Friday, July 30, 2010

A Biblical Understanding of Suffering - Part 3 of 5

Recapping, Part one is Constructive Suffering, Part two is Corrective Suffering... Part three then would be Suffering as a part of heavenly warfare.  Perhaps Heavenly warfare is not the best way to describe it.  Rather it is suffering that comes in a similar fashion to Job.

For an example of this we have to look to Job.  As the story opens, we see Job is happy and healthy.  He’s a favored man with many possessions.

Job 1:1-3 - There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.  2 Seven sons and three daughters were born to him.  3 His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east.

Enter into the scene… Satan.  Job 1:6-8 - Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.  7 The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”  8 The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”  Did you catch that?  Did you see that?  Satan appears before God.  The picture we get is that the presence of God is with Job’s family.  God has approved of the worship Job’s family is engaged in and He has accepted Job’s burnt offerings.  And Satan came and appeared before the Lord.  It doesn’t say why he came, although we can assume it was to accuse Job’s family before God just like he is the accuser of us all, all the time.  And God initiates a conversation with Satan.  “Have you considered my servant Job.”

Job 1:9-11 - Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing?  10 “Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  11 “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”

Satan says, you can’t use Job as an example of a person who hopes in You God because You protect Job and his family and bless him with gifts and possessions.  Satan is saying that true believers are only faithful while life is good and when good times go… so does their faith.

Job 1:12 - Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.  From this point in verse 12 and all the way through Job 2:8, God allows Satan to take away Job’s servants, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his camels, his sons and his daughters, and finally culminating in the striking of Job’s health.

How did Satan do it?  With the permission of god.  God has Satan on a leash essentially and God allowed Satan enough leash to do what was needed to prove to Satan that the faith of true believers is not in the good only that God gives, rather our hope is just in God.  Period.

How does God use Job to prove it?  Job 1:20-22 - Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 

Job 2:3 - The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.” 

Job 2:9-10 - Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!”  10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?  That sounds crazy!  Job is not cold hearted, he’s clearly mourning his losses, but he stands up through it because of his hope in God.  Listen, someone who is not a Christian… what hope for anything do they have to hold on to?  Nothing but this world which is perishing day by day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Biblical Understanding of Suffering - Part 2 of 5

Continuing on in our Biblical understanding of suffering... type number two is Corrective Suffering – It is when we are disciplined by the Grace of God.  Chastened by the Lord.  It is suffering that is meant to get us back on the path of righteousness.  A practical example would be spanking our children rightly.  Why do we do it?  Because their behavior has strayed from Godly behavior and the spanking is a jolt… a painful reminder… to get the child’s head on straight.  And beyond the age where you feel you can spank them, we correct them in other ways.

We have to teach them that when they do what is right in their own eyes that there are consequences.  We do it because we love them and so it is with the Lord.

Hebrews 12:5-11 - and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”  7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

I know I’ve had times in my life where God has had to thump me to get me back on the path to righteousness.  This type should truly be at the front of the list because every time we go through any type of affliction, the first thing we should do is a heart check to see if we need to confess and repent of a sin and return to the path of righteousness.

We need not to confuse this with punishment from God.  It is correction.  Discipline.  Punishment from God is the final judgment from God.  Punishment is the wrath of God poured out on all who reject Jesus.  Punishment from God is condemnation.  Condemnation will come on the unbelieving world.  The believer in Christ does not come under condemnation.

John 5:24 - “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

God does deal with the sins of believers, but because of Christ we are not cast out.  He deals with our actions by chastening us; disciplining us.  You see, when God saved and forgave you, He also placed you under His Lordship by giving you His Holy Spirit.

The call to salvation is a call to discipleship.  Submitting ourselves to Christ and His Lordship in our lives, and when we step out of line, He will discipline us to put us back in.  Think of the Disciples.  When Jesus said to them ‘Follow Me’, they didn’t just acknowledge it and then go right on living the way they wanted, nope, they dropped what they were doing and followed Him.

He doesn’t discipline us in an evil or mean spirited way.  But for our own good.  To protect our joy and lead us down the narrow path.  God’s corrective suffering removes the impurities in us.  Puts us through the Refiner’s fire to produce Godly living in us.

Sometimes, even, chastening is preventative.  Remember Psalm 139.  God has searched and known us.  He is intimately familiar with all our ways.  He knows what sins we are prone to stumble into.  That was the case with Paul.
2 Corinthians 12:7 - Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!

