Friday, November 09, 2012

New Harding President

Rich Little (Harding SA president my freshman year) has been posting many thoughts from Harding alumni responding to the recent selection of a new president. The are all well written and kind in their disagreement. If you are interested they are all worth reading but I thought this one was the best so far

To balance the discussion, here is an equally well written piece by friend and classmate Frank McCown

There are changes in the world to which the Churches of Christ must respond. The are happening and we can fight them and become even more isolated, or we can learn to navigate them and sometimes embrace them and engage in a broader vision in God's world. Many feel that Harding's new choice is a vote for the status quo and a signal of a decline. I pray that this is not the case and that Harding can be a positive force in the kingdom for many years to come.

I am not close enough to the internals of Harding structure or any of the people involved to have much comment of my own. I do share a lot of the concerns about the church in general that were expressed in these writings and I have written about those things at various times. But I remain hopeful and prayerful that Harding will be a force to engage the culture for Christ. I will be visiting Harding next week recruiting for my company and I always enjoy the chance to visit with the professors. I wonder if the students will look older this year. In March, they all seemed like they should be in Jr. High.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Little PvP

In the video game world, PvP stands for Player vs. Player. This kind of gameplay involves two or more humans in competition inside the game world. The goal is usually to kill or destroy the opponent(s) often tied in with other objectives similar to capture the flag. The other type of gameplay is PvE or Player vs. Environment. In this style, a player will battle computer generated challenges either solo or with a group. The objectives are varied. Sometimes the two types overlap but more often than not the skills and tactics applicable to PvE are very different from PvP. Some games include both types of gameplay while others are exclusively one or the other. But enough about computer games. If you're reading this it is because you think I'm going to make a point sooner or later.

Imagine this scenario. You are talking with a friend and during the discussion you mention that you go to Such and Such Church of Christ (we'll stick with CoC here because that is what I know). Your friend says "Oh, that's the church that does..." what? When an outsider generally unfamiliar with that group thinks of them and tries to put it into words, what do they say. Let us assume that they have a general idea about the religious tribe, maybe they even associate with a similar group meeting at another location. What is the first impression or reputation of your group?

While this may seem hypothetical, it is very real to me right now. We have been visiting another local congregation, just feeling things out and trying to determine God's will. When we are conversing with our friends at our current church and the topic comes up, guess what they say about the other church? I'll tell you what they don't say. They don't say "Oh, that's the church that feeds the homeless people in downtown Austin every Wednesday morning." "Oh, that's the church that runs a large food pantry working together with other Austin churches to feed the hungry." "That's the church that visits sick people in the hospital." "That's the church that supports the children's home." "That's the church that preaches Christ's grace and love to anyone that will listen." They don't say any of those things. Because this is the church that is a little too progressive on "letting" women participate in their worship and classes. This is not a hypothetical, it is part of a conversation we have had several times in recent weeks and the next time I will be responding quite differently (yet still in love...I hope).

If someone looked at your church what would they see? If someone looked at you what would they say? What would be the one sentence answer for who you are? It is a shame that we do not see like Jesus sees. Where were you when I was hungry or thirsty or in prison or sick? Did you visit me? Did you feed me? Or were you too busy making sure that you did everything just right so that you never had time to do the things that really mattered? Or maybe you were too busy making sure everyone else was doing everything right? Or maybe you are doing what you can, but you just cannot let go of those few prejudices that keep you from working with the church down the street. Whatever the case is...STOP IT! Focus on what is important and when all the work is done, we can argue about who has the better doctrine.

Back to gaming, Christianity is a PvE game, not PvP. Our battle is not "against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Let's stop the PvP. PvE is challenging enough. And I have never been good at PvP.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


If the pattern for the church and for the Christian is so plainly laid out in the New Testament such that there can be no dispute (as some would say that 2 Timothy 1:13 states "Follow the pattern of the sound [or healthy] words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.") then why did such a perfect Pattern lead to the Catholic church of the middle ages, and all the many thousands of splits and sects that we find today. If the pattern were perfect, the church would be perfect right? Is the pattern really there at all?  Timothy was with Paul for years and the two small letters we have are not the complete story. So when Paul tells Timothy to follow the pattern it's not something that is wholly available to us. Think about how an architect would build a house out of the "pattern" or "blueprint". It's just not all there. We don't have everything, but we have "everything we need" (2 Peter 1:3).

If the goal of the restoration movement is to get back to that pattern, then why do we think that the results will be any different this time around. If all were restored to the way it was in the first century, then just a few hundred years from now things would be heading back to the schisms and sectarianism we find today. Do we think we can do better than those who were so close in time to the events of the gospels? And if the pattern is so clearly laid out, why do we need the Holy Spirit? I guess this is why Patternists often equate the Spirit with the Bible and deny the active indwelling in our lives today.

