May 11, 2008 – THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

I read this week that the first generation Church probably continued to celebrate the two feasts with Judaism, Passover and Pentecost. As I have previously blogged, I came to the same conclusion on studying the Apostle Paul. I have to be honest and admit that in 2008, for some reason, I was not aware of this incredible celebration at The Washington National Cathedral. But it is a perfect example of what I believe that the Christian churches should strive to do with other Christians, celebrate their faith, especially on these two occasions.

Of course when the Christian celebrates Passover, the Resurrection must be included as the event which demonstrates God’s approval of the Atonement accomplished by the offering of Christ and the inauguration of the Messianic age. I have been celebrating for weeks now as I have been reading many different posts and tweets from the universal Church. Just this week I got into a discussion on a Newsvine post doing a survey on the resurrection. I think at last viewing 35% believed in a literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus in history-that it really happened; and 65% did not believe for various reasons. The comments that followed got a little heated and it was obvious that the Newsvive community at times can be hostile toward Christianity. I’m used to being in the minority opinion, so even there I was able to celebrate what this means in the life of all Christians and the feast days connected with the Old Order.

In this necessary work of emphasizing unity, there are many discouragements. Perhaps the greatest is from well meaning fellow Christians who say something like, “its a great idea/goal, but definitely not possible”. But the greatest personal satisfaction comes from finding new friends from all the diverse faith traditions which post their celebrations on-line during this season. My rejoicing and delight has been like the light show I missed. Thank you fellow bloggers for renewing my faith and my committment to promoting peace and unity.

See my related post, The Abolition of Death

The Old  Zion Red Church- Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania

On our drive to New York city last week for Navy Fleet week, we finally took a short side trip that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. We went by to see where my first generation maternal ancestor lived and began his family after arriving on board the ship at Philadelphia. The record of his wedding as well as the births of his first three children were recorded in the ministerial records of this church in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, before the Revolutionary War.

The Red Church is in the Blue Mountains and has had four buildings. The first one in the early 1700’s, the present one which was built in 1887. Over the door is a marker identifying it as Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed. Lorentz Jung only lived here seven or eight years after his marriage before heading south into Virginia where he changed his name to Lawrence Young.

I couldn’t help but get a little emotional as I poured out a grateful heart for such a rich spiritual heritage from the first generation in America. But I realize that such a spirtual pedigree does not guarantee us an inheritance apart from a living faith in the Christ of the Scriptures. Like Esau of old, we can squander our inheritance, exchange it for a bowl of fleshly pottage.

Grandparents Henry and Jesse Young (1906)

I was reminded again in New York city in reference to the Marble Collegiate Church of the Dutch Reformed tradition and Trinity Episcopal Church, both which predate the American Revolution, that the witness of the Gospel of Christ has been present in every generation of Americans. It has been the “open secret” that was either ignored or embraced as God’s testimony of redeeming love.

We came home from New York city impressed with the extent that the city embraced the men and women of the armed services during Fleet week. And we came home with a renewed testimony that the churches of the new century continuing to faithfully live out the faith of our Fathers. Our only question is to what degree are multitudes in America squandering their spiritual inheritance?

See my post last year on “A Night to Remember” .

The difference between “ what would Jesus do” and “what IS Jesus doing”! You may be familiar with the popular fad that was revived in recent years that sought guidance for Christians in daily decisions by answering with WWJD. Like so many fads in Christianity, I always felt that though the intent was a sincere attempt to influence life’s decisions by reference to the historical Jesus, this version of what it means to be a disciple of Christ completely missed the heart of the Biblical Gospel.

In the last few days, I have been reading a book which confronts this misunderstanding in the American churches with a fresh exposition of the doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus. The book which was published in 2004 by Gerrit Scott Dawson, is entitled –

Jesus Ascended: the meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation“.

I read a lot and have considered myself a full-time student for over 50 years. It has been a long time since I have been as profoundly moved as I have in reading this book about the present life of Jesus of Nazareth now in His heavenly session as our King-Priest. The fact that I have been celebrating the Festival of the Ascension for over a week now was the preparation needed to be able to profit so much from this author and the mature understanding he has of this neglected part of the Biblical narrative. I would love to recommend this book to everyone but I won’t because of one principle that is a priority here at E4Unity and that is the recognition that each individual is unique and in no way would the many be able to profit in the same way I have from reading any book. In the area of what is called “spiritual formation” that means that real progress is made only when we are able to see these things for ourself, through the “eyes of faith”, and that means we must be patiently brought in life’s experiences to desiring such things as this present world can never give or satisfy our inner spirit with.

