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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Evolution and the Gallery of Glory 

If evolution is correct, then the violence, suffering, and gore of the animal world has raged since time immemorial. And if the theistic evolutionists are correct, then this violence, suffering, and gore are part of God’s very good creation. Conceivably, Adam leaves his cabin in Eden one pleasant summer evening as the sun casts a golden swath across the meadow, the fragrance of perfection in the air enhanced by the river’s peaceful rush. He takes out his pipe and stuffs it with “the tender herb,” plucked from “where the morning sun first warmly smote the open field.” Eve joins him with a cup of tea, and together they delight in the scene before them, “breathing the smell of field and grove.” Across the water a moose screams as it’s rectally disemboweled by a pack of wolves. Adam takes a long, slow draw from his pipe, savours the cool smoke, turns to Eve with a contented smile and together they chat about the many pleasures of Paradise.
Evolution and the Gallery of Glory, Jeremy de Haan

Agents Provocateurs 

In the civil rights era, there were accusations that the FBI and CIA used what are called “agents provocateurs,” meaning that they infiltrated various protest groups with secret agents whose job was to discredit the organization by starting riots and engaging in violence and vandalism in the name of the group, turning public opinion away from it.  I have heard the same charges made by liberal Occupy Wall Street groups, as well as Tea Party groups, who would talk of suspicious people that nobody knew showing up with ridiculous racist signs in order to make the Tea Party look racist.

I am not interested here in the truth or falsity of any specific accusation.  But it’s clear that such tactics have been used.  And it would be effective.  Why would an enemy of a movement not use such tactics to discredit such a movement?

When we think about church history, likewise, it is very helpful to remember that Jesus Christ has an enemy as well that is desperate to destroy His movement, and will not stop at anything to do so.  History is full of the occasions when Satan has used direct force.  But wouldn’t it likewise be a very effective tactic in the war against Christianity to have lots of double agents, people who looked like Christians, called themselves Christians, but acted in ways that brought shame on the name of Christ?
For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. (2Jo 1:7 NKJ)

For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. (Tit 1:10-11 NKJ)

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (2Pe 2:1-2 NKJ)

Note that verse from 2 Peter especially.  As a result of the “many” that would follow their destructive ways, the true way would be blasphemed.

Studying church history has both broadened and narrowed my view of the faith.  On the one hand, it’s given me a great appreciation for traditions of Christianity outside of my own, and it has helped me see myself and my church as part of a much greater movement.  At the same time, it has made me realize that the true church, in the sense of those who truly believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, have always been a minority in the church, sometimes a small minority.  There were always many who were part of the church for bad reasons.  Even while the persecutions were going on under Rome, there were various heretical sects that denied the real humanity of Christ, or fell into other grievous errors.

The reason this has often been a challenge for me is that if my Protestant Reformed faith is correct, especially on the point of justification by faith alone, then a great majority of the rest of the church is false.  It was and is hard for me to accept that such a large proportion of the church of Jesus Christ has lost the true faith.  But when I remember that the church has an enemy, a very clever, crafty enemy, then this becomes much easier for me to understand.  Would it not be an effective tactic to discredit the truth of the gospel for there to be many of those who claim to follow Christ, but have a corrupted version of that gospel?  And a clever enemy, with the resources at his disposal that our enemy has, might use that tactic at multiple levels.  There might be groups that were obviously heretical, denying core doctrines of the faith.  There might be other groups who departed from the truth on a more subtle level, holding to many of the historic truths of the faith like the Trinity and the incarnation, and yet undermined the gospel by denying justification by faith alone.  There might also be those that actually confessed all the right doctrines, but engaged in wickedness and immorality in their personal lives.  This, combined with the continuing sinfulness of the saints themselves as seen in their own personal failures and disagreements about doctrine, would all lead to a great deal of confusion.

