Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
I am thankful that I finally learned it was important to train Elders and leaders. Having begun with men already mature and trained I did not begin a standard of training at first, and this did hurt the church when we had a few men whose personalities and minds were not set for unity and to accomplishing the vision. I am thankful that we now train leaders systematically and continuously.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Lately some issues of concern are the Sonship movement, social Justice and the social application of Gospel truth, and being "missional." All of these topics are relevant to me and to my congregation and, as a pastor and a Teaching Elder of my denomination, I attempt to hold to my vows to guard the peace and purity of the Church. I hope I have done this sincerely and conscientiously.
I will speak to these issues in reverse order, since they are relevant to us at New City in that chronology. We began as a mission Sunday School, then we were a mission church, and then we became a particular church with an urban mission. We seek to remain true to that sense of mission thirty-five years later. In the days when we began as a work we didn't use the term "missional." The church I grew up in had an annual theme but was then extended through the following years in the life of the church and that was, "Missionaries to Newark." When you are in a city, or an inner city, and the forces of darkness seem so strong and the people seem so lost it is not hard to think in missionary terms. In fact if you don't think in those terms you probably won't survive or reap the harvest that is there to be reaped.
When a new church is planted being "missional" is all about reaching out to the lost, winning people to Jesus, bringing new people into the body. If that doesn't happen then the church doesn't grow. If a new church plant is simply a new location for already reached people the dynamics of simply tending to the needs of these older Christians can become the central point of gravity. Relocation and transfer growth can sometimes give the illusion of movement and speed in a new church, but ultimately the demands of the families for pastoral care, child and youth ministry, and stability can outweigh the passion for growth. The passion for growth in unreached territory is a necessity for scratch church plants.
As the founding pastor of my church (and evidently the statistics in the PCA show that churches who still have their founding pastor maintain a higher rate of new professions of faith) I want to keep the passion for reaching the lost before my people. I have made the statement "this church is not all about you." Some have picked up on this statement (out of context in my opinion) to make the point that we don't see the church as made up of Saints or for the Saints. We certainly believe the church is made up of the professing saved, and that they must be discipled and taught everything Jesus has taught us. What we don't want is for any Christian to become self-indulgent and self-absorbed, and we see this as happening to many established and settled congregations.
Our use of the phrase, "this church is not all about you" is derived from our understanding of the saying of Jesus, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:25, NIV) My personal discipleship strategy for the members of my church is to challenge them to die to themselves, to give themselves away for the cause of the Gospel, the glory of God, each other, the lost, and the poor. As a shepherd of the flock I must concern myself with their protection, their feeding, and their care. But as with any shepherd I am also looking toward the day when the wool is cut and the mutton is cooked. That is so crude; and yet are we not the Lord's sheep, and are we not to be used to accomplish his will? Good shepherding produces willing sheep; not simply cloistered, fat, lazy, self-protective and always bleating sheep. We don't pasture sheep just because we like to tour the hills and valleys.
Some folks have begun speaking against the challenge and call to mercy ministry as a revisiting of the "Social Gospel." This seems to be both a complete misunderstanding and slander of the teaching of Jesus advocated within conservative circles and the raising of a false alarm by citing the spiritual vacuousness of the liberal theological movement of the early Twentieth Century known as the Social Gospel. That movement was no Gospel at all but a false millennial perspective on "Christian" social progress. There was no cross in that message, no conversion of the lost through repentance and faith, no spiritual vitality but only an attempt at civilizing the savage.
The ministry of mercy being advocated in the PCA is being done by men and women committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is being advocated as a result of obedience to the Scripture, not a deviation from it. How can one be a Christian and not love mercy? We are all Christians because we have received mercy, and now we are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). What motives anyone could have to speak against the teaching, training, and advocacy of more effective mercy ministry in and through our congregations is beyond me, and I can see no part of Jesus in such opposition. The challenge to participate in such ministry may be intimidating, it may strike the conscience of those not yet involved in it, (and indeed there may be local problems in how mercy is taught, applied and delivered), but to compare real Holy Ghost empowered and Jesus demanded mercy with a dead liberal movement is simply a lie and slander.
