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I appreciate the time and effort that individuals spent in not only reading my article (“Standin’ in the Need of Prayer,” October, 2006 issue), but also in contemplating and responding to it. In response to Carmen Griess’ letter in particular (November, 2006 issue), I feel the necessity to address the valid concerns made by the writer, and to also clarify the original intentions of the first article.

First off, the letter stated that “…the writer wants practical instruction from our pastors.” While this assertion may be true, it is not directly addressed in the article. Instead, what’s written states that “Too often…lack of practical application resounds as a common criticism of the PR churches.” While this may seem like a minor concept to differ on, the truth is that instruction  and application don’t mean the same thing and they shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

Instruction is imparted knowledge, or a lesson, while application is the act of putting something to a special use or purpose.1 When it comes to the preaching, our pastors do a fine job of providing instruction, wisdom, and comfort in a doctrinally correct way. But when it comes down to addressing social issues of today’s society and culture and acting on them, often times it seems that our pastors look the other way and pretend that the issues “of the world” don’t really exist behind our church doors.

This may sound like a harsh judgment to call down on pastors, but reality shows us that serious issues exist in the world and in the church, and as a denomination, we are doing little to address them. Reality tells us things like 90% of 8-16 year olds have viewed pornography, usually while “doing their  homework.”2 Reality tells us about the “success” of MySpace, the blog that has over 87 million account users, adds approximately 270,000 users every day, and draws minors as 25% of its users.3 Reality tells us about the latest fads, including the one among teenage girls—the “bisexual chic”—that practices lesbianism to get the attention of their male peers.4 We don’t have the luxury to look away and pretend that these evils don’t exist, or to pretend that members within our churches aren’t engaging in them.

In order to address evils in the church though, preachers must incorporate relevant application with biblical doctrine. By means of stories, examples, statistics, etc., the pastor can easily clarify any biblical text of Scripture. Jesus himself resorted to this, using parables over and over again, even refusing to not use parables when he taught. “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled by the prophet….”5 Jesus knew the importance of capturing his audience, just as any speaker does, and the gospel message was so important for them to hear that he used stories to get their attention. It’s of utmost importance to incorporate doctrine into preaching, but it’s just as critical to equip your audience with real-life, relevant examples and applications for their individual ministries.

The quote from Marvin Kamps’ pamphlet emphasizes a good point on doctrinal importance: “Without right doctrine every practical directive for our life is then perverted and corrupted. We must have doctrinal preaching therefore, if we are going to have preaching at all.” Finding a church with pure doctrine is critical for every Christian and not a light matter. The gospel message cannot be compromised under any cost for the sake of comfort. But on the other hand, pure doctrine in a church cannot characterize its entirety. The church must be so compelling by its outreach that it draws outsiders to her. The church in Thessalonica did this and Paul himself commended them for it. “And you became followers…of the Lord…so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.”6 Thessalonica was a huge city (200,000+) in Macedonia, yet everyone knew about the church there by the examples set by the members of that church. I’m not so sure the PRC is known quite like Thessalonica was.

Another key aspect of church life is its unity, as pointed out by the writers reference to Ephesians. The writer noted that “By the end, I wondered if the writer implied that we should unite with other churches within a local religious community.” While I do highly recommend fellowship with Christians outside our denominations, my focus in the article was not primarily on this topic. Instead, the intent pointed to the lack of unity within our own churches, mainly because we do not pray together. And there is much to be learned from other churches in their practices, and we cannot haughtily dismiss their methods because we don’t agree with all their teachings. It’s like refusing to play tennis with someone who’s better than you (even though it would make you better) simply because he can’t read. There is much to be learned from other churches, and we only hurt ourselves when we label them “apostate” and refuse to listen to what they say.

It is this that I refer to when I claim that we often “cling…obstinately and unbiblically to tradition” in our PR circles. Too often do we look at other churches and point out what they do wrong, rather than focusing on what they do right. While it’s important to understand the differences between churches, and to stand up for them, it’s just as important to realize…that many of them are in the same boat we are…fighting an evil culture with the truth of the Word. Our traditions keep us from leaning on saints from other churches because they “don’t have as pure form of doctrine as we do.” We can incorporate new traditions…like praying together… without compromising our doctrinal differences.

