This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My (Future) Resurrection

This week, I’m thinking about the resurrection. But not just Jesus’ resurrection. I’m also thinking about my resurrection.

Next to the light switch in my childhood bedroom hung a little plaque that had been my great-grandmother’s. “Looking for that blessed hope,” it read. Next to it was another plaque: “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

I thought about each phrase every now and then as I reached to turn on or off the light. The second plaque made sense. I understood intellectually that not all that I was doing was worthy of eternal reward. It made sense that watching cartoons on a Saturday morning instead of helping my dad with yard work wasn’t worthy of eternal reward.

The other plaque filled me with more guilt than hope. My great-grandmother had been “looking for that blessed hope” when she died. She was in her late 80’s when she died. Of course she was looking forward to heaven! It had to be better than struggling with Alzheimer’s and an aging body.

But why would I look forward to the blessed hope? I was a kid. I knew that a kid dying was a bad thing. I wanted to live my life and not get my "blessed hope" yet. What hope could a kid derive from the truth of the resurrection?

After talking about the reality of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians, Paul concludes with this observation: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Lord willing, we’re going to develop this more on Sunday but I want you to see three very fascinating truths: (1) we know that there is a future resurrection (2) because there was a past resurrection and (3) that gives us life in the present.

Does contemplating your future resurrection give context to your life right now? Does it put all of your present suffering in context? Does it put all of your present joys in perspective?

Whether you are an nine-year old boy or a ninety-nine year old woman, the truth that there is resurrection should be causing you to be steadfast and abounding in the work of the Lord. Your labor is not in vain. You can't live rightly now until you come to the conclusion that this life is passing away.

This week, I’m thinking about the resurrection. I hope you are, too.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Dismantling of Evangelicalism: What Does the World Vision Case Reveal?








The Issue of Biblical Authority

There was a time not long ago when it was pretty clear what it meant to be an evangelical.  It was pretty clear because a generation of Christians had worked very hard to separate themselves from the liberal denial of the faith while at the same time avoiding becoming sectarian and mean spirited.  The high point of that evangelical ascendancy was the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.[i]  The battle for the Bible was over, and those who affirmed biblical inerrancy had won, at least as far as being an evangelical was concerned.  If one wanted the name “evangelical,” one had to affirm biblical inerrancy.  If one denied biblical inerrancy, it was difficult to maintain that one was evangelical.
In recent years, what was thought to have been a battle already won has re-emerged.  It is not that people are out and out denying the inerrancy of scripture as much as they are denying our capacity to know what the Bible says.  The wonderful scholars who crafted the Chicago statement actually predicted that this would happen.  The last sentences of the statement go like this,
“We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible which God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one's critical reasonings and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further. 
We are now at that point of great and grave confusion.  It is because of the failure to maintain the total truth of the Bible.  Lots of people now, without apology, deny central doctrines of the Christian faith, e.g., the reality of hell for those who do not believe in Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and the nature of marriage.  AND they do so while claiming to affirm biblical inerrancy!  Is it any wonder that the average person in the pew is confused?  It is a confusion even greater than when liberal theology conquered most major denominations in the 1920s.
This confusion over biblical authority will bring the dismantling of evangelicalism.  We are seeing the disintegration of what has been a pretty clear consensus of nearly 100 years.  The world of evangelicalism is collapsing.

