Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Missionally Minded

Missionally Minded - Seeing What God Sees
Kevin Shrum

Question! Are you a mission-minded person? Or, are you a missional person? What’s the difference? New terminology is making its way through church life these days. Churches are being challenged to ask themselves – are we mission-minded? Or, are we missional? Again, what’s the difference?
· Being mission-minded is defined as praying about missions and for missionaries; it is defined as supporting missions with our financial resources; and, it is defined as occasionally participating in a short-term mission trip.
· Being missionally-minded is defined as viewing all of life as being on mission. Southern Baptists used to call it ‘lifestyle evangelism,’ but the term missional has replaced that previous term. Being missional means that my entire life, all my relationships, my work, my play and my entire focus is being on mission for the Lord. It means that I see in every day living opportunities to love God, love people and serve others.
· We must be both – mission-minded and missional. The mission causes of the kingdom need our prayers, our financial support and our occasional participation. But even further, God needs our entire life to be one of mission.
· No matter what you call it, every member is a minister!
(1 Peter 3:15-16) “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
I know what you’re thinking. Missions? How boring! How old-fashioned! How wasteful of a worthy life! Let me respond by saying that as a believer you will have no greater joy than to be an active part of God’s kingdom mission. All other occupations pale in comparison to the thrill that is gained by seeing God use your life to reach another life with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Matthew 9:35-38 records a poignant description of the ministry of Jesus Himself. In it is a description not only of Jesus’ ministry, but the qualities of a god-honoring, Christ-exalting, Word-saturated life lived for the glory of God. If you want to live your life as a missional person here are a few of the things that must characterize your life just as they did the life of Jesus!

(Matthew 9:35-38) “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'”

Go! “Jesus went through all the towns and villages…”
There’s no other way to be on mission than to go get them. They will not automatically come. In fact, the chances of the lost coming to us because we have a building on a prominent street corner is remote. Those days are gone. We must go get them. Recall Jesus’ parable of Luke 14:12-24 sometimes referred to as the parable of the ‘great Invitation’ or the ‘great banquet?’ Those first invited found excuses, Jesus said in Luke 14:21, 23, “Go quickly to the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame…” and “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”

Teach “…teaching in their synagogues…”
A missional person is always teaching. To teach means to communicate the truth of God’s Word in a way that can be understood so that the sinner can hear and respond. We do not teach ourselves as the authority, but God’s Word as the life-giving truth of God (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Preach “…preaching the good news of the kingdom…”
In addition, a missional person proclaims the good news of the kingdom. And what is the good news of the kingdom? It’s 2 Corinthians 5:19, “…that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” The good news is 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God!”

Care “…healing every disease and sickness.”
Jesus cared not only for their souls, but for their well-being. This is why He was always touching, healing, ministering to people. We may not have the gift of healing, but we can care about those God has put into our sphere of influence.

Look “He saw the crowds...harassed, helpless…”
Jesus had vision. When He looked at people He saw their sin and their soul; He saw not only what was, He saw what could be! When He saw the people of His day He envisioned them as “harassed, helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Rather than disgust at their sin, Jesus saw them as they were – without hope, direction, as sinners in need of a Savior.

Love “…He had compassion on them.”
As a result, Jesus had compassion on the people He saw. The term for ‘compassion’ here is not the usual term for love or sympathy such as ‘agape.’ Rather, Luke uses a visceral term – ‘splagchizomai’ – and it literally refers to a gut-level feeling. Jesus’ was emotionally moved to the point that it moved Him to the very core of His physical being. There is a visceral response to people that is repulsive and that drives us away from people. Instead, Jesus had a visceral, gut-level response to people that moved Him toward people. Do you love this way? Does the sin of the sinner repulse you so that you are driven away from them; or does the sin of sinners draw you to them in redemptive love? The mission-minded, missional person loves like Jesus loved.

