Category Archives: discipleship

pARTNER WITH wHATEVER cHURCH wILL fOLLOW jESUS

Sunday, April 14    

7:12 AM At the end of his biography, Malcolm Muggeridge writes something truly profound. He’s talking about the British government but his words, I think, apply to the current political situation in the U.S.

The Apostle Paul, as usual, was right when he told the early Christians that all earthly authority must be accepted since it could only exist to the degree that it was acceptable to God — that is to say, appropriate. When it ceased to be so, it would collapse.

Think about this. Instead of inviting the polarizing ambiguity of politics into our kingdom fellowships and fighting over what we think Caesar should do (and, of course, our side knows better than your side what government should do), we could stop blaming government for what it is or isn’t doing and partner with whatever other churches are willing to mimic Jesus, forsake privilege and power, and advance the Jesus-looking kingdom. In the spiritual realm, it seems to me that we’re spending a lot of time treating symptoms instead of the disease. An aspirin may remove the symptom but there may well be a more serious cause of the headache. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call attention to symptoms. But the basic trouble is the old self-life that doesn’t consent to identification with Christ.

A lot more could be said (and needs to be said — see my aforementioned book if you’re interested), but this post is already longer than I wanted it to be.

Holy Spirit and Witness

(4/6/2019) 7:45 AM The theme of my lectureship at Piedmont International University next week is “Proclaiming the Faith.” This was the theme given to me by the administration, and I’m utterly delighted with it. I’m determined to stay within the 30-minute time limit I have for the Thursday and Friday sessions, though I do have an entire hour to speak over the lunch break on Thursday. In due course I’ll post my Power Points here. I think one of the best ways we can nurture young Christians is through missions training. It enables them to share in the spreading of the Good News and see it take deep root in their own lives. But it needs to be modeled in their own churches and in the lives of their pastors. All Christians are called to serve the Lord, whether in the land of their birth or in ministry overseas (or both). It’s in serving the Lord through serving others that we develop spiritual muscles. We can serve Him through deeds of compassion or cheerful acts of helpfulness in the workplace or through undaunted witness but mostly, I think, through conforming our lives to His. Love shows itself in a myriad of ways. But if it’s going to attract anybody to the Master, it must embody that practical care for others that characterized the life of Jesus.

Just a brief word about my lecture last week in my NT class, which centered on the history and theology of Pentecostalism and the question of the sign gifts and their use (or nonuse) today. As I mentioned in class, I’m not fond of the term “Charismatic Movement” for the simple reason that all evangelicals — whether Charismatic with a capital “C” or not — are or ought to be charismatic in the sense that we all believe the Holy Spirit is given to equip us for service and mission, for love and worship. The Holy Spirit can’t be muzzled or contained. He blows where He wills. And we should celebrate that. The Charismatic Movement is a challenge to unbelief and intellectualism in the church. A true movement of the Holy Spirit always combines intellect and charism, knowledge and power. Not some but all are called to serve. We all have a ministry to perform. And, as the Book of Acts shows, the Spirit is given primarily for witness-bearing. All Christians have a story to tell, and the Holy Spirit is given to fuel our story-telling until we become enthusiastic witness-bearers. Even if we believe, as I do, that the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” refers to our initial encounter with the life-giving Spirit of God, we still need His love and power for continued witness and service. I know from sad personal experience that it’s possible to possess the Spirit of God and not be led by the same Spirit. One example will suffice, and that is prayer. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God, but prayer is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom. 8:26-27). We can’t achieve anything in the service of God unless we are open to the living God acting and working in our lives, and yet how abysmal is my prayer life so often. I don’t know about you, but at least once a day I have to invite the Holy Spirit to full me afresh with His power for holiness and service.

Any believer who does not do that regularly is doomed to powerlessness and ineffectiveness. I fear that much of our trouble goes back to over-intellectualism in our classrooms. A radical reform of theological education is one of the most urgent tasks of the church if it is to provide leaders whom people are willing to follow. 

