How to Filter Everything with the Bible

Last Wednesday I had the privilege to preach at Ekklesia’s midweek service on the subject of the Christian mind, a subject I’m obviously passionate about. I ended the sermon talking about how we need to use the Bible to filter everything that comes our way, in order to find the truth and spit out the lies. I didn’t quite get to say everything I wanted to say on the matter, so I decided to discuss it here.

Elemaris_Cool_schwarz_300dpiI cannot overstate how important it is that believers try and filter everything through the lens of Scripture. Because the devil is constantly tempting us, the world is constantly preaching to us, and our flesh is constantly blinding us, we must use the Word of God to navigate through all of this. Our guide cannot be our intuition or our own logic. It cannot be our experiences. We are people of the Book and so all our arguments must come from the truth of this Book.

THE MARK OF MATURITY

We need to learn to discern between truth and error. Albert Mohler says, “The absence of consistent biblical worldview thinking is a key mark of spiritual immaturity.” What that means is that if you are unable to decipher through things happening around you and determine if it coincides with the Bible, then you are spiritually immature. Now, that doesn’t mean you are going to have all the answers, but that does mean you know how to find them, or at least the fact that you need one.

Hebrews 5:11-14 says:

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Who does he say is the spiritual child? The one who does not know how to handle the Word of God. The one who does not know how to discern between good and evil, right and wrong teaching. The one who does not know how to filter what they hear and see.

So it’s not only the super-Christian (as if they existed) who should know how to wade through the moral and ethical complexities of life. All Christians are called to grow up, just like all babies are called to become adults.

FILTER THE WORLD

We cannot be passive thinkers. If you’re watching TV, don’t just sit there and let your brains ooze out your ears. The world is constantly preaching sermons to us. Every movie, song, book, blog, and political speech, is preaching a message to you, inviting you to come and believe. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up agreeing with the lies and miss the truth.

As you go throughout your day, you shouldn’t just let any old thought pass in and out of your head. You have to be vigilant and aware, constantly. We are most vulnerable when we are most aloof.

I hate to break it to you but you’re actually going to have to work at this. I know this is hard. Sometimes I just want to zone out and let my mind wander. My mind can run off so badly that I sometimes don’t even realize what’s going on around me (which really annoys my wife). When that happens, I just have to remind myself, if you didn’t want to think hard then you should’ve never allowed yourself to graduate kindergarten.

FILTER BIBLE TEACHINGS

Along that same note, Ephesians 4:13-14 says:

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Once again, it’s the spiritually immature who’s tossed to and fro by every kind of teaching they hear. They are helpless. My daughter Madeline is only ten weeks old, and her head is so big compared to the rest of her body that when she tries to sit up she just falls over. Imagine a baby like that in a sailboat, with waves tossing to and fro. Helpless. The baby is not in control, the ocean is.

It’s the same with a spiritually immature person. They hear something that sounds slightly spiritual and they think it’s so awesome and they put it up on Facebook. They think, Well a pastor said it, so it must be true!

Most Christians put down their guards when they hear vaguely spiritual language or they see the label “Christian.” It must be good because they mentioned God! This is why if you look at most of the best-selling books in Christian bookstores, they are written by authors who are peddling false teachings. And the Christians gobble them up like they’re Olive Garden breadsticks.

Don’t take in anything blindly. I don’t care if it’s a sermon, a song, or a book endorsed by Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. It may make you feel good, but is it true? Search the Scriptures.

In Acts 17, Luke writes about the Bereans and their reactions to Paul’s teachings about Jesus. Instead of just accepting his word blindly, they searched the Scriptures to see if such things could be true. Luke says that they were more noble than the Thessalonians for their diligence.

I can’t do the thinking for you. Mark Driscoll, John Piper, or Tim Keller can’t do the thinking for you. You are free, no encouraged, to check everything we say with the Scriptures. You don’t have to agree everything said or written. If you’re confused or don’t understand, that’s okay. Search for the truth.

FILTER YOUR EXPERIENCES

Don’t even interpret your own experiences with a passive mind.

You may think that a certain worship experience was so mind-melting and heart-stopping, but 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

If it does not coincide with Scripture and if it does not affirm Christ, then I don’t care if it gave you the biggest spiritual high you’ve ever experienced. False teachers don’t come from outside the church but inside, and they are deceiving many.

