Rick Warren Out, Openly gay bishop Gene Robinson In? Seriously?

Robinson, 61, said both Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will attend the event, and Obama is expected to speak. As for himself, Robinson said he doesn’t yet know what he’ll say, but he knows he won’t use a Bible.

“While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans,” Robinson said. “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.”

Read the whole thing here

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This past year I have read Internet Monk….. almost daily, before checking almost any other blogs. So I’m not being glib or just name-dropping when I reccomend that you check out his last post on American Evangelism, and while you are there check out his last few months of blogging. It’s some of the most real, up close and personal, and honest writing I have seen on the web, as well being “spiritually edifying”. Check it out.

I found an excellent post by Carl Trueman at Reformation21, by way of Justin Taylor this morning. It’s sparked by the controversy over Rick Warren, an evangelical who is opposed to gay marriage and other gay issues being selected to pray at President-Elect Obama’s inaguration. By all means, go and read the whole thing, but here’s his thoughts when it comes to the church at large:

 

You can have the hippest soul patch in town, and quote Coldplay lyrics till the cows come home; but oppose homosexuality and the only television program interested in having you appear will soon be The Jerry Springer Show when the audience has become bored of baiting the Klan crazies. Indeed, evangelicals will be the new freaks.

There are two temptations here which must be resisted at all costs. The first is to compromise biblical standards. The mainline denominations and seminaries are already doing this. As usual, as soon as religion’s cultured despisers find something else to despise in religion, the mainlines, with their various seminaries and colleges, abandon it and join in the general anti-orthodox chorus, as radical, original, and revolutionary as a trust fund kid with a Che Guevara teeshirt and a Lexus. To apply a quotation from Michael Heseltine, like a pathetic one-legged army they march along, `Left, left, left, left left.’. They are merely part of the problem, not the solution. But there is a problem here for the orthodox too. The pro-gay issue is carried along by a veritable cultural tidal wave, with everybody from high-powered political pundits to soap opera screenwriters helping to create an environment where to be opposed to homosexuality is regarded as irrational, implausible bigotry. This can only be resisted in two ways: mindless anti-gay bigotry built on hatred, which is sinful and unbiblical; or a vigorous commitment to high biblical standards of morality. Such a commitment can only exist where there is a vigorous commitment to a high doctrine of scripture. There’s the rub for Christian colleges, seminaries, and denominations: the winds of cultural change on this issue are so strong that they will very quickly expose the strength of the commitment to scripture amongst these various groups. My view? When church leaders, faculty, and the movers and shakers of the evangelical world find themselves excluded from the reputable avenues of power and cultural and professional influence and preferment, then we will see what their doctrine of scripture is really like, whether it really is solid, whether it really shapes their lives, their actions, and their priorities. The question is: will those in positions of authority in the schools, colleges, denomination and seminaries have the backbone to do what is necessary? Will they be willing to consider the reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of Egypt? When the invitations to the Larry King Show dry up, to be replaced by those from Jerry Springer, will they hold the line? I wish I had seen more evidence that that was the case and could be more confident about the future. As Don Carson commented recently, American Christians have yet to wake up to the fact that the gospel really is despised by the world. And I would add: in a culture where everyone seems to need to be liked, affirmed and, above all, agreed with, that realization is going to be very hard and challenging for the evangelical establishment to take on board.

The second temptation is to become what the pro-gay left are saying we are already: hatemongers. It is vital we remember that nobody can be reduced simply to their sexuality. No heterosexual person is simply heterosexual; no gay person is simply gay. We are all complex human beings, defined by the basic category of image bearers of God, not sexual preference. As soon as we start thinking of people as a sexual preference, not as image bearers, we lose sight of them as individuals. They become mere labels or slogans, not persons. It is hard to love a slogan; indeed, it is very easy rather to hate such. Even as we are being labeled and turned into mere sound bites, we must not respond in kind. Let us stand firm on biblical ethics, but let us also reach out to gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals with the love of Christ. As Luther would remind us, our task is not done when we simply preach the law to the lost; we must then also preach the gospel to them and point them to Christ. For such, as Paul once said, were some of you; and, thankfully, somebody treated you as a lost person not an abstract moral category or a sexual preference.

answering-atheism_blogspot

Check out the new resource of books, debates, essays, and general apologetics here at Atheism Is Dead. Mariano seems to have been putting quite  a bit of work into it.

