Focus on Discipleship Has Created a Resurgence in Baptism

waterheartIt used to be pretty unusual to hear people teach the importance of baptism. In Churches of Christ it wasn’t unusual. We talked about it all the time but outside our fellowship it was pretty infrequent. If you did hear it, it was one of those things done to infants or done to join a specific congregation. All of a sudden I am hearing more and more people teach the importance of baptism. Where is this renewed interest coming from? It is coming from all the interest in discipleship. Once you emphasize following Jesus and obeying His teaching, even if doing so goes against tradition…baptism jumps right out for two reasons: 1) Jesus commanded us to do it, so if you are going to follow Jesus and take his words seriously you will take baptism seriously and 2) in the BIG discipleship verse of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 he even tells us how to go about making new disciples and it involves baptizing people.

I am so happy to see people re-emphasizing and teaching the importance of baptism. I believe it is important because Jesus could have brought up all sorts of things just before he ascended to heaven but this is one of the most important things he said – go and make disciples and do it like this…teaching them, baptizing them, etc.


CENI – The Good Side

After that last post about the limitations of CENI (Command, Example, and Necessary Inference) I want to point out some of the things I think are good about those three things.

First, I appreciate people who have a zeal for scripture. Some of the people who hold most tightly to CENI know the Bible backwards and forwards. It is impressive. I wish we all had that kind of knowledge, especially if that knowledge comes from such a love of God that we are immersed in His Word to the point that it is written all over our hearts and minds from study…to the point that it bears fruit in our lives that is undeniable. I love it when I meet someone who has a tremendous knowledge and grasp of the Scriptures AND whose life has been transformed by the Bible to be more like Jesus. It is a beautiful thing.

Second, I agree that commands are important. When God commands something, we best pay notice and do it. Faith requires it. To have a command of God and ignore it not faith at all. That is faithlessness. So I want you all to hear me say that God’s commands are very important to me. I think David Platt said it well in his book Follow Me,

“We can all profess publicly belief that we don’t possess personally, even (or should I say especially) in the church. Hear the shouts of the damned in Matthew 7 as they cry, “Lord, Lord!” Jesus replies to them, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” 29

Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom. As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying. Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying. Now I want to be very careful here, because we could begin to twist the gospel into something it’s not. Jesus is not saying that our works are the basis for our salvation. The grace of God is the only basis of our salvation— a truth we will explore further in the next chapter. But in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually followers of Jesus in the first place. – David Platt, Follow Me p.16

There is an important distinction made here about obedience and works. Those things work alongside our salvation. They are associated with our salvation. As David said, they are “involved” in our salvation but are not the “basis” for our salvation. Jesus thought obedience was vitally important. So do I. To think any less of obedience would be to make Christ out to be a liar.

Third, I am not a patternist (someone who believes we must use the New Testament as a pattern for EVERY practice…in essence, no one is a full fledged, 100% patternist) but I do value biblical example. I worship with a church that takes the Lord’s supper every Sunday. We worship without instruments, as the early church did. We sing. We pray. We read scripture out loud together. Fasting is important to me and so is giving, teaching, evangelism…these are all a part of my life and ministry. Why? They are because they were either taught in the New Testament or given to us by example. While I don’t believe every detail of their assembly was to serve as an example for us today, I do believe that having continuity with those who have gone before us is important, while still recognizing that even in the 21st century we are still the Lord’s people.

Fourth, inferences are more common than is often pointed out. When we read, we constantly make inferences. It is just part of reading comprehension to fill in the gaps with assumptions and to create meaning where none has been communicated. That is part of the beauty of reading the written word, entering into it’s space and taking something of value from it. I don’t appreciate necessary inference being used as a battering ram in the past, to push through various doctrines that aren’t explicitly laid out in scripture, I still think there is value in inference if done lovingly, with care and in line with a heart that is set on loving God and neighbor. Inference reminds us that there actually is interpretation going on here and if there is interpretation going on then someone is reading scripture and that is a good thing.

Legalism & Progressivism: Erasing Caricatures

Have you ever seen one of those guys at the fair who draws caricatures of people? If so, you know that they will take your biggest features and exaggerate them. Sometimes we do that with other people in how we view them and the assumptions we have about them. It can be hard to talk about these things because instead of actually talking about the issues and the scriptures involved in loving and kind ways (you know, those old fruits of the Spirit?) some would rather paint a caricature of the other “side” rather than be fair with what they have to offer in the conversation. It is easy to draw up straw men. It is easy to ignore the good the others are doing. It is tempting to ignore the commonality in a rush to condemn the parts we vehemently disagree with. I think it is important to start with commonality and work out from there. When you start by dissecting fine tuned differences it is easy to be hostile and it is easy to get defensive.

