Thinking Out Loud

August 14, 2016

Becoming a Christian by the Numbers

…or in this case, The Book of Numbers

I’m breaking our 12-month rule here, only because I used this approach with a young woman on Friday and realized that I wanted to share this again on the blog and didn’t want to wait until October.


Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Could you retell this Bible story?

That was the question we asked yesterday, noting that most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. Because I think it’s so important, we’re devoting this weekend to looking at this from different perspectives using a mix of fresh commentary and some things that were originally posted at Christianity 201.


…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

Yesterday we kicked off with the old hymn “At Calvary” and today it’s “Heaven Came Down.” I’ve noticed that when people get older they mind starts to recall classic pieces that are no longer sung in the modern church.

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction. For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place. An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy
[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.
— the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So while the healing of the blind man provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine.

But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

The verse recalls the story from the book of Numbers we looked at yesterday, often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV) 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through yet another hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to...

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

It’s interesting how the Numbers 21 story is so prominent in the lines of that chorus, but do we have anything in modern worship to replace that? Does our vertical worship allow room to take these Bible narratives and recite them in song?

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

I also recognize that many are uncomfortable with a transactional view of the regeneration of the Spirit at salvation. I think sometimes we can suffer from what is called the paralysis of analysis. Perhaps a more modern — albeit still about 40 years old — scripture chorus can help us:

He paid a debt he didn’t owe
I owed a debt I couldn’t pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing grace!
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world. That moment of salvation can happen in an instant, what is sometimes termed the crisis view of salvation, or it can take place over a time, what C.S. Lewis and others might call the process view of salvation.

I don’t know that it’s necessary for everyone to have an exact date that they can point to (or have written in the front cover of their Bibles) when they crossed that line of faith, but I think you know in your heart when you’ve arrived at that point.

To repeat what we said yesterday, the people in the Numbers 21 story didn’t have to do anything beyond simply looking to the cross for their deliverance. That’s the part of the story you need to be able to impart to people who want to determine their next step on their journey to the cross, even if you don’t spell out the whole story itself.


Today’s music:

For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.

For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.

Go Deeper:

To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.

To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.

Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.

August 13, 2016

Ambulance Chasing and Evangelism

Yes, There’s a Connection

I’m breaking our 12-month rule here, only because I used this approach with a young woman yesterday and realized that I wanted to share this again on the blog and didn’t want to have to wait until October.


Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Do you recognize this Bible story?

This is the cover of a children’s Bible story book, available for only $2.49 US at most Christian bookstores. Yet most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. I’ve covered this about five times at Christianity 201, but realized it’s never been looked at here. Over the weekend, I want to spend some time on this theme.


Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer. An old hymn stated:

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

(If you’re not familiar with this, click here to read all 5 verses.)

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

ambulance symbolI believe it’s not only important to know this story in a “conversationally familiar with” sense, but also important to teach people how to teach people this story. By the way, when I teach this to people I often point out that this story is the basis for the symbol seen on many ambulances and other emergency vehicles. I would say that most of the people I talk to are astounded to learn the connection.

While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s often needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process; and this story provides a simple way of explaining that there’s nothing the person has to do to obtain salvation beyond simply looking to the cross.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at this again in a different way. Stay tuned. Meanwhile here’s a great graphic from Adam4D:

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Here’s some other material for your consideration:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

May 30, 2016

Can You Be Spontaneous and Liturgical at the Same Time?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:45 am

liturgy 1

Okay, let’s get the title question out of the way quickly: The answer is ‘no.’ To adopt a liturgical form is by definition to do away with spontaneity completely. Why pose the question?

If you were a fly on the wall at our house last night, the discussion was about the churches that would call themselves “spirit-led” vs. the ones which follow a more “scripted” worship order at weekend services. There are advantages to both of course. Many — dare I say most? — Evangelical churches lack the richness and depth one finds in an Episcopalian or Anglican setting. But when it comes to prayer, particularly if the prayer is for you and some need you are facing, you want someone who doesn’t need to read a prayer out of book.1

In many Evangelical environments, every word that is spoken is not written out ahead of time.2 This produces a tendency to “wing it.” On the other hand, those same Evangelicals often enter a liturgical environment and find it too sterile. Let’s face it, you can tell when someone who is reading something is just reading it.

