Wednesday, November 28, 2007

First Online Messages

We have been planning a church website for a long time, but, with one thing and another, we haven't made it happen.

In the meantime, my first two online messages are up at Fellowship Baptist Church, Saskatoon. I was asked to speak at a conference and then on Sunday morning - they've put both the messages up here. There were a couple more speakers at the conference, but the messages didn't get posted - technical difficulties?

The first one, "The Church's Roots" was on biblical authority from 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. The second one, "How to Fix the World" was from Ephesians 1:9-10.

My mom doesn't use the internet, but in case anyone else in interested, there you go.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Our Glorious Inheritance

While preparing for Sunday's message on Ephesians 1:15-23, I came accross this gem from Matthew Henry:

Besides the heavenly inheritance prepared for the saints, there is a present inheritance in the saints; for grace is glory begun, and holiness is happiness in the bud.

Persistent Grace to Run the Race

I just finished reading When Sinners Say, 'I Do' by Dave Harvey. It is excellent (Tim Challies reviews it here). The subtitle is, Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage. I am so thankful that there are new books and messages out there that are Gospel driven and that old cross-centered resources are finding a new audience among many people in evangelical churches who are weary of the essentially secular approach that many churches and groups have adopted.

I have certainly experienced a dissatisfaction with conferences, leadership events and pastors that don't seem to appreciate the centrality of the Gospel for every day. I try to have a good attitude, but when Christian books, events and programs don't look to grace to justify their purpose, they come off flat and shallow. For instance, a few of our men at church went with me to a leadership weekend a few years back. The presenter spent most of his time quoting from secular business books and dropping names of movers and shakers in the corporate world. There was very little Bible, and we didn't hear about anything in that retreat that only God could do (i.e., grace).

The same applies to various aspects of evangelicalism today; church growth, Christian counselling, parenting and marriage seminars and other aspects of Christian life are based on what we do rather than what only God can do. Secular models are borrowed and the Bible is set to the side (or a few proof-texts are pulled out). So many Christians need reform - a paradigm shift, a Copernican revolution.

In his message on the Gospel at the first meeting of The Gospel Coalition, Don Carson identified the problem as a misunderstanding of what the Gospel really is. He said that many believers think that the Gospel is for "tipping people into the Kingdom" and then it is left behind and the focus shifts to what we do. That is not good. The gospel must be central for all of life. As Jerry Bridges says, "preach the gospel to yourself every day" (if you haven't read any Jerry Bridges' books, or if you've just read, The Pursuit of Holiness, find and read The Discipline of Grace).

One critical passage on this theme is Galatians 3:1-3. The Galatians were "foolish" and "bewitched" because, after starting with grace through faith, they began to rely on human effort. Another key text is Titus 2:11-13 (which Dave Harvey unpacks in his book). The grace of God is operative in training us until the day we see Christ face-to-face.

Declaring this Gospel - from the pulpit and among non-believers - is the absolute center of true Christian life. Dave Harvey calls this "persistent grace to run the race." I love that phrase and I plan to swipe it.

Not everyone in my Fellowship of churches, not all the pastors in our Edson ministerial, not all the people in my my church get this concept yet. It is only by a revolution wrought by the Holy Spirit that we will get the Gospel in this comprehensive manner for all of life. I'm going to keep on promoting the gospel by preaching, teaching, recommending great books and messages and hammering away on this theme on my blog.

Thanks, Pastor Dave, for your book and that great phrase, "persistent grace to run the race."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Healthy Churches - A Link to Get Started

I have been collecting some thoughts regarding healthy churches lately. I will do some posts soon, but here is something to get you started, a great post by Mark Dever over at the Together for the Gospel blog. It was written back in July of 2006.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Looking for a Better Way

I have posted on my concerns for the future of my association of churches and, by extension, much of evangelicalism today. In my own circles, I don't hear people denying central truths, but they are eclipsed by concerns for relevance and pragmatic systems.

These are big topics, but one of my frustrations is that many pastors that I talk to don't even get the categories (or think they do and reject my narrowness out of hand). I could point people to David Wells' four books that do such an excellent job diagnosing the problem, or even D.A. Carson's The Gagging of God (I can't believe that book is 11 years old already), but these books take some work.

I don't seem to have the words to express what's wrong briefly, so I have been hesitating to do a blog post or a blog series. Enter the wonderful world of the internet. Now I can just point people to Tim Challies post, "Ruined for Anything Else" and Michael Haykin's post, "Spiritual Vitality and Church Governance." Together, they form an excellent primer for what I perceive to be the greatest problems in our churches today. These two little posts don't say everything, but they are great discussion starters. Thanks, gentlemen!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Watching the Fellowship

Last week I flew to Hamilton to attend the 54th annual convention of The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada (FEBCC, henceforth, "The Fellowship"). I have attended a Fellowship Baptist Church since 1981, I took my undergrad and graduate studies at a Fellowship school and I have pastored in Fellowship churches since 1989.

The Fellowship is a diverse group of churches from coast to coast (about 500 of them). There are regional distinctions and distinctions between churches in any given region. We share a statement of faith and a national identity through missions, educational institutions and the national office. Some recent changes have given me lots to think about. I do plan to do a few posts on these changes. If any Fellowship pastors or members of Fellowship churches find this blog, I'd love to have your comments. If you are not a part of the Fellowship but wish to help me think through some of these questions, I'd appreciate your input.

This post is for background. Let me give a little bit more: In the Spring of 2006, the Fellowship hired a new President, Dr. John Kaiser. Dr. Kaiser came from Growing Healthy Churches (formerly American Baptist Churches of the West) in Northern California. He has written a book titled, Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in their Mission. We took the first step toward retooling our National Fellowship this year at convention. We adopted Dr. Kaiser's "Accountable Leadership" model and did away with a multiple board structure for our agencies. This is for a six-year trial period. We can adopt or reject the new way of doing things at any Convention during that time. Dr. Kaiser is confident that we will be sold on the fruitfulness of the new structure.

The more I think about this new direction, the more questions I have. Here are a few of them for a start:

  • Are we an association of churches or a denomination? Is that a meaningful distinction any more?

  • I have serious reservations regarding a corporate model of leadership for local churches, but is it acceptable or even desirable for a National administration? The National Fellowship office is not a church, but exists to serve churches.

  • With that in mind, is it important for an administrative body that serves churches to be theological, i.e. define their terms (missional, disciple, conversion, etc)? Is it safe to assume: a). we are on the same page on doctrine because of our shared affirmation of faith and / or b). theological precision is a local church matter?

  • The ultimate purpose of these changes is to grow churches, both by expanding the size of existing churches and accelerating the planting of churches. What is the most effective way to influence local churches to achieve these goals while respecting their autonomy?

I am not opposed to streamlining administrations to make them more effective in accomplishing their mission. I am not opposed to helping churches grow and multiply - in fact, I could use some help in mobilizing our people to be more mission-minded here in Edson. One thing I do know is that I am not going to cheer for the team that wants to maintain the status-quo (I don't even know if that "team" exists). We do need change and renewal as a Fellowship of churches.

However, I want to know if my restlessness is warranted. Am I asking the right questions? Is there cause for alarm or shall I just hang tight and see what develops?