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So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954), 18.

Great words from a man who knew what it was like to be among “the scattered lonely.” The ability to visible gather with believers is a blessing to be thankful for. Not the local body that you wish you were apart of. But the body you are apart of now. The body full of weak Christians who sing music off key. You are there, gathered, as the exiled believers encouraging one another till the Final Day.  This is a grace and privilege!

Can there be a legitimate time to leave a church? There can be times.

But what we can learn from Bonhoeffer is the needed attitude of our heart. And attitude of gratefulness for the fact that we have a fellowship to gather with. Not every believer gets to experience it week in and week out.

Yes things are not as you want them to be. The preaching is not of great quality. The youth program is next to nonexistent. The style of worship is strange. The policies are indecipherable. But it is still a gathering of believers.

So be thankful for the grace to visibly gather with the believers you do.

How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty;…

-ibid., 29

bonhoeffer-conf

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both…He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.

…because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ…we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise.

…Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it is so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deed, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together-the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954), 27-29.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

The Word of God is not a neutral thing. Based on one’s response to God’s spoken Word it can give life or it can give one over to death. Thus, coming to church can be a dangerous thing. Because when we come to church we sit under this Word.

We do not come and judge the word. We tend to think of ourselves as the judge of everything. We judge what ice cream we like, what we are going to wear, what TV shows we find acceptable and enjoyable, and many other things. But when we come to the Word of God the judge’s seat is taken from us. And this happens whether we think it does or not. God’s Word is the authority not us. His Word is the based by which all things are measured.

The Word judges us. The Word of God takes the judges seat and gives its pronouncement about our lives. The reality is we do not render judgment about the bible, even when we think we do! Instead we are judged by our response to what the Word says and its pronouncements are true no matter one’s response. If one stood condemned under the laws of our land their response would mean nothing. Their condemnation and punishment is final and real. And we are in the same state. We can either submit to the bible’s pronouncements or we cover our ears, and thus our hearts, and try to ignore it. But doing that leads to dangerous consequences.

We can become hardened by our refusal to heed the pronouncements of God’s Word. This is the frightening part. If we refuse to listen and so take the life offered to us we will become harden. Every time we refuse to heed the Word of the Lord another layer of lies encases our hearts. This builds up silently but firmly. The Word which would offer us life becomes death to us as our heart becomes more and more encased in the lies we tell ourselves to cloud out the Word’s pronouncements.

This should communicate a fearful respect of the Word and give warning. This Word is not a neutral thing to stand back render opinions about. It is a pronouncement to continually heed and enjoy or reject and be condemned by. We should know that we are not spectators when the Word is preached to us. We are having very life and death put before us! Our response to it, by the working of the Holy Spirit, will determine which one we obtain. But we should not think that just sitting and hearing the Word Sunday after Sunday, in and of itself, is a good thing. Indeed, it can be a deadly thing!

If we, however, cease putting up our lies and fall in submission to this Word we find the opposite of death: life! For the Word to us is simple at its heart, “Repent and believe!” Repent of your sin of not obeying the Word of the Lord. And believe in the finished work of Christ for all your payment of sin and restored relationship with God! That is the Word to us! When we heed this Word fear, shame, and guilt are gone and righteousness, power, and hope our ours. A new heart is given and we will find the commands of the Lord sweeter than the honey comb! Oh, that we would respond to God’s Word like this and find true life! May church not prove dangerous but life to you!

…we really should try not to make such figures [Christian sport stars and celebrities] into those to whom we look for leadership and guidance. That role should be fulfilled by the elders in your local church and the experienced saints whom you know personally and with whom you have an actual relationship. Tim Tebow has, as far as I know, been called by no-one to be a teacher in the church. Certainly his example has inspired and encouraged many; and there is nothing wrong with that. But we must remember that being an inspiring example is one thing; being someone to whom we look for Christian leadership is quite another. The latter is really the role of those who have received the external call from a congregation and who have thus been proven to have the biblical qualifications for leadership and who are also formally accountable to the church.

