Down and Dirty: What is the significance of worship style?

So the last “Down and Dirty” seemed to help a lot of people with it’s shortened length and punchy style, so here’s another one regarding a question I received about “worship style” and why it matters so much. As always, feel free to respond, just remember to be civil. Enjoy…

What is the significance of worship style?

The significance of worship style affects many areas of Christian doctrine. The way in which corporate worship is structured provides much information regarding the local church’s ecclesiological views, eschatological views, views on salvation, grace, and the list goes on. This is why purposeful, planned liturgy is crucial when planning to gather together the body of Christ in order to remain obedient to the word of the Lord (Heb. 10:25), partake of the ordinances (1 Cor. 11:26), and declare the glory of the Lord (Ps. 29:2).
The significance of worship style firstly depicts a theology of salvation. If one enters into a Catholic Mass, the worship style encountered immediately demonstrates that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is not entirely sufficient to impute righteousness and forgive sins and must be further admonished through the continued eating and drinking of Christ’s body (the Catholic view being transubstantiation), as well as the keeping of other sacraments as a means of grace, including reconciliation, holy orders, confirmation, etc.
Now, in Baptist churches the worship style, or liturgy, depicts an entirely different theology of salvation. When done well, the liturgy in a Baptist church will encompass the gospel entirely. Often, this is broken into four elements: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. When the service begins, the bride of Christ is called to rejoice in the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mt. 22:32) who has kept his promise and has provided the perfect sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ, as a propitiation for sin (Rm. 3:24-26). Because we are so humbled by this ultimate act of love and mercy, we respond with humility, trusting in the grace of the Father through the confession (both vertical and horizontal) of our own idolatry (Jm. 5:16; Rm. 10:9). We then, full of the joy of the gospel that forgives and blesses us with the ability to forgive others (Mt. 6:14-15), rejoice by giving thanks through song, offering, testimony, etc. (It should be noted that the sermon should be the center of the service of which all other components should seek to orbit. The sermon can take place during any element of the service and should always be centered upon the gospel and nothing else). Lastly, the service should end with supplication, the body humbly asking of the Lord that He sustain them, refine them, admonish them, encourage them, and strengthen them (Num. 6:24-26).
The significance of worship style not only affects how the gospel is presented as shown above, but also how the church views itself. Many often believe that the significance of worship style comes down to musical choice, but the music chosen in a particular church demonstrates a more fundamental issue of what aim or result a corporate gathering should pursue. While a contemporary church may play only choruses, and a traditional church only hymns, the underlining inference is a testimony toward what they currently value most: tradition or relevance, entertainment or edification, in-reach or outreach. While these are not antithetical by nature, they are often made so through music style choices. The significance of worship style here comes to bear very sharply, often separating entire parts of the body from one another. This is a tragic turn for the worse and demands immediate action that space does not allow for here.
Clearly, the significance of worship style is not to be underestimated. The corporate gathering of the body is the most public and consistent testimony the local church possesses. Without careful planning and a purposeful focus upon the gospel when planning any corporate worship event, there is much that can be miscommunicated. While there is no such thing as a perfect service, this does not mean that we do not endeavor to plan and lead our congregations with gospel intentionality, gospel integrity, and gospel infrastructure. Let us magnify the Lord, allowing the gospel to inform our style, and never our style to deform the gospel.


Down and Dirty: Quick Response to a Friend’s Question about Drinking Alcohol

This is by no means a full treatment of the issue of alcohol. This is not meant to be anything more than a quick response demonstrating how I approach the issue Biblically. You’re welcome to offer your own analysis as a response. Be civil. Enjoy…

