Saturday, December 30, 2006

ANOTHER THOUGHT ABOUT----- 2007

It isn't often I write two consecutive posts about the same thing, but 2007 becoming reality is a big deal to me. [Read the last post for why.] So, one final word before the New Year.

Were it to come and go, which I personally doubt as per my last post, the year will find us experiencing both pain and pleasure. It is axiomatic that being a christian does not exempt one from pain or guarantee pleasure. Both are part and parcel of this altogether human experience called life. This is well understood by those of us who blog as evidenced by the struggles that we witnessed in the lives and families of the bloggers themselves. Struggles in ministry, [both finding and keeping a ministry] health,[we've prayed and continue to do so for our children, spouses, and friends who've gone through heart attacks, cancer, and, as my grandaughter, major surgery that will enable her , after eighteen years, to care for her own bodily needs as she eliminates waste materials from her body, an amazing story within itself.] and a myriad of other difficulties have revealed this.

Add to all this the pain we create with our words. [Many words have done so this past year.] We remember the little ditty that goes this way..."sticks and stones may break my bones, but words never hurt me." A truer statement is..."sticks and stones CAN ONLY break my bones but words can wound a heart." I'm sure this is the reason the scriptures speak often of the care we are to give to the words we speak. [Or write for that matter.]

There is no reason to believe that 2007 will not hold it's share of pain and pleasure. I can, as can you, do my part in removing the pain I'm responsible for creating and bringing pleasure to others as I have power and opportunity. But with that understood, I have little power or control over most of the pain of life, my own or others.

Someone has said that christians are the living stones of the true Temple God is preparing for eternity. That preparation, while for eternity, is done here during our sojourn on this earth. Rugged and shapeless the stones are at the beginning. But the hammer and chisel do their work. And, because these stones are living, there is always pain associated with the process. Paul Billheimer, whom I was privilaged to know and have in our church before his death, wrote a book entitled "Don't Waste Your Sorrows." He articulates this reality as well as anyone I've ever heard.

When I write this way I'm always aware that, too many times, this life has been viewed/taught as a prison or even that our body is the prison of the soul, and to escape [die] is the only hope for pleasure. This, of course, is both sad and unscriptural. Jesus said "I've come that you might have life and life abundantly." But that "life" is not "bios" [life] but "Zoe." [Life] The difference is, one [bios] is simply the cataloging of events, [biography] while the other is an inner quality of life independent of any and all circumstances. It is that last definition of life Jesus has come to give and so few christians associate that kind of life with abundance. But when you've faced the pain...you begin to understand. This may be the reason the Church of the third world knows more of the power of God than does the western Church. It takes God's power to live life to it's fullest when the things around you are so painful.

The western mind-set is, all too often, ready to associate pain with the failure to get a raise, or a gift, or recognition for a job well done. To read of Rwanda and her 200,000 killed and 2 million displaced as our neice, who writes speeches for the present President of Rwanda, has recently reminded us, is the stuff with which pain is properly associated. This is not to minimize our own problems or losses, but it is to give pain a broader context. So, as we hear of the tragic episodes in Sudan's Darfur, we have yet another illustration of pain that adds to a new context. It is, without a doubt, the power of God that the third world Church is forced to rely upon which, I believe, is available to us when faced with our own pain, as we are truly convinced of His Purpose in the shaping of the His stones for eternity.

So it is because of the Purpose of God that we are able to rest in His providence. If His providence brings pleasure....we shall enjoy it. If His providence brings pain....we shall embrace it. But He does not work without pattern or design. Our life is to His Glory. This is why we can, with confidence, say "Good-by to the Year of Our Lord--2006" and say, with confidence, "Hello to the Year of Our Lord -- 2007."


No chance has brought this ill to me;
Tis God's own hand, so let it be.
He sees what I cannot see.

There is a need-be for every pain,
And one day He will make it plain
That earthly loss is heavenly gain.

Like a piece of tapestry
viewed from the back appears to be
Naught but threads tangled hopelessly.

While in the front He doth a picture share
And viewers are rewarded for His care,
Proving His skill and patience to be rare.

Thou, oh Lord, art the Workman, I the frame,
All for the Glory of Thy Wonderful Name,
Perfect thine own image through this pain

Based on Ps. 119:167-175 Author unknown

.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

THE YEAR OF OUR LORD...2007

The year of Our Lord...2007. It doesn't seem possible...at least to me. You see, I've believed for the past thirty years or so that Jesus was coming back before the end of each particular year. I readily admit that, at first, it was a fascination with both dispensationalism and the approaching end of one Millennium and the beginning of another. Later, as my dispensational views began to alter with study of the text, it became a more serious personal belief/longing that He would return that particular year and a conviction that He was going to do just that.

My Father-in-law, Fred Cherry, a Southern Baptist Evangelist, preached a message for years entitled "why I believe I'll be alive when Jesus comes." He died on October 29th 1970. It was devastating to his family and to me personally. Not just his death, that was difficult enough. But what about his message? Could he have been wrong to preach such a thing?

He always started that message with this statement. "Since you don't know when Jesus is returning and I don't know when I'm going to die, I have as much right to say I WILL be alive as you do to say I won't." having said that...he preached on his conviction that Jesus was coming soon. I have to say it infected me with that same belief and longing.

But what do you do with his message? At Fred's memorial service a long-time pastor and friend, Keith Wiggington, said these words. "Some of you will be wondering about Fred's message, 'Why I believe I'll be alive when Jesus comes.' [He must be a mind reader, he sure read mine.] Should Fred have preached it? I believe God is infinitely more pleased with a person who truly believes that he or she will be alive when Jesus comes, and says so, but dies, than He is with one who doesn't believe that, or care about His return and lives to see it." Nuff said. I returned to my assurance of His return each year.

So, the end of 2006 has come. I'm surprised. 2007 is beginning. It will not end without Jesus returning is my firm conviction, belief, desire. But, as one year ends and another begins, it truly is the Year of Our Lord...2007. May I say to all of you...Happy New Year...and get ready...

Paul Burleson

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A CHRISTIAN IS.....

There is a statement made on a blog I frequently read that introduces the comment section with this rather humble and simple statement,"Comments from people who know more than I." [Or words to that effect.] I like that. I like that attitude. I don't know the author of that blog personally, but from what I've read that he's written, I think he means it genuinely.

It is that conviction that causes me to use what others have written so often on this blog. There are just too many good things being said by people who know more than I and say it far better.

With that, you understand why I do it again. When you read what is to follow [I first saw it in the comment section on Paul Littleton's blog and researched it for myself on the internet] you will see a description written about Christians in the second century AD. What a statement it is. My prayer for all of us who name Jesus as Lord of our lives is that some degree of this kind of explanation of Christians will be the rediscovered testimony of life for us in the new year of 2007.

With that, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very wonderful New Year from the Burlesons.



From a letter to Diognetus, sometime in the second Century-


"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.
Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

DROPPING OUT OF THE FUNDAMENTALIST DANCE

What follows is an essay that will disturb some, create a diatribe in others, be disagreed with by many, and, perhaps delight some, [even some who might not agree with all of it] and there may be those who may even think I'm dysfunctional [or worse] for giving a platform for it. All of you are welcome. I have to say, it's one of my favorite essays I've read on the inter-net. I recently ministered in a church when the author served in years past and I liked what I heard of him then and now. He is the I-Monk. I don't know him. I doubt I would agree with everything he holds to...or he me...but really enjoy his writings.

Give special attention to his statements about anger and negativism and meanness. Give special notice to his recogition that his expose, if you will, applies to both ultra-fundamentalism and ultra-liberalism. Don't get hung up on whether you disagree with his non-use of "inerrant" as a word or non-acceptance of the rapture or...well, maybe you will get hung-up. Whatever your personal reaction, obviously, I believe it needs to be heard by us all. For what it's worth...This printing of his essay isn't in-toto. But nuff said to get the picture. It is printed with his personally given permission. You'll find him at Internetmonk.com.

Paul B.



Dancing at the Fundamentalist Ball
A Special Essay by Michael Spencer

I am almost through with fundamentalism. Almost.
There are still some places where I want to hang on to my fundamentalism, but not many. After spending most of my life listening to my fundamentalist relation sing their song in the current cultural climate, I long ago quit singing with them. Eventually, I put down my hymnal and left the choir loft. Now I think it's time to leave the building altogether.

Of course, I realize some liberals will always think I am a fundamentalist because I believe in classically orthodox Christianity, the truthfulness of the Bible (rightly interpreted,) the resurrection of Jesus, miracles, prayer, the church and creation. The somewhat theologically astute will realize that stadiums full of non-fundamentalists believe all that stuff, but among that segment of American culture that finds any serious place given to faith fundamentalist, then I will always be mistaken for one. It's fine with me, even fun, especially around really angry liberals (who are rather fundamentalistic themselves.)

