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An Interesting, Practical Theological Question on TV

My family and I have watched ABC’s The Middle since it began its first season. Because we’re normally occupied with other things on Wednesday Nights, we set our DVR and watched it later. This Fall, for its ninth and final season, The Middle was moved to Tuesday Nights; we still DVR the show to watch later. And I may keep this week’s episode for posterity’s sake. Yes, it was that good!

TheMiddleFinalSeason400wIf you’ve never watched The Middle, you have missed out on some funny programming. ABC’s description of the show is, “Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes—but we think Frankie Heck, must be some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.” Thus, it’s called “The Middle”.

In the December 12th episode (Episode 10, The Christmas Miracle), Axl, the recent college graduate and oldest child in the family tells his mother that we won’t be going to church with the family on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t see a valid reason for going. As Axl’s family members learn of his disinterest, they express their thoughts of why they go to church. Mike, Axl’s dad says that he’s not one to ask; he’s not very sure of his own faith commitment. His mother, Frankie, searches for her reasons, and settles on the subjective, pleasant feelings she gets when she goes to church. After Axl’s sister, Sue can’t fathom the idea that someone in her family could possibly struggle with their faith.

Many of us experienced a kind of “crisis of belief”, normally around the time Axl does. We wonder what’s the point of maintaining our family’s faith traditions. I see this as a very healthy thing because if we are going to grow in our faith (2Peter 3:18), we must “own” it for ourselves. The faith of our dad, mom, and grandparents is insufficient for eternity, as well as for right now. It’s in these “crisis of belief” times we think that church and the Bible are boring. We don’t see the point of continuing in the Christian faith because we don’t see how it has made a difference in anyone’s life. We don’t see church, faith, the Bible as being… relevant.

Over the past couple of weeks, many of our members have talked about how our adult children – whom we faithfully took to church every Sunday, and tried to instill the value of going – don’t attend church anymore. We invite them, but they seem to have other commitments with their kids’ soccer games, going out to the deer lease, or just sleeping in. Each Sunday, on our way to church, we drive past many homes with all the cars in the driveway. Axl Heck’s feelings are voiced by many former church-attenders and never-attenders alike.

A couple of weeks ago I said that people don’t go to church because they don’t see any reason to go. They see the whole “church thing” as boring. They don’t understand anything in the Bible (assuming they ever pick up… and assuming they have a translation they can understand). They think the church is full of hypocrites. They don’t like the music. They think that everybody’s beliefs are equally valid. They think that all religions basically teach the same thing. They feel they were dragged to church as children and have no interest now that they can make their own decisions, they decide to not go. They think all we ever talk about is money.

Yes, I think “relevance” is the right word for the times. “They” don’t see the relevance. And if we’re honest, we don’t see the relevance either!

Several of our members – who have been believers for decades – have recently told me that 2017 marks the first time they have ever read the entire New Testament. One told me that he’s never read the entire Old Testament, and for most of his Christian life, he has memorized very few verses of the Bible. From other conversations I have had, I can sadly say that his experience is typical of many of our members – and it’s typical of most people who call themselves, “Christians”!

Whether or not we want to admit it, based on our priorities as we live them out, we don’t see the Bible, prayer, Scripture memory, fellowshipping with other Believers, and evangelism/discipleship as being relevant! At all! Sure, we can say we do, but we really don’t. I say these things, not to judge, but to simply state the facts.

Whether or not we realize it, Axl Heck’s question is our question. Why go to church? Why read my Bible? What differences do any of these things make in the early Twenty-first Century?

These are good questions. Questions that I look forward to following up on in the coming days.

Pastor Craig

 

Happy Reformation Day!

It’s hard to believe that 500 years have passed since a monk and professor of theology nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the church at Wittenburg, Germany.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther lit a match that spread a wildfire across Europe and changed things from the way people did church, to church architecture, to church music, to increasing literacy rates.

We just completed a sermon series on The Five Solas of the Reformation. Although they weren’t named that until about 100 years ago, the Five Solas summarize the most important theological points that emerged from the Reformation. They were:

Sola Scriptura — by Scripture Alone
Sola Gratia — by Grace Alone
Sola Fide — by Faith Alone
Solus Cristus — by Christ Alone
Soli deo gloria — glory to God Alone

Over the past five weeks, we saw that:

The Bible alone is our authority of matters of faith and practice.
We are justified by God’s grace alone.
We are justified by faith alone, but not faith that is alone.
We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
We are justified to the glory of God alone.

Notice the word alone. That one word was the key that differentiated the Reformers with the Roman Catholic Church of the day.

Please check out the audio of my sermons in the series to learn more. Come and see what God is doing at Fellowship Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas!

 

A “Sincere” Illustration That Isn’t

I was reading through our Sunday School Quarterly last night and came across a common illustration that isn’t based in truth. The lesson writer states that,

“Being sincere literally means to be without wax. This is a potter’s term and it refers to the devious practice of patching cracked pots with a mixture of colored dirt and wax in order to hide imperfections. An unwary buyer would think he had bought a good vessel until he used it. Then he would discover that it was defective. A sincere person does not have a cracked character that will be revealed under pressure. Of course, those who are sincere will not give offense to others. We should be honest with ourselves and God and allow God’s Word to mold our character.” (Fall Quarterly, Growing in Love, Joy and Knowledge p. 15, Bogard Press) (Note: I have serious concerns about this lesson writer and the publisher, but I digress.)

This sounds really good, and the premise has been used in many sermons to encourage people to be genuine and authentic. Unfortunately, it isn’t rooted in reality.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “There has been a temptation to see the first element as Latin sine ‘without.’ But there is no etymological justification for the common story that the word means ‘without wax’ (*sin cerae), which is dismissed out of hand by [this dictionary] and others, and the stories invented to justify that folk etymology are even less plausible.”

If we are to be sincere in studying and teaching God’s Word, we must be very careful when using stories like this. When we use “preacher stories”, we actually communicate untruths. Now, I won’t say that those of us who use illustrations like this are lying when we do so, because lying is telling an untruth with the purpose of deceit. What the lesson writer does is not unlike many Bible teachers when we use eisegesis instead of exegesis to study the Bible. Eisegesis means to read into whereas exegesis means to read out of. The dead giveaway for me — that sent me to research this – was the use of “literally” in the definition of sincere. Sadly, many times we say, “literally”, it isn’t literally true.

The Scripture Passage in question is Philippians 1:10 The lesson writer takes an English word sincere that was translated from the Biblical (Koine) Greek word εἰλικρινεις (eilikrineis) which means “pure”. Instead of translating the word from Koine Greek forward into Modern English and translating the word, “pure”, the lesson writer goes from 1611 Elizabethan English (KJV) backward to Latin to find a word pair that never existed to make an illustration that isn’t based in reality. This is a classic example of reading into the Bible what you want it to say, rather than simply letting the Bible Text speak for itself.

Thankfully, this illustration does little actual harm to a Sunday School Student. But being sloppy like this in studying and teaching God’s Word is irresponsible. And if the educated teachers (and degreed lesson writers) are sloppy and irresponsible, can we expect better from our students?

Let’s be sincere and let God’s Word speak for itself.

 

Are Christians Obligated to Give a “Tithe”?

So what are your thoughts on this? Before you answer, please listen to how Southern Seminary’s Dr. Thomas Schreiner answers the question. The Biblical answer isn’t as cut-and-dry as many of us would like for it to be.

 

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