Canon_Logo_350_tcm13-959888“Pastor, in your message this past week, you mentioned the word canon pertaining to the Scriptures.  I have heard the term but really don’t know what it means…in fact, I really don’t know how the Bible came about.  Can you bring some clarity?  Thanks.”  –Joe Church Member

Dear Joe—Great question!  Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes forget to clarify our terms and often assume we all know what we are talking about—especially with Bible terms. Your question about Canon is perfect for this issue of The Source (our church E-news Letter).

We know our current Bible consists of 66 books—39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament.  By the time of Jesus the Old Testament (the Torah) was pretty much intact and accepted as a whole. The addition of the New Testament to the Christian Bible is a little more complicated and took the next few centuries to solidify. Here is what happened.

First, the word canon means measuring stick or standard of straightness. In the first few centuries after Jesus there were many writings circulating and many cults and heretical groups beginning to organize themselves and promote their teaching (i.e. Gnostics and Marcion). Some intermingled with Christianity, others were an affront to the faith. Several of these rival groups were collecting their own “canon” of sort and some were using a shorter version of Christian writings than our current New Testament. Thus, there was a need for the church to discern the canon for the Christian Church to preserve the teaching of the church and protect itself from false teaching (and teachers).

How then where early church leaders to select which Bible books were in and which were out? Not an easy task for the church. The early church was not surprised that there were many variations and writings circulating through the churches. Every church location had a unique context and needs which impacted the writings (and writers) they emphasized. Secondly, the church did not rush into canon development. In the second century they began collecting Christian writings and narrowing them as they discovered which books met the following criteria (the tests for canonicity):

  • Consistency with the “message” of Jesus sticking with the tenor and style (not fables and outlandish stories).
  • Apostolicity—Was it written by the Apostles? If an Apostle wrote it, it was almost certainly “in.”
  • Catholicity—is the letter found throughout the Christian church in its various places. In other words, an isolated letter in one church was weighted different than a letter read by many churches in multiple locations.

In 367 AD, the final collection of New Testament books were agreed upon and make up (with the Old Testament) the Bible we have now. It is interesting that the New Testament books were written in the mid-late first century, but the process for discovering the canon took about 200 years.  Communication was slower and the church allowed the discovery process to unfold rather than rush and react to the culture around it. I use the term discover as that very much was the goal. Using the above criteria, writings were carefully considered in light of the whole of Scripture and the testimony and teachings of the original Apostles (whom Jesus commissioned to build the church). All this to say is that we have confidence in the Bible we read.

There you have it…the canon.  Hopefully this brief summary will not only answer your own questions, but enable you to share your insights with others who may ask you about the Bible.

(This blog was written by Northern Seminary student Eric Camfield for Church History 301.)

churchbulliesAs one training for the pastoral ministry, perhaps it is best you know now, rather than later, that the congregation you serve will most-likely include a bully or two – person, even Christ-follower, who insists that he or she approve, even initiate most every change in the church. When the church moves in a direction against this person’s will, they turn into a bully.

A church bully is just as likely to be a man as a woman, to be young as old, to be a pastor or a lay person. The common thread to every person who bullies is the conviction that nothing take place in the church without his or her approval. Why? Because, as Eddie Hammett notes, “its all about them, their values, their preferences, and their comfort.” (See “Bullying in the Church” at www.thecolumbiapartnership.org)

Church Bullies practice both active and passive bullying. As active bullies, they gossip, slander, and sow discord (II Corinthians 12:20). They repeatedly make threats and verbally attack individuals – usually the pastor. As passive bullies, they reduce their involvement in the church. Their favorite passive aggressive behavior action is to stop giving money to the ministry of the local church. When bullying the pastor, they may even choose to attend services but read the church newsletter or a book (such as the Bible) during the pastor’s sermon.

Church bullies are “growing across the country as churches struggle with decline in numbers—attendance, membership, participation, impact, finances and loyalty issues. So often church bullies surface and target the pastor and staff, blaming and often falsely accusing their leaders for the decline in their church’s metrics or status.” Eddie Hammett, “Bullying in the Church”

How should you respond to bullies?

First, acknowledge their presence. Very few congregations are without bullies and, furthermore, there is a bully inside nearly every person.

Second, discern the Spirit. When pushed back by individuals ask, “Is this behavior motivated by the Holy Spirit or by something else?” Or, “Is this person contributing to our decision making process (perhaps even prophetic) or trying to bully us?”

Third, hold bullies accountable for their actions and attitudes. With those in spiritual leadership, practice church discipline – real hands-on discipleship. This will most likely involve partnering with Christian therapists who may help individuals understand the motives behind their behaviors.

