Friday, December 07, 2007

Streams of Reformed/Calvinistic Baptist Renewal

Clint, of Cowboyology has been writing about the streams from which the new revival in RB distinctives have come out of. It has garnered some interesting discussion. But, what has really come to my attention has been the thinking back through church history, that it suggests.

Streaming History

Dallas Theological Seminary, for example, was founded by an ordained presbyterian. The presbyterian movement itself was an expression of puritanism, or the cause for semper reformanda in England and Scotland. The English reformation, in turn was a result of the great reformation of theology and church life instigated by John Calvin. Calvin himself was not a pure inovator, but learning from Jacques Lefavre d'Etaples and the french reformation wing, which was supremely influenced by Luther and Erasmus. These, although great thinkers who discovered things for themselves, where supremely influenced by their humanistic studies, (ie to study original languages and the Patristics. Luther was able to debate form the views of the Fathers effectively enough to silence his opponents, and admits (to his own political harm) his debt to the works of John Huss a martyr from a previous generation.

All these movements, reperesented a movement of theology, so that not all pre-Dallas where creadobaptists, not all reflected biblically discovered hierarchy before the westminster standards, Luther could harldy be considered a modern churchman. Yet in all these cases we have bretheren who we would not hesitate to learn from, and to cooperate with in gospel mission.

Common Themes

There were central themes that define them all and the so called "formal" and "material" casues of the reformation really do illustrate them. The Bible as the authority, and the gospel as described by the doctrines of Grace, have been consistant. So that while at times, we may feel that a period of Dallas era dispensationalism weakened the Five Responses of the Counsel of Dort to the Remonstrances of the Arminians. They did defend the key elements of Grace, and many Dallas Graduates, such as Robert Thomas are in fact calvinistic, and have been so all the way through.

Certainly my own expeeince at TMS, was that while there was diversity and discussion, the principles of the doctrines of grace were held and taught by the profs and most students. I never came accross any of the so called '3 point' calvinists in leadership there, in distinction from Clint's experience at TMC, but I did come to see that a distinctive dispensational hermeneutic (read as consistant historico-grammatical plain reading, different from a dispensational systematic theology) can and must lead to a reformed view of the doctrines of grace.

More to Being Reformed

There must be however a recognition that there is more to being reformed then the mere affirmations of scripture alone and grace alone. These principles are the core of evangelical committment. But the Reformed view compiles these with the idea of reformed worship according to the regulative principle. (If the bible commands or by reasonable logic implies it, do it. If not it has no place in worship). It sees the world through the either the lense of covenant keepers or covenant breakers. It looks at the social, poilitical and educational activities of our world and seeks to conform those to the principle of covenant fidelity.

Luther in contrast held to a more inclusive normative principle of worship (if not forbidden leav it alone). Yet in view of seeking to bring the world in submission to Christ, socially (see his book On Chrsitian Freedom), politically, (Secular Authority and An Appeal to the Ruling Casses), educationally, (see the quote I deal with in my previous post), Luther is cleary "reformed".

To what do we seek renewal?

I commented on cowboyology:

I have been re-reading Luther lately, and being reminded from his early work, "On Christian Freedom" and his late work, "The Bondage of the Will" Luther could be drawn as a consistent Calvinist (if that weren't anachronistic). Perhaps rather then a reformed renewal (although that is certainly true), the movement we are encouraging and seeing may be broader and really we ought to be discussing a Sovereign Grace Renewal, which is a part of the reforming of Baptistic thinkers bringing them back to their biblical roots.Just a thought, as I looked at Luther's Gospel renewal.

Charles Spurgeon in discussing the gospel wrote "If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, 'He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.'"

The Fundamental Question

Do we seek clarity on a label and form of christian expression, or on the faith itself? This is an interesting question, because our labels are not sinful, but helpful and communicative. But is this a question of mere labels? One thing must be kept in mind. Orthodox Christianity exaults the doctrines of grace, heresy corrupts them. True Arminianism is not a benign alternative label, it is the title of a condemned heresy that challenged the orthadox beliefs of the reformation church and was judged and publically refuted as heterodox. Spurgeon again notes:

  • And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we
    do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach
    the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I

Now there are many modern arminians, who are really wesleyan. That is they are evangelical Christians who claim the label arminian, and yet still preach enough of the true gospel. But like the Puritans of England, we see a church with a pretty good gospel, and a pretty good practice, but we call for more.

Reforming Evangelicalism

We want the ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est secundu Verbum Dei --The Church reformed, always reforming according to the word of God. We do not want constant change and inovation, nor bare tradition. We want to be reformed, restructured, remolded to God's word personally and corporately.

This is the mission and call of the church. To call all people to reform their lives, worldview and practices to the word of God, to be covenant keepers in that they accurately represent the image of God in the world and interpret the world unde God's authority and glorify Him, enjoying Him forever.

But to do this in isolation would be foolish. Why reinvent the wheel? While we must study our languages (greek and hebrew) and return to the text of Scripture by ourselves, we need also to return to Clement, Tertullian, Augustine, Chrysostom, Anslem, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Hubmier, Owen, Bunyan, Keetch, Spurgeon, Hodge, Warfield, Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Sproul and their ilk, who have proved to be faithful expositors, who have wrestled with culture, education, politics, church governance, soteriology, theology proper, counselling, spirtitual growth, and who have all conscienciously spoke to the church at large and asked them to abandon their current direction in favour of biblical reform.

