31 May 2013

The duty to "Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from blog back in February 2012. Phil draws out some of the implications and proper applications of 2 Timothy 4:2.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Paul's instructions to Timothy (in 2 Timothy 4) include these imperatives: "reprove, rebuke . . . exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2)...I am frankly amazed and appalled at how many pastors today deliberately shirk this duty. "It's not for me to criticize what other people are teaching. I just want to be always positive, and we'll let truth and error sort themselves out." But if you try to do that, you are not fulfilling the responsibility Paul positively assigns to every faithful minister, both here, and in Titus 1:9, where he emphatically makes this same duty the responsibility of every elder in the church: "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

Titus 1:13 says some people need to be rebuked "sharply, [so] that they may be sound in the faith." In fact, when Paul gives this same charge to Titus, he words it as strongly as possible: "Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you."

That jars every postmodern sensibility, doesn't it? But it is a crucial aspect of the pastoral calling. No one is a faithful shepherd who refuses to deal decisively with dangers that threaten the flock.


Lest anyone think this is a prescription for angry-sounding hyper-fundamentalists, notice that there's an important qualification attached to this command: "exhort, with complete patience and teaching." The verb (exhort) is parakaleo; the same word translated "preaching" in the King James Version of 1 Timothy 4:13. It's a sweet word, closely related to parakletos, the name Jesus used to speak of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. It's used 29 times in the New Testament, and the first time it appears is in reference to Jesus, in Luke 2:25, where Christ is referred to as "the consolation [parakaleo], of Israel."


Preaching is not a cudgel with which to beat the sheep. So it must always be done "with complete patience and teaching." That echoes what Paul said two chapters earlier, 2 Timothy 2:25: "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."

Paul is calling for every possible demonstration of patience, kindness, magnanimity, and longsuffering. People will not be won to the truth by relentless scolding. If your rebukes and corrections are flavored with exasperation rather than true concern for the flock; if you deal out reproach after reproach and upbraiding after upbraiding without a true spirit of gentleness, you're not being a true shepherd.

However: in these postmodern times, it is commonly thought that "gentleness" excludes every kind of rebuke or correction—especially the sharp rebuke. But it's clear that Paul saw no necessary contradiction between gentleness and firm rebuke. That has to be our perspective as well, or we will never be up to the simple yet far-reaching task Paul lays on our shoulders here.

30 May 2013

Verse by verse exposition is the only way to go... er, right?

by Dan Phillips

Like most of you, probably, I primarily preach in a verse by verse expository style. The reasons for going this way are well-known. Primary among them to my mind is simply that this is the best way not to end up camping out on one's own favorite hobby horses, to mix a metaphor. If I preach the Bible expositionally, I'm likelier to hit the things important to God, and not just lounge around those most congenial to me (or my hearers).

I've experienced this many, many times, and I daresay others would say the same. A number of the sermons in Titus hit issues in ways I wouldn't have, or would not have even thought to do. But the verses went there, and so I followed. Preaching through books will do that for you.

But here's something we need to consider, to give our approach Biblical balance. I'll put it as a question: what prophetic or apostolic address, in the Bible, is a strictly verse by verse exposition in the style we use today?

The most honest answer is that you can't exactly find one. There are many expositions of Scriptures. One could make the case that the entire book of Hebrews is an exposition of Psalm 110, for instance, though Apollos spends good time elsewhere as well (chaps 3, 8, etc.). And then Nehemiah 8:1-8 probably tells us that there was such teaching, though it isn't detailed or recorded.

My point is not in any way to deride expository preaching. However, I would deride those who deride any other approach as being somehow sub-Biblical.

To make my point, look at the bulk of recorded apostolic and prophetic sermons and addresses recorded in Scripture. How would you be forced to classify them?


By this I mean, the preachers take a topic, and they bring some or many strands of Biblical passages to bear on that topic. They are preaching what God says about that topic, and demonstrating it by appeal to Scriptures. Look at the sermons in Acts 2, 14, or 17; look just about anywhere to any public address.

The first series I did at CBC was topical, titled Thinking Biblically. I used it to survey the grand doctrines of Scripture, using our statement of faith as a general outline. Knowing that this flock was accustomed to expository preaching, to anticipate any misunderstandings, my first sermon was devoted to that very, ahem, topic: why Biblical topical preaching is both possible and profitable. I demonstrated all this from Biblical texts. In short, it is possible because the Bible is the Word of God. It is one person speaking, behind the multitude of human authors. That is why it is possible to synthesize Scripture and say "God says ____."

Also in short, it is profitable, evidently, because just about every preacher in Scripture does it.

Now of course, topical sermon has a bad taste in many mouths because it is liable to abuse. My short response would be, What isn't? But I don't need convincing on this topic. One preacher I heard at length would seldom get into real exposition of Scriptures. But he was going to preach on what happens with us after we die. "At last," I thought, "a topic on which we have absolutely no experience, no anecdotes. He's going to have to get into the text!"


What we got instead was "We know" and "We hope" and "We as Christians believe" -- without one serious engagement with the texts that tell us what we know, hope, and believe. Astonishing.

Yet it is both useful and Biblical to expound what the Bible teaches on various doctrinal and ethical, practical and theological matters. We must be careful at all points to be expounding Scripture, to do all we can to ensure that our folks go away able to say "The Bible teaches," and not merely "Pastor X said." But we can do it, and we should do it.

After all, it's Biblical.

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29 May 2013

He Saw and Heard It

by Frank Turk

This is week 4 of 4 talking about the word "muthos" in reference to the charge or complaint that the pre-enlightenment world did not use the same kind of epistemological categories we use today in describing events. In that, it is a false view of things to say that they used "myth" to convey "real" things without conveying "true" or "historical" things – especially in the context of the Gospel message spelled out by Peter and Paul.

There are three passages left to consider in that thesis. Let's begin these with 2Tim 4:
1I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
In this exhortation to Timothy, Paul continues what he has already begun in the previous letter: he tells Timothy that it is important that he preach the word -- but he tells him that for a specific reason, and thereby limits what he might mean by saying, generically, "preach the word".  Paul here, as he did previously, makes a strict distinction between "the word" or "truth" and "not sound teaching" or "myth". He says that what Timothy is charged to do is to provide the truth in spite of people "turning away from listening to the truth" who instead "wander off into myths".

