Uncomfortably Godly

A house church in China was once expelled from the apartment it was renting. The police told their landlord that he would be fined if he didn’t stop renting to the church. Because of this threat, no one else was willing to risk renting to the church.

Rather than disbanding, the church began meeting underneath a highway underpass. The government left the church alone as winter had come, and such open-air meetings would be short-lived. To everyone’s surprise, the services were not shortened, and the church continued to meet throughout the entire winter.

God did not send these brothers and sisters a mild winter. The weather was bitterly cold Sunday after Sunday. Although they were eventually able to find a place to rent, God did not provide them a place to meet until after the winter was over. Rather than sending this church relief, God instead gave them the strength to endure the winter.

Some time later, the same police were preventing a cult group from meeting. The cult leaders complained to the police because they were now leaving the house church alone and “even let them worship in public for a time.” The police reminded the cult leaders of the temperatures that winter and said, “We know their faith is real.”

God does not promise believers a life of comfort. God sometimes allows His people to endure hardship in order to mold them into the image of His Son and to hold them up for the lost world to see. God may bring hard times to show his power in delivering us, but we must always be prepared to be uncomfortably godly.

Christians Doing the Harlem Shake

The Harlem Shake, a thirty-second dancing video, has become an internet sensation. In the past four weeks, at least 40,000 groups have posted their own version of the video. This internet meme has been covered heavily by the media, has resulted in 15 miners losing their jobs for safety violations, and has even launched an FAA investigation for a video shot on a commercial airliner. I wondered how many churches and christian organizations have done Harlem Shake videos, so I did a quick YouTube search.

As you might expect, you can find hundreds of Christian groups doing the Harlem Shake. By my rough estimation, there are somewhere between 600 and a thousand “Christian” versions of the Harlem Shake on YouTube. Even conservative Christian colleges such as Cedarville and Liberty have student groups posting Harlem Shake videos. The vast majority of “Christian” Harlem Shake videos appear to be coming from church youth groups. Here’s Saddleback’s video:

Before I say some not-so-nice things, I will admit that the line between being in the world and being of the world is not always clear and often leaves some room for debate. Furthermore, churches that isolate themselves from their surrounding cultures risk losing opportunities to evangelize and developing pride problems.

That said. Every Christian who has posted a Harlem Shake video should repent, ask God for forgiveness, and delete their post. Every youth pastor who has led their youth group to produce one of these videos should receive a public reprimand at the very least. Any pastor or church member who finds another church member posting one of these videos should initiate the process of church discipline beginning with a private confrontation.

What is wrong with American Christianity that we can’t bring ourselves to call a vulgar dance sinful? Sure, it’s popular and fun. Since when has sin been boring and unappealing?

 

Theological Traditions

biblethumbAmerican evangelicals tend to dislike tradition. Perhaps this is due to the individualism of American culture or a response to the excessive trust Catholicism places in tradition. Whatever the reason, evangelicals tend to be soured towards tradition even though evangelicals hold many traditions themselves.

Every believer inherits conclusions about the meaning and application of Scripture from other believers. These conclusions are expressed in distinctive collections of beliefs and practices know as a traditions (e.g. evangelical, reformed, covenant, dispensational). Theologians cannot entirely separate their personal theological studies from their communities’ doctrinal positions. Moises Silva writes,

“The old advice that biblical students should try as much as possible to approach a text without a prior idea as to what it means (and that therefore commentaries should be read after, not before, the exegesis) does have the advantage of encouraging independent thinking; besides, it reminds us that our primary aim is indeed to discover the historical meaning and that we are always in danger of imposing our meaning on the text. Nevertheless, the advice is fundamentally flawed, because it is untrue to the very process of learning. I would suggest rather that a student who comes to a biblical passage with, say, a dispensationalist background, should attempt to make sense of the text assuming that dispensationalism is correct. I would go so far as to say that, upon encountering a detail that does not seem to fit the dispensationalist scheme, the student should try to “make it fit.” The purpose, of course, is not to mishandle the text, but to become self-conscious about what we all do anyway. The result should be increased sensitivity to those features of the text that disturb our interpretive framework and thus a greater readiness to modify that framework” (“Systematic Theology and the Apostle to the Gentiles,” Trinity Journal, new series 15 [Spring 1994]:26).

Tradition plays a key role in communicating doctrine from one believer to another. Christians are commanded to gather together and exhort one another (Heb 10:25). God uses tradition to perpetuate correct doctrine (2 Thes 3:6). However, since all tradition is human in origin, it will never escape the effects of the fall. We cannot assume that our beliefs and practices are correct just because we love and respect those who hold those positions. Of course, theological study must begin somewhere, and theologians will naturally assume their beliefs are correct anyway. Thus theologians ought to treat their communities’ traditions as provisionally correct and constantly critique their theological assumptions with Scripture.

Swimming with the Elephants

(c)stevebloom.com, used by permission

Leon Morris begins his commentary on John with the statement, “I like the comparison of John’s Gospel to a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound” (NICNT, p. 3).

Similar quotations introduce many commentaries and sermon series on John’s gospel. The illustration draws a wonderful word picture and has been used for over fourteen hundred years.

