Wednesday, December 30, 2009

He Died for Me

Let this, then, be the sum of this article that the little word Lord signifies simply as much as Redeemer, i.e., He who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same. But all the points which follow in order in this article serve no other end than to explain and express this redemption, how and whereby it was accomplished, that is, how much it cost Him, and what He spent and risked that He might win us and bring us under His dominion, namely, that He became man, conceived and born without sin, of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, that He might overcome sin; moreover, that He suffered, died and was buried, that He might make satisfaction for me and pay what I owe, not with silver nor gold, but with His own precious blood. And all this, in order to become my Lord; for He did none of these for Himself, nor had He any need of it.

Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, The Apostles Creed, Article II, Paragraph 31
[Emphasis added]

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Lesson Never Learned: Stephen's Defense in Acts 7

Stephen's defense is interesting as it summarizes the history of Israel then drops a bombshell in the conclusion:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.
Stop and ask, "Where did that come from? Why the sudden turn from the history lesson to open attack?"

The Incident
The background and beginning of the incident is given in 6:8-15 and is important to set the argument. Stephen had ministered to the Hellenistic widows and was spreading the gospel in word and deed. Being unable to debate him successfully, some instigated men to say that Stephen was speaking "blasphemous words against Moses and God" and "against this holy place and the law." Likewise he was accused of wanting to "destroy this place" and to "change the customs that Moses delivered to us." While the beginning accusations were generalized in order to get some attention, the actual issues came forth before the Sanhedrin--the demise of their temple and traditions.

Stephen's defense forms a pattern of alternating divine command (C) and people's disobedience (D):

        (C) Covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2-8)
        (D) Selling Joseph into slavery (9-16)
        (C) Rescue of Moses (17-22)
        (D) Moses' incorrect attempt to help (23-29)
        (C) Moses called to lead people (30-34)
        (D) Moses rejected as leader (35-43)

Up to here the emphasis is placed on Moses as God's anointed leader and the subsequent rebellion by the rabble, fellow Israelites, his siblings, and the spies. Time and again this chosen leader (and by inference God himself) was rejected.

Then Stephen turns his attention to the temple:
        (C) Tabernacle as God's witness (44-46)
        (D) Solomon builds a temple (47-50)

This last may be a surprise but is key to the argument.  David desired to build a dwelling place, but YHWH refused promising one who would come later to build the house he wanted (2 Samuel 7:12-13). David assumed Solomon was that one and gathered materials (1 Chronicles 22:2-5) and designed the temple (1 Chronicles 28:11-19) for the latter's construction effort. Solomon completed and dedicated the temple with YHWH responding by filling the temple and placing his glory there.  Notice how God describes his action:

And the Lord said to him, "I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time." (1 Kings 9:3)
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice." (2 Chronicles 7:12)
Notice that the Lord referred to the temple as Solomon's. This was not God's dwelling place: he already had one. It was neither God's plan nor purpose for Solomon or any of his offspring build a temple until the one came to whom it was rightfully appointed. That was God's privilege alone. John Chrysostom points out this fact nicely.
"But a Tabernacle,” say you, "there was (the Tabernacle) 'of Witness.'" (v. 44.) (Yes,) this is why it was: that they should have God for Witness: this was all. "According to the fashion,” it says, "that was shown thee on the mount:” so that on the mount was the Original. And this Tabernacle, moreover, "in the wilderness,” was carried about, and not locally fixed. And he calls it, "Tabernacle of witness:” i.e. (for witness) of the miracles, of the statutes. This is the reason why both it and those (the fathers) had no Temple. "As He had appointed, that spake unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.” Again, it was none other than He (Christ) that gave the fashion itself. "Until the days of David” (v. 45): and there was no temple! And yet the Gentiles also had been driven out: for that is why he mentions this: "Whom God drove out,” he says, "before the face of our fathers. Whom He drove out,” he says: and even then, no Temple! And so many wonders, and no mention of a Temple! So that, although first there is a Tabernacle, yet nowhere a Temple. "Until the days of David,” he says: even David, and no Temple! "And he sought to find favor before God” (v. 46): and built not:—so far was the Temple from being a great matter! "But Solomon built Him an house.” (v. 47.) They thought Solomon was great: but that he was not better than his father, nay not even equal to him, is manifest.[1]
Stephen's Conclusion
Having illuminated the hard hearts of the ruling Jews, Stephen turns on them to show they were just as cold and rebellious as any other leaders throughout Israel's history who turned aginst what the Lord desired, as Martin Scharlemann gives it:

Stephen did not deny the charges raised against him; instead, he confronted the Jewish High Council with what amounts to a radically different interpretation of the Old Testament. He introduced a new dimension into the contemporary understanding of the Old Testament. He did so in his eloquent testimony to the conviction that the whole story of God's redemptive work had reached its fulfillment in the coming of that Righteous One (Acts 7:52), whom the community of God's law, as the Jews thought of themselves, had betrayed and put to death.[2]
The Lesson
Stephen, as the Lord Jesus, died pointing out the error of the established religious authority who had collectively forsaken God's intention and had "always been disobedient to God and assumed that they could domesticate him in their temple and enjoy his favor."[3] This same attitude has developed among believers seeking to honor God but on their own terms and using their own methods. The best of intentions is no replacement for obedience to revealed truth. While God might bless his word as it goes forth in power, there is no substitute for obedience. The end does not justify the means. King Saul lived to regret his presumptuous decision to not wait for Samuel (1 Samuel 15:22-28). We are to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and not swerve from it.

[1] Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. XI (Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans.;Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 108.
[2] Martin Scharlemann, Stephen: A Singular Saint (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1968), 57.
[3] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (I. Howard Marshall: Acts; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 569.

Book Giveaway at Sententiae Nil

If you are interested in trying to win a free book on Biblical Theology, check this out.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sharing the Word of Truth


There is a blog entry at CyberBrethren directed to would-be preachers. Its main points relate to anyone desiring to share the glories of Christ via the word of God.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gates of Hell

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell [Greek - ᾅδης, hades] shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

This verse has always seemed peculiar to me. What did Jesus mean, exactly, by gates of hell not prevailing against the church?


My first understanding was one of triumphalism—the church would continue to grow as we worked for the kingdom. This was probably an outgrowth of the Methodist amillenial eschatology gleaned during my growing years. But it is not an uncommon view expressed by

Albert Barnes
And the meaning of the passage is, that all the plots, stratagems, and machinations, of the enemies of the church, should not be able to overcome it—a promise that has been remarkably fulfilled.
Adam Clarke
Our Lord's expression means, that neither the plots, stratagems, nor strength of Satan and his angels, should ever so far prevail as to destroy the sacred truths in the above confession. Sometimes the gates are taken for the troops which issue out from them: we may firmly believe, that though hell should open her gates, and vomit out her devil and all his angels, to fight against Christ and his saints, ruin and discomfiture must be the consequence on their part; as the arm of the Omnipotent must prevail.
The picture is one of a military campaign between the church and the gates of hell, and the aggressor depends on the point of view. Is either one truly viable? Think about this. Why would the church want to break down the gates of hell and invade? Or how could gates be aggressors? Don't they just swing on hinges? How would that work? Or is the whole verse a metaphor of the overcoming life of the church in the world?

The solution is to look at this from a different angle. The word hades relates to the Hebrew sheol found in the Old Testament. Before Jesus' resurrection it was the general place of the dead described as having bars and gates:

Job 17:16
Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?
Shall we descend together into the dust?

