Celebrating Diversity: Why “Denomination” is not a bad word.

Have you ever stepped back and thought about just how many different types of Protestant Christian church denominations there are?   Most all of them stem off of the 6 major denominational heads: Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, (Reformed) Presbyterian, and Pentecostal.  Then if you break these denominational heads down into sub-groups, you will find some 30,000 different types of Protestant churches.  For example, take the Baptist denomination.  Within that denominational head you have Southern Baptist, Reformed Baptist, General Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Free Will Baptist . . . need  I go on?   If we are all supposed to be one, it does not seem like having all of this diversity can be a good thing.  There is no doubt that there are some serious doctrinal differences between these groups.  Some denominational groups would say that other entire denominational groups are apostate due to certain views that they hold.  I am not here to argue about doctrinal differences (although they matter greatly), but rather, I want to show that for true believers this diversity can actually be a good thing for the Kingdom of God.

We Are All Actually One:

                It is important to realize that all who have called on the named of the Lord by faith are all part of the same “denomination.”  This denomination is “The Church” (since we are separated from the rest of the world).  Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Contrary to what our Catholic neighbors say, Peter is not the centerpiece to this story . . . Jesus is.   The Lord has promised that He will build His church, and no one will stop that.  This means that all who have been redeemed are a part of one family . . . the family of God.  We do not all live under the same roof, but we do all have the same Father and Spiritual head.  He is the same Shepherd for all true believers whether you are convicted to pitch your tent within the Church of God camp or the Reformed Baptist.  This does not make us all right on those things we disagree on, but if the foundation is correct (salvation being by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) we are all one.

Strength in Division:

                Looking at and working with different denominations over the years, I have seen an interesting trend within the groups.  Each church seems to polarize themselves to one of the different parts of the God-head.  When you think of the Presbyterians, for instance, you might think of a group that is very knowledge based.  They desire to KNOW the scriptures and to search the scriptures above all things.  They are a very educated people in general (again, please note that these are general observations).  They love books.  They tend to polarize themselves toward God the Father.  God the Father was the “master mind” behind all of creation in the God-head.  He is the One who speaks forth.  On the other hand, when you think of most Pentecostal groups you think about their tendency to be more in tune with the Holy Spirit.  They often lean toward the more spiritual things and desire the experience of the Holy Spirit.  When you think of Baptists, at least more modern day ones, you think of their desire for evangelism and trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  As you would guess, they tend to focus mostly on Jesus.  If we are to be well balanced in our walk, we need to have an equal balance of all three parts of the God-head and not always attach ourselves to just one person of the God-head.  When we do that, I think we miss out on the fullness of walking with God.

When you look at the Old Testament and the 12 tribes of Israel, I think we can find a good picture of what different denominations should look like.  The tribes were given specific portions of land.  In general, they always lived within that allotted land plot.  However, when they were getting ready for battle, they would all gather in their groups and march out together (1 Chronicles 27).  I see this as a great picture of what denominations should be today.  There is place for genuine debate within the fellowship of believers.  There are even times when it is wise to disfellowship (although only over matters of clear sin) from each other.  However, for those who are truly unified under the banner of the Kingdom’s cause, we need to be strong and band together when we go out to battle.  The cost is too high not to be joined together for the gospel.  There is strength in diversity (since working that way allows us to reach different types of people), but let us not become too divided that we lose that unified strength.

A Word of Warning:    

We must not let our guard down so much that we allow sin into the camp.  When we do this, it weakens the whole camp.  There is forgiveness for those who are willing to repent, but one who is in open sin must not be allowed to stay there without correction (I Corinthians 5).  As stated before, there is a place for genuine disagreement and debate within the church; however, we as a church can never compromise on issues of clear sin.  We can agree to disagree on secondary issues, but we can never compromise on primary issues of the gospel.  Yes, let’s work together in every area that we can for the sake of the Kingdom.  We do not have to lay aside the things that make us distinctive, but let’s never lose focus on our commission: Go, make disciples, and do it for the glory and honor of God.   Denominations are not a bad thing if understood in the broader context of the Kingdom.  We can celebrate our diversity.  Let’s just make sure when we celebrate, that we are celebrating the Lord first, and not our particular flavor (denomination) of the Church.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

Convenience or Conviction: Why Timeliness is a Godly Characteristic.

Have you ever been around someone who is perpetually late?  I am not talking about someone who runs late every once in a while, but someone who you can depend on to be late almost every time there is a time set for something to happen.  I admit that it is a pet peeve of mine when people are always late, but I believe it is so because of my Christian convictions.  I see being on time as a godly characteristic.  If we are to “be holy as I am holy” and be “conformed into the image of Jesus,” I think we would do well to be conscience of our timeliness.  There are a variety of reasons why I see this to be true, but I want to give you three to think about today.

