Multiplex Wisdom of God

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I recently watched a video called An Evening with Tom Wright on “Paul: A Biography”. It was a very good introduction to N.T. Wright’s book on Paul. I would highly recommend the video.

Towards the end of the video Wright is asked a series of questions from Martin Bashir, a British Journalist. He asked Wright, “What would Paul say about the multi-denominational and fractious nature of the modern expression of Church?” I like Wright’s response and I post the transcript for it here below:

Martin Bashir: You talked earlier about Paul being concerned about holiness and unity, and how combining those two is the challenge of every pastoral minister, male and female everywhere in the world. A question is asked, what would Paul say about the multi-denominational and fractious nature of the modern expression of Church?

Tom Wright: I think he would hang his head and say you need to go back to square-one and start again.

Martin Bashir: Really?

Tom Wright: After I wrote “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”, I was on the road doing various lectures and so on, and again and again people said, ‘What’s the big thing Paul would say if he could see us today?’ And I said, ‘Not only that we are disunited but that we don’ care about it.’ Or if we do, we go an ecumenical meeting once a month and kind of solved our consciences that we have shaken hands with our Christian brothers and sisters down the road. Well that’s better than not. I mean, a hundred years ago the Anglican bishops were sending angry letters to any of their clergy who dared to preach in a Methodist church. Where are we now tonight? This would have been unthinkable. We’ve come a long way and let’s enjoy that. But, there still a longs ways to go.

Tom Wright: Now I think the tragedy is this: in the 16th century the Reformers rightly insisted on worship and scripture in their own language. But, once you say, ‘Okay, have it in your own language,’ then you get the Germans worshiping in German,  and the Dutch in Dutch, and the French in French and the English in English. And then as theological divisions emerge those churches embrace different ways and then they say, ‘Oh, they’re heretics down the road,’ where’s in fact they were just speaking a different language and it may turn out there are theological differences. I am not saying theological differences aren’t important. Believe me they are hugely important. But, if we remain disunited and don’t even care then the principalities and powers are still running the show.

Tom Wright: Ephesians 3 Paul says, through the church the multiplex wisdom of God… the many colored, many splendid wisdom of God might be made known to the principalities and powers. This is the point. Caesar would have loved to had an empire in which people of all sorts were happy in one big family. It never worked. He tried to impose it as a Roman uniformity. Paul is saying, the glorious multi-colored variety of the church is supposed to be united. And when that happens Caesar will know that God has called time on his oppressive empire.

Faith Healing a False Gospel?

Jesus Healing the Paralytic

A headline on Twitter caught me off guard the other day: “David Platt calls out ‘false gospel’ of faith healing; forgiveness of sins is the real Good News.” It would seem at first glance Platt and I are reading a different Bible. Jesus’ ministry was full of healings. People being healed is a sign that he was the Messiah, that God’s kingdom was breaking into this present age. The age to come is breaking forth.

At The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference Platt preached from Mark 2:1-12. Ironically this is the very passage I thought about when I first saw the headline. It is the story of Jesus healing the paralytic who’s friends lowered him down through a roof to see Jesus. Looking at the man Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the scribes and Pharisees begin to question to themselves how one who is not God can forgive sins. But, Jesus showing that he could forgive sin heals the paralytic.

Platt claims, though the man had two urgent needs, healing and forgiveness, the two needs are not equal. He says, “This man’s spiritual need was ultimate. More important than even his physical paralysis was his spiritual malice… this man was a sinner, which meant that his ultimate need was not healing from God, but holiness before God.” This is why Jesus did not first heal the man but forgave him his sins.

But, the message of this passage is not we need forgiveness of sins. The message is that Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus knowing his audience has scribes and Pharisees in it (See Lk. 5:21) first said to the man that his sins were forgiven. He knew the Pharisees would question it. It was believed then sickness and disease were a result of sin. Even Jesus’ own disciples thought this (John 9:1ff). If Jesus was to prove he has the power to forgive sins, in the eyes of these scribes and Pharisees he’d have to heal the sickness.

