Saturday, June 28, 2014

Law first, law second

When God brought Israel out of bondage He could have done anything with them. He could have made them into a nation ruled by warriors like Sparta, presidents like America, tyrants like the surrounding nations, or whatever else we have invented to govern ourselves. He chose a judge. Then, He could have given them anything to have as their national identity, as their single most important thing, and again, He picks law. The first five books are the Law, not the priesthood, not the prophets, the law. And what comes next? The judges. When He wrote the Bible He could have put anything first, but what does He pick? The law, again the law.

God intended that if Israel faithfully read and obeyed the law they would become what they did in Jesus day, a place full of teachers of the law, scribes of the Law, and sects broken up by legal interpretation. Now at first blush people might think that was bad, but it's the non-belief of the pharisee that was the problem, not that he studied the books of Moses too much. What Ezra set in motion was not just the natural consequence of paying attention to the structure of the by design of God, it was a blessing. God gave the law so that men would start thinking in terms of the law. They needed to become law-experts, they must become a nation of judges because it’s the judge who is most familiar with justice. It’s the judge who can see when a substitute can be suitable. The people were given Moses as a judge, not a king, because the law was to teach them that the atonement would be one of law, not mercantile payment. 

In this light it's perfectly understandable. Yes Christ is indeed a King, but that comes after. Christ is a prophet, but not first. It's the law, the law that teaches us that Christ suffered an equivalent penalty, not an exact one, that shows us how He dies as a legal substitute, and how God the Father discharges the debt legally. If we were legal experts we would understand. The first thing is to remember, the law. Atonement through the eyes of the law!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Leave Our Current Church?

In light of the recent events unfolding at our church (as chosen by both the leadership and the congregation), we feel compelled to worship elsewhere on Sunday mornings. Our problem coincided with the arrival of Scott, although they were not his fault, nor did he have anything to do with them, but his hiring brought to light the realization that we had been troubled for some time by a number of things that are not going away.

The Executive Summary

The Bible commands us to be in subjection to our elders, but the leadership here doesn’t believe in either the authority or sufficiency of Scripture, and I can’t in good conscience submit to someone who disbelieves in such a fashion. If we stay we will be in violation of the Scriptures, which is a sin, but even if we could stay I still fear we would put our kids at risk for growing up in a doctrinally soft feel good mega church. That's a big order, so let me explain.

The longer Explanation

A little over a year ago The Bridge of Elk Grove (working title, they have not formally changed the name yet) decided to move away from any remaining historic Baptist roots and embrace a mega-church style borrowed from Willow Creek. Surveys became common, classic doctrines and preferences were replaced by the idea that to grow the church we need to find out what people want to hear and give it to them. That is, in order to achieve the leadership’s goal of “moving people closer to Jesus” we need to trade orthodox Christianity for a kind of moral therapeutic deism. The change has come so quickly because the leadership has decided the oldest generation, the one that likes hymns, expects the pastor to be dress in more than a Rick Warren Hawaiian shirt, and attends the 8:30 service is now neither the future, nor the present of the church. Their doctrinal and ecclesiastical preferences are seen as relics of a bygone era, and in ten years will die with them. As a practical matter the leadership realizes it must replace the generous departing old saints with larger numbers of younger givers if it is to survive, and it believes speaking to felt needs is the way to do it. Now while that’s a strong indictment, I will hasten to add that their bad thinking comes from a good heart. It’s not because they hate Christ or would deny fundamental truths like His divinity that they would do this, it’s just that they want to be culturally relevant and engaging, like Bayside of Granite Bay with its 12,000 attendees on a Sunday, and to get there you have to attract people by giving them what they want. Mature doctrines are divisive and keep churches under a certain number; feelings are unifying and allow a church to grow as big as possible.