Paul is not here instructing Timothy, "you have the spirit, and therefore you have some liberty to update the story to communicate to the felt needs of your audience." He is telling him that there is a specific message, with specific claims, which has the ability and the authority to correct false teachings. There are plainly epistemological distinctions necessary in teaching "the word" – that is, there is a difference between "true" and "false" which is part of the preaching that comes through Paul.

This view of truth is reiterate by Paul to Titus:
Titus 1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-- 6if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." 13This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
You probably could not ask for stronger language from Paul on this matter. On the one hand, Titus is sent to Crete in order to set things right and appoint men to authority who "must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught".

Let's consider that a second. Here Paul is not advocating that he trained Titus to have a liberty with the teaching so as to frame it according to some contemporary trouble or circumstance: he is telling Titus "I sent you to Crete in order to make teachers who will hold to the trustworthy word as taught." That means that Titus has been taught something which was itself "held to" – Paul was steadfast or saying the course to give it to him. It means that the word itself is "trustworthy" or "reliable" and not subject to interpolations or randy reinterpretations. The word, it can be said, is not the a result of what these men would like it to say: it is itself the source of what they ought to be teaching.

And the opposite – the results Titus must strive against – is that there are some who will not do this but instead are "unfit for any good work". They "deny [God] by their works". And what do they teach? "Jewish myths" – stories or claims which are of no part of the Gospel. And let me be clear: being Jewish is not what is at issue here because, plainly, Paul was a Jew. What is at issue is that there are teachings from the Jewish beliefs of the time which are contrary to the Gospel inherent in Jesus Christ.

Paul was not an anti-semite, and neither am I: the question at-hand is whether Paul was willing or able to say that the Gospel has a truth value which is not merely "real" in some literary or metaphysical way, but that the Gospel consists of true things which are juxtaposed against false things – things with no good use and only harmful use.

But this distinction is not limited to Paul. Peter also makes this distinction:
2Pet 1:12Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Really, this passage needs no exposition at all. Peter says, first, that the reason for preaching and teaching is to establish the truth. Why should he do so? So that when he is gone [dead], there will be something left to recall Christ's teaching and work. To underscore that, Peter says that he wasn't providing a "cleverly-devised myth" in telling these people about Jesus: he saw and heard it with is own eyes and ears. So when Peter is talking about "truth" here, he is specifically talking about the truth of historical events. And what is even more astounding is that it is not just eyewitness accounts that he holds in this kind of esteem, but also the prophetic word of God. That knowledge – those words, those promises – are even more certain that the tale of eyewitnesses.

So what can we make of the claim that the NT was written to be "real" as opposed to "true"? Should we ask whether this kind of vaguery is supported by the admonitions of the writers themselves. Given that those writers themselves make the distinctions between true and false, historic and fictional, and hold to a difference between "steadfast words" and "myths which lead away from sound doctrine", it is hard to establish the view that they do not have firm epistemological categories by which they view the world.

Now, here's the thing: if these categories do, in fact, exist in the NT, why would we want other categories to describe the truth claims of Scripture?  I think the answer is obvious: we want to find a way to dismiss the truth claims of some of Scripture -- to find a way to overlook or ignore some of the claims in order to avoid being held responsible for those claims as we proclaim and announce (and defend) our faith.  Let's be honest: that simply will not do.  Trying to find inventive ways to dismiss Scripture is simply a lack of confidence in its sufficiency to teach us what is necessary for our faith -- even, and especially, when we find ourselves at odds against the culture and other religious claims.

28 May 2013

First book down; what next?

by Dan Phillips

Last Sunday I preached the thirty-first and final sermon on Paul's letter to Titus. That's the first book I've preached through in Copperfield Bible Church's Sunday services.

When I started the series, I was surprised not to be able to find many in-depth preaching series online. Oddly, the longest was (as I recall) that by A. W. Tozer (mine is now longer). What I heard was idiosyncratic and helpful. One line in particularly struck me, and I used it: "When Paul couldn't go, he sent Titus; when he couldn't stay, he left Titus."

Also, I found that I didn't like any of the book's outlines that I found. Most seemed very perfunctory, and not very thoughtful. They missed the point of the book, and the flow of Paul's thought. It forced me to sweat out an outline which I thought did better justice to what Paul was saying, and that in turn helped my preaching immensely.

The series easily could have been twice as long, if I'd taken more of what is called a "categorical" approach. This method expounds verses in sequence, but also takes them as opportunities to expand on the doctrine mentioned or assumed in the verse. I think there's value to such an approach, and my sermons are sometimes hybrids in that direction. For instance, when Paul called himself a "slave" and an "apostle," I expanded on what each term meant. When Paul used words like "faith" and "elect," I expanded on them as well; and so forth.

But I could have done that to a much greater degree, and headed towards that land inhabited by men such as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who would preach an entire sermon (or two!) on a single word in a verse.

My design however was both to expound the words in the verses, and expound the verses in the book. I meant never to lose sight of the immediate nor larger (book) context.

That is a down-side of verse by verse exposition. Hearers can end up having heard episodic preaching on individual trees, with no feel of the forest. I'm old enough to remember when TV was virtually always that way. There was no larger "arc." Each week, Dick van Dyke and his TV family had some other whacky adventure. They were amusing, and they went nowhere.

For my part, I like the reputed approach of the old country preacher: "First, I tell them what I'm gonna tell them; then, I tell them; then, I tell them what I told them."

So the first sermon in the series was an introduction to and overview of the entire book. The last sermon was a single sermon, preached with only skeletal notes, on the entire book, incorporating highlights and keeping the flow and Paul's burden in writing.

I absolutely loved it. Titus is an amazingly contemporary book. It is a potent tour-de-force on some absolutely horrendous notions of faith and grace and Gospel and Christian living. With God's own wisdom, it speaks to Post-Modernism and contextualization; to various church-growth strategies and philosophies; to Gutless Gracers and muzzy mystics; to real-live age-ism and racism and the good and false approaches to each; and to a whole lot more.

I'm going to miss it!

But the next series should be fun. It will be on the first chapter of the book of...

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26 May 2013


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 54, sermon number 3,074, "Danger. Safety. Gratitude."
"It will indeed be exceeding joy to be kept from falling, and to be presented faultless at the end."

