Methodists are Mythical Creatures #1

While doing a little research on the internet I came across a tract written by John Wesley called The Character of a Methodist which I found in many places to be a bit disturbing and very much counter to my understanding of the scriptures.  If you do decide to follow that link, please note that what is written by Wesley is meant to point out what distinguishes Methodists, not requirements for salvation.  Also note that this document is not a denominational standard for what it means to be a United Methodist.  The following is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of this tract which will give you an idea of what it proposes to do.

SINCE the name first came abroad into the world, many have been at a loss to know what a Methodist is; what are the principles and the practice of those who are commonly called by that name; and what the distinguishing marks of this sect, "which is everywhere spoken against."
The rest of the tract seeks to answer question "what are the distinguishing marks of this sect?" Or as the title conveys, what is "The Character of a Methodist"?

This post really cuts straight to the heart of this blog.  It shows the difficulty and  tension of ministering within a body that finds guidance into the scripture from Wesley at its core of belief, while personally coming to a theology that is in numerous places at odds with Wesley.  Also realize you do not have to agree with Wesley to be a member of the United Methodist Church, the point is that our system is Wesleyan at its core so though our thinking diverges  at times from Wesley his theology still shapes ours significantly.

So without further introduction let's get into the body of this tract, which will take a few posts to deal with.  Please note that I attempt to be honest a fair to the context of this tract as I pull various statements from it.

The first 3 paragraphs of the tract deny that a Methodist is a legalist, and affirms unity with those outside of the Methodist sect, and then we are met with these words at the beginning of the fourth paragraph.

4. Nor, lastly, is [a Methodist] distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it. If you say, "Yes, he is; for he thinks 'we are saved by faith alone:'" I answer, You do not understand the terms. By salvation he means holiness of heart and life. And this he affirms to spring from true faith alone.
 This statement is troubling for a number of reasons.  The first being that it gets certain categories wrong.  I can certainly agree that Ephesians 2:4-10 express that much of the purpose of salvation is indeed to create a holy people, 'created for good works'.  Let us not deny sanctification is a very intentional by-product of justification on the part of God.  Let us also not deny the fact that our salvation is intended to have tangible results in this world, and it does not simply end with right standing before God.  However if salvation is defined as "holiness of heart and life" then the category is wrong.  Of course the true Wesleyan would say "holiness of heart and life" is a result of grace, but clearly "holiness of heart and life" is dependent in some measure upon the performance of man.  Therefore if salvation is truly defined as "holiness of heart and life" it is syncretism and not at all "apart from works" (Eph 2:8).  This also affects our assurance of salvation immensely.  If you strip salvation of grace and render it to be a state of practical holiness of heart and life then nobody... NOBODY... experiences salvation.  Essentially Wesley with this definition has said a Methodist is one who believes that salvation is the equivalent of Christian Perfection.

The reality is that salvation is our participation in the life death and resurrection of Christ by faith.  In other words, our salvation is rooted in what Christ has done for us.  Yes salvation does result in progressive sanctification and becoming holy in our heart and life, yet that is results of a finished action, not the action itself.

Another quote from this tract that I found disturbing (and there are many) was found in the very next paragraph. (#5)

Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?" I answer: A Methodist is one who has "the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;" one who "loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!"
 Essentially Wesley has said that a Methodist is one who perfectly keeps the Law of God, knowing that the sum of the Law is loving the Lord with ALL heart, ALL soul, ALL mind, and ALL strength.  Here we see that Wesley has a very different understanding of the purpose of the Law than the reformers did, and that the Apostle Paul did.  I believe this tract had its initial publication prior to Wesley's Aldersgate experience in 1738 but I am not sure.  However I know that the version of this tract which is linked to above was the final publishing of it in 1777 some 40 years after Aldersgate.  The reason I mention Aldersgate is that the above portion of this tract runs completely counter to Luther's preface on the Romans which Wesley was 'strangely warmed' upon hearing.  I would contend that, by Wesley's definition, other than Christ there has never been a Methodist on the face of the earth..  A Methodist (by Wesley's definition) is a mythical creature.

Essentially Wesley's argument is that a Methodist is one who has been perfected.  So to my Methodist friends who have read this far... I hope you are not reading this blog to kill time, or for simple recreation, because if you are... then ALL your mind has not been devoted to the love of God and you are no longer Methodist!! at least according to Wesley.  But don't worry, we still love you, and you are welcome to explore with us the possibilities of unmerited favor of God based on what he has done for you in Christ.  Even if you aren't living with perfect "holiness of heart and life".

I will continue this in coming weeks.  Expect updates to the blog on Mondays and Thursdays.  I am working at getting ahead and scheduling the posts to drop on those days.  By the time this posts I should be a week or two ahead.


Blog Plan 2011 - Missing Link Mondays

I am not preaching January 2nd or the 9th so I have a little bit of time freed up for blogging, and I have a plan for what to do with it.  I am going to start a new segment on this blog that works off of the revised common lectionary, and post every Monday regarding the previous Sunday’s two Old Testament readings.  The goal is not to give teaching on each text as that would be a far bigger endeavor than I care to undertake, but the goal will be to show the clear link from the lectionary reading to the work of Christ on our behalf.  Jesus made it clear on the Emmaus road that all scripture points to him, so it is safe for us to look for him in any and every segment of the word.  So each Monday (starting January 3rd) will be “Missing Link Monday”, and I will endeavor to make clear the link from the OT readings to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The reason I call it “missing link Monday” is that this practice of linking all OT scripture to Christ is sadly a practice that is missing in much of Christendom.  So often we will hear sermons from Nehemiah about rebuilding your life, or from Song of Solomon about spicing up you love life, or from Joshua about conquering life’s trials and so on, yet rarely do we look at any of these texts a passages fulfilled in Christ, and yet these passages offer little more that nice ethics unless they are used to proclaim Christ.  So that is what Missing link Monday will be all about.

My plan is to post other posts on Thursday, and those posts will be similar to the posts I have done recently.  Hopefully with two weeks out of the pulpit I can get ahead of the game and schedule the posts a couple weeks in advance so that I don’t have any problems keeping up.  Stop back and keep posted.


Funeral Assurance

The preaching assurance post from last week seemed to generate a little interest and I have been thinking much about this topic lately.  I thought I would go a step further in this post and up the ante a bit more.  It seems to some people absurd that you would ever preach in such a manner as to give your congregation assurance.  The objection is that the preacher has no way of knowing who believes and who does not so there is no way the preacher should ever give assurance, it is not his to give.  We talked about that in the last assurance post, and I don’t care to explain myself again.  I would say that the possibility of giving false assurance frightens many people, so they end up withholding assurance from everyone.

