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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

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Gospel

The Problem of Parachurch

Definition: An interdenominational organization that exists outside of the local church or denominational structures, usually in order to facilitate or provide support for various ministry efforts. Especially in the realm of evangelism and missions.

Before you shut me off completely let me say that I am not vilifying all parachurch organizations. They can be helpful and much good has been done through many of them for the sake of the Kingdom. Please hear me on that. What I am concerned about is the need to be extremely cautious in the realm of parachurch and some encourage thoughtfulness as we consider their role in ministry, especially “Great Commission” work.

The existence of parachurch organizations, assisting the push for missions, have exploded in the past 100 years. Passionate men and women within the body of Christ have seen huge holes that needed to be met. They looked at the needs in the world for the propagation of the good news of Jesus Christ and they were determined to do whatever they needed to do to get it done.

The question of course that we must ask is if proclamation is so important, why was it not already being done? Was God waiting around for someone with the correct organizational skills to pull something together? The answer is no. I want to argue that the exponential growth of parachurch entities is, at the end of the day, an indictment on the church.

Local churches, not organizations, were to be the vehicles which would carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Christ bestowed his church with authority (Matt. 16, 18) in order to fulfill its mission on the earth until his return (Matt. 28). The church was founded upon the teaching of the Apostles and Prophets (Eph. 2:20) with Christ as the cornerstone. When Jesus commissioned the Apostles in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, he was commissioning the church which would be founded on their testimony. As they went out on their mission they went about establishing churches and appointing leaders who as they proclaimed the Apostles teaching would bear the same authority. The authority of the church is the authority of Christ who is its head and it wields that authority for the same purpose as Christ, to reconcile all things to himself to the glory of God (Eph. 4:15, Col. 1:20).

We see churches in the book of Acts wielding their authority to commission Gospel workers and to make decisions on matters of faith and practice as the Gospel went forth to new areas (Acts 13, Acts 15). As churches were established as a result of this work, we see a strong emphasis that appointed leaders, elders, hold fast to the message that was delivered to them (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus). This was extremely important because to lose the message was to lose the apostolic authority and even the hope of the Gospel. For better or for worse, the church was to be the vessel of the Gospel and the local church to be the dispenser of that Gospel into the world.

Sadly, throughout the history of Christianity the church has often misused and abused its authority and has neglected and at some times forsaken the mission that it was given that authority for. During the Protestant reformation there was a revival in the understanding that the authority of the church is not found in a mere man, but in a message. The word of God, given to us through the apostles and prophets. Once the church began to be reformed by this the church was also awakened to its mission that it was given authority for.

Many churches were ignited in the years following the revival of biblical, apostolic authority to be about the mission that they had been given. But as happens, the pull of sin and of the world has its influence. The church began to see the mission but it became content to contract out the Great Commission to those that were passionate about it, experts if you will, forgetting that the mission was not theirs to delegate but to own and pursue. Churches were given apostolic authority for an apostolic purpose. The church as the “colony of heaven” was a sent entity, bearing through authority of the King, through his Gospel, the authority to go into the world and command fallen image bearers to repent and believe in the good news.

The church wasn’t getting the job done. The church needed another reformation, one that oriented the authority it had been given toward the mission it had been given. But most reformation mutated and was cut from the body. Missions became the work of parachurch agencies and organizations. Organizations with no ecclesiastical authority sent on a mission that cannot be sustained without the exercise of that authority.

The message of the Gospel, which is the generator of the authority of the church, was now being handled by structures and entities with no ecclesiastical structures and generally not the plethora of gifts and personalities found in a properly functioning local church. What this led to often, and continues to, is organizational leadership that out of a genuine desire for fruitfulness is willing to sacrifice Gospel faithfulness for the sake of the mission. The problem is that with a decrease of emphasis on doctrinal purity comes an emptying of authority which leads to cloudiness of mission and eventual capitulation.

