Saturday, June 27, 2009

Does Doctrine Matter? Aka, Promise Keepers Tries Again

Is church structure really that important? Is "what we believe", our differing doctrines, really that important? Aren't we all united in Christ by trusting Him for His righteousness; that it is indeed "finished?"

Paul very carefully set up the church to survive into the 21st century by encouraging preacher Timothy to "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Tim 4:16) and again to the leaders of the Ephesians church before setting off for Jerusalem, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)

In other words, keep watch over 1) yourselves and your own doctrine, and keep watch over 2) your flock and their doctrine. This seems to be the smallest common denominator that Paul set up. A pastor and his flock united in doctrine, as Paul taught that doctrine. Outside of a public family church, there is no consideration. Read the passages before and after these verses, and it only reinforces this thinking. "Believe my teaching, and make sure your whole flock believes the same thing," is what Paul seems to be telling us.

So now, the big denominations and theologies come into play. Churches will split over doctrine. That would be biblical, if then each new flock and pastor (or groups) were again united in their understanding of Paul's (Jesus') teachings. Are the different understandings still blessed by God? Of course, when they are both biblical in a God approved "gospel" sense. There's not only one true denomination to which all must conform, thanks to the Reformation. Paul didn't set up a universal church with ONE interpretation of his (Jesus') teachings that we all must conform to or perish. (The pope didn't necessarily have a lock on it.) Paul set up churches that met for his teaching (doctrine) publicly, and house to house, (Acts 20:20). Everything above and beyond that, or less then that, we seem to have set up.

So within denominations, each church conforms to what the greater group believes, or splits and forms it's own denomination. That's biblical, as mentioned above. God has set up a family church where he can reach all within that family church by inspiring the leadership of that family church. Everyone stays on the same page. It seems a most efficient system to me. They can be part of a larger denomination of like-minded believers, or not. There seems to be no smaller unit then the 'public' unit, though. We are in it together, at the least as a single church united in doctrine.

Case in point: Look what happened to Promise Keepers in 10 years (though they are not a church). All sorts of different doctrines uniting to build up the faith just doesn't work, regardless of where their hearts are, how good their intentions are. It's not biblical, just a movement, and not blessed for the building up of the church and the saving of souls. This year they will have one conference, women are invited, so the original purpose of the movement has died, they are inviting all to come whether they can afford it or not "We'll let you in for free, we'll feed you for free, just get registered." says co-founder coach Bill "Mac" McCartney. Don't they hear the shot across their bow? If they are going to try and build faith with no agreement on doctrine, then this latest effort will fail, too. Faith building and spreading the gospel is done amongst like-minded Christians. Otherwise you have pea soup. McCartney doesn't get it. He promises an experience with God at the conference, as if God will be coerced into showing up. He would be more honest to just promise an experience. An "experience" can easily be delivered.

Just ask Joel Osteen, who is Lakewood Church. Osteen says he doesn't like talking about sin because it makes people uncomfortable. I imagine "uncomfortable" interferes with experience building as he sees it. All righty then. If all inclusive faith-building is not biblical, and it's not, then Joel, a remarkable man, and sadly, his church, will get their comeuppance soon enough. I await the day. It will encourage the true church, as set up by the apostles.

In the mean time; believers, unite around the doctrine of your church and leaders. Or go where you can do that. And leaders, listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling you- as your faith and doctrine goes, so goes your flock "which He bought with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) That's an awesome responsibility. God blesses and moves churches that are united in beliefs, regardless of where they fall on the Calvin/Arminian scale, and only if the beliefs of those churches through their leadership is acceptable to Him. That's actually pretty inclusive. The bible and Holy Spirit, using great scholars, have given us the apostles' teachings, whom seem to have settled on just a few main theologies, that are acceptable to God. We all fall somewhere within them, if it's the true apostles teachings, and not our own, as in Osteen. Having a shallow understanding of the teaching / doctrine in order to be "all inclusive" is the aforementioned pea-soup, and doomed by default. Movements will fail, churches will fail, but God is in charge, doesn't change, and He won't fail.

And I hate to say it, but it's not the bible's teaching interpreted by me that unites us and launches an Acts 2 church. It was the devotion to the apostles' teaching and the peoples response to that true gospel in Acts 2:42 that launched the church, and puts us on the "apostles" page, not our own. Let's unite around their understandings, and keep our own understandings submissive, and we'll be out of God's way. Picking out our own doctrine leads to just another movement of man, and that leads nowhere. Just watch TBN and you'll see what I mean. They've added a lot to, and taken a lot away from the gospel, and they will eventually pay for the damage to the church. It affects us all, tempts us all to compromise, and who is the tempter? Have mercy on your church, O Lord.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thank God We Have Christ

Thank God we have Christ.