Like I said I am going to up the ante a bit.  I have had the privilege of officiating 7 funerals in my first 5 months as the Pastor of Delta UMC.  At funerals even if the one who has died apparently died in unbelief, and the majority of the family assembled seems to not be believers I still preach assurance.  Let me rephrase, I preach assurance at a funeral regardless of the circumstances surrounding the funeral, and regardless of who is in attendance.  This must bother a reader or two, but I cannot think of a better place to preach assurance.  I think that one of the great confusions that people have in this issue is that preaching assurance and pronouncing someone to be redeemed are two very different things.  I preach with full confidence at every funeral that Christ has lived, died, and rose for us, and that because of the work of Christ we can have confidence in sin forgiven.  I make no statement with regard to the eternal destiny of the dead, or the living, yet I do proclaim the sure work of Christ on the cross for those in attendance, and for the one who has died.
Of course the Calvinist asks how I can do that if I believe in a limited atonement.  My answer is pretty simple.  Christ died for all, the atonement is only applied to the Elect by faith.  The atonement is limited, the sacrifice was not.  I certainly do not go so far as to give full peace regarding the deceased, but I also do nothing to withhold peace.  Now the Arminian of all people should have no problem with this because of their staunch belief that Christ died for all.  Yet it seems that the Arminian is the first to shy away from this type of funeral proclamation.

So what of you?  How would you preach a funeral?  Would you dangle a carrot out and tell people if they only do this or that then they can be redeemed?  Or would you tell them that Christ has lived, died, and resurrected for them.  Again I ask the question, what are you afraid of?  Are you afraid that someone in faith would actually believe those words to be true and receive assurance?

(btw, see comment policy on right sidebar)


The Gospel is Old News

The Gospel is not happening as we speak.  Nobody in this world is being the Gospel, living the Gospel, or anything of the sort.  The Gospel is by definition good news of past events as well as the announcement of a future return of Christ.  None of the Gospel is in the present tense.  Getting this right might be the most important challenge the Church faces in our day.  The implications of a wrong view of the Gospel as history are wide and varied. 

To the individual mistaking the Gospel as something we participate in leads to despair.  Eventually we come to a point when we look at our lives and what we have done as Christians and realize that our actions are not “good news” in fact often times we find ourselves in struggles we had long before we believed.  We look to ourselves as an example of the Gospel and realize there is little good news there to celebrate.

To the church it leads to all sorts of strange concepts.  If we are to live the Gospel, then spreading the Gospel means either to bring people to us, or take ourselves to people.  We end up (though we would never say it) believing that what the world needs is more of ‘us’.  It is highly narcissistic.  A lot of Church growth, attractional mentality is built on the premise that exposing people to ourselves will expose them to the Gospel as long as our people are ‘living the Gospel’.  It also leads to this idea that “we need to be Christ for someone” or “the only Jesus some people may ever see is you.”  Again, I understand the motive here and it is not all bad, but at its heart it is narcissistic.  This confusion of the Gospel as something we do, has driven much of the church’s mission, and largely has caused us to lose our theology that is foundational to our mission.  That theology being that Christ has already done and completed a work for you.

To the world the implications of believing that the Gospel must be lived is enormous.  The Gospel ceases to be good news for a perishing world if it includes a mandate.  The greatest hope for a dying humanity is that a work has been done in history for them and that they can look back with assurance knowing that work (Christ’s life, death, resurrection) was completed for them.  If the Gospel is a new lifestyle of good works and service it offers wonderful ethics to a perishing world, but it offers nothing by way of salvation.

When the Gospel becomes a present tense activity it becomes reduced to humanism.  Humanism includes self sacrifice, it involves the golden rule, it includes honor, it includes caring for the poor, in includes all sorts of wonderful things that the scriptures include in its laws.  You do not need Jesus to have solid ethics.  As far as that is concerned I am not really “anti-humanist”, in fact I am pretty much good with humanism.  It is an attempt to live out the law which is already written on the heart of man, and it benefits society when people do that.  However, humanism always fails at the personal level.  No person lives to the ethics they espouse, all people commit the injustice they abhor, the real problem is sin and it cannot be labored away, and ethics do not cure it.  Only the Gospel offers salvation, yet if the Gospel gets confused with the ethics and good deeds even that “Gospel” ceases to offer anything more than despair and condemnation.

Yet, if we recall that the Gospel indeed is a historical transaction occurring in real time with a real body, and real blood, real wood on a real cross, and real tomb that was empty because our real savior rose from the dead... if we can recall what has been done for us we no longer need to approach the Gospel as what we must do, we approach it with gratefulness knowing we are redeemed.  We are freed for joyful obedience to a law that no longer has the power to condemn.


Preaching Assurance

It is a job of preachers of the Gospel to give their congregation assurance of sins forgiven.  A number of people have a huge problem with that statement, and I wonder why.  Of course the common objection is “only God can give assurance of sins forgiven”, or there is the fear that a preacher would give someone assurance who really should not have assurance.  Certainly I understand the objections, but I am not convinced that they are biblically founded.  The question comes up, “How can you know they are forgiven, or how can you know who to assure and not to assure?”  The simple answer is that I do not know, nor do I need to.  Yet this begs the question, “Jay, if you do not know who is redeemed and who is not, how can you attempt to give blanket assurance to an entire congregation?”  This is a reasonable question, but it is not a question that is scripturally informed.  Consider when Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Jesus, and three times he was met with “Feed my sheep”.  Question; who was Peter to determine who Christ’s sheep were?  Nonetheless he was give the command.  Or what about Paul’s blanket statements of blessing to the churches he wrote to?  Were there not bound to be unbelievers gathered in their midst?  If Paul can write words of assurance to a group of people he has not even met, how much more appropriate is it for preachers of the Gospel to seek assurance for their congregations!

Unfortunately a lot of preachers, many who are rising greatly in popularity are making a great name for themselves in doing the very opposite of what I propose here.  Now I have a great respect for men like Paul Washer and I certainly would agree that he possesses a great gift for preaching.  His stuff on marriage and manhood has been indispensible to me, his preaching on Song of Solomon is some of the most beautiful preaching I have ever heard.  Moreover when he preaches the Gospel, and paints a picture of the magnitude of the cross and the substitutionary work of Christ of Christ on behalf of the believer I would contend that there are few who are more gifted than him.  Nonetheless I greatly diverge from Washer and others like him when it comes to preaching assurance.  I am not sure if people would consider Washer reformed or not, he is certainly a Calvinist when it comes to his soteriology, but not sure beyond that.  He calls himself a “5 point Spurgeonist” which I think means a Baptist with a soteriology that mirrors Calvin.  You can, however, see that he diverges from reformation theology when it comes to assurance, and the role of ecclesiastical authority in giving assurance.

