Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Repentant Blog (Birth Control #4)

Can I post a repentant blog?

Many of you might be shocked reading what I am about to say, considering some of my previous statements in the ‘birth control’ blogs and their accompanying comment threads. Oh well, I enjoy being a man of mystery and cryptic provocation (whatever that means :) ). I want to ask that this post be a one way conversation (my favorite kind). I am not going to pay too much attention to the comments posted. There is usually more heat than light shed on this issue via anonymous or quasi-anonymous comments. Much of this dastardly heat has come out of my mouth (keyboard?).

Also, I need to say that I run a bit of a risk in being a ‘pastoral blogger’. Blogs and pulpits are weird things. They’re a bit like loaded guns. Loaded guns are good when you need to shoot something and eat it. They’re fun when you’re out on the range shooting at bottles and sand dunes. They’re handy when strange people are burglarizing your house or threatening your kids (I heard an interesting story from a former liberal who changed her position on gun control after witnessing the near death of a preschooler at the jaws of a vicious neighbor’s dog only to be saved when a semi-redneck sort of fella walked out with a 9 mm and took care of business- please no pro-gun control comments here!). But guns are not good in the hands of children, felons, or when they are carelessly waved in your face. I need to practice restraint, control, and grace upon grace with this weapon. As a minister of the gospel, I must be ready to stand boldly on issues. I must be as wise as a serpent. Preach and boldly proclaim truth in season and out. Do not endure unhealthy doctrine. You guys all know this is what I do, I am in no need of adjustment toward that end of the scale. But, in representing a local church as pastor teacher, and speaking for its leadership (all godly, qualified, bold, and gracious men) I must also be gentle as a dove. Slow to speak, quick to listen. Not being contentious. Pursuing unity. Turning away wrath with gentle answers for the sake of the great argument – the good news of Jesus Christ.

So, here is Erik on ‘restraint’ and ‘grace’. Here is Erik the dove.

First of all, I want to repent of oversimplifying, painting in ‘black and white’ on this issue of a Christian’s use of the ‘pill’. I have used strong words regarding people’s choices in this area that are too strong given the nature of the debate and the evidence available to godly Christians seeking to walk with integrity before God in these matters.

And before I go further into the ‘gray’ of this issue, let me state again what is clear and certain for me:

1. We live in a culture/society that is covered in the blood of over 40 million babies since Roe v. Wade. We must repent of this as a nation, and fight this injustice by God's grace.
2. We must fight to affirm the personhood and dignity of all humans no matter how young or small (embryos), old, sick, or disabled.
3. Responsible Christians must affirm the blessing of God in the gift of children, and steward this gift with care before the Father of all.
4. Responsible Christians must make decisions regarding contraception with great caution, care, wisdom, and biblical conviction in a culture that prioritizes sexual liberty and personal autonomy above God’s Word and his wonderful design for sexuality, intimacy, and procreation.
5. Responsible Christians must engage this ‘brave new world’ of postmodern bioethical concerns with boldness and conviction as well as grace, love, and hope in the sovereign goodness of God.

I know many Christians who would fully affirm these five points and yet disagree with my assessment of oral contraceptives. After past discussions and in the midst of continued discussions, I think we must be willing to accept one another before the Lord and yet disagree with charity on this issue of oral contraceptives.

Now, into the gray…

After much discussion with various doctors, nurses, pastors, and others regarding this issue (both in the past and in the last week or so) I believe that we need to say that this is an issue of personal conviction before God and liberty within the body of Christ. This means that each of us must be ‘fully convinced in his own mind’ and live with conviction before God on these matters, and with charity before our brothers and sisters. I have been speaking harshly with blanket statements about clear immorality and basic simplicity on this issue. I do believe that one can assess the information related to the pill and make their decision before God (a decision that may be different than mine) with a clear conscience and not necessarily be in direct violation of his commands. I don’t say this because I believe the fundamental premises of my (or Alcorn’s) argument are wrong per se, but because there is such a high degree of statistical improbability (if that is the right word) related to ovulation, fertilization, and implantation on the pill and the direct relationship of this process or the interruption of this process by the pill.

After these discussions with a few in the medical profession that I trust greatly I am leaning to believe that though there is a great deal of truth in Alcorn’s booklet (truth that should be shared openly), there is also an oversimplification of the data to a degree. There is a complexity to our understanding of the statistics and data that causes us to dance on that fine line of morality/immorality (or ethical/unethical) on this issue. Many wise and godly people fall on one side and many fall on the other. Some of us feel we are on the one side and are sure that every one else is on the other. I am more of a mind that we cannot be that clear cut and simplistic on this issue. I don’t wish to condemn the couples, doctors, nurses, pastors, and teachers with whom I might disagree. I can continue to seek to win my brothers and sisters to what I see as an important personal conviction, but I can not (I say with great reluctance and bruised pride!) stand as their judge. Before our master each one of us stands or falls- praise God! Our master is gracious and wonderful. Erik the ‘master’? Not so gracious and wonderful.

Ok. So where do I stand? I don’t mind telling you.

I do still say openly that the pill can be classified as ‘abortifacient’ because, as Alcorn points out, this is the open claim of the pharmaceutical companies and many others in the medical profession. But I am quick to point out that this ‘abortifacient’ aspect of the pill is the ‘third mechanism’ of the pill, is statistically difficult to define or know, and from my limited understanding of these things, is a very, very small margin. It is a ‘theoretical’ possibility. That term (abortifacient) can muddy the waters because of the current cultural climate surrounding the abortion debate. As Dr. Jernigan points out in the comment thread (she admits her numbers are not to be taken as hard math- just some preliminary crunching of the data, and I I tend to agree with her) it turns out to be a possible one egg in 26 years on the pill that is fertilized and ‘sloughed’ off of the uterine wall because of the effects of the pill.

Nonetheless, for this reason as well as a host of others (see my post on Onan, Sex, and Children), Tori and I do not use oral contraceptives. We feel that given our convictions regarding conception, the sanctity of human life, the resources available to us, the knowledge we have, the counsel we have received, and through prayer and great consideration we don’t want to live with this ‘theoretical’ possibility. That is our decision before the Lord. I openly share this with people. I openly share this in my premarital counseling sessions. I also openly share that godly physicians and many godly Christians disagree with me and have different convictions before God on this matter. I make clear that this is not the dogmatic conclusion of the leadership of our church. I encourage them to seek out other counsel and be wise and prayerful in their decision before God.

So let me again say that I am sorry for so often being an arrogant so and so. And thank you for bearing with me.

Maybe I just shouldn’t blog. . .

Nah…I think I’ll keep blogging as long as I can keep repenting.

I’ll also try and blog without sin.

Could that be possible?

I can always try.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Letter to the Washington Post

Here is a link to an op-ed piece in the Washington Post by Charles Krauthammer:

Specifically he says this in his article regarding the declining population of Jews in the West:

Israel's Jewish population has just passed 5.6 million. America's Jewish population was about 5.5 million in 1990, dropped to about 5.2 million 10 years later and is in a precipitous decline that, because of low fertility rates and high levels of assimilation, will cut that number in half by mid-century.

