Questioning our Individualism and its Affect on the Church – Ephesians 4:1-16

In my last post, I pointed out how the individualistic assumptions of our Western culture affect how we read the scriptures. Below, I share a sermon outline that intersects with that subject. This sermon examines Ephesians 4:1-16 and how our individualism affects our view of the church and church leaders.

Introduction: The individualism of our culture often bleeds into the church. For instance, American Christians tend to have a “lone ranger” mentality. We often think our spiritual growth and health only involves God and us. Sure, we view the church as a means to serve our spiritual needs, but if the church does not serve us in the way we want, we go shopping for another church or retreat into a purely individual religious experience. In a similar way, Christians often talk about pursuing God’s “calling.” Unsurprisingly, this calling is thought of in individual terms, as if God directs an individual to pursue some ministry or task apart from connection to others.

The influence of these cultural assumptions on Christians and the church makes for unhealthy and unbiblical ideas and practices. The Bible’s assumptions and instructions differ from our culture’s as Ephesians 4:1-16 will demonstrate. This passage calls us to be unified to a local body and dependant on the diverse gifts and roles within that body to grow us into Christ-likeness. Moreover, we are called to serve through the local body and Church leaders equip Christians to carry out that ministry. Pastors and church leaders are just one part of the body, and Christ is the true head whom every member follows. Continue reading

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Western 21st century Assumptions upon a 1st century Text: Individualism.

The New Testament came through first-century writers who held to particular assumptions and a particular worldview. As twenty first-century Christians seek to discern what those writings are saying to them, they carry different assumptions and a different worldview. This discrepancy often causes contemporary Christians to interpret the Bible in a way that the authors never intended. For those Christians who hold to a high view of scripture, the author’s intended meaning is inspired by God and the guide and authority for faith and practice today. It is crucial, therefore, to be aware of our assumptions and the subtle ways they steer our understanding of the text.

Today’s blog addresses individualism. Western 21st century culture sees everything through the lens of individualism. Merriam-Webster defines individualism as “the belief that the needs of each person are more important than the needs of the whole society or group.” Western Christians unconsciously adopt this individualistic worldview because it surrounds us every day and in every interaction. In contrast, the biblical writers and their audiences were surrounded by assumptions that emphasized the community. While the biblical texts also addressed individuals, they did so through the communities these individuals belonged to. Contemporary Christians tend to read the Bible in the opposite direction–as if the Bible is addressed primarily to individuals and secondarily to the communities these individuals belong to.

The disconnect between 21st century versus 1st century assumptions manifests itself both in theology and practice. From my experience as a pastor, the affect on practice is more pervasive because assumptions guide every person whether they think about them or not. Churches are filled with people who interpret the Bible, their lives, their relationship to God, and their relationship to others through the lens of individualism.  Continue reading

A Preaching Outline of Revelation 5

Below is a preaching outline/manuscript (with explanatory comments) for Revelation 5. I recently preached on this passage in a couple different churches, and this outline served as the framework for each sermon. Even though I don’t read my sermons, I prefer an outline that is more like a full manuscript. For me, the process of writing it out solidifies the best way to say it, making it easier to remember.

Notes on the outline: * I put the sermon texts (ESV) in italics because it makes it easier to glance down and find my place in the outline as I work through the text.       * For the same reason, section headings are in bold, as well as important points. * I often underline lists of examples/points/thoughts. * Things in parentheses are not in my original outline but are explanatory notes for the benefit of people reading this blog.

*INTRODUCTION: (Tailor to each church.)

*CONTEXT:              Revelation chs. 1-3 contain messages to 7 churches of the apostle John’s day. But in Revelation 4:1, the message turns to a vision about things in the future. Revelation 4:1: After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  John is brought into the heavenly throne room of God and is shown a vision of the last days of human history!

*THE TEXT:

Revelation 5:1-4  Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

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10 “How-to” Steps of Biblical Interpretation

In the Bible, God spoke through and to particular people at a particular time in history. How can we rightly understand the Spirit-inspired author’s meaning as intended, so we can communicate and apply that inspired meaning to contemporary hearers (including ourselves)? These questions are answered through biblical interpretation (a.k.a. hermeneutics). Too often, Christians misinterpret the author’s intention because they do not understand elements from the author’s world, or they read their own worldview, culture, and literary conventions into the author’s writing in a way far different than the author would have intended. A basic knowledge of interpretative methods helps avoid misinterpretation. In an effort to give a simplified “how-to” of interpretation, I have created the following “10 How-to Steps of Biblical Interpretation.”

 

A Basic “How-to” of Biblical Interpretation

     Grant Osborne’s Hermeneutical Spiral is a terrific book on biblical interpretation and should be on every Christian worker’s reading list. For those who cannot work through its 500 pages of interpretive meatiness, the following steps will borrow from and distill Osborne’s (and other’s) work to produce a how-to for interpreting the Bible. Continue reading