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We are sent by, and responsible to, our home churches in the United States but are working in Thailand through OMF International, an inter-denominational missionary organization that includes missionaries from a variety of countries and Protestant churches. Sun’s home church is Calvary Church of Santa Ana and Karl is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
You’re at church. Maybe it’s your own church, or maybe you’re just visiting. But as the preacher gets going, it becomes obvious that his sermon is going nowhere. Maybe it is just dull. Or maybe he is spouting off his own opinion with the Scriptures as a springboard. Or maybe it is moralistic or allegorical. Or maybe the preacher is simply getting the Bible wrong, twisting the meaning of the passage at hand. There are a thousand variations of the bad sermon. But when you are locked in to listening to a bad sermon, how should you respond?The typical way that I respond to a bad sermon is to sit quietly and stew about how bad it is. Then when we get home from church, I complain to my wife about how bad it was, and list all the reasons it was bad. This elicits empathy from my wife, who also had to sit through the bad sermon (though she is sometimes less affected by it when our kids are squirmy). While I admit that getting upset about how bad it was is my gut level reaction, it is not all that helpful. I go to church to encounter God, to worship Him, to listen to His Word, and to be built up. Meditating on all the reasons why the sermon is bad doesn’t really accomplish any of those goals. There is, of course, a place for critiquing bad sermons (I wrote a whole blog series about this), but there is also something to be said for redeeming bad sermons, and avoiding bitterness. The reason that I can sometimes get bitter about bad sermons is that I am hoping to hear something good from God’s Word and then have my hopes dashed. But it is no fun to live in the gall of bitterness. And it certainly does not honor God.
reviewed by Karl DahlfredThe Creedal Imperative, by Carl Trueman. (Crossway, 2012, 208pp.)Within the world of evangelical Protestantism, creeds have fallen on hard times. They are old, irrelevant, and go into way too much detail about non-essential doctrinal points that just cause conflict. “Doctrine divides, mission unites,” as they say. Therefore, it is a massively difficult task that Carl Trueman has taken on in “The Creedal Imperative”, making the case that not only are creeds helpful, but also essential to the life of the church. For many people, the whole idea of creeds conjures up words like “dry,” “dusty,” and “academic” but Trueman does a brilliant job of making his case for creeds readable and understandable for those who are not familiar with them, and are not sure whether they should be.From the very first page, Trueman addresses himself to the popular objections to creeds. His leading example is a pastor who claimed that his church had no creed but the Bible, yet at the same time taught the five points of Calvinism, dispensationalism, and form of church government drawn from the Plymouth Brethren. Trueman points out that while this pastor’s church claimed “its only creed was the Bible, it actually connected in terms of the details of its life and teaching to almost no other congregation in the history of the church. Clearly, the church did have a creed, a summary view of what the Bible taught on grace, eschatology, and ecclesiology; it was just that nobody ever wrote it down and set it out in public.” (Kindle Locations 119-122)
Reviewed by James Steer
What is the mission of the Church? That’s the question DeYoung and Gilbert seek to answer in this book. Their motivation for writing is to clarify some of the current confusion within evangelicalism, particularly with regard to what individual Christians and what the Church should be doing. They also seek to elucidate what is God’s work, and what is our work. In the opening chapter they ask “what do we even mean by mission?” before asking several other pertinent questions: “is the mission of the church discipleship or good deeds or both? ... Is the mission of the church distinct from the responsibilities of other Christians? ... What should be the church’s role in pursuing social justice?” (p. 16, italics original).
Book Review "When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself, New Edition ed. (Chicago, IL.: Moody Publishers, 2009)- reviewed by Karl DahlfredCan you help the poor by just giving more money? Lots of people and churches have tried that route and been burned in the process. In “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself” authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have provided a helpful guide for churches and individual Christians to think about the best ways to love the poor in ways that help both parties.
reviewed by Karl DahlfredAre worship and mission doomed to be in never-ending competition for the time and resources of the church? Must we choose between looking inward and looking outward? In “Worship and Mission After Christendom”, Alan and Eleanor Kreider give a resounding “NO”, pointing readers to a third way of looking at the relationship between worship and mission in light of the demise of Christendom in the West.
Raised on the mission field in Asia, Alan and Eleanor Kreider served as Mennonite missionary teachers in England for thirty years before returning to the United States, where they continue their work teaching, speaking and writing about issues of worship, church history, and peace making. In “Worship and Mission After Christendom”, the Kreiders bring together the results of their studies in these areas, together with personal experience to present an alternative vision of the relationship between worship and mission.
