A note to those who reject organized religion

“I believe in God, but not in organized religion.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that statement. And in a way, I can’t blame the people who say it.

If, by “religion,” you mean a cold list of duties and ceremonies, I completely agree. This kind of religion is despicable. In fact, Jesus reserved His strongest words for the outwardly “religious” people of His day: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). These religious leaders knew how to act and talk and worship a certain way, but their hearts were proud and self-righteous. They didn’t love God. And needless to say, their good works didn’t impress Him either.

However, if by “religion,” you mean a system of beliefs, then the fact is, everyone has a religion. Everyone believes something about God; why we are here; how we determine right from wrong; what happens when we die, etc. In this sense, organized religion is simply gathering together with others who hold certain beliefs in common.

Has church left a bad taste in your mouth? Perhaps you’ve seen all the conflict and scandal over the years and concluded, “organized religion is a sham.” As a pastor, I’ll be the first to admit that churches are full of sinful people (starting with me!). But the surprising thing is, God still wants us to gather and worship Him. In fact, He sent His only Son to die for our sin and to scrub us clean.

Ephesians 5:26-27 says “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” This is still a work in progress, but Christ is slowly transforming us more and more into His perfect image (Eph. 4:12-13).

Organized religion gets a lot of well-deserved criticism today, but don’t let that cause you to write the church off. The church is still the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25), The Family of God (Eph. 1:5), and the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). Despite her flaws, she is precious to God. And what is precious to God should become more precious to us.

Where are all the men?

Look around you on an average Sunday morning. You’ll probably notice a disproportionate number of women. Who is singing in the choir? Who is helping in the children’s ministry? Who is stepping onto the mission field? More often than not, it’s the women. To be sure, I praise the Lord for these women, but men, where are you?? Even as I think of counseling issues and spiritual lethargy in homes, most problems stem from a lack of male leadership.

Gender Blog reports today on the urgent need for male leadership in our homes and churches…

While the influence of evangelical feminism is harmful, John Piper helpfully points out that there is an even greater danger lurking in most evangelical churches and homes – men abdicating their responsibility to lead.

If I were to put my finger on one devastating sin today, it would not be the so-called women’s movement, but the lack of spiritual leadership by men at home and in the church. Satan has achieved an amazing tactical victory by disseminating the notion that the summons for male leadership is born of pride and fallenness, when in fact pride is precisely what prevents spiritual leadership. The spiritual aimlessness and weakness and lethargy and loss of nerve among men is the major issue, not the upsurge of interest in women’s ministries.

Pride and self-pity and fear and laziness and confusion are luring many men into self-protecting, self-exalting cocoons of silence. And to the degree that this makes room for women to take more leadership it is sometimes even endorsed as a virtue. But I believe that deep down the men – and the women – know better.

Where are the men with a moral vision for their families, a zeal for the house of the Lord, a magnificent commitment to the advancement of the kingdom, an articulate dream for the mission of the church and a tenderhearted tenacity to make it real?

When the Lord visits us from on high and creates a mighty army of deeply spiritual men committed to the Word of God and global mission, the vast majority of women will rejoice over the leadership of these men and enter into a joyful partnership that upholds and honors the beautiful Biblical pattern of mature manhood and mature womanhood.

[Excerpted from What’s the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible, 68-69]

Men, will you, by God’s grace, step up with this kind of vision, zeal, and commitment for the kingdom of God? Will you start tonight in your own home?

Men, will you rise to the challenge? A good place to begin is to come broken before the Lord in prayer, and to lead your family to church this Sunday.

Many sides to health care debate

Here’s an article by Fox News I found helpful in understanding the different sides of the national health care debate. It will be quite a challenge to find any true bipartisanship among such opposing views:

Liberals — They insist that a government-run health insurance plan, or “public option,” that will compete with private insurers is essential to health care reform.

Blue Dogs — These fiscally conservative Democrats are concerned about the costs of overhauling the health care system and the potential harm it could have on small businesses.

Gang of Six — This group of bipartisan lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee is trying to forge a consensus deal that will appease both political parties and pass a divided Senate.

Conservatives — All of them are opposed to a “public option,” saying it will lead to a government takeover of health care because private insurers will be unable to compete.

Health care industry leaders: They want health care reform, because if the government requires everyone to get coverage, it could provide them a jackpot. (Only on this last point do I see a serious oversight. Not all health care industry leaders support Obama’s plan. In fact, some reports indicate that a majority of doctors oppose it.)

We all want to see people treated with dignity and receive good medical care, but it’s difficult to know precisely what role the government should play in all of this. Personally, I lean toward a much more laissez-faire “hands off” approach. History has proven that the free market works much better than any bureaucracy trying to micro-manage the system.

