Archive for the ‘Theology Lite’ Category

Beyond the Good-O-Meter

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

In the previous post containing the Good-O-Meter clip, I mentioned that the theology had some issues. What issues, you might ask?

Well, the meter implies in its evaluations that each of the lost individuals has some amount of good credited to them at judgment. It surges up to as much as the half way mark, then falls back to the level assigned by judgment – that of ‘bad’. Though this works well dramatically, it is very important to understand that this is not the case in reality. There is an implication that the ‘good’ parts of the individuals have some value before God. That is completely wrong.

Scripture is clear that all are tainted in every aspect, having no good at all unless they are regenerated in Christ. Works or virtues outside of Christ have no value whatsoever before God.

Isaiah 64Open Link in New Window:6a states it clearly “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment”

Even the finest virtues and character of the unregenerate are a ‘filthy garment’ before God. All of the virtues and any good that is done by the unregenerate is tainted by the imputed sin that is passed on to every one of Adam’s seed. That makes every human being (past, present and future) that has not been saved unacceptable before a righteous and holy God. Scripture is again clear that nothing of them is counted as of any value.

So, in this clip, the meter should not move at all from initial ‘bad’ position except in the case of the regenerated.

That said, however, the most important point is made very clearly – salvation is through Christ Alone.

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The Good-O-Meter

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

The truth can be told in many ways. Though this clip does have some theology problems, it nonetheless gets the most important point across – Christ Alone.

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What are the essentials?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

A message that I heard recently started me ruminating (about foundational issues, as usual). This is good in that maybe there is some discussion merited here, but not so good in what I think I was hearing. It was a mixed bag so to speak, and I took a while to decide to write about it.

The message was an interpretation of Romans 14Open Link in New Window. It proposed that there was confusion within the church over what constituted essential and non-essential matters of faith and necessary practice, and that this results in divisiveness (read that as non-inclusiveness in this case) both within the body and in terms of attracting people to the church when the two categories are miss-applied. The unstated subtext of the message appeared to be church growth and it side-stepped the related and larger issue of ecumenical error.

The message sampled a few widely divergent attributes from various denominations, pointing out that these were often construed within those circles as indicative of and necessary for real Christian spirituality.

What sort of attributes? Here are some examples (there were a few more):
All denominations – dressing up or not for church
Reformed Presbyterians – no instrumentation and singing of psalms only.
Anglicans (also Roman Catholics) and others – the use of strict liturgy
CRC – use of catechism to teach doctrine and theology
Pentecostals – spiritual gifts in present times and exuberant worship

I think that you get the idea. Let me also point out that I did not make up these examples, and that the list likely contained some inaccuracies. Nonetheless, these are what were presented, and as you will see, although not completely without merit, I found some of the implications disturbing.

The message proposed that all of these attributes were optional and not essentials to the faith. Further, it declared that as non-essentials they were divisive within congregational life when viewed as anything other than surface preference, best applied only to one’s self. By implication it was also implied that these should not properly form the basis for Christian discernment.

Some years ago an wise Christian brother said to me that denominations were just expressions of preference with the body. I like that in some ways since it stresses the reality that although there are preferential differences we (true believers) are all one body in the Lord. Thus our preferential differences as evangelical believers should not separate us divisively. They are “items for family discussion”, so to speak. That works well as long as we are discussing truly preferential, and not foundational, matters. And therein lies the rub…

In the present case it seemed to go well beyond that, which concerns me. The conclusion of this particular message was that ALL attributes other than the Gospel (as expressed in a line or two) are non-essential. Everything else was deemed personal, and potential divisive. That may sound very inclusive in the surface (and that was indeed the subtext being delivered in this case, for other reasons), but it is also, I believe, very dangerous.

Certainly I can agree that some items are truly preferential. I may like to wear a suit to church and you may like to wear jeans. You may be more comfortable in the framework of liturgy, while I might prefer a more free spirited exchange. I may think the drums in the worship band are okay, but you are only really comfortable with the old hymns. Those are, as mentioned above, family discussion items. However, I clearly draw the line when it comes to the Bible, theology or doctrine being judged superfluous and potentially divisive.

If the ONLY criteria for inclusion is the simple Gospel, and every other attribute and tool is to be cast in the light of optional and unnecessary, then what of Biblical development and understanding?

Let us take the example of catechism. I am not a ‘rules’ fanatic and I do not actively use a catechism (though I likely should), but new or young believers often need tools for understanding the faith beyond initial belief statements. Without that they will not mature. Catechisms and similar simplifications help with that process. They are in fact in many cases essential to the processes. In the message in question, even The Word itself was not included in the stated essentials list. Since the Word is the Lord, this gives me very serious pause.

My concern here (thought I can not seem to state it as clearly as I would like) is that foundational Bible and related edification were being cast in the same optional, non-essential light as Sunday go-to-meeting clothes, all in the interest of seeker friendly warm fuzzies. The lynch pins of developing maturity were cast in a light of divisiveness. Nothing was considered solid beyond the simple Gospel. It is a clear case the baby going out with the bath water in the name of inclusiveness.

Surely this is error. We are, of course, called first to the Gospel. But henceforth we are called to development in the Word. For that to happen, tools including the Bible and supporting material are needed. Those are not divisive beyond dividing us rightly from the world.

So what do I think are the essentials? Well, as a preliminary list I would included the Gospel, Bible, plus basic Christian theology and doctrine expressed through tools such as a catechism. Overall, the tools to understand the reality of Christian life. Even when these may differ between groups, they are nonetheless critical and definitely not unessential.

In writing this I realize that the real underlying issue is not the one stated. It is the one alluded to by the desired inclusiveness of the seeker friendly approach. That issue is – church growth are what cost? The requirement to be inclusive and seeker friendly, thereby stimulating growth and wide appeal, can result in the casting off of the very support framework that assists believers to mature. This is clearly happening today, and the push of church leadership for growth, albeit with an eye to conversions, seems to include extreme blinders as to the long term cost. Therein is grave danger of a completely emotion and experience based assembly. This may on the surface appear dynamic and my indeed grow dramatically, but below the surface it is developing without any real foundation.

One can only cry out – Beware!

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Boasting in Christ, but living in the world

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Well, here we are, believers in the body of Christ, conscious that our eternal value is based solely upon the work of Christ, originally, now and always, yet living in the world of flesh from day to day.

We are surrounded by a world governed by the paradigms of fleshly value, conditioned and encouraged on every front that success is to be found in taking pride in ourselves.

