A little while back I preached a series through some selected Psalms. Psalm 119 was one of the Psalms I chose to preach. I made this image as a way to demonstrate the acrostic nature of the Psalm. Click on the image for a full-sized rendering of the first 72 verses of the longest Psalm in our Bibles. (Note: The image is quite large, so your web browser may resize it to show the full image. You may need to click the image or take other steps to see it in full resolution.)
The 22 stanzas of Psalm 119 are made up of 8 lines each, each of them beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Another feature of Psalm 119 is that almost every line (4 exceptions*) contains one of the eight terms used as synonyms for "Torah", often translated "law" but probably better understood as "instruction" or "teaching." The eight terms used throughout the Psalm: Torah (instruction), ordinances, decrees, word, statutes, precepts, commands, and promise. The translation of those terms may vary slightly deepening on which Bible translation you're using.
Psalm 119 is clearly a well-thought out, well-ordered piece of literature. Note the repetition of the eight terms but the variety of ways the psalmist expresses honor for the word of God. The sermon I preached on Psalm 119 is available here.
*The four exceptions: Verses 3 and 37 have "ways", verse 15 has "paths", and verse 90 has "faithfulness". Each in context is virtually synonymous with "instruction".
When I spoke on the purpose of local Baptist associations a while back, I listed three main roles for local associations in the 21st century: (1) encouragement in sound doctrine and theological accountability, (2) becoming a channel of financial resources rather than a reservoir, and (3) establishing, equipping, and empowering churches. Associations will be greater assets for the kingdom of God if they prioritize the promotion of sound doctrine in the churches they serve.
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This particular local association voted yesterday to retain in its membership a church that had ordained a man who is openly homosexual. (I don't intend to debate the merits of that issue here, though will say that my own position is that the whole Bible is clear: homosexuality is sinful and contrary to God's moral will.) This really prompts the question of what role a local association has in cultivating, and even sometimes requiring a basic amount of theological agreement among churches. Can there be a church that has so far departed from historic Christian teaching that they ought to be disfellowshipped from an association?
For many years, that question was answered in the affirmative without much dissent. Today, as you can see, the landscape is different. What role should theological unity play in our local Baptist associations and how do we go about achieving that? I plan to attempt an answer to that question in an upcoming post.
Local Church Autonomy
One of the distinctive beliefs of Baptists is a conviction about local church autonomy. That means that a local church is self-governing under the Lordship of Christ and influence of the Holy Spirit. No person or organization has the authority to tell a local church what decisions it must make or how to act. Not even the Southern Baptist Convention can direct member churches to act. The most they, or a state convention, or a local association can do is withdraw from the participating relationship. The most the SBC or a local association can say to a church is, "We disagree so strongly with your position, we no longer consider you a member and will no longer accept your financial support." No outside organization can force the autonomous local church to act contrary to its own wishes.
Nothing in this scenario, however, prevents other organizations from trying to influence churches to make certain decisions or take action on an issue. For example, the last several years, the International Mission Board has been asking churches to consider adopting an unreached people group. Such an effort is commendable and worthwhile. It doesn't violate local church autonomy because the IMB is seeking to influence churches to make that decision on their own.
So a local association may not assert any authority over a local church, but it may attempt to influence a local church in various ways. The question we'll ask below is how and which ways are appropriate and helpful in our cooperative efforts together.Continue Reading Article...
I'm a member of the local Ruritan club (community service organization) and we meet one night each month. We have about 20 people at a normal meeting. They're pretty relaxed, we eat dinner together, talk, then have the formal meeting for a little while before we leave. I don't remember all the details but it went something like this. One guy was up at the front talking a little longer than everyone wanted but obviously had a few more things to say. He told us that the Ruritan national president might be visiting our club. Knowing that some (i.e. all) of us were pretty much clueless as to Ruritan hierarchy, he graciously decided to fill us in. I'm pretty sure this is the exact quote: "…the Ruritan national president, that's pretty much like the president of the United States." A friend was sitting across the table and we looked at each other when he said that. Both of us lost it. Trying to stop laughing and be quiet, when one of us finally got it under control, we'd see the other's shoulders shaking from laughter and we'd start all over again. Honestly trying to stop the whole time, it took four or five minutes before we could stop laughing.
What was so funny? What got it all started? An analogy that just didn't quite fit. I guess there may be some similarities between Ruritan national president and POTUS: The title… Ok I give up trying to find any more. My point is that in order to say something is "like" something else, there needs to be some deep, essential aspects shared by the two items—otherwise the analogy is more harmful than helpful. Here's a few examples:
- I love my wife. God loves my wife. Therefore: I am like God. (true in some sense, but mostly misleading and potentially dangerous)
- Bicycles are vehicles. Automobiles are vehicles. Therefore: Cars are like bikes. (please don't tell this to my four year old learning to ride a bike—he might grab my keys and give it a try)
- Christians participate in churches. Christians participate in local Baptist associations. Churches do ministry. Associations do ministry. Churches have leaders. Associations have leaders. Therefore: Associations are like churches.
