When Grace says “No”…(follow-up from yesterday)

Yesterday’s post which included references by me about making whips and going off on a youth ministry conference for rushing a publicly fallen megachurch pastor (and his wife) onto their stage is the petri dish for today’s post.  So you may want to click the link above and give it a quick read-through so this one will make more sense.

Does Grace ever say “no”? After all, grace is a gift, right?  Gifts are kind of like a giant “yes” to someone.  I could imagine that interlocuter at various points of my post yesterday raising its hand to say “objection.” And rather than ignoring that persistent throat-clearing happening on the other side of the room, I’ve decided to face this objection head-on.  Can grace ever say “no”?  Specifically, I can think of several examples in Scripture where this happens (we’ll get there at the end.)  But first I want to take on this “false” grace that exists in the evangelical corporate culture*, that rears its ugly, boil-filled head every time someone within that culture makes a major “boo-boo” as they call it.

Let’s compare two systems, shall we?  Let’s call them System A and System B for clarity’s sake.  Which of these sounds more gracious?

System A says that recovery from sin happens quickly and full restoration of position and privilege should follow.  System B says that sin is not conquered in a moment or in 3 months of intensive therapy but that sanctification is a “long obedience in the same direction”, an outworking of our new identity in Christ over the long haul by the Spirit of God.

System A says that the way to make things right involves a person becoming successful again after a setback.  System B says that the way to make things right involves a person throwing themselves helplessly at the feet of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

System A says that God’s glory in tragic sin is only shown by future numerical results and publicity.  System B says that God’s glory in tragic sin is only shown by our dependence upon the results of Christ’s atoning work.

System A says that your skills as a pastor define you and therefore you have to go back into the pastorate to be used of God. System B says that your adopted status as a child of God in Christ now defines you, whether you work at Starbucks or at First Baptist Church, Big City.

System A says that grace can be received from the people you didn’t hurt, a new church or the general public’s favor.  System B says that grace can only be a gift when it is undeserved, and therefore must be sought from those directly hurt.  Fleeing to a new scene is not considered true grace.

System A says that you have something to offer people and must remain a teacher.  System B says that you must be needy, including needing to be taught by others.

System A says that your family is worth sacrificing again to regain the limelight.  System B says that you need to put them ahead of your career.

System A says that you are worthless if you don’t rise above your circumstances.  System B says that you are worth the cost of Jesus to God because of His love.

System A says that you need to speak to a crowd of people to have community.  System B says that you need to listen to a small amount of people who know you really well and ask tough (not canned) questions to find true community.

System A says that if you can’t get the broken pieces back together, we’ll give you a shot.  System B says only the love of God over a lifetime can restore the damage of our sin and that everything will not be made wonderful just yet.

System A wants to use you for their profit.  System B says that God seeks to graciously profit you for his use.

System A ignores those who have been hurt by your sin by publicly acting like everything’s ok when it’s not.  System B says you can just leave your gift here, useless for the time being, and first go and seek reconciliation from those you have hurt.

System A needs you to increase.  System B says you must decrease so He might increase.

So which one sounds more gracious?

Now, admittedly, there’s an option C as well which says there’s no hope or path or grace to be found once the sin has crested the flood level, so to speak.  But we’re not dealing with that.  System A is the evangelical corporate culture and quite honestly, from the descriptions above, it lies about Christ and the Gospel.

The truth is that grace says no sometimes.  In Luke 15, a story which probably would be first on people’s lists of a Bible story where “grace” is pictured beautifully, there’s a major moment in the story when grace says no.  We might miss it because there are a lot of things that grace says yes to.  The Father in the story, God, receives back the sinful son.  He is grace.  He says a lot of yes’s: Yes, you can return.  Yes, I love you and will greet you with hugs and kisses.  Yes, you are my child again.  Yes, I rejoice in your return.  Yes, I will party in the joy I find having you returned from the dead to me.

