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Covenants, Contracts, Community…part deux

(part 1 can be read here)

The recent events of attempted cover up of child sexual abuse and the subsequent abuse of the former wife of the perpetrator at The Village Church (I was abused by them, not as severely because I refused to sign the church contract, but that’s another story) is a chilling example of how more churches are seeking the next big celebrity pastor and sacrificing basic, biblical principals for the sacred cow of church growth (see here if you need to catch up).

In order to attract these celebrities, they must agree to establish the pastor as some kind of master elder who is the “first among equals” which, interpreted, means he rules like a king. Of course, there is nothing in scripture that supports this model, but this is exactly how they operate. The examples are almost too many to mention, but I can mention 3: 1. Mars Hill: Driscoll established his small, hand picked group of elders who were over the regular elders and they ruled supreme. The results speak for themselves. 2. Shortly after Mars Hill adopted this model, TVC adopted the same model of the small, hand picked group of super elders that control the other elders. Think about this: Matt Chandler has no formal seminary training (he almost flunked out of “Bible College” and started seminary twice and quit) and became the “master elder” at 28 years old. That alone should send shivers up your spine. We’re seeing the same pattern of abuse that was seen at Mars Hill, Chandler is just a little more subtle, or maybe a little more deceptive. 3. They continually claim that signing a membership covenant is “biblical” but then can offer no credible defense of this claim and when they attempt to offer any scriptural justification, they redefine the nature of a covenant to suit their purpose of domination and control, and most the churches in this area (DFW) are adopting similar models, including a church where we considered attending.

Yes, these behaviors are not isolated to a few churches or just Acts 29 churches. They are rampant among churches of all stripes. I know this because it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find a church that doesn’t follow this model. I even had a new pastor of a local church (The Church at the Cross, Grapevine, TX) confirm this idea of the “master elder” over coffee. I was exploring other churches that were closer to us and I had sent an email to the elder board of this other church to ask them some basic questions (or at least what I though should have been basic for an elder board) and they told me that they didn’t understand most of the questions that I asked (big red flag!). I emailed the new pastor and he agreed to meet and answer any questions. When we sat down in the local coffee shop, he asked me why we were looking for a new church since I had mentioned that we had been attending TVC. I told him it was a longer drive than we preferred and we were looking for something closer. He then told me that he and Matt Chandler were good friends and that when Matt learned that he was coming to pastor a local church in the area, Matt responded that this was great because now people wouldn’t have to drive so far to attend a good church (I think I shuddered here). The last few questions I asked him helped me mark his church off my list:

1. Do you plan on establishing the requirement to sign a “membership covenant” to join the church? Answer: yes, eventually, but after we have a time of teaching and education to bring people along (this is not an exact quote, but summarizes the answer).

2. Most church covenants have requirements that seem like legalism to me, such as the requirement to give at least 10% to the local church, which I believe clearly violates all New Testament instruction on giving, such as giving freely, without compulsion, led by the Spirit and giving discreetly or in secret. What’s your response to this? Answer: it’s the obligation of every church member to support their local church first, otherwise, how would the local church survive? I answered: by faith – if it’s God’s work, God will sustain it according to His will; he had no response for this answer. I had several follow up questions to this one: me – You’re going to buy a house in the area, right (very affluent area)? A: yes;  me – my wife works at vwxyz private school and she mentioned that you & your family were visiting last week, are you planning on sending your kids to private school? A: yes; me – if I were attending your church and I happened to get a request from one of the faith missionaries that I support, risking their lives every day for the sake of the Gospel, and that request states that the wife needs surgery to save her life and they need extra money to fly the family to the states to get this done (this is not a hypothetical, it happened), here is the thought process that will go through my head:  I will look at the multi-million dollar church properties, the millions of dollars worth of luxury cars in the parking lot, the nice, custom house where the pastor resides, the world class education his kids are getting at the private christian school, and think – hmmmm, this church can afford it if I divert my “tithe” for a few months to this emergency need. Is my thinking wrong? A: yes – you should give what you can to the missionary, over and above your tithe to the local church, otherwise, people would always find a reason to not give consistently. At this point, I reminded him of my answer to his question above: God will sustain His work (faith).

