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The Gospel: Professed and Practiced

Greg Strand – September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

“The gospel which we possess was not given to us only to be admired, talked of, and professed, but to be practiced.” J.C. Ryle

This expounds the commitment of Evangelicals throughout history. Evangelicals are people of the gospel, which has transformed them, and which is to be cherished and proclaimed. It is also to be lived, or as Ryle states, it “it is to be practiced.” One of the more recent manifestations of this was the Evangelical Awakening in Europe in the 18th-19th centuries.

More recently, and not just with the EFCA, this captures what we have been talking about for quite some time. Although Evangelicals have been changed by the gospel and they delight in it and its proclamation, “but to be practiced,” the final statement, has been limited in its scope of application. Racial reconciliation is one of those limitations.

We need to remember that when we address patience, or being long-suffering, we will live with a tension. For the majority community, mostly white brothers and sisters, some are coming to realize these limitations in application. They need some time to figure this out and work through what this means. It is important this be done in community, and not just with other majority folk.

For our brothers and sisters in the minority community, mostly African American brothers and sisters, they have generally suffered long and experience some racial fatigue. How many times do they have to go through fits and starts, how often do they have to hear public and corporate repentance, both of which are good and right, but they are waiting for the next step, the costly and sacrificial step of love lived out and “practiced.” And, as noted previously, a vital way to do this is in community, to engage in dialogue together in the context of relationships.

May God give us the wisdom, grace, kindness, patience and courage to cherish, delight in, speak and live the gospel.

Please plan to join us at our upcoming Theology Conference, where we will address the theme, “The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA.”

Corporate Confession

Greg Strand – September 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Many Evangelical churches do not often include a time of corporate confession as part of their weekly services. This is, I believe, a weakness of our gatherings.

Most of our service – singing, praying, greeting, sermons, etc. – reflects an overrealized eschatology. We speak and respond and expect as if the kingdom is already fully here. The emphasis is on the now of the kingdom. Much of the sharing of life together reflects the now of the kingdom, as if troubles and trials are unexpected, and marriage and parenting are all perfect. What this creates is a false exterior and a heavy heart because it does not match reality. There is seldom a place to share hurts and pains and struggles. It is as if there is no not-yet of the kingdom.

And yet we know doctrinally and experientially that we live in the not-yet-fully-realized kingdom. There is sin, ongoing struggles of sin, suffering, trials, lament, etc. In the midst of these existential realities, God’s kingdom has truly broken in, and the way in which we live in and through these matters reflects the now of the kingdom. The kingdom is truly here, even though not in full, and the presence of the kingdom is manifested in the way we live under the Lordship of the King, the Lord Jesus, and the way in which we live a life of faith and trust.

And yet, the kingdom is not yet here fully. We await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to make all things right, and all things new, when there will be no more sadness, sorrow, weeping. But not yet.

The strong inclination (evident in practice by what is said and done) in most Evangelical churches is to emphasize the newness of the kingdom, which is right, but they do so at the expense of the not-yetness of the kingdom, which is wrong. Too many have imbibed too much of the prosperity gospel, or an Americanized version of the gospel, and not enough of the true, biblical gospel.

In every corporate gathering, there ought to be a confession and manifestation of the now of the kingdom, where we hear and see manifestations of the work of God in our midst. But there will also be manifestations of the not-yet of the kingdom, where we hear and see manifestations of life in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified world, and yet in the mist of that reality the now of the kingdom manifests in a life of trust, crying individually and corporately, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3:17-18). This is why the early church cried, and we ought to pray regularly, Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!

In this link you will see an example of a corporate confession: A Corporate Confession of Faith Based on the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount Repentance is not only the Holy Spirit’s work in one’s life that bears fruit in confession of sin and profession of Christ resulting in new spiritual life (Mk. 1:14-15), repentance is also a mark of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, a bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8). It is important we live and lead a life of repentance.

