Thursday, September 28, 2006

Redeem, Reform or Remove

I have heard lately much talk about “redeeming culture”. What I often hear from this is that because we are to take culture and redeem it, or make it acceptable, we can then take what a culture deals out and make it Christian. My question is whether that is truly our mandate since simply because a culture does something are we to redeem it or make it acceptable to God? I speak of this as it relates to the church as a body of regenerate people and not to an organization. While the legislation of morality can help society it can not be changed unless the hearts of that society are changed. So, when I speak of culture I speak of the people of God who live within culture and what they do with regards to culture.

Is it not possible that we are to work at reform (which is what some probably mean by redeem) or even work at removing aspects of culture from the life of the church? I am not here advocating what those things are but to simply ask if we are to redeem all of what culture provides us. The truth is I see much of culture coming from sin rather than from God. My biblical reasoning for this is that we often see culture revolving around languages and peoples. If we go back to the Tower of Babel we see that God confused the languages and in many senses created these cultures. But, we must remember that the reason for this change, or confusion of languages and thus culture, was due to the sin of the people. We can then see at least that some aspects of culture are a result of sin.

Now I realize that culture is a loaded word since even in the Garden before sin there was what may be called culture and in heaven there will be some form of culture. I do not think there is clear biblical evidence that in heaven there will be multiple cultures as Mark Driscoll has said. His reasoning is that since there will people from every tribe tongue and nation there will be every kind of culture but this is a big leap for me. Just because there will be all kinds of people in heaven does not mean there will be all kinds of culture. Simply because there will be differing languages reconciled to God and in heaven does not necessarily mean we will speak those languages there. While we may do I am not convinced that scripture is clear that this is how heaven will be.

This whole idea of redeeming culture leads churches to change everything they do to look like the culture but to Christianize it and in the end the culture subsumes the church and not the reverse. I actually do not know exactly where I stand on this with regards to many parts of culture but I just think that we do have to ask ourselves before we just jump into trying to redeem, or clean up, an aspect of culture if we should work at ridding ourselves of those aspects.

None of this relates to communicating the Gospel in understandable language depending on the prevailing culture. But this is a far cry from also assuming the culture. People use all kinds of words when they speak of this such as contextualize and such but all too often it simply means we are to look like the world and some how Christianize what we do. Again this is all a work in my head but I am just concerned that too many, even so called conservatives, in an effort to reach a dying world begin to look like the dying world. We are so worried about looking out of place that we seek the world’s means to accomplish God’s work.

So the end result of all of this is that I advocate looking hard at scripture to see what it says not simply about a certain aspect of culture but about that aspects effect on the church and the world and then ask if that aspect of culture should be redeemed, reformed or even removed from the life of the church (the church as the body of regenerate believers and not a building). There is for sure a danger of legalism in this but that should not be a hindrance to us obeying God. If one stays cross centered I think legalism can be kept at bay. Our goal should be to glorify God and that will in many cases lead to hard decisions for the believer when it comes to culture but being a believer is never said to be easy. If it was easy we would try and do it ourselves but instead we are forced to rely on the Holy Spirit for the power to do what God desires us to do. I firmly believe that one can do this, deal with culture, and not remove themselves from the world so as to be the light we are called to be.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Display of His Glory

Well we just got back from 5 days of camping in Yosemite National Park. We stayed at Toualome Meadows and did a little hiking and a lot of realizing the grandeur of God's creation.

I was up here on a hiking trip once and it was asked why we feel closer to God in the wilderness. First is that God's creation is so obvious when you are surrounded by it. Another reason is that there are so many less distractions that one has a greater amount of time and concentration to just marvel at all God has done and continues to do.

Anyone that thinks that places like Yosemite are a result of chance just does not see it for what it is. Of course that is what Romans 1:18-23 is all about. Those that hold to the theory of evolution truly do miss out on what they are looking at. To see places like Yosemite and realize that the God of the universe created this for His glory and that we can, and should, understand it for what it is: A Display of His Glory.

Here are few examples of His work:

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Cross

I was listening to what is presently my favorite CD, Valley of Vision by Sovereign Grace Music, and was struck by the line in the song “How Deep”that reads; “Crushed by Your Father to call me Your own.”

The depth of that line is so great, to think the Father did not simply sacrifice His son but crushed Him (Is 53:5) so that those that would believe could be reconciled to God. That line hit me as all too often we see the horror in the cross but not to the extent that we should. I was at the Ligonier conference this last weekend and with regards to the Cross, which was the theme of the conference, the comment was made that we so often focus on the physical torture of the cross but in reality many people had much the same torture on the cross. What we need to realize is that the weight and depth of sin Christ took on was infinitely worse and no one has taken on that kind of punishment. This in the end should give us hope that the God who would do such a thing for His people would not abandon us. So when things seem out of sorts we can be confident and comforted in God not having abandoned us, when we reflect on the cross in a correct manner.

