More Thoughts About the Church as a Body, not a Business

Here are some more thoughts about my recent post, Church is a Family, not a Business.

One reason it’s important to maintain this distinction, and to realize that we have – consciously or not – adopted the business mindset, is that it has serious ramifications for what we do.

A business has a mission. It needs to increase market share. It has employees, a product, and customers. If you run a church as business, you will inevitably think that you need to “sell” your product, which is _your church_, to your “customers”, who are the people who don’t go to your church.

I know it’s not expressed that way. We _say_ that we are spreading the gospel. But these things are always expressed in terms of attendance and giving, not conversions, and for all our innovations we haven’t increased the proportion of professing Christians in this country. We’re reshuffling the sheep, that’s all.

But what is the purpose of a _family_? A family exists basically to take care of itself. The family grows through marriage and children, and that is good and necessary, but growth is not the purpose. The family exists for the family.

The church is not a missions organization, nor is it a Bible study. It _does_ those things, but they are not its definition. Jesus could have used many illustrations to teach us what the church is. He could have described it as a machine, or a business, or a sports team, or an army. But He didn’t. We are a bride. A family. A body.

We put way too much emphasis on figuring out who the feet are and making sure they stay in the shoe, so we can go for a jog, rather than weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and loving and honoring one another.

Someone has complained that churches that are not run as corporations can be frustrating, and indeed they can. I’ve been frustrated before. Maybe some people do need to be quietly and privately spoken to about the reasons they oppose certain changes. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a good opportunity for us to learn to submit to one another. That saintly lady who has been running the nursery entirely unlike a daycare for years – well, maybe we submit and defer to her and avoid hurting her feelings by charging in with new ideas and new workers. Perhaps she deserves some more respect. I know she does. To this day, she won’t have anything to do with the nursery. Shame on us.

There is an elderly couple that sits behind us, usually, at church. Sunday before last I noticed that they only sang a couple of the songs. That was all they were familiar with. The youth was rocking and clapping and having a grand time. And the church members who ought to be the _most_ honored and respected, stood quietly. We’re all about yuppies and youth, and who cares about the old people. They’ll be dead soon anyway.

This is not the way we run our families. We honor our parents and grandparents. We are patient with one another. We defer to one another all the time. Why isn’t church that way?

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The Church is a Family, Not a Business

Aside from Matthew 5:13-16, I am hard pressed to think of many passages of scripture that have been more abused by the modern American church than 1 Corinthians 12.

That passage teaches us that the church functions as a body. We learn that the same Holy Spirit gives us different gifts, and that no gifts are to be denigrated or despised. “25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” _This_ is the point of the passage. It teaches us to care for one another.

But then we middle class Americans get ahold of this. Capitalism and industrialism are so ingrained in our minds that we don’t read the passage this way. Instead, we apply our values of ruthless efficiency and turn the body into a business. We read this passage and think “Aha! What we need to do is make sure each person is ‘plugged in’ where he or she belongs.” So we invent all sorts of ways of measuring our SHAPE, we interview and evaluate people, all in the interest of _efficiency_.

We don’t phrase it that way, of course. We describe it as “finding where you fit” or “serving where you are gifted”. We’re not striving for “efficiency”. No, we’re “trying to reach the lost”. It’s all about evangelism, doncha’ know.

I have some training and experience in interviewing and hiring. Of course, you are interested in finding the right person to do the job you have open. And you want to take into account things like his personality. You don’t want too many strong, aggressive people, or too many followers. You need a good balance there. And all that is well and good for a business, but it’s no way to run a family.

There was a TV series that my wife used to watch. On one episode, one of the main characters got amnesia and was trying to figure out how to fit back in with his family. At one point, his grandmother brought him his “favorite meal” and watched in delight as he ate the first few bites. After she left, he grimaced and turned to another relative. “Why did I eat this stuff?” The answer was, “Because Grandma made it for you and she thinks you love it.” This young man was willing to pretend to enjoy and appreciate a meal because Grandma made it for him. _That_ is how you run a family. That is how you treat a body. Lovingly, not efficiently.

Compare that with the business world. A minister was talking to me once and he said he was used to working in the business world where if you didn’t cut it, you were just fired. There were high standards and you were expected to meet them. If you don’t do your job well, you get disciplined and terminated. Maybe it’s a good way to run a business. But that’s not how you treat family.

The church is not a business, an organization, a team, or an army. We are not on a battleship. There are a couple of times that “athlete” and “soldier” are used to depict that _individual_ Christian, but never corporately. We are always described in _organic_ terms. Branches of a vine. Trees in an orchard. Sheep in a flock. Members of a body. Members of a family.

I grew going to small churches. I’m thinking of one in particular. The music minister couldn’t sing. His daughter played the piano, and did it well. We always sang the same twenty or thirty songs. An elderly lady ran the nursery. Same lady, every week. It could have been done better, but it was “her” nursery and we left it alone. We wanted to do some remodelling but couldn’t because Sister Susie and Sister Sarah put the plaster on those walls and textured it with their own fingers, and it would hurt their feelings if we tore it down. So we didn’t. One of the Sunday School teachers was a sweet foreign lady who didn’t even speak good English and had no discernable lessons. We could have replaced the sign with a nicer one, but Brother Joe donated the money for that sign before he died, and his family (who still went to the church) would be terribly upset if we did. So we didn’t. But on the flip side, Sister Susie played the piano on occasion. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except for her arthritis. She would play, knowing full well that it would give her a bad case of arthritis for a day or two and she’d be in terrible pain. Sister Sarah had diabetes, but that didn’t stop her from cooking food for the church suppers. She couldn’t eat it, but we did – and it was good.

