Monday, August 31, 2009

The unscriptural illogic of free will

The Lord’s Prayer as it should be read in most churches:

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done (except when it comes to salvation)
On earth as it is in heaven

It is quite popular to speak of “free will” as if that is some wonderful gift of God. My daughters have a book by Eric Metaxas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask) that I skimmed through this weekend and the book is just full of glowing references to free will (and is generally a horrific book that paints a picture of an impotent God). I wish I had a dollar for every person who told me that free will is God’s great gift to us, not forcing us to be saved but leaving the choice up to us as if that is somehow loving.

I say no thanks. I don’t want a free will because left to my own devices I always get in trouble. I prefer God’s will to my own will. Many people speak of free will as if it is this wonderful thing that God has given us, leaving the ultimate choice of salvation in our hands. I say there is no one I trust less for my own salvation than myself. Thank God that He didn’t leave salvation up to me, not one iota, not one step. Let me be clear. I am not talking about free will in choosing what you wear today (although I wish people had a little less free will there). I am talking about Free Will when it comes to coming to faith in Christ. I am talking “making a decision for Christ”, “inviting Him into your heart”, etc.

If man truly had a free will in the sense taught and preached in most of the church, Abraham would still be Abram and would have died in Haran. Peter and Andrew would have kept on casting their nets in the sea. Paul would still be Saul. I would still be caught up in mormonism. There would be no churches to be critical of because there would be no Christians.

What it really comes down to is one question: did Christ die to make salvation possible for all men without exception, leaving the ultimate initiator of salvation up to men or did Christ die specifically and purposefully to save a remnant of lost and sinful mankind?

The Bible itself gives us the answer. For example, John 3:16 is one verse that people love to throw out as if it somehow is a refutation of Calvinism. Nothing could be further from the truth because John 3:16 is part of a greater discourse. If we read just John 3:16, we read:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Sure, you can argue that John 3:16 supports “free will”. The Bible is not a series of unrelated verses pasted together and we can't read it that way. John 3:16 is part of a greater discourse which includes things like:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

The world and everyone in it is already condemned and only through faith in Christ can one be saved. But doesn’t that still mean that man has free will to choose Christ? Not when you look at the way this discourse to Nicodemus starts:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 3-8)

Unless you are born again by the Spirit, you cannot see the Kingdom of God. Not that you don't choose to see, you cannot see. The unregenerate heart cannot come to Christ because it has no idea that it needs Christ. In other words, you are not born again because you choose Christ, you are born again because Christ chose you. You didn’t change your heart, God changed your heart in spite of your free will. You don’t come to Christ unless Christ first comes to you (John 6:44). The order this happens in is so important because it tells you who initiates and completes salvation, you or God. So in a nutshell, John 3:16 can only be used as a defense of “free will” if you choose (pun intended) to ignore the context that precedes and follows the verse.

All of the verses that people love to throw out in defense of man’s sovereign free will like John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2 are perfectly compatible with God’s sovereign grace and shame on the Calvinist who suggests that there are verses in the Bible that refute election. The overall theme of Scripture is that God has chosen a remnant of lost mankind to redeem and we are redeemed from a fate that is already determined. Free will aside, your fate is sealed as a sinner and that fate is an everlasting hell. It is only through the particular redeeming grace of God that any escape the fire. From the Garden to the Cross, the story is one of God's sovereignity, not man's free will.

In his Gospel account John records the Great Shepherd discourse which gives a clear explanation of God’s electing grace.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10: 11-18)

Christ laid down His life for His sheep, His sheep who know His voice. They know His voice because they are His sheep and they are His sheep because the Father gave them to Him and that is who Christ died for. They are not His sheep because they chose Him, they were given to Him by the Father.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10: 27-30)

We didn’t put ourselves in Christ’s hands, God the Father gave us to Him. Another great passage is in Romans 5. Christ’s death on our behalf was not based on some perceived future righteousness on our part. In contrast, Paul tells us that Christ died for us when there was no reason to do so. Our faith has for its source God’s gift to us, our faith doesn’t have as its source our own dead, sin laden hearts. While we were still weak, while we were still lost in our sins, Christ died for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

The death of Christ was not predicated on our future choice of Him. Christ didn’t die for me because He could see that I would choose Him of my own free will. When Christ looked at me, I am sure that he saw that I (and every other Christian) would die lost unless He not only died to pay for our sins but ensured that the Spirit would regenerate our hearts. Christ died for me when my salvation was hopeless and through the Word and the Holy Spirit ensured that I would come to faith. Free will always ends in the same place: an eternal hell. If you are a Christian, thank God that His grace overcame your stubborn heart, that His will was done and not your own. God’s great gift to His people is not free will, it is His will.

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

If man truly had free will, heaven would be empty.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thought for the day

The church is not a place we go or a thing we do. It is the people of God saved by the power of God for the glory of God.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I don't think they are coming back

The Jehovah's Witnesses were here again. I got kind of preachy near the end because I could sense they were not going to make another visit. They brought something up that was kind of odd, in that they were trying to argue that Proverbs 8:22 was proof that Christ was a created being and not eternally co-existent. Proverbs 8:22-23 reads:

"The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. (Pro 8:22-23)

They were arguing that this was speaking about Christ and that it showed that Christ was created. I think I finally convinced them that even though this was apparently an important proof text for them, in context it is speaking of wisdom, not of Christ specifically. I think they finally gave in. We also spoke at some length about the triune nature of God an delved a bit into the importance of qualified individuals to translate from the original languages. I sincerely pray that what we spoke about today will flourish in changed hearts because I doubt they will come back. I also know that God is sovereign and that if these men are of the elect that God will change their hearts and they will come to faith, in spite of and not because of my efforts.

The one guy came from a Roman Catholic background. What is sad is that he grew up surrounded by religion but never came to know who Christ is. My immediate prideful thought was that it was no wonder someone would grow up as Catholic and then go astray. Later though I thought that his background is little different from so many people, with a religious background and no knowledge of Christ. The rituals are different, the emptiness is the same. Please pray for Dan and Victor, but also pray for the Body of Christ. Pray that we will not be satisfied and content with rituals and traditions but instead will only find satisfaction in Christ.

Bookmark and Share

Is the church still the church without people?

