Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Of Mice and Men

I don't know what made me think of it, but for some reason out of the blue I decided to watch the ending to Of Mice and Men. I would have read the the ending of it, but unfortunately I do not have a copy of the book. It was as sad as I remembered it being in high school.

Of Mice and Men has one of the saddest, worst, best endings of any book I have ever read. I would even consider saying of any book ever. It is a hard book in general that forces you to think through its controversial ending. It will not settle for being ignored.

In my senior English class we had to read the book, discussing each part of it during the weeks it was assigned. When we got to the end, there were several camps on if George did the right thing (I am not going into specifics here so as not to spoil it for future readers), and what he could have done differently. I still remember my position, though I continue to wonder if it was the right one or not.

What makes the issue in that book so unclear is the fact that it deals with the reality of man and the situation. Lennie has done a great wrong, people are rightly angry, and he is too simple to know what is going on. In that day and age there were no resources for people like him, so should he be doomed to a life of terror and fear or freed? The author gives no clear-cut answers, nor does he expound over whether George's choice is right or wrong. All we know is George loves his friend Lennie, and wants the best for him. Beyond that we are offered no answers in the book. 

This post is not about whether George was right or not, but about how we as Christians need to take life and deal with it as it is, and not as we wish it were.

Far too often I hear fellow brothers and sisters in Christ speak about the world in terms that either whitewashes or sidelines uncomfortable truths. Some things I hear are:

"Christianity is not in decline, revival is just around the corner!"
"The kids are fine. Everyone has smartphones these days."
"We'll make it to church next time. Scouts/sports/school/etc. is so busy this time of year!"
"What racism?"
"What police brutality?"
"What attacks on police?"
"What war atrocities?"
"What illegal immigrant problem?"
"We both have to work if we're ever going to get ahead."
"If only politician/political part XYZ would win, things would be better."
"This generation is so narcissistic and weak."
"We can't associate with that church, they [fill in the blank]."
"LGBT issues are settled."
"Why are you worried about LGBT stuff? It's never going to affect you."

And on and on the list goes...

Now if I have done what was intended, you found at least one of those to be offensive or something you would rather not think about. I know I found at least a couple of them to be, but that is the point. If we never stop to really consider what is going on around us and what the issues are, we are not grappling with the world as it is in reality, but only as we wish it were. This will never get us anywhere, because unless we deal with reality we will never make any progress in dealing with the world around us.

We as Christians do not get the luxury of ignoring what is going on around us. If we do that we will have no answer besides the standard cut-and-paste rhetoric of a Facebook post. For us to reach the world we have to be ready and willing to face it head-on as it is. That is how Jesus interacted with the world after all.

Consider the things Jesus dealt with without resorting to platitudes and standard, rehearsed lines: prostitution, adultery, disease, politics, poverty, hunger, inheritance, God, marriage, children, purpose, racism, Heaven, Hell, Jerusalem's destruction, death. I could go on for a while here but I think you get the point. Instead of pretending like they did not exist or moving them off to the side, Jesus looked at it straight-on, considered it in the context of God's Will and Plan, and dealt with it accordingly. There was no rhetoric when it came to how Jesus spoke. Each situation was dealt with as it was - an individual situation. There was no one-size-fits-all solution for every issue. He did the hard work of not only dealing with the issue, He also went to those who were involved in it. He empathized with them, then lead them to the truth of God in love.

As followers of Christ, we are called to do the same.

Today's post is a call to put away the rhetoric, put away the self-reinforcing news feeds, put away the talking heads and pundits, and come before God Almighty for the real answers to the real issues in life. Today is a call to reject the wisdom of this world and all those who are not giving their lives over to God in favor of His Word and the wisdom of those who strive with all their hearts to follow Christ wherever He leads. Forget the politicians, the celebrities, the bloggers, the memes, the YouTube videos and the Facebook friends who tell you what the world wants you to hear instead of what God wants you to know.

Come to God. Pray for His Spirit to lead you in His Word. Look for His Will and His Truth to come from what He has provided for us. There is only One who we can look to in order to be refreshed by the water of life and nourished by truth.

Let us face the hard issues straight-on with honesty, empathy, and open eyes. Let us face them as Jesus faced them. Let us face them in the truth and love of God.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauties, Beasts, and Art

Should I see it? Should I not? AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!
I wasn't really planning on writing about this. It wasn't particularly on my radar, and I was pretty much prepared to ignore the Beauty & The Beast release and not worry too much about it. I don't get to go to the movies much, but if I could make it, great!

Then director Condon came out with his big "gay moment" line and the news, Facebook, and everyone blew up and everyone had a meltdown. Many Christians said they wouldn't go, many LGBT activists were overjoyed, and many others kind of shrugged and said "whatevs".

Now this has never been a blog about saying "whatevs", nor has it ever focused on LGBT things (though we have talked about it). What we have done on this blog is try to deal with real issues and the real things behind them, without compromise or backing down. I realize I am not perfect at that, but hey, I'm trying. :-)

So to get back on topic, after the B&B Meltdown, it came to light that in fact the whole "exclusively gay moment" (director Condon's phrase), was very short and not easily noticeable. In fact it was so small that if you didn't know it was there, you would probably miss it.

And so...many Christians who had bemoaned what the director said about the movie...went and saw the movie.

Then...went on social media and gushed over how amazing the movie was.

