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The Biblical Foundation for Church Partnerships

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This is a guest post by Chris Bruno. He is the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.


A Challenging Prospect

Every Christian understands that the world will know we are Christ’s disciples by our love, so you probably have a desire to display Christ’s love by connecting with other churches in your community. So you plan a park cleanup day together. Or a pastors prayer gathering. Maybe, if you’re daring, a joint Easter sunrise service. But to go beyond that, into long-term committed partnership? There are a hundred reasons why that wouldn’t work.

You have a limited amount of time, resources, and people in your church. Isn’t it possible to overcommit these God-given gifts by deploying them in ways God doesn’t intend? Your church has a unique theological and philosophical identity. What if you wake up and find yourself unequally yoked to another church that believes and behaves differently? You have a deep desire to reach people and influence them to see God the way you see him. Won’t there be people who are reached by your partnership ministry who decide to go to other churches or denominations? After all, you’re only half-joking when you call other churches “the competition.”

Learning from Paul

To answer those questions, we need to start by looking at Paul’s missionary strategies and practices. Once he had evangelized a city, established a Christian community, strengthened the saints in the church, and raised up leaders to guide the church, he called the church toward partnership in God’s greater kingdom. And there was one major task he recruited each of the churches he planted to carry out: collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem.

After spending ten years planting churches, strengthening churches, connecting churches, and collecting from churches, Paul finally decided it was time to deliver the big gift. This obviously wasn’t an impulsive effort. He traveled one thousand miles to take the collection to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17–20; 24:17), bringing with him representatives from at least three of the four regions where he had planted churches. The saints in Jerusalem received the gift with great joy and gratitude, but as Paul expected, he was arrested by unbelieving Jews soon after the gift was delivered.

What drove Paul to strive and strain toward a partnership of wildly different churches? What motivated him to risk his life delivering their gift? There are at least three key reasons that propelled Paul, and these still inspire most partnerships today:

1. Compassion

When Paul wrote to the Galatians, possibly with the goal of recruiting them into the partnership, he said, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Compassion toward the poor and suffering is natural for people who have experienced Gods compassion. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

2. Evangelism

When Paul delivered the Jerusalem collection, there’s a strong possibility that he was blessing not only needy Christians but also needy unbelievers. After he was arrested in Jerusalem, he testified before the Roman governor, Felix, and said: “I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult” (Acts 24:17–18). Paul may have given most of the collection to the church in Jerusalem, but he probably gave a portion of it to the temple for distribution to needy unbelieving Jews. Why did he do this? “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1).

3. Fellowship and Unity

When Paul described the Jerusalem collection, he used many words. Service. Gift. Privilege. But one of the most powerful is the Greek word koinonia (Rom. 15:26). Literally meaning “sharing,” this word is often translated as “fellowship.” Paul saw the collection as a unique way to draw churches together and display the unity of the Spirit.

This wasn’t natural, especially in the racially charged church of the first century. Paul continually challenged churches to pursue gospel unity among all Christians, both Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3; Ephesians 2), but the Jerusalem collection partnership was a powerfully tangible demonstration of how the gospel transcends race, culture, and tradition. Paul made this purpose clear: “For if the Gentiles have come to share in [the Jews’] spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Rom. 15:27).

And not only did the collection unite Gentiles and Jews, it also bonded Gentile churches to one another. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the collection, he told the story of the churches in Macedonia: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:2–3). This “reminded the members of these congregations that they were partners in the gospel with one another, no less than with the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”When churches work side by side with one another, they are reminded of their union with one another in Christ.

In thousands of cities across the globe, churches large and small haven’t considered the amazing things God could do through them in partnership with others. He used kingdom churches to turn the first-century world upside down (Acts 17:6).

What will he do in the twenty-first?


Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) is the executive director of the Antioch School Hawai‘i and pastor for discipleship and training at Harbor Church. He spends most of his time leading a church partnership for theological education and church planting. He has written numerous articles and reviews and is the author of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses and the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together.

 

5 Things Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us about the Christian Life

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This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund. He is the author of Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God.


Jonathan Edwards for the Rest of Us

For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:

  • that he wrote a lot of really dense books
  • that he talked a lot about the glory of God
  • that he was part of the Great Awakening
  • that John Piper likes him a lot

And that’s about it.

But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.

Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life.

1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.

When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.

Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in their country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.

Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”

For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.

2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.

If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.

Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”

We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.

How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.

3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.

Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.

A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:

  • “The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”
  • “He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”
  • “God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”

That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’ ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.

4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.

Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.

Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.

Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.

5. Revival is not what you think it is.

When evangelicals today hear the word “revival,” we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.

Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.

Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.


Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.

 

August 26, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church History,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 1 Comment »

Christ in All of Scripture – Nehemiah 9

 

Nehemiah 9

“Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, ‘Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.’”


Nehemiah chapter 9 is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible. It confesses before a faithful God the history of a faithless people.

As Christ’s followers we are grafted into this family (Gal. 3:7–9), and we can share in this prayer for mercy from our covenant-keeping God. The prayer unfolds history as God’s acts of grace and mercy—from creation (Neh. 9:6), to the Abrahamic covenant (Neh. 9:7–8), to the deliverance from Egypt (Neh. 9:9–11), to God’s wilderness provisions (including the law [Neh. 9:12–15]), to a kingdom in a rich land (Neh. 9:22–25). This outpouring of God’s faithfulness is interrupted by two sections which confess the people’s rebellion against him (Neh. 9:16–21, 26–31). But there are repeated appeals to a merciful God, “abounding in steadfast love” (Neh. 9:17; see also Ex. 34:6; Deut. 7:9). The focus is on God’s “covenant and steadfast love” (Neh. 9:32), ever the basis on which his people approach him.

