Archives For gospel

Let’s make our faith communities beautiful again using the unsexy, ordinary tools that have always worked: truth, confession, humility and prayer. They are surely not fancy, but they save and heal.

Jen Hatmaker

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The Washington Post features an article by Jen Hatmaker on the terrible cost of a consumer church model for the staff and people of a congregation. She describes a sort of dysfunctional spiral where the people expect results from the pastors/staff and, in turn, the pastors/staff feel like they’re forced to make committed volunteers’ lives busier and busier.

Each group feels resentful; pastors wonder, What more do these people want from us? and the church folks wonder, What more do these pastors want from us? This approach is not making disciples but is creating a lose-lose situation where no one feels they can deliver.

 It sets leaders and followers up for failure, creating a church-centric paradigm in which discipleship is staff-led and program-driven.

The truth is that, ultimately, none of us can deliver.

That’s the message of the gospel–Jesus has done what none of us can do, and he is making happen those things that we cannot make happen.

Only Jesus can ransom us and free us from the penalty of sin and deliver us from the wrath of God. Only Jesus can transform our lives from the inside out so that we are holier people–reflecting him in our character and our actions.

Your pastor can’t do that for you.

If you expect that from your pastor, and he or she buys into that message, then here’s the likely outcome:

Maybe we start here: 90 percent of you [pastors] believe you inadequately manage the demands of your job, and half of you are so discouraged, you would abandon ministry if you had another job option. Any career in which 90 percent of the laborers feel insufficient indicates a fundamental problem. When your nearly unanimous cry is “I cannot do it all,” maybe the answer is simple: You actually cannot do it all and should quit trying. [Emphasis mine]

In my own reflection on ministry, I’ve come to see the beautiful simplicity of the Christian life when viewed through the prism of the classical reformed faith. What I’m talking about is a way of life that places the ordinary means of grace as central to the life of the individual and of the congregation. You can read my post on this topic, here.

What does this look like?

This is a start:

Q: What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

A: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

The church needs to recover ordinary means ministry. That is, before we start talking about missional practice or the five-fold model of ministry, we need to establish that the foundation of Christian faithfulness is no less than following the pattern established by the apostles—gathering for word, sacrament, and prayer.

Our congregational gathering for common prayer, for the proclamation of Scripture, and for the celebration of the sacraments provides the corporate foundation for our private and family lives of devotion. It also provides the base from which we are sent into the world as part of God’s mission to the world.

The one thing that ties together the great works of God across the centuries is the resurgence of the means of grace as the heart of life in Christ. For the church to stand firm in its new cultural exile, we must once more embrace word, sacrament, and prayer. The reality of the Christian life is that a thousand whispered prayers while hanging laundry on the line is of more value than a handful of celebrity pastor conferences.

Additional resources: Ligon Duncan on the Ordinary Means of Grace [link]

[I]t is not by imitating Christ’s vicarious and atoning death, but by being incorporated into it as members organically attached to their dying and living head, that his conquest of sin and death becomes ours…

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According to Brennan Manning Jesus will have one question for us at the Judgment.

The Gay Spring

January 10, 2014 — 3 Comments

2013 saw incredible change in the legislative landscape of the United States with respect to marriage–a gay spring, if you will–that sharply divided the country along regional lines. Across the South and Central United States voters protected the traditional understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman and refused to extend that the definition to include same-sex couples. In the West and Northeast the definition was–sometimes against voter intent–expanded to allow for same sex marriages (as in California and Utah).

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This spring and summer–the time when Kings go off to war and denominations do too–Presbyterians will likely redefine marriage to allow for same sex weddings where civil law provides for it. And even where state law doesn’t permit it the option of sanctioning, blessing, consecrating, or otherwise attaching the churches endorsement to same sex unions will likely become an option for teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Since I live in North Carolina, this change will have little impact on me personally. Assuming, and it’s far from likely this would happen, that two men wanted me to marry them I could demur to state law without having to cite my own theological understanding of the issue. That’s a convenient position in which to find oneself. Of course, when ministers of the gospel look to the state for theological guidance it’s possible that the battle has already been lost.

Yet, there are many ministers across the country who will have lost the comfortable protection both of the state and the church in this regard. It is, however conceivable that with a change in marriage definition ministers will now be forced to be open about their views on marriage, even if they are not being asked to perform something that the state understands to be a wedding. This is difficult at the best of times, but in the face of opposition from both the state and the church it is onerous.

Mass culture has swung to affirm the GLBTQ community. Many Americans maintain traditional views with regard to sexuality, but it is now unacceptable to voice these in a public forum. I’m not talking about Duck Dynasty or some other pop culture person expressing views that are out of the “mainstream culture” as that culture constructed and communicated across media. I’m talking about a more general and diffuse pressure to join in with the chorus of affirmations of the sovereign right of the individual to discover (or construct?) his or her sexual identity.

I disagree with expanding the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution to encompass the right of same sex couples to marry. I disagree with it for a variety of reasons most of which are rooted in my theological understanding of God, humanity, creation, and the nature of marriage.

Since we don’t live in a Christian state, since what little moral consensus that once existed around this issue has evaporated, and since the line of precedent around this and other issues like it have unalterably led us to this place, I understand why many states are embracing this new reality of marriage.

I respect same sex people who choose to enter into legally-recognized partnerships. All things being equal–which of course they’re not–it’s better for a gay couple to enter into to some form of monogamous partnership or marriage than the alternative.

In the eyes of some states these are marriages, but in reality they are really only approximately equal to marriage. Those elements that are essential to marriage are missing from same sex relationships. As a result, to the church, these are really no marriage at all. On one level I’d prefer to not have to write this, but to do so would betray the Holy Scriptures that were handed to me as well as the churches theological reflection on Christ and the Scriptures for the last millennium.

To my mind, gay marriages are marriages in the same way that a corporation is a person–as a result of a legal fiction. A corporation may have rights like a person–political speech for example–but at the end of the day I think we can all agree that Goldman Sachs isn’t a person in the same way that Aunt Betty is.

So what of those whose views are popularly portrayed as slinking to occupy the hazy background of our current cultural snapshot? It simply remains for us to live peaceably with gentleness and respect.

My Augustinian view of history makes an awful lot of room for our culture to choose poorly, to favor error over truth. It happens in my own denomination and certainly within my country. In the end any law that violates God Law will be proven to be false and in the age that is to come will melt away. That is, of course, an eschatological statement, and we’re not in the eschaton yet. What remains is for those of us who are called and ordained to the work of preaching the Gospel to remain faithful to respect the civil authority while protecting the purity of the church’s teaching, worship, and sacraments. If I have to break civil or ecclesial law to do that, so be it.

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Imagine sitting down with a financial planner and in addition to totaling your bank accounts and mapping your investments, you also mapped your significant relationships and explored your relationship to your home.

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