With new traditions, though, always come valid concerns, like whether they are necessary or biblical. In regards to unity and prayer, it’s abundantly clear from Scripture that both are necessary and biblical, and that we are called to learn from other Christians. We don’t get to pick the people or denominations Christ calls his people from for us to learn from. As the lyrics of a well-known song in Christian music expresses, “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who may come, and we are the Body of Christ.”7 We cannot naively overlook doctrinal differences of other churches, but we cannot overlook their works for the kingdom either, and we must learn from them.

In that light, I agree with the writer that we must continue to pray, and continue fighting for doctrine. We must also share our burdens with each other, so we know what to pray for. And we must also encourage our pastors to address real issues of society, so that we are an informed people and so we know the battles we are up against. Let us be a praying, engaging church of the 21st century, a church like Thessalonica.

Under the Cross,

Rita De Jong

Endnotes

 1 American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright© 2000

2 http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html

3 Granneman, Scott. “MySpace, a Place without MyParents.” 2006-06-30. http://www.securityfocus.com/columnists/408

4 http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=36642

5 Matthew 13:34-35

6 I Thess. 1:6-8

7 Casting Crowns: “If We are the Body”

“Hey buddy, thanks for sharing your story with me…it means a lot. Do you mind if I pray for you right now?”; “Girl, it is good to see you again. Tell me, what is the Lord doing in your life?”; “Pastor, thanks for being an incredible inspiration and a blessing to this church…if there’s anything you want me to pray about for you, let me know.”

Typical Starbucks conversation openers, right? Maybe in some remote deserts of the world, where no eavesdroppers lurk, hearing these embarrassing topics. Being part of the body of believers in the Church of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, doesn’t require me bringing it up in conversation. Does it? Well, maybe sometimes. Perhaps after a car accident and one comes out alive, with a scratch here or there…sure, enter God. “It could have been much worse; the Lord had his angels around that car. Maybe on Sundays too. “Good sermon, eh? Pastor made some good points. Praise God for him.” Good times to talk about Jehovah, to praise him for his goodness, but do these situational conversations reflect the innate desires of the gospel in our hearts? Are we, as believers, proclaiming His story in every area of our lives, every day of our lives? Or, are we living a “stained glass masquerade,” feigning a life of vibrancy while the elements of life corrode our colored panes of faith? As pastors, are you encouraging your flock to open up to each other, to “bear one another’s burdens?”1 As believers and as shepherds in the body of Christ, we must understand our purpose and step up to the uncomfortable and disquieting challenge of unity, learning to pray for and with each other. We need practical instruction from our pastors, and we need a faith that binds us in more than just a name.

To practice unity, we must first understand it. What does unity actually mean? We turn to the basics, the good ol’ dictionary. “Unity:Singleness or constancy of purpose or action; continuity: ‘In an army you need unity of purpose’ (Emmeline Pankhurst).2 Of the seven descriptions of unity in the dictionary, this one seems most applicable for the church. Singleness of purpose. The good Father sent his beloved Son to this earth for a purpose—to pay the price of corruption and buy the lives of his chosen ones. He then left his Spirit with the chosen, and gave them a purpose as well. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.3 The purpose he left to his disciples is our purpose today. With one heart and one desire, we must seek out the hurt, the lost, the poor, the fatherless, and bring them the word of the Lord. Singleness of purpose.

In an army you need unity of purpose.” Soldiers accomplish little on their own. One man cannot siege, ambush or attack the enemy’s stronghold. Without his comrades, the warrior’s purpose is vain. An apt description of the Lord’s army is provided through lyrics of a song by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir from Brooklyn, New York. It says this: “We are united in Jesus Christ; we are the soldiers of the light. We don’t wrestle flesh and blood, but principalities of the dark. We too are marching to one beat, crushing the enemies under our feet. We are mighty in our stand, with God’s Word in our hands.4 Together we fight the enemies of the darkness. Together we march to the beat of the Lord’s drum. We are the Lord’s army, and the desire of the Commander-in-Chief is our desire. His wish is our command.

So, the Lord commands, we obey. Game over, right? Not quite. We need a strategy. This army needs a boot camp. We need to go through some obstacle courses together, and see some sweat, struggles, and blood. We need to slap each other on the back, give some thumbs up, and help carry packs up the hills, because those that sweat together bond together.