This thorn was intended to hold Paul where he needed to be.  Kept him humble where the tendency of the flesh was to boast.  God does this purifying work in us to make us more holy.

1 Thessalonians 4:7 - For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.

When we suffer at all, we need to see if it is corrective suffering… chastening… however, we are not God and do not know His mind fully and so we cannot nor should we ever point at suffering in someone else’s life and accuse them of some sin because of afflictions in their life.  We can go to someone who claims Christ, but is living in sin and, in love, confront them about it.  However, we cannot then look at their life and say that God is judging or chastening them because of the presence of some suffering.  That determination is God’s to reveal to that person, not ours.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Biblical Understanding of Suffering - Part 1 of 5

Romans 5:3-5 - And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Consider it joy when you encounter suffering of all types. It’s the recurring theme of the Bible. We have a hope that through Christ we will one day stand with Him and be in the Glorious presence of God FOREVER!

There is no hope for eternity outside of the Grace of God. It is the duty of those of us who have this hope to always rejoice in it.

3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;

and not only this!!! Paul’s joy is uncontainable! Pardon from God and peace with Him is infinitely valuable enough to give salvation worth. But we also rejoice in our tribulations! Here described is the process of sanctification as separate from the world. As we pull out and the world tries to grasp for us, we will be persecuted and afflicted, but we rejoice even still!

James 1:2 - Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

We don’t simply rejoice for the absence of tribulation, but tribulations, persecution, and afflictions actually serve to increase our hope and joy. They don’t hinder them.

Matthew 5:12 - “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We glory in our tribulations, especially when those tribulations are for the sake of righteousness.

Acts 5:40 - They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.

Peter and the disciples had been preaching Christ. And the Pharisees were torqued about it. But rather than kill them this particular time for it they decide instead to flog them. They beat them and then they sent them out saying for them not to preach Christ any longer. But look at their response.

Acts 5:41-42 - So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

This is crazy! A source of joy and hope and resolve this strong can only come from a Divine source! No man could ever stand up under this affliction without a supernatural intervention that protected his joy and hope. It conclusively proves that their focus was on the end of the race. On what was to come. What had been promised to them, namely forgiveness and eternal life. We rejoice in tribulation because they contribute to our ultimate glory and reward in Heaven.

The word tribulation has with it the underlying meaning of something being under extreme pressure. The same root word was used to describe the process of squeezing a grape in a wine press to get all of its juice out.

I spent some time working on a vineyard just after I graduated High School. Now our grape press looked different than their, but the principle was the same. Of course I always get asked the same question when people find out that I worked on a vineyard. They always ask, ‘Did you get to squash the grapes with your feet like Lucy did that time?’. The answer is yes, and it was awesome. But that only happened once or twice when the real press broke down.

For the real press, though, we’d put the grapes into a large metal cylinder that had small holes all around it. It was about 9 feet long or so I’d guess. Inside the cylinder was a large rubber rube that ran the entire length.

Now, just by the process of putting those grapes into the tube alone, some of the juice would begin to flow out and down into the pan below. But not much. Then, once we’d filled the grape press full we would lock down the lid and turn on an air compressor that would inflate the rubber tube. Effectively it would squeeze the juice out of the grape producing gallons of grape juice by the second.

I remember my first week of harvest ever. We pressed out the grapes and got, what I thought, was a lot of juice. And I was about to open the press and dump the skins and my boss, the owner of the vineyard, told me to spin the cylinder and press them again. Spinning it caused it to deflate the tube and tumble the skins like a dryer would clothing. So I did it, all the while thinking that those grapes had no more juice to give, and to my surprise we got even more juice out of them.

He had me do that 5-10 times more. And each time I thought there was no way we’d get anything, we always got more juice. You see it wasn’t about the grape, but what the grape produced that my boss was after. And he knew that the more we’d press them, the more juice they’d produce.

Lacking illustrations aside... In our context, it isn’t about us having an easy life. No, on the contrary it is persecutions that increase and strengthen our hope and faith in God. Produce more faith, produce more prayer and diligent reading of the Scriptures to find strength there.

And the results of that pressing produces more reward for us in Heaven as we persevere. More crowns laid up for us to lay at the feet of the Savior, because we live and suffer and die for His Glory and not our own.

