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Books and Websites for Christians to Read: 2016 Edition [Part 1 – for the Newcomers]

January 29th, 2016

My friend Pastor Kenny found this blogpost over at Changed By Glory:

7 Reasons You Should Start Studying Theology Right Now

In the post, the author (also a pastor, but over in the UAE) gives a compelling list (a short one) of reasons Christians should study theology:

  1. Because to know God is the essence of eternal life (John 17:3)
  2. Because God has made himself known (Hebrews 1:1, Deuteronomy 29:29)
  3. Because by beholding Him we become like him (II Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2)
  4. Because by knowing God rightly we worship him rightly (John 4:23, Proverbs 19:2)
  5. Because we are commanded to get knowledge and to think on excellent things and there is nothing more excellent than God (Proverbs 23:12, Philippians 4:8)
  6. Because we should be always ready to give an answer for our hope and be ready to teach others (1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 2:2)
  7. Because there is literally nothing greater that we could do than this (Jeremiah 9:23-24)If these seven reasons are not enough, then I don’t know what is.

He absolutely nails it with this post. I’ve been beating the drum about #4 specifically (which I believe should be #1 on the list) for the entire 23 years I’ve been actively involved in Christian apologetics and theological discussions.  If we have a fundamentally wrong (Biblically inaccurate) concept of God, our worship will cease to be worship.

With that, I’ve expanded on Ken’s call for books Christians should read (in addition to the Bible) to “Books and Websites” for Christians.  Plenty of people read, but many like the convenience of something electronic to keep up with. In no particular order, have these books find their way to your personal library as a start of something bigger.  I realize that the study theology can be intimidating to those who have never studied it actively before, so all of the books here, unless otherwise noted, treat them as an introduction to the subject. Very readable, very accessible and in plain english.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer – this book is multipurpose. It will help you gain a biblical understanding of the attributes of God and the character of God.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul – without an understanding of the holiness of God, you will not understand the sin problem and the need for Christ in the first place! But this book covers more than that.

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith  by R.C. Sproul – for new believers wanting a brief and understandable introduction to Christian theology and beliefs. Short, straight to the point, scripture included, short explanations included a list of ‘further reading’ references.

What is a Healthy Church Member ?  by Thabiti Anyabwile – short and concise, to the point, supported by scripture.

Don’t Waste Your Life by  John Piper – p. 79-87 of this book are dangerous. “Risk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life Than Waste It”. God did not put you on Earth to work, gather, consume and spend the rest of your time gathering sea shells on the shore in retirement. That is a wasted life. He created you for His glory – this book gives you a basic roadmap of how that works out theologically and practically. It is part of the reason I’m married now.

Desiring God by John Piper – God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Sounds glorious and great, right ? Piper’s approach to the Christian life fills the believer with joy and deepens their love for God. If you grew up in a legalistic church tradition where you thought God was going to ‘get you’ if you broke from church tradition OR if you grew up in a stodgy, cold and sterile church tradition where everything was about ritual and obedience….this book is for you.

By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson – Amazed or…..accustomed ? If you are not daily amazed at the grace of God in the life of the Christian, you don’t understand it well. The good Dr. Ferguson has laid out an entire book on the topic and he approaches it from multiple angles. Revisit this topic and learn it afresh and anew.

What Is The Gospel ? by Greg Gilbert – Part of the IX Marks series, this one is short and concise (similar to Thabiti’s book) and is a welcome reminder of the simple, yet complex and overwhelming truth of what the gospel is. Read it and pass it on to a friend stuck in a not-so-sound church.

The Difficult Doctrine of God by D. A. Carson – Carson’s book may be considered ‘heavy reading’ for those not used to theological discussions, but he writes in a very understandable fashion.  What is the love of God ? A lot more than you think. A lot more complex than you think. 

Love in Hard Places by D.A. Carson – Carson’s follow up book two years later – this time, dealing with Christian love. What is it ? And let’s not do the easy cases – let’s pick the hard ones. This book will challenge you – heavily.

The Forgotten Trinity by James R. White – A devotional book on the Trinity. Meditations on God as He exists and praising Him for it. This book is more devotional than theological, but it is theological. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Roles, Relationships and Relevance by Bruce Ware – Where Dr. White’s book is missing information, Dr. Ware’s book fills in the blanks. Understanding both how He has revealed Himself and how all the members of the Godhead work together.

