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Archive for February, 2018


I’m doing my sermon preparation for a sermon on Luke 11:37-52. There is a key phrase there about the events that prompts Jesus to make 2 3-fold “woes” on the Pharisees and Scribes.

38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.

The word translated as wash, regarding the ceremonial hand washing is baptizo. Jesus didn’t baptize His hands prior to eating.

The Pharisees had implemented this ceremonial hand washing. It was not commanded in the Scriptures. The interesting thing is that Luke calls it, essentially, a baptism.

As a former Baptist, I heard that baptizo refers to immersion, dipping. It may make sense to dip one’s hands in the water to wash them.

Except that is not what happened. Ceremonial hand washing is covered in the Mishna, particularly Yadayim 1. There the water is poured from a vessel over the hands. Not dipped. Not immersed. Poured.

The Mishna talks at length about the type of vessels that can be used, even those made of hardened dung. But the water was poured. This is important (while not Scripture and therefore authoritative) because it is how the Pharisees understood and practiced this hand washing. They were following the Mishna, and the word Luke used to describe it which would have been understood by other is baptizo.

The amount of water was about 6 oz. which isn’t much water. It is not the hand washing technique I learned while working at the hospital. This amount of water was sufficient for one or two people’s hands. The purpose was not to get you physically clean but ceremonially clean.

This is another instance in Scripture where baptizo is not used for immersion or dipping but for pouring (baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1) described as the Spirit being poured out (Acts 2)).

The implication is that we should not demand that baptism be by immersion. Pouring water is an acceptable mode of baptism if we let Scripture interpret Scripture.

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If you are a Christian, you seem to be caught in a culture war that has an increasing number of fronts. Nancy Pearcey has written Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality to explain the worldview behind these cultural changes.

She begins the book by laying out the philosophical foundation of the worldview at work in the Western world’s departure from a biblical morality, sexual and otherwise. Its roots are in Decarte’s philosophy, in which “I am” is rooted in self-experience, not the observable world around us. This Cartesian dualism plays itself out in a number of ways.

Theology, Morality (Private, Subjective, Relativistic)

——————————————————————-

Science (Public, Objective, Valid for Everyone)

This divides the values of a culture from the facts of the world. From a Christian worldview, we see our Theology & Morality as connected to creation. Our bodies, as part of creation, are a source of knowledge (not just about the body for its health) for morality particularly since we are created in God’s image.

Values (Private, Subjective, Relativistic)

———————————————————–

Facts (Public, Objective, Valid for Everyone)

Each of these aspects of the dualism have been the subject of philosophical views.

Romantic Tradition (Postmodernism)


Enlightenment Tradition (Modernisn)

“Modernists claim that the lower story is the primary or sole reality- facts and science. Postmodernists claim that the upper story is primary- that even facts and science are merely mental constructs.”

The Christian worldview braces both as important.

Pearcey has been greatly influenced by Francis Shaeffer, and applies his thought in this book. She is not parochial in her approach. She draws not only on traditional Protestant thinkers, but also Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox thinkers. These are the areas of agreement for the different branches of the Church. We speak together about these issues.

She has a number of references and quotations from advocates of these newer positions resulting from the split between human being (lower story) and person (upper story). In the case of abortion and euthanasia, the fact of humanity is affirmed by is secondary to personhood. The theory of personhood is subjective and ethicists have different views about when a human being becomes (and ceases to be) a person. This is not simply philosophical, but such language is used in court cases and decisions (like Roe v. Wade). Abortion is justified because while human, the fetus (or even infant) is not yet a person. Euthanasia is deemed acceptable because the human in question is no longer a person.

When it comes to sexual and gender issues, the facts of biology take a backseat to the subjective feelings of the person. Those feelings can change but reign supreme in matters of gender and sexuality. The unchanging reality of biology should not be ignored or altered (superficially) to meet the subjective.

Pearcey covers a number of important issues in this book. She leaves no stone unturned on some of these subjects, looking at them from every conceivable angle. This can make for some long chapters which is a challenge for people with limited reading time. I like to finish chapters in one sitting but some extended to two or three sittings.

Pearcey tries to separate the biblical (or biological) norms from cultural norms. This is particularly in the chapter on gender. Our goal should not be to affirm a culture’s view of masculinity or femininity. She pushes back against some conservative views. Another potentially controversially view was in her discussion of same sex attraction, distinguishing temptation and sin. This is a point of contention among conservatives.

This is a book focused on worldviews and their effect on our values. To work through our disagreements on moral issues, we have to talk worldviews (but we often don’t). At times she points out the inconsistency of how worldviews are played out. The militancy of activists is contrary to the view that moral values are subjective and personal rather than public. Their own views, by their worldview, are social constructs and should not demand compliance. Yet, it is like the Borg, “Resistance is futile.” All the more reason to lay out worldviews for examination.

Pearcey helpfully lays out the origin of these newer ethical views so you understand why it is so important to those who whole those views. This is a book well worth reading.

[I received a complementary copy of this book for the purposes of review]

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The subtitle gets to the point: Infusing Evangelistic Passion in Your Local Congregation. Kevin Harney has a passion for congregations that share the gospel organically. Hence the title, Organic Outreach for Churches.

This is not a book about personal evangelism, though we should personally evangelize. He wants to help congregations to have a passion for the gospel. Congregations. The Church. Evangelistic communities. Evangelism is a group project. Evangelism is a community commitment.