The local church sends money and people to these organizations, all the while using the golden bowl of Kingdom authority as a candy dish. Like many Christians who give and never evangelize, the church feels like it is doing its mission, when really it is hiring out its mission to someone who has no authority to carry it out.

Doctrinal ambiguity becomes the mark of many of these organizations, I know this from experience, as they claim that doctrine is up to local churches with ecclesiastical leadership and their job is support and mobilization. They are partly right, but the problem is that the churches are not using their authority to do apostolic mission and the organizations are doing mission without apostolic authority. The truth is, individuals are not given authority, the church is given authority, not to loan out, but to use.

The problem balloons until mission is no longer mission and the church then eventually views its authority, God’s word, as an unused part of the body, an appendix if you will, so when it starts to pain them they get rid of it and still imagine that they are whole. But they quickly die, because they have no reason to live and no heart to keep them alive.

Organizations tasked with mission without apostolic authority will spread the bounds wider and wider until the mission is emptied of its meaning because authoritative message has been lost because there was no authority in place to guard it.

The Church, whose authority and mission is wielded and carried out by local churches, needs a reformation where authority, which depends on the purity of apostolic doctrine, and mission, which is the spreading of apostolic doctrine, come together.

The authority of the church was not given to be loaned out, but to be spread. The mission cannot be carried out apart from that authority. Therefore, I will boldly say, any organization that does not submit itself to the doctrinal oversight of a specific church is illegitimate and damaging to the Kingdom of God, undermining the authoritative means that Christ established for the display and proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Churches need to be renewed in their knowledge of why they have been given such great authority to steward and parachurch organizations need to realize that without being under that authority they can have no long term hope of sustaining the great mission of the church. For it is indeed the task of the church to guard the apostolic message (doctrine). And if we lose the apostolic message, we have no apostolic authority, which means we have no right to pursue apostolic mission.

The very meaning of parachurch is that they exist outside of this apostolic, ecclesiastical authority. With inclusion, rapid growth, and aggressive mobilization often being the aim of these organizations, without the protection of ecclesiastical authority the message will quickly begin to decay which leads to an unfocused mission, which leads to ruin of all sorts. This is the problem of parachurch.

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Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing

‎”Let us therefore bear in mind, that the entire Gospel consists mainly in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that we must direct our chief attention to this, if we would desire in a right and orderly manner to make progress in the gospel – nay, more, if we would not remain barren and unfruitful.”

John Calvin Commentary on I Corinthians 

Truth & Falsehood – Spurgeon

“Believing, therefore that there is such a thing as truth, and such a thing as falsehood, that there are truths in the Bible, and that the Gospel consists in something definite which is to be believed by men, it becomes us to be decided as to what we teach, and to teach it in a decided manner. We have to deal with men who will be either lost or saved, and they certainly will not be saved by erroneous doctrine. We have to deal with God, whose servants we are, and he will not be honored by our delivering falsehoods; neither will he give us a reward and say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast mangled the gospel as judiciously as any man that lived before thee’.”

C.H. Spurgeon Lectures to My Students 2.3

Proper Affections

How can they sit and hear of the infinite height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of His giving of His infinitely dear Son, to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of men, and of the unparalleled love of the innocent, and holy, and tender Lamb of God, manifested in His dying agonies, His bloody sweat, His loud and bitter cries, and bleeding heart, and all this for enemies, to redeem them from deserved eternal burnings, and to bring to unspeakable and everlasting joy and glory – and yet be cold and heavy, insensible and regardless! Where are the exercises of affections proper, if not here?

Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections

Inalienable Rights Vs. Loving Your Neighbor

Western Christians have bought into the lie that they have inalienable rights.

Some may consider that to be a startling statement. But it is true. Christians, particularly conservative Christians in America, have given themselves over to the idea that they have rights. I think we all have a good sense of what is meant when I refer to “rights”, but I will clarify. By the word “right” what is meant is those things which are good, proper, and fitting in light of being. We think of this as also being what is justly deserved (an example of which would be of a murderer who we may say has given up his right to live). In this case the idea is that as a human being I have certain things which are good, proper, and fitting for me to demand.

