Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Perspective Adjustment

Tuesdays, as I've said before, are often my 'hard' days. I'm up and out the door by 5:30 am with meetings, planning, discussion, etc. that lasts into the afternoon or evening. What is often difficult about tuesdays is that a lot of the discussion is about church issues and pressures and how they should be addressed and dealt with. The answers and solutions are rarely evident, and the tasks at hand are often overwhelming. What is even more difficult is that we begin the day with an hour of prayer, which is energizing and encouraging; only to have the energy and encouragement seemingly dwarfed by the to do list and the needs pressing in.

What is really the problem with me on tuesdays? What is really the problem with you on your 'tuesday'? Our real problem was made abundantly plain this morning. I lack proper perspective. As I sat fretting about soandso who is upset over suchandsuch or whatsisname who is in conflict with whosamajigger and thingamabob that needs to be delegated to suchandso and how to find the money to pay for that thingamajig- I read an email that made me put down my latte, finish my croissant, and pray. As well, my previous worries seemed a bit petty in comparison to the struggles of God's people, and, really, all people around the globe.

We recently had the privilege of sending Chad and Tiffany Northington as missionaries to the Fulani people Cameroon (Chad is building wells and Tiffany is providing medical care as a nurse). Right now in Cameroon there is a refugee crisis, as well as political and economic upheaval. Chad and Tiffany are separated with Chad stranded in the capital, Yaounde, due to protests and transportation strikes. Chad sent out an email yesterday? two days ago? asking for prayer. He said that he could smell the tear gas from the street protests as he wrote.

God cares about every detail of our lives and there is nothing that escapes his notice or the reach of his love. And so I lift up the struggles of my day and my world to him. But, I remember that I am part of a family and called into a kingdom that reaches beyond the comforts of my living room and the malaise of our affluent and often self absorbed culture. God is gracious to both listen to our concerns and rattle our myopic and small little cages often. Sometimes the power and scope of the truth of his Word puts its grip upon us. Sometimes the tears of a neighbor overshadows our budget problem, or to do list. Or maybe an email from a brother in Christ half way around the world comes into our inbox.

In all of these things, God seeks to remind us that he is sovereign, His purpose is good, this life is fleeting, and His grace is enough.

2 Corinthians 4:-17 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

The Impossible Tour- Coming to a Heart Near You

The entrance into God's Kingdom is impossible with man. The building of God's Kingdom is impossible with man.
But with God all things are possible.
For the next four Sundays (February 24 - March 16th) we are going to be challenged from God's Word to consider the impossible challenges he has placed before us as a church family. As we hang desperately upon his power and grace, we can trust that he will do immeasurably more than we could ever hope or imagine.
Each weekday from February 25-March 14, the elders will open FOMC from 6 - 7 a.m. to lead our church family in prayer. Our prayers will focus on:
the unity of the church;
the reality of spiritual warfare,
the need for the Spirit's armor;
God's provision through our financial commitment and sacrifice,
the spiritual maturity for our church family;
spreading the gospel for the salvation of the lost;
our church leaders and servants;
our fellowship groups;
and more.
Please make plans to come join the elders and pastors for these times of prayer in the weeks to come.


For the Discerning Ear...1987

I was 14 going on 15. I was in the 9th going into 10th grade. I had crimped, matted, hair-spray coated hair hanging in my face. I loathed life (from the looks of the pictures). I got dumped by a girl name Tuesdee, with two e's.
Seemed to be a rough year for me and music.


1. Walk Like an Egyptian by the Bangles.
2. I Just Died In Your Arms ((move it ahead to 1:00 for the song to start)) by Cutting Crew. (check out the wretched lypsynching here as well! )
3. When Smokey Sings by ABC (the dude's hair beat Conan O'Brien by a decade, easy).
4. Someday by Glass Tiger (check out the sweet beret- that dude is a fashionistador).
5. I Think We're Alone Now by (drum roll please) Tiffany.