But he does say no to one thing.  Remember the prodigal’s little speech he works up on his journey home to dad?  Dad, I’ve messed up.  I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired sons. At least that’s what he wants to say.  In 15:21, the son probably still selling of the unclean pigs he shared lunch with finds himself in the tearful embrace of his Father.  He goes through the speech again but is cut off before he finishes.  Grace says no.  The Father will have none of this hired hand business. (He doesn’t even let him get the words out.)  The son is not going to earn his keep.  The son is not going to labor for his lunch.  He is going to be given it.  Flat-out given.  Yes, he was lost and found, dead and alive again. The Father makes no pretense that His son didn’t just disappear or squander his inheritance.  But He is gracious.  He will not let this son atone for his guilt.  He will not let him pay for his sins.  He gives grace.  The one thing grace always says no to is our inherent idea that we can earn back our worth, that we can labor for God’s love.  The problem with System A, the evangelical corporate culture, is that in the name of grace, it does precisely the opposite.  In that world, grace is not a gift, it’s a stock option. The grace given isn’t free or undeserved; it’s leverage for a future pay-off (whether monetary or numerical success or influence).  And that makes it not grace at all.  Grace that never says no is not grace. We need to be told no to our works-based identity and self-righteousness constantly or we will never experience grace.

*I say this rather than “evangelicalism” because many evangelicals, whether pastors or laypeople, have no real relationship with this business that we call the American church.  They’re not the bookstore/conference/television circuit that exploits the successful and the failed to make a quick buck.  They’re not the society that says “If you make a major mistake, but are really passionate as a leader, we can find room for you to step back in.”  As a thought, just imagine if the typical radio preachers fell into some of the sins that televangelists often do, would there be a market for them any longer?  Would they get 3 months of re-runs and return after all is forgotten?  Probably not.


Would you let this person teach your youth? How about your youth leaders?

(Post, in which I “go off”.  there’s not a lot of “logical flow here”, I admit up front.  But sometimes you see something and it just eats at you and you’ve got to say something even if few people read it. But the evangelical corporate church climate is just ridiculous and downright evil at times.)

In my mail today at church, I got a colorful invitation brochure to a popular youth ministry conference.  Now I’ve never actually been to any kind of youth ministry conference designed especially for youth pastors–I’ve just never had the desire to walk around a bunch of 30 year-old men with goatees who look like slightly older, fatter Hollister mannequins.  (ok, cheap shot).

There was the usual cast of authors and pastors, etc.  But I noticed one person really stood out.  I mean, REALLY stood out.  There was the name of a former megachurch pastor who just a few years ago was discovered buying meth from his homosexual prostitute.  It was kind of a big deal, especially since this pastor was a leading spokesperson for the sanctity of marriage.  And the press loves any semblance of religious hypocrisy like my dog loves honey combs cereal.

Not that I was ever planning on going, but cross that conference off my list.  Seriously.  The man was doing hardcore illegal drugs, hiring prostitutes and showing up to preach on Sunday like nothing was wrong.  And now, because a couple years pass, he’s suddenly back on the speaking circuit?   No.  This is just ridiculous.

And yes, I believe in grace.  I believe God’s love can rescue us from the deepest pit and restore us from any sin.  Read 1 Corinthians 6 and the litany of sins there, followed by some of my favorite words in all of Scripture: “And that is what some of you were.”  The Gospel changes things, new creation happens, new hearts are given, and the Holy Spirit of God works in men and women.

But there are still standards for leadership and teachers in the Christian community.  However one takes the “husband of one wife” phrase, I have yet to hear an interpretation that doesn’t see this at minimum including marital faithfulness to a man’s current wife.  And I don’t think Paul would have said a couple months of counseling following infidelity suddenly made someone fit again to stand in front of 1000’s of Christians and teach.

And the public eye certainly makes things worse.  this guy needs to experience authentic, grace-filled community.  He needs to be taught Christ by godly people who know him and ask tough questions.  He doesn’t need to be on stage dispensing advice or new-found revelations he discovered in therapy.  Especially not to those who are training young people.

I can think of countless devoted Christ-followers I’ve met over the years who would never be invited to a conference like this because they don’t have “numbers” to match.  Men and women who have loved people and given their lives for Christ who apparently aren’t seen fit to share the stage with pastors living secret homosexual lives and doing meth in their spare time.  There’s already been one book published out this mess and there will probably be more.  You can find it at your local Christian bookstore next to Jon & Kate’s book of family advice.

(sigh) I wonder if that whip Jesus made is still around.

Update: There is actually a part 2 of this coming (possibly tomorrow) in which I examine whether or not grace ever says no to people.