I want to leave you with some quotes from Dawson. He is an excellent writer and this book is very “reader friendly” in the sense that he tells you what his topic is, tells you how he is going to approach it, and even gives you upfront a short direction on “how to use this book”. I will tell you that he is a Presbyterian pastor and so he is thoroughly pastoral- that is he concerns himself in the end with the purpose of this doctrine in living here on planet earth, the life of Christ in heaven transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live, not in the flesh, but by faith in God’s abundant provision in His beloved Son Jesus.

He has included some of the rich comments from past teachers in the churches, both from the Patristic fathers as well as men like John Calvin,  Andrew Murray, and Lesslie Newbigin. He has a robust exposition of what the the Ascension of Christ has meant to the Church in the past as well as how it can be instrumental in reviving us in the challenge we are now facing in our own generation.

“We have such difficulty conceiving how, or even believing that, the body of Jesus went to heaven that we may want the doctrine to remain in obscurity” (p.3)

“In no way, then, did the ascension signal simply a return to business as usual between God and humanity. Rather, the ascension of Christ is a vital hinge on which turns the work of the Mediator, the incarnate Son, our Redeemer in all his offices.” (p.8)

“My premise is that the church- our local church and the churches of the west-needs to recover the meta-narrative of the gospel as a counter-story, indeed a better story to the one the world tells. . .one of those episodes, the ascension, has been sorely neglected in the church’s telling of the story. The silence. . .cuts us off from the present work of Christ in heaven and from the conclusion of the story. . .recovering a proper and robust doctrine of the ascension can reconnect us to a sense of our true citizenship in heaven and the implications of that identity for life in the world.”(p.25)

Dawson’s book is divided into three parts, and we haven’t even reached the second one yet. But I don’t want to impose on you so I will close for now with one more, this time, a quote from Andrew Murray. Murray has also been one of my favorite devotional writers for a long time. Dawson may be the first Presbyterian writer that I can think of among contemporary ones that utilizes the treasures in Murray so often and so freely. He says here, that ” the church can reclaim the fullness of its story, with spectacular results.” And then quotes Murray-

” Faith has in its foundation four great cornerstones on which the building rests- the Divinity of Christ, The Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ (to be)for us. And so in the Christian life it is the most important, the glorious fruit of all that goes before.” (p.26)

In part two, one of the highlights for me was his discussion of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as one of the means of grace directly connected with the ascension. We will have a great deal to come back to on another occasion. For now, we must get ready to celebrate once again another Festival: The Day of Pentecost.

The link to the book is the on-line edition where you can read most of it at Google.books.

The Saints Gallery @E4Unity does not sub-divide by heritage: you have to look elsewhere for that.

However, since I mentioned this week a celebration of 400 years of the Baptist heritage, I thought I might add a few names of Baptists here in America that would be in any Saints gallery: men like George W. Truett, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Martin Luther King. Each one a Baptist minister, each one made tremendous contributions to the Church of Christ as well as to America, but very different in their gifts and perspectives involving their Christian faith and how it was manifested in their individual and professional lives.

baptist

Walter Rauschenbusch – A German-Baptist that worked among the working poor in the early 189o’s and developed what became known as the “social gospel”. But it would be a great mistake to brand his ministry by that phrase without trying to understand the man himself and his environment, which is suddenly not so strange to our own situation.

Rauschenbusch sought to combine his old evangelical passion (which he never abandoned) with his new social awareness. He adopted critical approaches to the Bible and identified himself with liberal theologians like Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf Harnack. The kingdom of God became the theme by which he pulled together his views on religion and science, piety and social action, Christianity and culture. Did he get it right? He certainly tried.

George W. Truett – Known as a great Preacher and educator, Dr.Truett was pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas,Texas, for 47 years (until his death in 1944). His influence and contribution to the city of Dallas and the Southern Baptist Convention is astounding. But he was also a strong advocate in this country for religious liberty and his spirit in the above link-a 1920 address on the steps of our nation’s Capitol building, is very different than the recent voices of the “religious right”.

What is the explanation of this consistent and notably praiseworthy record of our plain Baptist people in the realm of religious liberty? The answer is at hand. It is not because Baptists are inherently better than their neighbors — we would make no such arrogant claim. Happy are our Baptist people to live side by side with their neighbors of other Christian communions, and to have glorious Christian fellowship with such neighbors, and to honor such servants of God for their inspiring lives and their noble deeds. From our deepest hearts we pray: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” The spiritual union of all true believers in Christ is now and ever will be a blessed reality, and such union is deeper and higher and more enduring than any and all forms and rituals and organizations.

