Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anonymous From UK Comments

Hi Ed,
Amen to that - I attend a church which does loving works but has not real discipline at all. People can attend church with no objection to their life style...We may have a word here and there. We have a number of "couples" who live together "but do not share the same bedrooms" and this way of life has become acceptable. They have been baptised and no one says anything to them now...I stood up against this (admittedly in the wrong way) and I took a roasting.

Women are aloud to preach to the whole church. Now I am not sexist one bit whatsover...all I want to do is follow what the bible says but the scripture in timothy which denounces women preachers is so manipulated today (because its not politically correct to tell a women she isn't allowed to do that). There is so much we can take from the new testament scripture which is not followed today in any shape or form that I mourn in sorrow for the church...I think that its an indicator of the very last days that we are now living in - Paul the apostle warned us of a great apostacy which would happen before the man of sin is revealed to the world - I believe that while the church is holding out and following the word of God that the man of sin is held off...but the church is becoming weaker and weaker by the day and is turning to the traditions of men instead of upholding the teaching of God.

Please pray for me or give me advice here...I don't know where to turn in my community because churches have turned away so much from the word of God that I don't know where else to go!? I read revelation and I am starting to think that I am not going to get involved in churchy things but instead - attend and worship God - fellowship with like minded Christians who can see the same things and do like it says in the book of Daniel (exploits) - going out on the streets whenever possible and take the gospel directly to the people. Any ideas on any of this would be greatly appreciated.

This is a perfect example of what happens when the church displaces Scripture as its sole authority for faith and practice. If the Bible is not our authority, something or someone has to take its place. Unfortunately, and more times than not, the standards of the culture become the standard of the church. And if that is the case, what kind of light are we? If the light itself has also become darkness, how great is that darkness. If there is no stark contrast between the church and the world, the "city on a hill" metaphor does not hold.

First, I will pray for you and the state of your church and the church in the UK. Second, if you have already gone to those in error and have witnessed obstinance, you probably need to take a more radical approach. If you are unable to locate a church of like-mind, it may be that you have to begin a small group yourself. Locate a couple of families or more of like mind and begin a bible study and fellowship group. You may even want to advertise on the web or other inexpensive ways (postings at coffee houses, libraries, university, etc.) to get something going. I will keep you in my prayer. Don't ever give up. The saints must engage in the battle for truth and never give it up. Great will be our rewards! Feel free to reach out to me anytime.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Taking the Bible Seriously - Seriously?

If you have ever engaged anyone in a conversation about life, meaning, or morality, you know it can generate tension. The world loves to feign that it is completely open and tolerant when it comes to such deep subjects, but experience shows that to be more academic than actual. There is a juncture in many of these conversations where I really catch holy “heck” from my adversary. That moment arrives as soon as I reference the Bible as the source for my views. Inevitably, the response is something like, “you have got to be kidding me?” They will usually say something like, “The Bible is an antiquated book written by superstitious and religious zealots who were bigots of the worse kind.” They may say something a little more charitable than that, but the précis is identical: the Bible is nothing more than a manmade production and is profoundly archaic. For an extended period in western culture, the Bible has been under attack. When you add to this trend the fact that most churches are simply parallel reflections of the culture in which they exist, it is not surprising to find that cultural mindsets about the Bible, to one extent or another, have managed to contaminate numerous communities of faith within the visible church.

The contemporary philosophy known as postmodernism is probably the most pervasive philosophy in Western culture. In postmodern philosophy, truth is nothing more than a property of cultural propositions created to express customs, emotions, and values embedded in a community’s linguistic practices. [Moreland, J.P. Whatever Happened to Truth, 79] Hence, it follows that culture disallows any claims of absolute truth or objective reality ipso facto. When you couple hyper-individualism with postmodernism, it is not surprising that the Bible is rejected, to one degree or another, as absolute truth and the authoritative guide God intended it to be. This is practically no less true in the Christian community as it is in the world. Augustine said if you only believe the part of the gospel you desire and reject the other, then it isn’t the gospel you believe. That holds for the Bible as well. If you only believe the parts of the Bible you wish, while rejecting the other parts, then it isn’t the Bible you believe. Moreover, if we decide which parts of the Bible have authority over our life and which parts do not, it follows that we cannot rightly say that the Bible is our source of authority for faith and practice. We are!

Sola Scriptura is the principle from the reformation that addressed the issue of biblical authority. This principle serves to place the Bible as the sole authority over faith and practice in Christian living. There are many conservative churches claiming to embrace a high view of Scripture all the while denying its authority by various means. “A high view of Scripture is of little value to us if we do not enthusiastically embrace the Scripture’s authority.” [Carson. D.A. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. 47] This is the crux of the problem. Scripture is under direct assault from those who hold it in low esteem. However, it is under indirect assault from those who, at best, give it lip service, not to mention those who’s hermeneutic have so vastly changed its meaning that the message is foreign to the one given by God Himself in the text. The reformers were concerned with rebutting the magisterium on the subject of authority. God Himself deposited truth, not in the church, nor in a man, but in Scripture. Some do not take the Bible seriously as literature at all, holding it in low esteem. Others claim to take it seriously, but reveal a bias in their interpretive methodology that all but destroys its message. Still others are more subtle, picking and choosing those areas of Scripture that they will submit to and those areas they will not. All three groups essentially deny the sole authority of Scripture in one way or another. One group denies it at the most basic level, adopting an overt philosophy that is antithetical to Scriptural authority. The second group adopts certain hermeneutical methods from ungodly philosophies resulting in such manipulating of Scripture’s meaning that what they end up believing is anything but Scripture’s teaching. Finally, the last group simply does not take Scripture as seriously with their living as they do with their mouth. These, giving the appearance of pious attitudes yet make a mockery of Christ and of His Scriptures by dispensing with them at their whim. Jesus said, “why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not what I say?” (Luke 6:46) Yet we do that very thing. Christians claim to love Christ and engage in homosexual relationships, obtain abortions, cohabitate, etc. We reject the very words of the person whose authority we claim to live by. God is not mocked! The reckoning is certain for those that think that God can be played the fool.

