TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed.
New Research Highlights Americans’ Theological Ignorance
A new study of American views about Christian theology reveals that, on almost every question asked, a third of Americans disagree with or unsure about the orthodox Christian view. Commissioned by Ligonier Ministries and conducted by Lifeway Research, the study asked 43 questions about faith, covering topics from sin and salvation to the Bible and the afterlife.
Some of the questions asked merely reflect the differences between theological traditions (e.g., Arminianism vs. Calvinism). However, on those that have an answer that is accepted by almost all orthodox Christians (as expressed in the ecumenical creeds), over a third of Americans either disagreed with the Christian view or said they were not sure of the correct answer.
Below are the order based on percentage of answers (the percent totals include both “not sure” and those who disagree—either somewhat or strongly—with the orthodox position):
1. People do not have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative (84 percent)
2. Even the smallest sin deserves damnation (82 percent)
3. The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being (78 percent)
4. Everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good (71 percent)
5. There are many ways to get to heaven (58 percent)
6. God the Father is more divine than Jesus Christ (56 percent)
7. The Bible was written for each person to interpret as they choose (55 percent)
8. Sex outside of marriage is a sin (53 percent)
9. God is the author of Scripture (53 percent)
10. The Bible alone is the written word of God (52 percent)
11. The Bible has the authority to tell us what we must do (51 percent)
12. God loves me because of the good I do or have done (49 percent)
13. Salvation is found through Jesus Christ alone (47 percent)
14. The Book of Mormon is a revelation from God (46 percent)
15. God has authority over people because He created human beings (45 percent)
16. God shows His wrath (45 percent)
17. There is little value in studying and/or reciting creeds and catechisms (43 percent)
18. Hell is a real place, not just a concept (40 percent)
19. Jesus is fully God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is fully man and has a human nature (40 percent)
20. The Holy Spirit is less divine than God the Father and Jesus (40 percent)
21. God is a perfect being and cannot make a mistake (37 percent)
22. There will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all the people who have lived (37 percent)
23. Jesus is the first creature created by God (36 percent)
24. God continues to answer specific prayers (34 percent)
25. Heaven is a real place, not just a concept (33 percent)
26. Biblical accounts of the physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate. This event actually occurred (33 percent)
“What comes screaming through this survey is the pervasive influence of humanism,” says R.C. Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries. “People like to believe in a generic Christian-ish god with cafeteria doctrines,” adds Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “However, when we asked about harder beliefs—things that the church has and still considers orthodoxy—the numbers shift.”
Overall, Americans in the South are more likely to give biblical responses, while those in the Northeast are less likely to give biblical responses. Americans who identify with a Black Protestant and Evangelical denomination are more likely to give a biblical response than Catholics and Mainlines, with Evangelicals typically providing the most biblical responses among the four groups.
How would members of your own church or family answer the questions? Maybe we should ask — though, if this survey is any indication, we might not want to hear how they answer.
An artist at our church points to God’s creativity, an accountant talks about God’s order, a pediatric oncologist reminds us that God will one day heal all wounds, and a handyman reflects God’s restoration.
My wife and I have been overseas since 2006. All our three children were born outside the U.S.. We have experienced unbelievable joys, life-long friendships, soul-transforming ministries and enjoyed worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ in Central Africa who know the true meaning of sacrifice for the Gospel. And there have also been challenges.
The Father is kind to me. Because of His rich love and unending grace, I’m not only a Christian but also a pastor. And for reasons that cannot be explained apart from my Savior’s sheer grace, I count a great company of other pastors as friends and colleagues.
Pastor Steve Tompkins of Mars Hill Church, in a recent letter, gives voice to how an awakened conscience speaks, what an awakened conscience does, to make things right again. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.
The Bay Area chapter will host its third conference in Walnut Creek, CA on the theme, Revival and Reformation. Featured plenary speakers include D. A. Carson, Léonce Crump, Collin Hansen, and Jon McNeff. This team of plenary speakers will take us on a journey to explore how God works through prayer, the Word, leadership and persecution to precipitate gospel renewal and strengthen the church.
A student fatally shot one classmate and wounded four others when he opened fire in the cafeteria of his Washington state high school on Friday, following a fight with fellow students, authorities said.
The Obama administration has expressed deep concerns to the governors of New York and New Jersey and is consulting with them to modify their orders to quarantine medical volunteers returning from West Africa as President Obama seeks to quickly develop a new, nationwide policy for the workers, according to two senior administration officials.
Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer led the movement to enact pro-life legislation in the 19th century and in so doing saved millions, including your ancestors, explains Frederick Dyer in his interview with Aleteia.
The power of placebos to heal has long been recognized. Thomas Jefferson wrote about it. So did Benjamin Franklin. Debate over the ethics of placebos also has a long history – roughly 170 years. But there has been no resolution.
Do assisted suicide supporters really expect doctors and nurses to be able to assist the suicide of one patient, then go on to care for a similar patient who wants to live, without this having an effect on their ethics or their empathy? Do they realize that this reduces the second patient’s will to live to a mere personal whim—one that society may ultimately see as selfish and too costly?
The video was designed by abortion opponents here who believe that Tennessee has for too long been a Bible Belt outlier due to a State Supreme Court decision in 2000 that ruled that the state’s constitutional guarantee of a right to privacy includes the right to an abortion. Over the years, the ruling has served as a partial bulwark against the wave of abortion restrictions that have swept other conservatives states.
We ought to demonstrate compassion for Brittany Maynard, but we must not allow our compassion to obscure the nature of her choice—or the consequences that legal acceptance of a legal right to kill has for those left behind.
So now we’re debating whether or not two men or two women can get married. How, over the course of less than two decades, did we become blind to something as obvious as the difference between friendship and marriage?
Of the 150 or so acres making up Willow Creek Community Church’s main campus, a full 8 acres are devoted to buildings. Parking lots cover more than 28. That ratio demonstrates just how important cars are to most churches today.
Anglican priests should no longer be bound by the centuries-old principle of confidentiality in confessions when they are told of sexual crimes committed against children, the Church of England’s No. 2 official said.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship members say they just want to spread the word, to provide a welcoming space for believers and non-believers alike on college campuses that sometimes can seem cold and isolating.
A report out from Greenwave Advisors, a “comprehensive research and financial analysis for the emerging legalized marijuana industry,” projects that legal cannabis could be an industry with revenues of $35 billion by 2020 if marijuana is legalized at the federal level. They note that this is a floor representing revenues in the first year of countrywide legalization.
Ten years ago, prescription painkiller dependence swept rural America. As the government cracked down on doctors and drug companies, people went searching for a cheaper, more accessible high. Now, many areas are struggling with an unprecedented heroin crisis.
changing political landscape has weakened anti-marijuana efforts. As the libertarian movement in the Republican Party has gained force, with leaders like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, supporting decriminalization of marijuana and others going even further, an anchor of the conservative opposition to legalization has eroded.
