Monday, December 31, 2012

Righteousness Is Solely through Christ on the Basis of Faith

I also adduced another passage in which Isaiah exclaims: "Hear My words, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.  Behold, I have given Him for a witness to the people: nations which do not know you shall call on youPeoples who do not know you shall escape to you, because of your God, the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you."  This same law you have despised, and His new holy covenant you have slighted; and now you neither receive it, nor repent of your evil deeds. "For your ears are closed, your eyes are blinded, and the heart is hardened," Jeremiah has cried; yet not even then do you listen.  The Lawgiver is present, yet you do not see Him; to the poor the Gospel is preached, the blind see, yet you do not understand.  You have now need of a second circumcision, though you glory greatly in the flesh.  The new law requires you to keep perpetual sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you: and if you eat unleavened bread, you say the will of God has been fulfilled.  The Lord our God does not take pleasure in such observances: if there is any perjured person or a thief among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true sabbaths of God.  If any one has impure hands, let him wash and be pure.

For Isaiah did not send you to a bath, there to wash away murder and other sins, which not even all the water of the sea were sufficient to purge.  But, as might have been expected, this was that saving bath of the olden time which followed those who repented, and who no longer were purified by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of an heifer, or by the offerings of fine flour, but by faith through the blood of Christ, and through His death, who died for this very reason, as Isaiah himself said, when he spoke thus: "The Lord shall make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the nations and the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.  Depart, depart, depart, go out from there, and touch no unclean thing; go out of the midst of her, be clean you that bear the vessels of the Lord, for you go not with haste.  For the Lord shall go before you; and the Lord, the God of Israel, shall gather you together."

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 12-13

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Worship Begins with Christ, Not Me

I appreciated the conclusion of a sermon Donavon Riley posted yesterday:

God’s Word both kills and makes alive.  It tears down the religion of the old Adam.  The religion of the self that would have us to be gods in place of God.  It reconstructs true worshipers who worship the Father in Spirit and in the Truth.  The Word upends every attempt on our part to co-opt God to our agenda or to bribe Him with our good behavior.  God sets the agenda in worship.  “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand.”  The God who has spoken is the God who speaks, and we are given ears to hear.  The sinner, paralyzed and helpless in sin and death, hears the one needful Word that will raise him from his mat. “Your sins are forgiven you.

The worship of the Church doesn’t begin with you but with the One who is worshiped.  Not with your faith, but with the Object of faith—the crucified, risen, and reigning Christ.  A people that begins worship with, “We make our beginning in the Name of the Father…” miss the point completely.  Just as Simeon does, the Church begins her praise and thanks, not with herself, but with God, who has caused His Salvation to dwell among us in Jesus.  Who wishes to serve you with the gifts of His salvation, word, water, bread, and wine, both today and forever because His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.  Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Humorous Look at Church Nerds

Sam Schuldheisz has a fun post at Steadfast Lutherans entitled You Might Be A Lutheran Nerd If…  I relate to these:
  • 10.  You’ve ever eaten like a hobbit at a church pot luck.
  • 11.  You mistook the 11:00 service for elevensies and brought enough to share.
Trust me when I say that you do not need to be Lutheran to understand them.  The two I shared work equally well for Baptists—just saying.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Pastors, Return to the Scriptures

  • Psalm 77:11-15
  • I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
  •         yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
  • I will ponder all your work,
  •         and meditate on your mighty deeds.
  • Your way, O God, is holy.
  •         What god is great like our God?
  • You are the God who works wonders;
  •         you have made known your might among the peoples.
  • You with your arm redeemed your people,
  •         the children of Jacob and Joseph.  Selah
In the introduction to the Large Catechism, Martin Luther rails against pastors who are "altogether shameful gluttons and servants of their own bellies who ought to be more properly swineherds and dog tenders than caretakers of souls and pastors." (2)  Sadly, this malady continues to the present day.  In the past, I have called out or linked to blog posts of local assemblies who are being led into tomfoolery rather than sound biblical teaching.

Luther, in his inimitable style, offers a solution to these goatherds:
[O]h, that, instead thereof, they would only, morning, noon, and evening, read a page or two in the catechism, the prayer book, the New Testament, or elsewhere in the Bible, and pray the Lord's Prayer for themselves and their parishioners, so that they might render, in return, honor and thanks to the Gospel, by which they have been delivered from burdens and troubles so manifold, and might feel a little shame because like pigs and dogs they retain no more of the Gospel than such a lazy, pernicious, shameful, carnal liberty!… Therefore I beg such lazy paunches or presumptuous saints to be persuaded and believe for God's sake that they are verily, verily! not so learned or such great doctors as they imagine; and never to presume that they have finished learning this, or know it well enough in all points, even though they think that they know it ever so well.  For though they should know and understand it perfectly (which, however, is impossible in this life), yet there are manifold benefits and fruits still to be obtained, if it be daily read and practiced in thought and speech; namely, that the Holy Spirit is present in such reading and repetition and meditation, and bestows ever new and more light and devoutness, so that it is daily relished and appreciated better, as Christ promises, Matt. 18:20 "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." (3, 9)
If only pastors continuously return to the font of wisdom from which they fed as growing believers, they might not become full of themselves and be self-deceived into believing they can do a new thing for God.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Being Forced to Think While Crafting Sentences

Technology is a wonderful tool, but those using the modern conveniences may not be communicating as well as they could be.  Jason Snell has written a piece comparing his experiences with laptop, pen/paper, and iPad.  He began to notice that "my writing can change radically just by changing the method I use to get those words out of my head."  While in college, necessity forced shifting from a typewriter to pen and paper.  He observed:
Writing with pen and paper felt appreciably different from typing.  My mind would try to race ahead, but my pen could only go so fast.  I ended up considering every sentence, every word choice, with greater care simply because I couldn’t dash it out and move ahead. It was some of the best writing I’d done up to that time…. 
I understand this phenomenon. There are many blog posts and e-mails I have sent out only to have someone question the meaning.  I knew what I meant at the time, but the recipient had no basis of context, therefore clarification was required.

I have come to understand that slower is better.  When the message needs to be clear and sincere, the best course is to take up pen/paper and slowly craft the sentences.  After proper editing and rework, the message can be formatted using the word processor of choice.

This is my routine.  If you do not have the same difficulties as I, all the best to you.  And possibly all who are part of the Baby Boomer generation and older suffer from the same malady.  But maybe going through the effort of "old school" writing mechanics will help younger generations to better use their native or adopted languages.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Solicitation and Change: Doing Without Either

The more American Christianity and our churches act like the Church's one foundation is a toaster oven to be panhandled rather than a King who is coming to judge the planet, the more we cast our lot in with the wisdom of the world rather than the foolishness of God.  The more we think the answer to spirituality lies in anchoring ourselves to the winds of change rather than clinging to the Rock of Ages, the sooner Protestantism will fade into the background of modernized history.

Jonathan Fisk, Broken, 263

Friday, December 21, 2012

Does Your Approach to Doctrine Question or Emphasize Truth?

Today we tend to speak of doctrine with a question mark rather than an exclamation point.  We approach the Scriptures as if this Word were not clear in its teaching but dark and hidden and, more importantly, uncertain.  We approach doctrine or dogma as if it were a four letter word to be avoided in polite conversation.  It is both because we have grown ashamed and embarrassed about what the Church has believed, confessed, and taught or because we no longer have confidence that this is the truth that is to be our way and the light than enlightens our darkness.  We approach belief both as if it were personal and individual to define and determine and as if nothing were clear enough to be taught with authority and confidence (a truth for all time).

Posted by Larry Peters

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Freedom from the Truth Leads to Lawlessness

Man-made or divine, from Scripture or from history, nothing is sacred once mixed with the cocktail of freedom.  Lawlessness brings with it the spiritual gift of immediate and total authority.… Whatever else anyone has to say, they cannot assail the firm belief in Christian freedom and your soul's liberty.
  • "Humility" is knowing that truth can never really be known.
  • "Mercy" is looking the other way when your friend is active in what those old, legalistic people would dare to call sin.
  • "Wisdom" is knowing that all those traditions and doctrines that were here before you were most likely made up by ignorant, totally bigoted people and don't really have a point anyway.

