Confessions of an Arrogant Calvinist

MANILA. I once knew an arrogant young Calvinist who took great pride in his Reformed pedigree: saved as a teenager at First Presbyterian Church, while in high school attended Bible studies on the hallowed campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, bought his first study Bible in the RTS bookstore, took classes at RTS (but got too busy doing mission and never graduated). This guy was throughly Reformed, and equally arrogant. Had all the answers. Had it all figured out. Then life happened and he realized there were biblically valid answers that were not sub-points neatly tucked under one of Calvin’s Big Five. And he discovered a deep theological truth: loving, serving, and respecting people is more important than being right, winning arguments, and appearing smart.

That arrogant young Calvinist grew up to be a “Presby-costal” equally embracing his Reformed and Pentecostal foundations. He also spent most of his adult life making disciples and planting churches in Asia. Yep, I’m talking about me, and hopefully I am not as arrogant or irrelevant as three decades ago.

I’m thankful for my theological and spiritual heritage. God providentially saved me in a Reformed Presbyterian church, then formed me in a Pentecostal/Charismatic church. After all these years, my theology stubbornly clings to its Reformed and Pentecostal roots.

Last week, in the wake of the World Vision confusion, a Filipino campus ministry leader asked me a question about same-sex marriage. His question had serious theological, sociological, and moral implications. That question sparked a good discussion, and this blog.

Anyone who is willing to leave the safety of the seminary classroom or church sanctuary will quickly realize that unchurched students are not asking about unconditional election and limited atonement, but they are asking about same-sex attraction and sexual boundaries. Sadly, as church leaders rehash 400 year-old debates that no one but the “choir” cares about, few seem to be doing theology on issues that matter most right now. The Bible has answers, but it will take serious study and disciplined debate to mine its ancient wisdom and apply it to a confused culture.

A long long time ago, on a continent far far away, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and other pretty smart Europeans did theology to address questions that were actually being asked by their cultures and communities. I am glad they gave clear and thoroughly biblical answers to the burning questions of their day. I have learned much reading some of their book. And I have slept much while attempting to read others.

Rather than endlessly debating the minutia of the sub-points of Calvinism, I think we could better serve our churches and our communities if we do theology in order to answer questions that are actually being asked by real people today.

Here’s what Martin Luther said about answering contemporary questions in his classic book, The Bondage of the Will.

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every part of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all battlefields besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

In other words, if we are able to debate all five of Calvin’s main points in English, Latin, French, Greek, and Taglish but we have no sane theology of gender, sexuality, morality, and marriage, then we are like soldiers fleeing the battlefield and we are ”not confessing Christ.”

Time for serious theologians to engage the battle that is in front of us, not the one behind us.

 

 

A Simple Explanation for Extreme Generosity

NASHVILLE. Have you ever known someone who is crazy generous? Not the guy who occasionally drops a few coins in the tip box at Starbucks. I’m talking about those people who love to give and who live to give. Are you one of those extremely rare extreme givers?

Luke recorded a story about a woman who didn’t have much, but all she had, she gave to Jesus. She gave joyfully and sacrificially. She was not a pious religious woman. She was a woman with a past. A sinful past. A shameful past. A past filled with regret. But she gave Jesus her all and her best.

The reason for her extreme generosity was simple. Here’s how Jesus explained it to his small group of Rhodes Scholars.

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

Those who have been forgiven much, love much. Those who suppose they have been forgiven little, love little.

This idea of reciprocating love is the explanation for crazy generosity. So, if we have been forgiven much, we will show much generosity, but if we have been forgiven little we will show little generosity.

Two summary thoughts about generosity from this story in Luke’s Gospel:

1. Generosity is an expression of love and gratitude.
2. Generosity is a response to being forgiven.

I have been forgiven much, therefore I should be extremely generous. What about you, have you been forgiven much, or little?

How Every Nation Churches Started in My Manila Home 20 Years Ago

NASHVILLE. This week, twenty years ago, Every Nation Churches & Ministries serendipitously started in my home when a couple of old friends had a layover in Manila. The date was March 4. The time of day was late, close to midnight. The place was my house in Pasig, Philippines. Our fledgling ministry had no legal documents, no headquarters, no budget, no plan, no logo, but we had a clear call from God and a sense of stewardship for the university campuses of the world.

Here’s how I described that night in my book, 100 Years from Now.

Six years after the demise of the ministry and mission agency that sent us to the Philippines, I received a call from Rice Broocks that would change our lives. Every decade or so, I get a call like that from him. Rice called to ask if he and an old friend, Phil Bonasso, could crash at my house in Manila for a couple of nights on their way to Singapore and Malaysia. Rice and Phil’s Asian adventure was a response to a “Macedonian call” from a friend of a friend asking them to consider assisting two new church-planting opportunities in Asia.

