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More Thoughts about Church History

I have profited greatly from my Church History course at Reformed Theological Seminary. While I wouldn’t expect someone to enroll at RTS simply to take the class, there is no need! Thanks to technology and the glory of the internet, you can go and download the lectures for free at iTunes U. Consider this my endorsement.

After having completed the course, I had a few more thoughts regarding Church History.

  1. History confirms human nature. There are a plethora of things that have changed since the early church. Cultures have come and gone, empires fallen, discoveries and advances made. But one thing that has not changed is the human problem. While technology or culture may shade or color the manifestation of sin, the problem of sin is as old and constant as the garden of Eden.
  2. Honest church history (and history in general) ought to mitigate against chronological snobbery. C.S. Lewis described chronological snobbery as the false assumption that the present and all that it entails is intrinsically superior to the past. With so much focus on the present in social media, the publishing of new, exciting books, new TVs shows, new iPhones, new everything, there seems to be an abiding focus on both the blessed present and the hopeful future. After studying some of the triumphs and the failures of the past, such intrinsic optimism seems misplaced. I don’t think it demands that you be pessimistic about the present. It just keeps us honest.
  3. There is so much more to learn. Of all the courses that I’ve taken, it seems that Church History has left me with the one of the greatest senses of inadequacy. I would imagine that I suffer from “knowing enough to be dangerous.” I hope that with a continued pursuit, I can further benefit from the lessons of the past.

Three Thoughts about Discipleship

The vision of our youth ministry is to be a youth ministry that makes disciples who make disciples. Not terribly flashy, but it gets to the point. And, yes, I’ve thought through the fact that the Great Commission was given to the apostles, and that disciple-making is a function of the church. Nonetheless, we want to raise up teenagers who take responsibility to be a witness, and in that witnessing, help others get to know Jesus better. “Making disciples who make disciples” is an easy and memorable way to communicate that.

So lately I’ve been thinking about discipleship. Here are three of those thoughts.

  1. Discipleship is a long process. Seriously. Baking a cake takes what, an hour? A seminary degree takes three years if you’re going full time (or considerably longer if you’re taking my approach). But being formed into a disciple of Christ is a lifetime process. One could argue that the timer doesn’t ding on this side of eternity, depending on how you define “disciples.” Which leads me to my second thought.

  2. We as a youth ministry must be intentional about what we seek to impart. I can imagine most hands-to-palms right now with a chorus of “Duhs.” Well, I’m slow on the pick-up. If we have a teenager who comes consistently from 6th to 12th grade, we get about two hours a week for seven years. That’s 728 hours total (not including breaks or extra retreats or stuff like that) out of 61,152 hours that a person has in seven years. That’s 1.19%. Not a lot of time to impress upon a teenager the “whole counsel of God.” This is another reason that I’m thankful that it is not our job alone to make disciples. I know that we’re not factoring in time with adult leaders or more involvement. But still, it’s not a lot. 1 percent. This is one reason that parents are the primary disciple-makers of their kids. Time. (And love and hugs and other things that impact a person’s ability to disciple others.)

  3. Nonetheless, God is faithful in the discipleship process. It has been very encouraging to see passion rise in the lives of some of our teenagers. To hear their increased interest in the Bible and in worship. To hear them practically addressing the idols in their lives with repentance and renewed faith. God can take 1 percent and turn it into seven baskets of leftovers. Or something like that. He does what we cannot. Which is good because, well, we cannot.

Three Thoughts about Church History

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking a course on Church History from Reformed Theological Seminary. I can’t recommend RTS enough. Their faculty and staff are wonderful, and the courses I have taken have been spiritually and ministerially fruitful.

This course on Church History, spanning the book of Acts through to pre-Reformation era Christianity, has been thoroughly encouraging and challenging. Here are three reasons.

  1. Learning about martyrs puts things in perspective. Without trivializing the struggles we legitimately face, it’s convicting to read about guys like Polycarp who basically said that he didn’t need to be nailed to the stake because the God who would enable to be martyred would give him the strength to stand in the fire- literally. I’m thankful for the freedom that we have and the fact that we don’t face the kind of persecution that Christians in the first three centuries did; but oh, for an ounce of their faith!

  2. I’m thankful for the saints who “figured it out.” I’m thankful that we’re not having to hash out the Trinity or the natures of Christ. We will always need to submit our theology to the Scriptures. But I’m thankful for the well-worn path that has been paved by the saints before me.

