Sunday, November 27, 2005

By What Authority?

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16

“that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:3-4

Q. What rule hath god given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

This is the second question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The concern here is amazingly not put in terms of merely right doctrine, but really in terms of our joy in the Christian life. Joy that comes from the teachings of Scripture and how we are to live a godly life. Joy in knowing God. Sometimes evangelicals will say that they are not really concerned about doctrine, they just want to love Jesus. The Scriptures teach propositional truth that can be articulated as well as deal with issues of personal piety. These are not really things that can be dissected one from one another. I believe the anti-doctrine stand does have a point though. Doctrine can become a source of one-up-manship and pride. Doctrine can fool us into believing we are righteous through our knowledge. However, rather than leave off doctrine as an integral part of the faith, we need the proper place of doctrine with a warmth of love for God and for one's fellow man.

The church prior to the Reformation had developed a doctrine that said tradition was authoritative. In other words, the institutional church was to be obeyed as authoritative. If there was a conflict between what the institutional church said and what the Scriptures taught, they resolved it by saying the institutional church had the only authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The second question of the Catechism here is specifically addressing this issue of what is the authority for our lives. In Protestant circles, we don't deal with the authority of human institutions in contrast with Scripture, we do have something else. It is the authority of an individual who claims to be led by God. When people say they are led by God they usually mean on issues not addressed directly in Scripture. (But sometimes they mean how they are led to do something against the command of Scripture. Most of the time I have heard this, it has to do with leaving a spouse.) Back to the issues not addressed by Scripture, when a pastor tells his congregation that he feels led to have a new building program for the church, how do you argue against that? When someone says they feel led to take another job, what Scripture could you use to tell them they are wrong? In a sense, the argument becomes one of authority by the one sensing God's leading. In reaction to this kind of authoritative stance, some have developed a theology that we are free to do as we please as long as we do what Scripture commands. Not always, but it can be that the application of this principle of complete freedom to do as we please on issues other than those commanded in Scripture can lead one to see life's decisions as arbitrary. If arbitrary, then meaningless and without purpose. It means a life given to preferences instead of purpose and calling. When someone is suffering in a difficult ministry, is their consolation really that it was just a choice that they made on their own to serve God in this way and that God would have been just as pleased with them if they had chosen to be a building contractor or airlines pilot? The issue is not one merely of epistemology (how do we know) but one of resolve to stick to a calling. The issue is not one of merely fulfilling expressed duty, but one of meaning in fulfilling those duties. Some people see the transcendent things of life as merely illusion which help to satisfy a psychological need of the individual. For thinkers like this, instead of having a purpose, one merely has a perception of purpose. The meaning of one's life is what ever seems most helpful to you at the moment.

Instead of discussing how one is to sense the will of God on issues not addressed in Scripture, it would be more helpful to discuss a sense of calling in a person's life. Some of that sense will be subjective, but at the same time there are objective issues to be discussed. One can rightly discuss objectively if one's sense of calling are confirmed by one's ability and passions? Is it confirmed by the opinion of others? When we discuss a calling instead of the “will of God” we rightly placing the issue as emotional and volitional.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Small Talk

Just in time for those holiday parties, I have a poll on small talk. What do you find the most engaging topic of conversation at a party or other social function? The poll is off to the right on this page.

If I did not put your favorite topic on there, add an entry to the comments section of the poll.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Do we have a purpose?

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:36 (ESV)

Question 1 from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.

This beginning point focuses on man's purpose. Without some transcendent purpose, we get the sense that this earth is just mechanics. We are but a machine. When the machine wears out, we dispose of it. The clergy who wrote the Westminster Shorter Catechism understood that to begin our theological journey we need to understand that purpose and meaning are central to message of scripture and central to man's needs.

While the question of what man's purpose is man central to the question, the proof text from Romans 11 is really much broader than the issue of man. Man is a part of all creation, and all creation is for the glory of God.

As a frame highlights the picture, we are to bring glory to our creator and king.

Each of us has a unique contribution to the mosaic of mankind. Our unique gifts, unique family, our unique historic period, and unique contributions are all a part of that glorifying God. We are a part of a much larger work of art. We fit in to that picture even when we don't sense. But we do want to sense it. How do we do that?

