Category Archives: sola scritura

Christians, buck up!

Bamboo- the more you cut it, the more it grows.

As I have traveled and talked with a lot of people in the first of my worlds during the last couple of months, many have expressed concern over the way things are going in this country, not just politically and economically but more specifically they find a growing intolerance of the Christian faith. Many feel fearful thinking about what may lie ahead. But today I was challenged that we need to buck up, because we serve a mighty God who is perfectly capable of providing for His own.

Today in Sunday school there was a guy from China speaking. He was apparently raised as an atheist as most Chinese are now days. He said he enjoyed reading western literature (for college?). He noticed there were a lot of quotes from the Bible and references to Jesus in the  literature he was reading. He became curious about the Bible and wanted to get a copy to read. But they had been destroyed during the cultural revolution of 1967-77 and he couldn’t even find a copy in the library. Eventually he did get ahold of an old beat up Bible from a friend, one which had survived the cultural revolution. He read it and began to wonder if maybe there really was a God. He then came in contact with some Christians in one of the Three-Selves church (the gov’t official church) and he became a Christian. A few years later he went to seminary, a Three Selves (3S) church seminary in Nanjing and also studied abroad. Later he became a professor at a seminary and taught for nearly a decade.

There are two kinds of churches in China, the official government sponsored 3S Church (about 15 million people) and the house churches (about 60-70 million). The 3S stands for Self-governing, Self-supporting, Self-propagating. It sounds good but the problem is that it is controlled by communism.

He said that on the surface the 3S church may look to Amerian tourists to be “free” and very similar to American churches with choirs, etc. But the difference is that the 3S churches are government controlled. The government decides who can attend seminary and who can be ordained and even who can be baptized. He said that in the 1990’s came what is called the “reconstruction of theology” movement in the 3S seminaries. It basically changed two things 1) justification by faith and 2) authority of Scripture.

According to this movement, all religions must be compatible with socialist society, and must not be exclusive. So instead of preaching that mankind is sinners and needs to be justified by faith they must preach that the important thing is to be nice to other people. In essence they created a new doctrine: man is justified by love.

The other thing is that they would teach that the Bible is just human words. They are not allowed to preach from Revelation or about the judgment, and not too much about sin.

Anything sounding familiar? It struck me as he talked that perhaps that is where this country is also going – to a centrally controlled or government controlled church, dictating what can and cannot be preached, moving towards a theology of justification by “love” with ridicule, harassment and possibly even persecution for those who do not conform or who believe the Bible is God’s authoratative Word.

He said that he realized that teaching went against the clear teaching of the Bible and eventually he decided that he had to stay true to Scripture and leave the 3S church, and his job. He began meeting in his house with 4 other believers. Eventually they were cramming 60-70 people into their small living room! They divided and became two and those two also eventually divided until now there are 13. He said they focus on Bible training, worship and prayer. They don’t have buildings and they don’t have complex structure.

He also told me later that because of his Hebrew and Greek background he is helping with the new Chinese Standard Bible translation that is being done in simplified Mandarin. The New Testament is now available and the Old Testament is in process.

He didn’t say much about persecution other than to say that it seems less now than it had been in the recent past. When questioned, he said that yes they are monitored, their phones and emails are monitored. He said small groups may stay under the wire as long as they stay small but once a group gets to 100 people or more it gets a lot of attention from the authorities.

One of his companions told me that he doesn’t like to speak about his own persecution, he doesn’t like to think of it as a big deal. But she said he had spent time in prison because he started writing articles against the reconstruction of theology movement. He was also a leader of a group of home churches. When he leaves home he has to always be prepared to possibly not be able to come back. She said he did not call his family on this trip because their phone will be monitored. (I think he will be speaking at a conference next week in Chicago). But his attitude is that he will not be fearful because the God of the universe takes care of him. He will not fear the authorities because he is on the right side and they are the ones in danger.

It is a real encouragement to me to hear Chinese believers like him telling of their ministry and their desire to continue to follow the Lord despite the harassment, and even threat of persecution and imprisonment. I find it humbling and at the same time immensely encouraging and challenging. They have survived communist persecution and thrived. So come on, folks, let’s buck up! Our brothers witness that God is taking care of His children in China. And that same God can certainly take care of His children in this country too, no matter what happens!

