Christians, let’s re-think this new year’s tradition…

new years clockI don’t want to be one of those kinds of Christians, hyper-critical and disrupting cherished beliefs simply because I see problems with it. I recognize that some of our practices, rightly or wrongly, can become so ingrained because of teaching that has influenced us, that animosity will possibly result from anyone who tries to knock it out of our hands.

But there’s something I do want to address, that runs rampant in some Christian circles, some more than others. I’m not addressing this merely because I believe it’s inconsistent with the whole counsel of Scripture, which it is or because I disagree, but because of the implications that it can have especially for those young in the faith.

It is simply this: declaring what God is going to do in the new year. This typically comes in the language of “breakthrough” – answers to prayers, financial gain, better circumstances, overcoming sinful patterns or bad habits – basically a change because you declare it to be so. Often this is prompted by the proclamations of church leaders under the guise of prophecy, that this is “your year.” My friend Ekemini said it best in her excellent piece at Reformed Margins;

[T]his is the time of year that our social media timelines, news feeds, and even television commercials teem with declarations from false prophets who boldly prognosticate about the impending new year.

They “decree and declare”—through memes no less—that 2016 is your year! Deceptively they tell their followers to simply “Claim riches, health, and prosperity! Bind death, destruction, and poverty. Do this and 2016 will be yours!” Never mind that they said the same about 2015, 2014, and so on. God is doing a “new thing” in 2016!

Now before I go on and discuss why I think we need to re-think this “tradition,” please hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying we should not expect for God to move in our lives. I’m not saying that we should not hope for answered prayers. I’m not saying don’t hope for change. Yes, let’s hope, pray and expect.

But it’s something else to impose upon God’s agenda what he will do in your life. I hate to bust bubbles, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the way of breakthroughs. People can declare and decree that 2016 will be their year, that won’t change God’s sovereign hand. Yes, pray for change, pray for open doors, pray for those trials and circumstances. But also pray that you might know Christ better, that you might know the power of his resurrection, and that you might serve his body more faithfully. Continue reading

On speaking things into existence and the biblical narrative

mouth open_lifeIn my last post, I opened up my discussion on how we read the book of Revelation with a personal anecdote of how we bring presuppositions into reading the Bible. The specific example I used was a belief that I had for many years, which is that God gave Christians the ability speak things into existence and are required to do so. You can read here on how that unraveled for me just by reading one verse in its proper context. Romans 4:17 – calling things that be not as though they were.

It is so painfully obvious that Paul is not saying Abraham was to call those things that be not as though they were. Paul is saying that Abraham’s faith is being credited to him for righteousness because of his belief in the God who calls those things that be not as though they were. In other words, it is God and God alone who can speak anything into existence. You cannot possibly derive that we are called to speaking things into existence from this passage.

So why did I believe for so many years that this passage supported the notion of speaking things into existence even though I had read this book many times? I’ll tell you why. It is because this concept has been so pervasive in a strain of evangelicalism that it gets read into the biblical text. It is because the concept has been so popularized and regurgitated that it has become like a major doctrine in some parts.

If you believe that God has given his creatures this ability, that our words somehow contain power to create conditions in circumstances and that God only moves according to this power, please keep reading. I want to challenge you on the biblical narrative itself. Continue reading

Christian, you cannot read the Bible any old way you want – Part I

I am often confronted with the strange ways the Bible is interpreted. I don’t mean the deviations in various interpretations, such as baptism, spiritual gifts or eschatology, but interpretations that subject the meaning of the Bible to standards that are disconnected from it’s nature and purpose.

I came across this hilarious video from the new Family Feud game that is hosted by Steve Harvey. Take a listen;

Funny and yet sobering, reminding me of ways in which some treat the Bible as if we can make it be whatever response we want AND get excited about it! I find so often that this brother’s “Texas” can be our approach to the Bible. By that I mean, employing methods that have nothing to do with the Christ-centered theme of Scripture. I’m talking about reading definitions into the text or extracting meaning out of the text that is not even related to what the author is trying to communicate or even connected to God’s redemptive narrative of what he is accomplishing through the Son.

Over at The Gospel Coalition, David Schrock has provided both a fine example of how we can disconnect passages from their intended meaning. In Jabez and the Soft Prosperity Gospel, Schrock indicates that the primary reason for interpretations that result in a sub-Christian or anti-Christian paradigm results from making personal applications of Scripture and not considering how passages relate to the overall theme of Scripture. Continue reading

Should we call the prosperity gospel something else?: a subtle deception

money on the altarThe Gospel Coalition posted the first article in a series on the prosperity gospel. As I read through, 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel, and I’ll get to these points in a minute, I couldn’t help but think that calling it prosperity might be a bit misleading. Why do I say that? Because in reality, proponents of prosperity teaching don’t refer to it as such. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that many proponents of prosperity teaching would reject the notion that the aim of our Christian existence is to get rich and would be quick to label the Creflo Dollars of TV fame as charlatans. So I think by labeling it “prosperity gospel” might have the impact of turning a deaf ear to it’s troubling foundation.

Herein lies the subtle deception of prosperity teaching. The premise of what is called a prosperity gospel is simply put: material blessings are a sign of God’s acceptance and favor. One does not necessarily have to believe that riches are the goal to buy into prosperity teaching. This is evident in looking at the five points outlined in the article. More than anything, I think that many people who buy into prosperity teaching are well intentioned about the Christian faith and strive earnestly to live that faith out. But I believe the main contributor to prosperity promotion is a lack comprehension of what material blessings meant in the Old Testament. It is evident in the teaching (which I myself embraced for many years, that prosperity teaching fail to consider that the whole theme of Scripture is rooted in God’s redemption of his creation in an elaborate scheme that involved calling out a people called Israel as his own. This only serves as the basis of how he will unite Jew and Gentile as equal heirs to his promises fulfilled in Christ.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight a couple of the five points in relation to point I’m making that prosperity teaching is more about the material blessings as the basis of genuine faith. But I encourage you to read all 5 points; Continue reading

Acceptable worldliness in the Church

contemporary church service2Well, I’m going to say upfront that I might say some things that will rub some Christians the wrong way, especially those in the non-denominational world. I’m just putting it out there. In fact, it’s safe to say that this post might get a bit ranty. But I have observed a kind of worldliness that has been brought into much of contemporary evangelicalism that gets a pass.

No, it’s not having a hot band playing secular music or what some might associate with secular music with Jesus lyrics. Nor am I referring to sexual immorality with fornication and adultery going, although of course that can definitely be classified as worldliness worthy of some serious discipline.

I’m referring to the way we do church. And by that I mean, structuring church according to the philosophies of this world including borrowing leadership principles and techniques in the name of church governance. I’m talking about creating corporations with the senior pastor as CEO, elders as the board of directors, staff as the implementers of whatever vision was cast by “leadership” so the church achieves its outcomes for the consumers called the congregation.

I don’t know where it started. I don’t know when pastors/elders turned from being shepherds of Gods people with qualifications specified in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9  into Jesus PR marketers, thought leaders, transformational strategists and vision casters. I don’t know when this informed the qualifications of leadership, with pastors being dismissed for ‘not being a good fit’ or ‘carrying out the strategies of the organization.’ I don’t know when it became acceptable to abandon the care of the visible church according to the vision Jesus already gave to come up with innovative techniques to run the company and franchising it out through satellite churches. I don’t know when pragmatism ran all over liturgy and kicked it out the door. I don’t know when the apostle’s teaching as specified in the NT, turned into storied, life principles and other cute methods to attract people, instead of boldly proclaiming the whole counsel of Scripture. Continue reading