Even within the church, much of the focus is on worldly matters, albeit with a superficial nod towards the Lord. Activities are created and evaluated with business models. Congregational success is evaluated related to resources and programs. Preaching is too often based upon the secular to provide the relevance which the Word of God is deemed to lack. Certainly many good and worthwhile accomplishments are put forth in support of the community and family, but, and it is a crucial but, Christ and Him crucified is on the far back burner. Similarly off the radar are foundational knowledge of Scripture and it’s meaning beyond worldly or sociological examples. One would think at times that a current movie clip or pop song was the answer instead of Scripture. Sound silly? If so, then you haven’t been watching closely…

In stark contrast, we have the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:14Open Link in New Window placing the sole justification for his value, the work of our Lord, squarely in our face through his example. We may read it and possibly gloss over it, but in the conviction of the Spirit there is no escaping the reality of Paul’s defacto challenge to our normal paradigm of living and our congregational priorities. In the writing of the New Testament, I believe that this eternal challenge to borderline apostasy was part of the intent. Judging from the situation we see about us, the inspiring Spirit appears to have had one eye on the future. Paul was archetypal in so many ways, and this particular way is probably even more applicable now than in early church times (a speculative assumption admittedly).

So, what to do (makes me think of the Mad Hatter for some reason)…

One popular interpretation of this quandary from the more recent past times (last few hundred years give or take) was to assume that the requirement was was to take an ascetic approach to piety. This generally included negative paradigms of denial, with more being deemed better. Though tempting on the surface, this is a trivialization of the task of living in the world, and would seem to stand in denial of other Scriptural proscriptions to live joyously in our salvation. The doctrine of outward asceticism is both dated and inappropriate. At the same time, however, we are not called to revel and wallow in the world of the flesh in any way the contravenes the tenants of the New Convent, as outlined variously by our Lord through the New Testament.

So, back to what to do…

A comment on the previous post supplied a great list of things that are swirling about us as modern priorities in church life. Taking a negative approach, these might be a good start at listing what not to do. At the risk of being accused of being too simplistic for our modern times (guilty as charged!), I would somewhat boldly suggest that we take Paul at face value. Our cause for celebration is not the assembly or congregation, not the family, not good works, not even the fruits of the Spirit. Our cause for celebration and gathering is is solely our status in Christ and His accomplishments.

We celebrate (aka worship) Him in all aspects, and His work in our lives. By extension, since the Word is Him, we read, proclaim, study, discuss and celebrate it as well. We proclaim these things in and to the world, ignoring the perception of foolishness. We support these activities variously as we can. And we do not make any attempt to improve the message. Scripture states that it is the vehicle for understanding and evangelism. It does not state that is has an expiry date or needs updating or embellishing. In fact, such matters are implied to be very dangerous and in places ascribed to be marks of the apostasy to come.

Does this imply old, dry, droning lectures. To borrow from and paraphrase Paul, “May it never be”. That is a function of presentation, not content. However, it does mean proclamation of the Word, not movie or sound bite clips for sociological relevance or increased entertainment.

The Word and the celebration of Christ is made relevant to those who will be saved by the Spirit, not by men.

There you have it. There are probably better ways to spell it out, but it is simply Christ, His word and His work, and that alone. Let us celebrate those things in following Him, casting aside the rest as the true foolishness.

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Remembering Paul’s only boast

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

In an article from a daily devotional publication for teens (Soul Journey, ISBN 1-57293-132-9), a recent article cited six human characteristics or activities from Proverbs 6Open Link in New Window that are unacceptable to the Lord. These were inflated ego, lying, murder, evil scheming, rushing into evil, lying in court and trouble making. The point made in the article was that these attributes or activities are opposite to the Lord’s nature and what he loves, and that an examination of how our loves and hates line up with the Lord’s is important.

Valuable food for thought, but for me the passage brought to mind a couple of other Scriptures where Paul explicitly describes his own stance, and by implication what ours should be.

“But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” Galatians 6:14Open Link in New Window, and “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20Open Link in New Window.

First, let me added the obvious provision that I am only speaking of believers in this discussion, since those of the world consider such matters ‘foolishness’ (1 Corinthians 2:14Open Link in New Window).

It stuck me that the unacceptable behaviours and attitudes laid out in Proverbs 6Open Link in New Window could only occur in a believer to the degree to which the stance described by Paul in Galatians was either not the case (making them tarns among the wheat possibly) or was slipping towards worldly influences.

The world in which we live, are conditioned, and make our way, by and large teaches precisely the opposite. We are to put ourselves forward, show our talents, skills and accomplishment, and take as much pride as possible in these things throughout the process. Though false humility is common, the old adage of “blow you own horn since no-one else is likely to blow it for you” would seem more the phrase of the day today, albeit covertly.

Does this imply that there is no satisfaction to be taken, even obviously, in a job well and truly done? Not at all. But there is a great gulf between satisfaction in accomplishment and achievement, and worldly pride. And in a world overwhelmingly concerned with and largely rewarding of appearance, worldly pride is what is most often rewarded over genuine accomplishment.

That having been said, Paul stands clearly in the shadow of the Cross, boasting solely in the accomplishment of the One (and the process) that has saved Him. The difference here would appear to be one of attitude towards the world. If one has or seeks their place ‘in the world’, and views themselves as living ‘in the world’, then a worldly view of self and a desire to both be acknowledged by and seek pride in that world are natural and virtually unavoidable. Even when actually avoided, the battle is continuous and unrelenting.

On the other hand, if one does not belong to the world, but to Heaven solely through Christ crucified, then what is there of merit to boast of in the world or in ones place or activities therein? The only individual merit is in being a citizen of Heaven though still on earth. As such, since one had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact of their election to Heaven (Ephesians 1:4Open Link in New Window), all merit belongs to the provider of that destiny, Jesus Christ, and within that to the Holy Spirit and the process of Salvation.

So, grasping the fact of one’s election, devoid of personal merit both before or after the fact, must trivialize the world and its machinations. That which transports us into Heavenly eternity with our Lord is all that is of merit, and since He is the provider of that process at all junctures, boasting in Him alone is the only option (and joy, I should add).

Thus, Paul has stated for us, in direct and simple terms, the only road for those in the body of believers who are yet in the world. Though Satan and his minions (largely unacknowledged in the world today but nonetheless active) provide endless circumstance and support for the importance of the world, and specifically for the significance of individual pride, self esteem and self reliance in that world, Paul has stated the only real basis for personal value. That value is in the shadow of Christ and His accomplishments, shining the light of importance and significance on Him alone.