“Organic outreach is what happens when evangelistic vision and action become the domain of every ministry in a church and the commitment of every member of a congregation.”

By organic he means that it is “a natural and integrated part of the whole life of the church, not a fabricated add-on.” In his book he wants to provide ways for leaders to instill this integrated vision for evangelism into their congregations.

It starts with the heart. Both the process and the book. He begins with the heart of your congregation: love for God, the world and the church.

“If a congregation is gripped by God’s love and lavishes it freely on each other and their community, God will draw people to this church.”

He begins with love for God. We, of course, have been loved by God and then called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Love for God is the fountain of evangelism. If we don’t love God, we won’t recommend Him to others.

In many ways I heard echos of Michael Reeves’ work. God’s motive in creation and redemption was love. Having been loved, we are restored in the image of the God who is love and begin to love. Many churches have forgotten or forsaken their first love. Pleas to reach out will fall on deaf ears because there is no love. The root or fountain must be addressed. Pastors need to communicate God’s redemptive love so we love the God who redeemed us.

Some earnest churches may need to slow down and channel their energy. They launch an endless series of outreach efforts and follow all the latest fads. But we are concerned with the long haul, not a series of wind sprints. The goal is a congregation that consistently reaches out, charting a steady course that fits who God made them to be.

“As we are grounded in God’s love for us and as we learn to walk in this love, we will continue to grow in our love for people and for God.”

We are to love the world. This does not mean the godless world system that is our enemy (the world, the flesh & the devil). Rather this is the lost people in need of Christ to whom the love of God is to be revealed. Scripture recognizes this distinction. If we don’t love them, we won’t reach out to them. We won’t have sufficient concern or compassion to communicate and demonstrate that love.

“A congregation that is wholeheartedly devoted to following the teachings of Scripture will inevitably be propelled beyond what they want in order to become what God is calling them to be.”

I tend to think of love as a self-sacrificing commitment to another person’s well-being. I don’t love my wife much if I’m not willing to sacrifice much for her. The same goes for my kids. If my life pre- and post-children is unchanged then I’m not engaged with them, sacrificing for them and just plain loving them. To love the world means that a congregation sacrifices so that others hear the gospel.

“When a congregation is in love with itself and is committed to self-preservation, it’s unlikely it will count the cost and take steps to reach out. … Love, inspired by the Spirit of God, propels us out of our comfort zones and into the world.”

We tend to think about money first and foremost. A missions budget is a sacrifice. That is money that could be spent on “us”. But that is not really what Harney is getting at. Harvey is getting at changing, sacrificing, so that outreach is integral to all a congregation does. It is a willingness to remove unnecessary obstacles. It is a willingness to pay the price that keeps many congregations from consistent evangelistic vision and action.

Often churches will say they want to reach out. They will say this to a pastoral candidate. As their new pastor seeks to implement evangelistic vision and action the resistance begins. It gets back to a lack of love, and therefore unwillingness to sacrifice. We see Jesus, out of love, sacrificing in His Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus, our Savior, is also our Example (not one or the other).

Harney makes a necessary distinction in his exercises at the end of the chapter. We don’t sacrifice the gospel. We maintain clarity on important theological issues. We are to affirm and uphold biblical absolutes or principles. What is sacrifices is “tradition” or preference. We are to sing songs of worship that exalt God, humble sinners and promote holiness. We may sacrifice our personal preference when it comes to musical style. We affirm the biblical gospel, but we may sacrifice our preference for “gospel presentations”. We may rethink the traditions of our congregations that are rooted in how we like to do it rather than how God tells us to do it. We need to be distinctively Christian, and we need to realize church life isn’t all about us.

“The truth is that most churches have all sorts of opportunities for believers to grow, fellowship, and be encouraged in their faith. The problem is that we don’t really do all that much for those who are not followers of Jesus. … When this love is alive and growing in our hearts, we willingly- and naturally- sacrifice for the sake of those who are not yet followers of the Savior.”

Harney notes that many churches often forget they are to love the church as an essential aspect of organic outreach. He says “What we often fail to recognize is that a joy-filled love for the church is also a key to outreach.” We are not only to love Christ, but also His Bride. We invite people to Christ, and also His Body. If we are focused on the faults of His Bride our love for Her will wane and we won’t think inviting others into Her life is a good thing. If you want to grow in your desire to reach out, you must also grow in your love for the church- especially your particular congregation.

If you are embarrassed by your dysfunctional family, you won’t invite your new significant other to meet them. The solution is not to find a new family. The solution is to love your family despite their many, obvious flaws and work slowly to resolve the dysfunction (it wasn’t created in a day and won’t be resolved in a day either). So, don’t take this as “find a church you can love” but love the one you’re in. Return to the Scriptures to see how Jesus sees His Bride and Body. He didn’t love Her because She was perfect and had it all together. He sacrificed Himself to make Her holy and blameless. See His profound love for the Church and ask Him to give you a similar love for His not yet holy and blameless people.

If our congregations don’t have an evangelistic vision and action that permeates the whole congregation, engaging every member, we probably have love trouble. Our love for Christ, the world and/or the church is the problem. This is what must be addressed. Our love for each grows only as we see the manner in which God loved the world, sending His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for sinners. His love for us will grow into love for Him, His people and His world. This is the motive for God-honoring outreach.

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