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Is the Reformation Over?

Oct 31, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Ask a Protestant today what is the biggest threat to orthodox Christianity today, and he might mention nominalism, the sexual revolution, or old fashioned liberalism. But if you would have asked a Protestant the same question a hundred years ago, he would have almost certainly mentioned the Roman Catholic Church. Until fairly recently—we are only talking about a few generations—Protestant and Catholics in this country were, if not enemies, then certainly players on opposing teams.

Today, much of that animosity has melted away. And to a large extent, the thaw between Protestants and Catholics has been a good thing. Protestants and Catholics have found themselves to be co-belligerents in the culture war, defending the unborn, upholding traditional marriage, and combating moral relativism and secular humanism. And in an age which discounts doctrine, evangelical Protestants often share more in common theologically with a devout Roman Catholic steeped in historic orthodoxy than they do with liberal members of their own denominations. I personally have benefited from Catholic authors like G.K. Chesterton, Richard John Neuhaus, and Robert George. I have respected the Catholic Church for taking principled, unpopular stands on moral issues.

And yet, the theological gulf between Protestants and Catholics is still wide and in places very deep. If we care about the doctrines that were most precious to the Reformers we must not dare to assert that the “Reformation is over,” as if all the theological hills have been laid low and all the dogmatic valleys made into a plain.

Below are a number of points which still separate Catholics and Protestants. No doubt, many Roman Catholics don’t actually believe (or even know) what Catholic theology states. I am not claiming to know definitely what Catholics think and practice in all these areas. But by seeking to understand official church documents we can get a good idea of what Catholics are supposed to believe. And what they should believe include a number of points sola Scriptura Protestants cannot affirm.

The Church
Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has softened its stance toward Protestants, calling them “estranged brothers.” Nevertheless, to be a part of the church in its fullness one must be immersed in the Roman Catholic system of sacraments, orders, and under the authority of the Pope. “Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who…are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules here through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.” Further, the Pope is considered infallible when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair); that is, when he makes official doctrinal pronouncements. The Catholic Church also has seven sacraments instead of two-Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper) and baptism like Protestants, and then penance, holy orders, marriage, confirmation, and last rites.

Scripture
Catholics have a larger biblical canon. In addition to the 66 books in the Protestant Bible, Catholic Bibles include the Apocrypha, with books like Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccebees, Sirach, and Baruch. Catholic teaching also elevates Tradition more than Protestants do. Granted, many evangelicals suffer from ignoring tradition and the wisdom of the past. But Catholic theology goes beyond just respecting the past; it sacralizes it. “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence,” states the Catechism. Likewise, the Magisterium has the authority to make definitive interpretations. “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching, office of the Church alone…to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.”

Lord’s Supper
Central to the Catholic faith is the Mass (their worship service). Central to the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist. Catholics believe that bread and wine are transubstantiated into the actual, physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. The elements are offered as a sacrifice from the church and a sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. This is not simply a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, but the same atoning work: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice…the sacrifice [of the Eucharist] is truly propitiatory.”

Baptism
Catholics teach that “justification is conferred in Baptism.” The waters of baptism wash away original sin and join us with Christ. Baptism is not merely a sign and seal of grace, but actually confers saving grace.

Mary
Mary is not only the Mother of Christ, but the Mother of the Church. She was conceived without original sin (the immaculate conception) and at the end of her earthly life “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (assumption). She intercedes for the church, “continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation,” and is “a mother to us in the order of grace.” Mary was more than just the faith-filled mother of Jesus: “The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”

Purgatory
Those who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are assured of eternal life, but must first undergo purification in purgatory. Because of the presence of this intermediate state, the Catholic Church has developed the practice of prayer for the dead. “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.” Concerning the salvation of those who do not hear the gospel, the Catholic Catechism states “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

Merit
It is not really fair to say “Catholics teach that you can earn your salvation.” That may be what many Catholics believe, but the official teaching of Rome is more nuanced, but still troubling. The Catechism summarizes: “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”

Justification
Catholic teaching rejects the Protestant understanding of imputed righteousness. The question is this: is the righteousness whereby we are forgiven and made right with God a righteousness working in us or a righteousness reckoned to our account? Catholics say the former, Protestants the latter. The difference is between infused and imputed righteousness-infused righteousness is like having $100 in cold hard cash in your actual possession, imputed righteousness is like having $100 wired to your account. According to Catholic teaching, justification is more than God’s declaration of our righteousness based on Christ’s work, it is also a renewal of the inner man and reconciliation with God. Of course, these are good things too, but Catholics make them present in and through justification, rather than by faith alone. The Council of Trent, from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation, declares: “If anyone says, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of grace and charity that is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.”

