Archive for October, 2009

Church Growth Gone Wild

I came across this blog post written by a local pastor in town.  I have never witnessed a pastor encouraging this type of “church growth” strategy before.  The names have been removed in this post to protect the innocent. :)  This pastor and I did correspond back and forth a few times but we graciously agreed to disagree on various points.  Here is his blog post below:

“As you heard during my presentation, XXX is now entering an exciting stage in it’s early ministry—where the stakes are high! In this stage, we must all start seeing ourselves as “missionaries to Freeport—recruiting other missionaries to Freeport.” Large churches like XXX can survive for quite some time based on size, budget, different-ness, and momentum. XXX can survive based on size, multiple staff and a broad, mainstream evangelical culture, and migration from broad evangelical churches.

We’ve deliberately chosen not to replicate XXX or XXX, because they have their own philosophy of ministry that fits a niche, but would simply render XXX the smaller, “step-sister” of these other churches (even if we wanted) to imitate them. I mention this because we offer something unique to Freeport. I believe we can reach broadly and disciple deeply a new generation. But getting to that point will require “all prayers up, and all hands on deck”. It will truly take the entire XXX family praying and working together!

I ask during the upcoming year each of you join our family in…
1) Asking our sovereign God to glorify Himself by bringing to XXX people who would 1) Benefit greatly from XXX AND who would 2) Contribute greatly to XXX (as missionaries with us). To be honest, XXX needs both types of people.

2) Making a list of both types of people that you personally know. Please do NOT rule anyone out because they have gone to “church x” for 15 years. Missionaries are always people sent from an established church, to start a new church. No churches would exist today if no one left their churches to birth ‘daughter’ churches. There’s nothing immoral about asking people to be missionaries. It’s been done for 2000 years!

**Making these friend lists should be fun. After all, this is a chance for you to sit back and ask, “who would I love to see a part of XXX?” Who would be a privilege to serve alongside?” “who would add warmth, servant-heartedness and gifts to a new church?”

Praying for you!
~ Pastor XXX XXX”

Your role in the kingdom of God

Dr. R.C. Sproul offers some encouraging words to church leaders. 

While always initiated and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit, history tells us that the most powerful periods of church renewal and reformation follow the efforts of Christian leaders to teach the Word of God accurately. Certainly, the Protestant Reformation would not have traveled far and wide if men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others had not systematically explained the gospel and dedicated themselves to the training of churchmen. But let us not forget the efforts of unnamed persons who were used of God to bring renewal through their faithfulness to Scripture. It is hardly possible that the Reformation would have spread apart from the work of knowledgeable men who handed the faith on to other men and the labor of educated women who instructed women and children in the church and at home.
Famous and unsung alike, these heroes held in common a solid grounding in the essential truths of the prophetic and apostolic writings, the foundation upon which Christ builds His church. Christian leaders today must likewise be established in truths like biblical inerrancy, divine sovereignty, the person of Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, man as the fallen image of God, salvation by grace alone, the nature of the church and sacraments, as well as the hope of our final resurrection if the church would enjoy a new reformation.”

This is a great conference to consider attending.  I attended years ago and was very blessed.

The literary and thematic unity of Matthew 19-20

The more I preach through Matthew’s gospel account the more I see its wonderful thematic coherence. For example, it is interesting to see how scholars treat passages like Matt 20:17-19 or Matt 20: 29-34. They will say things like, “this is a late addition by Matthew borrowed from Mark or Q” or “this passage is a departure from the flow of Matthew’s thought.” Of course the evidence for such conclusions can be found on the same aisle at Walmart that sells unicorns and leprechauns.  As always, the literary-thematic flow of NT narrative is crucial to understanding each individual pericope and the book’s central message/purpose. In Matthew 19-20, Matthew uses six narrative units to uphold a significant point about the Messiah.

Long story short, although the OT was clear that the Messiah would suffer, the disciples were often befuddled over the fact that Jesus had to die (e.g., Matt 16:21-23). After all, if He is the one who makes His enemies His footstool (Ps 110), then why does He have to die? Matthew wants the reader to see that the Messiah will not come in the way many expect. In fact He will come to those who are the outcasts, the foolish, and the despised of this world. Shockingly, the Messiah has done this by becoming preeminent not among the first but among the last. The chapter divsions between Matt 19 and 20 are unfortunate but they are what they are. Here’s how I see the literary unity of Matthew’s point:

19:1-12 Introduction and testing the Messiah

19:13-15 Narrative 1–The kingdom is for the last.

19:16-26 Narrative 2–The kingdom is shut off to the first.

19:27-29 Narrative 3–The kingdom is rewarded to the last.

19:30-20:16 Parable–Kingdom blessing is sovereignly rewarded.

20:17-19 Narrative 4–The Messiah is preeminent among the last.

20:20-28 Narrative 5–The Messiah came to serve the last through giving His life.

