CTT | Confession, Repentance, & Absolution

Iglesia de San Joaquín Confessional

Iglesia de San Joaquín Confessional

Good Monday morning. In a conversation I had recently with a loved-one regarding sound doctrine and the various Christian denominations, I was reminded of one of the strongest objections within Christian denominations, the practice of private confession and absolution. It is generally considered “a Catholic thing” but Lutherans also maintain this practice as one of the roles of the office of Pastor. I’m not here to review/critique their practice. I am interested, however, in the subject of confession, repentance, & absolution from a Biblical perspective. I could not find a way to discuss confession and repentance apart from Church Discipline.

Gospel of Grace

While the topic for today is one of practices within the Church, the Body of Christ, I do not want to skip over this by way of assumption. Regardless of your church practice, this discussion is not about absolving the unbeliever of sin. To enter the Body of Christ, one must be Converted or Born-Again by Grace, through Faith.

Acts 16:25-34 (ESV) | The Philippian Jailer Converted
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Praise the Lord. Now, those who are saved in Jesus Christ still live in sinful flesh, and are in need of forgiveness and restoration every day until the hope of the upward call of Jesus (the Day of His Return and of our Resurrection in Christ). So, for those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus, what follows is of lesser concern.

Jesus Taught Us to Forgive Each Other

Undoubtedly the primary point of the Gospel is the forgiveness of sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus also commanded His disciples to forgiven one another and tied it to how we are to pray. Let’s look in Matthew what follows right after the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV) 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Still, this is not yet pointing to our topic of the day. There is something interesting that Jesus says to His disciples later in the text after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, Son of the Living God.

Matthew 16:13-20 (ESV) | Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Interesting. Growing up in a Pentecostal / Charismatic tradition, I’ve always heard this passage (highlighted portion) taught in the “spiritual warfare” sense. But here, it follows Jesus saying He will build His Church upon the confession of Jesus as the Christ, and that nothing will prevail against His Church. Rather than expound upon this further, let’s look at how this phrasing comes back up later in the text.

Matthew 18:7-22 (ESV)
Temptations to Sin
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

If Your Brother Sins Against You
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

I decided to leave the ESV section headings in this portion to better illustrate what the immediate context of this passage conveys. The context is within the Church. The Kingdom of Heaven, the sheep fold, is where the sheep have heard the Voice of Jesus, their Shepherd. Temptations will come, some will be led astray, and the Shepherd goes in search for the one who is lost and rejoices over its restoration. In verse 15, Jesus isn’t talking about “the world”; rather, He is talking about “your brother”. It is in this context that we see, again, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven… Interesting. Now, before we get too far beyond the fulcrum (thus tipping the lever too far in the other direction) notice that Peter’s question seeks a “limit” of sorts. This power of binding is understood as a responsibility rather than a privilege, and Peter is seeking an upper limit. Jesus doesn’t provide one; rather, He says that as long as your brother repents, you are to forgive. Remember what Jesus taught when the Disciples asked how to pray; If they do not forgive the sins of others, their sins will not be forgiven them. Still, this responsibility of binding and loosing remains. So, avoiding the sin of taking one passage over another, let us hold both to be true.

On the Day of Christ Jesus’s resurrection, He says something very interesting when He breathes on them. Let’s turn to John chapter 20.

John 20:17-23 (ESV) | Jesus Appears to the Disciples
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them,“Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Binding and Loosing on earth as it is in heaven. This is nothing to play around with, particularly given the counterpoint of the weight of failing to forgive others. This responsibility and charge is given in conjunction with receiving the Holy Spirit. This is the passage of scripture invoked by the Lutheran explanation of the practice of Confession and Absolution. As I read this passage again, I cannot help but read this in light of their missionary journey when Jesus sent out the 12:

Matthew 10:5-15 (ESV) | Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Withholding forgiveness for the lost sheep must be a matter of judgement/discipline here, not just of a mere unbelief as would be expected of the Gentiles. For we see here in Matthew 10 that Jesus is first sending them to those who should know better, the lost sheep of Israel. We also see in Chapter 18 that there are many attempts to point out the sin of a brother before treating them as a Gentile or tax collector. There is a blatant lack of repentance in that passage that leads up to the binding and loosing charge.

A Practical Example in Corinthians

Thankfully, we are not left completely without an example of what this form this Church discipline is to take. The Apostle Paul, in his writings to the Church at Corinth, issues a judgement in his first letter, then offers praise and comfort in his second regarding what seems to be the same individual and situation.  Let us turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 5.