Boko Haram has not only failed to meet the terms of an Oct. 17 “cease-fire” agreement to release the Chibok schoolgirls, but has kidnapped at least 25 more girls and continued its killing spree, Reuters News Service reported.
In the name of tolerance, religious schools (to date, Christian and Jewish schools) in the UK are being “inspected” and in the case of one school, “downgraded,” for violating new education department guidelines the government there refers to as “British values.”
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel on Thursday announced a landmark determination that the Department of the Army engaged in “frequent, pervasive and humiliating,” gender-identity discrimination against Tamara Lusardi, a veteran and civilian Army software specialist who transitioned from male to female.
Here’s the key, I think: It’s because gay and lesbian people perceive Christianity as not just asking for a certain modification or a certain disciplining of their behavior but rather for a suppression or erasure of their identities.
The message read simply enough: "We invite you to address us, October 23 to 25, on the theme 'Reformation Then and Now.'" But the origin of the request gave me pause. It came from Presbyterian churches in Singapore that trace their roots to conservative American Presbyterians, circa 1950. Beyond traveling halfway around the world, there stood a more daunting challenge. How could I draw lessons from the Reformation, for a body of churches living in an Asian, Westernized, prosperous, polyglot, polyethnic culture that I barely understood? What could I say about the Reformation to believers so far removed from Luther and Calvin?
The character of the Reformation is so distant, so alien to Singapore, an island state without German or Catholic roots. Their religious interlocutors are not a single, society-dominating, gospel-fuddling church, but an amalgamation of Taoists, Muslims, Hindus, and syncretistic, shape-shifting Buddhists.
Concerns of the Reformation
My meditation on the distance from Luther and Singapore led me to ask if the gap between Luther and America might be just as great. Luther was wracked by guilt and doubted his ability to lay hold of sufficient grace to satisfy God's justice. The typical American feels no such burden. For Americans, guilt is not a problem, but a pseudo problem. Luther agonized over the wrath of God toward sin. Today, Christianity lite regards God as a genial Father, arms perpetually open to everyone, without mentioning repentance and atonement. Luther worried about demons bent on dragging his sinful soul to hell. Americans scoff; many Singaporeans share his concern. Here, Hindus flog and pierce themselves, hoping to atone for their sin. Their customs and rationale seem eerily similar to that of medieval flagellants. Here, Buddhists buy garden deities (for $88.88) that promise divine favor in terms that bear resemblance to the indulgences that stimulated Luther's Ninety-five Theses.
So Singapore and Seattle might be equally distant from Luther. Later, as I witnessed the Singaporean Christians' passion to spread the gospel to China, Nepal, Vietnam, and Malaysia, I wondered if conditions might make Singapore the source of a new Reformation.
Conditions of the Reformation
The specific conditions and results of the 16th-century Reformation are unrepeatable. That Reformation enjoyed (1) the world-changing invention of the printing press, (2) a rising interest in Bible translation, and (3) a growing German nationalism that allowed a "heretic" like Luther to survive. Above all, spiritual conditions invited internal renewal of the church. The church, which dominated the cultural landscape, had an orthodox doctrine of God, Christ, humanity, and sin. It also had a "close enough" concept of God's righteousness and judgment to create an acute sense of need that the church's "not close enough" doctrine of salvation could not relieve. When Luther denounced ecclesiastical corruption and the scandal of indulgences, it answered a social longing for justice. But when Luther described the happy exchange—Jesus takes our sin, he confers his righteousness—it satisfied a far greater spiritual hunger.
This specific set of conditions has passed, and Luther's Reformation cannot be duplicated. Once the Reformers rediscovered the gospel, there could be no repetition of their Reformation, unless the gospel were completely lost again (in which case I would have no invitation to speak). Singapore and America can't repeat the Reformation for the happiest of reasons—the gospel is widely proclaimed in both places. To ask for a similar Reformation is almost ingratitude.
By way of analogy, suppose that a long-lived church loses the gospel over a span of years. Suppose further that favorable social conditions allow the church to endure until it somehow hires an evangelical pastor and the church awakens. Decades later, the people may long for a renewal "like the one 30 years ago," but the wish is misplaced, if the church has loved and proclaimed the gospel since that day.
A new Reformation will take a new form. We can see some conditions favorable to a renewal movement. A shift in communication precedes each era of rapid growth. Before the apostles took the gospel to the empire, Romans built roads and Greeks gave people a common language. The apostles used both. Before the Reformation came the printing press. For a time, Luther was perhaps the world's best-known author. The Protestant mission movement followed improved naval transport. Evangelists hopped rides with commercial and colonial ships and translated the Bible into the mother tongues of the people they met. We enjoy an array of new communication media. May the Lord bless the labors of believers who work at this task!
Every Reformation, every gospel surge, begins with a love of the gospel and the cause of Christ. Luther never planned to start the Reformation. He never intended to start a new church. He was devoted to his church, but he had a problem. He had an acute sense of his sin and doubted that confession, penance, and a monk's works could cover his iniquity. He dreaded the justice of God. He kept pondering Romans 1:17, which linked the justice (or righteousness) of God to the gospel. He described his agony and his discovery this way:
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners. . . .
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. [Then] I felt myself reborn. . . . This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.
Because the gospel was life to Luther, he stood by it, even though that stand placed him under a death sentence. He sought the gospel, then loved and proclaimed it. The Reformation that followed was, in human terms, an accident.
Calvin never intended to lead a movement either. Rather he planned to lead a quiet scholarly life in Strasbourg. But a local war closed the roads that led most directly to the city. He passed through Geneva, and Farel, the leader of a gospel-driven reform movement there, persuaded him to stay. After a few years, the leaders of Geneva rejected him, and he finally made it to Strasbourg. Before long, Geneva begged him to return. Calvin said he would rather "die a thousand deaths," but he did return and reform the city on biblical principles. Geneva became a home for Protestant refugees. Its seminary trained a generation of pastors and scholars who radiated outward to Switzerland, France, England, and Scotland. From a human perspective, it was another accident.
Plan of God
The Reformation arose by the plan of God, not the plans of man. What then is our role? To know the gospel, to love Jesus, and to spread the gospel by the means at hand—for Luther, a printing press, for Calvin a seminary for men who streamed to his city. For my new friends in Singapore the means may be the prosperity of their city, the gift of a polyglot culture, and the reach of an airport that affords easy passage to India, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Laos.
I don't know how another Reformation might touch America. But I believe the starting point will be a love of Jesus as we know him in the gospel and a commitment to spread his word by whatever means we find at hand.
If people know only one thing about the Protestant Reformation, it is the famous event on October 31, 1517, when the Ninety-five Theses of Martin Luther (1483–1586) were nailed on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in protest against the Roman Catholic Church. Within a few years of this event, the church had splintered into not just the “church’s camp” or “Luther’s camp” but also the camps of churches led by theologians of all different stripes.
