Archive | Theology/Bible

Why our churches need more gray hair

In Titus 2:2, Paul writes to Titus about the older men in his congregation:

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” –Titus 2:2

These older men are not to be confused with those who hold the office of elder (cf. 1:5). The “older men” are those who literally have advanced age. Paul says that these men must have several exemplary characteristics.

“Sober-minded” translates a term that means “very moderate in the drinking of an alcoholic beverage” (BDAG). Its figurative extension here means “be free fr. every form of mental and spiritual ‘drunkenness’, fr. excess, passion, rashness, confusion” (BDAG). It is a call to be “restrained in conduct, self-controlled, level-headed” (BDAG).

“Dignified” means “worthy of respect/honor, noble, dignified, serious” (BDAG). The dignified person is so self-possessed and in control of his temper and fears that he elicits admiration from those who know him.

“Self-controlled” indicates someone who is “thoughtful, self-controlled” (BDAG). In Aristotle’s ethics, the term indicates “avoidance of extremes and careful consideration for responsible action” (Aristot., EN 3, 15; BDAG). For Aristotle, the “self-controlled” person “is intent on the what, the how, and the when of doing what should be done.”

“Sound” means to be “healthy” or free from sickness. The figurative extension of that meaning here is “correct” or free from error. So “sound” in faith, love, and endurance means that older men have to believe in the right way, love in the right way, and endure in the right way.

In sum, Paul says that older men must be those who do not panic in the face of a challenge. They do not get angry when provoked. They do not fear in the face of a threat. The older men are to be as solid as an oak. They are to be the kind of men to whom people look when something is broken and no one knows how to fix it. They are the kind of men who are sought out for their wisdom and ability to speak truth into very difficult situations.

They are exemplary in faith and in love for wife and children and church and neighbor. They face trials with perseverance and courage. They are the kind of men that you want your son to grow up and be like.

Churches desperately need their older men to exemplify being sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Churches need an army of laymen who believe well, love well, and suffer well. And churches need them because these older men are the pace-setters for the rest of the church. It is not an accident that Paul begins with the older men. He begins with them because he intends for the old guys to be leading out in these things in the church and in their homes.

Proverbs 20:29 says that “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” This verse means that young men are not noted for their great and profound wisdom into life. The main contribution of young men is their ability to serve others with their physical strength and vigor. That means that the young men ought to be trying to out-serve one another in ways that involve their physical ability. When someone needs help moving, they show up. When there is a workday at the church, the young men need to be there with their able-bodied eagerness.

But as the years accumulate strength diminishes. And as strength diminishes, guess what begins to accumulate? Experience and wisdom. And gray hair represents the accumulation of wisdom and sensibleness about life and about what needs to be done. And this is an old man’s splendor and contribution to his neighbor. And it is supposed to be his contribution to the body of Christ. The church needs her older men to be what God has called them to be. They should live life in such a way that evokes admiration and respect. They do not need to be great orators. They do not need to write books on theology. They simply need to be godly. They need to be able to pour themselves out to their family and others who need their steadiness and wisdom.

The world’s point of view on the relationship between gray hair and wisdom is upside down. The world absolutely idolizes youth. So much so, that the order of the day is to suppress the appearance of age—to try to stay and look as young as you can for as long as you can because the essence of the good life is for those who are youthful, vigorous, and beautiful. And the world caters to the tastes and opinions of the young because they are the most coveted consumer demographic.

The world puts the old people on the shelf and the young people on the podium. But it really should be the other way around. Every believer should aspire to the crown of splendor—to the honor that is due to those who have learned to live well and faithfully to what God has called them. So this word to the old, therefore, is a word to all of us.

Princeton Seminary rescinds award to Tim Keller: What does it mean?

Princeton Theological Seminary was recently embroiled in controversy over its decision to give the Kuyper Award to Pastor Tim Keller. The award is supposed to go to a “scholar or community leader whose outstanding contribution to their chosen sphere reflects the ideas and values characteristic of the Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance” (source).

As an accomplished pastor and missiologist, Keller certainly meets that description. So why the controversy? Members of the Princeton Seminary community and constituency believe that Keller has disqualified himself from receiving this award. So earlier today under pressure from these groups, the President of Princeton Seminary rescinded the award. Here’s how the president explained his decision: Continue Reading →

Top Ten Memories of OneDay 2000

Sarah Zylstra has a really fun piece over at The Gospel Coalition about John Piper’s famous “seashell” sermon from the 2000 Passion Conference called “OneDay.” I was at OneDay, and I had a great time recounting my memories of that event in a brief interview with Sarah several weeks ago. Of course there was a lot that we talked about that did not make it into the article. For that reason, I thought would briefly jot down some of those thoughts here. So here are my top ten memorable memories of the memorable occasion known as OneDay 2000. Continue Reading →

Are You a Scoffer?

