Friday, December 29, 2006

On Resolutions

I used to think that making resolutions toward holiness was a little goofy and perhaps could lead to self-righteousness. It seemed sorta in line with a lot of the fluffy Christian moralism stuff out there. Then I started reading more Jonathan Edwards, and I hopefully have come to have a little more balance. First, I realized that making personal resolutions, in so far as they are Biblically based, is really just a way to reflect upon God's Law. Second, I realized that people will take anything, even God's perfect Law, and make it the context for self-righteousness (enter... the Pharisees). Third, I realized, or perhaps realized afresh, that reflecting upon God's Law in a regular and personal way sends me constantly back to His mercy in Christ. Fourth, I realized that it is not "self-righteous" at all to love holiness and earnestly seek it (not that I really thought that, but there were things I hadn't yet worked out in my mind). In fact, if you have no hunger, no craving for holiness, out of love and hope and gratitutde (rather than for the sake of holiness itself or obtaining righteousness in His sight), then you don't know Him. You haven't been born again. You have no new spiritual life (John 3).

Anyway, check out Edwards' seventy (yes, 70) resolutions. This guy was a madman. I am humbled by his hunger for God and His ways.

Take this link here

I appreciate Edwards' comments to himself at the top, as well:

"BEING SENSIBLE THAT I AM UNABLE TO DO ANYTHING WITHOUT GOD' S HELP, I DO HUMBLY ENTREAT HIM BY HIS GRACE TO ENABLE ME TO KEEP THESE RESOLUTIONS, SO FAR AS THEY ARE AGREEABLE TO HIS WILL, FOR CHRIST' S SAKE."

and

"Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week."

Humbling indeed! So, it might be kinda silly, because these are private, but for all four of the readers out there, maybe you will be inspired by my meager attempt to write up my own for personal reflection. They don't have half the thought that Edwards gave, I'm sure, and many of them jumped right out as I started to write. The list is growing, so I better paste before I have to type more... hehe :)

Here goes:

1. Resolved, to work in my present employment, whatever it is, as unto the Lord, with greatfulness, diligence, and prudence, not allowing myself to fall into distraction, no matter how noble or interesting or worthy those distractions seem.

2. Resolved, to use my time, in every circumstance, to the fullest measure, without squandering a moment, for the best good possible, doing my duties and serving others rather than myself, entrusting myself to Him who gives rest when rest is due.

3. Resolved, to teach my children the ways of God, His holiness, and His glory to the best of my ability, not shrinking back from identifying any sin or revealing God's holy hatred toward it -but so as to show God right and just in all His ways and judgments.

4. Resolved, to love my wife as Christ loved the Church -to give myself for her in accordance to her needs, to tend to her, to protect her, to pray for her, to minister to her, to teach her, to cherish her, and to give my body to her for her benefit and joy.

5. Resolved, to never speak or communicate with another out of sinful passions and excitements of emotion, no matter how right these excitements seem at the time, but that I would, instead, seek the Lord for humility and wisdom before speaking in such circumstances.

6. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. (borrowed from the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, #8)

7. Resolved, to do nothing out of sinful anger, as though one not dare to offend me in such a way, but instead remember that I am a sinner, as well, whose whole dependence is upon the grace of God.

8. Resolved, to not correct my children out of sinful anger, as though I am principally the one offended and therefore seek retribution, but to instead correct them with the aim of restoring them and reminding them that God is offended by their sin, and I am merely His agent.

9. Resolved, to always consider the planks in my own eye before I even so much as begin to point at the speck in a brother's, even if I am not intending to go to him.

10. Resolved, to diligently seek the Lord's face so as to be increasingly aware of His majesty, my sinfulness, my ignorance of and distance from Him, and His all-suffiicient grace in Jesus Christ.

11. Resolved, to seriously endeavor to live to the glory of God and to enjoy Him, doing what I know is right and honoring to Him, in service to Him, at all times, whether in public or secret, and as special opportunities present themselves.

12. Resolved, to take time regularly to consider how unworthy I am of all that God has given me and continually provides for me and my family, and to give thanks to Him.

13. Resolved, to not complain when I am called to help another or perform a task that is, at the present time, inconvenient or undesirable, but that I would give thanks to God for the opportunity to serve others and seek Him for a joyful heart in so doing.

14. Resolved, to make it my daily business to put the death the deeds of the flesh, especially spiritual pride, remembering that such things are often silent and always deceitful.

15. Resolved, to never act or speak so as to seek my own glory and the praise of men.

16. Resolved, to never act or speak out of jealousy and to always fight against such evil passions in my heart when they arise, being content with the season and circumstances God has put me in.

17. Resolved, to seek what is good and pure and true that can be learned from any person or situation God puts in my life, no matter how disagreeable or seemingly insignificant.

18. Resolved, to prayerfuly consider each trial and struggle I endure as a sovereign gift from God meant to grow and build me up in Christ, and rejoice in it.

19. Resolved, to endeavor to identify and seek to destroy, by God's grace, all of those things that keep me from believing in the free acceptance I have in Christ and which, consequently, keep me from completely dying to myself and living for Him.


How am I doing with these? I'm a sinner!!! God be merciful!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Incredible Guitar Work

Ok, so its totally off the subject of this blog, but who cares. This guy is incredible. Besides, if I can post the video here as an embedded object, then I can have people view it here without having to view it on the Youtube.com sight with all of the profane comments below (some of us have kids and stuff, to say the least).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gospel Communion

I read this article (here), and it really prompted me to think and briefly write about this notion of gospel-communion. It discusses the works for "communion" between the Anglican Church in England and Roman Catholic Church. While the issues that seem to promote the greatest division are things like homosexuality and the ordination of women, they seem quite readily to affirm, "Our enthusiasm for dialogue means that we must be honest in addressing issues on which we disagree. This is possible when we hold to the Gospel." Oh really? The same one? The one taught in Scripture? Hmmm...

What is gospel-communion? When can we say that we share in the same gospel, and when can we say that we don't? How far can the gospel be stretched? How broad is it? Is it like peanut butter that can be spread thinly and all over? Specifically, are we in gospel-communion if we believe that we are saved, in the end, by Jesus? How about if we believe that we are saved by grace? Some would believe so. However, it is striking how clrea the apostle Paul makes it in his epistle to the Galatians: if your hope is set upon anything other than or in addition to the finished work of Jesus Christ, you nullify the grace of God and make Him useless to you.

You can try to qualify til the cows come home about how this sacrament is in line with salvation by grace, or how Christ's death merits the grace we need to cooperate with in order to be saved... you can slice it and dice it, but the more you try to qualify it and heap all kinds of silly language on top of it, the more you obscure and suppress the simple idea of Paul. If your hope is on Jesus plus anything, then you are outside of the gospel.

This is where the rubber hits the road. This truly is the doctrine upon which the Church stands or falls. Paul's gospel was justification (as he defined it -the non-imputation of sins and standing of full judicial favor before God) by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. If our hope rests upon Christ's merits shared with anything else, we are outside of the gospel because our hope isn't found anywhere else. The minute we mingle Christ's merits with anything else, we treat them as null and insufficient. We show that we do not truly understand that we can't lift a finger to get right with God. We show that we do not believe that we need a Savior who saves alone. We nullify the grace of God. I don't care what church you belong to - Roman Catholic, "Protestant", evangelical, Anglican...whatever. If your gospel goes beyond this or has all of these layers of fancy qualifications to try to make it fit or resemble this, then you are missing it.
As the great hymn goes:


"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' name

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand"

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9)

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:15-16)

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:21)

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Gal 3:21-24)

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5:2-4)


Hope in anything in addition to Christ crucified = hopelessness

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Ends to Which We Will Go...

...to deny God and His supreme authority to define what is good and what is evil. This latest article on Yahoo news found here gives us a glimpse of the religion of Naturalism at its finest.

Apparently the Oslo Natural History Museum has an exhibit on the allegedly homosexual behavior found among animals. According to Reuters, they conclude that "human homosexuality cannot be viewed as 'unnatural'." Wait, were you shocked? Nah, me neither.

On the one hand, it blew me away because it is utterly ridiculous, but on the other hand, it did not surprise me one bit. It is almost funny, except that... oh yeah... this is real life. According to the article, an exhibit boldly (and quite confidently) proclaims,

"We may have opinions on a lot of things, but one thing is clear -- homosexuality is found throughout the animal kingdom, it is not against nature"

Let's see... what happens when you suppress God's truth and set up your own religion which explains Him away? Well, with no Lawgiver there is no Law. With no moral foundation, you make up all kinds of nonsense - morality is relative, it is a matter of convention, it is a matter of practical benefit to the society... or better... reading our own godless presuppositions about reality into our observations of animals means that if the animals do it, then its natural.