Beginning in Genesis, the scriptures make mention of wine multiple times, highlighting man’s ability to both enjoy, and abuse, God’s good creation. In Genesis 9, Noah’s drunkenness is exposed, as is Noah, and the effects of abusing what man is supposed to be a good steward over are revealed. However, a few chapters later (14), one reads of Melchizedek’s hospitality to Abram, and the offer of bread and wine. Genesis 19 again reveals the abuse of wine (Lot and his daughters), Genesis 27 establishing the joy that man should receive from wine. This back and forth continues through most of the Old Testament (Exodus 29:40, Deut. 14:26, Ps. 104:15, Hosea 4:11, etc.). What does this reveal about the Old Testament view of beverage alcohol? Put simply, alcohol, at least in the Old Testament, was used to both rejoice and make much of YHWH, while also used to rejoice and make much of one’s self. The key is to recognize that alcohol has no will of its own. Alcohol, on its own, cannot possess moral qualities like good and evil. For the Old Testament paradigm, beverage alcohol is clearly what one makes of it. It can be a testimony to YHWH, or an idol to self.
In the New Testament, beginning with the gospels, perhaps the most known miracle Jesus ever provided – turning water into wine (Jn. 2:1-11). Matthew also depicts Jesus eating and drinking (11:19) to the chagrin of the people, making the point that there is no pleasing everyone (Luke 7:34 also depicts this scene, making the same point.) Nowhere in the four gospels does Jesus speak against the use of beverage alcohol, but against the abuse of beverage alcohol (Luke 21:34). Continuing with beverage alcohol, Paul mentions the dangers of abusing alcohol in many of his epistles. These include Titus 1:7, 1 Tim. 3:3; 8, Eph. 5:18, Gal. 5:21, 1 Cor. 6:10, to name a few. Perhaps the best, and most discussed, passage regarding the consumption of beverage alcohol comes from Romans 14. Here, Paul warns against causing a weaker (new) believer to stumble through the consumption of meat sacrificed to idols. Many use this verse inaccurately to make the claim that one can never (21st century equivalent to idol meat) drink alcohol, because it destroys one’s “witness.” Clearly, Paul instills a sense of pedagogy to his reader, the inference being to raise up the weaker brother in his faith until such a time as both parties can rejoice in the freedom of the Gospel together. In no way is Paul saying that the strong brother must bow to the weaker brother forever, but only for a time.
The biblical view seems pretty clear. In both the Old and New Testaments, beverage alcohol is enjoyed, used in service of YHWH, used and created by Jesus Christ, used by the new churches as they fellowshipped in the wake of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. As previously stated, it is impossible to bestow moral qualities upon an inanimate object. Alcohol can be no more evil than a tree that falls upon the man chopping it down, a peanut that causes an allergic reaction, a gun that goes off because of a hunter’s negligence. Scripture clearly asserts that it is not with alcohol that there is a problem, but with man’s wicked heart. Unfortunately, beverage alcohol is only one of many things that God has given as wonderful gifts, which man abuses and sets up as idols to be worshipped. One must resist the temptation to become a teetotaler, for that is no better than a man who is a drunkard, opposite sides of the same idolatry. Consider the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) as an example of this type of pendulum idolatry.
Finally, as to the role of beverage alcohol in the life of a minister, scripture clearly sets no further restrictions on him than it does on all other Christians. Many claim, because of what’s written in Titus and 1st Timothy (referenced above), that ministers must not drink. Unfortunately, this is another example of legalism. All the scriptures require of deacons and overseers is the same it requires of all believers – don’t be a drunkard. To set up further restrictions upon the offices that serve the church is to disregard scriptural truth in favor of traditional morality. This is an unacceptable and unbiblical practice. Scripture clearly states that the consumption of beverage alcohol, in moderation, is to be enjoyed, but never at the expense of one’s brethren in Christ. No more, and no less, than that.


Amendment One – More harm than good?

Currently there is much polarization in NC over the newest proposed amendment concerning civil unions and same sex marriages. Like my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe that the church should stand for the institution of marriage between one man and one woman because of the clear principles laid out in the Scriptures (Ephesians 5:21-33 is just one of many scripture passages that address the issue of marriage). However, I do think that often we can become so focused upon a singular point of a broad issue, that we fail to see the forest for the trees.

North Carolina already denies the validity of same-sex marriages within the State (statute 51-1.2). Amendment One seeks to further curtail any possibility of overturning that statute with this amendment. Unfortunately, while trying to protect the sanctity of marriage, which is a wonderful thing to do, they are placing considerable pain upon others in the process. The Christian right would lead you to believe that if this amendment doesn’t pass that gay marriage will become a rampant part of our community and in no time will destroy what marriage is all about. First, let me again remind you that there is already a  statute in place that denies that outcome without certain political maneuvers that we, as believers, can continue to fight. Second, let us never be so arrogant as to say that it would be the homosexual community that would destroy the beautiful image of marriage when we have not spoken out nearly enough regarding the rate of divorce in our own churches. We must be transparent when we rebuke others, and we must acknowledge that though homosexual marriages would indeed be a horrible and painful step away from the gospel message of Jesus Christ and his love for the church that is displayed in traditional marriage, it would not be entirely upon their shoulders that marriage has taken a nasty public relations beating in the last few decades.

Next, the liberals, the militant feminists, and homosexuals all would like you to believe that it’s arrogant and bigoted to not allow them to celebrate their love through marriage just as heterosexuals do. This is, of course, a logical fallacy and ultimately hypocritical since their view of tolerance is inherently intolerant. Further, history has proven (Sodom and Gomorrah, Rome, Greece, etc.) that homosexuality has never been good for society, and has always been quickly followed by deep struggle for any society that has embraced it. You don’t need to take my word on this, you can look it up on your own. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to do so, for nothing helps to convey the truth more than when someone discovers it with their own eyes, first-hand. Allowing same-sex marriage would not only defame the gospel and everything we stand for as Christians, but it would also do much to destroy our community, our families, and the very way of life that has proven to be the best catalyst for the mental, physical, and relational health of the coming generations.

Now, on to the fall-out that has been overshadowed by the pro-gay/anti-gay rhetoric:

If Amendment One passes, then those who are now engaged within a civil union or partnership (223,000 couples, 88% heterosexual/12% homosexual according to the 2010 census – look it up for yourself) would lose many protections and benefits that I do not believe should be only for traditional married couples of opposite sex. Hear me again, they should not lose the protections and benefits AS PEOPLE WHO ARE AMERICAN CITIZENS just because they no longer qualify as a proper marriage. Domestic Violence charges could no longer be pursued should a boyfriend beat his girlfriend, or vice versa. Should the couple split up, unlike a divorce where each parent has certain rights, neither party has any kind of legal recourse to continue to be in his/her children’s life if the judge decides that the children would be better off with the mother, or the father. Should a couple be together for thirty years, at the end of life, there would be no legal recourse for the non-spouse to be considered the next of kin, which means that the hospital or the family of the dying could excommunicate them from the entire process simply because they were not defined by a specific view of legal marriage. The ability to add your significant other to your health care plan at work would also evaporate. For any betrothed, they’d have to wait until they were legally married to be able to place one another on the same health care plan. The same goes for children. Since the civil unions and domestic partnerships would no longer be recognized, then the children of said union would either go without health care, or be forced to pay for it out of their own pocket if the children are products of a previous relationship and not connected by blood to whomever possesses the health care plan in the first place.

