Gospel Outside – Go Teach Sunday School

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

“You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue.” -Claude Chabrol

Often times, when we think of being highly successful, wealthy or famous, we think life gets easy. We picture business owners, entertainers and leaders as the people who get to kick back behind the scenes and be important while they have “their people” do the hands-on grunt work.

That’s not how it works (at least not most of the time).

I am often impressed by the work that people I often expect to be more hands-off get done. These people usually know that God has blessed their diligence and attention and has brought them a measure of success, and they are usually willing to dive in to accomplish a goal or task. I’ve spent countless hours doing hands-on grunt work next to world-famous musicians that haul and set up their own equipment, or businessmen willing to get dirty working on a construction project, or pastors and ministry leaders that aren’t content to stay behind a podium and speak but get out serve by driving a van, shoveling snow or cleaning a mess. These people recognize that they are not above these tasks-they are willing to do whatever they need to do in order to reach their goals.

Jesus was a different story. He wasn’t different in that he didn’t do those hands-on tasks, because in every story of the gospels you see Jesus mingling and interacting with people at their level; spending quality tie with the poor and needy, fishing with Peter, even spending time playing with little kids!

Jesus was willing to do whatever task needed to be done. The difference is that he was above these tasks. As Creator of the Universe, King of Kings, and Messiah, he would have been justified in saying, “Andrew, you are in charge of children’s ministry. You play with them, I’ll sit here and teach the adults.” Instead he said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 19:14, ESV) He even took time to wash his disciples’ stinky, dirty, nasty feet to display what it means to be a servant.

But these are from the gospels, and this is supposed to be Gospel Outside, so lets get outside the gospels.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

-Philippians 2:4-11

When we are faced with an opportunity to do good, to minister and love on someone who needs another person to show they care, remember the example that the God of the Universe provided for us. He didn’t just humble himself to become the Supreme Ruler of the Earth, with each and every human being as his servant – because that truly would have been a humbling, descending from the glory of heaven and the constant worship of angels to a fallen and sinful planet he created. No, Jesus made himself nothing, a slave, the guy that does the things others aren’t willing to do. He even allowed the very creation that he not only brought into being, but whose existence he continued to sustain, to beat, torture and murder him.

And he did it for us, to provide an opportunity for you and I to have a restored relationship with God.

When you begin to think too highly of yourself, when you start to think that you are better than someone else or decide that some task is beneath you, remember that Christ came to spend time with “those types of people,” doing that stuff that you think someone else should be doing, and that someday each and every person who has ever lived will recognize the Lordship of Christ because of it.

Thoughts to drive us – Better resolutions than yours

ResolvedBeing sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the forementioned things.
3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.
12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.
16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.
19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

-Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a fiery preacher in New England and is considered to be one of America’s greatest preachers and theologians. He is particularly notable as a central figure in the Great Awakening.
These 21 resolutions are the first of 70 written by Edwards. For the full list, click here.

Gospel Outside – Don’t Lie To Yourself

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

Art by Scott Erickson. Visit www.scottericksonart.com
“Man Acquainted With Grief” by Scott Erickson

Have you ever had a problem but just wanted to pretend it wasn’t there? For the last two weeks I’ve been sick. I don’t think it has been one illness, I think I have had the luck to contract several illnesses in succession. Over those two weeks I did what I think many of us often do – I tried to pretend I wasn’t sick. I’m sure many of you have done the same thing; you show up someplace when you know you should be home resting and everyone looks at you with concern and asks, “Are you ok? You look horrible!” Despite the fact that I was obviously sick I went Christmas shopping, pretending I was fine right up until I was so exhausted by my illness that I couldn’t walk straight. I decided to go home before I face-dove into a store display.

We can be very good at pretending to avoid a reality we don’t like, and we will often carry that delusion right up until we are forced to face reality. Problems arise when we are able to avoid that reality for long periods of time and we continually perpetuate the lie we want to believe instead of facing the truth we don’t like.

We can often do this when it comes to our sin. Sometimes we like to pretend that our actions are fine when the reality is that we are really enjoying our sin. Sometimes we like to ignore some things we really should be doing and pretend that our avoidance of what God has called us to do is something other than sin. And sometimes we like to pretend that, when we ask for forgiveness from those sins after we finally own up to them, the sins simply evaporate from existence, “because Jesus.” We don’t like thinking about what that forgiveness cost.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
-2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Our forgiveness isn’t a pat on the tush and a redirection of our life, it came with a terrible cost. Sin, even the “little” sins, are a rejection and rebellion of the King of the Universe. In order for our rebellion to be forgiven and our sin to be paid for we needed someone to pay the penalty as our substitute. This was what Christ came into the world to do. The Eternal Word, the being that spoke creation into being, took our sin fully upon himself and died so that we could avoid the eternal death that is the penalty for sin.