1.Look at God through his Word and prayer.
2.Understand the context into which God has placed you. This includes the time in history in which you and I live, and the location where you are and the web of relationships which you have to include family and friends.
3.Understand yourself, who you are.
4.Use your gifts to praise God.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wired News: Negroponte: Laptop for Every Kid

If they can make this $100 laptop for those who are overseas, how about marketing it in the United States. Where is the website to put your advanced order? I think we could buy one for each child in our home, that would be five. Oh, wait, some are over 18, do they count? Anyway, I think this is a great idea and Christian releif agencies should get involved in making purchases where funds are not available otherwise.

Wired News: Negroponte: Laptop for Every Kid: "WN: One could argue that it's better to give them something that has more mainstream commercial appeal.

Negroponte: Now be careful there. Fifty percent of the servers on this planet are using either Linux or some kind of Unix derivative.... So 20 percent of the world's servers are already using what I would call perfectly mainstream software. And there are open-source approaches to it that are working just fine. It's not mainstream on the desktop, I'll admit, but we'll make it mainstream on the desktop. We'll push that over the edge."

Monday, November 14, 2005

JOLLYBLOGGER: Book Review - Revolution by George Barna

I enjoy reading Barna and others who "do the numbers" on Christianity. But I have to say this is an excellent review of Barna's book. I have not read the book, but still I recommend reading the Jollyblogger's review. The discussion goes beyond the one book and interacts with a broader section of Christianity just the pollsters.

JOLLYBLOGGER: Book Review - Revolution by George Barna: "Let me begin this review of George Barna's book Revolution with a few apologies. The first is that this post is so absurdly long that it hardly deserves to be called a blog post. If anyone makes it to the end of this post they deserve a medal. It is just that this book touched on a lot of issues for me, so this post is my personal way of working through a number of things. "

Friday, November 11, 2005

When Is It Time To Get Into A Theological Controversy??

Controversies - A dispute, especially a public one, between sides holding opposing views.

Using this definition, it is not a controversy if I am conflicted about a matter. But often I am not moved to investigate a matter or interprets a matter until I start to respond to some doctrine that is being spouted out there. So I am lazy until some Gadfly comes and knocks me out of my comfort zone. Perhaps others are more spiritual than I, but some of my seasons of doctrinal growth come from hearing a teaching that just does not seems right to me. Many years ago I was deployed in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. One Sunday I went to a Sunday School class at the Chapel on Eskan Village. The Chaplin was a good guy. When we got to Romans 2:22 "You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?" the Chaplin explained to the class that rob temples refers to Jewish people robbing pagan temples. I had memorized the passage in the KJV years before where it says "Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?" I disagreed with him on his explanation. He countered with a strong argument looking at the grammar. He pointed out the text we were using said "temples" not temple. I really had nothing to say. Though the verse was a minor one, I was driven to find out, how do your rightly interprets this verse. When I returned from the desert I asked my pastor about the passage. He just said that the passage was not major point of doctrine. One of the values of that church was to major on the major issues and minor on the minor issues. To this day I still hold this as a good guide for looking at issues. I started to pray that the Lord would teach me the scriptures. I thought I knew them but I could not come to a correct interpretation of this verse. When I moved to my next tour of duty I got involved with a home Bible study of a man named Bill. Bill had been a seminary student before joining the Army. We did not always agree on everything, and more often than not, when we did disagree he had an upper hand in the discussion. So be it, what I really learned from Bill was the art of exegesis. (Not that I have arrived in the discipline, but I started the journey.) I felt like God answered my prayer to teach me the scriptures. Unless I had been involved in this small controversy, I would not have prayed that God would open my eyes. So from an individual point of view, I think a controversy can "spur us on toward love and good deeds." Yes, I mean it motivates the individual. From a corporate point of view, there is a dynamic that can come from hearing other points of view. I am surprised how often when I think I have thought through an issue, others have covered ground in their thinking that I had not. As the scripture says, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." Pv 27:17 (ESV) A good friend of mine is constantly asking me what I think about this author, topic or trend. Often he has a point of view himself that he will share. As he does it pushes me to higher callings. (And sometimes I think I push him along too.) We are maturing together as a part of a community. We have a phrase that we talk about in our church at the ordination of an officer. "Do you promise to study the peace and purity of the church?" A controversy gives an opportunity to love the brethren and be gracious while doing the difficult job of being valiant for the truth. I tend to be a blunt person so when I do get involved in a discussion, I can be unloving. So balancing the peace and purity concept is helpful to me. One of the biggest problems I see with controversies is that people often come to the conclusion that there is no answer. I think often times we become valiant for not being on one side or the other. So much so that we are valiant only for the concept of evangelical unity. Major on the majors and minor on the minors becomes a way of taking no stand. When a heated discussion becomes emotional and personal, many people can only hear the heat of the emotion and not the issues being discussed. If you sense the issue is emotional intensity (i.e. hate, anger, rivalry) and not the doctrinal issue, it is definitely time to back down for a moment to let things cool off. Re-engage with a cooler head. I believe the solution for this is a cordial engagement of the issues in a theological or ecclesiastical controversy. 1. No name calling or character assassination. Often on side or the other will create a name for the other side. This often backfires too. As the sides become defined by terms, it becomes an us versus them debate and the issues gets sidelined.

