Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Church Government: Breakthrough

I've never heard of Mark Ashton until I read this story.

When Elders Say No.

It's great. It's short and easy to read. You will find excellent examples of a godly pastor and a church there.

After reading it, I went back to skim it through and googled around a little to find the St. Andrew the Great church in Cambridge where Mark Ashton was the pastor. And then, I was joyfully surprised that this story of submission to the church elders was actually from an Anglican church! So, an Anglican church can have "elders" in the form of church wardens! This is a breakthrough for me!

As I've expressed before, my biggest concern regarding the Anglican church structure was the absence of plural eldership in a local church. Since I'm ok with the existence of bishops in churches, and I must have mistaken to think a local Anglican church cannot have an official body of "elders" (although the term used is still not the biblical term, elder/presbyter), I should no longer have any issues with the Anglican church system. Of course there may still be things to improve upon and minor tweaking to do in a church since no church structure is perfect and all churches need continually be reformed, but I don't think I can have any more issues with the Anglican church structure itself.

Now, I will continue to read the book, Who Runs the Church to know more and learn from it and will finally, with God's help, come to my final conclusion.

This wonderful man of God, Mark Ashton had passed away few years ago, but a blog post pointed me to this short video of him talking about the gospel using his terminal illness as a platform. I'm struck with his joy in impending death, and it makes me want to know the greatness of Jesus as well as this man did.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Church Government: Presbyterianism

To see the introduction and what I gathered from the Anglican view, see here.

Presbyterianism was presented by L. Roy Taylor. Here's what I got out of it:
1) A local Presbyterian church is governed by a group of elders, called the session, which consists of some teaching elders (generally ministers who preach on Sundays) and some ruling elders (who errmm... don't preach on Sundays usually).
2) A local Presbyterian church is connected with other Presbyterian churches in the region through Presbytery, which consists of members of sessions from those churches.
3) Then, at least one member from each Presbytery join together in a bigger region, possibly at the national level, to form the General Assembly.
4) Each of these are meant to be representative ruling body, which means the voices from both above and below are heard by the ruling body. Discipline is possible while tyranny is preventable. Also, because Elders from different churches get together to form Presbytery and the General Assembly, there is a natural cooperative connection amongst churches.
5) The reason for doing church this way, they claim, is from the bible, both the OT and NT. They trace the origin of plural elder-leadership in the community of God from the Moses's time in the OT and assumed and endorsed by the Apostles in the NT.
6) The strengths are mentioned already above, but the weakness is the fact that ministry decision making can be quite cumbersome and inefficient. This can, in my view, cut both ways. It sometimes is a good thing that decisions don't get made in haste when it comes to theology and doctrines. At the same time, overhead of convincing and getting approval from a number of elders can be a slow process and almost impractical at times. (I might point out here though, that the Presbyterian churches world wide are not free from liberalism or heresies. It's good to remember that there's no perfect church on earth!)
7) Deacons, differing from Anglicanism, are lay-positions.
8) Presbyterians also recognise that the bible is not prescribing a form of church structure. However, the Presbyterianism is, as in point 5 above, endorsed by the whole of the bible.
9) There is a distinction between a teaching elder and a ruling elder as seen in point 1 above, but, while I am ok with it, the biblical basis for it seems rather weak and almost arbitrary.

So, I am very much comfortable with the Presbyterian way of structuring churches. I don't think I am naive about it. I grew up in the Presbyterian church for over 30 years, and have seen its own abuse of authorities and I have tried to encourage the pastors who were given the difficult job of persuading a group of elders to get anything significant done. But I trust that God's wisdom is greater than ours and in His wisdom, the Presbyterianism is endorsed in the bible for a good reason and purpose.

I've just started reading the single-elder congregationalism. Where am I now in terms of church government persuasion so far?

I definitely prefer Presbyterianism. But having been pointed out by a Presbyterian that its way is not the one and true way of doing church that the bible prescribes but only endorsed (for me this distinction is crucial), I think I can be open to the Anglican way (a low church variety only please). The biggest hurdle for me, however, remains as the lack of plural eldership in a local church. I couldn't help imagining a merge of the Presbyterian way with the Anglican way where ministers are ordained by bishops as Anglicans do, but each church officially selects people from its own congregation to be the elders and lead together with the minister. Wouldn't that be chaotic? Inefficiency and bishops both maintained? I'm sure somebody would have thought of this before, no? Plural-elder church with bishops? No? Nobody?

