Thursday, July 16, 2015

Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Part 2 - "Ministry?"

(This is the second part of a series of posts on the topic of Women’s Ministries in the Local Church)
Read Part 1 here: Introduction and FAQ.

Two important doctrinal legacies of the Reformation are the concepts of vocation and the “priesthood of all believers”. The Reformers rejected the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) narrowly defined view of vocation which was limited to full-time church work primarily ascribed to priests. Ordinary occupations such as farmers, maids, soldiers, or bakers could not be acknowledged as legitimate vocations by the RCC, because these were seen as too worldly (1). In this view, the vocation of the priest (or perhaps to a lesser extent the monk, nun, or anchorite) as a full-time, spiritual commitment to the Lord was considered the only holy vocation(s) available to believers. Because women have always been banned from the priesthood in the RCC, the only holy vocational option to a woman in that system was to essentially take to heart the infamous advice of Shakespeare's Hamlet to Ophelia: “get thee to a nunnery”.  

As Dr. Gene Veith has written in his book “God at Work: Christian Vocation in All of Life”, the Reformers (especially Luther and Calvin) found that the scriptures supported a far more expansive view of vocation for all believers that includes all the various spheres of our lives: the workplace, the family, as citizens of our communities, and in the Church. All believers serve in callings in all of these spheres. The calling of ordained ministers of the church collapses two into one, the workplace and the church, just as full-time politicians or homemakers do as well. Once we admit that all Christians have vocational callings in each area of life, we can avoid extreme views that would limit certain spheres entirely, such as the home to wives and children or the church to men only. Vocation frees us by acknowledging that our work in all of these places matters immanently to God and also exhorts us to embrace our present station in all of these areas by seeking His glory and our neighbor’s good(2).  Veith, writing for Modern Reformation Magazine, states, "Every kind of work [including fathering and mothering] . . . is an occasion for priesthood, for exercising a holy service to God and to one's neighbor."(3)

Similarly, the RCC teaching on the doctrine priesthood limited the role of priest to a select and elite class of Christian, which was considered by the Reformers as a return to Old Testament shadows and a lack the understanding that the reality had come in Christ (4).  In contrast, the three main implications of the Reformed view of the priesthood of all believers are: 1) that we all have equal access to God the Father through our mediator and High Priest Jesus Christ which includes forgiveness of sins and prayer (contra the RCC understanding of priesthood, where the human mediator was required); 2) as previously mentioned, that every vocational calling in each sphere of life is of equal worth and value in the Kingdom; and 3) that every believer has an equally important and valuable role as ambassadors of the Gospel and as agents of reconciliation.

One of the common mistakes made in Young, Restless, and Reformed circles is to view the priesthood of all believers as meaning that all believers should have equal access to pursuing ministerial vocational roles in the local church. That simply is not the case. Yes, our pastors and teachers equip us for works of service and good works in the body of Christ, but the ministerial offices of teaching and preaching and ruling are specific vocational callings not given to all believers. Also, important to note is that simply having a leadership aptitude or speaking ability does not equate to calling.  A man must be called by Christ and confirmed by the leaders of the Church. For women, we are prohibited from exercising authority over men in the church, so our leadership roles are always going to be limited by God's Word to only that which He permits.

The Reformers held that women and the majority of men were not called to the ordained ministerial offices of elder, pastor, or deacon, but recognized the clear teaching of scripture whereby all Christians have a form of vocational calling in the Church as lay church members.

 As an example, James Bannerman in “The Church of Christ”, specifically refers to “the ordinance of the ministry” and the “office of the ministry” as an “ordinance of Divine appointment”. He further describes the office of ordained pastors and teacher as men commissioned to expound the word and administer the sacraments, and instituted by Christ in His Church for dispensation of Word and Sacrament in the public ministry (5). The gift of the public ministry, as Bannerman sees it, should "not be apart and contradistinguished from the members of the Church. He further writes:

There is a certain office or duty with all Christians must discharge in the way of teaching, exhorting, and admonishing one another, distinct and separate from the teaching of ministers set apart to the work. There are many passages of Scripture which lay upon private believers the duty of ministering in the way of doctrine and instruction to all whom they can so profit, which yet come very far short of enjoining that all private Christians should take upon them the work of public ministry……. The private teaching of the truth by individual believers is wholly different from the official teaching of the truth by public ministers; and the passages of Scripture which enjoin the one are not to be held in countenancing the other. The Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to Titus, exhorts even “aged women” to be “teachers of good things;” but the same apostle in his Epistle to Timothy and to the Corinthians, declares that he “suffers not a woman to teach in the Church” (6).

I present all of the above in order to lay the foundation for understanding the concepts of formal or public ministry (given only to the ordained ministers) and the informal or private forms of ministry (works belonging to believers generally).  I hope these points will serve to help some folks understand that informal ministries of the church, which fall under the headship of Christ ultimately, also require conformity to and submission to the leaders of the church. Any informal ministry should always be leading and preparing folks to more readily participate in the corporate worship service – the formal ministry of the Church.  This is especially true for Women’s Ministry, where one of the chief purposes is to equip women to fulfill our distinctively feminine helper design as “ezers” in the church, in our homes, in our communities, and in all of life.  

I hope to address this focal point for women's ministry more fully in the next post. Stay tuned!

