Thursday, October 31, 2013

Two helpful links...

I've come across a couple of links related to past posts that may be a further help and encouragement on the issues involved.  See below...

Regarding same sex attraction
Leadership Journal's online newsletter had the fascinating testimony of a woman who was brought to Christ out of a lesbian lifestyle through a church's loving witness.  "Leaving My Lesbian Past" was written by Charlene Hios, who is engaged in ministry to those living out same sex lifestyles, and is a powerful reminder of the love of Christ. I've posted on this subject a few times back in March and in 2012, and also preached on it in our "No Easy Answers" series.  You can go to GBC's website media tab and find that series and message--"When Gay Comes to Church."  Or you can find it here.

Regarding the recent controversy over spiritual gifts
Another pastor has written very well on the "Strange Fire" controversy, and it doesn't hurt that we agree.  Wade Burleson's "Make No Apology for Desiring the Acts of Acts" is a well done argument for theological continuationism, while acknowledging being an experiential cessationist.  Go to my last post to see what the controversy was about.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

MacArthur & Strange Fire; Driscoll & Strange Stunt

This past week, John MacArthur and "Grace To You" (his broadcast and publishing ministry) hosted a conference at Grace Community Church called "Strange Fire."  Drawing from the story in Leviticus 10 where two of Aaron's sons are struck dead for bringing unauthorized incense offerings before the Lord, the conference presented a three day critique of charismatic and Pentecostal theology and practice relating to the continuing use of miraculous spiritual gifts, or sign gifts, that appeared in the early church.  MacArthur's view, called "cessationism" holds that all such miraculous gifts (as spiritual endowments to the church) ended with the completion of the canon and the end of the apostolic era.  The conference was a robust defense of this view, along with a call for discernment and rebuke of false teaching masquerading as "charismatic" phenomena.

News of the conference had some charismatic and Pentecostal leaders calling on MacArthur to cancel, saying it was a divisive move and hurtful to other Christians.  MacArthur responded that it was not directed at all charismatics (even though he disagrees with their theology) but with the growing stream of extremists and error-prone popular speakers and movements leading people into heresy.  

The conference featured Joni Eareckson Tada, who spoke out of her own difficulties of the need to move beyond the idea of physical healing and blessing as God's best for us.  Conrad Mbewe, a Baptist pastor from Zambia, spoke on the heavy damage done by charismatic claims and language within the African mindset, culture, and church.  R.C. Sproul lectured on the real meaning of Pentecost.  Other pastors also spoke, along with MacArthur, outlining a traditional cessationist view and showing the errors of continuationist/charismatic thinking.  If you have read Charismatic Chaos, then you will know MacArthur's main points.

Never one to shy away from a controversy, Mark Driscoll, pastor Mars Hill Church in Seattle (and elsewhere through satellite campuses) was in southern California for his own event and showed up at Grace Community with a supply of books offering his own view of the matter.  Driscoll, a continuationist who holds to the availability today of all the gifts, began to give copies of his books to attendees as gifts.  Unsurprisingly, the conference staff said that all books given away had to be cleared by the leadership.  Driscoll then agreed not to do so, but gave the books to the conference organizers so that they could give them away.  Driscoll had the whole matter on Instagram (and apparently elsewhere).  

The result of all of this?  "Strange Fire" is now concluding.  The 3,000 who attended (most of them already cessationists), will leave firmer in their thinking.  Those who were opposed and didn't attend will not be happy.  MacArthur will be seen as promoting controversy.  Driscoll will have gotten into the controversy and be seen as either a defender of truth or a publicity seeking pastor.

I'm left bothered by lots of concerns.  If you want to promote an idea that isn't the majority view
(such as cessationism in the American church) and you really want to get people who have not held it to at least think about it, perhaps you would title your conference (and book) with something a little less prejudicial and "inflammatory" than Strange Fire.  As it is, the conference becomes "preaching to the choir" and the book may sell well only among those who want to say to all charismatics, "See, I told you so!"  There is much that MacArthur says on this issue that is not only true, but could be a great corrective for many.  But they won't hear it because he started the conversation with a conference title that equates them with the disobedient and dead sons of Aaron.

Mark Driscoll has lots of venues from which to share his own teaching on the subject, and has done so.  Why be provocative?  He would not allow others to show up at Mars Hill and offer material contradictory to his own teaching to all the people there.  If he did, he wouldn't be a faithful shepherd, protecting the flock from what he would perceive as error.  Driscoll has, on many occasions (including right afterward in an interview) praised MacArthur for his teaching and ministry, even though MacArthur has often been less charitable in his remarks about Driscoll.  I'm sad to see this kind of stunt pulled which makes Driscoll look less like a voice of reason and more like someone who saw an opportunity to create a contest with someone who has attacked him in the past.  

