Posts Tagged ‘Restoration Movement’

Friends,

During Lent, I am preaching a series of sermons on the essential unity and oneness of the church, forged in the cross of Christ. I will be providing excerpts of those sermons here and also links back to my box.net account where they might downloaded in full. The sermons are drawn from 1 Corinthians. These sermons are born also out of the experiences of my current congregation and include historical references to the Restoration Movement church of which I am a member. The congregation is also reading a book called Together Again by Bob Russell and Rick Atchley. Thanks for stopping by. May you be blessed in the Lord’s Word. I will update this post each week. jerry

1. A Common Plea, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

The problem is easily identifiable. People. People were the problem at Corinth. Their quarrels and schisms were nothing more than power plays, power grabs. They were the human attempts to accomplish something in the church that could not be accomplished by the means of power. Paul lays this out for the reader in verses 10-12. People were elevating other people over other people. It became a matter of territory, a war cry of ‘my guy is better than your guy’ or ‘my guy has more authority than your guy’ or, worse, ‘I was baptized by a guy who is far superior than the guy who baptized you.’ Paul is quick to the draw: Such an attitude in the church is wrong.

There were people who were trying to construct a church community on the basis of externals. In this case they were trying to build upon the idea that baptism by one person was more important than baptism by another. What ended up happening? Well, what happened was certainly not the betterment of the church, the growth of the church, the expansion of the kingdom, or the filling up of the cross. All these external building blocks did was contribute fuel to the quarreling and divisions that were and had formed in the congregation.

What we see here is a stark, cold reality. There will be times when we have issues in the church that cause us discomfort and pain. There will be times in the body when we, let’s not sugarcoat it: There will be times when we fight. There will be times when we simply do not get along. The apostle wisely confronts the issue right out of the box: I hear there are divisions among you. This shall not be because quarrels and divisions never get the church or those involved what they think they want or what they hope: power.

2. A Common Savior, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

You and I, we have this in common. We are bound together under the weakness of a foolish message, a foolish word. This is what he is saying here. One group looks for signs and wonders; another group looks for wisdom; but all that we have to offer is what God gave us: Christ Jesus crucified. This word is a stumbling block to some; it is foolishness to others; but this is all we have. We cannot preach or proclaim something we have not been given. (And as a side note, I would say that we need not offer anything else. The Gospel has more than enough to offend everyone.)

And this is the confounding part of our message: It is not our message. It is God’s message. It is his word to us and this is why Paul cannot speak of anything else: He has nothing else to say. This message goes out to the world and it draws in all the misfits and losers. “Think of what you were when you were called.” We were called. We were called. Then it says this: “God chose…” God did! Thank God that he did the choosing! He chose all the weak, broken, battered, un-things. He chose the despised things and gathered them all up and together he did this: “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus.”

And this is the message: It is the same for everyone. We preach Christ crucified because we cannot preach anything else. We are bound together in this common Word, by this common Savior. We preach Christ crucified and some will stumble, others will scoff, but all will be called. But we have only one message to proclaim

3. A Common Truth, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Apart from the Spirit of God there is no communication between Gospel and human. Apart from the Spirit of God there is no growth into maturity. Without the Spirit of God the very truth we claim to have in common is incomprehensible. But for all this, Paul writes, ‘we have the mind of Christ.’ We. We. We have the mind of Christ. The Spirit Paul said earlier who searches the mind of God and reveals his thoughts to us is in us and has revealed to us the mind of Christ. This is the Spirit in us. In We.

Is it any wonder that the apostle is frustrated with this church? Paul writes that we have the very mind of God, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit of God, the deepest mysteries of the heavens are ours in Christ, it is the power unto salvation…and we? We are bound together in Christ and by His Spirit. Those who love God are those who have been brought into fellowship and who have received the wisdom of God as revealed in the cross of Christ…and we?  Those who have submitted and acted unto the obedience of the message spoken have understood the deep things of God, have heard things spoken that the wisest and most advanced among the human race cannot fathom, are those who are among the wisest fools on the planet…and we?

“There are quarrels among you.”

And do you think the apostle was disappointed? And do you think God is?

4.  A Common Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Third, see the grace of the Gospel (8-9). The grace of the Gospel is that it may accept us as we are, but it doesn’t leave us that way. This is what he said in the sixth chapter: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Yes we might sing ‘Just as I am’ but our song of triumph is something more like, ‘He’s changing me.’ Takes us from persecutors of the church and makes us into promoters of the church.