(1)    Challies, Tim. “Ordinary Christian Work” (June 1, 2015)
(2)    Veith, Jr., Gene Edward. “God at Work: Your Christian Calling in All of Life” (Crossway, 2002) pp. 47-54.
(3)    Veith, Jr., Gene Edward. “The Doctrine of Vocation: How God Hides Himself in Human Work.” Modern Reformation, May/June 1999 Vol 8 No. 3, pp: 4-7.
(4)    Horton, Michael . “What About Bob?” Modern Reformation, March/April 1997, pp. 8-15.
(5)    Bannerman, James. “The Church of Christ”. First Edition. Kindle location: 4920.
(6)    Ibid. Kindle location: 6740.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Part 1- Intro & FAQ

Steam has been building in the blogosphere surrounding the topic of women's ministry and women's roles in the church for some time. With The Gospel Coalition's announcement last week about the coming launch of a promising new book called "Word-Filled Women's Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church", some perennial questions and challenges have again been raised about the validity of women's ministry and Bible study. Aimee Bird has taken up the topic over at The Mortification of Spin. In the comment threads of  the TGC website and on their Facebook page, these same questions and concerns have renewed my own passion on the topic, compelling me to write a series of posts.

As a member of a healthy Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church and member of my Presbytery's Women's Ministry Council, I have been greatly encouraged over the years by a rich heritage of teaching on women's ministry. In fact, it seems that the PCA may be one of the only denominations with a Biblical model for women's ministry taught from the denominational level to the presbyteries, and within the local churches. It is my hope and expectation that all of the PCA women involved with TGC will be imparting this same rich heritage to others in TGC who come from backgrounds without any or with only weaker frameworks for women's ministry.

From my experience, many Baptists migrate to the PCA and have never been previously exposed to this Biblical model for women's ministry. Once they lay hold of the foundational teaching, so many say that they grow by leaps and bounds in their effectiveness in all the various places they live and serve. In addition, many of our own denominational church plants are undergirded by the Acts29 Network and their ministry philosophy that intentionally avoids female specific models of ministry. Thus, the educational curve can sometimes be fairly dramatic, but I've been fortunate to serve in a very active presbytery with a vibrant legacy of teaching on the PCA's Philosophy for Women's Ministry in the Church that has been passed down from generation to generation.

That said, I plan to write a series of articles addressing this issue and some of the typical questions that are being raised. In this post, I'd like to share some of the foundational basis for vital women's ministry in the local church to get the ball rolling.

Beginning with a vision for women's ministry, I've gleaned this from our denomination's website:
 "Women’s Ministry is important for every church to encourage and equip women for service to the church and for woman to woman discipleship." 
So, here we see that Women's Ministry falls under the leadership of the local church and that the purpose is for equipping and discipleship. The more mature women in the church help to equip the younger women and provide distinctively feminine/female discipleship - this is the Titus 2 Model
Dr. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt have both authored numerous books that lay out the Biblical foundations for why women's ministry is important. Our denomination offers these books and a few others as part of a Core Curriculum, which is written for the specific purpose of teaching a biblical philosophy of womanhood and some of the corporate implications of that philosophy. These corporate implications give definition and focus to a women’s ministry in a local church. One implication is that woman’s helper design equips us to cultivate community and to be channels of compassion in our homes, in our churches, and with our neighbors.
The book that has been most helpful for me and many others is called: "Women's Ministry in the Local Church". I highly recommend this book for every church! Here are a few of the FAQs that I've quoted or paraphrased from the book, which I've found to be helpful:
What is the purpose of Women's Ministry?
"The purpose of the Women's Ministry is that every woman know Christ personally and be committed to extending His Kingdom in her life, home, church, community and throughout the world."
Why does your church need a women's ministry?
1. Because through it we have the opportunity to address helpfully the issue of the nature of manhood and womanhood, an issue that is very much at the heart of the cultural transition we find ourselves in right now.

2. To have a deliberate, intentional ministry to women in the church because the Bible teaches so much on the distinctives of manhood and womanhood.

3. Because when biblical manhood and womanhood are denied, altered, or unpracticed, that results in disasters in marriages, families, and churches.

4. Because the denial or the twisting of the Bible's clear teaching on manhood and womanhood is one of the central ways that biblical authority is undermined in our times.

5. Because we ought to have an intentional, deliberate approach to female discipleship.
(The above was adapted from: "Women's Ministry in the Local Church" by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, pg. 37-41.)
Why is discipleship that is distinctively feminine (#5 above) important to every local church?
Behind and underneath the church's approach to distinctly feminine discipleship is the fundamental issue of biblical authority. If we can change or deny what the Bible says about female and male relationships to fit the current feminist culture, then we can make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. Rather than being uncomfortable addressing biblical womanhood in the context of our local churches, we should "let the lion loose, let God be God, and let His Word speak and rule in our lives."
(paraphrased from: "Women's Ministry in the Local Church" by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, pg. 42.)
These are just a few elements to whet your appetite. The entire curriculum mentioned above is geared to address these topics. In addition, the PCA's training conferences are hands-down the most edifying and God-glorifying examples of distinctively female ministry in action (all provided under the male headship of PCA leadership):
The main/national training conference is held in February in Atlanta. And in 2016, there will also be regional offerings!

