Sin: My Three-Step Approach

Today’s post is by Eliza Huie. Eliza blogs at Beggar to Beggar. You can find her on Twitter at @ElizaJaneHuie.

It was a cozy Saturday afternoon. The day hadn’t been too busy, there was a fire in the fireplace and the sun was starting to set (yeah it was that good). And I had a plan. Sit with my husband and watch a little something that had caught my eye earlier in the week. The video was loaded on the laptop and I had just added another log to the fire. The only problem was my husband was greatly occupied in his personal to-do list for the day. I asked him if he would like to watch the video. He said he did but that he was busy right then.

Long story short, I wanted to watch the video and I wanted to do it right then. When I didn’t get what I wanted, I was angry (brutally honest here). A while later when my husband was ready to watch I was still playing the anger card and I didn’t want to.

It was then that the steps began.

1. Justify

2. Hide

3. Blame shift

Was paper work more important to him then his wife? Could he really expect me to act any other way? Anyone in that situation would have felt pushed aside and rejected (Justify). Truth is, I was being a brat but I didn’t want to see it and the steps had begun. But knowing how badly my argument lacked validity, I did what I felt was the best alternative in the situation; I avoided him (Hide). He asked if I was upset because we didn’t watch it when I wanted to. To which I boldly told him I felt like HE wasn’t very interested. He was interested in his list. I wanted him to see HIS insensitivity (Blame Shift).

This is nothing new. This has been around from the beginning. Adam and Eve first set these steps in motion.

Step 1: JustifyThe tree (which they were forbidden to eat) had very good qualities; it was good for food, it was nice looking, and it would make Eve wise. Surely Adam would benefit from this as well!

Step 2: Hide- After they disobeyed and they heard God in the garden they hid themselves from him.

Step 3: Blame shift- God then questions what they did and they respond accordingly: Eve says- the serpent. Adam doubles the blame and says- the woman, who YOU gave me.

Truth be told, all three of these steps felt like they provided me some form of escape from wrong, but none of them actually rescued. The only way I can break free is to admit that I was wrong and change the approach. Humility is the first step in this new approach.

My circumstance ended well. I had enough conviction to admit my wrong, selfish attitude to my husband and he, like always, was very forgiving.

Have you found yourself taking any of these three steps when you know you are wrong? Does this sound familiar?

Corporate Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


Yesterday I made the point that competition is a fundamental motivator for many aspects of our culture. By harnessing my natural desire for recognition and reward, competition typically pushes me toward higher achievement. The underside of this spiritually is that human greed is nurtured and celebrated instead of crucified. The result is a compromised life spiritually for the individual. Today I want to explore a couple of the ways that competition affects us corporately.

When we introduce the concept of competition we automatically create winners and losers. We create categories of in and out. Whether in sports, honor societies, 500 Clubs, or even in churches, we find ways to create the category of other so we can feel better about ourselves.

This doesn’t please God. Jesus cleared the temple in Matt. 21:12-13 because gentiles were literally squeezed out of what should have been a house of prayer for the nations. Paul is also clear that one of the many things accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection was the abolishment of national prejudices (Eph. 2:11-22). Competition creates the category of other, which is sometimes less than, but akin to an enemy. We’re told to love our enemies, not conquer them (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:9-21).

Identifying the underside of competition might also impact our view of evangelism and cultural engagement. When I became a believer in college I treated apologetic encounters as a chance to prove myself and beat the other person into following Christ. Of course it never worked no matter how much I brushed up on my arguments. People intuitively took a defensive posture. This wasn’t ever taught by any of my mentors but something I assumed on my own. Perhaps if we identify how our culture shapes us we can send new converts down an altogether different path to begin with – one that overtly celebrates humility instead of subtly nurturing pride and triumphalism. [Read more...]

Personal Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Most of us have been told that at one time or another, but usually as a way to mollify a loss. Closer to the truth, we all want to win. Sometimes desperately.