Luther is known mostly for his teachings about Scripture and justification. Regarding Scripture, he argued the Bible alone (sola scriptura) is our ultimate authority for faith and practice. Regarding justification, he taught we are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit. We are neither saved by our merits nor declared righteous by our good works. Additionally, we need to fully trust in God to save us from our sins, rather than relying partly on our own self-improvement.
Forgiveness with a Price Tag
These teachings were radical departures from the Catholic orthodoxy of Luther’s day. But you might be surprised to learn that the Ninety-five Theses, even though this document that sparked the Reformation, was not about these issues. Instead, Luther objected to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church was offering to sell certificates of forgiveness, and that by doing so it was substituting a false hope (that forgiveness can be earned or purchased) for the true hope of the gospel (that we receive forgiveness solely via the riches of God’s grace).
The Roman Catholic Church claimed it had been placed in charge of a “treasury of merits” of all of the good deeds that saints had done (not to mention the deeds of Christ, who made the treasury infinitely deep). For those trapped by their own sinfulness, the church could write a certificate transferring to the sinner some of the merits of the saints. The catch? These “indulgences” had a price tag.
This much needs to be understood to make sense of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses: the selling of indulgences for full remission of sins intersected perfectly with the long, intense struggle Luther himself had experienced over the issues of salvation and assurance. At this point of collision between one man’s gospel hope and the church’s denial of that hope the Ninety-five Theses can be properly understood.
Luther’s official response to indulgences came in the form of an academic document he addressed to the local archbishop, who happened to be the same Albert of Mainz who’d authorized the campaign. Significantly, Luther penned his grievance—titled “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” but known to posterity as the Ninety-five Theses—in Latin rather than in the common vernacular. That fact combined with the intended audience and largely academic tone of the writing indicates Luther didn’t write the document for mass consumption. Rather, he wrote it to spark a scholarly debate. Regardless, it was translated into the common Germanic language of Saxony and was reportedly posted on the door of the Schlosskirche (the Castle Church of Wittenberg) on October 31, 1517.
Luther’s Ninety-five Theses focuses on three main issues: selling forgiveness (via indulgences) to build a cathedral, the pope’s claimed power to distribute forgiveness, and the damage indulgences caused to grieving sinners. That his concern was pastoral (rather than trying to push a private agenda) is apparent from the document. He didn’t believe (at this point) that indulgences were altogether a bad idea; he just believed they were misleading Christians regarding their spiritual state:
41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
As well as their duty to others:
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties. [Notice that Luther is not yet wholly against the theology of indulgences.]
And even financial well-being:
46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
Luther’s attitude toward the pope is also surprisingly ambivalent. In later years he called the pope “the Antichrist” and burned his writings, but here his tone is merely cautionary, hoping the pope will come to his senses. For instance, in this passage he appears to be defending the pope against detractors, albeit in a backhanded way:
51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
Obviously, since Leo X had begun the indulgences campaign in order to build the basilica, he did not “wish to give of his own money” to victims. However, Luther phrased his criticism to suggest that the pope might be ignorant of the abuses and at any rate should be given the benefit of the doubt. It provided Leo a graceful exit from the indulgences campaign if he wished to take it.
So what made this document so controversial? Luther’s Ninety-five Theses hit a nerve in the depths of the authority structure of the medieval church. Luther was calling the pope and those in power to repent—on no authority but the convictions he’d gained from Scripture—and urged the leaders of the indulgences movement to direct their gaze to Christ, the only one able to pay the penalty due for sin.
Of all the portions of the document, Luther’s closing is perhaps the most memorable for its exhortation to look to Christ rather than to the church’s power:
92. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “Peace, peace,” where in there is no peace.
93. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ’s people, “The cross, the cross,” where there is no cross.
94. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.
95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.
In the years following his initial posting of the theses, Luther became emboldened in his resolve and strengthened his arguments with Scripture. At the same time, the church became more and more uncomfortable with the radical Luther and, in the following decades, the spark that he made grew into a flame of reformation that spread across Europe. Luther was ordered by the church to recant in 1520 and was eventually exiled in 1521.
Although the Ninety-five Theses doesn’t explicitly lay out a Protestant theology or agenda, it contains the seeds of the most important beliefs of the movement, especially the priority of grasping and applying the gospel. Luther developed his critique of the Roman Catholic Church out of his struggle with doubt and guilt as well as his pastoral concern for his parishioners. He longed for the hope and security that only the good news can bring, and he was frustrated with the structures that were using Christ to take advantage of people and prevent them from saving union with God. Further, Luther’s focus on the teaching of Scripture is significant, since it provided the foundation on which the great doctrines of the Reformation found their origin.
Indeed, Luther developed a robust notion of justification by faith and rejected the notion of purgatory as unbiblical; he argued that indulgences and even hierarchical penance cannot lead to salvation; and, perhaps most notably, he rebelled against the authority of the pope. All of these critiques were driven by Luther’s commitment, above all else, to Christ and the Scriptures that testify about him. The outspoken courage Luther demonstrated in writing and publishing the Ninety-five Theses also spread to other influential leaders of the young Protestant Reformation.
Today, the Ninety-five Theses may stand as the most well-known document from the Reformation era. Luther’s courage and his willingness to confront what he deemed to be clear error is just as important today as it was then. One of the greatest ways in which Luther’s theses affect us today—in addition to the wonderful inheritance of the five Reformation solas (Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, glory to God alone)—is that it calls us to thoroughly examine the inherited practices of the church against the standard set forth in the Scriptures. Luther saw an abuse, was not afraid to address it, and was exiled as a result of his faithfulness to the Bible in the midst of harsh opposition.
Editors’ note: For more accessible overviews of key moments in church history, purchase Justin Holcomb’s new book, Know the Creeds and Councils(Zondervan, 2014) [interview]. Additionally, Holcomb has made available to TGC readers an exclusive bonus chapter, which can be accessed here. This article is a shortened version of the chapter.
The year 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. In conjunction with that historic milestone, William Wilberforce and John Newton have received considerable attention from historians and popular biographers because of their key roles in securing the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. However, these two men were part of a larger group of evangelicals within the Church of England who were committed to orthodox theology, global missions, the moral reformation of society, and matters of social justice—chiefly ending slavery. These activist evangelicals, often called the “Clapham Sect” or “Clapham Saints” because of the neighborhood in which most of them lived, included both clergy and laypeople. Though Wilberforce is the most famous of the latter, Hannah More deserves a place of privilege among the Clapham Saints.
Liberty University English professor and prolific essayist Karen Swallow Prior is a thoughtful cultural critic, award-winning classroom teacher, and scholar of More’s literary works and their influence within British literature. In Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, she introduces modern evangelicals to More’s life and legacy. The result is a winsome biography of an influential figure largely unknown outside a narrow circle of historians and English scholars.
