Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Victory . . . in the pulpit . . . is won or lost before the preacher's foot enters the pulpit."

“Unction cannot be learned, only earned—by prayer. Unction is God’s knighthood for the soldier-preacher who has wrestled in prayer and gained victory. Victory is not won in the pulpit by firing intellectual bullets or wisecracks, but in the prayer closet; it is won or lost before the preacher’s foot enters the pulpit.” [Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1959; 1987), 20.]

No Blind Acceptance

"It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it."
—Joseph Joubert (1754-1824)

"How to Be A Morally Responsible Skeptic"

I recently listened to a thought provoking lecture, "How to Be A Morally Responsible Skeptic," delivered by [the late] Dallas Willard on December 31, 1995 at Indiana University.

Here are some of the takeaways:

“Irresponsible Disbelief.” "The Faith of Unbelief."

“Disbelieving also has its own responsibilities. . . . And I am just not talking about religious matters.”

“Disbelief is regarded as a virtue. Belief is often regarded as a vice. Isn’t it true that the person who doubts today is thought automatically to be smarter than the one who believes? Never mind that you could be as dumb as a cabbage and still say, “Why?” . . . . There is a healthy skepticism. It is right to skeptical, but not dogmatically skeptical. You not only should doubt your beliefs and believe your doubts, but you should doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.”

“Uncertainty has its consequences as well as certainty. You see, we live in a context today where automatically it is assumed that if you doubt, you don’t really have to justify it. If you believe you have to justify it.”

W. K. Clifford wrote an article titled, “The Ethics of Belief.” “The ethics of belief. . . . We are responsible for our beliefs.”

William James responds to Clifford in an article he originally titled “The Reason to Believe” (which is a better title) but the editor changed it to “The Will to Believe.”

“Often belief is recommended as a way of social acceptance. Also it’s sometimes recommended for peace of mind. If you believe you will be more peaceful. But, you know, neither of those is the main function of belief. The main function of belief is generally is to enable you to integrate your life with reality. It brings you in touch with reality.”

“Your beliefs are there to help you fundamentally integrate your life with reality.”

“A belief is there to integrate you with reality.”

“To be a morally responsible skeptic, simply assume the burden of proof for your disbelief.”

“I want to make a statement of a thesis here . . . . Much, if not most of the unbelief, found in the intellectual world today, is morally reprehensible faith posing as a scientific worldview or something of that sort.”

“Much, if not most of the unbelief, with reference to the larger issues of life, but with also with reference to the nature of truth itself . . . .”

Dr. Willard would often encourage his students: "Go to your Professor (in whatever subject) and ask if they are teaching truth and watch the dance begin."

“Truth is a representation of objects of various kinds as they really are. It is a representation of objects of various kinds as they really are. On the other hand, a lie is a misrepresentation of facts.”

“I want to repeat my thesis here that much, if not most of the unbelief . . . .”

“If you are going to pursue truth you have to have a certain hopefulness about you. And only that will sustain you in the pursuit of truth.”

“So let me repeat. We have assumed that if you doubt you do not need to justify it. That doubting is somehow appropriate in the general frame of the world as it exists. Belief, on the other hand, has to be justified. And what I have said to you is that is not true because unbelief governs behavior and its consequences in precisely the same way belief does.”

“Belief is a disposition or a readiness to act as if something were so.”

“But you know belief is what governs life. And you always act on your beliefs. Faith, in the sense of something you may profess, may not govern your life. What you really believe is what your life runs on. Your beliefs are the rails as it were on which your life runs. And you will act on them. And that is exactly what you will do about your disbeliefs. And is this regard, beliefs and disbeliefs are no different. Your disbeliefs will also guide your life. Instead perhaps of acting on something you will not be prepared to act on it. But it’s a funny thing about human life. Not acting is acting. Did you know that? You can’t do nothing. Not acting is acting. It is based on belief, representation, values, the whole theory of action applies to disbelief just the way it does to belief. Consequences are real.”