Legalists often paint a picture of progressives that they have no respect for scripture (and yet most are making their points with scripture). It is often said that progressives don’t care about obedience when that is just not the case. Progressives often paint a picture of legalists as backwards, stagnant, unevangelistic, arrogant, etc. It is easy to throw up smoke screens in order to obfuscate and confuse rather than deal with real people on real issues in loving and respectful ways (you know, ways that actually might get us somewhere).

Drawing a Fair Picture
The way an artist draws an accurate picture is by using their senses. She has to look very closely to details and then make a fair representations of what she sees in that individual. It would be weird to sit down for a skilled artist to paint your portrait and after sitting for a dozen hours over a week, they turned it around and you saw a generic portrait. You would wonder who they were looking at because it obviously wasn’t you. Sometimes I feel that way in discussing these things with others…When they respond to what you tell them, you wonder who they were listening to when you were talking because it obviously wasn’t you. It feels like we are all talking but no one is really hearing the other very well because we are passing them through generic filters that don’t actually represent what that person actually believes.

As we move ahead, no caricatures. Listen. Be willing to learn. Be humble enough to admit when you are wrong. Praise the other person for seeking God. Find commonality. Don’t be afraid to use scripture and use it fairly (not just as random proof texts). Draw a fair picture of those you are having a discussion with. To do any less is intellectually and relationally dishonest.

Legalism & Progressivism: Laying the Groundwork for a Conversation

I am going to do a series on legalism and progressivism. This is going to be an attempt at a dialog that is going to be kind, intellectually honest, and humble. I am not interested in agendas. I am interested in unity, hearing each other (even through differences) and still loving each other. I am not interested in straw men, false dichotomies, division, etc. I also demand that this conversation be done through the lens of the “have nothing to do with…” passages,

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” – 1 Tim 4:1-7

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” – 2 Tim 3:1-5

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” – Titus 3:9-11

Credit where it is due
A little bit about my own background. I grew up in a few pretty conservative congregations. One of the comments wanted me to have more clarity between conservatism and legalism and that is a fair thing to request. One doesn’t equal the other. When I talk about conservative churches, I am talking about churches I have had experience with that have some people I would call legalists present but that doesn’t mean I want to label the entire church legalistic. Either way, I love those people (both conservative and even more extreme…legalists) to death. They helped raise me in the faith. They assisted my parents in teaching me about Jesus. They even taught me about grace. They loved me, accepted me and continue to encourage me. I am indebted to several pretty conservative congregations in my formative years.

I am also indebted to several fairly progressive churches at some pivotal times in my life. They also taught me about Jesus. They taught me about grace. They taught me about how to be loving and accepting while still not tolerating sin. I love those people and have a deep debt of gratitude to them.

I am one of those people who can sit in a room full of theological conservatives or progressives and feel at home, make friends and learn from them both. I love that. Christianity is not about how you lean, it is about who you are following and I believe that conservative and progressive Christians are both doing their best to follow the Lord. That is alright by me.

Identifying the commonality
Both legalists and progressives love Jesus. Both want to please God. Both value obedience. Both are being worked on by the same Spirit (whether they recognize it or not doesn’t keep God from doing it). Both are reading the same Bible and both are trying to be intellectually honest with it. Both want to reach the lost. Both help the poor, have compassion, and do much good. We have much in common because it is the same God we worship, adore and are seeking a relationship with.

Are there differences? Sure. Are they significant? Some are. Are they insurrmountable? This side of heaven some of them might be for some. Our differences don’t make us any less brothers in Christ than race makes one person more or less human than another. At the end of the day we are all trying to love, serve and follow Christ and we all depend on God’s grace to shore up, redeem, and cleanse our many shortcomings.

So here we go…this is going to be the start of several posts. I am inviting you all into the conversation as long as you abide by what has already been said in the beginning of this post.

Church Growth is Not a Zero Sum Game

Zero sum game: A situation in which a gain by one person or side must be matched by a loss by another person or side – The Free Dictionary

There is a way to grow attendance in a church without actually making new disciples. It is called transfer growth. Churches of Christ were masters at this in the 50s & 60s. Transfer growth is more a shuffling of the saved than it is evangelism and discipling. The sad thing is, that is the only approach some people know and many haven’t learned an approach to “evangelism” that is actually directed at the unchurched. We became pros at convincing churched people that they aren’t really in the church until they come over here with us. This is not growing the church or the kingdom. Transfer growth is a zero-sum game. That means it all equals out to zero at the end of the equation. If one church grows from 100 to 150 because other churches lost members, those other churches are in decline with a net loss of 50 people. The church in Acts didn’t grow because Jerusalem sent members to the church in Ephesus and so the Ephesian church had a boom while the Jerusalem church was in decline.