God is the God of Truth

            Jesus made many statements about truth.  In John 14:6 He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  In John 8:32 He said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  On the flip side, the adversary of Christ and every Christian is Satan.  Satan is called a “liar” and the “father of lies” (John 8:44).  This shows us that he who is not a truth-teller is acting unholy.  A passage that my father repeated to me as a child was James 5:12.  James writes: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”  Being on time is a matter of truth and of keeping one’s word.  As the Bible teaches compressively, the Lord is the Lord of all truth.  The Lord is the Lord of honesty.  If we are being conformed to His image, then our word about timeliness matters.  It matters to God, and thus should matter to you.

God is the God of Time

             Time, and timing, matters to God.  Jesus repeatedly said in His ministry “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4, John 4:23, John 5:28, John 7:6).  Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4, “In the fullness of time He came.”  Even when Mary and Martha thought Jesus was late because of their brother’s death, He was still on time (John 11).  God is a God or precision.  He is sovereign and providential and has all things planned to the exact second.  R.C. Sproul says, “There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.”  Because God is sovereign, He is always on time, even if we don’t see it that way.  If God is always on time, we too should strive for this.         

God is the God of Love

            Ultimately, the reason I see timeliness as a characteristic of God is because of His selfless love.  While the first and primary reason Christ died was out of obedience in fulfilling His Father’s will, closely tied to it was His sacrifice for His people.  When we are continually late it communicates to others that your time is more important than theirs.  It says that you are more important than others.  Paul writes in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.”  Since Jesus loved us so much, He put our desperate eternal need above His temporary agonizing pain.  In this sense (although we need to be careful taking this thought too far), He put our needs above His own desires.  This is what we do when we make sure that we are on time.  We put others before ourselves.  There is no mistaking that this type of living is a godly quality.

If you struggle to always be on time then I hope that you consider these things in light of your relationship with God.  God is truth, so we need to always be truthful.  God is timely in all that He does . . . as should we be.  God is love.  Being on time is a way of showing our love toward another.  So, if you need to get out of bed 15 minutes early to make sure that you are prompt in your arrival time to work or church, change your alarm clock.  If stopping at the drive-thru is going to make you late for your meeting, consider which is worth more: that cup of coffee, or keeping your word.  Take the words of Solomon in Proverbs 22:1 to heart: “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth . . .”  If you are habitually late, it is affecting your name, and your name is tied to the Lord.  Live up to it.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

Who Do You Love More Anyway, Your Children or Your Spouse?

I have been blessed to become a father to four wonderful children (one girl, followed by three rambunctious boys).  I remember wondering when my wife got pregnant with our second child if I would be able to love him as much as my first.  A very wise person told me once that love does not divide, but multiplies.  After having my fourth child just months ago, I can testify that this adage most definitely rings true.  I have had the privilege of working with youth and their families for more than a decade now, and in that time I have noticed a disturbing trend that I don’t think most parents see as that troublesome.  This trend, I believe, is a tool that is used be “the deceiver.” This trend is putting the love for your children above the love you have for your spouse.  I have seen it more times than I can count.  It seems like a reasonable thing: to love your children more than anything else on earth.  It is a very good thing to love our children.  They need our love, and they need to be shown our love.  However, far too many parents make near idols of their children, leaving their spouse in the distance.  This is not wise, healthy, or biblical.  Yes, you are commanded to train and love your children (Ephesians 6:4, Proverbs 29:15, the book of Proverbs), but one of the best ways to love your children well is to love your spouse well . . . even more than your own children.

Here are two reasons why I see this is true . . .

You Made a Covenant With Your Spouse, Not Your Children

In the 5th chapter of Ephesians you read about the husband and wife relationship.  Verse 25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  This is a huge statement when you start to understand the ramification and practical application of it.  One of the major reasons for Christ coming to earth was to redeem and rescue His bride from the punishment she so justly deserved.  Jesus loves His bride above all others on earth.  This is supposed to be true of all husbands as well.  When you made a covenant with each other in marriage, and joined yourselves together, you then became one flesh (Ephesians 5:31).  You became united.  This is a special relationship that you only ever enter into with one person (until death, or a biblical divorce happens).  This is a covenant that is made with your spouse, not your children.

You Will Live With Your Spouse Forever, Your Children Only Temporarily

            On your wedding day you most likely said something in your vows to this effect: “Till death do us part.”  My wife and I have made it a priority to try to go on at least one date a month to help continue to foster a great relationship together.  I have heard so many parents say that they have not gone on a date alone since they had kids.  One of the things that worries me about this is that after you spend 18-20 years pouring into your children (which you should), are you even going to know your spouse if you do not continue to grow your relationship together?  God has given each parent a great responsibility in raising their children, but one day they too will “leave and cleave,” Lord willing.  You will always have a certain responsibility toward your children, as they do to you, but the relationship you have to your spouse never changes or goes away.  By God’s design you will, or should, live with your spouse until death separates you.  However, you only have a temporary time with your children.  In one way, our children are only ours to borrow, whereas our spouse we have full ownership of (I Corinthians 7:4).