1 Corinthians 5 (ESV) | Sexual Immorality Defiles the Church
1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Wow… so much for the whole “thou shall not judge” that Christians wrongfully throw about, eh? God judges the world with Himself as the standard (the Law). We are to hold each other, within the Body of Christ, accountable to the Word of God, both for their benefit and for the building up of the Saints. Notice the strong language in verse 5. This isn’t the only time Paul phrases it this way, but Paul is issuing the order for the Church in Corinth to carry out. This is the Word of the Lord. The sinner, who bears the name of brother, is to be rebuked and delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (the part of us that remains sinful) so that his spirit may be saved in teh day of the Lord. The purpose is for repentance, but if repentance does not come he is to be purged from among the brethren.

2 Corinthians 7 (ESV) | Paul’s Joy
1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14 For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. 15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

There was repentance, and it was felt by the body of Christ. Paul doesn’t just single out the individual in this letter; rather, he points to assembly. Paul wasn’t just dealing with the singular matter issued in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s closing comments in Chapter 13 offer some encouragement (both tough and kind).

2 Corinthians 13:5-14 (ESV) 5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


The Church is to encourage and build up one another, and that includes rebuking sin. We see that for those who repent of their sin, forgiveness is assured. We who are called brothers and sisters in Christ, have been filled with the Holy Spirit and charged with binding and loosing. We’ve also been charged to forgive our brother and sister who repents of their sin against us. Is taking confession and pronouncing absolution a specific role of the Pastor? I don’t see that in Scripture. However, I do see that we need to confess our sins, repent, and forgive others, and I know that in Christ we find our forgiveness. I don’t like the formulaic approach to routine confession-absolution in private, nor of the ceremony of corporate absolution (Lutheran Liturgy) mainly because I know that “going through the motions” is a big problem for me. What I would like to say is that people need to hear “your sins are forgiven” regularly. We need the Gospel of Jesus Christ daily, for we have not yet attained the perfection of Christ (and will not until we join in His resurrection on the final Day). Whether it is in Bible study, personal counselling, or mentorship, each member of the Body of Christ needs to understand the need to confess their sin one to another, knowing that in Christ there is the Forgiveness of sin. We need to hear “you are forgiven” from a reliable source, the Word of God. And sometimes, it really helps to hear these words spoken over us, particularly in the midst of godly grief. The world understands this need, but their answer is to gossip and to tell each other that what they did wasn’t wrong and that they are better people for it. They invent “laws of attraction” and “positive thinking”… actually… it seems much of the visible church has been selling these same lies lately. The tyranny of “positive thinking” is that it prevents Christians from confessing and repenting of their sin. In some cases… it prevents even acknowledging sin to be sin… May God forgive us for calling good evil, and evil good.

In closing, let us turn to James

James 5:13-20 (ESV) | The Prayer of Faith
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Rebuke a brother/sister who has sinned against you in love, confess your sin against your brother/sister to him/her in love, and forgiven each other and pray for one another in love. For those who are constantly looking to define “Advanced Christianity”… this is it, and it is not of ourselves, it is a Gift from God.

May the Love of Christ fill you to overflowing that the Body of Christ is blessed,
In Christ Jesus,

CTT | Churching the unchurched?

day-of-pentecost-acts-2-38A theme or apologetic used by the seeker-sensitive and emergent (post-modern progressive christians) for taking it upon themselves to redefine the Church, Praise and Worship, and the role of the Pastor is their claim to be “churching the unchruched”. Is that valid? What does that even mean? Let’s discuss.

There’s a book?

So, there is a book entitled, “Church for the Unchurched” that I do not recommend anyone read. But I want to share an endorsement from the Amazon.com page:

“This is a groundbreaking book. What sets it apart from all the others is that it is based on hard data and real life examples…If you want to know what is really happening in the so-called Seeker churches, this book is a must read.” –Rick Warren, Senior Pastor, Saddleback Community Church, Mission Viejo, California

What sets this book apart is… being based on hard data and real life examples? Okay… should a book about Church and Evangelism be based on Scripture? Yes, actually, it should be.

Ephesians 2:19-21 (ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Purpose of the Church for the Unchurched?