2 Corinthians 4:17 - For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,

Jesus said in John 15:20 - “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

We have no reason to despair… no matter how great our suffering may become. Why? 1 Peter 4:19 - Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

I should think that you ought to be more concerned about your soul if you are not now or have never gone through any persecution or affliction for your faith in God.

Rejoice in trials so that I get stronger. To an unregenerate soul, this is madness! But it actually can be evidence of our salvation. Assurance of our salvation. If we persevere and never waiver.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints says that though Christians will by no means lead sinless or perfect lives, they will live a life that pursues holiness. It means that after the point in time that God saved you, you are continuing on in the faith. Obeying the teaching that you’ve been entrusted to.

John 8:31-32 - So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

If you continue on, then you are truly a disciple. So in our perseverance, in our continuing on and rejoicing in trials, we develop the proven character of one who has been redeemed by Jesus.

Those who continue on in the faith until the end demonstrate that God has sovereignly regenerated their heart.

Colossians 1:22-23 - And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

As we grow and our new hearts are further revealed and purified by testing and affliction we see that God is at work in us. He must have saved us! If not, you would not continue on in obedient faith. And the more God strengthens us, the more we see He is keeping us and THAT, Paul says, produces hope.

5a and hope does not disappoint – And Hope does NOT disappoint. And that hope is coming from God! Our hope produces a joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation in the God who is the foundation of all our joy and faith.

Why does hope not disappoint? Because v5b - because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

God’s love, poured out in our hearts. Not withheld! The King James Version says the love of God is ‘shed’ on our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that He has given you. It is no mistake that the word for shed there draws images for me and for you of the shed blood of the Savior.

Galatians 4:6 - Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Our perseverance is the testimony of the Holy Spirit within us. Enabling us to cry out to God! Crying Abba Father!

Now we unpacked this verse last week. And it is not my usual practice to preach a topical sermon but I’d like to take the theme that Paul introduces here about our tribulations… which is essentially to say our suffering… and unpack that thought a bit more.

Ultimately suffering of any kind exists because sin exists. So God didn’t create suffering, man did by his sin, but He does allow it and use it for His purpose.

There are five categories that I think we can lay out our sufferings into. Or rather, five reasons for it that we see in Scripture. The first of these categories:

1.) Constructive suffering – Now, we won’t spend too much time here this morning because we really looked at this last week and also have been studying it through the life of Joseph in Sunday School. Sufficing to say, however, that this kind of suffering is suffering that God allows or ordains to prepare us for something later on.

Look at how God allowed all that suffering to come on Joseph. Sold into slavery, abandoned by his family, jailed, but ultimately ends up the most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh. God ordained and allowed those things to happen to Joseph, in order to shape Joseph and put him in places that he needed to be in to advance to where God had planned for him.

Another beautiful example of this same type of suffering would be the account of the life of Esther. Now we don’t know the circumstances behind this, but for some reason Esther had lost her parents.

Esther 2:7 - He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.

Mordecai was raising Esther. Esther was his cousin. He was raising her because she had no parents Scripture tells us. Doesn’t say why, but her parents are gone. We can safely assume that her parents had died because if they were living I suspect that we’d learn her parents simply lived elsewhere.

None of us would suggest that a child without parents was better off than a child without parents. Obviously this is not an ideal situation. But God allowed and ordained for her parents to die. We must say that because we know that God has appointed the time and date that we will all die. So they have passed and Esther is being raised by her cousin. Clearly she had a tough life thus far at least emotionally.

Now, all of these things, God is using to shape and prepare her to stand before King Xerxes… one of the most ruthless Kings that world has ever known… stood before him to ask him to save her people, the Jews, from an evil plot by one of his own men to kill them.

God used her to save her people, just as he had used Joseph to save people from a famine. Sometimes it is that God ordains suffering in our lives to prepare us for something else.

We persevere through our suffering because God uses it to produce character and integrity in us. Hope in God produces perseverance, which produces character and character returns us to that hope that we have in Christ.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Emergent Church - Part 3 - Guest Blogger: Katie Williamson

