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What does the Christian church really face after Obergefell?

22 Apr

From Jake Meador:

Hope, History, and the American Church After Obergefell
It’s a truth universally recognized by anyone who has ever talked about the BenOp that a person who expresses concern about the church’s future is in want of a person to quote Tertullian at them.

Sorry, is that cheeky? Here’s the quote and we’ll get to why it grates on my hear so in a moment: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The problem isn’t that Tertullian is always wrong. The problem is that this quote has become a sort of truism reflexively recited by American evangelicals who can only imagine that government-sanctioned opposition to the church will be a good thing for the American church. And while there will likely be some benefits to come from opposition, it’s essential that evangelicals not be overly sanguine about the American church’s short-term prospects.

The Historical Precedent for the Death of Regional Churches

The first point we need to get clear is that, historically speaking, it is simply not true that persecution always helps to strengthen and refine the church. Sometimes persecution simply destroys a church. Once upon a time there were thriving churches in northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and Japan. Then they died. (You can read about them in this fine book by Philip Jenkins.)

Those churches were all either destroyed (in the latter cases) or driven to the very edge of society (in the case of the two former groups). Indeed, what little remained of the historic churches of the Middle East has been largely eradicated by ISIS.

Thus we need to first figure out why these churches were destroyed or simply made into permanent extreme minorities. There are a number of factors in play:

In some cases, the church was closely tied to a ruling elite and when that elite was overthrown the church lost its standing and was crushed.
In other cases, the faith was actually only professed by a small minority of social elites and never penetrated into the mass population.

Finally, in still other cases, Christian identity has become conflated with a set of other characteristics or cultural values which, over time, erode the distinctly Christian characteristics of a people. So there is still a superficial Christianity, but it is badly compromised by its close ties to nationalism. Greece is a good example of this as somewhere between 88 and 98% of the population profess to be Greek Orthodox but only 27% of those people actually attend church weekly. Elsewhere in Europe the numbers are even more dire. In Denmark, 80% of the population is Lutheran but only 3% attend any kind of church service weekly. This critique also applies to cities and states in the USA that are historically Catholic, such as Chicago or Boston. The gap between those who claim to adhere to a specific faith and those who attend church weekly is enormous.
What all this means is that there are a number of conditions that have historically caused local churches to crumble and regional churches to disappear or lapse into a kind of permanent minority status. And the key thing to get clear is that this is very much a live possibility in the United States.

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You don’t need a megachurch to go to heaven

10 Mar

From Hans Fiene @ The Federalist:

If you’re a parent trying to give your child the best education possible, I would worry about teacher quality and your own involvement in your little one’s intellectual development before I’d worry about class size. I’m not saying that having 19 children per room isn’t preferable to 23. I’m just saying that the student-to-teacher ratio won’t matter a tremendous amount if your son’s teacher thinks four plus twelve equals purple or you want your kid to memorize the chronology of WWE champions instead of U.S. presidents.

So if little Bryden (because that’s what boys are named these days, in case you hadn’t already given up on humanity) has a bit of an overcrowded class, but a solid teacher and great support from you, don’t let anybody convince you that you’re selfishly endangering his education if you don’t turn your life upside down by moving to a slightly less-congested school district.
Likewise, if you’re a Christian parent trying to give your child the best spiritual formation possible, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re selfish for not making the size of a congregation your number one priority. In particular, don’t let megachurch pastor Andy Stanley convince you that you’re endangering your child’s soul if you don’t attend a large congregation.

If you’re a bit confused by Stanley’s accusation (one that, to his credit, he quickly recanted), here’s what he meant: Making friends at church is what keeps people in the faith, and the more kids your church has, the more opportunities your children will have to make friends. Therefore, if you attend a congregation that only has enough kids for a joint middle school/high school youth group, you’re reducing your kids’ friend-making potential and thus putting them at risk.

It doesn’t matter if the local megachurch’s Christology is wonky enough to keep you at a smaller parish or if the mid-sized flock you belong to is where you and your kids were both baptized and confirmed, apparently. To Stanley, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea than that you should cause your freshman to share a bag of Doritos and a TeenzAlive! Study Bible with a seventh grader.

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Guy Waters on the New Perspective on Paul