Carl Trueman

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil 2:2-3)

The beauty of community is essential for Paul. The oneness of thought and love that that community is to have is what makes Paul’s heart very glad.

What is one of the greatest dangers to this community? Interesting enough it is not everyone having the same Ts crossed and the same Is dotted. Paul doesn’t move from the desire of unity to having people dress the same, act the same, think the same, and like the same things. He doesn’t even move into doctrine. Instead he moves underneath it all to what supports lives of godliness and doctrines of truth.

The sinful self is exposed as the greatest danger to community. “Selfish ambition or conceit” is the poison of community. It is the person who does not see the imperfect church as sinners like himself but messed up people who have crazy ideas. It is the person who looks down on those who do not have the education he has and disregards their contributions to the discussion. When one’s “service” in the church is about recognition and self promotion instead of real service. Theological study that is not about helping others see the beauty of Christ but about proving oneself right over others. Writing off people who have studied at seminary because they are probably “bookworms” and know nothing of true spiritual power. And thousands of others ways the self seeks its own ambitions and own exaltation. Both heresies and godlessness have come from this.

In contrast to this, I have to ask myself a question when living with my brothers and sisters of Christ. Is what I am doing or planning on doing aimed at lifting them up? Or is it about lifting me up? Christ is clear about which one I am suppose to be aiming for. Their interests and their needs are to be over mine. All the way from theological studies and discussions to inviting people to lunch all are to have this founding aim.

And when I am seeking this, I am going to land in orthodoxy and godliness. It is the humble that fear The Lord and listen to His Word. It is the humble that seek to please The Lord in all they do. By His grace this can be sought after.

Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange. When we imbibe the Zeitgist (the spirit of the age) of worldliness, then we feel strange trying to think Christianly and act according to the Bible’s mandates. That is, when we think the world’s thoughts after it and do not think God’s thought after him, we will not be motivated to do the things that God wants us to do, but we will only feel comfortable acting in a manner that fits into the world’s way of doing things…

…this is why regular attendance at church is so important. At church we worship by hearing God’s Word, praising God, praying, partaking of the Lord’s and fellowshipping, all of which encourages believers and convinces them that they indeed are the ones who are normal and that the world is strange before God’s eyes.

-G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, p. 300

 

A worth while discussion about masculinity in the church has come up recently. What is helpful is that the discussion is among two complementarians who are working through how to be the most faithful they can in this setting to what the scripture says on this topic.

Michael Horton wrote and article entitled Muscular Christianity where he set out to critic a perceived problem of hyper masculinity being encouraged by some segments in the church.

To counter, Doug Wilson penned a response to Horton’s article where he pushed back by saying there is biblical reason for gender roles not specifically mentioned in Scripture.

I would encourage you to read each article.

There is the tension where, on the one hand, I would agree with Wilson that there is a perception of masculinity which we as Christian men are to communicate in normal things like speech, attire, etc, where we are distinguished from females.  These things are culturally determined as Wilson points out. But, because all communication is culturally defined we must abide by it to communicate the glorious truth of gender distinctions. Thus, through the bible God sets the standard of masculinity, then we use culturally appropriate ways of communicating that biblical picture. For scriptural backing of this you can read Denny Burk’s post  on 1 Corinthians 11 and read Wilson’s post to get the full articulation of this point.

On the other hand Horton raises a very important point where a perilous switch occurs. Cultural perceptions of masculinity become the standard and the bible is made to fit that perception. We are to start defining manhood by going to the bible and reading about how God defines men. Then we work through that meaning as it is communicated to others. But the problem occurs when we center manhood on a cultural icon of manhood—a “hunter” icon if you will. The man who has a 3 inch thick bread, who carries his weapon into the wilderness of the forest, and then slays his prey of deer or boar. If this is the pinnacle of manhood what does a man do if his wilderness is a cubicle where he settles insurance claims for customers? When the church features its annual men’s event in a hunter’s theme it can communicate to the man in the cubicle that he can come hang out with the real men. This is the issue I believe Horton is criticing. I believe he is right in signaling this out. The shift is subtle and so happens easily with many perceptions of manhood.