Another mantra of the Emergent Church is that doubt is the essence of faith. In his book, How (Not) to Speak of God, Peter Rollins says, “In contrast to the modern view that religious doubt is something to reject, fear or merely tolerate, doubt not only can be seen as an inevitable aspect of our humanity but also can be celebrated as a vital part of faith” (Rollins, 33). There are an endless amount of verses in the Bible that speak to the topic of doubt. Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22, NIV). If Christians are told to have mercy on those who doubt, then why does Rollins want to celebrate it? Doubt is obviously something that ALL people are going to encounter. According to the Bible doubt is a struggle that needs to be overcome not celebrated. In Mark 9 Jesus heals a boy that has an evil spirit inside of him. A crowd of people come to Jesus and the boy's father tells Jesus about the evil spirit. Jesus responds by saying, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” Jesus goes on to tell the father that he MUST believe. The father responds by saying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”(NIV) Jesus was not in celebration about the unbelief of the father, in fact he was rather irritated by it. In John 20:27 when Thomas is doubting Jesus, He says to him, “Stop doubting and believe”(NIV). It is as simple as that, stop doubting. In James 1:6 James tells the reader that, “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”(NIV) The Bible does not celebrate doubt.

“Ultimately our church pedigrees, spiritual experiences, or creedal affirmations do not impress God. St. Peter will not be asking us at the pearly gates which church we belonged to or if we believed in the Virgin birth” (Tomlinson, 70). Emergent Christians are tired of doctrine and dogma. It is not necessarily true that they hate doctrine and want to abolish it completely, but they want to become less dependent on it. Mclaren even acknowledges that “sound doctrine is very, very, very important” (A Generous Orthodoxy, 36). Mclaren believes that doctrine is what God says to DO rather than beliefs about who and what God IS. It would be unfair to say that the Emergent circle has destroyed doctrine altogether. They are, however, attempting to rid Christianity of orthodoxy as a set of absolute theological assertions.

Orthodoxy is not warmly welcomed in a postmodern era and certainly not in a postmodern Gospel. Brian Mclaren believes that our orthodoxy should be a “generous” one. One that allows all people everywhere to agree. Agreement is nice, but it does not equal truth. When Jesus was confronted by the disagreeing Pharisees, he did not respond with generosity, but rather with dogma. Numerous times in scriptures Jesus responds to the Pharisees by aggressively calling them hypocrites. Look at Matthew 23:25-29 (NIV):

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence...Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean...you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

These verses are two of seven “woes” that Jesus gives to the Pharisees. Jesus is not at all gentle or “generous” with his words. He is absolute and He is dogmatic. This is not to say that dogma is ALWAYS right. There is absolutely a time and a place for it. But it is not something that should be completely ruled out. Jesus was gentle and He was meek, He loved people and He was a servant. Emergent Christians probably understand this better than most. Christianity today is beginning to lose the servant heart that Christ introduced to us 2000 years ago. But Christians must not abandon EVERYTHING they have ever said or thought to become the humble servants we are called to be. There must be a healthy balance of dogma and humility. “All we need is Jesus”, Erwin McManus cries, “not these doctrinal formulations. (Sweet, 248)”

If Orthodoxy and Doctrine are taken out of Christianity then Emergent Christians are probably right, the culture WILL be more accepting of it. If someone offers a person a piece of cake made exactly how they like it then of course they are going to want it. People hated Christ AND His message. Christ tells the disciples in Matthew 10:22 that, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” If the goal of Christianity is to make the world embrace Christians then the glory of the Gospel will never be seen. Emergent Christians believe that if the church can get back to the way of Christ, then Christianity could make a “come back” in the world. The only problem is that the way of Jesus is not culture-friendly and it never was. In Luke 12:49 Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” People were often intrigued by the words of Jesus, but not always attracted to them. In fact, most people wanted him dead. Christians are called to love Christ and to proclaim Christ. Loving Christ equates to loving people. Proclaiming Christ means knowing what he said about who He is and proclaiming it. Jesus creates a healthy balance for the apostles in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Timothy J. Stoner wrote a book titled, The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on Faith. The Book is an effort to create the balance previously described. On the jacket of the book the question is asked, “is there any room for middle ground?” Stoner thinks so. In the prologue of the book he discusses Peter Kreeft's, Three Philosophies of Life. Kreeft addresses three books of the Bible: Ecclesiastes-life as vanity; Job-life as suffering; and Song of Songs-life as love. During the book Kreeft “drops the little bomb” and says that the meaning of life is war. Stoner responds:
We are called to love the world and hate it. We are to lay down our lives for its blessing but cry out for God's vengeance. We are to be in the world and for the world but not of the world. After all, the captain of the heavenly hosts is both a Lamb who was slain and a Lion laying claim to the whole jungle. There is a war, but there is so much more. For our God is a God who smiles and sings. But He is also a God who smokes (Stoner, 15).

