Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Church and Our Culture, Part 2

This is from my sermon notes this Sunday.  I thought it went along with my previous post.  It is taken from Romans 16 and the greetings from several saints to the Romans church.  It included a evangelist/pastor, a wealthy man, a local civic official and two slaves among others.

Why are these several men's names recorded in the Bible? I think a case can be made that there is at least one good reason for these names to find themselves recorded in the Bible.  The early church was composed of members from all walks of life and all segments of society.  And more importantly they were involved in all aspects of society including the government.  We are given a snapshot of history.  We see the reality of Christian fellowship when a slave sends his greetings to brothers and sisters across the sea.  Some gave their house, some their money, some used their writing abilities for the sake of Christ.  The main point to make here is that the primitive church saw their mission to go unto all the world and permeate society, not run from it.  Ideas that separation from this world meant to run off to some place where you didn’t have to be around the lost came much later and has no biblical foundation.  Such thinking will have no real impact on the world and God might as well had removed us from the earth for all the good such thinking is doing.  In fact one of our elders alluded to 1 Cor. 5:9-10, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--1Co 5:10  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world."   Here, even though they were being persecuted and outlawed they still went about their work.  They didn’t see persecution or the perversion of society around them as an excuse to run and hide but as a cause to get involved with people’s lives.  At the end of the day we have to trust the power of God to keep his people close to him and not think that the only way to keep ourselves unspotted from the world is to hide from it or to physically separate ourselves from it.  I challenge you to show me where Christ or the early church taught or did it differently.  This of course is no excuse to be in places that would ruin our testimony or to allow the lost to influence us over Christ, but we are to separate our thinking and the way we live from the thinking and the way those who do not know Christ live.

Separation from this world refers to our lives given over to glorifying the Lord as opposed to living for self like the lost does.  It comes as the Word of God bears fruit in our lives.  Walling ourselves up in a monastery or living in a hut deep in the woods won't make you holy.  In fact, I would think that having to learn to live for Christ among the lost would be more effective, both for us and them!  Knowing that they are watching you and listening to your words and waiting to see if you live what you confess would do more to drive us to the Word and prayer than thinking that bodily distance from a lost person can make you more holy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Afraid to Modernize?

I have been thinking lately about the attitude a church should have to the culture around it.  No doubt it is a problem that churches have faced ever since Pentecost.  It seems that we tend to go to one extreme or the other.  I remember one pastor I had saying that we should not be the first to embrace the new nor the last to give up the old.  There is probably some wisdom for us in that.  

I have seen churches and church leadership that seems to be obsessed with everything new.  New songs, new music, new techniques, new programs, new buildings and so on.  The problem though is that many times it takes time to see where new things will end up.  Certainly by now we see, for example, how easily emphasis on the song service and dramas and such can easily relegate preaching to the background.  It would seem that moderation should rule the day.  Leadership should be able to think things through and if necessary be patient until things can prove themselves one way or the other.  It seems obvious as well that taking the time to judge things by Scripture would save a lot of problems instead of assuming everything sold at the Christian bookstore must be Okay.

I am probably a little vague here but my main point is going to the other extreme.  I think a lot of churches that are on the conservative side of doctrine tend to assume that anything new is probably bad in some way.  They are so concerned with keeping doctrine pure (which rightly is their number one concern) that this bleeds over into thinking that new music and songs, new methods, updated buildings must be looked at with suspicion.  They resist change as if somehow it will cause them to fall into modernism or deny the faith. And so I think moderation, common sense and thinking things through has a place in the direction a church goes.  The building you meet in and the songs you sing and the venerable translation you use were the "new kids on the block" some where in history.  Everything was new at some point and that doesn't mean it is bad.

So I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to look like a church that is aware of what is going on outside its walls.  It is no excuse to fall into err or worldly practices that don't honor the Lord or edify the church.  But to have the attitude that "this is the way it has always been done", "if it was good enough for the previous generation it is good enough for me", or to misuse Pro 22:28  "Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set." as an excuse to stay out of touch with the current generation forgets that we are here to reach that generation.  We do this not by dumbing down the message or using techniques that dishonor God but by being able to engage people by understanding the culture they live in.  