Among, fundamentalists, however, my departure has been noticed for some time, both theologically and culturally. I hold no place for young earth creationism. I do not read the King James Version, and I do not want others to do so. My description of scripture does not choose to use the word, "inerrant." I do not believe in the rapture. I abhor revivalism and its shallow, manipulative techniques. The four Spiritual laws are not the Gospel. Aisle walking is just plain wrong. I strongly suspect that most of what is on the shelves of Christian bookstores is somewhere between shallow and heretical. Women in ministry is good Bible as far as I am concerned. I avoid TBN like a fundamentalist avoids MTV. I like a whole bunch of Roman Catholics. Sometimes, I don't pray over my food. (Actually, I pray one prayer on January 1st for the whole year, but that's another column.)

On the cultural front, I consider the temperate use of alcohol to be harmless, if not mildly virtuous. (Alert Baptists: Psalms 4:7, 104:15. Read it first before you do anything rash.) I wish I danced and intend for my children to do so. I read a variety of books that fundamentalists consider occultic, worldly and dangerous. I listen to music ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Beatles to Dave Mathews. I find Contemporary Christian music to be, in the main, embarrassing. (With a few significant exceptions.) I love movies and the language doesn't bother me, though I certainly don't want to talk that way. I have raised my children in the Christian faith, but I have not sheltered them from bad culture, bad language or flawed people. I have not taught my children that it impresses God if you dress nicely for church, wear a WWJD bracelet or listen to the Christian radio station. I've actually told them God is great and loving enough to speak through any medium he desires. I bought my son three Harry Potter books. I love Halloween.

This could go on, but I would belabor, bore and give my critics ammunition. I left the Fundamentalist ranch a long time ago. Every so often, I look back from my new view up in the hills and think of the good times, the good friends and the good truth, but I am not raising my kids there, and I am not going back.

And here is the main reason I have decided to move on. (There are many, for you e-mailers.) I don't think Jesus was a mean, negative person who viewed life as a conspiracy. I think Jesus was a positive, gracious person who thought God was into everything, which was a matter of great rejoicing. I have decided Jesus was not a fundamentalist, and so I am not going to be either.

First, the mean part. I know being mean doesn't have a thing to do with anything, but fundamentalists are mean a lot of the time, and they seem to think this is somehow OK. Now when it's a Muslim fundamentalist being mean we see this rather easily. I know that Christian fundamentalists don't blow things up or cheer those who do, but we are talking only about a matter of degree.

The best example of this is the reaction of fundamentalists to Hollywood. A few years ago, Tinseltown put out a perfectly horrible little movie called "The Last Temptation of Christ." The particular problems with this piece of cinema aren't really germane here, but let's just say that a nation that fills the theaters for "American Pie II" and "Scary Movie" was not going to be excited about this entertainment. It was a stinker, of the highest order. Yet, fundamentalists mounted a campaign of protest, spleen-venting, tantrum-throwing and name calling that has yet to be matched. Just plain, grit-your-teeth, grind-your-jaw, get-in-your-face-and-spit mean and mad. The over-reaction of fundamentalists dignified this movie a thousand times more than it deserved by making it a victim of censorship.

The meanness that really bothers me is that reserved for those opponents of fundamentalism who simply disagree with them over one of their favorite topics. People who like Harry Potter. Or who endorse women in ministry or reject young earth creationism. Or happen to want alcohol served in restaurants. Hey- these are issues on which real Christians disagree, but fundamentalists chew on these issues with all the civility of a night at WWF Raw. I've not just seen this meanness, I've experienced it and, unfortunately, I've dished it out.

Don't get me wrong- in the public arena, it's sometimes give as good as you get, and some of those who want to take over our culture and reshape it into their own image are angry, mean and even vicious. But tough-mindedness and meanness are two different things. I'm happy to play hardball, and I want to win the culture war, but I would like to leave the meanness to someone else.

Then there's negativity. By this I mean an overall approach to life as a series of prohibitions and restrictions. Now I recognize that there are plenty of negatives in the Bible, and lots of rules against various things of varying significance. Take the Ten Commandments. Quite a few "Thou shalt not's" in there. But the first and greatest commandment, the commandment that dominates and sets the tone, is to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The relationship between these commandments is important here: it is the positive that controls the negative. You shall not commit adultery is controlled by loving God, neighbor and self rightly. The reverse- to love God by what we do NOT do- is only true in a limited sense, but don't try and tell that to your fundamentalist friends.

Fundamentalists love God by not doing what the larger culture does, by not sinning, by not being worldly, by not indulging temptation. If you haven't noticed, the negative way is simpler, easier to define and far more likely to be controlled by an authority figure who eliminates all the questions and gray areas. Trusting people to love God and do as they please scares fundamentalists to death.

This negative approach is generously applied to young people, who thrive on being told what NOT to do, and who adults like to believe can be controlled. Eventually, however, the negative approach begins to force a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, and a choice must be made on how to maintain the superiority of the negative commands over the positive. There is no one more perplexed than a thoughtful fundamentalist, who realizes that there really is no virtue in not dancing, but whose believing community insists that not dancing is an article of faith.

This, by the way, is why fundamentalists never produce any real art, and why their ventures into film and music are so predictably awful. Their conception of art is so dominated by the negative approach, that characters can't be real human beings and lyrics can't be real poetry. The whole realm of the imagination and the appreciation of beauty have to be controlled by what they can not represent and how things are not to be expressed. It's no wonder that the ranks of real artists trying to exist in fundamentalism resembles a community of abused and neglected refugees.

I believe scripture teaches that negativity is no more able to create true virtue than a fence is able to grow a crop. In fact, it was Jesus who said that a house swept clean of seven demons was once again ripe for the same, or even worse, occupants. I have discovered that loving God, neighbor and self is far more than the accumulated negative commands of my fundamentalist upbringing. It is a LOT more challenging than keeping the rules. It is so difficult, that transformation by God himself is my only hope.

Finally, the conspiratorial mindset. Fundamentalism is awash with conspiracy theories. The devil, the Illuminati, the CFR, the World Council of Churches, the NEA, Satanists, New Agers, The Networks, Procter and Gamble, Madelyn Murray O'Hare, the relatives of Bill Clinton...well, that one has some interesting possibilities. Anyway, as someone said, it's not just a conspiracy, it's a LIFESTYLE.

Prominent in this kind of thinking is the belief that participating in any aspect of the larger culture exposes one to forces posed to drag the victim into witchcraft and demon possession. Eric Rigney's endorsement of the Harry Potter books has yielded message after message warning that the books are a gateway into bondage to occultic powers. Where is a single shred of evidence that Harry Potter is any more harmful than Snow White or the tales of King Arthur? The predictability of fundamentalist conspiracy theories have become downright annoying.

The conspiratorial prophets- Warnke, Hunt, Van Impe, Lindsey, Maddux, et al- exert a remarkable amount of unquestioned control in the fundamentalist community. How can so many intelligent people see conspiracies in everything, yet never question themselves or their sources at all? It is the same impulse that turned hysterical teenagers into witches in Salem, and wound up hanging the innocent.

It is here that fundamentalism shows such a remarkable difference from the Bible. While taking the reality of evil totally seriously, Holy Scripture never falls to the level of seeing conspiracies as the explanations for events that are hard to understand or impossible to control. A sovereign God, fallen angels and sinful men are the full extent of the Bible's conspiracy theory. The early Christians did not waste their time teaching about Roman or pagan conspiracies, but simply lived and worshipped faithfully. It was not a mistake that the apostle Paul counseled believers to avoid myths, fables, and gossip.

Yet fundamentalists don't avoid this way of thinking, they absolutely revel in seeing evil conspiracies at work in everything. So prevalent are conspiracies as the explanation for events, that a kind of concrete pessimism permeates fundamentalism, leaving Christians to believe that nothing is as it seems and only a conspiracy that really explain life, culture and history. One has to salute those in the fundamentalist community who have defied this dark way of looking at the world and have gone out into the world to do good.

As I said earlier, I do not see any of these trends in Jesus. Instead, I see grace, love and faith, lived out in bringing the Kingdom of God into the world through compassion, servanthood and sacrifice. I am sure that Jesus might be called a theological fundamentalist by some, but does anyone really see the spirit of modern fundamentalism in Jesus?
My departure from fundamentalism will be impossible to explain to fundamentalists. To them, to depart from the community in any way is to call into question one's basic Christian commitment. They are convinced that if one is in touch with God, he or she will agree with them and stand with them in things large and small. It is sadly common among fundamentalists to respond to any deviation from their worldview with an invitation to pray and listen to God more closely, as if God spoke each of their beliefs directly into their ears. But I am at peace with this, and I am glad that my children will not grow up, as I did, believing all Catholics were going to hell, anyone who drank was lost, dancing was evil, movies and secular music were of the devil, and, of course, we and only we, were right.

I missed my prom, because my church told me it was evil to go. Other than a weak moment in the 8th grade, I've never been to a dance. I'd love to say that once I've renounced my fundamentalism, I'll be the first one out on the dance floor, but its not that easy. It will take a lifetime to get over the narrow mindset of fundamentalism. But if you stop by the nursing home around, say 2033, that will be me turning circles in the wheelchair, looking for a partner.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I WONDER WHY?

