Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Practical or Biblical? Not Always the Same

By: Adam McClendon

We live in a church world were pragmatism sometimes trumps biblical instruction.  This doesn’t seem to be done intentionally but ignorantly as we sometime adopt good values that drive us away from biblical values.

Usually, this drift comes from a pragmatic approach to ministry.  In other words, from asking questions like, “What’s working?  What’s not working?  How can we do it better?”  Those questions are excellent and can greatly enhance the level of ministry a church does; however, unfiltered, those questions can cut the rope of biblical fidelity and send a church slowly drifting down a dangerous current.

Many church leaders have not had the privilege of studying the Bible formally in a Bible College or Seminary; nevertheless, every believer is fully equipped by the Spirit of God for studying the Word of God.  Church leaders specifically have a responsibility in ensuring that the practices of the church are in keeping with the instructions of the Word.

Thus, the purpose of this post is not to cause us to shy away from leveraging culture, implementing change, utilizing technology, or seeking to do ministry in more effective ways (the Lord knows that the church should probably be doing a lot more of all of these); rather, the hope is that this post will cause us to remember that at the end, the church must evaluate its values and practices based on the Scriptures.

So, what are some examples of “drifting” in pragmatism?

Church growth at the expense of church health.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a big church.  A whole lot of people were saved at Pentecost and the church was exploding in many ways throughout Acts; however, we must not neglect the purity of the church in the midst of growth.  Church discipline is important.  I was in a conversation with a pastor one time about church discipline and he said, “You can’t do that.  If you do it, you’ll lose people.”  My response was that not only “can we,” but “we must!”

Leadership structures grounded in tradition.  Who makes the decisions?  Who determines church discipline, health, growth, strategies?  Who is leading our churches?  Notice, the question isn’t who’s preaching, but who’s leading.  Today, some churches are led by church councils made up of lay people, others pastors, elders, or deacons.  I once served in a church lead by a council of lay people.  The sad thing was that they were not held to any biblical qualification for serving and many were unqualified.  They were “good” people.  They were “leaders.”  The system “worked,” but it was unbiblical.  While those reading this may be of various persuasions, I believe the biblical structure is elder-led.  If you disagree, that’s fine.  Just be sure that you are reasoning from the Scriptures and not from tradition.

Good music that just isn’t sound.  Some songs are more catchy than others.  Some songs just get us “in the Spirit” so to speak.  And, what is the role of the musicians at our churches?  Whether we admit it or not, it is usually to entertain.  Oh, we would never say that, but we will leave and say, “Oh, wasn’t that good this morning.”  We usually mean, “I liked the style of music they played and it made me feel good, sounded good, and stirred my emotions.”  It’s all about our preferences.  Nothing is necessarily wrong with being more responsive to certain styles or songs, but what about content?  An assumption is often made that musicians did their job in preparing a biblically sound service.  Some do, but some don’t.  While we all want “good” music, we must insist that it is biblically accurate in its words and ultimately evaluate our music based on its content.

Good communication at the expense of substance.  Preaching should be Bible-centered and Christ-centered, yet rarely do people leave evaluating the accuracy of the message.  After all, the pastor is the “paid sage on the stage.”  We have paid our “membership dues” and he had better get us ready for our week.  Think about it.  We have a battle to fight week in and week out, so he should stir us and give us the confidence we need to be successful.  He should “feed” us.  I once heard someone tell a pastor that they have it hard enough during the week and that the pastor is too heavy and convicting.  He was told that he should tell more jokes, because people need to feel good when they come to church.  (Yes, I heard this conversation!  Crazy!)  Well, unfortunately, too many of us are bloated, self-indulgent, spiritual gluttons who need more conviction and more living.  We are like the Dead Sea with lots coming in and nothing going out.  We dare not seek a rock-star, entertainer pastor, nor evaluate the pastor on the basis of one.  We must seek to be sensitive to the right teaching of the Word and insist that it be grounded in the truths of God’s Word rightly interpreted and presented while upholding the majesty of Jesus the Christ.