Isaiah 38:10
I said, In the middle of my days
I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
for the rest of my years.
And likewise having great power:
Psalm 89:48
What man can live and never see death?
Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
Hosea 13:14
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes.
Coupling these thoughts together, we can see that in Matt. 16 Christ was referring to the church as those who would pass from death unto life. This first happened in this world as the keys of the kingdom were given to Peter and the gospel went forth to Judea, Samaria, and onward. Then finally there is the last resurrection as Christ proclaims his ownership of the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:18) having secured them by his own triumphal rising (1 Corinthians 15).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Here is a men's septet from Latvia singing one of my favorite Christmas songs in Latin.  Enjoy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Look at Repentance in 2 Timothy 2:24-26

In writing to Timothy, Paul desires to share some final thoughts concerning the proper and effective use of God's word. Chapter two focuses especially on keeping the correct purpose in sight—to not get sidetracked. Mishandling of Scripture had gotten two Christian brothers off course, and they were teaching the resurrection had already taken place. Against this, Paul exhorts believers to be faithful as a useful vessel for the master by striving for righteousness, faith, etc. from a pure heart rather than getting involved with controversies. Against this backdrop he writes these words.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
There is much that can be said about the character of the Lord's servant and how it relates to the previous exhortations, but my main goal is to look at the outcome—what is being sought and from whom it is sought.

What?
Paul makes his point clear that the outcome is repentance. This recurring theme in the New Testament is first seen in John where Bock describes it as producing

a life lived with a sense of responsibility before a sovereign God. It is an internal attitude that aims at a product. The term itself, given the Semitic setting of John’s ministry, is related to the Hebrew term שׁוּב (šûb, to turn). This idea in a religious context speaks of a reorientation of one’s perspective from sin to God (1 Kings 8:47; 13:33; 2 Kings 23:25; Ps. 78:34; Isa. 6:10; Ezek. 3:19; Amos 4:6, 8).[1]
This repentance will be in accord with the proper goal of knowing the gospel moving "beyond a theoretical knowledge to fullness of knowledge gained by experience (cf. 1 Tim 2:4)"[2] and is according to God's sovereign methodology. Every call for repentance is preceded by a clear proclamation or teaching of Scripture. It is only through receiving this that the heart and mind can be altered. At that point John Gill states the preacher should leave the matter to the one who
opens the eyes of the understanding, and works conviction in the mind, and leads into all truth, as it is in Jesus; and induces men to repent of their errors, confess their mistakes, and own the truth.[3]
Whom?
Paul makes it clear that the recipients of the gentle correction are opponents of some kind being actively and personally engaged. If we consider the movement of the chapter with warnings of those who swerved from the truth (v. 18) to those who have been captured by the devil to do his will (v.26), the conclusion must be that these are Christians who have erred greatly and need restoration. This seems most plausible not only because of what has been stated but also the care being taken by the spiritual teachers. When spiritual elders are guiding the immature or erring, they are to be gentle in their instruction (Galatians 6:1-2), but in regards to those who will not listen need to be rebuked sharply (Titus 1:10, 13).

If these are believers, this passage cannot be used to bolster the Calvinist argument of the "Gift of Repentance." Curt Daniel gives a typical argument for its use this way.

No Christian knows for sure if any person in particular will be saved, for he doesn't know if God will bestow on that one the gift of faith and repentance. God might and He might not. It is His sovereign prerogative to give or withhold.[4]
Daniel's entire paragraph is written with the understanding this passage is speaking of unbelievers, but it simply will not hold this idea. Rather believers have been led astray and are close to making shipwreck of the faith. These precious souls need to be turned, so they do not go any further to their own destruction.

Conclusion
Paul reminds Timothy of the great task ahead and the diligence required to stay the course. There will be those Christians who mishandle the Bible leading themselves and others to places the Lord never intended. Timothy is to help lead these wayward ones back. It is entirely possible they will not listen, but it is not the preacher's task to drag them back but to faithfully teach, reprove, and correct with all diligence (2 Timothy 3:16) and leave the effect to God's almighty care.


[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 1: 1:1-9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994, p. 287.
[2] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 46, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000, p. 537.
[3] John Gill, Expositions on the Old & New Testaments, electronic edition.
[4] Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, Springfield: Good Books, 2003, p. 392. It is a series of outlines for lectures given by the author in 1987-89. I am unaware how to secure a copy (mine was a gift), but the lectures are freely available at Monergism.com.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

SmackDown Santa

The mental image of Santa Claus as a "right jolly old elf" comes to us from Clement Moore's famous poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." The real Saint Nicholas (Nicholas of Myra), according to this article by Edward Gene Veith first published in 2005, was nothing like that but rather a strong defender of Christian orthodoxy to the point of slapping a heretic for his views of Christ.

There are days I wish I could do the same.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Living Sacrifice

A favorite passage for Christians is Romans 12:1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
These two verses have some rich theology beind them, but my purpose here is to key on "living sacrifice." What exactly is that? Most people in the world have a concept of sacrifice--to give up something which is directly or indirectly presented to another. In this context the sacrifice is me and the recipient God. If the sacrifice was an inanimate object, it could be consumed or exchanged in whatever way deemed useful by the recipient. More familiar is the animal sacrifice which would be killed and wholly or partially burned up with any remainder used to feed the sacrifice-offerer, be he the presenter or an intermediary.

If the end result of a sacrifice is death, the idea of a living sacrifice is paradoxical. How can a living sacrifice stay sacrificed? Or as more than one preacher has put it, "The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar." It is a cute comment but has no theological basis for two reason: 1) There is no altar. That was where the dead animals were burned as an aroma to God. Nothing living was placed on it; and 2) Anything sacrificed to God was his--period.

Whose Idea Was This?
Some may wonder where Paul got the idea of a living sacrifice. The notion of dedicating something to God was not novel. A noted application of human dedication is found in 1 Samuel 1:9-11 where Hannah dedicated her yet unborn son to the Lord. Another example is the hasty, foolish one made by Jephthah (Judges 11:30-31) which ended tragically though the original intent was well-meaning. By the time of Christ, the Pharisees had wrongly worked the whole dedicatory system to their advantage, thus dishonoring God's law by taking what was due their parents and calling it Corban or offering (see Mark 7:1-13). In effect they became the recipients of their own "sacrifice."

The most applicable passage concerning the dedication of a person or persons to the Lord is in Numbers 8:5-22:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them go with a razor over all their body, and wash their clothes and cleanse themselves. Then let them take a bull from the herd and its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and you shall take another bull from the herd for a sin offering. And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. When you bring the Levites before the Lord, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the Lord. Then the Levites shall lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, and you shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering to the Lord to make atonement for the Levites. And you shall set the Levites before Aaron and his sons, and shall offer them as a wave offering to the Lord.

Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. And after that the Levites shall go in to serve at the tent of meeting, when you have cleansed them and offered them as a wave offering. For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself. For all the firstborn among the people of Israel are mine, both of man and of beast. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I consecrated them for myself, and I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel. And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary."

Thus did Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the people of Israel to the Levites. According to all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites, the people of Israel did to them. And the Levites purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them. And after that the Levites went in to do their service in the tent of meeting before Aaron and his sons; as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so they did to them.
The wave offering is a peace-offering that is waved by the priests (Ex. 29:24, 26-27; Lev. 7:20-34; 8:27; 9:21; 10:14-15, etc.) in token of a solemn special presentation to God. The special presentation here are the Levites as a group. In a visually symbolic manner, the priestly tribe is wholly dedicated to God for the work he had called them aside to do. They were literally a living sacrifice to God. This tribe then typifies what we as Christians are before the Lord as a people set aside unto him.

