Why We Join a Church? A Point from Mark Dever

What is the benefit of joining a local congregation? Why bother? We know that joining a church does not save us; it was Jesus – not the local church – who died to redeem sinners! Is it not our first priority to become followers of Christ and plead with others to seek him as well? Of course it is! But after we trust in Jesus for our salvation, what next? How do we live out the Christian life? What is the role of other believers in our lives?

So, if you a are not a confessing Christian, you should NOT seek to join a church, but look into what it means to be a Christian. In fact, what we point out below will not make sense to you if you have not already trusted in Christ.

One of the key reasons, not the only or necessarily the primary, to join a church is the edification or the building up of other believers and ourselves. Listen to what Mark Dever has to say in 9 Marks of a Healthy Church:

Joining a church will help counter our wrong individualism and will help us to realize the corporate nature of Christianity. . . . Church membership is our opportunity to grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastors and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We allow fellow believers to have greater expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of the local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve and encourage us as well.

God did not call us to a journey of Lone Ranger Christianity, but a life filled with love and responsibility toward others. To go solo is to be selfish! To go solo is be self destructive! To go solo is to walk alone in life when God has ordained his children to walk together.

Mark Dever asks, “What about you? Do you love the people of God? Do you not merely feel well-disposed toward them but actually, actively give to them? Do you use your hands for them? Your money? Your lips?”

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Writing is hard work.

I am the least of these when it comes to writing. I know grammar rules and have dabbled in the metrics of style, but the actual craft of writing, I am a novice.

Perhaps, the reason for my deficiency is given in the article below: not enough time to rewrite. What you normally get on my site here is a first draft with a hint of revision but no real attempt at a rewrite. Writing is hard work, and a wordsmith normally gets what she puts into her craft.

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right. —Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

“I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1966

“I don’t write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn’t work, or what simply is not alive.” —Susan Sontag

For you writers out there – how do you go about your craft?

Read the full article here.

HT: Trevin Wax

Martin Luther and Tim Keller on Idolatry

We are reading G.K. Beale’s new book on idolatry as a church staff, and I am leading a Thursday morning group with Tim Keller’s, Counterfeit Gods; so I have this on my mind. Here are some thoughts from my reading thus far.

In his The Large Catechism, Martin Luther teaches on the Ten Commandments where he answers the question, “What is God?” This is his answer:

A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and and idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.

Luther’s point is well taken! Idolatry is not so obvious – at least to the idolater. It is subtle – especially, when it is disguised in the heart and not manifested in the physical worship of an object. Tim Keller talks about this in Counterfeit Gods where he points to the idol worship of the west – in the form of money, sex, and power.

An element of Keller’s thesis is rooted in Alexis de Tocqueville’s critique of America (as Keller points out). When the latter toured the United States in the 1830s, he recognized a “strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants . . . in the midst of abundance.” Alexis de Tocqueville observed that Americans believed that prosperity could satisfy their yearning for happiness, but he knew that “the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy [the human] heart.” Perhaps, “the strange melancholy manifests in many ways,” Keller remarks, but it “always lead to despair of not finding what is sought.”

When we take the “incomplete joy of this world” and build our lives around it, it will inevitably lead to despair – because those things never satisfy. When we do that – that is, place our hope in creation and look for ultimate satisfaction in it, that becomes idolatry; whatever form “that” is in our lives!  Luther’s point is true – “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.” It can manifest itself in money, health, family, and even church. Anythings other than Christ is but a shadow. All things in this world – viewed properly – should point us to our ultimate satisfaction: God!

So, to what do our heart cling? Where is our hope? Something to ponder.

Wolfhart Pannenberg in 2013

When I was in seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, I took a seminar class on Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) from an outstanding American, religious historian, Douglas Sweeney. I was so enamored with Edwards that I imagined that I would choose him as the focus of my academic pursuits. However, the following semester, I took a class on John Calvin, where I thought I would study the reformer. And then, I took a class on C.S. Lewis and so on and so on…. I have since moved my concentration to the study of the early church, and more specifically, to Augustine (believe it or not that is where I landed over a decade ago). I admit it – I am a dabbler; I am interested in so many things that I get overwhelmed at how much there is to learn and what little time I have.

So, in order to study different people (and not always be stuck on Augustine) , I started a regimen a few years back – to pick a theologian of interest and read her/him for the year. Now, I read others throughout the year, but I read the “chosen one”:o) four or five times a week, thinking carefully about the structure of his thought. This has enabled me to read other books with a bit more discernment (more on that in another entry).

This year, I am going to dive into Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology (3 volumes). Pannenberg taught at the University of Munich for many years before his retirement. He is not an evangelical theologian, but his influence cannot be overlooked. For example, Millard Erickson, an outstanding Baptist theologian, is heavily indebted to Pannenberg.

In the post Karl Barth era, I cannot think of a more influential scholar to come out of Germany. Professor Pannenberg is a rare breed, for he is well versed in philosophy, both ancient and modern; and he is incredibly learned in the history of Christian thought. These qualities make for a lethal theologian (think Herman Bavinck). Also, I think I picked Pannenberg because I didn’t really want to get started on Barth’s, Church Dogmatics.

I will post some interesting tid bits as I plow through this German giant!

Les Misérables, A Midnight in Paris, and Human Longing

My wife and I, along with some friends, caught Les Misérables at the theater last week, and it delivered, to say the least. At first, I was a little apprehensive about the movie, because I was not sure if it could pack a punch like its musical counterpart. It did, and some parts were even more powerful than the musical version – in particular,  Marius’, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” My wife, Lauri, went on and on about the impact of that song on the big screen.

What I have always loved about Les Misérables is the force with which it drives home the sense of longing in all of us. There is hope for a better place, where “every man will be a king,” – a place where dreams come true for people like Fantine, Cosette, Valjean, et al. And, I think the emotional, heartfelt response from the viewers testify that the audience at large resonates with the sentiment.

I felt the same thing after watching Woody Allen’s, A Midnight in Paris. The main character, who is a 21st-century writer, travels to Paris and is nostalgic about Parisian life in the 1920s. In his mind, rubbing shoulders with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Eliot would have been the apex of any writer’s life.

Allen’s portrayal of longing in the human soul is true. We all long for something better – whatever we think that is. People are never fully satisfied. We always want more or something different. There is a sense that nothing can and will satisfy the human soul. However, C. S. Lewis points out, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

I think Lewis is spot on. All of the created order points us to the object of our longing; they are not the desired thing itself. Creation points us to its maker, and He alone can satisfy the human soul. Augustine said it best, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” For Christians, this is the goal of our journey – to see God face to face and be in his presence. That will be fully realized in the New Heavens and the New Earth – when God makes all things right. John the Revelator tells of the heavenly city coming down in the shape of a cube, symbolizing the presence of God as reflected in the inner sanctum of the temple (Holy of Holies was a cube). In the resurrection, God presence will be fully realized and all of our longings will be satisfied.

On that day, the dream Fantine dreamed will become reality, little girls like Cosette will never be victimized ever gain, and rich young boys will no longer wish for a new king; the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the slain Lamb, will be in on the throne – in his rightful place.