3. Since you plan on having members sign a “covenant” establishing a list of requirements for membership beyond a profession of faith in Christ alone, how will the church leadership know whether people are living up to this “covenant” and, using the instance of giving again, how will you know if someone isn’t giving 10% and what will you do if their giving declines or stops, especially in the light of the instruction given by Jesus that our giving is to be in secret? A: Well, in this day and age of electronic giving and the need for statements for IRS purposes, their giving really isn’t in secret, so that’s not really a consideration. We wouldn’t be able to know the exact percentage a person is giving, but if their giving drops off significantly, we would send them a letter, inquiring if they had lost their job, or had some financial need that caused their giving to decline. (I think I said something like “really?” and sat looking at him in stunned silence while a chill ran up my spine)

4. I was concerned by the elder’s lack of theological understanding and lack knowledge with regards to current trends in the church. Does this concern or bother you? A – not really, I will be evaluating them over time and if there are any that are lacking, they can be brought along or we can slowly make changes as men naturally stop serving on the board over time.

and last, but not least,

5. How do you view your role in relation to the other elders and the elder board? A – I would view my role as first among equals. I asked him to explain. A – I view the pastor as the leader of the whole church, who is given the vision by God, sets that vision and equips the other elders to help implement that vision. The pastor is to establish the vision, values & mission of the church and the elders are to equip the people.

I’m sad to report that when I last checked the website, they have indeed established the membership covenant as a requirement for fellowship (a year later). I also noticed that they have hired a huge staff. When we visited, there were maybe 3 or 4 staff members and I counted more than a dozen currently. I used to think that the sad thing about this was the fact that the pastor is a truly gifted expositor of the the scriptures and it’s a shame he functions in such an unscriptural manner, but I think that’s falling right into the trap of holding up these celebrity pastors as some kind of king. The truly sad aspect of this is that these people do seem to worship these pastors and flock like lambs to the slaughter, looking for the latest big thing.

Stephen Schutt Offers a Well Reasoned Response to Matt Chandler’s Promotion of the False Narrative of White Privilege

“It was just unacceptable…” Story from the NY Post

When Michael Brown was tragically killed while violently resisting arrest, Matt Chandler issued a poorly timed, knee jerk response in an effort, I assume, to show that he is racially sensitive. The reality is that all Matt did was give credence to a false narrative that harms black Americans and promotes the anti-Christian and anti-God progressive agenda. I believe that Matt’s motive is to be “…all things to all men…” in order to win some. The problem lies in the fact that Paul never said that he would be a promoter of false claims because it would make a group of people feel better. What Paul was trying to say was that he would do all that he could to appreciate and relate to men, regardless of their status, race or circumstance so that he could promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He never suggested or even implied that being all things included promoting a narrative that is a fabrication by those who are vehemently opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is, in effect, what Matt has done. Now that the lawlessness in Baltimore has occurred, a city with a majority minority police force and a majority minority city government, including the mayor, it’s clear that the issue is not white privilege, but the proof is in the actual statistics that completely contradict the claim. Stephen Schutt does a masterful job in debunking this claim in his blog:

Matt Chandler & the Myth of White Privilege by Stephen Schutt

Matt Chandler posted the following: http://bit.ly/1oVGHAL.  This is a response.

Before the blood of Michael Brown had cooled on the pavement in Ferguson, a chorus of voices began railing white privilege. While superficially satisfying, the idea of white privilege struck a nerve with many and justifiably so.  When looking at hard data, logic and history, the hypothesis of white privilege pales in comparison to a view encompassing values & culture.

White privilege through white lenses
The entire idea of white lenses affecting perspectives on race smacks of the genetic fallacy – (ie: the fallacy that ideas are true or false because of their source).  In reality, the veracity of a claim must be examined independent of its source.  Whites can and do have correct views on race all the time. So do blacks and every other race. And all of those groups have incorrect views as well.
Matt implicitly acknowledged this when he analyzed the issue of race himself.  His white lenses did not invalidate his views of race.  If we are to arrive at correct conclusions here, we must venture into the scary world of facts (Hey, remember those?).

What about successful blacks?
“As far back as 1969, young black males whose homes included newspapers, magazines, and library cards, and who had also gone on to obtain the same number of years of schooling as young white males, had the same incomes as their white counterparts…(keep reading)

My Favorite Guns: Christmas of ’75

My Marlin Golden 39M Scout, with added scope. My favorite gun to this day.

