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The Lausanne Conversations

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Eric Landry

Mike Horton has been invited to participate in two conversations leading up to the Lausanne global conference on evangelism in Cape Town this summer. The first of these conversations (part of the “12 Cities, 12 Conversations” campaign) is tonight in Pasadena at Fuller Theological Seminary.  The topic is “Culture Making: The Role of Christians in the World Today.”

Mike’s newest book (as yet untitled but part of his Christless Christianity and Gospel Driven Life series) takes on the issue of the relationship between Christians and culture. We’re posting a small snippet of the book below.  You’ll also find links to other White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation resources to stimulate your own thinking about Christ and culture.

There are two extremes in contemporary Christian interpretations of the kingdom. One extreme is to say that the kingdom is not present at all, but is an entirely future (millennial) reality.  In this future millennial kingdom the purpose is not only to dispense Christ’s gifts, which he has already won by his own trial, but “is the final form of moral testing.”  The other extreme is to say that it is present in its all-encompassing form, transforming the kingdoms of this age into the kingdom of Christ. In this perspective, the main calling of Christians and churches is to redeem the culture and extend Christ’s kingdom over politics, the arts, entertainment, sports, economics, law, and every other aspect of public and private life.  We’ve gone from “soul-winning-and-waiting-for-the-Rapture” to “kingdom transformation” in the blink of an eye.

The Great Commission is given to the church for this time between his first and second comings.  It is an intermission, between his accomplishment of redemption and his return to consummate its blessings.  However, this intermission isn’t a time for loitering in the lobby as consumers; it is a time of joyful activity on behalf of our neighbors: loving and serving them through our witness to Christ and also through our daily callings in the world.

This Great Commission is not the cultural mandate—the original commission to be fruitful and to multiply, ruling creation as God’s viceroys.  That is the covenant of creation, in which worship and cultural labors were fused in a vocation whose goal was nothing less than bringing all of creation into the everlasting Sabbath rest.  It was this covenant that was renewed as God took Israel to himself as a chosen nation.  “But like Adam they transgressed my covenant…” (Hos 6:7).  So once again, God cast his people out of his sanctuary, “east of Eden,” into captivity, where they languished in hope for the coming Redeemer promised through the prophets even in the people’s dire distress.  Nevertheless, God again promised the coming seed who would bring salvation to the ends of the earth.  It would be a new covenant, greater than the covenant that Israel swore at Mount Sinai.

The march toward the kingdom continued, even though its typological sign—the land and the Temple—lay in ruins.  The land of Israel was no longer holy, but common.  The Spirit had evacuated the Temple and Judah joined its northern sister in exile.  Yet even in Babylonian captivity, the people received the letter from the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD (Jer 29:4-9).

Living like our exiled parents (Adam and Eve), “east of Eden,” the children of Judah are to participate in the common life—its burdens and joys—of the secular city.  They find their welfare in the city’s welfare and are therefore to pray for the commonwealth.  Yet they are also to increase the size of the covenant community during this period and the greatest threat is not persecution by the ungodly, but the internal deceptions of unauthorized prophets.  (As we will see, this is precisely the situation of the new covenant church in its exile and Jeremiah’s exhortations bear striking resemblance to those of the apostles in their letters.)

Although a remnant returned to Jerusalem and sought to rebuild the walls and rededicate itself to the covenant they made with God at Sinai, they realized that they were still in exile.  Ruled by a series of oppressive Gentile regimes, punctuated by false messiahs and attempts to bring in the kingdom by force, the City of Peace was in perpetual turmoil.  It was into this scene that John the Baptist stepped as the forerunner of the Messiah.

It is this new covenant that forms the basis for the Great Commission: a holy task of bringing the Good News to the world.  It is an unshakable kingdom—incapable of being thwarted by our own unfaithfulness—precisely because it is not a kingdom that we are building, but one that we are receiving (Heb 12:28).  It is God’s work.  Everything that we will be exploring in the rest of this book presupposes the view of the kingdom that is summarized here.

