Monday, January 31, 2011

God Did Not Design You This Way

It is a gross and blasphemous error, when people equate God's perfect creative work with the world in its current fallen state without qualification. Sin has corrupted what God called "good" in the first few chapters in Genesis (remember the Father's regret at the start of the story of Noah's Ark which prompted him to destroy the world He had made?). This world is not as it was designed or as it should be. By the same token, while man was created in the image of God, he is also corrupted and enslaved by sin: a aberrant spiritual disease which God did not make.

God did not design you with your various sinful habits and opinions. He did not place your sinful condition and sinful impulses in you.

God is not the author of sin.

Our purpose and condition must always be viewed through the lens of the Fall from Grace. You are a sinner who is enslaved to rebellion against Him by your sinful nature. You are allied with the devil against Him. God, in His perfect justice and purity, does not "love you just the way you are" and your sinful condition is not "part of His plan for you". Death is also not a creation of God and the fact that things die is not "part of God's circle of life".

This is why Christ had to come and die for your sins so that you can be redeemed back from death and hell. This is why this world and all of its corruption will pass away and give rise to a new creation on the Last Day.

It is not God's fault that you are this way and living in the world that you are living in. Please stop talking and thinking like this. It is as incorrect, dangerous, and ignorant of the facts as it is offensive.

Theological Assertion

I am a big believer that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Theological Assertion - The modern Christian quest to discover, quantify, and actualize one's live purpose is a kind of crypto-holiness movement that (1) promises the unattainable (in this life at least), (2) gives Christians a distorted view of vocation, (3) obscures the Christian doctrines of repentance, hope, and suffering, and (4) presents a shallow do-it-yourself message of life change to unbelievers that is not evangelism in any true sense.

I welcome discussion on all points.

First, there can be no doubt that the therapeutic desire to realize the Christian life as defined by purpose is really a modern slant on good ole methodism. I recently heard something brilliant and entertaining from the brilliant and entertaining Rev Jonathan Fisk (who unanimously would win the Lutheran Blogosphere "New Internet Theologian of the Year Award" if such a thing ever existed... seriously, go watch his videos.) He correctly identified that the American church is overwhelmingly Baptist in its theology, Methodist in its practice, and Charismatic in its worship (thank you John Wesley and Charles Finney).

This holiness movement influence in terms of practice has given rise to all sorts of purpose-oriented books, bible studies, and even churches over the last several decades. Rather than see this as an improvement in the life of the church, discerning Christians should watch these aberrant developments with alarm once they realize the unintended consequences of such teachings.

1. Purpose promises the unattainable (in this life at least)...

Simul justus et peccator. We are simultaneously justified by the imputed grace of God on account of Christ. While we are a new creation in Christ Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:17], the old sinful nature still clings to our mortal flesh [Romans 7] in this life so that the life of the Christian is one of internal and external spiritual warfare [Ephesians 6; 2 Corinthians 10] that is only ended when the perishable passes away and we rise again in new life with imperishable and perfected bodies [1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3].

Perhaps due to an improper appreciation for our fallen condition, obsessively chasing after purpose in this life gives the false impression to hearers that this perfected, fundamentally God-pleasing nature as a human being is attainable in the life of the Christian through discipline rather than through the death and resurrection of Christ. Sloppy preaching and teaching in this area strays dangerously into the theology of "infused grace" which is unbiblical and a Roman Catholic error that many synergistic Protestants seem to be out doing the papacy on in their zeal to realize the Baptist formal principle of "The Changed Life" and this Charismatic drive to perform mystical worship practices.

In this way, many protestant (and incorrectly named "non-denominational" churches) put the Bible and the Reformation aside and follow Rome down it's path of "Jesus saved you so that you can work harder to please God and either earn (in the hard form) or reimburse God (in the soft form) for your eternal salvation." The Bible does not speak this way. Instead, the good works for which Christians have been set aside to perform are actually the works of God through the Christian by faith [Philippians 2] for service to our neighbors. This principle of being "God's workmanship" stands directly opposed to the purpose-seeking idea that, while we are God's creation, we are fundamentally our own workmanship and we have just been not doing a very good job.