Just for a change of pace, I thought I would write a series about guns. I’m an enthusiast, no where close to being an expert, but I get a tremendous amount of enjoyment appreciating a good quality firearm and some of the great times that I often associate with shooting. Whether it’s plinking at tin cans, hunting or going out to the gun range and shooting a couple of rounds of skeet, some of the best times I’ve had have been while participating in these activities, especially with my sons. How does this relate to my faith? God is the creator of all things and creating is one of His primary activities:

Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (NASB)

Genesis 1:26 – “…Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (NASB)

John 1:3 – All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (NASB)

Out of all of God’s creations, only man was created in the image or “likeness” of God, and even in our fallen state, the ability to imagine, design and build a complex piece of machinery is a testament to this fact and it brings glory to The Creator, even if the image bearer never intended for God to receive glory through his effort.

In the same way that God enjoyed His creation (Genesis 1:31), we can enjoy the things built as a result of man’s God-given abilities and give glory to God and enjoy the fruits of God’s creation. In the same way God has given us these good gifts for us to enjoy in a way that gives God glory, we can use these things to bless others in ways that we might never fully understand.

Christmas Morning, 1975

December 25, 1975 was a fairly typical Christmas day with my family. Even though I was 14 years old, Christmas still held a special mystery for me. Maybe because I was the youngest of 4 siblings, it always seemed like something extra special would happen that justified the waiting and the wondering. My oldest brother was still single and he was there early that morning. He may have spent the night but I can’t be certain. As was typical in our household, there were unwrapped presents under the tree that morning marked “From Santa” even though it had been several years since anyone believed in Santa Claus. Once we worked through the unwrapped gifts and everyone had opened the wrapped gifts, we would usually go around and admire the other items that family members had received. My mom and dad would usually refill their coffee and someone would tell a harrowing shopping story about how they stood in line for a long period of time and the item they wanted to buy was sold out right as they were approaching the front of the line, or some other typical, urban “adventure.” At some point there would be a lull in the conversation and then everyone would spring into action, putting up their gifts or gathering up wrapping paper. My mom would usually go back in the kitchen to work on the Christmas feast. On this particular Christmas, that lull had arrived and I thought my dad was going to instruct us to start the clean up process. Instead, he looked at me with no expression on his face and said: “I think you might have one more present, why don’t you go look in my closet.” I leapt up with nervous excitement and ran back to my mom & dad’s bedroom and opened the door to my dad’s perfectly organized closet. There was never anything out of place in my dad’s closet. It was a picture of precision with everything always in its place and every inch of space utilized perfectly. This made it quite easy to spot the one item that was out of place: a short, army-green, rifle case. I couldn’t believe my eyes and I grabbed the heavy, canvas case and ran back into the den where my dad and the rest of the family was waiting. My dad was grinning from ear to ear and my mom looked as surprised as I was when she saw what I had retrieved from dad’s closet. I was so excited that I unzipped the case while holding it upside down and out slid the most beautiful gift I had ever received: A Marlin, Golden 39M Scout, lever action, .22LR, rimfire rifle.  I was joyously stunned and my mom was slightly dismayed that my dad had given me a gun. I think my dad enjoyed the consternation of my mom almost as much as he enjoyed my rapturous delight. My oldest brother then gave me a 500 round brick of Winchester, Super-X .22LR ammunition. My dad helped my oldest brother do his shopping that Christmas Eve and they had stopped in at a Service Merchandise. My dad had seen me ogle the .22 rifles there on more than one occasion and they just happened to have the Marlin 39M on sale. This was the rifle I had admired above all the others and never thought I would actually own one. Especially not in 1975!

An Act of Grace, Borne from Love

1975 was the culmination of a series of 4 or 5 rough years in a row for me. My dad and I had a rocky relationship at the time, primarily because of my rebellion. I was especially surprised by my dad’s kindness given this dynamic in our home. My dad demonstrated grace to me. I didn’t deserve it and actually deserved just the opposite. My dad, while I was yet in rebellion to him, showed his love for me by this simple act of grace: he gave me a material possession that I wanted, probably more than any other, and showed me that he was going to love me even through my acts of rebellion. I professed faith in Christ a few months later and my life changed dramatically because of the transforming power of the Gospel. I can’t help but think that God used this act of love to prepare my heart for the truth of the Gospel.