Soli Deo Gloria

Does this mean that, as a corollary, our lives in the flesh are to be devoid of satisfaction, accomplishment or worldly reward or enjoyment?. I do not think so. It is a matter of attitude and posture within the world, and not the circumstances that the Lord may permit, that is of importance. How that is possible is another discussion…

Solus Christus

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Evangelism without known misrepresentation

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Nothing is difference in the potential path into eternity before the unbeliever and the unbeliever, nor the absence of any foreknowledge by the believer when presenting the Gospel, alters the believer’s requirement to evangelize. The absolute certainty of eternal separation from God and righteous judgment that awaits the unsaved, combined with the inability to fail in their part of a process that is controlled by the Lord and not the presenter, should fuel the believer’s resolve.

We can not know who was marked by the Father before the beginning of time to be among the Lord’s people (Ephesians 1:4Open Link in New Window). We can only know that that result is already a given for the Lord and that he has charged us to preach his message as part of the process. Our mandate does not include second guessing that process. Our mandate as believers only includes simple obedience. Further, Scripture states that the Gospel must be heard by many throughout the world, elect and unelect alike, that the Glory and power of God are demonstrated in all nations (Mark 13:10Open Link in New Window). It is interesting to note that this does not included every person, but that is another issue. All believers are charged to proclaim the Gospel universally, regardless of the outcome they might observer in any individual recipient. The outcome in any recipient is in the Lord’s hands alone, already decided and awaiting only the action of the Spirit, not ours in any way. This brings great freedom in presenting the message.

“For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (italics added) 1 Peter 4:6Open Link in New Window. Many in both camps must hear the Good News in demonstration of God’s sovereignty. Again, the outcome is a completely separate issue from the preaching of the Gospel by the believer. Believers are charged to act universally, in blind faith and trust, leaving everything subsequent to that to the Lord.

On a one to one basis, what of the way the Gospel is presented? Does it really matter? I propose that it does.

Even though the Lord can and does use all presentations effectively, articulate or rough, accurate or inaccurate, within his preordained intent, from the believer’s viewpoint is it nonetheless important to present the Gospel completely and accurately. As forthright messengers that must mean a presentation that is without knowing misrepresentation. Specifically, and taking into consideration that one can only present something to the degree of one’s own understanding, presenting the Gospel in a way that implies that God will provide salvation to all or without cost or condition would not reflect the specifications of Scripture, and would not be honest. Even more, if the Message is presented in a manner that implies that the Lord’s plan for salvation definitely applies to a particular unbeliever, when we can not know if they are among the elect, is unacceptable because it willfully misrepresents the Scriptural specifications of the Message. Such a misrepresentation does not reflect upon the recipient (aside from possibly acting as a temporary stumbling block), since their path has already been preordained by the Lord and they are the passive agent in the exchange in this regard. But a Gospel presentation with a universal guarantee or applicability attached to it is not the truth, and reflects upon the presenter.

What the big deal? Let’s look at an example for clarity.

On the assumption that one can not know whether a believer is among the elect and therefor whether they will embrace the Gospel, one can not honestly say to any unbeliever that Christ died for their sins. The Atonement is particular, applying to an individual only if they are one who accepts the Lord. They are only able to do that if they are already marked as His and subsequently touched by the Spirit, neither of which has anything to do with, or can be know by, the evangelist. Specifically, if they do not accept the Lord, and remain among the unsaved, then the presentation would be a lie. Further, to give any encouragement that they might be somehow covered implicitly and saved while not accepting Christ does them a serious disservice and possible harm.

Consequently, stating that “Christ died for your sins” or similar, unequivocally, likely misrepresents the truth and the Gospel in many cases (unless you are a Universalist, but we won’t go there). It potentially misleads that person. This is clearly unacceptable for a believer. And beyond that, it is completely unnecessary.

One clergyman commented that this sticking point made the presentation of the Gospel inconvenient. He wanted to be able to say to everyone that Christ died for them, making the Gospel as welcoming as possible. Well, what can one answer to that? Inconvenient maybe, but reality. To paraphrase another Bible teacher “That’s what the Book says. Get over it!”. The Gospel must stand in presentation as itself, in truth. Willfully massaging the Gospel into misrepresentation for ease of presentation is not part of the mandate. Harsh? I don’t think so. Just a dose of reality. And silly when it is so trivial to present the message truthfully and accurately without alienating the recipient.

So what is one to do? The answer is actually very, very simple.

Christ died for sinners. That is absolute truth. He died for the specific sinners who accept and embrace Him as Lord. Again, simple and true. If the unbeliever will truly embrace Christ as Lord, repent of and seek forgiveness for their sins and surrender their life to Him, thereby accepting the Gospel message, then His Atonement was indeed for them. A presentation from that perspective is completely accurate, yet does not misrepresent the situation of the individual who will not accept. Specifically it does not in any way encourage them that they are among those for whom Christ sacrificed or that they might somehow slip through irregardless. This approach is no more difficult, no more obscure, not excluding in any overt way that puts one off, and it states the truth. What could be simpler?

But I hear a voice from the back saying that possibly the listener won’t find this presentation welcoming enough and might not accept it. The answer is simple. The reaction to the message in the recipient is the Lord’s domain. It has nothing to do with you.

Just semantics? Superficially it might seem so, as with all matters of language, but what is represented is not trivial. As such, it is significant.

How to accomplish this is the next question. There are many ways, but I would simply ask why one would not use the only indisputable, divinely inspired tool that the Lord left us, and in fact suggested for this purpose – Scripture. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17Open Link in New Window. With Scripture there is no possible misrepresentation, as long as we personally stay out of the way. It is the tool of choice according to Scripture itself It was clearly designed for the Spirits use is this regard and can not fail in the Spirit’s hands. If the Spirit does not move, then movement in the recipient is not appropriate at that time, irrespective of the presenter. That is the simple solution, but there are also other approaches that represent that Gospel accurately.

Though we have been discussion a small but important piece of the Gospel message, it should be mentioned that any presentation must be of the complete message, particularly the repentance and cost requirements. However, that has been assumed in discussing this narrower issue.

The key is honest and complete presentation of the Gospel, without unnecessary human implications that may make some presenters more comfortable but are not always accurate and may mislead, even possibly acting as a stumbling block for the recipient.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Whose plan anyway? The Unbeliever…

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Now to the unbeliever, the case which started the initial conversation. Though on the surface of everyday life this situation might appear similar to that of the believer, the reality is completely different. We must also bear in mind (as mentioned in the previous post) that our Lord’s statements and perspective take an eternal viewpoint, whereas we tend to see life situations from the myopic viewpoint of flesh alone (we can’t help it, but it needs to be kept in mind).

The Lord has made no positive commitment for this life, nor given even the slightest hint He has any positive plan, for the unbeliever, beyond possibly bringing them face to face with the Gospel message. Even that is only ‘possibly’ since it is nowhere stated as a given. The unfolding of history will be determined by His plans for salvation, with the unbeliever playing a peripheral role as needed as the primary plan unfolds.

