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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Role of Teaching and Preaching -- an Introduction

First of all, please allow me to apologize for the length of time that has passed since my last post! Tonight (actually in just 4 1/2 hours!) I am presenting a piano recital at Appalachian State University (where I'm working on my masters, and where I also do my "day job" of accompanying music students), and preparation for it has pretty much consumed my time over the last few weeks. For those of you with interest in classical music, I'll let you know that this evening's program consists of just two works (about 45 minutes' worth of music):

  • Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, Op. 47 by Chopin
  • Sonata No. 3 in f minor, Op. 5 by Brahms

With my apology out of the way, I want to get back to the topic of this blog, which has nothing to do with classical music! Today, I'd like to take up the subject of preaching and teaching, and what role I see those playing in the church.

During my absence here, Ray posted a great essay on his blog about didactic teaching. Ray and I have talked about this subject some in the comments section of this blog, and it was great to see a lengthier treatment of the topic by Ray. Ray's observations on the topic come from his Jewish background, and so he draws on the practices of the Jewish synagogue. This was greatly informative to me, because I don't have the background Ray does, and so it is good for me to learn from that.

I think it is very important to understand the Jewish background of Christianity, and so Ray's background really helps there. When the first Christians became...well, Jerusalem, it is obvious from the book of Acts that they were Jewish believers. In fact, the first part of the book of Acts deals heavily with the church in Jerusalem, and we see in Acts 15, especially, the difficulty of the transition from mostly Jewish believers to a truly mixed bag of believers from other races as well. It seems obvious from the teachings of Jesus (and this can also be seen in the Old Testament prophets -- especially Isaiah -- if you read them carefully) that God's plan was exactly this "worldwide" body of believers. Jesus talked about the need to tell the good news of the kingdom in "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world."

Now, this obviously brings up an important question as to how much of the Jewish heritage gets retained in Christianity, and how much of Christianity was a "new thing" that Jesus inaugurated. Again, I think it's very important to understand the Jewish background of it all, especially when we understand that God showed us a lot with Israel, and ultimately, the understanding of what took place in the nation of Israel should lead to an understanding of the events leading up to the Messiah, Jesus.

However, when it comes to "church", I'm not positive that the Jewish model is a necessary analogy to be drawn. To understand where I'm going with this, I think it's important to understand how my grid and presuppositions will influence my direction and conclusions. While I don't have a full understanding of what Paul wrote in Romans 9-11 with regard to the Jewish nation ("All Israel will be saved", etc.), I believe that there is a compelling argument to be made for the Body of Christ (the "capital C Church", if you will) being a fulfillment of God's design for Israel. Or, to state it the other way, I believe that God's plan for Israel itself was a type (a foreshadowing) of what He would accomplish in the Church. I, together with all believers Jewish or Gentile, am part of the Body of Christ, the people of God, etc. I no longer subscribe to the dispensational view of a distinction between Israel and "the Church". I won't bore you with all the details of how I came to change my views on that, but suffice it to say that I used to be a full-blooded dispensationalist, but I have concluded that dispensationalism is in error.

Basically the reason I share all of that is to say that while I understand the need for Jewish background information, I think it can lead us down a misguided path when it comes to the subject of teaching and preaching. For example, I recently read an article that used Nehemiah 8:8 as a "biblical basis" for expository preaching. The basic premise of the article was that because the Scripture was read, expounded upon, and then applied to the lives of the hearers, this is justification for the same kind of preaching in the New Testament church. The article also went on to mention some New Testament examples of the same kind of preaching being commanded.

I believe there are some weaknesses in argument here, and so I hope to develop these ideas more in forthcoming posts. (This post is serving just as an introduction to the topic.) Let me give you an overview of some of the points I will be attempting to make:

  • I believe that "preaching" and "teaching" should not be used interchangably. I believe that they serve two different purposes, and I will attempt to show support for this conclusion from the Scripture.
  • Related to the above point, I believe that there is a difference between evangelism and spiritual teaching, and that these two have often become enmeshed in ways that cause confusion with regard to preaching and teaching.
  • I still maintain, and will continue to support Scripturally, the idea that the arrival of Jesus and our subsequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit made significant changes in the way that we relate to God and His Word.
  • I believe that teaching still has a very relevant and important role in the Church today. I also believe that preaching is still very relevant, but not in the sense that we often think it is.
  • I do not believe that every church "service" must have a monologue style sermon (or "didactic teaching" to use Ray's much nicer-sounding term) in order for a group to be considered a church.