It does make you wonder... how would this logic fly when it comes to animals which eat their young or kill their mates? Hopefully we will never find out. I dunno about you, but I'm building my next house from a combination of hair, straw, and my own feces. You wanna come over for dinner? We're serving runt babies. After all, it is very natural.

This is the song of the depraved heart... if you want to believe it bad enough, you will find a way to justify and "prove" it. We are a pretty confused bunch, huh?

Take note of the careful and objective job the author did in representing the opposition. Find one of those "burn in hell" types and all will be well to fortify the mantra that Naturalism is rational and Christians are nasty bigots who live in unicorn-land. Good job!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Shut Up

There are always some of us who struggle in our conscience. We desperately want peace, yet we are constantly assaulted. It seems that no matter what we do, no matter how to try to sort it all out, it never works (or at least never remains). We may be described as those with a "tender conscience" or the "scrupulous." No matter what the reason behind it all may be, the Word of God has something to say to us as humans that bears upon our situation.

Turn with me to Galatians 3, if you would.

Gal 3:21-24
(21) Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
(22) But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
(23) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
(24) So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

In the NASB, twice in this passage we see the English phrase "shut up," which has become the namesake of this blog entry. What I want to look at is really what the Law of God is meant to show us. Is there a purpose to it? Yes, Paul says it is to "shut up." It is, as the ESV above says, to "imprison." It is to seal us off with no way out.

If a law had ben given that could give us life (righteousness, a firm and total acceptance before God), then the avenue of Law-keeping would certainly be the correct path to take. "But," he adds, the Law imprisoned us all under sin, holding us captive. How so? By teaching us something very important. The Law was our "guardian" or "tutor" for the purpose that what? That we be justified by faith.

This is where we must focus. Follow what Paul is saying here, and elsewhere. The Law means to teach us an important lesson. It means to teach us that the way of our own efforts, our own good doing, our own obedience, our own works, our own strivings, labors, digging, scraping is completely dead, "shut up," sealed off. It is an impassible wall set before us. We can beat upon it with our fists all we want, we can lay a ladder against it and try to climb, but it only becomes higher, wider, deeper, blacker the more we do. This way is closed. Dead end. Take every claim you try to have upon God -every single one- and trash it because it avails not here. The way you pray, the goodness of your thoughts, the strength of your faith, how fervently you repent, how sincere you are in your religiosity, how much you perceive you love God, how often you go to church, etc. It is all nothing.

If you are of the stripe of those who often have a wounded conscience, this is the beginning of good news. It tells us that all of those things we are anxiously trying to hold on to and get right have absolutely no value in this realm. The way is sealed off. Anxiety, terror in conscience, stems from the perception of something lacking in us -something that we need to get straightened out somehow. The lesson presented here is contrary to our nature. We want to know what is that one thing we need to do to make all the anxiety go away, to make everything right. Instead, the lesson is that we truly do lack, just as we feared, that it is worse than we imagine, and that it is absolutely impossible for us to affect any improvement in our situation, even with a little assistance. The way of accruing an account of our own righteousness is shut up, closed, sealed off. Thus, rather than providing a clearer path down this route, an instruction, a thing we can fix, the Law instead shrowds the way in thick blackness and fog, sending thunderbolts before us -not to enlighten, but to crush, to terrify, and to make the way impassible and hopeless. The panic we feel will only rightly increase if we tread this path longer, for it is meant to do so!

This means two things. First, it means "give up." Let the hopelessness of that situation sink in. Only when it does will the second have great meaning. Give up on all of those things you are clinging to and laboring for. The way is "shut up." It would be better for you to try and reverse the spin of the earth, for you would have more hope in doing so. We must fall down and admit defeat. It is the best defeat there is. Why?

Second, it means that, when we finally learn the lesson of the Law, when we give up and have absolutely no claim on God's mercy and favor, when we have learned that there is absolutely no hope at all, save that God should decide to be completely merciful to one so blackened, one so unworthy, one who is so intenting on buying what cannot be bought, then Christ is present to us. All other ways are sealed up, yet then Christ, a door of light in the darkness, is opened. We have no way to atone for our sins, yet He is the One atonement. We have no merits of our own to stand firm in God's favor, yet He is our righteousness and redemption. Everything we lack is found in Him. The answer is presented, gratis.

So then, I may lay all of those foibles aside, all of those void and vain things, those claims, and rejoice in the fact that they do absolutely nothing -yet God has sent His Christ who has absolutely everything I need. That is the purpose, that is the lesson...

"...in order that we might be justified by faith." (v.24)

One might see the word "might" and think that this indicates uncertainty. However, this is only an English attempt to convey the meaning of the Greek, which is one of purpose. Some translations render it "would be," some "should be." The meaning is the same. In other words, the reason the Law sealed us up like this is so that we would give up on every other avenue and rest, by faith, in Christ. There is sweetness in our hopelessness, for only then is our true hope known!

Amen.


For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." (Gal 3:10-11)

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:21)

yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:16)


Rom 4:4-8
(4) Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
(5) And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
(6) just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
(7) "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
(8) blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."


Who is the blessed man? He is the man who gives up on every claim upon God and just listens and believes Him. He has an unshakable foundation, the merits of Christ alone. Oh, the beauty of that simple trust in the One who gives life, who justifies the ungodly, who spares the sinner and dons him with robes of righteousness! Let us learn this beautiful lesson of the Law, and let us learn it daily and learn it well.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Three Smackers

A few quotes that really struck me. You can enjoy these quotes and more like them here.

John Flavel:

“What shall I say of Christ? The excelling glory of that object dazzles all apprehension, swallows up all expression. When we have borrowed metaphors from every creature that has any excellency or lovely property in it, till we have stript the whole creation bare of all its ornaments, and clothed Christ with all that glory; when we have even worn out our tongues, in ascribing praises to Him, alas! We have done nothing, when all is done.

Look often upon Christ in this glass; He is fairer than the children of men. View Him believingly, and you cannot but like and love Him. ‘For love, when it sees, cannot but cast out its spirit and strength upon amiable objects and things loveworthy.’ And what fairer things than Christ! O fair sun, and fair moon, and fair stars, and fair flowers, and fair roses, and fair lilies, and fair creatures! But, O ten thousand, thousand times fairer Lord Jesus! Alas, I wronged Him in making the comparison this way. O black sun and moon; but O fair Lord Jesus! O black flowers, and black lilies and roses; but O fair fair, ever fair Lord Jesus! O all fair things, black, deformed, and without beauty, when ye are set beside the fairest Lord Jesus! O black heaven, but O fair Christ! O black angels, but O surpassingly fair Lord Jesus.”

–John Flavel, Fountain of Life Opened Up. (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), pp. 4-5.

How often do we sit and ponder how beautiful and excellent Christ is? How often are we taken by that heavenly vision in our mind's eye?


Martin Luther

“This evil is planted in all human hearts by nature: If God were willing to sell His grace, we would accept it more quickly and gladly than when He offers it for nothing.”

–Martin Luther, from a lecture on on Genesis 25:31-34. What Luther Says: An Anthology. Ed. by Ewald M. Plass (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1959), Volume Two, p. 604.

Can we say this of ourselves? I dare to say that I see this evil in myself! I know it too well!


David Brainerd

“Lord’s Day, July 26. This day, I saw clearly that I should never be happy, yea, that God Himself could not make me happy, unless I could be in a capacity to ‘please and glorify Him forever.’ Take away this and admit me into all the fine havens that can be conceived of by men or angels, and I should still be miserable forever.”

–David Brainerd, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. Ed. Jonathan Edwards. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1949), p. 357.

The song of the redeemed heart! I shall be satisfied in nothing less than having Him and praising Him and glorifying Him in so having Him. Nothing else will do!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

O Sweet Exchange!

I love this. From the anonymous writer "Mathetes" (which means "disciple") to Diognetus, dated to the late 2nd century, I believe. I highlighted my favorite part in blue :)


CHAPTER 9
9:1 Having thus planned everything already in Hismind with His Son, He permitted us during the former time to be borne along by disorderly impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because He took delight in our sins, but because He bore with us, not because He approved of the past season of iniquity, but because He was creating the present season of righteousness, that, being convicted in the past time by our own deeds as unworthy of life, we might now be made deserving by the goodness of God, and having made clear our inability to enter into the kingdom of God of ourselves, might be enabled by the ability of God.

9:2 And when our iniquity had been fully accomplished, and it had been made perfectly manifest that punishment and death were expected as its recompense, and the season came which God had ordained, when henceforth He should manifest His goodness and power (O the exceeding great kindness and love of God), He hated us not, neither rejected us, nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for the evil, _the just for the unjust,_ the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.