Reasons for going to Desiring God Conference 2010..

Ok.  So as of right now, my beautiful wife Stephanie and I are planning on going up to Minnesota this October to this year’s “Desiring God” conference.  The theme is called “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.”  If you’re interested in taking a road trip this Fall, we might be interested in carpooling with some good people!

But before I give a couple of reasons why I’m going to do my best to make this trip happen, let me explain what isn’t motivating me:

1) Calvinism. In one sense, I don’t really care about that aspect of Piper’s personal beliefs that much.  I’m not a 5-point Calvinist, which I’ve been told by some friends who are probably earnestly praying for a TULIP-ian breakthrough in my life means I’m not a Calvinist; I think that the Biblical portrait of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is deeper, richer, and more mysteriously woven than 5 small points can communicate, whether they’re 5 points of Arminius or of Calvin.  Maybe I’ll elaborate more on this in a future post, but I haven’t jumped on the YRR bandwagon, though I like a few of their authors and agree with some of their critiques of evangelicalism at large.

2) Conference-centered spirituality. You might think based on the large number of conferences and events we Christians do that there was a chapter in Romans or a paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount dedicated to the topic.  But there’s not.  It’s good to gather with other Christians, to worship together, and to hear from God’s Word.  But isn’t that kind of what we already do every week when our churches gather?  I’m looking forward to seeing the missional thinking grab hold of conferences, which still seem stuck in the attractional mentality, ironically even including the “Missional” Conferences.  That’s probably deserving of a future post as well!  I don’t think that by attending this conference, my holiness meter will ratchet up to 11 or that I’ll suddenly find some new and secret trick concerning God.  Sometimes well-meaning Christians advertise conferences that way, but it just ain’t true.

Ok, so if those are the things not motivating me to go, I’ll give some things that I am looking forward to.

1. Books. I’ve seen photos of the exhibit-hall sized book stores at some of these conferences.  I look forward to drooling over some books, even if I’m checking the prices on Amazon on my phone before I buy!

2. Seeing John Piper. Despite my earlier caveat above, I really appreciate a lot of things Piper has written over the years.  I just recently re-read “Desiring God” which began a process of spiritual shaping for me when I first read it as a 16 year-old.  Very helpful for moving me out of the “try hard and fail constantly” spirituality my revivalistic background had instilled in me.  I love Piper’s heart for missions especially and his challenge to young people to not waste their lives on the American dream.  We need more of that.

3. Watching the Rick Warren/John Piper discussion. Seriously.  That might be the 2nd best thing to everyone’s dream of seeing Piper and N.T. Wright having a discussion.  (Appreciating various aspects of both those men’s writings, I would love to see that one.  I would like to see not so much a debate, like the ETS event that Piper dropped out of for his sabbatical, but a discussion by them on their commonalities and differences.)  But there honestly might be protests and boos when Warren shows up on stage.  It’ll be like pro-wrestling, and I think it will be interesting to say the least.

4. Islam. One of the sessions is on “Confronting Islam with the Mind of Christ”. Reaching Muslims with the Gospel is something very dear to my heart and I look forward to this talk and the discussions it might inspire.

5. Francis Chan. To me, Chan seems like one of those guys who is serious about obeying Jesus even at great discomfort.  His books Crazy Love and The Forgotten God both carry this theme heavily.  And he seems like the kind of guy who may totally disrupt the flow of the conference.

6. The Mighty Ducks. Lol.  I always wanted to visit Minnesota since I watched the original Mighty Ducks VHS 15,000 times as a kid.  I did once on a high school basketball trip, but it was January and we stayed on campus at some dinky Christian college so not really what I was hoping for.  An early October trip though sounds pretty good.

I think that’s about it.  O, and I need to get out of Missouri and visit a new city that isn’t St. Louis, Omaha, or Branson.  If you’re interested in a fun road trip up I-35 from KC, let me know!

8 Ways for Missional Living in the 21st Century- Dr. Alvin Reid@121Forum

8 Ways for Missional Living in the 21st Century

Dr. Alvin Reid

1) Embrace the concept of “Missional Living” (1 Thess. 1:5, 8)

The Gospel is what is needed for Awakening.  The Great Awakening Preachers did not preach 5 keys to happy life.

