A Few Thoughts On Genetic Engineering (part three)

The Need for Biblical Ethics

Many agree that “If we do adopt a policy of human genetic engineering, we ought to do so with extreme caution.”[1] I believe that a biblical and Christ exalting ethical system is necessary to provide bedrock convictions. Without the Bible we are left to our own devices, to do what is right in our own eyes.

The Bible does not address the subject of genetic engineering directly. You will not find “genetic modification” in a Bible concordance. The Bible does, however, provide foundational principals that are vital for us to consider and apply. The storyline of the Bible and of reality provides some very important insights.

First, in the beginning of the story of Scripture we see that God created everything, and He created it very good (Gen. 1:31). God is the Great Creator but we also see that we are made in His image and are also creative (Gen. 1:26-27). We also see from the fact that we are made in the image of God that all human life is precious and should be protected. This is where we get the concept of the sanctity of life. We also see from the beginning of Genesis that humans are called to subdue the earth, we are to reign under God as His vice-regents. So, we are to obey His will and bring blessing and flourishing to all we can.

This is important to remember when we consider gene editing because we learn a number of things. 1) God made us creative and made us to bring flourishing and blessing. 2) God also made us to obey Him, He is the Lord. We should never do anything that is outside of His will. 3) The fact that God is the Creator of all provides a basis for the reasonableness of the laws of science. We can make logical deductions and seek out God’s creative design because God has designed things in a reasonable way.

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A Few Thoughts On Genetic Engineering (part two)

Types of Genetic Engineering

As you read this, remember, “The best insurance against possible abuse is a well-informed public.”[1] So, with that in mind, let’s look at four types of genetic engineering.

First, and lest controversial, is somatic gene therapy.[2] The way I remember what somatic refers to is by remembering that soma is the Greek word for “body.” Somatic gene therapy involves the manipulation of gene cells within the body that are non-reproductive.[3] So somatic genes that are edited do not get passed on to future generations.

Second, germline gene therapy involves the genetic modification of the germline cells (eggs or sperm). So germline therapy changes the genetic make up of the individual and is thus carried on to future generations. That is one of the reasons that “No aspect of gene therapy is more highly charged than that of germline or germ-cell therapy.”[4] One of the questions that is important to ask regarding germline gene therapy is: “Will a ‘deleterious’ gene of today be considered a ‘deleterious’ gene tomorrow?”[5]

This discussion, I must remind you, is not some sci-fi dream, “Many assure that within our decade, depending upon the family and the circumstances, height, weight and even eye color will become elective.”[6]

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A Few Thoughts On Genetic Engineering (part one)

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 10.26.23 PMThe topic of genetic engineering makes me think of the movie Universal Soldier where the soldiers were genetically engineered to have superior strength and heal quickly. The 

Boys from Brazil is another movie that has genetic engineering as part of the plot. In this movie there are ninety-four clones made of Adolf Hitler and sent to different parts of the world. Examples of plot twists and possible plot twists could be multiplied but does it make sense to realistically think about genetic engineering?

Specialists from varied backgrounds think so. Take these examples:

Megan Best has said: “Genetics will have an important role in shaping society in the future because it increases our understanding of how disease occurs and how treatments work differently between individuals. It promises new ways to improve the health of the population.”[1] “Full of promise, full of challenges—we will all be involved in the genetic revolution before we know it.”[2]

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said in 2016 regarding genetic engineering that “It is urgent that citizens around the world inform themselves and participate in this rapidly moving set of decisions.”[3]

“Prominent voices in the genetic technology field believe that mankind is destined for a genetic divide that will yield a superior race or species to exercise dominion over an inferior subset of humanity. They speak of ‘self-directed evolution’ in which genetic technology is harnessed to immeasurably correct humanity—and then immeasurably enhance it. Correction is already underway. So much is possible: genetic therapies, embryo screening in cases of inherited disease and even modification of the genes responsible for adverse behaviors.”[4]

The way we think deeply matters. Adam S. Cohen says this in his essay, “Harvard’s Eugenics Era”: “There are… forward-looking reasons to revisit this dark moment in [Harvard’s] past. Biotechnical science has advanced to the brink of a new era of genetic possibilities. In the next few years, the headlines will be full of stories about gene-editing technology, genetic ‘solutions’ for a variety of human afflictions and frailties, and even ‘designer babies.”[5]

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What is Expository Preaching?