In My Place, Condemned He Stood- J. I. Packer and Mark Dever – Understanding and appreciating the atonement. Simple, right ?

Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification  by R.C. Sproul – Sproul gives a good overview of church history and controversies down to the present day regarding the question of how a person is made right with God. He gives detailed Biblical evidence for the Bible’s teaching that man is declared just before God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from works, tackles the James vs Paul issue and more.  This is one of those books that gives you a good basis and background to understand what you believe, why you believe it and why you don’t believe something else.

The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard – why do I do the things I don’t want to do ? Why do I struggle with X, Y and Z sins ? Kris Lundgaard’s book tackles this issue and all related issues. A must read and re-read, as all believers struggle with something throughout the course of their lives.

Always Ready – Greg Bahnsen, Edited by Robert Booth – The non-Christian is not starting off on neutral or objective ground when discussing things related to Christ and Christianity. Neither is the Christian. Both presuppose a host of things that guide their search of truth. As a Christian, we must begin with (not ‘reason up to’)  the Word of God as true and move forward from there. “But the non-Christian won’t accept that!”  They accept something…. and Bahnsen’s book will help you understand how to critique their worldview, defend your own and show the foolishness (Psalm 14:1) of unbelief.

Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint – A good introductory approach to the same topic as Bahnsen, but a more recent book (Bahnsen’s book is based off of his lectures in the 80’s and early 90’s before he died in 95). Very readable and very understandable. I’d get this one first and then the Bahnsen book if you’re new to the topic. Also addresses some of the modern critics of scripture and Christianity.


The Doctrines of Grace-James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken – Reformational theology; something a lot of modern believers have not heard before and are completely unfamiliar with. Ryken and the late Dr. Boice make the doctrines of grace (sometimes nicknamed “Calvinism”) very easy and understandable. Yes, for those of you not familiar, you will run into things that contradict things you’ve been raised up on.  Don’t be surprised.  You’ll also see ways that the doctrines of grace apply to daily life. 

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem – This is a reference book you will use for the rest of you life. As with any systematic theology text, you don’t read it from front to back, but you use it chapter by chapter as needed. Grudem writes in plain english, yet he doesn’t dumb anything down. Easily understandable, you’ll actually feel smarter after you get done reading portions of it…and you’ll have a lot to meditate on.

A New Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert L Reymond – You will use this book for the rest of your life. Reymond is heavy reading.  Whereas Grudem is the teacher who knew the subject well and knew how to bring even the person who had no knowledge of the subject up to speed, Reymond kinda requires you to know a few things before you step in to read here. Don’t worry, he won’t ridicule your ignorance and if you have to read a section 2-3 times to get it, that’s okay. 

*Reymond and Grudem agree on a lot of things, differ on some things. It’s good to have theology you disagree with on your shelf, once you get yourself settled on major issues.  It is good to know what other Christians believe, why they believe it and how they defend it.

A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William E. Nix – This book is a classic and will give you a boatload of information on the trustworthiness of scripture. It’s very ‘academic’, so it’s not light reading. But when folks come up to you with things like “the Bible has been handed down and retranslated so many times, there’s no way it can be accurate to what was originally written”, or “the Catholic church hid these other gospels from you because they didn’t want you to know the truth”, you’ll have a ready answer.

Another note on books – a few of these are available FREE online. John Piper has made all of his books available for free as PDF files on his site. This has been his practice almost from day one of having his site up. Both of D.A. Carson’s books (and others) are also free online. Look around.

Websites

I’m going to limit my immediate recommendations to four.  Yes, in future blogposts, I’ll probably recommend quite a few more sites, but for now I’m keeping it simple (this is an ‘introductory’ article on the subject).

Speaking of which, I’m not recommending any blogs at the moment. My reasoning is simple; get your theology from published authors whose works are in print, have been trained in the subjects they speak about and have stood the test of time. Here-today-gone-tomorrow blogs are a dime a dozen.

Monergism.com is probably the most user-friendly, multipurpose, comprehensive Christian website with good material that I can recommend. Just about everything you can think of, this site has.

Desiring God – John Piper’s ministry website: 30+ years of sermons, every book free as a PDF file, current articles and much more.

