This list is from a post over at Reclaiming the Mind. Read the whole post here.

 

Emerging Theologically

Calling into question many traditional Christian doctrines. This questioning can result in agnosticism toward the particular doctrine, marginalization of the issue, or a settled humble conviction concerning the issue. This is closely tied to being emerging epistemologically.

Examples:

  • Missional focus concerning the spread of the Gospel (Christians do not go to church, they are the church)
  • Less tendency to recognize or give strong credence to traditional theological divisions (e.g. Catholic-Protestant; Reformed-Arminian)
  • Not too keen to systematic theology since to “systematize” ones theology usually implies a seemingly forced system of harmonization that is seen to be inconsistent with both human ability and divine revelation
  • Hesitancy about taking traditional labels such as Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Liberal, or even Emerger since the labels associate them with a systematized system of beliefs and thought
  • 1) Agnostic with regards to the destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. we don’t know the eternal condition of the unevangelized)
  • 2) Inclusivistic with regards to destiny of the unevangelized (e.g. Christ’s blood can save those who don’t have the chance to hear the Gospel)
  • More agnostic toward the nature of hell
  • Willing to see value in multiple theories of the atonement, not just the vicarious substitutionary view
  • Traditional Protestant theology of imputation questioned

 

First of all, kudos to those guys at RTM for dealing with emerging characteristics in sich a straightforward and irenic way. If you are reading this, you really should go over and read their post in its entirety.

 

Now, I would say that most of the items on this list do not characterize myself, even if I might sympathize with those who might hold these views more than your average Reformed guy would, but I would have to whole-heartedly agree with the first item on the list. In fact, I agree with it so much that I can’t understand why we shouldn’t view the church this way. Read it again:

“Missional focus concerning the spread of the Gospel (Christians do not go to church, they are the church)”

 

Why shouldn’t we view the church this way?

 

Theologically speaking, when did the church cease to be a worldwide universal communion of believers on a mission, that only happened to be expressed in the local congregation that usualy met in a building; and became only a local group of card-carrying members that from time to time has to stop and actually remind itself that they are 1) on a mission to spread the gospel, 2) only a small part of the church universal, and 3) not limited by their meeting place/building in being the church? When did this happen?

 

Why should it take an emerging generation of Christians to re-discover and re-awaken a new consciousness of something that the church was all along; a body of believers on a mission?

 

The early church was scarcely limited in their minds to only existing as a designated place to worship at a designated time. The idea of being on a mission to its immediete surroundings and the whole world while being in dynamic communion with one another and participating in community that was intentional and relational was certainly radical but it was implied and understood who lived it. The motivation and drive to draw outsiders unto the Lordship of Christ caused an explosion of growth while simultaneously inspiring great care and concern to be displayed for all others who were ‘in Christ”, even across the cultural chasm that seperated Jews and Gentiles, and different economic classes.

 

Tomorrow: My thoughts on being “missional”.

I haven’t actually written a blog post in several weeks. I haven’t been terribly busy in comparison, but things have been crazy.

I admit I nearly let this blog die, but I’m still getting hits here and there, and I have a lot of things I want to write about- I just have to force myself to sit still long enough to do it.

Expect some new posting in the weeks to come.

“We are neither postmodern skeptics nor modern rationalists. We find value in both skepticism, when truly warranted, and rationality, when the probability is conditioned by God to be such.”

Read the whole post over at Reclaiming the Mind.

I found this over at Reclaiming the Mind, its hilarious.

Top ten reasons why the Reformed Theologian did not cross the road:

10. A woman already crossed, and he would be in sin if he followed

9. The road is not safe if it wasn’t built between 1500-1700 AD

8. He believes that “road crossing” has ceased

7. The crossing guard was only helping people cross from one side, so he suspiciously thought he was denying double pre-destination

6. Romans 9 says nothing about crossing roads

5. The “Walk” sign was gender neutral

4. The road was called Tiber Ave

3. John Wesley said that God’s prevenient grace would pave the way, but he had to take the steps himself

2. He wasn’t elected to cross before the foundation of the road

1. Piper said that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied where we are.

Also, check out The Top Ten Reasons the Emerger didn’t cross the road 

and, the Top ten reasons the Dispensationalist didn’t cross the road.

 

The Gospel in All its Forms: an essay by Tim Keller, Redeemer PCA

That is all.

Just another installment as I elaborate on the initial post.

Part 1: The Ideal Church

Part 2: Creeds and Confessions

  • Uses ecenumical creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasius, and Chalcedonian) to celebrate and reflect on the overarching themes and truth of scripture.