If we say that the styles of 50 years ago and the songs and music of an extremely Arminian era of America  (1850-1970) must be insisted on as the only good way of dressing or singing and worshiping; all we are proving is that we haven't thought these things through very well.  There is only one thing that never changes and can never be allowed to change and that is the Word of God.  Modernizing the building or the hymnbook, acknowledging that 400 years of textual criticism has helped give us more accurate translations, isn't falling into modernism, its using mature thinking in how to reach the world and culture that God has placed us in.  It seems at least to be willing to acknowledge that there are gifted people even in our day that can write good songs and do accurate translation.

Test everything by the Word of God, if it doesn't pass, then we will pass on it.  But we must remember that everything was new at some time; newness doesn't mean it can't be good.  If people don't come back to our church because they have no stomach for God's Word I can live with that.  But if they don't come back because we want to be a church of 50 or 100 or 300 years ago, then it is our fault, not theirs.  I know God is sovereign but that doesn't mean we can be as offensive and obstinate as we want and refuse to live in the current generation and no one should have a problem with that.  Danger lurks in both extremes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Almost Christian"

Here is another program from the Micheal Horton and "The White Horse Inn" that I heartily recommend.  They are talking about a poll of teenagers and how they think about religion.  It offers some good insight into our culture and the failure of parents to take their responsibility seriously to teach their children about God and his Word.  I found it very interesting and think you will also.  It is a wake up call to Christian parents and what is involved in biblically raising your children. Enjoy.

 Almost Christian

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can You Be Saved and Not Know How?

Every so often I get in a conversation with someone about whether it is possible to be saved and yet not able to explain how you know you are saved or explain to someone how they can be saved.  Recently I was told of a woman who believed she was saved but couldn't explain the particulars but "felt" an inward witness of the Holy Spirit that she took as proof of being saved.  And I have come across many similar situations over the years. 

I am writing this article because based on what I know of biblical teaching I have a big problem with such confessions.  I do not deny that the Holy Spirit does witness to our spirits in such a way that aids in our assurance.  Romans 8:16 says, "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God".  Surely we have all been listening to some great biblical truth that has ministered to us in some way.  I would suggest that this is more objective than subjective since the witness is based on certain truths.  I would say the witness of Romans 16 is the witness of the Spirit as we read the gospel truths of Scripture.  It produced feelings but it wasn't based on feelings alone.  This witness might sometimes come in the spiritual connection we have with other saints and the manifestation of love we have between ourselves and them.  But this second witness is much more subjective and can also be produced by non Christians. 

But with the woman mentioned earlier, these inward feelings seem to make up her only real assurance.  I say this because she admitted to be unable to explain the particulars as to how she became a Christian.  As I understood it, she could not explain the gospel or at least her part in it.  The problem here is that the very nature of conversion is one in which we hear good news that salvation has been provided by God and that it comes by trusting in the finished work of Christ as your substitute for the forgiveness of your sins.  So while the gospel is an announcement of what Christ has done, it is also a command to repent and believe.  This in turn requires us to understand what we must do in order to be saved.  

One cannot wake up one day and feel saved.  Neither can one be around biblical preaching and Christians for so long that they just realize one day that they are on board with all this.  There has to come a point in which under the conviction of their sinfulness, they embrace Christ as their substitute and give themselves to Him.  

Now the whole point of this article is that one cannot do this and not realize that he or she has done it.  Under the Old Covenant it was possible to be born into it and perhaps never really understand what had happened.  You were circumcised as a baby and were "in" whether you ever understood it or not.  But Jeremiah makes the point that this is not how it works under the New Covenant.  "Jer 31:33  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jer 31:34  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."   

One enters the Kingdom of God hearing the bad news that their sins have separated them from God and the good news of how to be saved through repentance and faith.  These are things that we do with our understanding, not our feelings.  You just can't be saved without knowing why and how.  Yes, God must give us the capacity to understand and believe but understand and believe we shall or we shall not be converted.  Therefore you can't be saved and not be able to explain why and how.  This is why a church expects one to give a credible testimony of their salvation before baptizing them and adding them to the church.  Repentance and faith cannot be done apart from our understanding.  We don't expect to understand it perfectly but certainly you should be able to give the basics.