5.  A Common Mission, 1 Corinthians 3:1-23

Why would nations want to flow to a place that is ravaged by the same problems that men in the flesh are ravaged by? We can go anywhere for quarrels and jealousy and division. Where can people go for unity, oneness, and brotherhood?

We are the temple of God which means that we are the habitation of the Holy Trinity—the essence and completeness and perfection of Unity and essential oneness. So when we are jealous and when we quarrel do we seriously consider God among us? God in us? And when we are jealous and quarrel and follow mere men do we consider how we are destroying God’s temple? What do you think it means that we ‘destroy’ the temple of God?

God’s temple is holy. We are the temple. We are holy. How can God make other holy people, add to his holy temple, when we are acting in a manner that is contrary to a holy God? God’s spirit lives in us so how can we act and live and behave in a manner that is contrary to the Spirit of God? The temple is the very place where the Oneness of God is on display before the world. What does the world think when they see a divided temple, a divided church? A divided God?

6. A Common Bond, Ephesians 4:1-16

Fifth, again Paul states that the purpose behind such gifts is that the church might grow up into Christ. This is really the only sort of maturity that is required or necessary or the goal. He writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ.” You see, our goal is Christ. He is the goal of the unity we are preserving, he is the maturity of the unity we are preserving. We are not growing up into some man made idea of what it means to be one and unified and united and whole. We are growing up into a Spirit driven, grace provided, Christ called, humanly preserved unity and oneness.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Thoughts for Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2009

I’m preaching a series of sermons from 1 Corinthians to the church I serve during Lent. We are focusing on the essential and necessary oneness of the church that was forged in the crucifixion of Jesus. Part of the goal of these sermons is to introduce the congregation to some of the history of the so-called Restoration Movement while exploring the basis of our oneness in Christ. ‘We’ have a long history and I thought it would be appropriate to share some of that wonderful history that is so often overlooked when official church history is discussed.

Back in the day, there was a small publication that existed simply called The Plea. It was published in Tennessee by a Christian church and edited by Fred W Smith. I’d like to share a quote with you from the August 1951 editorial. He wrote:

“The Christian world is divided, not simply into congregations of believers for mutual benefit and service, but torn and rent by parties, factions, and schisms which claim exclusive rights to the promises of sacred Scripture. This is the ‘falling away’ which the Apostle Paul referred to in his epistles. (Fred W Smith, The Plea, August 1951, volume 7, #6. p 2)

The Restoration Movement was born out of a desire for Christians of all denominational stripes to recognize that unity has already been forged for us by Christ and that we need to but recognize and maintain it. The ‘founders’ of the movement came from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and other denominations. Some were Pentecostal, some were not. Some believed in instrumental music, some did not. Some practiced infant baptism, some did not. Some believe in mission societies, some did not. Some believed in conventions, some did not. Some believed in weekly communion, some did not. Sometimes they got along and worked hard at being one. Other times they failed and became two.

For the most part, I think the Restoration Movement has been a failure, at least in practice. Instead of bringing together the denominations it has, sadly, created yet two or three or four or five or more denominations (depending upon how you count the various churches who claim as their heritage the work of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone among others). Nevertheless, the ideal still prevails and should be recognized for what it is: A call to recognize what Christ has already declared in Scripture to be true. If we failed in practice, perhaps we haven’t failed in theory. Perhaps the theory is still a good idea. We may not forge it, but we can at least recognize and honor it.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV)

Or:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, NASB)

So what is our goal? Are we as the people whom Christ has called walking in a manner consistent with our calling? Are we walking with humility, gentleness, patience? Are we showing tolerance in love for one another? Are we making it our ambition, as people of Christ, to preserve or maintain that unity that has been forged for us in Christ and worked out in the Spirit? Are we making it our goal to live in peace with one another? Seriously? We really need to ask ourselves these questions continually.

Are we wise enough to recognize that no matter how many different denominations we create, no matter how many theological systems we construct (all theology is a matter of opinion anyhow), no matter how many blogs we write (each one no doubt claiming exclusive rights (and rightness!) to the interpretation and proclamation of God’s truth!), no matter how much we fight and argue about who is right and who is wrong–at the end of the day: There is ONE body. We cannot change this. Christ has declared it to be so and nothing we can do will alter that declaration. There is ONE body. It is unfortunate that this Biblical fact causes so much upheaval among people. It is even more unfortunate that some have made it their life’s ambition to narrow this field as much as they can and cause as much division as they can in whatever way they can. Our goal, thus, should not be causing so much division that the expanse of the church is narrowed. Our goal should be recognizing and maintaining what Christ Jesus forged in his own blood.