2. Assume your opponent has the best intentions at heart. We do have to be careful with this one but if we start there, we are less like to resort to name calling and character assassination.

3. Listen. (What can I say?)

4. When your restate what your opponent is saying, be sure that you do so in such a way that they would agree with how you have stated their position.

5. Be patient knowing that sometimes these things take time to gel. Don't expect to resolve a theological conflict when we see in history that it sometimes takes centuries.

6. Dialogue with the opposition, don't diatribe against them.

There are other times to disengage from a controversy.

1. When it is a trivial matter that gets undue attention. (Yes, minor on the minor issues.)

2. When the context of the controversy is misunderstood. If an issue brings people in who do not understand the context of the controversy, then it seems foolish to them. To many people today, all theological issues sound as if they are discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At this point disengage and re-engage when context can be established.

3. When you don't really understand the issue yourself.

4. When your opponent is seeking to draw you into a heated debate so that you look angry, belligerent, or foolish. A video camera can lie, especially during the editing process.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Jolly Attire Determined By You The Readers

It is official, the community of blogdom thinks that the Jollyblogger's Pulpit Attire should be...drum roll...what ever is acceptable to his wife. Who knew?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Theology of Aesthetics: Who Will Set Our Heart Aright?

Scott Aniol at Kara Ministries has put forth the idea that Pastors are responsible for maturing the flock both in theology and emotions. Could it be that the emphasis on counseling methods has led our shepherds away from some of the tools that could really help the flock “to lay down beside the cool waters”? Could it be that we need more poets and less couches to set our hearts to love the savior more and worry less?

It must be said that only God can set our hearts aright. Regardless of technique, couch or choir, we must have the work of the Holy Spirit moving in our heart. But talking about the Holy Spirit's work, I have yet to hear someone say that they left a counseling session inspired and encouraged. Usually there is digging up of the past mistakes, past sufferings, and confrontation with present faults. But I have often heard people talk of being moved by a song. People sense the rightness of the words and tune that speaks of the greatness of God and/or his truth. Given that simple observation, I would say we need to have at least an equal amount of music courses in our ministerial training as we do counseling courses.

It would appear to me that Christian music is being led by the music recording industry and Christian radio. There are some really godly men and women who work in the Christian music recording industry and Christian radio. But I'm not seeing this as being connected well with the ministry of maturing God's flock emotionally. I am not criticizing these industries but stating there is a disconnect with this pastoral responsible and the leaders of Christian music. There is a difference between a song that is appropriate for Christian radio and the song that is appropriate for a worship service. The distinction is lost on not a few. For now, it seems the recording industry has the influence with the members of the flock. While there are many notable exceptions, the music recording industry does not attempt to led the flock anywhere, but attempts to reflect what will sell in the market place. Of course this is not leadership. Do we create (or live with) two systems of music, the music which helps groom our soul for heavenly affection and the music that is popular in the market? Sadly, the institutional church is playing second fiddle to the music recording industry.

The pastor and elders are responsible for oversight of their flock. The pastor must be able to lead his flock, encourage his flock and bring his flock to a place of resting in the grace of God. Guiding the flock is more art than science. While some may use music, other might use words of encouragement. While some might use words, others may use actions to communicate. In the realm of sports, I'm sure there are coaching classes taught, but coaching is learned by modeling for the most part. I think pastors often learn how to lead the group by seeing it modeled and by doing it. Additionally, modeling the emotional maturity is probably the most important earthly factor in leading the flock down this path. That true leadership must stand on the Scripture, trust in God with courageous faith, and live a humble, godly life. In the end, I would say both couch and choir can be a way to bring people to emotional maturity but neither are effective without the work of God.

Kara Ministries Weblog

Kara Ministries Weblog: "“Neither should we ordain young men as preachers, unless they have been well exercised in music.” — Martin Luther"

Scott is asking for your feedback as to how much training a pastor should have in music, who is responsible to see that he has it and whether it should be a part of ordination.