Believe “The harvest is plentiful…”
As Jesus walked through the cities of His day He turned to His disciples and said the most interesting thing, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” I believe this is a statement of belief articulated by Jesus. There are three implications in Jesus’ statement for what we must believe as God’s missionaries:
1. We must believe that ‘they’re ready!’ That is, sinners are ready to be saved. Too often, we doubt their readiness. Jesus said they’re ready now! All they need is someone to share the good news with them and let God take care of the results.
2. We must believe that God will save them. The implication of the phrase “The harvest is ready…” is that if we go, and they’re ready, God will save some.
3. We must believe that it’s up to us! The missionary can’t save a sinner. But God has ordained that He would use His people to declare the good news so that sinners will hear the gospel, the Spirit will awaken the dead heart of sin and draw them to Himself, enabling them to believe. God uses us as a means in His redemptive plan. This is why He laments the scarcity of workers – “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”

Pray “the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest…to send”
Pray is the mechanism God uses to draw people out of their comfort zones and into the mission fields. Pray is attuning ourselves to the will of God; it is aligning ourselves with God’s purposes. We are to pray for others to attune their heart to the great missionary God we serve.

Go! “…to send out workers into His harvest field.”
Again, we must go. Going is not optional, it is optimum. Matthew 28:19 begins the Great Commission passage, “Therefore go…” And Acts 1:8 puts our commission this way, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He sends, we go and that’s the way it works. The word for “send out” is rather interesting – it is ‘ekballo’ and comes from two words, ‘ek’ which means ‘out’ and ‘ballo’ which means ‘to throw.’ It is a rather violent term.

Jesus is serious about missions. He is literally asking us to pray that God will throw out, thrust out, pitch out, kick out workers into the mission field. So, if you sense a kicking, convicting sensation in your head and your heart right now it is God responding to the prayers of a faithful servant of God as He kicks you out of your comfort zone and into the lives of those who need a Savior. This is the way God sees missions!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Kevin Shrum

It is a Tuesday morning after a Monday night Deacons meeting. Auuuuug! Once again, at least at the church I pastor, some of the deacons operate with the philosophy that staff members are guilty until proven innocent, rather than innocent until proven guilty. What joy! What a way to live, knowing that there’s a bulls eye on your back all the time – you’re the target! What this means is that any decision, any proposal, any action is viewed with suspicion.

I understand now why Paul spent an inordinate amount of time defending his own apostleship against false accusation. Just read his letters and from time to time you will see him digressing into a personal defense of his ministry. So, I suppose if Paul had to defend himself against false accusation I shouldn’t be surprised if I have to, as well.

Those who operate with this philosophy – guilty until proven innocent – are the worst offenders. Where are they when it comes time for evangelism training, mission outreach, and general ministry in the church? Where are they when positive resolutions and/or problem solutions are needed? They are critics, white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones. Such men will go out of their way to make other people one of their own, but will not love the brethren with a heartfelt love.

My heart is clean, my conscience is clear and my motives are pure. Let God be judge!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Speaking in Tongues, Part II

Speaking in Tongues, Part II
Kevin Shrum

Let me add to what I have already said about the priority and place of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. Paul helps us in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 by reminding us to 1) pursue love above all else, 2) to desire spiritual gifts, 3) especially the spiritual gift of preaching, vs. 1.

He further adds that to speak in tongues is to edify the self, while preaching edifies the entire church, vs. 2. Edifying the body is preferable to edifying the self. Tongues is speaking to God in a way that no one can understand because it speaks mysteries and secrets that do not edify the body of Christ, vs. 2, 4. Preaching, on the other hand, edifies all believers because of its clarity and power to strengthen, encouragement and comfort, vs. 3, 5.

One interesting note in these five verses is the use of the singular and the plural form of ‘language.’ Paul uses the singular form of language in vs. 2, 4, 13, 14, 19 and 27. Some scholars believe that this is a reference to the counterfeit use of tongues. He uses the plural form of language in vs. 6, 18, 22, 23 and 39 as he references the proper use of tongues.

If ‘speaking in tongues’ is the gift of speaking known languages that one may not personally know for the purpose of gospel proclamation, i.e. Greek, Arabic, etc., then the proper term would be the plural form of language – tongues. The singular form – a tongue – may refer to the gibberish that was often used in pagan worship services.

Ultimately, the clear communication of the gospel is at stake.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Speaking in Tongues, Part 1

Speaking in Tongues, Part 1
Kevin Shrum

The subject of speaking ‘in tongues’ has always been controversial and divisive. In recent days, tongues as a viable spiritual gift has once again surfaced in the Southern Baptist Convention. My next several posts will deal with this subject.