In the realm of Christian believers, spiritual sweating is lacking. We come together to play cards, sing around bonfires, compete in church leagues…activities profitable for social growth. But too often we isolate these activities, and claim these as our tools for “Christian fellowship.” We put on the fancy apparel of piety for people to see us in, and shove our tattered, dirty rags of guilt and shame to the back closet. We cover up our pain, saving our tears for the refuge of the pillow, surrendering our sorrows to the Lord of the night.

My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” Jesus himself retained a small group of friends to himself, friends that would be there for him when the going got tough. He told the twelve disciples things that he didn’t tell everyone. He shared with them his hopes, his concerns, his purpose. “From this time forth began Jesus to shew forth unto his disciples, how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised again the third day.5 Jesus even asked the disciples to pray for his work: “The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.6 If the Prince of Peace can ask mere mortals to pray for his ministry, how much more should we sinners be imploring each other for prayers? As it’s said, “The family that prays together stays together.

Staying together in the family of faith requires instructive leadership. We are blessed with ministers in our midst who are faithful to the preaching and exhorting of Scriptures. Week in and week out, they provide doctrinal truths for our spiritual nourishment. Too often, however, lack of practical application resounds as a common criticism of Protestant Reformed churches. As members slander and gossip about each other, and as teenagers ostracize their peers, spiritual growth decays and the fruit of the Spirit rots away in the body of believers. So we seek answers, looking to the leaders.

Although the importance of personal conviction ought never be minimized, the character of any business is oft reflected in its management. As pastors, do you ever confess personal, real-life struggles with your sheep? Do you ask for prayers on your behalf, other than when considering calls from other churches? If a company boss never acknowledges errors or struggles, what message comes to the workers? No one accepts blame for mistakes and no one confides in each other. Gossip thrives and cliques divide.

The purpose here is not to stereotype every pastor or church member, but to emphasize the intent of our existence. Areas do exist where Satan is squelched, and the truth shines forth, but for the ecumenical population, a confession must be made: Gossip, slander, sexual abuse and promiscuity, idolatry, hypocrisy, resentment, racism, and every type of abominable sin that exists in the world, also abide within the walls of our theologically correct sanctuaries. Yes, while the Lord tarries, it is impossible to root out every sin in any church, but the call to stewardship still cries out to us. Jehovah-jireh, the One who sees over all things, calls out to the remnant to band together to combat evil. As Margaret Mead, a powerful female intellectual of the mid-1900s declared, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.7 We are those thoughtful committed citizens of the kingdom of the Lord; we are the people we have been waiting for to bring light into a dark world. But if we insist on constructing walls of division among ourselves, then we provide food for that roaring lion, who preys on our weak and bleeding flesh of discordance.

Breaking these dividing walls involves building new structures. With the foundation of Christ’s atonement, we unite, preparing a fortress of faith for Christ’s spiritual warriors. We begin on our knees. Prayer provides a healing balm to our wounded hearts. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.8

As corporate believers, this is probably the hardest part of growing together. Sharing our social, marital, parental, spiritual and human inadequacies with each other opens us up to a world of pain and vulnerability. We are sharing potentially explosive information with each other, and entrusting the other not to light the fuse. And yet, this is exactly what the body of Christ is all about. Faith. It requires a step out of our comfort zone. For when we step out of our comfort zone, we step into God’s.

A huge part of this step of faith lies in the pastors’ arenas. “All we like sheep have gone astray, and have turned every one to his own way.9We need the shepherd’s staff to lead us back to green pastures of prayer. Within church settings, bible study sessions provide prime opportunities for united growth among believers. When the Bible discussion ends, the time following opens the door to community. Here, the pastor can encourage believers to share stories of concern or praise, stimulating prayer requests and thanksgivings. Of course, with large groups, this can be a lengthy and drawn out process. A simple solution to that is encouraging saints to divide up into small groups and pray with each other. This provides an outlet from “stage fright” of large groups, and draws believers together, binding them in the love of the cross. At the end, the pastor can again bring the group together, and close the time in prayer. As individuals leave, the stories shared in those small groups remain, and gossip ceases, as the love of Christ reigns.