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Our local association is currently without a DoM, with a search committee currently looking for the next DoM to serve our association. (Just for clarity sake, I am not on the search committee of our association, but know more than half of the group—a godly, encouraging group of people!) This time without a DoM in our association has given me some time to think through what the role for a DoM ought to be.
Typical Perception of the DoM Role
There is a phrase I hear over and over again from people as we discuss what characteristics we ought to look for in a DoM, or what that role ought to look like: A pastor to pastors. In fact, I hear it so much, I've begun to think this is the essence of what most people expect a DoM to be. A pastor to pastors. Remember the phrase. I want to examine this concept closely and ask if this is really a good summary of how an effective DoM ministry would be described.
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To get started, I'd like to point out a couple of resources that I'm aware of. If you know of any other helpful articles or resources, please feel free to add to this list in the comments section.
- Don't Pull the Plug on Your Association Yet by Matthew Spandler-Davison
- Some Thoughts on Associational Revitalization by Nathan Finn
- Do Associations Have a Future in New-Work States? by Dave Miller
- Also, about a year and a half ago, I preached a sermon at one of our association meetings called Local Baptist Associations in the 21st Century. You can find the audio recording and sermon notes here.
A couple of issues I'd like to deal with in future posts:
- The Role of a DoM: A Pastor to Pastors?
- Is the Association Like a Church?
- Autonomous Local Churches and Voluntary Participation
- Keeping the Local Church Central in Association Ministry
I'd enjoy your feedback and input if you have some perspective on these issues and look forward to thinking through them together.
To this someone may reply that he regarded the promise made in church as a mere formality and never intended to keep it. Whom, then, was he trying to deceive when he made it? God? That was really very unwise. Himself? That was not very much wiser. The bride, or bridegroom. or the ‘in-laws’? That was treacherous. Most often, I think, the couple (or one of them) hoped to deceive the public. They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage without intending to pay the price: that is, they were impostors, they cheated. If they are still contented cheats, I have nothing to say to them: who would urge the high and hard duty of chastity on people who have not yet wished to be mere honest? If they have now come to their senses and want to be honest, their promise, already made, constrains them. And this, you will see, comes under the heading of justice, not that of chastity. If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.
The central point is this: Jesus' entire approach in the Sermon on the Mount is not only ethical but messianic—i.e., christological and eschatological. Jesus is not an ordinary prophet who says, "Thus says the Lord!" Rather, he speaks in the first person and claims that his teaching fulfills the Old Testament; that he determines who enters the messianic kingdom; that as the Divine Judge he pronounces banishment; that the true heirs of the kingdom would be persecuted for their allegiance to him; and that he alone fully knows the will of his Father.
The notes are in .pdf format and are the same pages I'll be bringing with me into the pulpit tonight. That is to say there are other notes from research and outlining that are not included here. Below is the title and outline of the message.
"Is There a Role for Local Associations in the 21st Century?"
Outline: What would an effective and relevant local association ministry look like?
1. Encouragement in Sound Doctrine and Theological Accountability
2. Becoming a Channel of Financial Resources Rather than a Reservoir
3. Establishing, Equipping, and Empowering Churches
Available for Download: Message Audio and Sermon Notes
The debate over the NIV update has had some c'mon man moments lately. My purpose here is to plead with NIV 2011 critics to be fair in your criticism of the translation: not to demagogue, not to oversimplify, not to accuse translators of ulterior motives.
I want people to criticize when they find problematic passages in the NIV 2011. I hope people will publish, blog, and tweet when they see ways that we can better understand the Bible. I don't believe any translation is above question. Every translation can be improved, even if only in slight ways here and there.
What kind of criticisms am I talking about? What should be out of bounds? Here's a sampling:Continue Reading Article...
I wanted to interact a little with this article because it makes some very valid points of criticism against the 2011 NIV. Readers of my website will know that I have been mostly positive toward the updated NIV. I still use the 1984 NIV as my main Bible for preaching and teaching. I haven't yet decided if I will use the new NIV. (I won't anytime soon because the vast majority of our church will still be using the 1984 version. But I do think this is an issue worth thinking about few years in advance of when I will need to make a choice.)
Poythress' Main Point
The main problem Poythress addresses in his article is the move from 3rd-person singular pronouns (like "he" or "him" or "his") to 3rd-person plural pronouns (like "they" or "them" or "theirs"). This move by the NIV translators is designed to show readers that the original text wasn't specifically addressing men only, but both men and women.
