Archives For 2016 EFCA Theology Conference

Below is an excerpt from the book by Ed Shaw, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life. The British title is The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction. The former highlights the issue of same-sex attraction and the church, while placing in the background the plausibility question. In reversing this, the latter highlights the plausibility problem, while placing it in the context of the issue of same-sex attraction and the church. The titles do give a slightly different emphasis. My preference is the British title.

Following this excerpt below by Shaw are a number of responses, which are, as you would probably expect, a bit mixed. We heard this when we discussed our draft of our A Church Statement on Human Sexuality:Homosexuality and Same-Sex “Marriage” – A Resource for EFCA Churches. Some concluded that sanctification means that one’s same-sex attracted feelings ought to be completely sanctified, i.e. overcome such that there is no longer any struggle with it. This overlooks the fact that in the Christian life there is ongoing struggle to put to death the sins of the flesh and to put on the graces of Christ (Col. 3:5-17), both of which are made possible by the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. There is transformation (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:20-21) into the likeness of the Son (Rom. 8:29), but completely overcoming sin awaits glory. And until that time, we fight the fight of and for faith.

This is an important issue, which we still need to consider, to think through, to ponder, etc. Although there is unanimity among Evangelicals regarding the authority of the Bible in all matters pertaining to life, doctrine, history and science (even though it is not a scientific textbook, it does speak authoritatively when addressing matters of science), or one is not an Evangelical, there is no unanimity among Evangelicals about how to process this biblically, theologically and pastorally. However, I think there is a growing awareness in this realm, with increasing nuancing which is important and helpful, without compromising biblical and theological truth.

Here is the excerpt from Shaw’s book: Godliness Is Not Heterosexuality

Douglas Wilson takes issue with this excerpt: Semi-Gloss Obfuscation

And then Wilson posts again, reading it slightly differently but still with issues of concern about it: Multiple Women in One Day Attracted

Both Tim Challies – The Plausibility Problem – and Ron Citlau – The Plausibility of the Celibate Life for the Same-Sex Attracted – give affirming reviews of the book.

Denny Burk mostly affirms the work of Shaw, and takes slight issue with Wilson: “Giving away the store” on same-sex attraction?

Although these links above address a work focusing on same-sex attraction, an added dimension to our contemporary human sexuality discussion is gender dysphoria, which we will address at our upcoming Theology Conference: The Ministry of the Gospel and Gender Dysphoria. If there are strong differences regarding how to think and process biblically, theologically and pastorally the same-sex attracted person(s), that is multiplied when it comes to gender dysphoria, with transgenderism being the most commonly known expression of gender dysphoria. This also requires a keen sense of the biblical, theological pastoral truth and implications/applications based on that truth. And because we are holistic beings, one also ought to consider biology, psychology and sociology. These are not absolutely definitive, which is reserved for sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, but they do shed light, even if some of that light is on our depravity, it still also is with a hint and glimmer of the imago Dei that remains in all.

Please plan to join us for our Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church, followed by one of the questions/challenges experienced in the church today, gender dysphoria. We remain grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ as we seek to minister to those struggling with gender dysphoria with that uncompromising, explicit and loving truth of the gospel. You can access the Theology Conference site here, and you can register here.

Cars, Vows, and the Death of the Church

Greg Strand – January 12, 2016 2 Comments

If you were asked the question, “what is the most important date in church history?,” how would you respond?

On the one hand, it would be important to ask a follow up question related to what, i.e., the most important date for what? The propagation of the gospel? Technological advancement? Missionary outreach? The church? And yet on the other hand, regardless of the specific what, even in any of those areas just listed there are numerous options that would vie for the preeminent place.

Carl Trueman identifies his vote for the most Important date in church history: the invention of the automobile. The reason? It changed the way the people viewed church. They could drive by a number of good, godly Evangelical churches on the way to their personal preferred church. It changed the way the church is structured and how she operates. It also made living out the covenant within the community, especially when it comes to accountability and discipline, almost impossible, since those in that setting simply leave.

