Archive for May, 2010

Romans Road

May 24, 2010

One of the tools that is often used to guide people to salvation, especially in Baptist circles, is a set of scriptures known as Romans Road.  This is represented by four passages: Rom 3:23, Rom 6: 23, Rom 5: 8, and Rom 10: 9.  Respectively, these are “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”, and “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Romans Road is very useful as a mechanism for explaining the essence of what salvation is about to someone who knows very little about Christianity.  Unfortunately, there are many circumstances where this simple mechanism for spreading the faith fails, and many new, eager Christians aren’t aware of them.

First, and this was one that I experienced for many years, is that this all assumes a belief in God and sin.  Paul wrote Romans to the Jews in Rome.  As a result, there was a LOT of assumed knowledge.  Paul’s goal wasn’t so much to convert the Roman Jews, as to explain to them why salvation was for the Gentile as well, and why the Law was of limited value to the Gentile who had accepted Christ.

In the modern world, where many prominent scientists want all of religion expunged from the marketplace of thought, concepts such as God and sin are not universally accepted, much less understood.  “Sin” has a connotation of judgmentalism to many.  For many people, being judgmental is the ultimate “sin”, and to accuse others of having sinned is unacceptable.  Step one can fail miserably, just because the assumed knowledge often doesn’t exist.

Step two can be just as problematic.  Many churches preach a warm-fuzzy version of God, where anyone can get into heaven by simply being a “nice person”.  I don’t know how many people I’ve met, who profess to be Christians, who say they expect to meet Buddha, among others, in heaven.  To present them with Romans Road is to force them to choose between comfortable beliefs and truth.  They may not be able to make the switch.  If they don’t know the truth, they might not be saved, themselves.

If you get to step three, you may be in the clear.  Then again, you may run against the barrier of people who believe it is unjust for anyone to pay for their sins, and refuse to accept Christ’s payment.  Many people, especially in America, want to earn everything.  Their pride gets in the way of accepting something of value.

Then we come to the great step four.  This step, I’ve learned the hard way, is the one that can get the evangelist in trouble.  You see, a declaration does NOT make you a Christian.  It is how you live out the Lordship of Jesus that makes you a Christian, not whether you say he’s Lord.  By the same token, you can live out that Lordship through your daily walk, without saying any words out loud.

As an example, my wife was raised in a Pentacostal church, and knew everything she needed to know about Christianity to get saved, yet refused to.  When we were dating, one morning in church, she simply prayed to God “I’m tired of fighting.”  With those words, she surrendered her life to Christ.  She knew who he was, what he had done, what she was called to do, everything.  She had just refused his Lordship for thirty years.

When I joyfully related this tale to one of my friends, she was horrified that I hadn’t “inspected” her with Romans Road.  My (at that time) girlfriend was then subjected to an intense and confusing grilling, to ensure she was truly a Christian.  This was done to the woman who has taught me much about the Bible, and Christianity in general.

The danger of Romans Road is this: you can get locked into a mindset where you miss the heart of salvation: love, and relationship with Jesus.  Without those two things, there is no salvation.  You can get there in many ways, and with many levels of understanding.

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The Value of Part-time Pastors

May 6, 2010

I have attended a variety of churches over the years, and one of the common things I see is that the church is almost always lead by a full-time pastor.  These men and women tend to be people who have spent four or more years in college to learn the business of reading and interpreting the Bible, growing a congregation, and techniques of preaching.  This isn’t to say they don’t study a lot of other things, but they do tend to turn the church into a business.  There are secretaries, lead and assistant pastors, boards, etc, etc, etc.

I have been blessed to spend a few years, now, in a church where we only have a part-time pastor, who works a full-time job as well.  Yes, I said “blessed”.  When was the last time your pastor had to deal with foul-mouthed co-workers?  How often does your pastor risk losing a million dollar contract if a deadline is missed?  How often does your pastor get sent out of town at the last minute for reasons that have nothing to do with the church?  There is value in having a pastor who experiences the same things you do in daily life.