Stay tuned to the White Horse Inn blog for more information on the title and release date of this book.
If you’d like to explore this issue in greater depth, be sure to check out some of these resources from White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation:

Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Eric Landry

Have you ever been lied to? By your bank? By your boss? By your two year old? We can all answer, yes. What is even more interesting is how we are lied to. The new show, Lie to Me, starring Tim Roth (of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction fame) as Dr. Cal Lightman, the world’s leading deception psychologist. Using his unique methods he can, within a few subconscious ‘micro expressions’, figure out if anyone is lying. The climax of each episode, however, is why they are lying. His breakthrough techniques (yes, this is still TV) have proven themselves with cheating spouses and local criminals.  Now the FBI has exclusive rights to use Dr. Lightman and his associates as human polygraphs to find the truth. My dad always said there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs, and the truth. The Lightman Group is looking for the latter.

The show’s characters are a collection of extremes. The show has many well-developed characters from a diversity of backgrounds. For instance, “the new kid on the block” Ria Torres (Monica Raymund) was discovered by Cal Lightman at a customs department where she worked checking bags. Cal recognized her lie detection abilities and now she is one of the leads in the field for Cal’s psychology firm.

The members of the firm are treated like family. FBI agent Ben Reynolds (Mekhi Phifer) is attached to Cal as a bodyguard and he provides the ‘hard’ cop attitude in the show. In the show, Ben finds himself in a spot where his life is on the line. When Cal finds out, he goes out of his way to save him. Agent Reynolds says, “Why didn’t you just write me off?” Cal responds, “I’ve been cut loose many a time when the truth has been inconvenient. But somebody caught me on the way down.” Reynolds replies, “That’s a true friend.”  Our post-christian culture still recognizes the value and necessity of friendship, pointing forward to the one who is ‘closer than a brother’.

The plot lines range from trying to figure out who is next on a serial killer’s list to dealing with Cal Lightman’s teenage daughter lying about her birth control. In one great scene, Cal’s daughter is reeling from the unforeseen consequences of her actions. Cal says, “That’s the thing about consequences love, you don’t know when they are gonna stop.” These are the kind of open doors to engage our kids, friends, and neighbors with the truth about sin and the destruction that even one little lie can bring.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Why watch TV? Shouldn’t I be reading my Bible like a good Christian? After all, how is a show about lying worthwhile, don’t you know your catechism?” I used to agree, but after watching one episode I changed my mind concerning the redemptive worth of this show for a couple of reasons.

First, we all need to remember how actions and words relate.  This show is unique in connecting actions, words, and thoughts. Christians can identify with this because Christ says the same thing about thoughts in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus exposed motives to prove guilt. Cal exposes guilt by micro-emotions. In both cases the guilt remains.

Secondly, this show is built upon the fact that right and wrong, truth and error actually exist. It throws relativism out the window and discovers the real truth behind circumstances, despite the tales attached. People’s motives are exposed and they are responsible for their actions. This is a great point of contact for neighbors and friends: we are responsible not just for what we do wrong but why we do wrong.

So, if you’re looking for a point of contact to share the gospel with your friends and neighbors, or if you just want to watch a show with a good script, take a look at this new show on Fox. Lie to Me airs on Fox at 9 pm on Monday nights.

-Nic Lazzareschi

From a Movement to a Church: Part 3

Monday, November 30th, 2009 by Eric Landry

[This is the third part of a four part series from Mike Horton on some of the misunderstandings that are prevalent within American evangelicalism about the "nature, marks, and mission of the church." Parts one and two can be found here.]

Misunderstanding #3: The outward form, structure, and methods of the church are not nailed down in Scripture

I’m a typical American.  I like to “get ‘er done,” as they say.  We’re practical, can-do folks.  Let’s not spend a lot of time thinking about what we are doing.  Let’s just do it!  Many evangelicals assume that the Bible gives us a clear message, but then leaves the methods of delivering it up to us.