I don't happen to hold either man's view.  While I am no "charismatic" (surprise!), neither can I find in Scripture any clear statement that all miraculous sign gifts have forever disappeared from the church since the time of the apostles.  I readily agree that they seem to have done so, and beyond the age of the apostles there is much testimony from the early church fathers that the sign gifts, including both the miraculous (healing) and the revelatory (prophecy), were no longer around.  Acts recounts four major occurrences, and gifts are referenced in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4 (the offices of apostle and prophet are mentioned), and 1 Peter 4:10-11.  In Ephesians, Colossians, and the pastoral epistles (where lots of instructions are given to the church on how to operate and function) teaching on miraculous gifts and their use is missing.  Even as time went on in the apostolic period, miraculous gifts seem to become less prominent, at least as the second half of the New Testament was written.

Thus, I teach that the appearance of such gifts is not "normative" (what we would normally expect and experience) in the life of the church today.  However, the Scriptures tell us that it is the Holy Spirit who decides what gifts are given and to whom and when for the good of the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12).  So, I leave it at that.  If the Spirit chooses to give any gift, including a miraculous one, anywhere within the Body for a particular good to be done for the Body, that is his prerogative and we should rejoice.  We also should be able to recognize it as such a gift by comparing it to what we see in the New Testament (that is my greatest reason for rejecting the common phenomena identified as "speaking in tongues"--it's not what the Bible presents).

So two pastors who have national and international followings who fall well within the part of evangelical thought that I find "home" have managed to inflame constituencies without engaging each other on a theological issue that deserves consideration and where even most charismatics agree that great harm is being done in parts of the church around the world.  Strange fire, indeed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Put Your Theological Thinking Caps On

I am always coming across articles that deserve some thought, and maybe some comment.  Let me put a few links in front of you and let you do a little thinking as well.

"Uncovering the Head Covering Debate" is an article by a Luma Simms asking a very interesting question from the perspective of the churches of the Middle East and Eastern Europe where women have continued to wear head coverings.  The question is, "Why is this issue not discussed in western churches?"  We easily say, "that was only cultural," but should we rethink the issue, or not?

"Eleven Giving Guidelines To Combat Materialism" is Randy Alcorn's succinct but probing checklist to help you consider how to be a biblical giver and not a worldly materialist.  Good stuff, and simple to think through, too.

The Importance of An Historical Adam is a fairly lengthy but important article detailing the history of denying Adam's historical existence among scholars, and the importance of maintaining this truth for our faith.  Without a real Adam, concepts such as original sin and imputed righteousness fall apart.

The Global Rich List is a calculator that allows you to use your net income or total wealth (net worth) and calculate where you stand in the world in terms of riches.  I doubt any of you will come in less than the top 10% in the world, and most would be much higher.  I include this only to remind us of just how much we have as we think about issues of stewardship and generosity (Harvest Offering, perhaps?)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

We're number 17! Woo hoo!

A recent article from the Associated Press reported on an international test of adults to determine competencies in literacy, math, and problem solving.  The results?  U.S. adults score below average in all categories: 17th in problem solving, 16th in reading skills, and 21st in math skills.

The test, conducted by the auspicious sounding "Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies" found a few things I would expect, but some I would not.  We've always known that Japan has placed a premium on rigorous education, so it's no surprise that their adults are #1 in all three categories.  But watch out for those Finns!  Finland is #2 in all of them.   Paavo Nurmi would be proud!  And the Aussies clobber us in all three categories as well, although we're a bit closer to them in math.

The results tend to mirror regular tests of schoolchildren from around the world that show American kids are way behind our international competitors in all these areas as well.  What this reveals is that we don't get any better with age.

This doesn't indicate decline or a national crisis, but it might serve as a bit of a corrective to the narcissistic self-confidence that we are the brightest people in the world.  We may be the most powerful nation (China might debate us on that, and foreclose on us if they don't like our answers!), but at least when it comes to school-learning, we are not (the smartest!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Prayers and Poison Gas

A few times recently I have alluded to my concerns for Syrian Christian believers in the midst of the current civil war there.  I have said that our desire to see the dictator Assad defeated is well meaning but somewhat naive, as the rebels fighting him are largely associated with the Taliban and Hezbollah, both of which will treat Christians much worse than he has, since he himself is from another religious minority in the country.  I believe that the welfare of my brothers and sisters is a higher priority in my prayers than the end of a dictatorship in favor of what may well be an Islamist state.