This quote is verbatim from Alan Knox's blog and I think it gets at the heart of what ills the church:

“The Christian idea of the people which, according to the Gospel of Mark, is defined by Jesus’ relationship to them (the ochlos) was not merely left unimplemented in the history of the hierarchical church; it was actually suppressed. We shall only rediscover it if we rise up with the cry of popular protest–this time on the part of the church’s people–claiming: ‘We are the church.’ This is what has happened since 1994 in Catholic congregations in Europe. Ever since the early Christian development of the manarchical episcopate, we have known the church as a hierarchy ‘from above’ which delegates the universal episcopate of the pope ‘downwards’, and demotes the people of Christ to the status of ‘the faithful’, or ‘the people in the pews’. The distinction between clergy and laity has split the people of God into two. The word ‘lay’ originally meant a member of the laos, the people of God; but because the clerics were set apart from the people, the word came to mean the ignorant and incompetent, those with no jurisdiction. A ‘complete layman’ means someone who doesn’t understand what something is about. In the hierarchical perspective, ‘the people’ are only there as the object of ‘holy rule’, of caritative care and guidance by their ’shepherds’. For centuries, people in the church have reacted to this godless and un-Christian deprival of their responsibility with growing apathy and with silence. Since they are no longer ‘forced’ to go to church, they leave the church altogether. The result is people without a church and a church without people. This is a silent falling away from the church which the church itself has brought about. It is only if this ‘church for the people’ becomes a ‘church of the people and by the people’, and if the hierarchical church for looking after people becomes a congregational church, with many different kinds of participation, that the ancient schism between chruch and people will be overcome.

“What applies to the Roman catholic hierarchy in its estrangement from the people can also be said about the Protestant pastoral aristocracy, or its somewhat more modern variation in the form of a theological and pastoral expertocracy. Ideas about a blanket church-management which will cover the religious needs of the people are not enough to create what in Germany is called a Volkskirche, a church intended to meet the needs of the whole population. Even the strenuously promoted programmes ‘church for the people’, ‘church for others’, or ‘church for the world’ do not reach the people, because the word for cuts the church off from the people and makes the people an object–something to be cared for. A ‘people’s’ church which accords with Jesus and the people can grow up only through a congregational renewal that springs from the people and is implemented through the people. For this, the Catholic base communities in Latin America, and the free church, Pentecostal congregations are examples and models.” (Jurgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, 265-66)

I don't know much about Moltmann, so this is not a wholesale endorsement of him or his theology because frankly I am not sure where he is coming from. What he says about the state of the church is right on in so many ways. As Alan points out, the church is not a "people's church" in the sense of a church that is about the people. I like what he said here:

He is correct that when the church becomes the clergy’s church (either in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Protestantism), the people become separated from the church. The people lose sight of the fact that they are the church in identity, and the church functions only as the people function… not as the clergy functions. In reality, the church does not exist apart from the people, since the church is the people of God gathered out of the world and sent into the world.

The church is about Christ and is manifested in the people of Christ. By forming separate classes of people, we have crippled the church by overburdening a few and relegating the rest into spectators.

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

Proclaiming the truth to the lost is not something reserved to clergy or missionaries. There are plenty of lost people to go around.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 28, 2009

Meditations on the Word: 1 John 2: 1-2

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Two things jump out here and they are two very important doctrines that are kind of glossed over: The idea of Christ as advocate and the idea of Christ as propitiation.

Christ as Advocate

Men naturally like the idea of human intermediaries. Praying in the name of Christ seems OK, but it just seems more real to us if we have someone else we can see and touch. But when man sins, as man will, there is only one person we can turn to, only one we can trust and only one who is able to act as advocate and intermediary for us: Jesus Christ. There is no longer a Levitical priesthood needed or desired to acts as priests for us. We have a High Priest and His name is Jesus Christ and we need and desire no other. Every Christian has this same advocate in Christ, so we do not have to go to a pastor or confess to a priest or pray to a dead "saint" or light candles or any other of the myriad of religious rituals we have created to try to gain favor with God. All the favor and righteousness we will ever need has been bought with a price by Christ at the cross and He stands at the right hand of the Father still today to act as intermediary and advocate for His sheep.

Christ as propitiation

Why do we have Christ as our advocate? Because of the cross. Propitiation is one of those high falutin' theological terms that no one likes, but it is a Biblical word and one that conveys a meaning that I don't think you can get with a different word. It is so vital to understanding the cross. It encapsulates so many ideas: man's sin, God's holiness and justice, the Garden, the atoning sacrifices of the temple, grace. I don't want to do a full study of propitiation here because this is supposed to be more devotional in nature and quite frankly I am not sure I am theologically mature and astute enough to give it a proper treatment. Suffice it to say that at the cross my sin met the holiness of God and was propitiated by grace. The propitiation of the cross shatters all human pride and self-reliance, it destroys the idea of meritorious works in salvation because it exposes the true nature of sin and the white hot wrath of God against that sin, a perfectly just and holy righteous reaction to the rebellion of sin. His death should have been my death, His cross should have been my cross. There was nothing I could do to make God love me more and nothing I can do to make God love me less. An important point that could be overlooked here. When John writes: not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world, that is not some sort of universalist statement or a defense of man's sovereign free will. Christ died for the sins of the elect in all places and at all times. It was not a limited scope propitiation for just Jews or for just that time period but it also was not a purposeless propitiation. In Christ, at the cross, the sins of all those predestined to salvation were propitiated in full. The cross was infinite in sufficiency but effective only for those ordained from before time began to be saved by grace through the gift of faith. When we examine passages like this, we need to read them in light of the entire Scripture and not imprint our man-centered ideas in place of Biblical doctrines like predestination, election and particular atonement.

Bookmark and Share

Doctrinal divisions Is there a place for Arminians in the pulpit?

My friend Josh is hosting another interesting discussion about divisions in the Body. It is kind of an internal discussion so far among brothers who are Reformed. It is interesting because what it comes down to is basically the same question I have wrestled with as have others: how do we live out what Scripture teaches regarding unity in a local body? I don't think many of us would deny the concept of unity, but boy is it hard sometimes to live that out in the "real world". Hop over to Josh's discussion and weigh in on this topic. I am convinced that unity in the Body is one of the most important issues we face and one we are doing generally a really poor job of handling. It certainly doesn't help that there are so many out there who make it their mission to draw lines in the sand in every possible way. I appreciate what Josh and others on this post have had to say, because it is honest and really seems to seek out unity instead of seeking out new and improved ways to divide ourselves.

