Increase Not Decrease: Joy In God-Given Vocation

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegrooms voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” (John 3:29-30)

John, at this point of his life, noted that his joy was fulfilled in being where God wanted him to be doing what God wanted him to do. The focus of his words is not on being the bride of the groom, but being the friend of the groom. He was the greatest of the prophets; his joy was full at that endeavor because it was his God-given position and he was operating in it.

And his joy was fullfilled in hearing the groom enjoying the party with the bride. I’m sure The Baptist knew about the bride metaphor in Scripture (God and Israel Hos 2:19–20) but he didn’t know how Paul (who is Paul anyway?) would later use it (Christ and the Church Eph 5:32). He was the best man.

What of us?

Christ says that the least in his kingdom would be greater than John the Baptist. Every single Kingdom Dweller had the distinct opportunity of pointing to Christ—just like the Old Testament prophets—but with clarity: something they didn’t have. We’re not Best Men. We’re Bride. We’re family. We have an explicitly clear message.

The Christ, the Incarnate Yahweh God, is the Man Jesus Christ: Jesus is both Lord and King. Jesus, born of Mary, died in Jerusalem according to the plan of God and by the sinful hands of men: both Gentile and Jew. Jesus, the same Jesus that died, rose on the third day, vindicated by God and with power. Jesus was seen by the five hundred. Jesus was taken up into heaven. The way Jesus was taken up is the way Jesus will return. We are awaiting for Jesus.

No prophet could be as explicit as us. Not one. Because where we’re living is the age that has dawned: not the age of John which has diminished.

Imagine what this age entails. If John was calling for repentance in preparation for what was coming, how much more dire are the words for us who live on this side of the cross. We’ve seen the cost of sin: The God Man pinned to a tree. We’ve seen the cost. We’ve seen the payment. We’ve seen the victory.

John and his age did have to diminish so that Christ and his era would increase. Unceasingly increase. And it is in this God-given vocation, this work that is granted by God himself by finding us where we are in time, do we find our greatest joy and fulfillment.

Yes we will struggle. Yes we will groan in ourselves. Yes we will speak words that are ignored.

But that is exactly what Christ went through and we’re following in his footsteps—something the prophets didn’t even explicitly know (Luke 9:23 cf. John 15:18-25).

We ourselves do not diminish. Our goal isn’t the mini-highs that we get from the small victories in our lives. Our goal isn’t merely the applause at finding victory over sin for a season.

In a conversation in John 10, Christ points out that he has come giving life (yes) but to also give life more abundantly (John 10:10). Our Joy is tied up in our mission of pointing to Christ as a community whose distinctions are emphasized as they function as a whole forever: even after sin and death and the need to give out tracts has been squashed.

No, our goal is not to become Nothing as part of Something Else. Our humanity isn’t subsumed into some ephemeral non-personal force.  There was so much wrong with what the holy man was saying but this idea of destroying our humanity to be swallowed up, no matter what we believed or professed was more the attributes of a monster than of a good, personal, God.

Our position is God-given; we’re to function as God has granted us ability to function which is pointing to the living Jesus Christ in our lives, in our actions, in our words with wisdom and our own distinct sensibilities for now and forever; and it’s in Jesus Christ and His work where we’ll find our greatest joy and satisfaction.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Increase Not Decrease: God Grants the Role

“You Yourselves bear me witness that I said ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him’.” (John 3:28)

Of course John’s comment is in light of his ministry. For he says that he was to announce the Christ because he is not the Christ: his role was to prepare the way. John sees that his own life isn’t purposeless but is actually tied up in the work of God by the presentation of the Lamb of God.

He was sent to preach repentance and when he saw the Lamb of God he pointed him out, openly acknowledging that this is the provision that God had made. (John 1:19-34)

To John’s mind, this probably meant something else. He probably thought as Jesus as the Lamb ruler who would forcefully take away the sins of the World. After all, it was only a short time later that he would be imprisoned, still waiting for the Christ to reboot this entire world, and wondering why it hadn’t happened yet.

In Matthew 11, John, seeing that Herod is still in power (and he’s still in jail) sends a message to Jesus via disciples: “Are you the Christ that we’re waiting for?” He spent his life pointing out this person, he could’ve sworn that this was the very thing he was called to do, but things had turned out so differently and dire: could he have been wrong?

Christ responds neither yes nor no but pointing out the work of God. The Lame walk. The blind see. The Gospel is being preached.

The next historical note we have about John is that he’s beheaded at a party for a cruel mother and her daughter. (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9).

You see, Christ explains, John wasn’t merely some spectacle in soft clothes out in the wild—some oddity to ogle. This John was God’s prophet: the very Elijah who was supposed to come (if they would have had him) before the end of the age: the one who prepared the way of the coming of the Lord Himself. This John, in prison who eventually died of beheading, was the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:11a).

Without a miracle. Without a sign. With a backwater ministry in the Jewish outback. John functioned where he was supposed to function doing what all the prophets before him did, but better. Point to Christ.

