Archives For Theological Convictions

When asked the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).

When we hear the exhortation to love our neighbor, it reminds us of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke’s account of this lawyer’s question, he includes more of the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer. After Jesus’ responded, the lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asked another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29).

This is the right biblical context to learn about our neighbors known as Muslims. In the past, one would generally spend time studying world religions, Islam being of them. In fact, when looking at the various religions of the world, in order of numbers here are the top five: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Folk Religion. However, today much of our study and discussion is around culture and cultural engagement, the Benedict Option, or some other alternative Option, how we engage in and seek to transform our culture, or whether or not it is even the church’s responsibility to engage in and seek to transform the culture. Specifically, this confronts us most sharply with the sexual revolution and everything associated with it.

These issues are important to ponder, to process, to pray about and to address. But a discussion about world religions is often a thing of the past. With our global life, with an intermixing of devotees of various religions, it is critical for us to understand various religions, and more specifically today, Islam.

History

Muhammad (570-632) is the founder of Islam, and he is considered the “seal of the prophets,” a title used in the Qur’an. The key confession, referred to as the shahada, “the testimony” or the Islamic creed, is “there is no god but God” and “Muhammad is the messenger of God.” After Muhammad’s death, there was debate over who would be the rightful heir. As a result, two groups arose, which exist to this day, the Sunnis, the majority, and the Shia, the minority.

Over time, advances were made into Christian lands. This led Pope Urban II to launch the first Crusade in 1095. In all, there were eight Crusades, the last one, occurring in 1270. This was an effort of western European Christians to go on military crusades to the Middle East to free the Holy Land from Muslims, specifically the focus was on Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher. Most do not recognize the Crusades as a historical highpoint of the Christian church. However, despite the flawed attempt of the Crusades, it was a response to what was happening in Islam, and they were not without fault either. One of the sad days for Christians was when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

We are familiar with Islam in one of its more recent versions through al-Qaeda, which is a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization founded by Osama bin Laden in 1988. And in an unprecedented terrorist act committed against the US in 2001, forever etched as 9/11, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tensions have increased and understanding of and relationships between the two have suffered significantly. Added to this is the migration and immigration of Muslims into Western nations.

Another branch consisting of Sunni Islam, is ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, began in 1999. They were devotees of al-Qaeda, and became prominent in 2014 when they drove the Iraqi government out of key cities. We have heard and seen some of the atrocities committed by both al-Qaeda and its more aggressive sister, ISIS. This is what many know about Islam. But is this the only picture? Is it the complete picture?

Present Context

Since many Muslims are now living here and are our neighbors, it is important for us to take the Lord Jesus’ command seriously and learn about our neighbors, Islam, and discern ways we can love them.

The Pew Research Center notes a number of interesting and telling results of their survey (cf. “Most White Evangelicals Don’t Believe Muslims Belong in America,” with a brief summary addressing our theme of neighbors, “Pew updates its comprehensive survey of what US Muslims believe and do, and how their neighbors feel about them.”) It is estimated that there are approximately 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States, which makes up about 1% of the total population. Population projections indicate that number will likely double by 2050. As far as world religions, even though Islam is the second largest religion of the world, after Christianity, there is not a large population here. There are fewer Muslims than there are Jews, but more Muslims than Hindus.

More specifically, many do not believe Islam is part of our mainstream culture and society, and that it is a religion of violence. Both Evangelicals and Muslims conclude there is a conflict between Islam and democracy, though the percentage is higher among white Evangelicals.

Rather than having studied Islam and having met a Muslim, we draw our conclusions through social media, those tracking the persecution of Christians, and the perpetual news updates reporting another terrorist attack. As stated by our speakers, “These are the multiple voices feeding evangelicals and with little or no contact with only 1% of the population, there is little or no contact with Muslims to give a real-life impression.”

It is important for us as we love God and love our neighbors, to understand Islam, and discern ways we can love a Muslim.