There's no good singular way in English to refer to a person without respect to that person's gender. It's why you've seen such awkward things in writing as "he/she" or "his or her". So to avoid that kind of awkward construction, people today sometimes use a technically plural pronoun ("them") while still meaning one person. Example: If anyone wants some water, they should take a drink from the water fountain. English teachers cringe but most of us shrug.
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The Resurgence on Spiritual Gifts
This was the most helpful material I found. However, it was spread out across 20 different articles and the images and formatting caused most of the articles to print on two pages. So it just didn't make for good handout material. I went through, and worked on the formatting and took out almost all of the images so that each article fits on its own page and the gifts are now in alphabetical order. This makes a 10-page (front and back) handout. PDF
Juan Sanchez Article at The Gospel Coalition
This is a one-page article I really appreciate. It discusses the drawbacks of spiritual gift inventories and provides a more biblical way of thinking about and discovering how the Holy Spirit would use us on our churches. I formatted this article to fit on one page. PDF
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America—Spiritual Gifts Inventory
I know I just mentioned an article that discussed the drawbacks of spiritual gift inventories. That said, I think they can be useful if used with the proper disclaimers. So you can take this one online or I made a four-page printout version for in-class usage. PDF | Pages File (if you'd like to make changes/edit)
Spiritual Gifts by Scripture Passage
There are numerous versions of this kind of thing out there. It's going to depend on some different factors as to how all of these get named and categorized. I couldn't find one I was completely happy with, so I made my own version. The names of the gifts are mostly taken from the NIV. PDF | Pages File (if you'd like to make changes/edit)
In my reformatting, I've tried to give full credit to the original sources. My only goal is to get this in a format that's easy to use for a classroom setting. I hope it will be helpful to others as well.
The committee was exactly right. The resolution should have never seen the light of day. Such an important issue should have never been voted on by people so ill-informed about as complicated an issue as Bible translation. As much as some want to paint the issue as black and white, good vs. evil, it is not as simple as that.
As the discussion displayed - many of the people didn't even know how to evaluate the new NIV. One well-meaning gentleman stood up and said that we shouldn't condone translations that use gender-neutral language for God. I agree! But the NIV doesn't do that. The applause his comment received made it clear to me that this was an exercise in misunderstanding and misinformation.
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We also added our church covenant to the constitution. The covenant was adopted in 1896 at the same time the church was founded. It is similar (identical?) to most church covenants adopted around that time period. Overall it was a very biblical, helpful statement about many aspects of life together as a church family.
However, in adding the covenant to our constitution, the church also decided to amend one clause in the document. Where the previous text read that we pledged to "abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior." The church adopted new wording for that clause so that it now says that we pledge to "abstain from the abuse of drugs and intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our savior."
So we added drugs as a concern and also changed from 'abstaining from the use' to abstaining from the abuse." So the new language does permit the use (but not abuse!) of alcoholic drink. More importantly, in my mind, is that we now no longer have this extra-biblical requirement for church membership.
Here are some reasons I am glad we made this change:
- It allows us to avoid adding to biblical commands for salvation or church membership. Regardless of whether you think drinking alcohol is a bad thing or not, I hope we can all agree that someone should not be denied church membership or disciplined out of church membership for occasionally drinking alcohol in moderation. The way our covenant was worded, we were actually saying: "If you choose to drink, you cannot be a member here." That should send chills down your spine—to think we would elevate an extra-biblical command to that level.
- It moves us closer to being grace-centered, rather than law-centered. It is all-too-common (especially in this area of the country) for people to mistake Christianity with moralism. In most people's minds, Christians are people who "don't do" this and that. I'm glad to take a shot at that misperception by taking out one of those common "commandments" of moralism.
- It allows us to take our covenant seriously. For years and years (long before I ever arrived as pastor), we've had members who have chosen to drink occasionally. So when we read our covenant together, that clause reinforced the idea that we didn't really mean what we were saying—that it was ok to not take this covenant seriously. So, if we were to begin taking our covenant seriously, we're faced with one of two choices: (1) Discipline those members who drink, or (2) Change the covenant.
- It reminds us to think biblically about human regulations. It reminds us that "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" have only the appearance of wisdom. But they lack any value in actually restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:21-23)
I hope that this will not be construed as a desire to promote drinking in people who have chosen not to. I also hope this will not be seen as a reason for people who have chosen to drink to drink more and more often. That is not my intention nor the intention of our church. I recognize that it could be misconstrued that way by some. But we must stand on the Bible. We cannot add our own preferences as criteria for joining God's people, the church.