The NT assumes that all Christians…

The New Testament assumes that all Christians will share in the life of the local church, meeting with it for worship (Heb 10:25), accepting its nurture and discipline (Matt 18:15-20; Gal 6:1), and sharing in its work of witness. Christians disobey God and impoverish themselves by refusing to join with other believers when there is a local congregation that they can belong to.

– J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, 202

Social distancing as church discipline

socialdistancingRecently, I’ve had a couple of discussions about the meaning & application of church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5. Of particular interest was v11: But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one.

What follows is an edited bit of email correspondence on the subject.

The practical application of church discipline, particularly after someone has been excommunicated, is a significant challenge. . . .

Church discipline is the means by which a church recovers a straying member. When correction & recovery becomes impossible (serious, unrepentant sin), a church will remove a member to publicly declare that, absent repentance, the wayward member is no longer considered to be in the faith. Even in the worst cases, the goal of excommunication is redemption, not judgment (1Cor 5:5).

On attending services – This provision is not about remaining friendly but about allowing a presumptive unbeliever to sit under the preaching of the word. I would allow [Bill] to sit in on a service in the same way that I would allow any other unrepentant sinner to enter our gathering (1Cor 14:24-25). While I would consider him to be an outsider (Mat 18:17), is there a better place for this man to be than sitting under the authority God’s word?

On not associating – Wise application on this point can be tough, especially since there’s debate over interpretation. I think we need to start with the broader context which is Paul’s shock that the Corinthians are tolerating flagrant, unrepentant sin as if they’re big enough to handle it (1Cor 5:2, 6). In that light, Paul’s instruction to “not associate” and “not even eat” with the individual is an especially strong response to the church’s inaction. That said, I don’t think Paul is simply writing for rhetorical effect, I think he means what he says. But what does he mean?

  1. Option 1: total separation– on this view Paul means that whether inside or outside of the church gathering, Christians are to have no contact with the excommunicated member. Your break off all contact/communication.
  2. Option 2: congregational distancing – on this view Paul is instructing the corporate body and he means that the gathered church is to separate from the excommunicated member. This would include the fellowship meal of which communion was a part.

My view is closer to Option 1 but I would leave room for personal interaction so long as my interaction was for the purpose of communicating my sorrow and their need for repentance.

Having said all of that, the practice of excommunication is a challenge for three reasons. First, a local church needs to nail down what they understand the Scriptures to teach concerning church discipline and that’s hard because of the interpretive issues with the text and because no two cases are exactly the same.

Second, the pastors need to clearly communicate to the body in every scenario so as to minimize misunderstandings. [I take it that excommunication is a decision for the church to make (Mat 18:17) but pastors will lead the body through the process.] For example, what do the pastors mean if they were to encourage the body to “reach out” to the excommunicated—have them over for dinner? check in with them over a cup of coffee? contact them to let them know I’m praying for them?

Third, even if there is clear teaching & communication on the case at hand, members have the challenge of wisely responding to a host of situations/tests/opportunities that will come to them as they move forward. Life won’t be simple and neat––especially for those who previously enjoyed a close relationship with the former member. . . .

About that EDM…

“What ought to make worship delightful to us is not…its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object.”

An earlier post made note of a CT article detailing the emergence of EDM (electronic dance music) into corporate worship settings. When making light of the latest fad, conscientiousness can sound an awful lot like crankiness, and since no one gives serious thought to the arguments of a crank I thought I might offer reasons for my dissent.

My antagonism toward EDM has very little to do with style per se. I do think it’s naive to act as if all styles are created equal when it comes to a corporate worship service but, objectively speaking, my dissent has less to do with what it is than why it is.

The CT article leads me to believe that a major reason why EDM has been brought into the church service is because we’re hoping to keep up with the cultural trend. Now a trend isn’t necessarily sinful but, like a man-bun, that’s no excuse for accepting it. Years ago Os Guinness astutely noted:

A common reason many people are uncritical today is that they see trends as simple, straight, and short–almost like the flight of a missile. But in fact, trends are much more like the bounce patterns of a ball in a pinball machine. Where it comes from, where [it] is bouncing to, and what it is hitting on the way are more important in interpreting a trend than seeing precisely where it is at any particular moment.