Now, I realize that some of these points will require some thought and dialogue to fully establish, so I hope that you will join in through comments so that we can interact. I hope to establish these and other points to a degree that, even though we might not all agree, it will help to dispel some of the myths of simple church and even some of the extra-biblical definitions of church that keep popping up in discussions such as these.

And hopefully, you won't have to wait 3 weeks for the next post!! :) Now, I'm off to get ready for my recital...

Until next time,

steve :)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Internet Explorer 7 and Protection Against Heresy

Today, Tim Challies briefly mentioned Internet Explorer 7, which is available in beta form right now, and I went to take a look at it. I found a very interesting list of features, which caused two thoughts to immediately pop into my mind:
  1. Microsoft is a genius at copying other people's work (the features listed sound very much like the Firefox browser I'm currently using!)
  2. Microsoft's approach to creating a browser creates a striking parallel in my mind in the discussion about the institutional church and whether or not simple churches are more susceptible to heresy.

The nature of this blog is such that I'm not going to even spend time on point 1. But point 2 is something I wanted to flesh out for you and give you some food for thought. Conventional wisdom says (and some comments on my previous posts have touched on this) that without pastors, elders, and other "authorities" in the Church, a particular fellowship leaves itself more susceptible to heresy. After all, the thinking goes, who is going to be able to step in and say, "Wait a minute! That's not correct. If you look at the Greek word here, which I did in seminary, you'll see that it really means this, and therefore, this is the correct interpretation"?

Now, one of my usual disclaimers here: I am not bashing higher education in theology. I have a bachelor of science in Bible, and I also did about 30 credits toward a master of theology degree (including 5 semesters of Greek). So don't misunderstand my approach here. If you have studied theology at that level, I have nothing against that.

But let me draw the parallels that I saw with regard to Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7), and maybe you'll understand where I'm going with this. Take for example, the common internet problem of "phishing". IE 7 includes a new "Phishing filter", about which Microsoft writes:

[The Phishing Filter] proactively warns and helps protect you against potential or known fraudulent sites and blocks the site if appropriate. The opt-in filter is updated several times per hour using the latest security information from Microsoft and several industry partners about fraudulent websites.

Now, for months, we've been telling people, "Be careful about clicking on links in emails. If it looks like it is an email from a bank or some other financial institution, be extremely careful. That link may actually redirect to a malicious site which will then steal your password and account information." But now, what does Microsoft basically say? "Relax! We've got your back. We'll do the research for you, and every couple of hours, we'll update our list so that you can safely browse the internet. If you happen to click on one of those phishing links, we'll even block the site for you."

Instead of encouraging people to think for themselves, Microsoft claims to do the thinking for you. You don't have to be so careful now, because The Knowledgable One will watch over you and make sure you don't go off into danger.

Or, take the "Fix My Settings" feature. Again, Microsoft does all the thinking for you. Here's their description of the feature:

To keep you protected from browsing with unsafe settings, Internet Explorer 7 warns you with an Information Bar when current security settings may put you at risk. Within the Internet Control Panel, you will see certain critical items highlighted in red when they are unsafely configured. In addition to dialog alerts warning you about unsafe settings, you will be reminded by the Information Bar as long as the settings remain unsafe. You can instantly reset Internet security settings to the 'Medium-High' default level by clicking the 'Fix My Settings' option in the Information Bar.

So, if you happen to change a setting and it puts you at risk, Microsoft will warn you about it, and allow you to click an option that might as well be labelled "Let Microsoft Set My Security to Their Definition of Safety". That's their way of helping the internet community stay safe and out of danger.

Now, I want to clarify here (again!) that I'm not against these types of safety features in principle. In the same way, I'm not against the idea of people in the body of Christ having the wisdom and maturity to hold up a red flag and caution people about their doctrine, their behavior, etc. In fact, as you all probably know, that's a biblical function of elders! They definitely have their place in the body of Christ.

