Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Being Passionate

I was listening to the radio a couple of months ago and they were interviewing some people who had just been to some kind of event that Mitt Romney spoke at. A couple of the people said that they didn't think Mitt Romney was angry enough. I can think of lots of reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney but not being angry enough isn't one of them. Many of these people would have been happy if Mitt Romney had come out yelling, screaming, and throwing chairs even if the content of what he said was the same. They are angry with the political machinery and aren't as concerned with actually fixing problems as they are having someone to express their outrage in a public way. After a political debate content usually takes a back seat to how "presidential" a person acted or how passionate they were.

Unfortunately our expectation of passion for the sake of passion is not limited to our expectations of government leaders. Pastors are praised for "being passionate" or dynamic. I've found websites that say you should leave a church if it does not have a passion for the lost. I recently read an interview with a local worship leader who talked about how important it is to show that you are passionate so that you can create the right worship experience and everyone else will get passionate with you.

If you are critical of what these passionate pastors teach or of how they teach, people will sometimes say, "I don't agree with everything he says but he has such a passion for the lost." But that's not the point. The Bible doesn't call anyone to be passionate. Being passionate is not where the Bible directs us for assurance or one of the qualifications for being a pastor. Pastors are called to be self-controlled, not quarellsome, disciplined, not violent, not quick-tempered, sober-minded, able to teach, and gentle. These Scriptural qualifications mean that if somebody is completely driven by passion they should not be serving as a pastor. A person who is consumed with passion is being driven by his own emotions.

That doesn't mean that pastors are not to have any emotion but their emotions should not be driving them. Jesus did not go around trying to scare people into heaven through elaborate emotional appeals about the terrors of hell. He said what hell was and left it at that. Jesus did respond in anger to the money changers in the temple but that was for theological reasons. The money changers made it seem that you could buy your way into heaven. There are good Scriptural reasons for getting angry with passionate people who preach themselves and use all kinds of gimmicks instead of preaching Christ-crucified and delivering the forgiveness of sins in Word and Sacrament. There are Scriptural reasons for getting angry at those who tell us that what we believe really isn't as important as how we live. There are Scriptural reasons for getting angry with anyone who does not preach the real Jesus crucified for sinners regardless of how passionate they may be for the lost.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Expository Preaching, Revivalism, and Biblical Fidelity

There are plenty of bad sermons out there where a pastor just picks a topic and goes hunting for verses to support his topic. When the verses are read in context, it becomes obvious that these passages are not trying to teach what the pastor is trying to teach.

So many opt for "expository" preaching. Often the pastor will go verse by verse through the Scriptures trying to tease out every little nuance of the Greek or Hebrew. In some cases a sermon may be on three words at the beginning of a sentence. The pastor may take one year or even several years going verse by verse through a particular book of the Bible.

But is this the point of preaching? Is the pastor primarily a teacher that is supposed to teach you about all the nuances of the Greek and Hebrew? Do the Scriptures provide any examples of preaching?

In Luke 4:16-20 we find the shortest recorded sermon:

He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. He entered, as was his custom, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. The book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus reads from the lectionary reading assigned for that day and then explains it in a single sentence. In Luke
Luke 24:45-47 we read:

Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Jesus opened the minds of his disciples and showed them that all the Scriptures are all about Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul says:

For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
In 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 Paul says:

But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Paul believes that the central message of every sermon should be Christ-crucified--at least that is how Paul preached. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and its Paul's job as an ambassador of Christ to make that reconciliation known. That's exactly what Paul does in his letters. Each one of Paul's letters was originally intended to be read in the churches as a sermon. These are infallible and inspired sermons and so we should use them as a point of reference to determine what a sermon should look like. The length of Paul's sermons vary from very short to very long. Paul's letters address a variety of problems in the church. But they are all centered on Christ-crucified--in every single sermon Paul is acting as a minister of reconciliation.

Historically in the church there has been a reading from the Epistles and a reading from the Gospels. Historically, the sermon has generally been on the Gospel and if someone wants to preach like Paul this seems to be the best practice. If you preach on few verses or part of a verse from one of the Epistles you are really preaching on a small portion of somebody else's sermon. Because this is just a small selection from a sermon, if you preach on it, it is very likely that your sermon will have entirely different focus from that of Paul.

This is what you find in John MacArthur's sermons. He doesn't understand the Scriptural distinctions between Law and Gospel so he even takes objective Gospel statements and turns them into Law even when he's preaching on one of the Gospels. He'll preach on John 15 where Jesus says that He it the vine and we are the branche where Jesus promises that if we abide in Him we will bear fruit and makes the sermon all about internal self-evaluation to determine if your life is on a general trajectory of fruit-bearing to determine if you are a "for-real" Christian. Expository pastors give you the impression that they are just preaching the Bible. But in reality they are reading their own pietist traditions into the Bible. They are always taking objective outward-looking Gospel statements about what Jesus has done and turning us inward to our own experience.

