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What is a deacon? And what to they do?

June 15, 2015
Ordination-GroupOutside_111-1-web

Janna and I were just ordained as deacons in the Anglican Church. We’ve been congratulated by some of our friends and family members—but many are still asking questions like, “What is deacon? And what do they do?”

So here’s an explanation.

One of the Three: the Threefold Ministry

Deacons are ministers (i.e. servants) of Christ who have been set apart for service in his Church and his world. While “every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God calls deacons to a special ministry of servanthood directly under their bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, deacons are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.”[1]

Since her earliest days, the Church has set apart certain members to lead in special capacities. We first learn of the “threefold ministry” of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in the Bible:

Bishops (episcopoi) are mentioned in Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 2:25,

Priests[2] (presbuteroi) in 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; Jas. 5:14, and

Deacons (diakonoi) in Rom 16:1-2; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8.

During the time of the Apostles, these terms were used with fluidity.[3] For example, Paul refers to himself as a diakonos  (deacon) and Peter calls himself a presbyteros (priest) although both were Apostles—an office of much higher rank.[4] However, when the Apostles died, they left a system in place with their disciples in which the functions of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons were more specified.[5]

The First Deacons

In Acts 6, the Apostles realized they couldn’t do it all. The Church was growing. More people were being changed by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit—which meant more people where sharing their possessions and food….Read the rest of the article at http://goldlinechurch.com/what_is_a_deacon/

Why I Am Becoming Anglican: a Brief Explanation for my Assemblies of God family

January 2, 2015

index  Disclaimer: This post was written for a specific audience (a group called AG Ministers Under 40) and might be difficult to understand outside of that context. It is sort of an explanation as to why I am leaving the group. This post does not attempt to explain what Anglicanism is. It also uses language that would probably not make much since for someone unfamiliar with AG theology and practice.

INTRO During this past year, I made a very difficult decision to leave the only church I have known. I grew up in an Assemblies of God (AG) church. My family has been AG since the 1930s and is one of the oldest Pentecostal families in New Orleans. My father is an AG pastor and I have two brothers who are ordained AG ministers. I have held AG ministerial for a couple of years, but with the recent transition of the New Year (2015), my AG ministerial credentials have lapsed. God willing, I will be confirmed on January 25th into the Anglican Church by Bishop Todd Hunter at Holy Trinity in Costa Mesa. I am not leaving with hurt, bitterness, or resentment. Quite the contrary, I maintain a deep love and respect for the church that taught me the name of Jesus. The last AG congregation I was a part of (in Pasadena, CA) was a wonderful group of people led by a theologically capable pastor that I appreciate greatly. I am excited about the direction of the AG (under George Wood) and I am confident that it will continue to thrive in the decades to come. Because of my positive wishes toward my friends and family in the AG, I was not planning on sharing publicly my reasons for leaving. That is, I am not trying to convince people to leave the AG or even that it was a good idea for me to leave the AG. I actually want people to stay and make the AG even better. (I tried myself really hard to stay, and finally had to acknowledge that God was calling to the Anglican Church—or perhaps more accurately, God was making me into an Anglican). However, my friend (and fellow AG minister) Dan suggested that I give a public explanation for why I am leaving. His reasoning was that if people continue to leave silently, how will the AG address those issues which led to their exit from the church? I think Dan is right and so I am taking some time to explain how I became Anglican. But before I do, I will explain exactly what I mean by “Anglican,” as there exists a wide range of theology and practice within the Anglican communion (ranging from liberal to fundamentalist, low church to high church, Calvinist to Arminian). I am joining the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) which considers itself to be evangelical (prima scriptura, Christo-centric), charismatic (Spirit-filled), and catholic (embracing the universal practices of the ancient church, especially regarding sacraments, liturgy, and the episcopate).

HOW I BECAME ANGLICAN I am not becoming Anglican in spite of my AG pastors and mentors, but rather it was (at least in part) because of their influence that I have continued on this journey. Here I will name some of the shifts that resulted in my theological transition.