But, and herein is the rub, if this function of elders is presented in such a way that discourages or even stifles the maturing and development of an individual's own ability to listen to the Holy Spirit and seek discernment, it is not healthy. This is true, even if it is done unintentionally. And this is where my concern comes in with regard to too much institutional structure and heirarchy.

First of all, I do not believe that structure and heirarchy prevent against heresy any more than structure and heirarchy prevented financial fraud from happening in Enron. Who was John writing to in 1 John? Was he merely writing to the elders of the church? No. And yet John exhorts all believers to test spirits, to discern true teaching (even gives them a litmus test of whether or not a prophet is truly one of them), etc. It is the responsibility of each and every believer to become so fully rooted in the vine of Jesus Christ that they can spot heresy a mile away.

Ephesians 4 clues us in as to how that happens. Basically, to boil it way down, the more mature and gifted believers are to equip the newer and less mature believers -- with the stated goal of maturity -- to do the work of the ministry. What's the result of this: Disciples breeding disciples. Teachers breeding teachers. Maturity breeding maturity. If anything that we are doing, or any structure we create, or any heirarchy we define gets in the way of that maturing process, then we must very carefully examine whether or not we are doing the right thing.

My sense is that a heirarchical structure of "leadership" and "authority" (not using those words biblically, mind you) does much more to prevent growth and maturity than it does to promote it. Is that anecdotal? Yes, admittedly so. I do not have statistics to back it up. However, I would encourage us all to look at the fruit that has been borne out of the institutional church and ask if there is something that is missing from the overall picture.

For example, as I take a very quick drive-by of history: The church developed very quickly from the NT time into an institution of bishops and priests and "leaders" that "watched over" the congregation. And very quickly, the idea of a congregation member being able to think on their own was squashed. This got to be such a problem (in the Roman Catholic Church) that finally, over 400 years ago, some men stood up and said, "Where did we get so off track?" And they sought to return Bible reading and common-language understanding to the people. Martin Luther spoke out about a "priesthood of believers" that was nowhere to be found.

But what did we end up with? Please don't find me too harsh in saying this, but what differences really genuinely exist between the structure of the RCC and our Protestant institutions? Oh, I know that no Protestant leader claims out loud to be a direct descendent of the authority of Peter. And I know that no one actually claims that what they speak as a Pastor or other leader is on equal footing with Scripture (cf. the Pope's ability to speak ex cathedra). But how does it all function? Frankly, my experience both as a pastor in the institution and as a lay member in the same doesn't show much difference.

With the exception of frequent commenter Ray, I know of very few pastors who handle questions from their congregation very graciously. I have, however, spoken with many, many pastors in my own ministry experience who have talked about people "questioning their authority", "undermining their ministry", etc. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I will share that on several occasions, I have been that person accused of undermining someone's ministry. But I can honestly tell you that I was not undermining anything. I was merely trying to ask questions about why certain things were being handled the way they were.

This is not, in any way, meant to be a rant against the Institutional Church. I am not anti-Institutional. And to the extent that many may have pure hearts and motives in the institution, I bless them. But at the same time, I continue to sound the question of concern. Are we really producing mature, able-to-teach, disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ? Or are people merely encouraged (either directly or tacitly) to accept our word as God's word? Our interpretation as the right interpretation? Our maturity as their maturity?

Let me conclude by referencing a quote that Bill Streger posted on his blog recently. The quote is one by John MacArthur, so I realize I'm like a chihuahua yapping at a great dane in the eyes of many right now! (And to be sure, if anyone at Pyromaniacs stumbles on this, it will spell the end of my ability ever to interact on that blog, since Phil Johnson is an associate pastor with MacArthur!) I don't say this to criticize MacArthur (and I definitely am not criticizing Bill Streger), but to take exception to the perspective given here. This is what MacArthur recommends as the way a congregation member view their pastor. Or, maybe I should say how he recommends they treat their pastor. Rather than make you click over to Bill's post, I'll reprint the entire quote here:

Fling him into his office. Tear the "Office" sign from the door and nail on the sign, "Study." Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the flock of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.

Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he's bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.

Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.

Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the living God!

Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day-"Sir, we would see Jesus."