Ligonier Ministries – R.C. Sproul’s ministry website along with all of the Ligonier Academy teaching fellows. Ligonier exists to fill the ‘gap’ between Sunday school and the seminary, so this is a good place for believers of all experience and knowledge levels to drop in and learn.  R.C. Sproul’s daily broadcast, Renewing Your Mind, is also located on the site.

CARM – Christian Apologetics and Resource Ministry. Matt Slick’s website is what I originally wanted my main site (mentioned below) to be. The difference between he and I is that he invested more time and I got busy with my regular job (he also went to seminary while I got a masters’ in a different area of study).  Anyway, this site is a goldmine for Q & A on just about every Christian subject and Christian-related subject you can think of.  Stumped with that hard question about the reliability of scripture ? Yeah, he’s covered it.  Stuck on a ‘trick question’ about the nature of God ? That’s been handled too.

Missing Things……

I’d normally throw my own site (theologicallycorrect.com) into the mix, but it got hacked back in December and I’m slowly in the process of moving it to a new server. I’ll relaunch soon and announce it. :)

I’m also purposely missing sites and books on church history, although Holcomb’s Know the Creeds and Confessions (good for knowing the basics of church history) and Know the Heretics (good for understanding false teachings from the past….because a lot of them pop back up at multiple points in church history including now) are two books I’d immediately recommend on the topic.

One of Ken’s friends on his post (Ronjour) also had a pretty great list (we crossed paths on a few of the same books). It is good to see more people studying theology!

That’s about it for now. I’m already considering writing a follow-up to this with books and website recommendations for the Christian who is a little past the ‘beginner’ stage of discussing and studying theology.

Feel free to discuss and drop off comments below. Take care.

At Least 10 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Being Reformed

January 18th, 2016

As a person 15 years into reformed theology, I’ve learned a few things:

1. Read MANY reformed authors. Piper gets a lot of things right in terms of understanding God’s Sovereignty, but misses in other areas (i.e. baptism, quasi-pacifism). Sproul gets baptism right, but goes with classical apologetics instead of presuppositional/covenantal apologetics. God has purposely allowed many of us to have blind spots in order to avoid us being arrogant about ‘having it all right’ (for those asking, eschatology is my ‘blind spot’ and I’m more than willing to slow my roll here….).

2. People learn and come to understand at different rates. Phil Johnson​ took about 15 years, I took 4, Michael Armstrong took around 2. If you are new (4 years or less) to reformed theology, avoid arguing about Calvinism over the internet, please. It’s very easy (I speak from experience) to slip into fighting to be right and thinking it’s because you’re fighting for biblical truth. Yes, you can be right (and being biblically correct is important), but the motivation behind being right may cause your good works to turn to wood.

3. Grow thick skin. There are plenty of people who will simply attack you because they have no other Biblical evidence on their side….so they make the discussion about YOU instead of about what the Bible teaches on the subject. Forgive them ahead of time, keep your tone calm and the subject of your discussion on the scriptures.

4. Remember you were once one of those “I don’t care about denominations/I don’t follow man-made systems/I don’t follow Calvin or anyone, I follow Jesus” folks once too. Full of zeal, lacking in knowledge. Be patient in conversation (see #3) and ready to explain yourself at length….repeatedly.

5. If you understand that the noetic effects of sin (sin not only affects humanity spiritually but also intellectually) can cause us to take ‘longer’ to get things at times (sometimes not at all), understanding why some of your non-Calvinistic friends can’t see what’s “RIGHT THERE!!!!” in scripture makes a whole lot of sense. Be patient with them, pray that the Lord will gradually take more of the ‘blind spots’ out of their vision as He did with you. It is the Lord who opens eyes to see truth. He may use you…. He doesn’t have to. It does NOT all depend on you.

6. Hold truth humbly, with mercy. Don’t be quick to shake your finger at folks – you too could have been giving money to Creflo Dollar, thinking it was the Lord’s will to sow a seed. God pulled you away from that mess (see #5).

7. If you are new to the reformed tradition (i.e. you just realized that the Bible DOES teach ‘Calvinism’), get into a consistently reformed church ASAP (PCA, OPC, reformed baptist….in that order would be my preferences). Do NOT try to ‘change’ your church from the bottom up (i.e. a Sunday school class, discussions with other congregants designed to prod the pastor into bringing these issues to the fore and discussing them publicly). You will get branded as a trouble-maker, divisive, unloving and people will turn on you. Leave your old, “semi-Arminian, semi-pelagian, nice-people-who-love-Jesus” church through the front door (in full view and in good standing).