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

Free grace may be “free” to us but it was not obtained without a cost.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meditations on the Word: 1 John 8-10

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1Jn 1:8-10)

Is there anything harder than this? Saying "I am a sinner" and realizing what that means? It is an easy thing to say, it is a harder thing to mean. Admitting our own sin requires us to realize just how condemned we are and how helpless we are. It lays bare our own utter helplessness and dependence on Him. Humans by nature are rebellious and proud. The Gospel shows us how foolish our self-dependence and self-reliance truly is. I believe one of the great stumbling blocks in the human heart is pride and talk of sin pricks that pride. How dare anyone say that I am inherently bad! How dare anyone say that I am helplessly lost and must depend on the death of a Jewish man who lived like a pauper two thousand years ago! Nowhere is the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation more apparent than in the inherent lostness in sin of the unregenerate heart.

Some people seem to think that being justified means that they no longer sin, that they are walking in perfection in their sin wracked bodies. That deceit is as great as any other heresy. Paul said it simply and powerfully in Romans 7: 19 when he wrote:

I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

What a refutation that is to those who think that they are without sin. How true that is and how helpless we are. How gracious it is that Christ forgave us!

Others think that because they prayed a prayer they are forgiven and can live however they want. As John states boldly and clearly here and later on in this letter, that is not the case. If we say we are His but make a practice of sinning, the truth is not in us.

How wonderful though the these words of our God who cannot lie:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

That is the great promise. That if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us. Note the utter lack of stipulations there. Not if we confess our sins and say a few Hail Mary's. Not if we confess our sins and join a church. Not if we confess our sins and agree with this confession. Not if we confess our sins and do these acts of piety. Not if we confess our sins and are baptized. The great missing "and" is what makes the Gospel so precious and true. Salvation is all of Christ and not of ourselves, not one bit. Even the faith to confess Christ is itself a gift from Him. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone.

Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory!

Bookmark and Share

The false gospel of prosperity

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5: 1-3)

I was asked by someone why I labeled the “Health, wealth and prosperity” movement a heresy. It is a fair question. I have complained before about the casual way we throw words like “heresy” around, so here are my reasons for labeling the HWP movement a heresy. I will admit I have no use for the HWP preachers and it is hard for me to look at this objectively. I would strongly recommend a number of articles by John Piper, who minces no words about his feelings on the prosperity “gospel”, especially this one: Prosperity Preaching: Deceitful and Deadly

First, we never, ever see someone preaching anything like the HWP in the New Testament. NEVER In fact, we see the opposite. We see the earliest church speaking of self-sacrifice, of humility and quiet living. Preaching prosperity is not something that calls people to a life of self-sacrifice and humility, it is a call to something that the Bible says is an impediment, not an aid, to the Gospel.

When it comes to health, you certainly don’t see great health being a hallmark of the apostles life. Paul suffered immensely and tradition holds that the apostles universally died horrible or at least solitary deaths. On a few occasions we see examples of miraculous healings in the Bible, but it is impossible to draw a normative line between the apostles healing people for the purpose of preaching the Gospel and today’s false teachers who are not healing anyone. In fact Paul wrote that he had prayed for an issue of suffering to be removed (the thorn in his flesh in 2 Cor 12: 7-10) but it was not granted. Was Paul not a faithful Christian? In fact he rejoiced in this weakness, for in our weakness we are strong. Material prosperity and physical health is not a evidence of God’s providential blessings.

The Bible does not teach us that Christians should seek or expect a life of comfort and prosperity. This world will hate us and we should not be too comfortable in this life. Jesus told His disciples that they will find trouble in this world but that we should take heart because we know that He has overcome the world:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16: 33)

How you can read that and expect a life of anything but tribulation is beyond me. I always get a bit nervous when things are going too well. The message of the Bible is not one that calls us to, gives an expectation for or inculcates a desire to be wealthy and prosperous. Think about the message of the parable of the pearl of great value:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13: 45-46)

That pearl of great worth was the Kingdom, not some earthly treasure. The merchant was willing to give up all that he had because that pearl (i.e. the Kingdom) was so much more precious.

In several accounts, Jesus sends His disciples out with nothing but the shirt on their backs...

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. (Luke 9: 1-4)

I am not thinking that they were expecting to live a wealthy life or a prosperous life but they certainly were expecting to live a joyful life and that joy was not connected to health or prosperity! They were concerned with seeing men saved, not making a buck.

We see the example of the earliest church giving all that they had (Acts 2:45) and doing so to help their neighbors, not because of an expectation of getting something back in return but out of love for our brothers and sisters.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:12, we see that Paul is calling on us to live a quiet life, to mind our own business and to work with our own hands. Not a life of lavish prosperity.

The Christian life is a quiet one, a life of modesty, contentment, self-sacrifice, of caring for others more than ourselves, of humility. It is not a life focused on blessings here and now, although each of us is blessed abundantly with what we need. What we really need and what the world tells us we need are not one and the same. The preaching of the HWP movement is based on worldly desires and we are warned against that…

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2: 15-17)

In fact, I think that being prosperous is one of the worst things that can happen to a believer. The greater our comfort and prosperity, the blurrier the cross becomes. God draws us to Himself often through our suffering and if you look around the world, the places where the church is persecuted and in hiding, the Gospel thrives. In places of comfort and apathy, the Gospel witness is hindered.

The HWP preachers are preaching the desires of the world with religious language. Perhaps even more dangerous, in many cases they twist the words of Scripture to fit their own agendas. For example, I was referred by the person putting forth the original question of why I consider the HWP movement a heresy to the ministry of a man named Joseph Prince. His “Daily Devotion” for today, Healthier, Stronger Each Day, implies that by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, you will experience mystical healing. From the devotional based somehow on Acts 2:46:

Now, I am not saying that you must take the Holy Communion every day. But if you feel led to and you want to, go ahead! The thing about taking the Holy Communion daily is this: If you are sick, you can be made well on a gradual basis. This means that you get healthier and stronger from day to day — first thirtyfold, then sixtyfold, then a hundredfold!

You see, while you can receive healing through the prayer of faith (Mark 11:24), it sometimes puts pressure on you because it requires you to believe that you receive it all — complete healing — the moment you pray. There is nothing wrong with the prayer of faith, but you may find yourself saying, “I must believe I receive it all, now! I must believe I have it all, now!”

But the Holy Communion allows you to receive a measure of healing every time you partake in faith, so that you get better and better. The more you take it, the better you become. There is no pressure to believe that you receive it all at once. Isn’t God good? He meets you at your level of faith!