As I’ve written earlier  spiritual highs and experiences are not unique to Christianity. You can get the same high at a Coldplay concert. What’s unique to Christianity is the truth of the Gospel. Stick with that.

FILTER WITH QUESTIONS

You may say, but I’m not a theologian. I don’t think I am able to filter all this. What’s the point?

Everyone is a theologian. Theology literally means “words about God.” Everyone has some sort of idea about God, even atheists.

Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether or not you are a good one. A good one searches for the truth—for how God wants to be represented.

I want to encourage you to ask questions. When someone comes your way, don’t accept it blindly. Also, don’t reject it right away. Ask questions. Is this true? What does the Bible say about this? Are there actual verses (taken in context, of course) that would support this?

I don’t necessarily think questioning is a bad thing. Questions are good and fine if you have the right attitude. The best place to ask a serious question or voice a doubt should be church (sadly it’s often not). Where questions can go wrong is where you don’t like the answer you find in Scripture, so you go looking for something else to tickle your ears. That shows you are not concerned with the truth but with yourself.

The mark of a Christian is that they will uphold and defend the truth. 1 Timothy 3 calls the church the “pillar of the truth.” If we don’t stand for the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus is God who became a man to save sinners like you and me, that He died on a cross to take the punishment we deserved, and that He rose again to give us new life if we trust in His work, then no one will stand for it.

Let’s take back our minds and use them for Christ.

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A Response to Rachel Held Evans and the Millennial Exodus from the Church

Rachel Held Evans, popular blogger and best-selling author, has an article on CNN.com that’s created quite the frenzy on the interwebs. The last time I checked, the article had been shared 163,000 times on Facebook. The piece is titled, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” and it’s striking more chords than a youth worship leader. Evans has also invited people to join in the conversation, hence my blog post.

In the article, Evans seeks to diagnose why so many young adults are fleeing much of America’s churches. She believes the cause of the exodus is because millennials are finding less of what they value in the church—and please don’t suggest to her that it’s found in “hipper worship bands.”

Evans states:

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.

In short, the church needs to change or it will become obsolete.

Personally, I’m smack in the middle of millennial generation (24). I’m also pastor at a church, so I have some stakes in this game. I know my voice is just a drop in the blogosphere ocean and that there have already been some great responses to Evans herehere, and here, [and here] but I wanted to add my two cents.

WHERE EVANS IS SORT OF CORRECT

Not everything Evans has to say is incorrect. I agree that many churches do need to change but not because millennials are leaving. They need to change because they’ve wandered from the truth of the Bible.

Many churches rely on the power of politics to save them, not the Gospel. Many churches rely on emotional experiences to fuel their worship, not an intelligent faith. Many churches care more about preserving their own comfort, not the souls of those around them. Many churches believe they are without sin, not sinners saved by grace. Many churches care more about the amount in attendance, not the individual.

There are many things wrong with the churches in our country and in the churches around the world. In my own church. People sin, therefore the church is full of sinners. Sinful people will jockey for positions. Sinful people will gossip and commit adultery. When a church is full of sinful people then the church will be full of sin. But then again, that’s kind of the point. Isn’t it? Jesus didn’t marry a spotless bride. He married her to make her spotless. We are all in process of healing and the church is the hospital.

Does that excuse the sin that occurs in the church? No. Churches should continually evaluate themselves and repent of sins committed. When repentance does not happen in a church, that’s when you can tell something is really off.

When I talk to people who have left the church, millennial and all other, many times it turns out because they were never shown that church was worth it. They were always preached to about the truth but they never saw the truth actually lived out.

I have friends who have grown up every day of their lives in church, hearing that marriage is sacred. Then they get to college and find out their parents are getting divorced because the father or mother had an affair. It’s no surprise that they are repulsed by all the traditional marriage talk. All they’ve seen are empty words. In their minds, all this church talk is pointless.

Enough with empty words. The church needs to first believe that the truth does work—that the Gospel has enough power within itself to save anyone (Romans 1:16). It’s a message that has sparked revival regardless of persecution or zeitgeist. Jesus promised that if the church was built on the Gospel, then the gates of hell could not even prevail against it (Matthew 16:18-19). I think it can survive a few angst-filled twenty-somethings.

WHERE EVANS IS INCORRECT

I think one of the biggest problems with Evans’ evaluation is she doesn’t recognize that millennials are at least partially responsible for their own exodus from the church.