On the other hand, we have Millennials reporting to be preferring a more traditional worship environment. Does this do away with extemporaneous praying? Eliminate the pastor being led to introduce a new direction into the sermon? Or is the desired outcome more a blend of what we have now, and what we had 100 years ago? 3

Cruising the interwebs, we found a piece by J.C. Holsinger at the Assemblies of God website. It’s too long to post in its entirety here but I hope some of you will click through. (Click the title below.) I like the way — from the perspective of his denomination — this article bridges the divide.

Pentecostal liturgy?

…When the Assemblies of God was formed, the founders deliberately avoided using the words sacrament and liturgy. In fact, the founders carefully called the ceremonies of the church ordinances to avoid any sacramental connection. Hence rather than sacramentalism which the word liturgy historically brings with it, Pentecostals more accurately have ordinances and ceremonies. However, these ceremonies are important in educating and binding the generations of Christians together. Therefore, continuity and carefulness in performing these ceremonies should be practiced.

I attended a wedding recently where the pastor opened the ceremony with a prayer: “As we hear these young people repeat their vows, may those of us who are married be reminded of the same vows we once took. Lord, help us to reaffirm our vows to You and to each other.” When he finished the prayer I almost shouted “Amen” because that is one of the most valuable purposes of ceremony–to educate and reaffirm important truths held in common, not just to provide a private or personal experience.

Modern society attempts either to personalize or individualize everything… A common question is, ‘What does that mean to you?” The implication is that your experience and other people’s experiences are equally valid…

Can such tendencies to personalize and individualize everything ultimately destroy the purposes and continuity of ceremonies in a society?

Consider God’s command that Joshua require the leaders of the 12 Tribes to take a stone from the Jordan River to create a memorial. What if each of the 12 leaders or the 12 Tribes themselves had said, “We want to personalize our part of the ceremony.” Or, “I would rather bring a log,” or “I’ll pick up a pretty shell from the river that is special and meaningful to me.” Instead, they heightened the meaning with all the leaders repeating exactly the same ceremony. This made it possible for the next generation to ask, “What mean you by these stones?” and to be educated about God and their responsibilities to His purposes.

Repetition and consistency of common procedures heighten the meaning and importance of ceremony…

For example, if a respected Christian couple brings their child for dedication and the minister says, “I know you are good Christians, so I am not going to ask you whether you will bring up your child in church,” does that not destroy the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to prick the hearts of all parents present as to whether they are carrying out their vows?

Do we as church leaders affirm the importance of godly homes if at a Pentecostal church wedding the bridesmaids and bride come down the aisle more appropriately dressed for a nightclub than a church? Or music is sung at a Pentecostal church wedding that has sexual overtones more in keeping with a cabaret?

What about our ceremonies for the ordinance of water baptism? Is the meaning of “being buried with Christ and resurrected with Him” lost if we allow silly comments about the coldness of the water or ask, “Are you scared?”

Ceremonies need not be formal or stiff, of course. Given our church’s history and theology, ceremonies can be relaxed and natural. However, is it not easy to cross the fine line between relaxed and natural and instead produce silliness that destroys the basic teaching purposes of the ceremony? …

Also interesting was information about an academic book releasing in 2017 by Mark Cartledge and A. J. Swoboda, Scripting Pentecost. You can read about that at this link.

Your comments are welcome. We’ll return to this topic soon!


1 There are always exceptions to everything and one is a book that is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics, Prayers that Avail Much which uses what would be termed Spirit-filled language, but consists entirely of pre-formatted prayers which can be used in a variety of life situations.

2 For a look at a brief period where something resembling liturgy overlapped Evangelical history, check out the Responsive Readings section of old hymnbooks.

3 For one approach to creating liturgy in a more current culture, check out my brief 2011 review of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne et al.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 25, 2016

Appreciating the Wisdom and Knowledge of N. T. Wright

I realized this weekend that I need to honor a promise to do this review, and it needs to be done in a timely fashion, even if I haven’t come close to finishing.