The truth is that you can faithfully eat the Lord’s Supper and in fact not get stronger and healthier. That is not at all what it is about. That is one of the most egregious misuses of Scripture that I have seen in a long time and I say that as someone who used to be a mormon, so I know misuse of the Scripture when I see it. In another section of his webpage, he lists out “prooftexts” that allegedly support prosperity preaching. Here is the problem with all of those texts. When God blesses us and gives us riches, that is clearly not in material possessions. We read rich, we think money. In context and in example, that is quite apparently not what the Scriptures meant. I am richly blessed with eight kids. I am richly blessed with a godly wife who stays home and cares for and teaches those kids. I am richly blessed with enough food to eat and a home in which to sleep. None of that helps my checking account balance.

Men like Mr. Prince often cannot help but exalt themselves, as evidenced by descriptions of him on his webpage in the "About Us" section which really should be called "About Me". He uses humble language to describe himself like: Pioneer, humorous, anointed, dynamic. It culminates with this:

Over the years, Joseph’s ministry as pastor, teacher and conference speaker has helped to set many people free from guilt and condemnation, and caused them to fall in love with Jesus afresh as they see His love, goodness and grace.

Notice the emphasis here. Who is being exalted here? He may sprinkle the name of Christ all over the place but make no mistake that his focus is on himself, how powerful a preacher he is, what a great healer he is, how “anointed” he is. The focus of “Joseph Prince Ministries” is Joseph Prince. I have seen this same sort of megalomania from men ranging from prosperity preachers to “faith healers” like Benny Hinn to famous “revival preachers”. Invariably, no matter how much pious religious language they use, the object of their truest adoration is themselves. I honestly pray for those deceived people who become “Ministry Partners” and in exchange for their contributions get plastic cards designating their contribution level, ranging from “Destined to Reign Partner” to “Gospel Revolution Partner” and culminating in that highest honor, the platinum card declaring the holder to be a “Joseph’s Inner Circle Partner”. Notice that the highest level of faithfulness gets you into Joseph’s inner circle for the low, low price of $500 (or more!) per month. Only six grand a year to be counted among Joseph Prince’s Inner Circle! I can’t make this stuff up.

In the end, those preaching HWP are preaching something that God has not declared and they are making promises on God’s behalf that God has not made. They are making claims, couched in religious terms and sprinkled with out of context verses, to augment their statements and those claims are aimed not at making disciples of Christ but attracting followers for themselves. Followers who will “sow” money into the pockets of these men.

Jesus did not die on the cross so you could have a new BMW. He died so that you would be forgiven of your sins and receive that which is the most valuable, not earthly prosperity but eternal life. When someone presumes to say “God has said” when God has not, he speaks as falsely as the serpent who said "Did God really say?" in the Garden. Ascribing to God promises that God has not made is quite frankly heresy. If I am prosperous, I should praise God. If I am dirt poor and destitute, I should praise God. The measure of God’s faithfulness to us is measured by the cross, not by the balance in our checkbook. My duty to praise God is based on His grace, not on my prosperity.

Let me close with a couple of videos from John Piper on the prosperity "gospel"...

Bookmark and Share

A Two Million Ton Idol

I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal having to do with the history of the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, The Splendor and the Scandal. Taking over 100 years to complete, this structure played an integral role in the Reformation because of the impact of the selling of indulgences to pay for it had on Martin Luther. I have to say that as an architectural and artistic structure, having never been there, St. Peter’s Basilica is by all accounts a magnificent accomplishment and a wonder. From the standpoint of a place to worship Christ? Quite the opposite. What a completely inappropriate place to allegedly worship Jesus Christ, our Lord who rode a colt into Jerusalem and dined with poor fisherman and other sinners around simple tables. That this place is viewed by so many people as a holy place speaks volumes about the extent of human self-delusion.

There is a quote in the article from historian Edward Gibbon that is a true statement for different reasons than the author of the article intended. He describes St. Peter’s Basilica as:

"The most glorious structure that ever has been applied to the use of religion."

That is exactly right. I can think of no other structure that epitomizes the empty ritual and formalism of man focused worship. St. Peter’s Basillica is like so many other man made edifices that know no denominational boundaries. They seek to create a “worshipful” atmosphere that is so foreign to the life of a Christian and yet so much a part of our culture. The architecture of cathedrals and churches across the world are designed to create and enhance a worship experience that is frankly a false one. The theatrics are more sophisticated but the emptiness is the same. Not much has changed in the thousands of years since the molding of the Golden Calf and nothing exemplifies that better than the white washed tomb of St. Peter’s Basilica built in large part with money stolen from simple people led astray by false shepherds who played upon their ignorance to fleece them.

In the Reformation, the Reformers took down the crucifix, replaced the altar with the pulpit and declared it to be good. The problems with Roman worship did not end with correcting the issues of justification and authority. They went to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, how we should live in the world and with each other, how we worship our God. Those great men of old reformed the doctrine, reclaimed the Gospel but retained the Roman form of worship.

Christ is not found in palatial temples or massive cathedrals. He is not found in empty rituals or rote repetitions. He is found in the simple gathering of His people to pray, to open the Word, to break bread and be in fellowship together. Christ did not seek worldly acclaim or opulence when He sojourned among us. Why would His people seek to honor Him by exalting our own accomplishments, edifices and education?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matt 23: 27-28)

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

Death is the ultimate social equalizer

Bookmark and Share

On the passing of Ted Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy has died, succumbing to the cancer that he was diagnosed with some time ago. It will be a passing that will attract a great deal of commentary. I can only hope that commentators on the right and left will refrain from using his death to score political points, and I especially ask my Christian brothers to refraining from proclaiming some sort of a sense of justice in his death. I didn’t like Senator Kennedy’s politics, not one bit. His treatment of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas were shameful. His personal life was, to say the least, unbecoming a U.S. Senator. His votes on key issues across the board have led to policies that I believe have led to the economic and moral collapse of America. However, my concern otday is not to eulogize the life of Ted Kennedy or to speak out against the politics of Senator Edward Kennedy. My thoughts today are on the death of someone who by all appearances was lost. My thoughts are on how, as a Christian, I should be thinking about the death of Ted Kennedy.

As the old saying goes, there but by the grace of God go I. Ted Kennedy, as a public figure and especially as a Kennedy, was in the public eye so his failings were part of the public record. Let’s be honest, he also never shied away from that public eye and certainly seems to have used the power and prestige of the Kennedy name to garner earthly power and indulge in many things that would be seen as distasteful. But we who claim the name of Christ are different from Ted Kennedy only by grace. I know what I am capable of and I can only imagine what I would have been like apart from the grace of God coupled with the power and wealth of the Kennedys. Ted Kennedy didn’t need to change parties or vote differently or stop running around like a fool, he needed Christ. It seems that he died that same way, like so many others: lost sinners in need of a Savior.