It’s always interesting to see, every now and then on a webpage or something, “the most important date in church history.” I would say the most important date in church history – I think it was 1909, when Henry Ford designed his model-T. I think the invention of the motor car is probably the most significant event in church history, because it utterly transforms how the church operates. You can have your reformations, you can have your medieval church piety, but once people can jump in a car, and drive outside of their community to a church elsewhere, everything changes. Church discipline is almost impossible in the era of the automobile, because we live anonymous lives, and we have the ability to run away when our church comes after us.

In another piece, On Cars, Vows and the Slow Death of the Church, Trueman delineates further what he means by the automobile’s effect on the church.

The thing that is killing the church today is surely the car.   In the olden days (and no, for anybody under twenty, I am not talking about the 80s here but rather a hundred or so years ago and beyond), mobility was limited.   If you crossed the local priest or minister, you could be in trouble because there might be no way you could go to the next town or village for worship on the Lord’s Day.  So church discipline could actually mean something: sooner or later you had no choice but to face up to your responsibilities to the church officers.

Yes, the pre-automobile systems of church discipline were abused (
Silas Marner
anyone?). Is that a surprise?  They were staffed by sinful human beings.  But at least they stood a theoretical chance of working and, indeed, proved remarkably effective in many instances.

Today, I have even had friends who left their wives, took up with someone else, fled church discipline and, guess what?, found a church that would take them in as members in good standing.  Today, unlike the olden days (teenagers: in case you’ve already forgotten, for definition of ‘olden times’ see above), they can simply jump into their car and drive and drive and keep driving until they find a church that will accept them.  And if they drive far enough, they always find such a place.  Trust me.  They always do.  There is always some place that either does not know them or simply does not care what they have done.

. . . church shopping is one of the things that is weakening Christianity; but that is not simply a function of general consumerism; it is the result of the opportunity provided by the automobile. The thing that allows many of us to attend church is also that which is eroding the power of our membership vows.

Of course, membership vows are as solemn and as binding as ordination vows. The average member is no less bound by them to the church than I am as a minister. But the car makes them seem so much more negotiable. We have come to believe that even God can be dodged when we are behind the wheel.

I have said to students at Westminster more times than I can remember: the church has never really come to terms with the invention of the internal combustion engine.

I confess that although I do not agree with most of the Roman Catholic Church’s view of ecclesiology, I do like their notion of a parish (and some other Protestant denominations will also refer to ministry in local churches in this way). What that means is that since this is the local church in this specific geographical area, that is considered the parish. This gives a location to the church, those who live in this geographical area are considered a part of that church, and the leaders know those in the community for whom they are responsible for pastoral care.

I reiterate – I do not agree with the RCC notion of ecclesiology. But I also confess there is something healthy to the notion of a parish, viz., those who live in a certain community, go to an Evangelical church in that community.

What often happens today is, as noted above, people will drive out of the community, drive by a number of other Evangelical churches, on their way to their preferred local church, based on the preaching, the programs, the friends, etc. I think there is something amiss as one thinks about and approaches church in this manner.

How do you think about this? What effect has the car had on the church? What are other issues that have either positive or negative effects on the church? How do we respond to them?

These and other issues will be addressed this January at our Theology Conference as we focus on The Doctrine of the Church. You can register here. Come as a leadership team/staff, since this will be an excellent Conference to learn together and then to discuss together.

Membership in the local church is often considered optional. In fact, for most, the only benefit local church membership provides is that I can “vote” at business meetings. If that is what membership entails, one has a mutated view of membership and, if in fact that is how it functions, there is good reason why one does not desire to become a member.

However, local church membership means and provides so much more.

Ray Ortlund gives us an excellent reminder of the importance of Church membership, the corporate which gives meaning and expression to the individual. Most of the time we look at this in reverse. It is the individual that brings meaning to the corporate. There is, of course, some truth to that. But there is something else that is just as, if not more, important. It is the corporate that gives meaning and significance to the individual.

