Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Brian is the author of #TheWalk, a contributor to the Faith, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional, a pastor, and teacher.  Brian speaks regularly for various groups and events.  FeelMyFaith.com began as a writing project in 2007 and has expanded into the media outlet of Brian's ministry.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

Determining whether or not God loves us based on the unpredictable circumstances of the day is like playing the foolish childhood game of "He loves me, He loves me not." In this game love is not based on a person's character, but on how many petals are on the flower. It is time we stop playing this game with God and settle on the truth that His love is steadfast for us.
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Tools for Teaching (Part 1)

Last week I mentioned that when it comes to teaching we cannot continue as we are.  Teachers are the tongues of the church.  Even though they comprise a small part of the congregation, relative to the number of students, what they say and teach carries a great deal of weight within the congregation.  So how do we improve our teaching?  The answer is time, tools, and training.
The Bible is a living Word.  It speaks, but this does not mean that it is easy to understand.  Many people mistakingly believe that because the Bible is spiritual in nature that with a little prayer and righteousness one will gain mysterious insight into the Word of which the natural man is not privy.  This is the stuff from which cults are born!
While it is true that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” he also tells Pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  The phrase “rightly handling the word of truth” is taken from the idea of a butcher carefully cutting the meat.  If he is not skilled in his craft filet mignon becomes ground beef.  The Word of God is full of filet mignon but unfortunately many of our pulpits and lecterns in the classroom are full of ground beef.
So when Paul is saying that truth is spiritually discerned, we know that he is not saying that academic work has no place in teaching and preaching.  Let us not forget, Paul was himself a great scholar (Acts 22:2-3, Gal. 1:14, Phil. 3:5-6).  The work of the Spirit in helping us discern spiritual truth speaks more to attitude and receptivity rather than to understanding.  An atheistic Bible scholar (and there are such things) can use tools to help understand the Bible, but he will disregard it as authoritative truth for his life.  The problem in modern Christendom is that many of our teachers have a spiritual attitude and receptivity to the Bible as authoritative truth, but they lack the tools, or perhaps even disregard them altogether, that would help them to properly understand it.  
A great teacher or preacher approaches his or her study of the text, every element of it and the use of the tools as Spirit work.  When I was a much younger, naive, idealistic, sophomoric, college student I remember raising the issue of study as simply trying to listen to what the Spirit says to you.  I insinuated that in the end, we didn’t need all the books and tools that seem to go along with Bible study.  “All we need is the Spirit.”  In humility and wisdom my professor kindly retorted, “But why should we be so prideful to think that what the Spirit has said to others is of no value?”  Ouch!
So what are the tools (the things that the Spirit has said to others) that will help the teachers in the church move from good, to great?
More to come . . .
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How the Gospel Changes Our Heart - Tim Keller

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Time to Teach

Last week I mentioned that when it comes to teaching we cannot continue as we are.  Teachers are the tongues of the church.  Even though they comprise a small part of the congregation, relative to the number of students, what they say and teach carries a great deal of weight within the congregation.  So how do we improve our teaching?  The answer is time, tools, and training.
It takes time to be a great teacher.  It goes without saying that the longer you teach, the more you should improve in your teaching.  It is not unusual for beginning teachers to struggle, so give it time.  Yet this is not the investment of time to which I refer.  
Study Time
Again, it goes without saying that teachers should spend time in study.  Great teachers do not cram.  They are disciplined and calculated.  Great teachers are great planners.  They are able to say “no” to things that threaten time in study.  Life is full of interruptions.  Yet even then a great teacher is able to manage his time in such a way that time lost to interruption is somehow regained later on.  I will talk more about study in a later post.
As a pastor on a constant schedule of producing material I have found that the greatest time I spend preparing through the week is not in study, but in what I call “incubation.”  Incubation is the time a teacher spends allowing what he or she has studied to seethe in the soul and intersect with life.  It is not time in a book, it is time in the car.  It is time over coffee.  It is time in conversation.  It is time grilling with the family.  If a teacher will commit himself to study early, he will be amazed at how many great thoughts about the upcoming lecture or lesson will be birthed at odd and unexpected moments.  Be sure then to have a notepad handy.  Or in the digital age, to have your smartphone handy.  My iPhone is full of notes born during incubation, at odd moments in the day.  
The late Stephen Olford once taught preaching students the concept of “incarnational preaching.”  His idea was that sermons must be conceived in the soul of the preacher much like Jesus was conceived in Mary.  Literally, the Word must have time to incubate, to grow to full maturity before it can be born in health.    
In his biography of James A. Bryan (1863-1941), pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL for 52 years, Hunter Blakely shares that “Brother Bryan” as he was affectionately known, had very few books in his personal library.  Though a Princeton graduate, Brother Bryan’s habit was not to spend a great deal of time in books, but rather with people.  He would give himself to study of the passage he was to preach early on Monday morning.  He would then spend the rest of the week talking about it in conversation in a street car or as a devotional piece for firemen or at the dedication of the opening of the new factory.  In this way the passage had ample time to incubate in the pastor’s soul and to intersect with daily life before it was birthed in full health before the congregation on Sunday.  
For a Sunday Sermon I try to finish my exegesis of the passage (the book work) by Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning at the latest.  I then try to talk through the passage (usually with my wife) or to use something from the passage in conversation a few times through the week.  It is in these conversations that I usually have my “aha” moments when it all comes together.
Poor teachers begin their preparation at a time that should be dedicated to finalization.  It is in the process of finalization that we give ourselves to prayerfully asking, “How will anything I have studied this week make a ‘hill of beans’ difference in the lives of any of my hearers?”  Or if you are less Southern fried than I, a more proper question may be, “What difference does it make?”  It is here that the teacher will find that his or her most difficult task is to trim down and cut away great notes and nuggets that may be wonderful truths, but are not necessary for the moment.  It is hard to say to these great notes, quotes, and stories, “Not this week.”  
Great teachers teach from an overflow.  They always have way too much.  We do not put lessons together to merely “fill time.”  We aim to teach well because someone is graciously giving us “their time.”    
During finalization you are trimming down, bringing cohesiveness to your lesson, and developing a strategy to drive home the point.  Great sermons and lessons bring the hearer to a verdict.  They not only share information, but they make an argument.  If ample time is given to study early in the week, incubation throughout the week, the process of finalization will be an experience of joy without pressure.  Here we are not trying to produce a lesson, we are merely trying to refine our argument.  
Concluding thoughts:
Start early in the week.  Do the academic work it requires to be a great teacher, but also be sure to give the passage time to incubate in your soul.  Great lessons are not conceived on desks, but in the course of daily life, in conversation, during interruption, in the most unexpected moments.  The culminating act of preparation should not be cramming, but finalization.  Great teachers do not aim to “share it all” but to “share the best.”  Great communicators make an argument and drive the hearer to a verdict.
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Obama, Gay Marriage, The Manhattan Declaration Response


I received this email this morning from The Manhattan Declaration concerning President Obama's support of gay marriage.  There are some good links to resources one should consider.
Today, for the first time, President Obama publicly affirmed his support for same-sex marriage, a calculated political maneuver intended to energize his base in the months before the November presidential election.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304070304577394332545729926.html?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories
At a time when most Americans’ primary concern is their ability to work to provide for their family,  as crippling debt, record deficits, and fragile global markets loom over the economy, the President seems intent on having a national conversation about life, love, and religious liberty.
So be it.
The Manhattan Declaration is a coalition of the historic Christian faiths united in support of the sanctity of every human life, marriage as the conjugal union of a man to a woman as the bedrock of society, and religious liberty as the cornerstone of freedom. We promote a culture of life, love, and liberty in many ways. One is to equip you, our advocates, with the best resources on these issues.
Below is a list of ten articles and videos on the subject of marriage. Take an hour to skim them. Don’t try to memorize the data or recite the arguments verbatim; rather, reflect on them. Allow your mind to absorb the broad principles. As the national conversation on this topic reaches a fever pitch in the next few days, you will be primed as a witness to the truth.
One final thought: this is not a war to be won in the blogosphere or on Facebook. We are teachers, co-workers, family members, and friends in relationship with those who have yet to see. Be gracious, be patient, and be kind.
 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. (Matthew 5:11)
What is Marriage?
by Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson
Why I'm Optimistic About Natural Marriage
by Andrew Walker
Why Is Marriage Important? (video)
by John Piper
Who Needs Marriage?
by Chuck Colson
Marriage in Society: The Generation Clash (pps. 47-57)
by Matthew Lee Anderson
What Would Bonhoeffer Do?
by Eric Metaxas
Dennis Prager Debates Perez Hilton on Same-Sex Marriage (Warning: YouTube contains objectionable content)
Religion, Reason, and Same-Sex Marriage
by Matthew J. Franck
A Marriage in Full
by Gary A. Anderson
On Marriage and the Moral Limits of Human Sexuality
by Metropolitan Jonah
There is a lot of great stuff I have failed to include in my list. Share your favorite articles, blogs, and videos with us on our Facebook page.
Eric Teetsel
Executive Director, Manhattan Declaration
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The Tongues of the Church