Ultimately as Christians, this should not be a day of grim satisfaction that Ted Kennedy finally “got what was coming to him”. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, we all have it coming to us. This should be another occasion for profound sadness that another soul has passed on to eternity apart from Christ to judgment and it should embolden us even further to proclaim Christ to a lost and dying world. Cancer and other forms of death know no social boundaries. We are called, each and every one of us, to proclaim Christ to a lost and dying world, to every people and tribe and nation, to lowly beggars and to kings, to farmers and even to Senators to espouse policies we abhor. The judgment of God will pass over only those covered the blood of the spotless Lamb and that is the message for the world. Let us preach it today to someone who is lost.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thought for the day

"If ignorance is bliss, why aren't more people happy?"
- Thomas Jefferson

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 24, 2009

Update from Becky Black

An encouraging word from Becky Black on her post-surgery thoughts.

Bookmark and Share

Prayer is in order

It goes without saying but it also bears saying. Our brothers and sisters, faithful in Christ and trying to hold to their fellowship in the ELCA, need our prayers now. Not passing "Oh yeah by the way" prayers, but serious, broken hearted prayers that God will lead them in this time of darkness. All test and trials are from God and He uses these times of trial and suffering to draw us to Himself. So please pray for these stalwart folks, broken hearted by the abandonment of the Gospel by those who were entrusted to shepherd them.

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
— Plato

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thought for the day

The least open-minded, deep and free thinking people I know are the ones who are the most convinced that they are open-minded, deep and free thinkers.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, August 22, 2009

No kissing the saint!

Spain: For sake of swine flu, don't kiss the saint

MADRID – Spain's Catholic Church has new advice for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela: Don't kiss the saint.

For centuries, pilgrims have visited one of Roman Catholicism's holiest shrines — the cathedral holding the purported remains of St. James the Apostle, Spain's patron saint. It was customary for them to hug a statue of St. James and even kiss it.

Now, thanks to fast-spreading swine flu, the church is urging the faithful not to pucker up. It has even removed the holy water that worshippers use to bless themselves in the cathedral in the cobblestone old quarter of Santiago de Compostela, in Spain's northwestern Galicia region.

I have a better idea. Don't kiss idols for the sake of your spiritual health, not out of concern for the swine flu. Plus it is just kind of creepy.

(It was strangely appropriate to see socialist thug and President Obama's new BFF Hugo Chavez kissing this idol)

Bookmark and Share

So THAT is what Paul meant

More on the normalization of sin in the ELCA

This is the sort of thinking that has taken hold of the ELCA....

The Rev. Katrina Foster, pastor at Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church in The Bronx, N.Y., said Lutherans heard similar warnings about flouting Scripture when they made past changes that are now seen as successful — chiefly, the ordination of women.

"We can learn not to define ourselves by negation," said Foster, a lesbian. "By not only saying what we are against, which always seems to be the same — against gay people. We should be against poverty. I wish we were as zealous about that."

Past changes that are seen as successful? Successful? In what way? Certainly not in terms of numbers as numbers have been declining precipitously in the ELCA for years. Certainly not in terms of Gospel witness and faithfulness as exhibited in their wholesale abandonment of Scripture. Nor in terms of uniting the ELCA which clearly is on the way to schism like the Episcopalian church is going through. The only success here is from those who deny Christ successfully remaking a denomination in their own image, an image designed only for the purpose of providing them with a veneer of religiosity to cover their own shameful behavior.

If you want to know what Southern Baptists think, you talk to Al Mohler. Apparently if you want to know what the ELCA thinks, Ms. Foster (pictured above) seems as good a voice as any. I took the liberty of checking out her blog and even in my wildest imagination I could hardly have envisioned this sort of flaunting and twisting of the Scripture mixed in with posts about "Hair: Spiked or non-spiked?".

However, when I saw persons from Exodus International at the entrance to the dining hall yesterday, my ability to keep my mind on Jesus was deeply challenged. Prayer, electric shock therpy, constant shame and internalized hatered can have dramatic effect, even moving people to committ to living out their sexuality in ways that are foreign and unnatural. Exactly in a way that St. Paul wrote & preached against in Romans 1. (spelling errors in original)

Read that last line again: Exactly in a way that St. Paul wrote & preached against in Romans 1. Ah, so that is what Paul was talking about. He was referencing people going through same-gender attraction counseling, not the abomination that is homosexuality. How could I be so blind, it is so obvious from the text...

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Rom 1:24-28)

Or maybe not. The ability of sin to delude the mind is incredible. Apparently under the leadership of people like Ms. Foster, the only sin in the ELCA is speaking about Biblical sin. The only thing shameful is to say someone should be ashamed of their perversions. The only thing one needs to be forgiven of is intolerance of deviant behavior.

Bookmark and Share

Meditations on the Word: 1 John 1: 5-7

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1Jn 1:5-7)

The contrast here couldn't be much starker. God is light. Anything else is darkness. There is a bright, clear dividing line and people are on one side or the other. God is not merely much, much better than us, He is completely light. His perfection is complete. Indeed anything contrary to God is inherently darkness. To accuse God of unrighteousness or cruelty or injustice misses the mark, because it is God Himself who determines what is righteous, merciful and just.

Saying we have fellowship with Him while we are walking in darkness. First, what is this darkness? It certainly seems from John's other writings that the light of which he speaks is always the light of the truth of Christ. Can someone deny Christ and say they are in fellowship with God? Certainly not. There is no fellowship or reconciliation with God outside of the blood of His Son. he cannot have "dialogue" with other faiths that deny Christ to find "common ground" because there is no common ground between those who belong to Christ and those who deny Him.

Darkness is not, it seems, merely sin but a darkened mind that is not set on Christ. Even the most virtuous person, even the wisest scholar, the most pious religious leader who does not know Christ is in darkness and lost. Walking with Christ is not an academic exercise, it is not merely parroting the right theology or memorizing the right confessions or doing good deeds. There are many who claim to follow Christ, but by word and deed and doctrine their profession is shown to be false. That was true in the first century and it is true today.

Certainly there is also the element of darkness as being sinful opposition to God. Look at something else John wrote in the same basic theme as this, in the third chapter of the Gospel according to John:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (Joh 3:19-20)

This sets out the reality of man. Men by nature are not seeking God, in fact the exact opposite is true. Man outside of the new birth hates God and loves his own sin. The Gospel of Jesus Christ exposes man's deeds as evil and causes sinners to revile Christ for exposing their sins as being wicked. Even though man hated God, God first loved us and sent His Son to redeem His elect by the blood of His cross. Unless you understand the nature of man, how lost we were and how much we hated God, you can never truly understand how gracious the cross is. You need to understand the darkness to really appreciate the light.

