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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

This is a letter not to a specific worship leader but to any and all worships leaders who do the things listed below. It seems that worship leaders in many, or even perhaps most, evangelical churches have bought into the lie that they have to conduct worship in a certain way in order to attract people or get more attenders in the worship service.

The first area of confusion is this: Worship leaders think that the singing and music are the main part of worship. In fact, this fallacy is so ubiquitous that some people use the words “worship” and “music” interchangeably. But, in reality the main part of worship is the preaching of the Word and rightly dividing and applying Scripture. The music prepares our hearts for worship and helps us to corporately lift up the name of Christ and focus on His attributes and give Him praise, but the central part of worship is the preaching of the Word.

Getting to the music, I urge you to stop doing these things if you are the worship leader.

STOP leading us in music that that repeats lines over and over in order to work us up into a state of emotion. Stop trying to manipulate my emotions with the music. Stop making us sing the same lines over and over while building in volume and tempo and drums in order musically manipulate my emotions. Don’t try to work me up into a state where I will “Amen” anything you have to say just because I am all emotional (rather than actually engaging my mind) due to the music and manipulation.

STOP making the music so loud that I have to yell at people when I greet them. The music does not have to be over 100dB for us to hear it. It doesn’t have to be that loud for us to praise God. Do you have the music so loud because the congregational singing is horrible or because you are trying to simulate a music concert? Please don’t feel the need to simulate a music concert in order to attract people to church. It is a service of worship. The point is to praise and lift up the name of Christ. We worship in Spirit and in Truth, not in overwhelming loudness and in the dark.

STOP turning the lights down during worship. Again, it is not a concert. We are there to worship Christ. It doesn’t need to be dark in order to attract me to come. Worship is for the believer. Evangelism is done for the unbeliever. Please stop focusing on the environment to draw people in.

STOP singing about fluff and emotional psychobabble. We don’t need any more Hillsong or Bethel Redding music. Honestly, the music we sing from Hillsong could be sung by nearly any theological liberal or universalist church because it just lacks substance. It lacks doctrine. It lacks specific biblical truth that nourishes the Christians’ soul. One thing that this music doesn’t lack is musical emotional manipulation.

I urge you, the worship leaders, to start doing the things listed below.

START engaging my mind with your music selection. You must go through my mind to reach my heart to reach my emotions. My emotions won’t be stirred or manipulated by music. Engage my mind with doctrinally sound lyrics. Christ communicates to us through words. Words communicate truth. Emotions do not.

START reminding me of Christ and the Gospel when we are singing during worship. Remind me about how I was an enemy of Christ but He made a way for me to be reconciled to Him. Remind me of how I was under God’s wrath but Christ took the punishment for me so God’s justice could be satisfied. I don’t need any more of the “God’s presence is sweeping me off my feet because He loves me” music. It is not wrong. It is incomplete and a steady diet of it creates a church of theologically illiterate people.

START signing songs that do not have theologically inaccurate statements. You can say I’m being picky. I say words carry meaning so choose words carefully to communicate an accurate meaning. People sing songs throughout the week in their heads. Don’t pick songs that have bad theology. People will be repeating bad theology in their heads all week.

Jesus said, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24 NASB) I know that the worship leaders truly want to lead us into worship. I know they take their job seriously and want us to worship in spirit and truth. However, in most evangelical churches that I have visited worship in spirit, emotion, and very shallow truth and with very little doctrinally informed truth. May our worship leaders use their influence to teach Christians solid doctrine through the music selection.

Soli Deo Gloria

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If there is one thing that the Excogitating Engineer enjoys, it is listening to podcasts. He listens to podcasts almost every time he drives to and from work. He listens to various kinds of podcasts — news, apologetics, sermons, history, etc. In this particular post, the Excogitating Engineer would like to give props to his favorite podcasts in the category of Christian Podcasts. Sermons that churches upload to i-Tunes do not fall into this category. This category of podcasts are basically podcasts that are Christian commentary or discussions. Sermons will be another category so don’t be offended if your favorite preacher is not on this list.

I am going to list my top Christian podcasts in the same way that the College Football Playoff selection committee lists their top teams. I will give you my top four Christian podcasts and then I will give you my first 2 podcasts out which just barely missed the cut. These podcasts are not necessarily ones that I agree with the most. They are merely the ones that I find listening to the most in my car. Some of them could be analogous to a train wreck that you just can’t stop looking at. The podcasts could be a train wreck but I just keep listening. So here we go with my top four podcasts and the first two out.