Should Catholics and Protestants treat each other decently and with respect? Of course. Will we labor side by side on important moral and social matters? Quite often. Can we find born again Christians worshiping in Catholic churches? No doubt. Are there still critical doctrinal issues which rightly divide Protestants and Catholics? Absolutely. We do neither side any favors by pretending otherwise.

Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord; your word is truth.

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Preparing for Sunday Worship

Oct 30, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

The Christian life is lived from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. Corporate worship is the high point of our week and the constant rhythm of our lives. We dare not “neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25), because there is nothing as meaningful, rich, and glorious on earth as the church gathering together with its Lord and Savior in worship. Most Christians believe this, but does it translate to our practice? Or is the moment we are sitting in the pew or the auditorium chair the first time we think about corporate worship in our week?

I would suggest that if corporate worship is as significant as the Scriptures portray it to be (Ex. 19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; 1 Cor. 14:26-39; Heb. 10:25) then we should prepare for it. We count preaching as significant, so we expect our pastor will prepare his sermon before he enters the pulpit. We consider worship songs important, so we expect our music teams, pianists, and organists will appropriately prepare before sitting down at their instruments. We believe our engagement in corporate worship is essential, so we should also expect to prepare even as we expect the pastor and musicians to prepare for their participation in the Sunday morning service. How can you prepare for worship? Here are a few ideas:

  • Seize the Rest of the Week: Practice family worship and secret worship throughout the week knowing that this will inform and encourage your experience in corporate worship.
  • Be Boring: Go to bed early on Saturday night. Friday nights can be filled with late-night activity, but Saturday nights should routinely be safeguarded. Sleepy heads make for drowsy worshippers.
  • Right Attitude: Cultivate a spirit of joy on Sunday mornings in your home. If this is the highlight of our week, then let’s act like it. Talk about how wonderful the day is going to be, wake the kids up with excitement, turn on good Christian music for the whole family to listen to, and put a smile on your face.
  • Media Blackout: Refrain from turning on the television, watching Netflix, or catching up on Facebook Sunday mornings. Our minds are so easily distracted. Safeguard your mental space.
  • Plan Ahead: Lay out your Sunday morning clothes on Saturday night, so you don’t have to change ten times on Sunday morning before finding an outfit that fits well, looks right, or is ironed (of course, this point was not intentionally directed to any particular sex!).
  • Don’t Be Surprised: Read and think through the Sunday morning text earlier in the week. We should seldom be surprised at the passage we hear preached. Working our way through a passage throughout the week provides more fertile soil on Sunday morning.
  • Early Bird: Rise early on Sunday morning and spend time reading the Word, praying, and meditating to prepare your heart for worship.
  • Talk & Drive: On the car-ride to church talk about the passage that will be preached, sing a hymn together, and converse about the things of God.
  • Timing it Right: Give yourself enough time on Sunday mornings. Rise early enough that the morning isn’t rushed. Leave home with plenty of time to spare. Try not to arrive at church late or even a few minutes before the service. Rushing out the door at home and rushing in the door at church has stymied many worshippers.
  • Collect Your Thoughts: Sit-down, read through the bulletin (if you have one), think through the songs, meditate on the Scripture readings, and pray before the service begins.

 

For the Christian, there is no sweeter moment in the week than Sunday morning. How good it is to meet with God and His people! Because it is part of our weekly activity, there is a temptation to treat it as common and routine. May it never be! One of the ways to ensure that this is not the case with us is to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for corporate worship each week. Take the time and effort, your soul will be the beneficiary.

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Magnify Conference, November 14-15

Oct 29, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

magnifyWe’d love to see you at University Reformed Church for the Magnify Conference this November 14-15. Mark Dever will be giving three plenary addresses on “The Church Matters.” I will also be speaking.

I’m partial to this conference, and not just because we host it:

1. We partner with several other churches in the Lansing area. It’s a great opportunity to meet other brothers and sisters from mid-Michigan and beyond.

2. The conference is not massive. I enjoy big conferences too, but this one is several hundred instead of several thousand. It’s a nice dynamic.

3. Singing together. Always a blessing.

4. The pastors/leaders breakfast on Saturday morning.

5. The conference is long enough to be meaningful but short enough to be manageable for parents, students, and lay people.