Scripture is self-attesting. Scripture needs no argument from the standpoint of human reason to establish it as the sole and ultimate authority for faith and practice. That is to say, there are no arguments that will move a person from point A to point B on the matter of Biblical authority. In other words, one does not begin to take the Bible seriously because of a sophisticated, superior, intellectual argument. The shift toward Biblical authority in the mind is far more profound than that. Now that does not mean that we give up the premise itself that the Bible is self-attesting and that people should take it more seriously. The issue is that unregenerate men will always require a method for establishing the “authority” that reflects the fact that they themselves are really the authority. The minute we point toward something else outside the Bible as a reason for why it is authoritative, that something displaces the Bible and IT becomes the authority. By its very nature, the Bible must be self-attesting. Otherwise, Sola Scriptura fails at its foundation. William Whitaker makes this point when he says, “If the Scripture had divine authority before any public judgment of the church, then it hath of itself in respect of us, canonical authority, and its authority does not depend upon the church.” The point he makes is that the Scripture does not derive its authority from the church or a council. The authority of Scripture is in the nature of the thing that it is: divine revelation from God Himself. The Scripture, set before us, is an act so profound that it is nearly impossible to appreciate. This fact is lost on almost all Christians today. A proper response to God’s word brings God’s favor: “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at my word.” (Isa. 66:2)

Skeptics do not take the Bible seriously. They maintain that the Bible is an artifact of the biases, prejudices, and superstitions of men from a variety of cultures. Its ethic is nothing more than the ethic of the culture that produced it. It is filled with fairy tales, inaccuracies, and repulsive stories about a bloody and violent God whose time has come and gone. To the skeptic, no self-respecting intelligent, cultured individual would even consider accepting it as the product of the divine God that is. The pressure in Western culture to dismiss the seriousness of the Bible is extreme. The Christian churches that have adopted ideas about doctrine and theology that indirectly down grade the role of the Bible in one’s relationship with Christ has wreaked havoc on many Christians’ ability to stand up to this assault on Scripture.

Most seminaries do not take the Bible seriously adopting hermeneutical methods that deform the text to the point that it is unrecognizable on the one hand, and having adopted views of communication that make it all but impossible to acknowledge that there is an objective meaning in the text on the other. These men take up views postulated by men like Gadamer, Kant, Derrida, and others that result in the admission that the whole world is really nothing more than human projections to one degree or another and the idea that we can conceive of and understand the “other” is simple and naïve. While I am hesitant to make this point for fear of being accused of over simplify matters, I cannot help but wonder, given the so-called progress of hermeneutics in modern times, how it is that Peter and the first century Christians were ever able to understand the divine revelation that is the Old Testament. Thiselton writes, “In terms of their world-view, it may be tempting for Christian thinkers to dismiss the work of the three so-called masters of suspicion, Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche, as incompatible with the claims of Christian theology.” Thiselton observes that the insistence of these men that the human mind can deceive itself agrees with Christian theology. While this observation is certainly true, it does not follow that we should adopt their philosophy of hermeneutics or even bits and pieces of it. This endorsement runs the risk of accepting a kind of naïve neutrality in hermeneutics. Neutrality is a myth and no biblically thinking Christian can accept it. The effects of sin on the human intellect are comprehensive. The Christian must subject their hermeneutical method to the Christian ethic just as it is applied to every other area of thought. Christian scholars need to understand that they are not free, even in the name of the academy, to play around in any area of thought without also submitting it to the Christian ethic. While I recognize that Christians can make some use of secular theories of language and meaning, we must exercise great care in doing so. Vern Poythress writes, “Christians will not serve themselves well if they adopt such theories wholesale. Because of common grace, non-Christians offer us insights about this or that aspect of interpretation. But acceptance of such insights must be tempered by radical criticism of the idolatrous roots of the theories in which they are embedded. [Poythress, Vern. The Supremacy of God in Interpretation. 336]

The Bible is divine revelation. Unbelievers are prone to reject it to one degree or another. You can defend the Bible from attacks of historical inaccuracies and you should. You can defend the Bible from attacks of contradictions and you should. But you cannot construct an argument that will establish in the mind of an unbeliever that the Bible is an accurate copy of the divinely inspired Scriptures given to man by God Himself. The conclusion that the Bible is miraculous is the product of divine activity on the human mind. It is not the result of some ingenious argument created by a really smart apologist or theologian. It is a work of grace, nothing less.

We take the Bible seriously when we believe it. When we believe it, we extend unconditional obedience and allegiance to it. We see it as God’s word to His elect, corporately as well as personally. We do not question its authority even though we may inquire always about its content. When we take the Bible seriously, seriously, other people recognize it. Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples (adherent, loyal, dedicated students) of all nations. Without the Bible, that task is not possible. The student studies Christ! The student studies the life of Christ. And, that life is captured in no other place outside the Bible. Much of the world does not take Christians seriously these days. If Christians spent more time taking the Bible seriously, perhaps the world would spend more time taking Christians seriously. It is at least worth a try.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Transforming Gospel