Which is easier to say after all? “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Be healed”?

Your particular sin may not have caused your sickness. But, sickness and disease is a result of sin in the world. If Jesus can forgive sin, save us from our sin, then why is it a “false gospel” to say you can be healed by Jesus? After all, healing is a significant part of the atonement (Is. 53:5).

Platt said, ““The Gospel is not going to Africa and saying ‘trust in Jesus and your HIV/AIDS will be gone. The Gospel is not going to America and saying ‘trust in Jesus and your cancer will be gone.’” This I agree with Platt. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not “believe and be physically healed”, but, “believe and be forgiven.” However, to disassociate healing from the gospel all together is not how the Bible portrays the work of Jesus, his ministry, or the ministry of the Church after his ascension. By our saving faith we are healed, either in this age or the age to come. What is there to hope for if we are not ever healed?

Another pastor quoted in the article is Kevin DeYoung. He said the key to Jesus’ ministry is not to “transform social structures,” but to proclaim the good news. He says, “There is not a single example of Jesus going into a town with the purpose of healing or casting out demons… The reason He came out to public ministry was to preach.”

Excuse me Kevin, have you read the gospel of Luke? Because this is what the gospel of Luke is all about.

Both Platt and DeYoung miss the point of Jesus ministry. He himself told us what his ministry is all about in Luke 4:18-19.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus came to preach? Yes, to preach good news to the poor. And if Jesus did not come to “transform social structures” then how is forgiveness of sins good news to the poor? Especially since people in all social classes has access to this same forgiveness? Also, Jesus was to deliver people, heal people, and set people free. Many want to over-spiritualize this passage. But, how does Jesus fulfill his God given mission? In the real world, during his earthly ministry.

Jesus did go about casting out demons (Luke 4:31-37) setting free the captive.

Jesus did go about healing (Luke 4:38) including the blind.

Jesus preached against the leaders of his day for not considering the poor, and for keeping people from experiencing God (Luke 11:37-54), proclaiming liberty to the oppressed.

Yes, Jesus was sent to preach the gospel, but he was also sent to bring “the good news of the kingdom of God” too (Luke 8:1). He preached the good news AND brought about the kingdom of God by healing, casting out demons, and proclaiming liberty to those oppressed.

Pastor, You Need Friends

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One of the most valuable and precious relationships I have involves other Christian leaders and ministers in my local community. I’ve made it a priority to cultivate these relationships in order to promote unity and see the kingdom advance further.

Though these relationships promote unity they have been a great blessing to me both mentally and spiritually.

Brian Boyles writing for Facts and Trends says, “I [have] friendships with other church leaders in the community. These… were vital to my personal and spiritual growth…” When things go wrong in pastors’ lives, they need someone to turn to, someone that will pray over them, someone to speak words of encouragement.

Many see the pastor as someone who has it all together, as someone who cannot have any faults or problems. If the pastor did it would prove God is not with him. In spite of this being utterly false many pastors and leaders face congregants that think and act this way. Most pastors feel alone with no one to talk to. 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend. They have no one in which they can talk to, vent to about ministry, or work through problems about congregants, families, and even their own marriage.

70% say they constantly fight depression. Boyles says, “You need another person in your shoes to walk with you through times like this and other difficult things you’ll encounter in ministry—things you can’t bring before friends you have within your own congregation.”

Though I don’t have a formal congregation, as I am managing a homeless shelter, I do still look for and value the friendship and support of local pastors and ministry leaders.

Thinking through this I am drawn to Jesus. He himself had his select disciples whom he called friends (John 15:15). When he was tired from ministry he sought refuge with his friends saying, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place so we can rest” (Mark 6:31). When Jesus was facing his greatest trial he took his closest friends and asked them to pray with him (Luke 22:40, 46), to sit up with him in the night and keep watch over him (Mark 14:36). Jesus fellowshipped with his friends when he was tired. He leaned on them at his hour of suffering. He even needed his friend, whom he loved, when he was upon the cross (John19:25-27).