It isn’t just sports that stoke my desire to win. In addition to the entertainment industry called professional sports, competition is something that impacts us every day of our lives. Competition is also an underlying motivator in education, and is the principle driver of our economic system. Even our politics are often more about competition than what is truly best for all.

The conventional wisdom is that competition is good. It pushes us out of our natural slothfulness toward excellence. This is often true. But there is a dark underside to completion that can go unnoticed. It’s a dark underside that if we’re not aware of it can compromise our life as disciples of Jesus.

Consider Ephesians 5:3, where greed is grouped with impurity and sexual immorality. The believer is instructed to avoid any appearance of these.  Yet everywhere I turn, my greed for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade is nurtured and encouraged. The economic system of capitalism is particularly good at harnessing human greed, which Paul calls idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Does this mean that if I’m successful in business that I’m an idolater? Well, maybe. Maybe not. What it means for sure is that sin is battling against me more than I realize. Simply living in the system I do will shape my thinking, and my spiritual formation, and if I don’t intentionally find ways to push back against those influences, they will undercut my spiritual life, and my faithfulness to Christ.

Competition harnesses my desire for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade. But instead of nurturing these impulses I should be crucifying them.

I’m not trying to create a new rule, or say that we should drop out of life and refuse to participate in our economic system. But I do think we need to be attuned to the influences in our lives, and push back accordingly. By identifying how competition affects me negatively I can keep things like sports and academics in perspective. Keeping that perspective can be exceptionally difficult when money is involved though.

Regardless of the difficulties, spiritual health demands that I push back on the sin of avarice. I need to constantly check my motives, and ask myself often: Am I too emotionally involved in sports? Does my academic achievement reflect my love for Christ, or my love for recognition?  Is my business big enough to support my family? And, perhaps even… Is my church big enough to glorify God as we are?

Unfortunately, I don’t have to weigh any of these for very long to find myself wanting.

Tomorrow I’ll explore some of the ways that competition affects us corporately.


Aron is married to Jenn, and father to Abigail, Elizabeth and Benjamin. They live in Beulah, ND where he is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. Aron has an MDiv from Denver Seminary, an MA in American History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and loves to study the Bible. Aron doesn’t have free time, but if he did he would enjoy cycling, camping, and exploring the outdoors with his kids, in addition to reading on theology, history, culture, and leading better in ministry.

Satisfied in Christ

Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.

The Samaritan woman at the well was not the most popular woman in town. She had been married five times and was living in sin with a man who was not her husband. As far as everyone in town was concerned, she wore the proverbial scarlet letter of shame. Thus, when she needed to draw water from Jacob’s well, she made sure to do so at high noon, when everyone else would be indoors. On this particular day, she was surprised to discover a wearied man sitting alone beside the well. The man was Jesus.

John 4:1-9:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

Oftentimes, preachers will turn this passage into a call to evangelism. They’ll say, See? Jesus talked to the lowliest of the lows—an untouchable—and we should too! So, be like Jesus and reach out to someone in need!

Now, it’s true that we should look beyond the scarlet letter whenever we’re witnessing to sinners in need of saving; however, that’s not the point of this passage. The point is that this Samaritan woman was in desperate need of something that only Jesus could provide. And we—all of us—are sinners in the same boat. We are in desperate need of something only Jesus can provide. It’s living water! The theme of this passage is not how-to evangelism but all-satisfying Savior.

Jesus has much to offer this woman, and she doesn’t even know. On a seemingly endless quest to satisfy the longings of her soul, she chased the idols of her heart only to receive emptiness. [Read more...]

Maps, Cobblestones & Mortar and Spiritual Parenting

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).

A few summers ago I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Rome. It was an amazing trip, including an after-hours private tour of the Vatican museums. I stood in the normally quiet Sistine Chapel and listened to an art historian explain in great detail (with no apparent axe to grind) how Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, “The Final Judgment” indicates that the great artist was heavily influenced by Luther and Calvin and was likely himself a Protestant. Not the kind of thing you hear every day!