Why? Well, the early creeds of the church are the only confessions we have that are truly ecenumical, or are held to by the church as a whole. The fact that the church was once in enough agreement to draft and affirm such creeds shows us as we sit within our own particular denominations that we are a small part today of a much larger painting of God’s redemptive history. We weren’t the first to believe the Gospel and be changed by it, and we shouldn’t forget that fact.

Creeds celebrate this unity, and aid us in reflecting in the overarching themes of scripture that cannot be expressed from lone passages of scripture.

It is important to provide transcendence in our worship to remind us of this overarching communion we have with Christians from the past and present. I love the fact that even though we can’t avoid differing on finer points of theology with other Christians, we at least have real unity in the content of the early creeds of the church.

But which creed of the major 4 to use? All of them, I say. The Apostle’s Creed is great in its brevity and utter simplicity. But the Nicene Creed is absolutely beautiful in how it refers to Christ’s eternal nature and substance; “very God of very God, begotten not made, being of the same substance as the Father”. As well, the Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds are equally significant because they focused on critical matters of the humanity, deity, and substance of Jesus. All of them testify to watershed moments in our church history when a biblical view was affirmed and thus, heresy rejected. Also by using all of these, it lets us rotate them and guards our tradtion from becoming ritualism as they force us to focus on the words and meditate on them when we employ them in worship.

  • Uses denominational creeds and confessions to further affirm theological convictions corporately, like the Westminster Confession, or the Heidelberg Catechism.

Inevitably, when we venture into more recent confessions in Church’s history they become more theologically divisive than the earliest creeds, and they pit our views of finer points of theology against other denominations or churches views.

Rather than avoid this, I think we should embrace it with a sober frame of mind. Even the simplest of believers operates on theological assumptions of some kind, so we all stand on some form of theological foundation whether we realize it or not. We’re going to have different views of election, the sacraments, perseverance, etc. We should observe the hisorical foundation of our particular branches of Christianity, test it against scripture, meditate on it, and use it as an aid in communicating the overarching themes and truths of scripture that we have inherited through scholasticis. We shouldn’t flee from our differences but study them carefully.

I’m Reformed, so I’m obviously biased towards the Westminster Confession and I don’t apologize for it either. The Westminster Confession of 1646 is arguably the most exhaustive and comprehensive statement of faith ever produced, with the Anglican’s Thirty-Nine Articles coming in a not-so-distant second place. Obviously those outside the Reformed tradition would not embrace every article of it, and even many churches who use it as their statement of faith like mine actually use a slightly revised version from 1789, but overall it has stood the test of time and in many a scholar’s opinion has not been superceded by any confession since.

As far as catechisms go, The Heidelberg Catechism is more brief and succint than the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, which is why I like it more, and it is actually divided into 52 sections that allow it to be read corporately and completed in one year by reading a section every Sabbath. 

One great part of responsive readings or recitations is that they allow the whole congregation to participate. In an age where the church is growing more consumer-minded, and “special music” or dramas take a stronger presence, the reading together of confessions cements very objective ideas in our minds through our participation and allows us to reflect on them, refer to them later, and even memorize them.

Some objections:

Some Christians, young and old, might object to creeds and confessions having a prominent place in worship. Some proclaim “no creed but Christ” which is ridiculous because at some point you have to define specifics about Christ. Some might interject that creeds and confessions are stodgy and don’t reflect our freedom in Christ, or are too exclusive. I’m not going to even touch that one. But overall, I think one of the biggest misconceptions Christians might have about creeds, especially from “missional” or “emerging” Christians; is that they turn away new Christians or “seekers” who see them as dogmatic or confining.

I would argue, to this point, that if someone is truly “seeking” then they are seeking answers, answers to questions they have, objective affirmations of a historic faith, not ooey-gooey feel-good pop culture theology. People in emerging generations crave authentic, historic, transcendent…… and not so much flavor-of-the month expressions of faith. Maybe I’m being generous here, but there is very much a sentiment among younger Christians to break out of the box our parents and grandparents built, but that doesn’t mean doing away with what our ancient spiritual ancestors have produced but connecting with it instead.

So, if people don’t explicitly disagree with creeds (which would put them outside orthodoxy anyway) but are still put off by them, then maybe we should handle them differently. Maybe have a sermon series, or a class, or even just a blurb in the bulletin explaining the nessesity, history, and content of these ancient expressions of the Christian faith so people can have a more distinct connection with the words they are reciting.

I’ve been reading Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People by Will Metzger as of lately.

Metzger has been a campus minister for decades with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, traveled to every continent in his ministry, pastored a church, and served students of different nationalities at the University of Delaware.

This book is not a how-to manual for “new” methods and is certainly not riding the crest of any waves in current trends. But it is a very passionate and scripturally referenced manual for personal evangelism from a Reformed perspective, encouraging and admonishing its readers to present the Gospel without truncating it, or being unloving or lacking in grace as we do witness. 