A few weeks ago I began a discussion of the importance of youth education in the church, seeking particularly to drive home the point that we should expect more for them and from them.  If our students are to leave the church as modern day Josiahs rather than Jezebels we must give serious consideration to the matter of education in the Christian church and home.  (See previous posts)
If we are to take corrective measure we must evaluate several aspects of education:  teaching, curriculum, the relationship between the church/school and home, and finally the disposition/dedication of the learner.  Let’s consider these matters in order; first of all, the teacher.
James says in James 3:1, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  This verse in itself does serious damage to the modern day philosophy of the typical Baptist church, that “almost everyone” should serve as teachers.  The foundational element of Christian ed. in most churches, particularly Baptist ones, is the small group.  In the traditional setting these are typically referred to as Sunday School classes.  Success is measured in numerical growth.  Numerical growth comes by multiplication.  Classes are challenged to start new classes.  The commitment of the structure is to gain more and more students by offering more and more classes.  The end result is a fully graded Sunday School slate for children and a plethora of targeted classes for adults that range from everything as mundane as the “Your Married and 30 So Go Here Class” to the “We Ride Harleys on the Weekend Road Warrior Class.”  In the melee of multiplication there is great excitement but a vitally important element is most often ignored that results in a growing-church that is 100 miles wide and 1 inch deep.  What have we neglected?  We have succeeded in multiplying students, but we have failed to do the serious work of grooming truly gifted, Biblically sound, Christ-centered, expositors of the Word of God - real teachers.
It seems that the early New Testament church suffered from the same struggle.  There was an ever growing need for learning and discipleship and a corresponding famine of real teachers.  To solve the issue, they like we, must have found the first willing soul and given them a quarterly, or in the case of James a papyrus scroll of copied text.  Yet we must remember, a quarterly in a willing hand does not a teacher make!  So James was honest about the situation and tells the church plainly that not everyone who currently fills a teaching position is qualified to teach.  “Not many” or “Not as many of you should become teachers.”  Though James is direct, his counsel is given in love.  Though he is judging them, he is not abandoning them, “my brothers.”  Though he is harsh, he is concerned, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  I do not think James is necessarily saying that they should quit and never teach again.  I think what James is saying is that in the very least they should not continue teaching as they are without giving more serious consideration to what they are doing.  Why?
Teachers are the tongues of the church.
Beginning in verse 2 James launches into an exposition on the danger of the tongue.  The working metaphor is that little things can make a big difference.  A tongue is one of the smallest body parts, but is powerful through speech.  A rudder is a small part of the ship, but it determines its course.  A bit is only a small piece of metal, but it has the power to steer a horse.  A spark is only a tiny momentary flash of heat, but it can quickly turn a field into flame.
Teachers, comparative to the numbers of students may be few, but they hold a great deal of sway over the actual outcome of discipleship in the church.  Teachers are the tongues, rudders, bits, and sparks of the church.  We need then to be diligent not only to start classes, but to train teachers.  Faithful to the metaphor in James 3, perhaps we should do something relatively small that will pay big dividends in the direction of the church.  I am like James.  I am not calling on teachers to necessarily quit, but I am calling on our teachers to give serious consideration to what they are doing.  We cannot continue as we are.  A small amount of regular time devoted to training, oversight, and faithful exposition of the text could make a big difference in what we are hearing from the tongues of the church.  In the end we will begin to see a big difference in our students.  Great teachers inspire great students.  Let’s be more diligent in the task of grooming faithful teachers.
More to come (How to Teach)
For a good exposition of James 3 see David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James
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Weekend Update, May 5 Edition

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Weekend Preview

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Dulling Down Christian Education

In 2008 I attended the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum hosted by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  One of the keynote speakers was Bart Ehrman, bestselling author of Misquoting Jesus and several other volumes that basically seek to undermine the trustworthiness of the Biblical text.  Though Ehrman is a noted atheist who has renounced his faith in God, Christianity, and the Bible, he is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and a noted New Testament lecturer.  How ironic.
In his opening comments Ehrman stated,
“I teach at the University of North Carolina and I’m teaching a  large undergraduate class this semester on the New Testament.  And most of my students are from the South, most of them are raised in good Christian families, and I have found over the years they have far greater commitment to the Bible than knowledge about it.”
Ehrman then went on to share that during the previous semester he started off the first day of class, with 300 students, by asking, “How many would agree with the proposition the Bible is the inspired word of God?”  A large amount of hands were raised.  “How many have read the DaVinci Code by Dan Brown?”  Again, a large response.  “How many have read the whole Bible?”  Only a scattered amount of hands were raised.  Ehrman then stated, “I’m not telling you I think God wrote the Bible; you’re telling me you think God wrote the Bible.  I can see why you would want to read a book by Dan Brown, but if God wrote a book wouldn’t you want to see what He had to say?”  Ehrman chuckles.
Christian education in the church and home has indeed become laughable.  However, the result is no laughing matter.  After hours and hours of commitment to church attendance, Sunday School classes, discipleship courses, and camps, most of our students who go on to study in universities enter a severe crisis of faith within five to ten minutes of entering classrooms under the tutelage of a scholar like Bart Ehrman.  By the end of the first lecture most of what our students have been taught in Sunday School has been dismantled.  By the end of the first semester our precious church kids are practical atheists.  They no longer read the Bible, attend church, or hold fast to Christian values.  In their minds, men like Ehrman give them good reasons not to.
We know this is a problem.  We have known this for decades.  Yet what changes have we made in the educational process of raising children in church to answer this crisis?  The changes have been non existent to barely noticeable.  We are sending our sheep out to the slaughter having been versed in Bible stories, but with no real theological training, no real knowledge of the Biblical text, and no lasting commitment to Christ.  We are twenty years away from being nearly gone because we are educating ourselves in such a way that will eventually lead to our extinction.
The survival of the Jew as a people is nothing short of a historically verifiable cultural miracle.  Apparently the Mayans have sent word to us that the world will end in December of this year.  Do you know any Mayans?  They didn’t survive.  The Mayans have gone the way of countless civilizations that either disappeared off the face of the earth or were absorbed into more dominant empires.  Civilizations do not die by bullets and bombs.  Civilizations die by ideas.  The Jews have suffered exile, captivity, persecution, and numerous holocausts through the centuries yet they continue to exist.  The Jews have been the marked target of culture and race supremacy in almost every crisis they have suffered, yet each of the historical regimes and empires that have attempted to wipe the Jew off the face of the earth are gone and Israel is now a sovereign state.  How did they do it?  Education.
The intelligentsia that has hijacked American universities and pop-culture have leveled a deliberate assault against the integrity of the Bible and the validity of the Christian faith.  Currently we are not under the threat of bullets and persecution.  Yet if we do not get serious about educating our students in the church and home, we will be annihilated by ideas. 
The example of ancient Jewish education in the home and at the house of God is at the root of the call of the Biblical text for parents and churches to pass on the precepts of our faith to our children.  Deuteronomy 6:7 commands the people to teach the word of God diligently to their children.  The term “teach diligently” literally means to sharpen.  It is the same word used to describe the sharpening of an arrow or a tool for effective, penetrating use.  It implies that the lessons of God’s Word will not only be shared, but that they should be shared repeatedly.  Each time they are shared the more potent the application of the lesson becomes.  By the time Jewish children left the home they were to be effective carriers of the Word of God fully equipped to teach the generation that was to follow them.  In this way, no matter the context, whether in exile or under persecution, Israel would not only survive but her people would remain sharp.  
Dr. Ron Moseley writes an insightful article about the process of ancient Jewish education.  Moseley states, “The goals of Jewish education may be broadly summed up: (1) to transmit knowledge and skills from generation to generation; (2) to increase knowledge and skills; and (3) to concretize cultural values into accepted behavior.”  The end result was an education in the Scriptures that led to Scriptural living.  The seriousness of the course is seen in the expectation for education at various stages of a child’s life.  At age 5 one was considered ready to study the Scriptures.  At age 5, children were taught first from the Book of Leviticus so that they may understand how to remain ritually pure in their approach to God.  After Leviticus children were led to the Psalms so that they could begin to understand the nature of God.  At age 10 children were educated in the Law and expected to obey it.  Moseley goes on to lay out the ancient Jewish system and uses it as the historical context for understanding the New Testament instructions concerning Christian education.  
“At the age of fifteen one was ready to study of the sages, at the age of eighteen, for marriage, and at the age of twenty, for pursuing a vocation. Yeshua (Jesus) is called both the son of Joseph the carpenter and Yeshua the carpenter (Book of Mark).  Obviously, Joseph had followed this pattern and taught his son his vocation. At the age of thirty one entered the full vigor of his ministry. It was at this point in Yeshua’s life that we see Him entering the full ministry. At age forty one reached a place where he had understanding, and at age fifty the individual was worthy to counsel others. It is in this setting that the Biblical injunction for the older (age fifty) men to counsel the younger men and the older women to counsel the younger.”    
When describing the current state of Christian education in the home and the church the  “sharp” is not the word that immediately comes to mind.  If anything we could say, it is that we have become dull.  How can we possibly call adequate the process currently taking place in the home and the church if our students are arriving to universities saying they believe the Bible is the Word of God, but never having been challenged to actually read it all the way through?  Yet reading the Bible all the way through would be a nice improvement, but it is hardly a worthy goal.  The goal should be for our students to have such a thorough knowledge of the Word of God that it literally becomes a “working knowledge”, one that is applied to life, vocation, and culture.  This was the goal of ancient Jewish education.  One has not learned what one cannot apply.  
Ehrman is right in what he insinuated in his opening comments.  If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should not only be committed to it, but we should be committed to knowing all we can about it.  The current approach to Christian education is dull.  It is not working.  Our students are being dismantled in secular culture instead of penetrating it.  Like the Jews, we should seek to integrate a thorough Biblical education into every aspect of life and vocational training.  We should want more than just kids who attended Sunday School and church education programs, we should want our children to be sharpened by the experience.  We need a better way.
More to come . . .  