The Case of World Vision

What does all this have to do with the recent controversy surrounding World Vision?  Only everything.  World Vision was founded in 1950 by Bob Pierce.  This was not because no humanitarian agencies existed at the time—there were plenty of them.  Pierce founded World Vision because there were few humanitarian agencies that took the Bible seriously.[ii]  He wanted to develop an organization that did social good, but was also firmly committed to the Gospel and the authority of scripture.  Because liberals in the mainline denominations had abandoned the Gospel, they fixed their missional attention on relief of social ills.  The conservative fundamentalists wanted to show that they were not liberal and frequently looked with disdain upon anyone who was interested in the alleviation of physical ills in the world.[iii]  Pierce believed that one could do both—bring the Gospel and alleviate human suffering.  This commitment to both the Gospel and social relief is found in their mission statement and statement of faith.  The organization seeks to tackle “the causes of poverty and injustice.”  But they also believe that lost people are “lost unto the resurrection of damnation.” [iv]  This was Pierce’s “World Vision.”
Let’s fast forward to the present time.  World Vision is no longer just an evangelical organization.  It is a behemoth of a charitable organization.  With a budget of over $1 billion and serving 1.2 million children sponsored, World Vision gains the attention of every NGO (non-government organization) in the world.  The means of gaining the income for such a large enterprise are many, including seeking United Nations and United States government support, but just as important, World Vision seeks the support of all churches, whether or not they subscribe to World Vision’s statement of faith.  As such, there are many, many influences upon this organization, not all of them helping to aim them closer to biblical authority for their mission.
So, it should not have been surprising that such an organization would be influenced deeply against biblical authority on the most pressing issue of the day, same sex marriage.  World Vision changed their policy on March 24 to allow employees to be in same sex marriages.  Then, on March 26, they reversed course and reverted to their former policy of not allowing employees to be in same sex marriages. World Vision was hoping, by allowing same sex marriage among their employees, to avoid a controversy.  Instead, they created a firestorm, which intensified upon reversal of the policy. 
In order to understand how this happened, one must understand that nearly every cultural indicator is leaning away from biblical authority.  World Vision was hoping that they could avoid the criticism of being homophobic and still hold to their statement of faith.  As it turned out, they offended everyone.  By affirming that employees could be in same sex marriages, people who believe in biblical authority saw that World Vision was denying what it said it believed.  Then, by reversing that policy two days later, the people who favor same sex marriage were outraged that the organization would capitulate to homophobia.  In the end, it seems that they may have made skeptics of everyone.

How to think about the World Vision controversy

Many pundits have argued that whatever position World Vision takes on the subject of same sex marriage should be irrelevant to support of the organization’s mission.  If you are sponsoring a child[v], what kind of callous heart must you have if you withdraw your funding over some silly cultural dispute in America?[vi]  Keep sending World Vision money, these pundits argue, because the starving children are more important than what we think about same sex marriage.
On one level, this is a very difficult argument to overcome.  Who would want to starve a child for a principle?  (Al Mohler called it “a moral quandary.”)  But here’s the deal: World Vision has made it clear by its statement of faith that principles matter before the mission does.  Just going out on mission and not worrying about the principles which guide the mission leads to disaster.  Let’s say that World Vision had made the decision to deny the resurrection.   Would that have been a sufficient reason to withdraw funding?  Let’s say that they decided to help starving children in the name of Allah, or in the name of Satan.  Would that affect this argument?  Which denial of biblical principle is sufficient to separate from an organization?
What the folks who make this argument are saying is that the issue of same sex marriage is not very important.  There would be some issue for them that doubtless would be important enough for them, but this one is not it.  One lesson to be learned here is that the controversy about homosexuality will not go away.  It will be an issue that continues to divide.  And it is an issue that is dividing evangelicals.  In fact, this issue, in my opinion, will be the dismantling of evangelicalism.  Here is why:
      1)   Evangelicals are increasingly soft on biblical authority;
      2)   Evangelicals like to be liked by the broader culture, thinking that by being liked they will be more effective evangelists;
      3)   The broader culture will only grow in its support of homosexuality and same sex marriage;
      4)   So, evangelicals will increasingly abandon the teaching of the Bible on that subject for acceptance by the broader culture.[vii]
      5)   However, other evangelicals will continue to hold to biblical authority.  This will mean a divide, a dismantling of evangelicalism.  
The end game, of course, is that for many evangelicals, personal experience/”happiness” will trump biblical authority.  Here is how theologian Luke Johnson put it, “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.”[viii]
As evangelicals are pulled in that direction, there will be a fracturing of what it means to be an evangelical.  New labels will need to be created to describe various positions, much as the words, “liberal” and “fundamentalist,” became labels to describe positions in the 1920s.  I do not know what words can be used, but good labels always have the advantage of being embraced by those labeled by the word, and yet can be used by opponents with equal appreciation.  That was why “liberal” and “fundamentalist” worked for awhile, and “fundamentalist” turned into “evangelical” when “fundamentalist” became too pejorative of a word.

