Monday, April 9, 2007

Gospel Transformation

Only the gospel truth is able bring about a gospel transformation. By believing the gospel an individual is saved. John 1:11-12: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name." Salvation is given to those who believe and receive the Risen Lord as their Savior. But saving faith in Jesus Christ is not merely a belief in the head. Faith means trust. To believe means to put your trust in Jesus. It's more than just believing the facts in your head, it's receiving those facts in your heart. It means you receive Him as the one who saves you.

The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:2, “if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” This is not a warning against true believers losing their salvation. This is a warning against a non-saving faith. It is only by God’s power that anyone is saved, and it is only by God’s power that anyone is kept saved. A believer's salvation is secure because Christ is holding fast to the believer, not because the believer is holding on to Christ. There are many people who acknowledge Christ. They believe in the historicity of Jesus, but they do not receive Him as Lord and Savior. Therefore, they are still lost in their sins. You believe in Jesus? That’s good, but even the demons believe in God (James 2:19).

The scary truth is that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Not all who claim to believe the gospel have saving faith. Jesus repeatedly spoke of bogus believers. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), Jesus spoke of seed falling on stony soil and at first it appeared that something was growing, but before long the plant dried up and withered away. In other words, there are those who have an immediate, emotional response to the gospel at some point in their lives but they do not produce fruit. They have a non-saving faith. Jesus said that among the wheat (real believers) there are tares (false professors) (Matthew 13:24-30; 34-43). Jesus spoke of houses without foundations (Matthew 7:24-27), of virgins without oil for their lamps, and of gates and paths that seem right but that ultimately lead to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). There is a faith that is not genuine; there is a faith that is vain (empty).

The key to knowing whether faith is genuine or vain is by perseverance. The truly saved are not only saved by faith but they continue to “live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38). Obedience and continuous faithfulness are markers of genuine saving faith. Those who forsake Christ and His church prove that they never really belonged to Him or it. 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not all of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all us.” Those who continue with the Lord, prove the genuineness of their faith. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31).

Back in 1 Corinthians 15:2 Paul says that those who “keep in memory” are those who have saving faith. The Greek word translated “keep” means "to hold fast; to hold firmly”. Holding on to God, holding on to the gospel is not what saves or keeps an individual saved, but it is what proves genuine salvation. Holding firmly gives evidence that one is firmly held.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one. - John 10:27-30...For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. - Isaiah 41:13

A believer holds on to Christ, because Christ is holding on to him, and genuine saving faith is marked, not by perfect obedience or faithfulness, but by a general pattern of obedience and continuous faithfulness. On this side of glory the gospel transformation does not bring about perfection but it does change the direction of one's life and actions.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Good News

The truth of the resurrection is a foundational element of the Christian faith. If the resurrection is invalid; if Jesus is dead and His body still in the tomb, then Christianity is a waste of time. At least, that is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins”. At the beginning of that same chapter Paul wrote, “I declare unto you the gospel.”

What is the gospel? It is the “good news”, and it is true news. The gospel truth has three components.

“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures”1 Corinthians 15:3b

Take a hard look at the important prepositional phrase “for our sins”. All of us, regardless of education, position, financial or social status are in the same hopeless predicament. Whether you are a mostly good guy who only sins a little or a mostly bad guy who always sins a lot or someone who in between the two, all are on the same road to nowhere. The good news is the gospel truth that Jesus took your place on the cross. He bore your punishment. He paid your deb. Christ's death was unlike any other death, because He died not as a sinner but in the place of sinners. Jesus freely sacrificed His life for ours, because only His death could satisfy our debt.

Please understand that the cross was not "Plan B". This is for certain because verse three says, “according to the scriptures.” Hundreds of years before Christ the OT foretold His death on the cross (Isaiah 53). Everything that happened on the cross, from the words spoken by His enemies to the soldiers gambling for His clothes, it had all been predicted in the OT. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.

“And that he was buried”1 Corinthians 15:4a

Why is it important to know that Jesus was buried? Because you don’t bury the living. At least you shouldn't bury the living. Jesus was buried because He was dead. He did not swoon. He was not faking His death. There was no doubt in the mind of the Roman soldiers. There was no doubt in the minds of Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, those two secret disciples who publicly declared their love for the Savior when they took His dead body from off the cross, prepared it for burial, and then placed it in the tomb. Jesus was dead. His burial was evidence of His death.