The statements in the verses previously cited (Jeremiah 29:11Open Link in New Window, Romans 8:28Open Link in New Window, and 1 Corinthians 10:13Open Link in New Window) are not applied to the unbeliever anywhere in Scripture. Specifically, there is no offer of any of the associated hope or positive future to those individuals. In fact, the reality painted in Scripture appears to be quite the opposite.

When speaking of sinners, be it individually and corporately, God does not (contrary to the popular and unfortunate PR in many churches today) differentiate between the sin and the sinner in His statement of intended judgment and wrath. He portends wrath against the sinner in the commitment of the sin. That’s wrath unto eternal judgment at the hands of Holy God, folks. Yikes! If that isn’t scary, then what is?

As an aside concerning the behaviour of believers, the Lord never tells us to act pro-actively against the sinner in the sense of punishment or judgment. In fact, we are cautioned to not do so, leaving those actions to the Lord. Our mandate is only to present ourselves as His and share His message. We are certainly not to join with the sinner or participate in their sinful activities in doing so, but neither is their future within our mandate in any sense.

Without the cloak of Christ to shield one from the righteous and deserved wrath of God, and release one from the responsibility for sin before Him, the statements of His inescapable wrath should be terrifying to all who hear them. In spite of this, the unsaved can ignore them  because those truths are part of the ways of God. They are undiscernable and are foolishness to the ears of those in the world. The unsaved simply can not comprehend that reality from their natural mind, and Satan does his best to convince them that their natural view is correct. But none of that alters the reality of judgment to come.

With that in mind, and even granting that in the larger picture the Lord uses all situations for the overall advancement of His Kingdom, what plans are there for the unsaved? First, by stating in Scripture that he will prosper who He will and condemn who He will, the Lord has implied that he has assigned one of two tracks (no others, nor any combination, is every documented in Scripture) – one for salvation and one for righteous judgment and wrath. For the latter, concerning the unsaved who are of the natural world, the result comes down to who they are governed by. According to Ephesians 2:2Open Link in New Window, they are among the “sons of disobedience”, governed by “the Prince of the power of the air” (that is, Satan). That being so, the plans within which the unsaved exist are those of Satan, drawing them ever further from the Lord while in this world, with hearts ever more hardened against the Lord’s message and ways.

It should be noted as an aside that it is not the Lord that move the unbeliever on along this path actively. Since they were not marked as Christ’s sheep before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4Open Link in New Window), then the Spirit does not intervene in their path to apply the Atonement to them what was so graciously provided by our Lord . Nothing is done to them by God, but neither is anything done for them. Satan’s plan works out in them while the Lord simply does not intervene in the process of the natural world, and they simply follow their nature in flesh.

This is not to say that they may not participate in good and beneficial act in the world. They often do so, in wonderful acts both large and small. But since “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8Open Link in New Window) and “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:16Open Link in New Window), it is clear that when preformed from the unbeliever’s natural state none of those things can be pleasing or acceptable to God. These good acts can not be positively credited to the unbeliever’s account because the acts are of the world not the spirit and coloured by the basic nature of the fallen world. As such they are sacrificially unacceptable to God in their essence, as are all acts that flow from that state of being. Further, it could be speculated that since the unbeliever is not His, they do not have a Heavenly account to which anything could be credited – that account being a parallel benefit of being among His sheep.

All this is to say that there are indeed plans for the unbeliever, and in the case of addicts those plans may include sobriety. But, and this is the real issue, those plans are not part of the saving plan of the Lord in the case of the unelect. Those who are to remain as belonging to the world are governed by the world. They can not (in fact, will not) depend upon the Grace of our Lord to have created a plan from which they will have faith, nor that there will be a positive eternal outcome.

Let all the Glory be His alone.

Next, what of evangelism in this perspective? The challenge of proclaiming the Good News without misrepresentation…

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Whose plan anyway? The Believer…

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

I was chatting with a brother a day or two ago concerning his work with addicts. This work often involves working with non-believers. We progressed to a discussion of God’s plans for both believers and unbelievers. The perspective towards unbelievers particularly seemed pertinent to this discussion, but our attitude toward ourselves is also quite revealing and would likely benefit from some ongoing introspection.

Let us recall a couple of pieces of Scripture: “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11Open Link in New Window, and “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28Open Link in New Window, and finally “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13Open Link in New Window. There are other similar verses as well, but you get the drift clearly.

From 1 Corinthians 10:13Open Link in New Window we can discern that things may (likely, will) not be all sweetness and light in the path of the believer. There would be no point to verses such as this, concerning challenges, if there were not going to be any challenges of substance.

First, this flies in the face of the “God has a wonderful, happy (usually implying mostly, if not always) and joyous plan for your life” crowd. It is clear that, as His people, we can expect to be challenged, both individually and corporately.

Second, these challenges will always be surmountable for God’s elect. For the believer there is no condition placed upon that in the verse. But here is the rub, so to speak – the extent of the challenge and our capacity to handle it are from the Lord’s point of view, not ours. He definitely did not say that the challenges would be such that we would recognize or be aware of our ability to overcome them, either before or during the process. Further, there was no undertaking in Scripture to share the process with us. This would tend to indicate that from our point of view the challenges may be great indeed, even seemingly insurmountable. We must walk in unconditional faith in His judgment of our capacity, not our own preconception. The pathway is in His leading, not our conception of what we are or are not capable of accomplishing. Fundamentally we are back to the paradigm laid out by the Israelites centuries ago, as they were tasked to follow the pillars of fire and smoke through the desert, relying solely upon the provisioning of the Lord. T’would that we ‘get it’ in less than 40 years!!

Jeremiah 29:11Open Link in New Window speaks of hope and a future. This points to the hope of a future in the eternal sense, not that of the world nor even necessarily within our lifetime in flesh. Since the world is the domain of the Prince of the Air and thereby his plans, thriving or prospering (the term used in the NIV translation of this verse) in the world or present life can not be what the Lord alludes to. Not to say that some success in the world might not be in the plan, but the benefits from the Lord’s vantage point are in Heaven. After all, even as the Lord of all creation, He endured the world in light of the Glory that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2Open Link in New Window). Our glory in Heaven, though infinitely less than His (we are not Mormons, after all), nonetheless follows His paradigm as His people, and the Glory, hope and future are all in Heaven.

The situation is similar with Romans 8:28Open Link in New Window, where the “good” is in the eternal, kingdom sense. This is not in any way implied to be coincidental with worldly good, though that could be a side effect.