To support his point, Ortlund quotes C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” in The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, 1974), pages 41-42:

We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down.  Starting with the doctrine that every individual is ‘of infinite value,’ we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs.  In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him.  He is capable of receiving value.  He receives it by union with Christ.  There is no question of finding for the individual a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy.  The place was there first.  The individual was created for it.  He will not be himself until he is there.

Of course, all have dignity because we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). However, at another level and in another realm, we receive value and worth as adopted sons and daughters through our union and communion with Christ. But that is not the end. That new creation is not an end in and of him or herself, but, rather, the fulfilment comes when that person becomes a part of the living temple. The meaning is not found in the individual alone. Rather, it is found as the individual fits into the temple of the living God, the corporate. This is why we have focused on the corporate aspect of God’s purpose in Article 1 of our Statement of Faith: “God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.” A people, not only person. This is, as Lewis notes, upside down from how most understand this. But in reality, this is the kingdom Jesus inaugurated.

Ortlund spells this out in relation to the local church. He writes,

No wonder, then, that when we join a healthy church, we feel refreshed, reinvigorated, more alive.  We may have looked for our church as if we were shopping, like consumers.  But God is better than that and was up to something deeper.  He was fitting us into his temple as living stones.  It is in discovering the larger reality for which we were created that we come alive.  Not by getting our own way, but by fitting into something sacred, ancient and massive.

Church membership is glorious.

Do we sense the importance of the corporate as that which fulfills and gives meaning to the individual?

Do we see church membership as glorious?

There are aspects of the church we will address at our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church. We pray that through this Conference we will love more deeply and sacrificially Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and his Bride, the people of God. And we will see membership as glorious. Please register here.

One of the joys and privileges I have in my role in the EFCA is that I am asked questions. I find delight in attempting to give biblically faithful, theologically accurate and pastorally sensitive responses to these important questions. I certainly do not conclude my responses as THE answer, but I do pray they are an answer that is faithful to the Scriptures.

Below are a series of questions I received about “biblical fellowship.” I have highlighted the questions. My responses follow. Although the person remains unnamed, I have, nonetheless, received permission to include the questions and my responses. It remains mostly unedited.

I am hopeful reading through this will help you to understand the importance of fellowship in the context of the local church, and that it will increase your love for and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and his Bride, the new community, the redeemed people of God, the church – a community with real names, with real faces, with real joys and with real sorrows. And that through this life together, you become a visible manifestation of the gospel you proclaim.

By the way, I would be interested to learn how you would have responded to these questions. And if you do not include those thoughts in the comments, I would at least encourage you to think through the questions so that if/when you are asked, you, too, would have answers that would be biblically faithfully, theologically accurate and pastorally sensitive.

Here, then, are the questions and responses.

How does the Bible define Christian fellowship? Fellowship originates in and by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14). This results in a relationship with God, the Trinity (1 Jn. 1:3-6) and with one another. It really means living and sharing life together. Here is a good article on fellowship.

Can relationships within the immediate/extended family qualify as fellowship, or is fellowship something that only occurs within the local church? Fellowship used as a technical term is used for those relationships in the family of God, not a biological family. The exception would be if the biological family is all believers. But even then, that biological family is trumped by the spiritual family in that it is not exclusive. Generally we say that “blood is thicker than water,” to mean that when push comes to shove, biological family stays with one another. I like to turn that around to reflect what biblical fellowship means: water is thicker than blood. I wrote about that, turning around that common phrase: “Water is Thicker Than Blood” – Reflections on The Implications of the Christian Family (It may imply that baptism is what is important, but that is not my point. I use “water” to refer to the family of God, those who have truly been born again by faith through faith in Christ.)

What is to be done when the “ideal” church cannot be found? In brief, first, it does not exist. That does not mean we do not strive for the biblical model, the “ideal,” but we do so knowing that we will always, until the return of Christ, live with the church of the real. And if we do not acknowledge this, and we attempt to live by and find the church of the “ideal,” we will critically destroy the church of the real. Second, it already exists. The church of the real does not catch God by surprise. Jesus has been and remains the Head of this church. And this is the church that is divinely ordained by God, in His good and wise sovereign providence, to bring Him glory and will be for our good. It will be a place where the gospel is manifested in real time in real relationships.

As life goes on, time seems to become a more precious commodity.  How does one balance a desire for efficiency with a desire to honor mechanisms set in place by church leadership to “create fellowship”? This is a real challenge as a young family grows. I was convinced that live together in the body of Christ needed to occur as part of my biological family. They are not one and the same, but there is significant overlap between the two. I am not sure efficiency is the right way to look at this. I would rather see this as an attempt to live life wisely as a steward under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Regarding the structures in place, it is necessary to attempt to provide structure for this to happen, especially in a church setting since it becomes more challenging the larger the group becomes. The manner in which one engages in these structured events of fellowship is important. Of course, it is vital that one understands both the biblical nature of the church and the biblical nature of and purpose for fellowship in the local church if one is to discern how this ought to occur. It is also important to note that in God’s divine design, under the Lordship and Headship of Jesus Christ there are leaders who are gifted (by God) and affirmed (by the congregation) to serve the local church. It is for God’s glory and our good that we submit to their leadership, as long as it is biblical (Heb. 13:17).

Should fellowship always incorporate the entire family or should each member of the family be seeking out fellowship on a more individual basis? I think this is not an either/or but a both/and. I also think it will likely shift and change through seasons of life. Although I served as the pastor, much of our serving was done as a family. It became part of our lives. There were also times that each of us had a time of fellowship with others, e.g. my wife’s women’s Bible study, my leadership training, the children with friends at AWANA, etc.

How much of fellowship should be formal and how much should be “organic”? Without quantifying a percentage, this is another both/and, not an either/or. Often I find that because many do not understand biblical fellowship (koinonia) it does not happen organically. It is not just talking about the weather or the football game. It is living life together with a common ground and goal of living all of life by God’s grace and for God’s glory. And this is not and cannot be done alone. Spiritual growth, sanctification, is a community reality (Heb. 3:12-13; also consider the other “let us” commands in Hebrews, and the rest of the “one another” commands in the rest of the New Testament). If it is only organic, it will often mean I do things with those I like and with whom I resonate. Some of the structured will force one to be with those who are less like me and those with whom I will not necessarily gravitate toward, but who are still nonetheless my brothers and sisters who I need (and they need me).

Regarding the true and local church, those who are a part of the true church by virtue of the fact they have been born again, will be a part of a local church. The notion of a churchless Christian is a misnomer. The gospel that saves and makes one a member in the true church will find expression and be manifested in the local church, with real people in real time. Often people move and then attempt to find a church home. I am convinced the better route would be to find a church home and then find a place to live. The notion of being a part of a church in the community in which one lives speaks volumes. The fact that many can drive by some good Evangelical churches on their way to their preferred church often reflects our consumerism. It is difficult to live life together from a distance. It can be done, but it is challenging. We attempted to do that when we moved here and we were no longer in pastoral ministry. We drove for about eight months and realized it was not wise. We then became a member of the local EFC church where we live.

By the way, Gordon MacDonald has written a two-part article on the importance of community I just read, so I forward them on to you: True Community: What ‘we’ learn that ‘I’ will never know; and Building One Another: What’s involved in Christian community: part 2

Similar topics will be discussed at our upcoming Theology Conference as we focus on The Doctrine of the Church. You can register here. Come as a leadership team/staff. This will be an excellent Conference to learn together and then to discuss together.

 

“Apostolic,” like “catholic,” is not found as an explicit expression of the Church.  But the Church’s apostolicity is an important truth taught in the Bible.  Before we address the biblical teaching on what “apostolic” means, it is important that we look at two common meanings that are inaccurate or not biblical.  The Roman Catholic Church, for example, believes that the Church is apostolic through its connection with Peter and all the successors of Peter primarily seen in the office of the bishop of Rome or the Pope (this is known as apostolic succession).   This claim will not stand up to biblical scrutiny. 

Another misunderstanding is rooted in the meaning of “apostle” as “sent ones.”  Overlooking the technical meaning of the term, viz.. those who were with Jesus, the emphasis is on the present-day “sentness” of the church or its missionary mandate.  This is partly right, but it assumes or ignores the heart of what it means to be apostolic.  What is missing in both of these missteps is the apostolic deposit, the gospel of Jesus Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit and inscripturated in the Word of God, incarnated in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

The clearest teaching of the apostolic nature of the church comes from the pen of Paul as he writes to the saints in and around Ephesus – and to all the saints of all time including us today – these words: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22).  Paul continued by writing of the mystery that had been revealed “to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).  This mystery is that both Jews and Gentiles are “members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).  This beautiful creation of God the Holy Spirit, the church, is that upon whom the principalities and powers (those evil beings opposed to the work of God) gaze and they see a manifestation of God’s wisdom and His transforming and victorious grace (Eph. 3:9-12).

Here are five truths we can glean from Paul about what it means for the church to be apostolic.  First, the church that is apostolic focuses on Christ.  Although the “apostles and the prophets” are the foundation in this image, Jesus is the cornerstone.  This means that He is at the center of all that is said and done (cf. Col. 1:18). 

Second, the church that is apostolic recognizes the important historical role the apostles played in salvation history.  These apostles were not paragons of greatness, but what made the foundation great was the cornerstone, Jesus Christ (cf. Ps. 118:22; 1 Pet. 2:6-7).  Their function and role were unique and unrepeatable: they were chosen in the Spirit (Acts 1:2), they remembered Christ’s words and deeds through the Spirit (Jn. 14:26; Acts 10:41), and they received the complete – final and definitive – revelation of the resurrected Christ (Jn. 15:26-27; 16:13-15).  The heart of this is that they had been with Jesus (Lk. 6:12; Acts 1:21-22; 4:13; 1 Cor. 15:8-10).  Thus the church is founded upon the apostolic witness and testimony of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:5), as they stand between Christ and all subsequent generations of Christians pointing the way to Him through the Word.

Third, the church that is apostolic is rooted in the Scripture.  We know of Jesus only through the apostles and their testimony of Him as recorded in the New Testament which is the fulfillment of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-20).  This means the church orders its belief and behavior according to the apostolic faith “once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3; cf. Acts 2:42).  In all her endeavors, the apostolic Scripture is the supreme authority, and this is manifested in the preaching, teaching and reading of that Word, and passing this Word on to others (2 Tim. 2:2). 

Fourth, the church that is apostolic is continually being reformed by and to the Scripture, the apostles’ writings that give preeminence to Jesus Christ.  We have not yet arrived at God’s desired end for His people.  This is why Paul emphasizes that we are being built, presently and ongoingly, together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).  And, very importantly, this happens together with other believers (cf. Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25).

Fifth, the church that is apostolic is missional.  This means that the church is missional in her very being, i.e., God has called His people to be a light to the nations (1 Pet. 2:9).  But she is also missional in her lifestyle as she proclaims the gospel of Christ, the whole counsel of God, to all people (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). She not only proclaims the gospel, but is also a visible manifestation of the gospel. 

Please join me in confessing our sin against Christ and His Church in that we have neglected, ignored or denied that we are apostolic – we have assumed Christ and His gospel by not giving Him and it preeminence in our preaching, teaching, counseling, living, etc.; we have taken the apostolic deposit, the Bible, for granted in that we do not read and study it diligently; we engage in reform based on relevancy to the culture not the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ; we live as if God’s blessings are to terminate on us rather than God blessing us to be a blessing to others. 

Lord, please forgive us.  Please also join me in praying that we will recommit to all those positive things we have confessed we have or have not done above, so that God in His grace and mercy will once again enable us to be, as an association of churches, apostolic.  Please also pray specifically for all of the details of the conference – for those responsible for planning and those who will be attending.  We are convinced that apart from God’s work in this conference, it will be a failure, so please join us in prayer asking God to do great things, for His glory and the good of His people.

Please join us at our Theology Conference as we learn about and discuss The Doctrine of the Church. Register here.