This explains why we started preaching from the Story book for a year (the Story, if you’ll remember, takes away the boring sections of the NIV text and replaces them with Lucado’s personal thoughts). It’s why we invited John Jackson and David Harris to the pulpit on a number of Sundays so they could tell us their feel good, empty calorie stories and jokes while our executive pastor assured us that “Doubting is good, it’s healthy, and everyone does it.” It’s why we changed our new believer curriculum to Experiencing God by Blackaby. It’s why we opened the “helps center” bookcase and manned it with volunteers, so that if anyone had a problem, we could cry with them and tell them God isn’t mad, and hand them a life resource. It’s why we re-upped our partnership with World Vision, an organization run by a member of the PCA—because what really matters is not beliefs, but the fact that we are out here to “do something” for God, like stop bullying or bring social justice to the community. We went big on our coffee ministry. We replaced the sermons with musicals or dramas on occasion, because who wants to be lectured when you can experience an interactive presentation of the gospel? We partnered with William Jessup University to use our campus (their philosophy is that a minister is better served with an MBA than a M.Div). We changed our purpose from glorifying God and making people disciples of Christ to “moving people toward Jesus.” We changed our name from First Baptist Church, because people don’t like such antiquated titles anymore. It’s why we started to, and why we continue to do Willow Creek REVEAL surveys. It’s why we were told, “I don’t care if you don’t like it, God is on the move here.” It's why we brought in David Harris, emergent preacher in the style of Brian McLauren for eight weeks.

 The result of which has been a downward spiral for real spiritual maturity. A year ago we had something in the neighborhood of 5,000 visitors, and 600 something people who identified themselves as “mature or Christ centered believers,” while this year we had near 8,000 visitors and 400 something people who identified as mature. Most people don’t take their kids to service with them. The vast majority don’t do anything more than attend one service. And out of this we have selected new elders, which is why one of them exhorted us during a men’s group to “preach the gospel, use words if we have to.” 

Now this methodology, and the decisions that have come from it, was something we were willing to overlook while we didn’t have a senior pastor, so long as when we did hire someone, he would be a man of God who would repudiate the silliness. It didn’t matter to us if the elder board didn’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, as long as the senior pastor who drove the vision would. Is this sloppy thinking on our part? Shouldn’t we have recognized that the church already is a seeker sensitive mega-church? Shouldn’t we have realized that the elders had consolidated power in the absence of a senior pastor and things weren’t going back to the way it was before? Perhaps.

But it’s into this background that Scott Hansen comes, and his appearance was from the beginning problematic for us. He literally walked away from his church without telling them, and the reason for moving doing so was, “God called him, and he needed to be faithful,” which is either soft headed thinking, a violation of the third commandment, or more likely, just a non-answer. When asked how he would win the millennial generation he said, “through the use of technology.” When giving the alter call he summarized salvation as “God votes for you, Satan votes against, and you cast the deciding vote.” He told us we needed to become more seeker sensitive, that we needed to learn to speak the language of the world around us, if we wanted to win souls to Christ. Before he writes his sermon he asks himself, “What is the congregation struggling with, and what do they need to hear this week?” His sermon on John 3 was how we can reach men like Nicodemus by making them comfortable. And the leadership loved him. His style blended swimmingly with theirs because he worked through the same set of first principles they did. We decided it was extremely unlikely he would even attempt to swim against the mega-church current. I’m not saying he’s not orthodox, because he is. Nor am I saying he won’t make the Bible a part of his sermons, because he will. The Bridge Elk Grove might well experience great numerical growth under his watch, but fundamentally he agrees with the current leadership regarding both the sufficiency and the authority of Scriptures and that’s unacceptable.

