It's like at my house

This NASA guy has just said something about Global Warming which I think requires at least one good look:
"To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change," Griffin said. "I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."
I think that's one of the most brilliant statements about this controversy ever made. Do we trust my wife (who is always cold) to set the AC, or do we trust me (the fat guy who gets hot when the temp is above 72) to set the AC?

And that's just one house -- do we trust my wife to set the thermostat for your house? Or for the house of your grandchildren who aren't born yet? Sheesh.

Bringing the pet peeve home

For those just joining us, my pet peeve is the question "Can I leave my church?", and what we have covered so far to answer that question (from Titus) are the points that [a] the church should have leaders with authority, implying more than an informal structure, and [b] the point of having leaders like this is not to have a docile flock but to have a flock which, internally, demonstrates how beautiful God's promises are.

In and of themselves, those are pretty robust. But there is a third part of Paul's letter to Titus, whether or not the verse numbers are inspired. Now, before we get to that, let me recommend a book (it's about 10 years old) to you which speaks indirectly to why we think about this subject (and a few others) the way we do today -- which is, I would argue, in an incomplete or truncated way. The book is The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind By Mark A. Noll. In this book, Noll talks seriously and compellingly about what has happened to the way Evangelicals think, and even what we are willing to think about, in the last 200 years. So if you want to find out something about American evangelical (bad) presuppositions, buy that book and give it one or two readers to make sure his point sinks in with you.

And I bring it up because one of the threads in his book is that we have stopped thinking about the church as a vital entity. In fact, the foundation for the consumerism obvious in our aggregate body of believers comes from the assumption that we're in the last days anyway, so the church is both apostate and becoming irrelevant.

But here's what Paul told Titus:
    Remind [the believers] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
The more-alert among you will notice I didn't finish the paragraph here, but we'll get to that in a minute. Paul is here telling Titus that the church ought to be different from the world in a way which can be observed in a clear way.

Think about that: For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. That is, before we received Christ, that's how we were all the time. That's the old way of doing things -- and in case anyone missed it, Paul says that the old way is to be contrasted with the new way of being submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. See: the elders and leaders of the church aren't just figureheads. Certainly – as the London Baptist Confession of Faith says – there is only one head of the church, who is Christ Jesus, but there are those who have authority to teach and to disciple in the body, and we have some obligation to be in submission to them.

That submission should not make us docile monastics who pad around softly as if we were afraid of stirring up some human person's wrath: it should make us into courteous, gentle people who are doing things which can be seen as good work – work which represents to the world the difference between what we were and what we are today.

And Paul says that this is excellent and profitable for people – that is, the people to whom he is talking.

"But cent," says the person who really, really wants to leave his church, "dude, Paul didn’t write that to me. My pastor at my SBC church rules the place with an iron fist, and there's no room for dissention. All I want him to do is to listen to me for a minute in order to stop him from railing against a straw man he's calling 'Calvinism', and he's dead set against even listening to me. I can't keep my family here if he keeps this up."

For you, my friend, I have some sympathy – because you’re right: Paul wrote this letter to his faithful disciple and fellow worker Titus, and my guess is that Titus wasn't blacking out large sections of the Psalms, and Job, and Genesis, and Exodus, and Isaiah, etc., in order to toe the Conventional line that Calvinism makes God a bad guy. But listen: what is the solution to a church culture which is self-immolating for political reasons? Is it "let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains"? Many people think so – and it's an easy choice to make because it gets made all the time. Listen – this is why I bring up Noll's book. The urge to run away is strong, and given the plethora of good spiritual food you could choose to take instead – via podcasts and books and videos from reputable churches and pastors – you could easily continue to mature on your own ...

... except that Paul doesn’t say that believers are called to mature on their own. He says that they are called to live together to be a testimony to the beauty of God's promises, always doing good works. And maybe you get to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

The reality check is this: eventually, one of these 21st century Medieval bishops and their cadre of lackies is going to do what my hypothetical reader here says they are doing if you attend his church, and if you bring it up to him that he's wrong (Mt 18 and all that; truth in love; gentleness and reverence), he's going to tell you that you're not qualified to correct him, and your attitude is divisive. It's going to happen in spite of prayer and good will. But the question, then, is what to do in the face of what is truly persecution for the sake of God's truth. I'm not talking about drama here: I'm talking about actually submitting to persecution for the sake of being all things to all people in order that some may be saved and share with you in the riches of the Gospel.

It seems to me that running away from a persecutor of the church who is posing as an elder or pastor is forgetting the Gospel completely. If we think in worldly terms, we think only the Islamists and secularists are persecuting the church: but truth be told, when a false teacher lampoons the Gospel and tries to drive those who know God's truth, or want to seek God's truth, out of God's church and into dispersion and seclusion, just because there's no physical lynching or rape doesn’t mean there isn't spiritual violence going on.

My suggestion to you who are reading this blog is that you love God's church more than you love a comfortable spiritual life. It's hard to love your enemies, and hard to suppress our natural love of soap opera, and to do good to those who do evil to you – but it seems to me that this is what the Gospel says we should do. And I don't see anyplace where it says, "yeah – to the liars and fornicators and atheists and idolators do that, but to screwed up pastors or self-important deacon/elders? Dude: run away from them – they can't be saved. There's no work to be done there." Paul certainly commands the elders to refute false teachers, and to have nothing to do with them is they will not be reconciled to truth – but that's to elders and not to Joe Baptist who, providentially, read the book of Romans as if Paul was actually trying to say something there.

Paul says to Titus here that inside the church is where this stuff starts. And when the church is doing this, it becomes a giant neon sign to God's glory and God's promises.

Peter had the guts to say this:

    Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

    If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? [Prov 11:31]

    Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
The church ought to be beautiful – by example if it works the way God has intended and commanded, and by the suffering of the saints if not. Starting a new "fellowship" because you're not able to keep the old one is utterly antithetical and self-refuting.

That's a good place to stop today – but I'm sure the question of the Reformation (or those who think they are about to start a new reformation) will come up. That's what the meta is for, and I'm sure I'll have a few more words on this as time permits.


Here's a podcast of Mark Driscoll talking to Ed Stetzer (warning: a direct link to MP3), which answers some important questions about who Mark Driscoll is that many people have asked. I was one of them.

His riff on his own sanctification is really important. I'm sure his sympathy for the spiritual disciplines will make some people angry or whatever. Just listen to it and think about it.

For the record

File this under 'one of the main differences between Islam and Christianity'.

Universal Health Care

I'm pretty sure nobody who reads this blog day in and day out is in favor of , but I have an axe to grind about the subject (not related to the previous post), and I have 10 minutes, so here goes.

Obama has apparently just come out with his version of universal health care. As you all know, Hillary is also an advocate for such a thing. No doubt all the candidates on the Left are going to come out in favor of it this Presidential season. (gosh, it started early, didn't it?) And let's face it: when they spell it out in the broadest terms possible, it sounds like a no-brainer.

Seriously: let's imagine some guy who's just an average Joe. He's 40, he's worked all his life in his own business (he makes a living doing lawn services like mowing and tree trimming), and up until about 5 years a go, he was doing pretty good. But 5 years ago he started developing some weird symptoms, and when he goes to see his doctor he is informed that he has Hepatitis C -- the blood-born kind which you can only get by blood-contact, sexual contact or by sharing needles. Well, he never did any drugs, but it turns out that his ex-wife had cheated on him in many ways, and he picked up the virus from her.