Receiving the past is what makes us who we are.  It forms us as something bigger than ourselves.  It helps us grow on a foundation  raised above isolation and ignorance, and it aids us in passing on what we learn to those who come after us.  The handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, and information from generation to generation is exactly what Dr. Luther once pointed out God wants all Christians to do when he wrote, "God solemnly commands us in Deuteronomy 6:6-8 that we should always meditate on His precepts, sitting, walking, standing, lying down, and rising.  We should have them before our eyes and in our hands as a constant mark and sign."  (Large Catechism, Longer Preface 14).

Jonathan Fisk, Broken, 210-211, 212

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hating Tradition on Principle

This section of the book is directed at youth ministry but is increasingly becoming standard fare as one generation fails to faithfully pass God's truth to the next.

It is claimed that in order to reach the young, we must imitate their world, speak their language, do what they do, and think what they think, which means jettisoning anything of the past not part of the context they are being sold at the mall and on YouTube.  Teaching them to embrace a culture of the past is out.  The only true rule is that by the systematic shedding of all rules and connection points with previous generations shall the next generation be able to learn the faith.  If anything is difficult, strange, or boring, it is anathema.  What matters is keeping their attention, and nothing grabs attention like breaking all the rules.

The results couldn't be more disastrous.… The faith once for all delivered to the saints has simply not been passed down to a super-majority of the upcoming generations, those very children who grew up under the super-tradition of getting rid of traditions.

Jonathan Fisk, Broken, 207

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Church Survives by Remaining Bound to God's Word

Christianity has endured and outlasted every kind of human kingdom and philosophy history has ever thrown at it, largely because Christian Scripture contains words with meaning that never change.  It doesn't matter the culture or time, the Bible remains the same words.  It holds no secrets, no new information, no hidden truths that haven't been known from the beginning of the earliest Church.  It is a rock, a lack of freedom to change what we believe.  This slavery to the mind of Christ is why Christianity has endured and why it will endure to the end of time (1 Corinthians 1:10).… When false teachers are given the leisure and license to tinker with the insides of the Church in the name of of Freedom, then it is only a matter of time before the day comes when no one remembers the Word of the Lord at all, and all that remains is a "God" without any power to say this or that for certain, whatever this or that may be.

Jonathan Fisk, Broken, 206

Monday, December 17, 2012

Repenting from Jealousy in the Church

These things, beloved, we write unto you, not merely to admonish you of your duty, but also to remind ourselves.  For we are struggling on the same arena,* and the same conflict is assigned to both of us.  Wherefore let us give up vain and futile cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling.  Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us.  Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.  Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him.  Noah preached repentance, and as many as listened to him were saved.  Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites; but they, repenting of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation, although they were alienated from God.†

1 Clement 7

* Clement has been writing of jealousy and the resulting strife.
† Clement gives extreme examples to show the window of repentance is open regardless of the number that may turn.  Noah's preaching saved only eight, and they were of his family. From Jonah's preaching, the capital city of Assyria repented to a man.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Read the Fathers

I just learned about a reading program entitled Read the Fathers.  As might be derived from the title, the plan is to read through the copies of the Church Fathers in the public domain over a seven-year period as a group and interact with those are also reading along.  This is a great opportunity for people to learn that the Christianity did not simply start with Jesus and leapfrog to when their denomination or local church began.

As one who has read the multi-volume Ante-Nicene Fathers, I can affirm there is much good material alongside the bad as doctrine was being worked out.  Also, there language and thought patterns you may not understand, but others that are clear, distinct, and familiar.

The reading plan began December 2, but that should not dissuade anyone from starting.  The passages are not lengthy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

IfWeJustCan Churchology

Late last week, I received the new book Broken: 7 "Christian" Rules That Every Christian Ought To Break As Often As Possible by Jonathan Fisk and published by CPH.  I just finished the chapter on breaking the fifth rule of "IfWeJustCan Churchology"—in other words, constantly chasing after the newest method of "doing church," which ends up resulting in addition-like symptoms for the next wave of doing church rather than biblical spirituality.

As an antidote, Fisk offers this paragraph (among many others) to rethink what we "know for certain" of how the church should be and act:
What if the church(es) aren't supposed to be perfect in any way apart from faith in Christ?  What if putting our hope in structures, songs, and men to lead them are not the answer bu the things getting in the way?  What if we're straining out gnats but swallowing camels?  What if we wrote "if we can only change x" into its mathematical equivalent as [Jesus + x = Christianity]?  What if we do the math and see [Jesus + x = Christianity] resolves to [x = Christianity - Jesus]?
Broken, page 175, emphasis his

His point is that what we continually try to implement as the thing to build up and promote the church is the very thing that should never be introduced at all, because it has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  How about we concentrate on making disciples and preaching Christ and him crucified instead?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Can I Get a Witness?

Larry Peters has written an interesting post on a difference he sees between evangelism and witness.  He opens with: "Witness has come to mean evangelism.  It is not evangelism." Beginning there, he makes a case that "Evangelism means sharing your faith.  Witness means showing forth WHO you are."  This is an interesting distinction.  Although I do not agree with some of his statements,*  there are gems:
You may or may not be an evangelist.  That is a choice you make. You make no such choice about witness.  You are all witnesses.  It does not matter whether you want to be or you don't, whether you are faithful or not, or what you witness or what you do not.  You are already witnesses.  That is what God has called you and set you apart to be and it is what the world thinks you are.
Witness does not point to you.  It always points to Jesus.  You are in the way.  Witness means getting out of the way.  With words and deeds we point to Jesus.  With words and deeds we talk about Jesus and frame the Gospel by our practice.  Witness does not require nor does it depend upon our lives being holy or righteous or perfect.  We witness not to what we have done but who we are as children of God in Christ.  He is the focus and the goal.  So we can talk about sin because we are forgiven.  We can talk about weakness because His strength is made perfect in our weakness.  We can talk about failure because Christ is our victory.  We can talk about evil because Christ is our righteousness.
Take some time to read through it.  It should spur some thoughts about who you are in Christ and how that is demonstrated daily.

* As a case in point, Peters writes, "In fact, when Scripture does speak of doing the work of the evangelist, it speaks to the Pastors who preach the good news and not to folks in the pew who may think their job is to convert the masses."  This apparent reference to Timothy as the model seems to be making the definition of evangelist/evangelism solely the responsibility of office and work, but possibly I am misreading him.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Getting Better News Than Could Be Imagined

And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."  Luke 2:10-12

When an angel made the announcement to shepherds millenia ago, the good news of great joy was simple yet profound: unto you is born…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Though there was nothing profound about a baby being born, on this particular night, a remarkable child came into this world.  He is a savior.  Israel was being occupied by the Romans,and the faithful were continually seeking for political freedom similar to the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  This desire was shortsighted, however, as God was intent on saving them body and soul by sending one who would save them from their sins (Matt 1:21).  To this end an angel told Joseph that this child was to be named Jesus (i.e., YHWH saves), evidently as a sign to the people.

The angel was not satisfied with making known a savior was born—by itself wonderful news—but he identified who that savior was.

Messiah.  Messiah means "anointed one," something that would happen to set aside someone for a special office or duty.  There was one particular anointed who was prophesied as God's unique individual to do his bidding and complete it fully for the sake of God's elect and overflow to all peoples of the world.

Lord.  This is probably the most remarkable aspect of this prophecy.  While most people will read the text and naturally assume that Christ the Lord means something akin to "the anointed one who sovereignly reigns," yet this only addresses one aspect of the matter.  The English translations lose something here that the shepherds would have understood the angel saying: God himself is the savior and messiah.