What is the purpose of the Church? The gathering of the assembly? The seeker-mergent belief (and teaching) is that the assembly of the saints is supposed to be where unbelievers are supposed to hear the Gospel and become believers. But what prevents an unbeliever from attending church in the first place? These seeker-mergent teachers would have you believe that how traditional churches present the Gospel (you know, preaching Law (sin) and Gospel (repentance) and the forgiveness of sins) that has been “failing”. So, they inevitably get caught up in dialing down the preaching of the Law (sins become “mistakes”) and over-emphasizing God’s Love (by avoiding His Holiness,  Justice, Righteousness) trying to compel unbelievers to first agree to attend this non-church style of Church and then later “make a decision for Christ” based on how “loving, warm, engaging, inviting, and welcoming” the congregation is. They are led in a prayer, told they are saved, and then they are fed a diet of self-help legalism that Christians must abide by to establish their Christian-ness. But that legalism isn’t based on Law-preaching, because now that they are “saved” the purpose of their church is no longer them, but the other “unchurched”. So they are expected to read the Bible on their own, while from the pulpit they hear life tips from the latest Christian self-help book, or simply from the pastor’s life experiences.

What does the Bible say about the purpose of Pastors and the Church?

I want to look at a couple of passages that help put together a picture of what it means first to be a pastor and also the role of the Church. Let’s begin in Matthew:

Matthew 16:5-20 (ESV) | The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

John 21:1-19 (ESV) | Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him,“Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him,“Follow me.”

So we have here a picture of teaching and preaching being presented in terms of food. I believe that when Jesus appeared on the shoreline, the disciples remembered what Jesus taught at Peter’s confession. We also see that the disciples understood the teaching of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was in their teaching, not in actual food. The religious leaders of that day taught themselves, their doctrines, and their righteousness. Jesus rebuked them repeatedly, pointing out to them that if they had indeed believed Moses and his teaching, they would believe in Jesus (John 5:45-47). They added to the Law and the Prophets with their oral tradition and interpretations of the Law and Prophets, they introduced their own leaven to the Bread of Life (Jesus, the Word made flesh).

At breakfast, Jesus addresses Peter specifically, and asks three times “do you love Me”. What goes on the Greek is fascinating, but for now, let us focus on Jesus’ response, “feed my lambs; tend my sheep, feed my sheep”. Is Jesus just talking about food here? No. Is he saying that Peter is supposed to find his own way to feed the sheep? Absolutely not. Looking back at Peter’s confession of Christ, notice that Jesus specifies that the revelation was from God; therefore, Peter’s confession is the rock upon which Jesus will build His Church, not Peter’s flesh (the Greek makes it very clear) though Peter’s name is changed. When we look back at Jesus’s rebuke of His disciples for worrying about not bringing bread, Jesus points out that He had already demonstrated that He will provide for our earthly needs, that clearly He is focused on more important things for the church. God provides the physical bread and fish, and He also provides the Spiritual bread, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by which Peter is to feed and tend the flock of Christ (the Church).

The Early Church Evangelized the Synagogue

Yes, the early Church first evangelized the Temple (in Jerusalem) and the synagogues. Does that mean that the purpose of Church is to get unbelievers to attend so that they can become believers? No. Please don’t freak out on me just yet, let’s first discuss what was going on in the early church. After Christ’s ascension into Heaven, we see the first assembly of the Church.

Acts 1:12-19 (ESV) 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

When the Day of Pentecost arrives, God pours out His Spirit upon His Church, all who were assembled in the upper room, and the sound of their worship of God in many languages (by a miracle of the Holy Spirit) drew a crowd and Peter preached Law and Gospel to them, and many were added to the Church on that day. After Peter’s sermon in chapter 2, let’s look at how the Church assembled:

Acts 2:42-47 (ESV) | The Fellowship of the Believers
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Does this look like a church whose focus is on attracting the “unchurched”? No. Who added to their number? The Lord did. Who was being added? Those who were being saved. The Church, God’s Church is for the Christians, those who have believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any attempt to tailor a Church for those who are unbelievers is an exercise in futility. Let’s see how Paul addressed this idea in his letter to the Romans. At the close of chapter 9, Paul is trying to fix some misconceptions some Gentiles had regarding the Jews. Let’s begin there and move into chapter 10.

Romans 9:30-33 (ESV) | Israel’s Unbelief
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Romans 10 (ESV) | The Message of Salvation to All
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says,“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

We are not born with faith. We are in-fact born in unbelief, dead in sins and trespasses. Faith is a gift from God, one that comes only by hearing the word of Christ, the Bread of Life. The leaven of the Pharisees is to be avoided and has no part in Christ. It doesn’t matter how awesome/entertaining/welcoming your church service is to the unbeliever, unless they hear unleavened preaching, they will not obtain faith necessary for salvation. Your “testimony” of Christ’s forgiveness isn’t enough, neither is your band’s rendition of “Awesome God”. For it is by hearing the Word of Christ that faith comes.