Now, after 5 years of progressive advance of the disease (he never had any health insurance), he's too sick to work consistently, so he's at the mercy of the welfare system. He worked hard for those years, and now he's too sick to work, but he's a relatively young man. His blue book value, so to speak, should be pretty good, but he's got a bad liver that's getting worse.

The existing medicade/SSI system will not help Joe. He's too young to retire, and liver disease is not considered a top-shelf disability. It takes him literally years to get anything approaching nominal treatment -- they drain his feet occationally from the fluid that's building up, and they tell him to alternate motrin and advil for the pain, but he has to go easy on those because they actually make his liver worse -- but he's given psychological care to make sure he doesn't go postal or commit suicide.

Joe becomes a homeless, unemployable person -- and for the most part, it is because his wife cheated on him, that made him sick, and then health care became a luxury he couldn't afford. The no-brainer for Joe is universal health care: everyone should have access to whatever degree of health care they need and cost should not be an issue. After all, he's a human being in God's image, right? Saved or not, Joe as a human being ought not to have to die sleeping under a bridge because he didn't have the money for a specialist.

Here's the problem for the no-brainer: Joe is already in the system receiving health care for free. He's on medicare and SSI. The problem is not that the treatment doesn't exist for Joe but that the system has already decided to what extent Joe should get health care. It has decidied what it is willing to pay for Joe's treatment. And the question, really, is if having this system expanded to every person in the country will increase Joe's chances of getting treated, or if it will decrease his chances of getting treated.

See: Joe's already a goner. The best case for Joe is that he can stabilize his current condition and live the rest of his life as an invalid. If that's where he's at medically, won't hundereds and perhaps thousands of cases get more funding and attention than his? Isn't the point of triage -- which is what has to happen in a situation where medical resources are finite and are exceeded by the number of patients in line -- to put the resources available in the right place to only stabilize the patients in line so that the most survive rather than are cured to the best of the existing technology's ability?

I bring this up because I think there's a Gospel answer to this question, but we have to get the matter of the local church resolved to answer it. You know: if the local church is merely the number of people who have the right-hearted reverence of Christ, and once in a while they get together and sing praise songs and hear a really good and passionate speaker, that local church has no Gospel solution to the problem of Joe.

Think about that as I reconstruct the lost part 3 of my pet peeve: did Jesus intend the local church to have a response to guys like Joe, or did Joe never occur to Jesus?

Not Political

I read this "open letter" from Cindy Sheehan this morning, sort of by accident, and believe it or not, this is not a political rant for her or agin' her.

There's something interesting in what Ms. Sheehan says about herself in this letter, and I'm wondering if your readers can pick it out. I'm gonna get ready for work, and come back to this later today. Let's see who can figure out what Ms. Face here says which would be worth Christ Blogging attention, rather than some political obituary.

Overheard in the SBC yesterday

Instead of people following Jesus in discipleship, there are a lot of people today who are just following Jesus around.
-- Tad Thompson, Senior Pastor, Harvard Avenue Baptist Church.

Show Stopper

Somebody should read this at Slate and then demolish it -- first from an otherhodox Jewish standpoint, and then from the Christian standpoint.

Any takers?
UPDATED [05/28/07]: Just for the record, the reason I suggest the two-layered approach to dismantling the above, um, essay is that the writer is clearly coming at the text with biases he is unwilling to overcome. You know: when you read Lolita for the first time, you make one of two choices -- [1] I'm going to read through this to see if the vices protrayed here are more than just titilating pornography, or [2] I don't care what the vices are supposed to mean: I'm not going to read this trash. Any Christian who made the latter choice about Lolitawould be branded a provinical hick with the literary sensibilities of a self-parodying prude.

Yet, sadly, this is exactly the same sort of error clearly evident in this essay. The reader is actively seeking to impose his own aesthetic and moral code onto the writing before understanding the asthetic and morals of the writer(s). If someone wants to condemn the Bible after reading it for what it says in the way it says it, I say they should go ahead with gusto. But their first responsibility as a reader is to reader what is written in the way it is written.

So the first place to read the OT is as it was written by pre-Jesus Judaism, and if you're especially clever you can read it as a post-Jesus Jew after another 2000 years of waiting for the Messiah.

But then you have the problem of what to do with the NT which is clearly derivative of the OT. It is somewhat shameless in its capitalization on the OT to makes it most salient points. In the worst skeptical case, the NT provides an alternate reading of the OT which the post-Jesus Jew rejects but reflects a first-century interpretation of that body of literature which far outstripped the spread of Judaism worldwide.

Unfortunately, the Slate writer misses this entirely. Saying more than this would require abandoning all other active blog projects. I'm going to leave that to someone with more free time.

Doesn't replace church

But maybe it replaces TV for an hour.

T4G 2008 is coming. I'll be there with my pastor. You should think about it.

reason #6243 to hate blogger

I had half a post on the pet peeve composed and saved to blogger for completion here at work, and it's not there. I have no idea why.

We hate them. It'll be up later today or over the weekend.


Think about this:

I just read that physicists just predicted the end of cosmology because the universe will change over the next 250 billion years in such a radical way that most of it will be unobserveable.

That is: the assumptions of scientists at that time who have to start from scratch will be much different than the ones the guys and ladies practicing today will have. They won't have as much to work with based on what they will be able to observe.

Here's why I bring it up: what these people are saying is not that the laws of physics will have changed: they are saying that science will not be able to observe much of what would be necessary to predict or understand them. The underlying assumption is that this hasn't happened at least once already. Somehow people in the future could be victims of their own limited position and instruments but not us.


pet peeve chew toy

After reading the meta from yesterday's walk with the peeve, I think some people aren't listening very closely either to what I am saying or what they are saying. You know: one of the startling attributes of Paul's letter to Titus is that it takes absolutely for granted that the local church is the only place for believers -- so much so that it actually attracts unbelievers, which is why you need "presbuteros" and "episkopos" to teach and exhort and preach.

The way Paul says to set things in order is to establish elders who are of good character and who will teach what they have been taught. It turns out that some people are among the believers teaching some pretty wretched things, and the way to get that fixed is with the truth.

Think about that: with the truth and not with an exodus from the places where false teachers are popping up. Paul didn't tell Titus, "dude: just round up the faithful and be on your way. With the party of the circumcision around, you just can't win." In fact, he rounds out what we call chapter 2 like this:

    Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
That's pretty strong language if Paul is talking about a bunch of people who -- as the meta has said -- are just "an organized assembly of baptized believers in Jesus Christ in one locality where the Word of God is preached and practiced and the ordinances are observed".

It takes more than mere "organization" to be able to "rebuke with all authority": it takes authority. That is: it's not just a mutual agreement that it's good to have someone administrating things who has the go-ahead to write checks when the bills come due. Somebody has the authority to say, "excuse me, but NO. NO. 7-7-3-4 N-O NO."

The Greek word, for those of you scrambling to your lexicons and NA27s, is "epitage" -- which is the same word which Paul uses in Tit 1:3 regarding how God gave Paul the orders to preach His word. So we're not just talking about shouting somebody down here: we're talking about the right based on God's command to preach the word -- that is, to get it correct -- to give correction that binds. And that's reiterated in Pauls' exhortation to Titus: "Let no one disregard you."

Paul is saying that it's not enough to make them go away: you have to correct them until they are corrected or exposed as teachers of falsehood so that the believers reject them. This is what Paul has in mind when he's talking about setting things in order.

And that's just a recap, or wrap up, of what we were talking about last time. We made a big leap-frog there over most of Titus 2, thus:
    But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
Let's remember that we're defining the church here in order to answer the question "So should I leave my current crummy church?" We have established -- through Paul -- that one definitive aspect of the church is a faithful leadership. The church must be more than a loose federation of people with similar opinions if it has leaders who are tasked to rebuke with [God's] authority and do so in a way that cannot be disregarded.