9:3 For what else but His righteousness would have covered our sins?

9:4 In whom was it possible for us lawless and ungodly men to have been justified, save only in the Son of God?

9:5 O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and the righteousness of One should justify many that are iniquitous!

9:6 Having then in the former time demonstrated the inability of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed a Saviour able to save even creatures which have no ability, He willed that for both reasons we should believe in His goodness and should regard Him as nurse, father, teacher, counsellor, physician,mind, light, honour, glory, strength and life.

here is the entire epistle:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-lightfoot.html

for a different translation, look here:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-roberts.html

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Emerging Comments

Here are a few comments, today, regarding the "Emergent" or "emerging church." I don't pretend to know a ton, and I know if I start making sweeping statements that people will complain (if anybody actually reads this), due to the breadth of the movement.

What I like:

- Semper Reformanda. I like the zeal for getting rid of the junk and thinking about Christianity from outside of the box. I appreciate the acknowledgment of some serious problems. These guys seem to react against dead orthodoxy and the fact that the American Church is becoming increasingly lax and impotent in our culture. We have tons of dead formalism, and we lack excitement to reach our culture. By all means... shake it up.


What I dislike:

- I dislike that the reaction against "dead orthodoxy" often leads to a departure from both the "dead" and the "orthodoxy." Dogmatism is seen as an evil. Propositional truth, being dogmatic about that truth, God's blessed truth, is seen as a vice. While it can be a vice, for sure, we dare not see dogmatism on something such as justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as being a vice.

- I dislike that the tendency toward being "hip" and "culturally relevant" may alienate some folks. This is only repeating the same problem found in the fundamentalist super-home-schooled ultra-family-centered church. What place is there in a church like that for a divorced retiree, a woman with 3 kids from 3 different men, a single 20-something who is new to the faith and desperately trying to fight their homosexual urges? Likewise, with these "hip" churches, will mom and dad feel excluded? (I suppose it depends on who your mom and dad is, but you get what I mean). It fosters an environment of un-Biblical exclusivity. We need to get it through our heads that we all stand as individuals before God, not with our families or with our hip, culturally relevant peers, and we all need to be reborn as individuals and trust in Christ as individuals -to be called into this fellowship that is the Church. The uniting factor is not the music we like, our age, our race. It is low estate and our great Savior.

- I dislike, in sum, that, I believe, it misses the mark by trying to address tangential issues. Again, I don't want to broadly include everybody in this. It doesn't apply to all. However, whatever "solution" we have to the obvious ailments of the Church, are we just throwing another fad, another viewpoint, another gimmick at it -just like the whole "Purpose-Driven" thing, the "seeker-sensitive" thing? Rick Warren is ultimately aiming at the same problem. He sees the Church as weak and impotent, as people not passionate about anything, and he sees dead orthodoxy as one of the culprits. He wants to change how we think about Church. I am all for that but I think it is common for the Church to spit out reactionary movements that tend to go in strange and even un-Biblical directions. We need to shed the baggage, true, but not the core, not the heart. We need to get back to the heart, not shrowd it with something new. Want to be culturally relevant? Preach the Gospel like you love it. Preach our deadness in sin and Christ-crucified as the only basis of righteousness before a Holy God. Peach what it means to be justified by faith. We don't need to dress it up. The Gospel is our relevance to the lost world. If we are constantly trying to come up with other things to make us relevant and engaging, it only shows that we don't believe this fact.

But wait... isn't that our problem to begin with? So how is repeating the same problem the solution? I think our problem is that, even if we jettison that cold hyper-dogmatism, even if we make the church more fun and hip and less un-Biblically traditional (which can all be good things), we still have to come to grips with the fact that we believe the Gospel, but we don't really believe it. We don't cherish it, we aren't a people who are, above anything else, about Christ crucified. We are hooked on a zillion other things: self-esteem, politics, moral issues, family values, etc., and yet we seem to be losing ground still. Why? Perhaps it is because we forgot our first love. We don't see Christ crucified, the Gospel, as exiciting or relevant -at least not relevant enough just by itself.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Few Comments on Things

Here is something more informal than what I am used to. I realize that I usually only post "articles" on this blog, which is why I have been so inactive lately (it takes time to put together something more formal).

1. The Pope and Islam. I'm not a big fan of the Pope for obvious reasons, but I can't help but think it is ridiculous that he should be forced (by fear) to apologize for claiming the right to cite someone's opinion from the 14th century. How many Muslims that are flipping out about what he said actually know what he said and what context it was used in? Why are so many Muslims flipping out about what he said? Sounds kinda like, "Hey, don't tell us we are violent! You had better take that back and give us special treatment or we will kill you and lots of other people, too!" The irony is thick. 'Nuff said.


2. Dispensationalism = silliness. I was reading a book (End Times Made Simple, for those interested), and I was reminded of a simple fact: dispensationalism is silly and has seemingly no real connection to the Gospel. Biblical eschatology, on the other hand, has everything to do with the Gospel. It is, after all, about the restoration/redemption of all things.


3. Yes, we really are that bad. You don't need to look hard for reminders about this. Just flip on the evening news, and you will see depravity pretty much all over the place: religious whackos killing people, pre-teen females doing sexual favors on umpteen boys to win the affection of another girl, school shootings -and that is only the "good stuff." The thing that is the most stunning is that things that were considered abominable 50 years ago are, today, not only accepted, but you are reprimanded for not going along. (http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=294&id=1290442006) What did Paul say? Hmm... something like this.

"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)

Monday, June 19, 2006

New Blog: Jesus is Jehovah

Hello my huge blog audience! :) I thought I would clue you in on a new blog I put together that has been taking the majority of my blogging time. It is called "Jesus is Jehovah." It is a blog for documenting some of my findings regarding the Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses) and their horrible abuse of the text of Scripture known as the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in the face of the Biblical teaching on the Deity of Christ. Here is a link:

http://jehovahjesus.blogspot.com

Now, is it a waste of time? Some out there might be like, "Well, you know... that is a waste of time. No Jehovah's Witness is ever going to read your blog and be converted." Maybe so, I don't know. Maybe it will give a Witness here or there something to think about? The goal is to put the information out there, have the Body of Christ soak it up, be edified by it, and perhaps, God willing, have something to convey to the next visiting JW that would stick in their mind, a seed perhaps.

I have been enriched greatly by the research. I have found it more and more amazing how the New Testament writers truly did believe that Jesus is YHWH, and I have found it also amazing at the lengths people will go to for the purpose of suppressing and ignoring the truth.

Enjoy!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Resources on Roman Catholicism from a Classical Protestant Perspective: Part 1

I promised an anonymous commentor that I would post a list of some good resources. Sorry I have been so slack. It has been busy here.

I will post some articles below, but if you are interested in getting books, you may find the following helpful:

1. The God Who Justifies by James R. White (ISBN: 0764222880) This is not really a book against Roman Catholicism. It is really a modern treatment of the doctrine of justification. Thus, he doesn't spend a lot of time answering too many objections, but he does spend a lot of time in the text of Scripture. (Amazon link)

2. Evangelical Answers by Eric D. Svendsen I have not read this one, personally, nor have I read the next two, but I have heard they are excellent, and I have heard pretty much the same material via their web-casts and mp3's and articles.

3. The Roman Catholic Controversy by James R. White

4. Upon This Slippery Rock by Eric D. Svendsen


You will notice that a number of resources will be by Dr. White. I appreciate Dr. White's stuff, even though some RC apologists really don't like him (I think that is more because he has answers to their arguments), because he always tries to represent the other side (JW's, Mormonism, Islam, RC, you name it) as fairly and honestly as possible -using first-hand sources and trying to understand what is truly being asserted. I also like his stuff because he is skilled at exegeting the text of Scripture and very knowledgeable in the original Biblical languages and Church history. The other guy, Eric Svendsen, is also really good. He has a lot of knowledge of Patristic sources and Church history, as well. You may or may not be familiar with both of these guys. If you are familiar with them, then I just pray that if any bias exists against them you would put it aside long enough to consider what they have to say.