Now, whether you know of Washer or not, the issue at hand here is whether or not the church, specifically the preaching pastor, should attempt to give assurance to the congregation.  The reason this post is pertinent to this blog is that the conservative or ‘confessing’ Methodist is typically very Washeresque when it comes to giving assurance.  Of course the favorite passage is “examine yourself to see if you are in the faith, test yourselves, or do you not know this about yourself that Christ Jesus is in you, unless of course you fail the test.”  The very conclusion of that chapter, which is the last chapter in II Corinthians, is a passage of assurance.  When looking at this passage in context you will see that Paul is giving assurance to the weak, not calling to looking inwardly at the strength of your profession or the fruit of your life to determine whether or not you are really a believer.  The other text that seems to always come up when folks who hate to give people assurance take to the pulpit is the end of Matthew 7.  The beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (which concludes at chapter 7) establishes assurance for the disciples who were listening.  The clear wording of Matthew 7 is ‘beware of false prophets’ and that passage qualifies the later words ‘many will say unto me Lord Lord... and I will say depart from me I never knew you.’   That passage in Matthew 7 is a very powerful means of making people question their assurance and I have preached that text myself to do just that.  However the force of the text has nothing to do with your personal assurance (which you should go to the beginning of Matthew 5 to get) instead it is to put you on your guard against false prophets.  Preaching that portion of Matthew 7 and making it about biblical assurance is out of bounds.

The point is that the role of the pastor is to shepherd the sheep, grow the sheep, and lead them to take comfort and refuge in their king.  It is about proclaiming grace to them, and ASSURING them of the work which Christ has done for them.  Pastor, your job is not to get into the pulpit and make people question their salvation, it is to get into the pulpit and remind them of the salvation which is in Christ for them.  Don't beat up the sheep by misappropriating 2 Corinthians 13:5 or Matthew 7:21-23 to be passages designed to cause believers to question assurance.

I am not sure why people fear giving false assurance.  What is it?  Are we afraid that someone might actually believe that Christ died for their sins and then trust him as their redeemer?  Isn’t that kind of the point?  The problem with preaching 2 Corinthians 13:5 and Matthew 7 as a means to bring us to question our assurance is that we are always left looking inwardly to determine whether or not we are saved.  We are always looking to our work, our desires, our evidence, to see if we indeed are Christian.  The only reason we have for assurance is an external work of God in Christ for us, that we are given belief in by the work of His Spirit.


Hymns the UMC Catechism

If there was ever a tradition that should have violently held to their traditional hymnody it would be the Wesleyan tradition.  Let me be clear, I am not a hyper-traditionalist, there are good a number of contemporary hymns, praise songs, and choruses that I like and think are valuable to the church.  This posting is in no way a rant against contemporary worship per se.  I’ll admit that I personally find myself annoyed with most contemporary worship, but I will be the first to admit that there really is some lyrically excellent music being produced in our day and being used in the contemporary setting.  Nonetheless the trend in the UMC toward using more contemporary popular worship songs is a huge problem for Methodism, larger than it would be for a Lutheran, Reformed, or even the Catholic Church.

Awhile back I posted regarding Creeds and Catechisms, and expressed my disappointment in the fact that the UMC is very sporadic (at best) in their use these historic statements.  I stand behind that post, especially in the way we see the UMC’s incredibly (dare I say fatally) broad theological spectrum.   Methodism has not always been that way.  The Wesley’s were adamant about ‘catechesis’ yet their method was music.  Consider the thousands of hymns written by the Wesleys alone all with the purpose of expressing doctrinal truth in a repetitive and memorable manner.  They wrote the hymns to the tune of familiar entertaining pieces of the day which served to enhance the ability to memorize the key doctrine which the hymns were to communicate.  The Wesleys were specific in how hymns should be sung, and adamant about not taking artistic license to improve upon them, knowing that artistic license created individualism out of what was meant to be community worship and dare I say a form of covenantal catechesis.  In many ways this method of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs as a method of catechesis could be seen as having more biblical support than the standard question and answer format of the reformation and catholic traditions.  Clearly the Hebrews did this with their Psalms, and Timothy was commanded by Paul to continue in this vein.

The point is that in Methodism our entire ‘indoctrination system’ hinges upon hymnody.  Other traditions continue to recite creeds, catechisms, and so on, but we rarely do so.  Instead historically we have been a people who use hymns for that purpose.  Now as we see Methodism going contemporary and choosing songs based partly upon doctrine, partly upon singability, and largely upon popularity we have created a more appealing worship setting but have removed our primary method of indoctrination.  (I use the word indoctrination in the instruction sense, not the propaganda sense).  This is a serious problem for us.
Whenever you attempt to address this you will find Methodists telling you “we originated the contemporary scene when Charles and John started putting all their music to the tune of popular tunes sung in the pubs”, or they say something similar to that.  However they miss the original intent of this.  ‘Pub music’ was not used to make hymn singing popular and fun, in fact the Wesleys put very stringent guidelines as to how hymns could be sung, and it was clear they were not doing it just to be attractive.  The reason for using the bar tunes was because they provided an already clear framework for memory of doctrine.

Now that we have forgone an intentional hymnody and replaced it with a series of contemporary songs that people enjoy, we fail to commit our whole theology to memory.  Again, much of the new music is doctrinally excellent, but it is not intentional in the same way that the early hymns of Methodism were, and the newer music has not been written with the same intent that the original Methodist hymns were written.

Other traditions can survive being loose with their music because there is a consistent system for imparting their theology to their adherents.  Methodists’ music is our system, so we do not have the liberty to be loose with it.


Recent Reading

First, please understand the tenor of this post, I am not trying to show off a list of books that I have read, nor am I trying to impel you to read them.  When I read a book that I really enjoy or find insightful I always look in its bibliography, or make a note of the authors that are quoted in the book.  Then I chase the rabbits and read the other books.  I do the same with books I do not like.  I believe this is a good practice.  Now I wish that all bloggers would occasionally give a bibliography or a list of what they recently read which could give us insight into how there thoughts are being shaped.  Anyway, here is a list of books I have read or partially read over the last 12 months or so.  Again, this is not to make you think positive or negative about me, consider more of a bibliography for a blog.  These are in no particular order. And note that a few of these books I did not like at all.

Heaven Misplaced - Douglas Wilson
Law and Gospel - Walther (I have only read about 1/10th of this book)
Desiring God - John Piper
The Attributes of God - AW Pink
Christianity and Liberalism - J.Gresham Machen
The Heidleberg Catechism
Luther's Small Catechism
Spiritual Depression - Martyn Lloyd Jones
Exposition of Romans 6 - Martyn Lloyd Jones
Christless Christianity - Michael Horton
Attributes of God - Stephen Charnock (I have only read about 1/3)
Seeing with New Eyes - David Powlison
Preface to the Romans - Martin Luther
Concerning Christian Liberty - Martin Luther
The Deeper Journey - M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
The Certain Sound of the Trumpet - Samuel D. Proctor
The One True God - Paul Washer
The Truth about Man - Paul Washer
Justification and Regeneration - Charles Leiter
Institutes of Christian Religon - John Calvin (picking thru this on occasion probably read 3%)

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Robby Braveheart - David Krewson
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (got to bored about halfway and quit)
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (read for about 8hrs on my iPod kindle app, realized it was the unabridged version which was 1600 pages and quit.)
Screwtape Letters - CS Lewis

Commentaries Used
Mathew Henry
JC Ryle - Expository Thoughts on the Gospels
John Wesley's notes on the bible
CH Spurgeon - Treasury of David
John Calvin - Commentary on the Psalms
John Calvin - Commentary on Philippians
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown
Alec Motyer - Commentary on Isaiah
John Oswalt - Commentary on Isaiah



Our Non-Missional Christmas

This Christmas I will celebrate what has been done for me, and for my family.  For at least a brief portion of time I will cease to be concerned about the rest of the world, about my neighbor in need, and about the problems others face, and I am just going to focus on what has been done for us.  I know this flies in the face of the new missional Christmas where we all try to give as much money to feeding people as we do giving presents to each other, and to many people the Miklovic selfish Christmas seems to be the very antithesis to what Christmas should be, but I disagree.

