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Answers to Questions

August 22, 2008

Somebody actually answered the questions i posed a few posts ago.  Here they are.  Feel free to email me at Jefflavalette@gmail.com if you have questions, comments, answers, donations… ?
1. Why is the standard of Biblical literacy so low among church goers?

Several reasons, actually, depending on one’s background:
1)  For Roman Catholics and members of Eastern Orthodox Churches,
reading and studying the Bible has been discouraged for centuries
(actually, the Bible was on the Catholic church’s Index Librorum
Prohibitorum—the Index of Forbidden Books).  The belief of these
churches is that “laypersons” do not have the necessary training and
competence to interpret the Bible properly, so they should not read it.
Otherwise they may make wrong assumptions about what it actually says.
2)  With respect to Protestantism, Pentecostals and Charismatics have
tended to downplay Bible study, Bible memorization, etc. in favor of
“direct revelation from God,” in terms of “words of
knowledge” and “prophecies.”  Since the Bible is almost 2000
years old, and since these “new revelations” are considered to be
completely current and up-to-date, it would certainly be better to opt
for the latter.
3)  For most other people, “the cares of the
world”/”worldliness” (i.e., work, family, leisure time
activities like media entertainment, sports, etc.) choke out the plants
that spring up and they remain fruitless.

2. Why is the standard for church leadership so low? Why aren’t the
qualifications in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 used in determining who should
shepherd the flock? Whatever happened to being ‘called’ into eldership,
rather than being ‘nominated and voted’ into the role?

In my opinion, the standards are so low at this point in history
because most of those who really DO fulfill the qualifications of 1
Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are so disgusted and turned off by the
institutional church that they want nothing to do with it.  Such people
have observed the pettiness, the mean-spiritedness, the selfishness and
the worldliness of institutional churches and have sought alternatives
to these institutions.
Another reason would be the HUGE number of pastors who have
experienced “burn-out” and have left.  Many of them DID fulfill the
qualifications at the beginning of their ministries, but too many church
battles led to a deep-rooted despair and cynicism that drove them into
some alternative ministry form or into a secular career position.
The combination of the above leaves a “leadership gap” which needs
to be filled in some way—and far too often, the only way it can be
filled is to bring in underqualified people.

3. Why are Christians (on the whole) uneducated/undereducated on the
‘deeper’ things (i.e. doctrine, sotierology [soteriology—from the
Greek soteros, to save], theology, ecclesiology) of the faith so much so
that it is easy for false teachers to disseminate false teaching?

This is actually an extension of the first question above.
People remain Biblically illiterate for the reasons I mentioned, and
that makes them prey to false teaching.
Particularly troublesome are the Christian leaders who teach
that studying theology is a “waste of time” and “leads to being
all head and no heart.”  The Emergent Church, as it’s called –
Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Donald Miller and others like them – downplay
the study of theology for these reasons.  (McLaren actually brags about
the fact that he’s never had a course in theology…)
Back to my explanation in the first question: Catholics and
Orthodox trust that their respective Churches will tell them what to do
and guide them correctly, so there’s no need to add to an already
overcrowded schedule time to study Christian doctrine.  Charismatic
Protestants again are “relying on the Holy Spirit” to lead them into
truth and away from error (though exactly how He does this is never
quite explained…).  And most of the others just get caught up in the
whirlwind of living modern life and don’t take the time to educate
themselves.  How many people read books of ANY kind nowadays, much less
a book on theology?  Isn’t it much more common—and
exciting/interesting—to sit in front of a widescreen TV and take in
the evening programming or watch a DVD?

4. Why is ‘worship’ quickly becoming an over-used adjective and hence a
misunderstood concept?

Mainly because “worship” in the current generation has become
synonymous with “singing” and “music” and “dancing” and the
like.  And since the advent of electronic music (early stereos, then
personal stereos, then Walkmen, then Discmen, then Ipods), music has
become the “universal language” of young people.  Music seems to
invade our every waking minute – a far cry from the time when the
Sunday morning church service was the only time one would hear music
during the whole week.  But now music is everywhere—including in the
church—and since “worship” is essentially “music,” it’s
become completely overused.
And it is GREATLY misunderstood!  The only place that the New Testament
tells us what “worship” consists of is in Romans 12:1-2 – and this
passage has NOTHING to do with music…

5. Why is man-centered theology overtaking God-centered theology?

Too many Christians have bought into New Age concepts and are
attempting to create a syncretism between Biblical theology and New Age
ideas.  They do this because a) they are Biblically illiterate and
ignorant (see above); and b) they have no tools at all with which to
analyze and evaluate the culture that surrounds them.  Lacking these two
items, Christians become consistently “culturally compromised,”
thinking they can “have their cake and eat it, too”—meaning that
they think they can live like ordinary non-Christians in society and
have all their “fun,” and at the same time still call themselves
“Christians.”  This is actually COMPLETELY impossible, but many
(most?) are so compromised and ignorant that they don’t realize that
when they live such syncretistic lives, their Christian testimony is
WORTHLESS (assuming that they are truly Christians at all—which is
certainly not a safe assumption at this point…

6. Why are concepts like the ‘social justice’ gospel, ‘prosperity’
gospel, ‘eco-friendly’ gospel, ‘tolerance’ gospel, etc missing the
point?

