This is #2 for the week

1) Does Gospel centered mean reformed? Specifically, young reformed Calvinists looking for a label that doesn’t complicate relationships with the debates about predestination and infant baptism?
One of the reasons I think it's important to do these little shellackings of the author of these questions is that he seems so reasonable, doesn't he?

"Gospel centered"? Isn't that for the immature trying to form a club?

Let's put it this way: what "Gospel-centered" means is that somehow what Jesus has done is more important than, for example, denomination and politics. Anyone who wants to tell people about Jesus in any of the ways you can find in Acts (to keep the conversation inside some kind of finite boundaries) can be "Gospel-centered".
2) Does Gospel centered imply that other Christians aren’t Gospel believing? Every group of Christians I’ve been around recently- from mainline liberals to emergers and Arminian leaning evangelicals- would passionately argue that they are Gospel centered? For example, are conservative evangelicals in the PCUSA Gospel centered? Is the Billy Graham Association Gospel centered? Is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Gospel centered?
Not any more or less than adopting, for example, a "Jesus-shaped spirituality" implies that other Christians aren't "Jesus shaped".

It's more than a little ironic that someone who can snipe at fundies for raising Marylin Manson, tacitly call John Piper a dangerous man, and blame "evangelicalism" for having a faith which is too lame to answer atheism in real life will, at this point, accuse those who advocate for a "Gospel-centered" faith and life of being somehow divisive or unfairly judgmental.

The Gospel is what it is. Some people get that wrong, and then they chase after misinterpretation of the Gospel. Some of them are "reformed"; some of them are not.

Which brings us to ...
3) Who- specifically- isn’t Gospel centered? And I don’t just mean TEC. I mean, who in some proximity to those using this label, isn’t described by this label? What disqualifies?
All non-Christians are not Gospel-centered.

Anyone who has replaced the Gospel with some other idol is not Gospel-centered. For example, anyone who would place a singular political reality (in government, in a church) ahead of what Christ has done is not Gospel centered.

If you want me to name names, I'd be glad to review any list you proffer.
4) What is “centered” as compared to believing, or motivated or preaching, etc.?
The conceits we can have but not lend to others always make me itchy. I suggest that "centered" is not any more or less ambiguous than "shaped".

Since I am the one fleshing it out, here's what I think of: I think of all our efforts in some kind of motion in the universe, and Christ is in the Universe. Some things we do are in a high-speed trajectory away from Christ; these are obviously not Gospel centered. Some things are in a trajectory which looks like it is heading straight into or at Christ, and I suggest that none of these are Gospel-centered because they are seeking to replace Christ.

Some trajectories, however, are in motion around Christ, and adorn Christ, and make much of Christ. These are Gospel-centered. They do not seek to abandon him or supplant him: they exist for his sake.
5) Is this describing an existing group or is it a way of doing church? If so, what are we talking about? A certain emphasis on preaching? An intentional effort to put the cross in all sermons and all songs? Fewer church programs?
Maybe a version of the Bible? Or how about a t-shirt we can wear?

Like #1 in this list, this question is a pretty unamgiguous swipe at its object.

And again, to expect more from a two-word phrase than one expects from one's own 3-word phrase is ungenerous at best. The Gospel Coalition web site has plenty of resources to describe the phrase. Feel free to inspect those and then reconsider your question.
6) Is Gospel centered the beginnings of a label to create a sub-denomination in the SBC? A kind of signal to those who might be considering leaving the SBC that a network of churches is forming with similar values to the Great Commission Resurgence? Is this a label to build a kind of evangelical ecumenism within and outside of the SBC?
It's very subversive, I am sure. What if it's only a way to say, "you know what? I'd rather talk about Jesus than beer. Can we talk about Jesus rather than beer?"
7) Is Gospel centered the beginnings of a door out of the SBC to a “Together for the Gospel,” Acts 29 or “Gospel Coalition” shaped network or denomination?
Maybe it's just a way to say, "I'd also rather talk about the ways in which we agree about Jesus than all the ways we can invent to hate each other for doing what we think is right."

Which is ironic, isn't it? You'd think that the John 3:16 conference came first and then T4G and TGC -- but oddly, no: the "Gospel-centered" crowd turned out to come first and reach out across some weird lines (baptism, cessationism, polity) to try to forge some kind of unity in essentials.

So I think the answer is "no".
8) What is most distinctive about a “Gospel centered” church that allows the term to cross denominational boundaries and still be descriptive?
The orbits of all the things a church like this does circle around Jesus and not around, for example, style, fashion, or other things which rust and whither.

I know you have previously been completely vexed by the idea that a person or an activity can have an "orbit", but I am sure you can grasp this much: when a church revolves around money, or "growth", or "political action", it is not revolving around Jesus. When it is revolving around Jesus, Jesus looks great -- because all the things going on make much of him and treat him like the center of attention and the main doer, the prime mover.

This reaches across denominational boundaries by appealing to Christ rather than preferences.
9) Plenty of people will say I’m not Gospel centered even though that’s my passion. Who makes the call? Why can so many bloggers use the term and it be meaningful if there’s no specific content?
Well, I think that I have listed some pretty specific content here. Anyone who calls you "not Gospel centered" should cite an example, and we can gage it from there. I could cite an example of such a thing, but oddly I wouldn't call you "not Gospel centered" -- so my examples of you being "not Gospel centered" would be for the benefit of trying to explain something else to you -- something which, after years, you simply cannot hear. And it's a shame, really.

Any other questions?

It's a new week ...

... and the rumor is that I have to do this 3 times a week now.

Heard elsewhere:
How can you talk to an atheist about salvation? He doesn’t believe in a single component of that worldview. No God. No problem.
Problematically for that assertion, the only thing "an atheist" believes about that is "No God".

This was the subject of the posts tagged "Loftus Saga" here from the end of last year -- because Loftus and many of the "new" Atheists rely heavily on the problem of evil to make their evangelistic case. In the Ricky Gervais video making the rounds this week, Ricky does it as well -- using the minimalist example of God making him an atheist.