Everyone has probably come across the video entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” You can watch it below if you have not seen it.

I think the best thing I can say about it is to refer to to what others have said about it.

Jared Wilson posts a good short critic of the video here.

But the most comprehensive overview of the video is by DeYoung here.

I am thankful for men like this who know how to engage these issues with biblical wisdom and Christ like love. No matter how good something sounds, we always need to apply biblical truth to it. Nothing should go without seeing if it matches what the bible says. Passion never covers over error. While, at the same time, we must bring correction with a humble, kind spirit. Let us not drive away the passionate by being cold and heartless. Instead, if we win them then we get passionate Christians who are filled with sound teaching. A double win!

I am happy that Jefferson Bethke wants to tell the world about the grace of our savior. Hopefully he will be encouraged to do it in a way that clearly communicates that grace without unknowingly distorting it. For every word from a Lord is a message of grace and peace.

UPDATE:

Jefferson Bethke emailed DeYoung and humbled himself to say that the critiques were correct. Go over and read the exchange between them, it is wonderful to behold. Jeff showed himself greatest by becoming the least and teachable. May I grow to be more like him.

__________________________

Below is a video that Challies linked to a few days ago where college students were  interviewed over the question, “can men and women just be friends?” The result from the video was very fascinating (Note: video interviews can be deceptive things. One can just choose to include the interviews the person wants to include and so show the results they want to. So that warning must be understood and considered when watching such things). In the video several men and women are asked the question. All the women shown give the initial answer that they can be friends with no hesitation. The men, however, give the exact opposite answer stating it cannot be that men and women can just be friends. You can watch it below,

This is a very important topic because relationships play such a prominent aspect of each of or lives. And as believers relationships take on a very important role. Our God is one who exists in relationship and so have crafted His creatures as those who need relationship.

On top of that He has created different genders that are to relate to one another. They are different in that they are created equal in worth and dignity while intended to fulfill different roles. The differences are not part of the problem but instead part of ascribing glory to the God who created them. And the primary purpose of the created difference is that man can cleave to a women in marriage to fulfill the creation mandate (Gen 1:27-28). Thus, man and woman have woven into the fabric of their structure the functions of relationship and desire that will pull them towards marriage when they relate together.

Yet, there is more about how they are interact than just match making for marriage. The church is made up of both men and women. And these two genders are given commands to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 12:10, 15-16; 13:8) and many other commands of love, service, and exhortation.

I remember hearing about a distinguishing mark of Christian churches in Turkey not to long ago. And the mark was a fascinating one. Out of all the things one could think of when the believers I knew met with these churches one of the things that stuck out to them was that men held conversations with women. In the surrounding culture you do not see men holding open conversations with women. Rules, regulations, and inward chauvinism keeps that from happening. But when Christ does a transforming work, by the Spirit, with the gospel relationships change. Men and women who are made anew in Christ start treating one another as family and the weirdest thing happen…they start talking to one another.

Believing men and women  are called to live together in community. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Christ calls His people to become part of Him, one body united, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” (Philippians 1:27). Thus, as members of the same body, Christ, there is more to the relationship than just finding who to marry.

So how does this all work out when we come to this issue? Is is right or wrong for men to make friendships with women when there is no intention for marriage.

As already laid out there is to be a relationship between believing men and women which is not mere acquaintance but which is not marriage. We could not fulfill the Biblical commands listed above if either of those were the case. So maybe it is how we think about what is a “friend” and what constitutes “friendship.”  I believe that Scott Croft gives some great guidelines about what constitutes a friendship that the bible envisions between brothers and sisters. He answers how brothers and sisters are to interact with one another,

First, with care and concern. We should be concerned for each other. First and foremost, each other’s relationship with Christ. But additionally how are our lives being shaped to be more Christ like. Furthermore, we should treat each other with care. Protecting the reputation of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is part of glorifying the Lord.

Second, with interest. Relationships require some knowledge. Now I want to be careful here because the world will often tell us that more knowledge is always a good thing. In fact, that might well be inappropriate. But I think you will all agree that it is nearly impossible to have a relationship without any knowledge. Generally knowing each others lives is critical to brotherly or sisterly relationship.