I was born in sin, and have sinned since my earliest of days, so has my wife, and my two young children.  We have known right, and chosen wrong.  We have had God’s law revealed to us, and chosen disobedience to it.  The Miklovics without any outside intervention are a pretty hopeless bunch.   I could take Christmas and turn it into a time to pour blessing upon the world and make it a time of monastic self denial, but I am not going to. Christmas is about the redemption of the Miklovic family by our Lord who saw it fit to be born in human flesh in a manger.  Christmas, is all about undoing that curse that the Miklovics were born into because of original sin in Adam.  Christmas, the celebration of the advent of Christ was for the Miklovics and we are going to view it in that light, as something done FOR US.  You say yes, but was it not for the rest of the world too?  Of course it was, and I encourage you and the rest of the world to celebrate Christmas in the same manner, as Christ coming FOR YOU.  Yes, we will still give our traditional gift to our kids that they are required to use to serve someone else, yes we will still lead youth on food drives, and give to those in need, because that is a part of who we are... but that is not, nor will it be the focus of our Christmas.

Let me give a little more explanation.  During the mega-church or church growth movement we had a horrible streak of selfishness driving evangelicalism.  Everything in churches was to be carefully crafted to make congregants happy with the style, and comforts of modern worship.  Of course most of us are now ready to admit that this consumeristic mentality is the wrong way to go, and that people should not be drawn to the church simply to be given coffee, tips for life, and good music.  Yet how have we responded to the consumerist failure?  We have turned around and created the missional movement to curb our self absorbed appetite.  We have taken the growth model which tells vistors “we are all about you, be comfortable enjoy yourselves” and replaced it with the total opposite “it is not about you, get out of your ‘comfort zone’ and join us in mission.”  The growth movement catered to the consumer, and the missional movement caters to the wannabe superhero.  Both movements at their heart are consumeristic trying to create what people want to consume.  Neither movement offers comfort with regard to our own fallenness.  The growth movement was to capture those who remember nothing but dead fundamentalism and wanted something more joyful.  The missional movement is for those who grew annoyed with the growth movement and wanted their life to mean something and to make a difference.  In either case, both movements addressed and are addressing the desires of the consumer of the day.  (This is why people are so unfortunately infatuated with Barna polls.)  The problem is that in reaction to the growth movement, the missional movement has thrown out any notion whatsoever that Christ has done a great work FOR YOU.  It quickly forces you to reach out to others while never receiving anything yourself.  The growth mentality was all for you, yet it did not placard the Christ which died for you and the implications of that, it instead structured the church experience ‘for you’ with all the amenities of your local shopping mall.  The ‘for you’ of the growth movement is not the ‘for you’ of the gospel, yet in the rejection of the growth movement, the actual Gospel ‘for you’ has been placed on the back shelf by the missional movement.  Essentially in an effort to get out of one ditch we have fallen into the ditch on the other side of the road.

That is why my family, which is a mission minded family, will see Christmas not as a call to mission, but a call to receive with gratitude once again that Christ was incarnate FOR US.  This is not selfish, this is receiving and appreciating a gift that was given to us.  Not in the form of good coffee and a Christmas ham, but as Christ incarnate FOR US.  Enjoy the gift and the giver, certainly you will go out on mission, and certainly you will serve others and certainly your living faith will propel you into works, but take time to see that the gift is FOR YOU.


Love -- Law or Gospel?

In Wesleyan theology there is a large emphasis placed on love, and many in the Methodist movement would go so far as to say “the Gospel in one word is love.”  I could agree with that statement if what is meant is that the Gospel is that God has so loved us that Christ had our sin imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to us that we would receive the benefit of righteousness while Christ endured the curse of the law for us, and that this actually took place in history as an actual event.  In other words, I can agree that our theology should be all about love if you are speaking of the love of God for us.  However if the Gospel is that we are to love God and love others because of what Jesus did then we are greatly confusing the Gospel and the Law.

Let me be clear, we should love others and love God, and in light of the Gospel we should be driven to love, I do not intend to negate that, nonetheless the Gospel has nothing to do with our love... in fact as far as action is concerned the Gospel has nothing to do with us.  The Gospel is news of a completed work, a work that was for us, but that was not carried out by us.  This is a very important post for this blog, because in Methodism as well as most of evangelicalism we are getting this confused.  As the veil has been pulled of my eyes regarding this tragic confusion of love being the Gospel instead of law I have been liberated and able to share this liberating Gospel others.  The reality that love is law not Gospel (in the sense that we are called to love) is a reality that we need desperately to discover in the UMC.

Just to get the terms right here, the Law is what we are commanded to do by God.  The Gospel is the work God did for us in Christ.  Law, our doing... Gospel, his doing.

Romans 3:19-20 ESV  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  (20)  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Galatians 2:15-16 ESV  We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;  (16)  yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

The scripture is crystal clear that we will not and cannot be justified by obedience to the Law, because we have already disobeyed it, and have the propensity to continue in disobedience toward it.  To attempt justification by the law is an uphill battle that produces a life of despair and leads to an afterlife of torment.  It is essential that we understand that we will not be justified by our obedience to the Law, period.  We also must understand that the Gospel is about Christ’s fulfillment of the Law for us, both the righteousness demanded by it, and the curses required for transgression of it... for us.

Which brings us to this:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV  "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  (5)  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

First off notice that the above quote is given from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.  This is not a New Testament call to Gospel love, this is an old testament statement of Law.

Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV  "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.  (18)  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

Again, notice this is from the Old Testament book of Leviticus, this is not some New Testament paradigm introduced by Jesus.  This is the Law.  When you read the above verses from Romans and Galatians (and there are many more similar passages) which state we will not be justified by the Law they allude to these passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus as well as any other passage from the Law.  Moreover we find Jesus quoting these passages directly when questioned what the greatest commandments are.  Jesus affirms that love of neighbor and love of God is the summation of the Law.  Jesus calls love the great LAW, not the Gospel.