The call to reform

Perhaps we will never escape fighting over the big "R" Reformed Label... Then so be it. Let's focus on small "r" reformation:

"The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox's gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England [and Canada] again."—C. H. Spurgeon

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thoughts From Martin Luther

Recently I dusted off the old collection I gathered in a graduate seminar on Martin Luther, the Augustinian Monk, Doctor of the Church and Ordained Priest of the 15-16th Century who recovered the Doctrines of Grace from the cesspool of semi-palagian theology of the medieval Church. To Be Evangelical is to be Lutheran in this sense.

What does that paragraph actually mean?

To break this evangelical discovery down further into common language, I looked at Luther's work, the Freedom of a Christian and measured myself and my age against it.

Luther the Man

Luther was a thoroughgoing religious man of passion and zeal, well educated and respectable. Like Nicodemus, in John 3, he felt something was missing. Through his studies of Church doctrines, he practices all the means of salvation, from attending the mass, to fasting, to prayers, to good deeds. He went on pilgrimage to Rome and in his words, "excelled in monkery". All of that, was a system of bringing man to God, through cooperative efforts with the Divine Spirit.

The Righteousness of God Which is According to Faith

Luther came to realize that this view, that man could contribute anything whatsoever, was impossible. No matter how hard he strived to measure up to the righteousness of God, he found himself falling short. Eventually he came to hate the righteousness of God, as an enemy. Like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus in desperation, he asked every authority, "what thing do I still lack?". And hearing a response he tried to do it.

As a professor of sacred Scripture at Wittenburg, he made the stupendous discovery for himself, that the righteousness of God spoken of in Romans, was not the righteous standard of God we must strive for, but rather a righteousness granted to sinful man, by the imputation, or crediting of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, for our righteousness, by a gift of God received by faith.

This faith he understood was foolishness to the religious world, "as the things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned" and thus "foolishness to the natural man". And so there was no possibility for cooperation in grace. Only by the "new birth" which Jesus offered Nicodemus, could he, Luther, a modern Nicodemus be granted the nature that embraces the alien righteousness of Christ which Luther describes in his 1519 book, The Freedom of a Christian as a liberating righteousness. for "his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell". Joined to Christ, the Christian Church, as the bride of Christ has that victory in its own experience, becoming one flesh with Chris0t, so the Christian can cry, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Co. 15:57).

Luther Diagnoses Our Heresies

In our day, now basically free from the once iron clad grip of Roman authority, and now for the most part even out of the grip of fellowship in a Christian church, our struggle toward salvation appears very different, but is it really?

It is obvious that we all excel in our own monkery, whether in pursuit of our careers or recreation, trying to achieve personally the salvation of heaven on earth, to reach that point where we can say as the beer slogan said, "It doesn't get any better than this".

Those in the church have forgotten what the struggle of the reformation really said, that man cannot cooperate in the work of grace, and thus my church attendance, my baptism, my moral religiosity, or even my profession of faith cannot be the foundation of my salvation. Only the Righteousness of Christ, which is mine by the gift of God's grace in faith can be the foundation.

While this Spirit of Faith makes the Christian "a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none" it also makes him or her, "a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all". The spirit of faith "with joyful zeal attempts to put the body under control and hold it in check: because, "the needs of his body drive him" to "do many good works to reduce it to subjection". These works do nothing to justify one before God, Luther warns, but the Christian does them, "out of spontaneous love and obedience to God".

This is the element of our own shift toward semi pelagianism in evangelicalism today. We rely on our profession of faith (our way of cooperating with God) and neglect to be obedient, out of faith. By faith Abraham obeyed God (Heb 11:8), and God in turn recognized his faithful submission as salvation.

A Jewish worldview, the worldview of the time of the bible, would not allow a mere acceptance of certain facts or a certain profession of certain facts to mean anything salvific. "Even the demons believe (certain facts) and tremble" (Jms 2:17 --although i recognize the irony of this quote when considering Luther's position). Rather faith means submission. Faith means committing oneself the Lord Jesus, and as Luther concludes: "Our faith in Christ does not free us from works, but from false opinions concerning works, that is, from the foolish presumption that justification is acquired by works".

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Calgary E Free Plant

In the word's of Genesis 24:27, I can say, "As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me". Karmyn and I began our odyssey of church planting almost two years ago in Seoul, Korea, as we prayed and sought God's direction for our lives. Through the intervening months, we have gone on a journey beginning in Lynchburg Virginia, and now terminating in the place my heart has been drawn to for the better part of a decade, but where for some time I had never thought to actually be back to, "cowtown" –Calgary Alberta.

My father was raised here, my mother spent high school here, they met and dated here. The city has grown and changed since we first moved back to the area in 1999. The population grew at 13 ½ % last year. On roughly a million people, that means growth of 130,000 people in a year! WOW.

Calgary may be one of the most exciting cities in the world today, with more potential to continue growing nearly indefinitely. With 23% of the population immigrants from "every tongue and tribe and nation", with the oil revenues set to reach a record high again this year, and with lives hopelessly confused and stressful. With more violence, more demands, more needs then ever before, Calgary is at once one of the most desperate cities in the world as well.

So it is that God has a work to do here. If small I pray he give me the grace to be faithful, if large I pray he grant me the ability to honour Him. But whatever we do, we do, soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One Message to Speak

Over the course of the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of being invited to speak at various churches, in differing countries, differing cultures, and of differing ages.

As most of these where one time shots I was forced to consider what to speak on. This forced me to clarify what would be the central message of my life and ministry, as it reveals one's top priority. What topic would you choose?