There is something wrong with the world, and the atheist says that since God doesn't exist, you just have to live with it. The first time the atheist has trouble in fact and not just in theory, I think you're going to have a great evangelistic moment.

You might want to re-read that Loftus Saga stuff if you're thinking that atheism is making an end-run around theism by its popular appeal.

Open Gripe Night

Hey -- after (can you believe this?) four and a half years of blogging (and I might add: with relative success -- I don't have a 501c3 or a church ginning up readers for me), I have to ask: what exactly causes all the ridiculous fuss?

So this is open gripe night -- open gripe weekend. I can canceled all bans in Haloscan, and I'm giving you the weekend to really set one up and tee it off: what exactly is your problem with me? You can rant and rave all you want, OK? The only caveat -- the only favor I ask for this chance to really let one fly -- is that you link to something which substantiates your opinion about me, and you ought not to comment anonymously. For your own sake, you can post with no name, but you have to fill in the e-mail field with a valid e-mail addy.

Hate me. Loathe me. I'm standing on Prov 12:1 so you can also give me the business for Christ's sake.

Yes We can

We can bar you from using the internet from your home.

For the sake of the children, I am sure.

never an attack -- just the truth

Read this.

OK: now, let's get a few things straight. The first is that the Baptist Press is a denominational organ for a certain faction of a denomination which is, frankly, suffering because of that faction. No question. For the record I am considering leaving that denomination for pragmatic and not political reasons (the church I'm likely to join in my new city is not SBC).

But the next coupla-few things are just objections to high-handed fundamentalism. The claim in that blog post that the writer has never "never written a blog that attacks another person or organization" is a flat-out lie which is only hidden by the individual's history of deleting post what he later thought better of -- historical revisionism being a sin of the hard-shell fundies. I'd respect him more if he'd stick to his guns. But that said, what qualifies as an "attack"? Does saying something publicly that was rebuffed or ignored privately constitute and "attack"? Doesn't villifying those who have something against you qualify as an "attach" -- or is it, like the old fundamentalist way, just "speaking the truth"?

And lastly, what if there wasn't and us-vs.-them mentality? You know: the SBC sticks in the mud who want to throw out Acts29 because of Mark Driscoll are self-parodying mopes who can't learn to judge men by what they do instead of by the color of their Christian flag. Acts29 is filled with totally reputable guys who are, frankly, not amused by the things I have said I'm not amused by -- but that's their problem. I am sure they will eventually deal with it.

But when the Acts29 guys start worrying that their shared constituency in the SBC are reading the Baptist Press' ginned up "journalism" and start blogging about it because they're afraid they might lose some guys who want to be connected to a dying breed of baptist brawlers, eh. It looks like they don't really know what they want. Refuting the BP is like refuting the Weekly World News -- it's easy, but why bother?

Why not deal with real issues and let the kooks retreat to their bunkers with their tin-foil hats"

From the Comments

Because Summer's not actually over

An event has an application, and God has a Word, but making the various aspects of weather in a particular place a clear word from God is raising a human pastoral application up to the level where all the problems we’ve discussed become real problems for many people. Such connections will cause many to stumble in their faith as they wonder “what was God’s Word to me in taking my child? Why did he have to speak that way instead of another way?” Piper clearly, WILL answer that question for suffering people out of his high views of God ordering all that comes to pass. Many other Christians will not. It’s the difference between a pastor saying, “in the tornado, I see a lesson” and saying “in the tornado, God is saying to you.” There’s a significance difference between these two expressions. I, and many others, frequently call to mind the lessons of providence, but they are the connections we see, not the connections God has made absolute. “The tornado caused me to think about God” and “God sent the tornado to Minneapolis so I would think about God” are simply two pastorally different statements. I’d suggest that what I can say about my house fire (or Piper can say about his cancer) and what I can say about Minneapolis’s tornado are two very different things on the level of using my interpretation of events as God’s Word.
The irony here, of course, is that Dr. Piper has pretty plainly, straight-forwardly, without exegetical sleight-of-hand, shown how the Bible tells us what he is telling us about calamity, and the writer of this piece of philosophical marshmallow has yet to open his Bible or wonder out loud if he should. In his high hopes that "God has a Word" and "God is Sovereign", he can't ever seem to get to the Word, of fall under the sovereignty. The Jesus-shaped "Word" he wants to fill everything into apparently doesn't speak to this stuff.

If you want to comment on that, you'll have to do that here.

You'll be glad to know this

I passed my background check to coach soccer this year.

In which we end the summer with a bang

It's been a while since I have handed out a merciless beating to someone other than a person who wants to leave his local church, and I have a free morning, so let's see what we can come up with.

Before we employ the rough lumber and the tire chains to this one, let's keep something in mind: there is a fair and important point this note was trying to make -- that there's a wrong application for the right-minded view that God is sovereign. It is wrong, for example, to treat tragedy or misfortune as some sort of spiritual tea-leaves in order to start preaching God's judgment on someone in particular.

"What? You lost you job? You must be in sin, bro -- repent."

"I see -- your son got caught in a brush fire. God's telling you that you've done something wrong."

There is no question that this sort of "preaching" or "prophecying" is born in hell and needs to be seen as the hallmark of the father of all lies.

But saying this is different:
    When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

    Jesus: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)

    The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

The difference is the Gospel-centeredness of this statement. It doesn't say, "because you did 'A', God punished you with 'B'": it says, "because Jesus said plainly that all sinners are is grave peril, all sinners must be on guard to repent."