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Josiah and the Reform of Student Ministry

The statistics vary depending on the study sample, but some estimate that as many as 82% of teens who attend Southern Baptist Churches will leave the church within one year after graduating high school.  There may be many causes of our failure, but I suspect part of the problem is that student ministry has become like most facets of church life. We major on experience rather than expectation.  
What if we approached student ministry with a new set of standards?  What if student ministry moved away from presentation and into exploration?  What if we made less of the party and more of the search?  What if we did not just desire, but actually expected 20 year olds to enter the third decade of their life with maturity, responsibility, and the ability to make a difference?  What if we spent less time and effort on entertaining students and invested more in strategically equipping them?
The Bible says of King Josiah,
For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy (age 16), he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year (age 20) he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved  and the metal images.  (2 Chron. 34:3)
The story of the years of Josiah’s life between 16 and 20 read very differently than what we see happening to most students in American churches.  According to statistics, our students move into their twenties and spiritually fail.  They leave the church not to purge pop culture of the high places, but rather our students are leaving the church for the high places.  The interesting context of this passage is that had Josiah built more high places rather than purge them, it would have been par for the course.  Had he done so, Josiah would have simply been following the path of most of the kings that preceded him.  It is time for us, like Josiah, to change course.  Yet, the statistical trends of American student ministry have become so common, that when a person leaves the church at 20 we no longer mourn it - we expected it.  
In his later teenage years, before he was considered to be a man, Josiah broke the mold and invested four years of his life in a search.  This time in his life equipped Josiah to be a very different king.  Josiah gives us serious cause to think critically about the current state of American youth ministry.
I am not raising a new issue here.  Currently there is great debate about the reformation of student ministry in the American church.  It looks as if we are nearing the end of the youth camp, youth concert, youth movement era that started with Youth for Christ and will probably draw to a close when the Newsboys are invited to be on the next Gaither Homecoming tape.  What is happening now is what happens with every movement and philosophy in the evangelical church.  Someone dares to break the mold and contextualizes the gospel to answer the challenges of the culture.  For some time it actually works with explosive growth.  For the next 30 years everyone else does their own version of the same thing.  The movement then becomes the mold and for those who are born of the mold and not the movement, they are deceived into thinking that “this” is the only way the gospel works.  Fifty years later someone comes along once again daring to break the mold.  Great debate ensues and . . . off we go again into new forms of contextualization.
I am not a movement maker, but I do know that the great debate that eventually breaks the mold, in its initial stages, usually centers on methods.  This is a waste of time and a grave mistake.  Currently, my observation of the great debate surrounding student ministry is that we are indeed wasting time.  We know there is a problem, but we are not talking about the right issue.  My opinion is that our problem in student ministry is that while it may be true that some of the methods are somewhat dated, our greatest problem is with the content, not the method.  Student/youth ministry isn’t bad.  There is nothing inherently wrong with camps, concerts, and the myriad expressions of youth church life.  Yet student/youth ministry without theological weight, Biblical content, purposeful training, and an expectation for Christ-like maturity is heresy, not ministry.
If we are to really break the mold of student ministry and produce twenty-somethings who will not leave the church for the high places, but will instead purge pop culture of the high places, we need to take notes from Josiah.  We need something that calls for us to truly seek the God of David.  What does this mean?
The Bible does not reveal to us the method nor the curriculum for Josiah’s seeking, but we do know that the object we seek determines the nature of the search.  Josiah sought for the God of David; that much is clear.  What if we reoriented student ministry to bring teens to the same destination that Josiah’s search took him?  Josiah’s search for the God of David brought the young king to a place where he:
  1. Took on the responsibilities of leadership earlier rather than later.  Josiah became King when he was 8 years old.  I am not advocating that 2nd graders take the throne, but I do believe we are producing people of low responsibility because we are meeting them with low expectations.  What if we desired more from teens in church than mere attendance?  What if we expected them to contribute?  The principle here is that by the time Josiah was 20, he was not only King, but a highly effective one.  When our 18-20 somethings leave student ministry, how effective are they expected to be?  While our 16 year olds are in student ministry, how much do we expect them to contribute to the greater whole of the Body of Christ?  If we are honest here, the answer, we expect a 16 year old to contribute little to nothing to the rest of us.  I have fallen into this trap and I am ashamed.  It is time to reform student ministry around the idea of equipping teens to make a contribution to the Body of Christ.  It is unnatural and unbiblical for us to do anything else (1 Cor. 12:7).  If we desire for our teens to become young adults, like Josiah, who contribute to the Kingdom, we must invest something in their lives in their late teens that will equip them to be highly effective.  We must also place an expectation on them that indeed they will contribute.
  2. Clearly forsook the immoral trappings of pagan pop-culture.  For too long student ministry, and greater “churchianity” for that matter, has been overly concerned with saying “Don’t” and not very proficient in explaining “Why not.”  Josiah’s search for God showed him that morality was not merely a negative issue of why we should not, but a positive issue of why following God is a better way.  In the end Josiah was so convinced that living for the one true God was a much better way that he saw it as a needed reform that would make a positive impact on his kingdom.  Telling teens the world is “bad” isn’t enough.  We need to equip them.  Josiah did not leave “student ministry” afraid of pop-culture; Josiah left his teens years able to discern, confront, and change pop-culture.  We do not need students who are simply morally constrained, but we need students who are morally convinced.
  3. Restored the Temple of God as the proper place of worship.  The word “worship” over the last 50 years has eroded into describing an event that is little more than a performance based presentation of songs about God.  This same approach has filtered into youth culture. Though we are desperately seeking to escape the trappings of performance based “worship” experiences, we are not willing, nor equipped to forsake what’s wrong and rebuild what’s right.  The restoration of the Temple was not an exercise in architecture, but one of theology.  Rebuilding the Temple forced Josiah to study and to know God.  Building a place to worship God forced Josiah to explore not what pleased man, but what pleased His God.  Worship is not worship if it is not for God, about God, on God’s terms, and according to God’s Word.  Worship is Spirit and truth.  A Temple rebuilt without the Word would simply be a man-made religious castle.  Most of our songs and presentations we mistake for worship are nothing more than the empty castles of man-made religion.  We need students who are theologically astute, who do not merely hear rhythms, but pay attention to words.  We need students who are not only equipped to play good music, but who are equipped to employ their hearts deeply into thinking rightly about what pleases God.
  4. Took seriously the Word of God.  Perhaps Josiah’s greatest discovery is when Hilkiah finds the “Law of the Lord given through Moses (2 Chron. 34:14).”  For a young man who was on a search for the God of David, finding God’s book was the same as hearing God’s voice.  Our students need to hear the voice of God again.  The impact of the Word of God in his life at this moment was unmistakable.  He tore his clothes and then sought to further reform the Kingdom according to God’s Word, eventually re-instituting the liturgical calendar including the Passover (2 Chron. 35).  If we want our students to take God’s Word seriously as young men and young women, we must expect them to take God’s Word seriously as young students.