  1. White Horse Inn. The White Horse Inn is hosted by Dr. Michael Horton and he has a panel of pastors or teachers. They discuss theological issues, doctrines, or sometimes they will just walk through a book of the Bible and discuss it. I like it because it is 30 minutes which is a perfect length for my commute to work. The hosts are solid theologically. I don’t always agree with them but I like the fact that the panel is made up of people from various church traditions but have a solid commitment to the Gospel.
  2. The Briefing. The Briefing is a 30 minute cultural commentary by the amazing Dr. R.  Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He selects the major news stories or editorial articles of the day from major new sources and will talk about them. He discusses the news items and helps you, the listener, understand how to view the story through the lens of a biblical worldview. It is all done on the fly with no transcript. Not only is his commentary excellent, he constantly amazes with his knowledge on a vast array of topics.
  3. Theology. Driven. This podcast is a relatively new podcast for me. I’ve know about it for less than six months. There are three guys that drive around in a car and another who joins their conversations via Skype. They talk about whatever they want. Usually they start out with a few minutes of banter and spend the rest of the time discussing a theological topic. I haven’t been listening to this podcast for very long but the guys on this podcast are not learned like the ones in my top 2 podcasts, but they are solid lay people. There is one thing I can’t figure out. Why do they have to drive around to talk? Why not just sit down somewhere with a good internet connection and record the podcast? I understand the “driving” theme in the name of the podcast but is it really necessary to literally drive to “explore the open road of life?”
  4. Doctrine and Devotion. Doctrine and Devotion is very similar to the previously discussed podcast. Instead of having a panel of four hosting the show, it is a panel of two. The type of conversation is similar and they come from a similar theological perspective — Reformed Baptist. The hosts are Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler who are both elders at the same church in St. Charles, Illinois. They have a lot of banter in their show as well and they get very silly and even rude sometimes. If you can get through that, the content of what they have to say is pretty good. And, I wish they would stop talking about smoking all the time.
  5. Mortification of Spin. This podcast is a discussion or conversation between Todd Pruitt, Carl Trueman, and Aimee Byrd. The Excogitating Engineer enjoys their conversation and sometimes disagreements. Carl Trueman is especially enjoyable to listen to with his British accent. One of the shortcomings of this show is that the hosts are all Presbyterian. I know, the previous two podcasts are hosted by Baptists. The difference is that this podcast is supposed to represent the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. That being the case, I do not think that Presbyterians are the only Confessing Evangelicals. I enjoy the show but would appreciate more diversity in church traditions.
  6. Stand to Reason. The last of my top 6 is Stand to Reason. This used to be my most listened to podcast, until I introduced more variety into my podcast library. I’ve definitely been listening to this podcast the longest. The host, Greg Koukl, starts off with some commentary and then takes questions from callers. I enjoy listening to the questions and I learn from Greg by listening to how he answers people’s questions. I think about how I would answer the same question as I listen to him  skillfully present the Christian position on issues or theological challenges.

There you go. My top 6 podcasts. I would love to hear your thoughts on these or what your top Christian podcasts are. Of course, there are others that I like but these are the ones I listen to the most.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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I have been involved in a conversation with a group of men about the gospel. We all understand that we are all sinners and we are under God’s wrath. As Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 says that the penalty for that sin is death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are all separated from God because of our sin. We are all sinners without exception. We all deserve God’s wrath without exception. We all inherited our sin nature from Adam. We are sinners and we sin.

The interesting thing about conversations about the gospel is that, many times, these conversations end up focusing on what one must do to get into heaven. We talk about how some people think that they have done enough good deeds during their time on earth to get into heaven. Some people don’t even consider their bad deeds but think that the good deeds of their life will tip the scales in their favor, while their bad deeds don’t even make it on the scale. I think this a fairly normal conversation when people talk about works and the fact that nobody’s works are good enough to get them into heaven. We are all in need of God’s grace to get into heaven. No amount of good deeds and can tip the scales in our favor.

The more I reflect on these conversations about getting into heaven, the more I think that we are asking the wrong questions and we need to approach the discussion from a completely different angle. When I look at the words of Christ in the New Testament, I do not see him engaging people in conversations about whether or not they will get into heaven or even if they have lived lives good enough to merit entrance into heaven. It is clear that heaven and hell are realities and that heaven is a place where Jesus is preparing an eternal place for us to dwell with Him. But, His conversations usually center around people’s faith and repentance. He tells people that their sins are forgiven because of their faith or reflects on the sadness of situations such as the rich young ruler who loved his possessions more than following Christ. One thing we don’t hear Him ask is, “What will you tell the Father when you die and get to heaven?”

The reason we don’t hear Jesus ask the question about entrance into heaven is that the most important issue to be discussed is the reality and seriousness of people’s sin and their enmity with God. We need to repent and believe and then live a life of obedience and faith. John 10:10 says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus doesn’t say that He came so that people could go to heaven but that we could have an abundant life — now.

May we frame our gospel conversations around what is important. May we understand the seriousness of our sin and the depth of our depravity. We were dead in our trespasses and sin. By God’s grace, He provided His Son to take our punishment and in return we receive His righteousness. This is the great exchange. May we focus on reason Christ came to earth which was to take the wrath of God upon Himself on our behalf and redeem His people. It was not to give us life-after-death insurance to give us a way into heaven. May we have a biblical understanding of the gospel and may we preach that gospel to ourselves and to others!

Soli Deo Gloria

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The Excogitating Engineer spent many years in Japan. One of the unique things about Japan which tourists readily notice is that many restaurants have display windows at the entrance facing the street with plastic food so people can see what food the restaurants serve and how much it costs. They look like the picture shown.

screen shot 2019-01-21 at 1.24.34 pm

As you can see, the window display shows a vivid reproduction of the food choices on the menu. This is great for tourists because you get an idea of what they serve even if you can’t read the menu. It includes prices also which is quite handy. This plastic fake food has long been a part of Japanese culture and there are artisans that make much of it by hand. Some of it very realistic. You might even want to eat it. But don’t try to eat it because it is made of plastic. More specifically, most of them are made of PVC.