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org)

A Community

Sunday, February 17    

7:10 PM I’m warning you: This post is long and boring and I won’t be offended in the least if you leave now. In the Greek classes I teach we discuss words and how they take on meaning. It’s all part of an effort to make classes practical and motivational. At the same time, there’s nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word’s meaning by its parts. For example, some insist that a New Testament church is “called out” from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts—ek, “out of,” and kaleō, “I call.” Hence the church is a “called out” organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.

In New Testament usage, however, the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of “called out ones.” Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn’t meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and have nothing in common. Ochlos is often glossed as “crowd” in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I pose this question in my classes, I usually get several excellent responses: “gathering,” “assembly,” “congregation,” and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term “community.” Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of usare ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: “We’re all in this together. So let’s do it together.” This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our “church” — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.

As you know, in recent years I’ve become part of a similar community, one known simply as the “running community.” The similarities between this community and the “church” are legion. As soon as I began running competitively, I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners.

I’m not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: “I’m looking for a Bible for my mother, but I’m not sure who the author is.” A novice runner asks you, “How far is your next 5K race?” As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn. We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn’t matter how fast we run or how far we run. It doesn’t matter whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a recent 5K race I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran.” I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him “The World’s Greatest Runner Award” that day. Folks, the Christian life is a race we run together. It’s no different in the running community. “Hey guys. I’ve got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?” Or (in the church), “As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?” The point is: We are there for each other.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my priorities changing. I find myself wanting richer, more intimate and complex relationships with my family and friends. Like women, men have a primal need for closeness. We were created for relationships. Men discover that as they move into middle and older age they also move from competition to connecting. The best corporate managers are those who foster networks of connectivity. The best professors, too, prize being hands-on guides and mentors to their students, and not only disseminators of information. Before Becky died, she was the one who did most of the connecting with our kids on an emotional level. But as I’ve come into my own as a widower, I’ve come to a realization that emotionally connecting with my kids and grandkids is deeply enriching. One of the things that my loss of Becky did for me personally was to make me value and cherish my family more. It’s like taking the barnacles off. Now is the time in life to enjoy my family. The real ideal of manhood here is “servant-leader” in which we men discover our nurturing side. The apostle Paul had a lot to say about love. He knew that love is not blind. Nobody is perfect, least of all those closest to us. What is necessary in love is the ability to see others as God sees us. And to love others correctly, we must first love ourselves. The self must first be strong and whole before we can offer true and lasting love to others. Love is a positive sum game where both sides can and should win.

Which brings me back to the notion of community. An athletic team has goals that far surpass the aspirations of its individual players. And that’s true of all of life. As I look forward to the winter of my life, I want to be a man who joins the “I” to the “we,” whether that’s in my family, my church, my profession, my mission work, and even my hobbies. Saying I want to do this is quite easy. Becoming the self I want to become is quite difficult. But every healthy relationship at least makes an attempt to meld the “I” with the “we.”

Well, that’s the end of my ridiculously long blog post. If you’re not bored to tears, then clearly you’re a blog junky like me. If you made it to the end, you deserve a cookie!

(From Dave Black Onlind, used by permission.)

Featured image credit: Pixabay.

Spoken beautifully.

Academics and Mission

(2/16/2019) 9:15 AM In one of my talks at Phoenix Seminary I quoted the Scottish proverb that says, “Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it’s not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus.” Oh, I do hope the message came through loud and clear. Seminaries do not exist for scholarship. Yes, we need to study the Bible, and study it carefully. But the goal of the careful study of the Bible is not the careful study of the Bible. The goal is to become obedient Jesus-followers who feed the poor and open our homes to strangers and share Jesus with the lost and live lives characterized by scandalous love for our enemies. Show me a New Testament teacher off mission, and I’ll show you somebody who has no concept of what the New Testament is all about.

Christians and Politics in America

Monday, January 14    

5:10 AM N. T. Wright addresses the issue of church and state (i.e., the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of this world) in this You Tube:

I link to it because much is being said these days about why evangelicals should become involved in political activism. I am not against activism per se. I do have some concerns, however. I will probably not support a so-called “conservative Christian” political agenda if its proponents:

1) Give the impression that they are more “moral” than other people. If Paul could consider himself “the very worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), it will not help your cause if you pit “moral people” (like us) against “immoral people” (like homosexuals, prostitutes, and abortionists, etc.). Jesus’ holiness did not repel sinners. He did not go around promoting “faith, family, and freedom.” He attracted tax collectors and prostitutes while the Pharisees kept their distance.