6. The cost–only $15 for an individual/$25 for a family!

Mark Dever will also be preaching for us on Sunday morning. I will be continuing my systematic theology series during the evening service.

Here’s Mark talking a little about the conference. Join us!

Mark Dever on the Local Church | Magnify Conference from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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The Unexpected Sacrifices of the Mission Field

Oct 28, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Guest blogger: Jason Carter

Jason Carter (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a missionary professor at Instituto Bíblico “Casa de la Palabra” (IBCP Seminary) in Equatorial Guinea, the only country in Africa where Spanish is the official language (http://ibcp.wecinternational.org/index.php/en/). Jason is married with three children. He blogs occasionally at http://thecarterteam.wordpress.com/.

…………..

My wife and I have been overseas since 2006. All our three children were born outside the U.S.. We have experienced unbelievable joys, life-long friendships, soul-transforming ministries and enjoyed worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ in Central Africa who know the true meaning of sacrifice for the Gospel. And there have also been challenges.

We have missed our extended family – grandparents, aunt & uncles and cousins. We have experienced attempted break-ins to our house at night. Our car has been vandalized. Malaria has visited our family multiple times. While the joys abound, the challenges are manifold. Yet it has often been the unexpected challenges of the mission field that surprise me the most.

First, my kids are third-culture kids. This means, among other things, that my oldest child is really good at making new friendships. Everywhere, with everybody. Yet it also means that I can’t judge childhood success or failure by the American parameters which informed my own childhood. This is unexpectedly hard. I grew up an avid basketball fan, playing the game multiple times a week through high school and college. It bugs me, perhaps more than it should, that basketball leagues are non-existent where we live. That March isn’t full of Madness.

In many ways, I still want my kids to experience all the joys of an American childhood. I want to give them the same joys that I had as a child. This is feels natural, since my own childhood is the only childhood I know. Yet missionary parents must learn to distrust this feeling, however natural it might be to view your own kids through the lens of your own childhood experiences. It might seem obvious: “I shouldn’t shackle my kids with expectations of ‘the American childhood experience’ since, after all, they aren’t growing up in America.” But it’s surprisingly hard.

Second, furloughs are hard. I was ready for the challenges of adjusting to a new culture. New culture, new people, new food, new ways of being the church – all of this, more or less, I was prepared to find in our new adopted country. The unexpected challenge was finding our furlough experience a challenging time.

After setting up a small apartment from scratch (no small task!), our family recently embarked upon 3 months of traveling with three small children on a budget that doesn’t easily support such a lifestyle. Though some days are filled with rich times of fellowship, other days leave me feeling more like Clark Griswold than the Apostle Paul.

Third, downward mobility becomes more, not less, of a challenge. I left the States for the mission field in my late 20s – married but carefree with no kids. Our earthly belongings in the States mostly include my theological books and my wife’s pictures and memory boxes. For the most part, this doesn’t bother me. I’d gladly do it all over again.

Yet as children are added to the family, making ½ of the salary we earned 12 years ago becomes more of a challenge. As I get older, I wrestle with the fact that my wife never gets to “nest” in a home we’ve purchased. As one friend puts it, missionaries are “global nomads”. Like many things connected to the missionary movement, there is a tinge of romanticism in being labeled a “global nomad”. Yet living a nomadic existence with children, at times, is more like a dark comedy than a romantic fun-filled adventure. Especially on long plane rides.

I once thought, perhaps naively, that after selling our stuff and moving overseas, that I would view the challenge of downward mobility in my rear-view mirror. Maybe that’s the case for some missionaries. Yet for me, counting the cost of missionary service (Lk 14:28) has gone up, rather than down, over the years. I find that I daily need Christ’s radical call of discipleship (Lk 9:23) in my life — not only to go to the mission field but to stay on it.

Fourth, serving others is really about others. Sadly, the days of churches and denominations “planting their flag” in an exotic locale simply because “our brand isn’t there yet” is still a reality in the 21st century. I see it all the time in the country where I serve.

I’m involved in a ministry, however, where training and empowering indigenous leaders is at the core of what I do. My ministry is more about teaching others to fish, rather than bringing back my own prize-wining catch.

I have found this unexpectedly hard, especially as I grew up in a culture of performance. All my life, I was taught to compete. Life was about my accomplishments, my resume, my accolades – and later, sadly enough, this morphed into my effectiveness in ministry.

