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Few aspects of local church ministry are as challenging or necessary as bridging the timeless truths of the gospel to the historically contingent, ever-changing context of the surrounding culture. Enthusiasm for proper contextualization is to be commended. The Word of God must be made intelligible in order for it to edify (1 Cor. 9:19–23; 14:22–25).

The video-venue model of ministry—showing a live feed or recorded sermon on screens rather than having an in-person pastor preaching on stage—is an example of a popular method of ministry contextualization that, despite its efficiencies, is problematic.

I’m not talking about videotaping a live sermon and making it available on a website for those unable to attend church on Sunday. I’m talking about ministries where a sermon-on-the-screen, delivered to a satellite campus by a remote feed, has become normative for the Sunday morning service.

Lessons From Paul’s Ministry

At least three non-negotiable aspects of Paul’s ministry render a video-venue approach problematic in the teaching ministry of a church.

1. Relational Orientation

Consider, first, the relational orientation of Paul’s ministry. He planted the church in Thessalonica during his second journey (Acts 17). A short time after he had departed, he reminded the Thessalonians, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). The Thessalonians came to “know” Paul’s motivation for ministry (vv. 5–7) and were “witnesses” to the apostle’s “holy and righteous and blameless” conduct (v. 10).

Paul was known by those he taught. His ministry in Ephesus was characterized by the same relational intimacy between the teacher and the hearers of the Word. As with the Thessalonians, Paul confidently reminds the Ephesian elders of the relational integrity of his ministry: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia” (Acts 20:18). Luke emphasizes the depth of Paul’s relationships with the Ephesians later in the narrative, as he is about to depart for the last time: “There was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again” (20:37–38).

Paul apparently felt strongly about sharing close personal relationships with those he taught. Contrast this with the video-venue pastor, or any pastor of an overly large church, who teaches the Bible each week to individuals with whom he has no personal relationship.

By its nature, the sermon-on-a-screen approach dangerously isolates the cognitive from the relational aspects of our faith. Shepherds in the New Testament world did not bring in a food truck to feed their sheep. They fed the flock themselves.

For Paul and the early Christians, the cognitive and relational aspects of Christian leadership were inseparable. This, in turn, gave him and his co-workers the moral authority to challenge their converts to imitate their behavior.

2. Imitation

The imitation theme was a central component of Paul’s ministry (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9). Paul’s converts were able to imitate him only because they knew him well. And apparently this was standard fare for early Christian leaders; the author of Hebrews similarly exhorts: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (13:7).

The ability to imitate a church leader assumes you are familiar with that leader’s life. I can only imitate someone I know. But this kind of relational intimacy is hard to cultivate in video-venue settings or overly large churches where leaders are inaccessible.

3. Reproduction of Leaders

The importance of reproducing leaders also raises questions for a remote preaching ministry. A key qualification for elders in the New Testament church was the ability to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). There were a plurality of elders in the early Christian congregations and, from what we can tell, they shared the teaching of the Word (e.g., Acts 13:1). This dynamic likely provided a key avenue for raising up new pastors.

When a single individual teaches 5,000 to 10,000 people Sunday after Sunday, where do the other pastor-elders in the church learn to exercise this crucial aspect of ministry? Megachurches do a good job of raising up efficient ministry managers. But are we successfully developing the next generation of Bible-teaching shepherds?

Christ’s Relational Ministry

Paul wasn’t the only example of New Testament ministry that prioritized a relational orientation. Jesus himself modeled it. The apostle John tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus of Nazareth came to us as a person—not as a set of pixels on a screen.

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Marvin OlaskyVOICES Marvin Olasky

Beyond politics

Evaluating accusations of sexual misconduct

The past two days have brought more Roy Moore accusers, but the big news is the new front in the sexual predator wars: Washington, with accusations against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that contain photographic evidence. This development shows how the current cultural moment can be a positive one for a Biblical sexual ethic—if we don’t let short-term considerations overwhelm our theology.