We have this word “present” several times in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the saints in Rome, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” He also wrote to the Christians in Corinth concerning his desire to present them “as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

To the Ephesians, he wrote that “Christ, also loved the church, and gave himself for it,... that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;” and here Jude writes concerning Christ presenting his people “faultless before the presence of his glory,”—not presenting them unfallen, but “faultless.”

I suppose there are some brethren, who have grown so familiar with the idea of their own perfection, that they can quite understand what it is to feel perfect; but I am so familiar with the sense of my own imperfections that it takes me a long while to grasp the fact that I shall one day be “without fault before the throne of God.”

I can sit down, sometimes, with an aching head, and believe that it will wear a crown by-and-by. I can look at these hands, and believe that I shall one day wave a palm-branch of victory. I can and do fully expect to wear the white robe, and to sing the everlasting song in glory.

But it will be more than all this to be absolutely perfect, with never a risk of a hasty temper rising, or the fear of men checking one’s lips from saying what is right. There will be no undue haste; and, at the same time, there will to no sloth; there will be no preponderance of any grace so as to cause it to grow into a fault, and no deficiency in any point of character.

To be faultless before men is a great thing. To be faultless before the devil, so that even he cannot find any fault in us, is greatly to be desired. But the most wonderful thing of all must be to be presented by Christ “faultless before the presence of his glory.” That is, where the light is brightest, no speck of sin is to be seen; the saints shall be so perfectly purified by the omnipotent grace of God the Holy Spirit that even the Lord himself, in whose sight the heavens are not pure, and who charges his angels with folly, shall look upon his redeemed people, and declare that they are faultless, holy and unblamable and unreprovable in his sight.

Oh, blessed portion, glorious hope! This is something that is worth struggling for; so, brethren and sisters in Christ, let us fight more valiantly than ever against our sins and corruptions. Armed with the two-edged sword of the Spirit, we shall win the day. He who is able to keep us from falling will not be satisfied with acting on the defensive for us, and protecting us from our enemies, but he will enable us to carry the war into the enemy’s country, and we shall be “more than conquerors through him that loved us;” and we shall have this resplendent character at last, that we shall be “without fault before the throne of God.”

24 May 2013

On the Boy Scouts' decision regarding homosexual scouts

by Dan Phillips

If you're looking for a bit of Biblical commentary, and you don't want yours served "dainty" —after all, here you are, looking at Pyromaniacs — check out From 1990: Second-Hand Values or Can Conservatism Save America?, over at my place.

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Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This is a re-post from March 2012. Phil explains why "erecting boundaries" is often a positive and necessary thing to do.

As usual, the comments are closed.

We're often told by gurus of church-growth and guardians of postmodern values in the evangelical community that we mustn't erect "boundaries."

I gather from the way such comments are often bandied about that the word boundaries is supposed to have totally negative connotations. Honestly: I don't see why. I can understand how worldly people whose minds are enslaved to earthbound, man-centered, self-indulgent thoughts might wish for a world without any lines or borders. But candidly, it's an attitude that's hard to reconcile with the whole tenor of the New Testament.

Contemporary evangelicals' resistance to boundaries is especially hard to reconcile with the fact that pastors (the word means shepherds) are expressly charged with guarding the flock and keeping predators out of the fold. And there simply is no realistic way to keep sheep in the sheepfold and wolves out if you refuse to observe any boundaries. In John 10:7, Jesus famously said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep." I cannot envision any useful purpose for having a "door [for] the sheep" if there is no sheep-pen or enclosure of some kind with well-defined, secure barricades, sturdy fences, or a protected perimeter of some kind.

But mainstream evangelicals have been indoctrinated along with the rest of postmodern society to think walls and borders are inherently sinister. We're conditioned to favor a whole different set of more stylish and more politically-correct values: tolerance, openness, diversity, mystery, indecision, broad-mindedness, and liberality. It's considered humble and generous to entertain perpetual qualms about what we believe. We're not supposed to think any single perspective can righteously claim to be true to the exclusion of all others.

So today's evangelicals bend over backward not to sound the least bit dogmatic. Because certainty is perceived throughout our culture as a kind of cruel arrogance. Clarity, authority, careful definitions, and firmness are likewise looked upon with deep suspicion. Stating your beliefs with settled conviction is a sure way to start trouble these days.

Want proof? Just page through our blog and read any random comment thread where 30 or more people have replied. You'll see, I think, that the most common complaint we get from angry commenters is that we sound too sure of our position—or some variation on that theme. (We're too rigid; too reluctant to change our minds; too emphatic in the way we make our case; or whatever.) We're expected to qualify and over-qualify everything we say in a way that practically nullifies every critique and ultimately countermands every concern. We are told we always ought to look for things to commend if ever it is absolutely necessary to criticize something, and above all, we must be brotherly to everyone who comes in Jesus' name.

See: the concept of "unity" commonly touted today has nothing whatsoever to do with "being in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:2). Instead, it is a broad, visible, ecumenical homogeneity without boundaries.

And that is nothing like the biblical concept of unity.

23 May 2013

A presuppositionalist parable: you'll be floored

by Dan Phillips

I've been listening most recently to some of Sye ten Bruggencate's apologetic debates and conversations. My goal is always to become a more effective apologist, myself. I'll confess that I spend a lot of time admiring him and his partners and thinking how poorly I'd have done in that situation. But I keep at it, because it's both a Christian's calling and part of the task of being a pastor, whether it comes easily to one or not.

Presuppositionalist apologists like Sye and others argue insistently (and to their opponents' dismay) that anti-Christians' every argument denying God's existence, in fact, proves God's existence. The point is a very good one, but I'm not sure everyone gets it.

Me, I'm simple; so I always chew things over to the point of my own understanding... and by that time, I've got something just about anyone can understand. Usually a good analogy helps me. Here, I think I have one, so I offer it to you, with the disclaimer that every analogy breaks down at some point.

For starters, presups point out that God is not a conclusion, He's the starting-place. Unbelievers hear this as saying we've no proof of God, though it isn't what we're saying nor meaning. I've wondered whether it might not be more effective to say that the truth of God is too big and fundamental to be the conclusion of a syllogism or chain of reasoning. Only truths of a certain size can fit at the end of a chain of reasoning, and the truth of God is too big to come at the end. That truth is so big and fundamental that it only fits at the start; any other location whittles that truth down to unrecognizability.

So here's the analogy. Envision two philosophical combatants. One school, the Floorists, asserts the existence of the floor as that on which everything else necessarily rests. The other (Afloorists) denies that assertion.

