Archive for the ‘The Church’ Category


Review of Pagan Christianity?

   Posted by: Mark

In this book, Frank Viola examines the origins of common traditions and practices of modern Christian churches. He traces the development of nine general areas of tradition such as liturgy, clergy salaries, and ordination, and attempts to determine legitimacy of them based on the New Testament.

In his own words, Viola’s desire is to “remove a great deal of debris in order to make room for the Lord Jesus Christ to be the fully functioning head of His church.” While the majority of this book is devoted to explaining why he believes so many current practices are wrong, he does give occasional glimpses of what he calls the ideal “organic” church assembly. The use of scripture is sparse, but may be expected in a work like this, with the  overall focus on “what’s wrong” rather than “what’s right.”

After a brief introduction, the first of Viola’s targets is the church building. He attacks the common practice of referring to the local church building as the “house of God” or the “sanctuary of the Lord.” He argues that we err when we use such statements, since the New Testament clearly identifies the individual believer as the temple of God. It is true that we habitually reference the building itself when speaking of the “church,” which is not at all what Paul had in mind when he spoke of the “church (ekklesia).” It would do us well to correct this misuse of terms. One of the more valid arguments in this book occurs in this chapter and has to do with the incredible financial overhead that a church building introduces, and the resulting inability for an assembly to deliver “real services, like ministry, mission, and outreach to the world.”

Another target is the order of worship in modern churches. According to Viola, the idea of an order of service (liturgy) originated with the Catholic Church and is “based partly on the Judaic Temple service, partly on Greek mystery rituals of purification, vicarious sacrifice, and participation.” In what I believe is one of the most flawed logical conclusions in the book, Viola determines that if a Christian gathering has a predetermined order that includes singing, prayer, a sermon, the Lord’s Supper, and a benediction, it is based on this heinous Catholic concept of a liturgy and is therefore unbiblical.

Viola devotes seven more chapters to examining other general areas of tradition and practice. There are many footnotes and external references. At the end of each chapter, he closes with a few questions that relate to the chapter’s topic, as well as his responses. The main content of the book closes with a chapter on “Jesus, the Revolutionary,” and is followed by a few chapters that include questions and answers, a summary of each of the book’s chapters, and an extensive list of notable individuals from church history with one-line descriptions of each.

Overall, Viola raises some good questions about things such as the “altar call” (originating from the Methodists in the 1700’s), the concept of a recited “sinner’s prayer” (introduced by Moody in the late 1800’s and updated by Graham recently), and tithing as a command to Christians (“Never do you find first-century Christians tithing in the New Testament.”). He points out the prevalence of an observational mindset in churches as opposed to a participatory approach, and it would be beneficial for each of us to consider how we can “do” instead of just “watch.”

Perhaps my most significant concern with the book is the assumption that the New Testament provides a comprehensive pattern for the proper way to “do church,” and anything not explicitly identified should be not be a part of our practices. There is no attempt to establish the reasons this is a valid foundational premise. This is surely not true; the purpose of the New Testament is not ultimately to serve as a church manual. We can find some specific directives (do observe the ordinances, do not tolerate heresy), but we have latitude in most areas. For example, the New Testament doesn’t address a start time for gatherings, instruments to be used with singing, attire, and many other things.

I was also frustrated by Viola’s logic in many places. One example is this statement, in the chapter on the church building: “The use of chairs and pile carpets in Christian gatherings has no biblical support either. And both were invented by pagans.”

In summary, I believe Viola introduces some good questions and points out some valid errors in the church today. We do certainly err by placing too much value on extra-biblical traditions. But his approach is significantly lacking, both in logic and ultimate usefulness. And finally, if you’re going to attempt to dismember the modern church like this, you should include more than a single band-aid chapter for the resulting wounds.



