The Christian Church is a miracle.
Not many people in the world fully grasp the dark, toxic environment in which the first believers stepped into to share the light of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Not many people today understand just how many people died for the faith in the first three centuries of the faith, so that we can worship the one who died and rose again to set us free.
But the historical truth is that the first followers of Jesus shocked the Mediterranean world with their crazy notions of kindness, and purity, and truth, and sacrifice.
Acts 2 tells us that “All the believers were together and had everything in common…Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Many embraced these new loving ideas, and pockets of Christianity began to pop up first near Jerusalem, then into Galatia and Antioch, Thessaly, Greece, and into Rome herself. But others found the new followers’ views troubling, vexing, and made it their life’s purpose to exterminate this new Christian sect.
The leaders were the first to be attacked—Stephen, James, Paul, Peter, Luke--and these Disciples and Apostles suffered too often from religious leaders threatened by the challenge of Christianity, and political leaders irritated by any social disorder that might interfere with the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace that brought so much wealth and power to the Empire.
Sadly, the Christians had little friends in political circles, and whatever money that they had was frequently distributed to the poor—“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Thus, while others could buy or bribe their way out of trouble, the first followers could only suffer for their faith, just like Jesus.
In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul states, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Remarkably, the Jesus movement grew despite this intense hostility and persecution. The first Christians’ message of love and hope echoed in the hearts of needy men, women, and children oppressed by the greediness and violence of Roman tyranny. And they saw in Jesus Christ a leader with whom they admired and respected—unlike the Emperors who operated mainly on terror, vanity, and too often insanity.
The entire New Testament was composed and recorded during this fiery, bloody era of martyrdom and executions of the faithful. Reading through the epistles, it is easy to hear about standing strong despite turmoil, holding fast to the faith, remembering the reward in store for those who hunger after righteousness, and courageously refuse to abandon Him who saved them from the “rewards” of the World--neglect, immorality, paganism, and even death.
The author of Jude writes,
“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
The message rings strong throughout the New Testament—God sees you. God wants to call you friend. God has made a way just for you. He doesn’t care about your social status. He doesn’t care about your gender. He opens His arms of forgiveness to you, no matter what their transgressions or sins. He wants to walk with you once again. Because you matter to God. He loves you, ultimately and unconditionally.
Affirming this, Galatians 3 states, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Mediterranean was a dry desert--religiously and morally—and the people had been dying of thirst for so long, so very long. The first group of Christians should have been too small to change the world, logically. But these believers opened the floodgates of living water to all they encountered, and the people drank deep the loving waters of redemption and renewal, and they felt the fullness of Christ fill their hearts and souls, which had been so empty before.
The Prophet Zephaniah spoke of this human need centuries earlier:
“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.?He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor?in every land where they have suffered shame.
At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth?when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes, says the Lord.”
That promise, that miracle is still available today for all who are thirsty and hungry for healing and wholeness, for those craving an eternal relationship that they can count on despite the turmoil in their lives.
Wonderfully, 2,000 years later, God still reaches out His holy hands and says, “Come and drink the living water, my friends.
I have poured out a cup just for you.”
-John S. Knox, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Apologetics
In the post-modern world, societal mores are changing in all aspects of life —not least of which is that of marriage, perhaps the oldest social institution of them all. Some sources (www.prb.org) suggest that close to 108 billion people have lived on the earth since life began, and no one would doubt that marriage was an important event for the majority of those people, regardless of their cultures.
Unfortunately, historians and sociologists do not have an exhaustive reservoir of cultural data to examine regarding marriage throughout history. We know about the lives of the rich and the famous, but scant about the commoners in their society. Yet, often without any evidence to back it up, one can read in the media assertions like, “For most of human history, marriage wasn’t a very romantic institution. It was more akin to a business deal between men, the bride in question had very few rights or other options” (people.howstuffworks.com), and “When love entered the picture as the reason to marry, dissolutions became more commonplace” (www.psychologytoday.com). Proclamations like these only add darkness to the matter and provide an ulterior, but not necessarily helpful explanation for the presence of divorce and annulment.
Reading the article in Psychology Today entitled, “Three Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Marry for Love” (Gadoua 2013), it is evident that modern thinking discards traditional understanding and incentives for marriage, opting for a more self-serving agenda. Considering the individualistic spirit of the age, it is not surprising; however, shallow argumentation is evident, especially concerning marriage in the context of Christianity.