Many would speak on the answer to the post-modern angst. Many would speak to the socio-political perspective of our day. Others would speak about having success, or experiencing a life worth living.

For others the message would aim at conversion with a simplistically constructed gospel message. At the same time others would assume that when you are speaking at a church, the bulk of the people, at any rate, are believers and want to hear something for their personal growth.

What troubled me the most, was how to be God honouring first and foremost, by being faithful to Scripture and to therefore experience the promised blessing of the Holy Spirit in the work, while at the same time doing my best to be interesting and relevant.

Now this leads one to the question of what is interesting and relevant and God honouring and relevant in rural Virginia, and what would qualify in Edmonton Urban culture, or Calgary suburban?

These questions are vital. I wrestled through this idea and came to a conclusion that can be discerned no doubt by listening to resent messages here. But what troubles me most, is that the bulk of ministers and Christian leaders and Sunday school teachers, seem never to have considered the central message of their ministry in depth, and thus suffer from a million different directions, some better then others.

What is the driving force? If you had one message to speak, what would it be?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Thanksgiving Sermon

This Thanksgiving comes off one of the toughest couple of weeks for me and my family. Our baby girl spent some time in Alberta Children's Hospital, and although recovering well now, added a lot of stress to our last few weeks.

That wonderful facility is beautiful and the staff were gracious, caring and professional. No one wants to be in a Hospital, but if you are going to have a sick child ACH is the place to be!

While I am very thankful for ACH and the staff, I am far more grateful to God, in whose care we have been able to trust. The Bible promises that "All things work together for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

The great issue is an the question, what is our good? For those without Christ, it is a relatively smooth life, a short term love, a temporary good time, or in the best 'a life well lived'. But is that enough? Our hospital time though ending in recovery, was neither smooth, nor enjoyable in itself.

The Bible tells us that the "good" God has in mind is that, "we be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29). This is good because all sickness, suffering, conflict, and tribulation, war and famine, is the result of one root cause. And that root cause is sin.

God's promise of good is that all of these things are training to help us escape finally and completely all the sufferings of life, so that with Jesus as our example, "for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame" we can have great hope even in the worst suffering, and great joy because we know that God is in control.

This experience of God's truth has helped me immeasurably to prepare for my sermon this Sunday at the Okotoks Evangelical Free Church, on "God's Will for Your Thanksgiving".

What an awesome promise that Christ came to set us free from sin and death and to give us "life more abundantly"! We, like children have often to learn, that our Heavenly father knows what is best for our life, especially in the times when we are struggling and we can trust in Him completely.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Changing Times

As the fall comes upon us here in Canada, the leaves are beginning to change from summer green to autumn splendor. Karmyn is just days away from her due date and we expect to have a great transition in our personal lives.

I have just finished my last full time week at the Town Pool, and am transitioning to an interim position as an adult education pastor at my families home church, the Okotoks Evangelical Free Church. This position is an excellent development ground for me, as I will be teaching a lot and preaching once or twice over the next 12 weeks of my 'contract' time. It feels exciting to be transitioning back in to full time ministry and obeying God's call on my life, as we pursue our church planting objectives in Vernon.

This weekend Sunday September 9th will be the last of my series of three "summer" messages at Edmonton's Grace Reformed Baptist Church, where I will be preaching on "The Message of Jesus According to Mark". I am going to explore this gospel of action, and see what key teachings are emphasized in this context.

Ultimately Jesus calls us to change. The Gospel tells us that, "He came... preaching" saying, "The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14). The biblical word is "repent" from the Greek metanoia, which is a call to really change our worldview. To totally make over all our thoughts and ambitions. In other words of Jesus, " "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and atake up his cross and follow Me. 35 "For awhoever wishes to save his 1life will lose it, but whoever loses his 1life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." (8:34,35).

This change is the foundation of the church, the spiritual kingdom of God.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Doing Church: Part Three --Focus on God

We cannot truly be a church, unless we have the correct focuses. As I have thought about the centre of Church life, I have been driven by the central principle that God is our reward in salvation, our purpose in life. Our purpose is to glorify Him, enjoying Him for all eternity. As I have written before:

For this reason we are God centered. God is the origin of life, the highest good, the Creator, the sustainer of all things and the object of our greatest joy. Therefore, our churches must:

Recognize --The Meaning of Life through God

We were created to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. God is the ultimate object of all our desires, hopes and joys. The problem of "sin", is that "all have fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). God's glory is our prize, our object, and we have missed achieving it. So that the Bible says, "we are without God and without hope in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).

Realize –The Joy of Life through God

Jesus came to change this. He came so that we might have "life more abundantly" (John 10:10). He explains that those who pursue the life of true religion are "Happy". The Bible makes the bold statement, "He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Reform –The Worship of Life through God

Since we are all worshipers by nature, we must either "honour Him as God" and "give Him thanks" (Romans 1:21) or "worship and serve the creature rather than the creator" (Roman1:25). We do the second anytime we put anything before God, our ambitions, our thoughts of what God should be. We do the first when we look to God in the Bible and participate in His church, seeking to know Him, experience Him, and worship Him. When we do that our joy is made complete.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Hanging with Hunter

My little nephew is pretty cute! I was babysitting today, and I got the crying baby to fall asleep with my cunning threefold attack. First, I read from Ephesians in Greek. He seemed to find that comforting. Then I wrapped him up nice and tight in his blanket, and rolled up to my chest on his side. In minutes he was out like a light.... and I had a new problem...