How much more has God demonstrated His love for His children;

Mathew 7:11

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (NASB)

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (NASB)

Covenants, Contracts, Community, Catholicism, Communism and Extra-biblical Visions (or The Shepherding Movement: Alive and Well in 2014)

Pope-and-Swiss-GuardThere is a growing trend among evangelical churches to require members to sign a church covenant. In most of these churches, there is a legitimate desire to see the regular attenders, or members, engage in meaningful fellowship or community in order to maximize their potential for the greater glory of God. The leaders of these churches see the membership covenant as an effective tool to combat the apathy and narcissism which is so prevalent in Western culture.  They would argue that biblical community is the antithesis of radical individualism and this individualism will continue to dominate the mindset of most churchgoers without a tangible tool like a membership covenant.

Not only does this narcissistic individualism undermine biblical community, advocates of membership covenants would contend that it undermines the vision that is cast by God-appointed leadership in the church. Vision casting is a concept advocated by Peter Drucker, (a noted Harvard business guru), adopted by the prosperity gospel heretics and popularized within mainstream evangelicalism by Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and the modern church pragmatists. This concept, simply stated, is that God gives a “divine” vision or mission to the pastor and it is the pastor’s responsibility to both God and his congregation to develop philosophy, strategy and practice that drives the behavior of the church members in such a way as to be in 100% agreement with this extra-biblical, “God-inspired” vision and to always be functioning in complete submission to the pastor’s ideas & methods in order to accomplish the goals of the vision. While most Christians would agree that radical individualism or narcissism is incompatible with biblical fellowship, I would contend that a membership covenant is a carnal means to overcome a spiritual problem and results in a works oriented approach to sanctification and community which undermines the very end it was designed to achieve. In addition I would contend that extra biblical visions do not come from God and the practice of vision casting is an attempt to manipulate church members to achieve an ideal state of community but in reality creates an illusion of community which will not withstand adversity, nor will it last long past the tenure of existing leadership. When the practice of requiring membership covenants is combined with a manipulative practice of vision casting, the end result is often an authoritarian, controlling and manipulative environment which results in abuses similar to those seen in the shepherding movement of the 70s and 80s. Current examples of this can be seen in the abusive and unethical actions taken by leadership at multisite churches like Mars Hill of Seattle and Sovereign Grace Ministries of Louisville, KY.

The individualism that many of these churches are actually railing against is not the radical, narcissistic individualism of post-modern culture, generation x and beyond, but the individualism that dares to take seriously the responsibility of each Christian to understand the scriptures, theology and the church fathers effectively enough to function as Bereans, holding fast to Sola Scriptura and holding the church and her leaders accountable to the one true standard for faith and practice.  The constant emphasis of this theme, combined with the practice of vision casting and the requirement of covenant membership appears to be used at many of these churches to develop a heavy-handed, controlling, and domineering mode of operation by leadership toward the congregants.  Any questioning or disagreement with the vision that has been cast by the pastor is seen as divisive and an act of rebellion against the leadership and the God-given vision.   Chris Rosebrough has done a thorough and biblical analysis of the manipulative practice of vision casting and its roots, so I will refer you to his radio broadcast for more detail than will be covered in this posting: Vision Casting & Other Unbiblical Practices Employed By Purpose-Driven Leadership. To summarize, anyone, whether in leadership or otherwise, who questions the vision or the methodology employed is an enemy of God’s divine plan for the church and should be dealt with as a sinner in need of church discipline and, if necessary “shot’ or ‘run over” in order to get them out of the way of God’s plan. Be assured that I’m 100 percent a churchman in that I’m a firm believer that Christians should be regularly fellowshipping with a local body with relationships built on worshiping God in spirit and in truth as a congregation.  I’m a solid presbyterian (little p) in that I believe that the local congregation should have elders appointed who will shepherd the flock with loving-kindness; elders who are biblically and theologically astute and who are known and actively involved in the gentle shepherding of the sheep; elders who are equal in respect and authority rather than the idea that the pastor sits on the elder board as the first among equals. I’m fine with church membership as long as its sole requirement is a clear understanding of the Gospel accompanied by a profession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Savior, and even when this is accompanied by an acknowledgement of the basic, foundational doctrines of the faith. Where I think I diverge from the idea of community as emphasized at a growing number of churches is that it seems that there is a controlling aspect that tends toward a heavy-handed manipulation or a “lording” over the sheep in order to achieve the extra-biblical vision.  It’s as if they can force the idea of “community” on the flock to the degree that it results in “covenant members” who actively serve, actively give and actively exhort one another to righteousness and good works that align with the vision.  Nowhere is this more evident to me than in the multipage contract that must be signed at many churches in order to wholly fellowship with the body (or engage in community). Many of these churches have even gone so far as to require members to renew their covenant membership on an annual basis. This practice further increases the level of control that leadership lords over the members and takes the manipulation of each individual to a whole new level. As much as these churches attempt to use scripture to justify this practice, the reality is that there is no scriptural, theological or historical basis (unless we want to undo the Reformation) to justify this type of requirement.