I want to begin by asking the question: Where should the spiritual gift of tongues be placed on the church’s priority scale? At this point, never mind if tongues is even a viable gift for the modern day church and/or believer. I’ll argue that point in a later post. I’m assuming, for the sake of making a point, that it is a viable gift – what priority should it take in the life of the church and/or believer?

If it is of first priority then we must focus on it with great energy. If it is of lesser importance then we may need to take another look at how much we allow this gift, and the controversy surrounding it, to consume our time and energy. Is it a priority gift? Or, has it become a distracting doctrine: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because they are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3:9)

My answer to this question is that tongues should be viewed as a second-tier priority. Why? Because the spiritual gift of tongues in Scripture was never viewed as an ends, it was always viewed as a means. For example, on the day of Pentecost “each one (the visitors to the city Jerusalem) heard them speaking in his own language.” (Acts 2:6) God supernaturally enabled the early believers to speak languages that they didn’t know but that were the known languages of those visiting the city so that the gospel – I repeat – the gospel could be heard by every person in every tongue from every nation and people group (Acts 2:8-12).

The focus in Acts was on the work of the Spirit using a means by which to accomplish the preaching of the gospel. The focus was not on tongues as an end; the focus was on the gospel (Acts 2:14-41) as the end, accompanied by the salvation of sinners and the glory of God.

This kind of second-tier perspective can be observed in Paul’s argument on this subject: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (preaching).” (1 Cor. 14:1) Rather than press the Corinthians to seek the spiritual gift of tongues, he encourages them to preach and speak God’s Word.

My second question is: If the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is a second-tier gift used as a means for gospel preaching when it first appeared at Pentecost, is such a gift needed in our day when language is less of a barrier than in previous generations? This is the question at the heart of the question!

When we elevate the spiritual gift of tongues as a first-tier gift we tend to get ourselves in trouble, misconstruing the means God uses from time to time with the ultimate ends of His purposes – the preaching of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ so that sinners might be saved and God might be glorified. Stated tuned for more to come…!

Book Review of Hitchens, Dennett, Harris and Dawkins Books

Book Review of Hitchens, Dennett, Harris and Dawkins Books
Kevin Shrum

Here is my singular book review for the atheistic offerings of the quaternity Christopher Hitchens’, God is Not Great, Daniel Dennett’s, Breaking the Spell, Same Harris’, The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins’, The God Delusion:

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Ps. 14:1) because “men…suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:18-22)

I would like to acknowledge the sources for my review, the Old Testament hymn book, Psalms and the New Testament theology book, Romans. Both books are authored by? God!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Francis Beckwith, I Just Don't Get Your Return to Catholicism

Francis Beckwith, I Just Don’t Get Your Return to Catholicism
Kevin Shrum

I am married to a former Catholic. My wife is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ who came to Christ on a school bus when someone opened the Scriptures to this ‘good Catholic girl’ for the very first time. In the Scriptures – not in incense, ceremony, protocol – she found the Lord seeking her. As her husband, I have been attending Mass off and on for the past twenty-seven years out of respect for my in-laws, whom I love very much.

While I have a small modicum of respect for the RCC for her moral positions on some ethical issues, I have never understood the attraction of the RCC. I have watched the Mass, the pomp and ceremony, smelled the incense, attempted to sing Gregorian styled hymns and have willingly prayed during the Mass whatever prayers I could pray without violating my conscience. I have read Catholic authors and theology. And I still don’t get it.

I don’t get the mystery, the intrigue, the ‘hidden-ness’ of the sacrament, the symbolism, the mediated gospel. Personally, I believe there is in the heart of every man, woman and child a desire to know God; but I also believe that there is in the heart of every man, woman and child the seeds of idolatry that causes us to dress up God with symbolism, mystery, pomp, procedure once He is found.

I believe that the RCC is just this – a man-made institution that has dressed God up in such a way as to make God even more mysterious than He already is. Catholicism allows some people to satisfy their need for God and their need for idolatry by wrapping the gospel in a fabric of symbolism that ends up cloaking and trumping the gospel itself.

And now comes the news of Francis Beckwith’s return to the Catholic church. What makes this return so illustrative is 1) Beckwith was a childhood Catholic and converted to Protestantism as a young adult, so his return is a return to what he once was and maybe never stopped being and 2) he is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society – in fact, he is the President of the ETS, although he has resigned this position as of May ’07.