Now, some will tell you that all of this is a good thing, that it should be reserved for traditional nuclear families that have a married couple with children. I would disagree. I would firmly disagree. We aren’t just talking about homosexual unions. As a matter of fact, they make up only TWELVE PERCENT of the persons who will be affected. Ultimately, I believe it would be a tragedy to see all these couples face serious hardships just because people want to be double triple sure that the homosexual community can’t get married, which, again, NC has already denied, so it’s already the reality for now. If, as Christians, we truly believe that all of these benefits should only be for married heterosexual men and women and no one else, then let’s put our money where our mouth is and help provide all the benefits we will be taking away from almost a quarter of a million couples with a single check mark on a ballot.

It is not my place to tell you how to vote. Moreover, it is not the church’s place to tell you how to vote either. No one should have that much control over you, that you would pull a lever just because they said so. Be skeptical. Take a look for yourself. Determine in your own heart what you decide the Lord would have you do. Perhaps you feel like it is truly that important to protect the sanctity of marriage, that even though there is already a statute in place, we must take further steps to ensure it’s foundation, even in light of the facts that have been presented.  If that’s what you believe in your heart, if that’s how you believe that the Scriptures and the Lord would have you vote – by all means, vote yes for Amendment One. If however, you feel like Amendment One is a great idea and you desperately want to protect the sanctity of marriage, but the fall-out of this particular Amendment is just too great, then let me appeal to you to do what you believe is right also. We, as Christians, must continue to fight against the encroachment of secularism in our society. I believe with all my heart that we must take a stand against same-sex marriage, but we must always be aware of the cost. If we’ve won the battle at the expense of the war, then what have we really won? Vote as you please on May 8th, but vote being aware of the entire issue, and not just how it may affect you and your specific circumstance.

I write this with great humility and love, knowing that there will be some that think I am absolutely crazy. To them, I simply say…”work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12-17)

Grace and peace to all of you who have taken the time to read this. May you know the Master’s peace, in whatever decision you make.

 

 


Beauty is a pointer to the transcendent…

Beauty commands a response. Beauty captivates one’s heart, brings tears to one’s eyes, enthralls men to go to war (think Helena of Troy), etc.  In every culture in every region of the world, beauty is something distinctive and worthy of pursuing. The question of why may be raised, but need there be a cogent answer for the pursuit of beauty beyond the pursuit itself? As Roger Scruton responds in his book, Beauty: “…beauty is an ultimate value – something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justify our rational inclinations.”[1] The fact that beauty commands a response is partly connected with the fact that beauty is uncommon. In other words, beauty is regarded by an individual partly because the world is mostly plain, common, or basic. This is not to say that something plain cannot be beautiful, and the same for that which is common or basic, but that beauty stands out partly because it is found to be better than the usual or the normal that surrounds it. Beauty calls out to her audience – I am something special. So is uncommonness what makes beauty special? Not entirely. Beauty is also a pointer to the transcendent. Beauty connects the senses to the soul, touching on something fundamental in every person – that there is something…more.

If beauty does in fact testify that there is indeed something beyond our own subjective experience, then the pursuit of beauty is ultimately the pursuit of a larger truth. George Santayana, in his book, The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of Aesthetic Theory, pens: “We know on excellent authority that beauty is truth, that it is the expression of the ideal, the symbol of divine perfection, and the sensible manifestation of the good.”[2] Beauty is not captivating merely because it is unique or uncommon. After all, if this were the case, then all things unique or uncommon would share the same power as beauty – amputee’s, two-headed cows, malignant tumors, and the point is made. No, for beauty to be captivating it must also connect its audience with something greater than itself. Edward Farley in, Faith and Beauty, explains this concept: “For to grasp a thing as its ideal is at the same time to confront something beautiful. Neither use nor neutral content would be sufficient to turn the self’s preoccupation into will-less participation. Only beauty can perform that miracle. For beauty is the quality of the object that facilitates knowledge of its idea.”[3]

Consider Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet. While the form of the quatrains and couplet and the thrust of the iambic pentameter all lend themselves wonderfully to the overall beauty of the sonnet, it is the content that uplifts the idea of beauty and supplants itself within the reader.  In much the same way, the form and the function of beauty both attend to the idea being purported, the transcendent idea of a larger truth, given exposure through the uncommon and bewildering. In this way, beauty connects the subjective experiences of humanity with the objective truths of God. Santayana unpacks this statement, writing: “There is then, a real propriety in calling beauty a manifestation of God to the senses, since, in the region of sense, the perception of beauty exemplifies the adequacy and perfection which in general we objectify in an idea of God.”[4]

Understanding beauty in this way also allows for an understanding of personal preference and judgment when considering the presence or non-presence of beauty in an object. As Scruton acknowledges: “Certainly we judge between enjoyable things: it is right to enjoy some things, wrong to enjoy others. But these judgments focus on the state of mind of the subject, rather than a quality in the object.”[5] In other words, beauty must not be judged based solely upon the criteria of personal enjoyment. Concisely put – everything that is truly beautiful will move one’s affections, but not everything that moves one’s affections is truly beautiful.