A. It’s biblical.  (v. 5)

B. Our method ain’t working.

He often surveys his audiences and asks about how many grew up in a Christian home and talked as a family about reaching lost neighbors.  Very few ever respond-

We act like atheists in our neighborhoods.”

What do I mean?

Telling people the good news is evangelism.

Missions is learning a culture and customs to share.

Don’t let your child finish high school without getting them to another country, if you are a believer in Christ.

MISSIONAL means recognizing that the United States of America is a mission field in need of the Gospel in a plethora of cultures.

Pastors are not behavior-modification experts.  We are called to equip people to missionally engage their neighborhoods.

Michael Green- “they went everywhere ‘gossiping the Gospel.”

Ex. Of Christian behavior at restaurants, with bad tipping, rude treatment of servers, etc.

2) Remain Biblically and Doctrinally Sound. (esp. in our evangelism)

1 Thess. 1:5, 2:2, 4, 9.

Claiming a conviction about inerrancy is not equal to handling Scripture correctly.

David Dockery- “In the 1950’s we made two mistakes in Southern Baptist life- we bought into higher criticism in our schools, and secondly, we bought into programmatic ministry.”

The Gospel is the center of Paul’s ministry.

Theologically, we are tempted to take 1 aspect of someone’s life and paint them with all that.  (ex. Whitefield being a slave-owner, Wesley being a terrible husband).  Let’s be fair when we characterize people.  (My thought- probably referring to the good SBC habit of shoot first, ask questions later)

If teenagers can learn trigonometry in high school, they can learn theology in church.

3) We must evangelize both in what we SAY and what we DO.

1 Thess. 1:5, 2:1-8

Gilbert Tennant preached against unconverted pastors and told people to leave such churches.  A bunch of people were mad.  Old sides/new sides. Not every church was for the Great Awakening.  You can be in the middle of “God’s Work” and totally miss out on God’s work.

4) Evangelism must be both “come and see” and “go and tell”.

1 Thess. 2:9-10- Paul “lived among them.”

Challenging Question- how many lost people are in our cell phone that I could call right now and invite them to discuss a meal or coffee?

Thom Rainer’s statistics- 53% of senior pastors surveyed had not shared Christ in 6 months. Most young adults will not follow that kind of leadership.

This generation will study the life of the authority figure more than what you say.   (Mention our own Missional activity to spur them on.)

You can’t reach Samaritans by having “Samaritan Night” half of a year.

5) A Missional witness will not be ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

Jesus called us to make disciples, not clones! Be what God has made you to be.

It takes more work for a pastor to equip his people to share Christ in their own way and their world than to teach them a program.

Programs have EPIC Failure.  We have the most trained, least evangelistic group.

Pastors, don’t equip people to be like you.  Equip people to be like Jesus.

6) A Missional witness shares from the perspective of HUMILITY and NOT ENTITLEMENT. 1 Thess. 2:1-7

How do you know something is Christian? It costs more and doesn’t work as well.

7) A Missional witness emphasizes the WHOLE-LIFE element of following Christ. 1 Thess. 2:8

We train teenagers to be Hindus—Jesus is God of church, friends are god of relationships, money is god of checkbook, etc.

How do we work the Gospel into all aspects of our life?

8) Evangelism will be accompanied with or even preceded by discipleship. (1 Thess. 2:11-12)

Teaching non-Christian neighbors about Christianity.

We take ourselves too seriously and do not take the Gospel seriously enough.

My thoughts-

Dr. Reid speaks at a lot of places and has several great quotes (See the underlined sentences throughout.)  These 8 points can also be found in elaborated form in the latter portion of his book “The Convergent Church.”  I think many of his ideas show a great emphasis on keeping good things from the existing church life while incorporating changes and new methods.  I think in a lot of churches this kind of change will have to happen.  Many will reject out-of-hand large-scale changes, but may by in over time to small changes in the right direction.  Dr. Reid was also very challenging that we in ministry lead by example not just talk regarding missional living.

Leadership through the Lens of Romans 12:8- Dr. Bill Victor@121Forum

Leadership through the Lens of Romans 12:8-Dr. Bill Victor

Gifts in Romans 12:8-

7 Gifts listed: 5 of these are expected from Senior pastors (the bold ones):

Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leading, Showing Mercy.