Messages

Roy Oksnevad and Mike Urton, our speakers, both serve in the EFCA in ministry to Muslims. Roy serves with Immigrant Mission of the EFCA, while Mike serves with ReachGlobal. They also serve as Director and Co-Director of COMMA (Coalition of Ministries to Muslims in North America). They have co-authored Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-centered Friendships with Muslims, some of which will be the basis of what we learn in these sessions.

In our three sessions, we will address the following topics, based on responding to a question:

Session 1: What do Muslims believe? In this session, the focus will be on the four basic sources of Islam, six articles of faith, five pillars of Islam along with #6 jihad.

Session 2: Who are the real Muslims? In this session, 9 types of Muslims will be identified.

Session 3: How a local church can reach out to Muslims? If the other two sessions emphasize “understanding Islam,” in this session the focus moves toward the practical matter of “loving our neighbor.” Part of the teaching will come through witnessing scenarios done through professional dramas in the format of a real-to-life relationship. This is a resource pastors can use in the church to help others learn about Muslim relational evangelism.

Please plan to join us for the 2018 Theology Conference held Jan. 30 – Feb. 2, 2018. Register here.

I begin this post with a brief introductory comment, placing this specific issue in a larger context.

This is an attempt to connect our biblical and theological convictions with a current issue and to do so pastorally undergirded by prayer. Although it focuses on a specific issue for prayer, it is also an example of how we might consider a life of prayer, both personal and corporate, in the midst of the many other issues we face on an increasingly regular basis. For one example with multiple incidents, consider the many issues surrounding the racial tensions which face us daily, and the necessity of thinking biblically and theologically, engaging pastorally, and praying faithfully in a similar manner. God and the gospel are the ground, the guide and the goal, and our hope.

 

This past summer the EFCA conference (delegates from churches and other conference-approved roles, which makes up the highest authority in the EFCA, under the Lord Jesus Christ), unanimously approved the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and the Covenant of Marriage. It is a statement that articulates and lives out Jesus’ declaration of the great commandment – “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself”(Matt. 22:37-39).

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

You may remember this is about Jack Phillips, a baker from Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012 he declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, since it conflicted with his religious beliefs, it went contrary to his conscience (think religious liberty, which also meant he had in the past refused to make cakes for any violation of his conscience, which included, for example, divorce, anti-American messages, profanities, disparagement of the LGBT community). The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against Jack, claiming he was in violation of Colorado’s antidiscrimination laws. If Jack bakes cakes at all, he must bake them for all, including same-sex weddings.

On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the Commission’s ruling. When Jack appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, they refused to hear it. This ruling is being contested, which is why the case is now before SCOTUS. (Regarding the timeline, Colorado legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.)

In June 2015 SCOTUS determined, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that it is a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. That is now the law of the land, even though we as Christians believe that law of the land goes contrary to God’s law, which we affirmed this past summer (cf. Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).

The decision now before SCOTUS is whether or not a baker’s work is the same as an artist, a photographer, a singer, an actor a painter, and other creative professionals who create First-Amendment protected speech, and whether or not the baker has the right to decide which requests to accept and which to deny, and whether or not bakers will be be forced to comply or face prosecution, sanctions or legal coercion. Technically, here is how the issue is formally stated before SCOTUS: “Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.”

This is a major decision that will affect all of us. As SCOTUS hears these arguments, processes all the issues, and makes a decision, it is important for us to remember a number of key truths, and to pray.

Here is the context of our prayer: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

And this is what we affirm of God, his Word, his promises, and how we live life before him in the presence of others in this country, seeking to be faithful citizens of two cities.

First, God is sovereign and he has a providential plan, which unfolds in time, the time in which we now live (Ps. 115:1-3).

“Our Father who is in heaven . . .”

Second, God’s ultimate desire is for his name to be honored, his Word to be upheld as he alone is the absolute determiner of what is good and what is not good, which is reflected in our ethics and morality reflecting him as image bearers,  and his glory to extend to the ends of the earth as the water covers the sea (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14), which is also our desire.