1. Recognizing the importance of Discipleship While in Chi Alpha (XA) at UL Lafayette, my pastor Eric taught me about the importance of discipleship. It seemed that for Eric and a lot of XA folks, Christianity had to be caught as well as taught. This led to a lot of important questions, such as, from whom did the first Pentecostals catch it? Who discipled Eric? And who discipled the person who discipled Eric? And so on? Doesn’t that chain eventually lead back to Methodists, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics? If Christianity is something that is passed on by people, then who were the people who passed it on between the Apostles and Martin Luther (the first Protestant)? While in XA, I began to develop a more embodied view of the faith, one in which the Spirit works through people and practices (i.e. spiritual disciplines) to form people over time. I began to realize that the people between the Apostles (Early Church) and Martin Luther (Reformation) were critical to my relationship with Christ. Those Roman Catholic people were the ones who preserved the ‘Jesus way’ of living and who perpetuated the knowledge of Holy Scripture. I could no longer hate—I had to appreciate (the Church)!

2. Recognizing the Centrality of the Church There was another XA pastor at ULL named Charles who had a profound impact on my life. He taught me about discipleship by discipling me. He recommended that I read a David Watson’s book Called and Committed: World-Changing Discipleship. Watson indicated that evangelism was not just about making converts, nor was it only about making disciples. The ultimate goal of evangelism is to make people into family members of God’s family (i.e. the church). This confirmed what I had already been observing as non-believers were being incorporated into our XA group. Christian infants (i.e. new believers) needed the family to teach them what it means to be a family member. As Christians matured, they become more responsible family members. Over time, I began to recognize that what God wanted was a family, a people that he could call his own. This is the message of the Old Testament. And the good news of the New Testament is that even gentiles can be welcomed into God’s holy, set-apart family. Thus, I began to have a much higher view of the church. The church was not a means to end, but rather it was the end to which Jesus came. He wanted a people. Ecclesiology (the theology of the church) and Soteriology (the theology of salvation) are inseparable. To be saved, is to be saved into the church (the people that God is saving). Thus salvation is ‘personal’ in the sense that it involves my person, my desires, my will, my emotions, etc.—but it is not personal in any individualistic sense. That is, it is not just about “me and God,” but about how God is reconciling all of creation to Himself through the Head and Body of Christ.

3. Recognizing that Conversion is a Process, not just an Event When I was a missionary in Berlin, Germany (basically doing XA in Europe), an AG missionary named Johnny told me to read Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic by Gordon Smith. Smith helped me to recognize that conversion is a process—which includes several important steps and/or events—but should not be reduced to an event. Smith demonstrates how these important conversion steps do not happen in the same order for all Christians. One of the necessary steps that Smith names is baptism. Although Smith does not argue in favor of infant baptism, his book helped me to see it in a more favorable light and to recognize that rebaptizing someone is unnecessary.

4. Recognizing that Pentecostalism had been strongly influenced by anti-Pentecostal thinkers like Zwingli and John Nelson Darby

A) Zwingli I am a semi-Reformed thinker. I have always recognized that the medieval Roman Catholic Church had developed several unhelpful theologies and practices which were foreign to the ancient Catholic Church, and thus in need of reforming. That is why I have a good bit of sympathy and a lot of respect for reformers like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, etc. However, in reading about the Reformers, I also recognized that on several points, Pentecostals have more in common with the Medieval Catholic Church than they do the Reformers. The Reformers were skeptical about the continuation of miracles and the gifts of the Spirit in the church after the apostolic age. Whereas, like Pentecostals, The Roman Church (as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches) continued to believe in miracles, healing, and spiritual gifts (even if they had fallen out of practice in many areas). Even though the Reformers were skeptical about miracles, most them did recognize at least one miracle: Christ makes himself present to us at the eucharist. Most Reformers maintained the ancient tradition that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, whether bodily present (Luther) or merely spiritually present (Calvin). However, there was one skeptical Reformer named Zwingli who denied the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and considered it simply a memorial. Zwingli’s memorialist view of the Eucharist was perpetuated by many Protestants over time and was eventually adopted early Pentecostals. In reflecting on the Reformation, I began to see Zwingli’s rejection of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as an extension of the cessationist Reformation program: God does not show up and do miracles. As a Pentecostal, I have always believed in miracles. I began to recognize that the early church believed in miracles, in the gifts of the Spirit, and in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. God is a miracle working God who continues “to show up” in the church through the power of the Spirit working in people and in the sacraments. Thus, I began to recognize the centrality of the Eucharist for Christian worship, the necessity of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and the rejection of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as a part of the Reformation cessationist project (which I have never bought into). I developed not only a high view of the church, but also a high view of the sacraments (seeing them as something that God is working through) and not merely powerless symbols.