Here are a few articles, some by Dr. White, and others by William Webster:

- An article on the concept of "Living Tradition" - William Webster
- A compilation of Patristic exegesis of Matthew 16:18 - William Webster
- More on the Church Fathers and Matthew 16:18 - William Webster
- A Biblical and Historical look at Penance and Confession - William Webster
- Two articles on Sola Scriptura (First, Second) - William Webster
- Justification: Biblical teaching, Roman teaching - William Webster
- Ecumenical Council condemns a Pope for heresy - William Webster
- Decent overview of Roman Catholic Dogmas - William Webster
- Citations from Roman Catholic sources that do anything but clarify the Gospel - James White
- Circular reasoning among RC's for Petrine primacy - James White
- RC apologists and John 6 - James White
- Some reflectioins on Hebrews 10 and the sacrifice of the Mass - James White
- "monarchial episcopate" in the early church? An examination of some RC apologist arguments - James White
- The use of the Greek subjunctive in a "hina clause" which shows purpose, not possibility, in response to the erroneous claim of Tim Staples, an RC apologist - Colin Smith
- Jesus, Peter, and the Keys. A summary response - James White
- "Upon this Rock" - James White
- The empty hand of faith, electronic tract - James White


I hope this is a good start! I would put some more, but I have been swamped lately. I am in the middle of studying the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses to try to demostrate to a family-member how erroneous their views of Christ and their New World Translation truly are. :)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Roman Catholicism and Classical Protestantism

I have been thinking about the differences between Roman Catholicism (RC) and Classical Protestantism (CP) quite a bit lately. I have had a few encounters with some friends and family that have prompted me to evaluate the differences and boil them down for communication to others. Most of the folks I have spoken to (or potentially may speak to) are Roman Catholic, though they are not theologians, they are not students of the Word of God, they are not familiar with what the Council of Trent was or what the main issues were during the Protestant Reformation. They are just regular folks who grew up Catholic and go to church every week like they were always taught.

The differences between RC and CP are completely unknown to them. They may notice some things, like that CP's don't really talk much about Mary and the pastors can marry and are not called "priests", but any of the real meat that divides us is really unknown to them. Thus, opportunities do arise every now and then when we as Protestants are afforded the opportunity to explain to them what the main differences are.

In that regard, we must be careful. First, we must be gentle and humble, because everybody knows that "religion" can be a touchy subject. While presenting these differences we have a grand opportunity to present the Gospel itself, so let us tell them the truth in love and humility. Second, we must be able to discuss the differences briefly and using simple language -we must be able to "boil it down" and give it to them in simple terms. This is absolutely essential. Most folks are under the impression that if lengthy explanation is needed, chock full of technical terms and other jargon that need to be defined, then the difference a) has little practical importance, and b) is more for "theologians" or some super-class of religious folks to argue over. I can tell the person about justification, but if I must then spend time defining all of these technical issues, it may be too much for our hearer to gather in one sitting. However, if we are able to get right to the heart of the matter and outline the main differences and their practical importance in a few brief statements (followed by explanation if needed) then we may have an audience who will come away informed and perhaps with something to chew on.

So, our preparation work is almost the reverse of how we would present it to another individual in conversation. We must collect all of the information for RC and CP, narrow down to the one or two most essential differences, and then boil those down to simple points and simple language: simple principles that can be expressed clearly. Then, when the opportunity arises, we can work in reverse -beginning at the simple statements and expanding out where necessary. The key, however, is to not deviate from those simple principals. Rabbit trails will abound and the conversation will end up far from where we started if we do not keep it focused upon those key issues.

Another thing to consider is that if we are trying to outline the differences then this is not exactly the same thing as mounting a defense. The last thing you want to do is make the person you are talking to, who is probably ignorant of these issues, feel attacked. Present the differences first and then proceed to give details if the conversation leads that way. In my honest opinion, the first step should be simply to articulate that there are differences, that the differences are large, and that the differences impact real life.

All of this said, below is my attempt and explaining the major differences that divide RC and CP:

First, RC and CP differ over their understanding of authority. This means that they differ over who or what is the God-given authority over Christians -to tell us what to believe, to tell us how to live, etc. RC teaches that the Roman Catholic magisterium (the pope and bishops, etc.) is directly linked to the apostles and has the authority to define what it is we are to believe, what the Bible says, and what other things we are to do and believe that are perhaps not explicitly found in the Bible. CP teaches that the Bible alone has the ultimate authority to bind the conscience, tell us what to believe, and tell us how to live, and that it is sufficient to do so.

Both RC and CP believe that the Bible is the Word of God. However, they differ significantly over who or what serves as the ultimate authority over faith and practice. If we don't know who or what is our binding authority, how will we know what to believe or how we are to live? Indeed, this major difference shows itself in some of the differences in beliefs, such as the most significant one which follows.

Secondly, and more pointedly, RC and CP differ over their understanding of how a person is forgiven and found acceptable before God. A short way to phrase the issue is: "Upon what grounds is a person assured of heaven?" Can people, being sinners, be accepted into God's holy presence? Obviously there is nothing more practical than this. If we are living our lives in some kind of religion that leads us astray, and we are not, in the end, found acceptable in God's sight, then all of our religious activity was completely in vain. We were the worst of fools!

RC teaches that a person is acceptable to God partly based upon God's mercy or "grace" in Jesus and partly based on the person being good, being "righteous". This happens through the person receiving the sacraments of the RC Church and thereby cooperating with God's help in becoming good and staying good. On the other hand, CP teaches that if our acceptance before God was ever based, even in part, on something in us, no person would ever be accepted by God because even our best is tained with sin. CP teaches that our acceptance before God is through embracing, by faith alone, the death of Christ as being sufficient to pay for our sins, cover them, and count us "right" in God's sight. The basis for our standing of acceptance is what Jesus did, only, which we merely stand upon as a gift of God.

When you boil it all down, RC teaches that acceptance before God is ultimately deserved (ie. If you cooperate enough, you go to heaven; if you don't, then you don't), and CP teaches that acceptance before God is a free gift based upon what Jesus did or not at all. As you can see, these two systems are mutually exclusive. If one is right, then the other is woefully wrong and is misleading many down a horrible path.

Now, I have left out a lot. I have left out the teachings about Mary, prayer to deceased "saints", the priesthood, celibacy in the priesthood, Papal infallibility, the details of the RC baptism/penance sacramental system of justification, etc. I have highlighted the two most critical issues and stuck to the most critical and basic principles for each of them. What is interesting to note, however, is that these smaller issues such as the Marian dogmas, for example, and the Penance system, serve to underscore these two main differences. They both bring out the differences in authority and beliefs regarding acceptance before God.

Before I finish, it might be good to point out some of the similarities. Both RC and CP teach that Jesus is God the Son, that God is a Trinity, that the Bible is infallible and inspired by God, that there is a hell, that sin is real, that people are born sinners, and that there will be a final judgment. Though these similiarities are very real, the differences are too significant to ignore. We must note in passing that RC teaches that CP teaches heresy, and CP teaches that RC teaches heresy. The differences I have outlined form the major basis of these charges. This means, unfortunately, that there is no reconciling the two. The teaching of one excludes the teaching of the other on these very important issues.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

OCD: Part 2

I just wanted to take a few moments to write down a few things regarding my OCD. Hopefully it might be of some benefit to someone -even myself if I ever come back to read it. The backdrop for this post is a previous post I did on my suffering with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It can be found here.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, like other anxiety disorders, makes life very difficult at times. One of the ways we sufferers cope with it is to start cutting things out of our lives that provoke the most anxiety. This is because our biggest desire is to be free from the enslaving terror, adrenaline surges, constant inner tension and stress. So, a very natural (though not terribly good) way is to just avoid those things that give way to obsessing and anxiety.

With people who suffer from scrupulosity (OCD latching onto our spiritual lives), this can be extremely common. In fact, I just realized I have been doing it with a number of things -certain doctrines, certain phrases, certain "areas" where I won't let my thinking go to. I have even thought of avoiding going to church a number of times, especially on a day when we are to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

At first it seems like the wisest choice. We want this to go away so badly that we will do almost anything to keep the symptoms under control. And truly, completely avoiding those things does usually curb the symptoms quite a bit. However, I have noticed that I end up feeling almost numb. I couldn't figure out why for the longest time, but I think I finally get it -and to the outside observer it probably seems obvious.

When you follow this route, your world becomes smaller and smaller. Your "Christianity" becomes smaller and smaller. It becomes reduced to a manageable set of ideas with manageable communion with God, but it ends up cuttingn out often the best parts of our faith -the best doctrines, the best fellowship (which we all desperately need), the best and deepest communion and joy with Christ -all because when we venture into those things we become overwhelmed with the obsessions. It takes away the things that make life hard and obsessional, but it also takes away the things that make our life joyful and deep.

I don't necessarily think that it is terrible to do this short-term. I should point that out! So, if you are doing that because you need to take a break and get your bearings then please don't read this and feel guilty. It might be the only way to gain some perspective so that understanding and treatment can take root (cognitive treatment), but in the long-term it is not a way to live. Once we begin gaining that perspective on our OCD and seeing how to combat it (which is not the way we would instinctively combat it), we must slowly go back and "re-claim" those things -attacking each obsession, one-by-one.

