I am one of those pastors who came into the Christian ministry a clear sense of call. I could point to a particular moment in my life when I sensed God’s calling on my life. It was both surprising and overwhelming at the time. But, over time, it became the settled conviction of my heart that God was calling me to preach the Gospel in some way. And, I need to make that clear: in the earlier stages of my life the call I felt was toward preaching. When I started out I had very little conception of what pastoral ministry was and what it might entail. I had come to Christ at the invitation of an evangelist at a holiness camp meeting. The message of Christ had made a profound change in my life for the better. And, I wanted to share that message with others. I felt that a great favor had been done for me — a message of hope had been given to me — and I wanted to extend that favor to others. My attitude was the same as that expressed in the often quoted line from D. T. Niles: ““Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
Biblical preaching had been crucial in re-directing my life. So, it was something I assumed would be the focus of my future ministry — and it was something I wanted to learn to do well.
I sure have met a lot of people over the years for whom evangelical Christianity — and, I might add, holiness Christianity particularly — was an oppressive reality in their lives. It was something imposed upon them. It was a almost-constant threat of Hell. It was legalism. It was a rigid authoritarian mindset from which they later emerged with relief.
I get that. I have heard the story so often — in so many different forms. I understand.
But, that is not my experience. (more…)
The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” They are the people that God has especially known. But, their special relationship with God implied a responsibility to live a life that reflected the character of the God who redeemed them.
Now, in verses 3-8, Amos talks about his own role as a prophet.
It begins with a series of cause and effect questions: when you see a certain effect, you can infer its cause? Or, as we might say: “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” They go like this:
- Two people are walking together —> they must have made an appointment
- A lion roars in the forest —> the lion must have caught something
- A bird falls into a snare —> there must have been a trap
- A snare springs up —> it must have taken something
- A trumpet is blown in the city —> the people must be afraid
This is another one of Amos’ rhetorical devices, he is leading up to something — the last cause and effect is a little different: (more…)
Exalted views of the Person of Christ arose quickly in the early Church. In the light of the resurrection, Jesus was recognized as the one who come to reveal — in his very person — the God of Creation. We need to remember that it was the resurrection event that gave rise to the Christian faith and the Christian Gospel as we know it. In the midst of the remembrance of Jesus’ birth and as we study Jesus’ life and teaching, we need to recall that the significance of Jesus’ life is revealed in the resurrection. No resurrection, no Christian faith. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17 NRSV.)
And this exalted view of Christ is what we find in the letter to the Colossians. In verse 15 we read:
ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;” (NRSV). (more…)
We know that the church is called to be a witness to Christ. To what extent is the church today a credible witness to Christ?
The church is called to attest the truth of the Gospel to the world. This testimony, however, stands related to the fact that even in this world the church is a sign of the destiny of the human race to be renewed in the future of God’s kingdom as a fellowship in freedom, justice and peace. The more the church — and the churches as a part of Christianity as a whole — actually show themselves to be such a sign to human eyes, the greater will be their authority among us.
— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Volume 3) “Foreword” p xv.
Such witness is going on at the local level: here and there in churches that are faithfully seeking to live out their faith. They don’t make the news (maybe), but their life together is showing the world what freedom, justice and peace can mean — not as a political position, but as a lived-out reality. (more…)
People sometimes get idyllic notions of what the early Church was like. It is imagined that the early Church was more Spirit-filled, more unified, free from many of the problems the Church has today.
It’s just part of that instinctive yearning people have for “the good old days.” I don’t know why people believe in this notion. It seems to be intuitive: sometime, way back when, people didn’t have the problems we have today.
But, a careful reading of the letters of the apostle Paul in our New Testament will quickly disprove this notion. The letters of Paul were often written to correct false teachings and false practices that had arisen in the churches to which he wrote. Much of the New Testament we owe to the problems in the early Church.
Some of the unique features of Paul’s letter to the Colossians can be explained by the fact that the apostle Paul is replying to a type of false teaching (or false teachings) that were circulating in the Colossian church. This concern comes to the surface, for example here: (more…)