That Body includes people that do not think like I do. That Body includes Democrats and Republicans and maybe even some Libertarians (I jest). That Body includes people who do not take communion every week like I do. That Body includes people who do not believe in a literal 6-Day creation like I do. That Body includes people who immerse as the first act of obedience instead of, as I do, the last act of conversion. That Body includes people who are monergistic and not synergistic like me. That Body includes Calvinists and Arminians and Calminians and Arminiasts. That Body includes pre-millenialists like John MacArthur and amillenialists like me and maybe even post-millenialists and pan-millenialists. That Body includes so-called Emergent types like Rob Bell and so-called hyper-Calvinsts like Mark Driscoll. Believe it or not, that Body even includes some Baptists, Lutherans. Methodists, Catholics, Nazarenes, Church of Christ, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox (and others; many others). And so on and so forth. My point is that who can number the Body but Christ? Whose job is it but Christ’s?

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. (Revelation 7:4)

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

What he heard and saw corresponded in some way. He heard a perfect number; he saw a massive heap. And yet:

And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10)

They sang together. They worshiped the Lamb as One! Do you see? Do you understand? They had one thing in common and it was Christ Jesus!

Practically speaking, the Restoration Movement was doomed before it started. Who, to be sure, could ever decide what is opinion enough for there to be liberty and what is essential enough for there to be unity? ‘We’ were stumped in those two places before we ever got to the ‘in all things love’ part. Still, I think there is hope and we are not outwitted just yet and I don’t think that our un-oneness has caused the Lord great consternation or upheaval. Could just be that our un-oneness exists also for his glory.

Maybe this is why he specifically told us to Love one another. Maybe this is why he said we are saved by grace. Alone.

“Christianity also is not intolerant because anyone can believe, regardless of race, gender, or social status. No one is excluded. Christianity is the most inclusive and exclusive of all religions. Anyone can believe, but it is only by faith in Jesus Christ that a person is saved. It is that glorious message of salvation through Christ alone that should be our banner and that which unites us. Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Let our churches [and, I might add, our blogs] be known, then, for their strong and unwavering message about the crucified Christ, the very Son of God.” (Bob Russell & Rick Atchley, Together Again, 53)

Discern Your Doctrine (Mark Dever)

Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?

NT Wright: What’s missing is an insistence on Scripture itself rather than tradition . . .
Kingdom People (NT Wright) or here Unfinished Christianity.)

I spent some time yesterday, a little more than an hour, listening to a speech by Mark Dever. The speech was delivered at the 2007 New Attitude conference-a conference featuring the likes of Joshua Harris, John Piper, Albert Mohler, and CJ Mahaney, all well respected Evangelical Christians. Dever’s speech, or sermon if you like, is titled Discern Your Doctrine. It is worth the hour to sit and listen to it. I will provide a synopsis and attach a few brief comments before concluding with a call to love.

As most of you know by now, or have wondered, I am a member of the so-called Restoration Movement Church of Christ (not a Capella; that is, my church uses instruments in worship). Our ‘movement’ (we have eschewed such cumbersome boxes as ‘denomination’ or ‘tradition’ thinking them too slow or stagnant; we are a ‘movement!’). Our movement has, at least at its inception, been controlled by an unofficial creed, not called a creed, but a slogan. Actually, there have been several of them along the way, but I think the one I will mention stands as the most prominent. So it was much to my surprise when listening to this speech by Dever that I heard him quoting our slogan and then wrapping his entire speech, or sermon if you like, around it: “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, in all things love.” Why you…that’s our slogan!!! (spoken as a remarkably Homer Simpsonesque threat.)

Well, it is a fascinating idea; although, it is necessarily, as I have read recently in a history of the Disciples of Christ (Disciples of Christ, a History, Garrison and Degroot) a flawed idea. But I digress. This slogan is the hub around which Dever built his speech even though he didn’t really get to the slogan until the end of the speech and then attributed it to some Germans (!) instead of to my beloved Restoration Movement forefathers. In leading up to this fascinating announcement of what should motivate all of our discernment activities, Dever makes six rather important points. I found that the first 2 were the most important and took the longest (if I recall he spent about the same amount of time on the last 4 as he did the first 2), but I will list all six points he made and offer only the briefest of points about each.