But look here: these men are not leading a bevy of hapless smurfs. They are leading people who are themselves sound in doctrine in a way which is not theoretical or academic or otherwise merely-intellectual, but which leads to integrity, dignity, and sound speech, among other things. And look: the goal of those goings-on is that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

It's almost too much, really. When we compare what we have in our churches today to this description of what the church ought to be, we've got some stripped-down jalopy of a church on which we have spray-painted the words "ordinances" on one side and "scripture" on the other, and if some of us get into it sometimes we think, "well, it's nice to air it out once in a while."

The church is not a jalopy, people. The church is the vehicle for the glory of God in this world. We get in it to display and make beautiful what is true about God and from God. When we treat the church like a beater, we are doing dishonor to God.

So the first point is that God established the church as something in particular and not merely something which is ad hoc or coincidental to salvation: it has leaders who can and should wield authority. We can talk about that authority in detail eventually because they don't have a blank check, but they do have a bully pulpit and the platform of God's own word. And the second point is that the church is not just a bunch of fuzzy little peeps the leaders are trying to chase around the global barnyard: they are themselves people committed to each other and to obeying God in order that God may be shown to be as beautiful as He really is.

There is a third point, and without it we can't answer the question you fuzzy little peeps want answered. Here's a handful of corn meal while you're waiting. And I guess the Zens paper is going to get put off another week -- somehow I though today was Tuesday and not Wednesday, so sorry about that.

Walking my pet peeve

OK -- we've had a lovely jaunt through the meta about everyone's opinion about what the church is, and a couple of people have been so kind as to underscore their affirmations with a few verses of Scripture. However, none of the definitions or descriptions have been useful to answer the question we're really considering here: "Can I leave my local church?"

Now, let's be honest: it is possible that, if we define "the church", that definition will not help us answer anyone's question about coming to or going out from such a thing. That's logically possible. For example, if the definition of "the church" is "anyplace where Christians meet", that doesn't help us at all.

Now, rather than give you my definition first and then add a bunch of Scripture as decoration later, I want to start here in defining the church:
    Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

    To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
    Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

    This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-- if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Let's think about Paul's salutation to Titus for a few minutes here. Paul says that he himself is a servant of God, and an apostle, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth. And in that, Paul has been entrusted to preach the word which is a promise of eternal life.

So whatever Paul is doing, it's about what he calls "manifesting" this promise of eternal life by preaching truth for the benefit of the elect. We will talk about what Paul is doing in a second, and put a name to it.

But Paul identifies himself this way to his disciple Titus, and then begins the body of his letter, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order". When Paul passed through Crete, he proclaimed this message of God's promise for eternal life, and apparently some people heard it and believed it -- but it wasn't enough that they believed. Whatever "belief" was, it wasn't something which was for their own personal enjoyment. We know this because Titus was left behind (in a good way, not a scary eschatological way) to put these people "in order". The word here is "epidiorthow", and it comes from the root "orthos" -- "straight". Titus' job was literally to "stand up" or "erect" something, and Paul tells him what it is right away.

Paul wants Titus to set things in order by appointing elders in every town. Listen: all the fru-fru in the meta about called-out believers in worship is swell -- and good enough as far as it goes. But for Paul, the church was not about some arbitrary or coincidental gathering. It wasn't a social; it wasn't a convenience or an inconvenience. It was something which required fellas whom he here called "presbuteros" (and later, "episkopos").

Now, the weaker brothers have already gone running off yelling, "Cent's gone soft! Al Sends and Doug Wilson finally got to him! He's going to start advocating baby baptism, cigars and brandy!" But the reason I go to the Greek on this one (here translated "elders") is to point something out: Paul isn't asking Titus to merely find guys to wear a tunic with a silver fish on the lapel. He isn't starting a private prayer group or a think tank. Paul is telling Titus to set Crete in order by "appointing" these guys (and they are all guys, for future reference) to an office which follows or continues the work Paul himself has already laid down.

Think about that: to close up the loop from above, Paul was preaching and teaching to the elect, and they had an implied obligation to pay attention. They also had an obligation to pay attention even after Paul had moved on to the next town. What Paul instructs Titus to do is find men who can do what has already been done in Crete, and from a position of authority and fidelity. But let's not miss something here: Paul isn't telling Titus to replace the local secular government of Crete with a new faith-based rule. Paul is instructing Titus on how to set the church in order so that it may stay in order.

The CHURCH. See: the church is not just some theory or some accidental or coincidental body which happens to be in but not of the world. The church is a local body set apart from the world for the purpose of declaring God's promise and for the sake of protecting the faith and expanding the knowledge of truth among the elect.

This is foundational to "getting" church. It is foundational to understanding why there is a local church at all -- and why the believer ought to belong to one. The church is not optional, and if you treat it like it is you're hurting both yourself and your church.

Now, is this it? I mean: should we go off half-cocked now and start stamping people's heads with "REJECT" stamps using this piece of the definition of church? Well, no. There's more to the definition, but I'm about to be late for my men's group, and I've missed the last 2 weeks, so I better be off.

Think about this today: the church is not just someplace to go. The church is for the sake of, and ought to, declare and manifest the promise of God to the world. In that, we'll have to discover how important God thinks that work is. We'll do that next time, unless somebody steals the scriptural thunder in the meta. And even then, it deserves front-page coverage.

Carry on.

More on that pet peeve

It looks like the D-blog exchange on that subject has washed out because the other party wants to give a lecture rather than demonstrate his point -- which is fine by me. The question is whether his lecture is worth anything if it can't stand up to questions or a little scrutiny.

So I'm getting these e-mails and these off-line questions about, "well, can't I leave my church?" And if you want a short answer, my answer to you is, "no, you cannot leave your local church."

But if you only want short answers, you're not thinking about your question or its implications very clearly. See: the question, "Can I leave my church" is a subordinate question to the matter of what a church is. And a common baptist (and note: you kooky non-denoms are really baptists without a convention, so get yourself together) misunderstanding of things is that somehow the local church is just some kind of expedient thing, or pragmatic thing, or maybe it's like other bad-but-redemptive things like the cross of Christ or Joseph's being sold into slavery by his brothers -- something we have to suffer through and that suffering brings glory to God.

Listen: that's the worst kind of low church view -- because it's really a "no church" view. Yes: the "invisible church" -- all the saints from all time which we will not be able to see until, really, after the resurrection -- doesn't rely on some earthly corporation. Yes: the saved are who they are, and they don't need someone from Memphis or St. Louis or Durham or Rome to sign off on their credentials or put a check mark next to their name in the Lamb's book of life.

But that's not the question when you're asking, "Can I leave my church?" The question which comes before the question is "It there a divine ordinance which establishes the church on Earth?" That is: Does God have a plan which is being worked out in time and space which includes the rightly-defined gathering-together of those who are reached by the Gospel?

If your answer is, "um, what?" or "THAT'S ROMANISM!", or "geez, I dunno ...", then here's what I want you to do: first, I want you to define -- from Scripture -- what the church is. I'd be willing to stipulate to the "invisible" church, because that's not what we're dealing with -- you're not asking to leave the invisible church, are you? You're asking, "how to I get away from these lousy babdiss soft-soakers of the Gospel?"

So define the visible church from Scripture, including the purpose of the visible church according the Scripture, and then we can start moving forward.

I'll post my answer to that question tomorrow; I will return to the Zens paper later this week. They are related, and you can consider this a pre-emptive excursus on the nature of the church in order to understand the nature of church leadership and church submission.