The Floorists say, "If there were no floor, we wouldn't even be here. We'd be nowhere. There'd be no connecting-point and no common-ground — literally. And you Afloorists confirm that fact with every word."

The Afloorists scoff. "Prove there's a floor, without standing on one!"

Floorists: "Can't do that."

Afloorists: "Aha! You see? You have no proof!"

Floorists: "No, we can't do that because we can't even have this discussion without resting on a floor. We can't even talk to you without all of us resting on the floor. The only reason we're talking right now is that both of us are resting on a common floor."

Afloorists: "Nonsense! For instance, look here, I'll show you..." (stepping off the couch onto the floor).

Floorist: "Stop. You just proved the floor. Even before you moved, you proved the floor  You were sitting on something resting on the floor."

Afloorist: "What? I never did! I'm just showing you, here and..." (taking a second step).

Floorist: "Stop! If there's no floor, you couldn't take a first step, let alone a second. All the time your mouth is running, denying the floor, you're standing on the very floor you deny. Every step you take, denying the floor, depends on the floor. You know that, or you'd not have stepped off so confident that something would support you. Every step you take affirms the floor. If there were no floor, you couldn't walk around denying the floor. Every step proves what your mouth denies."

Afloorist: "Bosh. You just can't prove the floor without assuming the floor. You have no evidence. Here, let me show you another place where there's no floor."

Floorist: "Only if you can do it without resting or walking on the floor."

Afloorist: "We can do that! We all know we can do that! Science has proved we can do that! Your problem is that you can't prove there is a floor!"

Floorist: "You can't even say that without resting on the floor. You're denying the floor that you know exists, and meanwhile you're depending on the floor, to deny the floor."

Afloorist (triumphantly): "Aha! You see? You have no proof! You refuse to prove the floor! We ask for evidence, you give none! You don't prove it here (takes step), or here (takes step), or here (jumps up and down). There is no floor! There. Now I'm going to go have sex, thanks to this exhilarating freedom that Afloorism has brought me."

Floorist: "...on something resting on the floor. Brilliant." (Facepalm.)

There y'go.

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22 May 2013

Irreverent, Silly Myths

by Frank Turk

OK - last week, you got two posts for the price of one, and then we went down the rabbit hole, on Twitter, with the scions of SGM and SGM Survivors. Sometime on Friday I tweeted that we'd cover that today, and that one should bring his helmet if one was interested.

My intent was to take one of the live ones demanding that the Reformed Blogosphere finally, finally, finally pay attention to them and their ever-changing, ever-evolving, ever-expanding set of complaints and do a blog interview of them so that they could get their fair hearing.  However, when I came to some of the likeliest spokespersons for such a thing, they balked.  That is: they wouldn't abide anything but a full denunciation of SGM from top to bottom, and certainly: no questions or examination of their list or their evidence or their standing.

Since they didn't want to participate, I'm left to continue with something mundane -- like whether or not the Bible is a mythological book or a treatise meant to convey real-world truth.  I'll be listening to the hymns of Keith and Kristyn Getty, and some of my favorite Bob Kauflin hymns as well.

This is part 3 of 4.  Enjoy.

We were talking about whether or not Paul (and then we will get to Peter) was able to perceive epistemological categories in his view of the written word when I was very rudely interrupted by my paycheck. Let's keep in mind that, as I continue to take a look at what Paul wrote relative to his use of the word "muthos" (which is translated "myth" in several English translations), I am not asserting that Paul would use the term "epistemological categories" to describe what he is saying, but that we can and should – because what he represents in these passages is an understanding that there is a difference between artistic or creative writing and historical or factual writing.

My second example comes from 1Tim 4:
    1Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

    6If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths (muthos). Rather train yourself for godliness; 8for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
We seem to be able to take at face value that here Paul is telling Timothy not to waste his time on "silly myths", and in that we can assume that Paul is saying that what Timothy ought to believe are not myths but facts. The question is whether Paul is telling Timothy that there are "silly myths" as opposed to "non-silly myths" in which he ought to believe.

That's why context is so important in looking at a question like this. In leading up to his admonition to young Timothy, Paul clearly spells out that one will depart from the faith if one accepts the teaching of "liars" and "demons". It cannot be any more plain on Paul's part that there are some who teaching something which is in a category in opposition to the teaching of the Gospel. That is to say, it is possible to believe something false which would nullify the claim of "faith" because its content would be at odds with true faith.

The other side of the "deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars" is what Paul directs Timothy to do instead: "being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed". Paul does not mince words on this matter. One is either following something not true which is intended to deceive and is itself false, or one is following "good doctrine". It is difficult to understand how the advocates against "Enlightenment categories" can muster the courage to tongue-lash those who practice exposition from Scripture when Paul is the one who provides the concrete basis for establishing the epistemological categories in question. There is no social context which changes the meaning of these words. Saying one kind of teaching is false and another "good" and "godly" is about as stark a contrast as one can imagine. And to be clear: those are not some exegete's words for these categories but the very words Paul uses to describe these categories.

We're going to pick up some steam as we observe the other uses of the word "muthos" in Paul, but let's not allow the velocity of the exposition to undercut the importance of the point: affirming the view that pre-enlightenment readers and writers did not uphold epistemological categories in their thinking or in their methodology is simply unsupportable in fact when it comes to the NT documents.

21 May 2013

What's in a few names?

by Dan Phillips

Last Sunday's sermon featured the exposition of Titus 3:12-15. Here's my translation, sans footnotes:
When I send Artemas to you, or Tychicus, be diligent to come to me in Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Diligently help send Zenas the legal expert and Apollos on their way, in order that nothing may be lacking for them. 14 And also our own people must learn to take the lead in good works, for the pressing needs, in order that they might not be unfruitful. 15 All those who are with me greet you. Greet those who are fond of us in the faith. Grace be with all of you.
Understandably, many would look at that as slim pickings for a whole sermon; but I managed. How well is for God and others to judge.

But one of the things that struck me was implicit in the section. The fellows Paul mentions in verse 12 were named Artemas and Tychicus. Not only are those Greek names, they're really pagan Greek names. They don't mean Lemon and Bumblebee, or nothing; "Artemas" is the masculine form of Artemis, as in Artemis [Diana] of the Ephesians. And "Tychicus" means "Lucky," as in a universe ruled by chance.

