Archive for the ‘Presbyterian’ Category

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching [in my pulpit and] in the pulpits within the Church currently, and I am growing increasingly concerned about the Church moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Gospel preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a Spirit-filled, confessing, orthodox Christian, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity to the Word of God. This is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.

The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.

Let Me Entertain You Temptation
Public speaking, once one becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.

The Hurry Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad, some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us, and then there may be a reference to the Sacraments. Preachers are tempted to do this when they know that there is a full service with Holy Communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I love the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and love that we celebrate it every corporate gathering on Sundays. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the Church, the Body of Christ, and the fellowship of Word and Sacrament. I think that we are forgetting this.

The Axe to Grind Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The Lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the Lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Axe to Grind” temptation.

How many more temptations could be added to this list?

~ Originally written by Rev. Paul McCain, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

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Sola Scriptura, What Has it Done?

I was thinking today about Sola Scriptura, which means Scripture Alone. This was and is the clarion call of the Protestant Reformation. It was an announcement that the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church were contrived from the human mind, and did not agree with canon of Holy Scripture. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church declare that Holy Tradition existed before the canon of Scripture was finalized. The Orthodox Church says that it decided upon what we now have in our hands, known as the Bible.

From the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church viewpoint, Sola Scriptura has been the instrument of division from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. There have been statements issued by the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy about how many thousands of Protestant denominations there are. However, it remains a fact that even from within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy there have been divisions. There are many “Catholic” churches and “Orthodox” churches. Therefore, it is not just within Protestantism that the Church has divided. It is sad that the Church has divided and still continues to divide for one reason or another. I love the Church.

R. C. Sproul (1) makes an interesting comment on a misinterpretation of Sola Scriptura, that Roman Catholic’s and the Eastern Orthodox tend to dwell on the Anabaptist error which ended up becoming Solo Scriptura, which means basically that all a Christian needs is himself and his Bible. This is not what Sola Scriptura means. Sola Scriptura means, “Instead the Bible is our alone final authority because it alone is the Word of God. It has been attested, authenticated, by God Himself. Miracles serve as the divine imprimatur, the proof that this is a message of God.” When you get right down to it, there are innumerable volumes of “traditional” writings in the Roman Catholic Church and within Eastern Orthodoxy. Which one of all of the volumes is infallible or inerrant? Can either come up with an authoritative list of their traditional writings? I am not discounting tradition. The Apostolic faith was handed down, for St. Paul declares, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV) We have received those traditions in Holy Scripture.

It is true that it has been a dangerous thing, the human being interpreting the Bible for himself. It is equally true, I am sure that division has been caused by misinterpretation. However, what I have seen within the Church are traditional statements regarding the Christian faith. That of the Apostles Creed, the Athanasius Creed, and the Nicene Creed – all are based upon the traditional timeless truths revealed in Holy Scripture. Most of the Church adheres to these Creeds, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Congregationalists, and everyone in between.

I admit Sola Scriptura has been the cause of error. The fact of the matter remains, because of Sola Scriptura, there are distinctives within each of the above “traditions” of Christianity that differ from one another. It is appalling that some would fain to do away with Christian traditions. The various Christian traditions have distinctives about holiness, the sacraments, the ordinances, the mysteries, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the sovereignty of God, mode of baptism, pedo or credo baptism, church government, etc. Therefore, Robert Rothwell (2) says those “of the Reformed tradition devoted their lives to the study of the entire counsel of God, it seems that all too often we do not do the same.” I am sure that our sinful human nature has got in the way dividing the Church into each and every “denomination” that has ever existed.

Martin Lutheran defied Roman Catholic tradition, for example, which made people pay the church for forgiveness of sins, or pay for the reduction of their time in purgatory, etc., ad nauseam. That is why he hammered upon the cathedral doors at Wittenburg his 95 theses. The Church had to change. Now, the Church must change and keep on changing. Karl Barth said at one point, “Ecclesia semper reformanda est,” which means “the church is always to be reformed.” The same is said another way, “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda,” which means “the reformed church (is) always to be reformed.”

John MacArthur (3) says in the book Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, “The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture.”