Simple changes like this can provide an open and honest environment within the church without leading to a “slippery slope” of liberalism in the Reformed dogma. But when we refuse any change, clinging obstinately and unbiblically to tradition, we err, and send searching hearts elsewhere. As a young adult in our churches, I find it easy to turn to other churches, and investigate their ministries. So often it seems that our denomination is stuck in a rut, like the lukewarm church of Laodicea, ready for spewing. I see other churches working in the community, reaching out to less fortunate, and incorporating the youth in church activities, while much of our ministry seems inwardly directed or nonexistent.

The common refute for this argument lies in the acknowledgment of doctrinal discrepancies of “those other churches,” and the need to preserve the covenant. Yet, I cannot help but wonder, when will we start engaging our members in unashamedly proclaiming the gospel? We often lack courage for this task because disunity exists among members. When we band together in pain and sorrow, we can begin to see the benefits of incorporating ideas like small group bible studies, ghetto visits, and prayer partners into our religious community, rather than writing it off as showbiz faith. As we do this, we begin to look more to the needs of others, and less to ourselves. This concept finds its Scriptural support in James’ reprimand to the saints of the Dispersion in chapter 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

To ignite this fire of the “pure religion,” one thing is certain: we must unite. Like the Hebrews of old who received the important message to cast off sin, and press on in faith, we too, feel the compulsion to obey. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith….10 The call to us, the army of the Lord, comes loud and clear. Together, let us come in the name of Jesus, and proudly proclaim what the Lord has done in our lives. Let us band together in prayer, casting off our clothes of pious insincerity, and instead donning the robes of righteousness; robes knit for a community of love.

Endnotes

1 Galatians 6:2

2 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright© 2000.

3 Mark 16:15

4 Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir Album, 1999: “High and Lifted Up”

5 Matthew 16:21

6 Matthew 9:37-38

7 http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Margaret_Mead

8 James 5:16

9 Isaiah 53:6

10 Hebrews 12:1

 

Rita is a member of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church and is a senior at Illiana Christian High School.

After reading Gloria Doezema’s article, “Slim Possibility of Overcoming a Weighty Problem,” I found little comfort or hope for those who struggle with a weight problem. Although the intent of the article aimed in the right direction of being content in any state, I believe the article missed the target in finding a real solution.

Having peace with God in our hearts for the gift of salvation, does not mean, as Christians, that our lives are just a big ball of contentment. As Christians, we have responsibilities. Part of those responsibilities is caring for our bodies, for each child of God is a “temple of the living God” (I Cor. 6:16). In caring for our bodies, we need to recognize that gluttony and obesity are sinful conditions, and problems that fellow Christians need to confront each other about.

The concerns raised in the article are appreciated, but they avoided the real issue, which is more of a heart issue. Every person is responsible for his/her actions, whether good or evil. Proverbs 23:2 tells us that a man must put a knife to his throat if he is a man given to appetite. I believe being overweight, as Ms. Doezema mentioned, is a psychological problem. It could also signify a spiritual one as well. God requires us to use all that we have, even our bodies, to glorify Him. We take advantage of the gift of the human body by overeating. Plus, overeating has recently been defined as an addiction. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to control how they eat. Although food itself is a good thing, it’s also powerful. If we suffer from an eating addiction, we must find help. We can’t be ashamed to ask for help. After all, that’s what community of the saints is all about.

The solution the article gives tells overweight people to perhaps exercise a bit, but basically, to be content that you don’t suffer from something worse, such as a mental problem or paralysis. Instead of being pricked in the heart that we suffer from a problem, we are to be thankful. And if we try to change our state, be wary, lest ye fall to vanity and pride. Being joyful that, through God’s grace, we have conquered a sin holder in our lives is an accomplishment. We should be proud. Proud that we no longer draw attention to ourselves because of our weight. Proud that we silence the “fat lady” jokes from onlookers. Proud that we confidently walk up to others, without the fear of prejudice in their hearts, and share the good news of salvation with them. Whether we admit it or not, much of a person’s self respect comes from how they look on the outside.

Living in a state of being overweight easily depresses people. For the Christian, that’s where contentment comes in. We must accept that, for the moment, that’s how we look. We take up the challenges set before us, however, to change our lives. As the Christian artist Steve Green aptly puts in one of his songs, “We’re at peace, but we’re seldom still.” The Christian marks his life through changes, and with the strength of the Lord on his side, what can he fear? To those struggling with a weight problem, I pray that you don’t fall into complacency, but strive for the victory, knowing that “we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” (Rom. 8:37).

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