There are a variety of opinions regarding how we treat these things, especially within the Body of Christ. As I have noted previously, some people say "it is the devil doing it", so we must resist the thoughts, (reminds me of the "momma" in that movie, The Water Boy, with Adam Sandler), and some say that we just need to stop the obsessing because the Bible says we aren't to worry. Both of these groups may truly mean well, but I believe they are sorely mischaracterizing things. The whole thing that keeps these obsessions going is our constant attempts to stop and suppress them! In that regard, the thing that keeps the obsession going is a natural reaction to perceived danger. I'm not saying there are absolutely no spiritual issues involved. I'm saying it is not binary, not one or the other. For example, some of my OCD is fueled by perfectionism. When it get right down to it, I have come to see my perfectionistic tendencies as idolatrous, involving pride, and involving fear of man. There are often pretexts to our obsessions, for sure.

I think it is important to recognize any spiritual pre-texts and also to adopt a new method of handling the obsessive cycle. The first step in adopting the new method involves cutting yourself a little bit of slack and stepping up to reality: acknowledge that you are obsessing. I don't mean you need to like it, I don't mean that you need to accept the content of the obsessions. I mean accept the fact that you are obsessing, you are stuck in an obsession over something. Accept the anxious thought, the worry itself. "I am worrying about whether or not I have faith, again." This can be extremely hard to do because we don't want to worry, so we perceive acceptance as "giving in", but it isn't. We see it as unacceptable, admitting defeat, admitting that we "don't have faith", using the example just cited. So, our instinct is to push it out so as to try to maintain the "peace" we have. However, acceptance is actually the first step in short-circuiting the obsessive cycle.

This might be the point where some will hold up their Bibles and say, "Accepting the obsession? But that isn't in Scripture!" Let me note in passing that you would be hard-pressed to find a more forceful proponent of Sola Scriptura, but that does not mean Tota Scriptura. "Scripture Alone" doesn't mean that Scripture tells us everything about everything. It means Scripture is sufficient to be our God-given authority. I will say two things about this.

First, these cognitive treatments recognize how the obsessive cycle works and use logic to diffuse it. Is logic opposed to God's truth? Isn't God the source of all logic? Yes, He is. Logic is a tool give to us by God, and it is consistent with God. Anyone who has sought to defend the faith against unbelievers knows this.

Second, I will be honest and say that I have not done exhaustive study in the Scriptures to see if there is a conflict between these treatments for OCD and God's Word. However, I have also not studied to see if the Scriptures teach that exercise helps promote a healthy heart or if antibiotics are ok to take in order to kill an infection. I am not saying they are the same thing. I am saying that we take these things for granted without so much as crying foul.

I do believe, however, that these treatments do not conflict with (and are often in line with) the elements of the Gospel, especially in regards to scrupulosity. For example, the whole idea of accepting the worry, as believers, leads us to be honest with and depend upon God. Rather than hold it within and try to beat it ourselves by suppression (which promotes obsessing), it fosters relationship with God through openness, acknowledging that we are but dust, confused, worrisome, and dependent upon Him. The whole idea that we need to hold it in and deal with it because it is "forbidden" is what keeps the obsessing going. Acceptance is perhaps better stated as "being honest about ourselves", and that leads us to come before God in dependence -something which is our right through Jesus Christ.

For example, if someone is having constant intrusive thoughts that curse God, they feel, "I must not think these thoughts! I don't want to curse God!" and in trying to suppress them the thoughts are only stronger, as is the anxiety. The suppression only reinforces the cycle. Why not, instead, accept that you are worrying about those thoughts, why they are there, what they mean, and tell God this? "My God, these thoughts are horrible. I don't want to think them, but they are there. I don't know what they mean or why they are here, and I am worried that they mean I want to curse you. I am worrying, my God." The Gospel says we have access to the Father through Christ, like this. Compare that to what would normally happen. We would become terrified, thinking that God will hate us or we will kill our relationship with God if we let these unwanted thoughts survive one more second, so we try to suppress them. We try to get more "serious" about them, thinking we must be stronger, and then only seeing that we fail all the more. We would start believing that our relationship with God must be non-existent, otherwise we would not be like this. We would start closing in on ourselves more and more, thinking that we must do something, begging God to take the thoughts away, pleading, obsessing over them for hours and spending hours on our prayer rituals -not realizing that the more we try to suppress them the stronger they become. We become ruled by them, and our lives become a living hell. No peace with God exists in the conscience, and our emotions are completely spent. Do you see the difference? The latter only reinforces this false fear that the "impurity" will cut us off from God. It fosters a kind of works-righteousness, and it reinforces our practice of concealing and suppressing and self-reliance rather than going to God as little children. In a sense, we are trying to "prove ourselves" to be something we think we should be. It is antithetical to the Gospel, which is, by its very nature, for sinners -those who cannot help themselves.

I know that for us "scrupers", the Gospel is needed desperately because our obsessions revolve around our relation to God. The Gospel answers that "pre-text" I mentioned above. It answers "why" we can dismiss the thoughts that normally provoke obsession -because of the grace of God in Christ, because of the safety that is in Christ.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Why We Don't Do Altar Calls and Give Invitations in Worship

In order to answer this question, I feel we must first ask a few other questions. In answering these, I hope it will become evident, even if you disagree, as to why we do not embrace any type of altar call or invitational system in our worship services.

What is the worship service meant for?

Perhaps another way to ask the question is, "Who is the worship service meant for?" In the New Testament we see the "worship services", which include things such as assembling together, fellowship, the breaking of bread (Lord's supper), the preaching and teaching of the Word, and the singing of hymns and spiritual songs, as being a gathering of believers. The Greek word for Church, ekklesia, actually means "the ones called out". Our modern-day "worship services" are meant to be an assembly of "the ones called out" in the worship of our Lord. We are the ones who have access to God, through Christ, and we are the ones who are a "kingdom of priests".

In the Old Testament it was not really any different, in principle. The people of God would gather together to worship. The "worship services" were not used as evangelistic tools to invite outsiders in. Of course, this is not meant to neglect the fact that in every congregation there are likely unbelievers present -be it because they are false professors of the faith or simply "guests". In either case, we are not to tailor the worship of God by His people to those who do not know Him. It is, after all, a "service" of "worship" from God's people to God. It is the people of God serving, lifting up God, being humbled before Him, extolling His greatness, and rejoicing in Him. It is to be about God far more than it is to be about us.

Certainly unbelievers are welcome. We would absolutely never discourage unbelievers to come, and we should pray that the Holy Spirit would use the Word of God in their hearts just as we pray it does in ours -though for their conversion, first.


Does this mean the Gospel is not to be preached in the congregation?

By no means! The Gospel is to be proclaimed regularly, for the Gospel is for Christians as well. The Gospel is not just a doorway for the unbeliever. It is the foundation of the Christian life, and we need to hear it over and over. In Paul's epistle to the Romans, for example, Paul talked about how he wanted to visit the Romans to preach the Gospel to them -to believers! All of this said, it is important that we qualify what we mean by "the Gospel".

In the age we live in, it is very typical to think of the Gospel as a formula. Many of the evangelistic tracts we hand out cater to this idea. We have the "Four Spiritual Laws", for example, and most of the tracts we read, most of the websites we visit, and most of the "invitations" we hear follow that same motif. The Gospel is seen as a bullet-by-bullet list of things you must assent to followed by some activity we perform: either saying a prayer of commitment, coming forward, raising our hand, etc. Let me be the first to say that God draws straight lines through crooked paths and has used those means to expand His kingdom, but we must realize that this is not the way the apostles proclaimed the Gospel, and we must admit that just because God can mercifully use something doesn't mean it is good or right. Some of these formulae are so scant that one seriously wonders if the hearer has any concept of their sin before a holy God, their need for Jesus, and that salvation is by Him alone. A cursory reading of the book of Acts shows us that, while there are common and specific elements among the content of the apostles' preaching, it is not constrained to a disjunct, formulaic checklist to be followed. It was proclaimed and unfolded as news, not a quick pill to be handed out to pagans and swallowed. Likewise, we see in the Scriptures that the only "response" spoken of is the abandonment of our self-salvation and embracing of Christ crucified as our hope, according to God's sure promise. We would do well to be wary of anything that would, even with good intentions, possibly confuse that or add to it.

To illustrate, we are familiar with the fact that some teach the Gospel in terms of "making a commitment to Christ". While it is true that it would be difficult (and un-Biblical) to imagine someone as being a believer and not being committed to Christ, it must also be stated that no man is saved by his commitment. What level of commitment is good enough? Have we committed ourselves enough? Are we sincere enough? This obscures our need for a Savior who has done it all. These invitational systems that call us to perform some activity can truly mislead and result in disillusionment.