Bookmark and Share

I see dead people

That was great. The Jehovah's Witnesses just stopped by and were taken aback at how enthusiastically my wife invited them in. Luckily (providentially!) she had just cleaned up the living room yesterday, so we had them in and parked them on the couch facing my book shelf. This is horribly prideful of me but I got a kick out of them glancing at the bookshelf teeming with commentaries and theological books. We spoke a bit about the nature of Jesus Christ, I brought up the "Who do you say that I am?" passage. They didn't want much to do with that line of questioning. We spent most of our time on hell and eternal damnation, with a liberal sprinkling of Reformed theology thrown in. It is way easier to explain stuff like hell and salvation when you approach it from a Reformed soteriology. We invited them back, they said they would come back next Saturday. I am not sure if they will, I hope so. Nothing beats lost people coming right to your door and being willing to hear the Gospel preached. I praise God that he opened my mind and emboldened my mouth to declare the oracles of God, and I pray for Dan and Victor that God would soften their hearts to hear His word.

Bookmark and Share

The title speaks for itself

Lutherans to allow sexually active gays as clergy

MINNEAPOLIS – Leaders of the nation's largest Lutheran church voted Friday to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.

Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they remain celibate. The proposal to change that passed with 68 percent approval.

At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA is one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.

The final decision on whether to hire gay clergy in committed relationships will lie with individual congregations.

Some critics of the proposal have predicted its passage could cause individual congregations to split off from the ELCA, as has been the case with other Christian denominations, including the Episcopal Church.

I can't imagine Luther would be pleased at how his name is being represented here. Fortunately for him, he is in glory with our Lord and such things no longer concern him. It is stunning that this wasn't even close. Nearly seven out of ten leaders in what purports itself to be an Evangelical Christian organization voted to embrace sin as normal and in doing so tacitly declare the Word of God to be meaningless.

What now do Christians in the ELCA do? I can't speak for them but I also can't see how people who take the Word of God even slightly seriously can stay in fellowship with something like this. I am not sure how schism is avoidable, nor do I see how schism should be avoided. The Gospel is a call for sinners to repent and trust in Christ, not a call to embrace sin as normal and something to celebrate. Several verses of Scripture come to mind here...

Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Rom 1:32)

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty." (2Co 6:14-18)

Please join me in prayer for our Lutheran brother and sisters in the ELCA, faithful in Christ, who are now faced with a church that has abandoned them by abandoning the Gospel.

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

It is often pain that affords us our first real taste of God.

Dr. Mark Talbot

Bookmark and Share

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mercy ministry and the local church

Les Prouty at Reformation Faith Today posted In Praise of the parachurch?. His point is that the “parachurch” organizations can fill a mercy role that the local church should not fill. In other words, the local church should not involve itself in things like soup kitchens because its mission is the Gospel. I like Les even if he does dribble water on babies, but that whole line of reasoning kind of nagged at me and I think it is pretty common among my fellow Reformed brothers.

It is often said that the role of the “local church” is the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Calvin is famously quoted as labeling as the marks of a “true church” as “The Word rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered”. Along with that comes the addition of properly exercising church discipline. Part of why I can’t stand listening to the White Horse Inn anymore is the constant mantra of “Word and Sacrament” as if that is the real key to the gathering of the church. Any time you list the signs of a “true church” and don’t start with or even mention love you are missing the key right out of the gate.

The purpose of the local church, as I understand what Les is saying, is to be the place where the Word is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. Caring for the poor is the role of individual Christians and not of the corporate body of Christ.

Is that correct?

Can we and should we separate the lives of individual Christians and the life of the church? I guess at its core this gets down to the nagging question of what exactly is the local church, an entity with a life and purpose of its own or a gathering of Christians in a particular locale?

It seems that there is an awful lot of fellowship in the New Testament church and a preoccupation with caring for the widows and the poor as an outworking of loving our brothers (Acts 2: 44-45; 1 Tim 5: 9-10; Acts 6: 1-3; Rom 15: 25-28; Gal 2:10; James 2: 14-17; Acts 20: 34-35; Acts 4: 32-37). The early church seems awfully concerned with mercy ministry, and it seems to be something done corporately as well as individually (see the above passages especially Acts 4: 32-37 where we see the leaders of the church distributing to those in need). I am not sure it is a function as such of the local gathering of the church (because I am not sure that the local gathering of the church has “functions” in the first place) but it certainly seems to be a focus and a natural and proper outgrowth of the “love one another” attitude.

What about preaching the Word and the administration of the Sacraments?

There doesn’t seem to be much about preaching within the church. There is certainly an emphasis on the Apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42). There is “one another” teaching and edification among all of the brothers (1 Cor 14: 26-33). Preaching a prepared sermon to the local church? Not so much. Many of us like preaching. I like preaching. Many of us think the church needs more and better preaching. I am not as sure that preaching as we understand and practice it is something that happened in the local gathering of the church. We might feel that we need more preaching for our spiritual health, but that is an argument based on our own failings, not an argument that preaching monologue sermons is something the New Testament church should be engaged in.

I am convinced that the church broke bread together when they met but I am far less convinced that it was a ritualistic observation such as we have today. In fact what Paul was complaining about in 1 Corinthians 11 is that there was social stratification when the church gathered, and that because of this it was not the Lord’s Supper that they observed because some ate like gluttons and drank to excess while others went hungry. I think the unworthiness that Paul speaks of here has nothing to do with church membership in good standing and everything to do with what Paul is talking about, i.e. social stratification when the church gathered for the supper. It seems odd that we have taken what appears as a full meal among believers, both in the institution of it during the Last Supper and subsequent mentions of it later in the New Testament, and turned it into a ritualistic nibble of bread or crackers and thimble sized glasses of wine or grape juice. You would have to chug a ton of those little cups of wine to get even a little buzz, much less get drunk. (I read a comment on Facebook where someone referenced people passing out on the communion table, as if the early church had the ubiquitous table with “Do This In Remembrance Of Me” engraved in it!)

As far as baptism goes, I see nothing that would indicate that it is something that is reserved to, a function of or even took place in a local church. I wrote about this in an earlier post, Are baptism and the Lord's Supper an (exclusive) function of the local church.

