Monthly Archives: April 2008
Part of a pastors, an under-shepherd’s responsibility to the flock to protect it from ravenous wolves. If the under-shepherd does not have the ability to discern between a fellow shepherd and a wolf, then the sheep will suffer. Following is a quote from the blog of Perry Noble, pastor of NewSpring Community Church.
“I have a philosophy of ministry that I used to not have-here it is, I can learn something valuable from any ministry that God is blessing-period!
I want to learn from people who do ministry differently than me…and it is amazing to me how stupid and insecure pastors and church leaders are when it comes to this.
For example-anytime I mention TD Jakes or Joel Osteen on this website we have idiots e-mail in with their “concerns” about issues in regards to their theology or teaching style. (As if the person e-mailing is perfect and has it all figured out!)
BUT, I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I have an incredible amount of respect for both of those men. God is blessing their ministries in an incredible way…and I know there are tons of things that I could learn from them. Just because you are trying to learn something from someone doesn’t mean that you believe exactly like them!
(And for those who feel like you can only learn from just like you…please repent to God for being shallow and ridiculous!)
By the way-I’ve had the privilege of meeting Joel…but haven’t gotten to have lunch with Bishop Jakes yet…if anyone can make that connection I would be much obliged!!! (I’m serious!”)
I have some thoughts and questions, mostly rhetorical in nature, on the aforementioned.
- First, as per an earlier post, I am concerned about the ‘deeds, not creeds’ mentality that seems to infect so many churches. Deeds and doctrine go hand in hand. One ignores either at ones peril. The preceding quote seems to be, at least peripherally, an outgrowth of an anti-creedal, or anti-doctrinal, sentiment.
- Second, how does one discern that a ministry is being blessed by God? Is the number of people drawn to a ministry the only litmus test for Divine sanction? Just because a church or ministry is large and may do good works, does that necessarily infer that it is healthy?
- Third, is it appropriate for one to question an under-shepherd’s theology or teaching style? Is theology and teaching style important? Are there biblically sanctioned and biblically prohibited theologies and forms of teaching style and worship? Does the church sometime unwittingly engage strange fire?
- Fourth, how do we approach, as disciples of Christ, those who are in error, be they an under- shepherd or one whom the under-shepherd is charged with protecting? Do we approach an young, immature disciple of Christ who may hold error differently that how we would approach on who teaches, one who shepherds, one who wields great influence over others?
There are surface tensions in scripture about harboring a judgmental attitude verses the call to judge righteously. That being said, the Old and New Testament is absolutely rich with calls to discern, to be Bereans, to be on the watch for false teachers. A young minister, one whom I hold in high esteem, once stated in a sermon that it is not always easy to identify the wolves that prey on the flock. They do not wear name-tags that state they are teachers of error. Their books do not come with warning labels as to which chapters are unbiblical. The ministries of those whose message is questioned may sometimes benefit the poor and needy. They may be of benefit to the community. Can we, or should we, ignore error because the good they do? What is the difference between error and heresy? The interesting thing about most wolves is that they are not always wrong in all the teach all the time. They may actually have an edifying word or two at times. Therein lies the need for the gift of discernment.
In speaking to the questions raised in the preceding paragraph, perhaps a word or two is in order specifically concerning T.D Jakes and Joel Osteen, the two men mentioned in the blog quote at the start of this post. There are many who strongly suspect that T.D. Jakes rejects the orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Rather, he seems to adopt a modalist view wherein that God sometimes acts as Father, sometimes acts as Son, and sometimes acts as Holy Spirit, the doctrinal position of the Oneness Pentecostal Church to which Jakes has been affiliated. His recent views seems, to me, at very best, to equivocate a bit on this subject. Is the doctrine of the Trinity important? The Gospel looses coherency without this Biblical doctrine. Historically, the church calls those who reject the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity heretics. Beyond Jake’s beliefs of the Trinitarian nature being called into question, Jake also seems to flirt strongly with the prosperity gospel and preaches a psychology driven human-centric message. More could be said on Jakes, but for the sake of brevity, I will move on the Joel Osteen.
