Why Are We Here?

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For the next several weeks, I will be sharing a series of blog posts on the great commission passages in Scripture (Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:4-8). These passages set forth Christ’s vision for his church. According to these biblical passages, Christ’s vision is:

For the glory of God the Father, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the church of Jesus Christ is to preach the gospel with the goal of making disciples beginning in our own community and extending to the ends of the earth through the work of missions. The God-ordained means for this great task is the Word of God, ordinances, and prayer.

Or, to put it more simply

The church’s mission is to make disciples through the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

This post will address, as the title suggests, the reason the church exists. Of course there are many opinions about the purpose of Christ’s church both inside and outside. Some believe that the church exists to make people good. Thus, for them helping people to become better persons is the goal. Vladimir Lenin famously said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Although he viewed it negatively, he thought religion provided comfort. Still others believe that the church exists to make society better by feeding the poor, fighting injustice, etc. Of course, most Christians believe that the church exists so that sinners can find salvation in Jesus Christ. While of each of these opinions are good things in which the church should be involved, these ideas are not the primary reason for the existence of the church.
If the above opinions were really the focus of the church, people not God would be the focus of the church. The Bible makes it clear that the church exists first and foremost for God. The greatest commandment according to Jesus is love for God (See Mark 12:30). Of course, this does not mean that we do not love our neighbors and help in the ways suggested above because Jesus said that the second commandment is to love our neighbor. These commandments can be distinguished but not be separated because if we love God, we will love our neighbor. In addition, we cannot really love our neighbor if we do not love God. So, love for God comes first then love for neighbor.

God ought to be the focus of our church. Specifically, the glorifying of God the Father is our purpose. There are many places we could turn for Scriptural support, but three passages are especially helpful: 1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17, 1 Peter 4:11.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV).

In the Corinthian passage, Paul is answering questions concerning food that has been sacrificed for idols. After Paul replies that we should not do what wounds brothers and should do what builds up, he concludes with a call to do everything for the glory of God. He mentions specifically eating and drinking as actions which believers should do for God’s glory. If even the mundane things of life like eating and drinking are to be done for the glory, how much more should we do the greater tasks for God’s glory?

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 ESV).

Colossians 3:17 teaches that one of the results of the word of Christ dwelling in one’s heart is that he speaks and acts in the name of the Lord Jesus and gives thanks to God.
Although Paul does not use the word glorify, the idea is the same because giving thanks and giving glory to God are related ideas in Scripture. Thus, this passage supports the idea that  all of our speaking and actions are for God’s glory, which obviously would include speaking and action in church.

“Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV).

The spiritual gifts, which are listed are for the purpose of glorifying God in 1 Peter 4:11. Since spiritual gifts are for the building up of the church, it follows that the church’s purpose is to glorify God. Therefore, these passages make it clear that the purpose of all our words and actions even mundane things like eating and drinking is to glorify God.

The church or individual believers do not add to God’s glory in any way. God is perfectly glorious already. Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of the Lord is a great example of God’s perfect glory (Ezek. 1). He uses words like flashing lightning, gleaming, torches moving to and fro, brightness, and awe-inspiring to describe the glory of God. These words describe the beauty, majesty, and splendor of God to which we can only reflect, praise, or point.

This is precisely our calling, namely, to praise the glorious majesty of God. All throughout the Bible especially in Psalms, we are called to glorify God through our praise:

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name” (Psalm 66:1-4 ESV).

In addition, we are called to cause all men to acknowledge the glory of God. Not only must we praise God’s glorious majesty ourselves, we also want all people to recognize God’s glory. On the day of judgment all people will glorify God, believers will glorify God’s grace and unbelievers will glorify his justice. Our goal must be to reach people before that day of judgment so that they will join us in praising God’s grace forever.

By praising God’s glory and pointing others to his glory, we fulfill our purpose as a church. This goal also encourages us to measure success by faithfulness to our calling rather than numerical results. It encourages us to make it our aim to please God rather than people. The glory of God is why we are here.

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Favorite Preachers

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I’ve been asked more than once to share a list of my favorite preachers. I thought I would share the list here for anyone who wants to see. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

All of the preachers without a website listed are available on oneplace.com.

