On Fellowship

It seems as if the tide is turning.  A society that generally moved towards personalization within the realm of fellowship and communication seems to be longing and searching for intimate relationships, and in touch communion.  Starbucks and the like sort of coffee hangouts have reaped the benefits.

This recognition comes from one who is admittedly a social magoo in some circumstances.  Nevertheless, I think that there must be a greater understanding of what constitutes true fellowship – with special regard for the makeup of the subjects of what we call fellowship.  Moreover, I write with greater specificity to the church, that is, to those who have embraced Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, Treasure, and all of His perfections on their behalf as the sole means of their acceptance before God (Romans 3:21-26); and thus, in a short space purposing that a common fallacy might be rectified.

I have heard it said recently, and several times before, that someone or some family that is visiting a church has fellowship at the top of their check list.  They desire commuion, atmospherics, a family environment, unity and closeness amongst it members.  Besides the many problems of having such a list, the desire for such familial fellowship is absolutely good and right.  Fellowship and authenticity are amongst those God-granted traits of a biblical church, and necessarily flow from those main attributes and delights of preaching, teaching, receiving, and doing the objective Word of God.  The church in Jerusalem in Acts (Acts 2:42-47), and the collaboration of churches mentioned throughout Paul’s epistles (1 Corinthians 16:1-6 cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-9) teach us that fellowship and a sincere love for one another were two of the great activities in the early stages of church history, a sort of fellowship that is the direct consequence of faith in Christ and the indwelling of His life in the believer by the Spirit (see the context of the Acts 2:42-47 passage).  However, our contemporary inclination towards the autonomous self, individualism, self-worship, and personalization has demanded a stricter definition of what fellowship is – a definition that needs to be broadened.

When one says that they are looking for a church with good fellowship, they mean that they are looking for a group of people with which to interact that are similar in many ways to them.  Thus, if a married couple of 25 year olds with one child visit a nearby church, fellowship for them looks like other married couples, in their twenties, preferably but not absolutely with a young child – and they should, for this is healthy.  It is a good thing to seek out those with whom you have much in common.  But Christian fellowship, fellowship with the body of Christ is more than that

The church is made up of more than those exactly like ourselves; this is the glory of the body of Christ, namely, the distinctiveness of its parts working in conjunction with one another under one objective Word, one Lord, one Spirit, with one purpose – the glory of God advanced through the gospel which speaks of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Thus, we must not be so quick to disqualify a church simply because it may be a congregation with 150 blue heads.  We may have the right to question why that is so, but must not remove it from consideration on this basis alone.  When John Piper first got to Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, the body consisted of nothing but elderly people (per John Piper); if you had visited Bethlehem on his first Sunday as pastor, and been seeking a church on the basis of this narrow definition of fellowship, then you may have been inclined to end up elsewhere which now would have apparently been foolish, for God has been greatly magnified and enjoyed in that place. 

Perhaps a more practical example comes from a recent conversation with an elderly women who complained about the carelessness and dress of the teenagers in her church.  “They just don’t seem to care about the older folk,” she said.  “They run around the building, almost knocking us over as if we weren’t even there.  And, oh, their dress is so irreverant – belly buttons showing and the like.”  I simply smiled and asked her, “Have you sat down and talked to one of them about it?”  In other words, have you fellowshipped with them.  Of course the answer is no.  There is a disconnect in many church bodies between certain types of people, in this case, old and young; and where this disconnect is happening, the church is not operating as it should (Titus 2:1-8).  Conversely, the teenagers ought to seek out communion with the elderly.  Where this occurs I believe on the basis of Scripture that the church is operating properly, believers are edified, the body strengthened in faith and love towards one another, and there is a witness given off by the church towards the world that is noticeably foreign, namely, Godward.

Fellowship takes place amongst people in general, a variety of people, not just a select group like oneself.  God has designed the body of Christ such that there might be interaction with other believers of every stripe and color, from a myriad of backgrounds, with plethora of testimonies concerning the grace of God and the method of His salvation in their lives, in their hearts, in their places, and circumstances.  I speak not concerning racial reconciliation, although if one has the privilege of being a member at such a racially diverse church, what I am writing applies – one should not segregate in any way.  But this applies to churches that are predominantly of one race also, for we can segregate with great imagination.  In a one race church (which gives food for thought anyway), we still manage to segregate by age, programs, children, theological similarities, backgrounds, comfortability, etc.  And as I have already written, this is at some point necessary and good, but Christian fellowship must be much more than this due to the diversity of the body, and the design of the diversity in the accountability and sanctification of the church, for I can only learn so much from a believer who like myself has known Christ for almost nine years, but I can gather some from the new Christian’s testimony, and much greater measures of encouragement and wisdom from one who has walked with God for 30, 50, 70 years, from those who with great anticipation walk their last steps and breathe their last breaths until glory.  We can reap from the laymen who faithfully manages his gas station to the glory of God, as well as the pastor who faithfully exegetes and proclaims the Word of God to that same great glory.  And lest we forget, we can give of our walk with God to such as these as much as we receive from them.