Western culture is a culture of individualism. At least in has been until now. Whether or not that individualism is threatened by mechanisms at work in certain segments of our society is a matter of debate. This article is not concerned with social or political philosophies that may or may not be gaining acceptance within the larger society as a whole. Rather, it is concerned with something far more significant than social or political philosophies. It is concerned with Western ideologies that directly impact the integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The lack of sagacious leaders in the Christian community is perhaps on the verge of eclipsing the pre-reformation era. At a forum this week, I experienced the following: first, one conservative evangelical was chiding the church for singling out homosexuals and telling them they are doomed to eternal condemnation unless they repent. He went on to talk about how this was a real problem in the churches. I thought about the onslaught on homosexual attacks against Christianity in recent years and how those attacks have escalated and I am bemused that this man thinks the problem is with the church. He went on to say that condemning homosexuals to hell was not our job. This is God’s job. I was aghast that a conservative writer would engage in this sort of reasoning. The second experience was with a music pastor who thinks the church should shut up about sola scriptura because “every evangelical” believes in it. Therefore, you should not use it when contending with one another about Scripture. Clueless is the word that comes to mind. The single greatest threat to evangelicalism over the last decade has been a trajectory away from sola scripture at an alarming rate. Undiscerning is this music pastor, in my humble opinion. Finally, another conservative fellow, involved in ministry, found it necessary to correct my thinking on repentance, saying, quote, “Repent is not equal to change.” In other words, to repent does not mean to change. Now, while it is true that change itself does not necessarily equal godly repentance, it is also true that where there is no change, there is no repentance. As I look at these three interactions, it seems clear to me that the church, if it has not already, is on the verge of losing its identity. The loss of this identity, in my opinion, can be blamed on American (Western), hyper-individualism. The gospel of Christ has one essential goal in mind: the glory of God through the transformation of the elect to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ comes to us via a text. Specifically, it comes to us via the text of Scripture. Because this is true, interpreting the text that contains the gospel is paramount to arriving at an accurate understanding of the good news that is the gospel. “The phrase “transforming texts” can be interpreted in two ways. Texts can actively shape and transform the perceptions, understandings, and actions of readers and of reading communities. Legal texts, medical texts, and biblical texts provide examples. But the texts can also suffer transformation at the hands of readers and reading communities.” [Thiselton, Anthony C. New Horizons in Hermeneutics. 31] The fundamental requirement necessary to be the object of change is openness. To be open is to be vulnerable to correction by the other: to freely entertain the idea that I may be wrong and therefore, change is in order. Indeed, our culture boasts about the openness it possesses because it embraces ideas like evolutionary theory, homosexual marriage, numerous social causes, etc. However, this is not openness. One can be dogmatic about not being dogmatic. In other words, it is possible to be closed to ideas that we claim we are open to. For instance, some would say they are open regarding gay marriage because they think gay people should be allowed to marry. That is not ipso facto being open. Being open means that you are willing to examine the case and consider that you could be wrong about it and as a result, you are willing to change your mind provided the evidence suggests your position is wrong. That is what it means to be open. As Christians, there are certain things we should be open about until Scripture closes them for us. The authority for what is right and wrong for the Christian community is the text of Scripture. We come to the sacred text in order to change. We do not come merely to enhance knowledge. For the Christian, increased knowledge translates into increased transformation. The whole idea of what it means to be “Christian” is summed up in the word “dependent.” The Christian is dependent on the triune God, the sacred text that is divine revelation, and finally, the Christian community for his/her Christian-ness. God elects the Christian to be Christian. The sacred text provides the life transforming knowledge that leads to Christian living. The Christian community provides that sacred family and the safety net of accountability we all need to help us grow in the love and holiness that is the demarcation of the Christian life.

Everyone who reads the sacred text has a decision to make. This decision is mostly felt at those points where the texts threatens us. The biblical text threatens us when it criticizes our behavior. This behavior could be how we think, how we speak, or how we act. As slaves of Christ in each of these areas, we are not free to do as we please. Our thinking, our speaking, and our acting are hostage to Christ. The single greatest threat to this philosophy of life is the western philosophy of hyper-individualism. I am not suggesting that traces of this thinking did not exist in the history of man. I believe it must have. However, it seems clear that many cultures have taken the philosophy of individualism to the extreme. Moreover, this individualism is contrary to the very fabric that is Christianity. Embedding the necessary foundations to establish a vibrant Christian community will be impossible among people who refuse to be open to the biblical concept of dependency that serves to underpin the Christian idea. Independent people recoil at the very thought of dependency. As old “blue eyes” sang, “I want it my way.” This is the way every independent thinker wants it.

What is the answer to this independence? The biblical text speaks to this desire directly. Jesus said that whoever desires to save his life will lose it. (Matt. 16:25) Why? It isn’t about my life! In the previous verse, Jesus said that anyone wishing to come after Him must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Him. (Matt. 16:24) Not only are we to deny self, we are to embrace the idea of lacking. Specifically, we are lacking in terms of suffering. We are NOT to lack when it comes to suffering. Instead, we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Sometimes, taking up that cross can mean devastation. It can mean the loss of a job. It may mean that an unbelieving spouse that you love ends up divorcing you because you have become a follower of Christ. It may mean that your church splits because you decided to stand for the truth of Scripture and confront sin rather than wink at it in order to keep the numbers up. Following Christ can sometimes be costly. Jesus said that unless you loved Him more than your own family, you are not worthy to be His disciple. (Lu. 14:26; Matt. 10:37-39) Paul says that we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh, or the self. (Rom. 8:13) We are to be transformed as opposed to continually conforming to this world. (Rom. 8:1-2) Paul said a little later that we are to look at ourselves as members of one body! We are not a bunch of individuals running around. We are to see ourselves as part of a body, the body of Christ. Our actions affect the entire body positively or negatively. Our goal is the health of the body. We are to seek for the edification of the entire body at all times. That begins with our own spiritual healthiness, but not for our sakes alone, rather for the glory of God and for the sake of His church, the body of Christ. The real issue is that we simply don’t consider the body of Christ, or even the glory of God when we make decisions or as we live our lives on a daily basis. That must change if the church is going to live by the motto “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.” “The church reformed and always reforming.” Either the gospel transforms our lives, or we transform the gospel into a message we find palatable. There is no middle ground. Give us leaders who will fearlessly stand on this principle and love people by giving them the gospel that transforms.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Obedience that is Faith

The church that modern theology built has created a sharp dichotomy between obedience and faith. There appears to be a radical disconnect between western, Christian thought and Christian ethics, so much so that Christians pay little regard to how they order their lives in contemporary times. I remember hearing what I thought was a godly woman talk about how voting must be subjected to the Christian ethic. I agreed. But then this same woman divorced her husband within two years of that conversation without having biblical justification for doing so. She did not skip a beat in her “Christian” routines of church attendance and service. I continue to be amazed at the number of professing Christians that conveniently disregard Scripture in the name of grace, or a God who understands why they simply can’t submit to His lordship over their life. Christians feel entitled to manage their lives in a fashion just as autonomously as the unregenerate. One only needs to look at the controversy of John MacArthur’s views on “Lordship Salvation” to realize that something is terribly wrong in the mindset of many western Christians. A couple of questions come to mind as I think about this subject. First, can a person have genuine faith in Christ and knowingly, consciously, and continually reject His commandments? Does genuine faith always produce absolute submission to God’s commands where people clearly know such commands? Can one be a Christian and refuse to subject life decisions to the Christian ethic? Do genuine Christians actually believe they have the right to order their own life, even when that ordering severely contradicts God’s mandate for Christian living? What is the relationship of godly obedience to biblical faith?