I don’t expect our decision to be popular, or, for that matter, to have any of our friends agree with it. At the members meeting there was a tremendous backlash against the elders when they tried to change our constitution to give themselves more power and the postmodern growth philosophy full reign, but the few remaining dissenters are outmaneuvered. They’re holding onto hope in thinking Scott is going to be on their side, on the side of tradition, but he’s not, he’s pro-contextualization. But even if we are ostracized from our friends due to their anger (which I hope isn’t the case) the fact remains that the driving philosophy behind all of these decisions is expressly forbidden by the Scriptures, and represents a denial of other key doctrines of salvation. The church has now fully committed to growing using a method other than fidelity to the Bible. It grieves me to leave but the simple truth is I don’t want to attend Bayside of Granite Bay. I don’t like Saddleback Church. I don’t want to fill out surveys during a Willow Creek service. I want my hymns and my children to hear the full gospel message, the word of God unpacked faithfully every week. Not what someone else thinks they should hear, what God has chosen to say. Insofar as I am able, I must be faithful to Scripture. I know there are still churches out there that operate by faith in the foolishness of God, even if The Bridge of Elk Grove isn’t going to be one of them. So we must go in search of higher ground, lest we be swept away by the storm.

My Lament

Return to Part One: What is the Willow Creek Model
or Part Two: The Blight Cometh

It’s one thing to point out the clinical problems that come with having your church blighted, it’s quite another to live through it. Reading Exodus 23:2 is easy (Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment) but standing up to society is decidedly hard. Watching my large church, to whom I entrust the souls of myself and my kids, turn into a Willow Creek church has been beyond exceedingly difficult. I mean, not just hard but really, really hard, sleepless nights of doubting myself, debating myself, and kicking myself in abundance hard. Because I’ve been alone in it. 
Mentioning my concerns to others only results in them looking at me like I have two heads, “Why do you care so much? Why do you make such a big deal about nothing? This place is great! The preaching is awesome! Don’t you see the work we’re doing for the kingdom?” And I do see it, and it’s not all without question bad. But my heart has sunk very low when I have seen my friends blighted into skipping church altogether in order to go to run races, attend ballgames.

The staff are no relief, in fact they are worse off than the blighted members since they are fully vested in the executive pastor (because otherwise they lose their jobs). I don’t judge them, they need to feed their children the same as I, and this is how they earn their bread, rather, I love them. They are wonderful people. But since I can neither condemn them for succumbing to the blight, nor admit it’s acceptable, I am left alone. And the blight whispers to me as well. “It’s not too late to go back. Go inside and believe it, put to death that part of you that is crying out.” I want it to be true that it’s harmless and acceptable, that if I lay down and sleep it wouldn’t corrode my soul. But I can’t, because two things have kept me half awake during the spell, like Puddleglum the marsh wiggle in the depths of the earth: AWANA and Alistair. The leaders at AWANA invited me to teach the junior kids for a year and they were very happy with my Scripture centric approach that challenged them to pursue the glory of God. I pulled no punches and taught them as adults, and was just sure the things I was saying would get me booted because it was the complete opposite of Sunday mornings, but it never happened. That encouraged me. The other thing was Truth for Life. The biblical preaching I get there has fed me enough to keep me from passing out.

So I sit alone by the river, unable to sing King Alphas song, groaning as the heavy wheels of providence turn over me. His sovereign hand has sorely pursued His servant to keep him from resting, and the pleas go unheard. The upraised hands are not seen, rather, He has increased my affliction, and multiplied to me sorrows. Well can I say with the Scriptures, it is not good for man to be alone. I cry with the Psalmist, have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?  And again, How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? Forever? Oh, we see not our signs! There is no longer any prophet! neither is there among us any that knoweth. Alas that these evil days have come upon me.

But as Doug Wilson says, I hear in the hard snowy highlands the bagpipes of God’s sovereignty demanding I count it as joy, which comes with the morning. And even as some of the blighted poets have said, I take comfort in that “God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.”

Friday, June 13, 2014

My beliefs

I believe in the dispensation
for the fullness of time.

I believe that Noah was the only pure human, and everyone else had interbred with rock monsters and was destroyed by the flood
is a juvenile bit of made up fiction

I believe children should be baptized
when they are old enough to make the good confession

I believe in the miraculous gifts of healings and tongues
which the Apostles, and only the Apostles had to found the church

I believe praying to the perpetual virgin Mary for salvation
will not work.