Then...chided other Christians who were choosing not to see the movie as making something small into a big deal.

Then...started linking to every blog and Facebook post by other Christians who thought the same thing they did so that the people who chose to stand their ground and not see the movie would...just go see the movie already because its great and the story is awesome and the gay thing is no big deal and if the director hadn't said anything you wouldn't even know and besides why are you making such a big deal out of something that is so small and insignificant so just go see the movie already.

I kid you not, this has been my Facebook non-stop. I am not exaggerating. The movie has been out for 3 days, and I cannot log on without someone trying to convince me to go see it.

This. Has. To. Stop.

We're going to take this in 2 parts, because there are 2 different issues here. 

The first is this: why are some Christians trying to convince others to break their conscience to go see a movie?

The second is this: can we so easily rationalize away something which the director of the movie himself says was his goal? How do we square that circle?

I will try not to make this incredibly long. Hopefully I will succeed.

The first issue should be a no-brainer. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans:
14:15 - Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with you food the one for whom Christ died.
14:21 - It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 
15:1-2 - We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
This is really very clear. If you know other Christians are of tender conscience about this movie, don't be telling them to go see it. In fact, do not be bragging about going to see it. To do so is to do harm to your brother and sister in Christ and treat them in an unloving way. This is unacceptable behavior for the Christian to engage in, and we should take no part in it. If conscience allows someone to go see it, great! I cannot personally judge that, as my conscience is not theirs. However, I can say without any hesitation that to go bragging about it and telling everyone it is fine, or even worse that they should just go see it already (when they have doubts & reservations) is, in fact, a big deal, and should be avoided at all cost.

We can walk in love and encouragement toward our fellow travelers in Christ, or we can put stumbling blocks in the way.

The second issue is a little more murky and difficult to deal with. Has anyone really stopped to ask why some people are holding out on seeing the movie? All I have heard are people who do see it saying about those who refuse, "they're making a big deal out of nothing," when they weren't the ones who made the controversy in the first place.

Remember, it was not some random blogger or even an actor who said,
"He's confused about what he wants. It's somebody who's just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh [Gad, who plays LeFou] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that's what has its pay-off at the end, which I don't want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."
That was the director, Bill Condon. He's the guy who calls the shots and gets to decide what the movie is about. So the controversy does not fall on the shoulders of people who, for reason of conscience, choose not to see the movie. They did not ask for nor bring up the issue. The man who made the movie did. He, not those who see it, gets to decide what the movie and its moments are about. If he had said that when the Beast tosses Gaston off the roof that is represented the feral nature of man overcoming his self-righteous, deified self, that's what it would have been about. If he had said Belle's imprisonment and escape was about women rising up to overtake the patriarchy and bend it to her will, that's what it would have been about.

I still have a visceral reaction against this,
but at least I know what it is about.
Basically, whoever is the creator of something gets to decide what it is for and what it represents. So if the director is hyping up his "exclusively gay moment", then that is what it is. I can determine if I believe it is good or beautiful, but for me to say "that's not really what it is", is ludicrous. It would be like me viewing the art piece titled "Piss Christ" and claiming it is a strictly anti-Christian piece of propaganda. That's not what it is about, and it is ridiculous for me to say so when the artist himself states that it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture. It is the creator, not the viewer or even the participant, who determines meaning.

This is why Christians must be so careful in what they support and what they are involved in. It must be remembered that those with the microphones and those who create are the ones who get to decide what something represents. We don't get to be involved in something and say in our hearts "well, I'm really here for this other reason." It simply doesn't work that way. It is only the organizer, creator, or one with the megaphone, who gets to decide what something is for. Everyone else is simply along for the ride.

As a side-note, this is one reason why worship is so beautiful. Because even though I may mess up or have the wrong mind-set or struggle during that time, Christ, as the Author and Creator of faith, decides what worship is really about and brings me along for the ride. In doing so He makes sure that through Himself, my worship is made perfect despite my imperfections.

I get the feeling that this is the real reason why conscientious objectors to the movie are holding back. It is not whether the moment or scene is big or small, open or covert. Rather, it comes down to what the publicly stated goal of the director. In saying what he said he turned it into a referendum on if it would fly in a Disney movie. Considering it made $170 million in its opening weekend (the largest March opening of all time), I think it is safe to assume that the answer was "yes".

The bottom line is there is a real reason why some people continue to object to the movie. If someone does not agree, that is fine. But please, please remember to always walk in love and to never put a stumbling block in front of our brothers and sisters. It is never OK to try and force someone in Christ to accept what is against their conscience toward God. It is also never OK to mock or treat as ridiculous the reason (any reason) someone chooses not to do something because they are trying to honor God. That is something that should always, without fail, be praised and admired in a person.

So always walk in love, always give in so others may be build up, and always, always choose the path that you believe will honor and glorify God in your life, whatever that choice may be. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Leaders and Titles

***This is not mine. I did not write it or even originally come across it. A friend from preaching school shared this on Facebook, which was difficult to read. I shared it here and added some formatting to increase its clarity. This is a long article, but it is very important. I suggest reading it, especially if you are in leadership or considering installing leadership.***

Church Leaders and The Use of Honorific Titles
"But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them" (Jeremiah 45:5)
by Darryl M. Erkel

The Lord Jesus, in His condemnation of the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23, plainly forbids His followers from either giving or receiving honorific titles. Whereas the religious hypocrites love "respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men Rabbi" (v.7), this is not to be the mark of Christ's disciples: "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (vv. 8-12).

