Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wise Worship

My wife and I have recently found a new church home here in Lynchburg. This church has a lot of Bible study and prayer times throughout the week, definitely an advantage of going to a church that has its own facility (our previous church did not). On Wednesday nights, we have an evening prayer service. It's not very long, the church isn't very far away from us but last week we didn't feel like going. It's not that I think our salvation was in jeopardy for failing to attend a service or anything but the reason we didn't feel like attending was because we were really into an intense few episodes of Lost and we wanted to stay and finish them (I know, we are arriving at the party a little bit late--no spoilers please). The question which came to my mind as a bit of conviction later on was: "Was that a wise decision?" You see, there's nothing wrong with not attending church on a Wednesday evening if we didn't feel like it and there's nothing wrong with watching Lost but I think we can all agree that choosing Lost over church may in fact be an unwise decision. Not necessarily sinful but definitely unwise. 

If you read this blog with any regularity at all, or even know me personally, you are probably aware that I am a bit of a critic of what I call the Church Industrial Complex (more on that here and here and here and here) and I advocate returning to more catholic forms of the faith. A lot of times, when I discuss these ideas with those who would call themselves "mainline Evangelicals" (what that means these days is beyond me), they usually ask me what is wrong about different aspects I identify with the Church Industrial Complex (concert-like rock music, fancy light shows, casual atmosphere, mood lighting, celebrity pastors, etc.). Generally, they want some biblical evidence--as if a verse exists in the Bible that says "Thou shalt not worship with smoke machines." It is true, I will admit that I have no explicit Scriptural argument (although implicitly, I could use the liturgical nature of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Early Church and their participation and adaptaion of Jewish liturgies). So the question is what do I base my critique on?
I should go ahead and make a few framework remarks. First of all, by asking the question where in the Bible a particular kind of worship is condemned, the asker is implying if it's not forbidden in the Bible, it is necessarily permissable or even good (modern Christians do enjoy revelling in their freedom...sometimes a bit too much--a symptom of a larger problem I think). Check out Emery's album cover which says "We do what we want" written on the cover of what I would assume is a Bible as a way of saying this. 

Second, I have adopted a 3-tiered theological paradigm which comes from the Anglican church: Scripture, tradition, and logic. I believe I have previously laid a foundation for tradition in my critiques of the Church Industrial Complex so today I want to mainly focus on logical arguments (which are based on some Scripture). 

In Phil. 4.8 (NASB), St. Paul states, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." 

Elsewhere, the Apostle tells us, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify" (1 Cor. 10.23). 

In the context of this discussion, what we can learn from these verses is some things are of more vlue to us as Christians than others. It isn't that playing board games with my friends is bad but is it wise or edible for us to only play them at the expense of doing something more valuable like a Bible study? No, it's definitely not! It's okay to say no to one thing in favor of something better (good is the enemy of the best is an appropriate cliche here). 

So how does all this apply to worship forms--afer all, people look at outward appearances but God looks at the heart? To preface, there is no form of worship that makes you better or more holy. Worship is only effective when you pour yourself into it and commit self-sacrifice so that you can die to yourself and live in Christ (Rom. 6.5). However, it is true that certain kinds of worship can be more helpful, more beneficial, more edible, wiser than others. 

Shane Hipps, former pastor at Mars Hill Community Church, wrote a fantastic book called Flickering Pixels. In it, he points out: "..'the medium is the message'...whenever our methods change, the message automatically changes along with them. You can't change methods without changing your message--they're inseparable" (25). 

This made me think of a passage I recently read in Pastoral Ministry (edited by John MacArthur) in a chapter by Richard L. Mayhue: 

"Having arrived at the proverbial 'fork in the road,' evangelicals must decide between two       alternatives. The first is an approach to ministry that is characteristically, but not necessarily exclusive, need-based, man-centered, consumer-driven, and culturally defined...The second option feautres a redemptively centered, God-focused biblically defined, and scripturally prioritized ministry...If we carry the consumer paradigm to its logical conclusion, it will be brilliantly consistent with prevailing contemporary theories but sadly unscriptural" (4, 10). 

Do I say all this to look down on churches and people who make up the Church Industrial Complex? Absolutely not.

I say these things hopefully to make people think by asking them: Is this the wisest way to worship?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What My Dog Has Taught Me About Christianity: Pt. 3-Picking Piper (A Case for Synergistic Divine Election)

The night my wife and I got Piper was a wonderful evening. We had been searching for a dog for a few weeks. After going to a bunch of pet stores and weeding through countless Craigslist ads and e-mailing tons of dog sellers, we finally found a plausible opportunity.

After finalizing with the people, my wife and I drove to North Carolina one evening after school and work. We met the people in a Wal-Mart Express parking lot where they pulled up in a truck with a pile of puppies in the back. That's right, it was a pile of cute, shivering puppies (it was November and a bit cold). It was one of the cutest things I've ever seen.

We weren't sure which of the pups to choose so the people opened the crate and I stuck my hand inside. Only one of the puppies reacted to that. She came forward and licked my fingers a few times. We took her out and held her for a few minutes and we just knew she was the one for us. It was Piper's response to us that told us we wanted to choose her. 

This, I think, is a good picture of how we are saved. What do I mean by that? First, we have to talk about some theological backgrounds to understand better.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to God and people's roles in salvation. The first is called Monergism and the second is called Synergism. 

Monergistic theology believes that people do absolutely nothing in the process of justification. The act is only a divine one. If God does not initiate the salvific process with a person, then it is not attainable for them. Monergism is the main school of thought within Reformed communities. Theologians like RC Sproul, Tullian Tchividjian, etc. are Monergists. It is generally associated with being a Calvinist or having Calvinistic tendencies. 

The opposite of the Monergistic paradigm is Synergism. This views holds that people's responses are at least in some way responsible for their salvation. Of course, a common critique launched against those who are open synergists are that they believe in a works salvation. "Works" have a bad name in the Protestant church ever since Martin Luther tried to cut the book of James out of the Bible by calling it "a book of straw." 

This critique is unfortune because it demonstrates a relinquishing of personal responsibility. Synergists don't believe you are saved by doing certain rituals or what have you. However, you are saved through Christ Jesus and His sacrifice but it can only be effectual through your belief. It's something you have to choose, choosing being an action or a work. 

Now that we have this background, let's go back to the Piper iillustration. The way Piper reacted to my hand made me choose her. I think it's the same way with God. He gives us all an opportunity to be his puppies, it's a question of how we react to Him sticking His hand in the crate.