Church growth was never intended to be a zero-sum game because the biblical model of the church being added to (growth) is through evangelism and disciple making. Just to be clear, evangelism is speaking the Gospel to lost people. Disciple making is teaching those who believe to follow Jesus. They are not the same thing but they do go together. The church only grows when we baptize the lost, not convince Christians of particular doctrinal errors. That is called reproof or correction, not conversion. Paul did it with Peter (and so did Jesus, by the way…man Peter had it rough) and that didn’t make Peter lost and then saved. That doesn’t mean doctrine isn’t important…it just means not all doctrine is a salvation issue.

I am afraid we have relied so much on transfer growth that we are now reaping the cost. The number of people who are transferring around is just getting smaller and smaller. Churches that don’t make the adjustment toward outreach to the unchurched are going to have to close shop. But if we just do what Jesus told us to do we can thrive. Shouldn’t we expect it to be that way?

Thinking transfer growth is real kingdom growth is like moving some shirts from storage onto hangers in your closet and thinking you got new shirts. You had them all along just now they are visible to you.

Avoid the “Old” Trap

Appeal to authority based on antiquity is not always valid, especially when the appeal is really just a cover for tradition. Have you ever heard someone’s rationale for why we do it the way we do is because “that’s just how we have always done it”? Or maybe you have even heard someone say a certain practice was the way it was done in the early church when we have no evidence that was the case. Age does not equal authority. If it did, all the bad decisions you made in the past would be better than the good decisions you make today and the Old Covenant would be superior to the New. Age/Antiquity does not guarantee superiority.

This was a part of the debate on whether people could meet in homes for small groups on Sunday evening. Some believed Sunday night service must always be at the building, together. Why? The two reasons you typically heard were: 1) That is how we have always done it and 2) The proper place for a service is at the building and not in homes (and #3 – some people will get upset if we change things). What makes the building the proper place for service? Because that is how we have always done it. Around and around we go. Then you get to actually looking at scripture and find the early church usually met in homes and we don’t even see a regular meeting time on Sunday night! To the credit of many elderships, this move was made in many congregations despite some opposition due to some of this type of thinking.

Much of what we think of as old was at one time new. Sunday school wasn’t done in the first century church. Sunday school didn’t exist until the 1780s when a guy named Robert Raikes proposed the idea. When he proposed it, it was a new application of an old idea (study the Bible = old, do it with kids on Sunday morning before the corporate assembly = new). The Sunday school model was the innovation of the 18th century church in England. Some innovations are morally neutral and not all old things are better. Do any of you really want to meet for worship with no AC, electricity, and sound amplification when it is all readily available?

Here is what it all boils down to – Some things we do are morally neutral…they aren’t better or worse, they just are. Meet at the building? Sure, if that is what the elders have called for let’s do it. Meet in a home? Sure, if that is what the elders have called for let’s do it. Location is not a right or wrong issue. But a false appeal to old practices as the norm turns neutral issues into right/wrong or even salvation issues when there is no biblical basis for doing so.

On a totally unrelated point have a watch of Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nun chucks & lighting matches thrown through the air with a nun chuck with a match striking surface adhered to the end.

[HT: Josh Kellar on the Bruce Lee clip]

The Difference Between A-Biblical and Unbiblical

The line between unbiblical and a-biblical has been erased. People assume that if the Bible doesn’t talk about it, it is unbiblical. Not necessarily. If the Bible doesn’t talk about it specifically, it is first a-biblical. It can be both a-biblical and unbiblical but not all a-biblical things are automatically unbiblical. Unbiblical is not defined by absence from scripture. Unbiblical means something is actually taught against by scripture and is incompatible with scripture.

Here is an example,

“We are talking about reforming youth ministry. To reform something, as a Christian, means to take it back to its original, biblically intended purpose. Well, youth ministry doesn’t have one. Therefore, we don’t need to reform it. We need to abolish it.” – Voddie Baucham 9:30 mark

My intention is not to discredit Voddie Baucham. If you watch the whole video he makes some really good points. Actually, I would encourage you to watch the whole video if you have the time. I am just using it as one example of a point that is made saying something is unbiblical when it is a-biblical.

10 Big Mistakes in Christianity Today

  1. Breeding consumers
  2. Pushing edginess even to the compromise of doctrine
  3. Fostering a celebrity culture among popular preachers
  4. Pushing for social justice while not recognizing the urgency of reaching lost people (used to be the other way around. We need both)
  5. Using systematic theology to trump good exegesis.
  6. Creating great information delivery systems with no visible/obvious ways to put that information into practice outside of infrequent, large-scale events
  7. Making the simple Gospel overly complicated and foggy.
  8. Relying on big events, elaborate worship, and professionally delivered sermons to transform people.
  9. Always wanting something new rather than seeking for something old
  10. Too much talk, not enough action (5 ways of studying the Bible each week but no outreach is happening) when that approach is not what Jesus modeled for us.