Luke's use of the word Lord helps to clarify the matter.  Just a cursory reading of the first two chapters of his gospel shows us that in every other case, Lord is intended to speak of God Most High, who by virtue of all that encompasses his being does sovereignly reign over all creation.  God the Son took to himself a human nature to make satisfaction for mankind's sin, as Tertullian comments:
He who was going to consecrate a new order of birth, must Himself be born after a novel fashion, concerning which Isaiah foretold how that the Lord Himself would give the sign.  What, then, is the sign?  "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son."  Accordingly, a virgin did conceive and bear "Emmanuel, God with us."  This is the new nativity; a man is born in God.  And in this man God was born, taking the flesh of an ancient race, without the help, however, of the ancient seed, in order that He might reform it with a new seed, that is, in a spiritual manner, and cleanse it by the removal of all its ancient stains.
On the Flesh of Christ, XVII

The one born to men is everything the people had hoped for and more, for "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."  (1 John 2:2)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gaining Perception in the Fog

Photograph by Stephen Pohl
There are many times in a discussion or debate when we become so intent on maintaining our correctness on a single point that we overlook the obvious: we miss the forest for the trees.

Recently, I  was involved in such a Facebook interchange with some of a Calvinist bent.  While discussing the choice of Jacob instead of Esau, one person wrote:
So God's love does not depend on our faith.  And He does not love equally.  Therefore, those with saving faith have it because it is a gift from God because He loved us with a saving love where he did not love the rest with that sort of love.

It is like the sheep and the goats.  A goat cannot make itself into a sheep, nor can a sheep become a goat.  God foreordained who would be sheep and allowed the rest to be goats.
Considering this to be Reformed inanity based more on faulty logic than clear scripture, I took up the challenge to counter his thinking.  Soon the debate went back and forth on whether goats could become sheep; and whether sheep are always sheep, but they are just lost for a time—all this based on John 10, 1 Peter 2, Ephesians 2, and Romans 9.

And then the fog settled in—literally.

As I was driving to work the next morning, considering the argumentation, the truth stood out plainly.  On that foggy interstate, it became clear that I (and they) had pushed the metaphors too far so that they became absurd and mixed.  Yes, Jesus spoke of sheep and goats at the final judgement (Matt 25), but this was a way of illustrating that he was separating the bodies and had the right to do so.  And Jesus spoke of the sheep/shepherd relationship (John 10) to point out the caring relationship he has with the sheep, willingness of the sheep to follow his voice, and his gift of eternal life, as opposed to the Jewish rulers who were not listening and not receiving eternal life.

I had become so intent on winning that I had lost sight of the obvious.

While fog inhibits comprehension of the overall picture, important details can be made clearer upon drawing near and letting what is before us stand out.  Take advantage of those opportunities and learn from them.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  (2 Tim 2:15)

T'ain't Necessarily So

Brian Orme, a Southern Baptist expert in church trends, has written an article challenging assumptions of church growth and labeling them as "Ten Old Wives Tales about Church Growth."  Here are his main points:
  1. If You’re Not Growing, Something’s Wrong
  2. The More You Grow, the Healthier You Are
  3. Contemporary Music Will Save Your Church
  4. Church Growth Can Be Manufactured
  5. If Your Church Grows, Your Leader Is “Anointed”
  6. If Your Church Doesn’t Grow, It’s a Problem with the Leader
  7. Good Preaching Is the Answer to Growing Your Church
  8. You Will Retain a Large Percentage of Your Visitors on Special Days
  9. The More Programs You Offer, the More Your Church Will Grow
  10. If You Build It, They Will Come
I agree that each of these needs to be exposed for what they are.  My only reservation is that he sometimes does not go far enough to butcher the sacred cow.  Somebody should get that guy a meat grinder.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christ at the Father's Right Hand

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God  (Heb 10:12)

We hold, moreover, that Christ sits in the body at the right hand of God the Father, but we do not hold that the right hand of the Father is actual place.  For how could He that is uncircumscribed have a right hand limited by place?  Right hands and left hands belong to what is circumscribed.  But we understand the right hand of the Father to be the glory and honor of the Godhead in which the Son of God, who existed as God before the ages, and is of like essence to the Father, and in the end became flesh, has a seat in the body, His flesh sharing in the glory.  For He along with His flesh is adored with one adoration by all creation.

John of Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, IV.2

Monday, December 3, 2012

Making Time for What Is Important

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Do the words sting?  This is what I desire, that you should suffer the pain caused by the words, in order to be delivered from the disgrace caused by the actions.  Now I say this for there are some, much less responsive than this audience here, who do not become ashamed at my words, but even speak at length in defense of their behavior.  And if you ask, "Who is Amos, or Obadiah, or what is the number of the Prophets or of the Apostles?" they cannot even open their mouth.  But with regard to horses and charioteers,* they can compose a discourse more cleverly than scholarly teachers or statesmen.  Furthermore, after all this they say: "What harm, now?" and "What loss?"  Indeed, it is for this reason that I am groaning, namely because you do not know that the thing is harmful, and have no perception of the evil.  God has given you a limited period of life to serve Him, and if you squander it vainly and fruitlessly, and to no purpose, do you still seek to learn what the loss is?  If you completely squander your days entirely on Satan's pomps,† do you consider that you are not doing anything wrong?  Though you ought to spend your entire life in prayers and supplications, while actually you waste your life, fruitlessly and for your damnation, in shouting and tumult and base words and quarreling and unlawful pleasure and deeds of sorcery—even after all this do you ask "What loss is there?"  You are not aware that time must be expended more sparingly than anything else.  If you spend gold, you will be able to replenish your supply, but if you lose time you will repair the loss with great difficulty for a small amount has been dispensed to us in the present life.  Therefore, if we do not use it as we ought, what shall we say when we depart to the next life?

John Chrysostom, Homilies on John, 58.5‡

* Popular sports of the fifth century.
† Magnificent displays
‡ My thanks to Scott who sent me the quote in an e-mail this past weekend.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Something to Consider

From A. W. Tozer:

If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.  If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Putting on the Hits

Todd Wilken has a short post on why Christian pop-music is popular.  It is not because it delivers the gospel, but "because it is moral music, and not because it is particularly Christian music."  He ends with the important question:
If my theory is correct, when we bring the Christian pop-top 40 into church on Sunday morning, we aren’t necessarily bringing in anything particularly Christian.  Something moral? yes. Something popular? sure. But, something Christian?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Are You Baptized Into?

Found at Wil Weedon's site:

A person is not baptized into Christianity but into Christ, the living, risen Christ.  Being a Christian means first of all belonging together with Christ, having fellowship with Him, having life from Him.

Per-Olof Sjögren, The Jesus Prayer, p. 37.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holy Everlasting God

I came across this fresh translation of a 16th-century hymn.  The solid Trinitarian doctrine is a pleasure to see.  The translator's post is here.

1. Holy Everlasting God,
Holy Lord of Sabaoth
Holy, blessed Trinity,
Thine the glory ever be.
2.Father, Son, and Spirit, God,
Now receive our praise and laud;
Filled be earth from deep to height
With Thy glory, pow’r, and might.
3.Father of Christ Jesus, Lord,
God our Maker thrice adored,
Who upholdest by Thine hand,
Thine be thanks in every land.
4. Thou who sent’st Thy dearest Son
From Thy lofty heav’nly throne
To us in this vale of grief
To bring Adam’s sons relief.
5. Let us all, from high to low,
Thee and Jesus only know;
Thy Beloved grant, that we
May in Him accepted be.
6. Jesus Christ, Eternal Word,
Image of the Father, Lord,
His eternal Wisdom, Son,
Evermore Begotten One.
7. Unbegotten Deity
Essence from division free,
Yet in person Thou alone
Art the everlasting Son.
8. Jesus Christ, our thanks to Thee
Who a Man didst deign to be
To redeem man’s nature lost:
Save us by Thy precious cost.
9. Holy Ghost, Thou Comfort fair,
Who from both proceedest e’er,
Equal glory is Thy due:
Make our heart and mind anew.
10. Stir within us godly fear,
Let our heart Thy Word revere,
Grant anointing by Thy pow’r
Fill Thy Church at every hour.
11. Sanctify us and bestow
That we in Thy way may go;
And in Jesus’ righteousness
Come to heaven by Thy grace.
12. God who art in person three,
Yet substantial Unity,
Undivided, very God,
Ever Thine be praise and laud.
13. Hear us, Holy Majesty,
As we lift our pray’r to Thee
In Thy name: oh, kindly deign
To reply Amen, Amen.