I've been wondering...

WHY...there is a need to limit a Private Prayer Language in Missionaries [so that no one can be appointed if they have one or believe it's possible to have one] when there has never been a removal of a missionary for using a PPL?

WHY...there is a need for guarding the mission field from Pentecostal practices among missionaries when there has been no documentation of said Pentecostal practices except where the former policies against tongues/pentecostal teachings corrected it?

WHY...there needs to be a refusal to accept the immersion of a missionary candidate as valid when the SBC church that had to vote to recommend said candidate, upon examination when they joined that local church, believed it was valid?

WHY...some insist that Wade Burleson, an IMB Trustee, is wrong to use a caveat when agreeing to the BF@M, thereby reducing said BF@M, [in their opinion] but then insist it is right to require missionaries to not practice a PPL, thereby adding to the BF@M if, in fact, the BF@M is the absolute standard for employees?

WHY...some insist Trustees should have the same standard as missionaries,[the BF@M-absolute-with no caveats] but do not hold said Trustees to other standards such as weight?

WHY...an IMB/BOT has a greater ability to monitor/guide mission field activities as to methods, procedures, and practices, thereby effectively shutting the door on their input and ideas, than does the Administration in the states and on the field and Missionaries that make up the said mission field personnel?

WHY...a seminary chapel message would be thought inappropriate and subsequently not permitted on electronic media when the Seminary Chapel has always been used to present ideas that are creative, challenging, and even controversial and debateable?

[Subjects I've heard from that same chapel pulpit are Calvinism, (both sides) filling of the Spirit,(Both sides-too pentecostal for some/too baptistic for some) Spiritual Gifts, open/closed communion, not being a professional begger as a pastor by never buying lunch for church members and requesting a 'ministerial discount' in a department store. (That last was a message I preached in SWBTS chapel)
Add to that list things like how wrong certain professors are for their view of scripture/doctrines/SBC policies. It has always been a place where people spoke their convictions even if I disagreed with them.]

Finally, WHY...I'm now viewed with suspicion as not being a real Baptist because of my personal view on baptism, [accepting the immersion of a believer when it was as a testimony of their union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection even if done by other hands than a Southern Baptist designated baptizer] the Lord's supper, [anyone who has been converted and properly identified as such] believing the gifts continue today, [though I personally do not have nor desire the tongues gift whatever that is] am personally a 5-point Calvinist, [though I hate being PRIMARILY identified with a system that has a name associated with it such as John Calvin..... or Baptist..... and never make Calvinism or being a Baptist my message when preaching] enjoy a glass of wine periodically when celebrating a special occasion with my wife, [though I personally do not touch it in the presence of young believers nor when in the work of ministry in a local church following Paul's admonition that it is better to keep freedom under control when around others that may be young in the faith] and all of these things have been true of my theology and walk FOR MANY YEARS. Why the suspicion that I may not be a REAL baptist? I've not changed. Has someone else's attempt at controlling the definition of baptist become the issue we're facing?

I WONDER WHY?

Paul Burleson

Friday, December 01, 2006

Is Culture Evil ?

I've been reading various blogs and listening to internet sermons and am finding so many in SBC life who are... A) attacking culture as evil B) condemning those who disagree on some lesser truths as "adopting culture" C)trying to be relevant to our culture D) wanting to change our culture E) desiring to get the gospel in terms that will speak to our culture.

With all this being advocated about our culture, I decided I needed to know what our culture really is. After all, how can you call it evil, believe someone is adopting it, going to change it, be relevant to it, if we don't know what the "it" is? Following is an attempt on the part of one to describe the "American Culture. [I'm printing the body of an e-mail I received without the name of the sender and the sender is not the author of this description.] Right or wrong here is what he said...

By the way, Webster's dictionary defines culture as..."The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you're American...

You believe deep down in the First Amendment, guaranteed by the government and perhaps by God.
You're familiar with David Letterman, Mary Tyler Moore, Saturday Night Live, Bewitched, the Flintstones, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Donald Duck, the Fonz, Archie Bunker, Star Trek, the Honeymooners, the Addams Family, the Three Stooges, and Beetle Bailey.
You know how baseball, basketball, and American football are played. If you're male, you can argue intricate points about their rules. On the other hand (and unless you're under about 20), you don't care that much for soccer.
You count yourself fortunate if you get three weeks of vacation a year.

If you died tonight...

You're fairly likely to believe in God; if not, you've certainly been approached by people asking whether you know that you're going to Heaven.
You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as cheap food.
You probably own a telephone and a TV. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own bathroom. You do your laundry in a machine. You don't kill your own food. You don't have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food.
A bathroom may not have a bathtub in it, but it certainly has a toilet.
It seems natural to you that the telephone system, railroads, auto manufacturers, airlines, and power companies are privately run; indeed, you can hardly picture things working differently.
You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone is routine.
The train system, by contrast, isn't very good. Trains don't go any faster than cars; you're better off taking a plane.
You find a two-party system natural. You expect the politicians of both parties to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the middle class. You find parliamentary systems (such as Italy's) inefficient and comic.
You don't expect to hear socialism seriously defended. Communism, fuhgeddaboudit.
Between "black" and "white" there are no other races. Someone with one black and one white parent looks black to you.
You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside their prejudices and work together.
You take a strong court system for granted, even if you don't use it. You know that if you went into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you could take them to court.
You'd respect someone who speaks French, German, or Japanese-- but you very likely don't yourself speak them well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. You're a bit more ambivalent about Spanish; you think the schools should teach kids English. It's not all that necessary to learn foreign languages anyway. You can travel the continent using nothing but English-- and get by pretty well in the rest of the world, too.
You think a tax level of 30% is scandalously high.
School is free through high school (at least, it's an option, even if you went to private school); college isn't, unless you get a scholarship.
College is (normally, and excluding graduate study) four years long.

Everybody knows that...

Mustard comes in jars. Shaving cream comes in cans. Milk comes in plastic jugs or cardboard boxes, and occasionally in bottles.
The date comes second: 11/22/63. (And you know what happened on that date.)
The decimal point is a dot. Certainly not a comma.
A billion is a thousand times a million.
World War II was a just war, and (granted all the suffering of course) ended all right. It was a time when the country came together and did what was right. And instead of insisting on vengeance, the US very generously rebuilt Europe instead, with the Marshall Plan.
You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting married by a judge is an option, but not a requirement; most marriages happen in church. You have a best man and a maid or matron of honor at the wedding-- a friend or a sibling. And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.
If a man has sex with another man, he's a homosexual.
Once you're introduced to someone (well, besides the President and other lofty figures), you can call them by their first name.
If you're a woman, you don't go to the beach topless.
A hotel room has a private bath.
You'd rather a film be subtitled than dubbed (if you go to foreign films at all).
You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government, without paying bribes.
If a politican has been cheating on his wife, you would question his ability to govern.
Just about any store will take your credit card.
A company can fire just about anybody it wants, unless it discriminates by doing so.
You like your bacon crisp (unless it's Canadian bacon, of course).
Labor Day is in the fall.

Contributions to world civilization...

You've probably seen Star Wars, ET, Home Alone, Casablanca, and Snow White. If you're under forty, add Blazing Saddles, Terminator, Jaws, and 2001; otherwise, add Gone with the Wind, A Night at the Opera, Psycho, and Citizen Kane.
You know the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Simon & Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt. If not, you know Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, and Kate Smith.
You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you're not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
You went over US history, and some European, in school, Not much Russian, Chinese, or Latin American. You couldn't name ten US interventions in Latin America.
You expect the military to fight wars, not get involved in politics. You may not be able to name the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Your country has never been conquered by a foreign nation.
You're used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy.
You still measure things in feet, pounds, and gallons.
You are not a farmer.
Comics basically come in two varieties: newspaper comics and magazines; the latter pretty much all feature superheroes.
The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly entertainers, politicians, or rather strange individuals. Certainly not, say, authors.
You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights even if nobody's around. If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross the street in front of them.
You think of Canada as a pleasant, peaceful, but rather dull country, which has suddenly developed an inexplicable problem in Qu├ębec. You probably couldn't explain why the Canadians didn't join the other British colonies in rebelling against King George.
You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be a small car.
The police are armed, but not with submachine guns.
If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
The biggest meal of the day is in the evening.
The nationality people most often make jokes about is the Poles.
There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.
Outside the Beltway
You feel that your kind of people aren't being listened to enough in Washington.
You wouldn't expect both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%) at the same time.
You don't care very much what family someone comes from.
The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between their children.
You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It's likely you don't see that many plays, either.
Christmas is in the winter. Unless you're Jewish, you spend it with your family, give presents, and put up a tree.
You may think the church is too powerful, or the state is; but you are used to not having a state church and don't think that it would be a good idea.
You'd be hard pressed to name the capitals or the leaders of all the nations of Europe.
You aren't familiar with Mafalda, Lucky Luke, Corto Maltese, Milo Manara, Guido Crepax, Gotlib, or Moebius.
You've left a message at the beep.
Taxis are generally operated by foreigners, who are often deplorably ignorant about the city.
You are distrustful of welfare and unemployment payments-- you think people should earn a living and not take handouts. But you would not be in favor of eliminating Social Security and Medicare.
If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a bachelor's first.
There sure are a lot of lawyers.

