The Log College

The Log College

When I was undergoing my ministerial training a professor spoke favorably of a book written by Archibald Alexander, entitled “The Log College.”  He noted that the book was out of print, the last printing being put out by Banner of Truth 1968.  The book seemed to me, then, unattainable.  Solid Ground Christian Books did come out with a paper back printing in 2008.  I did a brief search on the title and to my surprise secured two hard back copies of the ’68 printing.  What I would like to do now is introduce my readers to the book.  We will do that by examining the author, the milieu in which the events of the book occurred, and then the book itself.

Who was Archibald Alexander?  He was born in 1777 and died 1851.  Alexander was a Christian who practiced his faith in the Presbyterian Church.  He was a scholar of renown, having been the founding professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and teaching there for 37 years.  He lived during the time when many of the participants of the Great Awakening were still alive.  This link would prove helpful as he gained perspective and material from them for the writing of his book entitled, “The Log College.”  We should also note that he was a descendant of that Puritan theology and living which characterized the beginnings of religious experience in America.

This brings us to our second question.  What were the times in which the events of this book took place?  Alexander writes about a group of men who ministered during and briefly after the Great Awakening.  New England was experiencing deadness in her churches.  Pastors read their theologically polished messages to their spiritually secure audiences.  It seemed that everything was rote for those who professed Christ.  Into this vacuum walked a few preachers who were full of spiritual zeal.  They let their pent up passion loose on the unsuspecting carnal believers of the day.  God used this very preaching to rock the New England world.

These were also tumultuous times within the church.  The Presbyterians were divided on what to make of the revival.  Was this mere nonsense or was it a genuine work of God?  Two sides were appropriately labeled:  Old Light and New Light.  This division manifested itself in other denomination too.  For instance, the Congregational churches were also split along these lines.  We have then an intense revival happening with explosive results; an external dynamic.  We also have intense divisions in North American Christendom:  an internal dynamic.

Let us now move to considering the book.  We will do this by first examining evidences of Alexander’s objectivity.  This, I hope, will help you the reader trust him as a historian.  It will also help us interpret the events on which he is writing.  Secondly, we will consider the men themselves on which he gives biographical sketches.  The phrase “Biographical Sketches of William Tennent & his students together with an account of the revivals under their ministries” is the long subtitle Alexander gives.  This sentence captures the content of the book rather well.

Alexander notes on page 10 that his book is written to satisfy questions regarding the first Presbyterian institution of higher learning.  How did it come to be?  He carefully notes that such a history if not accompanied by “boasting” and “vainglory” would be a helpful exercise.  Alexander’s balanced approach is evident in his treatment of the faults of Gilbert Tennent, of whom we will hear more later.  Tennent was one of the preachers of the revival which swept the New England area.  Alexander notes that his zeal and harshness led him to say disparaging things about good men.  This spirit led to a division within the Synod.  Our author does not refrain from censuring Tennent’s divisiveness saying “he made a grand mistake” (35). He also noted, “He [Tennent] could not read the hearts of his opponents.”  In these matters Alexander demonstrates that while praising Tennent he cannot then overlook his grievous faults.

Alexander’s treatment of William Tennent Jr. also leaves us satisfied with his seeming objectivity.  William Tennent Jr. was an intensely spiritual man who sometimes attributed circumstances to supernatural causes which might best be explained according to “ordinary principles” (133).  Strangely enough, William Tennent woke up one morning to find a few toes missing.  While Tennent attributed this to be a work of the “prince of darkness” (136), Alexander argues that Tennent may have been a “somnambulist” which we know as a sleepwalker.  The discussion as to the cause of the missing toes may well leave the reader in a state of hilarity.  Possible causes include:  some domestic animal, a dog, a hungry and voracious rat, a mad cat, a sharp instrument, and of course sleep walking (136).

Let us move on now to consider the three men of whom Alexander writes.  We begin with William Tennent Sr.  He was born in Ireland, probably educated at Trinity College, belonged to the Episcopal Church, and married a minister’s daughter (14).  The young couple moved to America in 1716.  From this union came four sons.  In America Tennent began pastoring in Bucks county PA.