Let me tell you, it was not efficient. There were two men, mentally retarded men, who came to our church. They stunk to high heaven. I mean, they stunk. One of them in particular. He did not bathe apparently. He got a pew all to himself. But he was there, and he was part of us. No, it was not efficient. But it was good.

How does that compare to the typical “church as business” you see today? Where the pastor thinks he’s a CEO and they use marketing to “reach” people. The churches that have long since abandoned the neighborhoods to relocate near the freeway. Where you audition for the choir and have to take “spiritual gifts tests” to determine where you “fit” based on your “SHAPE”. Where the nursery is run like a daycare, replete with formal looking “policies and procedures” given to parents and posted on the wall outside. Where you “fire” volunteers who just aren’t cutting it.

Churches that are run like businesses look good. They have brutally functional buildings. Big multipurpose rooms that can go from “sanctuary” to “gymnasium” in 10 minutes. The “worship team” puts on an excellent show. You’re neatly organized and packaged and deposited in your assigned cell group. They’ll take care of ministering to you. The human resources department church has a folder on you full of your transcript spiritual gift test results, your resume ministry experiences, etc. They do an excellent job matching you with an opening. The programs and services of the church have been professionally tweaked to match the interests and needs of the customers targeted people groups. The church’s professionally designed logo and slogan are stamped everywhere. It hums with all the efficiency of a well oiled machine.

And as Church Inc rolls forward, swelling the rolls and the coffers, you might just turn around for a second to see what it left behind. You might just find a smelly retarded man, a piano player with arthritis, a song leader who can’t sing, and a dear lady who used to run a nursery. There is no place for them in this business. You’ll find them in an inefficiently designed brick building in the middle of a lower class neighborhood, miles from the freeway. Tell them I miss them.

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Losing My Religion

If I were to get in a time machine and go back, say, 10 years and meet myself, my 20 year old self would not like me very much. Ten years ago I was a premillenial dispensationalist and an Arminian to boot. I was caught up in the “wretched urgency” of evangelism and did not value the church highly enough. I probably would have liked seeker sensitive churches (cf Romans 3:11) and certainly enjoyed praise and worship choruses. Today I am, to a greater or lesser extent, very different.

I thought it would be interesting to sort of chronicle what happened. I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about it that much. But I see that I am starting to diverge theologically more and more from established evangelicalism, and particularly from my own church.

I was raised in typical small Southern Baptist churches. I went to Sunday School, Children’s Church for a while, and of course in the youth group. I sat with the other teenagers in church. On Sunday nights the congregation (all hundred of us) were allowed to request certain hymns, and I always got a kick out of requesting newer music.

When I got to college, I was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ and BSF. I was discipled by another guy in college. I handed out Four Spiritual Laws tracts. I walked up and down the beach over spring break witnessing to strangers. I had awesome spiritual emotional experiences that stayed with me almost ten whole minutes after the meetings or conferences were over.

After I graduated and got married, we joined another small Southern Baptist church in the area. I was on committees. I opposed spending money on lots of things because, after all, we could use that money for _missions_. I taught a class on the Baptist Faith and Message. I was involved in church politics.

The first thing to go was my Arminianism. In college – while walking along the beach handing our Four Spiritual Laws tracts – I remember talking with one of the CCC staff guys. We were discussing Total Depravity. At the time, I was an Arminian, and thoroughly ignorant. He presented me with some scriptures that clearly taught Total Depravity, and I believed them. There wasn’t much else I could do.

Some time later, I was debating with some Campbellites in an online discussion forum. They were winning, because all they were doing is taking Arminianism to its logical conclusions. I knew they were wrong, but I couldn’t find the chinks in their case. All I could see is that the results were logically sound, but inconsistent with Scripture.

Over a few weeks, I came to see that I was losing and being forced into Scripturally inconsistent positions, because I had started from wrong premises. The premises were not supported by scripture, so the conclusions couldn’t be, either. I realized that the only consistent way of understanding the Bible in matters of salvation was to be a Calvinist. That one was hard. But soon I saw that God _didn’t_ wait on my to “allow” Him to save me. He regenerated me, so I repented and turned to Him according to my new nature. It took some time for that one to really sink in. One might argue that it still hasn’t sunk in.

Closely following on the heels of that was an awful church split. The pastor preached on Hebrews 13:17 and was asserting authority that the Bible gives him, to lead the church in a direction that it should go on one issue, and a direction that it shouldn’t go on another issue. It was really just a power struggle, but it brought up the question of church governance. A friend and I started working through the relevant passages of scripture, and I quickly became convinced that the Biblical pattern is for a church to be led by a plurality of elders. This did not go well in a Baptist church.

After the church split, I found myself without a church home. I searched and searched. I didn’t have a lot of criteria, but I did have some. I visited the closest thing this county has to a seeker sensitive church. I visited fundamentalist Baptist churches in the area. I visited lots of Southern Baptist churches.

