Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Preach about the church to the church

Many would say the conservative evangelical church has entered a golden age of expository preaching. A genuine commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture has led to a genuine commitment to expositional preaching.

But despite this trend, what if a blind spot—a byproduct of 20th-century evangelicalism—exists in our preaching? Put plainly, an overemphasized Christian individualism may be eroding our churches and our preaching. What I mean is that we have focused on the Christian life as an individual pursuit of God and devalued the role of the local church in the life of the believer. 

The Christian life runs on twin engines—both our individual relationship with the Lord and our congregational relationship with other local believers in a covenant community, a local church. Certainly, we must emphasize the individual nature of the Christian life, but that’s often where we stop. The congregational nature of the Christian life appears to be an optional add-on or at least a minor aspect of Christian discipleship. That’s why we hear the common refrains, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” or, “I love Jesus, but I’m just not that into the church.” Because the church is Jesus’ bride, that’s like telling me, “Keith, I really like you, but I can’t stand your wife.” Our relationship won’t be the same.

Our preaching has inherited this imbalanced Christian individualism, resulting in weakened local churches. Today’s preaching largely aims at the individual Christian and neglects a congregationally shaped view of the Christian life.

Ironically, this misses the whole objective of expository preaching. The Bible is a congregationally shaped book. It is written about God’s people, to God’s people, for God’s people. The Old Testament is written to the people of God—Israel. The New Testament is written to the people of God—local churches. Even the New Testament letters written to individuals (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are written to pastors of local churches, instructing them on how to lead God’s people.

Expositional preaching exposes God’s Word to his people and helps them live out the truths found in the Bible. Because the Bible is congregationally shaped, our preaching must be congregationally shaped; it must be ecclesiological. In fact, if your preaching is not ecclesiological, you’re not truly doing exposition.

Again, I’m not advocating a push of the pendulum to the opposite side and neglecting the individual aspect of the Christian life. We must maintain a balance between the two.

So what’s the remedy? Ecclesiological exposition, or what Mark Dever describes as preaching about the church to the church. While modern expositional preaching tends to be sermons to a group of individuals, ecclesiological exposition helps Christians grow in their individual walks with the Lord while also helping them relate to one another and fulfill Christ’s mission in the local church. After all, God’s vehicle for complete Christian maturity is not just quiet times; it’s the local church (Eph. 4:1-16). Congregationally conscious preaching creates a compelling community of believers who disciple one another, exhibit genuine love and care for one another, and display the glory of God to a watching world.

Like bifocals enable someone to view close up as well as far away, ecclesiological exposition keeps both the individual and congregational in focus. When we read the Bible, we will surely find applications for individuals, but we must also view the Scriptures through a corporate lens, asking, “What does this passage mean for our life together as a church?” 

On a practical level, such a paradigm shift in preaching affects the explanation, illustration, and application of the text of Scripture, as the sermon explains the corporate implications of the text, illustrates the text by highlighting its expressions in local bodies of believers, and applies the text to the congregation as a whole. As a result, a culture of discipleship and Christlike affection develops as church members see how they relate to one another, and the corporate witness of the church is broadcast to the surrounding community.

Pastor, as you prepare this week’s sermon, continue to examine what the text means for each individual Christian in the room, but don’t forget to also consider how that individual might understand and live out that passage in the context of your church. Consider what ways your congregation is, or should be, obeying the commands of Scripture as a corporate body.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Dads, give your family a gift on Father’s Day

I still remember the worst Father’s Day gift my brothers and I ever gave my dad.

We sat on the edge of my parents’ bed that late-1980s Sunday morning with eyes full of excitement as my dad unwrapped his brightly colored Jams shorts and T-shirt emblazoned with a cartoon, surfboarding Tyrannosaurus Rex. To his credit, he acted like he loved this bizarre outfit that no self-respecting 40-year-old man would want to wear in public.

From corny to cliché to cringe-worthy, Father’s Day gifts are notorious for being bad, but good dads see beyond the ugly ties and receive them with joy and gratitude.

