Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Shadows (the I AM series)

">Shadows from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
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Shared Paths

I am sharing with you a series of posts focused on teaching.  When it comes to teaching in the church, 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.  
In the last couple of posts I have been on the topic of tools for teaching, particularly the use of curriculum.  In my last post I mentioned that too often curriculum has become the most misused tool for teaching in the church.  Curriculum is a guide for teaching, it was not meant to replace our teaching.  Ultimately, curriculum is another person’s experience with the Biblical text, which is profitable, but it is an experience that cannot take the place of our own if we are to be effective teachers.
I left off in my last post with the following question, how do we properly use curriculum as a teaching tool?  To use curriculum properly we must:
  1. Understand what a curriculum/writer is saying?
  2. Understand how a curriculum/writer arrived at what they are saying?
  3. Understand why a curriculum/writer would say what they have said?
Great teachers are structured in their approach and organized in their thoughts.  It is difficult for any student to listen to a teacher they cannot logically follow.  We call this chasing rabbits.  Personally, I have never chased a rabbit, but from what little I know of rabbits, chasing one would be a rapid journey to nowhere.  Teachers who chase rabbits lead their students down pointless paths that do not connect with anything.  If you are going to be a great teacher you must keep one question in mind, what’s the point?
Curriculum is a great tool that helps teachers stay on point.  Most lessons written in a curriculum give the teacher an aim, theme, or objective to achieve.  In this way the writer should help us do the most important thing in teaching - match the aim of the lesson with the aim of the Biblical text.  Great curriculums do this.  Poor curriculums do not.
This is where the real work of a teacher begins.  Early in the week he or she will consult a curriculum to see what the chosen passage and its corresponding aim or objective is for the class.  Once consultation is made, then comes the moment that separates great teachers from mere curriculum regurgitators.  Great teachers become great students.
Hebrew is an interesting language in that it has no vowels, only consonants.  The other curious thing about Hebrew is that almost every word is spelled with three letters.  Numerous words can be spelled with the same three letters.  How does the reader distinguish the difference?  Small dots and dashes called “pointing” supply the vowel sounds and can radically change the meaning of a word.  One of the most curious lines of pointing intensifies a word.  The word touch, intensified, becomes the word strike, or hit.  
One of my favorite examples of intensifying Hebrew words is the word translated “to learn.”  When the word “to learn” is intensified it becomes the word translated “to teach.”  It is the same three letters only intensified.  The message is clear.  One has not truly learned what he or she cannot truly teach.  The flip-side is most applicable to teaching in the church, we cannot truly teach what we have not taken time to learn.
We teach from an overflow.  Curriculum points us in the right direction, but it is not a substitute for personal time and investigation spent in the text.  A truly prepared teacher will use curriculum twice.  He or she will use it to begin, inspire, or direct study early in the week, and he or she will use it again to refine and organize study late in the week.  In between there should be a great deal of personal time with the Biblical text.
When we give time to study and we do not allow curriculum to be our crutch, we will begin to experience God’s Word coming alive in our own life.  This is the process of incubation I wrote about a few weeks ago.  When time is given to personal study and preparation throughout the week, our experience with curriculum changes later in the week.  We have a better opportunity to understand three things:
  1. Understand what a curriculum/writer is saying?
  2. Understand how a curriculum/writer arrived at what they are saying?
  3. Understand why a curriculum/writer would say what they have said
How so?  Because we will find that we have walked the same path the writer has walked.  We now have a shared experience with the text.  When this is true, I find that curriculum becomes inspiring, not confining.  Suddenly the writer is giving me great ideas on how to enhance my lesson, how to organize it, and how to communicate it effectively - no longer is the curriculum writer a dictator speaking to me in a foreign tongue.  Suddenly, I see where the writer is coming from and he helps me instead of replaces me.  Now my lesson is fresh and it is born from my own experience.  It is not stale as I am only trying to regurgitate someone else’s experience with the Bible.
As great as this sounds, it leads us to another question.  How do we study the Bible?  Here is where the real discussion on tools begins.
More to come . . .
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Choosing Jacob

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Tools for Teaching (Part 2)

