, Italy, the Sudan, and Vietnam. However, I am united with them only by faith. We have no organizational ties; there is nothing mundane (other than perhaps missions donations) connecting me to them or them to me. That can make it difficult to remember that we are part of the same church, connected as deeply as can be. For all their other flaws, the hierarchical structures have an institutional connection to each other—they have common leaders and authorities, common methodologies, common doctrine. In short, there is a practical advantage to those structures in some ways, despite the theological problems with them—at least when it comes to remembering that we are part of the church universal.

There are a number of ways to help correct this deficiency in Protestant circles. First, of course, is simply teaching. We need to be reminded of our commonality with our brothers and sisters around the world, because we do not have existing institutional reminders. Pastors must find particular ways to highlight this as it is relevant in sermons. They can also make a point to model prayer for fellow believers in countries on the other side of the world. If the church has particular missions ties to particular people groups or nations, they can regularly make mention of those not only in the service but in prayer request emails and on their websites.

Second, I think it may be helpful to just get outside of our cultural box as much as possible. Even breaking out of the walls of our own church to partner with likeminded but culturally different churches in our own area can help here—the middle class suburban church teaming up with an urban plant, a primarily-Hispanic church joining with a largely-Asian fellowship, etc. Beyond this, short-term missions that focus on developing relationships with both nonbelievers and missionaries in foreign cultures, receiving visitors from foreign cultures, and long-term partnerships with ministry workers in cross-cultural evangelism can all help us see how we are connected to believers around the globe.

At an individual level, many of the same options are valuable, but others exist, as well. Resources like Operation World can help us see the big picture of God's work in the world. Church history can help us see our place not only globally but historically, and emphasize that we are part of God's ongoing work throughout all the world—every tribe, every tongue, and every nation. Wherever we can break out of our narrow, localized perspective, we will be able to see our connection to believers the world over better—and perhaps that will help us be more faithful and effective where we are.

In closing, one final, striking thought: I've spent this whole post discussing ways we can remember that we are united with believers the world over. So stop for a moment and ponder that: you and I, by faith in Christ, are deeply, meaningfully united with people who have nothing else in common with us—not language, or ethnicity, or social strata, or continent, or history. But our unity in Christ far surpasses everything that could divide us. Remember that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Worship "Experiences" (A Rant)

One of the great dangers we face in the modern worship music setting is a tendency to overemphasize our emotions. Because we (rightly) recognize that we are to worship God not only intellectually but with our feelings, we have esteemed music that moves our emotions highly—and this is a good thing. However, it can also lead us astray very quickly. We begin to evaluate our worship services purely in terms of how deeply moved we felt. We think that because we had strong emotion, we were close to God (and accordingly, He was honored)—even if the songs we offered did not honor Him or make Him look great to anyone, even if, as is too often the case, the songs were really all about us.

Eventually, we become junkies, always looking for the next fix of emotionally satiating sound. Power chords, the kick drum, and evocative solos come to define our worship more than well, worship does. We stop seeking to honor God and start seeking cheap thrills. If left to run unchecked, emotional worship becomes worship of emotion—the idolatry of self-worship.

I suspect it is not a coincidence that the advent of churches offering "worship experiences" (as opposed to the traditional wording, "worship service") has come in a distinctly non-creedal time, as ties to history are cut off and the theological grounding of worship is cast aside. A people who will not take the time to speak God's word aloud together, or who categorically refuse to link themselves to the Great Tradition on the basis that creeds are somehow stuffy, are in danger of running off into the weeds. Yes, the creeds and corporate reading of Scripture can both become worn-out traditions.

So can Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, and David Crowder.

The problem—always—is not so much the particular elements of our worship, as whether it is in fact worshipping God, and whether it is doing so properly. Worship is not something to be offered cavalierly, it is not about self-gratification, and it requires reverence. A look at the header of my blog points us in the right direction: we are to offer God an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe—because God is a consuming fire. The reference is to God's promise to the Israelites in Deuteronomy if they offered Him an unpleasing worship—a fire that destroys. God takes worship seriously, and most Americans simply don't.