I swam through three streams of Christianity on my journey of faith, the Reformed/Evangelical, The Sacramental/Liturgical, and The Pentecostal.  Because of Sola Scriptura, there has been a convergence of these streams within me. I adhere to the Reformed tradition, the Sacramental/Liturgical, and the Pentecostal. There is a convergence of worship. Thanks be to God, I belong to the Church.

The Church of the Living God is the Church that Jesus said He would build, and He will complete the building as He has intended. The Church, His Bride will be presented to Him, pure and blameless at His coming. Build Your Church Lord, refine her, clothe her, establish her beauty in You! Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!

Resources:

(1) http://www.ligonier.org/blog/sola-scriptura-bible/

(2) http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-does-sola-scriptura-mean/

(3) http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/sola-scriptura/

 

Kerygma

Kerygma

What is kerygma and what does it mean?

During the last seven weeks of the Communication in Ministry course I am taking, we are concentrating on preaching or delivering sermons or messages to our congregations.  We are studying structuring sermons, how to select our passages and how to interpret the biblical passage. We are learning how to relate the interpretation of the biblical passage to our “audience.” We are learning all the ways and means to creating a great sermon.

This brings me to the word kerygma. Dictionary.com gives the definition of kerygma as “the preaching of the gospel of Christ, especially in the manner of the early church, and the content or message of such preaching.”

Kerygma is the Greek word κήρυγμα kérugma, translated proclamation or preaching. Kergyma is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spoken words, or even viewed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the proclamation of Jesus redemptive work. Proclamation was usually followed by teaching and instruction in the elements of the faith, or the reading of a Creed. What Jesus did and taught in His ministry was included within the basic proclamation. Ok, so lets break this definition down. 

1. Kerygma is the preaching of the Gospel.

2. Kerygma is preaching in the manner of the early church.

3. Kerygma has to do with the content or message of what is being preached.

What is the Gospel? It is the Good News of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The Gospel includes the facts of Jesus’ incarnation as the Word. It includes the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. It includes the fact that Jesus was begotten of the Father and not a creature that the Father made. Jesus is in the Father as the Father is in Him. It includes the fact that salvation from sin, sickness, death, and the devil is only through Jesus the Messiah. It includes the fact that we are made right with God, declared righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus the Messiah. The Gospel is Good News!

2. What was the manner of preaching in the early church? The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that the early church preached the Gospel focusing on Jesus Christ; on repentance, faith, baptism and the forgiveness of sins, especially that salvation is through Jesus alone. The early church preached Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The reason is that the Apostles were witnesses to the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The early church preached what they heard from Jesus, the Apostles, and what they witnessed – it is the Gospel.

3. What is the content or message of what was being preached by the early church? When looking into the book of Acts we see:

  • All of the messages mention the doctrine of God.
  • All of the messages mention Jesus the Messiah.
  • Seven messages mention Jesus’ death.
  • Seven messages mention His resurrection.
  • Four messages declare that Jesus is now exalted in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
  • Four messages mention the giving of the Holy Spirit.
  • Seven message mention the forgiveness of sins.
  • Five messages mention repentance.
  • Three messages mention the need for faith.
  • Five messages mention Scripture.
  • None of the messages use the word Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God was brought to the earth in Jesus the Messiah.

Therefore, the content or the message preached by the early church included everything mentioned above. The church today must preach the Gospel like the early church. The early church preached the Gospel within the context of her audience, whether Jew or Gentile, or whether it was in Palestine or Athens, Rome or Crete. The kerygma was the same. They preached and taught the Gospel. The early church preached and taught the Gospel as it was given to them by the Apostles. The kerygma is the Apostolic Gospel message. The Church should be preaching the Gospel the same way the Apostles preached it: in the wisdom and power of God.

St. Paul gives an example of the kerygma:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV)

In conclusion, based upon the Four Gospels and Acts, there are seven elements to the ancient kerygma of the Church:

1. God loves you and seeks after you.
2. Sin will destroy you.
3. Jesus Christ died to save you.
4. Repent and believe the Gospel.
5. Be Baptized – receive the Holy Spirit.
6. Abide in Christ and His Body the Church.
7. Go make disciples.

