Thinking Out Loud

February 9, 2015

“We Walked Away”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:55 am

And then if you can walk away
Knowing all he died to do
That’s when I’ll just have to say
I guess he didn’t die for you

Back in the 1970s, the gospel singer simply known as Evie popularized the song “Say ‘I Do'” which contains the lyrics quoted above. Later on, because of concerns with limited atonement, an alternative version sprang up:

And then if you can walk away
Knowing all he died to do
That’s when I’ll just have to say
I guess he died in vain for you

Earlier on the weekend we ran into someone who we knew from a church we attended many, many years ago. She and her husband were very, very involved. After some very brief catching up, I asked her where things were at with her and her husband and God. I think in the back of my mind I knew the answer, having heard something a long time ago from someone else, but still, there’s nothing quite like hearing someone look you in the eye and say, “I would describe myself as a humanist, but I have a personal spirituality.  [Her husband] would describe himself as an atheist.  Our marriage was crumbling, and we were both afraid that our doubts would ruin our marriage, and then we talked about it and discovered we had the same doubts…” Later she added the words, “We walked away…”

Usually in my line of work, I run into people who are far from God, but possibly moving toward the cross. I also run into secularists who never had a faith to begin with, but might be open to a discussion. But not so much people who were there — so there — and left.

I don’t want to break out into a theological discussion today on the eternal security of the believer, or the perseverance of the saints, or whether or not someone was actually on the inside to begin with, but these verses in Hebrews 6 crossed my mind,

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened–those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come–and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.   (4-6, NLT)

My thoughts also turned to a section at the opening of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith where he flies to Toronto to interview Charles Templeton. The Christian Courier does a better job of telling this:

In doing research for his latest book, The Case For Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), Strobel sought out and was granted an interview with Templeton in his penthouse apartment on the 25th floor of a high rise in Toronto, Canada.

During the course of their conversation, Charles Templeton had again vigorously defended his disavowal of God and his rejection of the Bible. There was no apparent chink in the armor of his callused soul. Then, Strobel directed the old gentleman’s attention to Christ. How would he now assess Jesus at this stage of his life?

Strobel says that, amazingly, Templeton’s “body language softened.” His voice took on a “melancholy and reflective tone.” And then, incredibly, he said:

“He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my reading. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world.”

Mind you, he’s talking about the same Teacher who claimed to have existed eternally before Abraham was born (Jn. 8:58), who asserted his oneness of nature with God, the Father (Jn. 10:30), and who allowed men to honor him as “Lord and God” (Jn. 20:28). Which — if these things were not true — makes Jesus of Nazareth the most preposterous and outrageous “con-man” who ever walked the earth. Thousands happily went to their deaths, in the most horrible ways imaginable, confessing his deity.

But the interview continued.

Strobel quietly commented: “You sound like you really care about him.”

“Well, yes,” Templeton acknowledged, “he’s the most important thing in my life.” He stammered: “I . . . I . . . I adore him . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.”

Strobel was stunned. He listened in shock. He says that Templeton’s voice began to crack. He then said, “I . . . miss . . . him!” With that the old man burst into tears; with shaking frame, he wept bitterly.

Finally, Templeton gained control of his emotions and wiped away the tears. “Enough of that,” he said, as he waved his hand, as if to suggest that there would be no more questions along that line.

I miss him.

I wonder if my friend and her husband miss him. I just don’t usually get to see this so up close and personal. So final.

But I hope not final.

God, please cause them to reconsider…

January 25, 2015

Sweet Dreams are Made of This

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwis

Anyone who keeps up with developments in world missions has heard stories of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ after a revelation in a dream. I can’t take the time here to document this, but there have been many articles and at least one DVD documentary, More Than Dreams.

These stories are rather personal to me, because as a 7-year old, my initial stirrings of faith began after waking from a dream that clearly spoke to me that in terms of the lessons presented in Sunday School, a Christian retreat center we visited each year, and other contacts with scripture, I was not prepared.

So yes, the dream confirmed and was in line with scripture, but it was clearly after the dream that I reached out to God, not in the classroom settings.

Which is why I get frustrated with people who would say God does not speak today through extra-Biblical revelation. It’s why I cry a little each time I read a blog article where someone says salvation can only occur directly through the Bible. It’s entirely untrue in my case or in the case of the people I referenced in the Middle East.