Since the songs on the CD are based on the Puritan Devotional: Valley of Vision I went and read the devotion it was based on, “Love Lustres at Calvary”. The devotion itself is great as it is so clear from what is said that we really do take the cross too lightly. I have put the words to both the song and the devotion below.

How Deep
You were broken that I might be healed
You were cast off that I might draw near
You were thirsty that I might come drink
Cried out in anguish that I might sing

How deep is Your love
How high and how wide is Your mercy
How deep is Your grace
Our hearts overflow with praise
To You

You knew darkness that I might know light
Wept great tears that mine might be dried
Stripped of glory that I might be clothed
Crushed by Your Father to call me Your own

Love Lustres at Calvary
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections,
open my lips,
supply words that proclaim ‘Love lustres
at Calvary.’
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them
on thy Son,
made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man,
thy fellow;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
and infinite punishment was made.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy
that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst
that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Savior wept that all tears might be wiped
from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorny crown that I might have
a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze
on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou
mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,
my every step buoyant with delight, as I see my
enemies crushed,
Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,
sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
hell’s gates closed, heaven’s portal open.
Go forth, O conquering God, and show me
the cross, mighty to subdue, comfort and save.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Gathered Church - Pt 1

As I continue to look at the church and the meeting of the church I need to make sure that you know I am in a process of seeing what I envision church to be like. The reason this is important is that my personal views that I am working through may or may not be exactly those of the church I presently serve. We all, or at least we should, need to step back often to see what it is God has given us a vision of and while in that process the vision we have may even conflict with how we presently do ministry.

I do not know if it is just me but when I talk with others about the gathering of the church it seems very hard for people to give up what has become so ingrained. By this I mean if one is to say that the gathering of the church is to be for believers the first thing that some complain about is that they will not be able to invite their unsaved friends because they will feel uncomfortable. Where I am confused by this mindset is that Paul in 1 Corinthians lets us know that the message of the cross is foolishness to an unbelieving world. This will also mean that how we as believers worship and relate to each other will in all probability seem foolish or at the least different. For many people the role of the church in its gathering is evangelism and little else. There may be offerings towards discipleship but they are so minimal that they accomplish little. How one changes this mind set is not an easy endeavor and in all likelihood is going to be uncomfortable.

I, personally, have been thinking about how I would “do” church based on scripture and it is not as easy at it may seem as we all struggle with tradition. Tradition is not necessarily bad but the goal is to weed out tradition based on pragmatism and such and those either blatantly contradictory to scripture or at the least not supported by scripture. One such tradition is the idea of age graded Sunday School. While there may have been good that has come from this system, as well as bad, we have to admit that it is not something dictated by scripture but is a human derived system of education. While the Sunday School system may have had success in numbers and apparent conversions it should not be something that is held onto as if ordained by God. Success in numbers does not make something correct. I say “apparent” success in conversion because it would seem that the great numbers we may see in Sunday School does not always mean those same people persevere to the end. This is seen especially in the youth ministry movement where all too often once a youth leaves the ministry they no longer attend church and simply disappear. As a side note, I personal feel that it is youth ministry that has fostered much of the Emergent Church errors, because the youth ministry has raised children that are unsure of what they believe and are simply in search of an experience. Most youth ministry, just check out a youth ministry site some time, revolves around activities to entertain and even the teaching is designed to be entertaining. So what that in the end develops is a group of people constantly seeking an experience and if the experience is missing or not what they expect they leave. I think if you check out scripture the idea of teaching via entertainment is non-existent. If one feels they have gotten conversions through entertainment means the number of young people leaving the church would say differently. By the way I have been a youth leader so this is not an area that I have not had experience with.

Over the next few weeks I am going to move from simply seeing what the church is to how it should function and what that functioning looks like. This is also an area where toes often get stepped on because once one puts forth a model of ministry it in many ways says other methods may not be as biblical and it also can rattle traditions. Above all my desire is to see the church and especially the gathered local church to be as biblical as possible even if it does of looking out of place. While our culture may direct the words we communicate with, since words do change meanings over time, an unbelieving culture should not dictate how a believing community gathers and interacts.

Previous Posts on the Church:
The Local Church Pt1
The Church Pt 2 - Ekklesia
The Church Pt 3: Church Local or Universal
The Church, Where – Pt 4
The Church – Pt 5

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Around the Blogosphere

I have not done this for awhile but here are some items from around the blogosphere:

Tom Ascol at The Founders Blog has some wisdom, in the form of questions, from Isaac Watts to young ministers, or for that matter any minister: Part 1 & Part 2.

Steve Camp writes on church discipline in: "Stop Dating the Congregation" ...pastors who love the Lord, care to discipline sin.

Here is an Article from the Wall Street Journal on the “Purpose Driven” model of church growth: A Popular Strategy For Church Growth Splits Congregants

While I have read and been edified by A.W. Pink’s writings I did not know much about his life. Wade Burleson writes on Pink in: A.W. Pink and Spartanburg, SC.

Mark Dever at Together for the Gospel writes a good piece on evangelism and making sure we are clear with the message we convey: A good offense