This distorted view of sanctification takes away with one hand what is only occasionally given with the other as legalism snatches away the sweetness and freedom of the gospel in favor of a new enslavement. To paraphrase Rev. Fisk: it falsely teaches that we have been set free so that we can be enslaved. This in itself is gross false doctrine that is dangerous to faith and injurious to eternal salvation because it places the trust of the believer back in his own works rather than pointing him to the cross and the hope that comes in our eventual perfection on the last day.

2. Purpose gives Christians a distorted view of vocation...

The doctrine of vocation is probably one of the most under-taught and misunderstood doctrine in all of Christendom. I submit that the void left by a true Christian understanding of what the Christian is to do and how he is to see his good works after conversion is what allows wrong-headed opinions like methodism and purpose to swoop in and take root. Christians have a legitimate need for training in a proper understanding in righteousness and good works. The faith within them cries out for this holy and practical teaching. When it is not given, well-meaning Christians seek anything that looks like it can fill that hole.

...but purpose is not the proper fit. Where a right view of vocation teaches the Christian to understand his place in the world wherever he may find himself at any given moment, "purpose" teaches him that his place in the world is some hidden mystery of God that must be sought out and discovered through all manner of mystical and rationalistic approaches. Purpose, calling upon mankind's natural desire to answer the question "what am I going to do with my life?", wrongly teaches you to look past the objective reality of where you may find yourself and who your neighbor is so that you can sink deep down within yourself to hear what God really wants you to do.

The reality is that God has already told you very clearly what he wants you to do: it's called "The Ten Commandments". They're written down in the book of Exodus so that you can look them up and apply them to every aspect of your life. Unfortunately, purpose distracts you from such pious self-examination and improvement in piety because, while the world moves on around you with ample opportunities to do God-pleasing works by faith, you sit and stew in your own egotistical juices as you try to discern what grand design awaits you in the kingdom of God.

The mother will ignore the rearing of her children as she sits in her bedroom praying for insight. The student will disregard his teacher's instructions as he wracks his brain over where God wants him to be. The worker will ignore the poor and needy all around him as he wonders what in the world he has been put on this earth to do. The pastor will skip proper sermon study and preparation in favor of spending hours contemplating whether God wants him to open an new ministry across town. Most tragically, churches will shelve the proclamation of the only Gospel which saves sinners from hell in order to help the above people find answers to their navel-gazing questions. It's all a horrible mistake. The military calls this "paralysis by analysis": you think so much about your actions that you fail to act and it is as if you never even engaged the problem at all.

3. Purpose obscures the Christian doctrines of repentance, hope, and suffering...

All one has to do is read the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes in order to learn that, yes, this life is full of meaningless vapor and pointless striving after ephemeral nonsense. It's a real problem that is a natural consequence of man's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. This world is a pretty horrible and futile place and all of creation groans in anticipation of being destroyed and made anew. Because the law is written on man's hearts, everyone (Christian and pagan alike) is consciously aware of this threat of pointlessness. The entire field of philosophy is consumed with man's attempt to answer these fundamental questions: "Why are we here? What are we doing? How do I achieve meaning?"

Christ came to earth and preached the answer to these questions: "Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!" (The kingdom of course being Christ himself.) Later, his own apostles preached the same answer: "Repent and be baptised everyone of you for the forgiveness of your sins" and "Repent and believe the Gospel." The holy spirit revealed this same answer to Martin Luther when he wrote: "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite ("do penance" or "repent"), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance."

Here we see the true "purpose" of fallen man in this world in view of the Theology of the Cross. Do you not know what you should be doing? Look to Christ hanging on the cross. Repent and believe the Gospel. The devil encourages us to obsess over the question rather than looking to the answer and the quest for purpose that is being carried out by the church is a tool whereby many well-meaning believers are directed away from the cross so that they can curve in on themselves. This is where the rubber meets the road in the ages-old battle between the Theology of the Cross and the Theology of Glory. Is this all about the redemption won for you and all mankind on the cross by Christ? ...or is this about you and what you need to be doing with the 80 or so years you may (or may not) have on this earth.