Translation © 2012 Matthew Carver.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Recognizing to Whom Thanks Should Ultimately Be Given

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.  This is most certainly true.

First Article of the Creed, Luther's Small Catechism

A Prayer for Thanksgiving

The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and You give them their food at the proper time.  You open Your hand, and satisfy the desires of every living thing.  Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts, which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Contemporary Worship: Divider or Uniter?

Matthew Cochran has a blog post proposing that claims of inclusivity by contemporary worship proponents are really myths and does this by citing three areas where the delivered goods are just the opposite of the promise.  I particularly enjoyed this section from his paragraph covering those who argue that contemporary music is more cross-generational because hymns are "simply a collection of music that only old people could like."  In reality, hymns
were written centuries before any of our elderly were even born.  If they enjoy it, it cannot possibly be because it was the music of their generation—something that only they would like.  Generationally exclusive music is, however, precisely what contemporary worship seeks to impose.  Rather than selecting the best from a broad ocean of church music that spans cultures, continents, & thousands of years of history, contemporary worship restricts music: first to the last few decades, then to America, then to a subset of the youth.
Cochran writes from a confessional Lutheran perspective, but his critique is accurate across the board.  You will enjoy the read.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

If Seminaries Are Broken, How Do You Fix Them?

Christianity Today has an article entitled "What Is the Biggest Change Evangelical Seminaries Need to Make Right Now?" with three responses by as many writers.

The first response is given by Dan Kimball who contemplates that "If seminary professors could teach preaching and other skills more passionately, seminary students would more completely develop a passion for evangelism" without adversely affecting academic excellence.  This is all fine and good, but passion and academics without truth make a seminarian twice the child of hell as the professors.

The second response is given by Cheryl Sanders who posits that seminaries need to be more innovative with the idea of building a more ethnically diverse student body.  I agree that changes have and can be made to brick-and-mortar schools to take advantage of technologies and financing.  Be creative with academic offerings to instruct those who want the education but have difficulty with traditional course structure because of real world constraints.  Leave ethnic diversity out of this.  When that becomes the goal, the seminary can quickly become entangled in the mess created by Affirmative Action legislation with minimum demographic requirements.  The goal is teach how to handle the word of God.  If the student population is diverse, so much the better, but do not force an issue where none exists.

The final response is by Winfield Bevins who reminds us:
But what good is it if you know everything about theology and the Bible yet don't know about the one thing the resurrected Jesus called us to do: make disciples?
The discipleship model he proposes is that used by the ancient Celtic monastic orders, especially Saint Patrick.  I greatly appreciate his call for seminaries to have more of a discipling focus, but why go to the Celts?  I bear no ill will against Patrick or any who spread the gospel in that area, but would we not have better examples in someone like Peter or Paul or other names I could give?  Not that those people found in the Bible are any more holy or less sinful than Patrick or anybody else who spread the gospel over the centuries, but what we have of the apostles' exploits are retold by the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit, and that counts for something

If these three are examples of the mindset that can be found in seminaries and Bible colleges amongst the faculty and staff, the church is causing its own problems.  I do not disagree that evangelical seminaries could use an upgrade—even a complete overhaul—but those improvements should begin with Christ and the gospel, not dance around them.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Doing Good

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.  (Gal 6:9-10)

Let us remember that the good works of which Paul writes are prepared by the Father for us that we might walk in them (Eph 2:10).  As such, they are not arduous tasks but gifts given for the benefit of both the doer and the recipient: a stewardship to be performed in the strength God supplies, so that he might be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 4:10-11).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Working Things Out

Now you see, reader, that our adversaries have not wasted any effort in learning logic, but have the art of concluding whatever pleases them from the Scriptures.  For they conclude [from 2 Peter 1:10], “Make your calling sure by good works.”  Therefore, they think that works merit the forgiveness of sins.  This is a very nice way of thinking, if one would argue this way about a person whose death sentence had been pardoned: “The judge commands that from now on you stop stealing from others.  Therefore, you have earned the pardon from the punishment, because you no longer steal from others.”  To argue this way makes a cause of no cause.  Peter speaks of works following the forgiveness of sins and teaches why they should be done. … Do good works in order that you may persevere in your calling, in order that you do not lose the gifts of your calling.  They were given to you before, and not because of works that follow, and which now are kept through faith.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession XX.89-90

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pastoral Humility

Every man desiring to be an overseer in the local assembly would do well to understand the spiritual humility necessary for the work.

Since then I knew these things, and that no one is worthy of the mightiness of God, and the sacrifice, and priesthood, who has not first presented himself to God, a living, holy sacrifice, and set forth the reasonable, well-pleasing service, and sacrificed to God the sacrifice of praise and the contrite spirit, which is the only sacrifice required of us by the Giver of all; how could I dare to offer to Him the external sacrifice, the anti-type of the great mysteries, or clothe myself with the garb and name of priest,
  • before my hands had been consecrated by holy works;
  • before my eyes had been accustomed to gaze safely upon created things, with wonder only for the Creator, and without injury to the creature;
  • before my ear had been sufficiently opened to the instruction of the Lord, and He had opened mine ear to hear without heaviness, and had set a golden earring with precious sardius, that is, a wise man’s word in an obedient ear;
  • before my mouth had been opened to draw in the Spirit, and opened wide to be filled with the spirit of speaking mysteries and doctrines; and my lips bound, to use the words of wisdom, by divine knowledge, and, as I would add, loosed in due season;
  • before my tongue had been filled with exultation, and become an instrument of Divine melody, awaking with glory, awaking right early, and laboring till it cleave to my jaws;
  • before my feet had been set upon the rock, made like hart’s feet, and my footsteps directed in a godly fashion so that they should not well-nigh slip, nor slip at all;
  • before all my members had become instruments of righteousness, and all mortality had been put off, and swallowed up of life, and had yielded to the Spirit?
Gregory Nazianzen, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus, 95*

* I took the liberty of setting out each of Gregory's points for easier reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can You Share Jesus with Others?

If I know my readers, the title of this post will be answered by a resounding, "Of course I can share him with others.  I do it regularly/sometimes/occasionally."  (You determine the frequency.)  We are convinced this is the biblical mandate, but is it correct to speak in this way?  Can Christ actually be shared?

Think about the word "share."  What comes to mind?  Envision a finite amount of something—goods, money, food, water—that can be distributed amongst a set number of individuals.  Each gets a portion of the whole, whether of equal size to balance allotment, or in varying sizes on the basis of need or generosity.  The more people there are, the smaller will be the portion.  Is this what happens when I share Jesus with someone?  Do I lose a little bit by sharing him with others?

The difficulty with using this language is that it does not convey what we are to do concerning Christ.  When we say we want to "share" him or the gospel, we are using inaccurate, though popular, language.  We are not called to share.  We are called to proclaim, witness, and teach of him to a lost and dying world.  You do not offer someone just a portion of Christ for their own nor negotiate how much there will be.  You are to be offering all of who he is and what he has done on the cross for the sin of the world.  In fact, to offer any less is to offer nothing at all.  We want the person to whom we are speaking to take in the full benefit of the Lord and his redemption.

Some might think my cause is picayune, but it deals with our relationship with God and one another as believers.  The Greek word κοινωνία (koinonia) is usually translated "fellowship" or "communion."  It is a unity based on having the fullness of something in common—in this case the Lord Jesus himself.  What we have in him as a his body on earth is as complete and full for one believer as it is for the next.  There is no lack among his children.  Because there is the unity of the body, we are able to rightly share with one another, so that the entire body grows and is functioning properly.  The apostle John states it so well:
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  (1 John 1:3)
The next time you are tempted to share Christ with an unbeliever, don't.  Instead, tell that person of his sin and Jesus' all-sufficient sacrifice on the cross for his behalf.  Upon believing, then that person can share with you in the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Truth in Satire

Glenn Chatfield regularly shares on heretical and apostate teaching identified from other Christian sites.  Today, his post includes two satirical pieces.

