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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

America's Evangelists and How They Shaped the Church in America by Chris White

George Whitefield (1714-1770) is arguably America’s first media star.  In Colonial America, when Whitefield came to town, people came as far away as 100 miles to hear him!  Why so? Well, first of all America was in a period of spiritual revival which meant that the Holy Spirit was drawing many and many more had a renewed hunger for the Word of God.  But certainly not far behind this was the extraordinary speaking powers of Whitefield himself.  He spoke extemporaneously and had such a keen sense of timing and presence that people were utterly spellbound by him.  Our favorite founder Ben Franklin, a lapsed Christian of sorts, was actually Whitefield’s literary agent and promoter.  He once said that just to hear Whitefield say the word “Mesopotamia” would bring tears to his eyes.  Apart from his ministry of evangelism, Whitefield changed forever in America the way parishioners related to their pastors.  Prior to this, the town pastor was the spiritual authority and he corrected the wayward as a means of keeping the spiritual temperature of the community where it should be.  Whitefield proclaimed that the sorry state of affairs in Christian living was not the people’s fault but because their pastors were not in tune with the spirit and unfaithful to preach the word.  The solution to the problem is to reform the pastors and make sure they are preaching and teaching faithfully.  This was to be done by congregations voting with their feet.  In some cases this was a true problem, in many others it wasn’t, but the idea gained traction and while it caused a lot of controversy and hard feelings at the time, it did stick.  Although it would be inaccurate to suggest Whitefield alone set the trend of America’s more egalitarian and independent churches, he was definitely one of the strong trendsetters in that direction.

Dwight Lyman (D.L.) Moody (1837-1899) was the great crusade evangelist of America’s “Gilded Age” preaching to the masses in the large cities of America and Great Britain.  Moody was not a clergyman but a lay minister who came from a business background.  He was converted as a teenager but as a young man he had set his sights on making a fortune.  This brought him to Chicago, which at the time was a place of growing opportunities for the young .  In the midst of his pursuits, he had a spiritual encounter with the Lord and shortly thereafter became a man dedicated to Kingdom business.  Moody started with a Sunday School class that reached out to poor immigrant children and their parents and this soon exploded into many other outreaches and enterprises.  Eventually Moody met a musician named Ira Sankey and the two paired their ministries to great effect to do mass evangelism.  Moody, dressed not as a preacher but as a business man and preached not with soaring rhetoric but as a common man to the common man and Sankey, setting the mood of the crusade with memorable and easy to sing melodies played on a portable organ.  Moody was a great success in this enterprise and by his death he is said to have preached to more people than anyone else in history prior to the invention of the microphone.  But Moody also shaped the American church in a very profound way.  His example and his energies were devoted to developing the Christian personal worker.  This was not to denigrate in any way the pastoral profession, but Moody and many others who were like minded, knew that the reach and scope of an army of lay ministers and evangelists were what was needed if the Kingdom of God is to expand.  Moody is known for starting the Moody Bible Institute (although it was not so-called until after his death) which was not a seminary, but a lay training center for men and women seeking greater effectiveness in service to the Lord.  This idea worked and inspired many others throughout America and even around the world to do the same.  Since this time, the values and efforts of the lay minister have been prominent especially in the evangelical Bible churches of our nation.