I have literally forgotten that I even HAD a blog for a couple months now. It was very easy to not think about it, with lots of things going on in the life of Anthony Franklin.

Lots of work and projects around the house. Lots of family time, and work. Lots of personal struggling, drama, and spiritual frustration.

But as I read back over things I have written during the span of the last year, I wonder what spiritual drought I am in that has me wondering almost outloud “who” this person was that wrote these things? I feel as if I was reading the thoughts of a different person.

Is it possible to be spiritually moved by your own past writings, and not out of arrogance or pride?

Is it possible for your own written words to be the catalyst to draw you back to long-forgotten passion and devotion?

 

I am going to ponder these things. Maybe the things I write in the future will be more humble in nature.

“The duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.” – Religious Affections

 

Some things I notice from this short excerpt from Religious Affections:

  1. Edwards saw singing as a duty of the Christian, so he took the Biblical commands to worship through singing seriously.
  2. He saw that singing “moved our affections” more than other forms. An honest and excellent observation.
  3. And most importantly he saw no fault with this. He knew many were carried to ungodly emotional excesses thoughout the Great Awakening that came upon New England in his time, but this did not dissuade him from believing that true Religious Affections (or godly emotions) accompany conversion and subsequent growing in Christ, and that singing is a God-appointed outlet for these emotions.

I was also interested to find out that Edwards “urged all Christian parents to give their children singing lessons and proudly notes that his own congregation, especially during its time of Awakening, sang loudly and heartily, and in three part harmony.” pg. 242 The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards– John Piper & Justin Taylor

This is where I have the biggest beef with the model of church we often see in our cites and towns in America. Often when we look under the surface we don’t seem very humble in how we spend money, and I believe it is directly linked to our view of how we should live the Christian life, and our view of discipleship.

 

 

Look across any town or city, and it will seem as if many churches are in a contest to see who can have the largest sanctuary, the newest “Christian Life Center”, or the nicest landscaping. Or compete in terms of technology and programs by outdoing each other with a ridiculously overdone vacation bible school, “youth programs” complete with video games and sports equipment, expensive outings, etc. Its the religious equivalent of our rampant American consumerism where we tend to judge the things of our world by their packaging and marketing, and not our needs or the product’s effectiveness.

 

To be fair, we see these things more often in larger mega churches and “seeker centered” churches, and not so much more traditional protestant churches. But even smaller churches, though humble in size, might spend money proportionately similar to their larger, more overblown counterparts.

 

So, when you tell someone “The bible instructs you to give at least 10% of everything you earn”, and then you in turn spend that money on incredibly self-focused and consumer-minded things- you lose your own credibility in my eyes and many others. The bible has plenty to say about growing your wealth to the exclusion of growing your reward in Heaven. So ideal church, here some things you could tell me to convince me that you are concerned with glorifying God more than maintaining a status quo……..

 

Tell me you brainstormed, and planned, and found a more economical way to build your meeting place, or that you found an existing space to use when new construction would indebt the church for decades to come, instead of just following what the other big churches did across town with their new facilities.

 

Tell me that you plan on using your facilities to serve the community in ways you can, like offering an affordable after school program if feasible, a recreation program for area youth, or opening up your building as a meeting place if needed.

 

Tell me that you considered hiring an additional minister, but decided against it because you thought it better to raise up more layperson leaders within the church to assist the pastor(s) you do have and see that money go towards more mission-minded goals.

 

Tell me there is a servant attitude within your church that sees that needs within are met, instead of constantly hiring out the smallest projects just because you can afford it.