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The Jesus of our imagination

I just watched a youtube video of a pastor of a megachurch scolding some members of his congregation for wanting more in-depth Bible teaching. He excoriated them for being “fat” with spiritual knowledge and seemed to assume that that knowledge wouldn’t be used. He said we just need to know “Jesus” and didn’t need to worry about stuff like propitiation or justification but instead we should invite people to  church [presumably his] so they can know “Jesus”. It made me wonder what “Jesus” they will know? Seems to me that justification, propitiation, sanctification, and all those other big words are vital parts of understanding who the Jesus of the Bible is.

A lot of people do seem to be following a Jesus of their imagination. I remember talking with a guy who was cutting my hair who said that as long as you loved everybody and believed in “Jesus” you were okay. He thought people should just live how they wanted to and not be accountable for anything as long as they “loved”. (Unfortunately I have observed that actions which one person thinks of as “love” are not always perceived as “love” by others – but that’s another topic!) A young woman recently justified shacking up with a boyfriend by saying that “Jesus” understands how much she “needs” a man and wouldn’t condemn her for doing that.

Seems to me though, that one of the problems with everybody just imagining a “Jesus” they like, sooner or later somebody’s “Jesus” will conflict with somebody else’s “Jesus”. One “Jesus” is okay with indiscriminately mowing down the enemy combatant and civilian alike saying that “Jesus” will sort them out. Another man’s “Jesus” is okay with aggressive fund raising for a non-existent orphanage. Another person’s “Jesus” becomes the rallying point for political documents, actions, and causes while still others have a “Jesus” who is the rallying point for political documents, actions, and causes which are the polar opposite.

Can the “Jesus” we imagine really save us from the wrath of God? Can a “Jesus” of our imagination transform us? Can we trust a “Jesus” of our imagination? When circumstances change or we become old or sick and our minds and imaginations are numbed with pain, fatigue, weakness, what will become of the “Jesus” of our imagination?

Let us not “imagine” Jesus, let us know Him!

Philippians 3:8-11  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

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Filed under Apologetics, apostasy, Biblical truth, signs of the times, sola scritura

Scripture more important than prayer

2008-06-12-lake-w-rainbowA few months ago I was listening to a sermon where the pastor was saying that prayer was THE most important thing in the Christian life. I was in the pew thinking, that no, actually, Scripture is probably more important because without it we don’t even know how to pray, nor do we know to Whom we are praying. Ironically, the pastor backed up all his points with, you guessed it, SCRIPTURE!

Reading through Nehemiah the other day, I noticed that after the walls were rebuilt, they had a revival. And what led to this revival? In chapter 8 Ezra read the Scriptures. From early morning until midday he read. And the people listened attentively. They wept as the Scriptures were interpreted and explained. In chapter 9 all that reading of Scripture was followed by a long prayer of confession of sin and a recital of their history of rebellion and God’s greatness and His history of compassion and forgiveness. This time of prayer was then followed by chapter 10 were the people made commitments to change in areas they were sinning. They took action to reinstitute proper worship, observation of the sabbath, bringing in tithes, separating from foreign marriages, providing for the on going temple worship.

Anybody can pray without Scripture, the pagans, animists, and adherents of other religions do it all the time. But without Scripture our prayers are very me-centered. “God, give me and mine health, wealth, safety.” But from Scripture we learn all about WHO we are praying to. A God who is almighty and all-powerful. A God who is holy and doesn’t tolerate sin. Yet a God who is compassionate and loving and full of mercy to those who hope in Him. We learn of a sovereign God who works all things (ALL things, good and bad) for His purposes. We learn of HIs purposes, that we become a holy people, that His salvation be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, that people everywhere repent and believe the gospel. We learn that prayer offered in faith is very effective. We learn about perseverance in prayer. We learn that obedience is better than sacrifice,  we learn that our sins hide God’s face from us. We learn about how to pray, how to praise.

But stopping at Scripture and prayer is not enough. We also need to take action. In my case, it may be different from those in Nehemiah’s day, depending on what conviction of sin the Holy Spirit brought to my heart through the Scripture. Revival is not complete without action being taken to correct the wrong that I am doing. It doesn’t necessarily mean add new programs, new activities, but rather to STOP doing what is wrong and DO do what is right.