Finally, a Christian man at work told me about a new church in the area. The catch was, it was a _Bible_ church, not a _Baptist_ church. That was a real hangup for me, because I had always been a Baptist. It seems silly right now, but that was a big part of my identity. When I had exhausted the possibilities of staying in a Baptist church, I finally gave in and visited this Bible church.

After visiting for a few weeks, I felt like it was a real possibility. I largely agreed with the theology. It had all the energy and excitement of a new work. It was elder-led. It had “small groups”. The preaching was informative and challenging. So I visited with one of the elders and went through dozens of questions with him. We joined this church.

I’ve always tried to take seriously the parts of the Bible that tell us a man has the responsibility for leading his family. I realized that there was more to it than “be really extra nice to your wife” but it was hard to find good teaching. So I joined an email list that I thought would be encouraging. I got a lot more than I expected, much of it good. This was my first real exposure to godly men who didn’t hold to the theology I had grown up with. Most of them were Presbyterians. Gasp! The horror! Baby baptizers! Not only that, they didn’t even believe in the Rapture!

And yet, they seemed so _normal_. Growing up with such ignorance of the rest of the church, I honestly thought that people who baptized babies or didn’t believe in dispensational premillenialism simply didn’t take the Bible seriously. And here these men were, who took the Bible far more seriously than me.

Hopefully, I was wise and humble enough to mostly ask questions. I didn’t try to set them straight. At least, not usually. But I became aware that there were plenty of other ways of understanding these issues that were honoring to God and treated the Bible very reverently. My exposure to reformed Christians in the blogosphere also helped somewhat with this, though not as much.

Getting very close to the present, I started to study and try to understand this theology. I got a couple of those “Four Views of This” and “Five Views of That” books. I was very disturbed to see just how _reasonable_ most of the non-dispensational views were, and in comparison how weak dispensationalism seemed.

I’d always had a “funny feeling” with the typical premillenial dispensational eschatology. It seemed very odd to pull a few passages from Daniel and Ezekiel, with a few New Testament passages, to come up with this complicated scheme. I felt (and I mean _felt_, not _thought_) that it ought to be a bit plainer than all that. And I was never too cool with the antinomian understanding of grace vs law. It seemed awfully plain to me that all the OT saints were saved just as we are – by grace through faith, even though that faith was not always very clear and the manifestation of it has changed through time. So I was almost _relieved_ as well as being disturbed.

Another stream of this has been my long interest in simple living. I think this mostly comes from my grandma. But it has made me open to and interested in a certain way of living. I’m miserably failing at leading a quiet life (1 Thess 4:11) but it remains a goal.

Somewhere in there, I heard of a man named RC Sproul, Jr. I knew of RC Sproul Sr, so I knew this man was probably sound theologically. And he was committed to helping Christians learn to lead simple, separate, and deliberate lives. At least three streams converged here. I was growing more interested in Reformed theology. I was interested in a life of simplicity. And I knew that we were to be separate from the world. Here was a man teaching about all three. I emailed him a couple of times, and bought some books and tapes.

I also found a pretty decent set of blogs that were like me. They were homeschoolers. I don’t recall when I decided to homeschool, but it was within the last 4 years. They were generally Reformed, family oriented, separate, and lived simple and deliberate lives. I found a fair amount of material online to help me understand this vision of how Christians ought to live.

And something that kind of solidified my decision to start walking down this path was a discipleship group where we read through Ecclesiastes. I was reading passages like Ecc 5:18-20 and it struck me that this was not at all in line with what I had learned in church. It’s a slow, calm, full, joyful life, full of very material pleasures. Oops, I guess I was a Gnostic.

Right now I am trying to understand and sort out dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, covenant theology, and even new covenant theology. All of which makes my head swirl. As does eschatology. I think I am leaning covenant theology and postmillenial, but I am so dizzy I can’t tell.

I am also starting to value the church more highly. I mean the corporate worship service, not the programs. I am leaning towards more liturgical worship, because my understanding of worship is starting to encompass much more than three songs and a lecture. I am trying to value the legacy of faith that we received from those who have gone before.

I’m trying to understand what a Christian life ought to look like. I’m losing my Gnostic religion. I’m losing my “busyness is godliness” religion. I’m understanding godly living and Christian service to be in the small things. I don’t have to light a fire and start a ministry that will change the world. If I pursue a close walk with God, lead my family, look to my wife’s sanctification, raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, work diligently and enjoy the work itself as well as the fruit of my labor, spend time with a very few good friends, go to worship regularly at my church, serve a little bit at my church (e.g., by teaching theology), take care of my extended family and my church family, I’m full. There’s not a lot of time to do much else. And that’s OK. No, it’s more than OK. It’s good.

Robert from 10 years ago might not like the Robert of today, but that’s his loss.

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Appeal to Consequences is no way to Rightly Handle the Bible

The most common arguments I get against Calvinism have precious little to do with Scripture. People very rarely say “so, what do you make of this verse here?” It happens sometime, but it is not that common.

Instead, I get frequent appeals to consequences. This is an argument of the form “If X is true, then Y would follow. I don’t like Y, so X must not be true”.

There is a valid form of argument that goes “If X, then Y. Not Y, so not X.” This assumes that Y has some truth value. It’s a proposition that can be evaluated as true or false.

In an appeal to consequences, Y does not have a truth value. It’s not measured as true or false.

For instance, yesterday people complained that a belief in unconditional election and God’s sovereignty leads to fatalism and a loss of urgency in evangelism. They are wrong in those assertions, but the argument was also wrong.