But can I make demands? Do I actually have any rights that are inherent? There are two ways that we can categorize rights: vertical and horizontal. Vertical rights are those which I have from God and are exercised in relation to God. Horizontal rights are those basic rights which I have as a human among humans, this is where the real meat of my point lies, but we will get there in time.

Vertical Rights

This one should be simple. As a creature I have no rights that I may demand of the Creator. “Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”(Romans 9:20 ESV). We see rights bestowed by God, such as the right to become sons of God (Jn 1:12), but these rights are conditional and are freely given by God. They are not inherent rights. In fact, if we consider a right as we have defined it, then any right bestowed by God is an act of grace and mercy that goes against that which is good, proper, and fitting for a rebellious creature. This places it in a very different category of thought than the typical conception of a right, for you can make no demands on the basis of a gift.

Any rights that man may have had as a result of being image bearers of God and of His glory, he relinquished such rights when he rebelled and exchanged the glory he was to reflect for the glory of himself, the created. Mankind is now like a helpless beggar, with nothing to demand and only for mercy to plead. Man can make no demands of God. Even as the redeemed stand before the judgment bar, it will be Christ that will vouch for them. They will not be able to say, “I am your child. You must let me enter your eternal blessedness”; indeed one Word is all that will suffice “Christ”. I have no demand to make but can only defer to the One who has every right.

Horizontal Rights

But does the reality of my having no vertical rights have any bearing on my rights among my fellow man? Can I not, as a fellow in equal created order and being, make demands? Have I no rights among my peers, fallen though we may be?

The problem with this for the Christian is that it assumes there are two spheres of life; one in which God is central and one in which man is central. The problem with believing that we have horizontal rights is that the exercise or protection of those rights horizontally (among peers, fellow man) will eventually become a vertical issue.

Let us take as our primary example, especially to a western audience, the Enlightenment summary of quintessential, “inherent” rights; the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What happens when my fellow man stands in the way of either of those being fulfilled? Can I as a Christian demand that right? What about when the government denies me one of those three rights? Can I then rebel? Let us carry the usual argument to its logical end. What happens when an unexpected pregnancy gets in the way our your right to live the life you want? What about the law not allowing you and your same sex partner to get married, thus disrupting your liberty? What if you find out that the baby inside of you has down’s syndrome, disrupting your pursuit of happiness? Don’t you have any rights? What happens when my annoying neighbor is getting in the way of my happiness? How do I responds to the dozens of ways that my basic rights are encroached upon?

Here we see where there are many instances where the protection of horizontal rights becomes a vertical issue! Beloved friends, Christ shows us a better way.

If I am correct and we have no rights which we may demand, how then do we treat each other? There are three main ways that we are commanded to interact horizontally as mankind: Love you neighbor (Mt 5:43, Rom 13:10, 1 Cor 10:24), Submit to rulers and authorities whoever they may be by God’s sovereign decree (Rom 13:1-7, Titus 3:1-2, 1 Pt 2:17), esteem others higher than yourselves (Rom 12:3, Phil 2:3,4). This is the standard for the believer and thus the name of this post is what it is for I believe that the protection of the one is at odds with the other. In fact they war against each other!

The second greatest commandment is that “You love your neighbor as yourself”(Matt 22:39). This is a command that is binding to all and that can be applied to wherever you live as a Christian, whether it be the United States or North Korea. Wherever you are you have the right to carry a cross and to love your neighbor. Christians, that is what we are called to.