And it is an effective tactic.  One common attack against those who advocate for the doctrine of justification by faith alone is that the majority of the church for its whole history has not accepted this doctrine.  And that is probably true.  Similarly, the majority of the church for most of its history has believed in the physical presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the supper.  The majority of the church has believed in one sense or another that baptism works saving grace of itself.  And many Protestants can be discouraged and embarrassed by the fact that they are in the minority.  Even within the Protestant world, the multiplication of sects and doctrines has guaranteed that almost no belief is held by a majority of those who at least outwardly claim the name of Christ.  Many Protestants desire to eliminate this embarrassment by some kind of greater outward unity; many work for mergers with other denominations, or even reunification with Rome, in order to present a more unified front to the world.  This was actually the reason for the erection of the rule of bishops in the first place, so that the church would have a unified figure to point to that would provide an authoritative witness against the heretics.

This should not surprise us, though.  The Apostles all told us that this would happen.  Jesus told us that this would happen as well (Matthew 13:22-23).  In Revelation 2-3, when Jesus sends letters to the seven representative churches, only two of those churches are really faithful and uncompromised with error.

But when warning us about this problem, the Apostles never point us to some external magisterium.  They never point us to a continuing apostleship, or the bishop of Rome, or the collective decision of most of the churches, or anything like that.  They point us to the Scriptures.  And they point us to the witness of the Spirit that would remind us of the truth.  They tell us to watch, and pray, to test the Spirits, to remember the words of the apostles, to hold fast to the gospel. Paul tells us that if another apostle or even an angel in heaven comes with a different gospel than the one he came with, to let him be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9).

We are historic Christians.  We believe Jesus promised that His true church would always be on earth, and it always has.  We believe that God made us to be in community, that the Spirit of God was not given to us alone as individuals, but to His church, and we should therefore learn from the church, both historically and in our own day.  But this does not remove from us the obligation of recognizing that a lot of what might look like the church at first glance might not actually be the church, but a counterfeit, an “agent provocateur,” tares sown by the devil to deceive and confuse, to undermine and embarrass the true church.

So let us hold fast.  Do not be discouraged by the majority opinions.  Do not be surprised by the confusion of doctrines, by the presence of many deceivers, by many who look close to the truth but who deny it at core points.  The greatest danger of these many deceivers, I believe, is that true believers will look at this great number of those who call themselves Christians and yet deny the gospel of Jesus Christ, and think to themselves that for the sake of the unity of the visible church they will deny it themselves, or at least to deny the importance of holding to that gospel, which comes to the same thing.  As helpful as the creeds and confessions and writings of the fathers and the witness of history is, at the end of the day the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, laid on Christ Himself, and no other foundation can be laid.  Whatever is not of that foundation must be rejected.  The witness of the apostles and prophets we have in the Scriptures, and the witness of Christ we have in the Spirit that He sends to all His elect.  So let us pray for that Spirit, that we would have discernment.  Let us not be ashamed of the name of Christ, regardless of what the devil does.  And let us hold fast to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ no matter what the devil says or does.

We cannot see into people’s hearts.  I am not advocating here that we denounce all who disagree with us at any point as agents of Satan.  We cannot know who those agents are.  But we must know that they are out there, and not be deceived and discouraged by them in failing to hold fast to the truth of the Scriptures.  Let God be true, and every man a liar.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Faith Implies Certainty 

"For unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth:  namely, that God is faithful."  John Calvin, Institutes, Book 3, Ch. 2, Par. 15, "Faith Implies Certainty"

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Obligation of Love 

The obligation of love is to risk thinking better of people than they deserve, rather than to risk thinking worse of them than they deserve.


Stories 

We have another example of a story that may not actually be factually true, but that doesn't matter because it advances the narrative that the author wants advanced- in this case, that there is a problem with sexual assault on our campuses.  Now there may or may not be such a problem- I wouldn't be surprised to find that there was.  It is completely consistent with the liberal mind to think that you can teach kids there are no moral absolutes, train them to think of themselves as the center of the universe, tell them that sexual self-control is just not realistic, and then give them free access to lots of alcohol and other young people with the same mindset, and not get these kinds of problems.  The modern progressive mindset is basically the rejection of reality, the belief that we can legislate away all problems created by the conflict between reality and our imagination.  That's why we now have a 55 feet high stack of federal regulations- because when the state is trying to be the Messiah, there's a whole lot of reality that's going to get in the way.