Little needs to be said about William Franklin “Billy” Graham (b. 1918) as his story is well-known and is still in progress (Graham is now in his mid-nineties).  Graham is the model of the modern evangelist using every means of mass communication to amplify his message preached live before stadiums of people.  Graham’s honesty, character, and frankly his modesty have made many respect him and the Gospel of Christ even if they don’t necessarily agree with it.  The book, Preacher and the Presidents, highlights his relationship with every American president since Harry Truman.  I found it fascinating how Billy had access to this power and sometimes used it and most of the time was used by it, but really never was corrupted by it.  Few ministers can come into contact with the corrosive effect of that much power unscathed which is a tribute to the greatness of God and the keeping power of the Holy Spirit.  When I think of the Graham legacy on the American church, I think of the words cooperative effort.  Few people realize that all along Billy Graham never sought to be the star player, but to train others in any way he could to be soul winners.  Graham not only taught evangelists, but sponsored retreats and camps for pastors to encourage Biblical and gospel preaching in America’s pulpits.  Not only this, but the Billy Graham association has been at the forefront of world missions bringing together some of the largest gatherings of evangelists from around the world to cooperate to finish the Great Commission.  And at a time when most Bible-believing churches would hardly talk to one another much less cooperate, Billy Graham, was at the forefront including all Christian denominations in his crusades and encouraging them to come together for the sake of reaching the lost.  Several years ago I had the privilege of visiting the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (Billy’s Alma Mater) and the marvelous museum dedicated to his work.  What was telling about the museum was that while it certainly did tell the story of his life and work, it featured in equal portions quite a bit of information of all the great people that came before him in this task and then ended with an admonition that the work of sharing Christ is all our work.  As America is clearly moving in the direction of being a post-Christian nation, the church in America must stand together like never before.  In that, Billy Graham, has set the pace by encouraging us to set aside the things that don't need to divide us and come together to give testimony to the living Christ.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, and the Authors Behind Their Writings by Chris White

Andrew Murray

Although it’s been 78 years since its initial release, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers remains in the top-ten bestseller list of Christian devotional books.  Add this to the legion of fans who follow the dedicated Facebook page, You Tube features and other social media that are all based on this book, and you get a small picture of the total impact of this book on the spiritual lives of millions.  What is surprising to most people is that while Oswald Chambers is certainly the mind behind the book (if we don’t account for the Holy Spirit’s influence), he never wrote a page of it.  Oswald was a gifted preacher and teacher and known for his great spiritual insights from the Bible.  During World War I he sensed the call of the Holy Spirit and the call of duty to become a YMCA chaplain to his fellow British soldiers stationed in Cairo Egypt.  Although his efforts were scoffed at by the military establishment when he started, his ministry gained a lot of traction with the soldiers and eventually the respect of the local command.  Unfortunately, Oswald Chambers died suddenly at age 43 while in Cairo because of complications related to an emergency appendectomy.  During his lifetime he did have a few books in print but Utmost was published by his wife 18 years after his death.  In God’s providence,    What is really remarkable was that Biddy was so fast she could record nearly 250 words per minute which is 100 more than most people can speak in that space of time.  Chamber’s wife was able to record for posterity most of her husband’s sermons which in turn was the wealth of material she was able to mine to produce this beloved devotional.  Biddy lived until 1966 when their only daughter Kathleen took over Oswald Chambers publishing until her death in 1997.  Both women blessed the body of Christ throughout the world with their labor of love.  Utmost for His Highest is available in print and electronic versions in 39 languages today.
Oswald Chambers
Oswald Chambers married Gertrude “Biddy” Hobbs who just happened to be a shorthand stenographer.
Another author we might never have known today except for the efforts of his wife was Andrew Murray.  Murray has 240 published works most of which are still in print today.  Probably the most beloved of his works are Abide in Christ, Absolute Surrender, and Humility all of which have become devotional classics.  Like Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray was known as a great preacher and teacher and although he lived and ministered in South Africa during the 19th century (which was hardly the center of human civilization at the time), he was in demand as a platform speaker in Britain and America as well.  His huge parish and daunting responsibilities conspired to keep him exhausted and often feeling underprepared to preach which he did often several times a day.  Unlike Oswald Chambers, Murray did live a long life (86 years) and did actually write some of his material, but it was at the insistence of his cultured and highly literate bride Emma that Andrew Murray began his writing career.  What’s more, you might say it was a little sibling rivalry that got this dimension of ministry started.  Andrew had an older brother John who was also a preacher and teacher (he and Andrew went to seminary together).  John had written several books and they were becoming quite popular and selling well.  When Emma saw this, she insisted her husband write for she considered him to be far more insightful (if not intelligent) than his older brother.  Andrew had been weakened from nervous exhaustion in the early years of his ministry and found it difficult to write (all books were in long-hand at the time) and so his wife Emma would help him with the writing and served as an editor and literary consultant of sorts.  Without the help and encouragement of his wife, most of us today would probably have never heard of Andrew Murray much less have been enriched by his devotional books.  Through the efforts of Biddy Chambers and Emma Murray, if I might paraphrase Hebrews 11:4, “though dead, by faith their husbands still speak today” and do so with great spiritual clarity.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Transubstantiation for "Dummies" by Chris White