This will frustrate, burn out pastors, cause isolation, fostering “professional ministry” list.

What if though we focused on “leading” for those called as pastors?

What does “leadership” mean?

Too many times, definitions are 20th century definition of leaderships shoved back into this passage.

What did Paul intend his readers to hear by “leadership”?  What would his audience have heard by it?

The NT does not give a definitive view of church leadership in the early church. Remember that each church could not read the other texts already written.  ( You don’t find the church at Rome reading Galatians while hearing Romans for the first time!)

Were there two levels of Leadership in the Early Church?

Spiritual: Apostles, prophets, teachers

Practical: those who give, those who lead, those who show mercy

Two types of associations Paul’s readers were familiar with had these Spiritual/Practical divisions:

Voluntary association (Guilds, etc.)- Spiritual- Priests/Practical-Patrons (provided meeting places, representation, wealthy people who offered resources to lesser members in the society)


Spiritual Leadership- rabbis, scribes

Practical- Synagogue Rulers (very similar to patron)

The term “prostomenous”

The difference for Paul is that wealth and prestige alone were not enough to be a ruler; Paul believed that it was a spiritual gift!

Primary meaning- “Be at the head of…rule and direct..” “Standing before or going before someone for protection”, used in LXX for household manager, used for governing, Apostolic use in the early church equivalent to “elder”, most commentators view this as one who presides, protects.

“A gifted person who by virtue of wealth or  position was able to “act as a champion” of the rights of the congregation and its socially vulnerable members.”  But Paul demanded sign of God’s Spirit working.

Survey of Pauline View of Church Leadership

Early Paul

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “those who diligently labor, have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction…”

Meeks- The First Urban Christians:

Same root word as the noun for “patron”, informal, brotherly patronage though, called a “love patriarchal” system, led by an example of hard work providing protection and leadership

Romans 16:1-2: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe…for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

Prostatis: most translations have “helper” or “support”, ESV- patron; HCSB, NRSV- benefactor.  Two feminine forms of this word are found in Jewish inscriptions in Rome, referring clearly to patrons.

1 Corinthians 16:15-16- Paul urges the Corinthians to submit to the household of Stephanus, who have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints.  Position is not the basis of his respect.  It is the example of servanthood.  They appointed themselves, not in a spirit of self-assertion but one of service and humility.

Later Paul

Romans 16:1-2: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe…for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

Prostatis: most translations have “helper” or “support”, ESV- patron  HCSB, NRSV- benefactor.  Two feminine forms of this word are found in Jewish inscriptions in Rome, referring clearly to patrons.

Philippians 1:1- Elders/Overseers Part 1

Overseer: episkopos

Overseer or guard.  Connotation of someone as a “watcher”, “protector” or “patron.” Duties were to govern, administer, and oversee the affairs of the community.


Leadership/care of overseers/elders. 1 Tim. 3:4, 5:17

Choosing suitable people to care for the congregation.

General thoughts:

No “fixed” pattern of leadership in Pauline churches.  Waited to see leadership emerge and affirmed it.  The most obvious quality was a willingness to serve and care for the church and its needs.  These people were uniquely situated with resources but also had to be gifted and called by the Holy Spirit.

“The one who leads”- possible roles of a “gifted” leader (Remember the separation of Spiritual/Practical roles within the church!)

-See to it that the words of the prophet, teacher, or exhorter were carried out in the day-to-day life of the congregation.  Other duties: providing or securing meeting places, representing members before civil authorities and perhaps overseeing the provision of material goods to those in need.

Some questions for us…

Is there a place for this type of “patron” leadership in our churches today?  Do we need wealthy/powerful people to step up and fulfill these roles today?  Room for wealthy churches to “patron” poorer churches and advocate them in society?”

What about the temptation to put the wealthy and powerful into leadership?

Remember Paul’s observation of willingness to serve!

Is there a place for spiritual/practical leadership distinction?

Does this give hope to gifted communicators/thinkers, etc. who aren’t administrative or leadership, or leaders who can’t teach?  Can we even admit we might be deficient in one of these areas?

My Thoughts:

Dr. Victor’s study of the term “leadership” certainly had the right focus and methodology.  A proper exegetical/Biblical theology seeks to define terms in their  context before systematizing them, and Dr. Victor provides a helpful survey of “leadership” in this regard.  We certainly have provided many ministry situations where the pastor is supposed to be “Superman” and have every spiritual gift essentially.   We don’t!  Feet simply don’t function well as hands or mouths in the Body.