We need to return to a theological grounding for worship. Not at the expense of technical excellence—though, frankly, more theological excellence would make up for a great deal of technical failure: remember that we are worshipping God, not performing at a concert. In the end, though, our goal must be to make our technical excellence serve one and only one end: turning the congregation's eyes away from themselves (and away from us) and toward Christ on His throne.

That means including Scripture more actively in our service, and actively calling the congregation to participate in reading it aloud together. That means incorporating the creeds—at least time to time. If, for historical reasons, the creeds are uncomfortable to people, bring them back in slowly and with a lot of introduction—but don't leave them by the wayside; they are too valuable to waste because of our discomfort. We all need to grow up out of our pasts, difficult and slow though that process may be.

Most of all, it means setting aside the constant desire for emotional highs and seeking to glorify God. The worship service ought to be just that: a time of self-sacrificial service to God, not a time of self-serving experience-creation. I am not saying that we will not have strong emotions at time—grief and repentance, joy, adulation, etc. are all good and right parts of worship. But the one emotion we must stir up in ourselves is not any of those but deep, abiding affection for God (for from it come all the others)—and that is stirred in us not by power chords (though they have their place) but by knowing Him more deeply and praising Him more truly. So it is that the most important emotion of all can be inculcated through some of the very means that evangelicals have cast off in the quest for more emotionally charged experiences.

We should keep singing Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, the Gettys, Hillsong, and a dozen more besides. Yet we should not stop there: we should also remember that we stand in the line of a great many thousands of believers who have affirmed the faith through the Apostles Creed, with its magnificent proclamation of God's Lordship. We should also remember that God's word is the most appropriate source of worship, for all it says is true. Every song we write that does not quote the Word directly, however good it is, can never measure up to the truthfulness of saying God's word back to Him in praise.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hills to Die On

Two Johns are among the most well-recognized and respected voices of the Reformed stream of Christianity in America today: Dr. John Piper and Dr. John Macarthur. The two respect each other, and have occasionally partnered together in various ministries (in particular, Piper’s invitations to Macarthur to speak at Desiring God events). Both are gifted expositors; both are passionate about God’s word; both are dedicated to the good of the church.

In my listening to both of them, one distinct difference comes up—one that is probably as much personality as anything, and which I am not going to make too much of, other than as a starting point for the rest of this post. John Piper is a good deal kinder to those who disagree with him. Macarthur and Piper are both firebrands; that is a significant part of what I like about them. But Piper draws his circle in the sand a good deal more generously than Macarthur does.

He has encouraged the “Young, Restless and Reformed” crowd not to make the mistake of separating too quickly or easily from other believers with whom they (we) have disagreements. Macarthur, by contrast, is quite happy to pronounce that others are in serious, dangerous error over what I believe are secondary (if nonetheless important) issues: the exact timing and means of creation and a Calvinist soteriology being the two strongest examples I can think of. As I said, a great deal of this is probably personality, and I do not mean this as criticism of Macarthur, whose ministry I respect.

Even so, I appreciate Piper’s even-handed and courteous treatment of those he disagrees with—his strong but generous treatment of N. T. Wright in their ongoing discussion of justification being a prime example.

As I was thinking this through earlier, I realized that it goes to the heart of an issue I have mentally chewed on a great deal recently: the question of where we ought to condemn and where we ought to disagree. For example, I would argue that Open Theism fits in the first category, along with modalism, works salvation, and other major heresies. So do cultish views like those espoused by Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. These views fundamentally and irreconcilably distort the nature of God, our relationship to him and the gospel itself.

By contrast, I think the Calvinism-Arminian discussion fits squarely in the second category. While I disagree with the Arminian view, that makes little difference fellowship: my Arminian brothers stand well within the circle of orthodoxy. I might say the same on a number of other issues, including baptism, eschatology, and church government. In each case, I have strong, carefully thought through views—but I recognize that in those cases, they are not grounds for sundering Christian fellowship. However important these issues are, and they are very important, they are not irreconcilable differences on the gospel and the person of God. That, I think, is the difference.

(Whether they are grounds for splitting churches in another, although closely related, topic. I will be taking it up at Pillar on the Rock sometime in the next few months, so keep an eye out.)