Another odd thing about this trip is that the travel agent responsible for my trip rather monumentally fouled up the arrangements for the trip. I got to the airport and wasn’t a ticketed passenger! I had the remarkable experience of walking up to a ticket counter and saying, “Round trip to Rome, leaving today, please.” Thankfully, the plastic that I whipped out had enough to cover it while awaiting reimbursement!

When I got to Rome I had, of course, a map. It was one of those maps designed for tourists, with all the major sights blown-up and arranged for easy finding. One evening I and my companions set out to find a particular restaurant located on a small side street somewhere in the hustling and bustling city. I knew of the restaurant because my sister had eaten there only a few short months earlier and highly recommended it. However…

The restaurant was not there. In fact, the street itself was not there. I stood at an intersection, map unfolded, getting my bearings. Yes, I was oriented. The street should be right… there! Alas, no street. The reality of what stood before me made a liar of my map. Either the cobblestones and mortar had shifted and moved in the intervening months, or my map was wrong. Those were my two explanatory options.

Now, the conclusion I must reach is obvious, isn’t it? Maps can be wrong. They might not accurately or fully depict the cobblestones and mortar that are actually there. So I resolved that never again would I allow myself to be deceived by a fallible document like a map. They are clearly worthless. They cannot be trusted. People who trust in maps are gullible. Far better to forego the use of a map and just wander out and find things yourself, with only cold, hard, reality to guide you. Better to not use all the sorts of aids and guides people use when preparing for a trip. Not just maps, but language helps like Rosetta Stone or common phrase dictionaries. Better to just get on the plane, arrive, flag a cab, get dropped off on a street corner and make a go of it. That’s the only way to make sure you won’t be deceived. Right?

Rather silly conclusion, isn’t it? Yet that is exactly the conclusion many people reach when they discover that ancient Christian traditions, particularly the great creeds of the church, can be wrong. Upon learning that tradition is not infallible, they decide that tradition is worthless. Having rejected Roman Catholicism’s hyper-trust in tradition, they decide, with the Anabaptists, that creeds are of no use at all. “No Creed but Christ!” they cry. One might as well decide that all maps are worthless. After all, they might mislead you. [Read more...]

Their Love Revealed in Their Intolerance

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. . . . you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.—Rev. 2:2,6

Does love have its limits? Are there places it won’t go, people it won’t embrace, ideas it won’t endorse? Or is true love indiscriminate, universal, and all-inclusive? These questions are clearly and decisively answered in our Lord’s words to the church in ancient Ephesus. And his perspective is anything but politically correct!

Jesus had already commended the Ephesians for their hard work and perseverance. He now turns his attention to their orthodoxy. Far from being blinded by love, they had 20/20 discernment. They hated evil—period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whatever form evil took, whether ethical or theological, they stood resolute in their opposition. No compromise. No cutting of corners. Their love was revealed in their intolerance. Unsanctified mercy had no place in the church at Ephesus. . . . This was their most stellar achievement. No heretical concept could ever raise its ugly head in Ephesus without being decapitated by the swift stroke of biblical truth.

The Ephesian believers [were not] so naïve as to believe that Christian charity can tolerate such false teaching. Note also the contrast: they “bear” trials and tribulations for Christ’s sake (v. 3), but they cannot “bear” the company of these evil men (vv. 2, 6). They endure persecution but not perversion.

There are many lessons here, but one in particular stands out: Jesus hates moral and theological compromise. Any appeal to grace to justify sin is repugnant to our Lord. Any attempt to rationalize immorality by citing the “liberty” we have in Christ is abhorrent to him and must be to us. True Christian love is never expressed by the tolerance of wickedness, whether it be a matter of what one believes or how one behaves.