Here’s (hopefully) a nice way of saying it:

“Since I believe the scriptures teach X, Y, Z, I don’t believe I can stay here with a good conscience and I don’t want to be seen as divisive, since a lot of what gets preached, I don’t find myself in agreement with anymore. I’m not saying the people here aren’t Christians at all – we just disagree on some things Biblically and that puts a bit of a problem in the way in terms of fellowship, since we fundamentally approach certain things from different theological assumptions. Therefore, I want to respectfully withdraw my membership from this assembly.”

Why leave ? Simple. The type of growth you experience is directly tied to the type of preaching you sit under. Reformed theology has consequences for Christian living in every area of life. It is meant to not simply be “a few things I choose to believe” or even “a few things I believe because the Bible teaches them” or even “stuff related to salvation”, but an entire worldview. It is MUCH larger than simply “the five points”. You will not get that full worldview-level preaching sitting in the church you are currently in anymore than a child playing on the beach will get an idea of how deep the ocean is by staying on the beach and simply looking at it from a distance.

8. Read more Bible than reformed authors (but read reformed authors). Reformed authors are good for getting ahold of how exegesis and application should work. J.I. Packer is no substitute for Paul. J.I. Packer may help you understand Paul a bit better, as Packer (who is about to turn 90) has been walking with the Lord and dealing with hard passages of scripture longer than you (and probably your parents) have been alive. But nothing will beat the Holy Spirit working to renew your mind as He opens the text of scripture up to you while you read it.

9. Learn from older brothers and sisters in the faith. Learn from older writings (read Calvin, not just Piper and Sproul – see the second half of #8), learn from older brothers and sisters in the church (see #7). The Mark Driscolls of the world come and go. Driscoll’s arrogance at correction from men like MacArthur came back to bite later when it was shown that every single criticism men like MacArthur had against him was true. Beware the arrogance of ‘youth’. Better yet, beware the arrogance of ‘we need to hear something relating to now, not what people did yesterday’ (as if humanity has changed fundamentally). If you aren’t teachable, you’ll become hardened, argumentative and arrogant very quickly.

10. Realize that every true believer is reformed at heart. If you press hard enough and long enough, any true believer will affirm:

– Christ saved me, not just made me ‘savable’.
– It was God who orchestrated events in my life to bring me to a point of realizing my need for salvation.
– No, I suppose that if I was left to myself without God keeping me, I’d probably walk right into hell.
– Yes, at some level, I understand that God is indeed guiding all aspects of my life, though I don’t exactly understand how and ultimately I know that my life is truly and completely in His hands.

Cobweb site ? Just a bit…but not for long

December 12th, 2015

Hello folks,

A lot has happened in three years. I’ve dropped off the face of the planet blogging regularly.

A lot of good things on my brain that need to be shared, but just need a little time to get them all rolling.

I’m looking at relaunching LDM (including the message board) some time in 2016.  The site’s focus will shift around a bit:

Life: all of life. Politics, home, career, culture.

Doctrine: because I’m still reformed and covenantal. :)

Music: because it’s an essential element of life and culture and needs to be examined through a biblical lens.

So….looking forward to seeing you in 2016.

We may even start the streaming service up again.

Crosspost: Part II on reformed theology over at TCDC

August 3rd, 2012

The series on Reformed Theology over at TCDC just got part II posted:

http://theologicallycorrect.com/?p=321

What Did Jesus Say About……?

May 20th, 2012

It’s interesting to see people misquote Jesus who claim to be Christian. What’s not interesting is to see the millions of biblically illiterate folks follow along with them without even once opening their bible to see if what was said was:

1.  Actually in the Bible

2. Actually said by Jesus

3. Said in the same context as they mean it

4. Means the same thing as they mean.

So, this series is going to start off pretty simple and straightforward. The words of Jesus on particular topics that people say ‘Jesus never said anything about that’.  We’re also going to see if the rest of scripture agrees with this or if the apostles introduce something ‘new’ to the mix along the way (for the benefit of our ‘red letter Bible’ friends who think the only things that matter in the NT are the words of Jesus).