What is expository preaching? What are the duties of the pastor and the role of the congregation? 

Expositional preaching has three main characteristics. First, the passaged that is preached on is a single passage rather than various passages put together. Second, the main point or theme of the sermon is derived from the theme or main point of the passage. That is, expositional preaching seeks to exposit the text that is preached. Third, expositional preaching is typically lectio continua—that is, it is preaching that consecutively works through passages of Scripture in their biblical context.[1]

Here are two of my favorite definitions: 

“Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God”   (R. Albert Mohler Jr., He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Post-Modern World, 65).

“To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and it expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition,’ which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the ‘text’ in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or even a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification” (John Stott, Between Two World, 125-26).

Thus, pastors have the duty to communicate God’s transforming truth, exalt Jesus Christ, teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and encourage conformity to Christ (see e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2).

The duty of the congregation is to attentively and prayerfully listen to and seek to apply the word taught with reverence and humility realizing that the pastor is seeking their welfare (Heb. 13:17) yet always being discerning to ensure that what is said is in accord with the word of God (Acts 17:11). 

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[1] Cf. Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, 55.

Do the Work of an Evangelist

Timothy is exhorted by Paul to “do the work of an evangelist.” And work it is, as Paul knew well. The Scripture uses the imagery of sowing seed and reaping a harvest. The picture given in Scripture is not surprisingly an accurate one, and a labor-intensive one.

Sowing seed takes lots of work and lots of time. Further, we are never guaranteed a harvest. The Spirit blows where it wills (Jn. 3:8), though He does use means. We must be faithful to sow and cultivate all the while remembering that God brings the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). We must labor on even when there is no sign of life. We can rest assured that the gospel is the power to salvation and if we are faithful to sow gospel seed a harvest should come. We must always remember that the seed we sow, the only one that can bring new life, is “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). In the book of Acts, we see that the Word, when “planted,” continued to increase and prevail mightily. It is only when the word of truth, the gospel, is proclaimed that there is fruit and growth (cf. Col. 1:5-6).

We would do well to remember many of the prophets’ experience and realize sometimes the seasons are long and at times we may see droughts. In these seasons, when there seems to be no life, we must remind ourselves that God’s Word will not return to Him void but it shall accomplish its purpose (Is. 55:10-11). Though, sometimes God uses His Word to harden (cf. Is. 6:9-10; Matt. 13;14-15; Acts 28:26-27) we must continue to be faithful to go to the highways and byways and compel people to come to Him (Lk. 14:23).

We have a difficult task, ye impossible. Hear Spurgeon in The Soul Winner:

“We are sent to say to blind eyes, ‘See,’ To deaf ears, ‘Hear,’ to dead hearts, ‘Live,’ and even to Lazarus rotting in that grave, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ (John 11:43). Dare we do this? We will be wise to begin with the conviction that we are utterly powerless for this unless our Master has sent us and is with us. But if He who sent us is with us, ‘all things are possible to him that believeth’ (Mark 9:23).”[1]

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[1] C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (New Kingston, PA: Whitaker House, 1995), 157.        

Is Numerical Church Growth a Biblical Mandate?

Churches don’t necessarily have the mandate to grow but they do have a mandate to deploy all their resources to advance the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Churches must utilize all that God has given them to make disciples, it’s why they exist. It’s a matter of stewardship. 

Churches are not unfaithful if the chairs are not filled but they are unfaithful if those who fill the chairs are not working at telling the broken world about Jesus in word and deed. So what churches must evaluate is not merely if they are reaching the lost community around them but if they are even intentionally thinking in that way. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and He has called us to carry out His mission of making disciples. 

Winston Churchhill used to give out commands labeled “Action This Day.” These tasks were to be done with urgency and intentionality. How much more our Lord’s command?! It is labeled “Action This Day!” It is high priority.

