Archive | May, 2012

Why Study Church History? Reason #4 – Studying church history will connect us to a rich legacy

Picture Christianity throughout its history as a giant tree that has continually grown for numerous generations. Some of its branches have gone one way, some another. Some are more in line with their roots in the apostolic church and the straight trunk of the first few centuries. We might call this trunk the “ancient catholic church” as opposed to later developments in the Western (Roman) Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Other branches, unworthy of a place on the tree, have withered and fallen off.

Now picture your church’s place on this massive tree. Your own church is but a tiny leaf, hanging from a small twig, shooting from a thin branch, attached to a large limb, connected to a thick bough, growing from a massive trunk. The diverse Christian churches and denominations of today (the various branches of the tree) are not necessarily united to each other through visible, institutional unity. However, every generation has been connected to the apostolic and ancient church by legitimately receiving its core beliefs and practices.

For example, every believer who has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was baptized by somebody who had also been baptized by a predecessor. This line of baptism, though it may have taken various forms throughout history, connects present-day believers to the church of the first century. The same may be said of ministry ordination. Today’s ministers, who have been tried, tested, and approved by other ordained ministers, stand in a long and ancient line of those who had been themselves ordained by the “laying on of hands,” a practice that reaches back to the apostles, themselves. Evangelicals are also connected to the rich legacy of their Christian heritage by receiving—intact and unadulterated—the apostolic and prophetic Scriptures, as well as the core message of the Christian faith. Many participate further through orders of worship, hymns, liturgies, and denominational structures, which were passed down from previous generations.

By studying church history, evangelicals can connect to their own tradition actively, consciously, and critically. They can seek out their spiritual ancestors, experiencing familiarity and a feeling of kinship with the people of faith who preserved Scripture, took a stand for the gospel, reformed church practice, and glorified God with their words and works. They can see their own particular traditions in light of a broader spectrum of emphases and practices, understanding their own church’s attitudes and actions in light of its history. By re-establishing an active and conscious connection to their rich legacy, they will also be equipped to sort through the positive, negative, and neutral aspects of their beliefs and practices, led by more than mere personal preferences or thoughtless traditionalism.

Connecting to a rich legacy of the faith will therefore add a previously unknown depth to personal faith and corporate worship. It has the power to shape the identity of both individual believers and local churches. This identity will help us to transcend our own lonely and seemingly insignificant place on the greater tree, making us aware that we are all part of something far bigger than ourselves.

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Why Study Church History? Reason #3: Studying church history will conserve the faith for the future

The Lord’s brother, Jude, urged Christians “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Greek verb translated “delivered” refers to a sacred trust or tradition. Paul described this tradition as he handed it down to the Corinthians: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand. . . . For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Cor. 15:1, 3). Jude used the same language as Paul for receiving the tradition and sending it forward to the future. In this case the things “received” and “handed down” were the central truths of the Christian faith.

Paul also wrote letters to his younger disciple, Timothy, for the purpose of encouraging the next generation to faithfully convey the core Christian tradition into the future. Paul wrote, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Tim. 3:14). He also said, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). By observing what our spiritual forefathers fought to preserve and pass on, we come to understand and appreciate the need to continue the pattern established by 2 Timothy 2:2. By looking back, evangelicals today can learn how to conserve and convey the timeless message through time-tested methods.

Today the evangelical church is facing numerous serious crises directly related to their inability to make disciples who are passing the faith on to the next generation. To put it bluntly: evangelicals today are dropping the baton but still running the race! According to a 2006 Barna Group study, 40 to 50 percent of kids who were “equipped” in church youth groups walk away from the faith or the church in their college years. Study after study shows that evangelicalism itself is shrinking in America. Mega church and multi-site ministries mask the problem, as far too many of those big box churches grow in number by weakening smaller churches, not by converting the lost or restoring the un-churched. This kind of model of ministry is simply unsustainable. In many respects, American evangelicals are simply failing to pass the faith on to the next generation. Unless this trend is halted, the disaster will be epic.