In my next post, I plan to delve into the overlapping concepts of ministry, vocation, calling, and reformed view of the priesthood of all believers.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Threefold Ministry

From Jude 18-25: 
“In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.Doxology24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
The epistle starts out by warning the church  against the antinomian false teachers who were leading people into error. There is sufficient evidence in the text, the context, and the historical teaching that those who "pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" were guilty of many kinds of sensuality, but that homosexuality was included. They were warned of "a punishment of eternal fire" "just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire". 
Then, when Jude transitions from his greeting and his warning, he exhorts and encourages the church to persevere as the Lord's "Beloved". His instructions for how to deal with those who've been subjected to false teachers are threefold, and apply just as well for us today: 
1) have mercy on those who doubt; 
2) save others by snatching them out of the fire; 
3) to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

John Calvin writes the following in his commentary on Jude:
"The meaning then is, that if we wish to consult the well-being of such as go astray, we must consider the character and disposition of every one; so that they who are meek and tractable may in a kind manner be restored to the right way, as being objects of pity; but if any be perverse, he is to be corrected with more severity. And as asperity is almost hateful, he excuses it on the ground of necessity; for otherwise, they who do not willingly follow good counsels, cannot be saved.
"Moreover, he employs a striking metaphor. When there is a danger of fire, we hesitate not to snatch away violently whom we desire to save; for it would not be enough to beckon with the finger, or kindly to stretch forth the hand. So also the salvation of some ought to be cared for, because they will not come to God, except when rudely drawn....
"'Hating even the garment'. This passage, which otherwise would appear obscure, will have no difficulty in it, when the metaphor is rightly explained. He would have the faithful not only to beware of contact with vices, but that no contagion might reach them, he reminds them that everything that borders on vices and is near to them ought to be avoided: as, when we speak of lasciviousness, we say that all excitements to lusts ought to be removed. The passage will also become clearer, when the whole sentence is filled up, that is, that we should hate not only the flesh, but also the garment, which, by a contact with it, is infected. The particle καὶ even serves to give greater emphasis. He, then, does not allow evil be cherished by indulgence, so that he bids all preparations and all accessories, as they say, to be cut off."

"SSA", The Lost Theology of Sin, and Its Remedies

I've long held that the recent public discussions about people in our churches who have left homosexuality behind have been terribly confused, partly because of the redefinition of terms used in recent years. In particular, the lack of teaching on the theology of sin generally has greatly contributed to the church's ineffectiveness to speak to the issue of homosexuality.

Only 15 or 20 years ago, when someone came to Christ with a gay or lesbian background, they were called to repentance and generally regarded themselves as having "left the lifestyle", as formerly homosexual, or ex-gay. Certain organizations pushed the reparative therapy model and sought to transform the person into a heterosexual. They did so under the ex-gay label, which has now tainted the use of that phrase into perpetuity. However, there were many smaller and more Biblically sound entities that understood that identity was not based on sexual orientation, but rather that a Christian's core identity is found in Christ and Christ alone. These organizations may have also used the term ex-gay, in light of 1 Corinthians Chapter 6, where Paul refers to the member of the church by saying, "Such Were Some of You". But since these other organizations were much smaller and received a lot less attention, they had little bearing on the public debate over future validity of ex-gay ministries. The ones that have survived the post-modern revisionist debates have still had to adapt to the new language by changing terms to describe the "experience of homosexuality" to fit novel and less helpful modes. I understand the need to do this to reach people outside of the church, but I also see a need for clarity of theological terms for us to use as Christians. Kevin DeYoung mentions the further need for clarity of terms in the second appendix of his new book on the topic of homosexuality.

As many of us have tried to proclaim lately, we are called to mortify the indwelling sin nature and even natural temptations. Anything found in ourselves - heart or mind - that would seek to set itself up against the truth and the glory of God must be rejected. We were to turn to Christ and His Word, to submit to his power and authority in scripture, which in turn by the power of the Holy Spirit renews our hearts and our minds so that we would know and love his good and perfect will. By God's grace our hearts of stone were changed into a heart of flesh, the very place where the Spirit would write the Law of God. Our disposition was changed from that of enmity against God's holiness and perfect law to that of one which loves His commandments and desires to submit to Him in all areas of life. The old "lifestyle" was crucified and now we are new creations in Christ!

In the last five or ten years, a whole new crop of teaching has crept into the church, partially from those of a particular Roman Catholic tradition and partially from secular psychological and philosophical fields. In this new teaching (which most of our contemporary churches have embraced), the sin nature is being baptized as human identity. One's sinful temptations toward sexual deviance have been recast as inborn "Same Sex Attractions" and used as modifiers that people now use to publicly introduce themselves. The concepts of sexual orientation and same sex attraction have been adopted and embraced by the individual, the community, and the church as viable options of one's biologically determined status. The church bought the new paradigm, hook, line, and sinker, with one minor caveat: as long as "they" don't act on "their attractions", we'll co-sign the rest of this paradigm.

