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A New Legalism – The Over-Application Of Biblical Ideas (via Stephen Kneale)

Conversations with pastors from a wide variety of contexts resonate with the theme explored in this article.
There are structures in some aspects of contemporary church life that make imperatives out of beneficial non-essentials.
And a sure sign of spiritual growth trying to be achieved through human effort is a burn-out attrition among leaders and members of the local church.
Be careful to read the nuance that there is benefit in these practices.
It is the manner of their presentation that is under consideration.

From Stephen Kneale.

Old legalism took good biblical principles of holiness and keeping oneself unspotted from the world (which is right and proper) and pressed them into all sorts of areas of life. The biblical command not to be drunk turned into a rule to never drink, the biblical principles surrounding modesty came with definite views on just what items of clothes could possibly be considered modest and a host of things like these. Right biblical ideas over-applied and over-reaching so that wider principles became rules and clear commands got extended well beyond the command itself. Again, most of us see these things clearly enough now.
But the new legalism takes a different set of principles and over-applies them. The new buzzwords are things like ‘missional living’, ‘community’ and ‘doing life together.’ Now all those things are rightly rooted in biblical principles. The Lord clearly commands us to be hospitable and welcome one another as Christ welcomed us. We are to spend time together and bear one another’s burdens (and all the other ‘one another’ things that demand we actually spend time together). The principles in which these things are rooted are thoroughly biblical. But the problem comes when those principles are pressed into rules that the bible simply doesn’t demand. It becomes a problem when we insist our ‘rules’ – good, or even best, as they may be for our specific context – are pressed into every context.

Kneale provides some helpful diagnostic questions to clarify the difference between helpful nurturing and legalistic imposition:

But given these things are rooted in scriptural principles, how do we recognise legalistic over-reach and distinguish it from legitimate application of scripture? Here are some questions to ask:
1. Could all believers, in all contexts, across all time reasonably be expected to do this or not? If not, it is likely a legalistic demand.
2. Am I being encouraged to do this or am I being told I must do this to be faithful to Christ? If the latter, does scripture plainly ask the same thing or not? If not, this is likely legalism.
3. If there is no clear biblical mandate for what I am being asked, am I being given any option not to do this thing? If not, it is likely legalism.
4. Am I being encouraged to do this thing out of guilt? If guilt is the driving force, this is potentially legalism.
5. To what does the person asking us to do this thing appeal to as the basis of our doing it: the Bible, the leadership, the vision, or something else? If it isn’t the Bible, this is probably legalism.
6. Is there any grace given to people in different circumstances over this thing or is everybody, regardless of circumstance, expected to do this to the same degree? If the latter, this may well be legalistic.
Read the whole post here.


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Church Is A Slow-Cooker, Not A Microwave (via Aaron Earles at Facts And Trends)

A simple reminder from Aaron Earles that the a very significant part of the enduring fruit of Christian discipleship happens in the context of relationships and takes time.
The conclusion:

Because conversion, discipleship, relationships, and leadership all take time, it’s no wonder that change usually takes time in a church as well.
When we see new people come to Christ, grow in their faith, form committed relationships with others, and develop into new leaders for the church, change and institutional growth will happen.
In the meantime, however, progress and change can seem to be moving so slow. But it’s worth the wait.
You could probably microwave a pot roast and cook the meat, but the results taste much better with a slow cooker.
You can’t rush everything in church—and we are better off for it.

Read the article at Facts And Trends.


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The Counter-Cultural Activity Of Going To Church (via Jared Wilson)

Gathering week by week is a work of service to your fellow worshippers and work of witness to those who do not believe.

From Jared Wilson:

One of the most countercultural things you can do is get up early on Sunday morning, put real clothes on, and drive to a church building. … In many regions of the Western world, church attendance is downright abnormal.
And so on the Lord’s Day morning, while all the other yards in your neighborhood are buzzing with lawn mowers, all the other kids are making for the swimming pool, all the other patrons of the coffee shop are lounging in sweatpants, you show your family’s otherworldliness in that moment that you dedicate to the countercultural tradition of going to church.
It’s not that you’re better than everyone else. It’s because you realize you may in fact be worse. When you back the family car out of the driveway on Sunday morning, you are telling your neighbors that you need Jesus and no amount of Sunday leisure can satisfy you like Him, that no rest is better than that which is found in Jesus, and that when the thin veneer of worldly frivolities starts to show a few cracks, you might be the kind of person they could talk to about the “alternative lifestyle” of following Jesus.

source


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Two Expressions Of A Grace-Filled Church

This morning it occurred to me that in striving to nurture a grace-filled culture in a local church that there are two expressions of grace required.
The first of those is a culture of grace that frees people to be who they are; liberated from carrying the pretences and masks of self-protection that make them appear as people who have it all together.
The second of those is a culture of grace that enables us to love and support each other when we find ourselves with all these imperfect people around.
Otherwise you encourage people to be themselves, only to find yourself frustrated that they won’t get their acts together.
A grace filled church: a place where people can be who they are – instead of who they think people want them to be; a place where people accept each other and love each other for who they are – not what we’d like them to be.


