Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Covenant for Small Groups: Discovering Authentic Christianity

Ray Stedman, the California Bible teacher, who inspired Dick Woodward to write A Covenant for Small Groups.

Ray Stedman, the California Bible teacher, who inspired Dick Woodward to write A Covenant for Small Groups.

Dick Woodward, the late pastor emeritus for the local church I worship with, was once a youth director in a church pastored by Ray Stedman, at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. This was back in the 1950s, when Ray Stedman, a popular Bible teacher and author at the time, mentored Dick Woodward, then a young man, fresh out of Bible college.

Stedman eventually would write a book, Body Life, that explained some of the great teachings that impacted Dick Woodward in those days. The thesis in Body Life is that the church needs to get back to practicing authentic Christianity, creating small fellowships of believers, who learn to care for one another, getting to know one another….really….as they study and seek to live out God’s Word together.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when Dick Woodward took these teachings with him to pastor the church I would eventually become a part of in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Williamsburg Community Chapel. Dick decided to distill the fundamentals of these teachings into a small booklet, A Covenant for Small Groups, now published by International Cooperating Ministries, that can be read in one evening. But this little booklet contains a lifetime of spiritual wisdom.

Since that time, the concept of small groups of believers, gathering together on a regular basis, to care for one another as they study God’s Word, has been the core foundation in our larger church fellowship, for over thirty years. An untold number of other churches and groups have adopted these same principles in their own fellowships. I would encourage every Christian to get and read the whole booklet, but please allow me to list out Dick’s eight fundamental commitments of a small group below, to whet your appetite.

By following these principles, a small group can create a safe place where the group members can get to know one another… really… as they study the Bible together. Living out these principles does not happen on “day one,” when you first meet together as a group. It takes time, and different people have different expectations as to what these specific commitments entail. But when you find such a group that is willing to embrace these eight commitments, it will help you and your group to discover authentic Christianity. Continue reading


Hidden Figures

I wanted to briefly encourage Veracity readers about a new movie (and book), Hidden Figures, that explores the lives of several African-American women, who made a vital contribution to America’s space program, in the early 1960s. Like several other recent films, Hidden Figures is set in Virginia, not too far from where I live, in eras when African Americans were either enslaved (The Birth of a Nation), or later segregated from the white community (Loving and Hidden Figures).

One of these talented women, Katherine Johnson, worked as a highly skilled mathematician, who at one point in her career, was asked by astronaut John Glenn to verify the reentry trajectory and coordinates for his historic NASA mission, being the first person in space to encircle the earth, in 1962. Many NASA people at the time did not trust the new IBM computers, instead relying on expert mathematicians, like Johnson, to verify the calculations.

It is difficult now to comprehend how so many white Christians advocated the corrupt concept of segregation, using the Bible for justification, as in The Birth of a Nation or Loving. In contrast, Hidden Figures, while in a handful of places slipping in needless profanity and inappropriate remarks, has overall a very positive image of Christian faith, as all of the lead African-American female characters are portrayed as actively involved in their church. Though not a “Christian” movie per se, I found it refreshing that a Hollywood movie would portray Christian faith in such a positive light, without also buying into the popular narrative that sees a conflict between science and faith. Plus, the movie is quite funny at times.

Most of the women depicted in the film had since left NASA Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Virginia, before I started working there in the mid 1980s, as a computer programmer. The old card punch card systems, like the “new” IBM computer in the movie, were on their way out the door, upon my arrival, so the need for human “computers” to assist in such mathematical work was no longer needed. It is quite remarkable that the story of these pioneering African American women is only now being told, some 55 years later, but it really is a great story to tell. Kudos to author and Hampton, Virginia native, Margot Lee Shetterly, for bringing this story to light.


Why Christians Need to Be Wary of the Prosperity Gospel

Pastor Paula White, evangelist and one of the prayer leaders for 58th United States Presidential Inauguration.

Pastor Paula White, evangelist and one of the prayer leaders for the 58th United States Presidential Inauguration, for Friday, January 20, 2017.

