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.