When 6 million European Jews were killed in the Holocaust, only two main centers of Jewish life remained: America and Israel. That binary star system remains today, but a tipping point has just been reached. With every year, as the Jewish population continues to rise in Israel and decline in America (and in the rest of the Diaspora), Israel increasingly becomes, as it was at the time of Jesus, the center of the Jewish world.

My Dad, Mike Braun Sr., wrote to Mr. Krauthammer and the editorial staff at the Post. Here it is:


Charles Krauthammer’s failure to provide better analysis when the American Jewish population is in serious decline is disturbing.(Op Ed May 4) A drop from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.2 million today is precipitous indeed. He blames “low fertility rates” and “high levels of assimilation” yet fails to mention a major cause: abortion. His pro-choice pragmatism is myopic. It ignores the genocidal results of pro-choice reproductive fantasies.

“Never again” indeed! Modern Jewish holocaust revisionists are increasingly critical of European Jewry under Hitler. Why did they not fight back? Why were there not a thousand Warsaw and Treblinka uprisings? It is “1938 all over again” in more ways than one. Once again naïve, deceived and materialistic Jews are surrendering their heritage to an ideological enemy who ultimately threatens their existence. This is happening not through assimilation but in failing to obey Torah’s command to be fruitful and multiply. Invade Iraq, sanction Iran, wage war on Hamas; decry anti-Semitism and appeal to the loyalty of the Jewish people. It is all to no avail unless the Jew denounces the evils of abortion. Their lost children are known to G-d, “written on his hand.”


A Gentile who cares about Israel,

Michael A. Braun

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

I decided to go ahead and blog this for all to see. Norton928 had asked some specific questions along these 'shepherd' metaphor lines. Check out his comment on the last post re: Stanley, CEO's, and Shepherds...

Hey Norton…

Sorry for not responding to your comments before. There are a variety of reasons- laziness being foremost! He he.

Actually, I felt that I had addressed in essence what you bring up in my posts and in the comment threads. I try and keep up with the comments as best I can and still tend to my other shepherd duties. So, here you have my undivided attention. Lucky you.

By the way, yes- this sort of teaching (regarding leadership and the pastorate) and this model of ministry (set forth by Stanley) that seems to besiege so many in my blessed vocation does disturb me. I think it is fundamentally and biblically unhealthy. But, I am sorry if I come across as ‘extremely’ concerned. I should watch my ‘blog tone’ I guess. Sometimes I do overtly intend to be a bit…um…straightforward? (See the Have I Emerged blogs)- but I really didn’t think I was coming across as ‘extreme’ in my concern. Nonetheless- your questions are good. I’ll do my best to address them.

I agree that there are a host of the ‘culturally bound’ statements similar to the ones you mention. Well, all the words of Scripture are ‘culturally bound’ in some sense- but some of it is simply very dated (not a good word) and very far removed from our current framework. We try and discover within that context what was meant by that author and discover how it is best applied in our own day. This is why the Bible itself puts such a high premium on the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. We need to dig into it individually and corporately so that we might understand, apply, and obey it rightly. This is why I am so critical of the mega and emergent churches' abandonment of the primacy of the Word in worship and the overwhelming rejection of expository preaching.

Let’s go through the examples you provide and see how this might be done.

Paul says repeatedly in his letters, ‘greet one another with a holy kiss’ (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 C or 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26). Here we have an obvious cultural convention of greeting. Is this some sort of binding command? Even a surface reading of this in the context of Paul’s closing statements (all part of first century epistolary convention) would point us to recognizing its immediate cultural and contextual point of reference. We do not woodenly apply this to ourselves any more than we do Romans 16:19: “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.” Is Paul speaking of our obedience? Is he talking about Four Oaks Community Church? Was Paul really rejoicing over us particularly? Obviously not. Yet, we can parse out the fundamental meaning of the passage and the fundamental meaning and application of a ‘holy kiss’. Paul is saying that he wants them to treat others with real, holy affection. If it is a kiss, which is foreign in our culture, then it is a kiss. If it is a hug, more appropriate and understood, then it is a hug. Show brotherly, intimate affection that is appropriate.

Next, regarding the words of Paul and Peter to women regarding dress and modesty. First, Paul says:

1 Timothy 2:9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.

The context of the passage really doesn’t allow us to consign Paul’s words to a bone pile of culturally irrelevant Scriptures. The fundamental imperative is given clearly- adorn yourselves with proper clothing, with modesty, and discretion. Paul gives cultural examples- mentioning braids (elaborate hairdos), gold, pearls, and costly garments. Is he giving a dogmatic command? I don’t believe so. So, my wife can wear a gold necklace and not disobey the direct command of Scripture. He is saying that godly women will be careful with outward adornment that is showy, sexual, distracting, etc. Its funny, because we all now EXACTLY what Paul is talking about- it is evident and apparent all around us. I really think we beg some sort of ‘cultural ignorance’ in a passage like this to let us off the hook. I just asked three high school girls who are sitting next to me here at the coffee shop to tell me what they think that passage means. They told me, with relative clarity, basically what I said above. I asked if the mention of ‘braids, gold’ etc. threw them off from a basic understanding of the passage. They said it was a bit weird (culturally weird) but they understood (and I think they were unbelievers, judging from their strange looks at me- one of them put on a sweater, seriously).

We then can let Scripture interpret Scripture and look to 1 Peter 3:3-4
“And let not your adornment be merely external-- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

Should women not put on dresses? Of course women can wear dresses. The meaning of these passages is clear. Beware of obscuring godliness with worldliness, materialism, seductive clothing and the like. This is true in every culture every where!

You also mention 1 Corinthians 11 and head coverings. It is obvious (Paul even says, ‘Does not the nature of things tell you?” 11:14) that this passage has a ton of direct references to Corinthian culture in the first century. I have a whole take on this passage, and I won’t belabor it here. It is one of the hardest passages in the N.T. in my opinion, and I still wrestle greatly with its proper application in our churches. It seems the basic deal is that we must display within our culture the basic theological realities of biblical manhood and womanhood ordered under God (11:3, 11-12). Yes, there is a lot of ‘grey’ here. Yes, it is a rather complex deal to try and sort out this passage. But- the basic theological lesson is fairly straightforward in the passage, all head coverings aside.

I know, I know, I’m not answering your question. Ok, here goes, though I feel like I have said this over and over again now.

We come to the prevailing metaphor (and I mean PREVAILING metaphor) for leadership in the Old and New Testament: ‘shepherd’. Of course we are not real shepherds. Of course the picture breaks down at some level. But, first- we have the clear teaching of Eph. 4:11 that distinctly titles the office of ‘pastor’- which points to its lasting value as a significant and binding title. You speak of Jesus illustrating a principle. But Jesus, Paul, and Peter do so much more. They institute an OFFICE, a distinct and unique role in the local church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). And, as I said, it has a distinct ‘title’ in my understanding and application of Ephesians 4:11.

