Saturday, April 30, 2005

Bad Blog Etiquette?

Maybe, but a couple recent comments more informative than my original post make redirecting your attention to the discussion of discipline and repentance worthwhile.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Three Guys Who Didn't Have a Vote Have Their Say

At least that's the way the participants described it on Al Mohler's daily radio program.

Quick summary if you don't have reliable audio over the web:
Mohler's hope is that this pope is the last pope—that he renounces his authority and proclaims Sola Scriptura.

They note some common ground evangelicals will find with Benedict XVI: agreement on life issues, objectivity and reality of truth, and the fact that God has spoken. We'll disagree on the Protestant view of Scripture versus the Roman Catholic subjection of Scripture to the tradition of the church church with the pope as its head.

Their most interesting observation is that conservative evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics may be the last people on earth who can have an honest disagreement. As Ratzinger said, "Truth is one thing, not many things."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Changing Face of Ecclesiastical Separation

Bob Jones University recently achieved candidate status with TRACS, a national accrediting body for Christian colleges and schools. Other fundamentalist schools are also candidate institutions or are fully accredited already. The official BJU statement as well as a recent Collegian article are both available.

What is not surprising is that TRACS has seen fit to extend candidate status to BJU. There can be no doubt that the academic reputation of BJU will actually increase TRACS' own credibility rather than vice versa, which would seem to be a more conventional objective of academic accreditation. At least two knowledgeable sources said that TRACS lobbied BJU to pursue membership in the 1980s, but BJU was not interested. What is so surprising is the fact that BJU pursuing accreditation at all. This development presents the opportunity to consider accreditation as a case study in the changing face of ecclesiastical separation.

Gerry Carlson's recent article, "Accreditation: Testimony of Integrity or Accommodation to Compromise?", alluded to this issue. In the 1980s, Dr. Carlson was the Executive Director for the American Association of Christian Schools. One of his responsibilities was "to secure recognition for the accreditation programs of the AACS and the American Association of Christian Colleges," now known as the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries. He writes concerning his historical perspective:
Great changes have transpired in fundamentalist thinking about accreditation over the past 25 years. This writer thinks these changes have primarily been a good development. During those years, there has been a shift toward the idea that accreditation is more about testimony, integrity and accountability, rather than about government control or external intrusion into God’s ministry.
And later:
The question of involvement with secular or Christian agencies likewise can be problematic. My experience in the late ‘80s with TRACS and several other agencies underscored the potential conflict. During 1986 and 1987 I developed and proposed a consortium concept that would have allowed the fundamentalist accrediting agencies to be recognized by the federal government alongside of TRACS and a charismatic group. The concept proposed was to keep the agencies apart for ecclesiastical separation purposes, but to mutually affirm similar basic standards that could be recognized by the Department of Education. The idea failed to gain a majority vote of the AACS state leaders and was shelved.

In other words, the fundamentalists of the ‘80s felt that even a disconnected relationship with non-fundamentalists was a breach of the ecclesiastical separation principle. The consortium concept was developed around the idea of religious freedom, not organizational cooperation and intermingling. It was explored because the AAEU staff made it clear that their firm policy precluded recognizing a proliferation of Christian accrediting groups. The AAEU staff was willing to embrace the consortium concept, if the separate accrediting bodies were willing to affirm mutual standards for non-theological matters. However, the majority in AACS saw that as a first step toward the slippery slope. That development opened the way for TRACS to be recognized as the sole accrediting voice for Christian education, aside from the Bible College accrediting body.
Carlson's insights into the thinking of fundamentalist leaders is further documented by an article by Dr. Bob Jones III and apparently co-authored or at least endorsed by a number of other men. This article, "The Accreditation Trap," was written and initially published in the late 1970s or early 1980s, according to a BJU administrator. TRACS came into existence about that same time, in 1979. The article was published again in 1988 as the last chapter in A Fresh Look at Christian Education by James Deuink of the BJU administration. The above link to the full text of the article connects to a Google cache created in September, 2004, of the Gospel Fellowship Association web site. The GFA is an affiliated ministry of BJU, and although the article is no longer available at the GFA site, Google maintains the cache, which is essentially a "snapshot" of the page as it once existed.

The article makes some valid points. It also makes some points that seem to be inconsistent with BJU's current pursuit of TRACS accreditation. Below is the most clear example:
Inter-Religious Accreditation

Accreditation, even by religious agencies, that weakens the historical and biblical practice of separation from unbelief and compromise always results in the removal of Heaven's blessing in exchange for earthly prestige and approval. The loss of God's blessing from any wrong alliance, whether secular or religiously ecumenical, is the price which will be paid for the short-term economic survival which often motivates these unholy relationships.

Seeking approval from a religious organization of any kind has historically resulted in hierarchical control and heinous tyranny. A cursory knowledge of Christian history will reveal that this is always a step away from the religious freedom we value so highly, however sincerely motivated this idea or purpose may be. [emphasis added]
Dr. Carlson and Dr. Jones' articles illustrate a strikingly different attitude toward religious accreditation that existed in the late 1970s and continued at least until the publication of Dr. Deuink's book in the late 1980s. At that point, TRACS had been in existence for almost a decade. The conclusion seems unavoidable that some substantial shift has taken place between then and now. Has TRACS somehow changed its philosophical underpinnings since that time? No one is suggesting that. Its membership is quite diverse, including everything from evangelical Lutherans to Liberty University to charismatic Jack Hayford's King's College and Seminary.

