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.


The First Century Church Wasn’t Trying to be the First Century Church

Last year at the Spiritual Growth Workshop in our Reaching the 20s & 30s class Eric Brown said this, “The New Testament church was not trying to be the New Testament Church. They were trying to be Jesus.” That hit me right between the eyes. Before we teach these things we have a pretty good idea of what each other are going to say and I had no idea Eric was going to shift my paradigm so quickly right there in the class like that. The Church of Christ has a tradition of trying to recreate the first century church. The thought is that since they were closer to Jesus and the apostles that they must have been exactly how the church is supposed to be (pay no mind to the occassional nature of the epistles and how basically all of them were written to address problems in these churches). If we come along and try to be something they weren’t even trying to be we miss the whole point. When we try to be Jesus, the church thing will happen. When we get caught up trying to imitate people who are trying to imitate someone else, we get one generation away from getting the point of the whole thing.

By the way, Eric’s point is biblical – Romans 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18

Scot McKnight Tackles “No Creed But the Bible”

Scot McKnight’s post No Creed But the Bible is of particular interest to those of us who have a background in the Restoration Movement. In this post, McKnight reviews Carl Trueman’s book The Creedal Imperative where Trueman sets out to show that approach really isn’t possible or helpful. McKnight draws the distinction that we all may not have written creeds but we all do have theologies through which we view things. McKnight does think creeds are helpful and necessary. In the Restoration movement, the common teaching and old popular slogan (author unknown) was “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine.” Now, I may be off on this one but my impression was that the early Restoration leaders were pushing back against a highly denominationalized Christianity where they felt creeds were actually taking the place of scripture in some instances. I doubt men like Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone would reject the theological content of The Apostles’ Creed


James McCarty’s Thoughts on Why Young People Are Leaving Churches of Christ

James McCarty wrote an interesting post on why young people are leaving Churches of Christ: Homeless: An Essay on the Ecclesial Lives of Young Adults from the Churches of Christ

James lays out 5 reasons he believes young people are leaving Churches of Christ and then ends the post with some words for those young people and some words for the churches who are losing them. His five reasons include:

  1. Rejecting the old claim that Churches of Christ are the only ones going to heaven.
  2. Rejection of legalism
  3. Dissatisfaction of the teaching and ministries of the church as too narrow/not relevant to them
  4. Rejection of the church aligning itself with the Republican party
  5. Desire for racial diversity in the church

Going beyond symptoms to the heart of the matter:
If you haven’t read James’ post you should. I think he makes some good points. These five things could be said of all kinds of different denominations. This is not a unique list for churches of Christ. I am not certain that his five points get to the heart of what is really happening here. I think this is more of a symptom checklist of some deeper issues that have to be uncovered if we are going to move forward. You could “fix” all five of his points and still have young people leaving the church.

Two Underlying Issues:
First, in almost all of the discussions I have heard on this problem we have framed the problem as young people leaving the church. When you are concerned about young people leaving the church the metric you use to assess their spiritual health is whether or not they return to attending on Sunday. The problem is, these guys attended church for 18-25 years and then left. First and foremost this is about bringing people to Christ. If you can do that the church part will naturally flow out of it but if all you are concerned about is church attendance then you are winning them to the wrong thing. I give Eric Brown credit for opening my eyes to that point. Eric and I talk about these things pretty frequently and I am very appreciative of his perspective on this.

The second underlying issue is how do we define church and is there is discrepancy between how the older and younger generations view and define church? That question has to be followed up with this question – How is “church” defined by scripture and how do both “sides” need to adjust to have a more biblical approach? Both generations will have some helpful points in defining church and both will have areas where they need to adjust their view to something that is more biblical as well as cognizant of people who are of another generation.

How we define church is a combination of our scripture and worldview. For example, the older generation has a love for teaching. Teaching is just as biblical as community. Teaching is a part of their DNA due to the combination of worldview and what they gravitate to in the practices of the early church. What I mean by that is this…the early church did many things that we can read about in the Bible. We are all reading the same Bible but different generations gravitate to different aspects or practices of the early church. Worldview influences the parts we pick and the parts we ignore or discard. The older generation has a modern worldview. They value information and grew up in doctrinal debates where they had to “study to show thyself approved.” They also value church attendance as a marker of the faithful. Church attendance for them is defined as being at the building at a particular time on Sunday. Nothing else counts (I am overgeneralizing here…I understand that). What ends up happening is “church” ends up being defined through two lenses: what we read about in the Bible (the culture of the first century church) and contemporary culture (influences the traditions we develop and the scriptures we emphasize as our reading of the Bible is filtered through what we already value/believe to be important).