    My experience with student ministry has been that we are more concerned with convincing our teens that the Bible is cool than we are with helping them to become good students of it.  Our teenage years, especially the later ones, are some of the most inquisitive seasons of our life.  It is here that we really begin to question what is real.  Where we have failed in youth ministry is that we are following the lead of public education and we are “dumbing it down.”  If we are no longer calling it youth ministry but rather “student ministry” why don’t we actually help our youth become the students we claim that they are?  Why don’t we spend more time helping students find the answers they seek in the Bible rather than merely telling them great stories?  Why aren’t students challenged to memorize Scripture, explore historical backgrounds, or dig deep into the text?  I will tell you why.  We don’t think they can.  Yet, when Josiah finally encountered the Word the reformation of his life was complete.  Until our students are sufficiently introduced to the Word the reformation of their souls has yet to even begin.
The end result of student ministry in America will not change until it moves from experience to expectation.  We are in desperate need of reform.  It is time to move the debate from methodology to one of content.  No matter how we change the approach, we need our students to do more than simply get excited about God, they need to encounter Him.  Josiah did what all teens do.  He searched.  But unlike what most teens are finding in the American church, Josiah’s search led him to real truth and radical life change.  If anything Josiah proves to us is that teens can do what we expect they can’t, this is why we now have a method of youth ministry desperately void of meaningful content.  Yet students can be challenged.  They can be theological.  They can be serious students.  They can take on responsibility.  They can search hard for the God of David and find Him.  They can enter their 20’s well equipped to confront pop-culture and make a positive impact on the kingdom.
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Rise of the Nations (The Dirt Series Video)

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From Separatists to the SBC (Week 4 - Church Who, What, How?)

To compile a brief survey of Baptist life from the 17th century Separatists to the founding of the SBC is no small task.  As with any historical sketch there are various caveats of influence that hold great importance, but must remain unmentioned.  Though this is regrettable, for the sake of brevity, it is necessary.  From the 17 century Separatists to the founding of the SBC in 1845 covers around 200 years of church history and involves numerous bylines that take place in England and early Colonial America.  However, I have chosen four major themes that tend to be at the root of every historical byline.  These four themes are:
  1. Dead orthodoxy vs. eroding orthodoxy
  2. The First Great Awakening
  3. The Impact of Associations
  4. The Modern Missions Movement
Dead Orthodoxy vs. Eroding Orthodoxy
In a previous session we pointed out that the positive byproduct of heresy is that it forces the church to clearly define, defend, and articulate orthodox belief.  The same is true of debate and schism.  While Baptists, both Particular and General, had numerous debates throughout the 17th century and into the 18th century, these debates inspired the publication of various tracts and books that help narrow the focus to what eventually becomes Baptist orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxy (correct action).  As outlined by Leon McBeth those points of orthodoxy include:
  • A Trinitarian understanding of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit as one).
  • The Bible as the final authority of truth.
  • The church as made up of true believers who clearly demonstrate saving faith.
  • The leaders of the church are those who have expressed a divine call.
  • Baptism is to be offered only for true believers and is to be practiced by immersion.
  • Communion is a memorial supper to “recall and reflect upon the death of Christ.”  Communion is to be observed only by true (believers baptized) members of the church.
  • While there were various views on oaths, pacifism, and the relationship to government; most Baptists agreed on religious liberty for all.
  • Because Baptists emerged during a time when millennial expectation was high, Baptists have always been an expectant people.  While there are various eschatological views amongst Baptists, in general Baptists are encouraged to live life with a sense of evangelistic urgency and moral purity in lieu of Christ’s return.
  • While worship is expressed in various ways, in general Baptists have held to preaching, an exposition of Scripture, as a central part of worship gatherings.  
The occasion for defining orthodoxy was an eroding one.  Some General Baptists (Arminian in nature) were eroding into a more Unitarian belief.  Unitarianism rejects a Trinitarian belief in God, the idea of original sin in man, and the idea that God will damn mankind because after all, man may be misguided, but he is essentially good.  
Another occasion for defining orthodoxy was a dead one.  While some General Baptists were becoming Unitarian, some Particular Baptists were becoming hyper-Calvinistic.  Hyper-Calvinism asserts that because God elects both the saved and the damned that evangelism is futile.  In this environment missions and preaching in both America and England began to suffer.  Sermons became more like the reading of academic papers and lost their passion and zeal.  Because of the eroding orthodoxy of the General Baptists, Particular Baptists began to become more “creedal” in nature; seeking not only to define the faith but to force its congregants to subscribe to it.  Missions was condemned as heretical because if it was God who determined who was to be saved and who was to be lost; missions/evangelism was merely the casting of a pearl before swine.  Particular Baptists were growing to believe that the church had no Biblical basis to evangelize the heathen.  
In response to the dead orthodoxy and lack of evangelistic zeal in the church comes two important movements that heavily influence Baptist life; The Great Awakening and the Modern Missions Movement.
The First Great Awakening
Not only was the pulpit cooling in America but in New England those churches, namely Presbyterian and Congregational, that had allowed infants to receive baptism and thus church membership were in a quandary.  The expectation was that infants who were baptized would then follow through in their adult life and make their own profession of faith.  In a cooling church environment, many of them did not.  Because church membership was ironically tied to civic life in many towns throughout the colonies, a question arose as to the relationship of the next generation to the church and the state.  A decision was reached in 1662 allowing the children of moral parents to be baptized into the church giving them church and state privileges with the exception of receiving communion.  By doing so, many churches in the colonies were abandoning the idea of regenerate church membership.  In effect, many in the church were now “half-way” members.  
There are several preachers that should be noted in the First Great Awakening, but two were the vanguards of the movement: Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and George Whitfield (1714-1770).  Jonathan Edwards rejected the idea of the halfway covenant and called for justification by faith and a regenerate church membership.   His sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” resulted in many conversions and a spirit of repentance in the New England Colonies.  If Edwards was the Awakening’s preacher, Whitfield was its evangelist.  It would be the itinerate preaching ministry of George Whitfield that would spread the revival throughout all the colonies.  
Baptists were at first slow to grab on to the religious fervor of the Awakening.  In reaction came two groups, Regular Baptists and the Separates (not Separatists).  The Regular Baptists were suspicious of the emotional outpourings associated with the revival while the Separates saw it as a genuine move of God’s Spirit in the church.  In the beginning, Separates were mostly Congregationalists and Presbyterians who endorsed the revival.  Feeling that the Presbyterians and Congregational churches were not responding to the revival many Separatists began to unite with Baptists who were beginning to embrace the movement.  Isaac Backus, a noted Baptist leader came to the defense of the Separatists, opened communion with them, and as a result many Congregational and Presbyterian Separatists became Baptists.  
Many historians attribute the Great Awakening as an important contributor to the American Revolution.  Another fruit of the movement that changed the shape of the movement was that Baptists enjoyed massive growth and rapid expansion throughout the colonies.  The Great Awakening also re-ignited the pulpit and began to impact theology as a result of the collusion of Baptists and Separates.  The end result was a more moderate form of Calvinism, also known as Evangelical Calvinism.  This form of Calvinism rejected the hard fatalism of hyper-Calvinism, kept a Reformed theology, but concentrated also on the call of Jesus to preach the gospel to all nations.  
The Impact of Associations
A normal part of early Baptist life was the organizing of the churches into associations.  Associations in early America owe their roots to Baptist life in England.  In America the associations were the forerunners of national denominational life.  By 1800 there were 42 Baptists associations in America.  The most notable being the Warren Association (Rhode Island, 1767) and the Philadelphia Association (1707) in the North, and the Sandy Creek (1758) and Charleston (1751) (first association in the South) in the South.  Each association had its own DNA mostly traced back to influence of either General, Regular, or Separate Baptists.  No doubt the influence of Separate Baptists became strongest in the South resulting in congregations that were more emotional and zealous.  Regular Baptist congregations tended to be orthodox Calvinists who were more methodical in not only worship but also their work.  In the early stages many associations had both Separate and Regular churches within them.  While this did often cause controversy, there are many positive examples of their working together in the association.
The main contributions of the associations to Baptist life were as follows:
  • Endorsement of schools and theological training for pastors.
  • A unified approach to church discipline.
  • Important documents that establish orthodoxy and orthopraxy in Baptist life.
  • An approach to missions that filtered the finances through denominational channels.
The Modern Missions Movement
The predecessor to the American associations was the mission society in England.  One of the most notable societies was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792.  Frustrated by the lack of missionary zeal in the churches of England due to the dead orthodoxy that had emerged from hyper-Calvinism there, William Carey brought a treatise entitled An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.  His treatise was the result of careful studies of world populations and revealed numerous unreached people groups around the world.  Carey called for every possible means to be used to reach them.  Carey was later invited to preach at the 1792 meeting of the association in Nottingham.  His sermon had two simple points “Expect great things - attempt great things.”  Burdened by the message a group of ministers met in Kettering on October 2, 1792 and formed the Baptist Missionary Society.  In 1793 John Thomas and William Carey were appointed as the first missionaries and sent to India.  The Baptist Missionary Society would make mission work an important part of Baptist life as it moved into the 19th century.  Through William Carey and the BMS, the modern missions movement was born.
Baptists in the colonies were not as well organized as they recovered from the American Revolution and missionary activity was intermittent at best.  Coming into the 1800’s there were several small missionary societies that were attempting to engage in regular work, but it was not until the organization of the Triennial Convention.  Adoniram Judson, his wife Ann, and Luther Rice (all students at Andover Seminary) went from America to Berma to assist the work of William Carey.  Luther Rice left the Judson’s to return to America to raise support.  In 1813 Rice met with the Charleston Association and a recommendation that a united effort for missions be formed.  In May, 1814 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to form the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States; also known as the Triennial Convention as it was to meet every three years.  
Along with the focus of the Triennial Convention on foreign missions, other societies were organized to lend support to other tasks:
  • The Woman’s Union Missionary Society (1861)
  • The Home Mission Society (1817)
  • Numerous Baptist papers and publishing houses were formed throughout the 19th century
  • The Tract Society (1824) which eventually became the American Baptist Publication and Sunday School Society (1844).
The Formation of the SBC
Baptists enjoyed rapid growth under the organization of the Triennial Convention.  Yet America was moving into another controversy that would deeply impact Baptist life, slavery.  In 1843 the American Baptist Free Mission Society was formed and was committed to appointing only non-slave holding missionaries.  In 1844 the Society changed policies officially banning the appointment of slave holding missionaries.  Anticipating the move delegates from Georgia submitted the name of James Reeve as a missionary to the Native Americans.  Reeve, a slaveholder, was refused by a vote of seven to five.  In 1844 the Alabama State Convention demanded that the Triennial Convention acknowledge the right of missionaries to own slaves.  The Board rejected the request.  
Convinced they no longer had a place in the Triennial Convention a group gathered at First Baptist Church of Augusta, GA on May 8, 1845 and established the Southern Baptist Convention.  Forming their charter and purpose with no mention of slavery the new convention would engage in missionary efforts while at the same time assimilating Southern culture into their practices.  
While this may be an abrupt stopping point for the SBC it is necessary for the scope of this project.  In the final four weeks of this class we will discuss how the SBC is currently organized and how it engages the world with the gospel.  While some of the cause behind the beginnings of the SBC are certainly not admirable, the SBC, like the rest of the South has struggled through the years to overcome a racially charged heritage.  To note how far the SBC has come, it is expected that its first African American President, Fred Luter, Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, will be elected at the June, 2012 New Orleans Convention.  
In any event, this historical sketch provides enough background to see the roots of rich SBC heritage such as the Women’s Missionary Union, Lifeway Publishing, the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, associations, state conventions, ministries, and concerns for education through the seminaries.    