Don’t look away from that fact. Remember what it was that the infant Christ came into the world to do – to be tortured and to die as the only human in history not to deserve what he got and the only one able to bring salvation for the rest of us. Praise God for His grace and mercy!

The art pictured here is called “Man Acquainted With Grief” by my friend Scott Erickson. Click here to go to his website and check out his other work – some very powerful and some that is just plain fun!

Thoughts to drive us – Violent Santa for Jesus

Saint_NicholasThe giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic Gods giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.
-Nicholas of Myra

Nicholas was a church father who, among other things, defended orthodoxy by sitting on the First Council of Nicaea, signing the Nicene Creed, and punching the heretic Arius in the face. Go Saint Nick!

Gospel Outside – Creation: Sex and Death

While the gospels are the easiest place to see the person and work of Jesus Christ, the entirety of the scriptures share the gospel story. Gospel Outside will highlight a part of the gospel seen outside of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

GrossNearly every culture from around the world has a creation myth. Each story is connected with that culture’s religious system and, while many are unique, there is some overlap in concepts and ideas. A couple of themes that often run through these creation myths are sex and death. Here is an example from a Babylonian creation myth featuring the chief Babylonian god Marduk;

Marduk armed himself with a bow and arrows, a club, and lightning, and he went in search of Tiamat’s monstrous army. Rolling his thunder and storms in front him, he attacked, and Kingu’s battle plan soon disintegrated. Tiamat was left alone to fight Marduk, and she howled as they closed for battle. They struggled as Marduk caught her in his nets. When she opened her mouth to devour him, he filled it with the evil wind that served him. She could not close her mouth with his gale blasting in it, and he shot an arrow down her throat. It split her heart, and she was slain.

After subduing the rest of her host, he took his club and split Tiamat’s water-laden body in half like a clam shell. Half he put in the sky and made the heavens, and he posted guards there to make sure that Tiamat’s salt waters could not escape. Across the heavens he made stations in the stars for the gods, and he made the moon and set it forth on its schedule across the heavens. From the other half of Tiamat’s body he made the land, which he placed over Apsu’s fresh waters, which now arise in wells and springs. From her eyes he made flow the Tigirs and Euphrates. Across this land he made the grains and herbs, the pastures and fields, the rains and the seeds, the cows and ewes, and the forests and the orchards.

Marduk set the vanquished gods who had supported Tiamat to a variety of tasks, including work in the fields and canals. Soon they complained of their work, however, and they rebeled by burning their spades and baskets. Marduk saw a solution to their labors, though, and proposed it to Ea. He had Kingu, Timat’s general, brought forward from the ranks of the defeated gods, and Kingu was slain. With Kingu’s blood, with clay from the earth, and with spittle from the other gods, Ea and the birth-goddess Nintu created humans. On them Ea imposed the labor previously assigned to the gods. Thus the humans were set to maintain the canals and boundary ditches, to hoe and to carry, to irrigate the land and to raise crops, to raise animals and fill the granaries, and to worship the gods at their regular festivals.

-“The Babylonian Genesis” (2nd edn.), Alexander Heidel, 1952: Chicago, University of Chicago Press, available here.

Creation myths are filled with similar ideas to this story: humanity came to be through unpleasant and unfortunate circumstances for the purpose of serving petty and power hungry gods.

Imagine being a child and hearing this story. How would you view the world if you believed your existence is based on the slaughter of some higher being, and your creation was to do the work that the lesser gods didn’t want to do? You’d grow up worried about how to please a petty god that would just as well squash you as let you live. You would know that, despite your abilities and efforts, anything you do could we wiped away at their whim. Life would have little meaning or value, so anything you do has even less value. And when life has little value, evil and selfishness run rampant, the strong prey on the weak, and hopelessness and despair reign.

It was into this world that God sent a simple message:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

This is something that we often just fly past without thinking, but it has profound meaning. The creation of our world, leading up to and including our creation, wasn’t an accident or an unfortunate side effect, it was intentional and planned from the start. And that creation was made personally by God, and in a very personal form; through his voice. God spoke creation into being, giving creation His personal attention and care.