Who are we to say how God works, and what he works through? Who are we to discount someone else’s experience? There are people today — and you will encounter them online if you haven’t already — who thrive on putting God in a box. They want to broker God to you, but it’s always their version of God.

I would be very afraid to put limits on God, or how God operates, or what God is doing in the world. I would be very scared to think that my North American picture of God as taught in my little suburban church is the sum and substance of all God is. I would be very frightened to think that only the teaching found in certain books is valid and that each and every other published volume is heretical.

If it doesn’t fit your doctrinal or theological framework, is it possible that you are the one who is wrong? Because God isn’t. He knows exactly what he is doing. It’s a wild frontier out there and he’s got some cowboys who need to be reined in at times, but he’s using a lot of people to accomplish his purposes and bring him glory.

October 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Sunset - Mark BattersonThis is another photograph in a continuing series by people known to readers here; this sunset was taken Monday night by author and pastor Mark Batterson.

 

On Monday I raked leaves and collected links; you could call it my own little feast of ingathering.

Paul Wilkinson’s wisdom and Christian multi-level business opportunities — “just drop by our house tomorrow night, we have something wonderful we’d like to share with you” — can be gleaned the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and in the Twitterverse

From the archives:
The problem with out-of-office email notifications:


Lost in translation: The English is clear enough to lorry drivers – but the Welsh reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” …Read the whole 2008 BBC News story here.

January 5, 2014

How Do You Know You Became a Christian?

Filed under: evangelism, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:21 pm

When I’m in a general market bookstore like Barnes and Noble (or Chapters in Canada) I make a point of hanging out in the Bible aisle and getting into conversations with people. Many people are purchasing a Bible in a relative vacuum and store staff can’t offer the same advice you’d get at a Christian bookstore.

So on Saturday, when the opportunity appeared to present itself, I told the guy that I kinda work in Christian publishing and if he needed any advice on his purchase…

 “I have a doctorate in divinity;” he replied, “and I preach and teach around the world.”

By the tenor of his conversation, I knew that the tables had been turned on me that time. (I also got that humility wasn’t his thing; but that’s topic for another day.) This was clearly a man that doesn’t suffer fools, and that could have shut down the whole conversation right there; but I persisted by explaining what I do and why I asked.

He then asked me, “When did you become a Christian?”  This was quickly followed by, “How did you become a Christian?”  Finally, the most interesting question of the lot, “How does someone become a Christian?”

I liked his forthright manner.

The answer to the first for me would be as a seventeen year old. True, I “accepted Jesus” when I was seven, but I lived a very dualistic lifestyle all through high school. It was at seventeen I took ownership of the faith I had been raised in, the belief system I had been baptized into.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it.

For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want to be under the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.)

…So, you’re in a bookstore like me, or a grocery store, or getting your car fixed, or your hair styled, and you’re asked, How does someone become a Christian? Do you have a ready answer? Is your answer different when explaining it to someone with a doctorate in divinity than it is explaining it to your mechanic, or mail carrier? Should the answer be different depending on the hearer?

A divinity student named Tweedle
When Refused to accept his degree.
He said, “It’s bad enough being Tweedle,
Without being Tweedle, DD”.

August 2, 2013

Presbyterians Reject “In Christ Alone”

Denny Burk:

Timothy George explains why the Presbyterian Church USA has recently rejected the hymn “In Christ Alone” from its new hymnal:

Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.

There is no surprise in this news. Although not all PCUSA churches are theologically liberal, the denomination by and large is. Liberalism and wrath go together like oil and water; they don’t mix. And historically speaking, one of them eventually has to go. When wrath goes, so does the central meaning of the atonement of Christ—penal substitution. At the end of the day, the cross itself is the stumbling block, and that is why the PCUSA cannot abide this hymn.

You can read the rest of George’s article here. …

Shane Vander Hart:

…On the Committee’s Facebook page earlier this month they wrote, “After last night’s Hymn Festival, PCOCS think that ‘In Christ Alone’ will become a favorite. What are your other favorites on the list?”

Apparently they used a version that excluded the wrath of God.  How far the Presbyterian Church (USA) has drifted from their historical roots.  I’m trying to picture John Knox, the leader of the Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian Church,  having an issue with idea of God’s wrath being satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross.

