Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Essential Activity of Christian Ministry: Part 4

Connection to Worship

If Christian education, discipleship, and spiritual formation are all interrelated and the primary focus of church ministries should be on the goal of creating disciples then a brief discussion of the largest ministry of the church must ensue. The image of a funnel in the Dempsey class note is quite appropriate in this discussion.[1] The largest of church ministries, the worship service is the entry point to the church for the vast majority of people. This is also the place where mature Christians desire most to be, worshipping God.[2]

It is in the worship experience we can see all three elements discussed in this paper clearly on display. The pastor delivering a sermon that is educational while edifying the body. The newer believer in the process of spiritual formation sees service modeled by many of those participating in the various components of the service. Discipleship on display as the faithful come together to worship understanding that humanity was created for fellowship with their Creator. Each element is intimately connected to worship.

Conclusion

Interrelated concepts abound in both the church and the secular world. A good illustration is that of the relationship between the spiritual formation of the believer, the role of Christian education, and the discipleship process as a whole. Though the current course focuses on discipleship ministries through education, it should be noted that there are many other aspects of the Christian life that support and enrich the discipleship process.

The importance of a biblical worldview in Christian education cannot be understated. Without a proper view of God’s creation and humanity having been created in the image of God, education cannot claim to be Christian. These two pillars inform every other aspect of Christian education, spiritual formation, and the discipleship process as a whole. It is also impossible to ignore the responsibility of the believer to make the necessary intentional investment in their own spiritual development. The church should strive to provide environments where this growth can take place but to be sure believers should not focus on their development exclusively in a church context.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not something the believer does. Rather, it is who a believer is. When one is a disciple of Christ, it is much easier to sacrifice hard-earned money for ministry or share the gospel of Jesus with nonbelievers because the responsibility to do so is understood.[3] Before there were seminaries or megachurches or the other trappings of Christianity a small group of devout men were called, became disciples, and went out. The world has never been the same since.


[1] Dempsey, Rod. "Reading and Study: Dempsey Notes." Liberty University Black Board Online Portal. August 23, 2010.

[2] Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 4-6.

[3] Ibid, 2-3.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Essential Activity of Christian Ministry: Part 3

Focus of Ministry

If the ultimate goal is the creation of true disciple of Jesus, then this should be the focus of every ministry in the church. As this relates to education, discipleship, and spiritual formation, which specific area should be the focus? Previously it was asserted that each of these areas is interrelated to one another thus it is not possible, in the view of the author, to completely separate one from the others if the goal of the church is to make disciples. There are instances such as fellowship where there is very little formal education taking place.

One would not argue that the Wednesday evening meal many churches still enjoy together is not a ministry but does it serve to create disciples? Education may be lacking and obvious discipleship efforts are not present. This is, however, an environment in which believers have the opportunity to serve others and model the love of Christ through their service? Those serving are demonstrating they are disciples willingly serving the body so it could be argued that this models Christ. Seeing others model Christ serves to assist in spiritual formation of newer believers. This and other areas of service, however menial some may find them to be, bring glory to God, model the life of service of a disciple, and ultimately in the opinion of this seminarian leads to discipleship. Having said that, the church should guard against too great a focus on inward-looking ministries lest we forget the Great Commission to go and make disciples.

The focus of what will be referred to as the primary ministries of the church should always be in some form or fashion creating disciples of Jesus Christ. Churches do a good job of promoting the importance on the spiritual maturity of believers.[1] Attention should be paid to ensuring that environments are created and sustained where discipleship can occur be those environments Sunday School, small groups, Bible studies, etc.


[1] Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 18. Barna goes on to state that making disciples is not an option but rather a command from Jesus Christ (Matt. 9:35-38; John 15:8), 54-55.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Essential Activity of Christian Ministry: Part 2

Education

What is Christian education? Howard Hendricks discusses at length the traits visible in student but fails to offer a definition. Fortunately, Michael Mitchell offers not only a comprehensive definition of education but casts it in a Christian context stating that Christian education engages learners in acquiring the mind and skill sets allowing for an increasingly mature understanding of God, His creation, and themselves as created in the image of God.[1] Christian education must, then have at the core a view of the world having been created by God and that humanity was created in the image of God. The theology being taught may differ from denomination to denomination but Christian education that lacks these two necessary elements cannot authentically refer to itself as Christian education.

