Sullivan in Crisis

A friend just sent me a magazine article written by Andrew Sullivan titled: “Christianity in Crisis: Forget the Church. Follow Jesus.” And here are four reasons the article is awful.

1. Dismissal of God’s Authoritative Word. The first clue that he’s way off base is when he starts citing Jefferson’s reduction of Scripture as heroic. Apparently, the writer’s modern sensibilities are more authoritative than the revealed Word of God.

2. Liberalism. It’s just liberalism– he’s trying to find a kernel of truth by peeling away the husks of “myth” and “legend.”  And like most liberals, he’s glaringly inconsistent. In one section he outright denies the validity of the New Testament writings. In another he says he believes in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection.  Why he picks and chooses certain doctrines and dismisses others is beyond me. In reality, Andrew Sullivan is the author of Andrew Sullivan’s religion. It’s made in America. Assuredly, divine revelation didn’t bring him to his conclusions. And whatever they are, they don’t represent authentic Christianity, no matter how loudly he says they do. Christianity stripped of its fundamental doctrine is not Christian. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Christianity without doctrine? He’s a walking contradiction. In his final paragraph he writes of Christianity, “when politics and doctrine and pride recede, it will rise again.” I’m all for politics and pride receding, but doctrine? He just spewed four pages of “doctrine.” False, damnable doctrine, but doctrine nonetheless. He’s rigidly dogmatic about denouncing dogma. He’s indoctrinating his audience with an anti-doctrine agenda. That’s one of the (many) big problems with post-modern Christianity– its own premises undercut its propositions. Sullivan takes on the unenviable task of staying Christian without believing any doctrine. A nutty thing, I know.

4. An Attack Against Christ. Satan’s grandest schemes are against the church, and this article leads a frontal assault on the bride of Christ. It is like Satan to use a man who calls himself “Christian” to attack Christ’s body. The church (per Ephesians) is at the center of God’s plan, and as far as Scripture is concerned, the church is the manifest presence of Christ on earth. An attack against the church is an attack against Christ. These “I like Jesus, but not the church” movements undermine authentic Christianity. Beware of them– many of them have jettisoned essential doctrines and embraced some that are vaguely identified with Jesus. But they’re not Christian– and the reason they’re so insidious is because they retain the label.

Conclusion:

Christianity is not in crisis. Andrew Sullivan is in crisis. The Jesus he has manufactured is a product of his own imagination. When the real Jesus returns to judge the world, Sullivan won’t be able to hide behind his high-brow essays. Unless he repents– and I hope he does– he will face God unforgiven. As for now, don’t buy his pick-and-choose “Christianity.” It has about as much saving power as Buddha.

 

Coming home: Thoughts on returning to Grace Brethren

In the last couple months our family has seen enormous change. This is always how we tend to do it– have a baby, start seminary, move, start a new ministry. We did that in the summer of 2010, with the birth of Emma, the start of my seminary training, and the move up to Woodland Hills for ministry at First Baptist Church Canoga Park. We did it again this winter. Baby Ella came in February, my third semester of seminary started in January, we moved to Simi Valley in October, and now, a new ministry at Grace Brethren Church starts May. Life just doesn’t stop.

It’s almost been moving too fast for me to slow down and think about it. Among many things that I’ve had to set aside during this time, my blog has taken a backseat. For me, that’s not good. I am among the Puritan ilk (in this one sense, at least), in that writing is a kind of therapy to me. Writing is thinking. Writing is reflecting. Writing is mediation. And when my writing stops, it’s a red flag reminding me that I need to slow down. For me, time is a wild, flitting butterfly that can only be captured with a net of paper and pen. I need to get these thoughts and memories in a jar. Otherwise, they get away before I have time to marvel at their surprising beauty.

So let me share a few thoughts of mine about coming home– coming back to Grace Brethren Church, that is. I am beyond excited about this. Here’s a few reasons why.