That's a nuance completely lost and overlooked in the note we're about to redress. Pack a lunch.
1. Christians all generally believe that God is sovereign. I realize there’s a rather large bar fight about the footnotes, but it’s a reasonable attribute of anyone who calls himself the sort of things God does in scripture.
It's a fair start -- but watch what happens next without batting an eye. Sure: the label "sovereign" is vaguely acceptable. But go ahead and try to apply it to anything with your theological DYMO labeler and see what that gets ya.
The game, however, becomes something like this: “My sovereignty can beat up your sovereignty.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah. Watch this. I say that tornado was a warning from God to the liberals in the ECLA.” “Well….well…..OK…OK….I say that Kyle Lake’s electrocution during a baptism was because God wanted to warn the emerging church.” “Oh yeah….well….”
Which is, of course, where we have to draw the line and say, "dude: nuance is the spice of life here, and for a guy who wants to be talking sense to people about anything, you have no nuance in your spice rack." There is a vast separation between saying (as Dr. Piper has) "calamity in this world points sinners to a Holy God who calls them to repentance" (which is the Gospel) and "those punks got what was coming to them" (which is a self-congratulatory misapplication of the Law).

And missing that ruins what could have been an otherwise-decent point about the problems inherent in the assessment of evil in this world -- both moral and physical.
If you want to play this game, you can generally find people willing to play, but I have one thing to say before you do: If you tell me that I don’t believe in the sovereignty of God because I won’t play your “one up” game, I’m going to punch you in the nose (if you are a man over 18 and not blind) and then you can figure out what that means. (That’s a joke.)
And even as a joke, it demonstrates its own limits of administration. It in fact plays into the faulty view of how a Sovereign God works things out in this world, and seeks to drive people off of the sound view of such a thing because one does not, as the writer here said, check the footnotes very carefully.
2. Evangelical Christians are amazing for wanting it both ways.
Yeah: breaks on before we get too far into this generalization.

"Evangelicals"? How about this: if we can't really use the word "Emergents" to describe that subset of post-evangelicalism effectively, how about if we don't try to use the term "Evangelicals" as if they were a monolithic bunch, especially on the matter of the Sovereignty of God. If we can admit that the first half of point [1] in this essay has some broad truth in it (and I did already), then point [2] goes straight to the dog house.

"Evangelicals want it both ways"? That's hard to work out effectively when we admit that what they allegedly want "both ways" has a pretty broad interpretation across the spectrum, and trying to lump in a John Piper or a Frank Turk with a fundamentalist confused about his dispensations cannot be a very persuasive way in which to say "evangelicals" want it "both ways".
They want to be able to say when a tornado is warning liberal Lutherans, but they don’t want to say the light fixture that fell and killed a baby in some church is a sign of anything.
Well, seriously: Piper does want to say both are a sign of something. The writer here just refuses to own up to the fact that Dr. Piper gives a greater nuance to both matters than the writer needs to to make his very important point.

And that point looks like this:
They will probably sue the electrician. They want to say that God sends signs of repentance in the tornado that just skirted their town, and then want to say God is teaching us to depend on him when the tornado destroys the building the church meets in. They want to say that God is always communicating through his “megaphone of pain,” (not Lewis’s finest moment) but they don’t want God communicating by putting the face of Jesus on toast. They want to call John Piper a prophet and Kim Clement a kook.
You see: anyone who says "God communicates" -- especially "God communicates through pain" -- is a kook. It doesn't matter that Jesus says this in Luke 13, or Paul says this in Romans 1 & 2, or that the Psalmists say it over and over: we have to group the "Jesus in my toast" people with the "Jesus over all things, holding all things together, creator and sustainer" people so that we cannot find comfort in tragedy.

This is the reason I find this sort of essay worthy of a merciless beating and worthy of review. The writer of this piece -- and the many, many writers like him out there -- somehow has sought to mitigate the real comfort evident in a proclamation like the Piper quote, above, by making it the kissing cousin of a completely-disreputable brand of folk religion which would, 19 days out of 20, repudiate the preaching at Bethlehem Baptist and from most Christian pulpits on this topic.

To say that John Piper approaches this subject in the same way Kim Clement does is to simply toss off a meaningless and unsubstaniable statement which is either unaware of the facts, or seeking to hide them from others. There may be a third choice, and I'd be open to hear what it is because the two men do not say hardly the same things about tragedy in general, nor have they said the same thing on this one in particular.
3. It’s an evangelical specialty to jump in and out of the scientific world view as needed. It really irks me. One moment we sound like people who have no idea what storms and earthquakes are all about meteorologically and geologically then the next minute we’re off to the doctor to get more of the benefits of medical science with no reference to God’s decision about whether we should get well or not. I know these understandings of reality aren’t exclusive, but who is your audience when you talk about a storm in language not too far off from animism and then next minute you’re looking down your nose at someone who says that grandma’s blindness is caused by demonic attack, not macular degeneration?
All I'm going to say about that is this: if you can find one whit of animism in the statement I posted from Piper -- which was his point and his position on this event -- then my entire criticism of this essay is baseless and ought to be ignored. However, if you can't find animism there but instead you find the Gospel, and you see the message of repentance preached in terms Jesus used, and we find ourselves with a truly Jesus-shaped approach to the problem of evil events in the world, then this gibberish about "jumping in and out of science" is simply some kind of rant.