Knox once said, “By the brightness of God’s scriptures we are brought to the feeling of God’s wrath and anger, which by our manifold offenses we have justly provoked against ourselves; which revelation and conviction God sends not of a purpose to confound us, but of very love, by which He had concluded our salvation to stand in Jesus Christ.”

The Scottish Confession of Faith (one of Presbyterianism’s first creeds) says:

[We confess] That our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us;[1] that he suffered contradiction of sinners; that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions;[2] that he, being the clean and innocent Lamb of God,[3] was damned in the presence of an earthly judge,[4] that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God;[5] that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross (which was accursed by the sentence of God),[6] but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father,[7] which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow, that he remained the only and well-beloved and blessed Son of his Father, even in the midst of his anguish and torment, which he suffered in body and soul, to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people.[8] After the which, we confess and avow, that there remains no other sacrifice for sin:[9] which if any affirm, we nothing doubt to avow that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death, and the everlasting purgation and satisfaction purchased to us by the same.

1. Heb. 10:1-12.
2. Isa. 53:5; Heb. 12:3.
3. John 1:29.
4. Matt.27:11,26; Mark 15; Luke 23.
5. Gal. 3:13.
6. Deut. 21:23.
7. Matt. 26:38-39.
8. 2 Cor. 5:21.
9. Heb. 9:12; 10:14.

They are embracing a cultural hatred of God’s wrath.  I mentioned over four years ago something Brennan Manning wrote (Manning’s writings were very influential among the Emergent Church):

The god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger… the god who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ.  And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.

The trend to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus has taken root in the Presbyterian Church (USA).   What a shame!  Though Christ’s death on the cross God’s wrath was satisfied.  He gave up His son to bear it Himself because God knew we could not.  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV).  It is finished.  God’s wrath is satisfied.  Nothing else is needed, Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for our salvation…

David French:

It [the song] avoids shallow promises of earthly comfort in favor of the ultimate comfort — no matter our earthly destiny — found in Christ. And it’s a beautiful song, covered by countless Christian artists.

The core of the dispute is the mainline break with orthodoxy on the very nature of God and mission of Jesus. In orthodox Christianity, sin demands sacrifice. God’s wrath against sin — our sin — was atoned through Christ’s sacrifice. Or, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

This is the essence of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and mainline protestantism is increasingly rejecting it in favor of a doctrine that places Jesus not as Savior in the orthodox sense but more as an example of love and nonviolent resistance, Gandhi on divine steroids.

The importance of rejecting substitutionary atonement is tough to overstate, with ramifications across the full spectrum of spiritual, social, and cultural engagement. In fact, it’s likely one of the key reasons for  the steep decline in mainline churches. After all, when the purpose of Christ’s presence on earth is ripped from its eternal context and placed firmly within (and relegated to) the world of “social justice” and earthly systems of oppression, there’s little that church offers that, say, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Occupy Wall Street, or a subscription to Mother Jones can’t also supply.

If, on the other hand, Christ represents the sole source of our eternal hope, then church offers something that no political movement can replicate or replace. No amount of “social justice” or political liberation can save your soul.

A comment posted on John Meunier’s blog:

This song was also sung at the recent worship service when the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby took office — at HIS request. As I followed the tweets for the service, a number of people noted that about half the congregation refused to sing the words about God’s wrath.

Frankly, I am clear that John Wesley would like the author’s words. He emphasized the need for sinners (including Methodists) to “flee from the wrath to come”. I know you have written about this in the past. I am pretty well convinced that our reluctance to consider the wrath of God is one of the reasons the church has lost it’s emphasis on winning souls.

You know, after reading that last one, I’m determined to return to the top of this article, replay the video and sing loud and strong.

July 30, 2013

Guest Post: An Engineer Looks at Doctrinal Systems

My guest writer today is my son Chris, who I should describe more accurately as an engineer in training. He brings a scientific mind to a study which divides people, the issue of the Calvinist doctrinal system versus the Arminian doctrinal system. He is trying to show here how each of the core beliefs of Calvinism is rooted in the belief which precedes it. To that end it is a systematic theology. Since Arminianism is historically a response to Calvinism, he contrasts each doctrinal element with the corresponding Arminian perspective. For someone not trained in such matters, I personally think he does an amazing job here, even inventing a few new words in the process.

