27 November 2010

Violence and Football

In response to the recent post on violence, the question was raised: If violence and being entertained by violence is wrong, then what about football?

I need to be careful with my bias here because I like football. I will offer my thoughts with an effort to be balanced but I hope if nothing else to stir us on to be more discerning with everything we watch, read, and do.

When a player doesn't get up after a play in football, people don't cheer. We don't want players getting hurt. When the same thing happens in boxing or mixed martial arts, people cheer. The very goal of such sports is the destruction of your opponent's body. This is where violence against another human is fundamentally wrong. God, being the Creator, is owner of all things and all people (Ps. 24:1, Exo. 19:5, Job 41:11, etc.). What's worse is that as humans we bear the image of God. That body belongs to God and we offend Him when we mess with His stuff.

Since the goal in football is to put the ball in the endzone and not to destroy players' bodies, I think football is different. To the contrary, I believe God is glorified in fine-tuned bodies and cooperating teammates that can place a pass in the perfect spot at the perfect time. That's what I'm entertained by, and I think it is good.

I realize this gets real sticky when we start thinking about the likelihood of players getting hurt in football. If all this is true, can a player in good conscience take the field and play aggressively knowing that he might accidentally injure someone? I think there is something to be said for the consent each player gives when taking the field. Each player goes in knowing he might get hurt. Still I don't know how to work this out exactly. Maybe Reggie White did.

26 November 2010

The Grace To Evangelize

It has been suggested that one verse which exhorts us Christians to evangelize is 2 Timothy 4:5, "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

In the previous post, I contended that most passages used to emphasize personal evangelism are misinterpreted or stretched at best and gave one example from Philemon. I believe this passage from 2 Timothy is also stretched at best. Here's why.

We just need a little context. The verse begins, "As for you." Who is Paul speaking to? Me? You? The verse ends, "fulfill your ministry." My ministry? What's that?

Paul is speaking to Timothy. He is telling Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, to fulfill his ministry. It would benefit us to study what this actually meant in the life of Timothy instead of jumping directly to applying it to ourselves as though Paul is speaking to us.

Let's look around 1 and 2 Timothy looking for clues as to what exactly Timothy's ministry is. I find:
1Ti 1:18  This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.
There are specific words and phrases to key in on here. "Charge" and "entrust" are pretty important words you'll find throughout 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul speaks of himself being entrusted with "the gospel of the glory of the blessed God," 1 Tim 1:11. So Paul is "charging" Timothy to stay true to the gospel as it was "entrusted" to him. The "charge" comes to a climax in the final chapter, 2 Tim 4, where he invokes God Himself in the charge:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
 Just verses later this charge continues with, "Do the work of an evangelist."

What about the prophecy mentioned in 1Ti 1:18? We'll find in addition:
1Ti 4:14  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.
2Ti 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,
The reference to prophecy and laying on of hands is likely similar to what we would call ordination. To get to the point already, Timothy was specifically called and gifted by God to be a minister of the gospel. He was ordained to be a pastor. Therefore I believe the charge to do the work of an evangelist applies today to pastors. And obviously, not every Christian today is a pastor. Therefore this call to evangelism does not apply to common Christians. It does not apply to me. If there's anywhere it could possibly extend to me, it's here:
2 Tim 2:1-2  You then [Timothy], my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Through this passage we can understand the charge to extend to others, to "faithful men." It could be that this is simply referring to more pastors, that Timothy also needs to pass the baton just as Paul is now doing. Whatever the case, it is not just "everyone" but qualified as those who are "faithful" and "able to teach." Related to this we find, "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands," 1 Tim 5:22a. Maybe we should consider how well we steward the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. It isn't to be entrusted to just anyone.

Note also that this ministry entrusted to Timothy and pastors is a gift. The Greek for gift is charisma. The Greek for grace is charis. It is important to realize that whenever we speak or read of spiritual gifts that they are simply things of grace. Each Christian receives grace to use for building up the Church. We don't all do the same thing. We each receive a different measure of grace:
Eph 4:7  But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
To some is given that measure of grace to evangelize. It is different for everyone. Some are "fellow workers" like Philemon, while others are "fellow soldiers" like Archippus (Phm 1:1-2, Col 4:17). I feel as though we've made evangelism into the over-arching gift that everyone ought to exercise, whether it is their gift or not, and only after that do we each have differing gifts that we must also exercise. I am concerned for so many Christians who carry a burden of guilt because they don't evangelize as they are told they should, when in reality it just isn't in their measure of grace and isn't their fault. This is one reason why we need to focus on sanctification, so that each person's measure of grace can grow.

Any other verse?

24 November 2010

Sanctification. Evangelism, Not So Much

I started to write what's below and then stopped at a point because I was not sure if I was saying something false, or at least something too controversial. Then Kevin DeYoung wrote this:
The fact of the matter is if you read through the New Testament epistles you will find very few explicit commands that tell us to evangelize and very few explicit commands that tell us to take care of the poor in our communities, but there are dozens and dozens of verses in the New Testament that enjoin us, in one way or another, to be holy as God is holy (e.g., 1 Peter 1:13-16).
So I'm going ahead with it...