The quotation dates back to Gregory the Great (AD 540-604) and his commentary on Job. Gregory writes, “Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim” (Moralia 4). It is sometimes mistakenly attributed to John Owen, who uses the quotation in his commentary on Hebrews (Works 20:165). Augustine is also sometimes cited as the source of this quotation, apparently due to an editorial footnote in Hutchings’ translation of Augustine’s Confessions (1883, p. 136). Some claim the quotation goes back as far as Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215), but I have never seen this documented. More often than not, the elephants swimming quote is cited as being anonymous, but we can be pretty sure that Gregory the Great is where it first originated.

If you are ever looking for a good illustration to begin a sermon series, I would suggest you consider talking about children wading where elephants swim. The illustration is most often used to introduce John’s gospel for some reason, but it would be applicable to any exegetical book study. It helps to start a difficult study off on a encouraging note.

Here’s a video of elephants swimming.

180-Degree Reactions

no u turnChristians tend to over-correct for the sin of their cultures. When confronted with error, Christians often counter with a 180-degree response. Entire entertainment media are labeled sinful. Liberal social agendas are condemned in whole. Fields such as science, psychology, and even sometimes medicine are rejected as having no value for the Christian. Truth becomes defined as the opposite of error.

Unfortunately, sin rarely appears in it purest form. The most dangerous errors are those which contain large amounts of truth. Christians who take stands in reaction to error often embrace error in the process. Ron Horton put it this way,

“Responses to error can go awry because of counterrelational thinking. The earnest Christian, intent on taking a stand against a dangerous belief or practice, stakes out his position directly opposite the error, forgetting that error is not always 180 degrees from the truth. Error may lie 90 degrees off the truth or even be sitting on truth’s borders. If truth, let us say, is north by the compass, error is not always due south. Error may be east or west, even northwest, and even in not so rare instances northnorthwest. Instead of forming his position directly from Scripture, the zealous contender takes his bearings from the error, distorting the position he means to defend” (“A Balanced Response to Error,” Voice of the Alumni 77.5 [2004]:6).

Horton concludes, “To be aligned with truth, our positions…must be formed naturally from Scripture, not counterrelationally to the error we mean to combat” (7). Christians must take positive stands for the Bible’s teaching, not reactionary stands against the world.

Only Enough Grace for Today

Sunrise over rocksGod promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” ( 2 Cor 12:9). God will give you all the grace you need for today. However, Jesus also told his disciples, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).

God will give you all the grace you need to do what must be done today. The weaker you become, the more God will increase your grace. We can have Paul’s confidence that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

When we are weak, however, we still feel weak. Our problems stretch on throughout the foreseeable future with no end in sight. We must remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23), but we only have enough for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow; you have enough to do today. Trust God even when you’re falling apart, and your spirit will be renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).

The World Saw You Celebrate

Back in 2008, a Chinese church did a series of man-on-the-street interviews asking “What is Christmas?” and “Who is Jesus?” The resulting five-minute video is worth taking a look.

If you went to any mall in the US three weeks ago and asked “What does Christmas mean for you?”, I think the answers given would convince you that the Chinese pretty much understand Christmas as it is celebrated in the West. The world sees what we do, not what we say we believe.

The world was watching this holiday season, and I’m not so sure they have stopped looking yet.

MACP Audio Now Online

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary has now made the audio of this year’s Mid-America Conference on Preaching available for free download.

The conference theme for this year was “The Mystery of Christ: God’s Glory among the Gentiles.” The online resources include MP3 audio files of all general sessions and workshops, along with PDF files of all workshop notes. Presentations cover two primary areas: (1) Dispensational-Theological Issues; and (2) Preaching-Church Ministry Issues. Digital resources from previous conferences are also available online.

Free Jerry Bridges E-Book

Amazon is giving away free downloads of Jerry Bridges’ new book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia (NavPress 2012). The free download is a kindle edition, but you can read it on your PC or tablet with amazon’s free software. Here’s what the back cover has to say:

Fellowship among believers is more than just talking over coffee after church service. Biblical fellowship in New Testament times—or koinonia—had rich and varied meanings, including covenant relationship, partnership in the gospel, communion with God and others, and the sharing of earthly possessions.

In True Community, best-selling author Jerry Bridges (The Pursuit of Holiness, Respectable Sins, Trusting God) explores koinonia and the practical implications it has for today’s church. With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, this book will help you dig deeper into what Christian community in the twenty-first century should look like. You will come away with a new appreciation for fellowship, the church, and what God intended the body of Christ to be.

I haven’t read my copy yet, but I expect it to be an interesting and edifying read. Get yours while it’s free.

 

Free Martin Luther Audiobook

In honor of Reformation Day, Christian Audio is giving away free downloads of Martin Luther: In His Own Words. This free offer will be available until October 31st.

The audio book is a short (2.75 hrs) collection of Martin Luther’s writings. Included are some of his most significant works such as the Small Catechism, 95 Theses, On Faith and Coming to Christ, On Confession and the Lord’s Supper, Of the Office of Preaching, Excerpt from Luther’s Tower Experience, and the Last Written Words of Luther.

If you have never read these works, it would be well worth your time to pick up this free download and listen to it in your car this week. Perhaps it will give you an occasion to start an evangelistic conversation on this year’s Reformation Day, October 31st.