Lastly, there are four elements (Acts 2:42) to living the Christian life revolving around the kerygma:

1. The Apostles’ Teaching – The Church steadfastly went on in the study of ancient Scripture and the sacred teachings of the Faith given them by the Apostles.
2. The Fellowship – They were daily interacting within Christ’s Body the Church, frequently gathering for worship, and other gatherings as the Body of Christ.
3. The Breaking of the Bread – This is another way of saying that they faithfully received Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist and, by extension,  all the Sacraments.
4. The Prayers – Using forms of prayers, in both the personal and community contexts.

Westminster

The Westminster Creed

I believe man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever;
I believe God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being,
wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth;

I believe there is but one true and living God;
that there are three persons in the Godhead:
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;
and that these three are one God,
the same in substance, equal in power and glory;

I believe God has foreordained whatever comes to pass;
that God made all things of nothing,
by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good;
and that God preserves and governs all His creatures and all their actions.

I believe our first parents, though created in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,
sinned against God, by eating the forbidden fruit;
and that their fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery;

I believe God determined, out of His mere good pleasure,
to deliver His elect out of the estate of sin and misery,
and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer;
I believe the only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ,
Who, being the eternal Son of God, became man,
and so was, and continues to be,
God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever;

I believe Christ, as our Redeemer,
executes the office of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king.

I believe Christ as our Redeemer underwent the miseries of this life,
the wrath of God, the cursed death of the cross, and burial;
He rose again from the dead on the third day, ascended up into heaven,
sits at the right hand of God, the Father,
and is coming to judge the world at the last day.

I believe we are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ,
by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit;

I believe God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ,
and repentance unto life to escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin;

I believe by His free grace we are effectually called, justified, and sanctified,
and gathered into the visible church, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation;

I believe that we also are given in this life such accompanying benefits
as assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost,
increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end;
that at death, we are made perfect in holiness, and immediately pass into glory;
and our bodies, being still united in Christ, rest in their graves, till the resurrection;
and at the resurrection, we shall be raised up in glory,
we shall openly be acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment,
and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

~ adapted from the 17th century Westminster Shorter Catechism

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Thoughts after Resurrection Sunday: Jesus Christ, the Power of God

Remember how the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate approved a military guard for a cemetery plot and how they took pains to seal the stone to permanently close the tomb of Jesus? That was Pilate’s final word to Jesus, whom he had interrogated earlier that day. During that trial, Pilate and Jesus touched the third rail of worldly politics: Power. Pilate denied that power must be based on truth. Power was his to wield as he decided.

Jesus insisted on the primacy of Truth and that there was only one Power in the world: God’s. All other power was either delegated or allowed until the time of judgment, which rested in the hands of no magistrate, no emperor, no Supreme Court, but in God Almighty. Pilate had no power over Jesus that had not been given to him. And Pilate had no power over the Tomb-although he thought otherwise.

Those wielding power may mistakenly forget about the primacy of truth. When Jesus was questioned by Caiaphas about his teachings, he said, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.” A soldier struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the High Priest?” The soldier used power, trying to coerce Jesus, who had noted that truth could be found in the testimony of others about him.
Jesus refused to give in, saying, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong, but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” What could the soldier say in response? We are not told. Did Jesus’ penetrating presence and words pierce the soldier’s conscience?

When a truth is spoken to the consciences of those in power, one or the other must give way. Power must yield or truth must be silenced. Classic examples of this confrontation are the peaceful civil rights protests in the U.S. Power at first may seem to win the day-the state may whip, beat, imprison protesters and “restore order” and silence. But if the protesters speak truth to a power that is built on falsehood, they have the power of truth behind them. In the case of civil rights, the broader national conscience had to face the racism for what it was.

Many were willing to suffer to confront racism. In history, the state often does not back down and attempts to silence those who are dissident. It may even knowingly punish the innocent, as did Pilate.