Making of a Muse
More was born near Bristol in 1745 to humble means that, as Prior demonstrates, she almost certainly downplayed in her later recollections of her childhood years. Her father, Jacob, was a schoolteacher; Hannah and her four sisters—none of whom ever married—would all follow in their father’s footsteps. Though Hannah was sickly and suffered through a prolonged engagement that never blossomed into marriage, by the 1770s she had become an accomplished playwright. She made annual trips to London and became part of a cultured scene that led to friendships with luminaries such as the actor David Garrick and the famous men of letters Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole. She also became involved in the Bluestockings, a group of mostly upper-class women interested in intellectual pursuits and the arts.
More had a gift for friendship that often transcended differences such as rich and poor, believer and unbeliever. Nevertheless, Prior argues that More was somewhat of an outsider in elite circles. She could be overbearing socially, especially around the rich or famous, and apparently had a reputation as something of a name-dropper. Further, by the early 1780s, More was becoming increasingly committed to evangelicalism; her serious religion stood in stark contrast to nearly all of her literati friends. She became increasingly uncomfortable with the decadence of the London scene. After critics panned one of her plays in 1779, she never wrote another production for the stage, turning her attention instead to poems, cultural essays, tracts, and novels, the latter of which included the bestselling work Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1809).
Conservative Evangelical Reformer
More’s writings blessed her with considerable wealth. As a wealthy evangelical, she came into the orbit of Wilberforce and the other Clapham Saints. At Wilberforce’s encouragement, Hannah and her sisters operated a school for impoverished girls in the village of Cheddar. She also became a leading advocate of education reform, particularly among women. Like the other Clapham Saints, More was concerned with reforming British morality (or “manners”) and ending slavery. To that end, most of her writings from the late 1780s onward were devoted to practical Christian piety and moral reform. Her most widely read works were the Cheap Repository Tracts, a collection of short, popularly written booklets intended to promote orthodoxy and morality among the working classes.
Like all the Clapham Saints, More’s evangelical activism was filtered through her status as a member of the upper class and a committed political conservative. She opposed the American and especially French Revolutions and believed that moral, spiritual, and even political reformation should come through existing cultural channels. As a wealthy philanthropist, she often took a condescending, maternalistic approach to reform, which at times led her to see those she was attempting to help as projects more than people. Unlike famous novelists of the next generation such as Jane Austen and George Eliot, More held to and actively perpetuated conservative, traditional views of gender roles. Her views were especially prevalent (and criticized) in her influential treatise Modern System of Female Education with a View to the Principles and Conduct of Women of Rank and Fortune (1799). While Prior clearly appreciates her subject, she doesn’t hesitate to politely point out More’s personal shortcomings, as appropriate.
During her final years, More suffered from numerous ailments, though she remained mentally sharp until the last couple years of her life. Though she didn’t travel much in her latter days, many noteworthy evangelical leaders and other philanthropists made pilgrimages to her home in Clifton, Bristol. More died in 1833, less than two weeks after the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act and about six weeks after Wilberforce’s death.
Fine Study of an Imperfect Role Model
Fierce Convictions is a joy to read, and though written for a popular audience, Prior is a scholar of More’s work who has done due diligence in her own research. She also regularly interacts with the arguments of other scholars who have studied More’s life. In this particular case, “popular” should not be confused with “shallow.” Prior has written a meaty book that is now the best place to learn about More’s life and legacy.
Like all the Clapham Saints, Hannah More provides a role model for contemporary evangelicals who desire to embrace a vision of the spiritual life that balances a deep piety with faith-based activism. However, like the other Claphamites, she is an imperfect role model. More could be socially irritating and culturally condescending. Most importantly, her moralistic tendencies need to be balanced with a healthier understanding of gospel-centeredness. Nevertheless, modern evangelicals should reserve a place for More alongside Newton and Wilberforce as devout leaders whom the Lord used to winsomely represent Christ and make meaningful strides in the moral and spiritual reformation of British culture.
Would you be more likely to say “God is changing me" or “God has changed me”?
Many Christians are comfortable saying the former, but some of us might hesitate to say the latter: “God has changed me.” We are much more likely to say, “I have a lot more changing to do. I’m a work in progress. I haven’t yet arrived.”
There is indeed a continuing process of sanctification happening within the believer, but the completed work of regeneration is of equal importance. Regeneration is the complete transformation that begins the continuing process of sanctification.
It seems that many Christians have a good grasp on the continuing process, but perhaps a more tenuous grasp of the completed work. So here are seven Scriptures that speak clearly of Christ’s completed work in you as a believer.
You Are a New Creation
"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
Paul does not say, “If anyone is in Christ, he is becoming a new creation.” He does not say, “The old is going away.” Nor does he say, “The new is gradually forming.” He says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” There is no process here. This is something that has happened in its entirety, and it’s true of you if you are in Christ.
You Have Been Crucified
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20, NIV)
Regeneration didn’t just happen to Paul; it’s true of every believer. It’s a done deal.
You Have Been Raised
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." (Col. 3:1-3, NIV)
Notice it’s not, “If you hope one day to be” but, “Since you have been . . .” If you are a believer, you have been raised with Christ. You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. There is something for us to do (as there are in all these passages) in setting our hearts on things above, but you do that by taking in the first part of the verse.
Your Body Is a Temple of the Holy Spirit
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" (1 Cor. 6:19, NIV)
Some Corinthians also struggled with regeneration. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” not “is becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit.” You have received him from God. If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit lives with you and in you. His presence gives you power, and that makes the Christian life possible for you. That’s why it’s important to know.
You Are Light
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." (Eph. 5:8, NIV)
He doesn’t say, “You have light,” he says, “You are light.” Your very nature was darkness. You were darkness, now you are light. Your nature has changed. Notice how Paul brings regeneration and sanctification together: “You are light.” That’s regeneration. “Live as . . . light.” That’s sanctification. You can’t live as light, unless you are light.
You Have Been Set Free from Sin
"You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." (Rom. 6:22, NIV)
Many Christians don’t grasp this point. They would say, “You don’t understand; I sin and fail in many ways. I’m not yet free from sin.” Paul says, “Wait a minute! You have been set free from sin.” He’s writing to ordinary Christians like us. Sin is still your enemy, but it is no longer your master. You are no longer sin’s prisoner. You are no longer in chains. You are no longer under your old master. You can fight against temptation by God's grace. That’s why there is hope for you.
You Have Been Born Again
"You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Pet. 1:23, NIV)
You can’t be a little born or half born. Either you are born or you are not born. The language connotes completed transaction. This is what has happened to you in Christ. Regeneration is God’s completed work in you. It is not a process. It does not happen in stages. That’s what makes it different from sanctification. You can be a little in love, but you cannot be a little married. Sanctification is like being a little in love. Regeneration is like being married. Either you are or you aren’t. You cannot be a little regenerated.