Read through the article with an eye toward answering the Guinness questions and you might just see the EDM trend in a different light. But beyond a general wariness of all things trendy, we have many other reasons to keep EDM out of a church service:

(1) Spiritual ≠ suitable. In a nuanced discussion on the appropriate use of tongues in the church Paul says “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1Cor 14:18-19). Notice that Paul (a) affirms the gift and (b) claims to make use of it personally but (c) curtails it’s use in a corporate setting. So even those things which have spiritual value are not necessarily suitable for an assembled church. The test, Paul says, is what’s edifying for the body (14:4, 26). The relevance of the edification principle to EDM is worth considering. Maybe we could take a cue from Paul and say “I listen to EDM praise more than you all but in the church I’d rather do something different.” Of course, this assumes that EDM shows signs of an edification deficit. Read on.

(2) Aesthetics vs. articulation. From the article: “the aesthetics and structure of EDM also present challenges in terms of balancing instrumentation and the articulation of the message through text.” Like it or not, the Christian faith is word/text based and that has to shape the way we use music in the assembly. See, for example, Col 3:16 where song is a means of instruction.

(3) Delighting in novelty. Quoth D. A. Carson: “What ought to make worship delightful to us is not…its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object.” Try finding the object of worship in the CT article. See also the quotes in #4.

(4) EDM’s contribution to a corporate service is trivial (at best). To wit:

But it’s the effect the music has on congregants . . . that has worship leaders most    intrigued. “It just brings more of a liveliness to the worship atmosphere,” [a worship pastor] said. “When you hear it, you just kind of want to move a little bit more.”

“[EDM] gives permission to have fun and jump around . . . When you look out into the congregation or the crowd, everyone is just jumping to the music. And I feel that is the beauty of EDM—you can’t not jump to the beat.”

(5) Ironically, EDM advocates are sowing the seeds of their own irrelevance. What stirs passions today will be passe tomorrow. What then–identify & adopt the next latest trend? [On the whole, I think Christians are more likely to pick up a trend on it’s way out but that’s a discussion for another time]

(6) EDM is more exclusive than inclusive. Being far removed from my club days I’ll go out on a limb and say that the EDM crowd is a decidedly small demographic in our population. Unless we’re ok with generational segregation, EDM seems to be a poor medium for corporate worship. Again from the article: “People in the crowd dance, clap, and sing. Others stand statuesque, as if wondering what’s happening.”


Explaining the Lord’s Supper through Deuteronomy 6

…we should want to provoke the inquisitive nature of our children by exposing them to things they don’t understand.

There was a time not so long ago that kids sat with their parents during a church service. My history is fuzzy but I think it was in the days after child labor laws but before we discovered the retarding effects of acute pediatric boredom (APB).¹ But societal evolution marched on and our ecclesiology eventually caught up so that programs like “children’s church” have nearly eradicated APB (and similar disorders) from our gatherings.

Of course, societal evolution rarely comes without a trade-off. For us, the boon of children’s church meant the absence of young children when we observed the Lord’s Supper. So, in what I hope was a small, first step, our leadership decided to change the service order once a quarter so that our children’s church kids (K5-3rd grade) could experience the sacrament.

Better minds have attempted to work out their corporate worship according to the text and pattern of Scripture only to reach varying conclusions on practices like children’s church. I have no desire to jump into that discussion here except to make one observation.

It’s interesting to note that a full understanding or appreciation of God’s commands are not prerequisites for obedience. Or, to put it another way, sometimes we obey so that we may understand (Psa 119:100; Jn 7:17). For our current discussion the point is that one of the ways God would have our children learn the faith is by experiencing things they don’t understand.

And that brings us to Deuteronomy 6 where God prescribes a parent’s answer to a child’s question:

Deuteronomy 6:20-25   “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?’  21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand.  22 ‘Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; 23 He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ 24 “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.  25 “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.

At the risk of stating the obvious [A besetting sin in your teaching ministry. –Shive], this proverbial son is watching, if not participating in, things that seem strange to him; and his lack of understanding is what draws him in. I take it, then, that in we should want to provoke the inquisitive nature of our children concerning our faith by exposing them to things they don’t understand.

To that end we might even consider keeping a fidgety kid in the pew every now and then on a communion Sunday just to pique his curiosity.