Switching gears now, think about the fact that the writer of Hebrews uses a food analogy in Hebrews 5 when he refers to the “elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12).  He writes in the same verse, “you have come to need milk and not solid food.” I do not wish to make a comparison between Japanese food and meat or plastic food and milk but I would like to make an observation about what many contemporary preachers are giving to their congregations today in their sermons. Many times the sermons are not derived from the text and they end up just being steps on how to live a happy life. The sermons are not driven by the Scriptures and are just steps to a wonderful life or things to do to become a better person. They are not really sermons. They are more like inspirational Ted Talks with a little god sprinkled in here and there.

When I hear these kinds of “sermons” or inspirational talks, I feel like I’ve gone into a Japanese restaurant and instead of them bringing out my food, they have served me fake food that you can’t really eat. If a restaurant brought me fake food, I would immediately send it back and ask for the real thing, as any other sane person would. Attempting to eat fake food would leave me unsatisfied and feeling sick. This is exactly how I feel when I hear some of these sermons in contemporary evangelicalism. They make me feel sick and unsatisfied and still longing for some real food.

To preachers who are giving their congregations plastic food instead of meat, or even milk for that matter, please STOP! Stop telling your church how to have a happy life or how to deal with difficult co-workers or how to be a person God can use. Start opening the Bible and explaining it, as Phillip did with the Ethiopian eunuch. Stop talking about what we have to do to be a good Christian and start talking about what God has already accomplished on our behalf. Start talking about what the Scripture actually means and how it applies to our lives. Start talking about the God that the Bible is actually about. Talk about the the comfort that we have in our position in Christ, if we are indeed in Christ. Talk about that fact that we cannot outrun the outstretched loving arm of God if we are in Him. Talk about how God’s love is not wreckless but that Jesus paid a calculated price, His very life, in order to secure our salvation. Please, start preaching the  Word. No more fake food!

If you go to one of these churches that serves up fake food, send it back. Don’t let the preacher get away with continuing to give you the same plastic food each week. Send the fake food back and ask for some real food. If they still don’t give you real food, find another church where they will give you some sustenance and nourish you with the living Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

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The Virginal Conception

One of the central doctrines that has been on my mind this Christmas season has been the issue of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. According to Millard Erickson, next to His death and resurrection this doctrine has been the most controversial in the history of the church. Modernists reject the doctrine as unimportant or irrelevant while fundamentalists hold to the idea as paramount for their faith. One author has said, “the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is THE Fundamental of all Fundamentals of the entire gospel program.” A doctrine that is so dear to some and that is so easily dismissed by others warrants a discussion and careful consideration.

Biblical

There are several passages in the Old Testament which prophesy the virgin birth. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” Is this son a reference to Christ? The answer lies in the rest of this prophecy that continues in the following chapters, stating:

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us, and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 NASB)

A prophecy such as this “could not have had in view a mere man, born in the ordinary way.” This must be a reference to the birth of Christ who in Isaiah 7:14 is prophesied to be born of a virgin.

As clear as these passages are, there are still those who object to interpreting these passages as really referring to a virgin. Those who object to the virgin birth of Christ claim that, in Isaiah 7:14, “the Hebrew word almah means merely a young woman of marriageable age, not necessarily a virgin.” The word almah is used in 6 other passages in the Bible, and in all cases it is used to mean an “unmarried maiden,” or a virgin. Therefore, the use of the word almah must be referring to a virgin birth.

The New Testament also has various references to the virgin birth. The first reference in the New Testament comes in the first chapter Matthew in the form of the genealogy of Christ and the narrative of His birth. The genealogy begins in Matthew 1:2 starting with Abraham and traces the lineage through Matthew 1:16 which says, “and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” The verses that follow, Matthew 1:18-25, tell the account of the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:23 implies that this is a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 by stating, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” Matthew continues to support his point in this verse by explaining that Immanuel means “God with us.”

While I cannot list all New Testament passages which allude or refer to the virgin birth, there is another passage which clearly supports this doctrine. Luke 1:26-28 tells of the prediction of the birth of Christ prior to His conception. These verses tell the account of the conversation between the angel Gabriel and the “virgin” (Luke 1:27) Mary. Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Thus, we know that Mary conceived a child as a result of being “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit. Many leading evangelical scholars prefer to use the term “virginal conception” rather than “virgin birth” because what is truly miraculous about the event is the conception of Christ through the Holy Spirit in Mary, completely independent of a human male.

There are many other verses in the New Testament which allude to the “virginal conception” but time will not permit me to write about all of them. Here are some references: Mark 6:3, John 1:13; 6:41-51; 7:41-42; 8:41, Romans 1:3, Galatians 4:4, Philippians 2:7. It is clear that there is plenty of evidence for this doctrine in the Bible and it should not be disputed.

Historical

Throughout the history of the church, the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ has been under attack by many who call themselves theologians. I would like to examine some of their objections to this doctrine and how evangelicals have responded to them as well of the testimony of some of the early church fathers on this doctrine.

There have been many viewpoints on the doctrine of the virginal conception. There are those feminist theologians who say that Matthew 1:1-25 and the Lukan account of the virgin birth are actually about an illegitimate conception and not a miraculous conception. There is also the objection to the virginal conception to which modernists hold; that is, they reject the doctrine based on their presupposition that excludes the possibility of miracles. Rationalists and modernists attempt to understand this doctrine but do not allow for the supernatural. They have “a new conception of God and the universe which forbids the belief in miracles” and for them “to believe in the virgin birth implies a rejection of scientific truth.”