Recalling Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet, one is touched by Shakespeare’s desire to immortalize the beauty of his subject by grafting the beauty of his subject with the beauty of his words, as revealed in the couplet. Still, the beauty of this world, however preserved, will ultimately decay and die. As Shakespeare acknowledges in his sonnet:

and every fair from fair sometimes decline

by chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed

All the beauty of this world cannot last forever. However, the truth that is visible through beauty is not only transcendent in the moment of its consumption by its audience, but also eternal through the connection that is made between God and man when the truth, offered by God, is accepted by man. Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin collaborating together in their work, The Beauty of God: Theology in the Arts, remark: “Because we hope for what we do not yet see, beauty has a certain Logos-centeredness which acknowledges that the forms of this world are passing away.”[6] Thusly, beauty comes with a proposition. One can either acknowledge that beauty is indeed a pointer to the transcendent, and if merely a pointer, then not the true object of the heart’s affection, or one can deny that beauty functions in such a fashion and relegate all affections to the symbol of truth, rather than the truth itself. The implication being, a heart that is moved by beauty to a greater understanding of the underlying truth of a creator, a design, and a purpose is a heart that can be conformed into the beautiful image of the creator’s design. A heart that rejects the underlying truth exposed in beauty remains a twisted, decaying form of its original, beautiful, and timeless design.

David Bentley Hart, in his wonderfully complex treatment of beauty entitled, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, powerfully expounds: “Salvation occurs by way of recapitulation, the restoration of the human image in Christ, the eternal image of the Father after whom humanity was created in the beginning; thus salvation consists in the recovery of a concrete form, and in the restoration of an original beauty.”[7] In beauty lie the transcendent truths of God the Father. He provides to his creation salvation not by merely exposing his image and will to man through sacrifice of his son, a most beautiful action, but also through the restoration of his creation to its original beauty – imago dei – pointers to the transcendent God. Thusly, all beauty will radiate no longer in relation to its common surroundings, but in relation to the presence of the creator. The transcendence glimpsed in today’s beauty will become an eternal reality.

Works Cited

Hart, David Bentley. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Grand

Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2003.

Husbands, Mark & Treier, Daniel J. & Roger Lundin, ed. The Beauty of God: Theology

and the Arts. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2007.

Farley, Edward. Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic. Burlington: Ashgate

Publishing Limited, 2001.

Santayana, George. The Sense of Beauty: Being the outline of Aesthetic Theory. New

York: Dover Publications, 1955.

Scruton, Roger. Beauty. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

 


[1] Roger Scruton, Beauty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 2.

 

[2] George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of Aesthetic Theory (New York: Dover Publications, 1955), 11.

[3] Edward Farley, Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2001), 61.

 

[4] Santayana, 8.

 

[5] Scruton, 7.

 

[6] Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, & Roger Lundin, ed., The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 11.

[7] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2003), 318.


Such a shame…

 

When considering the postmodern proclamation of the dissolution of all universal truths, one is faced with a frightening reality as to the mindset of a culture that now seemingly possesses no foundational grounds in which to be engaged upon for discussions of Christian apologetics. Yet, one certainly recognizes the hypocrisy of declaring that there are no universal truths, as that in itself it meets the requirement, or at least desires to meet the requirement, of being a universal truth. Still, this need not be the only ground in which this concept can be challenged. Fortunately, humanity is not made up of millions of unique snowflakes, all drifting in their own space and time with no real associations to other snowflakes. The human design, both biologically and psychologically speaking, is very similar and set within quite definable parameters. In other words, there are not some humans that fly, some that are covered with scales, some made up of only eyeballs, and so the point is made. Further, even the way men and women encounter reality (regarding social, relational, and physical entanglements) is vastly similar. For the purposes of this treatment about the universal truths of being human, the focus shall be limited to one certain human-only trait – shame. Shame is a sign of the uniqueness of man.

C.S. Lewis, in his work Mere Christianity, gives several examples of what he calls “The Law of Human Nature.”[1] The implication of each example is quite clear: there is an undeniable standard that all of humanity instinctively adheres to. While different communities in different contexts may fall all over the spectrum, there is no denying the presence of said spectrum. If further evidence is required, consider the act of murder. In no context of any society is murder an acceptable action. Again, while one may argue about the definition of murder, murder – however defined – is not tolerated even in the most archaic of assemblies and tribes. Once one has established the law of human nature, then it is no great leap to bring the argument into the realm of the psychological response of shame when one has broken the law of human nature and is facing exposure of said perpetration.

As Lewis righty points out, where the law of human nature differs from the other laws of nature is in man’s ability to defy it. While one cannot defy gravity, one may very well choose to go against the law of human nature. This action of rebellion is indicative of a deeper psychological struggle. David Powlison sheds some light on this idea as he pens:

Put in simplest terms, these psychological activities (ego defense mechanisms) are designed to protect ourselves (ego) from invasive anxiety, which arises when our desires (id) act contrary to the image we have of our selves (ego ideal) and our internalized conscience (superego) responds by accusing us.[2]

What Powlison here explains is the presence of the human response to some measure, some ruler, some plum line that is latent inside of all humanity. While there are certainly social and cultural dynamics at play, there is still an undergirding latticework upon which the cultural and relational ideals have grown. After all, when one does something wrong (defies the law of human nature) the shame is instantaneous even without exposure to other humans (though exposure to God is certainly in view here), and grows exponentially as exposure becomes a reality. This being the case, relativism no longer holds and a universally acknowledged human identity begins to take shape.  So the question becomes: What is the origin of shame? Is it merely bound to the social and cultural milieu one finds oneself a part of? Certainly that is part of it, but assuredly not the sum. Paul D. Feinberg agrees as he speaks of moral law: “The moral law is a real thing that is independent of us, not something that is made up by us.”[3] There is indeed something outside of society and culture, a latticework (as previously mentioned) that governs both community and personal moral structures.