Ministerial training was very important to the colonists living in America.  However, it was also difficult to get a quality ministerial education in those days.  With Harvard in Cambridge, MA and Yale in New Haven, CT distance was a problem.  Tennent couldn’t send his sons away for training and since he himself was trained he taught them at home.  Alexander writes, “he erected the building [log college] which has already been described; which though humble and even despicable in its external appearance, was an institution of unspeakable importance to the Presbyterian Church in this country” (17).  It was in this building that William Tennent Sr. taught his sons and other young men about the glories of God.  This building was also the beginning of Princeton College.

In this log college Tennent did more than just convey a biblical education.  He was a man of fervent devotion to God.  This aroma came off him and into his students.  It also impressed a visiting evangelist named George Whitfield.  Whitfield describes him as “one of the ancient patriarchs” (19).  Tennent’s warm devotion and personal zeal for the Lord was unusual for his day.  During this time ministers spoke to their people in an uninteresting manner.  The style was formal and devoid of religious fervor.  Some argued that it was even unnecessary for ministers to be converted.  What William Tennent gave his students was something rare and precious; scholarship and fervor.

We consider now his oldest son, Gilbert Tennent.  He was born in Ireland and came over with his parents when about fourteen years of age.  It was during this time that he struggled with his salvation.  His doubts were finally laid to rest as Christ confirmed his salvation.  During this time and subsequent his father taught him at home.  He was ordained in 1726 and served as a minister of Christ for the remainder of his days.

Gilbert Tennent was a man of conviction and passion.  He spoke earnestly when he preached.  His style was sincere and persuasive.  His ministry in the pulpit was well received.  His logic was clear and penetrating as was his soul’s desire for the Lord.  He could also be judgmental and harsh.  This would be one of his primary faults.

Tennent rightly surmised that the clergy and the people of his day were indifferent to spiritual things, carnal, and generally asleep.  He preached hard and did so with great results.  He preached the torments and agonies of hell.  The people did awake from their slumber beneath the onslaught of this man’s white hot passion.  However, it was his sermon “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry” that set off a firestorm.  This was a direct challenge to the existing clergy in the Presbyterian denomination.  This was just one sermon taken from a life bent against the norms of his day.  Alexander remarks about Tennent, “He could not read the hearts of his opponents, and, therefore, had no authority to pronounce a sentence of condemnation on them” (35).  He was instrumental in the fracturing of the Synod due to his spirit.  He also played a critical role in bringing the Synod back together following a seventeen year split.

His primary contribution along with George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards was in preaching the Great Awakening.  He toured as an evangelist and was instrumental in bringing the dead back to life.  His sermons were greatly used by God because he hated compromise and earnestly desired God’s glory.

We consider now William Tennent Jr.  The account of this man is strange indeed.  We know little of his early days.  Like his older brother Gilbert, he was born in Ireland.  At age thirteen came to America with his parents (98).  We do know that he was a diligent student and trained well for the ministry.  While preparing for his examination as a minister he studied so hard that his health began to rapidly deteriorate.   We read, “He was conversing one morning with his brother in Latin on the state of his soul when he fainted and died away” (99).  His body was cold, lifeless, and emancipated.  He was laid out on a board for others to see and his funeral was planned for the following day.

A young doctor friend argued that William was not dead, he just seemed to be.  He engaged William’s older brother Gilbert in heated conversation on the matter.  Gilbert Tennent insisted on a funeral and after some delay the doctor relaxed his case.  On the day of the funeral the doctor argued for an hour delay, then another delay, and finally one more.  When they were about to bury him he woke up!  He had no memory and didn’t know who he was.  So, they began to teach him how to read and write again.  Gradually he learned his lessons.  Then one day his head hurt and all his previous memory returned.

How do we account for this strange turn of events?  William Tennent Jr. actually gave an account himself.  According to his own testimony, he had an encounter with the Lord.  Upon his fainting he entered into “another state of existence” (101).  A superior being led him along where he “beheld at a distance an ineffable glory” and “I saw an innumerable host of happy beings surrounding the inexpressible glory, in acts of adoration and joyous worship”(101).

Alexander has no categories for this and attributes the experience to a dream or “natural principles” (132).  We may well take issue with this misplaced categorization.  Why could the Lord not take someone to inestimable heights?  Whatever one may think about this, Tennent’s own testimony seems remarkably clear on his experience.

There are other stories in this remarkable book which we cannot here relay.  What may we take away from this story?  God used the faithfulness of one man to not only train his sons and other pupils but to lay the groundwork for a theological institution.  We need not overlook the smallness of present duties.  Faithfulness to the call and diligence in the implementation of that call are paramount to God.