What I’m learning is that missionary service is…well, service. It’s others-centered. It’s not glamorous. It’s about finding joy in the trenches. Most of the time, I’m not called to direct (from up front) but support (from behind or alongside). I’m not called to plant the church but to equip biblically and theologically the church planter.
This is a kind of “vocational sacrifice” which I did not expect. I’m not called to be the “lead pastor” but serve, love and empower indigenous servant leaders.

It’s unsettling that the ministry ambitions which initially drove me to the mission field have to be tamed and completely re-worked. In my context, to put the work of the Gospel first essentially means that I must learn to prize and place the ministry of others above my own ministry. If I really believe that these indigenous leaders, rather than missionaries, are at the heart of the advance of the Gospel in my adopted country (which I do), then I must put their ministries ahead of my own. To paraphrase John the Baptist: “Their ministries must increase, my ministry must decrease.”

I pray it may be so for me. And I pray it may be so for many of my fellow missionaries who have the absolute joy and privilege of serving Christ overseas.

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A New Book and Some Guest Bloggers

Oct 27, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

new_booksChances are you’ll be seeing a few more guest bloggers than usual over the next two months. The reason: I’m working on a new book and need to cut back in a couple areas if I’m going to finish the manuscript by the end of the year (crazy busy and all that jazz). The new book is entitled What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? It should be available by spring.

More about the book later. But today I want to introduce two guest bloggers.

The first needs little introduction. Jason Helopoulos is part of the pastoral team at University Reformed Church, an author in his own right, and a frequent blogger on this site. Look for Jason’s posts this week and next week.

The other guest blogger is Jason Carter, a friend of mine from seminary and a missionary in Equatorial Guinea. In addition to having experience on the mission field, Jason recently received his Ph.D. in World Christianity from the University of Edinburgh. He has two excellent posts in the queue: one on suffering as a missionary and the other on supporting your missionaries. The first post will be up tomorrow. Don’t miss it.

I may post something on Friday for Reformation Day, but check the byline for the next two weeks. It probably won’t be me.

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 27, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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Is It Wrong For Christians to Defend their Rights?

Oct 24, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Christians in the West are familiar with apologetics as an intellectual or worldview exercise. We are less familiar with apologetics as a legal defense. This is an unfamiliarity that needs to be quickly remedied.

With pastors facing subpoenas for their sermons and wedding chapels being forced to conduct same-sex services under threat of imprisonment, Christians need a theology of defending themselves in the courts. While we certainly must turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love our enemies when faced with personal offenses (Matt. 5:38-48), we must not assume that defending ourselves—strenuously and sometimes even defiantly—before the governing authorities is inconsistent with being a follower of Jesus or antithetical to the propagation of the gospel.

We think of Acts as the great missionary book of the Bible. And it is: from Pentecost to persecution to Paul’s missionary journeys, we see the word of God go forth from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. But in addition to being a narrative of great missionary advance, Acts was written as a legal defense. Luke was at pains to demonstrate to most excellent Theophilus (likely a Roman official or a member of the societal elite) that Christianity was not hellbent on overthrowing Roman rule and was not in violation of the religious provisions of Roman law. Five times in the last main section of the book (chapters 21-28) we see Paul defending the spiritual and legal legitimacy of his gospel and his ministry: before the mob in Jerusalem (22:1-21), before the council (23:1-10), before Felix (24:1-27), before Festus (25:1-12), and before Agrippa (26:1-32). In these chapters we repeatedly find the word (or some variation of the word) apologia as Paul makes his apology or defense (22:1; 24:10; 25:8; 26:1ff., 24; cf. 19:33). The Apostle Paul in Acts is a missionary, a pastor, and a cultural apologist.

We should note four things about Paul’s defense, in particular about his first defense in Jerusalem (21:27-22:21).

First, Paul had reason to give a defense.

There was strong opposition to the Apostle Paul and his ministry. Part of this was owing to the serious theological differences between the Jews and the Jewish Christians. Part of the opposition was due to personal animus against Paul and part was owing to slander and misinformation. People were ready to believe the worst about Paul (or ready to make up the worst about him). They thought he had brought a Greek into the temple (21:27-29). They thought he belonged to a revolutionary guerrilla group called the Assassins (21:38). It was a perfect recipe for hatred and violent attack.

You can see why Paul was so thankful for those who were not ashamed of his chains (2 Tim. 1:16) and why it was such consolation to the persecuted Christians in Hebrews that Jesus was not ashamed to call them his brothers (Hebrews 2:11; cf. 10:33). There was a cost to associating with people like Paul. Like Jesus, he was controversial, embattled, and embroiled in legal wrangling. Paul did not float above the fray. He never found a way to be so comprehensively nice and invested in social justice (Gal. 2:10) that his enemies patted him on the back, or even left him alone.

