Children’s Ministry and the Ministry of the Word

An old Baptist Sunday School class in the 1940s. National Archive photo

As it turns out, Twitter is an excellent source of inspiration for my blog. Why, a couple weeks back, I couldn’t help but notice someone commenting that the New Testament applauds churches for many things, but children’s ministry is not one of them. I think I understand where they were coming from, but I do not like the implication of this statement.

The person in question, who I am not going to name because I have no wish to demean them, belongs to the Reformed tradition. There is a great emphasis within this sphere on the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. If I understand correctly, these means of grace are the focus of our corporate worship in church. In some quarters (though certainly not all), this can lead to a de-emphasis or even suspicion of anything that is not a part of that Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Once again, this is how I understand it: I did not grow up in a Reformed church.

I assume that this was the genesis for the comment that scripture did not applaud (i.e. institute) the other “ministries” that are commonly part of church life in this country and others. I do not fully disagree with this, but if we are using such a point of view to diminish children’s ministry or say that it is not important, then I think we have made a grave mistake. Let me explain why I believe this to be the case. Continue reading

The Sting of Death and our Hope in Christ

A sixth century mosaic in the church of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy depicting the women arriving at the empty tomb and receiving a message from the angel. Photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP

If you went to church yesterday, Easter Sunday, it is quite likely that you heard a sermon that referenced 1 Corinthians chapter 15 – unless, of course, your pastor is one of those who doesn’t break from textual order for hell or high water. This is a wonderful passage of scripture, which not only establishes the truth and doctrinal centrality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also covers many of its practical implications in the life of the believer. Most people tend to focus on the first portion of the chapter, but Paul also has some great things to say at the end.

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?’”

1 Corinthians 15:54-55

What a beautiful picture this is of death being utterly defeated and the curse that lies upon humanity being broken! Those who belong to Christ no longer have to fear death, for it is not the end.

Yet, there is more to what is being said here than meets the eye. You may have noticed that Paul is actually quoting from the Old Testament. The phrase he is referencing appears in the book of Hosea. When you see it in context, you will realize that it is anything but cheery. Continue reading

“For You and for Your Children”: The Curse and the Promise

Depiction of Pentecost in the Hortus Deliciarum, circa 1180

Whenever someone from a confessional Reformed denomination attempts to talk to me, a “Reformed-ish Baptist”, about the need for paedobaptism (infant baptism), they often point to a declaration that the Apostle Peter made on Pentecost: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39) They mention these words to a primarily Jewish audience as proof that the Abrahamic Covenant’s inclusion of entire households extends to the New Covenant instituted by Jesus Christ, and that the promises made by God are just as applicable to children as they are to adults.

I certainly agree with the second half of that assessment, though I think that we need to also remember the Apostle Paul’s teaching that Abraham’s true children are those by faith. However, my point here is not to refute the Reformed position. Rather, I wanted to share some thoughts I had with regard to this verse that affect the way I think about Covenant Theology, though not necessarily about baptism. Continue reading

A Sickness Not Unto Death (I Hope)

Friends,

I regret that I have recently slowed down with my writing due to illness. I am very hopeful that I will be feeling better soon, but until that time, if you are looking for something to read, try one or more of the essays under the “Reconciliation” tab above. Your prayers for my recovery would be much appreciated, as this has been a long-running ordeal.

Blessings,

Amy

Redeemed Suffering in Job

“Job’s Despair” by William Blake, circa 1805

If there is any book in scripture that reads like an examination of the purpose of human suffering, it is surely Job. This may not be the only place in the Bible where the concept is considered, but due to the nature of the text – a lengthy debate between one suffering man and his friends, with an appearance at the end by God Himself – it is particularly compelling. In one of the most famous passages in this book, Job boldly proclaims, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives…” (19:25a) I would like to take a moment to examine this comment and what exactly Job meant when he referred to God as his “Redeemer”.

When I as a 21st century Christian read Job’s words, I automatically think of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Without a doubt, His atonement has redeemed all who believe. Yet, Job lived long before Christ walked the earth; in fact, he lived long before most of the Messianic prophecies were made. Could Job have foreseen the work of Jesus Christ? Was that what he meant by the word “Redeemer”? Continue reading

The Public Acceptance Factor and Politics

The first page of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk triggering Article 50 and her country’s exit from the EU.

About a month ago, my husband and I ditched our TV package with Time Warner Cable and changed to Playstation Vue. In the greater scheme of things, this was a thoroughly unimportant event. We are simply the latest Americans to determine that we will no longer pay obscene amounts of money for channels we don’t even like in the first place. However, this decision has come with some technical challenges.

We started out with a Roku box and an antenna. It was somewhat cumbersome having to switch inputs to get to the channel I wanted at any given time, but I adjusted. Then my husband bought something called a Kinivo, and this is where things really got complicated. In order to pause and record all of our channels, including those we were receiving over the air, and also be able to watch Blu-Rays, we now have three different inputs, five remotes, several different apps, and more boxes than we had when we began. As I sit here now and type these words, I am not entirely certain how I get the over-the-air channels to appear on our TV. I consider myself to be a halfway intelligent person, but I am at a loss.