Much is being said today about the extent of the church’s engagement with culture. To what degree should we be involved? How narrowly should we draw the boundary lines for what is permissible, on the one hand, and what is off limits, on the other? There are no easy answers, but of one thing I’m sure. If “cultural relevancy” threatens in any way or degree to undermine your single-minded, wholehearted devotion to Christ, end it. To the extent that being “in” the world drains you of the necessary strength to resist its temp tations or diminishes the purity of your relationship with Christ, turn and walk away.

Don’t expect me or anyone else to identify on your behalf those activities or ideas or events or persons from which or from whom you should withdraw. If they are not explicitly noted in Scripture, or cannot be deduced by good and necessary reason, to legislate for others what is and is not permissible would be legalism. I can only make that decision for myself.

May God grant us the discernment to identify the “Nicolaitans” of our day and the moral conviction and love to be intolerant of their destructive doctrines.

Adapted from Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, Kindle Edition

The Religion of the Broken Heart

In saying that Christianity is the religion of the broken heart, we do not mean that Christianity ends with the broken heart; we do not mean that the characteristic Christian attitude is a continual beating on the breast or a continual crying of “Woe is me.” Nothing could be further from the fact. On the contrary, Christianity means that sin is faced once for all, and then is cast, by the grace of God, forever into the depths of the sea. The trouble with the paganism of ancient Greece, as with the paganism of modern times, was not in the superstructure, which was glorious, but in the foundation, which was rotten. There was always something to be covered up; the enthusiasm of the architect was maintained only by ignoring the disturbing fact of sin. In Christianity, on the other hand, nothing needs to be covered up. The fact of sin is faced squarely once for all, and is dealt with by the grace of God. But then, after sin has been removed by the grace of God, the Christian can proceed to develop joyously every faculty that God has given him. Such is the higher Christian humanism–a humanism founded not upon human pride but upon divine grace.

But although Christianity does not end with the broken heart, it does begin with the broken heart; it begins with the consciousness of sin. Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale. But how can the consciousness of sin be revived? Something no doubt can be accomplished by the proclamation of the law of God, for the law reveals transgressions. The whole of the law, moreover, should be proclaimed. It will hardly be wise to adopt the suggestion (recently offered among many suggestions as to the ways in which we shall have to modify our message in order to retain the allegiance of the returning soldiers) that we must stop treating the little sins as though they were big sins. That suggestion means apparently that we must not worry too much about the little sins, but must let them remain unmolested.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Kindle Edition)

Life is Short… Why be Good?

Today’s post is by Tina Williams who blogs at Everyday Surrender.

I have encountered many times in the last several years the attitude of “Life is short…why be good”. Generally speaking when this is directed at me it is because the person is aware of my faith. One of the reasons I have such a hard time with this is that I know there is nothing I can say to allow them to feel what I feel or convey the awe of experiencing God’s presence. That can only come by their seeking Him in an effort to personally experience Him and a relationship with Him.

One of the obstacles of this debate is the way nonbelievers view Christians and the way they live their lives. The preconception that they just follow rules and keep up the appearance of being good. I will be the first to admit that this view is true in some cases, as when I was a child I remember being dropped off at church every Sunday because it was the right thing to do, and beyond that there was no mention of Christ in my childhood. So I definitely understand the view that Christians go to church on Sunday mornings to appear good. It does happen. But on the flip side, are you then prejudging all Christians? Are you subconsciously saying that it is not possible to have a personal relationship with Christ because you have seen others just go through the motions? I know I did.

As soon as I was old enough to recognize the charade I wanted out and managed it. After all, if it was just a matter of believing then I could do that without keeping up appearances and playing the game. It was my incorrect, sinful response to an unfortunate situation. I have the advantage now of seeing both sides of the argument and understanding why others, who have not experienced Christ, deny it’s possible. I did.

After exiting the game of charades with distaste, I lived most of my life how I wanted. After all life is short, right? I believed I was a “good” person. A moral person. [Read more...]