And if your son asks you, “What is the Lord’s Supper and why are you doing this?” then maybe you could say something like:

 ‘We were slaves to sin, and the Lord freed us from the curse with a mighty hand.  Moreover, through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has shown us great and distressing signs and wonders against death, the devil and all his works;

God brought us out from the domain of darkness in order to bring us in to the kingdom of his Son, to give us an inheritance which He has promised to us.’

“So Jesus commanded us to observe the Lord’s Supper, to fear Him for our good and for our salvation, as we are doing today. “It is a sign of our righteousness when we keep this command before our LORD and Savior, just as He commanded.


¹We now know that APB is merely the symptom of bigger problem–excitement deficit disorder (EDD).

Should we major in evangelism?

At least one local Christian in the Fountain City is doubting that evangelism is the Church’s most important job.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Facebook lurking to bring you this important newsflash:

At least one local Christian in the Fountain City is doubting that evangelism is the Church’s most important job.

Apparently, our young churchman has a niggling suspicion that the priority placed on evangelism is short-sighted and rife with unintended consequences. Specifically, He worries that majoring on evangelism means minoring in discipleship, an arrangement not found in Scripture. After all, Jesus didn’t say “Go and evangelize” but “Go and make disciples” (Mt 28:19).

On the whole I think our agitator’s instincts are right, especially when we consider two misconceptions that plague too many evangelism campaigns:

  1. Evangelism ≠ converts. Unfortunately, many pep talks for evangelism conflate evangelizing with winning converts. Strictly speaking, to evangelize (Greek, euangelizō) means “to announce/proclaim good news.” Thus, whenever we share the gospel with someone we have done evangelism regardless of whether or not we win a convert. Failing to distinguish between act and result leads to the belief that we’re not evangelizing unless we’re seeing new people in the pews. Maybe, maybe not.
  2. In Mt 28:19 make disciples is the main verb, not Go. It’s not uncommon to hear someone explain the Great Commission as if it consisted of two commands: Go and make disciples. The effect is that ‘go’ is taken to signify our going out to win the lost (i.e. evangelism) while ‘make disciples’ is what we do once we get them in. So there’s evangelism and there’s discipleship.

    But Go is actually a participle in the Greek which draws its “force” from the imperative make disciples [Oh, you have them on the edge of their seats now. Tell them more! -Shive]. The point is that go is tied to make disciples which is the focus of the verse.

On biblical grounds I think evangelism should neither be conceived in terms of results (i.e. conversions) nor should it be considered apart from the broader work of discipleship. By all means, emphasize evangelism, but do it for the increase of disciples not converts.

On binding a stone in a sling (or Why I won’t vote Trump)

At the end of the day I oppose Trump not because he’s a cad but because he’s a fool.

slingThe gist of the evangelical argument in favor of voting for Trump seems to be this: Vote the policies not the man. Yes, Trump is morally reprehensible; but his policies more closely align with biblical values and that warrants a Christian’s vote.

In many respects I understand this argument and under different circumstances I might even subscribe to it myself. Even so, I assume we’d all admit that “separating the man from his policies” has its limits. A mad scientist may be on the cutting edge of his field but at the end of the day he’s still mad. It makes little difference to the peasants that the mad scientist accedes to the orthodoxy of scientific laws while his monster goes on a rampage through the village.

Assuming a vote for policy is justified in this election, the approach seems ominously short-sighted for at least two reasons.

First, the “policy matters” mantra comes with a subtle but significant change in our political discourse. Behavior that was once deemed unacceptable must be downgraded to indefensible as a candidates character moves from a central issue to a caveat in many of our debates. To be fair, I don’t think a Trump vote signals indifference on character issues. Evangelicals for Trump (ETs) can argue that character will still matter in future elections but they should also admit that after 2016 it won’t matter as much as it once did. Character will no longer be an evangelical trump card (no pun intended).

Second, since ETs admit their candidate suffers from a dearth of personal integrity, I can’t understand the confidence they place in Trump’s policies. The “vote policy” argument seems to require a willing suspension of disbelief since there’s no reason to believe Trump’s policies are any more inviolable than his wedding vows. To cite just one example, much was made of Trump’s commitment to defend religious liberty and free speech. But when a religious leader had the temerity to criticize Trump he responded with nonsense like this:

Call me a skeptic but were The Donald to become the most powerful man in the free world I seriously doubt he’d take a stiff rebuke from his Evangelical Executive Advisory Board when he begins to drift.

