2- Commitment to a cause

A few thoughts before I fly home

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I’m in Manchester for the Launch Europe event. My last engagement before flying out of London for Melbourne. I'm heading home after three years in Britain. Apologies to the readers of this blog and listeners to the podcast. With the move back home, a string of commitments and work on a new book, I’ve had to cut back on the blog and podcast.

I’ve been prompted to dive back in after news, as expected, that Australians have voted in favor of same-sex marriage. I’m not a cultural warrior. I’m not focused on saving Western civilization. My concern is the spread of the gospel, multiplying disciples and churches.

The world will do what the world does. And face the consequences. The great tragedy of this vote is how easily church leaders and ordinary believers forsake (or remain silent about) the clear teaching of the Scriptures.

The Anglican church in England has a leader who can’t say publicly whether same-sex sexual relations are right or wrong. He has endorsed a new transgender policy in Anglican schools. He has awarded an LGBT activist with the Thomas Cranmer Award for Worship. Cranmer was burnt at the stake rather than surrender his commitment to God’s Word.

These are not matters where we can agree to disagree. The teaching of Scripture is clear. Jesus was clear — you can choose to build your house on rock or sand. But you can't choose the consequences.

There is only one true church and that church is under the authority of God’s living Word and the Holy Spirit. The only way out of this morass is to return to being governed by the Word and the Spirit. It’s not easy in this cultural climate, but God gives grace for what he expects us to do. That’s the example Jesus set. He obeyed the Father regardless of the cost.

Any movement, church, individual believer, denomination, Christian organization that steps away from the safety and blessing of obedience, will face God’s redemptive judgment. He will defend his Word. He loves us that much.

Life in Christ means obedience to Christ

 Gordon Fee

Gordon Fee

Learning to obey what Jesus commanded is central to disciple making movements.

Yet some regard obedience based discipleship as the equivalent of introducing a Christian verison of sharia (Islamic law).

I'm working through Philipians at the movemnet with Gorden Fee, an outstanding NT scholar. In comments on Philippians 2:5-11 here's what he says about obedience and disicpleship

There is no genuine life in Christ that is not at the same time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being regularly transformed into the likeness of Christ . A gospel of grace, which omits obedience, is not Pauline in any sense.

Life in Christ is a gift of grace that we can never earn. Life in Christ brings with it the power of the Holy Spirit resulting in being transformed from the inside out so that we bear his likeness.

Disciplehsip means learning to obey what Jesus commanded. One step at a time. Always one more step.

 

White supremacy and the gospel

Writing from Berlin, Albert Mohler does a wonderful job of juxtaposing racism and the gospel.

Even a secular observer can see the lessons of history from Berlin. The evidence is pervasive, irrefutable, terrifying, and still visible.

But Christians must see much more than the lessons of history, though we dare not miss them. We must see claims of racial superiority–and mainly that means claims of white superiority–as heresy.

That is not a word we use casually. Heresy leads to a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the eclipse of the living God as revealed in the Bible. A claim of white superiority is not merely wrong, and not merely deadly. It is a denial of the glory of God in creating humanity—every single human being–in his own image. It is a rejection of God’s glory in creating a humanity of different skin pigmentation. It is a misconstrual of God’s judgment and glory in creating different ethnicities.

Most urgently, it is a rejection of the gospel of Christ–the great good news of God’s saving purpose in the atonement accomplished by Christ. A claim of racial superiority denies our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common salvation through faith in Christ, and God’s purpose to create a common new humanity in Christ.

You cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and hold to any notion of racial superiority. It is impossible.

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Now Mohler will be applauded for his stand against racism. But the minute he relies on Scripture to speak about human sexuality or the sanctity of life, he'll be branded a bigot.

Keep this example in mind, when you're next tempted to place culture norms about Scripture. That's not an option for a disciple of Jesus.

Related: White Supremacy and the Spirit

Stay on Target. A reminder to myself.

I turned 60 last year. There are many new joys in this stage of living. Chief among them are grandchildren.

There are also new griefs. Chief among them is to see once faithful and true disciples, many of them leaders, wander from the gospel and the mission Christ entrusted to us.

It's just as much a spiritual, moral battle as it is theological. It's a battle we don't talk about. Yet the casualty rate is high and the price we pay is dear.

I don't want to spend my life correcting error. Yes, Jesus corrected error. The apostles did the same. But this did not dominate their ministry. For some, it does. Yet they are not putting the gospel to work in the world where it belongs.