There must be a balance. God will not only smile and sing, He must also smoke. A postmodern Gospel is not Christianity's answer to a postmodern culture.

In his book, Why We're Not Emergent, Ted Kluck describes a conversation that he had with a philosophy student at Michigan State University, Neil. Neil had made a post on The Ooze, a popular Emergent Web site run by Spencer Burke. He told Ted, “there was a lot that I would bring up, just to see where people were at, mainly to see if there is any importance in theology.” Neil described a discussion he had with another Ooze member, who accused him of using propositional language when talking about Jesus. “I asked him to describe his relationship with Jesus without using propositions,” he told Ted. “The guy wrote back and just said, 'relationship, relationship, relationship- its all about relationships.' Which on one hand is true, but on the other hand you can't have a relationship with someone without knowing about- and wanting to know more about- that person. I mean, we worship in Spirit and truth, and I think they're willing to accept the Spirit part, but not as much interested in the truth” (Kluck, 138).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Emergent Church - Part 2 - Guest Blogger: Katie Williamson

Why change the Gospel? Like it has already been pointed out, Emergent Christians are extremely uncomfortable with certainty. The culture is screaming at them that there is nothing to be certain about (something they are certain about) and that truth has to be relative. Their response to this postmodern attitude is embrace. Emergent Christians believe that to reach the culture with the Gospel, then the Gospel must also become postmodern. Postmodernism is the story of our time, but does it have to be the story of our Gospel?

It could be said that Emergent Christians do believe in the absoluteness of God. What they don't believe in is humans understanding that absoluteness. Rob Bell puts it this way, “Only God is absolute, and God has no intention of sharing this absoluteness with anything, especially words people have come up with to talk about him” (23). Let's take a look at scripture: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work”(1 Timothy 3.16-17, NIV). This is an extremely crucial verse when discussing the meaning and significance of scripture. If people could actually understand Paul's words here then there would be no debate on whether or not there is truth to be known in the Bible. If it is understood that God “breathed out” all scripture, then it must next be understood whether or not God speaks truth. In 1 Kings 17:24 Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, predicts that there will be a drought in the land. When the drought comes a woman says to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is TRUTH”(NIV). God is automatically associated with truth. This is seen over and over again in scripture; God and truth go hand in hand.

The question now is, “what is the nature of this truth?” Is the truth of God to be questioned? Is it relative or is it absolute? The Greek word that is used for truth in the Bible is, alÄ“theia. The word implies sincerity as well as factuality or reality. The literal meaning of the word is "the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident”(Babylon). The issue of certain truth is addressed in Isaiah 45:19 when the prophet is delivering a message from God. “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob's descendants, 'Seek me in vain.' I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right.”(NIV). The truth of God is what is right, and it has been declared. Contrary to Bell's statement, God has spoken through His Word and has shared his absoluteness with us. The truth of God is objective and is never relative. The Gospel can not be postmodern because the truth of God is real and absolute, and we have the means to understand it.

There are things to be certain about in the Bible. Certainty does not always equate to arrogance. Likewise, uncertainty does not always equate to humility. Mclaren says to “drop any affair you have with certainty, proof, argument-and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue and search”(Adventures, 84). Kevin DeYoung in his book, Why We're not Emergent, responds by asking, “why do intrigue and search have to mean the end of all certainty”(39)? DeYoung poses a valid question that many Christians are not willing to ask. Just because some one says they have answers does not mean they can't search any more. There is a place for questions and there is a time for conversation. “There is the possibility of certainty...because God has spoken to us clearly and intelligibly and given us ears to hear his voice”(DeYoung, 39).

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Emergent Church - Part 1 - Guest Blogger: Katie Williamson

Before explaining what the Emergent Church is and what it looks like there must first be a distinction made between two very similar but different terms. There is often much confusion between the words emerging and emergent. Geoff Ashley, of the Village Church, does an excellent job of offering a separation of the two terms. “Think of the Emerging Church as a general movement (a tree) and the Emergent ‘conversation’ as a specific or particular subset (a branch) of that broader movement”(2). So, the Emerging Church is basically an umbrella that covers a variety of denominations, movements, and theologies, while the Emergent Church is a movement or theology under the umbrella of emerging.

