Catholic

Will Confessions Bring Unity?

Will Confessions Bring Unity?

In preparing to lead a man’s study this evening on reclaiming catholicity, I came across this paragraph from my former professor, John Frame:

There are those who think that the way to maintain unity in a church, denomination, or conference, is by having a written confession that specifies in detail what everybody must agree on. I do believe in creeds, and I treasure the great creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the church. But a common written confession is not the key to unity. For one thing, no confession can cover everything. For another, even the best confessions must be applied to current circumstances, and that is not always easy to do. But the most important problem with confessions is this: A written confession is a fallible human document, however much biblical truth it may contain. Unlike God’s inspired Word, the Bible, any human confession may contain errors. So we dare not make the fellowship of our churches depend on agreement to everything in a confession. If you have a rule that people agree to everything in the confession, then you make it impossible to correct the confession in the light of God’s Word. That means the confession becomes equal to the Bible. I think it’s good to have a confession, so that people both inside and outside the church can get an idea of what the church is about. But we dare not make the confession infallible. Our written rule of faith must be, as Luther and Calvin so clearly put it, Scripture and Scripture alone.

Don Miller and the Institutional Church

Don Miller and the Institutional Church

The pastoral task has all the ingredients for abstractness. After all, we are constantly engaging dead people and throwing around foreign terms to most in the pew. In fact, many of the concerns I have heard over the years from parishioners of different traditions has been the concern that sermons and pastoral work do not reach the laity. Donald Miller manifested this sentiment in his now controversial blog post I don’t connect with God by singing. I connect with him elsewhere. The article received abundant criticism. Miller asserted elsewhere that he simply intended to start a conversation–and what a conversation he started. In another interview, Miller summarized his post:

And so I talked about the reality that I don’t get a lot out of church when I go. I don’t connect with God very well there, and I wondered if it wasn’t more of a learning style issue because it is a lecture format, and it’s not how everybody learns. a

Miller’s concern was not unique. Many have expressed this frustration with the intellectualization of worship. Rev. Jeff Meyers’ wonderful book “The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship answers Miller’s concern with clarity and with classic historical categories. Meyers argues that worship ought to have a wholistic vision prioritizing every detail as opposed to over-emphasizing merely the word preached.

Don Miller asserts that one of his struggles is that the worship service does not appeal to his style of learning. The worship service has as its emphasis a lecture model. Since Miller does not learn through lecture models, therefore Miller no longer finds appeal in the institutional church. b In his interview with The RELEVANT he asserts that he did not qualify things well in his blog post and that looking back he wished he would have not written it. But as the interview continued, Miller affirms the same sorts of things his critics condemned in the original blog post.

I actually believe Miller is on to something. The lecture model of doing church is not the one I advocate. In many ways, the Church–especially in the Reformed tradition, which naturally claims a more intellectual history–has become a magnified classroom with lengthy biblical expositions at its center. Whatever precedes the sermon is only pre-game information. And whatever comes after it is not as significant as the sermon either. But as Randy Booth rightly noted–quoting a portion of James Jordan’s work Theses on Worship– in his booklet A Guide to Worship, “the entire service is sermonic, not just the sermon.” c “The sermon itself,” he writes,” is very important, but it is not the all-important event. It is one important part of the many other important parts of worship.”

But if this is the case and any historical/liturgical tradition will attest, and since I am convinced Miller is aware of this historical precedent, then why not work to change this paradigm in the institutional church instead of generalizing it and bidding the historical ecclesiastical traditional adieu? With Miller’s book and lecture platform he could affect thousands of pastors who see worship as a lecture hall. That’s the reformer Don Miller the Church needs, not the one who throws away everything for a literal walk in the park on Sunday morning.

What is Miller trying to get rid of?

According to the author of best-seller, Blue Like Jazz, we have turned over the Acts church to the hands of professionals, known as the pastoral staff. Instead of doing that, we should simply hand out sheriff badges to everyone and say to them that they are all pastors. They are all in control. Sunday serves only to prepare these pastors–male and female–to go forth and be the church wherever they are. First Peter two does affirm our royal priesthood. We are all priests in the sense that we are no longer bound by bloody sacrifices. Christ’s redemption is accomplished, thus transforming us into agents of redemption in the world. However, what Miller fails to see is that Paul does not flatten the priesthood, he sees the priesthood operating differently in different spheres (I Tim. 3, Eph. 4:11-13). There is an office of priest (overseer) that is distinct from the general priesthood that we all inherit united to Messiah, Jesus.