Two thousand years ago the New Testament displayed a pro-woman outlook. In opposition to Rome’s condescension to women as property, the Gospels and the Book of Acts show them, like men, as made in God’s image and worthy of respect. Women followed Jesus, witnessed the empty tomb, and were central in the formation of early churches. The Apostle Paul told men to love and defend their wives and not treat them as sexual playthings or kitchen help who could be dismissed for burning dinner.

Over the past week the spotlight on sexual predators moved from Hollywood and New York to Alabama, but that’s a temporary stopping point on the road to Washington. I’ve only spent a not-so-grand total of about three years in D.C., but even I have heard of the sexual harassment and more that young women face there. It’s important for evangelicals not to defend un-Biblical treatment of women but to expose and reduce it.

We can’t do that if in every instance we calculate whether it will work to our immediate political detriment. Feminists such as Gloria Steinem did that regarding President Bill Clinton in 1998. She acknowledged in a New York Times column on March 22, 1998, that “President Clinton may be a candidate for sex addiction therapy. But feminists will still have been right to resist pressure by the right wing and the media to call for his resignation or impeachment.”

Steinem said the Monica Lewinsky affair really did not count, despite Lewinsky’s age and the power differential, because she welcomed the attention. Regarding Clinton’s attack on Kathleen Willey, Steinem said he “made a gross, dumb and reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took ‘no’ for an answer.”

Steinem concluded by saying it didn’t even matter that Clinton lied under oath, because “we have a responsibility to make it O.K. for politicians to tell the truth—providing they are respectful of ‘no means no; yes means yes’—and still be able to enter high office, including the Presidency. Until then, we will disqualify energy and talent the country needs.”

Liberal social critic Caitlin Flanagan wrote earlier this week in The Atlantic that “The Democratic Party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected Bill Clinton. The party needs to come to terms with the fact that it was so enraptured by their brilliant, Big Dog president and his stunning string of progressive accomplishments that it abandoned some of its central principles.”

And that returns us to a central question concerning U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore: We still don’t know whether he did what he’s accused of, but some WORLD members have told me that if he made passes at young women and tried to get physical with some but gave up when they pushed him away, so what? In other words—and keeping in mind differences between the accusations against Moore and those against Clinton—some conservative evangelicals are now acting toward Moore as feminists acted toward Bill Clinton.

Again, I have no problem with those who thoughtfully consider all the evidence. My concern is with those who say the evidence doesn’t matter because Republicans MUST win this election.

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By    •   November 28, 2013   

bgtg

The next footsteps in the corridor, he knew, might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution. His only bed was the hard, cold stone floor of the dank, cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and legs.

Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated—if ever a person had a right to complain, it was this man, languishing almost forgotten in a harsh Roman prison. But instead of complaints, his lips rang with words of praise and thanksgiving!

The man was the Apostle Paul—a man who had learned the meaning of true thanksgiving, even in the midst of great adversity. Earlier, when he had been imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20, NIV).

Think of it: Always giving thanks for everything—no matter the circumstances! Thanksgiving for the Apostle Paul was not a once-a-year celebration, but a daily reality that changed his life and made him a joyful person in every situation.

Thanksgiving—the giving of thanks—to God for all His blessings should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ. We must not allow a spirit of ingratitude to harden our heart and chill our relationship with God and with others.

Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.

In the ancient world, leprosy was a terrible disease. It hopelessly disfigured those who had it, and it permanently cut them off from normal society. Without exception, every leper yearned for one thing: To be healed.

One day 10 lepers approached Jesus outside a village, loudly pleading with Him to heal them. In an instant He restored them all to perfect health—but only one came back and thanked Him. All the rest left without a word of thanks, their minds preoccupied only with themselves, gripped with a spirit of ingratitude.

Today, too, ingratitude and thanklessness are far too common.

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Jon Walker in his book, In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work:  Life Together writes in chapter 27 about the ministry of proclaiming. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote…

We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction. We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity.  

Walker writes that The Big Idea is…

Because we are connected to Christ, we carry the responsibility in our fellowship of believers to speak the Word to one another. We are a witness of the Holy Spirit’s counsel, of the mind of Christ, and of the wisdom of God, and Jesus speaks through us in order to keep each other headed in the right direction. 