The first comes from Mormon Coffee, which has a theoretical interview on Judgment Day between Joseph Smith and Jesus concerning one of Smith's doctrinal inconsistencies.

The other comes from Aspiring Ministries and is entitled The New Evangelical Christian Creed.  Sadly, what it describes is altogether too true.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Boredom, Bedlam, or Beauty: What Is Your Worship Like?

Every gathering has purpose and organization, even if informally enacted, defined by the host or hosts.  If either is missing or not communicated, the gathering will devolve into bedlam or boredom unless the missing piece can be interjected.  Even worse, the purpose may be known but not adhered to because the host is not given his proper respect to preside over the gathering.  Corporate worship works in a similar way.  Given any Sunday morning, there are buildings wherein people come together for fellowship, prayer, praise, instruction, etc., but they may ignore the stated purpose, the host, or both.  What is the result of eschewing, by ignorance or design, the expectations of the assembly?

Attendees arrive with preconceived notions based on incomplete knowledge or attempting to apply experiences from other social gatherings.  Whatever the expectations, they will collide with reality if there is no understanding of the host's character and disposition.  Increased comprehension leads to an increased respect and desire toward the benefactor with the goal of close companionship.  Jason Braaten describes how we can fall short:
There could be a number of problems [for being bored in church], but the primary problem is us.  And what I mean by that is it's a failure to recognize who we are in church with.  It's a failure to recognize whose party we're at.

I have two young boys, and they love to play.  And particularly they love to play with me.  And they love to tackle and tickle.  They love to jump on my back.  And they love to swing from their arms in the air.  And we can do this for hours.  I'm bored because I'm doing the same thing over and over again.  But they never tire of it.  In fact, when once one boy's turn is over, they're immediately saying, "Let's do it again.  Can we do it again, Dad?"  And it's not because of what we're doing but who they're with.  I could be doing anything, and because they're with dad, that's all that matters.  And I think a similar thing goes on in church—that we come.… And we fail to remember who we are with—that we are gathered there with the Lord Jesus Christ, the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Issues, Etc., Interview, 3 Oct 2012

The nation of Judah had lapsed into a stupor such that the Lord accused of the priests, "But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it" (Mal 1:13).  New Covenant believers are not above this malady as evidenced by the lukewarm attitude of the Laodicean church (Rev 3:15-16).

Another reaction stems from disquietude fostered by personal aspirations antagonistic with the intent and comportment of the gathering.  The host's purpose may or may not be clearly known but is held up as a pseudo-standard of works to be accomplished, yet teaching and applying self-gratification and self-promotion.  The church of Corinth is prime biblical example of this as varied attempts within the body to be biblical in the practice of spiritual gifts and living free in Christ had culminated in activities the surrounding unbelievers would find reprehensible.

It is this type of church that receives the notoriety because of the bizarre or peculiar  methods being used.  Yet those who practice such things are ultimately doomed to fail because they are built around the pastor's ongoing work, rather than Jesus Christ's finished work.  Burnell Eckhart warns concerning these attempts in his October 2012 newsletter:
The defense of them is invariably stated in terms of Christian freedom.  We are free in Christ, they say; free from the law and its constraints.  Therefore when the law tells them to behave a certain way, they demonstrate their freedom from it behaving in a way that is inimical to that way.  See, we are free! such behavior would seem to say.  It all sounds increasingly familiar in our midst, in varying degrees and called by various names.

But we know that this is frankly not Christian freedom at all, since what these things tend to do is distract from the Gospel and its real attendant freedom from sin and condemnation. Such freedom is freedom from Christ, and it is not Christian freedom at all.
The last reaction to mention is the outgrowth of a people desiring to please the host by gathering as suits him and his instructions.  When Moses was receiving instructions for the tabernacle, furnishings, and utensils, the Lord gave specific instructions to make everything after the pattern he was giving (Exod 25:9, 40; Num 8:4).  In addition, the high priest was regaled in garments "for glory and for beauty" (Exod 28:2).  While the place of God's dwelling and those who ministered to him were to have direct responsibility for demonstrating his glory this way, it extended to the common people coming near as they were exhorted to worship "in the splendor of holiness" (1 Chr 16:29; Psa 29:2; 96:9).

These pictures show that every facet of worship is to be properly respected.  We do a disservice to God and unbelievers if worship is approached in a lackadaisical or careless manner.  Too many believers interpret Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
to mean that any worship practice is acceptable as long as we call it Christian and say it is for God.  Not so.  The Lord has given instruction and order concerning his holy things as we approach him in reverence and fear, lifting high the name of Jesus for saving work on the cross.  May our times of worship be demonstrating his glory alone.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Nation of Leeches

The leech has two daughters; "Give" and "Give," they cry.  (Prov 30:15)

As I study church history, the parallels between ancient Rome and the United States are obvious.  After the overthrow of monarchy, a constitutional republic with a representative senate was established with regular elections for heads of state.  Over time balance of power shifted to become centralized at the federal level in one person as one Caesar after another took more and more control under the guise of efficiency, necessity, or general welfare of the Pax Romana.

The glories of the old republic were trumpeted as ideals while society crumbled around them.  Morals waned as abortion, adultery, homosexuality, and violence were not just accepted but promoted.  Inflation increased at an increasing rate.  Coins were no longer minted from precious metals, but were mixed with slag.  More and more, people became dependent on the state for their welfare, so that taxes needed to increase to meet the demand.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It is this last point that Bill Muehlenberg addresses in his post on the entitlement mentatility.  He cites several of Founding Fathers who warned that the populace would figure out they could legislate a stipend and unwittingly enslave themselves to the government.  The quote that particularly hit home with me and prompted my comparison with Rome is this one from Cicero:
Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and given him triumphal processions.   Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the "new wonderful good society" which shall now be Rome’s, interpreted to mean "more money, more ease, more security, and more living fatly at the expense of the industrious."
Our nation's downward course was set when it began, not because those who established it were evil or wrong, but because they and all who followed them are sinners.  If it is to be reversed, it cannot be by legislation or human institutions however noble.  Only God, through his word faithfully taught and proclaimed, can accomplish this.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Introduction to Christian Liturgy – First Thoughts

I have read the first two chapters of Introduction to Christian Liturgy by Frank Senn and wanted to get out a thought or two on the book.  He does not limit the definition of liturgy to a high form as found in Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, etc. traditions but recognizes that all bodies of believers adhere to a liturgy of some form however loosely.

I was struck by the following:
All of the major Reformers—Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Jean Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, Olavus Petri—produced liturgical orders, sometimes two or more in which a development could be seen in their theological commitments and pastoral concerns. (p. 20)
Luther's German liturgy was familiar to me, but I was unaware of others, including that of the Anabaptists as documented by Balthasar Hubmaier.

Another point that jumped out was the legislation of liturgy in England.  These were the Acts of Uniformity which "required exclusive use of the Book of Common Prayer" (20).  Not surprisingly, this resulted in sudden disunity as various denominations rapidly splintered.  The reigning monarch might be the official head of the Church of England as its defender, but when the state oversteps its bounds, it cannot expect the church to continue in subservience.

I do question his heavy attribution of Roman influence in the early church.  He sees their worship designed more from culture than from scripture.  I do not altogether downplay the influence, but he seems to be intent on using that as a springboard to pursue cultural adaptation, rather than the God's word, as the driver for proper worship.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Unbelievers Don't Attend Church

The reason why unbelievers don't attend church is because they're dead in trespasses and sins, NOT because churches aren't entertaining. (see Eph 2:1–3)
Chris Rosebrough, 3 Nov 2013

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Not Inheriting the Kingdom of God

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (Gal 5:19-21)

I listened to a message recently that equated inheritance in the kingdom of God with the fullness of Christian reward with the net effect that believers who practice such things will lose out and be saved "though as through fire" (1 Cor 3:15).*  While this thesis bolsters the doctrine of Eternal Security, it forces an unwarranted interpretation on the plain text.  In this section Paul is admonishing and exhorting the Galatian believers to "walk according to the Spirit."  For effect he intersperses warnings to not "bite and devour" or indulge in other sinful practices, which is a characteristic of those who will not inherit the kingdom (i.e., unbelievers).

