Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Gospel Proclaimed is at the Center of Church Life

Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.  What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.  Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say "Amen" to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?  For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.  I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.  Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
(Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, 14:13-19, ESV)

How is it that we edify one another?  We edify one another through the mind by speaking the gospel to one another in a language that is propositional, engaging, and understandable!

Paul does not diminish one’s personal spiritual time of prayer, gratitude, and praise of the Lord, whether in communicable language or not.  However, he also notes that the Church is not edified through such experiences, but is only edified through the work of understanding, intellect, reasonable thought communicated so that others can hear and understand.

Thus, this passage is about speaking, communicating, announcing the particulars of the message of God’s great reconciliation through Christ Jesus and all its glorious motifs, so that others hear, understand, and are exhorted to act and persuaded to hope in Christ, for this is what humanity was created for and in what they flourish in eternal life.  This type of proclaiming/hearing theme is the common methodology of Church life together.  It is the means of prophecy, instruction, praise, teaching, and growth in the Scriptures.  This was particularly true in cultures where many people did not read (thus needed to hear the Word proclaimed) or in languages where the written Scriptures did not yet exist.  In fact, the potency of the Word proclaimed, rooted in the Word written or as the (at that time) yet-to-be Canon, is evidenced by the commands to proclaim, witness, testify, announce, herald, and praise.  These are all verbal terms dependent upon the speaker, not experiential terms dependent upon the hearer.
Yet, along with the verbal terms (but never apart from them) we must not diminish God’s revealed symbols of meaning, words pictured by enactment, dramatized through festivals, rituals, dramas in blood and odors of fire, waters sprinkled and beautiful stones set in breastplates of a mediator.  In the preaching and hearing of the gospel the imagination is engaged and enlivened, making the contextual artistry of proclamation in the preacher's targeting of the imagination all the more emphatic.  All of these biblical images and symbols have meanings which supersede and fulfill their telling.  

The blood of the lamb pre-images the story of the Son of God whose blood reconciles God and Man.  The beautiful stones set in the High Priest's ephod display the treasure of God whose heart delights in His chosen people, whom He redeems through the Mediator, Jesus, the same Son whose blood was spilled.  The Passover preaches through drama narrated by the haggadah and played upon the senses by the elements upon its actors, finalizing its fullness in the bread as the Christ's body broken for His people and the wine as his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.  The smoke of the altar proclaims the prayers of the saints and the sufficiency of Christ.  Every element chosen by God to display and exhibit the message which the prophets spoke, the priests players in the preaching.  In like manner, the celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, graces us with the constant retelling of the climax of the story, the Cross, through the tactile script of taste, touch, smell, and sight as our ears hear the message of God reconciling sinners to Himself at His own precious expense.  Through the Word preached and enacted we understand more and more the glory of God’s insurmountable grace towards those who believe in Jesus.
This relationship between understanding of the mind and the hearing of the Word is a constant in the Scriptures.  Romans 10:12-17 clearly reveals that people believe in their hearts what they have heard with their ears and understood with their minds (v19).  It is the word of Christ preached, heard, and believed upon by those whom are sent to proclaim a message, a collocation of historical facts of what God has done through Jesus Christ.
Thus, the work of the Church is not to be manipulative of emotions, as if the experience of emotional conditions were the goal.  There are methodologies which appeal to the emotional experience of men, which seek to move emotions by worldly means to attain some kind of experience.  I denounce that as not only unbiblical, but harmful to the Church.  It does not edify.  In fact, I would argue that it harms the Church by teaching as the confirmation of God the means, methods, and manipulations of man.  Gaining a “decision” for God by means of self-centered affections and worldly promises is not the regeneration of heart and God-delighting humble faith which is revealed to be of God in the Scriptures.  By manipulating emotions and experience to seize the will of the heart, we have strayed from the mind of truth, the proclamation of God’s works and worth, avoided the offensive revelation of God’s Word like original sin, eternal judgment, the universal inability of man breached by the sovereign grace of God, and the hope of justification through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone, by God’s grace alone.  These glorious truths engage the mind and convict the hearts of men, not by their emotional consequence but by their claims of truth and submission to God as the final Truth-revealer.

