The Original Bastions of Religious Freedom for Muslims: Baptists

For over four centuries Baptists have advocated for religious freedom. Not simply for themselves but for all religious faiths. Having been the object of much persecution for their beliefs in their formative years early Baptists in Great Britain and in America knew first-hand what hypocrisy it was to fight for one's freedom to worship as one desires while seeking to restrict the religious freedom of those holding to a different faith. In 1612 Thomas Helwys wrote:

“For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.” Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612)

John Leland wrote in 1790:

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” John Leland, “The Virginia Chronicle” (1790)

In this charged political climate where fear of those who worship unlike ourselves consumes the public square, Christ-followers would do well to steer clear of the reactionary anger that foments so much racial and religious prejudice. First, because the Bible teaches us to love one another and even out enemies. Secondly, if we rail against a particular religious community in America, we will very likely soon find the voices we joined turning and railing against us. For more quotations from early Baptists (even in America) go to the link below.... 

What Are You fighting for?

In the last chapter of his first letter to his protege, Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote these familiar and inspiring words:

"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12)

Later in the same section of the letter he also wrote:

"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."  (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Paul instructed Timothy to address the “rich in this present age.” Let me remind us that as Americans we live in the wealthiest nation on earth. This means we are being addressed here. This also means that of all the places on earth to live we have the most opportunities to “enjoy” all the things God provides for us (v. 18). Enjoying the good things God provides us in this world seems to be a great (maybe the greatest) concern of many believers in the American church in our day. There seems to have been a shift in the thinking of the average believer about what it means to enjoy God’s creation. It seems to have been born out of a reaction against legalism. Legalism is not the gospel. But neither is the pursuit of license in angry reaction to legalism. When I was a young believer in my teens attending a rather open-minded church, there were still certain practices that were associated with worldliness and other practices associated with godliness. Not all those associations were biblical in either case but there seemed to be pretty clear-cut lines. Many practices that were considered worldly have gone pretty much mainstream and are not only acceptable in popular culture but flaunted. Some of these things are rather harmless but others are morally unbiblical. What were once clear-cut lines are now blurred and becoming more blurry. And in the name of Christian freedom some believers are participating in practices that clearly distract them from the good fight of the faith and lead them into a bad funk of foolishness.

Please hear me: I’m not making a case for a return to legalism in the church. I’m simply asking us to examine our hearts with humility, and honesty in light of God’s word. I’m simply saying that with the lines blurred about what are "acceptable" practices for believers, it is extremely easy in our attempts to argue for our “Freedom in Christ” to miss the point completely. Are we perhaps setting our hearts on the “freedom to enjoy everything God provides” rather than setting our hearts on the God who provides. Paul told Timothy, “As for the rich in this present age charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy." (v. 17)  Are we to enjoy God’s creation? Yes, that’s why he provides it for us. But we are to set our hearts on God himself not on those things. We are fighting the wrong fight if all we are fighting for is the right to get a tattoo or drink craft beers or other enjoyments of this life. The good fight for the faith is when we fight in a way that shows our delight in the promises of God for the next life. Drink your beer and smoke your pipe. You are free to do so. But don't waste your time pod-casting about it. Fighting the good fight of the faith is a fight for true freedom in Christ which is making much out of your delighting in God. Delighting in God is the freedom that frees up the rich from his riches and inspires him or her to give generously and share with others. Faith delighting in God gives us the freedom to spend less time planning our next vacation or remodeling our home and more time getting rich in good works. Faith delighting in God frees us up from feeding obsessive collections and becoming pack-rats. Instead we are free to "store up treasures" in heaven. Faith delighting in God spends more time laying a “good foundation for the future” (v. 19) of eternal life than laying a foundation for retirement. Fighting the good fight of the faith isn’t about the right to drink a craft beer or get a tattoo. It’s about what you set your hope on. 

Martin Luther and Islam: A Book Review

We live at a time when no aspect of Western societal life (media, economy, politics, etc.) has gone untouched by, or even to some degree, has not been shaped by the resurgence of interest in Christian-Muslim relations. Western academia, Reformation Studies included, has also contributed much to the dialogue. Thus, Adam Franciso’s Martin Luther and Islam: A Study in Sixteenth-Century polemics and Apologetics,[1] makes up volume eight in Brill’s History of Christian-Muslim Relation series.[2]

Writing with an academic readership in mind (made apparent by the un-translated German and Latin titles and footnotes[3] and the exorbitant price of the book!) the author’s intention throughout the work is to show that “Luther’s approach toward Islam was much more theological and apologetic than is generally acknowledged,”[4] and that Luther’s polemics against Islam ultimately served a pastoral agenda in light of threatening Ottoman imperialism in Eastern Europe. Francisco’s format is very intentional toward this goal in the face of detractors who suggest that he may be presupposing too many theological and apologetical intentions in Luther’s sharp critiques and highly charged writings dealing with the Muslim Turks.[5] Most historians examine Luther’s perspective of the Sixteenth Century Turks politically. For by Luther’s time, the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Sūleyman (1520-1566) had annexed much of Hungary, besieged Vienna (from September 27 to October 15, 1529), and had managed to cross the Alps into Bavaria and Bohemia sending Germany into a panic.[6]

Taking all these factors into consideration Martin Luther and Islam is divided into two parts. Part One, Islam and the West, 1095-1546 (chapters one through four) is dedicated to surveying the historical context of European Christian contact with, writings on, and perspectives of Islam and the Turks from Medieval times to the Sixteenth Century.

