Sunday, March 18, 2007

On Adoption - I stand corrected

A few months ago, I posted an article about the need to adopt kids from the foster care system here in the United States. In that article, I under estimated the need to make adoption from certain overseas countries a priority as well. My basic approach was simple, "Why spend thousands of dollars to adopt overseas, when the United States will pay you to adopt kids from the foster care system right here in the United States?"

The naivete of my approach was revealed to me this morning in a brief conversation with two dear members of our church. Several years ago, they adopted "Masha" (now Marsha) from an orphanage in Russia. Masha, who was sixteen months old at the time, was severely under-nourished, was failing to thrive, and, according to the physician that saw her after her adoption, probably would not have survived past her fifth birthday had she stayed in the orphanage from which she was adopted. Basic needs of the children were just not being met in this particular orphanage (and there are thousands just like it around the world). Marsha's adopted parents literally saved her life by taking her home with them, because at sixteen months it was growing increasingly unlikely that anyone else would have adopted her.

So how has this conversation affected my view of adoption? Well I am just as passionate as ever about adopting through the foster care system. I am also in the very early planning stages of a camp for foster care kids in the southern Indiana area for 2008. At the same time, my eyes have been open to the need for American families, who are financially able, to adopt children from overseas. The couple I spoke with, prayed about this decision a great deal and were convinced the Lord had led them to adopt from Russia. After the conversation I had with them this morning, I am convinced they were as well. Christians should adopt. From overseas if called to do so; from right here in America if not. We need to open our homes to those without parents. That is true religion.

What should the American church do?
1) Encourage the members of their local churches to adopt from here in the US and from overseas. We should also become involved in the foster care system.
2) Put pressure on foreign governments to make sure that better care is taken care of their orphans. This can happen as we write letters to our congressional leaders and encourage the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to step up the pressure as well.

Once more, will you pray with me about adopting in 2008?


Monday, February 19, 2007

Lent in a Baptist Church?

When I first announced that we would be observing Lent at CrossRoad Church it created quite a stir amongst several members and frequent attenders. One well-meaning, but hopelessly sarcastic, friend even asked me if we were giving up being Baptist for Lent! For others it was no joking matter. There was concern on their part that we were doing something that identified us with the Roman Catholic Church and that was unhealthy. Today, as we prepare to kick off our observance of Lent, I thought I would make an effort to quell some of our members' fears and encourage all of you to use this time to seek a closer relationship with God as we prepare for Easter.

Isn't Lent a Roman Catholic thing?
The answer to this question is Yes and No. Yes, Roman Catholics observe Lent, but so do Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Just because the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) observes Lent, however, does not mean that we are somehow sacrificing the gospel or identifying with the RCC with our observance. Lent, as a church observance, actually preceded the formation of the RCC by at least 200 years. The early Christian theologian Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of the disciple John), wrote of the early church's observance of Lent in the mid-second century. At that time Lent did not last forty days, but it was a pre-Easter time of preparation and focus for the church.
Granted, Baptists have not traditionally observed Lent (this reality is owed to our free church tradition and general eschewal of all things liturgical), but that does not mean that we should not or cannot take an extended period of time to prepare for our Easter celebrations.

The Who, What, When, and Where of Lent
When Lent first began to be observed in the church, it was common practice to baptize new Christians once a year. The baptisms took place on Easter. All new Christians were discipled (catechized) from the time they trusted in Christ until Easter when they were Baptized. The early churches, in an effort to help these young Christians grasp the significance of both their baptism and Easter celebrations, required them to fast for forty hours prior to their baptism. The fast was then broken after their baptism when the church celebrated its Easter feast. Gradually the entire church began to observe Lent as a way to prepare for their church's Easter celebrations. The length of time gradually was extended from forty hours to forty days. The number forty was intended to remind the Christian of the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness and the forty days Jesus spent fasting alone in the desert prior to the public launch of his ministry that would carry him to the cross. The Israelites wandered because of their disobedience; Jesus purposely sought out the desert to fast and pray in preparation for his ministry, a ministry that would ultimately reconcile us to God the Father. The observance of Lent has remained forty days since that time.

But Why Lent?
Just because we have answered the question of the origins of Lent does not necessarily mean that we should observe it. We first need to answer the question of why. There are two reasons why I desire for CrossRoad Church to observe Lent. The primary reason has to do with the original intent of the observance. The early church asked new Christians to observe Lent to impress upon them the significance of their redemption and the celebration of Easter. Eventually it became important enough that all Christians were asked to observe it. I want the members of CrossRoad Church to use the next few weeks as a time to accomplish the same objective in their lives. That is why we have chosen the specific Bible studies and sermon emphases we will be following in the next few weeks.
The second reason why I desire for CrossRoad Church to observe Lent is because I want our folks to grasp the fact that we stand in continuity with early church and all those that have been redeemed by Christ in the past 2,000 years. The church did not start the day we were redeemed, it started the day of Pentecost. I want our church to develop a sense of their spiritual heritage.