Yesterday, we learned from Psalm 1:1-2 that “blessedness” is “happiness.” If you want to be a happy person, you have to avoid being like the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers (v. 1). The root of blessedness—indeed of true happiness—is knowing God through His word (v. 2).

There is one other item that we need to look at from verse one—the word translated as “scoffers.” Perhaps it is not too difficult to comprehend what David means by “the wicked” and “the sinners,” for in both cases he is talking about law-breakers. But what is a scoffer, and how do we avoid sitting in his seat? We can answer both questions by looking at how the Bible describes the scoffer. Continue Reading →

Where does happiness come from?

Sometimes English translations of Psalm 1:1-2 conceal the real point of the text. I have in mind the words that are commonly translated as “blessed” and “delight.” Take the NASB for example:

1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

The NASB has not mistranslated these two terms. It in fact tracks right along with many other major English versions (e.g., ESV, NIV, RSV). The problem is not translation, but tradition. Continue Reading →

Cheap grace is no grace at all

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes in vivid terms what he means by cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church…

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins… In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Continue Reading →

Pursue God, Not Pornography

Pornography is such a pervasive evil. It is eviscerating our civilization and even our churches. I continue to be burdened that this ubiquitous evil in our culture has become such a ubiquitous evil in our pews. That was the occasion for my message yesterday in the chapel of Southern Seminary and Boyce College. View it above or listen below.

D. A. Carson warns against affirming gay marriage as a “Christian” view

D. A. Carson has written an essay for Themelios explaining “Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives.” Among other examples, he lists Zondervan’s recent Counterpoints volume which has two essays arguing that homosexual immorality is compatible with scripture, and two essays arguing that it isn’t. I’ve commented on the Counterpoints volume twice in this space (here and here), and I share Carson’s concerns. Here is an excerpt from Carson’s essay:

Recently Zondervan published Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church; this book bills these two views as “affirming” and “non-affirming,” and two authors support each side. Both sides, we are told, argue “from Scripture.” If the “affirming” side was once viewed as a stance that could not be held by confessional evangelicals, this book declares that not only the non-affirming stance but the affirming stance are represented within the evangelical camp, so the effect of this book is to present alternative evangelical positions, one that thinks the Bible prohibits homosexual marriage, and the other that embraces it…

Inevitably, there have been some articulate voices that insist that adopting an “affirming” stance on homosexual marriage does not jeopardize one’s salvation and should not place such a person outside the evangelical camp. For example, in his essay “An Evangelical Approach to Sexual Ethics,” Steven Holmes concludes, “Sola Fide. I have to stand on that. Because the Blood flowed where I walk and where we all walk. One perfect sacrifice complete, once for all offered for all the world, offering renewal to all who will put their faith in Him. And if that means me, in all my failures and confusions, then it also means my friends who affirm same-sex marriage, in all their failures and confusions. If my faithful and affirming friends have no hope of salvation, then nor do I.” But this is an abuse of the evangelical insistence on sola fide. I do not know any Christian who thinks that salvation is appropriated by means of faith plus an affirmation of heterosexuality. Faith alone is the means by which sola gratia is appropriated. Nevertheless, that grace is so powerful it transforms. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone issues in a new direction under the lordship of King Jesus. Those who are sold out to the “acts of the flesh … will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19–21). The apostle Paul makes a similar assertion in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers not men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And 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 (emphasis added).

In the context of Paul’s thought, he is not saying that without sinless perfection there is no entrance into the kingdom, but he is saying that such sins—whether greed or adultery or homosexual practice or whatever—no longer characterize the washed, sanctified, and justified. In other words, it is one thing to affirm with joy that sola fide means that we appropriate the merits of Christ and his cross by faith alone, not by our holiness—that holiness is the product of salvation, not its condition—and it is quite another thing to say that someone may self-consciously affirm the non-sinfulness of what God has declared to be sin, of what God insists excludes a person from the kingdom, and say that it doesn’t matter because sola fide will get them in anyway. The Scriptures make a lot of room for believers who slip and slide in “failures and confusions,” as Holmes put it, but who rest in God’s grace and receive it in God-given faith; they do not leave a lot of room for those who deny they are sinning despite what God says. Sola gratia and sola fide are always accompanied by sola Scriptura, by solus Christus, and by soli Deo gloria.

