Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Attributes of a Serious Church: Humility

“Humility” makes it onto my list of the attributes of a serious Church.

Humility: Does a Church know what it doesn’t know? Is a Church careful to differentiate between opinions and facts or does a Church present opinions as facts? Can a Church demonstrate the claims it is making with solid evidence or does a Church consider evidence and proof unnecessary?

I love hearing personal testimonies just as much as I love a solid Bible teacher. The lives of believers can illustrate many of the principles contained in the Bible. All believers have a story to tell about the interaction we have with our living Savior. In our stories, we have a tendency to give God credit for the good that enters into our lives. God is good; he does control the universe; he does deserve the credit. However, knowing that God is good is not the same as knowing that God wants everything we want.

The Gospel is not a method for getting what we want. Last week I heard Joyce Meyers, number seven on the Church Report list of the fifty most influential evangelical leaders, say she knows God exists because of everything HE has done in her life. Using her own logic, she would also have to know that God does not exist if she was murdered in a concentration camp because of everything HE did not do in her life.

Joyce Meyers’ egotistical lack of humility completely misrepresented the Gospel. I’m sure there are people who believe in God because they want to be like Joyce Meyers or other well known and successful evangelical leaders, but the God who makes people healthy, wealthy, and happy is not the God of the Bible. People in the Bible tremble in humility before an all powerful God. They do not pray as though they were rubbing a Jeannie in a bottle.

My wife thinks that I think I am always right. I know I have many doubts and uncertainties, but I choose not to talk about my doubts because resolving my doubts are part of my thought process before topics leave my mouth or keyboard. My self censor method still does not make me always right. I can be almost certain all of my individual opinions are right and still know that at some point some of my opinions will prove to be wrong. After all, I am only human and this is a site for my opinions.

Churches are led and comprised of humans as well. There is not a single human who will be right all of the time, but the credibility of humans and their institutions is based on being right most of the time. Serious leaders of serious Churches are obsessed with maintaining the highest standard of credibility. Serious Churches do not mix the timeless truths of the Gospel with evolving personal opinions.

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13 comments:

Buz said...

David,

I could write about two or three blogs on this one. (Actually, after the past few years, interacting with the church through it all, I could have written several blogs in response to your different attributes!)

However, on this point, I have a couple of questions for you. When you speak of evidence and proof, what is the object of your evidence and/or proof? Are you looking for evidence or proof of a life changed by God, or are you looking for proof of God?

We Christians make a lot of claims. Some of them are mumbo-jumbo (if you give $100 to the ministry, God will give you $10,000 back ... Mark 10:30), and some of them are valid (turn your life over to God and you will have eternal life), but neither of those is provable.

The existance of God, as well as His guidance in our lives is something which is revealed to those who, by faith, believe in Him.

Someone once said that if you believe in God, no proof is necessary, and if you do not no proof is sufficient.

By the way, in defense of Joyce, I too know that God exists because of what I have seen Him do in my life. Even through the difficult times, I saw His hand. I think if you listened to her description of her earlier years, you would find out that she knew about God's hand on her life long before she bagan her ministry ... and that she would admit that what happened in those darker years was also the hand of the Lord. And, I think that Corrie ten Boom might disagree with your comment about knowing that God does not exist because of everything He did not do when she was in a death camp.

The God of the bible makes some people healthy and wealthy and some people wise, and some people poor and blind. We are His creation and He as the absolute right to do whatever He pleases (a potter has every right make one jar ornate to hold wine for special occasions and another to hold water to wash the feet with). We are blessed that when He does as He pleases, what He does is in our best interest.

Buz

Buz said...

(by the way, I decided to try my hand at it again.)

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

Thanks for the challenge. Of all of the attributes so far, this was the hardest to write and I know I wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be.

“What God has done in my life” is not Biblical when it is based on material or personal success. This type of reasoning is anecdotal; which is the exact opposite of provable evidence. As a believer in the God of the Bible, I give God credit for everything that happens in the physical realm; all the wealth and all the poverty, all the success and all the failure, all the warm sunny days and all of the hurricanes that take lives, all of the health and all of the sickness, etc. Sometimes God causes the good and bad in our lives and sometimes God just allows the good and bad in our lives. As humans, we have no way to know when God is actively causing something to happen or passively allowing something to happen, but either way, God is involved.

What happens in Donald Trump’s life, Joyce Meyers’ life, Corrie ten Boom’s life, or anyone’s life is not evidence for the existence of God unless a miracle can be documented. Coincidences and anecdotal evidence don’t constitute proof of any claim. Perhaps there is more to Joyce Meyers’ claim than what I heard, but I would still maintain “what God has done in my life” is egotistical, self-centered, and not the God of the Bible. The apostles suffered greatly, but still preached the Gospel based on the evidence for Christ.

