ChurchETHOS

Making Disciple-Making Disciples

Posted in discipleship by Nathan Creitz on September 3, 2009

Picture 1Making disciple-making disciples (or making DMD’s) seems rather redundant. Yet, in practice, very few are doing it. Making DMD’s is what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 28:18-20. Instead, many church leaders interpret the commission to “make disciples” in one of two ways. Some “make disciples” by making converts and then telling them to attend a church service. Others gather converts together and attempt to “go deeper” but place no emphasis on being a witness to their neighbor. This is the danger of separating evangelism and discipleship. The former is engaged in evangelism, the latter is engaged in what he or she believes to be discipleship.

Discipleship Training or Transforming Disciples?

Our “discipleship training” has become merely a class or a Bible study that helps us grow in our knowledge about God but it doesn’t always encourage us to live for God. Making DMD’s is a much more robust commitment to the spiritual transformation of another. When Jesus told His disciples to go and make disciples, He was literally telling them to make disciple-making disciples. Just as He invested in them, now they were to invest in others.

Matthew 28:20 says to teach the disciples to obey (or “observe”) all that Jesus commanded. Paul reminds us of this concept in 2 Timothy 2:2 which says, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Of course, this is not the definition of what it means to make disciples because Paul is only talking about teaching “what you have heard”.

Making DMD’s isn’t just about teaching, it’s about a lifestyle that invites others into your life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” This goes beyond the important teaching aspect to the equally important but much more vulnerable lifestyle of making disciples. Sermons, seminars, and classes need to be extra-curricular to the more risky and time consuming core curriculum of modeling a transformed life in front of others.

Reproducible DMDs

So what does it mean to “make disciple-making disciples”? The point of stating it redundantly is to emphasize the necessity of reproducibility. Disciples make more disciples but non-disciples don’t make disciples. But understanding what making DMDs is all about is like trying to explain swimming to someone who has never been in a pool of water. The best way to do it is to jump in and splash around. There are some principles and theories about how to do it but if you understand that the goal is to make disciples who will then make more disciples there is at least more motive for making DMDs in the first place.

Once you have the motivation for reproducible disciple making, the how-to becomes clearer. For example, in order for discipleship to be reproducible it can’t be specialized. The leadership training and scholarship of a seminary student is important and certainly plays a role in the body of Christ but it can’t really be referred to as disciple making. Making DMDs is much broader and less specialized. It should be universal to all followers of Jesus. There is no dichotomy between Christians and disciples. Instead, all who desire to follow Jesus will be compelled internally to share Jesus with others; mostly for their love for Him, but also because He commanded it. Anyone unwilling to make disciples as Jesus commanded cannot truthfully consider himself a disciple.

Being a seminary student or a pastor or any other church leader doesn’t automatically mean you are a DMD. Stated in another way, seminary students need to not only engage in their seminary studies, but also need to engage in those activities that are universal to all followers of Jesus. The same goes for pastors and other church leaders. This is just one example of what can be gleaned by understanding that the goal of disciple making is reproducibility. We haven’t defined what making DMD means, we’ve just narrowed it down by shaving off what it is not. Not everyone calling themselves Christian is truly making disciples.

Responsible DMDs

It could be said at this point that making disciple-making disciples should be the goal of all disciple making activity. It should further be stated that it is the responsibility of all followers of Jesus to be involved in making DMDs. The seminary student might happen to be studying Greek and translating passages of Scripture (a worthy and important activity) but she must also be involved in making DMDs. An Administrative Pastor might be responsible for the finances and logistics of a church but he must also be involved in making DMDs. A musician might do her best to learn the guitar and play it well for God’s glory but she must also make DMDs.

These should all be true much like it is also true that a business person or a stay-at-home mom or a consultant must make DMDs if he or she desires to follow Jesus. For some reason, though, our church leaders aren’t even involved in this most fundamental activity in the Kingdom. Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, it follows then, that to follow Jesus we will also make disciples and equip them to make disciples. Those first disciples did what He commanded and that has been the method God has used to advance His Kingdom for nearly 2,000 years.

Making DMDs goes beyond calling people to the least common denominator of devotion. Jesus’ call was to radical commitment, so why do we call people to a fraction of that commitment? Worse: why do we as church leaders often model a fraction of the devotion and commitment that should be inherent in the life of any Jesus follower. It’s like we’re selling life insurance rather than showing someone how to live the transformed, vibrant, abundant life that Jesus offers. Jesus doesn’t offer life insurance, He offers a new life. Making disciple-making disciples is about calling people to live that radical new life and walk along the Way with Jesus while simultaneously inviting others to walk alongside.

Do Right Beliefs Get in the Way of Good Works?

Posted in book review, christian thought, social justice, theology by Nathan Creitz on May 19, 2009
DSB Logo

DSB Question 2 of 10

The second question that Michael Wittmer asks in his book Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough is, “Do right beliefs get in the way of good works?”

Wittmer asks this question because he felt like his very conservative background “reduced the Christian life to little more than an information dump”. His church encouraged people to come listen to about three sermons per week but there was little action that transpired as a result. There was truth but not much love.

On the other hand, he contrasts the conservatives with the “postmodern innovators”. This group seems to be practicing a faith that is exciting. The only problem is they seem to have love but no concern for truth. Wittmer writes, “I appreciate this renewed turn to practice, but wonder why we must turn from doctrine to get there.

So, conservatives might answer the question, “No, our beliefs carry over into good works.” but their lives would not be a reflection of that “belief”. Postmodern innovators might answer the question, “Yes, right beliefs do get in the way of good works” and their lives would be a true reflection of their answer. At least the postmodern innovators are being true to their convictions. Sad, that the conservatives who strongly focus on right doctrine are often the ones being untrue to their convictions.

