Monday, January 30, 2012

The Church With the Coolest Name...

I've reached the conclusion about myself that most have known about me for some time: I'm not trendy. I'm not hip. I'm not on the cutting edge. Hi, my name is Blair, and I'm stuck in a previous generation. Sign me up for a 12-step program!!

And so the current effort to come up with relevant, cool, enticing, and even provocative names for a new church leaves me scratching my head. Now many of my much cooler friends on Facebook actually work for churches with these names, and so in an effort to not offend my dedicated brethren I'm not going to name some of them here. However... I did a google search of "Trendy Church Names," and came up with a couple of good lists. You can blame them if your cool church name is listed. Scan down through them, you'll see some familiar names here:

From "Real" to "Celebration" to "Kinetic" to "New Beginnings" some on the list at the churchventure blog start to sound familiar. And to demonstrate that someone had at least 1 Greek lesson in their life I have to note #3 on this list, "Eklesia Church [sic]." Nothing like a little redundancy, but again, it must be cool! I wonder if they offer first time visitors some "Soda CocaCola"? And in both of these lists there are names that are definitely interesting and attention-grabbing. Some evoke thoughts of positive change in a person's life. Some offer a sense of direction in a world that doesn't offer one. And except for some dopey ones like "Scum of the Earth" and "Guts Church" (See the first link above), most are not offensive or completely off the wall.

But are they biblical? Do they emphasize man's condition or God's Kingdom on earth? In one of the lists of trendy names I saw ONLY ONE reference to the Spirit. But I'm still looking for a reference to Jesus who said, "Upon this rock I will build My Church" (Mt. 16:18). Does this strike anyone else as bothersome, or is it only the 50 and above crowd who would notice it?

I try to imagine Jesus saying, "Upon this rock I'll build 'The Flood.'" Or, "Upon this rock I will build my 'Warehouse.'" Would He have said that the gates of Hades will not prevail against Passion City? Do you think we would have got the "NorthPointe, CenterPoint, OceanPoint, MidPoint, LifePoint, MercyPoint? What is the point of all these names that don't mention the founder and central focus of the Church?

Two thousand years after its founding, the Church must still be about Jesus! Why take His name out of the name of the "Church"? The idea that to be relevant and cutting edge we need to "introduce Jesus slowly" or behind the scenes is offensive! Why not state up front what we are about, or who we belong to, if indeed we are really about Christ and belong to Him? The Gospel is still relevant, and it still changes lives. People are still called to make a decision to put Christ first.

Paul mentions the "Churches of Christ" in Rom. 16:16; and the Church of God in 1 Cor. 1:2. I take note of the fact that the term "body" is used often in the New Testament. Yet the emphasis is still being the "body of Christ." Rom. 12:5 says, "so we, who are many, are one body in christ, and individually members one of another" (NASB). 1 Cor. 12:27 says, "Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it." Eph. 4:12 notes the biblical leadership that will build up the "body of Christ." One more will suffice. Col. 3:15 says, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body; and be thankful" (NASB).

There are other excellent examples of Biblical names for a Church. Yet they would in context emphasize the founder (Jesus) and the purpose (worshiping and serving). Because the emphasis in these biblical names for the church points upward to Christ! We are the called out (ok, I remember ekklesia too!), a part of His body, and work to promote and advance His cause here on earth until He comes.

Is this what the trendy names suggest? It seems to me that most of them say, "Hey, your life is screwed up, but we'll make you feel better about it (without offending you, or boring you with a lot of talk about the Bible). Yet the argument is, the old names associated with "church" put people off, and their preconceived ideas about the church will keep them away.

In the first century, being a part of the Church that Christ founded could easily get you killed. At the time of the founding of the Church, talking about that Nazarene named Jesus went against the religious and social understandings of the day. When the body of Christ first came into existence, people made a life changing, and occasionally life ending decision to become a part of it, because Jesus was worth it to them! It was not intellectually or academically acceptable to follow the teachings of Jesus! It was not materialistically profitable to 'leave the boats and become a fisher of men.' But people did it. They were called to repent, and change their life and thinking.

Some rejected Jesus (see Jn. 6:66) and did not follow Him any longer. But Jesus did not change His mission or His message. Paul noted that some fell away, wanting to have their "ears tickled" in 1 Tim. 4:3, 4. Some aren't going to like our message either, no matter how we package it with relevancy, being cool, and avoiding the controversial.

I'm thankful for today's modern pioneers of the Gospel. Indeed these present-day evangelists have gifts from God that can be used in significant, even great ways. I echo Paul's prayer in 2 Thess. 3:1 that the "word of the Lord may spread rapidly..." I heard a long time ago, "Methods are many, principles are few; methods always change, but principles never do." Don't change the principles! The Church is all about Christ. It must remain focused on Him and His Word if it is going to continue to change lives today. Don't be ashamed of the "Church." Spread it! Advance it! It's still about Jesus!