“And that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures”1 Corinthians 15:4b

Jesus was dead, but that's not the end of the story! He rose again on the third day, just as the Scriptures said He would; indeed, just as He said He would. Three days after His death, the stone was rolled away, and it was rolled back not in order let Him out. The stone was rolled away so all could see that He was no longer there. Jesus Christ came out of that grave alive, and He is still lives!

This is the most astounding truth of the Christian faith. It is the truth that Jesus Christ is not dead. His remains are not in a Jerusalem tomb. He is alive. That's the good news of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Qualified or Not?

"So, where did you go to school?" I am frequently asked that question. I distinctly hate that question. I am a pastor who does not have a seminary degree; not even a bachelor's degree. My academic credentials are slim; an associates degree in business administration not church administration or Biblical studies. Yet it never fails, as soon as I inform someone that I am a pastor, they inevitably ask me what seminary I attended.

Oh boy!

In the past I would try and make a joke about my lack of formal education. "Four years as an Army Infantryman was the best training for the pastorate I could have received!" The joke was a ruse; a transition springboard to another topic. No one has ever said, "WHAT?! You presume to lead and teach God's people with no formal training?" But some people are surprised (maybe disturbed) that I don't hold a seminary degree.

I hate the "where did you go to school" question not because I have disdain for education; the reason is that I wish I had gone to school. I enjoy learning. I enjoy the classroom. I love to read; specifically non-fiction: historical, biographical, and theological works.

Why then have I not gone to school? That is a long, boring story, but this is the gist of the tale. For almost nine years I was personally discipled and trained for the ministry by my pastor. Seven and one half of those years were spent as his assistant on the pastoral staff. During that time I was to Pastor Darrell what white is to rice; I went where he went, did what he did, and studied what and how he studied. I was his apprentice as we ministered together in a vibrant, healthy church. I was learning first hand what it meant and what it took to pastor such a church. From my teacher I learned the absolute necessity of Biblical exposition and the careful, hard work that exposition necessitates. He modeled, taught, and equipped me to be Biblically grounded and focused.

As far as I was concerned, the best way for me to prepare for the ministry was to continue doing what I was doing. During that time I did attend the local community college. I wanted to earn some college credits and use my GI Bill money before I lost it. My desire, and my plan, is to continue with my formal education. Currently, I am pastoring a small church in central Indiana. I work part-time to supplement my income. This makes it more difficult to enroll in classes. Plus, every year my children get closer to college themselves (funny how that works). I have an ethical dilemma with taking their money and using it for me.

All of the above was stated in order to ask this question: Do you need a degree to be a pastor? IX Marks has a response from Dr. R. Albert Mohler to this very question.

Blogger Dr. Jim West has also responded to this question in this post entitled "What Happens When Your Church Calls a High School Drop-out?" (Read this article for background on West's blog-post.) It is Dr. West's opinion that ordination should require "at the very least a college diploma and then a few years from now a Master's degree". Dr. West contends that until formal education is required before men are ordained and allowed to pastor churches "members will continue to be taken advantage of by ill-informed, ignorant ministers who are in the ministry, frankly, because they are too lazy to do anything else (include learn)."

Now remember, I'm not against formal education. I'm not suspicious of the "university"; however, I cannot agree that a "college diploma" or a "Master's degree" be a pastoral requirement. Why? Because I don't find that qualification in 1 Timothy 3:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

Nor do I find it in Titus 1:

If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

In response to one of my comments, Dr. West assured me that formal education was a Biblical requirement for pastor. He cited 2 Timothy 2:15:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

I never knew that verse was referring to a Seminary degree, or at least to some kind of degree, and I told Dr. West as much. To which the good doctor replied: "One cannot be described as 'diligent' if one doesn't invest the time, money, and effort to achieve the highest standard of accomplishment in one's chosen pursuit. Hence, it is utterly appropriate to say that one doesn't really love one's field if one doesn't learn as much as they can about it. Therefore, study and diligence are two sides of the same coin."

Yes, study and diligence are opposite sides of the same coin, but that coin is not minted by the education department. Not only should a pastor but all Christians must diligently study scripture in order to approvingly live scripture. Bible and Seminary degrees are helpful, but are they necessary? The answer is no.

I understand that some men in the ministry wear their ignorance like a badge of honor. Those men should be avoided, and so should the men who glory in their education. There are still others who receive degrees from a Christian "college", and that degree is worth only the cost of the paper on which it is printed. And I like what Jerry Vines said about honorary doctorates: "They are like a pig's tail; all style and no pork."

It is ignorant to glory in stupidity. It is arrogant to assert only the formally educated should pastor.