“And recognizing unbelief governs behavior and its consequences in precisely the same way that belief does is the key to understanding why so far as belief and unbelief are concerned we have to have the same attitude towards them. We have to be morally responsible for them in the very same ways. We have to be rational. Now we would like for our beliefs to be true. Ideally we would have only true beliefs. And it’s possible for us to know that some of our beliefs are true. But many of our beliefs we cannot know for sure they’re true. We can only have varying degrees of probability. And moral responsibility at that point is or dictates that we should be as rational as possible with reference to our beliefs. That is to say we should do everything in our power to guarantee the likelihood, the highest likelihood, that our beliefs are true. To be morally responsible for our beliefs then is to be rational. It is to be rational in our conduct of life. And if we want to be responsible for our disbeliefs, the way to do that is to be a rational person. Same as our beliefs, be a rational person.”

"A rational person will attempt to reason soundly. They are committed to reasoning soundly."

"Rationality is commitment. A commitment to reason soundly. . . . Seek the best possible evidence you can find from every possible source. Reading. Listening. Listening is a major part of being a rational person."

“We don’t try to defend what we already believe in the sense that we hold sacrosanct the beliefs that we already hold.”

“If there were a better way to follow, Jesus Christ would be the first to say, ‘Take it.’”

“If we are committed to truth we must not hold our beliefs above the play of serious inquiry.
That’s a part of what it means to be rational.”

“And if we wanted to be rational with reference to our beliefs or our disbeliefs in religion, we would follow the same pattern: of seeking the best evidence, of reasoning soundly, of listening to everyone that we could listen to about it. We would be thorough in our research.”

G. K. Chesterton used to say: “We don’t know enough about the unknowable to know that it is unknowable.”

“It is often assumed that if you believe anything you’re an idiot. And to be discounted. And that’s a relatively recent thing but there it is. It used to be assumed if you’re not a believer you were an idiot—or worse.”

[78.36 mins (48 mins lecture / 30 mins Q & A)]

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"The Church Exists By Mission, Just as a Fire Exists by Burning."

“The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning.” [Emil Brunner, The Word and World, quoted in Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), Title Page)

Service and Devotion

“. . . Service without devotion is rootless; devotion without service is fruitless.” [Elton Trueblood, The New Man for Our Time (New York. Harper & Row, 1970), 15-35.]

Where is the Right Place of God's Ministry?