“Hallowed by your name . . .”

Third, God’s good plan is being unfolded in a sinful and broken world, a broken world in which the kingdom of God has broken in through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13-14; 2:15; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:17-19). Through our union with Jesus Christ we are people of that kingdom, which reflects how we live life as kingdom-people in this world (Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:3-9; 1 Jn. 3:2-3).

“Your kingdom come . . .”

Fourth, as our sovereign God unfolds this providential plan in the midst of this time and place, we know that he guides and governs the affairs of humanity, including kings, rulers and those in authority: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1).

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . .”

Fourth, as Christians we live in the world, but we are not of the world (Jn. 17). We live as salt and light in this dark and decaying world (Matt. 5:13-16). We know that true transformation comes only from the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:9-10), and the ultimate enemy, the one who kills, steals and destroys (Jn. 10:10), seeks to prevent the progress of the gospel and the spread of the kingdom. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). This means we pray: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18).

“Our Father . . . give . . . forgive . . . deliver”

Finally, we trust God and his promises. All the promises of God find their “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), which means those who have been declared righteous by faith, they also live by faith. This reflects the Christmas story. God made a promise and even in the midst of 430 years of apparent silence, God was fulfilling his plan so that “at the right time” he sent forth his Son, Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4). And God’s promises are always fulfilled in God’s ways, which is impossible for humanity, whether it is Mary’s miraculous virgin conception or Elizabeth’s pregnancy, who was barren and too old, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37; cf. Gen. 18:14 and the birth of Isaac). We trust God and live in a way that manifests his promises are true. We are a transformed and being transformed people. We are living out the truth of the Christ of Christmas.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Often our praying becomes rote. We pray the same things over and over. (Sadly, that is assuming we do pray regularly. As a short personal quiz: How often do you pray? How long do you generally commune with the Lord in and through prayer? If married, do you and your spouse pray together?)

Often our praying is general. “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care” or “Bless all the missionaries.” That is better than not praying at all, and at times we simply do not know what to pray so we pray more generally, and thankfully the Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
This was the experience of John Piper. He found that his praying would fall into a rut (rote), and in order for him to get out of the rut, it required discipline. What helped him was compiling a list of that prayers prayed by the church as recorded in the Scriptures: What Should We Pray For?

Piper confesses his own personal rut in prayer.

If you are like me, you find that from time to time your prayer life needs a jolt out of the rut it has fallen into. We tend to use the same phrases over and over. We tend to default to worn out phrases (like the word default). We fall into patterns of mindless repetition.

The devil hates prayer. Our own flesh does not naturally love it. Therefore, it does not come full-born and complete and passionate from the womb of our heart. It takes ever renewed discipline.

In order to address this “default praying,” Piper searched the Scriptures to discern those matters for which the church prayed. He compiled them and used them to guide his praying (he also included this list in his book Let the Nations Be Glad):

So when I wrote that book, I gathered into one place all the things the early church prayed for. I printed this out for myself, and it has proven to be one of those “jolts” that I need. I thought you might find it helpful. You might want to print it out and keep it for a while in your Bible to guide you in your praying.

Piper highlights the great and glorious mystery of prayer, that the God of the universe, the all-sovereign one, would exercise his sovereignty and providence through the prayers of his people is amazing (Piper uses the expression “mind-boggling”), which means that even though one is not physically present, one can touch, influence and affect people, families, neighborhoods, churches, institutions through prayer:

Prayer remains one of the great and glorious mysteries of the universe — that the all-knowing, all-wise, all-sovereign God should ordain to run his world in response to our prayers is mind-boggling. But that is the uniform witness of Scripture. God hears and answers the prayers of his people. Oh, do not neglect this amazing way of influencing nations and movements and institutions and churches and people’s hearts, especially your own.

If you want to pray for what the early church prayed for . . .

Piper follows this by including 35 prayers directly from the Scriptures. I encourage you to read through the list. Better yet is to pray through the list. Best is to memorize these prayers and to make them a regular part of your prayers, applied to specific situations. In this way our default praying is praying “according to the Scriptures.”