For Feinberg, this innate sense of moral law, and the shame that is felt when failure to maintain moral law, makes a case, along with other evidences, for the presence of a creator. Feinberg writes, “Since something beyond the mere facts exists, what does this tell us about the universe? It tells us that that there is something behind the universe that is more like a mind than anything else we know.”[4] With this as warrant, one may recognize that scripture has some insights into this idea of a creator, an external moral law, and a presence of shame common and unique to all humanity.

In Genesis, one see’s that God created man and woman with the express purpose of being image bearers of his glory – imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-27). Imaging God was to be the human nature. However, in Genesis chapter three, one recognizes that the appeal to go against the law of human nature by the serpent was persuasive enough that both Adam and Eve, in their own rights, defied the law of human nature, and experienced the shame of exposure (Gen. 3:7). Enacting in much the same way Feinberg earlier expresses, Adam and Eve sought to hide from God, lest he also see them naked and put them to even greater shame (Gen. 3:8). Once discovery was realized as inevitable, fig leaves were adorned, blame was shifted, and excuses were made. These are familiar, universal patterns, true even in contemporary culture. Ultimately, God asks them how they’ve come to know they were naked – how have they come to know shame (Gen. 3:11)? The answer is simple – through disobedience. The Christian notion of the origin of shame places it squarely in the center of disobedience to the law of human nature (that is, imago Dei) that still resides in each individual the planet over.

One may argue that one does not believe in God, and therefore is no image bearer. To this point one must acknowledge that belief in God is not a prerequisite to being an image bearer, just being human is. Commenting about this reality, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. explains: “The unbeliever is/has the image of God, and the consequent image-bearing but sin-blinded need [for the gospel]…the unbeliever remains the image of God, entirely, but only ‘in a negative mode.’”[5] Shame functions as a part of the fallen human condition and the inability to rightly image God as was intended. Shame is that “sense of unworthiness or of being scorned [that] originates in the breach of propriety.”[6] Shame is the indicator that not only is there a creator, but that one has been created, and created for a purpose.

In light of shame, it becomes clear that one is failing at one’s primary purpose and should be concerned about the consequence of said failure in light of a divine creator.[7] From this foundation one may begin to cross the bridge from a conversation of apologetics to one of a more evangelical persuasion. Thankfully, the idea of shame is also entirely wrapped up and defeated upon the Cross, and that victory, like shame, is present for all humanity.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Benner, David G. and Hill, Peter C. ed., Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology &

Counseling. Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1985.

Feinberg, Paul D., “Cumulative Case Apologetics,” Five Views on Apologetics ed. Stanley N.

Gundry and Steven B. Cowan. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Gaffin Jr., Richard B., “Epistemological Reflections on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16,” in Revelation and

Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics ed. K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton.

New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007.

Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity New York: Harper Collins, 1952.

Powlison, David.  Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the lens

of Scripture. New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2003.


[1] C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 1952), 4.

[2] David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the lens of Scripture (New

Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2003), 185.

[3] Paul D. Feinberg, “Cumulative Case Apologetics,” Five Views on Apologetics ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Steven

B. Cowan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 164.

[4] Ibid, 164.

[5] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. “Epistemological Reflections on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16,” in Revelation and Reason: New

Essays in Reformed Apologetics ed. K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton (New Jersey: P&R Publishing,

2007), 36.

[6] David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill ed., Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling (Grand Rapids: Baker

Books, 1985), 1114.

[7] Feinberg, 164.


What to do with all those noobs…

Effective Assimilation of New Members

            As so many can testify, being a member of a local church is often as simple as coming forward during a corporate service and expressing the desire to be formally received into the local congregation. Unfortunately, the ease in which church membership has been regarded has developed an entire generation of individuals who do not place a high value on being a part of a greater whole that requires accountability, service, time, finances, etc. As a matter of fact, any move toward a more authoritative and active role by the church in an individual’s personal life is often met with great anger and spite – accusations of elitism, judgmentalism, materialism, and the list goes on. This is why effective assimilation of new members should consist of three major tenets, with varying substructures depending on the mission statement and values of each local embodiment of the universal, regenerate church. These tenets are: Reception, Induction, and Discipleship. Each tenet should not be divorced from the centrality of the gospel, which shall pervade throughout the assimilation process. Also important to note is the ongoing structure of these three tenets, as there can be no satisfaction of one’s duty to grow in the gospel within the context of the local church (Gal. 6:9-10) until the return of Christ and the glorification of the catholic church.