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Coming to America (Church, Who? What? How?)

While the Reformation was doing its work in the greater part of Europe, it was also making waves in the proud monarchial tradition of England.  While some in England wanted something protestant, it was important for them to somehow preserve the relationship between the church and the throne.  The end result was the Church of England.  An arrangement that very much resembled the monarchial ecclesiology of The Catholic Church, but gleaned some of the fervor of the Protestant Reformation.
The story of the Reformation in England is the stuff of historical legend and modern film.  It is during this time that we are given the great monarchial characters of the House of Tudor and the House of Stuart. The list of names here would include:
  • Henry VIII (1509-1547) - who separated the Church of England from Rome by the Act of Supremacy.  Henry did this primarily because the Catholic Church would not condone divorce.  Henry was married 6 times. 
  • Edward VI (1547-1553) - son of Henry VIII who never married.  Moved England decidedly toward Protestantism as his father Henry had appointed for him a Protestant tutor as a child.
  • Mary I (Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary) (1553-1558) - the half sister of Edward who moved England back to Catholicism as it was important for her to validate herself as the legitimate heir to the throne over her Protestant brother Edward and her rival 16 year old sister Jane.  Mary dismantled the Act of Supremacy and exacted a harsh persecution of protestants, hence her name Bloody Mary.
  • Elizabeth I or Elizabeth Tudor (1558-1603) - though she preferred Catholicism she chose Protestantism for political reasons.  Through her Elizabethan Settlement she settled the question of religion in England by enacting her own version of the Act of Supremacy thus making England a Protestant, Anglican (Church of England) state.
  • James I (1603-1625) - wanting to squelch controversy from Puritans (who sought reform in the Church of England) and wanting to further substantiate the Church of England, James and the English parliament “authorize” a new English translation of the Bible in 1604.  The Bible was completed and published in 1611 and became known as the Authorized Version or the King James Version. 