There’s “nothing that excludes faster than belief” in the minds of the postmodern innovators. They have even gone so far as to say that God’s love is accessible to everyone. The only ones He excludes are those who themselves exclude others or those who opt out and want nothing to do with God. This is seen as a loving position by postmodern innovators.

Wittmer illustrates the two positions like this:

DSB conservativesDSB postmodern innovators

As you can see the conservatives have strong, exclusive beliefs, but are they showing love? On the other hand, the postmodern innovators seem to be showing love to their neighbors, but do they really believe in anything? Peter Rollins, a postmodern innovator said, “When it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it.” Rollins even eschews evangelism to be evangelized by others, as if other beliefs have as much (maybe even more?) value than does Christianity. Wittmer disagrees and says, “Those communities that downplay the specific, historic doctrines of the Christian faith in order to ‘share experiences and encounter God in other traditions’ will soon become a baptized version of a Rotary or Kiwanis Club.”

So is it really belief if you don’t act? Is it really love if you just accept?

Wittmer does a great job of showing the deeper love that comes as a result of true beliefs. Only Christians can express God’s love to others. He asks, “But what if love is broader than inclusion? What if it means to seek the best for the other, to sacrificially give of yourself so that the other might flourish, and what if the unique items of the Christian faith supply both the model and the motive for doing this?”

As Christians we should believe that we were once living in sin. We believe that God’s grace has rescued from that life of sin and He has forgiven us. This leads, not to another belief, but to an expression of gratitude to God. So, our beliefs have turned into an expression but it doesn’t end  there. This gratitude causes us, as Wittmer suggests, to ask “How am I to thank God for such deliverance?” We soon discover that good works are a natural way of showing our gratitude to God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” What commands? Without a correct understanding of where we’ve been (sin, death) we will never adequately share with others where they could and should be (grace, life).

We’ve seen the mistakes of the conservatives and the postmodern innovators. So what should it look like to have good doctrine and good deeds? Here’s another illustration from DSB:

DSB right belief

Sometimes it is loving and necessary to exclude. Wittmer gives the example of parents who lovingly push their child out of the “nest”, a coach who demotes a player until she begins training harder, or a church that removes an unrepentant member from the privileges of membership. Sometimes, love excludes if love is acting in the best interests of the other.

Another example of mine is that I personally would hate to believe a lie, live for a lie, and die for a lie. Sadly, we must realize that with all the religions in the world believing all sorts of different things, someone is believing a lie. There is either no god, one god, or more than one gods. Only one of those can be true. The truth hurts but it is an act of love to help people to see the truth.

Our beliefs should generate loving deeds to our neighbor. If they don’t then we’ve got a big problem with our beliefs. Our love should be rooted in our belief that God has forgiven us and that He loves us. If it isn’t then our love is empty and worthless (filthy and rag-like I’m sure). Right belief produces right practice. If we leave one out then we don’t have enough respect for Jesus to follow Him the way we should.

This post is the third in a series of posts that will answer the ten questions that Michael Wittmer raises in his book “Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough”. Learn how you can get a free copy of the book here.

Must You Believe Something to be Saved?

Posted in book review, christian thought, social justice, theology by Nathan Creitz on May 15, 2009
DSB Question 1 of 10

DSB Question 1 of 10

To my conservatively raised ears, this question really sounds irrelevant. Just off the top of my head I think of things like: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16 HCSB) and “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 HCSB) and finally, “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 HCSB)

So what’s the problem? Why ask that question?

In his book, Don’t Stop Believing, Michael Wittmer tells us why we have to ask this question. He brings up the question that all conservative Christians have been asked at one time in our lives. Like the father who asked “Would your God send my boy to hell because he never said, ‘Jesus save me,’ but he’d let Hitler go to heaven for saying the magic words?” To my knowledge, Hitler never did say “the magic words”, but this hypothetical scenario gets to the heart of what it means for God to be just. Is it really a few words spoken with sincerity that can make “the everlasting difference between me and the guy in the next cubicle”?

The question about Hitler was posed to postmodern Christian thinker Brian McLaren. He responded by saying that the man’s son “acted a lot like Jesus,” and that “God must be proud of your son.” All this because he did a good deed. Does Brian McLaren know the heart of the son? It seems to me that this enabled the father to conclude that Brian’s God respects good behavior – never mind about good beliefs. God doesn’t need that kind of PR because it doesn’t adequately respect who God is!

And by the way, my answer to the question about Hitler is that God has a track record of redeeming violently evil people. Think of the apostle Paul. What about Sam Berkowitz? To believe that God couldn’t save someone like Hitler shows a lack of faith in God. Had I been in Brian McLaren’s place I would’ve assured the father that God sent His innocent Son to die so that his son could live an abundant life fully in favor with God. Does that sound fair?

It makes me sick to think that a so-called Christian leader could dismiss the justice and mercy and the grand story of God so casually and make it sound like it’s up to your own good behavior to find favor with Him. Again, that’s not the kind of reputation that God Himself presents to us, so why would we spread those lies to others?

These are the reasons why we must answer the question: Must you believe something to be Saved? It’s because of people like Brian McLaren and Spencer Burke (who believes that we begin life accepted by God and that we “stay in his grace, unless we opt out”). Wittmer even describes meeting another influential “Christian” leader who said that we must update our theology to stay relevant to our culture.

There is nothing more relevant than the timeless Truth already given to us by God: We are hopelessly incapable of pleasing God, but God loves us and offers His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Hitler doesn’t deserve that kind of forgiveness, but neither do I. I hate to say it, but without God’s grace and forgiveness, I would be closer in morals to Hitler than I would be to Jesus Christ. There is no comparison between my good behavior and God. That’s why good behavior will never be enough.

So why did God decide to let it be about belief and not behavior?