So here’s my basic topic list – What Did Jesus Say About (WDJSA):

  1. Who He is
  2. Repentance and Faith
  3. Homosexuality, Marriage, Adultery and Pre-marital Sex
  4. The Bible
  5. The Poor
  6. Election and Predestination
  7. Education
  8. Parenting
  9. Hell
  10. Heaven
  11. Church Leadership
  12. Social Justice

I’m more than willing to expand the list, so feel free to add some possible topics in the comments below or on Facebook.

*edit: Just added a few more to the list.

Bible Interpretation Basics: What Are You Reading ?

January 25th, 2012

Scripture was written in different genres.

Most people miss this fact when they approach it, which is why some of them have such a hard time trying to understand what scripture is teaching or attempting to communicate at different places.

That is to say, there are some parts that are written as instructional literature (Leviticus, Colossians) where step-by-step directions were given, or direct commands to do one thing and not another. Some were written as narrative (1 & 2 Samuel, Acts, the Gospels) where a story was being told to the reader and events were being related.

There is also prophetic language (Isaiah 40 and forward, Daniel 7, 9-12, Revelation) where images and symbols were used (in some cases) to represent actual things, people and events.  Sometimes, the images used were literal; other times, they were/are figurative (i.e. the woman in Rev. 12 who gives birth to the man child that will rule the nations with a rod of iron). Other times (Isaiah 46 for example), simple direct statements on what will happen are given (no illustrations or images necessary).

There is wisdom literature (James, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes) where the reader is taught truth via illustration, narrative and long-form arguments. A ‘long-form’ argument can be a number of illustrations, stories and logical statements all ‘piled up’ over time to point to one particular point or truth. They  require a longer attention span,  more reading and/or listening and more attention to detail.  For example, Proverbs 1:20-33 takes wisdom (which is defined for us in Proverbs 1:1-7) and personifies it and then explains how wisdom will ‘mock’ when calamity strikes those who choose to ignore its’ counsel. The book of Job is a masterful piece of wisdom literature, as all of Job’s friends, Job himself and God Himself all go into extended long-form arguments and illustrations to make their cases.

Occasionally, we also see poetic literature (Psalms, Job, Song of Solomon). Poetic scripture, like wisdom literature (and in some cases, some books are both) may use illustrations and analogies to teach a particular point, or, like prophetic literature, it may also simply come straight out and say what it means (example, Psalm 150).

Understanding scripture entails that we take the time to understand first and foremost what it is that we are reading.

One blessing of the modern age in western society is that we have any number of biblical resources available to help us realize what it is we’re reading so that no believer has to be left wondering ‘what does scripture mean by this’ ? A responsibility in an age of much is that much is also required of us (Luke 12:48).  The responsibility to handle scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15) is not just the job of the preacher, but of all believers (just like the qualifications for deacon and elder are applicable to all believers, not just those seeking the office).

So I recommend checking out sites like bible.orgcarm.orgbiblestudytools.netreformed.orggraceonlinelibrary.orgligonier.orggty.org and others that support and encourage believers to engage in serious study of the scriptures for the purpose of knowing what you believe, why you should believe it, how to live it and what to proclaim to others.

Once we figure out what it is we’re reading, some rules begin to come into play to guide our interpreting.

For example, Acts is not a theological manual. It’s a narrative.  Is there theology in Acts ? Definitely. There is theology (and by that word, we simply mean teaching about God, man and salvation that must be believed) in all of scripture. But was Acts written to teach us what is to be considered normative for every believer in every age or is it describing what happened  in history (specifically in the early history of the church) ?

From this, we can deduce that taking a passage or event in Acts and saying ‘this happens to every believer in every age and was not just a one-time event’ is an error.  Examples of this error can be readily found in the pentecostal movements’ use of Acts 2 as ‘normative’ (every believer must speak in tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit indwelling them). Even in the book of Acts, every believer didn’t speak in tongues at conversion (Acts 16 for example).

On the other hand, books like 1 Thessalonians were written as direct instructions to believers.  Is there theology here ? You better believe it. Is there narrative here ?  Some. Paul makes references in both letters to the church at Thessalonica to when he and Timothy came and spent time among them, how the word of their Christian love has spread throughout other churches and more. But the primary focus of both letters (1 and 2 Thessalonians) is instruction, not narrative.  Questions on the return of Christ and the coming final judgement are answered (1 Thess. 4, 5) , how to conduct ourselves in relation to other believers (1 Thess. 4:3-8), how to conduct ourselves in the church (1 Thess. 5:18 and forward) and more.