We also note that William Tennent Sr. took ownership of the education of his sons.  He taught them well, pouring evangelical piety and scholarship into them.  We know nothing of him from his own writings since we have none.  What we know of him is taken from the stamp he left on his posterity.  His sons were ministers of the highest order and we must conclude that their father was a good dad.

Finally, let’s not despise a “small” work.  Work is work and all our work is rendered to an almighty God to whom only the best is worthy.  From a human vantage point, Tennent’s work seems small.  He labored before the Lord, though, and rendered it back to him.  God does regard the faithful labors of his own as pleasing in his sight when accompanied by a humble heart.  Truly, obscurity is a manmade category and not one known to God.  We cannot help but praise God who delights in elevating the small and overlooking the proud!

 

Resolutions

Do you have some New Year’s resolutions?  Chances are you have certainly thought about setting some resolutions for the New Year.   New calendar years afford opportunities for change and adjustment.  If we want to make serious systemic changes then now is as good a time as any to do that.  What I would like to do in this blog post is discuss resolutions.  The goal is to help you move forward with determination this year.

Let’s ask a few clarifying questions.  First, are you considering a worthy resolution?   This question is an important one for me because it helps me dwell in reality.  Let me explain.  We all have things we want to firm up.  The believer sincerely wants to glorify God in all he does.  We know that.  But, is God calling me to actually make a change?  Is he actually speaking to me to glorify himself in a given area?  This brings a more serious note to resolutions.  If the Spirit of the living God is actually talking to me then the issue becomes clearer.  The way forward is simple.  It is time to make some changes.

Second, how do I know if God is actually speaking to me?  I would suggest that you grab a notebook a Bible and go off somewhere by yourself.  After a period of quiet honest personal reflection you should start hearing from the Lord.  Your spirit will begin to unfold and deep set desires will begin to express themselves.  These desires are nothing less than your soul’s response to God’s call.  If a resolution begins here it is far more likely to yield fruit.  This resolution is based on the conviction that God has spoken.

In asking whether a resolution is a worthy one we are trying to avoid failure.  If I start something only to stop then I’m injuring my own person.  Here is how it works.  By starting and stopping endlessly on this or that resolution we groom our own souls for defeat and cowardice.  The strength of conviction is lost.  A weak will accustomed to compromise becomes a tolerable companion.  I always fail so I intuitively know, this one is going to flop too!  If you can’t see a matter through, don’t start at all.  Respect yourself enough to start only those things you intend on finishing.

Third, is your community in step with your resolution?  If others around you are on the same page as you then the resolution will be easier to keep due to peer encouragement.  If you are signing on to something that nobody else is, then get ready to fight.  There is nothing as comforting as falling back to the complacency of the crowd.  The common denominator seems so safe.  It is helpful, negatively, when bad habits are noticed by the community.  This results in more attention to one’s own behavior.  If you are the only one going all out and the average person isn’t then you probably won’t be getting too much encouragement.  Know what you are signing on to.

Lastly, don’t be afraid.  Exercise faith and courage.  Maybe you are alone in your response to the Lord’s whispers, its ok.  You aren’t the first.  The way forward is satisfying to the soul because it is a response to a loving God’s invitation.  You may trip and fall but keep pressing in and you will be satisfied with his loving kindness.  The resolution is not an end; it is the means to an end.  The end is God himself!

The War on Christmas

Merry Christmas Who is afraid to say it?

Over the last ten or so years we have been hearing a lot about the “War on Christmas.”  What I would like to do in this blog is explore this phrase and consider what it is.  Naturally, I would like to give some insight on how a believer might respond to this “War on Christmas.”

Some might say that the War on Christmas is an attempt by secular progressives to eradicate or downplay any religious elements in the celebration of Christmas.  Conservatives fight back and insist that religious elements are traditional and should be celebrated in our country as they always have been.  The War on Christmas has to do with control.  It has to do with how Christmas is or isn’t celebrated in the public square.  Nobody is telling anyone else what to do in their homes or private property.  No, the issue is how we as a country will celebrate this Federal Holiday.

