Thursday, January 28, 2010

Say It Like You Mean It

This video pokes fun at endemic speech patterns Americans are using in an effort to not sound dogmatic. The sad thing is that we find this among Christians discussing Scripture. I say that if you believe it, say it straight out.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Let the Members of the Church Submit Themselves, and No One Exalt Himself Above Another

Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He hath given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by [mere] words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to himself, but leave witness to be borne to him by another. Let him that is pure in the flesh not grow proud of it, and boast, knowing that it was another who bestowed on him the gift of continence. Let us consider, then, brethren, of what matter we were made,—who and what manner of beings we came into the world, as it were out of a sepulchre, and from utter darkness. He who made us and fashioned us, having prepared His bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into His world. Since, therefore, we receive all these things from Him, we ought for everything to give Him thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, cap. XXXVIII

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's Not About You; It's About Jesus For You

For anyone who has listened to the weekday radio program, Issues, Etc., those are familiar words. I enjoy listening to this Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod affiliated program, because Todd Wilken is a good host and interviewer, and the program has relevant topics from a unique (for me) perspective.

This past January 14th had a segment on the topic of "decision theology."[1] Todd was interviewing Bryan Wolfmueller, pastor of Hope Lutheran, Aurora, CO who related the follow comments.
The question that [Lutherans] ask is not, "Have you made a decision for Jesus?" but rather "Has Jesus made a decision for you?" The question is not, "Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?" but rather "Has Jesus accepted you into his heart?" The question is not "Have you given your whole life for God?" but rather "Has God given his whole life for you?". . . It's Jesus who's done it all. It's Jesus who won [our] salvation. It's Jesus who's made the way to heaven open for [us]. And to know that, to know the answer that, yes, even though my faith wavers, even though I have doubts and I have questions, yes, Jesus has given himself to me. Yes, he has prayed for me. Yes, he has poured out his life and his blood so that I would be his and my sins would be forgiven. And there's no question, there's no doubt, there's no room for wondering there. It's just this absolutely wonderful, forgiving, confidence-building assurance that I am the child of God.
That gave me pause. A potential problem of decision theology is the notion that, since I had to actively decide for Christ, then I must constantly be working as if the work of atonement secured on the cross was not complete. We question ourselves out of uncertainty and find either Bible verses lifted out of context or "helpful" brethren instructing us on all that must be done externally to continue in righteousness. The Law of Moses gets replaced by the Law of "First Pious Church of the Only True Brethren." Eventually, we wrap ourselves in a cocoon of laws and obligations to keep the world out or implode under the burden and walk away from it all. What we need to remember is that the work is done. There is no more atoning work left. The Lord has done it all.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

[1] Arising out of a reaction to the Reformed teaching on predestination (see "Election"), advocates teach that man is saved and born-again when he makes a decision to accept Jesus Christ (see "Arminianism"). Taken from

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Relation of Baptism to the Lord's Supper

Is there a relationship between baptism and the Lord's Supper? I so, what should it be?

For the past 32 years, I have been an active participant or member of local churches that practice open communion. In other words, any person who made a conscious decision to believe the gospel of Christ was allowed to join in remembering the Lord through the bread and cup. Baptism is not required as potentially barring free participation. The reasoning is understandable: someone may have believed but the baptism has not yet been scheduled. In the past few years, I have come to question this practice.

Early Church Practice
The early church had some very definite expectations concerning this.
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. —Justin Martyr, Chapter LXVI

You must not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptized in the Lord's name. For in reference to this the Lord said, "Do not give what is sacred to dogs." —Didache 9
These two quotations exemplify the attitude of the early church toward the ordinances. The Lord's Supper was "a community meal and celebration for members of Christ's body, the church, a community that, from the perspective of the church fathers, one enters through the waters of baptism" (Hall, 74). While the symbolism and rites surrounding the ordinances became more ornate and infused with mysticism as time wore on, the seriousness of the representations were intact and carefully guarded.

New Testament Practice
Though the church fathers were greatly concerned with the apostolic tradition, they eventually went too far. What is the example as demonstrated in the book of Acts?

There is no waiting period between belief and baptism. If a person believes, the biblical example is to baptize immediately. The book of Acts gives several conversion accounts: eunuch (8:36-38), Cornelius and household (10:44-48), Lydia (16:14-15), jailer and family (16:32-33). This is in conflict with the contemporary practice of scheduling a time when several can be done at once. I recognize the economics and the problem of venue, but how has the church come to the place of allowing pragmatism to rule over divinely-inspired instruction of practice?