Discipleship

Before determining what discipleship is it is necessary to define exactly what a disciple is. Simply put, a disciple is one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrine of another. In the Christian context of the word, a disciple (μαθητής) is a follower of Christ who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example (Matt. 10:24; Luke 14:26, 27, 33; John 6:69).[2] If this is what a disciple is then discipleship is the process of becoming a disciple.[3] George Barna states that discipleship is about being and reproducing spiritually mature zealots for Christ.[4] What is obvious is that when Christians speak of biblical discipleship it is always about intentionally growing the believer in their knowledge of Christ. It is through that growth individuals are equipped to become more like Jesus.


[1] Mitchell, Michael R. Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples. (Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2010), 242. Mitchell also stresses the importance of the believer discovering their contribution and place in the community and in God’s kingdom.

[2] Easton, M. G. Easton's Bible Dictionary. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1966).

[3] Samra, James G 2003. "A Biblical View of Discipleship." Bibliotheca Sacra 160, No. 638: 225- 226.

[4] Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 18. Barna goes on to state that making disciples is not an option but rather a command from Jesus Christ (Matt. 9:35-38; John 15:8).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bible Study Software - Follow Up

One of the most important parts of my seminary studies is my Logos Bible Software. Back in January I blogged on this and at the time said I would likely suggest that folks using Logos 3 perhaps wait a while before upgrading. Now might be that time!

Logos has released several gigabytes in software updates and though they were a bit of an annoyance at the time, the updates have proven to correct the issues from the original release. I have to say back in January that I felt like I bought a piece of software that really wasn't ready for release. In reading blogs I am clearly not alone! Still, today I couldn't be happier with the software and can't imagine writing a paper for my classes without it.

Chris

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Essential Activity of Christian Ministry: Part 1

**THIS SERIES ORIGINATED AS AN ASSIGNMENT FOR MY STUDIES AT LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY**


INTRODUCTION

During the preparation for this written assignment there was one consistent thought among the authors of the research material: Christian education is a very high calling. Howard Hendricks states that the Christian educator strives for nothing less than the transformation of the believer into the image of Christ.[1] The focus of this paper will be on how to go about such a transformation that results in the creation of disciples who worship Jesus Christ. Education, discipleship, and spiritual formation will first be defined and then compared and contrasted. With that task completed, views will be offered on which of these church ministry should be most interested in and why followed by the connection of each of these areas to worship. Concluding remarks will discuss the essential activity of Christian ministry and the evidence of discipleship.

Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation or growth is the things one does in becoming a disciple. These are intentional personal investments that are the primary responsibility of those who follow Christ and desire to be conformed to His image.[2] Spiritual formation of believers and continuing growth of their knowledge of the faith is a process resulting in disciples. Discipleship is the process used to accomplish this growth in the individual believer and utilizes Christian education as the key to this process. Various educational approaches may be employed in the process of spiritual formation in the believer but the goal is the creation of mature disciples of Jesus Christ, who then, once properly equipped, may go forth and effectively produce disciples. Each of the three areas under discussion have their own traits but each area is interrelated to the others and are dependent upon one another for accomplishing the ultimate goal of discipleship.


[1] Hestenes, Roberta, Howard Hendricks, and Earl Palmer. Mastering Teaching. (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1991), 15.

[2] Ibid, 34.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 6

Conclusion

Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, said that revolution is followed by reconstruction and consolidation and for this task John Calvin was providentially foreordained.[1] Joseph Scaliger, a Huguenot scholar in the generation after Calvin, described him as “alone among the theologians.”[2] The depth of Calvin’s thought and strength of his influence is felt across the centuries to this very day. His theology still sparks fierce debates among scholars and laity alike. Without a doubt John Calvin left a mark on Christianity that will likely never be forgotten.

Like Luther, Calvin found authority in the Scriptures alone. Preferring a literal hermeneutic, Calvin did not read things into the text that weren’t there. Calvin was also comfortable with the presence of mysteries in the understanding of God. Calvin never doubted the authority of Scripture in all matter in which it deals but also acknowledged that there are things Scripture simply doesn’t address. As with other mysteries, Calvin took no exception to this. It was enough that what God revealed about Himself was sufficient for man to come to knowledge of God.

Calvin also believed that the only thing man could know about God was that which had been revealed through His word. This concept is especially important considering Calvin’s acceptance of sola scriptura. Without even mentioning his view of the Roman Catholic Church, this single belief is a shot across the bow of Catholicism and the Catholic view of Scripture plus tradition. For Calvin, adding anything to the Scriptures was simply intolerable.