Are membership covenants justified by biblical covenants?

The idea of the covenants as they relate to the people of God and to individual faith are always in the context of a covenant between God and man, where God actually fulfills both party’s responsibilities within the covenant.  In addition, the Biblical covenants are monopleuric as opposed to dipleuric.  This is critical in the evaluation of both the Biblical covenants and what is passed off as a dipleuric church covenant required for membership.  A monopleuric covenant is a covenant in which the superior party dictates terms to an inferior party. A dipleuric covenant is a covenant in which both parties voluntarily define and agree to terms, but there is no obligation to enter into covenant whatsoever.  From the Biblical perspective, a monopleuric covenant is summed up by the following characteristics:

  1. Covenant is established by God (the superior party) over man (the inferior party); God establishes the terms of the covenant as the condition of relationship with no input from man, whatsoever.
  2. God is under no obligation to provide a covenant for man to obtain a relationship with God, but He does so out of His abundant grace and mercy, and for His glory.
  3. Man is under full obligation to God to abide by the gracious terms of the covenant, whether he agrees with the terms or not.
  4. Man is fully bound by the terms of the covenant, whether he even acknowledges the existence of the covenant, or not.

Each individual is responsible to fulfill his individual terms of the covenant, regardless of his ability to do so, but because God is abundantly merciful and gracious, He fulfills man’s responsibilities for whomever He chooses and it is this work of God that binds these individuals to one another as adopted children of God.  This work of God that fulfills man’s responsibility is the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, and this atonement was agreed upon between the persons of The Trinity before the foundation of the world (Covenant of Redemption). Since each adopted heir is a child of God, each adopted heir is inextricably bound to all other adopted heirs by the very fact that they are siblings within the King’s family.  Their fellowship together is based solely on the fact that they are children of God, fellow heirs to the divine promise, operating in unity to worship and serve God as a people: the church.  Because it is God’s work through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ that binds each individual to the family of God, the requirement of another covenant in order to enter fully into fellowship with local, fellow heirs is a man-made requirement that imposes an additional responsibility not required by God.  The terms of this extra covenant are defined and dictated by the church leaders, even though there is no instruction in scripture to create this extra-biblical requirement as a basis for fellowship. Because the terms of this requirement are dictated by one party to another party, this “covenant” in effect functions as a monopleuric covenant. Not only is this problematic  because it is inferior and incomplete as to what God actually expects of us, but also because these covenants usually add additional requirements that aren’t required by God, i.e. regular, confession of all sin to other individuals. Not only is this concept of “membership covenant” problematic because it is not even implied in Scripture, it is also problematic because it puts a group of fellow heirs in a position of divine sovereignty over another group of fellow heirs, even though they are neither divine nor sovereign.  I would argue that this creates an environment that is a breeding ground for authoritarian abuse by the “superior” party, fostering the lording of authority over the “inferior” party. I’m not aware of a single instance in scripture where there is a covenant between individual men, whether monopleuric or dipleuric, that results in these men uniting and functioning as the people of God, worshiping in spirit and in truth.  The efforts to justify this practice scripturally are so poor in hermeneutical principal that it baffles the mind.  One of the primary justifications for this practice was the appointment of deacons, in Acts, to properly minister to the church’s widows in Jerusalem. The argument is that because they could identify the widows, this implies church membership; therefore membership is biblical and necessarily implies a man-made agreement. Additional arguments of a similar vein will be used (the appointment of elders, the expulsion of the sinner in first Corinthians, etc.). Each of these arguments requires a quantum leap in hermeneutics and exegesis that borders on the ridiculous.  All other attempts that I’ve seen as justifying this practice scripturally are equally unsupportable by any acceptable hermeneutical method.  I firmly believe that this is a fleshly attempt at making “covenant members” fulfill their biblical responsibilities towards one another and towards the lost world in which they live by working towards the pastor’s vision.  It is akin to the Judaizers in Galatians requiring circumcision, with even less justification, because there was at least a way to use the Old Testament scriptures to attempt to justify that practice.    No such scriptures exist that can be misapplied to justify this practice.  The true children of Abraham, the true circumcision, the true Israel, the true children of God will worship in spirit and truth through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, by God’s sovereign design out of a changed and thankful heart.  God has prepared their good works in advance:

Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.  [NASB, emphasis added]

It is abundantly clear that any good works that we perform are done solely on the basis of God’s grace and sovereignty (including biblical community) therefore it must be concluded that no number of pages in a man-made contract will result in true spirituality.  I would argue that in the same way the Pharisees practiced their rituals in order to rack up points for the approval of men, the requirement of a signed contract for full fellowship creates a carnal, works-based community with the following results: a reason for pride, a reason for self-deception, a “paper circumcision” gaining the approval of men and by way of practice, a domineering and controlling environment where people are “purged” or “run over by the bus” (see Chris Rosebrough’s analysis of vision casting) if they dare question any action or decision by leadership (not submitting to the elders).  By contrast, true believers will participate in and experience a new covenant lifestyle in the same way that they participated in and experienced regeneration: by the Grace of God, through faith from God, in the power of the Holy Spirit as their minds are renewed through personal study and consistent, expository preaching of the transforming Word of God. My challenge to the leaders at these churches is this:

Galations 3:2-4

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? [NASB, emphasis added]

Final Observations

in my research of the current emphasis on the accusation of radical individualism if one dares question leadership’s strategy or disagrees in matters of conscience in the practice of one’s faith and the disturbing trend of many churches to require a membership contract as if somehow this will eradicate the dreaded individualism and enforce community, I’ve found two constants:

  1. Roman Catholic literature is filled with the similar terminology and consistently emphasizes the idea that the Reformation and the Reformers individualized the nature of faith, conscience and practice; it considers this as an attack on the true nature of the church and as detrimental to the true practice of Christianity: a Christianity that they define as a faith that is wholly centered in and subject to the authority of the centralized church and its traditions.
  2. The same ideas and terminology are found throughout Marxist/Communist literature and in this literature, individualism is a detriment to the healthy function of a society and results in capitalism and greed.  Oh, and by the way, anyone who dares question the decisions of leadership in these systems are purged as well (run over by the bus?).

It appears to me that radical individualism/narcissism has been confused with the individualism of the reformers: Christians who dare use their mind, study the scriptures, the church fathers and writings of old, daring to be the Berean, asking questions of authoritarian leadership when they are operating outside of scripture in faith and practice. It’s as if they are undoing the reformation, not by reuniting with Roman Catholicism, but by creating a new centralized, authoritative structure where pastors are “little popes” who speak ex cathedra and establish divine direction and practice for the congregants. I will end with this excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, which is almost prophetic in that it seems to capture the essence of what is happening today in the name of community:

On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life [Zusammenleben] should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and to abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture. For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth. Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances 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 moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community, the better for both. However, a community that cannot bear and cannot survive such disillusionment, clinging instead to its idealized image, when that should be done away with, loses at the same time the promise of a durable Christian community. Sooner or later it is bound to collapse. [24]Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure. When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves. Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. We thank God for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us other Christians who live by God’s call, forgiveness, and promise. We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: other believers who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of God’s grace? Is the gift of God any less immeasurably great than this on any given day, even on the most difficult and distressing days of a Christian community? Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the common life, is not the one who sins still a person with whom I too stand under the word of Christ? [25]Will not another Christian’s sin be an occasion for me ever anew to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.