Jesus is not denying functional differences and roles within the church; nor is He suggesting that it is wrong to term one's biological parent "father." Rather, He is prohibiting the use of self-exalting and honorific titles of distinction among those who have chosen to follow Christ. While conferring honorific titles upon prominent religious authorities may be the way of the world, it is not the path that Christ has called us to pursue.

Yet, in spite of the clarity of Jesus' command, Christians have historically ignored His words. We continue, for example, to address our church shepherds as "Reverend," "Doctor," or "Minister" and, unfortunately, far too many of them are glad to receive such flattery and even love to have it so! Commenting on the words of our Lord in Matthew 23, the noted New Testament scholar, R.T. France, has perceptively written:
These verses, while still commenting on the practice of the scribes and Pharisees, are addressed directly to Jesus' disciples, warning them against adopting this status-seeking attitude. "Rabbi" (v.8) and "Master" (v.10) probably act here as synonyms. They are titles appropriate only to the One Teacher (v.8), the Christ (v.10), in relation to whom all His followers stand on an equal footing as "brothers"... Over against that unique authority His disciples must avoid the use of honorific titles for one another ("Christian rabbinism," Bonnard)--an exhortation which today's church could profitably taken more seriously, not only in relation to formal ecclesiastical titles ("Most Rev.", "my Lord Bishop," etc.), but more significantly in its excessive deference to academic qualifications or to authoritative status in the churches (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Matthew [Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985] p.325).

Christian magazines are filled with advertisements for books or products recommended by "Doctor" so-and-so; and churches continue to promote their ministries led by "Reverend" so-and-so. The Christian world, it seems, is consumed with exalted and honorific titles for those in positions of leadership or influence. Some pastors, in fact, are rather offended when their congregational members address them by their first name or simply as "brother." It is thought by many to be disrespectful or unbecoming to address a Christian theologian in any other way than "Doctor" or "Professor."

But we must ask, are such titles necessary for church leaders? Have evangelicals genuinely honored the words of Christ in Matthew 23:8-12 by prefacing the names of their leaders with such flattering titles as "Reverend" or "Senior Pastor"? Church history, according to J.C. Ryle, has all too clearly demonstrated that we have missed the true meaning of Jesus' words:
Happy would it have been for the Church of Christ, if this passage had been more deeply pondered, and the spirit of it more implicitly obeyed. The Pharisees are not the only people who have imposed austerities on others, and affected a sanctity of apparel, and loved the praise of man. The annals of church history show that only too many Christians have walked closely in their steps (Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Reprint, 1977] p.299).

Greg Ogden, a writer and church shepherd in Saratoga (CA), states:
I mourn for the church because we seem to display so many of the characteristics that Jesus said, "Not so among you" (Mark 10:43). Shameful arrogance and haughtiness have reached epidemic proportions among church leaders... A direct implication of Jesus' servant stance was His obliteration of titles... We have refused to take Jesus' words at face value. Jesus' obvious intent was to remove any basis for "lording it over" others by dispensing with titles that give people an elevated place in the "pecking order." We all occupy the same level ground at the foot of the one Teacher, Jesus Christ. We are not "great ones" or "lords"... Finally, do not accept the designation "master" or "leader." No human can usurp the position of the head of the body, Christ. Our tendency seems always toward idolatry, to make someone larger than life. Never forget: Jesus alone is Lord (The New Reformation: Returning the Ministry to the People of God [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990] p.172,174).

The Son of God "made Himself of no reputation" (Philippians 2:7), yet His servants seem bent on following an opposite course. Christ bids us to learn of Him who was "meek and lowly" (Matthew 11:29), yet His representatives continue to exalt themselves with self-glorifying titles. But someone may ask, what real harm is there in such titles of prominence? Perhaps the following points will help to explain their danger and assist Christians in avoiding them.


1. The New Testament simply provides no warrant for giving congregational leaders priestly or honorific titles. Thus, any man who seeks or permits such titles to be given to him violates the express commands of Christ (Matthew 23:8-10) as well as apostolic practice. Alexander Strauch, a writer and shepherd in Littleton (CO), has stated:
The modern array of ecclesiastical titles accompanying the names of Christian leaders--reverend, archbishop, cardinal, pope, primate, metropolitan, canon, curate--is completely missing from the New Testament and would have appalled the apostles and early believers. Although both the Greeks and Jews employed a wealth of titles for their political and religious leaders in order to express their power and authority, the early Christians avoided such titles. The early Christians used common and functional terms to describe themselves and their relationships. Some of these terms are "brother," "beloved," "fellow-worker," "laborer," "slave," "servant," "prisoner," "fellow-soldier," and "steward." Of course there were prophets, teachers, apostles, evangelists, leaders, elders, and deacons within the first churches, but these were not used as formal titles for individuals. All Christians are saints, but there was no "Saint John." All are priests, but there was no "Priest Philip." Some are elders, but there was no "Elder Paul." Some are overseers, but there was no "Overseer John." Some are pastors, but there was not "Pastor James." Some are deacons, but there was no "Deacon Peter." Some are apostles, but there was no "Apostle Andrew." Rather than gaining honor through titles and position, New Testament believers received honor primarily for their service and work (Acts 15:26: Romans 16:1,2,4,12; 1 Corinthians 16:15,16,18; 2 Corinthians 8:18; Philippians 2:29,30; Colossians 1:7; 4:12,13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:1). The early Christians referred to each other by personal names (Timothy, Paul, Titus), the terms "brother" or "sister," or by describing an individual's spiritual character or work: "Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5); "Barnabas, a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24); "Philip the evangelist" (Acts 21:8); "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (Romans 16:3); "Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you" (Romans 16:6) (Biblical Eldership [Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers/Revised, 1995] pp. 302-303).