Why won’t He allow us into His kingdom if we can answer affirmatively the questions, “Did you experience joy in life?” and, “Did you help others to experience joy in life?” Why won’t He allow us into His kingdom if we simply follow a good path, but not necessarily the “Jesus path”? Why won’t He allow us into His kingdom simply because our good behavior outweighs the bad?

God made it about belief because His favor cannot be earned. He could’ve made it about love, or acts of kindness, or compassion, or mercy, but those things would then be a source of pride to us. Only belief says we are completely at His mercy. Only belief is humble enough to admit our own weakness and trust in His strength. No one can boast in their belief, as if they have more belief than another. Belief is belief. You either believe or you don’t believe. It doesn’t matter how much or how little belief you have, it’s not about you. Belief admits that it’s all about Him.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 HCSB)

I guess some like McLaren and Burke can easily dismiss God’s revealed Word casually, but I can’t. Does that make me a fundamentalist? Well, according to Wittmer, I’m more of a postmodern conservative. I agree with him that it needs to be about belief and behavior, faith and works. Wittmer asks, “Doesn’t God demand right belief and right actions?”

What should we believe?

The part of this chapter in Don’t Stop Believing that I really like is the section on what believers must believe. We must believe that we are sinners and that it is through Jesus that we can find forgiveness. Not too complicated.

But Wittmer takes it a step farther by talking about the truths that a Christian must not reject: the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus, and the “historical truth and significance of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return”. Finally, he advocates for some truths that we all should believe: perfections of God, humans are the image of God, Church is Christ’s body, Bible is God’s Word, Biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Of course, these beliefs may not be understood when someone first receives Jesus as Master of their lives, but if they trust Jesus enough to follow Him, these other truths will be easy to accept.

Wittmer writes, “Contrary to what some postmodern innovators believe, those who reject these foundational doctrines of the Christian faith cannot be saved, no matter how swell they are and how well they behave. Being good is not good enough. We must know and believe something – the basic facts about salvation – to be saved.” He is referring to the “must believe” and “must not reject” categories as essentials to being a Christian. Indeed, it is not enough merely to do good deeds. However, our faith leads to works. Because we recognize the love God has for us, we freely show others grace and compassion and love.

Good belief without good behavior is like mixing in all the ingredients for a loaf of bread but forgetting to put it in the oven. Good behavior without good belief is like putting a loaf pan in the oven without filling it with ingredients. Either way, the world doesn’t get to benefit from the Bread of Life because of our unwillingness to believe or behave in a way that brings glory to God. Belief isn’t really belief if it doesn’t inspire living like Jesus in the first place.

This post is the first in a series of posts that will answer the ten questions that Michael Wittmer raises in his book “Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough”. Read my introductory post to the DSB series here, and then learn how you can get a free copy of the book here.

ChurchETHOS Book Giveaway

Posted in book review, christian thought by Nathan Creitz on May 13, 2009
DSB Giveaway

DSB Giveaway

In case you missed it, ChurchETHOS is giving away twelve copies of Don’t Stop Believing by Michael Wittmer! Special thanks to Zondervan Academic for providing eleven of those copies especially for ChurchETHOS subscribers. One book will be given away each week so keep reading and interacting on ChurchETHOS for a chance to get your own copy for free.

The first book will be given away this Friday!

Here’s what you do:

1. Subscribe to ChurchETHOS through a feedreader or by email.

2. Make a thoughtful contribution in response to any post here at ChurchETHOS.

3. After subscribing and contributing a comment, email me your address to officially enter the drawing.

Note: You only need to enter one time and each week you will be reentered in the giveaway. I will announce the winner each week on my blog.

Read my introductory post about the book here and stay connected with ChurchETHOS for the next eleven posts in the “DSB Series”. I will be writing responses to each of the questions Mike Wittmer raises in the book. The final post will hopefully be an interview with the author based on questions my readers raise in the comments to these posts.

I will be blogging about other topics other than the DSB Series over the next few weeks so at the end of the series I will do a recap post to collect all of the posts in the same place. You can also find links to each of the posts on my Book Review page.

Here are the links to all the posts in the DSB series:

“Don’t Stop Believing” by Michael E. Wittmer
Must You Believe Something to be Saved?
Do Right Beliefs Get In the Way of Good Works?

A Gathering Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, fellowship by Nathan Creitz on May 6, 2009

img_2299What should Christians be doing when we gather together?

There are all sorts of people who want to know the answer to that question:
– Non-Christians who are wondering if there’s anything to this following Jesus business.
– Ex-Christians who are leaving the church because their time with other Christians seemed like a waste.
– Christians who are sitting in seats looking at the back of people’s heads wondering if there’s more to the Christian life.
– Pastors who are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all the people.

I’m sure there are others demanding answers and I understand where each of these groups is coming from. There are also other questions that we should be asking: How often should Christians get together? Where should we meet together? How long should we be meeting together? Who should lead our times together? Should anyone be leading anything?

The operative word in all of these questions is “should”. (You thought it was going to be “together” didn’t you?) We all know something is wrong. We all know there’s something missing. Something needs to change! What is it? What is it that should be? Doesn’t the Bible talk about Christian fellowship, brotherly love, you know, all those “one anothers”? We are missing the mark in our interdependence and interconnectedness with one another and something should be done about it.

So, what should Christians be doing when we get together?

We should be Loving one another

If there is someone in your church fellowship that you refuse to talk to then YOU have a problem. I don’t care what he or she did, if you know there is a wedge between the two of you then you are being disobedient to God if you aren’t attempting to reconcile with them.

If something comes between me and my wife I don’t give her the silent treatment indefinitely…we work it out. There are too many people who refuse to worship with other Christians because they’ve got a problem with someone else in the body. That is a big problem.

Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.” The “above all” refers to the short list of things we should be putting on as Christians: hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, etc. Those are the sorts of things we express to one another because of our love. Love wraps all those other gifts into a beautiful package that can be given away daily to our church family.

We should be Praying for one another

Praying for one another sounds easy doesn’t it? I think most Christians know that when we get together somebody needs to pray. I hate when I’m asked to pray simply because I’m ordained. Like I have some special connection with God that no one else has. We think the Model Prayer in Matthew 6 goes something like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
bless Tom’s half-sister Ethel.
And for my toenail
that’s now ingrown
it hurts as it has all day.
Give us today our daily desires
and be with all people
as all people have need of prayers from us.
For yours is the ability
and the responsibility
to take care of us forever. Amen.

Okay, I kind of feel bad for being sarcastic about the way we sometimes spend our prayer time in our church gatherings…I’m over it.

We have to stop spending all of our prayer time praying for those twice removed from us. God’s desire is that we pray for His kingdom and glory. That’s priority one! Praise him, exalt him, ask him to use you to advance his kingdom, etc. A close second to that is praying for one another. Open up! Share what God is doing in your life. What spiritual challenges are you facing? Where are you being tempted? Finally, after you’ve spent 98% of the time praying for God’s glory and for one another, now if it’s important to ask for prayer for Tom’s half-sister Ethel, then I guess you are free to do so.

Praying for Ethel is safe because it doesn’t expose our inner turmoil. We might actually have to admit that we don’t have everything together. That’s hard, but we aren’t truly praying for one another if we’re only praying through a laundry list of people and problems who aren’t sitting in the room at the moment.

Be an adult and share!

We should be Caring for one another

To care for one another means we have to know one another on a deep enough level to know each other’s needs. A Christian should always be asking this question: What needs am I uniquely positioned by God to meet today?

picture-13Maybe you are meant to meet the needs of your spouse or children, your neighbor, your friend, your pastor, or your student. Maybe you have the ability to meet a financial need. Maybe you have the blessing of time that you can give to someone. Maybe you are able to listen or teach or advise or encourage or give joy or build or share or volunteer or sing or cook or hold a hand or repair or provide a shoulder. Find a need. Meet a need.

We should be Trusting one another

My friend Mark recently gave me a point to ponder. He asked, “Have you ever thought about how Jesus got the disciples to trust one another?” We had been talking about how at least two of the disciples had political views of hatred towards the Romans and then there was Matthew who had sold out his fellow Jews to work for the Romans – collecting taxes no less.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot of glimpses at the interpersonal relationships of the disciples other than the arguments they got into and the times Jesus had to correct their foolishness. Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? Regardless of our political or cultural or generational outlook, we need to learn how to trust one another. It takes time, it takes vulnerability, it takes effort, it takes Colossians 3:12-17, it takes a lot but it’s worth everything we put into it.

We should be Challenging one another

I’ll give you another sentence from Colossians 3: “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (v. 15) I also love Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other…”

picture-3So, our meetings are characterized by encouragement, concern for one another, prompting each other to love and good works, and consistency according to the writer of Hebrews. The first verse from Paul to the Christians in Colossae says we are to teach and admonish one another, which is how the “Word of Christ” becomes richly indwelt among us. This includes a sermon that a pastor might give to everyone but it also includes a timely word, rebuke, encouragement, or advice between two or three friends.

Conclusion: A Vision for the Church

So how long and how often should we gather together? Where should we be meeting? When? The answer is, wherever and whenever and as long and as often as it takes to truly and deeply connect with each other as described above.

If you think you can accomplish all of the above in only one hour a week, or if you think you should be getting all of the above in only one hour a week, then you don’t understand what it means to follow Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean an hour or two with a large gathering of people isn’t important – far from it.

Imagine groups of three or four or ten or eleven or however many Christians coming together throughout the week praying and caring and trusting one another deeply, consistently, faithfully. They call each other when they are having a crisis. They can’t wait to share good news with their small group of fellow believers. They connect with each other often because they love each other. They’ve become family.

Now, when all these interconnected groups of loving, caring, praying people gather together with other small groups of loving, caring, praying people there is really a cause for celebration. They don’t just show up for a Sunday song and sermon, they are expecting God to challenge them and move them and change them. The “Sunday service” is valuable because people who are sharing the experience of fellowship are coming together to lift up their voices and worship God…together.

There are too many people throwing away the one hour Sunday service because it is meaningless and lifeless to them. They never realized they were supposed to live a life of discipleship beyond 12PM on Sunday. The answer isn’t to give up on that one hour, the answer is to give a few more hours and commit yourself to fellowship with other believers.

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A Going Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian habits, discipleship, missiology by Nathan Creitz on April 28, 2009
image courtesy of txd

image courtesy of txd

Most Christians in America are overwhelmed.

The typical Christian in America works 50+ hours per week and sleeps about 50 hours per week. That leaves about 68 hours to spend on everything else: family, friends, hobbies, exercise, cooking, eating, housework, watching TV, playing video games, homework, lectures, and – oh yeah – God.

Our culture is on the move. A typical church attending Christian doesn’t want to spend more than an hour on Sunday spending time with other believers. In fact, many Christians have the perception that they go to church instead of recognizing that they are the church. As a result, church has become a place rather than a people, an hour rather than an identity, and an obligation rather than a privilege. The Christian begins to view their responsibility to church as the minimum set of requirements necessary to be considered a “regular”.

There are a lot of ways we can simplify our lives so that we can spend more time with other members of the church. I want to explore that in more detail in a forthcoming post entitled A Gathering Church. Meanwhile, how are we to perceive our role in the world?
#Should there be a secular vs. sacred dichotomy in our minds?
#Should we feel guilty if 95% of our time is spent in the world and only 5% is spent in “sacred” activities?
#How can we move from “regular attender” to become a faithful follower of Jesus (regardless of how much or how little time we spend in a church building)?