If we treat the restoration movement as a destination rather than a journey, the situation today is where we end up. If instead, the purpose of the journey is following Christ, then we are on the right path and though each of us starts from a different location and each has different experiences along the way, we will all end up in the same place eventually, in the arms of Jesus.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The More Better Church

Thinking about the perfect church.

If I am to assume that the church I am at is imperfect is it not reasonable to assume that I should look for one closer to perfection. Given that, which church would meet the criteria of being closer to perfection? What is the measure of the perfect church? Is there one around that might be perfect?

Absent answer to these questions, does it really matter which building or which group I associate with on a regular basis? The fact that this church is more better than that one in this area but less better in some other area causes a conundrum. I am left to judge which areas are most important to be better at.

When asked what was the most important thing to be better at, Jesus said (2 things) "love God, love everyone else." So the more better church would be the one that practiced these 2 things as most important.

How many times when looking for a group to associate with have I looked to these 2 standards? Do these people love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength? Do these people love their neighbors as themselves? And if I am to live out those 2 things, then does associating with a single group to the exclusion of others even make sense?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

More Than I Am

This was the devotional thought I gave tonight with much trepidation. I was worried I might be boo'd off the podium. But apparently it made some sense and wasn't too ranty.

You may not like what I’m going to say tonight. I don’t like some of it. Recently I’ve been feeling that there’s a lot more to this Christian Life than what I’ve been living. Is this all God has called us to be? In our often works centered Christianity we talk about the need to DO more. But what Christ has for us is to BE more.

He doesn’t call us not to steal. He calls us not to want to steal.
He doesn’t call us to refrain from impure actions. He calls us to refrain from impure thoughts.
He doesn’t call us not to kill. He calls us to not insult and hate and look down on.
He doesn’t call us to worship Him. He calls us to be pulled so strongly to him that we can’t help but worship Him.
He doesn’t call us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, heal the sick. He calls us to be filled with compassion so great that we can’t help but serve those around us.

What keeps us from being more? I can tell you that for me it is:  Fear. Insecurity. Complacency. Laziness. I’m perfectly comfortable in my life. Good family, good job, plenty of stuff.
And doesn’t Jesus accept us just as we are? We just sang “Just as I Am.” Yes, he does, in all our sin and imperfections, he welcomes anyone into his kingdom. But once there, we are not done. The new addition to the body is just beginning the journey, she has not arrived. The destination is being transformed to be like Jesus. That’s a long way to go.

What else holds me back? I am burdened by legalism. I am burdened by traditions held up as law that do not permit growth or change. I truly appreciate Jim’s lessons on Dependable Doctrine. As much for what he has not said than what he has said (though he’s not done yet). And his lessons on the Spirit, calling us to broaden our horizons and let the power of the Spirit live in and work through us. I am burdened when I want to be more, but those around me are just fine where they are. We have been complacent too long. Our heritage of restoring the New Testament church is done; somewhere along the way we figured we got close enough.

I’m burdened when I see our young people leaving the church in such great numbers. I worry for my own sons. Am I leading them in the right way? Our youth are not leaving because we’re not teaching them the right lists or memory verses. They’re not leaving because we didn’t pray enough before dinner, because we let them watch too much TV or play too many video games. They’re not leaving because they don’t know the stories. They’re leaving because they’re not part of the story. They’re leaving because when they ask the tough questions, we have nothing beyond trite sayings, traditions, and doctrine to offer them. They’re leaving because they see the church as an organization rather than an organism. They see a religion based on rules rather than a relationship. They see groups of people treated as second class citizens of the kingdom. They see a call to uniformity rather than unity. They see “Just As I Am” to mean “Just As Long As You’re Like Us”.

I want to be more… and yet I don’t. I don’t seem to want to take the steps necessary to be more. At least I haven’t taken those steps yet. Change is hard. Growth is hard. Snakes shed their skin. Butterflies leave the warmth of their cocoon. Birds fly out of their mother’s nest. What Christ has called us to be is hard. And sometimes we have to leave the warm (or extra chilly) confines of this building, to make it so.

I heard a statement recently that has stuck with me. “God didn’t give the church a mission. He gave the mission a church.” God put all of you here to help me be who he wants me to be. More than what I want, more than what I am. As a community, what are you doing to help me be more than what I am now? What are we doing for our young people, for the deaf, for the ladies, for the people of this community to help us all be more?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Nervously Sufficient Worship: Reprise

Last night I wrote about feeling a bit nervous for leading worship this morning. Today I woke up feeling just fine and ready to go. I got to class, put the slides on the laptop, and all seemed well. After class, I connected everything up and turned on the projector. The image was horrifying. The screen was all wavy, like there was some interference somewhere. I tried a couple things real quick to reset it but to no avail. Any further diagnosis would require getting the ladder to reach the projector and there was no time. Quickly I swapped out a few songs that were only on the slides for ones that were in the book. I also had a medley that was no longer feasible. After some quick reworking all was set.

