Friday, November 30, 2012

When a Critic Plays 'the Pharisee Card'

Christ reproving the Pharisees
Most people have heard the expression, "playing the race card." The concept has been bandied about in the media for several years. It typically refers to someone falsely alleging another person is racist in order to gain some political advantage or to draw their credibility into question.

There is a similar practice in Christian circles that has also been widely used for many years, although it's not been named, at least I don't think, until more recently. But it's called "playing the Pharisee card." The origin of this expression is difficult to trace, but it typically refers to some Christian accusing another of being Pharisaical. Just like playing the "race card," it's used to gain an argumentative advantage over another and to discredit, without carefully considering a fellow believer's contentions.

Christians who are the victims of the dreaded "Pharisee card" are all too often those who have the moral courage to defend doctrinal purity in the church. They stand for righteousness and holy living. They faithfully present to men, whether in the church or in the culture, a message based on a certain, "Thus said the Lord." Yet they are unjustly portrayed as too narrow-minded, too rigid, unloving, intolerant, and without compassion. Read more

John Piper: Battling Unbelief Together

How I Thrive in the Ministry

I survive and thrive in the ministry because God has surrounded me with people who pray for me and exhort me to press on in the fight of faith. If you don't feel supported like this in your faith and work, we want to help change that. The Bible teaches that surviving and thriving in a life of faith and love depends on Christians intentionally building each other in faith and stirring each other up to love. Without intentional faith-building togetherness we lose our zeal, drift from God, become hardened in the deceitfulness of sin, and if someone doesn't snatch us (James 5:19; Jude 23), we make shipwreck of our so-called faith and perish in unbelief.
I got a post card from a brother in the ministry a week or so ago that built my faith and gave me hope and encouragement to press on. It was not addressed to me. It was addressed to Christ. It was prayer.
Dear Lord,

Glorify yourself, our Savior, by moving us as a family of believers to pray as never before. May we find delight and enrichment in new intimacy of conversation with you. May our churches experience new health and vitality. And grant to us, by a fuller liberation of your power through mighty, multiplied intercession, to capture the strongholds of darkness in our country and around the world. That your name will everywhere be esteemed and revered. Give special guidance to your servant, John, as he wrestles with the discernment of urgent issues for Bethlehem's future. Even in uncertainty provide such inner confidence of your ultimate leading that his peace will be unshakable.

Your servant Bill
It can happen through the mail. God means it to happen in person even more often. That's what we want to look at this morning. Read more


Books: How to Remove Our Bible-Reading Blinders

Randolph Richards and Brandon O'Brien help us see through different cultural lenses.

The cover of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (InterVarsity) is striking. Authors E. Randolph Richards (dean of the School of Christian Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University) and Brandon J. O'Brien (an editor at large for Leadership Journal) have us look at a white, male face, gazing outward from behind a printed page, eyes covered by blue-tinted glasses. The message is clear, as is the overarching message of the book: North American evangelicals "read" the Bible—and the world—through Western eyes. This insight is now commonplace in discussions about biblical interpretation in popular and academic circles, as Richards and O'Brien readily admit. Indeed, all human beings come to the Bible with cultural "habits," deeply ingrained patterns of interpreting the world that inevitably shape—and sometimes warp—our interpretation and understanding of Scripture.

Richards and O'Brien want to help Western readers recognize more fully how the eyeglasses through which we view and interpret everything in our environment—Western culture—often influence our understanding of specific biblical texts and themes. To read Scripture well, we must read ourselves and our culture well. Picture an iceberg looming in the distance as a metaphor for our worldview, a key illustration Richards and O'Brien employ throughout their book. How much of an iceberg do we actually see? Well, as the captain of the Titanic sadly experienced, very little. The tip pokes up through the water, announcing its presence to all with eyes to see, but the iceberg's immensity lurks undetected in the depths. Similarly, our perceptions of our own culture's patterns and pressures—"what we wear, eat, say and consciously believe"—is only the tip of the iceberg. "The majority" of our cultural patterns lurk "below the surface, out of plain sight, beyond our conscious awareness." Read more

Kevin DeYoung: Yes, Holiness Does Require Effort

Kevin DeYoung responds to Mark Galli and our other reviewers.

I was surprised to learn on Monday that Christianity Today was running four reviews of my new book The Hole in Our Holiness. I consider it a sign of respect that they think the book deserving of this kind of analysis. I'm grateful too for the invitation to round out this week of reviews with a response of my own. Though I'm hesitant to respond—because rejoinders often appear (or are!) defensive and thin-skinned—I'll venture a few thoughts on each review.

Erik Raymond has written the sort of review every author enjoys. He understands the book, appreciates the book, and recommends the book. I'm particularly grateful that Raymond sees, and agrees with, my emphasis on grace-based effort and my use of various confessions. Since both of these points were criticized by others in this series, it's good to see not everyone considered these elements to be mistaken. I'm thankful for Raymond's kind, encouraging review.

Mark Labberton and Tyler Braun hit on different themes, but both have written the same sort of review. They like a lot about the book, but would have said more or less in some areas. Since the book was short, 146 under-sized pages, there is certainly more that could have been said about a number of important issues. Labberton wishes I would have said more about what lies beneath the biblical call to holiness (and our dismissal of it) and the public implications of a holy life. It's hard to know how to respond to this criticism except to say I addressed some of both, but could have done more. I could have talked more about consumerism and social justice and (especially) the kingdom, as Labberton suggests. I also could have talked more about abortion, statism, and religious liberty. Holiness touches on all of life, so almost any topic would have been fair game. As a pastor, I addressed the sorts of issues I see people struggling with most and the issues talked about most directly and most frequently in the New Testament. That leads us to recurring concerns with sexual immorality, relational sins, and vices associated with the breaking of the Ten Commandments. Read more

Read also
If at First You Don't Succeed, Stop Trying so Hard

Plans to form "loyalist" Diocese of South Carolina set in motion months ago

A gathering of national church loyalists has learned that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is backing their move to claim the mantle of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

The presiding bishop's attorney told the 15 Nov 2012 meeting of TEC loyalists the national church had been preparing for the fight with Bishop Lawrence and the majority faction in the diocese for some time. However assertions made at the meeting that the former Bishop of East Tennessee will be intervening on behalf of the presiding bishop supplant Bishop Mark Lawrence were unfounded. Read more

Thompson to head Moore

The new Principal of Moore College is to be Dr Mark Thompson.