The article begins with the (incorrect) axiom of “But if you really think about it, love is a luxury.” The dictionary defines a luxury as “an inessential, desirable item that is expensive or difficult to obtain,” but if love comes from within a person’s heart and mind, then its expression and application costs nothing, materially.
The author, Gadoua, continues, “When you marry for love, it generally means you have all—or at least most—of your other needs met (like food, shelter, warmth, etc).” Few young adults have luxurious riches when they decide to wed; typically, it is the opposite—couples with no steady job or abundant income for either, with more bills than money, but still with a long-term expectation of loving and working and struggling to survive.
According to the article, however, “in our attempt to make marriage stronger by raising the bar to meet our higher love and romance needs, we have seriously weakened the institution. These are both highly changeable emotions: When love wanes, the marriage gets shaky; when the romance stops, the nuptials die.” The mistake in this evaluation is the author’s separation of “love” and “romance.”
In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, Lewis presents the basic types of love demonstrated in humanity: Storge or natural affection, Philia or friendship, Eros or romance, and Agape or charity, which is the highest, selfless form of all loves. Each one of these kinds of love has a different goal and implementation, and working together can bring harmony and health to any relationship. The problem is if one embraces or exhibits only one of these in a marriage or intimate relationship; then, the union will be strained, which the article misses in its conclusions on marriage.
Instead, Gadoua offers, “People whose primary reason to marry is other than love — such as to have children with someone they believed would be a good co-parent, to have financial security, or for companionship — generally have longer and perhaps better marriages because their choices are made for a defined purpose.” Of course, the author offers no evidence or statistics to back up this jaw-dropping advice. She concludes, “I’m not saying love shouldn’t be on the list of things that need to be in your relationship, but it doesn’t need to be number one (and perhaps shouldn’t be).”
For the Christian, though, love must begin all life choices. In Matthew 22 (ESV), Jesus commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Such advice negates the self-focused, problematic guidance in Gadous’ article.
Wisdom and love comes from someone outside of us—God, whose amazing love for us, once embraced, covers and flows through us to everyone else, spouses included. This good counsel is seen in other Biblical passages. 1 John 4 (ESV) states,
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
In simplifying marriage to a mere social contract present to provide mental peace and physical comfort alone, Gadoua has missed the holistic nature and divine origins of love, which begins in and is sustained through productive, charitable actions without absolute certainty of reaping benefits for oneself. It is hard to see the big picture when you only stare into a mirror.
Marriages don’t fold because spouses are kind, affectionate, self-sacrificing, and understanding. Unions end because of self-absorption and hatred, because of an unwillingness to submit to God’s ethical design for relationships. Gadoua places the focus on what one can get from the marriage; God places the focus on what one can give to the marriage. It is doubtful that any marriage would end if spouses simply and devotedly followed Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 13 (ESV):
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In contrast, Gadoua’s article reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, with its emphasis on human pursuits without God (and His love) in the center—vanity, vanity--a chasing after the wind. Instead, let us follow God’s lead in our relationships and in marriage, which, after all, is just a glimpse of the joy to be had for eternity in Heaven.
Thus, I end with my own three reasons why you must marry for love.
- God is love and expects us to be loving if we are His followers.
- Love is the only power that can truly heal emotional, psychological, and spiritual wounds.
- Love is the only force that is eternal, leaving behind a legacy influencing others for good.
- John S. Knox, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Apologetics
I have often heard what churches need from their pastor. Usually the expectations are set extremely high. Today, I would like to reverse the equation and provide a glimpse of what a pastor needs from his flock. Here are my thoughts.
He needs for you to embrace a biblical understanding of his role and responsibility. God has called him to shepherd the flock of which you are a part. God holds him accountable to lead, feed, and intercede. That comes from Acts 6 where Deacons are appointed to assist the pastors with the work of the ministry. You must understand that for your pastor, it is not just a job. It is a calling from God.
He needs your prayers. In Ephesians, Paul asked the congregation to pray for him. During the crisis time leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus told Peter that Satan had requested to "sift you like wheat." Then Jesus states, "but I have prayed for you." If Paul and Peter needed prayer on their behalf, certainly your pastor does as well. Every pastor trying to accomplish God's work faces tremendous opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Please pray for him. You have no idea what he is dealing with on a daily basis and it is difficult to understand the burden he carries as God's shepherd of your flock.