But this UVA rape allegation is a great example of what postmodernist thinking does to us.  What is important about it, according to its author, is not factually whether it happened or not, but if it advances the story we want to advance.  This was the same reaction we got with Trayvon Martin, with Michael Brown, with the Duke Lacrosse case, with Tawana Brawley, and so on and so on.  What matters is not the facts, but the story you want to tell to have the results you want to have.  This is the postmodern mind- that truth is not something we can really arrive at, that any attempts to assert what "the truth" is is just a power play intended to assert your will over others, and that therefore what we should do is to tell the stories that advance the cause that we want to advance.

But then we have Christians who tell us that what is important about the first eleven chapters of Genesis is not whether the factual historical accounts we read there actually happened, but about the story they tell and the principles that they teach.  Jesus said that the church would be the light of the world, and if the salt loses its savor, how will you season the salt?  So we should not be surprised that the very kinds of approaches taken to truth by the church to advance its own cause is in turn used by the world.

We have to be very careful about the stories we listen to, and the way we think about them.  God gave Adam and Eve a truth to be believed about who they were and what the creation was.  And the devil came along and told them a story- a story that played to their vanity, appealed to their pride, and explained things in a way that let them indulge their lusts.  It impacted them, they acted in terms of that story, and the sad history of the world is the result.

We need stories- the Bible is full of them.  But we need the principles and doctrines of the Scriptures as well to make sure we're hearing the right stories and rejecting the wrong ones, and understanding them right.  Just because a story seems really exciting and motivating, even in what seems to us to be the right direction, doesn't make it true.  Saying that all the founding fathers of America were Christians, for example, might feel like it motivates the right kinds of behavior, but the question we ought to ask ourselves is simply, "Is it true?"  Christians of all people, since we believe in a sovereign God in control of everything that happens, should never be afraid of the truth.

Postmodernism isn't all that new, really.  It's a new wrapper for an old, old lie.  The truth does matter, and you can never advance a good cause on the foundation of a lie.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Circumcision and Baptism 

Thoughts distilled from J.V. Fesko's Word, Water and Spirit, on the parallel between baptism and circumcision:

Circumcision was a symbolic cutting away.  It was given in Genesis 17, to Abraham, as a sign of the covenant, a sign of faith according to Paul in Romans 5.  In Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses tells the people to "circumcise the foreskin of your hearts, and be no more stiffnecked" showing us the real spiritual import of circumcision, the putting away of pride and stubbornness, and humbling oneself before God.  It is significant that the sign of circumcision was given to Abraham not when he first was given the promise in Genesis 12, but in Genesis 17 after Abraham's attempt to fulfill the promise of God through his own efforts, rather than trusting in God to fulfill it.  It was Abraham's pride that led to the giving of this most appropriate sign.  But how does one circumcise their own hearts?  They can't, of course, and Moses promises in Deuteronomy 30:16 that the day would come when God would do that work.  On the other hand, the one who rebels against the covenant and will not submit- he is "cut off" from his people.

Ultimately, though, it is Jesus who is "cut off" from His people, taking the sin of the people with Him, and emerges victorious.

Likewise, baptism is a symbolic washing- even a flood or deluge.  Noah's flood and the crossing of the Red Sea are both spoken of as symbolic baptisms, by Peter (1 Peter 2:20-22) and Paul (1 Corinthians 10:1-2) respectively.  John the Baptist comes preaching a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3) but warns the people that a judgment is coming, from which only repentance can save them (Luke 3:7-8).  Some of those who are baptized, but do not repent, will be damned, swept away by the water like the world was in the flood, or like the Egyptians were in the Red Sea, or like many of the Israelites who fell in the wilderness outside the favor of God.

But once again, it is Jesus who is "baptized" into death, comes under the flood of God's wrath, takes it on our behalf, and emerges victorious.

So baptism, like circumcision, represents an ordeal, a trial, that the people as a whole are put under.  That trial is judged on the basis of faith, for both are symbols of faith, symbols specifically of a promise, and in each the promise is of Christ, the champion of the people who undergoes the full trial and is victorious.  If we, by faith, come under the umbrella of His victory, repenting of sin and putting our trust in Him as the Anointed One, then we emerge triumphant.  If not, the trial sweeps us away.  We are cut off from the people; we are washed away in the flood.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Balance Between the Sacraments; Why did Christ Give us Two? 