#How can we be the church when we aren’t with the church?

I’m Glad You Asked

Too many Christians are not asking those questions. If you are one of the few who is genuinely asking questions like these then you are on the path of a disciple. You are learning what it takes to truly follow Jesus. Keep asking those questions and others like them. Now let me see if I can provide some thoughts on the matter.

A church that merely packs out a church building for an hour each Sunday with regular attenders may look successful but is in fact disobedient to Christ. If the leadership of a church isn’t calling its members to costly discipleship then it is ignoring one of the most central teachings of Christ. We aren’t called make converts or church attenders, we are called to make disciples. But where do we look for new recruits (so to speak)?

A Church on the Move

In the Matthean Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus tells his followers, “As you are going, make disciples…” Every pastor has pointed out this nuance that “Go” is not the command because it is a participle and it means “as you are going”. In other words, this isn’t new stuff but it is a very important point: “Make disciples” is the command. Jesus commands his church to be on the move. It’s hard to escape from the busy pace of the American lifestyle, so let’s take advantage of the fact that much of our day is spent with unbelievers.

We are on the move because we are Americans and we are the church because we are Christians. So, as we go about our daily activities, let’s keep in mind that we are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. It’s kind of silly to think that we would try and be ambassadors only when we are in the walls of a church building during “holy hour”. America doesn’t send out ambassadors to America, they send ambassadors to places and people that need to hear the message we have to communicate. In the kingdom of God, our role in the world is to go to the people that need to hear God’s message of love and truth. We are going anyway (job, gym, restaurant, store, etc), so why not fulfill Christ’s commands “as you are going”?

Following Jesus 9 to 5

I once waded through every single verse in the gospel of Mark to determine where Jesus spent his time. Jesus spent most of his time on the seashore and in the marketplace with business people. Coming in as second to spending time with business people, Jesus spent his time with his disciples. Then, Jesus spent time in homes, and finally he spent time in the temple complex. So, in order of importance Jesus spent most of his time in the marketplace, then with his disciples, then in homes, and finally in the temple complex. Jesus made disciples as he was going.

We are called to be the church, not just when we are with other believers, but significantly we are called to be the church when we are not with other believers. It’s easy being the church with like-minded friends, but discipleship wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for Jesus’ original Twelve was it? We don’t just choose to be disciples when it’s easy for us. Peter and John said they considered it a privilege to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Suffering was one of the core values of the early church. We will never experience the kind of suffering of the first disciples, so can we not have enough boldness to share with a co-worker or a friend about our relationship with Jesus?

We freely talk about our spouse, our children, our pets, our hobbies, and our interests, but not about our God?!

Misplaced Priorities

The reason God never comes up in conversation is because we have misplaced priorities. Our job is something that is of absolute necessity so that we can pay the bills and eat meals. We forget that we are a child of the King. He is the source of our needs and He has placed us in our jobs and in our circles of friends to share God’s love with others. That is why we are employed: not to make money but to make disciples. Rather than view the workplace as a mission field for making disciples, too many Christians just try to get through the day so they can collect their paycheck and go home, never thinking about what “as you are going, make disciples…” might mean for their lives.

The church needs to develop the habit of calling its members to follow Jesus. Our leaders are often not willing to challenge the church to go beyond regular attendance at worship gatherings. Success for a church is not in filling a building on a weekly basis. Success is determined by how many lives are being transformed. It’s about quality not quantity, depth not width. Followers of Jesus recognize that church gatherings are pointless if the church is never going. But when the church is a going church, the church gatherings are that much better!

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My Top Concerns for the Local Church

Posted in christian thought, church reform by Nathan Creitz on April 8, 2009

peacefully-asleepI have a passion for the life of the local church. The purpose of ChurchETHOS is to redeem the prophetic and influential role of the church in American society. Ethos basically means the habits or character of a group or individual. It can also mean the sort of reputation one person or group has with another person or group. So, ChurchETHOS explores how we can restore habits and customs that conform to the Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus and develop a good relationship with those outside the church.

So here are a few of my top concerns for the local church:

1. Members are just going through the motions.
Many Christians spend only about one hour per week involved with their church. They go to a church building. They know when to stand or sit. They know when to sing or listen. Most importantly, they know when the “hour of power” is supposed to be over. And may it never be that the pastor ever forget.

2. Prayer is not effective.
Not that the prayer of a righteous person isn’t effective, or that God isn’t listening. Instead, most of our churches are infected with lazy Christians who have no vibrant relationship with God and think that prayer is just rubbing the lamp and the genie-god comes out and does everything we want it to do.

3. The local church isn’t led by the Spirit of God.
It’s not just the people in the church that concern me, it’s the leadership. Elders often think they are the decision makers and they lack the close connection with God necessary for the health of the church. Acts 14 gives a good example of the elders being led by the Spirit to act.

4. Preaching is talking.
Often the preaching elder doesn’t know how to exhort or rebuke or encourage. He doesn’t spend time discovering what God is saying to the Body through His word. Preaching becomes a series of talking points that lack persuasion or correction. Preaching isn’t prophetic anymore.

5. The American Dream is more important than the Kingdom of God.
For most people, life with Christ is crowded out by regular life. Working hard to be successful, to make money, to become more powerful, these are the reasons most members have for why they can’t invest more in God’s kingdom. They can’t imagine how their wants needs could possibly be provided for without working 60+ hours a week. Since prayer isn’t effective, surely God can’t be relied upon to fulfill His promises.

6. Serving and hospitality are no longer values.
Since the American Dream is such a powerful force, there’s little time left to help someone in need. We have our excuses: “Based on how they dress, if I give them money they’ll probably just spend it on alcohol or cigarettes.” “I can barely afford cable TV and the payments on my flat screen, much less give to the church.”