Now, this does not mean that the Christian’s walk and experience is to be without emotion, a stoic display of disconnected, dispassionate headiness.  That has more aligned with Buddhism and its destruction of personality by attempting to loose oneself from all attachments.  No!  We are profoundly attached to God, to one another, and to Creation in an ever dependent way.  Christianity engages the emotions of these attachments because God has engaged Himself, by sheer grace, to attach Himself to us.  God experiences joy, sorrow, wrath, and delight; affections which are rooted in His very character and expressed as He relates to others.  Our emotions, however, are not always rooted in what is true, but merely in what we believe to be true.  God’s emotions never rule Him like ours do us.  His are never because He has believed a lie, as ours often are.  Yet, a Christianity where believers are detached from one another, not patient and kind, a Christianity where believers are characteristically proud and boastful, rude, and keep a record of wrongs is no Christianity at all.
I must serve the Law of God with my mind, even as my desires are prone to unbelief.  I must, by the Spirit of God applying it, hear the Word of God reasonably so that its Truth may correct the lie which my heart is believing.  For example, if Tom stole my lunch and wrath is flowing up from within me, I am not feeling merciful.  How can I love like 1 Corinthians 13, with kindness, loving mercy, not keeping a record of wrongs?  I must identify why I am angry in terms of what I am believing to be true.  What do I feel that I have to have right now to be OK?  Maybe I believe that I need lemon yogurt and a bologna sandwich to be OK?   More likely, my heart believes that I must have respect to be OK.  I am angry, not because I am not receiving bologna, but because I am not receiving respect, honor, and power.  Thus, I am believing that without Tom’s respect, I will be nobody, a withering worthless nothing.  Yet, what does the gospel teach (catechize) to me?  What honor do I have in Christ?  What respect do I possess in Him?  God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6-7)  What must I receive from Tom?  Can I show him mercy when I believe that my seat is in the heavens with Christ?  What more honor do I need now?  What respect?  What position?
So, you see, the gospel proclaims to our minds the great truths of God’s work, the historical (both past, present, and future history) facts of God’s “great and glorious works” so that we might eulogize (speak good words about) and eucharist (give good thanks to) Him as we hear and believe such precious truths (v16) and lay aside the unbelief of them which so easily entangles our feet and trips us up as we attempt to walk in line with the gospel.  In this manner, with the gospel holding the center, we behold the urgent need to create a Christian community that is profoundly counter-cultural and dependent upon God's grace towards us in Christ Jesus.  What does this love say about inter-generational relationships?  About race?  About forgiveness and reconciliation in our personal relationships?  About how we think of our brothers and sisters in our highly diverse corners of our heavenly Father’s world?
This truth, that God transforms our hearts and affections by the renewing of our minds through the proclamation of Christ, the eternal Word of God, is the guiding principle of the philosophy of ministry at EBF.  Every endeavor, from the cradles of the nursery to the caskets of the funerals, is rooted in the ministry of the Word of God proclaimed and exhibited.  Sometimes it’s one-on-one, the commands, exhortations, encouragements, promises of the gospel spoken and applied to the personal situations of a life stretched thin in a world of broken shalom.  Other times it’s the broader applications of the gospel truth to small groups, whether Bible studies together or home groups.  Finally, it is the Word of God preached to whole Church on Sunday mornings, in the celebrations of Maundy Thursday or Christmas Eve, etc.  In each of these ways, our goal is to minister the Word of God in a way that is heard, understood, and believed, so that the Body of Christ is built up into the knowledge of the eternal Son of God, thus unified in the incorruptible faith, to the maturity befitting the always and ever sons and daughters of the holy God.
We do not believe that one can persuade people to the truth by means of attracting them with the attempt to meet the world's felt needs according to the world’s values, the Flesh’s desires, or the Enemy’s tactics.  D.A. Carson relates a story from an Ivy League colleague about what drivers most of the young women whom she disciples every week:  

“She mentioned three things.  First, from parents, never get less than an A.  Of course, this is an Ivy League campus!  Still, even on an Ivy League campus, grades are distributed on a bell curve, so this expectation introduces competition among the students.  Second, partly from parents, partly from the ambient culture, be yourself, enjoy yourself, live a rich and full life, and include in this some altruism such as helping victims of natural disasters.  Third, from peers, from Madison Avenue, from the media, be hot – and this, too, is competitive, and affects dress, relationships, what you look for in the opposite sex, what you want them to look for in you.  These demands drum away incessantly.  There is no margin, no room for letting up; there is only room for failure.  The result is that about 80 percent of women during their undergraduate years will suffer eating disorders; close to the same percentage will at some point be clinically depressed.  The world keeps telling them that they can do anything, and soon this is transmuted into the demand that they must do everything, or be a failure in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.  Even when they become Christians, it is not long before they feel the pressure to become the best Christians, as measured by the measurable like attendance at Bible studies, leading prayer meetings, faithfully recording their daily devotions.  But where is the human flourishing that springs from the gospel of grace, God’s image-bearers happily justified before God on the ground of what Christ has done, powerfully regenerated so that they respond in faith, obedience, joy, and gratitude?  The conventions and expectations of the world are pervasive and enslaving.  The gospel must be worked out or these women, and demonstrated in the life of the church, so that its issues in liberation from the wretched chains of idolatry too subtle to be named and too intoxicating to escape, apart from the powerful word of the cross.” (Prophetic from the Center)
We believe, with our 1st generation brothers and sisters, that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation, for the Jew first and then for the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16).  We believe it is the gospel, proclaimed and applied by the Holy Spirit, which produces fruit in believers, as Paul teaches the Colossian believers in very similar emphasis as the Corinthians:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing-- as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf…” (to the Colossians 1:3-7)

We must labor earnestly, not to derive relational values from the gospel, as if the gospel laid a foundation upon which we must build, and still less by focusing on the vanity of sounding spiritual with unintelligible groaning or the mystical murkiness of inner experience, but by precisely and prophetically preaching and teaching and living out in our churches the glorious good news of our precious Rescuer.

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