Finally I want to leave you with the following admonition. When it comes to our horizontal relationship with man I offer this comparison. If our foundation for a our relationship with man is based in individuals rights that we see ourselves as having, then we will eventually defend those rights if they are challenged as we see them as inseparable from who we are. On the other hand, if we take the Biblical perspective, we realize that we have no rights to demand as we realize that God is supremely sovereign. So setting aside any notion of rights that I have, I treat others in a “Gospel way” as I view myself in a “Gospel way”. What I mean by a Gospel way is that as a believer, I realize that I have no rights to claim God’s mercy and only the right to perish as a result of my fallen state. The great Puritan John Owen said that “Man by his sin has forfeited his right to all the ends of his creation, both on earth and in heaven”. In light of that is the knowledge that I have been made by God’s sovereign call a recipient of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus is God and he has all the rights and he came down and did not exercise his rights as God and became a man who has no rights in order that we might be saved. Christ could have laid claim on any number of rights as God at any time, yet he did not, and he laid them down all the way to that tree on Golgotha where his blood was spilt for the sins of fallen, God-despising man. Now I am commanded that the same mind that was in Christ be in me. (Phil 2:5)

The Radiance of His Glory:The Holy Spirit’s Regenerating & Sanctifying Work Of Revealing The Glory of the Father in the Son

Primarily when we think of what regeneration and sanctification have in common we should conclude that the answer is that both are works of the Holy Spirit. In regeneration the Spirit, working through the Word, creates new life. In Sanctification the Spirit, working through the Word, brings about the effects or fruit of new life.

We could talk of the different means by which the Spirit works regeneration and sanctification. But I would like to devote my time to what I consider to be the primary means of both. That is to say what happens, what shift takes place when one goes from death to life, dark to light, bondage to freedom and then continues on to higher heights and greater resemblance to the one through whom all this was obtained, Jesus Christ.

This primary means is where the commonality lies between the Spirit’s work in Sanctification and His work in Regeneration. The means is the revelation of the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ“. Or the Gospel.

When we think of Gospel, or Good News, I hope what we are thinking of is the message that God the Creator of all things, redeems rebellious man to himself through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. So what then does Gospel and glory have in common? Even more so what is meant by the Gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God? In short the glory of God is the holiness, majesty, perfection, might and transcendence of God. His infinite worth to which nothing can compare. In Christ we see the good news of this worth and perfection displayed. For in perfection Christ displayed the glory of God in the salvation of sinners by satisfying the justice of God by displaying the love of God through his vicarious, atoning death on the cross. At the cross the perfect love of God and the perfect justice of God met in perfect harmony. Then Christ rose from the dead as a testament to the perfect righteousness of God. It is only through what Christ has accomplished that we can behold God’s glory and enjoy Him forever in all his beauty and boundless worth! God created us for His glory. To praise him for it and to reflect it as his image bearers.

The problem with us fallen humanity is that without the regenerating, revelatory work of the Spirit through the Word we would never desire God or see him as the infinite treasure that he is. As those that had fallen “short of the glory of God” we were “dead in our trespasses and sins“. Instead of treasuring the boundlessly glorious and lovely One, we exchanged what we refused by nature to see the value in for images of cheap imitations of glory – created things. Like the cosmos before creation in Genesis 1, we were “formless and void” and “darkness covered the face” of our being. There was no single cell organism floating around. There was not even a random collection of elements waiting to be mixed. There was deadness. There was void. There was darkness. But God was still at work. His Spirit was hovering over that inky blackness and then… the command came.

“Let – there – be – Light”.

And there was light. Where there had been death, void, and inky blackness was now life, substance, and sight. The Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel message, brought vivification and for the first time we were able to see what was beautiful, to perceive what is worthy, and to respond appropriately to such sight and perception. This response is nearly simultaneous and it consists of faith and repentance.

It is not true that saving faith is blind faith. Rather saving faith is that which is informed by spiritual sight and not physical sight. That spiritual sight is this very sight that we are talking of. The first thing that these new eyes behold is the radiance of God’s glory in the revelation of Jesus Christ through the Gospel word. Jesus said “He who has seen me has seen the Father” and Hebrews tell us that “He is the radiance of the glory of God”. Faith is thus an irresistible response to Spirit-given sight in regeneration, for it is a sight that is based on what is seen with the eyes of the heart. Faith is a response to spiritual reality in the heart.