Regeneration is the complete transformation that begins a continuing process called sanctification. The great truth of sanctification is that “God is changing me.” The great truth of regeneration is that “God has changed me.” We need both.
How much can college ministry really differ from campus to campus when you're dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds? Quite a bit, actually, depending on your region of the country, the priviate or public nature of the school, and the religious foundation or ongoing commitment of the school.
Jon Nielson and Solomon Rexius (follow on Twitter) minister in two very different campus contexts (see their previous article, "Seven Questions for Two College Pastors"). College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, where Nielson works, stands next to Wheaton College, a private Christian school with about 2,400 undergraduate students. Rexius serves as college pastor at University Fellowship Church in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most liberal and unchurched regions of North America. He graduated from the University of Oregon, and most of the students in his ministry attend this public school of 24,000 students. So these two men lead college ministries in areas that appear to share little in common. But as you'll hear from them, the gospel unites believers across geography, age, experience, and vocation.
I brought Jon and Solomon together to discuss the privilege of discipling college students in such varied settings. We explored how the gospel of Jesus Christ makes the goals and methods of their respective ministries quite similar. And we dove into the details of evangelism, social media, and retreats, along with the relationship between Christian campus ministries and colleges. Don't miss their wisdom on how to encourage college students to serve in the local church and put them in contact with adult mentors.
Resources recommended by Solomon and Jon for students or college ministers included:
Editors' Note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a new weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.
As with other aspects of business, so it is with competition: the evils and distortions that have sometimes accompanied competition have led people to conclude that competition is evil in itself. But this is not true.
We can think of some good examples of competition in other areas of life. To take one example, most people think competition in sports is a good thing, whether in children’s soccer leagues or Little League baseball or in professional sports. Although we can all think of bad examples of overly competitive coaches, for the most part we think competition in sports is a good system, and we think it fair that the best teams receive some prize or award at the end. (See 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 and 2 Timothy 2:5 for some metaphors of athletic competition that Paul uses in a positive way.)
Similarly, in our school system, assigning grades is a competitive activity in which the best math students and the best English students and the best art and music students receive higher marks. The grading system provides guidance to help students find something they can do well. When I fly in an airplane, I am glad that it has been designed by someone who got straight A's in mathematics and engineering. The grading system is “competitive,” and it guides society in assigning jobs to those who are best suited to those jobs.
Opportunity to Test Our Abilities
In the business world, competition does that as well. We hired a careless painter once for our house, and he lasted only a day. But then we found a good painter, and we were willing to pay more for his high-quality work. The bad painter needed to find another occupation, and we were helping him do that by asking him not to come back the next day. The world is so diverse, and the economic system has so many needs, that I am sure there is some area in which he can fulfill a need and do well. But it wasn’t painting.
We must recognize, of course, that in every society there will be some people who because of physical or mental disability are unable to find productive work without help from others, either from charitable organizations or from government agencies. Surely we should support such efforts to provide a “safety net” for those unable to care for themselves. But in American society at least (with which I am most familiar), and in many other countries as well, there is productive work available for the vast majority of the population, and competition is the mechanism that helps workers find the jobs for which their interests and abilities best suit them.
So a competitive system is one in which we test our abilities and find if we can do something better than others, and so be paid for it. The system works well when we reward better work and greater quantity of work with greater reward.
In fact, if you have ever shopped around for the lowest price on a shirt or a computer or a car, your actions show that you approve of competition in the economy, because you are making competition work. You are buying from the person who can produce and distribute a computer cheaper than someone else, and you are encouraging that more efficient manufacturer to stay in business, and you are discouraging the less efficient, more expensive computer manufacturers from staying in business. This happens every day, and we take it for granted. But if we are going to be good stewards of our possessions we need to have competition in the marketplace.
Means for Product Improvement
Another benefit of competition is that people keep getting better at making things, and as a result the (inflation-adjusted) prices of consumer goods keep falling over the course of decades. This means that over time an economically competitive society will enjoy an increasingly higher standard of living.
The audio player I bought last week cost me $89, but a year ago it would have cost me $120. Similarly, computers keep getting better and prices keep falling, so more and more people can afford a computer, and everyone who buys one has more money left over than he or she would have had a year ago. The first pocket calculators cost around $100, but today I can buy one at the checkout counter at the drug store for $1. These are examples of how competition brings economic benefit to the society as a whole.
Striving for Excellence
There is still another benefit to competition. God has created us with a desire to do well, and to improve what we are able to do. Competition spurs us on to do better, because we see others doing better and we decide we can do that too. An executive from a company that made mail-sorting machines once told me that his engineers thought they had made the fastest, quietest mail sorting machine possible—until he took them to watch a machine manufactured by a German company that was even faster and quieter. Then the engineers went back to work, determined to do even better. I think that God has made us with such a desire to strive for excellence in our work so that we would imitate his excellence more fully.
A kind of competition to try to do as well as or better than someone else seems to be what Solomon had in mind when he wrote, "Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor" (Eccles. 4:4). The term translated “envy” (in most translations) or “rivalry” (NASB) is the Hebrew word qin’åh, which can have either negative or positive moral connotations, depending on the context (much like our terms “jealousy” and “zeal”). Here it seems to have the sense “competitive spirit.” The verse does not say this is good or bad, only that it happens. (A different word, chåmad, is used in Exodus 20:17 when God says, “You shall not covet.”) People see what someone else has, and they decide to work harder themselves, or to gain better skills. In this way, competition spurs people on to better work, and they themselves prosper, and society prospers.
There is in fact a sort of mild “competition” implied in the testing of men before they become deacons: "And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless" (1 Tim. 3:10). If they do well in the time of testing (“if they prove themselves blameless”), then they can become deacons. If not, then they should find some other area of service within the church.
Competition seems to be the system God intended when he gave people greater talents in one area and gave other people greater talents in another area, and when he established a world where justice and fairness would require giving greater reward for better work.
Competition brings many opportunities to glorify God, as we try to use our talents to their full potential and thus manifest the God-like abilities that he has granted to us, with thankfulness in our hearts to him. Competition enables each person to find a role in which he or she can make a positive contribution to society and thus a role in which people can work in a way that serves others by doing good for them. Competition is thus a sort of societal functioning of God’s attributes of wisdom and kindness, and it is a way society helps people discover God’s will for their lives. Competition also enables us individually to demonstrate fairness and kindness toward others, even those with whom we compete.
Temptations to Sin
On the other hand, competition brings many temptations to sin. There is a difference between trying to do a job better than others, on the one hand, and trying to harm others and prevent them from earning a living on the other hand. There is nothing wrong with trying to run a better car repair shop than the one down the street, but there is a lot wrong with lying about the other mechanic, or stealing his tools, or in my heart seeking to do him harm.
Competition also brings temptations to pride, and to excessive work that allows no rest or time with family or with God. There is also the temptation to so distort life values that we become unable even to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
But the distortions of something good must not cause us to think that the thing itself is evil. These temptations to sin should not obscure the fact that competition in itself, within appropriate limits (some of which should be established by government), is good and pleasing to God, and provides many opportunities to glorify him.