Walker added:

By speaking the Word to one another, we keep Christ in our conversations. This is not the kind of proclaiming meant for the pulpit and, when we attempt it that way, we come off as “preachy.” Rather, it is speaking to others on behalf of  the Word, where Bonhoeffer notes we give “the whole consolation of God, the admonition, the kindness and the severity of God.” 

When we speak the Word to one another, Bonhoeffer isn’t referring to the sort of superficial, often mindless, verse-dropping we do when we slip into the language of Christian-ese. We come to our brother or sister submitted to the word, not only saying what Jesus tells us to say, but also reflecting our obedience to Christ in our own behavior. As the apostle Paul says, we come representing Christ, as if “God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead ‘Come back to God!'” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT).

This means we come actively listening…

This means we come in an attitude of humble helpfulness, willing to invest in the life of the one we confront…

…To be like Jesus…When we speak the Word to others, we are serving one another… 

(Jon WalkerIn Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work: Life Together, Chapter 27)

by Wesley Hill in First Things On the Square

 

Krister Stendahl

Krister Stendahl’s classic 1963 essay, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” makes the case that Augustine and the Western (Protestant) Christian tradition, preoccupied as they were and are with personal human guilt, present us with a drastic misreading of Paul. Unlike his fourth-century reader who poured out confessions of sin and misery to God, Paul was relatively untroubled by a sense of personal failure. According to Stendahl, himself an ordained Lutheran clergyman, Paul was very different from Augustine and Luther insofar as Paul possessed a “robust conscience.”

When Paul looked back over his life prior to his conversion to faith in Jesus, Stendahl argued, he considered himself a successful keeper of the Jewish law. Where Augustine and Luther narrated their respective conversions as a transition from oppressive feelings of condemnation to the relief of forgiveness and justification, Paul presents a very different picture: “as to righteousness, under the law [I was] blameless” before I became a Christian, he says (Phil. 3:6).

In drawing this distinction between Paul and Augustine, Stendahl is not simply interested in making a point about the distant past. He suggests, rather, that Paul’s freedom from feelings of guilt may have something to teach us about our contemporary Christian experience. Paul’s witness may enable us to break free from an oppressive Augustinian preoccupation with human unworthiness. “Did Paul think the only way to become a good Christian was out of frustration and guilt?” Stendahl asks (in the book in which the “Introspective Conscience” essay was eventually collected). No, he answers. “It may be that the axis of sin and guilt is not the only axis on which Christianity revolves.”

Another Lutheran clergyman—the theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffermay offer the best rebuttal to Stendahl’s view of Paul. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer worries that some versions of Christian apologetics and evangelism elide the distinction between sin and feeling guilty. As theologian Ian McFarland put it in his excellent book In Adam’s Fall:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was highly critical of those styles of evangelistic preaching that seek first to persuade people how wretched and miserable they are and only then introduce Jesus Christ as the cure for their condition. He called it ‘religious blackmail’ and thought it both ignoble and completely inconsistent with Jesus’ own preaching. . . . Bonhoeffer objected that such preaching confused sin with personal weakness or guilt.

Better, Bonhoeffer argued, to present the total claim of Jesus Christ on a person’s whole life, rather than attempting to root out—in the fashion of muckraking journalism—a person’s hidden insecurities as a prelude to introducing them to Jesus’ forgiveness. At first glance, this makes it sound as though Bonhoeffer were agreeing with Stendahl that we have to break free of the old notions of personal sin and guilt if we’re to preach Christ in the changed landscape of modernity. But a closer read suggests there’s a deeper logic at work here.

Bonhoeffer suggests, contra Stendahl, that if we’re really to preach about the sin of humanity, we have to avoid yoking that preaching too closely to the feelings of guilt that may or may not be a feature of our hearers’ experience. Regardless of what a person may feel, Bonhoeffer implies, the gospel truly addresses them and lays claim to their lives. The truths of sin and redemption aren’t dependent on the rising and falling of human emotional states. And to dismantle a faulty view of the importance of those emotional states isn’t equivalent to a wholesale revision of Christian teaching on sin and redemption.

There’s an important lesson here…

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