As Biblical absolutists, we must believe the Bible. We cannot have any problems, objections, or embarrassment about what the Bible says. Once we understand what it says, we must be willing to obey it, regardless of the consequences.

So, if the Bible does teach God’s sovereignty, then we must believe it whether or not it makes us fatalists. If the Bible teaches us election, we must believe it, even if it takes away some sense of urgency in evangelism. Now, in my opinion, it _does_ take away that “wretched urgency” and that’s a _good_ thing. But it doesn’t matter. We must believe the Bible.

I get the same arguments when I advocate separation from the world (2 Cor 6:14-18). I’ve rarely had anyone respond to the passages I quote or the commentaries and preachers I refer to as having taught this very same thing. Sometimes I get an arrogant dismissal of them, “They are missing the whole point of Christianity!” But I almost never get someone to actually respond.

Instead, I get an appeal to consequences. “No, if we were to separate from the world, then how could we possibly _reach_ the world? Don’t you know that salt in the shaker is useless?”

The assertion that Christians are called to reach the world is absolutely true, and utterly relevant to the larger discussion of how we relate to the world. But it is completely useless as an argument against separation. If the Bible teaches separation, we must “come out from among them, and be ye separate”.

The better way to handle the Bible is to realize that the Bible teaches election and God’s sovereignty. The Bible also teaches man’s responsibility and the necessity of evangelism. We then see that God’s sovereignty does _not_ lead to fatalism or laziness in evangelism. But we were able to do this without trampling all over the Bible.

Similarly, the Bible teaches Christians to be separate from the world. It also teaches us that it is impractical and undesirable to _leave_ the world, and that we are to go into the world to build the kingdom. The right way to handle this is to not compromise any of those teachings, but to understand them in light of one another. It’s not a question of “How can I reach the world if I am separated from the world?” The question is, “How can I reach the world _while_ I am separated from it.” And then you realize that, just as a city on a hill is visible by virtue of not being in a valley, we are visible to and reach the world _because_ we are separated from it.

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God’s Sovereignty Over Pharaoh

One of the clearest examples of God acting sovereignly and freely is in His bringing Israel out of Egypt. God was very clear that His plan was to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that God could glorify Himself by visiting judgment on the Egyptians.

Just before God initiated the ten plagues, He sent Moses again to Pharaoh. He told Moses “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:3-5)

God announced His plan to Moses: God would harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that God would have an opportunity to “multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt” and “lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring fort … the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments”. The result would be God’s glory: “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD”.

Of course, God did not have to drag Pharaoh, kicking and screaming, into disobedience. We are all by nature children of wrath, we are all naturally enemies of God. Pharaoh was in rebellion against God, as are all unregenerate men. So in some senses it’s true that God didn’t so much harden Pharaoh’s heart as He let Pharaoh’s heart go its own naturally hard way. It’s also true that for the first few plagues the Bible says “Pharaoh hardened his heart” and not until the last few plagues does it say “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”. These are valid points. But they are utterly irrelevant. God announced His plan from the beginning – He would harden Pharaoh’s heart for the express purpose of sending the plagues on Egypt. Whatever mechanism He might have used, God was clear about His plan and His motives, and openly acknowledged His role as the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

In fact, God says that He raised Pharaoh up for precisely this purpose. He wanted to smite the Egyptians and glorify Himself by delivering Israel. “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses. And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:12-16, emphasis added) And again, in Exodus 10:1-2 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him: And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the LORD.”

God has no qualms about exercising His sovereignty over Pharaoh. He raised up and preserved Egypt so He could smite Egypt. God got more glory because He delivered Israel from Egypt, a powerful nation. He hardened Pharaoh so that He could perform signs and wonders to demonstrate that He is God alone.

Moses could have gone in and negotiated with Pharaoh. Pharaoh was afraid of the Israelites anyway. Maybe they could have worked out a deal. And then, Moses would get all the glory as a skillful politician.

What if Pharaoh had let the Israelites go after just a few plagues? Several of the first few plagues can be attributed to natural causes. At that point it would appear that Pharaoh was just superstitious and the Israelites were fortunate that a series of bizarre, but utterly natural, events happened and Pharaoh interpreted it as a divine message. Would God get all that much glory if Israel was delivered due to a bunch of frogs?

We see in Exodus 10:20, 10:27, and 11:9-10 that the Bible clearly states “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart”. It’s true that this follows several statements that “Pharaoh hardened his heart”, but this does not detract from the teachings about God’s sovereignty. We know that God always intended to harden Pharaoh’s heart. He said so from the very beginning of the story. Even if you want to say that God didn’t harden Pharaoh’s heart until Pharaoh had hardened his heart repeatedly, God still hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Saying that God gave Pharaoh a few chances first, does not strengthen the case against God’s sovereignty. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

God continually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and send harsher and harsher plagues, until He gloriously delivered Israel by slaughtering the firstborn of each house of Israel. Little babies died that night, who had done nothing good or bad. And that was God’s plan all along. This is the God we serve.

But there’s more. After Israel left, God spoke to Moses again. “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so.” (Exodus 14:1-4). God comes to Moses and says, “Hey, pretend that you are lost. Watch what I do this time!”