We live in a fallen world. Corrupted and fallen from the original goodness that it once possessed at its divine creation, the child of God will always feel out of place here. He will always feel as though he (along with the rest of the world) is falling short of expectations. This place will always feel futile, sinful, and devoid of eternal meaning. You will always feel imperfect, partially blind, and wayward as you journey through a world that is not your true home. The Christian church tells people truthfully that these feelings of ache and homesickness are valid and good.

Do you feel like you are not living up to God's will? Of course! It's because you aren't! Do you feel like you do not pray as you ought? Of course! It's because you aren't! Do you feel rejected? Of course! As a Christian you will face rejection! These identifications and feelings of heartache are the law of God working in your own heart as it faces the assaults of your sinful flesh, this sinful world, and that liar: the devil. The living faith within you that clings to the perfect will of God and at least partially recognizes how the world should be but isn't can clearly see that these things are not taking place around and within you. It's easy to see how the world is failing.

But "purpose" does not say these things because legalism tells only a half truth. Instead of telling you the truth about your situation and pointing you to Jesus, purpose makes the sufferings and crosses that Christ Himself said that we will bear into a flaw in your faith and an oversight in your practice. Purpose peddlers do not speak as Paul does who tells his sheep things like:

"Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I myself with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."


"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account."

Instead, purpose looks at your suffering and tells you that you are just not being Christian enough. Purpose does not point you to the only true hope which rests beyond the grave in a glorious resurrection. Instead, purpose mangles law and gospel by telling you to get to work because Christians shouldn't feel this way after all that Jesus has done for them. If you feel out of place and inadequate, the real problem is not your fallen condition: the real problem, in the sophists' estimation, is that you are living outside of God's true plan for your life. Once you discover and live your purpose, these feelings will subside.

I'm here to tell you that they will never go away this side of glory. Purpose is selling you a bill of goods. Your hope is not in yourself and what you could be doing. Your hope is in Christ and what He has done, what He continues to do, and what He will do on the Last Day. You feel this way because you are a fallen creature who is sinning and living in a fallen world filled with sinners. Your answer is not "try harder and conform better to God's unknowable will".

Your answer is "Repent and believe the Gospel."

4. Purpose presents a shallow do-it-yourself message of life change to unbelievers that is not evangelism in any true sense.

Since the completely erroneous teachings about repentance, hope, and suffering are believed by many American Christians, this is the "evangel" that they take to the lost. They preach the "changed life through better living that makes you feel better" because that is the message which has been given to them. The seed they cast falls on hard ground and in the weeds because it appeals to man's sinful need for autonomy and earning salvation rather than delivering the Holy Spirit through the clearly preached Word of God. It is not "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" but is a pseudogospel of Oprah do-goodism and sentimentality. It is a message that does not save. It makes people feel good... but the feeling does not last because the human invention of purpose, like all things under the sun, is vanity and a meaningless chasing after the wind.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

In Christ, "Taps" is not the Final Trumpet

Today a loving family, the Holy Christian Church, the United States Army, and a grateful nation laid Private First Class Rob Roy Certain to rest who passed away at the age of 83. I had the profound privilege of folding the American Flag for his funeral as part of the Military Funeral Honor Guard which Mr. Certain had purchased decades ago through blood and sweat during the Korean War. He was a combat veteran and, based on the medals displayed at his funeral, a three time Bronze Star recipient.

In my short Army career thus far, I have probably conducted 60-70 such funerals. While individual military honors funerals vary greatly on many peripheral matters, there are three things that are constant: The ceremonial folding of an American Flag, the presentation of that flag to a surviving loved one, and--before those things--there is the playing of a short horn piece known nearly to the whole nation as "Taps".

As with most military customs, it is not entirely clear how this piece came to be played at funerals though most apocryphal accounts place its use in funerals during Civil War at the latest. Regardless of it's origins, "Taps" is played at military funerals. This event with this song has been played thousands of times at actual funerals and has been immortalized in so many film recreations of the ceremony that the American psyche cannot help but equate "Taps" with "Death".