Yeah. Real rough. But, little did anyone know, there was an alternative revolution going on (well, me and my aquanetted friends with torn jeans and bad attitudes knew):

1. One I Love by REM. Document came out in 1987. Incredible.
2. Red Hill Mining Town by U2. Joshua Tree came out in 1987. Possibly the best pop-alt-rock album ever made.
3. Girlfriend in a Coma by The Smiths. Strangeways came out in 1987. Ok, can't compare to Joshua Tree, but groundbreaking to say the least (and The Queen is Dead, their best album had come out in 1984).
4. Just Like Heaven by The Cure. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me came out in 1987.
5. Alex Chilton by the Replacements. Pleased to Meet Me came out in 1987.

Honorable Mention:

Hip to be Square by Huey Lewis and the News.
Lost in Emotion by Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam.

April Skies by Jesus and Mary Chain (Darklands came out in 1987).
Lips Like Sugar by Echo and the Bunnymen (their self titled album came out in 1987).
Need You Tonight by INXS (Kick came out in 1987; it would've been a courtesy for Michael Hutchence to wear a tshirt under that coat. But hey! It was 1987!!).


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pursuing Biblical and Pastoral Leadership

A couple of weeks back at our Fellowship Group leader/co-leader gathering we talked about the process of pursuing biblical leadership in the local church. I condensed the gist of our time here.

At Four Oaks we affirm (at least) these five principles regarding leadership in the local church:

1. The importance of a spiritual office of leadership in the local church.
As opposed to a primarily pragmatic, utilitarian, and professional office. A pragmatic approach to leadership in the church is primarily concerned with the easiest route to finding 'leaders'. The utilitarian approach looks to get warm bodies to 'get things done' as opposed to finding spiritually called and qualified leaders to fulfill the biblical paradigm. A primarily 'professional' view of leadership in the church consigns the biblical office to only those who have fulfilled certain worldly criteria for leadership (they hold the degree, have so much 'tenure', etc.). A 'professional' understanding of church leadership reserves leadership for a professional class of elites, while the 'layman' exists on some lower tier of service to Christ.

2. The importance of a unified office of spiritual leadership: shared, dispersed, accountable, and understood.
There are three biblical terms for the office of spiritual leadership in the local church: episkopos (overseer, 'bishop'), presbuteros ('elder'), and poimen ('shepherd', pastor). These terms are three synonymous terms used interchangeable referring to one, unified team of leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1; 5:17; Titus 1: 5,7; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). We may set aside certain elders/overseers/pastors that will devote themselves to a 'full time' vocational ministry for the care of the church. Paul says these men deserve 'double honor', and we may say that they serve as primus inter pares (first among equals). But we must not have tiers of spiritual leadership. There should be equality, unity, and healthy plurality in the leadership of the church. We should go to great lengths to bring our flocks to a proper understanding of this reality. Otherwise the spiritual burden falls upon one class of leader (often the preacher, or those in more visible leadership) or there arises a cult of personality that is unhealthy.

3. The importance of a called leadership: internal and external.
Men must 'aspire' to the office. There must be an internal call that compels by the spirit, so that we are not leading under compulsion by the flesh or the demands of men. The internal call places our duty primarily before God and not before men. This internal calling is recognized and confirmed by God's people (Acts 6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:22).

4. The importance of a qualified and tested leadership.
We must not let the urgency of need as we see it override the need to have biblicaly qualified leaders. We must be careful to asses qualification according to biblical and spiritual standards above human and worldly ones. This is not a call to rigid legalism in our inspection of leaders- the biblical qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are patterns of holiness and character, not a checklist for perfection in obedience.

5. The importance of an ordained and sanctified leadership.
It is important to consecrate leaders publicly (and discipline them publicly). People should be able to readily see and know their leaders. There should be no 'star chamber' style of leadership where decisions are made secretively and mysteriously and the flock is called to just follow along. The Scriptures do not establish raw democracy as the pattern, nor does it establish a cold aristocracy. Leaders must lead, people must follow. But this is done through proper ordination, and with constant accountability.

