Archive for August, 2009

What Is Fair Game and What Is Not?

There are things to love about how the world is shrinking and other things that are less lovely. We can be involved in ministries that are on the other side of the globe without months of travel and absence from our own place of service. We have access to resources now because of the internet that we did not previously. We can exchange written communication with others in the space of minutes whereas it used to take days, if not weeks. All of this increased access also makes us privy to a lot of things that we would never have known—it’s parked in cyberspace for all to see or hear. Word can spread like wildfire once it hits the email or blog world.

Think about all the heat that was generated a few months ago over a sermon preached in a relatively small gathering tucked away in the mountains (or what Coloradoans would probably call hills) of North Carolina. Had there been no internet and email, I doubt that most of those who heard about it would ever have known it happened. Not that long ago (before Al Gore invented the internet), news about the sermon would have had to travel word of mouth and if someone wanted to hear it for themselves, they would have to call or write in order to have a copy sent through the mail. Almost makes me wish for the good old days.

But we don’t live in that neighborhood anymore. We live in a cyber-bubble where sermons preached in one part of the country get downloaded in another, and where events happening far removed from us seem open to our inspection. The new neighborhood brings many blessings, but there are some downsides to this instant access and wide open existence. For better or worse, a lot of things seem to have become everybody’s business. Presidents resign from colleges (or pastors from churches) and sometimes discussion forums fill up with people’s assessments of whether the full truth was being told or not. An institution publishes a statement and it immediately is dissected and discussed because so many people have a theory as to what it really means or what really motivated it. The increased access just seems to fuel an incessant call for transparency that is joined at the hip with skepticism about most public pronouncements.

I can even pretend to know how to deal with all the craziness that the internet has foisted on us, but I do think we need to set some boundaries somewhere. For me, I am completely in favor with interacting with what people preach and write—public content is fair game. If a sermon is published via paper or pixel, then it is open to evaluation. But the evaluation should stick to what is actually said and seldom (if ever) include guesses about what is motivating it or sharing of opinions about the internal workings of some church or ministry.

As an example, if someone wants to preach a message on women never wearing pants, then the burden on me would be to evaluate the arguments that are made and, if I disagree, show where I believe the preacher is incorrect. I should not assume that the fact that this message was preached, even with its combative style, means that there is a problem in that church over this issue. Not only should I not assume it, I should never broadcast that assumption in the blogosphere. The sermon is public, but the internal workings of a local church are not. And we should be careful about making comments about the preacher himself since our comments are also public. Stick to what he said and leave out personal opinions about his motives or other personal matters. If he is crank that is better ignored, then ignore him. But if you aim to refute his arguments, then deal with his arguments and don’t get sidetracked into all the other stuff.

I know, to my shame, that I have not always practiced what I am saying here. I’m trying and I would urge you to think about it before you send that email or make that blog post or add your comment to some discussion board. The line between cultural commentator and tabloid busybody needs to be maintained.

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Silly Me!

Apparently I wasn’t as discreet as I ought to have been. Scott Aniol and a few others have been having a discussion about this post which contained an assertion which I challenged here. Perhaps we can dive into more of this, but for now I think it important to address something Scott said in the comment section. In reference to the link I provided to a discussion at Remonstrans, Scott wrote, “But the point I was making above was that for Doran to use that as an example of how no one really knows what conservatism is was kind of silly.”

Three quick points:

  1. Scott skews my comment slightly in a direction that isn’t helpful—I actually referred to what “conservatism looks like in practice” and hence it was not in any way a comment that should be taken as negative toward conservatism. It was to point out that people agreed on conservative principles still often disagree with each other when it comes to application. I am sure he didn’t mean to do it, but his twist leaves the impression that I question conservatism. I know he didn’t mean that since he just posted a presentation I did on conservatism and gave it high marks.
  2. As for my real point, namely that the claim that pursuing a conservative approach leads naturally to unity is a flawed claim, I am glad that Scott acknowledged that he overstated his case. He is wrong, though, to dismiss the link I provided as a proof for one of my points as silly. There was more to that comment section than a disagreement between Scott and Disdains. Reference was also made to the tensions that come within churches when fighting the battle to implement a conservative philosophy. That admission, made by Scott himself, raises questions about the assertion of his which I challenged.
  3. I tried to state my case in pretty impersonal terms because I didn’t want to get dragged into what seemed to be a much too personal critique of a local church and its leadership. Yes, the pastor of that church is my friend, but my point was not to defend him (or the church or their decisions), but to critique a weak argument that seems to be popping up more frequently. I did in my post what I have done a few times in earlier posts and I have done in conferences, etc., namely sound a warning about a dangerous direction in argumentation. I would suggest that Scott’s assertion is similar to the line, “Your standards can’t be too high for God.” It sounds good, but simply isn’t right. Worse, it is the kind of argument that marginalizes those who disagree with you by making it look like you have taken the high ground while they are content with the lower ground.

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The Challenge of Spiritual Leadership

Seminary started up again for us this week with the first classes meeting on Thursday. I usually preach in the first two chapels of the new year. I decided that if the Lord allows, I am going to do a series on spiritual leadership in the local church. I doubt that I’ll blog about all of the messages, but I did want to share a portion of the first one. The text was Titus 1:5-16.

The point of this message was the need for spiritual leadership in the local church. The Apostle Paul did not believe his missionary ministry was complete until the local congregation was formed with godly and gifted leadership in place. Until leaders were in place, the church was not in proper order (v. 5). While there are many positive reasons for this, it seems clear from the NT that one significant reason for the appointment of godly leadership was the threat of false teaching and false teachers. That seems to be the case at Crete, and Paul’s instructions to Titus are aimed at protecting the flocks on that island. So, to cut to the end of the message, I challenged the men with three applications based on this passage that answer the question, “How should we respond to false teachers?”