Frank A. Viola has, likewise, written:
In keeping with our Lord's command, biblical elders did not permit themselves to be addressed by honorific titles such as "Pastor Bill," "Elder Tom," "Bishop Jake," or "Reverend Sam" (Matthew 23:7-12). Such titles naturally elevate church leaders to a plane above the other brethren in the assembly. Thus, congregations and clergy alike are responsible for creating the current "Christian guruism" that is rampant in the church today wherein religious leaders are recast into spiritual celebrities and lauded with fan club status. By contrast, New Testament leaders were viewed as ordinary brethren and were just as approachable and accessible to the saints as any other believer in the church. For this reason, 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13 exhorts the saints to intimately know their leaders (a near impossible mandate to fulfill in most contemporary churches where the pastor is trained to keep his distance from the people lest he lose his authority). In this regard, the common image of church leaders as "sacred men of the cloth" is utterly foreign to the biblical concept (Rethinking the Wineskin [Brandon, FL: Present Testimony Ministry, 1997] p.63).


2. The apostles of Christ employed lowly and unofficial terms when describing themselves or others. Notice the expressions which Paul, Peter, and John repeatedly chose to use--which tends to argue against any notion of honorific titles:

Acts 15:23, "The apostles and elders, your brothers."

1 Corinthians 4:1, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God."

2 Corinthians 12:11, "I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody."

Ephesians 3:8, "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given..."

1 Thessalonians 3:2, "And we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the Gospel of Christ..."

1 Timothy 1:15-16, "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience..."

1 Peter 5:1, "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder..."

2 Peter 3:15, "And regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as our beloved brother Paul..."

Revelation 1:9, "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker..."

In light of these clear passages, should we not, then, heed the practice of our Lord's apostles? "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us" (Philippians 3:17).
Acts 15:23 ("The apostles and elders, your brothers") is particularly interesting since, in an official decree that was to be sent to all the churches, the apostles and elders simply referred to themselves as "your brothers." It contained no honorific titles or hierarchical expressions; only the phrase, "your brothers." Thus, the apostles and elders are brethren writing to fellow brethren. The Lutheran Bible commentator, R.C.H. Lenski, writes: 
"'The apostles and the elders' write for themselves and for the entire church but as 'brethren.' Some texts have 'and the brethren,' referring to the congregation, but this reading lacks attestation. The apposition 'brethren' is highly significant in this communication. The apostles and the elders of Jerusalem speak to the Gentile Christians only as brethren and not as superiors... Brethren salute brethren. The communication is fraternal and asks to be accepted as such and as such alone" (The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961] p.621).

Another significant passage is 1 Peter 5:1 ("Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder"). Here was Peter's great opportunity to use an exalted title for himself (e.g., "Senior Pastor," "Chief Elder," "Bishop of Rome"), but chooses not to. Instead, he simply refers to himself as "your fellow elder." Such terminology, as Peter H. Davids points out, is "consistent with the tendency among the early leaders to avoid the use of exalted titles such as were used about them in the second century" (The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle of Peter [Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1990] p.176).

It is important to emphasize that such terms as "elder," "overseer," and "pastor" are functional terms, and were never intended to serve as formal titles. In other words, the terminology is descriptive of one's task; they help to picture a church leader's function or may even denote one's spiritual maturity as in the term "elder." Thus, it is just as foolish and unnecessary to speak of "Pastor Bob" as it is to speak of one who possesses the gift or function of hospitality as "Hospitality Harry"; or one who has the gift of mercy as "Mercy Mary"; or one who has the gift of giving as "Giving George."


3. Honorific titles feed the pride of men. It tends to inflate one's ego, thus provoking church leaders to think more highly of themselves than they should (Romans 12:3). Let's face it: we all struggle with sin and pride; but why compound that struggle by exalting oneself with special titles which have no basis in the New Testament? While seeing nothing inherently wrong with titles per se, even Craig L. Blomberg, associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, is compelled to recognize its dangers:
But one wonders how often these titles are used without implying unbiblical ideas about a greater worth or value of the individuals to whom they are assigned. One similarly wonders for how long the recipients of such forms of address can resist an unbiblical pride from all the plaudits. It is probably best to abolish most uses of such titles and look for equalizing terms that show that we are all related as family to one Heavenly Father (God) and one teacher (Christ)... In American Christian circles perhaps the best goal is to strive for the intimacy that simply makes addressing one another on a first-name basis natural (The New American Commentary: Matthew, Vol. 22 [Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992] p.343).


4. Honorific titles, contrary to what many ecclesiastical authorities would assert, are a form of self-promotion. In fact, some men employ the title "Doctor" for the express purpose of making their opinions or books carry greater authority than they actually do. We tend to assume that the man with an earned doctorate is an "expert," whose words are beyond question. But no man's opinions should be accepted merely because he has a Th.D. or Ph.D. behind his name. Every doctrine or human opinion is to be tested by the rule of Scripture (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Revelation 2:2), not one's educational achievements.