What on earth do you do with a sleeping baby? So I sat down on the couch and let him sleep. Job well done....whew!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Wisdom from Yesterday

If there are no adversaries, you may fear that there will be no success. --CH Spurgeon

I was reading a Spurgeon sermon today, and struck by the fact that the battles he fought, are the battles of today. The long war against God waged by the world, the Devil, and our own flesh are the same yesterday, today, and until the day he returns. Let us never get comfortable with peace in these realms.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ekklesia Website

I have just completed a fairly significant overhaul of the Church website . Now its always hard to tell if you have done a good job in these things! As many of you know, over the last few months I have been experimenting with my web designer skills, and slowly designing a recruitment site for our upcoming church plant. As it turns out these skills sets are horribly inadequate!

It has however been fun! As God has sharpened my thinking about the church, I have incorporated it into what I have done there. As I have learned to present better, to write for the site better and to develop better content, I have become more and more excited!

There is so many more things to do, and more changes to make. But the site is now the most advanced it has ever been (that's like saying the second coming is closer now than it has ever been!).

I would appreciate any feedback you have on the site however I certainly cant promise to please everyone, but sometimes the advice you give becomes key to the next stage of development. I am fairly limited on the main scheme and appearance, but comments on formatting and content and ease of use are helpful.

Hopefully all three of my loyal readers will check it out and tell me how much they LOVE it as it is, after many many hours of work.... But I would still like any constructive criticism you have!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Divine Depository

I saw this interview entitled "Divine Depository" on Fox and Friends today. Ken Ham is such an articulate and well spoken defender of the clearest of all natural laws. His Creation Museum however moves far beyond the 'mere' universal knowledge of the creator, but unveils the full spectrum of Special Revelation defining this natural knowledge.

"We have the same science, we study the same evidence" as the humanistic naturalist, but, the difference is in theories of origin, which are guesses and hypothesis to explain the past by what is seen in the present. We of course do this all the time, "Hmm, how did that get there?" But of course we know that we make mistakes, all the time as well. But the key is eyewitness. If I wonder how my keys got on the table and then think I must have forgotten putting them there last night, I change my theory when my wife informs me that she borrowed my keys and left them there.

In Creation we have the testimony of an eyewitness, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 40:28). Jesus said, ""Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' (Matthew 19:4). As believers, I wish we were all as confident, articulate and clear about the issue. Science is a friend, not an enemy. Secular Naturalistic Humanism, the established religion of the academic and left elite is the enemy, with their theory of origins apart from God.

The Church is this Divine Repository, "the pillar and grounds of the Truth" (I Timothy 4:19), charged to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5). The science involved with putting a man on the moon is far removed, Ken Ham reminds us, from the guesses of scientists, or philosophers, or anyone else about the past. These arguments and pretensions must be contradicted by the faithful church. For more information visit

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remembering a Spiritual Giant—and Father in the Faith

Larger than Life

It was the twentieth of August 2006. Karmyn and I sat three rows from the front, just to the (stage) right of the pulpit. The air felt cool, the environment overwhelming. The music was beautiful and then, Doc stepped up to the Pulpit to welcome us all to the worship service. The big baritone voice was incredible. It was larger then life, and one couldn't understand it from just watching him on TV. The voice penetrated you. I felt overwhelmed.

This man was larger than life. The first to be saved in my family was my mother, she was saved watching him preach while my dad was working the night shift. He was a mentor to my father who studied the Liberty Home Bible Institute Doc founded with Dr. Harold Wilmington.

As a child I had read his autobiography, "Strength for the Journey" and Jerry Falwell became a ministry ideal for me. He did all the things I thought the church should do, from the home for alcoholics, to the nationwide chain of Liberty Godparent Homes for unwed mothers, facilitating thousands adoptions. He founded Liberty University, to train up "young champions for Christ" a phrase my dad often quoted. The most memorable is, "A man's character is measured by what it takes to discourage him". When I played competitive sports, when I started a ministry project, this line often encouraged me to go foreword.

He was preaching in I Corinthians and his verse 26:

In verse 26, we see that God's purpose for each of us is to use us for His glory. We read the words, “For ye see your calling, brethren.” The word “calling” refers to the saving will of God; the effectual call; the call that results in redemption. The use of the word "brethren" makes that clear. He is speaking of believers. Saved people. What is it to which God saves us? He saves us to a life of usefulness and fruitfulness... a life of purpose and productivity. He does not call us to be spectators, but participants.

The very next week, I met David Wheeler who said "God wants you to be a church planter". He laughed disarmingly and then said, "Seriously, have you ever considered it?" It was the final human recognition that we needed to begin our pursuit of this challenging ministry.

Meeting the Man

But then I got to know this man, this icon of education, ministry, politics and so many other things. I was walking to class one morning, when I saw the big black suburban pass me by and I was shocked by the tremendously ridiculous train engine horn that blared just feet from me! Inside Doc was laughing like a maniac, waved and moved on. I shook his hand a week later as I joined Thomas Road Church, and he asked me about where I was from. I told him Alberta Canada, and he struck up a conversation about the oil industry and on how he had recently told the president to rely more on Canadian oil, if possible. "At least they won't try to kill us". He recalled saying.

He was never without his smile, the sparkle in his eye and the gracious nature that let any one of his 22,000+ students, 20,000 church members, or Old Time Gospel Hour listeners walk right up to him and earn a few moments of time.

Working for the University as a parking attendant for NCAA games, I was often in charge of the executive lot, where Doctor Falwell and his friends parked. This became a harrowing experience my first day, when I went to move the cones out of the way and he came straight at me accelerating. I stepped back, he kept coming, then when I realized he wouldn't lose this game of chicken, I leaped behind a parked car and he zoomed by with his and out the window waving back at me.