The purification rite also looks forward to Paul's admonition for holiness and acceptability.

  1. The first requirement was the water of purification which is a type of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
  2. Then came the shaving of the body. This was used to lay bare any spot that might be on the skin which could signal uncleanness.
  3. Clothes were washed to remove contaminates leading to uncleanness.
  4. Sin and burnt offerings were given for atonement and worship.
Only after all these were done could the Levites serve the Lord. In the same way, the Christian is to be pure and acceptable to God through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, plus the sanctifying and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, every Christian is qualified to this work and has been endowed with the ability to bring it to pass.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Does Mankind Hate Christ?

In Matthew 10:16-25, Jesus warned his disciples that they would be maligned by everybody. And for what reason?
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you....But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.  (John 15:18, 21)
Arnobius asked his opponents some 250 years later (Book II, cap. 1) why they hated Christ:
[E]xplain to us and say what is the cause, what the reason, that you pursue Christ with so bitter hostility? or what offenses you remember which He did, that at the mention of His name you are roused to bursts of mad and savage fury? Did He ever, in claiming for Himself power as king, fill the whole world with bands of the fiercest soldiers; and of nations at peace from the beginning, did He destroy and put an end to some, compel others to submit to His yoke and serve Him? Did He ever, excited by grasping avarice, claim as His own by right all that wealth to have abundance of which men strive eagerly? Did He ever, transported with lustful passions, break down by force the barriers of purity, or stealthily lie in wait for other men’s wives? Did He ever, puffed up with haughty arrogance, inflict at random injuries and insults, without any distinction of persons?
Arnobius lays out Christ's character and asks at what point the Lord offended. Was it the ferocity of his troops, the nations he conquered and enslaved, the wealth he took greedily, the women he ravished, or the personal injuries afflicted without cause? No, but rather it was for daring this one thing:
And He was not worthy that you should listen to and believe He should not have been despised by you even on this account, that He showed to you things concerning your salvation, that He prepared for you a path to heaven, and the immortality for which you long.
The general public hate Christ (and by extension his followers) simply because he shows them the way to the very thing they seek. They simply will not accept the truth.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

"Man of Sorrows!" what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
"Full atonement!" can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
"It is finished!" was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Philip P. Bliss, pub. 1875

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thoughts on The Manhattan Declaration

I just learned earlier today of The Manhattan Declaration through Bob Heyton at Fundamentally Reformed who is leery of it. Later I stumbled on Eric Landry's less than glowing opinion at White Horse Inn. Then on Facebook, I saw a comment from one of the ladies in our church describing how important it was.

Time to check it out.

The declaration's home page gives a good summary of the document. Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical leaders desire to unite and defend three key tenets of a civil society: sanctity of human life; marriage between one man and one woman; right of religious liberty. On a separate page is the list of notable signatories many of whom are easily recognized depending on one's faith background.

My thoughts
I am not enthusiastic about joining with Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders in a purportedly Christian endeavor, as this is claimed to be. Let's face the facts—the three groups teach the same gospel (death, burial, and resurrection of Christ) but apply it to the adherent in vastly different ways, so that it comes out looking like the preaching of different gospels. That said, how do you get the three groups to agree on how to term their mutual displeasure in mutually acceptable tones. You end up with a document without backbone. The MD has trouble making a biblical case. It tends to be built more on natural law in a social construct with some supporting Scripture as might be applicable.

I question the historicity of some claims in the preamble concerning the degree of Christian involvement in women's suffrage and the civil rights movements, but maybe I am ignorant of those facts.

I also question the logic of the following quote:

There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself.
I read Dr. King's letter. He is eloquent and passionate, but the letter was not written from an explicitly Christian perspective. Yes, he quoted Augustine and Aquinas, but it was in matters of making and following just laws, not the biblical basis for just law.

I applaud the writers for the effort and diligence in seeking to bring these issues to the fore, but they would have been better served to write three different declarations with their unique perspectives or one that was based primarily on holy writ.

Awesome, Dude!

I am getting tired of the word awesome.  It has become cliché. I hear and see it most often in advertising directed toward children and teenagers. Anything that gives a fleeting moment of pleasure is considered awesome. Adults are not exempted from this. Who do you think comes up with the marketing campaigns? Advertisers influence young consumers who influence older consumers for the cash to back the purchases. The lingo goes upstream.

I decided to take a look at my Bible for what is authentically awesome. Firstly, the concept of awesomeness does not mean thrilling, rather there is the idea of something fearful and demanding honor and reverence (see Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). That disqualifies 99% of modern usage. Secondly, I was pleased my presumptions were proven correct—awesome is what God is and does. Here is a short look at what I found just doing a word-search in my ESV of what things God's word says are awesome.

God
His might (Deuteronomy 7:21; Nehemiah 4:14)
His justice (Deuteronomy 10:17)
His appearance (Judges 13:6; job 37:22)
His covenant-keeping (Nehemiah 1:5; 9:32; Daniel 9:4)
His dominion (Psalm 68:35; 89:7)

God's Deeds
In covenant-keeping redemption from Egypt (Exodus 15:11; 34:10; 2 Samuel 7:23; Psalm 66:5; 106:22; Isaiah 64:3)
In righteousness (Psalm 65:5)
In power (Psalm 66:3; 145:6; Zephaniah 2:11)

God's Name
In righteousness (Deuteronomy 28:58)
In holiness (Psalm 99:3)
In covenant redemption (Psalm 111:9)

God's Presence (Genesis 28:17; Ezekiel 1:18, 22)

God's Judgment Day (Joel 2:11, 31; Malachi 4:5)

The reader will notice that these are all Old Testament references. I do not think that the word no longer suits the need but that there is no longer a need to continue its use. The point is made and does not need repeating in the New Testament.

What does flow throughout scripture is the proper reaction to all this—awe. As mentioned above this reaction has a certain foreboding about it. There is a reckoning of sorts. Repeatedly, the glory of the Lord has the same effect on the observer. Sinful man cannot bear the presence of God's awesome glory and can barely contain his work. If not for the reassuring and strengthening hand of the Lord, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John would never have stood in his presence much less be coherent. An understanding of that awe leads us to worship correctly (Acts 2:42-43; Hebrew 12:28-29).

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As a sidebar item, I did find an interesting reference, that of a husband describing his wife (Song of Solomon 6:4, 10). I was pleasantly surprised by this, and after pondering for awhile, the picture seems fitting. Man and woman together as one flesh is the ultimate of God's creation work. Of course, the man as head should tell his wife this. Of course, she is awesome.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Playing House (M.D.)

One television show I enjoy is House, M.D. The medical detective work fascinating. The side story of House dealing with his drug habit was refreshing as he admitted the problem; the character seems a bit more mellow. But I still find much of the side dialogue repulsive.

The most recent episode I watched ended with Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) leaving both her husband and the team seemingly forever. Television being what it is, I figured this was a ruse to be manipulated later. To my surprise, Jennifer Morrison was uncertain why she was written out. I think I know.

Dr. Cameron's character was the sole voice of ethical conduct on the series. Her righteous indignation would manifest itself at the proper moments, but sadly for all the wrong reasons. Hers were humanitarian rather than biblical ethics. Still they were statements made in order to guide with some semblance of conscience. No more. This series is now set to run onward without any moral guideline whatsoever. What happens in story lines into the foreseeable future will be guided by logical medical reasons or a perceived greater good based on selfish ends. To be sure these elements were there every season, but now it can be presented blatantly. Bio-ethics can be trashed altogether.