I have a stewardship that has been entrusted to me. Of course, primarily my stewardship is from God. He awakened my dead heart to faith in Christ, granted me repentance, and has sustained me since. He has gifted me and commissioned me. All that he has given me I consider a sacred trust, and I have the great responsibility to “fulfill my ministry” and “guard the good deposit.” My aim in life is simply to be faithful with that which God has given me.

Also, however, I feel, in a sense, indebted to Grace Brethren Church. Before we moved down to Fallbrook to serve as an associate pastor, I had never been a member of any other church. This was the church I was raised in, saved in, baptized in, mentored in, and trained in. In fact, were it not for a summer internship there in 2007, I maybe would never have entered the ministry. Who knows what Eric Durso would be like without this faithful church? How different would even my parents be if not for the faithful preaching of the Word by Pastor John McIntosh for all those years! I will never know all the ways this church has shaped me. And I say all that because now, in returning as a pastor, I rejoice that I get to give back all that’s been given to me. Proverbs 11:25 says “one who waters will himself be watered.” The seedling of my faith was watered by Grace Brethren Church, and I would be eminently blessed if I would be able to return the favor.

Furthermore, there are so many relationships that I’ve developed over the years with the people from Grace Brethren. Many of them I grew up with. It will be a new and refreshing experience to have all these close friends our age and in similar life-stages. “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother,” and many of mine attend Grace Brethren. So for that, I’m grateful.

More than all these things I am excited to get on board with the gospel work that is being done there. How badly I want to be used of God to present the glories of His grace to our lost and dying world! Grace Brethren has a strong history of standing firm for the truth and moving forward with the gospel– and any movement that’s committed to those things is a movement I’m excited about.

My ultimate goal in coming back to Grace Brethren Church is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ by my service to his church. I hope to serve the brothers I’ll be laboring alongside, and do whatever I can to help them succeed in magnifying Christ and his gospel. My desire is to be a servant of the flock assigned to me, namely the students, and teach them the Word of God in a way that puts the breath-taking glory of God on display.

Please pray for me and my family as we make this move. As is normal for a pastor entering a new ministry, there will be some time of adjustment. Our prayer is that God would quickly knit our hearts together, and that in the next few months we’ll be able to lay the foundation for a long and fruitful ministry.

Soli Deo Gloria

Korah’s Rebellion and church discipline

I enjoy reading through the Pentateuch, especially the narratives that reveal the leadership of Moses. If there’s one congregation that you wouldn’t want to lead, it’s this one. It’s a huge nation (probably around two million men, women, and children), the desert is hot and dry, and food is scarce (even when there is plenty of food and water, imagine the logistics of getting everyone properly fed). It was a mess, and the biblical text doesn’t hide any of the gore. How Moses handled it is certainly a model for pastors and leaders.

I know that Numbers 16-17 is not a church discipline manual, but I think one can learn a lot from these passages about how those who have been placed in leadership need to understand these types of situations. Simple observations of Moses’ dealings with Korah’s rebellion teach us much about the nature of division, discontent, how leaders ought to respond, and how God intervenes.

1. The rebellion begins with the malcontents coming together. (16:3)

“They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron…”

2. They claim that their issue is a theological one. (16:3b)

“…and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?'”

Most of the malcontents who lead the charge in a church split disguise their issues with theological language. It makes the issue sound less petty, and usually garners support from those who lack discernment.

3. Moses calls them to deal with the issue, but they refuse to answer and reject his leadership. (16:12)

“And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, ‘We will not come up.'”

This is Moses’ first attempt to work the problem out– face to face dealings. They refuse and reject him.

4. God issues clear directions to Moses (16:20-21)

And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.”

Of course, we don’t receive direct revelation from God like Moses did. But we do have the Word of God and the revealed will of God. Matthew 18 and Titus 3 give us some clear directions for dealing with these kinds of situations.

5. Moses pursues them, warning them and the people near them. (16:25-26)

Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.”