The Surprising Depth of Idolatry

Today’s post is by Chris Thomson. Chris blogs at This Oughta Be Good

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” – 1 John 5:20-21 (ESV)

“An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone. An idol is something that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention and money to it effortlessly.” – Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones

“You’ve distorted your deepest wish by trying to make it into your savior, and now that you finally have it, it’s turned on you.” – Tim Keller

I have always known I have idols. The First Commandment is hard to miss. But it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I have realized just how deeply embedded idolatry is in my life. As my faith has grown and matured the Holy Spirit has brought about new conviction and enlightenment when it comes to objects of my heart’s affection. All of us have readily identifiable idols. These are things that Tim Keller calls “visible surface idols”. They include things like money, career, relationships, health, sex and food. We know that in their originally intended form they are good things. But we also have a pretty good idea that when our sinful desires twist their purpose and their place they begin to control us and become a poison in our lives. As Matt Chandler says, “We have made good things into ultimate things.”

The deeper idols in our lives are not as simple to discern but they are the disease that produces the surface idols. They include things such as power, control, approval and comfort. This is where God has really been working on me. Two of the biggest deep idols in my life are my desire for approval and control.

The first one should have been obvious to me long ago but it wasn’t. I was the high school valedictorian and voted “Most Intelligent” and “Most Likely to Succeed”. Those were nice things but the price was being continually ridiculed by many of my classmates for a majority of my junior high and high school lives. My identity was being “the smart kid” so I consciously vowed to not let that define me in college and beyond. Although I removed the surface idol, I didn’t realize it remained deep inside. So, as I got into my career and began meeting more failures than successes despite hard work, I began to experience depression. My intelligence had turned into my own “little savior”. I still knew I was smart and that meant I could have power, and ultimately comfort, because I could make myself be successful. Even more than that, I felt I was entitled to some measure of success. My identity and self-worth had gotten tied up in what I could do for myself. Britt Merrick’s words ring so true at this moment:

Christian, define yourself exclusively and radically as one beloved of God. Every other identity is an illusion and is false. [Read more...]

The Male Gossip


Today’s post is by Amber Van Schooneveld. Amber is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration (Group, 2008) and blogs regularly at Clever Phrase Here.

Close your eyes and picture a gossip. Whom do you see? I see a cluster of spinsters in old lace gloves sweetly spitting vitriol over tea. Perhaps I read too much Agatha Christie. But even if you don’t have visions of British spinsters, your vision is most likely female. Am I right? Counter to our preconceived notions, in my (unfortunate) experience there are just as many male gossips as female gossips.

The men, however, don’t have the benefit that us ladies do of hearing much direct exhortation against gossip. Can you imagine a men’s retreat in which this was the lineup?

  • 9:00 a.m.: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart
  • 10:30 a.m.: Strength Like Boaz
  • 12:00 p.m.: Drum Beating (I assume this is what you do at any good men’s retreat)
  • 1:30 p.m.: Taming Your Gossiping Tongue

I can’t.

Despite our feminine visions of the gossip, the Scriptures are directed as much at the male gossip (let’s call him Carl) as at the female (let’s call her Sheila), such as this passage in Proverbs:

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him…[the seventh] a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16, 19)

It’s easy to be taken off guard by Carl. Sheila gives you cues. She’ll move closer, lower her voice conspiratorially, and begin, “I love Sasha, but…” And that’s when you know it’s coming. But Carl gives you no such preparatory warnings. In a firm and perfectly audible voice, he can casually defame another’s character (or gossip, if you will).

In my limited experience, that’s Carl’s struggle. He doesn’t dish with you about situational gossip. (“Did you see how tight her pants were today?”) He goes for the character. (“Neal is a real micro-manager.” “Jessica is such a control freak.” “Patrick doesn’t take anyone’s ideas seriously but his own.”)