The President of the governing board of the College, Dr Peter Jensen, has announced Dr Thompson will succeed Dr John Woodhouse as Principal next year.

In a statement, Dr Jensen said “I greet the appointment of Dr Mark Thompson as the next Principal with great enthusiasm. Mark is thoroughly committed to Christ as Lord, and is a fine teacher and a caring pastor”.

The Archbishop said “His gifts as a speaker, theological educator, author and theologian have been recognised internationally as well as locally. His clear and strong affirmation of the gospel and his capacity as a leader are going to be significant gifts he brings to the College”.

The College, the Archbishop said, was “well positioned to meet the challenges of change.” Read more

Read also:
The ACL congratulates the new Principal designate of Moore College

Gay marriage before Supreme Court? Cases weighed

The running fight over gay marriage is shifting from the ballot box to the Supreme Court.

Three weeks after voters backed same-sex marriage in three states and defeated a ban in a fourth, the justices are meeting Friday to decide whether they should deal sooner rather than later with the claim that the Constitution gives people the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation.

The court also could duck the ultimate question for now and instead focus on a narrower but still important issue: whether Congress can prevent legally married gay Americans from receiving federal benefits otherwise available to married couples.

The court could announce its plans as soon as Friday afternoon. Any cases probably would be argued in March, with a decision expected by the end of June. Read more

Egypt's Islamists rush through new constitution

Islamists on Thursday rushed to approve a draft constitution for Egypt without the participation of liberal and Christian members, aiming to pre-empt a court ruling that could dissolve their panel and further inflaming the clash between the opposition and President Mohammed Morsi.

The draft of the charter, meant to determine a new political identity for Egypt after 60 years of rule by authoritarian leaders, has an Islamist bent that rights experts say could lead to a say by Muslim clerics in legislation and restrictions on freedom of speech, women's rights and other liberties.

The lack of inclusion was obvious in Thursday's session of the assembly that has been writing the document for months. Of the 85 members in attendance, there was not a single Christian and only four women, all Islamists. Many of the men wore beards, the hallmark of Muslim conservatives. For weeks, liberal, secular and Christian members, already a minority on the 100-member panel, have been pulling out to protest what they call the Islamists' hijacking of the process.

Voting had not been expected for another two months. But the assembly, overwhelmingly made up of Morsi's allies, abruptly moved it up in order to pass the draft before Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court rules on Sunday on whether to dissolve the panel. Read more

Read also:
What Egypt's Christians Think of Hastily Completed Constitution
Street protests follow approval of Egypt's draft constitution
Egypt: New Constitution Mixed on Support of Rights - HRW
Egypt Constitution Sparks Mass Protest
Egypt adopts draft constitution after marathon session
Comparison of Egypt's suspended and draft constitutions

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New City Catechism

A joint adult and children's catechism consisting of 52 questions and answers adapted by Timothy Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation catechisms.

Open the Web-Based Catechism Tools in a Browser

Download the iPad App

Faith Isn't Needed to Recognize Biblical Authority

What if I were to tell you that human reason, common sense, and an understanding of mathematics are all that are needed to recognize the authority of the Bible? Not faith....but common sense and rational evidence. Would that surprise you?

And yes....I am talking about recognizing this remarkable declaration: "All Scripture is God-breathed." (2 Timothy 3:16) This is a fact....and while part of your soul will resist it, your mind can come to initially recognize this reality based on historical evidence and mathematical certainty.

I am not talking about believing in Jesus as your Savior. That phenomenon does require faith. I am not talking about believing in heaven and hell. That too requires faith. I am only talking about knowing the rational facts and having the sense to recognize the authority of the Bible given its supernatural attributes. What if I were to tell you that human reason, common sense, and an understanding of mathematics are all that are needed to recognize the authority of the Bible? Not faith....but common sense and rational evidence. Would that surprise you? Read more

Coptic Christians Sentenced to Death for 'Innocence of Muslims' Film

Cairo officials ruled Wednesday that seven Egyptian Christians in the U.S. and Canada be sentenced, in absentia, to death for their participation in the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" film, which was published to YouTube in September and resulted in riots and protests among Muslims in the Middle East.

"The seven accused persons were convicted of insulting the Islamic religion through participating in producing and offering a movie that insults Islam and its prophet," Egyptian Judge Saif al-Nasr Soliman said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

The court charged the seven Coptic Christians, which include the film's director and producer Mark Basseley Youssef, with "intentionally committing acts to harm the unity of the country and peace of its land, calling to divide the country into small states on a sectarian basis and harming national unity, and using religion to promote extremist ideas resulting in religious division and disrespect [of] heavenly religion," according to NBC News.

Youssef is currently serving one year in U.S. prison for violating the stipulations of his probation for a 2010 bank fraud charge. Youssef admitted to officials that since 2010, he has used multiple fake names, which is against his probation terms. Read more

Books: Preaching Holiness to Reformed Theology Nuts

Can Kevin DeYoung's message reach people outside his particular Christian subculture?

Kevin DeYoung's The Hole in Our Holiness begins with an underlying premise that many Christians have ignored, misunderstood, or abandoned: God's call for us to become holy. DeYoung, a writer for The Gospel Coalition and a pastor of a theologically Reformed church, has a great sense of where Christians have missed the mark when it comes to following Jesus. It is wonderful to see Christian leaders of various theological perspectives calling us toward holiness, not just those associated with the holiness tradition pioneered by John Wesley's brand of Methodism.