And He took special time to create humans:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28 (ESV)

Humanity was not an afterthought, it was special above the rest of creation. Humanity was made in the very image of the Creator – we bear His likeness! We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not some afterthought serving a pantheon of petty gods. Our lives are not hopeless, they are valuable beyond our imagination because God intentionally created us for a purpose – to worship and serve Him. Not by doing tasks He is unwilling or unable to do, but because He is worthy to be worshiped and praised!

So, when you are feeling down and when life starts to get to you, remember that God has specially created you with care and purpose – you are highly valued and loved by the Creator of the Universe! You are who you are because God wants you that way, and He has put you where He has you for a reason. Rest knowing that He is there for you!

Thoughts to drive us – Worms

640px-Лютер_в_Вормсе
“Лютер в Вормсе” by Anton von Werner – Скан картины.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.

-Martin Luther, at the Imperial Diet of Worms (1521), when pressed to recant his teachings calling for reform within the church.

More on Luther and the Diet of Worms

My Response To Critics: Hey guys, I’m a false teacher!

Anti BartSo I think this is my final comments on the past conflicts we have seen in our push towards unity among Christians in my community.

Unless it isn’t.

So anyways, this lesson comes to us from a letter to the editor responding to my “Unite around the Bible” article that was published by the local newspaper. Here is some of what the letter writer says:

There are many sad things going on in this world and one of them happens to be so called “Christian” churches manipulating scripture to satisfy their own self worth and greed.
They then try to hide this manipulation by promoting a fake sense of “unity” to fool the public into a false belief that their disagreement with scripture isn’t harming them and all these other denominations really agree with their point of view…

So if you want true “Christian Unity” don’t follow the false teachings of the fake unity around us today, but ground your beliefs in the only true source God uses to obtain real “Christian Unity” – the Bible.

Anthony Scheff, “Unite around the Bible,” in Readers’ View, Fairmont Sentinel, Thursday, October 6, 2014, pg 6

As I have stated previously, we have not sought to water down God’s word or to ignore aspects of scripture, we have pushed to work together towards what God has called us to while not letting those disagreements on secondary issues prevent us from accomplishing the tasks to which He has called us. To claim that what we are doing is “manipulating scripture” is laughable. To think that the push is about making ourselves feel good or lining our pockets is absurd – for the Unity Station fair outreach I contributed hundreds of hours of work, and thousands of dollars were committed to the project, with income from donations covering well below 10% of the expenses.

As the writer of this letter continues, he echoes the criticisms of the local pastor who claims that any short of full agreement with their interpretation of scripture is acceptance of “false doctrine,” which this letter writer equates with being “‘united’ in belief with Satan.”

While some of the rhetoric in this letter goes massively overboard, it is representative of something I have seen more and more in recent years. In any (reasonable) collection of believers and Christ followers there will come disagreements over the scriptures. That is as true among a collection of believers in a church who have agreed to a statement of faith from that church or denomination as it is in an ecumenical collection of believers that crosses denominational and faith-tradition lines. However, more and more I am hearing claims that someone else is believes “unbiblical” or “false” teachings and beliefs.

Just because we don’t agree with someone doesn’t make them a false teacher or heretic!

Church tradition has laid out what we call orthodoxy. Orthodoxy can be defined as a standard of belief that has been carried by those faithful to the one true God throughout history. We do not stand as believers today on our own; we are supported by the faithful around us in our churches and communities as well as around the world, and we are supported by the billions of faithful followers of Christ who have come before us over the two millennia since Christ walked among us. Sometimes opposing viewpoints can both claim orthodoxy: for example, Calvinism and Arminianism both can show support for their respective beliefs from throughout Christian history.

Now to make the claim that any disagreement with one particular set of theological beliefs ignores the breadth of viewpoints from throughout history, as well as the breadth of viewpoints within the lifespan of individual teachers and leaders from history. With careful study you can see how Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and nearly any other great teacher from history developed their beliefs over the course of their lives. They did not jump into ministry at 18 years old with a fully developed set of beliefs and a full understanding of the scriptures; God walked these great men through the process of sanctification, teaching them, guiding them and growing them just as he does with each of us today.