It is doubtful that BJU has escaped criticism for this change. My expectation, which arises from my attempts to obtain answers to some of these questions, is that BJU will explain their reasoning at some point, but it is the administration and board's responsibility to choose the expedient time and manner. It would be easy for critics of BJU to level charges of hypocrisy, but anyone who has written a theological paper in his or her early semesters of grad school only to read the paper again years or even (for me) months later will agree that circumstances, reasoning, and opinions change. People ought to have the right to grow in understanding and to change their minds on non-essentials. I believe that BJU ought to be extended charity for reconsidering their strong opposition to accreditation and be permitted to explain their reasons for a difficult choice.

But critiquing or defending this choice is really outside my purpose. What I really want to know is this: What is different between the way fundamentalists view ecclesiastical separation now and the way they understood it 20-25 years ago? Let's face it. Association with Jack Hayford and Jerry Falwell in any form would have been unthinkable back then. Accreditation involves a significant level of a cooperation, since it consists of mutual endorsement that member ministries are accomplishing their missional objectives. This is not solely my conclusion, because it was also the opinion of fundamentalist leaders in the 1980s as documented by Dr. Carlson's article.

I believe this shift and the questions it begs reach far beyond BJU. This example is simply one documentable example of these new perspectives on separation. I am convinced that some kind of paradigm shift has taken place very quietly over the years without any public explanation. Not surprisingly, fundamentalists seem quite reticent to admit openly when real change has taken place. Fundamentalists like certainty, and certainty does not mesh well with change. I find this tendency to deny change unhealthy at best.

I will be the first to admit that I do not have the answers to when, how, and why this paradigm shift occurred. My speculative thoughts would likely be just as unhealthy as the silence of others when change occurs. Nevertheless, I am convinced that some readers share my questions, and other readers have the answers, or at least some more educated speculations. No doubt, more thorny questions will arise in the future, and generations that are now in positions of learning, not leadership, will have to confront them. As one of those who is learning, I would like to have a better understanding of our past before those new questions challenge me.


For more details on accreditation at BJU, the Collegian published an informative article in September, 2004.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

For Church History Dunderheads Like Me

I have the worst time putting all the pieces together. Phil Johnson's graphical illustration has been as helpful to me as Sesame Street was in helping me learn my vowel sounds.

Monday, April 25, 2005

I Am Resting

Another song fitly sung in due season: the second verse of "Jesus, I Am Resting."

O, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea!
O, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of promise,
And have made it mine.

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

(Apologies to those who take accurate note of the biblical pattern of prayer to the Father in the name of Jesus.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Purpose Driven Copycat

This is Max Lucado's contribution to keep the momentum alive. I guess we all should have seen it coming. I won't dignify this with a URL, but enterprising folk that you are, you should be able to track it down. I'd love to do a biography of the church growth movement. I have a title: Oceans Wide, Inches Deep. Feel free to steal it if you actually have plans to write the book, since I don't.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Roe vs. Wade and the Polarization of America

Everyone talks about polarization. David Brooks of the New York Times offers a plausible explanation and solution (free registration required).

Here's the gist: Because of Roe vs. Wade,
Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

Unable to lobby for their pro-life or pro-choice views in normal ways, abortion activists focused their attention on judicial nominations. Dozens of groups on the right and left have been created to destroy nominees who might oppose their side of the fight. But abortion is never the explicit subject of these confirmation battles. Instead, the groups try to find some other pretext to destroy their foes.
And the solution:
The fact is, the entire country is trapped. Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.

Dear Ohioans, We Need You Again

I was pretty proud to be a native Ohioan last November 2nd. My heart swelled with pride when I heard about men in John Deere hats and Carhartt attire standing in line at the polls for hours and about overcrowded hitching posts in Amish precincts. The day after the election, Rush Limbaugh played his goofy theme song from start to finish. It's got to be one of the most vapid songs from a vapid musical era, but it has something to do with Ohio, and on that day it just about made me cry like a baby.

My emotions are quite different today. It's great and all that Ohio has two "Republican" senators. I just wish they would act like it.

In the last few days I've learned that Senator Mike DeWine is one of the key obstacles to Republicans moving forward on exercising the Constitutional option to gain a floor vote for judicial nominees.
"Although U. S. Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) has committed to vote to stop judicial filibusters, CCV staff spoke to U.S. Senator Mike DeWine's (R-OH) office on Friday, April 15 and he is still refusing to state his intentions on the issue."
Then news broke yesterday that Senator George Voinovich was unprepared to support the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the U.N. at yesterday's Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Without Voinovich's support, the nomination would have failed. And why was the Senator not prepared to vote for Bolton?
"Voinovich, apologizing that he had been absent for hearings last week at which the panel heard from Bolton and from a harsh critic who alleged that Bolton had behaved improperly, said he had been impressed by the passionate opposition of committee Democrats."
How noble. Voinovich was ignorant and the Democrats were passionate, so the Senator was paralyzed. Reminds me of an ancient Roman official named Pontius Pilate. Apparently, Committee Chairman Richard Lugar was completely blindsided by Voinovich's pandering, so he was forced to delay the vote.