Miller also wants to get rid of the institutional Church as center of community life.

I frequent a coffee shop weekly where one of the baristas is the leader of a church. When I asked him about the church, he told me that they meet at the same coffee shop on Sunday mornings to drink coffee and discuss the Bible. When I asked him to define a bit further what they do, he was quick to point to the flaws of the modern church. “We don’t need structure. We need to return to simplicity.” Since I have lectured on this topic before a few years ago, d. I can probably summarize this general view point as the “Romanticized Acts Church” movement. I am no opponent of coffee and Bible studies; in fact, I encourage them. But the idea that a return to the first century Church–as privately interpreted–is the solution to today’s ecclesiastical woes is overly caffeinated.

Why can’t I simply find community on my dinner table? or a pub? –because community life is complex. There is nothing wrong with finding community in these places, but they are all incomplete pictures of community life. They may be fine extensions of the community life, which the creeds refer to as “the communion of saints,” but to assert that that is a legitimate replacement for Word, Sacrament, and Discipline in the context of the gathered community is simplistic and dangerous. What then do we do with the adulterer? or the rich folks who are arriving at the Lord’s Supper and the agape meal and eating and drinking everything before the poor arrive? or the sexual abuse situations that are unfortunately prevalent in our churches? Miller has no answer. “I can maybe set up a board or something like that,” he said casually. But wouldn’t a board indicate some type of structure; the very same type you are attempting to eliminate?

Miller also says that he doesn’t find intimacy with God by singing songs to him.

As one deeply involved in ecclesiastical music, this concerns me. Miller is suffering from the psalmic-less nature of modern church music. What some of us treasure each Sunday through hymns and psalms of lament, imprecation, and overwhelming joy has been largely forgotten. The robustness of masculine voices and the beauty and nuance of female singing has become a forgotten history. All of it replaced by praise bands, and the few songs intended for congregational singing are quickly swallowed by the voluminous instrumentation.

If Miller is saying he simply does not like to sing, then he needs to re-adjust his biblical priorities. A quick search for the words “singing” and “music” will reveal their prevalence, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. Because I don’t like to do something does not mean I should simply replace or eliminate it from the life of the church.

How Miller finds intimacy with God.

The answer is another example of a faulty ability to differentiate. Miller writes:

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him.

I find his response a wonderful example of missing the point. We all find intimacy with God by working. We were created to work for six days, which means there is a great priority that God places on that. We all find hobbies and passions that fulfill us as men. We all agree with Eric Liddel’s wonderful attestation of the presence of God when he says in Chariots of Fire, “When I run I feel his pleasure.” When Miller works with his crew he feels God’s pleasure. But his intimacy ought to be the outworking of an intimacy that begins when by the Spirit we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).

Miller’s entire paradigm could be easily dealt with by reading an introduction to ecclesiology. e Don Miller is the product of modern individualism. And though he flees from that language with his post-modern categories, ultimately, he falls in his own trap. Miller believes that church is all around us. Yes, we go as church to the world. We carry the name of God. f But we go as church because we have already been fed by the head of the Church as we gathered as one body.

Conclusion

Miller’s platform is huge. His simple blog post, which he indicated took him about three minutes to write, led to a firestorm on the web. His attempt to start a conversation actually hinders us from having a more necessary conversation. The question should not be whether we worship in the traditional sense or simply find intimacy with God through other means, the question is “How has God called us to worship?” Further, whether you worship in a more lecture-style congregation or otherwise because of your learning style, what does your personal style of learning have to do with worship? What if God’s way of sanctifying you is by killing your learning style and causing you to appreciate God’s way of learning? What if the institutional church is God’s way of killing your wants so you may conform to his? What if attending church regularly is the way God intended to prepare you to understand intimacy?

I am not one to deny Miller’s connection with God via his work and habits, but I do reject his premise that abandoning the institutional church is the path to a deeper connection. The institutional church, I argue, is the deepest means of finding intimacy with God.

  1. Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/donald-miller-church#KDZHerDkw3EuWr6q.99  (back)
  2. If you do not have this book, please purchase Kevin DeYoung’s wonderful work found here: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Love-Church-Institutions-Organized/dp/0802458378  (back)
  3. see Covenant Media Foundation for copies  (back)
  4. My lecture at the Family Advance Conference in 2012; e-mail for a PDF copy  (back)
  5. Maybe R.B. Kuiper’s work “The Glorious Body of Christ  (back)
  6. This is the heart of the third commandment  (back)
Watch Out for the Dogmatic Dogs, Ladies!