I’ll never forget that late night in my house in Manila. Rice and Phil were talking about the open doors in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and then one of them said, “We need to plant churches in those cities.” I responded, “Who is ‘we?’ There is no ‘we.’ There is only you, and you, and me.” In 1989, when Maranatha Campus Ministries ended and we all went our separate ways, any semblance of “we” had abruptly ended. I can’t remember the whole conversation, but by the time Rice and Phil left my house, there was a “we” that the three of us agreed to call Morning Star International. God had connected us together for the purpose of “church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.” Phil and I agreed to join our ministries together if Rice would take the lead. We never imagined anyone would want to join with us. We simply wanted to plant new churches, not gather existing churches. To our surprise, as soon as Rice and Phil landed in the USA a week later, old friends started calling to ask if they could join our little church-planting group. A few years later, we changed our name to Every Nation, but we never changed our commitment to church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.

When God reconnected Rice, Phil, and me that night in Manila, it was not because we were all struggling and failing. Quite the contrary—all three of us were leading what most people would consider growing and successful ministries. Every Nation came about because the three of us believed we could accomplish more together than apart. We believed we could be better together.

That’s how we started. It has been quite a ride these past twenty years. Together we have made a lot of disciples, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of great memories. I thank God for allowing me to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and plant churches with good friends all over the world.

By His grace, eventually we will reach every nation with the Gospel.

 

Grace is Supposed to Change Us

MANILA. It seems like the doctrine of God’s grace is being preached, taught, blogged, and tweeted more than ever. That’s a good thing. But sometimes what is being preached, taught, blogged, and tweeted about grace is misunderstood, misapplied, and misinterpreted. That is not a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago Victory hosted our second Every Nation Worship Writers’ Workshop  with twenty-five worship writers from Singapore, India, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Guam, and the Philippines. Don’t worry, I was not singing or writing. I was teaching the Bible in order to give our writers ideas for worship songs.

One topic I talked about was God’s transformational grace. I tried to communicate that grace not only forgives us, it also transforms us from the inside out. I challenged our writers to compose worship songs about the power of God’s grace to change us. They wrote some great songs that I am sure you will sing in your church and in Every Nation conferences over the next few years.

Why write songs about God’s transformational grace? It has become common to hear a “grace” preached and sung today that has little resemblance to biblical grace. Modern grace erases the guilt of sin, but does not break the power of sin. Biblical grace forgives and transforms.

Here are a couple of verses about God’s transformational grace.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age  Titus 2:11,12

According to Paul, grace not only forgives sin, it teaches us to say NO to sin. It also teaches us to live self-controlled and godly lives. Grace is not a license to continue in sin, but a license to arrest sin.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!  Romans 5:17

In this passage, Paul is teaching the Romans that they can “reign in life” not by human effort and religious affiliation, but by receiving “God’s abundant provision of grace.” God’s grace is abundant and it empowers us to reign, to overcome, to be victorious.

Grace is supposed to change us. Is His grace changing you?

How To Know God Better [Podcast]

The Danger of Outsourcing Discipleship to Youth Pastors

QUESTION. Are pastors equipping parents to disciple their children, or are they hiring youth pastors and kid’s ministers to do what parents should do? In other words, are we outsourcing discipleship to paid professionals, while inadvertently relegating parents to the bleachers as passive spectators?

DISCLAIMER. This blog was written with church attending families in mind. I realize that there are millions of youth and kids who do not attend church. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in youth pastors and kid’s ministers. I am the product of the youth ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. My family did not attend First Pres, but their youth pastor, Ron Musselman, appointed himself the chaplain of my high school football team, and rrelentlessly shared the Gospel with me for six months until I finally understood and responded in faith. I was sixteen years-old then, and I am forever grateful to Ron and First Pres. It is my hope that churches will see youth ministry the way Ron did, as an outreach to unchurched teens, not as a babysitting service for church insiders.

BIBLE. When it comes to discipling the next generation, the Bible is clear that the responsibility is primarily parental not pastoral, and it takes place primarily at home seven days a week, not at a church building Sunday morning. The following verses address parents, not pastors.

Teach them (God’s word) to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9

Teach them (God’s word) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 11:19

CONCLUSION. I fear that many churches, especially program-driven mega-churches, are snatching spiritual formation out of the home and moving it to once-a-week Sunday school or youth event in the church building, when we should be equipping parents to disciple their kids.

CLICK HERE for vintage blog about parental discipleship.

© 2012 Steve Murrell

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