Yes, I know many have been hurt by people in the church. Yes, I know the church can be frustrating at times. But millennials need to stop playing the victim. Regardless of what’s happened to them in the past, they still get to make their own choices. They have the same Bible that their parents have. And millennials are willfully leaving the church.

Why are they leaving? Whenever I talk to someone who has vacated the church, they typically voice one of the reasons that Evans states in her article. But I’ve found there’s usually something deeper going on. Even if all those things Evans listed in her article were found in a church, I still don’t think a large majority would go to church. This is proven by the fact that there are whole denominations who meet her criteria and they’re actually seeing a decline in attendance across the board.

Millennials are not leaving the church because they have no other choice but to desert the sinking ship. They’re leaving because they don’t care about the church. They don’t like being under authority or having someone call them out for their sin. They want an institution that looks just like them and when they can’t have it, they huff off the basketball court, ball in hand. It’s individualism and consumerism to the core.

This is quite the pickle, if you think about it. Millennials are choosing to abandon Jesus’ bride. They’re leaving the only institution Jesus said He would build (Matthew 16:18-19), the people Jesus chose to die for (Ephesians 2:16), the family they were adopted into (Ephesians 2:19-22), the body they were called to function in (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), the pillar of truth for the whole world (1 Timothy 3:15), and the bride Jesus is coming back for (Revelation 21:1-7). Most of the New Testament is about Christ working in and through the church. Most, if not all, of the epistles were written to churches or their leaders. If you look at the New Testament, I think you’d have a hard time justifying that you can love Jesus but not the church.

Perhaps it’s the millennials who need to change.

If millennials truly love Jesus and want to please Him, they should choose to stay with His bride, not abandon her. If not at their current church, then they should dedicate themselves to find one they can at least tolerate to be in. If they see problems, instead of whining about them, they should do something about it. They should be the change they want to see (to loosely quote someone millennials love to quote). We always talk about making a difference. Here’s our chance to impact the only organization Jesus promised to build. In His mind, there is no plan B to reach the world.

One final thing I think Evans missed is all the millennials who haven’t left but are instead trying to make a difference in the church. I get to see them every day.

The overwhelming majority of the 1500 person church I serve at (named Ekklesia) is made up of millennials. And we are in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most unchurched states in the nation. Ekklesia is also a diverse crowd. Some grew up in the church but many didn’t. Many got saved through hearing the Gospel preached day after day. We are racially diverse (especially for Oregon, one of the whitest states in the Union). We are economically diverse.

And we do do just about everything society would advise against. Get this, we preach the Bible for 45-60 minutes every Sunday and Wednesday—and they’re expository sermons. We believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. We believe in traditional marriage. We believe in the inerrancy of the Word. Yet millennials come. And it really has nothing to do with us because we haven’t tried anything special—unless you count our hip, Greek, one-word name. Both our campuses meet in middle school gyms. We don’t use formal liturgy. We don’t have wine for communion. We didn’t have strategy meetings and focus groups to try and figure out how to best reach the young crowd. We just opened the Bible. They just showed up and never left.

There are churches reaching young people. I could name off more in our city and more in Portland who are doing the same thing. They are faithfully preaching the Bible and wondrously seeing people changed.

As we look at trends like the one Evans has pointed out, we also have to remember that being a Christian is not going to be considered cool. Persecution is guaranteed all throughout the Bible (John 15:18-20, 1 Peter 4:12-19). The Gospel is going to be seen as foolish to most people (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). We don’t need to freak out when these verses are realized in our lives. Instead of capitulating to the spirit of the age, we need to hold fast even stronger to the truth, trusting that Christ will see His church through.

Theology vs. Experience: Which Should a Christian Focus on?

Worshipper

Is he supplicating or contemplating?

There’s a trend running around the American church that devalues theology’s place in an individual’s life. It holds that a relationship with God will produce all the truth needed. Theology may be for some people, (dusty academics hidden behind mountains of rotting books and pious pastors who have no people skills) but not for them. It says theology only engages the mind but not the heart. Because God is a relational God, He wants us to experience Him—He wants us to drown in His love like it’s a big love-ocean. They say you simply can’t get that kind of passion if you treat Christianity like the SAT’s.

While there may be some legitimate concerns underlying these sentiments, there is a subtle danger here.

They are right that what matters more is heart-transformation, not information infusion. What they don’t realize is that a Christianity entirely based on experience and feelings alone will lead people astray.