Our church has benefited greatly from the training of Sonship, first produced by Dr. Jack Miller and World Harvest Mission. Lately I hear caricatures of the movement that set it up as a teaching that does not call believers to obedience and lulls them into some kind of moral passivity. I am sure, as with any emphasis of certain doctrines and renewal movements there have been errors and aberrations. My concern is that people often hear gossip, hearsay, and criticism and give little serious thought to the reality of the case, they then go on to publicly attack a caricature of the real thing.
It seems strange to me that any thinking Reformed teacher would oppose the Westminster Confession's view of Justification, Sanctification, and Adoption. These, and the Scripture that underlies their statement, is what Sonship is built upon. What is different about Sonship is that it uses these great truths not as intellectual formulations or theological weather vanes but as truth to liberate and empower believers. Sonship was designed to prepare people for the work of evangelism and mission, not spiritual self-indulgence.
Whenever there is revival people around the revival but not part of it can become wary, defensive, and suspicious. Some may think that, "if this was a real movement of God why am I not as pumped up about things as these people seem to be? Since some seem enthusiastic but others don't, then this movement must be divisive. So if the happiness of others makes me feel bad, well then their must be something bad going on." If anyone is jealous of Christians who have been renewed and enlivened because they are finally getting a grip on God's wonderful love, his accomplishment of our righteousness through the cross, the resurrection and our faith, and the joy of living in God's freedom from legalism then the answer is to embrace the teaching of the Gospel for yourself, not to begrudge the growth of others.
If the criticism of Sonship is that it tells people they don't have to obey the commandments or any of the mandates of Jesus or the Apostles then that is either a total misunderstanding of what is taught or a deliberate fabrication. The whole point of Sonship is holiness; real, lived out, and impactful holy living. Colossians chapter two already teaches us that "touch not, taste not" etc. will never get us to holiness. Grace is in no way an enemy of commands, mandates, or instruction but rather the power to accomplish them. Without the mercy of God's power in your life your efforts, ambitions, and moral tenacity will not make you a more godly person. We do not obey because we are filled with gratitude for God's grace, we obey because we are filled with grace. Sanctification is not a matter of will, not a matter of work, but a working of God's grace that affects and changes the will.
So, if I am identified with these things, with being missional, advocating mercy ministry, teaching a course called Sonship and thought of as being "aberrant" I could not be happier. Sadly, it seems to me that this is all part of our heritage, where throughout the history of the Reformed faith there are always those picking up the negatives on the fringes of movements, building a "theological" case against it, and then using the issues as a litmus test for orthodoxy. When I compare the preaching of the Gospel in missions and evangelism, the living out a life of mercy and justice, and the freedom of living in the power of the Gospel with the critics of such, well I am content to stand with Jesus. You choose your place; as I have chosen mine.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Now I’m almost positive you’ve heard that one before. In fact it’s been said so often and so long that it’s almost reached the mythical position reserved for ‘death and taxes’. Who knows pretty soon folks might say something like ‘you know there are only three things for certain in life, death, taxes and segregated churches. I’ve written before that in my view Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour of the week. Instead it’s only a reflection of the kind of society in which we’ve chosen to construct and live.
Despite that most all of us would agree that in one way or another this country and the church called to witness to it (and that’s a much bigger deal than I think most of us realize) has problems, challenges, struggles and opportunities with respect to race/ethnicity. We keep hearing of the need to have a 'national conversation' on race, the problem is that so few of us really know and trust another soul of a different ethnicity that such a conversation is almost impossible to begin. And should the world look to the church for answers what will they see? You guessed it, a people who claim to worship and serve one Lord and one faith and yet have persisted in doing so along the same convenient ethnic lines established and maintained by the world. In fact it seems that whenever issues of race/ethnicity hit the national scene (as it does with increasing frequency) we just shrug our shoulders and along with the world weakly recite the ‘Sunday is the most segregated day of the week’ mantra as if that’s the only real and tangible answer we can offer.
