Wednesday, November 22, 2006

THE BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE, Article Eight

This is Part 8 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”

God's Purpose of Grace

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-8; 1 Samuel 8:4-7,19-22; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31ff.; Matthew 16:18-19; 21:28-45; 24:22,31; 25:34; Luke 1:68-79; 2:29-32; 19:41-44; 24:44-48; John 1:12-14; 3:16; 5:24; 6:44-45,65; 10:27-29; 15:16; 17:6,12,17-18; Acts 20:32; Romans 5:9-10; 8:28-39; 10:12-15; 11:5-7,26-36; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 15:24-28; Ephesians 1:4-23; 2:1-10; 3:1-11; Colossians 1:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:10,19; Hebrews 11:39–12:2; James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:2-5,13; 2:4-10; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:19; 3:2. (Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)

A young seminary student was listening to a debate between Calvinists promoting the sovereign grace of God and a group of the Arminian persuasion (who stress the free will of man). It was a debate so contentious that the class literally divided—one group on one side of the room and the other on the opposite side. Carefully considering the Scriptural arguments on each side, the young man decided he was more in line with the Calvinists. So he walked over to join them and was met with the question, “Why have you come to join us?” His response was, “I came of my own free will!” “Then, you don’t belong here! Get over there with that other bunch!” So, that is what he did. That group greeted him with the same question, “Why have you come to join us?” Without thinking, he honestly answered, “I was sent.” “Then, you don’t belong here! Go away!”

Sometimes, I feel like that young man—that I don’t belong to either camp. Actually I believe in both! Why? That’s what the Bible teaches—the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. If God doesn’t draw us to Christ, we will not come. But if we will not come, then we will not be saved.

How do we reconcile those two seemingly contradictory positions? Spurgeon (a Calvinist with great evangelistic zeal) answered that question, “I never try to reconcile friends.” They are not enemies of each other—but two sides of the same coin—God’s purpose of grace. As we stand on one side of the door of salvation, a sign above reads, “Whosoever will, may come.” But as soon as we walk through that door, and look back, there is another sign that reads, “Chosen from the foundation of the world.”

I know that there was a time in my life that I received Christ as my Lord and Savior, after years of resisting His call and rejecting His claims on my life. With trembling, I know that had I died in my sins, I would have been in hell today and forever. I was responsible for my choice and no one—not a Christian father who set an example for me, not a Christian mother who prayed for me, not a pastor who shared the Gospel with me, not God Himself would be able to fit me for heaven had I insisted on going to hell. Yet, in retrospect, I see the sovereign hand of God directing events, so that I was born in America and not a communist country, taught about Jesus in Sunday School instead of being taken to a mosque, raised in a Christian home rather than by a father and mother who were atheists—and all the other events, large and small that served as prods to drive me along the path to Christ.

That is the amazing grace of God! Some think God unjust that few are saved and that many will be lost. But God would not be unjust to condemn us all, for we are all sinners. The astonishing thing is not that there are people who will be lost, but that anyone will be saved! It is not justice, but mercy that we need and that is available.

That grace is at work in the elect. Who are the elect? They are the “whosoever wills,” and the non-elect are the “whosoever won’ts.” God, in His foreknowledge, is aware of the name of all who will come to Him—and they will come to Him, or He would be mistaken and that cannot be. However, I am still responsible for my choice. We are not automatons mindlessly programmed—mere puppets on a string that God is manipulating. Still—He is God. Salvation is all of grace and for His glory—no room for boasting on our part. We would not even have faith to believe in Him had He not provided it.

Think of the words of John Newton—once such a profane and wicked man deserving condemnation—who penned the immortal hymn, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me.... I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see.” We could not save ourselves—only God could. We were lost and not looking for God, but He came and found us. We could not see and only God could open our eyes.

Once we come to Christ, we are kept by Him. The eternal salvation promised is a promise kept—not by our goodness, but God’s faithfulness. We persevere in faith because of the powerful grace of God at work within us. The eighth chapter of Romans begins with “no condemnation” and ends with “no separation!”

If you are having difficulty getting a grip on these truths—don’t worry—let them get a grip on you! Then we will be in good company. The brilliant mind and recipient of exceeding revelation, the Apostle Paul responded to God’s purpose of grace that way:

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Rom.11:33-36 NIV)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

THE BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE, Article Seven

This is Part 7 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”

Salvation

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Savior.
B. Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.
C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.
D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

Genesis 3:15; Exodus 3:14-17; 6:2-8; Matthew 1:21; 4:17; 16:21-26; 27:22-28:6; Luke 1:68-69; 2:28-32; John 1:11-14,29; 3:3-21,36; 5:24; 10:9,28-29; 15:1-16; 17:17; Acts 2:21; 4:12; 15:11; 16:30-31; 17:30-31; 20:32; Romans 1:16-18; 2:4; 3:23-25; 4:3ff.; 5:8-10; 6:1-23; 8:1-18,29-39; 10:9-10,13; 13:11-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18,30; 6:19-20; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; Galatians 2:20; 3:13; 5:22-25; 6:15; Ephesians 1:7; 2:8-22; 4:11-16; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:9-22; 3:1ff.; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 2:1-3; 5:8-9; 9:24-28; 11:1-12:8,14; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:2-23; 1 John 1:6-2:11; Revelation 3:20; 21:1-22:5.
(Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)

Picture yourself trapped in a burning building. You are screaming for help. There is no way of escape. When hope seems gone, a firefighter chops through an adjacent wall with his ax, lifts you and carries you through the blinding smoke to a ladder. Emerging from the flames engulfing the building, you tearfully, thankfully cry, “I’m saved! I’m saved!”

So, we are in spiritual peril from the judgment of God—the flames of hell threaten to sweep over us. There is no way of escape that we can find on our own. Then Jesus comes. He lifts us out and we are saved. That is a picture of our salvation.

Another picture is of a slave on the auction block. In Bible times, slavery was a grim reality. Think of how brutal it would be to find you are in bondage without hope of release. You cannot free yourself. Then an amazing thing happens. Someone purchases you, and then to your astonishment—they set you free! That is the thought behind the great Gospel word, “redemption”—to set free by payment of a price. The Bible teaches that we are in the slave market of sin, in bondage to Satan, the world, and the flesh. But Jesus paid the price of His own precious blood to liberate us from the shackles of sin.

Regeneration is yet another term used to describe salvation. That is a second birth—a spiritual birth into God’s family. It is a work wrought by the Holy Spirit that makes us a new creation in Christ. By virtue of our first birth we are the children of Adam. We are in the flesh and under the curse of sin—the condemnation of the second death. When we experience the second birth we are children of God. We are in the Spirit and possess eternal life.

A diamond has many facets—each sparkling with beauty—and so it is with our salvation. Another facet of that great salvation is justification. Here is a person on death row—guilty and condemned. But then the word comes that the criminal has been pardoned, the record of their crimes has been expunged from the record. That’s what God has done for us spiritually, and has applied the very righteousness of Christ to our account, so that we can be pronounced just before a holy God.

Still another rich term is sanctification. This means to be set apart. The vessels of the Jewish temple were sanctified—holy unto the Lord—set apart as belonging to God and for His use alone. These vessels were cleansed and marked out for this purpose. So, in sanctification we have been set apart for God, as His special vessels, washed clean by the blood of Christ and identified as His own. Sanctification is positional and progressive. That is, when we are saved we are sanctified—this is our position before God, and nothing can alter that fact that we now belong to Him. But, sanctification is also progressive. We are in the process of being sanctified in our daily walk as we are led of the Spirit to become more and more like Christ.

At last, we will become like Him—fully like Him—and that is glorification. The Apostle John says it this way, “Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, and we can’t even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” (1 John 3:2 NLT)

So, we have salvation in three tenses:
1) I am saved—saved from the penalty of sin. There is no fear of condemnation for I am redeemed, regenerated, and justified. God has dealt with my sin.
2) I am being saved—saved from the power of sin. God is growing me in grace. As I walk in the Spirit, I am being conformed into Christ’s likeness daily.
3) I will be saved—saved from the presence of sin. Salvation will be complete, consummated in the glory of heaven.

Monday, October 02, 2006

iChurch=me Church

Perhaps it really is, all about me, after all. I read this provocative article from Christianity Today's website and thought it worthy of consideration.


iChurch: All We Like Sheep
Is our insistence on choices leading us astray?
by Skye Jethani

I don't drink coffee but that hasn't stopped me from using the Starbucks across the street from my church as a second office. I sip my overpriced beverage in the armchair near the window. On this afternoon I was meeting Greg and Margaret*—members of our church I'd worked with closely for the last few years.

"We've decided to leave Blanchard," Greg started. "For two months we've been church shopping." Church shopping—where did that dastardly term come from? I thought while gazing out the window at the swarm of suburbanites fluttering between The Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble, and Williams-Sonoma.

"We really love Blanchard," Margaret added to soften the blow. "It's been a great church for our family, with a wonderful children's program. Greg and I really like it, but our boys are teenagers now and they prefer the music at Faith Community*." I took a sip of my preferred drink—a tall, no whip, Tazo chai latte. Maybe I should have gotten the low cal, non-fat, grande Earl Grey, with Splenda.