Overall, we have a situation where the believer, as one owned by the Lord, may face great difficulty in the world, but will always be on the eternal path with and to Him, working in a predestined process (variously in Ephesians 1Open Link in New Window) of planned and divinely controlled sanctification and purification.

In this is our rest, and our only security. And our Lord has made clear that this is sufficient. Again, his agenda, not ours.

All for His Glory alone.

Next – The Unbeliever…

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Totally Undeserving of Grace, yet Saved

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

I was thinking about how believers are like that old line from Alice through the Looking Glass, we see through a glass darkly. In our case, however, we predominantly think that we see normally. The sun appears to shine clearly and brightly. The moon illuminates a clear night sky. Stars twinkle in the heavens above. All this and more appear with what we consider true colour and form. And yet all of this, and all of our internal life which this is merely a reflection of, is behind the smoky glass lens of fallen man. All that we are, and therefor all that we think, see, touch, feel, create, and so on, is jaundiced by who, what and whose we are. We were the Totally Unable – slaves to the world of flesh. That world permeates everything that we are because we are part of it.

[Notice I use both the past and the present tenses here. Before we were saved, it was all present tense. After (now, hopefully, for the reader) it is past tense, but remains partially present while we are yet in the world. Please forgive my confusion of tense as we continue…]

In that previous, natural state we can not understand things of spirit. “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8:5Open Link in New Window. We could only appreciate and serve the flesh. This do not necessarily mean that all that we do is completely evil, unjust, without value, or otherwise. But is does mean that the shadow cast by our basic natural condition of being of the flesh taints all that we are, and thereby all that we do, could do or even could imagine doing. That is not under our control, since it is merely a reflection of the nature of ourselves that we take for granted. To put it another way, if you live your whole life behind tinted glasses, how would you know that the entire universe was in reality not the colour you saw at all? Not only would you not know, but you could not know. Even if someone told you the truth, you would be unable to process it in order to really understand it, since to do so would make you into a different person entirely.

So here we are. We were who and what we were as men (and before someone asks, generic men, by the way, which includes women ), and we could not be anything else since we can not see or even imagine anything outside that global reality. Only as a result of being changed by an external force beyond this global universe can we perceive another reality, that of spirit. Then there has to be development, but that is outside reality until we have been altered to participate in it.

And that is what our Lord has done for us. We were marked for inclusion and change before the world was created, by “the kind intention of His Will” Ephesians 1:5Open Link in New Window. Our Lord came and created a pattern of redemption for all those who Hi Father predestined to be saved, so that the opportunity and mechanism would be available. The Holy Spirit altered those who were marked by the Father, sealing them into that Particular Redemption provided by our Lord “once for all” Romans 6:10Open Link in New Window, Hebrews 10:10Open Link in New Window… (that were marked).

What a wondrous and joyous miracle of completely undeserved mercy and Grace!

What did this have to do with our ability in our natural form as we arrived in the world? Absolutely nothing!! How could it, since we couldn’t even see it from that reality.

How can we not be humbled to our knees or prostrate on the ground before our God, in the light of what has been done to us and for us? We have been plucked from the world or darkness and sight dimmed by flesh, and recast into heaven while still alive.

Praise our Lord and Glorify His name. We can never give sufficient worship and thanks.

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The Tragedy of Perceived Eternal Jeopardy

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Judging by previous reaction to this direction in articles, I will be jumping even further out into rush hour traffic here, but this needs to be trumpeted irregardless.

What of the individual who hears the Gospel (or doesn’t for that matter) and is saved, but who subsequently accepts a works based paradigm of Salvation, living thereafter as a believer but with the stress of perceived constant jeopardy should his demonstrated ongoing merit not meet the burden of continued salvation, with that burden anything but clearly defined? Worse he or she might be saddled with a definition of that burden delineated by men of authority (church or other).

What of the beleaguered believer for whom every momentary nuance of sin in his or her life brings fear of immediate loss of Salvation until discovered, repented and confessed. And what if it isn’t discovered?

What about the new believer, experiencing the struggles of massive life change (which are predicted in Scripture and normal in the process), wrestling with the past in the present while being told then he or she will loose their Salvation as they struggle moment to moment? Or worse, having their state challenged as by others because they are not sufficiently perfect while in the growth process?

These people are legion. I have met many from each group, and they suffer at the hand of man (their own hands or those to miss-guided others). This is error, not Scriptural, and I would go so far as to say the work and delight of the enemy. These unfortunate soles are done great and harmful disservice by many of the faithful in this ideology of guilt and unsecured redemption. From this comes an interesting consideration.

Does the fact that they hold an erroneous view have any overall effect? Certainly it maintains them in a constant state of perceived instability concerning their own eternal state, frequently with resultant anxiety and possibly a less than joyous existence to one degree or another. If this seems an exaggeration, it is not. Many people react to these matters emotionally. Intellectual explanations, unless accepted emotional, do nothing to reduce the anxiety. It also may cause them to project a similar state upon others that they view as believers? Overall, there is a potentially to exact great misery in normal life. But what of reality?

We must remember from Scripture that what we believe is what saved us, as the primary criteria, not what we did before the fact or even changeable emotional states in the process. We are transformed in the mind, quickened by the Spirit to understand and embrace the Call, and our subsequent belief on Christ is the pivotal factor. Not that action in good works is not part of the equation, but that is after the fact, not causative – again according to Scripture. The good action flows from our new self in Christ.

However the belief we are focusing on here is not the belief on Christ that lead to Salvation. We are focusing on the erroneous beliefs related to the circumstances and scenario after Salvation which govern our ongoing emotions. As such, one must conclude that this means absolutely nothing in terms of eternity. By analogy, after a person has walked out into a sunny day, whether that person insists that the sky is blue or green does not affect it’s objective colour. Or, when a person stands under burgeoning rain clouds, whether or not they accept that it affects them will have no affect upon the reality that the subsequent rain will get them wet if they continue to stand there. Surely there is some humour in this, albeit it dark humour…

We are saved solely through the Grace of God, through the exercise of His Sovereign Will in election before the foundation of the World (Ephesians 1Open Link in New Window), enabled through the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the wholly sufficient work of Christ to those marked by God. All of this is completely the mandate and action of the Triune God, and nothing of us. Through this God merits and receives all the Glory.

Should he chose by His pleasure to elect and save us, yet we miss-understand the reality after the fact through miss-representation of the process, it matters not a wit as far as I can see. The only effect that might possibly be suggested by some might be that by furthering the miss-understanding and causing misery to others we might accumulate on our own behalf a lesser treasure in Heaven (notice I did not say penalty). But even this is highly questionable and I do not buy it, since there is no sinful intent, and in terms of the present focus it has no effect whatsoever upon our Salvation.