Israel had already been delivered. If that was God’s only goal, it was accomplished. But that was not His goal. His goal was to glorify Himself. “I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD”. That is what God is concerned with – His glory. He is glorified in redeeming us, and He was glorified in delivering Israel. But He is also glorified in condemning some, just as He was glorified in killing the Egyptians in the sea.

Pharaoh heard that the Israelites appeared to be lost, and – just as God intended – he pursued them. “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel” (Exodus 14:8). Again, this was God’s plan and He caused Pharaoh to pursue Israel. He said that it was His plan, and the Bible explicitly credits Him with Pharaoh’s heart again being hardened.

Now you’d think, wouldn’t you, that when the Egyptians chased Israel, at some point they would give up? For starters, there was the whole pillar of cloud and fire. That would certainly intimidate me. And then, when God parted the sea and “the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left” (Exodus 14:22) – wouldn’t you think even the boldest Egyptian would turn back?

Well, they probably would have. Except God hardened their hearts again and made them do something truly insane. “I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. ” (Exodus 14:17).

God’s plan was to get glory for Himself. Even 40 years later, Rahab told the Israelite spies that the Canaanites were terrified because they knew what God had done to Egypt (Joshua 1:8-11). He was glorified by delivering Israel, but He was not content to simply deliver Israel. He did it in such a way that brought Him great glory. This involved excercising sovereignty, particularly over Pharaoh, to give God the opportunity to punish Egypt.

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Sometimes Technology Keeps us from Beauty

I read a story the other day that Florida is having a tiny baby boom right now. It’s been traced directly to the hurricanes they had last year. One couple said that they were stuck at home with no power, and one thing led to another, and …

Now let’s think about that for a moment. A man and his wife made love _because the power was out_. What would they have done if the power had not been out? I don’t know, but I suspect they would have stayed up late doing housework, watching TV, playing on the computer, etc. Who knows if they would even have gotten in bed at the same time, or if one of them would have stayed up watching the Late Show? Or maybe they would have been so tired that they just fell asleep without any romance or intimacy. The lack of electricity kept them from those distractions, and something wonderful (both that night, and the resulting baby) came about instead.

I wonder how often ostensibly good things – like electricity – keeps us from enjoying the best things in life? How many more couples would be spending time in one another’s arms if not for TV, computers, and electric lights that take up their evenings?

The highway closest to my house has been closed for a few months for repairs. I could drive over to the next one, which is brand new, but that takes me several miles in the wrong direction to get to work. Plus, my clunky old car can barely keep up with the 70 mph speed limit, and my broken speedometer keeps me wondering anyway.

So instead of taking the new highway, I take some backroads and get to a little farm-to-market road that parallels the highways and comes in further south, closer to my work. It might add 5 minutes to my drive. The biggest problem is that I keep almost running off the road because the view is so nice. I’ll take pictures one of these days so you can see.

If I take a slightly longer route, I can add another 5 or 10 minutes to my drive, but I go by Willowood Ranch.

Willowood is relatively new, but that beautiful farm-to-market road isn’t. I never went that way before. Because after all, the highway was right there. Until the highway was closed, I never even knew of this way to get to work.

I am ashamed of the next example. When I was young, my parents almost never ran the air conditioner. Only if the nights were 80+ for more than 2 or 3 nights. We might have air conditioning a week or two per year, that was it. Otherwise, we opened all the windows, and started the box fans and ceiling fans going. I fell asleep most nights listening to the crickets and locusts. Sometimes I was literally woke up by a rooster crowing.

Yuppies that we are, my wife and I do not leave the windows open at night. This is partially for safety, but mostly because we are yuppies.

The other day, we had the windows open as I was putting the older 2 boys to bed. The crickets were chirping up a storm. My oldest asked me “Daddy, what is that noise?” _He didn’t recognize the sound crickets make_. Because we close the windows.

How many good things do we miss because we turn on the lights, we close the windows, we run the air conditioner?

I wonder, how often does God send a cool, refreshing breeze, which we miss, because we are inside with the windows closed and the a/c running? How much pleasure do we miss because our environment is regulated at precisely 76 degrees? How many wonderful times with friends have we missed, because we send them email or chat on the phone? What interactions with our neighbors do we miss because we are inside, or driving to and fro? How many times do we miss some little mom-and-pop restaurant because we drive through at McDonald’s?

I’m not suggesting that these forms of technology are entirely without merit. Electricity is good. Electronic devices are generally good. I’m a computer programmer, after all. Central heat and air is good. Highways are essential. It’s good to be able to stay in contact with others through the web, through email, and through phone calls. But they come with a cost, and we need to be aware of that cost.

As for me, even when the highway is reopened, I’m still taking the farm to market road.

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God is Sovereign Over Creation

There are two main points that both demonstrate the “Calvinist” view of soteriology is correct. First, God is absolutely sovereign over all creation. God has ordained the future, which must include one’s salvation or condemnation. Second, man is so depraved and helpless that aside from God’s regeneration, we would be entirely unable to believe and repent. Either of these points alone will demonstrate that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

We will start with the sovereignty of God. This is a long topic so it will likely run several posts.

Before we get started, is is essential to remember that this is the God who died for us. He loves us. I rely on Isaiah 40-45 a lot in here. Chapter 40 starts out with a proclamation of peace and comfort! God’s sovereignty is both scary and comforting. We must come to grips with the sovereignty of God, but we must not consider His sovereignty apart from His other attributes – mercy, grace, holiness, wrath, or justice.