Already / Not Yet
External / Internal
Visible / Invisible
The One / The Many
Baptism / Communion

When Jesus came, His ministry on earth provided the foundation of the church, a visible, earthly, external, existing-in-the-present organization.  He told His disciples to spread that organization throughout the world, making disciples by baptizing and teaching them all that He had commanded (Matthew 28:18).  He gave them government, procedures and ceremonies.  One of the things He had commanded them was to partake of the Lord’s Supper, in remembrance of Him, looking forward to the time when He would come again (Luke 14:20).  In all of the accounts of the Supper, Jesus emphasizes that He will not eat of the bread or the fruit of the vine again until everything is fulfilled- it has an intensely forward-looking focus.

That means that in this present age, we have an important dual focus and expectation.  The dichotomies listed above all express different aspects of this dual reality, which is created by the fact of the age of transition we are currently in.  The church is a present reality which is transforming the world, but the full reality of the kingdom is not here and will not be here until He comes again (already / not yet).  Membership in that visible church and participation in its fellowship is therefore vital, but what that membership and participation calls us to is true internal faith in Christ and repentance from sin (external / internal).  That visible institution is therefore important, and cannot be despised or set aside with impunity; yet simply being an outward member is not only not of itself saving, it ultimately brings a greater judgment on those who are members of the outward body but lack true faith and repentance.  Membership in the invisible church is the goal (visible / invisible).  Therefore, the one universal church is of great importance, but so are our individual contributions to that, our personal faith, our individual relationship with God (the one / the many).

This truth lies at the heart of Paul’s great first letter to the Corinthians.  In particular, in chapter 10, he warns them to consider the example of Israel.  By outward signs and experiences they were all part of the body; they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea.  That “baptism” made them a nation.  Yet many of them did not possess true repentance and faith, and thus perished.  They failed to draw the lesson from the eating of sacrifices that they should have, that their outward membership in the body would ultimately be damning if not also accompanied with true faith and repentance.  So too, the Corinthians were warned.  The story of Israel is an example to us, he says.  The Corinthians were struggling with antinomianism, libertinism, the belief that they could live as they pleased and still consider themselves united to Christ.  But the message of the bread and wine of the communion was the communion with Christ they were to have, and how could they have that fellowship with Christ and fellowship with demons at the same time?  By participating in sinful idolatrous activities, they were fellowshipping with demons, and those two fellowships were incompatible.

So we are a temple to God, built of living stones.  The temple is important, and so are the stones.  We are saved as members of God’s people, His holy nation, but it is our own faith that determines whether we are truly part of that nation.

Thus we see that the two sacraments testify to us of these same two dichotomies.  Baptism focuses on our status as members of God’s covenant community, the external body of God’s people.  It is the sign that initiates us into the covenant people.  It calls us to faith, a living active union with Christ which can only be had by faith, a truth which the Lord’s Supper testifies to us.  Christ gave us two sacraments for a reason; baptism looks back at our cleansing by the blood of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, giving us new life, just as passing through the Red Sea gave birth to Israel as a nation.  The Lord’s Supper involves our active participation and fellowship in that union, looking intensely forward to the consummation of the kingdom, when He comes again, just as the Passover symbolized their deliverance from Egypt and their journey across the wilderness to the promised land; the unleavened bread that they ate reminded them of the journey, and the feast of Tabernacles called to their mind God’s preservation of them along the way.  In celebrating the Lord’s Supper, “we do show the Lord’s death, till he comes.”

It is therefore most appropriate that children born into the church be marked with the sign of baptism.  They are “holy”, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14.  The promise is to them, as Peter says in Acts 2:39.  Of such is the kingdom of God.

But many are called, and only a few chosen.  The evangelist Matthew quotes Jesus using that expression twice (Matthew 20:16; Matthew 22:14), both as conclusions to parables about workmen of a master, workmen who ultimately fall short of what is required and therefore come under judgment.  Just being a member of the house isn’t sufficient.  One must be a true son.  One must truly feed on Christ’s body and drink of His blood.  Thus, those who partake are called to examine themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28), that they truly discern the body of Christ, understanding what it means that He died on our behalf and rose again.  False members will eat and drink judgment to themselves.

