On Northland

Recently, I have been asked about the Northland International University controversy, so I thought I would end my dearth of writing by weighing in for the very few of my friends who may still be watching out for any writing that I might do. Besides, controversy is a natural context for blogging.

The matters under consideration are such that those unfamiliar with the Fundamentalist movement might find them incomprehensible, so if you fall in that category and are not in the least bit curious, you will probably want to just move along…

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Implications if Worship is Pastoral

Worship is a pastoral function. If this is accepted, then there are some significant implications. Here are a few:

1.) Qualifications for an elder should be applied to the worship leader
2.) Leading worship encompasses far more than providing live music for the church
3.) We need to teach and practice a more robust definition of worship
4.) We need to preach in such a way as to inspire worship

That is a few. Can you think of some more? (use hashtag #worshipispastoral on twitter or add your comment)

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On Having a Good Worship Experience

For some, we might be tempted to be critical of someone seeking to be deeply moved by a time of corporate music, but how could it be wrong to desire that God would move you deeply in worship? For that matter, is it possible for any encounter with God be anything but deeply moving? And if I am not deeply moved, must I then conclude that I have not encountered God during that time?

What could differentiate a good worship experience from a bad, or even ordinary, experience? Subjectively, I might be moved more deeply in one service than in a previous one, but then I might want to ask, “What differentiates a true moving of God as opposed to a musically manufactured feeling?” We might not be able to tell the difference, and this is complicated by the observation that it is entirely possible for two different worshippers to have two completely different subjective experiences in response to the same event.

Suppose we have two worshippers that have opposite experiences while standing next to one another at the same service, does that say more about the service or the worshipper? Continue reading

Culture is Worship

If everything the believer does and says is to be done so as to display the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), then every aspect of the believer’s life is properly an act of worship for God. Further, this means failure in some measure to glorify God is the product of either idolatry or practical atheism.

Thus, at least for the believer, all cultural expressions and forms must be evaluated as either true worship or idolatry. We cannot simply ignore them as if they are meaningless. We cannot move in our world without due consideration of what is being worshiped either explicitly or implicitly.

How might this idea alter the course of the average believer’s day?

Knowledge, Humility, and Zeal

I really love Peter. It is so easy for us, in retrospect, to snipe at him for his antics, but I have been thinking a lot about him lately. Peter strikes me as a man who had given himself over entirely to follow Jesus. He rightly vested in Christ all of his hopes and dreams. So much so that when asked if he were going to leave Jesus, he responded, “Where else can we go? You have the words of life.” Peter was exactly right; Jesus is the only way to life. All other paths are leading directly to sin and death.

Yet much of Peter’s ideas of discipleship were colored by his own misguided expectations and misunderstandings. Jesus had a habit of turning those expectations upside down, and we frequently find Peter struggling to reconcile what Jesus was doing and teaching with his own preconceived notions of the way things were supposed to be.

In John 13, we see this misunderstanding clearly demonstrated. Jesus stooped to the level of a servant and approached Peter to wash his feet. Peter immediately (and somewhat impulsively, I think) responded that this wasn’t right. According to all he understood, the rabbis, teachers, and great people of his day didn’t ever do such things. It was unbecoming of their status and position, and Jesus was even greater than these. In Peter’s eyes, this request was an affront to the accepted order of things.

However, Jesus was insistent. If Peter wanted to be His disciple, his obedience was essential; and when Peter realized this, he exclaimed, “Then don’t just stop at my feet! Wash the rest of me as well.” You have to give Peter credit. Once he knew what to do, he zealously jumped in headfirst. Of course, he still misunderstood the point. Jesus was preparing to teach the disciples an important truth regarding discipleship, and Peter especially would need to understand it in the coming years. Fundamentalism needs the same lesson.

The truth is that God can really use a completely devoted disciple who is zealous for Jesus, even if that person starts out a little misguided, and this is exactly the case with Peter. Indeed, the first step of discipleship is to understand that our lives belong wholly to the Lord. We must be reminded that our reasonable service is to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice for His glory. Peter seemed to have this part down better than the rest of the disciples. After all, wasn’t it Peter who drew his sword to take on the Romans who had come to arrest Jesus?

However, in order for God to really use Peter, he had to be confronted with the truth. Even when the intention is good, zeal without knowledge is dangerous; and when this zeal is mixed with pride, it can be devastating to people, families, and churches. Peter needed to learn that leadership, in God’s economy, requires an accurate knowledge of God and the selfless humility to serve others. Jesus, the Master Teacher, used this opportunity to demonstrate these truths and to provide an example for us all.

It is truly a remarkable picture. The first thing Jesus did was correct Peter’s misunderstanding. In order for his zeal to be used, Peter needed to have zeal according to knowledge. Like Paul, who zealously persecuted believers, Peter needed to be confronted with the truth of who Jesus was. If you want to follow Jesus, you must first know and love Him. Then you must obey Him; and if you want to obey Him, you must set aside yourself to love others. This is what Jesus taught when He took the form of a servant.

John set what Jesus did in sharp contrast to who He is. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God.” The Lord of the universe stooped to the role of a menial slave. What a contrast! It almost takes your breath away to think about it. Jesus then made the point clearly. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Basically, Jesus said, “You aren’t any more important than Me, so you should be serving one another as well.” Zealous disciples needed this reminder, and so do we.