In our current cultural crisis, those who speak truth to power about human life in the womb, the nature of marriage, and religious conscience are often targeted for silencing. Yet we, unlike the state, cannot use coercion in this conflict. Yes, there is power to be had in speaking the truth, just not in the way worldly men prefer to use it, like James and John who wanted to sit on thrones with Jesus. The power of Christians only comes through the Cross, through the willingness to suffer for the truth-and live according to it.

The power that raised Jesus was not meant as an assault on the guarding soldiers. They and the sealed stone were not the point. God did not unseal a tombstone to prove that he could empty a tomb. No, Jesus was raised because of a divine truth about the Incarnate Son of God: “It was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24)
Power comes and goes. Truth is truth and stands forever. It cannot remain suppressed. Even the stones will cry out. Yes, stones, and even tombstones. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” was never the end of the story.

The Gospel truth is that Jesus’ Name is above every name, to which every knee will bow, even Pilate’s.

~  James M. Kushiner, Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

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View the Story

 

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A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

PROLOGUE

In every age the Holy Spirit calls the Church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, authoritatively recorded in Scripture and handed down through the Church. Thus, while we affirm the global strength and vitality of worldwide Evangelicalism in our day, we believe the North American expression of Evangelicalism needs to be especially sensitive to the new external and internal challenges facing God’s people.

These external challenges include the current cultural milieu and the resurgence of religious and political ideologies. The internal challenges include Evangelical accommodation to civil religion, rationalism, privatism and pragmatism. In light of these challenges, we call Evangelicals to strengthen their witness through a recovery of the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient Church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation and the Evangelical awakenings. Ancient Christians faced a world of paganism, Gnosticism and political domination. In the face of heresy and persecution, they understood history through Israel’s story, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world? The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future challenges Evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in history. The narrative of God’s Kingdom holds eternal implications for the mission of the Church, its theological reflection, its public ministries of worship and spirituality and its life in the world. By engaging these themes, we believe the Church will be strengthened to address the issues of our day.

1. ON THE PRIMACY OF THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

We call for a return to the priority of the divinely authorized canonical story of the Triune God. This story-Creation, Incarnation, and Re-creation-was effected by Christ’s recapitulation of human history and summarized by the early Church in its Rules of Faith. The gospel-formed content of these Rules served as the key to the interpretation of Scripture and its critique of contemporary culture, and thus shaped the church’s pastoral ministry. Today, we call Evangelicals to turn away from modern theological methods that reduce the gospel to mere propositions, and from contemporary pastoral ministries so compatible with culture that they camouflage God’s story or empty it of its cosmic and redemptive meaning. In a world of competing stories, we call Evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of Evangelical life.

2. ON THE CHURCH, THE CONTINUATION OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call Evangelicals to take seriously the visible character of the Church. We call for a commitment to its mission in the world in fidelity to God’s mission (Missio Dei), and for an exploration of the ecumenical implications this has for the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from an individualism that makes the Church a mere addendum to God’s redemptive plan. Individualistic evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of churchless Christianity, redefinitions of the Church according to business models, separatist ecclesiologies and judgmental attitudes toward the Church. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover their place in the community of the Church catholic.

3. ON THE CHURCH’S THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for the Church’s reflection to remain anchored in the Scriptures in continuity with the theological interpretation learned from the early Fathers. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from methods that separate theological reflection from the common traditions of the Church. These modern methods compartmentalize God’s story by analyzing its separate parts, while ignoring God’s entire redemptive work as recapitulated in Christ. Anti-historical attitudes also disregard the common biblical and theological legacy of the ancient Church. Such disregard ignores the hermeneutical value of the Church’s ecumenical creeds. This reduces God’s story of the world to one of many competing theologies and impairs the unified witness of the Church to God’s plan for the history of the world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to unity in “the tradition that has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” as well as to humility and charity in their various Protestant traditions.