And it doesn’t only happen in the workplace. It can happen in ministry too, disguised as well-meaning concern. (“You know, Allan is a real nice guy, but I just feel like he really lacks discipline.”) And even in the home. (Enter any number of dinner table discussions between a man and his wife in the hearing of the children.)

Sometimes one legitimately needs to address a character issue and seek the counsel of another regarding it. But much of the time our so-called “venting” is just good ol’ fashioned down-home gossip. (Even when said in a deep and manly voice.)

Satan was the first gossip. (“Did God really say?”) And the effect gossip has today is the same as this first utterance of gossip: It drags others down with you. Cheery Chip (perhaps like Eve) might have been going on his merry way thinking cheerful thoughts, when Carl corners him and plants a different strain in his mind, maybe noting an annoyance with a friend. “Jim is really getting on my nerves. He can really be self serving sometimes.” [Read more...]

Godly Fear, Amplified Grace

Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.

There I was, listening to a sermon that a good friend had recommended to me. My friend was living in sin at the time, and he confessed that this particular sermon rocked his world. Naturally, I was excited to hear the message that so gripped my friend. But as I listened, the pastor went on to say, “I’m tired of grumpy ol’ fundie Christians judging this person and that person. In the Old Testament, that may have been okay, but try to find that in the New Testament. Try to find an angry Jesus in there.”

Really?

I was so bummed to hear these words. My jaw dropped, and my heart broke. Could this world use fewer self-righteous and judgmental finger-pointers? Of course. I’ll give him that. But once we imply that the God of the Old Testament is grumpier and rowdier than the mild God of the New Testament, we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope to foolishness and a me-centered, anything-goes theology.

In Revelation 14, Jesus returns on a cloud with a sickle in his hand to reap the harvest. He’s accompanied by an angel with another sharp sickle. This angel is commanded to “‘…gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’” Then we are told that “the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.”

I didn’t know what a bridle or stadia is either. Apparently, though, when you do the math what’s described here is over 180 miles of a 5-feet deep bloodbath. The graphic imagery signifies the slaughter of the enemies of God. Indeed, these pictures should give us godly sorrow and anguish that others will have to suffer under God’s wrath in such way. After all, the apostle Paul echoes those sentiments (Romans 9:1-3). And yes, God is not wishing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But this point is also clear: New Testament God is still angry about sin, and he will see to it that divine justice will have its day. [Read more...]

A Tale of Two Fictions

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).

Greetings! I want to begin by thanking Aaron for the opportunity to hold down the fort on his blog this month. I hope he has a wonderful, restful, and energizing vacation from blogging, and I will do my best to continue his tradition of producing excellent content on Blogging Theologically.

My plan is a fairly simple one. I am going to write fifteen blog posts this month as a discrete series. Taken together, they form what I am calling 15 Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. Following two introductory posts on the nature of Christian tradition, each subsequent post will be a simple meditation on an article of the creed.

But allow me to begin by addressing the question: Why Tradition? The Apostles’ Creed represents for the entire world of orthodox Christianity a tradition passed down from the early church to us as an articulation of the basics of Christian belief. The questions are: Do we need it and why?

I believe the answer to the former is yes, and the latter question will be taken up in the next post. But there are two basic pitfalls that we must endeavor to avoid, both to the right and to the left. Let me illustrate these pitfalls by telling a “Tale of Two Fictions.”

The first comes to us from the early 5th century. In A.D. 404, a church leader by the name of Tyrannius Rufinus wrote this account of what happened after Pentecost and the Twelve Apostles prepared to embark on their respective ministries:

As they were therefore on the point of taking leave of each other, they first settled an agreed norm for their future preaching, so that they might not find themselves, widely separated as they would be, giving out different doctrines to the people they invited to believe in Christ. So they met together in one spot and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, compiled this brief token, as I have said, of their future preaching, each making the contribution he thought fit; and they decreed that it should be handed out as standard teaching to believers.