Rejoice in the Glory of the Sovereign work of our Lord in our lives, seeing it as all of Him and nothing of ourselves. What a joy! And what a tragedy for those that might be starved in life of that joyous view of Glory through miss-information which subversively acts to on the all too human desire to appropriate a portion of God’s Sovereignty and Glory for man.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Elmer Fudd said it succinctly…

Monday, May 21st, 2007

For those whose theology, and thereby their perception of eternal assurance, is works based, the words of Elmer Fudd seem to fit nicely. Namely, “Be vewy, vewy afwaid…“. As in A Tale of Two Johns, this of course refers to Mr. Wesley et al and our friends in the Church of Rome, but also to many others within the Evangelical community.

Within the larger post-reformation community, most who accept biblical inerrancy can agree that men (that’s men generically speaking, by the way) start from birth in the world as a Kingdom of Darkness, possessed both literally and figuratively by the Prince of the Air. Scripture is clear about this in numerous passages. The theology derived from Pelageous in the second century or thereabouts, and later evolving into so called Arminianism, effectively stipulates that there is some small degree of personal sovereignty deposited in each individual. This of course implies that they dodged the bullet in the Fall at least partially, and that they were somehow granted a personal portion of God’s complete sovereignty, but that is another issue for later. The proposed outworking of this possession of personal control is that they are able, of their own volition and solely by their own will and purpose, to respond to the Gospel, or not. In this theater, the Gospel is still presented by the Grace of God, but it is the individual, in exercising what can only be called their personal sovereignty, that determines the outcome, irrespective of the intent or wish of God. This script yields even more loose ends concerning the sufficiency and sovereignty of the work of Christ, but that too is another discussion. If the path is followed, with the individual in the final analysis accepting or rejecting the Gospel offer without the intervention of God (aside from the provision of the opportunity), then that individual sovereignty bring with it a subsequent ongoing, persistent responsibility to retain salvation once accepted. In other words, since they decided, then their personal sovereign authority retains the ongoing responsibility to maintain salvation or not. Individual will then is the pivotal component of eternal salvation. Whether that responsibility is exercised through willfully action or negligent inaction is irrelevant. It is still individual. This is indeed a heavy, and we shall see, precarious burden.

To continue, this responsibility must include modes of living that might influence Sanctification, namely that behaviour in line with our Lord’s example and precepts and associated repentance when that does not occur become deterministic. Furthermore, if continued Salvation is determined by ongoing individual actions, then it would logically follow that as imperfect creatures with incomplete Sanctification while still living in the world, each individual would fluctuate between states of Salvation and of not being saved in direct proportion to times of sin, repentance and subsequent forgiveness. There would by definition be frequent times of slipping from Salvation for even the most pious and diligent individual.

Scripture states that life in the human states even after Salvation is one of continued sinfulness to one degree or another. As such, there would be numerous periods of loosing and (potentially) regaining salvation. And the less than diligent Saint would find themselves out of Grace frequently.

All this is to say, as Elmer Fudd so eloquently put it, that virtually every person is effectively only a part-time Saint at best, or worse. More important, even when in a state of Grace, they must be concerned about their precarious state of being at all times! What a state to be in (no pun intended)! It is a condition of constant jeopardy and eternal insecurity. Yikes! Thank goodness that Scripture does not support this, but it is a state that many live in.

The Calvinist, on the other hand, lives in the truth of eternal security. Scripture states that those who are saved are moved to that state through the Hand of God alone. In other words, it is all the sovereignty of God, and none of man. Further, and more to our discussion here, is that those saved by His hand can never be taken (in Scripture, plucked) from it. Note, that Scripture states this as NEVER, not sometimes, possibly, conditionally or maybe. We have the Lord sovereignly saving us, and then, since His sovereignty will can not be denied, retaining us in that state eternally.

Surely Elmer would have said that we then can be “vewy, vewy secure”…

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Gentle Theology?

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

Another chat with a Christian brother, who is a pastoral candidate, some musing, and here we have a new thought path concerning the nuances in our application of theology to interactions within the family of believers. Actually, this thread had already been percolating in the background after reading “A Kinder, Gentler Calvinism” by James N. McGuire (RTS Reformed Quarterly, Summer 2000, 14-16). The present conversation stimulated the process.

The real crux here is how much slack should one cut (and by implication does the Lord allow, since we represent Him indirectly in our dealings with one another) others in the discussion of theological issues? When to stand one’s ground, when to go along or when (like Nikita Khrushchev, in that famous scene years ago at the United Nations) to take off your shoe and pound in on the table.

The question divides into two types of theology – one which I will term preferential theology (that is, small issues of preference that do not reflect the basic tenents of belief), and one of foundational theology (representing crucial issues of faith and Salvation). Though there might be debate on where some issues fall, most seem to fall in one category or the other.

On preferential issues, I have always proposed that these were issues for friendly discussion among the family of believers around the dinner table, so to speak. Though we may be variously convicted of our positions of these issues, and even hold to them tenaciously for our own reasons, they should not be divisive or disrupt our fellowship. In other words, although we might present our case on one issue or another to our brothers and sisters, we should also cut them a lot of slack, even (or especially) when we think that we are correct. This is a question of attitude and demeanor as much as anything. In some ways it is reminiscent of previous articles on the need for tolerance within in the fellowship of believers that facilitates the grow of each individual (Sanctification – Expectations and Behaviour). We all need space to grow within the family, and this includes growing on theological issues. Not only that, but in the case of preferencial issues, the right and wrong is critical to Salvation. As such, discussion is important, but the we can certainly agree to disagree within the family.

On foundational issues, the water becomes more murky. As a Christian friend said to me some years ago, while commenting upon certain denominational beliefs, “The Lord honours intent”. By that he implied that though someone’s variant understanding of an issue might seem incorrect to us, their conviction of a particular interpretation of Scripture would be honoured by the Lord. They were covered by appropriate Grace, and the issue itself became moot. There are clearly limits on this application of Grace, but it does seem to fall within the scope of the Grace extended to all of us as believers. Both the Christian brother in the present conversation, as well as the McGuire article cited above, extend this to imply a flexible approach in the discussion of more seminal issues of the faith, irrespective of our view or level of conviction. The assumption is that taking a more aggressive approach does not accomplish anything, and in fact may be counter productive in meaningful interaction, or if appropriate, correction. This does not mean that ideas are not to be stated firmly and with conviction, just not divisively. Division removes the possibility of further productive discussion. A Calvinist could not dissagree with this in theory, since the Lord’s plan is covering all that is occuring. From that point of reference there is no unexpected. Yet, on fundamental matters the temptation to be more strident can be great and the seeming need to correct an situation of error may seem required.