The next game he stopped and apologized that I had to stand outside in such cold weather, and promised to save a piece of pizza for me if I could make it in the building during the game.

That was Doctor Falwell a man of fun and compassion. A good guy, but most importantly a man committed to the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ.

Formed by Falwell

Humanly speaking, it was because of Doctor Falwell, my Mom, and eventually my whole family was saved. Because of his training program that my father developed into a spiritual leader who raised us conscientiously "in the discipline and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:3). Dr. Falwell's Liberty University was the place my Uncle Darren and Aunt Cheryl met, and they became a major part of my life as I went through college and started ministry. It was the care and concern for the Scripture and the ministry of the "message preached" that became a model for my grandfather, Dr. Lyle Richards. Grandpa was my ministry mentor and the man that encouraged me to read good theology and to aspire to great preaching.

Last Words

The Last sermon I heard from Doc, three weeks ago, was The Indestructibility of God's Servant. He said a phrase I immediately wrote down:

"God’s man/woman is indestructible until he has finished the work God has called him to do. Therefore, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything. God's Servant is bullet-proof, until God is finished with him".

While Doc has gone on to his reward, we left behind can still follow his example, learn from his mistakes and remember the last words he uttered in my hearing:
"God is faithful. He is never surprised. He is never perplexed. He is never out of control. Remember what He said."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doing Church: Part Two

There are a number of different movements in the church today,

and these are really epistemological, or theological positions, not

alternative practices.

These movements are explained by an old theologian who insisted "that the relationship between an individual’s theories of the church is directly related to his theology".[1] In the last century, Hodge argued that there are three competing views of theology, which led to differing views on the church:

(Evangelical, Ritual, Rationalistic), which have always striven to master the church and have manifested themselves in their respective ecclesiological tenets. For instance, the Ritual perspective sees the church as “the organized professors of the true religion subject to lawful pastors.” The Evangelical view stands in contrast to this as it recognizes the church to be only “true believers.”[2]

Following these, one might see the rationalistic theology of Schleiermacher, in modern liberalism as the attempt of church "to be successful in evangelism". To do so, they tried to "rethink the Gospel in contemporary terms"[3]. The seeker-model seems to follow the same ambition to reach the culture, they have tried to rethink the church with the goal of evangelism in mind—from the outside in, to make the gospel's relevance obvious to all. "The traditional" American church, again focused on the gospel again, sees the church as a stationary evangelistic rally, much like the seeker model, but for an older generation.

All these are rooted in the commercial pragmatism of modernity. "the social ministries of the liberal church, the music of the seeker-sensitive church, the programs of the traditional evangelical church all must be seen to be working well and working now to be considered relevant and successful"[4]. While ritual describes the anglo-catholic liturgy, rooted in ancient rite and tradition, it once again is based on an even older cultural paradigm. Regardless of what approach is taken, from both a biblical and historical standpoint, this cultural accommodation, seeing integration with worldly success as the direction of ministry seems incalculably dangerous.

The Bible is full of images and instructions regarding delayed blessings, and warns of animosity from the culture, forbidding the believer to be "of the world". So what is a Biblical picture of the churches goals? What is the foundation of practical ecclesiology? Do these rule, or do market statistics and cultural connectedness drive one's ministry?

[1] A. Craig Troxel, Charles Hodge on Church Boards: A Case Study in Ecclesiology Westminster Theological Journal, (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary) 1999.

[2] A. Craig Troxel, Charles Hodge on Church Boards: A Case Study in Ecclesiology Westminster Theological Journal, (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary) 1999.

[3] Dever, mark Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway Wheaton, Ill 2001), 26

[4] Dever, mark Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway Wheaton, Ill 2001), 27

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Doing Church; Part One

In his new book Revolution Barna is forced to ask: "...if the local church is God's answer to our spiritual needs, then why are most Christians so spiritually immature and desperate?" (Revolution, pg 30). In several posts I have asked such questions. From today I will begin a short series attempting to frame the answer.

What's Happening Today?

David Wells, describes, in God in the Wasteland, a cognitive dissidence, between the theology of the church and its practice. This has come about as a result of the world utterly infiltrating the church. Through a meticulous study he argues that the church, through a mixing with the present society's ambitions has seen an increase, "in religious sensibility" while seeing a decrease, "in divine significance" (92). This bizarre phenomenon of an evangelical church as powerful as any force has ever been, losing ground on the culture and seeing the God it cherishes sunk lower and lower.

The evangelical Church, through neglect of the church and worldly ambition, he argues has so become like this world it is denying itself, while believing it is victorious, it is laying the foundation for its own defeat. The thesis he argues is that while there is a increase in religious sensitivity, there is a decrease in divine significance, "stoked by a rearrangement… of what is immanent and what is transcendent in God's being" (92).

"The fact," he notes, "that [God] is holy" the orthodox profession of the faith, "means there is an otherness to Him". But "In the context of modernity, this moral otherness has been converted in to a relatedness that is wholly compatible with the morality of modernity" (121). The Church which has embraced this societal shift is tearing itself apart. As John MacArthur says, "the Liberal church couldn't sell us their theology, so they sold us their hermeneutics"[1].

One of the most poignant notes in this regard is the modern Christian's dogma "that God is love", which Wells reminds us, "He is". But the problem in modern Christianity is that the church "seems to think that this constitutes an adequate theology in itself" (135). This makes, "talk of divine holiness distracting or intrusive" (ibid). What is shocking, and in line with MacArthur's statement, is that, although "Protestant liberalism pioneered this… in the nineteenth century" is that, "in this century evangelicals have taken up with distressing carelessness the wholesale reordering of the Christian faith" (135-136).