Watch Out for the Dogmatic Dogs, Ladies!

Paul addresses his famous three “Lookouts” or “Bewares” in Philippians 3. The reference is likely to Judaizers; those who pollute the law of Yahweh and make the commandments of God unbearable and burdensome. But something else came to my attention as I thought about this text in light of my experiences in Reformedom. And that is that we have built a haven for dogmatic dogs. These dogs are well within the pale of orthodoxy. Their creedal credentials are not at stake. What is at stake is what they add to their creedal credentials.

Let me be honest. I love a good dose of postmillennial, paedo-life, psalmic, and predestinarian theology for breakfast…and lunch, and supper. So I am not discouraging the pursuit and passionate embrace of these doctrines. At the same time, there are some who wear these as fervently as St. Nick’s commitment to the deity of Christ witnessed by many when he slapped a heretic over it. These dogmatic dogs would receive the same rebuke from Paul today. In those days, they would have been wearing their Apollos t-shirts to the marketplace. And here is where things get messy: they truly believe they have a high calling to be apologists for the kingdom of God–that really small faction that intends to take over the world one blog post at a time.

Ladies, watch out!

I love the idea and the application of courtships in my congregation and elsewhere. But what needs to be included in this courtship process is not just whether a young man loves Jesus or contemplates deeply the mysteries of God, but whether this young man contemplates unity as the foundation for loving Jesus and understanding the mysteries of God.

Dogmatic Dogs don’t want unity. They perpetuate the myth that unity is for ecumenical liberals. Their strong and rhetorical vision for a united Christendom involves dogs that bark just like them. Ladies, look out! These are the types of men who will go from job to job, and if they are pursuing pastoral ministry they will go from church to church.

If you are a young lady contemplating sacred marriage and a young man has asked your father permission to court you and get to know you, here are some questions to ponder:

First, what is his on-line track record? Is he known as a contentious dog barking everywhere only to get the world to see his point of view?

Second, is he so dogmatic that his parents–who happen to be on opposite ends theologically–cannot bear to hear the words “theology” or “God” for fear of the conversation that will ensue?

Third, does he have friends from different theological traditions? If not, press him on why not?

Fourth, does he only read 16th century authors? Does he think contemporary theological writing is corrupt?

Fifth, is he able to teach you the Bible without making you feel like a theological infant?

Sixth, has he ever read a story? Tolkien, Lewis, McDonald, Rowling? Or are Systematic Theologies his favorite past time?

Seventh, can he engage in any other type of conversation outside theology? I know, I know, all of life is theological, but you get my point.

Eighth, does he consider human emotions a sign of weakness?

Ninth, does he honor and submit to his pastor when he receives counsel? Or does he always think he has a better way?

Finally, how does he worship? Does he treasure gathering with the saints? Does he treasure singing, feasting, loving, submitting, serving, and sacrificing for the saints?

Ladies, watch out for the dogmatic dogs! There is always the possibility they will see the errors of their own ways and change when they get married, but don’t count on it. Pray that they are able to show you a gentle dogmatism that translates to love, patience, and mercy to fellow brothers and sisters before marriage. Pray that they will repent of their vicious dogmatism and re-orient their words and actions to benefit the body and the unity of the saints. If we treasure our Christian faith, we may have at times failed to answer these questions rightly at one time or another, but the real question is whether we have learned to make our dogma attractive, rather than repulsive.

 

The Benefits of Lectionary Preaching

When I arrived at my local congregation in Pensacola we were using the Revised Common Lectionary. The RCL is a fine Lectionary and provides a wonderful tour of the Scriptures in a three year cycle. But as time went on I realized that the RCL was fond of omitting controversial texts in its cycles. Through the influence of man like Jeffrey Meyers and Jim Jordan I came to realize that there was an alternative Lectionary, namely, the Lutheran Missouri Synod Lectionary (LCMS) who not only dealt with the difficult passages, but also honored Reformation Sunday. We quickly switched to LCMS a few years ago and haven’t looked back.

N.T. Wright also noticed this trend in his own tradition when he wrote the following:

“Whenever you see, in an official lectionary, the command to omit two or three verses, you can normally be sure that they contain words of judgment. Unless, of course, they are about sex.”