Church Government: Anglicanism

I'm trying to get a clearer understanding on the distinctives of different church structures/governments and which is most biblical if there can be argued one. So I borrowed a book, Who Runs The Church: 4 views on church government.

It presents 4 models, Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, Single-Elder Congregationalism, and Plural-Elder Congregationalism. The book is part of the Counterpoints series by Zondervan where on a particular theological point or doctrine, various different views are presented by different people, and each presenter also responds to other's views.

Of these 4 views, I am most interested in the Anglican way (Episcopalianism) and the Presbyterianism. I am hoping that reading this book will help me to get a better understanding of the two and that I can know whether my conscience would be clear to, well, pursue ordained ministry in the future.

I decided to read the 4 views as the proponents present them first, and go back to read their responses to each view. I'll try to record some of the learnings and summaries I get from the book here, and this is the first of several that may come.

So far, I've read the introduction by the editor Steven Cowan, and the Episcopalianism presented by the late Peter Toon. One thing that struck me was the fact that more than anything else, the most distinctive thing they proposed regarding the Anglicanism was the presence of bishops. I knew they existed in the Anglican church, but did not know what they did and what they signified, so it was a good learning for me. So here's my summary of Anglican church structure, what they do and why they do that way:
1) The English term may vary, but basically, a Presbyter/Elder/Rector leads a local church/parish.
2) While bishop may not interfere directly with the local ministry of a church he is not the direct member of, only a bishop(s) can ordain others to become a presbyter in the diocese(region) and have certain authority within it. (The Roman Catholic Pope's authority over all churches is rejected as a groundless claim both in history as well as in the bible.)
3) This allowed them to claim that they maintained the apostolic succession through ordination of bishops. In today's society where history isn't regarded so important, this might seem trivial, but I can see that this connection with the ancient church is somehow important.
4) A diocese makes major decisions in synod which comprises of three houses, bishops, clergymen (presbyters and deacons), and laymen. All three need to agree to make major decisions, while bishops or the archbishop have certain higher authority because of the nature of the offices they hold.
5) Still, archbishop is not the head of a local church.
6) The most important reasons for this structure seems to stem from two convictions Anglicans hold, a) the bible does NOT prescribe a church structure, and b) this structure is the way the church developed into for the first 5 centuries under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
7) Since the Anglicans do not insist that there is one true church structure that the bible prescribes, they seem to be more open to other forms of doing church compared to other denominations.
8) However, there are 2 main advantages of doing church this way: a) through hierarchy and singular leadership of a local church, they achieve ministry efficiency, while at the same time, b) they can combat heresies effectively. (Although, seeing how much of Anglicanism worldwide are plagued with liberalism, I am not so sure of the second point.)

After reading this chapter, I found it so persuasive, I felt I was ready to be an Anglican (oh, wait, wasn't I already one anyway?)

But then I started reading the Presbyterianism chapter, and before I got through first 5 pages, I felt this was IT. Presbyterianism all the way! Oh, dear, this isn't going to be easy. I hope I don't become a Plural-Elder Congregationalist just because that's the last chapter of the book!

Anyway, one note to myself at this stage.
The biggest issue that I have with the Anglican church is the fact that they do not have an official plural-elder leadership in a local church. It's not that the senior minister runs the church by himself, it doesn't work that way anyway. Any churches big enough all have "elder-like" people helping the senior minister in running of the church. But lacking the official recognition and appointments, the decision making power still solely rests on one minister in a local church in the end. I hoped Peter Toon would defend the Anglicanism regarding the plural-elder leadership in a local church, but it didn't touch that issue. I wonder if this would be addressed in other parts of the book.

