In the early part of the 4th century the Church faced its greatest theological crisis. Vast swaths of Christians were turning from orthodoxy to Arianism, a fashionable new teaching about the nature of God. Church leaders could clearly see that the souls of millions hinged upon the answer to this question: "who is the one true God?"
Learn more by listening to All Souls' newest course:
"Know Your History"
It's the end of the 1st century. Persecutions are on the rise. The apostles are all dead. What's the next move for the Christian Church?
There’s something sad – if not also a little creepy – about old abandoned homes... Don't you agree?
That’s not to say ALL abandoned homes are sad. I’ve never driven past a trailer park filled with vacant trailers and felt anything akin to sorrow. Nothing against trailers or those who call them home, it’s just that trailers are utilitarian things and were never meant for beauty. The same cannot be said, however, for the abandoned and decaying homes one sometimes stumbles across in one's travels. On the odd occasion passing through a strange neighborhood it may only take a casual glance at some ancient place wilting and sagging in the noonday sun to inform the passerby that once upon a time this was a stately place. Once upon a time it was beautiful. Once upon a time, long ago before unforeseen circumstances led to its peeling paint, spongy porch and broken windows, this was a place of greatness… In such circumstances even the causal passerby might be tempted to shed a tear or two for what once was but now is not.
According to Spencer evangelicalism will soon become a house deserted for the following reasons:
Those are Spencer's thoughts in a nutshell... and there is something very disturbing about them.
Someone reading this might ask me - why raise this gloomy issue at all?
To begin with I am part of the Reformed tradition... and while most American evangelicals consider the Reformed tradition to be (at best) a kind of eccentric and stogy step-cousin, to the evangelical family, I nevertheless have a great deal of heartfelt sympathy for my evangelical brethren. It would grieve me tremendously to one day see the great house of evangelicalism lying in ruins. Furthermore, I prayerfully hope that the problems highlighted by Spencer (assuming they are accurate) can be corrected within the evangelical community and that Christ will graciously protect it from any and all self-destructive errors. But over and above all of this, I recognize what I hope all Christians reading this post will recognize regardless of the theological tradition from which they come – namely, that the errors which plague one part of Christ’s Body today might easily plague another part tomorrow.
Let us earnestly consider how Spencer’s argument might apply to us and let us humbly ask the Lord of the Church to correct our own in-house errors so that we - along with all of the household of God - might be strengthened in Christ for His glory and never fall into dereliction.
Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, recently wrote a blog post entitled: "Ten Common Frustrations of Pastors." I repost it here because it is very insightful.
"Ten Common Frustrations of Pastors"
You won’t hear pastors express these frustrations often, but they are very real.
Indeed, some of these issues hinder their ministries. Here are ten of the most common frustrations, followed by close approximations of quotes I’ve heard from pastors.
3. Concern over financial wellbeing of family. “A prominent member of the church told me they were keeping my pay low to keep me humble. I guarantee you he doesn’t practice the same humility.”
4. Expectations to understand the business and leadership side of church life. “I have no idea about some of the financial decisions I’m supposed to lead at the church. Seminary did not prepare me for this.”
5. Complaints to or about family members. “A church member complained to me because my wife isn’t in the choir. She’s never been in a choir and has no desire to be in a choir.”
6. Inadequate uninterrupted sermon prep time. “Unfortunately, some of the members think my sermon preparation time is free time for them to chat.”
7. Losing church members. “I wish I could handle losing church members, but I still take it personally.”
8. Concerns over church budget. “Giving has been down for two years straight. We may soon have to cut staff or pay.”
9. Declining or plateaued church. “I’ve done everything I know to lead our church to growth to no avail. It’s so frustrating.”
10. Designated giving toward personal preferences. “We no longer meet our budget because we have six or seven families designating their giving for their pet projects.”
"The goodness of God endures continually."
| || |
In some churches it is common practice for the pastor to say, “God is good all the time” and for the congregation to respond, “and all the time God is good.” The goodness of God is something that is universally recognized by Christians, but what do we mean by God’s goodness? And more importantly, how are we to understand this doctrine beyond mere church-service sloganeering?
When we turn to the Word of God we read the following statement made by Jesus: “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18).
So what is Jesus saying?