The Church is the body of Christ, and there is no way to have a church that “churches” unbelievers. Unbelievers who come to the church should undeniably be presented Law and Gospel so that they might become believers (faith comes by hearing the Word of God), but the responsibility for bringing them in rests with the Christians, not the Church. Jesus told Peter to feed and tend His flock. Again, the Church is the body of Christ, Christ is the head of His body. We are to share the gospel with the unbelievers, and invite them to the Church of Jesus Christ, we don’t decide to change the focus of Christ’s Church so that it is more palatable for unbelievers.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV) | Christ the Wisdom and Power of God
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

There is only one way to the Father, and that is through Christ. Getting someone to join in an attendance ritual on Sunday morning isn’t going to grant faith, unless they are hearing the unleavened Word of God. Changing what is heard on Sunday morning so that unbelievers will “sign up” doesn’t bring them closer to repentance. Unless we preach Christ and Him crucified for our sin, we’ve simply invited lost sinners to a social club built around “positive messaging”.

Our Father in Heaven, Holy is Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. We thank you, Father, that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For You have done what the law, weakened by our flesh, could not do. By sending Your Own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, You condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. May we walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit, by Your Grace in Christ Jesus, Amen. (Matt 6, Romans 8)

In Christ Jesus,

When prayer and warfare become idols

prayerI recently sat through a rather painful “bible study” on prayer. The text that was read at the beginning of the study was:

Matthew 16:13-19 (ESV) 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 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. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

To be fair, I had happened upon a study that was in a series of studies, so there is naturally going to be some overlap of previous themes. However, when we got to verse 19 of this passage, we immediately lost sight of the meaning of the passage and of the notion of having a bible study. In a whirlwind of high-motivational pep speech (reminiscent of Joyce Myer or Beth Moore) the meaning of the passage was presented as follows

  • v17 Peter’s identification of Jesus as the Christ came by direct revelation (which was explained as being a result of having learned to pray)
  • v18 Jesus was going to build the church upon the revelation from the Father in heaven, not by flesh and blood (which was interpreted as prayer)
  • v19 the keys of the kingdom of heaven was prayer, and that having prayer as the key would grant authority to bind and loose (personal anecdote employed about how if I give a set of keys to my house to someone else, then I am giving that person authority to enter my house and use whatever is in there).

The point of the passage is the confession of Jesus as the Christ, Son of the living God. If the keys to the kingdom of heaven were “prayer”, the disciples had already been taught how to pray back in Matthew 6; however, Jesus clearly stated that He will give the keys, so there is more to this than prayer. I believe He is referring to the authority in Matthew 28:18 (ESV), “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” as a result of having laid down His life and raised it back up again. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the keys to the kingdom of heaven, for by His Grace we are made righteous in the sight of the Lord and are granted entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven by the blood of the Lamb. If there remains any doubt, let us look at what Peter had to say in his Epistles. Surely since Jesus was building His church upon this rock, then Peter should at least echo this interpretation on some level, right? Well, prayer only gets mentioned 3 times in 1&2 Peter:

  1. 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV) 7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
  2. 1 Peter 3:8-12 (ESV) 8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Peter quoting Psalms 34)
  3. 1 Peter 4:6-8 (ESV) 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

The over-arching theme of 1 & 2 Peter? I think it best to read the introduction to 1 Peter:

1 Peter 1:1-12 (ESV) 1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Peter understood the point of it all to be the Grace and Mercy of God the Father in sending His Son Jesus so that we might be saved. While Jesus did call Simon  “Peter” (which means rock) and said that “upon this rock I will build My church”, Peter clearly identifies Jesus Christ as the cornerstone in 1 Peter 2. Since Peter’s confession of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church, it stands to reason that every stone laid on that foundation would in-turn be measured, trued, and lined up with Christ as the Cornerstone. I don’t think it was Peter (the man) who is the foundation of the church; rather, his confession of Jesus as the Christ, Son of the Living God is the foundation of the Church. Though, the argument could be made that both interpretations are valid given Peter was the first to preach on the Day of Pentecost, and was the first to be shown that God is calling Gentiles also into the fold.

The person conducting the study launched into what was clearly a personal soapbox issue. Once the confession of “being called to intercessory prayer” was made, I realized that there was a great deal of iesegisis at work, so I just let it go and smiled through it waiting for it to end. Do I have a problem with intercessory prayer? Absolutely not! There is a great need for intercessory prayer in the church. There are, however some problematic themes that come up whenever the topic of prayer becomes taught as a profession or ministry unto itself rather than a communion with a loving Heavenly Father, or an in-dwelling God the Holy Spirit.