We need you again, Ohio. As a registered voter in North Carolina, there's nothing I can do but put information in your hands. Contact info for both senators is available here.

(Note that the contact info page is talking about a different issue, but the phone numbers should be the same.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 5): It's Why They Get the Big Bucks

Great discussion going on at Sharper Iron spurred by an interview with Pastor Chuck Phelps, a well-respected pastor within the fundamentalist movement. Pastor Phelps supports a plurality of elders provided that all the elders are paid--"those who labor in the gospel are to live by the gospel." He says:
The Bible is very clear in 2 Corinthians that the ox is not to be kept from feeding. In fact, the Bible says that those who labor in the gospel are to live by the gospel. And so, the congregation has a responsibility to pay, I believe, those who are serving in that regard. Now, that may not happen immediately, but it must be the goal. A church planter may come and be bi-vocational for a time, but the goal is that the church provide for the one who labors among them. The quandary I face, and actually, it saddens me to review church constitutions that set up plurality of elders, and have some that are paid, and some that are going to be unpaid, and they constitutionalize that. Now that’s wrong. That’s putting in a constitution something that is evidently against the advisement of the Scriptures- that those who are laboring in the gospel need to live of [sic] the gospel. And so, I would take umbrage with anyone who says there ought to be lay elders and then paid elders- professional elders. I think that’s wrong. I would take umbrage with those who would say that some elders are administrative- I think you’re on weak exegesis to call some administrative and some teaching. I think every elder needs to be apt to teach, and I think every elder needs to be, at least the goal of the congregation, ultimately paid by that congregation.
I fully agree with his criticism of a distinction between administrative elders and teaching elders. He is absolutely right to demand that all elders be capable of and given to teaching other believers the truth of Scripture. See evanC's salient response in the comments section for an explanation of a view I share with him that "teaching" should not be defined exclusively as public teaching of the congregation. Some of the best teachers in churches I've attended were often not the best pulpiteers. One of the most godly examples I knew in my time in Wisconsin never stepped near a pulpit as far as I am aware. But he was apt to teach in every conversation I ever had with him.

I'm sympathetic to Pastor Phelps' emphasis on the responsibility of the congregation to provide for those who minister to them spiritually. His reference to a Corinthian epistle is actually from 1 Corinthians 9:8-18. Second Corinthians 11:7-11; 12:11-18; and 1 Timothy 5:17-18 are also pertinent to the discussion. The Apostle Paul's interactions with the Corinthian church were obviously characterized by some conflict. We find numerous indications in the two epistles that individuals in the church resented his authority and ministry. It is not surprising, then that the emphasis of these Corinthians passages is on the responsibility of believers to provide willingly for those who minister to them, since many of the Corinthians may have been resentful of giving money to support a man they viewed as an enemy. Therefore, these passages need not be construed to demand that the ministers accept financial support, since that is not the point of the passage.

Paul's reference to the Lord's instruction may connect back to the occasion described in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 when He sent out his disciples to preach the gospel and gave them instructions on how to receive hospitality from the townspeople. It is tempting to argue from the evangelistic context of Christ's instruction combined with Paul's itinerant apostolic ministry that the context excludes elders from the application of these passages, but that may well be drawing too fine a distinction. It is more likely that we find a legitimate principle that any ministers of the gospel, including elders, should be paid.

The 1 Timothy passage specifically refers to elders. But notice that it does not prescribe that all elders must be paid. The point is that they are worthy of pay. It seems that the attitude of the congregation ought to be to do all it can to reward the laborers. Pastor Phelps' points that a constitutional differentiation between paid and unpaid elder roles is wrong and that paying every elder ought to be the goal of the congregation are well taken. I would contend, however, that elders should have the latitude likewise to refuse payment as Paul did.

The bottom line to me is that plurality of elders in the New Testament is not a luxury for large churches. It's the pattern.

Appointing a plurality "in every church" was Paul's practice on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:23), and "in every city" was his instruction to Titus (1:5). It seems highly unlikely that all of these churches were immediately capable of providing for the financial needs of all their pastors.

If the choice is between sacrificing the biblical model of plurality and sacrificing the biblical model of pay, I'll choose to keep the plurality every time, provided that some elders are willing to forego pay in order to minister to the needs of the body. Ultimately, we need to strive toward finding ways to implement all aspects of the biblical pattern, rather than finding excuses for why we cannot. (I'm not implying, of course, that Pastor Phelps is one who makes excuses, since he does have a plurality of elders.) When we make excuses, we settle for a deficient and extra-biblical model of leadership for our churches.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Discipline and Repentance: A New Paradigm for the Dorms?

Just the good ole boys.
Never meanin' no harm.
Beats all you never saw,
Been in trouble with the law,
Since the day they was born.

Straight'nin' the curve,
Flat'nin' the hills.
Someday the moutain might get 'em, but the law never will.

Makin' their way,
The only way they know how,
That's just a little bit more than the law will allow.