Let me conclude with this challenge. For those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, often in our prayer lives we live more like practical atheists than we do children of the heavenly Father. Dear adopted child of God, what will you do to change that? God, our loving Father, will give you the grace not only to change that, but his grace is also sufficient to change your heart to desire to change it.

Johan Gustav Gudmundson (also known as Gummeson, and changed to Gunnerson after they arrived America) was born in Smaland, Sweden on September 18, 1845. Johan and his family emigrated to the United States arriving in New York on July 3, 1856. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Princeton, IL.

When Johan departed for further education in 1863 he changed his name to John Gustaf Princell, out of respect to the town that had become his home, Princeton. We know him as J. G. Princell, and consider him one of the “fathers” of the Evangelical Free Church (Swedish).

Often we hear or know the great accolades of an individual, or the many gifts a person possesses, or the numerous ways the work of a person’s hands prospered. All of these matters would be accurate for Princell. But what is often missing from such a recounting of a person’s history is the kind, wise, good providence of God in preparing a person for those tasks. Although the former is true, without the latter it can almost become historical hagiography. The result can be that we end up making more of a man and less of God.

In the recounting of the lives of those who have gone before, there are few, if any, who are exempt from learning and growing through pain, suffering and sorrow. In fact, it has been said those God uses greatly are those who have been tested deeply. And by faith, they have come forth as God’s refined gold, vessels in the redeemers hand.

This is true for our beloved J. G. Princell. God used him greatly in the Free Church movement, which is why he is considered one of the fathers. He had a giant of an intellect, was a gifted preacher, and a strong leader. But that did not happen apart from God’s gracious sanctifying work in his life. Here are three painful life experiences, which are little known, but which God used for good, evidenced in the spiritual fruit that remained in his life and ministry.

The Death of Princell’s Brother. Three days before they arrived in New York, John’s younger brother died and was buried at sea. As a boy of 11, John was overcome with grief. Through his tears he said, “It was so hard to see little brother sink into the depths of the ocean!”

The Death of Princell’s Wife. J. G. was married to Selma Ostergren in the Gustaf-Adolph church in April 1873. After two short years of marriage, Selma succumbed to death. Upon exchanging vows, J. G. did not think his commitment “till death do us part” would be only two years. Interestingly, prior to Selma’s departure to be with the Lord, she informed J. G. about his remarriage upon her death. “I know who will be my successor,” she said, “because I have already talked to the Lord about it. She is Josephine Lind, and you may remember that there is no one who I would rather see in my place than she.” J. G., once again, experienced the depth of grief in the loss of his wife. What transpired between them prior to Selma’s death also says something about their relationship. J. G. and Josephine were married in 1876 in Boston, and they remained married until J. G.s death in 1915.

The Joys and Sorrows of Revival. P. P. Waldenstrom’s ministry in Sweden was used greatly of the Lord in the renewal and revival of individuals. Waldenstrom’s influence was carried by and flourished among Swedish immigrants in the United States. These immigrants studied the Bible and experienced revival. Princell was also influenced by Waldenstrom and the revival. This resulted in a commitment to the Scriptures and to spiritual reform in the church with an emphasis on “believers’ church membership and believers’ communion.” (There were other emphases, such as his view of the atonement that were problematic, but that is for another time.) This offended some of the members which resulted in a split in the Gustaf-Adolph church. This painful split led to Princell’s resignation from the church in 1879, and a formal and official suspension by the Augustana Synod at their annual meeting in 1879. Princell personally experienced both the joys and pains of revival.

In the midst of trials and tribulations, we trust in God’s good providence as he “causes all things to work together for good.” We are also assured it is these kinds of life experiences God uses to form and shape who we become, and from this character created by God, we serve others with an “aroma of Christ.” This truth was manifested in the life of J. G. Princell, and we are thankful.

Essentials of the Doctrine of Creation

Greg Strand – September 13, 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.”