Blindly the church is abandoning, "what has been most characteristic of Protestant thought since the earliest days of the reformation", the holiness of God, of which, "love in not an alternative to…but, rather and expression of it" (136).

There are fundamentally two competing views observable in the evangelical church today. The emergent church, a fluid position:

Emergents communicate and interact through fluid and open networks because the movement is decentralized with little institutional coordination. Participants avoid assumptions about the role and nature of the church, attempting to gather in ways specific to their local context. In this way emergents share with the house church movements a willingness to challenge traditional church structures/organizations though they also respect the different expressions of traditional Christian denominations[5][2].

The Church Growth View, a marketing position:

In spite of misunderstandings regarding the purpose of marketing and marketing techniques, marketing by churches is becoming more prevalent in the U.S. today. ….Findings show the clergy to be somewhat more positive than the general public toward church use of these techniques…… [including] sponsorship of sports teams[3].

Websites such as, have lists of books and conferences to help the church "market itself better". The term "marketing" … as applied to a church setting:

Can be viewed as those activities designed to achieve a mutually satisfying exchange of value between the church and the population it serves. That is, the goal of church marketing activities should be to facilitate and expedite the flow of value to people (in terms of meeting their spiritual, social, and other personal needs), while also facilitating and expediting the flow of value to the church itself (in terms of societal/congregational acceptance of Church teachings, participation in church functions, monetary contributions, etc.]. Both parties should benefit[4].

[1] John MacArthur "A Call for Discernment" Sermon Tape GC 52-33, Grace to You 1997

[2] Wikkipedia, retrieved 9 april 2007

[3] Stephen W. McDaniel The Use of Marketing Techniques by Churches: A National Survey
Review of Religious Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, Special Issue: Methodological Issues in Congregational Studies (Dec., 1989), pp. 175-182

[4] Stephen W. McDaniel The Use of Marketing Techniques by Churches: A National Survey Review of Religious Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, Special Issue: Methodological Issues in Congregational Studies (Dec., 1989), pp. 175-182

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Staring at the Noose

Today I read a typical description of the evanglicical scene. It doesn't seem to matter what denomination or tradition one is in now, the church is dead set on conforming to our present cultural norms and expectations. The Church as a consequence, no longer sounds a clarion call of distinction, but has, like the world around it been carried on by the twin forces of modernity and modernization, buying wholesale the gospel offered therein, and now joins in the cacophany resultiung from the failure of that system. The narcissistic, deconstructionist stepchild of modernism, that is forced to deal with modernization, postmodernity.

The Questions Remaining

We are left to ask some uncomfortable questions. Is it possible, that post-modern culture has infiltrated the evangelical Church so deeply, that it has committed institutional suicide, and come to a crossroads, such as that faced by Judah in Jeremiah 18-19, where it has rejected the word of God, beyond the point of repentance? Can the pottery be remolded, or will God shatter it?

Whether its the churches that are now, or the churches that will be started in the future, the Bible's warning must be acknowledged; "do you not know that friendship with bthe world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

"The world", as David Wells describes in God in the Wasteland: Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, is the "collective expression of every society's refusal to bow before God" (p. 39).

In the Cross and Christian Ministry DA Carson explains how the wisdom of this world is exposed as foolishness by God, in that "the world through its wisdom did not know Him" (I Co. 1:21). He has confounded the wise, that is the worldview expert, and the scholar, the religious scribe, and the debater, the deconstructionist and thus "made foolish the wisdom of this world" (I Co 1:20 cf. Carson p. 18).

For those post-modern Christians, who claim orthodoxy in statement, but believe, along with their culture that truth is no longer the catalist for change, or the foundation for society, God answers, "It pleased God, through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21).

But God's wisdom accomplishes a lot in what that bare statment expresses. In the preaching of reconciliation, God has "destroyed the barrier wall of division" (Eph. 2:14) between Jew and gentile, by creating a holiness apart from the Law contained in commandments in ordinance, but through the cross to "reconcile them both in one body to God" (16).

Thus Christ's ministry of reconciliation brings humanity together and unites them "holy and without blame before God" (Eph 1:4). It is this ministry that is given to the Church, "so that the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through this church" (Eph 3:10).

So, we are left with the question, do we demonstrate the manifold wisdom of God, or the wisdom of this world? Do we attract people with persuasive means of human reason, or with the foolishness of God's message?

The Dangerous Answer

Romans 8:5-7 recounts:

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on athe things of the
flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, bthe things of the Spirit. 6
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life
and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.

In Jeremiah 18 the prophet pleads with Israel to be faithful. "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as the potter does?" (v. 6). The potter Jeremiah observed had a pot not pleasing to him and so he remade it into a more pleasing vessel. "Behold like the clay in the potters hand" God declares, "so are you in My hand" (6). If Israel repents, the judgement of the coming exile can be averted, God will "relent" and bless rather than curse them.

In Judah's history however, they continued to follow their wisdom and despise God's word and God's messenger. Jehoiachim burnt the Scroll of the prophecy, and So God hardened His position, in Chapter 19, Jeremiah is to smash a potter's jar, and declare tht the calamity is certain, Israel has been abandandoned to the consequences of their sin, and choice has changed from repent and be saved, to surrender to Babylon and avoid death.