Pope Benedict XVI at mass.

I say this ‘tongue and cheek’ because the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation is actually difficult to follow without a fairly broad understanding of theology and history.  It is my hope that this article will add clarity for those wanting to understand how the Roman Catholic view of the Eucharist ( often called Communion by Christians of all denominations) differs from the Protestant conception.  Just as a point of reference, I make no claims of expertise on Roman Catholic doctrine, having never been Catholic myself.  On the other hand, as an evangelical Christian (and ordained minister) I do recognize the historic debt the church owes to Catholicism for its propagation and perpetuation of the gospel in the world for nearly two millennia.  Because of this, I am committed to a fair-minded and even handed treatment of all things Roman Catholic even if my own faith commitment and understandings differ considerably.

At least part of the reason why the church in general has had different understandings of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist (a Greek word for thanksgiving) is that the words of Jesus on the matter seem to lend themselves easily to a variety of interpretations.  Consider the words of Christ in John 6: “ So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread  the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  In context Jesus was speaking of himself as the true bread of heaven as opposed to the manna that was given Israel as a temporary measure during their wanderings in the wilderness.  But in both cases, the faithful must eat something to survive.  Another passage of greater importance is Jesus’ words at the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:14-20: “ And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  Once again, where this leads is where you place your emphasis.  Do we take “this is my body” and “do this in remembrance of me” literally or figuratively or both?  I’ll come back to these passages in my conclusion but I hope you can see where there might be room for the minds of godly people to entertain a variety of interpretations on what Jesus meant in His teachings.
In its barest essence transubstantiation refers to a change in the communion elements of bread and wine that occurs when an officially ordained ministrant of the Roman Catholic Church prays the prayer of consecration during the Eucharistic celebration.  While the elements remain in taste, touch, and appearance as bread and wine, they become spiritually transformed and their actual substance becomes the flesh and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as presented by the late Pope John Paul II, this is an un-bloody sacrifice in the present where the once-for-all death of Christ for our sins, is re-presented to the church body.  As they eat of these elements grace is received, the Lord is worshipped, and sanctifying faith is infused.  You can see that Transubstantiation relies heavily on literal understanding of Jesus’ words in John 6 and Luke 22. 
Transubstantiation seems  to be at least a rudimentary  idea that is found in the church of antiquity, but it was not until the Fourth Lateran Council (held in Rome) in 1215 that it became the fully articulated doctrine it is today.  Transubstantiation was later affirmed at the Council of Trent in 1551 and has remained the official position of the Roman Catholic church ever since.  But there are other points of view on communion that sprang forth during the Protestant Reformation.

Within the fold of Protestantism there are essentially two views of the Eucharist, one similar and the other completely dissimilar to the doctrine of Transubstantiation.  The Lutheran view, often called Consubstantiation, but more properly known as Sacramental Union, holds that the consecrated bread and wine are not at all changed in their substance, but the actual body and blood of the Lord are spiritually united to them.  This is closely related to other Christological doctrines such as His dual nature and His Ascension.  When the Lord was incarnated, He had a fully formed human nature (a union of body and soul) that was knit to His divine nature.  They were two natures joined in perfect union.  Even so, the divine presence of the Lord Jesus, now dwelling in heaven, is no longer limited by specific locality, but is able to be spiritually present anywhere, everywhere, at any time.  In the Eucharistic celebration then, when the minister prays the words of consecration over the bread and wine, the spiritual presence of Christ joins the elements that the participants will be eating.  In other words, like Jesus Himself, the consecrated elements have a dual nature.