It’s a false dichotomy to think the mind and heart are exclusive. God created us to engage Him with our whole being. Focusing on one side can make the other suffer.

Here are a few warnings about focusing solely on spiritual experiences:

1. Spiritual Experiences are not unique to Christianity.

Buddhists fall into trances as they commune with the spirits. Through prayer, Mormons receive the “burning in the bosom,” a gut sensation that’s supposed to confirm the veracity of the Book of Mormon. Hindus and New Age experience tranquility through their yoga and meditation. The pagan Greeks experienced an “ecstasy” that would take over their body and mind, causing them to speak in tongues.

Those spiritual experiences are real, and they are real because the spirits behind them are real—and they’re definitely not of Christ. There is an enemy at work and they would love to distract people with real experiences that confirm lies. This is why John warns, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

He wouldn’t say that unless believers were already falling for it.

2. Experience is very individualistic.

Many times when experience is emphasized, it’s just individualism and consumerism wrapped up in spirituality. It’s all about experiencing God in your own personal way.

The customer is always right.

The problem is everyone experiences things in different ways. If one person experiences God as a mother figure, another hears God’s audible voice in the wind telling them words to write down in a journal, and another sees Jesus in bodily form at the local Denny’s every other Tuesday, how are we to decide whether or not these are accurate representations of God? Based on experience alone, there is no way. They have felt the emotions and cried the tears, so it must be true.

Following such logic, the aim of church then becomes about feeling God, not about gathering to know and praise Him. Inevitably such a perspective transforms from being about God into being about self.

3. Elevating experience can bring about a low view of Scripture.

A failure to anchor experience to the truth of the Word is why we have whole denominations throwing snakes at each other during church. They take one verse out of context and it’s reinforced by the intensity of their experience. Holding a rattlesnake may be one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you can feel, but that doesn’t mean your heart and God’s are hugging.

This goes beyond bizarre religious practices. If how I feel matters more than what is written, then it will affect how I live—how I view things like sin. A dating couple can justify sleeping together and co-habitating because they think they love each other. A person who was abused can justify their hate because they were hurt by an evil man. A husband can justify leaving his wife because he believes another woman is his soulmate.

When how you feel matters more than what is written, anything goes. This is why Jesus called us to “die to ourselves;” there’s something more important than how you feel. If you’re a Christian, it can’t be about you anymore.

A BETTER WAY TO GO

Theology is literally “the study of God.” If you want to have a vibrant relationship with God you must study Him—you must grow in theology—because what you believe about God will influence how you experience Him.

It really doesn’t matter if someone says they don’t “do” theology. Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether or not they are a good one.

A good theologian is not someone who has all the answers. A good theologian seeks to know God as He wants to be known, as revealed through His Word. A good theologian has a heartfelt faith and an intelligent one.

Filter everything through Scripture. God must be worshipped “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It’s our duty to draw deeper into that truth, and allow it to transform our hearts.

Is It OK For A Christian to Doubt?

doubtI am hearing more and more Christians say, “I am struggling with doubts. Is that sin? Is it OK for me to doubt?”

My answer is always, “It depends.”

They ask because it’s a common thing to hear in the church that doubt is forbidden. They’ve heard that the second doubt about God or the Bible pops in your head you need to crush it like a pre-teen boy hunting Whack-a-Moles. In some ways, I understand why this was taught. It’s a lot easier to tell someone to just believe than to actually have to grapple with their thoughts. Or maybe they were afraid the doubt would transform into a foaming-at-the-mouth atheism. Better to squash it now. But the problem is when a genuine question about God comes along (Why would a loving God command killing all the Canaanites in the Old Testament? If Jesus was God, how could He die on the cross? What’s a holy kiss and where can I get one?), it is construed as rebellion against the faith. Why can’t you just believe?

Forbidding doubt will kill questions. Killing questions births a faith that doesn’t know why it exists. They “just” believe. But when an intellectual argument against their faith comes, they are left in the street naked without answers. Or when a horrific tragedy strikes their lives, they have no anchor to keep them from drifting. They always just believed. Now they see their faith for what it was—hollow. This is why so many Christians go off to college, get hit with every ideology under the sun, and walk away from their faith.

We need a new way to think about doubt and questions; one that acknowledges the dangers doubt can pose but also the benefits doubt can give.