Second, Paul was eager to give a defense.

There are times in the epistles where Paul refuses to defend himself (and then goes on to defend himself anyway). He understands that sometimes we get into more trouble by trying to respond to every accusation thrown our way. Jesus didn’t do much to defend himself. But that may not be the best example because his specific mission was to die an atoning death for our sins. The point is: no one should (or even can) defend himself against every opponent, every injustice, or every hurt.

But every is not the same as none. In fact, in the final chapters of Acts, providing a defense for his gospel ministry is Paul’s singular concern. When dealing with the Romans, he does not hesitate to claim his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22-29) or to let people know he hails from the impressive city of Tarsus (21:39). And when dealing with the Jews, he makes no qualms about emphasizing his Jewish credentials—that they are his brothers and fathers (22:1), that he can speak their language (v. 2), that he was trained by the most influential rabbi of his time (v. 3), that he was full of zeal (v. 4), that his conversion was attested by a devout and well respected man (v. 12), that like the prophet Samuel he was praying in the temple and received a vision (v. 17).

In his first defense in Jerusalem before the Jews, just like in his subsequent defenses before Roman magistrates, Paul is keen to show not only that his message is consistent with the Jewish religion and by divine commission, but that he has not broken any laws and does not deserve the mistreatment he is receiving. The same Paul who was not afraid to suffer in Jerusalem and did not count his life worth anything so long as he could preach the gospel (Acts 20:22-24), was not about to let his legal rights be abridged and the harshest allegations against him go unanswered. Paul understood that to quietly accept injustice could have been simpler and perhaps even personally satisfying (Acts 5:41), but in his case (as in an increasing number of our cases), an unwillingness to defend himself would not have served the cause of the gospel. His silence would not have strengthened Theophilus in the faith and it would not have helped the fledgling church. Paul wanted to show that this new faith was not anti-Jewish and was not inciting rebellion against Rome. Paul claimed his citizenship and challenged the likes of Felix, Festus, and Agrippa so that he might finish his course and bring the gospel to the heart of the Roman Empire. He knew that at times defending the faith means defending your rights.

Third, Paul’s defense was often ineffective.

In Acts 22 we see how monumentally unsuccessful Paul’s brilliant speeches could be. Paul can’t even finish his defense without the crowd crying out for his death (v. 22). He had truth on his side, but truth doesn’t always win out in a court of law, let alone in mob rule. True, Paul had more success making his case to the Romans than before his own countrymen, but even then he never received the strong vindication he deserved. His defense may have been convincing to the Roman magistrates, but they were still content to put political expediency above personal integrity. Acts 28 ends triumphantly with the gospel going forth (v. 31). And yet Paul is still under house arrest (v. 30) and will eventually be killed a few years later under Nero (2 Tim. 4:6).

Fourth, Paul used his defense as an opportunity to preach Christ.

It may look like Paul is obsessed with giving his testimony in the last chapters of Acts. But the only reason he wants to give his testimony is so he can testify to Christ. Time after time, when put on trial, Paul found a way to talk about the resurrection of Christ, about faith and repentance, and about the Messianic identity of Jesus. We can be quick to say “Let’s stop all this fighting, all this controversy, all this culture war stuff, and get on with the work of evangelism” as if Paul’s defense was not also evangelism! More than ever, we must be ready for someone to ask us a reason for the hope that we have–even if they mistakenly believe our hope to be hate.

For Paul, defending the faith was just as important as preaching the faith because he did not see the two as different tasks. He was a missionary at heart. His passion was the proclamation of the gospel. If that meant death, he was ready to die, so long as it was his death and not the death of freedom for the gospel to go out boldly and without hindrance.

Paul was willing for his life to be cut short if the work of the gospel could go on. But so long as the gospel itself was maligned, misrepresented, and unfairly marginalized, he wasn’t about to submit himself to slander or surrender a single civic right. He would keep preaching the Christian gospel. He would keep on defending the religious and legal legitimacy of the Christian faith. And he would not believe for a moment that the two tasks were aimed at different ends.

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Some Uncomfortable Questions

Oct 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Would you like others to remember your failings as long as you remember theirs?

Do you like it when people assume the worst about you? Put the worst possible construct on your motives? Never give you the benefit of the doubt? Size you up and figure you out 140 characters at a time?

Do you like it when others are quick to speak, quick to anger, and slow to forgive? How does it feel when others speak about you instead of to you?