[excerpt from Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pp 34-35, Kindle Edition, emphasis added]

Work and Wealth: A Biblical Paradigm

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Hard at Work
© 2014, solafivereformed.com, this image cannot be used without express written consent

I was at a home Bible study a few days ago and the topic of socialism, capitalism, and consumption came up. The person who mentioned the subject was sincerely expressing his viewpoint which was the idea that socialism is more in line with Christian living. Being my usual self, I responded like a bull in a china closet and was completely dismissive in my attitude and with my words. Thankfully the leader wisely moved us back to the topic at hand. After I repented, I decided that it would be appropriate to find resources that I could share with my brother which would effectively communicate a biblical perspective of work and wealth. one of the better resources that I found was an article written by Darrow Miller of World Evangelical Alliance. The article is titled Great Commission Utilitarianism. The article is intended to provide a biblical critique  of Christian utilitarianism and in so doing, also does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting four economic philosophies from a biblical perspective:

1. Okonomia: Stewardship of Creation

2. Idealistic Socialism

3. Chrematistics or Predatory Capitalism

4. Classic Communism

In the article, Miller concludes “…[this] dualistic paradigm has caused the Church to separate work from worship and wealth from the building of communities and nations. We need to return to the richness of the biblical paradigm and leave behind the anemic vision of Great Commission Utilitarianism…”

I believe that this article is a must read for Christians who wish to develop a Biblical worldview of economics, wealth, and work. Read the entire article here.

A Sound Analysis of Mark Driscoll’s Boorish Behavior and the Problem with Celebrity Pastors

Earthworm

Photo courtesy of Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

I know that I’m about 4 months late in commenting on Driscoll’s plagiarism, but hey, I was sick most of the winter.  If Driscoll can use sickness as an excuse during an interview, I can use it as an excuse for being a little behind the times.  What’s more interesting is that the the follow up documents after the interview proved unequivocally that Mark Driscoll committed overt plagiarism of D. A. Carson.  If a pastor/elder is to be above reproach, and blatant lying, or in this case, plagiarism, would disqualify that pastor/elder, shouldn’t Mark step down?  D. A. Carson has said as much about pastors who plagiarize ([5 Pt. Salt: Pulpit Plagiarism…] as noted by the folks at The Wartburg Watch).  Well, Mark?  I think it’s telling that half of Driscoll’s time seems to be performing damage control because of his actions and yet, as in this case, no appropriate action is ever taken to solve this embarrassment to Reformed theology and the church as a whole.  I never knew that “worm” theology referred to the spineless nature of many of my fellow Calvinists when one of their own needs discipline.

Carl Trueman get’s it right in the article published in Reformation 21:

If the Top Men take over, who will ask the hard questions?

POSTED BY CARL TRUEMAN

The controversy surrounding Janet Mefferd’s interview of Mark Driscoll is interesting for a variety of reasons.  There is one aspect of it which has yet to attract comment as far as I can tell.  That is the way it brings out another aspect of the celebrity culture which has so corrupted the young, restless and reformed movement.

My interest here is not who was right and who was wrong.  That will no doubt be fairly easy to establish as the claims which Janet Mefferd made should be empirically verifiable.    I would only comment that, in my own interactions with Janet Mefferd, I have always found her forthright but fair.  I am concerned in this post only with what the reactions to the interview tell us about the culture of celebrity in the subculture that is evangelicalism.

I have tried a number of times to make the point that being a celebrity is not the same as being a public figure.   Anyone who acts in public is, to a greater or lesser degree, a public figure.  Celebrity brings with it such matters as a culture of false intimacy with complete strangers and a charismatic authority rooted in the person not in an institution.  Thus, influence is often predicated on personality, not on the intrinsic merits of arguments etc.

The Mefferd-Driscoll controversy points to another aspect of celebrity culture: celebrities are routinely allowed to behave in ways which would not be tolerated in ordinary mortals. (read the rest of this post here)

The Sisters Said it Well: Lost People Will Act Like Lost People, Our Job is Salt & Light!