Meanwhile, the voices of those who've dealt with this for many, many years have been ignored. We have watched while "Gay Christians" have been "teaching" the church what to do, what to say, and what to preach. Men and women not ashamed to introduce themselves as "Same Sex Attracted" have been propped up to help us learn the new theology - by their experience. Sound, thorough, reformed theological arguments from men like Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert have largely been ignored and marginalized on this topic.
"We who have been speaking out stand to be undone not so much by the noise of our enemies as by the silence of our friends." -Carl Trueman

There are many possible reasons why the church has been led astray on the issue. Perhaps it has been a timidity, not wanting to offend the culture. Perhaps it has been an attempt to be compassionate toward those who struggle to be faithful, but whose theological views are outside of our own tradition. Perhaps it has been an avoidance of dealing with the depth of the church's own hidden sin in the areas of sexuality. Perhaps we have simply gotten so far away from teaching a theology of sin that we don't know how to even get to the root of our most pressing problems any longer.
Perhaps... Perhaps...

I propose that the main reason why we've lost credibility on how to talk about the issue of homosexuality is because we've capitulated on the theology of sin in general. It is perplexing.. no baffling.. that we are so vulnerable to being deceived into thinking that sexual attraction is an immutable medical condition, like blindness, that can only be "healed" by a miraculous act of God, rather than a sinful affection of the heart, that must be repented of and which can be mortified and replaced with God-glorifying affection. Many have adopted the Roman Catholic teaching that Paul's thorn in the flesh was inordinate sexual desire. However, such a view is not supported by the scriptures. Would the Lord have told Paul to cease praying for disordered sexual desire to be removed? No. Would Paul have boasted in disoriented sexual desire? No. Would the Lord tempt him to sin? No. Would Paul have acquiesced contentedly to sin's power in his life (12:10)? No. Would Paul refer to his celibacy a gift, if he still experienced repeated sexual lust? No. Biblically, it is incorrect to equate the root issue of the experience of homosexual feelings as something other than a sinfully disordered affection of the heart.

Yes, we will continue to struggle against the effects of our fallen nature until we die or Christ returns. And that means any inclination or proclivity of the flesh, whether it is pride or fear of man or covetousness or lust, which still resides in us and wars against our soul. And this is specifically where a robust theology of sin can help us to connect with unbelievers and strugglers. We share the experience of the sin nature - the great levelers, as Rosaria states. But the experience of something like a specific same-sex attraction (not an underlying, general proclivity or inclination, but the specific attraction) is always sin and requires confession and repentance. It's not a reputable badge or salutation to be advertised on a high-profile, professional Christian conference brochure.

In her new book, Rosaria Butterfield states that she does not subscribe to the 19th century notions of sexual orientation and eschews the label of "same sex attraction" for Christians, preferring to use the descriptive phrase of "unwanted same-sex attraction". Of course, this is a far more Biblically grounded way of describing the way that a Christian might struggle with and seek help of being rescued from ensnaring sins. In terms of making connections with strugglers it seems quite helpful, just as in Paul's experience in Romans 7 where he continues to do what he doesn't want to do and feeling the crushing weight of his indwelling sin, cries out, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Fortunately, Paul does not leave us at Romans 7, but he continues on from Romans 8 forward to describe the process of sanctification in the Christian life.

This brings us to the secondary problem that I believe must also be addressed. We've lost a robust theology of the work of the Holy Spirit and how faithful Christians should and can experience newness of life as we walk in step with the Spirit. A persistent obedience in one direction, whereby our minds are renewed by the Spirit and we are transformed more and more into Christ's image, rather than conformed to the world, has the effect of changing (though not entirely eliminating) our regular experience of sinful desires. This is not to say we will be in this world entirely without sin or that we embrace a Keswick style of sanctification. But we can and should expect regular, on-going relief from sinful attractions that are either obsessive or seem to ambush us, just as surely as Paul promised in Romans 8 by walking in step with the Spirit.

I believe the secondary issue of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Christian experience of walking in step with the Spirit (an aspect of discipleship) is ultimately the key. Because, while a lost theology of sin is foundational to evangelism, I think that the lack of an alternative paradigm for post-conversion discipleship is what keeps the church anemic over the long haul. Some have begun to focus attention on the fact that the Church and Christ are a huge part of the paradigm that will enable and empower single Christians; however, I would go further. So, yes, we need to be better at creating community in the church and developing familial relationships that go deeper than blood or marital relations. Some of these efforts have already been amazingly impactful, such as those within my own denomination (PCA). However, we also need to more fully address the flip side of the coin, which is growth in personal piety, accompanied by the theology of adoption/sonship, whereby we have communion and fellowship with the Father. Romans 8 forward really unfolds these themes, along with many other places in the New Testament scriptures. Sinclair Ferguson, J.I. Packer, Joel Beeke, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and D. Martyn Lloyd Jones are just a few of the go-to authors that I look forward to perhaps delving into in future posts.

Soli Deo gloria!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Who am I & What's Really Wrong with MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)?

Lately, the WIRED article titled, "The Myers-Briggs Personality Test is Bunk But I Don't Care" has been making its rounds in my social networking spheres. I thought I'd take a few moments to weigh in with my reflections on this particular phenomenon.