Being the 21st century church
We all have to be aware of how our worldview/culture influences the way we view and define “church” and we all have to realize that our view can always be improved. At the same time, we can get so caught up trying to be the first century church that we fail to be the 21st century church. In other words, we get so caught up on the forms of how we do things and imitating them, that we fail to personally develop and embody the heart of Jesus in our communities today. Eric Brown said this really well at the Spiritual Growth Workshop this year when he said, “The first century church was not trying to be the first century church. The first century church was trying to be Jesus.”

There is more I would like to say about this but I am curious what you guys think so far.

Francis Chan and Churches of Christ/Restoration Movement Influence?

Many of you have probably heard that Francis Chan is going to keynote at the Tulsa Workshop in 2013. When Terry Rush broke the news back in April he mentioned Chan’s connection with Wes Woodell helped work out the speaking arrangement. I am really excited that all this is working out and I think that will be a big plus for Tulsa next year. I don’t know Francis Chan but I have heard and read a lot of what he has to say. What I really like about Francis Chan is that he says so many biblical things and so many challenging things…the best part is he is usually doing both at the same time. He doesn’t challenge you just to challenge you and isn’t biblical for the sake of just being biblical. He is trying to move people’s hearts closer to God. I admire that.

If you have listened to his preaching you have probably noticed that Francis Chan says things that of us who have grown up in Churches of Christ find really familiar. He is very plain about wanting scripture to shape and guide our faith, worship/ecclesiology, theology, and mission. He often makes the point that if we just read our Bibles from the most non-biased perspective possible is all of this (church world) what we would come up with? That is a question we all need to ask ourselves. When I hear him say things like that it all it reminds me of our own traditional hermeneutics in the Churches of Christ.

About a week ago I noticed Wes had tweeted something about having lunch with Francis Chan before moving from California so I asked Wes how familiar Chan was with the Restoration Movement. Wes said that Chan actually did attend a church with Restoration roots while in seminary in Los Angeles for 6 months. My first thought was that my intuition was correct…he surely has some Restoration Movement influence in some of the things I have heard him say. Honestly, as interesting as I find that connection is, who knows if that is the case. Maybe he was attracted to that based on some of his own prior theological leanings and interpretations. What is most important is not who inspired who but that Francis Chan is in love with Jesus Christ and is helping others gain a more biblical worldview through his preaching and teaching. That is a God thing that transcends the labels we often like to put on things. Praise God for that!

Watershed Moments: Pivotal Points in Church History by Mark Adams

Watershed Moments is a curriculum written by a good friend of mine, Mark Adams for 21st Century Christian about Church history from a Restoration perspective. Mark has really outdone himself on this book. It is extremely well written. It is also extremely brief to actually cover the 13 moments/people as thoroughly and as thoughtfully as he has. If you are looking for curriculum on church history that won’t bore your class to pieces give this a try.

Also, if you want a quick synopsis of important moments in Christian history pick this up as well because it would provide that for someone wanting an entry level work.

This book covers:

  1. Martyrs and Monks
  2. Early Christian councils
  3. Constantine/Augustine
  4. Patrick of Ireland and evangelizing the barbarians
  5. Islam and the Crusades
  6. Luther, Catholicism and Corruption
  7. Zwingli
  8. Calvin and predestination
  9. Rationalism, Spiritualism/Quakers, and Pietism
  10. Wesley, Edwards and the Great Awakening
  11. Stone/Campbell and the Restoration Movement (Cane Ridge & Springfield Presbytery)
  12. Thomas Campbell and the Declaration and Address
  13. Lipscomb – Divisions within the Restoration Movement (Disciples, Churches of Christ and Christian Church)

He actually weaves these moments in history and historical Christian figures together with skill. Each chapter ends with discussion questions that are very well thought out and contain more verses to consider. That makes the book good material for a discussion oriented Bible class or small group.

The only thing I can think of that would improve this book is application questions. Most of the questions were about principles and thinking through how we see these things today but little was geared toward actually making application or change based on the principles that were learned in the chapters.

Price – $3.75!
Supplemental Powerpoint presentation – $4.99