Things were not as I had wanted them to be, but all in all it was a wonderful service. The lesson was great and everything tied together nicely. And the things that made it wonderful could not be planned at all. Had I not been at peace with my effort it could have been a very stressful time.

I am not sure that God was trying to teach me any lessons but I will find one here anyway. It is not about me. It is not up to me.  I cannot rely on technology, planning, or my own efforts. I can plan and prepare, but when the time comes God will do what he will do. My goal should be to make sure I am with Him and open to the Spirit's leading. Semper Gumby. Always flexible.

Epilogue: After worship, while setting up for the potluck I was able to tinker with the projector enough to get it to reset and get back to normal operation.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Nervously Sufficient Worship

For some reason I am a bit nervous about worship tomorrow. I had a harder than usual time picking out songs that went with the lesson without giving everything a down in the dumps feeling.

This week I read an article from Jim Martin (habit #5) that made me realize that every attempt will not be a home run. Not ever service will be amazing. But whatever the feeling, God will use my effort for His purpose whether it is to humble me or to touch someone that I may not know of in a way I could never imagine.

Just now I stumbled across 2 Corinthians 3:4-6
"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

God will make whatever I offer sufficient. God will make my ministry sufficient. God will make my worship sufficient. I will offer my best and let God do the rest.

Friday, June 01, 2012

On Worship: Community

Continuing on with with my thoughts on worship I want to examine yet another purpose behind our worship. In my post on lists, I talked about the 5 acts of worship. We concentrate on what we are doing in worship (specifically inside the "worship service") too much when we should be focusing on why we worship. As a quick review, the primary need our worship fills is to give glory to God, the Father, the Creator, the Sustainer of all things.
There are other needs that our worship fills within us, other reasons for our worship:

I recently heard the analogy of cross-shaped worship. The cross points both horizontally and vertically. Cross shaped worship involves us reaching up to God and reaching out to our neighbors. If we are neglecting any of these aspects of worship then we are not living up to our potential. As always there is grace overflowing in our weakness. Our relationship with our fellow man is so important that Jesus said we should delay our worship if we there is a conflict between us and another and go solve the problem (Matthew 5:21-24). Looking at the letter of 1 John, it seems as if every chapter stresses the importance of loving each other. It's a new command, it's an old command. Whatever era you are from, loving one another is vital to our Christian worship.

The church is about community. The reason God put us all together is to help each other and bear one another's burdens. Paul tells us to speak to one another in our songs, but we rarely do anything other than face forward. When I am leading worship, I really appreciate everyone singing toward me. It is a great encouragement. Now imagine if we all sang to each other.

When the believers in Corinth gathered for worship, they turned communion and potlucks into divisions. Paul did not chastise them for the acts themselves, it was their attitudes and lack of consideration for the body of Christ. "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Corinthians 11:29). When I write about communion in a few posts, I want to go deeper into how the Lord's Supper can be more than just remembering Christ's body, but also remembering His body. It is something that is sorely lacking in our worship. As I hear about some other practices of serving the Lord's Supper there are some great ways to help emphasize the "one another" aspects of communion.

While worship is about community, it is not a gated community. We do not get to decide who we want in and who must stay out. In fact, it is our mission to bring in everyone from all over the world. On Jesus' last night before his crucifixion he prays a beautiful prayer. One of the few things he requests is for the unity of all believers, "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us" (John 17:20-23).  The reason he gives for this unity is "so that the world may believe that you have sent me." In addition to encouraging the church, our worship is to be a beacon for the unbelievers, those seeking a path to God. Paul writes that in the use of various gifts (tongues and prophecy specifically) some of them help believers and some help nonbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22-25). In our worship, we need to show the world something that they cannot get elsewhere, namely God. It is not about entertainment but about engagement. When they visit our assembly, do they get drawn closer to God? When they look at us as a community, do they see God? Do they see love? Do they see peace and joy and all the other fruits of the Spirit?

I ran across this blog the other day that is well worth a read: The Work of Worship by Mark Love. Mark  talks about the church functioning as the priesthood in the world. He writes that in our worship we often try to see God more clearly, but what we need more of is to see the world as God sees the world, to love as He loves. "In this way, worship rehearses us for our vocation in the world." Lots of things for me to think about there.

How do we accomplish this? Speaking to one another in worship. Inviting outsiders into our community. This worship cannot just be 1 hour a week or even 2 or 3 in the "assembly." Whenever someone says "Worship Service" it should be redundant. Of course worship is about service (Romans 12:1-2). If we are not in each other's lives, we cannot be united. If we are not serving each other, we cannot be united. If we are not united, the world will not believe. Just think how many more would believe if God's church stood united before the evils and apathies of the world.