There are millions upon millions of people that profess to know and love Christ. Every week you are in church with dozens, hundreds, and perhaps thousands of them. You shake their hands, fellowship with them, listen to them sing, watch them serve, and listen to them teach and preach. However, not all of them are what they claim to be. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21) There is a vast difference between saying you have faith in Christ and actually having genuine faith in Christ. In this text, Jesus indelibly connects faith with obedience, faith with action, faith with doing! What is faith? Obedience seems simple enough, but faith is perhaps a little more complex.

Faith is not mentally assenting to the fact that Jesus is Lord. James says that faith alone, without the complement of works is dead. He says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19) It is one thing to say that you truly believe in God, in Christ, in His word. But do you really possess a living vibrant justifying faith in Christ? So you attend Sunday School. You are in church every time they open the doors. You give above, and beyond what the average person does. You sing in the choir, teach during vacation bible school, and volunteer for short-term missions trips. None of these things demonstrates that your faith is genuine. What demonstrates genuine faith more than anything else is obedience. The demons believe but they do not obey. They know God is, without any doubt whatsoever. Evidently, that is not enough. Jesus said literally, “Not all the ones saying to me Lord…” The word kurei is in the vocative. This signifies that these people are addressing Christ as their Lord. It sounds pious to refer to Christ as your Lord and Master, you all in all. Indeed, to hear those words coming out of someone’s mouth is moving. Sadly, there are times when they are nothing more than empty syllables that carry no real meaning whatever.

Jesus readily acknowledged that these people would look, sound, feel, and act like the real deal in certain ways. Some of them would prophesy. Others would even exercise demons. Still others would perform miracles in His name. I don’t know about you, but that is simply amazing to me. It is true that these represent the claims of these people and the Lord neither validates them as true nor discounts them as false. Hence, one should be careful not to assume that these things were legitimately occurring. What we can say is that the people making the claims likely believed them to be true. After all, they are making them to the Lord they claimed was their Master. Yet Jesus responds by saying, “I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:23) Let’s summarize to this point. Frist, we have people that claim to know Christ as their Lord and Master. Second, these people are practicing outward routines that mimic genuine Christian faith to an extent. Third, in the daily lives, they are engaged in a continual pattern of lawless living. What does this mean? What is lawless living? Since people who live lawlessly and die in that pattern will face certain denial by Christ at the judgment, it is in our best interest to understand what Christ means by this statement. The Greek word “practice” in this case focuses not so much on how something is changed, but the fact that we have changed the state of the thing from this to that. What is the state they are changing to one may ask? They are moving to a state of lawlessness. That is to say, of living without regard for the law. What law? The law of God is what comes into view. Remember that Jesus said the one that does the will of His Father in heaven will enter the kingdom. This is true faith! Remember in Matt. 13:41 Jesus said He will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all those who cause others to sin and those who practice lawlessness. These are false converts, hypocrites who pose as something they are not. Those who do the will of the Father in heaven are those who have been given the gift of genuine faith. Genuine faith from God produces real obedience and submission to the Father’s will. What does it look like to have false faith? Jesus said that everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matt. 7:26) Jesus has connected doing the will of the Father with acting on His word. In John 8:32 Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples.” The word “continue” means to remain in one place over a period of time. I realize that some people think you can be saved without being a disciple of Christ. They hold that you can make Jesus your Savior without making Him your Lord. I find such teaching nonsensical and out of accord with Scripture. You don’t make Jesus your Lord or your Savior. He makes you His object of love, His sheep, His follower, and His disciple. BONK! John MacArthur is absolutely right in his view. Cheap grace and easy believism is a foul teaching that is contrary to everything Scripture teaches. Jesus goes on to say that everyone who is making sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)

James Sire writes, “Truth and spirituality are a piece: to know the truth is to do it.” [Sire, James W. Habits of the Mind. 11] This is what Jesus was getting at when He said, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” [John 8:47] The Greek word AKOUO has a wide range of meaning in the NT. Here, it means to understand and believe so as to act upon. Jesus said the reason people do not understand and act on God’s word is because they are not of God. He did not say that they are not of God because they do not understand and act on God’ word. The reason people look directly at a clear commandment of God and consciously decide not to obey it is because they are not of God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)L.G. Borchert says, “Even in his first epistle the concept of obedience is rather generally defined in terms of rejecting sin as an attachment to the devil (1 John 3:4–10), loving and caring for the brethren/community in deed and not merely in words so as not to be like Cain the murderer (3:11–18), and believing and confessing that Jesus is the Christ (4:2; 5:1; etc.). Thus, obeying Jesus’ commands in effect means to copy the example of Jesus. ” [Borchert, L.G. NAC, John. 122]

Faith and obedience are one and the same. “Faith is life-dominating conviction that all God has for me through obedience is better by far than anything Satan can offer me through selfishness and sin.” [Hegg, David W. The Obedience Option. 28] There is no greater blessing for the Christian than to know they have obeyed Christ. John said, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (III John 4) There is no greater joy for the believer than to know that they are walking in God’s way. However, we buy into cultural thinking when we pollute and corrupt our behavior with what we call “grey areas” and then proceed to excuse our actions. Church politics gets involved from the seminary to the local congregation and we end up engaging in practices and holding to doctrines that are antithetical to Christian truth. What is worse is that we have engaged in this practice for so long that walking in certain types of heresy or immorality no longer shock us. We view certain beliefs is tolerable even though they are rank heresy. I am reminded of the Sunday School teacher/deacon who taught that Jesus ceased to be God on the cross. His pastor, a man who held a doctorate from a prominent, reformed seminary in the south, refused to do anything to correct the situation. Moreover, how many broken marriages do we have to witness in the church before we finally say enough is enough? God is sovereign over marriage and simple obedience to His word is all that is required on the matter from both spouses. The best possible alternative, in fact, the only acceptable path is faith in Christ that is expressed in a passionate obedience to do all that God called us to do out of a love and commitment for Him that will never fail.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Pressure Cooker