Margaret continued, "Faith Community has so much to offer our family, and I think it's really important to go someplace the boys like. When your kids are teenagers, you'll understand." Having played the evangelical trump card (the kids), Margaret sat back in her chair believing no further discussion was necessary.

"What are you going to do when your boys leave home in a few years?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," said Greg. "Maybe we'll come back to Blanchard."

"I hope you don't," I replied, meaning no malice. I did, however, relish the stunned look on their faces, if just for a moment. "I hope that you commit yourselves so fully to Faith Community—building strong relationships, serving with your gifts, participating in its mission—that you could never see yourselves leaving that church. I really believe God grows us most when we are committed to a community."

For the next hour we had a difficult but edifying conversation about their decision to leave. Then I prayed for Greg and Margaret in the middle of Starbucks, and watched from my chair by the window as they drove away in their SUV, a chrome fish on the tailgate.

From Lord to Label

Christian critiques of consumerism usually focus on the dangers of idolatry—the temptation to make material goods the center of life rather than God. This, however, misses the real threat consumerism poses. As contingent beings, we must consume resources to survive. The problem is not consuming to live, but rather living to consume.

We find ourselves in a culture that defines our relationships by our purchases. As the philosopher Baudrillard explains, "Consumption is a system of meaning." We assign value to ourselves and others based on the goods we purchase. One's identity is now constructed by the clothes you wear, the vehicle you drive, the music on your iPod. In short, you are what you consume.

This explains why shopping is the number one leisure activity of Americans. It occupies a role in society that once belonged to religion—the power to give meaning and construct identity. Consumerism, as Pete Ward concludes, "represents an alternative source of meaning to the Christian gospel." No longer merely an economic system, consumerism has become the American worldview—the framework through which we interpret everything else, including God, the gospel, and church.

When we approach Christianity as consumers rather than seeing it as a comprehensive way of life, Christianity becomes just one more brand we consume along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express our identity.

And the demotion of Jesus Christ from Lord to label means that to live as a Christian no longer carries an expectation of obedience and good works, but rather the perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences—music, books, t-shirts, jewelry.

Approaching Christianity as a brand (rather than a worldview) explains why the majority of people who identify themselves as born-again Christians live no differently than other Americans. According to George Barna, most churchgoers have not adopted a biblical worldview, they have simply added a Jesus fish to the bumper of their unregenerate consumer identities. As Mark Riddle observes, "Conversion in the U.S. seems to mean we've exchanged some of our shopping at Wal-Mart, Blockbuster, and Borders for the Christian bookstore down the street. We've taken our lack of purchasing control to God's store, where we buy our office supplies in Jesus' name."

I Can't Get No …

During my conversation with Greg and Margaret at Starbucks, I asked how they came to choose Faith Community as their new church. "Did you pray as a family about this decision?" No.
"Did you involve your small group or seek the wisdom of an elder in the decision?" No.
"Did you investigate the church's doctrine, history, or philosophy of ministry?" No.
"Did you base your decision on anything other than what you 'liked'?" No.

Believe it or not, Greg and Margaret are educated professionals capable of making intelligent decisions. How then do we make sense of their impulsive church shopping?

Being fully formed in a consumer worldview, Greg and Margaret intuitively accepted that the personal enrichment and fulfillment of desire is the highest good. As a result, they chose the church that best satisfied their family's preferences without bothering to consult their community, the Bible, or the Holy Spirit to gauge the legitimacy of those desires. After all, in consumerism a desire is never illegitimate, it is only unmet.

People have not always lived this way. Consumers, like the goods they buy, were made not born. The advent of mass production during the Industrial Revolution created previously unimaginable quantities of goods—far more than the market needed. Manufacturers suddenly needed a way to artificially increase demand for their products. Advertising was born.

Ads became the prophets of capitalism—turning the hearts of the people toward the goods they didn't know they needed. They subtly or overtly promised more comfort, status, success, happiness, and even sex to people who purchased their wares. In 1897 one newspaper reader said that in the past we "skipped ads unless some want compelled us to read, now we read to find out what we really want."

Today, according to The New York Times, each American is exposed to 3,500 desire-inducing advertisements every day promising us that satisfaction is just one more purchase away. Rodney Clapp writes, "The consumer is schooled in insatiability. He or she is never to be satisfied—at least not for long. The consumer is tutored that people basically consist of unmet needs that can be appeased by commodified goods and experiences."

This constant manufacturing of desires has created a culture of overindulgence. Obesity, sexual promiscuity, and skyrocketing credit card debt are just a few signs. Although lack of self-control has always plagued humanity, for the first time in history, an economic system has been created that relies on it. Now, if people began suppressing their desires and consuming only what they needed, our economy would collapse. To prevent this, satisfying personal desires has become sacrosanct.

During World War II, for example, the government severely restricted public consumption of certain goods needed for the war effort. Following 9/11, however, Americans were repeatedly told that to refrain from buying, traveling, and continuing our lifestyle was tantamount to "letting the terrorists win."

For consumers, fulfillment of desire is the highest good and final arbiter in making decisions—even deciding where to worship.

Kingdom Competition

It isn't difficult to see the incompatibility of consumerism with traditional Christianity. Scripture champions contentment and self-control, not endless pursuit of personal desire. Unfortunately, teaching and modeling these Christian values is not a high priority in most churches. In fact, many churches use the same techniques pioneered by consumerism to draw people through their doors.

Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, co-authors of The Churching of America, 1776-1990, argue that ministry in the U.S. is modeled primarily on capitalism, with pastors functioning as a church's sales force, and evangelism as its marketing strategy. Our indoctrination into this economic view of ministry may prevent us from recognizing how unprecedented it is in Christian history.
According to Finke and Stark, the American church adopted a consumer-driven model because the First Amendment prohibited state-sanctioned religion. Therefore, faith, like the buying of material goods, became a matter of personal choice. And "where religious affiliation is a matter of choice, religious organizations must compete for members and … the 'invisible hand' of the marketplace is as unforgiving of ineffective religious firms as it is of their commercial counterparts."

This explains why marketing strategies and secular business values are pervasive in today's ministry—we're in competition with other providers of identity and meaning for survival. We must convince a sustainable segment of the religious marketplace that our church is "relevant," "comfortable," or "exciting." (One billboard in my area proclaims, "Kids love our church. It's FUN!") And we must differentiate our church by providing more of the elements people want. After all, in a consumer culture, the customer is king.

When I arrived at Starbucks to meet with Greg and Margaret, I first went to the counter to order a drink. The simple menu on the wall is deceptive. There was a time when ordering coffee meant regular or decaf, cream or sugar. Today, Starbucks provides literally 20,000 beverage permutations.

While enjoying our drinks of choice, Greg and Margaret proceeded to explain how Faith Community Church had multiple services, including Saturday, so they could choose a time that fit their busy schedule. Blanchard only has three services—all on Sunday morning. The youth group had multiple worship teams for their son, a drummer, to play on. Ours only has one. And, because Faith Community was "way bigger" than Blanchard, it had more to offer Greg and Margaret too.

Ironically, they had come to Blanchard years earlier from a smaller church. What goes around comes around, I guess.

Decisions, Decisions

One of the core characteristics of consumerism is choice. With each new option, the shopper is better equipped to construct his unique identity. Customization, creating a product that conforms to my particular desires, has driven businesses to offer an ever-increasing number of choices. This trend is seen most clearly in the iPod. No longer is a listener required to buy an entire CD to enjoy just one song. You now have instant access to millions of songs, and download them individually for a personalized playlist. The demand for more choices also drives modern churches. The goal is to provide religious consumers with as many individualized choices as possible. The latest permutation is "video venues."

At one church, upon arriving each family member can choose the worship setting that fits their personal desire. Simultaneously, grandma can sing hymns in the traditional service, mom and dad can enjoy coffee and bagels in the worship cafe, and the teenagers can lose their hearing in the rock venue. The value of shared experience and congregational unity is drowned out by consumerism's mantra of individual choice.

"The inspiration for what this church is doing," one journalist reports, "comes from a place where freedom of choice and variety are celebrated: the American shopping mall." To which the pioneering pastor responds, "I am very comfortable with a consumer mindset and use that tool to help reach people."

To Meet, or to Discipline Desire?

Consumers demand options, but this poses a problem. Formation into the likeness of Christ is not accomplished by always getting what we want. In ages past, choice was not heralded as a Christian's right. In fact, relinquishing our choices by submitting to a spiritual mentor or community was prerequisite to growth in Christ. Believers were guided through formative and corrective disciplines—most being activities we would never choose if left to our desires. But surrendering control ensured we received what we needed to mature in Christ, not simply what we wanted.

In consumer Christianity, however, church leaders function as religious baristas, supplying spiritual goods for people to choose from based on their preferences. Our concern becomes not whether people are growing, but whether they are satisfied. An unhappy member, like an unhappy customer, will find satisfaction elsewhere. As one pastor enthusiastically said, "The problem with blended services is that half the people are happy half the time. With a video venue, you can say, 'If you don't like this service style, try another one!'"