To begin with let's point out that God’s goodness is one of His Attributes. Now, someone might ask, “why does this matter?” Well, it matters because, as Louis Berkhof (a very helpful theologian ) has said, “God’s attributes are God Himself as He has revealed Himself to us.
Therefore we might say that to know God well involves knowing His attributes well – it is to know all about what God has chosen to say about Himself in the Bible. As Christians we want to know God because knowing Him is, according to our Lord, the possession of eternal life (John 17:3).
"God is great.
God is good.
Let us thank Him for this food.
By His hand we all are fed.
Thank you for this daily bread."
How does that child’s prayer begin? It begins with a declarative statement about God. It says, “God is great. God is good.” And far from being merely simple or childish words, we would note that the statement "God is Good" is deeply profound. (Imagine if God were not good!) We further note that this statement echoes the words of Jesus when He says in Mark 10, “God alone is good.”
So let's explore God's goodness further...
In the loci of Systematic Theology called Theology Proper, theologians classify the goodness of God as one of God’s moral attributes.
There are three of these moral attributes:
- The Goodness of God
- The Holiness of God
- The Righteousness of God
It is often thought that these three attributes of God are the most exciting ones. I mean this in the sense that they are exciting – or perhaps glorious is a better word – because when we compare them with ourselves they shine all the more brightly. That is to say, when I compare God’s goodness to mine, or when I compare God’s holiness to mine, or when I compare His righteousness to mine, I am struck by the majesty and glory of God. Why? Because He completely outshines me and I see just how perfect He is. So as we consider of God’s goodness we ask this basic question: How do I know that God is good, and what authority do I have to establish this fact?
From a biblical perspective, when we say that God is “good” we don’t want to reduce God’s goodness down to meaning that God is merely “kind” – though He is, of course, kind. But the Goodness of God , as used in the Bible, is a far broader concept than that. Let me quote to you once more from Louis Berkhof who said: “We speak of something as good, when it answers in all parts to the ideal.”
So for example you might say that your new car is “good” because everything about it perfectly meets your car-related needs. And so “in all parts” or in everyway it is ideal.
Berkhof continues: “…in our ascription of goodness to God the fundamental idea is that He is in every way all that He as God should be, and therefore answers perfectly to the ideal expressed in the word God.”
"We Speak of something as good when it answers in all parts to the ideal." -Louis Berkhof
We mean that in every way God is the ideal of what Godhood should be. And, this is (at least in part) what Jesus meant in Mark 10:48. And here's something else that is very comforting; it is because God is good in Himself, that He is also good for and good to his creatures – you and me.
Therefore, let us rejoice that the words of the children’s prayer are profoundly true.
God is great... and God is good.
"Most churches have the uncanny ability to make their visitors feel very welcome and very awkward at the very same time." - Dick Lucas
| || |
Alright, fine! The quote doesn't exactly come from Dick Lucas... it comes from me and is the best paraphrase of something very profound that Lucas once said that I didn't bother to write down. Nevertheless, while Lucas's original quotation was certainly better worded than mine, even in my poor paraphrase one gets the thrust of Lucas's point. Namely, churches that are strange to us make us feel... well... strange.
Moreover, I think the paraphrase makes a good point and perhaps even gives us occasion as Christians and churchmen to laugh at our own strangeness. Laughing is certainly something we should do more of. Yes, we want to take our beliefs seriously. We want to take the worship of God seriously. But we don't want to take ourselves too seriously. For if we do, any visitor bringing to our gatherings a fresh set of eyes will see the absurdity of our pretense. Let us embrace our eccentricities and delight in our God who is gracious enough to redeem people such as ourselves!
(BTW, you'll want to make sure you don't miss the singing of 'All Creatures of Our God and King' at the end... the recollection of this video has often made it difficult for me to remain dignified while singing this hymn in church.)
How should they impact Christian living, thinking, and the worship God each Lord's Day?
On the most recent edition of White Horse Inn (a radio broadcast/podcast dealing with theological and social issues from a Reformed and Lutheran perspective) Michael Horton and T. David Gordon provide some very interesting answers.
Why not listen to the audio provided here or visit the Whitehorse Inn homepage to find this program in its original form and to listen to other White Horse Inn broadcasts.