Before I proceed, understand without doubt that I am not questioning Osteen’s (or Jakes), status as a true Christian. It is not my job to make that judgment. However, I strongly and without any reservation whatsoever question Osteen’s and Jake’s overarching message. Also, I have listened to Osteen’s messages as well as read the thoughts of others on Osteen. I have also listened to a bit to Jakes as well as reading what others have to say about him. That all being said, Osteen preaches another Gospel; he preaches an ear tickling human-centric message. He seems to reckon sin to be merely a falling short of our God-given potential. He has, on more than on occasion and on national television, at best waffled, and at worst, denied that Christ is the only way to the Father. The pastor of what may be the largest congregation in the world fails absolutely to present the clear message of the Gospel on national television. He, too, embraces a health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel. His God, his Creator, seems to exist to serve and bless the created rather than the other way around. His is the gospel of Anthony Roberts baptized with an occasional Bible verse. Again, for the sake of brevity (so much more could be said), I will conclude articulating my thoughts on Jakes and Osteen.
The pastor whom I quote at the beginning of this post has on multiple occasions, both on his blog and from the stage of his church, expressed disdain for those who want to ‘go deeper’. Pastors influence. Pastors with a big stage, with a big congregation, with a big budget, exert a substantial influence. There is horrific danger to the church when the under-shepherd points his flock to the wolves and say to his flock, “I want to embrace and learn from the wolves!” Such an attitude implies that heresy is benign. Such a pastor, one who calls those in his flock who have questions about a false teacher idiots, will not ultimately answer to the flock or the wolves but to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. With great influence comes great accountability.
\Rant mode off.
Here are a couple of links from IX Marks that may be of interests:
In closing, discernment is not so much as being able to tell right from wrong, but more right from almost right.
Found this post over at Ben Witherington’s blog. Following are a few quick thoughts on the post:
“It has been said that too many Americans have been innoculated with a slight case of Christianity that is preventing them from getting the real thing. Perhaps this has something to do with how much of God people really want. Here is a quote from Wilbur Rees to make you think:
- “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please – not enough to
explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of
warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of him to make
me love a foreigner or pick beets with a migrant worker. I want ecstasy,
not transformation; I want the warmth of a womb, not a new birth. I want
a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I’d like to buy $3 worth of God,
I especially like the line ‘I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth’. This, I am afraid, is exactly what people want out of their worship and church experiences. Not something that demands them to pick up a cross, make major sacrifices and follow Jesus. Rather, they want something that makes them comfortable with who they already are and how they already are. They want acceptance as they are, not repentance so they can be who they ought to be. Think on these things.”
I find myself thinking quite a bit about the phenomena of nominalism in the church recently, and it is quite a sad and sobering subject; I must confess that I have, over the years, been quite guilty of engaging nominalism in varying degrees. It is also heartbreaking to ponder and observe the ease of entering the on-ramp to the broad gate. Mr. Witherington’s thoughts on being inoculated with a slight case of Christianity resonates with thoughts of mine from a previous post on evangelical methods:
“It as if Jesus is a prescription being dispensed a sick world. It is as if I have a fatal, systemic infection and am given a wonder drug, an antibiotic, and I am being told that all I have to do is take this drug and I will be healed. I may not develop an all encompassing love for this drug; I may love not being sick more than I love the drug. I may become more enamored with and focused on the one who gave me this drug than the drug itself.”
Perhaps the often errant evangelical methods and human-centricity of much of contemporary American Christianity contributes to the volume of traffic on the easy path that terminates with a wide gate. It is an ancient and tragically well-traveled road, though. We have been warned.
- Matthew 7:13 (ESV)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”
- Matthew 7:22-23 (ESV)
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
- Mark 4:1-20 (ESV)
Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Forever secure in His loving grip, I persist.
Found the following at Borrowed Breath:
“Jesus said unto them, ‘If ye seek me, let these go their way.’”