The Law of God shows us our need for grace, it is a school master leading us to the foot of the cross.  When we take our call to love and put that call in the Gospel column instead of the Law column you create a huge problem, the very commandment which was meant to drive you to the cross instead becomes something altogether different.  It loses it’s power as love, yet gains nothing because it is not Gospel.  Our command to love is the Law, it is not the Gospel, and if you look at your own life, see the lack of love toward neighbor, and the lack of loving God with your entire heart soul strength and might you should be driven to see your need of Grace, and see that in Christ we have that grace given to us.  Yet if you refuse to see love as law, your lack of love will never drive you to grace.

Current trends in almost all of evangelicalism, and the long time trend in Methodism is to confuse love as Gospel instead of Law.  The surveys all tell us that if we focus on love we will grow our churches, and that what the world wants to see is love, and that is true.  If we make our entire focus on love than we will be the most excellent of all Law based religion, but we will cease to be Christianity.  The Jew, the Muslim, and every other major faith can claim its ethic to be love without any Gospel at all.  If we view Jesus only as example and not as sacrifice, if we see him as our best example of loving, and not as the one who fulfilled love for us, then we become no different than all other religion except that we have a better example to follow.  Yet if we see love as the law, and see the Gospel as something altogether different then and only then will we see the marvelous grace which has been given to us in Christ, and actually be freed to love from gratitude instead of loving because we are duty bound to do so.

There is a reason that even the most conservative Churches (Wesley and the Methodist church was ‘conservative’) eventually become liberal in the long run and it is because of this confusion.  With love as your Gospel you eventually end up with a religion that is entirely Law.  You can find common ground with every religious institution, every social service agency, every government, and every other humanistic endeavor because essentially they are all built on the same ethic... that is to love others and the to love the God of your understanding.  Christianity is altogether different, because Christianity alone knows that love is the summation of the law that we have been completely unable to keep, and that our lack of complete love necessitates a savior, and that Christ himself fulfilled the Law, that is fulfilled love, on our behalf and we stand on his merit, not our love.

I’d love to hear a few Methodist friends weigh in on this.


Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms

The idea of this blog is to express the implications of a Methodist discovering of the reformation, and one of the things we find very common in both Lutheran and Reformed churches is the extensive use of catechisms and creeds.  In the Methodist Church, at least in our day we see creeds going the way of the dodo bird, and I know of nobody using catechisms in the UMC, and I am unaware (I have not researched) if there is such thing as a Catechism approved by and readily used in United Methodism.  If there is, I have never seen or heard of it in my 20+ years as a United Methodist.  I, along with most other conservative United Methodists have insisted on scripture memorization as paramount for our confirmands and youth, yet have spent little time on creeds, and even less on catechisms.  Many fundamentalists would celebrate that "scripture only" focus, but I think it is horribly flawed.

Scripture memorization is an important discipline, but I would contend that it is a less important discipline than catechesis or the memorization of the creeds that accurately depict the faith.  Now I can hear my fundamentalist brethren getting really bent out of shape with that statement and I can certainly understand why.  What I am essentially saying is that you would be better off to memorize a creed which is not inspired, than to memorize portions of the inspired word of God.  At the outset it seems like an absurd argument for me to make, but it is not.

The simple reality is that verses individually taken outside of their context have no meaning.  A verse without its context is just a phrase dangling in space.  However a creed or a catechism that honestly deals with the entire cannon of scripture provides an overall context which an individual verse can be understood within.  This is incredibly important to see.  Confusion around many doctrines exist because the debates always seem to float around one isolated verse being quoted against another isolated verse.  How many times have you heard someone say “this verse presents a real problem to the insert particular theological view point here.”  Yet often times if you read the entire context that contains that particular verse you will see that it actually supports the view point being argued against.  My point is that you cannot make a biblical theology with a simple list of verses.

This is why creeds and confessions are so valuable, yes you should test them against the whole cannon of scripture, and yes you should not just assume the creed writers got it perfect, but at the same time you should realize that the historic creeds and confessions have been based off of scripture in its entirety and are not easily sunk by one verse here or there.

A quick scan of the evangelical landscape will show you a lot of people who know bits and pieces of Christian teaching, and most people know a few verses, and can tell you that God loves the world or that you should not judge others... yet  the sad reality is that it is a small percentage that can actually articulate what the entirety of scripture is about.  Few can look at the whole history of redemption with Christ at the center and just see it for what it is.  Everyone is so used to regurgitating particular new testament comfort verses that they cannot show how God’s goodness was displayed even in Israel’s slaughter of the people who dwelt in the promised land.

Preachers need to take heed here as well.  When I am expositing a passage of scripture to our congregation I am always directly quoting the scripture I am presenting, and continually coming back to it throughout the message.  Yet, as I preach and pull in different events from the biblical narrative, or pull in different teachings from other portions of scripture, I am not so concerned with direct quotation and giving a chapter and verse, instead I am concerned with pulling the common theme of the passage being exposited by pulling in examples from other places in scripture.  The point is that as preachers and teachers we need to be preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God, and that means to preach it as a whole.

Catechisms, and creeds are wonderful ways of teaching the whole counsel of God without having to memorize all 1100+ chapters of the scripture, and is more profitable than only taking bits and pieces of scripture to heart.  As I teach confirmation this year I will be using the Heidleberg Catechism, though I will omit a couple of sections near the end, but I trust that it will be more profitable to the students in the long run than if I had them memorize 50 isolated scriptures which I deemed were important.


Lutherans and The Lord's Supper

I have had a running conversation with a confessional Lutheran friend regarding the Lord’s supper for two or three weeks on twitter, and because so many rabbit trails have been chased in this conversation I sensed that it is time to take it to the blog.  The conversation is fitting for this blog as it falls within the context of a Methodist dealing with doctrines of the Reformation, specifically Luther’s view of ‘Real Presence’ in the Lord’s Supper.  I would highly recommend that you follow Dawn on twitter ‘@rumor99’ and visit her website here.  Moreover you can see the Lutheran view defended at here by Todd Wilken, of Issues Etc, or an interesting and seriously humorous defense of confessional Lutheranism against Calvinism at here by Rev Fisk.

Our conversation has centered around the Lord’s Supper and whether the ‘real presence’ of the Lord is in the bread and the wine.  Now this is a friendly discussion, and I do not sense that Dawn doubts our union in Christian fellowship and as far as internet twitter dialog goes I would consider Dawn a friend who has sharpened me in many ways.  Nonetheless, as cordial as this may be, it is not a trivial issue, and in many respects the Gospel itself is a stake, especially from the Lutheran end of the argument, as they are apt to argue that “the Sacrament is the Gospel”, their verbiage not mine.  Also note that we are dealing with Confessional Lutheranism here i.e. LCMS, not ELCA, I imagine Luther himself would not recognize the ELCA as Lutheran by any stretch of the imagination.