Space and time...

If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it's ten minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable.
If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about two feet.
About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, and antiques. Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's the buyer's minimum.
Once you're past college, you very rarely simply show up at someone's place. People have to invite each other over-- especially if a meal is involved.
When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, but it's only good business to 'play hardball'. Some foreigners pay excessive attention to status, or don't say what they mean, and that's exasperating.
If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn't take more than an hour or so.


If this is our culture...is it evil? [We can debate the accuracy of the content at another time.] That's the first question I'd like to ask someone. And if the answer is yes...explain why please.

Paul Burleson

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to you---2006

Mary [my wife] has written a post on our 2partners blog [you can link to it from this blog by clicking on Vital Truth Ministries and then 2partners] where she mentions how much a passage of scripture [1 Corinthians 3:21-23] has come to mean to me personally.

In context, [1 Corinthians 3:21-23] Paul is dealing with a problem in the Corinthian church where some believers were divided over who had had the best ministry among them as pastor. [Paul, Peter, and Apollos had all been there at one time or another.] Paul showed the foolishness of that kind of quarrel since, whatever one does in ministry, only God gives any increase. [1 Corinthians 3:6] The Apostle also reminds the congregation that it's going to take the Bema [1 Corinth. 4:5] to reveal the heart of the issue anyway. So much for our knowing who is the best in any thing, preaching, pastoring, convictions, holiness or whatever else it might be about which we make personal judgements.

Another point Paul made in the 3rd chapter, among other things, is that each man had been a gift from God to them in a unique way. [3:21] When Paul says that, it is as if he gets caught up in a moment of inspiration and goes on to say EVERYTHING is a gift from God. Look at his list of things that are gifts. Paul, Peter, Apollos,[anyone who has been or now is your pastor] life, [whatever circumstances constitute life for you] death, [when it takes place] the world, [not the evil system but the natural realm of life not just spiritual things] things present, [whatever is happening at the moment, good or bad] things to come, [whatever will happen next, good or bad] Am I correct in assuming there is nothing left out? All are gifts from God to the Corinthians and to us.

What this means is I can "give thanks for all things for this is the will of God for you." That thanksgiving is NOT because of the pleasure or pain, comfort or discomfort, mystery or knowledge of "why" things happen, or even the natural or spiritual nature of things. But my thanks is because of the Love, Grace, and character of the Giver of everything that comes to me.. He is the one who is the "blessed controller of every event." All of life is a gift. All things are mine to enjoy, experience, whether they are comfortable or not. I can learn, be stretched, can even grow because of all things whether good or bad.

My word, maybe this is that contentment that doesn't have to be propped up by circumstances happening the way I want them to happen. Maybe this is that joy that cannot be destroyed by difficulty. Maybe this gives me a little insight to the incredible peace Jesus had "in spite" of "things" and that peace is now mine since He is my life.

Maybe I do have reason to be thankful this season. Maybe every day of my life there is reason for thanksgiving. So...HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU. [From all the Burlesons]

Paul Burleson

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Can I believe that and be a Baptist?

Someone said to me recently, in commenting/complimenting me on the position I've come to in regards to women in ministry, "even our culture understands the value of women in leadership as evidenced by those now in political positions of authority and power. I'm glad to see you've come there too." [They were obviously referencing Condoleeza Rice and others.] My thought about that is two-fold. First, I'm glad educated, qualified, and competent women are not being held back in our culture as has been the unfortunate practice in the past. I even believe in equal pay for those women doing a job that would be given to a man doing the same job. But the second part of my thought is that, were the scriptures to say differently than what our culture says on any subject, [where it is clear to me what the scripture says on that subject] I would opt for obedience to scripture regardless of what our culture says or thinks.

An example of this is seen in what our culture says about any sincere religious belief system being as good for people in the long run as any other religious belief system is. So, Muslim, Christian, Shinto, it doesn't matter. Being sincere matters. I'm sorry, but the scriptures speak clearly here. Jesus said, " I am the way, the Truth, the light, no man comes to the Father but by me." [John 14] I believe that... and my culture cannot/will not be able to set my standard there.

On the other side of the coin, someone said in a comment section I read, "We must not allow culture to set our view of women in ministry. We must be true to what Baptists have historically held to and our BF@M affirms as our Baptist identity." [The BF@M says only men shall pastor and Baptists have historically held that women could not be pastors or deacons and some Baptists won't allow a women to teach men in any capacity.] My thoughts about that are two-fold also. First, I'm grateful for our Baptist history and distinctives that are grounded on the text of scripture. But the second part of my thought is, were I to see the text of scripture differently than our history and tradition have said, I would have to opt for obedience to my understanding of the text regardless of history OR tradition. An example of this is the gifts of the Spirit. Historically, Baptist have been what would be termed "cessationists," by and large, in regards to many of the lesser gifts. I do not now [I once held that view] see the scriptures forbidding those gifts or them ceasing. I do see a regulation and warning about their use/misuse in First Corinthians but the validity for them is there IMHO. Since I see that textually, Baptist history/tradition cannot/ will not set my standard there.

So what I see in the current debate in Southern Baptist life is the same danger from those who insist on a particular interpretation of lesser significant doctrines [non-salvific] because it's the "Baptist way" as I see from those in our culture that would insist that we be "culturally correct" to be acceptable. Both cultures, whether secular [world] or sacred [Baptist] must give way to our being able to "search the scriptures to see if those things be so." That...is the Baptist way for me.

So how do we get along under the Baptist tent [regardless of its size] when we see some lesser doctrines differently? [Especially when you see good men/women on both sides.] Let me make a few suggestions for us all.

#1--BE OPEN--to people who think differently than do we about these minor/lesser issues. I love this quote..."Since no one of us, affected as we are by original sin, is perfectly pure in our desire for truth, no one of us is exempt from some degree of closed-mindedness." [Searching Together Winter 1985] "I think this means we must be open to at least "listen" to multiple sources in the Body of Christ if we are really going to have the thoughts of Christ on lesser issues." [Same Publication] No better statement can be found in my judgement.

#2--BE READY--to change if the evidence from the text begins to be seen in a new/different light. Things can/do escape our attention and, for us to grow, we must be ready to admit that fact. This means it is not a crime to continue to examine the text with new light and understanding. And if a person sees that new light and is helped by it, that is not weakness on his/her part but humility. This change because of new light does not rob one of being Southern Baptist, but rather, it verifies the uniqueness that is Baptist, namely, we're free to grow in our knowledge of the Word.

#3--BE WILLING--to grow in truth when presented with new light regardless of the source. If it comes from one who is insignificant in the Body, so be it. [There is no such person as insignificant where the Body is concerned anyway is there.] In fact, to a proud individual others are insignificant and that one doesn't take what anyone else says seriously. To an humble person, because he/she loves people AND the truth, an ear will be given to insignificant voices in the Body. [Dare I say even blogging voices...]

What I've said here, were I willing to practice what I write, will not, in my opinion, ruin my confidence in the integrity/nature of the scriptures or make me a "liberal". It will not diminish my joy and appreciation for the privilage of being a Baptist. It will simply enable me to be truly Christian and relate to others in the Body with deep respect. I don't have to get angry at someone who sees a lesser point of theology differently than do I and I don't have to be closed to what they are saying about it. I don't have to agree, but I certainly don't have to believe they/I are/am no longer truly Southern Baptist BECAUSE WE DISAGREE.

Paul B.

Friday, November 10, 2006

WORSHIP THAT IS WORTHY

Webster's Dictionary defines "worship" as " an expression of the worthiness of a Being." That's biblical in my estimation.

I'm going to write about another thing of which I'm sure. [That never means I don't have things to learn in this area.] My sureness comes from what I confidently see in scripture and from my experience as a pastor. That is corporate worship.

Let me say from the beginning that worship is more than a service. It is an obedient life. That's why, when ready to obey in what he thought would be the killing of his son, Abraham said, "the lad and I will go yonder and worship." There is no real worship corporately apart from a life of obedience individually. But there can be both.

So my frame of reference for this article is a corporate body gathered to experience worship as a group.

Another thing. I doubt the veracity of the statement that, in corporate worship, God is the audience and we're the participants. He's watching how we perform so let's do it right. We want to be sure and please Him. It seems to me that's the philosophy that drives paganism. In their mind, if they do it right, the gods [who are far off and watching] will be happy and bless them. But if they mess it up, the gods will be angry and crops will die, and cattle and wives will be barren. So you can see the reason for establishing an elite group [ministers/witch doctors] who are trained to do it right. They can do the rituals and we will watch and all will be well. At least in their minds. I don't think so.

Worship is more of a family gathering with the joy, excitement, anticipation, and even struggles of relating to each other, and the Father, who is the one significant presence that we all want to share in a very real way. Worship is that time when we, corporately, experience, hear from, and even crawl up into the lap of, our Heavenly Father, who is real in our midst as He's real in our lives daily.