However, even in the Great Commission the command to “Go into all the world” is followed by the specific components of this calling: namely, to preach the gospel, to baptize, and to teach everything he has revealed.  Acts 2 tells us that the community created at Pentecost was dedicated to “the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (v 42).  These are all communal, structured, public activities.  (In Greek, the definite article in “the prayers” suggests that early Christian worship carried on the form of the synagogue liturgy with respect to corporate prayers.)

Throughout the Book of Acts, the apostles busy themselves with the elements of Christ’s commission.  In fact, the diaconate is established so that they can give themselves entirely to the ministry of Word and sacrament (Acts 6).  Then, everywhere they have a nucleus of converts, the apostles ordain ministers and elders.  “This is why I left you in Crete,” Paul reminds Titus, “so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Tit 1:5).  While Paul the Apostle could invoke a direct commission from the risen Christ, he bolstered Timothy’s confidence by reminding him of the calling and gift he received “when the council of elders [presbyteriou] laid their hands on you” (1 Tim 4:14).  Eventually, this ordinary ministry will replace the extraordinary ministry of the apostles.  The former will build on the foundation of the latter.  Not only are local churches to be organized with pastors, elders, and deacons; they are responsible to each other in a wider fellowship of mutual encouragement and admonition.  When the churches in Antioch brought the case of Gentile inclusion to the whole church in Acts 15, the “whole church” was represented by “the apostles and elders” from each local assembly.  The result was a written decision that was expected to be received by every local church.

Then when we get to the Epistles, specific offices and qualifications are clearly stated, especially in the pastoral letters.  Clear instructions are given for the meaning and regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10-11), for church discipline (Mat 18; 1 Cor 5-7), and for public worship (Ac 2:42-45; 1 Cor 14:6-39) and the diaconal care of the saints (Ac 6; Rom 15:14-32; Gal 6:10; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8-13).  We are even told why we sing.  Why does God need to tell us why we sing?  Because singing in corporate worship is not mere exuberance, entertainment, or pious expression of our own thoughts, feelings, and commitment.  Rather, the purpose of the singing is the same as the preaching, the sacraments, and the prayers: “…so that the Word of Christ may dwell in you richly…” (Col 3:16).  Christ cares so much about every aspect of his visible church because he knows how prone we are to wander and to set up idols, demanding our own forms of worship.  Not only the message of Christ, but the means of grace that he has appointed, are calculated by the Triune God for delivering Christ to sinners—including believers—throughout their pilgrimage.  The same gospel that brings those “far off” to Christ also brings to Christ those who are near to the covenant promises: “you and your children” (Ac 2:39).

A major heresy swept the ancient church in the second century, known as Gnosticism.  Trying to assimilate the gospel to Greek thought, the Gnostics drew a sharp division between spirit and matter, invisible and visible, outer and inner.  It was not the external ministry of Word and sacrament or external ministers like pastors and elders, but an inner ministry of the Spirit through spontaneous ecstasy and enlightenment, that the Gnostics extolled.  Paul’s agitators in Greek-dominated settings (such as Corinth and Colossae), whom the apostle had sarcastically dubbed “super-apostles,” were likely forerunners of this sect.  However, Jesus did not found a mystical sect of the inner light; he founded a visible church, where he has promised to deliver Christ and all of his benefits through the public ministry of Word and sacrament and to guard his sheep through loving discipline and care of body and soul.

Christ is not only our prophet and priest; he’s also our king.  As such, he has not only determined our personal piety but our corporate practices as his body.  Jesus did not redeem his sheep only to make them “self-feeders.”  The Spirit disrupts our lives and disorganizes the ordinary course of this present age, but only to re-organize and re-integrate a new society around the Son.