But does that have to remain true? Can the bible believing church in
“Why not embrace that a) there are different subcultures within the US, and b) as much as we love each other, those subcultures involve worship styles that other subcultures may not be comfortable with, and that is okay? Is it necessary to make white people more exuberant, or make black people tone it down, to accommodate each other in worship together?”
Quotes like this raised the issue of worship style as the main (and perhaps only) barrier toward the pursuit of genuine ethnic unity within God’s church. Before moving forward let me say that style of worship is a valid point when considering integrated churches. It’s a valid point because the spectrum of expression within biblical Christian worship is quite wide. I experienced this first hand over twenty years ago upon leaving my rather conservative Pentecostal church for Tenth Presbyterian Church. I can tell you that even apart from the obvious theological differences it would have been nearly impossible for these two faithful, bible believing congregations to worship together on a regular basis. Even though they sang some of the same hymns there was a noticeable and pronounced difference in the way they sang and responded to them. But let’s remember the spectrum of expression within biblical worship is just that, a spectrum. Within their tradition and heritage both West Oak Lane Church of God and Tenth Presbyterian Church lie along that spectrum. WOLCOG’s worship was not as expressive of many other Pentecostal churches and Tenth’s worship was not as restrained as other Presbyterian churches. Let me add to this point that I certainly do not believe that every existing church should change their worship style so as to remove cultural barriers that might hinder its outreach towards other people groups (that’s not to say they should never consider it). Moreover, there are probably a great many churches located in areas where the population is over 90% of one ethnicity or another so as to make effective integration virtually impossible. Consequently, I do not suggest that we aim for wholesale church conversions. The fact is that most of our churches are so far entrenched in their cultural style whatever it is that change is just not going to happen.
How then can we hope to set upon a path to change the complexion of God’s church in
1) They incorporate two of the more prevalent current worship expressions of the American church which are the black and white contemporary style.
2) They begin with joint multi-ethnic leadership.
3) They target the suburban areas of our large and medium sized cities.
4) They make full use of existing churches to form active mission teams.
Look, more than likely the evangelical church and black bible-believing church will start a number of congregations during the next twenty years or so. And if we can make just a few adjustments the majority of these congregations can actually grow to become multi-ethnic churches that feature more than just token minority membership. How can all this work you ask? That’s for the next post.
To Him Who Loves Us…
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I see evidence of this in at least three areas. For the sake of alliteration I will call these areas Science, Sex, and Speech. While the right wing seems to be caught up in an almost hysterical attack against the left in regards to big government, Obama care, the deficit, and taxes, Christian folks are being attacked and undermined by an insidious attempt to demean their intellect, marginalize their morality, and silence their witness.
Making the assumption that there are Christians on both sides of the political spectrum, I see this cultural challenge not simply aligned with political parties. Although it seems obvious the political left may find it helpful to applaud these attacks in the hope that the caricature of their opponents as Luddites, Victorian prudes, and unprincipled proselytizers will pigeon hole right wing politicians and their followers as idiots and neuter them politically. This is not so innocent as to simply mock or ridicule opponents; the vitriolic rhetoric is a call for ostracism, isolation, and to classify us (Bible believing Christians) as dangerous. I see it as a threat to our freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and an attempt to disenfranchise a large section of the electorate from a meaningful role in the body politic.
Satirical humor and condescending mockery are a large part of our modern entertainment culture, and one can see its effect on teens and young adults who are especially vulnerable to not want to be identified with any group that can be so easily set up as a joke. The things many, if not most of us, admire are held up by the anti-Christian forces as that which they claim they are defending against us; namely the progress of science, medicine, and intellectual achievement, as well as justice, and the right to ones own private religious or non-religious convictions. This fits right in with those pundits who have tried to put sincere believers of Christianity in the same boat with Islamic Fundamentalists and classify us both as potentially violent and culturally backward.