If you have questions or comments I would love to hear them. Tomorrow I will unpack how we plan to observe Lent as a church.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Reflections (Humility)

This week I have been spending a portion of my devotional time re-reading C.J. Mahaney's Humility: True Greatness. In one chapter he provided a great quote that we should all commit to memory. I forwarded it to the men that I am currently mentoring earlier this week. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that all Christians need to think through the issue of biblical humility.

The quote:
“In every step of our Christian growth and maturity, and throughout every aspect of our Christian obedience and service, our greatest foe is pride and our greatest ally is humility.”
John Stott

Monday, February 12, 2007

On What do We have to Agree in Order to Cooperate?

"Can't we just all get along?" It is a great question to ask. The proper answer requires a rather Clintonesque desire for clarification. What do you mean by "get along?" That is, in what situation are you asking the question?

If, by "get along," you mean "ignore asking or answering difficult questions and sacrifice truth on the altar of unity," the answer is no. We will eventually lose the gospel. A casual look at the mainline denominations in the United States and Europe is a tragic example of what happens when churches lose the gospel. Rodney King Christianity does not work.

If, by "get along," you mean "agree to disagree on issues; have open, honest dialogue; and engage in debate without disparaging or questioning the motives of those with whom you disagree," then the answer should be yes, we can "get along." In fact anything else would not demonstrate a Christ like spirit and would bring shame and reproach upon the church of Christ.

If, by "get along," you mean "cooperate in ministry," then we have to step back and examine the type of cooperation desired and how close the relationship would be. The closer the relationship, the more we must be in agreement in order to cooperate. How can two walk together unless they are in agreement (Amos 3.3)?

The challenge is deciding on which areas we must agree in order to cooperate. Do we have to agree on which translation of the Bible is the best before we can cooperate with other churches to send missionaries over seas? Not really. Do we have to agree on what constitutes a New Testament church before we partner with others to send church planters overseas? Yes, at some level we must agree.

There are different levels of cooperation between Christians and each level requires a different level of theological agreement in order for genuine cooperation to take place. Al Mohler has coined the phrase theological triage to describe the process by which we examine these issues. Triage, is the practice physicians and medics employ in emergency medical situations to decide the order in which to treat patients. For example, if you and I show up at the emergency room at the same time with injuries, our injuries will be assessed by significance and immediate danger. If I have a broken ankle and you have severe chest pains, you will be seen first because a potential heart attack is much more important than a broken ankle, no matter how painful it may be.

If we apply the process of triage to theological issues (using Mohler's principles), we arrive at at least three levels classification:

First order theological issues, are those things which define us as Christians. They include at a minimum, the fundamentals of the faith (as classically defined): 1) Inspiration of Scripture, 2) Virgin birth of Christ, 3) Christ's death as a substitutionary atonement, 4) bodily resurrection of Christ, 5) the historical reality of Christ's miracles. These issues are foundational ('fundamental') to the Christian faith. To abandon one of these issues would eventually lead to an abandonment of the faith altogether. To these issues we might also add the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc. Agreement on first order issues allows cooperation, but only on a limited basis. For example, as Baptists, we can stand with Methodists and Presbyterians who also affirm these issues in an effort to defend the gospel, impact the direction of our government (pro-life and pro-family causes), and do social ministry. We cannot, however belong to the same denomination because we have radically different understandings of church government and authority outside of the local church. Baptists see no hierarchical authority outside of the local church, Presbyterians and Methodists do. This disagreement would cause significant issues as we embarked on ministry endeavors that required more cooperation.

Second order theological issues, are those which often identify us as a denomination. These issues are often clarified by a particular denomination's statement of faith. For most Southern Baptists, our confession of faith is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Included in these statements are first and second order theological issues that would prevent cooperation on a denominational level if significant agreement did not exist. The issues discussed at this level include church government, the nature of baptism, salvation, etc. and are addressed in generic terms that generically at this level. These issues have to be clarified

Third order issues are those which would not prevent denominational cooperation but would make it difficult to belong to the same church. These issues can be both practical and theological. Style of worship, the doctrines of grace, convictions about home schooling, roles of deacons, application of specific principles of church government, and questions about whether or not women can teach men in any environment are all examples of issues that may be considered third order issues.

Can you think of an issue I have not addressed? Pose the issue and let's discuss it. This is a hot topic in SBC life at present. The members of CrossRoad Church should be able to discuss it in an informed manner since we are a cooperating church of the SBC.

As always, if you prefer not to post a question (or cannot figure our how) you can email me:

Yours in Christ,