What about Acts 6? Doesn’t that support the idea that ministers and by extension the local church should not get involved in mercy ministry because they are supposed to be preaching the Word? The apostles didn’t want to get entangled with the daily food distribution for widows, not because it wasn’t important or a function of the gathered church, but because they were out daily preaching the Gospel in the temple and from house to house. I think their concern is at least as much that this not be missed as it was that it interfered with their evangelism. They also knew that it still had to happen and that the Body of Christ should minister in acts of mercy to one another. So they appointed seven men including Stephen and Phillip to take care of it. It is interesting to note that Stephen and Phillip are both also engaged in proclaiming the Word to unbelievers later in Acts, so I don’t think that they saw caring for the poor to be an impediment or beneath them (nor did Paul, see Gal 2:10 and Acts 20: 34-35). I think it is highly suspect for a local pastor to think that they have no responsibility as a minister to care for the poor. I also think it is unhealthy and perhaps even unscriptural for ministers to eschew mercy ministry so that they can spend even more time in their studies preparing sermons. The apostles travelled all over the world preaching the Gospel to the lost but I don’t think they spent much time in their church offices reading commentaries. Paul worked to support himself financially and also so that he could help the poor (Acts 20: 34-35).

So I guess I would object to any number of the underlying presuppositions regarding the role of the local church in mercy ministry. Let me rephrase that. If the local church as we understand it is correctly set up, then this makes sense. However, if the local church is not a proper reflection of the local gathering of the church we see in the New Testament, which is my position, then I would say that we have an unhealthy preoccupation with church functions that don’t seem to appear in the Word of God and that conversely we are far less faithful in doing what we do see the local gathering of the church doing in the New Testament. Can it be that churches that don’t get the Gospel right (Roman Catholicism) or even out-and-out heretical groups (mormons) have a view of mercy ministry that is more in line with the Bible than some orthodox Evangelical churches?

Bookmark and Share

Meditations on the Word: 1 John 1: 1-4

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

Two things I see here. One is the strength of John's witness and the other is the full joy of what we proclaim.

John spares no effort in affirming the truth of who he declares: he touched Him, saw Him, heard Him. John is saying: I saw what happened, I swear it is true and I am telling you for a purpose. He was Christ from the beginning as John proclaimed in his gospel account (John 1: 1-2) and He is still Christ now, the King of Kings proclaimed by those who saw Him. He was manifested to John and in a similar way through the regeneration of the Spirit and the proclaiming of the Word, He was made manifest to us.

How different this message is from what often passes for evangelism! We proclaim the truth to you so that you may have fellowship with us and may enjoy our fellowship that we share with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ! How marvelous are those words! We are not merely saved from hell, although that is true. We are not just expecting heaven, although that is also true. We proclaim the Good News that brings forgiveness of sins and also (as if we need more!) fellowship with other believers along with the Creator of the universe! The Gospel makes us different than we were and in doing so joins us inextricably to one another in fellowship, a fellowship based not in church membership or observance of religious rituals, but instead on our common redemption and proclamation and celebrated in our earthly fellowship. We are not joined in fellowship to a Baptist church or a Presbyterian church or a Lutheran church, we are joined together in fellowship in His Church, a fellowship now that is one of joy and love but that pales in comparison to the ultimate fellowship that will come at the culmination of all things.

Are we declaring Christ to score theological points or out of a sense of onerous obligation? Or are we declaring Christ to bring others into fellowship with us and with God so "that our joy may be complete"? I am not sure I like my own answer to that question.

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

The Reformed talking to the Reformed about Reformed theology is not going to Reform the church.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I have been troubled by 1 John. There are some thirty uses of the word "love" in 1 John and it isn't a very big book. I love John's Gospel account, but 1 John needs to be looked at alongside the Gospel account and what he pounds again and again is how central love is to the Gospel and to the life of the Christian. It is often said that the Scriptures are a mirror we hold up to ourselves, and when I look at my reflection in 1 John I find it is not a pretty picture. I am far too often far less loving than I should be. So I have decided to study and meditate on 1 John for a time and I am going to inflict my musings on to you, my long suffering readers. I hope you find this study edifying, challenging and encouraging and where I miss a point or am perhaps in error, please let me know. I am breaking my study up kind of arbitrarily by the breaks in the ESV and the first post on love by a person who is all too often sorely lacking in love wil show up tomorrow morning.

Bookmark and Share

He who hates his brother is a murderer

I don’t spend tons of time addressing people who try to debunk Reformed theology anymore. I used to leap into the fray at any chance, but it has lost most of its appeal to me. Many times I came across as arrogant and angry, and on the flip side I found few people really interested in debating the issue. Then I came across a post today by a guy in Kansas, Dave Noffsinger of Northwest Baptist Church in Leavenworth, Kansas, and for some reason it just rubbed me wrong. What is missing, no surprise, is any sort of attempt to engage either the text of Scripture or the arguments of Christians who hold to Calvinism. This is nothing more than a run of the mill hit piece on Calvinism, full of broad and baseless assertions and empty accusations. But what set this apart from other misrepresentations of Calvinism was this:

I am an enemy of the doctrinal teachings of John Calvin or any that line up with his heresy.

Now that just crosses a line. Perhaps he meant something else, but it certainly appears that he means that he is an enemy of anyone who holds to Calvinism. That covers a lot of ground and a lot of Christians. Using “heresy” is kind of the nuclear option in discourse and it is a charge one should use sparingly and carefully. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was a heretic. Michael Servetus, who denied the doctrine of the Trinity was a heretic (which doesn’t excuse his being burned at the stake). People who preach the health, wealth and prosperity “gospel” are heretics because they proclaim a different gospel. I would say that Arminians by and large, while they are dead wrong, are not heretics. Their doctrine of man and of salvation are faulty but where they proclaim the risen Christ and faith in Him as the only hope of salvation, apart from works, they are not heretics. I have come very close to crossing the line and at least implying that they were heretics and for that I repent of my sinful attitude.

The Bible minces no words when it comes to this. The mark of a disciple of Christ, how people know we are His, is that we love one another (John 13:35). For those who do not love their brother, John has some strong and troubling words:

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1Jn 3:15)

If you don’t love your brother, you are essentially a murderer. Declaring a brother to be your enemy is tantamount to hating him, and that is an awfully serious issue. Casually declaring not one man but a multitude of your brothers to be your enemy and heretics is something to repent of.