One of the limitations of the time for this session was that we didn’t find out very much about places where Paul such as Titus where Paul commands the appointment of elder(s) in each town and how the leadership functions relate to the character lists given in the pastorals.  I was glad to see though that this session was not a John Maxwell speech plugged into a Biblical prooftext!

The Doctrine of the Church in Acts- Dr. Andy Chambers@121Forum

The Doctrine of the Church in Acts

Dr. Andy Chambers

“I don’t have to be jacked-up on caffeine to get excited about the 5th book of the New Testament.”

Compared to the Big Bang in cosmology, there is no mystery about what happened when the Holy Spirit fell and the church had its own “Big Bang”.”

Acts is the history of the church emerging in two distinct and often-clashing cultures (Jew/Gentile).  For the first 15 years, the church in Acts flourished among Jews who followed Jesus as their Messiah.  They couldn’t have imagined that a non-Jew could follow Jesus without circumcision.   2nd half of Acts we see the church spreading into the non-Jewish sectors with tension and struggles going on between both of these groups.   Acts is a profound case study all Christians must address of the tension between following Jesus and the culture around us.  How do we do that faithfully?  How do we plant faithful churches and incarnate the Gospel?

-Luke was probably a Gentile, companion of Paul, having opportunity to see the greatest missionary ever in action!  We often read Paul’s letters to discover about the church, but we forgot that Acts is a description of Paul’s actual practices in the churches!

-Acts isn’t just about going and telling.  It is about going and gathering.  Luke doesn’t stop with preaching, repentance, faith and baptism, but stays there and talks about the churches.

Several KEY passages for Luke about the church

Acts 2:42-47—use of the imperfect (w/ present participles) to describe the continual activity of church life


5:12-16-intended by Luke to show the church active when the Holy Spirit is powerful in people’s lives




Marks of Exemplary Church Life in Acts

1. Be broken and filled. Don’t forget Jesus began building this community when he originally called his disciples 3 years before.  A long, grueling and difficult process of breaking these men had to be accomplished.  It required 3 years of walking day and night with Jesus, messy process, hardships, Jesus had to expose their intolerance of people not like them, their pride, arrogance.  (He didn’t buy a macbook and a projector and get some mailers.)  Not a church growth plan that would sell well.  The entire training period in Luke is assumed in Acts-don’t forget that.

2. Be converted and baptized. (2:38-41)

3. Be submitted and taught. (2:42a)

4. Be connected to each other and connecting to the cross. (2:42b-c.  Cp. 20:7) breaking of bread- Lord’s Supper

5. Be dependant and bold. (2:42d; 4:23-31)- the prayer for boldness in the face of threats.

6. Be under authority and know God’s power. (2:43, 5:15-16)

7. Learn to give and learn to receive. (2:44-45; 4:34; See 11:27-30)

8. Meet together often to worship and to eat. (2:46).  They were the church every day.  They ate together!  Basic community activity.

9. Praise God and know the favor of the city. (2:47a; 5:13)

10. Know God’s sovereignty and do one’s duty. (2:47b; 13:48; 16:14 on God’s sovereignty and 2:38; 3:19; 5:14; 16:31; 17:30 on our duty.)  Luke doesn’t even bother to try and resolve these!

11. Experience unity and celebrate diversity. (4:32; 6:1-7; 15:19-21.)  The cultural problems of Greek and Hebrew widows and the delegation of ministry to those outside the mold.  Same in Acts 15, where the Gentile church had to give a little regarding meat with blood and idols so that they wouldn’t give unnecessary offense to the Jews.

12. Witness with power and live by grace. (4:33)- What does it look like in your church for much grace to rest on your people?  The voyage of the dawn treader where capacity to see the sun is growing day by day as they head right for it.

13. Accept that the cost will keep some from joining. (5:13) Luke makes this comment that “no one else dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.”  This is a hard verse for our numbers-driven, success models of churches.  If your walk is real enough to be hated and attacked, some will not join with you.

14. See the connection between holiness and growth. (5:1-10, 11-14)  God killed people.  Put that in a mailer.  But it did cause them to keep growing.