This connection between "Taps" and "Death" is so strong in the collective memory of American citizens, that the start of "Taps" is usually when the sobbing and wails of mourners greatly increase in volume and intensity. They have held their composure for the entire service in relative silence with little more than red eyes and a few silent tears... ...but, simply at the first few notes of this horn, the entire audience tends to break down. It is as though this music piece firmly declares to all who hear it "Yes, they really are dead." It is an iconic message that is almost universal in its impact across the nation. Next time you are at a military funeral, pay attention and you'll notice it, too.

But "Taps" is not just the "He's dead, Jim" funeral music as most civilians know it. Military personnel know all to well what its true meaning is because, when living on a military base, they hear it played late into the night... each and every night... like clockwork. Why? Because it is clockwork. In the days before the point where every soldier in camp had reliable watches, radios, alarm clocks, and email, a whole slew of bugle calls were created as part of the larger set of trumpeted commands to broadcast across the entire base what time it is, what is going on, where people should go, and what people should be doing. Where a runner could deliver a message to a few through great effort, a bugler could almost effortlessly deliver a message instantly to the ears of the whole camp. It is just part of a much greater tradition of sounding trumpets to signal messages to masses of people... dating all the way back to all ancient civilizations.

While civilians equate "Taps" with "Death", military personnel know that "Taps" actually means "Lights Out" or "Time to Sleep". That's when it's played and that's what it is for. It's time to sleep. On a military base, you hear taps play across the parade grounds and you know what time it is: It's time to hit the rack. It's that simple; almost mundane in its function. It's use at funerals is secondary to this original purpose and pours out of this utilitarian meaning. "Lights Out".

What a fantastic Christian metaphor! That is what death is for those who die in the faith: a time of sleep and waiting for a new dawn. A trooper in a camp here's "Taps" with relief knowing that the day's work is done and that a new day will break with the sounding of the opposite twin for "Taps". Where "Taps" signals the night, the call of sunrise is known as "Reveille" which is a French word that literally means "Wake Up".

The "Taps" at night is always answered by the new day's "Reveille". And for those who die in the faith of Jesus Christ, their peaceful slumber will be ended at the anouncement of a blessed new day. After the long night, there will be a sounding of a magnificent heavenly trumpet that will loudly declare to the entire world that the new dawn of the Second Coming of Christ is at hand!

"I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

"Death is swallowed up in victory."

"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

-1 Corinthians 15:50-58

So when you are at a military funeral for your Christian brother or sister, contemplate the true meaning of "Taps" and let the music remind you of what I have pointed out here... and the words of Christ:

"The child is not dead but asleep." [Mark 5:39]

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Achilles Heel of Contemporary Worship

As a former contemporary worship guy, I can tell you what the Achilles Heel of Contemporary Worship is. (If I really think about it, there are a whole host of weaknesses to the format, but this is the one that prevents its spread, exposes its folly, and severs its hold on people.)

The Achilles Heel: Contemporary Worship is not about content. In order to emulate the broad-base contemporary music that it is mimicing, it has to be intentionally vague, emotional, existential and subjective.

By applying strong didactic text standards to all songs performed in church (something that no one can openly oppose without sounding anti-discipleship), you remove all of the "really good songs" in the genre. This isn't a cynical trick at all since weak song texts (in praise songs and hymns) have been a major contributor to the rampant Biblical illiteracy in this country. This is what is not understood by Contemporary Worship leaders. They know that music manipulates people, but they do not understand that it teaches things as well... even though every one of them learned their ABCs by singing it as a kid.

Also, when a song teaches false doctrine, bring that individual song up and measure it against God's Word and have it removed. What most people don't realize is that "no content" and "bad content" is the overwhelming majority of contemporary worship song texts. This puts a praise band up against a tough challenge because the few doctrine-rich praise songs that remain are further widdled down by what is easy enough to play and what songs transition well into each other. In order to conform to Lutheran doctrinal standards, you pretty much end up with a couple old praise songs from the 1950s - 1980s (most already in the LSB) and about five songs from Chris Tomlin.