I have warned my husband that he is hitting up against something known as the WAF: the Wife Acceptance Factor. He was the one who first introduced me to this term, which is used in a joking manner by computer nerds when they are trying to get their wife to agree to the purchase and/or implementation of some new technology. Apparently, the original line of thinking was that if you wanted the wife to like a gadget, you had to make it more aesthetically appealing (Because us silly women don’t care about what a thing actually does, I suppose…). These days, it seems to be more a matter of pushing things as far as you can before the wife throws up her hands and throws the device out of the house.

It remains to be seen whether I will commit such a violation of marital submission with the Kinivo box. It is not quite the bane of my existence, but things may well have been better before it arrived. However, all this thinking about the “Wife Acceptance Factor” has caused me to wonder if there isn’t such a thing as a “Public Acceptance Factor”, and if we have indeed been hitting up against it during the past year. Continue reading

Those Who Live By Faith Are Just

“The Sermon of the Beatitudes” by James Tissot, circa 1886-69

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

In the last essay, I discussed how Christians are meant to live as humble rebels in a hostile world, serving as ambassadors for Christ. The first and most obvious way we do this is by proclaiming the gospel message and making disciples, which is the only true hope for reconciliation. That is the end to which everything else is a means. However, there is another aspect of our mission that I have previously hinted at and would like to dive into now: a humble rebel is committed to social justice.

Oddly, the concept of social justice makes some Christians uncomfortable. I believe this is because they are typically associating it with what is known as the “Social Gospel”, a theological movement that rose to prominence in the early days of the 20th century and was associated not only with a desire to help the poor and vulnerable, but also with theological liberalism and a de-emphasis on doctrine. I can understand why people would have serious reservations about that.

Social justice, on the other hand, is a very biblical concept. Indeed, it is one of the main themes of scripture, and it is inextricably linked with doctrine. The Bible actually has far more to say about social justice than any number of issues to which we devote more attention. It is part and parcel of reconciliation, for if you are not pursuing social justice, you are not only making reconciliation more difficult, but you are actively increasing discord.

Martin Luther is often said to have had his theological breakthrough when he read the Apostle Paul’s quotation of a phrase from the prophet Habakkuk: “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, KJV) Luther’s story is a bit more complicated than that, but the importance of this verse is clearly evident. What I am about to suggest to you is that this phrase can also be reversed: not only do the just live by faith, but those who live by faith are just.

(DISCLAIMER: I am not challenging the traditional view of justification by grace alone through faith alone.)

Continue reading

The Speeding up of History

Woodcut of a printing press operation by Jost Amman, circa 1568

I can’t help observing that things seem to be moving a good deal faster today than they ever did in previous eras. My grandmother was born in 1932. Her childhood home had no flushable toilets, no heating or air conditioning, no car, no television, no radio, and certainly no computer. I scarcely need to mention that at the time she was born penicillin had yet to be discovered, “the pill” had not been legalized, the idea of sending a man into space was ridiculous, atomic science was in its infancy, there was no social safety net in the U.S., and the populations of such countries as China and India were only 1/3 of what they are now.

Universities were mostly for the rich or abnormal. In contrast, it wasn’t at all strange for people to drop out of school well before the age of eighteen. The Catholic Church still forbade saying Mass in anything but Latin, and Islam had barely touched the West. The entire continent of Africa was under the control of more powerful European nations. In the U.S., African-Americans were treated as slightly less than human and Japanese-Americans were being placed in internment camps. This is to say nothing of the enormous upheavals in the global economy and popular culture. The world, in short, was a vastly different place in 1932. Continue reading

No Thank You, Aquinas: Women Are Not Misbegotten

Depiction of Thomas Aquinas by Gentile da Fabriano, circa 1400

Thomas Aquinas was undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. His Summa Theologica is quite possibly the most influential theological tome of all time. Christians of all stripes certainly have much to gain from reading the works of Aquinas.

However, my opinion of Aquinas is decidedly mixed. He introduced some great ideas into Christianity, but also some unfortunate errors that have resounded down to the present day. One such concept is the notion of “redemptive suffering”, which I have recently been studying. Aquinas was not the first person to teach this idea, but he certainly helped to lay the groundwork for a theology in which human suffering could itself hold salvific power.

Another place where Aquinas introduced erroneous thinking into Christianity is naturally rather important to me: his beliefs regarding women. The problematic section comes in Part One, Question 92 of the Summa. The first article he considers is, “Whether the woman should have been made in the first production of things?” Continue reading

Should Christians Use Satire?

Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”, perhaps the greatest satire film of all time. This is what’s at stake, people.

Yesterday, I was moseying around Twitter rather innocently: well, at least as innocently as possible for a person such as myself. As I was scrolling through the long line of news updates and quotations by famous theologians, I came across the following.

Could it be that The Gospel Coalition is taking a stand against satire and sarcasm? One Tweet does not amount to a campaign, but to have two of the biggest names in that organization make such comments does suggest a certain point of view. Continue reading