But, let’s go deeper. What did Jesus, Paul, and Peter really mean? And does this meaning come forth in this new CEO model? As I said in this post and in the other posts, the image, picture, metaphor of Pastor/Shepherd communicated richly through the Scriptures is NOT communicated through the modern CEO model. CEO’s are not fundamentally humble caregivers, teachers, nurturers, fighters, etc. And they are not perceived as such in our culture. So, apart from the hermeneutical question, Stanley’s model fails at this level.

Stanley brought in the ‘if Jesus were here’ tact. Which is fallacious in a variety of ways- but let’s humor him. I ask the question, and I did a little polling myself, should we really say, “I am the good CEO”? Would Paul say, “Be the chief executive officers of the company that God purchased with his own blood.”? Would Peter say, “Be chief executive officers of God's company that is under your care, serving as overseers-- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Chief executive officer appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” ?

This model and metaphor set forth by Stanley et. al. actually obscures the intent of the authors in my opinion. This model undercuts proper understanding of leadership in the New Testament. So, it should not be used. In our culture we do know what a shepherd is and does and we can understand this biblical intent. So why change it? Well, you have to if you turn the church into a mega-corporate entity, a spiritual Super Wal-Mart. So, Stanley and others are working backward from a pragmatic, corporate, and mega- business model and reading that into the Scriptures and conforming the Scriptures re: polity around their own model. To maintain biblical integrity (yes, even in areas of church government and ecclesiology) we must work forward from the starting point of the Scripture and build our lives and churches around it.

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Birth Control. . . part 3

Here is a wonderful page everyone caught up in this issue should read. Randy Alcorn has put his findings into a helpful dialogue between two Christians regarding the use of birth control.

Alcorn exhibits grace and truth and strong reasoning to persuade Christians on this most misunderstood issue.

Check it out:


Birth Control . . . part 2

Here is a link to another article regarding 'the pill' as abortifacient. It is written by a physician, and comes with a host of physician's commendations and support of the work.

It is 16 pgs in pdf. file.

Here is a sample of the support that Randy Alcorn received for his helpful booklet on the issue:

1. "From medical textbooks and pharmacy references, to statements from the Pill-manufacturers themselves, this book proves, beyond any doubt, the abortion-causing action of birth control pills. This book should be read by everyone interested in knowing the truth."

~ Paul L. Hayes, M.D., Board Certified Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians/Gynecologists

2. "Does the birth control pill cause abortions? Using research results from medical literature, Randy Alcorn has convincingly shown that the answer is `yes.' He has, with care and compassion, given us the truth. The question for us as Christians is how we will respond now that we know."

~ Linda Martin, M.D., Pediatrician

3. "By carefully detailing the available medical information concerning the abortifacient effects of oral contraceptives, Randy Alcorn has developed a logical and thoughtful challenge to every prolife person. The conclusions of this study are scientifically accurate. Birth control pills usually prevent pregnancy, but sometimes they cause an abortion. Questions? Objections? Randy has addressed them in a gentle but firm way. This is the manner in which the often fiery debate over prolife subjects should be carried out- unemotionally, intelligently and quietly. The evidence is before us . . . `How should we then live?'"

~ Patrick D. Walker, M.D., Professor of Pathology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

4. "In this challenging book Randy Alcorn has the honesty to face a tough and uncomfortable question. This compelling evidence will make you rethink the question of birth control pills."

~ John Brose, M.D., Surgeon

5. "In this impeccably researched book, Randy Alcorn takes an unblinking look at what medical experts know about how birth control pills work. I painfully agree that birth control pills do in fact cause abortions. Our individual and collective Christian response to this heretofore varnished-over information will have profound consequences for time and eternity. This is a disturbing must-read for all who profess to be prolife."

~ Beverly A. McMillan, M.D., Ob/Gyn

6. "Randy Alcorn has done exceptional work. The facts in this book parallel much of my own research. I am delighted he would undertake such a work when others seek to avoid the subject. This book is a must for Christians, particularly those in medicine and Christian ministries."

~ Karen D. Garnett, R.N.

7. "No prolife physician can rightly prescribe BCPs [birth control pills] after reviewing this data. I have started circulating this information."

~ Randall Martin, M.D., Chairman, Department of Anesthesiology, Columbia Willamette Valley Medical Center

8. "Scientific papers suggest that escape ovulation occurs 4-15% of all cycles in patients taking birth control pills. Thus, as this booklet points out, early chemical abortions are a real and significant concern."

~ Paddy Jim Baggot, M.D., Ob/Gyn, Fellow of the American College of Medical Genetics

9. "Randy Alcorn has thoroughly studied and written on an area where little published scientific information exists. His responses to this issue, and his outstanding appendices, are must reading."

~ William M. Petty, M.D., Surgeon, Gynecologic Oncology

10. "Randy Alcorn has once again demonstrated his tenacity and integrity in pursuing the truth. He has exposed the abortifacient properties of so-called birth control agents. This booklet should be required reading for all discerning Christians who wish to fully live out their faith."

~ William L. Toffler, M.D., Professor of Family Medicine,Oregon Health Sciences University

11. "I endorse Randy Alcorn's book with gusto. He has answered the title question with the care and compassion of a pastor, having searched out the facts with the diligence of an experienced researcher. He has provided all women in their reproductive years with an invaluable resource which will allow them to be fully informed about the birth control pill."

~ William F. Colliton, Jr., M.D., Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology,George Washington University Medical Center


Friday, May 26, 2006

Stanley, Shepherds, and CEOs (here we go again)

Go check out this blog for a great critique of the CEO megachurch model for leadership:

Remember, I did my own polling re: people's views of 'shepherds' and CEOs. Well, what do you know? Ole Pastor E was not too far from the mark. I'll give you a piece, but go read the blog and the comments.

Even if we dismiss this work by sociologists and healthcare researchers, anecdotal evidence suggests that few Americans find corporate environments, or their leaders, admirable. A recent survey showed that only 25% of people trust corporate executives—slightly higher than the 23% that trust used-car dealers.
I don’t believe those in favor of liberally applying business models to the church, like Andy Stanley, are advocating cultures of corruption, backbiting, or greed. But one must ask, if the structures that have produced these ungodly qualities in America’s most “successful” corporations are worthy of emulation among God’s people?

The second reason I believe the corporate model is bad for the church is more straight forward—it hasn’t worked. As corporate models have flourished in ministry the church in North America has lost ground both quantitatively and qualitatively. While business models are not solely to blame for this decline they certainly haven’t helped. Research done by George Barna and Gallup, disturbingly summarized in Ronald Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, shows “Evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general.”

Similarly, many church leaders are lured by corporate structures that promise to generate large ministries with more evangelistic impact. But Outreach Magazine recently published a special report that finds church attendance has been steadily declining for decades despite the increase in megachurches. Just as corporate giants Wal-Mart and Home Depot have thrived at the expense of smaller outlets, megachurches have succeeded primarily by absorbing their smaller predecessors. Dave Olson says:
"Some of the people in those mid-sized churches are the ones leaving and going to the larger churches. There are multiple expectations on mid-sized churches that they can't meet—programs, dynamic music, quality youth ministries. We've created a church consumer culture."

