Here are two of the most helpful exegetical exercises that have informed me about the church and its purposes. I would suggest you take the time to engage in these activities.
1. Look up every instance of the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia, church, gathering, assembly, congregation, etc.) in the New Testament. Read the context of each use. The result will be a more healthy understanding of the Bible’s use of church. To understand what a church must do you must understand what a church is. In my mind being precedes doing.
2. In regard to the “community of faith,” each Christian should look up, read, and meditate on the “one another” passages of the New Testament.
Some of the more important preliminary conclusions at which I arrived when I first did this activity?
1. The overwhelming emphasis in the New Testament is on the physical, visible, local church. To say it another way, every Christian is a member of the “body of Christ,” but that body is manifested in a particular place and time.
2. Christians need each other to become more like Christ. There is no place in the Bible for “Lone-Ranger” Christianity. The community of believers is essential for sanctification and edification.
3. The church is the place not only to proclaim the gospel, but (more importantly), to demonstrate the effects of a gospel-changed life. In today’s culture, especially, an authentic demonstration of the gospel is often more important than a precise articulation of the gospel.
There has been an online surfeit of discussions regarding masculinity and Christianity (see here, here, here, or here). Various evangelicals have been using Mixed Martial Arts and other ultra-violent sports to inject missing machismo into American Evangelical Christian men.
I was first made aware of the connection between Christianity, MMA, and masculinity through Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I am particularly thankful for the ministry of Driscoll and his call for men to stand up and lead their churches and families. While I do not agree with the faux bravado sometimes created by the hyper-masculine Jesus described by Driscoll and others, I understand their reaction to the hyper-feminized Jesus of modern America. I, too, am tired of Jesus being portrayed as a “limp-wristed hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair who drank decaf and made pithy zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.”
The hyper-masculine Christian male is nothing new. In my denomination, “real men” are often portrayed as big-game hunters who can kill a bear with a Swiss Army knife. The popular Christian author, John Eldredge, has been marketing Christianity to men for years calling them to find their inner warrior.
As Christians, however, we are called to be Biblical, not reactionary. Christian men are called to be like Jesus who is neither an effiminate, lamb-snuggling weakling or a Rambo-esque MMA fighter. As Scot McKnight has said, “The gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild presentation is every bit as skewed and unbiblical as the Ultimate Fighting Jesus.”
I agree that there is a crisis of masculinity in American churches. The crisis of masculinity extends to the culture at large (see Al Mohler’s discussion of the gender gap in higher education). God has chosen men to stand up and lead. John Piper says it this way, “God calls spiritual, humble, Christlike men to lead the family as husbands and lead the church as elders” (Brothers We Are Not Professionals). Male leadership is not about weight lifting, bow-staff hunting skills, and bravado but, rather is grounded in the gospel, demonstrated through service, and solidified in confident humility.
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
In a meeting today I was reminded of this verse. Paul distinguishes his doctrine from the false teachers because it produces love. The genuine gospel that Paul preached was the basis for a life of love. A gospel changed person loves with a “pure heart” (a heart cleansed from sin), a “good conscience” (a conscience clear from guilt), and a “sincere faith” (a life free from hypocrisy and insincerity).
For me the application is twofold:
1. Is my love based on the gospel that through the work of Christ I have been freed from sin (Rom. 6), declared righteous, and given the gift of a new heart? Because of what Christ has done for me I am able to love appropriately in return.
2. The result of good doctrine is obedience to Christ (Jn. 14:23), not merely theological information. The temptation, sometimes, is for there to be a “hiatus between the arena of the… theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena” (Thielicke). Are my actions consistent with what I know about God and the gospel?
I have been comparing the idea of Jesus’ forgiveness of sins being sufficient for all time (a la Hebrews 10) and the insistence by many of continually confessing sin (a la 1 John 1:9). In my cursory reading of 1 John it appears that such a confession is a mere agreement that one is guilty before rather than a continual appropriation of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a one time act accomplished solely by God (1 John 2:12).
My initial conclusion: confession of sin is a realization of one’s condition and God’s salvation. God does the saving, confession is a natural result (not a prerequisite or ongoing requirement). I am not sure if this is all a part of evangelicalism’s “Catholic hangover” or just a failure to fully trust in the grace alone, faith alone message of the gospel.
I wonder how my actions would change if I really lived in the guilt free, once-for-all forgiveness of Jesus?
Many of our North American churches seem to have everything — culturally relevant outreach, attractive facilities, and a broad range of programs to match any and every lifestyle. Add to this the experience of dynamic speakers, professional-quality music, and inviting small groups. How could those who are most active in these churches be stagnant and dissatisfied?
There’s nothing wrong with top-quality facilities, creative programs, and a genuine sense of community. But the fundamental question is, “What message are we sharing in our community and within our walls through our programs?” I believe its our substance, not our structure, that is leaving so many stagnant and dissatisfied. A church may have polished programs, well-trained staff, and dynamic speakers.
But content is what people walk away with.
(Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel)
As you may or may not know, my wife loves weddings. She loves making someone’s wedding day beautiful and memorable. Recently she told me about a trick some people use to save money on the wedding cake. For those particularly concerned with a beautiful and ornate cake sometimes decorate Styrofoam or cardboard with fondant and decorative sugar flowers. This is all well and good because during the serving of the cake the wait staff takes the cake in the kitchen and swaps it with a pre-cut bargain priced cake. No one ever has to know.