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day's superficial problems, and manage the community's weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.

Command him not to come back until he's read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, "Thus saith the Lord."

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he's back against the wall of the Word.

And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left-God's Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he's burned out by the flaming Word, when he's consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he's privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a man of God.

What message does this send? The only way you can get a good word from God is if you require your pastor to focus completely on God, deny him any access to anything outside the study, and basically beat him into humility and self-denial until all that comes out of him is the word of God. And when he reaches that point, sit at his feet and learn what God wants you to know.

I'm sorry, but I cannot accept that as God's design for His church. If what MacArthur writes is correct (and I see no biblical precedent for this kind of perspective), then we have no need for the Bible in our own language. Martin Luther wasted his time and his life. And putting a pastor in that sort of position is no different in concept (although much worse in result!) than assuming that I can browse the web safely without discernment or caution as long as I use Microsoft IE 7.

Respect the elders. Listen to them. Allow yourself to be persuaded by them.* But do not put them in the position of God in your life. Do not allow them to be the only voice of the Holy Spirit that you choose to listen to. And don't depend solely on them for preventing you from drifting off into heresy! If they happen to get off course, how will anyone know? But if all are doing their homework, a leader off-course will stick out like a sore thumb, and the whole group will remain on course by following the ultimate Leader.

Any group of believers, gathered in the name of Jesus, have access to the ultimate protection against heresy there is: the Holy Spirit. Let's not punt to human structure to create a false sense of safety and protection.

Until next time,

steve :)

* The link there shows the Greek word that has been translated as "obey" in Hebrews 13:17.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Defining the Local Church

I'm not sure exactly where this is going to head, but I want to begin to focus again on some Simple Church ideas in my next few posts. This actually relates to the discussion we've had here on prophecy, spiritual gifts, etc. in some sort of way, because that discussion has brought to the surface some questions about "preaching", Sunday morning worship, and other related issues. There are so many different directions we could go in this area, and I hope to be able to blog frequently enough to touch on many of them without making my readers wait until sometime in November! ;)

One of my Christmas presents from my wife this past Christmas was the book Revolution by George Barna. My wife and I read that book together over the weeks following Christmas. I had intended to write a review of it on this blog, but that just hasn't happened. Rather than just review the book, however, I've decided to talk about some of the issues that are surfacing as a result of the publication of this book.

Before I get into that, I'm going to make a prediction. No, this is not a "prophecy", and I'm not in any way claiming this is from the Lord, so put the stones down and relax! ;) But this is just a personal thought and prediction as to what I think we're about to see here in America. Ready? OK, here it is:

I predict that we will begin to see increasing tension between the institutional church and alternative expressions of church, specifically the Simple Church (or House Church) movement. This tension will develop into many bitter debates, including statements by high-profile leaders.

Now, having made that prediction, I want to take yet one more step aside before getting into today's topic, and make a very serious and passionate plea to those who are on the Simple/House Church side of the issue. I'm making this plea to one side of the debate because many on the institutional side have already come out with their "fighting words". So, before any more discussion takes place, I'm making this simple plea to my brothers and sisters who have already begun to explore church outside of the institution: Please, please, please speak lovingly and with a heart toward partnership and reconciliation. Resist the urge to bash all things institutional. Resist the urge to argue based on emotion or poorly-reasoned arguments. Resist the urge to become defensive. Don't match fire with fire. Don't match accusations with accusations.

Now, those of you who know me know my passion and heart for Simple Church. But I hope that what you see in my writing here is more of a passion for the Body of Christ, regardless of how it is manifested, and for biblical guidelines. That's why I want to start with the area of defining what "local church" means. Some are standing up and proclaiming loud and clear the words of Martin Luther, "Apart from the church, salvation is impossible." And in doing so, they are teaching that anyone who is not a member of a local church (save in the case of being "between churches", whatever that means in their way of thinking) is at best in rebellion against God and at worst, unsaved completely. (The link I gave is just one representation of this discussion. My goal is not to target specific people with my comments, but to give an idea of what I'm talking about. One can read more specific reactions to Barna's book at this discussion.)