Christianity is not superstition or mysticism. Christianity is based on documented facts that can be understood by those willing to discern solid evidence. Like I said, I love personal testimonies because I love hearing what a difference Christ makes in the lives of believers, but Churches still need to maintain the highest standard of credibility when making claims. Donald Trumps success just isn’t evidence for the existence of God.

Hammertime said...

David,
There is a measure of truth in "what God has done in my life" - but only when that thing "done" is a changed heart and life. Not changed in a financial, emotional, of social way, but changed in a ungodly-to-becoming-godly way. While many changes in behavior have other explanations, some testimonies (including my own)reflect a God change because there is no other explanation.

Yet, at the core, your assertion is still true, because even if my outward actions change, my heart can be as sinful as before. In fact, it may be that pride replaces my gutter-like life as the separation between me and God.

In the end, I have to agree that a "testimony" is weak witnessing. The gospel isn't "God can change you when you can't", it is "God can save you when you can't".

Buz said...

David,

(1) I can say that I know that God exists because of what He has done in my life. I can look the the things which have happened and see His hand in them. That is not to say that those things could not be attributed to happenstance or whatever by someone who does not believe ... in much the same way that I could say that "my dad got me a really nice bike for Christmas" and another child could reply "no way, it was Santa Claus". I know my dad well enough to know that he heard me talking about the bike every night at supper and got it for me. Short of giving my dad truth serum and forcing him to confess, I cannot "prove" it was him, but then, I don't have to do that to know.

(2) Ultimately, when we talk to most non-believers, a God whom you can prove with factual evidence is of less relavence to them than a God who cares enough to be involved in our daily lives. So a God exists "because the silver beetle of Kenya could not have evolved, even according to evolutionists" means less than a God who exists "because when I was addicted to heroin and my life was crumbling around me and God set me free".

The transformation of Peter and the Apostles in Acts 2 brought in many more converts than the miracles of Jesus through the Gospels. Jesus spent three years teaching and doing numerous miracles, and at the time of the asencion, He had somewhere between 200 and 500 followers. The transforming power of God in the lives of Peter and the others brought in 3000 with one sermon.

When people are asked to commit to a religion, sorry to say it, but the bottom line is "what will it do for me". I believe that a big part of the problem with Christianity is that when we talk about it with someone, we talk about it in vague terms. Even in our testimonies, we talk about God giving us "peace and joy". Right ... nail that one to the wall! People see Christians and see that the divorce rate among us is about the same as it is in the general public. They see our kids doing the same things as other kids in school. In short, the phrase "I know that God exists because of what He has done for me" carries little or no weight if they can't see that He has done anything for you.

The problem isn't in telling people that our believe is based on what we have seen done in our lives, it is that we really have not let God change our lives, so there is nothing to see.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Like you, I believe true believers have a “heart” change at the point they realize the gravity of their sins and seek forgiveness from Christ. I know I did. However, a change of heart still does not rise to the level of proof. Anecdotal evidence, yes; proof, no. People who take up exercise often have a heart change, as do people who quit smoking, and people who quit eating meat. Yoga, Eastern religions, and even Islam produce a heart change. Millions of people have had a heart change at a Billy Graham crusade without ever knowing that Christ really is alive.

You and I believe there is a qualitative difference between a Christian change of heart and an Islam change of heart, but arguing that a change of heart is evidence when the exercisers, Muslims, and vegetarians have already had a change of heart is not very convincing that the Bible is true.

Christianity has a credibility problem due to all of the superstitious claims. I will say more in my response to Buz.

And yes, the Gospel is God can save and we can’t.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

You can say you know God exists because of what he has done in your life; you can believe God brought you your wife, I can believe God allowed me to meet my wife, Hammer can believe God brought him to his wife, and Rusty can believe the devil made him do it [Sorry Rusty, your name is being used for illustration purposes only.] , and all of these beliefs can be 100% true, yet we still do not know for sure, because these beliefs are unknowable.

There is no doubt in my mind that God causes some things to happen and he allows other things to happen. Our God is both active and passive. We don’t have free will if everything that happens in our life is a result of God causing it to happen. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people. I think this is one of the themes of Ecclesiastes.

Christianity has a credibility problem. We need to be very careful to differentiate between what we believe to be true and what we can demonstrate to be true. Claims about God that could be true, but can’t be demonstrated to be true should be avoided.