I highly recommend it.
A few words on the use of music in worship from my colleague, benefactor, and personal friend, Pastor Alistair Begg of Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
A timely article about truth, tolerance, and Jezebel
by Pastor Kevin DeYoung
Of the seven cities in Revelation, Thyatira is the least well known, the least impressive, and the least important. And yet, the letter is the longest of the seven. There was a lot going on at this church–some bad, some good.
Let’s start with the good. Verse 19, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance.” Ephesus was praised for its good deeds and strong work ethic. Thyatira is even better. Is has the deeds that Ephesus had and the love that Ephesus lacked. The church at Thyatira was not without genuine virtue. It was a tight-knit bunch who loved, served, believed, and endured.
Maybe Thyatira was the kind of church you walked into and immediately felt like you belonged: “Great to meet you. Come, let me introduce you to my friends. Here, I’ll show you how you can get plugged in, use your gifts, do ministry. We’re so glad you’re here.” It was a caring church, a sacrificial church, a loving church.
That was the good part. And the bad part? Its love could be undiscerning and blindly affirming. The big problem at Thyatira was tolerance. The folks at Thyatira tolerated false teaching and immoral behavior, two things God is fiercely intolerant of. Jesus says, “You’re loving in many ways, but your tolerance is not love. It’s unfaithfulness.”
The specific sin in Thyatira was the tolerance of Jezebel. That wasn’t the woman’s real name. But this false prophetess was acting like a Jezebel-leading people into adultery and idolatry. We don’t know if her influence was formal–she got up in front of people and told them these deceptive things–or if it was informal–taking place in conversations and by word of mouth. However it was happening, this woman in Thyatira was a spiritual danger, like her Old Testament namesake.
Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians. She worshiped Baal and Asherah and led her husband, Ahab, in the same. Jezebel is the one who plotted to kill innocent Naboth for his vineyard. She was called “that cursed woman” (2 Kings 9:34). As a punishment for her wickedness, she was eventually pushed out a window, trampled by horses, and eaten up by dogs. She was a bad lady. And she lead many Israelites down a bad path.
Jesus says to Thyatira, “You are allowing a woman like that to have sway over your people. Why do you tolerate her? Don’t affirm her. Don’t dialogue with her. Don’t wait and see what happens. Get rid of her. . . .or I will.” Apparently, by some means, the Lord had already warned her to repent, but she refused. And so now the Lord Jesus promises to throw her onto the sick bed and make her followers suffer as well, unless they repent. “I will strike your spiritual children dead,” says the Lord. Jesus isn’t messing around here. This isn’t a secondary issue. This is a serious sin worthy of death.
It was also an entrenched sin. There were a number of trade guilds in Thyatira. Suppose you belonged to the local BAT, the Bricklayers Association of Thyatira, and one night the guild got together for a feast. You’d be sitting around the table, ready to partake of this great celebration with your friends and colleagues, and the host would say something like, “We’re glad you could make it. What a happy occasion for the BAT. We have quite a feast prepared for you. But before we partake, we want to recognize the great god Zeus who watches over the bricklayers and has made this dinner possible. Zeus, you see his statue in the corner, we eat to you, in your honor, for your worship. Let’s dig in.”
What would you do in that situation? Stay or go? What would your participation signify before your fellow Christians, before the watching world, before God? Christians in the ancient world didn’t have to go searching for idolatry. It was woven into the fabric of their whole culture. To not participate in these pagan rituals was to stick out like a Yankees fan at Fenway Park. These feasts, with their idolatry and the sexual revelry which would often follow, were a normal part of life in the Greco-Roman world. To remove yourself from them could be socially and economically disastrous.
Which is why false teachers like this Jezebel in Thyatira or the Nicolaitans in Pergamum gained such a hearing. They made being a Christian a lot easier, much less costly, must less counter-cultural. But it was a compromised Christianity, and Jesus could not tolerate it. He was going to make an example of Thyatira to show all the churches that Jesus has eyes like fire, too pure to look on evil, and feet like burnished bronze, too holy to walk among wickedness. He wanted all the churches to know that he was the searcher of hearts and minds and he would repay evil for unrepentant evil.