Repentance also is an inevitable response of this regenerating work, for as you behold the glory of God your sin is made plain for what it is. Though you may not see all your sin in one moment, you see the state of your depravity and are made to stand in fear as you consider your rebellion before God. One day “every knee will bow” because they will behold the glory of the Lord, but for the regenerate soul that submission begins when their spiritual senses are vivified and brought to a perception of the majesty and holiness of God. Isaiah, when he beheld the glory of the Lord filling the temple, was struck with fear at the sight and cried “Woe is me! For I am lost!”.

Therefore, we see that when we become a new creation in Christ, the Spirit grants us spiritual sight that we might believe and such sight as beholds the holiness and majesty of God which brings about repentance.

But. The Spirit does not stop with that initial sight-giving act but sustains it and it is by this sustaining that we persevere in sanctification.

Just as the primary means of our regeneration is the spiritual sight which brings about a “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, leading to repentance and faith, so also this sight continues and by it we are sanctified; transformed more and more into the image of Christ. The great Puritan theologian, John Owen defines it this way “The sanctification of the Spirit is peculiarly connected with, and limited to the doctrine, truth, and grace of the Gospel, for holiness is the implanting , writing, and realizing of the Gospel in our souls”. True regeneration will always lead to sanctification. For as the Spirit brought life to all things at creation and now also sustains the life of all creation (Job 34:14-15), so also the elect owe their spiritual life and growth to the ongoing vivification of the Spirit.

Again, as I set out to prove, like in regeneration, the primary means of the Spirit in sanctification is in the revelation of the glory of God in Christ. For “we all (those regenerated), with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”(2 Cor 3:18). In theological terms it could be said that the initial sight at regeneration, that burst of light that God declares over the inky blackness of our souls, produces a repentance that comes about as a result of our definitive or positional sanctification by the Spirit. Then the continual viewing of the glory of God in the Gospel brings about progressive sanctification which results in a daily repentance; a daily turning from sin and turning to God. As we behold him, we become more like him. For the verse above say that we are “transformed into the same image“. Also, just as beholding him brought an awareness of our sin and undone state, so a continued beholding, a deepening knowledge of God, leads to a deepening knowledge of self and of sin.

The question we must ask then is, “How do we continue to behold the glory of the Lord?” There are certain means by which we do this and it is due to lack of use of these means that many a regenerate person is carnal and weak. The primary means is that by which we were at first brought to life, the Word of God which is the Gospel. Just as God spoke over us and said “Let light shine out of darkness”, so God has spoken in His Word to His church for all time. It is through Christ, through the Word, that God is revealed. What God has spoken about himself is how we know God; how we see him with that spiritual sight that has been given to us. Thus if we neglect the Bible, then we neglect to grow in the knowledge of God, which means that transformation will stagnate. As time passes and our vision dims as a result of our finitude and abiding corruption we may find ourselves even beginning to backslide. Progressive sanctification is the Spirit’s work in our hearts as we behold the glory of God by His word and respond accordingly, just as we did at the very beginning. Other means that could be discussed are prayer, communion, and fellowship of the saints but I will save that for another time.

Conclusion

In this life we can scarcely remove our eyes from that which is beautiful. When standing on a mountain peak or looking toward the stars on a clear night we are in awe and at times wish that the moment would never end. So the Spirit has revealed the glory of Christ to those of us that were blind until God spoke his creating decree and breathed out his Spirit, creating new life. Now that sight has come and we gaze upon the splendor of this God who has displayed his glory in Christ for His chosen people to see. The Spirit’s work of revealing the holiness, worth, splendor, love and justice of God does not end with the initial creating work in the new birth, but he continues to sustain it so that with spiritual sight and understanding we may continue to behold the glory of the Lord in a way that only increases. As we behold this radiance we begin to reflect it in our own lives until one day when we see Christ face-to-face. Then in that wonderful moment “we shall be like him“. Why will we be like him? For no other reason than why we began to look more like him in this life -because we saw him. Only on that day when we really see him we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2) in that place where there is no sun “for the glory of God will give it light” (Rev 21:23).

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