Why is this such a big deal?  We live in a country where the will of the people is ultimately sovereign.  Some people like celebrating Christmas and talking about the religious elements of the holiday, others do not.  Those who do not like it naturally try to enforce their will upon others.  Those who do like the religious elements of Christmas, not surprisingly, try to keep these elements in practice!  So far things are pretty normal.  Everyone tries to mold things to their own liking.  The problem is that we live in the same country.  Nobody likes to live in a country where one’s views are contrary to cultural norms.  In other words, everyone prefers his preferences to rule.

What does this War on Christmas look like?  There are disputes on whether one should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings.  The argument goes that saying Happy Holidays dodges confessing that Christmas is Christian in nature.  Saying Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings is a cop out.  Such a greeting is weak and falls short of the full orbed greeting “Merry Christmas!”  Furthermore, it is a deliberate attempt to undermine Jesus as the reason for the season.  National voices urge the faithful to boycott institutions or retailers who instruct their workers to use blander greetings which fall short of “Merry Christmas.”  The dispute also manifests itself in the Nativity scene displays or similar scenarios.  A long honored tradition in a given city or town might be to put up a Nativity scene.  One day, a detractor walks by the scene, his/her feelings and beliefs are offended by this, and he/she works to do away with the display and does so successively.  Or, this same detractor goes through this process and loses.

There is no mistaking it.  The idea of Christmas has its origins in the New Testament.  The celebration of Jesus’ birth is historically the point of Christmas.  However, this fundamental point is lost to many people.  The celebration of Christmas has changed.  Today Christmas isn’t so much about recognizing the birth of Christ and by extension his divinity.  It is about getting together with family.  It is about singing songs like Jingle Bells.  It is about radio stations playing Christmas music all day for a month.  Christmas is about buying gifts on black Friday or now Thursday, wrapping them, and putting them under a tree.  It is about getting up and opening one’s gifts.  Christmas is about Santa Claus, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, elves, chimneys, cookies and milk.  Christmas is about sentimental feeling, doing a good turn, watching a movie about being nice and feeling good, and generally having good will.  Christmas is more of a month long process, wrung out completely with the 25th being more of  a whimper.  The list goes on but much of the holiday adornment is fairly harmless and some might even say kitschy.

If my description about Christmas seems inaccurate I would simply point you to the culture in which we live.  I live in Franklin, TN and my kids are in the public school system.  They sing songs in school but they do not sing carols that speak to Jesus’ divinity or are blatantly biblical.  Every Black Friday or Thursday we read about crowds massing at Wal-Mart, people trampling one another to death, parking lot arguments, and shootings.  This is not theoretical, it is real.  Inside the church the celebration of Christmas might be a little more pointed but not in the culture.

So we have depicted what is happening on the ground.  The culture prefers more and more to not celebrate the virgin birth of Christ; rather, the culture and I might add, believers too, are celebrating festivity and sentiment.  And now we get back to the war.  What shall we do?  This is where I think believers are making a grave error.  Believers think that fighting for God is a matter of winning the War on Christmas.  Fighting the War on Christmas amounts to pushing back moral decay and affirming God.  Victory in this war equals people saying “Merry Christmas” and Nativity scenes being acceptable.  Should these and other things be normative, believers can take a deep breath and relax, the war will be won.  Until then we must strive and fight.  Let’s vigorously insist on saying “Merry Christmas” and give our business to stores that are friendly to Christmas.  So the sentiment goes.

Here is the major flaw.  The mandate for believers is to make disciples not win the War on Christmas.  I submit to you that the War on Christmas is not only misplaced and unwinnable but it is a diversion from our primary work.  It is misplaced because this isn’t the mandate.  It is unwinnable because we’re trying to censor speech and control preferences.  If being a Christian amounts to campaigns on winning the War on Christmas then Christianity amounts to a coercive religion.  Why get someone to say “Merry Christmas” when he doesn’t want to?  Christianity does not coerce, no, it persuades men to bend the knee to Jesus at the heart level.  Imagine then the distortion we preach when we link ourselves to campaigns like winning the War on Christmas!  Do we really equate Christianity to getting the right to do a Nativity scene?  It seems to me that our energy and our worship would be better spent elsewhere.  As I see it, we are fighting for the form when the godliness that supports the form is already long gone.