The error of Jezebel was a serious sin, an entrenched sin, and a subtle sin. The people had probably been told that the “deep secrets” wouldn’t harm them. We don’t know exactly what it meant for the church to learn Satan’s so-called deep secrets. We don’t know if that’s what the false teachers called them or if that’s what Jesus is calling them. But what was going on was probably some kind of false teaching that devalued the material world. This Jezebel may have been saying, “The physical world doesn’t matter. It’s the spiritual realm that counts. So go ahead and participate in idol feasts and do whatever you want sexually. Those are material things. God doesn’t care about that.” Or she may have been saying, “Look, if you are truly spiritual, then your relationship with God will be strong enough to withstand the deep things of Satan. So go ahead. Participate in evil practices. You can handle it and you’ll probably even learn more about the enemy in the process.” Whatever it was that she was saying, it was a lie and it was leading people into sin. The church was more tolerant than Jesus, which is never a good idea.
To read this article as it originally appeared please visit Kevin DeYoung's blog.
Show Title: "The Decline of Christianity?"
I’ll give you a hint... they all have something to do with worship music.
I’ll explain in a moment, but first let’s think about the wonderful problem of worship music.
Why it's wonderful...
I’ve never understood people who don’t care about music and I can see what Bill Shakespeare was driving at when he said that such people were better suited for “treasons, stratagems, and spoils.” There just seems to be something criminal about the kind of person who can sit idly by in a restaurant, chewing a sandwich and carrying on a conversation with a friend all the while being totally unmoved by the Nickelback “song” that has just begun oozing out of the speakers above them.
How can they just sit there????
How can they be so callous????
Why aren’t they on their feet demanding the speakers be unplugged and the radio ran over by a steamroller?
All of this to say, music REALLY matters to me. When it comes on, regardless of where I am, I instinctually pay attention to it. I just can’t help it! To my mind music is the queen of all of the arts. It is something to be treated with integrity and reverence. It is a vehicle through which the deepest expressions of the human soul can be conveyed... And yet somewhere along the line we exchanged all of this for Rod Stewart... oh, dear!
While I appreciate all forms of good music I nevertheless contend that the highest form of music is worship music. Here’s why; when properly utilized, worship music allows Christians to fulfill the main purpose of their existence – namely, to glorify and enjoy the triune God.
Why it's problematic...
All of this does not appear to have led to the strengthening of the modern-day Church... If anything it appears to have created further divisions along artificial lines – namely, contemporary, traditional, and blended lines. Many churches even segregate their congregations along these lines, offering separate services to ensure that the respective musical factions will never have to worry about bumping into those with differing tastes. These services receive their labels form the type of music included and from the accoutrements of that particular style of music – things that run the gamut from vestments and pipe organs to sandals and drum-sets.
Surely, there is something very problematic about all of this.... right?
Plato is often misquoted as having said, “when the mode of the music changes the walls of the city shake.” Though this is a misquote, I for one believe that there is great wisdom in it. As the mode of music has changed within the Church over the past couple decades a very great and unhelpful shaking has accompanied it. Today in many places the music used in the worship of God is adrift on a sea of trends. The blustery opinions of every windbag with a love for a given genre seem to blow unrelentingly upon the church. In many places well-meaning pastors and musicians unknowingly shortchange their flocks with the kind of highly-commercialized, FM-friendly, theologically-vacuous songs that pockmark the landscape of "worship" today... And again, I believe that it all goes back to the fact that we seem to have forgotten why we have worship music in the first place.
What's the solution...
Figured it out yet?
Ok, fine! I'll tell you... In the Bible, music fulfills three roles within the context of worship – the three categories listed above.
The reason we have worship music at all is to engage in one of these three actions - praise, prayer, and/or proclamation.
As someone has helpfully defined these three categories:
Praise is the lauding of God for His acts and attributes, acknowledging His supremacy in all things.
Prayer is communication addressed to God (did you realize that the vast majority of the songs you sing in church are actually prayers?)
Proclamation encompasses any activity that proclaims the Word of God – quotation, explanation, teaching, and preaching.
The author of these definitions concludes:
“I contend that when worship music is properly fulfilling these roles according to biblical principles, discord dissipates, unity increases, and the Spirit utilizes music for it’s highest purpose...”
And I fully agree!