There are two main points about the sovereignty of God that I want to make. The first is to understand that God is free to do as He pleases. He is not constrained by anything other than Himself. The second point is that God actually exercises this freedom by ruling over His creation. Everyone seems OK with the idea that God has the _right_ to rule, but they balk at the idea that He actually exercises this authority. Scripture shows us that He does.

Maybe it’s because I’m a programmer, but when I think of God being “in control” I usually think about someone moving chess pieces, or operating a machine, programming a computer, controlling a robot, etc. But this is not the language of the Bible. God is not a puppeteer. He is a King ruling over His subjects.

Starting out generally, *God does as He pleases in Heaven and on Earth*. God is actively involved in ruling His creation.

Psalm 115:3 “our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” Unlike the heathen gods, our God reigns from Heaven and acts as He sees fit.

Psalm 135:6 “Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” Notice that He does what He pleases in heaven _and_ in earth. We should not get the idea that God is ruling in Heaven, and the angels obey Him, but somehow He can’t rule over us. We can disobey His law, but He does as He pleases on the earth.

Daniel 4:35 “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”

This verse starts by teaching us that God has absolutely no respect for us. We are reputed as _nothing_ before Him. Isaiah 40:12-17 teaches us that the nations are just a speck of dust on the scales, a drop of water in a bucket. He regards us as less than nothing, as meaningless. Isaiah 40:21-26 calls us grasshoppers.

Now remember, this is the God who died for us! When the Bible says He regards us as meaningless, the best way to understand this is that He does not regard our strength, will, etc. We cannot stand up to Him. He is a loving Father to the elect, but we are nothing before our Father and our King.

It’s one thing for God to be ruling in some general, impersonal, indirect way. But it’s not general, impersonal, and direct. *God directs our daily lives despite our plans*. He deals with us in specifics, personally, and directly.

Proverbs 16:9 “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”
Proverbs 20:24 “Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?”

We do make plans, but God directs our steps. Haven’t you ever been amazed how God has led you, completely without you realizing it at the time, to some place of blessing and sanctification? You look back on all the circumstances and the decisions you thought you were making and you realize that God was leading you here all along. I know I have. You didn’t know where you were going. You had devised your way. But God was directing your steps. He is sovereign over our daily lives. (See also Psalm 139:16).

We can observe God’s direct, personal, specific rule over our lives at an aggregate level, too. A democracy might think it’s all about “we the people”, but the Bible says *God is sovereign over civil government*.

Daniel 4:17 “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men”.

Do you think God is nervous every 4 years as the election results come in? You think He’s counting electoral college votes? No? Why not?

The Bible says that God gives rule to “whomsoever he will”. Now, what happened to our free will in voting? We don’t believe God is magically changing ballots or sending His angels to stuff ballot boxes or fool with hanging chads.

He sets up rule in this kingdom, anyway, _by ruling over voters_. The election results – which are apparently dependent on millions of indpendent actions by “free moral agents” – are under God’s control. *God rules over the supposedly free will of men* to carry out His plans.

God rules over us even down to our daily lives. He regards us as grasshoppers, as less than nothing. He rules over our “free will”. We don’t get no respect. I don’t know what happened to our self-esteem and dignity, but He doesn’t seems to be too concerned about it! *God has the right to rule over us because He is God. We have no right to question Him*.

Daniel 4:35 “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”

Not only does God not give us any respect in terms of our strength, our will, or our plans. He also doesn’t take questions. Not only can we not stop Him, we can’t question Him. Job tried, and you see how well it worked out for him!

Romans 9:20 “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”

Isaiah 45:9 Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?

In Daniel 4:35, we saw that we can’t question God simply because He is powerful and we are not. Isaiah and Paul in Romans go further. It’s utterly inappropriate to question God. We must realize that not only is He strong, _He is our Maker_. He formed us. He has the right to do with us as He sees fit. *His position as Creator gives Him the right to rule*. Our position as the Creation gives us our place as the ruled.

(See also Isaiah 40:12-17, 21-26. Or chapters 40-45 of Isaiah, for a general discussion of God’s sovereignty.)

Because He is the King, and is powerful, and is the Creator, and because we are powerless creatures, *God’s purposes cannot be thwarted*.

Isaiah 43:13 “Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?” (or, who can reverse it?) God is God. He is from eternity. He is powerful. He acts and none can reverse it.

Isaiah 46:9-11 “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.”

Sovereignty is an important part of what it even means to be God. There is none like Him. In what way? In that God, and no one else, declares “the end from the beginning” and asserting “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure”. This is part of what it means to be God. He is sovereign. He rules His creation and brings about His purposes.

This passage alone ought to do away with any system of theology that elevates anyone’s will or implies that God takes risks. He declares the end from the beginning. If He has declared it, if He has established His purposes, then how could we thwart that?

Lest we somehow get too comfortable with the idea of God’s sovereignty, or think of Him as a kindly omnipotent grandpa – like an all powerful genie who does good things for us because He can see better than we can – God makes a quite disturbing statement. *God is sovereign over good things and bad things*.

Isaiah 45:6-7 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

God is not sovereign over just the light. His will and his rule do not stop at “peace”. He creates evil. He causes calamity. He is unashamed – “I the LORD do _all_ these things.”