Throughout scripture we find examples of worship that is pleasing to God and worship that is not pleasing. But amid all the ceremonies and rituals, when the people did not get the purpose right God was never pleased.

  • Jesus quoting Isaiah “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:6-9)
  • David from the depths of despair writes "For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17)

Lord, let us never forgot who we worship and why we worship. Help us to be the unified body that will bring the world to You.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Worship: Introduction

I have been thinking a lot about worship lately. I've been reading and thinking and talking and writing and think I want to start a series of posts of my thoughts on worship. I am continuously trying to grow in my understanding of worship and seeking how to use my abilities to help all those around me increase in their worship to God the Creator and our Salvation. As a worship leader, I want to grow in my skills and understanding, and I want to use what I have learned to help other worship leaders grow.

A lot the information you'll find about worship, especially on the internet, deals with the what's and how's and when's and where's. These can be important to discuss and improve. First and foremost, I want to make sure I'm clear on the why's. Why do we worship? Why do we come together to worship rather than remaining by ourselves? Why do we do the things we do in the way that we do them? If I look at a particular practice and just try to evaluate whether it is good or bad or look for ways to improve, I might be going down a path that leads to nowhere. No matter how fast I get there, heading toward nowhere will still get me nowhere. Thus, I want to make sure the destination is well understood before making the journey. I need to understand the why's of what we do before and make sure those are correct and let that guide me in my journey to make the how's, what's, when's, and where's better.

A song that I've come to appreciate more in the last few years is "Heart of Worship" by Matt Redman. I really love the lyrics that focus our worship on God rather than on us and our preferences. Recently, I learned the story behind the song. You can read about it here or watch this video where Matt Redman discusses the story with his pastor.

Another song along the same lines is called "Clear the Stage" by Ross King. It asks what our idols are.

The primary purpose of worship is to honor God. Anything we do that gets in the way of that purpose needs to be stripped away whether it happens in our individual lives throughout the week or during the couple of hours we allocate for corporate worship on a Sunday. When worship becomes about me and my desires, I am setting myself up as an idol for myself or others. When I lead the congregation in worship, I constantly have to keep my pride in check. Everyone is looking at me, following me. If I am not pointed in the right direction, I am not leading them in the right direction, toward God. Paul said to emulate him as he emulates Christ; as a leader I should always be pointing to God in my worship so that those who follow me will also be pointed to God.

I haven't used a lot of scripture to back up any of my arguments for the simple fact that there are way too many to list. But just so that I'm not totally devoid of references, Psalm 95 does a better job than I of describing the purpose of worship.

Today, I've focused on the vertical aspect of worship. In the next post, I want to continue to discuss the why's but shift perspectives to examine the horizontal aspects of worship. So far I have 7 general topics planned but will change and add more as I go along.

  • Community
  • Connections
  • Planning
  • Flow
  • Communion
  • Styles
  • Sunday Nights
Each of this topics will heavily biased by my experiences and understanding within the context of a traditional church of Christ worship service. That's not to say that I won't be challenging those traditions, but I'll leave that for later posts.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Since listening to some recent sermons by Patrick Mead I have been thinking a lot about John 4 and the question "Who are my Samaritans?" Who are the types of people in my life that I look at and judge without getting to know them? Who are the people that I tend to stay away from and look down upon?

The poor, homosexuals, smokers, people who curse a lot, people with bad grammar on Facebook posts, people who correct people with bad grammar on Facebook posts...

The list could go on and on. Jesus looked at the lowest of the low and saw someone who needed comfort, a friend, but most of all needed salvation. What if I were to look at people with Jesus' eyes?

The story of the woman at the well has so much to tell us about how we treat people. Just because I'm not treating someone badly does not mean that I am treating them as Jesus would. This video brings the woman to life 2000 years later.

Dare I pray that God give me an encounter with my Samaritans so that I might overcome my prejudices?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Utterly Sinful

I have a love/hate relationship with rules. Lately I'm coming to like them less and less. My nature is one of rule keeping, but the more I see what a set of rules have done in the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, the more I come to dislike them.

Rules have a purpose, an important purpose. Paul writes that the purpose of the law it to point out what is sin so that sin might become "sinful beyond measure" (Romans 7:12-14). (Some versions say "utterly sinful" which sounds like a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream flavor. I looked. It's not.)

Let's say I'm driving very fast on the highway and get stopped by the patrolman. If there is not a speed limit sign, I can make a case that I didn't know how fast to go. But once I know what the limit is, I am bound to uphold that law. The spelling out of the law turns something that is inadvisable (going very fast) into something that is a transgression.

Paul said "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being" (Romans 7:22). The law helps us get closer to God, not because we keep it perfectly but because it shows our failings and our need for a Savior. The law tells us what sin is but not how to correct it. When we encounter the law, we realize that we have fallen short. When we falter we are out of relationship with God if we are on our own. But if we choose to put on Christ, we have grace and mercy that brings us closer to God.