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The Impossible Tour- Coming to a Heart Near You

The entrance into God's Kingdom is impossible with man. The building of God's Kingdom is impossible with man.
But with God all things are possible.
For the next four Sundays (February 24 - March 16th) we are going to be challenged from God's Word to consider the impossible challenges he has placed before us as a church family. As we hang desperately upon his power and grace, we can trust that he will do immeasurably more than we could ever hope or imagine.
Each weekday from February 25-March 14, the elders will open FOMC from 6 - 7 a.m. to lead our church family in prayer. Our prayers will focus on:
the unity of the church;
the reality of spiritual warfare,
the need for the Spirit's armor;
God's provision through our financial commitment and sacrifice,
the spiritual maturity for our church family;
spreading the gospel for the salvation of the lost;
our church leaders and servants;
our fellowship groups;
and more.
Please make plans to come join the elders and pastors for these times of prayer in the weeks to come.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gossip in God's Family

God's Word has a lot to say about gossip. Consider the Proverbs:

Proverbs 11:13 A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.
Proverbs 16:28 A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.
Proverbs 20:19 A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.
Proverbs 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.
Proverbs 26:21 As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

Or God's Law:

Leviticus 19:16 "'Do not go about spreading slander among your people. "'Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD.

Or Jesus:

Mark 7:21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.

Or Paul:

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.
Titus 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.
1 Timothy 5:13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.

Or James:

James 4:11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.

Or Peter:

1 Peter 2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation

There are many words in Scripture used to describe this sort of 'wicked speech' against one another: talebearer, mumbler, whisperer, slanderer, evil-speaker, reviler, blasphemer, babbler.

Gossiping is destructive for at least 10 reasons:

1. It is hatred toward God who created all men in his image and for his glory.

2. It is hatred toward God who redeemed his people and loves them with a steadfast love.

3. It is a hatred toward Christ who gave his life for his people, and who himself loved all men, especially those who reviled him- not reviling in return.

4. It is hatred toward the Spirit who lives in us and seeks to bear fruit and is grieved by our evil speech; it is hatred toward the Spirit who lives in our brothers and brings fellowship and is grieved by our divisive words and desires.

5. It is hatred toward men who bear God's image and deserve our respect, kindness, and love.

6. It is hatred toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are part of our very family deserving our protection and love.

7. It brings strife, division, and chaos in the body of Christ.

8. It plants seeds of doubt, discouragement, disloyalty.

9. It is an attack of Satan against those called to lead and maintain godly authority.

10. It is an attack against the Church and the Kingdom of God.

How should we protect our own hearts and tongues from this great evil? How should we protect the reputation and dignity of our brothers and sisters when malign and blasphemed? How should we handle those who come with wagging tongues against our siblings in the household of God?

I have the rare privilege of having my parents, my parents in law, my older brother and his family, my younger brother and his family, and my younger sister all living in the same town and all worshipping with us at Four Oaks. Yes, this presents challenges, but by and large it is a tremendous blessing and joy to me to have my family around me in ministry. I want to use my relationships with my family as a picture of the way we should handle slander in the family of God.

No one knows the warts and flaws of my brothers and sisters like me. No one knows my sins and failures like my brothers and sisters. If anyone has the goods on me it is them. But their love for me is fierce, as mine is for them. It isn't blind, and it doesn't passively accept all these faults. But this love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8); it bears all things and believes all things (for their good, doubting first the bad report). My love for them will not allow me to hear a hurtful word without protecting their name, because it is my own. My love for them will not allow me to accept a report without first coming to them for their side. My love for them causes me to bear trivial accusations or mocking sentiment against them in silence without burdening their hearts with petty concerns and harsh words.

You want to see Erik the fierce? Just try and speak some evil against my little sister. You can be
assured that there will be an unequivocal smackdown in every sense of the term if you wag your tongue against one of my brothers. It is not because I am a fool who cannot bear to hear the truth about them (as I said, very little anyone could say could surprise me). I desire that my siblings be conformed to Christ and turn from actual sins or flaws in character. But gossip never accomplishes this. The context for our growth in Christ is through the 'one anothers' of the New Testament lived out in the house of God, not through cowardly whispers and proud mumblings.

The next time you hear someone sharing a tasty morsel of gossip against another believer, remember that they are speaking against your own brother. The next time you hear someone bad mouthing the preacher or the worship pastor, remember that they are talking about your Dad- he's not perfect, but he's your dad. If we truly lived as a family together, and believed that we are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the household of God, we would be far less eager to speak against each other.

This happens more often than I'd like to think: someone has a word of judgment or criticism against me as a pastor. Little do they know one of my siblings is within earshot. But, the spiritual reality is- many of my siblings are within earshot. The problem is that we have either grown too accustomed with our hard and wicked words, or too unacquainted with our family to care.