There are obviously a lot of presuppositions behind these kinds of statements. And one major presupposition is that the church is defined as a particular type of organization. For example, in this post here, James Spurgeon defines church in this way:

I am referring to an organized local body of believers in Christ who assemble together to worship, administer the ordinances, and carry out the great commission.

Now, this is the definition that is used when he goes on to state:

The individual who can claim to be a Christian and yet think it unimportant to join a congregation must never have read the New Testament. The Bible does not just command us to be a part of a church, it assumes that we will be--and just about every other command for us in the Christian life assumes church membership, also, in order to be carried out.

Recently, I read an article on House2House which offers a similar definition to James Spurgeon's. However, this definition seems to go even more in depth by defining the structure of leadership more distinctly (ironic, considering this is an advocate of house church concepts writing this definition):

church (ekklesia) is any gathering of believers irrespective of day, time or location, for the purpose of worship, fellowship, mutual ministry and the equipping of one another for the work of service, overseen by elders, served by deacons and ministered to by an identifiable five-fold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Personally, I didn't have any problem with the first part of this definition. That is, I am comfortable from a biblical perspective saying that church "is any gathering of believers ... for the purpose of worship, fellowship, mutual ministry and the equipping of one another for the work of service." But I think that as soon as we go beyond that, we begin to force a definition back into Scripture that goes too far. Let me explain what I don't mean first, and then I will more constructively explain what I do mean! :)

I do not, in any way, mean to undermine the biblical role of elders. In fact, I hope to demonstrate at some point in my thoughts on these topics that I believe elders are a very essential part of a mature fellowship.

Here, then, are my concerns, in no particular order, with the definitions that have been proposed above.

  • If elders are absolutely necessary for defining a church, then a couple passages of Scripture present some issues for us. For example, Acts 14 shows Paul and Barnabas travelling to different cities. In verse 23, we read that they "appointed elders ... in every church...." Yet, it seems clear from the context that these were churches already existing in cities to which the apostles had previously ministered.

    If elders are necessary for a definition of "church", then how could there have been churches in those cities prior to the appointment of elders? Similarly, we read in Titus 1:5 that Paul left Titus in Crete so that Titus could go to the different cities in that region and appoint elders. While this passage is not as explicit as Acts 14 (i.e., referring to appointing elders in the "church", but rather the "city"), it still would appear from the qualifications for elder presented in Titus 1 that the church was already established in such a way that men could be seen as being faithful, knowledgable, etc.
  • If deacons are absolutely necessary for defining a church, then we have an even more difficult problem with some passages. For instance, the same Acts 14 passage mentions that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, but doesn't say they appointed deacons.

    I'm definitely not fond of arguments from silence, but it seems reasonable to me that if both were necessary for a church to be a church, Acts 14:23 would say that they "appointed elders and deacons...." Strange oversight on the part of Luke, if it's a requirement for the church.
  • The "five-fold ministry". Where do I start on this one? Well, a nitpick argument would be to say that not everyone is in agreement that Ephesians 4:11 references five specific ministries. Grammatically, it is possible to read "pastors and teachers" as one gift, not two. But apart from that little nitpick, I have a bigger issue with the concept of "five-fold ministry" from the way that Paul references some of these same gifts in a different passage.

    1 Corinthians 12:27-28 talks about gifts in the same type of language that Paul used in Ephesians 4. But interestingly, in verse 28, he says: "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers...."

    Wait a minute. What about evangelists? What about pastors? In other words, if Ephesians 4:11 is meant to create a specific set of gifts that are required in the church, then something seems to have changed when Paul wrote to Corinth. (Or maybe this is why Corinth had so many problems. God neglected to give them two very essential gifts! Just kidding!) I find it very unconvincing that Ephesian 4:11 is any particularly defined set of gifts that must be present in every expression of the church.
  • "Administering the ordinances" is something that is frequently referred to in defining the church. (Some use the word "sacraments" instead of "ordinances".) This is especially noticeable among Reformed believers -- i.e., Calvinists. It is not deniable that the Reformers talked about the ordinances and valued them highly. But again, I see little Scriptural support for some of the ways in which these things are discussed.

    By way of definition, the "ordinances" to which many refer usually include communion (the Lord's Supper, Eucharist, etc.) and baptism. Some also include marriage as an ordinance that is given to the Church, too. However, let me give some thoughts on each of these.