I have five copies of Tim Keller's Center Church behind my desk. A seminary student at Beeson Divinity School once exclaimed, "Wow, you must really like that book." Yes, I do, but I have five copies because I'm always looking to give one away. At a time when young ministers in training look for church models that guarantee success, I'm thankful that Keller avoids this error and focuses on the principles of gospel-centered ministry. That way we can trust God to tease them our for our particular contexts around the world.
Do you get frustrated at the shallowness of some contemporary evangelical worship? Do you need help understanding a full-orbed biblical view of worship and communicating such a view to the people to whom you minister? If so, Daniel Block’s For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship is a book you should read.
As the subtitle suggests, Block wants to “recover” a biblical theology of worship. Why does a biblical theology of worship need to be recovered? First, he doesn’t like the pragmatism of much of today’s evangelical worship and believes the pragmatic approach can be remedied with deep biblical reflection on the subject. Second, he observes that many Christians tend to skip over the Old Testament (OT) when thinking about worship. Block, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College outside Chicago, believes a true biblical theology of worship must incorporate all of Scripture, including extensive interaction with OT worship forms and principles. In other words, he wants to give people a biblical theology of worship, not just a New Testament theology of worship.
How Is It Different?
Block compares his book (xiii–xiv, 3–4) to other contemporary biblical theologies of worship such as David Peterson’s Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship(IVP Academic, 2002) and Allen Ross’s Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation(Kregel, 2006). For the Glory of God, however, is slightly different from both. Instead of surveying the canon of Scripture from beginning to end (like Peterson and Ross), Block organizes the biblical data from the standpoint of various worship-related themes—hence chapter titles like “The Object of Worship,” “The Subject of Worship,” “Daily Life as Worship,” “The Ordinances as Worship,” “Prayer as Worship,” and “Music as Worship.”
Another key difference Block is quick to point out is his extensive treatment of the OT data. He believes Peterson’s book, for example, is unbalanced in primarily dealing with the New Testament (NT). Block, on the other hand, wishes to recapture the OT’s full significance for a Christian understanding of worship.
Each chapter of Block's book begins its biblical theology of the theme under discussion by starting with the OT, and rightly so. In most chapters, Block’s treatment of the OT is much more extensive than his treatment of the NT. As he turns his attention to the NT, each chapter attempts to show the continuities and discontinuities that determine how principles of worship should apply to the church today.
Another strength is the way the material is arranged. Since each chapter tackles a specific element of worship, the book is almost a collection of biblical theologies of worship that helps us think biblically-theologically about each worship theme. This makes it a great reference resource for those needing to think carefully about a certain aspect of worship, such as the ordinances and music. I can envision myself going back and re-reading certain portions to get a quick, chapter-length biblical theology of a particular element of worship.
Only Real Weakness
The only real weakness I see in For the Glory of God is that I don’t believe Block always connects the OT and NT appropriately. I think he sometimes flattens out the Bible by not giving the NT the hermeneutical priority it deserves. His basic principle for connecting the OT and NT, stated more than once, is this: “unless the New Testament expressly declares First Testament notions obsolete, they continue” (7, 25). Block defends this approach by pointing out that the NT authors are relatively silent on many of the specifics of worship, and that the OT contains one hundred times as much information on worship as the NT. For him, this seems to imply that where the NT is silent on the specifics of worship, we should just let the OT principles fill in the gaps, so to speak.
Specifically, I disagreed with some of the ways Block brought OT data into the NT era and applied them to the church today. Take, for instance, his statement that families should use the liturgical year to develop a sense of spiritual community, based on the fact that Israel did so in their observance of the Passover (138, 287ff). The problem is that, seen through the Jesus-lens of the NT, the Lord’s Supper seems to fulfill this function for new covenant believers. Observing a liturgical calendar might be beneficial, but to say that Christians should do this based on the OT doesn’t seem warranted. Another example of wrongly carrying over OT worship themes into the NT is Block’s discussion of sacred worship space (chapter 12). He does a good job of showing how Jesus (John 2:19), the Christian individual (1 Cor. 6:19–20), and the corporate Christian community (1 Cor. 3:16–17) all fulfill the theme of tabernacle and temple in the new covenant. But then he jumps into a discussion of how these principles should affect contemporary church design and architecture, which I think is unwarranted given the way the NT itself lays out the fulfillment of these themes.
I believe this approach to relating the OT and NT is a bit too simplistic. Perhaps the NT authors have less to say about the particular forms of worship because they’re spending their time on something far more fundamental. They’re trying to help new covenant believers develop a Christ-centered lens through which they can understand all of life, including what God had been doing under the old covenant. Once this Christ-centered lens is in place, new covenant believers can figure out many of the specifics regarding worship forms on their own. Even where the NT doesn’t explicitly terminate OT forms, we must still take into consideration the Christ and kingdom dynamics that alter the way we read and interpret the entire OT and understand its fulfillment. Block uses this fuller principle in several places, but in my opinion doesn’t do so consistently throughout the book.
This said, this particular weakness only shows up in a few places. The book on the whole is a superb resource for helping the church think biblically about worship in light of the entire canon of Scripture, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend watching these video interviews with Block.
Over a cup of coffee, Wendell—an entrepreneur with a PhD in biomedical engineering—told me that he was thinking about making a career change. “I don’t want to waste my life,” he said. “I want to do something that has real significance, where I can glorify God and actually love people.” He went on to ask me if I thought he should become a pastor, a missionary, or a nonprofit leader—jobs he thought really mattered in God’s economy.
Wendell is a member of Redemption Tempe, the church where I serve as pastor of communities and cultural engagement. At our church, we preach the lordship of Christ over all aspects of life, offer classes about the theology of work, and repeat our favorite phrase every Sunday: “All of life is all for Jesus.” In spite of his intelligence and our initiatives, however, Wendell still didn’t see that his work as a biomedical engineer was as significant as my work as a pastor.
To my shame, I had never asked Wendell about the specifics of his work. We mostly talked about how he could serve at church. Over coffee, though, as he explained how his company develops devices that help doctors detect cancer at early stages, his eyes were full of excitement. In this conversation, I realized that I had failed him as a pastor. He was clearly skilled and passionate about his work, but he didn’t see how it applied to Jesus’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:31).
So we talked about how we love our neighbors through our work—even if we don’t personally interact with them—by providing goods and services that help them flourish. We talked about how Martin Luther said, “God milks the cows through the vocation of the milkmaids,” and how God cares for cancer patients through his biotech work. He walked away from the conversation encouraged, but I walked away perplexed.