So when you are about to whisper a word of dissent and contention against Joe Smith, remember you're talking to Joe's sister. When you lean in to hear the story of Jane Smith's recent struggle, remember that Jane is your little sister. Close your mumbling lips and bear the contention between your brother quietly and privately. Rear up with fierce and righteous indignation against the slander of your dear sister and stop the wagging tongue.

In this way we will begin to learn 'how people ought to conduct themselves in God's house, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth'.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Frame on 'Gender Neutral' Language

Here is a concise and clear defense of the use of generic masculine pronouns by John Frame (my theology prof from Reformed Theological Seminary). Some have inquired about this in terms of my own writing and preaching. Most inquiries are not looking for me or the church to adopt a gender neutral pastoral 'newspeak', but rather looking for a simple rebuttal against those who do. Also, I think that some of Frame's argumentation is helpful to students in the academic world where they are censored in their writing if they do not accept the new gender ideology being forced down their throats via writing/style standards.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

This is a baby's foot.

Sorry to state the obvious. I always hear statements about the 'complexity' of the abortion issue in America. Look at this wonderful picture and consider how simple the matter is.
We live in a nation that murders humans who are growing and thriving in the womb. Commit yourself anew today to the cause of justice for the most vulnerable and innocent amongst us.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

For the Discerning Ear...

You've been waiting so long for Erik's pathetic picks reflective of his startlingly narrow taste in music...so, here you are:

1. In the shoegaze/ambient/I want to work but am actually in kind of a trance (in the biblical, meditational sense, of course) department it is a three-way tie between: Foxtail Somersault; Hellen Stellar; and Robin Guthrie (who is in a class all his own being the pioneer of shoegazing in the 80's with the Cocteau Twins; who were singing in fun made up languages long before Sigur Ros; who themselves are just plain weird in that creepy Icelandic way).

2. In the indie/country/acoustic department is Tyler Ramsey. I really dig this guy...and he will, by the way, be opening up for Band of Horses this Thursday night at the Beta Bar here in Tally town (the Beta Bar being the same venue for the acoustic singer songwriter stylings of my very own dear sister Kris Braun on Saturday night, Feb. 9).

3. In the almost an emo but really just a good rock band department is Gratitude.

4. In the let's go back to some random weeknight in 1987 on Erik's bright yellow waterproof Sony Walkman (kinda like this but even more retro I'm afraid) department are The Plimsouls (their myspace page sadly does not showcase their two brightest singles Million Miles Away or Everywhere at Once). These guys are really one of the most underrated pop/rock/punk outfits of the early 80's.



Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Call to Love

As I promised in Sunday's sermon(ette?) introducing Paul's wonderful description of love- here are the fifteen descriptions of agape given in those four power packed verses (1 Corinthians 13:4-7):

1. Love is patient.
2. Love is kind.
3. Love does not envy.
4. Love does not boast.
5. Love is not arrogant.
6. Love is not rude.
7. Love does not insist on its own way.
8. Love is not irritable.
9. Love is not resentful.
10. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
11. Love rejoices with the truth.
12. Love bears all things.
13. Love believes all things.
14. Love hopes all things.
15. Love endures all things.

I challenge you to commit 1 Corinthians 13 to memory (or at least verses 4-7). The Apostle lays down the great imperative and exhortation to love in the midst of establishing how the body is to built via the gifts of God's Spirit. He does this, I believe, to echo the new command of Christ to his disciples: "Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples- if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

Lay this 15 point 'love grid' upon your heart and let the Spirit of God conform you to the image of Christ.


Kristof's Favorite Evangelicals

My Dad, Pastor Mike Braun, offers some thoughts regarding Nicholas Kristof's latest OpEd piece for the New York Times. Read the piece, then read on below.

This afternoon my daughter sent me the URL to an Op Ed piece entitled "Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love" which appeared n the NY Times on February 3, 2008. It was sent to her by a friend and she kindly passed it on to me. I must confess that when I saw the author's name my initial enthusiasm was somewhat abated.