Every single prophet in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ via the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes fuzzily. Sometimes explicitly. But always predicated upon God’s revelation and looking forward to God’s distant promises. John alone, out of all the prophets, announced Him within days, inaugurated him via baptism, and witnessed the descending Holy Spirit upon Him. None of the prophets were given that position (Heb 11:39).

But John didn’t see everything. He was still an Old Testament prophet. He didn’t see  the crowds cheering around the one who comes in the name of the Lord (Mark 11:9; John 12). To him wasn’t given the horror of seeing the Messiah rejected and pinned to a tree (John 19). He would never witness the wonder of the risen Messiah (John 20). To him wasn’t given the chance of listening to the risen Lord for several days before he was taken up into heaven (Acts 1). To him wasn’t given the chance of participating in the prophesying in tongues which was a witness of the Holy Spirit being poured out in the last days (Acts 2).

None of those things were given to him; God didn’t grant John that role.

And he knew that at this point.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Modern Prophetic Fallibility

I am a cessationist insofar as all the gifts of the spirit are NOT (edit) in full operation today as they were in the early Church, but I am a continuationist in regard to “new” areas where the Gospel is being preached. I think that Holy Spirit purposefully functions in this capacity where the Gospel message is making inroads. I’m not putting this up here to justify some sort of circular reasoning but rather to qualify what I’m about to say as an argument I think continuationists should use if they’re going to want to push forward the idea that prophecy occurs today. So perhaps this opening should be read more as a warning: I don’t believe what I’m about to say, but I think it could be defended.

The popular argument for prophecy today goes something like this: (1) there is a difference from The Prophets which recorded Scripture and the prophets which didn’t. (2) The modern day gift of prophecy accords with the latter (3) Therefore we should expect revelation (4) This revelation is infallible in that it is from God but it can be misinterpreted (5) None of this is a threat to Scripture which has been codified. I am sure Continuationists will quibble about this initial presentation but it’s not even the main thrust of the post.

Cessationists rightly argue that this is a threat to the Doctrine of Scripture. If God is giving communication that is indeed revelation, then why isn’t it held on common ground with Scripture? Continuationists often respond that it is of a different kind: the revelation of Scripture is in regard to doctrine but the revelation of prophecy for the individual is in regard to their situation. But this bit of a different kind just doesn’t have any foundation.

That is, unless they dipped into the Roman doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

The Roman Church teaches that there are different spheres of Infallibility: Scripture being one of these spheres, the Magesterium being another and tradition being yet another. But these spheres are all fraught with fallibility when they haven’t been codified. So the Pope is always fallible because he is a sinful human. But when he speaks ex cathedra, that is specific teaching from the chair—his position of authority over the Church in the vein of Peter’s primacy—then the Pope is infallible.

The explanation for how this works varies but it can probably be stated in this way: it’s not the ability of the Pope but the ability of the Holy Spirit that historically gave Peter the primacy and then continues to ensure that when the Pope (in the tradition of Peter) invokes ex cathedra, then he will unconditionally, and yet freely, teach infallibly. Past Popes haven’t invoked this that much (though those few times have been doozies).

Of course, Protestants don’t think humans are ever infallible except that the Holy Scripture has so ordered events to ensure that the Scriptures would be infallible. This would mean that the Holy Spirit was directing people, but it is the text that is given the property of infallibility (I’m not bothering with the term inerrant because infallibility strikes me as a stronger affirmation: it’s not merely without mistakes—which could be an accident—it is impossible for it to even teach error) not the human.

So if Continuationists argue that all prophecy, even the Old Testament Prophets and the Apostles are fallible even when they’re prophesying and teaching then it wouldn’t matter if modern day Prophets are fallible. They can also all be fallible when they’re interpreting their own prophecies and teachings. What winds up being infallible is when the Holy Spirit ensures that the words on the page are Scripture. So whatever the authors might have thought in their context, and whatever the prophecies may have looked like when they spoke them, it doesn’t matter because what winds up being recorded, codified and confirmed as Scripture is what has the property of infallibility.

This probably generates problems and uncomfortable conclusions that I’ll ignore in this post but I think this might be a stronger way to go than the special pleading.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Teaching Children The Gospel and Moral Responsibility

I have several posts about teaching children doctrine (here about the image of God and here about the meaning of the mistreatment of God’s image and here some messages). Each example is used to give the fundamental Biblical and theological point without all the extra stuff that you or I might believe–by that I mean interpretative conclusions that have very little bearing on the fundamental truth of the Doctrine.

Anyway, I wanted to post about something that came up in Summer Camp last year which doesn’t only apply to Summer Camp.

First some context: this is a camp that has children from eight to fifteen (?) as campers and Junior Counselors In Training (JCITS) starting at around seventeen (sixteen?). So it’s a pretty broad range of kids–all boys. In an effort at hitting all the kids with some straight up Biblical teaching, the directors have decided to have several teaching sessions that are comprised of the entire group. So you’ll have a teaching session in the morning, one in the evening, and some days another in the afternoon focused on how to study or something like that.

BUT. Even with this context, this is not the first time I’ve witnessed the following problem.