I believe a key problem making medical care so expensive and now inaccessible to 50 million Americans is medical malpractice insurance. Due to our litigious, rights-demanding culture, malpractice cases have soared and are driving up the medical costs that patients face today. David Wells shares this startling statistic: “Over the last three or four decades the number of personal rights has exploded…As the sense of responsibility for personal behavior has shrunk, the need for litigation has increased. America has more lawyers than the rest of the world combined.” The Courage to Be Protestant, p. 159). The key to true health care reform may lie more in the courthouse than in the Senate chamber.

May God give our leaders great wisdom in this health care debate, and may He give us grace to submit to whatever decision they make.

Mohler on the future of the SBC

Al Mohler held a forum this morning at Southern Seminary on the “Future of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Mohler observed that the world has changed dramatically in the last 60 years, and that the SBC is at a crossroads. If we continue to embrace a corporate mentality, the SBC will quickly become extinct. But if we return to a more biblical model of doing church, our brightest days may lie ahead. The Great Commission Task Force has been given a unique opportunity to talk about denominational structure and efficiency, but this conversation must be founded upon a strong theology and unflagging commitment to the Great Commission.

Here are my full notes from his message:

The President’s Forum on the Future of the SBC
Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary
August 19, 2009

What does it mean to be a Southern Baptist in the 21st century?
First, an expression of gratitude to all those who have been faithful over the years, and to all those who have been giving, praying, going, sending
John 9:4 says “work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day” – a very urgent warning about time. Asking about the SBC is an urgent and strategic question about the gospel and the Great Commission. Yet many feel an urgency that we should be doing more. The issue is faithfulness.

Some Historic perspective
1845 – founders in Augusta established a mission statement for the “eliciting, combining, and directing of energies toward the propagation of the Gospel.” Missions was the reason for the SBC.
Home Mission Board was originally designed to reach the frontier. America did not exist the way it does now.
Late 1800s – began to meet annually; SBC begins to broaden; seminaries established
1914-1919 – Great shift of logic in SBC; a new word entered our vocabulary: “efficiency.” Efficiency experts rose in America – time, systems, organizational management. An infusion of a business culture entered into the life of our denomination. It is helpful and relevant, but has limited application in spiritual matters.
1925 – Executive Committee was established. Necessity for an ongoing, coordinating entity. Also year Cooperative Program was established.
1926-27 – Executive Committee was given enormous expansion of powers.
1950s – Formation of Committee to Study the Total Church Program, chaired by Douglas Branch. Goal: to recommend a massive restructuring. Used the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm. Again, “efficiency” was the main concern. Some of the recommendations: an office building in Nashville (headquarters); inter agency council; program assignments to entities. What would be our mission? “To bring men closer to God through Jesus Christ.”
1995 – Program and Structure Committee – reduced entities from 19 to 12. Mission “SBC exists to facilitate, extend, and enlarge, Great Commission ministries of local churches.” Sounds less bureaucratic, more richly theological, and urgently evangelistic.
2009 – A Great Commission Task Force was assigned to bring recommendations of how churches may be more effective in the Great Commission.

Consider 1945. By this time, the SBC had developed a programmatic identity. The basic ethos/energy was programmatic unity (you’re SBC because you do certain things, have certain features, uses certain literature, etc.). It was assumed you hold to certian doctrines. A corporate management mentality. This came out of a social context. Post war, the SBC became something like a Catholic Church of the South. A cradle-to-grave approach to Southern Baptist identity (starting with “pre-cradle roll”). Sunday was at least a four-fold activity. Youth choirs. Missions organizations. Offering envelopes with check boxes. College and Universities had Baptist Student Union. Families had Camps, Brotherhood, WMU. Retirement Centers even established. The planning concept: “The key church (or model church).” Had all organizations. Reported in Annual Church Profile. Resulted with great solidarity, denominational identity, incredible intactness/tightness in SBC identity. Any use of resources “outside the program” (using different curriculum, attending a non-SBC conference center) were immediately suspect. There was enormous spiritual security in all this. There was a tribal, cultural identity. An enormous brand loyalty. But now the world has changed on us, and the world that produced that identity is long gone.

The SBC today – Two Analogies

  • The SBC as General Motors – William Durant developed GM as a cradle-to-grave employer. Everyone became ‘inside.’ You never have to leave the corporation. Small distinctions, but many similarities. Centralized headquarters with centralized “offerings.” Dealders were distributed throughout the country. GM overtook Ford because of its aggressiveness, and led in auto sales for 77 years. Managerial dynamic, the envy of every other company. But now, has transformed into a new corporation owned by US taxpayers and pension stock. Lost market share and is the second largest bankruptcy in human history. It fit the 50s and 60s really well, but doesn’t fit any more. Are we trapped in the same organizational logic?
  • The SBC as Shopping Mall – this was made possible by the automobile. First built in 1950. A complete reversal of downtown logic, with pedestrians walking down the street, entering storefronts. Significant advantage: enclosed space, protected from the elements. Anchor tenants attract shoppers. The logic is that you’re “going to the mall.” The action and identity is inside. By 2008, 1175 enclosed mall in the US. Displaced almost all other retail context, rivaled only by “big box stores.” #1 item sold is women’s clothing. But not one enclosed mall has opened in America since 2006. Retail logic has collapsed – lifestyle centers. Retailers now want their name out front. The identity is now primarily the “store” rather than the shopping “center.” The SBC is a huge “mall.” Two anchor stores: IMB and NAMB. Inside the mall are many other things going on. The loyalty is to this huge “thing” that is only explicable from the inside.