Dr. Piper doesn't even dismiss or mitigate immediate causes. He doesn't dispute the observations of meteorology. But he believes that God is Sovereign in more than a merely-intellectual way. He believes it in more than an ontological way. He believes it in more than a meta-politcal way. He believes it in a way which preaches safety and salvation from sin. And that safety and salvation is a place in which to take solace in all times of trouble, not just the ones which are ultimate or final or eschatological.
We’re just fine telling kids that God sends X and causes Y, but if our children are scared of that God and don’t want to cross the bridge or go to sleep during a storm we tell them that everything is OK. How does that work? If you say that storms are the result of the way the atmosphere operates as a system and that bridges hold up if the engineers build and maintain them right are we confusing the kid, contradicting ourselves or just operating in two entirely different universes.
You know: when we teach our kids systematic theology (and it's "when", not "if": kids are smart enough to try to put your systematics together even if you never have), we have to believe it first. And if we believe it, we don't say things like "God sends 'X' and cause 'Y'". We teach them stories like Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to you Babylonians) -- where God's sovereignty is manifest, and bad things happen to those who are faithful to him. We teach them about David and Jonathan -- who were both faithful to God, but David's lot was to be king of Israel, and Jonathan's was to die at the side of his faithless and graceless father. We teach them that all who live a godly life will be persecuted, and to count it all joy when we face trials -- because faith in trial yields perseverance, and also that God is glorified by our love for Him when it is not immediately pleasurable to do so.
If we are going to start saying that comets and eclipses and asteroid strikes are messages from God, then I think we owe it to someone to explain how that interacts with the fact that we also understand these things scientifically.
I really enjoy that because anyone who is even intermediately informed about the science of asteroid strikes or the formation of tornadoes would tell you, "hey: it's gonna happen when it happens, and it happens someplaces far more regularly and routinely than others." Meaning: God doesn't enter into it.

You know: science can tell you how to light a light bulb, but it can't tell you why you should light one candle rather than curse the darkness. And it seems to me that the writer here does what he always does when God's sovereignty comes up: he'd rather be in the dark, and have others there with him, than to see if the Gospel light can help us find comfort in the face of tragedy. He'd rather blame electricians or engineers or weathermen for falling lights and falling bridges and falling, um, tornadoes that appear in places where they haven't appeared in generations, and that with no warning or signal than to treat the event like something that happens in a cosmos where God is revealed through creation in a general way and the Gospel interprets it in a specific way.

Which is his prerogative. It just doesn't have to be yours.
4. The Bible says that God sent plagues upon Egypt and that God told Moses- told him- what was happening. Was there a difference in that and Moses next inclination to believe that an unusually strong wind was warning the rebellious Israelites to obey? It seems to me there’s a huge difference here, and it’s a difference that has everything to do with our view of scripture as authoritative and everything to do with why we don’t believe that every pastor who tells his church the reason God caused an infant to die is a prophet.

There is also a difference between falsely prophecying over the death of an infant and quoting Jesus about how we should see natural disasters. If we are suddenly going to find some place where we're going to exercise a little Bible and a little inductive reasoning, we should be consistent about that as well. Whether we think we will like the result or not.

But the next bit here is interesting:
I fully believe that general revelation preaches to those who are listening, but when I start cherry-picking what events and occurrences I want to use to make my point, I’m being inconsistent. I never read that general revelation requires commentary from selected preachers.
Physician, if I may be so bold, heal thyself. If one is going to start rattling on about "inconsistencies", one has to first be consistent in his analysis of the things he's trying to lump together and denigrate.

I'd stand right next to this writer -- or any writer -- who wanted to throw blogospherical rocks at Pat Robertson or Paula White or any self-appointed prophet for stupid, excessively-narrow predictions or blanket spiritual judgments. BUT the problem with Dr. Piper or other Sovereignty guys is not as simply-sloppy as this writer has made it.
5. If you haven’t read it, read this mess from Paul Proctor and tell me that it’s not a monstrous and vile abuse of the theology of God’s sovereignty for Proctor’s own purposes. This is an extreme and vicious example, but it obviously raises the question: how does this guy know that?
Who wouldn't repudiate that? Dr. Piper in fact did repudiate that when it came out. That sort of stupid, scriptureless, sanctimonious harangue ought to be put in the skubalon pile where it belongs. But to say that essay is anything akin to saying, "the fallen world is full of warnings from God to repent or die, and Jesus is our only hope -- both for the ELCA and for all of us," is to simply fail to listen or to reason though. That's why saying this at the end of the essay:
This sort of thing has been going on for centuries. We should be taking notes and learning a few things along the way.
is completely comical. What are we going to learn by "reasoning" like this? How to write everyone off? How to become a church of one where we have clumped together everyone who says things which grate on us intellectually or spiritually and pushed them off the pier?

At some point, if we agree "sovereign" is a valid descriptor for God, we have to be able to say that this real thing is because God is sovereign. I'll be waiting to see if those who would toss rocks at Dr. Piper can make a list of three things evident in the news in the last 365 days upon which we could put the label, "a product of God as sovereign".

But I won't hold my breath.


Just to keep thinking about the question of leaving your church in a way which is, frankly, more substantive than throwing rocks at people who probably don't like you and whom you probably don't like, let's think about this for the weekend:

Are there any important flaws in your theology? If you say "no" to that question I have two suggestions for you which I think you have never considered:

[1] You have probably not considered your theology very significantly if you can't see any inconsistencies in it. That doesn't mean you're a heretic or an idiot: it just means that maybe you should think harder about the things you think are important -- especially when you say they are important enough to split from your local church over.

[2] Someone else of the same stripe could, without some deeper consideration, use those flaws you yourself cannot see in your theology to name you as a reason to leave your church. Someone might fault you for your inexplicable inability to connect the Abrahamic covenant to the New Covenant; someone else might find your view of the history of the world a little too-simply diagrammed, or perhaps not robustly diagramed, and thereby expell you from orthodoxy for adding to or subtracting from Scripture.

And I say this to point something out to you: while there is no question that you shouldn't join or stay joined to a Mormon church or a rank Pelagian cult like Unitarianism, you yourself are not actually a prize catch in the theological sea. You're a smelly little sinner who is getting fished out of your stinky little pond by a fisherman who has chosen to save you out of His love and kindness and not because your are some kind of Rainbow Fish or a prize-winning theological Sea Bass.

It shouldn't be a surprize that you're in a fishbowl now with other smelly little fish. But it should cause you to rejoice -- and love the ones the fisherman has saved with you. Together.

Be in the Fisherman's fishbowl with his school of fish on His day this week, and thank Him that you're His smelly little fish. And so are they.