But, dads, let me challenge you to turn the tables on your family this year. What if, instead of receiving gifts, you gave your family a gift this year? What if you gathered your family around you and committed to lead them spiritually for the next year through regular family worship?

Deuteronomy 6:5—which Jesus considered the greatest commandment—says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” What’s interesting is that the verses that follow explain one of the primary ways families love God with all their heart, soul and might:

“… And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

These verses are the foundation of a practice known as family worship or family devotions that Christians have participated in for centuries. It’s simply setting aside one or more days per week to read the Bible, talk about it and pray together. And Scripture is clear that the father should take the lead when possible.

If you’re like me, the idea of leading your family to make this a regular pattern is both exciting and scary. Most men, even those who are spiritually mature, can feel inadequate or unprepared for such a task. So many questions/objections come to mind—What do we do? How long should it be? What if I’m not that knowledgeable about the Bible?

First, let me just say that if you feel your blood pressure raising as you think about these questions, you’re not alone. Second, let me encourage you to buy yourself a Father’s Day gift to help guide you—Donald Whitney’s practical and concise book, appropriately titled Family Worship

For less than $10 and fewer than 75 pages, this is the perfect jumpstart to leading family worship. The book includes a discussion guide that you could read with your wife or another dad, and as an added bonus, you can sign up for a free five-day email course on family worship at crossway.org/FamilyWorship101.

After a short survey of Scripture and church history showing the value of family worship, Whitney dives into the how-tos and what-ifs. One of the things I like about Whitney, which can also be seen in his book Praying the Bible, is that he doesn’t overcomplicate things or give too much “how to.” For example in this book, he says family worship is comprised of reading the Bible, praying, and singing, and can last as little as 10 minutes. Those looking for detailed guidance on nuts and bolts won’t find it in this book, which is probably good. One of the things I’ve learned is that flexibility is key when leading family worship, and Whitney provides enough structure to get you off the runway, but he allows each family to determine the best flight path.

Whitney also answers some “what if” questions, such as “What if the father is not a Christian?” or “What if your children are very young?” or “What if there is a wide range of ages among the kids?” Overall, the book is a quick, helpful read for families of all ages and spiritual maturity levels.

Imagine years from now, sitting with your kids and grandkids talking about Father’s Day, and one by one your children speak of the greatest Father’s Day gift you ever gave them—the spiritual legacy you gave them as you regularly taught them what it looks like to love God with all your heart, soul, and might through family worship.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Parenting, Gender Confusion, and Child Abuse

Which of the following options would you define as “child abuse”?

A) a parent encourages a child to pursue desires that will cause irreparable physical, psychological and emotional damage, or
B) that parent protects the child from these desires, despite the child’s insistence on what’s best

The answer seems easy, but when it comes to the debate over treatment for gender-confused children, medical professionals demonstrate competing worldviews that will prove disastrous for this generation.

The American College of Pediatricians released a startling article March 21, calling on educators and legislators “to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex.” The medical professionals highlight the dangers of puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones in gender-confused adolescents—treatments that pave the way for gender reassignment surgery as an adult—and conclude that encouraging children and parents to pursue such treatments is “child abuse.”

The nationwide American College of Pediatricians (ACP) is a socially conservative medical association distinct from the larger American Academy of Pediatrics.

Key to their propositions is the biological fact that human sexuality is binary—male and female—and having these genetic (XY and XX) markers is normal and healthy. Children with gender confusion, such as a boy believing he’s a girl or a girl wanting to be a boy, suffer from “an objective psychological problem [that] lies in the mind not the body,” these pediatricians say.

The article condemns attempts to normalize transgender treatments, citing the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association that “as many as 98% of gender-confused boys and 88% of gender-confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.” Noting that suicide rates are 20 times higher among adults that use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, the ACP asks, “What compassionate and reasonable person would condemn young children to this fate … ?”