Somebody might say, “You are weak and cowardly, stand up for your beliefs!”  I do.  I believe that Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God but if someone demurs that is quite alright.  Am I saying it isn’t ok for believers to do Nativity scenes and say Merry Christmas?  No!  Let’s use the legal channels available to secure that privilege if we can.  It does seem shameful, to me, that such sweet displays would be shouted down by an angry recalcitrant minority.  We should heartily commend and participate in erecting displays and invest in these measures because it breaths fresh air into the fabric of our culture.  It speaks of hope, beauty, and reminds us of Jesus.  True authentic pictures of divinity displayed in humanity speak of mercy, grace, and forgiveness of sins.  I’m so glad that churches and individuals celebrate Jesus’ birth like this publically.  But this isn’t the ultimate goal.

Let me give two final words in conclusion.  First, we ought not link Christianity to winning a popularity contest or cultural acceptance.  This keeps the faith at a surface legislative level.  It also blunts the gospel by seeking to coerce or dishonestly allure people.  Secondly, the good news is that we can celebrate Jesus as much as we want!  Whether there is a law or not, believers have always been able to worship Jesus, albeit, sometimes with consequences.  This Christmas you can worship Jesus and thank him for coming.  And, nobody can do anything about it!  You can worship to your heart’s delight!  Take comfort in this.  We needn’t feel discomfort or sadness because somewhere a judge doesn’t allow Nativity scenes.  Naturally our hearts ache at all unbelief but if someone doesn’t like Jesus then this is between him and Jesus.  For us, let us pursue him all the more and enjoy him.  The feast is all ours.

Some Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage

Every generation of believers has a unique assignment.  The primary assignment of our generation, I believe, is to sift through question of homosexuality.  What I would like to do in this blog is write on some of the critical points of this discussion.  My hope and desire is that the church respond rightly and thereby give glory to God.  The level at which I’m writing will be more theoretical.  I’m hoping to help frame discussion, not so much carry it out in particulars.  For that reason I’ll refrain from suggesting solutions in this post to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.

Starting off, let’s look at the landscape in America on the matter of same-sex marriage.  While regretting it later, on September of 1996 President Clinton signed “The Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]” into law.  Of consequence in that law is section three which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  President Obama did clarify in his run for the 2008 presidency that he would support an overturn of DOMA.  May 9, 2012 President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage.  It seems fair to say that the political winds have changed on the matter of gay marriage.  These developments are very recent and certainly shift public policy from a historical perspective.

Apart from legislative trends at the nation’s capital we also have changes at the other levels.  There are about six states which recognize and sanction same-sex marriages.  Other states are either moving that way or are about to begin moving that way.  Listening to the media, it strikes me that coverage is generally favorable of same-sex marriage.  Perhaps I should say that I do not hear anyone protesting on moral or biblical grounds.  The issue seems to be a matter of preference.  While being somewhat subjective, it strikes me that we have a general trend in favor of same-sex marriage.  I’m not speaking of the majority being in favor of it; rather, a trend is visibly favorable to same-sex marriage.

We may leave the civil trends and turn now to religious trends.  The Episcopal Church is divided on the matter.  2008 saw a split in the church as some conservatives left over this issue.  In 2009 the General Assembly resolved  to affirm same-gender relationships, affirm access to the ministry by those in same-sex relationship, and “work against” DOMA.    The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also affirmed same-sex relationships in 2009.  In 2011 the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to affirm same-sex marriage.  While the majority of Christian denominations do not favor same-sex marriage, some of them do.  These changes have come fairly recently so I would suggest that here too the trends are moving in favor of same-sex marriage.

While not claiming to be a prophet, it seems that things have just begun to tip.  We are moving fast and the boundaries, sentiment, and social norms are collapsing.  Right now, the civil discussion is based on preference.  Someone thinks same-sex marriage is ok and somebody else thinks it isn’t.  Let’s just put it to a vote.  If one side loses, no problem keep trying, argue, and eventually you may carry the day.  So what is a Christian to do and how can he do it?

Listening, watching, and participating in the conversation I see two dynamics at work, over and over again.  That dynamic is best illustrated in this video.  A straw man is set up and then deposed.  The third and fourth pastors in the video were hateful and condescending in their analysis of homosexuals.  Dads shouldn’t intimidate and berate their sons if homosexual behavior or tendencies are present.  No, America should place homosexuals behind an enclosure and treat them like lepers.  The position by these two pastors is easily assailed and overcome.  In the video, it was.  However, the “overcoming” was an error too.  The interviewee equated 21st century Christianity with those pastors.  And, she argued that disagreement among believers on homosexuality makes the issue awash.  What we were left with was ambiguity and no clear note.