Ironically, this demand for choice that has fueled the consumer church may ultimately be its undoing. According to George Barna's book, Revolution, 20 million Americans are no longer satisfied with the options available at institutional churches. Instead they're "choosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal 'church' of the individual."

It's the logical conclusion of consumer Christianity: iChurch.

The new breed of Christian consumers, Barna's "revolutionaries," customize discipleship the way iPod users customize a playlist. They might find encouragement at a community support group, worship at a Third Day concert, listen to a podcast sermon, and read about the topic of the day at the Christian bookstore. While the church as we've known it fades into memory like vinyl LPs.

Divine Butler

Ultimately, our greatest concern should not be consumerism's erosion of the church, but the commodification of God himself. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most of the food, clothing, tools, and furniture people used was made at home or by someone nearby. Every item had a story and person attached to it that was known by its user. A rocking chair had value not only for its comfort, but because Uncle John made it.

Today, as I sit in my favorite armchair at Starbucks enjoying my tea, I have no idea who assembled the chair, who grew the tea leaves, who designed the cup—I barely know the guy with the nose ring behind the counter who poured the hot water. Consumerism has stripped the goods I use everyday from their context—they have no story or value apart from my consumption of them.

Tragically, consumerism has led us to commodify parts of God's creation, too. Sexuality, for example, is commodified through pornography and prostitution. Human life is commodified when we begin thinking a person has a right to live only when wanted.

In our society the only value something or someone has is the value I give it. It should surprise no one that in our culture God also has no value apart from what he can do for me.

Christian Smith, a leading sociologist of religion at the University of North Carolina, after five years of researching the spiritual lives of American teens, concluded that the faith of most teenagers, including those who attend evangelical churches, is MTD: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Smith explains:

"By 'moralistic' I mean being good and nice. … By 'therapeutic' I mean being primarily concerned with one's own happiness in contrast to focusing on glorifying God, learning obedience, or serving others. Finally, by 'deism' I mean a view of God as normally distant and not involved in one's life, except if one has a problem one needs God to solve. In other words, God functions as a combination divine butler and cosmic therapist."

Most teenagers hold this self-centered perception of God because it is the faith most American adults have as well. This god of consumerism shows no resemblance to the Consuming Fire described in Scripture. People may say they believe in Jesus, but the archaic Lord, who calls forth sacrifice, promises suffering in this life, and demands obedience for his glory, the one Barth described as "wholly other" is not what they have in mind. They're thinking of the Jesus that adorns t-shirts and SUV tailgates.

Any resentment I had toward Greg and Margaret quickly waned. Like many others at my church, they were simply doing what they had been formed to do. I may as well be angry at a fish for swimming. Immersed in a consumer culture, Greg and Margaret were simply living like consumers. The truth is I failed Greg and Margaret. I failed to teach them that the core values of consumerism are incongruent with the Christian life. That making choices to satisfy immediate personal desires is not the goal of life.

The church does not exist to supply comfort, ease, and convenient services to religious consumers. And God is not a commodity that exists to make you feel better.

Perhaps I failed Greg and Margaret because I was too busy being a spiritual barista, not a pastor protecting Greg and Margaret from the 3,500 wolves in sheep's clothing they encounter every day. Whatever the reason, because of my failure, that responsibility now rests with the leaders of Faith Community Church.

Skye Jethani is assistant teaching pastor at Blanchard Road Alliance Church in Wheaton, Illinois.
* Names have been changed.

Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.Click here for reprint information onLeadership Journal.Summer 2006, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, Page 28

I would be interested in your take on all this. What do you think?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

THE BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE, Article Six

This is Part 6 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”

Man

Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

Genesis 1:26-30; 2:5,7,18-22; 3; 9:6; Psalms 1; 8:3-6; 32:1-5; 51:5; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 16:26; Acts 17:26-31; Romans 1:19-32; 3:10-18,23; 5:6,12,19; 6:6; 7:14-25; 8:14-18,29; 1 Corinthians 1:21-31; 15:19,21-22; Ephesians 2:1-22; Colossians 1:21-22; 3:9-11.
(Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)

It is easier for a man to make a monkey out of himself than for a monkey to make a man out of himself. Yet, the evolutionist would have us believe otherwise. “Once I was a tadpole swimming in the sea; then I was a monkey sitting in a tree; now, I’m a professor with a PHD!” Ludicrous? Of course—unreasonable and unbiblical!

We are God’s special creation—the pinnacle of all His perfect work. His handiwork is evident in all He spoke into existence, but nothing compares to the one and only creation marked indelibly with His very imprint—humankind. If we are mere products of random processes and eons of mutations, a cosmic accident, albeit a highly developed one, another species of animal, yet a beast nonetheless then where can meaning and purpose to life be found? Yet we are so much more than that.

Male and female we were fashioned—different, yet equal—both the special creation of God. As the man and woman were designed to relate to God, they were also designed to relate to one another. In these days when our politically correct culture seeks to obliterate the distinctiveness of gender, it is good to be reminded that this is a formula for disaster, antithetical to the very design of God and the deep desires of the human heart.

When Adam and Eve were placed in paradise—in a pristine environment untainted by sin—they were in a state of innocence. Being in the image of God meant that they had a will and could make moral decisions. The choice before them was to obey God or to disobey and thereby unleash sin and death on the world. Tragically, they chose sin, and the curse took root among Eden’s fair flowers. Now, the bitter fruit of that curse pervades creation and contaminates all it touches.

Because of this we are born—not in a state of innocence—but in state of sinfulness. Woven into the fabric of our being are the dark threads of iniquity manifest in a deluded mind, a defiled heart, and a defiant will. We are sinners by nature and sinful by choice. No one has to instruct us how to sin—we take to it as a fowl to the sky and a fish to the sea. This sin separates us from God. As Adam and Eve hid from Him—the One with whom they once had intimate fellowship—so we run from the Holy One, down a pathway of rebellion, farther and farther from our Creator.

We are in a hopeless state—helpless to save ourselves. All of us are under the sentence of death—sinners, condemned, unclean. That is what makes grace so amazing. It saves a wretch like me—and like you. That grace reaches into the cesspool of sin and plucks us out and cleans us up and plants our feet on the solid rock of salvation. What Adam forfeited because of sin is restored because of salvation. Jesus reconciles us to God. His cross becomes the bridge over a chasm too wide for us to traverse—the one and only means to get back to God, back to Eden, back to fellowship with our Maker.

Life is precious. Its value is best measured in the incalculable worth of Christ’s blood, shed to redeem that life for God. Male and female, young and old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate—red, and yellow, black and white—they are precious in His sight.

Even the unborn and the aged, the physically handicapped and the mentally retarded—all human beings bear the dignity of those made in the image of God and purchased by the Son of God. Ours is a disposable society—we throw away paper plates and plastic forks, foam cups and paper towels—and this carries over to disposing of the unwanted pregnancy or the unneeded elderly. This is an assault on the handiwork of heaven—those formed in the image of God. Professing ourselves to be wise we have become fools, calling a baby a fetus—an inconvenient glob of cells to be vacuumed from a mother’s womb as mere human waste. In this culture of death where human life is counted cheap we must remember what the Bible says.

How different is the reality—the superlative dignity of man! The Psalmist was in awe when he said,
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you have set in place— 4 what are mortals that you should think of us, mere humans that you should care for us? 5 For you made us only a little lower than God, and you crowned us with glory and honor. 6 You put us in charge of everything you made, giving us authority over all things— 7 the sheep and the cattle and all the wild animals, 8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. 9 O Lord, our Lord, the majesty of your name fills the earth!
(Psalm 8:3-9 NLT)

We are imago Dei—Latin, for made in the image of God! That image, marred by sin, is restored the moment we are born again—when we receive Christ by faith.
THE BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE, Article Five

This is Part 5 of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14, 2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”

God the Holy Spirit

“The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.”
Genesis 1:2; Judges 14:6; Job 26:13; Psalms 51:11; 139:7ff.; Isaiah 61:1-3; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 1:18; 3:16; 4:1; 12:28-32; 28:19; Mark 1:10,12; Luke 1:35; 4:1,18-19; 11:13; 12:12; 24:49; John 4:24; 14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:7-14; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4,38; 4:31; 5:3; 6:3; 7:55; 8:17,39; 10:44; 13:2; 15:28; 16:6; 19:1-6; Romans 8:9-11,14-16,26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; 3:16; 12:3-11,13; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 Timothy 3:16; 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:14; 3:16; Hebrews 9:8,14; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 John 4:13; 5:6-7; Revelation 1:10; 22:17.
(Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)

In our treasured hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” we correctly sing “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” The Holy Spirit is just as much God as the Father and the Son; indeed He is the very Spirit of God and Christ. We should never refer to Him as an “it” or think of Him as the Force. He is a person with all the characteristics of personality. Scripture pictures the Holy Spirit as able to reason, feel, and act. He communicates and supports us in a personal way. The Holy Spirit is a Person! He is God!