In yet another of history’s attempts to diffuse the unending debate between Calvinists and Arminianists, I would like to summarize my experiences with the dispute.  This caused me a great deal of grief in my first years of university, and I will be quite happy if I can immunize anyone to the arguing by informing them about it before it becomes a “stumbling block” to them.

First, I have identified the most fundamental difference between the two systems of belief to be that Arminians believe that sinful humans possess “free will” or “freedom of choice,” while Calvinists believe that sinfulness precludes choice.  All further differences can be extrapolated from this one point and a few obvious observations about the world.  Therefore, the most core difference between the two theological systems is a disagreement about man, not about God.  (Total Depravity.)

The different views of choice lead to different views of the lead-up to salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer him a chance to change his ways, and the sinner willfully ceases his rebellion, consents to being changes from within, and agrees to begin working for the Kingdom;  while the Calvinist sees God selecting a sinner and going to work in him without any questions or profferings.  (Irresistible Grace)

The different views of choice also lead to different views of the lead-up to non-salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer salvation, but the sinner declines to accept it, much to God’s dismay;  while the Calvinist sees no dialogue take place, as God has already rejected that sinner for reasons he has not disclosed.  (Unconditional Election.)

The different views on the distribution of salvation are mirrored by different theories about the available supply of salvation:  Arminians believe that Jesus took up the sins of everyone so that the door might be open to everyone;  while Calvinists believe Jesus only took up the sins of those who would, in fact, ultimately be saved, because it would be pointless for Jesus to suffer for sins whose committors will carry them in Hell anyway.  (Limited Atonement.)

(The remaining Point of Calvinism is Perseverance of the Saints.  Whether or not someone can lose their salvation depends purely on how the word “saved” is applied, which is not really part of the overall disagreement.  It’s purely a difference in terminology.)

The different views of non-salvation, a topic people naturally feel strongly about, lead to different descriptions of God’s character:  The Arminian describes God as unconditionally loving and with arms always open, constantly wooing people to come home;  while the Calvinist may perhaps describe God as a mighty ruler building his kingdom, purposefully and with discernment, to glorify himself.

The Arminian’s favorite word is “love,” while the Calvinists’s is “sovereign.”  Due to differences in rhetoric, each side believes their favorite to be absent from the other’s theology, creating caricatures of each:  Calvinists think Arminians don’t take God’s rule seriously, while Arminians think Calvinists believe God holds humans to be worthless unless useful.  Any contestation that develops between the two sides serves to further polarize the rhetoric.

Both of these caricatures are sometimes correct:  There are people in the church who believe in works-based salvation (whether consciously or not), and there are others therein who think God hates them.

Calvinism versus ArminianismThe caricatures cause “straw men” in any argument that takes place between Calvinists and Arminianists:  The Arminianist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s love, while the Calvinist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s rule, when in fact the two are in agreement about both.  The argument typically doesn’t resolve, but is terminated by an exclamation of, “Well, at least we can agree that we’re both saved by grace through the blood of the Lamb!” or something to that effect.

Both descriptions of God’s character can be taken too far:  God’s love, taken too far, leads to universalism, while God’s sovereignty, taken too far, leads to fatalism.

The different views of choice stem from different individual conversion experiences:  One Christian, who came slowly to understand and accept God’s work in their past, will find that Calvinism describes the process better;  while another, who had salvation explained to them by an existing Christian and then wanted to get in on it, may find that Arminianism describes the process better.  Likewise, I imagine there are nonbelievers who have understood and rejected Jesus, and others who die without ever knowing.

You will encounter people on both sides who acknowledge the correctness of both — either believing that each correctly describes the same God with different terminology, or believing that they serve as a sort of Yin and Yang that describe God well complementarily but poorly individually — and you will encounter those who adhere fiercely to one and war against the other.

~Chris Wilkinson


April 12, 2013

Why Jesus Came

Filed under: Jesus — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am

One of the most innovative and fastest growing church movements in Canada in the last decade has been The Meeting House, based just west of Toronto in Oakville, Ontario.  The teaching pastor is the somewhat unconventional Bruxy Cavey author of The End of Religion (NavPress).  This appeared on a new section of their website under the title Jesus at the Center

For us at The Meeting House, It all comes down to the life and teachings of the historical Jesus. His mission was simple: to show us his love, save us from sin, set up his kingdom, and shut down religion.