By far, what is most outstanding about Francisco’s study is his discussion on Luther’s assessment of Islam (as far as Luther understood it) in light of the theological grid through which he also perceived the Papacy, his times (eschatology), and the created order of the world. For example, in chapter Five Francisco begins with an analysis of Luther’s Die Dreistandelehre, or theology of the “three estates.” Luther mused, “What good can be in the government and…Turkish way of life since according to their Qur’an these three things reign freely among them: namely lies [13], murder [14], and disregard for marriage?”[15] Francisco points out that “It might be tempting to dismiss Luther’s allegation as hyperbole or Islamophobia, but despite his harsh caricature of the Turks as destroyers of religious truth, benevolent political rule, and virtuous domestic relationships between men and women in holy matrimony, there is a deep rationale behind his initial critique of Islam.” [16] He then expounds upon Luther’s three-fold theological understanding of the created order consisting of the Spiritual Estate, the Temporal or Political Estate, and the Marital or Economic Estate. For Luther, these three realms are the basic building blocks of God’s design for order and harmony in the world which the Devil is ever working to destroy. But because Islam, in Luther’s thought, undermines the Spiritual realm by spreading falsehoods about Christ who has all authority in Heaven and on earth, [17] violates strictly separate roles of civic and church responsibilities by waging jīhād in the name of religion (Luther also vehemently opposed the Crusades), and, according to his sources, encouraged polygamy and the liberality of divorce, Luther concluded that Islam was of demonic origin designed to destroy God’s created order. Of course, Francisco admits, Luther’s conclusions are not unique for his times, but the way he arrived at those conclusions was an entirely innovative theological contribution.

Francisco goes on to show that while Luther was no Islamicist, [18] his “understanding was as broad and perceptive as anyone’s knowledge was during his time and, according to contemporary research, surpassed most,” [19] despite the fact that Luther had never once met a Muslim in person.

Although Francisco argues that theology and apologetics are at the heart of Luther’s polemics, at every stage of his presentation of the material he is careful to remind his readers, first, that Luther’s apparently crass polemic against Islam does not even come close to the sharp words he reserved for the Papacy. For example, Luther once remarked, “Compared to the Pope, ‘Muhammad appears before the world as a pure saint.” [20] Secondly, Francisco repeatedly points out, especially in chapters six and eight, that Luther’s ultimate goal was pastoral. “An analysis of Luther’s advice... reveals his early thought on how a Christian should deal with the temptations one might experience under the Ottomans, and, especially, how one might respond to the Anfechtung [21] caused by the allure of Islam.” [22] Luther had heard accounts of many European Christians who had come under Turkish captivity. He also foresaw an imminent Ottoman take-over of Europe and feared clergy and lay-believers would not be prepared spiritually and mentally to stand against the many deep doubts and temptations which would oppress them from every side were the Turks to rule them. Therefore, Luther, through polemic attacks on Islam, and providing robustly theological apologetics, deeply desired to bolster the faith of his readers so that they might withstand the inevitable pressures they would face to convert. Franciso argues in chapter six that Luther

…wrote as a pastor to theologically ignorant laity, and his advice served a singular purpose: to ensure that Christians living in the Ottoman Empire would remain firm in the faith while, at the same time, living out their faith despite being faced with satanic or Islamic Anfechtung…[23]

Francisco’s careful and nuanced presentation shows that Luther’s discussions, although not systematic, were definitely thorough. But more importantly, he made it abundantly clear that Luther’s primary interest was to help individual Christians to endure the troubles of the Last Days and spiritually survive Turkish captivity by theologically and apologetically defending Christianity against Islam.

The greatest importance of this work lies in its advancement of a deeper understanding of what Protestants in the Reformation tradition have inherited in terms of historical Christian-Muslim relations, for better or for worse, from the leading thinker of the Reformation, and therefore, what they inevitably bring to the table of Christian-Muslim dialogue even today. What Francisco puts forth at the conclusion of his discussion of Luther’s Sermon on the fourth Sunday after Epiphany (1546) at St. Andrew’s Church would summarize well the significance of what this in-depth study of Luther’s thought on Islam has for modern readers:  

"Not only does [Luther’s theological apologetic] represent a new approach to responding to Islam, but by also exposing the profound theological differences between the two religions, it also set the stage for the most basic apologetic dilemma in Christian-Muslim dialogue, the reliability of the Scriptures, which would be taken up by the next generation of Christian apologists.” [26]

The implication is that with Martin Luther and Islam, Adam Francisco has filled in a heretofore wide historical gap of research in Sixteenth-Century Christian-Muslim relations. Any Protestant who desires to engage in serious Christian-Muslim dialogue would do well to examine this study closely in order to better understand historical differences, avoid previous pitfalls, and improve upon both dialogue and apologetics in the Twenty-first Century.

Bibliography

Apel, Dean M., Luther's Approach to Islam : Ingemar Öberg's Search for Mission Praxis in the Weimar Edition of Luther's Works, Currents in Theology and Mission, 26, no 6, D 1999, pp. 439-450

Bainton, Roland H., Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New American Library, New York, 1950

Bainton, Roland H., The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Beacon Press, Boston, 1952.

Henrich, Sarah S.; Boyce, James L., Martin Luther--Translations of Two Prefaces on Islam : Preface to the Libellus de ritu et moribus Turcorum (1530), and Preface to Bibliander's Edition of the Qur'ān (1543), Word & World, 16, no 2, Spr 1996, pp. 250-266.

Miller, Gregory J.,  Luther on the Turks and Islam, Lutheran Quarterly, ns 14, no 1, Spr 2000, pp. 79-97.

________________ Martin Luther and Islam: a study in sixteenth-century polemics and apologetics, A Review, Lutheran Quartly, Malone College, Canton Ohio, ns 22, no 3, Aut 2008, pp. 362-364

Naumann, Jonathan C., Luther, Lutherans, and Islam, Concordia Journal, 28, no 1, Ja 2002, pp. 54-63.