As the Revealer of truth, He has inspired the writing of Scripture—both Old and New Testaments. He moved upon prophets and apostles to write down the Word of God and gave oversight to the process so as to produce the flawless revelation of God. Having inspired the writers, He now works to illumine the readers. Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide us into all truth.

As Christ reveals the Father and glorifies Him, so the Spirit reveals the Son and glorifies Him. It is His special ministry to bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. He does this primarily through the people He indwells—the church, Christ’s Body.

It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to Christ and births us into the family of God. He does so by convicting us of sin, the need for righteousness, and the inevitability of judgment. His effectual call produces faith in us to receive God’s forgiveness through Christ. We are then born again—a spiritual birth that makes us a new creation.

When we receive Christ we are baptized in the Holy Spirit—immersed into Christ—and He likewise comes to indwell us. Water baptism is a visible picture of this spiritual reality. As the believer is “buried” in water, he or she is testifying that they have been spiritually connected to the work of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection—buried with Him in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. That is the work of the Spirit of God.

As the life of Christ indwelling the believer, the Spirit begins to produce His fruit in us—the fruit of Christlikeness—love, joy, peace, and all the rest. Not only is the fruit of the Spirit produced in us, but also the gifts of the Spirit are bestowed on us, equipping us for spiritual service. All God’s children are gifted children, having at least one gift, and often several, given by the sovereign will and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Comforter,” literally, one who stands beside us. He is always with us—will never leave, nor forsake us. In times of great stress and heartache, we find Him manifesting His presence as our peace and comfort.

From the moment we receive Christ, the Spirit comes to indwell us as our seal of a secure salvation. He is the guarantee that our redemption will be consummated in heaven—not one child of God being lost along the way.

Although we must not think of the Holy Spirit of God as being some impersonal force—some thing or it—we surely recognize that He is the source of our strength—that apart from Him we can do nothing, but with Him we can do all things. One thing God demands is worship in spirit and truth. The Spirit of Truth moving on the congregation enables us to exalt Christ in worship that is spiritual and true—the only acceptable way. His presence and power in our lives empowers us to share the Gospel and serve the Lord—the only effective way.

We dare not lean on our own ingenuity or ability. The task is too large for us—it is beyond us. It demands the power of God. We would be stupid not to call upon and rely upon the Spirit of the Living God!

Thankfully, we do not have to live in our own strength. The Holy Spirit will fill us—that is control us, energize us, and anoint us, so we may impact our world for Christ.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

LABOR DAY--SHOULD WE REALLY CELEBRATE WORK?

Here's an article from Kairos Journal--just in time for Labor Day. It is a great truth worthy of considering, yet one that is seldom pondered.

The Real Biblical Work Ethic
The New York dramatist, Elmer Rice (1892-1967), is best known for his 1923 play, The Adding Machine. Its main character, Mr. Zero, spends 25 years of his life faithfully crunching numbers for a department store until he is replaced by a machine. In a fit of rage Mr. Zero kills his boss, only to find himself adding and subtracting in hell. For Mr. Zero, life boiled down to punching a time clock and receiving a paycheck—it was a meaningless existence that led to a meaningless afterlife. In The Adding Machine, Rice satirized his perception of the Protestant work ethic. He was wrong. The Protestant or, better yet, Christian work ethic is about much more than punctuality and profit.
Rice’s dreary view of the work ethic is attributed to Max Weber, author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1905.1 Weber linked the Reformers’ exaltation of work with the rise of capitalist greed. This thesis must not go unanswered or God’s view of work will be lost. Two careful thinkers who did much to restore a biblical view of work are theologian
Carl F. H. Henry (1913 -2003) and the British businessman and politician, Sir Fred Catherwood (1925 - ). Henry cut down the Weber thesis, arguing that the Christian work ethic is only loosely connected to the modern “success” ethic. Catherwood continued the discussion with a positive explanation as to what it means to be a “working” Christian.2
Fifty years after the debut of The Adding Machine, Henry confronted a generation of youth supposedly condemning capitalism by rebelling against the Protestant work ethic. Henry wanted them to understand capitalism is not equivalent to the Christian work ethic; in fact, secular society, as Henry put it, “is almost entirely severed from Christian roots.”3 Indeed, Henry attributed the “success ethic” of modern America more to the rags to riches stories of Horatio Alger (1832 – 1899) than the theology of
Luther or Calvin.4 Scripture approves a hard day’s work (the heart of Alger’s philosophy), but when reduced to merely this, the Christian work ethic becomes a secular work ethic and, thus, a “radical rejection of Christianity . . . motivated more by spiritual rebellion than by ethical earnestness.”5 Henry was clear: simply working hard for profit is not working for God—God has a greater design for our labor.
Catherwood explained that God’s design for work is about more than punching a timecard and earning a paycheck; it’s about honoring God and loving neighbor. God is honored when His creatures reflect back His creativity and efficiency in making the heavens and the earth. Therefore, the Christian worker innovates, improves, and pushes himself to the very limit. According to Catherwood, the Christian “has a duty to train himself and develop his abilities, both academically and experimentally, to the limit that his other responsibilities allow . . . He should not stop until it is quite clear that he has reached his ceiling.”6 Furthermore, Christians love their neighbors by exemplifying a quiet lifestyle of hard work to their non-Christian friends. By obeying God’s command to work, the believer, said Catherwood, “demonstrates the nature and purpose of God to those who do not believe. . .”7 Indeed, hard work can be evangelistic!
Society needs the correctives offered by Henry and Catherwood. Not only has hard work fallen on hard times, but when the modern person hears of the “Protestant work ethic,” too often they think of nothing more than the grim world of The Adding Machine (which has been revived on stages throughout the U.S. and U.K.), the quiet despair of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, and the hollow life of an insurance actuary in Alexander Payne’s 2002 movie, About Schmidt.
It remains for the Church to tell a different tale, a better tale. Yes, work is hard, and often not fun, but it is always glorious. Just as a small child giggles with glee when dad lets him wash a dish, the Christian should rejoice in his work because the homemaker, plumber, and CEO are doing more than tying shoes, fixing pipes, and netting a profit—they are fulfilling the very purposes of God.
Footnotes :
1
See Kairos Journal article, "The Atheist Sloth Ethic."
2
See Kairos Journal article, "Pious Diligence in Australia."
3
Carl F. H. Henry, “The Christian Work Ethic,” Christianity Today (January 7, 1972): 23.
4
Horatio Alger (1832 – 1899) marketed the American Dream through a series of books whose popularity was overshadowed only by the books of Mark Twain. He convinced a nation that regardless of one’s humble beginnings, through hard work and integrity anyone could obtain success.
5
Henry, 23.
6
Fred Catherwood, “The Protestant Work Ethic: Attitude and Application Give It Meaning,” Fundamentalist Journal 2 (September 1983): 23.
7
Ibid., 22.


What do you think?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

WHAT ARE OUR CHILDREN LEARNING AT THE UNIVERSITY?

At the time of year when our kids are heading off to college, it is important to know what they are facing. I sure hope we have prepared them--or they are going to be chewed up and spit out. Consider the following article I read today:

ACCEPTED

August is back to school month here at tothesource. Hollywood got the memo and released Accepted this weekend—a modern “Ferris Bueller meets Animal House,” that has a disturbing amount of insight.

Stop for a minute if you are gathering school supplies or writing a tuition check. Face the grim reality that what students encounter at American colleges and universities may be more meaningless and vulgar than anything Hollywood sneaks past the MPAA.


August 22, 2006
Dear Concerned Citizen, by Julia Thompson
roving tothesource junior reporter

While re-reading Benjamin Wiker's "Faith Stealers," (tothesource 8/14) I got a call from the tts editor to review Accepted, the just-released college-lampooning teen movie. "Why me?" I asked. I was told no self-respecting adult would voluntarily sit through the movie, so the bottom of the totem pole gets the job.

Note to reader: if you do decide to see Accepted, don't go on Friday night unless you're a wiggly junior high kid who thinks it's hysterical to shine a laser pointer at the screen. The cabbage patch doll I sat next to shot me a grumpy glance as he munched Sour Patch Kids, probably thinking, "Why does the old person have to sit next to me?"

Accepted's charming Bartleby Gaines gets rejected from Harmon College, and all the real colleges he applies to. Accepted throws barbs at the stereotypical prestigious school, "Harmon," where the president schemes about how he can increase the number of students rejected each year. Those students lucky enough to be accepted at this "real college" partake in degrading traditions in order to fit into the Greek "caste system." One Harmon College legacy fraternity pledge has to dress up in a hot dog suit and shout, "Ask me about my wiener," to jeering passers-by. Other students get drunk or act like zombies who sleep through class as coke-bottle glass wearing professors drone on and on, while parents pay big tuition bills.

To save face, entrepreneurial Bartleby creates the South Harmon Institute of Technology (you can spell out the acronym for yourself) by using a website, an abandoned psychiatric hospital and "a little elbow grease."