 

Tell me a large percentage of the church’s budget will go towards seeing to it that children in third world countries will eat today, and then hear the Gospel with a fully belly, and equip native people to build a better future for themselves.

 

Tell me that your church helps support local crisis pregnancy centers, soup kitchens and shelters, bible translation ministries, foreign missionaries, and church plants…… before it thinks about redecorating.

 

Please tell me that if your church ever gets to the point that it struggles to meet budget, it will do more than just grit its teeth and try and do whatever it has to do to keep its doors open.

 

Tell me that your church is concerned with more than just surviving financially.

 

Tell me that the overall mission of Christ’s church is actually of the highest priority to you, and you would consider merging with another church, letting another church meet in your building to share the financial burden, or even selling your facility that is too large or expensive for you…….. even if it hurts people sentimentalities.

 

Do many of the things our churches cling to truly produce disciples by aiding us in maturing in our faith? Or do they cater to our sensibilities and keep us religiously pacified and entertained, all the while spending enormous amounts of money to keep the train rolling on its tracks?

Just a continuation of this series. Go back and read Part I , Part II , or Part III

 

 

Employs various styles of worship music that reflects the congregation’s diversity, from the Psalms, ancient hymns, early American and Puritan hymns, contemporary music, and even music written by musicians within the church, but should ALWAYS done with the utmost reverence and sincerity, not for the sake of entertainment. Excellence should be pursued in worship for God’s glory, not man’s approval from the pews.

 

What I would argue for here, in place of some of the extremes we see in churches across America is an approach that embraces diversity in musical styles, but ultimately is authentic in its worship.

 

How is worship authentic? Well, first I would distinguish “authentic” from “sincere”. We can be copycats of whatever music is coming out of some Nashville based Christian music label, or vice-versa blindly follow a hymnal and organ like its still good ol’ 1890. We can do either of these and still offer it with sincerity in our hearts to God. But neither is really authentic. They are extremes we gravitate toward by not pursuing a richer, fuller idea of how music can be used to praise God.

 

By placing great importance upon the width and depth of musical sources we draw from, we are in effect celebrating the history of the church and the saints through their words, and participating in an ongoing celebration of music that is focused on Christ and our redemption through Him. This stands in very stark contrast to much of the modern church where we become very exclusive in our musical styles and sources, and we enshrine our own tastes as a tradition to be guarded. (Ever heard someone lament the presence or modern music or instruments, or someone complain because a church didn’t have a rockin’ praise band?)

 

The Psalms were the original hymnbook for the nation of Israeal, but take a look at most post-1950’s hymnbooks and try and see how many Psalter tunes are there. Not many, which is unfortunate. When we sing the Psalms, we are singing scripture! When we memorize Psalms that we sing regularly, we are memorizing God’s word to us.

 

Hymnwriters from Puritan England and early America like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Horatius Bonar, Joseph Addison, Joseph Hart, John Newton, and William Cowper to name a few wrote hymns that beheld a majestic and merciful God, and sinful man in need of mercy. There was not a lack of theological depth or biblical language in their words. We would do well to not forsake hymns from this important period in our own church history.

 

Some contemporary praise music is quite good. Not the majority of it, but I can be forgiving because that is the case with any period of music. Ultimately the majority of it gets weeded out and the best remains. There will be music written in the last 20 years that one day will be included in hymnbooks and become standards (maybe, unless the hymnbook passes away from use in our churches)

 

There is even a place for homegrown music in an ideal church. What better way to pursue artistic excellence for the sake of Christ than to encourage our musicians and songwriters (if you have ‘em) to use their talents within the church? Many musicians have felt as if they had to leave their talents at the door and submit to a stiff tradition that’s inherited. This is wrong. The nation of Israel had large numbers of musicians employed from the tribe of Levi for temple worship, men who pursued excellence musically.

 

But….. think back to my first sentence; Reverence. Without it, our worship becomes empty, our words become hollow, and our music becomes entertainment-driven and is idolatry. This should be our arbiter of judgement, not merely subjective taste. There is room however for differing tastes and opinions. A community of believers should have the ability to talk openly, and not accusatorily, about what elements of its worship it finds lacking in reverence and find some middle ground. No member should be able to stand apart from the rest and demand that their views be catered to.