As I observed above, I’m as pragmatic as the next American.  However, this is not a benign character trait, especially if it keeps us from taking seriously Christ’s claims as king of his church.  American evangelicalism is deeply indebted to the Second Great Awakening, led by Charles Finney.  The classic American pragmatist, Finney saw the doctrines of original sin, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, justification through faith alone, and the supernatural character of the new birth as obstacles to genuine revival and society’s moral improvement.  His “new measures” (such as the “anxious bench,” a precursor to the altar call) supplemented and eventually supplanted the ordained means of grace. Revival was as normal as any other programmed event, dependent on the most effective means of persuasion that could be imagined by a clever evangelist.

Just as the Spirit’s inward call is often contrasted with outward means, evangelicalism celebrates the charismatic leader who needs no formal training or external ecclesiastical ordination to confirm a spontaneous, direct, an inner call to ministry.  Historians may debate whether the Protestant enthusiasm is more of a consequence than a cause of the distinctively American confidence in intuitive individualism over against external authorities and communal instruction, but the connection seems obvious.  In Head and Heart, Catholic historian Garry Wills observes,

The camp meeting set the pattern for credentialing Evangelical ministers.  They were validated by the crowd’s response.  Organizational credentialing, doctrinal purity, personal education were useless here—in fact, some educated ministers had to make a pretense of ignorance.  The minister was ordained from below, by the converts he made.  This was an even more democratic procedure than electoral politics, where a candidate stood for office and spent some time campaigning.  This was a spontaneous and instant proclamation that the Spirit accomplished.  The do-it-yourself religion called for a make-it-yourself ministry.

Wills repeats Richard Hofstadter’s conclusion that “the star system was not born in Hollywood but on the sawdust trail of the revivalists.” Where American Transcendentalism was the version of Romanticism that attracted a wide following among Boston intellectuals, Finney’s legacy represents “an alternative Romanticism,” a popular version of self-reliance and inner experience, “taking up where Transcendentalism left off.”  Emerson had written, “The height, the deity of man is to be self-sustained, to need no gift, no foreign force”—no external God, with an external Word and sacraments or formal ministry.  And revivalism in its own way was popularizing this distinctly American religion on the frontier.

Writing against Charles Finney’s “new measures,” a contemporary Reformed pastor and theologian, John Williamson Nevin, pointed out the contrast between “the system of the bench” (precursor to the altar call) and what he called “the system of the catechism”: “The old Presbyterian faith, into which I was born, was based throughout on the idea of covenant family religion, church membership by God’s holy act in baptism, and following this a regular catechetical training of the young, with direct reference to their coming to the Lord’s table.  In one word, all proceeded on the theory of sacramental, educational religion.”  Nevin relates his own involvement in a revival as a young man, where he was expected to disown his covenantal heritage as nothing more than dead formalism. These two systems, Nevin concluded, “involve at the bottom two different theories of religion.” He was certainly right and we can’t just staple the five points of Calvinism to an essentially Pelagian methodology.

-Mike Horton

From a Movement to a Church: Part 2

Monday, November 16th, 2009 by Eric Landry

[This is the second part of a four part series from Mike Horton on some of the misunderstandings that are prevalent within American evangelicalism about the "nature, marks, and mission of the church." Part one can be found here.]

Misunderstanding #2: “Getting saved” doesn’t mean “joining a church”

Although evangelicals are used to hearing this contrast between a personal relationship with Christ and joining a church, it has no basis in the New Testament and in fact runs counter to specific examples.  From the day of Pentecost itself, “What must I do to be saved?” is answered in the Book of Acts by the call to repent and believe the gospel and to be baptized.  “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).  Public profession of faith is essential (Romans 10:10).  We have no access to hearts and surely there are instances (like the thief on the cross) where baptism and formal church membership are impossible.  However, it is a public profession of faith, not merely a private testimony of a personal relationship with Christ, that is required.  Not all who are outwardly members of the visible church are inwardly united to Christ.  This has been true in Old and New Testaments, as Paul reminds us especially in chapters 2 and 9 of Romans.  The body of elders who examine such professions is no more competent to judge hearts than the rest of us, but a credible public profession means that we cannot exercise vigilante judgments about the state of fellow members.