We Value What We Publicly Celebrate
As I wondered why Wendell didn’t understand our church's message about the broad scope of the gospel and its implications for all of life, I realized that the issue wasn’t with what he heard, but with what he saw. He frequently heard teaching about the importance of vocation and all-of-life discipleship, but he never saw anyone’s work—apart from pastoral, missionary, and nonprofit work—publicly celebrated.
When I mentioned this observation to Riccardo Stewart, our lead pastor who wrote a paper in seminary about commissioning people in all kinds of vocations, we decided to figure out some ways to celebrate the work of our congregants. Thus, the “All-of-Life Interview” was born. For the past year and a half, we have devoted five minutes before the sermon to interview people from various occupations so that we might celebrate their work, pray for others in their field, and affirm the goodness of a broad range of vocations as opportunities to glorify God and love our neighbors.
All-of-Life Interview Questions
While there is some room for customization, we ask four basic questions in each interview. We repeat the same questions, because they give our congregants a weekly reminder and opportunity to reflect on their own work.
Question #1: How would you describe your work?
We want a snapshot of the daily life of the interviewee. This answer often builds common ground between the interviewee and others within the congregation, even if they don't work in the same field.
Question #2: As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work? (Gen, 1:26-28, 1 Cor. 10:31, Eph. 5:1, Col. 3:17)
We want to ground the intrinsic value of work in the character of God and frame our work as an act of “image-bearing” (Gen. 1:16-28, 2:15). Therefore, we ask the interviewees to connect their work to some specific aspect of God’s work. In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman offers six categories of God’s work that give us a helpful framework for our vocations:
creative work (artists, designers, architects, etc.)
providential work (entrepreneurs, janitors, civil servants, bankers, etc.)
justice work (lawyers, paralegals, diplomats, supervisors, etc.)
compassionate work (nurses, nonprofit directors, social workers, EMTs, etc.)
revelatory work (scientists, journalists, educators, etc.)
redemptive work (pastors, authors, counselors, etc.)
Question #3: How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world? (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:10-20)
Some people subconsciously think their work should always be fun and fulfilling, often assuming that the presence of pain and struggle invalidates the goodness of their work. We want them to see that, in a fallen world that is filled with sin and its effects, each occupation has unique hardships and comes with its own thorns and thistles.
Question #4: Jesus commands us to "love our neighbors as ourselves." How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others? (Mk. 10:35-45; Eph. 5:1; Rom. 12:14-21; Col. 1:24-27)
We want to broaden the application of Jesus’s command to love our neighbors. Many people assume this command is mostly applied as interpersonal acts of kindness, but we try to demonstrate that love can also be indirect and systemic.
Fruit of the Interviews
Apart from the direct effect of the interview on the interviewee, we’ve a witnessed a cumulative effect in our congregation over time. These interviews have slowly helped all of us to understand that “vocational is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God in the world,” as Steve Garber says. We have noticed increased theological depth and gospel intentionality in our congregants and their work. This is the work of the Spirit, but we are delighted that he is using the interviews as an instrument of his grace.
The interviews also give us a glimpse of God’s brilliant attributes and actions. An artist at our church points to God’s creativity, an accountant talks about God’s order, a pediatric oncologist reminds us that God will one day heal all wounds, and a handyman reflects God’s restoration. The one thing that really matters, of course, is the gospel—but because of the gospel, all things matter (Col. 1:15-23), including the work of the butcher, the baker, and the biotech maker.
Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...
Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember folks: facts are our friends.
I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.
On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...
I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.
How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.
Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.
Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.
Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.
I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.
Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.
Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.
1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.
First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.
Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...
The following letter was submitted to the Department of Health & Human Services on October 27, 2014. Download (PDF) this letter as submitted on ERLC letterhead.
October 27, 2014
Office of Health Plan Standards and Compliance Assistance
Employee Benefits Security Administration
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
Attention: Preventive Services
Re: Comments on Interim Final Rules on Coverage of Certain Preventive Services Under the Affordable Care Act
Dear Sir or Madam:
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention respectfully submits the following comments on the interim final rules on coverage of certain preventive services under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 79 Fed. Reg. 51092 (August 27, 2014)
As with its previous rules mandating the coverage of certain abortion-causing drugs and devices in the ACA, we are pleased that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recognizes it cannot force some of our nation’s faith community to violate their consciences on a matter as significant as life. We are deeply disappointed, however, that it still believes it should be the arbiter of the line between what constitutes protected religious activity and what does not. The interim final rules still fail to address our concerns. We find them inadequate for the following reasons:
The Rules Violate the Conscience Protections Guaranteed by the First Amendment
The rules violate the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and place a heavy burden on non-exempt religious organizations. Non-exempt religious organizations which object to providing abortifacients on moral and religious grounds are still the conduit by which employees receive the drugs and devices. The mandate continues to deny their constitutional right to follow their consciences and act in accordance with their religious beliefs. Non-exempt organizations are unable to comply with the rules, and, at the same time, maintain fidelity to their religious beliefs. The new accommodation is merely a reshuffling of the paperwork and does not resolve the concerns of non-exempt religious organizations: their actions are ultimately providing abortifacients to their employees. While it is meant to be a solution to the problem, in reality, the accommodation only gerrymanders the process with the outcome remaining unchanged. Organizations with religious objections to abortion are still prohibited from exercising their protected religious rights under the First Amendment.
The Rules Violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
In addition to the fact that the mandate disregards the First Amendment, it also infringes on the rights of organizations protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA prohibits the government from taking an action that would place a substantial burden on an organization’s religious beliefs unless it passes two tests. First, the requirement must be in furtherance of a compelling state interest, and second, it must do so in the least restrictive means possible.
While the government claims that it is furthering the compelling state interest of broadening access to contraceptives, it is only marginally increasing their availability. The mandate exempts multiple other organizations already. It has hardly demonstrated a compelling state interest by doing so. Furthermore, the incremental increase to the access of contraceptives the rules may provide does not constitute the least restrictive means possible to achieve the interest of the state. Contraceptives can currently be purchased inexpensively or can be easily procured from doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities. The government can provide these items through other means without burdening the religious rights of these organizations.
The Rules Do Not Change the Effect of the Mandate
All the rules do is change the process by which the mandate is achieved. Non-exempt religious organizations, i.e., everyone except “churches, their integrated auxiliaries, conventions and associations of churches,” and the “exclusively religious activities of any religious order,” will still be required to submit paperwork declaring their religious claim of exemption. The new rules put these organizations in the position of authorizing the government to contact their provider to require the provision of these abortion-causing drugs and devices. As a result of this authorization, the insurer or TPA must still provide these items. As before, the organization itself is the trigger for setting in motion the provision of these objectionable items.