Yet one of these two — Diana-Man or Lucky — was going to be Titus' replacement heading up the Cretan mission. Paul, nearing the end of his life, was sending one or the other of these two pagan-named Gentiles to take over for Titus the Gentile in this mission. The future of Christ's church would be in their hands, under God.

And who brought the letter to Titus? Two more pagan-named guys. "Zenas" (short for "gift of Zeus") and Apollos, a Jew who somehow was saddled with yet another pagan name. One an expert in Roman law, the other an expert in God's law. Paul trusted this letter to them, and urged Titus to be sure they had all they needed.

In the sermon, I make a good bit of this. While Jesus instantaneously did everything necessary to effect reconciliation between formerly warring ethnicities (Eph. 2:11-22), the process of working this out took a whole lot longer. In fact, it isn't done yet.

But what Paul did was talk a lot about it, go to jail for it, and model it. He did the latter by surrounding himself with men like these — not just saying "Yeah, boy, the Body of Christ really should model reconciliation," but doing it. Investing himself in such folks, training them, giving them positions of visibility and responsibility, expressing full confidence in them, and letting them loose.

If you like, give the sermon a listen. I develop that at great length, take a sally at Biblical decision-making vs. Blackabism, and a whole lot more.

Titus is a very underappreciated and underpreached book. I've really enjoyed it.

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19 May 2013

Either He did or He didn't!

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Till He Come, pages 333-334, Pilgrim Publications.
"If we lose the cross,if we miss the substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have lost all."

“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” These words in plainest terms assert that our Lord Jesus did really bear the sins of His people. How literal is the language! Words mean nothing if substitution is not stated here. I do not know the meaning of the fifty-third of Isaiah if this is not its meaning.

Hear the prophet’s words: “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all;” “for the transgression of my people was He stricken;” “He shall bear their iniquities;” “He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sin of many.”

I cannot imagine that the Holy Spirit would have used language so expressive if He had not intended to teach us that our Saviour did really bear our sins, and suffer in our stead.

What else can be intended by texts like these—“Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28); “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21);  “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13); “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2); “Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26)?

I say modestly, but firmly, that these Scriptures either teach the bearing of our sins by our Lord Jesus, or they teach nothing. In these days, among many errors and denials of truth, there has sprung up a teaching of “modern thought” which explains away the doctrine of substitution and vicarious sacrifice.

One wise man has gone so far as to say that the transference of sin or righteousness is impossible, and another creature of the same school has stigmatized the idea as immoral.

It does not much matter what these modern haters of the cross may dare to say; but, assuredly, that which they deny, denounce, and deride, is the cardinal doctrine of our most holy faith, and is as clearly in Scripture as the sun is in the heavens.

Beloved, as we suffer through the sin of Adam, so are we saved through the righteousness of Christ. Our fall was by another, and so is our rising again: we are under a system of representation and imputation, gainsay it who may. To us, the transference of our sin to Christ is a blessed fact clearly revealed in the Word of God, and graciously confirmed in the realizations of our faith.

17 May 2013

When the Church exalts "friendship with the world"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in February 2009.  Phil points out the disastrous consequences of Evangelicalism ignoring the warning of James 4:4.

As usual, the comments are closed.

William Butler Yeats wrote a poem shortly after World War I called The Second Coming. Despite the title, it was a very pessimistic poem. Yeats was observing the rapid dissolution of society, and he foresaw nothing but certain doom. An unbeliever, he dreaded the idea of Christ's Second Coming because he saw in it nothing but the end of the world.

As he looked at the dissolution of the social order, Yeats wrote,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And at the end of the poem, he pictured the coming day of doom as a

". . . rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouch[ing] towards Bethlehem to be born."


As we look at the state of Christ's church worldwide today, we see an even more frightening prospect. By and large, the church has fallen in love with Gomorrah, and has veered off that direction in a dead sprint. Christians seem as if they are on a collective quest to see how much of the world they can absorb and imitate. Instead of trying to win the world the way Christ commanded, the church seems determined to see how much like the world she can become.

It is a safe bet that whatever is popular in the world at the moment will soon be embraced by the church. Virtually all of today's secular fads will have Christian counterparts tomorrow. Seriously: there are even several "Christian" nudist colonies. Evidently there is no worldly novelty that someone, somewhere won't try to drag into the church.

For more than four years here at PyroManiacs we have been pointing out laughable examples of how the contemporary church has played the harlot with the world. When you listen to the rationale of people who advocate worldly innovations in the church, they invariably insist this is the only way to reach unbelievers.

Under pretexts such as "contextualization," "missional living," and "relevance" an unbridled willingness to accommodate Divine truth to human preferences is now going on virtually unchecked in the modern and postmodern evangelical movement. Multitudes of Christians today think it is their prerogative to mold and shape everything—worship, music, and even the Word of God itself—to the tastes and fashions of the world.


That kind of thinking is all too typical. Until Christians recover their convictions and their passion; until we realize that the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation; until we quit tinkering with the message to try to accommodate it to the tastes and preferences of every subculture; and until we give up these foolish efforts to make the gospel "appealing" and concern ourselves with proclaiming it accurately and making it clear, the church's impact on the world will continue to diminish and the world's influence will continue to define what the church looks like.

16 May 2013

How not to grow: marriage edition

by Dan Phillips

In my ongoing series on marriage, the Bible, and you, I came to a point of pivot recently. Having laid the foundation somewhat extensively, I'd just taught for several classes with a focus on singles approaching marriage, and considering how even to make the decision. Now I was about to turn to address wives, then husbands, with specific Scriptural teaching.

So in turning to this section I felt it important to lay down some ground-rule guidelines dealing with how to listen to the classes to come. After all, first husbands would be listening to a series of lessons focusing on their wives; then those roles would reverse. So in preparing for that, I expounded a preventative list of ways to prevent spiritual growth. Here's that list:

1.        Focus on what your spouse is doing wrong (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10)
2.        Make your obedience to Christ depend on his/hers (cf. Gen. 3:11-12)
3.        Keep the focus on statistic equality (previous Scriptures; cf. Prov. 28:13)
4.        Isolate marriage from the rest of your Christian life (1 Cor. 10:31)
5.        Be a fool (Prov. 9:7-8; 10:17; 12:1, 15; 17:10; 29:1)

And here's the class.