What exactly is the Emergent Church? The Emergent Church is an up and coming movement that is seeking to change not only the way that “outsiders” view Christianity but also the way that Christians view Christianity. In the late 1990s young pastors and theologians began to meet under an organization called the Leadership Network to discuss “church.” The Leadership Network seeks to foster church innovation and growth through strategies, programs, tools, and resources (Leadership Network). These discussions took place in coffee shops and living rooms all across America. People were seeking to rethink the historic and modern inadequacies with church, tradition, and evangelicalism. In 2001 this discussion was made into its own individual organization known as the Emergent Village.

The Emergent Village is very different than most Christian organizations that one might come across. There are two facets to the leadership of the Emergent Village. The first is Emergent Village cohorts; the second is the Emergent Village Board of Directors. The board of directors is a small group of “friends” that oversee the projects and finances of the EV. They serve only a three year term and meet four times a year. Cohorts are the localized way the Emergent Village works. Around the nation friends of Emergent Village meet at their own time and place to discuss what they choose (“Leadership”).

The Emergent Church is very broad in its beliefs; however; there is a list of four core values and practices expressed on their website. The first is “Commitment to God in the Way of Jesus”. They claim to be committed to God through a “generous orthodoxy”. They want to understand the gospel in terms of Jesus’ radical, profound, and expansive message. The second core value is “Commitment to the Church in all its Forms”. There is not a need to critique or reject any denomination or form of “church”. Everything is accepted and encouraged. They are also “Committed to God’s World”. This is where a radical idea of community comes in. They are seeking to build friendships across gender, racial, ethnic, and economic boundaries. The Emergent Village seeks participation in movements towards peace and justice. Lastly, there is a “Commitment to One Another”. The Emergent Church seeks to welcome all people to join their humble pilgrimage through their journey of faith (“Values and Practices”).

While the Emergent Church has a set of “core values,” they have not been at all successful in determining, theologically, what they believe about Christ and the Bible. To understand this movement, however, one must understand that this lack of determination was absolutely intentional. Emergent Christianity seeks to provoke thoughtful questions that will lead you not to an understanding of the Bible, but to an acceptance of “mystery”. In his book, Adventures in Missing the Point, Brian Mclaren encourages Christians to “drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument, - and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue and search”(84). Within the Emergent circle certainty is not something to be celebrated but rather something to be destroyed.

It is hard to really understand the motivations of the movement without understanding the backgrounds of many of its leaders. Most of them have come from very conservative and traditional backgrounds. They are seeking something less fundamental and dogmatic. They want freedom in opinion rather that restriction in doctrine. D.A. Carson(a critic of Emergent Village) goes as far to say that, “...the reforms that the movement encourages mirror the protests of the lives of many of its leaders” (14).

“Leadership” is not necessarily a word that Emergent Christians like to use when referring to their organization. In 2008 they implemented a “board of directors” to replace Tony Jones, the organization's central leader at the time. The Emergent Village said that they wanted to bring the group back to its original purpose, an “egalitarian social-networking organization.” Board member Brian Mclaren said, “we are gifting the power of Emergent back to the people at a grassroots level of the conversation.” While Mclaren was never the organization's central leader, he has become one of its most prominent voices (O'Brein). Mclaren is the pastor of a small church in Maryland. He has written several books and travels around speaking at different locations. Mclaren is in his fifties and has spent the majority of his life studying the Bible. After all these years he still claims to know very little about God. At the beginning of his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, Mclaren warns the reader and says that he has gone out of his way to be, “provocative, mischievous, and unclear. Reflecting [his] belief that that clarity is sometimes overrated. (27)” He tells the reader in another book that he has been “on a journey of doubt”(7). Mclaren is fond of asking hard questions but not so fond of answering them.

Another name that tends to associate itself with the emergent village is, Rob Bell. Bell is the pastor of a rather large church in Michigan, Mars Hill (not to be confused with Mars Hill Bible Church in Spokane, Washington). Bell is on the same journey of “doubt” that Mclaren is. He has also written several books and travels around the nation on different speaking tours. Bell believes that we should “test everything” and is very intrigued by the “mysteries of God” (Velvet Elvis).

There are several others along with Jones, Bell, and Mclaren, that are leading this movement. A few names to be aware of are Phyllis Tickle, Doug Paggitt, Dallas Willard, Spencer Burke, Dan Kimball and Tony Campolo. There is a common theme about the thinking of many of these leaders. They are seeking a theology change. There is also a common “irritation” towards doctrine, orthodox, and tradition. There is irritation towards absoluteness. And there is frustration towards anyone who has “answers.”