 The other view, held by Baptists and many other evangelical groups, is called Memorialism.  This view emphasizes Jesus’ words at the institution of the Lord’s supper in Luke 22:19 “do this in remembrance of me”.  In this conception, the bread and wine go through no change but rather are symbols used to bring to remembrance the salvation event of the cross.  Critical to this view is the presentation of Holy Scripture alongside the Lord’s Supper which brings meaning to the event and is used by the Holy Spirit to strengthen the faith of the participating believer.

In evaluating these positions I want to come back to the scriptures that I presented above.  In John 6 Jesus references two breads that came from heaven: the manna and his incarnate life as the son of God.  The manna from God was eaten by Israel in the wilderness, but all who ate it still died.  It was literal food.  Jesus claims that those who eat of his flesh and blood will not die but have eternal life.  Transubstantiation would certainly fulfill this requirement of eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, but what makes this questionable is whether this is what Jesus meant by these words.  When He spoke them He had not yet instituted the Lord’s Supper, that was 1-2 years in the future.  Secondly, this passage is part of several discourses where Jesus likened Himself to something familiar with the phrase “I am the…......(bread of life, good shepherd, the door, the way).  It seems obvious in the larger picture that Jesus is speaking figuratively not literally since we know Jesus wasn’t a shepherd but a carpenter and a rabbi; and he was certainly not a door or a roadway, but a man.  It seems that the type of “partaking” Jesus commands is to believe in Him as the Messiah whom God has sent.  Just so, the eating Jesus is suggesting is the act of partaking of His life by trusting Him as Savior, for the giving of His body and blood was for that very purpose.  In the Luke 22 passage Jesus is actually reshaping a symbolic  “Old Covenant” meal.  The many elements of the Passover were symbols of God’s provision and deliverance in the Exodus that also pointed towards the coming Deliverer.  The elements of bread and wine were the symbols Christ chose because they represent the pouring out of his life for our salvation.  I would also point out that Jesus was physically with them when He said the bread and wine were his flesh and blood and so the more natural understanding of this would be figurative rather than literal.

Does this mean that the Memorialist view is the most Biblical and therefore the right one?  In one sense yes, because the bread and wine symbolize and call our attention back to the great salvation we have received because of the cross.  We eat often because food only nourishes us temporarily.  While I believe a person who has trusted Christ and has been baptized remains in a state of grace, our daily lives, so full of our own sin and touched by the sins of other, regularly puts us in a state of discouragement and forgetfulness of our salvation.  The Eucharistic meal reminds, refreshes, and returns our hearts to the reality that Jesus loves us and gave Himself for us.  But on the other hand, I question whether the Memorialist view completely articulates the fullness of the Eucharist.  When Christ instituted it He was with His disciples and it is He who said “wherever two or more are gathered there I am in their midst (Mt. 18:10)” and “surely I am with you even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).”  While these are general promises of his spiritual presence with his Church, would they be any less applicable in the case of the Lord’s Supper?   And so, while I’m uncertain the Bible articulates a full on Spiritual Union (as did Martin Luther) with the consecrated elements, I do believe the Spirit of the Lord is especially present when His people partake of communion in remembrance of Him.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why We Cannot Not Believe in the Triune God by Chris White

Rotary phones did have their consolations!
I had an interesting phone call the other afternoon.  The gentleman on the line told my secretary that he had a Bible question and wanted to talk with a pastor.  After the typical greetings my caller asked me a question:  How can I teach people that the Bible says there is only one God and yet also teach God exists in three persons (shorthand for that is the Trinity)?  And specifically why would I teach something which is nowhere directly said in the Bible?  After several attempts at a reply, I was corrected, ridiculed, but most of all endlessly interrupted by my caller and by his statements.   Soon I realized this was not actually a question but a sermon from a zealous Jehovah's Witness evangelist.  While I didn't appreciate his rudeness and scornful attitude, I did like his idea: "the evangelistic crank phone call".  I might even try this myself in the future but that is a different story altogether.