The clarification can be found by examining the words used.  Paul writes that the fleshly characteristics are found among those who do them.  The Greek (πράσσοντες) can be translated this way, but
is the verb for habitual practice…, not ποιω for occasional doing.  The habit of these sins is proof that one is not in the Kingdom of God and will not inherit it.†
As a result there appears to be no possibility to confuse these practitioners of fleshly works with true believers, who are manifest by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) having crucified the flesh (Gal 5:24).  The early church had this understanding as well:
  • Irenaeus, Against Heresies, VI.3 – Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the “most perfect” among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that “they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • Tertullian, Against Marcion, V.10 – Therefore, when exhorting them to cherish the hope of heaven, he says: “As we have borne the image of the earthy, so let us also bear the image of the heavenly,”—language which relates not to any condition of resurrection life, but to the rule of the present time.  He says, Let us bear, as a precept; not We shall bear, in the sense of a promise—wishing us to walk even as he himself was walking, and to put off the likeness of the earthly, that is, of the old man, in the works of the flesh.  For what are this next words?  “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”  He means the works of the flesh and blood, which, in his Epistle to the Galatians, deprive men of the kingdom of God.
  • Nemesianus of Thubunae, Seventh Council of Carthage – Therefore, whatsoever things all heretics and schismatics do are carnal, as the apostle says: “For the works of the flesh are manifest, which are, fornications, uncleannesses, incest, idolatries, witchcrafts, hatreds, contentions, jealousy, anger, divisions, heresies, and the like to these; concerning which have told you before, as I also foretell you now, that whoever do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”  And thus the apostle condemns, with all the wicked, those also who cause division, that is, schismatics and heretics.
  • John Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians 5 – Answer me now, you who accuse your own flesh and suppose that this is said of it as of an enemy and adversary.  Let it be allowed that adultery and fornication proceed, as you assert, from the flesh; yet hatred, variance, emulations, strife, heresies, and witchcraft, these arise merely from a depraved moral choice.  And so it is with the others also, for how can they belong to the flesh?  You observe that he is not here speaking of the flesh, but of earthly thoughts, which trail upon the ground.  Wherefore also he alarms them by saying, that “they which practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”  If these things belonged to nature and not to a bad moral choice, his expression, “they practice,” is inappropriate, it should be, “they suffer.”  And why should they be cast out of the kingdom, for rewards and punishments relate not to what proceeds from nature but from choice?‡
What of Corinth?
Those who know their Bibles typically raise questions about the church in Corinth, since many of the above fleshly works were active in that church, causing no end of pain and work for Paul as he attempted to correct the errors.  Were those who engaged in them unbelievers?  Possibly, but the error in Corinth was a reckless misuse of spiritual things in the name of freedom, while the Galatians were being enticed to overly regulate or control that freedom.  Both groups were assuming their course demonstrated spiritual maturity, but both led away from the truth.  The problems in Corinth were specific in nature and could be addressed by pointed correction.  In Galatia, the foundation of their salvation was being undermined, so that Paul needed to make the broad comparison between flesh and Spirit.

In the end, Paul is not accusing the Galatians of practicing the works of flesh, though they may be certainly present in some occasional form, but building a case to broadly illustrate how they were trying to use the flesh to fulfill the work of the Spirit, denying Christ's sufficiency and placing ultimate completion of salvation on what I can accomplish—a hopeless endeavor.

*  I know of this interpretation having read The Reign of the Servant Kings by Joseph Dillow, Schoettle Publishing Company, Miami Springs, FL 33266.

† A. W. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament.

‡ A little background may be helpful.  Chrysostom is arguing against those who were teaching a dualism of of man's flesh and spirit.  He concludes that this is improper and whatever one claims for the origin of the sins in life, the practice of those prevents us from the kingdom.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Luther Against the Self-Indulgences of the Modern Church

For this Reformation Day, Carl Trueman provides a realistic look at Martin Luther compared to the self-aggrandizing that has become so common in the modern church.  Here are the main points, which are explained further in his post.
Thesis One: Martin Luther saw church leadership as primarily marked by servanthood.

Thesis Two: Martin Luther understood worship as rooted in repentance.

Thesis Three: Martin Luther did not care for the myth of cultural influence nor for the prerequisite cultural swagger necessary to catch the attention of the great and good.

Thesis Four: Luther saw suffering as a mark of the true church.

Thesis Five: Martin Luther was pastorally sensitive to the cherished practices of older Christians.

Thesis Six: Luther did not agree to differ on matters of importance and thus to make them into practical trivia.

Thesis Seven: Luther saw the existence of the ordained ministry as a mark of the church.

Thesis Eight: Luther saw the problem of a leadership accountable only to itself.

Thesis Nine: Luther thought very little of his own literary contribution to Christianity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teach Chastity, Not Abstinence

Matt Richard has posted a one-page article on the benefits of teaching chastity rather than abstinence.  Here is one paragraph.
The teaching of chastity doesn’t limit itself to a mere line in the sand that is intended to only bind sexual actions before marriage but rather it comprehensively addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of sexually purity in all aspects of life.  Furthermore, where abstinence only addresses those that are single before marriage, the teaching of chastity speaks to everyone; youth, adults, single people and those that are married.  It speaks about fidelity, purity and the sacredness of sex in view of the way God graciously anticipated intimacy to be.
Download the PDF here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Loving God and Neighbor

Sorry for my absence.  What a busy week for my job!

Something struck me as Aaron was preaching this past Sunday on Galatians 5:13-18—the section "through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

The first thing I notice is that Paul says the the law is fulfilled in the one word or command.  This is puzzling because Jesus explicitly stated that the law is summed up in two commands:
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."  (Matt 22:37-40)
Some might think that there is a disconnect between Jesus and Paul in their understanding of the Law, but if we look at the original Mosaic context, this disappears.  First, as pertains to God:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (Deut 6:4-9)
Moses has just recounted the Ten Commandments and wants to drive home the main point: YHWH is the only true God, so love to him is demonstrated by learning and understanding his righteous demands, then teaching them to others.

Then there is the command concerning neighbors:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.  (Lev 19:17-18)
God has been giving instruction on how to treat other people: treat them like you would treat yourself in the same circumstance.

The conclusion I get from these passages on God and men are driving at the same thing: give honor and respect as accords with the recipient.  In the end, what Jesus and Paul said in the New Testament were in agreement as to where these commands applied.  Loving God or neighbor does not entail some mystical, esoteric spirituality but are deserving of their due based on who they are; and it is incumbent on you to bestow what is appropriate, when appropriate.

We both know that neither of us is there yet.  We do not keep these consistently, but that does not weaken the obligation.  What improvement that comes in this life does so only as the Holy Spirit works through us using the word of God, or using Paul's words: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." (Gal 5:16)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Heresy Begets Heresy

That cults and sects borrow teaching from other aberrant groups should come as no surprise.  Scott Diekmann at Standing Firm has posted a bit of such history with a link between Benjamin Wilson (acquaintance of John Thomas, founder of Christadelphians)* and the Jehovah's Witnesses in that Charles Taze Russell of the latter group bought the rights to a Wilson's Bible interlinear to disseminate as their scriptures until the New World Translation was published in 1961.

Each of these historic figures was involved in the 19th-century movement to restore the church to its pristine state by going back to the Bible without the benefit of historical teaching or creeds.  In doing so, each of these, along with other notables of the era, established error rather than purity.  This serves as a warning for us today: new teaching does not equate to true teaching.