This "hole" in our holiness is the result of many factors, according to DeYoung. Holiness is often avoided because keeping a list of things to abstain from falls short of stirring us toward Christ. We can't ignore our desire to push the boundaries of what God would allow for us to do. Our focus on Christian liberty often has us wandering down ungodly paths. Also, we don't want to come across as too judgmental, so we avoid labeling certain behaviors as ungodly. And I haven't even mentioned how scared we are of words such as "duty" or "effort" for Christ. They seem to go against what we believe about the gospel. Christians are thus living with a gap between their love for the gospel and their pursuit of godliness.

Somewhere along the line we've started to believe that being saved by grace negates God's desire for us to pursue holiness. Certainly, we need the reminder that it is God who is at work within us, and his work is not done (Phil. 1:6). Those of us who God has justified are works in progress—God is making us holy. But we all need a nudge to draw nearer to the God who sanctifies us.

With this in mind, DeYoung clearly tries to address the entire body of Christ with this book. More specifically he addresses younger generations who are in Christ but whose lives do not reflect the things of God. These are the people who may call themselves followers of Christ but whose lives do not reflect that statement. Read more

Egyptian parliament endorses Sharia law

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly has endorsed Article 2 of the country’s proposed constitution making Sharia law the basis for the country’s civil legal code....

Article 2, Sharia Law, which states that “the principles of the Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation,” remains unchanged from the 1971 constitution. However a new clause, Article 221 states that these principles are to be deduced from its fundamental rules and its Sunni sources. The constitution also gives religious scholars at the Al-Azhar University the right to consult on the interpretation of Sharia law and its relation to the civil code.

Salafi groups had demanded that Article 2 be amended to replace “principles” with “provisions” of Sharia law, while liberals had called for the removal of all religious language from the constitution. The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Theodore II, said his church would support keeping Article 2 as it currently existed, but opposed the introduction of Article 221 which he saw as giving the Islamist government the explicit license to impose Sharia law. Read more

Read more
Egypt assembly rushes to vote on constitution

Michael Jensen: Indomitable Sydney? The challenge of Sydney Anglicanism

The famous Asterix the Gaul comic books that I read when I was a kid begin in this way.
"The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely ... One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanam and Compendium ..."
The Gauls gain their fabulous strength from a magic potion brewed by their druid, Getafix. But the secret of their ability to defy the odds, and the Romans, comes from somewhere else. They are possessed of a remarkable inner fortitude. They have an almost casual confidence about them that drives their opponents to distraction. They have a clear sense of shared identity in the face of what seems like insurmountable opposition. They love to eat wild boar.

The way the story of the Anglican diocese of Sydney has been told by her supporters and critics alike often sounds like the opening to Asterix. In the view of Melbourne journalist and Anglican laywoman Muriel Porter, for example, the evangelical variety of Anglicanism that in general characterizes the diocese of Sydney is defiantly peculiar.

As Porter reads it, an Anglicanism that is Catholic in liturgy and liberal in theology has triumphed everywhere. It is the dominant form, and reigns unchecked and unchallenged across Australia and even across the globe. This one small diocese of indomitable, very conservative and (to be frank) completely unhinged evangelical Anglicans holds out against the onward march of liberal Catholic Anglicanism. And life is, as a result, not easy for those who surround it and have to deal with it. Sydney's commitment to lay presidency at the Lord's Supper and its objection to the ordination of women to the priesthood are symptoms of the baffling and stubborn irrationality that characterizes the diocese. They simply get in the way of what would be a normal development in other places. Read more

Preaching Christmas: How Shall We Package The Gospel This Time?

Suspend your disbelief, pastor. December is about to arrive on your pastoral doorstep. No, I am not “pulling your leg.” Snow will soon be falling. Advent sermons will soon need preparing. Ere long we will stand before the old and young, the believer and skeptic, proclaiming the message that Angels once declared!

So how can we make the most of this opportunity? Read more

Church Society: We oppose women bishops because the Bible tells us to

The Church of England will almost certainly have women bishops and, despite our theological disagreement, traditionalists such as ourselves have accepted that.

The vote in Synod on November 20th was about how women bishops are going to be introduced, not whether. And the reason why the legislation ultimately didn't get through was that it had been hijacked by a minority who don't see any legitimate room in the Church of England for traditionalists like us at all.

We praise God that the majority are just too nice for that, and graciously extended an arm of love to those of us who believe it's right to remain steadfast to the faith as we've received it. However, when we turn on our TVs it seems a vocal minority, the press, and politicians who've had no interest in the church up until now are pushing for us to be banished from the church that we have for years called home'.

Before the vote we appealed on YouTube for us to take the rancour out of this debate. The church is a family after all. However, now we're being asked to write articles on why we should still be included in this family. Here’s three reasons. Read more

Read also:
Joint Press Statement From The Chairmen Of The Catholic Group And Reform
Lay Synod members ‘for’ women bishops explain voting against the Measure

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Gospel Project

The Bible is not a collection of stories. It is one story, the story of God’s plan to rescue His people from sin and death. It is the story of redemption, the gospel message of Jesus Christ. And it’s our story, too.

The Gospel Project is a Bible study resource that invites Adults, Students, and Kids of all ages to dive deeply into God’s story of redemption through Jesus Christ. In every lesson, participants are immersed in the gospel and learn how when the gospel works on them, they become a part of the story, too, the very hands and feet in God’s gospel project.

Led by General Editor Ed Stetzer and Managing Editor Trevin Wax, The Gospel Project is designed to unify an entire church under a single Christ-centered curriculum. Separate study plans for adults, students, and kids ensure the proper focus and depth for each age group. Learn more

4 Things You Should Know About Your Community

Often when I ask another pastor who his church is trying to reach, he gives me a very spiritual answer—lost people. It sounds good, but it usually means the pastor has a very fuzzy view of his own community.