4. ON THE CHURCH’S WORSHIP AS TELLING AND ENACTING GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for public worship that sings, preaches and enacts God’s story. We call for a renewed consideration of how God ministers to us in baptism, Eucharist, confession, the laying on of hands, marriage, healing and through the charisma of the Spirit, for these actions shape our lives and signify the meaning of the world. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from forms of worship that focus on God as a mere object of the intellect or that assert the self as the source of worship. Such worship has resulted in lecture-oriented, music-driven, performance-centered and program-controlled models that do not adequately proclaim God’s cosmic redemption. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover the historic substance of worship of Word and Table and to attend to the Christian year, which marks time according to God’s saving acts.

5. ON SPIRITUAL FORMATION IN THE CHURCH AS EMBODIMENT OF GOD’S NARRATIVE

We call for a catechetical spiritual formation of the people of God that is based firmly on a Trinitarian biblical narrative. We are concerned when spirituality is separated from the story of God and baptism into the life of Christ and his Body. Spirituality, made independent from God’s story, is often characterized by legalism, mere intellectual knowledge, an overly therapeutic culture, New Age Gnosticism, a dualistic rejection of this world and a narcissistic preoccupation with one’s own experience. These false spiritualities are inadequate for the challenges we face in today’s world. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to return to a historic spirituality like that taught and practiced in the ancient catechumenate.

6. ON THE CHURCH’S EMBODIED LIFE IN THE WORLD

We call for a cruciform holiness and commitment to God’s mission in the world. This embodied holiness affirms life, biblical morality and appropriate self-denial. It calls us to be faithful stewards of the created order and bold prophets to our contemporary culture. Thus, we call Evangelicals to intensify their prophetic voice against forms of indifference to God’s gift of life, economic and political injustice, ecological insensitivity and the failure to champion the poor and marginalized. Too often we have failed to stand prophetically against the culture’s captivity to racism, consumerism, political correctness, civil religion, sexism, ethical relativism, violence and the culture of death. These failures have muted the voice of Christ to the world through his Church and detract from God’s story of the world, which the Church is collectively to embody. Therefore, we call the Church to recover its counter-cultural mission to the world.

EPILOGUE

In sum, we call Evangelicals to recover the conviction that God’s story shapes the mission of the Church to bear witness to God’s Kingdom and to inform the spiritual foundations of civilization. We set forth this Call as an ongoing, open-ended conversation. We are aware that we have our blind spots and weaknesses. Therefore, we encourage Evangelicals to engage this Call within educational centers, denominations and local churches through publications and conferences.

We pray that we can move with intention to proclaim a loving, transcendent, triune God who has become involved in our history. In line with Scripture, creed and tradition, it is our deepest desire to embody God’s purposes in the mission of the Church through our theological reflection, our worship, our spirituality and our life in the world, all the while proclaiming that Jesus is Lord over all creation.

This Call is issued in the spirit of sic et non; therefore those who affix their names to this Call need not agree with all its content. Rather, its consensus is that these are issues to be discussed in the tradition of semper reformanda as the church faces the new challenges of our time. Over a period of seven months, more than 300 persons have participated via e-mail to write the Call. These men and women represent a broad diversity of ethnicity and denominational affiliation. The four theologians who most consistently interacted with the development of the Call have been named as Theological Editors. The Board of Reference was given the special assignment of overall approval.

Just before his death in 2007, Robert E. Webber (inset picture) spent a good portion of his time working collaboratively with over 300 theologians and other leaders to craft A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. The Call continues some themes and expands upon the Chicago Call” of 1977, and sets forth a vision for an Ancient-Future faith in a postmodern world. That Webber helped to craft such a call is not unusual, for he spent the whole of his professional life calling the church to continual reform and, most especially, encouraging leaders and laity alike to drink from the refreshing well of ancient truth. That the Call came, as it did, at a time of great change in the world and in the church, and that it also came just before his passing, gives it a kind of weight that makes it especially compelling to examine.

Washstain

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. ~ Revelation 22:14 (ESV)

Remember the stain…

I remember the stain
at times it doesn’t seem right
to recall what marred my walk in the light
it cannot be removed
so much of life reviewed
in my minds eye

I remember the stain
i cannot clean it
even the rushing tide
sweeping away foot prints over and again
cannot remove it

I remember the stain
of idolatry, rebellion, and caustic choices
trying to reign over me
why do I remember?