As believers we needn’t be ashamed of giving God’s mind on the issue of homosexuality and subsequently same-sex marriage.  There is nothing shameful or weak about such witness.  In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus, in the context of marriage, stated that in the beginning God created them male and female.  The man leaves his father and mother to cleave to his wife.  In one statement Jesus skillfully defines the boundaries of all sex and all marriage.  Sex and marriage may only occur between one man and one woman.  These boundaries are from the Creator, not the created.

In light of this passage we may draw some practical conclusions.  First, God created them male and female.  That means every person on the planet has been uniquely crafted and designed by the Creator.  His pleasure for each person, regardless of sexual preference, is strong and vibrant.  We must not depart from this pleasure and delight and it should be the song on our lips.  Second, God set up the boundaries, not man so we needn’t be anxious and angry when we give God’s mind on the matter.  When we are anxious, worried, and angry about other people’s beliefs we may well betray subtle doubts as to God’s ability to prevail over sin.

Again, this question is ours to communicate to the world.  We can easily be compromised by angry spirits, an argumentative spirit, and red herrings.  This process will bring about great pruning in the church.  We can’t carry the day by being bombastic, funny, or legislatively clever.  If what Jesus says is true, then no amount of bending and compromise will stem the tide of hate against Christians and ultimately God.  Resistance to truth and truth’s representatives will always be present, it needn’t surprise us.  We certainly shouldn’t get our feelings hurt and go conspiracy on the world.  We bring the witness in the Spirit of God.  We affirm truth in love.  Our victory is fidelity to Christ, not getting people to bend to our arguments.

I also want to delicately broach a subject related to that last sentence.  We must love all people.  But, we must not be naïve.  Believers are tasked with the Great Commission which is to make disciples of all nations.  The desire to reach people is so strong in us that we may tend towards naïveté.  There is such a thing as giving what is holy to unholy persons.  Our hearts may be so strong towards reaching the sinner that we don’t realize we are being torn to bits.

Finally, believers shouldn’t be alarmed at trends.  Trends have always come and gone.  The believer is a citizen of the city of God, not the city of man.  The city of man is constantly changing, developing new opinions, and new truths.  The city of God maintains its witness and it’s God.  It is the city of God that will prevail and yes, this question will be settled satisfactorily in due time.  The city of God will then continue her march while the city of man will continue its march.

Easter 2011

It was a good day for the church in Franklin.  At least nine churches came together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Four other churches met together for a combined worship service at 10am.  What I would like to do is walk through the details of these two services and then make some comments.

It rained through the night but by 5am Easter morning the rain stopped.  A warm northeastern wind blew over our site and helped to dry things out.  I suspect the rain kept some people at home.  We were going to meet outside so there was the potential of getting wet.  I should add that we did have contingency plans for meeting inside.  By 6:30am we were ready to begin.

The pastors introduced themselves and their churches and then the worship began.  A praise team sang several songs.  Then a Native American couple danced.  The dancing was followed by two pastors who prayed.  Then two men preached the word.  The initial text was brought forth by a younger white guy.  The application was then brought forth by an older black guy.  This combination made for a wonderful balance.  Two more men prayed and then we were dismissed.

For most of the folks, it was on to the morning worship service at the home church.  Not so for some other churches.  We gathered again for a follow-up worship service 10am at the same site.  To my knowledge, such a thing is unheard of.  Our fellowship, FCC, has had two joint worship services with another church but meeting with several other churches is not something we do.  There were two non-denominational churches and two denominational churches.  The pastors of the four churches decided to tap an older Church of Christ preacher to bring the word.  After the preaching we prayed and anointed a sick lady.  Then we were dismissed.  I went to bed that night feeling whole and complete.  It was a good day.

Let’s dissect some things here.  First, there is only one true church.  Anytime someone decides to become a Christian he/she becomes a member of that universal church.  While there is only one church there are different manifestations or localities.  These manifestations will look different but the core will be the same if they hold to the one true faith.  If there is only one true church is it not reasonable that these various manifestations relate to one another in some way?  It is reasonable to expect this but such relations are somewhat uncommon and inconsistent at best.

