Lately, I have been thinking…

Posted: February 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

Over the last couple of weeks I have had the chance to think through a number of issues.  Unfortunately, I have had little time (due to a busy schedule) to actually put them together.  So, I am taking a few minutes to do this. 

First, something that has been on my mind for a number of years and was recently brought to the forefront of my thinking, is the issue of legalism.  It is a frustrating thing to hear a fellow Christian hurl the term at someone who seeks to live a holy life.  Someone has a theological problem with watching a “R”-rated movie, and has the guts to share that they feel it is unwise for other Christians as well, is often labeled a legalist.  A Christian who thinks dressing modestly may be labeled a legalist if they feel this is wise, and right, for other Christians.  The examples can go on. 

Let us be clear.  Legalism is not seeking to live a holy life by being committed to holiness, purity, etc.  Legalism is not guarding oneself from actions that can, and many times do, lead one to sin.  Legalism IS thinking that the holy life you are trying to live will be the basis of your salvation.  This is not only wrong, it is anti-gospel.  Living a holy life does not save us.  For one thing, you can’t do it.  We all sin and fall short (Romans 3:23).  At the same time a holy life does save us…the holy life of Jesus.  He lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died.  Only by trusting in the resurrected Christ, and subsequently being united to Him by faith alone, can we be saved.  And when we are saved, the result is a new creation that sets out to live a life worthy of the gospel (see the entire NT)!

Secondly, I have been thinking about Elders/Pastors again.  I have written on this topic in the past and believe plurality is most consistent with the pattern in the New Testament.  However, what I have been thinking as of late goes a different direction.  There are many that are seeking to move churches towards healthy polity (9 Marks specifically).  We are urging churches to order their themselves in the way the New Testament would have us order them.  Many are moving toward a plural pastor model.  This is healthy and good.  However, we cannot be satisfied with simply having the right offices on our organizational flow chart.  We must make sure that those who are filling the right offices are also doing the right job.

What I mean by that is this:  Many churches are moving to having Deacons and Pastor(s) (pastors in the plural) as the only offices in the church.  Committees and councils with ruling authority are, I hope, going away more and more.  As we fill these offices with qualified men, we must also make sure they are fulfilling the specific task of the office they hold.  That is, deacons should be caring for the physical needs of the congregation, serving in various capacities, but not ruling.  The office of deacon was never given that authority.  So let’s make sure they do what they are called to do.  At the same time, as we have pastors serving in that specific office, let’s make sure they are free to do what they are called to do.  They are called to preach, teach, and rule (one on one, in classrooms, from the pulpit, etc.).  If our pastors are not mainly giving themselves to the study and proclamation of the Word and the oversight of the church, then they are not fulfilling the office in the way they should.  This shows up as pastors are busy running the programs of the church, planning events, and caring for general maintenance issues more than they are focusing on rightly handling the Word.  When that is out of balance, pastors, although in the right office with the right authority, are not doing the right job.

So, as we move towards the right structure of our churches (having deacons and pastor/elders), let’s make sure that those who are filling the right offices are doing the things those offices call them to do.  If we must, give ministry tasks away to ensure this happens.

Thirdly, I have been thinking about what it means for the SBC Pastors Conference to invite a non-Trinitarian to participate on the platform.  Now, let me be clear, I do not know the person in question and have never asked him about his Trinitarian beliefs.  Therefore, I am operating off the assumption that because he serves at a church where the pastor is a well-known non-Trinitarian, he himself would hold the same belief.  If I am mistaken, good.  If not, well, then I think we have a problem.  This is not an issue of just any unbeliever getting on the stage to play in a band where Christians are worshipping.  That could be debated as well (whether or not you want the lost person helping lead the people of God in worship).  The debate here is having a man on the stage that claims to be heading to the same heaven I am.  Yet, he denies that there is a Triune God.  Instead, he believes that there is one God in essence AND person.  This, according to orthodox Christian belief for centuries, is out-right heresy.  Tertullian, who labeled the Sabellian movement “patripassianism” (implying the Father suffered on the cross) was an ardent opponent of this view.  The Athanasian Creed affirmed the biblical idea of the one true God being three distinct persons that were co-eternal and co-equal in essence. 