DOUBT CAN BE BENEFICIAL

Doubt that’s beneficial is one that looks for answers—looks for truth. You know an answer is out there. You’re not trying to undermine two thousand years worth of prayer, scholarship, and theology. You just want to know.

This doubt is extremely beneficial because Christians aren’t supposed to “just” believe. The Christian faith is one that’s grounded in evidence—in facts. The Gospel is not just a collection of truths but it’s a description of a historical event. Real people in real places. There’s an abundance of evidence to support our faith. We shouldn’t be horrified of doubts, as if every time a young believer asks a question on hell an angel loses its wings. Instead, we should confidently answer their questions and help them through their doubts.

If you don’t know the answers, figure them out yourself. If you’re having doubts, answer the doubts with Scripture. We should know why we believe not just that we believe. “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter. 3:15). If someone asks you why you believe what you believe, would you be able to answer them?

Doubt can be helpful but only if you desire the truth. Don’t doubt for doubt’s sake. Wrestle with your doubt so you can know God. Doubt can be the seed of faith. If we truly want the truth, our faith will be stronger for it.

DOUBT CAN BE HARMFUL

Doubt that’s harmful is one that looks for anything but the answer. The truth was given to you but you’re unwilling to accept it. So you go looking for something else or believe there is no answer at all.

If we’re truly seeking for truth, then we should be willing to accept the answer even if we don’t like it. But we humans are fickle beings. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). They didn’t like the truth because it didn’t hit their sweet spot, so they went searching for cheap substitutes.

You don’t like the idea that people who reject Christ go to hell? We’ll work something out.

You don’t like the idea that homosexuality (or any sexual expression outside traditional marriage) is a sin? I have just the thing for you.

You don’t like the idea that being a disciple of Christ means you have to die to yourself and your desires? You can have your best life now.

This kind of doubt isn’t a wrestling for truth. It’s unbelief. A refusal to believe the truth you see before you. This kind of doubt doesn’t strengthen faith—it undermines faith.

I do believe doubt and questions should have a place in the church. I love hearing people work through the Bible and wrestle with what it says. That means our brains are working. That means we’re trying to figure out what it means to love the Lord with all our mind. But in the middle of our doubting, remember Christ is standing there waiting for us to touch the holes in His hands. We just have to be willing to see Him.

Making Christian Music Beautiful Again

Normally, I really hate self-promotion but I’m gonna give a shameless plug to a guest-post I wrote called “Putting the Art Back in ‘How Great Thou Art’” for Trevin Wax’s blog, Kingdom People, which is part of The Gospel Coalition blogging network (If you don’t read his blog, you should!). In it, I write about Christian music and its need to proclaim truth more beautifully:

God loves music. He created it. The problem is that sometimes us Christians act like we hate the art of song. That must be the case, for how else could we justify the mass production of what attempts to pass for “Christian” radio these days?

Much like of our books, a large portion of our music is not beautiful. That is a problem, for it does not properly represent the One we adore.

In contrast, the Bible is full of beautiful songs. Here are four things they have that many of our songs today do not:

Imagery, Depth, A God-Centered Focus, and Awe.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can read the rest of the post here. It was a really great learning experience to be able to write for a crowd who is not familiar with my writing, ideas, or lame jokes. I even got my first negative blog comment ever! Pretty exciting stuff.

Many thanks to Trevin and his willingness to let a green blogger like me on his fabulous site. And thank you to the Creator whose greatest work of art was completed on Calvary.

Is Putting God in a Box a Bad Thing?

Sort of. It depends.

Usually when someone uses the phrase “putting God in a box,” it is used in a negative manner. As in, “Don’t put God in a box. You can’t figure out God.”

For the most part I don’t disagree with such a statement. Can I fully figure out how the Trinity works? Or the virgin birth? Or what it means to have no beginning and no end, but self-sufficiently exist?

No. I can never fully comprehend and wrap my mind around such mysteries because I am finite, mortal, and human. Those things about God are things I have never experienced and never could experience because of my nature. And that’s ok. If I could fully understand and comprehend everything about God, He would not be God, would He?

I can barely figure other humans out, let alone God. This is why David says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).

WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH

But here’s the problem with the phrase, “putting God in a box.” It is not normally used to describe the profound nature of an all-powerful, everlasting, triune being, but is instead used to discredit any sort of categorization or description of God.

So if I were to say, “God’s character demands that He judge those who sin,” the other person would respond, “Don’t put God in a box, Kyle. God is so much bigger than your understanding. You can’t reduce God to mere descriptions with words.”