The LGBTQ community will likely do everything it can to discredit these physicians and their claims. Certainly they cannot allow the massive surge in the acceptance of the transgender movement, popularized by last year’s media frenzy over Bruce Jenner’s “transformation” into Caitlyn Jenner, to lose steam. After all, don’t they hold the rights to the term “child abuse” in reference of parents who refuse to allow children to “be who they really are”? This claim shows just how skewed the term “child abuse” has become.

Make no mistake, this is about opposing ideologies.

The medical analysis of the ACP flies in the face of doctrine given to parents of children with gender dysphoria (the medical term for gender confusion) who are told they are abusive to force their kid to accept their biological sex.

Take, for example, the story of Mela Singleton, mother of 12-year-old “Evan” Singleton. She first noticed her daughter Evie’s desire to be a boy when she was just 2 years old. As a toddler, Evie rejected anything “stereotypically girly” and threw fits when people would refer to her as “she.” By age 7, Mela and her husband decided that Evie must have a boy brain with a girl body, so they acquiesced to their adolescent’s wishes, changed her name to Evan, and gave her a boy’s haircut and clothing.

Two years later, “Evan” became the first patient in the Children Medical Center Dallas’ transgender program, absurdly called Genecis (GENder Education and Care, Interdisciplinary Support), the only pediatric clinic of its type in the Southwest and among the 40 such clinics nationwide.

“It’s my job as a parent to help him be his authentic self,” Mela says, adding, “it’s not about me; it’s about raising a child to be the best him that he can be.” Evan, whether conditioned by his parents or the Genecis program, simply wants transgender to be normalized, stating “it’s not that big of a deal.”

But what if “raising a child to be the best him that he can be” actually means raising him as a her, which is her God-given biological sex. That is, after all, what the data presented by the pediatricians at ACP suggests.

Sadly, an over-idealized concept of individual freedom runs rampant in our culture, asking, “Who are you to refuse to let someone choose who they want to be?” My answer to that question is simply, “I’m the dad.”

As parents, we face difficult choices over what is best for our children all the time, and these decisions often come at the protest of our children, who think they know best.

What if my 5-year-old daughter, who has her dad’s sweet tooth, says she thinks M&M’s are the healthiest food for her and throws a fit when I place anything else in front of her? What if I acquiesce to her wishes and feed her only M&M’s because “that’s just who she is”? Or what if after she complained of a headache, I handed her a bottle of Aspirin and encouraged her to eat as many as she wanted to make her feel better.

I’m pretty sure in both of these cases that Child Protective Services would be knocking at my door.

Let me be clear, gender dysphoria is a serious psychological disorder in children, and I would never encourage parents to ignore it or say “he’ll get over it.” Parents should patiently and prayerfully seek help but also be aware that recommendations they get from some doctors will go against God’s design for human sexuality.

At the same time, just because your daughter likes to skateboard or doesn’t like the color pink doesn’t mean she’s a boy trapped in a girl’s body. And just because your son is more effeminate, it does not mean you should pursue medical treatments that could jeopardize his health and his life.

Undoubtedly, this debate will rage on, but I appreciate physicians like those with the ACP who are willing to stand against the trends in psychology and medicine in order to more clearly identify the true definition of “child abuse.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