I agree that men are saved by good works
done by Jesus on the cross.

I believe a literal thousand year millennial reign of Christ with a rebuilt temple
isn't consistent with the book of Hebrews

My Personal Deviation from the LBCF 1689

I affirm the majority of it as faithfully representing the Biblical position, but there are some points that I have a point to make, or problems with. They are listed below:

1:8 - The Old Testament in Hebrew
But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have a right to, and an interest in the Scriptures, and who are commanded to read and search them in the fear of God, the Scriptures are therefore to be translated into the ordinary language of every nation into which they come
, so that, with the Word of God living richly in all, people may worship God in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope. 

A small amount of the Scriptures were written in Aramaic, and I believe the same properties hold to those sections as well.
I think it’s also important to add that Jesus used the LXX, giving us both an example and the right to translations.

7:2 - Moreover, as man had brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace.

My problem here is twofold.
First I don’t believe that “as man had brought himself” God then, at that time, decided to then act through the use of grace, which is what the confession implies. God is not reactive, therefore it was at the fall God revealed His plan, not made it.
Second, I reject the term “covenant of grace” which was a popular idea in theology at the time of the WCF, set opposed to the “covenant of works” as the overarching plans of salvation. I find the notion of “dispensation for the fullness of time” or “kingdom” to be far superior in bringing clarity to the singular overarching plan of salvation. It’s my belief that the covenants in the OT point forward to the pardon found in Christ, while the NT points back to it. Calling it ‘covenant of grace’ obscures the centrality of Christ more than I am comfortable with and elevates works to a place in salvation where they do not belong.

7:3 - The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect.

I do not believe Jesus made a covenantal transaction with the Father that left out the Holy Spirit. If no more than ‘agreement’ between the persons of the Godhead is indicated then I concur, but I think the word covenant here is sloppy, and ought to be better guarded. Ultimately I find no basis for the “covenant of redemption” in the Scriptures which seems to underpin this statement, which is why I preferring a familial model of redemption instead.

8:5 - The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself which He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, has procured reconciliation, and has purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven for all those whom the Father has given to Him.

While I do recognize the Bible uses the words such as purchase and redemption as an analogy to understand Christ’s work, I do not like the particular choice of it here in the confession, because in this context it’s suggesting a pecuniary model in which Jesus discharges the debt of the elect upon His death. I hold to a judicial pardoning, upon which God grants forgiveness on condition of faith. The model I see in the Scriptures is that Jesus secures eternal life for the elect, by His death, by obtaining a full and sufficient judicial pardon for each and every man, by becoming sin itself, and imputing righteousness itself, not by paying for a limited or certain number of sins.

19:6 - Although true believers are not under the law as a covenant of works, to be justified or condemned by it, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, because as a rule of life it informs them of the will of God and their duty and directs and binds them to walk accordingly. 

I do not believe in a covenant of works, but rather hold to God putting His image in us at creation, and filling us with a conscience, which then creates a demand to be perfect, just as God is. This section of the confession works better with the phrase removed.

20:1 - The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable for life, God was pleased to promise Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect and bringing to life within them faith and repentance. 