Heres a quote:

This is a book about the scandal of sovereign salvation. In it, I blame God for salvation, in the sense that He is totally responsible. He organized a rescue operation within the Trinity- designing, supplying, accomplishing and restoring those who were in peril. Our Triune God is the Author and Fulfiller, the Originator and Consummator, the Creator and the Redeemer. Its all God’s fault- a grace that gives respone-ability to the spiritually dead.

The Lord of the universe is a lover who woos spiritual adulterers like you and me, providing everything needed to reconstitute a relationship.

There is a very good article this month in ByFaith Online (the PCA’s denominational magazine) about being “Created For Community”. Check it out or read this exceprt from it:

Battling the Kingdom of One

Yet with all of our gratitude, it is important to recognize that there is something powerful inside each of us that drives us away from these two essential communities. That thing is sin. In its fundamental form, sin is anti-social. A verse in 2 Corinthians 5 captures this well: “And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves … .” He died for my sin—which causes me to shrink my life down to the size of…my life. Sin causes my thoughts and motives to be dominated by a powerful triad of self-focus: my wants, my feeling, my needs. Where sin reigns community struggles.

Think further with me. Sin is not first the breaking of rules. Sin is first the breaking of relationship. When I love God above all else, I gladly keep His law. When I love myself above all else, I will step over God’s boundaries again and again.

So our problem with community is not just the result of the cultural influences that surround us. Our primary problem with community exists inside of us. Sin causes us to lose sight of the grand purposes of the kingdom of God while we expend all kinds of effort to build tiny little kingdoms of one. So, even when we are in relationship with others, we try to co-opt them into the service of our kingdom purposes.

Unfortunately, i think much of this line of thinking, while being expressed and articulated at the level of the Presbyterian Church in America’s national magazine ByFaith, is absent or overlooked at the local church level. I want to brainstorm some ways our practices and traditions can take into consideration our need for community to a greater extent. More later.

 

Also, another good article about what the PCA is doing about AIDS.

I figured I would articulate a bit, one by one, on the items I listed in my article The Ideal Church from some time ago.

 

 

 

  • Practices Presbyterian (rule by elder) form of church government.

 

To me its pretty self-explanatory. The Bible recognizes and describes two distinct New Testament church offices; Elders and Deacons. They are quite distinct from one another, and Elders are also described in the plural sense so a lone pastor does not fulfill the scriptural imperative, even though my southern Baptist background would disagree. A plurality of elders is the only way to follow the scriptural mandate with integrity.

A friend recently described to me a tale of a young church plant that even though having an elder board or something similar, all decisions essentially went through the pastor, so the board existed as a sounding board for ideas but with absolutely no leadership authority. This is much like how congregational government works. I find it odd that as Protestants we would abandon the authority of a pope, but yet set up the equivalent of a pope in each of our churches. The entire life of the church and its vision is wrapped in one man, who has the capability of sinning and even making poor decisions.

 

So a plurality of elders keeps a pastor not only accountable, but also provides him support for the times he is struggling, which is inevitable.

 

  • Embraces the Biblical idea of the “priesthood of all believers”

 

A church needs a significant leadership of laymen, who are not just elders or deacons that help guide and tend to the church. They do this through having vision, ideas, or seeing needs that need to be addressed, so it requires them to be concerned not only with their own spiritual health but also that of the church as a whole. They also do this through teaching, and service to others. In this, a teaching pastor’s leadership is not threatened but rather supported. The education, study, and experience a pastor has obtained, while alone is not sufficient for the health of a church, in quite necessary. So to those who believe the “priesthood of all believers” eliminates the need for visible leaders are doomed to sit around in their collective ignorance.

 

  • Practices Communion every Sunday service, with real bread being broken, real wine, and carefully selected music to help reflect on what it symbolizes.

 

I once heard someone say “If your church practices altar calls more often than communion then there is something wrong” and I would agree. There is no greater symbol and sign for the communion we have with God through Jesus as our mediator, and for the unity we therefore have with one another. That communion we have with God is actually central to any worship we engage in, so how can something so central be ignored 3 out of 4 sundays a month, or even more? The early church that met homes didn’t have altar calls or worship teams, but they had prayer and broke bread together as a rule every time they met. Who are we to subtract from that model??

 

Whoever dreamed up communion wafers? Jesus and his disciples broke real bread. The single loaf broken into pieces symbolizes our unity as pieces of the same loaf, the Body of Christ. And until Prohibition and Sam Welch’s idea to market grape juice to Christians, the church as a whole partook of real wine. So again, why depart from that model?