7. Making disciples is for the paid professionals
In fact, everything that needs to get done around the church is up to the pastor to do it. At the heart of this is the fact that members are no longer following Jesus. They don’t care about what He said. They don’t care about what He did. They don’t care that they are supposed to be following His example. Primarily what Jesus wants us to do is to love God, love people and make disciple-making disciples. There aren’t even a whole lot of paid professionals (pastors) that are fulfilling that commission.

These are just a few of the concerns I have for the church. What concerns you? What are your ideas for how to solve these problems?

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One God, Two Gods, Three Gods, No God

Posted in christian thought, theology by Nathan Creitz on March 17, 2009

Is it reasonable to believe in god? If there is a god, how do we go about getting to know him / her / them? Has science ruled out the possibility that god exists?

These are a few of the questions that people who are seeking tend to ask. I’ve had this conversation on several occasions with people who are trying to figure out the answers. I’ve come to realize that when someone is seriously asking these questions it is helpful to remove some obstacles so they are free to explore all the possibilities.

The Ignorance of Tolerance

picture-1The first obstacle to people believing in god is the concept of tolerance. I understand where tolerance comes from. Tolerance comes from a sincere desire to keep religions from fighting with one another. The ideal of tolerance is that some people worship god one way, others worship god another way, and it’s okay for them to do that [just don’t be pushy with your beliefs, thank you very much]. The sentiment of a tolerant person is “can’t we all just get along?” — I can appreciate that.

But tolerance is ignorance…

or stupidity (depending on your frame of mind)

Most people simply go along with tolerance as an ideal because it is the foundation of our society (when it comes to various religions). They believe that all religions are equally right and/or wrong so there’s no need to force feed your beliefs on me (ignorance). Others know the shaky logic of tolerance yet remain steadfast and immovable (stupidity).

This needs to change.

Call A Doctor, I’m Feeling Polytheistic!

To help remove the obstacle of tolerance so that we can take another step towards authentic worship of god, we have to talk about the various religions of the world.

Tolerance is built on the foundation that all religions are true. Really? Can any thinking person see the problem with that assertion?

We have to realize that any statement made about god is either true or false – not both. All major religions make one of three basic statements about god: either there is NO god, there is ONE god, or there are MORE THAN ONE gods. When we say that all religions are true and that we should tolerate all viewpoints we are asking people to tolerate lies. Only one option can be correct. God’s existence and being are not dependent upon what I believe about god! God IS and we must either accept him as he IS, or flat out reject him by worshiping a false god of our own imagination.

So, when we survey the major religions of the world we discover several atheistic (no god) religions, several monotheistic (one god) religions, and several polytheistic (many gods) religions. If, for the sake of argument, each of these beliefs had one-third of the world’s population as adherents to their religions, then two-thirds of the world would be wrong! They are wasting their time! (At this point I’m not trying to make a case that my world-view is correct, just saying is all) Their life is being lived in pursuit of a lie! They think they are being sincere, but they are sincerely wrong!

The Truth Shall Set You Free!

But how do we go about discovering which one is true?

Each -theism has it’s own share of problems in establishing it’s validity. Like atheism: Hasn’t science proven that this is the most rational option? Not if god is spiritual and not material. Science has no tools to measure or observe or test the nature of god. I have a feeling that it never will.

What about monotheism and polytheism? If we say god or the gods can’t be observed isn’t that just a cop out? How can we prove there is a god or more than one gods if we can’t use our senses to find out more about him / her / them?

And by the way, do you think it’s remotely possible or even likely that god might have something to say about the matter? Does he know the truth? Has he ever offered humanity a clue as to who he might be? Or how we might know him? Or what his plan is for the universe (much less for little old me)?

The Audacity of Veracity

That’s where our search can begin: with the sacred documents of various religions. Either god exists or He doesn’t, right? If god doesn’t exist then there would not be any sacred documents describing the plan of god, the nature of god, etc. The sacred documents that we do have are simply fantastical human concoctions and to some degree they all share or plagiarize material from one another. All of them are wrong because there is no god.

But, if there are many gods then there could be many sacred documents (which there are). All of them could be true. When the Christian or the Jewish god says, “You shall have no other gods other than Me!” then you could say, well, he’s just upset with the other gods and wants all the power and glory for himself, but he’s only one of many gods. That’s a plausible theory and it actually accounts better for all the sacred documents than atheism. Wherever we are led astray comes from the gods themselves. Maybe one is lying to us by saying he’s the only god.

On the other hand, what if only one document has the Answer everyone is looking for. In that case, only the sacred document from that religion is Truth, all the others are forgeries penned by a man or woman with various motivations for doing so.

It seems to me that we need to search these documents and apply the veracity test to each of them. One could start with the predominant religions in each category. Study the sacred writings of Buddhism (atheistic religion), Hinduism (polytheistic religion), and Christianity (monotheistic religion) and simply see if anything stands out. This would be a good starting place.

Coming to Terms with Reality

One prominent atheist was confronted with all the religions of the world (including atheism) and finally had to conclude that god exists. He felt like all religions were either deep (spiritual and mysterious and only accessible by mystics, gurus and priests) or wide (easy to understand and accessible by the masses). He came to realize that only two religions were both deep and wide: Hinduism and Christianity. Since he had already come to realize that atheism is a lie, he decided to explore these two religions. In the end, after reading the Gospels in the Bible, he couldn’t escape the veracity of the story of Jesus. He couldn’t believe that a human could’ve come up with this on his or her own.

picture-2Though it was perhaps embarrassing for an established professor of literature at prestigious Oxford to admit he was wrong, C.S. Lewis became a Christian. It was the life of Jesus that made the difference. It made sense to Him. He said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” His eyes were opened and he was able to see God (notice the use of the capital G). Jesus exudes credibility. The Bible is reliable. God has revealed Himself and He is One God.