Unbelievable responsibility

   Posted by: Mark

Yesterday I started listening to the first Holy Responsibility of Christian Fathers message in Art Azurdia‘s The Holy Responsibility Of The Christian Family series. My time was limited, and I only got about 20 minutes into the message, but that 20 minutes affected me more than imaginable. His text for all six messages in this part of the “Family” series is Ephesians 6:4. The two introductory questions with which he begins this specific subtopic for fathers are:

  1. Do you realize that in fathering a son or daughter, that God in his mysterious providence has given to you the ability to bring into existence a rational soul that will exist in all of eternity in Heaven or Hell? …Though sun, moon, and stars one day cease to shine, when we gaze upon that baby we are looking into the eyes of an everlasting spark that will never be put out. There is no power under God’s throne that could ever cause that soul to cease to exist.
  2. Do you realize that not only were you just the human source of the eternal soul of your child, but that even more serious, that because of you, that soul is stained by original sin and thus guilty before God?

He continues:

Here is the point. You as a father are directly responsible for the procreation of your children. Children who possess a soul that will endure for all eternity in Heaven or Hell. And secondly, you are the one directly responsible for setting its disposition in rebellion against God, rendering it guilty before God, you have passed your sin on to them, a sinful condition that will damn them to Hell apart from the intervening grace of God.

… You see, becoming a father is easy. It happens in a moment of passion. Being a father is something altogether different. It is nothing less than a taking up of a cross in a life of self-denial.

This promises to be a challenging and humbling series.


Incredible resources, now easier to find

   Posted by: Mark

Challies reported today that redesigned their MP3 library. And what a job they have done! The volume of resources here is astounding, and now locating them is even easier than before.

Do yourself a favor: bookmark this site, and make a habit of listening to these messages.


Seven Sayings: The Word of Suffering

   Posted by: Mark Tags:

In this fifth chapter of Pink’s book “The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross,” he addresses Jesus statement, recorded only in the book of John: “I thirst.”

As Tim Challies points out, this chapter shows the gift that Pink has for digging so much deeper than we often care to when we read our Bibles. From the two words “I thirst,” we can learn so much about Christ. Yes, this turns a bit of focus toward the true humanity of Christ, which is important to remember, but it also shows the full deity of Christ. John specifically states, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that Christ spoke these words “that the scripture might be fulfilled!” Amidst the turmoil of his betrayal, his pleading of the Father that this cup pass from him, the humility of the trial and scourging, the physical pain of the crucifixion, and worst of all, the three hours during which the Eternal Father poured out his unrestrained, holy wrath on him, he had enough self-control to review the prophecies that foretold of this moment, recognize the one that had not yet been fulfilled (Psalm 69:21), and speak the words “I thirst.”

Pink concludes the chapter with a profoundly humbling observation. He ties these words of Christ to Revelation 3:20, where Christ seeks the fellowship of his own: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me.

Salvation is not like standing in line, waiting anxiously for Christ to pass by and tap you on the head as he moves quickly along to provide salvation and blessing for others in line. Christ desires a continued, intimate fellowship and communion with his own! In Revelation he says “I will sup with him, and he with me.” This supping is symbolic of communion with someone. And not only will Christ sup with me, but I with him too — this is specifically and explicitly stated, showing a two-way communion!

This by no means addresses all that Pink pulls from these two words of the Savior. You would do well to take fifteen minutes from your day to read it yourself: The Word of Suffering

You can read Tim’s post here: Reading Classics Togther – The Seven Sayings (Chapter 5)


Seven Sayings: The Word of Forgiveness

   Posted by: Mark Tags:

I read this two weeks ago, on schedule with Tim Challies, but haven’t taken time to post my thoughts yet.

The first chapter in this book deals with Christ’s words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This was a chapter completely overflowing with wonder and encouragement.

Pink explains that, during the most horrific and evil act of all time, with the Son of God hanging on a cross erected by His own creatures, Christ’s first recorded words were those of prayer. And the prayer was not one of calling judgment down on wicked man, or a prayer requesting strength, or a prayer for the “friends” who had left him alone. It was a prayer of mercy and forgiveness for the sake of his murderers. Pink concludes that none are beyond the reach of prayer.

I was intrigued by the idea that Christ’s prayer was specifically and directly answered in Acts, during Peter’s preaching. Pink draws the link between “they know not what they do” and Peter’s statement in Acts 3:17 to his hearers who he said had “acted in ignorance.” And 3000 people were redeemed after Peter’s preaching, not from Peter’s eloquence, but because Christ Himself prayed for them. This is supported even more in John 17:20, where Christ states that He did not pray for the apostles alone, but for “those who will believe.” We, too, need to intercede in prayer for the enemies of God.