The apostles addressed concrete churches in specific locales and not only their leadership but the whole fellowship of communicant members.  Paul addresses the Corinthian church as those “who are called to be saints,” and on the basis of their visible membership calls them to discipline their worship and their erring members.  Believers are called to submit themselves to the spiritual leadership of pastors and elders whom God has placed over them (1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17).  This is not “Churchianity.”  It’s Christianity.

-Mike Horton

From a Movement to a Church

Monday, November 9th, 2009 by Eric Landry

[We're starting a four part series from Mike Horton on some of the misunderstandings that are prevalent within American evangelicalism about the "nature, marks, and mission of the church."]

Introduction

In The Courage to be Protestant, David Wells observes that parachurch ministries are increasingly replacing the church itself.  The question is whether evangelicalism itself has become a threat to actual churches.  Many Christians today believe that going to a Christian concert, evangelistic event, or conference is equivalent to the corporate gathering of the covenant community each Lord’s Day.  As George Barna argues in The Revolutionaries (Tyndale, 2005), most Christians will soon (he hopes) receive their spiritual resources on-line and not even find it necessary to attend, much less join, a local church.  Stunned by the revelation that many of those most involved were the most dissatisfied with their spiritual growth, Willow Creek Community Church’s self-study, published as Reveal, concluded that believers outgrow the church.  Although the respondents actually said that they thought the weak diet was responsible for their poor spiritual health, the leadership concluded that they need to work harder to make people fend for themselves as “self-feeders” and be less dependent on the ministry of the church.

Across the board—from more traditional churches to megachurches and emerging churches, there seems to be a lot of confusion about the nature, marks, and mission of the church.  This brief article can’t address all of the issues that I treated in People and Place.  However, I’ll mention a few here.  Before I do, I should say at the outset that I don’t believe that any of the points below (which I regard as misunderstandings) are new.  They all have a long history in evangelicalism.

Misunderstanding #1: “All of life is sacred”

It was revolutionary for me to learn from Francis Schaeffer and others that God cares about the whole world and the whole person.  All of life, not just religion, falls under the judgment and grace of the God who is both Creator and Redeemer.  I learned that the Reformation recovered the New Testament emphasis on the priesthood of all believers.  It’s not just a minister preparing a sermon, but an artist at her canvas, who reflects God’s goodness and fulfills a God-given calling.  You don’t need to stamp John 3:16 on the painting to make it “Christian”; our worldly callings don’t need to be justified by their spiritual or evangelistic utility.  Nevertheless, as new creatures in Christ, we see everything with new eyes.  We don’t approach our work as a job, but as a calling, and we seek to think through the implications of Scripture for the whole range of our activities.  I wasn’t alone.  Many younger Christians were being freed from a narrow “pietism” that had created a “Christian ghetto,” with an alternative sub-culture (usually of inferior quality).

In all the excitement, however, we seem to have swung to the other extreme.  Part of the rationale for affirming this world and our secular callings is that God is the Lord of the common as well as the holy.  We don’t need to make things “sacred” in order to affirm them as noble, God-given, and God-glorifying.  In spite of their intentions, even atheists glorify God’s common grace when they produce honorable goods and services, write beautiful screen-plays, and develop cures for diseases that plague us all.

In the Garden before the fall, everything was holy.  Adam and Eve were given a sacred commission to extend God’s righteous reign through their daily work in cultivating the ground, driving out the serpent, and guarding and protecting the sanctuary.  After the fall, the couple was given the surprising Good News of a future redeemer, but their work was now to be done “east of Eden.”  The Garden was no longer holy.  At Mount Sinai, God delivered the precise terms of Israel’s constitution that would reunite the holy and the common: not only a moral law that repeated the dictates of the law written on the conscience in creation, but civil and ceremonial laws for every detail of daily life.  Then God brought Israel into his holy land.  Yet when Israel broke this covenant, God evicted the people, as he had Adam and Eve.  In their exile in Babylon, the children of Judah were to pray for the city of their captivity, to build houses and plant vineyards, and to participate in the common life of the Babylonians without compromising their faith and practice.  And they were called to “be fruitful and multiply” in exile, providing a covenant community for the eventual arrival of the Messiah. Even when the Jews did return to Palestine, they knew that they were still in exile, ruled over by Gentile oppressors.