20:29-34 Narrative 6–The Messiah demonstrated His compassion for the last.

Books on the Life of Paul

I am doing a bit of writing on the life and ministry of Paul and I have found that this is a fairly limited area within evangelical scholarship. There are many works on the theology of Paul but not so much on his life. I have Richard Longenecker’s The Ministry and Message of Paul and F. F. Bruce’s Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Is there anything else you have read that makes a contribution to the subject beyond these?

Chri$tian Publi$hing and the Reformation: What have we learned?

Printers played an unsung role in these early years of the reform movement, though it it not always easy to determine their motives. Many acted from deep religious convictions and risked all to produce evangelical literature for their countrymen. For others, religious sentiments combined easily with profit margins. The market for popular Reformation authors was great, and there was money to be made. Mostly the printers formed smallish circles of friends and acquaintances, yet with their extensive web of foreign contacts they were able to ensure a constant flow of literature into France which passed under the radar of censors [Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale University Press: 2009), 17].

Christ is muffled in ten thousand places

A number of years ago I heard a speaker quoting Eugene Peterson to the effect that there was something deficient in John Calvin’s theology, as evidenced by the fact that he was capable of writing all that high level theology in Geneva without ever once describing the glory of the Alps right out his window. This seems like a plausible objection as raised by pomo types, until we realize that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John never once described the azure sky above the sea of Galilee. What’s with that? Nor did they tell us what the lakeside zephyrs gently did to the long grasses on the slopes above the lake. I don’t know what the deal was. Maybe they had other things on the mind.

HT: Wilson

The circus leading up to the Reformation

“The fifteenth century was the great age of preachers who moved through cities and towns, not only encouraging the people to reform their lives but also providing a good deal of entertainment” [Bruce Gordon, Calvin (Yale University Press: 2009), 11].

Wayne Grudem responds to Justin Taylor and Sam Storms (almost)

Justin Taylor posted a brief comment this moring following the Desiring God Conference’s round table on eschatology. Taylor stated that premillenialism is weakened by the fact that sin and death remain after the parousia. Taylor reasons:

I don’t want to be insensitive to my Premillennial friends, but it struck me a few years ago that the Premillennial position seems relatively depressing: Christ returns–but death and sin and rebellion continue. Now I know that our feelings can’t determine our exegesis (i.e., Premillennialism seems depressing, therefore it can’t be true)–and yet at the same time I think I feel that way precisely because the consistent testimony of the NT leads one to confidently expect that judgment, resurrection, and the death of sin and physical death will all happen at the blessed and glorious return of Christ.

Could it be that the reason for this feature of premillennialism is that exegesis of texts like Isaiah 65 and Revelation 20 might warrant such a conclusion? Jim Hamilton who was a part of the round table has responded to Taylor/Storms here. Writing in his well-known Systematic Theology (1994: pg. 1127), Wayne Gruden said the following:

Several Old Testament passages seem to fit neither in the present age nor in the eternal state. These passages indicate some future stage in the history of redemption which is far greater than the present church age but which still does not see the removal of all sin and rebellion and death from the earth.

As a footnote to this discussion I would highly recommend Michael Vlach’s paper, “Is Revelation 20 the Only Supporting Text for Premillennialism?” which is where I was reminded of the Grudem quote. See here.

Not under the Law, seriously, no really I mean it

Testimony time around the campfire

I once set off a fire alarm at church camp but that’s not important right now. I’m always interested to see how expositors handle the issue of the Law, especially the Decalogue. About six years ago I preached through Exodus 2o which personally brought enormous clarity to me on many issues. I became convinced that as an expositor I cannot strip the commands of their penalties, stipulations, and context and still remain faithful to the text. The Law is a unit that stands or falls together and squinting my eyes while trying to read through and around Leviticus won’t help. Most of the sermons that I have read or heard tend to run to so-called modern day applications without dealing adequately with the meaning and resulting purpose of the Law. This series was a watershed for me and the more I studied the issue the more I saw in Scripture how Jesus really is the fulfillment of the Law (Matt 5:17). Furthermore, this wonderful truth doesn’t require me to cross my fingers behind my back.

In short, with apologies to my Truly Reformed brothers who are praying for my conversion, I generally agree with Doug Moo who wrote that “the entire Mosaic law comes to fulfillment in Christ, and this fulfillment means that this law is no longer a direct and immediate source of, or judge of, the conduct of God’s people” (“Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Wayne Strickland, 319-76, 2nd ed. [Zondervan, 1996], 343. I have friends who respond to such quotes like an out of control patient with turrets syndrome. Outwardly they say “that doesn’t square with the Bestminster Official Catechism of Orthodox Reformed Belief” but inwardly they’re probably thinking “you’re a filthy antinomian, away with you.” By the way, hurling the charge of antinomianism does not close the case.