The evidence reveals that the American church is consolidating but not growing. In fact, less than 18% of the population regularly attends church, and if something radical is not done, this number will drop to 11% by 2050. Thom Rainer says, “The failure of churches to keep up with the population growth is one of the Church's greatest issues heading into the future.” And the solution isn’t a more efficient corporate model, but rather a grassroots movement comprising thousands of church plants.

Unlike the explosive church growth being experienced in Asia, Africa, and South America in recent years, the U.S. church seems to display little spiritual vigor or power. Has our reliance on the wisdom of marketers and business principles displaced dependence upon God’s Spirit? The fact that less than 1 in 25 churches ranks prayer as a priority may reveal the answer. Perhaps many pastors can relate to Stanley when he confesses, “There is nothing distinctly spiritual” about his leadership.

Yikes, are we really content to take our place just above used car salesmen?


On Spiritual Nudity

Thought that'd get your attention!

C.S. Lewis said somewhere, "Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities." (One of you Lewis-philes can tell me where that reference is from.) We live in an 'eros' soaked culture. And so our culture is filled with false intimacy. Pornography at the click of a mouse. Want true love? Just get your free personality profile over at e-harmony! Want Christian community? Just pop over to the mega church where there is a service that meets all your needs and a prayer partner waiting at the end of the pew.

Beloved, sex is easy and marriage is hard. Why? Because of sin and the fall, that which brings true joy and delight takes toil. Christian love, 'agape' love, is what brings true intimacy. And it is hard work. Covenant work. It means you'll have to live real life with real people in real time. It means you'll have to bare your soul, or as Lewis put it, you'll have to get 'naked'. You'll have to bear with one another in love. You'll have to confess your sins one to another. You'll have to give of your talents, your gifts, your money, your homes. You'll have to sacrifice your time. You'll have to take time off work. Your kid might miss soccer practice. You'll have to submit to your leaders. You'll have to love your neighbor as yourself. It requires transparency and personal revelation. Without it we are settling for cheap intimacy, superficial relationships, and covered hearts and souls.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Have I Emerged...part (I forget)

Alright, I get a lot flak about being hard on the 'emerging church'.

But, bros and sistahs, we need to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), discern truth from error (Hebrews 5:14), protect sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). I know a lot of you don't like it but you can't escape the fact that the evangelical walls are crumbling, the borders are disintegrating, the lies are increasing, the spies are infiltrating, the mortars are falling, and its time to lock and load the ole gospel gun and start peeling off a few rounds.

Oh, yes, I hear you! We need to do it with love and grace and patience and winsomeness and all that other stuff that is hyperabundant in our invertebrate post-whatever age. So do it with love and grace and patience and winsomeness, but please, let's get off our lazy butts and do it!

Why am I so worked up? Well, Pastor Paul should know better than to distract me on 'sermon day' (Thursday is my marathon sermon day...I try and work on the sermon from around 6 am until its done enuff to set aside until Saturday afternoon- that's why this post is being composed at 11:30- the sermon was done enuff!) He sent me some of the recent, or not so recent (who can keep up these days?) foolishness from Brian McLaren (one of our emergent 'leaders', tho leader is not a good postmodern term I am told, it is just too authoritarian, let's call him an 'influencer'). Paul called it 'gobbledygook', a fitting descriptor.

Check out McLaren's 'pastoral' (though we shouldn't use this term, it is an antiquated notion related to ancient near eastern sheep-herding and unapplicable in our emergent culture- so perhaps 'managerial' is better) remarks to the 'church' regarding homosexuality in Leadership Journal (linked here from the Christianity Astray...oops...Today blog):

I'll just make some brief comments. But they won't be particularly 'winsome' and full of postmodern luvy duvy jargon to make everyone feel like, well, sodomy is ok in moderation, or that this stuff that is coming out of the emerging circles of evangelicalism and Leadership magazine is not poisonous and deadly.

McLaren says:

"Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us." That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn."

Here the 'us' that Brian refers to are the 'emerging' leaders, or the 'emerging' pastors. And you know why they don't know what they should think about homosexuality? Because they have a very low view of Scripture. It is that simple. They have slipped and slid and scooted around this issue and every other issue upon which the Bible is fundamentally clear and they have accomadated our godless culture.

Brian, did you really say that you are waiting for confidence to say, "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us"? Seriously, did you say that? Out loud? I'd keep that one under wraps in a lightning storm.

Brother, the Spirit has spoken, and I will tell you with absolute confidence that he ain't waiting for your vote. are alienated from both liberals and conservatives. You are the ever elusive 'media via'. You fall not on one side or the other. You are the consumate diplomat. You refuse to speak with any arrogant certainty.

How humble of you. How very wise. How sweetly patient.

Problem is, homosexuality is a lifestyle (I am assuming that when McLaren affirms that all homosexual behavior is always sinful-yet in the article he asks us to wait five years before we affirm this - he would seek to establish that perhaps homosexual relationships are possibly ok. But, then, they wouldn't be homosexual relationships would they, if they weren't characterized by sinful homosexual behavior- or, sodomy?) that destroys the soul, kills the body, hates the family, rebels against Godly femininity and masculinity, and ultimately leads any culture to despair and death. God knows this, the Bible tells us so, history confirms it, our society displays it. So let's move beyond feigned diplomacy, false humility, and deadly 'patience' in a time of spiritual warfare.

Here is a great line, "If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex".

The deal is, the biblical arguments for any 'legitimate context' for sodomy has to be nuanced and multilayered. Because the Bible is staggeringly direct and clear. (Oh, you, you are waiting for me to provide prooftexts. Go look it up yourself.) Whenever we want to justify and vindicate our sin we build nuanced, multilayered and staggeringly complex arguments in our defense.

God sees through all of the nuance, he quickly unstacks the layers, and he smacks the pastor in the face who stands flustered by all the staggering complexity.

It is wrong, Brian. It is sin. It has been a sin since the beginning of sin itself. We don't need to wait five years. The Bible didn't ask us to consult a ten theologians, five ethicists, 3 doctors, and a genetic specialist before we arrive at such a conclusion. It is an instrument of the adversary. It is a lie of the evil one. It is the darkness of the flesh. Deal with it. Honestly, justly, and with Biblical integrity. You can't truly love the homosexual until you do.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Birth Control...

Sorry I have been a bit lax in my blogging efforts. I was sick last week and then out of town.

Alright. In my sermon (Our Heritage from the Lord, Ps. 127- click on Four Oaks and look for my sermons if you want to hear it) I mentioned that I am convinced that the Pill (the 'birth control pill') is an abortifacient drug. Go to eternal perspective ministries ( I think I said '' accidentally, which is Hank Hannegraaf's website) and read the lengthy article by Randy Alcorn regarding this issue (just search for 'Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions').