Just the good ol' boys,
Wouldn't change if they could,
Fightin' the system like a true modern day Robin Hood.
Admit it. You watched the Dukes of Hazzard when you were a kid. At least when your parents weren't around. The song was pretty catchy. Never lived it out much myself in high school. As far as college goes, let's just say that I knew plenty of people who did. Were they rebels, or just mischievous juveniles who got a little squirrely about Bible Conference time?

Well, long about two years after I left the university I wound up on "the other side of the law" as a dorm supervisor in a Bible college. I hope that anyone who has ever served in a position responsible for meting out discipline for walking on the grass shares my distaste for that aspect of the job. But what's the alternative? Surely college kids aren't prepared for an environment of complete freedom without restriction, right? Drop the demerits and surely a recapitulation of the Book of Judges would not be far behind.

Now cross those thoughts with your theology of church discipline. All the listening and reading I've been doing the past week or so related to my polity blogging has caused me to do just that. The cornerstone is that I believe most everyone would agree that the objective of church discipline is restoration. For that reason, we impose discipline for the failure to repent, not for the sin itself.

What would our Christian schools and colleges look like if they used that approach, as well?

I can hear the thousands of you who read this blog crying as one, "Impossible! No way that would ever work." You might be right. It might not work. We might have to rename our guys' dorm "Sons of Belial" and the ladies' "Daughters of Lot."

But did we ever think to try it? What would it take to give it a chance to work?

Step One: We'd have to be prepared not to kick out immediately every kid who goes out drinking, cheats on a final, sneaks off campus with his girlfriend, or even worse. That's a major paradigm shift, and it would have its drawbacks. But think about it in conjunction with step two.

Step Two: We'd have to make a major commitment to accountability and counseling. We'd have to make the dorm sups and RA's responsible for much more than making sure kids shut their lights out at 11:00. They would need to be capable and equipped to counsel heart issues, not just pin a demerit slip on someone's door. We would have to be prepared to make an investment in young people's lives to the point that we are willing to confront rule-breaking with a loving understanding of progressive sanctification and a perceptive nose for a rebellious spirit. That investment would have to go far beyond a one-time confrontation with the ultimate objective of fostering a pastoral relationship.

Step Three: We'd have to be willing to ask not to return those students who don't demonstrate genuine repentance over time. This may be the really tough part. It's easy to want the rebel to be gone. It's fairly simple (if you catch them) to kick someone out for violating one of the big rules. It's much harder to decide which of those little straws of rebellion is the one that ought to be the last one. It's downright frightening to think of trying to differentiate between the immature believer and the scorner of Proverbs.

I've not said all that needs to be said, probably because I didn't think of it. But right now I simply can't escape the possibility that if it's the way we need to be building up disciples in our churches, then maybe it's also the way we should be discipling in our schools.

I'm willing to be wrong on this one. Fire away.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Be Still, My Soul

During an offertory yesterday, I read the lyrics to "Be Still My Soul," by Katharina von Schlegel. I thank the Lord for drawing my mind to the second stanza, which was just what I needed at the time. I also included the fifth stanza, which isn't included in some hymnals, but was published online and is equally edifying.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, be leaving, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Of course I checked the SI "Bad Hymn Text" thread first, lest I blog something that had been deemed Anathema. I didn't catch it in my brief scan. Apologies if there is something theologically offensive, RM. ;-)

Seriously, great thread, guys.

Click on This Title Just in Case . . .

. . . you missed the Pope Brackets on SI (that's Sharper Iron, not Sports Illustrated, despite the content).

Personally, I think Latin America is overrated. Nice to see Duke get something less than a #2 seed for a change, though.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I Hate Getting Scooped

This would have made a great sequel to It's "Davey." Unfortunately, someone beat me to it. [sigh]

Friday, April 15, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 4): Theory or Practice?

Tonight I'm very fortunate to be sitting in the den of a house in NW Washington, D.C.--a house that has a lovely view of the National Cathedral from the upper stories. I'm here with trusted friend KB, who works on Capitol Hill and has been a member at Capitol Hill Baptist Church since September, 2004, and has been attending since May. I thought it would be great to offer a first-hand perspective on the ministry I've been blogging about for the past few days in the form of a one-on-one interview.

Paleo: What was the first thing you noticed was unique about CHBC when you started visiting?
KB: This is a church that people really want to be at. Everyone I talked to seemed really excited and thankful to be there. Immediately there was a spirit of fellowship in that as a first-time visitor, there were a number of people who were asking me who I was, why I was there, what I got out of the message, whether I was challenged, and was I a Christian.

Paleo: Several months later, now that you're a member, what still strikes you as being unique about this church?
KB: In the midst of a very fast-paced, me-oriented city, the sense of unity and brotherly love.

Paleo: You're familiar with 9 Marks and Pastor Dever's books. Is it all good theory, or does he actually practice it consistently in the church life?
KB: Very consistent. As consistently as possible. There is a sense in which the membership knows that we are a model church to some degree. Having a ministry like 9 Marks associated with our church automatically brings focus on what this church is all about. It's not an arrogant self-consciousness, but a realization that we have a strategic location in the sense that we have a large number of people coming and going, who are here for only a year or two, visitors from all over the world, and interns. From that, we as believers model what we teach to the rest of the world.