Anyone who has been sitting under Lectionary preaching is often more aware of the flow of the Biblical text since the sermons/homilies cover more territory in a year (on a typical year I will give my parishioners an overview of at least 10-15 books of the Bible. This has been my experience. On the other hand, Sunday School lessons can cover a more long term expository-based look into the Scriptures. Our former Sunday School teacher, James Jordan, spent over 30 Sundays on the “Exodus” themes in the Bible. Naturally, preachers are not bound to the Lectionary Lessons (especially during the Pentecost/Trinity Season). Certain times of the year may demand a more personalized sermons to address particular needs or concerns in the congregation.

As for the Lectionary, when it is not hindered by theological fears, it can serve as a remarkable immersion and re-immersion into the Scriptures every three years. It is incumbent upon pastors as they invest on these texts to provide a clear and fresh perspective on these narratives. Repetition is good. And the constant working through the broadness of the Gospel story can be a fruitful liturgical work.

Pastors too benefit greatly from it. As I navigate through the high church year (Advent-Easter) it is always encouraging to detail and consider these marvelous gospel texts that shape our faith and even our own lives.

Christ is risen!

Dave Hunt Dies

dave-hunt-woman-rides-the-beast-catholic-church-vaticanI had the opportunity to meet Dave Hunt on a couple of occasions. I sat attentively in one of his talks where he opposed Calvinism. If my memory serves me right, he said something like this:

I was amazed at what I discovered when I deeply researched Roman Catholicism. I came to the conclusion that it is not a Christian Church. I could not believe how much falsehood they affirmed. But I was even more deeply amazed when I began researching Calvinism. It is a web a lies. It causes people to trust in the philosophies of men rather than in the Word of God.

In those days I had been reading through Norman Geisler’s Chosen, but Free. I thought it was a good response to the Calvinist claims. I even taught a Sunday School class in a Baptist Church following that paradigm. I now see Geisler’s treatise as the blending of a schizophrenic philosophy with a high dose of mis-characterized Calvinism.

A few years later Dave Hunt came to town (Tampa Bay) to lecture on this supposed highly problematic doctrine. This was before the publishing of What Love is This? Even then, I had already imbibed of a good dose of Tulip Theology thanks to Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. Hunt’s lecture was filled with silly analogies, and my zealous Calvinism saw it for what it was.

Years earlier I had read some of Hunt’s prophetic literature and found it compelling, especially when he combined the false teachings of cults with the coming anti-Christ. He portrayed the world and its future in such dark categories that it was easy to adopt a pessimistic eschatology. In his latter years, Hunt continued his eschatology talks, but focused his attention on his crusade against Calvinism, or as one endorsement referred to it as the “abuses of Calvinism.”His talks and radio show, and the endorsement of almost the entirety of the well-known Calvary Chapel movement made him an anti-Calvinist rock star.

The reason for this short piece is that Dave Hunt died yesterday. It is common courtesy to extend sympathy to memory of those who have died in Christ. I especially wish peace on his wife Ruth and other family members. Hunt offered some very helpful apologetic material early on. He lived a fruitful professional life. Unfortunately to those of us in the Reformed community, Hunt offered some very unwise counsel. His dispensational prophetic interests created–in my estimation–a distorted expectation in the Christian Church. Many have bought into a misguided eschatology and have as a result offered a poor apologetic for the role of the Church in the culture, and the clear biblical vision of bringing all things in submission to King Jesus.

So as one more important piece of dispensational history departs to the presence of our blessed Lord–and Dave Hunt, in my limited knowledge of him loved His Lord Jesus Christ–let us move history into better theological pastures. Let’s raise a generation of optimistic thinkers who battle cults, but then offer a strong apologetic–a Trinitarian one–to fight it. And as we do so, let us not use our cult apologetic to justify or validate our doomsday theology.

And on the Calvinism front, may God raise gentle Calvinists who will argue for grace from the foundation of grace. When we do so, let us also represent our Arminian brothers with utmost respect.

Rest in Peace, David Hunt.

In Defiance of God: Inhaling the Poisonous Gas

This morning a group of us from Micah 6:8 joined to read Scriptures and pray at the only abortion clinic in Pensacola. It was a short time of reading and prayer. As the cold weather froze our bodies we realized that we were witnessing young women entering what I would assume was a pleasantly heated building. As they entered they were most likely treated kindly. As they waited they were most likely reflecting on the freedoms they would enjoy with this thing called “a human being” out of the way. Perhaps they were struggling with their decision. Perhaps they were forced into this concentration camp. And like a concentration camp they were led to a place that they thought was a refreshing shower, but instead turned out to be poisonous gas. As a “doctor” performed his surgery, the patient was slowly being seduced by the gas of death. “The right-winger and evangelicals can’t be right about this. They just want to take away our ability to choose over our bodies,” they rationalize. “My boyfriend will leave me if I decide to keep this child.” Whatever reasons they choose, and however detailed they may be, the telos is still the same: a living, breathing, God-formed human being was being obliterated without a chance.