I hope I am wrong. This season started so well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Decadent Western Civilization

I was reading a piece earlier this week and was struck by a section of paragraph paraphrased here.
Leaders and rulers who, fearing no reprisal, plunder and pillage bank accounts; who systematically seek the destruction of civil benefactors; who take women, married or not, for their own wanton pleasures—these men you revere and celebrate their birthdays though they deserve your contempt.  They write books assailing the public good, seek to swap wives as matter of course, engage in sexual activity with boys, and berate civil society.  They are rewarded with public adulation, their words are placed on library shelves, and their names and likenesses grace public venues.
I now ask you, dear reader: when and where was this originally written and of whom is it speaking?  Are we speaking of Hollywood elitist, politicians, community organizers, corporate directors, popular musicians?  There is no way to determine without more information.

As the post title indicates, this is from western civilization—the western Roman Empire circa A.D. 300.  The real tragedy is that one could not determine the difference in decadence level between then and now.  Men are no better than those so-called barbaric days 1700 years ago.  In some ways, we are probably worse because we cannot see how far we have fallen.

As for the quote paraphrased above, I give it here as I read it:
 
Tyrants and your kings, who, putting away all fear of the gods, plunder and pillage the treasuries of temples; who by proscription, banishment, and slaughter, strip the state of its nobles? who, with licentious violence, undermine and wrest away the chastity of matrons and maidens,—these men you name indigites and divi; and you worship with couches, altars, temples, and other service, and by celebrating their games and birthdays, those whom it was fitting that you should assail with keenest hatred.  And all those, too, who by writing books assail in many forms with biting reproaches public manners; who censure, brand, and tear in pieces your luxurious habits and lives; who carry down to posterity evil reports of their own times in their enduring writings; who seek to persuade men that the rights of marriage should be held in common; who lie with boys, beautiful, lustful, naked; who declare that you are beasts, runaways, exiles, and mad and frantic slaves of the most worthless character,—all these with wonder and applause you exalt to the stars of heaven, you place in the shrines of your libraries, you present with chariots and statues, and as much as in you lies, gift with a kind of immortality, as it were, by the witness which immortal titles bear to them.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Book I, cap. 64

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Preached Word

There is a marvelous interview at The White Horse Inn with Dr. William Willimon of Duke University entitled "The Preached Word." It is 39 minutes in length and worth the while.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting Christmas Wrong

Two things reminded me of how normal people can have no pickin' clue about Christmas. The first is a post here at Cyberbrethren noting how a Christian retail group warns that Christmas may not be fun because of the economy. Obviously, I am not using the correct translation of Scripture, because my Bible does not say that spending money is what gives satisfaction. Satisfaction comes in giving of yourself and being content with what you have.


The second is a comic strip that Jim VanDuzer pointed out.



Now that's calling it like it is.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Let's Have Training Camps

Larry Baden has a good post at TheologyWebsite.com pointing out the preference of some churches to teach to the lowest common denominator rather than challenge believers to grow. This usually well-intended action is designed to get people rooted in the faith with the hope for self-taught growth. How often does self-growth happen? Once in a blue moon or less.


The New Testament example of the church is to be a training ground for believers. We should teach the whole counsel of God. It can be done if the church organizes itself in such a fashion that this can happen.

An objection may be brought forward that there simply are not enough teachers to do this properly. Is the problem that there are not enough teachers or that the future teachers are not being trained within the church? The same could be said of encouragers or givers or those showing mercy. Is there a plan in place to develop these spiritual gifts?

Church leaders ask yourselves, "Is there something or someone being wasted because of a wrong emphasis?"

A So-Called Christological Paradigm

Over at Primal Subversion is a quote from Gene Davenport's book, Into the Darkness: Discipleship in the Sermon on the Mount.  It seems the author is claiming an anti-war stance for Matthew's gospel.

While it is true that many since the early church have taken a pacifistic approach to war based on chapters 5-7, the context simply does not bear that weight.  As the Lord is teaching, he is dealing with issues encountered on a personal level, most likely between one Jew and another or between Jew and sojourner.  The idea of foreign aggression does not enter the discussion.

Let's not add to the Bible what is not there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Religion v Gospel? -- Not Really

I came across a blog called Without Void that had a copy of thoughts from Tim Keller on Religion v Gospel. I then did an internet search and found this same list in various forms on many blogs and websites. It is quite popular and accepted. But it raises a question: When did religion become a foe of the gospel? The problem is that we have lost sight of the biblical understanding of religion.

The ESV has these verses in which the translators used the word religion:

Acts 25:19
Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.
Acts 26:5
They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
Colossians 2:23
These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Notice that biblical religion is nothing more than carrying out the duty expected to properly honor God and is to be manifest in both personal and public spheres. Also consider that the beneficiary of true religion is not the practitioner but the recipient of the religious deed.


Getting back to the list then, Brother Keller has compared living according to works with living according to the gospel. That is admirable and useful. But do not call that thing opposing the gospel "religion." Rather it is a self-seeking aberration of the works that should properly accompany salvation. The deeds are performed as an end unto themselves with no thought of them being offered in a way that pleases the Lord.  Call it what it is -- self-righteous legalism.

Lutran Airlines


My uncle sent an mp3 file that's good fun—
Lutran Airlines.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Scholarship or Foolishness?

I read the following short e-mail interchange concerning biblical studies earlier this week which stimulated some thoughts:

Biblical scholar:
Scholarship cannot be religious. The only agenda of scholarship is scholarship.

Atheist:
Does this, then, mean that "evangelical scholarship" is an oxymoron?

Biblical scholar:
I am afraid so, which does not say that an evangelical person cannot do scholarship. An evangelical approach, not to say a plain fundamentalistic one, is legitimate as long as it can be falsified.

That last predicate struck me. Why must an approach be falsifiable in order to be scholarly? What are the implied assumptions for this thinking? I assume it falls somewhere within this spectrum.


        1. Absolute truth does not exist.
        2. Absolute truth exists but is unknowable.
        3. Absolute truth exists and is knowable, but man cannot ascertain it.
        4. Absolute truth exists and is knowable, but man has not ascertained it.
        5. Absolute truth exists and is knowable; man ascertains and rejects it.
        6. Absolute truth exists and is knowable; man ascertains and accepts it.

If there is an absolute truth, one assumes a truth-giver with absolute authority. Option one attempts to eliminate the truth-giver as an impossibility., while the second through fourth rest in the warm comfort that the truth-giver can have no jurisdiction over the actions of the human race because the standard, precept, or grand plan has not been properly communicated. If man cannot understand, he cannot be accountable. Most of human philosophy has fallen somewhere within this range.

The Bible gives a completely different take on this. In Romans 1:18-23 we find the fifth option above as the apostle Paul writes:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Notice that the truth-giver, God, is knowable through what he has demonstrated in nature. Further, mankind deliberately suppresses that knowledge in their unrighteousness turning rather to their own thought processes and replacing God with a charicature of their own individual or collective foolishness. To make matters worse, God has communicated his intentions by way of various people through the centuries. As certainly as God has made himself known in creation (Psalm 19:1-6), he has made himself known in words (Psalm 19:7-11). This dual witness leaves mankind without any excuse.

The positive side to all this is that by accepting who God is and what he has done for his creation, we can be reconciled to him for our sinful disobedience. And what has he done for us that deserves all this accolade?  Only give the ultimate gift, his son, to cover and remove the sin that separates us from him. The apostle Paul wrote that he had "delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A "New" Hymn

Being on this theme of hymnody, I offer to the reader this one written some 1300 years ago which I found recently at The Lutheran Hymnal Online.