2) Think it will “bring America back to God.” America has never been a Christian nation.

3) Identify the church with any human institution or political party. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Please do not suggest that agreeing with your particular political position is a precondition to belonging to the kingdom of God. It is not.

4) Fail to submit to God’s reign in every area of life, including Jesus’ command to love sinners. Nonconformity to the world means more than opposing social evils such as abortion; it includes a humble, peacemaking, servant-like, self-sacrificial love. It means revolting against everything in our lives that is inconsistent with God’s kingdom, including the temptation to grab Caesar-like political power.

5) Claim that their position is the only “Christian” position out there. We must always be on guard against the seductive lure of a kind of hubris that implies that all “sincere” and “godly” evangelicals share the same view about controversial political actions. They don’t.

6) Imply that “inalienable rights” and “the pursuit of happiness” are biblical concepts. They are not. I love democracy. I’d much rather live in a democracy than in a dictatorship. But nowhere is democracy or political freedom elevated to a virtue in the New Testament.

The Gospel is a beautiful and powerful grassroots kingdom movement. No, it does not rule out political activism. But the truth is that the kingdom does not look like the thousands of social movements abroad in the land today. The heart of Christianity is simply imitating Jesus. What is needed, then, is to develop a Christian mind on these matters and that means informing ourselves about contemporary issues, pouring over the Scriptures, voting in elections (as the Lord leads us), sharing in the public debate (to the degree, again, that we are led to do so), giving ourselves to public service if that is our divine calling, etc. At times the church may be led to go beyond teaching and deeds of mercy and take corporate political action of some kind, but we must not do so without making every effort to study an issue thoroughly and seeking to reach a common Christian mind. 

Fruit of the Spirit

(Thursday, September 20, 2018) Like most people, I think of lots of things when I’m biking (or running, or walking).

Today my random thought was: I wonder why Paul used so many agricultural metaphors in his writings. Specifically, he mentions the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians — a book I’ve been pondering of late, as you can probably tell. Please tell me I’m not the only person who likes to take a metaphor and translate it into non-metaphorical language. So, why did Paul say “fruit” of the Spirit when he could have said “deeds” or “works” or “expressions” or “products”? He must have thought there was an important distinction between the “works” of the flesh and the “fruit” of the Spirit, ya think? I once heard someone say that it’s the difference between the fruit on a tree in an orchard and the ornaments on a Christmas tree in your living room. The Christmas tree ornaments have no living connection to the tree. They are completely independent objects that we hang on the tree. But fruit has a vital connection to the tree. Without the life in the tree, there can be no fruit on the tree.

As I pondered this question while riding along, I thought back to the lecture I gave yesterday on what the apostle Paul says about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the book of Galatians. It’s one thing to know the will of God. It’s another thing to actually do God’s will. And the amazing thing is that the obedience that God requires in our lives is exactly the same obedience that He enables. Because I wasn’t able to do this in my lecture yesterday due to time constraints, I want to point out here four additional metaphors Paul uses to describe how we are to live the Christian life. These are all to be found in the 5th chapter of Galatians. They are:

  • Walk in the Spirit.
  • Be led by the Spirit.
  • Keep in step with the Spirit.
  • Sow to the Spirit.

To walk in the Spirit is to live by the power that the Spirit gives us. To be led by the Spirit is to allow the Spirit to direct our lives instead of our fallen, sinful natures. To keep in step in the Spirit is a wonderful military metaphor. “Left, right, left, right,” goes the drill sergeant, and likewise we place our feet wherever the Holy Spirit is wanting us to place them. Finally, we need to sow to the Spirit if we are to bear the “fruit” of the Spirit.