Personally, I see the universe around me and I see patterns, I see unity, I see evidence of one God. The person of Christ is unique, the Trinity is unique, the concept of Christianity is unique. It’s simple but it’s mysterious all at the same time. This isn’t proof, it’s just my personal experience of the Truth. I don’t have to prove anything to myself because I already know God. I won’t try to prove anything to you because you may be ignoring God or running from God. I’ll let you decide whether or not knowing God is in your best interests. My hope is that after reading this your curiosity will be piqued and you will have a desire to find out for yourself.

But please, please don’t say you are being tolerant by believing there can be both no god, one god, or many gods all at the same time. If you’ve read this all the way to the end then there is no room for ignorance on this matter any longer. Ignorance is simply not knowing the truth, and that’s fine, some people haven’t thought through the contradiction of tolerance. Foolishness is knowing the truth and rejecting it for selfish reasons. Ignorance is excusable, stupidity is not. After reading this post, ignorance is the only option not available to you anymore. Wisdom puts you on the path to finding God. Foolishness puts you on the path to finding nothing. If you are an atheist, you’ve already found nothing because that’s what you want to find. But for people willing to think, these are the two options before you: wisdom or foolishness.

PostScript

I share this post with you because I love you and God loves you. Truth can hurt sometimes and I don’t share the Truth with you because I’m gloating or angry. I sincerely want people to know God. God wants you to know Him. He’s given you a beautiful creation to enjoy. He’s given you His Word, the Bible, to understand Him. He offers you His love and, though we’ve all rejected Him and could even be considered as His enemies, He still wants to know you. I can understand if this post is offensive and I know you’re desire will be to bang out a hasty response in the comments section. That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t have offensive language, I will publish it. Feel free to ask questions, offer a contrary opinion, or debate my points. Just remember, I want to have a friendly, productive dialogue with my readers. Let this be a space you can use to explore the things I’ve articulated. God said, “When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

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You Might Be a Milk Drinker If…

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on March 3, 2009

milk-bottleMy walk with God recently has taken me through Hebrews and I was struck by a passage in chapter 5 and 6 that caused me to ask the following question:

“Is the church developing milk drinkers or meat eaters when it comes to spiritual maturity?”

Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3 talks about spiritual maturity. It says that we Christians ought to be cooking up solid food but instead we are consuming the breast milk of the church. Christians are meant to mature, to grow up. So how about you and me? Are we advancing on to finger foods or are we stuck breastfeeding?

From this passage in Hebrews, I’ve realized that you might be a milk drinker if…

…you aren’t maturing!

Again, the analogy here is a new Christian who won’t grow up. We are meant to mature. The role of the leaders in the church is to see to it that the body is growing. Colossians 1:28, Paul says, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Maturity means spiritual growth and health.

The same word for “mature” could be interpreted as “perfect”. Don’t let that scare you though. The idea is that we are healthy. Health is the normal way of life, sickness is abnormal. When we are sick, we take action to be cured. Sickness debilitates us. It keeps us from work or school. It makes us groggy or lazy. When we are spiritualy healthy and when we are maturing, we are in the normal state of being.

Whatever analogy you use, whether a baby growing to adulthood or a sick person becoming well, we should be seeing spiritual growth in our lives!

…you aren’t leaving!

Hebrews 5:12 says “you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.” Then, chapter 6 verse 1 encourages us to “leav[e] the elementary message about the Messiah.” This implies that we don’t need to relearn the basics (though a review every now and then doesn’t hurt). Instead we are moving on to more advanced principles.

The image in my mind has to do with a classroom. Once we’ve taken elementary Algebra we shouldn’t have to take it again and again. It’s time to move on to advanced Calculus or Trigonometry (I don’t even know what those things are, but you get my point).

…you aren’t bearing!

That is, you might be a milk drinker if you aren’t bearing fruit! Let’s return to the baby analogy. An eleven year old should be helping with the chores in the house. A 30 year old should be earning a living or caring for other children and not living at home with mom and dad. But, if an eleven year old or thirty year old is still trying to fit a round object into a square hole, chances are something is wrong developmentally. As we mature, we also begin producing. As a Christian, this means that at some point we need to begin bearing fruit. Eventually, we begin caring for other Christians who are new in their faith.

…you aren’t discerning!

A mature Christian is able to distinguish between good and evil according to Hebrews 5:14. Spiritual maturity brings discernment. We can all look back at our teenage years and know that we didn’t always have the best judgment. We all know that we could’ve avoided a lot of trouble if we had listened to our elders. The problem is, if you are a milk drinker, you probably can’t discern that you are spiritually immature. That’s why it is important for the leaders in the church to take steps to present “everyone mature in Christ.”

…you aren’t teaching!

Are you teaching anyone anything? This is a scary diagnostic for spiritual maturity because probably 80% of church attenders aren’t doing any teaching of anyone. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you’ve got to preach on Sunday morning or lead a small group every week. Those are important roles in the church, but there are other ways you can be a teacher. Some people mentor a teenager. Some people work with the children and teach them about God. Fathers can set an example by teaching their families. Some teach new Christians, others teach nearly Christians, while still others are doing their best to reach and teach anti Christians. We engage in discipleship, evangelism, apologetics, etc. and these are all forms of teaching. So, again, are you teaching anyone? Is there someone in your life in whom you are investing?

The writer of Hebrews was very clear, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food.” Members of the church should take note that we don’t leave the teaching to the hired “professionals”. Leaders of the church should take note that our job is to unleash the gifts and resources of the whole Body of Christ. We are to equip everyone to teach, to serve, to give, and to reach out to the world around us. Everyone in the church should be maturing to the point where he or she is able to sit at the table and eat the steak of God’s Word and not just the milk.