If Jesus ,our great shepherd, had need of friends who would fellowship with him, pray for him, and look after his personal wellbeing, how much more do we, his under-shepherds, need friends who will do the same?

Non-Charismatics

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Promoting unity is one of the goals of this blog. I want to see unity among the churches in order for us to be the light that Jesus has called us to be. I look for others that promote unity in the faith and am thankful to see people from many denominations and traditions writing and encouraging unity between those of different traditions.

One such is Thomas R. Schreiner writing for 9Marks. His article is titled, “Why Charismatics and Non-Charismatics Can Get Along.” Indeed we can get along. In fact, I would argue we need to get along if we are to be of any use in advancing the kingdom of God.

Schreiner is charitable and highlights the need to be united where we all agree: primarily the gospel and the Scriptures as the word of God. I agree with Schreiner and carry the same sentiment. However, I have one point I disagree on and one question I’d ask Non-Charismatics.

Schreiner says, “When this life is over and we live in the new world that is coming, there won’t be any theological disagreements.” There will be no more debates, no more disputes, there will be an agreement on everything. I think this assumes that our diversity is a result of sin and not a result of our infinite Creator. The creativeness of our God is found within the diversity of gifts found within his people. Even including our differences in understanding.

In the age to come there will be so much more to discover, so much more to understand, so much more to see, concerning our infinite God and savior. There is no way our finite minds will be able to grasp the fullness of our God. Understanding will come just as it does today: through thought, discussion, and debate. The difference will be in how we debate. It will be done within the bounds of the full love of God. There will be no ill will, no misrepresenting people, no hate. Debates will be civil.

Schreiner goes on to say, “we can acknowledge and should acknowledge that churches that differ from us but subscribe to the central doctrines of the Christian faith and faithfully proclaim the gospel are good churches…I’m fairly certain, by the way, that I am right on spiritual gifts and that my charismatic brothers and sisters are mistaken.” Now the question I have for Schreiner is this: if these churches are good churches what do you think is going on when these churches practice the spiritual gifts? Are these churches deceived in thinking people are being healed when we pray? Are these churches mistaken when they receive previously unknown information in order to encourage one another?

He says, “I also think there are some important consequences which flow from holding a charismatic position, and I worry that the view of prophecy many charismatics hold can and sometimes does lead to inadequate views on the sufficiency of biblical revelation.” Of this I’d ask, are we to ignore the passages encouraging us to desire the gifts, especially prophecy? What are we to do with the fact that no where in Scripture does it say the gifts will stop? Is the mere existence of the Bible proof enough to render its contents void?

These question are not meant to further put a wedge between Charismatics and Non-Charismatics. I just want to understand the Non-Charismatics and how it “works” when churches unite in our common faith.

Eucharismatic?

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Managing The Refuge Homeless Shelter affords me the opportunity to see many churches with many different styles of worship and service. There are stark contrasts between churches who are charismatic and mainline churches.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church. So, I am more familiar with the laid back spontaneous style of worship. There are no creeds to recite, no written prayers, and communion is served only once a month.

Other mainline churches have creeds, liturgies, and communion served every week.

But what I want to highlight here is not the different styles of worship. I want to talk about the difference in how the spiritual gifts are practiced among the churches.

Last month an article written by Andrew Wilson called, “Our Churches Are Either Sacramental or Charismatic.” He says, “ It is an oddity of contemporary Christianity, at least in the West, that the churches that emphasize the sacraments generally do not emphasize spiritual gifts, and vice versa.”

And an oddity it is! The early church had a good mix of liturgy and charismatic gifts. It is strange that the Church today seems to be splintered between those who practice and those who don’t.

(I am not referring to cessationist. Here, I am referring to those churches that claim to believe in the spiritual gifts and yet do not practice.)

Wilson wants to see both the high-liturgical churches and the charismatics come together and practice together. He is looking for the churches to adopt “Eucharismatic” worship. He combines the words Eucharist and charismatic to emphasize the unity between high liturgical churches and the use of the gifts. They can be used together within worship.