So you might wonder: How do I know whether or not I am walking in, being led by, keeping in step with, and sowing to the Spirit? The Bible is clear that this does not happen automatically. As Paul says in Eph. 5:18, we have to invite the Holy Spirit of God to control our lives. I don’t know about you, but I have to do this on a daily basis at least. Every morning, before I set foot on the floor, I pray a very simple prayer: “Father, thank You so much for this new day. It belongs to You. My goal this day is to please You. Lord Jesus, You are my King and my Master. My goal this day is to serve You. And Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your power and presence so that I may be enabled to please the Father and serve the Lord Christ.” Then I begin to proceed through my day. I’m constantly asking, “Lord, what would you have me do today? What shall I write today, if anything? How shall I serve you today? What emails and text messages should I answer and when? Who needs a phone call of encouragement from me today? What exercises shall I do today to maintain this temple You’ve given me? Where and for how long shall I meditate on Your word? Shall I cut grass today or tomorrow?”

As for prayer, for me the key verse is Eph. 5:18: “praying at all times in the Spirit.” I don’t want prayer to be a do-it-yourself activity. I want to pray when the Spirit is prompting me to pray, all throughout the day. Plus, keep in mind that prayer is much more than spoken communication. Prayer is also communion — a moment by moment, step by step, relationship with God. Not only do I pray when I get up in the morning, but I pray while biking or running, while doing the kitchen dishes, while standing in the grocery store line, while taking a shower. I’m not very good at compartmentalizing: This is spiritual, and this isn’t. Sometimes my prayer is a quick “Thanks.” Often it’s a desperate “Help me.” Prayer, for me, is like talking to my best friend. It’s spontaneous. While out biking today, about all I could think about was how thankful I am to God to be able to be outdoors doing what I love to do. Sometimes I pray with groanings that can’t be expressed in words, as I did for a long time last night. It’s at these moments that the Holy Spirit, we are told, “helps us in our weakness…. And the Father who knows our hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27). Finally, more often than I’d like, I find myself asking forgiveness of the One I love. That’s why, when I wake up in the morning, the first thought on my mind is, “Holy Spirit, please help me. Fill me with Yourself so that I may walk in You, be led by You, keep in step with You, and sow to You.”

My friend, whatever it is you are relying on today other than the Spirit for help in making progress in holiness, for God’s sake, get rid of it. Amputate it as you would a gangrene limb. He accepts you as you are. And the obedience that He requires of you this day, He will also enable. You can count on it.

Well, sorry folks, but my thoughts are totally random and scrambled after I work out. I think of a lot of things while exercising, and it just so happened that today you had to bear the brunt of my latest cogitating!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of books, many of them from Energion Publications, including The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching. This post used by permission.)

The Word and Unhooked Christians

(Friday, July 20, 2018) 7:46 AM Hey guys. This morning I’ve been “in the Word.” Both of them. I think God worked overtime on this morning’s sunrise, don’t you?

And then there was this passage in Heb. 13:1-2:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t forget to welcome strangers into your homes and show them Christian love, for some did this and welcomed angels without even knowing it.

Two quick observations if I may:

First, I noticed the verbal aspect in the first command: “Keep on loving one another.” I find it interesting that the author didn’t rely on the tense of the verb to express his desire for continuous action. He used a verb that literally means “let it continue.” Perhaps our Greek textbooks should reflect this way of “mitigating” imperfective aspect?

Second, I noticed the morphological connection between “love of brothers” and “love of strangers.” This play on the phil-prefix is often missed in our English translations — “brotherly love” versus “hospitality.” Why should this be?

Finally, this morning I was reviewing my syllabus for the New Testament course I’m teaching this fall. This course is designed to cover Acts through Revelation. Its official title is “New Testament Introduction and Interpretation 2,” but I’ve entitled it “Becoming New Covenant Christians: Living a Life of Sacrificial Service to God and Others by Following the Downward Path of Jesus.” One of the books we’ll be using in class is this one.

I wrote this short treatise because, despite the proliferation of books about the church in recent years, no one had (to the best of my knowledge) ever exegeted 11 brief verses in Acts 2 that seem to practically “list” the hallmarks of the nascent church in Jerusalem. The early church was an evangelistic church, reaching out to the world in witness. It was a committed church, pledging allegiance to Christ alone in the waters of baptism. It was a learning church, devoted to the teachings of the apostles. It was a caring church, eager to share life together with one another (koinonia). It was a Christ-centered church, elevating His supper to a place of continued prominence. It was a praying church, asking God to help keep it pure and to give it bigger challenges to expand its territory. And it was a sacrificing church, generously caring for their poor brothers and sisters.