6 Principles Baptists Can Glean from the Episcopal Church’s Suspension

When news broke a little over a week ago that the Episcopal Church of the United States had been suspended from the Anglican Communion over its official affirmation of same-sex marriage, it signaled a huge step in a debate that has raged for more than a decade. The Anglican Primates (senior bishops of the 38 Anglican provinces) voted to censure the Episcopal Church for three years—denying its ability to represent Anglicans on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, restricting it from participating in Anglican committees and decision-making, and demoting it to “observer” status—with the hope that the Episcopal Church will repent and return to fellowship with the Communion.
While many conservative Anglicans called for broader sanctions or for the Episcopal Church to voluntarily withdraw from the Communion, the decision signifies a deep line in the sand over doctrine, and the Anglican Church should be applauded for reaffirming their commitment to Scripture’s teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman for life.
Certainly, as a Baptist, I disagree with Anglicans on a number of matters related to doctrine and polity. Additionally, I probably would have pushed for stronger discipline and a shorter timeframe than the senior bishops agreed upon. But, there are some principles that can be gleaned from the disciplinary actions of the Primates with respect to the practice of church discipline within a local body of believers.
In recent years, the practice of biblical church discipline has seen somewhat of a renaissance, especially among Baptists. After decades of avoiding the practice, many evangelical churches have seen the need for the grace-based, restoration-focused discipline outlined in Scripture (most specifically found in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13) in order to re-establish regenerate church membership.
The following six principles seen in the Anglican Church’s suspension of the Episcopal Church follow the New Testament guidelines for church discipline:
1.     Standing on doctrinal and moral principles. It would have been easy for the Primates to simply ignore the Episcopal Church’s theological drift “for the sake of unity.” Instead, they recognized the serious departure from Scripture and believed that there are truths worth separating over, no matter how difficult that break-up may be. Paul rebukes the church in 1 Corinthians 5 for tolerating open sin. Unrepentant sin must not be acquiesced to or swept under the rug. If there is serious doctrinal error or moral sin in the church, leaders and members must address the issue head on.
2.     Loving call for repentance. Along with standing for truth, there is a sincere and loving call to repentance. The Anglican bishops are right to call for the Episcopal Church to renounce their position and return to the clear teaching of Scripture in order for fellowship to be restored. Similarly, when sin is exposed in a local church, brothers and sisters in Christ should lovingly call the offender to repent of the sin in order to have fellowship restored. Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18 outline multiple levels of confrontation in order to provide multiple opportunities for repentance.
3.     Desire for unity. As Paul instructs in Ephesians 4:3, we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” within the church. The Anglican bishops showed that a “unity at all costs” mindset is untenable. In fact, true unity is only strengthened through their actions. In their statement, they said, “Over the past week the unanimous decision of the Primates was to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ.” So, too, when autonomous churches carefully walk through the biblical practice of church discipline, they must always keep unity in view. A haphazard, graceless approach to discipline could result in a valid excommunication from fellowship for the unrepentant, but it can also result in fractured unity within the church.
4.     Clear timeframe and consequences. The Anglican Primates were specific in giving a three-year suspension as well as a clear explanation of what would happen if the Episcopal Church did not repent of its error—excommunication. In local churches, a clear timeframe must be given within which an individual or individuals must repent or else they will be removed from membership of the church. In some churches, this “watch care” period can last from 3-6 months up to a year, in which time members are asked to pray for the offender(s) and lovingly encourage them to repent. For example, the case could be presented to the church at a quarterly business meeting and a vote of restoration or excommunication—depending on whether repentance has taken place—occurs at the next quarterly meeting.
5.     Action to suspend leadership. Just as the Episcopal Church has been restricted from representing Anglicans and participating in decision-making while this interim period plays out, so too should a church immediately remove someone from areas of leadership while the discipline process takes place. This protects the church and serves as a visible reminder of the relational distance between the church and the offender.
6.     Goal of restoration. - As receivers of grace, our goal in church discipline should always be grace-fueled restoration. Regardless of how unimaginable it might be for the Episcopal Church to reverse its stand on same-sex marriage, I fully believe that if they repent, the Anglican Communion will graciously welcome them back into fellowship. Likewise, in the local church, discipline should always have forgiveness and restoration as its aim. It’s no surprise that Jesus follows up his instructions on discipline in Matthew 18 with a teaching on the extent of our forgiveness (77 times) and the parable of unforgiving servant. Forgiving and restoring a repentant brother or sister in Christ is a magnificent picture of the gospel.
As can be seen in the actions of the Anglican Primates and the clear teaching of Scripture, discipline is sometimes necessary, but the process should not be entered into lightly. Maintaining our unity in Christ, we must lovingly call for repentance and graciously restore those who repent. At the same time, we must lovingly discipline the unrepentant and break fellowship for their sake and the sake of the gospel.