So, are our churches drifting?  If so, we must quickly seek to tether them to the clear teachings of God’s word.  If not, we need to occasionally check the rope for frays or loosening knots.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Man in the Tree:

By: Adam McClendon

This post will be a bit different.  It’s actually a poem about how we allow fear to drive our lives versus walking in God’s grace.  Enjoy, and may you walk in grace without fear today.

The Man in the Tree

There once was a man, who lived in a tree
He was chased up there, by a fat bumblebee
Afraid of the stinger, he clung on real tight
And after a while, the day turned to night
Late in the night the scared man fell asleep
Away from the bee, who was out of his keep
During the night, he dreamed a big dream
Of a bee and a stinger, which looked really mean

When he awoke, he was shaking with fear
While high in the tree, he sat and he peered
Looking intently for that big bee
Which he declared, “will never get me!”

He sat and he sat for so long he forgot
Why he ever climbed up in that spot
All he knew was his deep rooted fear
And that was enough for a whole year
A year to the day he stayed in that tree
All because of this small bumblebee
When we live in the fear that life brings
It causes us to do the craziest things

Fear has a way of turning small into big
Shrinking the brain to a shriveled up fig
But even the biggest of things that we face
Will shrink to small size in light of God’s grace


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"...do the work of an evangelist..."

By: Dr. Monte Shanks. 
Dr. Shanks is a professor with Liberty Seminary online.

This verse makes more sense to me now, after 30 years of ministry involvement, than it ever has.  In order to explain why, a brief but true story is necessary for providing some context.  My father came to faith in Christ in a single day after being a committed atheist his entire adult life.  It started when his third wife woke him up one Sunday morning and told him that he was going to church.  His first question was “What are you talking about?”  Her reason was that it was Easter.  Next question, “But why!?”  He was then informed that they were going to church because my step siblings regularly went to church and that they should go with them at least once, and Easter was as good a day as any.  “Church? What church?!”  It was at that point that he learned that they went to a church that had a bus ministry, and since a bus drove by their house they were able to go to church.  The salient point is that they weren’t going to church because my dad was concerned for their spiritual development.  So dad dutifully got up, got dressed, and then went out to his car where he and his third wife sat until the bus came and picked up their kids.  He didn’t even know where the church was so he had to follow the bus.  Upon arrival he walked into the church and (as he puts it) became immediately aware that “there really is a God.”  After listening to the music and the announcements the pastor began his sermon.  Within 20 minutes my dad knew in no uncertain terms that there was a literal Hell for which he was most assuredly destined.  He has often told me that he actually feared having a heart attack before the sermon ended, thereby sealing his fate.  Fortunately he “survived” until the end of the sermon and at its closing the pastor invited all who desired to receive Christ to come forward.  So, as soon as the hymn of invitation began my dad was down the aisle.  He was “gloriously saved” that very day, and ever since then he has been a changed man. My friends, that certainly was the result of the work of evangelism, but really when you think about it, it wasn’t hard work.  Picking ripe fruit is never as strenuous as chiseling dry dense soil and planting seed during times of drought.   

In the late 60s and early 70s (which is when my dad came to Christ) a lot ministries were busy picking ripe fruit. It is pretty interesting to listen to Christians talk about that period of revival because many have the impression that they “achieved” that great harvest because “they were doing it the right way.”  Whenever I hear that I have to bite my tongue, and I have heard it a lot all over the country.  An interesting fact about that period is that the Spirit moved in the hearts of many people through many different ministries irrespective of their denomination and theology.  Baptist churches saw many come to faith in Christ (both independent and denominational), as did many other churches, such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, and Non-denominational (both charismatic and non charismatic); and lest we forget, many para-church ministries also enjoyed that period of great harvest.  The truth about moments such as these is that when the Spirit moves in such a manner He loves being sloppy with his grace.  As the old saying goes, “when it rains it pours.”