Perhaps misunderstood is Calvin’s belief in original sin and the depravity of man. Calvin strongly affirmed belief in original sin and the tainted nature of humanity. However, Calvin did not believe that man could not do good works. Of course sinful man could do good works. What Calvin did believe was that no amount of good works was sufficient for man to earn salvation. Redemption of sin is available only because of the grace of God though faith in Jesus Christ alone.

For one unacquainted with Calvin’s condemnation of the Catholic Church, his complete and total contempt for it might seem a bit extreme. For those who have spent only a modest amount of time studying the man, his reasons for his strong beliefs become instantly apparent. Calvin believed that the Catholic Church was responsible for nothing short of failing to carry out their commitment to Christ and through their negligence, pride and greed were responsible for causing people to falsely believe they had received forgiveness of their sins and attained salvation. In the Catholic Church Calvin saw apostasy, corruption, the unforgivable injuries inflicted upon Christ.

Much more could certainly be said about John Calvin and his influence on the Protestant Reformation. Touching on only four of his beliefs hardly seems fitting for a theologian whose ministry spanned 28 years in his lifetime and over four centuries since. His writings are still the measuring stick against which Protestant systematic theologies are compared. Few Christian ministers have the kind of impact Calvin did in his lifetime. Fewer still influence the faith across the centuries like Calvin. Continued study is certainly warranted for this seminarian.


[1] Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church 3rd Ed., Vol. VIII. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), 211.

[2] Douglas, J. D., Phillip Wesley Comfort, and Donald Mitchell. Who's Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997), 131.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 5

The Church

There can be no doubt about the way Calvin came to view the Roman Catholic Church in general and the papacy specifically. Though born into a Catholic family, Calvin later broke with Rome to follow Protestantism.[1] While the exact year of Calvin’s conversion is not known it is generally believed to be between 1532–1534.[2] Book Fourth of the Institutes of the Christian Religion saw Calvin condemn the Catholic Church in no uncertain terms. As he describes those who hold the office of bishop, Calvin tells his readers that he cannot even describe them without exposing their disgrace.[3] Not stopping there he challenges those “who have not lost all shame” to answer the simple question concerning the kind of bishops that were being chosen in his day.[4]

In his condemnation of the Catholic Church, Calvin spares no holder of office as he provides an overall assessment of how far from the form of church government practiced by the early church. He then ties this all together in describing the extravagance in which so many in eclestacial roles live. This extensive backdrop serves to provide Calvin the with ready-made opportunity to use the Catholic Church’s own ancient texts and rulings of councils to level his condemnation of the church in it’s entirety.

Calvin saves his strongest attacks for the papacy itself. Without reservation Calvin accuses the papacy of causing injury to Christ, committing fraud, and being guilty of the sin of pride. Calvin also questions the legitimacy of the papacy itself noting that there is nothing in Scripture to justify the office and openly stating that the Apostle Peter was not the Bishop of Rome. It would be a rather easy academic exercise to continue through Book Four of Institutes citing example after example of Calvin’s arguments against the Roman Catholic Church. It is sufficient to note that Calvin’s disdain was complete.

Like Martin Luther before him, Calvin understood that reforming the Catholic Church from within was not possible. Calvin called into question every aspect of the Catholic Church. Not only did he condemn those who help various offices but also Catholic doctrine itself. Pædobaptism, the five so-called sacrements above and beyond baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the Papal Mass are all thoroughly deconstructed using Scripture in a manner only possible by a few theologians of his day.


[1] González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 61-63.

[2] Douglas, J. D., Phillip Wesley Comfort, and Donald Mitchell. Who's Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997), 129.

[3] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Fourth. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 285.

[4] Ibid.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 4

Fallen Man

For Calvin, human beings are the noblest of all of God’s works as they are created in the image of God himself. Calvin believed that for man to properly know God we must have knowledge of ourselves.[1] There are really only two facets of man that can be considered. Man before the fall and man after the fall. That is to say Calvin’s view on man in the condition in which he was originally created and then man’s condition since the fall of Adam.

Adam was originally created without sin and given a free will. The free will Adam possessed allowed him the choice to not sin. By definition, however, this also means that Adam had the capacity to disobey God as well and enter into sin. The prohibition from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a test of Adam’s obedience whereby he could prove his willing obedience to God’s commands. Calvin is quick to point out that the fall of Adam was not the fault of God. Rather, the fall happened because of the conscience decision by Adam and Eve to disobey the command of God in the Garden of Eden.[2] God is not the author of sin though He allows sin to occur.[3] Sin, the reprobate and even Satan all play a part in the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan as Calvin understands the Scriptures.