Another objection, and one of the most frequently raised ones, is that “too many other parallels exist in ancient literature to allow us to take the Christian account seriously.” Supporters of this view hold to the notion that Greek Christians started this idea of the virgin birth as a result of the influence of pagan myths. They argue that these Greek Christians created the virgin birth story because they were influenced by myths such as the birth of Hercules. Hercules was born as a result of a union between Zeus and a human mother, and Greek Christians wanted their hero, Jesus of Nazareth, to have a similar supernatural birth. Although those who wish to deny the virgin birth of Christ use this argument, upon closer examination of the accounts, it is evident that the biblical birth narratives are quite different from pagan myths. As Robert Stein puts it, in pagan myths “the woman had no possible claim to be a virgin, and, if she was a virgin before the encounter [between the woman and god], she certainly was not considered a virgin afterward.” Paganism simply has not claims to virgin births. In addition to their lack of claims to virgin births, pagan supernatural births are all “about fornication between divine and human beings” which is in contrast to the New Testament account of the conception of Jesus Christ.

Objections to this doctrine have been raised throughout history based on biblical data as well. Let us consider several of the more weighty arguments that bring into question the virgin birth as presented by James Orr. The first of these is that “Joseph and Mary are sometimes spoken of in the Gospels as the father and mother of Jesus.” It goes without saying that if Joseph was Jesus’ biological father, there was no virgin birth. James Orr points out that these verses that speak of Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary do nothing more than tell us that those who were speaking of Jesus in those narratives saw him and the son of both Joseph and Mary. Those around Jesus saw him grow up from birth to adulthood in the home of Joseph and Mary, so to friends and neighbors Jesus must have been though of as “Joseph’s son.” Luke, who in his Gospel tells the narrative of the virgin birth, refers to Joseph and Mary as the parents of Jesus three times. Clearly, Luke did not see the references to Joseph and Mary being Jesus’ parents as contradicting the virginal conception.

Another difficulty in dealing with the biblical data discussed by Orr has to do with the genealogies of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Opponents of the virgin birth have argued that the authors of the gospels saw Joseph as the father of Jesus. This seems to be a strong argument since Matthew 1:16 says, “and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ,” and Luke 1:27 says that “to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.” However, Orr points out two reasons why this argument does not stand. First, Matthew and Luke, “who knew the meaning of plain terms, saw no contradiction between these genealogies and their own narratives of the virgin birth.” Secondly, the evangelists were very careful not to refer to Joseph as the father of Jesus in his genealogies but as the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The last biblical difficulty pointed out of James Orr which warrants a discussion is the “question of Christ’s Davidic descent.” A recurrent theme throughout the New Testament regarding the genealogy is that Jesus Christ was of the lineage of David. Critics of the virgin birth claim that genealogies support Christ’s Davidic descent through Joseph, his paternal parent. However, Luke 2:4-5 tells us that Mary was also going to register for the census in Bethlehem because and Joseph were both of “the house and family of David.”

There have been, throughout the history of the church, many attacks on the doctrine of the virgin birth. And, as can be seen, the attacks have come from many sides and angles but the church has held its ground. Although this doctrine has been under attack throughout history, it has been held by many as a vital part of their faith since the apostolic fathers. Ignatius (90-150 AD), Bishop of Antioch, wrote in his epistle to the Ephesians the following, strongly in support of the virgin birth:

“Hidden from the prince of this world were the Virginity of Mary and her childbearing, and likewise also the death of our Lord–three mysteries of open proclamation, the which were wrought in the silence of God.”

Also in support of this doctrine, Justin Martyr wrote in his Apology:

“We find it foretold in the Books of the Prophets that Jesus our Christ should come born of a virgin–be crucified and should die and rise again, and go up to heaven and should both be and be called the “Son of God.”

The doctrine of the virgin birth was supported by many more of the Church Fathers and a reading of them “produces conclusive evidence that the early Christians accepted the virgin birth as an established fact.”

Theological

The doctrine of the virgin birth, as has been pointed out, has been debated at length over time, but why is that so? What makes this doctrine so vital that many believe they have to defend it? Is this an absolutely crucial doctrine for the Christian faith?

Although many people have discussed the importance of this doctrine, Wayne Grudem presents it in the most effective and concise manner. He presents the doctrinal importance of the virgin birth in three areas.

The first is that the virgin birth “shows that salvation ultimately must come from the Lord.” In Genesis 3:15, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” In the same way as in Genesis 3:15, God showed through the virgin birth of Christ that salvation could not come through the effort of humans but through supernatural channels.

The second doctrinal point is that “the virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person.” This is idea is supported by John 3:16 and Galatians 4:4 which say that God sent his son. There is no other way we can think of that would better unite “humanity and deity in one person.” This is not to say that God could not have sent his son to earth any other way but it is hard to imagine any other way that he could send his son to earth as fully man and fully God.

Grudem’s third point is that “virgin birth also makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin.” Millard Erickson disputes this point on the basis that if we too did not have a human father we would also be sinless. This argument, however, is of no value since we would not exist without a human father. We were not conceived supernaturally like Jesus. Erickson also states that “Jesus’ sinlessness was not dependent on the virginal conception.” Howard Hanke supports the opposite view of Erickson by writing, “the virgin birth is the only means through which our savior could have made entry into our world.” If Jesus had been the product of two human parents, he would have inherited original sin, and it would be impossible for him not to sin. As Tschudy points out, Psalm 51:5 says that “I [David] was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me,” and in the same way Jesus would have been conceived in sin had it not been for the virgin birth. While God could have sent his son into the world in any manner he chose, he did it this way, and he must have done it this way for a reason. We should not put limits on God, but the virgin birth is the only way one can think of someone being totally human and totally God and not tainted with original sin from the time of birth.