He needs your loyalty. By this, I mean loyalty to the Lord, to him, and to your local church family. When you become a member of a congregation, certain obligations come and one of those is your support. Let me suggest that you talk with your pastor to see if disagreements, disappointments or differences of opinion can be worked out. No doubt, expectations clearly understood and clarifications should be made if possible. If you cannot be supportive of your pastor and you find yourself at an impasse, that may well be an indicator that you need to be in another church.
He needs your commitment to a biblical vision. This means that you embrace the biblical mandates that the church exists to fulfill the Great Commission, to impact your community and the world with the gospel, and to equip believers to accomplish the work of the ministry. Way too many churches seem to have lost that biblical vision of why they exist. Some even go so far as to question whether or not a church which has become completely inward focused instead of outward focused is even a church in the biblical sense. Perhaps that needs to be studied further.
He needs for you to give him the benefit of the doubt. Every pastor is human and makes mistakes. I challenge you to give him the benefit of the doubt that his heart is in the right place. It amazes me how many church members are quick to be critical and quick to speak. Perhaps we need to be reminded of James' words that we are be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Before you make a snap judgment or listen to gossip, it would be wise to exercise caution. Way too many pastors have been hurt by carnal gossip, and unquestioned and distorted perceptions of reality. If there is a problem, talk to him not about him.
He needs for you to be present and participating. No one can be present every time the church doors are open, but every member of a church family should be present on a consistent basis. Does not the Scripture admonish us "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together?"
He needs for you to love him and his family. This includes encouragement, making sure he is provided for, that he has adequate time off, and that he has necessary tools to work with. He needs books, resources, time to learn and appropriate help.
As a member of the flock, you can help your pastor be the man God has called him to be.
-Jerry Sutton, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Practical Studies
In Matthew 9:36 the Bible tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw the multitudes. In our busy lives, with our familiar surroundings, it is often hard for us to see the multitudes of lostness around us. There are times, however, when the Lord gives us eyes to see. Such a time happened to me this weekend at an unusual place – a youth wrestling meet.
This was the second year that I accompanied a local youth wrestling team from Las Vegas to the Beehive Brawl in Richfield, Utah. As the second day of wrestling was about to start all of the kids competing gathered into the stadium’s tunnel and grouped together by their home state. As the kids came running out there was great excitement. The house lights were dimmed, rock music was blaring, and spotlights and multicolored lights were flashing as a fog machine rounded out the ensemble of effects to welcome these young athletes. The crowds cheered as the boys came running out as their state was called. Finally, the host state, Utah was announced. Several hundred boys came running into the arena excited to wrestle in such a big tournament as the crowd gave the loudest cheer of the morning.
As I watched these boys run into the arena I was suddenly overwhelmed with the reality that there is a really good possibility that every one of them is lost. They live in one of the most unreached states in the union that is dominated by the Mormon religion. Dr. J.D. Payne posted the least reached metro areas in the United States, and Utah, with a population of only 2.8 million, had two cities that took the first and seventh positions. As I began to process this information, several realities hit me:
- The lostness of Utah is great! The city of Provo is 99.4% lost according to the census data. That means only 0.6% of that city claims to be a Christian. How can America, a “Christian Nation,” have a city that lost?
- We have no viable plan to actually reach the state with the gospel. I am not saying that no one is working to reach Utah, but the reality is that we do not have a plan that will sufficiently get a gospel witness to the people of Utah in a timely manner. I have two good friends who are working to plant churches in Utah. The problems, however, are that it is a slow work, there are few workers in the harvest, and the support needed for a church plant to survive usually dries up before the church is fully established.
- A great wave of persecution will come as people turn to Jesus. Mormonism is powerful and well organized. People will lose their jobs, businesses, homes, and community if they turn to Jesus. This is something that happens on a regular basis anywhere there is an overwhelming Mormon presence in a community. This makes the task of reaching people with the gospel and planting churches much more complicated.
- If the above three observations do not change, then the reality is that most, if not all of the boys I saw today will grow up, live their lives, and then die under a false religion without ever getting to hear the true gospel.
So how does this impact you? What can you do to change the situation in Utah?
Let me challenge you to pray for four things:
- Pray that God would call out workers into the fields of Utah.
- Pray that God would help our churches and denominations develop effective, sustainable church planting models that will endure the strains of persecution.
- Pray that families in Utah would come to Christ together. This will provide needed community for the new believers and allow a movement to begin.
- Pray that believers who face persecution would thrive in the midst of it.
I thank the Lord for the times that He opens my eyes to see the multitudes the way He does. I pray that you too would see the multitudes afresh and that God will use you in a mighty way to be His witness to the lost. Finally, I pray for those boys and their families – may their eyes be opened to the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done for them!