Thinking about all of this more, I guess I would say that I love the laws of God because they help show me how to be closer to Him. While there may be the occasional disagreement between us, I know he has my best interests and heart and generally knows what He is doing. What I seem to dislike is the laws of men especially when they are put forward as the laws of God. This is what Jesus woe'd the Pharisees for (Matthew 23). This is what Paul says has "no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23).

I make plenty of laws for myself and my family but I have neither the responsibility nor the right to make any laws binding on other Christians much less non-Christians. I tend to act much more conservatively than I believe, and it is often a struggle for me not to look down upon people who have different rules about media, smoking, drinking, church attendance, cursing, etc. But others can walk closer to the line than I do without danger. Others must stay further back. In some cases I am the weaker brother. In some cases I am the stronger brother. I get into trouble when I think I am the stronger brother but I whine and complain as if I were the weaker brother.

The law misused can be a great hindrance to those seeking Jesus (Matthew 23:13). Let us hold to the laws of God, put off the laws of men, and in all things show the love of Christ. May the Spirit give us discernment to know the difference.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Simply Listful

Growing up in the church, one of the best ways for me to memorize stuff was to put it to music. There are songs I learned (many from my mother) that help me remember the 12 apostles, the 66 books of the Bible, the 15 judges of Israel and many more (call toll free to order now). Song is also a good way to memorize scripture. One of my favorite verses is 2 Corinthians 5:21 which I fell in love with through the Acappella song "His Righteousness". To this day I can rattle off the 15 judges while singing to the tune of "Reuben and Reuben" in my head. Thanks, Mom!

In many of my recent journeys, I have been continually amazed at how easy it is to take a scripture and strip it of its meaning and regurgitate it to mean something totally different. I think this is called context. Every verse, every chapter, every story is part of  the larger narrative of God's workings in his creation culminating in the gift of His Son. When we move scripture out of the context of Jesus and His life we run the risk misunderstanding and misusing God's Word. Patrick Mead has done a recent series on this subject which is interesting reading and has certainly expanded my horizons. Look at his Tentpegs #356 and #357 starting here and here. For a bit lighter reading you can just stay right here with my ramblings.

Thinking about how easy it is to strip the context from scripture, I started wondering if many of the mnemonics we come up with to help us learn actually hold us back once we need to dig deeper. See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 6:1-3 for other writers frustrations at their audiences inability to move past simple matters on to maturity.

I am in no way saying that we shouldn't use these devices to teach our children and new Christians. But when these lists and mnemonics carry over into our advanced teachings and we use them as doctrine we are not able to mature as Christians.

Take for instance the 12 apostles. Lovely little song to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me." How many were there really? What about Matthias? What about Paul? What about Andronicus and Junias who are of note among the apostles (1 Corinthians 16:7 YLT). Were they not apostles? Why don't we have a song with 16 apostles? Granted the song specifically says that Jesus specifically called these 12, but then later he called Paul. See how we leave out part of the story. This is a pretty harmless example. As would be anything about the 66 books of the Bible. The Jewish Bible organizes and counts what we call the Old Testament books in a completely different way. No harm done. But there's a story there that we need to dig deeper to find.

I don't know of a song for the 10 commandments, but we know there are 10 of them and what they are. We  memorize these in Bible class growing up. They are the foundation of the Hebrew law. We have them on display in our courtrooms. When asked what was the 1 greatest commandment, Jesus gave us 2 as most important. All the rest just supplement these 2 and expound upon how to live them out.

The 5 steps of salvation: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized. Sometimes a 6th is added, walk faithfully. Sometimes people want to stop after 4. So much is involved in each "step" that this over simplified listing becomes more of a source for arguments than an aid in leading anyone to Christ.

The 4 types of prayer (ACTS): Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. This is both a list and an acronym. Who knows what supplication is anymore? We don't use that word. I do confess that I always have to look up what the letters in the acronym stand for. The only one I can remember is thanksgiving. Which might be why most of my prayers center on this aspect more than the others. So we boil down our prayers to 4 distinct parts thus stripping out any emotion or the need for the Spirit to groan for us.

The 5 acts of worship: Singing, Prayer, Teaching, Giving, Lord's Supper. Our concept of "worship" is a bit skewed from a lot of angles. First we note the beginning and ending of a "worship service" with specific markings and anything outside that time is not "worship", meaning we have a lot more leeway in what we can do. After the closing prayer we can have a special chorus or drama presentation or sing "Happy Birthday". But during that allotted time, we can only do the 5 things listed above. Except for announcements, those are fine. Does scripture reading fall under teaching or would that be a 6th act? Does it matter what is "in" the "worship service" and what is "out". When the church gathers together as the ekklesia what are we to do? We read about the early church gathering for the acts mentioned. They gathered for fellowship and encouragement. They gathered for meals. They gathered in homes, in the synagogues, in the temple, in caves. They gathered in secret. Nowhere do we read about any distinction between "in" and "out" regarding what to do. Certainly not a listing of what is acceptable and what is not. We have admonitions to wait for everyone before eating especially the Lord's Supper. We are to sing to each other. We are to pray with lifted hands. So much is left out of the list. If we use it as a checklist "Yep, we did those 5 things therefore we worshiped" or as an exclusionary rule set "Nope, you can't do that in worship" then we are missing the point of Romans 12:1-2 which seems to indicate that our whole lives are to be offered in sacrifice as worship to God. 