It was also noteworthy that sin is always sin to God, whether done willfully or in ignorance. Leviticus 5:15-16 addressed “sins of ignorance,” and shows that even these required blood sacrifice. Pink writes that “God is Holy, and He will not lower His standard of righteousness to the level of our ignorance.”

Another point Pink addresses is one that I had discussed briefly in a Sunday School class just the Sunday before reading the chapter. He deals with the matter of forgiveness, and when we are to forgive. I admit I am not settled in my mind yet as to how to properly divide this matter. Pink points out that Christ did not specifically forgive people here as he had done during his earthly ministry. Rather, he asks his Father to forgive them. Primarily this can be viewed that Christ, in hanging on the cross, was no longer in a position to forgive. (Matthew 9:6 says Christ has power on earth to forgive sins, and John 12:32 says on the cross he was “lifted up from the earth”; on the cross Christ was our substitute, and was no longer in the place of authority on the matter.) Building on the facts that Christ taught to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and that he told us to forgive our brother if he repents (Luke 17:3-4), Pink concludes that Scripture does not teach that we must always forgive in all circumstances. He is careful to point out that withholding forgiveness should not include harboring ill feelings or ill will, but we are not to treat the unrepentant brother as if he had not wronged us. Most certainly, however, we are to pray for him. Again, I am not fully settled in my mind on this, and it warrants further study.

Pink pulls so much out of this first saying of the Savior. Do yourself a favor and read the chapter for yourself: The Word of Forgiveness

You can read Tim’s post here: Reading Classics Together – The Seven Sayings (Chapter 1)


Seven Sayings: Introduction

   Posted by: Mark Tags:

A number of weeks ago, Tim Challies identified the third Reading Classics Together book that he would be reading: “The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross” by A. W. Pink. Tim will be posting comments on a new chapter each week until he completes the book, and invites anyone reading along to contribute their comments. Today was Tim’s first post on the book, and he addressed the introduction. It is not my intention to write full reviews or summaries of each chapter. Rather, I expect to point out a few things that impacted me from the readings.

This is the first book by Pink that I have read, and I can already tell that it will not be the last. He handles the Bible carefully, understanding that each word has genuine meaning, and he extracts thoughts that seem obvious in retrospect, but are often missed or ignored in casual or careless reading. This dedicated approach to understanding Scripture has already been an encouragement to me.

In the introduction to the book, Pink devotes significant space to pointing out evidences that Christ willingly gave his life as opposed to having it taken from him. Three of these seven distinct evidences are Christ’s words “I thirst,” Christ bowing his head and giving up the ghost, and the breaking of the legs of the two other crucified with him.

From John 19:28 (“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.'”) Pink asserts that Christ was in full control of himself on the cross, not powerless, exhausted, or otherwise reduced in mental capacity. As Pink explains, after Christ had hung on the cross for six hours, he reviewed in his mind the prophecies related to his passion and found one yet unfulfilled: Psalm 69:21, which says “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” So Jesus, recognizing that he had fulfilled everything to this point, said “I thirst.” This points to “our Lord’s complete self-possession” during the crucifixion, and supports the premise that his life was not being taken, but was being given.

The second of these seven evidences that struck me was based on John 19:30: “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Pink states that from this, we know that prior to this point, Christ’s head was held erect. “It was no impotent sufferer that hung there in a swoon.” Additionally, the scripture states that Christ “bowed” his head, indicating a conscious act, as opposed to a helpless, weak dropping of his head. Christ’s head did not fall, he bowed it, showing again his complete self-possession. “How sublime was his carriage even on the Tree! What superb composure did He evidence.”

Finally, in the breaking of the legs of the two thieves, we see a third evidence that Christ willingly gave his life. All three of these men had been on the cross for the same amount of time. Pink explains that crucifixion is a slow death, with victims often living for two or three days. Yet six hours after it began, with the two thieves still very much alive, Christ was dead. This is yet another proof that Christ’s life was given, not taken from him.