    It should also be noted that it was during these struggles of the monarchs to establish the Church of England that many dissenters sought religious freedom.  The eventual result was the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 to America.  Its passengers (102 Puritans and 42 of which were Separatists rooted in the Particular Baptist tradition) sought to establish a new colony built on religious freedom.
  • Oliver Cromwell, Revolution, Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy (1653-1660) - Oliver Cromwell was a great military leader who brought an end to the unrest of the monarchy and ushered in the short lived age of the Commonwealth in England.  While a commonwealth, many dissenting groups who stood against both the Catholic and Anglican (Church of England) Churches gained governmental influence.  It is during this time that the Fifth Monarchy Movement (a movement that sought to usher in the millennial reign of Christ through reform of parliament) took hold.  Cromwell was forced to suppress the movement and in doing so imprisoned many Baptists.  Cromwell’s untimely death and failure of his son to be successor led to the careful reestablishment of the Stuart throne to Charles II.  Charles enacted the Clarendon Code which contained numerous provisions that made it illegal to resist the Church of England.  It is during this time that dissenting Protestants, Puritans, Separatists, and Baptists sought religious freedom.  Many of them fled to America.  As “Baptist” friendly colonies began to develop, particularly in Rhode Island due to the work of Roger Williams (who founded the first Baptist (particular) congregation in Providence,1639), more Baptists begin to flee England for America.    
The Groups Who Fled England for America:
During the times of unrest in England several groups fled for America that contributed to Baptist life.  Below is an outline of the characteristics of these key groups:
The Puritans:
  • The term “Puritan” is used more to describe the spirit of the movement rather than a denominational label.  There were various groups within Puritanism, yet they had a common concern, to purify the Anglican Church.  The Puritans first sought to carry out reform from within the church.  
  • Much like the Anabaptist opinion of the Protestant Reformers in Switzerland and Germany, the Puritans did not think that the Anglican Church took their reforms from the Catholic Church far enough.
  • Primarily reformed in doctrine.
  • Primarily congregationalists who advocated autonomous relationship for local church life between the church and the state.
  • Greatest opposition to reforming the Anglican Church was the English throne, primarily Elizabeth I who sought to enforce religious conformity by law.  Due to legislation Puritan clergy were forced to be considered as “non-conformists” in their relationship to the Anglican Church.  Their dissent and separation from the Anglican Church set the stage for a new movement, the Separatists.
The Separatists:
  • “Unable to purify the Church of England, many churchmen determined to separate and form their own independent congregations where they could institute what they regarded as biblical practices.”
  •   As such these congregations were considered as Separatist.
  • At the core separatists were continually seeking to institute “biblical practices” in congregational life.
  • By nature of being “separatists” there was no real cohesive nature to the movement.  A wide variety of ideas and debates were prevalent across the spectrum of congregational life such as whether to stand or kneel, whether to allow the congregation to sing, but there was especially debate concerning Calvinism vs. Arminianism.  
  • Separatists congregations were found in fields, homes, and ships.  Each congregation ordained their own clergy and deacons as well as administered the sacraments.    
  • There was no common church life among Separatists, but they tended to be congregational or moderately presbyterian favoring some degree of congregational participation.  They mostly rejected liturgical forms of worship in favor of using only the Bible.  They were concerned that the church be made up only of the redeemed.  However, many Separatists did not emphasize believer’s baptism or religious liberty for all.  Ironically many early American colonies mimicked the intolerant forms of church/state relations their settlers once fled in England.  Citizenship was tied to church membership.   
  • A notable Separatist congregation was the Pilgrim Church led by John Robinson.  After finding no friendly place to build their community, the congregation eventually settled in Amsterdam.  Fearing that their children would lose their English heritage by marrying Dutch families a portion of the church under the leadership of William Bradford and William Brewster fled to the new world aboard the Mayflower in 1620.  
  • While Baptists owe a great deal to the Separatists, it cannot be said that Baptists came exclusively from the Separatists.
The Rise of the Baptists (Particular and General)
We know that the first Baptist congregation in America was established by Roger Williams in Rhode Island (1639), but this was not the beginning of the Baptist church.  There is no real point in history in which a congregation emerged that was known as the first Baptists.  The term Baptist has been used to describe various groups from Anabaptists to Separatists that were Baptistic in their practice.  At first the name was derogatory slang used to criticize various groups that were practicing believer’s baptism (not necessarily by immersion).  However, as time wore on the name began to stick with particular congregations.
General Baptists
  • Older congregations that were more Arminian in their theology.  As such they believed man had the freedom to choose to be saved but also were in danger of losing salvation.  General Baptists also held that although there are many local autonomous churches, there is only one true church. 
  • The early key leaders of the movement was John Smyth and Thomas Helwys.  In his views, Smyth journeyed through Anglicanism, Puritanism, Separatist, Baptist, and eventually sought to become Mennonite.  Taking over the Gainsborough church in 1606, the congregation grew quickly.  Being under constant threat by James I the congregation split for safety; Smyth and Helwys taking one group and Brewster and Bradford taking the other.  The Brewster/Bradford group became the Mayflower Church as mentioned above.  Smyth and Helwys took their group further in their Separatist reforms and adopted believer’s baptism thus making them, in that sense, truly Baptists.
  • Smyth also believed that worship should be completely spontaneous.  As a reaction against the Book of Common Prayer he forbid song books and even at times reading from English translations of the Bible.  Seeking a pure church membership, Smyth constantly questioned every aspect of baptism and would baptize himself and re-baptize the congregation.  However, he was never completely satisfied, even considering his own actions “hasty and disorderly” and eventually sought to join the Mennonites as the true orderly church.  Smyth believed the Mennonites represented the true succession of the church and in so doing he broke with the Baptists.
  • Not willing to follow Smyth and his conclusions, Helwys reluctantly broke with Smyth and continued to develop the Baptist church.  Under Helwys’ leadership the church:
    • Adopted believer’s baptism, but not by immersion.
    • They departed from Calvinism making room for free will and falling from grace.
    • They allowed the church to elect its own officers, preaching elders, and both men and women as deacons.
Particular Baptists
  • General Baptists derive their name from the idea that Jesus died “generally” for all.  This view is known as general atonement.  Particular Baptists then hold to a “particular atonement” which means that Christ died only for the elect.  The Particular and General Baptists did not divide.  Their relationship is described better as “Baptists of different kinds.”
  •   Both came from the Separatist movement, but as described earlier, within the movement there were divergent views.  Therefore, it can be said that the Particular Baptists emerged from a different section or strain of the Separatist movement than their General Baptist counterparts.
  • Like the General Baptists, Particular Baptists were searching for the “true church.”  In their beginnings, from the influence of Henry Jacob (1563-1624), Particular Baptists held a high view of the Anglican Church as the true church, however they saw it in much need of reform.  As is the story of the Separatist movement, Jacob was not allowed to exact his reforms due to pressure by King James I.  Still holding that the Church of England was the true church, Jacob was eventually forced to differentiate between what he considered to be congregations that represented the “true” Church of England and false congregations.  
  • Along with John Lathrop and Henry Jessey, Jacob formed the JLJ church in 1616; so named due to its first three pastors.  This congregation is primarily responsible for the rise of Particular Baptists.  Jacob eventually left the church and settled near Jamestown, Virginia in 1622.
  • Under the leadership of Lathrop, the church grew despite increasing questions of its continued acknowledgment of its relationship to the Church of England.  Eventually the pressures of a large congregation in dangerous times and increasing unrest in their relationship with the Church of England led to a schism in the JLJ church in 1633.  
  • Like their General counterparts the Particular Baptists recovered the idea of believer’s baptism.  The General Baptists taught this as early as 1609 and the Particular Baptists by 1638.  While General Baptists were first in this phase of the practice of Baptism, it was the Particular Baptists who led the way in the recovery of the ancient mode of immersion - arguing that this is the mode taught in the New Testament.  Particular Baptists began immersing in 1640; General Baptists by 1660.  
  • Though the mode certainly drew criticism, it was the charge of immodesty that was the greatest struggle for the church.  Opponents of immersion wrote pamphlets that called the practice “unscriptural, unnecessary, and unhealthy.”  They charged that not only did many people grow sick and die after immersion, often being baptized in icy rivers, but that immersing Baptists baptized both men and women together, often naked.  History shows that not all Baptists immersed their converts naked, but in various areas nude baptism was the common practice. 
As Baptists begin to emerge in England and America, while it is difficult to attribute any one common ancestry, it is not difficult to identify the core of influential ideas and practices.
  • The influence of Reformed theology, particularly justification by faith.
  • A return to the Bible as the authority for the doctrines and practices of the church as opposed to the papacy or the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Congregational autonomy and participation in church life.
  • Religious liberty.
  • Recovery of believer’s baptism and the beginnings of a return to the ancient practice of baptism by immersion.
  • Constant questioning over whether a leader or a local congregation is “true.”
  • A belief in the right to “separate” from those considered to be “false.”
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Word 3, Blessing (3 Words to Help You Understand the Bible)

I am sharing three words that will help you better understand the Bible.  These three words hold the story of the Bible together and keeping them in mind will prevent us from reading the Bible in a haphazard, random way.  The three words are son, land, and blessing.  Today I want to share with you the final word of the three.  It is the word “blessing.”
The word translated “blessing” in the Old Testament basically means to “make one happy.”  It is one of the most common words in the Old Testament.  It occurs 422 times.  God loves to bless.  He wants us to be happy.
The root of our happiness is in our enjoyment of God.  This is what is implied in the word “rest” used in Gen. 2:1.  The word translated “rest” is the Hebrew word “shabbat” from which we get the idea of sabbath.  It does not mean that God was exhausted after six days of creating work, but rather that God had brought the project to a satisfying end.  God was not tired, he was happy.  God’s rest does not imply that there was no more work to be done.  Man was created to work the ground (Gen. 2:5).  In God’s original design man’s work would be satisfying.  Working the earth would make him happy.  
It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to figure out that between then and now, something went horribly wrong.  Life is far from satisfying.
The Biblical text may be full of blessing but life is full of loss.  Even our best days are insecure.  While we do experience enjoyable moments, we know in each moment we are vulnerable and things can change quickly.  We agree with God.  We want to be happy, but happy can be hard to hold on to.
Happy can also be hard to believe.  If life is such a mess, is it honest to say that God wants us to be happy?  The truth is that God was the only one who was honest that if we rebelled against him, life would be less than happy.  He told us we would “surely” die (Gen. 2:17).  Life is essentially living out the “surely.”  If there is birth there will be death.  In between birth and death there is “surely.”  Surely can be no happy thing.
In the midst of living life in “surely” there is an important plot; God is determined to bring someone back to blessing.  He seeks to restore “rest (Heb. 4).”  God still wants us to be happy.  This is the story of the Bible.  How is God working to bring us back to happiness (Rev. 21-22)?  In Gen. 12:1-3 God promised a man named Abram that something would happen in his family that would be a blessing to every family of the earth.  As you read the Bible between Gen. 12 and Rev. 22 you are essentially reading the story of Abram’s family.  It is the battle for the blessing.  It is a precarious journey towards “rest.”  
Abram was promised a SON, a LAND, and a BLESSING (Gen. 12:1-3).  These three words drive the text of the Bible.  What must God do to keep His promise?  
As you read the Bible watch how God is faithful to keep His promises despite mankind’s unfaithfulness.  God is not satisfied with the world as it is.  He is determined to bring us back to a place of blessing where we will enjoy Him forever.