When I was in seminary, I was taught I had to understand the culture of the New Testament before I could understand the message of the New Testament. If I understood the culture that the New Testament was set against, I could extract the timeless truth from the text. Every biblical preacher does that when he preaches a sermon.

But I was never taught to exegete the community where I serve. That’s what targeting is. I should know the geography, customs, culture and religious background of my community as much as I do about the biblical times.

You can’t faithfully communicate God’s Word until you exegete your text and your community.

So what about your community should you know? I’d start with these four areas. Read more

How to Increase the Health of Your Adult Sunday School

Once your church has decided how to define a healthy follower of Christ (for Saddleback it is someone balancing the Great Commission and Great Commandment in their heart—fellowship, discipleship, service, evangelism and worship), then there are some practical steps you can take to help your Sunday school class maximize health. Here are some suggestions... Read more

Free eBook: To Trust and Follow Jesus

Most local churches try to do too many things. They seek to worship God, serve the poor, reach lost people, proclaim justice, support one another and on and on. In this eBook, Founding and Lead Pastor Bob Harrington pursues the assertion that discipleship is the core purpose of the church. True disciples learn how to worship God, serve the poor, reach lost people, proclaim justice, support their members, etc. But if we try to “do all these things” without seeing them through our core focus of discipleship, people will lack direction and clarity. Read more

Download from Exponential

A church divided against itself cannot stand

The Church of England voted not to ordain female bishops last week, a move widely seen as defying the modern world. Much justification was given for this view.

Both the retiring and the incoming archbishops of Canterbury deplored the vote. The former, the scholarly (and "greatly saddened") Rowan Williams, said, "It seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of  wider society." The incoming Justin Welby took a more upbeat view, one appropriate for a former senior oil executive. "There is a lot to be done," he said, "but I am absolutely confident that at some point I will consecrate a woman bishop." Still, Welby conceded that the vote was "a pretty grim day for the whole church."

British Prime Minister David Cameron, pausing in the midst of his battle to reduce European Union spending, snapped that the church needed to "get with the program" and that his task was, while respecting its autonomy, to give it a "sharp prod." A succession of clergy, men and women, lamented the decision, some crying demonstratively on the street outside the hall where the synod - the church's parliament - met. Read more

Books: The Sweaty Work of Sanctification

Holiness is God's gift to redeemed Christians, but we need to strive for it all the same.

Imagine a college football coach calling a team meeting after his players receives accolades from the media and fans for their on the field performance. Instead of pats on the backs he sits them down and gets serious, pointing out a couple of troubling trends with their play. The team may feel good and even look good to fans, but to the discerning eye there are major omissions that bring concern.

In The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung is like that coach (or at least a team captain) on the gospel-centered team. He is pulling aside the squad, amid rounds of applause for its resurgent emphasis on gospel grace, and pointing out the danger of an underdeveloped theology and practice of holiness.

DeYoung writes: "The sky is not falling, and it won't until Jesus falls from it first. But we don't have to pretend everything else is wrong to recognize we don't have everything right. There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. This must change. It's not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It's the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God."

DeYoung is calling people back to the biblical concept and practice of holiness. This is an ambitious undertaking in and of itself, but what's more, DeYoung sets out to do it clearly and concisely (in just 144 pages!). In spite of the challenge, I think he hits a home run. He unpacks the biblical doctrine of holiness and places it within the framework of God's redemptive purposes. God is a holy God and he has saved his people to themselves be holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Read more

Anglican Communion Institute: Open Letter to the Bishops of The Episcopal Church

This is a painful letter. It is painful because it concerns un-canonical (and perhaps even unlawful) actions on the part of our Presiding Bishop and her associates. These actions, detailed in the attached appendix and summarized in the bullet points below, have already undermined the good order and spiritual health of our church. We write to you our Bishops because of your responsibility for that good order. We write as Presbyters who have in one way or another faithfully served our church for over half a century. We pray that, despite the painful nature of the story we place before you, you will listen to what we have to say with a clear and open mind.

We urge you, therefore, to take careful note of the following points that are more fully spelled out in our appendix. We urge you further to take the necessary steps to restore the good order of our church.... Read more

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Secretary General of General Synod calls for consecration of women bishops without provision for opponents

Raises the spectre of Parliament's intervention and disestablishment.

The General Synod failed to see through a plan for women bishops last week due to the voting system within the church.

Within 72 hours of the vote William Fittall, secretary-general of the General Synod, wrote a memo warning the decision would “badly damage” the Church.

He said the Church must take steps to overturn the vote and consecrate women bishops or the decision risks being taken out of its hands by Parliament.

The memo, meant for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and passed to The Times, stated: “Unless the Church of England can show very quickly that it’s capable of sorting itself out, we shall be into a major constitutional crisis in Church-State relations, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with confidence.”

As the Church’s most senior “civil servant”, Mr Fittall is seldom ignored. Read more
No provision for the opponents of women's ordination?! Has Mr. Fittal considered what would happen if such radical action that he proposes was taken? Does he care?

4 Steps to Transformational Leadership

Leadership might be the most confused term that we use in the body of Christ. We all assume a picture of leadership when we hear the word. Normally, what we really mean when we say “leader” is a strong, no-compromise, CEO who is not afraid of anybody but God.

That leader is charging forward with a tribe of crazed followers. That leader has game show-host public charisma and a personality that makes even casual contact inspirational. That leader has a strong belief in personal leadership skills. He is always courageous and sometimes reckless.

Before we go too far, understand that some of the above qualities are positive and important to the kingdom. But the subject here is not leadership. The subject is transformational leadership.
How is it different from other approaches to leadership?

Transformational leadership is focused outside of the leader’s world. Leaders may be charismatic and inspirational, but a centrifugal (outward) influence defines their leadership. A natural leader draws people in and sends people out. A natural leader attracts and gathers other leaders. Instead of promoting self, transformational church leaders promote the mission of the church. Does a transformational church leader want more people to attend the local church? Absolutely! Leaders want more people because they want to send more people back into the community and the world. The focus of passion for a transformational church leader is for lost people not bigger churches.