Prepare for isolation, then persecution

There is something more important than a label, however.  As many evangelicals are peeled off from biblical authority, those who do hold to it will become increasingly marginalized.  We “Bible Christians” will be regarded as increasingly weird.  Especially since the LGBT issues are now cleverly framed as civil rights issues, there will come, as evangelicals leave the Bible’s teaching, an isolation of true believers in biblical authority.[ix]  This could come in the form of loss of tax exempt status for churches, the treatment of these churches as enemies of the commonweal, and discrimination in employment for anyone who publicly avows the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.
After the marginalization, it will become quite easy to see real persecution.  Belief in traditional marriage could become regarded as a psychological disorder requiring treatment.  Children could be taken from homes who affirm a biblical view of marriage.  Property could be confiscated as an anti-racketeering measure.  Now, these are extreme indeed.  Who knows if something will stop the express train of sex-without-consequence in our culture?  I hope indeed that something (or, more particularly, Someone) does stop it.  But these are measures that we must consider as possible, even as alarming as they seem.
For the Bible Christian (is that the possible new term?), there must be a readiness to forsake all to follow Christ.  If tax exempt status is stripped, will I give to my church anyway?  If I am regarded as an enemy by my neighbor, will I still love him?  If someone takes my home and even my children, will I say that I still have Jesus?  Am I committed to love those who persecute me for righteousness’ sake?  Hebrews 10:34 speaks of those who “joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”  This sort of thinking is important, not because it is alarming but because it forces us to think about what really matters to us.  The words of Jesus come with increasing force upon us, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next . . . And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matt 10:16-23a, 28-33)
It is precisely here that the resurrection of our Lord should matter to us.  If the tomb is empty, then Jesus is Who He claimed to be.  If He is Who He claimed to be, then what He claimed about scripture is true.  What He claimed about scripture was that it was God’s inerrant, authoritative Word.  One cannot consistently believe in the resurrection of Jesus and deny the authority of the Bible.

A Final Word: What Should I Do About World Vision

As mentioned earlier, the policy change and its reversal at World Vision created lots of skepticism.  Many folks who applauded the reversal of the decision are now wondering if they should continue to support World Vision.  I understand the skepticism, and it would be important to monitor World Vision’s future policies.  However, I think that people should support World Vision who have been partnered with them in the past and not allow this to change their connection.  Support sends a signal to World Vision that they made the right choice.  World Vision asked for forgiveness on this issue.  Forgiveness ought to be granted, and that should include continuing one’s support.  World Vision referred to its stand on biblical authority as the reason behind the policy reversal.[x] This is a wonderful thing!  We ought to support any organization that calls itself closer to biblical authority.
The authors of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy had it right: We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge.  We live in great and grave confusion in the evangelical world today.  Only a recovery of the authority of the Bible will bring clarity.  May God give us strength to hold fast to His Word, no matter what.
Satisfied in Christ,

Pastor Scott


[i] One can read this wonderful statement at: http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1.pdf
[ii] World Vision’s statement of faith begins, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” See: http://www.worldvision.org/statement-of-faith
[iii] See John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World, pp. 15ff for a clear description of this divide.
[v] I will not go into the arcane details of “child sponsorship” in this article.  Suffice to say, “child sponsorship” by all relief organizations is more a means of cultivating the heart of a donor to the agency’s work than it is any direct infusion of money to the child.  That is not a bad thing; it just seems to me that “child sponsorship” should be more clearly communicated on what it means and what it does not mean.
[vi] This is the argument made by Jesse Tink, a pastor and blogger in Iowa.  See: http://www.keeppointinginwaterloo.com/blog/
[vii] There will be attempts, of course, to show that same sex marriage and homosexual behavior are biblically moral.  These attempts at self-justification fly in the face of the text of scripture.
[viii] https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/homosexuality-church-1
[ix] See Al Mohler’s Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance, pp. 95-102 for an excellent description of how two men changed homosexual rights into a civil rights issue.
[x] See: http://www.worldvision.org/press-release/world-vision-us-board-reverses-decision   for the full World Vision statement.  Of great import is this statement from the release: In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

Go Vote!

If you were wanting to wait until the last minute to figure out who to vote for in Tuesday's primaries... you did it! The last minute is now officially upon us.

As always, my encouragement to you is to vote. In fact, I encourage you to read Scott Boerckel's advice from 2012 to rediscover some important principles to inform your vote. The article can be found here.

The collective voice of Evangelical Christians is an important voice to hear. The more resigned we become to the status quo, the less influential our vote becomes.

Here are two websites that will help you make an informed vote. First, here's The Illinois Family Voter Guide. Second, Project Vote Smart, an interactive site that lets you explore the positions of various candidates.

By His Grace,

Daniel



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

1 John, Donald Miller, and Christ's Church

The Evangelical web-world is abuzz today with talk about Donald Miller’s post, “I Don't Worship God by Singing, I Connect with Him Elsewhere." In the post, Miller makes several statements reflecting a poor understanding of the believer’s relationship with the church, including the quote generating the most attention:

"So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it's not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe."

In the post, there is a helpful "tweet this" in parenthesis after that last sentence. Call my cynical, but I think Miller is intentionally provocative and has successfully driven a lot of traffic to his site in the past 24 hours.

