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  1. Christian Parents the Reason for Religious Decline?

    April 10, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    Ours is not the first Christian generation to bemoan the decline of Christian faith in our days.  I suspect we could learn a good deal about our own troubles from the generations of believer which have preceded us.  One of those, the earliest English Baptists, propose a reasonable cause, at least in part, for the decline of love for Christ.  Despite the strangeness of the spelling I believe we can learn much from this short selection from the 1677 introduction to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith.

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    And verily there is one spring and cause of the decay of Religion in our day, which we cannot but touch upon, and earnestly urge a redresse of; and that is the neglect of the worship of God in Families, by those to whom the charge and conduct of them is committed. May not the grosse ignorance, and instability of many; with the prophaneness of others, be justly charged upon their Parents and Masters; who have not trained them up in the way wherein they ought to walk when they were young? but have neglected those frequent and solemn commands which the Lord hath laid upon them so to catechize, and instruct them, that their tender years might be seasoned with the knowledge of the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures; and also by their own omission of Prayer, and other duties of Religion in their families, together with the ill example of their loose conversation, have inured them first to a neglect, and then contempt of all Piety and Religion? we know this will not excuse the blindness, or wickedness of any; but certainly it will fall heavy upon those that have thus been the occasion thereof; they indeed dye in their sins; but will not their blood be required of those under whose care they were, who yet permitted them to go on without warning, yea led them into the paths of destruction? and will not the diligence of Christians with respect to the discharge of these duties, in ages past, rise up in judgment against, and condemn many of those who would be esteemed such now?

    We shall conclude with our earnest prayer, that the God of all grace, will pour out those measures of his holy Spirit upon us, that the profession of truth may be accompanyed with the sound belief, and diligent practise of it by us; that his name may in all things be glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.


  2. Justin Martyr on Early Church Worship

    April 8, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    This is great material describing the worship of the early church by Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) from from chapters 61-67 of his First Apology.  I sadly had to cut it from my sermon Sunday but wanted to broadcast it in some form.  Thankfully I remembered I have a blog for just such a purpose!

    …we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.


  3. How Should Christians Respond to World Vision?

    March 25, 2014 by Jeff Wright

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    As you’ve probably seen, evangelical relief organization World Vision has announced that they will now be hiring persons who are in same-sex unions.  This is an unfathomable error and one that leaves Christians asking how they should respond to an organization that is intentionally distorting the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So what does a Christian who is concerned about meeting the practical needs of the weakest members of humanity and being faithful to the truth of Scripture do?

    First: if you aren’t sponsoring a child now is a perfect time to begin!

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    As best I’m able to determine both Samaritan’s Purse and Compassion International  are organizations doing work of practical good on par with or exceeding World Relief while also refusing to concede Biblical truth for the sake of changing cultural trends.  It appears World Help, despite some troubles in recent years with a rogue consultant, does an admirable job of connecting donors’ dollars with needy individuals and groups. 1 I encourage you to partner with these organizations to turn the failure of World Vision into a positive force for the cause of Christ.  Furthermore, shame on us if the only time we pay attention to relief organizations is when it becomes  a political issue; let’s get increasingly involved as donors for the glory of Christ!

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    What about those who are sponsoring children through World Vision?  

    Let me encourage you to be proactive and vocal to World Vision about your disappointment over their error and your intentions to distance yourself from their organization in the future.  You can find their contact information here and/or let them know through social media (a means often more useful in getting the attention of an organization) on Twitter and Facebook.  Understand that it is their donor base which will have the greatest impact on World Vision.

    Should you stop sponsoring your child?

    World Vision has put Biblically faithful believers in the awful position of having to choose between being clear about the gospel and supporting a child who needs their aid.  Here’s my suggestion: (after you let World Vision know you will be distancing yourself from their organization in the future) continue to support your child until the natural termination of support then move on to a relief organization with more integrity (again, let World Vision know this is your plan).  The child you are connected with is an innocent victim of World Vision and will likely not be able yet to properly process the catastrophe of the organization’s decision.

    While in that relationship of support let me encourage you to take full advantage of your relationship with the child!  Write them letters freighted with the gospel, the beauty of Christ, and His care for their circumstances.  If you can, go visit the child.  Do everything you can to help that young bearer of the image of God know the Father who gave His Son for their salvation and calls His followers to care for his or her needs.

    The fact that World Vision has so intentionally failed their own cause and their donor base doesn’t meant that the avenues they have established can’t be used for good until the natural point in which they can be abandoned for those provided by a more Biblically faithful organization.

    Notes:

    1. If my research is faulty please let me know and I’ll edit the post to describe these organizations more accurately.  I would also welcome information about other worthwhile organizations.