The world is living in a culture that says, “there is nothing that is absolute, and nothing that is certain,” but at the same time Christians are reading a Bible that says to live outside the ways and teachings of culture. The struggle that Christianity faces today is deciding how to engage this skeptical culture. This is where the Emergent church comes in. Rather than seeking to fill a question filled world with hopeful answers they are joining in and coming up with more unanswered questions.

The Great Emergence, why now? According to Phyllis Tickle it is time for the church to do a “rummage sale.” Tickle is an internationally renowned religion expert. She has spent large amounts of time studying church patterns throughout history. She recently wrote a book called, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. In this book she discusses the reasons for the Emergent movement. If someone were to travel back through time five-hundred years they would be placed directly in the middle of what is now known as the Great Reformation. Five-hundred years back from there would take them to the Great Schism. Five-hundred years before The Great Schism history finds the “Fall of the Roman Empire.” Tickle recognizes a pattern in church history. She points out that every five-hundred years the church has undergone some sort of major “change”. It has been five-hundred years since the church last had a reformation, so here we are, “The Great Emergence.”

Tickle is probably right about most things in her book. There is an obvious pattern of church reformations in history and it makes sense for there to be another one happening right now. There is however something that Tickle, along with most Emergent Christians, does not fully understand. The Culture is ever-changing but the Gospel is never-changing. If some one were to look closely at the church reformations in the past they would see another pattern. These “reformations” have been an effort to bring culture back to what the Gospel has always been saying. Never before has anyone successfully changed the message of the Gospel to fit what the culture is saying. The Emergent Church is seeking a message change.

Postmodernism is the driving force behind the Emergent church. At the beginning of Brian Mclaren's book, Church on the Other Side, he says, “If you have a new world you need a new church. You have a new world”(15). The world is changing their mind about philosophy and religion thus causing Christians to rethink theology. If the world was not in a postmodern era would Emergent Christians still feel the need to make a change? Postmodernism is nothing new to theology. John Calvin was a theologian living in a premodern era. Even Calvin had to address postmodernism:

"But they contend that it is a matter of rash presumption for us to claim an undoubted knowledge of God's will. Now I would concede that point to them only if we took upon ourselves to subject God's incomprehensible plan to our slender understanding. But when we simply say with Paul: “we have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is from God . . .” by whose teaching “we know the gifts bestowed on us by God” [1 Cor. 2:12], how can they yelp against us without abusively assaulting the Holy Spirit? But if it is a dreadful sacrilege to accuse the revelation of given by the Spirit either of falsehood or uncertainty or ambiguity, how do we transgress in declaring its certainty?" - John Calvin

Here we are again, 500 years later, dealing with postmodernism. Emergent ideas are not new. They came about in Europe's Great Reformation but they did not last. The certainty of the Gospel trumped the ambiguity of postmoderns.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Q&A: Gifts of the Spirit

Questions from my inbox. What do you think scripture says about the gifts of the spirit and our having them as believers? Also, The gifts being fully alive today and the canonization of scripture.

Answer:

Ok, so let's break it apart so that I don't miss answering any part of it.

What does Scripture say about the gifts of the Spirit?

The gifts are the Divinely ordained means and powers with which Christ endows His church in order to enable it to perform its task on earth.

We find two lists in Scripture of these gifts really... Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:7–11. Each gift is given for a specific reason and each one has Biblical parameters so that the brethren can examine it to see that it is authentic.

In our age of subjective truth and toleration we tend think that we can't tell someone they are false. Well we can, if we are doing it within Biblical parameters.

Gifts of the spirit will always without fail accomplish at least two purposes. One, to Glorify God. Two, to edify the body (the church).

Do we have them as believers? Yes and no. Some we have, and some we don't have. I would say that we still can easily see all of them active today with the exception of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and the laying of hands as a guaranteed healing process.

Now, speaking in tongues. Does it still happen? Truthfully, don't know. I've never personally seen it or experienced it in a genuine form or a form that aligned with the parameters given in scripture for it. I do know that Paul addressed it in 1 Cor 12 & 14. He said that speaking in tongues was done so that people could hear the Word of God in their own language and that it wouldn't be done without an interpreter. If there is no interpreter, then it isn't of God.