A few months ago, I led our small group in a discussion of Titus. One of the themes of Titus is contending for sound doctrine. The elders Titus appointed were to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9). Titus himself was to “rebuke [insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers] sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (1:13). Paul reminded him, “Declare these things [the gospel], exhort and rebuke with all authority” (2:15) and later reiterated this point, writing, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things [the gospel], so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (3:8). Immediately following, though, he continues:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Titus 3:9-11

The gospel summaries Paul offers stand as the foundation of the rest of the letter—and in stark opposition to the divisiveness Paul opposes. He allowed no room in the church for bickering and squabbling over secondary issues. People who stirred up division should not be tolerated. There is a hill to die on, in Paul’s mind—but it was not the hot-button issues of the day (genealogies may sound boring, but to a 1st-century Jew, they were as significant as many of our theological controversies today). He defines “these things” rather simply:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Titus 2:11-14
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:3-7

This is the hill I will die on. On every other point, I will be as peaceable as I can, doing everything possible to preserve the bond of peace between me and my brothers and sisters in Christ. Though I will argue strenuously for my views, I will not ultimately break fellowship over them. But on the gospel itself, and on the nature of God himself, I will not budge.

Here is where I have learned from Dr. Piper: he is deeply, passionately committed to getting Jesus Christ and his gospel right. As passionate as he is about believer’s baptism, church membership, and a host of other issues, he is first and foremost committed to the gospel—and when he rebukes another view (or even more rarely, publically rebukes another leader), he does so graciously and kindly, doing his best to preserve peace. Would we were all so committed to making Christ known by loving unity even in the midst of disagreement.

Our differences will not go away, and we should not attempt to trivialize them; yet neither should we allow them to divide us and so obscure the unity that Christ bought us with his blood.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

179,676 Days

For years, I've promised to write a Reformation Day post. Every year, I've failed. This year, I've made no such promise, but here I am succeeding. Irony, thy name is Chris Krycho, at least for the next hour.

492 years ago—179,976 days, including leap years—Martin Luther nailed up a list of issues he saw with the Catholic church of his day on the door of a Wittenburg church. What followed was one of the most momentous changes in the history of the church, and indeed the world. It is no exaggeration to say that I sit here today, typing away, because of Martin Luther and the men that followed his lead. They shook the world, both for good and for ill.

I am grateful for men like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. I walk with Christ because these men were as faithful as they could be to the Bible. They took it as their authority, let it rule their doctrine and their lives. They were horribly imperfect men; from Luther's anti-Semitism to Calvin's failure with Servetus, they stumbled along the way. I find it encouraging that these men, sinners all, were used powerfully by God. He is not limited by our weaknesses.

One could say many things today. For my part, I want to focus in on one thing I think the reformers themselves did very well that Protestants have generally done quite poorly ever since: reform.

The Reformers' name isn't a misnomer. Luther and Calvin both deeply valued unity, and wanted an internal restoration of the church they loved. By all accounts they were grieved that their own excommunication was the result of their efforts. They fought hard for what they believed was true, but they also cared deeply about following Christ's commands that we seek unity. For too many Christians since the Reformation, schism has become the easiest out when a doctrinal difference appears. Instead of asking whether or not we can find a way to either resolve the difference or live with the difference, we simply split and go our own way.

Worse, schism has become such a norm that churches have split over the proverbial carpet color. Instead of being a people known by their love for one another, Christians (at least, of the Protestant fold) have become a people known for their divisions. When any given topic has the potential to produce church-splitting conflicts, we are not modeling the love of Christ. We need to learn right practice as well as right doctrine from the reformers. Yes, we must hold fast to right teaching, to sound doctrine, and to the primacy of Scripture. We should not be afraid to call heresy out for what it is. At the same time, we need to be careful not to call heresy things that aren't, and we need to show grace to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We must strive to reform our churches instead of splitting them.