Rajashekar, J Paul and Wengert, Timothy J., Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and the publication of the Qur’an, Lutheran Quarterly, ns 16, no 2, Sum 2002, pp. 221-228.

Smith, Robert O., Luther, the Turks, and Islam, Currents in Theology and Mission, 34, no 5, O 2007, pp. 351-364

Tsakiridis, George, Martin Luther and Islam: a study in sixteenth-century polemics and apologetics, A Review, Currents in Theology and Mission, 35, no 6 D, 2008, pp. 451-452.

[1] Francisco, Adam S., Martin Luther and Islam: A Study in Sixteenth-Century polemics and Apologetics, Brill, Boston, 2007

[2] Tsakiridis, George, Martin Luther and Islam: a study in sixteenth-century polemics and apologetics (Review), Currents in Theology and Mission, 35, no 6 D, 2008, p 451-452.

[3] Along with the exorbitant price ($177.00 on Amazon)!

[4] Francisco, Martin Luther and Islam, pg. 3-4

[5] Ibid., pg. 108 (chapter 4)

[6] Ibid., pg. 36

[7] Of the War Against the Turks (special thanks to Florian Jackël for help translating the German titles).

[8] Military Sermon Against the Turks

[9] Admonition to Prayer Against the Turks

[10] Preface to the al-Qur’an

[11] Refutation of the al-Qur'an by Brother Richard of the Order of Preachers

[12] Concerning the Rites and Customs of the Turks

[13] about Muhammad’s prophethood, Jesus’ divinity, and the corruption of the Bible: Francisco, Martin Luther and Islam, pg. 142-3

[14] by advancing Islam by the sword (like the papacy): Francisco, Martin Luther and Islam, pg. 144-5

[15] through liberal exercise of divorce (whereas the papacy destroys marriage through the restriction of it): Francisco, Martin Luther and Islam, pg. 146-7

[16] Ibid., pg. 132

[17] Matthew 28:18

[18] Francisco, Martin Luther and Islam, pp. 3-4

[19] Ibid., pg. 127

[20] Ibid., pg. 84

[21] Literally: “temptation” but implies an assault of doubt and despair, i.e. “spiritual angst.” See Francisco, Martin Luther and Islam, pg. 151

[22] Ibid., pg. 151

[23] Ibid., pg. 174

[24] Miller, Gregory J., Martin Luther and Islam: a study in sixteenth-century polemics and apologetics, Lutheran Quartly, ns 22, no 3, Aut 2008, pp. 362-364 (quotation on pg. 363-4)

[25] Gregory Miller, Luther on the Turks and Islam, Lutheran Quarterly, ns 14, no 1, Spr 2000, p 79-97.( quote: pg.80)

[26] Francisco, Martin Luther and Islam, pg. 231

How our Confession Prepares us for Revival

We live in technologically sophisticated world. So, we naturally value the newest, the fastest, and the most efficient innovations of our age. When this fascination with the latest and greatest informs our spiritual lives, however, many Christians react against creeds and confessions written hundreds of years ago, questioning their relevance for our lives and churches today. But it is this very bent that should caution us from rejecting confessions out of hand as relics of the past. In fact, as the church moves forward in time by God’s grace, we would do well to measure our progress by the time-tested collective wisdom of those who have gone before us. Stan Reeves writes:

[A] confession…is…produced by many godly minds deliberating over a long period, and it has been further reviewed and accepted by a group of churches... A confession is a tried and true teaching tool. It lays out the faith in a clear, systematic way and shows the connections among doctrines. It also serves as a standard by which teaching in the church can be measured. (http://founders.org/1689/introduction/)

Perhaps, then, it could be argued that the church today is in as much need of the confessions’ tried and true teaching as it has ever been. As churches look to the future, subscription to a time-honored confession will aid them in many areas, not the least of these are the areas of prayer and preparedness.

Prayer

Our church subscribes to the London Baptist Confession of 1689. Concerning worship and prayer the 1689 declares:

God requires all men to pray to Him, and to give thanks, this being one part of natural worship…. [I]t must be made in the name of God’s Son, it must be Spirit-aided, and it must accord with the will of God. It must also be reverent, humble, fervent and persevering, and linked with faith, love and understanding. (XXII.3)

When we think just for a moment about who God is in all his glory, majesty, sovereignty, and providence, the requirement of prayer should never cease to astound us. John Piper writes:

How astonishing that He ordains to fulfill His plans by being asked to do so by us. God loves to bless His people. But even more He loves to do it in answer to prayer. (Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, 53)

Are you astonished by prayer? Are you astonished by the God who calls us to pray? Does your heart leap for joy at the thought of our Sovereign God loving to accomplish all His perfect will in answer to your request to Him through prayer? Somewhere along the way a false dichotomy developed between the concern for biblical propositional truth and the passionate pursuit of a heartfelt relationship with the Lord through worship and prayer. Often people fall into the trap of thinking that to pursue God with the mind means necessarily eschewing an emotional response to God or the spiritually wonder-full. Or, on the other hand, some feel that a rational pursuit of God will somehow hinder true Spirit-led worship from the heart.