The argument is rather simple (though many try their darndest to make it complex): the birth control pill works to control ovulation and prevent conception, but there is a chance that the pill creates hostile endometrial receptivity- thus causing a blastocyst, or conceptus (a conceived child) from implanting on the wall- thus, in essence aborting this life. Yes, it is a slight chance (the evidence is not very solid on what the chances are), but to take this chance for the sake of birth control is immoral in my opinion. There are other barrier methods that can be used, however inconvenient they may be in light of other easier pharmaceutical options, and they do not have a risk of abortion. You have a moral duty to limit this risk as much as you are able before God.

Every Christian must gather all the evidence and information they can about these risks, they should seek godly counsel, wise medical counsel (that accurately understands and presents this risk- which Alcorn indicates is hard to find, and in my opinion is hard to find), and have a firm biblical conviction before God before chemically altering one's body in order to control birth.


Monday, May 15, 2006

788 Vital Principles, Marks, Strategies, Contours, Steps, Factors, Characteristics, and Purposes of Dynamic Church Growth, Health, and Success

In Mark Dever's book "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" he includes an appendix titled 'The Numerical Nineties'. Listed here are some 20 different books written in the '90's that were primarily devoted to identifying, analyzing, and promoting the different principles, strategies, programs, marks, etc. that make a healthy church. There is Callahan's '12 Central Characteristics of an Effective Church', Barna's 'Ten Critical, Achievable Goals...for the '90's'; MacArthur's '12 Marks of an Effective Church'; Barna's '10 Things Successful User-Friendly Churches Don't Do'; Shelley's '7 Vital Steps to Create a Healthy Blend of Effectiveness and Faithfulness'; Barna's '11 Factors (actually 14) of Dying Churches Revived'; Hull's '7 Steps to Transform your church'; Rainer's '13 Principles of Church Growth'; Rainer's '9 Surprising Trends that can benefit your Church'; Warren's '5 purposes'; Wagner's '9 diseases that afflict the church'; Barna's '9 Habits of Highly Effective Churches'; McLaren's '13 Strategies'; Anderson's '7 Ways to Rate your Church'. Of course, Dever adds his name to the list with his 9 Marks book.

Well, I don't want to be left out of the mix here! I have some important things to say about church health, church growth, and church vital(or, re-vital)ization. So I have come up with 788 easy to remember principles, marks, strategies, contours, steps, factors, characteristics, and purposes of dynamic church growth, health, and success. If pastors and church leaders would put into place these 788 principles, marks, strategies, contours, steps, factors, characteristics, and purposes then, perhaps- if God's Spirit allows, or if they do it right- our churches might see a new and exciting reformation! Over the next 8 1/2 years I will present these 788 principles, marks, etc. to all who have ears to hear.

In order to make these 788 factors, steps, purposes, etc. even easier to remember and rehearse in your mind throughout your busy ministry work week (or for your Sunday morning preaching purposes) I will arrange these points in an alphabetic acrostic. Because there are only 26 letters in the alphabet and there are 788 contours, characteristics, principles, etc., I will repeat this alphabetic acrostic 30.3 times.

I encourage you preachers to bring your flock (or 'congregational units' if you follow the new and innovative business model) along on this exciting ride. Why don't you try preaching through my simple 788 points? If you allow for holidays, vacation, special events, etc. and preach for an average of 38-42 times per year, you'll be able to preach through these principles in just 18-20 years! But, I would wait until I am finished presenting these important steps to church growth on my blog. So, if you begin in just 8 or 9 short years, you and your church will be on your way to vitality in just 26-28 years!

But what if I die in the next 26-28 years, you ask? Good question. Well, I hate to ruin the surprise- but I'll give you a sneak peek at contour #437: Don't Die. Dying in the midst of an exciting and thriving ministry is a great hindrance to the cause of Christ. Studies have shown that the death of a pastor makes congregational units uncomfortable. Try and stay alive with a strict regimen of the Hallelujah diet, long romantic walks with your wife or members of the worship team, 17 cups of water/day, and a good hearty laugh at least 7 times/day.

Well, with that little preview of what is coming- I hope you are as excited as I am!

You see, it is just that easy! Just keep on the lookout for these principles in future blogposts!

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Dever's "Deliberate Church"

Our 'shepherd' team here at Four Oaks is reading a great new book by Mark Dever ( with 9Marks ministries. The book is called The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. I commend it to you.

I came across this quote today as I was preparing for our discussion of the book this week. I think it echoes many of my concerns regarding supplanting biblical metaphors, offices, functions, and words with newer, more innovative, and 'pragmatic' ones:

When it comes to ideas on how to build the church, it's tempting to allow our fascination with the new to drive our thinking and determine our methods. This temptaion is all the more seductive in the context of an emerging evangelical culture that increasingly distances itself from the clear proclamation of doctrinal certainties grounded in scriptural truth and handed down to us by the historic Christian creeds and confessions. As we are uprooted from our rich doctrinal and histrorical heritage, the innovative and creative begin to appear more plausible than the tried and true, in part because we are immersed in a culture that stridently embraces its own superiority to whatever is past. Pragmatism then naturally prevails. Without even realizing or reflecting on it, we quickly become excited about he most recent creative model that promises the most immediately observable results, usually measured by sanctified statistics.

...At the root of all this, often unwittingly, is the rapid erosion of our faith in the sufficiency of Scripture for our effectiveness in ministry. Paul instructs Timothy to devote himself to preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:2) precisely because that Word makes the man of God "adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17). Timothy didn't need the latest rhetorical techniques, business practices, or creative ministry models based on captivating metaphors. He simply needed to be guided, governed, and geared by the Word of God.

- Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2005), 20-21.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

More on Shepherds and CEOs ( if you asked)

I'm no George Barna, but I've been doing a little polling myself this past week. It is my opinion that we make much ado about nothing when it comes to some of these issues of biblical interpretation and cultural 'correlation'. This is the case in our quasi-evangelical attempts at neutering language and in many other areas that beseech us toward cultural accomodation.

I really think this is the case concerning our issue at hand. Do we change the word 'shepherd' , or supplant the metaphor with a more culturally relevant and understood one in our application of the biblical model? Do people really not know what a shepherd is? Is the CEO a viable metaphor and model to replace the biblical metaphor and model presented with 'shepherd'? (By the way, not that you couldn't predict this in me, but I believe that the biblical model is to control and define the biblical office and not be culturally adjusted even if it seems archaic, foreign, or outmoded.)

In my own very unscientific polling research I asked people if they knew what a shepherd was. Every person I have asked said yes. Nobody looked at me quizically (well, they thought I was strange in asking the question, but they understood the question). Describe a shepherd, I would further ask. A shepherd takes care of sheep, they reply. Any other description? What comes to your mind when I say shepherd? Sheep. A shepherd's crook. Jesus (seriously, 2 people, both unsuspecting, and I think unbelieving store clerks said 'Jesus'). Use words, I would say, to characterize a shepherd. Humble. Lowly. Patient. Rugged. Smelly. Quiet. Strong. (I don't remember the other ones but more in this realm.)