There were certain gains from these models, resulting in many people getting to the mission field, but the question we need to ask is, “What is changed, and why have we not?” and “Has the logic of this particular organizational pattern been eclipsed by something else?” Does it seem like an age gone by?

The SBC now faces several questions.
We must choose one direction or another.

  • Are we going to be missiological or bureaucratic? Only missiological fits the Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we will find ourselves out of touch with churches and the world we’re trying to reach. The logic of bureaucracy will never take us where we need to go.
  • Is our identity tribal or theological? We’ve had many shared theological convictions. SBC tribal identity is no longer the norm. A theological identity will lead to missiological.
  • Is the basis of our cooperation convictional or confused? We must “grow up” theologically. Must distinguish first order issues. A clash of worlviews now occurs very early in life.
  • Is our logic going to be more secular or more sectarian? Will we stand out from the culture around us? The SBC did not once need to be sectarian in the South, but that has changed, and we need to reach areas outside the Sun Belt. The church of the Lord Jesus is in a sense always sectarian, comprised of reside aliens never fully at home in the culture.
  • Are we going to become younger or dead? We’re losing at least 2/3 of our young people between adolescence and adulthood. This is a generation that has reduced religion to “moralistic therepeutic deism.” We need a level of evangelism and discipleship beyond what the SBC has traditionally seen. The SBC birth rate has shrunk.
  • Are we going to be more diverse or diminished? Becoming more diverse will require a lot of strategy and uncomfortability. This means we won’t be singing out of the same hymnbook. By the year 2050, 25% of all Americans will have a Hispanic grandparent.
  • Will we become missional or missiological? We can no longer be merely methodological. The church is found faithful when found missional.
  • Will we be more strategic or anemic? Local churches must be a missiological think tank for our community. More intentioned.
  • Will we be more bold or more boring? This generation will not be satisfied with boring (same thing, same way, no surprises). The NT Gospel is bold. We’re going to have to take risk, which is uncomfortable, especially for a denomination already struggling. Need bold leadership. The comfort zone will lead only to death.
  • Are we going to be happy or bitter? The SBC has a reputation for denominational crankiness, even in our annual meetings. Don’t be cranky for the wrong things. We’re going to have to say hard things that appear unloving, intolerant. We cannot afford to waste the opportunity to reach our neighbors by being cranky over extraneous things. There needs to be a love and commonality. There should be evident joy among God’s people.

Two problems with the Cooperative Program.
The SBC has both perception problems and reality problems. Only a small portion of CP giving actually makes it to missions.

  • Our greatest goal is not merely to cooperate. Any entity can do this. The whole purpose is reaching the nations. Are we going to be relevant in the modern world.
  • We cannot simply tell churches in a new age what they must do and how they must live. We must earn their trust. We are partners of the churches. They must be liberated to give as they will, or they will not give at all.

Concluding thoughts

  • We are still too North American centric.
  • We need to return to the primacy of the early church. Where are churches urgently, passionately understanding the mission of God. Our identity is not in the “giving.” The giving must be at the end, not the beginning.
  • We first need a theological rationale. Corporate logic comes at the very end. The SBC is at one of those very interesting moments – primarily made up of “PC guys.” The “Apple guy”. They don’t use the same logic. We cannot be seen as backward and cranky, committed to the wrong cultural identity. We need to be missional. Our mission must be to gather to work with other Christians to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot gauge church health by raw numbers on a profile. The question is “does this church have what the NT church has”?

The SBC is at a great crossroads. Discussion of structure cannot come first. Our ethos/mission comes first. Structures must remain open and flexible for the rest of our lives.

Let’s not be caught in the dark, realizing we missed a great opportunity while it was still day.

Update: here is the audio from the forum:

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Free copy of Finally Alive

Logos is giving away John Piper’s book Finally Alive in Libronix format for FREE.

As we were thinking of ways to promote the John Piper issue, we discussed giving away a free download of Finally Alive for Logos Bible Software to everyone who subscribed this month. The more we thought about the book and John Piper’s commitment to make as many of his resources available for free as possible, we decided to give it away to everyone, not just to those who subscribe. This book is a brand new addition to the Logos format, and you get to be one of the first to receive it! Be sure to download it now, because this offer will expire September 14, 2009.

While we hope that you enjoy this free book and the above copy of John Piper’s cover story, we also hope that you will subscribe to Bible Study Magazine and receive an entire year’s worth of great Bible study articles and resources.

Click here to download the book in Libronix format.

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