Last week I posted an extended quote by Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate. Jerome was passionate about God’s Word, so much so that his life work was to bring a translation to the church that would be the most useful and as accurate possible. Here is a quote from Jerome:

Do not take offence on account of the simplicity of Holy Scripture or the unsophistication of its words, for these are due either to translation faults or have some deeper purpose. For Scripture offers itself in such a way that an uneducated congregation can more easily learn from it, some benefit there, and both the learned and the unlearned can discover different meanings in the same sentence. I am not so arrogant nor so forward as to claim that I know this, which would be like wanting to pick on earth the fruits of trees whose roots are in heaven.

-Jerome (342-420 AD)

“The Christian Theology Reader,” ed. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishing: 2007, pg 88.

Jerome, one of the greatest pure Bible scholars in history, was so impressed at the depth found in the Bible that he claimed it would be arrogance to claim to have full knowledge of God’s Word, even though an uneducated, average, every-day church goer can pick up a Bible and have an insight that would completely blow away long-time pastors and scholars alike.

So my closing encouragement is this: don’t take the Bible for granted. Be reminded of the incredible gift it is, and humbly acknowledge that part of that gift is our lack of understanding and opportunity to seek truth together, knowing that God is passionate about opening His truth up to those who seek after him.

The Lord has said: “ask, and it shall be given; knock, and it shall be opened; seek, and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). So let us study here on earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven.
-Jerome

Thoughts to drive us – an old guy on the Bible

Domenico_Ghirlandaio_-_St_Jerome_in_his_studyPaul speaks of a “wisdom of God hidden in a mystery, which God ordained before the world” (1 Corinthians 2:7). God’s wisdom is Christ, for Christ, we are told, is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). This wisdom remains hidden in a mystery. It is to this that the title of Psalm 9:1, “for the hidden things of the Son,” refers. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The one who was hidden in mystery is the same who was predestined before the world, and was foreordained and prefigured in the Law and the Prophets. That is why the prophets were called seers: they saw him whom others did not see. Abraham also saw his day, and was glad (John 8:56). The heavens which were sealed to a rebellious people were opened to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1). “Open my eyes, ” says David, “so that I may behold the wondrous things of your law” (Psalm 118:18). For the law is spiritual, and in order to understand it we need the veil to be removed and the glory of God to be seen with an uncovered face (2 Corinthians 3:14–18). …

I beg you, my dearest brother, to live among these [sacred books], to meditate on them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else. Does not this seem to you to be a little bit of heaven here on earth? Do not take offence on account of the simplicity of Holy Scripture or the unsophistication of its words, for these are due either to translation faults or have some deeper purpose. For Scripture offers itself in such a way that an uneducated congregation can more easily learn from it, some benefit there, and both the learned and the unlearned can discover different meanings in the same sentence. I am not so arrogant nor so forward as to claim that I know this, which would be like wanting to pick on earth the fruits of trees whose roots are in heaven. However, I confess that I would like to do so. The Lord has said: “ask, and it shall be given; knock, and it shall be opened; seek, and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). So let us study here on earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven.

-Jerome (342-420 AD)
“The Christian Theology Reader,” ed. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishing: 2007, pg 88.

Jerome was an early church father that is best known as the translator of the Latin Vulgate, bringing a more accurate version of God’s Word to the people of his era. The Vulgate would be used by the church for centuries to follow.

My Respone To Critics: Unity and getting over yourself

Lets hug it out 2Unity seems like a good idea, right? Most people I’ve talked to, including some who do not regularly attend church, think the idea of churches working together to share God’ love to those who need it is a good thing. For most it is, as my mother would say, a “No Duh!” kind of thing.

Not so for everyone. The following excerpt was published in the Fairmont Sentinel on Oct 24th in response to our push for greater unity in the Christian community and our Unity Station outreach at the county fair;

Laudable intention. Wrong approach. An outward display of unity is pointless, even harmful, if there isn’t true unity based upon the Word of God. Christians end up settling for a “least common denominator” faith: We all believe that the Bible is true and Jesus has provided a way for us to be forgiven. Every other doctrine in Scripture is discarded as “secondary.”

…We’re more willing to settle for a façade of unity than to actually confront and correct false teaching on the basis of Scripture alone.

-Peter Hagen, “Can we achieve unity in the Christian church?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Oct 24, 2014, pg 6

I don’t disagree with the concept of unity being based on the Word of God. In fact, as we have communicated our vision for unity it has been based on the truth of Scripture and the need for saving faith. We have in no way “discarded” other theological beliefs, but we have stated that those beliefs are secondary because without saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord they are irrelevant; you can be the strongest believer the episcopal form of church government or consubstantiation in the world, but if you do not believe you are a sinner whose only hope for salvation lies in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then those beliefs are about as useful as a cardboard box in a hurricane. I believe that all followers of Christ should have some theological viewpoints on these and a multitude of other positions, but as I wrote previously, these things are not “essentials.”