The first time Moses called Dathan and Abiram to come to him. They rejected the offer. This time, he goes to them. Moses shows how serious the warning is and how much he cares for his people. Even after he’s rejected, he pursues the wayward people to warn them.

This is a model for pastoral ministry– unwilling, unconcerned sheep need to be shepherded even as they dismiss the leadership. Overseers lead as those who will give an account to God (Heb. 13:17).

6. Moses acknowledges that he acts on behalf of God. (16:28)

And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.

The authority of church leadership is not inherent authority. It derived authority. It comes from the Word of God. A leader only has permission to speak with authority the things that God has already spoken. In this case, Moses is affirming that his leadership and authority is from God, not himself.

7. Moses warns them that their rebellion is despising God. (16:30)

Moses speaking to the malcontents: But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.

Moses points out that their problem is not with Moses, it’s with God. They claim that it’s a theological issue and that they’re trying to do what is right (see # 2) but it’s actually not that at all. They simply don’t like God.

8. Moses obeys, and God does the judging. (16:31-32)

And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods.

It’s never Moses’ job to mete out the judgment. He simply is called to obey. Moses spoke the warning he was supposed to speak, and God did the judgment. Church leaders must do what they are told, and let God work out the details.

9. When God’s judgment falls, the congregation blames the leadership. (16:41)

But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.”

Notice what the congregation says: “You have killed the people.” The earth opens up and consumes the rebels, in an event clearly an act of God, and Moses gets blamed. Having heard that Moses could turn his staff into a snake, how Moses, by the raising of his staff, parted the Red Sea, how he, with his words, commanded plagues to come and go in Egypt– it’s not hard to understand how the Israelites felt about Moses. They must have thought his power caused the earth to open and eat the rebels.

Humans have a tendency to do this. Attribute things that are clearly acts of God to mere men. Here, after God judges the people, Moses is blamed for the judgment, even though all he did was obey God and warn the people. A pastor must be ready to take the brunt of the anger from the congregation– they will never admit that their problem is with God; it’s much easier to blame the leader.

10. Yet, the leaders must be ready to protect their wayward people. (16:46-48)

After the congregation blames the leadership and continues complaining, God causes a plague to break out. Note Moses’ response:

And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.” So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.

After the first judgment, when the earth swallowed the leaders of the rebellion, people weren’t changed. Instead of fearing the Lord, they placed the blame on Moses. When God caused the plague to destroy them, Moses acted quickly to save them. Aaron “stood between the dead and the living” to make atonement for their sin and stop the plague. It would have been easy for the leadership to allow their haters to be eliminated. But God’s call for leadership is to stand between the dead and the living, even as they reject you, and hold out that which can atone for sin– the gospel of Jesus Christ.

11. The Lord vindicates the leadership. (17:5, 8 )

“And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”…On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.

To lead God’s people one must resolve to aim for God’s approval. They must be content doing what is right when the whole congregation rebels. In the end, God will vindicate the upright, and prove himself to be the true authority. By causing Aaron’s staff to blossom, he showed that he was the one behind all the events. Moses didn’t cause the ground to open up and devour the people, God did. Moses didn’t call down the plague, God did.

12. The congregation understands the holiness of God. (17:12-13)

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”

This response indicates that the people finally began to understand the holiness of God– how much he hates sin and rebellion. And once people understand the holiness of God, they all do the same thing. The response is universal: “Are we all to perish?”

It’s a legitimate question. And it’s this question that leads people to despise themselves, repent in dust and ashes, and cast themselves at the mercy of God. No one who receives grace has not first asked: “Are we all to perish?”

As preachers, we want people to ask that question. We want them to be desperate and to feel that their sins are damning. And then we want to hold out the gospel of Jesus Christ, who perished in our place, taking upon himself our sin and rebellion, paying for it on the cross, resurrecting victorious over it, and granting total and complete forgiveness to anyone who would ever repent and make him Lord.