This onslaught has a chilling effect on believers, it fills them with self doubt, and all it takes of course is for some current example of extreme religious behavior to make us want to shy away from any possible association with the nut cases. The mass murderer in Norway, who claimed he was doing what he did to protect Christianity, was by his own confession no Christian at all. Yet that careful discernment was not so readily made by the popular press. Most of the history of this nation is one in which a large group of Christians stood against totalitarian tendencies, advocated religious freedom, advocated freedom from slavery, and advocated compassion for individuals and support of civil rights for all. At the same time the Nazis claimed to be Christian, and the KKK claimed to be Christian. Neither of which had anything to do with the teachings of Jesus. Thankfully Christians did not renounce their faith because of that horrendous misuse of our name or heritage. Amateur dabblers in history often try to discredit Christianity with all the excesses of Roman Emperors, Popes, and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, which I learned was never really holy, roman, or an empire.
While rejecting their cartooning of us I freely admit that the present agenda of the anti-Christians is abhorrent to me, and I hope to any who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and claim to hold the Bible as God's Word. What they claim to be science is questionable because they have made evolution absolutive, but they are not the bit embarrassed by that. Yet science to be science is always up for question. How can you explain the vigorous quest for scientific discovery and medical breakthroughs pursued by Christians and by Christian doctors, even missionary medicine if Christians are so opposed to science? At least since the time of the Reformation there just isn't a record of Christians holding back progress when it comes to technology, industry, medicine, or justice for that matter. It is science without morality that has been the great terror of the previous century as evidenced by the atheism of the communists and the racism of the Nazis.
The issue of sex is now a great battlefield because it has been removed from the forum of morality and placed in the forum of justice. Abortion and homosexuality are the two pertinent issues here. The vehemence and animosity shown by the adherents of sex without morality is amazing to behold and seeks to demonize, marginalize and even criminalize those who not only speak out against it but to resist its normalization. We are a great nation for freedom and justice, but once the definitions of those words are changed so they become tied only to personal preference without regard to community, morality, truth, and life the world is turned on its head. Our young people have become ideological suckers for this kind of thinking. When political forces are put in power, bankrolled by aberrant sex groups, they foist a moral agenda of a minority that seeks to crush their opposition and to keep it silent through legal and economic coercion. This is a threat to the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.
The emotional turmoil of homosexuals doesn't come from the disapproval of Christians but from their own internal conflict with that which they instinctively know is wrong and perverted. Their self-hatred explodes into a angst that seeks relief in reordering society, law, and cultural acceptance. Whatever laws are changed that internal conflict will not be dissipated but will erupt from time to time and person to person when the reality of a broken identity and illegitimate sexuality bursts forth from the numbing shell of a sycophantic but morally bankrupt popular culture.
In the area of free speech I see a threat from the voices of people like Michael Weinstein who has a foundation to essentially stop Evangelical Christians from sharing their faith with anyone who is offended by some one or group who seeks to tell them, or even invite them, to something they might not wish to hear. Christians must defend their right to proselytize in a free society. I have every sympathy with Mr. Weinstein about (or against) anyone who uses subterfuge or coercion, but he creates demons and boogie men where none exist, and what is distressing is how government, military officials, and politicians have no integrity or backbone to resist his threats. It will take some strong court suits to protect our freedoms.
You might not think things are desperate. You might not think there is much of a threat. Whatever you think about climate change it is foolish to think that the social, moral, and political climate hasn't changed. The frog in the pot when the water starts to boil, the man who refuses to admit the water is rising as flood threatens his home, the miner who pays no attention to the dead canary are all pictures of so many of us. My call is not to go back to some pre-revolutionary racist slavery America, as if that were the picture of the "good old days." My call is to realize the culture that gave us a foundation to change from that evil past is being eroded to the point where we will not know what truth is, not know that which is true justice. Where we now call evil good, and good evil. Does anybody here fear God?
Thursday, August 11, 2011
I am not there by choice and necessity, but my wife Joan is there, and I expect to hear some good stories once she returns. Being married to Joan has given me the great opportunity to have a Gospel instrument right next to me (she can sing), a storehouse of Gospel tunes and lyrics, and an incisive critic and analyst as to songs, singers, musicians, and performances. It is nice to have all of that in one very pretty package so convenient for enjoyment, education, and edification.