A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing
by The Venerable Bede, 673-735
Translated by Benjamin Webb, 1820-1885

1. A Hymn of glory let us sing:
New songs throughout the world shall ring:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ, by a road before untrod,
Ascendeth to the throne of God.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. The holy apostolic band
Upon the Mount of Olives stand;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
And with His followers they see
Jesus' resplendent majesty.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. To whom the angels, drawing nigh,
"Why stand and gaze upon the sky?
Alleluia! Alleluia!
This is the Savior!" thus they say;
"This is His noble triumph-day."
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. "Again shall ye behold Him so
As ye today have seen Him go,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In glorious pomp ascending high,
Up to the portals of the sky."
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. Oh, grant us thitherward to tend
And with unwearied hearts ascend
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Unto Thy kingdom's throne, where Thou,
As is our faith, art seated now.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. Be Thou our Joy and strong Defense
Who art our future Recompense:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
So shall the light that springs from Thee
Be ours through all eternity.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

7. O risen Christ, ascended Lord,
All praise to Thee let earth accord,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Who art, while endless ages run,
With Father and with Spirit One.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #212
Text: Acts 1: 11
Author: The Venerable Bede, 735
Translated by: Benjamin Webb, 1854, alt.
Titled: "Hymnum canamus gloriae"
Tune: "Lasst uns erfreuen"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Book of Psalms for Worship

Crown and Covenant Publications has recently released their newest psalter, The Book of Psalms for Worship. This edition purports to complete the revised wording begun in their 1973 psalter, The Book of Psalms for Singing.

I would venture that most people have never sung from a psalter, and if they have, it was the old Scottish metrical from the 17th century. From my perspective, they are difficult to read, much less sing, because of the stilted English used to put the psalms into rhyme and meter. The wording is familiar, since it is similar to the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible. That psalter is foreign-sounding to modern ears and needed work. The revision process undertaken by these brethren makes this an accessible resource for the Christian community.

Perhaps someone might question using a psalter. The notion somehow sounds antiquated, but with the dearth of good new hymnody, why not turn to an ancient and eminently biblical collection of songs for use by a local congregation. Most of the selections are unknown to the typical church member and would help satisfy the desire for something new by offering something old.

Some may balk at psalm-singing as somehow anti-dispensational and claiming the promises of Israel for the church. Not so. It is merely a right understanding of the church's relationship to these works that is needed.

Do you want to sing a new song unto the Lord? Sing from the psalter.

Hatchet Jobs on Hymns

Warning! Pet peeve alert!

One thing that really jerks my chain is the way hymns are treated. For example, this past Sunday one of the songs was "And Can It Be?" by Charles Wesley. This lovely and powerful hymn has five verses. Our song leader reduced it to three. I was crushed. How would it be if Top 40 songs got treated the same way? Can you imagine singing only 60% of "American Pie?" And how do you cut out 40% of "Streets of El Paso?" If you are going to sing a song, sing the whole song.

For whatever reason, "worship leaders" think that they can cut out verses of hymns in a willy-nilly fashion as the mood fits. Not so. Hymns are constructed with a purpose in mind and a message to convey. Part of the story is being cut out when verses are omitted.

And do not get me started on tempo. A hymn is not a dirge, people.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Church or Kingdom?

Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren has a good, short piece on a faulty distinction being made between working for the Church and working for the Kingdom of God.

My guess is that those who promote the latter see the church today as being in ruins similar to John Nelson Darby in Ireland and Alexander Campbell in the U.S. about 150-175 years ago. Basically, the  message was that the institutional church had abandoned its proper place and something needed to be salvaged from the vestiges: allow what was called "church" to self-destruct while true Christians were to come out and continue the work of the Lord. And therein is the faulty thinking.

The church is an organic unit whether or not we like its condition. What is sickly or self-destructive affects the whole and needs to be dealt with. Semper Reformanda is not a uniquely confessional slogan but one that each local church, denomination, etc. needs to realize for itself.

The work of the Kingdom is accomplished by the church. Why do we think it can be trashed for something new?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Aspiring to Greatness

I aspire to greatness. Does this surprise you or strike you as something sinful? May I say in response: O that all men would do likewise! Someone is asking, "Can Christians really do that? Don't you know that the Christian life is one of sacrifice and humility." As a matter of fact I do. Let me ease the shock and clear up the confusion. First, we need to dispel the notion that greatness is bad. Consider two Old Testament examples and what the Lord told them.
Abraham - And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)
David - And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. (2 Samuel 7:9b)
Both of these men received unconditional promises from God that their names would be great. And what was the basis of the bestowal of this generosity? God's good pleasure. As David tells himself it,
Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. (2 Samuel 7:21)
So God certainly bestows greatness on whom he wills, but can someone aspire or attain to greatness? That is the real question, and one his own disciples asked. Late in Jesus' earthly ministry, James and John (with their mother [Matthew 20:20-28]) approach him with a request:
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." Mark 10:35-37)
Talk about audacity, but what else would one expect from two brothers nicknamed "Sons of Thunder?" This was the same pair who previously had asked the Lord if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village who had rejected Christ (Luke 9:54). At this previous occasion in Samaria, the Lord's response was to turn and rebuke. They needed a strong word. This time he reacts somewhat differently.
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. (Mark 10:38-41)
No doubt about it, these two had moxie. They had seen John's end at the hands of Herod, so there was no preconception of an easy life. And they had both been enabled to perform some mighty signs in Galilee while spreading the gospel of the kingdom. They were certain of being able to pass throgh whatever lay ahead. Notice that Jesus agrees they will have to endure things. He gives the impression that they will finish their earthly life well. As for the high places next to the throne, that has already been promised. Now the other disciples have their collective noses out of joint because these brothers asked for such a favor. Maybe it is jealousy. After all, the twelve had been together for quite awhile, and Peter was part of Jesus' closest men. He saw and did things most of the others did not. The Lord sets the matter straight.
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  (Mark 10:42-45)
He gives an example of Gentile leaders and their philosophy of rule, the iron fist, and tells the twelve that things will be different for them. What does he say? "But whoever would be great among you..." Jesus does not chastise any of them for aspiring to greatness, not once. What he does is instruct them on how to be great: be the servant and slave of all.

Aspiring to greatness does not mean that we are seek our own glory. There is an important difference. James and John appear to have fallen into that somewhat. They acknowledged that the glory belonged to Jesus, but they wanted to be identified with it as much as possible. All glory belongs to God. He does not share with another.

I fell into the same thinking myself when as a younger believer, I thought I was God's gift to the Sunday School program and Youth leadership. After much maturing I have realized that the greatest satisfaction is the time and energy poured into others of whom I have had the privilege to help in their respective lives. Looking back I can appreciate what Paul said of the church at Philippi, "you are my joy and crown."

Yes, I aspire to greatness, but it is the greatness brought about by pouring myself into younger men and women and helping them grow in the grace knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Radio Static

Today I found the following Facebook status:
Hell's radio stations: Rush, Glenn, Sean & Alan, Contemporary Christian music with no commercial interruptions . . .
Lest anyone think these are the words of a liberal secularist bent on destroying the church and all that is sacred, the man who shared these thoughts has an M.Div. from a U.S. seminary and a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from University of Edinburgh. He currently teaches at a seminary in the U.S. I realize that with these credentials, he could still be a wolf amongst the flock, but I have known him personally for over 30 years and think his opinions have merit.