In sum, the term fellowship has grown, ironically, to be a word of segregation on many people’s lips though they know it not.  But the Christian as been grafted into Christ and as such into Christ’s body, that is, the church, and thus it is incumbent upon us, as well as being our privilege in the experience of such grace, to broaden the notion of fellowship to include communion with the great variety of saved sinners – young, old, black, white, children, no children, rich, poor, gas clerk, pastor, etc., for we all have one Lord, but through Him, millions of building blocks to offer, receive, cherish, and apply.  Adopted children of God were not saved to be quite so exclusive in their fellowship; we are a corporate body, and we must take care to fellowship with every part – to the glory of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Gospel Order and Racial Reconciliation

True racial reconciliation is an overflow of the new creation which finds its life in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  On His cross, the particularity of Christ’s sacrifice had nothing to do with race, economic status, political affiliation, region of the world, or degree of sinner; there Jesus became a curse for those justly cursed; the nations were the object of His desire, and out of them the church consisting of those who trust in Him alone for salvation from and with God.  The division that occurred amongst men in the fall of man, Christ is now reorienting around reconciliation to God.  For when one is reconciled to God, it then becomes possible for one to be reconciled with men in general.  What this means is that nothing aside from the reconciling power of the gospel can bind human distinctives, for when one is united to the perfections of Jesus Christ, he is united to the vitality of Christ’s life, and being so united we are called a new creation;  all who have become this new creation in Christ have also become one new man in place of the two opposing creatures with a variety of distinctives; the distinctives remain: black and white, rich and poor, republican and democrat, “Johnnie Moral” and Hitler, etc., but they all become as nothing with regard to divisiveness when those so distinguished have alike come to the cross of Jesus Christ in faith embracing His perfections.  And as Christ is the exclusive way to be reconciled to God, so then Christ is the exclusive way of men being reconciled to one another; this is what Jesus has done and is doing; His gospel of grace is the only hope for racial reconciliation.  Christ is reorienting believers around those eternal absolutes, around the soul of man rather than the color of his skin or the car that he drives.  He is bringing His creation to the lens of gospel order.  Let us submit to it, seeing no longer those points of subjective inferiorities that are passing away as quickly as your own life, but rather approaching the cross one with another, communing with one another in this objective reality – in Christ there is no longer Jew and Gentile (etc.) but only brother and sister, only Christians who by grace have been reconciled to God, and thus have a gospel mandate to be reconciled one to another in Jesus’ name.

Coming Home to Jenny, Thinking About Jesus

Over the past couple of weeks I have driven over 2,000 miles from Louisville, KY to Lake Shore, MS back to Louisville, and then from there to Wake Forest, NC, and finally to Jenny in Six Mile, SC.  It began early Saturday morning, December 6 until mid-afternoon, December 18.  During this time I worked with brothers and sisters in Christ at Lake Shore to encourage the believers there and to help those still in need of housing, reconstruction, facilities, etc. after the devastation of Katrina.  I then made my way to Wake Forest to preach on 2 Corinthians 13:5 at Creedmoor Road Baptist Church for a Wednesday night youth service.  Everywhere in between I grew in eager expectation and earnest anticipation, in yearning, desiring, longing, needing to be with my beloved bride.  And as I drew near to her I found that the closer I got to reuniting with her, the more eager I became, the more excitation my heart experienced, the more I longed to hold her, the more quickly I found myself driving to reach her.   I also began to think about her anticipation of my home-coming, and the embrace that I knew she longed to give me.  Somewhere during this final stretch I thought to myself that this must, in some way (in a most perfect way), be how Christ longs, pursues, and loves His bride, the church, and how the church must wait for, and desire the coming of her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that marriage is a symbol of the greater reality known as Christ and the church.  We are told by John to wait with hope for His glorious appearing – our cry is, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly!”  In the last 15 or so verses of Revelation, Jesus mentions the swiftness of His coming 3 times!  At long last He says, “Surely I am coming soon,” Revelation 22:20, to which we reply with John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  Oh, that the church would yearn for her coming Bridegroom, that we would daily swoon, “How long O Lord?  How long?”  And yet, with much satisfaction, we know that He is on His way, and if my embrace with Jenny is any indication, our embrace with Jesus will be . . . well . . . perfect.

What Sort of Calling Leads to Deep and Delightful Bible Study?