I argue as would nearly all Protestants that the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper are not literally/physically the body and blood of our Lord, but instead are figures of his body and blood.  The Lutheran appeals to Matthew 26:26-28 and simply says “This is my body... This is my blood...” means exactly what it says in the very literal sense.  As you debate this with a Lutheran they will continually come back to the fact that Jesus said “this is...” and if you are not careful arguing from the other side you begin to sound like Bill Clinton asking ‘What is ‘is’?”  Nonetheless, the question “what is meant by is?” is indeed an appropriate question.  Yes, I can hear you Lutherans chuckling right now.

Jesus uses ‘is’ in other places in a figurative manner, I can think of Mark 3:34-35 off hand, when he affirms that his disciples are his mother and his brothers.  I would never hang an argument about the Lord’s Supper upon Mark 3:34-35, nonetheless that is a clear example of when “is” does not mean “is” in the literal sense.  There are other places as well.  Moreover we hear Lutherans appeal to the “how would a five year old understand it?” argument so as to prove that the simple reading is that Jesus is actually calling bread “His Body” in the most literal sense.  My three year old will often pick up a ‘little people’ toy and say this *is* my daddy, and this *is* my mommy and then proceed to act like they are Kristin and I, even 3 year old Joey understands the figurative sense of *is*.  Sure that is simple make believe and all kids do that, and I am not trying to use a profane argument, but the simple truth is that even a three year old knows how to use *is* figuratively.  There is ample precedent for *is* being figurative in language.  The traditional Passover Seder itself is filled with figures and metaphors, in fact the Passover meal itself is a metaphor.

The other, and maybe most silly argument you hear is: “When it comes to judgment day I would rather stand before Jesus saying I believed you when you said *is* than to stand there and be wrong and have to say to Jesus that you didn’t believe Him when he said *is*.”  That same argument can be turned completely around pretty easily.  I would not want to stand on judgment day and have to give an account for why I worshipped bread when I had a clear understanding of the different and obvious uses of the word is.

The thing is that this is not a trivial argument.  I am not willing to break fellowship with confessional Lutherans over this, and frankly I am very thankful for a lot of Lutheran’s and their theology.  At the same time given the stance I take that *is* indeed is figurative in Matt 26:26-28 I must say that confessional Lutherans are heretical with regard to the Lord’s Supper, and they too must, because of their belief, see me as heretical with regard to the Lord’s supper.  This is slightly more problematic for the Lutheran, because they believe that the sacrament indeed is the Gospel, so my stance is to say they get the Gospel wrong.  This is not to be harsh, but it is healthy for us to be honest.

The other argument that comes up is why would Paul use such grave language with regard to the Lord’s Supper if it were a mere figure?  The same question could be asked about why God was so specific in laying out various feasts, and the Passover meal, the temple, etc... if these things were all figures of the Christ to come.  They must be handled with gravity because the One that these figures represent is the Christ Himself.  Say Joey, my son, picks up a Lego man and says “this is my Daddy” and then proceeds to through it against the wall, bite its head off, or mistreat it, I would be upset.  The way he treats the figure is indicative of his regard for me.  The same is true with the Lord’s supper, the way the figure is treated evidences the disposition towards what the figure is of.  It makes perfect sense that Paul would speak with such gravity.

Hopefully I have been thorough enough as to how “is” can be figurative.  However even if ‘is’ can possibly be figurative I still must be able to give solid reason that *is* is being used figuratively in Matt 26.  It is pretty obvious that in the Lord’s supper, Jesus says this is my Body while holding the bread.  His physical body was present, yet he held the bread as he made the announcement.  Nobody sitting around that table would have thought this to be a literal statement because obviously his real body was present.  Moreover each breaking of bread during the Passover meal had significant symbolic meaning.  I will not get into the Seder meal (I am not an expert) but regardless the disciples were already looking at this bread figuratively before Jesus even said *this is*.  Moreover Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, not here in a loaf.

The only thing left to appeal to is paradox.  The Lutheran must simply say all these things are paradox, Jesus being both at the right hand of the Father and in the loaf is paradox.  Jesus being present with the disciples and yet also physically/literally present in the bread he handed to them is paradox.  To me it seems more like Luther was not ready to separate from Catholicism when it came to sacrament.

One thing I love about Lutherans is that they love to live in paradox and do not feel bound to reason everything together, whereas many a Calvinist try to systemize things so far as to subject all scripture to their reason, I do believe this is a strong point in Lutheranism.  At the same time some things are clear and shouldn’t be considered paradox, which is the case here.  We cannot subject God to our reasoning, yet He has communicated to us by His Word using language and it is reasonable that we would give some effort into knowing what the language is communicating and not rushing to put our fingers in our ears and yelling “paradox.”

I will leave this hear for now, and post a follow up, if there is significant interest in the comments.


Luther and Wesley - Strangely Warmed

In the United Methodist Church you will find many congregations named 'Aldersgate UMC' and likely if you have been around the UMC for a significant amount of time, or studied the life of John Wesley you have come across what has been deemed Wesley's 'Aldersgate Experience'.  Wesley records this in his journal:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away mysins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
I have began to ask a few pastors within the UMC if they had ever read, or been required to read 'Luther's Preface to the Romans' and have found that the vast majority have not.  Now certainly one does not have to read Luther's preface to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans, but being a 'Wesleyan' denomination that appeals frequently to Wesley for it's understanding of scripture, you would think it would be incumbent upon UMC pastors to read the document which finally gave Wesley assurance of sins forgiven.  The 'Aldersgate experience' gets mentioned frequently when talking about Wesley, yet few dare go to the source which precipitated the experience.

The emergent and missional movements have found a warm reception in the United Methodist Church, and one of the reasons they are so welcome there is because of how missional Wesley was.  The missional mindset has been in the UMC since day one, and continues in it today.  While I am not against all things missional, I do find it unfortunate that as a church we have failed to see that Wesley was missional, long before he was strangely warmed.  What I mean is this, Wesley took huge risks traveling as a missionary, setting up societies, fighting against slavery, building orphanages, among many things, before he ever happened upon someone reading Luther's preface to the Romans there on Aldersgate street.  Wesley did countless acts of piety and yet had no assurance of sin forgiven.  Wesley did countless good things but had come to the point where it all seemed meaningless and that he wondered if he was still lost.  This is where the missional movement leads its people, eventual despair.  'Missional' Christianity leads people to associate their status in the kingdom with their works in this world, and eventually when a person has a strong sense of their sin the goodness of their works is no longer a source of hope.  The missional movement thrives on Matthew 25 when Jesus speaks of sheep and goats, yet never reads the text carefully enough to see that the sheep were unconscious of their piety while the goats put their hope in theirs.  They miss the fact that the sheep and goats are separated in that passage prior to their works being evaluated, not on the basis of the work.  We could go on an on here.

Anyway, I plead with Methodists who may come across this post to pick up a copy of Luther's Preface to the Romans, or read it online here.  It is not long, and is well worth your time, and maybe you too could be strangely warmed.  Here is an excerpt.