The confession helps us in prayer by charging us to maintain personal balance (human wholeness) and seek scriptural accuracy (human holiness)

The confession helps us to keep both extreme tendencies in check. The biblically worshipful response to God is one that exhibits the Holy Spirit at work in sanctifying all our human faculties. The Bible reveals that we are “totally depraved” meaning that sin has touched every aspect of the human condition. When we are brought to life by the saving grace of God, the Holy Spirit breathes new life into all our human faculties to render love and worship to God.  The confession reminds us of this very thing – it helps us to live in biblical balance. The confession reminds us that worship and prayer are not only to be “Spirit-aided” but also “must accord with the will of God” as revealed in Scripture. We are reminded that prayer must not only be “fervent” but also “persevering;” linked not only with “faith and love,” but also with “understanding.” We pray to God the way Jesus taught us to love God: with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We also pray in accordance with what God has already revealed with regard to his will. We pray the truths of the gospel such that they would be manifest in our lives, our attitudes, our desires and values, shaping our decisions and guiding our steps. So the confession helps us in prayer by charging us to maintain personal balance (human wholeness) and seek scriptural accuracy (human holiness).

Preparedness.

What are we praying for? What do we ask God for as we look to the future? Before we pray for “Aunt Gertie’s sciatica” or “cousin Chuck to find a new car,” what is it that should stand out as the centerpiece of our prayer requests? Is it not for God’s glory to be reflected afresh among us? Is it not for the gospel to have a greater impact on us and those around us? In other words, is it not for revival? If we are indeed praying according to God’s will, then the request and longing for revival will figure prominently in our prayers. God desires that the gospel be at work powerfully transforming our own hearts, our churches, and our cities.

The promise of the making known of the gospel has not been made contingent upon any good use made by men of their native abilities.
— (1689 Confession, XX.3)

By revival I do not mean a hyper-emotional sensationalism or seeking after miracles and power encounters. I mean that the preaching of the gospel becomes “in season” (2 Tim. 4:2). By revival I mean a spiritual awakening to the holiness of God and people’s desperate need for his Savior, Jesus Christ. We always accompany the preaching of the gospel with deliberate prayer because “The promise of the making known of the gospel has not been made contingent upon any good use made by men of their native abilities.” (1689 Confession XX.3) We ask God to empower the preaching of the gospel because true revival does not depend on our skills but upon the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. And such prayer-immersed gospel preaching usually results in a greater passion among God’s people for prayer, the word, and mission and evangelism. A true revival should also result, therefore, in more church-planting. And when people do respond to the gospel, in a family, or a church, or even in an entire city, God’s prayer-immersed gospel proclaimers will be ready.

This is another way the confessions aid us. If we truly desire to see God revive our churches and cities let us declare our faith in God by getting ready to plant churches. Part of getting ready for a great influx of new believers first requires churches that are already standing on solid theological ground. Subscription to a confession identifies and strengthens a church theologically. Secondly, it means being prepared to train new believers, new elders, new church planters and missionaries with “tried and true teaching tools” laying out the faith “in a clear, systematic way.” The confessions act as a standard by which teaching for new believers and new churches can be measured. In this way the confessions serve to prepare us if, by his grace, God should choose to do an uncommon and extraordinary work of revival among us in answer to our prayers.

[This post was originally prepared for the Confessional Collective]





Converge Statement on Charleston & Racial Reconciliation

All of us are aware of the great tragedy of the senseless deaths of nine prayer warriors in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week. (I want to commend our law enforcement officers, who very quickly and effectively apprehended the suspect to keep others from more harm. We are grateful to all of you who serve us so well.) Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney was both a strong leader in the church as well as a leader dedicated to the betterment of his community and the state of South Carolina. Another senator described him as the "moral conscience" of the South Carolina Senate. His life was indeed a great loss to family, church, community, state and country.

The other victims‒Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd and Myra Thompson‒were faith-filled brothers and sisters in Christ who were godly influences in that community. Each had his/her own story and dream of being used by God to impact people with the gospel. They had gathered Wednesday evening to seek God's intervention in their lives, in their community and in the work that needed to be done around the world. While we grieve over the lives of all people because each has intrinsic value in the eyes of God, the death of these God-loving believers hits extremely close to home.  

When the unconscionable happens in our country or community, we have a choice to make. Many response options exist as a result of this tragedy, but three will be prevalent. The first option we have is to close our eyes. This tactic is evident when we take a posture of fear ( I don't know what to do), ignorance (If I ignore it, maybe it will go away or someone else will deal with it) or helplessness (It is so big and there are so many issues, why even try?). There are so many things I could say about this tactic's self-protective nature, its impotence or its foolishness.  

The second option we have is to repay the evil. If you followed the story, you know this was a racially motivated hate crime. It was racial targeting. The shooter sought, intentionally, to kill African-Americans. He had an agenda to "start a race war." I believe the church may have been chosen intentionally (to see the historic significance of this Emanuel church in this work, click here). He did what he did to foster fear, build mistrust, expand hatred and widen the already existing divide. It would be very easy and even understandable to promote hatred or revenge in response to his actions.  

The right option is to proclaim and live out the power of the gospel. This counter-intuitive, counter-cultural response is the only option for the church. We all know that the world is not as it should be. Our systems are broken, our people are fallen and our world seems unfixable. Racism is alive and well. Hatred is evident everywhere and evil is prevalent in many parts of this world. Awareness of individualistic intolerance of people who don't think, act, believe or look like us seems to be growing at an alarming rate. Yet we should not be surprised. Wasn't it Jesus who said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33)? 

To respond to hate with hate or with apathy is not acceptable. We must turn our hearts and minds to the core of our faith and lead/live out of our convictions. We believe in a God who teaches us to love those others choose to hate, because that is what he does. We believe in a God who is greater than our circumstances and powerful enough to overcome any crisis we may face. We believe in a God who is by nature a redeemer. He takes what is broken, fallen and seems unfixable and has the power to make all things new. We believe in a God who is in control over all things. We believe in a church whose purpose is to advance the message of God's love, justice and redemptive agenda to a lost and dying world.  

