Building Up the Body: Evangelicalism's Failure

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From Voice, Nov/Dec 2013. Used by permission.

One of the most insightful of recent books concerning the church is actually written by an unbeliever. Alan Wolfe, a social scientist, has been observing the changing American religious scene for years. A few years ago he shared his research in The Transformation of American Religion (New York: Free Press, 2003). The message of his book is that “religion in the United States is being transformed in radically new directions” (3). Wolfe claims,

Talk of Hell, damnation, and even sin has been replaced by a nonjudgmental language of understanding and empathy. Gone are the arguments over doctrine and theology… More Americans than ever proclaim themselves born again in Christ, but the Lord to whom they turn rarely gets angry and frequently strengthens self-esteem. [As a result] the faithful in the United States are remarkably like everyone else. (3)

If Wolfe’s assessments are on target, what would be the catalyst for this transformation (or better, degeneration)? Wolfe’s thesis is that in an effort to win over American culture, Evangelicalism has stooped so low that it can no longer be distinguished from that culture. Take doctrine for example. Small-group Bible studies avoid theology like the plague, lest it prove divisive. Sermons are no better. Read more about Building Up the Body: Evangelicalism's Failure

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"The Scriptures"

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(About this series)

CHAPTER II “THE SCRIPTURES”

BY REV. A. C. DIXON, D. D., PASTOR OF THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE CHURCH, LONDON, ENGLAND

When our Lord said, “Search the Scriptures,” every Jew to whom He spoke knew what He meant. There were other writings in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, but the Scriptures were a body of writings marked off from all others by their sacredness and authority as the Word of God. Their history can be traced from the time of Moses to Christ. In Exodus 17:14 we read: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua.” As to the writing material Moses used we do not know, but we do know that in Egypt papyrus plant, linen and cotton cloth, the skins of animals and stone were used in making books of various kinds. The Ten Commandments were written on tables of stone, and with Egyptian mummies we have preserved even to this day cotton and linen cloth such as was frequently used for writing.

In Deuteronomy 31:9 we have the historic record of the fact that Moses obeyed the command of God: “And Moses wrote this law and delivered it unto the priests, the sons of Levi, which bare the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord.” And in verse 24: “It came to pass when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites which bare the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the law and put it in the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God.” The book was finished and placed by the side of the Ark for safe keeping. Read more about "The Scriptures"

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Post Editor Changes

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Some updates to the side post editor (the tool most of you use for writing and formatting comment posts) went in a little while ago. If you’re experiencing any difficulty (for example, if the buttons look basically like they’ve been put through a blender), clearing your browser cache will fix the problem.

How to clear your browser cache in a few of the latest browsers …

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The Struggle of Prayer - Part 6

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foldedhandsRead the series so far.

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

This petition, especially when coupled with the addendum in v. 14-15 (“if you do not forgive others the Lord will not forgive you”) has caused concern for some of God’s people. Let me say first that this passage is not concerned with forgiveness of sins and justification on the basis of the cross and resurrection. Certainly, that is not how the disciples would have understood Jesus.

Rather, what is in view here is our unfettered approach to God. How can we think of asking God to forgive us our debts and our sins (Luke 11:4) if we hypocritically refuse to forgive the debts and sins of others against us? Just as unconfessed sin stops our prayers from being effective, so an unforgiving heart will damage our fellowship with our Father, and hence our prayer life.

This petition requires us to look within ourselves for any traces of hypocrisy in our dealings with our fellow man. How many of God’s children harbor secret enmities, prejudices, envies and bitterness toward others? In some sense they must be to us as we would be to God.

Thus, as Andrew Murray says,

In each prayer to the Father I must be able to say that I know of no one whom I do not heartily love. (With Christ in the School of Prayer, 30.)

A prayer life that fails to include thorough self-examination is always going to be deficient. Although no man can know himself so well as to exclude all suspicion of his heart-motive, yet he must search his memory for sins still unconfessed and people yet unforgiven. Read more about The Struggle of Prayer - Part 6

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Issues of Conscience

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roast meat

The Bible describes with clarity many responsibilities of believers in the contexts of government and society. Still in some areas believers are not given specific instructions, and instead must rely on applying general biblical principles to contemporary challenges. For example, Paul mandates without compromise that the Roman believers should pay the taxes required of them (Rom. 13:7), but when it comes to eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul gives the Corinthians options (1 Cor. 8-10).