Q/A with Dr. Carr (from the previous session) and Dr. Chambers

Carr-  asked a question regarding his mention of extrabiblical traditions and specific examples:

Church Buildings, organizations (Dr. Chambers added the simple corporate gathering and smaller groups found in Acts—Simple and effective) Dr. Carr adding that Acts already had 3000 at that point, so the big gathering and the small gathering are the same.

Both- asked how when we talk as if there’s a generation that gets it and one that doesn’t, how do younger people stand on the shoulders of those before us?  For older, how do we mentor?

Carr– I’ve greatly benefited from my heritage, many people investing in me, Cooperative Program helping seminary students.  It would be not only hypocritical, but wrong to speak ill of that which we have benefited from.  But young people have a responsibility beyond that to reach the next generation.  Last year, every zip code lost a percentage of Christians in the population.  So we can’t do what we’ve always done because we are following behind.

Chambers– Encourage younger people to be HUMBLE in gratitude for those before them.  The ones who can do that are more able to think God’s thoughts about the church versus the ones who are just rebels sometimes.

Either- How can pastors be better fertilizers in the field and lead a church and fulfill responsibilities expected by the church and all the other pastors?  How do we be pastors and still reach lost people?

Carr– I used to say be a church planter, but that just starts the cycle over.  Church culture often hasn’t allowed the pastors to spend time with lost people.  About 15% of seminary students want to be pastors, half make it, but most who are not going there say it is based on the unrealistic expectations of churches.  This is an institutional issue that needs to be addressed and re-training churches what to expect.  Some might not ever make that change though.

Chambers– Something as modest as investing a small amount of time into a secular group and deliberately interacting with them (Take a church leader with you in fact!)

What role, if any, can conventions and associations play in realizing these 21st century church changes?

Carr- Across America, the association-level structure is being questioned by younger pastors.  The title of the director is DOM (Director of Missions)-but he’s expected to be the director of maintenance usually.  What church planting and things are going on?  Not a lot often.  Young people don’t want to waste energy on associations that are not focused on the Great Commission, ones that resist only being focused inward on the churches.

Chambers-Historical geographic conventions will struggle in this more affinity-based world.  Jesus tasked the church with the Great Commission, whatever the way of cooperating ends up being.  Be free to follow Christ there.

Carr- Two choices in the future-  maintain structures of the past, or perhaps note the once-relevance of structures with a willingness to move forward if it is needed.

Question about Collaboration-

Chambers– 1st century churches were very aware of each other and conscious of their responsibilities to and for each other.

Carr– in the OT, Israel was carried off by Babylon.  Jeremiah wrote them a letter to seek the welfare of that city.  Why can’t the church join together in doing things that God cares about?  Why do lost people often do things together?

My Thoughts

Very good thoughts looking at the early church life in Acts.  I think the issue of description vs. prescription (viewing Acts as the historical record of the early church or as the implicit criteria of what churches today should look like) makes the study of Acts particularly difficult and perhaps presents many of us an unnecessary dichotomy when we study Acts today.  Obviously Dr. Chambers had quite a large topic to discuss (discussing “The Church in Acts” would be like trying to discuss “Christology in John’s Gospel” or something!), but I thought he did a good job of hitting key parts and inviting us to further study on our own.

Biblical Ecclesiology- Dr. Alan Carr@121Forum

Biblical Ecclesiology- Dr. Alan Carr

Dr. Carr teaches church planting at Golden Gate Theological Seminary.  He also has a Canadian or Minnesotan accent.

He began his talk by discussing this quote-“The church is the bride of Christ and each one can be individually beautiful.”-Linda Burqhuist.  He gave several illustrations of brides in different cultures looking different and being beautiful each.  He described  his view of this Scriptural analogy- “one groom, one universal Church-bride expressed in a multitude of beautiful congregation-brides, all robed in the Gospel robe, but every wedding celebration and feast being culturally distinctive.”

Dr. Carr also picked up on the “Body” analogy- the church is alive!  It reproduces, breathes, grows, etc.  The popular children’s rhyme, “Here is a church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people”- this is heresy!  The church IS the people.

His Definition of the church:

A group of transformed followers of Jesus, who perceive themselves to be the Body of Christ in their community and to the nations, and live as such.”