To begin, one should focus on the first tenet – Reception. While there is no hard and fast rule that applies as to methodology – liturgical provision during corporate gatherings, personal inquiry through the office of the pastor, etc. – the general principle behind each of these remains the same: The church must welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed the church, for the glory of God (Rm. 15:7; 1 Pt 2:17; Rm. 12:10; Jn. 15:22; Eph. 4:32). The initial interaction between the prospective member and the church emissary – deacon, lay leader, pastor, usher, etc. – while thoroughly important, needn’t be the proving ground with regard to vetting one’s theological leans and convictions. As scripture contends, “Let one another spur each other on toward love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Before one may take any steps to further inundate a prospective member with questions, propositions, covenant claims, etc. it seems clear that Scripture first calls the regenerate to display Christian love and charity (Jn 13:34-35; Jn 15:12; Eph 4:1; 1 Pt. 3:8). Finally, upon receiving the prospective member in love and all humility, one must endeavor to pray over/with them, and move forward unto the second tenet – Induction.

Induction is often where the church begins. Whether through a small, preplanned index card, terse verbal questioning, or take-home survey, the church often allows a secondary buffer between the prospective member and the emissary with regard to primary concerns such as: Are you a regenerate believer? Have you been baptized by immersion by the Baptist church or a church of like faith as a public profession of the work of the gospel in your life? Are you currently a member of a sister church and in good standing? Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but serves the purpose as a representation of the gist of each utilized mechanism currently seen in today’s ecclesial landscape.

With regard to these, and other, methods of information procurement, certainly there is no biblical warrant for or against their use, and should be left to the wisdom of the local church to decide what most meets the needs of their parish. However, what cannot be left to interpretation, and therefore functions as the foundation of every strategic/pragmatic/sensible approach must be the measure in which the local church both protects its current family, and responsibly promulgates said church family. As Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, in their work The Deliberate Church, extol, “Church membership, then, is a means by which we (the church body) demarcate the boundaries of the church.”[1] Building on this idea, if church membership defines the borders of the church, then induction functions as a gate-keeper, protecting the body from the invasion of foreign antibodies, of which there is no shortage of Scriptural warning (Mt. 7:15; Mt. 24:4-5; Mk 13:21-23; Rm 16:17-18; 1 Jn 4:1; 2 Cor. 11:13-15).

So the question must be raised of each chosen method of induction by the local church: Does this card/questionnaire/interview/new members class function well as a gate-keeper for the flock, or does it allow wolves to enter amongst the flock unchecked? Certainly only Christ can separate the wheat from the tares in full (Mt. 13:24-30), but that does not absolve the leadership of the local church of their duty to watch over those who have been entrusted to them (Heb. 13:17). To that end, one may find that certain methods, while not inherently evil or wrong, are simply poor gate-keepers and do not reflect adequately the love and dedication the leadership truly possesses for their people. Therefore, it would seem wise to institute personal interaction between each prospective member and an emissary of the local church. While this may take the form of a new membership class, a series of ecclesiological classes, meeting(s) with the Connections (or any other similarly titled) Pastor, it must not be neglected. As a loving father who demands to meet any potential suitor in person, so should the leadership of the local church respond when opening the house of the Lord to new, and potentially unregenerate, persons. As Dever states in his treatment of church life – Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, “The church is intended to be the community of those who have been born again.”[2]

Today’s contemporary climate often treats any exclusion as a form of elitism, and therefore bigotry. Certainly this is a slippery slope argument that is rife with inconsistencies, but nonetheless, it is a reality. Unfortunately, the church has not been immune to such accusations, and has often responded in typical knee-jerk fashion to the detriment of congregations everywhere. In short, the church has forfeited its integrity for public relations. For the purposes of this reflection of effective assimilation of new members, one may consider the direct implications as it pertains to lack of induction, allowing for most prospective members to become full covenanted members for the price of an index card and an extra verse of the benediction. It cannot be said enough, churches must protect against the encroachment of political pressures, cultural ideals of tolerance, and the infestation of the unregenerate – now able to weigh in on church doctrine, budget, values, etc.

In addendum to the function of gate-keeper, induction also provides the local church with evangelical opportunities to not turn away the unregenerate, but to speak the truth of the Gospel into their lives as they hunger after the taste of true fellowship – koinonia – of which they’ve born witness to as visitors to the local church. Thusly, induction is recognized not as a Christian form of elitism, where only the desired persons shall pass, but instead as a form of relational beginnings, seeking not to ostracize, but to beckon – not to exclude, but wholly include. In sum, induction – no matter the form adopted by each local church, when rightly applied through the lens of the Gospel declares to an unbelieving world that the ground around the Cross is indeed level (Gal. 3:26-28), and there is room for all who repent and believe (Rom. 10:9). There can be no greater testimony of the corporate church to the surrounding community than a body of diverse races, ages, and socioeconomics all sharing life together through the eternal bond of the blood of Christ (Rev. 5:9). What a glorious vision of the Day of the Lord, an eschatological proclamation displayed in a most glorious kaleidoscope of humanity!

Lastly, induction must give way to discipleship, which must never cease for the individual believer, the local church filled with individual believers, and the earth filled with God’s creation. As with each tenet of effective assimilation of new members, the logistical and pragmatic thrust of discipleship may play out differently for churches around the nation and the globe, but the foundation of discipleship in the Gospel must remain firm and unmolested. Once a new member has been received in love (Rom. 15:7), held to the standard of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16) in accordance with the unique salvific marker of the reception and true cognition of the Gospel (Gal. 2:20), let not the church divest itself of the responsibility of continued discipleship (Mt. 28:18-20) until death or the return of Christ.