"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23)

We all agree with this, in that because we've sinned, we aren't worthy to be with God, apart from Christ- and that IS very true. But that's not all it's telling us. It tells us what sin is. Usually we read the text and at the word "and" we break the sentence into two separate thoughts, but they are one. "For all (that's me...) have sinned (what's sin?) and fall short (lack) of the glory of God." (I have sinned, I lack the glory of God). We lack the glory of God. Then what is sin? Sin is anything that isn't the glory of God. That's the whole world we live in. Is this too much of a leap? Consider this-

"...and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Rom 14:23)

We glorify God, and don't sin, when what we do gives Him the glory, from the greatest tasks to the least tasks. That means a humility to the 'nth degree. Complete utter reliance on God for all things (faith), so He gets the credit. If it comes through faith, it isn't sin. If it comes through US, it is sin. So,

"...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31)

Doing something in faith means all the excellence we can muster on our own, and in faith completely relying on God for the results (humility), so all the credit goes to God, and He gets the glory. Whether we are washing dishes, digging a ditch, raising children, governing a country, or working in ministry, it's all the excellence we can muster, in faith relying on God so He gets the glory, not us. That's God's way. Any other way is sin. So we can sin when we wash the dishes. (Or work in ministry). Whew.

Thank God we have Christ.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are We Upside Down Yet?

“Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. And those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost.”

Timothy Keller- "Gospel Christianity"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

4 Views On Eternal Security

Matthew Pinson has a book through the Zondervan "Counterpoint" series that features four theologians' view on eternal security; the once saved, always saved / perseverance of the saints debate. The contributors are all prestigious alumni of various universities and present the Classical Calvinist, Moderate Calvinist, Reformed Arminian, and Wesleyan Arminian views. It's an interesting read to say the least, though thank goodness there's a glossary.

What I found most interesting were their areas of agreement. First and foremost, they all agreed that holy men will long be disagreeing over salvation, and being Brothers in Christ, they expected to see each other together in heaven one day and find out the real answers. Secondly, I was very interested that each one presented their theory in it's abbreviated entirety, beginning with all that they believe about God, that He has revealed about Himself in Holy Scripture, as it is what the principals understood about God and his characteristics that shaped their theory of His plan for salvation as they interpreted His Word. And thirdly, they all seemed to agree that you have to use Calvin, Arminius, and Wesley, and what they wrote and how they interpreted scripture, and not any of the many writers that came after them, as too many have tried to interpret and reinterpret them, and improve on them, until there are all the countless denominations and countless understandings we have now.

I found myself sympathizing with each of the 'big four' theories, and see no way it will be resolved anytime soon! And no, I'm not wishy-washy by nature. I have always leaned toward Calvin, but hearing Wesley's personalization of the gospel was very interesting. I've a new respect for open-mindedness, and we'll leave it at that.

My own experience with Christ has shown me that perseverance is the only way, regardless of whether my salvation is at stake, so it's all a mute point to me, anyway. Let's face it, my life is so crazy, I'd be lost without Christ (no pun intended)!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Acts Church II

A good friend called this weekend and asked me about last week's post on the Acts Church. "How did I know they were immersed in the gospel, when it doesn't actually say that?" In case anyone else wondered about that, my response in brief, was that they were "devoted to the apostle's teaching." And everything else they were devoted to is their obvious response to the gospel. We know the apostles preached the gospel, as they were witnesses to it, we have the gospels that they wrote, and all their epistles. It would have been an exciting time to be a Christian.

The question for us now is: How can we realize this same type of church?

I believe the key is for us to realize just the right eschatology (God's final plans). Many Christians that under-realize God's plan still see mankind lost in sin, total depravity, and leave it all at the cross each week at church. Horton describes them as (1) "utterly indifferent to God's presence" in worship. Christians and churches with this under-realized eschatology tend to be very traditional, maintenance organizations, with little or no ministry inclinations, and may be safe in their salvation but missing out on the joy of the gospel. Boy, do I know a few people and churches like this!

Then there is to over-realize the end times. These believers are living as if the Lord has already had his second coming, are living totally in "ministry" mode, are busy building the New Jerusalem, and have no use whatsoever for the cross. They actually are very immature Christians who will topple and fall when trials come their way. (Been there, done that.) So what is the middle ground?

In reality, we are living in an age where both the old age before the cross and Resurrection, and the new age to come at His Second Coming are intersecting. The world is still lost in sin, but the Holy Spirit has come, and by grace, some of us have been saved. Our Christian experience is caught up in both ages, for now. Our Savior rules over this Age of Grace, so to speak, not yet the Age of Glory, at His second coming.

So what's the implication of living in this present age of grace? The right perspective will keep us centered on Christ and His cross, yet empowered by the Holy Spirit. This seems pretty elementary, but it is the crux of what is happening to the Body of Christ. Too many Christians are leaving the gospel message behind, and finding new ways to satisfy their souls, ministries, services, and outreaches, that are powerless. New gospels of prosperity and self-help, to name a couple. And seeker sensitive services that lack the gospel that de-sensitize the church, or just plain inward looking faith and worship services that reflect what we want, or what we think God wants, or an indifference to the mission that we have been trusted with, to name a few more. The whole traditional / contemporary worship debate is rooted in these two wrong eschatologies.

The proper "Christian walk" doesn't lead from the cross to the resurrection to the end times in a horizontal walk, but leads deeper into the center, knowing more and more about righteousness, how we need it, don't have it, and use Christ's righteousness in the face of our hopeless condition. And with His righteousness we can do all things. It's the "power" of the gospel. If our walk with Christ walks from faith into ministry, as in a line, then we miss the maturity of really knowing Him beyond the "buddy" stage. We need to really know Him, and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. That's something we can't do without Him. Ministry and worship will naturally flow out of our proper understanding of Christ, and really knowing Him.

(1) M. Horton A Better Way p. 134
(And no, I'm not bashing Calvin when I mention "depravity." My guess is that he would agree with me.)