But set all of that aside. Reasonable Christians can and will disagree on whether a vote for policy sans character is justifiable. That discussion should be had but it’s not the definitive issue for me.

At the end of the day I oppose Trump not because he’s a cad but because he’s a fool.fool in the biblical sense:

A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind. (Prov 18:2)

Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel. (Prov 20:3)

A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back. (Prov 29:11)

And since Trump fits the profile I find it hard to shake these next proverbs:

Prov 26:8, 10 Like one who binds a stone in a sling, So is he who gives honor to a fool. Like an archer who wounds everyone, So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by.

Needless to say, appointing a fool to high office sounds less than advisable even if others are looking to appoint a corrupt and hostile alternative. Lest this sound like moral preening, I’ll go on record and say that were it not for Trump’s temperament, his lack of governing acumen, and his inability to articulate anything resembling a political philosophy I could vote for the lout in opposition to “crooked Hillary.”

In my thinking our nation will suffer for at least four more years no matter who holds office (albeit on different fronts). And here’s where my Proverbial protest meets American pragmatism: I’d rather dodge the rocks hurled by the opposition than suffer disfigurement by a self-inflicted rock to the face. As Alexander Hamilton once said:

If we must have an enemy at the head of Government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.

#NeverTrump #NeverHillary
(Donald, please prove me wrong!)

A passion is worth a thousand words

If our passionate convictions would be laughed out of the room by persecuted Christians, we might consider new convictions. At the very least we should dial back on the passion & authority when we share them.

At some point in a Feb 28 message entitled “Saved by the Church” Andy Stanley said:

When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church. Instead… you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church. They go to college, and you pray that there will be a church in the college town that they connect with. Guess what? All those churches are big.

When the video clip started making the rounds on internets and Google machines AS issued an apology:

Some dispassionate thoughts on the firestorm from North Point:

1. Lackluster apology – Maybe AS will say more¹ the next time he takes the stage but tweeting an apology seems like the least one can do—literally. It’s not that we need to legislate apologies but somehow a tweet just doesn’t seem up to the task in a situation like this. It’s also impossible to know what he’s apologizing for–what was it that he also found offensive?

2. Nothing new under the sun – AS has expressed similar sentiments before. Take, for example, the following passage from Deep & Wide. I’ll leave it to the reader to identify the common themes between the two quotes but we should ask: At what point do these comments begin to reflect a man’s philosophy or theology?

If you try [to teach as if people are seeking truth and not happiness], you will end up with a little congregation of truth seekers who consider themselves superior to all the other Christians in the community. But at the end of the day, you won’t make an iota of difference in this world. And your kids—more than likely your kids—are going to confuse your church with the church, and once they are out of your house, they probably won’t visit the church house. Then one day they will show up in a church like mine and want to get baptized again because they won’t be sure the first one took. And I’ll be happy to pastor your kids. (115)

3. Homiletical chickens come home to roost – It seems like only yesterday that AS characterized expository preaching “cheating” and “easy” before concluding that effective preaching is “one point that is somehow connected to a passage and it is connected to a life.” [emphasis added] Every preacher will put his foot in his mouth at some point no matter what his preaching style (verse-by-verse, thematic, topical, etc.). But when your sermon isn’t tethered to a specific text, the risk of foot-in-mouth increases because you tend to make your point rather than the Scripture’s point.

4. Proof texting – related to #3, the offending comments aren’t even “somehow connected” to a passage.

5. Failing the PC test™ — I’m all for “contextualization” and “enculturated” preaching but if you’re going to be passionate about something you might as well be passionate about what is universally true. It really is sobering to think that much of our “insight” doesn’t reflect truth for all so much as what’s true for us. In that respect, I’ve found it helpful to ask how well our claims would hold up in the context of a persecuted church. If our passionate convictions would be laughed out of the room by persecuted Christians, we might consider new convictions. At the very least we should dial back on the passion & authority when we share them.

6. Passion sticks – Perhaps most disconcerting is that, by his own admission², AS is passionate about building big churches with separate youth groups. We don’t need to infer that he doesn’t really love Jesus or that he’s not a Christian. But passion doesn’t come by spontaneous generation. Passion is cultivated. And in that respect the passion behind Stanley’s remarks is just as telling as the speech itself.