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Seven Reasons Why Church Is Difficult For Those Touched By Mental Illness (via Stephen Grcevich)

Church is meant to be the one place on earth where people can come just as themselves and feel welcome and at home.
But it’s not always the case.
I found these seven reasons provided by Stephen Grcevich to make sense.
It’s helpful to read what is obvious when made plain, but is so easy to forget in practice.
Some of these are focused on parents whose children have a mental illness, others are relevant to people who are enduring various conditions whatever their age.

A couple of examples:

Anxiety: One in 15 American adults experience social anxiety disorder—a condition resulting in significant fear and distress in situations where their words or actions may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. How many social interactions might a first-time visitor to a weekend worship service need to navigate at your church? Persons with agoraphobia frequently experience intense fear, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, excessive perspiration, and nausea in public places where their ability to leave unobtrusively is limited. How might they feel if there are no seats available near an exit at a worship service, or if a well-meaning usher directs them to a middle seat near the front of the church?

Expectations for self-discipline: The Bible clearly equates self-control with spiritual maturity. Most mental health conditions can negatively impact executive functioning—the cognitive capacities through which we establish priorities, plan for the future, manage time, delay gratification, and exercise conscious control over our thoughts, words, and actions. When children struggle with self-control in the absence of obvious signs of disability, we’re often quick to make assumptions about their parents. One mother in describing her family’s experience in looking for a church with two school-age boys with ADHD observed that, “People in the church think they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

Read the whole article here.


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Praying For A Discontented Church (via Trevin Wax)

Trevin Wax writes about the deadly temptation of desiring a church where everyone is happy with things exactly as they are.

…we are right to pursue unity and peace in the church. But we are wrong to assume that the absence of conflict or complaint indicates that things are going in the right direction. The satisfaction of church members may be a sign not of faithfulness, but of widespread complacency.
Imagine this scenario. You’re a pastor in a congregation where there has been division and disunity over the years. Right now, things are better. Attendance is up. The number of complaints has fallen. People regularly encourage the staff and speak highly of the church. Every now and then, someone says: “Don’t change a thing. We love everything!”
Now, the temptation is to say, “Wonderful! Finally, everyone is happy” as if making everyone happy is the goal of your church. But that temptation is deadly. The mission of the church is not to satisfy the preferences of church members, but to spread the gospel of Jesus so that sinners are saved and find their satisfaction in him.
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We don’t want churches full of people dissatisfied due to their personal preferences going unfulfilled. Neither do we want churches full of people who are satisfied because everything is running smoothly. No, we want people who are satisfied with God but dissatisfied with the state of the world because they live and breathe the mission. They’re driven by the gospel and the mission on behalf of King Jesus and his kingdom.
As one of the pastors at my church, I am praying for more holy discontent. Our goal is not to make things satisfactory for our members, but to encourage and empower more members to be on mission together.

Read the whole article here.


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Some Questions About ‘Tiger Pastoring’ (via Peter Ko at Gospel Coalition Australia)

Peter Ko explains that ‘tiger parenting’ is what happens when parents push their children hard to succeed.
He goes on to add that church leadership could fall into ‘tiger pastoring’ and create, either directly or indirectly, thoughts in a congregations minds that they constantly have to strive hard to grow.
Usually in a pattern of activities established by the church leadership.
Apart from issues of busyness, he wonders if the model really stacks up biblically:

Does healthy Christian growth require us to apply our model of ‘tiger pastoring’? Or is God powerfully at work by his Spirit, through his Word, so that if his sheep are fed and taught well, and are guarded and cared for by good shepherds, they will grow?
Back to the analogy of parenting, isn’t it healthier to assume that if a child is given his or her basic necessities: food, shelter, clothing, security, schooling, friendships etc., that child will naturally grow and flourish? Could it be that in our well-motivated desire to shepherd our people well, we’ve stopped trusting that Christ will help his people and his body to grow and flourish if the basics are given to them? Corporate worship, faithful teaching and preaching, a church community, and leaders who will guard the truth and fight error. Is there much more that’s needed for healthy Christian growth?

Read the whole article here.