Show us his love: We believe that no one has taught and modeled love more clearly than Jesus. He brought people together from all backgrounds and social castes, teaching them to love their neighbors and even their enemies. In this, Jesus not only shows us how to live, but reveals who God really is — unconditional, life-giving love.

Save us from sin: We all know that no one is perfect. However, we learn from the teaching of Jesus that God is ready to forgive all those who trust him. No ritual or penance is needed. Forgiveness is free to those who ask regardless of how bad the failure or sin is. Forgiveness tears down the walls we’ve erected between us and God, ending the self-destructive cycles we sometimes find ourselves in.

Set up his kingdom: Jesus had a vision of a different kind of kingdom. Rather than a political empire with borders to defend, he cast a vision for a people that would follow his love ethic and live as servants and peacemakers wherever they found themselves in the world. The idea of the “kingdom of God” on earth was central to Jesus’ teaching. His message was most commonly summarized as “the Good News of the kingdom”. At The Meeting House we return to this theme regularly from a desire to live into it fully.

Shut down religion: Both in his day and our day, many think that God won’t accept people unless they clean up their lives and become religious. They think they have to climb a kind of stairway to heaven by following all kinds of religious rules, regulations, rituals and routines. In contrast, Jesus came to say that trying to be changed from the outside-in through religion simply doesn’t work. In fact, he taught that religion itself needs to be shut down so that he can change us from the inside-out through his presence and love.

During Jesus day, the religious authorities saw this subversive message as a threat, but it was enthusiastically embraced by common people and those on the margins. God offers us freedom, forgiveness, and love through a person – Jesus – and he’s the one we are trying to follow. When you get to know us, you’ll find that we’re not into fighting cultural wars or taking political sides. Rather, we simply want to do what Jesus called his followers to do. We want to follow his example in our daily lives, share his message and do our best to extend his peace around the world.

March 12, 2013

“He said the prayer, that’s enough.”

Altar Call 1

The sinner’s prayer produces false converts.

I was going to use this as an item in tomorrow’s link list, but it truly deserves a much larger audience. This appeared at Arminian Today.

I remember once attending a Baptist church with a buddy of mine.  At the end of the meeting, the Baptist preacher gave a typical, “bow your head and close your eyes” type of altar call in which he asked people to “accept Christ into your heart today, before it’s too late.”  A young teenager “came forward to receive Christ.”  The preacher spoke to the lad, prayed with him, and then announced that the teenager was saved and was a candidate for baptism to which they had a quick congregational vote on the matter and a man raised his hand to second the pastor’s vote for the teen’s baptism.  They then asked us to come up and shake hands with the teenager and welcome him into the family of God.

When I got to the teen, I could tell that he really had no clue what was going on.  So I quickly said to him, “Do you understand what it means to repent of your sins?”  To which he said no.  I was just starting to explain to him what it means to repent when a woman pushed me out of the way and said loudly, “He said the prayer, that’s enough now move on.”

The teenager never came back again.

“The prayer.”  That is how many see salvation.  Just say this prayer and you are in.  Repeat these magic words and you’re in the kingdom of God.  Despite not one example of anyone “praying to receive Christ” in the New Testament and despite not one example from the ministry of Jesus where He instructed His disciples to do this, the modern evangelical church seems fixed on practicing this unbiblical practice.  One large church in Charlotte, NC likes to boast about how many “prayed to receive Christ” and they boast that thousands upon thousands have asked Jesus into their hearts for the first time through this church.  Yet not one New Testament passage is offered for such a practice.

Furthermore, compare the ministries of the great saints of God in Church History.  John Knox.  William Tyndale. William Carey. John Calvin.  James Arminius.  John Wesley.  George Whitefield.  Peter Cartwright.  Charles Spurgeon.  Jonathan Edwards. Not one of these men of God used the “sinner’s prayer” or exhorted sinners to pray to receive Christ.  They certainly used John 1:12-13 and called sinners to look to Christ alone to be saved but none of them had modern altar calls.  The modern altar call does not even appear until the late 1800′s and was especially used by men such as D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and of course, Billy Graham. Charles Finney seems to be the first to introduce what he called, “the anxious bench” where seekers could come and hear more about how to be saved.  From here came the modern practice of “coming down front to receive Christ.”  Spurgeon would call his hearers to receive Christ but he would exhort them to go to a prayer room where a waiting Christian would instruct them on what it means to truly be saved.  This is also the practice of John MacArthur today.