Might this be one resource of helping you to do this. It is through repentance that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:20). May it be so!

 

Reformation Studies: A Rediscovery of the Gospel

Greg Strand – September 15, 2017 2 Comments

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses

There are a number of excellent resources that have been published in conjunction of this anniversary. I include a couple of those resources below, which you ought to consider using if you are interested in pursuing the Reformation further for adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life (six-week video series with an accompanying workbook/study guide)

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life is a new Bible study examining the five core truths that came from the Reformation—often called the solas. Group members will explore these essential convictions of the faith and emerge more immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The solas include:

• Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
• Sola gratia (by grace alone)
• Sola fide (through faith alone)
• Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
• Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Ideas That Changed the World: The Four Key Gospel Truths and People of the Reformation (four-week video series with accompanying workbook/study guide)

Around 500 years ago a momentous change was spreading across Europe—a change that has become known as the Reformation.

At the heart of the Reformation were four ideas and four leaders. The ideas: faith alone, grace alone, Bible alone and Christ alone. The leaders: Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and Cranmer.

In this course we will travel together to Wittenberg, Geneva, London, Antwerp and Oxford to see the massive impact of the four key Reformation ideas: that we are saved by grace alone (by God’s gracious initiative in Jesus); that salvation is made available to us through faith alone (not by us being good enough); that we know God through the Bible alone (and not through any church authority); and that we can pray to the Father through Christ alone (and not through the saints).

This was the topic/theme of last year’s Theology Conference: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, what traditionally is known as the beginning of the Reformation. We join the celebration in giving thanks to God for this rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our emphasis will be on the theology of the Reformation and its ongoing historical legacy, with a specific focus on the biblical gospel of grace, rediscovered by the Reformers (Luther referred to himself and the movement as Evangelicals, not Protestants), and its impact historically on the EFCA.

I encourage you to consider using these excellent resources as well. Ask someone to join you in this study. Listen to the messages individually, and then come together to discuss them. You can do this with one other, or consider doing it as an elder board.

How do we understand God’s presence with suffering and pain? As pastors, how do we trust in and rest upon the Lord while giving pastoral care to those who are in the midst of deep suffering and pain? Often during these moments it feels like a Job-like experience, we believe and we trust, but it does not seem to make sense. And in the midst of it all, it feels like God has become silent.

This refers to the Deus absconditus, the hiddenness of God. This is when it is critical to remind those who are feeling God’s hiddenness of the truth of God’s presence, even if it is not felt. It is the heart of Jesus’ human experience on the cross. It is also the heart of a pastoral presence.

Colin B. Johnstone writes about God’s presence and human suffering in “Theophany & Theodicy: When the Inevitable Questions of Suffering Confront the Living God,” Touchstone (July/August 2017), 36-39. This was an unpublished paper written by his father, prior to his succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

For some context, Colin’s father “studied the Western classics, and became a theologian and then a applied theologian, spending 25 years in a cancer research hospital as a chaplain. He provided care for terminal patients, taught aspiring chaplains, and counseled scientists and medical doctors in the ethics of care and research.”

Since it is not available on-line, I include lengthy quotes from the article, so even though you will not get the full gist of the essay, I will attempt to give some context so you get the most out of the quotes I have included.

This article grounds theology in God, in his presence (theophany) in the midst of suffering and pain (theodicy), and it provides an excellent example of combining pastoral theology with pastoral practice.

In the introduction, he sets the context of the attempt to reconcile “belief in God’s goodness with the existence of evil and suffering,” and in particular with the existential, personal angst of “why me?” For the caregiver, the question is heard as coming from the head. For the sufferer, he utters the plea from the heart.

Questions of theodicy, questions concerning the reconciliation of belief in God’s goodness with the existence of evil and suffering, are among the passionate existential questions. They come out of my own story. “Why me?” is not a textbook question but rather a question that comes out of my life and stirs my passions every time it returns. I believe that the important existential questions do return repeatedly, for they are questions of the heart, not of the head. We may have excellent answers for the questions, but they do not quiet the heart’s ache. The heart cries, laments, and complains, and although it expresses itself in the language of a question, an answer will not satisfy the lament of the heart.