In the past, I have typically tended to follow the author's view that "The biggest problem with Myers-Briggs is what happens when any useful descriptor gets turned into dogma." In a practical sense this is true, because the most effective uses that I've experienced have been more in a team building setting where co-workers use the self-evaluation questions to provide helpful descriptors to try to better understand each other. When I worked at a local scientific company, this helped because the ratio of engineers, scientists, and chemists to marketing, advertising and creative types was significantly imbalanced. Helping each other understand that there were different work styles to be valued and appropriated actually improved the overall effectiveness of our product division. In that sense, I've held a positive view of the use of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Likewise, my negative experiences with MBTI were mostly concerned with the dogmatic application of categories. Teachers and school counselors would use the results of the test to pigeon hole young students into particular fields of study and to rule out "non-compatible" fields. Human resource directors would use the results of the test to qualify or rank employment candidates based whether their type indicator was a good projected fit for the role. Given the fact that any given test taker's results can change from hour to hour, both of these have always seemed like tenuous and possibly tragic applications of the test theory. 

Some will argue that the key to the test is answering the test authentically from some immutable sense of the truth of our inner being. In my case, I had taken the test so many times, I could manipulate the outcome of the test by answering the questions to fit basically any personality type desired.

A few years ago, our church hosted TruthExchange author and speaker Peter Jones, and since then I've come to learn more about the influences of neo-paganism, 
eastern religions, and the "new spirituality" on our rapidly changing culture. Although I do remember reading that the MBTI originated with Carl Jung, I had never considered how the "new spirituality" paradigm of its originator could matter much in terms of something that seemed so logical. scientific, and matter of fact to the professional community. 

In the WIRED article, the author asserts that another key problem with the test was that it creates dichotomies between the various types and that the issue is that many people fall in between in the gray areas. However, I disagree that creating such dichotomies is really an issue. On the purely practical level, most of the later programs that utilize MBTI, such as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, provide a methodology of interpretation for these gray areas.

So, What's Really Wrong with the MBTI?

The real issue, as I see it, emanates from the fact that MBTI results in justifying our preferences and feelings -- even our sinful tendencies -- by convincing ourselves and others that preferences and tendencies actually define who we are. The test accepts as normal and codifies things that should not be. 

Let's look at a few of the questions on one of the MBTI tests to see whether or not they are morally neutral:
You are almost never late for your appointments. Yes or No  
Observance of the established rules is likely to prevent a good outcome. Yes or No  
You tend to sympathize with other people.  Yes or No  
You prefer to isolate yourself. Yes or No  
You avoid being bound by obligations. Yes or No  
You have good control over your desires and temptations. Yes or No  
You try to stand firmly by your principles. Yes or No  
When considering a situation you pay more attention to the current situation and less to consequences.Yes or No  
Your decisions are based more on the feeling of a moment than on the thorough understanding.  Yes or No  
Your decisions are easily affected by strong emotions.  Yes or No  
You often think about humankind and its destiny. Yes or No  
The fact that the MBTI allows the test taker to answer yes or no is not the real problem, as the author of the original article supposes.The issue is that the MBTI codifies and normalizes both answers by providing us with labels that are socially respected and psychologically accepted. Peter Jones tells us that the synthesis of opposites is a key modus operandi of the new age movement. "New spirituality" oneness removes distinctions of good and evil, blurring the lines between Creator and creature. 

Folks, our identity is not found in our preferences. Our identity is found in our Creator and Redeemer alone. If our tendencies or preferences don't match His pattern for what is good and right, then we should not baptize those tendencies by adopting psychologically acceptable labels that remove the need for a Savior and to change/repent. 

At the beginning of the article, the author quips that astrology is mere superstition and rubbish. And while I am not in anyway trying to get all "conspiracy theory" here, let us not be fooled. New age spirituality and neo-paganism are nothing new under the sun. They go all the way back to the serpent in the garden.

 people will harmlessly use the MBTI as a fun and interesting way of describing themselves. Some teachers, counselors, and employers will dogmatically apply the results in ways that are counterproductive. However, we as Christians need to realize not only the limitations, but the possible self-delusional nature of relying on the test results to inform our identities and who we believe ourselves to be. If we recognize the inherent weaknesses found in each of the profile types and understand them as ways to grow and improve -- rather than writing them off as excuses -- the MBTI could prove to be a beneficial tool for improving relationships. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Ascribing Repentance

To Whom Do We Ascribe Repentance?
We cannot ascribe our repenting and believing to our own wisdom, humility, sound judgment or good sense, but, rather, to Christ alone. We turn our trust from ourselves to Christ only  because He first opened our eyes, unplugged our ears and turned our stoney heart to a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26) that we might believe the gospel. (Deut 29:4, 30:6) Arminian prevenenient grace actually begs the question - if two persons receive the same prevenient grace, why does one man believe the gospel and not the other? What makes them to differ?  It is obviously not grace which makes them to differ since both had grace so all that is left is some native good will or good inclination that the other did not have. But who makes the will good? Where does the wisdom or humility to come to Christ come from?  No man is naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel. The Bible declares it: Jesus says, "the Spirit quickens, the flesh counts for nothing...that is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me grants it." (John 6:63, 54).  and just before this Jesus also declares "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37) 
So together in the texts Jesus in no uncertain terms declares 2 things: 1) that NO ONE can come to faith in Him UNLESS granted by the Father, and that through the quickening work of the Spirit AND 2) ALL whom He so grants will come to faith in Him.  It leaves no room for the synergistic view. But you say "God commands all people to repent and believe the gospel." This is true... and its in the Bible ... the gospel summons to all people without exception  but apart from grace NO ONE responds to it positively... left to themselves all people turn aside from the one true God. (See Rom 2, 3; and 1 Cor 2:14)  And "No one can say "Jesus is Lord" apart from the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).
So is it (even partly) by our own doing that we are in Christ? No it is..." His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:30-31 
We repent, yes, and we believe, but it is God who, by his great mercy, changed our hardened heart to do so. It was not our natural wisdom or humility or good will that set us apart but it was the grace of God in Jesus Christ which granted all of these.  Salvation is of the Lord.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Charleston Church Members Display Gospel in Exemplary Act of Forgiveness