Beckwith states his arguments in an e-mail posted May 5th, 2007.

1) He says that ‘I can in good conscience, as a Catholic, affirm the ETS doctrinal statement, I do not intend to resign as a member of ETS.’ This is amazing. If Beckwith can do this either evangelicalism means nothing or Catholicism means nothing – it can’t be both.
2) He notes, ‘There is a conversation in ETS that must take place, a conversation about the relationship between Evangelicalism and what is called the ‘Great Tradition,’ a tradition from which all Christians can trace their spiritual and ecclesiastical paternity.’ He, I take it, is referring to the early church Fathers. I also take this to be a reference to Beckwith’s ascent to ‘Tradition’ being co-equal with Scripture.
3) He says that he has read ‘more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors.’ I take it that by this admission he had previously been reading ‘unsophisticated’ Catholic authors on justification.
4) His conclusion is: ‘I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible.’ Why does he add the caveat, ‘correctly understood?’ Is there something about Catholic teaching that is easily misunderstood when it comes to the doctrine of justification – how a person is saved?
5) Beckwith follows up this statement with, ‘Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible.’ Paul, Peter, James, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Spurgeon must be turning over in their graves.
6) Beckwith notes his acceptance of the catholic creeds and understanding of the Scriptures as grounds for accepting tradition as co-equal to Scripture.
7) Finally, Beckwith states: ‘Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed the Apostles.’

I am stunned, considering that Beckwith is such a celebrated Christian philosopher. Beckwith’s re-conversion carries with it a major assumption – that ‘the first generations of Christians that followed the Apostles’ always got it right when it came to doctrine. While many of the early creeds are laudable and even essential, soon after the first Apostles died off, as I noted earlier, the manmade desire to dress up the gospel with symbolism, pomp and ceremony, incense, papal systems, etc. burst on to the scene. In fact, it was already happening in the church at Galatia. Beckwith is not the first to get it wrong and he won’t be the last. I would like to personally ask Beckwith:

· What do you think of papal authority?
· How can you simultaneously affirm the Catholic view of justification and the evangelical/biblical view of justification? I knew you were a good philosopher, but…
· Will you give homage to Mary? Is she to be venerated? Did Catholics get her right?
· And what about the Mass where Jesus Christ is crucified afresh each time, a practice specifically forbidden by Scripture? (Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29)
· And what about the Catholic view of the co-equal nature of Scripture and tradition? Doesn’t it seem obvious to you that when it comes down to it for the Catholic tradition always seems to trump Scripture?

Beckwith’s assumptions are like any assumptions – when you assume it always makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u” & ‘me.’

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Southern Baptist Convention in Trouble?

The Southern Baptist Convention in Trouble?
Kevin Shrum

Is the Southern Baptist Convention in trouble? While mission giving has increased in the past several years, overall membership has only slightly increased failing to keep pace with national population increases. Baptisms are not what they should be and statistics show that nearly 70% of SBC churches have plateaued or are in decline. Add to this a newly emerging segment of SBC voices, i.e. McKissic and Burleson, who are much more worried about personal liberty and private prayer languages and it makes for a rudderless ship with a lack of focus on evangelism, missions and dynamic Christian living.

The SBC remains a viable mechanism for accomplishing kingdom goals. With its two – unparalleled in church history – mission-sending agencies and ingenious mechanism of denominational support known as the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists could be positioned to initiate a new wave of missions and evangelism. There are a few things that Southern Baptists can do to re-focus this convention ship.

First, we must stay true to a core of orthodox convictions and avoid peripheral issues such as speaking in tongues as a measure of spiritual maturity and alcohol as ‘the’ sign of Christian liberty. The Baptist Faith and Message is a worthy stab at this core. But let me further reducer that core to a ‘core within a core’ – the worship and glory of the triune nature of a sovereign, holy and loving God; the supremacy and authority of the Bible for the faith and practice of the church; the deity and exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the only redeemer; the sinful nature of man; the gospel of Jesus Christ encapsulated in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection; and, the mission mandate of the church to infiltrate the world in living and preaching the gospel to all the nations. There are many other ‘doctrines’ worthy of consideration, but I would suggest that these are the ‘bread and butter’ issues of the church.