To further thin the herd, all songs must have been composed by Christians or individuals whose orthodoxy is not in dispute. This sounds odd, but when you consider how many Oneness Pentecostals and anti-trinitarians are in the Praise Band scene, you can cut out some popular--even award winning--artists (Phillips, Craig & Dean and The Katinas are modalists for example.)

In the final talley, the number of acceptable songs that eventually survive the cut is so small that a praise band just can't perform week after week with such a limited repertoire. In order to fill its sets without being too repetitive, it would have to serve the congregation a set that would contain the religious musical equivelant of garbage.

So instead of cutting down a dead tree that people love for some odd reason, you agree to prune off the dead branches one by one. By the time you are finished, you have virtually no tree left and everyone says, "Okay... just cut it down... we see your point." At the worst, you end up with a blended service where one or two contemporary songs get played or hymns are played with contemporary flavoring.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Witnessing (Part 2) - Turning a Mouse into an Elephant

Towards the end of my favorite book that seeks to analyze the War on Terrorism so far (a book that I recommend to anyone who wants to actually learn something meaningful and academic about the subject of counter-terrorism), Dr. Kilcullen talks about "turning a mouse into an elephant". In the context of terrorism, this means turning a group that is globally insignificant and marginalized (like Al Qaeda) into something that seems far more powerful and dangerous than it actually is simply by the extreme force of your response to it. After all, if you are really devoting so much time and effort to destroy something, it has to be a great threat to humanity at large, right? Well what if you are over-reacting? What if you are making a mouse look like a elephant simply by the way you frame the discussion?

This is what the church has done to witnessing. It has turned what is essentially a tiny squeaky mouse that the smallest child can defeat and made it out to be a huge, rampaging bull elephant in the minds of many Christians. Even the bravest among us are leery about facing a charging elephant. But what if witnessing is really the mouse that the Bible describes it as?

We have taken all kinds of thorny subjects like financial issues, church membership numbers, community involvement, cultural issues, synodical politics, and even sanctification only to lump them under the one big banner of "missions" so that many individuals feel the weight of all these issues on their shoulders when they talk to their cousin about why Jesus was hanging on the cross. Even the term "evangelism" is so misunderstood that it defines the act of bearing witness to the gospel as something that no Christian feels qualified to do. Let's break it down:

Evangel (n): 1. The Christian Gospel. 2. Good News.

-ism (suffix): 1. the act, process, or characteristic of the root word (ex: patriotism is the act or characteristic of being a patriot). 2. the condition of or property of the root word (ex: barbarianism is a property of a barbarian). 3. Adherence to a system of principles or beliefs. (ex: Buddhism is the system of belief for a Buddhist.)

Evangelism: 1. the act of the good news. 2. the property of the good news. 3. Adherence to belief in the good news.

So at least the modern evangelicals come by the horrible phrases of "being the gospel" and "doing the gospel" honestly. It is practically written in the English term so often used for reaching lost people. Historically, the term has not been understood as a legalistic human undertaking, but the modern church treats this as the work of men (thank you revivalism!). This is where the mouse becomes an elephant. It becomes something I'm supposed to do or become because I am a Christian and I can't let God down... I can't allow people to slip into hell...

I'm told that time is short and hell is hot. I'm told that I don't want to face the people that I failed to witness to on the Last Day only to have them ask, "Why didn't you tell me?!?" as they are flung into hell. (And, yes, I heard that second one several times as a kid from the pulpit during sermons! One time it was described as a criss-cross of escalators like at the mall where I was going up to heaven and I met a friend of mine that I never witnessed to on his way going down.)

But is that really what the Bible teaches? What if the Bible doesn't frame witnessing in these "elephant" terms but in "mouse" terms? What if the church, as an institution, is so busy legalistically driving people to be better evangelists that it fails to paint the act of witnessing as the simple act that it really is? Why has the church decided that the way to solve the fear of witnessing is to present it as a do-or-die mission of such urgency that no one would ever want to even think about it?