First, he asks: Do we follow commands in order to purify or unify? Here I found Dever’s most compelling argument. He notes that Jesus himself said we must ‘be on our guard’ against all kinds of teachings and teachers. In other words, discernment is not a bad idea. In fact, we should discern because if we don’t we are likely to fall into all sorts of dangers. Dever points out, however, that discernment always runs the risk of extremes and that there are basically (I hate the word basically) two opposite, but equally dangerous, extremes.

On the one hand, some tend to be too inclusive for the sake of unity. These are folks who ramble on about things like ‘no creed but Christ, no book but the bible’ (Ha! Another RM creed…slogan.) These are folks who think doctrine doesn’t matter all that much as long as we are united, answering Jesus’s prayer for unity (John 17), etc. Dever says these folks might be just as judgmental as anyone else because they tend to ‘undervalue God’s truth.’ Ooooh. That stings.

On the other hand, some tend to be too exclusive for the sake of purity. He says, “They are ready to quickly declare something wrong, or someone wrong or maybe even declare someone not a Christian. They neglect the wideness of Gods love that he shows in Scripture. They neglect seeing examples of his work when he has been at work.” He also said, that “we threaten our humility when we become self-righteous about this.” He noted that “truth and humility are not enemies” and that “knowing the truth will humble us.” He warned about those who are so exclusively concerned about purity that they think they have a “prophetic ministry of correction.”

In his second point he asks, “What are some common fights that we Christians have?” He goes on to note many and concedes that the list is virtually endless. I won’t bore you; his list is impressive.

In his third point he asks, “What are we together for?” In this point he notes that different levels of agreement are needed for different levels of cooperation and that agreement is not essential in all areas in order for Christian fellowship or evangelism to exist.

In his fourth point he asks, “What are the things we must agree upon?” That is, what are the essentials that we, as Christians, must necessarily agree upon to be considered Christians? I thought his best point here was when he noted that all of us will be “corrected at some level.” But I think the gist here was that there are some doctrines that can be dismissed (bad choice of words here) without sacrificing Christian orthodoxy or severing Christian fellowship.

His test pattern for discerning such agreement for essential doctrines is as follows:

1. How clear is this doctrine in Scripture? (I assume here he means ‘to me’.)
2. How clear do others think it is? (that is, other Christians)
3. How near is it to the Gospel? (that is, which instructs us about salvation)
4. What would be the doctrinal and practical implications if we allowed disagreement on this particular issue?

I think this is a fine test, and when it is done Dever concludes that there are three areas upon which we must agree as Christians: God. Bible. Gospel. Of course, within these terribly vague ideas he breaks it down even further. Not only must we agree about God, but we must believe certain things about God. Not only must we believe in the Bible, but we must believe certain things about the Bible. Not only must we believe in the Gospel, but we must agree what constitutes the Gospel. (Here I think the flaw of ‘in essentials unity’ becomes apparent.) Dever narrows the Gospel down to 1 Corinthians 15:1-9:

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1 Corinthians 15:1-9

He notes that for 14 chapters Paul had pointed out all the unnecessary things that divided the Corinthian church and points out that here, in chapter 15, is the one thing we should stand for: ‘Contend for this truth,’ Paul seems to be saying. Here is the Gospel in a nutshell, the essentials upon which we must agree. Thus Paul reminds the Corinthians of this core of beliefs.

In point five, Dever asks, “What are some things we may disagree about?” He cites Romans 14:22: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” He also takes four test cases and notes that we can indeed disagree about some things without compromising faith, the Gospel, or Christian fellowship. Encouraging indeed. (His section about ‘egalitarianism’ is rather brilliant.)

In his last point, Dever asks, “How can we disagree well?” Again, Dever makes two solid points to consider when having a conversation with someone with whom we disagree. I should ask: 1. What can I learn from this one with whom I disagree? Well, this requires a great deal of humility, and can be difficult to navigate since we may have to finally admit that we are wrong. 2. What do I owe this person with whom I disagree or who disagrees with me? Again here is required a great deal of humility. We owe them love. We owe them respect. We owe them the courtesy of making it evident that we care about this person and that we are not just trying to win an argument with them. In other words, we should try to understand what they are saying. I think this point often gets lost on me. Much of the time, I care more about winning an argument with someone than I do about the person. This is dangerous ground upon which to tread.