Talk radio
Let's start with the political commentators. I admit to listening to the first three men within the past 24 hours via radio and internet feed and have periodically over the years. Each is well-known for his conservative political opinions. There is one thing I have learned from listening: though they each purport to believe in God, each approaches socio-political problems from a humanist perspective. Glenn warns of the rampant spending and uncontrolled "czars." Rush trumpets American ingenuity and exceptionalism. Sean argued with Michael Moore about what constitutes a Christian viewpoint of capitalism. They each cited Jesus' words to bolster his case. Frankly, I doubt any of them knows what a biblical perspective looks like: pray for those who rule; care for widows and orphans in their need; live as resident aliens (because our citizenship is in heaven), seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, etc.

Does that mean I should avoid politics or not speak out? Not at all. When Tertullian wrote The Apology, the intended recipients were "Rulers of the Roman Empire"--the first words written in the treatise. This he did in the face of persecution. It seems no less important to do so while living in a free state, but that does not define us. We are not being made into the image of the Founding Fathers but into the image of Christ.

Contemporary Christian Music
I might be able to count on one hand the number of songs that have been written in the last twenty years having meaningful content. By that I mean words that do not dwell on my feelings or dwell on my relationships or repeat endlessly or repeat endlessly or repeat endlessly or repeat . . .

Music has purpose, and no, it is not to make us feel worshipful on Sunday morning. In the church it is a teaching tool. Look at Colossians 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Notice that there are two participial phrases: 1) teaching and admonishing; and 2) singing psalms and hymns spiritual songs. Paul is connecting these thoughts to help believers understand that music is to be doctrinally sound. On the whole, CCM does not fit the description, yet churches insist on using the popular choruses ad infinitum. Many hymns are no better. We just need to be more careful of what is being taught by the praise band.

Someone will say, "But the songs speak to me where I am." Fine, listen to mainstream country. Those artists and songwriters can say it much better. For worship I expect something that points me to the Lord of the universe. Someone else will retort, "But the psalmist talks about feelings." Yes, he does, but the ultimate focus is the person and work of God.

Conclusion
Ask yourself this question: Is my radio-listening governing me, or am I governing my radio-listening? By that, I am saying that you can listen to whatever you desire, but make sure it is active listening "with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:10).

If You Really Want Your Church to Grow…

Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated in order to get back on track.  Check out this blog entry from Dr. Jim West.

Monday, October 5, 2009

When God's People Pray -- An Initial Review

I have been exposed to the six-part series When God's People Pray by Jim Cymbala. The following are impressions of what the author is teaching based on viewing two sessions and working through accompanying study material.

Positives
Prayer is needful. Brother Cymbala exhorts Christians to pray and enjoy the blessings of entering into this rich communication with our God and Father. Bravo! Christians do themselves a disservice by not going before the Lord.

Pray correctly. Prayer is not haphazard but a deliberate act of entering into worship, fellowship, and representation for others. Even Jesus' closest disciples saw the need to learn how to pray (Luke 11:1-13).

Lead by example. It has become clear that this series is meant to exhort people to pray based on what has been implemented at Brooklyn Tabernacle. Christians should be examples for others, assuming they are living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). Paul was continually asking believers to follow his example (Philippians 3:17; 2 Timothy 2:1-2) as well as looking to others (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

Negatives
Prayer causes God to act. This is a popular notion that Jim Cymbala echoes to the DVD listeners. Two specific cases are given.

  1. The Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians as a result of their prayer. The Bible does not give the prayer content of those first 120 men and women. For all we know, they were asking the Lord that their carryout Chinese dinner would not be cold by the time it arrived. Yes, it is facetious but no more so than the author's statement.
  2. Every revival in history started because people saw their shortcomings and prayed. Every example in Scripture says differently (2 Kings 22:8-23:25; Jonah 3; Nehemiah 8-9). There we find the word of God, whether written or spoken, as the instrument causing people to understand their need, then seek the Lord in prayer.
Truth is based on experience. Time and again the author relates Brooklyn Tabernacle's experience from the early beginnings of his ministry until the present. As mentioned above, these are good to know and heed, but then Scripture is brought in to support their theology of prayer and application of current meetings and format. Should this not be the other way around? Experience can never be the standard. It changes daily.

One disturbing comment was made by an interviewee. She said that her salvation experience was real because of what she felt. Feelings are also not our standard. The basis for salvation is the finished work of Christ on the cross. We know we are forgiven because the final work is done, not because we feel good.


Conclusion
As I stated in the beginning, there are good things being taught, but the viewer must heed Paul's instruction
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm"

This piece is taken from LOGIA, Volume XVII, Number 4, pg 62-65.  It is interesting because I know of an argument made in a different denomination that also posited an argument for using wine at the Lord's Supper. ________________________________________________________________________________

"The Mandated Element of Wine" was presented to the Lutheran Church of Canada East District Pastors' Conference on 13 November 2007 by the Rev. Dr. Thomas M. Winger. It was received with nearly unanimous consent. The footnotes from the original paper have been moved into the text parenthetically.
The use of grape juice in the Lord's Supper at a congregation of our district has recently caused scandal, and threatens our fellowship in the place where it is most intimately expressed. The pastors' conference is surely the appropriate place to discuss, inform, strengthen one another in our common practice. For our historic common practice is the exclusive use of natural bread and natural wine, as the following anecdote from Luther's Table Talk illustrates:
When somebody inquired whether, when a sick person wished to have the sacrament but could not tolerate wine on account of nausea, something else should be given in place of the wine, the doctor [Martin Luther] replied, "This question has often been put to me and I have always given this answer: One should not use anything else than wine. If a person cannot tolerate wine, omit it [the sacrament] altogether in order that no innovation may be made or introduced." (Winter of 1542–1543, AE 54:438)
This story explodes our modern myopia that presumes we are the first to have such pastoral concerns. But it begs the basic question of precisely why this is our common practice. What is the biblical and historical basis for our church's is an exposition of the historical, scriptural, and confessional data and logic that support it.

The Lord instituted his Supper during the last celebration of the Passover with his disciples. Though higher critics have disputed this setting, it is the clear teaching of the Synoptic Gospels (Joachim Jeremias has decisively proven that the Synoptics are to be trusted on this point. See The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, pp. 15–88.) The Passover meal is the historical context in which to investigate the Sacrament's institution. Unfortunately for our investigation, the Old Testament knows nothing of a cup of wine in the Passover. Exodus 12 speaks only of unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and a lamb or goat. For an explanation of the cups, we need to turn to rabbinic sources.

The Mishna, compiled in the second century A.D. on the basis of long-standing oral tradition, teaches: "Even the poorest in Israel must not eat unless he sits down to table, and they must not give them less than four cups of wine to drink, even if it is from the [Paupers'] Dish" (Moed, Pesahim, 10:1). Throughout the discussion the content of the cups is consistently called "wine" (י י ן; yayin). It is sometimes referred to as "mixed," that is, diluted with water. The third cup, known as the "cup of blessing," is thought to be the cup our Lord blessed. It is called the "cup of blessing" because of the action of the pater familias at that point: "After they have mixed for him the third cup he says the Benediction over his meal" (10:7).

Tosefta Moed, a later commentary on the Mishna, elaborates that the cups must contain "a volume of a quarter-log, whether this is straight or mixed, whether this is new or old. R. Judah says, 'But this is one condition that it has the taste and appearance of wine'" (10:1). Lacking a scientific framework, this is the closest they can come to saying that, though it may be old or new wine, good or bad, mixed or straight, it must be real wine, and this fact must be obvious to all participants. (A log is usually defined as about 300 ml. Thus a quarter log is about 75 ml.) Jeremias, 67–68, addresses the question of whether each participant at the Passover had his own cup, or whether one cup was shared around the table. Later rabbinic literature (the Talmud) could be interpreted as describing the former [individual cups], in which case each person drank seventy-five milliliters per cup. But Jeremias argues that earlier Jewish practice was to share one common cup, in which case 75 ml would barely suffice for a sip each. More likely the cup was filled up and shared. In any case, the New Testament account is unequivocal that at the institution of the Lord's Supper Jesus gave one common cup to be shared by all (Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23; Lk 22:17, 20; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25–27).