Paleo: What are the chief contributions of CHBC and Mark Dever to evangelicalism?
KB: Whatever impact the church has is in the Lord's hands. It's hard to see, but at the same time, there are a lot of people from the outside who take notice of what's going on at CHBC.

Paleo: In what areas, then, is Dever having an impact?
KB: In the church reform area, we are demonstrating what a church should look like concerning polity, how believers should fellowship with one another, that polity matters, and how to make decisions deliberately after thorough planning. There is an atmosphere of church discipline that goes beyond voting out members for unrepentant sin. It cultivates a culture of personal accountability among members, taking place over coffee, lunch at a local joint, or passing someone on the sidewalk between the Capitol and the Library of Congress. We definitely have an advantage in that so many people work near each other and have much in common in the kind of work we do. Members take the church covenant seriously. We read it constantly, so we are consistently thinking about the commitment we have made to this local body. The prominence of congregational rule requires that each member take responsibility for what is going on within the church.

Paleo: Why has Dever been successful at reforming CHBC?
KB: Unabashed faithfulness to Scripture. Genuine humility. Faithful leadership. He never gives anyone the impression that he did this. It's all of the Lord. There is such a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude for God's grace among the membership of this church for what He has done through Mark and also for placing us here. There is a commitment to the core of the faith, and the Lord blesses those who are faithful to the truth and seek to live it out.

Paleo: What is the single most important thing that CHBC has that other fundamental churches lack but could implement.
KB: I don't think you can take one piece of the pie out or emphasize one over the other. Some people think everyone at CHBC has memorized Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. The obsession is not with polity. It's a commitment to the gospel and it's implications for our lives every day. The gospel is not simply something that happened in the past. It's something that's profoundly impacting my life right now. CHBC is constantly putting the gospel and our responsibility to understand it and present it to others before the congregation.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The People Want What the People Want

Judging by the record-setting traffic to my recent "I Want My Western Bacon Cheeseburger" post, apparently my gentle readers enjoy American folly. So without further ado, I offer you more bread and circuses courtesy of a Texas 911 call transcript.

Do you want us to come over and shoot her?

I efforted some audio, which I did hear on FoxNews This Morning, but Google has uncharacteristically failed me. I'll offer 500 Paleoevangelical bucks redeemable in our "Under Construction" (haha you know what that means) Paleoevangelical merchandise store to anyone who can provide me with a link.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 3): Preaching God's Agenda

Maybe it's a reach to file a pro-expository preaching rant within a series on polity. But it's my blog. Plus I found a sweet quote in a Leadership Interview titled "Modern Church Reform II," and quite a bit of Dever's church reform approach deals with polity--leadership, membership, discipline, etc.

The interviewer poses this question to him: "Why particularly expositional preaching? Why should that be the main diet of the church?" Dever's answer:
Because anything other than expositional preaching will have a higher portion of our editing in it—-as we select the topic, we select the Scriptures, we select the issues to be addressed. As long as we have preachers, there will always be human editing involved in that sense, but at least with expositional preaching, it’s more inductive in that sense. You’re attempting to let God have the agenda-setting role by just saying, “Right, I’m preaching through 1 John right now. So if it's in 1 John, I’m just going to preach whatever’s in that, even if I don’t understand it all . . . . That kind of commitment beforehand to preach whatever is in Scripture to God’s people rather than just your hobby horses or the things that you think are most important or that you care about, I think is of vital importance to the health of the church.
I realize he is not the only person saying this, but he is the one I happen to be blogging about right now. I do want to extend a cap-tip to my expository preaching professor, Wayne McDill, author of Twelve Essential Skills of Great Preaching and The Moment of Truth: A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery. In my class notes from last year I found his list of the benefits of expository preaching:
    1. Honors the nature of God's revelation
    2. Protects the preacher from taking texts out of their contexts
    3. Allows the preacher to address a wider range of biblical subjects
    4. Increases the authority of the preacher's message
    5. Aids the pastor in planning his preaching
    6. Assists the preacher in building his library
    7. Keeps the preacher from riding theological hobby horses
    8. Creates a greater depth of biblical knowledge among the pastor and the congregation
    9. Instills in the congregation a love for God's Word
    10. Helps to maintain the preacher's spiritual vitality and moral purity
    11. Provides a never-ending source of sermons
And I'll add one of my own: It shows the congregation that the pastor is not out gunning for the big problem he perceives in the church's spiritual life at the moment. It almost communicates an inevitability to the pastor's sermon. "Hey, folks, I didn't put this in the text. God did. I have to deal with it, or I wouldn't be doing my job."

A Job He Can Handle

Those of you who share my deep appreciation for the Carter administration will enjoy Justin Taylor's comments and external link.

Anybody else repulsed to hear Carter lecture President Bush on foreign policy at last summer's Democratic National Convention? It was like hearing Democratic operative and FoxNews contributor Susan Estrich conduct a seminar on "How Not To Be Annoying."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 2): If You Don't Like Congregational Meetings . . .

. . . then don't bother listening to Mark Dever's views on congregational rule.