Second, we must believe that every man is dead in his sins and bound for a Christ-less eternity and we must believe that ‘we’ are commanded to preach the gospel so that God might save these dead sinners. In other words, we must be convinced that sin is ‘real,’ the consequences of sin are dire and that unless we preach the gospel sinners will not be saved. It is not a job that can be left to another; it is every Christian’s job to share the gospel.

Third, we must understand that America, while still largely friendly to religious belief, is fast-becoming not only post-Christian (after the golden era of the 50’s to present), but anti-Christian. Such an understanding is ‘good!’ Christianity does well when it is pressed, pressured and persecuted; Christianity wanes when it is comfortable and convenient. If every believer developed a ‘foreign mission attitude’ or a ‘behind enemy lines’ attitude holiness would increase, along with baptisms and church attendance. I would not suggest that we pray for persecution; but I would suggest that we need not be afraid of persecution that comes as a result of authentic Christian living. We seemed to be so worried about not offending unbelievers that we fail to see that nothing can take the offensive edge off the gospel itself. You and I don’t need to be offensive – we are to be loving, winsome and gracious. Yet, even gracious living does not lessen the utterly offensive nature of a gospel that not only declares God’s love in Christ, but that tells the sinner he is a damned and without remedy for his condition apart from Christ.

Finally, we must be brutally honest with ourselves by recognizing that we have become spiritually fat, intellectually dense, evangelistically indifferent, personally and corporately unholy and culturally captive. In addition, while we are as doctrinaire as ever, we have become practical atheists, making us no different in how we live than how pagans live.

We must come alive by God’s Spirit. We must not only say we believe Scripture, but we must seek holiness guided by Scripture. Maybe then Southern Baptists will re-focus their efforts in preaching the gospel, penetrating culture as salt and light and separating ourselves as true believers in an unbelieving world.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Dangerous Book

The Dangerous Book
Kevin Shrum

Renown historian, Philip Jenkins, is at it again. He has followed his monumental book, The Next Christendom, with another striking volume, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. Jenkins has written a great deal on the increasing influence and power of the new global South (for the parochial, this is not Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, etc.). The global South is a term used to describe those nations in Africa and South America, even those of Asia, where Christianity is aflame with passion and power, unlike evangelical Christianity in America where it is lethargic, self-centered and myopic.

In The New Faces of Christianity, Jenkins notes that believers in the global South are more akin to the early believers than they are their American counter-parts. And what is the impetus of this difference? People in the global South read, study, believe and obey the Bible.

In a Books and Culture (May/June 2007) book review written by Joel Carpenter, Director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College, Carpenter captures Jenkins spirit and the spirit of the global south when he writes,

“A recently rediscovered religious text is making huge waves in the world today. With stunning power, it is driving the largest religious change in human istory. This book is subversive, revolutionary, and transformative in its approach to good and evil; spirituality; politics; wealth and poverty; race, ethnicity, and social status; gender and sexuality; and health and healing. It also reveals long-hidden truths about Jesus of Nazareth. What is this book? Is it the Gospel of Thomas? No. how about The Da Vinci Code? Hardly.

It’s the Bible. All over the global South – in Africa, Asia, and to a large extent in Latin America as well – people are reading, believing, and living out of the Bible in ways that make it a very different book from the one known in the North Atlantic realms. Not only that, but because
of unprecedented migration, this new Christianity is close at hand in the North as well. In The New Christendom, historian Philip Jenkins sets out to take a much closer look at the Christianity of the global South. What he finds is a deeply biblical faith that understands the Scriptures in strikingly different ways than are common in the global North.”

I love this! Yet, we have Americanized the Bible to a degree where we treat it in a compartmentalized fashion. We use the parts that bolster and support our ambitious lifestyles and ignore the more difficult passages, labeling them politically incorrect, harsh, outdated and narrow, too doctrinaire. In essence, while believers in the global South have had the Bible unleashed in their lives, Christians in the West have chained the Bible with our erudite opinions and sophisticated spiritual prerogatives. May God allow us to re-discover what we already have – a book that is flammable, transformative, powerful.

May we be like the Berean believers of Acts 17:11, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character (holy) than the Thessalonians, for they received the message (ideas/concepts) with great eagerness (passion) and examined (diligence) the Scriptures (God’s Word) every day (faithfulness) to see if what Paul said (judgment/discernment) was true (truth).”