Third, with encouragement. We should be spurring one another on in the faith. To do so, we need to know each other generally. We need to sit under the word together, be shaped and molded by the public proclamation of the word, discussing it and its implications.

Fourth, with service. We should be serving one another. Sacrificing our own needs and time for each other in order that others might see we are Christians in the way we love and serve each other.

Finally,…with absolute purity. Knowing how sin has twisted the good gift of sexuality , Paul exhorts Timothy to be pure so that his relationships with sisters in the faith might glorify God and not confuse or obscure the Gospel.

I think this is very helpful in understanding how we relate to one another. As different situations arise these principles of loving, honoring, protecting, and serving one another can guide us to the most faithful actions. If this level of relationship exists between us I believe it will produce much good. But beyond this I believe there is danger.

Sin is a ever present reality in our lives which works to destroy the joys of relationships. One of the things that stood out in the interviews is that both parties are working from a mentality of using someone to get what they want. Men enter into the friendship so that their might be the possibility for something more. Women enter into the friendship so that they can get what they want. Notice that most of the women knew that their guy “friends” had feelings for them that went beyond friendship. In other words they liked the attention and knowledge that a guy liked them. Lets call the drive for a lot of “friendships” for what it is, selfish ambition. Both parties are just putting themselves in a position where they can use the other to get what they want. This is in complete contradiction to the biblical command for believers to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Sin brings its destructive effect upon relationships in many ways such making people, “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).

Also, It is the reality that God designed men and women to marry. There is a level of relationship between a man and a woman which is only to be reserved for progress and attainment of marriage. “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). The Lord knows how he has created us. Men and woman are designed to be attracted to one another so that they can become married. Their relationship capabilities are created for that end. We would be foolish to live as if this did not exist. Thus, our relationships should not communicate what we do not intend for them to communicate or try to live as we are not made to live.

When these two things are combined I think it is a strong word about not developing deep friendships with members of the opposite sex (and by deep I mean a relationship that is more than the the guidelines laid out by Croft). We play with fire where one can read more into the relationship than there is and we can easily be using one another for our own selfish purposes.  The dangers out way the pros in this case.

In Conclusion, we should not retreat from brother and sister relationship. Instead, by God’s grace, we can move forward in growing to become better brothers and sisters of the risen Lord. And because we want to become better brother and sisters to one another we will guard one another in how we relate to one another. If we understand friendship in the parameters mentioned above I believe that we can live in harmony, joy, and holiness together. Yet, we must be careful that we do not let sin slip into our relationships where the only thing we are concerned about is ourselves and getting what we want.

Two posts have come out recently about the problem of manhood within this culture. First Owen Strachan used a Tide commercial to launch into the topic of who should work at home. Then Kevin DeYoung wrote about the absence of mature godly men from churches. The lack of godly men is glaring and sad. Everyone loses when men do not fulfill their part. God made two genders to be His representatives on earth. When one fails the other suffers. And this failure is all over the place.

I know that I am not wise or experienced enough to solve the issue. The complexity is very deep running from the plain sin of the individual man to the culture men find themselves residing in here in America. But here are some thoughts as being one of these men living during this time.

1. Sin lies and steals true goodness from us. “Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you” (Jeremiah 5:25), “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3-4). The over arching problem is that the world is selling a lie about what men should be and do. God has his vision and the devil has his. the devil presents his view as the most pleasing and satisfying. The men of this day and age are biting into it hook, line and sinker. What we are dealing with, at the core, is not a motivation problem on behalf of men, but the same problem that happened in a garden when a serpent asked the question, “did God really say?” Is God’s vision of manhood really that good? They may ask, “how can that be good when what we see before ourselves seems so much better?” Feminists and Egalitarians tell men that they have no distinctive place or role in the world and so offer a world of laziness and passivity. The sexual “freedom” around us presents the lie that sexual happiness exists in having sexual desires fulfilled in selfish, debasing ways in the most immediate means possible. And where men think they will never amount to anything in the real world they can become one of the greatest Special Operation soldiers imaginable on a video game. All these are lies plain and simple. But they are the lies that men buy and the situation we are up against.