The Tosefta goes on to explain the meaning of wine as an element of the Passover:
For the wine is what causes the blessing of the day to be said. . . . A. It is a religious duty for a man to bring joy to his children and dependents on the festival. B. And how does he give them joy? C. With wine, since it says, . . .wine to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15). (10:3–4)
The emphasis on joy demonstrates that the key feature of wine is its alcoholic content, its ability to inebriate, which is further emphasized by the requirement of taking no less than four cups of wine. What of the weak, who could not handle this? Rabbi Judah says, "[One gives to] women what is suitable for them, and to children what is suitable to them" (Tosefta Moed 10:4). He offers no further explanation of what this means, but since he has previously referred to the possibility of diluting the wine with water, this would seem to be what he has in mind.

Joachim Jeremias points out that "In everyday life water was drunk. The daily breakfast consisted of 'bread with salt, and a tankard of water', and even at the main meal bread and water were the chief ingredients" (Jeremias, 51). Jesus' words to the woman at the well (Jn 4) confirm that water was the basic staple of life. Wine thus served a different function. Aside from the Last Supper, only twice is it reported that Jesus drank wine: in Matthew 11:19 (in which Jesus' festive meals with tax collectors and sinners are reported), and in John 2 (in which Jesus provides copious amounts of high quality wine for the wedding at Cana). Jeremias assumes rightly that Jesus would have drunk wine at the festive meals to which he was invited, but otherwise would have drunk water in the customary fashion. But the Last Supper was different. Here, as we have seen, it was the duty of every participant to drink wine: four cups, according to the Mishna. There can be no doubt that Jesus and his disciples observed this rule in their final observance of the Passover. The content of the cup Jesus blessed and distributed was wine.

It may also be possible that the use of wine carried medicinal connotations, as it was normally applied together with oil to effect cleansing and healing (Lk 10:34). Certainly the gift of wine was prophesied (for example, Jer 31:12; Hos 2:22; Joel 2:19, 24; 3:18; Amos 9:13) as a feature of the Messianic age to which the Passover pointed, whose fulfillment began with Christ's gift at Cana and continues in the Lord's Supper.

What kind of wine Christ used cannot be determined with precision. Jeremias makes the assumption that it must have been red wine because he holds to a symbolic view of the Lord's Supper. If it represents blood, it must have been red wine, he concludes (Jeremias, 53). We Lutherans have no sympathy for this view. In fact, as Jeremias demonstrates from the Talmud, white, red, and "black" wine were readily available. Some later rabbinic sources lay down the rule that only red wine may be used at the Passover, but it is uncertain whether this held for the early first century. Thus, there can be no requirement that a particular color of wine be used for the Lord's Supper. (Indeed, prior to modern times, Lutheran practice was almost universally to use white wine: first, because that was what was normally available in Germany; second, because it functioned confessionally against a symbolic view of the sacrament.)

We have established that Jesus most certainly used wine in instituting the Lord's Supper. What should we make of the fact that he speaks of the cup containing "the fruit of the vine"? Some have asserted that Jesus thereby permits us to use grape juice, but this conclusion is illegitimate. First, Jesus does not use the normal word for "fruit," καρπός, which might be used of something like grapes. (The common Greek words for the grape or a bunch of grapes are σταφυλή, and βότρυς.) Instead he uses the noun γένημα, from the verb γίνομαι, which might better be translated "product." Thus, we should translate "product of the vine," which more naturally refers to something like wine that is "produced." Second, Jesus did not invent this phrase, but quotes a standard, rabbinic technical term used in blessing the wine in the Passover cup. Thus, any Jew would recognize "product of the vine" as a liturgical phrase referring to wine. Third, it is a basic linguistic and logical error to conclude that, because Jesus referred to the contents of the cup as "product of the vine," he was permitting us to use any "product of the vine." By this logic we would be as justified in using pumpkin juice as grape juice, for it, too, is "product of the vine." By this logic, when our Lord on the cross said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son" (Jn 19:26), he was permitting each and every "woman" to take John as her son. No, he was referring to one particular woman, Mary. So also at the Last Supper Jesus did not say, "You may take anything that is 'product of the vine' and use it in the repetition of this meal." No, he took a cup of wine, referred to it by an established technical term as "product of the vine," and mandated that we do what he did.

The Formula of Concord is therefore on solid historical and theological ground when it concludes:
For since Christ gave this command at table and during supper, there can be no doubt that he was speaking of true, natural bread and natural wine as well as of oral eating and drinking, (von rechtem, natürlichen Brot und von natürlichen Wein [FC SD 7:48]).
The second edition of the Apology [as printed in Kolb-Wengert, p. 226], rejects the false teaching of the Encratites, who "abstained from wine even during the Lord's Supper" [Ap XV:21]. One must ask even today whether objections to wine stem from a false spirituality that rejects the goodness of God's created gifts. Such words, which are binding on Lutheran pastors, exclude all substitutions. Neither grape juice, nor so-called de-alcoholized wine satisfy these criteria. For though the latter was surely wine once, with the alcohol removed it is wine no longer. (Use of de-alcoholized wine is akin to ordaining a transsexual [a "woman" who used to be a man,] and believing that Christ's mandate has been satisfied.) Some have argued that de-alcoholized wine is chemically identical to natural wine, albeit with a lower amount of alcohol, usually 0.5 percent. (See, for example, "Is 'Non-Alcoholic Wine' Really Wine?" Concordia Journal [Jan. 1991]:4–6, which cautiously approves the use of this product, though it provides no scriptural, confessional, or historical data to support this opinion. This is, however, a contradiction in terms, for the essential meaning of the word "wine" [י י ן in Hebrew; οἶνος in Greek] is fermentation and the presence of alcohol. [In Greek there is a different word for unfermented grape juice or "must" out of which wine is made: τρύξ (see BDAG/3e (2000), p. 701).] That fermentation is the key component of meaning is clear from the fact that fermented beverages made from fruits other than grapes can still be called wine, such as peach or dandelion wine, though they are not included in Christ's mandate to use what he used, and so may not be used in the Lord's Supper. Neither is grape juice or de-alcoholized grape wine included in his mandate, since they are not natural wine.) If we do what the Lord did, if we use what he used, the Formula of Concord concludes, we will have no doubt. The substitution of different elements introduces considerable doubt that we have the gifts the Lord intends to give us. And faith is the very opposite of doubt. Faith clings only to that which is sure and certain.