Although the emotions behind this event are strong and the challenges to win the fight against racism at times seem insurmountable, to give up on trusting in the power of the gospel to transform our culture is simply not an option. I find hope in the words of the apostle Paul, as he wrote from prison, "Do not grow weary in doing what is right, for in due time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up" (Gal. 6:9). God is at work in this world through the work of the church.  

The world does not need more hate, it needs hope. The only unfailing hope for our world is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hope is found in Christ. Our hope is not in better government, although we should strive for that. Our hope is in our God of justice and mercy who challenges us to live out both (Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God"). Our hope is not in better education on the issue of racism, although the church should lead the way on that. Education will never soothe our pain or settle our hearts. People need more than an informed perspective, they need salvation and the transformation that comes from the power of God working in our lives.

We must call for reform, yes. But as the church we must first call for repentance. Retaliation will never bring the peace that comes from reconciliation with Christ. While churches should work to improve our laws and systems, God has placed our churches in this world to point people to the only solution for this problem, surrender to the Lordship of Christ in our lives.

Converge exists to start and strengthen churches together worldwide. There has never been a time where the need for more strong Christ-centered, biblically faithful, influential churches in our world. We start churches because so many people are living life without the hope of the gospel. We strengthen churches because with stronger churches come stronger disciples of the gospel we affirm. And we start and strengthen churches worldwide because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope not only for this country, but for the whole world.  

We do this work together because Jesus came to tear down the walls. "He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility... his purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God in the cross by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to you who were near" (Eph. 2:14-16). Although this passage specifically talks about the hostility between Jew and Gentile, the work of Christ applies to the hostility of all men toward one another. We believe God has blessed Converge with great diversity and placed our movement at the forefront of this conversation to be a leading voice in the reconciling power of the gospel. The gospel message of our lives, pulpits and churches must be one of restoration and reconciliation‒God with man and man with man. We believe we are better together.

It is time for the body of Christ to stand up and demonstrate what we really believe. I hope you will take time to call your congregation to pray about this tragedy. I hope as well that you will teach a biblical response to the catastrophic effects of racism in our communities with your congregation in weekend services. Pray about it, yes. Speak about it, yes. But do something more. Reach across the divide and develop dialog, partnership and friendship with churches and pastors of other cultures and ethnicities. Show the reconciling nature of the gospel in how you live.

This was the response of several family members of the victims. In the midst of the process of justice, many family members spoke words of mercy and forgiveness. They leaned into the validity of their faith and into the power of their Savior to help, heal and make whole their broken lives and dreams. Their faith has been tested, and they will discover without a doubt that their Savior can be trusted. Will you do the same?

Don't just do church, be the church. Live the gospel.

Convinced we're Better Together, 

Scott Ridout 
President, Converge

Here We Stand

How does Christ Community Church respond to the Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015? I thought it would be important to make a few comments regarding where we stand as a church family. Most of these sentiments originally came in the form of an exhortation to worship at the outset of our Lord's Day gathering yesterday (Sunday June 28, 2015). These thoughts summarize the trajectory we are on with regard to our views on marriage as Christ-followers, as a local church, and as human beings who are accountable first to the supreme ruling of God our Father. I echo the sentiments of Collin Hansen, editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, when he writes that the Supreme Court's ruling may cause us distress "But it does not fall outside God's good and wise plan."

Two obvious concerns arise from Friday's rulings: one moral and the other political. On the moral level our concern is that the Supreme court has attempted to redefine something it did not invent in the first place. Marriage is God's invention (Genesis 2:20-24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7-8; Ephesians 5:31) and it is a picture of the Gospel message - Christ's sacrificial love for his people, the church (Ephesians 5:25-32). In this sense marriage is the same as it was before Friday and will always be: the union of one man and one woman for life. What God has created, no human institution can reinvent. Morally speaking, the ruling of the slim majority of Supreme Court justices on June 26 was an act of grave presumption and pride, a thumbing of the nose at God as Creator and Supreme Judge.

On a political level we share the concern raised by Chief Justice John Roberts (dissenting Friday's Supreme Court decision) who said: "The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to 'advocate' and 'teach' their views of marriage...The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to 'exercise' religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses." (see: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/june/supreme-court-states-cant-ban-same-sex-marriage.html)  

Indeed it is an ominous sign when the majority of justices in the highest court in the land  makes rulings based upon "will" and not law or constitution and then attempts to placate the dissenting party with promises which fall far short of rights already guaranteed by the First Amendment. This is not democracy. It smacks of oligarchy and represents a short-circuiting of the legislative process. These five justices are not elected officials and yet they have made a ruling on our behalf which promises incalculable negative impact on our religious liberty at every level of our public society. In this way Friday's ruling was a miscarriage of our three-branch governmental system. Now that the highest court of the Judicial Branch has bypassed the Legislative Branch, on this religiously-charged issue, from now on, no individual or group of people representing faith-based institutions or faith-based values can trust that the justice system will function according to law and Constitution on our behalf. This is a frightening prospect.

However, we as Evangelical Christ-followers must remember that we stand on the shoulders of ordinary Spirit-filled men who conducted extraordinary exploits for the Kingdom of God in much worse times politically. Mary Dorinda Beale writes in a preface to her husband's book The Temple and the Church's Mission, 

Have you ever wondered about some of the people described in the Bible? Some of them frankly seem superhuman, not quite real. For example, it seems odd that Paul and Silas sang in prison. Would I sing if I were in prison? Would I have the attitude expressed in Hebrews 10:34, where it portrays Christians as accepting 'joyfully' the seizure of their property? Would I be joyful if the authorities came and seized my house? In Acts 5:40-41, it says they flogged the apostles and told them not to speak in the name of Jesus any more. Their response is not what I consider a 'normal' reaction. They went away rejoicing because 'they hand been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name'." (G.K. Beale, 2004, 15.)