Carry on. The more-aggressive among you might want to share your answers with the class. Please do so in the Meta.

Just for the record

God is bigger than Google Analytics. I will never tell you what I mean by that, but today God gets a big "halleluia" from me for what He is able to do.

Blog and Dale

Good morning -- or maybe afternoon. I was going to post a somewhat-cryptic appeal to my readers for a person in Ft. Smith, AR, to take up being the beautiful feet of the Gospel today, but as you can see from the Google Analytics map, above, I don't have any readers in Ft. Smith, AR.

Yes: we have a bevvy of Baptist unrest in Newport and Jacksonville, and some subversives for the Gospel in Mountain View, Paragould and Jonesboro, but not a soul in Ft. Smith.

Just in case naming the city gets some traffic today -- and this would only be of any earthly or heavenly use today or tomorrow -- I spent my Sunday on a short-term mission trip for a single person, and I need a helper today or tomorrow who can drive and has a spare $40 to demonstrate the glory of God.

e-mail me if you are willing and able. If you are only willing but not able, or if you are unwilling, please go find something else to do today which will mean something to somebody.

For those who are invasively-curious, I have monkeyed with the date and time settings on this post so anything else I post today will post under it. The above request is totally serious and totally meaningful.

UDATED 9:30 AM 5/21: WOW. You have not because you ask not, people: I have a reader in Ft. Smith who checked in today and says he is willing to help. I will keep you updated as we finish this work.

A pet peeve

I have this thing about the local church -- and I have no idea when or where I developed this condition, but it's probably going to be fatal to me in the long run.

See: I spend a lot of time here at the blog giving the local church a hard time -- mostly for surrendering its obligations to religious circuses and media sideshows. I think it's not just a shame but shameful when the local church is doing the sociologically-Christian version of watching MTV and eating chips on the couch.

So far, so good, right? Everyone in the blogosphere is prolly saying "amen" to that.

Here's where I get under people's skins: I think that's no excuse for leaving the local church for nothing at all. You can't find a proof-text for becoming a spiritual lone ranger in the Bible, kids. It doesn't exist.

Before we go any farther here, I want us to think about the book of 1 Corinthians for a minute, because it's relevant to this issue. Paul writes to this church which he established because they wrote to him, and they have apparently sent him a laundry list of "stuff" that they can't figure out. For example, they can't figure out who they should follow -- they have factions, and some are Paul disciples, some are Appollos disciples, and some (I am sure these were the protobaptists in the crowd) make the clear claim that they are followers of Jesus and not men -- very pious types, I am sure.

But these people, who apparently have many teachers all of whom has a claim to fame, can't seem to stop bickering. They have disputes which roll over into (what we would call) the secular courts; they don't have the will or the guts to discipline sin for the sake of turning a brother away from destruction; they use daGifts as if they were for entertainment or self-sulfillment; they abuse the Lord's table -- and worth of all, they just don't understand the Gospel.

Your church may be this bad. I am sure many churches today are this bad. Some -- a handful, lead by actual heretics who deny the Trinity or gloss over sin with either self-help psychology or legalism -- may be worse. The problem of having broken or sloppy churches is not a new problem: it is literally as old as the faith. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in c. 55 AD, so in the last 1952 years it's not like this is a new problem.

But let's listen to 1 Cor for a second. Of all the things Paul says to our brothers in Christ there -- the ones Paul says are "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ", the ones "enriched in [Christ] in all speech and all knowledge ... so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift" -- he does not say, "and if you can't fix these things, people need to leave the church because it is broken beyond repair."

Paul says to fix what is broken -- which is only possible (he demonstrates) by understanding the Gospel and the consequences of the Gospel. And one of the consequences of the Gospel is the local church. But the other consequences of the Gospel -- for example, in 1 Cor 3, "let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" -- are to be carried out inside the local church.

So let's imagine that you belong to a Purpose-Driven, First [non-denominational denomination] Community Fellowship Tabernacle of Praise and Holy Spirit theme park church, and you've been dutifully reading the blogs and the various Confessions, and your Bible, and listening to John Piper and John MacArthur and (because you're above average, but under 40) Mark Driscoll and Darren Patrick (or if you're over 40 but still above average) and the White Horse Inn and Mark Dever, and suddenly, your church looks a little small and mundane -- or worse, it looks like it worships its programs more than it worships Jesus.

That is: you have deep pangs of conscience -- and rightly so -- that your church is a disciple of Rick Warren, while it ought to be a disciple of Mark Dever, and a person who used to work for the church (and still attends the church) is suing the church for this or that, and the way your church treats baptism is a joke, and the Lord's table is barely practiced at all, let alone practiced as a solemn remembrance of the New Covenant, and last Sunday your pastor warmly received the text of Your Best Life Now as edifying reading.

Is it your duty to split from that church because it is a disgrace? Paul doesn't even consider that an option. He doesn't put it on the table for the Corinthians. So why is it an option for you?

This is going to come at at DebateBlog pretty soon, so I want you to think about something: how necessary is the local church? That is, do you have an obligation to belong to it, or not? And if you do, how far does that obligation reach?

And no, I have not forgotten the Zens paper. It's right here next to me on the desk. I'll get to it this wek.

A weekend post

It's unusual, really, for me to post on the weekend. I have small kids, and the weekend is family time no matter what. This weekend my son helped me tend the yard, which is a new thing for him, and we played baseball (he drove in a run, and made the play at second for the first time).

That's a pretty good saturday, if you ask me.

But why bring it up? You know: my wife doesn't want me talking about our family on the blog because we don't want to be "famous" in the pejorative sense. All the blog stuff -- the arguments, the critiques, the jokes, whatever -- are fine, but we want to live a real life and not a staged life which has to correspond to the preconceptions of others. If I want to write, and it fills up the blog, that's fine: I'm just not going to make what happens at our house the subject of some kind of blog version of reality TV.

That said, I have something to say about the life I have right now -- and if I was smart, I'd take my own advice and avoid making a "this is where I am right now" post for the good of my readers, and for mine. But here's the thing: I think it is relevant to whoever you are, so I'm going to let you have it.

About 15 years ago, I was living in the basement of my parents' house, and I was no longer an atheist. I had read the book of John, and some other scraps of the NT, and I was (as I would reckon right now) "saved" and trusting Christ to forgive me based on my confession to Him that I was a filthy sinner, but I was a pretty lousy Christian. I'm not even sure I would have called myself a Christian at that point, but in the theological sense I surely was -- even if my theology was pathetic and sloppy.

Back then, I did a lot of things that I was good at, and that I enjoyed -- and as I look at my life today, I have given almost all of it up. Except for speaking in English and wearing clothes, and some sins which I'd rather not discuss today, I have a hard time thinking of anything I did 15 years ago which I still do today -- and that includes the things I did well.

You know, for instance, 10 years ago I made almost twice as much money as I make today. I had more direct reports and more responsibility at work. I managed a business with annual sales of about the same size as the company I work for right now. A lot more people had to actively respect me -- fwiw, that's when I picked up the internet handle "centuri0n". I had a new car. I had a lot of hobbies. I was, as they say, "promotable". I was going someplace -- at least, that's what a lot of people thought.

If I compared what I was then to what I am right now, I'll bet that I could find a lot of reasons to say that I am really a failure -- I'm going backwards. Somehow, God is punishing me or something because I haven't been able to keep all those really cool things He gave me back then.