The Rules Create Tiers of Government Favored and Dis-favored Religious Groups
The rules base exemption on the organization holding the belief rather than on the religious belief itself. The mandate, in essence, creates tiers of religious protections that vary based on the type of organization. Some of the non-favored organizations still affected by the rules have been providing faith-based ministry for more than 100 years. Their claims of faith-informed conscience objections are well established and deserve unqualified, unquestioned accommodation in the same way “houses of worship” receive them. If “houses of worship” and similar groups are exempted from having these items provided to their employees, these other groups should receive the same exemption. They should not be required to do any more than the current exempted organizations are required to do. In fact, the government’s determination to create different tiers of religious organizations for accommodation creates a dangerous precedent that paves the way for possible future differing treatments. The religious liberty violations that led to countless court cases remain.
The Rules Violate the Clear Intent of the Administration and Congress Not to Fund Abortion through the ACA.
When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the administration made a commitment that the law would comply with the Hyde Amendment and that no federal funds would be used to provide abortion services. The President issued an executive order which stated, “Following the recent enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ‘Act’), it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with a longstanding Federal statutory restriction that is commonly known as the Hyde Amendment.” 1 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “We are faithful to the Hyde Amendment, which has been in place for the past 33 years. Let me be clear: as our bill currently reads, no insurance plans in the new marketplace we create—whether private or public—would be allowed to use taxpayer money for abortions beyond the limits of existing law.” 2
Despite these assurances, the rules do provide taxpayer funds for abortion. Some of the mandated drugs interfere with implantation. Given our belief that a new human life begins at the moment of fertilization, we believe whenever this interference prevents implantation, an abortion has occurred. But even if one were to accept the Administration’s argument that conception, and therefore abortion, occurs only after implantation, the rules are still contrary to the assurances of the president and congressional intent. It is established fact that the mandated drug Ulipristal, or “Ella” can cause an abortion after implantation.
The new rules have not alleviated our concerns about these particular preventive services mandated under the Affordable Care Act. They continue to show serious disregard for constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom. The new rules continue to run afoul of faith and conscience. They should be rejected altogether as offensive to faith and unworkable under the scrutiny of the First Amendment.
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 16, 2014—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Joint Committee are often on different sides of church–state issues. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas represent two different strands of denominational life. These groups put aside their differences Thursday to stand together in asking Houston Mayor Annise Parker to stop the “improper and unwarranted” subpoena of pastors’ sermons.</p>
<p><span class="caps">ERLC</span> President Russell Moore, working with <span class="caps">BJC</span> Executive Director Brent Walker, organized the coalition behind the letter and was joined by other Baptist leaders of Texas.</p>
<p>In <a href="http://erlc.com/article/russell-moore-and-other-evangelical-leaders-sign-letter-to-houston-mayor">the letter</a> leaders wrote to Mayor Parker:</p>
<p>“Your Honor, we represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across the political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but, as Baptists, we have a long history of support for religious liberty and separation of church and state. On that, we stand united.</p>
<p>“We ask you, and the City of Houston, to acknowledge that the issuing of these subpoenas is improper and unwarranted, in order to ensure that such will not happen again. Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.”</p>
<p>Other signatories included:</p>
<p>Frank Page, President, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention<br />
Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship<br />
Jim Richards, Executive Director, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention<br />
Jimmy Pritchard, President, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention<br />
David Hardage, Executive Director, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Jeff Johnson, President, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Gus Reyes, Director, Christian Life Commission, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Robert B. Sloan Jr., President, Houston Baptist University</p>
<p class="notes"><a href="http://erlc.com/documents/pdf/20141016coalitionlettererlc.pdf">Download a <span class="caps">PDF</span> of the letter</a></p>
<p>The Baptist Joint Committee is an advocacy organization comprised of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States devoted to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. The <span class="caps">SBC</span> was a key part of the <span class="caps">BJC</span> until withdrawing from the organization in 1991, reassigning religious liberty advocacy to the body now known as the <span class="caps">ERLC</span>.</p>
<p>The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a Christian network of nearly 1,800 churches, formed in 1991 after the controversy between conservatives and moderates in the <span class="caps">SBC</span>.</p>
The Honorable Annise D. Parker
Mayor of Houston, Texas
P. O. Box 1562
Houston, Texas 77251
Dear Mayor Parker:
The last several days have brought about intense controversy, as you know, about subpoenas issued to pastors opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), requiring that these pastors submit “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
As of this writing, you have indicated that you did not know about the subpoenas when they were issued, and that you will seek to narrow the scope of the inquiry. At the same time, however, you posted on Twitter the following: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?”
Your Honor, we represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across the political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but, as Baptists, we have a long history of support for religious liberty and separation of church and state. On that, we stand united. Our ancestors stood in the colonial and revolutionary eras demanding the disestablishment of state churches, the end to state licensing of preachers, and the cessation of penalties for religious dissenters. Our forebears—some of whom were imprisoned—petitioned for a First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty, for everyone, because we believe as Baptists that God alone is Lord of the conscience.
We ask you, and the City of Houston, to acknowledge that the issuing of these subpoenas is improper and unwarranted, in order to ensure that such will not happen again. Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.
This is about more than “walking back” a bad public relations move. This is about something that is fundamental to basic, self-evident rights that are endowed not by government but by nature and nature’s God.
Russell D. Moore, President
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
of the Southern Baptist Convention
J. Brent Walker, Executive Director
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Frank Page, President
of the Southern Baptist Convention
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says he is “simply stunned by the sheer audacity” of reports that Houston city attorneys have issued subpoenas to pastors who have voiced opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (<span class="caps">HERO</span>), a measure which deals with gender identity and sexuality in public accommodations. </p>
<p>“The preaching of sermons in the pulpits of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license or bully religious institutions. That right wasn’t handed out by the government, as a kind of temporary restraining order. It was recognition of a self-evident truth.</p>
<p>“The churches, and pastors, of Houston ought to respond to this sort of government order with the same kind of defiance the Apostle Paul showed the magistrates in Philippi. A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights.</p>
<p>“The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”</p>
<p>Moore’s full blog post on the issue can be found <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/10/14/houston-we-have-a-constitution/">online.</a></p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 6, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commented on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny review of seven petitions involving disputes over the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.</p>
<p>“The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up marriage cases means an immediate expansion of gay marriage. In terms of response, the church must not jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment. We have no authority to revise what Jesus handed down to us. And the church must not respond with a siege mentality. We live in an era in which marriage is redefined and confused. So did many of our forefathers and foremothers. The sexual revolution didn’t start at Woodstock. It is always with us.</p>
<p>“Let’s hold fast to what the gospel reveals about the meaning of marriage and the gospel behind it. Let’s articulate a Christian vision of what marriage should be, and let’s embody that vision in our churches. Let’s love our gay and lesbian neighbors. Let’s move forward with persuasion and with confidence. This is no time for retreat or for resentment. This is a time for mission.”</p>
<p>The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> will address the changing marriage environment at a national conference in October in Nashville. “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” will feature speakers such as Rosaria Butterfield, Russell Moore, Jim Daly, David Platt and others who will give keynote addresses, participate in panel discussions and address breakout sessions on key issues related to the future of marriage in the current culture. </p>