The purpose of this post isn’t to serve as a rebuttal to Miller. There have been several capable responses to the article that catch the main problems with it, including this one here or this one here.

There are two other purposes. First, I want to encourage you to commit to a church that proclaims the Gospel. Commit unreservedly and grow deep roots with the people around you. Denny Burk has called Miller's position "spiritual suicide" and he's exactly right. Grow in God's grace and love through a passionate love for His saints.

Second, I want to encourage those of you at Bethany Community Church to come this Sunday as we begin working through 1 John. This epistle by John to the church he loves will help you understand what true fellowship with God and other believers looks like. As we look through this series, I believe you will grow in your appreciation for Christ's church.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Church Membership

This Sunday and next, Dave Robinson will be teaching "Bethany 101" during the 9 AM hour for those who are interested in church membership or who simply want to find out more about Bethany Community Church.

If you’re not a member of a local church, I wanted to commend church membership to you. In his short book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, Jonathan Leeman argues we need a radical paradigm shift regarding church membership. We believe that church membership is like joining a club but Scripture describes our relationship in a radically different way.

Leeman begins his book with five big ideas:

1. “Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation.”

2.  “When you open your Bible, stop looking for signs of a club with its voluntary members. Look instead for a Lord and his bound-together people. Look also for other forms of unity (brothers and sisters in a family, branches of a vine, etc.).”

3. “A local church is a real-life embassy, set in the present, that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church.”

4. “A church member is a person who has been officially and publicly recognized as a Christian before the nations, as well as someone who shares in the same authority of officially affirming and overseeing other Christians in his or her church.”

5. “Christians don’t join churches [like joining a club or organization], they submit to them.”

Sometimes people object to church membership because it seems too formal. I understand that but I would encourage you to consider that this type of relationship God calls us to participate in together is a formal relationship. We each have real responsibilities in that relationship. For those who are regular attenders of Bethany Community but not yet members, I encourage you to spend the next two weeks with Dave and consider God's call to commit to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

By His Grace,

Pastor Daniel

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bethany Community Tornado Relief Fund

Dear Church Family and Friends,

Thank you to everyone who has generously given to Bethany Community Church’s tornado relief fund. We are humbled by the outpouring of support from our community, church, and other brothers and sisters in Christ. We take the stewardship you have entrusted to us very seriously.
 
Our desire is to be transparent to those who have given and help those who are considering giving know how funds are used. So much money has come in so quickly from a variety of sources and we wanted to make sure that people knew how we had spent funds to date and how we plan on spending remaining funds.

Funds Give to Date
·      About $100,000 has been given to our church so far to help those affected by the tornado.

·      We put out general requests to those directly impacted by the tornado and have met all financial needs that were communicated to us.

·      We have spent around $13,000. Some of the expenditures to date include:
o   Gifts disbursed to BCC families: $10,000.
o   Gifts disbursed to other families: $2,000.
o   Resources for volunteers such as fuel for heaters in the shed, meals, supplies: $1,000.
I wish I could share with you all of the stories of those who have been helped by your gifts. Over and over I hear of ways in which souls have been comforted physically and spiritually by you. Strangers are hugging people when they find out they are a part of Bethany Community Church! To God be the glory.

Future Spending
·      We plan to continue to give funds to those affected by the tornado that will meet their physical needs in order to restore them and their property to pre-tornado condition (moving expenses, deductibles, landscaping).

·      We plan to spend funds on gifts to those affected by the tornado that will meet their spiritual needs (Bibles, counseling material, etc.).

·      We plan to use funds to cover expenses of volunteers who are helping those affected by the tornado (purchasing lunches, providing supplies, fuel costs, etc.).

·      We are NOT using funds given to the tornado relief fund to cover any of Bethany’s administrative staff costs. For example, we are hiring a part-time person to help temporarily with tornado relief ministry who will be funded from giving to our general fund.

As you can see, we are spending 100% of funds given to our relief efforts to benefit families affected by the tornado. As much as is possible, our desire is to use the funds you give in accordance with your intent. If you have given to our tornado relief efforts and have any concerns, please let us know.

If you desire to support the ministries of Bethany Community Church, please give to our general fund. God is graciously meeting our needs as we incur additional expenses and we are thankful for those who are supporting us as we engage in this ministry.

If you know of needs—tornado related or otherwise—please let us know. It is our joy to be able to help meet those.

As we become aware of additional needs and opportunities, we will continue to let you know what we are doing. Again, it is our intent to be transparent so that everyone who has given so sacrificially can be encouraged as God uses His resources for His glory!

By His Grace,

Daniel