I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of the things that person said, but I would disagree with how it was said. Yes God is bigger than anyone’s understanding, but is using words to describe God, reducing Him to something less? How else am I supposed to communicate about God—interpretive dance?

No. Words are good. Words are powerful. This is why God chose to use words to reveal Himself to us through His Word. We can confidently say, “God is _____” because God has chosen to describe Himself in such a way. Yet at the same time I do somewhat agree, all of our words cannot do full justice to the majesty of God. This is because it is human words being received by human brains.

FIND THE RIGHT BOX

But here’s the funny thing. I think in some ways, putting God in a box is a good thing because boxes have boundaries. Things are either inside the box or they are not. The Bible doesn’t just tell us who and what God is but it also tells us who and what He is not.

  • “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1:12).
  • “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
  • “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

God is wholly against sin and that is a definite box He is inside.

And so I think the issue ultimately comes down to what kind of a box you are putting God in. Let’s be honest, even the “don’t put God in a box” people are putting Him in one—it’s the box of their mind, which is a far smaller box than the Bible. Some put Him in the philosophy box. Some put Him in the consumer Christian box. Some put Him in the social gospel box. Some put Him in their own personal box of their making—custom découpage and all.

Instead, let us allow Scripture to be the box. Not because God can be fully explained or described through words, but because the Bible is how He has chosen to reveal Himself. And we must trust that His Word is more than sufficient to give us a deep relationship with Him.

The Christian Culture Bubble

Christians have a funny understanding of culture.

Many times when a new technology or cultural progression occurs, Christians automatically reject it. We don’t examine or investigate. We just cast off.

We liked the old way of doing church, preaching the Gospel, teaching truth. We don’t want that new stuff.

Having a preference isn’t wrong, but what happens is that in the minds of many Christians, the old ways become another truth to us—another Gospel—as if by playing an organ in church more people will be saved than by drums and lights.

What happens is that we equate the old way with righteousness. We all want to live righteously, right? And so, when we see the culture progressing from that old way, we retreat, we build walls, and create a righteous Christian culture bubble where we can be safe. And then we create our own alternatives to what the world offers so we feel like we still can have fun.

Such a mindset is sinful. Let’s call it for what it is.

THOU SHALT NOT TWEET

When we declare something “righteous” and something else “evil” without the backing of Scripture, we are doing what the Pharisees did—adding rules upon rules upon rules. I think God’s Word is sufficient enough to give us an adequate framework for morality, even in the 21st century. We don’t need to help God out by inviting ourselves to brainstorm new commands with Him.

Let’s also consider the implications of such a mindset.

We, the Church, have been commissioned to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The bubble-mindset is antithetical to this command. We cannot go if we are cloistered behind closed doors.

Take for example social networks. I know many Christians who have taken advantage of Twitter and Facebook for the glory of God. But I also know many other Christians who would criticize the other ones for being a part of social networks.

The comments vary between: “It’s all about pride on Twitter, so I’m not going to be a part of that” (translation: because I’m so humble)—”I’m a relational person, so I can only relate to people face-to-face”—”I don’t have time”—”It’s just stupid”—”It’s just a fad that will fade away.”

While I don’t have time to answer every objection (and that is not the object of my post), I would like to say this: social networks are not going anywhere. As of 2011, over 500 million people are on Facebook. That’s not a fad; that’s a cultural movement that is changing how the world is working. It may not be Facebook that’s the top dog in five years, but social networks are here to stay for a while.

If we are commanded to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” how come we are not willing to obey the “go” part? This is where the people are and so we must go.

As my lead pastor, Wesley, said the other day—gone is the day in America when a church could just open their doors and call it evangelism. Today, if your church doesn’t have a website, people may not even know it exists.

People called compact discs and digital music a fad. Now most new cars don’t even come with a tape player. Yet, I can guarantee you that there is a pastor somewhere still trying to hand out his sermons on cassette tapes.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GOSPEL

Of course, not all technology and culture is beneficial or good. If it violates Scripture then don’t use it. But don’t forget that many things in culture are morally neutral—it’s the person who decides if it will be used for evil or God’s glory. The internet can be used for pornography or for reaching people with the Gospel who would never set foot in a church—they are hurting and don’t know what to do, so they Google “Does God love me.”