So pull up to the table and bring out the main course…I’m getting hungry!

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“In the Beginning” by Henri Blocher

Posted in body of Christ, book review, christian thought, discipleship, theology by Nathan Creitz on December 8, 2008

41fjpd8hg1lHenri Blocher is a Professor of Theology at Wheaton College. His book: In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis is both helpful and informative. It is academic, yet accessible to those of us who aren’t specialists. Blocher does a masterful job of explaining not only the purpose of Genesis, but also deftly maneuvers the controversial difficulties that have arisen especially in the modern era as science has advanced.

In Chapter 1, Blocher talks about the approach to Genesis. Dominating the discussion is the question of whether to approach Genesis literally or figuratively. Before reaching his conclusions, however, Blocher spends some time talking about the role of science in the interpretation of Scripture. Blocher presents the main approaches to this question: Concordism which seeks to rectify science with the Bible, “anti-scientism” which is Blocher’s view of creationism (the alternative to evolutionary theory), and fideism which seems to suppress the issue altogether. Blocher proposes a new way that allows science to “serve” our approach to studying Genesis, but not authoritatively. God’s Word is the authority and Blocher tries to take the positive advances of concordism, anti-scientism, and fideism and use those positives to help understand the book of Genesis. When he concludes the chapter talking about the literal or literary interpretation of Genesis 1, the reader can see that this is a unique story unlike any other story ever written.

Chapter 2 is a specific look at the week of Creation and it is Blocher’s view that the seven days are a literary device used to show the framework of God’s creating act. He writes, “The proofs we have given [in chapter 1] of the author’s careful structuring of his material would be enough to warn us not to suppose that the sevenfold shape is either imaginary or incidental.” (39) In this chapter, Blocher approaches four major interpretations of Genesis 1 in order of probability. Opponents may disagree, but the order in which Blocher organizes the probability of these theories begins with the reconstructionist theory as the least probable. This theory believes God reconstructed His creation after the fall of the devil. Next comes the concordist interpretation which is the idea that the days in Genesis 1 are ages or geological eras. Thirdly, Blocher deals with the literal interpretation that says the days are literal 24 hour days. Finally, Blocher believes the literary interpretation to be the best and he spends the rest of the chapter making the case for this interpretation.

Chapter 3 is about the content of Genesis 1. Rather than focusing on the framework and what that means, Blocher encourages the reader not to lose sight of the real purpose of Genesis. He suggests that if we get too caught up in science and creation then we may forget all that God is communicating to us. We can be distracted from the fact that God created ex nihilo, we can forget the work of all the members of the Trinity in the act of creation – including the Spirit, we can forget some of the characteristic nature of God (like He is a God of peace, not of disorder), etc. It is important to consider the purpose rather than just the conflict with modern science when we study Genesis.

Chapter 4 has to do with the Image of God and how humans are image bearers, unique among all the animals in their relationship with God. Blocher first makes sure we are sufficiently humble in our understanding of being “in the image of God”, in that we are “only an image.” “Mankind is infinitely lower than his Creator.” (82) With that humility as the backdrop, Blocher then turns to the privileged status we have over the rest of creation and talks about what it means to be made in the image of God.

In chapter 5, Blocher writes about the relationship between man and woman. The man and the woman are different sexually, with differing roles and yet they are connected. He treats “from the rib” as figurative language for their connectedness and relationship with one another Blocher supports this assertion when he says, “The Arabs apparently use the expression ‘He is my rib’ to mean ‘He is my close friend.'” (99) Blocher concludes the chapter by talking about the institution of marriage and that “the charter of marriage is summarized in Genesis 2:24” (108), that is, at least implicitly.

Chapter 6 focuses on covenant. Even though that word doesn’t exist in Genesis 2, Blocher believes it to be of primary importance for understanding that chapter. The outline of the covenant is found in the text according to Blocher. “Eden is the covenant gift.” (120) The two trees in the garden become “the chief provisions of the covenant agreement.” (121). “You shall surely die” is the penalty for breaking the covenant. This outline implies a covenant between God and Adam.

Chapters 7 and 8 deal with the breaking of the covenant and the penalty for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Blocher suggests that at the heart of their disobedience was the desire to claim autonomy. This disobedience “overthrows the created order.” (154) As a result of breaking the provisions of the covenant agreement, Adam and Eve must die. However, they don’t “cease to be” as is our normal understanding of death. Instead, our understanding of death must “broaden and diversify”. It is not mere physical death but it is of a spiritual nature. Blocher writes, “As soon as the disobedience is committed, the beauty and harmony of existence is shattered, and in their place come shame, fear and pathetic excuses.” (173) Their death is a result of their “claim to be like God in their autonomy.” God curses the man, the woman, and the snake and sends them out of the harmonious existence of Eden (the covenant gift).

Finally, Blocher concludes in chapter 9 by talking about the nature of the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. Much is written here about Adam and Eve’s son Cain who killed his brother Abel. “Sin proliferates along with mankind.” (197) but God is merciful and though it seems that only God’s justice is on display in the opening chapters of Genesis there is an element of grace. For one thing, Blocher writes that God kept Adam and Eve from eating from both trees because that would’ve been unthinkable. He hinders the completion of the Tower of Babel by confusing their language. This is to prevent the unthinkable from happening. Therefore, God’s justice is merciful. But ultimately, it is through the promise of the seed of the woman that we see the grace of God on full display.

Blocher concludes with a very helpful appendix on “Scientific Hypotheses and the beginning of Genesis”. Several scientific theories are given and this appendix helps to show that there is some harmony in science and the Bible. Taken together, every chapter of this book is both descriptive of events as found in the opening chapters of Genesis and relevant for many of today’s controversies surrounding those chapters. Blocher’s work is a commentary on Genesis that is helpful to the pastor, the theologian, and the general laity.