Pride is deeply ingrained into our society. In our world, those who are diligent and work hard rise to the top, and others correspondingly admire them for their work, knowledge, or skill. They are held up as examples on the sales floor and paraded around to provide motivation for others to aspire to be like them. Those who are elevated in this way are actually in grave personal danger. Our own hearts most naturally follow this pattern, yet from God’s perspective, it is completely backwards.

Fundamentalism has an abundance of zeal. In fact, this is one of our greatest strengths, but our zeal often lacks in both knowledge and humility. A look at the way leadership is often handled in cultural Fundamentalism underscores the reality of this. Under the intoxicating influence of pride, positions of power and influence can easily create a virtual prison for the truth, where the fear of man effectively hinders the proclamation of what is right. Similarly affected leadership has also led many fundamentalists down the primrose path into a trap of dependence upon their leaders and institutions, as if these hold the answer to the Christian life.

Others in leadership have so dogmatically proclaimed the rightness of their own particular stripe of Fundamentalism that they have become blinded to the truth of their own pride and ignorance. Worse, many have reacted against theology, allowing ignorance to be lauded and theology to be viewed with suspicion and contempt, as though theology were the enemy of the Christian life. This produces another sort of pride that actually revels in its own self-deprecating ignorance.

Interestingly, the only way to truly understand humility is through a proper knowledge of theology—the knowledge of the person and work of God. That was the lesson that Peter had to learn; his ignorance of God’s perspective was confronted by Jesus’ singular act of selfless service. This is theology in action; the person of Christ stooped to serve. To be effective for God, our zeal must likewise be informed by the mind of Christ and must also be turned to humility.

It is important to note that by humility, we don’t mean that we think of ourselves as crummy and worthless so we must stoop to serve all the “better” people. That actually is pride working in reverse, and it is largely why Peter stopped the Lord. The humility of Christ cannot be thought of in this way, for He was the King of the universe. He cannot be anything but perfect and glorious because He is the One to whom all owe their devotion! Rather, true humility requires that we simply put aside ourselves to take the opportunity to be like the Lord of glory and serve one another. The difference between the two perspectives is immense.

If we truly understand God, particularly as revealed in Jesus Christ, we will gain that necessary, and much needed, humility. Now many may read this article with great sympathy, shaking their youthful heads at our leaders. Yet there is a grave danger in this, for in so doing we risk becoming the very thing that we rightly reject. The critics’ pride can easily blind them to their own weakness, and it leads them to forget how much easier it is to critique than to build.

My heart’s desire is to be an influence, furthering a proactive Fundamentalism; and I have been surprised by how many people seem to resonate with this idea. However, it has become increasingly clear that if there is to be any lasting success, we must not point the finger of pride at the ignorance of those who are not in all respects perfect; neither should we be proud of our own knowledge or ignorance. Instead, we need to endeavor to increase in the knowledge of God and to serve one another with humility and love. In so doing, we will demonstrate that we are truly His disciples. This is the kind of leadership that Fundamentalism badly needs.

The Accuser and/or the Pastor

Pastors, If you stand in accusation of your congregation, how do you differ from Satan? Bonhoeffer addresses the pastor who finds that the church does not meet some ideal:

When pastors lose faith in Christian community in which they have been placed and begin to make accusations against it, they had better examine themselves first to see whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image [of the community], which should be shattered by God. And if they find that to be true, let them thank God for leading them into this predicament. But if they find that it is not true, let them nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of those whom God has gathered together. Instead, let them accuse themselves of their unbelief, let them ask for an understanding of their own failure and their particular sin, and pray that they may not wrong other Christians. Let such pastors, recognizing their own guilt, make intercession for those charged to their care. Let them do what they have been instructed to do and thank God.

Who Should We Get to Lead Worship?

Colossians 3:16 indicates that our worship music should be teaching and counseling one another. This is built upon the premise that the Word of Christ has first saturated the heart and minds of the participants. From this, we can take four principles that indicate the worship leader must be more than just a musician: Continue reading

Praying for Tebow RE: Both Believers and Haters

If you live under a rock, you might not have heard anything about Tim Tebow. He has become something of a celebrity because the team he is leading (Broncos) keeps winning. By all evaluations he is an unconventional quarterback, and some don’t understand how he manages to win. Others have their explanations, ranging from statistical analysis to divine intervention.

In any case, this morning I feel compelled to pray for Tim Tebow. From the cheap seats, here on our travels, it seems as if this home-schooled missionary kid has managed his success with Christ-like humility and grace. So first, Continue reading

Worship and Lordship – On Seeking Pleasure

Is it wrong to seek my own pleasure? In answering this, it is essential to observe that the reality is we all seek that which we think will bring us pleasure. Couple this with the truth that Scripture commands us to take pleasure in God, and we can conclude that the simple answer is no. It is not wrong to be motivated by pleasure.

However, that does not really satisfy the full breadth of the question. Continue reading

It’s A Pig’s Life (Or: Why I do not intend to blog like a critic…)

Being one of the most intelligent animals on the farm is a curse for the pig. The poor animal is doomed to a life surrounded by hoards of lilliputian critters, bumpkins really. They lumber stupidly around the farm, or cackle with a self-deluded sense of importance. For the pig it is all idle prattle, intolerable at best. They simply cannot understand and appreciate the most beautiful elements of life on the farm. Continue reading