So what is the point here? I think the point is clearly this: Disagreement is not bad; discernment is required. Those who point out our errors are not our enemies. “The opposite of your friend is not your enemy, but your flatterer.” So it is good, it seems to Dever (and I agree), that there are those who are willing and able to engage one another in hardy, healthy debate and conversation. Disagreement is not the end of the world, and there are some areas where our error clearly needs to be pointed out in order that we might be saved (Jude). However, it is better to engage in debate and conversation with humility, with love, with an eye and ear for learning and not just winning. Best line in the speech was this, “We want to be known for what we are for rather than what we are against.” (Hmmm…someone recently wrote a post about this very point.)

Here’s what the apostle wrote to the church at Ephesus:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16

If some are given to this and some are given to that, I think this means that the Lord fully expects we will correct and rebuke one another (and often Scripture may do that very thing). Scripture may bite hard, but we should not. (Although someone said to me the other day: “I’m not nice when it comes to gross misrepresentations of the genuine Christian faith. And, I’m not supposed to be.” Indeed!) This does not mean, however, that we abandon the overarching command to love. Love. Love. Love. This is what distinguishes the church from everything and everyone else in the world (as far as organized religion is concerned). If we are not known by our love for one another, then we will be known for something else. And if we are known by something else, can we legitimately call ourselves Christians? Can we who fail to love even begin to think we have a right to do evangelism and call people into this story? (I’ll say this, there are times when I know I am loved more by people outside the story than I am by those inside the story. There are times when I love those outside the story more than those inside it.)

So, “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, and in all things love.” It seems to me that love can go a long, long way towards correcting our errors-and who among us desires to remain in error? Dever ends by quoting from John Wesley, “I shall thank the youngest man among you to tell me of any fault you see in me. In doing so, I shall consider him by best friend.”

It remains to be seen, however, if love will win the day, especially in the world of blogs where, for example, just the other day, a couple of the writers here were called Pharisees because we “make grace too wide.” It remains to be known if love truly conquers all. It remains hidden as to whether or not we can love. Maybe there is something to this slogan after all. It remains to be seen if we will be known by our love and not our hate. It remains to be seen if love can truly bring together those who are concerned with unity and those who are concerned with purity and conclude that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Maybe Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone weren’t wrong to adopt this slogan and hoist it high even if the opinions and essentials part is practically impossible. And maybe, just maybe, if we pay attention, close attention, to love we will see that what matters most is not our opinions, not our essentials, but our love.* After all, Jesus himself said that it was by our love for one another that the world would know we are his disciples.

Not opinions. Not essentials. But love.

And so it remains, can we disagree and still love? Can we disagree and maintain Christian fellowship? Will we love? How will we be known? Can we discern with more concern for the person than for winning? I ask all who visit and read: Can we, will we, discern with love?

Will we love?

*Which is not to say that we abandon essentials at all, but does mean that we should be far more concerned about humility. Fact is, I could be wrong. We could all be wrong. And all theology is a matter of opinion. Maybe there is something to the vaguery of Dever’s ‘God, Bible and Gospel’ regardless of how we formulate our opinions about these essentials from Scripture. Maybe there is something to grace after all and its wideness is not the real problem, but its narrowness.

**word count 2494

Friends,

Since not all of you will happen to visit CRN.info, I have decided to re-post my latest entry here at Life Under the Blue Sky. While the catalyst for the post was Ingrid Schleuter’s compelling review of the Inspiring Excellence pageant at Tinley Park, Illinois, the bulk of the essay concerns unity in the church and the eschewing of the sort of judgments that exclude the majority of Christians from God’s grace by other Christians. This unity is not manufactured by the things we do and say but rather by the grace of God and because of the blood of Christ. Furthermore, we are not well situated to make the sort of judgments that some bloggers make about other Christians and their work or standing before Christ. If you would like to follow the comments and conversation, please use the big blue link. As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged here at LUBS.

jerry

Concerning Discernment and Birds

Posted by Jerry on Jul 23rd, 2008
2008
Jul 23

Friends,

Good morning! It is a glorious Wednesday morning here in Northeast Ohio. My wife and I woke up early this morning–well, I did ) anyhow. I walked to the bathroom and washed my face and then down the stairs from my bedroom where I would meet with the Lord in prayer and Scripture. What I learned this morning is that the Lord was already speaking in His Word and that He was waiting on me to listen. Surprisingly, and much to my dismay, the the Lord got along quite well without me while I slept.