Nicholas Kristof once again took his pen in hand and ventured onto the playing fields of the Op Ed section of the Times. Most everyone agrees that this venue hardly constitutes a level playing field. Nevertheless Mr. Kristof's decidedly left leaning stance appears quite balanced when framed in the skewed windows of our nation's "paper of record." The Times, a paper proudly claiming to bring its reader "all the news that's fit to print," appears to be convinced that any viewpoints not presented therein are unworthy of the ink it would take to print them. Almost uniformly contributors to the Times' Op Ed pages on any regular basis show a decided liberal bias. They require very little evidence to convince themselves of the fact they are not only brighter than their adversaries, but superior in their eclectic moralities. The Times' self congratulatory viewpoint often turns to Mr. Kristof as its champion. He is benevolent, if condescending, and oh so tolerant … to a point. St. Nicholas believes his positions take the moral high ground so often they do not require oxygen. Like many east coast liberal writers, Mr. Krisof is so pleased to be correct that he often, with all due beneficence, dispatches dispensations of grace to those who occupy lesser stations in life. This time the supplicants receiving his literary indulgences happen to be a few Christian evangelicals. That is, he is willing to acknowledge certain evangelicals if they march to his unchallenged agenda. The items of that agenda, in his eyes at least, are manifestly superior in their morality to all the other concerns of those who would align themselves to the right of his throne which proudly sets quite far to the left of the political spectrum. So, self assured of his correctness, Mr. Kristof is not above bestowing from time to time faint praises upon those less enlightened than he. Noblesse oblige. Thus he looks upon a few evangelicals worthy of his love.

Liberals, Mr. K. intones, "believe deeply in tolerance." This may come as a surprise to the countless conservatives who have been shouted down on major university campuses around the country, physically intimidated and even hit in the face with the ubiquitous pie. Neither should the myriad of conservative academics that have been denied their just credits and tenure be forgotten in this rush to baptize the left in the soothing waters of toleration. The chairman of a major university's department of religion once told me, without blinking an eye, that he would never appoint a self professed evangelical Christian to his faculty for no other reason than that he was an evangelical. Sic semper liberal tolerance. So when Mr. Kristof says "scorning people for their faith is intrinsically repugnant," all manner of red flags begin to wave before me. My caution was quickly rewarded when it became obvious that Mr. Kristof reserved tolerance for the religious right only if they focused on acceptable moral priorities: "poverty, AIDS, sex trafficking, climate change, prison abuses, malaria and" (are you ready?) "genocide in Darfur." One wonders if genocide elsewhere, say in the abortion chambers of the United States, is acceptable? I'm sure other diseases such as yellow fever and gonorrhea could easily be added to Mr. Kristof's fab five list plus one along with things like fetal research and socialized medicine. However, it is clear that to Mr. Kristof issues such as the advocacy of premarital celibacy or opposition to homosexual marriage, or efforts to restrict pornography when it masquerades as free speech and artistic expression, are non-issues. They are not pragmatically useful to a secular society though they are inherently more closely aligned to evangelical beliefs than the issues Mr. Kristof favors. Such evangelical concerns are beneath his standards of tolerance and unworthy of his love, even though they are clearly issues anchored in Judeo-Christian orthodoxy.

Mr. Kristof proves this observation in his praise of the tired radicalism of Jim Wallis whose biggest claim to being an evangelical is that he came out of Chicago and from among the corridors of Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Mr. Wallis, nonetheless, merits Mr. Kristof's "love" because he finds climate change and poverty more compelling moral concerns than the abortion deaths of 1.2 million American infants yearly. Mr. Kristof is delighted that the "purpose driven" pastor Rick Warren is willing to put the American social blight of promiscuity and sexual insanity behind the need for AIDS awareness in South Africa. But God help, no pun intended, any and all evangelicals who may favor a different moral priority than the one espoused by Mr. Kristof. And, by the way, when did Mr. Kristof reserve the right to define a more acceptable evangelical moral agenda? Its bad enough that CBS is attempting to that with its questionable poll data. Mr. Kristof makes his contentions for what is "more moral" out of nothing save his own view point, and that the view point, not of an evangelical Christian, but of a sort of benign non-Christian secular pagan. Thus, with a back handed note of gratitude to a few non-conforming emerging church types, Mr. Kristof brings his mailed fist down once again on the tired head of Pat Robertson and the deceased pate of poor Jerry Falwell.

