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.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Outsider Gets It

But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.… And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.  (Matthew 8:8-10, 13)

But I ask you to take note how [the centurion] signified that Christ is able both to overcome even death as a slave, and to command it as its master.  For in saying, “come, and he comes,” and “go, and he goes,” he expresses this: “If You should command his end not to come upon him, it will not come.”

Do you see how he believed?  For that which was afterwards manifest to all—that He has power both of death and of life, and leads down to the gates of hell, and brings up again—here is already made evident by the centurion.… But nevertheless, though having such great faith, he still accounted himself to be unworthy.  Christ however, signifying that he was worthy to have Him enter into his house, did much greater things, marveling at him, and acclaiming him, and giving more than he had asked.  For he came indeed seeking for his servant bodily health, but went away, having received a kingdom.  Do you see how the saying had been already fulfilled, “Seek the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.”*  For, because he showed great faith, and lowliness of mind, He both gave him heaven, and added unto him health.

And not by this alone did He honor him, but also by signifying upon whose casting out he is brought in.  For now from this time forth He proceeds to make known to all, that salvation is by faith, not by works of the law.  And this is why not to Jews only, but to Gentiles also the gift so given shall be proffered, and to the latter rather than to the former.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, 26.4-5

* Matthew 6:33

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What Does This Confess?

In the Fall 2012 edition of Issues, Etc. Journal, Todd Wilken has written an essay, "Behind the Music: The REAL Worship War," on the true reason behind the battles concerning worship music and practice.  He writes from a Lutheran perspective comparing the historic liturgy to contemporary innovations being foisted on LCMS congregations, so a direct application may not be possible, but the points raised are useful to the church catholic.
When staring up the barrel of worship war artillery, those countless and relentless changes and innovations to Sunday morning worship, just ask a simple question: What does this confess?

The worship war is about doctrine.  Doctrine is teaching.  So, what does the pastor’s latest new idea for worship teach?  What does it confess?  What is the new idea’s, the new practice’s Doctrine?  What will we be teaching and confessing if we do this?

Before the lead singer steps into the spotlight, before the guitar sounds its first power-chord, the question must be asked.  What does this confess?  Before the house lights dim or the video splash screen rolls, ask: What does this teach?  Before we lift our eyes to the big screens or our voices in another Hillsong or Casting Crowns chorus, ask: What are we teaching and confessing with this? (10)
I and others have raised the same basic questions concerning the use of "Praise & Worship" music during morning worship: what doctrines do they teach?  This tends to be the unasked question when these songs are selected for use.  Ancillary to that is a less-considered question: what does the presentation or implementation of this music teach?  New style of music is not really the issue, but the standard accompaniment of CCM music is the downplay of law, gospel, doctrine, etc. and has over time caused Christians to think "the worship war is about music because, after 50 years of the worship war, music is all that is left."

Without understanding that the real issue is doctrine, we reduce the argument to the experience perceived.
Did it feel right?  Did it make me feel better?  Did I like it?  Did it move me?  When your criteria for deciding whether the worship was good is the same used to decide whether your U2 concert tickets were worth the $250 you paid for them, something is wrong. (14-15)
Every person engaged in music ministry, every elder in the local assembly needs to evaluate the message of what is sung as a regular part of the worship time or specially performed for specific occasions and ask the question Todd Wilken asks: "What does this confess?"

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why Christians Vote

There are several reasons for Christians to vote whenever given the opportunity.  This year, however, I have read a rather unique and compelling reason to cast a ballot on November 6th in a brief post by Todd Wilken.
Why does a Christian vote?  A Christian doesn’t vote for the same reason the unbeliever votes.

A Christian doesn’t vote because it’s his right.  That’s why the unbeliever votes.  For the Christian, his own rights have nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to get his way.  That’s also why the unbeliever votes.  For the Christian, getting his way has nothing to do with it.

A Christian doesn’t vote to protect his own interests.  For the Christian, his own interests have nothing to do with it.

A Christian votes to serve his neighbor—period.

A Christian votes because he is called to do so by the needs of his neighbor.  This means that a Christian will sometimes vote against his own rights, his own way and his own self-interest; but always in favor of his neighbor and his needs.  At the ballot box, the neighbor comes first.

On election day, don’t vote like an unbeliever.  Make your vote count … for your neighbor.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Not Getting It the First Time

In John 4:43-54 we read the account of Jesus heading into Galilee, back to the city of Cana.  While there he is approached by an official of Capernaum whose boy is ill to the point of death.  The man asks Jesus to come to his house but instead of going, he did something better.
He simply sends the nobleman on his way, but with the message of hope and healing: "Go … your son lives."  And here suddenly we meet for the first time the word "believe:" "the man believed" "(v. 50).

But the word appears again later, as in conclusion: "And he himself believed" (v. 53).  This was considerably later, however, only after the journey northeast to Capernaum, only after his servants had told him that his son had gotten better precisely in that same hour of utmost need when Jesus spoke His Word.  Then "he himself believed."  In other words, the first "he believed" was not the faith, but rather a juncture on the way.…

This reading is evidence that even faith often comes to precisely those people on the periphery, at the outer limits, and that God's loving miracles often occur not "for the sake of faith," that is, faith that is already present, but rather confront, even wallop, a person so that he or she is shoved or dragged forward to the faith, the saving faith—saving because it received God's saving gifts.
Eric Andrae, sermon on John 4:46-54, Gottesdienst, Vol 20:3

I was struck when this sermon pointed out the timing and scope of the two mentions of the man's faith.  In Jesus' presence, he hears a promise and leaves believing the certainty of what was said.  There was no reason to doubt this man of God would effect a change in is son's condition.  That was good enough: he got what he came for though without a definite time when the son would be healed.

We might expect him to think there would be gradual improvement over a period of time, but when he got close to home the next day, the servants relayed that the son's condition turned around at the hour when Jesus spoke the word.  Now he really believes.  What had been the day before, an acknowledgment that a miracle worker was in their presence, was suddenly turned into believing faith that this Jesus was without doubt sent from God.  He was greater than first thought and could be trusted fully in all matters of life, both here and hereafter.  What began as a request to get someone over the hump of a serious illness became the vehicle for the entire household to be saved.

This pretty well undercuts the entire mantra that miracles only happen to those with greatest faith, which is rampant in the Word of Faith movement.  Yes, the official thought the trip might be worth the trouble, but he was probably grasping for any hope available.  We cannot even say he was a Jew, much less a God-fearing one.

What we have in this account is an example of the Lord extending his mercy upon his creatures to bring them to faith.  God does that regularly, though it is often so subtle we miss it until after the fact.  We overlook the bestowal of his goodness and end up presuming "the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience … meant to lead you to repentance" (Rom 2:4).  Here, though, the end was life, not just for the son who was physically ill, but for the entire house who needed a Savior from sin.

Trying to Fix What's Not Broken

There is an opinion piece by Michael Brooks at The Christian Post entitled "Does the Gospel Need Innovation?"  Americans love to tinker—even (or especially) with the gospel.  I recommend the read.  Here is the summary paragraph:
Just because the Gospel's message is something many, even the revisionists, do not want to hear or buy-into, does not mean it lacks relevance.  Relevance is not always determined by pragmatic efficiency, or driven by wants of the masses.  Sometimes it is determined by the efficacy of truth contained.  While this may be lost on an age craving for something new and innovative at every turn, its purveyor must remain committed.  The Gospel does not need innovation.  Rather, humanity needs realignment, and the Church needs to reevaluate its commitment to promoting such ends, instead of innovating a product devoid of defect.