In fact, the authorities had already "strictly charged" the apostles not to teach in Jesus name (Acts 5:28). Yet despite this ruling Peter and the apostles responded "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). And after being beaten they not only rejoiced but also "every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42).  Greg and Dorinda Beale remind us that these, our forefathers in the faith, could see a true reality "that the natural eye cannot see," and that

When one becomes a Christian real truth is seen. True reality is the fact that humanity is drowning in a sea of sin with no way to save itself. The only hope is to cry out to God. Only Jesus, the Messiah, can save. If you cling to him as your Saviour, you will not be carried away in the sea of sin because he is the rock of our salvation (Acts 4:10-12). (Ibid.)

So, what do we say to the present crisis? First, to paraphrase John Piper, it looks like things are getting back to normal. On Friday, a friend of mine from Lebanon posted on Facebook, "Congratulations, America, you have become the new Roman Empire." True enough. But there is hope in this comparison. Do not forget the fact that the church was birthed and flourished and grew with unprecedented spontaneity and vitality in the midst of great adversity in the First Century Roman Empire. May she experience such renewal and vitality again in our context.

Second, although the majority of the Supreme Court justices would like to comfort us with promises that we may still "advocate" and "teach" our views on marriage, we, like the Apostles before us, will rather “exercise” our beliefs by only blessing marriages between one man to one woman,  as the Bible demands and our freedom of Religion already allows according to the First Amendment.

Third, yes, thank you, we will not only teach and advocate but also preach what is foremost, not politics, not even marriage, but "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:23) though it be a stumbling block to some and considered foolishness by others. The gospel message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his demonstration of love and grace to sinners, will continue to be the center of our message.

But fourth, as has been mentioned, Ephesians 5:25-32 tells us that marriage was designed by God to be a picture of Christ's sacrificial love for his people - the heart of the gospel message. So, we will continue to show and live out the gospel message of Christ by promoting and demonstrating biblical marriage to our country and the world.

Finally, knowing that a great and difficult trial promises to befall all who resist the June 26 ruling in the coming decades, like Peter and the apostles before us, we too will rejoice to be “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” This will demand that we see and be convinced of "real truth" in the face of certain adversity. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear God's reality. And for the sake of our strength, fortitude, and perseverance may we see the reality of Jesus' promise: "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b)

In light of these things, Christ Community Church embraces the following declaration. You can read the original and see the first 100 signatories by clicking on the button below. 

Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage

As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.

The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.

Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.

The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.

The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.

The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.

Your Best Life Now and Not Yet!

Have you ever had someone come up to you with a pamphlet in hand and say “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Or maybe you’ve heard TV preachers telling you that you can have “Your Best Life Now!” if you just believe and have enough faith in God and in yourself. These messages appear shallow at best and even offensive at worst when it seems in your life like nothing is going right. Maybe there doesn’t seem to be enough money to pay the bills – is it just because I don’t have enough faith? Maybe you can’t seem to keep a job. Maybe you are battling with depression and you feel guilty because you’ve been told people who love God are not supposed get depressed. So, you ask, "where’s my best life now?" Maybe you just can’t seem to get your grades up no matter how hard you try. Or how about when we’re hit with serious health issues? It’s hard to see how anyone could promise us a great life here and now when we’re just struggling to make it through the day without pain. Some of you perhaps just don’t feel at home where you are – people don’t seem to accept you for who you are. Shouldn’t the good life include friends? In difficult times such empty statements just don’t seem to be in touch with reality. Especially when we shine the light of the message of the Bible on such statements. When we read about the historical events in the life of Jesus like his cruel crucifixion and miraculous resurrection as recorded in the Bible these pithy slogans may even seem offensive to our ears. They would have been extremely offensive to Jesus who suffered greatly in his life on earth to secure our salvation and to a man like Jesus’ apostle, Paul, who suffered greatly for the sake of the spread of the gospel.

Please do not confuse the message of many popular TV preachers (and they are legion!) promising “your best life now,” with the Good News of the Kingdom that Jesus preached. Jesus preached things like "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near!" (Matt 4:7). The popular messages do not call for the repentance of sins - that's too much like negative thinking. Jesus preached,  

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? " (Matthew 16:24-26)

The popular prosperity gospel preaches the opposite: "You can have the whole world now and profit from it without losing your life."

The message that you can have "Your Best Life Now" is not the gospel that Paul preached either. The gospel Paul preached was "Your best life is yet to come." Paul preached that true children of the King, when they believe in the true good news of Jesus will have lives now that will be accompanied by suffering, but that suffering is worth it because of the heavenly blessings and "abundant life" that will be ours when we go to be with Jesus or when Jesus comes back, whichever comes first. Paul wrote in Romans:

"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:16-18)

But the popular message says just the opposite. It says that if you are a child of the King then you should live like a prince in this life with all the wealth and prosperity and positive thinking that comes with the life of royalty.