B) John Nelson Darby Growing up AG, I thought all Christians believed in a secret rapture (where Christ suddenly steals all true, living Christians away to heaven). It turns out that idea of a secret rapture is a new doctrine that was invented as late as the 19th century and is only believed by a minority of Christians. The idea of a secret rapture seems to have its origins in the teachings of an English, Plymouth Brethren preacher named John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Darby was the father of Dispensationalism—the “doctrine” which divides time into separate “dispensations” in which God deals differently with people in each dispensation. According to classical dispensationalism, miracles ceased with the apostles. Dispensationalism was made popular in America among fundamentalist through the Scofield Reference Bible. Because early Pentecostals were not educated theologically, they often turned to the Scofield Reference Bible as theological textbook of sorts (despite the fact that Scofield denied the contemporary use of spiritual gifts like tongues). Dispensational eschatology (secret rapture included) is inherently anti-Pentecostal and our best AG theologians have demonstrated this (see Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit). God’s preferred future is not to destroy all of creation, but rather to renew it by baptizing all of creation in His Spirit. I embrace the gifts of the Spirit because church history demonstrates that they were not only at work in the Apostolic age, but that they were still in use during the Patristic Age (the age of the ancient church). The reason I embrace the Spiritual gifts is the same reason I reject dispensationalism and the secret rapture. I am only interested in practicing the faith that was passed down from Jesus by the Apostles. And that faith knew nothing of dispensations and a secret rapture. Sadly, the AG is committed to dispensationalist theology, as it has enshrined dispensationalism in its “Fundamental Truth #14 –The Millennial Reign of ChristThus over time, I have grown at odds with certain AG theological commitments (Zwinglian sacramental theology and Darby’s dispensational eschatology) not because I have become less Pentecostal, but because I have recognized these doctrines as inconsistent with the Pentecostal experience.

5. Recognizing the Pattern of the Early Church While in seminary I studied Early Church History and read primary sources from this time period. It became clear to me that the apostles (sent out by Christ) had appointed bishops in the cities where they ministered. We still have the writings of Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (discipled by John the Apostle) and Bishop Clement of Rome (discipled by Peter and Paul). If the Apostles left us bishops, why were we in the AG following a District Superintendent? If the early Church Fathers were baptizing infants, why were we denying them admission into the church? If the Fathers recognized the power of God working through the sacraments, why was I a part of church that trivialized the sacraments? Like many Pentecostals, I had always thought of myself as a theological primitivist. That is, I was under the impression that the early church had theology right and if we could just get back to the early church we would be okay. In time I discovered that my AG beliefs were far from ancient, primitive faith. AG “Fundamental Truths” numbers 7 (subsequence) and 14 (rapture/millennium) were invented in the 19th century and number 8 (initial physical evidence) was invented in the 20th century. “Fundamental Truth” number 6 (“the ordinances,” i.e. sacraments), as understood by the AG, has older origins, but still no older than the 15th century. These newer teachings are at odds with the ancient church mothers and fathers who were martyred as they  spread the gospel throughout the world. Today, I continue to see myself as a primitivist, and therefore I find certain AG theological particulars unhelpful because they fail to conform to the universal teachings of the ancient church.

6. Recognizing the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit at work in other Churches I began to realize that there were churches where the spiritual gifts seemed more active than in AG churches. A closer look at the Vineyard churches should cause us in the AG to question the importance of Classical Pentecostal “distinctives.” Margaret Poloma demonstrates in her book, The Assemblies of God: Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism, that when compared with AG churches, Vineyard churches typically practice speaking in tongues and prophecies in greater frequency—despite the Vineyard’s rejection of classical Pentecostal formulations (i.e. “Fundamental Truths” 7 and 8). Many in the AG would argue that “Pentecostal theological distinctives” produce the “Pentecostal experience,” but Poloma’s studies use quantitative data to prove the opposite is true. Over time, I learned more about the charismatic renewal, and how millions of people from Mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church experienced what Pentecostals call “Spirit-Baptism” and practiced speaking in tongues. I came to realize that I didn’t have to choose between Spirit-filled experience and historic orthodoxy. I could choose Spirit-filled, living orthodoxy: Anglicanism.

You can learn more about my church plant in Los Angeles at goldlinechurch.com

Books for Beginning Theology

July 2, 2012

A few weeks back I put together a reading list for a friend of mine who is interested in theology and is considering attending seminary. I decided to blog this list in case it might be helpful for others.