Today we read a great deal about “unhooked Christians,” Christians who’ve dropped out of the church. The reason they had done this was their disappointment and disillusionment with the local church. These churches seemed to lack a heart of witness, unquestioned loyalty to Jesus, devotion to biblical truth, genuine fellowship, Christ-centeredness, a keen sense of dependence upon God, and a sacrificial spirit, which is always a test of the sincerity of one’s love for Christ. With apologies to MLK, I have a dream of a church that is a truly biblical church, whose people love the Word of God and adorn it with loyalty and obedience. Such is my dream for the church. May it be one that all of us can share in our NT class this semester!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm and many other books.)

Hard-Wired to Serve Others

Monday, May 21, 2018

6:42 AM If you’re a follower of Jesus, God has hard-wired you to serve others in His name. Here’s a picture of a team from Lifepoint Church in Fredericksburg. In accordance with Scripture, they were passing out cups of *gummy bears* in Jesus’ name during yesterday’s race.

They had a corner on the market too, since there were plenty of other volunteers blessing us with cups of cold water. Believe me, at mile 8, these bearers of energy were just what the doctor ordered. But I have to ask myself: In all of my running, this is the first time I’ve seen an evangelical church out on a race course. It can only be done when we begin to realize that the gathering exists for the going. I have a special empathy for people trying to find their place in the body of Christ. But let’s not forget to consider simple, towel-and-basin ministries such as this one. Simply put, serving others in Jesus’ name is what you do with who you are in Christ. Every believer has been called to serve in the kingdom of God. Markus Barth reminds us that the entire church “is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world” (Ephesians, p. 479). This is the highest calling possible. Paul says that the body grows into the Head through every joint or connection point. How different it would be to runners if they saw church after church doing such simple acts of service. They would welcome the God-given concern being expressed. This is why, significantly, the goal of leadership in the church is to get every member of the body relating to the Head for himself or herself. The leading servants will do this primarily in the context of exercising their own spiritual gifts. The church needs these specially gifted leaders, but the call of God also comes to every believer who has ears to hear — even if this means that they stand in the oppressive heat and humidity passing out jelly beans in the name of their King.

Church, I believe we can do better. Can I tell you the dream for my life and teaching? I hope you get to the end of your life and breathe a huge sigh of relief and thanksgiving. You discovered that God is good at being God. You discovered that He was willing to use you in normal, everyday circumstances to be a blessing to others in His name. We don’t have to be superstars. We’re probably better at just being normal folk anyway.

Oorah!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave is author of The Jesus Paradigm and many other books.)

Pastors = Elders = Overseers

{July 26, 2017} 7:48 AM Pastors = Elders = Overseers. Then why should we have a church polity with “pastors” on the one hand and lay “elders” on the other? We are told it is because pastors are paid while elders are not. This seems like a distinction without a Scriptural difference. Church, ordination, titles — a biblical understanding of these themes is one of the most critical issues facing the worldwide body of Christ in our day. Even among evangelicals with their professed high view of Scripture, significant confusion remains. This is what makes Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership so timely and relevant. Its appeal is for Christians of all traditions to get back to the “basics,” by which he means the word of God. He asks important questions. “What is the church?” “Who are called to its priesthood?” “What is the real significance of ordination?” Strauch is convinced that only when we recover the supremacy of Christ and His lordship over our thinking in these areas can local churches function as New Testament churches. Speaking personally, I’ve found that when our ecclesiology gets into trouble, it’s generally because we’ve tolerated distortions in our Christology. An example. Jesus alone is our high priest. Hence the word “priest” is never used in the New Testament for any official church “minister.” It’s the total community of believers that is the “royal priesthood.” Just as Christ offered Himself in service to the Father, so Christians offer themselves and their whole being to God as living sacrifices. Each and every Christian, as a “priest,” presents his or her entire life as a sacrifice to God. This is the priesthood of all believers, not just the “clergy.” Even a Roman Catholic theologian like Hans Küng recognized this:

The fundamental error of ecclesiologies … was that they failed to realize that all who hold office are primarily (both temporally and factually speaking) not dignitaries but believers, members of the fellowship of believers; and that compared with this fundamental Christian fact any office they may hold is of secondary importance if not tertiary importance (The Church, p. 465).