- Neal H. Creecy, PhD
Instructor of Global Studies
"What you don't know can kill you." This is a common truism which in the case of ministry may be an overstatement. Nonetheless, when it comes to ministry, what you don't know can certainly hurt you. That said, what is it that pastors and ministers need to know? Here are nine knowledge clusters that I believe are critical for ministry success.
1. A successful pastor knows the Scriptures. He knows them intellectually and devotionally. He has worked to understand the structure of the Word, what it says and what it means. More importantly, he has let it shape his own life and ministry, his purposes and priorities. He has a confidence that the Scriptures reveal the mind, heart, ways, and will of God. He is assured that the Scriptures have the spiritual power to transform lives, his own and others. Because of this conviction, he has confidence to stand on God's word as he embraces its promises and obeys its commands. He believes without hesitation that all Scriptures point to Jesus.
2. A successful pastor knows leadership principles. He has worked to understand how to be a leader. He knows how to assess the present condition of his flock and his community. He knows how to go from where he is to where he needs to be. He knows how to persuade those he leads. He understands how authority, responsibility, and accountability interact. He understands the importance of problem solving, decision-making and, planning. He understands how to delegate. He has a grasp of how to recruit and how to provide direction.
3. A successful pastor knows people. He works to understand how each person thinks, feels, and decides. He seeks to understand people's hurts, failings, fears, and scars. He knows that no two people are the same. He is diligent to motivate people and point them to Jesus. He is compassionate yet cautious. He wants to believe the best about people unless he has a clear reason not to. He is constantly on the lookout for wolves among the sheep as Paul warned the Ephesians pastors to do. He understands that everyone is on a spiritual journey and is located on a different part of the maturity-immaturity spectrum. He labors to move people to a closer walk with God. He is not naive, however, about the ravages of sin and the snares of the devil.
4. A successful pastor knows hardship. No ministry is comfortable. No ministry is easy. To be a pastor is to be in constant spiritual war. Temptations, disasters, inconveniences, and pressure never cease. Yet the good news is that God uses the suffering we endure to mature us, to strengthen us, and to equip us for greater service. When we are faithful to our calling, God watches and rewards. The hardships we face prepare us for greater opportunity. Recall David's words to King Saul on how fighting lions and bears had prepared him to face Goliath. Remember how Jesus promised that the one faithful in that which is least will be made ruler over much. Hardship has its benefits.
5. A successful pastor knows systems. Particularly when he looks at the church, his attention is to observe how things operate. He looks for power structures, legitimizers, and past patterns of handling conflict. He understands the dynamics of transitioning the congregation through decision-making and ministry divisions of labor as the church grows. He sees growth restricting obstacles and anticipates needed steps to overcoming them. He is constantly anticipating what needs to be done in the present as well as the future. He is continually crying out for wisdom and discernment. Like Nehemiah of old, he is trying to address problems at hand, deal with the consequences of past failure, and bring about change for the good of the people he leads and the glory of the God he serves.
6. A successful pastor knows the culture. He is diligent in his efforts to see trends, understand who is shaping public perception and mores, and perceive what direction the world is moving. He watches the media with its news and entertainment in an attempt to know what people are thinking. He is not afraid to address the moral and cultural issues as he proclaims God's assessment. He is not concerned with public opinion. He is concerned with God's.
7. A successful pastor knows that he needs to be a learner. He reads, he listens, and he gives time to cultivating his understanding. He discusses issues and works at increasing his understanding. He not only sets aside time to cultivate his mind, he guards that time. Because he understands that preparation precedes performance, he prepares. He took the time for school and he has now transitioned into becoming a life-long learner.
8. A successful pastor knows what is at stake. When he stands to preach he knows that he represents God and he is God's spokesman. When he ministers to people in their pain, he is God's representative. He realizes that people's response to his messages and witness are a matter of life and death. He understands what is at stake.
9. Finally, a successful pastor knows that his opportunity is short. He has only so much time to serve God and then it is over. So he works in light of Jesus' words that the night is coming when no one can work. He is constantly aware of Moses' prayer, "Lord, teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom." He desires to make the most of his time and his life. He lives with the sense that he needs to do all he can while can.
These are some things that a successful pastor knows. Let's be diligent to show ourselves approved by God because we have been diligent in our pursuit of knowledge and its application.
- Jerry Sutton, PhD
Adjunct Instructor of Church History