Finally, why is corporate worship so important? No one doubts that we can worship/obey God individually, but why is the group thing so important? I'm glad you asked that question. :)

It is essential because God doesn't have any "only kids". We're part of a kingdom/family and we are to experience each other as gifted, growing, members of the Body. You count the "one another" statements in scripture and you'll find we can't really life out christianity effectively apart from "one another". Add to that reality, the only time the whole local body [assuming the people come] is together is that one time a week, generally on a Sunday morning, called a Worship service, and you see why we need to think seriously about corporate worship experiences. It can't/shouldn't be just an after thought.

Two philosophies have prevailed historically for those services. One has been adopted generally by Southern Baptists and is, in my judgement, incorrect. It is a performance style. [God is watching remember.] The other is a relational style. [One cell/person relating to other cells in the Body, and relating to the Head, who is NOT, by the way, the Pastor.]

It is noteworthy to remember that either of these can be the driving force of a traditional, progressive, or even emerging brand of worship. It is that driving force behind ANY style of worship program I'm addressing. Do you want to wager [pardon the expression] which I believe to be the best and the biblical one? Of course, the first relates to that previously mentioned pagan philosophy. The second will be the basis for what I'm going to share in the next couple of posts on this blog. Until then...enjoy/experience your corporate worship this coming Lord's day. The Father will be there in a special way at your family reunion.

Paul B.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

SOME THINGS SURE/SOME THINGS NOT SO SURE---PART IV

I'm continuing to look at some things I'm pretty sure about and some things with which I'm struggling and I hope, growing. Today I follow up on what was said last post about the Church, only this time, where I see women in leadership. I have to say this is one of my weakest areas of theological certainty. This, along with my views on the Second Coming, is going through a major review as I attempt to understand the text of Scripture unencumbered with my particular history and tradition. I'm grateful for both, just attempting to not build my theology on either as, I'm sure, is true of all of you.

Having said that, I need to really begin with a view I now hold, with great conviction, concerning the New Covenant. I have been caught up in past years in building A lifestyle based primarily on performance or the keeping of rules, including the Ten Commandments, that I now see was confusing the Old and the New covenants.

There is a basic difference between the covenant God had with Israel which was founded upon the Law of Moses as the standard of behavior and the New Covenant. Jesus has established the New, ratifying it with His blood, setting aside the Old or really fulfilling it since it was Christocentric in it's ultimate purpose anyway.

The New is, by definition, a Christ centered rather than Law [read rules here] centered covenant. Some people try to make the ten commandments applicable to the New Covenant by dividing the Law of Moses into three parts. Thus you wind up with the ceremonial, the civil, and the moral law. [the ten commandments] With the moral law extending to the New Covenant [in their way of thinking] since it is descriptive of the character of God. The problem is the Jews would not recognize such a division. The law was "one Body" of law and could not be broken into parts. Whatever happened to the Law of Moses happened to all of it. It was, as I said, fulfilled in Christ.

That is not to say the New Covenant is antinomian. [without law] We are "in-lawed" to Christ as I Corthians 9 says. We are to "hear ye Him" as admonished by the Father at the baptism of Jesus. And, by the way, nine of the ten commandments are repeated in the New covenant, with only the "Sabbath" commandment not. In my understanding now, the "sabbath' was a unique sign given to Israel in their covenant with God. We are, as New Covenant people, in an "eternal sabbath" according to Hebrews and rest every day of our lives in the Grace of God.

This is not to say I hold to a two covenant concept as do some Premillennialists, a covenant of works and a covenant of Grace. Nor do I hold to the one covenant of Grace with different administrations as do reformed folks. I'm convinced there were several covenants that prepared the way for the New covenant. I say this because when past covenants are talked about by Paul the Apostle, it is always in the plural as in Eph.2:12 and Rom. 9:4.

All of this to say, Jesus is now our Prophet, Priest, King, and Lawgiver. So we look to Him for instructions for living and the New covenant is the declared guide for behavior. If asked, "how do you read the Old Testament now?" My answer is, Christocentricially. Through the lens of Christ and His work on the Cross. All of the Old was getting us ready for the New. I take everything said in the Old "to the Cross".

Now, this New covenant is different than the old ones in several ways. Let's take an example. The source of authority and power lay with men in the Old. The lifestyle that grew out of the covenant of the Law of Moses was gender based to say the least. The identifying of the wife as part of a man's property as were his slaves, oxen, and asses, in the 10th commandment, certainly shows that.

We are all aware it was based on race as well. God's covenant with ISRAEL made stipulations for foreigners, but they were stipulations, not the norm. Then age was a factor in authority. So that, as one man said, "If you were an 'old Jewish guy' you had it made in that day.

But the New Covenant as announced by Peter was different totally. Remember he said, [after assuring them all there was no drunkeness involved in what had happened] "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all Flesh: [think of how a Jewish person heard this. Gentiles are now included. Forget race as a problem] and your sons and your daughters [forget gender as a problem] shall prophecy, and your young men [forget age as a problem] shall see visions, and your old men will dream dreams; and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit and they shall prophesy." Acts 2:16-18

So you can now see my conviction [things I know for certain] about the New Covenant and it's unique lifestyle of freedom in Christ because of the Grace of God. And you can see I believe there is no inherent authority/power or lack thereof because of age, gender or race in the New Covenant. But having said all of that, you can see that brings me to some things I'm still growing in, and it pertains to women in ministry.

When I take this clear statement of the source of Power and Authority being the Spirit of God in the New Covenant, and, upon whom He places that power and Authority is not determined by men or systems of theology or Baptist traditions, but it is by His sovereign will and purpose, I have a problem. I must face and now think through women in ministry if I'm going to be consistent.

What compounds my problem is that I struggle with the meaning of some verses. For example in Romans 16:1-2, Phebe is called a "deacon". I know the KJV says "servant" and I know that's a fair translation of the word. But when used of men it is left "deacon" or translated "minister" most of the time. Why the difference? Add to that, in verse two she is called a [KJV] "succourer". Some translations say "helper". But when used of men in 1 Tim. it is tranlated "manage", "rule". The word literally means order, to arrange, to rule, to manage, or to help. Paul said she did this with him and his ministry. She, of course, helped, but why not translate it as... ordered, arranged, managed, as it was of the men mentioned in 1 Timothy.? I'm afraid there COULD be a bit of gender bias in the translators minds that is uncalled for in the New Covenant.

Add to this my seeing the 1 Corth.14 passage where the women are told to "be quiet" as a word given to several troublemakers in that passage. The tongues speaker who isn't waiting to see if a translator is present. [v27] The prophet who doesn't care if anyone else has a prophetic word.[v30] And the women who think they are more qualified than men because they are women.[My supposition here is based on what I'm about to say] [v34] "Be quiet" is the word to all of them. Why single out women as the group that is forever to keep silent?

This idea of women being created first and superior to men was a staple doctrine of the mystery religions of Corinth and Ephesus and many of the women of these churches in Corinth and Ephesus were new converts out of that particular belief system. It is no wonder Paul had to tell Timothy to not let a woman have "authority" over men. That word is used ONLY in the 1 Tim. verse and was, perhaps, a street word that spoke of using sexuality to take control to men.

The context of all of this is a correction of an old pagan belief system held in the past by these new converts that have now come into the New Covenant where the Spirit is the source of power and authority. So it is a good word for all and anyone who tries to be superior to others in the Body life experience. "Be quiet" and respect others annointed of the Spirit to minister. That same problem was faced in Ephesus with the same admonition. At least this may be the meaning. You see where I'm still trying to grow and learn.

The traditional hierarchical, man is the boss, women are equal in value but their roles are the, "keep quiet and recognize the authority of men because they're men," roles, don't seem to fit the New Covenant as Peter announced it. So, I've got a problem.

The other day I read a marvelous blog by Todd Littleton in which he refered to a statement made by someone who said, "the greatest danger to continued orthodoxy in the evangelical movement [that's the SBC and others] is egalitarianism. [This is evangelical feminism in his thinking] The other side is complementarianism or the same value exists between the sexes but differing roles based on their sex and are compimentary to one another. [But I'm fearful that many really see it as...the man's the boss only he's not to be mean about it.] Todd said he must be, and used a word new to me, in a "liminal" state. [That means...in between, transitional, liminal state.] That's quite a confession for any SBC pastor to make. He made it about himself. I join him in that state. I guess that creates a new catagory of men called "liminaltarianist".

Seriously, I just think there is a lot of praying, thinking, questioning, and researching of the text yet to be done on this very important issue of women and ministry. I've begun my study. It's part of my "some things I'm not so sure about" theological journey at the moment. I'll keep you informed.

Paul Burleson

Friday, October 27, 2006

SOME THINGS SURE/SOME THINGS NOT SO SURE---Part lll

[Sub-titled---A Kind But Personal Rebuttal To A Post On Tents


I'm continuing this little trek of mine down memory lane and trying to show some of my theological changes and why. The "not so sure" part is because, since I've come to see the text of scriptures differently in some areas, the assumption can obviously be made, with some degree of certainty, that I've still a ways to go in correctly understanding some things. The text hasn't changed, just my understanding hopefully led of the Spirit, if not, hopefully He'll correct me. I think I'm in capable hands there.