Not a big deal when it comes to wedding cake but a very big deal when it comes to a church! My concern is that many Christians and churches have become more concerned with the look of the church rather than the substance. When someone goes to cut into our proverbial cake, all they find is a piece of cardboard.
In Christian Smith’s national study on the religious beliefs of young adults he found that most young Americans subscribe to a form of “moralistic, therapeutic deism” or (as I like to call it) “be good, feel good, believe-in-God-as-a-concept” religion. While no one has an excuse before God, the self-help and behavior-focused teaching in most churches leaves little room for revelation-based, gospel-centered, sacrificial relationship with Jesus.
Most people have as their central goal to be happy and feel good. Many pastors cater to their audience rather than oppose this self-centered form of idolatry. The gospel cannot be stripped of a call to “come and die.”
They say “ignorance is bliss.” It has always been my contention that ignorance is merely ignorance. I do not believe that genuine bliss can contain ignorance. Certainly when one is unaware they do not “worry” about their situation, but when informed with reality their is no true “happiness.”
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:8).
The reality of our situation is one of sin. We are sinners in need of grace. Ignoring this fact may give one an excuse to live in their own fantasy world, but it does not change the reality of their situation.
Rather than live in the myth of my own goodness, I pray that I understand the reality of my sin and I live in the reality of God’s grace.
My mind has been unsettled recently about the relationship between social justice and personal holiness. My own experience with the Church has been in settings that almost exclusively focus on issues of personal morality (e.g., fornication, lying, etc.). I think there is good reason for this. Take the Ten Commandments for example, they seem primarily concerned with one’s relationship to God.
On the other hand, there are well-meaning Christian and non-Christian groups that continually sound the alarm concerning the thousands of people that die every day from preventable disease around the globe, the children dying from starvation in other countries, the children kidnapped and forced to kill as soldier’s for a cause that is not there own. I could go on and on about modern day slavery and the like.
I don’t have the answer, but I am coming to some preliminary considerations.
1. Personal holiness and social justice are intertwined. Jesus makes it clear that love of God and love of others are two sides of the same coin.
2. Christians need to be careful what they emphasize. On Derek Webb’s so-called controversial new album “Stockholm Syndrome” he has a lyric that reads:
If I can tell what’s in your heart / By what comes out of your mouth / Then it sure looks to me like being straight / Is all it’s about
I believe that marriage and sexuality are gospel issues. However, I do not believe they are the only issues.
3. The gospel is both foundational and transformational. The gospel does not speak to only personal struggles but, also, the redemption of the world. Genuine service to the downtrodden is not less than the proclamation of the gospel, but it certainly is more.
These are some initial thoughts. What do you think? Any advice on how to think clearly about these issues? Leave some comments.
Today I read a great blog post entitled “Myth of the Good Ole Days.” The author makes many cogent arguments.
There is no such thing as the good ole’ days. It is a myth constructed by people with amnesia who have forgotten or have chosen not to remember the problems and perils of earlier days.
This is a subject that I have thought about frequently.
The other day a sweet sister in Christ sincerely asked me how I could work with young adults. “They’re just so much worst than when I was young,” she said. Now I have no doubt that she was sincere in this observation, but I had to remind her that sin is not limited by generation. Technology and style has changed, manifesting sin in new and creative ways, but the human condition remains the same. In the twenty-first century Americans struggle with internet pornography and materialism, in the 19th century it was legalized segregation, in the 18th century slavery and oppression of Africans and Native Americans, and the list goes on and on. Materialism and greed is cross-generational and we still struggle with the early heresy of America as a Savior-nation.
As sinners we like to set ourselves up as the standard of “what is right.” We demonize the sins of others (e.g. homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and minimize our own (e.g., materialism, greed, etc.).
The gospel is for every generation. The human heart has always struggled with idolatry and self-justification.
It is disconcerting to be vulnerable on the “interweb.” I am about to share my marital woes with millions of my closest friends. Here goes anyway…
I’ve been thinking a lot about idolatry and my own life. I have a lot of idols (e.g., sports, dreams, job, popularity, friends, etc.). The most dangerous idol I have recently discovered is the one God has called me to love more than myself — my wife.
In my haste to love and adore my wife (which I most certainly do), I have put a lot of expectations on her. I noticed recently that I started to get very terse with my wife when she let me down in even the smallest ways. Their are a myriad of reasons why this is the wrong way to act (e.g., she is the most talented and loving person I know, I act like a jerk way more than she does, she demonstrates sacrifice toward me every day, etc.).
Here is one way that Donald Miller explained it recently:
I realized that for years I’d thought of love as something that would complete me, make all my troubles go away. I worshiped at the alter of romantic completion. And it had cost me, plenty of times. And it had cost most of the girls I’d dated, too, because I wanted them to be something they couldn’t be. it’s too much pressure to put on a person.
That is so true. Only God can handle the “pressure” of demonstrating perfect love. The application of this sentiment is what hit me the hardest. Here is how Miller finished his thought:
I think that’s why so many couples fight, because they want their partners to validate them and affirm them, and if they don’t get that, they feel as though they’re going to die. And so they lash out. But it’s a terrible thing to wake up and realize the person you just finished crucifying didn’t turn out to be Jesus.