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15 May 2013

Knowing and Not Knowing

by Frank Turk

Last week, you got a best-of from me, and you'll get more of it this week as well due to the complications of being me.

This is the second of 4 parts in that series from 2005.  It is slightly modified for the sake of minor matters of reference.


Last time, we left off by hypothesizing that if we could determine what the writers of the NT meant in context when they used the word "muthos," we could have some insight into their view of the epistemology of language and their view of how to handle texts.  Specifically: their own texts, the anthology of books and letters we call "Scripture."

After greeting Timothy, Paul writes this to him:
    3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths ("muthos") and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship {Or good order} from God that is by faith.

    5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
    1Tim 1:3-7 (ESV)
This charge to Timothy by Paul comes (as Paul says) not as a new direction but as part and parcel of the teaching Paul has given him before -- "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus". Paul has sent this letter as a supplement to Timothy to do what has already been set out before the young man. That point is made clear with the clause which begins "that": the purpose of Timothy's mission in Ephesus comes after the word "that".

So what is Paul's purpose for Timothy? "that you may charge certain persons" are Paul's words, meaning that Timothy ought to indict or accuse some of the people there with a certain wrongdoing. What kind of wrongdoing is it? Paul says, "charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine".

The express reason Timothy is in Ephesus is to teach the same doctrine as Paul, in opposition to any different doctrine that may exist in that city. That may seem somewhat commonplace to those who have never heard the charge that evangelicals are slaves of enlightenment thinking when it comes to the Bible, but it is an important foundational matter in this discussion.

What Paul has begun to lay out here is a category distinction in kinds of teaching. This idea is in almost every letter of his: there is a true teaching, which is the Gospel, and there is false teaching which is not the Gospel which must be opposed by returning to true teaching. This idea that there is content which undercuts the Gospel message is important for making some headway with those who want to claim that placing NT claims into Enlightenment categories defaces the text.

Thus, if there is a false category which Paul classes as any different doctrine, what is he talking about? Well, he's a smart guy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so he makes his point clear by saying "not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies". Now think about this: Paul says that teaching any different doctrine is to be charged in the say way as devotion to myths and endless genealogies. That is to say, these myths and genealogies have the same value as any different doctrine. Now what value might that be? Paul says, "[myths and genealogies] which promote speculations rather than the stewardship {Or good order} from God that is by faith". That is itself an interesting charge – because it underscores the non-factual nature of these classes by saying they "promote speculation rather than {spiritual} stewardship".

Paul's concern for Timothy (and for those in his care in Ephesus) is that the young man teach a sound doctrine which has sound results and does not turn people toward speculative endeavors that interfere with right stewardship in the faith. Again, I think most Protestants would be somewhat bored by this claim because it seems so obvious and foundational to us: there is a right teaching, and there is a wrong teaching, and wrong teaching leads to wrong actions.

What is important about this, however, is the nature of this claim: it says that it matters how you teach the Gospel message in substance. That's not an Enlightenment claim but a first-century claim which Paul presents to Timothy as marching orders. If this is Paul's view of the method of presenting the Gospel, we have to challenge the view that Paul would have had what Prof. Enns and John Dominic Crossan would call a "pre-enlightenment" view of the text which says that things can be "real" and "true" but not necessarily "factual" or "literal".

Let's also keep in mind here that we are not disqualifying genres from existing inside the NT: we are demonstrating that Paul's view of truth demonstrates epistemological classes that distinguish from made-up stories which are false or lead to falsehood and the Gospel itself which is neither "muthos" nor rhetorical but factual.

In that, Paul describes this first charge to Timothy rather boldly for our cause: "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Paul is giving this direction from "good conscience" and from "sincere faith", which are interesting qualifiers to maintain over against "myth" and "different doctrine". Paul's charge is for a purpose which is completely wholesome, and he continues: "Certain persons, by swerving from these, ..." Now to what does "these" refer to? It refers to "good conscience" and "sincere faith". So those who are teaching a different doctrine, and teaching myths and endless genealogies, are here impugned by Paul as swerving away from good conscience and swerving from sincere faith. Again: this underscores Paul's method of thinking about the Gospel not as a set of non-propositional truths transmitted by likely stories of some artistic and (ultimately) theological value, but as propositional truth – things clearly distinguished from falsehood that are falsified only by those with bad motives.

For clarity's sake, let me say that I am not sure that Paul would use the Greek (or Hebrew) words for "propositional truth" that I might use to describe his thinking here. I'm not sure that rhetorical formula existed in his time in that way. But what I am saying is that Paul's methodology for teaching was (1) toward a specific, objective truth that was manifest in history, and (2) against any other assertion that manifested counterclaims which effaced that truth by using loose talk or "made up" stories.

He continues: "[they] have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions." In this last assertion, Paul makes one last ting clear: there is a difference between knowing the truth and not knowing the truth. The ones Timothy was sent to Ephesus to charge with teaching a different doctrine were devoted to myths, not of good conscience, not of sincere faith, and they did not understand what they were teaching, but taught anyway because they wanted to be seen as "teachers of the law". Those are fairly comprehensive charges by Paul – charges which set the stage for Timothy's ministry as discussed in the rest of the letter. But the foundational matter which Paul bases these charges on is that there is a difference between the right method of teaching the Gospel and the wrong method. In that, the use of "muthos" or "myth" is plainly disqualified as useful to those with "good conscience" and "sincere faith".

Open Letter to Mark Driscoll (2013)

by Frank Turk

Dear Pastor Mark --

I know you don't read any of the little blogs, or people who are trying to make their own tribe, but others do, and I think it's worth writing a brief open letter to you this week based on your epic video from this weekend:

I think it's fantastic that you can walk away from the Gospel Coalition, and hand over the reigns to Acts29, and with no muss and no fuss start your own tribe.  It's proof that you have something which most of us don't have.  I'm sure there's a Greek word for it, but unfortunately I don't speak Greek.

Someone with more time on their hands might want to go through this 21-minute monologue and find all the ingrown hairs and blemishes, but sadly: I'm on a tight schedule this week.  I'm writing today about the funniest parts of this video.  In your attempts here to get tribes to talk to each other, you have somehow done two things so well that they deserve a mention.