In the press today is the story of Crystal Cathedral megachurch founder Robert Schuller being ousted from his own board of directors. And this news comes on the heels of the financial bankruptcy of the Crystal Cathedral itself.Why has it spiraled downward to this point? Because the Crystal Cathedral has been built on a foundation other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Schuller championed a gospel of self-esteem that refuses to address sin as the Bible does. Schuller asserts that man’s main problem is that he doesn’t believe in himself enough. However, Jesus taught that man thinks too highly of himself and needs to repent (Luke 18:9-14).
Some people may think that unbiblical preaching is the preacher’s problem, not theirs. However, Biblical preaching is more likely to occur in a congregation where not only the pastor, but also the people want solid Biblical teaching. While a pastor has a big role in helping create such an atmosphere, he is only one piece in the puzzle. If a growing number of people in a church are dissatisfied with moralism, allegory, and gnosticism from the pulpit, then it can push the pastor to up the bar. And of course, the corollary is true as well. If the congregation is not interested in hearing from God, but just wants a pick-me-up to help them get through the week, then it will be tempting for the preacher to go light on the Word of God, giving the people what they think they need.So how do we work towards seeing more Biblical preaching in our churches? I’ve come up with a list of five solutions. The list is not exhaustive, and I am sure there are other solutions that could be added. However, if we are able to put into practice just these five, then it should go a long way in creating healthier Bible reading and preaching in our churches.
Church discipline is not popular and is rarely practiced in Thai churches, and the same can be said for churches in the West. When it is practiced, it is often for those “big” sins like adultery or embezzlement of church funds. Other repeat offenses like slander, gossip and divisiveness are unrightly overlooked. The term conjures up images of judgmental, critical, self-righteous nitpicks who stick their nose in other people's business where it doesn’t belong. Many Christians incorrectly see the goal of church discipline as punishment, despite the fact that the Bible says that the goal of church discipline is restoration and reconciliation.
In recent years there has been a lot of talk about church growth in the evangelical world. Everyone wants to know how to make their church grow and there is no shortage of suggestions for how to do it. What is the key to making your church grow? Is it using a cell church model? house church model? more user-friendly sermons? better music? more skits? candles? bigger parking lot? more exciting youth programs? powerpoint? more lay leadership? something else?Protestant missionaries have been in Thailand for over 180 years yet the number of Christians in the country is still less than 1%. So, the question has been asked, when so much time, money, and effort has been put into evangelization, how come the church has grown so slowly? Again, many suggestions have been put forth. Perhaps we haven’t contextualized the Gospel well enough. Or our evangelism has been too Western. Or we have used a poor model of church. Or there is a lack of indigenous worship music. Or we haven’t been letting the Spirit lead. Or church buildings don’t look Thai enough. Or we haven’t emphasized house churches. Or we haven’t found the right redemptive analogy. Or whatever.
In planting a new church, how should the missionary provide for the continuing care of the congregation after he is gone? Or, to put it another way, how do you know when you are “done” planting a church? In not a small number of cases, missionaries in Thailand have established churches with a modus operandi something like this: evangelize and disciple until there is a sufficient number of Christian believers such that there are people to lead various elements of Sunday worship service and there are more or less sufficient finances to rent a building and call a full-time Bible school educated Thai pastor to lead the church. If these elements are mostly in place, then the church is considered planted and the missionary feels free to move on to a new location. Often there are some kind of appointed or elected church leaders which may or may not resemble Biblical elders. In many cases, I have seen a church committee which makes decisions about finances and church activities substituted for the Biblical model of elders, namely mature Christian men who govern and shepherd the congregation, bearing spiritual responsibility for the souls of the people. If a missionary gets the number of believers up to level where the church won’t dissolve, and then calls a native pastor (whom a small church often times can barely pay), is this really the best model for establishing healthy Biblical churches?