Last week I spent time moving my family from Alabama to Georgia.  After 3.5 months of being away from them I am glad to have my wife and daughters with me.  So now that we have all the Branams in the same place; back to the blog and our discussion of teaching in the church.
When it comes to teaching in the church, 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.  In my previous post I mentioned the importance of using tools to help us rightly divide the Word of God.  What are those tools?
If we are to answer the question of “what are the tools?” we must ask another question, just what is it we are trying to do?  The task determines the tool.  
I am not a craftsman nor am I a repairman.  As for tools, I own a drill, a screwdriver (phillips and flat), a hammer, and a wrench.  I try to beat, twist, and pry every repair into submission.  I destroy a lot of things.  Along with my destruction of things comes a great deal of frustration because it takes too long to do what appears to be otherwise easy stuff.  I am usually left beating things with the end of a screwdriver, trying to drive screws with a hammer, and tighten everything with a wrench.  When the dust settles all that is before me are bent nails and a wide variety of bolts and screws that have been grossly stripped beyond their usefulness.  My biggest problem in repair is that because I don’t quite know what must be done, I have no clue that they make the tools necessary to make the task much easier.
The right tool applied to the right task makes all the difference.
Most teachers are given some sort of curriculum to teach, but have never really been advised as to what it is that they are trying to do.  The end result is that they approach Scripture like I approach repairs - we hammer the screws, twist the nails, and strip the bolts.  The lesson is exegetically unfaithful and our students are no closer to Christ than they were when we began.  
So what is it we are trying to do in teaching?  The simple answer is that we are trying to say to our students what the Bible says to them.  In this way, God speaks and lives are changed.  So the tools we are to employ help us to do simply this; they are to help the teacher understand what the Bible is saying.
Curriculum is only a tool.  Yet I believe it is probably the most misused tool in the local church.  Here is where most teachers go awry with curriculum:
  1. We endeavor only to say what the curriculum writer is saying.  Many teachers caught in this trap would simply read a lesson to their students.  Other teachers may not read the lesson to their students, but they may only regurgitate to their students what the writer says.  There is no fresh experience of the teacher with the Biblical text.  As the word “regurgitate” may insinuate, the end result is a lesson no one really enjoys because the material is far from fresh!  
  2. We allow the curriculum to become the class.  Teachers must do more than accomplish lessons, they must teach the Bible.  The point of curriculum is to help you become a better teacher, it is not to replace you as the teacher.  Curriculum should help guide us, it is not there to remove us.  Curriculum gives us suggestions on how a well prepared and managed class could go, it is not giving us a mandate on how a class must go.  Teachers who fall into this trap may be robotic, detached from their students.  The teacher may also find himself or herself constantly frustrated because there is not enough time allowed for the class to accomplish all that is outlined in the curriculum.  In trying to accomplish a pre-planned agenda they distance themselves from discussion, the real needs of the students, or the student’s learning styles.  Remember, curriculum writers may know the Bible, but they don’t know you or your students.

    A well prepared teacher who uses curriculum rightly is able to discern what is best from the curriculum for their students (I will address this as I continue to post on this topic).  They are selective and are able to use the curriculum to enhance their teaching rather than dictate their teaching.  Remember, you are not teaching curriculum, you are teaching the Bible! 
  3. We study curriculum rather than study the Bible.  I often see teachers in the church come to class with a quarterly in hand, ready to teach, but with no Bible.  The sight of this grieves me.  It tells me first of all that the curriculum has been on their study table while their Bible has remained on the shelf. If one’s Bible is not brought from home, one’s Bible is probably not used at home.  The sight of the Bible-less teacher also tells me that that teacher is prepared only to cover the lesson rather than to really teach the Bible from the overflow of their own personal interaction with the Word of God (I will address this idea in later posts as well).  Again, curriculum should not take over, it is a guide not a replacement.

    I know I said previously that it is important to read and study what God has said to other people, but if I stood in the pulpit week to week and simply read or quoted other preacher’s sermons, they may be Scripturally faithful, they may make good points, but they would not be fresh because they are not mine.  I have said only what God has said to another person, but I have not said what God has said to me, nor have I said what God is saying to the people He has entrusted me to teach.  
Curriculum is a great tool, but if it is misused it bends, twists, and drills the life out of the Bible rather than exposes the life that is in the Bible.  If we are to rightly apply curriculum to our teaching, we must understand it for what it is.  It is a guide, a suggestion, another writer’s experience with the text.  It is to enhance our teaching, not to replace it.  So how do we properly use curriculum as a teaching tool?  We must:
  1. Understand what a curriculum/writer is saying?
  2. Understand how a curriculum/writer arrived at what they are saying?
  3. Understand why a curriculum/writer would say what they have said?
More to come . . .
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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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The God Walkers

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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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