The church has faced pressure since its beginning in Acts 2. As God poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus, others stood by mocking them. These people are drunk, they bellowed! From its beginning, the church encountered opposition from the world. God and sin do not get along. It is to be expected that His family would not get along with the family of His enemy. The church began in Acts 2. As we get to Acts 4, the disciples are already under threat of life and limb. It did not take long for the church to experience severe hostility. However, in contemporary times, the church, for years now, has sought to maintain a sort of mutual respect with an enemy that has continued to destroy it subtly, not to mention the God it serves. There are two ways to destroy your enemy: first, by direct eradication. You kill them. You simply set out to remove them from existence. Secondly, you can change them, their beliefs and practices, to such a degree that over time, they, in essence cease to exist as the entity they were. The strategy involves implanting enemies within the ranks that influence people to change their views and practices ever so slightly over time. The strategy is to take such an imperceptible approach to change, that by the time anyone recognizes it, it is too late. I fear that Satan has and is taking such an approach with the church. The world is an enemy of God. We should not find it the least bit surprising to discover that the ideas of the world have a common theme: to eradicate God from its culture. This eradication has become more and more subtle so that the only people that recognize it are those who have truly exercised their ability to discern and submit every thought to the critical thinking skills given by God in light of Scripture. The one visible, tangible entity in culture that reminds it that God is and that God places clear and certain demands on the culture is the church. The church serves as that nagging reminder that culture has gone awry in its worldview and she continually calls the culture to repent. If the culture is to eradicate God from its midst, it must do something with the church. The church is under tremendous pressure to change. The culture challenges her to be more tolerant of opposing views. After all, no one wants to be a bigot. It challenges her to be more respectable given scientific advancements. Surely, no one wants to be stupid. The Academy challenges her to be more scholarly. Who wants to be accused of being naïve or simple? Little by little, the church moves an inch here and an inch there. Before you know it, we are miles away from the truth that is God’s revelation. We are so far removed from where we should be that, in reality, we no longer exist. Who we are is not who we use to be and far from what God called us to be. In short, the culture turns the desires of the church against her and manipulates her into cultural submission. If you want acceptance from the culture, you must change your ethic and become more tolerant of alternative views. You cannot be so narrow. If you want the culture to respect you, you must accept the religion of science as sacred, even more sacred than Scripture. If you want the culture to accept you, you must dismiss your antiquated views of marriage, sexuality, male and female roles, etc., and show us that you are willing to grow as culture grows. The church wants to be respected by the culture, but for all the wrong reasons.

The Cultural Pressure

The homosexual movement, made up of people who have decided to identify themselves based on their sexual behavior has done a stellar job of inducing the church into being something other than the church. Religious organizations are now receiving members, marrying, and ordaining people who have made the homosexual choice. The culture redefines the church and transforms it into something other than what Scripture defines it to be. In essence, the enemy of the church is in charge of defining and shaping the church. However, this is precisely the mission of the church. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Rather, the culture seems to be making cultural disciples of the church. Instead of taking the church out to the culture, the culture is bringing its infectious sin into the church. The homosexual issue is one of biblical authority. Moreover, its advancement began, not with the overt homosexual practices and an in your face approach to accepting the lifestyle as morally tolerable within the Christian ethic. Rather, the shift began with the compromise of the institution of marriage. Man’s autonomous desire to pervert marriage and to control it has had devastating effects on the doctrine of marriage in the Christian community. As long as marriage was acknowledged as the sovereign act of God, whereby He permanently brought two people together in an intimate, covenant relationship with one another and Himself, the logical preclusion of homosexual ideology was relatively simple. When this biblical idea of marriage came under fire and began to fall apart, the stage was set for homosexual ideology to gain traction. Satan began with the idea that God wants us to be happy. If we are not happy and fulfilled in our marriage, God understood and He would let us out of the obligation in order to find happiness elsewhere. This thinking betrayed the core purpose of the marriage relationship to begin with. In other words, we dismissed God’s role in bringing men and women together in order to express the unity in the diversity of the trinity. Sovereignty was the first thing to go. The culture began to view marriage as simply a decision between a man and a woman. We left God out of the picture. Since God was not the foundation of marriage and human decision was, marriage could be viewed as a human institution and therefore, open to mistakes. These mistakes could now be undone and God would understand that imperfect humans sometimes make bad decisions. This shift in thinking was subtle, but devastating. When you add to the idea that man, not God is the central figure in marriage, cheap grace, now man was free to discard marriage for just about any reason he deemed acceptable on his terms. This idea of marriage is not the idea the true church. However, many visible churches have adopted this view and have become something other than the church. Once the enemy moved the church to this ground, it became nearly impossible to put up a good defense against the homosexual assault that came later. After all, the authority to which the church could appeal had already been compromised by the church’s views on marriage. The church had already compromised the authority of Scripture in the area of marriage. How could it now appeal to that authority to defend it from the homosexual war? Such appeal would seem arbitrary at best. The damage was done. Today, many churches still like to appeal to Scripture to defend itself against the homosexual assault, all the while enjoying exceptionally liberal views on marriage. These churches are losing the battle for the authority of Scripture in demoralizing fashion. The culture is winning the war everywhere the church compromises on the authority of Scripture. The pressure cooker is continually being turned up in these churches.

The Academic Pressure

Another area the church feels the heat is in academic respectability. There is a battle, even in some very conservative denominations regarding the issue of creation. The philosophical presuppositions of the scientific worldview are antithetical to much of Christian thought in many areas, not to mention the area of human origins. The scientific community views the very idea of ‘miracle’ to be exceptionally naïve. This is where the culture tests the metal of regenerate scholars and pastors the most these days. Science sets up a false dichotomy between itself and faith. I recently heard a scientist ask the question, “what place will there be for religion when humans understand all there is regarding reality.” The culture places tremendous faith in the ability of science. Even some conservative scholars have accepted the ideas of theistic evolution, or day-age creationism. The basis for accepting these theories is not exegetical. It is pressure. We allow our desires for acceptance and respectability to drive the views we adopt and the ones we reject. We entertain the possibility of theistic evolution, not because Scripture provides compelling reason to do so. Rather, the academic community pressures us in one way or another to consider these philosophies as more educated, more sophisticated, more worthy, and hence, more respectable alternatives. It does not help that a considerable number of scholars in the seminaries have abandoned a high view of Scripture and adopted these positions. We do not want to be painted as a screaming fundamentalist. We do not wish to be treated as naïve or simple. We allow this desire for respect to weigh heavy on our views. However, this is simply another form of pride. Should we really desire respect from unregenerate academies that have as their goal the demolition of God and the church as outlined in Scripture? It really is this simple.