This post also will address an assumption stated by another blogger as to "being under the Tent" when certain beliefs are/are not held by Baptists. My opinions only. No animosity. Just another person's view of an issue which, in Kingdom stuff, is permissible I would think.

There have always been two extreme views within Christendom about the Church. One has been to view the Church "only" in terms of Universal, or including all true believers everywhere. The other has been to view the church as "only" a local group, and the universal will not be a reality until heaven. This is because to be a church there has to be some structure such as a pastor to preach and lead in the ordinances. Where this structure is not in place, there is no church. I was, for several years in the latter belief system. The "Trail of Blood" was as important to me as my Bible in understanding the church. This period lasted from the late fifties to the mid- sixties. It was not because of what I was taught by my original Pastor and church, it was because of my association with Fundamentalists who seemed to know what they believed and defended it with fervor, if not scripture. But during that same time frame I began to read some of the foundational men of the Reformed category. A problem arose. They were not saying the same thing as my friends about the Church. By the late sixties, as I graduated from Seminary, I had come to a new understanding. Permit me to state it simply.

I now hold to both the "organism" idea, meaning the universal concept of all believers forming the Body of Christ, and a "local" group concept, meaning the forming of an organization that might vary in structure adapting to the context of culture. You can see I do not now believe there is an "absolute" that makes it when you leave one Baptist church to go to "another, you have to find the "other" to be exactly like the one you just left, as, say, would be true of a Roman Catholic or a Landmark Baptist. We're free to adapt our structure of things. Why? Here's where the scriptures began to be my guide instead of books written my men I admired. There is no model in the NT for an institutional local body called the "church". There is, in fact, no incident of any individual being examined and "joining" a local church, much less how that group looks and functions structurally.

Thus, I came to see that there is the Body, indwelt by His Spirit, and the groups in Corinth, Thessalonica, and Rome, but with no descriptive form related to us in scripture. This did not alter my believe as to the importance of the local group. [church] It did, however, show me how that group looks may vary out of practical necessity. The mission field and SBC Missionaries find the reality of this all the time in their work. Which is why for a BOT of the IMB of the Southern Baptist Convention operating in America to tell them how a group in Portugal is to look is odd if not detrimental, it seems to me. [ But that's another post at another time. Back to the point.]

What I'm saying is, I came to recognize that the Body is to live by biblical principles certainly. And He has gifted people with spiritual gifts for the good of the whole Body. But the structure or form of a local body, as to organization and function, is not the sacred thing. The life in us as the Body of Christ AND in us as a local group is the sacred thing.

The Body may see things differently. My agreements theologiclly are more in line with Baptist theology, as evidenced by holding to eternal security, baptism by immersion as a testimony of union with Christ, the ordinances being testimonial by nature, and a myriad of other things and that's why I'm Baptist. There are certainly differences in lesser things among Baptists, but agreement in the essentials, and importantly to me, a sharing of a missions endeavor second to none, is what makes me a Southern Baptist by choice.

I've also moved from a single pastor idea to a multiple pastor idea because of the scriptures using "Elders" in the plural with a rare exception as in say, the Revelation section. I guess the reason Southern Baptist stopped using the "Elder" concept, since we held to it originally, seeing The first President Of the SBC in 1845, Dr. W.B. Johnson, was an Elder with other Elders in his church, was because of the Cambellite controversy where they started using Elders and Southern Baptists started using "Pastor" as the preferable term. This in spite of the fact that the word "Elder" is used multiple times and "pastor only once in scripture. We tend to overreact sometimes don't we.

As to why we as Southern Baptist came to a single pastor idea, I would think it was because of the westward expansion where one Elder would go west, leaving the others behind of course, and wind up in a town, be recogized as the "parson" [person of standing as they thought of it] and serve a small group of people as a church. The rise of the Landmark movement with it's emphasis on structure and a single pastor, who, by the way, was the only one qualified to minister the ordinances, had it's influence also. [We faced several controversies as a convention over this movement, but would not give in.]

But my journey and change have been presented. Local body important? you bet. How it is to look set in stone, ie, a pastor, deacons, only the pastor can baptize, only the authorities can administer the ordinances? no way. The structure is not given in scripture.

Now, here's the rub. I've held this view for the past thirty-five years, long before the resurgence, and there has been no problem with me being a Southern Baptist. I've had the privilage [and with due respect to some, there is no arrogance intended here at all, but the Lord will be my judge on that] of preaching in Adrian Rogers deacons retreat where I taught the "Tabernacle in the Wilderness" to them as a favor to Adrian whom I greatly appreciated. I've pastored Jack Taylor, Bill Gillham, Rick Warren. I was pastor to people like Oscar and Carolyn Thompson, TW and Lavern Hunt, John and Virginia Seelig, all of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and my stated views on the Church as Body/local church body have never been a problem...UNTIL NOW.

It appears I can no longer hold to the views I have of the relationship of the whole Body and operate in a local group with flexability in forms and be truly SBC if...what was recently said in a post by a blogger is, in fact, true. This is a new thing for me after 35 years and I find it very uncomfortable. One can see why I am thinking something has changed in the SBC beyond the battle for the Bible for inerrancy. My freedom to interrupt the scriptures in regards to the Body/Local fellowship and remain a Southern Baptist is now being challenged if what was said in that post is true.

For those of you unfamiliar to the post, permit me to give a brief explanation.

Someone [our son Wade, but this is not personal with me] was challenged because he holds to the same views I've stated here. [With, I'm sure, some variations.] This comment was made in a blog post, and I quote, "Frankly, I believe that the problem is not that the tent is not big enough, [SBC is the tent] but that Wade has discovered that, on these issues of controversy, [The church as I've been describing] he is NOT UNDER THE TENT at all, and he wishes to be."

This statement, if accurate as to it's assessement of the SBC in regards to this issue, says I'm no longer a Southern Baptist. Well, my history with the SBC has been one where it's tent was able to handle the views that I've presented in this post, which views I and others hold...I hope it never will not.

More later...

Paul Burleson



A Saturday morning update...

I've had an exchange of comments with the author of the blog refered to in my post. The "tent" as he called it, that I took to mean the SBC, he now says was intended to refer to the "Baptist Faith and Message." In other words, the BF@M is what Wade is "outside of", in the opinion of the author, because the BF@M refers to closed communion NOT open communion.. I then ask him how the phrase "AND WISHES TO BE" made any sense. Does he mean Wade wishes he really could be a closed communion believer? The author said that statement in his article WENT TOO FAR.

I have read/do read the author regularly and believe him to be a stand-up guy. He has evidenced that here, in my opinion. I thank him for the dialogue.

My bottomline principle presented in my post stands for me personally.

Paul B.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A NOTE TO FRIENDS

I'm not sure of the blogging ethics that are in play with this new genre but I'm going to risk taking it as an opportunity to write a note to friends. If this violates something, someone enlighten me please.

I've always been accused of giving TMI [too much info] from the pulpit and it was in the context of being too free with personal information, whether it be of struggle or emotions or doubt or whatever, but I'm afraid that's the way I am. [Some people like a pastor on a pedestal and I've always refused that lofty position.] So, having given that disclaimer, here's a kind of personal note to a bunch of friends, albeit on a blogg.

I really enjoyed reading your responses to the article by Jon Zens entitled "Four Tragic Shifts Of The Church" posted on Saturday, October 7th. His web-site is www.searchingtogether.org. It is a web page that presents material from a magazine "Searching Together" that is the publication of a fellowship of believers at Word of Life Church in Taylor Falls Minnesota. Jon Zens is the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine which, by the way, I've read for years.

Now, it is not Southern Baptist, and I don't know all the writers, but I'm very familiar with the theological insights of Jon Zens and have been blessed beyond measure by them. No one believes everything another believer holds to I would hope. But his writings are biblical sound and challenging to the extreme. I like that.

You do too evidently. The e-mails have FAR outnumbered the comments on the post. I've received e-mails literally from several nations including Japan and others. The response was very positive although many saw, as I knew you would, the challenge to "traditional" thinking and chose to ask questions and make comments to me only, thus the e-mails. I consider those private and personal on your part and will keep them that way.

My purpose in what I'm writing these days is to catch you up on my personal theological journey, which I've started doing in past posts, but I was so impressed by your response to this particular article I needed to address it. I fully understand the significant struggle that will ensue if we ever were to take seriously the message of those shifts that have been destructive and debilitating to the Body of Christ, but because of our commitment to Truth revealed and our Lord's command to make disciples, I believe we must be open and face the challenge.