A test case

Next time this subject comes up among your circle of preacher buddies ask this question: “how should we understand Exodus 20:8-11?” Some are “all in” (e.g. seventh day adventists) but they conveniently cross their fingers on the “you will die if you violate this command” part (e.g., Ex 31:15). The next group responds with a “that’s an easy one” glimmer in their eye and remind you that the Law is divided into three parts: ceremonial, civil, and moral, the moral being the only part we are still under in some mysterious way. After you ask your friend to show this neat division in Scripture he quickly gets a call and has to visit someone in the hospital.

I recently received a review copy of Al Mohler’s new book Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Immediately I turned to chapter four wherein Mohler works through the sabbath question in relation to Ex 20. He does a good job of summarizing the various applications of this particular command. Option 1 is to observe the sabbath on the seventh day, option 2 is observe the sabbath on the first day, and then he offers a third option which is participate in worship on “The Lord’s Day” (87-90). Most folks I know would fall under Mohler’s third option where the Lord’s Day (Sunday) replaces the Sabbath because the Sabbath has been transformed by its fulfillment in Christ. However there’s something unsettling about this “option.” Here’s how Mohler concludes:

Are there things we ought not to do on the Lord’s Day? Certainly there are. Anything that would detract from our worship should not be done on the Lord’s Day. Anything that would rob the Lord’s Day of priority of worship should not be done. Anything that would be on our minds when we are worshipping, as if we can only get done with this in order to go do that, is a matter of sin, no matter what it is.

While most evangelicals and Chick-fil-A employees would nod in agreement there’s still something that doesn’t square here. How is this conclusion justified in light of passages like Romans 6:14, 14:3-4; Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 7-9; James 1:25 just to name a few? I’m not bringing this up because I’m against meeting on Sunday’s for congregational worship but the difference between “we do” and “we must do” is a massive theological issue that directly points to how we truly understand what Christ has indeed accomplished for us on the cross. What say you?

Preaching Revelation

I have been the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Freeport for close to a year and half now.  After a short topical series on “biblical preaching” i decided to take my new congregation through the last book of the Bible.  The most common response i get when sharing that bit of information with others is “Are you crazy, stupid, or a little bit of both son?”  OK not really, but i can see what many Christians are thinking when i tell them what I just told you. 

 When Christians talk about Revelation they often think of two common things: a very obscure New Testament book and lots of prophecy charts.  Yet the book of Revelation is one of the most Christ-centered books in all the Bible.  Chapter 1 begins with a picture of Jesus Christ in all His post-resurrection glory!  Chapters 2 & 3 are immensely practical instructions to the 7 churches (real churches that represent the type of churches/church goers that exist in every century of church history).  Chapter 4 pictures Heaven’s worship of  the Sovereign Creator.  Chapter 5 highlights the great Hero of Heaven,  Jesus Christ.  Some of the most theologically rich details about the gospel are presented in this magnificent chapter.   Chapters 6-18 describe the awful Tribulation period that is yet to come.  Chapter 19 highlights the majestic return of Christ (as righteous Judge, Holy Warrior, and as KING of Kings and LORD of Lords).  Chapter 20 describes the millennial Kingdom and the final judgment of all God’s enemies.  Chapters 21-22 showcases the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Last Sunday I preached my 48th sermon from this lengthy letter (I’ve preached  8 sermons on chapter 1, 23 sermons on chapters 2 and 3, 11 sermons on chapters 4 & 5, 2 sermons on chapters 6-18, and 4 sermons on chapter 19).  My last message covered the famous battle of Armageddon (Rev 19:17-21).  Instead of getting lost in the mintua of this final battle i tried to emphasize what I believe is a major theme of this section; Judgment without mercyThose who reject the mercies of God in Christ will one day experience God’s judgment without mercy.  Talk about relevant sermons. 

With that said, I have tried to walk a very thin line in preaching through this neglected Prophesy.  I don’t want this series to be an information drop that simply tickles the fancy of those prophesy chart pundits (you know who you are).  At the same time i don’t want to ignore the theology of the Apocalypse either.  In other words, just because it is en vogue right now not to have strong convictions with regards to eschatology does not mean those major themes should/can be ignored when preaching through this inspired letter.  For example, does Revelation  3:10 promising deliverance from the Tribulation?  Does Revelation 6-18 describe a 7 year period of unparalleled evil (the Day of the Lord, the future Tribulation) or something else?  Is the binding of Satan in Revelation 20 future or present?  Is the First Resurrection physical or spiritual?  Is the reign of Christ in Revelation 20 on earth or in heaven?

Bottom line: Pastors should consider preaching through the book of Revelation because of this book’s profound Christology.  The more I talk with unbelievers and the more I minister to American believers the more I see a need to preach the REAL Jesus.  After all He is the Lion of Judah and the Lamb that was slaughtered to purchase a covenant people.  He is Prophet, Priest, and King.  He is the righteous Judge, the Holy Conqueror, & the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.

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