But here's the bizarre thing: I think I'm better off today. Making half the money, working for someone else, sort of dead-ended in my job, I am better off today. I am better of because I am closer to Christ than I was 10 or 15 years ago. I see Him more clearly today. I lean on Him and He is more precious to me today than back then. What I have today is beautiful rather than complicated or sophisticated, and it is satisfying rather than expansively-consuming.

God willing that the same happens to you and yours. God has been a blessing to me in spite of the money and the authority. Seek Him first, and His righteousness, and the other stuff will be given to you -- and you really will see it as other stuff rather than the most precious thing on Earth.

Great advice

It has been a heck of a week at my house, and I apologize for not getting the next installment of the Zens critique up this week.

Let me make it up to you: Go here and listen to John Piper give some of the best advice I have ever heard regarding what to do if you suddenly find yourself "reformed" in a church which is either apathetic or hostile to reformed doctrine.

If you have ears, listen. If not, don't say I didn't warn you.

Here's the first one

For those who followed and thought about the post Instapundit linked to, here's the first guy some of you clearly thought you'd never meet. And don't go all anti-catholic here; don't read that as anti-catholicism. This is about what happens when we see some political end as justified by any means necessary. This is about what happens when we start down the slippery slope of denying Christ in pieces.

And while I'm thinking about it, I am dreadfully sorry for the aches and pains Haloscan is causing this week. I have no idea why it is doing what it is doing.


This story almost made me stand up and cheer, until I realized that they were thwarting God's plan to reveal His glory by uncovering the heads of men (cf. 1 Cor 11).


I hate being vain. I often overcompensate ...

A thought to think

As I said yesterday, I wasn't a fan of Jerry Falwell, but in reviewing the responses toward him through the media, I am struck by two really amazing things:

[1] The shear volume of people who despised him -- so much so that even at his death they cannot say anything about him but nastiness.

[2] The response of Larry Flint toward the death of Rev. Falwell, which I site here:
The Reverend Jerry Falwell and I were arch enemies for fifteen years. We became involved in a lawsuit concerning First Amendment rights and Hustler magazine. Without question, this was my most important battle – the l988 Hustler Magazine, Inc., v. Jerry Falwell case, where after millions of dollars and much deliberation, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in my favor.

My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling.

The most important result of our relationship was the landmark decision from the Supreme Court that made parody protected speech, and the fact that much of what we see on television and hear on the radio today is a direct result of my having won that now famous case which Falwell played such an important role in.
It's probably not so remarkable that Flynt took this opportunity to exemplify himself as a maker of history, but there is something extraordinary about this statement: somehow, Jerry Falwell was able to reach across the moral divide to the pornographer Larry Flynt.

There is a lesson there for those who are heaping hatred on Rev. Falwell: they are clearly wrong about who he was and what he was intending to do in this world. Megalomaniacs and demagogues don't make friends with people who hate everything they stand for. They don't imagine that there's a redemption for the "other side". But there is a lesson for the rest of us as well.

Listen: the viciousness with which some circles are saying "so long" to Rev. Falwell ought to be considered against the fact that Jerry Falwell spoke the truth -- insofar as he spoke it -- and also extended himself as an ambassador even to someone as diametrically-opposed to God's law as Larry Flynt.

This is a lesson in apologetics and evangelism, folks. Jerry Falwell was a flawed human person -- but guess what? So am I. And for the record: so are you. If, upon our deaths, there are none of the unsaved in the number who will say, "this one was my friend," perhaps we have wasted our time here.

Don't waste your life.

Moment of silence

Jerry Falwell is dead at the age of 73. I was not his fan, but he was a minister to God's people. May he find comfort now in the hands of his Savior.

Clearly, for the traffic

Instapundit posted this about Muslim students and Brian Preston objected to reynolds' interpretation that it's only a matter of time before fundamentalist Christians start playing by Islamists' political rule book.

OK: I'll bite.

On the one hand, Preston is right, as far as he goes: the NT certainly does not teach anything about Christian jihad against the world in spite of some important military metaphors built into Paul's rhetoric (we can talk about those some other time, or maybe in the meta). But it's factually true that Christians did commit Holy War against Islam the last time the Mussulmen were inside the doorstep of the West, and took it all the way to Jerusalem in the name of the Cross and Christendom.

But even in that set of facts, Instapundit is warning us not of external, ministry-of-the-sword kind of warfare: he's warning us about (for example) people who, in the name of Christ, will fire sniper rifles at abortion doctors. His specific example is, in fact, right-to-life advocates who take a militant view of the problem -- not just in a "church militant" way, but in a "second-amendment, right-to-oppose-bad-government" kind of way.

And while I have sympathy for Preston's rejoiner, I think he doesn't understand Reynolds' view at all, and understands the Christian right only in a Pollyanna sort of way. And before I say another word, let me make something as transparent as possible: I am a member of the Christian right. I haven't voted non-Republican since the 1980's, and the truth be told I can't see voting non-Republican in the next 15 years due to the state of blue-state politics in the country. So as I type out my opinion here, don't knee-jerk a response to what I'm saying.

And what I am saying is this: the SBC resolution against alcohol is the kind of intellectual capital which encourages this kind of thinking in non-believers. Pat Robertson's ridiculous and un-denounced prophecies and ravings inspire this kind of fear in non-believers. "Christians" who mail death threats to bloggers, or make vulgar phone calls, defame the rest of us in a way that causes those on the outside to know that the only thing missing for these kinds of people is means and a clear path.

I wouldn't dismiss Instapundit's fears or concerns very quickly. Yes: he is wrong about actual disciples of Christ because he thinks anyone who has a Christian bumper sticker on his car is a Christian. But let's ask ourselves something: does a response like Bryan Preston's actually refute the concern -- or does it ignore the causes of the concern for the sake of keeping a straight face in a public conversation?

Seriously: I want you to think about something by way of podcast. The White Horse Inn had a great broadcast two sundays ago, and I want you to listen to it, and think about the criticisms that these guys discuss. Isn't the logical conclusion of what they are talking about here Christians who are not concerned with Christ at all? And if the question of "team play" is what becomes the defining matter, what prevents us from playing to win using the rules the other guys have already established?

Think about this, people: when I say that the Gospel is the solution to Culture, this is what I'm talking about. If the Gospel makes us just like some other culture, then what exactly did Jesus die for?

He was waiting

I linked to Abraham Piper's blog entry this weekend, and this is an exerpt:
Because the deepest concern is not your child’s actions, but his heart, don’t create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: “Don’t come to this house if you are...” But these will be rare. Don’t lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.

If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s—or boyfriend’s—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.
As I read that, one of the most potent passages of the NT came to mind, and I wanted to connect the dots for you who, perhaps, do not see it:
    "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father.

    But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.
    [Luke 15:11-32]
Listen to me, please: this is at the center of the New Testament, the bull's eye. If we get our systematics right, and we have all our apologetics lined out, but when the lost one comes to our door because there is no place left for them in the world we meet them with legalism or presuppositionalism or intellectualism or some other thing which is only part of our Christian duty instead of the fact that we saw him from a long way off because we love him and were looking for him, we have failed to understand who God wants us to be.

We should be doing these doctrinal things and also the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

I am not knocking apologetics or rigorous orthodoxy: I love these things dearly. But the foundation of apologetics is the image of God in a man or a woman, and if we seek to plead with that image but tread on it because it is dirtied up by the world or one's one sinfulness (either theirs or ours), we have forgotten that we are seeking joy in Heaven and should be ministers of this kind of joy here on Earth.

All in the Family

It is OK to be a little jealous of John Piper and his family? I admit it: I'm jealous.