 

Diversity in the instruments present in worship according to the talents and preferences of the congregation, from piano and organ to acoustic guitars and strings, or electric instruments, but… done with the utmost reverence and sincerity.

 

Here is an illustration: Imagine we sent missionaries to a foreign country and they had great success in sharing the Gospel to a remote group of people. In an attempt to introduce them to parts of the larger Christian tradition and history they taught them a few songs. What if the organ and piano were foreign instruments to them? Would we require they adopt the same traditions as we use in our own cultural setting, or would we encourage the use of their own native instruments to sing their praises?

 

Likewise, when we minister to our communities around us we shouldn’t be surprised if they are more comfortable with instruments they are familiar with. Should we be suprised that to someone in their twenties an singing to an organ is culture shock, or that electric guitars and drums become distracting to someone who grew up in the 1950’s? This is the area that requires the greatest sensitivity. Ultimately its domineering for a generation to expect everything to stay the same for the sake of their own tastes, just as its presumptuous for a younger generation to seek to reinvent a church’s worship in its own ideal overnight. There has to be compromise, dialogue, and a mutual appreciation for differing tastes. Otherwise we end up with segregated services, or people leaving to form their own churches over what is only a cultural issue, and not even a matter of theology or ecclesiology.

 

If a church is to be authentic, we have to allow this. Cultural wars in which we pit our traditions against the “worldliness” we see in music outside the church is a self-defeating position because throughout history the church has borrowed from outside culture, or at times helped fuel it. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Is something sacred because of its nature, or because of its use? I would have to admit that there is nothing inherently sacred about our music, or our instruments, or our songs, but everything sacred about their use.

 

Are you uncomfortable in sin? Are you at war with sin?

 

Or are you growing complacent and comfortable in your sin?

 

I’ve been thinking about such things lately, thinking in circles and not articulating the arguments to myself well. But here’s what Will Metzger has to say (emphasis added):

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we sin it is to be expected that our assurance of salvation will be weakened. God is keeping us from complacency and warning us not to play with sin. God, in mercy, will not allow children of his to be comfortable in sin. He makes us restless, even to the point of questioning our salvation, so that we may not presume on his favor but, instead, relish his grace. Often we recognize our salvation not by victory over sin but by the warfare that is still going on within us. – Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People

 

Can you imagine if we were comfortable in our sin? What would separate us and our attitude toward sin from the rest of the world’s attitude toward sin, who flees the light and loves darkness?

 

I agree with Metzger, and would also add that we shouldn’t be suprised when we are distressed by our sinning instead of being flippant about it. Being in distress in itself is a mark of our salvation, and a means by which God is pruning us and leading us to depend upon Him even greater still.

 

So how does our differying theologies within Christianity affect how we view this process? Its oversimplifying things to only represent 3 views, but the most distinct 3 views that come to mind are a Roman Catholic view, a traditional Arminian view, and a traditional Calvinist view.

 

A Roman Catholic view of justification; holding that we are not declared justified until the close of our lives and cannot attain assurance of salvation in this life in any normal fashion- would do little to comfort me as I wrestled with my sin. What’s the solution within this camp, performing confession and penance? It’s hard to imagine that bringing much comfort, or being restoring me spiritually back to delighting in God’s presence. I imagine some in this camp would argue that believing that righteousness is needed on our part will effectively prevent us from being complacent in sin, but my main complaint with this idea is that it unavoidable is adding our own merit to Christ’s and in effect denying its sufficiency.

 

An Arminian view of salvation; that I am covered by grace but able to fall away, with my assurance resting at least partially upon myself (its unavoidable to say this) – doesn’t do much more to comfort the sinner wrestling with their weight of sin. To those within this camp, our war with sin is a war that we can, in fact- lose! Again, some within this camp might echo the RCC view that believing this way will prevent complacency and laxity toward sinning, but the issue of justification is at stake. It would be unavoidable to admit that a human’s actions, and consequently his merit, are nessesary to give the cross its power to save and sustain. Some are willing to live with this. I am not.