The concept of a univerally flexible approach that is non-confrontational makes sense, but at the same time it leaves me with considerable unease. Surely if the issue is significant it can not simply pass, with silence or ambivalence possibly taken as agreement or support for a position of error. To what degree is one responsible to debate when the issue is theologically significant? Some would say it doesn’t matter and that optimal fellowship is the over-riding concern. With that approach, when would issues be corrected? Surely it does matters and correction is important. If that is true, then to what degree should one articulate the truth? Admittedly, by way of personality, I tend towards the “take no prisoners” school in areas of foundational importance, but I can appreciate an alternate argument. Fellowship is very important. Therein is the dilemma.

If a church is composed of very like minded believers, with very close views of the paradigms of Salvation and their application in the church, there is less likelyhood of ‘issues’. However, as church growth becomes an ever high priority (see also the Church Size series in Life in the Body), increasing numbers of congregants appear, and there are ofter limited resources available for church orientation, the likelyhood of dramatically different belief sets becomes much more likely. As that occurs, and demographically it seems very likely, the foundational basics can quickly and quietly become diluted.

When should one object on theological, church doctrine or other issues? Does it matter? This is, of course, said tongue in check since it clearly does matter, but many, by apparent ambivalence, do not seem to care . When it does not matter or ambivalence rules the day, does the church then start an insidious slide into being a place of entertainment and everyday fellowship rather than Christ, His message and precepts? Again, this sounds severe, but below the surface that is the slope. Is that required basic theology related only to the observed, limited congregational knowledge of what their church stands for (in it’s general statement of beliefs)? If so, and since there may be a large variation in the beliefs held within the group, does this indicate that the church is being built without a firm foundations on any common foundational set of biblical standards? I think that it does…

This is a difficult post. There are lots of questions, with no obvious answers…

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Youth Ministry in Perspective

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

What of youth ministry in light of basic Doctrinal and Theological literacy? What of the newer trends in youth worship? How does all this interlock with what is no doubt coming as creation approaches biblical millenial times? These are challenging questions for all who are parents or who work with young Christians, especially in the church context.

Young people, particularly in their intellectual and emotional growth, express their process at least partially, and often loudly in one way or another, by carving out a different perspective, a ground that is their own. This may have many divergent facets, but it expresses the need to risk in defining their own environment for growth, independent of past paradigms in one way or another. They are pressing towards the mark, as we have been exhorted to do in Scripture. The key for young (as well as older Christians, for that matter) is that the mark in question be Christ. Does that imply that the perspective that they carve out must be overtly in the church or even in ministry? I don’t think so. The mark is the focus on being lead in Him, irrespective of the outward manifestation, though clearly this would not lead of sinful pursuits.

Since we live in a fallen world, there are many destructive ways that this process can emerge, and the long term potential is often the root cause of both societal and family concern. Furthermore, in our current society, with most of the previous moral and ethical structures made effectively moot due to relativism and the associated void of values endemic in the education system, the dangers increase exponentially. Nonetheless, this process must occur and we must focus on it as part of the Lord’s plan for emerging young people. Developing young people are wired to take risks. One could propose that since developmental paradigms were created by the Lord, then this penchant for risk is expressly to allow the young to press forward for the Kingdom in ways that are more inhibited in older Christians.

In this situation, we once again return to the need for firm grounding in foundational theology and doctrine, as lay out in Which Theology and Doctrine?. In this case, however, the most significant focus is on very basic training in these concepts before adolescence, and upon a Scriptural, discussion oriented approach during adolescence. The intention here is more mentoring and accompanyment than training. Assuming that the concepts are in place up front, the natural struggles are precisely that, natural, and can follow the Lord’s leading.

Then what of areas change might conflict with established organizational norms, not outside Christian beliefs or in sin, but simply outside “the way things are done”? A prime example of this would be worship style.

In the development of Christian youth, the Lord is clearly very gracious. Those among the youth who are believers often express both their belief and their emerging identity through worship styles that some many find at odds with tradition. They may even be sited as lacking in some nuances of doctrine. Though factually these concerns may be correct, and assuming that they do not deviate into obvious sin, I would propose that in this situation they are moot. Through their worship and concomitant focus on Him, the Lord has provided a framework for these young believers in which they may strike out, yet do so with His sword and shield of protection still in place. The experience can be as emotional and overwhelming as fits the individual, yet still in Christ. As with all believers, with the Lord in absolute sovereign control all is well. This, of course, continues to depend upon the framework of the faith already being in place. As with all senarios that are in the Lord, youth then experiment and redefine within Him. Older believers must retain this perspective in supporting youth as they strike out to create their own place in life, while holding to our Lord.

The Sovereign Will of God is just as much solidly in place among these members of the flock as anywhere else. Concern over style can be missplaced. Certainly guidance is appropriate, but our Lord is providing for these, His people, as he aways has.

The spectre of young Christians coming together to celebrate both our Lord and his provision is wonderfully inspiring and uplifting. The overt form is not an issue. Let us enjoy the gracious freedom that the Lord has provided to the youth, while still championing the faith and remaining vigilant on their behalf. He has designed them to go forth on their own, for Him and in Him.

There is no conflict between this freedom and our comments concerning Theological and Doctrinal literacy. Both have a place and are essential over time, that all Glory will be to God alone.

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Which Theology and Doctrine?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Now to quantify what topics to cover, under what assumptions, in the quest for a universally applied, basic foundational grounding.

The most basic groundwork must be two pronged, the Sovereignty of God and the Inerrancy of Scripture. Some faith groups who propose type of training start with these two items as givens, and proceed to build upon them. That can be problematic. Since these two fundamental concepts are so important for all subsequent study, they should be addressed at the start in a reasonably exhaustive way. Also, if believers are later challenged, these two tenents of the faith are often the root of a challenge. Thus, a basic apologetic knowledge of them will prove very useful.

For the Sovereignty of God, a guided Scriptural survey plus some exerpts from authors such as Pink, Packer, Boettner or similar would certainly be a solid beginning. The emphasis, however, should fall to Scripture, since absolute sovereignty is layed out not only explicitly but in both the individual and national lives described in both the Old and New Testaments. For Biblical inerrancy, a review of the major proofs with a bibliography of associated works should suffice. The key is to provide sufficient support in each individual case that the inidividual has cofidence in themselves and a set of references that can be consulted as the need arises. As we proceed to other tenents of the faith it is critical that there be no doubt concerning these basics and that this confidence be based upon direct scriptural observation. As such, the degree of investigation and material may vary from person to person.