The tragedy in Charleston last week, where Dylann Roof opened fire upon the unsuspecting congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, has captured the attention of the media, the church, and Americans in general. Initially, many voices quietly suspected public outrage would ensue, leading to protests and riots because of Roof’s racist motivation behind the attack.

To the astonishment of nearly all, the families showed up at Roof's hearing to make statements of personal forgiveness that would boggle the minds of their hearers and send liberal media pundits into a tailspin, as they witnessed firsthand acts of salt and light. Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition points out two notable responses:
Abe Greenwald, senior editor of Commentarywrites:
The late Christopher Hitchens formulated (and forever repeated) a superficially clever challenge to people of faith: “Find one good or noble thing,” he said, “which cannot be accomplished without religion.” The astonishing rejoinder to Hitchens comes now from the family members of those who were gunned down Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charles C. W. Cooke, an atheist who writes for National Review, tweeted:
I am a non-Christian, and I must say: This is a remarkable advertisement for Christianity.

The watching world is in awe at this response, seeing the families' and church's good deeds and giving glory to God, even if in a somewhat limited way 

Most of my Christian friends are also quick to stand with their godly brothers and sisters in their act of personal forgiveness to the shooter and their use of the opportunity to call the young man to confession, repentance, and faith in Christ. However, a small band of bloggers and pundits have taken issue with their brothers and sisters in this matter, questioning the nature of the forgiveness offered by the families to Dylann Roof. 

What kind of forgiveness?

It would seem that some of these Christians may be having difficulty discerning between different types of forgiveness:

1) personal forgiveness from one individual to another for wrongs done or debts owed,
2) corporate forgiveness within the body of Christ, administered by the officers of the church,
3) civil / judicial forgiveness of wrong doings and debt to society, and
4) ultimate forgiveness of sin/divine judgment, which is through the Lord.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book "Studies on the Sermon on the Mount" states that distinguishing between these different types of forgiveness is crucial to understanding the Christian character and application of the Sermon on the Mount to our own lives. 

While we are commanded individually to forgive others for their offenses against us personally, just as we've been forgiven, we need to remember that personal forgiveness does not automatically equal reconciliation. Reconciliation involves both parties. Reconciliation requires some form of repentance from wrong-doers, which might vary from case to case.

When it comes to the church or the civil government, clearly these entities play a very different role, thus forgiveness on the corporate level and the societal level will look different from what we are called to as individual Christians.  In the case of Dylann Roof, there is not a contradiction between the forgiveness offered by those families on a personal level and the legitimacy of a judge sentencing him to death for the acts that he committed. Personal forgiveness does not erase guilt or consequences. If Dylann Roof were a member of a Christian church and remained unrepentant for his crimes, for his sins, the church has every right to excommunicate him. And of course, just as the families stated, the Lord will hold Dylann Roof accountable for his sins eternally if he does not ultimately confess and repent by giving his life to Christ.

All of these other facts about the church, the government, and God's law toward unbelievers does not negate the fact that we must forgive others. We must not harbor unforgiveness, even toward our enemies. Not only that, but remember that if our brother or sister has an issue WITH US, WE are called to refrain from the Lord's Table. Surely we must not harbor unforgiveness in ourselves.

The Charleston church's victim's families are correct to personally forgive the shooter. In so doing they are truly being salt and light by demonstrating the free offer of grace that they also received when they were lost.

"Forgiving as We Have Been Forgiven"
A few of my friends have quoted Dr. David Murray's blog post in which he insists that we should not forgive those who have not repented. He begins by stating that "God does not forgive those who do not want forgiveness", but by stating this he seems to misunderstand the nature of God's forgiveness and potentially betray an Arminian view of salvation.

From my perspective, it would seem that the idea of God's forgiveness being contingent upon our repentance is an Arminian formulation. For example, the reformed ordo salutis places regeneration before faith and repentance. Additionally, we have the teaching of Paul on God's forgiveness toward us, in many places, such as Romans 5:10 
"While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" and in Ephesians 2: 
"1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (emphasis mine).
Within a reformed soteriological framework, one might put it this way:
  • Total Depravity--No one wants forgiveness
  • Unconditional Election--God chooses us, regardless of our lack of desire for forgiveness, and our election is unconditional
  • Limited Atonement--God's free offer of forgiveness is accomplished and applied to His elect
  • Irresistible Grace--When God forgives our sins, we are forgiven. Period. Past, present, future. 
  • Perseverance of the Saints--Our salvation does not depend on us seeking forgiveness for every sin.