However, I am also well aware that by requesting an academic book for review, I am officially in over my depth, which partially if not fully explains why I am still only about a quarter of the way through its 378 pages. My reason for wanting a closer look at this book was singular: A fascination with the author’s intellect and wisdom.

N. T. Wright - Paul and His Recent InterpretersN. T. Wright‘s Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Fortress Press, 2015) is actually a sequel to another volume, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and one of several concerning the Early Church apostle which forms his Magisterial series.

It’s specific purpose is to flesh out the teachings of a handful of Bible scholars from other generations while at the same time paying specific attention to where these stand in relationship to some of the more recent views about Paul which have occurred in our own time.

So the book falls into a category somewhat parallel to literary criticism that we might call theological critique. (Maybe they do call it that… remember, I’m in over my head.) There are however sections which would be more accessible to the lay-reader, provided they had overcome the $39 price point for this academic paperback.

For example, he begins with the conjecture as to what we might think if Paul’s writings had just been located in a type of Dead Sea Scroll discovery. We would see that he writes much about ho theos — the god — and this requires of us to wonder (a) What this divinity has done, and (b) What it is intending to do.

He then notes that Paul’s writings have been shelved in the area of Biblical studies whereas his writings have truly impact a vast array of categories such as Ancient History, Middle Eastern Culture, Politics and Philosophy to name a few. But with his writing simply shelving Paul under “Religion” limits the scope of his full impact and runs the risk of doing what the BBC in his own country does, placing religious writings in the same realm as fiction.

These moments were among the more accessible to me, and there are similar moments as I press through the book, but as I continue further, I realize that the primary prerequisite for reading this work ought to be some familiarity with the writers under the microscope; names familiar to academics and theologians but not to the average browser in the Christian book shop, or most readers here.

Still, I am struck by the mind of N.T. Wright and his authority in this particular area of study and New Testament studies in general. (His initials are so appropriate.) We need his voice to be heard, especially at a time when modern scholarship is deconstructing so many of the New Testament’s epistles and leaving people confused as to what Paul actually said or meant.

 

January 9, 2016

Can People of Other Faiths Be Worshiping the Same God?

Larycia Hawkins Press Conference

Yesterday I ran a review of a kids video. I did it because I think the problem when facing current events is that bloggers feel the need to rush-to-publish and sometimes there is some wisdom in waiting an extra 24 or 48 hours. Sometimes it’s better not to weigh in at all.

I’m referring to the case of Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College who was dismissed after demonstrating solidarity with her Muslim friends and especially for expressing the idea that we worship the same God.

In two short weeks she has raised a number of issues, and my personal take is that just as I waited a day or two to respond, I think that Wheaton College should have considered a more measured approach. While their action may appease conservative Evangelicals — many of whom form much of their donor base — I keep thinking this may come back to haunt them. As I did here, I wish they had not felt the rush-to-publish need to create the most drastic of all possible outcomes.

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The knee-jerk reaction is to say, ‘Of course not.’ But an historical perspective yields different responses. Google the phrases “Three Faiths, One God” or “One God, Three Faiths” and you start to see the complexity of the issue.

But I want to ask a different question.

Do Jews and Christians worship the same God?

Again, the hard-line response of many is to say, ‘Of course not;’ after all, the God we worship is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, He who co-created the world with the Father, and sits at the Father’s right hand, and said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” (And he really said cometh, according to my KJO friends.)

But the God we serve and sing to at weekend services is the same “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” I really believe you have to answer this two-step question before trying to answer the three-step question that includes Islam.

I can hear some saying, ‘Well, that’s different, it doesn’t apply here.’ But again, there are three (major) Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. There is some commonality.

And may I say, echoing Paul’s approach at Mars Hill, we certainly all seek the same God.

I wish Larycia Hawkins the best. She has left her mark on the ongoing, contemporary theological conversation.

 

 

 

 

January 7, 2016

A Theological Sampler Which Covers Everyone

Filed under: Christianity, Humor, theology — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

Normally, I wouldn’t devote a post to an email forward, but I have to hand it to the people who put this together; it’s very comprehensive. If anyone can verify the original source, I’ll note it here.

Chicken

Why Did the Theological Chicken Cross the Road?