Before you write me off, though, forget everything you've ever experienced in congregational meetings. What I'm talking about is much more than a compulsory reading of the minutes, your hum-drum financial report, and a couple rubber-stamp proposals referred to the congregation by the deacon board. Far from it. I'm talking about 2-3 hour meetings in which the pastors and the congregation talk openly about a vision for the upcoming year's ministry and how the budget needs to be designed to reflect those ministry priorities. I'm talking about grasping the concept that the budget reflects the spiritual objectives of the church. And then I'm talking about another 2-3 hour congregational meeting a month or so later to reconsider the budget that's been fleshed out since the last meeting, finally culminating in its ratification.

But then, they're used to it, since Dever typically preaches for 60-70 minutes. And then virtually no one leaves the building for a half hour after the service because they want to fellowship with each other. And they do have a Sunday evening service and a Wednesday evening service.

So if genuinely engaging the congregation in the church's decision-making process sounds aberrant or frightening, CHBC is real world evidence that it can be effective. (It's biblical, too, but then we always like pragmatic arguments.) It's what congregational rule used to be like before our congregations decided they liked the comfortable disengagement of deacon rule through representative democracy. Personally, I like the idea of church members demanding of one another a higher level of involvement and responsibility for the ministry direction of the church. More to come.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Polity Matters

I've read, heard, or participated in more discussions about church polity in the past two years of my life than I had in the previous 29.25. Whether that is a reflection of a trend that spans conservative evangelicalism or simply my own experience, I do not know. Regardless, I am convinced that Baptist churches that intend to model their ministry after the pattern of Scripture must re-examine and reform the extra-biblical (at best) model of polity that has become the norm.

Luke Akins at Eden Baptist Church in Savage, MN, has been a great friend for a long time. We were roommates during staff training at Northland Camp almost 10 years ago--the week that God saved me. A couple weeks later I sent him home for most of the summer by breaking his arm while arm-wrestling. (Had to sneak that tidbit in there.) Luke recently wrote an article for his church newsletter about what Scripture teaches about the role of deacons. He writes,
God has purposely designed the church to include two offices, each with distinct roles. The elders seek to provide guidance and spiritual nurture for the benefit of the assembly, while the deacons seek to serve the body by freeing the elders to function most effectively through prayer and the ministry of the Word.
The model of polity Akins describes is certainly not new or unique since it seems to be the model used by the NT church. What is unusual about it is its rarity among 21st century Baptist churches. In many of these churches, the deacons are the primary decision-making body and often possess direct authority over the pastor. I believe we are seeing the leading edge of a movement back to the biblical model. One of the primary driving forces in this movement is Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and its daughter ministry, 9 Marks. This name is taken from Pastor Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, which I recommend wholeheartedly. If you want a free 54-page preview of the 255-page book, you can get it here. His book, Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, traces polity in Baptist history. To the particular issue Akins addresses about the blurring of the offices of elder and deacon, Dever has this to say:
Many modern churches have tended to confuse elders with either the church staff or the deacons. Deacons, too, fill a New Testament office, one rooted in Acts 6. While any absolute distinction between the two offices is difficult, the
concerns of the deacons are the practical details of church life: administration, maintenance, and the care of church members with physical needs. In many churches today, deacons have taken some spiritual role; but much has simply been left to the pastor. It would be to the benefit of the church to again distinguish the role of elder from that of deacon.
Some might react negatively to the concept of multiple elders, assuming that it is a manifestation of Presbyterian elder rule or John MacArthur's version of it. Not true. Dever is quite clear that the congregation is the final decision-making body of the church. His Leadership Interview with MacArthur clarifies this distinction when Dever asks MacArthur if there is any scenario in which the congregation could overrule the elders at Grace Community Church. His answer is essentially no, except in the event that an elder nominated by the elders is known by a member of the congregation to be unqualified. This answer draws a clear line between Dever's congregational rule and MacArthur's elder rule.

Since that last link refers to a Leadership Interview, let me provide a link to the LI main page, from which dozens of fascinating interviews are available, including several on polity, one of which was conducted just a few days ago. You can listen online or, for you iPod owners, download the MP3s.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Lutheran Apologist

Pastor Paul T. McCain's blog, Cyberbrethren, is new to me, but it seems to communicate a spirit that is very close to others I've recommended. McCain is a pastor in the Missouri Synod Lutheran denomination, which I understand to be the fundamentalist wing of modern-day Lutheranism. I've read numerous accounts describing the Missouri Synod's rigid practice of ecclesiastical separation, which is not at all unlike the most conservative groups within modern evangelicalism. McCain's sidebar explaining his heritage provides some worthwhile background.

I haven't read thoroughly all that Pastor McCain has to say about the events of this past week, but you may well find his perspective valuable, since he is a confessing evangelical who intends to carry on the tradition of Martin Luther.

Thanks once again to roving reporter Angus for the link.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

"I didn’t agree with everything [John Paul II] said."