In the next installments, I’ll write for a bit on how to deal with some of the other genres of scripture and a bit more detail on what to ‘expect’ when you approach scripture and what you should expect so that your expectations don’t lead you to false conclusions regarding scripture.

By Name

December 1st, 2011

Daily Scripture Reading Galatians 4

Verse of the Day – John 10:3b
…and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

Devotional Thoughts

Jesus not only talks to us as our shepherd – He also calls us by name! Can you remember a time when you ran into someone you knew that you knew but had trouble recalling their name. You know, you smile and talk kindly to them because you know you know them and you try so hard to remember who they are! Hopefully they remember you or else you have a nice conversation and neither of you knows who the other really is.

Thankfully, even though Jesus rules the universe, He always recalls our name. He knows who we are and He will never (He cannot ever) forget who we are. The Book of Isaiah even tells us that our names are carved into the palms of God’s hands (Isa 49:16). He can’t drop us, shake us off, wash us away, or lose His grip on us. He cares so much about us and loves us so much that He does call us by name.

This is also significant of a special, intimate relationship. He knows us and calls us. He talks with us. He cares about us and our lives. No matter how small we seem or our needs seem in the scheme of things – God calls out to us by name.

Do you ever feel forgotten? Alone? Like no ones cares or even cares to care? Like you are a nobody, worthless and abandoned? Well, no matter how you feel you must understand that He knows you, He never leaves you, and He calls you by name. Sure you can’t see Him, that is why salvation requires faith, but you can know without a single doubt that He is there. At times we just need to inform our feelings of the truth.

And not only does He care and call us by name, He also leads us out. We will look later at what happened when the sheep leave the fold but for now it is important to notice that the shepherd leads the sheep. The shepherd is not a cowboy. He doesn’t drive the sheep like a herd of cattle. He doesn’t use a whip and loud noises to direct his flock. The shepherd simply and gently leads the way.

The sheep trust the shepherd. They know Him. He calls to them by name, they hear His voice and want to be where He is, so they follow. He leads, they follow. That is the Christian life summed up. He doesn’t whip, drive, beat, herd, or yell – He just simply leads the way. And if we know Him and hear His voice we follow wherever He goes. Wherever that may be we are safe because He is there with us, before us, leading us. We are safe, secure, protected, provided for, encouraged, motivated, and fed. We are loved.

Notice that in order to follow, we, the sheep, must know where the shepherd is, we must listen for His voice, and when we hear it we must follow wherever He leads. It is a matter of faith. Every day we must believe, trust, obey, and follow our shepherd. That is the only way to please Him, to get fed and watered and find rest with Him.

Today listen once again for His voice. When you hear it, be willing to follow wherever He leads. He expects you to follow today – will you? No Fear. No Worry. Just Faith. Just Jesus! Follow Him as He calls you personally by name today. Bask in His amazing love for you. (If you are not in the Word, you won’t hear His voice!)

Bible Reading For Further Study

Jeremiah 13
Isaiah 51

Recommended Songs for Family Worship

I Am Thine, O Lord
The King of Love My Shepherd Is

click here to find more daily devotionals on The Good Shepherd by Pastor Way

Church Membership and Excommunication

November 6th, 2011

So this scan of an excommunication letter has been making its’ way around the internet for the past few days (literally – gone viral in 24-48 hours).

What’s interesting is the responses I’ve read to it. Having been close to most of my pastors in my life, this letter isn’t a big shock to me – but apparently, even to some professing Christian folks, this letter is (supposedly) rude, shocking and unexpected.

I’ve commented a few times: the only people whining and complaining about the letter are people whose churches don’t practice church discipline and/or they haven’t read their bibles.  I have no idea on what has happened on ‘both sides’ of this particular issue, nor am I writing to address that….just to comment on the content of the letter and whether or not it is biblical or not.

It is. Plain and simple.

American individualism and charismatic spirituality have made church-hopping and a low view of church membership commonplace. Don’t like church A ? Disagree  with the pastor ?  Don’t like the music, advertising, marketing of your church and think they could do more ? Leave and find one that fits you. After all, church should affirm you and all that you believe.  The church growth movement (purpose driven church, becoming a contagious Christian, etc….) have only reinforced this mentality into the minds of the culture, even among Christians who appear to be biblically solid in every other area of their polity.