Somehow, when I read the words this pastor wrote in October and received several phone calls from concerned friends and ministry partners, I didn’t think this pastor and I were on the same page. A month later in a follow-up article, the pastor continued his thoughts;

I contend that Scripture is clear. God’s Word means what it says and says what it means…

The problem is with unbelief, which sets God’s Word aside in favor of some other authority.

This problem is compounded by arrogance and condescension, masquerading as pity upon the poor soul who would dare assert that God’s Word is clear (and that, on the basis of that Word, a doctrine could be declared to be “false”).

-Peter Hagen, “Christian unity is good, but how do we attain it?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Nov 14, 2014, pg 6

Again, on the surface I agree with much of this statement, but the pastor’s statement that humility regarding our ability to fully comprehend God and His truth is actually “arrogance and condescension” is, to me, massively narrow-minded. The example this pastor uses regarding how “God’s Word is clear” is the creation account in Genesis 1. He encourages readers to survey local churches and ask, “Does your church teach a literal creation – seven regular days of 24 hours each?” Any other belief, in this pastor’s opinion, is nothing less than a rejection of God’s Word for the acceptance of man’s misguided wisdom.

This point struck home for me. On the specific issue of creation I have in the past shared his viewpoint. I remember a conversation I once had with one of my students, a highly intelligent and well-studied high school girl, over creation. She and her family would be described as “old-earth creationists,” clearly believing that God created everything, but that it was not necessarily in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000 years ago. The statement I made to this student at that time was this; “I’m not sure someone who doesn’t believe in a young-earth creation view really believes the Bible is true.”

I now look back at that conversation with regret (and I later apologized to that family), because I now believe that viewpoint was misguided and arrogant.

For what it’s worth, I am still a young-earth creationist – I do believe that the world was created in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000-10,000 years ago. The thing is, I don’t really care all that much if someone agrees with me on those specific points. My reasons for saying this are the following:

  • I believe that all truth is God’s truth-not just Scripture, but truth found in nature and the world around us. Everything that is true, good and right is intentionally put in place by the Creator. Anything that is evil is a corruption of God’s good, true creation.
  • Our understanding of truth is open to some interpretation. I have extensively studied evolutionary theory for years, and I do not believe it is scientifically irresponsible to hold a young-earth creation view. I can read the Bible and come up with the belief that professing believers should be baptized, others can read the same words and believe that children should be baptized. This isn’t one side or the other refusing to submit to the truth of scripture, it is simply a difference in reading and understanding truth that God is communicating. God is bigger than us, and He is a bit smarter than us. His truth as communicated to us stretches us because it’s more than we can deal with on our own. As Augustine said,

If you understand it, it isn’t God.

  • We must approach the search for truth and understanding with humility, acknowledging that some of God’s truth is beyond our ability to comprehend and must be opened to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We must “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12, ESV). God has begun a good work in us, and we are called to spend our lives humbly pursuing His truth wherever and however He reveals it.
  • On the issue of creation, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to acknowledge that it is very possible that there are other models of creation that are not only possible from a scientific perspective but also from a biblical viewpoint. For example, each day in Genesis 1 is not transitioned with “the next day,” leaving open the possibility of time gaps between days. It says “there was evening and morning,” but the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day, so what requires that the first 3 days be viewed as 24 hour periods of time, a standard humanity has built from the movements of the sun and the moon? The list of examples could continue, but my point is this: even if I believe in a young-earth view, I can humbly acknowledge that I may be wrong and, more importantly, I can acknowledge that this belief does not directly impact the truth of the Bible as a whole or the gospel specifically.