Beautiful Feet

Robert Morrison set sail for China 200 years ago this weekend:
He served for 27 years in China with one furlough home to England. He married Mary Morton in 1809. She died in 1821 when Morrison was 39. He married Eliza Armstrong in 1825. Morrison died nine years later at the age of 52 in his son’s arms in Macao.

After baptizing the first Chinese Protestant Christian on May 14, 1814 (seven years after his arrival!), Morrison wrote prophetically in his journal, “May he be the first fruits of a great harvest, one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come.”
I'll be he didn't make a lot of money doing that.

The Final Account

This is completely not related to anything I have read in the last week, but about something which I have been mulling over for quite a while now. It stems from a couple of sources, but it really resides in Paul's capstone in 1 Corinthians 15 which makes the resurrection the necessary foundation of what the Gospel means to us.

You know, he wrote this:
    And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Think about this: Paul says here that if there is no resurrection -- that is, if Christ is not a resurrected Christ -- faith is futile, we are still in sin, and our hope is only in this life and we are the people who should be pitied the most.

It's that last phrase which really shakes things up, in terms of the Gospel. The Greek word there comes from a root which means "readiness to help those in trouble". So when Paul says, "we are of all people most to be pitied", he is saying that if people have trouble, we have the most trouble, and have most cause to need others' help if there is no resurrection.

This is a two-fold matter for Paul. Because, on the one hand, his concern is the work of Christ to save us from sin -- that's the Gospel, right? Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture. So the first meaning, or the primary meaning, which Paul is advancing here is that unless Christ was raised on the third day, our sins are still our sins in full force, and Hid death has no value in that respect.

But listen: the balance of 1 Cor 15 is not about the forgiveness of sins. It is about the fact of the resurrection. Consider Paul's summary of the problem here:
    What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals." Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
Paul is saying that it is in the resurrection of men as a future matter that we have the hope of Christ.

He is not saying that we have hope in a disembodied afterlife -- an airy, ethereal Heaven where we walk on the clouds. He is saying that we have hope in the general resurrection in which all thing are made new. This is exactly the point of his exortation:
    I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
      "Death is swallowed up in victory."
    "O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?"

    The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our hope is not in coming out of the other side of death with a post-death residence for our spirit: our hope is in the the final victory over sin and death which is manifest in the resurrection. Our hope in Christ is that we will receive through Him and with Him the New Heavens and New Earth in which we will reside forever.

Think about that this weekend as you are in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day. Jesus is not about gaining a life in an invisible realm: He is about God's work to make all things new.

Now and Zens [3]

Last time I covered the first 6 examples of what Jon Zens calls "the overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham’s daughters painted in the New Testament". We're going to cover some more of them today, but I want to make sure that we understand what Pastor Zens is driving at with these examples. These are his words from the essay:
This survey of New Testament highlights concerning women is important because it reveals the freedom of the sisters to function in the kingdom. In the general flow of the New Testament there are no jitters about “restrictions” upon Christ’s daughters.
Plainly, these examples are provided by him to underscore the scope of freedom of women in the New Testament. And let's continue to be clear about something: there's no argument that the New Testament calls men and women both to obedient faith in Christ. I can't think of anyone who would deny that women ought to repent and believe and be an active part of the local church – the question is rather if the New Testament describes the leadership of the local church in a particular way, and whether Jon Zens agrees or disagrees with that description.

The next 2 examples Pastor Zens provides for us are from Acts 1 and 2:
**After Christ’s ascension, 120 men and women prayed together and chose a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:14-15).

**The Spirit came upon the 120 disciples and they spoke the wonderful works of God in many foreign languages (Acts 2:1-4).
I list them together because they are directly related – the count of 120 people (men and women all together) is in Acts 1, and it is right to carry that over into Acts 2 which refers to that number and says, "When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place." (Acts 2:1) And to these examples, as with most of the others from last time, I say, "yes: I agree." I agree that there were both male and female believers in the earliest believers; I agree that there were women at that crucial Pentecost who were filled with the Holy Spirit and manifested the supernatural expression of speaking in a way that all men could hear in their own native tongue. Amen.

What this does not demonstrate is that women were leading the church. But Pastor Zens attempts to leverage this event to say exactly that in his next example:
**Some thought that what was occurring on the Day of Pentecost was evidence of too much wine, but Peter insisted that it was a fulfillment of what Joel prophesied would come to pass – “your sons and daughters will prophesy….I will pour out my Spirit on my male and female slaves and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). There is no suggestion that males may prophesy freely, but that females are restricted in some ways.
To understand where Pastor Zens goes wrong here, let me point at two other passages in the NT, first in Acts 16:
    As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.
Now, undoubtedly, the spirit in the slave girl was not the Holy Spirit, yes? So whatever she was doing in saying this true thing, it was not motivated by some right-spirited goal. But she was able to speak truth in spite of her condition. That is: she was able to say something spiritually and theologically true by supernatural means without being a leader or teacher in the church.

And let's be fair: what the slave girl does here is not what Acts 2 says happened at that Pentecost after the resurrection. She "had the python spirit" in her, in the literal Greek – a reference to the pagan Apollonian spirit of divination. What happened at Pentecost was "propheteuo". Does that mean, then, that these men and women were all doing, for example, what Isaiah did, or what Micah did – handing down judgment and future-telling? Does participating in "propheteuo" mean one has engaged in church leadership?

This is my purpose in examining Mt 7:
    "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
Clearly, the answer has to be "no: 'propheteuo' does not mean that one had lead or governed the church in some way." If even those whom Christ has never known can rightly be said to "propheteuo" (and note: Christ doesn’t rebuff them by saying "you never spoke for me", but instead rebuffs them by saying "I never knew you"), then to is too broad an assumption to think that, in this case in Acts 2, women were giving prophetic commands – especially when the specific contents of these prophetic utterances are not recorded. This is again an argument from silence, banking on what is entirely unsaid to draw a conclusion.

This same mistake is offered in Pastor Zens' next example:
**Philip the evangelist had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). We would not be wrong in assuming that there were many other sisters who had this gift, not just Philip’s offspring.
No question: Acts 21 confirms that Phillip's daughters prophecied – but what they said in prophecy is completely unknown, and the purpose or extent of such a thing is not referenced in the text.
**Paul entrusted his letter to the Romans to Phoebe, and she delivered it. She was a deacon in the assembly at Cenchrea and Paul had the highest regard for her (Rom.16:1-2). Paul recognized her as a prostatis, which carried with it the idea of leadership (cf. 1 Thess.5:12).

While other statements by Pastor Zens seem to try to speak more broadly than is warranted by the passages he has selected, this synthesis is particularly troubling. In the first place, in spite of Southern Baptist practice, the office of deacon is not particularly an office of leadership – it is an office of service. To demonstrate an economy of space here, let me refer the reader to 9 Marks Ministries' pamphlets A Display of God's Glory and By Whose Authority for an informative and clarifying discussion of what the offices of the local church are, and by what means they serve. But in that, let it be sufficient to say that I personally have no problem with letting women serve as deacons if the definition of deacon is rightly understood.

In saying that Paul calls Phoebe a "deacon" ("Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν, οὖσαν [καὶ] διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας"), and may be referring to her office, or may only be referring to her service and work among the people of God. Even if we grant that Paul is speaking of an office in particular which Phoebe held, there is simply no place to point to which says that deacons lead the church. Deacons were appointed to "serve tables" as it says in Acts 6, and again I point to the 9 Marks resources for an expanded view of this subject.