Praise God. We can know and name the Christ in whom all the promises of God are “yes” and “Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20). The Old Testament people of God knew that God was full of grace and truth. We today see grace and truth itself embodied in Jesus Christ (John 1:14–18).


This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.

 

August 25, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Gospel Transformation Bible,The Christian Life | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:32 am | 0 Comments »

Relativism: A Moral Morass

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In this series of posts, the late James Montgomery Boice helps us avoid being “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) by unpacking the 5 major “isms” that dominate the modern world.


A Common Way of Thinking

Relativism means that there is no God and therefore no absolutes in any area of life. Everything is up for grabs.

On the first page of The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom writes, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” (1)

What that book set out to prove is that education is impossible in such a climate. People can learn skills, of course. The student can learn to drive a truck, work a computer, handle financial transactions, and manage scores of other difficult things. But genuine education, which involves learning to sift through error to discover what is true rather than false, good rather than evil, and beautiful rather than ugly, is impossible, because the goals of real education—truth, goodness, and beauty—do not exist according to relativism.

Besides, even if truth, goodness, and beauty did exist in some far-off metaphysical never-never-land, it would be impossible to find them, because even the process of discovering absolutes requires a belief in absolutes—it requires belief in such absolutes as the laws of logic, for example.

A Hopeless Foundation

The solution Bloom offers in this otherwise excellent book is inadequate. He offers a return to Platonism, the classical Greek quest for absolutes, without acknowledging the need for a starting point in God and revelation. Nevertheless, Bloom is entirely right about what relativism does. It makes true education impossible and undermines even a quest for what is excellent.

Is it any wonder that, with such an underlying destructive philosophy as relativism, not to mention secularism and humanism, America is experiencing what Time magazine called “a moral morass” and “a values vacuum.” (2)

Notes

(1) Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 25.
(2) Time (May 25, 1987), 14.

This excerpt was adapted from Whatever Happened to The Gospel of Grace?: Rediscovering the Doctrines That Shook the World by James Montgomery Boice.


James Montgomery Boice was senior minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for thirty years and a leading spokesman for the Reformed faith until his death in 2000.

Why I Love George Whitefield

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This is a guest post by Lee Gatiss, editor of The Sermons of George Whitefield.


This year it’s the 300th birthday of the great 18th century evangelist, George Whitefield. He’s less famous than his contemporary, John Wesley, because he didn’t really write hymns and didn’t start his own denomination.

So what’s to love about George Whitefield?

1. He was confessional.

Whitefield was loyal to the Church of England’s Reformed foundations. He had subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer, and he did so without equivocation or double-speak. “Would we restore the church to its primitive dignity,” he once said, “the only way is to live and preach the doctrine of Christ and the Articles to which we have subscribed. Then we shall find the number of dissenters will daily decrease and the Church of England become the joy of the whole earth.”

He thought it was hypocrisy worthy of hell to claim officially that such Articles were one’s inspiration and guidance for ministry (in order to be ordained) but not actually to believe and teach their confessional content.

The education he provided for the children at the orphanage he supported in Georgia was a confessional education: all students were to learn the Thirty-nine Articles, and they were also to read “publicly, distinctly, frequently, and carefully” the set Anglican Homilies throughout the year. Whitefield was not a novel preacher: he believed and proclaimed the Reformed and evangelical faith on which the Church of England had taken its stand since the Reformation.

2. He was a cavalryman.

Augustus Toplady narrates how his hero Whitefield once tried to persuade him to become an itinerant preacher. He encouraged the younger man with promises of greater fruitfulness should he leave his parish and travel more. Yet as Toplady told Lady Huntingdon, “I consider the true ministers of God as providentially divided into two bands: viz., the regulars and the irregulars.” Some such as Whitefield were akin to cavalry and others, like Toplady, were more like sentinels or guardsmen watching over a more circumscribed district.

Whitefield was never the ordinary vicar of an ordinary parish. But he thrived on the edges of the establishment, taking the gospel to people who might otherwise never hear it. He was banned from using some Anglican pulpits, by bishops who were nervous about his youthful over-exuberance or by vicars wary of his overly dramatic and sometimes condemnatory attitude (sometimes rightly!). Undaunted, he took to the fields and preached to massive crowds.

An ordinary parochial ministry within the structures of an ordered denomination is of immense value and usefulness. But there is also space in God’s army of evangelists for cavalrymen like Whitefield (provided, of course, that they don’t undermine or undervalue the ministry of local churches).

3. He was convincing.

Finally, Whitefield was a convincing, convictional preacher. He didn’t preach to encourage people to join discussion groups. He didn’t ask people to go away and think about Jesus. He urged people, passionately, to come to Jesus and be saved.

“But alas! I shall return home with a heavy heart, unless some of you will arise and come to my Jesus. I desire to preach him and not myself. Rest not in hearing and following me. Behold, believe on and follow the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world.”

His preaching was strong and clear. He preached from the heart, to the heart: “O, my brethren, my heart is enlarged towards you! Tears, while I am speaking, are ready to gush out. But they are tears of love and joy.” Yet, “if any here do expect fine preaching from me this day,” he once preached, “they will, in all probability, go away disappointed. For I came not here to shoot over people’s heads but, if the Lord shall be pleased to bless me, to reach their hearts.”

The Reverend George Whitefield is not as famous today or as well regarded as he might be. But he will have a reward in heaven, because he pointed people to the only man who truly deserves to be celebrated.


Lee Gatiss (PhD, Cambridge University) is director of Church Society (ChurchSociety.org) and the editor of the two volume set, The Sermons of George Whitefield. He and his wife, Kerry, have three children.

August 22, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church History,Life / Doctrine | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 1 Comment »