Pelagius: Because the chicken was able to.
Irenaeus: The glory of God is the chicken fully alive.
John Wesley: The chicken’s heart was strangely warmed.
C.S. Lewis: If a chicken finds itself with a desire that nothing on this side can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that it was created for the other side.
Billy Graham: The chicken was surrendering all.
Pluralist: The chicken took one of many equally valid roads.
Universalist: All chickens cross the road.
Martin Luther: The chicken was fleeing the Antichrist who stole the Gospel with his papist lies.
Tim LaHaye: The chicken didn’t want to be left behind.
James White: I reject chicken centered eisegesis.
Rob Bell: The chicken. Crossed the road. To get. Cool glasses.
Joel Osteen: The chicken crossed the road to maximize his personal fulfillment so they he could be all that God created him to be.
Rick Warren: The chicken was purpose driven.
John Piper: God decreed the event to maximize his glory, or it was an act of Christian hedonism.
Roger Olson: The chicken recognizes no clear evangelical boundaries.
Mark Driscoll: A bleeping chicken crossed the road to go get a beer.
Gary Demar: The chicken was fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That’s it.
Jim Wallis: The chicken is an organizer for Occupy Barnyard.
Emergent: For this chicken, it’s not the destination that’s important. It’s the journey itself.
N.T. Wright: This act of the chicken, which would be unthinkable in British barnyards, reeks of that American individualism that is destructive to community.
Al Mohler: When a chicken begins to think theologically, he has no other alternative but to come over to the Calvinist side of the road.
Michael Horton: The chicken was forsaking the kingdom of this world to live solely in the Kingdom of Christ.
John Frame: The chicken had an existential need to change its situation according to a new norm.
T.F. Torrance: The inner logic of the incarnation proved an irresistible draw to the other side of the road.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: He was abandoning cheap grace for the costly discipleship of risking the dangers of crossing the road.
Karl Barth: The crossing of the road, like all true theology, was done for profoundly Christological reasons. All chickens cross the road in the end.
Paul Tillich: Because he sensed that the other side of the road represented the ground of all being.
New Ager: Because he saw the light beckoning him forward.
Fundamentalist: Because his pastor told him so. 

…Here’s a variation on this from 2010, featuring Calvin, Arminius, and even Greg Boyd! 


This is not the first time a chicken has figured into a post here at Thinking Out Loud. In January of 2010 — apparently a significant year for chickens — we posted a copy of Jerry Falwell’s classic 1978 fundraising letter where a personalized mailing system and a data entry clerk teamed up to produce a major fail.

 

December 27, 2015

Review: 100 Names of God Daily Devotional

Filed under: books, reviews, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:25 am

It seems appropriate somehow that Rose Publishing, the company that manufactures over a hundred laminated pamphlets and related charts and videos should also be the publisher of a devotional book which is equally informative.

100 Names of God Daily Devotional - Christopher D Hudson100 Names of God Daily Devotional by Christopher D. Hudson is a padded hardcover book with a hundred two-page spreads that at first look like something that could get really technical, but is in fact filled with application that really relates to the common person. It’s best described as Our Daily Bread meets Greek and Hebrew word study.

For each entry there is a keynote scripture, a devotional study that runs most of the two pages, a challenge, a prayer, and some related scriptures for further study. In the back, there is an index of themes which also connect to the word used as the devotional title for that day, its Strong’s Concordance number,  another reference to the key scripture, and whether or not it’s a New Testament or Old Testament word.

While this would make a nice gift, you’d want to read it yourself before giving it away; but at that point you might yourself wanting to hang on to it for reference. (Maybe you should buy two!) While there are other Christian books currently on offer which also deal with the names of God — a quick search with a wholesale book warehouse turned up over 50 — I found this particular approach very accessible. 

Read a sample chapter I posted yesterday at Christianity 201.

December 8, 2015

When Should Young Children Start Receiving Communion?

At what age should children first participate in The Lord’s Supper?  This article first appeared here in 2011 as part of a commitment to a publisher to review a certain book* and brought a number of comments. For that reason, I decided to run it again today**.