I remember the stain
even though i can still see it
has been washed in blood deep red
where my Father sees me white as snow
where no stain is left to judge me rightly
where no bondage there to bind me tightly
where freedom rings so very brightly
at the dawn of His appearing
He remembers no stain at me leering

I remember the stain
maybe at my minds random recollection
to remind once more my souls misdirection
at one time I knew not
the Deliverer from before
to grasp again His winsome words
Nor do I condemn you, go and sin no more…

pastoralcare

“And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Jeremiah 3:15 (KJV)

From this it is evident that there are five main tasks required in the pastoral office and true care of souls:

First: to lead to Christ our Lord and into His communion those who are still estranged from Him, whether through carnal excess or false worship.

Secondly: to restore those who had once been brought to Christ and into His church but have been drawn away again through the affairs of the flesh or false doctrine.

Thirdly: to assist in the true reformation of those who while remaining in the church of Christ have grievously fallen and sinned.

Fourthly: to re-establish in true Christian strength and health those who, while persevering in the fellowship of Christ and not doing anything particularly or grossly wrong, have become somewhat feeble and sick in the Christian life.

Fifthly: to protect from all offense and falling away and continually encourage in all good things those who stay within the flock and in Christ’s sheep-pen without grievously sinning or becoming weak and sick in their Christian walk.

~ from Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer (1538) (p. 70)

{May this ever be my prayer, oh Lord my God}

*Note: Caring elders/pastors must seek the lost, bring back the wandering, restore the fallen, strengthen the weak, and encourage the strong. The Gospel brings salvation, healing, and deliverance.

media-press

Evaluating Media Forms in Ministry

I subscribe to a magazine called “Salvo.” It is a publication of The Fellowship of St. James (http://www.fsj.org), Salvo is dedicated to debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence. It also seeks to promote the Christian worldview. (http://www.salvomag.com)

That being said, I came to the “Book Blip” page, where a book review entitled “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” was given by Ryan Holiday. This is the review he wrote:

Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator is a fast-moving, straight-talking mea culpa (which means “through my fault” and is an acknowledgement of having done wrong) from a marketer, media strategist, and apparent “first defector” from the “unreality” of the blogosphere — a nebulous entity whose very business model “rests on exploiting the difference between perception and reality.” Simultaneously fascinating and disturbing, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator exposes the modus operandi of the internet news “racket” and educates readers in how to be more media-savvy.” (Salvo Magazine, Issue 32, Spring 2015, p. 6)

I share this with you all to establish a thought. The thought is, is the Church, which uses a variety of media forms in ministry actually telling the truth about their ministry? Is what is being marketed, or expressed the exact true representation of what the inquirer will actually find upon visiting the church? What is the intent and purpose of the church’s use of that media form? What is the desired goal from the use of a specific media form?

Here is another thought. I remember one year, receiving in the mail an invitation to go to a local resort hotel, have fun at its water park, and then come Sunday, enjoy the various zoo animals on display after the church service was over. What was the goal of this mailer? I think it was an attraction attention getter for those people with families, who, if so moved, would come to this local evangelical church. Did this church say anything that was untrue? No. They did exactly what they said they would. All you had to do was show the card you got in the mail, and you could play at the water park until you passed out. Then, the pièce de résistance was the various zoo animals on display after the church service. There was free hot dogs, popcorn, and soda for all. What was the intent of all of this engaging marketing? To get people to come to their church. I am sure hundreds went to the resort for a free water park fling, and yet out of the hundreds maybe 1-2% actually visited the church. More than likely those 1-2% were just there for the zoo animals. Instead of sending a card with the Gospel message on it, or a teaser with the answer for all the world’s problems, they spent thousands of dollars on a marketing campaign. Was it the right or wrong way to get people to church?

In our text book OutSpoken, we are told that we should be good stewards regarding how we use the various media forms at the church’s disposal. The goal or intent of using varying media forms, from my understanding, is obedience to the command to GO, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them everything Jesus had commanded the apostles.