Strictly from a Biblical and reformed point of view, it is apparent that God's promise of forgiveness is the CAUSE of repentance and that forgiveness is not conditional on our action. 

If our repentance was the only instrument by which people received forgiveness, then we would all stand before the Lord at judgment for unforgiven sins that we do even know we commit. Nor could infants ever be saved because they are unable to understand repentance. It is entirely a work of God. 

Clearly, when we are commanded to forgive others as we have been forgiven, we are not be called to put ourselves in the Judges' seat, making ourselves equivalent to our holy, righteous, perfect Lord. We are being called to extend the type of grace - unmerited favor - that we were offered through Christ. The scriptures state that it is the loving kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance, and so it was with each and every one of us.

If, as some may claim, we are supposed to forgive in exactly the same way that Jesus (the holy, perfect, righteous one) forgave us, then we would be required to die on a cross. And sometimes forgiveness feels like a death. Certainly, for the victims of the Charleston shooting, their act of forgiveness toward the offenses they've suffered requires a type of death to their notions of self that transcends human nature. But ultimately, only Jesus could die to pay for our sin. Only God can forgive the offense of sin, because sin ultimately is against Him alone - not us.

We must not skip over Jesus's words, such as in Matthew 6:15, when He states: "But if you do not forgive others their debts, your Father will not forgive your debts." and again in Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." 

We must not ignore the teaching of Paul when he writes, 
·         "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath" [Ephesians 4:26] 
·         Paul told the believers in Corinth to forgive so they would not give Satan an advantage. When we don’t forgive, we give Satan a foothold in our lives and in the Body of Christ.
In Romans 12, we are called to leave room for the wrath of God (see more below).

·      Jesus commands us in Matthew 18 to forgive seven times seventy times, then goes on to describe someone who refused to forgive. It says he was delivered “to the tormentors” (v. 34). When we refuse to forgive, we may start to experience spiritual, emotional, and even physical consequences of holding bitterness in our hearts.

I wonder how many ways we are being disobedient to the Lord when we try to justify ourselves in unforgiveness? We as reformed Christians should be the last to resist the Lord's commands to forgive others. It is ultimately to our own detriment and does nothing good for the other person to personally begrudge them their offense. In fact, the scripture says it is the Lord's loving kindness led us to repentance. We are called to forgive the offense that was done to us personally - their debts/their trespasses against us, plain and simple. In this way, the church in Charleston serves as an example to all of us as to one such way we can embody Christian character to a lost and dying world. To be salt and light in a dark and deteriorating world.

Practically speaking

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we cannot dismiss the consequences of their sin (which is up to the church and the government) or ultimately forgive their sin (which is falls to God alone), but we can point them to our Savior who has granted us the grace that we freely offer them. I have seen the Lord use Christian obedience in such acts of forgiveness in countless ways in my life and those of others.

One of the ways I've ministered to those outside the church is in the area of mentoring and discipling women recovering from a background drug and alcoholic problems. Many of them have come from the streets and incredibly dark and desperate places. They often end up getting help from 12-step programs before they can even contemplate attending or a joining a church. There has been countless speculation as to why 12-step communities seem to help more folks in the early phases of their recovery. In my work with these women, I've come to believe that it is the emphasis that is placed on forgiveness of perceived wrongs, letting go of resentments, placing full trust in God’s sovereignty in all situations, and seeking reconciliation with others whenever possible.

As I've worked with many of these women (and some men), I've found that once the drink or drug is left alone, they are plagued by resentments: well-nurse grudges against perceived wrongs (many of which are actually quite grievous and many of which are decades old with wounds as fresh as if they happened yesterday). All too frequently, the man or woman who struggles relentlessly to quit their life-threatening habit altogether finds the pain of their tangled, muddled past relationships far worse to cope with than their blackouts and hangovers. Most 12-step programs tend to help people by focusing them on overcoming their own underlying fear, insecurity, and pride -- root sins that continue to keep them in bondage to these past harms. One of the cliches is that the word “resentment” comes from words “re" and "sentiment” which means to re-feel the pain, over and over and over. By not knowing how to forgive others, people create an internal nightmare for themselves.

As a Christian, I’m able to help these women more than others because I understand that forgiveness is difficult and that we don’t just pretend that the wrong doesn’t’ exist or pretend that it doesn't hurt. As a Christian, I first understand that sin exists and ultimately must be dealt with by God. I can trust that the wrath of God WILL be executed either on someone who will never come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through eternal damnation, or that it has been executed on Christ Himself on the cross and applied to the person, if they are saved. In either case, I know that the wrath of God will suffice to repay the person for their sin.

Update: Saying all of this is not meant in anyway to oversimplify the process that people go through to forgive others from the heart. Sometimes the process can take significant time and should provide space and time for mourning and grief. The process is not a blanket statement or like waving a magic wand. In additional to proper mourning and grief it typically requires a significant work of mortification of self-seeking, fear of man, worldly attachments, insecurity, and pride - just to name a few. Don't let anyone tell you that forgiveness is an easy thing! The kind of forgiveness that we witnessed in Charleston is only possible by the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in a blood-bought believer. The watching world is amazed by the visible display of the Gospel being lived out so boldly by Christians who know what they believe and why they believe it. May this be true of all us!