Pagan temples in first-century Corinth often included animal sacrifice. Even beyond the temples themselves, the marketplace was well represented with meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Consequently, the issue of whether a believer should eat such meat became an iconic cultural problem for the Corinthian church. Each era and context presents its own unique challenges. Every culture encounters, From time to time, moral issues so complex as to defy simple solutions. Still, in each and every instance, despite any level of complexity, these challenges can be answered appropriately by biblical principles. But before one can correctly apply a general principle to a specific situation, the person must understand the principle. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians is helpful, as he explains the principles and their grounding so that the believers at Corinth could apply them well, and in so doing could maintain clear consciences. Read more about Issues of Conscience

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You're Ugly and Your Mama Dresses You Funny

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baghead.jpg

The term ad hominem is much misunderstood these days. In popular usage, it’s a personal attack leveled against someone you disagree with. Many never use the term without appending the word attack. “It’s nothing but an ad hominem attack,” they complain, as though an ad hominem is a nasty species of attack that automatically disproves every claim the user ever made. (And is it just me or does just about everybody employ “ad homnem attacks” even though they insist nobody else should?)

My aim here is to clarify a few things about the much misunderstood ad hominem.

It’s an argument.

First, the ad hominem is an argument, a bit of reasoning employed to support or counter a claim. Specifically, ad hominem looks to some trait an individual possesses (usually a flaw) to show that a claim is false (or, less commonly, that a claim is true). Ad hominem means “to the man,” and as a form of argument it is not inherently invalid or improper—or even impolite. Read more about You're Ugly and Your Mama Dresses You Funny

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The Skill of Celebrating Christmas

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Celebrating Christmas is a skill. I’m not particularly good at this craft, but I have at least figured out that you must handle the holidays with a measure of prowess. Just letting Christmas happen to you is a recipe for trouble. Like sailing a ship, Christmas is an opportunity requiring keen attention at the helm.

Every year, it seems, I gain a lesson in what not to do and resolve to do things a little better the next time around. I do not pretend to offer anything like a comprehensive word on the subject here, nor to speak with authority. But after many tries at it, a few reflections may at least stimulate thought as we reflect back on this past season and look to the future.

The first skill in navigating Christmas well is to renounce idealism.

This is harder for some than for others; but it is vital never to permit tradition or fantasy to overwhelm reality. Fulfilling traditions and meeting expectations is not evil; but unrestrained dreams can quickly morph into vampire-like nemeses that suck the joy from our souls. Have a long talk with your head (rather than your heart) at the outset of the holiday season: “Some preparations will fail. Unforeseen complications will arise. Some things will not go well. And all of that is okay.” Do not expect to hit a home run every Christmas; hitting a single now and then is acceptable. Moderate expectations can brighten the season considerably. Read more about The Skill of Celebrating Christmas

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Partnerships & Personal Differences

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Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Nov/Dec 2013.

Two men sat in a cafe and shared ministry concerns over a cup of coffee. Young, energetic, and visionary, they dreamed of the things they could accomplish for God. They were already busily involved in ministry, but they saw so many other needed things they would like to do. There just did not seem to be time to do it all. “There is so much we could do,” one of the men commented, “If we could just get organized and make better use of our time.”

Energy, vision, and time management are essential for effective ministry. These two men might have become moderately more effective by better time management. Sharing their vision and zeal with ministry partners could, however, have made them markedly more effective. Ministry partnerships are an exceptionally effective way of increasing both the effectiveness and scope of one’s ministry. Partnerships not only afford faithful prayer partners and encouragers, but also enable pursuit of vision that is beyond one’s personal gifting and abilities. Additionally, partnerships help one maintain ministry focus through difficult circumstances that might otherwise result in overt ministry failure or even abandonment one’s God given calling. Read more about Partnerships & Personal Differences

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