Children are a blessing.  Children are a gift from God.  We are to love them.  We are to train them.  We are to thank God for them.  However, they should never consistently come before your spouse.  Marriage, not parenthood, is a picture of Christ and the Church.  Marriage is a life-long covenant by design.  While parenthood is life-long as well, the meat of it is only brief.  For those of us who still have children in our home, let’s be sure that we are spending much time in developing our relationship with our spouse and not just our children.  Let’s be sure that when our children leave our home, we still have a thriving marriage with our spouse.  Let’s make sure that when we think through these things we think with our Bible open, and not just our hearts, which so easily can lead us astray.  Love your children well . . . but love your spouse even more.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

A Good Beat . . . Bad Lyrics: Why Theology Matters in Music

Have you ever been riding down the road scanning through the radio and you happen upon a song that you have not heard in 10 or 15 years?  If you are anything like me, (or most people, I assume) the lyrics that you have not sung in over a decade somehow find their way, almost without error, to the tip of your tongue.  It is amazing how we can store that type of information in our minds for such a long period of time, when at other times it is hard to even bring to mind a single verse of scripture that we have been trying to memorize.  Recently I had the privilege of attending a conference in Douglasville, Georgia, called G3.  One of the preachers there, Dr. Steve Lawson, told a story where John and Charles Wesley were arguing over who would be the preacher and who would be the hymn writer of their movement.  After arguing back and forth for a while Charles finally relented and told his brother John that he could be the preacher, but said in 100 years more people would remember his hymns and be more shaped by his words than John’s preaching.  These words, I believe, most certainly came true.

Music matters to God.  If you are much of a student of God’s word it would not take you long to see this as true.  The longest book in the Bible (Psalms) is mostly dedicated to written songs about Him.  Many instruments are listed in scripture.  There is singing in heaven.  Music matters to God.   If this is true, I think it would be wise of us to try to be more discerning in the music that we sing.  Today, you can find literally any type of genre of music that has been “Christianized.”  We have Christian Hip-Hop, Rock, Country, and even Hard-core.  This blog in no way is trying to single out a genre of music, but to try to bring to mind what matters most to God in the music.  I have heard so many “good beats” in Christian music that is moving by themselves, but when you add the watered down (sometimes  heretical) lyrics to that song, it just make me shake my head in disbelief.

Music matters to God . . . and so does the theology in it.  If a song has bad theology, it does not matter how good the music is that goes along with it.  If the words do not accurately describe the Lord and His word, I believe it would be wise for us to stay away from singing these types of songs in corporate worship.

There are three reasons why I believe theology matters in music and why I believe we should have good discernment in the songs that we sing in our corporate services (or even at home for that matter).

Music is for the Lord

                God ordained music to be played and sung for His glory.  “Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious” (Ps. 66:2). “Sing aloud to God our strength” (Ps. 81:1). “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1).  He gave many different people, from kings, to shepherds, to priests the ability to sing, play musical instruments, and write songs of worship and praise to Him.  The distinguishing factor in almost every song recorded in scripture is that it focuses on the Lord, rather than man.  God is the hero worthy of praise and worship.  Godly music is to focus on Him, and not us.   This is why good theology is so important in songs.  If it is not about Him, it is not worth singing in church.

Music is for the Church

                The primary reason for music is to glorify God (as is every aspect of life, actually), but he also gives it as a gift to the church as a way to express our praise, thanksgiving, and adoration to Him.  The first thing the Israelites did when they came out from the Red Sea was to sing a song of praise to the Lord (Exodus 15).  Paul instructs us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in Ephesians 5:19.  It seems that godly music should be a part of our daily life.  The early church, when they gathered, would almost always sing to the Lord.  The church has been worshiping and praising the Lord for thousands of years.  It is a gift, but it is also a command.  If we are commanded to do so, I believe it is imperative that we do so “in Spirit and in Truth.”  That means that our heart needs to be right before the Lord to be singing to Him; but it also means that our words need to be accurately portraying who He is, and what He has done.  Taking your focus off of him and putting it on you (or us) is dangerous, and not honoring.

Music Teaches Us

                One of the reasons the church has written songs throughout the years is to help teach biblical truths.  When something is put to music or rhyme it is often easier to remember.  The truth is, a lot of people get their theology from the music that they sing.  When a song gets stuck in your head, the words can easily come up at any moment.  If you get your theology from a county song you might believe that when you die you will become an angel or that when you die everyone goes to heaven (even if they lived a life full of sin like drunkenness and continual one-night stands).  These types of songs may be entertaining to some, but the reality is that many buy into their theology without ever looking into the truth of the Word.  Music teaches us because it is an easy way to remember large amounts of words in a coherent consecutive way.  Knowing this to be true, would it not be wise to make sure that the songs we are singing line up completely with scripture?  This is why, again, theology matters in music.

Music is a wonderful gift from God.  It moves us, shapes us, and teaches us about life.  So, if you are preparing music for your service next Sunday, or in your home for family worship, or just scanning the radio in your car, be sure to think about the words that are being sung.  Are they glorifying to God?  Are they making much of God?  Are they putting Him at the forefront of the story…or someone else?  There is certainly a place for love songs, and simply just fun songs about life, but when we gather to worship the Lord . . . we need to make sure we are truly worshiping in Spirit and IN TRUTH.  This is why theology in music matters.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Student Minister Adam B. Burrell