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Word 2, Land (3 Words to Help You Understand the Bible)

This week I am sharing three words that will help you better understand the Bible.  These three words hold the story of the Bible together and keeping them in mind will prevent us from reading the Bible in a haphazard, random way.  The three words are son, land, and blessing.  Today I want to share with you what I mean by the word “land.”
The Bible begins with a garden and a command for man to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28).  The garden of Eden was the best of the earth.  It represented life under God’s control.  It was a life giving place of abundant blessing.  As the image of God man was to grow the garden.  He was to spread out upon an otherwise wild planet, cultivate it and do what God did, bring forth life.
In the fall man not only lost the garden, but he also lost the blessing of the land (Gen. 3:17-19).  Now the earth was cursed and subduing it would be no easy task.  A new tension now enters the story.  God wants to give man land, but man will struggle to keep it.
The Bible is very geographic.  Every story has a location.  We often ignore these geographic notes as insignificant bylines to the story, but they are not.  There are promises for land.  There are battles for land.  There are famines in the land.  There are disasters in the land.  There are evil people who inhabit the land.  When reading the Bible one must surely agree that the cities, nations, clans, and peoples that control the various “lands” of the Bible are not fulfilling their “imageness.”  Furthermore, famines, quakes, and floods are not normal parts of a garden party.  
We have not made a garden out of the planet.  We have made a mess of it.
An important plot of the Bible becomes how will God redeem the land?  He promised a land to Israel.  They won it and they lost it.  Will they ever faithfully inhabit it?  Will we ever have a garden again?  Will the earth ever be subdued or will it remain forever wild?  Paul sympathizes with the difficulty of living on a sin cursed planet, but he has incredible hope that one day the SON will come to redeem us and in so doing he will also redeem the land from the curse (Rom. 8:18-25).  We need a garden again.
The good news is that the Bible begins with a garden and it ends with a garden.  In Genesis 3 the heavens and the earth were ruined.  In Revelation 21 the heavens and the earth will be made new.  Adam lost access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:23).  This is why we die.  In Revelation 22:2 we are able to return to the tree.  The rest of the Bible is the story of life in between the trees; life lived in a wild land.      
As you read the Bible pay attention to the land.  Where are we in the story?  Who is in the land?  Is it being possessed in righteousness?  Is the garden growing because of the people in the land?  What are the promises concerning the land?  How has God kept His promise?  
If you want to better understand the Bible, pay attention to the land.  
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Word 1, Son - (3 Words to Help You Understand the Bible)

This week I am sharing three words that will help you better understand the Bible.  I believe these three words hold the story of the Bible together and that keeping them in mind will prevent us from reading the Bible in such a haphazard and random way.  The three words are son, land, and blessing.  Today I want to share with you what I mean by the word “son.”
The way the Bible reads it seems as if we only made it to early Sunday afternoon of the second week of existence before Adam and Eve royally blew it.  The bad news was that the LAND (hint, hint) would be cursed adding pain and toil to human life that would eventually end in death.  The good news is that a SON would be born to the woman who would deal such a blow to the serpent that he would be defeated and life would be redeemed.  Adam certainly interpreted God’s pronouncement this way and changed the woman’s name to Eve, celebrating the fact that from her a son would be born that would give us life (Gen. 3:14-20).  
The rest of the Bible is concerned with the search for the saving son (The Old Testament).  The birth, life, death, and resurrection of the saving son (The Gospels).  The assurance that Jesus was the saving son (Acts through the Epistles).  The return of the saving son and the completion of redemption (Revelation).  
It may sound overly simplistic, but allow me to give you a few examples from books of the Bible that you may otherwise ignore.  In my first post I asked you to hold this question about the son at the forefront as you read through the Bible, “Who (or sometimes where) is the promised son?”  The boring genealogies of Genesis are important because they begin to trace which family of which nation from which the son will be born.  In 2 Samuel 7 David is promised that his son will be an eternal king.  That certainly helps us narrow down the identity of the son.  1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles give us countless stories of David’s failed royal sons.  Certainly none of them were the promised son.  Eventually Israel loses the LAND as they are captured and exiled to Babylon.  What will become of the promised son?  The prophets begin to resurrect hope for the exiles that indeed God has not failed in his promise and the hope of a saving son is not lost.  You and I usually see these passages on Christmas cards (ie. Isaiah 9:6-7) - but I assure you, the prophets had much more in mind than simply Merry Christmas! 
When we move from the Old Testament to the New we are smacked in the face with a genealogy, Matthew 1.  This list of names may appear boring at first glance, but if you read the Old Testament you would see that these names are a roll call of hope that connect the following story contained in the gospels with the Old Testament expectation of a saving son.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John serve as heralds to Jews and Greeks alike that this Jesus is the saving son.  Much of Paul’s defense of Jesus in his epistles is built on the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the son.  You will also see this in most of the preaching passages of the Book of Acts.  In the end the saving son returns, rescues us from sin, and redeems the LAND by creating a new heavens and a new earth.
When you read the Bible always look for the saving son!  
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3 Words to Help You Understand the Bible

Most people understand the Bible to be 66 disjointed books full of random religious sayings and stories.  Even if this is not our understanding of the Bible, most of us read the Bible as if this is indeed what it is.  We skip around, pick and pluck, and often approach it in a random fashion with no intent to engage the plot of the story at hand.  The end result is that we may find a verse here and there that seems to have something meaningful to say.  Yet even then, our interpretation of the golden nugget we find is not faithful to the context; and as for the context, it is categorically ignored and the rest of what we do not take time to understand is flushed into the abyss of the Bible scholar.  Scholars may find the blessing in the obscure passages, but there is no meaning in them for the rest of us.  I assure you, this was not God’s intent and it is simply not the case.  
This week I want to share with you three words that will help you better understand the story of the Bible.  Although these three words do not account for all that the Bible says, they are three words that do seem to give the story of the Bible cohesiveness.  The three words are:  son, land, and blessing.  I will explain more as the week goes along, but for now entertain these three questions as you approach the story of the Bible:
  1. Who (sometimes where) is the promised son?
  2. What is the promised land?
  3. Who is receiving the promised blessing?
If you will hold these three questions at the forefront as you read the Bible it will help you to see the big picture of what God is doing to fulfill His promises to give man a son that will redeem him from sin, to redeem the land from the curse of sin, and to bring a group of chosen people to a place where they will enjoy His blessings forever.
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The Church Emerging from the Reformation (Church, Who? What? How?)

Though there have been attempts to construct a successionist lineage of Baptists back to the Apostles or even John the Baptist, these constructions are revisionist at best and often end up as simply poor historical scholarship.  Doctrinally these attempts do more harm than good as they are heretical attempts to prove that the Baptist church is the only, true church.  In the end these attempts are dishonest and unnecessary.
The historical truth is that Baptists emerged not from a single stream, but more from the convergence of several movements that stemmed from the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.  Therefore, to properly understand Baptist history one must examine the context of the Reformation.  