Genesis 1-11 is as clearly historical narrative as any Hebrew literature could be. Yet we resort to classifying it as poetry all in an attempt to prop up the anti-Christian view that humans evolved over millions of years. Once we step onto this ground, we lose our ability to defend numerous cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith the kind conviction they deserve. This is not the issue. The issue is the pride that leads us to this end to begin with. Our sinful desire for respect and acceptance drives us to compromise some of our supposedly deepest convictions. This begs the question, “how deep are these convictions?”

The Scripture is God’s perfect, self-authenticating, authoritative revelation to all of creation. The only remedy for the cultural pressure-cooker we face every day is the word of God. Submission to God’s word will help us think and live in a way that honors Christ. When we place more emphasis on Scripture than we do on the politics of ministry and the academy, we protect ourselves from the sin of compromise. When we realize that the culture will only continue to come up with one more view after another designed to destroy God and His church, we are better equipped to safeguard ourselves against the annihilation that is cultural accommodation. The church’s view on Scripture, creation, God, miracles, homosexuality, marriage and divorce, Christ, heaven and hell, and judgment must be derivatives of Scripture itself as opposed to a culture that desires to change the very nature of Scripture that is itself God’s revelation of His person. The culture denies the infallibility of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, the perspicuity of Scripture, and the reliability of Scripture. The culture has nothing to offer the church in terms of the Christian life. It is time for the church to find the courage to stand up to the culture and be the counter-culture change agent God called her to be. We must better learn how to identify views that call into question the authoritative nature of God’s word. Any view that reduces the authority of Scripture increases the authority and autonomy of sinful man. Such views free man to do as he pleases. Hence we are left with a culture and a church that considers the pleasure and happiness of the individual to be the ultimate pursuit. Shockingly, even God becames a key agent to that end when our philosophies turn theology into such humanistic inclinations as temporal pleasure and the happiness of the individual. We end up with leaders who are more concerned with people’s happiness than they are their holiness. They are more worried about academic respectability that they are accurately handling the sacred text. God have mercy on us all.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What Kind of Elder Does Jesus Want?

Recently I wrote about the kind of church that Jesus wanted. I thought it best to turn to His own prayer in John 17 to understand what kind of church He really wanted. What kind of Church did Jesus ask for? I was thinking about elders and pastors and the same question occurred to me: what kind of elders does Jesus really want? If you are an elder, be it a ruling elder or a teaching elder, do you ever ask the question, “am I the kind of elder Jesus wants overseeing the kind of church Jesus wants?” I think we should all be asking the question “Am I the kind of Christian Jesus wants? “ This post will deal with the kind of elder Jesus wants. Of course, the short answer is that Jesus wants godly elders. That only begs the question, “What does a godly elder look like?” Thank God for men like Tyndale and Luther! We have the Scripture in our own language and can read the answer to this question for ourselves. Where would we be without the authoritative canon of Scripture to guide us into the right answers? The office of elder is a very difficult call. I do not mean to convey otherwise. However, there are elders of excellence and then there are those who are not so much. “When the work of shepherding is difficult, the commitment of the shepherd is truly revealed. Yet Shepherding is a labor of love to the one who truly is a shepherd. [Witmer, Timothy Z. The Shepherd Leader, 13]

The first thing that Jesus wants in an elder is for them to be the kind of Christian He wants them to be. Read my post on “What Kind of Church Does Jesus Want?” If you are not the kind of Christian Jesus wants you to be, then you cannot possibly be the kind of elder He wants you to be. That is the best place to start.

First, Jesus wants the kind of elder that understands the gravity of the office. If you are contemplating the office of elder, you should do so with profound vigilance. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” Are you confortable with the idea that other believers are under an obligation by God to submit themselves to you? Are you that kind of person? How does the enormity of that kind of responsibility strike you? The godly elder watches over God’s flock with the understanding that they will give an account for the condition of the souls of those under their care. This does not mean that if someone rejects the authority of the elder and lives a scandalous life that God is going to judge the elder for that behavior. What it does mean is should your advice, and teachings and actions lead the souls of those under your care to reckless, sinful, careless living, that you will be responsible for the condition of their soul. The very idea that God Himself will hold you personally accountable for the sinful behavior of others if you do not do all you can to lead them out of such sin should be exceptionally sobering. Jesus wants the kind of elder who understands and respects the accountability He Himself places on the office.

Of the many elements that encompass the office of elder, protection seems to be the dominant characteristic. You, as an elder, have been given the charge of protecting God’s sheep. It is imperative that you understand the sheep do not belong to you. They belong to someone else. Imagine someone giving you a priceless gem to safeguard. I would imagine you would be quite anxious regarding the task with which you are charged. I know I would be. I do not think you would pretend, even for a second, that this gem is yours to do with as you see fit. I also think you would consult the instruction manual very meticulously in order to make sure it receives the proper maintenance. You would do everything in your power to protect this gem until the return of its owner. Such behavior would only be reasonable. As an elder, you are charged with protecting something so precious in the eyes of God that in order for Him to attain it, He spilled the most precious blood of the most precious person who ever lived on this planet. When an elder looks at the congregation, they should see the most precious possession of the only wise Holy Father. The kind of elder Jesus wants views the sheep like that. He does not think he has inherent right to guide them outside of Sacred Scripture. I Peter 5:1-3 says, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”

The Greek word for “shepherd” here is POINMANATE and it is in the imperative mood. This signifies that Peter is issuing a command for the elders to shepherd the flock of God. The word means to serve as tender of the sheep, to watch out for other people in the sense of lead or guide, protect, care for, nurture. The entire well-being of the sheep comes into view. As an elder, you are responsible for the entire spiritual well-being of the sheep. This should disturb you a great deal. If it does not disturb you enough to educate yourself in Scripture so that you understand what a godly elder looks like, perhaps the office is one you should avoid. You are to care for the sheep with the highest passion and commitment possible. There is no more important job than that of elder or shepherd. God places His sheep in your care. Moreover, God will hold you accountable for the condition of that His sheep are in, in the end. The godly shepherd respects and understand this. He understands the church is not his to manage at his own discretion. He recognizes that he cannot behave autonomously in his duties. He understands that Scripture places strict guidelines around how to care for the sheep. He works diligently to understand those guidelines and executes on them to the very best of his ability.