You must get used to the idea that it is one thing to do the works of the law and quite another to fulfill it. The works of the law are every thing that a person does or can do of his own free will and by his own powers to obey the law. But because in doing such works the heart abhors the law and yet is forced to obey it, the works are a total loss and are completely useless. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3 when he says, "No human being is justified before God through the works of the law." From this you can see that the schoolmasters [i.e., the scholastic theologians] and sophists are seducers when they teach that you can prepare yourself for grace by means of works. How can anybody prepare himself for good by means of works if he does no good work except with aversion and constraint in his heart? How can such a work please God, if it proceeds from an averse and unwilling heart?
But to fulfill the law means to do its work eagerly, lovingly and freely, without the constraint of the law; it means to live well and in a manner pleasing to God, as though there were no law or punishment. It is the Holy Spirit, however, who puts such eagerness of unconstained love into the heart, as Paul says in chapter 5. But the Spirit is given only in, with, and through faith in Jesus Christ, as Paul says in his introduction. So, too, faith comes only through the word of God, the Gospel, that preaches Christ: how he is both Son of God and man, how he died and rose for our sake. Paul says all this in chapters 3, 4 and 10.
That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law; faith it is that brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ. The Spirit, in turn, renders the heart glad and free, as the law demands. Then good works proceed from faith itself. That is what Paul means in chapter 3 when, after he has thrown out the works of the law, he sounds as though the wants to abolish the law by faith. No, he says, we uphold the law through faith, i.e. we fulfill it through faith.
Peace Friends.


Infant Baptism

Acts 11:14 ESV  "...he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.'

Acts 16:14-15 ESV  One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  (15)  And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.

Acts 16:30-31 ESV  Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"  (31)  And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Acts 18:8 ESV  Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

One of the great divisive issues in the Church of Jesus Christ is the baptism of infants.  In the United Methodist Church we firmly believe in infant baptism, and I am thankful for that.  However, while growing up in the Methodist Church infant baptism was the one doctrine that I could not come to grips with.  Whenever I would bring infant baptism into question I was always met with the "Jesus loves children" response, or with the "you don't know whether or not infants were a part of the 'households' mentioned in acts." (You can see the passages above.)  Neither of these arguments ever satisfied me.  

The fact that Jesus loves children in no way necessitates their baptism and though Jesus called the little children to come to him, he never called them to come to him for baptism.  The "Jesus loves the children" argument just rings hollow.  I have never met a baptist that would deny the love of Christ towards children, and because Christ loves children we should do all in our power to assure that children are afforded the opportunity to hear the Gospel of redemption.  Nonetheless it is not adequate reason for infant baptism.

The other argument that "There may have been infants in the 'households' mentioned in acts" is an argument from silence.  There may have been... that is true... and there may not have been.  It seems absurd to base a doctrine as important as baptism on a "might have been" type of argument.  Arguments from silence are used constantly in liberal Christianity, because you can argue anything from silence.  For instance, Jesus never spoke on homosexuality, and homosexuals existed then, therefore because Jesus never said anything it is ok.  That is an argument from silence, yet you can make the argument then that everything which Jesus never spoke about is permissible, which is a foolish stance to take.  I bring this up, not to make a point against the homosexual, but to make a point against arguing from silence.

In the setting I grew up in, these two primary arguments for infant baptism were the only arguments I heard.  While listening to friends from believer baptizing churches speak I sensed that their arguments were far stronger than the ones I had heard, therefore it was settled in my mind that infant baptism was not biblical.  So how did I ever come to the understanding that infant baptism was indeed proper, and even biblically normative?  It was not through what I heard in the UMC.  I will say that the term 'infant baptism' is not really a term I like,  I prefer 'household baptism'.  The reason for baptizing infants is not because "there might have been infants in the household", the reason for baptizing infants is that it was and is biblically normative that entire households be baptized when the head of household comes to faith in Christ.  It is difficult to refute.  We have no instances of explicit infant baptism, yet household baptism is clearly a biblical norm.  Why do I baptize infants, because I baptize households, and the infant happens to be a part of that household.

This is completely consistent with the old testament as well, when a non-Jew converted, they and their household would be ceremonially washed (baptism) and circumcised.  You cannot get through either the Old or the New Testament avoiding th reality of the household as a single unit.  How many promises of God must we read that are for you and your offspring before you will begin to see that the physical family has spiritual covenant implications.  God makes promises not only to us, but to our children as well, which by that promise makes them a part of the covenant of promise.  Does that mean our children will be automatically redeemed, no, not at all, but it does mean they are a part of a covenant family because their heads of household believe.  Did all circumcised Jews follow the Lord?  Of course not, yet they were all a part of the covenant of circumcision.  Baptism is no different.  Baptism is all about a covenant relationship with God through Christ, families enter into this covenant together.  Is the entire baptized family secure, no, salvation is by faith, not baptism, yet baptism is entry into that covenant community.  Are all members of your church saved? Probably not, but they are all members of your covenant community.

Methodists, we have good reason to baptize households, including their infants, but the reason is not 'Jesus loves kids', and it is not that "there might have been infants in the household", our reason is because it establishes those in the household as members of the covenant community of faith.

A Methodist's Discovery of the Reformation

Well, I am dusting off the blog and beginning to post again, only now with a very specific purpose in mind that will hopefully at least intrigue a couple of people.  I have grown up in the United Methodist Church, and have been employed by the United Methodist Church for the last 4 years of my life, 3 in youth ministry, and now as a Sr. Pastor in a mid-sized congregation.  Over the course of these last four years I have experienced a drastic shift in my theology as I have discovered the doctrines of the reformation.

This blog's new intention is to document some of the things I wrestle with as my belief becomes increasingly reformed, yet while I also minister in the UMC, and how I minister in the UMC in a way that does not violate my core 'reformed' beliefs.  My goals are in no way to disparage the UMC, but to offer a unique viewpoint that might be intriguing both to my Methodist and 'reformed' (Lutheran and/or Calvinistic) brothers and sisters.
Jay Miklovic


Cultural Context

Context is everything.  Culture is not necessarily immoral, but it is also not necessarily amoral either, for instance, the goofy large sunglasses that girls are wearing now and the aviator glasses that the guys wear, these styles are culturally driven, and are completely amoral.  You would have to be a legalist of the worst sort to pronounce condemnation on someone for the type of sunglasses they wear.  This is a cultural fad with no moral implications.  At the same time, we must also recognize that not all cultural issues are amoral, for instance the cultural tendency to mock father figures in popular television shows is immoral.  The issue is not a mere issue of cultural preference but is an attack on God’s created order, and an undermining of the systems of authority He has set up.  So it is never safe to say that something is acceptable because culture accepts it, and at the same time it is never acceptable to condemn a cultural fad solely on the basis that it is a culture issue.  Acceptable practice must be determined by the word of God, and not culture.