You'll notice that most of the charlatans on TV today claiming to speak in tongues interpret their own jiberish. But the Bible says that where tongues is present, someone will be gifted to speak them and someone else will be able to interpret. Furthermore, it will always be for the purpose of glorifying God and edifying the church. If it edifies the speaker, it's not of God.

Laying of hands to heal.

Does God still heal? Without a doubt yes. He healed my daughter of a fatal brain disease. Long story short, the MRI showed it, the subsequent blood tests a few HOURS later revealed it was gone without a trace. God healed her. So does God heal? Yes. Does He respond to our prayers for healing? Absolutely, when healing is in accordance with His will.

Is healing guaranteed in all situations? no. Is it guaranteed when hands are laid? No. Is it guaranteed when you call the elders together as James seems to point to? No. Because what James was talking about with the 'anointing of oils' was a medicinal oil that was like a salve on a wound.

We don't have healing power in our words or hands or part of us. God does. We really don't see much of the laying of hands healings outside of the closed cannon of Scripture (Rev. 22:18 circa A.D 95).

Some of those gifts were for the Apostles for the purpose of giving authenticity to their authority. The already-delivered Word of God, valued and personally applied by Christians for centuries, is sufficient to explain to us everything we need to know of Christ (John 5:18; Acts 18:28; Galatians 3:22; 2 Timothy 3:15) and to teach us, correct us, and instruct us into all righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

Lastly, prophecy. Let's say that God still audibly speaks to people today. He will never say anything that adds to, contradicts, or takes away from Scripture. These folks who say that God gave them a 'new' word, are false. Nothing adds to or takes away from Scripture.

Scripture is all we need. God said so Himself... (2 Timothy 3:16).

Couple of good quotes I found on the subject...

Dennis and Rita Bennett (American Episcopalians):
"We should also be careful of personal, directive prophecy, especially outside the ministry of a mature and submitted man of God. Unrestrained “personal prophecy” did much to undermine the movement of the Holy Spirit which began at the turn of the century....Christians are certainly given words for one another “in the Lord”...and such words can be most refreshing and helpful, but there must be a witness of the Spirit on the part of the person receiving the words, and extreme caution should be used in receiving any alleged directive or predictive prophecy. Never undertake any project simply because you were told to by presumed prophetic utterance or interpretation of tongues, or by a presumed word of wisdom, or knowledge. Never do something just because a friend comes to you and says: “The Lord told me to tell you to do thus and thus.” If the Lord has instructions for you, He will give you a witness in your own heart, in which case the words coming from a friend...will be a confirmation to what God has already been showing you. Your guidance must also agree with Scripture...."

Donald Gee (Assemblies of God):
"[There are] grave problems raised by the habit of giving and receiving personal “messages” of guidance through the gifts of the Spirit....The Bible gives a place for such direction from the Holy Spirit....But it must be kept in proportion. An examination of the Scriptures will show us that as a matter of fact the early Christians did not continually receive such voices from heaven. In most cases they made their decisions by the use of what we often call “sanctified common-sense” and lived quite normal lives. Many of our errors where spiritual gifts are concerned arise when we want the extraordinary and exceptional to be made the frequent and habitual. Let all who develop excessive desire for “messages” through the gifts take warning from the wreckage of past generations as well as of contemporaries....The Holy Scriptures are a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path."

Often, too, what is seen as prophecy is actually a spontaneous, Spirit-worked application of Scripture, a more or less sudden grasp of the bearing that biblical teaching has on a particular situation or problem. All Christians need to be open to these more spontaneous workings of the Spirit.

If we adopt a view that says that people are still speaking new prophecy, in the manner that the authors of the Bible did, then we at the same time reject the sufficiency of Scripture. If we open that can then the entire Bible becomes subjective. Who determines which areas of the Bible are being revised through 'new prophecy'?

We have to keep in mind that even Pharaoh's magicians were able to work false miracles so they were either done with slight of hand or done by the devil. Things aren't always what they seem.

None of our views, however, should take away from or diminish God's ability to still perform the miraculous. He can and does. How frequently? Don't know. But I do know that when He does and it is genuinely from Him, even if He is working through a person to do it, that person will go to great lengths to give Glory to God for it and take no acclaim to themselves. (Acts 14:8-18 for a proper response).

That's my take. All in all we want to just be taking in whatever we hear taught by anyone and hold it up to Scripture (Acts 17:11). If it ain't there, we toss it out. If it is there, we embrace it and follow in obedience to Christ.
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