This is the only part of the Confession which I will have absolutely none of.
1.       God graciously chose to make for Himself a son, and put him in the garden with creation under his feet, which means that the whole of creation is by grace, not by works. God’s command is not therefore a covenant, but an instruction, the way by which Adam could be obedient to God, since Adam was already God’s son, His vice-regent, His friend whom He walked with in the evenings. Therefore, since Adam already experienced every good thing of being with God there is no room for him to be earning additional bonus blessings through works of the law.
2.       The Covenant of Works inevitably leads to the idea of a probationary period wherein Adam would merit eternal life by being obedient for a limited amount of time, after which God would change him such that he became incapable of sin. But this is complete speculation in an attempt to cover over a perceived injustice in God. The text nowhere even implies anything like it; it’s fabrication on the order of the gap theory or dispensationalism.
3.       Nowhere in the Scriptures is a Covenant of Works ever mentioned. The closest it gets is Romans 2, but the simpler explanation of faithful holiness to God is a better fit regarding salvation. Genesis doesn’t even use the word Covenant until chapter 6, and I believe God deliberately waited until after the fall to give us the word for a reason.
4.       This statement makes it look like God had to change course; His primary plan of saving people by their own good works fell through so He had to come up with a backup plan to restore it to good working order, so He sent Jesus to fix the breach in the wall. In this instance Jesus becomes subordinate to salvation by good works, being the one who keeps the law and fulfills it for us. I find this implication unacceptable.
5.       Contrary to the assertion that the covenant of Works was always God’s plan Romans 11 is explicit that the fall was always Gods plan from the very beginning. The fallenness of all mankind was necessarily foreordained by God for the manifestation of His attributes (ie: His Glory).  Jesus was plan A, not plan B.
6.       It allows people to think Christ’s righteousness is dependent on the law. Christ is not righteous because He simply is, He is righteous because He keeps the law. But Scriptures speak of the law as bringing us to knowledge of our need for our savior, not the grounds by which we may have eternal life.

22:8 - The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord by those who, after the necessary preparation of their hearts and prior arranging of their common affairs, observe all day a holy rest from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, and give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.

I do not find all recreational activities worthy of abstaining from on Sunday, only some. Also, given that the NT does not reaffirm the Sabbath but rather explicitly states we are not under it, in my house do not use the language of the Sabbath, since that was the day Jesus rested in the tomb; we use the phrase, The Lords Day.

25:2 - Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and the preventing of uncleanness.

In my estimation the confession is also lacking the important point that Marriage is a figure of Christ and the church.

29:4 - Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.

I do not see this in Scripture. I think it’s the fitting and proper form, but I would not agree to the notion that if the immersion is not full then the Sacrament is not valid. I am not myself a padeo, but I find their argument about the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus “as He was coming up out of the water” to mean “as He was walking up the shore out of the water” a plausible one.

30: 4 - The denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and reserving them for any pretended religious use, are all contrary to the nature of this ordinance, and to the institution of Christ.

I agree with the statement in full, and this is a completely unserious objection, but the Scriptures do say, “This cup is the new testament in My blood which is shed for you"...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Being less offensive

What seems to be more and more a trend is for a church to remove the words which cause a culture to stumble and avoid our doors. We might for example take the word itself, church, from the name and replace it with fellowship. The reason being that church is an offensive word, conjuring up all kinds of stodgy, stiff collared, uptight men in suits who are likely to point fingers and use the word hellfire. That goes double for the word Baptist—that most hated of titles. Just take that judgmental oldster and make him fat, undisciplined, and screaming about the evils of abortion and you have the impression Baptist brings to the table.
That’s why it was the first to go. Rick Warren started out as a Southern Baptist, and as a consequence dropped the title in favor of something better, like Saddleback. Willow Creek is a good alternative too. But those trendsetters of yesteryear are themselves behind the times, since those places still have the word church in them. We might do better to update church to fellowship, but there’s a problem with that too, which is why the more clever thinkers among us have seen down this particular path and realize that fellowship also needs to go. A good title for the building where Apprentices of the Messiah meet should be attractive, like The Bridge. Can’t you see your Christ following self inviting your friends to The Bridge?
You know what, it’s time we face it, church is offensive. The title implies we are the called out ones, unique, separate, divisible from the other part of mankind, and if that makes people squirm I don’t know what to tell you. Because, that’s what we are. Let it offend.

Wait a minute, what am I saying? Offend? *Ahem.* Good riddance to that which offends and everything like it. Hand me my latte, sacred-coffee-barista, the children’s musical number is starting, and it promises to be relevant and engaging. No wait, let me fill out the survey on how this morning has been making me feel so far first. If I can just find which pocket of my swim trunks I put it in…

Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Pushback Part I

If you've been following this series you may have noticed my two Pastors commenting on my work.  Phil it might help those of us who fi...