One other thing. Jon's statement, just before getting into a discussion of the first of the four shifts, where he says, "I believe that it is far more important to capture the spirit of church life as we see it unfolded in the New Testament, than it is to try and woodenly replicate cultural particulars of that first century. We do not live in the first century, but the concepts and principles in the New Testament endure and will come to expression in any culture," is a profound and church-shaking reality. It is that struggle between adapting to cultural methods and staying true to preaching/teaching AND experiencing as a body those concepts and principles, that is our dire need in SBC life IMHO.

I'm going to address church life as I've come to see it in scripture immediately. It will not be in total alignment with any group, including Jon Zens group. He will be the first to see the legitimacy of that. It certainly isn't in agreement with much of Southern Baptist Church life. But that's the beauty of being a baptist. I can disagree, grow, change, and fulfil the heart of baptist life in staying true to my understanding of the text of scripture.

What I share [I need to say this] does not reflect what Wade Burleson, our son and the center of much Southern Baptist controversy today, believes. He has taught me as much as I have taught him, but he speaks for himself [and extremely well I might add] and I do not speak for him. If anyone were to assign to Wade anything I say about my own theological journey and belief system, it would be unfair to him and unchristian of them. It's, of course, not like all that many will read what I say, but you never know. :)

I told you this would be a personal word and I've fulfilled that warning haven't I. It's good to be back and, with some time off now, I hope to put my thoughts into print. My first will be my reflections on the first point of the article by Jon Zens. I've had a partial draft waiting for weeks and it is on that subject. I couldn't get it finished for today but needed to say this anyway. Bless you and thanks for being friends.

Paul Burleson

Friday, October 20, 2006

Home again...Home again

I've just concluded several weeks of ministry and several days of vacation in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine seeing some of the greatest foliage ever and am now getting ready to resume some efforts at putting thoughts on line. I need the rest of this weekend to get it together. Come next Monday I'll be ready to go. It's good to be home.


Paul Burleson

Saturday, October 07, 2006

FOUR TRAGIC SHIFTS IN THE CHURCH

The following article is to keep the thoughts going while Mary and I are on a foliage trip and will have no computor availability. I've not yet finished my next post on my theological journey as this is my busy time of ministry. When you're a traveling preacher you're glad to have the traveling to do.

I'm interested in your thoughts about the article and will give mine when home.

Grace to all of you,

Paul B.





Four Tragic Shifts In The Visible Church
180-400 A. D.


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Most professing Christians do not realize that the central concepts and practices associated with what we call 'church' are not rooted in the New Testament, but in patterns established in the post-apostolic age. While there are a legion of disagreements among serious students of church history concerning various issues and details during the period of 50 A.D. to 325 A.D., they all speak as one voice in affirming the four undeniable shifts that will be examined in this article. Church historians of all theological and ecclesiastical backgrounds observe in their writings the following four shifts:

1. The church portrayed in the New Testament was a dynamic organism, a living body with many parts. The church from around 180 A.D. onwards became an increasingly hardened institution with a fixed and complex hierarchy.

2. The early church was marked by; the manifestation of a polyform ministry by which edification and the meeting of needs were accomplished through the gifts of all the brethren. The post-apostolic church moved more and more toward a uniform conception of church offices which separated ministry from the 'laity' and limited significant ministry to the 'clergy'.

3. The church of the first and most of the second centuries was characterized by cycles of intense difficulty and persecution - it was a suffering body. With the advent of Constantine the church became protected, favored and ultimately sanctioned as the state religion by the Roman state, and thus became an institution at ease.

4. In the New Testament the church, with no small measure of vulnerability, depended on the Holy Spirit to hold the brethren together and to lead them in ministry. Later, the church trusted in itself as a very powerful institution, along with its many rules, rites and offices to secure visible unity among its adherents.

These four shifts are indisputable. They did not come about in a day. They were the result of many factors working together as time elapsed. There are many implications to ponder in light of these significant changes that occurred. I would like to explore each of these shifts in order to highlight certain key issues that each of us needs to face.

We claim to take Christ's revelation about the church in the New Testament seriously, yet the reality is that too often we are more attached to the 'received order' which is based on human traditions. What does it mean to be faithful to the New Testament's teaching about the church? In what sense are the examples of the church life 'binding' on us?

For instance, some assert that since the early church met primarily in homes, we are obliged to emulate this example. I think the primary theological point of the New Testament in this regard is that under the New Covenant there are no holy places. Contemporary Christianity has almost no grasp of this significant point. Taking the cue from the Old Covenant, people are still led to believe that a church building is 'the house of God'. Believers are free to meet, anywhere in which they can foster, cultivate and attain the goals set before them by Christ. The problem today is that many church structures neither promote nor accomplish Christ's desires for His body. Homes are a natural place for believers to meet, and the early church flourished well into the first and second centuries without erecting any temple-like edifices. In places around the world where persecution reigns, house-church movements have flourished. Someday in America, if our religious infrastructure falls as a result of economic and political turmoil, true believers will be forced to meet outside of traditional church buildings. But the issue still is not what type of place believers gather, but what shape their committed life together takes as they wrestle with the many duties and privileges flowing out of the priesthood of all believers.

I believe that it is far more important to capture the spirit of church life as we see it unfolded in the New Testament, than it is to try and woodenly replicate cultural particulars of the first century. We do not live in the first century, but the concepts and principles in the New Testament endure and will come to expression in any culture. The four tragic shifts about to be examined will give us all plenty to reflect and act upon as we seek to take our discipleship earnestly. Christians must take their stand and devote their precious energies to building up the body of Christ in ways that return to the original patterns of the New Testament.

1 The Shift From the Body of Christ as a Dynamic Organism to a Settled Institution

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes into some detail concerning the implications of the church being a living organism, a body with many parts. In the early chapters of Acts we see a vibrant, caring, sharing and witnessing body of believers created by the power of the Spirit who was poured out by the risen Christ. This corporate 'new man' created by Jesus was not without leadership and organization, but there is no evidence of desire by the leaders to create a tightly-knit religious institution, with an elaborate hierarchy and intricate chain-of-command. The leaders above all were to be servants to feed and build up the flock; the organization that came to expression was for the purpose of meeting people's needs, not to create a religious bureaucracy.

The church Christ purposed to build is always described in terms of 'koinonia', a common sharing of life together in the bonds of Jesus Christ. However, the reality is that as time went on after the apostles' death, the church gravitated increasingly toward finding its essential definition, not in a dynamic organism, but in a visible institution with a hierarchy of officers. The church came to be no longer identified as a body of believers bonded by love as members one of another, but as a religious organization whose officers gave it significance. Ultimately it was asserted that without the officers, there was no church. Organization usurped vital life as the hallmark of the church.

This legacy still remains with us today. The needs of people are subordinated to the maintenance of religious bureaucracy. Patterns of church government often have nothing to do with the ethos of the New Testament. Many define the 'true' church in terms of outward marks such as "the proper preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and practice of discipline". But these characteristics have been outwardly present in dead churches. The New Testament defines the church dynamically in terms of functioning together as a body. If church was defined, for example, in the organic terminology of Acts 2:42-47, how many churches would you find? Why is it that even today when somebody asks "What church do you attend?:, the next query after you tell them is usually, "Who is the pastor there?" We still tend to define church in terms of leadership instead of by loving relationships among the brethren.

2 The Shift From Polyform Ministry to Uniform Ministry

In the early church ministry was conceived of in terms of Ephesians 4:16, "From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ministry was seen as committed to the whole body by Christ its Lord. As Paul put it, "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many ... As it is, there are many parts, but one body" (1 Cor. 12:14,20). To every person in the body of Christ is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the benefit of all (1 Cor. 12:7). Universal giftedness in the church, which is secured by the resurrected Christ leading captivity captive (Eph. 4:7-8), included such important leadership gifts as apostles and administration.

The great tragedy is that from about 180 A. D. onwards the increasingly institutionalized church began to assign ministry more and more to the officers (the "clergy"), and less and less to the common people (the "laity"). George W. Forell astutely summarizes the shift from body-ministry to bishop-ministry:

Ethical guidance for people recently converted to Christianity and likely to bring a pervasive pagan attitude to his new life was offered at first by a polyform ministry of grace, reflected in the New Testament. But, as time went by, moral authority was increasingly focused on an ordered ministry of bishops and deacons ...The institution most effective in containing the threats to the unity of the nascent Christian movement was the gradually evolving office of the bishop ...Through the office of the bishop the shape of the Christian life is determined and the masses recently brought into the Christian movement are conformed to Christ.1

No emphasis on one person who occupies the office of bishop (pastor) can be found in the New Testament. While it certainly contemplates a plurality of leaders as part of life in Christ's body, the overwhelming emphasis falls upon exhortations that involve all the members of the body. At least 58 times in the New Testament believers are commanded to fulfill responsibilities relating to "one another". We have turned the tables and viewed ministry as essentially resting upon "the minister", and forgotten that ministry as unfolded in the New Testament is spread around to everyone.