“Not only have we been relying upon the wrong people, we have been trying to do God’s work in the wrong place. What does this mean? We have sought to do the work of God primarily in the church when it must be done primarily in the world. Those of us who are the clergy must confess our sin at this point and accept our share of the responsibility for the error in this area. In the past (and for many this continues in the present) when we called upon laymen for ministry, it was almost invariably for a ministry in the church. Many Christians have worked exceedingly hard, but the work they were doing was related primarily to the church as an institution. As a result, we built up a church as an institution until it has become large and relatively rich. But the “world” was left largely untouched. Let me be clear at this point. The laymen, in fulfilling his ministry, is not to become a “little preacher.” Neither is the ministry of the laity to assist the pastor to do “his” work. (In reality this is not “his” work anyway. The ministry belongs to the laity, not to the clergy. His task is to equip the laity for their ministry.) Neither is the ministry of the laity to “uphold the hands” of the pastor. The layman has a special and unique ministry which only he can perform.
There are two reasons why the ministry of the laity must be primarily in the world. Each of these reasons reveals a fundamental weakness in the present life and work of the church. First, it is in the world where a ministry for God is desperately needed. In the churches we have numerous meetings. We have regular weekly meetings . . . special meetings . . . meetings on Sunday and during the week . . . meetings in the morning and in the evening . . . women’s meetings . . . men’s meetings. We have large meetings; we have small meetings. And if attendance at some of them begins to decline, we have meetings to find out what’s wrong with the attendance at the meetings.
In most of our churches we have no dearth of meetings. What, then, is the weakness in our present approach? We have tried to win the world by holding meetings within our church buildings. There is one tragic flaw in this approach—the “world” does not attend the meetings. The “world” knows little and cares less about what takes place in the meetings we are so careful to hold in our church buildings. Thus, in these meetings we are simply talking to each other. Whether it’s a men’s meeting or a Bible study class or a meeting of the women, we talk about “loving the world” and “transforming the world,” but basically all we do is talk to each other. Then annually (or twice annually) the church has a “special series of services” (a preaching mission or a revival). It it’s a Baptist meeting, all the Baptists invite their Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian friends to attend the services so that the visiting speaker will not be embarrassed by the small attendance. We promise if they will help us out at our meeting, we will help them out when they have theirs. We are masters at self-deception. All the vaunted activity we put into preparation for the special services, all the prayers that were uttered, all the visits that were made, all the effort that was made to “be present every night”—the result is the same—we simply talk to each other. The “world” is untouched. If the world is ever going to be confronted by a ministry for God, it is going to have to be a ministry that is expressed where the world is, namely, in the world.
If the ministry of the laity is to be primarily in the world, we begin to see the wisdom of God’s call to the laity to be his basic ministers because it is “in the world” that the laity live. They do not have to make a special visit on Thursday night to get into the world. When Monday morning dawns, they go to the world. They are in the stores, the shops, the offices, the hospitals, the factories, the farms, the homes. The only problem is, being in the world, all they know to do is to “be good.” In the main they have no idea how to be a minister for God. There is a vast difference between “being good” and “being a minister.” But too many church members have not the slightest idea what this difference is. So the layman must not only be willing to be a minister, he must also learn what it means and learn how to be a minister.
This leads to a second reason why the ministry of the laity must be primarily in the world. The world today insists upon a demonstration of our faith before it will listen to our words. This reveals a second weakness in the life and approach of the present church. We are trying to win the world primarily through the use of words. In classes, worship services, in special meetings, the church is doing a lot of talking. On the radio and television we talk still the more. We bombard the ears of people with words, words, words. However the church is finding it increasingly difficult to get the world to pay any attention to these words. We cry, “Christ Is the Answer.” But the world shrugs its shoulders and ignores us. The politicians and men of business make their decisions as though the church did not exist. Parents are becoming greatly disturbed because the youth are tuning the church out as being irrelevant.
In effect, the world is saying to the church, if you people have anything, show it. Don’t come quoting Scripture or mouthing words. I want to see a demonstration of what you say. You say that Christ transforms people. You believe that Christ can take a man who in his business is grasping, greedy, and selfish, and transform him and make him into a person who loves people more than money, who is more concerned about the welfare of those in need than he is about grasping and getting more money. You say that Christ can transform people like that? Show me! I don’t see this in business where it seems that church people are just as grasping and greedy as the people not in the church. The world says to us, “You speak glibly about the love of God. But if you really want us to understand the love of God, then you be an expression of the love of God. You love us; you care for us; you enter into our lives, our concerns, our hurts as you say God does. Unless you do, your words mean nothing.”
If what I am saying is true, then much of what we are now doing in our church programs is exactly backwards. By that I mean that the present church program points toward what happens in the church on Sunday as being the climax. The pastor works all week preparing his sermon. The Bible teachers study for their teaching task. A vigorous effort is made in visitation to get as many people as possible to attend on Sunday. What happens in the church on Sunday—this is the climax!
On, no! This is not the climax! The climax is what happens in the world during the week! And yet, in our present church program all our effort is pointed toward trying to get as many as we can to come on Sunday. Don’t misunderstand, I am not minimizing what happens on Sunday. This is important, but it is not the climax. Let me illustrate. Here is a church where a thousand people attend services on Sunday. They attend Bible study and enjoy what the teachers have to say, and they listen carefully to what the preacher says in the worship service. It’s a good day, they feel. Then Monday comes and they go to their work simply to live their lives as good, decent, respectable people. They come back the following Sunday to repeat the same experience.
Nothing really happens. The world is not touched. On the other hand, consider another church that has only a hundred in attendance on Sunday. But these people are aware that God has called them to a ministry. They know that their ministry is in the world during the week. While in church they study, worship, and open their lives to an infilling by the Spirit of God. However, aware that their ministry is in the world during the week, their eyes are focused on the world. What is the ministry needed? How can they express this ministry? Where is the particular place where the ministry of each on is to be focused? What special plans need to be made? Because of this, what happens in church on Sunday is exceedingly important, but it is not the climax!
When the worship, study, planning, and equipping are completed, they go out to invade the world for God. In stores, shops, offices, factories, homes, farms, each expresses his ministry. Then the next Sunday they return to church. Some are excited because they have experience a degree of progress in their ministry. Others are bloody because they have been “clobbered” by the world. Wounds are bound up. Experiences are shared. Confession is made. Encouragement to try again is given, and new strength is sought from each other and from God. They study again, make more plans, worship and infilling is experienced, prayer is offered. And they go out again. The focus of their attention is always on the world! What happens in the world during the week—this is the climax!
Such being the case, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the work of our churches. At present we tend to evaluate the success of the church on the basis of how many attend on Sunday. Rather, we need to ask, “What did those who attended on Sunday do in the world during the week?” This is what really matters. True, it is not easy to evaluate, but this is where the eyes of the church must be focused.
We need to reevaluate the meetings of our churches. Are the meetings being held really equipping the laity for their ministry in the world? Apparently not, but if the present meetings are not really equipping people for their basic ministry, then we need to change what we are doing and start some that will equip them for their ministry.
What then is God’s basic call?
It is a call to mission. A mission that is redemptive in nature. This redemption is personal and social. It is a call to ministry. Each individual is to fulfill God’s mission through his own ministry. The call to be a part of God’s people and the call to ministry are one and the same.
What does it mean to be the People of God? I think it is a people who understands the divine mission which God is about in the world and who believe so deeply in God and what he is doing that they give their lives to join with him in accompanying this divine redemptive mission. And wonder of wonders—in doing this these people find life! Full and abundant life. A free gift from God.” [Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), 45-48.]