I want to begin this rather short post by first reminding everyone to continue praying for Jim Bublitz, Mrs Schleuter, and Pastor Silva among others. I did that very thing this morning and also remembered Pastorboy and Samuel Guzman (the nice young man from Reformata and Always Ready). I also prayed for CRN.info and asked the Lord to help me understand how the prophet Isaiah used the word ‘justice’ (KJV, ‘judgment’) in his preaching. Finally, while reading a small book Disciplined by Grace by J F Strombeck, I was reminded that

“Grace, then, is God’s provision to bring into being, sustain, and perfect His new creation in Christ Jesus. It is the operation of his infinite love on behalf of such as are worthy of everlasting punishment. This outpouring of God’s infinite love is possible only because Jesus Christ, by his death, fully satisfied the demands of God’s justice. As grace came by Jesus Christ, only those who receive Him are under grace.” (19)

Now, on to other issues, not nearly as important, but equally confounding.

I have been following rather closely the posts made by Mrs Schleuter at SOL concerning the so-called ‘Word of Faith’ at the inspiring excellence conference in Tinley Park, Illinois. I was actually rather surprised that Mrs Schleuter would attend such a conference after so roundly rejecting the invitation to attend a conference by Rick Warren. But I’ll leave that alone for now.

Actually, in my estimation, Mrs Schleuter has nailed it down with her latest post on John Avanzini. Those ‘preachers’ are hucksters and it is good that someone is pointing this out to people. Sadly, no one is taking steps to point it out to the people who are actually being taken in by these hucksters and I was a bit dismayed that at the end of her rather well written essay that she actually offered a link back to the Family Harvest Church so that her readers could implicitly support the Word of Faith movement by buying CD copies of the conference speakers. Hmmm. But I’ll leave that alone for now.

Here’s the point of my morning conversation with you. It seems there is a very low threshold of tolerance for orthodoxy when it comes to certain ODM’s. Do you know what I mean? I fully grant that Mrs Schleuter and others are dead on when it comes to ‘word of faith’ ‘preachers’ because it is so patently obvious that those preachers are not preachers of the Gospel at all. Frankly, my sons could make those sorts of discernments and judgments. What gets me is that, at Slice for example, everyone gets lumped into the same category. I wonder then if I can trust the discernment of Mrs Schleuter when, for example, the same criticisms that are leveled against Mike Murdoch and Robb Thompson are leveled against Rick Warren or Rob Bell or Ray Comfort or Doug Pagitt or (insert name of favorite Slice heretic).

Seriously. Is  it really so easy to lump together a World Harvest Church and a Granger Community Church? Is it really so easy to lump together all things Emergent with all things Word of Faith? Is it really so easy to lump together all things Name and Claim It with all things Purpose Driven? Is it really, gulp, so easy to lump together all things Health and Wealth with all things Roman Catholic? Do you see my point which is that if you are outside that small, narrow, myopic, Spurgeon, Edwards, Washer, MacArthur, Piper worldview then you are automatically outside of the possibility of God’s grace? Is it really so easy for people to dismiss the large majority of Christians on the planet just because they don’t see things exactly the way ‘you’ do? Is it really so easy to dismiss what the grace of God might be doing in the lives of others? Is it really so easy to sit back and make such judgments about people for whom Christ died?