As God has grown me and taught me more about His truth, He has been required to repeatedly pound into my skull my need to acknowledge that I don’t know everything and I will never know everything. I look back at where God has brought me, from a narrow-minded perspective on the Bible that looked at any and every disagreement as a hill to die on, to a place where I am willing to humbly continue to pursue and defend truth while acknowledging that not every difference is worth arguing over, and I am thankful for the lessons God has taught me. 10 years ago I was one of the last people in the world that anyone would expect to be pushing for unity and solidarity across personal and denominational lines, but I can rejoice that God has and continues to refine me and use me. As Paul wrote,

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

-2 Corinthians 12:10

You can’t spell ‘Unity’ without ‘U’…and some other stuff

U = YOUIt is now over 9 months since I began my push towards a more unified community of faith in and around Martin County, MN. The early months were spent in preparation and vision-casting among some trusted ministry leaders. That push was followed by a concerted effort to spread the word, especially focused on our county fair outreach, as well as messages sent to individuals and churches. Like most of what my organization, The Gathering, has done, this was something new and different, so the ball began rolling very slowly while people got their minds around what we were trying to do. Doing something different and new often garners reactions like that: people are slow to respond to something they are not used to or do not fully understand. However, I often find myself quoting Charles Spurgeon and Craig Groeschel in those situations:

If we can’t get sinners to Jesus by ordinary methods, we must use extraordinary ones.
-Charles Spurgeon

To reach people that no one is reaching, we have to do things that no one is doing.
-Craig Groeschel

To put it another way: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want different results, we have to do things differently.

That was the goal: do something different, something that showed that our faith community was not simply a collection of churches competing for attendance and tithe dollars, because if that is the perception in the young adult community of churches then we have exactly 0% chance of reaching them. I was realistic in my promotion of this idea; if we were to achieve a level of success in this area we would be accomplishing something that very few (if any) communities have accomplished. However, I believe that we are capable of accomplishing great things because God has empowered us to do great things in His name.

But what would this look like? What shape would unity in a local community take given the breadth of established churches from a variety of differing denominations, each with its own congregational personality and set of distinctions? Here are some of my ideas:

First, I do not think this would become a movement that would seek to dissolve all of our independent churches to become one uber-church serving the entire area. I think we have individual churches for some good and practical reasons, and I see no reason to change that. By having smaller churches comprised of people that work well together and are in full agreement on a variety of theological beliefs, it allows for better discipleship and growth as well as a better structure for ministry and support that starts from and grows out of deep and meaningful relationships.

Second, I think we do have the potential to come together more often for deeper and more connected worship of our God; not just the God of the Lutherans or Methodists, but the God of all Bible-believing Christ followers. It’s true that we can worship by ourselves, but worship in a group can (and should) take that worship to another level when we gather together in a community of believers. Those who have experienced worship on an even larger scale, maybe at a festival or conference, can attest to an even deeper worship experience when an even larger and more diverse group of believers gathers for worship and praise. Worship can be powerful, and the experience of God’s people coming together can not only move believers but it can impact others and draw them towards God. I hope and pray that we can come together as a community in Martin County and as communities of faith around the country and world for the sake of God’s glory.

Third, I believe that God has created us not to simply wander aimlessly through life, but to live life for a purpose. We were created to do His good work, and I believe that when we work together to do God’s work we can accomplish exponentially more. My small group, working together, can accomplish more than any of us individually could accomplish alone; my church can accomplish more than its collection of small groups or Sunday school classes could accomplish alone. And, I believe, a collection of churches working together can accomplish more than the same group of churches could accomplish working alone. We have the hungry to feed, the hurting to comfort, and the lost people to lead towards the Good News of Christ. If we come together, we can do so much more than we are doing now.

Finally, I believe that those beliefs that unites us are greater than those that divide us. There is a Latin phrase that bears this idea:

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas

Translated, the phrase means this:

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

This is the essence of the unity I have been pressing for. The essentials we have taken a stand for are the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, the work of the God/Man Jesus Christ, and the need for salvation for all of humanity. In other debates, whether they center on baptism, worship style, format of the Lord’s Supper, etc, there is no a need to quarrel or disassociate over the difference. Some of these things are important, but they are not essential to our faith – we are all believers and followers of God regardless of what our specific beliefs on these subjects are if we have followed the Bible’s guidance for salvation;

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
-Romans 10:9 (ESV)

But in all our interactions and discussions, we have charity, love and graciousness, with a view of the big picture of what God has called us to, both individually and as a group.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges or conflicts. We are bound to have struggles. We will come under attack from the Evil One, who most certainly does not want us to accomplish greater things for God and would be most happy to have us settle in to a comfortable, status-quo “faith” that does not seek to challenge ourselves or others. We will have divisions and rifts that will arise based on disagreements, differences in personalities and ideas, and varying beliefs. The road towards unity is one that is long, treacherous and largely uncharted, but I hope we continue to walk down it together, for the Glory of God.

For further reading, check out this excellent article by Dr. Mark E. Ross; “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”