The elder has to be above reproach. His Christian reputation cannot be legitimately called into question. He cannot be a womanizer, noticing every attractive woman that walks by or flirtatious. An elder has to be even tempered. An elder has to be prudent. This word means to behave in a sensible manner. It carries the idea of thoughtful awareness. He does not let his emotion or his selfishness interfere with just conduct. He knows what to say and, when to say it. He knows when to keep his lips sealed. He is a prudently judicious man. The kind of elder that Jesus wants is one that people can respect. He has qualities that are admirable among the people. People find it easy to hold him in high regard. An elder has to be hospitable. He has to be capable of teaching. He understands Scripture and has the ability to lead others into a solid understanding of Scripture. He cannot be addicted to strong drink. He must not be prone to fight, physically or otherwise. Godly elders are gentle, seeking to maintain the peace, and they are free from the love of money. This is the kind of elder Jesus wants.

If you look at the kind of church Jesus wants and read this article, it becomes clear that Jesus wants an elder filled with the love of God. He loves God and he loves God’s people. Because of this love, there is nothing more important to this elder than to lead God’s people into the truth of Scripture. He abhors strange doctrine and anything that contradicts or opposes the teachings of Christ. When a wolf introduces strange teachings to God’s sheep, he reacts urgently to protect those that God has placed under his charge. He gently rebukes those who hold to false teachings. If they refuse to repent and follow Scripture, he removes the leaven from among the sheep with tears. The unity and peace of the church are of the highest importance to him. This unity is built upon the sound teachings of Scripture. That is to say, that people are bound together by the power of Christian doctrine and a passionate love for God and one another. This is the kind of elder that Jesus wants. He understands the gravity of his office. He respects the task before him. He does not take the sheep for granted as if they were cheap play things for which he need not have any regard. He conducts his life in such a way as to maintain an ability to influence and lead God’s people into God’s truth. He is not perfect and does not present himself in a manner that leads others to think that he thinks he is. He is human, but he is authentic. The sheep know that he loves them. However, they know he loves God and God’s Word, more. They know he will bend over backwards to serve them. Yet they also know he will firmly obey God’s word even when it is the most unpopular thing to do. They have no doubt about where his priorities are. He is loyal to God, to God’s word and to that alone. They know if he is ever asked to compromise this loyalty, he will unflinchingly refuse. If you are considering the office of elder, I would encourage you to take your time, commit it to prayer, but more than that, read everything Scripture teaches on the matter. I would also recommend you read Timothy Z. Witmer’s book, “The Shepherd Leader.” It is an excellent work on the office of the elder.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Biblical Authority and the Church

This blog is mostly concerned with the defense of the Christian faith as explicitly articulated in Scripture. I love to appraise views that challenge Christianity and provide cogent arguments in defense of the most rational view of all: God exists and Jesus Christ is the expression of His divine person in the NT writings. However, there is a difference between defending biblical Christianity and defending the actions of people in the church. The greatest threat to any church is the culture in which it finds itself. We see this throughout the NT. The culture constantly threatens to infect the church with its own sinful way of thinking and doing things. We see this in our own culture in the West. One example is how we handle pastors. Many churches in the West treat pastors as if they were CEOs to be hired and fired like anyone else based on the popularity of that pastor in the congregation. If a congregation does not like the pastor, he does not get the job. If a congregation grows weary of the pastor, they fire him. I have been around for 32 years in the church now. Most congregations I know simply do not make enough of an investment in their own spiritual maturity to be qualified to make such decisions about pastors in the first place. Secondly, and most important, Scripture never hints at this sort of practice anywhere. Yet, here we are. Where does this thinking come from? The church has adopted this practice from the culture. This is precisely how the culture thinks.

Conversely, not a small number of pastors have adopted attitudes from the cultures in which they find themselves. Rather than producing churches that are opposing unbiblical and ungodly cultural views and practices, they are creating and incubating churches that are more the product of their culture than they are the product of biblical sanctification. This is most visible in those churches that have openly denied the authority of Scripture, and most veiled in those churches that mask themselves in solid creeds and confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, all the while denying the very confessions they profess to believe by engaging in or tolerating sinful practices and ungodly attitudes. For instance, many churches have adopted a pro-homosexual stance contrary to what Scripture teaches. They buy into the cultural philosophy that homosexuality is the product of God and therefore God accepts the lifestyle. If God accepts the lifestyle by continuing to give us people who make the homosexual choice, then so should the church. Some churches even accept abortion as a woman’s right. They accept the cultural views on the subject and integrate those views into the practices and polity of the local church. Now, many conservative folks reading this blog will shout a hardy “amen” to much of what I have said. However, you may want to hold your “amen” until the end. This is because your criticism is next. I have given up the notion of defending the church or the actions of people who claim to be legitimate members in the church. The issue is one of credibility. To be clear, I do not mean my own credibility. Rather, I mean the credibility of argumentation. I mean the credibility of the art and science of defending truth is lost when we hypocritically defend the indefensible. For example, when we defend the practice of unbiblical divorce or unforgiveness or hateful acts and attitudes in our own churches, we are defending a practice that cannot be legitimately defended without abandoning the truth of Christianity itself. Churches that have all but abandoned Church discipline have no credibility by which to defend the gospel. This is the price one pays when they decide to pick and choose which truths they will integrate and which truths they will conveniently lock away out of sight and out of mind. I cannot defend the behaviors that have become normative in the visible Christian community. I am not talking about the fact that we sinfully fail in our attempts to please Christ. I am not talking about legalism. I am talking about the manner in which the Christian community has dispensed with Biblical Authority. The local church has adopted Western politics and as a result of that decision, she rarely permits Scripture to preside over her affairs. This is unfortunate and regrettable, but not altogether unpredictable given our sinful proclivities. Humble and complete submission to God’s Word is a lifelong challenge for all of us. It is the most difficult thing any of us will ever do. If you do not understand this fact, then you do not understand biblical submission. The idea of completely submitting to God without qualification is not something our sin nature wants to do. Nevertheless, do it we must. We must die to self. We must mortify the deeds of the flesh. We must die daily. As John Owen said, either we are killing the flesh or the flesh is killing us. We are fine submitting to God with certain qualifications. I will submit to God as long as I am happy with my spouse. If not, then I will not submit. I will divorce her and move on. Pastors will submit to God until it means having a hypocritical group in the church leave because that group holds some key positions or has a little more influence than makes the pastor comfortable. I am sad to say that the flesh is killing many churches. The church has returned to a pre-reformation arrogance as she displaces Scripture, not so much with her own traditions, but with whatever cultural philosophies she fancies the most. The most damnable thing about this new condition of the church, especially the conservative church, is that she does so all the while professing to uphold the most conservative creeds and confessions. Western culture is a culture of lip service. We love the way we sound. Presidents have learned how to avoid answering the most direct questions about their conduct by playing with words. It is not surprising that so too have our pastors, elders, and members in the Christian community. Rather than seek to simply bind ourselves to the Word and humbly do as God has called, we engage in all sorts of strategies to reach our ultimate objective. We even convince ourselves we are doing the work of the kingdom in many instances by engaging in “wise” behavior. Sin can be extraordinarily deluding.