When Reformed theologian, Michael Horton, wrote his editorial for the Washington Post in early 2017, calling out evangelist and pastor, Paula White, as a proponent of the “Prosperity Gospel,” it caught people’s attention. Before reading this, I had never heard of Paula White before in my life. But according to her website, in 2006, she was ranked by some organization as one of the Top 50 “most influential Christians in America.” I guess I do not move in the same circles as Paula White.

Pastor White has been asked to give a prayer at the Presidential Inauguration, this coming Friday, January 20. Horton’s concern is that this public exposure will give Pastor White an opportunity to promote her message, which includes the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.”

The “Prosperity Gospel” goes back at least to the 1950s, when preachers like Norman Vincent Peale talked about the power of “positive thinking.” Through the 1980s and 1990s, Robert Schuller taught that humanity’s basic problem was not sin, but rather, the lack of self-esteem. As Michael Horton argues in his essay, this brand of Christianity has been curiously bound together with the “Word of Faith” movement, with its infamous “name-it-and-claim-it” Bible teaching. This broad tradition of the “Prosperity Gospel” is carried on today by about 70%, or more, of what you see on the Trinity Broadcasting Network television.

In a nutshell, the “Prosperity Gospel” makes the theologically suspect promise that God wants to give people material blessing, both in terms of financial wealth and good health, as a sign of His favor towards us. Now, there is nothing wrong with having “health and wealth,” and being grateful to God for it. But such teaching can lead to the wrong view that suffering, whether it be financial, physical, or otherwise, is a definite sign of God’s displeasure towards the believer. This is a false and misleading doctrine, as any right-thinking Christian, with a good grasp of the Bible, will know that God’s people go through suffering at various times, as part of the sanctification process, bringing us more into conformity with the likeness of Christ. After all, Jesus Himself suffered and died on the Cross, to deal with our sin and provide for our salvation, and He is calling every believer to follow Him!

Surely, our disobedience to God’s Word can, at times, lead to suffering. But according to the late pastor, Dick Woodward, who was paralyzed due to a degenerative spinal cord disease for over twenty years, this is only one of several Biblical reasons why Christians suffer (See Dick Woodward’s sermon and brief booklet, Thirty Biblical Reasons Why God’s People Suffer). If you think that by “naming and claiming” (supposedly) “God’s promises” you can avoid suffering, or simply to promote your own success, then you are setting yourself up for spiritual disaster.

Michael Horton’s alarm over Paula White should require Christians to have discernment, not only with the “Prosperity Gospel,” but even in other areas. For example, Paula White has responded to her critics, and noted that she does, in fact, accept and teach the doctrine of the Trinity to be true, from her statement of belief found on her website. Nevertheless, if you read a recent article in Christianity Today magazine, by Kate Shellnutt, not everyone is convinced by the integrity of White’s response.

The main point I want to convey, is not to criticize Pastor Paula White, as I simply know very little about her (though I learned that she is married to Jonathan Cain, the keyboard player of the 1980’s popular band, Journey, which is interesting). She might even give a very fine prayer at the Presidential Inauguration, for all I know.

But whenever a public figure, who portrays themselves as a representative for the Gospel, makes a stand for Christ, we need to carefully consider what is being said and taught. Christian believers should check out what that teacher or preacher actually says, and line it up with the teaching found in the Bible. In those areas, where the teacher is in alignment with Scripture, we should gladly affirm those things. Yet wherever the teacher goes against Scripture, we need to apply discernment, stand guard for the truth, and be wary, less we might stumble into unknowingly accepting a type of counterfeit “gospel” (Acts 17:11).

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3 ESV).


Dick Woodward on BBN Radio This Week (Jan. 16-20)

Dick Woodward

Dick Woodward

The late, pastor emeritus of Williamsburg Community Chapel, Dick Woodward, is on the Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN) this week, on their evening “Conference Pulpit” program, at 9pm EST (January 16-20).

Dick Woodward served as the pastor at my church in Williamsburg for many years, despite suffering from a degenerative spinal cord disease, that eventually left him as a quadriplegic. Woodward’s message series this week addresses the topic of suffering. Reverend Woodward died in 2014.