* Wilson would later co-founder of the Church of God of Abrahamic Faith.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mother and Child: Joined but Separate

I was listening to a podcast discussion on inherited sin which stimulated some divergent thoughts.  We start by defining inherited sin.  The following comes from Sid Litke at
1. Definitions:
- Inherited sin is simply “the sinful state into which all people are born” (Ryrie). We have a constant bent toward sin.
- Inherited sin is also called the “sin nature” (it affected our entire being), and it is called “original sin” (emphasizing that Adam’s sin caused the corrupted nature we each inherit).
- “Total depravity” is a related term expressing our total lack of merit in God’s sight. Total depravity does not mean we are as “bad” as we can be but that we are as “bad off” as we can be because we all have a totally sinful nature.
2. Scripture
- Psalm 51:5 “…in sin my mother conceived me.”
- Ephesians 2:3 “…by nature children (objects) of wrath”
- Our emotions (Romans 1:26), our intellect Romans 1:28) and our will (Romans 7:20) are all enslaved to sin and opposed to God.
3. Penalty.
The penalty of inherited sin is spiritual death. Man is born spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:3) and will be eternally separated from God in hell if our sinful condition is not remedied (Revelation 20:11-15).
This accurately describes the doctrine, but there is a question that invariably arises: what about Jesus, since he was born of a woman?  The question is legitimate, because the sin nature is passed from parent to child without interruption.  One solution I have heard more than once is that the Holy Spirit miraculously intervened so that the sin nature would not be passed to Jesus.  It is an explanation, but there is no support for it.  Scripture simply gives no such explanation, not that God has to give one, but we should base doctrine on factual statements when available rather than inferences or logical conclusions.

Another solution appears to be more workable.  While Adam was clearly made from in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27), Adam's descendents are said to come forth in his image and likeness (Gen 5:3).  This supports the idea that inheritance of sin comes through the man, so that, though woman inherits sin, she does not pass that nature to her offspring.  If sin is inherited from the father, there is no logical requirement for sin to also come through the mother.

If this explanation holds there are two immediate applications.  The first is that Roman Catholics did not need to develop the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.  There was no need for Mary to be sinless before Jesus was born.  Nothing of Jesus' nature needed protection since sin would not be inherited through her.

The second application touches more than points of doctrine and goes to the diverging thought I had.  Even though the baby is living in the mother's womb, they are individual people, though nutrients and waste are sent back and forth between mother and child.  And though ingested foods and chemicals carried in some form via the bloodstream to the baby, there is ample clinical evidence of mothers developing conditions that did not directly affect him or her.  They are separate, distinct living human beings regardless of the question of viability outside the womb.

If my scriptural basis and logic is correct (and feel free to correct me), the obvious ramification is that a woman can talk about the right to do with her body as she pleases, but in the end she has no right to kill the child.  It is living within the mother but is not the mother.  The two are bound by an intimate connection, but they are still two.  No amount of rationalization can alter this.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rely on Christ's Perfect Submission

There are some implications to this submission.  By placing ourselves underneath the authority and rule of God, this also means that you and I are to be a servant of all!  In submission to God we are to live in humility, humility that demands that we place ourselves in service to those around us.  In humility we are to serve our friends, fellow employees at work, our family and stranger with all that we have.  This is especially true in how we speak of others.  We are called to put the best construction on others for when we speak evil of another person we are showing a lack of love and a lack of humility.  When we speak evil of another, this is portraying an attitude that says that we are equal to God’s position of authority.

So, my friends, how are you doing with this?  How are you doing at submitting to God, walking in humility, and denying yourself?  Are you 50% there, maybe 60% there?  Also, how has your consistency been?  Keep in mind that James calls for complete submission.  He is not watering this submission idea down.  There is no room for mediocrity.  So how are you doing?… Therefore, hear the Gospel.  You and I who … fail to submit to God have been forgiven by the Christ, who submitted perfectly to the Father on our behalf.  You and I are forgiven by a Savior who submitted Himself to the penalty of sin which is death on a cross.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Adding to Grace Is Falling from Grace

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.  (Galatians 5:2-6)

Judaizers had been working overtime to nullify the effects of the gospel in the lives of the Galatian believers.  Promoting obligatory external manifestation of God's working in these Gentile believers, they had been successful in turning hearts by adding to what God had accomplished in the cross of Jesus.  No longer was the atoning sacrifice sufficient.  These believers were being taught that, though baptism was a public repudiation of the past life and a declaration of faith in the Lord Jesus, it no longer buried someone with Christ to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4).  Circumcision was now the required addition to complete the work of salvation.

According to the Galatians passage, the reverse is true.  When we add to grace, we actually fall from grace.  When we attempt to complete a finished work, Christ is no longer the all-sufficient sacrifice.  He is not the offering who removes our sin from us.  Much as the recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews were former Jews tempted to return to their sacrifices, the Galatians were pushed to confirm that Jesus' suffering and death was not able to cover their sin and take the same Old Covenant path.

This is no small matter.  Above, Paul speaks of those who take would circumcision as "severed from Christ" and "fallen away from grace."  These are serious words.  A. T. Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament) writes that these have made their identification with Christ "null and void" and "left the sphere of grace in Christ" to took a stand "in the sphere of law as your hope of salvation."  He goes on to say:
Paul does not mince words and carries the logic to the end of the course.  He is not, of course, speaking of occasional sins, but he has in mind a far more serious matter, that of substituting law for Christ as the agent in salvation.
Clearly, Paul marks those who now want to take circumcision—not stating that any had already taken this step but is warning against this act of apostasy—as fully turning their backs on the grace of God found in Christ Jesus and as those of whom "it is impossible to restore again to repentance … since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt" (Heb 6:4-6).  They have no further recourse for salvation after abandoning the redemption and reconciliation won by Jesus.

Conversely, those who live by grace through faith are "eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness" through the Holy Spirit.  They live in full assurance that what Christ promised and won on the cross is waiting for them in the final resurrection.  Let us then hold fast our confession of faith (Heb 4:14).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Looking Forward to the Perfect

For one and the same Lord, who is greater than the temple, greater than Solomon, and greater than Jonah, confers gifts upon men, that is, His own presence, and the resurrection from the dead.  But He does not change God, nor proclaim another Father, but that very same one, who always has more to measure out to those of His household.  And as their love towards God increases, He bestows more and greater [gifts], as also the Lord said to His disciples: “You shall see greater things than these.”  And Paul declares: “Not that I have already attained, or that I am justified, or already have been made perfect.… For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect has come, the things which are in part shall be done away.”

As, therefore, when that which is perfect is come, we shall not see another Father, but Him whom we now desire to see (for “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”); neither shall we look for another Christ and Son of God, but Him who [was born] of the Virgin Mary, who also suffered, in whom too we trust, and whom we love; as Isaiah says: “And they shall say in that day, Behold our Lord God, in whom we have trusted, and we have rejoiced in our salvation;” and Peter says in his Epistle: “Whom, not seeing, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not, you have believed, you rejoice with joy unspeakable;” neither do we receive another Holy Spirit, besides Him who is with us, and who cries, “Abba, Father.”  And we shall make increase in the very same things, and shall make progress, so that no longer through a glass, or by means of enigmas, but face to face, we shall enjoy the gifts of God;—so also now, receiving more than the temple, and more than Solomon, that is, the advent of the Son of God, we have not been taught another God besides the Framer and the Maker of all, who has been pointed out to us from the beginning; nor another Christ, the Son of God, besides Him who was foretold by the prophets.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.9.2

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Contending for the Faith Is Contentious

In the 13 Sep 2012 podcast of The God Whisperers (episode 197), Bill Cwirla and Craig Donofrio discuss how doctrinal conflicts are resolved within their own denomination.  Bill Cwirla begins the segment by asking, "What's our approach to making peace?"  (Listen to the 1:40 clip here.)