Certainly there are many who have believed they are saved just because, in an emotional expression, they made a religious commitment, walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or cried profusely during a beautiful song about Jesus. To be mislead about the state of our soul is a horrible thing! We have also all heard of people who "tried Christianity". They "got saved" when they were 12 years old, by coming forward at an altar call and making a "decision for Christ", but later rejected Christ after seeing no change and many unmet expectations. Were they really saved? The Bible says "no"; they were mislead about what the Gospel is and how a man is saved. They were lured to something, but it wasn't Christ, and they were lured by something, but it wasn't the Word of God pointing out their need for salvation from sin.

Such ideas, again being well intentioned, confuse the fact that we are saved purely by Christ through embracing His saving work. We need to hear about our real need, Jesus Christ, and God's free promise, not about what we can do. The whole point of the Gospel is that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. The basic principle is that if we wish to point to something we did, we are not pointing to a solid foundation at all. It is as the great hymn goes,



My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.


Now, if a man wishes to express outwardly what has taken place in his heart then that is fine and well -let him be baptized instead!

It is also important to point out that whole practice of "altar calls" is less than 200 years old. The altar call and similar invitational systems became popularized through the revivalist ideas of men like Charles Finney, who believed you could create revival and bring people to faith through the right combination of human ingredients -such as emotional music, sentimentalism, and messages that are meant to produce emotional responses. The idea was that if you can produce what appears to be the proper response through these methods, then they are saved. This is because men like Finney believed that conversion is a natural matter, not a supernatural one. The spiritual fallout from that "revival" was horrible.

Sadly, that belief is still prevalent today. This is seen in such abuses as churches planting people in the crowd who are previously directed to come forward and "prime the pump" during the invitation, making it easier for others coming forward when they see the movement toward the front. Here we again see the idea that if we can humanly produce what seems to be the right response, if we get a count of the number of decisions made, we are saving souls. Are some saved? Certainly. Do the churches mean well? Yes, but neither of these make it right.

We, on the contrary, believe that God uses the preaching of His Word to bring people to Christ by the agency of the Holy Spirit applying it to the heart. We believe that it is not by the eloquence of the preacher or anything we produce (1 Cor 1), but it is purely by God's Word going out and being applied by the Holy Spirit. Conversion is supernatural, and the means God uses in performing it is the proclamation of His truth. There is comfort in that. We can preach the Gospel as clearly as we know how and trust Him for the results rather than create all kinds of human mechanisms and foolishly rely upon them to build Christ's Church. We can send missionaries and trust in God's providence to use their faithfulness, knowing that God ordains the means as well as the ends.

In short, we do not give altar calls and such because not only are they not found in Scripture, but we believe them to be based on un-Biblical premises. A man once asked the great 19th century preacher Charlies Spurgeon why he did not use altar calls and the like. They said that Mr. Spurgeon must "strike while the iron is hot." To this he replied, "If God heats the iron, then it will stay hot." Spurgeon is a profound testimony to the faithfulness of God in using the simple preaching of men to save without the use of human additions.


Then how is it that we preach the Gospel to the congregation if not in this way?

We believe that we do preach the Gospel every week, and we should. How? The Gospel is present through the ministration of God's Word, which, by the use of God's Law, humbles us and reminds us of our need for His mercy, and by the news of Jesus, His Person, and God's grace to us in Him which is found throughout the Bible. Truly, the Bible is all about Christ and our need for Him, so when it is faithfully preached, the Gospel is present. Hence, it is through ordinary preaching that the principles of the Gospel are proclaimed, provided we are rightly dividing the Word of God (for we can all attest that some can preach a sermon on a text of Scripture and leave the hearer in a moralistic stupor rather than humbled before God by being instructed in His beautiful ways and gratefully resting in Christ). Second, the Gospel is present in our corporate prayer and singing of songs. In such things the same elements of being humbled before God, seeing our need for His mercy, the good news of His grace in Christ, and our gratitude toward Him should be expressed if the right attitude is in place and the worship songs are selected carefully. Lastly, the Gospel is present in the sacraments -specifically, the Lord's Supper. The breaking of bread and sharing of the cup is a symbolic restatement of the Gospel, and that is for the enjoyment of believers.


What is the place of evangelism?

The evangelism of unbelievers is certainly to take place within the context of the Church (all believers) through our Lord's commission to us as believers, but not primarily in the worship service. The Body (the Church) can help organize such efforts through local congregations by means of sending missionaries and providing a forum and framework for discipleship, but these things are not to be confused with the people of God assembling to worship God. Likewise, parents are to teach and evangelize their children, and all believers are to go out and teach others about Christ. Keeping evangelism outside of the worship service does not hinder evangelism. It puts it back into its proper place. This is not to say that one cannot be evangelized within the context of a worship service. There is nothing wrong with the preacher addressing the unconverted in the congregation and warning them of their danger outside of Christ, but this does not mean we need to reserve the last 5-10 minutes of the service for the performance of emotion-inducing music and an invitation for people to come forward out of their seats and receive Jesus. If they hear the Word of God, are crushed by their sin, and see Christ as the only Solution, then can they not embrace Him by faith right where they are?


Conclusion

We can restate our reasons for avoiding invitational systems for the following reasons:

1. They are not found in Scripture.
2. They are based upon un-Scriptural beliefs about the purpose of communal worship.
3. They are based upon un-Scriptural beliefs about the nature of conversion.
4. The are based upon the idea that the Gospel is something of a formula or "pill" to be given to pagans.
5. They can obscure and confuse the Gospel, resulting in sinners potentially being misled or disillusioned about what it is to be a Christian and believe in Christ.
6. They are not needed because our God is faithful to use the plain proclamation of His message from His Word to convert sinners.

You are right in insisting that the Gospel should be present during every worship service, but I just hope to gently point you to the fact that the way in which this has been done historically does not include altar calls and the like. Due to the prevalence of thinking today which holds that worship services should be geared toward the unsaved and that a type of invitation/altar call system is necessary for the Gospel to truly be preached, we recognize that we are a minority. However, we believe that our approach is more consistent with what the Scriptures teach in those areas, even if it means that we are unconventional in that regard.

I hope this is sufficient to answer your question, and I hope that you are persuaded according to God's truth. If, according to the Scriptures, you find us in error in this then by all means show us. It is truly welcome, as are questions such as these. It is good that we have a common aim toward His truth, praise God.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

10 Desires of My Soul

Here is just a quickie of some things weighing on my heart. It was first going to be a list of about five things, but as I typed it quickly grew. This is somewhat revealing, but my guess is that I'm not alone in these desires.

Anyway, here they are:

1. That my goal would be to love the Lord Jesus rather than to be made to feel loved and special by others.

2. That I would rejoice in Him, treasure Him more, adore Him more, and worship Him more every day.

3. That I would be on fire for His glory and not my own.

4. That I would absolutely cherish humility and being "nobody".

5. That things I write or say would be seasoned with grace and for the building up of others in Christ and not the building up of my self-esteem.

6. To have greater faith in Him and His Word and to know that I am His with sweet assurance.

7. To be content with little, and to be content with where I am at every moment -even when I struggle, spiritually; not that I would be content in darkness, but that I would be content in His sovereign care... waiting, trusting, giving thanks in the midst of it.

8. To know the beauty of the cross more and to know, deep in my heart, that His blood was shed specifically for me.

9. To be drenched in the Holy Spirit so much so that the love of Christ would constrain me and overflow to all of those around me.

10. That I would be more of a firm, gracious, generous, self-sacrificing yet willling and grateful servant, husband, father, and priest for my wife and children.


May the God of all grace shine His grace upon us in the face of His Son and into our hearts. May we know the riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus. May we know patience and wait for Him, for He is good and hears us -all for the sake of that blood.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

For the vast, enormous, immense audience of readers who frequent this blog, you may or may not know that I suffer and struggle every day with something that is called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Some people believe these types of "disorders" to be a clinical cover-up for sinful behavior. Some, to the other extreme, consign them completely to the realm of "chemical imbalances" and dismiss any type of related emotional, moral, or spiritual issue. Still others, though a minority, insist upon demonic or satanic influence. As for OCD, I do not know what the cause is, to be honest. After reading about it and personally suffering with it for years, I do not believe it to be sinful in itself (ie. the content of the unwanted obsessions are not sins, themselves, particularly because they are so unwanted!), but I do believe there is often a spiritual component and cannot neglect the emotional or possibly physical components, as well. There is no blood test for it -it is diagnosed purely by its horrible symptoms. The one thing I know for sure is that OCD is very real and very invasive.