The incredible challenges we’re facing today aren’t new. Pluralism, cynicism, paganism, immorality, political corruption, war, persecution, social unrest, atheism, skepticism, and me-theism—the early church thrived in that kind of culture, while we’re doing all we can to simply survive. As we look back at the history of the church, the pre-modern, pre-Christian models and methods of evangelism, catechesis, initiation, and life-long discipleship can help us re-think how we face the current challenges in our increasingly post-modern, post-Christian world. By studying church history we can rediscover and restore wise and effective ways to conserve the faith for the future.

It’s not too late.

 

The Insecurity of our Faith

I believe in what is called “perseverance of the saints.” I am less inclined toward the designation “eternal security of the believer,” but it will do. I can even accept “once-saved always-saved,” so long as it is properly qualified. However, I also believe there is a type of faith that does not save. What a statement of insecurity this may be to you! But I really don’t know what to do with some of the language of Scripture. Some have labeled me an enemy of the so-called “Lordship Salvation” position (look it up). While I do have some issues with certain articulations of the Lordship position, I am in agreement that as believers, we should be continually testing our faith to see if it is of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:5). Why? Because it may not be.

Let’s talk to Jesus just a bit:

“”I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” (John 16:1)

(“Why this passage?” you ask.  Because it was in my daily Bible reading today.)

What a fascinating passage this is. Here, in the middle of the great “Upper Room Discourse,” Christ is comforting his disciples and preparing them for his imminent departure. This passage follows on the heels of Christ’s warning that his disciples are going to suffer persecution for bearing his name. “If they hated me, they are going to hate you,” he tells them (John 15:18). “But don’t worry . . . this is your life now . . . a life filled with suffering and persecution.” Why is he telling them this? Well, that is where our current passage comes in: to keep them from “falling away.”

“But I thought a believer could never fall away? I thought you said that we were eternally secure.” Well, we are. But we are not. Forgive me for the apparent double-speak but, best as I can tell, I am just following in the footsteps of our Lord. You see, Christ has already said, in a previous John passage, that we are (eternally) secure in the hands of God:

John 10:27-29
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

(What a comforting passage)

Yet here in John 16:1, he seems to suggest that his disciples could fall away from the faith. The word here for “fall away” is skandalizo. It is the word we get “scandal” from. It means “to be brought to a sinful downfall” (BAGD), or “to stumble or fall,” or “to fall away.” Louw-Nida (my favorite Lexicon so long as I am using Bibleworks) has it as “to cause to give up believing, to make someone no longer believe.” It is the word used in the parable of the soils for the soil which experiences persecution: “But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away [skandalizo]” (Matt 13:21). This is appropriate to Christ’s usage in John 16:1, since it parallels the thought. There is a type of faith that can be “scandalized” and fall away, never experiencing the benefit of true faith: the salvation of the believer’s soul. Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Problem Passages – Old Testament Prophecy in the New

Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms as they discuss seeming problems with various New Testament authors “misinterpreting” Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus.

An Open Letter to the Apostle John

John,

First of all, let me say how much I appreciate your work. Your Gospel was the coup d’état of your writings. Chapter 14 was a lifeline to me as a kid. Thanks for spending so much time (four chapters!) focusing on what we call the “upper room discourse.” It is tender and comforting in so many ways. As well, I loved your emphasis on the deity of Christ. From beginning to end you magnify Christ and it is awesome! (I wish Matthew, Mark, and Luke were so bold, but I understand their reasons). Thanks for leaving your works unnamed. I am assuming that you are the “Apostle” John, but either way, your anonymity gives your testimony great credibility.

However, I do have some problems with something you wrote. This something confuses me quite a bit as I cannot find a satisfying way to fit it into my theology. I know my issue is really with God, as he co-wrote with you on this project, but I am not as comfortable writing an open letter to God! So you will have to do.

Ready? Here it goes…

I am confused by your statement in the book we call “First John”:

“No one who is born of God sins, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:9)

I am confused because I believe that I am born of God, but I still sin. What gives?

Now, we often qualify your statement here since the word “sin” is in the present progressive in the Greek. Therefore, many translations opt for “practices sin” instead of “sins.” I think this is a valid conclusion. Therefore, you were talking about those who continue to sin in a progressive way.

Let me be honest here . . . This justified exegetical qualification did comfort me at one time. When I first started following our Lord with a greater intensity, I did give up many sins. So for the first few years, my experience coincided with your proposition. I was no longer practicing certain evident sins which had plagued me. But here I am, twenty years later, with more questions than answers about your theology on this issue.