Grudem says that “if our beliefs are to be governed by the statements of Scripture, then we will certainly not deny” the virgin birth. In his third debate on the virgin birth with Charles Francis Potter, John Roach Straton gives us four reasons to hold to the virgin birth as an essential doctrine. First, rejecting this doctrine results in the rejection of the Bible and its authority. Second, this doctrine has been declared by all “great branches” of the church. Third, the reliability and the efficiency of the atonement rely on this doctrine. Lastly, a proper understanding of this doctrine helps us to understand the object of our worship.

This miraculous event, the virginal conception, should not be minimized, and we should not overlook this excellent gift from God to humanity. As Hanke put it, “all of the basic Christian doctrines are related to the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ.” Let us therefore continue to stand up for the biblical account of the birth of our savior, and let us not forget the impact that this doctrine can have on our theology.

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Whether you move to a new community or your church decides to shut its doors, you may find yourself looking for a new church home at some point.  When you are looking for a church, what do you consider the most important issues or reasons in selecting a particular church.  As I consider this, these are what I consider the most important issues in the selection process of a new church home.

1. Agree on primary theological issues. The first and most important characteristic needs to be that we agree on the primary theological issues. That is, they must have a biblical understanding of the gospel. This is a non-negotiable point. They must understand the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ’s work on the cross. They must agree that one’s salvation is by grace and grace alone. Salvation is a work completely of God and He doesn’t need our help. You must only repent. The church must agree with the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. We may not always agree on how to interpret Scripture but we must at least agree that the Bible alone is the rule for all that we do.

2. Credobaptism. Any church that I join must practice believer’s baptism. I will not join a church that does not practice baptism by immersion. Sprinkling is not baptism. Baptism is, by definition, dipping someone under water. Baptism must be reserved for believers who have demonstrated a credible evidence of regeneration and who want to join the church and become part of the community of believers. They cannot baptize infants. They must baptize only believers.

3. Ministry to all ages. I need the church to minister to all ages, at least the ages of the people in my family. Since I have youth aged children, I need it to be a place where my youth aged children can live in community with other youth. I need it to be a community of believers where adults speak truth into children’s lives and show them what it means to live as an intentional disciple of Christ. I need the church to be intentional about preparing the youth biblically for a world that is hostile to Christian ideas. I don’t need it to be about parties, concerts, and amusement parks. I need it to be intentional and gospel driven. I need to it to be a church that understands the parents’ role in the youth’s lives but will alongside the parents in discipleship.

4. Expository Preaching. I believe that a church needs a steady diet of expository preaching. It is okay to depart from it on occasion but in general, expository preaching needs to be the practice of the preacher. It helps in preaching the full counsel of God and not just focusing on the favorite texts of the pastor. It also allows the text to drive the message rather than using a Bible verse for a launching pad to say whatever they want.

5. Welcomes workers. I hope that my next church would be open to having new people serve and minister in the area of their gifting. There are areas in which we could contribute to the ministry of the church but I need the church to be open to having new people get involved. I don’t want to be a part of the church that always goes to the same people to step in and minister.

6. Missions. I would hope that the church would have a biblical understanding of missions. But, if they don’t, it needs to be a church where the pastor is leading them to give financially to support missions. It should be a significant part of the budget, prayer, and preaching.  It should be a climate conducive to the church growing in this area.

7. Love in spirit and practice. Does the church have a sense of unity in spirit? Do they love on one another? Are they welcoming to visitors?

The answer to these should be a resounding “yes!” These are really the minimum of what I think should characterize a church that I join. There are several other traits that I think are important but are not must-haves such as high expectations and accountable church membership.  However, if the church is getting a steady diet of expository preaching, these other issues will eventually fall into place.

What are your thoughts?  What do you look for in a church?

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I really enjoy Kevin DeYoung’s blog over at the Gospel Coalition called DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed.  I usually agree with him theologically on most points.  I even subscribe to his blog via email.  However, he recently published a post entitled Are Christians in America Persecuted?  He basically said that it happens all of the time but persecution happens to Christians in America “not as frequently, consistently, or with nearly the intensity that Christians are persecuted in many other parts of the world.”

While I agree with the last statement, I do not agree with his assessment that it happens all of the time.  I also do not agree with his reasons for making that statement.  I really appreciate the fact that he brings in the Bible but I believe that his exegesis is fallacious.  He equates the biblical word for persecution with “harassing someone because of beliefs.”    He points out that Old Testament prophets were reviled and spoken against and Jesus calls this persecution in Matthew.  The problems is that reviling and being spoken against is not equivalent to harassing someone.  Harassing in our modern English is very subjective.  You can consider someone calling you a “Right Wing Bible Thumping Radical” harassment or even being reviled.  But this is not being persecuted.  You don’t have to be killed or be tortured to be persecuted.  I think we are going down the road towards persecution but it does not happen all of the time to all Christians.

DeYoung argues from Scripture that persecution is not something that happens only to a few Christians.  The Bible says that it happens to all Christians.  I wholeheartedly agree but we must read the Bible in its context.  It was written to Christians in the first century who were persecuted for following Christ.  In 21st century America, I don’t know that it applies.  The context is totally different.  I think we need to count to the cost and be willing to be persecuted but we live in a culture where persecution is not widespread.