I recently read a story of how excited a young man was when he first discovered J.I. Packer's Knowing God. The rich truth that "the basic fact of my life was living to know my creator" was something he never learned in church. Upon telling his youth pastor this, he was rebuked, "Your purpose isn't to know God. Your purpose is to win souls. That's what you are here on earth to do- be a witness and win others to Christ."

Sadly, I can identify with that attitude and I'm guessing you can too. Here's an idea: Our primary focus in the Christian life should be sanctification, not evangelism.

Maybe you don't see those two things as opposed to each other. They should both happen, right? Yes, they should both happen. But I am just trying to take my cues from scripture, and I find in every New Testament epistle the directions given to common Christians is focused on sanctification, on growing in holiness. It's all over the place. Where do we find focus on personal evangelism? To be honest, I don't find much.

Please keep in mind as you react to this that, because of The Great Commission, I believe evangelism is an important part of the Church's mission. But beyond that, I contend (shockingly I'm sure) that most passages used to emphasize personal evangelism are misinterpreted or stretched at best. It just isn't there.

Example: Philemon 1:6, "...and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." I've heard Thabiti Anyabwile, a man with whom I am together for the gospel, use this verse to demonstrate how evangelism can cause one to grow deeper in knowledge of the gospel. By telling people about Jesus, they will probably have questions that you don't have an answer for, so you go looking for answers. This in turn better prepares you for the next evangelism opportunity. That is all true, but I don't believe that is what this verse is saying. I'd be pretty disappointed if that's all it meant.

The word for "sharing" in this verse could mean "communication" or it could just as well mean "fellowship." In the context of Philemon, we understand that Paul is writing to Philemon to urge him to lovingly receive Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon's who ran away. Philemon had a right to punish him if he ever returned. But Paul's whole purpose in this letter is to inform Philemon that Onesimus is now a fellow believer in Christ and so he should receive Onesimus into his fellowship and forgive him.

In light of the context, I believe the phrase about "sharing your faith" refers to Philemon's fellowship with believers, not communication with nonbelievers. The greater context of verses 4-7 refers to Philemon's love and faith for Jesus and "for all the saints," and Paul says "the hearts of the saints have been refreshed" through Philemon. In verse 22, Paul asks Philemon to prepare a guest room for him, hoping to soon visit him. Notice in verse 2 the reference to "the church in your house," which indicates Philemon opened his home as a meeting place for Christians. All this suggests that Philemon was wealthy and probably provided for the needs of poorer believers in his community.

Paul's reference to "every good thing" is meant to contrast worldly wealth with spiritual wealth. His prayer is that through Philemon's sharing of his home and material "good things" that Philemon would realize the true blessings of good things he has in Christ which become apparent through the fellowship of faith. "The sharing of your faith" is exercising your gift of grace and participating in all those things a church should do: bear each other's burdens, encourage one another, rejoice together, serve one another, teach one another, worship Jesus together, and so on.

And we could say the purpose of all that was Philemon's sanctification.

I could go on but I will pause for objections. Can you find me a passage which exhorts me to evangelize?

17 November 2010

Violence Only For Justice

I blogged several months ago saying of the topic that I would "expand a bit more soon." Now, when God starts a thing He is faithful to complete it. I am recognizing that I fail to glorify God when I start a thing and do not follow through with it. So I here am.

But before resuming that topic, here's something I want to tell you: Violence is only acceptable when it is coupled with justice.

There is a certain Christian subculture today that seeks to be manly by watching mixed martial arts fights such as UFC. I recently came across Mark Driscoll say the following in the sermon "The Weaker Christian":
If you’re a person who has no problem with violence, and last night you watched Matt Hughes beat Royce Gracie in the Ultimate Fight – thank you, Jesus. We all knew it was gonna happen. You don’t have a problem with violence – because you’ve read the Old Testament and you know it’s Biblical – you don’t have a problem with violence, then you can watch Ultimate Fighting. If you marry someone, though, like I did, and she says, “I don’t like violence,” then I watch it with my boys, not with my wife. My wife’s not into Ultimate Fighting. My boys? Totally into Ultimate Fighting. They take their shirts off and watch Ultimate Fighting with their dad – that’s what we do.
Though I have myself in one instance gathered with some guys to watch a fight, there is something unsettling about all this. I have two objections: violence itself is not Biblical and it is not manly.

Violence is in the Old Testament, yes, but it is not recreational. Violence per se is never condoned, let alone being entertained by and deriving pleasure from it. It is always the story of God executing justice using His people as agents to deliver His wrath on those well deserving for their sin. It is the same story in the New Testament and in our present age: Jesus Christ is the true Ultimate Fighter, the conqueror of sin and death.

If you want to be a man, take off your shirt with your Dad and get violent fighting your sin. Fight for justice in the world as agents of Christ's redemption and victory to the captive and oppressed. This is the ultimate fight.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. - James 1:27

Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of. - Jonathan Edwards, Resolution #22