 

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Gender Neutral Translations?

knox_bible_openedThe Christian Standard Bible, the updated version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, a Bible produced by LifeWay Christian Resources, which is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was recently released. Some are suggesting that the CSB uses gender neutral language. These suggestions tend to produce hysteria among conservative evangelicals. However, in my experience, most misunderstand what a gender neutral translation is. It is my goal in this post to explain fairly what gender neutral translations are so that one can make an informed decision about them. I am not endorsing or criticizing any translation nor am I commenting on the CSB in particular at which I have never even looked.

In order to understand the issue of gender neutral translations, we must understand some basics about translation methodology (Paraphrases are not translations; therefore, I am not discussing them). There are basically two translation philosophies: Formal or Dynamic Equivalence. However, even word for word translations sometimes use a more dynamic translation when necessary. The only pure word for word translation is an interlinear Bible.

The preface to the English Standard Version (ESV) describes the goal of formal or word for word translations: “In each case the objective has been transparency to the original text, allowing the reader to understand the original on its own term rather than on the terms of our present-day culture” (Note that the concern of the translators of the ESV is the “original text”). As far as possible, formal translations attempt to translate each original word with one word in the receptor language and to keep the syntax as close as possible to original text.

The New International Version (NIV) is an example of the dynamic equivalence philosophy. The translators of the NIV explain their primary concern in translation as “the accuracy of the translation and its faithfulness to the intended meaning of the biblical writers.” Clearly, there is a difference in philosophy between the NIV and ESV. The NIV first and foremost focuses on the author’s intended meaning while the ESV is focused conveying the words themselves. Thus, a dynamic translation is not as concerned with the words; instead, it is concerned with conveying the thought or meaning of the author to a contemporary audience. Translators who are producing a dynamic equivalent translation are naturally more likely to have to wrestle with the question of gender neutral language; however, even formal translations like the ESV have to find some way to communicate to contemporary readers that masculine references sometimes include women.

Of course, everyone will ask, “Which is the correct methodology?” My answer is that I do not believe that there is a correct methodology. Both methodologies have produced useful translations that better help one to understand God’s Word. I use different translations depending on my purpose. For example, for preaching, teaching, and in depth study, I use a word for word translation to enable myself better “to understand the original on its own terms.” In addition, I would use a dynamic translation for reading the Bible (especially large portions), for a better understanding of the meaning of a text, for new converts, and for evangelism.

With these basics, we are now in a position to discuss gender neutral translations. First, I will describe what gender neutral IS NOT. Gender neutral translations are not LGBTQ friendly versions. They do not change gender specific persons into the opposite gender persons. In other words, God the Father does not become God our Mother. In addition, gender neutral translations do not change every instance of mentioning gender into a gender neutral term. In fact, changing genders in this way is not gender NEUTRAL. Below are some examples from the updated NIV, which is a gender neutral translation.

  • Adam and Eve are still man and woman (“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Gen.1:27).
  • Husbands are still the head (“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Cor. 11:3).
  • Wives are still called to submit (“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Eph. 5:22-23).
  • The office of elder is still open only to men (“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” 1 Cor. 14:34-35, See also 1 Tim. 2:11-15, 3:1ff)

The preface to the New Living Translation (NLT), a gender neutral translation, explains well what these translations are attempting to accomplish: “One challenge we faced was how to translate accurately the ancient biblical text that was originally written in a context where male-oriented terms were used to refer to humanity generally. We needed to respect the nature of the ancient context while also trying to make the translation clear to a modern audience that tends to read male-oriented language as applying only to males. Often the original text, though using masculine nouns and pronouns, clearly intends that the message be applied to both men and women…” In summary, gender neutral terms are used when the original text intends the message to be for both men and women.  Obviously, the problem is that the ancient cultures used masculine terms in a different way then our culture does. Thus, there is a need to clarify the original meaning for modern persons. Please, note that the translators of the NLT only use these gender neutral terms when it is the intent of the original text. Below are some examples of gender neutral translations:

  • ”’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.”’ (Matt. 4:19 NIV)
  • “To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
    Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Col. 1:2 NIV)
  • “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child'” (Heb. 12:5-6 NLT).