Meredith Kline writes, “In our study of canon, our concern is with Scripture not as powerful word but as authoritative word, not as architectural fiat but as authoritative model. For canonicity is a matter of authoritative norms. Thus, when we affirm that the Old Testament is the canonical covenant by which the Lord built the kingdom-house of Israel, we refer to the fact that God structured the covenant community perceptively by the covenant stipulations and definitively delineated the constituent elements of his holy house in its historical and theological, human and divine dimensions. As to its nuclear formal function, canonical covenant is a community rule.” [Kline, Meredith. The Structure of Biblical Authority. 89]

Kline rightly observes that the nature of the Christian community is what it is because of the authoritative nature of Scripture. Without the authoritative canon, the covenant community falls apart. The authority of the canon is the glue that holds covenant community together. Without the covenant, there is no community. Hence, it follows that the submission of the covenant community to the canon is bound up in the essence and identity of the community itself. Any attempt on the part of the covenant community to separate its essence and identity from the ideal of authority is oxymoronic. The covenant community is bound by the covenant and subject to the covenant or it is not a covenant community. A community that picks and chooses the parts of a covenant that it likes and dismisses those parts it finds offensive or inconvenient, is not a covenant community, it is a selective community. The idea of covenant community means a community bound together by a specific covenant. It is to that covenant that the entire community submits itself. Otherwise, authority is misplaced! Authority moves from the covenant to the community. And this is where we find ourselves today. How can you tell if your church is one that has moved away from biblical authority? There are some clues. Pay close attention, but be warned, this last portion is designed to produce serious change. Serious change always comes at a cost. In the movie, Luther, there is a scene where Luther’s spiritual father was trying to save Luther’s life by persuading Luther to compromise. Johann von Staupitz was the Vicar-General of the Augustinian order in Germany. Von Staupitz was appointed promagister of the order at the Diet of Worms. It was during this time in the movie that Luther said to Von Staupitz, “When you sent me out to change the world, did you not think there would be a cost?” Great change always comes with great cost. As the church has once again, on many fronts, moved away from biblical authority, the return to that old faithful position will come with great costs. So how can you tell your church has moved away from biblical authority?

The Practice of Church Discipline

One way you can tell if your church still recognizes biblical authority is church discipline. There are enough unregenerate people in the churches today that the process of church discipline should not be unfamiliar to the congregation. This practice should be taught in the new members class, it should be part of the church covenant, and it should be taught and preached as a matter of routine. I find it outrageous that one could be attending a church for five years and never witness the public excommunication of someone from its role. That is a serious red flag. At a minimum, it merits self-reflection and examination. Jay Adams writes, “But even though discipline is difficult and runs many risks, churches dare not run the greater risk of withholding a privilege and blessing provided by Christ, thus depriving sinning members of all the help He has provided for them. Nor dare they disobey Him in refusing to follow his program for church discipline lest, in the end, they find themselves disciplined by Him (cf. I Cor. 11:31-33).” [Adams, Jay, Handbook of Church Discipline. 75]

A Plurality of Elders

Before I comment on this, let me say that some churches have an elder board or session, but not from a biblical perspective. In many of these situations, these men are simply walking in the teaching elder’s (pastor) shadow and they are little more than rubber stamp men who go along with almost every suggestion the pastor makes in order to keep the peace or simply because they do not know how to stand up in dissent. They are made to feel like they are being factious if they do not go along with the rest of the team. This is ungodly manipulation! ME GENOITO: May it never be! That is a sad state of affairs, but unfortunately, it exists more often than not. A true plurality of elders is designed to hold the authority of Scripture in high regard while holding church leaders to a very high standard of accountability. Men in these situations do not succumb to the pressure of manipulation or political pastors who have other agendas outside the simple management of church affairs according to the expressed will of God in Scripture. Elders who rule well are to counted worthy of double honor. These are the men who uphold Scripture even when it is unpopular to do so. It is easy to stand for truth when there are no risks. It is when there is a risk that you test the metal of a man. Conversely, when our elders are submitting to biblical authority and properly handling Scripture, believers are obligated to submit to their rule. We are to place ourselves at their direction and guidance. Churches have lost sight of this practice due to the democratic way of life we have grown accustomed to in the West. The Church of Jesus Christ is NOT a democracy.

The community is inextricably bound up in the reality of canonical Scripture. The concept of covenant-canon requires a covenant community. Though the community does not confer canonical authority on the Scriptures, Scripture in the form of constitutional treaty implies the community constituted by it and existing under its authority. Canonical authority is not derived from community, but covenantal canon connotes covenantal community. [Kline, Meredith. The Structure of Biblical Authority. 90] Oftentimes, we reverse authority. We imagine the church has inherent authority. She does not! The church has authority only because she submits to the authority of the canon. When she departs from this authority, she divests herself of any authority whatever and becomes little more than a religious cult in which people with all sorts of curiosities and superstitions play. She draws in the mystics, the existentialists, the rationalists, the empiricists, and the moralists. These groups combine to produce what looks like a real covenant community. However, upon close examination, when she is put to the test, one realizes that the only thing this sort of community submits to is her own wants, wishes, desires, and goals. She is no more a covenant community than the local pub that sports a good fight on the tube when one springs up. Not everything that parades itself around as a Christian Church is really Christian and in those cases, not only is it not Christian, it isn’t even a church. The Church is the body of Christ. When you see her, you cannot miss seeing Jesus. If you cannot see Jesus for all the politics, the immorality, the lack of love, the lack of forgiveness, the twisting of sacred Scripture and the autonomous behavior of members who think they live in a spiritual democracy, then you likely are not looking at the body of Christ.

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