Ultimately, then, we are left with a theological and hermeneutical question that takes us beyond these questions of history. The Lord's Supper is called the "Lord's" because he instituted it and gave it to us for our good. He instructed us to carry it out in his church according to his mandate. His mandate is that we do it as he did it, that men who represent him in the Holy Office of the Ministry should take bread and wine, consecrating them with the words he gave us, and giving them to repentant and believing Christians to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Because it is the Lord's Supper, not man's supper, we may not change it to conform to our desires, weaknesses, or unfaith (1 Cor 11:20). For it is indeed unfaith to believe that our Lord would give us something that would harm us. We confess with Luther in the Large Catechism:
We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it? (LC V: 68).
If such fears lead us to alter what Christ has given, we risk losing entirely his benefits:
For we must believe and be sure of this, . . . that the Sacrament does not belong to us but to Christ, . . . Therefore we cannot make anything else out of it but must act according to His command and hold it. However, if we alter or "improve" on it, then it becomes a nothing and Christ is no longer present, nor is His order (Luther, Concerning the Private Mass and the Ordination of Priests [1533], WA 38:240.24; AE 38:200).
On the other hand, where faith clings to the word of Christ and the sacrament is kept as one undivided whole as he mandated it, it is filled with rich blessings:
See, then, what a beautiful, great, marvelous thing this is, how everything meshes together in one sacramental reality. The words are the first thing, for without the words the cup and the bread would be nothing. Further, without bread and cup, the body and blood of Christ would not be there. Without the body and blood of Christ, the new testament would not be there. Without the new testament, forgiveness of sins would not be there. Without forgiveness of sins, life and salvation would not be there. Thus the words first connect the bread and cup to the sacrament; bread and cup embrace the body and blood of Christ; body and blood of Christ embrace the new testament; the new testament embraces the forgiveness of sins; forgiveness of sins embraces eternal life and salvation. See, all this the words of the Supper offer and give us, and we embrace it by faith. Ought not the devil, then, hate such a Supper and rouse fanatics against it?" (Luther, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper [1528], AE 37:338).

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Prayer that Sends Many to Hell

Last week I received a link from a friend to a video entitled The Prayer the Sends Many to Hell.  Actually, it is a poem by that name followed by a short message condemning what is popularly known as "The Sinner's Prayer."  I listened to the message several times in order to transcribe it.  Here is the message in its entirety.
Every Sunday morning I'd wake up and go to church and participate in the greatest idolatry you could ever imagine. The place might have been called a church, had a pastor, and called the creator of the universe “God,” and even read straight out of the Bible. The fact was I believed in an idol, a false god that had me on the path to hell. I believed in a god that allowed me to live in bondage to my sins and still believe that he'd let me into heaven. I believed in a god that would allow me to backslide and that my faith be shipwrecked and still believe I'd ever been saved to begin with. I believed in a false god that said all I had to do was at one point in my life say a prayer and ask Jesus in my heart. I believed in a god where I didn't have to renounce everything in my life and follow after him. I believed in a god that said my emotional feelings were more important than what Scripture says. I believed in a god that disconnected all biblical threats from reality—a god that had me on a broad way to heaven, not a narrow one; a god that said to save my life for my sake and not lose it for his. The idea that all I had to do was say that prayer had me damned, had me living a lie. Eternity is a long time. I pray anyone who is truly saved will stop playing games with the human soul. The true gospel of Jesus Christ is not one to distort. It is a gospel that will clear out the pews from the churches for people love their sin and don't want to give it up. But if they do not, they will see nothing but hell, for that is why we must tell.

Do not play games with salvation. The fact that hell exists and people have an eternal torment there, will motivate anyone who's truly born again and regenerate to not pervert the gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation Salvation is to be saved from what you were—a self-relying sinner who had multiple pursuits in life. If you're living in the darkness and relying on a prayer years ago to save you, then mark it in the book: you're damned. The evidence that you are saved is that you no longer rely on yourself; you no longer live in bondage to sin; that you'll seek God to be glorified in your life. You will love Christ more than anything, because he replaced that heart of stone; and he gave you that heart of flesh; and he caused you to obey and walk in his statutes. When you seek for God to be glorified, there will be a full-fledged war against all sin that is in your life, for nothing else will matter but Christ—nothing. Biblical salvation's simple. God saves you, and he becomes your very life.

Millions are on their way to hell, yet believe they're not because of the sinner's prayer. And that's what it is—the prayer a sinner says to deceive himself into believing he is truly regenerate and born again by the supernatural power of God. It is by false power from a preacher who learned his doctrine from a verse taken out of context.

Don't be deceived. Examine your lives, and test yourselves. Don't be deceived.
After the fourth time through I replied to my friend and the others receiving this,
The first time I heard it, I was skeptical of the presentation.  After the fourth time, I was certain that this clip is just manipulation.  The speaker gave no real biblical basis for his comments though he did quote John 3:8 and Romans 1:16.  Perhaps in a larger context it would make sense, but I am doubtful.

I understand that the intent of the clip is to halt the idea of what is called fideism, easy-believism, or cheap grace.  In that I wholeheartedly agree.  When a person truly believes, the biblical example is that he does so with the intent of following unwaveringly, however inconsistently that may happen.  But the speaker goes on to mix in the unbiblical idea that true believers cannot fail to grow in the faith or deny the faith or end up living in sin--concepts that can occur and that I think can be supported with Scripture.
I later gave some support.
Leaving the methods aside, I submit that it is possible for a Christian:
1)  To start but not grow for whatever reason (Matt 13:5-7, 20-22; 1 Cor 3:1-4; Heb 5:11-14).
2)  To backslide badly (2 Pet 1:8-9).
3)  To have no reward of service at the final judgment (1 Cor 3:10-15).
4)  To fall under the Lord's condemnation (1 Cor 11:27-32).
5)  To grieve the Lord to the point that he will take his life (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:30).
6)  To deny (1 Tim 5:8) or abandon (1 Tim 5:11) the faith.
A good Reformed theologian would take issue with this based on the doctrine of Preservation of the Saints.  This is articulated in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Section 17.1.—They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. [Phil 1:6; 2 Pet 1:10; John 10:28-29; 1 John 3:9; 1 Pet 1:5,9]

Section 17.2.—This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; [2 Tim 2:18-19; Jer 31:3] upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; [Heb 10:10,14; Heb 13:20-21; Heb 9:12-15; Rom 8:33-39; John 17:11,24; Luke 22:32; Heb 7:25] the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; [John 14:16-17; 1 John 2:27; 1 John 3:9] and the nature of the covenant of grace; [Jer 32:40] from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof. [John 10:28; 2 Thess 3:3; 1 John 2:19]

Section 17.3. Nevertheless they may through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; [Matt 26:70,72,74] and for a time continue therein: [Ps 51:14] whereby they incur God's displeasure, [Isa 64:5,7,9; 2 Sam 11:27] and grieve his Holy Spirit; [Eph 4:30] come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts; [Ps 51:8; Rev 2:4; Song 5:2-4,6] have their hearts hardened, [Isa 63:17; Mark 6:52; 16:14] and their consciences wounded; [Ps 32:3-4; Ps 51:8] hurt and scandalize others, [2 Sam 12:14] and bring temporal judgments upon themselves. [Ps 89:31-32; 1 Cor 11:32]
As this is taught, believers will continue to progress in grace and holiness until the final day or death, although there may be minor setbacks along the way.  This appears to be iron-clad, but look again at the last Scripture proof of the chapter.  The apostle Paul is explaining that the Lord will discipline his own to bypass condemnation, but the discipline being administered in this context is both sickness and death.  If we sin unto death, how can the Westminster divines claim that Christians will not make shipwreck of the faith and end that way?

Can Christians lose their salvation?  No.  The eternal life we receive has both durative and qualitative facets guaranteed by the finished work of Christ.  It is secure because of his work, not ours.  Our works after salvation add nothing.  We do them by faith in the Son of God and so grow to Christ-likeness.

Is there a real danger in making a false profession?  Yes, certainly.  There are some sitting in pews who have a false hope based on confidence in a prayer they gave once or in acts performed that looked correct.  But both of these have the wrong object of faith--themselves.  The true object is Christ.

Let us not resort to these emotional games played by well-intended preachers to stir people to true faith, but rather preach the truth of Scripture and allow the living Word and Holy Spirit to do its effectual work.