These are missing the point for several reasons.  First, they
represent an emphasis that does not appear in the New Testament.
That’s not to say that the N.T. NEVER speaks of social
responsibilities, but it certainly never EMPHASIZES or PRIORITIZES any
of these things.  And the reason for that is simple: you can bring
healing to a person’s physical body—and that’s a good thing.  You
give him a better quality of life, and more quantity.  But eventually,
no matter how much you do, he/she is going to succumb to SOMETHING and
die.  Have you prepared the person for eternity?  You can feed a
starving child, give him longer life, a better life—but he will
eventually die.  Have you prepared him for eternity?  You can accomplish
“social justice”—fight against slavery, racial prejudice, male
chauvinism, whatever—and (perhaps) make things better for a certain
number of people during their sojourn on earth.  But eventually they
will die—have you prepared them for eternity?  You can battle global
warming and pollution, improving the quality of life here on earth—but
have you prepared people to stand before God and face their judgment?
The reason the items you mention have become so popular is
twofold.  First, it’s more culturally POPULAR to tackle these
issues/problems.  Even the WORLD will applaud you if you are an activist
for these causes.  If you preach the Gospel and try to convince someone
that he/she needs to be saved, well then you’re an exclusivist, a
religious bigot; people will scream at you, laugh at you, throw you out.
Who wants that?  Better to take up a cause that people will admire you
for.
Second, the social activism Gospel is QUANTIFIABLE in a way that
the N.T. Gospel is not.  You can keep track of how many blankets
you’ve given to street people, how many sandwiches you’ve made
for homeless people, how much money you’ve sent to alleve the
situation in Darfur, how many rallies you’ve attended for women’s
rights, etc.  But how do you quantify the progress a person you’re
witnessing to is making (or not making?).  How can you know that
you’ve REALLY accomplished something when you’ve spent an
afternoon in Washington Square Park witnessing about Jesus and the need
to be born again to people you meet on the street?  Can you have the
same satisfaction after such an afternoon as you can have when working
in a soup kitchen?  For today’s generation, the answer is a resounding
“no!”  I want to SEE the results of my efforts!”  And as long as
we have a “success” orientation, we are sub-Biblical.  Not until we
adopt and pursue an “obedience” orientation (i.e., John 14:21) will
we be “in sync” with N.T. revelation…

7. Why are Christians so eager for prophecy that they ignore the
Biblical guidelines/standards for its use?

As I mentioned above, a lot of people think that prophecies and
“words of knowledge” are somehow “fresher” and “a direct word
from the Lord.”  I don’t deny that the gift of prophecy still
exists—it certainly does.  But I don’t think it comes in terms of
“extra-Biblical revelations” that pop into people’s heads in
some helter-skelter fashion.  And the current interpretation of what the
gift of “a word of knowledge” is (again meaning an extra-Biblical
revelation imparted by the Holy Spirit giving special information about
individuals) is only about 25 years old—it’s never been interpreted
that way in Church History over the last 1950 years…so I must confess
that I don’t put any stock in the current definition, which appears to
me to be more like New Age channeling and “cold reading” (i.e., John
Edward and Crossing Over-type stuff) than it does any sort of Biblical
experience.

8. How does the church today mirror the parable of the sower in Matthew
13?

I’d say that most of the church today falls into the second
and third categories: the thin soil with no root, and the soil with
thorns and weeds that choke out the fruit.  In the first category are
all the people who get so excited about something “new” and “try
it” for awhile (mainly because they have friends who are “into
it”)—and then move on to the next “new thing” (this, by the
way, is one of the main problems I have with short-term mission trips,
which are often more of a fad or trend than a deeply serious MISSION).
The second category is what I talked about above: the lack of cultural
analysis and evaluation which means that the default mode of most
Christians is a raw, ugly worldliness by which the Gospel message and
the testimony of one’s life are totally compromised.  “If the salt
loses its saltiness, how can you ever make it salty again?  It’s good
for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men…”  An
incredibly tragic picture—but that’s the picture of the church
today…

I’ve taken the past month and a half since my last ministry job to sit
back and take inventory of all of my perceptions/experiences as a
follower of Christ, and I’m noticing that (as Matt Chandler has put it
many times) the God/Christ/Christianity of the Bible is different than
the God/Christ/Christianity that is taught in most of the churches of
which I’ve been a part. In other words, I love what I read in the Bible,
and I am becoming increasingly disheartened by the way it is being
translated into our modern context.

So what do we do about it?

Back in March of 1997 I was struck by the fact that the Pharisees,
Sadducees and other scholars of Jesus’ day had had the prophecies of the
Old Testament concerning the Messiah for about 1000 years at that point.
They had developed a detailed description of what He would look like,
where He would be born, what His characteristics would be, etc.–they
had their Christology nailed down tight.  And when the Messiah came,
they didn’t recognize Him and killed Him instead–because their theology
was skewed just enough that Jesus didn’t fit their picture.  THAT, I
must confess, scared me badly–and I asked myself: “What if after my
Bible college education, my seminary education, and all my years of
Bible Study, Scripture Memory, fellowship with other Christians, and
ministry to non-Christians I’ve made the same mistakes as those guys
back then?  Do I REALLY know what God/Jesus is like?  Would I recognize
Him if He appeared to me?

So I decided to start a new Bible study, beginning in Genesis 1:1, and
simply asked myself the question each day: “What is God REALLY like?”
and went verse by verse through the whole Bible.  The study lasted ten
and a half years–I finished the book of Revelation last Fall.  I have
four full notebooks–about 600 pages– of notes in answer to that
question.  About halfway through, one of my students asked me if I could
sum up my conclusions at that point, and I wrote my summary on a 3 x 5
card that I carry with me in my notebook everywhere.  Here’s what’s on
the card:

“There is NO blessing too great to bestow upon those He loves, His
Chosen.  There is NOTHING He would not do FOR them; He would even send
His own Son to die in their place.  He is the very essence of love–to
those who love Him.

And there is NO punishment too great to bestow upon the objects of His
wrath.  There is NOTHING He would not do TO them; He would even punish
them in an eternal Hell.  He is the very essence of wrath–to those who
rebel against Him.”

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