Here is our solution – whatever genre of worship music we choose, let’s evaluate its usefulness and propriety based on the principles of the Bible. Let’s ensure that our choice of worship music is not rooted in the world, in pop culture, in pragmatism, or in mistaken notions of success... Instead let’s seek, by God’s grace, to conduct our worship music in such a way that every Christian under our care will be better enabled to fulfill their chief purpose – namely, to enjoy and glorify the triune God.
One of the particular gospel partners who has encouraged me is a young, intelligent, student of the Bible named Peter Rennie.
When I was pastoring in Glasgow, Scotland I would occasionally see Peter in the congregation on a Sunday evening sitting next to our talented young piano player (and not by accident as it would later turn out).
There he would sit with an open bible on his lap and a focused expression on his face. Somehow he seemed to be scrutinizing everything that I said from the pulpit - and I liked that! People ought to use their Bibles to scrutinize the claims of preachers.
"...gospel work is global work. We are not alone..."
As a matter of fact, I liked Peter so much that I actually had plans to bring him on staff at my church as a ministry partner while he finished up his theological training. Though providentially this never came to pass the prospect did give me multiple occasions to get to know Peter better and to be inspired by his zeal for the gospel.
Then time did its work. Peter and that piano player got married (I sat in a small rural church in Northern Ireland and witnessed the nuptials with my own eyes.) They started a new life together. About that same time I was called to a church 3,500 miles away from Scotland and along with my wife and children left the UK. We settled down into our new routine together... and as often happens Peter and I more or less lost touch... And then today I was sent a link to the website of Living Hope Church - a new church plant in Inverness, pastored by Peter Rennie. This news has come as a great encouragement and it has reminded me once again that gospel work is global work. The same Lord who has guided us in the planting of All Souls Church in a little place called Green Camp, Ohio has guided Peter and Anne in the planting of Living Hope Church in a big place called Inverness, Scotland.
What a great God we serve!
To Peter, Anne, and the flock of Living Hope Church; we thank God for you! We will pray for the success of your work. We will pray that under your ministry the saints will be perfected even as the lost will be saved. We will pray that the hand you have laid to the plow will remain on the plow....
And we will do all of this with the firm conviction that we, here in this corner of the world, are greatly blessed to be your partners in the gospel.
Watch this 3-minute informational video featuring Peter and his plans for
Living Hope Church
"Same-sex marriage is in the news a lot lately. Where do you stand on this issue?"
"I am very much against the issue of same-sex marriage. Here are two basic reasons why I am against it:
1) We didn't create it, we can't redefine it.
2) God created it, God sets the rules for it.
In the meantime, if you are a Christian troubled by todays ruling and concerned about its implications for religious liberty and free-speech, please take comfort in the following facts:
1) Homosexuals are not our enemies - they are people who are lost and need the transformative gospel of Jesus Christ.
2) Regardless of the dictates of the governments of man, Christ is still on the throne and the good news is still true.
3) Agreeing with God's is always the right thing to do - especially when it is difficult to do so.
4) Always remember that Jesus wins (see Psalm 2). At the end of the game all of the pieces will put back in the box and only Christ and His people will stand victorious.
allow me to explain the answers I gave above:
1) We didn't create it, we can't redefine it.
Why is this?
This is because real marriage (unlike same-sex marriage) is most assuredly NOT a manmade institution or a societal construct, it is an institution very obviously imposed upon mankind from an outside source. Proof of this is that marriage is hemmed in with very obvious biological, anatomical, and psychological (not to mention theological) parameters.
A pastor would argue that these marital-parameters were given by God. An evolutionary biologist might argue that these parameters were given by nature. Either way though we are both agreed that the parameters are there. They exist. They are facts. They are beyond our control. They are unaffected by our feelings, preferences, desires, wishes, wants, and yearnings. They are unalterably bound-up in the concept of marriage. Since same-sex marriage has no such parameter and is little more than a societal construct it does not qualify as “marriage” in any way shape or form.
Politicians might pass legislation that will change how our society is permitted to use the word “marriage.” Justices might pronounce judgments changing the legal definition of the word “marriage.” But these are merely linguistic games that cannot change the institution of marriage any more than they can change the biological, anatomical, psychological and theological parameters that surround it.