    When Jesus instituted communion in the upper room, it is true that he distributed the bread and the wine to his disciples (I assume he probably just handed it to the one next to him and it was passed around the table). However, we find no other specific references to communion being "administered" in the churches. Paul talks about the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, but makes no reference to how it really was handled with regard to "administering" it.

    Likewise, with regard to baptism, Scripture is not entirely clear on whether only certain people "administered" baptism. The practice today of churches only having their pastor baptize people seems to be more restrictive than Scripture warrants. Besides, baptism seems more tied in the New Testament to evangelism, not to church gatherings.

    Jesus told his disciples to make new disciples and baptize them. Unfortunately, we have relegated evangelism primarily to the institutional church in many situations, and seem to function in a way that implies that people must come to the church in order to be saved and baptized. This unnecessarily muddies the water (no pun intended!) with regard to the function of baptism.
  • "Carrying out the Great Commission" is not only vague (in consideration of all that is involved in the Great Commission), but again, we don't see this tied to any particular function of the local body so much so as being tied to our responsibility as part of the Church universal. The Great Commission really outlines a process which is not "carried out" in one type of program. The Great Commission tells us to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.

    Of necessity, the first step in making disciples is sharing the Good News of the Kingdom with the lost. It is my sense that this is best carried out in two ways, as demonstrated in Scripture: 1) Public proclamation of the Gospel (i.e., Acts 2, Acts 3, Acts 5, et al.) and 2) Individual teaching of the Gospel (Acts 8 where Philip shared with the Ethiopian eunuch).

    In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul references the possibility of unbelievers being in the gathering and being convicted of their sin by the prophesying taking place. However, in the way in which Paul describes this situation, it sounds as if the effect on the unbeliever is rather peripheral to the focus and purpose of the gathering. Once a person has listened to the Good News and chosen to believe it, the Great Commission instructs us to baptize them and teach them all the Christ commanded. This is part of "making disciples".

    As Philip's encounter with the eunuch shows us, baptism can take place wherever and whenever. One does not need to be taken to a church in order to let some "official administrator of the sacrament" do the work of baptism. (One may argue that, as a leader in the church, Philip was able to carry this out, but again, Scripture is completely silent on the idea that only certain "qualified" individuals can administer baptism.) There are other accounts of people being baptized in their own homes immediately upon conversion (i.e., Acts 16 with the jailor and his family).

I really must draw this post to a close and allow some comments before continuing on. I hope that I have adequately demonstrated some of my concerns with the definitions used as examples here. Going forward in these posts, then, I would like to use the working definition that follows, derived in part from those above, but really representative of where my thoughts were already before reading other thoughts on it:

A "church" is any group of believers who gather for the purpose of worship, fellowship, mutual ministry and the equipping of one another for the work of service

For those of you who want to engage in this discussion, how would you define "church"?

Until next time,

steve :)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Update on Luis Palau's Comments

Back in November, I wrote a post that took issue with the statements of Paul Crouch and Luis Palau regarding house churches in China registering with the Chinese government. In that post, I expressed frustration that these gentlemen seemed to misunderstand the effect of registration on house churches in China and that they painted a picture of the house church Christians as being the ones breaking the law.

By way of update, I felt the need to follow up on this because of an article in the most recent Christianity Today magazine. The article can be found here. Mr. Palau has now backed down on his statements regarding house church registration and expressed regret over them.

[In his previous statements] Palau spoke positively of religious freedom in China, saying that the way house churches register in China "is similar to the way churches must register in the U.S." He also said, "You don't get arrested unless you break the law."

Palau has since said he regrets making the remarks. "It's not my role as an evangelist to suggest that churches in China should register," Palau said in a press release responding to criticism. "My role is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ."

In an interview with CT, Palau declined to elaborate on his views. "I expressed my views in a moment of exuberance, thinking it might be helpful, but it turned out not to be helpful," he said. "My goal is to protect, encourage, and bless God's people."

I'm very grateful to read about this. Apparently, according to this BPNews article, the retraction was issued November 28. I would have posted this sooner had I known.

Until next time,

steve :)