The two children sitting next to me — a boy about six and a girl of four or five — were fidgeting during the entire service. They spent most of the sermon time drawing pictures and there was a mild shoulder punch fight that took place during one of the worship songs where I thought the mom was going to split the kids up by sitting between them, but apparently opted not to. When the communion elements were passed across our row, without hesitation the kids helped themselves. The mom definitely saw the kids each take a piece of bread and the small cup of juice, and wasn’t the least concerned.


I grew up in a tradition where receiving The Lord’s Supper, partaking of Communion or Eucharist, or whatever name your faith family chooses to call it, was reserved for adults and those entering adulthood. I was eleven years old the first time. Anything younger, for me, would have been too young.

So when Christian Focus Publishing offered me a chance to review Children and the Lord’s Supper, I had hoped this book would address the question in clear and unmistakable terms. I believe this topic is important as it bears on so many issues: church, doctrine, worship, parenting, the spiritual nurture of children, the Christian education of our youth.

Make no mistake about it, this is an excellent book. If you want to cover this topic in great detail, I can think of no better resource, and I will be most grateful to have this paperback in my library for any time that this topic surfaces. However, for all that, there are reasons why I think this is the wrong book for the majority of readers here.

First, this is a very academic reference work that would cause most of my friends to glaze over after the first dozen or so pages. The book is a collection of eight essays an introduction by editors Guy Waters and Ligon Duncan, which defines paedocommunion as “the admittance of a covenant child to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of his (sic) descent from at least one professing Christian parent.” (p. 11) Persons looking for a simple answer to the question, ‘Daddy, may I take communion?” — which is also the title of an existing book — would find 214 pages of answer to what they perceive as a simple ‘yes or no’ question; not unlike the uncle at the Christmas gathering who recites the entire workings of the internal combustion engine, when all you asked was a simple question as to the frequency of oil changes. Mind you, there are no simple answers here.

Another awkwardness for the North American reader is the use of the UK construction paedocommunion rather than the American which would favor the use of pedocommunion (only occurring 195 times in a Google search as opposed to over 28,000 for the UK spelling; which suggests something right there) just as we tend not to speak of paedobaptism (46,000 on Google) preferring the spelling pedobaptism (a more balanced 17,000). This preoccupation with spelling is not a deal breaker, but is mentioned in passing here to highlight how North American readers would find this volume inaccessible at different levels. (When the absolute central focus of a book is a word that is spelled differently in both countries, perhaps it is time to consider a North American edition.)

More relevant is the Reformed perspective of the book. This book raises all the right issues, but does so in the context of a growing movement among some Reformed denominations to include younger children in the Lord’s Supper — some already do — to which there is apparently much consternation. We share the same scriptures of course, and everything presented in this volume is entirely relevant to all our churches, but one must first decide to get past the denominational perspective of the writers. In fairness, I should state that a couple of the writers do address the doctrinal understanding of the Lord’s Supper that is unique to the Roman Catholic mass, though this is done primarily for comparative purposes with the Presbyterian or Reformed view. And one writer views as inconsistent those Baptist groups which baptize children, but do not permit them access to the Communion table.

Which brings us to the meat of the book.

As it turns out, the issue of children of partaking of the communion elements is almost symptomatic to a deeper causal issue, namely our understanding of the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and Passover. This is the true focus on which many of the arguments — mentioned or alluded to — hinge. Certainly Jesus instituted this sacred meal in the context of a passover meal, but how strongly does the parallel run? Children are allowed to participate in the modern passover — though some doubts arise as to, for example, the first such meal in the years immediately following the Exodus — so why not permit children at our New Covenant equivalent? And some even argue that point, as to whether or not there is a tacit understanding that the youngest of children do not truly partake of the passover meal since they are too young to ask the questions (or you could say, be active in the liturgy) that is required of the youngest; even arguing the obvious point that the very youngest would be too young to chew food.

One writer suggests that in Passover, Jesus was instituting something that fulfills or completes the entire sacrificial system (p. 32). Several of the writers point out that the Westminster Catechism (part 177) requires that the children be old enough to examine themselves, alluding to the words of institution in I Cor. 11, something I would term, if I may, the presence of “spiritual sentience,” a term which, as long as we’re quoting Google, occurs elsewhere 283 times.

Indeed, the book’s strongest premise is that we best remember the Lord’s death and atonement through the Lord’s Supper combined with active faith. (pp. 72-73) The book also considers the various warnings that the apostle issues addressing the situation of those who would be receiving the communion elements in an unworthy manner.