So how does this transition in leadership thinking take place? The old model of leadership was to hoard and retain control. Transformational leaders seek to empower and multiply. They think in terms of movements of God versus seasons of high attendance. Patience is critical. Courage to release and trust God is indispensable. To get moving in the right direction four mindset shifts are needed. Read more

Established churches and inward drift

All organizations tend to lose their focus and forget their original purposes over time. I call this almost imperceptible movement “inward drift.” The attitude becomes one of protecting the way we’ve always done it rather than looking back to the original purposes and reasons for existence. Numbers of stagecoach businesses failed, for example, because they thought their primary purpose was to make stagecoaches rather than to provide reasonable and rapid transportation.

The primary dangers with inward drift are twofold. First and foremost, the organization can forget the very reason it was created. Second, the drift is often imperceptible. Many organizations don’t realize there is a problem until it’s too late. Read more

Church of South India pastor falsely accused of forcibly converting Muslims; severely beaten by Muslim mob

An evangelical pastor in India was attacked by a mob of Muslims after he was accused of trying to forcibly convert Muslims while talking about Jesus Christ.

The attack was on Pastor Lewis Mascarenhas, a member of the Church of South India (CSI) based in Hospet within the Bellary district of Karnataka. The incident reportedly took place on Nov. 23 as he was talking with a group of local Muslims who had started a civil discussion about Jesus Christ.

They were reportedly asking about the beliefs of Christians that were concerned with the teachings of Christ. During the discussion, he distributed some literature explaining the nature of the gospel and also other information dealing with the Christian faith, as well as what the Bible specifically says about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ.

News of the discussion spread quickly through the town, and soon after, a group of angry Muslims gathered. They thought Mascarenhas was forcibly converting Muslims to Christianity. Read more

Lessons from the Joshua Tree

Nurturing a church plant in tough, really tough, soil

Behold, the Joshua tree! It grows in only one place: Joshua Tree National Park in California. The park is basically a desert. Bathed in ethereal red light at dawn, it becomes a furnace by noon with temperatures routinely soaring beyond 120 degrees.

So why is the Joshua tree special enough to have a national park named after it? Because it's pretty much the only thing that will grow there. Even though the environment is brutal, this particular tree has somehow found a way to adapt and survive.

It's a little like that for churches on Long Island, New York. The ground is hard and not conducive to church life. People are jaded, and clergy are often treated like snake oil salesmen. In some cases, I have to admit, the attitude is deserved. Some have dubbed Long Island "The Preacher's Graveyard." It's a difficult place to grow a church.

The hard soil, however, is capable of nourishing life. But churches there must do what they have done around the world and throughout history: adapt and learn to thrive in even the most difficult environments.

That's our story at True North Community Church. We opened our doors on Long Island in September 2005. Some seven years later, we're amazed at what God has done. We're running four services each Sunday, and we've had the honor of baptizing hundreds of new believers! While we've been blessed to thrive in a challenging environment, we certainly aren't the only ones. I'm thrilled to see other "Joshua tree" congregations springing from the hard soil of Long Island.

The "planting" analogy is apt. A new church begins as a seed, receives water and nourishment, and for reasons even experts don't fully understand, produces a living thing with the potential to nurture and shelter other life. Although we may not understand the unseen miracle involved in a church's birth, I'm beginning to understand the ways God has enabled our church family to thrive. Here are the lessons I'm learning. Read more

Evangelicals Becoming More Devout, Catholics Less So

Evangelical Protestants have become more devoted to their religious beliefs over the last three decades, even as Catholics have become less attached to their faith, new research finds.

The denominational differences come even as religious affiliations have decreased overall in America, with the number of people who claim no religious affiliation at all doubling from 7 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2000, said study researcher Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Nevertheless, Schwadel said, these unaffiliated individuals seem to be dropping out of religious institutions that they were previously ambivalent about. People who feel strongly about their faith are as numerous as ever.

"The proportion of Americans who say they have a very strong religious affiliation over time is very stable," Schwadel told LiveScience. Read more

Books: The Hole In Our Holiness Goes Even Deeper

Kevin DeYoung uncovers a troubling erosion of personal evangelical piety, but what about the public implications of godly living? 

Holiness is an essential mark of God's people, but it's all too often ignored and dismissed. Kevin DeYoung's The Hole in Our Holiness asks readers to think again about this too-often neglected call. He underlines how passé the subject can seem these days and how resigned many Christians are to a sense of wanting to pursue other themes, lest they be either overwhelmed (no one finally succeeds at holiness) or legalistic (no one finds life in merely following the law). The consequence is what DeYoung sees as the "hole" between what we believe about God's purity and what we do to inhabit and live out that holiness ourselves.

DeYoung examines various facets of the biblical call to holiness and considers some of the strongest voices for holy living within his own Reformed tradition. He writes with theological conviction and passion, laying out a case for the recovery of faithful character and piety as one of the highest priorities of Christian pastors, leaders, and laity alike. Surely DeYoung is right about how needed holy living is among God's people, because it is both our calling (it's intrinsic to identification with our holy God) and our mission (it's essential as an authentication of our new life in Christ). Read more

Read also:
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness

Almost half the lay members who voted against female bishops were women

Records show 33 of 74 lay members of the Church of England's General Synod voted against female bishops

Almost half of the lay people who voted against legislation to allow female bishops in the Church of England were women, according to figures released on Monday, as senior members of the church were urged to speed up reform or risk consigning it to years of ignominy and irrelevance.

Voting records released by Church House showed 33 of the 74 General Synod lay members who last week caused the long-awaited measure to fail were women and most of them are affiliated to the conservative evangelical group Reform or the traditional Anglo-Catholic movement Forward in Faith.