  4. Evaluating a Sermon

    February 26, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    One of the things I want to remain committed to throughout my life is becoming a better preacher.  Furthermore, my church has been blessed with a number of young men whom God has called into vocational ministry.

    Toward the twin aims of helping those at my church growing in their skills as preachers and my own improvement I created a sermon evaluation form.  I’m posting it here for the use of others with a similar desire.

    I hope it’s profitable for you.  One request: if you use it would you please let me know by leaving a brief comment?  I would be interested to know how (if?) it is being used outside of our church.

    Midway Baptist Church: Sermon Evaluation Form (Right-Click and select “Save link as…” to download PDF)


  5. The Logic and Burden of the Law

    February 21, 2014 by Jeff Wright

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    In Luke 11:46 Jesus accuses one of the religious lawyers of His day of load[ing] people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.

    If we are going to understand the nature and severity of Jesus’ rebuke we need to understand the basic logic of the Law which is do this and you will live with the implication that those who do not do do not live.

    i. Revealed in the Old Testament

    Leviticus 18:1-5Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.

    Deuteronomy 27:26Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

    ii. Explained in the New Testament

    Galatians 3:10-14For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”  But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

    The Law, then, becomes a set of hoops far too high to jump through; a treadmill that never stops moving your feet on and on, faster and faster; a burden whose weight collapses the shoulders.

    In fact, when Jesus the Greek term that Jesus uses here that we translate burdens hard to bear he is using a term normally used to describe a ship’s cargo.  The load placed on people by the Law through false religion is far beyond the ability of men to bear.

    B. The Misery Created – you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers

    When religious authorities use their positions to broadcast the demands of the law, the same demands that are beyond human attainment, they fail in their most basic responsibility – to point to the grace of God as the only means of relief from the demands of the law.

    In our day this pattern is particularly twisted because it co-opts the language of grace to press law further and further.  For instance, when a mother of a sick child is told that if she will simply have faith that her child will be healed and that child dies the mother is left believing that either she has failed to believe well enough to protect her child.

    Here the beauty of Christ is clearly seen in contrast:

    Matthew 11:25-30At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    Christ is the opposite of these false teachers – where they use their power to further the burden and misery of men He uses His to take the load from their shoulders, to bear what they could not, and give them relief from their own failed efforts to be good enough to be right with God.  He is good enough for them.  This is the good news we call the gospel.


  6. How Low Elevation Church Has Stooped

    February 20, 2014 by Jeff Wright

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    Yesterday’s craziness surrounding the coloring sheet from Steven Furtick’s Elevation Church  shouldn’t over shadow the other news connected with Elevation – namely how they manipulate people into “spontaneous” baptisms.

    This second controversy is, in my opinion, far more dangerous.  I’ll quote from the article by WCNC Charlotte because they state well the problems with Elevation’s Spontaneous Baptism Resource Kit.

    The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.” 
        
    “They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized,” said James Duncan, a communications professor at Anderson University and critic of Furtick. “They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows.”

    Stuart Watson, the author of the article, continues:

    More stage instructions tell volunteers to go to staging rooms outfitted with towels, pre-printed t-shirts, sports bras, boxers, makeup remover, hair-dryers and flip-flops. Volunteers are instructed to “pick young energetic people” to go on stage first to be baptized and “not necessarily those who are there first.” 

        
    “Think of the room in terms of a NASCAR pit stop,” the guide reads. “Quick in and quick out.” 
        
    It takes “30 to 45 seconds” to baptize each person as church photographers snap photos. 
         
    More volunteers are told, “You are looking for one or two great stories in your group. When you ID those individuals, place a ‘black wrist band’ on them so that the video crew can interview them….”
        
    The guide then tells the “media team” to be “mining great stories and pushing them up to the video crew.” 

    An additional disturbing detail comes at the end of the article:

    Elevation Pastor Steven Furtick asked me for a face-to-face, off-the-record meeting with me to ask me not to run this report. I spent an hour on the telephone and two more hours in person discussing my reporting, his church and his concerns. 

    Pastor Steven said I have been unfair and this report in particular would hurt Elevation Church members. 

    Does Furtick think that he is free from the consequences of his and his church’s scandalous behavior?  What right does he have to attempt to shift blame onto the news agency for reporting what his own church has freely and publicly published?

    Let’s be clear – Furtick, along with any one else involved in created and pushing forward these events, hurt the members of Elevation church.

    The repercussions of this kind of manipulative, pre-packaged faux-Christianity are clear.  In no certain order:

    • The central rite of Christianity, baptism, is undermined entirely.  Historically, no outward event is of more significance to the Christian faith.  Here Elevation and its leaders have reduced it to a canned production, not substantially different from a flash-mob dance performance.
    • The credibility of the Christian faith and the idea of conversion becomes more laughable and seemingly hollow to a world already plenty skeptical about such things.
    • Other ministries, more legitimate in their efforts to faithfully discharge the gospel call, are cast in a shadow by these big-budget, high-production hucksters while precious resources that could be legitimately used to help people are sucked into the black hole of manipulative pseudo-ministries like the ones taking place at Elevation.