Fourth, resist the temptation to demonize bullies. My hunch is that some bullies may not be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, but that is not for me to judge. I would like to hope that most church bullies are devoted Christ-followers who, like all Christ-followers, have a blind spot or two in their walk with the Lord. Their particular blind spot influences how they respond to change in the church.

Fifth, don’t be a bully. Mammett writes, “I acknowledge too there are clergy bullies out there who are driven by personal preferences, comfort zones, and often seek to force the church into molds or styles they are professionally more comfortable with rather than contextualizing ministry and facing their own learning curves and challenges.” I concur for I have been a church bully. For that I ask forgiveness from the Lord and His bride.

imagesThere may come a time in the life of your congregation when you ask “Shall we continue running the race or shall we finish the race?” Shall we search new ways or give up (Ecclesiastes 3:6)? Or, as Kenny Rodgers would ask, “Shall we hold ‘em or fold ‘em?”

Those are not easy questions to answer. On one hand, we worship a Triune God who can do more than we could ever ask or imagine. If God so desires, he can even place new life in the womb of an aging bride and make dry bones breath. Hence, we are never without hope for all that matters in our lives. On the other hand, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). There is a time to run the race and finish the race – for both individuals and congregations.

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“Although the word discernment is widely in use today, spiritual discernment remains obscure, mysterious, and even unknown to many people, despite the fact that it is an essential and historic practice of the Christian life. In a nutshell, authentic spiritual discernment is both an individual and a collective habit and practice of prayerfully coming to spiritual insight…. People engage in spiritual discernment not to argue for a desire outcome, nor to debate a matter in order to win. We engage in spiritual discernment to prayerfully seek God’s yearning in an important matter.”

Ellen Morseth, “Discerning God’s Calling,” in Ending With Hope: A Resource for Closing Congregations, edited by Beth Ann Gaede (Alban, 2002).

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Yet, how do we know if the Lord would have us “hold ‘em or fold ‘em”? How do we discern the will of God for the future of a congregation? In short, we need but ask the Lord for direction, then wait for his response. We may do so confident that the Lord, in his time, will reveal his will to us, his people. After all, it is God’s responsibility to guide us, to clarify our path, to lead us. We need not pry that information out of the mind of God. We need but be ready to receive it, to trust and obey.

The first step in the process of discernment, however, is the most difficult. It takes place even before we ask the Lord for direction. The discernment process begins when we lay down our preferences for the future. It begins when we pray, “Not my will, but yours, O Lord, be done.” There is no reason to begin a discernment process about any important matter in life until we take that first step. We must die to ourselves if we hope to follow the Lord.

When we translate that principle into practice, we discover that a local congregation may begin – and should only begin – the discernment process when willing to go wherever the Lord leads: to run the race or finish the race, to open the doors or close the doors, “to hold ‘em or fold ‘em”. When that step is taken, we may confidently approach the throne of grace in the name of Jesus Christ, the head of the church, asking Him to lead and guide us.

sittserA good word for us from Gerald Sittser and friends:

We have much to learn but only if we are humble and teachable. Augustine once wrote that the only way to understand something is to love it first, that is to study it with sympathy, patience and appreciation. True understanding requires the courage to surrender ourselves to the subject and let it have its way with us. In his wonderful essay “Meditations in a Toolshed,” C.S. Lewis observed that there are essentially two ways to learn something. We can look at the subject from another – and usually alien – point of view, which gives us ultimate authority over the subject; or we can look along with it, allowing the subject itself to illumine the world for us. Obviously both are legitimate methods of study. Still, I prefer the latter (Water from a Deep Well; Christian Spirituality From Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries, 20).

It was Holy Week 2014 and my “Biblical Theology of Worship” class was scheduled to meet on Maundy Thursday evening. Embarrassed by my lack of foresight and failure to cancel class that evening, I planned a short liturgy for my class, one that included the Lord’s Supper.

The liturgy included five movements: God’s Call to Worship, Our Praise, God’s Grace (The Lord’s Supper), Our Response, and God’s Commission. The liturgy included formed prayers, a season of open prayer, three contemporary songs (one hymn and two songs from the Black Gospel tradition), and a fifty year old ritual for the Lord’s Supper borrowed from the Reformed Church in America.  The students shared in the leadership of the liturgy while I led the singing from a piano.

Word got out about the service and the students from two other classes joined us. It was an incredible experience. We were blessed by the Lord’s Supper. We were blessed by the prayers. We were blessed to gather as a community.