Here is the basic problem. I still practice sin. While I gave up certain sins twenty years ago and have yet to fall back into them, for the last twenty years I have discovered so many things in my life which I habitually practice and cannot regulate to my satisfaction. I do try and try, pray and pray, ask and ask, beg and beg, but I fall back into these transgressions. Let me illustrate (humor me). . . . Continue Reading →

What Fatherless Statistics Communicate to the Fatherless

(Lisa Robinson)

As May dwindles down and we flip the calendar to June, it reminds me that Father’s Day is just around the corner.  To be sure, the praise of fathers will be extolled and the importance of father’s highlighted.  One method that is often used to highlight the importance of fathers, is to cite statistics on the effects of the absence of fathers.   Whether it be in a sermon, a podcast or a blog entry, there will be those who choose this method so that their Christian audience understands why the presence of fathers is so important.  This is particular true in evangelical circles that place a significance on the role of the husband and father as head of the household.  After all, isn’t this what inspired the movie Courageous?

Now I do understand the concerns that provokes this method.  Certainly, there are situations in which a father has the ability to be present, but for whatever reason he is not available.  I also recognize that children become innocent victims of divorce, thereby losing wholly or partially the presence of the father.  There are concerns about selfishness.  There are also concerns about the impact that the absence of a father has on a child.  For some, there are concerns that a household is not being adequately maintained by a proper head of household.  I get that it is about the health of the family.

While I do appreciate the concerns of this type of exposure, I am not sure if the promoters of such statistics understands the impact it has on those affected by the absence of fathers and the women who raise them.   While the scenarios I just stated may be the motivating factor behind such a method, one of the problems is that it does not wholly capture the reality behind the absence of fathers in a household.  The identification of problem cannot be treated with a simplistic version of the cause as if it is applicable to all situations.  There are those, such as myself, who become widowed and children are fatherless.  Divorce happens for a variety of reasons and in some cases is better for the health of the family involved, especially where it involves abuse.  In some cases, a spouse abdicates his responsibility.  But in every scenario, there are still those left behind – a single mother who must now care for the needs of a fatherless family. Continue Reading →

7 Reasons I Think Pastors Should Preach Through Books of the Bible

(Lisa Robinson)

I’ve been exposed to a variety of preaching, from the very topical where a new subject is introduced each week, to series on a topic or on a series of going through an entire book of the bible.   I’m sure every pastor has their preference but if the goal is to equip the body for the work of ministry, I think going through whole books of the bible is the best way.  I’m sure there are other lists out there, but here are my reasons;

1)  It connects the narrative or letter to the whole meta-narrative of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  This is really what we should want people to understand anyway.  No matter what book it is, the pastor will be forced to make correlations to give a fair and honest treatment to the book.  A good systematized topical study may be able provide this treatment, when done thoughtfully and that does require several sessions regardless of the topic.  It would be most difficult to do this in a topical, week-by-week sermon.

2)  It anchors the congregation in one theme of thought for an extended period of time.   The biblical writers had a particular theme when writing in a particular genre to a particular audience.  Going from start to finish through one book is able to better capture the author’s purpose and give an appreciation for a fuller development of understanding.  As stated, in #1, making to connections to the biblical meta-narrative is key and necessary.  This is in contrast to the new-topic-every-week.  A steady diet of this keeps people bouncing around and grasping for whatever they can to help them out, and ultimately does a disservice.

3)  It treats the bible as it should be treated as a complete revelation of God instead of a self-help guide or manual for living.  In this day and age, where contemporary Evangelicalism has been drawn to pragmatism with instantaneous results, people are already prone to grab for verses that will help out their life concerns.   Application is important, but not without an understanding of the foundation.

4)  It teaches people how to approach scripture on their own.  It’s a case of monkey-see-monkey-do.  When people are exposed to methodically going through a whole book, this is what they will most likely emulate.  If they are exposed to explanation of what the author is communicating and how that connects to the complete meta-narrative, it will influence how they approach scripture.  On the other hand, if people are exposed to finding a topic, then finding supporting passages, it teaches them to go home and do the same, most likely ignoring the context. Continue Reading →