Remember that tsunami that killed all those unsuspecting people? *God did that.*

Jesus Himself said that God caused a man to be born blind just so Jesus could work a miracle. (John 9). Where was that man’s freedom? This does not sound like the gentlemanly God that Arminianism teaches.

God is sovereign. His rule is not theoretical. He actually rules. It is not general or impersonal either. He rules specifically. He rules over our daily lives. He orders our steps. He is not concerned with our rights; we are nothing before Him. He creates good and evil, sends blessings and calamities. We can’t stop Him, and do not have the right to question Him either.

Next, we will look at some Biblical examples when God makes His sovereign rule obvious – cases like Pharaoh, Job, etc.

Then, we will consider some of the motivations behind God’s actions. We know He does all things after the counsel of His own will, but sometimes He has told us what motivates Him.

Then, I will discuss other things that are true. We must keep these truths in context. God is sovereign, but we do still make choices. We’ll talk about how we still have something like “free will” even though God is sovereign.

I will also discuss how our worldview and our culture militate against the idea of God’s sovereignty, and finally I will draw a few points of application.

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Thoreau was Right About the News

Thoreau wrote in Walden

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say. As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey.

I have only very recently begun to understand how right Thoreau was. I used to tease my wife over her ignorance of current events. She protested that they were unimportant; I simply couldn’t fathom how she could have that opinion.

I almost never watch TV anymore, but the other day I needed to watch the local evening news for some reason. I hadn’t watched the news in a long time. There’s little reason, since I have broadband internet access at home and at work. I can get dozens of headlines in a matter of minutes.

I was amazed at how fast the news was delivered. Any story was reduced to a 30 or 60 second blurb, one following the other as fast as possible. The content of the story didn’t matter – it got 30-60 seconds and that was it. The important stories, the tragic, and the banal were all mixed together. They didn’t even really bother to stop and look sad when talking about the tragic stories. I was actually glad when the weather came around because at least it was a few minutes spent talking, in some depth, about one thing.

I was also disgusted at the content of the news. A little girl in Fort Worth rode her bicycle out in front of a car being driven by an under-age teen, or something along those lines, and she was killed. The big story was that the teenager wasn’t going to be charged since the accident wasn’t his fault. All this with video clips of the grieving family. That’s just disgusting. Let these poor people grieve privately. There is no good reason for me to have watched that. Especially not considering how it was treated – a 60 second clip between two banal pieces.

That’s kind of made me realize how utterly worthless the news I get from Drudge, Fox, CNS, CNN, and ABC is, all coming in over the web.

For instance, here are the headlines right now from Drudge:

# Paula Abdul may be dropped from “American Idol”.
# Lynndie England will plead guilty.
# MSNBC might be changing its name.
# The “runaway bride” from a few days ago might be charged criminally. Sean Hannity will interview her fiance tonight at 9.
# A monster burrito threw a school into a panic because someone saw it wrapped up and was concerned it might be a weapon.
# Linkin Park (I guess that’s a musician?) is demanding to be released from (his? her? their?) contract with Warner.
# Lobbyists paid for trips for a Congressman.
# Interest rates are moving up.
# North Korea fired a missle into the Sea of Japan
# Tony Blair wants to improve UK’s nukes
# California wants to ban pet cloning
# Paris Hilton wants to be taken seriously
# A German/Jewish comedy has won an award
# Laura Bush is not quite the gentlelady we thought
# Italian media releases the details of some deaths in Iraq
# Iraq’s oil production is down
# A boy’s cell phone exploded in his pocket and burned him
# The Vatican is still against sodomite “marriage”
# Republicans still think PBS is liberal and are pressuring PBS to change

Ummm…. woop-de-do. The headlines that are even vaguely important are the one about interest rates, and the one about North Korea. Maybe the two about Iraq and the one about PBS.

My biggest realization is not that many of these stories are unimportant. In fact, many of them _are_ important – but only as parts of a whole. If cell phone batteries are even a little bit likely to explode, we need to know about that. But we _don’t_ need to know about the 10 year old boy whose cell phone exploded. It’s simply not important to me. I am glad he’s OK and I hope there are no scars or other damage, but it’s really not headline news.

The Lynndie England story is important, but only as part of the larger Abu Ghraib story – or maybe that is only important as part of the larger Iraq story. In any case, I don’t care if she pleads guilty or not.

The burrito story is funny, but hardly newsworthy.

Anything with Paris Hilton’s name is not news.

Drudge may be an easy target, but a quick glance at Fox, CNN, and ABC reveal that they are not a whole lot better.

I think it would be far better for us to say fewer things, but think and say more about them. Time is a good filter. If nobody will care next week, it’s pretty much unimportant. The things that are still important next week, next month, next year, are worth more than a 60 second blurb or a 10 paragraph story.

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Why Bother with Calvinism?

I have written previously about the fallacy of focusing only on so-called “practical theology”. But it might be helpful to discuss why I think theology in general, and Calvinism in particular, is important enough to teach.

It is hard to teach people. There’s a lot of work. Teaching theology is particularly hard. Because the doctrines of grace (aka Calvinism) are controversial and complicated, it’s a particularly challenging topic. So why bother?

Not everything that is true is worth studying or knowing. Some specific studies are important to only certain fields, and I wonder if some knowledge is important at all. You would quickly get bored if I discussed good string parsing techniques or efficient sorting algorithms. But I’m a programmer, and I care about those things.