It’s easy to forget that God was willing to come into human culture to reach us. He wrote the Bible in a language. He employed authors who used figures of speech and referenced customs of the day. And then He sent His Son to live in a culture. To eat certain foods. To dress a certain way. To speak a certain language. All with the goal of saving people in the culture.

Christians can reflect God as His ambassadors and do this too.

The Apostle Paul used the newly developed postal routes to send out his letters to the churches. Paul also quoted pagan poets to illustrate certain Gospel truths (Acts 17:28). Gutenberg and Luther used the new printing press to mass produce the Word of God. Today, many people are being saved through the free and easy access to thousands of quality preaching via podcasts and YouTube.

What really matters is that we have a heart to reach the lost and are willing to do anything outside of sin to do that. Christians, we cannot idolize our methods and our comfort. It doesn’t matter if it is through Twitter or on the bus; we should always have the Gospel on our lips.

How will you burst out of your bubble and get in the game?

Is the Church Today in the Worst State It’s Ever Been in?

No.

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not sinking like the Titanic.

Why do people say such things? Maybe it’s because of things like Barna’s slightly skewed statistics that say people are fleeing the church as if it were a mutant-possum. Maybe they are alarmed at the rampant hypocrisy of many clergymen or are perturbed at the wishy-washiness of many pulpits. Or maybe they see the state of America today and assume that’s how the church is doing too—since, you know, everyone in America is a Christian, right?

The critics believe the reason why the church is so messed up is because we have drifted away from the New Testament church model. They say—the first Christians had less of this and more of that.

  • They met in homes.
  • They didn’t care about money.
  • They were more missional.
  • They wrote less books.
  • They did more social justice.
  • They didn’t focus on doctrine.
  • They gave all their possessions away.
  • They didn’t really have pastors.
  • They spoke in tongues more.
  • They loved people more.
  • They preached less.
  • They drank more.
  • They were more like Jesus.

YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE

The doomsayers do have one thing correct: the church is full of sin. But you know what?—it always has been. Even, (gasp!) during the New Testament and the first century church.

The church has always be made up of humans, and humans are sinful. Therefore, as long as the church is full of sinners it is going to be full of sin. It doesn’t justify the sin, but it will be a reality.

Yes, the church is the bride of Christ, but she can be very ugly at times.

NEW TESTAMENT REMIX

The problem is that we forget the sin nature of the first Christians and end up idolizing the NT church. The reality is that the NT church was not as full of baby angels and bejeweled bunnies. Almost every epistle was written to address a problem or conflict in the New Testament church.

Romans– written to address racial and theological tensions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

1 Corinthians– written to address a church that was more full of sin than a Las Vegas casino and to quiet those who were trying to rebel against Paul’s God-given apostolic authority.

2 Corinthians– written to address more turmoil in the churches at Corinth and once again reassert Paul’s God-given authority (slow learners those Corinthians).

Galatians– written to stop a rising cult, named the Judaizers, who were ravaging the churches in Galatia.

Colossians– written to correct certain heresies that were infiltrating the church and causing many to engage in ascetic practices—thinking that would earn favor with God.

1 Thessalonians– written to correct an incorrect mindset of the after-life and Christ’s Second Coming that caused depression and hopeless grieving in the church.

2 Thessalonians– written to correct another incorrect understanding of Christ’s Second Coming. This time they thought Jesus had already come back.

1 Timothy– written to encourage Timothy, pastor of the church in Ephesus, to confront the false teachers who had infiltrated his church.

Titus– written to encourage Titus, pastor of the church in Crete, to confront the false teachers who had infiltrated his church.

James– written to Jewish Christians who had fallen into living a worldly lifestyle, resorted to infighting, and split into many factions.

2 Peter– written to combat false teachers who were teaching that sexual sin was a legitimate Christian lifestyle.

1 John– written to respond to an early form of Gnosticism, another early church heresy.

Jude– written to defend the truth against false teachers who taught a false gospel and gave license to debauchery.

So the early church was no more holy than any other period of church history. Does this mean we throw out all the epistles say about the church? By no means!

We must use what the early church did wrong as an example of what not to do. Use the good things they did as examples to follow. Obey the commands given by God through the apostles. Where the Bible is silent (example: style of worship music), do not create your own commands to fill in the blanks.

And always remember that it is Christ who will build His church, not us. As one pastor said, Jesus has been hitting straight licks with crooked sticks for a long time. We just need to be faithful to sow the seed.