Moreover, there is a significant problem in the application Pastor Zens draws out of Rom 16:2b – "καὶ γὰρ αὐτὴ προστάτις πολλῶν ἐγενήθη καὶ ἐμοῦ αὐτοῦ." He makes the requirement of "προστάτις " that it be an office of authority or leadership (as is demonstrated in his reference to the verb "prostemi" in 1 Thes 5:12) – but problematically, while it is true Phoebe is said to be a "prostatiV" of many, she is this same thing of Paul also -- both "many" and "myself" are in the genitive case, and must be acting in the same way in this sentence relative to Phoebe's role as "prostatiV". I find it hard to believe that Pastor Zens would imply that the leadership he intends to read here being exemplified by Phoebe would be something she would have over "many people" and "Paul the Apostle", or that she would have authority over Paul. It seems to make sense, instead, to read this passage as speaking to her role as a supporter or helper, or as is suggested by its use in non-New Testament sources, as a patron or even a supplicant before God (as in some classical usage).

By substitution, pastor Zens is suggesting this reading of Rom 16:1-2 --

    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a [deacon-officer] of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a [church leader] of many and of myself as well.
I am suggesting this reading:
    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a [worker and laborer] of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a [supporter (financial, material) or prayer-partner] of many and of myself as well.
I would let the reader decide which makes better sense where Paul is introducing or commending a messenger sent with a letter.

As he continues to up the ante on how women are portrayed in the NT by Paul, Pastor Zens offers this:
**Paul designated Priscilla and Aquila as his “co-workers” (Rom.16:3). The same word is used with reference to people like Timothy and Titus.
And this is true: Paul calls Timothy and Titus "sunergos" – but he also calls Epaphroditus the same thing (Phl 2:25), and it is clear that Epaphroditus was a messenger and a courier. It is hardly necessary to read "leadership" into this word.

This same sort of enthusiasm is evident in his next example:
**Junia and Andronicus (wife/husband or sister/brother) were greeted by Paul as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom.16:7). They were his relatives and had been in prison with him. There were people called “apostles” who were not among the Twelve, like Barnabas. Junia was also among such apostolic workers. There is no reason to think that she was the only such female apostle.
The ESV renders this passage "They are well known to the apostles"; NKJ/KJV and YLT render it "who are of note among the apostles". It seems somewhat controversial to hang the kind of certainty about what this passage means when there is some debate over what this passage actually says about Junia and Andronicus vis a vis their office as apostles.

Seven more examples remain, and we will cover them the next time we come back to this essay. Thanks for your interest.

UPDATED: Wow. Unicode Greek. I hope it works on your computer; it did on mine. Thanks to reader Suzanne for her help with that one.

um, yeah ...

Francis Beckwith has answered some questions about his recent reconciliation with the Roman Catholic church.

See: now there are plenty of reasons to blog about his decision. I find it ironic that a guy who co-authored a book on Relativism can come out with these statements -- especially that silly example of why one loves one's wife.


How hot is too hot?

Der Speigel asks the question
and comes up with, um, environmentally-unorthodox answers.

For me, too hot is a humid 82, or a really, really dry 95. I turn the A/C on when the house -- full of air that isn't really moving -- gets above 75.

I wouldn't get dogmatic about that, but I will get grumpy if I sweat too much when I'm sleeping.

Now and Zens [2]

Since the brouhaha has already kicked off in the meta, getting back on-track here might seem a little anti-climactic. However, the original Jon Zens essay posted at Wade Burleson's blog still deserves some thorough going-over, and I intend to get after it beginning here.

The first thing I have to say about the essay is this: I think it asks a good question. If Pastor Zens is concerned about, for example, whether or not women can be teachers of Hebrew or Greek rather than whether women can be teachers of Theology or doctrine, I think he may be on to something. And in that, let's make sure we can see the whole map of my concerns together for a moment.

In the last post on this subject, I said
However, over the handful of years we have been open, I have taken a small amount of grief for promoting books by Kay Arthur and Beth Moore -- because they are women who are plainly teachers. The admonition goes along the standard lines regarding why women ought not to be pastors or elders in the church.

Fair enough: I'm in. I agree with the "pastors and elders" argument, so I accept the admonition that women writing books on spiritual formation veers into the theological red-light district.

How does this standard apply to women bloggers? Does it apply? We're going to finish up on that Wade Burleson-linked article, and then approach this related topic with fear and trembling.
I'm sure I'll get a lot of heat for the term "theological red-light district", but I'm not worried about that. What I'm worried about is that some will think that I am saying all women should never say or do anything in the church – and that idea is utterly ludicrous. Women are believers; women are called to Christ-likeness and participation in the local church; women are clearly part of the plan for the church in the NT.

I omit the blogospheric-requisite proof text references for one simple reason: I don't think anyone is denying these things. These would be common ground issues. What's at stake here is whether or not there is a difference between, for example, teaching Greek to men who will be pastors (which is an academic task; I don't think anyone would call foul if a woman was teaching math or science to men, would they?) and teaching men the exegetical meaning of the book of Acts. The latter is a pastoral activity; the former is not.

Some may disagree with me – because it is hard (and perhaps some will argue "impossible") to separate the translation of the Greek language and the application of such a skill to exegesis. I will be glad to field those questions from those who have them.

Whew. That said, let's get to Pastor Zens' essay with gusto.

As we read his paper, let's remember that his own thesis is founded on what he say we ought to think of 1Tim 2:11-15. I think it's a fine idea to invest all kinds of time on a few limited verses, and it's also a fine idea to see how those verses exist in the whole body of Scripture – that is, how do these statement s measure up to or nuance a broader idea overall in Scripture?

My first concern, however, is that Pastor Zens has not produced "the overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham's daughters painted in the New Testament". He lists 20 specific examples of this picture, but unfortunately he doesn’t devote a lot of exexgtical energy to spell out his interpretations for us. It would probably be useful to examine all 20 examples, and that will take more than one blog entry. I'll tackle the first 6 here, and continue with the rest as this series plays out.

His first example is this:

** Neither the Gospel narratives nor the recorded words of Jesus ever put restrictions on the ministry of women.
What it interesting here is that this is an unsubstantiated generalization – it speaks to something which the Gospels never mention, and uses that as evidence of something affirmative. Using this logic, we can say that the Gospel narratives nor the words of Jesus ever put restrictions on the ministry of children – so if someone has a bright child who seems good at public speaking, perhaps this child ought to be in pastoral ministry.

What is at stake here is not whether women are like children: what is at stake here is if we can use Scripture's silence on a matter to make an affirmative statement about that matter. This is a mistake in reasoning, and obscures Pastor Zens' point.

His next affirmation is this:
**Jesus fully accepted women as his disciples and they accompanied him in his travels with the male disciples (Luke 8:1-3). These women also supported the mission of Jesus with their own resources. These facts may be much more significant that it initially appears. In the first century it was unheard of for a Jewish rabbi to have female followers. Luke reports this rather matter-of-factly, yet this band of women, men and Jesus was hardly kosher to the curious onlookers as they went from city to village.
What is odd here is whether or not anyone credible is denying that women can be disciples of Christ: I don't know anyone who is a responsible preacher or teacher who is saying that women cannot be disciples; I don't know of anyone who says women shouldn't give of their resources to the church or the work of the ministry.

But there is a rather large gap between saying "women can be disciples" and "women can express teaching authority over the broader body of Christ". If we confuse what is at stake by equating examples of one thing with examples of another, we will come to false conclusions about our actual thesis. That is the type of reasoning we are encountering here.