Many emphasize really only one aspect of this dual truth.  On the one hand is the Anabaptist tradition which tends to put all the weight on the future, the individual, the invisible.  The church to them is a body of regenerate believers; only those who truly have faith, that can be proven or discerned, can be regarded as actual members of the church.  To them, the question, “Is someone a Christian?” means, are they truly saved, will they pass judgment when they die, are they true believers?  They will only baptize those that are old enough to make what they consider to be a believable profession of faith.  People in this branch of the church often seem somewhat ambivalent about the visible church, or even neglect it entirely, believing that their own private mediations on the things of God are sufficient.  The question of what is or is not a true church is often not an important one.  Sacraments are generally neglected or downplayed, tradition is ignored and the authority of the individual believer is supreme.  Their focus tends to be on the “not yet”- what will happen when Jesus returns.  This branch of the church is very influential in the non-Roman Catholic part of American Chrstianity.

On the other hand are the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths and their related branches, which emphasize mostly or entirely the external.  Membership in the true church is everything, and that true church is discerned by external marks; in the case of the Roman Catholic, it is fellowship with the bishop of Rome, and in the Eastern Orthodox, it is the apostolic succession of the bishops and acceptance of the ecumenical creeds.  Individual faith is not as emphasized by many on this side of the divide- the more important thing is membership and participation in the outward life of the body.  Sacraments are intensely important, often seen by those on this side of the divide as mediating grace of themselves in some way.  Tradition is crucial.  To those in this group, the question, “Am I a Christian” is answered simply by saying, “Are you baptized? Are you in good standing with the church?”  That is the only relevant answer to the question.   On this side, baptism of babies is routine, and infant or very early communion is also common (the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox practice infant communion, and Roman Catholics usually celebrate “First Communion” at age seven or eight, with a requirement to basically articulate what the Mass is.)  Their focus is often on the “now”- on the impact of the church on culture and nations, and their duties in the present age.

Both sides have their strengths as well.  The Anabaptist side is strong in emphasizing the personal and the importance of one’s own knowledge and walk with the Lord.  The Roman Catholic / Orthodox side is strong at recognizing the means that God has used in history to bring about the salvation of His people, and the importance of being part of God’s historical project.

Our salvation is always and only in Jesus, and Jesus has instituted means of accomplishing that salvation.  On the one hand, if we neglect the means that God has appointed and put in the church, focusing entirely on the internal, spiritual relationship, then the Savior will easily become a projection of our own sinful imaginations.  On the other hand, if we focus entirely on the means, we run the risk of failing to see the Savior that those means are there to point us to, the Savior in whom the means call us to have faith.  We will put our faith in those means, rather than in Christ.

This is a matter of degrees, of course.  On both sides of the external / internal divide, some err more than others.  Counterexamples and exceptions can be of course cited, because people are complex and faith traditions are very complex.  Yet I think overall, the broad tendencies are there.  The solution must be a balance between the two, for we are in the last days.  The church is established; the king has come; the Spirit has been poured out.  But the world is still full of tares.  The battle rages on.  Our hope lies in the future, not in the present.  For our Lord is coming again, and with Him the consummation of the kingdom.  Present / future; now / not yet; visible / invisible.

I believe the Reformed faith at its best gets this right.  And it is not as simple as the sacraments, but the sacraments are, I believe, the canary in the coalmine.  The sacraments do not of themselves determine the state of the church, but they can show us the state of the church.

In the Reformed faith, we baptize babies, recognizing the reality of the visible church and the outward means.  Our infants are part of that church; they have the status as members of the true Israel, and just as those babies in Israel were circumcised demonstrating that they were part of the covenant, so too should the church, the assembly of the firstborn, the Israel of God, recognize the membership of its infants.