…This is a book review, and book reviews are highly subjective. I said at the beginning that this is indeed an excellent book, it’s just not going to fulfill the expectations of the average browser in the average Christian book shop, especially here in North America. But subjectively, my personal reward for studying this book was a deeper understanding of passover, admittedly not the book’s stated purpose. I am much richer for reading Children and the Lord’s Supper, but I am clearly not the typical Christian book consumer.

And if I’ve caused your eyes to glaze over today, may I suggest that as parents of young children you err on the side of caution. The children in the example I cited at the outset certainly had no sense of reverence for what was taking place, and may I suggest that by that lack of reverence they profaned the moment or occasion as it took place in their part of the auditorium.


“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 NIV


*The book is still available in both the US and UK. ISBN 9781845507299

**This article, combined with another one on the same topic, is also available at this link.

November 5, 2015

Answers to Tuesday’s Challenge

If you haven’t already, you need to read what was posted here 2 days ago: Here’s the link.

So let’s begin.

The Bible says Jesus is coming back.

There are a couple of problematic things here. First, Jesus said he’s coming back. Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Andy Stanley, but I have to agree with him that it’s much better to say, “The author of Proverbs says…” or “The gospel writers believed…” or “The Apostle Paul taught…” so that we’re focusing on real flesh-and-blood people and not a generic “This is what the Bible says.”

But what does it mean that Jesus is coming back. Has he been down in the polls and he’s making a comeback? The language so familiar to those of us inside the church may be meaningless to those outside. Perhaps this is a good news return like the time Uncle Raymond returned from his year in India. He’ll toss the kids on his knees and tell stories and everything will be like it was before.

Is that what it means? We believe that the second coming of Christ means that this time He is returning in judgment. If your life is yield to Him, then I suppose you approach this with joy, and it really isn’t unlike Uncle Ray’s return after all. But if you’re not sure, or definitely not ready, then I suppose you approach this with apprehension or even dread.

I believe he’s coming very soon.

I think we can present the imperative of responding to Christ without quantifying it in terms of the calendar. Personally, I think there are number of prophetic markers in place that have to happen first before the return of Christ. However, I believe some of these are stacked like dominoes, and that many of these markers could fall in quick succession.

Of greater concern however is that our days are numbered. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring, hence the reminder to “choose this day who you will serve,” and that “now is the appropriate time to respond, today is the day for salvation.”

However, by reminding us of our mortality, we can introduce fear into the equation, and the experts say that guilt and fear are great motivators for making short-term decisions, but not long-term disciples.

I think that simply saying, “We need to be ready,” places the onus of responsibility back into the hands of the person listening. It’s a call to action, “If Christ is returning, what do you need to do about it?”

I don’t think I will ever die.

It was the memory of this part of the presentation that got the ball rolling for what was posted on Tuesday. It occurred to me that years later, this person is now aware of the possibility that the second coming of Christ may not happen in his lifetime, especially as the clock keeps ticking and more years pass.

Of course, the overtones of pre-tribulation rapture theology are also implicit in this, and that viewpoint is, in my perception, losing supporters even among Evangelicals. I’m not saying there will not come a day when “some will never die,” but I’m not sure that a presentation of this nature is the right place to introduce that.

I think what is more important to signal is that the return of Christ will signal a dramatic paradigm shift. In the incarnation, Christ came as one of us, and while the world changed — recognized every time you write the date — I think it was nothing compared to what it means when he returns as king.

In the first coming, Jesus rode a donkey, and while his followers went on to found a kingdom without end, in many respects the world went on as it did. In the second coming, Jesus rides a white horse, and whether supernaturally, or through already present technology, “every eye will see him.”

That said, I believe a closing statement — if one were limited by this three-point format — is to say something instead about responding to God’s love, God’s grace or some basic statement of the implications of the atonement. I suppose how deep a person wants to get at this stage depends largely on the type of people who constitute their audience, but whether or not the speaker will ever die is at best immaterial to the responsibility of the hearer to respond to the offer God is putting forward in sending Christ.


So what’s the point?