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Accredited by God! You Can Be Too!

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22 NIV).

While the NIV uses the word "accredited," most of the other major translations do not. The ESV, NASB uses "attested," and the ASV and the KJV uses "approved." All three translations (accredited, attested, and approved) besides providing great alliteration are also good translations!

In the academic world "accreditation" is an important term. My last blog discussed how many Restoration Movement schools have run like lemmings off a cliff towards regional accreditation, no matter the implications and consequences. They seek man's endorsement, along with paying a hefty price for it. This blog isn't going to concern itself so much with 'academia' as it does with our own standing before God. How important is accreditation to us on a personal level?

Peter emphasized its importance as he preached that first Gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost. In building his case for the Lordship of Jesus, Peter wants his audience to know that Jesus was attested, or as the New Living Translation puts it, "publicly endorsed" by God. In the political climate we are currently living in, a public endorsement can be an important component of a candidate's success. God accredited, endorsed, or attested to Jesus!

At least three times it was done publicly. God affirmed Jesus at his immersion saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased" (Mt. 3:17). At the Transfiguration God again accredited Jesus saying, "This is my Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him" (Lk. 9:35, emphasis mine). And then one additional time God publicly endorsed Jesus from heaven after Jesus prayed, "Father, glorify Thy name. There came therefore a voice out of heaven: I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (Jn. 12:28).

Jesus sought - and found - God's approval. In fact, given a choice between finding favor with men or favor with God, Christ always chose to do those things which would please His heavenly Father. As a boy of just twelve years Jesus affirmed what He thought Mary & Joseph should have also known, that He "had to be in My Father's house," or as the KJV renders it, "about His Father's business" (Lk. 2:49). When Peter sought to change Jesus' thoughts about His death, burial, and resurrection Jesus rebuked Him saying, "you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's" (Mt. 16:23). Jesus subordinated His own wishes for doing the will of God, seen passionately as He prayed in the Garden, "Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done" (Lk. 22:42). One has to look no further than Jesus becoming obedient to the point of death on the cross leading to God giving Him "the name which is above every name" as His ultimate accreditation! (cf. Phil. 2:8-11)

But what about us? Can a Christian today be 'accredited' by God even if we don't hear His voice from heaven? Can we claim the same 'endorsement' by God? Can we expect that He might attest to our approval one day? I believe the answer is a resounding "Yes"!

The Holy Spirit provides us with all the 'accreditation' we need. The Spirit "bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God!" (Rom. 8:16). Talk about a top-notch endorsement! One of the promises that accompanies confessing Jesus as Lord today is that He will likewise confess us before His Father in heaven (Mt. 10:32). The Holy Spirit identifies us as being a part of God's family. Jesus even refers to us as His brethren (Heb. 2:11-13). Even as God attested Jesus to be His Son, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit likewise affirms our own status as sons by which "we cry out, Abba! Father!" (Rom. 8:15). This is also positively affirmed in Gal. 6:6, "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!"

Sadly, many minimize the role of the Holy Spirit in this regard. We gladly talk about receiving Him when we are immersed, but after that we're a little bit reluctant to speak of His ministry in our lives. This is, perhaps, due to a fear of being labeled as Pentecostal, Charismatic, etc. But let's follow what God's Word teaches, and not worry so much about the labels! Paul wrote that we were sealed and given the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge (2 Cor. 1:22). To the Ephesians he wrote, "having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:13b-14). Having the Holy Spirit - a downpayment on an eternity in heaven - is a great sign of being approved, or accredited by God!

Paul certainly understood the importance of pleasing God rather than man. He wanted the Lord's approval, not popularity with the masses. He said to the Galatians, "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Gal. 2:10 NASB). The goal Paul pursued was the "prize of the upward call of God" - not man! (cf. Phil. 3:14).

The Pharisees lived for the approval of men. Whether it was their ostentatious public prayers, their "show of piety" as they fasted," or even blowing the trumpets when they gave large sums in tithes and offerings, it was all for their own self-promotion. Jesus said they had their reward in full (cf. Mt. 6:1-18). He warned His disciples not to seek the approval of men. Rather when we give, or pray, or fast, it is to be humbly, seen only by the Father, who will repay.

Perhaps it is human nature to seek approval. Children desire it from their parents, and employees hope to receive it from their bosses. Our heart's desire should be the approval of our heavenly Father. Selling out, just for the temporary approval of man, is extremely short-sighted and eternally devastating. Seek for that same approval that Paul knew was waiting in store for him: "the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8).

Ultimate accreditation from God: Now that's something worth pursuing, and worth any price we may be called upon to pay.

C'mon, Murphy. Let's go outside!