Since this is my official forum, I would like to explain why I believe all true Christians must believe in the Triune God even though there is no explicit statement commanding us to do so.  Simply put, it is the only way we can make sense of Jesus Christ.  The Bible is  clear there is only one God (Deut. 6:4; Ex. 20:3) and there are no other gods and we are to worship no other.  But what are we to make of John 20:28 when "doubting Thomas" saw the risen Christ and looked at his wounds?  "My Lord and my God!", he declares.  Does  Jesus correct him on this?  Absolutely not.  Rather, Jesus actually pronounces a blessing on all people who have not seen Him and yet come to the same conclusion as Thomas did.  To receive the worship of people if you are not God is breaking the first commandment in the worst possible way.  Not only that but to make yourself out to be God (if you are not) is actually the activity of the antichrist according to St. Paul (2 Thess. 2:4).  Jesus is guilty of making Himself out to be God many times in the New Testament.  The many "I am" statements made by Jesus all point to Him being the God of Israel, but in John 10 and 17 it's fairly straightforward: "I and the Father are one" and "I am in the Father and the Father is in me".  This is utter blasphemy if not true, but if true, then Jesus is God.  If Jesus is God and He says there is the Father and Holy Spirit, then what else can be made of this but that there is one God (clearly stated) who exists in triunity (or three persons).

There is an important philosophical underpinning to this argument as well.  Ontologically speaking (and yes, do look up this word under metaphysics), God is by necessity the greatest conceivable Being.  As such, God is immutable or unchanging in His perfections.  As the "GCB" (greatest conceivable Being), it would be impossible for God to become greater than He already is or to degenerate and become less than He is.    If God is not immutable, then He is not God.  Maybe a benevolent Spirit, but a lesser being than the Almighty.  Now this directly relates to Jesus as the Son of God.  If the only-begotten Son of God means a later development in the life of the Father  then this would constitute a change for it would mean that God was not always the Father of the Son but became so at some later point in time which would constitute a change in His status which is not possible for God.  To carry this to a conclusion it would imply that if Jesus is the true Son of God (as He and the writers of the New Testament unequivocally affirm) then He is ontologically connected to God and shares in His immutability.  This connection necessitates a plurality within the Godhead.  This is not to say there are three Gods (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but one God who exists in a dimension outside of our experience as humans.

The only way around this, ontologically speaking, is to make Jesus of Nazareth a lesser being than God, such as an angel or demi-god as the Jehovah's Witnesses and other cults do, or to make him simply a man who was so in touch with God and so virtuous that God adopted him as his Son as some ancient heretical groups have proposed, or make him a crackpot who just thought he was God and managed to find others to join him in his delusion.   While each of these views has had adherents in the course of history, there is a reason why it has always been a super minority:  it is simply unwarranted by the text of scripture, the broad testimony and understanding of the faithful, and the historic worship of the Christian church.

So no, the Trinity is not explicitly stated in any one verse of the Bible, nor is belief in the Trinity ever commanded as a condition of salvation.  But to borrow from many others much smarter than myself, it is the inescapable implication of the scriptural data we are given in the totality of the Bible.  For the true Christian, the Bible describes and defines God's reality, and if a person is unwilling to believe biblical reality, then what he or she does believe is wishful thinking or magic or just plain crazy, but it certainly isn't the truth.

Now, where did I put that phone number for Kingdom Hall?