Effective discipleship requires an investment by the church into its members, as well as a reciprocal investment of the members into the church. While these investments may look different depending on the context of each local church, there are Gospel centered markers one may seek out as a sign/guide/indicator of proper, orthodox discipleship. These markers consist of, but are not limited to: accountability, doctrinal instruction, and fruits of the spirit.

Accountability, so often neglected because of a myriad of self-centered defamations, must be taken seriously, but with charity, as a command to all believers according to the inerrant words of the Scriptures (1 Thess. 5:11; Col. 3:16; Eph. 4:25; Prov. 12:15). Consider also the warning found in Ezekiel 3:18-19, “When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.” Accountability does not function as a singular edged weapon, but as a double edged sword, keeping in view the wisdom of Proverbs 27:17 – iron sharpens iron. Hence, accountability forms both the mentor and the mentee, as they spur one another on according to Hebrews 10:24 as mentioned above.

Without proper theology, one’s outgrowth of the Gospel can become gnarled and twisted, much like a tree attempting to grow around an ill-placed stone. Therefore, a great importance must be placed on proper instruction of doctrine including the whole of the Christian life – namely – the function of the Gospel for sanctification of the regenerate (Heb. 13:7; Heb. 4:12; Rom. 10:17; 2 Tim. 3:16; Col. 3:16; Jn. 14:26; Mt. 28:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Cor. 1:10; Jn. 17:17; Jn. 16:13; Mt. 4:4; Acts 5:42). Moreover, instruction of right doctrine also functions much like a plum line functions for a team of builders. As doctrine is engaged and reflected upon by the church, the centrality of the gospel remains clear to the whole and often brings back into line those who may have begun building their theology, however inadvertently, against the plum line of Scripture.

Continuing with the identification of right discipleship within the church, as Matthew 7:17-18 depicts, the church may determine the health of an individual according to the fruit that they bear. When proper discipleship is at hand, one can be confident that they will find among their brothers and sisters in Christ – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). While the gifts of the Spirit may vary according to 1 Corinthians 12, there is but one Spirit that binds the many members of the body, and the fruits of that Spirit are as displayed above in wondrous harmony when the church endeavors to take seriously the formation of its people.

There will always be diversity with regard to the implementation of the three tenets of effective new member assimilation: Reception, Induction, and Discipleship. However, as long as the Gospel is held as the central foundation, permeates each choice, and saturates the conversations of right ecclesiastical undertakings, the local church is free to enjoy the expansive nature of the Gospel that calls us to unity, not uniformity.

 

Works Cited

Alexander, Paul and Dever, Mark. The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the            

 

Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005.

 

Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004.


[1]               Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Wheaton:

 

Crossway Books, 2005), 60.

 

[2] Dever, Mark, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 159.


Report on a good resource…

Within the pages of Charismatic Chaos, MacArthur treats the high-voltage issues surrounding the charismatic movement includijng: speaking in tongues, the health and wealth gospel, continued signs and wonders, the seductive nature of televangelism, and more. Coming from a camp that claims the sufficiency of scripture, MacArthur’s treatment of the charismatic movement is unapologetic in tone, but gracious in attitude. MacArthur writes with the purpose of taking to task various tenets of the charismatic movement and lining them up with scripture, consistently touting that scripture is our plum-line, and not personal experience. Many who elect to read this book will find their personal experiences challenged on the grounds of the authority of Scripture, refuted if they do not measure up, even revealed as blasphemous when exposed to the marvelous light of the Word of God. Certainly, MacArthur writes with the orthodox evangelical reader in mind, however this treatment of the wild-fire that is the charismatic movement proves a beneficial read for every professing Christian – from the cessationist to the charismatic. MacArthur’s entire work herein revolves around the singular notion that personal experience does not trump the sufficiency of scripture. More to the point, and in his own words, MacArthur claims, “Our faith should provide a basis for our experiences. A true spiritual experience will be the result of the quickening of truth in the Christian’s mind – it does not occur in a mystical vacuum” (MacArthur 1992, 26). Grounding his argument for the invalidity of much of the touted experiences one hears from the charismatic camp, MacArthur rightly establishes that he is not setting out to proclaim his own personal opinion based upon his own personal experiences with the charismatic movement. Instead, MacArthur rightly brings the discussion where it should have begun in the first place – The Word of God. In so doing, MacArthur can now approach with objectivity the various outgrowths of the charismatic movement and treat them with an honest respect in order to ascertain if there resides within any amount of truth or cogency with the scriptures.

It’s clear that MacArthur’s point of view is not one of a practicing or even recovering charismatic, but more of an outsider, looking in through the glass, determining from a distance. Because of this particular viewpoint, his argument is deductive and rigid, which may cause some more open-minded readers to believe he has made a straw-man of the charismatic movement, but this would be to misunderstand MacArthur’s intent. MacArthur’s argument here is not against any one person or experience, but the movement as a whole and how it jives with Scripture. There can be no better approach, in light of this goal, than one that is deductive, detached, and objective – weighing each emotion, each experience, each doctrine with a steadied hand, and a firm grasp on the Word of God. MacArthur wastes no time on his approach and engagement with such personal, emotionally charged, experiences. Right out of the gate he starts in with his core problem with the charismatic movement – Is Experience a Valid Test of Truth? After a quick history lesson, MacArthur’s inaugural chapter openly and clearly answers this question with a resounding NO! MacArthur will begin building his argument from this cornerstone, taking to task other principles found in the charismatic movement such as God’s continued revelation to man. MacArthur parries this thrust penning, “Scripture is a closed system of truth, complete, sufficient, and not to be added to (Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19). It contains all the spiritual truth God intended to reveal” (MacArthur 1992, 59).