 

Many churches ritually sing “Blessed Be the Tie that binds” or a similar song to commemorate communion Sundays, but if we actually practiced every week we would see the opportunity to use a wide variety of songs, focusing on various aspects of the sacrament; that being 1) the fact Jesus’ body was broken for us, 2) the fact that His blood was spilt for us, 3) that fact that we have unbroken, immeasurable communion with God now in light of this, 3) and in Christ we now have communion with one another, universally through faith and not by culture, race, or nationality.

The following is a conversation this past weekend that I had with a guy at a church booth set up at our town’s Spring Festival. From all appearances, it is a small church that is relatively new and meeting in a shopping center down the street from my own church.

 

Me: “Hi, aren’t you guys right down the street from the elementary school?”

 

Pastor guy: “Yes sir we are. How are you today?”

 

Me: (I pretend to look at tract) “Good. Oh, so you guys are Free Will Baptist huh?”

 

Pastor guy: “Oh, well we’re our own unique church. We planted it.”

 

Me: “But there’s a Free Will Baptist church less than a mile down the road from where you guys are at, and there’s another one right by my house another mile or two away. It seems like there is already a lot of Free Will Baptist churches in this area, why a new one?

 

Pastor guy: (a bit suprised) “Well the more hooks you put out, the more souls you are likely to catch”

 

Me: “Hmm, but I think there are almost 400 churches in this county alone, and less than 200,000 people living here. That means if every single person alive and breathing in this county went to church then you would have less than 500 people per church.”

 

Pastor guy: (suprised) “Well, I guess we’re trying to reach our 500 then….”

 

Me: “But, it’s probably less than 20 percent that go to church regularly, so that means less than 100 people per church. In your experience does your church make new converts, or just…. Cannibalize members from other churches?”

 

Pastor guy: (slightly offended) “Well that’s not what we are trying to do! We are trying to win souls! The more areas that we have churches in, then the more people we can bring into the Kingdom” he explains.

 

Me: “Kind of like the McDonalds approach? Put a church on every corner, and people will come?”

 

Pastor guy: Well, yeah!”

 

Me:“But it also seems like if every church has fewer than 100 members then they probably pay for a pastor and secretary, and for a building of some kind, and that’s it. It hardly seems efficient to have hundreds of buildings and salaries to pay for, and not be able to plant churches where they are greatly needed or fund missions or outreach with that money. It kind of takes our eyes off the big picture and focuses them only on ourselves.”

 

Pastor guy’s wife: (Getting uncomfortable) “Well, we’ve been doing this for 33 years…”

 

Other than pleasantries and discussing small group models for churches and other things, I just left it at that because I felt like I had worn out their graciousness.

 

Sigh, but this church growth thing in America has gotten out of hand. I mean, this guy is Free Will Baptist, They have a bazillion churches around here. Does he work with these guys, maybe start a small group in an area or something to reach new people and maybe bring new people into existing churches? No he wants to start his own thing, be independent, an island unto himself.

 

I don’t understand it. I’m reformed, and in the PCA. We have only 3 churches in this entire county out of nearly 400 churches total. We team up for things, our pastors know one another. I would practically pee myself if we could have unity with other denominations that are similar (like the ARP) or had more people in this area we were similar enough to work with. That very opportunity is laid right before this guy and he runs from it.

 

But maybe that’s the problem to begin with, that is….. we have way, way, way too many churches all trying to execute their own very narrow vision or accomplish their own inwardly focused goals while ignoring everyone else around them. There’s no “finger on the pulse” of the area’s spiritual needs because everyone’s limited to seeing just their own little slice of it.

 

Which begs the question, with plenty of churches just cruising along focused on themselves, I wonder what happens when theres a problem within the church? Does it split and half of it defects to other churches? Or will some start new churches that will run the way THEY want them to? Either way, I think as a result; the original church would of course be smaller and likely suffering to pay its bills so it probably focuses even MORE inwardly and stops growing physically, and if it becomes frustrated with its new challenges it can stop growing spiritually completely.

 

Meanwhile, the churches who just grew from absorbing members from this afflicted church think they are doing something right, think their new growth is a sign they’re on the right track, so they pat themselves on the back and probably becomes complacent and inwardly focused. Overall, absolutely no progress has been made. If anything, people become disallusioned in the process from the politics and power struggles. I just described half the churches family members or myself went to as a child.

 

 I love the words Thomas Pollock wrote over 100 years ago in Jesus, With Thy Church Abide:

 

“May she one in doctrine be

One in truth, and charity

Winning all to faith in Thee

We beseech Thee, hear us

We beseech Thee, hear us.”

 

“May she guide the poor and blind

Seek the lost until she find

And the broken hearted bind

We beseech Thee, hear us

We beseech Thee, hear us.”