2. The glory of Christ is redeeming and restoring the people who have been ravished by this world. “And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” (Luke 5:31-32). “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,” (Colossians 1:21-22). “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). Here are two glorious truths that come against the darkness of all this: Jesus came to save sinners and Jesus will save sinners.

a. To fight against the lie of sin the truth of the gospel is placed over against it. Jesus has come into the world so that sinful, pathetic men can be reconciled to God and be made blameless and above reproach. The way this problem gets solved is not by finding the right cultural screw which is out of place and fixing it. It is by the Spirit opening dead men’s eyes to the glory of Christ so that they may drop all their efforts and have faith in the saving work of Christ.

b. And we can walk confidently in this reality. For the Spirit is the one who is at work when we bring the gospel to bear upon the lies of sin. Our confidence in the transformation from dark, sinful men to repentant, righteous men is solely the work of the Spirit invading the darkness with the sin defeating work of Christ as a word from the Father. He is our confidence, not any contrived social construction we can think of. Transformation will happen man by man as the Spirit makes each one anew in Christ.

3. As for teaching men who are already Christians we must remember that the main problem are the lies of sin they are still believing. The biblical vision of manhood is glorious! Loving leadership is a joy! The pursuit of holiness is a fight for happiness! Purity is to be desired as treasure! Let us call our brothers to cast off the unsatisfying pleasures of the world’s vision of manhood and let us proclaim and savor the joy of Christian manhood.

a. Now, the reality is still the same, holiness is hard to get. To settle for the world’s vision of manhood is the easy road (But it is also the broad road that leads to destruction as well). Where as the road of being made blameless and above reproach is hard work. However, as a Christian, holiness is not only something a man is striving for, but is something one already has obtained in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). The pursuit of this holiness is living in the reality of the promises one has in Christ while being fueled by divine power. The joy of holiness can and will be attained by the Christian even though the road is difficult.

b. We must cast off the old school method of building men by relying solely on the law. I remember finishing a Christian book on leadership which ended by basically saying, “striving for leadership will be hard, but you have to do it.” And after finishing his, what felt like, 180 things you have to be to become a godly leader I had no desire to try to become one. Who would? I am just going to fail. Gospel-less summons to manhood will not produce the men who will lead their churches and homes in godliness. War-like calls to fight the good fight are right and needed. But if in our desire to make true men we uproot the calls from the indicatives of who these men are in Christ we will kill who we are trying to revive.

c. We must never confuse symptoms with the problem. Issues like DeYoung point out are not the problems but symptoms of the problem. Unfortunately I under went a period where these things got confused. The answer to dealing with the immaturity of men was to, as was thought, get them married. This only lead to men who were selfish, immature, but now married as well. Discipling men is not simply getting them married. It is teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. If we are not seeking them to grow in every area the bible commands (leadership, service, love, compassion, doctrinal firmness and gentleness, etc) we cause harm by focusing on one just one area.

d. Churches should encourage single men to find an identity in Christ so as to live holy where they are in life. Here is a problem that I still come across. It is presented in a fashion that the only way to be a faithful man is to either get married or go over seas to become a missionary. We miss an important stage of life for single guys where they can become trained in godliness by grace (Titus 2:11-12) if we just want them to become married or a missionary. Singleness can be for sanctification just as much as marriage can be as I wrote before.  Becoming a godly husband is an overflow of a godly single life.

e. Finally, the church must realize that the men who are being made a new in Christ need to be discipled. The men being claimed by Christ these days do not know how to act like men. Single men do not know how to pursue their sisters righteously.  Men do not know how to manage their fiances. Men do not know how to build relationships with other godly men. Just commanding them to do so is an effort into futility. Men who are being redeemed out of broken homes with no example or instruction to follow will need to get the instruction from some where. The church must be willing to provide actual instruction of the things it commands.

There are many more things to say on the subject I know. But these are just some thoughts from me about this topic.  I don’t know if I am adding anything new or not. But hopefully they are over all helpful.

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