Yes, Jerry Falwell, the evangelical liberals loved to hate. Like the remains of Oliver Cromwell, who was disinterred in order to be more properly punished, Mr. Kristof resurrected Rev. Falwell's statement that AIDS was "God's judgment on promiscuity." This dictum, St. Nicholas solemnly noted, "constituted far grosser immorality than anything that ever happened in a bathhouse." One wonders just what bathhouses Mr. Kristof frequents to draw such a conclusion. Is he also in possession of statistics showing AIDS running rampant among those who restrict their sexual activity to monogamous marriage? Save for the intervenous drug users, the larger number of whom are sexually promiscuous anyway, and the statistically insignificant number of those infected from tainted blood supplies, Rev. Falwell's observation deserves consideration regardless of the opinion one may have as to its messenger.

When stripped of its contemporary facade Mr. Kristof's view is nothing more than the tired liberal opposition to evangelical Christianity and its heart felt mission to preach the Gospel seeking the salvation of people's eternal souls. It is another attempt to reduce the evangelical agenda in order to place it on a par with many other groups who, ignoring the soul, seek only to alleviate social evils and provide material relief. Admittedly Christ called for his disciples to give "cups of cold water" but it was always to be done under the aegis and clear articulation of His Divine Name. Mr. Kristof seeks a utilitarian marginalization of biblical Christianity. It is the same liberal song and dance that attempted to delegitimize Christian foreign missions at the beginning of the 20th century. It was sought then and is still desired by many today, to replace missionary evangelists and preachers with the more politically correct, and to the liberal mind at least, more noble medical professionals or anthropologists or sociologists. Mr. Kristof would prefer to send Margaret Meade back to Samoa instead of Billy Graham. This is his right. But it hardly qualifies him to determine who the more acceptable evangelical should be. I am not worried about the New York Times being deluded, they are already there. I am, however, concerned with the so-called evangelicals who would take Mr. Kristof's viewpoint seriously and question the urgency of Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations through baptism and teaching. It is this command that explains Jesus' statement that he came to earth not to bring peace but a sword. The Gospel will inevitably divide people. That is only desirable if it is the truth. But, the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be labeled false simply because it does what Jesus said it would do and refuses to march in step with the New York Times. The message of Christ is the sword of the Spirit, but Mr. Kristof fails to get the point.

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Tulip Tuesday- Total Depravity

The first letter of the TULIP is T for Total Depravity.

John Piper sets forth the simple biblical truth of this gospel: "When we speak of man's depravity we mean man's natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man."

Wayne Grudem puts it this way: "It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Rather, every part of our being is affected by sin -- our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies." (Systematic Theology, p. 497)

Here's a paragraph by Doug Wilson introducing this doctrine:
"Before regeneration, we are nothing but dry bones. Unregenerate man is dead in his transgression and sin (Eph. 2:1-2; Col. 23). He is not sick, he is not ailing; he is dead. Now to say that he is dead in this respect is not to assert that he is physically dead, or dead in every aspect of his being. It simply means that he is dead with regard to spiritual things. He has no connection with the life of the Spirit,which comes only as a gift from God. Because man is dead, he must be born again (John 3:5-7). Because he is dead in sin, he is hostile to God and will not submit to His laws. Even further, he cannot submit to His laws (Rom. 8:7-8). The natural man is incapable of understanding spiritual things, and since the gospel is in the front rank of spiritual things which require spiritual understanding, this means the natural man has no ability to comprehend the gospel ( I Cor. 2:14)."

Here is a list of verses which support this doctrine.

The biblical doctrine of total depravity indeed gets to the 'heart' of the matter as we seek to understand our need for sovereign grace. If in fact we are able in and of ourselves to choose good then the course of the discussion regarding God's sovereign power and man's ability or inability changes direction. Historically, this battle was fought and won by the great Augustine against the doctrines of Pelagius in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Canons of the Council or Orange were an outworking of this struggle of the church to affirm salvation by grace in the face of man's wickedness and inability. God's election and grace was opposed by the teachings of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants in the early seventeenth century. The Synod of Dort was a clear presentation of the doctrines of grace espoused in what has come to be known as Calvinism, opposing the errors of what has come to be known as Arminianism.

On the question of man's depravity and inability, the Canons of Dort say this:

Article 1: Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).*

Article 15: Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God's eternal election-- those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice. And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.