Matthew 28:18-20: "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'"

Did you see what Jesus said there? Ignore the middle part that the church beats everyone over the head with. Right there at the start and the end of the "Great Commission" Jesus takes on all of the elephant tasks that we concern ourselves with. Christ has all authority. Christ is with us always. Our "mouse" tasks in the middle there are surrounded by Christ, His work, and His promises. If anything, that middle part describes how we will be used as His instruments. Do you really think that our incompetence can impede the will of God? The witnessing issue is so charged with guilt-trips that many people who have extreme anxiety about witnessing fear that this is exactly what is happening. God wants to save people but can't because we are failing Him... and our neighbors. No wonder people are hiding from evangelism! And yet, within this envelope of divine care, Scripture clearly shows that we are free to declare the word, baptize, and make disciples. We are shown that this authority that we burden ourselves has been given to CHRIST. Why do we make this seem harder than it really is?

1 Corinthians 3:5-7: "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."

Just ask around and you will observe an inferiority complex within the Christian community regarding giving public testimony. Some of this is good ole honest stage fright which is understandable because religion can be a contentious thing. Most of it is an overwhelming sense of inadequacy to the task. The mistake many leaders make is that they confuse these feelings of inferiority and unpreparedness with timidity. Not understanding the problem, they try to build up enough courage and confidence in the hearts their people to take on that elephant!

The inferiority will not be overcome. Why? Because it's true! We are all unworthy sinners who are not even worthy of being saved ourselves let alone having the privilege of sharing the good news of salvation with others. You don't overcome that with a few powerpoint slides and some good motivational speeches. Instead you embrace it!

You do as Paul did again and again and point out everyone's inadequacy and listen to the collective sigh of relief in the room. Rather than despair, people will be free to admit their own fears and reservations regarding witnessing in an environment free of judgement and condemnation. In my own experience, being shown that everyone is inadequate to the task is met with a universal, "Oh, thank God! I thought it was just me!" Then you take that elephant and reduce it down to a mouse by pointing out that "evangelism" is not really our work, but God's! If you frame witnessing properly, people will see it for the mouse that it is... a mouse that is much less terrible than the elephant that they are used to.

The unpreparedness should not be ignored and it can't be addressed with a few workshops and some pre-made religious tracts. This problem is a diagnosis of the poor job the church is doing in training its people. If you really get to the heart of it, most people don't witness because they don't feel confident in the subject matter. They don't know the issues well enough and they don't trust themselves to do a good job. This is made worse by directing people to talk about their own personal testimonies. Personal testimonies look good on paper because they are essentially immune to apologetic arguments. They are subjective so they cannot be argued and people already have their own histories memorized. How can I tell you that God didn't do something subjective to you when it happened in your life?

...but this misunderstands the critical weaknesses of personal testimonies:

1. Some people don't have them. Some people have never had anything impressive happen to them. They have been blessed with quiet lives and have nothing to share that would emotionally appeal to anyone. In our "personal testimony" culture, they wrongly assume that have no witness and so... they don't witness.

2. While it is impossible to debate a personal experience it is still just a personal experience. Your personal experience has no sway over me. So what if Jesus rescued you from a life of drugs and prostitution? I hate to be insensitive, but what does that have to do with me? Even if I have a similar situation, does that mean that I am supposed to be impressed by this Jesus?

3. Which leads into our next problem: personal experiences can be duplicated by non-Christian sources. Jesus got you off of drugs? Well, rehab did it for me and I got to stay a hedonistic pagan. Jesus fixed your family? Well, I went to this family counsellor and my family is doing fine? Jesus got your finances in order? Well, I did that myself with a little self discipline and Quicken on my PC.

4. Which leads into our next problem: personal experiences are not indicative of future results. Jesus got you off of drugs? Well, I can show you tons of Christian who still struggle with that. Does that mean that Jesus loves them less than you? Jesus fixed your family? Well, I can show you tons of broken families and a huge divorce rate within the church. Your personal testimony could prove insulting to those you witness too. This isn't just because your success may actually be the exception rather than the norm, but it is inherently dishonest. After all, you are implying that Jesus could do the same good things for the person you are witnessing to... which does not always happen... but no one ever says that during witnessing. It's a bait-n-switch. A con. A scam.

