Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Teens dropping out of church

I was reading Essential Church by Thom and Sam Rainer (father and son). Both men do extensive research on the church today. The overall theme of this book is to reveal the research done on why we lose so many young adults to the church between the ages of 18 and 22. Many of them dropping out long before that. Obvisously, the book speaks to leaders of churches as to what churches can do, but as a Dad as well as a Pastor I was struck by chapter 4 (A New Spin on Hypocrisy). The big idea of the chapter is that no matter what the church does, it stands little chance of holding on to this generation during these years if there has been a disconnect between what the parents say they believe about church and God and what they live. Most of us would guess church attendance by the parents would directly impact the church attendance of their children as they leave home. To some degree they found this to be true. However, if the parents attend church and speak positively about the church, but do not live out their faith and talk about their faith in the home, we lose astounding percentages of these kids when they become young adults. It's not just church attendance, but it is a life that demonstrates that church makes a difference in the lives of the parents.

Watch this video and be reminded ...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The gift of tongues

I apologize it has been so long between posts. We will pick up the pace with these three behind us. This is the third and final post in a trilogy in response to some questions my cousin in Australia asked: Alcohol, role of women in the church, and the gift of tongues.

The “gift of tongues” has been a matter that is as disputed as any in the church today. More than any other area people tend to rely on experience over the authority of God’s Word when determining what they believe about tongues. This is a great reminder that no matter what our experience, we stand under the authority of God’s Word, not over it.

I would also remind us before looking into question of speaking in tongues, this is a disputable matter. There have been bible believing Christians with various views on this subject. So, as a disputable matter, we will have grace with one another as we deal with this one.

What is the meaning of “gift of tongues”?
In the New Testament there are two lists of “gifts” listed in which the gift of tongues is included (1 Corinthians 12:8-11; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30). These gifts of the Spirit are distributed at the discretion of the Holy Spirit. While all Christ followers receive the gift of the Spirit, individual Christians do not have all the gifts of the Spirit.

The term that is used to identify the tongues movement is “glossolalia,” made up of two Greek words, glossa (language or tongue) and lalia (speech). It therefore means speaking in languages or tongues. Glossology is that department of anthropology which has to do with the study and classification of languages and dialects. The Holman Christian Standard Bible most often translates this word “languages”. The only time Jesus mentions “tongues” or “languages” (Mark 16:17) He adds the adjective “new”. He predicted there would be those that would speak new languages. If I were to say Portuguese is a “new language” for me you would understand it is a language that is not native to me and one I am having to learn. Acts 2:4 uses a different adjective when it says the spoke in “different languages”. It simply means different from what they normally spoke. Context confirms this interpretation (Acts 2:6-8).

The problem with this interpretation is a bit more challenging when one reads many of the translations of 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13, 14, and 19. Many translations insert the word “unknown” into the English text. The problem is that “unknown” is not in the original text. In every place the word is used it means “languages”. The Greek word “laleo” always means “speech”. It is never used to mean unintelligible sound(s). Therefore it is a strange interpretation to make the speaking of “tongues” in the New Testament anything other than someone speaking in a language other than their own.

Is speaking in tongues proof of baptism by the Holy Spirit?
No. Scripture is clear that every believer has been baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). When the question is asked in 1 Corinthians 12:30 if every believer is to speak in tongues (“languages”), it is obvious the answer is “No”. We need to be careful we do not confuse baptism by the Spirit with “being filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

Related to this question could be a discussion of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are evidences of being filled with the Spirit. However, as no “gift of the Spirit” is ever listed as evidence of being controlled (‘filled’) with the Spirit this would include the gift of “tongues” or “languages”.

Does the gift of tongues still exist today?
This is where much of the controversy exists in the church over this subject. Persons that hold that the “sign gifts” (tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.) do not still exist today are known as Cessationists. I do not consider myself a pure Cessationist. However, I do believe the sign gifts we see listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are not in the same form we see them in the New Testament. For example, the gift of healing as displayed in the “in-the-name-of-Jesus-rise-and-walk” in Acts were not widespread as we see that only in the lives of the Apostles. We see less of this in the later chapters of Acts as the church became more established. But I do see certain individuals that seem to have a gift of praying for others in a way that leads to healing more often than others.

The reason for the lengthy discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 related to tongues is because this was an area the Corinthians were having difficulty. It was dividing their church. They were lacking in the fruit of love (see 1 Corinthians 13). Paul explained in this chapter that love superceded all the gifts.

1 Corinthians 13:8 is a bit problematic for non-cessationists. It says, “as for languages (tongues), they will cease”. It will come to an end. Cessationists believe that time has already occurred. Others believe that time will not come until the return of Christ. I have already explained my view in this post. Maybe you can see the need for grace in all such discussions. It does seem there would be no need for such a gift today if the understanding of the term is one of “new language”.

Well, how do we account for the widespread use of unintelligible tongues we see today? I would offer three possibilities. They can be self-induced, group-produced, or Satan-induced. Satan has been actively attempting to divide the church in any way possible. We are to be about the business of edifying the church.

The Church of Jesus Christ does not need a new Bible, nor new apostles, nor new faith-healers, nor new charismatic movements, nor self-styled miracle workers. What the Church needs is to return to the Word of God and proclaim the whole counsel of God in the power and love of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Women's Roles in the Local Church

OK, I know it has been too long since my last post. But I knew I wanted to get this one behind me, so I waited as I prepared. It's a little lengthy, but the subject demands some length. Here goes.