Article 16: Those who do not yet actively experience within themselves a living faith in Christ or an assured confidence of heart, peace of conscience, a zeal for childlike obedience, and a glorying in God through Christ, but who nevertheless use the means by which God has promised to work these things in us--such people ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to count themselves among the reprobate; rather they ought to continue diligently in the use of the means, to desire fervently a time of more abundant grace, and to wait for it in reverence and humility. On the other hand, those who seriously desire to turn to God, to be pleasing to him alone, and to be delivered from the body of death, but are not yet able to make such progress along the way of godliness and faith as they would like--such people ought much less to stand in fear of the teaching concerning reprobation, since our merciful God has promised that he will not snuff out a smoldering wick and that he will not break a bruised reed. However, those who have forgotten God and their Savior Jesus Christ and have abandoned themselves wholly to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh--such people have every reason to stand in fear of this teaching, as long as they do not seriously turn to God.


Tulip Tuesday

We will, on occasion, here at Four Oaks refer to ourselves as 'Reformed'. Many have asked what this might mean. And, indeed, it can mean a great deal of things. For what we here at Four Oaks mean by the term 'reformed' here is a good start written by Pastor Paul Gilbert (it is in our Newcomer's Guide):

Q. Is Four Oaks a ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinistic’ church?

In answering this question, defining the various terms will prove helpful.

Generally speaking, most Evaneglical churches are a product of the Reformation of the 1500’s whereby a significant number of churches broke off from the Roman Catholic church in “protest” of the heretical teachings of the church at that time. The body of theology adhered to by the resultant Protestant churches was broadly identified as “Reformational Theology” and was articulated around the core doctrines of justification by faith alone, the authority of Scripture over all of life (including the church), salvation by grace, and the priesthood of all believers. In this sense, most evangelical churches are a product of the Reformation in terms of adhering to these core doctrines.

More specifically, Reformed Theology has also come to define the system of theology closely associated with many of the leaders of the Reformation and other leaders in church history, including Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Reformed Theology is most often characterized by a firm belief in the sovereignty and holiness of God; God’s sovereign choice in election/ predestination; man’s inability to save himself apart from the Holy Spirit drawing a person to God; true believers persevering in faith until the end of the their lives; and a firm God-centeredness in all theology and application.

Confessionally, Four Oaks is not a Reformed church in that people need only affirm the EFCA Statement of Faith in order to become members. Our statement of faith is broad and general and leaves room for freedom of conscience on issues that Reformed Theology takes distinctive positions on. On the other hand, it is important for people considering membership to know that the pastors and elders of Four Oaks are to varying degrees “Reformed” in their worldviews and theology. This is particularly seen in the preaching/teaching and counseling ministries of the church. A person need only affirm the statement of faith to become a member and to be empowered to serve and lead in the various ministries of the church, while at the same time being cognizant, supportive, and sympathetic to the theology of the leadership.

I will again direct you to what I think is the most succinct and helpful descriptions of what is commonly called Calvinism in J.I. Packer's introductory essay to John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. I encourage you strongly to read this article.

I agree with Packer, and most Reformed Evangelicals, who are careful not to equate Reformed Theology and Calvinism with the 'five points' of Calvinism. This would be an oversimplification of what is really an entire biblical world view rather than some 'system' arranged around an acronym.

That being said, using the acronym TULIP to describe the essential doctrinal commitments of Reformed Theology can be at the very least a helpful starting place. So for the next five tuesdays or so will look at each letter of the Calvinist TULIP, with some discussion of the history of the doctrine and the importance of the church's commitment to it.


Never Fear...

I have returned to the blogosphere.

Whenever you say to yourself, "Self, why art thou so forlorn and without hope in this life? Ah, Pastor Erik has not posted in some time. Self, what are we to do without his crucial insights into all matters that affect us?"

If this is you, and yourself, please take hope that I have returned to some semblance of normal posting in the days, weeks, months, dare I say YEARS? to come.

And, just say to yourself the next time Pastor E's posts are not hastening to the wide world of webs and inter-nets: "Self, my Pastor must be engaged in some crucial ministry concern and so is tarrying upon his posting duties. I shall give him great grace, understanding all the very important spiritual matters that this man of the cloth must attend to on a daily basis. Or, he might be watching LOST."