What if the measure you used with others was the measure used with you? What if everyone else took things personally? What if tearing you down became someone else’s personal mission in life? Have you ever tried to see things their way?

Have you ever been mistaken for a son of encouragement like Barnabas or a great refresher like Onesiphorus?

Are people more surprised when you are outraged and offended or when you are tender and compassionate?

How would I answer these questions? How am I doing? Every “you” in the questions above is also for me.

Have mercy on stupid and sinful people. You and I will be one of them soon enough.

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A Few Reflections on My Trip to Brazil

Oct 21, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I spent last week in Brazil speaking at the Fiel Conference in Aguas de Lindoia, a small resort town 100 miles outside of Sao Paulo, and in Salvador, a seaside city in the northeast. Spending seven days in a massive country of 200 million people hardly makes one qualified to pontificate about the “state of the church” there, let alone the nation as a whole. But hopefully a few reflections are still permissible—both for the benefit of those who have asked for my thoughts, and (more helpfully) for my own benefit as I think about what I saw and learned.

Let me summarize my (still forming) thoughts with four words.

1. Encouraging. Of course, the weather was sunny, the terrain beautiful, and the people warm and friendly. But in addition to these delights, I was very encouraged by the health and maturity of the church I encountered in Brazil. True, most of the country is still Roman Catholic (and often syncretistic) and health-wealth hocus pocus is running rampant in too many places. And yet, the church is growing in Brazil. Good evangelical, strongly biblical, Calvinistic churches and ministries are growing. If we run low on vibrant, conservative Presbyterians in the United States, we’ll be able to find scores of new ones in Brazil.

One person I talked to remarked that he thought the indigenous church in Brazil was as strong as anywhere else in the non-English speaking world (I imagine the Koreans might disagree). There are good seminaries with good scholars training good pastors to shepherd good and growing churches. From what I heard, more pastors are needed along with more confessionally orthodox professors trained at the highest levels of the academy. But I saw first hand, and learned first hand, from top notch Brazilian pastors and scholars. The conference was run by Brazilians. The first Brazilian systematic theology book has just been written. Brazil is a strong missions-sending country. The church has a growing appetite for good teaching and good books. I thank God for the work of the gospel in Brazil.

2. Faithfulness. I also thank God for missionaries and local leaders who sowed the seeds for the gospel harvest now growing in Brazil. Fiel Ministries is just one story, but it’s one worth noting. This was the 30th anniversary of the Fiel Conference. Over the past several decades Fiel has published good books, invested in new technologies (videos, blogs, social media), established good partnerships with ministries in the States, and helped support local pastors. And there are other ministries, publishing houses, seminaries, and denominations doing similar things. Will God allow you to see the same results in the little town or among the unreached or barely reached people you’re now serving? Only God knows. But if we stick around and if we keep sowing and if we keep our hand to the plow, God will certainly do more than we have eyes to see.

3. Evangelism. Speaking of sowing, whenever I get the privilege of rubbing shoulders with brothers and sisters from around the world, I’m inevitably impressed by their commitment to evangelism and a bit embarrassed by my own. What a joy it was to hear about the tens of thousands of R.C. Sproul books that were distributed by Brazilian Christians during the World Cup. And what a greater joy to hear one pastor speak of the more than a dozen new believers he was baptizing into his church as a result of this evangelistic outreach. Is a large scale book giveaway the best way to reach the lost in this country? Maybe, maybe not. But I can think of worse ways. Like not dreaming, planning, strategizing, or sharing anything at all.

4. Resources. If there is one thing I am always reminded of when I speak in another country it’s the importance of good training and good resources. What a gift theologically sound, pastorally wise, devotionally rich Christian publishing is to the world. Never underestimate the power of the printed word. And don’t underestimate the growing influence of the internet. Through the translation of good English materials and through the increasing production of their own online resources, the Brazilian church seems ahead of the curve when it comes to utilizing the web for the cause of Christ and the health of the church.

Which leads me to one final caution. While it’s certainly appropriate that those of us in America would tweet and blog and author books about issues affecting our immediate context, let us labor to think broadly and biblically about what we write. General works of theology, accessible commentaries, basic stuff on Christian discipleship, thoughtful pieces on pastoral ministry–these are the sorts of blogs and books that may not make you a bestseller or king of the clicks in America, but they will make you relevant to Christians twenty years from now and to Christians all over the world right now. Let’s keep the main things the main thing.

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 20, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Bad idea, Canadian version.

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