The second question I would ask was if they knew what a CEO was. Yes. Do you personally know a CEO? No (most people said no. I'm sure they do know one, they probably don't realize it). Describe a CEO, I would ask. Powerful. Rich. Authoritarian. Wears a suit and tie. Greedy. Liars. Controllers. Seriously, the picture that was painted when I asked this question was overwhelmingly negative, and I am not overstating the case. The desciptors focused on money, authority, power, materialism, image, etc.

Now, I know some CEOs. And they are great guys. I believe in their important place in our companies and economy. I also believe that there are many CEO's, COO's, and CFO's that are not greedy, power hungry, image obsessed, market driven, etc. This is simply the reaction I recieved. Now, I agree with Pastor Stanley that there can be good managers and bad shepherds. But Jesus, Paul, and Peter pointed primarily to shepherds in describing the NT office of church leadership. They could have pointed primarily to managers, or merchants, or many other roles/vocations in that culture. But they didn't.

It seems to me that this is comparing apples and oranges. A CEO does not embody the qualities and characteristics of an Ancient Near Eastern sheep-herder. The CEO model can not in our culture adequately meet or convey the biblical requirements that was intended in the metaphor used overwhelmingly throughout the Old and New Testament to describe leaders.

The appeal to cultural relevance in support of 'updating' the office, in my very simple polling, works against the argument that the modern CEO is the contemporary embodiment of the ancient shepherd. These two vocations are not comparable in the modern mind.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Tribute to a Modest Evangelist

This past Sunday we all gathered, as has become our custom, around the pool at the Howard's to celebrate the gift of salvation as people were baptized. These are always some of my favorite times in the life of the body of Christ.

There were several little ones being baptized, which is always a touching thing. It is a reminder to all of us bearing witness to the testimony of these little ones how important for us to "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." We think also of the grave warning elsewhere: "whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."

Are we evangelizing our little ones? Our we harvesting the white fields clinging to our knees?

I know of one such evangelist in our midst. At least twice on Sunday I heard something like, "I was in chapel and Mrs. Hughes told us about our sin, and Jesus, and how we must give our hearts to him..."

[I'll post a 'tribute to a modest Christian school' later, for it was a CCS chapel service that these children were referring to.]

For now, I'd like to pay tribute to this modest evangelist who has led so many dear children to Christ through the faithful labors of gospel preaching, bible teaching, scripture memorizing, hymn and praise singing, doctrine instruction, and steadfast love under the banner of Christ. If you know Mrs. Hughes or have ever been to one of her chapel services, you know full well that she is unrelenting in her commitment to these glorious aspects of worship.

How many lives changed through such a faithful service to the Savior? Perhaps in glory a host of folks will gather around Mrs. Hughes and whisper a thank you or shout a hoorah. And maybe, it being heaven and all, the Lord will give Mrs. Hughes a quick glimpse of these faces as they were so many years ago- chubby and bright and eager to eat up manna from heaven (as little ones so often are).

Or maybe she will just hear the best words any child of God and servant of Jesus could ever hear, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.'
Why? Because she took all of her talents and buried them, not in the dirt, but in the hearts and minds of those who will yield such tremendous return for the kingdom of heaven. She put them in the most fertile soil of our little ones' hearts where they will bear sweet spiritual fruit.

As a pastor, one of my consistent and fervent prayers is that God would raise up evangelists in our church. What is an evangelist? One who hates sin, fears hell, and loves good news enough to tell our neighbors, our coworkers, and perhaps most of all, our children about it. In our dear Mrs. Hughes, God has answered these prayers.

You'll not hear earthly bells ringing, or human trumpets sounding from the ministry of this modest evangelist.

But, I would venture to say, there is a great noise in heaven over the service to Christ offered up by Mrs. Hughes.

The Word on Shepherds

Psalm 23 1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. 5 Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

2 Samuel 5:2 "Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you [David], 'You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel.'"

John 10 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 "But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. 4 "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 "And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. 7 Jesus therefore said to them again, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 "All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10 "The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. 11 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 "He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. 13 "He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd. 17 "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 "No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father."

Acts 20:17, 28-31 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

Ephesians 4:8-13 Therefore it says, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men." 9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors (shepherds) and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.

1 Peter 5:1-4 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Peter 1:3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

I think I'll stick with 'shepherd'.


Monday, May 08, 2006

The Beauty of Obedience

Scripture says, "Obey [your leaders] that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you... " (Hebrews 13:17) The exhortation for the members of the local church to be supportive and obedient to the leadership indicates that this might be a problem for us sinners. I know this is the case for me. I often chafe against the godly rule of duly ordained men over my soul. I want to be the master of my own destiny, which, roughly translated, means 'get off my back'. And the shepherds of the flock should be soul watchers, not back riders. Nonetheless, the principle is true in my life, and I confess it: I am a rebel, I want my way, and not yours, or God's (though I'll spend a good deal of time trying to convince you, through some exegetical acrobatics, that my way is in fact God's way).

So we find this call to obey. And not just obey, but to obey in such a way that brings joy to the master!

You remember it well: the stiff necked, clenched fist of stubborn-but-just-barely -yielding obedience. A 16 year old needs the car on a friday night but must ride his bike so mom can go to coffee with friends. Yes, there will be obedience. But it will cost the mistress her joy. The mother's fellowship that evening will be tarnished by a steely glare as she walks to the door. The evening will be long and painful for unsuspecting siblings who are the objects of adolescent wrath. There will be the stern words of the father and further restrictions for continued contempt exhibited in countless ways and in countless rooms throughout the household. There will be teenage dreams of life in some other house where teenagers have unlimited access to cars and the parents are libertarians, not tyrants.

Could we rewrite the memory? It would perhaps take another turn. In the quiet room (or as quiet as a teenage room can possibly be) there is a pang of love. There is a wince at words that can't be retrieved. There is the whisper of God's hidden word in the chambers of the heart. There is a bike ride in the evening to the grocery store. There is precious money spent. There are words carefully chosen. There is a flower and a card on the counter for mother as she returns.

This rewritten history: stubborn obedience leading, by grace, to repentance, forgiveness, and joy.

But could we go further back? Could we rewrite the memory where our story began? It would be willful deference. It would be happy concession. It would be a quickly submitted spirit. There would be no sour faces, no venomous words, no heavy hearted mothers, no angry and indignant fathers, no slighted or maligned siblings.

These things, sadly, can't be rewritten. So let today not be filled with disobedience and hardness of heart, surely to be regretted tomorrow. Today will be full of obedience and holiness, which the bible says, brings joy. And is only done by a supernatural work. Thankfully, supernatural work is what our Father does best.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Stanley on Leadership 2

There are so many things that need to be addressed in 'Pastor' Andy's statements about leadership in the church. Let's just consider one for today. Stanley says:

"It’s the first century word. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we’d say, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.” Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to “feed my sheep,” but he didn’t say to the rest of them, “Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep.” By the time of the book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone. It’s about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn’t seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something. What we have to do is identify the principle, which is that the leader is responsible for the care of the people he’s been given. That I am to care for and equip the people in the organization to follow Jesus. But when we take the literal illustration and bring it into our culture, then people can make it anything they want because nobody knows much about it. "

Ok, let's say (for the sake of argument) that it is our job in biblical interpretation to do divine guesswork (like, 'hmmm, if Jesus were here what would he say') rather than discern meaning and apply it in obedience. I maintain that 'Pastor' Stanley completely misses Jesus' point in establishing the 'pastoral' office. It is not just to tell us to care for people, but HOW to care for them.