But another blessing came days later. One member of the class was Bishop John Senter (pictured above), founder and senior pastor of Faith Walkers Assembly International (FWAI) in Rockford, IL.  He took the liturgy to his church where, in his estimation, the Lord used it to bless his congregation.

That’s what I call cross-fertilization – the interchange or interaction of different ideas and cultures of a broadening and productive nature. What we see here is the interaction between:

  • The seminary classroom and the sanctuary,
  • My predominantly Euro-American context and Bishop John Senter’s predominantly African American context,
  • The past and the present,
  • Those who prefer formed worship and those who prefer free worship, and
  • The traditional and the contemporary.

Furthermore, our interaction as a class was broadening and productive. It affirmed the sevenfold unity of the church articulated by the apostle Paul: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-5). For that reason alone it was beautiful.

DNAIn a seminary setting we affirm that words have the power to shape reality. Hence, we encourage one another, in and out of the classroom, to practice discernment when selecting words. In a recent conversation, for example, a student wisely questioned the contemporary practice of referring to the church’s presence in the world as “incarnational.” She thought such usage tends to reduce the incarnation of Jesus Christ to something less than mysterious and miraculous. She may be on to something.

While I don’t envision the word “incarnational” disappearing from conversations about the Christian faith, I wish a few other popular phrases would disappear. I refer to phrases lacking biblical and theological precision and, thereby, tend to distort, rather than convey truth. Here are three.

1.      DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)

We read and hear DNA being used with reference to local congregations. Who hasn’t heard someone proclaim that “every congregation has a DNA.”Those who use that phrase compare the culture (behaviors, values, patterns of living) of a local congregation to the human body with its unique and unchangeable genetic code. And herein lies the problem with the phrase: the implication that a congregation’s culture is “unchangeable.” Would the Holy Spirit?

2.      Externally-Focused Church

The phrase offers a corrective to congregations who become preoccupied with their upward orientations or inward orientations and, thereby, neglect their outward orientations. However, if we are an externally-focused church we must then be internally and upwardly out of focus. Is that really a better option to a balanced and healthy three dimensional life?

3.      Life is Worship

It has become a commonplace interpretation of Romans 12:1 to conclude that all of life is worship. Three questions rise from such a conclusion.First, did Paul say that? Or did he compare and contrast Old Testament worship, which included offering dead animals as sacrifices to the Lord, to New Testament worship, which calls us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices? Is not the central thrust of this text, then, a call to discipleship? An affirmation of Luke 9:23-24? Second, from a theological perspective, is it true? Didn’t Augustine teach us, and the Church confirm, that the essence of life parallels that of our Triune God, which is love? Third, does it make sense?If all of life is worship, worship is, in the end, ubiquitous and meaningless.

Three popular phrases which lack precision and, in the process, distort rather than convey biblical truth. How about we help them disappear from current conversations about the Christian faith? Perhaps you can add others to the list?

BonhoefferWhat is a seminary’s responsibility to local congregations? One possible answer to that question comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer with help from Keith Johnson. 

In the Spring of 2012, the annual Wheaton Theology Conference centered its attention on the thought and ministry of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.Keith Johnson, a professor of theology at Wheaton College (IL), presented a paper entitled “Bonhoeffer and the End of the Christian Academy.” In this paper, Johnson entered a conversation with Bonhoeffer about the purpose of the Christian academy. The article is included in Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture edited by Keith L. Johnson and Timothy Larsen (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

Bonhoeffer, according to Johnson, believed that the Christian academy exists in and for the church in order to help the church exist in and for the world (163). The church needs help in this area because of its tendency to focus on self-preservation, as if that were an end in itself (165). It needs encouragement to embrace the world in confidence that the Jesus Christ has already gone before it.

Johnson includes a couple quotes from Ethics by Bonhoeffer:

In Christ, we are invited to participate in the reality of God and the reality of the world at the same time, the one not without the other. 

The church is not there in order to fight with the world for a piece of its territory, but precisely to testify to the world that it is still the world, namely, the world that is loved and reconciled by God… The church can only defend its own space by fighting, not for space, but for the salvation of the world. 

Johnson adds, “If the church really is the space and the place where Christ proclaims and visibly demonstrates himself as the center of all reality and history, then the church cannot be an end in itself, but rather is must be a community ordered toward an end outside itself. It lives in this way when it follows in line with Christ and adopts the pattern of his life, proclaiming the gospel of the judgment and justification of the cross to the world for the sake of the world’s salvation.”