I believe the modern altar call has produced countless false converts.  Since sin is rarely preached against or at least is not even biblically defined (1 John 3:4), many also don’t understand what it means to be saved in the first place.  Saved from what? Saved from whom?  Why must we repent of our sins?  Why does God require repentance?  The modern church seems to have forgotten also that salvation is a work of God (1 Peter 1:3). Regeneration is not a work of the flesh that comes from praying a prayer or saying words or raising a hand. Regeneration is a divine work of God (John 3:3; Titus 3:5-7).  We cannot save ourselves.  We must cast ourselves completely upon the Lord Jesus to deliver us from God’s just wrath (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  To be honest, too often gospel messages spend too much time focused on our sin instead of the holiness and justice of God.  It is God whom we should fear and it is His laws that we have violated (Luke 12:4-5).  We should be preaching the justice of God in regard to sinning (Hebrews 10:31).

I do praise God that more and more are realizing after studying both the Word of God and Church History that the sinner’s prayer is not a biblical nor historical practice. It is not based on the clear examples of the New Testament nor upon the examples of great church leaders.  We find nothing in the early Church Fathers to suggest that they used a practice of altar calls.  The Church has preached salvation through Christ for 2000 years and this must be our message again if we are to see the lost saved (Romans 1:16-17). Salvation does not come by the tools of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) but the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Let us trust again in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and save the lost (John 16:8-11).

…In sourcing the image that appears below, I ended up at an article by Caribbean pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.  Since I believe we linked to it back in 2011 when it was published, I’ll just include the numbered points in the middle of the piece, but you can read it all at this link.

1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.

2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centered, manipulative methodology.

3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).

4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.”

5. The altar call partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.

6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only “up front.”

7. The altar call can confuse people regarding “sacred” things and “sacred” places, as the name “altar call” suggests.

8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.

9. The altar call is often seen as “the most important part of the service”, and this de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship which God has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing).

10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things He has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing), not the things we have invented. We should always be leery of adding to God’s prescriptions for His corporate worship.

Altar Call 2

Upper image source  Lower image source via source

Related item here at Thinking Out Loud

March 1, 2013

March Madness, Blog Style

I don’t do repeats here until the piece is a year old.  So a new month always offers new items from the previous year that you may have missed… (Apologies to email subscribers…this is long!)


A Letter to the Nominating Committee

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,


This Song Should Be the Anthem of Churches Everywhere

I was scrolling through the CCLI top 200 worship songs, and it occurred to me there is a song that really needs to be there; in fact it really needs to be part of the repertoire of every church using modern worship.

Eddie Kirkland is a worship leader at Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, where, just to warn ya, the worship set may seem to some of you more like a rock concert than a Sunday service. But I hope you’ll see past that and enjoy the song.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place
We want to be refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love the breaks the walls and fill the streets…

All are welcome here
As we are, as we are
For our God is near every heart

If those sentiments are not the goal of where you attend on Sundays, frankly, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s another version of the song that was used as part of North Point’s Be Rich campaign, where each year, instead of reinventing the charity wheel, NPCC members flood secular social service organizations with money and volunteer hours.

Watch the song a few times, and then forward the link to today’s blog post — http://wp.me/pfdhA-3en — to the worship leader at your church.

If a church of any size desires to live up to what this song expresses, there’s nothing stopping that church from changing the world.


Qualifying “It Gets Better”

One of the Church’s biggest failures of the past decade has been our reaction, and over-reaction to the LGBT community, especially to those who — absent the treatment they see their peers receiving — hold on to a faith in the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, there are the usual conservative voices who insist that any gay sympathies constitute an automatic ticket to hell. Frankly, I am curious to see who shows up to picket at their funerals.

On the other hand, there are among the more progressive progressives, certain Christian bloggers who in their compassion have thrown out a lot of the core of the Bible’s ideal for family, procreation and partnership.