What is again troubling, however, is the affirmation that Jesus allowing women to be under the teaching of a rabbi makes a positive statement about whether women can actually be a "rabbi" is also an argument from silence. Luke does report the presence of women among the disciples "matter-of-factly": Luke does not report, however, that these women were employed by Christ as teachers or leaders of the church.
**After Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and saw God’s salvation, Anna the prophetess “gave thanks to God and spoke of him [Jesus] to all the ones expecting redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-38). Anna did not just proclaim Christ to women, but to “all.”
The question is actually whether or not Anna was teaching doctrine in the pastoral sense or exhorting people with a divine testimony. I am sure one rebuttal to my objection is, "cent, you're slicing the baloney pretty thin here: you're saying that not all prophecies are doctrinal statements? Or that speaking of the truth of the arrival of the Messiah is not 'doctrinal'? Then what exactly qualifies as doctrinal teaching?"

It's a good, fair question. To answer it, we have to consider what kind of burden Pastor Zens is trying to place on this brief passage. What he is trying to substantiate is "the overwhelmingly positive picture of Abraham's daughters painted in the New Testament" as it relates to 1Tim 2:11-15 – and ultimately that the restrictions Paul makes there against a woman "to teach or to exercise authority over a man". If Anna is an example which undercuts the idea that a woman ought not "to teach or to exercise authority over a man", then Pastor Zens is here saying that Anna was making authoritative demands on those to whom she spoke. What's interesting is that there's nothing here in Luke to buttress that idea.

Luke wrote this:
    And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
The word for "to speak" here is not a word which means "to educate" but to demonstrate or testify – you can compare it to the use of the same word in Heb 12:24 where the blood of Christ "speaks" better things than the blood of Abel does.

I admit it: foundationally, the testimony of women to Christ is necessary and important. What it does not do is establish women in positions of leadership in the church in the sense which Pastor Zens is seeking to establish in this article.

If you will forgive me for jumping around, this is underscored by his #6 example:
**A woman’s testimony was disallowed as evidence in first century courts. Yet the Lord chose females to be the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection (John 20:1-2, 11-18; Luke 24:1-11, 22-24; Mark 16:1-8; Matt.28:1-11).
This is completely unquestionable – the testimony of the women is what caused the apostles to stop sitting around dumbfounded by the death of their Messiah. But again: even if God accepts women as witnesses and believers, does this establish that women are also established as spiritual leaders and pastors for the church? At best, the answer is "not by any direct statement".

Most problematic of this first set of evidences for me is Pastor Zens' nest affirmation:
**Jesus applauded the evangelistic efforts of the Samaritan woman (John 4:35-38). After experiencing a revelation of Jesus, she left her jar at the well and went to her city telling men, women and children about the Messiah (John 4:28-29). Everyone in Sychar knew about her history of broken relationships, yet she boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah – a Redeemer even for those outside of Judaism!
The underlined text is what I find problematic – that in the events at the well, Jesus is said to have "applauded" (meaning: endorsed and affirmed as an example) the Samaritan woman.

Here's the text he cites, ESV:
    Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
Now, who is "you" here? It turns out that "you" are His disciples – the ones who left Him at the well to go into town for supplies. So Jesus is telling the disciples about how rich the harvest is that He is calling them to bring in. In that, he calls all the Samaritans "the fields … white for harvest". He does not mention the testimony of the Samaritan woman at all in making this statement.

Someone might object and say, "cent: the 'others' who have labored must include the woman! She testified about Christ to the Samaritans, and they came to see the Messiah! Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about?"

In the best case for that view, Jesus has made the woman among the many who have prepared the field for the harvest. This positioning might be construed as listing her among the Prophets – just like Anna, above. But the problem is that this role of testifying to people about the fact of the Gospel – which I concede is a role for any and for all believers – is not the same role as pastoring a flock or (as another related example) initiating church discipline. One is a role which is under the broad call of obedience all believers are expected to do, and the other is a narrower role which is actually, affirmatively defined by the New Testament.

To exaggerate Jesus' description in John 4 to "applauding" the Samaritan woman does a disservice to this particular text and makes the overall tenor of this essay less objective than it intends to be.

Last one for today:
**In the context of Jesus’ crucifixion the male disciples fled, yet the women were present and they helped in his burial (Matt.27:55-56,61; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:55-56; John 19:25-27).
I don't think there's any question that female disciples carried out this ministry to the crucified body of Christ. I'm not sure who would say otherwise. What is at stake, however, is if this particular event defines the role of women normatively as one of leadership and authority or if it expresses one ministry which women expressly did in one case which does not have any bearing on teaching, preaching, or local church leadership.

There are still 14 more examples from Pastor Zens to consider, but so far his examples do not point to anything approaching the exhortation in 1Tim 2 regarding whether or not to "permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man".

We'll see if further examination provides any richer substance in the rest of this paper.

filler: meme

Here's how it goes:

Each player starts with 7 random facts/habits about themselves. People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their seven things, as well as these rules. You need to choose 7 people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them that they have been tagged and to read your blog!

  1. I was once a cheerleader at an all-boys Catholic High School
  2. I was also a popular morning radio DJ in college for 4 years [n.b. - our only competition was an automated station that played top-40; you do the math]; and as program director for that station I canned a kid with a "comedy" show for slandering a female rugby player. The only problem with this fact is that when people learn it, they confuse me with another Frank Turk from the Philly area who got canned for being racist on-air.
  3. I once punched an RV
  4. My parents still live in the house I grew up in
  5. I have never travelled outside of North America
  6. The only time I ever gambled in a casino, I won $50
  7. I have never successfully changed a diaper in an airport or an airplane without getting, um, tagged by the contents of the diaper -- even though I have successfully changed hundreds of diapers in all other sorts of venues
And with that, I am tagging:Now stop bothering me with these things ...

Reading is Fundamental

Useful for today:
It is a mistake often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind; it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians. How many were there, for instance, in Christian churches in the eighteenth century who doubted the infallible inspiration of all Scripture? A few, perhaps, but very few. No, the fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church are on the fundamentalist's side.
Robert Saucy's footnote cites this from Kirsop Lake's The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow (Boston: Houghton, 1926).

Take that for what it's worth as you read many of the internet debates which are going on today. (this is a repost of this quote from about 2 years ago)

Wait for the book

Francis Beckwith has apparently resigned from ETS as a result of his recommitment to Roman Catholicism.

While many notable men have chimed in on this matter, my guess is that there's going to be a book eventually. I'll wait for the book before I comment.

No: you can't make me comment on it. There's not any substantive information available except that this is a done deal and Dr. Beckwith recognizes that it's not a small matter. After that, the speculation is useless.

Monkey's Uncle

But not voting rights. Just all the other rights.

As if.

Da Bomb

In an attempt to create the largest internet controversy of all time, I am going to put forth a thesis here at the blog and consider it over the next couple of weeks in bits and pieces.

As a Christian bookstore owner, I sell a lot of books. Those books are written by a lot of people. We do our best to stock only the things which are "good for" people, but junk like PDL and Your Best Life Now is popular enough that it turns up in stock. I admit it: we're not perfect.

However, over the handful of years we have been open, I have taken a small amount of grief for promoting books by Kay Arthur and Beth Moore -- because they are women who are plainly teachers. The admonition goes along the standard lines regarding why women ought not to be pastors or elders in the church.

Fair enough: I'm in. I agree with the "pastors and elders" argument, so I accept the admonition that women writing books on spiritual formation veers into the theological red-light district.

How does this standard apply to women bloggers? Does it apply? We're going to finish up on that Wade Burleson-linked article, and then approach this related topic with fear and trembling.

In the meantime, be in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day. It's what the Great Physician ordered.