This brief description purports to tell us the origins of the Apostles’ Creed, and the account became the near universally-held view of the church in the Middle Ages. It was taken for granted that the Creed was written by the Apostles themselves, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A more detailed account comes to us from a 6th century sermon:

On the tenth day after the Ascension, when the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, the Lord sent the promised Paraclete upon them. At His coming they were inflamed like red-hot iron and, being filled with the knowledge of all languages, they composed the creed. Peter said, “I believe in God the Father almighty…maker of heaven and earth”… Andrew said “and in Jesus Christ His Son…our Lord” … and James said “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit… born from the Virgin Mary” … John said, “suffered under Pontius Pilate … was crucified, dead and buried”… [et cetera].

This story, as I said, won almost universal acceptance in the Middle Ages. The thought that the Apostles themselves were directly responsible for the Creed named after them is warming and enticing. Alas, it is, as renowned scholar J.N.D. Kelly puts it, a “pious fiction.” It is a story invented at some time or another in an attempt to vindicate the authenticity and theological purity of the creed. It is an attempt to read a more fully developed theology right back into the pages of the New Testament itself, indeed, to put its content directly onto the lips of Christ’s appointed spokesmen. Its intent is, indeed, pious, but fiction it remains, nonetheless. [Read more...]

He Walks Among the Lampstands

I’ve often lamented what I call the loss of the “functional” authority of Scripture in the body of Christ in our day. Most Christians are diligent to affirm that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, the only infallible rule for faith and practice. But you could never tell that from the way they actually structure their churches or formulate their beliefs or cast their vision or shepherd their sheep. In other words, there is a vast chasm separating their theological affirmation of what the Bible is, as God’s Word, and how they employ the biblical text in shaping the strategy and expression of ministry. All too often, the Bible bears a token authority that rarely translates into a functional guide and governor, so to speak, that dictates and directs what we are to believe and how we are to be God’s people in a postmodern world.

So, when I say that certain folk don’t appear to care much about what Christ thinks of the church, I have in mind the way in which they elevate sociological trends and marketing surveys and demographic studies, together with the “felt needs” of the congregation, above the principles and truths of Scripture itself. That’s not to say we can’t learn from the former; only that an undue focus on them often leads to the neglect of Scripture and even the abandonment of clear biblical guidelines on how to “do church.”

I feel considerable energy on this point because of what I see in Revelation 2:1. There we read, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.’” . . . These letters are the direct and explicit address of the risen Christ to his people. . . . We would do well to heed what he says!

The lordship of Christ over his people is not passive, distant, or indifferent. It is active, immanent, and intimate. Our Lord patrols the churches with an intense and ever present awareness of all thoughts, deeds, and activities. . . . He is never, ever absent! No service is conducted at which he fails to show up. No meal is served for which he does not sit down. No sermon is preached that he does not evaluate. No sin is committed of which he is unaware. No individual enters an auditorium of whom he fails to take notice. No tear is shed that escapes his eye. No pain is felt that his heart does not share. No decision is made that he does not judge. No song is sung that he does not hear.

How dare we build our programs and prepare our messages and hire our staffs and discipline our members as if he were distant or unaware of every thought, impulse, word, or decision! How dare we cast a vision or write a doctrinal statement or organize a worship service as if the Lord whose church it is were indifferent to it all!

Do you care what Christ thinks of the church? Or are you more attuned to the latest trend in worship, the most innovative strategy for growth, the most “relevant” way in which to engage the surrounding culture? Yes, Jesus cares deeply about worship. Of course he wants the church to grow. And he longs to see the culture redeemed for his own glory. All the more reason to pray that God might quicken us to read and heed the “words” of Christ to the church in Ephesus then and to the church now, whatever its name, denomination, or size. It obviously matters to him. Ought it not to us as well?

Adapted from Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, Kindle Edition