Before you click any links in this post, be warned that this is seriously adult material -- no joking, stuff you probably don't want your kids reading through above and beyond the normal level of affrontery that I publish here -- and you don't want your kids clicking through in spite of the fact that the links are to a PDF at my host site and the original at Yahoo! Financial news.

Here's the Yahoo! Finance link and the PDF version hosted for when the Yahoo! story goes away.

Here's all I'm going to say about that: read the Larry Flint quote in that article, and then ask yourself what sort of mad self-deception it takes to say something like that. As if condoms were the problem.


Aha. Who's the "calvinist gadfly" now, smart guy?

The Big One

NASA not funded to do what Congress mandated it must do.

There's not reason to comment. There's not one good thing in that story.


I love this.

Keep your comments positive and helpful.

Not done lightly - sidebar

Since dissenting voices and complainers are being moderated out (and it's whooly the right of the site owner/operator/barkeep to do sech a thing), take a look at this gem of an open mike at

I haven't got all the way through it. Feel free to comment here, but within two rules:

[1] no personal shots at the proprietor or his legion of commentors. Stuff like, "what did you expect from these people?" or speculations on the heretical pH of the comments will be dealt with harshly, if not in a timely manner. I don't personally have a great appetite for what's being said over there, but it doesn't improve anything by throwing rocks at them.

[2] if you can't think of what else to say about that thread, think about this: what does that thread tell us about whether or not the people out there who say they are christians care about the Gospel as a foundation and a means for reconciling (as they say) Jew and Gentile into one new mankind.

Not done lightly (4)

Alert Reader "Tom" has become a non-lurkering reader, and has offered some insightful commentary via the meta. This is some of it:
Where does it say in Scripture that one cannot leave a local assembly and go to another local assembly who are actually committed to worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth? Or are you applying loose principles?
I think my principles are pretty tight.

Here's my reasoning:

Jesus Christ came to establish his kingdom among men in creation. That is: he came to do a real thing -- something you can see, feel, touch. The advent of that kingdom is the church. (and while I think doing this breeds a lazy habit in the readers, cf. Mat 16; Acts 2; 1 Cor 1; 1 Cor 12; 2 Cor 8)

When we say "the church" and mean "no such gathering in particular but any such gathering in general", we abuse the word "church" (really: ekklesia) into something which it does not mean. In almost every case in the NT, the word "church" refers to a particular gathering of the believers (see all the references above; also Gal 1; Eph 1; Eph 5; Phl 3). When "church" does not refer to the local assembly, it refers to all such bodies in order to draw from the idea of what is given to all believers to the specific matter of some local church (see 1 Cor 1; Col 1).

In this, one thing is certain: Christ loves the church -- not just in general, but specifically all local churches. That includes, for example, the church in Galatia who was believing and practicing something Paul said made the work of Christ into nothing; that includes the local church in Corinth which was divided, permissive toward sin, abusive toward the sacraments, unsure about idolatry, chaotic in worship, and forgetful of the Gospel. That is: it is unquestionable that Paul called both of these badly-corrupt bodies "churches" who still had the blessing of Christ and the cornerstone of the Gospel upon which to build or rebuild its faith life.

Now, here's where we either must follow scripture or just admit we don't intend to at all: in both these cases where the local church has pretty much done its worst, Paul does not instruct anyone to flee. That's an important "not said" -- but only because it is in direct opposition to what Paul actually said. In Galatia he did not say, "so the few of you who are right with the Gospel should abandon those who are not," but he did say, "I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are... Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? [the Judaizers] make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you." [Gal 4] That is, he said, "because you are in dire faith trouble, I want to come back to you." And then a moment later he says, "Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now." That is: "You, my brothers, are being put to a terrible test -- like Isaac being persecuted by his brothers."

Not one hint of fleeing, but a broad and clear message of staying together in the course of faith, staying the course in a time of trouble, and a longing to be with them through the hard time.

Is your church like the Galatian churches? Then do what Paul did and exhorted them to do because they were a church, and your assembly is also a church. This does not apply to Mormons, or JWs, or Hindus, or what have you: it applies to churches in the heritage of faith which have not openly dismissed the Gospel from their midst.

But a church is a church, not a commodity. It is a place where we have brothers and sisters, not merely acquaintances and buddies. The calling there is greater than marriage and greater than family -- and to treat it as lesser or inconsequential is to wholly negate what Paul here appeals to in order to win the Galatians away from their corrupted ways.

It is exactly what Dr. MacArthur says in his opening sentence: something which cannot be done lightly. It is a grave matter to leave a church -- and not a matter which we should see as merely preferential or opportunitistic.

The local church is called a body in which all the members need each other. In 1 Cor 12, Paul makes the case for many gifts and many kinds of members to dispel the Corinthian enthuisiasm for the ecstatic gifts -- but his argument there digs deeper. Think about this: The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. [1 Cor 12] What kind of plea is that, except to say that the church is not only made up of the strong, or of the great, but also of the weak, and in fact the weak are indispensible.

This is such a brilliant analogy -- especially when we consider what Paul has already said in 1 Cor 11: I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. You know: this is again an admonition that somehow the right ones must stay for the sake of the broken ones.

So in this, I ask you: is Paul really silent on whether or not we can or should leave a church? Or has he spoken to this problem already, requiring us not to abandon the church when it is weak and fallible, but to stay joined to it for Christ's sake, and the sake of those who are in error?

And I say all that to say two things to conclude the week:

[1] Keep this in mind as we go back to the GTY statement and consider what it says after its list of reasons a church may be corrupt.

[2] Be with the Lord's people on the Lord's day in the Lord's house this weekend because it is where you belong. This is where you are called out to, and while you need it, it most certainly needs you.

Not done lightly (3-a)

It came up in a few e-mails and a note in the meta that we haven't talked about the problem of "abuse". And we haven't, I admit it -- because I think the category is too broad. All manner of things get tossed in there -- from the worse sorts of things like physical assault or sexual stuff to someone (a human being, you see) losing his temper (as opposed to being prone to violent outbursts) or someone simply rebuking someone who needs a rebuke but isn't emotionally equipped to handle it.