He also brings in Acts 5:41 which says that it is a privilege to suffer for the name of Jesus.  This is true.  However, that does not mean that all American Christians have this privilege.  Our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world face persecution and it is our privilege to pray for them and encourage them and work for their release as we are commanded in Hebrews 13:3.  To equate what we face in America with what Christians face in places like Eritrea or North Korea is wrong.  When they are placed on the same level, we minimize the significance of real persecution.  It is like me saying to my wife about the pain she has in her back from a herniated disc, “I experience pain everyday and all the time.  In fact, I experience pain when I burned my mouth on my coffee this morning.”  To equate the two, minimizes the real pain that my wife faces.

Please, I understand people talk about you behind your back for being a Christian at work.  You may even get passed up for a promotion because you don’t work on Sundays or you won’t lie to get ahead.  Don’t equate this with someone being hung upside down and having boiling grease poured over his feet.  Don’t equate it with Christians in Ethiopia who are put in sea containers in the desert heat and don’t even have a place to go to the bathroom.  Don’t equate it with a man who is forced to watch prison guards rape his wife because they are Christians.  They are very much different in nature and degree.

Let us not overstate what happens to Christians in America.  Let’s pray for Christian brothers and sisters who face persecution.  In fact, some in American face persecution also but this is the exception and not the norm.  Let’s remember Hebrews 13:3 and “remember” those who are in prison and those who are mistreated for their faith.  For more information on how you can learn how to pray or support our persecuted family visit the website of The Voice of the Martyrs.

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I work as an engineer.  I think I am pretty good at what I do for a living but it is just that; what I do for a living.  It is not something that I am necessarily passionate about.  It is what I do in order to fulfill my biblical responsibility to work and provide for my family.  There are other things such as various ministries in which I am involved that are really my passion.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard statements similar to the following from Christians.

“I am an accountant but my real passion is apologetics.”

“I work as a salesman in order to make money but what I really enjoy is the work I do at church.”

“I am an engineer by profession but my passion is preaching the Word.”

Have you heard this from many people?  I hear it frequently in the circles in which I am involved.  I am left with the question, “Are we supposed to enjoy our jobs or are we called to endure whatever it is we need to do in order to bring home a salary?”  Is it wrong to wish I was doing some other kind of work related to ministry?  I know the Bible tells us that we should be content in our situation.  Does this mean that it is wrong to desire to be doing something else more fulfilling or even some sort of full time ministry?  I have been thinking about this and do not have the answer quite yet but for now this is what I think.

1. Work is a blessing from the Lord.  It was something that was given to Adam and Even before the fall and is therefore a gift and a blessing.  We can do work to provide for our families while at the same time enjoying the work.  I believe that God even intends the work to benefit us and even society as a whole, especially if your job provides employment opportunities for others.

2. Work became less enjoyable after the fall.  I don’t think I need to cite verses about the curse on humanity after Adam and Eve sinned.  I believe that after the curse, work became less enjoyable and became hard.  By God’s grace some people can still do things they enjoy for the job but I don’t think that this is the norm to be expected.  For those of us who long to be involved in ministry on a full time basis we long for the new heaven and new earth but until then we are called to labor in secular work as well as in ministry.  The grass is not greener on the other side although we think it might be.  We are where God want us for now.

3. For those of us who want to be involved in full time ministry and are stuck in secular careers, we need to understand that there is not enough money to go around.  The economic times are tough.  God can use us as lay people in ministry while we keep our secular professions.  This allows us to have some income that is not dependent on the generous giving of other Christians.  It frees up money for the kingdom and it also allows us to not be beholden to those who give.  In other words, you can spend your ministry time and effort as you want and you are not accountable for what ministry you want to devote your energy to.  You also don’t have to worry about people withholding funds from you because of a controversial stand against something like homosexuality.  You have income and it is based on your work, not on what you teach.

This is where I am for now.  I am an engineer who loves to excogitate.  I would rather be out there teaching or reaching or defending the faith.  But wait, I am doing that.  I am just not doing it on a professional basis and I have an engineering job that pays my bills.

Just to add another comment.  By having a non-ministry job, we are able to come into contact with lost people and people who need to be confronted with the gospel on a daily basis.  If you were a ministry professional you would be in a Christian bubble and would only have limited access to lostness.  But as a member of the secular workforce we have ready-made relationships that are in place.  All we need to do is use those in order to share the message of hope we have within us.

What say you?

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It seems that a common practice in American Evangelicalism is take a Bible verse, pluck it right out of its context, and make it mean what we want is if it is all about us.  We think that the Bible is about us.  It is most definitely for us but it is not primarily about us.  One verse that I hear taken out of context often is Matthew 18:20.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

I have had heard this verse used many times as evidence that God listens to us at prayer meeting — because there are multiple believers there — and where there are two are three gathered God is there among them.  Is this really what the verse means?  If this what the verse means, one must take the corollary to be true also: if there are not two or three gathered in His name, He is not there.  Do you agree with that?  I don’t think so.  This would mean that all that time Richard Wurmbrand was is solitary confinement in a Romanian communist prison, that God was not there.  This means that when I pray alone to God in my car driving to work, that God is not there.  I do not believe this — especially since God is omnipresent.  In John 15:5, Jesus says that if we abide in Christ that whatever we ask will be given to us.  He does not say that this is true — if 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.  The way many people interpret Matthew 18:20 does not square with the rest of Scripture.