While there may still be some legitimate objections against gender neutral translations, there is no reason for the hysteria that generally surrounds them. In addition, there may be some good reasons to use gender neutral translations. For example, when I taught about this issue in Sunday School, one student suggested that these translations could be useful in instructing Muslim women to demonstrate that God cares equally for men and women. I hope this post will help others to use discernment in choosing a translation of God’s word.

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A Simple Explanation of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult yet crucial doctrine; consequently, Christians have engaged historically in much hard thinking in order to explain and understand this doctrine. The earliest creeds of Christianity dealt primarily with this doctrine (which See Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed). The need for hard thinking about this doctrine remains to the present; thus, the following article is an attempt to simply explain this crucial biblical doctrine and assist the believer in thinking biblically about our triune God.

The Bible teaches that there is only one God in both the Old and New Testaments (Deut. 6:4, 1 Cor. 8:4). And, it calls three persons God (the Father – John 17:3; Jesus Christ – John 1:1, Titus 2:13; and the Holy Spirit – compare Acts 5:3 and 4). Thus, the orthodox view of the trinity is that there is one God who is three persons. This is so difficult to understand because God is unique. There is no other being who is three persons to which to compare him. Ultimately, we have to do our best to understand what the Bible teaches and believe it even though we lack exhaustive knowledge of God. Truthfully, if we were able to fully comprehend God, then he wouldn’t be much of a God. The mysteries of Scripture should lead us to worship God because he is so great that we puny humans cannot figure him out completely.

One of the difficulties in understanding the trinity is that many mistakenly view God the Father as the one who is God. In other words, many think of the Trinity as, “Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit.” Consequently, when someone suggests that Jesus is God, they conclude that person is saying that the Father and Son are the same. But this is a mistake, for Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are all God. Yet, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.

What this means is that whatever we say about God applies equally to all three persons of the trinity. For example, God is eternal; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal. Another example, God is all-knowing; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all knowing. Thus, all three persons are one in essence.

Yet, differences exist between the persons. These differences have to do with their relationship to one another and their work in creation and redemption. The creeds speak of the Son being begotten and Spirit as generated. This language deals with the relationship between the persons of the trinity. Although all three persons in the trinity are equal, there is a chain of command. Thus, the Father is called father because he is “in charge.” The Son willingly submits to his Father in all things, and the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and Son to do their will. An example of the difference in their work is that the Father did not become a man and die on the cross. Jesus Christ, God the Son, did. If Jesus and the Father were exactly the same person, there would have been no one for Jesus to pray to while he was a man.

In summary, all three persons of the trinity share in whatever makes them deity, and only differ in their relationship and work. Understanding the trinity is vital to the Christian faith because in order for a sinner to escape eternal punishment, he has to put his faith in the death of Jesus Christ. If we place our faith in someone who is less than God, we are placing our faith in a Savior who cannot save. Jesus being fully God and fully man was able to pay the infinite price for sin that no human being could ever pay; consequently, he is able to rescue from eternal punishment all who have faith in him.


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On the Altar Call 2

As I explained in my previous post I do not believe that altar calls are biblical or helpful for many reasons, but between these two posts I will share only three of my most important reasons. In the first post, after some clarifying remarks, I explained that the single most important reason I reject the altar call is because the Bible does not command it as an element of worship. In this post, I will give two other reasons to reject altar calls.
First, altar calls undermine the biblical ordinances Christ instituted for his Church. Christ instituted only two ordinances for his church, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While baptism symbolizes several aspects of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, it is generally viewed as an initiatory rite and a public profession of one’s faith in Jesus Christ. However, in my experience, coming forward during an altar call is now viewed as more vital than being baptized. I have never had someone at a Baptist church tell me they doubted whether they were saved or not because they have not been baptized.  I have met numerous people who were filled with doubt because they were too afraid to respond to an altar call. (You may be object that these persons were mislead or misunderstood, and they just need properly instructed. I will respond to this argument below.) Even if not openly stated, altar calls, which are an invention of man, are more valued in the hearts of many Christians than God’s gift of baptism.

Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are undermined by the altar call, but the Lord’s Supper is especially so. Imagine someone suggesting that a church begin celebrating the Lord’s Supper every week. There will no end to the arguments against doing so. Yet, if someone suggested that the church discontinue the altar call just one time, there would be howls of protest that we have to have a time of examination and response. However, this is precisely one of the reasons Christ gave his church the Lord’s Supper. The altar call has replaced God’s good gift to the church. Sadly, too many churches only celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a quarter, yearly, and some seldom if ever have it. They would never dream of having an altar call once a year. When God’s precious gift is valued less than the inventions of men, there are serious spiritual problems.