It's even easier to make this same mistake when you are just preaching on a short selection from the writings of Paul. Our natural man's inclination is always trying to look away from what Christ has objectively done for us and instead look for life principles or rules that we can do or a mystical experience that we can have. The lectionary is helpful because it keeps pastors off their hobby horses and focuses our attention on the life and work of Jesus rather than our own works.

Good preaching will explain the text well but with a certain goal in mind. The goal is not a geography lesson, a Greek or Hebrew lesson, or even a doctrinal treatise. The goal is the forgiveness of sins. The sermon must be about Christ-crucified. The sermon must declare that we have been reconciled to God in Christ. Different passages of Scripture will lead to sermons that focus on specific sins and different aspects of our reconciliation. But ultimately if the sermon is about something other than Christ-crucified for sinners it is not a Christian sermon. The central message of the Scriptures is not Christ in you but Christ for you.

This type of preaching will not turn a pastor into a superstar. Subjective preaching that focuses on  inward transformation and "feeling" the pesence of God will always be more popular. The individual pastor's personality and his ability to be a dynamic speaker will take center stage. The more he can work people up into an emotional frenzy, the more people will talk about how they wish that  their pastors were more like this revivalist.

But popularity does not equal Biblical fidelity. We don't find the Apostle Paul trying to scare people into heaven by providing emotional descriptions of God hanging people over the flames of hell. We don't find Paul calling on everyone to examine themselves to see if they are "real" Christians.

Instead, we find Paul faithfully preaching Law, Gospel, and Christ-crucified. Faithful pastors who do this are loved by real sinners but will not be opening up satellite churches. Because if Biblical fidelity is the goal, the pastor down the block can do that too. He doesn't need to be skilled in the art of manipulations. The pastor becomes interchangable in a good way. He faithfully carries out the taks given to him by Christ. He doesn't draw attention to himself or try to impress those who don't know any better with his amazing Greek skills. He delivers Jesus.

The real Biblical church is a multi-site church. But it's not a multi-site church where everyone stares at a screen and talks about how great the pastor is. The real multi-site church is one in which we all gather at our local church and receive the same Jesus in the preaching in the Gospel and are given the same Jesus to eat and to drink while we worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why Don't KJV-Onlyists Believe the KJV?

The majority of KJV-onlyists are fundamentalist Baptists of one kind or another. Some would make the claim that the KJV is the most faithful translation while others would say that it is actually superior to the Greek and Hebrew that it was translated from. Aside from obvious questions about translation errors and the sheer randomness of designating the KJV as God's approved translation, I find something else even stranger. When the Jehovah Witnesses tell you that the New World Translation is the most accurate translation of the Bible, that's because the New World Translation has been translated in such a way to promote JW beliefs. But the KJV contradicts Baptist beliefs.

The Baptists claim that wine is sinful and therefore Jesus did not turn water into wine, but instead he turned water into grape juice. But the KJV says he turned water into wine.

The Baptists claim that "baptize" always means "immerse." But why didn't the KJV translate it as "immerse?"

The Baptists claim that baptism is an act where you testify of your own faith and has nothing to do with salvation. Why doesn't the KJV say that it is to testify of your own faith? Why does the KJV say things like "baptism doth also now save us" (1 Peter 3:21) and that baptism is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38)?

If the Lord's Supper is just a memorial meal, why doesn't the KJV say that? Why does the KJV have Jesus saying that it's for the "remission of sins"?

There's a textual variant in 1 Corinthians 11:24. The KJV reads, "Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you." In other versions it says "given for you" instead of "broken for you" because of the textual variant. Personally, I think the reading in the KJV is the better choice but it does a very poor job of supporting Baptist doctrine. "Given for you" is preferable if you are trying to support Baptist teaching. The crucifixion accounts make it very clear that not a bone in Jesus's body was broken. The only time Jesus's body is broken is in the Lord's Supper itself when it is broken to be distributed.

From a Baptist perspective it would make a lot more sense to be a Living Bible-onlyist. The Living Bible by paraphrasing does a much better job of supporting Baptist doctrine both on the sacraments and on eschatology. But the KJV-onlyist will tell you that these modern versions water down and twist God's Word. I have to agree that paraphrases like the Living Bible certainly do water down God's Word but its because they twist the text to support Baptist doctrine. If a KJV-onlyist took the KJV seriously he would become a Lutheran.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do Baptists Baptize or Do They Just Immerse?

Have you ever heard the term "baby sprinkler" used? I'm not talking about lawn and garden equipment or what baby boys often do while being changed. Rather, it's about a particular term that is used by Baptists in reference to those who thinks babies should be baptized along with everyone else. My pastor pours the water and would baptized unbaptized adults as well so maybe the term doesn't even apply to me, but what I find interesting about this term is what it reveals about the person who uses it.