It begins with “popular books with the ‘seeds’ of theology”—most of these books are not academic books (they are written for a more general audience). However, they might be a good place to start for anyone with little to no academic theological learning.

This list is not intended to be in any way definitive or exhaustive. It is simply a starting place. If anyone has suggestions for this list, please write it in on the comment section. Please, keep in mind this list is intended for beginners.

Books for Beginning Theology

Popular books with the “seeds” of Theology:

  • Velvet Elvis and Sex God, Rob Bell – understanding Jesus in his Jewish context, leaving behind “enlightenment/modern thinking”
  • Many C.S. Lewis books are good beginning places for thinking theologically
  • The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (recovering discipleship, Sermon on the Mount)
  • Any popular book from N.T Wright such as “Simply Christian”

Light to Medium Level Theology

  • Beginning Well, Gordon T. Smith – theology of conversion
  • The Gospel of the Kingdom, George Eldon Ladd – theology of the kingdom of God
  • Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright – theology of resurrection, Jewish origins of Christianity (anything from Wright is great reading. some of it is heavy, so I would avoid his larger, heavier works for now)
  • When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem, Richard Mouw – intro to Neo-Calvinism and Christ transforming culture

Biblical Studies

  • How to Read the Bible for All its Worth. Gordon Fee
  • Seized by Truth, Joel B. Green
  • The Cambridge Companion to The Gospels. edited by Stephen C. Barton
  • The Shadow of the Galilean. Gerd Theissen. (this is a historical fiction that is designed to explain to help understand the cultural and socio-political setting of the gospels)
  • NT Wright’s “For Everyone” commentary series
  • The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. One great way to go deeper on the bible is go deeper on a single book. You could do this by reading a commentary on any book that you want to go deeper on. The writings of Paul would be a good place to start. The IVP commentary series is easy to read, so I would recommend starting there.

Systematic Theology (Textbooks)

  • Christian Theology: An Introduction, Alister McGrath (the 3rd and 4th editions can be bought used for under $10 on Amazon). This is a widely used text and very helpful. It does a good job of providing a historical perspective. Only weakness is that it has a slight Calvinist bias at the expense of the traditional (Catholic/Arminian) view.
  • Theology for the Community of God, Stanley J. Grenz (Grenz provides historical/ecumenical views as well as constructive theology.)
  • The “multiview series” from IVP is really good. Each book has 4 or 5 different views on various theological topics. This is a great way to learn what distinguishes various Christian traditions and also which ones you agree most with.
    Here is link to various titles.
  • Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, Clark Pinnock (this is great book about systematic theology from the perspective of the Spirit)
  • Essentials of Christian Theology, edited by William Placher (collection of essays on systematic topics. See table of contents on Amazon)

Christian History

Church Fathers

The Church Fathers

(most of these can be read online at http://www.ccel.org/ or found in any library)

  • Ignatius of Antioch – I think everyone should read Ignatius of Antioch’s Epistles (not because they are so profound, but they are Christian writing from the first generation after the Apostles
  • Clement of Rome – We should read his epistles for the same reasons as Ignatius above
  • Adversus Haereses or Against Heresies – Irenaeus of Lyon
  • On the Incarnation ­– Athansius
  • Justin Martyr – writes a lot of good stuff. Good insight into early Christianity

 

Law, Grace, Email, and Sex

January 21, 2012

Under the Law and/or Grace?

What do Christians do with “the law?” This was a big a question in the early church. It seemed as confusing to them as does to many Christians today. Sometimes Paul talks as if faith cancels the law, but other times he advocates for keeping the law.

In the same letter to the Romans, Paul writes both, “you are not under the law, but under grace,” and also, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”[1] In his letter to the Galatians, he seems to argue against keeping the law, but later in his life, he joins in a Jewish purification rite to prove to the Jews living in Jerusalem that he was “living in obedience to the law.”[2] He was actually arrested just before he could make his planned sacrifice in the Temple.

And we see why this can be so confusing. The same Paul says ‘no’ to the Galatians, and then tries to make sacrifices at the Temple? What’s going on?

We can begin to make sense of the law, when we remember that the law (Gen-Deut) is the Word of God. The law was God revealed to Israel. We call this “special revelation” because it is what God reveals about himself that we could not have known from nature (natural revelation). The law is revelation, and revelation from God is always precious.

The law is God’s Word–are in Greek: logos. One gospel writer described Jesus as the logos. He wrote, “The logos became flesh, and made His dwelling among us.”[3]

Email or Making out?