The Problem:
After reading the context, at least some of the problems might be obvious to the reader but I want to make it clear what each individual teacher is concerned about: that the older saved Christian boys live moral lives and that those who aren’t believers are saved. So each teacher is concerned enough to make sure the Gospel is in each lesson coupled with a call for moral living. It’s a proper concern.

The first problem, the one I think most would pick up on, is that understanding range is too broad. You can’t possibly warn the fifteen year olds with their moral activity without exposing the young with unnecessary information; and it is exceedingly difficult to speak to the young in such a way that the teens will tune in, sift the points, and apply to themselves.

The second problem is that most of the teachers were not ready. There were maybe two (and not even the main speaker) who had a history of dealing with a broad age range.

The third problem is the teachers’ understanding of what the Gospel is accomplishing. People usually have a habit of divide these two teaching targets (pre-Gospel and post-Gospel) because they rightly know that there is a difference but incorrectly assume the difference is one between Salvation and Sanctification that must be dealt with differently. These teachers generally did the same.

Let me give you an example to make it clear. At one of the sessions, one of the preachers was speaking about the necessity of believing Christ and what He did and confessing Him as savior and being at peac with God. Further down the talk, the teacher quoted 1 Corinthians 15:33 about the necessity of having the right friends. Then he did something horrifying: he pointed out what happens if we have the wrong friends that we turn to God and are rejecting him and his ways we have no more peace.

Now mind you, in the speaker’s mind he had clearly delineated salvation (believing the Gospel) and sanctification (the daily walk) and he was no longer talking about salvation (you must believe to get peace) but requesting believers to keep trusting Christ in their daily behavior else the relationship is strained (lacking peace). My problem is not so much with the theology (though, yes, I have a problem with it) but with the connection of thought that makes this lesson necessary and thus throws the non-Christianized else into a tailspin.

One of my campers wondered if being friends with people who aren’t Christians would make you not go to heaven.  Mind you, my campers were nine and ten so the question likely passed in and out of their mind even though I quickly addressed it to the entire cabin.

The Solution:
On the practical level to the first problem, I think that the age groups need to be divided. Maybe eight to eleven year olds go in one building and the rest go into the other. This way you can really speak at their level and not be worried about missing part of the target audience

As to the second problem, effectively speaking to a mixed crowd is something that takes many long hours of dealing with that problem under guidance and shouldn’t be relegated to a week (or two if you’re lucky) in a camp where kids might come through once. For young kids, get an older experienced guy to teach them. For the teens, the younger guys are fine. The exception is if these younger teachers have been working, under guidance, with kids. I frankly don’t understand why it’s all the rage to get hip-young teachers for little kids when what little kids need (and want, though they don’t say it) is an older, confident, knowledgeable adult.

And the solution to the third problem is this: Preach the Gospel! Stop trying to preach about getting the right friends or the importance of bible study or the need to fight the world. Look, those things are important but you have one week so why waste an hour on them when the Gospel is infinitely more important.

But furthermore, the Gospel is the solution. Clever solutions about “Life after we’re saved” are wrongheaded.  The Gospel is not something that we must get beyond to figure out what we must do now in this time After The Gospel. The Gospel is not merely the door to salvation, it is the fundamental aspect of our theology. Christ, demanding moral living, tells his disciples to crucify their own lives daily or to take up their cross and follow him to Calvary. Paul, speaking about the necessity to stop sin in our members reminds believers that they have died in Christ and have risen again to walk in newness of life. This is based on a Christian-life long theology that Paul (and anyone who believes) has been crucified in Christ and yet lives: therefore it is Christ living in me. When noting the moral problems in a Church at Corinth, Paul doesn’t help them out by offering moral platitudes: it is a constant call to return to the Gospel. Get the leaven out of your house because we’re living in a perpetual feast of Unleavened Bread! Don’t eat meats offered to idols because we are partakes of the Body of Christ! Don’t divorce because we’ve been called and saved where we are! Don’t’ divide because we have trusted God’s Gospel of Stupidity which empties our wisdom.

Indeed, that bit where Paul speaks about friends is a sidebar after he said something stupid: if Christ hasn’t been resurrected (which is fundamental to the Gospel) then we might as well eat and drink because tomorrow we die. Then he quickly jumps in: don’t listen to that stupidity–and quotes a platitude in passing to slap some sense into these silly ADULTS.

Children can get the Gospel. They get it by the droves. What they also need to get is what the Gospel means to them. That although they are kids, they are children of a new family that looks like Christ.

Teens can get the Gospel too. That although they are teens, they can actually look at God and say DAD! That although they struggle from day to day, the ruler of this world has been robbed of his power. That Christ reigns, right now, seated in heavenly places and they are seated with him–and therefore they must look like the young Kings they are.

And so on. The Gospel should not be taken lightly and we must always go back to it. So, Camp staff, if you want to teach kids remember: target your speaking to the age group, keep it simple by not conflating your message, and there’s no such thing as Beyond The Gospel by dealing with moral do’s and do-not’s. We won’t get beyond The Gospel in eternity, so why do it now?

Technorati Tags: , , ,