Monday, 14 January 2013

5700 NT Manuscripts

  Finally, conspicuous by its absence in Misquoting Jesus is any comparison between the copies of the New Testament and other ancient Greek or Latin literature. Whatever doubts we cast on the text of the New Testament must be cast a hundredfold on virtually any other ancient book. The New Testament manuscripts stand closer to the original and are more plentiful than probably any other literature of that era. The New Testament is far and away the best-attested work of Greek or Latin literature from the ancient world.
  Approximately five thousand seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts are known to exist. The number of sources is growing. Every decade and virtually every year, new manuscripts are discovered. Meanwhile, the average classical author's writings are found in about twenty manuscripts. The New Testament - in the Greek manuscripts alone - exceeds this figure by almost three hundred times. Besides the Greek manuscripts, there are Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Gothic, Georgian, Arabic, and many other versions of the New Testament. The Latin manuscripts number more than ten thousand. All told, the New Testament is represented by approximately one thousand times as many manuscripts as the average classical author's writings. Even the well-known authors - such as Homer and Herodotus - simply can't compare to the quantity of copies enjoyed by the New Testament. Homer, in fact, is a distant second in terms of manuscripts, yet there are fewer than two thousand five hundred copies of Homer remaining today. What this means is that New Testament textual critics don't lack for materials!
  [...] We have between ten and fifteen manuscripts within one hundred years of the completion of the New Testament, and more than four dozen within two centuries. Of manuscripts produced before AD 400, an astounding ninety-nine still exist - including the oldest complete New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus. [...] Meanwhile, the earliest copies of the average classical Greek or Latin author come from more than five hundred years after the date of composition.
  -- p. 48-50, Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture's Quest To Unseat The Biblical Christ by Darrell L. Bock & Daniel B. Wallace (bold mine)

I hope this helps you.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

There is NO right NOT to be offended.

  Without doubt, many Christians manage to be offensive for reasons other than the offense of the gospel. This is to our shame and to the injury of our gospel witness. Nevertheless, there is no way for a faithful Christian to avoid offending those who are offended by Jesus Christ and His cross. The truth claims of Christianity, by their very particularity and exclusivity, are inherently offensive to those who would demand some other gospel.
  Christians must not only contend for the preservation and protection of free speech - essential for the cause of the gospel - we must also make certain that we do not fall into the trap of claiming offendedness for ourselves. We must not claim a right not to be offended, even as we must insist that there is no such right and that the social construction of such a right will mean the death of individual liberty, free speech, and the free exchange of ideas.
  Once we begin playing the game of offendedness, there is no end to the matter. There simply is no right not to be offended, and we should be offended by the very notion that such a right could exist.
 -- p. 35-36, Chapter 5: The Culture of Offendedness from Culture Shift by Albert Mohler (italics original)

Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers a wonderful insight and guidance for Christians who must face the world which is opposed to Jesus and His teachings. This excerpt comes from just one of the twenty short chapters in the book, Culture Shift. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to think more clearly about how to live in this world. He also writes regularly on his own website: http://www.albertmohler.com/ It's worth a visit every now and then.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Resolutions 2013

Ok, it’s that time of the year again to make resolutions. It was the extra motivation from my wife, even though I didn’t follow her method, that I have the following for the year.

1) Pray more
After being Christian whole of my life, I still find prayer one of the most challenging thing. I’ve tried to use a prayer list where I keep people’s names and various prayer points, but I haven’t been persistent in it. I’ll review and update my prayer list once a week as a reminder to myself how much I need to pray. And hopefully, I’ll actually pray more often, more consistently, and more persistently as a result.

2) Take the bible more seriously
I do believe the bible is the true word of God that is final and sufficient. While I try to read through the bible with my wife each day, I often find my mind disengaged. It’s quite terrifying that I’m just going through the motions of reading the bible at times. I’d like to give more effort into understanding and applying the text. I’ve chosen 4 books of the bible to focus on this year. Genesis, Micah, Mark, Ephesians. I’ll consult commentaries if I have to, but I’d like to know these books better this year.

3) Read more
Last year, I chose 24 books to read. I think I read about 16 out of the 24 plus a few others that weren't part of my list. I again selected 24 books. I can see myself failing to read all of them by the end of this year already, but it’s a goal I will work towards. I hope to at least read more than last year.

4) Write more
I wrote 33 blog posts. I also do a little bit of other short writings too. I hope to be able to write at least 1 blog posts a week on average. This is to train myself in thinking and expressing my thoughts, so even if they are short or not great, I expect to benefit from them myself. Hopefully they won’t be all trash for others either.

5) Exercise
Notice the lack of the word, more, in this last resolution. It’s because I virtually never exercised last year. No “more” to speak of. I am increasingly aware that keeping fit and healthy is a loving thing to do for my family. Exercise won’t guarantee it, but I’ll try to do my part by going for a run once a week.

Here I am, God, put me to a good use this year and prepare me for your future use of me.