Heil Succes!

It is amazing to me how much Americans are like the good Germans (98% to be exact) who rush in the reign of Adolph Hitler. German Christians were also swept up in the hysteria. I cannot help but see how the masses of American evangelicals are just as easily impressed by success “as the measure and justification of all things.” Thus, the larger a man’s church gets the more credible he becomes whether his ideas or opinions are worthy or not. Here’s how Bonhoeffer put it:

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of  Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity.  The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs done. . . . With a frankness and off-handedness which no other earthly power could permit itself, history appeals in its own cause to the dictum and the end justifies the means. . . . The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.

The “Bitter Card” & Hebrews 12:15, Part One

Sigh.

After 22 years of interaction with this group, I should get used to it. The “Bitter Card” has trump power. Pop that baby out and you can dismiss the criticism. It’s played this way: person A has a grievance that he/she does not feel is being understood. Eventually Person A vents too often, too emotionally, or even sinfully, or gets too close to unsettling the happy delusion of the establishment and consequently in danger of getting too much influence. At this point, play the “Bitter Card.” This puts them on the defensive and in the minds of the clueless guts their argument, plus it has the added benefit in that you can say that their defensiveness is proof of the truth of your claim. Often people who play the “Bitter Card” employ Hebrews 12:15 and warn that the bitterness could result in the defilement of many.

So, let me explain. Biblically.  Continue reading

Children, Obey Your Sinners! Ephesians 6:1-2 for Teens

Today’s message was for the young adults in our church who are still officially children. This is straight pastoral talk to them.

Music for the Soul

“So Saul was refreshed and was well. . .” (1 Samuel 16:23). Continue reading

Gospel Inoculation

Besides the fact that she has an accent, she’s a she, and she’s wearing pants, this is not much different than the kinds of invitations that I heard while growing up. A commenter called it “gospel inoculation.” Sad, but true. (HT: Jason Parker)

The cross is not a place to celebrate one’s self-worth

We have a silly idea that we are all supposed to get a ministry that makes us feel significant. It’s the notion that I need to do something for Jesus or I won’t feel like I’m worth anything. Thus, churches develop turf-protectionism over various places of service. The elderly organist will not cede her spot to the younger member who is a professional musician. He has felt important every Sunday for 40 years and suddenly he’s being asked by the church leadership to step down. Leaders find themselves intimidated to ask for the obvious because Christians have claimed their place of service, no matter how small, as their turf and there’s hell to pay if you dare remove them from their place of serving Jesus so that it can be done more efficiently by someone else.

Recently I was counseling a woman who came to me completely broken and worn out. For years she has tried to have a ministry that reaches out to other women but it has been hindered by a husband that has disgusting addictions, she said. She was tired, I could tell, and frustrated. I don’t think I will forget the look that came over her face, a look of shock, when I said matter-of-factly, “Well, maybe God doesn’t want you to have a ministry.”

She listened on as I said, “Maybe God wants you to find out how awesome He is to a person married to a loser.”

The look was a look of rest. The relief of one who comes to Jesus weary and heavy-laden and finds that He is good even if one does not have a rewarding ministry.

We can’t really follow Jesus until we are willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross. This means saying no to anything that glorifies me and yes to the sacrifices that are for the glory of God. The whole reason we have been elected is for the praise of His glorious grace. If our ministry and service in the church, be it pastoral or janitorial, are about making us feel some sense of worth, we lose an appreciation for the amazing-ness of sheer grace. The kinds of things that Jesus calls us to are cross things. And the cross is not a place to celebrate one’s self-worth.

*Wendy Alsup’s post today was right in line with my own meditations as I prepare for tomorrow’s message from Matthew 16:21-27.

Church Discipline and Social Media (i.e. Facebook)

The idea of excommunication is sobering to me. It is rarely practiced and very few people have faith in the process. When we are about to practice church discipline on a person who has already abandoned the church I am often asked why we even bother going through the motions. “What difference will it make in their lives?”, they ask.  I would suggest that a few of the reasons for this lack of faith in God’s process  are as follows.

  • Pastors lack the courage to follow through with a biblical and formal excommunication because so many other pastors in town will accept the excommunicated member without so much as pretending to do an investigation into their reasons for departing the previous church. Pastors seem to be the first to assume that they are the only reasonable leaders around and they easily buy into the notion that that the case of the disgruntled former members of the other church was severely mishandled.
  • The Temptation of the Pile-On. Pastors sometimes lack the conviction to act so forcefully on the basis of one obstinately held sin. Thus, they find themselves wanting to build a case against the obstinate person and suddenly find themselves feeling icky. The icky feeling is simply because they have succumbed to the temptation of the Pile-On and feel like they cannot move forward unless they overwhelm the “jury” (the local church) with an onslaught of damning evidence against the obstinate and unrepentant church member. Consequently, they lose their sense of peace. This is as it should be. Confident and biblical men don’t need to pile-on evidence. They simply take it as a matter of faith that the one clear, biblically-definable sin combined with obstinate refusal to repent is sufficient enough for excommunication.
  • The fear of interfering with Christian social life. Contemporary social life is so shallow and superficial that we don’t really have categories of social interaction. I have over 800 “friends” on Facebook. But are they really friends? We can find ourselves chatting with people we would normally never think of, much less fellowship with, on Facebook. The superficiality of it is probably mostly benign, but what about facebooking with people who have been excommunicated out of the church?

I don’t know the answer.

One of the most helpful things I’ve read on church discipline (and I’ve read a lot lately) is from William Ames’ (1576-1633) The Marrow of Theology. I wonder how this would fit with contemporary superficial socializing with technological media?

An obstinate sinner cannot be separated from the faithful unless the faithful be separated from him, and this produces a salutary sense of shame, 2 Thess. 3:14.  Those who are lawfully excommunicated are to be avoided by all communicants.  This refers not to moral and other necessary duties, but to those aspects of social contact which presuppose acceptance and inward familiarity. Speech, prayer, farewell, entertainment, table, are denied.

Does church leadership dare to ask their congregants to defriend on Facebook the excommunicated member?

I think people of faith are willing to ponder the hard realities of their convictions.

But one more thought. I think people have little faith in the process because it is entirely spiritual. Ames is particularly helpful here, especially when one considers the era in which he lived.

[Excommunication] pertains to all those, and only to those, who have the right to partake of the sacraments.  To such people it applies the will of God, i.e., those means of spiritual reformation which Christ alone has given to his churches, 2 Cor. 10:4. Therefore, punishments and pains of body or purse have no place at all in ecclesiastical disciplines.

In other words, the person who asks, “What will it matter to them?” is demonstrating a lack of faith and conviction that our battle is spiritual and we do not wrestle with carnal means.

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