Susie Leafe, a member of Reform, insisted the strong showing from female lay members was not surprising. She co-ordinated a petition against the measure which was signed by more than 2,200 women. "This is not an issue of sexism. It is an issue of theological conviction – and conviction crosses across the genders," she said. "So, as I read the Bible, I am convicted that men and women are equal and different. I am not surprised at all."

The legislation, which needed a two-thirds majority in each of the synod's three houses, was passed comfortably in the house of bishops and clergy but scuppered in the laity by just six votes. Read more

Most Britons Support Teaching of Christianity in School, Poll Says

Saxon Church,Bradford-on-Avon
Almost two-thirds of adults questioned by Oxford University in a survey said they support the teaching of Christianity in schools, and two-fifths said teaching about the faith needs more attention in religious education lessons.

Oxford University asked 1,800 people whether they want the majority religion taught in schools, and the outcome shows that the majority, 64 percent, supports teaching Christianity to pupils to help them understand English history.

The survey was part of Oxford's department of education's new project which seeks to support teachers in the presentation of Britain's principal religion in religious education lessons. Read more

Read also:
Schools 'struggling to teach about Christianity in RE'

Monday, November 26, 2012

Books: The Need for Creeds

It's more than merely helpful to set down the church's core convictions in words.

Our church has a need for a creed. In The Creedal Imperative (Crossway), Westminster Theological Seminary's Carl R. Trueman presses the case that "creeds and confessions are vital to the present and future well-being of the church."

It's not just that a creed (a public, established statement of a church's most important beliefs) is a useful tool for teaching doctrine, holding leaders accountable, defining the boundaries of church membership or cooperation among churches, and telling the world what a church stands for. Creeds do all that. But this book is not about the handy helpfulness of creeds; it's about the creedal imperative. A church that obeys the Bible should follow the injunction of the apostle Paul's pastoral epistles to Timothy, and resolve to guard "a form of sound words transmitted by eldership … ensuring good management of the household of God."

Trueman builds up this biblical case for creeds, layers over it the historical case from both the patristic church and confessional Protestantism, and puts the burden of proof on what he calls the "'No Creed but the Bible!' brigade." Given this biblical and historical trajectory of churches using creeds, "the question is not so much 'Should we use them?' as 'Why would we not use them?'" Read more

Women as bishops -- Should Parliament intervene?

Bob Morris examines the constitutional issues at stake

On 21 November 2012 the Church of England Synod rejected a draft Measure for the introduction of women bishops by a narrow majority of six votes in one of the Synod’s three ‘houses’, that of the laity. Sufficient two-thirds majorities were attained in each of the other two houses – bishops and clergy. Forty-two of the forty-four Anglican dioceses had previously supported the change.

The amended draft contained a compromise arrangement, linked with a putative ‘code of practice’, that would have permitted congregations opposed to women bishops on theological grounds to retain male only episcopal oversight. The opponents – from both the ‘catholic’ and evangelical groups – felt that the compromise did not go far enough to recognise their views. Ordinarily, Synod’s standing orders would prevent a failed draft Measure’s reconsideration until the next newly-elected Synod – in this case in 2015. There is, however, an exceptional procedure which could bring the issue back for redetermination. Read more

Nigeria blasts: Eleven dead at Kaduna barracks church

Suicide bombers have attacked a church inside a military barracks in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria, killing 11 people and injuring 30, officials say.

A military spokesman told the BBC two vehicles were driven into the barracks in Jaji in what he described as "surprising and an embarrassment".

It is not clear who was responsible for the attack.

But the army suspects Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has recently targeted churches in the state.

The group is fighting to overthrow the government and impose an extreme form of Sharia, or Islamic law. Read more

Anglican Curmudgeon: ECUSA, ECUSA: Dysfunction Everywhere

Could things get any worse within the Episcopal Church (USA)?

Yes, of course they could -- but that admission does nothing to mitigate the sorry, sorry state of affairs that persists in that Church already.

This is still calendar 2012 -- barely six months since the last meeting of General Convention. Since that time.... Read more

Read also:
"We've Moved On," Says Bishop Mark Lawrence
Church of England Debates ACNA and Diocese of South Carolina at Synod

Female bishops controversy: government says it will not step in

Government insists it will not use equalities legislation to force Church of England to change rules after synod vote

The government has insisted it will not intervene in the female bishops controversy by using equalities legislation to force the Church of England to change its internal rules.

The prime minister's spokesman said David Cameron shared the disappointment of many at the vote on female bishops, but said the issue was a matter for the church to decide.

Sources close to the culture secretary, Maria Miller, who is also equalities minister, issued strongly worded criticism after the vote on Tuesday night to open up the episcopate to female clerics was lost by just six votes.

But it was stressed by No 10 that this displeasure would not extend to direct intervention in the internal workings of the Church of England. Read more

Read also:
Another crisis for the Anglican Communion as Church of England says no to ordaining women as bishops
The troubles that brought the Synod vote have been building up for decades
With members of Parliament pressing for an inquiry into the vote on women bishops in General Synod, the Conservative government may not be able to resist intervening for very long. 

The Church, Women Bishops and Provision

The Church, Women Bishops and Provision – the integrity of orthodox objection to women bishops
Contributors: Roger Beckwith, Sarah Finch, Michael Ovey, Charles Raven, Vinay Samuel, Chris Sugden and Anthony Thiselton

Some think that a particular verse in the Bible – affirming that in Christ ‘there is neither male nor female’ (Galatians 3:28) – is all that needs to be said on the subject of women bishops.

If you are having difficulty explaining the reasons for not accepting the women bishop’s legislation in its present form, here is something to help.

This symposium was commissioned in January 2011 by a number of members of General Synod – some in favour of women priests and women bishops, some not in favour – who wished to see the theological arguments being more fully explored. As many people have recognized, these arguments have not yet been adequately addressed in General Synod debates over the years.