The biblical context he focuses on is Job, the man from Uz. Job is considered an “innocent sufferer,” who experiences a “cosmic ‘wager’ between the Lord and Satan,” and who was given inadequate answers by his “comforters.”

Johnstone concludes it is important to discern who is asking the question. Often the one giving counsel to the sufferer wants to respond to the intellectual question. Furthermore, it is done “by someone deeply disturbed by the suffering of someone else. It is usually offered in an attempt to change the person’s mind about his or her suffering, and it assumes that suffering is a human problem.” For the sufferer, it is more of an existential question than it is an intellectual objection.

However, the question changes considerably when it is actually the suffering asking the question. He writes that when the sufferer asks the question of “why me?, “it is often a private conversation between God and the sufferer.”  He continues,

I would not wish this reflection to be construed as an attempt to deny the value of struggling with the theodicy question. Caregivers, especially pastoral caregivers, need to “justify” the behavior of the One in whose name they come, but they should not confuse an adequate working theology of suffering with a pastoral methodology for easing suffering. Their care should not be used to stop the questioning; it should be used to help people who have stopped questioning to restate questions that remain unresolved. Several years ago, I suggested that the question “Why me?” asked by a sufferer ought to be listened to and the emotions responded to, but the question itself not answered. I argued that until the emotions were heard, the question couldn’t be dealt with. I wrote of venting emotions, differentiating the question and integrating it into a search for meaning. I stated that, very often, when the emotions are listened to, the question seems to lose its power and to no longer need an answer.

He speaks wise words for caregivers. We often are afraid of questions, and we do not like to leave questions unanswered. And when there are no questions, we conclude all is well. However, he communicates an important and helpful reminder writing, “they should not confuse an adequate working theology of suffering with a pastoral methodology for easing suffering. Their care should not be used to stop the questioning; it should be used to help people who have stopped questioning to restate questions that remain unsolved. . . . very often, when the emotions are listened to, the question seems to lose its power and to no longer need an answer.”

At the end of the day, Job did not get all of his questions answered. In fact, God responded to Job’s questions with questions of his own. Although Job did not receive answers, he encountered God’s presence through his word. Prior to this, his claim was God was silent. Now he spoke, not answering his questions, but with his presence.

It is the encounter with the living God that heals and transforms. When we explore the dynamics of Job’s healing, we see clearly that the very presence of God is sufficient. In this encounter, however, we must not ignore the content of the discourses, for that is also important. The Lord not only spoke out of the whirlwind, but also directed Job’s attention to the whole of creation. A sufferer is like an astronomical black hole that draws everything into itself. The Lord directs Job to look beyond himself to the total perspective of creation. It is as if he is saying, “Look around you, Job, and ponder the mysteries of creation. There are many things out there that you don’t understand but can still appreciate.” This calling out was a call to an encounter with the living God. Thus, theophany is experienced with fear and trembling, but there is also healing and resolution in the encounter. Job doesn’t have anything more to say, because God has come.

In essence, “Job doesn’t have anything more to say, because God has come.” In the words of Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

Here is his conclusion:

It has been my experience that my personal pain and suffering has been resolved by the caring presence of another person or the caring presence of God. It has also been my professional experience that suffering is eased and resolved by a Healing Presence and not by a brilliant answer to the theodicy question. One who has explored theodicy and has come to an acceptable answer will probably be more able to minister to the suffering, but he will also find that it is not the answer itself that helps but the calm, trusting presence of the caregiver.

Remember these two keys: (1) “It is the encounter with the living God that heals and transforms.” (2) “One who has explored theodicy and has come to an acceptable answer will probably be more able to minister to the suffering, but he will also find that it is not the answer itself that helps but the calm, trusting presence of the caregiver.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:2-5).