It is always good to know that someone is speaking from experience and not just theory. Therefore, following on from my previous post about Nevius’ thoughts on finding local leaders, I wanted to share Nevius’ account of how he and his missionary colleagues made the mistake of appointing elders too hastily:“Twenty years ago our mission in considering this subject reasoned on this wise: We are Presbyterians, and our churches should be organized from the first on Presbyterian principles. If we cannot get men for elders as well qualified as we should like, we must take the best men we can find, men who seem sincere and earnest Christians, and who may develop in character and ability to fulfill the duties of elders by having the duties and responsibilities of this office laid upon them. With these views and expectations several churches were formally and constitutionally organized. It was found, however, in not a small proportion of cases that the elders did not, or could not, perform their official duties, and were an obstruction to any one else attempting to do so. They were placed in a false position, injurious to themselves and the churches of which they had the nominal charge. Some were hardly able to sustain the character of an ordinary church member and others were in a course of few years excommunicated. We then took action as a Presbytery, determining that
Every missionary wants to develop indigenous local leaders so that an indigenous church may be established. When there are not many local Christians to choose from, it can be difficult to find the right people, especially those that are Biblically qualified. With many years of experience under his belt as a missionary in China, John Nevius had that following to say on the subject:
"It is only natural that missionaries should at first seek and employ many native agents. They are anxious for immediate results, and home societies and the home churches are as impatient to hear of results as the missionaries are to report them. No communications from the field seem so indicative of progress, and are so calculated to call forth commendation and generous contributions as the announcement that native laborers have been obtained, and are preaching the gospel. While the missionary himself is for months or years debarred from evangelistic work by his ignorance of the language, a native agency stands waiting his employ. His circumstances and his wishes add stong emphasis to the oft-repeated truism, "China must be evangelized by the Chinese." So urgent seems the necessity to obtain native assistants that if such as he would like are not forthcoming, he is glad to avail himself of such as he can get. How many of us have thought in connection with some specially interesting inquirer, even before he is baptized, "What a capital assistant that man might make." (John Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches, Monadnock Press, Hancock New Hampshire, 2003, p.21)
There is a church that my wife and I know well where almost none of the people on the church leadership committee are qualified to be there (this church uses a leadership committee instead of an elder board, deacon board, or some other form of church government). Sure they are aware of passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that lay out the Biblical qualifications for elders but those requirements don't seem to be very important to them. As in the time of Nevius,
I was recently talking with a pastor whose church does not send any long-term missionaries.It is a vibrant church with many members and a vision for missions, and they could probably send and support their own long-term missionaries if they wanted to.But it seems that they don’t want to.Why not?This pastor told me about what he believes to be more strategic, more effective, and most cost-efficient way to do missions outreach than sending long-term missionaries.
This pastor and his church conduct many short-term training events and seminars throughout the world, gathering together a large group of local leaders and teaching them in an intensive course.When the course is done, the pastor and his team go back to the USA and the local leaders go back to their homes and churches, presumably to put into practice what they have learned.Besides live teaching from short-term missionaries, this pastor is also committed to getting a video training course called ISOM into the hands of groups of leaders in various countries, to be used in place of live teachers but administered by a local coordinator/facilitator who leads discussions about the video course material.It is his belief that Western churches can have a much bigger global impact for the Gospel by doing missions through this type of short-term leadership training rather than paying for long-term foreign missionaries (I am defining “missionary” as one who intentionally crosses barriers of language and culture to share the Gospel with those who would normally not have the opportunity to hear the Gospel within their cultural and/or linguistic context).
The following two stories from the lives of believers at the PhraBaht church (with whom we work) have reminded me of the special care that we need to take to value the elderly among us. “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. Honor widows who are truly widows.” 1 Timothy 5:1-3 Pim’s mother was discouraged. Weak and bedridden because of diabetes, she often had thoughts of death and recently she had been having dreams about her late older sister who was calling her to come join her. ‘What’s the point of living?’ she thought to herself. ‘It would be better if I were to die.’ She would often vent her frustrations to her daughter and teenage grandson. One Sunday morning before church her grandson got tired of listening to her complain. Rather coldly, he said to her ‘If you want to die, then die already’ Those words cut her deeply and she refused to be taken to church that day. While Pim’s mother lay at home with thoughts of death and worthlessness, the believers at church had different thoughts. They missed her. After church, Sun and Muay visited her to talk, pray, and read the Bible. A few days later, Arui came to encourage her. By the time Sunday came around again, her spirits had perked up a bit and she was glad to see us when we came to pick her up and bring her to church. I don’t think that the preacher that day knew what had