From the inside we can easily justify our distinctives, which usually stem from the pastor!  Hence he may vigorously defend the church’s distinctives all the more.  This is not necessarily bad.  However, let us suppose you are an unbeliever, what evidence do you have that all these churches and denominations are one?  Well, one evidence is confession?  Is there anything else?  I’m going to suggest two categories that justify the confession:  worship and service.  When the churches come together to serve they communicate that oneness.  When churches come together to worship they communicate oneness.  These dynamics communicate volumes to the world and the church.

Secondly, I would like to address the dynamics of different churches coming together in worship.  My family watched a Lakota (Sioux) brother and his wife dance before the Lord.  I couldn’t say anything, my mouth was shut.  Here were two “Indians” dancing.  This language was unknown to me.  I as well as everyone there understood what this dance meant.  It was an act of worship and it was wonderful.  For my personal family and my church family, we sat under the powerful preaching of a black brother.  His style was different from mine and so were his strengths.  This was not a burden, rather, a delight.

Each believer that attended had to leave some of their distinctives behind.  I doubt anyone arrived at the services expecting things to be as they would be at the local level.  Why is this?  We all know intuitively that our way of doing things is just that, our way.  It is not the universal.  Bringing this mindset to the assembly helps weed out grumbling, pettiness, and provincialism.  Small wonder then that all who attended sensed a refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit.  We all left praising God and full of joy.

Without the fact of the resurrection our faith is in vain.  Since all believers hold this fundamental doctrine why should we not come together once a year to celebrate it?  Why should we not seek to learn and love each other in this way?  Eternity may not be that enjoyable if this thought is foreign or worse, undesirable.  Oh brothers, we are persuaded of better things concerning you.  Let us move forward into the joy of the body of Christ.

 

Discipling my Kids

Several weeks ago my wife alerted me to a conversation she had with our oldest son.  He had expressed a measure of frustration at his sinfulness and inability to do God’s will.  As a side note, he chose to follow Jesus in the spring of 2010.  She was unsure on how to proceed so we both chose an opportune time to sit down with him.

After I asked him how things were going he began to get emotional with his sin struggles.  He had lashed out at his brothers, was impatient, lied, and basically wasn’t acting like a disciple.  He also added that he didn’t feel very close to God.  I asked him the same question I ask myself whenever the laments pile up:  are you in the Word, are you in prayer?  His response astounded me.  He said he simply doesn’t have time.  I thought I was listening to an adult.  This kid is only 7 years old!  What do you mean, you don’t have time?  We wanted to hear more.

We then began to explore the reasons behind this conspicuous habit.  I had to stop myself from enjoying a hearty laugh.  There were problems with supper time, there were problems with having to homework, there were problems with having to go to bed too early/having to get up at an inconvenient time.  The list went on and on.  My wife and I were amused to find ourselves as the primary reason for our son not reading his Bible and spending time with the Lord.  I wended my way through his response and tried to show him that he and he alone is responsible for these things.  Others can’t schedule it for him or give him the incentive to pursue the Lord.  This is a choice we must make every day.  We want to know him, talk with him, and hear from him but this can’t happen if we fill our days with our own business.

When we finished talking with him we encouraged him and prayed with him.  Naturally there are other things we are doing to facilitate more of this.  I wondered how he got his hands on the adult playbook.  The arguments for neglecting time with the Lord are used by adults.  The subtlety with which my wife and I were charged was almost beyond comprehension.  Guilt was on circumstances but not on the individual.

The notion that spending time with the Lord in prayer and the Word can easily be met with suspicion.  Isn’t that legalism?  Where does it say in the Bible that one has to do that every day?  There are Scriptures that intimate that very clearly.  However, I’m not sure this is the right track.  Questions like these may well mask a fundamental heart condition.  Someone who is walking with the Lord, enjoying him does not have to be told these things, he knows them by experience.  When our hearts are soft before the Lord we gladly repent of pushing him aside and run to his Word.

I find with myself that my struggles are magnified when there is a lack of steady diet in the Word and prayer.  Without fail, when these things are vibrant and healthy so is my outlook on life.  The Lord is my portion and my soul is satisfied in him.  Who have I in heaven but you?  My flesh and my heart fail but God is my strength.  These Scriptures point us to the overwhelming satisfaction we have in God.  When we feed on these truths day after day we shelter ourselves from without.  The delight of fellowship with God, God himself, causes us to not take so seriously the evils of the day.  Apart from the steady diet of God’s Word, true discipleship cannot take place.