So, is numerical church growth a biblical mandate? Not exactly. After all, it’s the Spirit who gives life. Yet, intentional discipleship and ministry of the Word very often leads to numerical church growth. So, we must work to intentionally love and reach people with the good news of Jesus but not merely for numerical church growth. 

The question churches must ask is not simply “how can we grow this church?” but “how can we best deploy all our resources for the furtherance of the gospel and the growth of God’s Kingdom?”[1] So, as we strategize about our church we must not forget about the Church

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[1] I have found Jeff Christopherson’s book Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements very helpful on this subject. 

Theology of Public Worship

Worship must be carried out according to God’s revealed will. We want to worship God in the way that He has prescribed as best as we possibly can.[1] So, we want our worship to be drenched in Bible. We want every aspect to pour out biblical truth.

Public worship must succeed as much as possible in carrying out what God has given us in His word to do. We should acknowledge, however, that “The New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public ‘services’ so much as with examples of crucial elements.”[2] Even though it is true that the New Testament does not give us “a complete manual of liturgics,”[3] it does gives us clear things that we are to do.[4]

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us a few things that are essential for disciples of Jesus. Matthew 28:19-20 says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We will look at implications from the Great Commission first and then turn to other crucial aspects of what it means to be the called out ones of God.

First, the church is given a command. Something we must collectively work at carrying out. We must make disciples and that includes sharing the good news of Jesus with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Public worship then is to facilitate discipleship (which includes encouraging evangelism).

Second, after those that we share Jesus with trust Him and repent of their sin then they are to be baptized (Matt. 28:19-20; Mk. 16:15-16). Thus, the church is to celebrate baptisms. 

Third, we see the church must teach disciples to do all that Jesus the Lord commanded and so we see the importance of teaching, preaching, and reading Scripture within the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Why is preaching such a big deal? Preaching is essential because it teaches God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.

Thus, we see the preaching of the Scriptures have a central place in the gathered services of the church. Sermons communicate God’s transforming truth, they exalt Jesus Christ, they teach the Bible so that people understand and apply what God has said, and they encourage conformity to Christ.

Fourth, gathering together on a regular basis is vital (Heb. 10:24-25). It was the practice of the early church to gather together on Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7-11; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). Thus, we see the vital importance of community

Fifth, celebrating the Lord’s Supper together is essential because that’s what Jesus told us to do (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Jesus said “…do this…” so it’s not an option. We must gather together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. 

Sixth, qualified leaders (elders/pastors) are very important so that they can ensure the health of the church. Titus 1:5-9 tells us that Paul put elders in Crete because things were out of order until qualified elders were leading. Leaders are also given to the church to teach and equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-14 see also Col. 1:28-29). Thus, it is important that qualified leaders have oversight of the public worship of the church.

Seventh, the Bible also tells us that it is important for churches to sing songs together. Ephesians 5 says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 18-20; cf. Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). Notice too that it’s not just a person singing by their self but rather we address one another as we sing. 

Eighth, it is also very important that churches be a holy witness and so church discipline is vital. See, for example, Matthew 18:15-20 (and also Phil. 2:15; 1 Cor. 5:9-12). Matthew 18:17 says, “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.” When the church gathers for public worship it is, as much as possible, to be a gathering of saints; or course, seekers are welcome to! But, false converts who will spread heresy like gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17) are not.  

Ninth, another foundation of healthy public worship is the practice of spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the body, the church (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 14:26). This is important because “each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). It’s good to be “eager for manifestations of the Spirit” but we see from Scripture (and especially 1 Corinthians) that it’s more important that we “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).

Tenth, from reading the New Testament we also see that prayer is an important part of the gathered church. Jesus taught on the importance of prayer and we can see from reading Acts that prayer was vital to the early church (e.g. Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31). 

Eleventh, almsgiving and charity are also important aspects of a Christian church because Christians are called to care for and help people, as they are able. We see this seems to be the regular practice of the early church (e.g. Acts 6; 1 Cor. 16:1-4). 