(John 18.8 KJV)
“Mark, my soul, the care which Jesus manifested even in His hour of trial, towards the sheep of His hand! The ruling passion is strong in death. He resigns Himself to the enemy, but He interposes a word of power to set His disciples free…The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, and pleads that they must therefore go free…The thundercloud has burst over the Cross of Calvary, and the pilgrims of Zion shall never be smitten by the bolts of vengeance. Come, my heart, rejoice in the immunity which thy Redeemer has secured thee, and bless His name all the day, and every day.”
Charles H. Spurgeon
Morning and Evening (March 26)
“It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart, and the most likely place to start looking for that key is within the person’s felt needs.”
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life
- John 6:44 (ESV)
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
- John 6:37(ESV)
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out
- Romans 9:16 (ESV)
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
- Jeremiah 17:9-10
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately wicked: who can know it? I, the Lord, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”
- Romans 3:11
“no one understands, no one seeks for God.“
…from “Can We Trust The Gospels,” Dr. John R. W. Stott speaks to Mark D. Roberts, the author of the book, about Mark’s fear, as a freshman, that the study of the Scriptures in an academic way will undermine faith:
“I can understand your conflict and your fear,” Dr. Stott began, “Because I’ve felt them myself. Many of the popular theories in New Testament scholarship do challenge orthodox Christianity.”
“But, ” he continued, “you don’t have to be afraid. Let me tell you something that will give you confidence as you study: All truth is God’s truth. There isn’t anything true about the Bible that God doesn’t already know. You don’t have to fear that if you dig too deeply you’ll undermine genuine Christian faith. You may indeed discover that some of your beliefs aren’t correct.
“…the saddest place is the biblical south, where everyone has just enough religion to send them to straight to hell.”
The opening question of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
Here is the back story: I have an old motorcycle with a sidecar that I purchased in 2000. I have spent almost as much time working on it as I have riding it, but I finally got it to the point where it runs like cheap pantyhose. I decided a few months ago that I should sell the bike for various reasons, but I did not meet with any success if finding a buyer.
Also, the bike, due to the effect of the sidecar and the relatively low and short sport-bike style handlebars, requires a bit of effort to muscle it around corners and turns. Hold on to that fact for a while.
Following is a story of God’s providence, mercy, and grace. Some would see only coincidence and blind luck in what follows, but I know better.
I was riding home from church Tuesday evening on that dirty, flat black and red, three-wheeled, cafe- racer/rat-bike danger machine. About one and a half miles from my house, I found myself negotiating a right hand turn onto the road that leads to my neighborhood. As I pressed hard on the left side of the handlebar and pulled on the right, I find that the left side of the bar seems to have moved a bit further than the right. I am a bit disconcerted by this phenomenon and almost plowed into the car sitting at the intersection. The car behind me attempts to take advantage of the situation and tries to pass me, in my lane, on my right. I manage to bring the situation under control and pull the bike over into the grass on the right side of the road.
Parked on the side of the road, I began to assess the situation. At first, I thought the clamps that hold the handlebar tightly to the upper triple tree may have loosened causing the bars to twist a bit in the clamps. Upon further inspection, I find that the left side of the handlebar had actually begun to break at a weld. Too many stress cycles fatigued the metal and a crack had begun to propagate from a weld. Remember that I had mentioned the force required to turn the sidecar rig.
I kicked the bike back to life and limped home at a leisurely pace; I only have a mile or so to go to before I am home. These are my thoughts on the aforementioned. Of all the possible failure modes, of all the possible circumstances under which the handlebar could have failed due to the metal fatigue evidenced by the break, I can think of none more benign than that which I experienced. One, I could have been successful at selling the bike and the purchaser would have experienced the failure and possibly have been injured or worse. I would not have been legally culpable, but knowing someone was injured or killed by the machine that I passed on to them would have rearranged the furniture of mind in painful ways. Two, I could have been going faster on a curvy country road wherein the handlebar failure could have sent me into oncoming traffic or into a tree. Three, I could have been caring precious cargo, my son and wife, when the failure occurred.