But mere outward membership is not everything; without faith, that membership will be a judgment and not a blessing.  Thus, the Reformed faith withholds communion until the child is able to express his own individual faith in a mature way, calling that child to recognize the importance of discerning the body and committing to that true, internal fellowship, and the ongoing repeated observance of that Supper continues to call all of us not to rest in our status, but to be continually called to repentance, to renew our vows, to turn from sin and to God every day of our lives.  That Supper calls us to be what we are.  The Reformed faith also recognizes and practices discipline, fencing that table from those that would partake unworthily, either from ignorance or rejection of the truths the church teaches.

Thus, the means of grace are respected; the visible church is affirmed; the present Lordship of Jesus Christ is celebrated.  At the same time, the future salvation is anticipated; the indispensable importance of personal and vital faith is emphasized; and the necessity of the individual, internal, spiritual relationship with the Savior is taught.

Our Lord gave us two sacraments for a reason.  One initiates us into the covenant, happens once, and belongs to all those who are part of the covenant community, whether by birth or by conversion.  The other ratifies our personal interest in the covenant, happens repeatedly and often, and belongs to all those who truly belong by personal faith to that savior, who truly discern His broken body and shed blood, who truly participate in that spiritual fellowship.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Christ or Totalitarianism 

Recent events should show us (as well as all of human history) that secularism isn't actually possible.  Every state will always enforce its worldview.  That worldview may be expressed in explicitly religious terms, or philosophical terms, or absolute loyalty to the emperor or the party, but it always comes to the same thing- whatever the ruling elites think will bring about their desired state of affairs is what they will pursue.

The wonderful thing about Christianity is that Christianity, rightly understood, does not see our hope in this age.  Therefore we can be tolerant of other worldviews.  Christian rulers will do what they believe they should, and that means that society is going to be structured according to Biblical norms.  And we believe in those norms- history shows that it is those Biblical norms which have done the most to bring peace, prosperity, technological progress, justice and freedom on earth.  But earth is not our goal, and thus we have no need to force everyone else to think as we think or to worship as we worship.  That's the Messiah's job.  He will take care of that when He returns.

In Rome at the time of Christ, the worship of the emperor was ruthlessly enforced because they perceived that the worship of the emperor was the only thing that could hold together such a vast and diverse empire.  When any state's goal is the creation of the ideal society on earth, it will always trend to the totalitarian, to controlling people as totally as they are able.

But the Christian goal is not the creation of the perfect society on earth, but the preparation of souls for eternity, when Christ will create that perfect society, and therefore we desire the winning over of hearts and minds by persuasion, not the compulsion of conformity by force.  Christianity is therefore the only worldview that can truly tolerate diversity of worldviews.  Christians have not always lived up to this ideal.   But it is out of the Christian worldview, and only that worldview, that such ideas as religious freedom and tolerance arose.  It is only in that worldview that diversity of thought can really be permitted.

The elites of our "secular" society right now is busy stamping out any deviation from the approved party line.  We'll see how far they get.  But our hope is in eternity, of the glorious perfect kingdom which Christ is creating and has created, and will bring to pass when He returns.  Only to Him will every knee bow and every tongue swear, and not to any earthly ruler.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

One-at-a-timing 




So much of the modern church strikes me this way, like Pappy O'Daniel, who only wants to be a big shot, ignoring the "electorate" right in front of him in favor of the opportunity to "mass communicate."  Big conferences, bestselling books, famous celebrities.  Who's got the biggest building, the biggest budget, the best show?  We need to get the message out to as many people as possible.  Filling arenas with fifty thousand people.  Multi-site, seeker-sensitive, on and on it goes.  What's a little deception / "marketing" if it makes my book a bestseller?  What matters is, we're "mass communicatin'."  Question the theology, question the methods, ask whether it's quite biblical, and what do you hear?  "How many people did YOU preach to this week?"  He's reaching people for the Lord.  Who cares if he's cutting a few corners?