The occasion of the conference prompts me to make some comments about worship, especially in a cross cultural context such as New City. I write from the perspective of a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. There is little doubt that Reformed folks take the thinking about worship very seriously. We like to be right about most things, or at least it seems we want to be right about most (every)things. In our circles being Biblical, and by that I mean being accurate as to what the Bible teaches and then wanting to be in conformity to what the Bible teaches, is one of our highest values. We are those kind of folk that believe we can accurately discern what the Bible is saying and know how to correctly apply it to most situations.
One of our great problems of course is our inability to discern ourselves as creatures of culture. We are probably better at exigeting Scripture than we are at exigeting life or ourselves. We are also great lovers of history, especially the history of the Reformation and of Reformers, and take the Reformers and theologians (of the past) comments about Scripture and their own cultural and generational encounters and practices as normative for ourselves. Our ecclesiastical history is one in which theological definition takes place in conflict and in the choices that were made in those conflicts. Some of us still live as if those conflicts were current and we even divide people into camps based on our assessment on where they stand as to those previous conflicts. Unfortunately sometimes our division is divisive, and we choose to judge or condemn others on our perception of where they stand on a previous debate.
I am sorry if that was confusing, but much of our estimation of orthodoxy is based on whether someone or not thinks, and acts, in conformity with our heroes of the past. Such is the case with worship. Some among us have felt there was such a thing as "Reformed" worship. We look back to Calvin's Geneva, or to the Puritans, and yearn for Psalm singing, simple worship forms, and pronounce certain things acceptable as to the Regulative Principal of worship.
That principal is absolutely an important one. This is of course where I stand with my Reformed brethren, that all worship needs to be in conformity with the Word of God. We dare not bring strange fire or incense to the altar of God. We dare not create our own images of God so that we would worship him according to our own creativity and not treat him as if he is holy and therefore alone has authority to declare what worship he accepts.
Were the early Reformed Europeans correct in their understanding of Biblical worship? Is the Bible the real foundation of their view of worship, or is being European the real foundation, or is it mixed? Are we really concerned for Biblical worship, or for what we are used to, what we have grown up with, what has been our tradition of heart music, and what is our sense of order? It is difficult for a fish to be taken out of the water and asked to analyze the water, which is in a sense what we must ask of ourselves to examine how culture affects us. Fish swim in water that gets dirty, but they keep swimming. Fish swim in water that produces less and less of what they need to live, but they keep swimming. We don't usually know the water is that stifling until the fish die. We don't know how stifled we are until we swim in fresh water. So too with experiencing new wine skins, new ethnic cultural forms of worship, that are yet Biblical.
Our present PCA denomination has chosen to follow in the tradition that celebrates some of the kinds of worship described in the Psalms, and not just by the singing of Psalms. In other words we use musical instruments. Whether or not we use exclusive Psalmody, we still have someone leading us in singing. To sing is to perform, and in fact to do anything in public worship that has one or more persons reading the Scripture, praying, singing, playing an instrument or preaching means we have a performer.
It is interesting how many cultural rules creep into our public understanding of worship usually through some pastor or preacher's view of what is distracting or conversely what maintains a sense of order in the worship service. When Paul instructs Timothy to give himself to the public reading of Scripture we realize it is important that God's people hear the Scripture read, continually. It is not hard to see the implication that if it is read it should be done in an understandable way, that it should be done well. We are rightly concerned about the performance of the reader of Scripture. We want good performance, but we are not interested in a show off, we are not interested in someone entertaining us so that they would get the applause. Reformed worship has historically been concerned with and critical of anyone drawing attention to themselves so that we might lose our concentration on God. We take our preachers moderate, without too many sudden or violent physical movements, and we want them to make us think.
So what do we do with David dancing in front of the ark of God, despised by his wife for making a fool of himself at least in what she thought were the eyes of others? If someone raises their hands in worship, especially during a song that says, "lift up your hands," do we feel they are distracting us? Or do they feel we are hardhearted and disobedient to a direct exhortation of Scripture when we refuse to lift up our hands?