Let’s begin by affirming the role of women in ministry throughout all of history. I have said publicly several times I thank God for women picking up the load on a number of fronts in the church throughout history. And I don’t just mean exercising the gifts of diaper changing and kitchen duty. From a human standpoint, they have kept the Church of Jesus Christ moving forward at times when men have taken a passive role.

If Scripture (not culture or human opinion) is our authority (and it is) we want to think biblically about all areas of our lives and churches. What is the role of women in the church? Does Scripture in any way limit the role of women in the church?

There are two primary camps related to this topic. The Egalitarian camp believes women are equal to men in both essence and function. The Complementarian camp argues that women are equal to men in essence, but that men are to be the leaders in the church. As with most controversial issues, you have extremes of both camps.

Please allow me to be clear early in this post. This doctrine (role of women in the church) is not a cardinal doctrine. In other words, no one’s salvation hangs in the balance based on their view. However, this issue is very important to the health of the church (the Bride of Christ). In other words whether or not one holds an egalitarian or complementarian view, you may still be saved. But whether or how much growth can take place is in part due to how you handle this issue. What you believe about when the Rapture will take place has no impact on how we are to serve and minister together in the local church, but what we believe about this issue directly impacts how we behave in the local church.

The primary passages in question in most discussions on this topic are Galatians 3:28; 1 Timothy 2; and 1 Corinthians 14:34. Egalitarian tend to hold to what is called Trajectory Theology, which in brief, is a method of interpreting Scripture which finds progressive change in application of Scripture in the trajectory of time beyond the completion of the New Testament. That simply means rather than interpreting Scripture in light of it’s historical setting, they believe it should be interpreted and applied in light of the current culture. In light of that, they believe Galatians 3:28 was Paul’s “prediction” of the ultimate goal of men and women equal in essence AND in function. Trajectory Theology is full of holes. What is the finality to which we are to take the passage? Who has the authority to make these decisions?

On this issue specifically, there are several difficulties with this view. One of the major problems an egalitarian would have with trajectory theology related to Galatians 3:28 is that Galatians was not the last letter Paul wrote. In fact, many believe it to be the first letter he wrote. So his latest view would be 1 Timothy since it was written at a later date. But an even larger problem is the context of Galatians 3. The passage is obviously speaking of equality in salvation. All Jews and Gentiles, men and women are all one in the way we are saved and the opportunity to be saved. The entire context of Galatians 3 is access to God through faith. Our access to God has no distinction by class, race, or gender! To make Galatians 3 an argument for no role distinction is to take one of the great cardinal doctrines of Scripture and dims it’s meaning by using it to argue for a lesser issue.

Further, if this passage erases social hierarchies then logic would take it to all social hierarchies. Therefore children would not need to obey their parents. But even egalitarians won’t accept such an application. Though their logic calls for it.

For the sake of space, let me state my position (obviously not egalitarian) and reasons why I hold this position. It can be effectively argued that a woman may hold any position in the local church other than that of elder. No matter ones view of elders almost no one will argue that Senior Pastor is not an elder. See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for clear qualifications of elders. I will not go into the entire list, but only those which relate to this discussion.

Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3 and other passages give us instructions that clearly indicate the male is the head of the household. 1 Timothy 3:4 and Titus 1:6 speak of an elder as one who manages his own household well and is the husband of one wife. Both impossible for women in the biblical structure of a home. One additional note here: While some women did prophesy in the Old Testament, never did a woman serve as a priest, which according to Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 21:5; and Malachi 2:6-7 is where the people go to receive authoritative instruction. There are a number of arguments for male eldership in the local church which I won’t try to go into here due to space.

But there is one characteristic germane to the discussion of the roles of women in the local church and teaching. First of all, keep in mind the spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit without regard to gender. This would include the gift of teaching. So what is the meaning of 1 Timothy 2 related to women and teaching? Keep in mind the bigger context. In the very next chapter (which was not originally in place) Paul goes into a long section of the letter on qualifications of elders. I believe Paul is setting up some of the argument he is going to make for male elders in chapter 3. I Timothy 3:2 says elders are to be able teachers. We know from Acts 15 that the elders were the ones to make doctrinal decisions for the body. This level of teaching and exhorting for the entire body is the responsibility of the elders. This expands the idea given in I Timothy 2:11-12. Women, whether in the home or in the church are not to be the ones with ultimate authority. Those roles are reserved for men.

What about 1 Corinthians 14:34 that states women are to be silent? Let’s keep in mind the Corinthian church was a mess! They had chaos in every area. They were drunk at the Lord’s Suppers. They had divisions over leadership. They had confusion in their public worship services related to speaking in tongues and apparently the women were usurping the authority of their husbands in the public setting of the church.

The leadership of each local church must wrestle with these issues. In our church we do have women that teach mixed gender classes. As long as it is under the authority of our elders with me (as Senior Pastor) leading I think we have biblical reasons for favor to do operate in this way. I will say however, if the men of the church use this as an excuse not to teach, it is not healthy for a church. But nowhere in Scripture can we make an argument for women as elders which includes Senior Pastor of a local church. While this is not a complete discussion of the issues, I believe it will sets our position clearly.