The legalist screams ‘separate’ with regards to all culture... and if they decide to be completely consistent in their separation they will eventually be Amish (few dare to endeavor to be that consistent.)  At the same time those who try to contextualize everything to the culture will begin using material that is clearly immoral in their presentation of the Gospel, ie certain movie clips, tv shows, music... etc.  The point is that culture is merely the accepted practice of the populous, that’s it.  Sometimes it is perfectly legitimate, other times it is sin, and all of the time we must be wise in our discernment of culture.

 What is said above is pretty obvious, but there is a much more insidious danger caused by culture that goes largely unnoticed.  The effect of culture on the population whether it is immoral or amoral can and does cause deception beyond what we can imagine.  The effect that culture has on every one of us is beyond our own comprehension, and if we do not consider it while reading the scriptures we will misunderstand nearly everything we read.

For instance a common verse used in youth ministry is 1 Tim 4:12

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12 ESV)

In our American ‘don’t tread on me’ thinking this verse takes on a meaning that has been accepted as orthodox by almost all of the professing church in America.  The verse is understood to mean that our youth should not let people look down on them, and that they are equal parts of the kingdom, and that they need to be empowered, and they have a say... etc.  Our culture of ‘nobody walks on me’ thinking has led us to see this verse as a youth empowerment verse.  However that is nearly the opposite of the actual meaning of the verse.  Paul is warning Timothy to give the Church no reason to despise His youthfulness.  He is commanding Timothy to so order His life that He would be an example of maturity that the older congregation would be able to pattern themselves after.  This verse is not an affirmation of the value of youthfulness, instead it is a command to leave youthfulness and to live as a mature man before the Church.  The actual meaning of this verse is the opposite of what is for the most part taught, and it is because we have viewed this passage through our context and not its original context.

The whole of John 3:1-21 we do the very same thing.  In America born-againism is a cultural norm.  We have preached ‘ye must be born again’ to the point where many Christians identify themselves as ‘born-again Christians’, as though ‘born-again Christian’ is the standard term for an orthodox believer.  This discourse of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21 also includes the famed John 3:16 which in and of itself is a verse that is engrained in our culture.

But what is happening in this discourse?  Jesus is affirming that all people must come into the New Covenant in order to be saved, specifically that Nicodemus’ Jewish ancestry was not sufficient to save, but that He must be born of water and spirit... that is He must be born again because His first birth into Israel is not sufficient.  Do you see what is happening here?  This verse John 3:3 which says ‘you must be born again’ is specifically laid forth to establish that the Jew cannot rely on His lineage to save Him.  This was not some universal call out to the world, this was a midnight discourse between Jesus and a Pharisee.  Context is everything.  Now must everyone be born again to be saved?  Well what to do you mean?  It is a bad term to use with regard to “everybody”.   This discourse was not a blanket command to everybody.  We may also look at John 3:16.  What is the purpose of this verse... again it is Jesus saying that God’s love and salvation is not limited to the Jews, but that He so loved the world, that whosoever (Jew or Gentile) believed shall not perish.  The thrust of John 3:16 is similar to the thrust of John 3:3, and that is that the Gospel is effective and necessary for the Jew, and is also inclusive of the Gentiles.  Moreover in John 3:17-18 we see that Jesus is showing that not only gentiles, but Jews also will be condemned for unbelief.

Instead of taking these texts in their original context, we have put them in our own and it has distorted the whole thing.  We think that John 3:3 is a universal call to all to be born again and we miss that it is more about the establishment of a new covenant between God and all people.  Moreover we misread John 3:16 when we take it to be God loving this whole world just waiting for people to believe in Him so that they may be saved.  This is not the case, what the text is saying is that salvation has gone out beyond the Jews only, but even into the world.  It is as though Jesus is saying “For God so loves the world, Nicodemus, not only the Jews that whoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life.”  Moreover Jesus goes on “And those who have not believed, well they are condemned already, whether you are Jew or not doesn’t matter”.
Can you see how our culture causes distortion?

The scriptures certainly speak to us today, but they speak to us from their original context.  The scriptures still communicate the same truth they always have and in order to understand the original truth they spoke you must be willing to look at the original context they were spoken in.


a great word from JC Ryle

Writing on John 1:29 from ‘Expository Thoughts on the Gospels’

“Let us take heed that in all our thoughts of Christ, we first think of Him as John the Baptist here represents Him.  Let us serve him faithfully as our Master.  Let us obey him loyally as our King.  Let us study His teaching as our Prophet.  Let us walk diligently after him as our Example.  Let us look anxiously for him as our coming Redeemer of body as well as soul.  But above all, let us prize him as our Sacrifice, and rest our whole weight on his death as an atonement for sin.” – JC Ryle

I am finding JC Ryle’s expository thoughts to be indispensible in sermon prep when preaching out of the Gospels.  What a blessing... plus you can get all 4 vols for under $40 on amazon.  Would recommend Ryle to anyone in ministry, from the 4th grade Sunday school teacher to the nursing home chaplain, really a tremendous resource.


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This might be it for the tenth letter

I think the tenth letter may be finished...

I think this is my 206th post at this blog, which began a few years back at SermonAudio, and then migrated here, and I think it might be the last post as well.

I am currently serving as the Pastor of a rural Church outside of Fostoria, as well as being the Youth Pastor of a Church here in Maumee full time, of greater importance than those two vocations I am a husband (my primary ministry), a father (my secondary ministry).

Blogging has been a great outlet for me to work through things theologically in a public venue.  This has served its purpose but really is not the venue I feel called to work things out in anymore.  Underlying my blogging has been a desire to heard, and respected.  I'm done with that, and am seeking contentment in laboring in obscurity trusting the Father to illumine His Son through me outside of this, and other venues that could lead to self glorification.  I'll still tweet @yfmumc but that is as close to blogging as I plan on getting for awhile.  If the Lord impels me again to publicly blog I will.  I am grateful to faithful bloggers who provide me much encouragement.

What my wife needs is a husband who seeks hard after God to know him intimately even when the rest of the world thinks he is going to deep to be practical.  What my son and daughter need is a father who seeks hard after God to know him intimately.  What the youth ministry at Maumee UMC needs is leadership that seeks hard after God to know him intimately.  What the congregation at Rehoboth UMC needs is a Pastor who seeks hard after God to know him intimately.  Currently, blogging does not fit into the 'seeking to know Him more intimately' mission for me.  Someday blogging may again serve that purpose but not now.

Currently I am laboring over a number of classic books on the 'Attributes of God' (right now I am bouncing between Stephen Charnock and Pink) and will continue with others.  I also have a couple systematic theologies I desire to be looking at.  Of course underlying a lot of this is attempting to understand my direction in ministry (both family, and institution) which must be rooted in nothing less than the character of God.  (thus the study of attributes and systematic theology.)  Of course undergirding all of this is meditation upon the scriptures and reading and also listening through the entire cannon repeatedly on the iPod.

I guess what I am saying is... see ya it's been real.

So for anyone who happens to stop by, read the archives if you want... but you would do better to pick up some of the classics written by men and women far wiser than me.