There are no instances in Scripture of a believer not being baptized. In every case mentioned above, all that followed Christ were baptized. This was the practice of the infant church. The outward confession of faith evidenced by the waters did not have to be witnessed by a large group but was definitely used as an act and declaration of repentance and faith practiced in the Jewish community (r.e. John the baptizer) and understood by the Gentiles within cultural proximity. (See my previous post for thoughts concerning this.) This symbolism of washing your past away is understood today. The picture is rather clear.

Now What?
How is it, then, that I have met adult believers today who have never been baptized? One man in particular said he believed on Christ and just decided to put it off for awhile. If one analyzed his life, the reason became clear. There was no good work as an outgrowth of faith. I must conclude the confession was bogus. I am not so heartless as to dismiss someone who is physically unable to go through a baptism by immersion. Other measures can be taken.

The modern church needs to be teaching the full import of the ordinances to their members and practicing them to the degree that they were given in God's Word.

Hall, Christopher A. Worshiping with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Water, Water, Everywhere

I just finished reading Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. If you think that reading this book makes me a wild-eyed fanatic, fear not. I was a fanatic before reading the book. I hold to most everything in the book already.

One section that really caught my attention was on baptism. The authors stated the following.

      In the first century, water baptism was the outward confession of a person's faith. But more than that, it was the way someone came to the Lord. For this reason, the confession of baptism is vitally linked to the exercise of saving faith. So much so that the New Testament writers often use baptism in place of the word faith and link it to being "saved." This is because baptism was the early Christian's confession of faith.
      In our day, the "sinner's prayer" has replaced the role of water baptism as the initial confession of faith. Unbelievers are told, "Say this prayer after me, accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved." But nowhere in all the New Testament do we find any person being led to the Lord by a sinner's prayer. And there is not the faintest whisper in the Bible about a "personal" Savior.
      Instead, unbelievers in the first century were led to Jesus Christ by being taken to the waters of baptism. Put another way, water baptism was the sinner's prayer in century one! Baptism accompanied the acceptance of the gospel....Baptism marked a complete break with the past and a full entrance into Christ and His church. Baptism was simultaneously an act of faith as well as an expression of faith. (pp. 188-9)
I have read arguments against the sinner's prayer in the past, so that did not catch me off-guard. (And I now largely agree with the detractors.) Neither did the proximity of baptism to belief. What really got me excited was the concept of baptism being the confession of faith.

I have opposed endlessly people holding to baptismal regeneration. The above view appears to dispel the conflict over the issue. If baptism is "simultaneously an act...[and] expression of faith," the divide between the opposing forces is left in so much rubble. There is no longer a question of logical sequential order of events or proper intended grammatical construction. The arguments I learn and built up concerning Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, and 1 Peter 3:21 are left languishing for lack of support, because they were built on the wrong premise.

Back to the drawing board.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What Is Our Motivation?

I am getting around to reading some of my old journals. This past year one author related how
Dale Meyer, President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, told a story about a course on preaching that he continues to teach. When the course begins, he emphatically tells his students that in none of the sermons they write for this course should they say anything encouraging evangelism. That is, these sermons are not to tell people to tell the good news about Jesus.[1]
At first glance this flies in the face of what Christians, preachers or otherwise, are asked to do from every spiritual authority in the church. When he explains his purpose, it makes sense.  He wants them
to preach about Christ the Savior and friend of sinners in such an enticing and endearing way that their hearers will want to tell others about him, even when they are not given any specific directive to do so.[2]
Interesting tactic. It got me to thinking about motivations. Why do I act and speak as I do? What is my true intention when admonishing, reproving, correcting, or training in righteousness? I fear that too often my goal is to just knock sense into someone or worse yet, prove I am correct at any cost. That is living by the lawdoing what needs done because it is commanded.

The proper course of action is to be motivated by grace.  As the apostle Peter conveyed it to us:
For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:6-11

[1] Ken Schurb, "Missional: The Church in Luther's Large Catechism," Logia XVIII, no. 1 (2009): 21.
[2] Ibid.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My 2009 Reading List

I am on an e-mail list that regularly polls its members concerning books.  That last request was for favorites and why they held that place of honor. My response was a list of the books I have finished this year in chronological order. All were enjoyable for their reasons, but the top volumes are noted.

American Lion by John Meacham
A High View of Scripture? by Craig Allert [*]
Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Wilkin
Mission in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser, Jr [§]
The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame
Just Words by Jacob Preus
A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D. A. Carson [§]
Chosen for Life by Sam Storms
The First Seven Ecumenical Councils by Leo D. Davis
Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris
Reign of the Servant Kings by Joseph Dillow [*]
Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow [§]
The History and Theology of Calvinism by Curt Daniel
Stephen: A Singular Saint by Martin Scharleman

[*] For challenging my assumptions and thought processes
[§] Because of my passion for discipleship