And now to my best friend CENI. The acronym that keeps on giving (and taking away). I ranted at length about this in a previous entry. This is not an acronym that I learned growing up, but the concept of the 3 ways we find authority in scripture (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) has so many holes in it that it fits right in with this discussion. CENI can be a helpful tool for interpreting scripture. But it cannot be our only tool. And it cannot be applied to each and every scripture equally. The context of God's story is too big to fit in 4 little letters. All commands are not for all people at all time. An example of someone doing something one time does not make a pattern and certainly not a binding command. All things that you necessarily infer are not necessary to infer.

I'm sure there are many other lists and acronyms that I could go on about, but these are the ones that came to mind. I don't want to leave the impression that these are harmful in any way, certainly not for teaching young people. They are great tools, but they can only take us so far. Let us get past the elementary teachings, past the milk, and journey together towards maturity and have some nice hearty steak along the way (unless you're the weaker brother and only eat veggies in which case I'll share a nice salad with you).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Will Worship

In my recent readings (and watching of videos) I've seen so many scriptures taken out of context it's like watching Scriptural Gymnastics. Hopping from one scripture to another, ignoring context, ignoring the story, ignoring the message that is attempting to come through.

One particular verse that I've seen misused is Colossians 2:23. Some like to use the King James Version which reads: "Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." They key on the words "will worship". Other versions say "self made" or "self imposed". But they turn those words into a new designation for anything they think is an addition to the worship. They say we are not to engage in "will worship" and here are the set of things we can and can't do as part of worship. It's a nice clean list. Totally ignoring the fact that in the whole chapter preceding this, Paul has been reminding them they they are free from the chains of ritualistic legalism. They are not bound by the doctrines of men. Much of this passage also deals with moral purity. The physical constraints being put on them had no ability to make them pure in heart. Nothing in these verses gives any indication that making more rules is desirable. In fact, it says it is not helpful and it is contrary to the true message of the cross.

I found this enumeration of 800ish commands in the New Testament. There are only 613 commands in the Old Testament. Someone went to a lot of work to categorize these. It sure looks like a daunting list. But it is totally stripped of context, story, and meaning. Not all commands are for all people at all times. And the statement "Be kind of brotherly love one to another" isn't so much a new command as an explanation of one way to exercise what Jesus said were the greatest commands.

A distinction I have noticed between the OT law and NT law is that most of the OT laws had immediate consequences spelled out. In the NT, rarely is there any immediate consequence (punishment) that accompanies the "commands." The only retribution is at the end of your life when you die and go to heaven or hell. And since Christians are in Christ, the eternal retribution is put aside. So what keeps us from doing whatever we want. Romans 6. We died to sin and put on Christ which makes us want to be like him.

Another distinction, the OT laws are very specific and try to cover a wide variety of situations. Yet even this wasn't enough for the Rabbis and Pharisees who felt the need to be even more specific and build up hedges around the laws. In the NT, most "laws" are very high level and there is no attempt to go into all the situations around which to build a court case. (One counterpoint to this, is 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul is teaching them about being married, staying married, and being single. But even in this case, there are so many other scenarios that are not covered, I don't tend to read this as a rule book but as a set of principles and things that will work out "best.") In the absence of specificity, we often make our own hedges just like the Pharisees. This is fine on a personal level (I abstain from any alcohol). But it is not okay when I try to enforce this on others (You must abstain from all alcohol) else labeling them as "not taking the authority of the Bible seriously", not "rightly dividing the word of truth", "false teacher", or even "erring brother."

Colossians 2:16 says "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath." How often do we let other people pass judgment on us for how we worship? How often do we pass judgment on others for how they worship? How often do we let other people pass judgement on other people for how they worship?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sean Sightings

Once again Sean takes on the heavy hitting issues with his latest blog post on the Southern Hills church blog: "Divide and Conquer"
The sermon that he referenced can be downloaded (or listened to online) here: "Romans 14: The Weak and the Strong". I've listened to it 3 times now and highly recommend it.

Sean now wants to start his own blog which we will work to get going soon. There may also be some big news coming up soon so stay tuned.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Learned a New Acronym

Growing up I always heard about the CoC's standard hermeneutic for Biblical interpretation: Direct Command, Approved Example, Necessary Inference. Just recently I was reading and saw this refered to by the acronym CENI. So I learned a new acronym which is always exciting. Sometimes it is refered to as just CEI. Really it should be DCAENI, but that is much harder to say and write and not as catchy.