So if we have to talk about it (and we should), I'd say we need better categories to use to talk about it. And here's the thing: the Bible gives us those categories. We don't need the secular law or the materialistic psyhologist to define these categories.

Here are the things an overseer/pastor/elder should not be:
  • He must not be arrogant
  • He must not be quick-tempered
  • He must not be a drunkard
  • He must not be prone to violence
  • He must not be greedy for gain
  • He should be a one woman man, with all that entails
Now, that's a starter list -- it doesn't go to the criteria in the letters to Timothy, and it doesn't speak to all the other disqualifications in the rest of the NT like he shouldn't be someone who demands harsh rules, or whomeone who thrives on conflict and divisions. But as a starter list, what do you do about it?

Listen: if your pastor or an elder in your church hits you, and it wasn't a bar fight* or a situation where you baited him into violence through taunting and hateful behavior, he has disqualified himself. If you persue that with your church, either they are going to tell him to leave, or they are going to tell you to leave. You either have a church which recognizes what's right and what's wrong, or you don't. If you don't, as enablers they're going to make you the problem, and you should be glad to see they are like that -- because they'll show you the door.

I'm not saying it will feel really good and you'll get all vindicated and immediately sanctified: it's going to hurt deeply, and leave you angry and bitter, but when they tell you to leave, just leave. And I have a suspicion that this will work in all the cases above -- for the angry man, the violent man, the drunk, the guy who's greeedy for money or power or "respect" (whatever that means), the womanizer. use Mat 18 as a model, bring it up, and move on.

Nobody -- not me, and certainly not Paul or Jesus -- wants the church to be a place where people are abused. It's supposed to be a place where our infirmities are healed by His stripes.

*If it is a bar fight, you have to admit that you were both someplace you shouldn't have been doing things you shouldn;t have been doing, and repent.

Not done lightly (3)

So the statement at GTY goes like this:
However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one's own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men. Such circumstances would include:
  • If heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).
  • If the leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).
  • If the church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1-7).
  • If unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11).
  • If the church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
  • If the church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).
Now, who is really going to argue that these things, each on its own, are not serious and significant problems? These start to come under the umbrella of “not done lightly” if and only if we take the solution as seriously as we take the problem.

Before we step one word further here, I think this is a place where Phil and I have a pretty serious disagreement in theory, but it’s important to note that this difference in theory doesn’t blow up into a war of attrition where our friendship or fellowship is in danger. And I say that first to make the point that what I’m about to write here I know factually is not the position of GTY, Phil Johnson or Dr. John MacArthur – and I respect their difference in this matter.

But I say that also to make the point that this is exactly the way we ought to handle all of these problems in a church. If you want to wag your finger at a problem, go find a child to wag your finger at, or maybe a dog which will feel appropriately chastised by your umbrage. And if you want to go and shake the dust from your feet at somebody, go find a strip club or the local branch of “Unity” to dust off with – someplace that has never been a church, and has never welcomed the Gospel in its midst.

But this urge to separate over error is, frankly, a bad application of a good biblical principle.

Let me qualify something before the “yeah buts” start: what we’re not talking about is the process of finding a church home in the first place. You know: you can’t just walk in the door at the first place with a cross on the sign and hope to go as deep as I am really pleading with you here to do. If you’re a Presbyterian, you’re going to never come to terms with a non-denom church; if you’re a Lutheran, well, just find the right Lutherans; and in truth and sympathy, if you’re a Reformed baptist, the odds of you finding a merely-non-calvinist (rather than anti-calvinist) SBC or Independent Baptist church is probably below 1 in 500. We are not talking about the process of finding a church here: we’re talking about the place which you, in your wisdom which now condemns the place where you are part of the body, chose in the first place by whatever means you used to get there.

For those who aren’t goo with nuance, let me say it this way: “You made your own bed by the means you made it in your wisdom at the time. Now using your new-found wisdom, sleep in it.”

See: the good and godly Biblical principle is “Let him who has done this be removed from among you,” right? Some version of the idea that you shouldn’t abide sin and you shouldn’t be yoked up to unbelievers.

But the problem, ultimately, is you – that is, you’re not the heretic from which we ought to be separated, but you’re the one who, yesterday, or last week, was one of these people in this church who didn’t know any better – and now apparently something which is not in this church is now in you, and you think that means you have to leave - because of the wisdom found in Gal 1, 1 Cor 5, 2 Thes 3 and so on.

But this interpretation of this principle neglects the greater matters of the New Testament. Yes, unquestionably: anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. But there is also the problem of James 5, and 1 Cor 6, and Mat 5-6-7, and the question of whether or not we are supposed to live together as an assembly before God as a people meant to be saints together.

So the Exit sign is not as clearly indicated as we tend to think in our post-fundamentalist culture of Christian conservativism. In fact, it may in fact be the exact opposite – that what the text actually indicates is that those who are in error must either repent or be shown the door after they have been rightly and lovingly disciplined.

Now here’s where I sign off for the day: don’t respond to this post if you haven’t read the others that go with it. Don’t raise objections to this post which are clearly answered in another one in this series posted this week. You’re a grown-up, I hope. You’re a big enough person to decide for yourself that your church stinketh, so be a big enough person to paste together this argument for something better and more Gospel-like than running away from men because they are sinful.

More to come.

Not done lightly (2-B)

Alert Reader "Kyle" axed this in the comments:
Sounds fine. But can you give me an example of any circumstances under which it might be acceptable to leave a church before they ask you to? For instance, the leadership opts for infant baptism, or tongue talking, or inviting Bill Clinton to preach...
Our beloved reader Rachael Starke has already pointed us not only in the right direction but in the actually biblical direction. I will be more explicit for all of you.

Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant (because of course, you would never be seen in a bar) with a friend, and you start talking about marriage. And that friend says to you, "Kyle, when can I walk out on my marriage?"