This book presents these arguments. It also includes evidence to show that, since the mid-1990s when women were first ordained, the richly varied ministry within the Church of England of women who are not ordained as priests has been growing strongly.

The commissioning group of General Synod members all agree that a proper legal framework should be in place, to provide the security of an ongoing ministry in the Church of England for those who will not be able to accept the ministry of women bishops.

The women bishops legislation, as it stands, does not give proper place to the theological positions contained in this book, positions which have every right to a proper and continued expression in the Church of England. And a ‘Code of Practice’ will do nothing to ensure that there will be proper places in the selection, training and ordination of the next generation of Church of England clergy for those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops. In short, better, more secure, provision is required.

Some people argue that to make such provision would reduce women bishops to second-class bishops. That criticism relies upon an unbiblical view of ‘mono-episcopacy’ which, while represented in much (but not all) Church of England practice of episcopacy, fails to take into account the shared leadership that characterizes the New Testament Church.

The Chapters are:

Kingdom and Church
False Premises and Failed Promises
Recovering Mutuality – ‘heirs together of the grace of life’
How Does the Church Decide? The Trojan horse of Reception
A Better Way – the Biblical pattern for women’s ministry in the Church of England
Appendices on Collaborative Episcopacy

Available to download on
Originally posted on the Anglican Mainstream website 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

TULIP and Reformed Theology: Limited Atonement

I think that of all the five points of Calvinism, limited atonement is the most controversial, and the one that engenders perhaps the most confusion and consternation. This doctrine is chiefly concerned about the original purpose, plan, or design of God in sending Christ into the world to die on the cross. Was it the Father’s intent to send His Son to die on the cross to make salvation possible for everyone, but with the possibility that His death would be effective for no one? That is, did God simply send Christ to the cross to make salvation possible, or did God, from all eternity, have a plan of salvation by which, according to the riches of His grace and His eternal election, He designed the atonement to ensure the salvation of His people? Was the atonement limited in its original design?

I prefer not to use the term limited atonement because it is misleading. I rather speak of definite redemption or definite atonement, which communicates that God the Father designed the work of redemption specifically with a view to providing salvation for the elect, and that Christ died for His sheep and laid down His life for those the Father had given to Him. Read more

Tabletalk: Worship as a Body

Photo: Acts 2 Fellowship, Berkeley
The psalmist declares, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1; emphasis mine). Worldly distractions, bad theology, or indwelling sin can cause us to lose sight of why we should be glad about meeting together on the Lord’s Day. We might even start to think private devotions are an adequate substitute for, if not superior to, gathering with the church.

Of course, both private and corporate worship are vital to our relationship with God. But there are reasons the writer of Hebrews admonishes us not to follow “the habit of some” by neglecting to meet together (Heb. 10:25). Here are eight of them.... Read more

You Are As Sick As Your Secrets

Have you ever heard that statement? It applies not only to leaders but to the organizations we lead.

One example is Penn State University. As early as 1998 people were aware that assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had dark issues. But no one took significant action, so they all became part of the problem. Sandusky did not fail alone. The community around him failed miserably to be his safe community. The leaders were sick — the organization was sick. How sick? As sick as their secrets.

A healthy, productive leader is needed for a healthy, productive organizational culture – and we need safe people around us to become that healthy leader. I need people who have the courage to ask the tough questions – and people who I feel safe to tell all. Read more

Balance Is Bunk

From time to time, someone will drop by my office and begin to talk about how out of balance their life has become. They’re staying too long at work, their spouse and children are frustrated, they’re not taking care of themselves, and they’re more tired by the day. They’ve tried all of the time management tricks. But nothing seems to work, and they want me to help them get their life back in balance.

But, I can’t. And here’s why: balance is bunk.

There is no such thing as a balanced life. It’s a false goal, a mirage propagated by a culture that doesn’t recognize a blunt fact of life. Some things are just more important than other things in life. Everything is not equal and no, everyone and everything doesn’t deserve a few moments of your time. Read more

Can Catholics Have the Assurance of Salvation?

I received a package in the mail last week from a Roman Catholic woman in our area. We have never met, but she thought I could use a little booklet entitled, "Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth." It was published by Catholic Answers. ( This group is "the largest Catholic apologetics and evangelization organization in North America." They obviously have tremendous zeal to spread Catholic teachings to others. In fact, there are 5 million copies of this booklet in print.

"Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth" is very revealing. It was written by people who have been thoroughly immersed in Catholic doctrine. It states, "We are lay people devoting our full-time efforts to promoting the Catholic faith." The booklet has been endorsed and declared "free of doctrinal errors" by Roman Catholic theologians, but laid out in simple terms.

I was especially interested in the way they described the path to salvation. It states that "we are saved by grace alone, but not by faith alone, which is what 'Bible Christians' teach." (p. 22) This distinction is absolutely huge and it gets right to the heart of the matter. This very point is the primary reason the Reformation took place. Everything hinges on how a church defines "grace."

In the context of this article, I will use their term "Bible Christians" to present what Christians since the time of Christ have believed the Bible teaches regarding eternal life and the assurance of salvation. This is not a new doctrine. It has been around for 2000 years….long before the Protestant Reformation took place some 500 years ago.

The booklet states, "We do not 'earn' our salvation through good works (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 9:16), but our faith in Christ puts us in a special grace-filled relationship with God so that our obedience and love, combined with our faith, will be rewarded with eternal life." (Rom. 2:7, Gal. 6:8-9) Did you catch that? According to Catholic Answers, a grace-filled life of obedience is said to be rewarded with eternal life.

So is "grace" in the Bible God's unmerited love, mercy, and forgiveness for sinners on account of Christ? it those things, plus man's "grace-filled" works of obedience? Everything hinges on how a church defines the "grace" that is said to save us. Read more

Crisis over president's powers exposes Egypt divisions

Youths clashed with police in Cairo on Saturday as protests at new powers assumed by President Mohamed Mursi stretched into a second day, confronting Egypt with a crisis that has exposed the split between newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.