As you look at the context of this verse, it is in a paragraph that is abut confronting a brother about his sin.  If the brother does not listen to you when you confront him about sin you eventually should escalate it to the church body and he should be treated as a tax collector.  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  He should be removed from the fellowship of the local church and we should pray for his restoration.

Let us be careful how we handle God’s Word.  Let us not make texts mean something that they don’t.

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There are many people who die every day and slip into eternity without having the opportunity of hearing about Jesus Christ and his gift to us of eternal life.  There are many that use a language in which a Bible does not even exist.  I remember being told a story about a missionary who went into a remote area of a third world country to share the gospel with a particular village.  While he was in this village, he visited a man’s home and had an opportunity to share the gospel message with him.  The missionary explained to the man that the only way to heaven was through the forgiveness of sins available through Jesus Christ.  Understanding what the missionary had shared with him, the old man in tears asked the missionary, “If this is true, why did my father not know about this?  And his father, and grandfather, and his father?”  This is such a sad story.  We have fallen short of our responsibility to carry out the Great Commission.  How would you have answered the man in the village had you been in the missionary’s shoes?  How can a just and loving God condemn those like this man’s father and grandfather and great grandfather who never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus?  Is it right for God to condemn people for their sin if they did not even know about God?  If they did not know about God, why would God judge them for their sins?  The apostle Paul deals with this issue in Romans 1:18-20 (NASB):

 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is know about God is evident within them; for God made it evident within them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Judgment on Sin

In verse 18, Paul writes that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven.”  When Paul writes about the wrath of God, he is writing about God’s judgment.  Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.”  This means that God’s judgment is revealed against all sin.  God is going to judge every man for his ungodliness and unrighteousness.  What is ungodliness and unrighteousness?  Ungodliness is being unlike God, of course.  Ungodliness could be any sins committed against God.  What is a sin that would fall under this category?  I believe one example of this is how so many people use God’s name so lightly in our culture and in the church.  How many times to you hear God’s name used inappropriately on TV, in the marketplace, and among church members?  For some reason people feel like they have to do this to get their point across.

God will not only judge sins against him but sins against other men.  This is what Paul is referring to when he says “unrighteousness” in verse 20.  There are so many example of this that it would be pointless to try to list them.  Just turn on daytime television or watch the evening news.  We are constantly hearing about crimes being committed against other members of society.  There are robberies, murders, scams, rapes, assaults and the like just to name a few.

But Paul says that judgment on these sins is revealed to men “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18)  What exactly does Paul mean here by truth?  I believe that the world truth can be understood as truth about God.  So God’s judgment is revealed to men who suppress the truth about God.  This may be a little confusion but Paul explains it further in verse 25, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”  Paul is saying that men suppress the truth about God by serving and worshipping the creature rather than the creator.

When we think of creatures in the English language we think of animals that are not human.  A creature to us is basically any animal that is not a human being.  When I think of a creature, I think of an animal that walks on all fours on the ground.  The Greek word for creature used in Romans 1:25 actually means a little more than that.  It actually means “building, creation, creature, or ordinance.”  Therefore, this word does not mean creature as we would normally understand it.  Its meaning is very broad.  By the word creature, Paul could be referring to the worship of a physical building or something created by the work of mankind.  The meaning of the Greek word also includes creation and creatures.  This of course encompasses all of nature and animals that God has created.  This word, creature, can also refer to the ordinances or laws and regulations made by man.  The Greek word for creature, then, basically is an overarching umbrella including everything that is not God.  Another way of putting it is, “worshipping anything made by God or by man.”  It is made clear in Romans 1 in verses 18 and 25 that God will judge the sins of everyone.  It is made abundantly clear that this includes all sins.  Paul points our in verse 18 that he is referring to sins against God and against man.  It is evident in verse 25 that “those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” who Paul refers to in verse 18 are those who distort the truth of God and worship anything other than Jesus Christ alone.

God Revealed in our Conscience

“How is the wrath of God revealed from heaven?  Hoe does God reveal Himself?” some may ask.  Paul tells us in verses 19-20.  In verse 19 he writes, “because that which known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them” This means that we all intuitively know that there is a God.  There is no one that does not know intuitively that there is a God and this is one way which God has revealed himself and his wrath that will come upon man for his sins.

Several years ago I read a book called Blood Secrets: The True Story of Demon Worship and Ceremonial Murder.  It was a book on a religion called Juju.  Prior to reading this book I had not heard of Juju but it is a religion similar to Voodoo.  Voodoo is basically a milder and watered down version of Juju.  Juju is more grotesque than Voodoo.  The book was a retelling of a story by a priest name Isaiah Oke about his life in this religion and the rituals in which he had to take part.  The book starts out retelling Isaiah Oke’s secret initiation ritual into the religion and it goes on to explain many of the acts he performed as a Juju priest.  Many of the details were graphic and utterly disgusting.  Among other things, the Juju rituals included drinking blood and offering human sacrifices.  The book retells a fascinating event that happened when Isaiah Oke placed a Juju curse on a Christian girl at his college.  This curse and two later additional curses he tried had no effect on her.  When this happened, Isaiah became distressed and questioned his own god.  To make a long story short, Isaiah eventually became a Christian after he realized that his blood rituals had no power against the God of the Bible, the Creator of the universe.  My point in mentioning his story is this: As he retells the stories of some of the rituals he performed, he said that he knew deep within his heart that he know intuitively that what he was doing was wrong.  He knew that killing people and terrorizing people in the name of Juju was wrong.  He had a sense of guilt when he was doing some of those rituals.  He knew he was sinning.  How did he know this?  He didn’t have the Bible to tell him what sin was.  He didn’t have any Christian missionaries to tell him that it was wrong to take the life of another person even though it is an accepted practice of Juju.  I believe this Juju priest Isaiah is a good example of what Paul is referring to in verse 19 when he says, “that which is know about God is evident within them.”  Isaiah Oke knew intuitively about God and know what he was doing was against God’s law.  Like Isaiah Oke, the Juju priest, all people know about God because God made himself evident to us.