Now, I am sure you're a right-minded person, and you say something like this: "well, never. Jesus was clear about that -- what God has joined together, let no man tear apart. It's your marriage, not some arrangement for convenience sake. No offense, of course -- why do you ask?"

And your friend looks at you a little put out. "So you're saying that if my wife is a prostitute, I can't leave?"

And you're a little shocked by that statement, so you ask: "Is she a prostitute?"

"I'm just sayin'," he responds, "what if she starts turning tricks in our house. Can I leave if she does that?"

"Why would she do that?" you ask. "Has she made a move in that direction? Is she placing ads on CraigsList or something?"

"How should I know," your friend says, "I hardly talk to her. I have other things to do -- like ministry. Like work. I have to provide for my family."

And you rightly supress a laugh there, because what he's talking about is wrecking his family -- when can he finally give up on his family. But you stick with him because you love him -- it's good to give a personal example in a time like this, so in the same way you think he should stick with his marriage and his wife, you stick with him.

"So you're saying that, since you don't have time to be in a fully-informed relationship with your wife, and that seems to leave the door open for all manner of things to creep in, you want to know when you're cleared to leave -- from a Christian perspective?"

"Well, when you put it that way ..." he says, a little angry with you.

"I'm not the one who put it that way, my friend," you respond pointedly.

And you would have done well to respond pointedly. Look: every time someone want to manage the normal Christian life from the perspective of the far extremes (wherever you chart those extremes), you get legalism -- because God knows we do not want to ever find ourselves near people who are doing things which are evil, like that publican over there with his head tilted down like he's asleep or something. So managing your relationship with your church by charting out points of no return after which you must leave is, frankly, anti-Biblical and anti-Gospel.

What if you instead were charting out the path to being closer to your church -- not the building, but the actual people in the household of God -- with points of no return after which there is no going back to being a lone ranger. If there's anything true about Paul's letter to Titus, it is that Paul sent Titus to Crete to "set things in order". But the way by which Titus is instructed to set things in order is to find the guys who are formed by the Gospel, make them the leaders, and then build a community in which guys like these are thereby replicated. Somebody, someplace, has to lead by example -- and luckily for us, Christ did.

LOVE SOMEBODY, for crying out loud. You know: LOVE. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers, in case you don't have your Bibles open. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We have a great savior, but he is also our exemplar, if we are really going to be like him.

He didn't leave when people turned out to be sinners. He wasn't surprised and taken aback and thereby hurt and therefore now jaded. Now you poersonally -- go and do the same.

Not Done Lightly (2-A)

Alert Reader "jmv7000" asked this:
I agree that a good portion of people leave churches for wrong reasons. Much of it stems from a "I'm not getting what I want" mentality. Your self-pastor analysis is spot on and a reflection of our culture.

But what do you do when your church hires a Sr. pastor who is not dedicated to Scripture, more interested in numbers than spiritual growth, and begins "market driven" projects to bring more people in? The Bible is no longer central to the message, but rather a retelling of books on the Christian best-seller list. And your elders believe this is the direction the church needs to head?
Factually, I am sure my friend Phil Johnson, and the folks at GTY, would say that at some point you leave. I respect why they say that, and I respectfully disagree.

My primary answer looks like this, and my larger answer includes the massive question: is the church where you go, or where you live?

You know: I get a lot of flack for telling people, "Be with the Lord's people in the Lord's house on the Lord's day." And I get that flack from people who are very "on" about the church not being a building.

Well, duh. But that complaint is both not sufficient to make the complaint they are making but also actually a devastating critique of the philosophical apparatus we us to decide to "leave" a "church".

Let's say that, in fact, your previously-beloved church has now selected Steven Furtick (google him) as your new pastor of vision and teaching (po-lease). How does something like that happen in a church which was previously healthy, do you think?

Here's my answer: it doesn't. Which means you have to come to grips with the fact that your church picked a pastor who reflects who they really are -- which is who they were before they picked him. It means you can walk into the place now disabused of the idea (which, I am sure you would say in a nicer way) that somehow God protected your church from being a church full of Corinthians, Galatians, Laodacians and publicans like that guy over there who looks like he's asleep with his head down like that.

Your church is what it is. In fact, it is what it was, and now you can see that clearly. It's covered in dirty fingerprints, and some of them are yours. See: it's not just a building you attend or somehow underwrite -- it's a community of people with whom you should have more than a passing acquaintance.

With that bit of self-assessment out of the way: so what? I mean: whadddaya do? The natural tendancy of the bloggerreadus apologeticus is to hit somebody -- theologically, of course, but with great zeal. Who can I hit for the most effective apologetic tackle before this thing gets too far down the field?

That's the wrong impulse -- because the church is not a building.

The right impulse looks like 1 Cor 1-2; it looks like John 13-14-15; it looks like the end of Acts 2; it looks like Titus 2 and 1 Tim 1:5.

That is: you gotta love somebody like Jesus loved somebody (you) in order to set them straight. The church is not a building, and thus Grace begets grace. In doing that, you can (and will) earn a place at the table so that when there comes a time for offering advice, somebody might want yours -- because you look like what they really want.

And here's the kicker: if they don't want your advice after that, they will unquestionably tell you. They will, in fact, ask you to leave.

And in that eventuality, leave. Shake the dust off your feet. Know that they are not rejecting you but rejecting Him to whom you belong.

Some people say, "Know what you believe and why you believe it," right? But then you have to know what to do with what you believe -- for it to cross over from knowledge or data into wisdom, it has to have a life-action value. The aim of Paul's charge is love from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a sincere faith.

Try that for a couple-5 years before you say it's not a good strategy, and remember to leave if they ask you to leave.

It's worth it.

Not Done Lightly (2)

"However," he says ...