Küng further notes that, in the New Testament, words common in secular Greek for religious authorities are consistently avoided, including words implying hierarchy, primacy, rank, and power. The classic exception is the Diotrephes of 3 John, who is hardly being held up as a positive example. Instead, argues Küng, the language of the New Testament is one of horizontal relationships. Phil. 1:1 suggests that formal leadership in the church is placed within the congregation and not above it. No ministerial office represents status or rank in a social or political sense. The leaders’ influence is measured, not by their titles, but by their Christlikeness and the extent to which they allow the Holy Spirit to work through them for the good of others and the glory of God. In essence, then, the New Testament church is a brotherhood of believer-priests, centered not in the bishop but in Christ.

Ministry, not status, is what the church is about. The Protestant Reformation replaced the altar with the pulpit and the priest with the preacher. It was left to the Anabaptists to develop the concept of the church as a fellowship of active believers, a Christian brotherhood in which the ideal of the kingdom of God would be realized. I wonder if the title “senior pastor” is even biblical. It creates a leader-centric paradigm in which discipleship is staff-driven. It encourages a consumer mentality in which responsibility for “ministry” is shifted from the so-called laity to the pastors. Intentional or not, the title communicates that the head of the church is not Christ but a mere man. Ironically, the one man in the New Testament who could possibly have claimed to be the “senior” or “lead” pastor is willing to recede into the group. Why does the apostle Peter, in addressing elders, refer to himself simply as a “fellow elder” and only Christ as the Chief Shepherd (Senior Pastor)? Could it be that he’s widening the definition of what counts? I am suggesting this: titles matter. Whose name is on the marquee matters. The church is not a collection of supernovas but a collective light that shines on the Son.

(Taken from my forthcoming book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk.)

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

The Goal of Our Instruction Is Love

(From Dave Black Online, June 27, 2017. Used by permission.)

8:12 AM Did you know that students at the College of Charleston can take a class called Sport Physiology and Marathon Training? Bet you’ll never guess what the final exam is. You guessed exactly right. Running a marathon. I ask you humbly: How can students take “New Testament” and remain overfed, arrogant, and unconcerned? The U.S. spends more on trash bags than almost half the world spends on all goods combined. This helps me better understand Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim. 1:5: “The goal of our instruction is love.” I like how The Message puts it: “The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love — love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.”

I’m finally beginning to connect the dots. As an old Scottish proverb puts it: “Greek, Hebrew, and Latin have their proper place, but it’s not at head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus.” God is requiring from our New Testament students obedience. Not the kind that is little more than an hour of inconvenience on Sunday morning. The next time there’s a Run for Nepal — a 5K race in Morrisville, NC dedicated to raising funds to rebuild that country after its devastating 2013 earthquake — I hope hundreds of born-again Jesus freaks will sign up with me. “Broken and poured out for you” is the way Jesus, I think, would put it. Jesus left heaven to come to the foulest place in the universe only to be betrayed by His own. When His followers are asked to do the same thing, they can only hear and obey (hearken). I once asked God to send me to a closed country. I knew it was a dangerous prayer. But I meant it. And He answered. At the very same time, it was glaringly obvious to anyone who took the time to notice that my stateside priorities were far more about me and my scholarly reputation than about God and other people. Richard Rohr writes that “… power, prestige, and possessions are the three things that prevent us from recognizing the reign of God….” (Simplicity, p. 56). The pattern of ascent is so ingrained in our circles that it may be physically painful for some of us to reject it. But if I am to “take the lowest place” (Luke 14:10), I’ll need to get off my high horse.

τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη.

I hate this kind of simplicity. I hate asking to be countercultural, even as an academic. But that’s where I am, folks. I am so over upward mobility. I’m ready to join to Jesus at the bottom. And ask my dear students to do the same.