I had a short conversation today that leads me to ask this question – I was asked about this past semester at Southern Seminary and the classes and studying that I will be doing for the upcoming J-term.  When I responded by listing an assortment of books to be read and hours to be spent studying and reflecting upon the Bible, my conversant replied with some exasperation that they simply could not do that; that it would overwhelm them.  The reason supplied for justification dealt with the matter of calling – I am “called” to do and enjoy such things that this person or other Christians are not or cannot.  I have thought about this enough to be concerned over the reply.  I do think that there is a supernatural call of God upon certain believers to vocational ministry; I do think that God gifts specific Christian ministers in very particular ways, especially in the area of teaching and preaching His Word; however, I do not believe that this in any way lessens the responsibility of the Christian that has not been called to vocational ministry to study and reflect upon the Bible and the things of God, much less his or her capacity for the enjoyment of such godly leisure.  I believe that the gospel call is the call to deep and delightful Bible study, to ministry in the lay sense of the word.  When the individual responds to the gospel, God has begun forming them into the image of Jesus – how then can they not enjoy studying His Word or ministering to the world?  It is not a good justification of the lack of depth in one’s Christian walk simply to assert that one is not called to full-time Christian ministry, as if the minister in this sense should somehow be more able to enjoy God or more apt to godliness.  I want to assert, again, that I do not believe that one should necessarily trust an ethereal experience as the primary source of the call to full-time ministry; rather, this call begins with faith in the gospel, is affirmed by the church, is evidenced by faith working through love, and should be sought out – not by the one so called, but by the elders of the church, who should be keeping a steady eye on those in the church giving the proof of such a call; but all Christians are “called” to enjoy God, to glorify God, to deeply and delightfully study the Bible, to be a royal priesthood.  So I would say that the member of the congregation should seek the Lord as fully as possible, even as his or her pastors seek the Lord as fully as possible, and that it is the effectual gospel call in general that should so reform our hearts that our greatest affection, regardless of vocation, is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever through deep and delightful communion with Him in Christ.

Highlighting the Progression of Progressive Sanctification As the Means of Gracious Christian Fellowship

This is the longest title I could come up with to begin an attempt at what I would like to describe.  There is an understanding of human nature that establishes its unchanging essence.  We tend to ascribe a certain personality, character, or existence to a person whether they are ten years old or 100, and we stick it to them as if this is who they will always be for eternity.  This sort of pessimistic personality pinning is detrimental to true Christian fellowship.  It leads to gossip, hypocrisy; it gives no room for Christian growth, no room for conformity to Christ; it is as if God had not put His Spirit in our hearts for the great goal of conformity to Christ in every possible way throughout this life; it cannot be that we think that one is perfected at conversion; it must be that we have so little patience towards one another, and so little hope and faith in God to produce spiritual children.  Love is lost in this view; perhaps, it is not even a view that is realized as a view; nevertheless, many people, many believers act towards one another as if this is the reality.  The domino effect of this is that rather than bear with one another patiently, praying for one another that God would graciously change a particularly unbiblical trait, etc., building up one another in and by God’s Word, realizing that none of us will be perfected ’til we see Christ face to face, we speak ill of one another, slandering one another, having no hope for one another, forgetting our own sinfulness, we speak without full knowledge, we become less inclined to confront and work with one another towards the goal of Christ-likeness, we lose the notion and essence of sanctification – that it is a progressive work of God in us.  I have often gone to older journals from the beginning of my Christian walk, and have laughed and sometimes cringed at things that I had written – but God is gracious, and therefore, was gracious towards me in moving my thinking Christward, and hopefully, my actions too; but I am not yet there, I have not yet attained it, nor had the apostle Paul.  So, I confess this much!  I am saved, yet a sinner; a sinner still, and yet saved, and God is working in me to make me like His Son, Jesus Christ.  I hope, then, to have a realistic view of others as well – not to scoff at their lack of understanding, or the care with which they conduct their lives; not to speak ill of one who is going through exactly what I am going through – sanctification; but to come alongside them, encourage them, confront them, walk with them, love them, and help them towards Christlikeness; and I pray that they would take the same biblical approach towards me.  What good does it do to talk poorly of a brother or sister in Christ behind their back (even if they could have spoken or acted more wisely than they did, etc.), when you could have kindly spoken with them and pointed them Godward with love?  

We are not yet what we will be – there is great hope in this; and a call for the utmost humility in dealing with one another; let us remember that we are all walking along the Way of holiness by the grace of God; let us help one another, talk to one another, lovingly embrace and pray for one another that we may build up one another until that day when we see our Savior face to face, when we shall be like Him, even as He is.  We must realize sanctification in ourselves; then we will be more apt to realize it in others and to help them to attain the prize of perfection in the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  This is progressive; let us bear with one another.