So let us dig out our Bibles and let revival begin!

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Cow songs

Somebody once told me a story about a farmer who went to the big city for a church conference. When he came back his wife asked him what he had learned.

 He said, “We learned  worship songs.”

 His wife said, “Oh. What’s a worship song?”

 The farmer answered, “Well, it’s kind of like a hymn. A hymn might say something like:

 There’s a brown cow and a black cow in the barn.

And they have eaten up all the hay.

 But these new fangled worship songs would be like this:

 There’s a cow, there’s a cow, there’s a cow, cow, cow.

There’s a cow. there’s a cow, there’s a cow, cow, cow.

In the barn, in the barn, in the barn, barn, barn.

Yes, it’s a cow (clap, clap),

It’s a cow (clap, clap)

It’s a cow (clap) in the barn (clap)

OOOOOOOO! It’s a cow!!!

 Well, it’s a funny story. But the other day I was reminded that it is also a painful reality. I am currently at one of the ends of the earth helping some folk get some stories from Genesis into their languages. They have a devotional before we get the day started.  And to my dismay, even here at the ends of the earth they were singing, well, cow songs. The words were vague, and of course repetitive. Not much content at all and what there was was of dubious theological value. (These were not songs they had written, they were songs in the national language.) Maybe the purpose was just to set a mood, you know, like calm people down before the Bible study or something. But if you think about it, what a waste of time. We really ought to be encouraging them to sing Scripture songs at least. They live and work in oral societies and don’t spend time reading. Plus they often do long monotonous tasks. Singing with their mind would be a great way to reflect on God and His goodness and His will for us.

 I also grew up singing what, in retrospect, were some pretty bizarre songs. For example in Sunday school we would often sing songs like “I’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus”, “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain”, “Deep and wide”, etc. But those songs have never been a comfort and have certainly never convicted me of anything!  Nor have they ever inspired me to trust and follow the Lord. When I am out in the middle of a forest, or stuck in traffic, or driving long distances, or sitting in a brownout, or crying out to God in any other situation, I have never, ever sung any of those songs. So perhaps we need to work harder with our music so that it’s not just a time filler, or stimulant or narcotic but rather a way to encourage people to reflect on God and His will for us.

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Filed under joyful sound, music, sola scritura

Why is it getting so hard to go to church?

Lately I have been finding it harder and harder to go to church.

When was a kid, we went to Sunday School and then church and went back again for the evening service. We went every Sunday rain or shine (or snow) and to midweek service too. I loved Sunday School and children’s church. In college I joined a collegiate ministry and was involved in Bible studies, prayer meetings, and went to every conference, retreat and training program they ever had. As a young adult I spent two years as a missionary nurse in South America, came back for more training and went to Asia to help with Bible translation. In my early years in Asia, though at first I struggled with language, church was an oasis in the midst of a predominantly non-Christian society. You’d think I would really like church.

But too often nowdays I come out of church feeling upset and wishing I hadn’t gone.

So what happpened?

I think the thing that is most disturbing is what I can only call Bible Abuse.

I am not a world class exegete but even I can see that far too many sermons are somebody’s ideas with some Scripture tacked on it with the whole lot passed off as God’s truth. Some sermons allude, allude, allude but never ever get around to plainly stating what Scripture says. Some take Scripture and come up with jaw-dropping “applications”. Some tell so many stories that any point is lost in the constant shift in story lines. Some preach psychology. Some preach self-esteem. Some preach prosperity. Some preach that we need to do more and work harder and by leaps and bounds give us lists of 6 steps to this, 3 steps to that, 7 principles of the other.

People nowdays seem to be forever imposing stuff on the Biblical characters too. I went to a workshop about how adults learn. I was astonished to be told that Jesus used these methods. Imagine that! Those very methods – that we didn’t rediscover until the 21st century! And they showed a film to prove it! And did you know Jesus was a CEO? Did you know that He was rich and wants you to be rich? And remember Jabez and his magic prayer? But somehow when you read the Bible yourself, it’s not like that at all.