The website attracts hundreds of other "rejectees," and overnight South Harmon combusts into impromptu courses ranging from "Skate Ramp Building" to "B.S.ing 242" to ogling busty girls in bikinis—"Anatomy."

When the scantily-clad girls frolicked across the screen my little friend stared at them with saucer eyes from under his baseball cap, squeezing the life out of his Mega Big Gulp with his tiny little hands.

Here's the bad news, parental units. Accepted is naughty, and both of the colleges in the movie are pretty unacceptable--but they only scratch the surface of what's probably going on behind the scenes at a college near you.

As the pubescent crowds burst out laughing at the naughtiness of Accepted, their clueless parents, conspicuously absent from the theater, are home dutifully stuffing coins in college piggy banks to unwittingly send their beloveds into utter depravity.

I speak from experience. The following exhibits are representational, not comprehensive.

Exhibit A: Art History Italian Renaissance final at USC. The teacher had an article on reserve for required reading on Jesus Christ's erections and their hidden and not so hidden depictions in art. Call me a goody-two-shoes, but that's exponentially more offensive than a guy in a hot dog suit spouting sexual innuendos, or adolescent boys drooling over bikini girls.

Exhibit B: Male Sexuality class at UC Berkeley. Students watched their instructor have sex on stage at a strip club, and then participated in an orgy (the orgy was extracurricular in this sex-for-credit class). When journalists exposed the "educational event," many parents snapped out of complacent comas and began to worry what their children were up to at school!

The college experience extends beyond the classroom.

Exhibit C: Co-ed showers and bathrooms. Many campuses, like Berkeley, have dorms where girls, boys, and others shower and go to the bathroom together. The latest bathroom development comes from the crowned jewel of prestige itself, Harvard, where the frontier of transsexual bathrooms is under exploration (wouldn't any bathroom do)?

In a welcome speech orienting University of Chicago freshmen, sociology professor, Andrew Abbott came clean on college administrators' rationale on debauchery: "Basically, we bring all of you here, brim full of needs and desires and hormones, let you loose on each other like so many animals in a wildlife sanctuary, and hope for the best." How inspiring! Is this what my parents took out a second mortgage for?

Abbott speaks as an authoritative representative of the school. Imagine a pastor, managing law-firm partner, or CEO kicking off a retreat by handing out copies of "Christ's Erections in Art" as required reading, and then telling everyone that they will be showering and going to the bathroom together. We all know what would happen. Heads would roll.

Clearly respect and dignity still matter to people. Yet every year parents send kids into the jaws of professors like the world renowned philosopher Richard Rorty, despite explicit warning: "Students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft (rule) of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. …Parents ought to be forewarned that we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable."

I'm sure many of you are thinking that I am na├»ve not to realize that college has always been this way. But there was a time when misbehaving was misbehaving—it was not endorsed by schools, subsidized by parents, and celebrated throughout the subculture. Today, instead of challenging accepted mores, students find that common shared morality has been written off altogether by the very institutions that used to uphold it. This is a tragic loss for America's future, a sample of which was sitting all around me in the theater.

Bartleby's charade is exposed, and with a "Hail-Mary" tactic he lands at a State Board of Accreditation hearing and delivers a sappy, off-the-cuff speech about how education should really be about expressing personal truth, and freedom from restrictions and convention. The board agrees and authorizes the South Harmon Institute of Technology as an institution of higher learning.

Bartleby's speech is strikingly similar to another pearl from sociologist Abbott's freshman orientation speech: "Since nobody in fact agrees on what the canon is—even in the broadest terms—the system definitionally does not have a canon. In fact, there is a common culture of examples and rhetorical figures in America today. But most of it comes from sports, entertainment, and current events." Whereas Bartleby looks within himself for knowledge, Abbott digresses even further to celebrities in People Magazine. So much for higher education. Since the university seems to have given up on any idea of central truths to impart, or even aims to lend cohesion, it is really no wonder that many college curricula bear uncomfortable resemblance to the South Harmon course catalog.

The schools that I attended offered "Explorations" classes, taught by seniors, on topics of their choosing, such as Harry Potter seminars. Faculty at places like Wesleyan University make it policy "not to get in the way" of students, even when their idea of educational experience consists of chalking sexually explicit profanities all over the school sidewalks to greet prospective students and families touring the campus. In light of some of the actual "intellectual fare" out there, South Harmon's classes become less facetious and more like projections of what students may find at real universities

When universities do not regulate the excesses of self-expression, the "liberal arts" education deteriorates into license for an expensive four-year free for all. Bartleby Gaines may as well be the spokesperson and planner for the current trajectory of the modern university.

Abbott is not finished with his demoralizing pronunciations. He proclaims, "the phrase 'aims of education' is nonsensical…it has no aim other than itself…Education in an invisible creativity that radiates from within…it is something you are." I can just see the student body of South Harmon whooping with joy as Abbott trumpets the relativism they so eagerly embrace.

Whereas many colleges, in their foundational charters, held unified truth and character formation as defining objectives, university authorities are now washing their hands of such "antiquated relics" altogether. With unified truth and shared morality discarded, universities are spiraling into a full-blown crisis of meaning.

I have to say that I wonder if the average American college student is likely to get much more out of school than Bartleby at the South Harmon Institute of Technology.

In founding a fake school Bartleby's resume boasts: starting a "business," leasing and developing property, creating promotional materials, problem-solving, galvanizing a group of people and maneuvering through red tape. The average college student from (insert school name here) may wind up with the following accomplishments, for all the university seems to care: paying tuition, going to class, sleeping, drinking, paying tuition, cramming, testing, paying tuition, post-test mental purging, paying tuition.

I remember my first visit to Tufts. I was elated, with the highest of hopes. At the end of graduation day when everyone began to wander off in separate directions I felt a troubling anti-climax. Perhaps it was the realization that the end had come, and after four years of "non-aims," all of a sudden the school didn't owe me anything, while I still owed them tens of thousands of dollars. Did I get what I am paying for?

It’s time for more colleges and universities to take responsibility for how they are shaping America’s future. Until then, students and parents have a choice. Find the notable exceptions and stamp REJECTED on the rest.
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© Copyright 2006 - tothesource

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

REAL PRAYING

Here's a link to a video that will touch your heart and I hope inspire you to pray--I mean really pray! If we could pray with the faith of a little child, what great things God would do.



Click here to comment!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

BUILDING A HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH, Message Eight
“ALL I WANT IS A LITTLE RESPECT”
1 Timothy 5:1-8

Many of my generation will remember a soul song written by the late Otis Redding called “Respect” that said, “All I want is a little respect.” While all of us desire and deserve respect, men must have it. Father's Day is a day set aside to respect and honor fathers. Respect is not optional—it is a commandment of God. “Honor your father and mother.” Paul stresses it here. Yet many men feel like the bug-eyed comedian Rodney Dangerfield who made this line popular, “Hey, I tell ya, I don’t get no respect!” At work, at home, at church we get no respect. This is serious. This is sin. Consider:

1. THE CRISIS FROM FAILING TO GIVE MEN RESPECT.
While Paul certainly tells Timothy to be respectful of the women in the church, I want to focus on the first verse, and the need to respect the men of the church. There is often a contrast in the way we acknowledge women on Mother’s Day and the way we treat men on Father’s Day. On Mother’s Day you may expect a sermon extolling the virtues of motherhood. We ought to do that. But on Father’s Day, we often hear a message enumerating the vices of men. They may be subjected to sermons that tell them what losers they are, how carnal, how unspiritual and uncommitted they are. Sometimes those things need to be said to men—and women! But I’m not going to do that, because we are in a crisis. I have noticed more and more men either becoming passive in regards to the church or dropping out altogether. Thank God for all the women who attend and serve in the church--we can’t do without them. It isn’t that I’m calling for less participation among the ladies, but for more involvement among men. When Jesus established the church, He selected twelve men to be His Apostles—the spiritual pillars on which He would build His unshakable kingdom. Scripture establishes that the spiritual oversight of the church is reserved for the offices of pastors and deacons—the elders of the church who are to be males.

Yet, the crisis we face today is that men are rejecting the church and that fact was brought home to me in a book I read several months ago, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” Today’s church has developed a culture that drives men away. Here are the stats: More than 90% of American men believe in God, 5 out of 6 say they are Christians, but only 2 in 6 attend church. Don’t say that women are just more religious. Equal numbers of men and women are involved in Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Think of men’s commitment to Islam! The church has been “feminized.” By that I mean, that the virtues of gentleness, compassion and kindness which women do very well have been stressed to the neglect of virtues like courage, decisiveness and strength which men tend to do well. Women are good at nurturing children and so we stress those ministries, but how many men are we equipping to impact the world for Christ?

2. THE CONSEQUENCES OF FAILING TO GIVE MEN RESPECT.
Failing to live by God’s standards inevitably brings a crisis. All it took was one act of rebellion—a failure to respect God’s authority in the Garden of Eden and we daily face the horrific results.