A handful of hardcore activists hurling rocks battled riot police in the streets near Tahrir Square, where several thousand protesters massed on Friday to demonstrate against a decree that has rallied opposition ranks against Mursi.

Following a day of violence in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, the smell of teargas hung over the square, the heart of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.

More than 300 people were injured on Friday. Offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi to power, were attacked in at least three cities.

Egypt's highest judicial authority said the decree marked an "unprecedented attack" on the independence of the judiciary, the state news agency reported. Read more

Read also:
US Concerned About Power Grab by Egypt's Islamist President
Protestors Torch Offices in Egypt After President Morsi Issues Himself Unlimited Powers
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's arrogation of sweeping new powers to himself is not surprising in light of the lessons of history and the Muslim Brotherhood's aspirations to establish an Islamic state.

Church challenged in Parliament over women bishops

The Church of England was faced with difficult questions in the House of Commons after failing to pass legislation that would have allowed women to be bishops.

Legislation was defeated by just six votes in the Church's parliamentary body, the General Synod this week.

Despite receiving the majority of Synod votes, the legislation fell because it could not secure the required two-thirds majority from the laity.

The Church was forced to address the issue in Parliament in response to an urgent question tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson.

She told MPs that the Church was being "held to ransom by a few narrow minds".

"There should be no stained-glass ceiling for women in our church," she said.

"The Church of England now stands to be left behind by the society it seeks to serve, looking outdated, irrelevant, and frankly eccentric by this decision." Read now
"If the Church of England wants to be a national church, then it has to reflect the values of the nation."

If the Church of England wishes to remain a Christian church, it must embody the teaching of Scripture. The time may have come to pursue the disestablishment of the Church of England if it is to remain faithful to that teaching.

The governance of the Church of England was originally modeled upon that of the Swiss Reformed Churches, exclusive of Geneva. Simply put, the magistrate governed the church and appointed its pastors. The church, in turn, served as the conscience of the magistrate. In the case of the Church of England the magistrate was the reigning English monarch.

The English parliament has gradually replaced the English monarch in the role of magistrate. The church also no longer serves as the conscience of the magistrate. Rather the magistrate serves as his own conscience. Hence the insistence that the church reflect the values of the prevailing culture. Whatever the culture accepts, the church must embrace too.

The church, however, would cease to truly be the church if it adopts this view and ceased from upholding Scriptural teaching.

Gerald Bray: Evangelical supporters of women bishops are "liberals in disguise":

A lot of people seem to be confused after the decision by the Church of England's General Synod not to approve the consecration of women as bishops. Let us begin by establishing the facts.

1. All sides agree that the church will have women bishops at some point, whether they like this or not.

2. All sides also agree that provision will have to be made for those who cannot accept women bishops.

The disagreement is not about either of those things but about the nature and extent of the provision to be made. Basically, is it to be decided by the (essentially unsympathetic) majority, which will then impose its solution on a reluctant minority, or will the minority be allowed to determine what it needs in order to feel safe and get the majority to accept that? What has happened so far is that the majority has tried to impose its own will on the minority, which has protested loud and long but been ignored because the majority thought that it was big enough to get its way. This belief has proved to be wrong - hence the lost vote. Read more

Read also:
Christian Post: Church of England Will Have Women Bishops, Future Anglican Head Insists
ABC: Has the Church of England finally lost its reason? Women bishops and the collapse of Anglican theology
National Review: Anglicans and Women: Understanding the Crisis in the Church of England
Patheos: What I Really Think...
Rowan Williams Says Anglicans 'Blind to Society' After Rejecting Women Bishops

Friday, November 23, 2012

“Go and Take” vs. “Come and See”

I was recently asked to give a quick thought on why I believe that the structure of missional community (MC) life is better than traditional church structures. I really wouldn’t start by saying, “MC’s are the only way.”

Instead, I’d start with the fact that making disciples of Jesus, that make disciples of Jesus, with the power and authority of Jesus, is the mission of the church. Based on Matthew 28:18-20, we are called to baptize these new disciples in a new identity with a new mission. This identity is found in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. So, we are now to live this out as family because we have the same Father. We are servants because our King, the Son of God, came down to show us how to be servants as he was and to serve and not be served. And we are missionaries because the Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, now lives in us to make us his witnesses (Acts 1) to the ends of the earth.

We are now a family of missionary servants with a new mission – making disciples of Jesus, who make disciples of Jesus, instead of making disciples of self, who make disciples of self. Read more

New Film: CS Lewis 'Eerily Prophetic' About Dangers of Modern Science

A new film that premiered this week on YouTube reveals how the late Christian apologist C. S. Lewis was a prophetic writer when it came to his warnings about science.

Lewis, most known for his works The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity, was not opposed to science itself, even encouraging Christians to study it. But what he was a critic of was "scientism." Scientism, according to PBS, sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth.
"He never, so far as I know, attacked science itself. What he attacked was scientism – this idea that the method or the methods really of natural science should be the bar by which every other intellectual discipline must be held," said Jay Richards, co-author of Indivisible, in the film "The Magician's Twin."

The 30-minute documentary, written and directed by Dr. John G. West, was released on Monday. West, associate director at the Center for Science and Culture, felt the documentary was so important that he chose to make it available to the public for free on YouTube.

In the film, West and other scholars outline Lewis' thoughts, based on his writings, on how science was being and could be further corrupted. Read more

Read also:
CS Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia author, honoured in Poets' corner

Charles Arn: Reasons to Stay

The majority of pastors miss out on the most fruitful—and enjoyable—times of ministry.

Several years ago, a study by the largest denomination in the United States found a startling relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches and the growth or decline of those churches. Their finding? Approximately 3/4 of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church more than four years, while 2/3 of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church less than four years. Their conclusion (with which I agree): While long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow, short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.

So, why do pastors leave their churches? Here are the results of a study where pastors were asked that question.... Read more