So what is going on? The Bible is treated as if it were a some magic “dust” that you can sprinkle on your talk to give it authority. If you can associate your ideas with the Bible, and tell us that Paul used that method, or better yet that Jesus used that method, then that will make it binding on us. You can be very selective too. Look at all the verses on God’s love – and ignore the ones that talk about His hatred of sin and His justice and holiness. Not only that, you can twist a verse around and tie it in knots and make it say whatever you want it to. With a bit of practice you can even go from “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good” (Psalm 136:1a) to “We must praise God [preferably with modern worship bands] so that He will then be obligated to bless us and give us what we want.”

Is this not Bible Abuse?

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Filed under Bible, Biblical truth, scripture twisting, sola scritura

Smarter than God Himself

Now here’s a good example of looking at things through the eyes of flesh

McLaren: This is, one of the huge problems is the traditional understanding of hell. Because if the cross is in line with Jesus’ teaching then—I won’t say, the only, and I certainly won’t say even the primary—but a primary meaning of the cross is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like the kingdoms of the this world, by inflicting violence and coercing people. But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing, voluntary sacrifice. But in an ironic way, the doctrine of hell basically says, no, that that’s not really true. That in the end, God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination, just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn’t the center then. The cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God.

Hansen: Oh, Brian, that was just so beautifully said. I was tempted to get on my soap box there and you know—Because as you and I know there are so many illustrations and examples that you could give that show why the tradition view of hell completely falls in the face of—It’s just antithetical to the cross. But the way you put it there, I love that. It’s false advertising. And here, Jesus is saying, turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Forgive seven times seventy. Return violence with self-sacrificial love. But if we believe the traditional view of hell, it’s like, well, do that for a short amount of time. Because eventually, God’s going to get them.

McLaren: Yeah. And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who—I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation. Cause some people would use this against him. But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive

And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.

(For the rest of the transcript of the original talk see http://www.understandthetimes.org/mclarentrans.shtml )

God: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Paul: For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Cor 1.21-25)

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Walking and Quacking like Christians

If it walks like a Christian and quacks like a Christian, is it a Christian?

Can we define a set of actions that a disciple would do and then systematically train people to do those actions? Will they then be Christian disciples?

Does participating in activities produce disciples of Christ?

Gary Gilley recently wrote an article entitled “Willow Creek’s Big Adventure” at:
http://www.svchapel.org/Resources/articles/read_articles.asp?ID=142

In it he discusses Willow Creek’s recent admission that they had been wrong. One of the executive pastors of Willow Creek, Greg Hawkins had this to say:

Hawkins defines Willow’s ministerial goal as “trying to help people who are far from Christ become disciples of Christ characterized by their love for God and other people.” This is a most commendable goal, but how has Willow gone about trying to accomplish this goal? “We do that,” Hawkins states, “by creating a variety of programs and services for people to participate in. Our strategy is to try to get people, far from Christ, engaged in these activities. The more people are participating in these sets of activities with higher levels of frequency it will produce disciples of Christ.”

But they discovered that 1) “increasing levels of participation in these activities does not predict whether a person will become a disciple of Christ.” 2) in every church there is a spiritual continuum ranging from unbelievers to fully devoted followers of Christ. 3) All have different needs but churches most filled needs of unbelievers and new believers, leaving fully devoted believers dissatisfied with church (this survey was done only on seeker friendly churches following Willow’s model.)

The solution?

“…we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders. We should have gotten people, taught them how to read their Bibles between services, do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own because what’s happening to these people, the older they get the more they are expecting the church to feed them, when in fact the more mature a Christian becomes the more he becomes a self-feeder.”

Certainly people should know how to feed themselves. But Jesus also told the disciples to feed the flock. Paul told the pastors and elders to shepherd the flock. Will doing “the spiritual practices” produce disciples of Christ??? Somehow I think they still don’t get it.

It’s like we have tried to break down Christian behavior into bytes and then made programs to train people to do those bytes. And we seem to be assuming that it’s the doing of them that makes us Christians, or at least somehow that by training ourselves to do, act, and think like a Christian that we will become one. So we “do” church in ways to engage interest and get people to come to activities and join in the “training” assuming it will produce Christians. But will it? Or are we risking damnably deceiving ourselves??

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