But Jesus does say he will "give us life and life abundantly." So, what kind of abundant life does Jesus give us? The life Jesus gives us is eternal life not a temporal life of ease here on earth. It is an abundance that has nothing to do with the wealth and prosperity of this world and everything to do with the glory of the next world (and that means our truly abundant "eternal life" begins even now in our hearts). Paul wrote:

"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)

The abundance we do have now is God’s Love, Joy, Peace, Hope, Faith, and Grace all by the indwelling Holy Spirit in the midst of suffering. This is what the true good news teaches and Paul was willing to get very verbally violent in his dealings with people who preached false gospels like the popular TV prosperity preachers. This happened in the Galatian church. False teachers were teaching a gospel that was different than Jesus' gospel and Paul wrote to them:

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)

So, what is "picking up our own crosses" really? Paul put it well in Philippians 3:8, 10-11

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ ...10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

Our Lord Jesus was mocked, falsely accused, his flesh ripped to shreds, and nailed to a wooden cross all for our sakes - so that our sins would be forgiven and so we would treasure God himself above all else - not so we could titillate our lust for the idols of this world, live in mansions, own private jets, and hob knob with the rich and famous. Our best life starts now in the Spirit but it is fully yet to come.

It's a Sin Problem Not a Skin Problem

The other day I had the great privilege to explore the word, talk, pray, and fellowship with my friends who are pastors and church planters from around the Detroit area in our network of churches. We aim to gather about once a month. I love these brothers. They are a true life-line for me. Two of the pastors present at this months meeting are black, the rest of us are various shades of caucasian. The topic of discussion? Ferguson. But not just Ferguson. We didn't hash through all the details of the testimonies or the decision of the grand jury or the aftermath. The topic of Ferguson really was a launch-pad to talk about the gospel and race and the church's (our) responsibility to lead the way in practicing racial healing in our communities. As we listened to our black brothers' stories of their own experiences of being treated unjustly by law enforcement (as well as stories of being shown mercy by white officers) I realized that the question, "How should we respond to Ferguson?" is itself a "white" question. It means white pastors like me haven't been paying attention all along. It means, sadly, that it takes a nation-wide reaction to events like those in Ferguson (and New York, and, and, and) to get our attention where we finally say, "Hey what's all the fuss about?" Wrong question. The right question is "How do we respond to the 'sin problem not the skin problem'?" as one of our brothers put it. As a white pastor in the greater Detroit area, I have much to learn. I need to take a posture of intentional listening. I will never truly understand what it is like to be a black man in this country. But I can listen and care and be part of the solution by proclaiming and living out the Gospel which says of Jesus, "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility." (Ephesians 2:14-16).

My friend, Pastor Tyler P. St.Clair, has blogged on some practical steps to make this residual benefit of the Gospel our aim as we, the Church of Jesus Christ, lead the way in "Building bridges with broken pieces" and has given me permission to repost them here.... (you can read the original at  http://tmblr.co/ZtWhQw1X6LFDp)

Moving Forward: Building bridges with broken pieces

By now, you know story of the death of Mike Brown and the grand jury’s ruling in Ferguson, MO.  Now, Mike Brown’s family is left to mourn.  Officer Wilson’s life will never be the same.  Multitudes have grieved.  Many have marched.  Many have protested.  Some have looted and destroyed property. (I believe they are an isolated minoritycontrary to the media’s coverage of the backlash).

The whole country lost. No one won. 

Now that the literal flames in Ferguson, MO are out, it is time to quench the figurative flames across America.  It is time for true, tangible racial harmony in America.   

I am fully persuaded that if racial harmony (not just equal rights or tolerance) will ever be prominent and pervasive in America it must start in the churches of America.  Despite serving a God who delights in diversity, and a King who is weaving together a multicultural tapestry (Ephesians 2:11-22, Galatians 3:28, Revelation 7:9), historically the church of America has not aligned itself with The Lord’s agenda.  Instead of the eclectic melting pot of gumbo we see in the New Testament, the vast majority of American churches are sharply divided by race and economic class.  Frankly, we have just handled race and diversity badly. 

For example, in 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was met with harsh criticism and was later denounced for peacefully protesting Jim Crow laws by his fellow ministers of The Gospel in the state of Alabama.  Even world renowned Evangelist, Billy Graham (yes, that Billy Graham!) PUBLICALLY discouraged King’s efforts. (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9501E4D81339E43BBC4052DFB2668388679EDE#) After marching and being arrested, Dr. King penned his now famous, “Letter From Birmingham Jail” (a must read) addressing his opposition from white clergy.  Many denominations like the A.M.E. and C.O.G.I.C. were founded because black persons were not allowed to worship in white churches.  

Black Christians are just as culpable for this gaping chasm in the church in America.  Although many black denominations were spawned out discrimination, we must model the forgiveness and grace of The Lord Jesus Christ.  Many preach a gospel of liberation, but are bound by resentment and prejudice toward whites.  Many preach a gospel of forgiveness, but have not forgiven their former oppressors.

So where do we go from here?  How do we began healing?  How can we better coexist racially?  How can our local churches look more like Revelation 7:9  “…every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…” and Sunday at 11:00 a.m. not be the most segregated time of the week?

This is NOT a magic bullet or secret solution, but here are some things I think we could do to see progress:

Open your heart

  • Be sympathetic and gracious towards those who are different from you racially, gender wise and socioeconomically.

  • Acknowledge your ignorance about other’s culture and ask for grace to learn.

Open your minds

  • Don’t make assumptions.  If you are not a part of the culture, you don’t know about it.

  • Ask questions before you give solutions/judgments.

  • Read and learn about others’ history that is not your own, i.e. black Americans, Native Americans, Latin Americans, etc.

Open your eyes

  • Look for possible injustice or oppression and address it.

  • Find opportunities to serve, bless and make your presence known in communities other than your own.

  • Look for opportunities to connect and serve with other believers/churches to edify and show Christ to your city/region.

Open your hands

  • Be intentional about establishing relationships with people of different cultures.

  • Experience their culture via worshiping in their context, going through where they live and meeting people who are totally different from you.