Finally, altar calls hide Christ. This happens in two different ways. One way that Christ is hidden by the altar call is when one believes that responding to the altar call is a work he must perform in order to be saved. Here is where the previous objection is relevant. One friend in discussing altar calls said to me that we just have to explain that coming forward does not equal salvation just as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or good works. The problem with this response is baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and good works are commanded by God whereas responding to an altar call is never commanded. Thus, we are adding non-essential extra hoops or steps to salvation that cause confusion. We are hiding Christ. When using an altar call, we are in danger of sending sinners to the altar instead of to Christ. I reject the altar call to be rid of this danger altogether.

The other way altar calls hide Christ is when a Christian is lead intentionally or unintentionally to doubt his salvation because he did not respond to an altar call. Even though I was never a fan of altar calls, I still used them initially in my ministry because I wanted to avoid any unnecessary arguments and because I was not convinced of the regulative principle of worship. Of course, embracing the regulative principle changed my mind, but the experience of seeing one of my church members struggle for many years with assurance made me adamantly opposed to altar calls. He was too afraid to respond to an altar call when he was a child and had been taught that his fear of coming forward was evidence that he was not a true believer. After many years of struggling, I was able by God’s grace to help him come to an assurance of his faith in Christ. All of this struggling was caused by unnecessary invention of man.

I reject the altar call because God did not institute it, because it undermines the ordinances God commanded to be observed, and because it hides Christ behind an unnecessary ritual. I hope you will consider these arguments as you think through this issue.

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On the Altar Call

Recently, some friends and I were discussing some of the issues in the Southern Baptist Convention in light of an article from Christianity Today explaining the numerical decline of Southern Baptists. All of us agreed that a lack of personal evangelism is at least part of a complex problem. One point we discussed at length was the altar call. Consequently, I have been thinking about this issue and decided to share these thoughts with others.

I do not believe that altar calls are biblical or helpful for many reasons, but I will share three reasons. They are in order of importance: 1. The Bible does not command it as an element of worship, 2. Altar calls undermine the biblical ordinances Christ instituted for his Church, 3. Altar calls hide Christ.

Before I expound these three arguments, let me be clarify a few issues. First, for me, the rejection of altar calls is not because I hold a certain view of God’s work in salvation. I’ve never really liked altar calls even when I was a young Christian and did not have a coherent soteriology. I have always thought that they are psychologically manipulative and did not see the point. Obviously, as I’ll explain my belief has matured, and I am not simply dismissing the altar call as a preference. Second, I absolutely believe (and practice) inviting people to faith in Christ whenever I preach. It is also appropriate to give time for a response to the gospel and/or the sermon, but that response does not need to be made publicly or at an altar. I do not believe it is spiritually helpful or biblically required for a sinner to walk an aisle, come forward, or raise his hand to be saved. So, I am 100% for inviting sinners to respond to Christ, but it is unbiblical and unhelpful to require or pressure a sinner to come to the front of the church.

First, I do not use the altar call because the Bible does not command it. This argument is the decisive one for me. Even if there were no other arguments against the altar call, the fact that the Bible does not command it is sufficient reason to reject its use. The Bible teaches that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by Himself…He may not be worshipped…[in] any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” [1] This regulative principle is plainly taught in Deuteronomy 12 (See especially verse 32). Moreover, the death of Nadab and Abihu illustrate the danger in ignoring this principle (Lev. 10:1ff). God teaches us how he desires to be worshiped throughout Scripture. There are five main elements commanded in Scripture for the New Testament church: reading/preaching the Bible, prayer, congregational singing, observing the two biblical ordinances, and collecting offerings. Adding or subtracting from the biblical elements of worship is unbiblical and spiritually dangerous.

I’ll deal with arguments two and three later. 

[1] The Baptist Confession of Faith. 22.1.

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The Resurrection of All the Dead 

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This is a recent sermon I preached at our church, Two Rivers Community Church, The Resurrection of All the Dead. The text is 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.

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