What is true repentance? This morning I read Matthew 26 and as I reflected on it, I was struck by Matthew Henry's commentary on Peter's denial of Christ. Henry writes, "Peter wept bitterly. Sorrow for sin must not be slight, but great and deep. Peter, who wept so bitterly for denying Christ, never denied him again, but confessed him often in the face of danger. True repentance for any sin will be shown by the contrary grace and duty; that is a sign of our sorrowing not only bitterly, but sincerely."In Thailand, I have seen far too many professions of faith that bear no fruit. I have also heard too many Christians misdiagnose the problem of people who profess faith in Christ but don't follow through. One suggestion is that these backsliders need more encouragement. Another suggestion is that they need more follow-up and discipling. Both of these may be true to a degree depending upon how we understand the terms but neither seem to get at the heart of the matter that genuine repentance has likely not occurred. Repentance is not only stopping doing something bad but is also the beginning of doing something new. As Henry points out, Peter not only ceased denying Christ, but he also did the exact opposite - stood up and boldly proclaimed him from that point onward. Repentance does not consist of merely admitting to, or confessing ones sins either to God or to others. Repentance is a decisive turning from evil and self, and towards God. Granted, some new believers exhibit more obvious repentance earlier on because of the gross nature of their former life while others seem to grow or change more slowly as it is less obvious elements, like attitudes of the heart, which need the most change. But in either case,
How do very different denominations work together to do church planting? This is the big question that remains to be answered as the 7th Thailand Congress on Evangelism in Bangkok came to an end this past week. The conference brought together three of the largest Protestant church groups in Thailand - the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), the Thailand Baptist Convention, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (EFT). In the past, these large denominations didn’t get along very well so it is encouraging to see leaders and members of these different groups coming together in order to pursue the goal of proclaiming Christ throughout Thailand. A few years back, the involved denominations had formed the Thailand Evangelism Coordinating Committee (TEC) and came up with Vision 2010 which aims to see a church planted in every provincial district (อำเภอ), a Christian group in every sub-district (ตำบล), and a Christian presence in every neighborhood/village (หมู่บ้าน).Throughout the conference pastors, Bible college professors, and other church leaders from the various groups preached on the themes of Obedience, Faithfulness, Unity, and Cooperation. Listening to the preachers, worship leaders, and other speakers up on stage, I got the sense that the goal of the week was not so much as to spell out how to work together in unity, but rather to rally the troops and encourage the people in attendance that unity is important and the God will work as we work together in obedience and faithfulness to the Great Commission.
The church landscape in every country looks a bit different, depending on local conditions and the missions history of that nation. Here in Thailand, Catholics have been in the country since the 1600s, and Protestants since the early 1800s. The Christian groups recognized by the Thai government, registered through the Department of Religion are the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), the Thailand Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (EFT), and the Seventh Day Adventists. Pentecostal groups with a significant presence in the country include the Hope of Bangkok church association, the Rom Glao (ร่มเกล้า) and Rom Yen (ร่มเย็น) church associations, Jai Saman church (large Bangkok church), the Full Gospel Church association, and the Assemblies of God (Christian Samphan). There are other church associations, I am sure, but the ones mentioned above are the biggies. It should also be noted that the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cult groups are in Thailand as well although I am not sure how they are recognized by the government or how they get their visas.CCT was started by American Presbyterians in the 19th century and currently maintains fraternal ties with the Presbyterian Church (USA), although it now includes Baptists, Lutherans and Pentecostals and is overall probably more evangelical than the PCUSA. The Church of Christ in Thailand is not associated with the Church of Christ denomination in the United States.
The Thailand Baptist Convention is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA, and the EFT is really more of an umbrella organization that includes many different smaller church groups, including the Associated Churches of Thailand (ACT), a broadly evangelical church association which is connected to OMF, the mission organization that we are part of.Generally speaking, Pentecostal churches make up a significant section of Thai Protestant churches thought I don't think that they constitute a majority. That said, Pentecostal theology and worship style extends far beyond churches that would identify themselves as Pentecostal. It seems that a majority of Thai churches are egalitarian to a large degree although most pastors are still men. However, the few explicitly Reformed churches that exist (and some Baptist churches) retain more a traditional complementarian view (only men as pastors).This past week I attended the 7th Thailand Congress on Evangelism in Bangkok which brought together three of the largest Protestant church groups (CCT, Baptists, & EFT). In my next post, I’ll share some thoughts on the conference and take a look at the state of evangelical Protestant unity in Thailand.
In the previous post, we looked at the Biblical precedent for preaching and saw that sermons are not merely a Western cultural tradition but have their foundation in the pages of Scripture. In this post, I would like to wrap up by responding to some objections to maintaining the sermon as a central part of the life of the Christian church.Objection#1 “Sermons are ineffective” Perhaps you will grant to me the fact that preaching is important in Scripture but would go on to add that times have changed and sermons just don’t “work”. In some ways, I agree. I have heard lots of sermons that just don’t work. But it is not because the idea of preaching a sermon is a bad one but rather because the sermon that someone decided to preach was a bad sermon. It was boring. It was irrelevant. It was mostly the preacher’s own ideas and hobby horses with little reference to Scripture. It explained the meaning of the passage for ancient Israelites but failed to show how it applies to modern listeners. It was all puffed up emotion or moralistic platitudes with little reference to Scripture. It did nothing to address the misunderstandings and objections of the listeners, failing to make people see what God is saying and how it intersects with their life. It is just a collection of observations about the passage that the preacher thought were interesting but there is no overall coherent message. The preacher, fearing that he will lose people, fills his sermon with too many irrelevant funny stories that at the end of the day make people laugh but fails to feed them with the Word of God. There are lots of examples of bad sermons but that is not any justification for