These three evidences help verify that Christ did indeed lay down his life, and support the point that Christ’s death was very different from any other death.

I’ve already started into the first chapter, and am anxious to post about it. But in keeping with Tim’s schedule, I will wait until next week.


The problems with religion

   Posted by: admin

Here is Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, addressing why he hates religion. Thanks to Erik Raymond for this link on his ever-excellent blog.


  • “If I obey, God will love me… Redemption says ‘God does love you. God has loved you in the life, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus. God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, still totally jacked up in every way, Christ died for us.'”
  • “Religion says the world is filled with two kinds of people: good people, bad people… Redemption teaches that there are two kinds of people: repentant and unrepentant, because all people are bad… If the world was an old western, we’d all have black hats…”
  • “Religion cares about your birth, redemption cares about your new birth.”
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Christianity as a political force

   Posted by: Mark

With the media ablaze with news about the primaries, I find myself wondering again how Christians should view this political process in America. Pat Abendroth has some great messages on the sovereignty of God, and it would do us good as Christians to meditate on this subject. Indeed, as Daniel prayed, God sets up and removes kings (e.g. Daniel 2), even in a “democratic republic,” regardless of our interpretation of “every vote counts.”

There is no doubt that America has been blessed by God. There is no doubt that she was founded by godly men. And there is no doubt that she has strayed far from her roots. But we tread a dangerous path if we begin to think that our purpose as Christians is to restore her to those roots, or make her a godly nation again. We have been given the supremely more important task of preaching the Gospel and discipling people from all nations.

This is a sensitive topic, I know. “Christian” and “patriotic” are synonymous in many circles. If you don’t bleed red, white, and blue, you’re probably not a Christian, or at least not a very good one. If you don’t froth at the mouth when someone burns a flag, you’ve cast off the faith. If you don’t shout “amen!” when someone quotes a Founding Father, you must be an infidel.

It would be easy to cling to the other extreme, too, and suggest that Christians should separate themselves from politics completely. This would also be dangerous and incorrect. My biggest struggle in this area is finding the proper balance between these two extremes. I love America. I love the concepts of bravery, freedom (and liberty), and honor. Few things excite me as much as seeing a pair of F15s screaming across the sky. Tears well up in my eyes when I hear the Star Spangled Banner. But my time here is so short in light of eternity, I would expect that the love and excitement I have for my eternal home should be greater than my love of America by the same degree as eternity is greater than this life and Christ’s righteousness is greater than my sin.

The blood of countless men and women has been poured out in our history for the protection of the freedoms we enjoy. But what arrogance we would display before a sovereign God to suggest that we created this country, that we protect this land, that we maintain our rights and freedoms.

God in his infinite mercy and grace has given us the greatest country in history. We would do well to remember that he is in control, not us. He put Bush in office, not us. He put Clinton in office, not the Left. And he will install the next president, not the Christian Right. Yes, pray and vote, but remember our ultimate and primary allegiance is to our homeland and its King.


The Name is central

   Posted by: Mark

Sometimes I choose a book because I want to learn more about a specific topic. And sometimes I choose a book because it addresses something I see lacking in my life, something for which I need a good boot. “Let the Nations Be Glad” by John Piper is one of the latter. I recognize a tremendous lacking in my own life regarding my personal role in the propagation of the Gospel, and know I need to address it. And the terrible thing is that I know I should not need to know the “why” in order to obey. So another reason I am reading this book is to try to learn the “how” part of being involved in missions, both personal and global.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t provide any sort of full review. But I can mention that I was captured after reading the first paragraph:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Now lest that induce cardiac arrest in the any of the crowd that insists our singular purpose on earth is to be soul-winners (as off-base as that may be), Piper continues with this: “Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory.”

Within the first few pages Piper explains that “the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.” And that leads to a realization that “God’s ultimate goal is to uphold and display the glory of his name.” God’s upholding of his own name is central and foundational to understanding the need for missions.

This is obviously a book that cannot be read without deeply affecting the reader. I know already that it is one I should read annually. I have many more quotes to share, but will save them for later posts.


The dangers of moralism

   Posted by: Mark

Thanks to Eric Raymond for linking to this on his site.

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