Just some observations. Take them for what they are worth.

10 Big Moves in Christianity Today

  1. The move from teaching scripture to actual discipleship (includes teaching scripture but goes further)
  2. The move from attractional (come to us) to missional (go to them)
  3. The move from institutional church toward organic/simple community
  4. The move from tradition back to scripture
  5. The move from youth ministry toward family ministry
  6. The move from debating doctrine toward preaching the larger narrative & social issues
  7. The move from segregation by age to intergenerational ministry
  8. The move from complementarianism to egalitarianism
  9. The move from isolation & insulation from the world to integration (the church being salt in a decaying world has to come into contact in order to have a preserving effect. When taking to an extreme this can turn into cultural accommodation)
  10. The move from distinct denominations (brand loyalty of the past) to a more unified view of Christianity (by erasing the lines that used to bind and divide us as people get less interested in fighting those old fights and defending denominational territory)

What would you add or take away? By the way, this post is meant to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, I don’t necessary agree with all that comes with every single move…just describing what I see going on out there, most of which is good.

Staying Relevant: Six Things to Keep In Mind

I once read that the reason the world is dissatisfied with church is because the church spends too much time answering questions that no one is asking. That one hit me between the eyes. We have to be relevant…no compromising on that one.It is important that the church understands its own relevance in the world. There are a few things that will help us understand and communicate relevantly to a lost and dying world and to Christians who are trying to grow in their relationship with God.

1 – Relevance requires discernment. We have to be able to distinguish minutia from core/foundational teaching. There is a place to discuss minutia, just not every time, all the time and to whoever shows up. There is a place to discuss core/foundational teachings from scripture…the vast majority of our time with those who are willing to listen. Core/foundational teachings are by default relevant…otherwise they wouldn’t be core teachings would they? Now, we can communicate those things terribly and make them appear irrelevant. It takes great effort to do that but I have seen that done and probably done it myself. In the same way, a good communicators can take minutia and present it in such a way that it appears relevant. All that to say…we have to be relevant. In order to do that our agenda must be set with things that are relevant to those who come and my belief is that there is nothing more relevant than teachings that are foundational to Christian faith.

2 – The world doesn’t set the agenda as to what is and is not relevant. One thing we have to remember is that the world will always be the world. The world does not set the agenda for the church. God does through Christ and scripture. So while we have to be relevant to the world (salt and light) we don’t have to set our agendas based on what the world wants to hear. Dead people don’t know the way to new life otherwise they wouldn’t be dead long. That means they don’t always know the right questions to ask. What they might think they need to hear (itching ears) will not always be what they need to hear. They might not know something is relevant to them when it is exactly what they need. That is why Paul said, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). So we cannot set our agenda based on what the world believes to be relevant.

3 – Relevance is countercultural. The truth is, what we most need to hear is not something we learn naturally. The way of Christ is not something that comes easily or lines up with the rest of the world around us. If we are just communicating things that soothe the world we are neglecting what is most relevant to them. We shouldn’t be countercultural to push envelopes and be edgy for the sake of being edgy. You can get a lot of attention and publicity that way. We have to be countercultural in areas where the world runs counter to God’s kingdom in order to reorient people to God’s way of doing things.

4 – New is not always relevant. One of the things that I drives us to discuss things that aren’t relevant is the search for something new. When you have been in church your whole life you pretty much guess you have heard it all. There is a drive for something new, something fresh…a new way of looking at the same old thing for the 5000th time. Preaching can feel like a burden to take something old and make it sound new or else pull some random story out of the bowels of scripture to shed new light on something (ever read the Prayer of Jabez?).

5 – Creative is not always relevant. That is why book and movie titles (and plots) are so terrible…if you have to come up with a new one after millions of good titles have already been taken, what do you do?  You get creative. The Gospel doesn’t need our help. It doesn’t need our creativity to bring life where there is death. Certainly good communication seems attractive and can be quite powerful in how we experience the message…but what is most important is not all the packaging, wrapping paper and bows. The most important thing is what is inside the package, the core truths that are transformative. Creativity can be a mask for lack of relevant and meaningful content.

6 – Relevance is counterintuitive. The things we most need to hear are often not what we want to hear and run counter to everything else we have ever been taught. That is why Jesus said if you want to save your life you have to lose it, if you humble yourself you will be exalted and just because you aren’t honored by the world doesn’t mean you aren’t invited in as a welcome member of the kingdom of God. If you are worldly you shake your head at these things and deny them. If you have a desire to follow Christ, these things are transforming.