If ministry is not seen as focused in one office in the New Testament, where was precedent for a separate caste found? It was found in the exclusive priesthood under the Old Covenant. William Bausch observes:

Our survey has shown us that no cultic priesthood is to be found in the New Testament. Yet we wound up importing Old Testament Levitical forms and imposing them on Christian ministry.2

The negative implications that arose from the shift from polyform to uniform ministry are myriad. The mutual care so basic to the fabric of early church life was virtually lost. Why? Because mutuality - "you are all brethren" - was buried underneath the superstructure of institutionalized officers. William Bausch crystallizes this point by saying,

Nevertheless in practice there is no denying that there has historically been a gathering into one person and his office what were formerly the gifts of many. ...[This practice] goes astray, of course, when it translates to mean that only ordination gives competence, authority, and the right of professional governance. It goes further astray when eventually all jurisdictional and administrative powers in the church come to be seen as an extension of the sacramental powers conferred at ordination. In short, there is a movement here away from the more pristine collaborative and mutual ministries of the New Testament.3

We must face the fact that the traditions regarding church government and order which we have inherited are cast in very suspicious garb. They are clergy-centered and generally stifle and suppress the "one another" perspectives of the New Testament. Servant leadership should be a natural part of body-life by which the people of God are encouraged toward, facilitated in and equipped for various ministries. Unfortunately, however, the shift from polyform to uniform ministry has created the deplorable situation in which the church forever remains as a dependent, helpless, non-maturing infant for the sake of the officers who watch over the crib. We have inherited traditions in which the tail wags the dog. It is my conviction that because of the deep-seated nature of this awful shift in perspective, the greatest practical need facing the church today is the reincarnation of "a polyform ministry of grace".

3 The Shift from a Suffering Church to an Institution of Ease

The early church grew and prospered incredibly without having church buildings or being protected by the state. In fact, from apostolic times to the ascension of Constantine the church went through cycles of intense persecution spearheaded by the ruling powers. These times of persecution are well documented in such books as Persecution in the Early Church by H. B. Workman and Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church by W. H. C. Friend.5

However, the advent of the emperor Constantine in 312 A.D. brought great changes, most of them for the worse. Money from state funds was used to erect Christian church buildings and support Christian clergy. Ultimately, Christianity was declared to be the state religion. From Constantine onwards the visible church became enmeshed in political intrigue, and the state mingled in the determination of church affairs. As Louis Berkhof notes regarding the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. [which Constantine convened and presided over]:

A settlement forced upon the Church by the strong hand of the emperor could not satisfy and was also of uncertain duration. It made the determination of the Christian faith dependent on imperial caprice and even on court intrigues. ...The sequel clearly probed that, as it was, a change in emperor, and altered mood, or even a bribe, might alter the whole aspect of the controversy. This is exactly what happened repeatedly in subsequent history.6

Constantine set in motion the ideal of a territorial state religion with Christianity at the helm. This ideal was the death knell of all that the Gospel stood for. It signaled the end of believers gathering separately from the pagan culture as a counter-culture where the way of Christ was displayed in simplicity. Now the church was conceived of as all the people in a nation who were born as citizens of the state and constituted as part of the visible church by infant baptism. Church and politics were fused together, creating immense confusion. Ron VanOverloop notes this phenomenon operation from the post-apostolic church to the Reformation:

As was the case in the early church when emperors called the great ecumenical councils together, so was the progress of the Reformation to a great extent determined by the political maneuvering taking place in each country.7

In the early church the disciples banded together in homes and other places as communities "called out" from the world; but Constantinianism erased this distinction and defined "church" as all citizens in a given territory. This had the practical effect of watering down true discipleship and creating a worthless nominal Christianity. Werner Elert contrasts the early days with the rise of Constantinianism:

[In the early church] the strength of their ties with one another is matched by the strength of the boundary they draw to the outside. In business dealings with one another they do not choose an unbeliever to arbitrate; they transact their business "before the saints" and between "brother and brother" (1 Cor. 6:1.5). One is to throw in one's lot with those who fear the Lord, consider their common good, and daily visit the saints face to face ...After Constantine things changed radically with the influx of the masses. This did not prosper the Christian brotherhood. If we can believe only half of what Salvian says, there was not much left of it a hundred years later in many parts of western Christendom.8

The shift from a suffering church to an institution sanctioned and promoted by the state forces us to face a crucial question: Was the Constantinian change the rise or fall of the church? How you answer that question will greatly define your whole view of the church and its mission. In light of New Testament revelation about the church Christ purposed to build, I submit that Constantinianism was a wretched stone thrown into the sea of church history, the ripples of which still lap on our shores today.

We must make a choice. Are we going to cast our lot in with the New Testament vision for the body of Christ [simplicity, suffering, servanthood], or in with the Constantinian model [powerful institution, clergy dominance, rule by political maneuvering]? Are we going to devote the energies of our short life-span to perpetuating the post-apostolic shifts that moved away from the simplicity of Christ, or to restoring the spirit of the New Testament vision?

4 The Shift from a Spirit-Dependent Church to a Letter-Dependent Institution

Twice in his epistles Paul refers to the fact that the church serves Christ "in [the] newness of the Spirit and not in [the] oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6). The church was a community of the Spirit from the Day of Pentecost. In light of this reality the early church did not trust in fixed forms to maintain and guard her existence. There was an openness of the body to be led by the Spirit in light of Christ's Gospel-word.

This can be seen, for example, in the glimpse of an early church service revealed in 1 Cor. 14. Edification was the goal which was to be reached by the Spirit-led participation of the body. The balance Paul desired can perhaps be summed up like this: no form of order in the service must be allowed to stifle the free expression of edifying gifts in the body; no expression of spontaneity in the body must be allowed to blossom into unprofitable disorder. William Barclay isolates these important points from 1 Cor. 14:

[Paul] is determined that anyone who possesses a gift should receive every chance to exercise that gift, but he is equally determined that the services of the Church should not thereby become a kind of competitive disorder. ...There must be liberty but there must be no disorder. ...There was obviously a freedom and an informality about [this service] which is completely strange to our ideas. ...Clearly the church had no professional ministry. ...It was open to anyone who had a gift to use that gift. ...There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early church which is now totally lacking. There was clearly no settled order at all. Everything was informal enough to allow any man who felt that he had a message ...to give it. ...The really notable thing about an early Church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contribution something to it.9

Unfortunately, as time went on this Spirit-dependence gave way to more and more fixed forms of worship, which phased out body participation and committed ministry only to an ever-growing web of ecclesiastical hierarchy. By 250 A.D. church order was set in concrete with one bishop ruling over various territories. The momentum of this church bureaucracy was accelerated when Constantine and his successors sanctioned the church and contributed moneys and resources to this increasingly powerful institution. What began as a Spirit-led organism ended up as a letter-dependent institution. The leaders no longer trusted in the Spirit to hold the body together; instead they leaned on intricate human contrivances and rules to feign outward unity.

One of the saddest features of this shift to letter-dependence, combined with the church's new collusion with the state, was the employment of coercion both to gain and maintain adherents. Simply trusting in the Spirit would have resulted in a spiritual reality too vulnerable to be controlled by human contrivances; the use of raw power backed by the weapons of the state seemed to promise greater stability. Eric Hoffer makes this tragic observation which church history, unfortunately, verifies:

There is hardly an example of a mass movement achieving vast proportions and a durable organization solely by persuasion ...It was the temporal sword that made Christianity a world religion. Conquest and conversion went hand in hand. ...Where Christianity failed to gain or retain the backing of state power, it achieved neither a wide nor permanent hold. ...It also seems that, where a mass movement can either persuade or coerce, it usually chooses the letter. Persuasion is clumsy and its results uncertain.10

Again we must ask ourselves, "Are we going to be a part of perpetuating this shift to trusting in outward carnal hedges to hold the church together, or are we going to purpose to contribute to a return of child-like trust in the Spirit of Christ to build and sustain His body?'

Concluding Remarks...

We have examined four clear shifts in early church history. These shifts are acknowledged by church historians of all theological persuasions. James D. G. Dunn, one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, summarizes the essence of these four shifts like this:

Increasing institutionalism is the clearest mark of early Catholicism - when church becomes increasingly identified with institution, when authority becomes increasingly coterminous with office, when a basic distinction between clergy and laity becomes increasingly self-evident, when grace becomes increasingly narrowed to well-defined ritual acts. We saw above that such features were absent from first generation Christianity, though in the second generation the picture was beginning to change.11

'Such features were absent from first generation Christianity,' that is, they are not found in the New Testament. Does this concern you? Is your heart burdened by the chasm between the original work of the Spirit and the hardened institution that quickly emerged in the post-apostolic days? Does it bother you that most of what we associate with 'church' has little to do with the New Testament, and more to do with patterns that reflect a drift away from it?

Further, and this is the key question, were the shifts we have studied a faithful extension of New Testament ideals, or a tacit denial of all that they stand for? If the answer is the latter, then it is incumbent upon believers to work for the recovery of Christ's ways and to stop contributing to the perpetuation of non-edifying ecclesiastical patterns.

The following articles contain excerpts from various sources relating to early church history. I commend my thoughts on the four shifts and the upcoming collaborating materials to your discerning conscience. May the Lord guide you into appropriate responses as 'the worthy walk' is set before us in the Gospel