Probing yet deeper into the movement, MacArthur calls to the mat what he describes as the “most disturbing aspect of the charismatic movement’s thirst for new revelation” (MacArthur 1992, 78). Describing the likes of the Kansas City Prophets, Montanus, Roman Catholicism, and more, MacArthur contends that the worst deviations often start with the smallest of nudges away from orthodoxy. There is then a desperate longing for something greater than what’s been revealed as the sufficiency of God’s Word has now come into question. Still, for MacArthur, it does not stop here. Hot on the heels of his professed contempt regarding the ongoing nature of revelation, MacArthur reveals how others within the charismatic camp forego the structural and literary integrity of the Scriptures in order to obtain for themselves a source of instant validation for any action or point of view that may arise among them. Approaching this segment with more of a teaching tone, MacArthur does well to include a pedagogical sense to his writing rather than a continued hail-storm on the charismatic parade. Following this up with similar treatments of miracles, spiritual gifts, healing, and the propriety of tongues, MacArthur leaves no stone unturned, ending with what is perhaps the most detrimental doctrine pouring from the mouth of the charismatic camp – Health & Wealth.

Worth taking special note of, MacArthur’s final chapter dealing with the question – Does God Promise Health and Wealth? – proves to be unapologetic in its hard and vigorous handling of such a twisted, gnarled version of what Christianity should be. MacArthur declares, “Word Faith theology has turned Christianity into a system no different from the lowest human religions – a form of voodoo where God can be coerced, cajoled, manipulated, controlled, and exploited for the Christian’s own ends” (MacArthur 1992, 324). With this final plunge into the guts of the charismatic movement, MacArthur ends his sojourn into the land of the mystics and arrives with confidence back onto the solid ground of Scripture. A thorough and in-depth campaign, Charismatic Chaos certainly has its detractors. Without indulging too much the cacophony of critics waiting to devour MacArthur’s work, some varying opinions are warranted. Jack Deere, in his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, claims that one cannot truthfully claim that they govern their lives solely by the Word of God. Admitting that he once believed he also lived through the lens of Scripture alone (Deere 1993, 46), Deere now claims that such a mindset is arrogant and misguided. Obviously this stands in stark contrast with MacArthur’s claim that one should govern their actions through the careful filter of Scripture, always trusting in the Word of God over and against personal experience. Deere quickly cites Jer. 17:9 to shore up his argument, but unknowingly gives credence to the necessity for a moral compass that remains outside of one’s experience, given by one who reigns in and above humanity’s experiences. Deere moves hastily into an analogous story from his personal experience as a gate-keeper of the doctorate program at his seminary. This is not a shocking move. Deere goes on to explain how he surreptitiously destroyed three young theologians, exposing their belief systems to be based on much more than mere study of the scriptures. This, he concludes, serves as proof that one does not form his theology based upon scripture alone. However, the glaring fault of this argument against sola scriptura, what MacArthur claims to be our plum-line, remains: Though many may not hold Scripture in as high a regard as they should, this does not mean that it should not be held in such a high regard. Essentially, all Deere has proven is that the problem MacArthur addresses is a real, rampant problem amongst regenerate believers from every walk of life.

Regarding MacArthur’s rigidity concerning miracles, or acts of providence, I confess a small amount of skepticism. While I recognize the need for nuance, I believe that the work of God’s providence need not be so rigorously separated from the technical application of the word miracle. However, on the whole, I certainly agree with MacArthur’s overarching claim and much of the lattice work he uses to get there. Detractors such as Deere and others do not convey a convincing argument dissuading me from the discoverable truth found in Scripture with their personal experiences and super-duper double pinky-swear promises. MacArthur’s attempt was to remove the human element and come to a solution based upon the objectivity of Scripture. Deere’s attempt was to accept the human element and claim that Scripture can never be approached objectively. No matter where one may fall, all must agree to use the simple to understand the complex. Therefore, when II Timothy states in no uncertain terms that all scripture is God-breathed and sufficient, one must take seriously any objections raised concerning the abundant nature of God’s word.

MacArthur’s work challenges the reader to step back from the emotionally charged, self-validating, immensely hyped charismatic movement and take a measured, objective look at one’s surroundings, need for acceptance, promises of God’s Word, and genuine joy therein. When one finally admits that the first person deceived is oneself, they will be able to judge with the clarity only the scriptures can give the actions and happenings in their lives, thereby rightly worshipping in spirit and in truth; not in emotion and mysticism. I am encouraged and engaged with a vocabulary and a compassion for so many who, in their desperation, have been led astray by various wolves in sheep’s clothing, to chase after them, not to bring them to ruin, but instead to the Cross, where all things are made new. Rich in content, accessible in rhetoric, respectful in tone, unapologetic with its claims, Charismatic Chaos stands as a valuable resource for any and all who are struggling to define the line between faith and fanaticism. In the post-modern forum, where universal truths have come to die, it is refreshing to hear a voice calling out amidst the bedlam a rallying cry back to the grounds of Scripture. As MacArthur contends, “All true believers can agree that a proper understanding of Scripture is one thing worth guarding aggressively…let us each examine the Scriptures carefully and diligently ‘to see whether these things [are] so’ (Acts 17:11)” (MacArthur 1992, 355).


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