We must silence them (v. 10) by reproving them severely (v. 13).

This passage makes it unavoidable that a chief responsibility of the spiritual leaders within the local church is to engage false teachers and false teaching energetically. To do any less is to be unfaithful to God’s call and commands. For those within the flock that are disinclined toward confrontation, you must remember that it is God’s will whether we feel comfortable with it or not. And those who are inclined toward combativeness need to remember that the goal is restoration, not destruction!

The tendency to minimize doctrinal purity is a problem all by itself. People might criticize us for being too hung up on doctrinal matters and for being too critical of those who are teaching other doctrines, but there is great danger in relaxing our commitment to sound doctrine. There is overt danger in false doctrine, but there is also a more subtle danger in accepting the belief that doctrine doesn’t matter.

We must multiply the number of godly and gifted men who can teach the truth and confront error (vv. 5, 9).

The text reminds us that we can’t just curse the darkness, we must light candles! On one very important level, the answer to false teachers is biblical teachers. The very existence and presence of those who are teaching empty words for sordid gain means that we must equip and train those who can teach healthy words for God’s glory! The purpose of the seminary is to assist local churches in the equipping of men for this great work.

We must maintain the standards established in the Scriptures (vv. 6-9).

Crucial to the point just made is to remember the burden of this text. It is not just a matter of appointing leaders. It is a matter of appointing the right kind of leaders, leaders that meet the qualifications of this passage. The local church has an obligation to maintain the standards taught here so that it can honor God by its commitment to biblical truth. When a church ignores or violates these standards, it is revealing a loyalty to man that transcends its loyalty to God. We must acknowledge that some of these standards are broad enough that exact applications will be debated. However, we must have a heart commitment to do what we believe to be God’s will in the application of these standards.

We cannot afford to adopt our culture’s approach to identifying and elevating leaders. People rise to leadership too often because of ability, attractiveness, or assertiveness—they can do things better than others, possess magnetic qualities that draw followers, or push their way to success and power. This text reminds us that none of those are central. Godliness is. The church does not need entrepreneurs, celebrities, or driven people in places of leadership. It needs men who walk with God and can faithfully handle the Word.

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Unhelpful Assumptions

“An application of such conservative principles would naturally lead to unity on the issue of music.”

What’s wrong with this assertion?

  1. It assumes what it would need to prove—does being wary of progress and waiting before taking action necessarily lead to unity?
  2. It incorrectly assumes that there is agreement on what “conservative principles” means—I have yet to see any two “conservatives” arrive at the same conclusions about what their conservatism looks like in practice, and I still look with amusement at those circumstances where two “conservatives” are engaged in debate which usually centers on who is conservative and who is either progressive or hyper-conservative. See the comment section here for an example of what I mean.
  3. It naively assumes that unity in a congregation “naturally” comes from anything—the entire enterprise which is the local church runs contrary to natural unity; it is the only work of God’s Spirit that will liberate sinners from their natural inclination to assert their own desires above those of others, and most of the disunity in local churches (including over music) is more affected by selfish desires than anything else. Progressives and conservatives both battle with indwelling sin.

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Internet Socialites and Misfits

Here is an interesting, perhaps important, article for those who are joining ministry and social networking tools on the internet.

Bob Bixby writes a fascinating goodbye to his blog and its readers. I would venture to guess that Bob and I have crossed swords in cyberspace more than I have with anybody else, and there have been times when it seems like we’re completely on the same page. He describes his approach and style, at one point, with word provocation, and I think that is fitting—both as a description and as a task. He demonstrates, in this post, some very keen self-awareness about the possible downsides of being a provocateur. And he pokes a few people in the eye as he leaves the room. Classic Bob. I applaud his heart for the local church and what matters most. And, Bob, if you’re reading this, feel free to express your disagreements with me via email and maybe I’ll post them here whenever we need some eye-poking to stir things up. Maybe. If it’s not my eyes. Karibu tena.

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Charles Hodge on What Matters Most

In 1821 William Ward visited Princeton Seminary in order to challenge the students and faculty regarding missions. Ward was an English Baptist missionary and colleague of William Carey and Joshua Marshman at Serampore. Charles Hodge was among those who heard him. Hodge was not impressed with his speaking abilities, but Ward’s zeal for the cause of missions did make a strong impression. The day following the Ward’s message, Hodge wrote the following to his brother:
I never felt the importance and grandeur of missionary labors as I did last evening. I could not help looking around on the congregation and asking myself, “What are these people living for?” Granting that each should attain his most elevated object, what would it all amount to? Then looking at these men in India, giving the Bible to so many millions, which I know can never be in vain, I see them opening a perennial fountain, which, when they are dead for ages, will still afford eternal life to millions (Princeton Seminary, Volume One: Faith and Learning, p. 140).
While Hodge was speaking specifically of missions, I think his assessment bears some relation to all gospel ministry. Only eternity will reveal the extended impact of ministries which may never garner much attention in this world. A single life touched by a faithful pastor ends up touching other lives that, in turn, touch others still farther removed. The harvest is still being reaped from sowing that was done many years ago.
As an example, I have no idea who was responsible way back in the 1930s for getting the gospel to a young man named Bill Rice. I do know, though, that God molded that young man into a pastor who carried the gospel to thousands and an educator who started a seminary which has trained men who are taking the gospel across this country and to the nations of the earth. Dr. William R. Rice poured forty years of his life in this church and its ministries, and that investment is still bearing dividends for eternity.
What are you living for? If you attain your most elevated goal, what would it all amount to? As we begin this seminary year, let me challenge you to sharpen your focus on what your life is all about. You can’t be and do everything. Figure out what matters most and pour your life into that!

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