So how do we decide what knowledge is valuable? We value knowledge that impacts people we care about, or pertains to those we care about. That is why we know (and share!) the most trivial details of our children’s lives, but do not know who the Prime Minister of Canada is. Certainly, in an absolute sense, the identity of the Prime Minister of Canada is much more important than how many teeth my youngest son currently has. But guess which one I know?

That’s the reason we should care about theology. Theology is the study of the revelation of God. If we love God, we should value His self-revelation. We should value theology. When someone dismisses theology in favor of “practical” information, he is implicitly indicating that he cares more about his own “daily Christian walk” – i.e., himself – than about what God has revealed of Himself.

But not all theology has the same priority in our studies. Why am I teaching about Calvinism and not discussing questions about speaking in tongues? Arguing about modes of baptism?

Calvinism is essentially the gospel. It tells me about God, myself, and the severance, restoration, and future of our relationship. It teaches me that God is the sovereign King of creation. It teaches me about the incredible extent God had to go to in order to reconcile me to Him. It teaches me that I was so hostile to Him that He had to all the work. It teaches me just what Jesus was accomplishing on the cross. It gives me God’s expectations and assurance of my future with Him. Spurgeon was right when he proclaimed that Calvinism is just a nickname for the Gospel.

Calvinism also impacts many other issues of faith and practice. It affects how I approach evangelism. It affects my assurance of salvation. It gives me comfort in the midst of apparent chaos and tragedy.

As I discuss Calvinism in more detail, I will periodically make explicit the distinctions between Calvinism and other soteriological views as they impact matters of faith and practice. I want to demonstrate that Calvinism is true, and that it is one of the most beautiful and cherished doctrines.

Calvinism is sometimes mischaracterized as cold, harsh, or offensive, but I believe it is precisely the opposite. Calvinism proclaims God as a sovereign King, a loving Father of His elect who loves us enough to protect and save us from ourselves, a passionate Savior who fought for us and won a total victory. Arminianism forces God back to a “gentlemanly” distance, essentially helpless, able to do nothing but provide the potential for our salvation and whisper encouragement, leaving us alone in our helplessness.

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It’s Hard to Teach Calvinism to Arminians

My “Intro to Calvinism” class is off to a pretty good start. There are 9 students (counting my wife, but not our baby!). At least 5 of them are Arminians, so we get some good discussions. One of them is also a lawyer so we’ll see how that goes. :-)

I’m not sticking with “TULIP” exactly. I started with a discussion of why theology is important, what it means to “do theology”, and why Calvinism is a particularly important set of doctrines.

The order of topics I’m covering is:
1. The Sovereignty of God in a general sense.
2. Total Depravity
3. The Holiness of God
4. Regeneration
5. Unconditional Election
6. Limited Atonement / Particular Redemption (I am barely hitting this at all)
7. Irresistible Grace
8. Perseverance of the Saints

Our discussion on the Sovereignty of God is more accurately Providence, but the conversations have focused on spiritual issues. Is God responsible for sin? Is it fair for God to punish us for sin that He ordained? Do we make real spiritual choices? Why bother praying?

I am not taking Paul’s approach in Romans 9:20 in answering these questions, because these seem to be very real questions. It speaks highly of the people taking this class that they would come listen to me teach Calvinism when they don’t believe it. I’ve been very encouraged by that.

Calvinism is more specifically concerned with the sovereignty of God _in salvation_ rather than _in general_, but it’s important to understand that God does freely rule over His creation.

One of the biggest points I’m trying to make is that you cannot separate God’s sovereignty from the rest of His character and His purposes. It was His sovereignty that sent His Son to the cross, and it is His sovereignty that redeemed me. But His sovereignty also passes over others. He loved Jacob, but hated Esau. This isn’t Saddam Hussein we’re talking about – it is the God who died for us. This doesn’t _minimize_ His sovereingty or even really soften it, but it helps us remember just Who is sovereign.

I’ve spent two full 45 minute classes talking about this, and will have to wrap it up and move on quickly in next Sunday’s class. Hopefully by the end everything will start to “click”. After class last Sunday, one of the guys said that I was “very brave for being willing to teach this”.

When I teach on Total Depravity, I hope it will be logically clear that man _cannot_ come to God unless God regenerates him, and after God regenerates a man, that man will absolutely come to God. If you accept Total Depravity, the rest flows logically.

I do not think the elders of our church will take a strong position for Limited Atonement, so I am not going to teach much about it. Five minutes ought to cover it. Briefly, as I understand it, it speaks to the _intent_ and not the _extent_ of Christ’s suffering and death. It’s not as though God summed up all the punishment that the elect deserved, did some math, and decided how long Jesus had to suffer. God wasn’t running a stopwatch in Heaven while Jesus hung on the cross. If the number of elect was 1/10th or 10X what it is, Christ wouldn’t have suffered more or less. It’s not that there simply isn’t enough grace to cover any more sinners. Instead, Jesus was _actually_ providing for the salvation of the elect. That was His purpose – to save His sheep. (I wouldn’t bother teaching on this at all, except that I’ve gotten some questions about it already.)

We’ll see how it goes. I think I’d have more students, except that someone else is teaching a class on “Science and the Bible” which is mostly on Creationism I think. It’s very popular and has pulled most of the people. I might do this class again; I bet there are people who would take it but are in the Creationism class.

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