This whole revelation got me thinking about many things including the following discussion that took place based on a Facebook post of mine. I had been reading that the Lord's Supper was to be taken only on Sunday and every Sunday. Taking the LS on any other day of the week is sinful. We had also recently discussed this in a Sunday morning Bible class. Not liking the way that sat in my stomach, I came up with this "modest proposal" hearkening back to my HS English class days and Jonathan Swift.

I didn't take all the comments here, just a couple from David and my Mom (in honor of Mother's Day). Notice how quickly I went from the "modest proposal" into ranting and didn't stop ranting even after I said I would. Only minor edits here for grammar.

For my CoC brethren (and cisterns) and others interested in needless controversies: Since the Lord Supper is to be taken on a Sunday, each Sunday, and only on Sunday (as the general CoC instruction goes) and the examples we have in scriptures would follow the Jewish time reckoning of sundown to sundown and there was no concept of timezones, should we only be taking the Lord's Supper while the sun is up in the land of Israel? Seems we should make this a new rule and put it into practice immediately based on the CENI principles we hold so dear.
Well it would change based on the seasons as days get shorter and longer but we could probably pick a time that would always be acceptable, I'll have to figure that out and codify it into the rulebook
The earliest sunset in Israel is 4:36PM local time which translates to 8:26AM CST. The latest sunset is at 7:51PM which is 11:51AM CST. So to have a constant time throughout the year, any time between noon Saturday and 8AM Sunday local time would be acceptable. Thinking of bringing this to the elders and suggesting we adjust our service times accordingly.
You're welcome to use my timezone research so that my labors are not in vain. The problem with disputable matters is that we sit around disputing them so much, we get mad and then divide ourselves into small groups call each other false teachers and unfaithful. All this serves to harm the cause of Christ rather than spreading God's love to all. Where there is grace for moral issues, there is no grace for doctrinal issues (in the eyes of many). Jesus worshiped (as was his custom) in the Synagogue which was not authorized for Jewish worship by God but their own institution. David ate the sacred bread which Jesus said was fine. The disciples picked grain on the Sabbath which Jesus said was fine. There is grace from God, just not a lot of grace among those that should be brothers and sisters. Rant off
In addition we must also take Communion on Thursday evenings since that's when Jesus started it. Afterwards we must all go out to the local park, pray, sleep and get arrested. I'll let someone else do the timezone math on when this should all take place.
Regarding CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) it is just a tool. it seems to be best suited toward evaluating what we already do rather than exploring what the Bible said God would have us do or not do. You can pass practices through the filter of CENI and come out with a Yes/No answer, but you can't use it to discover new things. Also, the implied adjectives "Direct" Command, "Approved" Example, "Necessary" Inference are really squishy and can be and have been used to filter in or out lots of ideas using many legalistic machinations that make my heart and head hurt. I've been reading too many religious blogs this week.* is a blog I've started reading this week trying to spider out and find both "liberal" and "conservative" viewpoints on a variety of issues. Some of the ulta-conservative stuff I've encountered has made me sick to my stomach. Little tiny things causing such division in God's body.
David said: "So I really wonder if there are other tools, or mechanisms, or logic paths used by others for interpreting secpriture. CENI is a fairly stright forward method of categorizing ways to glean information from scriptures. Do other people use something else? IFG-YFG-LF (I Feel Good - You Feel Good - Lets Fellowship)."
Mom said: "So are you thinking something more detailed like a NT book similar to Leviticus would solve many of these disputes?"
Yes, mom, we definitely need all the rules clearly defined so that we know where to look for the loopholes. I am starting to think that CENI and the other lists we make are good for teaching simple principles but start to fall apart amid the messiness of life. 5 steps to salvation, 5 acts of worship, 4 types of prayer. All are simplified ideas pulled from a variety of scriptures but do not tell the whole story. That's the problem with living by rules in general, there are always more rules to make. And rather than finding common ground by focusing on the important stuff, we make important that which is God has not and create divisions in his church. David, hopefully this will give you plenty of sermon fodder. Bottom line, I think it is a fallacy to say that CENI or any other hermeneutic applies universally specifically since God did not give them to us.
Another recent FB status update I spewed at the world (or at least my social network):
Speak where the Bible speaks and create binding laws for everyone where the Bible is silent.
As quickly as I came to know and understand CENI, I have come to dislike it. As I said, it can be useful, but it doesn't not tell the whole story nor is it the right tool for every encounter with scripture.