The first is this: you are fantastic at making much of yourself.  You are the master of the humblebrag now that the meme is dead and the ship has sailed.  Like a self-aware version of Ari Gold from Entourage, you drop all the names you know to demonstrate your position -- but dutifully, you're not like any of them.  T.D. Jakes didn't hardly even know you when he met you, for pete's sake.  And thankfully: you're nothing like the homeschooled fundies who can't make a tribe for themselves, who act drunk even though they would never touch the stuff.  You're a tribal leader.

If anyone knows how to salvage his own reputation from the doctrinal and moral pratfalls and frankly-insulting egoisms for which you are actually well-known, it's you -- and it's funny to watch you do it as you get older and your audience stays the same age.

The other funny thing you do so well is, if I can be so bold, the fifth attribute of a tribal leader: you're the world-champion enumerator of enemies.  You brandish the keen condescending tongue of someone high-school famous who knows that his popularity is only durable as long as he can demonstrate there are others who are uncool, infamous, unacceptable and undefended.  Rarely has this been more evident than in this 21 minutes of video.  You elevate yourself by making anyone who is like you were 10 or 15 years ago into a completely-unacceptable hayseed.

The truly-spectacular part, though, is how you wrap both of these objectives into one key omission in the schedule for this conference: in an allegedly-open discussion between tribes, you have simply overlooked asking anyone who would actually challenge you, anyone who disagrees with you in a substantive way.

Now, I get it: a fundie homeschooler presbyterian who is cessationist and dogmatically concerned about the fundamental truths of the faith -- so much so that they draw necessary conclusions about those items which cause them to rule out some tribes as unacceptable or actually unChristian -- is not a successful, fruitful tribal leader in your view of it.  They are no Billy Graham or Francis Shaeffer.
But: the point of your omission is very clear: you personally have nothing to learn from someone like that.  You would never let someone like that (whom you labelled "mental" in this video, and accused of being ignorant in almost the same breath "thanks to the cold medicine") influence the people who still come out to see your road show.  Like a very amusing parody of Syndrome from the Incredibles, you list the shortcomings of all your past heroes and all your past fans who have, frankly, found you lacking and then you say, in effect: "You're weak! and I've outgrown you."

Now: so what?  So what if you're a Punch-like parody of a pastor?  Can we all just get the joke and move on to the next big thing?

In my view of it, explaining the joke ruins it, so my apologies for that.  Sorry to spoil it for you.  But here's the thing: I can't just list my grievance and walk away.  To be a helpful critic, I need also to offer you a remedy or a better example.  That's what the popular kids say, anyway, so here's my thought about what you could do about it.

1. You could start talking to people who have pointed out your mistakes -- rather than talking about them.

Now, I realize that there are some people who are actually not worth talking to: people who have unreasonable ways of talking about you; people who have unreasonable expectations about how to resolve the problems (you know: turn yourself in to the police for your crimes against humanity); people who, frankly, don't understand what they are talking about; etc.

You don't have to talk to those people.  You could talk to a Carl Trueman, or a Phil Johnson, or any number of Acts29 guys who are regretful that you really aren't who they thought you were.  Jonathan Merritt seems to get you in a pretty succinct way - you could try him.  You know: in the same way you brought tribes together in this event last weekend.  Publicly, and as if you respected them.

That requires actual humility and actual repentance and actual wisdom, so decide for yourself if that's something you want to engage in.  Ask yourself, "will that be good for me?"

2. You could reconsider your utterly-superficial notion of being a pastor

Let's face it: this one may get categorized by you as "unreasonable expectations" because in your eyes, you were audibly called by God to be mightily used.  Who is anyone to accuse the Lord's anointed, after all?  But: the crazy thing in the New Testament (the part where Acts 29 would be if it were a real chapter in the book) is the categorical absence of offices like the one you hold.  The guys to whom the Lord actually did audibly speak all wind up travelling the world -- in chains, to their death.  The others wind up staying in local churches -- and a lot of them wind up dying for the faith.  Timothy, for example, who you might say was prophesied over as having the gift of an evangelist, was stoned to death in Ephesus.

You might consider yourself a "Bishop," I guess, but as it turns out in history (the part where the actual evidence is, not the part where you imagine the evidence is for receiving the gift of Spiritual Skinemax) the guys who were like the kind of Bishop you are were the guys fellows like Francis of Assisi were very worried about -- because those fellows were more concerned about influence and power than they were about Christ and his Church. They only associated with the rich and famous, and they didn't like it when anyone else pointed that out.

What you could do is take all your tweets about how much you "love your job" and rather than think a book or a conference is what saves marriages and souls, go back to the Bible and remember: what kind of man does it takes to shepherd a local church? What kind of life it is to lead a local church? You could turn back to that.  Live that life, and the rest, I think, would take care of itself.  Ask yourself, "will that be good for the people God has given to me?"

3. You could actually repent of your obsession with being famous and influential.

That's a fairly loaded suggestion from a fellow like me who, let's face it, is a blogger with any kind of an audience -- and that audience due entirely to the men who have allowed me to be their friends.  But here's what I think: if you took 2 years off from the circuit and the book-writing and spent it instead on unpacking your own need for speed at the expense of other people, I'll bet when you returned to the big stage 24 months and one day later you'd have something very interesting to say to the rest of us.

Something along the lines of, "I have learned how to abound, and how to be abased."  Something most people could relate to in the normal Christian life -- in every culture, not just affluent Washington and Chicago.  You could ask yourself, "Am I concerned about the normal Christian life of real people?" And with that question answered, do that -- rather than trying to do what Oprah and Rob Bell have done and are doing to the Christian faith.

Those things said, if this note reaches you, thanks for the laughs.  I hope this finds you in good humor, good spirits, good health, and good conscience.  As a fellow father and husband, I wish the best to your family, the blessings of God upon them, and the wisdom and humility of Jesus to you as their shepherd and provider.

And what I really wish, with all sincerity and all real good will, is that you will repent for the sake of your own soul, and the sake of those who follow you.

14 May 2013

Church vs. parachurch

by Dan Phillips

Each of the terms in the title is problematically broad, yet both are unavoidable. So let's proceed. I'm sure others have done this better than I, but I feel compelled to put in what I've got.

I feel about parachurch organizations the way I do about denominations. The concept makes sense, but the execution usually ends up being problematic. Parachurch organizations, at their best, address specifically targeted needs in ways that span churches and denominations. They might be clearing-houses for defense against cults, or response to scientistic attacks on our faith. They're Bible colleges, seminaries. A kid's at a secular college for some time, and a parachurch organization provides some on-campus fellowship, encouragement, instruction, camaraderie. I completely get that.