Church discipline will keep the church God-centered, gospel-rich, and vigilant. It reminds everyone of the holiness of God, it convicts sinners, it chastens believers, and it readies hearts to hear the saving message of Jesus Christ.

Pillars of Grace– a premature review

I am not finished with the book, but per my desire to become a book reviewer, and my promise to start somewhere, here’s my review of Pillars of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men, by Steven Lawson.

I started by reviewing chapter one, which you can read here if you want to.

Chapters 2-13

After an introductory chapter, the book focuses in on individual Christian stalwarts. They are arranged chronologically. I am now on chapter 14, and I’ve read of Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Augustine, and Isidore of Seville.

Mini-Biography

Each chapter is arranged essentially the same way. It begins by setting the stage. Lawson writes of the main dilemmas Christians were facing, whether it’s government decreed persecution, discredit from the world of philosophy, or heresy. Once he establishes the scene, the hero takes center stage. What follows is a short biography: where he grew up, what influenced him, what he wrote, why he wrote, and what became of him. I found these sections to be the most interesting.

I also found that the chapters later in the book have gotten better. This is partially because the cumulative testimony of these witnesses to the doctrines of grace is so strong. Each chapter is like a brick being laid, and the total effect is a beautiful building.

The later chapters are better also because the farther we go through church history, the more biographical information we have. For example, the extant writings of 1st century Clement are infinitesimal compared to the voluminous writings of 4th-5th century Augustine. The more material, the better the biography and the greater understanding of who they were and what they taught.

Major Works

After introducing you to the character, he briefly describes his most popular writings. In the chapter on Justin Martyr, he mentioned his Apologies, who they were written to and what they were about. The chapter on Irenaeus discussed the importance of his Against Heresies, what it was, why he wrote it, and what effect it had.

Because of Augustine’s incredible output of literature (242 books), Lawson focuses on the most popular ones (Confessions, The City of God, etc). For Isidore, who also wrote extensively, he makes sections (Biblical and Theological works, Dogmatic and Apologetic works, etc) and highlights the most important writings in each. These sections, combined with the comprehensive citations at the end of each chapter make for a great reference.

Doctrines of Grace in Focus

The chapter then turns to focus on their doctrine. He looks at them through five or six doctrinal categories, each category having its own section: divine sovereignty, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible call, and divine reprobation. Lawson goes through each doctrine and shows what the father believed about it by citing original sources.

A few comments about this section. First, it tends to be dryer than the rest. It mostly consists of original source citation (which is helpful) and Lawson’s summarizing comments. Second, in some cases it seems difficult to truly understand whether the churchman in question was actually articulating the specific doctrine. In most cases, Lawson is right on by nailing down the father’s stance on an issue. In other cases, the father’s writings simply don’t offer enough information on the subject, and the few quotes offered aren’t very convincing. This is a small quibble, however, because it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, Lawson is quick to admit that the writings are blurry.

On the more positive side, Lawson makes it clear early on that these men are by no means infallible. In many cases, he critiques their view, shows how it contradicts Scripture, and offers an opinion as to what influences caused them to take that view. Lawson doesn’t make the Catholic mistake of unwittingly buying everything the fathers said.

Conclusive Exhortation

After the doctrinal focus, Lawson ends with an exhortation for his readers. This section is short and pointed. He summarizes the life of the father and shows how it applies to people today– men need to rise up and proclaim strong theology, live with conviction, and do all for the glory of God while they have breath.

Conclusions

This book might be difficult to read lengthy portions in one sitting because it doesn’t tell a single cohesive story. It’s like reading a compilation of short stories– they’re not much related. In many instances, it reads like a series of lectures, which, according to the preface, it was– Lawson put together this material to teach the men of his church (I find this fascinating) and ended up editing it and publishing it as a book. This means that there are many repeated statements throughout (I have no problem with that, I need to hear something again and again for it to stick). With that being said, it doesn’t feel academic. Lawson is a preacher, and you won’t finish a chapter without being exhorted to faithfulness.