Marketing the Season of Christ’s Incarnation

I don’t know why I have never considered that which has today become some obvious to me – in the stores, shops, restaurants, and minds of Americans, Christmas is no longer primarily about Christ.  It is about a jolly ole’ gluttonous man, overeating, self-indulging shopping sprees, a time for peace in the nation minus the gospel of peace, and above all, an opportunity to market any and all manner of merchandise without even a sniff of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Our stores market and abuse words, themes, items that originated in the Bible, while extracting the true meaning of this celebration – the cosmic salvation of God, His deliverance of His elect, His creation from all principalities, powers, and oppressions, from sin, death, and hell, for His glory is all magnificently bundled up within the doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation.  This is what Christmas is about; this is the reason for the season; this is our celebration.  It is a time of reflection upon this accomplished salvation, this gospel offered and applied rather than the ridiculous amounts of materials we have received, most of which we will rarely – if ever – make serious use of.  The industry, however, has successfully lured us away from this reality, in large part because they do not know of it, but also because by so doing they stand to make lots of money.  So, I pose the question to you:  what have your considerations been this month?  Have they been centered on the affront that marketers have created to determine the ebb and flow of American consumerism, such that one has fallen into the wayside called Vanity-Fair?  Or have your thoughts been centered on reflecting God’s gift of His Son through your own sacrificial giving of time, love, energy, and yes, gifts to those in your family, friends, and a world of unbelievers – has Christ and His Incarnation been the material for your own musing this Christmas season?   Hopefully, He has and His salvation shall be the grace and salt upon our lips this year.

Critique of “The Shack” by William P. Young: Part 1

Allow me to introduce this critique of William P. Young’s The Shack by writing to “probable intention”, and the “regardless reality.”

I do not know William P. Young; in all likelihood, I never will.  Therefore, I cannot offer direct statements about his character, or even whether or not he holds to the things that he has written.  From the book itself, I may only infer that he holds to many of the ideas set forth.  Most of them would disqualify him from being considered a brother in Christ according to my adopted “truth triad” – there are some things that Christians can disagree on and consider one another brothers and sisters in Christ, but perhaps go to different local congregations; other disagreements are less severe, such that the two could go to the same church; but some are so contra biblical that anyone who holds them cannot be considered an authentic believer in Jesus Christ.  These kinds of disagreements over truth would include things like the denial of Christ’s virgin birth, or His bodily resurrection, or a pluralistic view of obtaining reconciliation with God – this book agrees with the latter.  

There is a 50/50 probability that Young did not intend for this book to have such a profound and sudden impact, or that it was to be taken quite so literally.  Perhaps, he intended it to be what it is – fiction – this is his probable intention, as I see fit to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Nevertheless, C.S. Lewis, and John Bunyan have taught us truth via fiction.  Therefore, no matter Young’s intention, many read it with embracing souls.  I write to say that this is extremely detrimental to the soul of one who also embraces the name of Jesus Christ.  For whereas Lewis, and (especially) Bunyan teach us truth (insofar as it accords with God’s Word), Young falls woefully, damningly short.  

Let me then speak to a “regardless reality.”  Whatever Young intended by the writing of this book, it has far outstretched his imagination; true, it is fiction, but it is not being read as fiction.  The problem is not really Young’s fault as it pertains to the church.  For the reality is that the concepts in his book are not only taking hold of the unbelieving kingdom around us, but are infiltrating the very group of elect people who are called to be a royal priesthood unto God, a people who are a light, a body embracing truth, a Bride proclaiming the excellencies of her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  Some close to me, professed believers, have read and enjoyed this book, citing it as transformational (including noted professors of Christianity, Eugene Peterson and Michael W. Smith).  Others have used it as new approaches to understanding the Holy Spirit.  Reports come to me that some also read it for a small group study supplanting . . . the Bible.  

I am not angered at William P. Young; but I am concerned for the church of Jesus Christ.  Indeed, I say, read the book . . . just don’t read it without the Scriptures of God right beside it, as a lens through which to examine it, to critique it and repudiate that which abhors the truth of God’s revealed Word.  The problem is that some in the church are uncritically reading this book, and in so doing are falling in line with Paul’s prophecy in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears  they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Paul condemns Jannes and Jambres as men who “oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith;” then, he continues, “But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men,” (2 Tim 3:8-9).  I would ask those believers who have read Young’s book, “How far have his words gotten with you?”  Paul implies that the church is the body of Christ that wages war with the truth of His Word, that stands immovable upon the truth, that loves the truth, that presses the truth upon the consciences of men, and alas, they recognize and repudiate error with fervor, condemning its teaching.  Where are we as the church in this regard?  

The Bible is our lifeblood.  It is the standard of truth by which we measure all other ideas, all other truth claims – fictional or non-fictional.  When, and if we come across ideas that are antithetical to the gospel, we must flatly call them out, make them known, and deny them.  The Shack consists of such ideas.  Forthcoming posts will deal with Young’s book, chapter by chapter, in order to set it in view of the Bible, the light which reveals all darkness for what it truly is.  May God be glorified in Christ, and in our own souls as we undertake such an endeavor in the knowledge of the truth.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.