How many Reformed folk have bowed down, clapped, lifted their hands, and shouted with the voice of triumph "in their hearts?" I have heard of symbolic language in the book of Revelation, even in the poetry of the Psalms, but not thought that the descriptions of physical involvement of worship in that book were meant to be symbolic. We should all agree that God is the audience of worship, and neither the people out in the congregation who watch us on the platform, nor the worshipers who stand next to us in the pew, are the ones we should be most concerned about.
It is my contention that the European quest for order, silence, control, contemplation, and intellectual "piling on" were much more cultural than Biblical. Making rules that people should not clap in worship might be more a violation of the Regulative Principal than conformity to it. We resist applause of people but have never taught our people how to express joyful adoration of God with clapping. Where do we get the idea that a pipe organ is more Biblical than a stringed instrument? How do we excuse a talented organist from running up and down the scales at an offertory and justify that he (or she) is not showing off?
I love organ music, I love old hymns with six, eight or more verses. But as my wife points out, sometimes it is exhausting to try and catch all that theology passing by so quickly in a hymn. They might be good for memorization and contemplation when you have time, but it is difficult to believe that all of us singing are digesting at that moment every thought that those great hymn writers are throwing at us. Contrasted with Gospel music which seems to settle on one or a few themes, and sings them a lot. I wonder if anybody back in old Israel complained when they first heard Psalm 136 sung and performed? Maybe they said, "that 'His Love Endures Forever' part was so repetitive!" Maybe we need to hear one idea sung over and over again so we might "get it" while we are still at church?
So much of our preaching is unmoving, unemotional, calling for no heart response. We desire intellectual stimulation, we are enamored of erudition. Please give us a great quote, one from an early church father, one from Calvin, or a real treat is a Westminster divine or early Princeton, get a contrast quote from a noted Atheist or current news magazine, and then something pithy from C.S.Lewis. The preacher knows if you are with him if you hold your chin in your hand, frown in deep concentration, and when he makes a salient point you grunt. Wouldn't it be great one Sunday for people to start tearing their clothes and grabbing onto the pews, bursting into tears, crying out to God, shouting "amen?" If you are horrified by such a prospect I might suggest that you have never had "church."
Classical music, European music forms, are all wonderful and all that is used to help us worship God and that is in conformity with Scripture and points us to Christ is part of our heritage of worship. But Africa sometimes seems closer to Israel than Europe especially in the use of emotion and body when it comes to worship. We are deprived of joy not to have learned worship in other cultural forms, not to have experienced a fuller and richer encounter with God. Even my language at this point can cause someone a problem who is used to worship not as an experience but as thinking. He seeks worshipers, the Father does, in Spirit and in Truth.
So much of our Presbyterian worship seems to be constructed that we make no mistakes, have no enthusiasm, no crowd participation. It seems so different from that described in Corinth, where it seems Paul assumed there might be error but trusted the saints to deal with it on the spot and did not seek to set up a system where such error could never take place. I must confess that I enjoy being the pastor of a church that has so many theologically astute people, along with so many various ethnic and cultural representatives, that though we might have great participation, enthusiasm, and joy we have no fear that error will go by unnoticed or failed to be confronted.
I confess to being a praise and worship junky. I love to worship the living and true God, who is thrice holy, bathed in his love and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I enjoy God, and even the bittersweet pain of confessing my sin and crying out for mercy is resolved in the absolute pleasure of the reassurance of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the rule of Jesus. I love being in the company of the saints when they are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, yet seek to express it with shouts of joy, amens, and hallelujahs. I wish all of us could expand to a full life worship (mind, soul, and body) while grounded on the Word. What a pleasure church would be to us, what an attraction to those in soulful need. Won't heaven be something?
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
My name is Lance Lewis and I am not an adulterer. I’ve been blessed to be married to my dear, godly wife for just over 26 years and in all that time I have never touched another woman in an inappropriate manner. In fact, I have never sent a letter, email, facebook, or text message to another woman that in any way suggested any kind of inappropriate relationship. Moreover, I have never spoken on the phone or in person with another woman and either suggested, asked for or in any way encouraged any kind of adulterous relationship whether physical or emotional. In over 26 years of marriage I have never, no not once had sex or any kind of sexual contact with another woman. My name is Lance Lewis and I am not an adulterer.