The only text in the bible where we are specifically taught how to pray is when Jesus (God the Son) taught the disciples how to pray (Matt 6, Luke 11). We are told to pray without ceasing. We should live our lives in constant prayer, and we should also make daily time to pray. But the act of praying isn’t the point, it is to whom we pray and by whom we pray. Even in the realm of intercession, it is the Holy Spirit that intercedes for the saints, not the saints themselves (Romans 8:18-27), so we must not allow our fleshly need for credit to shade our speech/instruction in the discipline of prayer. Whether we are encouraging our brothers to seek the Will of God in their daily walk or for them to engage in intercessory prayer, we must always anchor the charge to pray onto the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within each of us who are called Children of God.  As we pointed out in our discussion of the Gifts of God the Holy Spirit, we must always keep our focus on the fact that it is God who does the work, not men. The individual giving the bible study had to stop several times to issue the caveat “not me, of course, but God working through me”. I’m very happy to have heard that confession in the form of a caveat so many times during the study; however, if a caveat needs to be issued that often then there is a language/emphasis problem with the discussion that should be addressed. Here, it was an over-selling of the “power of prayer”.

Prayer is not unique to Christianity… Our God is. Our understanding of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is unique to our Biblical Christian faith. Stop looking at routines/ceremonies/principles for power, and look to the person of God the Holy Spirit and His work in our hearts. I want to take a few moments to include any discussion of “spiritual warfare” that focuses entirely too much on the redeemed rather than the Redeemer. Spiritual warfare takes place primarily in your mind and in your flesh. The Spirit of God dwelling within you has made your spirit alive and it wars against your flesh, and your flesh works against the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). When it comes to declaring the Word of God, our focus should be fixed on Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For Only by the Grace of God can anyone be made alive in Christ, set free from the bondage of sin and death, and made the recipient of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit does all of this work. We pray so that we can grow in the fullness of the Knowledge of Christ, and for boldness and for the Holy Spirit to give teach us how to speak and what to say in the hour of need.  We must guard ourselves against pride and folly. Our authority will forever be a derivative of Christ’s authority; therefore, we must never allow ourselves to lose sight or focus on the work of the Holy Spirit. Stop looking for some “extra outpouring” of the Spirit… God the Holy Spirit has already been promised to those who believe and are baptized in His Name. If you are in Him, then He is in you. There is no extra anything! Walk by faith, pray without ceasing, and remain vigilant in your focus upon the Gospel of Grace, of which you are a Steward. The role of the Church is to preach the Gospel, not to specialize in private prayer and launching special attacks on demons, principalities and powers. Christ defeated them, and it is only by His Blood that we have been made free from them. We expand the Kingdom of God by preaching the Gospel, not by “waging war in the heavenly”.  The Apostles were over-comers not because they were never jailed, hungry, thirsty, persecuted, killed… but because the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, and those who were dead in sins and trespasses were brought to salvation by Grace through Faith in Christ.

The Book of Jude stands as a strong warning against this sort of stepping beyond one’s authority. A single chapter full of wisdom and warning. Stepping back from that extreme, though, let us remember how Jesus introduced his lesson on prayer in Matthew 6:

Matthew 6:5-8 (ESV) 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Adorning your prayers with militancy is more likely to erode humility than it is to rightly charge your faith, or the faith of those around you. We pray to our Heavenly Father, not to the enemy. We declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those lost in the world, so that they might repent and be saved. As with prophecy, we do not presume to “declare the Word of the Lord” on our own, and we dare not blaspheme against things we do not understand. We yield in humble submission to God the Holy Spirit in all things.

Prayer is as essential as breathing. In the same way that breathing can become its own distraction (yoga, tantra, lamaze, etc.), so can an over-emphasis on the art of prayer, rather than the God to whom and by whom we pray. Is the focus of your intercessory prayer self-feeding? Do you spend more time reading about prayer than you do the Bible? Has your quest for spiritual warfare changed your study of the Bible into a search for special phrases to “declare” for defense and for offense (the Harry Potter approach to bible study)? Has your prayer specialization made you unavailable for sharing the Gospel, fellowship with the saints, and meeting the physical needs of the brethren? If so, then prayer and warfare might have become an idol. Just as the Praise and Worship Leader can allow music or his own ability to become an idol, or the pastor who preaches himself rather than Christ, or the affluent giver his affluence, etc. Idolatry is very subtle, and requires constant vigilance to avoid.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

May the Lord bless and keep you,
In Him,