Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pastor's Bookshelf: The World Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips

In an age of Gospel confusion and uncertainty it is becoming more and more important for preachers of the Gospel to not only declare the Gospel, but to define the terms we use in doing so.  What I mean is that as we go about unpacking the Gospel, we need to take time to explain what we mean by "repent", "faith", and these days we must ever be very clear on whom we are referring to when we speak of "Jesus Christ"! 

Dan Phillip's book, The World Tilting Gospel, is that clear presentation.  Quite frankly this may become one of the most important books written on the Gospel in our generation.  Dan exposits every aspect of the Gospel.  From man's dire need for salvation and his state as a dead sinner in need of regeneration to the results of the Gospel of Grace and the ditches we can often fall into on one side or the other.

Start to finish, I loved this book.  I give it 5 out of 5 stars for sure and highly recommend this for any new believer who is beginning their walk with Christ to every Pastor seeking a helpful tool to aid you in discipling people.

What makes Dan's book so amazing is that it is a no holds barred look at what the Bible says about man and the Gospel.  Not Dan's opinions, not Dan's musings, but Biblical facts laid out and explained.  If Dan is able to produce a study guide for this it will make a great small group resource!

Dan is an author and frequent blogger at Pyromaniacs.

Pick it up today from Amazon.com.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Guest Blogger: Brian Thornton - Legalism, Discipline, & Grace

I am honored to have my friend Brian guest author this post for me.  I was edified by it, hope you will be too. Comments welcome.
I have been asked by my friend, Jason, to discuss the differences between discipline and legalism in the church and how/where grace might apply in the midst of the two. Some describe a true church as a three-legged stool consisting of the right proclamation of the word, the right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline. Some would argue that church discipline falls under the second leg of a right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but really, who has ever heard of a two-legged stool? Sadly, many churches fail to properly exercise church discipline by not doing it at all. Probably (hopefully) a smaller minority fail at proper church discipline by being overbearing in their practice of it (lording it over the people). Both extreme swings of the pendulum are dangerous and unhealthy for the local body that makes up a church. I think it is also quite possible that what some consider to be church discipline is really legalism, while what others think is legalism in a church is actually nothing more than the practices of a biblical church. In both areas of confusion, misunderstanding and error, grace (and the implications of the gospel) is often sorely lacking. Let’s see if we can flesh this out a little bit.

Let’s start by defining our terms. Within the context of a local church body, what is known as church discipline can be defined as actions taken by the congregation toward a person(s) within that congregation which results in that person(s) being removed from fellowship, with the intent of bringing about repentance by the offending party and a restoration back into fellowship with the congregation. The goal of discipline within the church is always repentance and restoration. It is never punishment or retribution or control. Church discipline is, according to Scripture, the responsibility of the congregation, not the leadership. Matthew 18 makes it very clear that the final decision of removing a person from fellowship falls on the shoulders of the congregation. When church discipline is done badly or not according to Scripture, the results can be disastrous.

Legalism, quite simply, is going beyond the bounds of Scripture, or going beyond what is written, as Paul put it (1 Cor.4:6). It is requiring something that God does not require. An example would be the church leadership telling a person in the church they are not saved and going to hell because of the types of clothes they wear (no joke, this truly happened to a friend of mine). This church added a dress code to the work of Jesus for salvation. That’s going beyond what is written. That’s legalism. Another (and possibly more volatile) example would be a church teaching that there is only one true and correct day to gather as a church to worship together. This may bring to mind groups like the Seventh-Day Adventists who require worship on Saturday and condemn anyone who doesn’t do likewise, but there are scores of churches and denominations that believe the same thing about Sunday being the only proper and true day for gathering together. Legalism can take many forms. It can be quite obvious or very subtle.

The paradox is that what some consider to be church discipline is really nothing more than legalism, and what others think is legalism is actually just the church being the church. For instance, we were involved at a church a few years back where the elders decided they wanted to begin having an intentional, systematic reading of Scripture in the weekly service. This would usually involve a considerable passage from both the Old and New Testaments, as well as the sermon text for that morning. The response from some was really pretty shocking, as several charged the elders with being legalistic with this new practice. While a practice like this certainly could become legalistic if it began to be somehow required or practiced in an unbiblical manner, what the elders here were trying to do was nothing more than adhere to one of the clear commands in Scripture given by Paul to the church: “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim.4:13). This was not legalism in any way, shape or form. This church was not going beyond what is written. It was simply the church trying to be the church.

Sometimes, though, what a church considers to be the practice of discipline is actually just plain old ugly legalism and heavy-handed, overbearing leadership. In another church, a young couple had missed the Easter service and had instead gone to visit the wife’s mother that weekend. The following week, the husband went to answer the door one evening and, upon opening it, came face to face with the elders of the church who were there unannounced to “discuss” the couple’s lack of devotion to the church. In another instance these same elders met with another church member to decide the fate of his membership in the church. These leaders, however well-meaning, and regardless of how much they thought they were engaging in church discipline and shepherding, were actually “lording it over” their congregation and were steeped heavily in unhealthy legalism and even spiritual abuse.

In all of these examples I have given here, I would say the one thing that was lacking was grace. The congregants complaining about the “legalistic” Scripture reading did not impart grace to their shepherds. All they knew is that this was a change in the way things had been done and they didn’t like it. And the elders of the overbearing church were not giving their sheep grace and the benefit of the doubt with respect to what they saw as actionable sin in their lives. Some of these may sound over the top to you, but think about your own interaction with other believers. Are you prone to making quick judgments that may be void of grace?  Do you tend to fail to give someone else the benefit of the doubt before making a rush to judgment? I know I do. And the times I make those types of judgments are the times I believe that I have either forgotten the gospel or am failing to apply it to the other areas of my life other than my salvation.