The Right Roles of "Clergy" and "Laity"

“He has called some to be “player-coaches” (to use Elton Trueblood’s term) to equip the laity for the ministry they are to fulfill. This equipping ministry is of unique importance. One is appointed to this ministry by the Holy Spirit, therefore it is to be taken with utmost seriousness.
This is a radical departure from the traditional understanding of the roles of the laity and the clergy. The laity had the idea that they were already committed to a “full-time” vocation in the secular world, thus they did not have time—at least much time—to do God’s work. Therefore they contributed money to “free” the clergy to have the time needed to fulfill God’s ministry. This view is rank heresy. If we follow this pattern, we may continue to do God’s work until the Lord comes again and never fulfill God’s purpose as it ought to be done.
At the present time many people are seeking new ways to prop up sagging organizations. We search for new gimmicks, new promotional schemes, new approaches to make the work of the church more effective. Undoubtedly we do need new approaches. But we will never be effective in doing the work of God until his people come to understand their call and commit themselves with joyful abandon to fulfilling that call. No organizational approach nor promotional scheme can take the place of this basic need! We have been relying upon the wrong people to do the work of the ministry. God has called his people to be his ministers. His people must understand, accept, become equipped for, and fulfill this call!” [Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), 43.]

The Nature of the Calling of "Clergy"

“Still another question needs to be asked. If the laity, the People of God, are the basic ministers, is there no such thing in the New Testament as the clergy? Yes, there is. What, then, is their task? This is a fundamental question both for the clergy and for the laity. Many times the clergy, not understanding their role, have let their ministry be determined by the places where the pressures were the greatest. As a result, they have been very unhappy and have found no fulfillment in the ministry. On the other hand, the laity, through lack of understanding, have placed responsibilities upon the clergy which tended to exploit them and did not permit the fulfillment of their call.
It would be a tremendously releasing experience both for the clergy and the laity if both came to understand the nature of the specific “calling” of the clergy. We find the answer to this question in Ephesians 4:11-12 . . . .” [Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), 42.]