A great way to approach this work would be to read it devotionally. Since the chapters are around 10 pages each (except for a few longer ones, like Augustine’s and Luther’s), I think it would be a great exercise to read a chapter each morning, perhaps after your Bible reading and prayers. I continually find my soul soaring to great heights after reading reading of these men and the truths they proclaimed.

Through reading this book, I am convinced more than ever that pastors need to be familiar with church history. What we can learn by reading the pages of the centuries is far more important than what we can learn by reading the latest issue of Relevant Magazine.

Gritty wisdom for church planters

Over at Raw Christianity Gunner is posting a series called Church Planting Among the Unreached: Gritty Wisdom with Brad Buser. It’s a recounting of some notes he took during one of Buser’s classes when he was at The Master’s College.

He writes:

Listen to people with scars. That’s become a motto of mine. Brad Buser has scars. In processing some old files recently, I came across one of his handouts from a class on Cross-Cultural Church Planting at The Master’s College around 2004. I never took the course, but Brad and his teaching were so well received by the students who took the course that I sat in on several sessions during my time on staff. The handout was entitled “Ministry Team Startup Talk,” a title that completely understates the priceless value of what Brad had to say. Brad’s teaching is rich in experience, incomparably honest, and fiercely missional (before missional was cool). The outline contains 20 points, and I’ll be sharing five at a time in coming days.

I remember Buser speaking at one of my church gatherings when I was in college, and being deeply moved. This guy has something to say worth hearing. Stop by and get some of the time-tested wisdom from a missionary who’s been-there-done-that.

Part One (Points 1-5)

Part Two (Points 6-10)

Part Three (Points 11-15)

Part Four (16-20)

Remember Nadab and Abihu

From the beginning, God has determined how his people should worship him. The sacrificial system wasn’t a human idea, it was God’s idea. The priest’s clothing was meticulously detailed by God. Blueprints to the original place of worship were given from heaven with divine meaning and purpose. They were clear and concrete. They were binding and authoritative. And to ignore them was the pay a great price.

In other words, God established very early on that when it comes to worship, God makes the rules.

I wonder if some of the Israelites balked at the various customs God required of them. Confessing your sins to a goat, for example, may have seemed kind of silly. But of course, God had a great plan in mind when he instituted these things. They had a purpose beyond Israel’s limited understanding; something they could not see from their perspective. They didn’t know that the veil would be torn from top to bottom, indicating that the believer is now able to enter into the presence of God through Christ. They didn’t know that every time they slaughtered a lamb they were pointing to the greater reality of the ultimate Lamb of God, who would be slaughtered for the sins of many. God determined how they would worship, and it was Israel’s responsbility to obey scrupulously, even if they did not fully understand what it all meant.

When men take matters of worship into their own hands and attempt something to worship God in a way that God has not prescribed, they tread on precarious grounds. It seems to be the pattern throughout Scripture: the first thing sin affects is the attitude toward God in matters of worship.

After Genesis 3 comes Genesis 4. (Profound, right?). Genesis 3 records the Fall. And Genesis 4 gives us the account of the first humans born with original sin. Cain and Abel. And what was Cain’s sin (before the murder)? It was in he way he attempted to worship God.

That’s why when Israel becomes a nation and is freed from Egypt, the first thing that they get is law. Guidelines. Stipulations. Regulations. If they are to be the people of God, they must know how to worship him.

And right smack in the center of the law-giving is a very peculiar story. And I believe it’s there to slap you across the face and tell you, “Wake up, man. God is holy. Do things his way.”

And if you’ve read the title of this post, you probably know where I’m going. Nadab and Abihu. Leviticus 10. Remember them?

In one of the ceremonies in which they were to worship God by their offering, they offered “strange fire.” ESV translates it, “unauthorized fire.” As they offered it, the fired jumped out from their censers and devoured them. God was not pleased, and at that moment he killed them for their sin. What was their sin? Other than the fact that they offered strange fire, we’re not sure. No specifics are given. We don’t even know what was strange about the fire, or what made it unauthorized. I think Moses purposely doesn’t tell us what exactly they did because he wants us to get the point: God is holy. Fear him. Follow his directions.

Isn’t the point here clear? When it comes to worship, God makes the rules. Human innovation isn’t allowed. This is not an Old Testament principle. This is a principle for human beings in a universe ruled by a holy God.

When we gather to church on Sunday mornings, remember that we’re coming toward Nadab and Abihu’s altar to serve Nadab and Abihu’s God. The method of our worship has changed (by God’s design), but the principle laid down for us in Leviticus 10 has not: don’t bring unauthorized fire into the worship of God. Human wisdom has no place in the house of God. He makes the rules.

Now, I understand the New Testament doesn’t give the same specific prescriptions for worship in the church. The pastor isn’t given a certain type suit to wear, like a priest’s ephod; sacrifices are no longer viable, seeing as how the final sacrifice has already been given; and though the tabernacle was designed by God, there is no blueprint for church buildings these days. Much of the worship in the New Testament is descriptive, not prescriptive. But I think the reason why it’s that way is because the Old Testament has already been written. And if you start in Genesis, and get to know this Yahweh, by the time you turn from Malachi to Matthew you’ll get a sense of his impeccable holiness, hatred for sin, and purposefulness in everything. You’ll already know that he takes worship seriously.

So when you’re sitting around the boardroom planning your Easter service, you’re not asking whether or not it’s appropriate to play “Highway to Hell” as an opening song.

Why? Because you’ve met Nadab and Abihu. And you’ve met their God. And you’ve seen his standards. And (hopefully) you’ve learned that when you approach the throne in worship you gotta take your sandals off– you’re on holy ground.

This Sunday, remember that.

And you might find yourself appreciating Jesus more.

 

 

 

The Elephant Room extravaganza

James MacDonald.

I really love the guy, I really do. I’ve benefited from him and his ministry. But I think he’s dropped the ball here. Here’s why I think James MacDonald should not have invited Bishop T.D. Jakes to the 2012 Elephant Room.

If you’re not familiar with the whole issue here, let me be as succinct as possible:

Jakes is associated with Oneness Pentecostals, who deny the trinity uphold a belief in a modalistic god. Though he has never outrightly denied the trinity, he is a slippery fish when it comes to getting answers. It’s not hard to admit that you belief in the orthodox trinity. He hasn’t earned his reputation as a modalist for nothing.

Oh, and by the way, as that weren’t enough, Jakes preaches the despicable prosperity gospel. Bilking the poor and desperate out of their money by telling them if they give to his ministry they’ll be rewarded materially in this life. He’s cut from the same cloth as his co-health, wealth, and prosperity preacher Joel Osteen. Modalism has been considered a damnable heresy since the 2nd century– those who buy it are not Christian.

Anyway, that’s who James MacDonald invited to his “evangelical” conference.

While many are saying that the event will be a great time to hash out some details and perhaps even straighten out Jakes, it doesn’t seem likely. First of all, MacDonald denies Jakes’ modalism, and his prosperity preaching seems to be a non-issue. As far as MacDonald is concerned, they’re on the same team. What’s especially revealing is the Elephant Room website’s description of TD Jakes. Not a peep about the issues:

We are thrilled to announce that T.D. Jakes will be joining us at Elephant Room 2.

T. D. Jakes is a charismatic leader, visionary, provocative thinker, and entrepreneur who serves as Senior Pastor of The Potter’s House, a global humanitarian organization and 30,000-member church located in Dallas, Texas.