Through the fall of Adam, the entire human race was condemned. And this condemnation was not isolated simply to the human race but to all creation as well. Calvin’s reasoning behind such a statement is simple; all of creation bears this punishment because it was for man’s use that the other creatures were made. Calvin also finds completely reasonable that Adam’s fall would also extend to all of his offspring. Since all humanity is descended from Adam, all human beings share the consequences of Adam’s original sin. In his fallen state, man no longer has the freedom of will to choose whether or not to sin.

Calvin, having established that all of humanity is afflicted with original sin also offers views on man coming to terms with his condition. Without a proper understanding of the condition of the human race and what was lost, man will not comprehend what is to be recovered from God.[4] That proper understanding includes the sinfulness of the heart and mind of man and overall depravity of their nature. What is left of the will of man lacks the ability to turn to God without God’s grace. Calvin illustrates this in his commentary on Genesis with the story of Noah and the Ark when he suggests diligent observation that Noah had given himself completely to God. Calvin goes on to say that even when men, suggesting Christians, have done some service for God that service is often blends His word with our own feelings.[5]

Calvin understood this fallen condition of man and called it depravity. That is not to say that Calvin thought that people could not do good things in the sight of men or even in the sight of God. Rather, these works that men might do, however good they may be, have not merit in terms of attaining salvation from God’s wrath. It is notable that this theology is not new to Calvin. Augustine stressed the idea of original sin late in the fourth century believing that all were seminally present in Adam when he sinned and therefore all sinned in him.[6]


[1] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 170.

[2] Suffice to say the author is confident in the fact that readers of the present work are well aware of the story of the fall and it is unnecessary to go into detail of the fall here.

[3] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Second. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 221-22.

[4] Ibid, 241-43.

[5] Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. I. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 260-62.

[6] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 337.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 3

The Lord

Calvin firmly believed that everything we can know about God is strictly limited to what God has revealed about himself. Calvin further believed that God has revealed through Scripture only that which is necessary for human beings to enter into a covenant relationship with him.[1] Beyond this revelation, God is a mystery to his creation and will remain so. Without question Calvin believed in the doctrine of the Trinity devoting an entire chapter in Book First to the topic.[2] Calvin states in no uncertain terms that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct, coequal of the God-head though he also bemoans the poverty of human language in the ability to adequately express the concept.[3]

Though Calvin affirmed his belief in the Trinity among other doctrines, Calvin was well known for his stance on the sovereignty of God with respect to the elect. In his commentary on Romans 9, Calvin clearly articulates the view that God predestined those whom He would to have come to knowledge of Himself and that without God’s moving man would never come to that knowledge.[4] Calvin, never shying away from controversy, goes on to reinforce God’s sovereignty by driving home the importance of the use of the term elect in Romans 9:11discussing the unborn.[5] This selection by God is independent of anything a human being might do to attain salvation. In fact, there is nothing that a sinner can do to merit salvation apart from the grace of God. Calvin made no apologies for his belief that God not only created the universe but is also actively involved in the affairs of His creation that would one day culminate in the completion of His purpose; bringing glory to Himself.

While Calvin enthusiastically believes in election or predestination it should be noted that Calvin is not silent on those who are not elect. Even had Calvin neglected to mention the fate of those who are not elect, it is a logical step to assume that the reprobate will not enter heaven. Fortunately, Calvin wisely addressed the reprobate. In Book Third, Calvin further articulates his view that while God certainly does adopt some to the hope of eternal life, others he adjudges to eternal death.[6] Lost on many a commentator is the fact that Calvin, while believing that there was a practical significance for studying the doctrine of predestination and it was not merely an academic exercise, also warned against delving too deeply into this.[7]


[1] Douglas, J. D., Phillip Wesley Comfort, and Donald Mitchell. Who's Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997), 132.

[2] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 110.

[3] Ibid, 114-18.

[4] Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. XV. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 348-49.

[5] Ibid, 350-51.

[6] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Third. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 144-45.

[7] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 926. Erickson summarizes this point well. For the entire statement on this warning see Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Third, Chapter 21, Section 1. There Calvin again makes mention of the mystery of God and the comfort he has with such mystery. Calvin understood clearly that God has not revealed all there is to the creation but only that which is necessary for human beings to coming to a knowledge of Him.