Just as Moses received the laws for the holy nation at Mount Sinai, Jesus issues his own commands in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is not the era of driving the Gentiles out of a geo-political land by the sword, but of suffering patiently, praying for our enemies, and proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth.  The kingdom of God is the announcement of the forgiveness of sins.  With Christ’s cross, Satan’s head is crushed and with Christ’s resurrection Satan’s kingdom is toppled.

By his Word and Spirit, Christ is even at this moment raiding Satan’s prisons, liberating them as captives in his train. But once again, this spiritual kingdom is distinct from the kingdoms of this age.  The former progresses through the forgiveness of sins through preaching and sacrament, while cultural activity is common.  Christians work side by side with non-Christians, loving and serving their neighbors with goods and services that promote the common welfare.  This work is not redemptive.  It is not ushering in that consummation of Christ’s reign that we will see when Christ himself returns to raise the dead in judgment and salvation, making all things new.

In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us that Jesus Christ, in his ascension, is pouring out on his church all of the gifts that he has won for his people, specifically mentioning the gifts of pastors and teachers who complete the body by building it up by the Word into its head, Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission that Jesus delivered to his church is not to go into all the world and make it safe for democracy, to redeem culture, or to discover cures for cancer.  Rather, Jesus commissions the church as an institution to preach, baptize, and teach.  Wherever instructions are given in the New Testament for the lives of believers in the world, they are pretty basic: living peaceably, working well with their hands, giving to those in need, and reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.  No less than the work of a non-Christian, a believer’s discovery of a medicinal cure is the result of the Spirit’s work in common grace.

“Secular” simply means “of this age.”  Jesus and Paul repeatedly spoke in terms of “this age” and “the age to come.”  The former refers to the present regime, under the dominion of sin and death, while the age to come is defined by the re-creation of this world with the glorified Christ as its firstfruits.

So we don’t work with only two categories: sacred and evil.  There’s a third one: common.  In this respect, the believer’s sphere of activity overlaps with that of his or her non-Christian neighbors.  They share common blessings and common woes.  Yet the holy nation that Christ is creating by his Word and Spirit is a remnant from all cultures, across all times and places.  It is holy, not common, because it is claimed by God as the cherished object of his saving grace.  Through his gospel, signified and sealed to us and to our children in baptism, the covenant community is that holy commonwealth that began with the announcement to our first parents after they had sinned.

Enjoying God’s creation is common.  In its commonness, it is a remarkable testimony to God’s goodness, power, and other invisible attributes, as Paul tells us in Romans 1 and 2.  However, hearing God’s gospel is holy and hearing and receiving it makes us holy, as Paul says in Romans 3 (and chapter 10).  A great concert may witness to God’s glory in human creativity, but God delivers his saving Word in the covenant assembly.  God is omnipresent and his creative power is evident through everything that he has made.  However, the question for sinners is where God has promised to be present in grace and mercy.

God still separates one holy day out of six common ones.  God still separates specific activities: preaching of the Word, public prayer, confession and declaration of pardon, administration of baptism and the Supper, singing the Word of Christ, and the fellowship of saints, from the common activities of work, friendships, and entertainment.  So all of life is indeed blessed and upheld by God’s common grace, but there remains a distinction between the common and the holy; common grace and saving grace; that which is honorable, God-glorifying, and helpful to our neighbors and that which is redemptive.

-Mike Horton

[next week, we'll take up the relationship between salvation and participation in the visible church]


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