And now, to add to our confusion, we discover that Psalm 139, the scripture used as a major element in the argument against abortion, is used as a rallying cry for gay and lesbian Christians. Regardless of which translation is employed.

Anyway, I’ve already blogged my personal place of balance on this issue, but in thinking about it this week, I’ve realized that my particular choice of words has a bearing on another commonly heard phrase particularly among teenagers who either come out of the closet by choice or who are outed by their classmates.

The phrase is, “It gets better.”

For the bullied, the confused and the lonely, I certainly hope it does. Soon.

But I have to say this, and maybe this can be your response as well, “It gets better, but it doesn’t necessarily get best.”

In other words; I’m there for you.

I understand.

I’m not someone looking at this from the detachment of an outsider; I’ve read your blogs, I’ve looked in to your online discussions. I do get it.

But with all the love in my heart, I just think that ultimately, God has something else in mind which, because He made it, is perfect.

So yes, it gets better, thought it doesn’t necessarily get best.


A Powerful Story Echoes Three Decades Later

This was recorded nearly 30 years ago at a Christian music festival somewhere in Canada. Nancyjo Mann was lead singer in the band Barnabas. I always knew that I had this in my possession — on VHS, no less — and have always felt that more people need to see it. For those of you who knew me back in the days of the Searchlight Video Roadshow, you’ll remember that I often closed each night with this particular testimony.

January 28, 2013

Confronting Salvation Insecurity

At an earlier stage of life, J. D. Greear prayed to receive salvation multiple times and was baptized on four different occasions. In a new book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know For Sure You Saved (B&H Books) Greear doesn’t speculate on what that means for the statistics of various churches, but he does  confront a problem that is common to many: a lack of assurance that they are truly saved.

A few months ago, I wrote about the ramifications of a faith dependent on an invisible transaction. If only, like one does at the ATM, one had the option of getting a printed receipt. That’s the type of assurance many people crave.

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart - J. D. GreearIn the book, Greear looks at what constitutes belief and repentance. Though he doesn’t use these words, he wrestles with the question of whether or not salvation is a crisis experience (happens all at once) or a process experience (happens over time) and dismisses the distinction by referring to faith as a posture, with the test question being, “Are you in the posture of repentance now?” One section is subtitled, “Present Posture is Better Proof Than a Past Memory.” He allows the possibility that some may not remember an “exact moment” but know they are submitted to Christ, preempting the need to ‘pray the prayer.’

He is equally sensitive to people on both sides of the Arminian/Calvinist divide over eternal security, approaching difficult anecdotal cases not with the negative language that perhaps some were not saved to begin with, but with a more positive spin that those who are truly repentant do in fact persevere in their faith.

Additionally, he recognizes the uniqueness of each our stories.

C. S. Lewis describes a day in 1951 (after writing The Four Loves and giving the talks that became Mere Christianity) where he passed form “mere intellectual acceptance of, to the realization of, the doctrine that our sins are forgiven.” He did not think of this as his conversion, but he did say that in light of it “what I had previously called ‘belief’ looked absolutely unreal.” After writing one of the all time classics of the Christian faith…     (p. 114)

And he concedes the universality of misgivings.

The Bible time and time again reminds us that no one is immune from doubt, spiritual apathy, and severe temptation. Elijah sank into self-pity and depression right after winning the victory on Mount Carmel. After speaking with God face-to-face, Moses lost his temper and blasphemed God publicly. After establishing the greatest kingdom Israel had ever seen, David committed adultery and murder. After preaching a service in which three thousand were save, Peter fell back into hypocrisy and cowardice. Perhaps God lets his saints struggle that way so that their faith will remain in his grace and not in their righteousness.  (p. 108, emphasis added)

In a way, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, while a smaller book, is a somewhat exhaustive treatment of this subject, filled with scripture quotations and quotes from classic and current authors. Packaged in a Prayer of Jabez-sized hardcover at 128 digest-sized pages, its $12.99 U.S. list seems a little pricey, however, I would advise churches to try to track down bulk pricing on this and have giveaway copies at hand for those who are experiencing doubts.

For an additional look at the book, see an excerpt at Christianity 201  Thanks to The A Group for this review copy.

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