  • Allocate resources to those who are disenfranchised, under-resourced.

Unfortunately, when racial tensions begin to boil over in America, the ignored and unresolved issues in the American church rise as well.  We can’t wait for the next tragedy.  Let  us get out of our comfort zones, have those hard conversations and reach out and work toward substantial progress.  As the The Lord Jesus Christ’s Church, let racial harmony begin with us as we model it for our country.

Peace,

TPS

Advance the Gospel at Advent

It seems that the Advent season provides an unprecedented opportunity to “bring up” biblical truths in conversation not typically afforded to us at other times of the year. Do you consider yourself to be someone who could have an impact for the gospel of Jesus where you work? During this Christmas season, what has been the talk around the water cooler? If your workplace allows “holiday music” to be played have you considered pointing out the meaning of the theologically rich lyrics of some of the Christmas Carols? Even if your workplace or institution disallows such music or decorations even the antagonism toward the Christ of Christmas begs the question, “Why, what’s the threat?” A discussion over such a question could yield great opportunities to point desperate hearts to Christ. Are you a student? Have you thought through how God might use your gifts in a future career? Are you aiming high so as to leverage your talents and skills for the greatest impact for the gospel on your sphere of influence? Could that gospel influence in the place you aspire to work have an even greater impact in shaping the culture in your city and your country? The birth narratives of Jesus show us that God orchestrates governors and governments, and even the cosmos to bring about his purposes. In his new Advent devotional John Piper writes,

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him. This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations—all the nations (Matthew 24:14)—worship his Son. This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”[1]

If God uses the unwilling, how much more will he use his willing servant? How might God influence you to in turn influence your spheres of influence for the gospel of Jesus and the glory of God? I guess what I’m getting at here is, don’t sell yourself short. God has put you in specific spheres of influences and will put you in influential places, and could potentially put you in very influential places for his own purposes if you would surrender to him and aim high with excellence for the glory of His name. Not for your glory. Not for your fame. God doesn’t call you to be famous, just faithful. Consider the influence of our brother in Christ, the late William Stuntz. Timothy Keller writes,

A good case study of Christian cultural engagement and impact is the late William Stuntz, formerly professor of criminal law at Harvard Law School. Though he was an evangelical Christian and conservative Republican who was open about his faith and politics, when he died of cancer at the age of fifty-two, The New York Times paid him a remarkable tribute with a full op-ed piece on its editorial main page by Lincoln Caplan. It said that his scholarship in the area of criminal law was so strong that he had refuted the other thinkers and had a “profound” influence on the field. One of his accomplishments, according to the writer, was the incorporation of mercy to the marginalized without undermining rule of law. And yet the writer recognized that his arguments were not just skillful, but grounded in his Christian beliefs. While “literally defining the field,” Caplan wrote, “he was living his faith.” The piece also pointed to his inspiring example as he deal courageously with cancer and faced his impending death with grace.

Here we see a man who definitely engaged and influenced culture, brought his faith and its distinctive worldview to bear on the field of law, did it with undeniable excellence, and showed compassion for the poor within his theories of justice. In spite of the fact that he worked in places that largely disdained the Christian faith, the combination of his clear commitment to the common good, the integration of his faith with his scholarship, and his undeniable skill and excellence combined to make a real difference…William Stuntz… did his work first at the University of Virginia and later at Harvard, two major institutions with a lot of “symbolic” or cultural capital…Many Christians share with many Americans an anti-institutional bias, and therefore they grossly underestimate the power of institutions to shape culture. However, in the case of William Stuntz, Christian excellence was available for all to see precisely because he functioned in one of the main public cultural institutions. All of the biblical warnings against pride, love of wealth, and hunger for power must be kept in mind, and not all cultural change automatically flows from elite circles at the very top. But Christians should still seek to be a faithful presence in the major cultural institutions.[2]

God orchestrates governors and governments, Maji and stars, and even Harvard Law professors, CEO’s, journalists, artists, movie-makers, teachers, bankers, surgeons, city councils, those in the service industry, you name it, He uses his people where they where He has planted them to bring about his purposes. How will he use you?

 

[1] John Piper, Good News of Great Joy, (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2013) 16-17.

[2] Tim Keller, Center Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012) 239-240.

More Than Conquerors

Today I had the privilege of attending the fourth quarterly gathering of Plant Midwest, a church-planting networking initiative that spans the Midwest but materializes for us as a Southeast Michigan chapter hosted by our friends at Restore Church in Detroit. Several of my friends and co-laborers have been attending these Gospel-centered gatherings for a time in the word, fellowship, and prayer. I always find these gatherings energizing. This quarterly's talk was about the exclusivity of the claims of the Gospel brought to us by Jared Wilson who is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, VT and a contributor to the Gospel Coalition Blog. A highlight of his talk for me was an edifying reference he made to John Chrysostom when he was being tried by the emperor as an example of how the true Gospel radically transforms our worldview. Here is the reference as it appears also on Pastor Jared's TGC blog (I hope you find it encouraging too):

In A.D. 404 John Chrysostom, the early church father, was brought in before the Roman emperor. The emperor threatened him with banishment if he remained a Christian.

Chrysostom responded, ‘You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.’

‘But I will kill you,’ said the emperor.

‘No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,’ said Chrysostom.

‘I will take away your treasures.’

‘No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.’

‘But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.’

‘No, you cannot, for I have a friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.’

(And this anecdote always reminds me of my favorite line from Richard Sibbes’s The Bruised Reed: “A Christian is an impregnable person. He is a person that never can be conquered.”)

TGC source: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/gospeldrivenchurch/2012/02/27/a-christian-is-a-person-who-cannot-be-conquered/