Most OCD sufferers live in silent despair. I have met a number of Christians, ones I am blessed to be convinced are true believers, who live every day in turmoil, silently, because they are ashamed and not wanting to explain this to their family member and members of the Body of Christ. The fear is that they will be misunderstood, judged, or relegated to a group of people who are just really "weak in their faith". And many of these fears are probably justified -particularly because most people, not only Christians, don't have a grasp of what OCD is and, sadly, many Christian counselors don't either. I recall one individual I know who revealed their horrible obsessions to their Christian counselor only to be met with blank stares and unease.

OCD is characterized by repetitive, intrusive, unwanted thoughts, feelings, images, or impulses that trigger a high amount of anxiety and are usually met with some type of repetitive behavior which is done in an attempt to quell the high levels of anxiety. The anxiety and obsessing really obscures reality such that you can't "see" things that you otherwise know to be true. The brand of OCD that attacks spiritual issues is often called "scrupulosity".

For me, personally, I am a pure mental obsessor. Some people obsess about more physical things (contamination with germs, touching things the "right way", etc.) I obsess over Christian doctrine and salvation, mostly. It is the strongest obsession with me because God's truth, and being saved by Christ, are by far the most important things to me. There is nothing more horrible to me in all the world than being separated from Jesus Christ. OCD is great at attacking that which is the most critical to you.

I have said to myself before, "I wish I knew why it seems so easy for others to believe and rest in Christ, yet for me it is so hard." I realize two things: 1) That is sort of a myth. Every believer has a struggle, a battle on their hands. and 2) The particular reason is that the "normal" person can hear an explanation of something, such as the Gospel, see a general correspondence with the Scriptures, and take comfort in it without being pressed to go any further. I am not able to do that, much of the time. The perfectionistic obsessions are so strong that I can't just "leave it", and the microscope gets focused in tighter and tighter until I can't see anything at all anymore. It is the proverbial "can't see the forest for the trees". I realize that I don't need to have perfect knowledge, that even a warped presentation of the Gospel can be "sufficient" for the Holy Spirit to save with, yet knowing and experiencing are often two different things. That is another part of OCD -at some point the OCD sufferer realizes that the obsessions are silly, unrealistic, and at best exaggerated, but they still lack the capacity to stop. It is actually the process of trying to stop the thoughts and anxiety that reinforces the obsessive cycle. Mental analysis and written analysis are often "compulsions' for me -things done in an attempt to find my way out of the maze, but the process only serves to concrete myself more deeply in it. That is another hallmark of OCD.

In that support group for OCD I used to be in we had a common way of describing OCD. We called it the "polar bear principle". It works like this: try as hard as you can to NOT think about a polar bear for 5 seconds. What happened during that 5 seconds? The harder you tried to NOT think about a polar bear, the more the thought of a polar bear is stuck in your mind. Now, add some high levels of anxiety to the mix. Imagine there was a guy with a brain-meter that could see what you were thinking and he was holding a gun to your head and saying, "If you think about a polar bear, I will blow your head off. Do NOT think about a polar bear!" It would be impossible to do. So, that is how it is for OCD. It is a paradoxical mental trap. The OCD person has no recourse by trying to stop the thoughts, which are really just mental noise that normal folks just dismiss without thinking. The OCD person, instead of dismissing the thought, gets fixated upon it because of how much anxiety it produces. The OCD person, using the Polar Bear analogy, would then start to worry, "I must WANT to die, because why else would I not be able to stop thinking about Polar Bears when this guy is threatening to shoot me if I do!"

So how does this translate to me and my obsessions. Well, using the example of my obsession with grasping the Gospel accurately, I might know full well that I do not need perfect knowledge to be saved, nor do I need a perfect articulation of the Gospel, but you would be amazed at what an unwanted sense of isolation and potential "lost-ness" does in motivating you to focus right in and check, check, check, over and over, to make sure the Gospel you know is the Gospel and that you "believe in Christ". The more fervently I try to dig my way out of it or debate and argue with this unwanted sense of lost-ness, the more immersed in it and blinded by it I become. It comes over and against any sense of peace that I have in Christ, attacking it, wearing at its foundation. The anxiety and confusion is almost unbearably intense. The illogical nature of it is seen best in occasions where I lend some counsel to someone hurting in the Gospel or explain it to someone. I can explain it clearly and, by God's grace, with power (see them lifted up, by the Spirit of God), yet that self-same message is "unsure" to me because of the persistent "sense" that attacks me and pushes me to check and re-check to perfect it. It is much akin to the common example of the "light-switch" where the OCD person has to come back and keep checking the light-switch and touching it to get the "completed" feeling, so that they can move on. The funny thing is that all of this exists as a layer over what is truly there in reality and in the heart. This is why I prefer to describe it as "blinding". When the obsessions fade for a spell, I realize that Christ was never gone, that all is well, that I am His, that He has called my by name as His sheep.

I have noticed that doctrine does make some difference, but only to a certain degree. For example, "scrupulosity" is often associated with being a "Roman Catholic" disease. With all respect and concern to those individuals who are Roman Catholics, this is well understood given Rome's teachings on justification. Who wouldn't be terrified if they were constantly under the gun of maintaining their justification through their own purity? But it is not found only among Roman Catholics. The next highest group, in my experience, is among those from charismatic backgrounds. I can't include all charismatic circles, but the high emphasis on "cooperation" in salvation and subjective impressions from God in our feelings that is characteristic among many (though, not all) charismatic groups is, logically and in my personal experience through talking with some individuals, a huge stumbling block. It seems to feed a tendency to obsess over our own personal purity and the quality of our feelings -or whatever standard of "right-ness" we are holding to. However, there are also many among more Biblically orthodox schools of thought who suffer. You can have a very orthodox presentation of justification, of the Gospel, of Christ, of God's sovereignty in salvation, and yet be absolutely destroyed by this daily. Why? Because, as we saw earlier, you can know that the obsessions aren't based on reality, but that doesn't make them stop. You can reason your way out of it to anybody who is suffering from it, but in yourself it is a different story. You can know the truth very well, believe it somewhere deep down, and still be enslaved to this beast of blindness, isolation, and fear.

All that said, I do still believe that the Gospel is the remedy for this constant sense of "not-right-ness" within us that we obsess to try to fix. I am not talking about a perfectly articulated formula for the Gospel. I am talking about the principles of Law and grace that undergird the Gospel. This is one reason why I am an adimant advocate of clear teaching of the Gospel -again, not a perfect articulation, but a regular, consistent proclamation of grace to the needy. I am adimant about it being clearly preached, regularly, to God's people in the context of worship and the proclamation of the Word. I reject the idea that the Gospel is just for getting pagans to be believers. The Gospel is the lifeblood of the Church, and I believe it needs to be heard regularly. Purely practical preaching is great, but even in the most practical of matters there is the potential for being swept into the presence of God in all of our sinfulness and having that hot coal being brought to our lips in the proclamation of grace. I am not talking about having an invitation at the end of every service. I am talking about a clear representation of our sinfulness under God's Law and the proclamation of life for the sake of Christ's death and resurrection. Anyway, I must stop before I continue to digress...

So, this is a brief summary of my struggle. I deal with it in some measure every single day. It seeks to rob me of my peace every day almost without exception. Some days are more calm, many more days are wrought with inner turmoil, yet every day it is there in some degree. Most days I awaken with anxiety, a tightness in my chest, for no real reason whatsoever. At that time, I don't even know what I'm really anxious about... yet.

I am sure, for me, there are many tangential issues: perfectionism, perhaps some unbelief, relying upon my own understanding, etc., which I am daily in prayer about. I cannot relegate it purely to being a physical affliction, yet a real affliction it is -a terribly crippling one that is emotionally exhausting and prone to make us isolated and self-absorbed. It is an affliction I have borne for about 6-7 years now. There were times when the anguish was so bad that I would lay on the floor in my closet with the door closed and just put my face to the carpet and cry. I have improved with it and learned much, especially about God's grace, but sometimes I am just purely laid out flat and can barely raise my brow.

What can I do but press on one day at a time, depending upon God's grace to get me through? It sounds really stupid to me, and I am often ashamed because there are so many who suffer with such horrible things (death of loved ones, poverty, terrible illness, persecution, etc.), and this thing is literally "all in my head". I ask the reader to know that I am not writing this for pity, but for information for you, for encouragement to fellow-sufferers, and for a personal release for me. I have tried to articulate to people in the past about what this thing is, but I am not sure that I have done so adequately. I hope this serves at least as a primer. I pray God would establish me and give me victory over this, but I must realize that it may be that I suffer with this for the rest of my life. If that is the case, then I pray that God would be merciful and, in time, lessen its grip, even if its group does not completely disappear in this life. Whatever it is, I know that it is for the glory of God somehow, since He has so ordained it. That is good to reflect upon.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Whosoever

For many, the English phrase "whosoever believes" is believed to be the death knell for those who reject man's free will and believe that God is the one who ultimately chooses who will be saved -those pesky Calvinists. :) Texts like John 3:16, accordingly, are quoted with regularity in an attempt to demonstrate some type of universality and free will of man. The common, though sadly unchallenged belief is that the English phrase "whosoever believes" implies that any person is able believe by the exercise of their "free will" and that God, who tries to and wants to save us, leaves it up to us. I hope to demonstrate that this understanding of the English phrase is wrought with traditional baggage that is thoroughly un-Biblical and is not founded upon the actual, simple meaning of the phrase. It is an assumed, presupposed meaning that contains extraneous concepts -not one that comes from the language itself. I hope to demonstrate, in turn, that "whosoever believes" simply means "all the people who believe, no matter who they are."