I guess you could say I always loved Janna Mahoney, even since the first day I met her. But the more I got to know her, the more my love for her grew.

In 2005, we starting dating, but then she broke up with me just before I moved to Berlin in July of 2005.

In July of 2007, after a 2-year break up, Janna and I decided to give our relationship another shot. And then I flew away 2 weeks later to spend the year in Berlin. But Janna stayed in Lafayette.

So the year before Janna and I got married, our primary mode of communication was email. Everyday I jumped out of bed and checked my inbox.

Those emails from Janna were the most precious part of my day. I read and re-read them.

Email was the only Janna I had.

We learned so much about each other through email. We expressed our love for each other through email. I remember wanting to just be with her and hold her, but all I had was my laptop and Yahoo!Mail.

Now let’s fast-forward to 2011. We’ve been married for over 3 years now.

Let’s imagine that I’m lying in bed next to my wife and I am so filled with love for her that I must express it. So I get out of bed and go compose an email to her. I tell her how much I want to hold her, how I want to know everything about her, and that I wish she were just here in person so we could just be together.

Wouldn’t this be absurd? I hardly ever write my wife emails anymore. Why? Because when I’m filled with for love her, I can just tell her in person or I just start making out with her.

There was a time when email was all we had, but now we have so much more.

I learned a lot about Janna through email. But I’ve learned much more living with her. I’ve got a much better idea of who she is, how she loves me, and why I am committed to her for my entire life.

Today, it would be sick for me to choose emailing her over being with her in person.

Sinai, Pentecost, and a Bride from Galatia

Pentecost is the Jewish celebration of God giving the law. And it is no mistake that God poured out His Holy Spirit on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost.

Because He prophesied through Jeremiah that He would “make a new covenant
with the people of Israel.” God said, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” [4]

At Sinai God put his law on clay tablets. The old covenant. This was the law–outside of man–signified by circumcised penises and kosher meals.

At Jerusalem God put his law on the hearts of His people. The new covenant. This was the law–inside of man–signified by circumcised hearts and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

So Paul writes a letter to the gentile Bride of Christ in Galatia. She has been sleeping in bed with Christ for several years now, but someone has come along and told her that if she really wants intimacy with Christ, she needs to send him an email. The crazy thing was, she was actually about to send the email.

So Paul writes and says, “Are you crazy? You’ve got the Holy Spirit inside of you! Jesus, the living logos, lives inside of you! Cutting off those foreskins is not going to do anything for you.

Why would you settle for an email? You’ve got the real thing right there in bed next to you!”

Paul describes the old covenant as Mount Sinai – God is way up on the mountain, we are down here —we need email to communicate from such a great distance.

The new covenant is described as the New Jerusalem – the city where God lives – God is in close proximity—his Spirit is in us—we don’t have to settle for email–we can be in His presence.

So now, is Email Bad?

Email (the first covenant) was great, when it was the only revelation of God we had, but since the logos became flesh, dwelt among us and sent his Spirit to live in us, we have a much better revelation.

Although I have much better ‘revelation’ of Janna—Janna in the flesh—-I still have every email and letter she ever sent me.[5] I didn’t start erasing those emails once we got married. I don’t speak badly against those emails. No. In fact, they still tell something about who she is and our story together. I cherish those emails.

So it makes sense that Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law,” and  “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law”?[6]

Those emails about Him were true. No need to delete them. No need speak against them. They actually confirm that Jesus was the Christ.

So hopefully this helps to make sense of Paul obeying the law and trying to make sacrifice in Acts 21. He had no problem sending an email, because he was doing it out of love for his fellow Israelites, who had high regard for email. He was fine with email, as long as it doesn’t cause division and as long as it doesn’t replace making-out.

You’ve gotta make out.


            [1] Romans 6:14; Romans 3:31.

For verses where Paul seems to speak against keeping the law, see: 2 Cor. 3:6-17, Rom 6:14-15, Gal 3-4.

For verses where Paul seems to advocate keeping the law, see: Rom 2:12-23, 3:31, 8:7-8, Acts 21:20-26, Acts 25:8.

            [2] Acts 21:24

            [3] John 1:14

[4] Hebrews 8:7-13; Jer. 31:31-34

[5] Thus Jesus says, Matthew 5 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

And Paul says that all “scripture (referring to the Law and the Prophets) is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”

[6] Matthew 5:18