I come from a church that has traditionally been a part of a movement called the “Restoration Movement” (even though for a good part of my life I was Methodist). You know what the hardest aspect of being in a Restoration Movement church has been? Allowing God to remove the mindset from my heart that believed I belonged to THE ONE TRUE CHURCH, that ‘our’ way was the only way, that ‘we’ had all the right doctrines and that if anyone didn’t belong to the Restoration Movement then they were simply lost. It was my job, so the mindset goes, to convert the heretic Baptist, the recalcitrant Lutheran, the wayward Methodist and to avoid the hypocritical Catholic and so on and so forth. What I learned a few years back was this: It is not my job to convert anyone (Thank God!). Rather it is the job of the Spirit to convert the heretic jerry, the recalcitrant jerry, the wayward jerry, the hypocritical jerry and so on and so forth. Ironically, one of the ways the Lord has done this is by putting me in communities where there are very few Restoration Movement preachers. My first preaching ministry in Brandywine, WV was in a town of 500 that had 6 or 7 churches: Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Brethren, etc. (There was even a female preacher in the next town over. That took a while too, but that’s another story.)  In my current location, there are other Restoration preachers, but my two best friends here are an Anglican priest and a retired Pentecostal Methodist. Both decidedly saved by the grace of God, and both ridiculously sold out for Jesus Christ. Isolation from same feathered birds has taught me about grace. [Edit: Upon reflection, I thank God that RM churches are not the only Christians. To be sure, one of ‘our’ slogans has always been ‘we’re not the only Christians, but Christians only.’ In my estimation, this has not been practically applied, evenly taught, or theologically embraced. I think that is, and has been, gradually chaging as more RM folks start to see God’s grace at work in the church. Nevertheless, in some corners it is still thoroughly rejected which is why some Church of Christ folks are viewed more as a cult than a church. Sad.]

A lot of this is about maturity and growing up and taking Doctrine of Grace (TTH 560 at CCU). The thing is, God’s grace is evident and present in all sorts of places and ways. This is why, for example, there are 4 Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) instead of one; we get the complete picture by seeing four views. This is why there were 12 apostles (or 13). You can’t tell me that Matthew the Tax Collector always got along well with Simon the Zealot! But, from 12 points of view, He gains a more complete mission. Matthew could minister to a group of people that the Simon could not and vice versa. Likewise with Paul, the Pharisee! It’s not that they shared everything in common, but that they held One Person in common: Jesus Christ. Ironically, in the Gospel, Paul wrote this: “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” What he didn’t say is this: There is one opinion; one point of view. Here I tread carefully because this can be taken too far to the extreme. Some things are purposely ambiguous; we have to learn to live there.

This is true also of the ongoing efforts between churches of Christ a Capella and not a Capella to forge some sort of unity. In reality, all that needs to happen is for Christians to acknowledge the unity that already exists by virtue of the grace of God. As it is, two different congregations can reach two different groups of people: One that prefers musical instruments and one that does not. That’s just one (post) modern example. Fact is, I would have a hard time worshiping in a place like Granger on a regular basis and I would probably be left unsatisfied listening to Rob Bell every week. To me it (Granger) would be like Church camp every Sunday. I am much more comfortable in my tradition. But that doesn’t mean Granger is wrong or outside of God’s grace any more than it means John MacArthur’s church is right or has an inside track on God’s grace. It means they are different while being the same. It means that God has created them with red and yellow feathers and he has created me with blue and white feathers and still others have been made with red and green feathers. It means that where Christ is King, we are all different and yet all the same.

In conclusion, I will say this: If Mrs Schleuter or Pastor  Silva are right about WOF, this does not necessarily guarantee they are right about everything. And the problem is that they hold to a monochromatic view of God’s grace: all they see is Crows and not Birds of Paradise, Goldfinches, Parrots, Peacocks, etc. The God of Creation, however, made flowers, and animals, and a thousand different kinds of birds and trees and fish. So creative is He, so fascinated with diversity, that no two of us have the same fingerprint profile. He didn’t make one, but many; and yet many are also one. A fascinating picture of this is in Revelation 7 where from God’s perspective there are 144,000 Jews and from John’s perspective there is a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language. One; yet many. The same; yet different. 

What I’m asking for is more discernment in the way we discern. It is not right to lump all people together the way certain ODM’s do. And the sooner clearer distinctions are made, the better. Does this mean every single Emergent church pastor is among the wheat or sheep? Nope. But neither does it mean that every single Spurgeon toting, Washer quoting Reformed church pastor is either. What it means is that every single one of us is dependent upon the grace of God. What I am asking, pleading for, is that grace find a way to insinuate itself into the online discernment ministries and conversations. As I said in a reply yesterday, God could have given us straight-forward Levitical law type instructions about the church. But he did not. Some things He left purposely ambiguous and sometimes I expect He did so precisely because He wants to see just how much we really love one another and how much we love Him. Or maybe He has a sense of humor and likes to see us trip all over ourselves in our efforts to ‘Lord it over’ one another while Jesus remains enthroned at His Right Hand.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

PS–Poor Ray Comfort. The man cannot win for losing. Everyone is on his back now and all he really wants to do is love God and people and share the Kirk.