When Christ is rightly esteemed, we have a much better grasp on just how unimportant things like our own decor preferences are. When He is understood to be the center of and the aim of all we're doing, our own ministry aims must be subsumed to the greater goals of the church. When Christ crucified and come to life again is our gospel, we understand that many of our doctrinal differences are simply unworthy of schism. Indeed, only heresy is worth a violent separation, and few doctrines are worth any separation at all! I may not be a Presbyterian, for example—I'm not much one for infant baptism!—but I certainly ought to have close fellowship with my Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Christ. We have much more that unites us than separates. We shouldn't paper over our differences, but we can treat them as what they are: trifling, compared to our unity on Christ and His work. When issues arise in our own churches, we should work with all of our power to resolve them or to come to a place of amicable disagreement. If at long last we should come to the conclusion that it is best to go our separate ways—e.g. over infant baptism—then it ought to be done with the deepest charity and the most heartfelt affection. When churches do separate, they ought to do it with love for one another and with the aim to continue in fellowship and in cooperation for the gospel.

Happy Reformation Day. Keep reforming.

Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria.
By Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, glory to God alone.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Five 100-word thoughts

Things that passed through my head today that I thought my be interesting:
  1. A snippet from the Today show this morning that I caught while waiting for new tires: a couple expecting a child... to be born from another couple. Both couples were using in vitro fertilization because they could not conceive naturally. The doctor made a mistake and implanted the wrong embryo. Now one couple is carrying the baby to term (praise God!) and giving it back to his parents. What exactly does that mean? It’s a confusing, painful mess for everyone involved. Situations like this make me question the wisdom of in vitro. There are no easy answers here.
  2. In a Christianity Today interview published last Friday, Kara Powell argued that the age of age segregated ministry is over, or should be. A few highlights from the interview, especially the last one:


    • Now we tend to think that we can outsource the care of our kids to... the youth and children's workers.
    • Teens should not only be the objects of ministry; they need to be the subjects of ministry as well.
    • Tenth graders study Shakespeare. What are we offering them at church? Nothing comparable...
    • ...it's also very important for parents to share about their own spiritual journeys with kids.


  3. God’s grace is a pretty stunning thing. As the author of Hebrews puts it: through death He overcame the one with the power of death (the devil) and delivers those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. That’s huge. I can’t conscience dropping penal substitutionary atonement in favor of Christus Victor, but we must remember: Christ’s life and death did more than eliminate sin’s penalty! We should revel in His victory, excited about His final triumph. Praise God: we’ve been saved from God’s wrath, death, fear, and Satan’s power, and to freedom, life everlasting, joy and love.
  4. Marriage is a delightful and painful treasure. Delightful, because every day is filled with companionship, love, and adventure. Painful, because I realize more every day how wicked I am:. Yes, wicked: I am self-absorbed, unkind, rude, thoughtless, harsh. Jaimie is a delight and a treasure to me, yet too often I do not show her the depths of my love. I am just beginning to grasp how immense a thing it is to die for her every day as Christ died for the church. I desperately need the Spirit’s help to love her well. On my own, I fail horribly.
  5. In a pair of sermons on Luke 18, Matt Chandler (lead pastor of The Village Church in Texas) absolutely hit the ball out of the park. He looked at the text hard. The result: a solid scriptural rebuke to our self-reliance and our love of anything other than Christ. Topics covered: A Pharisee with a theocentric prayer who missed justification because he thought his God-given works saved him. A rich man who was still looking for how he could find eternal life in religion. And God’s way. Give them a listen: May 28 and June 7.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The purpose of the Church

A brief quote from J. Gresham Machen, back in 1933, on why the church exists:
The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life--no, all the length of human history--is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth--no, all the wonders of the starry heavens--area as the dust of the street.

"An unpopular message it is--an impractical message, we are told. But it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life." (From Selected Shorter Writings, edited by D.G. Hart, 376)


Reminds me of several things. First, that the purpose of the church is not to save children from AIDS or to end all poverty, or any other earth-oriented cause, however noble. It will do those things, but as a reflection of its real purpose, not as its actual purpose. That's where the social gospel goes wrong: it sees the church's task as the accomplishment of all good ends here and now. In reality, the church's goal must always be to make Christ known and to show how very deep our need for Him is. All those other things will come as part of that, but they are not it, and can never replace it. When they do, the church falters.

I'm also reminded of just how much I want to read some of J. Gresham Machen's writing; every time I run into it, I appreciate the things he has to say. Add one more to the already very long reading list. It keeps growing...

HT: Kevin DeYoung @ DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: What Is the Responsibility of the Church?