There were some key parts to this definition:

-“perceive themselves to be the Body of Christ in their community”-Difference between house church and Bible study-  Bible studies do not consider themselves churches!

-“If you make disciples, church happens.”

-Reason the definition does not include baptism and Lord’s Supper (common in Protestant church definitions): if disciples are being taught to follow Jesus, then they will do those things He commanded.  Why exclude “loving one another” and only include the two “ordinances” in church definition?

He then gave some “First Century Shifts perceived in 21st Century Ecclesiology”: (organized into “alive” categories of “breathe in/out”- I may have switched some of these in my notetaking)

1. “Breathe in”

From Extrabiblical traditions to Biblical minimums.  We as children of the Reformation claim to desire to hold to “Scripture.”  Sola scriptura.  However, all those guys in that era didn’t change everything about the church they inherited.   He describes his own version of “The Zwinglian Crisis”-Zwingli wanted to go back to the Book, but stopped after infant Baptism was not found in there.  He started killing these “anabaptists” who had been his friends and even took a small army to make each church district convert to Reformed Theology.  Carr realized that much of his own work was of a reformer who often times still wasn’t really grappling with extra-Biblical traditions.  IN Southern Baptist life, “the Conservative Resurgence told people to study the Bible.  Thank the Lord.  Now they’re going to start asking some tough questions.”

From Institutional Church-based to Kingdom of God-based Ecclesiology

There are many Southern Baptists who can’t see the larger Body of Christ in the world.   Jesus told us though to “Seek the kingdom of God.”  His message was the kingdom and the church exists to be a living expression of the Kingdom.

From a regional focus to a neighborsphere/local community focus.

From an organizational maintenance focus to an Incarnational Community Transformation Focus

Dr. Carr gave the great example of his wife growing up on farm.   Illustration of how dumping a huge load of manure in one section of field to fertilize it does not work!  As the church, “we are the poop!” (that’s a quote). Christians should be the organic material scattered in the world.  Instead we pile all Christians in one corner of the field and assume we’ve fertilized it.  Filling committees at church is not the only service for Christians!

From Hierachical Structure to Shared Leadership

He knows this is the most resisted by many.  “I still think people are called to role of pastor—not always from an institutional status though.”  (There was some push-back on this during the Q/A time.)

“Breathe Out”

From “going to church” to “being the church”

Going to church is a no-brainer because they are doing life together.  His own example of taking in Burmese refugee children into his family (based on James 1:27).

From a focus on a main gathering to “doing life together”

Is 3-hours a week all that we are the church?  NOPE.  All the time the body of Christ. (Here he used the “as you go” fallacy from Matthew 28, though I don’t disagree with the point in general.)

From “Right Belief” to living out sound biblical doctrine holistically

“All my life discipleship meant “knowledge-based” stuff.  Seminaries are panicking b/c the product being offered is not what is being used as much today.”  There will be a rise of field-based education models.  (I’m thinking of the rise of pastoral intern programs like Capitol Hill in D.C., etc.)

“Breathe In”

From efficiency driven strategies to collaborative relational efforts.

1950’s saw the rise of the business model infiltrating churches.  However, collaboration is not as efficient.  Mix in the soil.  Don’t be the poop on the corner.

“Breathe Out”

From strategies of the “flesh” to a reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Growing up with John Wayne as indicator of manhood- self-reliant, sufficient, etc.  Strategy was to take care of things.  But if you rely on hard work more than on God, that’s flesh.  It looks real good to people around us, but it’s not.  I still believe God does miracles.  If we don’t believe he works, why do we pray?  It’s not just about making us feel better or get our emotions in the right order. I pray because there’s a living God who really hears our prayers and is really really powerful.

My Thoughts-

There were some good thoughts here.  Primarily, “if we make disciples, church happens.”  And “we are the poop.”  Both reflect the need of the church emphasize the disciple as goal and send disciples into culture to make more disciples rather than using them to build our programs and church empires.  I was surprised that a session entitled “Biblical Ecclesiology” spent little time in the Bible.  I think a lot of the ideas were very good, but I want to see how (or if) ideas are drawn from the Bible if we are to use it as models for the church.  This probably was a time-constraint issue, though.  Dr. Carr’s Q/A time was shared with the next speaker’s, so more on that in the next post.