I was struck while listening to the reading of Psalm 10 that  “in secret places he doth slay the innocent.” How appropriate to our situation. This building is well-hidden to those who pass by. The Psalter says also that “they lie in wait to catch the poor.” Those in poverty are those who have relinquished their roles as mothers. In this case, the one in poverty of heart comes willingly to the trap set before them.

When that woman raised her fist at a pro-life activist this morning she was in defiance of God. “Those who defy verbally still have a chance,” opined the experienced activist near us. They are actually fighting with their decision was the implication. The ones who walk in quietly inhaling their first cigarette of the morning is set on their duty. Just as they puffed away on the cigarette, they were about to experience that unborn child puffed away from planet earth.

There is much work to do. I don’t do enough. I don’t pray enough. There is so much I can learn from those who have given their lives to declaring the message of life. To them I am grateful. John tells us that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. In this clinic, it is in the darkness of the early morning that evil operates. As these ex-moms recover from their surgery, their consciences will never recover. May they never recover until God grants them repentance and their hearts find rest in the God of life.

Colbert’s Faith

Kimberly Winston offers a fine summary of Colbert’s Catholic Faith.

Anglicans, Catholics, and Feminists

Maureen Dowd’s Opinion piece in the New York Times is a plea for Catholic liberalism. She thinks that if the Roman Church were only more open to ordaining women then everything would fall into place. She wants to protect the nuns, which are a dwindling group in the catholic community. She argues that the Catholic Church has betrayed nuns and if something does not change immediately they will become extinct (the average age of a Catholic nun is 70). Nuns are, according to one writer, “the rare jewels of the Church.” Dowd argues that if nuns became feminist nuns, then pedophilia would not have happened. Liberal policies are always the answer to these pseudo-religious-journalists.

Dowd condemns Pope Benedict’s strictness when it comes to Catholic tradition, and she berates the Church’s acceptance of disgruntled Anglicans coming to Catholicism. In Dowd’s perception these Anglicans will only accentuate that rabid conservatism in the Church, and thus causing her liberal allies to “dwindle in number.”Anglicans are coming in mass to Rome in search of a tradition that will not waver on their commitment to ordaining only men to the priesthood. Anglicans are also fleeing the growing pressure to ordain homosexuals. Rome seems to be the safest haven for these refugees.

There are simpler answers to these questions. Anglicans could abandon their mainline gospel-denying traditions and come back to Geneva. We, Calvinists, will accept them with open arms! Rome can end once and for all the imprisonment of men in the priesthood. She can allow them to embrace their calling as married man. This is the first answer to the pedophilia travesty.

Catholics and Abortion

The debate over whether Catholic priests should give the elements to politicians who openly advocate the murder of the unborn reminds me of the German Catholic priests who willing stood by Hitler’s side in the 1940’s. The latest episode of this despicable debate concerns the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Pelosi’s open defense of Roe V. Wade has some in the Catholic Church wondering what will Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Denver do? Will he refuse to give her the cup as she comes up? Or will he follow canon 915, which prohibits the giving of the sacraments to unrepentant sinners? As Pope Benedict XVI, said without ambiguity:

“The minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” when warning and counsel given to the manifest sinner “have not had their effect.”

In her insightful article Barbara Kralis rebukes the archbishop of Denver for refusing to follow canon 915. She poses the following scenario:

Let’s ask this question of the Archbishop – if you were distributing Holy Communion and in front of you stood a known serial killer with a severed bloody head in one hand and a bloody machete in the other hand, would you give him the Eucharist?  And after you denied the serial killer you next had standing before you the known pro-abortion politician Nancy Pelosi.  Would you also deny her?  Murder is murder, isn’t it Archbishop?

Instead of using this situation as “a momentous teaching moment,” the archbishop is once again bowing before the politics of fear.

Pope Urges End to Wars…

Pope Benedict XVI issued a Christmas Day appeal Tuesday to political leaders around the globe to find the “wisdom and courage” to end bloody conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo.