Monday, October 31, 2011

Another Christian Publisher Is Assimilated Into the Collective

Thomas Nelson has agreed to be purchased by HarperCollins, the corporation which had previously purchased Zondervan.  The news release can be found here.  Somehow I am not surprised.  In recent years, Thomas Nelson seemed to be more concerned with what sells merchandise rather than quality of the product.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Facing the Emergent Church With the Ancient Church

Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and other Emergent leaders are undermining sound doctrine by claiming to return to the ancient church to find the truth and bring it forward, except what they bring forward is usually not what the Church Fathers taught.  In February 2010, Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith put together an argument against the major tenets of the Emergent movement using The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (circa a.d. 130).  The full PDF can be found here.

The following are his points followed by the corresponding ancient text and chapter number.


Was Mathetes a Universalist? Did he believe that adherents of other religions were already followers of Christ through their pagan sacred traditions?  Absolutely not!  Biblical Christianity has always been exclusive and has considered idolatry and false worship to be a breaking of the 1st commandment.
they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews (1)
Was Mathetes uncertain? Did he engage in a humble hermeneutic that claimed that knowledge wasn’t knowable and that truth was left to the individual to interpret through their experiences?  Absolutely not!  Not only was Mathetes certain about knowing sound doctrine, but he claimed Biblical doctrine was of divine, not human origin.
[lay] aside what you have been accustomed to, as something apt to deceive you (2)

you hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to be gods (2)

you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common [to both Jews and Gentiles], and from the busybody spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshiping God from any mortal. (4)

nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines (5)

They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. (5)

The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. (6)
Did Mathetes deny the existence of hell and God’s judgement? Did he claim that because God was merciful and loving that it was contrary to God’s nature to judge the world and send people to hell.  Absolutely not!  Mathetes along with Jesus and His Apostles affirmed that God’s character was both loving and just, merciful and wrathful.
For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word (7)

but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things ... as a Savior He sent Him (7)

For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? (7)
Did Mathetes believe in salvation by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone by Christ’s Work Alone?  Absolutely!  Mathetes along with Jesus and His Apostles affirmed that salvation is not through man’s works or his own self-righteousness, but through the work of Christ alone.  Furthermore, Mathetes affirmed the Penal Substitution as well as the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? (8)

But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers (8)
Did Mathetes affirm the doctrine of original sin?  Absolutely!  Mathetes along with Jesus and His Apostles affirmed that man is sinful by nature and fallen, dead in trespasses and sins and incapable by nature to do that which is necessary to attain eternal life.
so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. (9)

and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us (9)

He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for those who are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? (9)

O sweet exchange! ... That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! (9)

our nature was unable to attain to life (9)

it was [formerly] impossible to save (9)
Did Mathetes believe in eternal conscious punishment a.k.a. hell?  Absolutely!  Not only does Mathetes believe in hell, he calls it the “eternal fire” and he contrasts the “eternal fire” of hell with the temporal sufferings and persecutions that Christians face in this life time.  Those sufferings he calls the “fire that is but for a moment.”
He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven (10)

then shall you condemn the deceit and error of the world (10)

which is reserved for those who shall be condemned to the eternal fire, which shall afflict those even to the end that are committed to it (10)
Did Mathetes believe in the authoritative, accurate and binding Word of God?  You bet your bippy he did!  There is no trace of Modernist Liberal or Postmodernist Liberal destructive higher criticism in Mathetes.  He believed God’s Word was of divine origin and was written by the Apostles & Prophets and absolutely true, authoritative, and binding.
For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples ...? (11)

Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases. (11)
Did Mathetes believe Genesis contains an accurate historical account of the World’s creation and man’s fall into sin through the tempting of the devil?  Absolutely!  Mathetes along with Jesus and the disciples believed the Book of Genesis to be accurate history, not myth or allegory.
it is disobedience that proves destructive. Nor truly are those words without significance which are written, how God from the beginning planted the tree of life in the midst of paradise (12)

For he who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, ... knows nothing, but is deceived by the Serpent (12)

Texas Radio Station Cancels David Barton Program During Show

I just discovered today that KBJS-FM cancelled David Barton's radio show "Wallbuilders Live" while the show was airing because Barton refused "to distinguish between Mormon theology and Christianity."

Good for that radio station for upholding Christ.  O, that more would do the same.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Blessedness of the Gospel

Man, don't you understand that all is in itself a gospel?  For it is a blessed gospel that one is brought into despair, not by sin, nor by the superior force of Satan, but by the Holy Spirit of God, who could save one's poor soul from becoming a legalist and a hypocrite, and whose purpose in it all has only been to let the overpowering glory of Christ shine forth.  In other words,… the Spirit would show us that one may receive forgiveness without making atonement by one's own sorrow over sin and without any personal merit or self-betterment; that one may be a child of God, one's sinful nature notwithstanding.

Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2005), 101.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who Are the True Gods?

Marcus Terentius Varro, the ancient Roman writer, had stated that idols made of hands could not possibly be true gods.  Arnobius uses this in his own argument that they should not be worshiped. This leads to the pagans asking who the true gods are.  Arnobius points out that he does not know, but they must certainly be similar to the Most High—eternal, self-existent, immutable—to be eligible.  Of course, his overall argument in this work is that if they should seek out these unseen gods, they are best served to follow the one true, supreme God.

"Who are the true gods?" you say.

To answer you in common and simple language, we do not know;1 for how can we know who those are whom we have never seen?  We have been accustomed to hear from you that a great many are gods, and are reckoned among the deities; but if these exist anywhere, and are true gods … it follows as a consequence, that they correspond to their name; that is, that they are such as we all see that they should be, and that they are worthy to be called by this name; nay, more,—to make an end without many words,—that they are such as is the Lord of the universe, and the King omnipotent Himself, whom we have knowledge and understanding enough to speak of as the true God when we are led to mention His name.  For one god differs from another in nothing as respects his divinity; nor can that which is one in kind be less or more in its parts while its own qualities remain unchanged.  Now, as this is certain, it follows that they should never have been begotten, but should be immortal, seeking nothing from without, and not drawing any earthly pleasures from the resources of matter.

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book VII, cap. 2

1 Arnobius is not declaring his own opinions here, but meeting his adversaries on their own ground. He knows who the true God is—the source and fountain of all being, and framer of the universe (ii. 2), and if there are any lesser powers called gods, what their relation to Him must be (iii. 2, 3); but he does not know any such gods himself, and is continually reminding the heathen that they know these gods just as little.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Abandoning the Care of Souls

Lucas Woodford at thisweconfess [sic] has a post addressing an unsettling trend in the church by those in spiritual authority.  The opening sentence establishes his thesis.
Within the North America church, the role of pastor has morphed from the biblical and historic role of Seelsorger (one who gives care of souls) and giver of God’s gifts, to that of a CEO, administrator, and/or therapist.
He is writing as a pastor within the LCMS, so he has his own denomination in view, but the extracts cited from those in other denominations shows that the problem is wider spread.

If you should balk at his broad brushstrokes, I understand.  We can each point out individual men faithfully caring for those in the local church.  But what he is illuminating is very real and becoming more so as church groups become loosened from the moors of Scripture and take up the next thrust of relevance.  What!  Isn't the cross relevant?  When did Christ become insufficient?

I pray that those who the Lord has overseeing your assembly are being faithful to Holy Writ rather than Wholly Rotten.

What Is Orthodoxy?

Christianity Today has reprinted an interview of Thomas Oden in honor of his 80th birthday.  I enjoyed this question and answer:
In place of modernity you call for "a careful study and respectful following of the central tradition of classical Christian exegesis." In other places you call this orthodoxy. What is orthodoxy?
Lancelot Andrewes, a sixteenth-century Anglican divine, stated the answer as memorably as anyone, with a five-finger exercise: "One canon, two Testaments, three creeds [the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian], four [ecumenical] councils, and five centuries along with the Fathers of that period," by which he meant the great doctors of the first five centuries: Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom in the East; and Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great in the West.
The answer is a bit simplistic.  Each of these men had his theological foibles but are the early spiritual stones upon which the church builds today.  The entire article can be found here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Zombies and the Art of Negotiation

Halloween is nigh, and American culture turns to the macabre with its multiple fictional creatures including the zombie.  Watch B movies with a "living dead" plot, and you notice a recurring theme: be gone or be lunch.  There is no reasoning with zombies because they no longer have the capacity.  Driven entirely by instinct, they are dead and walk around with a single, voracious, insatiable purpose—self-satisfaction.  So as I was pondering the advertisements being displayed during this time of year, it struck me like an old Norm Crosby line:  I resemble that remark!
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (Eph 2:1-3)
That's right: people come into this world as zombies—spiritual zombies.  We are dead and do not realize it.  (Bruce Willis was not the only one who had to figure this out.)  Everything we do in this world is for our own appetites being guided by depraved thoughts.  For the majority, the only difference between real people and movie zombies is that the former dress better, but inside both are dead men's bones.

Jesus told one particular story about a father with two sons that described how dead men acted.  The younger son demanded his share of the estate and squandered it all on reckless living and ended up slopping hogs and going hungry (Luke 15:11-16).  Why did the son act so foolishly?  Because he was dead: the father said as much (Luke 15:32).  This sad state of affairs finally brought the younger son to his senses, and he said to himself:
But when he came to himself, he said, "How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.'"  (Luke 15:17-18)
The son is absolutely correct in everything he stated.  He recognized the sin and against whom it had been perpetrated, then made a definite plan to make a confession.  But then he tried to concoct a plan:
I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants.  (Luke 15:19)
The son sounds very humble and pious, but what is really happening?  He is trying to concoct a bargain.  He wants to negotiate a deal.  The problem is that he is dead.  There is nothing to bargain with.  This is exactly how the walking dead negotiate with the living, but the very attempt is ludicrous.  For instance, how could someone present his righteous thoughts and deeds before the living God, when they are in actuality polluted items being presented by the unclean (Is 64:6)?  Zombies are terrible negotiators, but they try anyway.  They just don't know any better.

You may not realize that there is another zombie that is less prominent in the story Jesus told.  He is called the older brother.  He does not appear to be as bad off as the younger, but he is.  The only difference is that his self-satisfaction was derived from the long-term prospect of a future inheritance rather than short-term wonton living.  But he was still dead as evident by the reaction to his father and the brother he refuses to acknowledge.

Is there a cure for the zombie condition?  Yes, it is life.  The younger son had planned to proffer a deal.  After he confessed his son, the father refuses to allow him the chance to deal.  Instead, he bestows extravagant grace on his son.  The one who was dead is now declared alive and welcomed into the family (Luke 15:32).  No amount of bargaining can gain this.  It must be freely given by the One who alone has the authority to give it.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  (Eph 2:4-10)
Life was made available by virtue of Christ, the only living one, coming into this world and dying on the cross for those who were dead in sin in order to make them alive.  Believe it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why the Law?

Have you ever wondered why the Law came through Moses?  Let's stop and think about this for a minute.  Abraham was given a most wonderful promise (Gen 12:1-3) which extended to Jesus (Gal 3:16) and ultimately to those who believe (Gal 3:22).  But between Abraham and Jesus, the law was given through Moses.  Does anyone besides me find this peculiar?  God gave a promise to two specific people filled with certainty based on what he himself had chosen to do according to the counsel of his will.  It was free to the recipients.  Between these two is something that appears counter because it appears to run counter to the whole concept of promise: God gave commandments, statutes, and precepts that required a certain response.  The Law does not fit with the promise, so the question remains: why introduce it?

Thankfully, the Lord told us through Paul why the Law was given:
Why then the law?  It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.  (Gal 3:19)
Some of you might be underwhelmed with this revelation, but bear with me.  The promise given to Abraham was generous beyond imagination with the hope of land, seed, and blessing—and that blessing to the entire world.  The only needed response was to believe it.  The problem is in how that belief was worked out.  Their efforts in life though influenced by the promise were governed largely by the societies they lived in and what had been handed down from their ancestors.  Beyond that, this nasty condition called a sin nature was manifesting itself through these early want-to-be Promise Keepers.  Daily, they sinned and transgressed against God but were unaware in what ways.

To rectify the ignorance and more fully reveal what divine character was truly like, the Lord proceeded to give the people 10 commandments broadly defining the person's relationship with God and man.  He then proceeded to give hundreds of laws detailing how these were to be carried out, which they would certainly fail to perform—an affront to the Most High.  To account for sinful conduct, a series of sacrifices were established to cover sin.  For approximately 1200 years, the people of God worked under this system: a very long time period but necessary to prepare the people for the one "to whom the promise had been made"—Jesus, the Christ.

To summarize Galatians 3:22-26, the effectual work of the Law was to demonstrate our inability to meet God's righteous demands and hold those under it in a benevolent captivity and imprisonment as a guardian until the necessary sacrifice for all sin should be made by Jesus.  Being now freed from the Law, we are justified by faith: not being baptized into Moses, but being baptized into Christ.

The promise given to Abraham was never rescinded or altered, but we needed to see the sinfulness of our sin.  My abhorrent nature needs a Savior.  The "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Is 53:3) has covered that by giving his soul as an offering for sin being crushed and put to grief by his Father (Is 53:10).  What a thought, that one holy and spotless would die for me!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The New 95 Theses

Chris Rosebrough at Extreme Theology had posted in October, 2008, a modern rendition of Luther's 95 Theses in an effort to debate unbiblical trends rampant in the evangelical church.  Whether one agrees or not with the Lutheran theological perspective behind this list, evangelicals should debate these things to see if their churches are in good order.


Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, the public bulletin board of his day.  In like manner, we, Athanasius and Chrysostom, post these 95 theses on the door of the internet.  Like the original theses, these are debatable, for we believe that it is through vigorous debate that the spirits are tested and truth is revealed.

In publishing these theses, we do not intend to foment division, but to expose those who are creating division within the body of Christ.  We are not addressing any particular church body or person, but invite all who love the Gospel of Jesus Christ to engage in this debate.  We do so in the spirit of the great Reformer, Martin Luther, as we implore the mercies of God upon His Church, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church and Bishop of our souls.

1.  When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” He willed that the whole life of believers should be one of repentance.

2.  To “repent” means to be contrite for one’s sins and to trust Jesus Christ and solely in His completed work for one’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.

3.  Those who describe the Christian life as purpose-driven deny true repentance, confuse the Law and the Gospel, and obscure the merits of Christ.

4.  Impious and wicked are the methods of those who substitute self-help and pop-psychology for the Gospel in the name of relevance.

5.  This impious disregard for the Gospel wickedly transforms sacred Scripture into a guidebook for living, a pharisaic sourcebook of principles, and sows tares among the wheat.

6.  Relevance, self-help and pop-psychology have no power to work true contrition over sins and faith in Jesus Christ.

7.  Like clouds without rain, purpose-driven preachers withhold the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross and enslave men’s consciences to the law which they cleverly disguise as so-called 'Biblical Principles'.

8.  By teaching tips for attaining perfect health, debt-free wealth, and better sex in marriage, the purveyors of relevance undermine true fear, love and trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

9.  They are enemies of Christ, who distort the Word of God by tearing verses from their original context in order to use them as proof texts for their self-help, pop-psychology agendas.

10.  Injury is done the Word of God when it is used as a source book for practical, relevant “life applications.”

11.  In the name of relevance, our Lord Jesus Christ is reduced to a life-coach whose “gospel” assists and motivates people to achieve the objectives of their self-centered delusions of grandeur.

12.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, the seeker cannot understand the things of God for these are “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).

13.  The natural man does not naturally seek the Gospel. “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me” (Is. 65:1).

14.  The true Seeker of men’s souls is our Lord Jesus Christ who came to seek and to save the lost by His death on the cross (Luke 19:10).

15.  The truly “seeker-sensitive” church proclaims God’s wrath against our sin and His mercy for Jesus’ sake.

16.  The preaching of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to purpose-driven pragmatists and foolishness to church growth consultants.

17.  The true gold of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

18.  But this treasure is a stench in the nostrils of fallen and sinful men because it exposes man’s complete lack of ability to save himself by his own religious efforts.

19.  On the other hand, the fool’s gold of self-help is preferred by sinful men, for it creates the illusion of moral progress and a life that is pleasing to God apart from repentance.

20.  The gold of the Gospel is the net by which Christ would make us fishers of men.

21.  The fool’s gold of self-help is a snare by which purpose-driven purveyors of relevance attempt to capture the riches and approval of men.

22.  The church is holy sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.

23.  How can sheep hear the voice of their Shepherd when false shepherds preach self-help and pop-psychology?

24.  Purveyors of purpose-driven relevance are not shepherds of men’s souls but wolves in sheep’s clothing.

25.  Purveyors of relevance claim that self-help, life-applications and biblical principles are the means to reach the unchurched because they meet people’s felt needs.

26.  Yet a person’s greatest need is one he does not by nature feel, namely the need for the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ.

27.  The true means by which fallen sinners are reached is the preaching of Christ and His sacraments. (Romans 10:17)

28.  The true need that mankind is seeking but does not know is justification by grace through faith for Christ’s sake.

29.  Since justification is through faith and not through works, natural man neither seeks it nor desires it.

30.  Therefore, the teaching of justification by grace through faith is neither seeker-sensitive nor relevant to a world that naturally seeks self-justification.

31.  To be in the church is to be union with Christ through faith.

32.  Regardless of the number of people in attendance, the church does not grow unless men are granted repentance and faith by God through the action of His Word.

33.  Scripture clearly teaches that the means by which God grants faith are the the hearing of the Word of Christ (the Gospel) and the water of Holy Baptism.

34.  Therefore, even if a congregation, through their own marketing methods and business prowess were able to draw 100,000 people every Sunday, if the Gospel is not heard and the sacraments are not administered according to the Gospel there is no church and the true Church of Jesus Christ has not grown by a single soul.

35.  If numerical growth is a measure of God’s approval, then we must conclude that God approves of Islam and the Mormons.

36.  If financial success is a measure of God’s approval, then we must conclude that God approves of pornography and gambling.

37.  Cancer and crabgrass both grow rapidly, as does the church that obscures the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

38.  The purveying of purpose-driven relevance is the theology of glory; the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners is the theology of the cross.

39.  The theologian of glory says that the kingdom of God is visible now in buildings, people, and dollars; the theologian of the cross says that the kingdom of God is an article of faith.

40.  The theologian of glory asks “How much?” and “How many?”; the theologian of the cross preaches Christ regardless of how much or how many.

41.  The theologian of glory prepares people to receive health, wealth, and happiness; the theologian of the cross prepares people to suffer and die in faith.

42.  The theologian of glory preaches that God wants to grant you favors; the theologian of the cross preaches the favor of God for the sake of Christ crucified.

43.  The theologian of glory proclaims 40 days of purpose; the theologian of the cross preaches daily dying and rising in Jesus.

44.  God established the Church to be a “mouth house” of forgiveness not a madhouse of activity.

45.  Christ wills that His voice be heard in His Church and not the voice of man when He says, “He who hears you, hears me.” (Luke 10:16)

46.  Purveyors of purpose-driven relevance obscure the voice of Christ and so draw the sheep away from the Good Shepherd.

47.  Christ saves from sin and death not through the motivation of the sinner to do good, but through baptismal death and resurrection.

48.  The mission of the church is not to transform the world but to disciple the nations by baptizing and teaching (Matt 28:19-20).

49.  Anyone who preaches a vision and demands allegiance to it sets up a new papacy among the churches.

50.  A synod or church body is a human institution that exists by the will and consent of its member congregations and pastors.

51.  A synod or church body is not merely an affiliation of churches that agree on a common purpose.

52.  A synod or church body is not the Church, properly speaking, but a fellowship of churches sharing a common confession of faith and practice.

53.  Synods are not of the church’s essence (esse) but for her well being (bene esse).

54.  Synodical leaders are not lords over the churches, but servants of the churches and stewards of their common possessions.

55.  Synodical leaders are not called to promulgate visions but to execute the collective will of the synod’s churches.

56.  The old papacy arrogated the Church’s treasury of merits; the new papacy arrogates the Church’s treasury.

57.  The old papacy said, “As the coin in the coffer clings, so the soul from purgatory springs.”

58.  The new papacy says, “As the coin in the church coffer clings, so another program out of debt springs.”

59.  The old papacy counted plenary indulgences; the new papacy counts money and people.

60.  The old papacy suppressed the Gospel through canon law; the new papacy suppresses the Gospel through constitutions and by-laws.

61.  The old papacy was a friend of Caesar; the new papacy is a friend of Mammon.

62.  The old papacy bound a man’s conscience for the sake his wallet; the new papacy binds a man’s wallet for the sake of his conscience.

63.  The old papacy promulgated infallible dogma; the new papacy promulgates undebatable visions.

64.  The old papacy claims to sit on the seat of Peter; the new papacy claims to sit on the mandate of the majority.

65.  The old papacy reserved the right to judge doctrine and practice; the new papacy judges doctrine and practice by commissions and committees.

66.  The old papacy issued “bulls;” the new papacy issues task force reports.

67.  The old papacy had a college of cardinals; the new papacy has high-priced consultants.

68.  Just as popes and councils have erred in the past, so synodical leaders and synodical conventions err in the present.

69.  A synod that is concerned for the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace does not excuse unionism and syncretism.

70.  Unity in doctrine and practice means discernible interchangeability in teaching, preaching, and practice.

71.  Unity in doctrine and practice does not consist in signing confessional statements, but in word and deed.

72.  Worship is doctrine put into practice.

73.  As one worships, so one believes.

74.  As one believes, so one worships.

75.  Christian worship consists in God’s service to us through His giving and our receiving in faith the gifts of Christ’s Word, Body, and Blood, and our service to God by our prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

76.  Worship that is focused principles for Christian living obscures the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His gifts and is detrimental to faith and salvation.

77.  While Christian liberty allows that worship forms need not be altogether the same in every time and place, unity in faith and practice requires that worship forms must not be altogether different in every time and place.

78.  Worship forms serve as identifying banners in the confessional field of battle.

79.  Peculiar and novel worship forms obscure the unity of the churches and extol the creativity of the worship leaders.

80.  In matters neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God (adiaphora), the churches of God are free to change ceremonies according to circumstances, as may be most beneficial and edifying to the churches of God. (Epitome, Art X.4)

81.  Such changes must avoid all frivolity and offenses, particularly with regard to those who are weak in faith (Epitome, Art X.5).

82.  Where the Gospel is at stake, concessions in ceremony must not be made so as to suggest unity with those who deny the Gospel (Epitome, Art X.6)

83.  Therefore, it is contrary to the doctrine of adiaphora to hide the substance of Lutheran doctrine behind a non-Lutheran style of worship.

84.  To create and sustain saving faith, God established the office of the holy ministry in the church to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments according to our Lord’s institution.

85.  No one may publicly preach, teach, or administer the sacraments in the churches without his being called and ordained.

86.  Those who introduce novelties into the church are the true agents of division.

87.  The ordination of women is a novelty that has caused great division in the church.

88.  The introduction of worship forms not held in common by the churches is a cause of division and a stumbling block.

89.  The church belongs to no man but to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, and Lord of the church.

90.  Woe to the false prophets who cry, “Unity, unity” when there is no unity.

91.  Again, woe to those who say, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

92.  Again, woe to those who say, “Gospel, gospel,” when there is no Gospel.

93.  Blessed are those who say, “Cross, cross,” when there is no cross.

94.  Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through all suffering, death, and hell;

95.  And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many trials and tribulations, rather than through the assurance of outward peace, unity, and happiness.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting Away from the Program

Program!  Get your program!
I was first introduced to the concept of small groups some thirty years ago at a men's conference.  The organizers had brought in a group from California who had successfully established these in local churches with success.  This was to be a modern implementation of what the church experienced in the decades after Pentecost.  I was hooked and started such a group in my church with a few people.  It started well enough but lasted only as long as the first book we worked through.  I was somewhat disillusioned that it had not continued under its own inertia.  Over the decades between then and now, I have come to understand that my attempt, though well-intended, was more contrived than developed.

Since that time many programs I have been involved with in the assemblies of God's people have come and gone.  Programs initiated to involve people in the body or draw to the body generally have lasted but a few months at best.  Why was that?  Men and women who said they loved the Lord either did not get involved or abandoned the program early on.  At first I thought other Christians were just lazy or apathetic.  Later, I factored in the work and family schedules that many of the saints maintain.  I still wondered how God's children would not maintain consistency for a program designed to stimulate body life.  These initiatives were good for them.

Any of what I mention above could be accurate to some degree.  My own work schedule gets crazy during the Spring of the year.  And with one child, there was no way my wife and I could understand the logistics of a family with four or five children, though even they seemed to have enough time for the important matters of godly living and many special events at the church building.  But still something was missing.  There was a key ingredient that prevented what appeared to be good programs for spiritual growth from doing what was expected.  Eventually, the real reason hit me like a 2x4—men were leading and working; the Holy Spirit was not.

So what do I mean that "the Holy Spirit was not?"  Wasn't he involved?  I doubt it.  You see, the plans made and enacted were geared toward creating activity within the church to spur spiritual and numerical growth, and that artificially and outwardly.  God was completely unnecessary in the effort except as someone invoked as having the final authority and the ultimate answers of life.  These were our plans; we had prayed for God's blessing; and by golly, he better deliver or else.  Of course, he rarely did.  The spiritual victories that did come usually were something done on the side and not as part of the main function of the program, like a coincidence.  We should have learned.

Fast-forwarding to the present, I think I have learned.  Let's take the small group effort as an example.  When a church tries to organize a program of this type, there are some potential areas of great concern that I build on from an article by Brian Jones in The Christian Standard.

If you build it, they will come.  No, they will not.  And if they do, it is for the wrong reason.  Church leaders often have blinders on in matters of growth.  They want so badly for the church to increase spiritually and numerically, that they forget who is to be leading and growing the church.  It is Christ's body.  He is the head.  He causes the increase.  No amount of organization and implementation will cause this to happen.

Growth happens at the discretion of a sovereign Lord and according to his plan.  He knows what is best.  Revivals are exciting to be a part of and hear about, but they do not come because a great speaker is preaching the gospel or because of the impassioned pleas during an altar call.  Those spark emotions.  True revival comes from faithfully proclaiming the fullness of God's word.  The law condemns, and the gospel heals.

The fellowship is contrived and shallow.  Small groups are promoted with the idea that they are necessary for good fellowship.  While it is true that you get to know a subset of the church a little better, the forced nature of the groupings will keep people on their guard.  So as not to stir controversy, comments will be withheld.  Socializing revolve around the weather, politics, travel plans, or whatever keeps the conversation away from spiritual matters.  There is more chance of encourage each other of the St. Louis Cardinals' chances in the World Series than to encourage each other in Christ.

Fellowship comes as we are centered on Christ.  Understanding on a daily basis who we were as sinners undone who have been freely forgiven, we can more easily operate in a realm of humility open to those the Holy Spirit brings our way.  To those that day we fellowship with and minister to, and as we continue to interact, we share more of ourselves because we want to open up without sense of obligation.

The material does not center on scripture.  Group material is meager at best.  The questions are given to stimulate discussion rather than work out what God's word says and means.  Who cares if I identify more with the younger or older brother in the parable of the prodigal?  That is immaterial.  Tell me what Christ is saying first and foremost.

And why are the group studies usually topical?  They lead to greater discussion.  Recently, I sat through an entire hour session listening to others discuss what should and should not happen in regards to forgiveness.  For the entire time, nobody (leader included) sought to open their Bibles and state what holy writ instructed.  I tried but the leader kept the discussion moving to the next nuance so was unable to interject when appropriate.

The only way to keep centered on God's Word is to use it as the primary source.  This can be done directly through some method of systematic teaching through the Bible or doing so systematically using creeds and catechisms directing the learner's attention to it.

If you can read, you can lead.  A group leader who does not know his Bible makes for a disastrous small group.  Typically, the material is written so that anybody can pick up the discussion guide and rattle off the questions.  But what happens when the question is unbiblical or the discussion moves into uncharted waters?  How does the leader navigate this?  The discussion leader is in the position of a teacher, and with that comes a great responsibility.  (James 3:1)

Now, get with the program
If you think by now that I might be opposed to small groups or any program whatever, you would be wrong.  The problem is that those which are correctly functioning seem as scarce as hen's teeth because the church at-large has neglected its duty.  What is the purpose of the church?  What is the purpose of the individual member?  Answer these questions biblically, and programs take care of themselves.  They become something we do not as a well-organized, sterile clinical study but as a by-product of Christ-centered body life.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Who Builds the Kingdom of Heaven?

The following is from the book What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (133-34) describing the language we use concerning the Kingdom of God.  I was surprised by the difference between how we describe our action in the kingdom compared to scriptural language.  Let's just say that we give ourselves far too much credit for the work.  Within the quote is another coming from George Ladd’s book The Presence of the Future (Eerdmans, 1996).

When you look at the Gospels and examine the verbs associated with the kingdom, you discover something surprising.  Much of our language about the kingdom is a bit off.  We often speak of "building the kingdom," "ushering in the kingdom," "establishing the kingdom," or "helping the kingdom grow."  But is this really the way the New Testament talks about the kingdom?  George Eldon Ladd, the man who put the kingdom back on the map for evangelicals, didn’t think so.
The Kingdom can draw near to men (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; etc.); it can come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 17:20; etc.), arrive (Matt. 12:28), appear (Luke 19:11), be active (Matt. 11:12), God can give the Kingdom to men (Matt. 21:43; Luke 12:32), but men do not give the Kingdom to one another.  Further, God can take the Kingdom away from men (Matt. 21:43), but men do not take it away from one another, although they can prevent others from entering it.  Men can enter the Kingdom (Matt. 5:20; 7:21; Mark 9:47; 10:23; etc.) but they are never said to erect it or to build it.  Men can receive the Kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), inherit it (Matt. 25:34), and possess it (Matt. 5:4), but they are never said to establish it.  Men can reject the Kingdom, i.e., refuse to receive it (Luke 10:11) or enter it (Matt. 23:13), but they cannot destroy it. they can look for it (Luke 23:51), pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10), and seek it (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31), but they cannot bring it.  Men may be in the Kingdom (Matt. 5:19; 8:11; Luke 13:29; etc.), but we are not told that the Kingdom grows.  Men can do things for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 19:12; Luke 18:29), but they are not said to act upon the Kingdom itself.  Men can preach the Kingdom (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9), but only god can give it to men (Luke 12:32).
We’ve quoted this section in our works.  But when we’ve used it in the past, we’ve been uncomfortable with the line "we are not told that the kingdom grows."  It seemed to us that the parable of the sleepy farmer (Mark 4:26-29) and the parable of the mustard seed (4:30-32) clearly teach that the kingdom grows.  But as we’ve studied the passages more carefully, we think you can make a good case that Jesus is not teaching about the growth of the kingdom as much as he is demonstrating that the kingdom of small beginnings will, at the close of the age, be the kingdom of cosmic significance.  The kingdom may look unimpressive now, with nothing but a twelve-man band of fumbling disciples, but one day all will see its glorious end.

To borrow a cliché, the kingdom is what it is.  It does not expand.  It does not increase.  It does not grow.  But the kingdom can break in more and more.  This of it like the sun.  When the clouds part on a cloudy day we don’t say, "The sun has grown."  We say, "The sun has broken through."  Our view of the sun has changed or obstacles to the sun have been removed, but we have not changed the sun.  The sun does not depend on us.  We do not bring the sun or act upon it. The sun can appear.  Its warmth can be felt or stifled.  But the sun does not grow.  (Science guys, don’t get all technical, you know what we mean.)  This seems a good analogy for the kingdom.

God certainly uses means and employs us in his work.  But we are not makers or bringers of the kingdom.  The kingdom can be received by more and more people but this does not entail growth of the kingdom.  We herald the kingdom and live according to its rules.  But we do not build it or cause it to grow because it already is and already has come.  As Ladd put it:
The Kingdom is the outworking of the divine will; it is the act of God himself.  It is related to human beings and can work in and through them; but it never becomes subject to them . . . The ground of the demand that they receive the Kingdom rests in the fact that in Jesus the Kingdom has come into history.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Foolishness of Idols

Sinful mankind gets so wrapped up pursuing its own ends that perception is lost and fantasy becomes reality.  Consider gatherings such as a Star Trek convention, ComicCon, etc. where the purpose is to interact in a realm akin to The Twilight Zone—a dimension, not of sight or of sound, but of mind.  The real world is set aside while people live out characters conceived by another's active imagination.  Most understand this is a respite, a mini-vacation, for two or three days, but there are those who, for whatever psychological or spiritual reason, are engulfed with the persona of the alternative universe and need treatment to interact with every day life once again.  On an individual level, this is considered psychosis.  On a societal level, this is considered the new normal.

Those who worship idols live and interact in such a realm.  Arnobius has made his case that the tales and temples of the gods constructed as they are for posterity are useless and counterproductive.  He is now calling the people to leave their self-imposed blindness (The Case Against the Pagans, Book VI, cap. 14):
We would here, as if all nations on the earth were present, make one speech, and pour into the ears of them all, words which should be heard in common:

Why, pray, is this, O men! that of your own accord you cheat and deceive yourselves by voluntary blindness?  Dispel the darkness now, and, returning to the light of the mind, look more closely and see what that is which is going on, if only you retain your right,1 and are within the limits of the reason and prudence given to you.
The call is being sounded for the deluded to come to their senses.  The alternative is shame as described by the prophet Isaiah:
All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit.  Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.  Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?  Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human.  Let them all assemble, let them stand forth.  They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.  (Isa 44:9-11)
This is the certain end of idolaters.  While Arnobius was directing his plea to their reason, as one who understood scriptural themes, he would probably have understood the end of such foolish behavior.  He goes on by stating to the pagans so they might understand what Isaiah had told the people of God of their idols:2
Those images which fill you with terror, and which you adore prostrate upon the ground in all the temples, are bones, stones, brass, silver, gold, clay, wood taken from a tree, or glue mixed with gypsum.  Having been heaped together, it may be, from a harlot’s trinkets or from a respectable woman’s ornaments, from camels’ bones or from the tooth of the Indian beast,3 from cooking-pots and little jars, from candlesticks and lamps, or from other less cleanly vessels, and having been melted down, they were cast into these shapes and came out into the forms which you see, baked in potters’ furnaces, produced by anvils and hammers, scraped with the silversmith’s, and filed down with ordinary files, cleft and hewn with saws, with augers, with axes, dug and hollowed out by the turning of borers, and smoothed with planes.  (Book VI, cap. 14)
The idols are made of inanimate materials: some precious, some common.  They know the source.  They know how they are fashioned.  Yet they are regarded as something more—a doorway to the great beyond; an attempt to reach whoever or whatever can make sense of this world.  And what do people do with these fashioned images?
And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it.  He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"  (Isa 44:17)
Arnobius also sees the folly and proceeds with his argument:
Is not this, then, an error?  Is it not, to speak accurately, folly to believe that a god which you yourself made with care, to kneel down trembling in supplication to that which has been formed by you, and while you know, and are assured that it is the product of the labor of your work and fingers—to cast yourself down upon your face, beg aid suppliantly, and, in adversity and time of distress, ask the favor of the propitious deity to succor you with gracious and divine favor?  (Book VI, cap. 14)
We can almost hear him shouting, "How can you willingly continue on this path?  Can you not see what nonsense you are practicing?"  But they cannot.
They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.  No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten.  And shall I make the rest of it an abomination?  Shall I fall down before a block of wood?"  He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"  (Isa 44:18-20)
Sinners left to their own designs will not comprehend the folly of their actions.  They are merely acting according to their nature by chasing after all that is not God and imagining something real has been found.  Men attempt to build and devise without the Lord and fail, but instead of turning to him, they chase after devices that cannot fulfill or help.

Arnobius and Isaiah both gave words of Law to convict people of their sin.  Only the truth of the Gospel—Christ Jesus died for their sin—could change such hardened hearts.

1 I.e., faculty of discernment, which is properly man’s.
2 Compare with Isa 44:12-16.  The same type of argument was also made by Minucius Felix in Octavius, 23.
3 I.e., elephant’s tusk.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Approaching in Prayer

The idea of erecting buildings so that worshipers can approach their god has been commonplace throughout much of recorded history.  Such was behind those who erected structures for pagan gods in Arnobius' day as they respond to his sarcasm:
But it is not for this reason that we assign temples to the gods as though we wished to ward off from them drenching storms of rain, winds, showers, or the rays of the sun; but in order that we may be able to see them in person and close at hand, to come near and address them, and impart to them, when in a measure present, the expressions of our reverent feelings.  (Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, Book VI, cap. 4)
This seems to be reasonable: create a sacred space, not for the deity, but so that a person can enter before the deity in order to make petitions.  Arnobius points out that the problem is in pagans viewing these places as the only location where a worshiper could meet his god.  Christians recognize that a specially-made enclosure is not required to come before the God of heaven, so what is deficient in the pagan gods to require them?
For if they are invoked under the open heaven, and the canopy of ether, they hear nothing, I suppose; and unless prayers are addressed to them near at hand, they will stand deaf and immoveable as if nothing were said.  And yet we think that every god whatever—if only he has the power of this name—should hear what every one said from every part of the world, just as if he were present; nay, more, should foresee, without waiting to be told what every one conceived in his secret and silent thoughts.  (Arnobius, Book VI, cap. 4)
If a god is true to his character, he should be omniscient.  Wherever and whenever a petition is made, there the deity should hear, or know the request if unspoken, and give a proper response even enacting the answer before the request goes forth.  King David understood something of this as he writes:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
As certain as bodies move in their appointed paths and seasons, deities are to be present—attentive to worshipers wherever they may be.
And as the stars, the sun, the moon, while they wander above the earth, are steadily and everywhere in sight of all those who gaze at them without any exception; so, too, it is fitting that the ears of the gods should be closed against no tongue, and should be ever within reach, although voices should flow together to them from widely separated regions.  For this it is that belongs specially to the gods,—to fill all things with their power, to be not partly at any place, but all everywhere, not to go to dine with the Ethiopians, and return after twelve days to their own dwellings.  (Arnobius, Book VI, cap. 4)
Omnipresence being a divine attribute, it will certainly be found in the character of the Lord our God as David declared:
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  (Ps 139:7-8)
If a god falls short, what can be done?  There is no hope, no certainty, no comfort that he is present, has heard, or will answer.  All is futile.
Now, if this be not the case, all hope of help is taken away, and it will be doubtful whether you are heard by the gods or not, if ever you perform the sacred rites with due ceremonies. … If all at one time beg of a deity with sacrifices what their wants compel each one to think about, what hope, pray, will there be to all of obtaining the benefit, if the god does not hear the cry sent up to him everywhere, and if there shall be any distance to which the words of the suppliant for help cannot penetrate?  For either he will be nowhere present, if he may at times not be anywhere, or he will be at one place only, since he cannot give his attention generally, and without making any distinction.  And thus it is brought about, that either the god helps none at all, if being busy with something he has been unable to hasten to give ear to their cries, or one only goes away with his prayers heard, while the rest have effected nothing.  (Arnobius, Book VI, cap. 5)
Such is not the case concerning the Lord Jesus.  He has promised to be present always (Matt 28:20), interceding for us before the throne (Heb 4:14-16; 7:25) and responding according to our need (Heb 4:15-16); and we do so in full assurance that the Father desires to hear us (John 16:34-24) as the Holy Spirit also intercedes for the saints for our good (Rom 8:27-28).

Reformation Week at Issues, Etc.

Issues, Etc. will have programming during Reformation Week 2011 (October 24-28) comparing Lutheranism to some other Christian systems.  I look forward to the podcasts.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Only True Knowledge Elicits True Worship

The pagans were prolific in building temples to deities through the third century A.D., but not so Christians.  Arnobius points out that in building temples, the pagans are demeaning the gods as if deities needed to come in out of the weather, or the buildings are for no purpose but to please the worshiper.  Christians, however, did not build temples or erect images.
But we rear no temples to them, and do not worship their images; we do not slay victims in sacrifice, we do not offer incense and libations of wine.  And what greater honor or dignity can we ascribe to them, than that we put them in the same position as the Head and Lord of the universe, to whom the gods owe it in common with us, that they are conscious that they exist, and have a living being?
The Case against the Pagans, Book VI, cap. 3

Arnobius here has pointed out that Christians, instead, recognize the greatness of deity in the person and work of the Most High, so that no special building or shrine is required or even adequate.  What matters most is to honor according to revelation.
Thus says the Lord:
    "Heaven is my throne,
        and the earth is my footstool;
    what is the house that you would build for me,
        and what is the place of my rest?" (Isa 66:1)
King Solomon was similarly overwhelmed by the Lord's greatness when undertaking construction of the temple during his reign.  Certainly, David and Solomon had the best intentions for this place of worship, still an admission in correspondence to Hiram, king of Tyre, should instill give us pause from thinking someone can perform something grand and glorious for any god, much less the God of gods.
The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods.  But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him?  Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him? (2 Chr 2:5-6)
What we can take away is that when the triune God of heaven and earth is not properly recognized, he is not properly worshiped.  Many groups under the Christian umbrella have tried to "improve" on how scripture describes the Lord and his wondrous works only to reshape him into a manifestation of our culture.  No longer the sovereign king, he is turned into a weak emissary for an ideal trying to woo men with diplomacy and platitudes.  As a result, the glory and honor reserved for the King of kings and Lord of lords is considered shared among his creatures as they gather together praising themselves as the seal of perfection.

Had we a true understanding of the sinfulness of sin and the gift of grace through the Lord Jesus Christ, we would manifest this on Sunday mornings (or any day for that matter) by regular acknowledgment of our unworthiness to be called by his name as elect children and rejoice that our names are written in heaven.  What a grand privilege!  What an enormous responsibility!  What a Savior!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My God Is Better Than Your God(s)

As Arnobius turns his attention from the pagan gods to the temples and rites,  he makes the case that deity should be marked by attributes greater than the most noble of men: i.e., perfect virtue personified (The Case against the Pagans, Book VI, cap. 2).  He breaks these up into the following main points beginning with the positive: how gods should be.

For we think that [deity] should have all the virtues in perfection: should be wise, upright, venerable, strong in virtues within themselves, and should not give themselves up to external props, because the completeness of their unbroken bliss is made perfect;

Every conceivable good should be found in deity without blemish.  Nothing external would be required or added as if that one is somehow insufficient.  Of course the apologist's case-making example is the source of all goodness to mankind:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:20-26)
should be free from all agitating and disturbing passions; should not burn with anger, should not be excited by any desires;

Turning now to the negative, deity is not to be capricious.  Everything accomplished is of deliberate intent anchored in self-control and long-suffering with an eye to demonstrating Christ's act of redemption.
The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Num 14:18)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:22-24)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)
should send misfortune to none, should not find a cruel pleasure in the ills of men; should not terrify by portents, should not show prodigies to cause fear;

At this point, Arnobius begins making statements that appear to run contrary to scripture.  Did not God state plainly that he sends adversity?
I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Is 45:7)
While this is so, Arnobius is comparing the steadfast nature of God to the fickle nature of passion-driven men, making his point that the pagans are incorrectly assigning their own corrupt, sinful natures on their conception of gods.  These points are made to turn the pagan from that goal.  Arnobius has not specifically turned their attention to the God of the Bible.  YHWH does not act maliciously for the sole intention of watching a man suffer but instead works all things that they might seek him (Acts 17:26-27).

should not hold men responsible and liable to be punished for the vows which they owe, nor demand expiatory sacrifices by threatening omens;

The Lord disciplines the one he loves (Heb 12:6), so he will hold us responsible for idle intentions, however he does not do so threateningly, demanding certain sacrificial acts or gifts to turn his anger.  What he sends is for our good (Rom 8:28).

should not bring on pestilences and diseases by corrupting the air, should not burn up the fruits with droughts;

The Lord promised Israel that if they turned from him, they would be punished with pestilence and drought (Deut 28:20-24), but as before, this would not be as a result of mood-swings or mutability as the pagan gods were wont to do.  Rather the threat was to put the fear of the Lord in the people, giving them added incentive to not turn away from his abundant blessing which he had already promised.

should take no part in the slaughter of war and devastation of cities;

People look at the conquest and slaughter of Canaanites by Joshua to be the result of worshiping a bloodthirsty God.  Rightfully so, this is an abhorrent notion when left there.  Omitted is that the people being conquered were vile and needed to have judgment enacted on them (Gen 15:16; Deut 29:17).

should not wish ill to one party, and be favorable to the success of another; but, as becomes great minds, should weigh all in a just balance, and show kindness impartially to all.

God is no respecter of persons and deals with all according to his nature and revelation as part of his providential care.
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt 5:45)
He does not show favoritism but responds justly in reward and judgment.  For those obedient to the gospel:
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor 3:12-15)
and for the unrepentant:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Heb 10:26-27)
In conclusion is the God we profess to follow a caricature or projection of ourselves with fleeting character given to whims and tantrums, or do we follow the true God as revealed by the apostolic witness and demonstrated by Jesus Christ, God incarnate?

Monday, October 3, 2011

No Christianity Without the Trinity

Kevin DeYoung has a good post that the proper understanding of the Godhead is necessary for Christianity.  Here is a snippet:

Yet, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life. One theologian said, tongue in cheek, “The trinity is a matter of five notions or properties, four relations, three persons, two processions, one substance or nature, and no understanding.” All the talk of essence and persons and co-this and co-that seem like theological gobbledy-gook reserved for philosophers and scholars-maybe for thinky bookish types, but certainly not for moms and mechanics and middle-class college students.

He then goes on to lay out in simple terms what it is, where to find it, and why I should care.

Pastoral Care by Overseers

The following is nothing new but is an excellent understanding of the pastoral care to be performed by overseers/elders in the local church.

But like a compassionate shepherd, and a diligent feeder of the flock, search out, and keep an account of your flock.  Seek that which is wanting (Matt 18:12), as the Lord God our gracious Father has sent His own Son, the good Shepherd and Savior, our master Jesus, and has commanded Him to “leave the ninety-nine upon the mountains, and to go in search after that which was lost, and when He had found it, to take it upon His shoulders, and to carry it into the flock, rejoicing that He had found that which was lost” (Luke 15:4-6).  In like manner, be obedient, O overseer, and seek that which was lost, guide that which has wandered out of the right way, bring back that which is gone astray: for you have authority to bring them back, and to deliver those who are brokenhearted by remission.  For by you does our Savior say to him who is discouraged under the sense of his sins, “Your sins are forgiven you: your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 5:20; Matt 9:2; Mark 5:34).  But this peace and haven of tranquility is the church of Christ, into which you, when you have loosed them from their sins, restore them, as being now sound and unblamable, of good hope, diligent, laborious in good works.  As a skillful and compassionate physician, heal all such as have wandered in the ways of sin; for “they that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.  For the Son of Man came to save and to seek that which was lost” (Matt. 9:12; Luke 19:10).  Since you are therefore a physician of the Lord’s church, provide remedies suitable to every patient’s case.  Cure them, heal them by all means possible; restore them sound to the church.  Feed the flock, “not with force and harshness, as lording it over them” (Ezek 34:4), but as a gentle shepherd, “gathering the lambs into your bosom, and gently leading those which are with young” (Matt 20:25; Isa 40:11).

Apostolic Constitutions, II.20