Of course, writes Johnson, “this task requires discernment: sometimes it means standing over against the world by proclaiming judgment against ways of thinking that run contrary to the gospel; at other times, it involves seeing God’s hands at work in the world in new and unexpected ways. …. The church can live for the world only when it sees the world as it truly is, because only then can it engage the world honestly and faithfully” (166).

And here is where a seminary like Northern finds its place. It is uniquely positioned to equip the church “by modeling what it looks like to discerningly yet honestly embrace the world in its concrete particularity.” We help the church figure out how “to engage the world as it is from the perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (166).

Johnson’s wraps up his paper with these words:

This is Bonhoeffer’s concrete picture of how those inside the Christian academy live with those outside it within one church. It is a picture of a community with one hand firmly grasped on the world, refusing to let go, while its other hand is firmly grasped by Christ himself, sitting at the right hand of the Father. In this position the church stands between two worlds, its arms stretched out across history, its very life bearing witness to the crucified one for the sake of the world’s salvation (173).​

praying hands

Heavenly Father, creator of the universe, source of perfect love, to You belong all glory and praise. To you belong all things. In your bounteous love you have provided for us. You provide for our needs before we know that we have needs. You love us in our inadequacy. You offer us salvation in our unworthiness. You guide us in our blindness. You care for us when we are abandoned by all others.

Too often I have failed you. I have held back in fear. I have ignored your call. I have run from my obligation to you, the Father. And yet, you continue to love me, forgive me, and call me to You. I will follow You in faith because, while I cannot understand your reasons, I trust in Your unfailing goodness. You know and I follow for you are Holy.

Your unfailing strength and love is the source of all that I do. Allow me to follow in your footsteps. Empower me, through the Spirit, to wash the feet of men.Encourage me when I am abandoned by others.Guide me when I wander from Your loving teaching and example. Strengthen my faith when my faith fails me. 

Guide all ministries in which I am involved. Make me useful to Your purposes. Make me Your tool, the conduit for Your message. Let my actions demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control every day and in every action.Send Your Spirit to me.Make me a beacon for others that they might enjoy the joyful life eternal You offer to all believers. 

I thank You and bless Your holy name, praying in the name of Your Son, sent among men, to live, suffer, die and be resurrected as Your sign that everything, even death, is conquered in your name.Bless and keep me and my endeavors in Your most holy name.  Amen.

Walt Hoshaw is a Master of Divinity student at Northern Seminary, as well as a board member and Sunday school teacher with the Creekwood Church in Rockford, Illinois. Walt thanks Darren Loeppke for his instruction on prayer.

lukewarmAs a veteran follower of Jesus Christ, I have suffered through many seasons of lukewarmness, days and weeks when my passion for God gives way to tepidness. Perhaps you have experienced the same.

Last week God cured me, if but for a season, of that ailment through the writing of a student. Her words rekindled the fire of my soul. Here is a selection from a paper submitted by a Northern student who participated in my pastoral ministry course. Maybe it will do for you what it did for me. The selection begins with these words:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

As I reflect on how I am to live out my calling as a pastor, I can’t help but think of the words of that old Irish hymn. As a lowly servant of Christ, prone to sin, I pray that Christ be my vision. With all that I am, all that I will be, may I live with Christ as my vision.

I am to live as a disciplined woman with strict obedience to God, my Father. The Word of God is my ethical code and the Holy Spirit my moral guide. John writes in the Gospel of John 16:13, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, will guide you into all truth.” Without strict adherence to scriptures and the Holy Spirit, I will fail.

I can say with the deepest conviction and electricity that I am madly in love with God. I am a sinner saved by grace and in desperate need of God’s presence in my life. I long and thirst for God to fill, lead, guide, and direct my life. I long to be a woman who pleases Him and Him alone – He is the one that I live for and the air that I breathe.

seminary church 2Here are excerpts from a blog by Ed Stetzer on four things seminarians gain by not going to a church surrounding the seminary. He suggests, as an alternative, that seminarians get involved in church planting, church revitalization, or other ministry outside of the seminary context. Here are Stetzer’s four reasons seminary students shouldn’t choose a seminary church:

First, seminarians gain an early understanding of real world ministry.

Second, when seminarians go to a seminary church everything looks easier and better than it really is.

Third, since seminary churches attract students a seminarian’s opportunities for ministry are limited.

Fourth, seminarians learn that mission is not something you engage with after graduation.

Nice list, one that highlights another strength of Northern Seminary. Since we don’t have a “seminary church,” our students get involved in ministries outside of the seminary context. This practice better prepares our students for ministry after graduation as well as enriches the churches in our community.

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