2) God created it, God sets the rules for it.
Here are some scripture references that might help you understand why I, along with any Christian who takes the Bible seriously, cannot affirm the practice of homosexuality let alone support the concept of same-sex “marriage”
1.) Marriage has been given by God as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride the church (Ephesians 5:32). This is yet one more proof that God has set the institution up in a very particular way and for a very particular purpose and therefore we have no real authority to redefine or recreate it.
2.) Homosexual behavior is strictly prohibited in both the Old and New Testaments (Lev. 18:22-24, Lev. 20:13, I Cor. 6:9-20, I Tim 1:10) as being contrary to God’s design in creation.
3.) Homosexuality along with all other forms of sexual immorality is always represented as intrinsically sinful behavior that provokes the wrath of God (Rom.1:26-28) and dehumanizes its participants.
4.) Scripture clearly shows that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. (Gen.2:22-24, Matt. 19:5-6).
5.) Homosexuals (like all of the rest of us) though sinners are NOT beyond the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (I Cor 6:9-11 – please note the implications of the phrase “such were some of you” in v.11). Christians who, in the name of love or tolerance, support same-sex marriage are simply affirming homosexuals in their sin. Furthermore, they have embraced a very troubling philosophy – namely, that whoever the gospel is for, it certainly isn’t for the sexually immoral.
An Email Sent to a Ministerial Colleague
a little background:
Two weeks ago while driving through a familiar part of my hometown I sat at an intersection. The evening sky was pink, the traffic light was red, the radio was playing a song by Uncle Tupelo, and I was in very fine spirits. But as they say, even the silverest of clouds have a dark lining (or something like that.)
Glancing to my left my eyes suddenly beheld a sight that made my heart sink. There, mounted high atop the bell tower of a stately old church building was a rainbow flag with the words "God is still speaking," boldly emblazoned upon it (see picture, right). I immediately wondered aloud, 'what kind of pastor would use his/her church building for the promotion of human sexuality?
Am I alone in thinking this a little odd?
What follows is a verbatim copy of the email I sent. Names, specific locations, web-addresses and the like have all been removed. My intention was/is not to insult my activist-minded colleague in ministry, nor to shame the flock that has very tragically placed themselves under her care. My intention is simply to show that using one's church building for the promotion of sociopolitical causes (especially very self-serving and unbiblical ones) is not merely an exploitative breech of ministerial ethics it is also a terribly sad substitute for genuine pastoral ministry.
I have not received a response to my email and I do not expect I will. If I do however I'll post it here on my blog.
a copy of my email:
Dear Pastor _____________,
After driving down ______________ Street just a couple of days ago I noticed your very beautiful church building and thought I would look you up online and drop you a quick note as a fellow Christian and colleague.
To my delight I found ___________ Church quite easily online and was delighted to read your "Faith Page" which assured me that you are open to “diverse" viewpoints and are committed to “different ways of thinking.” Moreover, I discovered that your Faith Page actually encourages readers to send their quotes for inclusion on your website. (i.e., “Email us and have (your quote) included!” see reference, www.________________.org)
May I say, that this is a wonderful way to highlight the fact that God is still speaking (as you claim)! In addition to this, it is a very bold yet practical way for you as a pastor to demonstrate publicly that you do, in fact, celebrate the kind of openness and diversity that your website makes so much of. I sincerely wish that more ministers of your kind would be as daring as you are in this regard.
Having said all of that, here is the quote I would like to submit. I trust that it will be thought provoking and helpful:
“I am a Pastor who feels that using one’s church building as a billboard for the promotion of human sexuality is a pathetic substitute for genuine gospel ministry.”
Please let me know when my quote appears on your site! I’d like to put a link to it on my blog.
-Rev. R Crabtree
All Souls Church
Green Camp, Ohio
Rev. R Crabtree
"...a son, a husband, a father of 6, a friend, a Presbyterian
(not the liberal kind), an eccentric, and a minister of the gospel... I am also the Pastor of All Souls Church and a Professor of Religious Studies at OCBC."
All Souls Church
Attributes Of God
Irenaeus Of Lyons
Journey Of Faith
Means Of Grace
Order Of Salvation
Westminster Confession Of Faith