When it is our turn to take advantage of the various media forms, which method or means are we going to use, and for what purpose, really?

mtdThere is talk in some church circles about “moralistic therapeutic deism.” We may abbreviate this ungainly phrase as “MTD,” in allusion to the popular cable channel showing music videos. Many teenagers and young adults are familiar with MTV; however, few would recognize “moralistic therapeutic deism” as playing any role in their lives.

Yet the contention we hear is that MTD, rather than classic Christianity, is the predominant religion among today’s teenagers and young adults. They may not recognize the phrase, but it describes the belief system that they actually profess and practice. And what’s more: We, the parents and other adults around them, are the ones who taught them MTD. This is a serious charge and deserves serious consideration.

An Inarticulate Faith

The phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism,” you will not be surprised to learn, was coined by an academic: Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. It has been disseminated more widely by Smith’s associates, including Princeton Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean. Based on her research with Smith, Dean published a book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dean has become a popular speaker at church events. She delivered a challenging presentation at my local church on a snowy Saturday in February, and I was among the large crowd that came out to hear her.

Smith, Dean, and their colleagues did surveys and in-depth interviews in which they queried thousands of young people about their religious beliefs and practices. Very few, they found, were atheists or hostile toward religion. On the other hand, relatively few were able to articulate and consistently practice a faith that resembled classic Christianity.

The vast majority of the respondents found it difficult to articulate any kind of belief system. They mentioned God, but it was a vague and distant God. They didn’t have much to say about Jesus.

What the respondents did seem to believe, as Smith summarized it, was: God functions as an authority who gives us rules to guide our behavior (this is the “moralistic” part). The main point of these rules is to be a nice person who gets along with other people. If we obey the rules, God makes us feel good about ourselves (this is the “therapeutic” part). But God isn’t involved in a personal or direct way in our daily lives (this is the “deism” part). He may show up in a crisis, to make us feel better about ourselves.

Almost Christian

This set of half-conscious assumptions is what Smith, Dean, and associates call “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s not necessarily false. We should seek good relations with the people around us. If we obey God’s commands, we will usually end up happier. God is a refuge in times of trouble.

Yet the Good News of Jesus Christ is so much greater than any of this. Dean, in her talk, showed a side-by-side comparison of MTD and the Apostles’ Creed. The differences were stark. MTD is all about myself and my happiness. The Apostles’ Creed is about the Truine God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and God’s amazing works from the Creation to the Incarnation to the hope of life eternal.

So how did these teenagers and young adults come to settle for so much less than the Gospel? It wasn’t by rebelling against their parents’ religion. On the contrary, survey respondents by and large felt positively toward their parents and shared common values. Many of them reported that their parents had taken them regularly to church and youth group, and they had few complaints about the experience. It’s just that they didn’t emerge with a distinct Christian faith that they could articulate and practice.

Is This What We Teach Our Children?

Dean suggests a disturbing explanation: Perhaps these teenagers and young adults adopted MTD because that’s what they were taught. That’s basically the philosophy of life they have received from and observed in their parents. It’s what they learned in Sunday school and youth group: Be nice to other people and you’ll have a happy life, and God will be there when you need him. All that stuff about Jesus dying for our sins never really made an impression.

Dean’s presentation provoked some self-examination in me and others at my church: Is MTD what we are teaching our kids? When my wife and I lead Children’s Church, is the message the children are hearing the Gospel of God’s great mercy in Jesus Christ? Or is it something less? Are we preparing them to be nice people or disciples of Jesus Christ?

I must admit that some of the Sunday school curriculum we have used has been very moralistic and therapeutic. We read Bible stories, but the takeaway at the end of the lesson often seems to be that everyone is special to God and kids should be kind to their classmates. There isn’t much said about our being sinners to whom God sent a Savior. I have seen this failing not only in old line Protestant curricula, but also in curricula from publishers that have an evangelical reputation.

How would your congregation fare under this kind of self-examination? Maybe you intend to communicate the Gospel–as my wife and I do–but are you sure that’s what the children are hearing? It’s a question worth asking. The consequences go far into the future–indeed, into eternity.

Taken from “Theology Matters” http://www.theologymatters.com/

Written by: Alan F.H. Wisdom