So who is this one who joins the few courageous souls willing to admit disagreements with the Pope? Probably not the first person you would think of.
BONO paid tribute to POPE JOHN PAUL II during U2’s show in ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA last night (April 2). . . . “I met the Holy Father and I was so taken by this showman, even if I didn’t agree with everything he said,” the singer, whose father was Roman Catholic, said to the crowd as the band began playing the intro to new song ‘Miracle Drug’.
[link to article available but omitted due to potentially offensive content]

The U2 lead singer also called the late pontiff "the best front man the Roman Catholic Church has ever had."

And from MTV comes a reminder of another rocker's anti-papal protest (don't ask me how I find this stuff):
Of course, the most controversial pop-culture moment involving the pope occurred in 1992, when singer Sinead O'Connor ripped up a picture of John Paul II and said, "Fight the real enemy," after her performance of Bob Marley's "War" (in which she changed the lyric "social injustice" to "sexual abuse") on "Saturday Night Live."

O'Connor eventually apologized to the pope, calling her act "ridiculous." She went on to join the congregation of the controversial Irish Bishop Michael Cox, who eventually ordained the singer as a priest, a move the pope was quoted as calling "bizarre." NBC, which received thousands of complaints (including one from Frank Sinatra, who said he wanted to "punch" O'Connor), was eventually fined $2.5 million by the Federal Communications Commission. The performance was not aired again.
I don't know which is more amazing to me:
    1. The fact that so many evangelicals seem more in love with the late pontiff than rockers from RCC backgrounds, or
    2. The fact that CBS was only fined $550,000 for last year's Super Bowl incident when NBC was fined $2.5 million for Sinead's shenanigans
I feel as though this horse has been beaten to death. Barring a major development, I'll dig up something else to talk about tomorrow and in days to follow. So to choose a final word from the wisdom of Dan Rather: "Courage."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Protestants: Embrace the Love

Another reason we need the God Focused Youth Ministry Training Conference.

Silence Might Have Been Golden

Sharper Iron posted this morning a follow-up to yesterday's "Blogosphere Challenge on the Pope." The first portion is the first part of Bob Bixby's Sunday sermon intro linked here.

The second portion is the perspective of a close friend and co-worker of mine, Jason Wredberg. Over the past couple days I had the opportunity to see his working drafts. At some point in the process a very speculative thought occurred to me. I would not in any way proclaim to know the motivations of the evangelicals who appear on prime time talk shows to talk about the issues of the day or who write press releases concerning the death of the Pope. Maybe their moms all drilled into them the proverb, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Personally, I wish they would have followed the latter clause. But that's just me. (Ok, to be proper, "That's just I," for all you fellow editors out there.)

Back to my thought. Jason refers to John MacArthur and Bob Jones III. What might their ministries have in common that is essentially different from the commonalities of the ministries of Lucado, Warren, Dobson, and the Grahams? MacArthur and Jones have clearly and consistently repudiated any subtle hints of religious pluralism. Why would these others be reticent to do so? Is the motivation nothing more than a kindler, gentler spirit? What might they be concerned about that would cause them to measure their words to their consituencies?

Worthless speculation? Perhaps. But remember, silence was an option. These men were not obligated to speak out on the exclusivity of the gospel, the theology of the Catholic Church, or the eternal destiny of the Pope. They chose to do so (to varying degrees), and I believe their comments have been weighed on the balances and found lacking.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Update: Some Evangelicals Still Affirm the Reformation! (updated Wednesday)

As I hear of more genuine evangelicals offering biblical perspectives on the death of John Paul II, I'll post them to this entry. I just saw one this morning written by Rick Holland. [sarcasm] I doubt if anyone has heard of him. [/sarcasm]


11:45 a.m.
Adam Bailie has tracked down some more quotes, and Nate Busenitz offers some historical context in the comments.

3:30 p.m.
Crosswalk interview with Mark Bailey, President of Dallas Theological Seminary.

4:20 p.m.
James White's incisive comments. Thanks to Angus for putting me on the trail.

8:00 a.m.
Bob Bixby offers what I believe is the most thorough biblical and historical analysis yet.

And on the disappointing side: Tuesday night's Hannity and Colmes on FoxNews led off with an interview of Franklin Graham on a variety of issues. Sean Hannity, a Catholic, asked Graham a very open question about the differences between Roman Catholic and evangelical faith. Graham acknowledged but minimized theological differences, focusing instead on alleged agreement on "the cross." He suggested that that Roman Catholics and evangelicals agree that Christ died for the world and that He rose again.

Surely Graham is aware that evangelicals believe that the work of the cross is finished (tetelestai), not continuing in the Mass, as Catholics believe. And it was accomplished by Christ alone, not in cooperation with Mary as Co-Redemptrix. Graham's gloss of these essential theological distinctions is appalling. Although I appreciate the fact that at least four times in his 10-minute interview he explained the gospel and even quoted John 14:6, I have to wonder whether it is the gospel or another gospel. Graham has made statements in the past that his father would not have made concerning the exclusivity of Christ. I wish I could have pointed to this week as another example.

At this posting I was unable to find a transcript of the interview. I'll keep "efforting" it.

Monday, April 04, 2005

WWLD (What Would Luther Do?)

Did I miss something? When did the evangelical Protestant love-fest with the Roman Catholic Church begin? I am not a church history guy, but I was under the impression that Savonarola, Hus, and Latimer died for their faith--the faith taught by Scripture, that is--at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church.