If we were to look at degrees only, we might also conclude that the apostles of our Lord were not particularly trustworthy, since none of them (except Paul) had any recognizable formal training: "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Moreover: 
"teachers amongst the Lord's people do not need titles granted by men as a sign of theological authority to teach; authority and ability to teach in spiritual things come from the Lord through the Holy Spirit, and not through the schools of men. Such titles, both then and now, distract from the preeminence of Christ over all those who are brethren in the family of God... We are all brethren and we are all servants (diakonos); this excludes self-exaltation. God reverses what man would esteem" (J. Heading, Ritchie New Testament Commentaries: Matthew [Scotland: John Ritchie, LTD., 1984] pp. 307-308).

Perhaps one reason why some pastors feel compelled to preface their names with a degree or honorific title, is because they have an inferiority complex or are ineffective in gaining respect in ways that are more servant-oriented. It's also important to note that many clergymen have pursued a career in pastoral ministry for reasons less than the glory of God. Far too many are seeking the honor and recognition of men, rather than the honor of Christ (John 5:44; Galatians 1:10). The use of self-glorifying titles only helps to attract such kind.

One common argument used to support honorific titles is that the man who has earned a doctorate in theology worked hard for it and, thus, is entitled to display his accomplishments. But so has the man who has earned a Master of Divinity degree or even a Bachelor of Arts! Should we, then, continually refer to such persons as "Master of Divinity Dave" or "Bachelor of Arts Bill"? If not, why should we continue to employ the title "Doctor" before one's name?

We remind the reader as well that Jesus clearly forbid such titles of distinction among His followers in Matthew 23:8-12. Any person, therefore, who seeks to justify the use of honorific titles must ultimately answer to Jesus Himself. It might also be interesting to note that "Rabbi," as used during the time of Jesus, was employed "much as 'Doctor' is today. In fact, the Latin equivalent of rabbi comes from docere, which means to teach and is the term from which the English word doctor is derived" (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 16-23 [Chicago: Moody Press, 1988] p.366).

Another argument used to justify honorific titles is that they are a means of expressing respect to church leaders. The early Christians, however, were still able to express their esteem toward each other without having to resort to special titles (Philippians 2:25-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17).


5. Honorific titles draw unnecessary attention to oneself. The man who uses them is subtly telling others that he is someone important and worthy of their respect. Although he may never admit to it, the great day of judgment promises to disclose his true motivation and inner-secrets (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5).


6. Honorific titles detract from the glory that rightfully belongs to Christ alone. Such titles of distinction as "Reverend" (meaning, "he who is to be revered") not only esteem persons higher than is humanly permissible, but it intrudes in a realm that is not rightfully theirs. We would be wise to listen to the counsel of J.C. Ryle:
But still we must be very careful that we do not insensibly give to ministers a place and an honor which do not belong to them. We must never allow them to come between ourselves and Christ. The very best are not infallible. They are not priests who can atone for us. They are not mediators who can undertake to manage our soul's affairs with God. They are men of like passions with ourselves, needing the same cleansing blood, and the same renewing Spirit, set apart to a high and holy calling, but still after all only men. Let us never forget these things. Such cautions are always useful. Human nature would always rather lean on a visible minister, than an invisible Christ (Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Vol. 1, pp. 299-300).

Many churches in our day refer to their most gifted or experienced leader as "Senior Pastor." However, the only "Senior Pastor" that the New Testament speaks of is Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:3). He alone is "the great Shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20; cf. John 10:11,14,16; Ephesians 5:23). Those who serve in a leadership function within the local church are undershepherds. They are called to be humble servants of the sheep (1 Corinthians 3:5; 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5), not lords who reign over their fiefdom (1 Peter 5:3). Thus, it is quite arrogant to take on the lofty title of "Senior Pastor" when Scripture reserves this for Christ alone! Even the apostle Peter merely referred to himself as a "fellow elder" (1 Peter 5:1). The Christian apologist, J.P. Moreland, has said it well:
The local church in the New Testament contained a plurality of elders (see Acts 14:23, 20:28; Philippians 1:1; Hebrews 13:17). The New Testament knows nothing about a senior pastor. In my opinion, the emergence of the senior pastor in the local church is one of the factors that has most significantly undermined the development of healthy churches... Given these facts, the senior pastor model actually produces a co-dependence that often feeds the egos of senior pastors while allowing the parishioners to remain passive. None of this is intentional, but the effects are still real. The senior pastor model tends to create a situation in which we identify the church as "Pastor Smith's church" and parishioners come to support his ministry. If a visitor asks where the minister is, instead of pointing to the entire congregation (as the New Testament would indicate, since we are all ministers of the New Covenant), we actually point to Pastor Smith... The local church should be led and taught by a plurality of voices called elders, and these voices should be equal... No one person has enough gifts, perspective, and maturity to be given the opportunity disproportionately to shape the personality and texture of a local church. If Christ is actually the head of the church, our church structures ought to reflect that fact, and a group of under-shepherds, not a senior pastor, should collectively seek His guidance in leading the congregation (Love Your God With All Your Mind [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing, 1997] pp. 190-191).