This has caused a few questions from those who see reports of the dictator's government using chemical weapons against civilians.  That action has sparked international outrage, U.S. threats, and now a Russian-negotiated deal.  We don't know if the deal will hold, but some have wondered how we could tolerate the use of chemical weapons against people, especially innocent children.

Bashar al-Assad
No one would or should defend the actions of Assad in using chemical weapons on civilians.  However, I have a question or two to ask those who believe the use of poison gas demands response, including a possible military intervention.

How is killing hundreds, if not thousands, with poison gas inherently more evil than killing them with bombs and bullets--except that many nations have signed treaties that say this kind of weapon and killing is not allowed?  Doesn't that seem strange?  So if he kills, say, 1,000 people with poison gas, we should intervene, but if he kills 5,000 with bombs and bullets, we do nothing?  Actually the death toll in Syria from regular weapons is much higher.

Survivors of the poison gas attack
If we intervene, and Islamist rebels take over and begin killing Christians, Druze, Alawites, and other minorities, or a war between Shia and Sunni Muslims ensues, will we intervene again?

The point is moot right now, as the Congress would not have approved such action and the President has withdrawn his request for it.  Supposedly the chemical weapons are going to be removed.  And it would seem that with the support of Russia and China, the dictator will stay, at least temporarily.  But the civil war goes on, with people dying the "old fashioned" way.

It's horrible, and we should pray for peace.  But in our prayers, we should pray first that God would make
A Syrian Christian choir
himself known and glorified through this by opening eyes and hearts to the Gospel.  And second, we should pray for our brothers and sisters who have lived through years of struggle just to remain where they are, that they will have boldness and power in their testimony for the Gospel, and that God would watch over them, giving them the grace they need in these perilous days.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Follow up and Follow through from Last Sunday

Sadly, it's already closer to next Sunday than last Sunday, but I have a moment to add a few follow ups to the message on Smyrna and the realities of persecution for the church.

In what was already a long message, I failed in first service to explain the significance of the reference "ten days" of persecution that the church was about to face and see some of their number imprisoned.  While some have tried to choose ten emperors who would persecute the church and make this a reference to ages, most see it as either a literal (but unknown specifically to us) ten days during which the wrath of their enemies would lead to arrests and imprisonments for trial, or that the "ten days" is a figure of speech using a number that is a number of completion (ten) and speaks of a specific time that is both short and has an end in view, and also long enough to be intense.  Sorry for that miss.

Second, some have asked about ways to respond more proactively.  I'll mention this again during the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, but one quick help is to get updates from one of these sites:  Voice of the Martyrs, or Open Doors, which are the two leading ministries tracking persecution around the world.  And consider using the international news as a trigger.  When you hear about Syria, for example, pray for the Christians there who are suffering in the middle of civil war.

Finally, I've been asked about the prayer at the end of the service.  I spent time putting it together (partly based on material from Open Doors) because I wanted us to be specifically responding to God based on the message.  I will reprint it below, for your own use and adaptation if that would be helpful.

Father, we know You hear the cries of Your people. Hear, then, our prayers on behalf of those who are suffering in Pakistan and Kenya, in Egypt and Iran, in Syria and Nigeria, and in all other places where our brothers and sisters suffer, as Smyrna did, simply because they belong to you. Today, we pray for the friends and families of loved ones who were so brutally murdered. Father, comfort them with the knowledge and promise of eternal life for those who believed in Your Son. As the conflict swirls around brothers and sisters in these places, let them feel Your guiding presence and Your peace during their time of sorrow. 
Father, fill each member of Your flock with grace and forgiveness, so that those who do not know You will be drawn to You through them. Help them to be faithful to your Son, even unto death, as they remember the crown of life that awaits them and us.  And as they continue in the midst of their own suffering to reach out to their neighbors, both Christian and Muslim, refresh them with courage and strength and wisdom. May the saving grace of Your gospel go out in power that Your name might be lifted high. 
And for us, Father, who have largely escaped such trials personally, may our faith not fail through lack of testing.  May we recognize that some things we have considered suffering for Your sake have been real, even if they are small in comparison to others.  May we also remember that situations can turn quickly, and let us learn to prepare for those trials that will come by walking that much more closely with Your Son. 
Finally, Father, if our lack of testing is not a sign of your favor but rather of your awareness that we are not yet ready or worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name, would you strengthen our weak faith, or feeble prayers, and our shaky wills.  There was a day when the Church in our land was mighty for the pulling down of strongholds and the advance of the Gospel.  In your mercy, would you work in us to allow us one more season of the outpouring of your strength into our surrendered weakness. 
In the name of Jesus who sustains us in the midst of trials, we ask these things. 
And now, may the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us, after we have suffered a little while.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.