Martin Luther King – I can only add here my personal appreciation for this man and what he gave his life for; a vision that went far beyond his own race or time. When you are able to appreciate the Black church heritage and especially their own preaching tradition, then you have no hesitation to tag him as one the outstanding preachers in our generation. God gave him an incredible mind and speech pattern that was all his own. Take a few minutes to listen to his speech against the Viet Nam War at the link above. You may not agree with his politics but surely you will agree  that he has left a large legacy, especially in the principles of non-violence for all religious people.

So these and many other men and women in our history were of the Baptist heritage and some use to speak of that as a “large tent” with room for greatly diverse convictions. Each one testified to Christ from their own perspective. I have not tried to hide the weaknesses or the warts of any of these men-that is not for me to do. The Baptists are making giganic contributions in almost every field; education (there are more Baptist Colleges and Universities in America than any other faith), healthcare (hospitals and clinics and a host of human service centers), and orphanages, and especially in advancing world-wide the gospel of the Kingdom.

These are just a few reasons to celebrate what God has been able to do through the people called the Baptists these last 400 years. To God be the glory great things He has done. If only we had been more obedient we could have greatly multiplied these efforts.

As Presented by Eckhart Tolle

I was astonished Sunday evening as I watched 60 Minutes on CBS. There on national television was something that sounded very familiar: the center of all the problems we are facing in life is due to the EGO. For Oprah and in particular this author and his theory that all we have to do to break free is to learn how to get rid of ego, has been met with eager acceptance. oprahFrom the comments in the program and from those available on her website, I think it is fair to say that this has been embraced in Oprah’s version of christianity.

There is something very basic in this version that I believe Saint Paul himself lived and taught involving humanity under the bondage of sin. He used various ways to designate this human tragedy and what God has done in Christ to heal it- the old man, the flesh, Adamic humanity.

Yet in Paul’s christianity this problem of ego is first and foremost a problem of rebellion against our Creator and the solution begins with His own provision of the Savior, Jesus Christ. So getting rid of the ego/self life begins with being reconciled to God’s broken law and that Paul says happened at a definite time in the history of humankind at the cross of his Son. Here in Paul’s own words is God’s secret-

Justified by Faith  (letter to the Galatians)

2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified [1] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness [2] were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

A New Earth                                                                                                     There is no doubt that there is a great spiritual hunger in our society for Tolle’s thesis and his books to find such success in the marketplace. On the otherhand, my own sense is that this is exactly where the churches with their version of the Gospel are not boldly speaking into that same society. I would even go further and suggest that the great majority of christians in America do not even know Paul’s secret of dealing with the ego- the part about what it means to be “crucified with Christ” in order to live free of the broken law. This is not just a theory, it is a way of living, and yes, it is about experiencing God’s new creation on earth. For Paul, this is included in what he called “living by faith” and “walking in the Spirit”.

Happy birthday to my oldest son, Philip!

Endings that Bring HOPE of New Beginnings

I am hoping that you will follow the link in my Advent post to the great orientation to this year’s theme and Scriptures. If you do you will find a special surprise for your spiritual meditations: “The focus on endings to come that bring the hope of New Beginnings”.

I happen to believe that it is precisely this emphasis in the Gospel that has been tragically neglected in American Christianity and means that we have largely failed our own society by failing to include this part. And that is that the announcement of the coming to earth of God’s Promised Redeemer and thus His Kingly rule, means the utter judgement, destruction, and replacement of the world’s kingdoms and powers. And that is precisely why it is such Good News. deathbylove

In keeping with this theme, “ending that brings the hope of new beginnings”, I have started reading a new book called, Death by Love. I plan to take my time on this one because I really want to understand the main author’s view of the death of Christ. It will be the first book I have read by Mark Driscoll.

I have just started so I will let you know what I find as I go along. I always try to do a preliminary survey of a book like this before digging in- like reading the preface ( a good author will often tell exactly why she/he wrote it and what they are trying to accomplish), the table of contents, the index, the notes, and the Scripture index. I will leave you with this morsel from the preface:

One theologian has called the cross the great jewel of the Christian Faith, and like every great jewel it has many precious facets that are each worthy of examing for their brilliance and beauty… most poor teaching about the cross results from someone’s denying one of these facets, ignoring one of these facets, or over emphasizing one of these facets at the expense of the others… such narrow and reactionary theology has tragically caused the beauty of the cross to become obscured by the various warring teams that have risen up to argue for their systematic theology rather than bowing in humble worship of the crucified Jesus.

 

What is “Scriptural” Church Growth ?