The Primary Responsibility for God's Ministry in the World

“The priesthood of all believers also means that since every Christian is a priest, every Christian is also called to be a minister and has a ministry which must be performed under the judgment of God. This, in turn, means two things. First, the call to salvation and the call to the ministry is one and the same call. That is, when one is called by God to be a part of his people, he is also called into the ministry. Young people often struggle with the question as to whether or not they are “called into the ministry.” From one perspective, this is a completely irrelevant question. If a person has been called by God to be a Christian, then he has been called into the ministry.
Let us see how this relates to God’s basic call discussed earlier. God’s basic call is a call to mission. This mission is redemptive, and redemption is both personal and social. Every Christian is called to this mission. He fulfills his mission through this ministry. This is his ministry; he cannot evade it; he cannot avoid it; he cannot get someone else to fulfill it for him.
We now have the two answers to our fundamental question: What really does it mean to be the People of God? It is a people called to be a mission and called to a ministry. This is what God is about, and this is what he calls us to be about.
This leads us into the second important meaning growing out of God’s call to ministry. In the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and God’s call to ministry we find the key to understanding the plan which God ordained to accomplish his redemptive purpose in the world. Namely, he is calling a people to be the ministers through whom he may work his work of redemption in the world. Here is the key. This means that the primary responsibility for God’s ministry in the world is the responsibility of the laity and not the clergy.
The primary responsibility for doing God’s work in any given time place rests upon the shoulders of the congregation—the People of God—rather than upon the church staff. This is a revolutionary concept which the majority simply do not believe and certainly do not practice. Most church members feel that they fulfill their “work for God” when they contribute their money to pay the salary of the clergy, who thus are freed from other work and are able to do the work of God. There are, of course, those who have become aware that they have a responsibility in addition to the giving of money. They teach Sunday School, work with youth groups, visit, etc. But the basic attitude which persists is that the primary responsibility for doing God’s work rests upon the shoulders of the clergy.
A hypothetical illustration will prove my point. If, in a given church, attendance at Sunday school begins to decline, if attendance at worship services fall off, if the number of baptisms or church additions decrease significantly, if money for the budget fails to come in, one or two of the most influential members will quietly contact the presiding bishop about his next appointment for the church. Or in those churches that have congregational polity, the deacons will get together in a secret meeting. The topic for discussion will be, “Maybe we need to change pastors.” Why do the elders and the deacons feel that the problem focuses in the pastor Because, they say, “That’s his job. It’s what we called (or hired) him to do. If he can’t do it, let’s get a man who can.” Thus we see the basic attitude of the clergy revealed.
I am not trying to defend ministers. Sometimes churches do need to change pastors. But what I am saying is, here is a tragic misunderstanding concerning the nature of the ministry. In the situation mentioned above, what is needed is not so much a change in ministers but a fundamental change in the congregation. Actually, what happens for God in that place is primarily the responsibility of the laity, the People of God who have been called by God to be ministers in that place. If God’s work is not being done, then it is because his ministers, the laity, are failing to carry out their ministry!
What we all need to understand at this point is that this is not a devious plan which a group of scheming preachers worked up to try and trap the laity into doing work which preachers don’t want to do. Neither is it a malicious program planned in some denominational headquarters to tap a vast source of manpower. This is God’s design for the accomplishing of his redemptive mission in the world, and we have missed it! It is God’s plan, and we have been trying some other way. Regardless of what our theology may be theoretically, in actual fact and in practice we have been relying upon the wrong place as ministers of God.” [Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), 38-40.]

What does it mean to be the People of God?

“What really does it mean to be the People of God? They are people who believe, certainly. They are a people who are “good” in terms of personal morality, certainly. But these things do not constitute the heart of the matter. The uniqueness of God’s people is that they are called to mission. This is clearly understood. They have joyfully accepted this mission and have given their lives to its fulfillment.
This mission in which God is engaged is redemptive. It is both personal and social. The People of God believe that what God is seeking to do in the lives of people and in the world is what is desperately needed. They believe this so deeply and with such commitment that their lives are joyfully given to God as instruments in seeking to cause the will of God to be “done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the nature of their uniqueness. In living this way, in losing their lives for the gospel’s sake, they find that Jesus is absolutely correct—in their own lives they begin to find healing, wholeness, meaning, blessing, life in increasing abundance!
It seems to me [Edge] that the sin of Israel is being repeated today. So many church members have come to God for what they can get out of him. Too often they haven’t the slightest idea, or even the slightest concern, as to what it really means to be God’s people. If renewal is to take place in our churches, it must begin right at this point—there must be a fundamental change in persons! It is imperative that we become a people who understand who we are, who God is, what God is about in the world and what God is calling us to be about in the world. It is true we need some new programs and some new approaches in our churches, but the fundamental change is for a new people! The basic problem in the churches is spiritual, and this must be met before any real or significant change will take place in the world. Changing organizations or programs simply will not get the job done!” [Findley B. Edge, The Greening of the Church (Waco, TX: Word, 1971), 36-37.]