     

    I am confident that a good and sovereign God will have, from the perspective of eternity, called men and women to a saving faith in Himself at these Elevation engineered events.

    Make no mistake, that will only come to pass because His overwhelmingly powerful grace will do good to lost men and women even in the midst of the worst conditions.

    This reality – that people are likely actually converted – in no way overshadows that in the highest degree of likelihood the majority of those involved as “converts” will have been deceived and thus, humanly speaking, hardened to the gospel.

    Furthermore, any legitimate conversions arising from these highly engineered productions does not mean that the productions are justified.  This is a stain on the public reputation of the church and, through it, Christ.

    May God grant Steven Furtick and the people at Elevation responsible for this abusive behavior repentance.  May He also grant that those who have been manipulated to see through the facade of Elevation’s misconduct to the beauty of Christ in the authentic gospel.

    Even so, come Lord Jesus.

    Further Reading
    Pajama Pages (Linked to Above): How Steven Furtick engineered a spontaneous miracle

    Patheos: Steven Futick and the ‘Disneyfication’ of Baptism

    Zwinglius Redivivus - Elevation ‘Church’ – Just Another Cult and Furtick is Just Another False Teacher

    Truth Matters Blog: Mass Baptisms, Invitations, and Southern Baptists


  7. Elevation Church: Where Does Unity Come From?

    February 19, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    Can someone at Elevation Church in Matthews, NC please explain this?  Surely there is some element not present in the page itself that will explain how this isn’t a whole bag of steaming craziness?

    UnityAtElevation

    I ask that because what actually is present on the page (absent some helpful explanatory word from Elevation) is poor proof-texting and cult-like indoctrination.

    1. Proof-Texting: Elevation’s artist did get a correct quoting of the NIV’s translation of Romans 13:1.  However, ripped from it’s Biblical context, combined with the image on the sheet, and the wording about Pastor’s Steven’s vision unifying the church makes that wonderful text justification for not just any craziness Steven Furtick chooses to spew (did I just become a hater?) but any dangerous abuser who lays claim to the title “authority.”

    2. Cult-Like Indoctrination: Just so we’re clear: the unity of the church is never in the “vision” of the pastor; it is the unity of faith spoken of in Ephesians 4:10-16, namely unity built on the teaching of and commitment to the Word of God.

    Any substitute unity built on the vision of a man is temporary at best, often discretionary, and extremely dangerous at best.

    Here’s hoping Elevation clarifies soon.

    HT: Kent Schaaf via Terry Gant.

    *Update 4* The nuttiness keeps on rolling in.  Check out this other graphic from Elevation Church (Source).  Note especially numbers 1 (really, this is number 1 for them; the more I read it the crazier it looks), 3, 7, and 16.  And why does it take until 24 to mention the gospel?  For real – Elevation Church is looking like 1 short step away from a cult.

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    *Update 3* Looks like Elevation Church has realized what a thoroughly bad idea this was. Kudos to them.


     
    *Update 2*: Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio has spoken with Elevation Church and confirmed this is legit.
     

     

    You can see the rest of the artwork from the coloring book here:


    *Update 1* Usually I think Matthew Paul Turner should be avoided but we agree on this point.  You can see his post (which preceded mine) for more details on this lunacy.

    Since we’re on the subject of Elevation Church at this moment you need to look at even worse lunacy leaking out of their church on how Elevation manipulate people into being “spontaneously” baptized.


  8. Stay Credo My Friends

    February 19, 2014 by Jeff

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    HT: Jared Myers


  9. Baxter on the Use of Scripture in Child-Rearing

    February 18, 2014 by Jeff Wright

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    Don’t let the date of composition (17th century) mislead you – there is a great deal of practical wisdom in Richard Baxter’s The Duties of Parents for Their Children.  Great writings, like this one, that come to us through the ages often have survived because their contents have value that is timeless.  This is certainly the case with this particular piece.

    The first “Direct” in this work is confused by Baxter’s paedobaptist theology but the remainder is chock full of careful thinking and practical advice.  One example is found in “Direct V”.  There Baxter offers counsel to Christian parents about how they use Scripture in the discipline program of their home.  Baxter’s idea is to show children the discipline they are receiving is rooted in the clear Word of God.

    Labour much to possess their hearts with the fear of God, and a reverence of the holy Scriptures; and then whatsoever duty you command them, or whatsoever sin you forbid them, show them some plain and urgent texts of Scripture for it; and cause them to learn them and oft repeat them; that so they may find reason and divine authority in your commands…

    The result of this practice should be a well trained conscience that guides them in the private moments parents don’t have access to.