Growing up Pentecostal I was told written prayers were not spiritual enough. You needed to pray from the heart, pray in the spirit, which is spontaneous.

High liturgical churches may feel if they allow the use of the gifts they would lose control of their services and create an atmosphere that is less reverent.

These are valid fears. There are times when prayer needs to be spontaneous. But, I have greatly been enriched by the use of written prayers. The book of Psalms is one of my go-to prayer books. Also, I’ve been in many services where a supposed “move of the Spirit” led to chaos and irreverent behavior in the service. But it is not the gifts of the Spirit, or the Spirit himself, that brings chaos. It is people mis-using the gifts. It is the task of the leadership and elders to correctly teach the use of the gifts and handle the service in such a way that it builds up the body of Christ.

I’d encourage my charismatic friends to consider using liturgy in your services. I would start by reciting the Apostles’ Creed during your service. It is a good start in getting your people use to reciting and praying together.

For my high-liturgical friends I would encourage you to create a space within your services in order for the gifts of the Spirit to be used. This means you’ll have to allow people to speak from the heart, to pray for others, and sing songs to each other.

Wilson says, “Worshiping God with both sacramental and spiritual gifts can deepen our joy, enrich our lives, and remind us that there are things we can learn from the worship practices of other church traditions.”

I whole heartedly agree.

Babel – A False Unity Part 2

Tower of Babel – Unknown

Last time we asked the question of why God would break unity when he shows us and teaches us to be united in him?

The story of the Tower of Babel can be a confusing one for us moderns. The unity seen in the people looks like the unity God promotes throughout his scriptures. Why did God disperse the people and make them break their unity?

The Book of Jasher is a non-conical book assumed to be ancient re-telling of the events described in the Bible. It is not scripture, but, it gives us insight into how Israel understood the events that took place.

In this book there is a warrior king named Nimrod who went around conquering peoples through war. He became king and ruled cruelty, denying God and worshiping idols – much like the kings of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament.

In Scripture they said to one another, “Come on, let’s build ourselves a town and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves…”[1] The Book of Jasher adds, “so that we may reign upon the whole world, in order that the evil of our enemies may cease from us, that we may reign mightily over them…”[2]

The goal of the people was to “reign upon the whole world” and to oppressed the people. They also sought to build the tower to fight God in his own territory, the sky, and set up their own gods.

During the construction of the tower it is said, “if a brick should fall from their hands and get broken, they would all weep over it, and if a man fell and died, none of them would look at him.”[3] This gives us insight into what the people valued. They valued their tower more than they valued the people around them. Their priorities were backwards.

Unity that seeks to oppress people and degrade their value is not the unity that God calls us to. The unity that God calls for is to build up people, to lift them up out of their circumstances, and show them they are valued.

Leithart says, “Though God made humanity to be one, he scattered a humanity unified in opposition to him, a humanity unified by coercion, fear, or slavery, all efforts at unity that impose uniformity on the human race…Babel was a perversion of God’s own intention for humanity…”[4]

What this tells us is unity for the sake of unity is not the goal of the Church. There is a unity that transcends simple ecumenicalism. It is a unity that seeks the good of our neighbors, the good of the Church, the good of humanity.

Click here to read Part 1

[1] Old Testament quotations comes from John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament called “The First Testament”
[2] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous/jasher.iii.ix.html
[3] ibid
[4] Peter J. Leithart: The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church

Babel – A False Unity Part 1



The Tower of Babel – Pieter Bruegel the Elder

No one questions that Scripture teaches unity for the Church and humanity at large. It is the intention of creation. It finds fulfillment in the end when Jesus unites all things under his authority.

What is interesting though are the stories that show God dividing the people. The word of God divides (Heb. 4:12). Jesus brought a sword that would divide (Matt. 10:34-36). One story in the Old Testament is particularly striking: the story of the Tower of Babel.