A few questions came up on one message board related to this letter.

1. Usually, when people walk away from Christianity, some people cite 1 John 2:19 and say the person was never really saved to begin with. If this person was never “saved” in the first place and has forsaken the fellowship together with other believers, how can Pastor Shade in his letter, exhort this person to “…turn away from your self-destructive path and turn back to Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

Because that’s what the Pastor’s job is – to call people to repentance (Acts 17:30-31).  The gospel is not just for the unsaved, but for believers as well and a good pastor constantly points his sheep to follow and serve Christ and turn from sin.  A question like this usually treats the gospel as a message only for believers and repentance as a one-time event.  Scripture doesn’t.

2. In your two posts (see 121 and 135) you seemed to intimate that there were three groups of people – the non-elect outside of the church, the unsaved in the church (who might or might not be elect) pretending to be saved and the elect.  Would you say this person to whom this letter is addressed to is “elect”, “almost elect” or “might be elect”? I would think that you’d say this person is definitely not elect since the elect can’t/won’t turn from fellowship with Christ.

I would say it to someone who once associated themselves with the covenant community and made vows before many witnesses and God that they would do all the things contained in the covenant. This isn’t an ‘election’ issue.  A pastor is not called to ‘preach the gospel to the elect’. Further, there is no ‘almost elect’.

As for you saying the person isn’t elect…well….they’re not dead yet, so no one can say this with certainty – hence the call to repent and the invitation and opportunity to return.  I’ll go into detail on this in another answer below.

BTW – this isn’t a ‘reformed’ issue. One of my old churches (which is dispensational and moderately Arminian) and my old pastor would’ve handled this issue the exact same way with virtually the same language. It’s a biblical issue, not a reformed issue. The problem is that the reddit reader who originally posted it don’t understand church membership or church discipline.

3. If he’s not elect, how can he be restored to Christ’s body? Are you saying that Christ has parts of his body that are NOT elect?

In the second link provided above (135) I talk a bit about what happens when a believer hears the warning passages in scripture versus an unbeliever.  An unbeliever hears the warning passages and ignores them, refuses to repent and walks further away from Christ.  A believer hears them, is convicted by the Spirit of God and turns (repents). It may not happen on the first time they hear a call to repentance or the second, but it will happen. 1 John 3:9-10 is a guarantee of this.

4. Pastor Shade said, “By this excommunication, we are declaring that you are no longer part of the company of the saved”

This would hold to what you and Ricky describe as people being a part of the “visible church” but not a part of the “invisible church”? Or do I have that backwards? But then this would again mean that this person is not “saved ” or “elect” in the first place, but only in the “company of the saved” but not “actually saved”, right?

Church has that right (Matt. 16:19, 1 Cor. 5:1-11) given by God. If they repent, great and praise God. But read closely – you are no longer part of the company of the saved (the visible church). Is it possible he’s saved and going through a period of rebellion ? Yep. But scripture only knows of Christians who are part of a visible local body.

Ever seen an arm by itself ? Ever seen a toe live on its’ own ?

So declaring dude to not be a part of the company of the saved is saying “you’re cut off from the body. There is no life outside of the body. Come back, or die.”

5. Can God’s “elect” be turned over to satan for their destruction? I think your answer would be a definite “no” on that one, but I just want to be sure…

That’s what excommunication is. Why would my answer be a no when that’s the very language used in 1 Cor. 5 to describe the man who was kicked out ? The good thing is that in 2 Cor., we find that he has repented and been restored to the body.

To be more specific, excommunication is both an act of love and of discipline – love for the body to keep them from the leaven of professing brothers and sisters who continue to sin openly (1 Cor. 5). A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.  Being placed outside of the covenant community, outside of the fellowship and accountability of the saints, it is hopeful that the person excommunicated will, like the prodigal son, find himself eating with the pigs and come to his senses and turn.

All that said, the tone and the content of the letter is both serious and loving. It amazes me (okay, it really doesn’t) that folks are up in arms over the fact that:

1. Dude has been repeatedly called and asked to return to fellowship – both in letter and in word (personally).  He has ignored these repeated calls to repent.