When trying to determine the right course of action in response to blatantly, anti-Biblical cultural swings, the tendency for many Christians (me included) is to respond with shock & to take offense, as if we’re here to promote political agendas rather than eternal truth.  We then swing into what I call the “Don Wildmon” mode with the knee-jerk calls to boycott, protest or both.  Is that the reason God has us here on this earth?  To boycott the world when the world acts like the world?

To Starbucks or Not to Starbucks, That Is The Questionstarbucks

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was recently challenged by a shareholder in the company who questioned the company’s endorsement of a state bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Schultz reportedly told the shareholder that he was free to sell his Starbucks shares…

Should we as Christians expect lost people to act in any other way than lost people generally do? (continue reading)

A Culture of Death: Planned Parenthood in Florida Openly Endorses Infanticide

When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, pro-life activists argued that this was just the beginning of the slippery slope to worldwide  infanticide and genocide.  Their arguments were dismissed as ridiculous overreaction and nothing more that sensationalism and fear mongering.  When Dr. Kevorkian was assisting suicide in Michigan in the 90’s and pro-life activists pointed to euthanasia as evidence of how we had slipped down the slope, they were again dismissed as sensationalists.  After all, how could anyone with compassion force a person to continue to suffer in the midst of a terminal illness?

Fast forward to 2013 and read the headlines:

Belgium Euthanizes Deaf Twins Going Blind

deaftwins

Euthanized Twins

Kermit Gosnell Drugged Women…Left Them for Hours

Defense blames patient for her own death

DrKermitGosnell

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, abortionist, murdered babies & mothers

If the two headlines above aren’t enough, last week, while being interviewed by the Civil Justice Subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives, Alisa Lapolt Snow, a lobbyist representing Planned Parenthood, clearly endorsed the practice of infanticide.  When Florida Representative Jim Boyd asked Mrs. Snow

 “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”

Her answer:

“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician…”

I’m sad to say that the pro-lifers were prophetic.  Still say we’re sensationalistic?

Sad Irony

I researched Mrs. Snow and found the website of her company, Snow Strategies.  How ironic that the most prominent link on her company’s website was this:

CDSI

“The Child Development Screening Initiative is a three-year endeavor by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (FDDC) to convene stakeholders and develop a comprehensive statewide system of developmental screenings for children ages birth to five [emphasis added]. FDDC has contracted with Snow Strategies Inc. to carry out the goals as we enter Year 2 of the project.”

Here’s the question I have for Mrs Snow: does that include screenings for the birth of children as a result of botched abortions as they are lying on the table, waiting for the doctor and the parents to determine if they are going to kill that child?

From The Gospel Coalition: Songs From the Book of Luke

A great new album from the Gospel Coalition called Songs from the Book of Luke.

bookoflukeABOUT THE PROJECT

For as long as God’s people have gathered, they have written poems and songs about the glory of God and the wonder of redemption. As the church, we sing to celebrate. We sing to remember. We sing to give voice to hope, even in the midst of life’s greatest trials.

Songs for the Book of Luke is an album by the church, for the church. The songwriters and musicians on this album all serve in congregations across the country, from New York to St. Louis to Seattle, to Dallas and many places in between. These songs have roots in the Scriptures (all of these songs are inspired by the Book of Luke) and seek, above all else, to glorify God and serve his people.

It’s been amazing to work on this project and see how much creativity is thriving in local congregations. More than 200 songs were submitted…(read more)

Listen to the album here.

Lenten Song (to the tune of My Favorite Things)

favorite thingsLENTEN SONG

(to the tune of
My Favorite Things)

Sackcloth and ashes, and
days without eating,
Mortification and wailing
and weeping,
A hair shirt that scratches,
a nettle that stings,
These are a few of my favorite
things.

Penitence, flagellants, memento
mori,
Spending nights sleeping on
rocks in a quarry,
The sound of a cloak’d solemn
cantor who sings,
These are still more of my
favorite things.

Tossing and turning and
yearning I’m spurning,
Passions aflame like an
ember-day burning,
Corpus and carnis and
wild drunken flings,
Forsaken are they for
my favorite things!

When it’s Christmas,
When the tree’s lit,
When the cards are sent,
I simply remember my
favorite things,
And then I can’t wa-a-a-a-it
till Lent.

Author Anonymous

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