My name is Lance Lewis and I am not a murderer. I’ve lived for over 47 years and in all that time I have never so physically harmed another individual that he or she physically expired. In fact, I have never even threatened or put myself in the position in which I could have actually murdered someone. Moreover, I’ve never physically harmed someone to the extent that they were even remotely near dying. My name is Lance Lewis and I am not a murderer.
At this point you may have all kinds of thoughts about me. But let me take the conversation in a different direction. To begin with please take my above statements at face value and accept them as true, since in fact they are. In 26 years of marriage I have never engaged in physical intimacy with any woman except my wife. In my 47 years on this earth I have never murdered a single, solitary human being. Now let’s extend these statements just a bit. As far as I know no one in my circle of friends, associates, acquaintances, church members etc. is presently engaged in, condones, practices or promotes adultery. My guess is that most if not all would repudiate such a practice and if I were to ask them if it was a good idea for me to indulge just once would give the ‘brother are you crazy look’.
But Lance isn’t the church a witness to our society of the gospel and its implications? And shouldn’t that witness include not only your personal fidelity within marriage but a proactive witness that publicly promotes marital fidelity and the joys of physical intimacy within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman? Yes it does. Not only that but I’m sure that many believers would have little or no problem hearing their pastor talk openly about the joys of marriage, the seriousness of the marital covenant and the destructive evils of adultery from the pulpit. Why is that true? It’s true because marital fidelity (or for that matter the preservation of life) is one of those foundational biblical truths which not only tell us something significant about the living God but provides a key and pathway to our witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Viewed from this vantage point adultery is not just an isolated sin that some other people commit out there, but a relevant issue on which the living God speaks and therefore an opportunity for me to be a proactive witness concerning His character and His gospel.
Consequently then, it’s simply not enough to declare that I’ve never committed adultery. The mission mandate of the gospel compels me to declare the biblical commands and joys of marital fidelity from the pulpit, during bible study, in the men’s group, to our youth and wherever else it’s needed. In fact I declare God’s standards of marriage to His people not because I really believe they are chomping at the bit to dash from church and fling themselves into adultery but because among other things it’s likely that they might know someone who neither holds to nor has any desire to hold to God’s command concerning sexuality. In this way I hope to equip them to handle the co-worker who is eager to share the latest salacious joke on Monday morning, the poison of pornography that’s a mouse click away and Lord forbid that sensitive situation that could easily get out of hand and lead to disaster. So in short that’s why I and my denomination must acknowledge the societal sin of adultery, preach against and equip those we serve to be a proactive witness for the joys and blessings of physical intimacy within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman.
Now where were we?
My name is Lance Lewis and I am not a racist. I do not hate white people and as far as I know wish them no harm or ill will.
To Him Who Loves Us...
Friday, July 22, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I just got back from visiting several New City church planters. I heard from another one today and Wy Plummer told me about yet another church planter he had just visited. It is exciting to see these brothers "in harness" as they say, preaching the Word and attempting to gather people to form, build, and hold together a local church. It was fun for Joan and I to meet with several pastors and their wives and to gain impressions of how they are doing by just listening to them talk, trying to discern if they are encouraged or discouraged, making progress or feeling like they are fighting a losing battle.
I respect and admire all of them, and there is no doubt that what they are doing is hard. It is also true that what God is using them to create is marvelous. Right in front of their very eyes the Lord builds his church, he creates his bride, he grows his body and he fills it with his fullness until the individual parts are filled to the fullness of God.
The report I bring back from those with whom I just visited is very positive. Many of those who go into church planting have expectations of what they expect to see and sometimes those expectations are unrealistic. Some church planters have the full expectation that the lost, the unsaved, will want to hear what they have to say and people will respond to their ministry. Sometimes in church planting we also expect our saved brothers and sisters to know we have needs, and that they will respond to our call for help. Even more unrealistic is the idea that our brothers will know what we need and help us before we ask for it.