Do people need to be told that God can relieve their misery? We are a generation of adults who have believed that God relieves our misery, but we aren’t exactly a generation of adults who have made many sacrifices for the cross. Perhaps people need to be given a choice between the God of the Bible and the ruler of earth with the knowledge the God of the Bible comes with a cross to bear.

Buz said...

David,

I think we are barking up two different trees for two different reasons.

Your point is that people need to know the truth to make an informed decision. Not our opinion about the truth, but the factual truth. I believe that people need to know the truth, but if they cannot see how that truth will affect their lives today, they will still not make a decision today. If they think that the truth will affect their lives 10 years from now, they will wait 9 years 11 months and 28 days to make a decision.

While I cannot tell them how that truth will affect their life today, I can tell them how that truth has affected my life last month, last week, and yesterday. And, if they see that truth applied in my life, and if that truth has made a change in my life that they want to see in their life, then they will be ready to make a decision today.

If I tell someone that life is a struggle, but that when I die God has promised that I will go to heaven, they will think, "I have another 40 or 50 years, come back in 39 years." But, if I tell them that our faith in God has kept our marriage together for over 30 years, and their marriage is on the rocks, that testimony, that anecdotal evidence, means something to them today.

Sure it is still a lot of work, God didn't keep my marriage together, he gave us a reason to work on it and to want to keep it together.

No it is not proof. Maybe Islam or vegetarianism could have done the same, I don't know. What I do know is that, for my wife and I, the reason our marriage has lasted is our mutual committment to God. Period.

In mathematics there are two types of proofs. In a direct proof one begins with some equations and adds or subtracts other equations to come to some identity proof (something like the proof for the quadratic equation). There is also an indirect proof in which one starts with a premise and then devises equations to try to prove it is false. If you cannot prove it is false using standard techniques, then, indirectly you have proven that it is true (I believe that this is how the identity proofs for "x = x + 0" and "x = x * 1" for all values of x is done).

Will I gain someone's intellectual assent to the existance of God by presenting my personal testimony? Most likely not. As you have pointed out, the same results may have been achieved through a healthy diet and exercise or through sitting cross-legged and chanting. However, God is not looking for people to give intellectual acknowledgement to his existance, He is looking for people to turn their lives over to Him. As Abraham told the rich man in hell, "if they would not believe the law and the prophets then they would not believe even if someone were to come back from the dead." In other words, the truth, and the only hard evidence that most people will ever encounter is the word of God. If people will not believe on Jesus via the evidence presented in the Gospels, then they will not believe if your pastor walked on water and raised everyone out of the graveyard.

Belief in God is not a matter of the intellect but a matter of the will.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi again Buz,

Thanks for continuing to help me think this through.

I completely agree with you that belief in God is almost entirely a matter of will, not intellect. This is why I am so adamant about never misrepresenting the God of Scripture. In addition to being unnecessary, adding to Scripture can make the decisions of unbelievers more difficult.

To me, there is a world of difference between the statement, “I believe God wanted me to marry my wife”, and “God wanted me to marry my wife”. A world of difference between, “It seems God is leading me in a different direction”, and “God told me to go in a different direction”. The way we use words is critical to our credibility.

If I hear you say, “God wanted me to marry my wife”, and I hear you say, “Christ died to pay the sacrificial price for your sins”, I come to the conclusion both statements are equally true or equally false, when in fact, one can be proven to be true and the other is an opinion that may or may not be true.

Two things you wrote that I am not sure about. I don’t know if your individual life or anyone else’s individual life is representative of Christ. I have seen Christians and non-Christians do good deeds, some even heroic deeds, but the only time I have seen Christ is in a community of believers. I think we are body parts that must be joined together with other believers before we can represent Christ. I know the conventional wisdom says our individual lives should represent Christ, but I have my doubts.

The people who I believe are the best Christians I have ever known do not make the claim that their individual life is an example of what God can do. One of my favorite Christians of all time was a chain-smoking, coffee drinking, one-day-at-a-time alcoholic, who probably could make the claim that God improved his life. However, he always made Christ about how he was saved from eternal damnation and reconnected to the body of Christ.

Also, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we accept God’s forgiveness immediately upon hearing the word or whether we wait until right before we die or whether we make our decision somewhere in between. I know we are supposed to make disciples out of those who are saved, but I’m not sure God has the same urgency in getting people to make a decision as us. Perhaps we would have more long term success at making disciples if we toned down the urgency.

Buz said...

David,

The two things you had questions about ... I believe that the Church is the body of Christ, and it is ultimately through that Church that we see Christ acting.