*Note: that I mentioned is not one of the ultra-conservative writings that I said hurt my head. It is a very well thought out set of writings that I appreciate very much. I just wanted to make this clear as reading through the context it might seem that I was putting it down.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Importance of Doctrinal Purity

How much time did Jesus spend teaching doctrines concerning religious rituals (aka worship)? He spent his time working on the heart of people concerning their morality, not their doctrinal purity. The epistles are the same way. Morality is stressed. Relationships among believers are stressed. Where there is doctrinal teaching it is most often to address problems among the members, stop infighting, get them to accept, love, and show concern for their brothers and sister. Or it is teaching against the doctrines of men that are being imposed.

Most of what we call the "pattern of worship" is taken from a few examples here and there, not direct commands. And just because a church did something that way once or twice does not mean that it must be done that way for all time.

James says that true religion is taking care of those in need and keeping ourselves pure from the corruption of the world. He is not talking about doctrinal purity. He is talking about morality and action and treating people right. How do I know? Because that's what he talked about in the rest of his letter.

Jesus mentioned 2 ways that the world will know we belong to him: 1) love each other, 2) obey his commandments. How many doctrinal commands did Jesus give? How many moral and relational commands did he give?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

By Whose Authority

When the religious leaders asked Jesus "by whose authority do you do these things" he didn't give them an answer but redirected their question. In the church today we often ask "by whose authority do you do these things" when it comes to how we worship, musical instruments, elders, the Lord's Supper, etc.

If I want to change how some ritual is performed in our worship, I can see this question being asked of me. I thought of a really good response in the shower one morning but couldn't remember what it was in time to write it down.

But I do have a few questions of my own.

  • By whose authority do you condemn?
  • By whose authority do you bind?
  • By whose authority do you say something is sin?
Growing up in churches of Christ, I had always heard that the silence of scripture was prohibitive. This is also called the Regulative Principle. If scripture is silent on an issue then you can't do that, it is sinful. This never really sat well with me. I kinda understood it, but there was always a cognitive dissonance with how it was applied. There were so many exceptions. There was a distinction between what was an "aid" versus what was an "addition". Pitch pipes, song books, pews, church buildings, driving cars to worship, air conditioning, etc. are all "aids", but for some reason "musical instruments" are an "addition" and that made them taboo. Wow! That's a lot of definition and classification that is nowhere to be found in scripture. And yet we have no trouble spouting it out. What happened to the principle of silence. Speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent. Rather this seems like speaking where the Bible speaks and creating binding laws where the Bible is silent. (My apologies for using a slogan that is itself not found in scripture)

The Bible is silent on the classification of aids and additions and expedients and hermenutics. And yet we have no trouble speaking about them and making up rules about them and binding those rules on all Christians and refusing fellowship with anyone who practices or believes differently. I lump myself in with this group because while I may not agree, I have been looking on silently for all my life. Over the past month, I've done a lot of reading. I've tried to read on all sides of the issues. In doing so, I've not come up with any new revelations but I have really solidified what I have long felt to be true. The principle that silence is always  prohibitive is (to use a word that our modern translations politely translate) rubbish.

[Start random streams of thought]
I'd like to stand up and say "No MORE!" but in reality I'd rather live at peace with those Christians around me than try to convince anyone otherwise. So maybe I'll take the quiet approach, like the gentle rain that waters the earth and eventually stuff grows. Maybe that's just the fear in me talking. Maybe my local world needs a little shake up. Maybe I need to get thrown to the curb and have to work my way back in. Maybe someone else will step up and join me in my fight. Or maybe we shouldn't fight. The false teacher in scripture is one who is divisive. Division within God's body is counter to Jesus' last wishes in his prayer that we would all be one just as he is one with the Father. I realize that I can't change anyone but myself and I am not responsible for anyone's beliefs and actions by my own, but I have great influence on my own family and how my children are shaped to understand God's word. And I have some influence on others around me. I need to use that influence to point to Jesus. Not to a set of rules and doctrines especially when those are man-made. But just Jesus. Let's walk along that path together, hand in hand.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Bit of Pride

Today my oldest son Sean (12) entered into the world of blogging with his contribution to our church blog. Does God Really Know EVERYTHING? He's been listening to a lot of lessons from Patrick Mead on his iPod and especially likes the series "God at War" which talks about the spiritual warfare going on around us and what is the future--what does God know and when did he know it--and lots of other stuff. He loves to talk about it and about philosophy, theology, etc in general. It's amazing how much he's growing up. He did a great job filling a leadership roll in the LTC chorus recently and has done several Bible readings in classes and worship.

I should take a minute to brag about the other two as well. Josh (9) is playing soccer and loves playing goalie. Not only is he good at it, but he likes it because he doesn't have to run much. He has stopped a lot of balls, and the ones he doesn't stop he is diving for.

Nathan (5 mos) is working on crawling and is so close. You can tell he is learning how to move and it even seems he is listening to me as I'm coaching him to "get on your knees". It won't be long.

The grow up so fast and are such a blessing.