Another example of how God is intuitively evident to a person is found in Romans 2:14-16:

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the tings of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

The Gentiles did not have the Law that God had given the Israelites but they obeyed the law?  How can this be?  Paul says that they instinctively know about God since their conscience bore witness to Him.  Paul says that the law was “written on their hearts.”  How did it get there?  Paul says that these are “Gentiles who do not have the law” but “the law is written in their hearts?”  These Gentiles did not have to be told about God to know about the tings of God just as Isaiah Oke did not have to be told that his Juju rituals were sin.  They both had the law of God written in their hearts.  We all have the same sense of God within us.  We know within our conscience about the things of God even if we do not know everything.  We know within our hearts when we are acting against God.  This is what Paul is saying in verse 19.

God Revealed in Creation

There is yet another way in which God revealed himself to mankind.  Verse 20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  God’s invisible attributes can be clearly seen through what he has made.  These attributes can be seen through all of creation.  There are several other places in the Bible which speak to the idea of God being revealed in creation.  One of them is Job 12:9-10.

“Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing

And the breath of all mankind?”

God and his invisible attributes are revealed to us through his creation, the human race.  The human body is amazingly complex and equally amazing is the fact that we are able to sustain life.  As Job says, “how can we not know that God has done this?”  As Job attests here, God has revealed himself to us through his creation of man.

Another passage we can point to is Psalm 19:1-2.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God,

And their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.

Day to day pours forth speech,

And night reveals knowledge.”

The heavens tell of God’s glory.  All of creation declares the work of his hands.  Nature, the earth, our solar system, the vastness of our galaxy and universe are testimonies to us that the hand of an almighty God is behind them and this God whom they reveal is their creator.

This reminds me of a story a friend tells about her experience working at Glacier National Park in Montana during college.  Before going to Glacier she thought that religion and God were just a crutch for weak people to make it through life.  However, while she was working at Glacier National Park she was struck with awe of its magnificent beauty.  She knew that something so awesome could not be by chance.  She knew that there was a god who created everything in Glacier National Park and the rest of the world.  Because of creation, in this case Glacier National Park, she became convinced that there is a god.  This is a testimony of what Paul writes in Romans 1 and Psalm 19.  God’s invisible attributes can be seen through his creation.  The world around us that God has made is an awesome creation and he is revealed through it.  When talking about his creation, rain and seasons also testify to God as it is written in Luke 14:17, “and yet he did not leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hear with food and gladness.”  It is very clear in these verses that God’s invisible attributes can be seen all around us through the work of his hands.

We are without Excuse

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  The last part of the verse says,”they are without excuse.”  This means that when we die and stand before God in judgment, nobody has the right to say, “I did not know.”  “I did not know” is not an option.  There is none who can say, “I did not know.”  Clearly God makes himself known through our conscience and the creation around us.  This is why we are told in this verse, “they are without excuse.”  No one has an excuse.

Not only will no one have an excuse but also no one will be without sin.  The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  All of us are sinful no matter how good we may think we are.  Since we have all sinned, God’s wrath will be on us all.  This places us in a hopeless situation.  We are all sinful and we are all going to be judged for our sins.  There is, however, a way out of this dilemma.  God loves us (John 3:16) and has provided hope for us in a hopeless situation.

Hope is found in forgiveness for our sins.  Even though we are all guilty of committing sins, God offers us forgiveness.  The fantastic thing about God is that he has offered this forgiveness to all of humanity.  Forgiveness is not limited to the wealthy.  It is not limited to Americans.  It is not even limited to white middle class Republicans.  It is available to everyone.  The only catch is that we don’t get it automatically.  We have to ask for it.  The Bible says, “that is you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9)  In a nutshell, if you turn from your sinful way of living and turn to Jesus and put your faith in him, God will forgive you of your sins.  The forgiveness is free to us but we must make God Lord of our lives and ask for his forgiveness.

This forgiveness is our only hope.  Without it God will condemn us since we are all sinful.  As the Bible says in Romans 1:20, we are “without excuse.”  There is nothing we can say to escape this judgment but to repent of our sins and accept God’s forgiveness, making him lord of our lives.  When we die and come face to face with God we will not be able to say, “I did not know.”  We will not be able to say, “no one ever told me.”  You will not be able to say, “I never believed in God.”  God has clearly revealed himself to us in our conscience.  God has revealed himself to us in his creation.  So we will be without excuse.  If you have been ignoring God’s revelation of himself don’t do it any longer.  If you have not done so, won’t you accept the gift of forgiveness and abundant life that Jesus offers to everyone?  It costs you nothing but repentance and making him lord of your life.  It cost him his very life.

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