The story begins in Genesis 11. The first verse says, “Now the entire earth was of one language and common words.” [1]

This brings to mind exhortations of Paul who says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”[2]

The people came together, united, to build themselves a city and a tower. They were united in purpose, had the same mind, the same judgment. This unity of mind and purpose seems to align with the unity that is taught throughout scripture. Why, then, did God divide these ancient people?

Leithart says, “Division and false union come together in the tower of Babel episode, the great biblical story of false unification and final dispersal.”[3] The intentions of the builders of the tower were judged by God as being anti-unity. What were the builders doing that made God disperse them and break their unity?

We will look further into this later this week.

[1] Old Testament quotations comes from John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament called “The First Testament”
[2] 1 Cor. 1:10 KJV
[3] Peter J. Leithart: The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church

Jesus’ Prayer


The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church written by Peter J. Liethart.

Jesus’ prayer in John tends to be a the text promoting unity in the church. Jesus says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you , Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20).

Will God answer Jesus’ prayer?

Currently I am reading, The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church written by Peter J. Liethart. He believes God will answer Jesus prayer. He says, “The Father loves the Son and will give him what he asks. He does not give a stone when Jesus asks for bread. When Jesus asks that his disciples be one, the Father will not give him bits and fragments.”

In light of the current situation in the Church today this is a bold assertion. If God will answer Jesus’ prayer when will it happen? The last 2000 years has shown the exact opposite. We are more fragmented than ever before.

I believe ultimately we will all be one in the new heavens and the new earth. We see in Revelation a picture into heaven where there is a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and people and languages…” (Rev. 7:9). We could add from every denomination, tradition, and creed.

Leithart has ambition in his hope. He says he is laying out a plan in order to bring unity among the church, to see the end or Protestantism as we know it. We shall see as we move through his book.

UMC Tradition

Last week the United Methodist Church voted to not change the exclusion language of their book of discipline regarding homosexuality. This was one of three paths the UMC was to decide upon. One path was to change the language with full affirmation of homosexuality. Another where the church would allow local congregations choose how they handle the situation. The one chosen, called the “Tradition Plan” was to keep the language intact and to allow those congregations that choose to leave to leave with their property in hand.

Last week I wrote my hopes would be they choose the middle plan, what they called “Connectional Conference Plan.”

Each side believes they are fighting for truth. Each side believed this vote brought all their disagreements to a head. But, it only brought about more division.

Staying together would have been more beneficial for both parties. Together they could have done so much more. Together they could have sough the truth. Together they could have worked it out.

Now lines have been drawn. Each will now go to their perspective bubbles and echo chambers. They will choose to exclude and not include their fellows brothers and sisters in Christ when what the Church really needs is unity in the faith.

Prayer is all I can do from the side lines in this event. Prayer is much needed.

United Methodist Schism?

Trinity United Methodist Church Lapeer, MI

United Methodist are currently in conference – probably one of the most important in the denominations history. So much is riding on this conference. This conference may very well split the denomination.

For 20 years there has been a growing support to remove language in The Book of Discipline “the practice of homosexuality … incompatible with Christian teaching.” The value and worth of such persons is not in question. – just the actual act of homosexual practices.

There are three paths they will vote one:
1. One Church Plan – full acceptance of homosexual behavior and full inclusion of such persons to leadership and clergy
2. “Connectional Conference Plan” – maintain an “umbrella” over all the churches and leaving the issue of homosexual persons fully be up to the discretion of individual pastors and churches.
3. “Traditional Plan” – keep the language concerning homosexual practice intact and allowing churches who disagree to leave the denomination with full rights to the property held by the local congregation.

I am not part of the United Methodist Church. I have no immediate skin-in-the-game. However, I think this has overarching consequences for the church at large. I believe this will result in yet another denomination schism.

Both camps, the progressives and traditionalist, will not want to share space with each other. They will choose to exclude rather than exist together and work together towards the truth. I may be wrong. I pray I am wrong. We should choose to be united and work out our differences as a whole rather than build up walls that further divide the Body of Christ.

Pray for the United Methodist Church that God will give them wisdom during this conference.

What do you think? Do you think the United Methodist should split and stay together and work it out?