What thoughts do you have? How do you approach those who are suffering, those sufferers who are asking questions, those sufferers who have stopped asking questions, those who suffer with or because a loved one is suffering?

Essentials of the Doctrine of Creation

Greg Strand – September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

In the EFCA, “We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Article 1, God)

When you ponder biblically and theologically, what does it mean to confess and profess “God [is] the Creator of all things”? In affirming this truth, What are the essentials, the non-negotiables, that must be affirmed/believed in order to affirm this truth?

This was a question posed to Tim Keller, Russell Moore and Ligon Duncan: Keller, Moore, and Duncan on the Non-Negotiable Beliefs About Creation

In this 12 minute discussion between Keller, Moore and Duncan, this is the very issue they address, focusing on the non-negotiables of the doctrine of creation. They focus on what ought to be communicated in discussions with unbelievers, and what ought to be included in discussions with believers.

In sum, they conclude there are three non-negotiable truths that must be affirmed: (1) God created all ex nihilo; (2) God’s creation is good; (3) God’s special creation of Adam and Eve, who are historical and unique, and they serve as the fountainhead, or federal head (primogenitor/progenitor) of all humanity.

In the EFCA, added to the essential belief of affirming God being the “Creator of all things,” we have given the following biblical and theological parameters (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 34):

To be sure, Genesis 1 expresses truth about God as Creator and his creation, but because of the uncertainty regarding the meaning and literary form of this text and the lack of Evangelical consensus on this issue, our Statement does not require a particular position on the mechanics of creation. However, to be within the doctrinal parameters of the EFCA, any understanding of the process of creation must affirm:

1. That God is the Creator of all things out of nothing (ex nihilo)
2. That he pronounced his creation “very good,”
3. that God created with order and purpose,
4. that God is the sovereign ruler over all creation which, by his personal and particular providence, he sustains,9
5. that God created the first human beings—the historical Adam and Eve—uniquely in his image,
6. and that through their sin all humanity along with this created order is now fallen (as articled in our Article 3).10

 9  We deny the notion that God is simply the Creator of the universe but is no longer active in it, as is espoused by deism.
10 This Statement does not speak to the precise process of creation or to the age of the universe. To be acceptable within the EFCA any views on these specifics must completely affirm this Statement of Faith and align within these essential parameters.

And to the doctrine of God’s unique historical creation of Adam and Eve, “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image” (Article 3, The Human Condition), which expounded biblically and theologically means the following (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 76-77):

There are legitimate differences of opinion about how one understands the nature of the language used in the early chapters of Genesis to describe the actions of God in the world. However, our Statement affirms that Adam and Eve were historical figures16 in the following sense: 1) From these two all other human beings are descended (Acts 17:26).17 2) These two were the first creatures created in God’s image such that they were accountable to God as responsible moral agents. And 3) these two rebelled against God, affecting all their progeny.18

What is essential to the biblical story-line is that the problem with the world is not ontological-that is, it is not a result of the material nature of creation itself nor is sin an essential part of our humanity.19 The problem is moral. The first human beings from the very beginning, in a distinct act of rebellion, chose to turn away from God, and this act not only affected all humanity (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), but creation itself (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). This leads us from considering the dignity of humanity to acknowledging our depravity.

16 The historical reality of Adam and Eve has been the traditional position of the church (so Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin) and is supported elsewhere in Scripture. Particularly, Paul compares the “one man” Adam with both Moses and Jesus (cf. Rom. 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor. 15:20-22). In addition, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Luke 3:23-37; cf. also 1 Chron. 1).
17 We take no position on the manner in which the human soul is passed on, either by natural heredity (“traducianism”) or by a unique work of God in each life (“creationism”).
18 Consequently, no human beings existed prior to these two, and, consequently, no human beings were sinless and without the need of a Savior.
19 This also gives us hope that human beings can be redeemed from sin.

“We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. . . [And] We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image.”