Years ago as I was just entering the gospel ministry, I was drawn to the principles of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in relation to the world mission task facing the churches. One of those principles insisted on by Dr. A.B. Simpson from the very begining, was that of “doing God’s work, in God’s way”. This seems to be a perennial lesson the churches must constantly strive to maintain as their priority if their work is to be found pleasing to God and of eternal value (see I Cor.3:8-14).

The New Temple, which Christ himself builds calling us to be co-workers with him, must be done God’s way just as the temporary temple of the Old Covenant was erected in all it’s details “according to the pattern shown in the Mount”. The two most obvious reasons why this is so, seems to be in order that God alone receives the glory, and, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ have it’s God ordained fruit in the lives of His redeemed ones.

J.I. Packer, writing an introductory essay almost fifty years ago, warned evangelicalism of the source of many of the perceived problems in the churches already manifesting themselves. “Without realising it”, he said, “we have during the past century bartered the true gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similiar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing”. This he insisted was the source of our troubles, “for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in the past days proved itself so mighty” (Rom.1:17). “The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church”. When asked why this was so, Dr. Packer with prophetic simplicity replied: “We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do”. (From John Owen’s Death of Death in The Death of Christ,1959)

For much of that same time-frame, a battle was being waged to persuade the churches that God did indeed desire for His Church to grow and that it was a serious sign of disobedience and unbelief when that was neglected. Thankfully, it seems that many local churches have finally embraced growth as a healthy and desirable purpose of being the Church. For those that have done so, there now enters the critical element Packer was addressing relating to how we grow and with what gospel we depend upon to produce that growth if it is to be “Scriptural”. Another prophetic voice recently speaking directly to the dangers from modernity already influencing much of the church-growth methodology issues this urgent directive :

“The Church of God. . .is the church only when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and resources. If the church makes anything else the decisive principle of her existence, christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized gospel”.  (Os Guiness, Dining With The Devil, p.35)

The “unity of the Spirit” that we insist is foundational to the Church Christ builds and for the purpose of growing His Church, is not a unity based on our natural understanding but rather one that is revealed in Scripture; a unity which includes truth as well as love on God’s terms and not ours. This is what we believe is the very function of the voice of God speaking into His congregation and the reason for those gifts named in Ephesians chapter 4, and referred to as the “equiping” gifts. They are each one related to proclaiming God’s Word for the equiping of the saints of God for their work of ministering. The Word of God itself is sufficient for that which God sends it to accomplish on earth. Herein lies the critical calling of the evangelist, the pastor-teacher, and the prophet. And these, as you know, are spiritual gifts sent down from the exalted King himself to his flock here on earth.
8/11 UPDATE- To see how this is playing out right before our eyes in America, see this thoughtful essay recently in TOUCHSTONE Magazine and the tribute to Robert Webber prophetic ministry at SAINTS GALLERY
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Prominent evangelicals urged Christian conservatives Wednesday, May 7, 2008, to support “an expansion of our concerns beyond single-issue politics,” angering some leaders on the religious right who have been closely allied with the Republican Party. The Manifesto was made public at the National Press Club in Washington,D.C., by a panel representing the Drafting Committee of the document that was some three years in the making.

In a 19-page document called “An Evangelical Manifesto,” more than 70 theologians, pastors and others said faith and politics have been too closely mixed. They warned against Christians adopting any one political view. The first order of business for the Manifesto is an attempt to reform the evangelical movement itself by regaining the original meaning of the label. But simultaneously they are speaking to the public through the media informing the American society at large as to what this movement has been historically and theologically rather than culturally and not reflective of any one ideology, including I might add, on a major issue like the Iraq War.

Many of us have been very hesitant to be labeled “evangelical” since the rise of the “Moral Majority” because we have seen a deterioration of the theological base on the one hand and a corresponding emphasis on certain, highly politicized agendas among leaders using the label. This is a much needed correction that I urge everyone to pay attention to. From this date on, it will be irresponsible for example, for any journalist in the country to ignore what was said emphatically at this press conference and continue to use the word evangelical to describe a specific political position. It will be very helpful for those of other Faiths, especially Jews and Muslims and Atheists to study this document clearly. In many ways it sets the “gold standard” for what biblical Christians of all stripes seek to live by, the teachings and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It also plainly announces the intention to join with others to work for the common good of the country and the world and to do so in a “gentle and reverent manner”. It is a new call to civility in the public square. It is also a not-too-subtle declaration to any political party that would try to claim the evangelicals for their own agendas.

Watch this water-shed press conference as four Prominent Evangelical leaders representing the Committee articulate for the secular press what they hope will restore the savor to the salt. VIDEO

READ the MANIFESTO (pdf)

E4Unity is not ashamed to promote the kind of things that are articulated so well in this document in our present cultural context as it relates to faithfully serving our present generation.