Well, the bottom line for this blog is this, we are no longer in a season in which the labor predominantly involves picking up ripe fruit.  Today, the work seems hard, harder than it has ever been during my lifetime.  We now appear to be called to fields that are dry and hard, and as a result there seems to be fewer and fewer people that are interested in participating in the work of evangelism.  Consequently, we need more workers, not better methods. 

Moreover, I am struck by the fact that the Spirit didn’t guide Paul to write “collect the fruit of the Spirit,” or “inform the elect of their calling,” or “get them to cry, come forward, and fill out a card,” or tell them “they can have their best life now.”  No, Paul didn’t emphasize the audience or the end result, he emphasized the work.  He called us to labor, not to manipulation.  And what exactly is that labor?  It is the constant and clear articulation of the gospel, which is “that there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved!”  It is regularly calling people to “repent and be saved from this wicked and perverse generation!” It’s not being “ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes!”  And lastly, it’s offering the gospel to anyone and everyone simply because “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved!”

Generally speaking, the work of an evangelist requires significant personal effort, spiritual sweat if you will.  This labor is not about slick entertainment, or ensuring that your audience is comfortable, or about self adulation.  It requires faithful workers committed to “laboring” in dry and dusty fields if for no other reason than they share their Master’s passion.  So, if you value “tolerance,” “sensitivity,” and “teachable moments,” then it is not likely that during these days you will be inundated with opportunities to “do the work of an evangelist.”  Nevertheless, one irreducible fact still remains: the more we communicate the gospel—in season and out—the more people will make decisions for Christ. Or as Paul put it, “How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?”


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sex before Marriage: But...I Really Love Him

By: Adam McClendon

Recently, I was part of a Q&A for an on-campus college ministry.  One of the questions submitted was:

Is sex before marriage wrong even if you love the person and know you are going to marry them?  If so, where in the Bible does it say that?

I love the heart of that question.  If we hold to a moral principle as people of the Bible, then we should base that moral principle upon the teaching of the Bible. 

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teenager, college student or whatever, this question is not going away.  Professing Christians need to base their convictions and responses to serious questions on the teachings of the Bible and not their traditions or personal value systems. 

So, my answer?  Yes, sex before marriage is wrong.  Where does the Bible teach that?

Well, here’s a basic outline of my response.  (Evidence is prioritized in order of increasing strength.)

1.   God presents his plan for marriage in positive terms, implying throughout Scripture that sex is to be expressed within the confines of a one man / one woman covenant relationship.

2.   The term “sexual immorality” (Gal 5:19; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:3; Heb 13:4; etc.) includes sex outside of marriage.

3.   The “one flesh” passages present sex as an act of covenant in marriage.  From the very beginning, sex is presented in this way (Gen 2:24), and this principle is referenced repeated in the Bible (Matt 19:5-6; Mark 10:7-9; Eph 5:31).  Sex in this way also becomes a partial picture of the gospel (Song of Solomon) and the mysterious union of our becoming one with Christ (Eph 5:30-32).  Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 6:16 clarifies that “one flesh” is what happens during sex and that believers are to avoid “sexual immorality” and seek to glorify God with their bodies.

4.   But, the clearest and most compelling passage is 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, 36-38.  The passage talks a lot about sex.  Is it okay to be celibate (v. 1)?  Yes, Paul replies; however, to avoid “sexual immorality” each person should have their own spouse (notice he mentions the opposite gender implying that biblically-defined marriage is between opposite genders) for sexual pleasure, and each spouse should use their bodies to please the other (vv. 2-5).  Throughout the passage, the point is made that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but within marriage appropriate.  Paul even addresses engaged couples near the end of the chapter (v. 36-38).  His point is that if someone can’t control their desire for sex, then they should marry to keep from “sin” (v. 36).

All too often our teenagers leave for college and “fall away” from the faith, because they find the logic of their parents flawed and instead see what they believe to be amazing freedom in the “wisdom” of their peers and professors.  Let us be clear that these values are not our own, but God’s.  Let us help our children, students, family members, and friends think through the Bible, rightly dividing the Word, so that they are choosing between God and the world, not old-fogeys caught in a lost decade and sophisticated, progressive society.