The thing that strikes me as odd is the fact that Paul was also a part-time evangelist.  His day job was tent maker.  He traveled from town to town, making tents and preaching the gospel.  This is very different from modern times, where you may have a traveling evangelist, and there’s either a fee to get this person to stop by your church, or their is an offering collected.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that someone who travels shouldn’t have to lose money in order to help people out.  On the other hand, when we send missionaries overseas, we never expect the people they’re visiting to fork over the cost of travel, food, and lodging.

At some point, it seems that we changed the church from being a body of believers to an organization.  I think part-time pastors may be a good way to shift away from that.  If the lead pastor simply doesn’t have time to do everything, the body starts coming together to fill in the gaps, and a congregation becomes a body, rather than a couch potato.

“In The Name Of Jesus”

May 2, 2010

Over the years, I have spent time in a wide variety of denominations.  I was raised in an Episcopal church, came to believe Jesus was a real person in an offshoot of the Assemblies of God, was first saved in a charismatic church, and married in a Baptist church.  Some believe and preach about gifts of the spirit happening today, others treat them as something that only happened long ago.  One thing that does seem to be common, however, is the more charismatic a church is, the more likely prayers will end with, “in the name of Jesus.”

There is certainly a biblical basis for using that phrase. John 14:13, 14:14, 15:16, and 16:23-28 all clearly state that if we ask for things in His name, he will do them.  We are to be baptized in the name of Jesus, and are to ask for things in the name of Jesus.  With reciting that phrase so often, it can start to turn into a type of invocation.  Something we say as part of a ritual that has no real meaning.  This is dangerous.

Consider what happened to these unfortunate fellows in Acts 19:13-16 (NASB)

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”
Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.
And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”
And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

These were people who believed firmly in God, but not in Jesus.  It was there job to cast out demons.  They had clearly observed early Christians (especially Paul) casting out demons and using that phrase.  If God kicks a demon out, it’s kicked out.  This was probably a much faster process than what they normally did, so they would have wanted to speed things up.  It backfired.

It is my belief that, while we are in a different circumstance, we need to take heed of this warning.  “In the name of Jesus” is not some sort of incantation that we are to append to our prayers to force God to honor them!  It was not Jesus’ intention to give us a way to twist God’s arm and turn Him into our servant.  We know this isn’t the case.  First, even when we pray that way, our prayers aren’t always answered.  Second, in 2 Cor 12:7-9, Paul asked God to remove a thorn from his flesh three times, and God instead gave him grace.  Don’t you think that by the third time, Paul would have used “in the name of Jesus” to finish off his request if it was some sort of incantation or arm-twisting?

So what is this really about?  To ask for something “in the name of Jesus” meant something much bigger than what we think of today.  Today, if you want to do something, you just call a person up and say “I’d like to do …”, and you get it done.  The only exception is when a company needs something done.  I regularly have to communicate with customers on behalf of my company.  Sometimes it’s face-to-face, but usually, it’s by phone or email.  Every time I do that, I’m acting on behalf of my employer.  I have to act in a way that preserves the interests of my company, my company’s reputation, etc.  I cannot give away “freebies” to customers, for example.  Sure, it’s not hard, and it takes little time, but it doesn’t protect my company’s interests.  If we give away little “freebies”, it sets a precedent for larger ones, and the company loses money.

When I act as an employee of my company, I am acting “in the name of [company].”  I have been given certain authority to act as its representative, and as long as I act within the bounds set by it, I am a good and faithful employee.  I have to make judgment calls sometimes, but I can never just do what I want.  When you pray “in the name of Jesus,” you are doing the same thing!  You are asserting that you are acting as a representative of Jesus, do what he wants you to do and has authorized you to do.  The difference is, you always can get direction from Jesus, and have far less need of relying on your own judgment.

If you pray for something you were told not to pray for, or that doesn’t serve His purposes, you are not praying in His name, whether you claim to be or not.