Yearly Archives: 2012
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” Acts 17:6
In the days of the apostles, outsiders disparaged the church, but they couldn’t ignore the church. Today, here in the Bible Belt, our task is to re-create those conditions. We want to be a force for wonderful gospel upheaval. How? By planting so many gospel-centered churches that the presence of the living Christ cannot be ignored. Being spoken against, as ones who turn the world upside down, is not a problem. Being ignored is, because this isn’t about us. It’s about Jesus.
In the corporate psychology of every city, there is a threshold of non-ignorability. Here in Nashville, many things can be ignored. But the Titans cannot be ignored, country music cannot be ignored, Vanderbilt University cannot be ignored. But the gospel remains ignorable.
An organic, from-below, non-big-event strategy of church-planting — some churches small, some medium, some large — but churches with a clear message of grace and a beautiful culture of grace, churches of gospel + safety + time where sinners can rethink their lives without pressure, churches where sinners can admit their needs without being humiliated, churches where there are more and more stories of divine renewal, and Nashville will wake up one morning and sense that something has changed. It cannot be ignored, it cannot be dismissed, it cannot be written off, because it is not just another big event down at the Ryman Auditorium that comes and goes but is embodied in …
William Tyndale, quoted in Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided (Edinburgh, 2000), page 1.
Today some of us are preaching the gospel. May we announce to the people one utterance, at least just one, that has the power to make a reasonable, thoughtful, respectable adult want to stand up and shout for joy. Not that they will. But they should be thinking, “Hold on here, buddy. I know how you feel, but don’t let this joy carry you away.” And if we never say anything that makes that impact on a reasonable adult, are we preaching the gospel?
Let’s preach to sinners the news so good that we ourselves must struggle against the magnitude of its joy.
“Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?”
John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in Works (London, 1872), X:491.
I do not believe that every minister of the gospel, to be faithful, must know the original languages. But many should and must. It is the standard. Yes, let’s make room for special cases. But they are special cases. And if we have had the privilege of studying the Bible in the original texts, the Lord has given us a stewardship to cultivate, not neglect.
In the usual course of events, you will have your son with you on a daily basis, under your roof, at your dinner table, for about eighteen years. Plenty of time to say to him what needs to be said.
For example, on my seventeenth birthday, my senior year in high school, my dad and mom gave me a new Bible. An RSV. You can see above how he inscribed it:
Nothing could be greater than to have a son — a son who loves the Lord and walks with Him.
Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. We give it to you and doing so can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be full of blessing. We love you.
Naturally, the first thing I did after reading that was turn to Philippians 1:6. It says, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” So encouraging.
Apart from the words my dad spoke to me the day he led me to Christ, what he wrote above was his greatest statement to me ever. It has always proven true. I can hardly read it today without weeping.
Have you said this yet to your son? Many years from now, after you have left him, your son will remember your words. He will know they were true words, important words, words guiding him to Christ time after time. And …
“Have you ever heard of anyone in history being imprisoned or executed for distributing copies of Grimm’s fairy tales? What would you say if you’d heard that copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey had been banned in Saudi Arabia and North Korea? Imagine people trying to smuggle copies of Hans Christian Andersen’s works into China? Such ideas are comical, but the Bible, which has been called a mere collection of myths and fairy tales, has suffered all of these fates. Throughout history and even today, copies of the Bible are banned and burned, and those possessing it are persecuted and imprisoned. There’s something about this ancient book that threatens and frightens those in power, especially those who use power to oppress people weaker than themselves. And they have every reason to be frightened.”
Eric Metaxas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about God (Colorado Springs, 2005), page 155.
“We have so much of the Pharisee in us by nature, that it is sometimes well that our good is hid from us. . . . It is a good life which is attended with a faith of righteousness and a sense of corruption. While I know Christ’s righteousness, I shall the less care to know my own holiness. To be holy is necessary; to know it, sometimes a temptation.”
John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1981), VI:600-601. Italics added.
To call anything an “institution” today can be its death sentence, including a church. Should we be ashamed of the institutional aspects of our churches?
What is an institution? An institution is a social mechanism where life-giving human activities can be nurtured and protected and sustained. Some aspects of life should be unscheduled, spontaneous, random. But not all of life should be. What an institution does is structure a desirable experience, so that it becomes repeatable on a regular basis. Some things deserve better than to be left to chance. Football season is an institution, Thanksgiving Day is an institution, and so forth.
Institutions are not a problem. But institutionalization is. An institution is meant to enrich life. But institutionalization takes that good thing and turns it into death. How? The institutional structure, the mechanism, takes on its own inherent purpose. The structure itself overshadows the experience that is to be nurtured within the structure. When, in the corporate psychology of a group of people, the institutional vehicle intended to facilitate the desirable experience stops being the means and morphs into the end, when the instrument of blessing becomes brittle and narrow and life-quenching — that is institutionalization. It’s how a vehicle for liberation degenerates into an engine of oppression, but it retains the sacred aura of the original liberating purpose. The Pharisees were masterful in this way. Mark 2:23-28, for example.
Your church is an institution. Don’t be embarrassed by that. But don’t be naive, either. To quote Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Every …
“. . . that God could become a Man in a particular place and at a particular time, . . . could be nailed to a cross and left to die, only to rise from the dead and . . . disappear into heaven, there to watch over mankind forevermore. Who in his right mind could believe such a story? Well, to begin with, all those who have believed it. That is to say, the greatest artists, mystics, sculptors, saints, builders – for instance, builders of the great medieval cathedrals – over the Christian centuries, not to mention the Christians of all sorts and conditions whose lives, generation after generation, have been irradiated, given a meaning and a direction, through the great drama of the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim (San Francisco, 1988), pages 65-66.