So what can we do in a positive way to remain true to the cause?

We study the word continually, applying to our lives and mission. We devour the word together, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we obey. As we learn the obedience of faith, we become who we are in Christ. 

Defending a Scandal

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Southern Baptists have passed a resolution defending the truth that Christ died for our sins, in our place, taking upon himself God's just judgment on sin.

Why the need?

Every generation must choose whether to affirm what the Scriptures have always taught. Ours is no exception. In the 1960s mainline liberal Protestantism turned its back on orthodoxy. Now progressive evangelicals are repeating their error. 

Red Letter Christians — following the spirit of the age and French Catholic philosopher Rene Girad — reject the notion of a God who requires the sacrifice of his Son for sin.

At a popular level, William Paul Young (The Shack) has said the idea that Christ died as a substitute sacrifice to save sinners and satisfy the just wrath of God the Father — is a “monstrous,” “evil,” and “a terrible doctrine.”

So well done Southern Baptists for affirming what the Scriptures have always taught.

Movements decline and decay when they drift and deny their core beliefs. They remain dynamic when they stay true to core beliefs and adapt their methods to reach a changing world.

Want to learn more?

 

Did Jesus believe the Bible?

I stumbled on a blog post recently that compared the cool rebel Jesus with the faithful Bible-believers who handed him over to be crucified.

Here's how the writer described Jesus' opponents,

They aggressively studied apologetics so they could argue publicly to prove him wrong. They were sticking to the Bible. They were faithful believers who knew the Bible. They understood the Bible. They understood the character of God. They were the only group of people on Earth who had the holy scriptures and writings that documented the promises and the law of the one true living God. They were the believers. They were believers, and they nailed the heretic to the cross.

Strong words that pit Jesus against his opponents and characterise the Pharisees and Sadducees as first century Bible-believers.

The problem is, Jesus believed his Bible. According to Jesus, the Scripture cannot be broken. He came to fulfil its promises.

In the wilderness Satan used the Bible against Jesus, yet Jesus countered each time with, "It is written. . ."

Jesus' authority was based on the true meaning of Scripture.

When his opponents asked him about marriage, he replied “Haven’t you read…” and went on to quote the Old Testament and equate the words of Scripture with the words of God (Matt 19:4-6).

Jesus replied, You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matt 22:29).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted his teaching with what his audience had heard.

You have heard it said
But I say to you

Was Jesus overturning the authority of Scripture and replacing it with his own words? 

The key is the phrase, “you have heard it said”. According to Ellis, this phrase is never used to introduce the writings of Scripture. Instead Jesus is contrasting the true meaning of Scripture with the traditions and interpretations of his opponents.

For the sake of your traditions you nullify the word of God (Matt 15:6).

Jesus’ teachings did not overturn Scripture but brought out its true meaning. God is not just opposed to murder, he’s opposed to hatred. He’s not just against adultery, but he rejects lust. That's the true meaning of Scripture, not a new meaning of Scripture.

Jesus brought out and intensified the true meaning of Scripture.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt 5:17-18).

Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus reject the authority of the Old Testament. He came to fulfil the Scriptures, not overturn them. The God of the Old Testament is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus.

That's why in the days following the resurrection Jesus was careful to walk his disciples through the whole of the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi. He was preparing them for their world-wide mission. The mission of the risen Lord is founded upon a right understanding of the Old Testament—the Bible Jesus read and believed.

Beware of those who would have you believe otherwise. They may be 21st century opponents of Jesus, placing their word above God's word.

[ed. With some help from: Earle Ellis, How Jesus Interpreted His Bible.]

Theology Matters

 Katharine Jefferts Schori

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Why do progressive/liberal/mainline churches decline?

For years academics and church officials have denied that decline has anything to do with beliefs. Decline resulted from external factors, not internal factors.

Former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, claimed that since Episcopalians were better-educated and cared for the earth, they had lower birth rates than other Christians.

Recently a Canadian study has concluded that theology does matter.

The authors of Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy surveyed 2,225 churchgoers in Ontario, Canada, and conducted interviews with 29 clergy and 195 congregants.

Some of the results:

  • Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
  • 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches. 
  • 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches. 
  • 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches. 
  • 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.

About two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60.

Why study the decline of the Protestant mainline? We watch and learn, or their future will become ours.