2. The session (not the individual pastor) made the decision, not the senior pastor.  For the non-reformed – scripture does NOT teach that ONE pastor/elder/bishop is to rule over a church and everyone falls under him. What scripture DOES teach is multiple elders at each church, all equal in power though differing in role (teaching elders and ruling elders). So that means thatmultiple people made a decision – not one person.

3. Matthew 18 seems to have been followed according to the letter. ‘Let him be as a heathen and a tax collector’ means that you do not treat him as a part of the covenant community.  You pursue him to repent and turn from sin, but you no longer consider or treat him as a Christian.  Look at the passage carefully:

Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Remember the context – a Jew would understand that a Gentile and a tax collector were NOT to be treated as the people of God. Gentiles were outside of the covenant made by God with His people and tax collectors were people who were considered traitors (specifically if they were Jewish tax collectors – robbing their own people to pay the pagans and make themselves rich).  In that aspect, an excommunication ruling (specifically in this case as laid out in the letter) indeed does say ‘based on your actions, we are declaring you not to be a Christian’.  What that entails is not a wish for the man to go to hell.  Rather, there is an open door and opportunity to repent – an encouragement even.

Only American individualism and biblical ignorance can find problems with this letter.  Of course, if someone has a case (a biblical case) against the content of the letter, I am more than willing to both listen and if necessary, retract everything posted here.  Otherwise, this stands.

Pray for the elders at CRC, as I’m betting pastor Shade’s e-mail has been overrun with folks blasting him and their church over the letter.  American Christianity is way overdue for a biblical primer on biblical church discipline. The fact that so many churches have so many morally failing pastors is due in part to the fact that church discipline is not practiced (under the guise of ‘grace’).  This lack of holiness is part and parcel of why the church looks more and more like the world in the US – self-absorbed (and catered to by the Osteens of the church world), self-concerned (and catered to by the Rick Warrens’ of the church world) with little concern for anything else other than making a better ‘me’ and living in ‘prosperity’ (catered to by the Jakes, Myers, Copelands and Hinn’s of the church circuit).

Harold Camping Repents…it seems.

November 3rd, 2011

Harold Camping – one stroke, two bad teachings and three failed prophecies later, has apologized for his rapture predictions.

http://tiny.cc/campingrepents– shortcut to the article on the Christian Post. I also did a quick video on the topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSCmlPZt-k0

So yeah.  I hope to see him come forward and disavow more stuff.

But part of me is still carefully reading that….is it just me or does it seem like he’s left some ‘open forum’ to come back with another prediction later ?

Pray his repentance is genuine and that more good fruit will follow from it (more repentance).

 

A few blog thoughts….

October 31st, 2011

I blogged a few days back on my personal blog about the current lack of time I’m dealing with and how it’s made me a bit disappointed in the amount of work I’ve NOT been able to put in on LDM and TCDC.

On Saturday (the day before my birthday), Tim Challies blogged about his consistent blogging streak – 8 years exactly without a day missed. Looking at the blogsphere and how it’s developed over the years, TCDC has been left in the dust quite a bit – I don’t consistently put up new material here like I used to. I have a little bit of envy (in a good way) because that kind of consistency is good and godly.   I originally thought I’d be able to spread myself around a bit more with LDM, but the same cares of life seem to have sapped the life out of regular posts here as well (maybe only for a time).

All in all, yesterday (my birthday – thanks to all those on FB and in person who gave me a call, left  a message,etc….) I had a little reflection time and started to consider how best I could repurpose my time so I can get these ministry things rolling again.  Do I fill ‘every minute of the day’ with something (including writing in time to relax, spend time with my wife, blog, etc….) or do I continue to ‘wing it’ like I’ve been doing ?

As structured as I can be as a band director, I dislike schedules, walls, and limits.  Budgets too.  But maybe these are things I need to work myself personally into as a regular habit of doing.  I think about things that are video worthy and blog worthy – and there are many – but I sometimes think that I may waste time in not actively pursuing and getting them done in a timely fashion.

So maybe over the next 365 days, I’ll spend some time trying to see how consistent I can be with new entries, new videos, etc….

So keep TCDC and LDM in prayer.  And me. :)  Let’s see what happens (my guess: I’ll do well for a week of consistent blogging, then more work will pile up and I’ll forget I made this blog post for 3 months….lol).

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