The cultural monolith of Babylon is invading our church, and god calls us to "be seperate" from the practices of the pagans around us. If we are faithful, who knows what times of refreshing may come from the Lord, but consider the seven Churches of Revelation, who refused to hear His plea.

A Bold Conclusion

Are we staring at the noose? Does the Bible offer a compelling meta-narrative in contrast to the nada-narrative of our culture? Does theology matter in our "doing church"? Do the Scritures speak compellingly about the mystery of the Church, the purpose, plan and model for this organization?

I believe the answer to all those questions is "YES". The book of Ephesians is an exposition of the revelation of the mystery of the Church entrusted to Paul (3:1ff). It begins with God's eternal purpose in the Trinity to establish this church, demonstrates what has been accomplished by this plan, ethnically, sociologically, and salvifically in the next two chapters, and then moves into the practical living of the members of that body, so as to "display the manifold wisdom of God in the Church" (3:10).

Yet, shockingly, in the books we read and the classes we take on ecclesiology (study of the church) and church planting, these revelations, from God Himself are largely, if not totally ignored!

Like a condemned man the church stares at the noose, and the Judge offers reprive, if the church will repent and follow Him. But it is Christ, who is building his church, and he will not allow the gates of hell, to consume it, even from within:

Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and arepent and do the deeds
you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your clampstand out
of its place-- unless you repent (Revelation 2:5).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Church

What is your definition of the Church? When someone asks, "what is the church's role in…" what entity are they asking about?

What it is not

The Church, is not the building, of course. No one disagrees with that. But, neither is it a structure, such as the Presbyterian Church of Canada, or the Anglican Church. Their position is that the church is represented by an Archbishop, or President in Council, whether at a Synod, or Session.

What it is

But the Church in Scripture is defined organically. It is "the body of Christ" (Col 1:24), of which we are "members" (Eph. 5:30). It is the group over which he has been given, all authority, as "head" over her (Col 1:18 cf. Eph. 5:24). Generally speaking then, "the Church", can be referred to as that universal body of Christ, composed of all people everywhere, who are engrafted by the Spirit, into Him. Acts 9:21 implies this as it speaks of the "church throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria".
The very word, church, is a translation of the Greek word for "assembly" (ekklesia). Thus, in a very real sense, the church is the body of Christ "assembled". So we read of Paul and his companions, that they "appointed elders for them in every church" (Acts 14:23), and "He met with the Church" in Antioch (11:26), but later in 15:4, "When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church". Thus in each place, Luke can speak of "the Church". The Epistles of the New Testament are written to specific churches, Paul writing, "to athe church of God which is at bCorinth" (I Cor. 1:2). This is the most common use of the word "church" in Scripture and the ordinary way in which one ought to think of "the Church."


Recognizing this, Baptists, have been from the earliest days, Congregationalists. In 1644, seven Baptist Churches in London gathered together and wrote a confession, including the following teaching on the church. This:

Church is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world by
the word and Spirit of God, to the visible profession of faith of the gospel,
being baptized into that faith, and joined to the Lord, and each other, by
mutual agreement in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances commanded by
Christ their head and king. (Article XXXIII)

And of this visible, local assembly, they professed:

BEING thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their
wellbeing, to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons, being
qualified according to the word, as those which Christ hath appointed in His
testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church;
and that none have any power to impose either these or any other (Article

Under this biblical distinctive the congregation itself is finally accountable to God for endorsing leadership, doctrinal fidelity, gospel witness, and stewardship. This has a great effect on our view of "doing church". It is not a building program, or an activity, but an assembly of the living body of Christ, to do His will.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Purpose of the Church

As I continue to think of getting our church plant off to a solid start, I have wrestled with the Scriptural teachings on the church, the theological heritage, and traditions of the Reformed and Baptist history, and my own experience.

Our Authority

Scripture must be our final authority, and it regulates all that we do. We have no Pope, or magisterium, to explain the meaning of the Scriptural message. As evangelicals, as reformed Christians, we share no one structure or hierarchy. We simply share a hermeneutic, based on an understanding that Scripture is 1) perspicuous (sufficiently plain in its meaning), 2) inerrant (will not lead us into error), 3) infallible (trustworthy and without errors in the original manuscripts).

As a result, we interpret Scripture by studying its historical context and following the rules of grammar, the historical grammatical method. That is, we don't really interpret it all. We just read it, recognizing the figures of speech as common figures of speech, the symbols as symbols, narratives as narratives, instructions as instructions, etc.

The Gospel is Central

From this hermeneutical basis, I approach my study of the church, adding the insights of those who have gone before me and find that the Gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ, is central to everything we should hope to do at Ekklesia Baptist Fellowship.

The Church is the followers of Christ

Why is the Gospel central to everything we do? The answer is, that this is the central mandate for the God's people. Christians, as the name suggests are the followers of Christ. The Church is not a human organization or building, but an organism, composed of these individual Christians and known as the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27), which exists to be a display of His glory (Ephesians 3:21). It meets in local assemblies (Philemon 2) and has regular meetings (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

The Lord Jesus Christ gave his followers a clear and simple mission, to gather the Church from every nation of the world, disciple and teach them the Truth Jesus revealed:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
The Church Gathered

We need to have a certainty about the Purpose of this gathered Church, based on Scripture. Why does the church gathered exist?

I) The church exists to worship and glorify God (John 4:23-24).

1 Cor. 10:31—“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Heb. 13:15—“Through Him, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise.”

II) The church exists to be a repository of divine truth (Jude 3).