With all this being said, I agree with Michael A. Farley, we should not “read the NT in an inappropriately narrow and legalistic fashion as if the NT as a whole is to function as a collective new covenant version of Leviticus. If none of the individual NT books were written to be an exhaustive liturgical manual, then it is wrong to read and apply the NT as a whole in this restrictive fashion.”[6]

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[1] I appreciate what Michael A. Farley says: “Evangelical scholars employ a range of very different hermeneutical strategies in applying the Bible to worship. This is not surprising, of course, since evangelicals are divided over the theory and practice of biblical hermeneutics in many areas of theology. The first step toward progress in reconciling divergent views is a clear recognition and accurate characterization of the diversity of hermeneutical approaches to constructing a biblical theology of worship. If discussion can take place at this level, evangelicals can avoid the frustrating experience of talking past one another without comprehending why one’s arguments are not persuasive to one’s interlocutors” (“What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 [2008]: 610).

[2] Worship by the Book, 52.

[3] Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 610. “There is no single passage in the New Testament that establishes a paradigm for corporate worship” (Worship by the Book, 55).

[4] For example, I really appreciate this summary by Edmond Clowney: “The New Testament indicates, by precept and example, what elements of [corporate] worship are. As in the synagogue, corporate prayer is offered (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 2:1; 1 Cor. 14:16); Scripture is read (1 Tim. 4:13; 1 Th. 5:27; 2 Th. 3:14; Col. 4:15, 16; 2 Pet. 3:15, 16) and expounded in preaching (1 Tim. 4:13; cf. Lk. 4:20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 4:2). There is a direct shift from the synagogue to the gathering of the church (Acts 18:7, 11; cf. 19:8-10). The teaching of the word is also linked with table fellowship (Acts 2:42; 20:7, cf. vv. 20, 25, 28). The songs of the new covenant people both praise God and encourage one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:15; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 5:9-13; 11:17f; 15:3, 4). Giving to the poor is recognized as a spiritual service to God and a Christian form of ‘sacrifice’ (2 Cor. 9:11-15; Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:16). The reception and distribution of gifts is related to the office of the deacon (Acts 6:1-6; Rom. 12:8, 13; cf. Rom. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8:19-21; Acts 20:4; 1 Cor. 16:1-4) and to the gathering of believers (Acts 2:42; 5:2; 1 Cor. 16:2). The faith is also publically confessed (1 Tim. 6:12; 1 Pet. 3:21; Heb. 13:15; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3). The people receive God’s blessing (2 Cor. 13:14; Lk. 24:50; cf. Num. 6:22-27). The holy kiss of salutation is also commanded (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Th. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). The people respond to praise and prayer with the saying of ‘Amen’ (1 Cor. 14:16; Rev. 5:14; cf. Rom. 1:25; 9:5; Eph. 3:21 etc.). The sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are explicitly provided for. Confession is linked with baptism (1 Pet. 3:21); and a prayer of thanksgiving with the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:24)” (Clowney, “Presbyterian Worship,” Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D.A. Carson, 117 as quoted in Worship by the Book, 48).

[5] Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1

[6] Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship,” JETS 51/3 (2008): 610-11. “Liturgical theology ought to be a matter of wisdom that results from reflection upon all that God has revealed in Scripture about corporate worship in light of the person and work of Christ. Thus Christians need to employ a more theologically oriented regulative principle rather than one that would limit legitimate liturgical practices solely to those explicitly attested in the NT” (Farley, “What Is “Biblical’ Worship?,” 611). In a similar way, John Piper says, “In the Old Testament, there is an extremely detailed set of guidelines for how everything should be done in relationship to the tabernacle and the sacrifices and the way people come to God. In the New Testament, those details are almost completely lacking. I am tempted to say completely lacking. There is no way anybody could construct a normative worship service from what we have in the New Testament. Lots of people think they can, but I don’t think so. There is more tradition going on there than they realize.” “Do We Really Need Musical Worship?” https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-we-really-need-musical-worship. John Piper goes on to say, “I don’t think you look for prescribed patterns in the New Testament. You look for emphases, trajectories, implications, the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of his mind, the nature of his emotions, the nature of salvation, the nature of gifts. And what you find is that there is an extraordinary centrality and emphasis to the word of God in the Christian life” (Ibid.).

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