Named “America’s Best Preacher” by Time Magazine, Jakes’ voice reverberates from the world’s most prominent stages. Through a nexus of charitable works, T.D. Jakes extends a hand of help to the needy, heart of compassion to the hurting, and message of empowerment to the oppressed and disenfranchised.

We are looking forward to some candid conversation with Bishop Jakes at The Elephant Room 2

For those holding on to the last threads of hope that the Elephant Room won’t legitimize Jakes’ ministry, thinking that the other guys in the room will be man enough to call out the issues and confront them face-to-face, too late. He has already been legitimized. Just read the above paragraphs. Change a few names and they could be talking about C.J. Mahaney.

But isn’t it right to talk everything out? Talk face-to-face instead of blog-to-blog? Maybe Luther should have had called for a public, sit-down conversation with the pope, a few priests, and the treasurer who handled the indulgences before he nailed those 95 theses to the door. Maybe he should have never condemned them– conversation is more effective that confrontation, right? Maybe, unless Scripture has a better word. And it does:

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 10-11).

I think in The Message it reads something like “do not let him speak at your conference” or something like that. How about this one:

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17)

Avoid them. Don’t give them a microphone and an audience. That’s not wise.

Thabiti Anyabwile has a different and very important perspective. In this article he makes the case that Jakes’ should not have been invited even more compelling. In 2007 he published a book titled The Decline of African-American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity (IVP). In the book, he has a section that digs into Jakes’ theology from his own books. What Anyabwile found was disheartening– a modalistic understanding of the Godhead.

Anyabwile writes from the perspective of a faithful African-American who has seen his “brothers according to the flesh” abandon sound doctrine:

That’s why it’s difficult to see larger-than-life heretics given a platform in circles of pastors and leaders we respect and we regard as co-laborers in defense and confirmation of the truth.  I’m breaking no stories here.  The news of T.D. Jakes’ invitation to the Elephant Room is widespread and rightly lamented by many.  I’m just adding a perspective that hasn’t yet been stated: This kind of invitation undermines that long, hard battle many of us have been waging in a community often neglected by many of our peers. And because we’ve often been attempting to introduce African-American Christians to the wider Evangelical and Reformed world as an alternative to the heresy and blasphemy so commonplace in some African-American churches and on popular television outlets, the invitation of Jakes to perform in “our circles” simply feels like a swift tug of the rug from beneath our feet and our efforts to bring health to a sick church. (bold added)

To Anyabwile, this is a big deal. His life work (which is mine, and every of Christian’s too) is being undermined. It’s true that when Christians attack Christians the mission is distracted. But it’s equally true that when Christians affirm heretics that the mission is undermined. I can hear the world saying, wait, what’s a Christian again? Oh yeah– they’re the guys on TV scamming the needy.

At the end of the article, he shares his conflicted heart– what to do with ol’ MacDonald:

Can I really endorse or remain quiet on an event that features a heretic I’m committed to opposing in writing?  I don’t think so.  That decision is easy for me.  More difficult: Can I really endorse or support a brother who willingly associates with such a heretic and extends them a platform?  Painful.  Sobering. It’s a brother in Christ (MacDonald) making a bad decision affecting a mass of people.

Challies is right, MacDonald has the right to do whatever he wants at his event.  I am just baffled that anyone who want to give a platform to a guy who can’t ascribe to a simple trinitarian doctrinal statement.

Having a discussion among Christian leaders is great– even Christian leaders who think differently and believe differently on certain periphery biblical doctrines. This has been done well in the past. But if you market your event as something for brothers in Christ to sharpen each other and then turn around and invite someone outside the bounds of orthodoxy, you’re setting up a fool’s court. The wolf is going to don his wool and answer all the questions with perfect soundness. Of course he is. That’s what wolves do.

All that to say, I am saddened by this misstep. I hope the damage is minimal. And I hope James MacDonald, a brother whom I am grateful for, changes his mind quickly. And I hope that this Elephant Room extravaganza heightens an awareness for the need to protect sound doctrine.