Here are but a few of the consequences of failing to give men respect. One consequence is to men themselves. David Murrow said, “Men regard church like a prostate exam; it’s something that can change their lives, but it’s so unpleasant and invasive, they put it off.” And they suffer for it, maybe for eternity! The church is losing its future leaders. Single men ages 18-35 are the least likely group to attend church and these are the very ones we ought to be grooming to take the church forward. Family life is deteriorating. Strong families require strong fathers and the church is failing to produce enough of them. Our society is dying—only the Gospel can bring hope and it will take daring, risk-takers, creative and courageous men to bring a spiritual revolution!

3. THE CORRECTION FOR FAILURE TO GIVE MEN RESPECT.
The remedy will be a bitter pill for some to swallow. Business guru, W. Edwards Deming correctly says, “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.” We must change. What we’re doing isn’t working when it comes to reaching men. We must intentionally develop a climate that will attract strong, dangerous men. I’m sick of pictures that make Jesus look like a pansy. He was a dangerous man—challenging the establishment, cleaning out corruption. Remember how Jesus forcefully walked into the Temple and cleaned out the religious hucksters operating their scam? He turned over massive tables loaded with coins. He made a scourge from ropes and began to whip that bunch of hypocrites, driving them out of the House of God they were defiling. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Not!

Jesus calls men to follow Him on the great quest as champions of the Kingdom of God. Dangerous men like Moses, Elijah, David, Daniel, Peter and Paul are what we need! Men like that are around but they are building businesses rather than the Kingdom, winning games and not souls, they have gone fishing rather than fish for men, and joining the army rather than fight for faith. We need those kinds of guys! Let’s issue the challenge. We need a Luther, a Wesley, a Billy Sunday.

Evangelist Billy Sunday had been a professional baseball player when he became a preacher of the Gospel. He said this, "As long as I have a fist, I'm going to punch the devil! As long as I have a foot, I'm going to kick the devil! As long as I have teeth, I'm going to bite the devil! And when I lose my teeth, I'm going to gum him!" That's a dangerous man. That's a man that commands respect. That's the kind of guy I want to be--how about you?

Monday, July 24, 2006

THE BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE, Article Four

This is part four of a continuing series of articles examining the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This statement of faith was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting on June 14,2000 “to set forth certain teachings which we believe.”

God the Son

“Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.”

Genesis 18:1ff.; Psalms 2:7ff.; 110:1ff.; Isaiah 7:14; 53; Matthew 1:18-23; 3:17; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16,27; 17:5; 27; 28:1-6,19; Mark 1:1; 3:11; Luke 1:35; 4:41; 22:70; 24:46; John 1:1-18,29; 10:30,38; 11:25-27; 12:44-50; 14:7-11; 16:15-16,28; 17:1-5,21-22; 20:1-20,28; Acts 1:9; 2:22-24; 7:55-56; 9:4-5,20; Romans 1:3-4; 3:23-26; 5:6-21; 8:1-3,34; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:2; 8:6; 15:1-8,24-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21;8:9; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:20; 3:11; 4:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:13-22; 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 3:16; Titus 2:13-14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 4:14-15; 7:14-28; 9:12-15,24-28; 12:2; 13:8; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 3:22; 1 John 1:7-9; 3:2; 4:14-15; 5:9; 2 John 7-9; Revelation 1:13-16; 5:9-14; 12:10-11; 13:8; 19:16.
(Baptist Faith and Message, 2000)

Bethlehem was not the beginning of Christ, the Son of God. That marked the entrance of the Eternal Son into this temporal sphere as a Being of flesh. The Man, Jesus, was born in a manger, but there was never a time when Christ was not. He is God without beginning and ending—Alpha and Omega.

Yet the Infinite became an infant. When He stepped out of the Celestial City and into time and space, Jesus laid aside the prerogatives of Deity and took upon Himself the limitations of humanity. He was just as much God as if He were not man, and just as much man as if He were not God. He is the Godman—not God-man—not a demigod, half god and half man, but fully God and man.

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Spirit of God wrought a miraculous conception as Jesus the Unique, Only Begotten Son of God was implanted in Mary’s womb in a one and only kind of event—a virgin young lady nurturing God within her. In doing so, He became man that He might die for us—while still God to make His death sufficient for all mankind to be forgiven of their sins. By this miracle, God brought One into the world who was untainted by the pollution of Adam’s race, yet still a member of that race. You have never met a perfect person—but there was one—Jesus Christ. Tempted like we are and yet without sin—we have a spotless sacrifice. He was subjected to all the toils, trials and tears of this terrestrial plane, so that we have a sympathetic Savior. Only Jesus could qualify to deal with our sins.

Having fulfilled all the righteous demands of God, Jesus became our substitute on Calvary. He became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. When He cried from the cross, “It is finished!” He meant that the debt was paid in full.

Yet, that death would have only been a grave miscarriage of justice, a horrible tragedy, had the tomb been the end of the line for Jesus. But He arose—literally, bodily—glorified humanity! Because He lives, we can live also.

Hundreds of people saw Jesus alive from the dead. Skeptics have tried since the first century to undermine the credibility of the Gospel accounts, but there is no other explanation for the transformation in the disciples except that they actually saw Jesus resurrected. For forty days He demonstrated His conquest of death by many infallible proofs.

Then He ascended into heaven before the eyes of the startled and saddened onlookers. Rising up into the clouds, He was received into glory with the promise that He would come again. There—at the right hand of the Father—He waits for the word which will send Him back for His bride, the church. Meanwhile, Jesus is not idle—He ever lives to intercede for us. His death on the cross purchased our salvation; but His mediation in heaven preserves it. He died to save us and ascended to secure us.

One day, perhaps soon, the trumpet will sound and the authoritative voice that summoned Lazarus back to life will call the sleeping saints to awaken from their graves. Those who are alive when Christ appears in the clouds will be transformed and given bodies like unto His glorious body. Together, we will rise to meet Him in the air.

This will begin the final countdown to the end of the age. Judgment will be meted out. The One who will judge, as well as the criteria by which humanity will be judged, is Jesus Christ, who in that day will be acknowledged as King of kings and Lord of lords. Before Him every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Some will bow gladly. I will. Others, who have similarly received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in this life, will be saved eternally and welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some will bow sadly. They missed their opportunity to enter heaven. Fully intending one day to be saved, they waited too late and never accepted Christ’s invitation. The road to hell will be paved with their good intentions.

Some will bow madly. The enemies of Christ will be forced to acknowledge His triumph. Even Satan himself—the ultimate rebel—will have to grovel before being cast into the lake of fire.

But all will bow before God the Son.

If you want to be saved, you must do so now!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

THE DIFFERENCE THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Several days ago, I shared an article from Jim Elliff in which he leveled some serious concerns about the members of Southern Baptist Churches. His conviction stated there was that many who had their names on the church roll were indeed unsaved. This post contains part two of that discussion. Consider then:

Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination (Part 2)
Jim Elliff
Facing the Dilemma
What must be done? I suggest five responses:
1. We must preach and teach on the subject of the unregenerate church member. Every author in the New Testament writes of the nature of deception. Some books give major consideration to the subject. Jesus Himself spoke profusely about true and false conversion, giving significant attention to the fruit found in true believers (Jn. 10:26-27; Mt. 7:21-23; Mt. 25:1-13, etc.). If this sort of teaching creates doubt in people, you should not be alarmed, nor should you back away from it. Given the unregenerate state of so many professing Christians, their doubts may be fully warranted. In any case, as one friend told me, "Doubts never sent anyone to hell, but deception always does." Most will work through their doubts, if they are regenerate and if we continue to preach the whole truth. Contrary to popular opinion, all doubts are not of the devil. Speak truthfully the whole counsel of God. You cannot "unsave" true believers.
It is true that there may be some who are overly scrupulous and overwhelmed by such examination. But most who will be affected are those who are too self-confident, having based their assurance on such shaky platforms as their response to an invitation, praying a perfectly worded "sinner's prayer," or getting baptized. If they are unregenerate, they may take offense and leave. But if they are truly regenerate, patient teaching and care will help them to overcome their doubts and gain biblical assurance. Such preaching may even result in true conversion for some who are deceived. And don't forget that the overconfident ones are not the only ones at risk. Quiet, sensitive, insecure people can be deceived also.
2. We must address the issue of persistent sin among our members, including their sinful failure to attend the stated meetings of the church. This must be done by reestablishing the forgotten practice of church discipline. Each church should adopt guidelines that state just what will happen when a member falls into sin, including the sin of non-attendance or very nominal attendance. Such discipline for non-attendance is clearly found in the history of Baptists—but more importantly, in the Bible.
Everyone in the church, including new members, should be made familiar with the biblical steps of church discipline. Jesus said that a person who was lovingly, but firmly, disciplined by the church, and yet failed to repent, should be thought of as "a heathen and a tax collector" (see Mt. 18:15-17). Though David committed atrocious sins, he was a repenter at heart (see 2 Sam.12:13; Psalm 51). Every Christian is a life-long repenter and church discipline brings this out. (See "Restoring Those Who Fall," in
Our Church on Solid Ground: Documents That Preserve the Integrity and Unity of the Church, www.CCWonline.org)
Leaders must get into the homes of all our erring church members, seeking either to bring them to Christ, or to reluctantly release them to the world which they love more than Christ. Nowhere in the Bible are we taught to keep non-believers on the rolls. As a side benefit from church discipline for the SBC, remember that when we reduce our membership to what it actually is, we will be amazed at the statistical improvements in the ratio of members per baptism and members to attenders. Of course, statistics are not worth dying for, but obedience to God's Word is.
We are never to aggressively pluck the supposed tares from the wheat as if we had absolute knowledge (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). We might be mistaken. However, loving church discipline is a careful process by which the obvious sinner in essence removes himself by his resistance to correction. The church is made up of repenting saints, not rebelling sinners (see 1 Cor. 5). The slight improvement in the disparity between membership and attendance in the last couple of years is likely due, in major part, to some churches beginning to practice church discipline—a matter of obedience that thankfully is regaining credence among us. Some have removed hundreds from their rolls in this process, and regained some also.
3. We should be more careful on the front end of church membership. In my estimation, the public altar call (a modern invention) often reaps people prematurely. Others will disagree or can perhaps make significant improvements on the traditional "invitation system." We have used this method in our evangelism because of our genuine zeal to see the lost converted. But in our zeal, we have often overlooked the fact that many who do what our method calls for (i.e. respond to our invitation) may not be converted.
Though sacrosanct to Baptists, careful study should be done related to the historical use of the invitation system evangelistically. For eighteen hundred years the church did not use such a method. It was not until its principle originator, Charles Finney, a true pelagian in his theology, promoted his "new measures." Earlier preachers were content to let true conviction play a greater part in conversion. They needed no props for the gospel—no persuasive techniques to prompt people to make a "decision." Instead of relying on a method, their confidence was in the preached Word and the Holy Spirit. Baptist giant, C. H. Spurgeon, for instance, saw thousands converted without the use of an "altar call." His message was his invitation. We should always offer a verbal invitation in our gospel preaching, meaning we must invite people to repent and believe. But there is no real benefit, while there is much potential harm, in our inviting them to the front of the church and then assuring them that their short walk or tearful response proves their conversion.
We don't need better methods to get people down to the front. What we need is more biblical content and more unction in our preaching. You cannot beat sinners away from Christ when God is bringing them in (see Jn. 6:37, 44-45). When as many as 70-90% of "converts" are giving little, if any, evidence of being saved after their first weeks or months of emotional excitement, questions should be asked, both about our understanding of the gospel and about our methods. Forget the fact, if you must, that there is no clear biblical precedent for the altar call. Even considering the matter pragmatically ought to make us quit. Though prevalent in our churches for decades, it has not helped us. (See "Closing with Christ,"
www.CCWonline.org/closing.html)
The dangerous practice of receiving new members immediately after they walk the aisle must finally be abandoned. Also, more careful counsel should be taken with those entering in as members from other churches. And add to this a need for much deeper thinking concerning childhood conversion. An alarming percentage of childhood professions wash out later in the teen and college years. For unconverted yet baptized church kids, the more independence they are granted, the more they live out their true nature. (See "Childhood Conversion,"
www.CCWonline.org/cconv.html)
4. We must stop giving immediate verbal assurance to people who make professions of faith or who respond to our invitations. It is the Holy Spirit's job to give assurance. We are to give thebasis upon which assurance can be had, not the assurance itself. Study 1 John in this respect. What things were written so that they might know they have eternal life? (1 Jn. 5:13). Answer: The tests given in the book. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).
5. We must restore sound doctrine. Revival, I am finding as I study its history, is largely about the recovery of the true gospel. The three great doctrines which have so often shown up in true revival are: 1) God's sovereignty in salvation, 2) justification by grace through faith alone, and 3) regeneration with discernible fruit. Revival is God showing up, but the blessing of the presence of God is directly affected by our beliefs. God most often comes in the context of these and other great doctrines, preached penetratingly and faithfully, and with the unction of the Holy Spirit.
As an illustration of our doctrinal reductionism, repentance is often forgotten completely in gospel presentations, or else it is minimized to mean nothing more than "admitting that you are a sinner." Also, "Inviting Christ into your heart," a phrase never found in the Bible (study the context of Jn.1:12 and Rev. 3:20, the verses used for this), has taken the place of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. The doctrine of God's judgment is rarely preached with any carefulness. And comprehensive studies of the meaning of the cross are seldom heard. Merely looking over the titles of the sermons which awakening preachers preached in the past would surprise most modern pastors.
Be Healthy or Be Ashamed
Which army would you rather have? Gideon's first army or his last? No church, and no denomination, should call itself healthy unless more people attend than are on the roll. This is a standard kept by most of the world, and was kept by our great-grandparents in Baptist churches as well. We would be closer to the revival we desire if we would admit our failure, humbly hang our heads, and seek to rectify this awful hindrance to God's blessing. When we boast of how big we are, we are bragging about our shame.
In the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, our first association, our initial American statistical record shows that five times as many people attended the association's churches as were on their rolls. Greg Wills in Democratic Religion in the South (Oxford University Press, 1997, p.14) reports that three times the number on the rolls attended Baptist churches, then located mostly along the eastern seaboard when surveyed in 1791 by John Ashlund. In 1835, the Christian Index of Georgia recorded that "not less than twice the number" of members were in attendance.
Today, in rough numbers, it takes 300 people on our rolls to have 100 attenders. In the 1790s, it took only 33. Or, to put it in larger figures, it now takes nearly 3000 people, supposedly won to Christ and baptized, to result in a church attendance of 1000. Then, it took only 333. Our potency has diminished to such an extent that we must "win" and "baptize" over 2,000 more people to get to the same 1000 to attend.
Apparently, being orthodox in terms of inerrancy and infallibility is not enough, though without these doctrines we have no foundation for true evangelism. A lot has to be done, and a lot undone. And, sadly, we have been actively transporting this mainly American problem overseas for many years.
To conclude, I suggest two remedial steps for the convention as a whole, in addition to what was suggested for the churches:
1. We might reverse some of our proclivity to continue as normal if we introduced our preachers more accurately in our evangelism meetings and convention settings. Try using this introduction: "Here is Brother ______, pastor of a church of 10,000 members, 6400 of whom do not bother to come on a given Sunday morning, and 8600 of whom do not come on Sunday evening. He is here to tell us about how to have a healthy, evangelistic church."
It might be better to ask a man to speak who shepherds 100 members, all of whom attend with regularity and all of whom show signs of regeneration—a man who, in the last year, has baptized 5 people who stick—rather than a pastor of 10,000 members, 7000 of whom do not come—a man who has baptized 1000 in the past year, 700 of whom cannot be found. The smaller, but more consistent numbers of the first pastor reveal a far more effective ministry and thus a far better example for other churches. (Please understand that I don't like this talk about "numbers," but this is the main way we evaluate people and churches as Baptists. I am sure God is not really impressed with any of our statistics.)
2. We should establish a study group to explore our presently deplorable situation and to track its history. This group should also seek to re-examine the biblical mandate to have a regenerate church. Then this study group should report back with a strategy to help us out of the dilemma. They should be painfully honest. I am hopeful that individual churches will act without this prompting, but this would be an added stimulus to getting us to our fighting weight as a denomination. Some church leaders will not act without this sort of backing since independent action would be a departure from the status quo.
Our only alternative is to carry on in the old way—the way that produces 70-90% fallout. By continuing on as we are, we will gradually blur, and eventually obscure altogether, any distinction between the professing and the authentic Christian. In the end, we will look like every other mainline, liberal denomination. We are only one-third to one-tenth alive now. If we want to avoid complete deadness, we must take dramatic measures immediately. Like cotton candy, our apparent size does not add up to much.
Our forebears, especially those who died for the biblical concept of a regenerate church, would hardly recognize our compromised condition. It will admittedly take us down a notch or two, in the estimation of the rest of professing Christianity, when millions are removed from our rolls. But humility and a new reality might be the starting place for God's greatest blessings on us yet!
The next time someone asks how your church and your denomination are doing, tell the truth. Tell them that we have a new confidence in the inerrant Bible. Tell them that we have seminaries that promote orthodoxy, and new evangelistic fervor among the true believers. Tell them we have a lot to be excited about. But also tell them that when considered as a whole, most Southern Baptists need raising from the dead.

(Jim Elliff is president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. More articles by Jim may be found at
www.CCWonline.org.)
Revised edition, Copyright © Jim Elliff 2005 Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc. 201 Main, Parkville, MO 64152 USA Permission granted for not-for-sale reproduction in exact form including copyright. Other uses require written permission.

And so, my intent this Sunday is to begin a series of messages from 1 John entitled, "The Proof of Our Profession." These verses will also be the focus of our Sunday School lessons. Let us pray that God will speak to any among the congregation who may be lost--and either too proud to admit it or too blind to see it--that they may bow before the Lord and receive His grace that alone can save us from our sins. This is the difference that makes a difference and it is the difference between heaven and hell.



Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why Don't We Have Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting?