Background of the Reformation
In our previous session we discussed two of the major challenges of the Patristic or Early Church; persecution and heresy.  Both of these issues raised major questions as to who are the people of God, or who is the church?  In response to the rising tide of persecution through the first 500 years of its history, the church was forced to ask, “What becomes of the lapsed?”  For those who renounced Christ to save their skin, is there room for restoration?  This question resulted in several church councils, the most notable of which being the first meeting of Carthage under Cyprian in 251 AD.  Subsequent councils or synods of Carthage would meet over the next century to deal with other issues; perhaps the most notable of which being the Canonicity of certain books of the Bible.  Yet, before dealing with questions about the authenticity of the Bible, Carthage was called together to deal with the authenticity of the church.  
Another notable council dealt with the other critical Patristic issue, heresy.  The most looming issue was the identity and nature of Christ.  Arius (250-336 AD), an elder in Alexandria, taught that the Word, Jesus, was not coeternal with the Father but rather the first of God’s creation.  Arius’ teaching did serious damage to the identity of Christ and caused quite a schism in the church.  
The controversy also had an adverse affect on the Roman Empire.  Constantine, who had experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity, had risen to power in the western section of the empire.  Constantine’s attributed his victory to the blessing of Christ in his life.  Therefore, Constantine represented the end of the persecution of the church and the beginning of Christian favor in the empire.  Constantine allowed the church to own land and build places of worship so that it could establish itself as a legitimate faith in what was otherwise a pagan, polytheistic state.  With Constantine being the first Christian emperor, the church and the state became bedfellows.  This turn of events becomes critical to understanding the next 1,000 years of church history leading to the Reformation.
Because the church was so closely related to the state under Constantine, the Arian controversy not only brought unrest to the western and eastern Church, but also to the western and eastern empire.  Constantine knew that it was not only critical for the church, but also for the state, that consensus be reached concerning the nature of Christ.  In 325 AD Constantine called a council of church leaders together from both western and eastern sections to draft a common statement concerning Jesus.  The end result was the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Conspiracy theorists would argue that the church did not understand Christ as the divine Son of God until Nicaea.  The idea of the conspiracy is that Constantine manipulated the meeting to his own ends as to legitimize Christ as King and himself as divinely chosen emperor.  This is simply not the case.  Because this is only a contextual accounting for purposes of Baptist history, there is simply no time to deal with this charge.  I would only state simply, that to assume the church had no understanding of Christ as divine before Nicaea is a total fabrication that is unscholarly, dishonest, and illogical.  To charge that the church did not believe something strongly before it stated it in council is a major historical and philosophical leap into total conjecture.  In fact, Philippians 2 could be argued as one of the earliest creeds of the church.  A text in which it is plain to see that indeed the church held that Jesus Christ was equal with God.  
The positive of Nicaea is that it was the beginning steps to quench a critical heresy.  The negative is that after Constantine the marriage of the church and the state became adulterous.  The next 1,000 years of church history are riddled with deep corruption in the Catholic Church as popes, bishops, and priests competed with and against emperors for massive amounts of wealth, popularity, and power.  It is from this fabric that the Dark Ages, the Medieval period is woven.  
Yet even in this time one can trace the struggle for purity in the church as the key question comes to the front over and over again, “Who is the church?”  During this time monastic life and the ascetic movements find reasons to flourish.  Against an increasingly immoral church certain men and women of the period would separate themselves to demonstrate extreme holiness and seek to find the true people of God.      
The Reformation
The question of “Who are the people of God?”, “Who is the church?” reached its boiling point in the 16th century.  Many people associate the Reformation with Luther, but he did not work alone.  Luther was certainly the voice and face of the Reformation, but the seed of the thought can be found in the humanist movement, most notably in Erasmus (1466-1536).  With Erasmus came a revival of reading original and sacred texts.  In an otherwise illiterate generation, scholars began to study the Bible in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and translate it into the language of the people (refer to Wycliffe 1328-1384).  The humanist movement inspired a revival of learning and began to loosen the grips of the Catholic Church on the Biblical text.  Until this point the Catholic Church conducted worship from the Latin text, a language long lost in Europe by the 16th century.  With the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press (1440) the Bible was no longer the exclusive property of the papacy (leaders of the Catholic Church).  Despite persecution, revival began to break out in remote corners of the Holy Roman Empire.  The flashpoint would come on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
The immediate context of Luther’s 95 Theses was the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel (1465-1519).  Tetzel’s occasion for selling indulgences was to not only raise money for the building of St Peter’s Basilica but also to pay off debts to the pope owed by the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg.  Indulgences promised those who paid that deceased loved ones would spend less time in purgatory.  He would travel the streets singing, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  While Tetzel’s heresy may have pushed Luther over the edge, it was the greater corruption of the Catholic Church and the lack of theological orthodoxy that Luther addressed most poignantly in his 95 Theses.  As he stated in his introduction, Luther protested for one reason alone, he sought the truth.
In the early stages, at the core of the Reformation movement there was affection for the Catholic Church.  The primary desire was to reform the church from within.  Yet as the Catholic Church declared the protestant reformers heretical and excommunicated them, the need to begin something new become increasingly apparent.  Yet again, it is important to note that despite the fact that the end result was Protest-ing or Protestant Churches, this was not the initial agenda of Luther and the Reformers.  So as the Reformers saw that they could not bring about Reform within the church the question became how far should they go in their reform and separation from the church?
This question resulted in two Reformation camps:
  1. The first camp would be those Reformers who in the end retained some influence of Catholic doctrine, polity, and praxis.
      • Martin Luther (1483-1546) - Although these ideas were not original to Luther, his proclamation of Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), and Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) began the great divide between Catholic theology and the Protestant churches.  As a powerful preacher and a brilliant scholar, Luther’s skills to communicate his message fueled the flames of the Reformation.  Although he did not subscribe to the Catholic understanding of Transubstantiation (the bread and wine become the body of Christ) in communion, Luther did hold to consubstantiation (the bread and wine are with the body and blood of Christ) in communion.  Calvin strongly disagreed with Luther in this point.  However, along with Calvin and Zwingli, Luther held similar views of the church’s relationship to the state and the necessity of infant baptism.  
      • John Calvin (1509-1564) - If Luther’s contribution was the idea of the Reformation, Calvin’s was the organization of the idea.  It was through Calvin’s well organized theology that the doctrines of the Reformation spread throughout Europe.  Calvin’s Institutes became the standard for a Reformation theology that centered on the sovereignty of God.  As such, ultimate authority did not reside with the pope or the state, but in God alone.  The state could not rule over the church, but if the state was not accomplishing the will of God it was the duty of the church to right the ship.  In the end Calvin retained an idea of a magisterial state heavily influenced by the church.  Also, along with Luther and Zwingli, Calvin believed that infants should be baptized as a way to remove original sin and bring them into the covenant of grace.  For the Reformers, like the Catholic Church, baptism had not only implications for membership into the church, but also citizenship with the state.  
      • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) - Zwingli was the militant arm of the Reformation.  He did not agree with Luther’s ideas of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but he was persuasive in retaining the Catholic praxis of a close state/church relationship.  Because of his military prowess Zwingli was able to wrestle several municipalities away from Catholic control and establish Protestant states.  Zwingli had no problems using the power of the state’s military might to continue the spread of the Reformation ideal.
      • The legacy of the Reformers could be summarized as follows:
        • The recovery of the authority of Scripture and salvation by faith.
        • The emergence of Protestant states and the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire.  
        • Close relationship between the church and the state.  An unrighteous state had no power over the church, but the church had the responsibility to bring the church to righteousness and could then use the power of the state to enforce righteousness.  (It is interesting to see the legacy of the relationship of the church and the state post-Constantine, yet notice the Reformers still had great faith that this relationship had redemptive potential). 
        • Lutheran form of church government.
        • Presbyterian form of church government.
        • Reformed theology.
  1. The second camp would be those Reformers who held that the Reformation fathers did not go far enough.  In the end these Reformers retained nothing of the doctrine, polity, and praxis of the Catholic Church.  The movement first began to emerge with a group known as the Swiss Brethren.  Some of the original members were students of Zwingli.  Their disagreement arose when they did not feel that Zwingli took the principles of the Reformation far enough.  Their sharpest point of disagreement was over Baptism.  The Brethren held that Baptizing children gave people a false sense of conversion.  They were Christians only because they were baptized into the Christian church and were citizens of a Christian state, but there was lacking in many a real sense of repentance, faith, and following Christ.  When the Brethren saw that Zwingli would hold fast on his views, the Brethren sought to begin a new congregation of true converts.

    On January 21, 1525 at the fountain in Zurich square George Blaurock, a former priest, asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him.  Blaurock and Grebel held that baptism was reserved only for believers and because children were baptized without willing consent, theirs was illegitimate.  The followers of Blaurock and Grebel soon became known as Anabaptists or “re-baptizers.”  Their views on Baptism drew strong opposition from both Protestant Reformers and Catholics.

    The Anabaptists also took the Reformation to other ends.  Unlike Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, the Anabaptists were pacifists, believed strongly in separation of the church from the state, and religious freedom.  Most all of the early Anabaptist were martyred, tortured as heretics, drown in rivers and burned to death by Protestant Reformers.  The more they were persecuted the more the movement grew. 

    Persecution not only brought about the deaths of the first generation of Anabaptists, but it brought about some diverse and more radical views in subsequent generations.  Some later Anabaptists forsook Pacifism and incited rebellion against Protestant states.  This led to the idea that a New Jerusalem must be established first in Strasbourg and later in Munster.  The end of the radical movement came in unfulfilled prophecies, a lost sense of the foundational principles of the movement, and a great deal of bloodshed.

    The restoration of the Anabaptists ideal came through Menno Simons ( 1496-1561).  Simons returned the Anabaptists he influenced to pacifism, forbid the taking of oaths, and advocated obedience to civil authorities.  Because they would not take oaths nor serve in the military, Simons’ followers were considered subversive to the state.  Being persecuted they were scattered, migrating to new lands that offered the prospects of religious freedom.  Subscribing to Menno Simons’ principles the Anabaptist became known as the Mennonites.
The Legacy of The Reformation and Its Influence on Baptists
  • It may be argued that Baptists are not Protestant in the true sense, but there is no doubt that Baptists “are a Reformation people.”
  • From Luther Baptists continue the legacy of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, and the priesthood of the believer.
  • From Calvin Baptists have been heavily influenced by Reformed theology.
  • Because of Zwingli the Anabaptists emerged giving another Reformation root from which Baptists owe a great deal.
  • The Anabaptists heavily influenced Baptists in their ideas of the relationship of the church to the state, believer’s baptism, the importance of discipleship, religious freedom, and congregational forms of church government.
  • The initial question that sparked Reformation continues, who are the people of God?  If anything, Baptists have gleaned that this is a question that should never be lost.
Cairns, Earle E.  Christianity Through the Centuries 
Gonzalez, Justo.  The Story of Christianity vol. 1 and 2
Leonard, Bill J.  Baptist Ways, a History
McBeth, H. Leon.  The Baptist Heritage, Four Centuries of Baptist Witness
Shelley, Bruce L.  Church History in Plain Language
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