7. Honorific titles tend to attract carnal and power-seeking men to positions of church leadership. As pointed out earlier, if our churches continue to give to their leaders lofty and self-glorifying titles of distinction, we will continue to attract a large percentage of men seeking prestige, recognition, and power. This is not meant to suggest that every church leader who employs an honorific title is necessarily seeking to have his ego stroked or possesses less than genuine motives, but only that far too many fall into this category. Some are simply naive as to the dangers and implications of their lofty titles.

Let's face it: if you set up a religious clerical system that promotes power, prestige, and self-exaltation (as opposed to the humble servant-model of Jesus presented in Mark 10:35-45 and John 13:3-17), such a system will repeatedly attract men seeking such power and prestige. This is one of the major reasons why our churches have historically had the wrong kind of men in positions of leadership. But, we must ask, what kind of men would be attracted to church leadership if they were told they will be servants, not lords; not titled; probably not salaried (Acts 20:33-35); not the sole preacher/teacher (Acts 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:17); an equipper, not a shining superstar; and only one amongst a plurality of other leaders (Acts 14:23; Hebrews 13:17)? Only the most dedicated, humble, and self-sacrificing would be desirous of such a noble task! And, yet, these are the very kind of men that Christ wants to shepherd His sheep--and who are often most lacking in our churches. Greg Ogden writes:

We get the kind of leaders we deserve. It often seems that the world's view of greatness is the standard we use when we select our leaders. We have allowed arrogant, unaccountable, and self-professed channels of the Spirit to shoot off like loose cannon. We sometimes have a penchant in the Christian community for holding up the proud and arrogant as our ideal because "they get the job done." Using the world's view of power, we want leaders to exercise influence, work their way into positions of power, and throw their weight around. We therefore get what we ourselves honor--Christian leaders who act like potentates rather than self-sacrificing servants of Jesus Christ. Our actions show that we do not believe that real power is expressed through servanthood that leads to a cross. The Church Growth Movement has identified strong pastoral leadership as a key ingredient in the growth of a congregation. I will grant that leaders must lead. But what gets passed off as leadership often has no resemblance to servant leadership as modeled and taught by our Lord... Our natural tendency is to concentrate power at the top, but Jesus modeled and taught a different way of life (The New Reformation, pp. 172-173).


8. Honorific titles tend to promote an elitist attitude and authoritarian forms of church leadership. Even the best of men can find self-glorifying titles intoxicating and begin to form lofty opinions of themselves. Within time, they begin to look upon their congregational members as mere "common folks"; an ignorant mass of "laity" who desperately need their wisdom and insight (John 7:49; 9:34).

Church leaders, however, must never give themselves the airs of stuffy, official, and fussy "ministers" as is common among many claiming to be pastors in our day. Instead, their behavior and attitude should conform to the words of Paul in Romans 12:16, "Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly" and in Philippians 2:3-4, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." The 19th century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, warned his pastoral students of the danger of ministerial pride:
My brethren, be not priests yourselves. It is very possible to give yourselves the airs of hierarchs, even though you are avowedly nothing more than Nonconformist pastors. There is a style of dress--the affectation of it is not praiseworthy. There is a style of language--the imitation of it is not commendable. There is an assumption of superiority, looking down upon the common people as mere laity; this piece of pompousness is ridiculous. Avoid the way of certain clerics who seem intent on making their people feel that a minister is a dignified individual, and that the rest of the members of the church should hardly venture to differ from him. Say what we like about all believers in Christ being a generation of priests, we still find vain fellows among us who would be thought of as possessors of a mystic specialty. Our office, as pastors, deserves to be respected, and will be if properly carried out; but I have observed that some who are very anxious to magnify their office, really try to magnify themselves (An All-Round Ministry [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960] pp. 371-372).


9. Honorific titles help to perpetuate the "clergy-laity" division. While it is common for people to speak of church leaders as the "clergy" and the rest of God's people as the "laity," the New Testament never divides the body of Christ into two classes known as "clergy" and "laity."

The root meaning of kleros, from which we get our word "clergy," is "inheritance" or "lot" and refers to the believer's inheritance in Christ, not to a special class of ministers. The word laos, from which we get our word "laity," refers to all of a group; in some cases, it specifically denotes the people of God. Thus, all believers in Christ are part of the laos (or "laity"), including pastors! Every believer is a minister and priest before God with authority to do the work of ministry (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6). The New Testament never confines "ministry" to a select few.

Clericalism has done much to harm and weaken the body of Christ. It clearly divides the Christian brotherhood; it hinders the saints from behaving like the ministers they are; it obscures, if not annuls, the essential oneness of the people of God; and it exalts the pride of church leaders by conferring upon them special titles and privileges. Howard Snyder, a prolific author on the subject of church renewal, has stated:
The New Testament simply does not speak of two classes of Christians--"minister" and "laymen"--as we do today. According to the Bible, the people (laos, "laity") of God comprise all Christians, and all Christians through the exercise of spiritual gifts have some "work of ministry." So if we wish to be biblical, we will have to say that all Christians are laymen (God's people) and all are ministers. The clergy-laity dichotomy is unbiblical and therefore invalid. It grew up as an accident of church history and actually marked a drift away from biblical faithfulness. A professional, distinct priesthood did exist in Old Testament days. But in the New Testament this priesthood is replaced by two truths: Jesus Christ is our great high priest, and the Church is a kingdom of priests (Hebrews 4:14; 8:1; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the Spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principle obstacles to the Church effectively being God's agent of the Kingdom today because it creates the false idea that only "holy men," namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity (The Community of the King [Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977] pp. 94-95).