The first question we must ask ourselves is this: what is the Greek word that is commonly "whosoever" or, in some translations, "whoever"? You may be surprised to find out that there is no word in the Greek for "whosoever". The phrase "whosoever believes" is an English rendering of a Greek phrase consisting of three words: pas ho pisteuon. The literal translation is "every the believing ones" or "all the believing ones". It is a descriptive phrase denoting every person, without exception, who believes. The tense of the participle, "believing", is present tense continuous action, which gives us a view to of the nature of true saving faith. It is a lasting and abiding "believing" -a continuous thing. It isn't a one-time decision or a faith that is temporary.

Notice what is conspicuously absent. There is no mention of anything in the phrase which has to do with the ability to believe, who believes, or how men come to believe. The phrase is quite simple on its own: it is a phrase that describes the entirety of a group of individuals (the believing ones). Now, scan some of the common contexts in which this phrase is used (John 3:16, John 12:46, etc.) Those same issues are absent in the contexts. The statement"whosoever believes in Him has eternal life", in the Greek, means nothing more than that everyone who believes in Jesus, no matter who they are, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, has eternal life. It is a promise. Any implication that carries with it anything additional is not the result of the meaning of the words, themselves.

Though this phrase is often used as a mantra, the "battle cry" for free will and man's alleged autonomous choice in salvation, a very simple examination shows that such meaning is utterly unfounded. The phrase "whosoever" is not a defective translation, as some might think I am saying. The defect is in the foreign concepts that are erroneously read into the phrase "whosoever believes". As demonstrated, "whosoever believes" is descriptive. It defines who is being talked about and excludes no one who believes -whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, etc. It is contained in the grand promise of the Gospel so as not to exclude any who believe! That is the beauty of the term. This is the meaning of the original language and the plain meaning of the phrase in English, if we would restrain ourselves from adding concepts that are not present.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

God's Inability

"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us." (Heb 6:17-18)

Often we speak of man's inability (at least those of us from Reformation traditions), but seldom do we speak of God's inability. The idea is somewhat shocking because we often think of God's attributes, such as omnipotence, as excluding any idea of inability. Yet the word "impossible" in Heb 6:18 conveys a sense of impossibility and inability. God cannot lie.

God's will is bound to His very nature and character. I am not sophisticated enough, philosophically, to understand exactly how the will and nature relate (or, for all I know, if they are even distinct at all), but in this regard it seems suitable to say that God's will in unable because it is bound to His perfectly holy nature. The thing that is somewhat ironic is that this kind of inability is good. We normally think of inability as a negative quality. We think of it as something which makes its object less than perfect. However, in God's case this inability flows from His perfection without any contradiction whatsoever. His inability is an inability to be less than holy, less than Himself. He is unable to cease being Himself.

With the fallen race of Adam, our wills are bound to a sinful, corrupted nature, which is in love with sin and is unable to do that which is pleasing to God or submit to Him from the heart. Yet God has perfect inability. It is the kind of inability we long for, and the kind of inability we fallen, God-regenerated, believing sinners will experience in glory. That is only part of our blessed hope, the full essence of which being Christ Himself in our midst for our everlasting enjoyment and worship, yet for now we groan inwardly, as Paul noted, awaiting the redemption of our bodies.

With God's inability there is wondrous assurance. God cannot lie. He would more surely cease being God than ever break one of His promises. His inability translates into His steadfast, merciful, joyous, abiding, unwavering will to fulfill all of His gracious promises to us undeserving sinners. Let every doubt which we conceive of in our hearts, let every whisper of the enemy come crashing into this stone wall and fall into the abyss. He is an everlasting Rock.

"Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock." (Isa 26:4)

Monday, February 27, 2006

About God's Promises

Here are a few random thoughts again on God's promises:

1. When someone makes you a promise, by nature it depends on the promiser to fulfill it. This can be both in regards to a good promise or a bad one. If someone promises me, "I will get you one of these days," then that is a promise of vengeance, but the fact remains that its fulfillment depends upon the promiser's ability and will to keep the promise. If either of them are lacking, for whatever reason, then the promise dangles into nothingness. This could be because of something within the promiser, an external circumstance, or even something within me. Perhaps I die of natural causes before the man strikes. Then the man's promise of vengeance meets his inability to fulfill it. My absence, due to death, creates a situation of inability for the vengeful man.

2. It is not so with God. God has both the ability to keep all of His promises and the will to do it. There are no circumstances which are able to thwart either. In fact, He not only has the ability to keep them He is unable to do otherwise. He is the Sovereign of the universe, the One who spake creation into existence, the One whose hand is stayed by no one. He accomplishes all His will, and He does so perfectly. He works all things according to the counsel of His will. Even my own weakness shall not keep Him from fulfilling His promise. And then we remember that He is also holy and good and perfect, without a shadow of turning. He cannot lie, He does not draw back from His promises. He is zealous for His faithfulness because He is zealous for His own glory. His faithfulness magnifies His glory. He is willing, more willing than any other being, to keep His promises.

These together, coupled with the utter sufficiency of Jesus Christ as Savior, form a more than adequate warrant for faith -a true faith which rests and reposes upon Christ and all that which God has promised us in Him. These also outline the very nature of faith, its passivity. For if the Promiser is the one who keeps the promise, what is there for us to do but believe Him? Is there one ounce added, one finger lifted by us to bring this about? Not at all. Thus, knowing this, we rest and patiently trust in His faithfulness. We rest in the promise of His doing, not ours.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

5 Observations Concerning the Promise of the Gospel

"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:40)

The promise has implicit within it a proclamation of the sufficiency of Christ. I have discussed this before. How else could God ground this promise unless the foundation upon which we stand is sufficient for every sinner, even the worst? How could God make such a promise if Christ was only partly sufficient and something was additionally required of us or only some kinds of sinners would find Him to be enough to reconcile and justify them before God? The promise screams, "Christ is more than enough for every case, even yours." Christ saves. His merits are boundless, and His blood covers.

The promise has implicit within it a proclamation of the sufficient of Christ over and against all of our self-sufficiency. The promise tells us that Christ is sufficient, that the merit found in Him is abundant and saving, and that those who rest upon it are saved; therefore, it also implies that those who do not recumb upon Christ but continue to rest upon themselves and their own merits, have no salvation. No standing of righteousness exists outside of Christ. No self-sufficiency will ever stand before the just and Holy Judge.

The promise has implicit within it a proclamation of permission. There is an openness implicit within the promise, a welcoming. It draws the awakened conscience, by the Holy Spirit. This is not to be confused with a proclamation of ability. The promise does not proclaim that men are able to believe in Christ, but it does tell a sinner that he *may* come, though trembling, and rest fully upon Him. No sinner has any reason, given the promise, to think that he should be turned away.

The promise has implicit within it a definition of the nature of saving faith. The tense of the verb "believe" use many times indicates present-tense, continuous action. It is a faith that perseveres, it abides, comes to Christ, not just once like signing on the dotted line, but as a manner of existence. It is characterized by feeding upon the Bread of Life. This is not to say that faith always remains in the same strength or doesn't experience times of darkness where it seems the light has been all but extinguished, but it does mean that true faith, by God's grace, perseveres. This truth guards us against the errors of some who teach that believing is a singular act, a "decision" of sorts, and that according to that one act you are forever saved.

The promise has explicit within it a proclamation of definitive assurance, for we know that God cannot lie -else He would cease being God. It is not "some of those who believe in Christ shall be saved." It is "all of the ones believing." The flies in the face of systems, such as Roman Catholicism and even many shades of evangelicalism, which would have us believe that Christ is not enough -you can believe in Him, but if you do not also do... you will not be saved. Yet God makes no room for this nonsense. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in chapter 3 of his epistle to the Romans: "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction..." (Rom 3:21-22) Again, there exists that precious word "all". It is a small word, but it carries with it no small measure of good news to the poor and afflicted sinner. Righteousness is imputed to all who believe. Here lies the foundation of our hope: the promise of God, which itself bears witness to the sufficiency of Christ and heaps our weary souls upon Him.