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.