    It is conscience that must watch them in private, when you see them not; and conscience is God’s officer and not yours; and will say nothing to them, till it speak in the name of God.

    Ultimately the desired aim is heart transformation – the kind that arises from the child’s connecting the parent’s discipline to Scripture and thus see the action of their parent reflective of the will of the Lord for their lives.

    This is the way to bring the heart itself into subjection; and also to reconcile them to all your commands, when they see that they are first the commands of God.


  10. Robocop and Descartes

    February 17, 2014 by Jeff Wright

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    For those who find philosophy boring or irrelevant might I direct your attention to the box office?

    I’ve made no secret about my excitement about the new Robocop remake.  While I was too young (or too naive?) to see the social commentary in the first film I fell in love with the character – a cop who is a robot!  Who wouldn’t?

    The newest installment of the franchise didn’t disappoint me as a fan.  In fact, to my pleasant surprise, the film raised philosophical questions about subjects I’m passionately interested in.

    • What makes me, as an individual, me?
    • What should the relationship between research science and commercial application?
    • Can humanity be reduced to a machine made of meat?
    • Can we really have talk about having free will in any meaningful sense?

     

    Not what you would normally expect from a big-budget action movie, right?

    One of the more interesting issues raised is found in the scene where the reconstructed protagonist is going to take a definitive field test in battle against robot and human opponents.

    – Spoiler Alert

    Unbeknownst to Robocop his corporate backers have been pressuring the scientists who created his new existence to eliminate any human element from their product’s threat-assessment and problem-solving process.  They want the man to function like a machine.

    The solution, according to the doctor, is to let the non-organic part of Robocop do the work in battle while sending feedback to his organic brain which makes the brain believe it is calling the shots.  Doctor Norton says something to the effect that while in combat Alex Murphy (the human component of Robocop) is simply “along for the ride.”

    Sound familiar?  It does if you are familiar with Rene Descartes.  Descartes, leading the way to the Enlightenment, was a man hard-pressed between two intellectual aims.  On the first  hand, his commitment to rationality led him to believe that all of life was merely the product of mechanical forces.  On the other, he was Catholic and wanted to maintain room intellectually for an immaterial, non-mechanistic aspect of humanity.  His solution was to conceive of a mind (or soul) free from the mechanical functions of the body.

    Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_René_Descartes

    In her book Saving Leonardo Nancy Pearcey explains Descartes’ dilemma and solution well:

    [Descartes viewed the human body] as a kind of robot or wind-up toy.  ‘I suppose the body to be nothing but a statue or machine made of earth,’ he wrote.  Its motion follows ‘necessarily from the very arrangement of the parts,’ just as the motion of a clock follows ‘from the power, the situation, and the shape of its counterweights and wheels.’

    Because Descartes was Catholic, however, he also wanted to salvage the concept of a mind as a free, self-sufficient consciousness connected somehow to the robot body – in his words, a ‘rational soul united to this machine.’

    Cartesian dualism was irreverently dubbed the ‘ghost in the machine.’

    This “ghost in the machine” is just what Robocop is presented as – a human consciousness (with its attendant moralities, values, and other ethical baggage) riding along in a mechanical body that is doing just as it pleases on its own and with great efficiency.

    This radical divide between the conduct of the body and the emotional health of the mind/person is actually quite common in our culture.  It is also completely unlivable.

    Perhaps the clearest illustration of both the radical divide between body and mind and the total failure of that divide to function in real life is seen in the emotional fallout from the hook up culture.  Sexual ethics common today in the West strongly suggest that the physical act of sex should be divorced from emotional ties and expectations of commitment.  The youngest adults among us have been trying to live out these principles in a climate of sexual encounters intended to only be enjoyed on the physical level. However, since humans are whole beings those participating in hook up culture have found that the attempt leaves them disillusioned, wounded, and alienated from the people around them.   It turns out that this attempt to live as a “ghost in the machine” leaves people haunted by the consequences of morally broken choices.

    In Robocop Murphy’s humanity eventually overrides his programming and asserts control over his whole being.  In the case of those trying to live a similar divide between who they are and what they do we find, unsurprisingly, that ther humanity eventually rises to the surface as well.  It turns out that there are grave consequences to me that come from what happens to and with my body – even if I don’t believe it is possible.

    It is important, whether in a philosophy class, a movie theater, or a frat party, to identify the ideas competing for our embrace and evaluate them in light of reality.  Doing so, at the very least, helps us avoid the toxic aftermath following attempts at trying to live as something other than the image bearers we are.  It turns out that Descartes’ (and our culture’s) radical divide between the human body and the human being are just as fictitious as the cyborg protagonist of Robobcop.