But here's the problem. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Not the parachurch. Christ is the Head of the church (Eph. 5:23), not of the parachurch. He gave pastors and teachers for the equipping of saints for the work of service (Eph. 4:11). The church is created for, founded upon, and united in, its allegiance to the person of Christ who exercises His headship through the specific truths of God's Word (Jn. 8:31-32; 17:17, 21, 23; Eph. 4:4-5). The task of enlisting and cultivating students of Christ has been entrusted to it (Matt. 28:18-20). The task of preaching God's Word come what may has been thunderously pressed upon its leadership (2 Tim. 4:1-6). Assuring doctrinal purity, and guarding against (and repelling, and shutting the mouths of) unbelievers is Divinely mandated for that local church leadership (1 Tim. 1:3-11, 18-19; Titus 1:5-16; 2:1, 15; 3:9-11).

Let me rephrase that last thought as a question, and come at it from a different angle. Do you feel the need for instruction, for equipping for service? Do you see how much more there is to learn of Christ, of His person and work, of His will for  your life? Are you boggled by the maze of differing and competing views, and longing for guidance and guarding amidst them? Christ already thought of all that, and more. He already made provision for those needs (Eph. 4:7ff.). The provision He made is men who are pastors and teachers, His personal ascension-gifts to His church. You find these men leading local churches, where they watch over and are held accountable by God for the souls of the people in their care (Heb. 13:7, 17). It is their responsibility, as well, to make sure that the teaching within those local church is sound, is in accord with apostolic doctrine (cf. Titus 1:9-11, 13-16; 2:1, 15; 3:9-11).

What's more, these guys aren't just anyone — or they're not supposed to be! They are held to certain publicly-detailed standards, and profess and demonstrate rock-solid allegiance to certain doctrines by which they are to be measured and assessed (1 Tim. 3:1ff.; Titus 1:5ff.).

So where do parachurch personnel come in? Well, that's the problem. Their leaders may or may not be (or be qualified to be) pastors. So that means that they may or may not be held to the specific standards spelled out in the Bible. They may or may not even be accountable to such men as specified by God, in the Bible. I've known more than one person working for Christian organizations who did not even attend a local church.

So what happens in these relations, when Christians get involved in parachurch organizations? That can be the problem. Do the folks in these parachurch organizations, whatever they are, point the folks they serve to local churches? Do they make sure that they make God's stated priority their priority, that participants not (for instance) be heavily involved in the parachurch organization, while remaining only occasional and uninvolved visitors at their church? Do they, for instance, follow the example of the radio Bible teacher I heard years back who regularly cautioned supporters not to regard their financial support of his ministry as equivalent to local-church support?

I imagine pastors will weigh in here, and welcome it. I recall an earlier ministry, years ago, where someone was all about a parachurch organization, but "iffy" on her church. She had — and I have seen this often — a sort of presbyopia that made distant things clear and vivid, but things at hand fuzzy and hard to make out. She was all about this parachurch organization, but took her church, and her role in it, for granted. You see this when folks enthuse about this or that ministry, but never speak of their own church.

It's easy to see how this happens: The organization focuses on something Christian A thinks is important. So Christian A focuses on that organization. So now — at worst — there's one more person not diligently pouring his/her time and gifts and resources and energies into the building up of a particular local church (Eph. 4:15-16).

Let's suppose all this parachurchical energy is going into a genuinely important function. Could the church (God's express institution) do it? Usually, the problem is lack of qualified and willing personnel. I daresay most pastors would eagerly welcome stable, maturing folks in their membership, already clearly committed to the church's ministry, who'd say "Here's an area of ministry where I'd like to serve and help us extend the breadth and depth of our outreach." Then they could do thus under elder oversight, guidance, instruction and protection (Heb. 13:7, 17). Instead, folks may find a parachurch organization, latch on... and the church sees that much less of them. Though perhaps it hears much of their ministry.

Back to where I started: there are parachurch organizations that serve the local church. They embrace and support its role in God's plan. Their personnel are committed church-members, and they point those who come to them to local church involvement. They treasure Christ's church. They don't try to arrogate the role of Christ's church to themselves or supplant it.

Can anyone see a parachurch organization in the NT? If not, I still wouldn't conclude that there's no place for them, any more than I would for organs or guitars or pews. However, these would seem to be the least we need to insist:
  1. The local church, led by qualified men, is God's specifically designated organization.
  2. As such, the lion's share of our time, talents and treasures should be invested in our local church.
  3. "Leftovers" should go to parachurch ministries, not to local church ministries.
  4. Any other organization should tread lightly and humbly, explicitly giving pride of place and emphasis to the local church.
Dan Phillips's signature

12 May 2013

A salute to Mothers

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Come ye Children, pages 111-112, Pilgrim Publications.

"Give us the first seven years of a child, with God's grace, and we may defy the world, the flesh, and the devil to ruin that immortal soul." 

We are not at a loss to tell who instructed youthful Timothy. In the first chapter of this epistle Paul says, “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.”

No doubt grandmother Lois and mother Eunice united in teaching the little one. Who should teach the children but the parents? Timothy’s father was a Greek, and probably a heathen, but his child was happy in having a venerable grandmother, so often the dearest of all relatives to a little child. He had also a gracious mother, once a devout Jewess, and afterwards also a firmly believing Christian, who made it her daily pleasure to teach her own dear child the Word of the Lord.

O dear mothers, you have a very sacred trust reposed in you by God! He hath in effect said to you, “Take this child and nurse it for Me, and I will give thee thy wages.” You are called to equip the future man of God, that he may be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. If God spares you, you may live to hear that pretty boy speak to thousands, and you will have the sweet reflection in your heart that the quiet teachings of the nursery led the man to love his God and serve Him.

Those who think that a woman detained at home by her little family is doing nothing, think the reverse of what is true. Scarcely can the godly mother quit her home for a place of worship; but dream not that she is lost to the work of the church; far from it, she is doing the best possible service for her Lord.

Mothers, the godly training of your offspring is your first and most pressing duty. Christian women, by teaching children the Holy Scriptures, are as much fulfilling their part for the Lord, as Moses in judging Israel, or Solomon in building the temple.