What Can Church Leaders Do to Help Correct This Problem?
They must humble themselves and begin to view their ministry in terms of servanthood, not lordship (Mark 10:35-45; 1 Peter 5:3).
They must remove all clerical titles and gowns (Matthew 23:8-12). The saints must be taught to refer to their leader(s) as "brother" or by one's first name.
They must return ministry to the people of God, seeing them as full partners in the task of building up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-14; 14:12,26; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
We are in dire need of language reform. The terms that we use for ourselves ("layman") and those used to describe our leaders ("Reverend," "Minister") are very important since, not only do they convey our thinking on such fundamental issues as the nature of the church and how local church leadership should be structured, but the use of unbiblical or improper terms may help to stunt the growth of Christ's body. As Alexander Strauch has wisely stated:
It is critically important for Christians today to understand that the language we use to describe our church leaders has the power to accurately reflect biblical thinking and practice or, conversely, to lead us far away from the true Church of Jesus Christ and into the false church... In the end, every local church is responsible to teach its people the meaning of the terms it uses to describe its spiritual leaders, whether it be elders, overseers, ministers, preachers, or pastors. Biblically sensitive church leaders will insist that the terminology they use represents, as accurately as possible, the original biblical terms and concepts of a New Testament eldership. False teachers have had their greatest triumphs when they redefine biblical words in a way that is contrary to the original meaning... Much of our church vocabulary is unscriptural and terribly misleading. Words such as clergyman, layman, reverend, minister, priest, bishop, ordained, and ministerial convey ideas contrary to what Jesus Christ and His apostles taught. Such terminology misrepresents the true nature of apostolic Christianity and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recapture it. As a result, most of our churches are in desperate need of language reform (Biblical Eldership, pp. 32-34).

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The End of the World


I believe that we as humans all too often forget just how little the things in this world really matter. Our finances and homes and entertainment, even our health and our clothes and our food, really mean nothing in comparison to what ultimately awaits us. This is because all that is in this world, even our own bodies, are mere shadows and vapors of what is truly real. Yet we get caught up in this world and these things because they are the things we can see and touch and taste and feel. It seems real, and so we begin to believe that it truly is. But it is not. It is a mist, a dim reflection of the real world and the real life that is waiting just on the other side of the mirror.

At the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, the character Lord Digory states,
Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.
This is what we so often forget, and why we often hold so tightly to the things around us. Reconciling what our senses tell us is real and what God tells us is real is difficult. Our world and especially western culture tells us either verbally or implicitly that it is this world that is real and it is this world that matters. It is what much advertising and marketing is based on. It is what politics, our financial system and our entertainment is largely based on. In some cases, it is even what our religion is based on when we get things mixed up.

Believing this world matters most causes fear and doubt. It strips us of power and courage and leaves us husks of what what we can be and are called to be. When it is this world that we concern ourselves with, we will accomplish comparatively little in the way of helping it.

The reason behind this is simple: we care about losing that which we love the most. As long as we leave our old attachments to this world intact, we will fear their loss or decay. When we fear their loss or decay, we concern ourselves with preserving them at all cost.

In Romans 6:4 Paul writes, 
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
When a person dies, they do not hold on to their possessions. They are passed on to someone else. By law the deceased ceases to be the owner. They no longer hold sway over their money, their possessions, or even their own body. It all belongs to someone else to do with as they please. Should it not be the same when we die and are buried with Christ? Should not all that we have and all that we are become His property by default?

The reason we have so much trouble, I believe, is that we desire to hold onto our money, possessions and bodies even though we have died. We have been raised again, but it is as a new creature and a new man, not the old. In that sense, we struggle to hold on to possessions, bodies and minds that do not belong to us, but to God. Yet even as I write this I see this in my own life as an exceedingly difficult concept to grasp and live out. I want my life. I want my rights and my possessions. Even in those last two sentences as I write this I call them mine! How ridiculous is that?!

We need deep prayer and understanding to accept the reality of the situation. All this world is but a shadow. As God says we are but a mist, here one moment and gone the next. When we give ourselves to live for the next world, we will by necessity help and aid those in this one. We cannot help but do so. But as long as we keep our attachments to the things around us, we will not get very far.

The end of the world comes for us all. It may happen at our death or before then. At that moment we will realize truly that all the things, all the stuff, was nothing more than dust. If that is what we desired and held onto most dearly we will be left only with that dust slipping through our fingers never to be held again. 

But if we grasp for the eternal things of the Father, we will be left with the Real Things that can never pass away or be destroyed. We will have acquired a True Reality at last. In that moment we will see the silliness of all those things in this world that we held onto dearly as being real. In that moment, when faced with the glory and magnitude of what has been given to us, we will know what Real Joy is because we will know and be present in the Real Love of the Father.

And once we taste the True Reality, we will never want anything less ever again.

The End of the World comes.

Let us let go of the dust and embrace it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

You Matter Because God Made You


I am currently re-reading a book I received a few years ago. In it the author explores how faith can agree with science and still show that God created the universe, the world and everything in it. In the intro to the third part of the book he says this:
How we view where we came from affects how we view everything else about ourselves, such as whether we're loved or valued or intended for some special purpose in life. When people began to question whether God created us, they also started to doubt that He cared about us. They began to think that we're all just a cosmic accident, people with no real value or purpose in the grand scheme of things. This depressing outlook has dominated the way many people have been thinking about things for the past few hundred years.
The author, in this statement, is unfortunately exactly right. Even more so, it is on display all around us. All we have to do is open our eyes with understanding in order to see it.

