Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Finally Alive": A Book Review

The subtitle of this book is "What Happens When We Are Born Again" and that tells the reader exactly what the book is about.  The Table of Contents reveals a work of 203 pages in length consisting of 15 chapters (plus a conclusion) divided into 5 sections.  To get a flavor of Dr. Piper's book, here at the titles of those 5 sections:

I.  What Is The New Birth?
II.  Why Must We Be Born Again?
III.  How Does The New Birth Come About?
IV.  What Are The Effects Of The New Birth?
V.  How Can We Help Others Be Born Again?

John Piper is always easy to read even when he is dealing with a profound theological subject such as regeneration.  This book is loaded with Scripture and is an outstanding modern work on the new birth, one many who are sitting in church pews on Sundays need to read.  Note the following remarks of Piper early in the book:

"I want to say loud and clear that when the Barna Group uses the term born again to describe American church-goers whose lives are indistinguishable from the world, and who sin as much as the world, and sacrifice for others as little as the world, and embrace injustice as readily as the world, and covet things as greedily as the world, and enjoy God-ignoring entertainment as enthusiastically as the world--when the term born again is used to describe these professing Christians, the Barna Group is making a profound mistake."

Dr. Piper then plunges into the Scripture and reveals the divine creation of spiritual life.  Such life is necessary for, by nature, we are spiritually dead, enslaved to sin and Satan.  Faith in Christ is demanded but, apart from a supernatural work by the Holy Spirit, faith is absent.  We need to be born again.  Once we are born again, faith follows leading to justification, adoption, and glorification. 

John Piper is Reformed in his theology and that is evident in this book.  The ordo salutis he presents clearly places the new birth before faith, regeneration before conversion.  Yet, as those who read Piper already know, he is very evangelistic.  The last 2 chapters, which comprise the 5th section of the book, clearly bring this fact to the light.  For example, he writes:

"God's role in bringing about the new birth is decisive, and our role in bringing about the new birth is essential. ... Tell people the good news of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service. ... If people are to be born again, it will happen by hearing the word of God, centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They will be 'born again through the living and abiding word of God...the Gospel.'  God's work and your work come together like this: 

  • "God causes the new birth through the seed of the word, the gospel.
  • "God brings about the new birth through your telling people the gospel.
  • "God regenerates people through the news about who Christ is and what he has done on the cross and in the resurrection.
  • "God gives new life to dead hearts through your words when you speak the gospel."

This book is a solid explanation of the doctrine of regeneration.  It is very readable even for those with little theological understanding.  I strongly recommend "Finally Alive".

"Divorce & Remarriage: A Permanence View": A Book Review

This work is published by Christian Communicators Worldwide, written by Daryl Wingard, Jim Elliff, Jim Chrisman, and Steve Burchett.  As the title states, the book deals with the often debated topic of divorce plus the follow on subject of remarriage.  Rather than simply sharing their opinions on the matter, they tackle this difficult yet commonplace aspect of our society using the Scripture and straightforward reasoning.

Based on conversations I have had with many professing Christians, the authors' conclusions are not going to be welcomed by many.  Most modern day expositors teach at least 2 Biblical exceptions to the permanence view of marriage, namely, adultery and abandonment.  However, these godly authors attack these exceptions with God's Word clearly and carefully.  Here is a brief sample: 

"...there is no text of Scripture that conclusively proves that God permits divorce in cases of adultery, while several passages prohibit divorce categorically. ... Matthew 19:9 is, at best, inconclusive on the subject of remarriage after divorce, and in Matthew 5:32 Jesus clearly prohibits remarriage after divorce, even for the innocent spouse, by specifying that though she was not guilty of adultery prior to the divorce, she commits adultery when she remarries."

The authors summarize their understanding of the teaching of Scripture on marriage, divorce, and remarriage at the very beginning of the book:

1.  The one-flesh union created in marriage is permanent until death.
2.  Initiating a divorce is never lawful.
3.  Remarrying after divorce is an act of adultery if a former spouse is living.

Part 1 of the book examines the Biblical texts on the subject.  Part 2 of the book discusses applications of their conclusions.  The second part is extremely valuable since it contains answers to many of the situations which often confront pastors in their ministry to troubled marriages (or second marriages).

I suspect many will disagree with their conclusions.  Those who do, however, must provide a more convincing interpretation of the Scriptural passages examined by this work.  Opinion, pragmitism, and philosophical arguments will not suffice.  The authors have based their conclusions on Scripture.  Those opposed must do likewise.

Personally, I enjoyed reading the work.  My own view on this matter has undergone considerable change over the past couple of years thanks, in part, to the work of John Piper.  Basically, I came to the same conclusions as the authors roughly a year ago.  Their work confirms my view on marriage.

I do remain in disagreement with the book's position on the matter of divorce as it relates to the qualifications for a pastor.  The authors conclude that those men who have divorced their wives and remarried remain qualified for the pastorate.  They provide their arguments for their position in the "application" section near the end of the book.  However, I am not yet convinced of their position and the interpretation they are giving to the 1 Timothy 3 passage.

Though I disagree with their position on pastoral qualifications, I support the remainder of their book. I highly recommend it to others, especially those who are still struggling with the subject of divorce and remarriage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

I am not a legalist. The Bible clearly reveals that a saving relationship with God is received only by faith in Christ and not by any works which we may do. We cannot keep the law perfectly and keeping it only occasionally will never earn us anything but wrath!

I am not a legalist. Once God has caused us to be born again by the regenerating power of His Spirit and we have repented of our sins and trusted Christ for salvation, we do not keep that salvation by obeying God’s commands. Again, we continue to fail from time to time even after we are saved. Keeping us in a “saving” relationship with Christ is also the work of God. It is He who preserves us and our salvation to the end.

BUT, the Bible does teach that those who have been born again will keep God’s commandments. In other words, our desire has now changed and we long to be obedient, not because it earns or keeps our salvation but because we have been born again. Our new spiritual nature, received at our new birth, guides us to do good works and to obey the Word of God.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” said our Lord in John 14:15.

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” writes the Apostle John in 1 John 5:1-2. Evidence of one’s new birth is his love for God and his obedience to God’s commandments.

Throughout Scripture, God has called His children to set aside a day to remember Him. God wants us to join together with other brothers and sisters on that day and worship Him. According to the New Testament, the principal day for a church (brothers and sisters in Christ) to worship together is the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, our Sunday.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” the author of Hebrews records in 10:24-25. The Lord desires His children, His church, to meet together and not to neglect such meetings. In other words, He wants us worshiping Him with our church on the Lord’s Day.

But what are we teaching our children about our love of God, our love of our fellow believers, our love of our church, and our love of worship? Are we telling them and showing them that the worship of God with the church on the Lord’s Day is important and necessary?

A very noticeable trend has been developing over the past couple of decades. With their lips many believers are telling their children of the importance of worshiping God on the Lord’s Day with the church. But they are teaching them something entirely different with their lives. Essentially, their lives are saying, “Yes, worshiping God with our church family on Sunday is our #1 priority for the day UNLESS you have to participate in a sporting activity or attend some school activity or go fishing with someone, etc.”

Sports have probably been the most significant culprit in this trend. Parents and their children have elevated the importance of sports above the importance of God. Those individuals who have children presently engaged in sports are likely screaming “No” even as they read this. But face facts, folks. When you pull your child away from the worship of the Lord on Sunday morning to permit them to participate in a voluntary activity such as baseball, football, soccer, or any other sport, you are teaching them the sporting event is more important than the worship of God. If you did not believe so you would not let them participate in the activity.

Look at it from another angle. If you were to tell your child they are going to have to miss worship service in order to participate in a sporting event, almost without exception the child will NOT be disappointed (and you probably aren’t either). But tell that child they must miss the sporting event to participate in the worship of God and see who gets upset! Now tell me which is more important in their life, God or sports? The fact they become upset reveals which “god” they love the most. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

I can’t fault sports alone. In today’s culture, the school system seems to find new ways to pull families out of church on the Lord’s Day. “We have to be at Busch Stadium by 11:30 in order to prepare to play the National Anthem so we can’t make church today.” Why can’t they play the anthem any other day of the week? “We have such and such event out of town this Sunday so we will miss church.” Why is the event not held on Friday and Saturday only? Even some schools now have their graduation services on the Lord’s Day.

When we parents yield to the demands of athletic teams, school systems, and other organizations and allow our children to “skip” church in lieu of whatever the activity may be, we are teaching them this event is more important than the worship of God. In fact, we are telling them this event is our god.

Again, I am not a legalist. There are some professions which demand individuals work on Sunday mornings. Medical personnel are needed on the Lord’s Day. Businesses sometimes require operating on Sundays. I, myself, have had to work on the Lord’s Day and miss worship services on a few occasions over the years. Why, even families taking a vacation will miss Sunday worship from time to time. Missing the Lord’s Day worship is not necessarily wrong or evil. Sometimes it is unavoidable. This is not what I am talking about.

Parents, you have authority over your children. If you are permitting them to participate in activities which draw them away from their worship of God then you are, like it or not, teaching them that activity, no matter what it is, is more important than God. Period.

Those parents who are, in fact, engaged in such “education” are probably thinking they are stuck. They have a child who, for example, loves football. He plays for a football team in some local organization and some of their games are Sunday mornings. What can you do?

You can do plenty. You can teach your child the importance of being with their church on the Lord’s Day worshiping God by telling them they will not participate in any sporting event (or other activity) which requires them to “skip” the service. “But the team is counting on them.” Well, before the season begins, have a discussion with the coach and tell him your child will not play on Sundays. Tell your child this as well. Set the ground rules up front. We do not miss worshiping the Lord on Sunday mornings for sporting events. Find another league which does not schedule games on Sunday mornings. If enough Christians “stuck to their guns” on the issue of Sunday activities, the organizations would be more likely to eliminate those Sunday activities.

I am not a legalist. As a pastor, I do not keep a record of who is at church and who is away at some sporting event. Skipping worship services for sporting events or other activities does not cost you your salvation. But it is teaching your child a very dangerous lesson. Which “god” do you want your child to serve when they get older?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Congregational Church Government

Let me immediately say this post has nothing to do with "eldership" and church polity.  I realize the concept of "ruling elders" is very prevalent in Baptist circles these days but that discussion is for another day, at least on this forum. 

Baptists have practiced a congregational form of church government (congregational polity) for years.  They have done so based on their conviction this is the form of polity taught in the Scripture.  Both the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message promote congregational polity.

"This church is an autonomous body operating through democratic processes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  In such a congregation, members are equally responsible." (1963 BF&M)

"Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.  In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord." (2000 BF&M)

Congregational polity means each member of a given local church has both responsibility and accountability in the affairs of the church.  No one individual or group directs the affairs of the church.  Rather, each and every member, operating as a servant of Christ, has a voice in the working of the church.

Baptists, of course, do not receive everyone who comes to a church as a member.  Baptists teach that only regenerated (born again) and Scripturally baptized individuals may be members.  Therefore, the members of a local church are brothers and sisters in Christ, each a servant of our Lord, and each a possessor of the Holy Spirit.

So, if you are born again, baptized by immersion, and a member of a local church, you have the privilege, responsibility, and accountability to seek the Spirit and voice your say in the affairs of your church's government.  You have an equal vote with every other member in the congregation, including the deacons and the pastor.

Well, maybe not...

There are many churches which say they support this view of church government but they do not practice this form of church government.  Oh, most members get to vote on every issue that comes before the church; but not all.  If God has graciously saved you and you have been Scripturally baptized and have united with a local church BUT are a child or youth, you may be excluded from some votes arising before the church.  Why?  Because you are "too young" to understand the issue facing the church.  "You would simply vote as your parents instruct you to vote and we can't have that."

Now, I confess, there are issues which come before every church in which younger members probably have no clue what the issue is about or how they should vote.  But I also have seen adults struggle in understanding some of these same issues.  Yet, no one denies them their vote.

I have seen children and youth who have been saved for several years and have more spiritual wisdom than some adults who have been saved for decades.  Yet, they cannot vote due to their physical age.  I have seen adults, lost for many, many years, saved, baptized, and voting as a church member within a month of their salvation yet youth, saved for over 10 years, denied their privilege, responsibility, and accountability to vote. 

No, I say if we truly believe Scripture teaches congregational polity then let us practice congregational polity.  Let each MEMBER seek their Lord and the guidance of the indwelling Spirit when confronted with a church matter and then express their conclusion by voting in church business. 

Let us trust the Lord to speak to those true converts who do not understand a specific matter and instruct them not to vote on specific issues due to their lack of spiritual wisdom.  Let us teach parents to exercise their right and responsibility when it comes to their children, who are members, and to either give their children the information they need to make a wise decision OR to instruct their children not to vote on a specific matter. 

If we set church guidelines which prevent members who are children, youth, mentally challenged, or senile senior adults from having a say in the governing of the church then we no longer practice congregationalism.  Rather, we are teaching a form of church government that is less than congregational, more than elder led, but, most likely, not Biblical.