However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave a church for the sake of one's own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men.
Now, Dr. MacArthur and our friends at GTY are saying that in spite of the real spiritual sobriety we're talking about when we talk about the local church, somebody has to clarify that there comes a time when it's necessary to leave "a church".

Someone in the comments of the last post tried to muscle that up into a distinction between "a church" and "the church", and you can go over there and see what I thought of that investigation into nuance. My concern with saying what they're about to say in their essay with this particular preface is this: God never gives explicit instructions to leave a church.

You know: Jesus instructed his disciples to leave towns which do not receive them and shake the dust off their feet. Israel was instructed to leave Egypt, and Lot was instructed to leave Sodom. When God wants somebody to leave a place, He knows how to say, "Hey: get outta there." I mean, he's God: he invented words. Scripture is His word. He could say it if he meant to say it.

But God doesn't say -- through Paul or any writer of Scripture -- "leave this church or that church if it gets too bad." Think of it -- Paul tells the Galatians that they have voided the Gospel, and they have changed it as from day to night by the teaching on circumcision which they have accepted. But what's missing? The plea to those who have not accepted such a thing to flee from this worthless joint and these worthless pastors and, well, do something else. If any church should have been fled, it was that one, yes? But Paul doesn;t say it -- or even hint at it.

Or what about Corinth? You think that Paul was proud of those people? They allowed incest and cliquishness, made chaos out of worship and made the eucharist into debauchery -- AND they seem to have forgotten the Gospel to boot. So Paul's advice there was, "and the few of you who aren't all screwed up -- you leave these losers and start something new, and I'll be along in a few months to start you over WITHOUT those heretics, thank God."

Yeah, no: Paul doesn't seem to see leaving the church as an option. But I think that's because Paul doesn't see the church the way (not to be too pointed here) you do. You see the church as a place where the word is preached, the sacraments are rightly administered, and discipline is rightly upheld. But let me suggest to you that Paul thought the church was more than that. And by "more", I don't mean "more of the same".

Here: look at this -- it's from Titus:
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.
Somehow Paul is telling Titus that the way you really run off the false teachers (See Titus 1) is by teaching what accords with sound doctrine -- so that the people will act in such a way that they adorn the sound doctrine.

You know: they aren't all seminary students. They are not actually bookish -- and I know this because it is rare to find someone who is both "bookish" and "dignified and self-controlled". The "bookish" are usually easily-addled and somewhat socially inept. They have what they think is a tidy interior life and they don't want people coming around messing it up for them.

To be blunt, Paul thinks the church is a larger thing and a couple-three hours on a Sunday morning -- and I don't mean Sunday night and Wednesday, too: Paul thinks the church is somehow larger than weekly events.

Someplace else he calls it the "household of God". And for many of us, that's a neat metaphor -- it's a big, big house with lots and lots of pews. But in fact Paul is saying that somehow the people of God have to be like a household -- so that if the metaphor is true, the reality is greater than the image and not somehow less. It's not easier: it's harder.

And in that, I want you to read the GTY statement with that substitution made:
    However, there are times when it becomes necessary to leave the household of God for the sake of one's own conscience, or out of a duty to obey God rather than men.
Does that make any sense to you? It doesn't make any sense to me -- in fact, it sounds almost (not to be flip or excessive here) almost Shack-like. And while I understand what the GTY statement is about to try to clarify, I think it forgets a lot of things, some of which we will cover in greater detail next time.

Not done lightly (1)

Now, anyone who reads this blog should know that I would wholly own this opening paragraph from GTY and Dr. MacArthur:
Leaving a church is not something that should be done lightly. Too many people abandon churches for petty reasons. Disagreements over simple matters of preference are never a good reason to withdraw from a sound, Bible-believing church. Christians are commanded to respect, honor, and obey those whom God has placed in positions of leadership in the church (Heb. 13:7,17).
The underscore is added by me, btw. And the major texts the statement in question explicitly lists to explain its position are these:

Heb 13:7 – to honor leaders
Gal 1:7-9 – that those who turn the Gospel on its head be accursed
Rom 16:17 – to avoid those who cause division and teach false doctrine
1 Cor 5:1-7, 9-11 – that the church should expel those who are unrepentant in sin
2 Thes 3:6 – again, to avoid those who are idle and teach false doctrine
2 Tim 3:5 – again, to avoid those who are idle and teach false doctrine

Which, again, I would own entirely. I would own all of these explicit statements of Scripture. But with the exception of the 2 Tim 3 citation, all of these are addressed to the church and not to a you-personally person. In the case of 2 Tim 3, it’s addressed to a pastor, not just some guy. So when we look at these warnings or commands, we have a problem: we have to see that what Scripture does not once command is that anyone leave the church except those who are explicitly in sin or unrepentant error.

In fact, when we think about how 1 Cor 5 works together with 2 Thes 6, we have to ask ourselves: can we have any basis for a merely-personal and private decision that some teacher is a false teach? What we actually will fall back on in these cases is our belief as Baptists in soul competency – the ability of one person to obey conscience and stand before God for his own spiritual condition.

And that’s fine – it’s just not the highest, most systematically-brilliant point of Baptist theology upon which to make decisions. Yes: you personally have to stand before God and make an account – and if you’re a believer, you don’t get condemned to hell, but you can be saved as through hay, stubble and straw set on fire. That doesn’t sound like any revivalist hymn theme to me.

So here’s the thing to open with here: there is no question that the primary emphasis of the NT on this topic is that we are talking about an utterly-grave matter here, and that the traditional texts we would use to talk about this subject except for one is speaking to the church and not to one believer except for the place where the NT speaks to pastors.

We will get to Dr. MacArthur’s “However ...” next time.

In which we start hot water boiling

From time to time, this link is sent to me by someone who has read my thoughts at TeamPyro about the local church, and it's John MacArthur and our friends at GTY, so checkmate, right? Can't argue with that.

Who's arguing? You can't argue with a piece of paper or the internet. But you can respond, and that's what I plan to do over the next few weeks.