When I wrote Friday's blog about Reagan, Thatcher, and the Pope, I expected the praise that would be laid at John Paul II's feet. Some of it is well-deserved. By many accounts, he was a man of tremendous character and leadership. His biography is amazing. One reporter told how he visited the prison cell of his would-be assassin to forgive him. Attributed to several Baptists, including Paige Patterson and Richard Land, is a statement that John Paul II was a Pope "who really knew how to Pope." That seems fair to me.

But what I never anticipated was the herd of evangelicals trampling over one another in a rush to elevate him to Protestantism's version of sainthood. It's true that most of them carefully avoid endorsing his theology. Dobson's statement is a good example. On the other hand, Billy Graham went so far as to pontificate on the late Pope's eternal standing with God. From the Larry King Live transcript:
KING: There is no question in your mind that he is with God now?

GRAHAM: Oh, no. There may be a question about my own, but I don't think Cardinal Wojtyla, or the Pope -- I think he's with the Lord, because he believed. He believed in the cross. That was his focus throughout his ministry, the cross, no matter if you were talking to him from personal issue or an ethical problem, he felt that there was the answer to all of our problems, the cross and the resurrection. And he was a strong believer.
I'm not asking Graham to condemn him. Just have some allegiance to the Gospel of salvation by faith alone that you claim to believe, that was paid for by the blood of Christ, and that was defended by the blood of the martyrs. Please, hold your tongue and let our sovereign God apply His grace, mercy, and justice as He will.

I have encountered one evangelical so far who has spoken with balance and clarity. The statement below is from Al Mohler's blog today. The whole post is worth a read.

Even so, we must also recognize that John Paul II also represented the most troubling aspects of Roman Catholicism. He defended and continued the theological directions set loose at the Second Vatican Council. Even as he consolidated authority in the Vatican and disciplined wayward priests and theologians, he never confronted the most pressing issues of evangelical concern.

Even in his most recent book, released in the United States just days before his death, John Paul II continued to define the work of Christ as that which is added to human effort. Like the church he served, John Paul II rejected justification by faith. Beyond this, he rejected the biblical doctrine of hell, embraced inclusivism, and promoted an extreme form of Marian devotion, referring to Mary as "Co-Redemptrix," "Mediatrix," and "Mother of all Graces."

Thanks to Dr. Mohler. If one must speak, this is the way to do it. Perhaps I and others without Dr. Mohler's skill and wisdom would be better fit to keep silent and merely be thought to be fools.

Hypocrisy and Inconsistency: How to Be Wrong All the Time

World Magazine is a must-read for me because it consistently reveals the hypocrisy of the religious elite, the academic establishment, and the media. The most recent issue (4/2) documents two glaring examples.

The first is the story of William and Kay McClanahan. During these past few weeks we've learned all about the legal rights of the adulterous husband Michael Schiavo. Now, Mrs. McClanahan is facing a cadre of doctors who want to withhold medical treatment from her husband despite clear evidence of the potential for rehabilitation. So much for spousal rights.

The second is an expose of the shenanigans at the University of Colorado concerning Ward Churchill, the radical professor who called the 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns." Meanwhile, Phil Mitchell, an award-willing professor at U of C, is being dismissed for the unpardonable sin of quoting Thomas Sowell and other black critics of affirmative action.

Get used to it. "Free speech" now means freely choosing to speak only what the secular leftists endorse. Apparently it wasn't enough for them to be wrong most of the time. Now they are willing to embrace irrational inconsistency in order to be wrong all the time.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Spiritual Influence: A Force for Liberty or Slavery

No doubt genuine evangelicals will have much to say this Sunday about Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. And they'll be right to remind us of those foundational truths of the Reformation in light of the global praise that will be lauded on John Paul II.

I don't intend to back up my verbal dump truck and unload my theological pronouncements in an attempt to hide that pile of praise. Rather, it seems appropriate to ponder how the Pope used his position of influence to pave the way for the Presidents Bush to preside over the unleashing of human liberty one nation at a time. It occurred to me today that three people--Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II--came to prominent positions on the world stage at about the same time and left it forever changed.

It turns out that George Weigel of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and John Fund of The Wall Street Jounal thought these thoughts first.

Weigel best summarizes the moral of this story:
Several lessons can be drawn from this analysis. First, the experience of John Paul II suggests that “civil society” is not simply institutional: a free press, free trade unions, free business organizations, free associations, etc. “Civil society” has an essential moral core.

Secondly, John Paul’s strategy reminds us that “power” cannot be measured solely in terms of aggregates of military or economic capability. The “power of the powerless” is a real form of power.

In the third place, the Pope’s impact demonstrates that non-state actors count in contemporary world politics, and sometimes in decisive ways. John Paul II did not shape the history of our times as the sovereign of the Vatican City micro-state, but as the Bishop of Rome and the universal pastor of the Catholic Church.

In other words, power over people's souls wields immeasurable influence. Absolute power over people's souls . . . well, I'll leave that thought unfinished. Suffice it to say that the the last book of the New Testament further buttresses this point. May we beware the misnomer that only the Roman Catholic Church wields such power. Spiritual influence cuts both ways.