At the end of the day, episodes like this bring me back to D. A. Carson’s word of caution:

If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

¹Stanley has more to say on the controversy here:

²The video of Stanley’s remarks, which has since been removed, records him interjecting “Can you tell I’m passionate about this?”

It’s not what you got but what you give?

Christian #1 goes to church looking for what he can get. Christian #2 goes to church looking for what he can give. Which Christian is most spiritual? Maybe neither.

Get&GiveFor I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;  that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. Rom 1:11-12 {NAS}

Christian #1 goes to church looking for what he can get.

Christian #2 goes to church looking for what he can give.

Which Christian is most spiritual?

Maybe neither.

If Paul can be trusted to shape our perspectives on church life, the mature Christian is the one who gathers with other Christians looking to give and get. In Pauline lingo we call this mutual edification (see 1Cor 12:7ff; Eph 4:16). The irony is that while Giver and Taker look very different, they actually share the same heartbeat.

Taker — He appears humble & hungry but he might not consider anything beyond his own desires. The church exists to meet his needs and if they aren’t met he’ll walk. He’s prideful.

Giver — He appears selfless & mature but he might not sense his own inadequacies and brokenness. He endeavors to be God’s gift to the lesser brothers in the church. He doesn’t expect to receive anything because he can’t imagine what anyone would have to offer him. He’s prideful.

God save us from our pride and pop spirituality–in all their variegated forms. 

Deeper delights in corporate worship

God has so created man that there are deeper delights and more intense inspiration in the worshiping congregation than in individual devotion.

When there are a number of worshipers present, there is a participation in worship which is more intense than is the individual passion of any one when he is by himself. It is common knowledge that a mob is is more cruel than any individual in it would be by himself. Similarly, the enjoyment of an elite company of music lovers at the symphony is more intense than that of a single music lover sitting by himself listening to the same music. God has so created man that there are deeper delights and more intense inspiration in the worshiping congregation than in individual devotion.

-Robert Rayburn, O Come, Let Us Worship (quoted by R. Kent Hughes in Worship by the Book)

A polite rejoinder for the preaching guru

youre-joking-rightWhat does a small-time pastor think when he hears that a big-time pastor has denigrated the practice of expository preaching?¹ I’m glad you asked.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible– that is just cheating. I assume the cheating remark is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. As in “guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible write their sermons by cut-and-paste.” Give him the benefit of the doubt & move on.
  2. It’s cheating because that would be easy. This might seem counter-intuitive but expository preaching is actually harder than topical preaching. Topical preaching grants the preacher far more flexibility in selecting topics, creating his points, and finding Scripture to match. In contrast, the expository preacher is greatly constrained by the very Scripture he hopes to unleash. He must say what the text says (in its words & its intent) even as he tries to communicate it in a way that captures the hearts & minds of the people. Try doing that with Christ’s genealogy in Matthew 1 or the Melchizedek passage in Hebrews 7!
  3. That isn’t how you grow people. His confidence notwithstanding, this claim can only exist in a historical vacuum. Chrysostom? Calvin? Lloyd-Jones? Surely topical preachers don’t have the corner on Christian growth. What about Piper or Keller or Dever? But I digress. If you view expository preaching as little more than an academic exercise–read a verse, reference a Hebrew or Greek word, review various verb tenses–I suppose you’re right. It’s hard to grow people when you’re boring them to death (I speak from experience). But as D. A. Carson points out here, systematically preaching through Scripture shows your people how to read their Bibles and it gives them the chance to hear all that God has to say. Sounds like catalysts for growth.
  4. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that. At best this is an argument from silence. Scripture is neither a sermon manual nor a sermon archive. How could anyone make such a claim? In fact, we do have examples of verse-by-verse preaching. Ezra & Co. preached through the Law (Neh 8:1-8). The author of Hebrews expounded the latter half of Psalm 95 (Heb 3:7-4:11). More examples could be offered but two is enough to make the point, especially when we’re told that none exist.

Walter Kaiser is credited with saying “I preach a topical sermon once every five years – then repent of it immediately!” May the Lord grant us more repentance.


¹verse-by-verse preaching isn’t necessarily expository preaching (and vice versa). But preaching “verse-by-verse through books of the Bible” often describes expository preaching which is what I think is happening here.

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