No, don't care for them like a merchant who sees them as consumers and sources of potential income. No, don't care for them like a prince who lives in a palace and rules above his subjects with a sword. No, don't care for them like a general who barks orders and is more concerned with the strategy and outcome of the battle than the footsoldier under his charge. No, don't care for them like a mother who is primarily a nurturer. No, don't care for them like a father who is primarily a discipline maker and provider.

Yes, a leader embodies aspects of all the above. But Jesus established the best pattern to follow. You are to care as a shepherd does. A shepherd is no prince. A shepherd is no merchant. A shepherd is no general. A shepherd is a little mom and a little dad mixed together. A shepherd must be able to carry a lamb on his shoulders and fight wolves with his bare hands if need be. A shepherd sleeps with one eye open and his body blocking the gateway. A shepherd knows his sheep by name, and his sheep know his voice. A shepherd smells like a sheep, more than he'd like to admit. A shepherd will not grow rich. A shepherd will have no great reputation. A shepherd feeds, leads, protects, and nurtures.

A shepherd is completely UNLIKE the common picture of the CEO.
The CEO in our modern culture must take his cues from the shepherd and not the other way around!

'Pastor' Stanley, embrace the whole counsel of God as without error and sufficient. Be a shepherd to your sheep!


Friday, May 05, 2006

Some thoughts re: seminaries...

How should we call, train, equip, and send men and women into ministry? From the outset let me assert that I believe the bulk of this responsibility rests upon the local church. That being said, I believe that local churches must confront the current paradigm for ministry training in evangelicalism and mainstream Protestantism. As Al Mohler (who leads the largest seminary for the nation’s largest denomination) challenged 3,000 pastors recently, “You men need to put the seminaries out of work.”

We are seeing an increasing professionalization of ministry in all facets and spheres of ‘church life’ (whatever that means these days). This ultimately leads to a specialized class of hireling pastors besieging our churches and perpetuating an unhealthy pattern for ministry preparation. Let me paint a picture of this sort of ‘professional hireling’ mentality: a man, we’ll call him Homer K. Gwaltney, leaves his church and heads to Southeast Reformed Anglican Evangelical Lutheran Free Methodist Baptist Seminary and Bible College. (Let’s put aside for now the fact that if Homer is anything like your average seminary student, there has been precious little intentional training for ministry through focused study of the bible, language, theology, history, philosophy, etc. Let’s also put aside for now the fact that there has most likely been a woeful neglect of character assessment, testing toward godly qualifications for ministry, and general mentoring toward ministry in the local church.) This school is unaffilitated with any distinct denomination or church, and so is essentially outside the proper spiritual authority that God has ordained for all believers. The seminary becomes a ‘parachurch’ organization that is tethered to the church perhaps in some broad doctrinal sense, but in very little else.

Homer K. is being trained by men (and women, depending on the brand of seminary) who are perhaps very sound doctrinally and full of knowledge and godliness, yet they are in a very loosely defined biblical relationship to the student. There is no distinct biblical authority being exercised in pastoral/ministerial training and equipping. And so, the relationship is primarily a professional and contractual one. You pay per credit hour, he teaches. You are not subject to his teaching in any real sense, only with regard to your grade. He is not accountable to you in any real spiritual sense, only with regard to your $300/credit hour fee. This is hard to defend in light of the New Testament in general and the Pastoral Letters in particular. In this biblical context ministry training happens through personal discipleship and within the context of the local church.

We have seminaries full of hirelings gaining professional degrees and seeking employment. At Reformed Theological Seminary I prayed earnestly for God to call me to a ministry. I threw myself into ministry in the local church (which left me outside the academic circles at the seminary) so that this calling might be confirmed and realized. But the main concern I heard from my brothers around me in the seminary was, ‘I hope I find a job.’ This is an obvious but common perversion of the biblical portrait of ministry, in my estimation. We find in the New Testament from Jesus to the Apostles to the local churches in the first century a pattern of training, equipping, and ordaining to ministry in the church through personal discipleship and guided study that is accountable to distinct and God-ordered spiritual authority . I believe that there is a role of structured academic instruction that might be outside the walls of the local church. But, it is not to be outside the spiritual authority and guidance of the local church.

Consider the biblical warrant for this. First, we find the pattern that Jesus established. Jesus gathered 12 men around him and lived with them. He taught them extensively, he ate with them, he ministered with them, he took them everywhere he went. He multiplied his ministry in the discipleship of his followers. This was not a novel thing in that day. This was a pattern of rabbinical instruction and discipleship that was common to some degree in the first century. The equipment of others for ministry was organic and daily, it was intimate and personal.

We see this same pattern in the lives and ministries of the Apostles. The Apostles travel together and bring their disciples with them in their ministry journeys (John Mark, Luke, Silas, Timothy, etc.). I see here an emphasis on deeply personal discipleship toward ministry. Paul immediately plants churches through the ministry of the gospel and ordains leadership to continue the work of church building and gospel preaching (Acts 14:23). In his Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) we find that the presbytery (council of elders) was the ordaining body of men into the ministry (1 Timothy 4:14, 5:22). In these letters to young pastors there is set forth a simple pattern for equipping others and furthering the gospel, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Consider the call of the Scriptures to be submitted to God ordained spiritual authority. The Apostle Peter exhorts the elders to take up the mantle of authority and spiritual oversight in the churches, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). Peter then calls the young men to obey their elders, “you who are younger, be subject to the elders” (5:5). The writer of Hebrews strongly admonishes the people of God, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). Paul tells the young Timothy to ordain qualified men that must be able to ‘rule’ in the household of God as a godly father cares for his home (1 Timothy 3:4-5).

We have essentially removed this privilege and duty of spiritual oversight of the elders of the local church at the point where it is needed most: the calling, training, equipping, and sending of men and women into the ministry. Better said, we as pastors and elders have abandoned this privilege and duty! We have busied ourselves with other things. Our lives are consumed with corporate management styles, program building, building programs, entertaining, counseling, coddling, empire building and maintaining.

Let’s consider another issue facing the churches in the current evangelical church climate. It is the problem of assessing the qualifications and spiritual readiness of a man for ministry. Because seminaries have become a fundamentally academic, professional, and economic enterprise- these things eclipse the normative biblical priorities in ministry calling, preparation, and sending. We have seminaries full of students who are not qualified in character, tested in ministry, or even called to serve. They are there because it is a graduate program and they finished their undergraduate studies. They like the church. They like the bible. They like theology. They like people. They like counseling (whatever is meant by that), they sense a calling (whatever is meant by that). But, are they qualified, tested, and truly called to go to this step of ministry preparation? Only a local church that is involved in purposeful discipleship and meaningful community for the sake of the kingdom can cultivate such an understanding of calling to ministry.