  3. History gives perspective. Have you ever been in a meeting where there were eight of your peers and you guys have just brainstormed a “great idea?” Everyone is very excited about this “great idea.” And then an older, wiser person walks in and shows you all the things you didn’t take in to consideration and shows you why your “great idea” is really an old idea that has been tried and failed? At the risk of being pessimistic, Church History is that old guy. It steps into our world with our shiny innovations and reminds us that 1. our ideas are not new and 2. sometimes they’re horribly wrong. We have the benefit of those who have experienced the pain of poor theology that can hopefully prevent us from going down the same roads. As the saying goes, if you don’t learn from history, etc.

A little history is good for everyone.

Why Theology is for Everyone

In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul tells the Christians in Colossae of his prayer for them:

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col. 1:9-10, ESV)

We can learn a lot from Paul’s prayer. First, it’s important to notice that of all the things that Paul could ask for, he prays that the Christians would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. In Colossae, the Christians were being tempted to be led astray by some false teaching that claimed to have the “true knowledge” of God. And what is interesting is that despite the danger of these gnostic teachings, Paul doesn’t hesitate to pray that those Christians would still be filled with a knowledge of God’s will- a legitimate knowledge, revealed in God’s word.

In another letter penned by Paul, he says that Scripture is the source of teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in Christian living (2 Tim. 3:16). So it’s no doubt that here, Paul is saying, “you want to really get to know God? To be equipped and able to live out this life? Then be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in God’s word!”

These are the types of exhortations that blog-writing, theology-studying nerds like myself get excited about. “See? My disconnected, naval-gazing love of theology is justified!”

Wrong.

Because if we keep reading to verse 10, Paul lays out the end to the means of gaining a knowledge of God’s will. And it’s not so you can write the most insightful blogs, write pithy twitter posts, or gain nerd cred. No, the reason we’re to pursue a deeper knowledge of God’s will is for a fruitful life.

Pleasing our Lord

When we pursue the knowledge of God, the expectation is that we don’t just hoard it like someone with a houseful of cats and old newspapers. Instead that knowledge ought to be the iron beams in the edifice of our Christian life. If our knowledge isn’t building something that pleases God, then we’re just hoarding.

Bearing Fruit in Every Good Work

Furthermore, if our belief is genuine, then it should result in action. When theology becomes a badge of honor or just a point to be debated, we’re doing it wrong. I’m guilty of this. If I take this gospel seriously, my life and actions shouldn’t be characterized by pride, arrogance, impatience, and frustration; rather humility, patience, and kindness should inform my every action.

Beyond this, our faith should be an active one, that expresses itself in loving acts. Giving generously. Sacrificing time and resource. Caring for others. Because as our knowledge of God’s will increases, we should decrease and the love of God and others should increase.

Increasing in the Knowledge of God

There’s a fascinating interaction that happens when we learn about God and then act on that knowledge. Through our obedience response to God’s knowledge, we come to know him more. I can see this in marriage. Every newly-wedded husband would claim he loved his bride. But as he comes to know her more deeply and to care for her through the marriage, he learns more about his love for his bride. He loves her more deeply than he did before.

When we pursue God with our minds and let Him dictate our actions, we come to know and love Him more deeply.

Theology is for life.

There’s definitely a place for pastors and scholars to help and inform the body. God wouldn’t have given them to us, had we not needed them. But that can’t keep us from individually pursuing a deeper knowledge of God and His will. We’re all doing “theology” to one degree or another. Paul calls us to continually strive to do theology that is faithful to God’s word and results in gospel-informed action.

If you’re reading this post because you want to know about the latest and greatest devotional material that will take you from a spiritual pee-wee to a titan, I’m afraid I’ve led you astray. However, if you’re here because hyperbole was the first thought that came to your mind when reading the title, then you’ve caught it.

The Next Big Thing

I find it fascinating how easily I’m sucked into the next big thing, when it comes to the Christian life. I remember the buzz that the ESV Study Bible created, with us all salivating over the maps and the articles and the contributors. And I remember how quickly after it was published that I shelved it, and began searching for the next big thing.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think the ESV Study Bible is a great tool. I would recommend it to anyone. And one thing that American Christianity has no lack of is resources. Free online commentaries, sermon transcriptions, reading plans, everything.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Read the Bible.

And yet for all the spiritual resources available to me, it seems there is such lack of power in them. How easy is it substitute the Word of God for words about the Word of God. I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortation that, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV). If we’re to feast on Scripture, I’m afraid I too often fall prey of getting fast food, rather than sinking my teeth into a hearty meal. Devotionals by powerful pastors. Commentaries by scholarly professors. Rather than the very words of God.

Not to say that these aren’t wonderful resources. They are. They’re just terrible substitutes for the Word of God. In 2013, I hope to read a great deal of writing about the Word of God. But I want it be founded upon a feasting of the Word itself.