Consider the latest movements in social justice. We are told that what you feel and what you want is more important than anything else. We are told this, I believe, because people do not have a sense of identity, and are desperate to have one and to find meaning and purpose in it. We have grown up being taught by science that the universe created itself by cosmic accident without reason, that our planet is a cosmic accident without purpose, and that we are a cosmic accident that just kind of showed up. At the same time, we are taught by our family and society that we are special, that there is a place just for us in the world and that what we want and desire should take precedence over all other considerations. When you put these two sets of teaching together it is easy to see the danger and confusion caused by it.

When you are taught that you are nothing but a cosmic accident while being told you are special, you have to search for what it is that makes you special. Since there is no outside force or being that provides a reason, it must be something within you. I believe this is what has lead to the frantic search for identity and acceptance among those of us who are younger today.

This is how we end up with people defining themselves by what they feel they are or want to be. It is why Nano, who lives in Norway, chooses to live as a cat. It is why many are fighting tooth and nail to allow transgender people into bathrooms not according to their biological sex, but what they feel they are inside. It is why these college students struggle to say that a 5'9" white man is not a 6'5" Chinese woman. I could go on, but you get the point.

The background behind it all is the belief that there is no God; no Creator that created us for a purpose. If that does not exist, then it is up to us to determine our purpose and specialness for ourselves, because otherwise everything is meaningless and hopeless. It is this search, this drive for personal clarity and worth in the face of a universe that is nothing more than an accident, that causes such chaos in how people view themselves.

Unfortunately much of Christendom has not entirely helped matters. Instead of allowing, for example, the age of the universe to be a matter of faith and opinion, many turn it into a litmus test for true Christianity. There is no lack of morality in keeping your mind open and following the evidence where it leads if you are being as honest with the evidence as you can. The is no moral high ground in saying the earth is 6,000 or 6,000,000,000 years old you are still putting your faith in the fact that God has created it all and did so for a purpose. We can certainly debate among ourselves about it, but to make it a test for determining whether someone is or can be a Christian is to erect a barrier to entry which Christ did not erect. The goal, rather than to convince those in the world about the age of the earth, should be to convince them of the Creator of the earth. Because it is only in the Creator that we find purpose, meaning, and our true identity.

The fact of the matter is this: you matter because God made you.

If we are nothing more than a cosmic mistake, there is no purpose for our lives. We get a short time to do what we will, then vanish back into nothing. Chances are almost no one will know who the President of the United States is today within 100 years. What chance do I have that someone would remember me? If that is the case, then when I close my eyes for the last time and am buried in the ground, I will turn to dust and nothing I did will matter to anyone shortly after. Personally, I have no desire to live under that great burden. It is too heavy and too dreary and too useless for me. I would fight tooth and nail for an identity that I felt gave me purpose too if I thought I were in that situation.

But Christians know that is not the case, and I know I am not in that situation. I know that there is a God who is loving, who cares about me, and who is just in all He does. He is a God who is eternal, who exists outside of time, who is not bound by the restrictions that I am. He is also a God who desires my existence not to end with my body on this earth, but who says He will resurrect my dead body, change it into the likeness of Christ, and take me to His side to live in His glorious presence forever. He is a God who says that I am His child. Not because of what I have done or how great I am or because I am a human, but because He gave His Son to die for me so that the price could be payed and He could remain a just judge while at the same time absolving me of all my sins against Him.

That is my identity.That is where I find my hope and purpose in life. Not in what I like or what I do or what I think, but in what He says I am. Regardless of any other factor, it is God alone who defines my identity, and in so doing I do not have to fear losing myself in a sea of nothingness in the gaping maw of space and time. I am accepted by God, made perfect in His sight, and given meaning from one infinitely greater and infinitely stronger than myself. Because He says I have meaning, because He has proven it by His actions, I know now and forever where my identity lies.

The question is, do you?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Give You Back to God

This week, a short clip, and a short encouragement. First, the clip:


This is a fairly well known clip in many circles. If you have not seen it, I encourage you to take the 3 1/2 minutes of your day it will take to watch it. Then, I ask you to consider what I have to say.

The question to be answered is very simple: do we as Christians treat those who have wronged us in this way? I ask because it is the Biblical answer is very simple to come up with. In Luke 6:27-31 Jesus states:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Is this how we live our faith? In giving and forgiveness so extreme that it changes those around us? Is this how we treat those with different ideas? Is this how we treat our enemies?

It is to this extreme lifestyle that Christians are called. I once read in a commentary something along the lines that it is only common sense that what Jesus is speaking about here is an ideal and not an actual expectation. But there is nothing in the context that shows that, and much of what Jesus said defied and continues to defy the "common sense" of our world today.

So the second question is this: will we as Christians going forward live our lives with such a radical faith that it cannot help but change those who it comes into contact with? Valjean in the clip above was changed by an extreme act of both mercy and giving. How many more could be reached if we, in our actions and reactions to others, did the same? It is what we are called to.

So let us live it, and in so doing take those who we win and give them back to God.