1 Tim. 3:15—“I write so you may know how to conduct yourselves in the church, which is the pillar and support of the truth.”

2 Tim. 1:13--"Hold to the standard of sound words that you heard from me and do so with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus".

III) The church exists to provide a context of loving fellowship with one another for the purpose of mutual edification (Ephesians 4:7, 16).

Heb 10:24,25 --"Stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together."
Acts 2:42 --"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."

IV) The church exists as a training center whereby people can grow through the application of
teaching and the utilization of their spiritual gifts
(Romans 12:3-8).

Eph 4:12-16—“for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, to the
building up of the body of Christ”
1 Pet 4:10—“As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another”

V) The church exists to be a light in this dark world, for the evangelization of the lost (Titus 2:11–15).

Matt 28:19-20—"Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you"
Matt. 5:13–16—"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Building this Church

Building Christ's Church is not our job! Jesus said; "I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it" (Matthew 16:18). As his undershepherds, the church's leaders are more like waiters, serving what he has prepared, then managers scheming and organization.

From this central understanding, the organism of the church can be structured for effectiveness, as gathered in a local assembly. But in everything the Church does, this gospel purpose and this leadership of Christ must be kept central.

Evangelism and Missions exist, because Worship doesn't. Therefore, all our gospel efforts, should be aimed at facilitating the Father's mission, He "seeks [people] to be his worshipers" (John 4:23).

The Church which exists, as a gathered body, must be trained to pursue the Fathers purpose theologically and practically (Matthew 28:20). Therefore the regular teaching of the whole council of God is necessary.

The Church must mutually encourage one another and represent Christ to one another to keep up morale and support the members: "From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love" (Ephesians 4:16). Therefore assembling together for corporate meetings is necessary.

The Church must hold fast the truth (2 Timothy 1:13), and "earnestly content for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). We should aim therefore to speak publicly against falsehood and equip people with the truth so that they can detect forgeries.

Finally the Church must be trained to understand that each member exists, to worship and glorify God, understanding that "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:22), that is with a right attitude and correct belief, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31). We must learn that worship is a verb, that we must act for the glory of God, in the corporate service and redeeming our careers and families for His glory.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Irrational Rationality

Why is it that the skeptics demand reason, while objecting a priori to any arguement they don't like? When the Christian refuses to scream and throw things, they seem to be at a loss.

We have been treated to an outstanding discussion concerning the existence of God, under the post Creation Explains the Origin of the Universe. It becomes obvious as we progress through the discussion that to deny God, through the use of strict rationalism (the demand for empirical demonstration), is ultimately irrationalism at its highest.

This is true because it demands rationalism, in a universe of chance and possibility. Anything is possible, and everything is the result of chance, they argue. But at the same time, evidence is demanded on the basis of faith in the ephemeral laws of logic –an absolute irrational and baseless faith, in a universe of chance and unlimited possibility.

One great illustration of irrationality and an example of the common assumption of the atheist is to try and "trap" the believer with a condemnation of "blind faith". They assume that the theist holds to the same principles of an irrational universe as they do, and consequently assume that faith is "baseless".

Selective Evidence

A related ploy, is the use of hyper-selective evidence. Usually relating to science and logic, the best illustration was a recent exchange between Armchair Theologian and the anonymous blogger --Hairless Chimp.
Hairless Chimp wrote:'s definition of faith: It appears you don't know what faith is. However, its possible that your church/religion (your particular flavor) has taught you this new definition. IF that is the case, then it is a trait very similar to cults - Creation of new definitions for existing words, whereby doing so helps to isolate the individule from the outside world...Faith is the context of relgion, is belief in the absence of proof.

Hairless Chimp demonstrates the commonly assumed arrogance of the skeptic, who assumes Christians don't have the ability to check their sources. In this particular instance, Chimp dishonestly demanded that Lyndon accept his selective definition of faith as THE definitive word. However, the article he referenced, gave 9 definitions, as follows:

1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6. the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7. the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.
9. in faith, in truth; indeed: In faith, he is a fine lad."

Armchair Theologian rightly called him to task replying:

You select the 2nd meaning and apply it to my use of the word, which is actually the 8th meaning. You cannot select a meaning, of multiple various meanings, and apply it wherever you desire.

Armchair, and myself would be closest to either number 3, or 8 above, especuially with the definition of 8 credited with being the definition of Christian theology: "8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved". This kind of arguement can only be describes as duplicitous.

Sloppy scholarship, and demands that the Christian accept misunderstood and misquoted authority is common. Very often it is assumed that "science" authorities have "proved" facts concerning evolution. This is not true, but a random quote from the scoffer usually surfaces, demanding submission.


Armchair Theologian also points out the assumption of superiority, the third major issue that surfaces. Skeptics often come across with the sort of confidence one might expect in someone that holds a Biblical studies PhD's and throw out some pseudo-intellectual second hand argument concerning supposed Biblical contradictions or irrationalities. As Armchair writes:
Just because you cannot figure out some portions of the bible doesn't mean it doesn't make sense...

It is encouraging to see people react so violently against a God they profess to deny. As Shakespeare wrote, "Methinks thou dost protest too much". As Paul wrote, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom 1:18). That is, they work hard to deny evidence and hold down under the surface of the water of irrationality, the balloon of evidence that is everywhere present.

In the end, the text proclaims, "Professing to be wise, they become fools". The irrationality of the rationalist destroys all his or her attempts to maintain the façade of denial.
Ultimately, this is a purely moral problem, as the skeptic, has no epistemological difficulty in discerning God. There is only a heart issue. And only God can change the heart.