Departure from the belief that Jesus is God, the Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and all three are distinct persons within the one God-head, is departure from the Bible.  It is the departure from believing in the God of the Bible.  We are now found to be believing in a figment of our imagination.  And a figment of your imagination cannot save you.  The only person that can save you is the Jesus of the Bible.  The Jesus who is distinct from the Father, yet completely God.  There is no debating that this is a great mystery.  But, nonetheless, a mystery the Bible is clear on. 

Now, when we have a particularly Christian event, such as the SBC Pastors conference, where we are talking about the gospel, and calling pastors to be faithful (which includes refuting heresy, see Titus 1:9 and many other places), then it seems odd that we would invite a person who believes false (essential) doctrine to participate.  It seems odd that we would ask a person who, in rejecting the Trinity, rejects the Christ of the Bible, to be part of our conference.  It seems to me we are saying, “You reject the Trinity?  You don’t believe that the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are different persons?  No big deal…come on and worship with us.”  It seems odd….no, it seems foolish.  I do, however, welcome correction from those that have more wisdom than myself.

Those are my thougths…right or wrong.

  1. Kristy says:

    I agree with several of your points.
    First, it is very disturbing that at an SBC Pastor’s conference a person who does not line up with core SBC beliefs would be invited to “lead.” I am hoping there is something that we do not know about this situation…
    Secondly, I could not agree more with moving to more healthy ruling offices in the church. You are exactly right that we need to make sure we have the right people in place, not just the right structure. I would love to see churches as a whole have more accountability with those in the offices of pastor and deacon in particular. In many “established” churches it seems as though deacons are elected on a good ole boy system rather than the qualification listed in the NT. I have seen this start to change in my church, and I am very thankful.
    Third, in regards to legalism. I also define this as when we try to restrict others with our preferences, rather than actual Biblical conviction. For example, I would say it was legalistic to tell everyone “You should not ever dance” when this is not forbidden in Scripture. Sure, we should use good judgment with regard to types of dancing but dancing in and of itself is not evil. This is just a random example. Or, take the “R” rated “The Passion of the Christ.” Should Christians not see that simply because of its rating? I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to be careful that our “preferences” are not being forced upon others where it is not clear in the Bible (not accusing you of doing this btw). I do agree that some things are just not wise and we should refrain from doing them as believers. Bottom line: If we seek to honor Christ, rather than please ourselves, most of this would be a moot point.

    • Jonathon says:

      Great thoughts, Kristy! Thanks for posting.

      I agree with your assesment concerning preferences. I think, however, that restricting the use of the term legalism to those who think living a holy life is the basis, or root, of their justification is the best way forward. Unless I am mistaken (and that happens often), historically it has meant this. Legalism denotes those, like the Pharisee’s, who believed their right living led to a right standing before God. Paul had this in mind with his construction, erga nomou (works of the law). The term legalism takes us the opposite direction of the gospel of grace alone through faith alone.

      It is certainly true that when some push their preferences on others they are doing so in a way that says “if you do this, and don’t do that, you are righteous.” Here I think they are doing what Paul warns against, namely, trusting in their “works” to make them righteous. However, it is probably the case that when people are pushing their preferences, they are not so much advocating the idea that you are saved by (to use a common example) not attending “R”-rated movies. Instead, they are simply saying that I believe this is best and so should you, although you not beleiving like me doesn’t mean you aren’t saved (or vice versa). It is the latter example that I feel we should find another name for and leave legalism to the first situation. Is there one? Not sure.

      Overall, I think we both agree. Thanks for stopping by…and I miss you editing my posts (and I am sure readers miss that as well).

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