Did that sound familiar?  You probably have relived that in some form.  Outside the Christian realm this is expected.  American culture now demands an intolerably high level of tolerance making any type of disagreement either an attack on the civil liberties of whatever societal group with whom the offended person identifies, or a postmodern pleasure-fest allowing each to define his own truth and reality.  People variously react to conflict, but the goal is always the same—defend myself regardless of how indefensible my position.  This self-centeredness has taken a prominent place in the American psyche, such that people have become incapable of debate, and logical reasoning quickly gives way to logical fallacy or ad hominem.

But how do we react within the community of the King of Kings?  Referring back to the sound clip, that scenario has  become the default mode of groups of Christians that fear the thought of conflict within their organizations as paramount to gross sin.  If an spiritual overseer speaks or acts contrarily to God's word in an effort to draw crowds and is rightly criticized for doing so, the standard retort has been to label the God-fearing critic as a loser or hater.  There is no attempt at talking through the issues as brethren in Christ with open Bible in hand.

Next is the situation where a Bible teacher delivers heretical doctrine, but instead of drawing people in, the intent is to expand the mind of the listener to the truths discovered through research, rigorous or otherwise, in a professorial manner for the common good.  This is worse because we are quick to give someone with academic intent more leniency, until we find ourselves wrapped in a web of deceit.  This one will dismiss criticism with an air of superiority, since the objector simply does not understand the subtle complexities, and the critic often goes away berated, assuming the inferior status is warranted.

What happens when overseers who actively go about caring for the flock, innocently begin to teach error or what you believe to be error?  The first reaction should be for the listener to question whether or not he heard correctly.  Then go listen to the teaching again, if recorded, ask what was stated and intended, or both.  At this point there should be freedom to clearly state the biblical mandate and work through to a commonly agreed understanding.

Lastly, there are those who are not believers but present themselves as the holders of true Christianity.  The problem might even be compounded by the fact are members in good standing of your congregation, or worse, leading it.  While this might not be true, the proper action is identical: these need to be confronted quickly and vigorously.

These last two cases—erring overseer and ravenous wolf— especially require a strategy for engagement.  One simply does not contend for the faith haphazardly.  A four-part method used during the Reformation given in the podcast above is helpful for the task.
  • 1.  State the controversy.  There must be stated points all parties understand are at issue, otherwise nothing can be started, much less resolved.  Opposing parties must clearly state what is being taught.
  • 2.  Define the terms.  Quite often no true progress is made because the same words are used but with different meanings.  Words can have completely different meanings for each side of a controversy.  Agreements will be made to statements that have different meanings to the differing parties.  For example, cults will use Christian terms but supply their own definitions.  Also, do not assume two Christians are using their terms the same way.
  • 3.  State the Theses.  What do you believe?  Share the points in plain language.
  • 4.  State clearly what you do not believe.  This is equally important, because it clarifies the points being made and reduces the risk of being led to a side discussion.  Often times this step is not used, because it is not for the fainthearted.  Conflicting points may not only need to be rejected but unequivocally condemned as well.
Contending for the faith is never-ending work, often with little or no immediate gratitude or reward.  Believers can grow weary of continually defending the faith.  These should be encouraged to consider the Lord Jesus "who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted"  (Heb 12:3).  Some continue in adversity to the point of death understanding what it means to "participate in the fellowship of his sufferings" (Phil 3:10).  But for those who endure, there is the promised crown of life (James 1:12; Rev 2:10).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hymns Against Heresy

I have never seen a hymn written as an apologetic against heresy, but Ephrem of Syria was so moved in Against Heresies, Hymn 22 as  translated by Adam C. McCollum.  I share two verses that dwell on God's truth.

Like the form of the alphabet,
Which is complete in its parts —
It lacks no letter,
Nor does it add another —
So, too, is the truth written
In the holy Gospel
With the letters of the alphabet,
A perfect measure that admits
Neither lack nor surplus.
Response: Blessed is your image that is in the alphabet!

Quite despised is gold to our king,
Who does not stamp his image in money;
In a human being, the one greater than all,
Our Savior stamps his beauty.
Who[ever] has believed in the name of God
Receives the stamp of God,
But if he has called himself by the name of a human being,
Then he receives a human stamp,
Because he despises the living name.
Response: Blessed is the one who has chosen us by his names!

The whole hymn is worth reading and can be viewed or downloaded here and here.  You will notice that Ephrem has no qualms about naming names.  I can only imagine how others could have been added had this been written today.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Real Problem, Real Solution

Jesus' account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-35) is rather well-known among church attenders, but how often have we stopped to analyze what it was that condemned the rich man to Hades?  Of course there was sin, but what in the account points at the real issue?  What can be pointed to as the key factor?

One possibility is that the man's riches may have been accumulated through ill-gotten means as Zacchaeus freely admitted (Luke 19:8).  This is a possibility, but we no nothing of the man's occupation or his ancestry, since it could have been largely inherited.  And any act of outright theft would have been brought to justice.

Some would say the sin was the very accumulation of wealth.  This view says that everyone should share alike regardless of who produces or accumulates wealth, and doing so hurts the poor—the very thing God-fearing people are not to do.  Yet the Bible does not say that wealth is a sin, but the love of it (1 Tim 6:10).  We are not told in the text that he loved his money, only that he lived in luxury.

Others will say he was living too well and was probably displaying his wealth for prestige in the community or to influence others.  And yet the account says nothing of intent, only that he spent money on himself, which could be a sign of coveting, but we know he allowed Lazarus to beg at his gate, showing a measure of compassion.

While any of these are possibilities for the rich man's condemnation, the truth does not manifest itself until almost the end.  Both men find themselves beyond the grave, now experiencing the fruit of their lives on earth.  The rich man cries out for relief and is guaranteed by Abraham none is forthcoming.  Changing tactics, he pleads for his brothers so they do not meet the same fate and is rebuffed: "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them."

And now we come to the rich man's core problem.  What does he say?  "No!  Your word is not good enough."  Imagine that.  The word that called into being all things (Rom 4:17), the word that will not return void but will accomplish all that is purposed (Isa 55:11), the word that is living and abiding (1 Pet 1:23); the word that is living and active (Heb 4:12), that word is deemed incapable of turning a man to repentance.

What does the rich man ask for instead?  What is his solution?  It is a familiar one commonly used today—a gimmick and testimony.  The thought is that if something impacts the senses and sensibilities of an audience, then they will be moved to turn from their ways, but this tactic relies on man's manipulation of another man to be effective and cannot last being based on temporal, subjective experiences.  American Evangelicals have a propensity for this tactic.  Not trusting God to do what he promised, men and women dress up or disguise the gospel with features so that the substance is never considered, only the externals.

The true and correct means to bring men to repentance remains the word of God.  That word that is living and active came into this world and put on flesh and blood (John 1:1-14).  It is that word who was put to death and was raised and now is the sole power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16).

My thanks to Brian Wolfmueller whose sermon of 6 Jun 2010 gave me the idea for this post.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Faithful Assembly Fears God

Heretics chase after the latest ideas and fads, thus promoting human wisdom above God's.  A faithful assembly has at its core the fear of God in all things.

It has also been a subject of remark, how extremely frequent is the intercourse which heretics hold with magicians, with mountebanks, with astrologers, with philosophers; and the reason is, that they are men who devote themselves to curious questions.  “Seek, and you shall find,” is everywhere in their minds.  Thus, the quality of their faith may be estimated from the very nature of their conduct.  In their discipline we have an index of their doctrine.  They say that God is not to be feared; therefore all things are in their view free and unchecked.  However, where is God not feared, except where He is not?  Where God is not, there truth also is not.  Where there is no truth, then, naturally enough, there is also such a discipline as theirs.  But where God is, there exists “the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.”  Where the fear of God is, there is seriousness, an honorable and yet thoughtful diligence, as well as an anxious carefulness and a well-considered admission [to the sacred ministry] and a safely-guarded* communion, and promotion after good service, and a scrupulous submission [to authority], and a devout attendance, and a modest gait, and a united church, and God in all things.

Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 43

* Deliberata – where the character was well-weighed previous to admission to the eucharist.