 

Our unique Gospel

The gospel slips away when it stops being emphasized. When it ceases to be central. When Christ’s atoning work on the cross, his validating resurrection takes back seat to other things, a false gospel, with glacial slowness, begins to creep in.

Let me make this clear: If the Christian gospel isn’t prominent in our lives and in our church, there’s nothing special or unique about us. What makes Christianity Christian is Christ. Profound, right? And once the message of Jesus Christ and his work on the cross is removed from its primacy, other things start vying for first place. And if the gospel ever gets replaced, we turn into something less than Christian. We become “moralistic therapeutic deists.”

Sometimes I overhear students talking about a friend at school, and I ask, “Is he a Christian.” Sometimes their response is, “Yeah, he believes in God.” My usual reply is, “That’s not what I asked—I asked if he’s a Christian.

If our unique gospel isn’t in the forefront, we might as well all be Jews and your church might as well be a synagogue.

Let me take this a step further. We can even have a lot of talk about Jesus and not be uniquely Christian. What makes Christianity unique is not that we believe in Jesus. It’s not that he was a great prophet—Muslims believe that. It’s not that we believe he taught great things. Mormons believe that. Get this—it’s not even that Jesus resurrected himself from the dead. Catholics believe that. What makes Christianity unique? This—and this is what Paul is driving at—it is the gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone. Not works. Not rituals. Just faith.

Get on your face, pastor

I constantly have to be reminded the Spirit’s role in salvation and sanctification. If there is no Holy Spirit; if there is no divine intervention, my ministry is doomed. I have nothing apart from him. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Nothing. Zero. Zilch. He must save. He must awaken. He must do it.

How difficult it is to rest in these truths! My mind races for new ideas; my heart accuses me in a multitude of ways, as if it were my job to illuminate; the devil lies about God’s sufficiency to do the work– the gaze of my mind is shifted from the thing of God to the things of man, as if the burden of eternal souls was on my back.

A few weeks ago I stood in front of a group of students and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ. In one of those rare teaching moments, when you are fully conscious of reality of what’s happening, I urged the students: “Be born again!”

How absurd.

It’s like going to the cemetery and commanding its residents to live. It’s like demanding a deaf person to listen to you. Like pleading with a blind man to “watch.”

Speak life into existence? Me? More likely I could assemble a universe with my bare hands. It’s beyond me. It’s absurd. Talk about mission impossible.

Why do I do this?

Why do I speak the words of God with the hope that it will make dead people live? It makes about as much sense as pleading with a stone to grow legs and walk.

Luke 18:27 is why:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

That verse is a goldmine. That is ministry fuel. That is what I run on. Who is sufficient for these things? God. He is; I’m not. Sometimes we focus in so much on the second part that we forget about the first part– with man it is impossible. Salvation, sanctification, and any kind of real ministry is impossible with man. Man’s innovation is nothing. Man’s technique is nothing. Man’s skill and talent is nothing. Nothing that originates in me is anything. Let that sink in. Where is the power? Where does it come from? Who weilds it? Who dispenses it at his own good pleasure?

God.

Get on your face, pastor, you are attempting the impossible.

Why churches should have high expectations of their members

After all these years, I continue to be stuck on the answer to the question, “What kind of people are we creating?” One writer has claimed that we are getting the exact results our organizational priorities are designed to produce. By that I think he means that not much is required in our gospel for entry and for staying in the faith; therefore, we get superficial members. Superficial requirements create superficial results. In other words, with respect to the culture, the church has the penetration ability of Jell-O– we just hit the wall, go splat, run down, and melt. Also, superficiality breeds religious consumers– religion is there to save our skins, to relieve our guilt, and to call on in times of trouble. This is why people stop going to church. It isn’t challenging, it isn’t critical to life itself, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There are many happy exceptions, but the trend continues down, down, and down some more.

Bill Hull, The Disciple-Making Church