 

But in the Calvinist’s view however, believing that it is by God’s immutable decree that we have been ushered into a state of Grace and are held there by His faithfulness alone and not our own- we can be tormented by our sin and yet still revel in the Glory of Christ.

 

How? Well,since we believe it is God’s soveriengty and faithfulness and that sustains us- as we sink deeper and deeper into our own depravity, we cannot help but to see God’s face shine even brighter upon us as He lavishes His mercy upon our miserable estate. Our hope lies not in the slightest upon ourselves, or our merit, so in the incorrigibleness of our sin we can actually see the increasingly graciousness of grace, and it is like a fresh drink to our thirsty souls. We return to the throne of Grace refreshed, but not frazzled. Broken, but not destroyed. Grateful, but humbled by our great need and his all-suffiency in saving us to the uttermost.

 

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” -Hebrews 7:25

Earlier this spring I attended a satellite service/ church plant of a large First Presbyterian Church. The dress was casual, the music contemporary (Chris Tomlin and some Hillsong style stuff with drums and guitars), the apostle’s creed was dropped from the typical Reformed liturgy. The pastor spoke fairly clearly and seemed to strive for clarity while preaching from a narrative text (book of Acts).

 

Within his sermon he made mention of being “missional”, but yet… He did not define it, did not articulate what it means, or describe what it looks like in action. And unfortunately, as a first-time visitor I left easily without being greeted by anyone except for an assigned greeter at the door.

 

To me, this attempt seemed very cross-wired between Modern/seeker-sensitive and an attempt at being more forward-thinking missional. Good intentions might have gone into putting together this service, but it wasn’t purposeful and intentional enough. It was just a re-dressing of a typical church service.

 

However, being “missional” does not mean dropping historic statements of faith like the Apostle’s Creed (which isn’t even burdened with denominational or sectarian baggage), to only replace it with more bland praise music.

 

Being “missional” doesn’t mean just dropping the word in sermons hoping people will figure out what it means. It takes talking about specific issues of the church’s mission, grounding them in scripture exposition, and trying to engage your church into thinking about, planning, and pursuing missional goals communally; not merely planting ideas in people head’s that they will individually pursue once they leave the four walls of the church building. That kind of individualism is what is plaguing the church already, we don’t need to blindly continue in it.

 

At this point I risk being very arbitrary and subjective; but I believe being “missional” requires us to faces some challenges, including but not limited to:

  1. Understand the people we minister to, by seeking to understand the people and subcultures we live among, which in some form requires us to be involved in oiur communities.
  2. Place people and our ability to spread the gospel to them ABOVE our buildings and our budgets. When we are capable of giving financially to support the traditions we have built up that serve us as believers, and are willing at times to even guilt a congregation into giving a certain percentage to maintain this, but leave many types of ministry to parachurch ministries- we are showing that our priorities lie with mainly serving our own needs- this hardly advances the Gospel.
  3. Humbly realize our minority status as Christians in our country, city, neighborhoods, etc; and adjust our church’s ministry focus to reflect this. Hanging our sign and worship times out by the road inviting the outside world to come join us is not enough.
  4. Avoid pragmatism, (because the ends do not justify the means); but yet still hold our traditions in question as to their effectiveness in communicating the Gospel to our communities.
  5. Be willing to sacrifice our comfort zones because outreach gets messy, sacrifice our time because mercy ministries demand it, sacrifice our money because serving others sometimes ain’t free, and even sacrifice our traditions if they set up needless boundaries.
  6. and *insert other additional radical, mission-focused, jesus-glorifying, self-sacrificing, neighbor-loving, community-engaging activities here*
  7. All of these things cannot be done by adding them onto what we already “do” or “are” as a local church. Being committed to them requires us to actually change how we do church, and shape what that ultimately looks like in motion.