The person who uses the term is for lack of a cooler term a "speech-capable immersionist." I know, it's not as catchy as baby sprinkler. I would like to use the term "adult immersionist" but adulthood is generally not required by them (judging by the prayer at a NASCAR event being an adult isn't even a requirement to be one of their pastors). If you come up with a cooler sounding name please let me know.

The two pillars of Speech-Capable Immersionism are immersion and the ability of the one being baptized to verbally confess his faith or fill out a card. Churches and denominations are filled with people who disagree on all kinds of soteriological issues but find their unity in the belief that the baptismal candidate must be immersed and must be able to verbally confess his faith prior to doing so.

 The Bapist Faith and Message used by the Southern Baptist Convention is typical of Baptist confessions of faith (whether they are Calvinist, Arminian, or somewhere in-between) in what it says about baptism:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.
According to this statement, baptism is an act of obedience (the Bible never says that) and that it symbolizes the believer's faith and is a testimony that the believer is making (the Bible doesn't say that either). It's also your ticket to the Lord's Supper. The Scriptures teach that baptism is "for the forgiveness of sins," "now saves us/you," and is the "washing of regeneration." The Scriptures teach that baptism is all about something that is done to us. The Baptist Faith and Message turns it all into something that we do as a testimony. The Scriptures say that through baptism we are actually united to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection but the Baptist Faith and Message says that

It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead.

There is an important element within the statement of faith and in most statements of faith of this kind that I think often gets missed by Baptists:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
So it's not that the baptismal formula is completely absent from Baptist baptism. The statement seems to suggest at least that baptism is "immersion" with the Word. At least I hope so. I was conversing with and a pastor of an Independent Baptist church and asked him what he believed these words meant. He told me that he didn't even use the words during the baptism. During the baptism he reads from Romans 6. He didn't believe that Matthew 28:19 contained a baptismal formula at all. He believe that "in the name of" simply meant "by the authority of." I checked the writings of the famous Baptist scholar A.T. Robertson and he makes this argument as well. More liberal Baptist scholars like G. R. Beasley-Murray, despite the lack of any manuscript evidence, argue that the text originally said "into the name of Jesus" but was changed over time to conform to liturgical developments.

Some point out that in the book of Acts, it says that people are baptized "in the name of Jesus." It seems more likely from the context that in Acts, "in the name of" means "by authority of." In one instance the Greek construction is even different from that found in Matthew. The baptismal formula isn't given but the narrative in Acts is saying that the Apostles were baptized according to the commission given to them in Matthew 28.

I watched some Baptist baptismal services on Youtube and in every instance the pastor would speak the baptismal formula from Matthew 28 but he did so prior to the immersion in water. His actions seemed to indicate that he believed that the passage in Matthew 28 merely gave him authority to baptize rather than actually being part of the baptism. This is a departure from historic baptismal practice where the person being baptized is immersed or has the water poured on them while the baptismal formula is said. The Roman Catholic church demands that the water be poured while the words are said in order for it to be considered a valid baptism. The intention of the Baptist does not seem to be to baptize the person into the name of the Triune God but rather to immerse someone as commanded by the Triune God.

In my opinion, Baptist baptism, although it usually uses the right words, seems to deny those words in both action and teaching in the much the same way that they use the words of institution in the Lord's Supper but deny those words. I would appreciate some feedback on this. Maybe I've missed something and am completely wrong. It really isn't my place to determine the validity of baptism. At the very least, the practice introduces doubt into the baptism and baptism was given to us as something objective that we can look to with certainty.

But regardless of whether or not we regard Baptist baptism as valid, I think that having this conversation with Baptists about the necessity of the Word in baptism would allow us to have more fruitful discussions. The Baptists tradition is so focused on the particular mode of baptism and who should or should not be baptized that I don't believe that most Baptists have even considered whether or not God's Word plays a role in the actual baptism. For Lutherans, baptism is not just plain water "but the Word of God in and with the water" that gives us what is promised in baptism. For Lutherans, baptism is the "washing of water with the Word" (Eph. 5:26). For Lutherans the focal point is always God's Word that says what it does. For the Baptist the focal point is obedience to a command to baptize in a way that they believe Scripture commands. It is a work. Baptists know that our works cannot save us. So it's important for the pastor to emphasize that it is God's Word that saves and forgives sins in baptism. Contrary to the accusations, Lutherans do not believe that babies are saved simply by throwing water on them.