Let those of us who proclaim and love the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace admit that we bring some of this upon ourselves with our speech and conduct toward those who are not in agreement. All too often we are far too eager to kick sand in the face of Arminians and in doing so we can be cruel, mocking and spiteful. Nevertheless, the failings of some (myself included) and the overstatement of others is not cause for us to draw lines in the sand and declare those on one side to be enemies when brothers disagree.

Again, where my speech has been cruel and angry, I repent of that sinful behavior. If Mr. Noffsinger is indeed a follower of Christ, as his brother I call upon him to repent of his slander toward those who he should love. I hope someday that he will be with me in the presence of our Savior, and arguments like this will have faded away into irrelevance. I don’t expect to be “proven right” in eternity, I full expect to be so filled with the glory of Christ that being “right” will mean nothing to me. Here and now as we wait for Christ to come, our words to one another need to be gentle and loving, not hateful.

(Hat Tip: Jeff Peterson Jeff does an excellent job dismantling this post by Dave Noffsinger)

Bookmark and Share

Proverb 29 and Woodstock?

I read a letter to the editor in USA Today written by John Indo of Houston regarding the story last week about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Give it a gander...

Woodstock was a hallmark of the Baby Boomer generation. I am 62 and remember it well. For many, it still symbolizes rebellion and mayhem among an overly indulged generation of brats who thought that permissiveness and instant gratification were the only virtues in life.

But I see Woodstock as a vestige of hope: that the world can be a better place, that feelings do matter, and that the world can be motivated by love and enlightened by science. All we need to do is apply ourselves in good faith. Perhaps such hope sounds naive and overly idealistic. Today the world is no less dangerous or volatile than in 1969. But when it comes to evaluating the worth of a generation, it is better to be idealistic than cynical, with little positive vision in life.

As the saying goes, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." I fear that situation will apply to too many youth today. There is no question that we Baby Boomers have our shortcomings. So did the generation before us. Even so, it cannot be denied that with our hope, we did a lot of good for the world, too.

What caught my eye was not so much the doe-eyed nostalgia for Woodstock and that entire generation, but the part where he said: “As the saying goes, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." I fear that situation will apply to too many youth today.” Does that sound familiar? It should.

Um, Mr. Indo that is not a “saying” like “A penny saved is a penny earned”, it is a quote from Proverbs 29:18. It reads in the King James in its entirety (emphasis added):

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

On the other hand, it reads in the modern translations as:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverb 29:18 ESV)

So where there is no vision, the people cast of restraint. Kind of like the lack of restraint shown at Woodstock with people using drugs and fornicating in the mud like animals. It also says that the man who keeps the Law is happy. A lack of prophetic vision leads to a lack of restraint that is a negative, not a positive. It is not the rebellious lawbreaker who finds happiness but the one who keeps the law. It is preceded and followed by admonitions for discipline especially towards children, including the somewhat well known truth in verse 15: The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. There were plenty of kids who were spared the rod and brought shame to their parents 40 years ago in upstate New York.

It is precisely the sort of lack of the rod and reproof that led to a generation of overindulgent kids who sought freedom through the rejection of all semblances of restraint and responsibility. The world is certainly not a better place because of Woodstock or that generation and I think it is a simple task to draw the line from the worldview of Woodstock and the social ills of modern America.

It is bad enough when preachers and politicians use Old Testament passages about the nation of Israel and apply them to America. It is far more egregious to use a Proverb about the joy of God’s law and the need for discipline to describe the ugly legacy of Woodstock favorably.

Bookmark and Share

Thought for the day

If we are seeking to reform the church, our target is not the 16th century, it is the 1st century.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Notes from the Reformation Society Leadership Summit

I had a great time of fellowship in Indianapolis at the Reformation Society Leadership Summit. There were about twenty of us there, mostly from the Midwest. Numbers were down apparently, the economy is leaving nothing unscathed including the church.

I would have liked to have spent more time in discussion with the other Reformation Society people, but a schedule snafu (i.e. not being able to find the programs!) kind of threw us off. There was a lot of experience, wisdom, and new ideas in the room, and I don't think we really tapped them like we could have. I did get to see the Reformation Society of Indiana do their scheduled meeting and it was a great example. I was glad to have the opportunity to see a well established society in action.

We were blessed with some great teaching on suffering by Dr. Mark Talbot from Wheaton College. After falling from 50' at seventeen, he has been a partial paraplegic (I think that is the term) for more than 40 years and even the simplest of physical acts can be a source of struggle. The two big lessons (among pages of notes!) I gleaned from his talks were:
  • Suffering is not, in spite of the Western belief grounded in the Enlightenment to the contrary, the worst thing that can happen to us.
  • God uses our suffering which He sovereignly decrees to break down our stubborn self-reliance.
I found his talks to be amazing. I am looking forward to his new book on suffering due out soon. Suffering is a reality of the life of Christians, an important doctrine and something that the church has always been acquainted with. We need to think a lot more about Christian suffering and the place it has in God's relationship with His creatures and spend less time making ourselves comfortable.

The best part was the fellowship among other men who are passionate about the Reformation Societies. We all have our reasons for that passion but the reason I am passionate about the Reformation Societies is that they are unique in the Reformed/Reformational universe because they are so local and so interactive. There are lots of big (and getting bigger) conferences out there with big names. It has become a sort of Reformed arms race to see who can get the biggest names at their conferences. Together for the Gospel is great, but it can't and doesn't try to replace local fellowship. Aimed as it is, and most Reformed conferences are, at the super engaged and those in ministry, it is mostly lost on the rank and file Christian. That is where the reform of the church must ultimately land. We already have lots of engaged, passionate pastors who feel like they are beating the heads against the wall. Until that passion and equipping moves to the rest of the Body, that will continue to be the case: leaders with passion and apathy for Reformation among the rest of the Body.

There are struggles aplenty in this movement. Trying to be heard among all of the static can be difficult. Competing for interest is going to require a different sort of marketing, a more grassroots, word of mouth marketing (much as I dislike catch phrases). For the Reformation Societies to thrive, we are going to have to excuse ourselves from the Reformed arms race, rely on local church leaders and make our mark by being on the ground where the whole body of Christ can be a part. We are going to have to be more than just a secret club where we get together to talk with one another about Reformed theology. Reformation in the church is going to require more than just Calvinism, it is going to require and be driven by Christians thirsting for the Word of God and sharing that thirst with others. We need to recover the Word if we are going to restore the Church. When we recover and dig deep into the Word, Reformed theology naturally follows. Please pray for this effort and if you live somewhere where there is an active Reformation society check it out. If you don't have one, consider starting one. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is ready to help!

Bookmark and Share