In the meantime, as we travel through this world, we can chose to forgive personal offenses, regardless of the other person’s eternal state and regardless of the person’s consequences. Consequences may dictate incarceration or the death penalty for another citizen, such as Dylann Roof, based on the offense. Consequences might also mean excommunication for a church member, such as an abusive spouse, if they are unrepentant. Forgiving people their personal offenses against us doesn't proclaim reconciliation or cheap grace, as some fear.  Therefore, let us be clear that these are just a few of the distinctions we need to consider when thinking about individual, corporate, societal, and eternal forgiveness. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Identity & the Gospel for the Judges 19 Woman (He was Torn for the 12 Tribes)

Identity and the Gospel Message for the Judges 19 Woman

Whenever the passage in Judges 19 is read, pastors and speakers alike typically take great care to caution their hearers about horrific events told concerning the concubine, her suffering, and her unredeemed disposition. Additionally most studies do well placing Judges 19 within the larger context of the book of Judges and bringing out the doctrine of the depravity of man whereby everyone did right in their own eyes, because in those days there was no king to rule.

Yet, the story of the Judges 19 woman requires more than a magnifying glass on her sinful condition and the sinfulness of others in the culture around her. Yes, absolutely, the wages of sin is death, and Judges 19 does graphically depict this for us. But it is my continued hope that women (and men alike) see how Christ redeems the hopeless state of the Judges 19 woman by bringing the Gospel message to bear even in those utterly hard and dark passages.

We might first start by thinking about the covenantal concept of identity. To this end, I found it quite interesting to note that none of the characters in Judges 19 are named. They are all anonymous entities, which is likely intended to achieve several different things, as many commentators believe. A common view is that the Levite, the stranger, and the concubine are representatives, like the literary “everyman” that ties us back to the point at the time of the Judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In this way, the concubine is meant to represent the people of Israel as a whole who had been enslaved by sin, given over to wickedness by the very leaders who were responsible for their well-being. But there are some other layers of meaning here concerning the anonymity of the concubine. For instance, concubines who were barren or who did not provide a male heir to their masters were generally not named in the Hebrew Scriptures. A concubine would only derive a unique identity from fulfilling the particular role of heir-bearing and otherwise would typically not be remembered within the historical covenant. Interestingly, today when we think of women who are enslaved by sexual sin or who have been given over to the illicit and dehumanizing acts of sexual abuse, they become objectified and defined by their sinful acts. The shame they bear, both spiritually and culturally, often causes them to go underground, becoming anonymous entities whose lives matter little either to their new masters or the culture around them.

Even these deep issues of identity are redeemed by Jesus who is our true King,and, yes, even in a land where everyone only does what is right in their own eyes. And He is the true and better Israel. He is the perfect husband, who protects his bride. Jesus doesn't give his bride over to the enemy to have his way with her and abuse her. Instead King Jesus leaves His Father's house and offers his own body going in the bride’s stead to be torn apart for the twelve tribes. Instead of giving us over, without hope or any possibility for rescue, Jesus gives himself up on the Cross. His battered body is the sign to his people that he is our true King and Redeemer and Husband.

So, on the practical end, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we are training folks in the church to be like the Levite who orders the woman on his doorstep to “Get Up”, even though she is dead (or nearly dead)? “Be a Biblical Woman by doing X and Y and Z or fulfilling such and such role.” Or are we equipping women to point these Judges 19 women to the true Savior and true King who redeemed us out of slavery? Unfortunately, too often the great temptation as we know it in women’s ministry is get to the imperatives too fast -- to be prescriptive far too soon -- because of our emphasis on women’s roles and what women are supposed to do, rather than who we are in Christ first and foremost. Identity.

The prophet Hosea looks back in Chapter 9 and 10 and warns Ephraim that they are behaving as those in Gibeah from the days of the Judges by going after false gods and idols and forget who they are; Whose they are; Who they belong to. They were forgetting their husband, over and over and over. Do we remind each other that we are His Bride and that he has redeemed us as the prophet Hosea was called to redeem his bride, Gomer? That at one time we were not a people (Hosea 1:10), but we too were delivered out of an Egypt, out of slavery (Exodus 20:2) and the kingdom of death and darkness (Col. 1:13), by the One who took our place and who has called us by name?

We are all prone to wander and forget our True King and Redeemer. Our savior Jesus, who has written our names on His hands, who has rescued us from the kingdom darkness described in Judges 19, and who has adopted us children of the Living God who will never leave us or forsake us!

Finally, I believe it it may be helpful for to consider the words of Paul written to the Galatian church regarding the contrast between Abraham’s concubine, Hagar (representing life in the flesh and slavery to sin), and Abraham’s wife, Sarah (representing the freedom of the new covenant in Christ). 
“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;  she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;

    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.” ” (Galatians 4:25-27, ESV)

Now we know that we were all once the concubine, sold as slaves under the law, powerless to save ourselves from the kingdom of darkness, but God because of His great mercy, saved us by the blood of Christ, who gave Himself for us when we were nothing, so that we could be His very own treasured possession - His Bride .. That He called us by name and has written our names on His very hands so that we could have eternal life with Him .. Does this -- should this -- help change how we look at and minister to the Judges 19 woman? And to women in general? Just some food for thought.

To be continued...