A serious conversation needs to be had with Baptists about whether or not God's Word is necessary for there to be a baptism and what that means.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Unscandalous Cross that Divides Us

There is a famous thought experiment in ethics known as the Trolley Problem.
A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?
Should you flip the switch to allow fewer deaths or should you avoid flipping the switch to avoid being an accomplice in an evil act? Would failing to act at all be an evil act? There are a variety of other experiments in ethics based on the trolley problem. This one is my own.

A trolley is running full speed down a track. In its path is your only son. The people in the trolley molested, beat, and ridiculed your son all his life even though he never did any harm to them. The people in the trolley hate you and want to kill you even though you've done nothing but good things for them. You've invited them to feasts--given them all the food and drink they could ever ask for. You've bought homes for them. The people in the trolley tied your son to the track and are trying to run him over. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley off the side of a cliff or you could let them run your son over. If you allow the people to live, they will continue to abuse and kill others. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?

I know what I would do. I would pull the switch and I'm sure you would too. There are plenty of popular movies where a man's child gets kidnapped and he goes and kills hundreds of bad guys to get his kid back. If we were able to do this we would. If all we had to do was flip a switch, we wouldn't think twice about it. In addition to saving your son you get to do away with all these horrible people.

But God does not choose this option. God doesn't flip the switch. In self-sacrificial love for these people, the Father gives His Son to them to be beaten and abused and killed. In self-sacrificial love for these people, the Son offers Himself to be beaten and abused and killed. The Son is beaten and abused and killed for you--to suffer for your sins. You gleefully run Him over and in return you receive the forgiveness of sins. This is not reasonable. And this is only a dim shadow of the reality of it all. The crucifixion is much more gruesome and much more unreasonable. It is also an even greater yet more unthinkable act of love.

Because God-crucified is so incomprehensible we will not look at Him. We look around Him or behind Him or in some other direction.

We speak of the crucifixion as something God did to satisfy His own justice and bring glory to Himself. While there is some truth to these statements, too often they are used to avoid the real issue. God is hanging there bleeding and dying on a cross for your sins and you're rationalizing it.

Rather than being the central message as it was for the Apostles, Christ-crucified is understood as almost unnecessary. In Calvinist circles there are the infralapsarian/supralapsarian debates where each party believes that they can get inside of God's head and figure out the logical order of His decrees. Both positions distract us from the way that God has chosen to reveal Himself on the cross. They both turn us to the hidden God and His secret will. They are both theologies of glory. Both regard election as central rather than Christ. Neither position is based on the Scriptures but have more to do with the one doing the theological exercise. God is examined as if He were an impersonal series of events that could be studied in the laboratory.

The Biblical language is very rich and speaks of the atonement in a variety of ways. The Scriptures speak of reconciliation, expiation, propitiation, redemption, victory, etc. Rather than acknowledge the richness, some theologians choose to pick out one term and exclude the others to make the atonement more sensible. Liberals don't like the propitiation language. Calvinists don't like the universal reconciliation and justification language. The Scriptural atonement language describe an atonement that is not reasonable, but should we expect it to be? The Calvinist says that Christ did not die for those who will be damned because that wouldn't be sensible. But that's like watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and deciding that everything is believable except for the fact that the rat is named Splinter. He's the leader, shouldn't he have a better name? God dying for sinners doesn't make sense to begin with. We are told in the Scriptures that God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). What God has not revealed is not given to us to know (Deuteronomy 29:29).

But how could people be damned if Jesus died for them? The Scriptures do not give us all the details but always attribute damnation to unbelief. They never speak of damnation as being the result of Jesus not dying for the person. 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of those who deny the Master who bought them and Romans 5 says that all who died in Adam were justified on the cross. But why would God die for people if they would eventually be damned? The question seems to imply that there is something reasonable about God dying for anyone in the first place. God bleeding and dying for us can only be understood through what is actually revealed to us. God dying is beyond and contrary to reason. We are incapable of rationalizing it. We can only stand in awe with out mouths hanging open and a sick stomach staring at God's incomprehensible love displayed for us on the cross.

Because Jesus said He was going to do this unthinkable thing and actually did it when He can trust what He says. Jesus told His disciples rather frequently that He was going to be killed and rise again. They spiritualized this language. It wouldn't sensible for a good Messiah to die on us. If Jesus is truly God, God dying is even less sensible. He must be speaking figuratively. They were utterly astonished when Jesus died and even more astonished when He rose again.

Many do the same thing with the sacraments. They say Jesus could not possibly mean what He sounded like He was saying because that would just be crazy. Of course it's crazy, but so is the whole thing.

When Jesus says, "This is my body" and "This is my blood" it's really rather silly to say that He can't mean what He sounds like He's saying because it's just too crazy. The Gospel is crazy. To deny what sounds crazy would mean to deny the incarnation itself. The sacraments should be embraced for what Jesus says they are rather than explained via Aristotle or contradicted by our observations.