5. Every Christian is still a sinner. The problem with a personal experience is that your experience has to live up to the hype of your pitch. If you are going to tell people that Jesus got you off of drugs, what happens to your witness when you stumble and use drugs again? If you talk about how Jesus fixed your family, what happens when that affair you had becomes public knowledge? ...this is a major reason why people don't witness. They are afraid of letting Christ down in the eyes of the lost. Why? Because we tell Christians that they are supposed to live better than other people. All this law talk only creates two groups of people: secure hypocrites and sinners full of despair. It's no wonder that modern evangelism is largely made up of these two groups.

6. Most importantly, a personal experience is about you. Are we talking about you and what has happened to you or are we talking about Christ and the work that He did on the cross? The more you talk about yourself the less you will actually talk about Jesus.

So let's turn this elephant back into a mouse. Do you want to witness? Just tell people about Jesus and what the Bible says He has done for sinners on the cross. Share the small catechism and the creeds with people. When someone misrepresents the Christian faith or quotes the Bible out of context, be bold and correct the record. Be open and honest. Be willing to talk about this important part of your life with others to the best of your ability knowing that the Holy Spirit will guide you and that Christ is with you always. All of the hard work has been done and is being done by Christ and He has given you the privilege of sharing this great news with others. You don't have to do anything but bear witness about Jesus and His saving work... and all a witness has to do is tell people the truth about what happened. All you are doing is planting and watering... those are almost menial tasks when you get down to it. The growth? That's not your job.

Witnessing - Setting Our People up for Failure

Has someone ever "set you up for failure"? This is when they train you or prepare you in a particular task... but fail to give you a complete picture with all of the information that you need in order to be successful. It can also happen when you are properly trained, but you are sent into a no win situation where your efforts are totally wasted. In either case, you walk right into the task so unprepared that you are almost doomed from the very start.

In retrospect, you can look back and see that the fault did not lie with your effort but with the one who sent you on this foolish mission. In my experience, church evangelism programs (with very rare exceptions) do this horrible deed almost better than anyone. It's no wonder then that well-meaning Christians hate the idea of sharing the faith and live in constant anxiety about it. This is why they will tell 40 people about the great new pizza place that just opened up in town, but choke and sputter at the thought of talking about how Jesus delivers sinners from eternal damnation. I'm here to tell you that it is not their fault. This is just a classic case of "live and let live".

In World War I, the generals charged with overseeing and conducting the war ran across a problem that became known as "live and let live". The idea of trench warfare had proven itself to be so futile and abhorrent to the trench fighters on both sides that a spontaneous spirit of co-operative non-aggression became rampant. In simple terms, everyone got it in their heads that there was no reason to climb out of a trench and die when one could just sit in a trench and do nothing. We live. They live. Everybody wins.

In many ways, this was the inevitable response of bad command decisions. The tactical blunders of WWI that pitted ancient military tactics against modern weaponry forced both sides into a protracted, horrible war of unending static misery. This analogy fits well with modern evangelism because--if you ask enough individual Christians--you will find many who describe witnessing in ways that are shockingly similar to a WWI trooper getting up out of the safety of his trench and running across the bomb-scarred no-man's land only to gain a few feet of actual territory for his side at best or get mowed down by raking machine-gun fire at worst. Is this what Our Lord's Great Commission is about? Really?

The initial response to "live and let live" was equally foolish and counter-productive. Generals in the rear instinctively accused their soldiers of cowardice and dereliction of duty. This could not have been further from the truth in most cases. The truth is that every man has his limits and those limits are reached far quicker when there is no clear objective or hope. Based on this false assumption, the planers and decision makers addressed the problem in the only way they knew how: through ineffective and institutional means. Propaganda and motivational training was ramped up. Several countries turned to harsh treatment, intimidation, and guilt to try to push the Soldiers back into line. Raids and assaults against the enemy were institutionally planned and carried out in order to keep up the offensive spirit in the ranks and discourage sedentary behavior when there was a perfectly good war to be fought. These measures met with mixed success and never actually got rid of the "live and let live" mentality which survived all the way through the end of the entire war.