5 Jan

Stephen Nichols: We are visiting again with our good friend Dr. Guy Waters. Dr. Waters, welcome back.
Guy Waters: Thank you, Dr. Nichols.
SN: Most of the time we look to the past in the church but church history is being written. But it’s being written today. And I suspect if the Lord were to tarry, that as the church history books are written, one of the things they will talk about of the early twenty-first century is the New Perspective on Paul. You’ve written a number of books on the New Perspective. Would you tell us, what is the New Perspective on Paul?
GW: The New Perspective on Paul is not as new as it used to be. It’s been around forty years or so, but it is an epochal movement in the study of Paul. It begins with the reevaluation of the Judaism contemporary to the New Testament writers. It argues that we need to understand that Judaism was a religion of grace. If we think of it as a religion of works we have misunderstood what it was about. Now that raises a question, of course, because if Judaism is a religion of grace, then why does the New Testament take issue with Judaism? If Judaism was a religion of merit or of works, and the gospel is a gospel of grace, then we understand the difference. But if they’re both promoting grace, then where’s the difference?
The New Perspective argues that the real difference between Judaism and first-century Christianity lay in a couple of areas. One, of course, was Christianity’s conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. But beyond that, the New Perspective argues that Christianity was advancing inclusivism, that is to say, that the people of God included not only Jews but also Gentiles. That becomes significant in the way in which the Apostle Paul’s teaching on justification comes to be reenvisioned. Justification is no longer understood to be the way in which a sinner is declared righteous on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ and received through faith alone. Justification is said to speak of God’s declaring a person, Jew or Gentile, to be a member of His covenant people, His church, because of that person’s faith. Faith is that person’s badge, his identifier, his identify marker, not works of the law, not Sabbath or circumcision or other distinctively Jewish ordinances. So justification has historically been understood in the church to answer the question of the Philippian jailer—”What must I do to be saved?” And the New Perspective says, “That’s the wrong question. Justification as Paul advances it is not really concerned to answer that question.”
SN: It seems like if you want to have the gospel you need to have the doctrine of justification, and behind that you need to have the doctrine of imputation. Is that what’s at stake here?
GW: The problem is that when they do begin to talk about the salvation of the sinner, it’s done in such a way that there’s no place for imputed righteousness and it becomes Christ’s work on the cross plus the work of the Spirit in me, my good works as a Christian. These combine so that I can be just or accepted on the day of judgment. And there’s nothing new about that. That’s precisely the position that the Protestant Reformers were protesting against at the time of the Reformation.
SN: Dr. Waters, thank you for helping us understand this crucial departure from the orthodox understanding of the gospel.
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Baptism Isn’t Faith

8 Dec

Source: Baptism Isn’t Faith

Pope Francis failed to mention Jesus before Congress and the President. Would the Apostle Paul?

25 Sep

From Matthew Tuninga:

If the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter were given the opportunity to address a joint session of Congress, do you think they would mention the name of Jesus? Pope Francis allegedly occupies the place of St. Peter, the bishopric of Rome. Though often introduced as the “leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics,” his primary claim is to be the vicar of Jesus Christ. And yet the pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday (transcript here; Nor did he mention Jesus’ name when speaking at the White House reception on Wednesday).

I am not the sort of person to be instinctively critical of Pope Francis, and I have praised his work before. Indeed, I largely agree with what he said in his speech about the importance of hospitality to the immigrant, care for the environment, justice for the poor, the protection of life, and the nurture of families. But I cannot get my mind around the fact that he mentioned all of this without saying why any of it matters. He did not even mention the name Jesus, or Christ, let alone say anything about Jesus’ death, resurrection, or future return.

Some of my Catholic friends are concerned about this too, and rightly so. Is Francis not as committed to the “new evangelization” as we had hoped?

Pope Francis has the attention of virtually the entire United States right now. The media is covering every word, every act, every moment of his visit. And what is the media talking about? Politics. Whether the pope’s comments benefit the right or the left, whether he’s helping Republicans or Democrats. No one, it would seem, cares much about the substance of the pope’s faith regarding Jesus. And why should they? The pope hasn’t mentioned Jesus, so Jesus must not be an important part of the pope’s message to America.

An atheist friend enthusiastically wrote on Facebook yesterday, “I am an atheist, and I love this Pope!” A writer for the Huffington Post happily declares that America has a “man crush” on Pope Francis. All people are speaking well of him.

There was a time when Jesus warned his disciples that such favorable reception on the part of “all men” is not a good sign (Luke 6:26). He warned them that the world would treat those who speak Jesus’ message as it treated Jesus himself (Matthew 5:11; 24:9). Prepared for this, the disciples insisted on doing everything that they did “in the name of Jesus,” using every opportunity, even when confronted by those in authority, to proclaim the good news of his death, resurrection, and future return. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

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Why baptists should return to the plural elder model of church government

12 May

Not too surprising. I noticed this over the course of my life in the SBC. I believe these are by-products of the single elder model so popular among Southern Baptists in recent generations, even though the plural elder model was more common in Baptist history. Too much power and too much pressure are usually involved in the single elder model. Protestants and especially Baptists are supposed to be far removed from the episcopacy, where power is centralized. Indeed the whole notion of decentralized power both in the church and in the state was never more clearly defended than by early baptists. But after Baptists embraced the great revivals of the 18th and especially 19th centuries, the pastor as stage performer, celebrity, church CEO, sole flock shepherd, and highest church authority, emerged unfortunately.

“Southern Baptists, who have been tracking this for over 15 years, show that 4 of the 5 top reasons clergy are let go is related to the leadership style of the pastor. Too strong a style is cited twice as often as too weak a style. But one thing that is consistent no matter the style is poor people skills.”

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For baptists, an infant baptism among Presbyterians is better than a kindergarten baptism among baptists.

7 May

For baptists, baptizing kindergartners is practically worse than sprinkling infants among Presbyterians, say Jason Allen (I agree).

“Within Southern Baptist life, we have been on a steady march towards infant baptism, routinely baptizing children younger and younger in age,” Allen said.

A North American Mission Board task force on baptism and evangelism in 2014 found the only consistently growing age group in Southern Baptist Convention baptisms is 5 and under. Allen said the trend should prompt careful reflection and remind Southern Baptists of some of the dangers associated with baptizing young children.

“As a convictional Baptist, it is hard for me to admit this, but when we baptize children too young to grasp the gospel and, as a result, whose hearts haven’t been affected by it, it is more troubling than a sprinkling of an infant,” Allen said.

“Why is this? Because when Presbyterians, for example, sprinkle infants, they anticipate the child will one day be converted. When we baptize young children we are testifying they have been converted.”

– See more at: http://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/30060-seminary-president-says-southern-baptists-drifting-toward-infant-baptism#sthash.uvfNxiqP.dpuf

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