You see, we talk about the grace and mercy of the gospel a lot as Christians when it comes to salvation, but how much do we apply that to the rest of our lives? We have been shown much mercy and patience and longsuffering by our Creator. How much do we, in turn, exhibit grace and mercy and longsuffering to others? Because of the gospel, we have not received what we deserved. But how willing are we to impart undeserved favor and mercy to others.  Everyone to whom much has been given, of him much will be required, (Luke 12:48). How much have you been given? Are you giving to others in the way you have been given? I believe that if we would take the implications of the gospel and let them filter out into every area of our lives, then legalism would diminish, church discipline would be used only when truly needed and with much wisdom, and grace would permeate the church of Jesus Christ. To him be the glory in the church. And may we glorify him as the church by applying the grace of the gospel to every area of our life, not just to our salvation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tim Tebow 316

I've been watching Tim Tebow over the past months as the Christian world has flocked to him (i.e "Tebowing" which the Bible and I'm pretty sure Tim Tebow just call it praying...) and the, largely, unregenerate world has attempted to socially crucify him for being an unashamed believer in Jesus Christ.  Let me begin by saying that I have been and continue to be impressed by Mr. Tebow and do not feel he has desired the increased attention he's receiving.  Thus far he has demonstrated an immense amount of Christian integrity.  Not to mention that in the face of his critics, even the most harsh critics, when most of us would have possibly given in to lash back, he has maintained a level of humility which I can only assume has been done because of him being a born again Christian.

Tim displays fruit with his life, thus far, that reinforces his profession of faith and for this I am truly grateful because there are far too many icons out there whose lives are completely opposite of that.

Now, that said, I am increasingly disappointed with the over-reaction of Christendom towards Mr. Tebow.  In his interviews he continually gives glory to Christ, points people to Christ, yet Christians seem more than excited and not at all shy about setting him up as the next best thing to Jesus Christ.

Let me also state that I am not saying we shouldn't support, encourage, pray for, or be a fan of Tim Tebow.  I just think that many are taking it to an idolatrous extreme.  If your first reaction to that is anger towards me, perhaps you should first do a check to be sure you aren't one of those bowing to a Tebow idol in your heart...

It seems to be the nature of our flesh to want to supplement Jesus Christ with an idol.  The thinking goes like this.  We love Jesus. Tebow loves Jesus. So everyone should love Jesus.  Make sense?  It shouldn't... Christ doesn't need me, Tebow, or even a Spurgeon, MacArthur, Piper, and so on to be effective in this world.

I am so thankful first and foremost that Jesus Christ has saved Tim Tebow.  I would be thankful for that regardless of his fame.  Secondly, I am thankful that not only has Christ saved Tim Tebow but He has also seen fit to give him a National, and most likely global play, platform with which to represent Christ and take the Gospel!  Tim Tebow is a witness for Christ, but he is just that.  A witness.

I do not believe that Tim is at all ok, or at least I would hope he isn't ok, with all this idol worship of him.  He really doesn't seem like a person who wants the glory over Christ.  I believe him to be humble and genuine because he has not demonstrated otherwise.

So let's do him a favor and spur him on as his brethren in Christ and not idolize him.  In the end our idolatry will only pressure him to the point of falling even more so than the pressure we all deal with as Christians.  The unregenerate world is rooting for him to fail, let's be sure that we aren't aiding them by making him out to be something more than human... let's pray for him and encourage him to "fight the good fight" (1 Tim 6:12-14) and to "keep the faith" (2 Tim 4:7).  To defend the Gospel (Jude 3) and continue seeking first the glory of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33; 1 Cor 10:31).

Which brings me to a perfect example of how we've gone overboard.  After Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Stealers it was released that Mr. Tebow threw for 316 yards.  Immediately a large portion of Christendom responded by saying that God was obviously sending a message through Tebow; equating the number 316 to John 3:16.

I can't begin to unpack the silliness of that assertion in the first place.  To look to things like this is to look to things like signs, which is highly superstitious... But let's suppose that God was sending a message through the number 316 (which He wasn't, but let's suppose for fun).  How do we know that it was JOHN 3:16?  I realize that people gather that it was John 3:16 because of what was being worn under Tim's eyes. 

But what if it wasn't John 3:16?  What if it was Genesis 3:16?  After all, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this Tim Tebow's first playoff appearance?  And since it was the "beginning" of his playoff appearances, and Genesis is about the "beginning" of the world, could that be God's message? (You're thinking that I am absurd to make a leap to tie those two things together, and you are right... that's absurd... makes about as much sense as thinking that it means John 3:16).

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”(Genesis 3:16 ESV)

I don't see anyone rushing to claim this verse for Tim's passing yard numbers...

How about Judges 3:16 that describes how Ehud made a concealable sword which he used to slay the evil King Eglon.  After all, just before slaying Eglon, Ehud did say that it was a message from God (Judges 3:20). If that was a message from God and 316 was a message from God... hmmm intriguing.

So maybe the message was that we should all wield swords of similar fashion and head out to slay evil Kings?



Maybe it was Ecclesiastes 3:16?  Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. (Ecclesiastes 3:16 ESV)

Maybe it was a call for repentance?  Of course we could go on and on and on and the endless speculation would leave us all with no definite conclusion.

Instead, let's heed a word that we actually DO know is a message from God.      [7] Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; [8] for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. [9] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. [10] For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. [11] Command and teach these things. (1 Timothy 4:7-11 ESV)

I know the reaction some of you will have, it will be "Oh here he goes again, complaining about everything."  But before you offer me up on an altar of your self-righteousness or what you perceive to be mine, examine what I've said and see if it is true or not...

If we want to support our brother in Christ Tim Tebow, let's exhort him on and not set him up for a great fall.
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