BUT, how much of the Church does it take? Does it take all the millions of Christians throughout the world acting in concert to show the will of Christ, or can it be a single local group of believers? If so, does it have to be a big church of 500 members or more, or can it be a small one that barely gets to 50 on a regular basis?

It is the quality of our lives which reflect the face of God, not the quantity. I think that an entire church acting in concert to reach out to someone in need makes a better statement than if just one or two people do it, because it shows that it is the character of that church and the God that they server rather than just the character of one person. However, there are times when people who won't pick up a bible or approach a church will still read the "gospel acording to David Smith".

As to when a person makes a decision, that depends on what you believe that the purpose of salvation is. If you think that it is only to escape an eternal hell, then by all means, tell everyone to live like pagans, and if they are lucky enough to be conscious 10 minutes before they die and they see it coming, repent and get saved in the nick of time.

But, if you think that "[Ephesians 2:10] we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." then just getting to Heaven by the skin of our teeth is insufficient. We need to have as much time as we can have to do the things that He wants us to do.

Waiting until the last minute to take part in salvation (1) is selfish on the part of the "savee", believing that he can "have the best of both worlds" by living his life in complete rebellion and then changing in the last few minutes; (2) will be a great disappointment to that person when he realizes that there actually was a more fulfilling life than the one he lived had he surrendered to the will of God earlier; (3) risky to that person, since there are a lot people who actually will not know when their last chance to make that decision will be; (4) also risky to that person because the rebellious life style which rejects God over and over again with the idea of changing at the last possible minute is most likely the one which will reject God even that last time because it ultimately cannot change at that point; and finally (5) may be a sign of a less than committed "saver" (the person presenting the gospel to the "savee") in that (a) they may not be so concerned about that person's soul, (b) they may doubt that the unsaved are truly going to spend eternity in hell, (c) they may be afraid to get out of their own comfort zone and present the facts about sin and hell for fear of being ridiculed ... etc.

Before you jump all over me, let me say that no, I don't believe that every time we present the gospel we have to press for an immediate decision. I have had some people that I talked to and prayed for over a period of years before they said "yes". But every now and then, we would discuss the afterlife, and while I was not a hard-sell everytime we met, I did not pass up too many opportunities to keep the fire lit.

Also, with the way the world is going today, if anything our sense of urgency should be increasing, not decreasing.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

Somehow I knew you were going to throw a great verse of Scripture at me and then make some good points! : - )

I’ve moved a little back in your direction, but I’m still not completely sure.

Buz said...

David,

I just posted a note on my blog called "Hard Sell". I do have some points of agreement with you on the points you made (believe it or not.)

I don't believe that we need to press people to get saved "before they have a chance to change their mind." If they may change their mind, I would rather that they sit and think about reality before they make the committment, so that if and when they do make a committment, it is a 100% sure done deal, not a "do I have three days to change my mind" type thing.

In Mark 14:51-2, it mentions a young man wearing nothing but a linen garment who was following Jesus. There are some who think that it was Mark, since he is the only one who mentions it; there are some who think it was the rich young man from Mark 10:17-22 (some people think that rich young man was Mark).

But think of that. A man whom Jesus had met some time ago, of whom the only thing we know was that he was rich and proud ("I have kept all these commands since I was young), and probably a fairly moral person; this young man, at some later point in his life DID decide to follow Jesus, and DID give up all his possessions, to the point where the only thing he had to wear was a sheet.

In Ecclesiastes 11:1 we are told to "cast your bread upon the waters for after many days you will find it again." I have no idea what that means in the real world, cause if you throw some bread on the water, it get soggy and sinks and the fish eat it. But, as a metaphor, it means that the kindness we do will in return be done back to us, and in Isa 55:11 we are told that God's word will not return empty.

So, the seed planted in a prepared heart (and God is the one who prepares the heart), will bear fruit ... will bring that person to the point of decision. It probably won't be today, especially if we try to press for a decision, but a seed is a living thing, it will grow.

We don't have to "sell" God's word as if we have to some how make a broken-down used car desirable to some skeptical buyer, we just have to present it. It is the best thing on the market, but the price is very high. Anyone can afford it, but once you "buy" it, you have nothing left-over to buy any other philosophy. That scares people, but if we try to sell them something less, we are not selling them Christianity, but a cheap knock-off.

Buz

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

I’m not very interested in agreement. The best part of writing my pieces is being challenged by you and others.

However, I love your piece and your comment. It would not be possible for me to agree with you more. Agriculture is such a perfect analogy for evangelism; work the soil, plant the seed, irrigate, prune the thorns, and then at the right time, harvest the crops.

Contemporary evangelism is more like a microwave; run on high for five minutes, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

Thanks for being so thoughtful all of the time!