Friday, May 12, 2006

Mere Mortals?

We are mere mortals. Or are we?

From a biological point of view, we are indeed mere mortals. We are involved in a cycle of life and death. We can take no credit for our lives, and we are not able to evade death. The biology and the chemistry is determinative for the beginning and the end, and some people say for all that happens in the middle, even our passions and decisions.

But from a theological point of view, we are immortal. We are more than mortal. Yes, we stand under humanity’s sentence of death, but our soul, and our bodies, due to resurrection, will live forever. We deal with death, but we are not defined by death.

If we are not defined by death, then what defines us? I believe the Biblical answer, though hugely profound, is quite simple. What is our standing with regard to God? Are we with Him, or apart from Him? After all, He is the Creator and the final Arbiter, the Beginning and the End. When the drama of Creation, Redemption and Consummation are finally completed, it will be a reflection of who He is much more than who we are.

So the largest issue for each baby, teen and adult is this: what is your standing with regard to God? This issue is more critical than health and nutrition; than education and life/social skills; than money and property. On that day when we make the amazing transition from this world as we know it to an eternal future lived either in God’s eternal favor or God’s eternal approbation, all these other issues will be insignificant. The life lived for a few years in this arena will be only a speck compared with the times of our eternal destiny.

So why do we often choose to live as though we were are mortals? Why do we live as though biology and chemistry are determinative? Why do we invest so heavily in a passing world, and so little in an eternal one? Is it because we do not believe in God’s future, but only in our present? Is it because we take the gods of this world seriously, but not the God who made heaven and earth?

There is a stupid saying that goes, “If you have your health, you have everything.” No, if you have God, then you have everything. And if you do not have God, then everything you have will not be nearly enough.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Sin’s Execution

Depending on what books you read, the word “execution” can mean different things. Brian White and I read the business book, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done” by Bossidy and Charan. They insist that our plans result in action, in active execution. We hear this meaning in the cliches repeated by sports team members: “we just need to execute better.”

That wouldn’t be a very nice game if they meant another meaning of the word “execute,” which is “to carry out a sentence of death.” Readers of history will come across many instances of both executioners and martyrs.

So which meaning do I intend by my title, “Sin’s Execution?” Both! First of all, sin works – it is active and it is productive, and it keeps on working in your life and mine. The trouble often is that our sin is more diligent than we are in our own spiritual watchcare. And so, the conclusion is, sin executes; it works.

But sin is, in the other sense, in the process of being executed. The sentence of death has been rendered on sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and sin is making it’s long, slow march to the gallows. The trouble is, it still wreaks havoc in the lives of passers-by, which includes all of us.

We would like to jump forward from the throng and stab sin to death. But – and this is very important – we cannot. It is beyond our power. In a strange sense, we have to say, sin is better than we are.

So what are we to do with Paul’s admonition in our memory verse to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13)? Here, we must put to death the various expressions of sin’s activity in our lives. We must keep pulling the weeds. But if we think that having once pulled the weeds, we have put an end to all that is wild and unwanted, we are dangerously fooling ourselves. I must conclude that I am not sin’s final executioner, but thankfully, Jesus is.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What Does it Mean to Belong (a study in Acts)

What Does It Mean to Belong?
A Study in the Book of Acts
Monday, May 1, 2006

Review from last month’s study on “joining”: we looked broadly at "cleaving and leaving" (Gen 2:24) and at "clinging" to right things and the wrong things, along with "holding fast." These references were not about "joining the church", but rather God being joined with His people and individuals' participation in that people. An excellent illustration is a husband and wife being joined together.

Acts 9:26
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.

Note: “Joining” in the Bible is not an organizational term, even though we use it that way. The Bible does not speak of “joining the church” (at least so far in our study) in a formal way. Rather, it seems to speak of a “mystical” or “organic” union the is created between God and His people, and individuals as “joined” to that people, even as a husband and wife find “oneness” when they become married. It is not organizational; some have said “organic” is a good word.

Definition of a Disciple: (note what is visible, and what is not)

Acts 2:21
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Acts 2:38
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 3:19
Repent therefore, and turn again (a changed life?), that your sins may be blotted out,

Acts 11:26 (an interesting combination of terms)
and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

What Kind of Gatherings?

Acts 2:44
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Who else would have even wanted to be there?)

Acts 13:44
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. (obviously not just believers)

Acts 14:22
strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Note: it seems that there is a very great danger is sharing a message designed for believers with unbelievers, in that it may hide the fact that what is most desperately needed is to be saved in the first place. Encouraging someone to continue in the faith who is not yet even in the faith may be a huge dis-service.

Acts 14:27
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Note: this hits on the aim of our study. Did they know who was part of the church and who was not? Did they tabulate, keep records, develop a system? Does the Bible describe such a system?

Acts 15:30
So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. (Who did they call? Was their contact list their membership list?)

Acts 20:7
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Note: Were there precautions to be sure that only believers were participating in the Lord’s Supper? I think this would almost amount to “church membership. Are the careful use of the ordinances an appropriate way to oversee the makeup of the congregation: clear testimony that is consistent with Christlike conduct; and regular participation in the Lord’s table? This would be a more “pastoral” type of oversight as opposed to an organizational system or program. Cf. the next reference.

Acts 10:47
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Word Study: “Added”

Acts 2:41
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (who did the adding? Cf. The next reference.)

Acts 2:47
praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 5:14
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

Note: but can we conclude the same thing here, that the congregation or the leaders were not the ones doing the adding? But note that this verb is always passive (were added) as opposed to active (they added) except where it says that “the Lord added” (2:47)

Acts 11:24
for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Word Study: “Number(s)” (Greek word looks like “arithmetic”)

Acts 4:4
But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (if they were numbering, weren’t they counting; and if they were counting, isn’t likely that they were writing it down, kind of like a membership list? Or was only God keeping track?)

Acts 4:32
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (I guess if you weren’t “of one heart and soul,” you must not have been a believer)

Acts 6:7
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 11:21
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

Acts 16:5
So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Expectations for Growth:

Acts 9:31
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Some thoughts on and quotes from Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, in his chapter on “A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership”

What is the Church? “The church is the body of Christ, the local collection of Christians committed to Christ and to each other?” (p.150)
Why Join a Church? In this section, Dever gives many logical and sensible arguments for being part of a church. But his treatment does not give a Biblical basis for the mechanics of membership. Can you be part of the family with or without the use of an organizational tool?
What Does Church Membership Entail? There is to be both an expression of faith (baptism) and a commitment to “the faith,” that is, an agreement with the doctrine of the church, and further, an agreement to membership responsibilities. These responsibilities are largely Bible-based, but are selective, and codified form. They have become an organizational tool rather than the organic description that we find in the NT.

Note: Dever’s conclusions are based on his study of the whole of Scripture, and then fleshed out practically in organizational terms. I believe that he is godly, wise, and intelligent. He is also a very strong leader, perhaps with a strong bent toward organization. And so I am not saying this is wrong. We are simply involved in an ongoing study of what the Bible clearly presents, and then will strive to adopt a practice the re-presents the Bible’s teaching.