It got so bad that the commanders in the trenches (themselves firm advocates of "life and let live") would send detailed false reports back to the rear of attacks against the enemy that never happened. There is a historical account of one British general who sought to deal with this particular problem using an institutional metric (physical evidence) to authenticate his previous metric (the report)... an approach which seems to be the only managerial solution these days! He required that every report of an attack that was sent from the front include a little bit of German barbed wire to prove that the unit had actually gotten out of the trench, crossed no-man's land, and reached the enemy line. It was from this enemy trench that the German wire could be recovered. The general confidently reported that this would help him prove the veracity of the reports he was getting.

...but metrics don't solve all problems. There is another historical account of British troops going out into no-man's land and finding an entire spool of German barbed wire. They took it back to their position in the trench. Each time the frontline troops had to send a false report to the general, they would snip off a piece of their stolen German wire to send it with their reports.

The reports were still false. The attacks still never happened. "Live and let live" was still in place. Only this time, the general's own solution had blinded him to the continued existence of the problem and further obscured the actual cause: the failure of the war itself to create a climate where individual Soldiers could actually win and survive.

I submit that the Christian church in America, as an institution, is setting Christians up for failure in a very similar way when it comes to witnessing to the lost. It is clear that the bad tactics and training that we are receiving in the trenches are not working. As the mission field becomes increasingly static and individual congregations begin digging trenches, the institutional leadership from all kinds of denominations and sects is turning to the only thing that it understands: propaganda, guilt, increasingly outdated advertising strategies stolen from secular business, and (of course) unverifiable metrics. "Go cut off some some barbed wire for me as proof of the execution of your duties and send it in with your report."

In response, the "generals" at the institutional level are increasingly coming into contact with the Christian version of "live and let live" which is further exacerbated by a culture that encourages everyone to just stay out of people's personal business. The zeal of the individual witness is draining and everyone can see the Christian soldiers just sitting in their trenches. People feel as though they have reached their limits. They have no hope of success. They know that what they are being told to do and how they are trained to do it just does not work in the real world. They sit in their trench and "live and let live". They send less and less money back to the rear to support a tactical engagement that they no longer believe in for a spiritual war that they honestly just don't want to be a part of anymore. They are tired. They just want to go back to "normal"... which they define as a life which does not involve slogging it out in this horrible trench with this horrible burden of witnessing.

What is the solution? It is certainly not collecting barbed wire or pushing exhausted troopers even further beyond their breaking point. The church as a whole needs to go down to the trenches and identify the source of the problem. The policy of "live and let live" is a response to being "set up for failure". Our training is wrong. Our tactics are wrong. Our metrics are wrong. We are metaphorically sending individual Christians out to the mission field to die and we don't want to admit that problem lies with the institutional paradigm that the church has bought into.

We need to go back to the drawing board. We need to evaluate these problem areas of training and tactics. We need a new approach--a soldier centric approach--that equips individual Christians with proper apologetic and proclamation tools and points them in the right direction: the places where they can do the most good and observe the most success for their effort.

Going back to my pizza example at the start of this long diatribe, the pizza place has no institutional system for setting up its customers as witnesses and yet the word of mouth takes care of itself. Why? Because no one needs to be exhorted to tell their friends about a place to get a good bite to eat. It's just common sense. Why doesn't the gospel translate to the same "good advice" that you tell a friend about because you care about them? There are a whole host of reasons, but chief on the list is the fact that the church has psyched Christians out by making witnessing out to be some daunting chore instead of a simple, clear, and blessed message of "good news" which is a Christian's privelage to joyfully share with others in the freedom of the gospel and not from the threats and demands of the law. In over thinking the problem, we have approached the issue from the wrong direction with the wrong set of presuppositions for so long that whatever witnessing does take place in the public square is happening in spite of our efforts rather than because of them.

You can be sure that I am going to be thinking about this topic through the Epiphany season. Expect more posts on that analyze various aspects of this problem... a problem that I, myself, have been a victim of for far too long.