Some of us become quite cynical, and we can be unsparing about the target. We can despise the unsaved because they don't respond to us. After receiving our attention and ministry to them for some reason they don't come to the realization that they owe us something. Some of us can begin to mock our suburban and middle class brethren because they aren't giving us any of their families, or sharing enough of their resources. We can make disparaging comments about other churches, or ministries, especially those who seem to have a method of growth or success but in our opinion just aren't hitting the right population or need and not going about their work in the pure Biblical, Reformed, radical and culturally relevant way in which are doing ours.
I wonder if God discerns that all this bitching is really about how unfair he has been. Not many of us have the honesty or the guts to get in God's face and tell him our failure is his fault. Of course, that might not end up too well. You can complain about God's failure to give you meat, until he gives you so much it comes out of your nose, and then you die. God has never taken complaining spirits very well and that attitude is different from being importunate. Complaining is about me and it is anger towards God, being importunate is the behavior and discipline of not forgetting where the source of all our supply comes from, and the stubborn faith that God will at some point come through if we keep throwing ourselves on him.
My success does not come from the acceptance of the people to whom I have come as an evangelist, nor does it come from the positive support of those in my own denomination. Since my success does not come from them, it is not their fault if I fail in my endeavor to plant and build a church. Ultimately the only success I want and need is that which God gives, because that is the only success that has eternal longevity. I would suggest that if you are someone who complains, worries, and is cynical that you might just possibly have your eyes on something or someone other than Jesus.
Church planters all feel an urgency, which is usually tied to economic support. Can they get the boat across the pond before it sinks, can they get the plane built while they are flying it? Will enough people come and tithe before the support dries up from the mother church, network, Presbytery, denomination, etc.? Sometimes their joy is stolen by this constant wondering of what things will be like when they are really a "successful" church. Don't despise the day of small things, and don't you dare despise the incremental testimonies of God's saving, empowering, supplying, and sustaining grace.
I hurt for the wives especially when this emotional dynamic is unloaded on them. In every church plant we hunger and desire each family, each gifted and contributing new member. We are jealous for them, needy of them, and brokenhearted when they suddenly seem to bail on us and leave for some more stable, sane, and comprehensive services congregation. To see people we had begun to count on leave us is to go through grief, feel personal rejection, and sometimes the fear of how we can survive without them. Of course there are the small joys of seeing disruptive, disloyal, annoying, and distracting folks leave.
We need to remember a few things: God is the source of success. God is sovereign and he is in control, at all times. People are converted by the power and work of God's Holy Spirit. I am God's servant and my job is to do what he says, and to do things the way he says to do it. Comparing myself with others is only good if that comparison calls me to a higher level of obedience and effort. If I am bitching I am probably not believing enough. I don't have to do everything just like someone else has done it, but some methods are just flat out basic to getting the job done. If God called me here he will supply, but he might want me to make tents to stay at it. If new people aren't coming maybe I haven't invited enough of them to come. If no one is getting saved it might be because I have been busy doing everything else except sharing the Gospel with folks. If I am lacking in meaningful opportunities to share Christ it means I need to pray more, and stop missing the ones that come my way on a daily basis.
Waiting at Starbucks for someone to come up and ask, "what must I do to be saved?" is a very slow way to church growth. Relational evangelism is great in theory but it is hard when you only have a few relationships. Evangelism is new relationships all the time, built on conversations about spiritual need and the Gospel. It doesn't matter what the lost say about their relationship to Christ, if they are lost they are lost and their life most likely shows it, and we need to share the Gospel with them. Evangelism isn't finished until you call people to a choice, to believe in and follow the Master. There is no shame in blatant proselytizing; if it is honest, not manipulative or coercive, not brow beating but presented in a kind, loving, and humble manner. Without apology we want people to exercise their minds in considering their life's condition and God's call on them to follow Christ, it is what people ought to be free to do in a free society.
We have absolutely to lift up our eyes unto the harvest and believe that what Jesus said is true, that the harvest is great, that the fields are ready to harvest. We won't bring it all in the first day, but we won't bring it in at all if we don't start on a row, some row, somewhere, sometime. We won't fill our nets if we don't let them down into the water. Do what fisherman do; find the water, find the fish, then fish!