Keep in mind, the speaker in this case — again click back to Tuesday for the backstory — was in his early 20s when he made the original presentation. But often our words are tossed out without preparation, and perhaps this type of music group or youth group approach needs to be written out, and even crafted with the help of someone with greater spiritual wisdom.

I know that I had similar days I wish I could live over. I wasn’t the speaker in this example, but I probably used similar words and phrases when I did itinerant youth ministry.

If nothing else, I hope this gives you something to think about.

October 25, 2015

It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Know

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Why Isn’t This Story in Every Bible Story Collection?

That’s the question we’re looking at this weekend. Perhaps the story just has credibility issues with adults. A snake on a pole? You only have to look at it; not touch it, or do something else with it?  Perhaps the story simply gets bumped in Bible storybooks by stories involving a giant, or a whale, or a den of lions. But seriously, the way the Numbers 21 story prefigures the crucifixion, while we may not include it in our gospel presentations, we should at least be conversationally familiar with it. If you’ve missed what we’ve said so far, read the articles posted Friday and Saturday.


The Evangelism Explosion Question

Evangelism Explosion was a door-to-door evangelism campaign launched at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida when James Kennedy was pastor, and then made available for churches to train volunteers and use the program in their city or town.

Wikipedia records this about the program:

Evangelism Explosion is best known for its two “diagnostic questions” that users can ask non-Christians as a means of determining a “person’s spiritual health”, and of stimulating an evangelistic conversation:

  1. Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?
  2. Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?

After the diagnostic questions, the evangelist is encouraged to explain the gospel in terms of grace, man, God, Christ, and faith.

What the article doesn’t say is that most people would reply to the second question in terms like,

  • I’ve been a good person
  • I lived a good life
  • I prayed to God regularly
  • I kept the Ten Commandments
  • I went to church
  • I always gave money when people needed it
  • I didn’t smoke/drink/take drugs/sleep around

…and so on.

But none of these is the right answer. It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ that any of us obtains the righteousness that is needed before a just God; something I assume the EE people would then go on to explain. (In what’s sometimes called a “law and gospel” approach, the point is additionally made that none of those actions or omissions could be considered good enough when standing before a God who is all-holy.) 

DO versus DONE

So how does one do that? How do we move from people whose religion is all D-O (do this, do that, do the other thing) to one who simply accepts what’s all been D-O-N-E (freely given, and able to be taken irrespective of one’s spiritual balance sheet)?

Growing up in what was then Canada’s only megachurch, The Peoples Church in Toronto, Dr. Paul B. Smith (who also baptized me) would give an invitation almost every Sunday night and ask people to raise their hands if the wanted him “to include them in the closing prayer.”

While being prayed for to receive salvation or praying a prayer are both models that are subject to intense scrutiny and criticism these days, I think his approach is good at least insofar as one must want to placed under the covering that the cross provides.

I often compare this to the cards we get from the postal service telling us that they are holding a parcel for pickup. We can show all our friends the parcel card and even wave it around, but until we actually go to the post office and exchange the card for the benefit it represents, then all we have is piece of thin cardboard. And think about, the analogy really fits because the parcel is yours; it has your name on it.

How else do we describe this invisible transaction? Most people want to do something in order to gain right standing with God. That’s why religion is so popular. People at least can quantify their acts of piety, devotion or righteousness.

But Christianity, in this sense at least, is not religion. You don’t do anything.

And that’s where the transaction model really breaks down for some people. See, when I do a transaction at the ATM, I get a receipt. At least I can hold that in my hand (or affix it to the inside cover of my Bible). But as much as people so desperately want the equivalent to a proof of purchase, such is not the case when it’s something that happens invisibly. You simply, in a way so similar to the story of Moses and the Bronze Snake need to look to the cross.

Truly this is faith.  


 

As stated, there is no magic prayer to pray, but in your own words, you can simply tell God that you recognize that in his higher plans and purposes, the death of Jesus fulfills the requirements of a system that was set in place long before the world was created; and that you realize that as someone who misses the mark of his standard of holiness and righteousness, what you really need is grace. Tell him you want to be included in all that Christ’s death and God’s infinite grace and love have to offer; and in return, you want to begin living a new life in a new way.

 

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