Carson goes on to comment on a number of contemporary developments related to evangelicals and sexuality—including Brandon and Jen Hatmaker’s recent endorsement of sexual immorality. Read the rest of Carson’s essay here.

President Reagan’s stunning statement of pro-life conviction

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is an annual observance held on the Sunday closest to anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion (January 22). The tradition started in 1984 on the eleventh anniversary of Roe.

President Reagan issued a proclamation marking the day, which was held on January 22, 1984. Since then, Democrat presidents have tended not to mark the day with official proclamations, while Republicans have. Nevertheless, the observance has gone on in churches across the country every year with or without the proclamation. I will be marking the day in my sermon tomorrow at our church.

Tomorrow’s observance happens to fall on the exact anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I thought it would be worth the time to revisit President Reagan’s original proclamation. It is a stunning statement of pro-life conviction, and it is cast in terms that are very rare today from people in high office. The text is below. Continue Reading →

Should we avoid praying for Donald Trump by name in public worship?

Mike Kinman (rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA) explains why his church will not pray for Donald Trump by name in their public services, even though they prayed for President Obama by name. He writes:

We are in a unique situation in my lifetime where we have a president elect whose name is literally a trauma trigger to some people – particularly women and people who, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety.

This presents a challenge. We are rightly charged with praying for our leaders … but we are also charged with keeping the worshipping community, while certainly not challenge-free, a place of safety from harm. As I have said before, for some it could be as if we demanded a battered woman pray for her abuser by name. It’s not that the abuser doesn’t need prayer – certainly the opposite – but prayer should never be a trauma-causing act.

The question is – does saying the president’s name in prayer in this way compromise the safety of the worshipping community? Let me be clear that I believe this is a high bar … much more than “I disagree with the president” or even “the president deeply offends me.” This is the level of compromising the safety of the worshipping community.

The Bible does command Christians to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), but there is no requirement that we must do so by name. So I don’t want to go beyond what scripture says about how explicit our prayers must be. I don’t think we have to say every leader’s name in order to pray for them faithfully in public worship. Having said that, I have a few concerns about the rationale given by the rector above:

First, I am skeptical about this reluctance to name someone whom we will be referring to anyway. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that the president-elect is as scary as some people fear. I can’t help but think about the Harry Potter stories in which Harry is the only person willing to say the name “Voldemort.” No one else would utter “Voldemort” because the mere mention of his name made them fearful and anxious. Harry stood out because he knew no such fear. His willingness to say the name contrasted his courage with everyone else’s fear. Likewise, could a reluctance to say Trump’s name be catering to fear? Shouldn’t the gospel be casting out such fear?  Because the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders, we are going to pray for the president one way or the other. That means that we are still going to be referring to Mr. Trump in public worship even if we don’t say the name “Trump.” We are still going to be drawing the same person to people’s minds. If we treat him as “him who shall not be named,” I am concerned that we might communicate fear rather than courage to congregants.

Second, we have been praying for President Obama by name at our church. If we were to avoid praying for President Trump by name, I don’t know how that wouldn’t be perceived as a partisan statement (at least by some). Shouldn’t we avoid the appearance of partisanship in our prayers for our leaders?  If your tradition has been to pray generically for “the president,” then no problem continuing that in the new administration. If your tradition has been to pray for the president by name, then people will notice when you stop doing that for the new president. And they may view it as a political statement.

Third, “trigger warnings” have a poor track-record in institutions of higher education, where they have become ubiquitous. In colleges and universities, there is growing evidence that this sensitivity to “triggers” has done little to educate or to shape the character of students in positive ways. In fact, the opposite seems to have taken place, and much speech has been shut down and squelched by hyper-sensitivity to “triggers.” I can’t imagine how it would be helpful to cultivate such censorious sensitivities within the church. One could make the case that the Bible itself is just one giant “trigger.” Are we going to self-censor the “triggers” from scripture too? Many churches already do that, even though they may not admit it in so many words. And that is not a faithful path for any congregation to go down.

There is a Proverb that says this: “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). Sensitivity to triggers seems to cater to those who are constantly fleeing, even when there is no real danger afoot. If we want to teach God’s people to be as “bold as a lion,” avoiding Trump’s name is unlikely to help. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.

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