Quite some time ago the post The Word in your Heart, addressed the ongoing value of Scripture memorization and rehearsal. I would submit that there is a place for that here. This is not to say that huge numbers of verses should be commited to memory, but a small number of key verses that related to the main concepts and doctrines would be instructive.

For basic theology, with the assumption that the Sovereignty and Inerrancy issues have been cover, a treatment of the Doctrines of Grace would provide a solid base. Again, this does not have to be exhaustive, but a few hours on the appropriate ideas and associated Scriptures would be appropriate. This would likely also lead to profitable discussion.

Doctrine will likely be somewhat more denominationally specific. In most Protestant and related denominations there are both Confessions of Faith and associated Catechisms available that express most doctrinal concepts well. Although an appreciation of the Confession of Faith is good, the Catechism is likely the best tool for methodically examining the basic ideas and their Scriptural basis. A detailed walk through the Catechism and some of the more pertinent references would be very profitable for this topic. Peripherally, those interested could compare the differences with the Catechisms of closely related denominations.

There are likely many other items that could be included since this is admittedly an ‘off the cuff’ outline, but with that in mind we will forge ahead (just thinking about it won’t get it done). As already discussed, all of the following items assume not only the presentation of the tenent, but solid Scriptural support and explanation. So, to summarize:

1. Sovereignty of God
2. Inerrancy of Scripture
3. Bible verses to memorize
Two options a.) a small number (12) or b.) an optional 52 verse, 1 year program
4. The Doctrines of Grace
5. Basic demonimational Confession of Faith, including brief history
6. Detailed walk through of the associated catechism
Then, after this grounding
7. A review of the particular church statement of faith in light of what has been covered.

This outline is the initial syllabus of a Basic Tenents of the Faith program that would be of great benefit to almost all believers, whether new or in review. It is highly probably that most, almost all, church members (and adherents) would be surprised by the amount learned and the deepening of conviction experienced.

From the organizational point of view there are other benefits. A higher general level of literacy in these areas stimulates more discussion of, and focus on, the Lord’s work. After all, much of material was likely completely unknown before this exercise. Also, though discussion can be challenging at times, focus on the church vision and beliefs will result in clarity.

There must be a catch, right? And of course there is indeed a catch. Actually there are two catches.

The first is the usual requirement for will and effort. The usual trolley of excuses about lack of resources (mostly financial) is often rolled out, but this is a complete red herring (smoke screen). The real question is around effort, which always stems from seeing the need of change. The financial resource requirements are minimal.

The second catch is more difficult in today’s church environment. It is always seductive to avoid these issue completely by assuming that congregants are literate in foundational matters and to focus on more high profile, more overtly productive, programs that have more flash. This has never been more true than in today’s church, though admittedly this may always have been the case (I wasn’t around 50, 100 or more years ago). To motivate action, a need must be more than passingly acknowledged as of good, or even enduring, value. In today’s church it must often show benefit, often in the short term, in order to compete for sustained leadership attention. Biblical, foundational, theological and doctrinal literacy are not overly flashy. They do not usually produce tangible surface benefits that are quantifiable in the short term or from minimal effort. However, they do not require significant financial resources, and need not detract significantly from other endeavours. They do, however, require leadership commitment over at least the medium term. This can be a serious challenge in today’s now environment where results are more often than not judged sooner rather than later. Nonetheless, they are the underpinnings of the future, and in my opinion of much greater importance than many other more visible activities.

Let us close this article with a reference back to the series of articles Witness for the Lord, concering evangelism. With the combination of the present issue and that of basic evangelism, we have a two pronged proposal for foundational rejuvenation. The present discussion complements that of evangelism training in that it provides not only the basis for enduring personal conviction, but very useful apologetic knowledge.

Let us move forward grounded in Christ, convicted in the Word and its meaning, and secure in sharing the only news that is of true significance, as we wait another day for His return.

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Why Theology Lite in the Assembly?

Monday, April 9th, 2007

With the need for the systematic provision of a doctrinal and theological base within the Body established, how should the congregation proceed?

You will notice that this post title says Theology Lite, and not just Theology. God’s people, in general, though having an crucial needed for basic doctrinal knowledge, do not require intensive theological education. Put another way, every believer in the assembly does not need an MDIV (the stereotypical pastoral degree) in order to rest on a solid base. Not to say that such a level of enquiry is not desirable, but it is more than is needed on the general level. This will seem a given to most, but there are those who might choose to construe the proposed made for general education to be a call for a universal seminary movement, which it is not.

The next suggestion (actually another tangent which avoids the real need) might be “Why not just read the Bible daily, even end to end systematically?” Although clearly a good thing, supported by Scriptural example and having benefit in one’s relationship with the Lord, this nonetheless does not address the issue. Bible study author and teacher Irving L Jensen, a century ago, pointed out that simply reading and enjoying the Bible is not the same as systematic study. We would agree. Both are needed. Immersion in the reading of the Scripture draws us close to our Lord and is of great joy and value. However, though it is supportive of, it is not the same as nor necessarily most effective in, building conceptual understanding and concrete ideas.

Despite the methodology used, systematic study of the Scriptures is a long term project which is the responsibility of each believer. Our Book of Life is just that, and we turn to it in each daily situation. However, to grasp the overall theological and doctrinal concepts, upon which much of our understanding rests, by individual study can take many years, literally. On a shorter timeline, a systematic study of the distilled concepts and beliefs gives a structure and overview to both new and old believers. This is what can be supplied through the suggested systematic education in basic theology (that it, theology lite) and doctrine. If further development is desired, then the framework is already in place.

I am a strong advocate of a systematics approach to theology (after all, I am an analyst by profession). In the case of theology, the atomistic approach provided in Scripture, in presenting related concepts, requires the building of a conceptual system from related texts which can span many non-contiguous passages or books. Systematics provides such a framework. In the case of doctrine, usually related to a particular demonination, the appropriate Confessions of Faith and Catechisms provide a distilled view of foundational matters. In this area I feel that the catechism is most useful since it presents the more complex issue of the confessions in a more easily digested form, including Scriptural references in most cases. Not only that, but in that form denominationally specific points are often more easily identified and thereby opened to explanation.

One other related point that bears mentioning, though it does not reflect upon the specific need and provision of education as such, is the probably effect of this process on the local Assembly. With the provision of marriage by our Lord, two can join in Him. It is the in Him which provides the binding focus. In a larger sense, the focus of the Assembly upon common ideas in the study proposed has a very high likelyhood of drawing all together much more tightly in Him, even in peripheral congregational matters. As the intensity of focus increases on the faith and its ideas, all areas of worship and service are very likely to be intensified.

Having now qualified an overall requirement for a concrete form of doctrinal and theological education, how do we now quantify what is to be studied, the base assumptions, and the priorities?

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