What I see clearly is Abba Father’s providence, mercy, and grace. When I read Romans 8:28 where we are told that God works all things work together for good for those who love Him are called according to his purpose, I honestly think only of trials in context with that verse. Indeed, verses like the aforementioned minister most powerfully to His called-out ones in times of distress, but I am also reminded that our Shepard can and does exhibit tender mercies to His called-out ones; He providentially protects His flock. He is a gracious Savior whether our temporal conditions are difficult or benign.
In years past, when I was quite young, I briefly entertained thoughts of atheism. I could never embrace full-fledged atheism, and agnosticism was not satisfying on a number of levels, but I guess I lived as if I were a deist. Oddly, one of quite a few factors that restrained me from embracing atheism was my love of music.
It all boils down to the identity that we embrace. If I am, as a materialist would affirm, the end result of, over eons, collisions of blind natural forces, then by what, if anything, am I imbued with value and meaning? By what standard can I call anything beautiful in a universe impersonal and driven by nothing but implacable natural laws? Coltrane should mean nothing more than the noise of a boulder falling into a crevasse. Bach should carry no more weight than the croaking of a frog. How do I reconcile a deep love for music when those that create what I perceive to be beauty are, in the final analysis and after all the superficial romanticism is stripped away, no more than puppets of meats? Materialism, atheism, is so reductionist that the only meaning available is that which aids in the propagation of the species, and even the urge to survival is a less than satisfying absolute.
Beauty becomes utilitarian. Beauty – music – becomes, at best, defense mechanism that perhaps serves to protect us from harsh truths implied by a reality where God is dead and the universe is all that is.
Only One who transcends the created order is able to lend meaning to our creative efforts. It is the fact that we, though desperately fallen and rebellious creatures, were purposefully created in the image of our Creator that lends foundation for our creativity.
It is without a measure of irony that one of my favorite composers/artists, Brian Eno, is an atheist.
This post was the ‘intro’ of the preceding post on evangelism. For the sake of clarity, I felt that what I had to say was better served by letting the aforementioned intro and my thoughts on contemporary American evangelism stand on their on.
I have been progressively led into what may be considered a Calvinist view of soteriology, a theological term used in biblically defining how God reconciles humanity to Himself. For those unfamiliar with Calvinism, it is, in a nutshell, the biblical assertion that God is solely responsible for salvation. It is not a cooperative venture between man and God. Rather, it is God who sovereignly draws to Him those whom He sovereignly chooses. That being said, biblical Calvinism does not relieve man of the responsibility of repentance and faith and trust, itself a grace from God, in the in the redeeming work of our risen Messiah.
A common objection to Calvinism, to predestination, refers to our responsibility, or inferred lack thereof, in regards to the Great Commission, the going out into the world and making disciples. The argument goes that if God has already chosen those who will spend eternity with Him, where is the need for evangelism? What we do with and how we feel about the doctrine of election predestination is, in the final analysis, irrelevant in regards to what I perceive to be the biblical veracity of predestination. The fact remains that Christ chose His church to be the primary means, the vector, for bringing the Gospel to the chosen brothers and sisters who are in the world, spread across the centuries and across the continents. He tells his church to go to the nations and make disciples, and we, out of love, obey. It is ultimately the work of the Father to bring fruit from our evangelical efforts that the praise should be directed to Him and the power of His Word, not our methods.
I have tried to think of an analogy that would be helpfully illustrative. Perhaps this is it: the church can be thought of as the tool that holds the magnet that attracts and separates the ferrous from the non-ferrous. God uses the church to sweep over the world the message of redemption through the resurrected Christ. Those that respond are the misshapen and broken bits of iron and steel that will be, over time in the cauldron of discipleship, molded to the image of Christ. Iron has no choice in how it reacts to the magnet. The world has no hold on it.
All that being said, the disagreements and debates between Calvinism and its theological counter-point, contemporary Arminianism are intramural in nature and should be approached from both perspectives with Christ-like grace, love, meekness, patience, and understanding. Both camps are inhabited by many men and women who love and serve the Messiah.
I understand the doctrine of predestination is a controversial stance in the milieu of contemporary American evangelism. What is there, though, about the Gospel message that is not controversial? Such is a subject for another essay, perhaps.