Recently one of our members asked me this question. Maybe you have wondered also--but not many of you, for few have missed it. Most never attended it.

Believing in the importance of prayer--I led a year long study of prayer from the Scriptures and beat the drum about its necessity for the life and vitality of the church. Yet, I failed to stimulate the congregation to more than meager involvement.

There has never been anything magical about having a prayer meeting on Wednesday night. Yet, we still do--if anyone still cares. When FAITH semesters take place during the spring and summer we ask a FAITH team to remain behind to lead in prayer--a different team rotating each week. Year round a prayer element is featured in CARE on Wednesday nights. There are prayer lists available. We have prayer grams to send out to those contacted. But it is about prayer--not a warmed-up Bible study devotion, a hymn or that sort of thing that mark the traditional "prayer" meeting, but just prayer. Also, the prayer room is available whenever the facility is open. On Sunday mornings at 8 AM, anyone who would like to join the pastor and his prayer partner(s) in the prayer room would be most welcome! But the following article gets to the core issues more than anything concerning the dearth of corporate prayer--on Wednesday or any day.

Whatever Happened to Prayer Meeting?

East Indian evangelist K. P. Yohannan says he will never forget one of his first prayer meetings in an American church. He had come to the United States eager to meet some of its spiritual giants and leaders. One man in particular held his interest, a preacher known even in India for his powerful sermons and uncompromising commitment to the truth.

More than 3,000 people attended services on the Sunday Yohannan visited his church. The choirs were outstanding and the preaching was everything he'd hoped it would be. But he was especially taken by an announcement the pastor made about the midweek prayer meeting. He said there were some things lying heavy on his heart—would the people come and pray about them? Then he announced the name of a certain chapel on the church campus. Excited, Yohannan determined he would attend.

When he arrived later that week, he brought with him some definite assumptions. The most basic was that prayer meetings are essential, of primary importance. In India, and in many other parts of the world where Christians are persecuted, the prayer meeting is the centerpiece of the church's life. Everyone comes, the meetings often last long into the night, and it is not unusual for believers to arise daily before sunup to pray together for the work of the church.

Fearing a huge crowd, he came early to get a seat. But when he arrived he was surprised to discover a chapel with a capacity for only 500—that was empty! A few people eventually came in, but there was no leader, no songs or worship, just chit chat about news, weather, and sports.

Forty-five minutes later an elderly man, the leader, but not the pastor, walked into the chapel to offer a few devotional thoughts from the Bible and give a brief prayer. The meeting was over, and as the seven attendees filed out of the chapel, Yohannan sat in stunned silence, his mind filled with questions: Was this it? Weren't they going to stay and wait upon God? Where was the worship? The tears? The cries for guidance and direction? Where was the list of the sick, and the poor, and those in need? What about that burden the pastor said was heavy on his heart? Weren't we going to intercede for a miracle? And where was the pastor?
That meeting became a paradigm for his experience of prayer meetings in America. In all his travels here, Yohannon saw the same pattern repeated in hundreds of midweek meetings. Almost anything happens but prayer. There are announcements, singing, homilies, but few prayers—and that's in the churches that actually have prayer meetings in their schedules. Many more make no pretense.

Church leaders who think nothing of spending days planning programs or of spending thousands of dollars to hire consultants to help them do it, blanch at the thought of spending even one whole night to wait on the Lord to show them what to do.

If it is true that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12), then we must pray, mustn't we? Can there be any other way to reach a lost world? Do we really think our plans and programs can bring down strongholds of spiritual evil in the heavenly realms?

Misplaced confidence

Yohannan attributes our prayerlessness to a false sense of self-sufficiency. The Laodicean church is deja vu all over again in the so-called Christian West. That was the church that said of itself, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But Jesus had a different opinion: "You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."

And worst of all, he saw himself as standing outside the church, not inside; knocking on the door, asking to be let in. "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:14-22). To pray would be to open the door. But our sense of self-sufficiency paralyzes the hand that would turn the knob.

Secularization, the process by which things like prayer are losing their practical social significance, is at the root of most of our difficulties with prayer. For many of us, on an almost subconscious level, there is a lack of confidence that something like prayer can actually get anything done. Therefore, since our lives are full of things that need to be done, prayer naturally gets pushed out to the edges of the day. Prayer may have some therapeutic value; for instance, it can give one a sense of inner peace, but we think it can do little to raise money for the operating budget.

The logic of secularization makes us frenetically over-committed and so full of blind activity that we become too busy and too tired to pray. As P. T. Forsyth warned, the inability to pray is the punishment for the refusal to pray.

God said it would be that way: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore, you will flee!" (Isa. 30:15-16, italics mine). Flight is a good image of the kind of activity that dominates prayerless people and churches.

Along with secularization, American individualism has taken its toll. If churches fancy themselves self-sufficient, it's because their members share the same conceit. We like our lives to be self-contained. For many, the prayer meeting is unnecessary as long as individuals are praying in their own homes on their own time. What is missed is that most of what the Bible says about prayer is addressed to groups, people meeting together, to pray. The Bible's great book of prayer, Psalms, was written largely for use in the congregation of Israel.

Even the individual prayer of a man like Ezra had the effect of moving all the people to pray together. For "while Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly" (Ezra 10:1).
Unforgettable is the prayer life of the young church in Jerusalem, as "they all joined together constantly in prayer," and who, when threatened with persecution, raised "their voices together in prayer to God" for him to show his power against her enemies (Acts 1:14; 4:23-31).

It was in a congregational prayer meeting that a missionary movement was launched in Antioch: "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off" (Acts 13:1-3).

When Paul urged the churches to pray for him, he was urging congregations to pray as congregations, not only as mere individuals.

Corporate shalom

Corporate prayer has a special place in God's heart because he desires that his people be one. Jesus prays to the Father, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23). Note that Jesus claims for Christian unity a power he gives only to the Holy Spirit, to nothing and no one else—the power to persuade the world that he is indeed the One sent from God "to let the world know that you sent me." The greatest argument for the authority and identity of Jesus comes not only from theologians and apologists. It can come from the simplest believers who will live together in the unity of the Holy Spirit! There is a blessedness, a shalom, among those who are one in Christ that is so extraordinary and miraculous that it is visible to nonbelievers.

What does this have to do with corporate prayer?

There can't be one without the other—no genuine corporate prayer without unity, no real unity without corporate prayer. If prayer is the deepest communion we can have with our Father God this side of heaven, how can we have this intimacy if we are at loggerheads with his family?

Taking his cue from the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:19, Jonathan Edwards urged the churches of eighteenth-century New England to see prayer as a kind of concert. "Again I tell you, that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." The word for "agree" is the Greek sumphoneo, from which we get our word symphony. Edwards proposed that churches pray in concerted agreement for two things: the revival of religion in the church and the spread of God's kingdom in the world. The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were birthed in this kind of prayer. With them came spiritual renewal and profoundly beneficial social and political changes.

That kind of praying required a level of Christian community most churches know nothing of.
Bob Bakke of National Prayer Advance tells of churches of Ipswich, Massachusetts, and their experience of this kind of prayer. After the first Great Awakening, three churches in this community covenanted to follow the pattern suggested by Edwards.

In each congregation, cell groups would meet weekly to agree in prayer. Monthly, the separate congregations would then gather the cells and conduct all church prayer meetings of agreement. Then quarterly, all three would come together for the same kind of praying.

This pattern was followed faithfully, without interruption, for a century. Two remarkable things happened during this time. All three churches reported periodic harvests or "ingatherings" of souls, in which a number of new believers were brought into the congregations, about every eight to ten years. Also, during this time, all of New England was being swept by Unitarianism. But not these three churches. They remained firmly true to the faith while apostasy swirled around them, but not over them.

Around the time of the Civil War, the prayer meetings ceased. Within five years these churches all capitulated to Unitarianism!

In times of intense spiritual conflict, simple, unified corporate prayer can be literally the difference between life and death.

Launch into the Deep

Since the best teacher of prayer is the Holy Spirit, the best way to learn to pray is by praying. Whether, and how much we pray is, I think, finally a matter of appetite, of hunger for God and all that he is and desires.
As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: "We are far too easily pleased." We have become satisfied with mere church, mere religious exertion, mere numbers and buildings—the things we can do. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they are no more than foam left by the surf on the ocean of God's glory and goodness.

There are things way out in the depths that only God can give us. They can be ours only if we launch out in our little prayer boats and learn to sail, even one day walk, on those waters.

Bon voyage, my friend.

This article is excerpted from Deepening Your Conversation with God: the Life-Changing Power of Prayer, the seventh volume in LEADERSHIP's "Pastor's Soul" book series.

Ben Patterson is dean of the chapel at Hope CollegeP.O. Box 9000 Holland MI 49422
Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

This article is located at:http://www.ctlibrary.com/3047

So my friends, as a leader I take responsibility that I have allowed our sorry state of prayerlessness to become entrenched. I became discouraged--but that is no excuse. Now, a fire burns in me once again. Someone will pray--if it is only me, and I will continue to call the church to prayer whether anyone listens or not.

Lord, teach us to pray.