Last night’s message touched on the subject of the “prosperity doctrine,” which has been in the news lately, with respect to some controversy over the choices of some of the prayer leaders, who will be participating in the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies later this week.

The Bible Broadcasting Network is a nationwide, American radio ministry with some 30 full power stations and over 100 low power stations, in some 29 different states, with Internet streaming capabilities across the world. The nightly Conference Pulpit program features recordings of leading Bible teachers over the past 100 years. Theologically, BBN leans more towards promoting dispensational premillennialism in their teaching.

In the Hampton Roads, Virginia area, BBN operates at at WYFI, 99.7 FM. You can also stream the program from the previous evening, available for the next week, on BBN’s website at here or here. Since I forgot to mention about this yesterday, you can listen to last night’s message currently available from “Monday,” on that BBN website.

UPDATE: 01/19/2017   The Colson Center and Breakpoint.org have a brief article covering the Inauguration and Prosperity Gospel controversy from an evangelical perspective.

 


Loving vs. Virginia vs. the Bible

Richard and Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

My grandmother grew up in a rural part of King and Queen County, Virginia. In those days, as she put it, the “colored” people lived in communities separate from the “white” people, but everyone seemed to get along.

The house she grew up in was less than a twenty minute drive from Central Point, a very small town in Caroline County, Virginia.  In the mid-20th century, a story developed in Central Point that has forever changed American society, and that still continues to reverberate in the cultural discussions of our day, some 50-60 years later.

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were just two teenagers, from rural and mainly poor families, who fell in love with one another.  In 1958, they drove up to Washington, D.C to get married. The difficulty was that Loving was white and Jeter was part-black and part-Cherokee. In the Commonwealth of Virginia in those days, it was against the law for a white man to marry a black woman. When the couple returned to Virginia, the police raided the Loving home, and they were arrested.

Virginia Judge Leon Bazile ruled against the Lovings, and exiled them from Virginia, saying:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

A new film by Jeff Nichols, Loving, is a dramatic portrayal of the Lovings’ story. Richard and Mildred decided to fight the verdict, and the case was taken to the United States Supreme Court. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings in Loving v. Virginia, and the ruling struck down all state laws forbidding interracial marriage. Virginia had been the first to pass such an anti-miscegenation law in 1691.

My grandmother died some years ago, and so I am not sure exactly what she would think about this new movie, where many of the events portrayed happened just a few miles from her childhood home. But I would not be surprised if her sentiments did not echo those of Judge Bazile.

As I have argued elsewhere (here and here), Judge Bazile’s idea, that the Bible forbids people with different skin color from marrying one another, is a complete fabrication, with no foundation in Holy Scripture. But clearly, many Virginians in my grandmother’s generation thought very differently. Sadly, there are still a number of folks in our churches who still think this way, despite what the Bible teaches.

Racism is a sin, and it runs deep from generation to generation. It surely exists in my own life, in ways unconsciously known to me.

Yet what was so insidious about the Loving story is that the Bible was used to blatantly justify such sinful attitudes. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, legally allowing them to return to their home in Virginia as a married couple, a cross was burned in the yard of their home in Caroline County.

A cross? Why would a symbol of Christ’s unending love for you and me be misused as a weapon of fear and intimidation?

The struggle against racism, both inside and outside of the church, has been a long and difficult one. We are almost one year shy of remembering the 50th year since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and just a few months shy of the 50th year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia (June 12, 1967).

What can we learn from the Biblical missteps taken by believers in previous generations? Where has the message of the Bible been misused today? Let us not be deceived by our own chronological snobbery in our day and age. We are not much better than those who lived before us. Technology, and other advancements, have surely progressed, but the human spiritual condition remains the same. Where have we, in our current generation, twisted the Bible to legitimize some sin?

For those concerned about how Biblical values apply to the wider culture, the questions raised by Loving are essential to address (To learn more about the story, HBO did a documentary on the Lovings a few years ago, and here are some clips). If you have the opportunity to view this new film, Loving, I would love to hear from you as to what your thoughts are.


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