Let’s continue to stir the pot. Add to these issues the growing marginalization of the local church in evangelicalism. We have built a secondary means for preparation and calling, and so it is no surprise that we grow impatient with the church. We have marginalized the local church in our calling and preparation for ministry. Likewise, it naturally follows that we will create our own ministries outside of the church’s authority, parachurch organizations, and professional classes for ministry and remuneration (consider the independent Christian counselor class who has laid siege to the soul of the church). We have built a process of ministry preparation that is distinct from the local church. We must also build our own ministry paradigms that are distinct from and entirely outside the authority of the local church (and we’ll justify this with feeble appeals to a commitment to the church with a big ‘C’) to fit our professional resume. We want jobs now. We want ministries now. We don’t want to wait.

Let me be clear: the church is to blame for this. When I say the church is to blame, I mean to a large extent that pastors and elders are to blame for this. We have allowed this shift to occur. We have neglected our duties as pastors to train people. We have neglected our duties to build body life that is focused on discipleship and equipping for ministry. The pastor has become a professionally savvy businessman who runs the corporation, secures facilities, casts vision (ie. How much money we need for how much bigger we will be and how much cooler and sexier we will get), and, for the most part, wipes peoples noses. But the bible says the pastor is to ‘shepherd’. He is to feed, lead, protect, and nurture the sheep. The shepherd metaphor bears no resemblance to the modern professional CEO ‘pastor’. We have given ourselves as pastors over to an institutionalized and professional ministry and given over our charges (the people) to outside, professional, institutionalized, specialized, parachurch and quasi-biblical organizations. And we wonder, in all of this, why our people are stunted, our churches are weak, and our ministries essentially fruitless (spiritually).

We as pastors and elders at Four Oaks are in the process of restructuring the whole body life of our church. Within this process is a desire to disciple and train people to ministry in the church and to go from this church to plant churches, preach good news, and minister throughout the kingdom. We are burdened to put an emphasis upon this because of our strategic location next to FSU with our pews filled with students. We want to develop internship programs for men and women that strategically equip and call them to ministry in the local church.

This is long enough…I’ll continue the discussion later…


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Have I Emerged? Part 4

-I listen to Coldplay and claim that I liked them before they sold out.
-I have been known to comb my hair into a faux-hawk.
-My wife always makes me comb it back down.
-I have a certain amount of hearing loss from very loud rock shows.
-I recently bought some boot-cut jeans from Old Navy (but wear them sparingly because they make my posterior look wide and saggy).
-I drink a lot of Starbucks coffee. Big time.
-The guitarist in our praise band has a penchant for distortion.
-I like to tell stories and weave profound narrative into dialogue as I encounter other souls along my journey. Years back this was called fibbing. And souls were called people. And my journey was called life. And your average sentence didn’t sound like so much bull-poopie.
-I am sometimes a wounded healer.
-I am mostly a healed wound-er.
-I own a bead necklace (I said I own one, not that I wear one).
-I don’t use a pulpit when I preach. I use a weird waist high pillar thingie that is carved ornately. It looks cool but is terrible at holding my notes.
-I use notes when I preach but wish I was cool enough and smart enough not to.
-I question authority – especially my own (it’s called accountability).
-I am a critic of the seeker sensitive mega church movement but secretly want to be in the club.
-I love people. Especially me…and others like me…and others who like me.
-I am a postmodern who is mostly quasi-medieval and shackled by the enlightenment.
-I refuse the conventions of grammar, and, insert plenty of ellipses - and electronic emoticons ;) here and there…
-I like using language that is obscure and imprecise yet warm and fluffy whilst claiming authenticity and protesting my humility.

All this, and still I have not emerged. How can this be? Well . . .

-I believe in the preaching of the Word as authoritative and powerful
-I believe in the absolute authority and inerrancy of the Bible.
-I believe in Christ’s work on the cross as the penal substitute for my sin.
-I believe in God’s absolute and uncompromised sovereign control over all things.
-I believe in linguistic precision.
-I believe in clarity.
-I believe in biblically ordained authority.
-I believe in the local church as the proper arena of ‘community’ for believers.
-I believe in bold confrontation of sin.
-I believe in biblical manhood and womanhood.
-I believe in logical arguments.
-I believe the words of Jesus and the words of Paul.
-I believe in engaging and confronting our culture for the cause of Christ.
-I don’t believe in pop cultural fad oriented ministry.
-I think we need to reach the old, crusty, and tragically un-hip for Christ.
-I don’t pit the idols of modernity against the idols of postmodernity, I place them all upon the same dungheap.
-I think the preaching of gospel truth is to be prioritized over sacred labyrinth walking and candlelighting.
-I am Logocentric.
-I am Christocentric.
-I am Theocentric.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Stanley on Leadership

Let me just throw out some quotes from Leadership Journal’s latest interview with Andy Stanley, Pastor of Northpoint Community Church:

Leadership: What is distinctly spiritual about the kind of leadership you do?
Andy Stanley: There’s nothing distinctly spiritual. I think a big problem in the church has been the dichotomy between spirituality and leadership. One of the criticisms I get is “Your church is so corporate.” I read blogs all the time. Bloggers complain, “The pastor’s like a CEO.” And I say, “OK, you’re right. Now why is that a bad model?” A principle is a principle and God created all the principles.

L: So what’s the principle behind the CEO model?
AS: “Follow me.” Follow we never works. Ever. It’s “follow me”. God gives a man or a woman the gift of leadership. And any organization that has a point leader with accountability and freedom to use their gift will do well. Unfortunately in the church world, we’re afraid of that. Has it been abused? Of course. But to abandon the model is silly…The church wasn’t an organization in the first century. They weren’t writing checks or buying property. The church has matured and developed over the years. But for some reason the last thing to change is the structure of leadership.

L: Should we stop talking about pastors as ‘shepherds’?
AS: Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, “Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,” no. I never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more. Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a facet of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.

L: Isn’t shepherd the biblical word for pastor?
AS: It’s the first century word. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we’d say, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.” Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to “feed my sheep,” but he didn’t say to the rest of them, “Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep.” By the time of the book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone. It’s about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn’t seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something. What we have to do is identify the principle, which is that the leader is responsible for the care of the people he’s been given. That I am to care for and equip the people in the organization to follow Jesus. But when we take the literal illustration and bring it into our culture, then people can make it anything they want because nobody knows much about it.


Nine Important Ministries

I have listed below the seven ministries represented through the various speakers at our ‘Together for the Gospel’ conference. Along with these seven there are two others that Dever, Duncan, Mahaney, and Mohler all recommend wholeheartedly.

I encourage you to go to the websites and check them all out.

Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation
Desiring God
Ligonier Ministries
The Master’s Seminary
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Sovereign Grace Ministries