It's driven by a theological focus, almost to the exclusion of everything else, of the "moment of decision."  Decisionism refers to the tendency to think that the only thing that matters in salvation is the moment when someone makes their "decision for Christ” and to focus all our efforts on that moment.  But we are called to make disciples to Christ.  Jesus warned us about the large numbers that would respond in some sense to the gospel but would fall away.  We are called, as the church, to shepherd the flock, to care for God's people, to protect them from lies, to rebuke sin, to comfort the brokenhearted.  How can a pastor do that if he’s got four thousand people in his church?  How can he shepherd someone at a conference?
Of course that’s the charitable interpretation.  The uncharitable one is that pastors, just as much as anyone else, are susceptible to the world’s siren call of money, of fame, of the world’s approval.  In the church that call is all the more seductive because it’s so easy to dress that call up in church clothes, to say that I only want to be famous so I can reach more people; I only want to be rich so I can more easily do the work of the ministry.  I recently listened to a lecture by Alastair Begg in which he was warning the ministry against the sin of pride, and said that every single pastoral fall, every single disaster he’d seen in the ministry, was caused first and foremost by pride.  I believe it.

I'm not against conferences.  I'm not against books or radio programs.  But we should not mistake those things for the work of the ministry.  They can be aids to the work of the ministry.  But the work of the ministry is always "one-at-a-timing."  It is walking alongside people, loving them, getting to know them, laughing with them, crying with them, rebuking them, being rebuked by them.  It's preaching the word, ministering the sacraments, teaching publicly and from house to house.  This is the only way the ministry works or has ever worked.  These are the tools the Lord gave us to make disciples, and they're the only ones that work.

The preaching of a sermon is not the end of the pastor's responsibility.  He preaches the word as an expression of a pastoral relationship.  That means that when you prepare a sermon, you do so with particular people in mind, the people in your congregation with all their needs and hopes and shortcomings in mind as best as you know them.  I never feel like I'm really preaching when I preach at someone else's church.  And the preaching "publicly" must be combined with preaching "house to house" (Acts 20:20).  The public proclamation of God's word must be followed up with discipline, counseling, encouragement and exhortation which is tailored to the individual.

The work of the ministry, from the world's perspective, will always be horribly inefficient.  You pour your time into people who end up rejecting the church, who walk away from Christ.  Or you spend your time shepherding people who continually fall back into sin over and over.  You spend hours and hours, years and years, trying to get people to see things that maybe they never see.  And if that's your model of ministry, it's just not scalable.  It will not work once your church hits about 200.  It takes too much time.  As a result, you're unlikely to ever be famous, to ever have a name on the New York Times Bestseller list (or to ever have enough money to buy your way on).  It's inefficient.  It requires spending a lot of time to train a man, educate a man, screen a man, just so he can spend his life probably in obscurity toiling among a small group of people.  But it's the only way to do the job.
This is not a “poor me, being a pastor is so terrible” kind of article.  I love being a pastor and can’t imagine being anything else.  The joy I get when I see people, over years, respond to the teaching of the Word and grow in grace and love toward God and their fellow man is a joy that is unmatched by anything I have experienced.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  But it’s so easy to get our minds off God’s promises and on the allure of the world.  To fully reap the benefits of the ministry, we must be realistic about what it is and what it isn’t, and be in submission to the One who called us to the work.

Whose approval are we looking for?  If your goal is to make disciples, then "one-at-a-timing" is the only way to do it.  That's the way the Lord has given us to do it.  The faithful servant does not decide for himself what job or position he wants to do.  He doesn't neglect the work that the master gave him in order to do work that he will find more fun and exciting.  The faithful servant will not ignore the master's clear written instructions in favor of strong feelings within himself about what he would rather do.  The faithful servant will obey his master, seeking only the master's approval, and trusting the master with the results.  The kingdom of God is and always has been built one heart at a time.

2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2Ti 4:1-2 NKJ)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Advice for Preachers, from Jay Adams 

A post from Wes Bredenhof pointed me to the blog of Dr. Jay Adams, very well known for his counseling approach, but who also has great advice on a wide variety of subjects for pastors.  As I am repeating sermon series that I have done in the past, I'm finding his advice here to be very true.  I tended to try to cram a lot in at earlier times in my ministry, and now I say more about less, frequently splitting old sermons into two sermons, or preaching an extra sermon on the same text.

If I took 25 minutes to tell you about one event on one night at one place last summer, I could tell all—colorfully, interestingly, and in a way that you could understand. Instead of hurriedly racing hither and yon, I could stop, examine in detail, describe in depth, delineate and delete! But all of last summer? Why, all I could do is vaguely sketch what took place!
As I get older in the ministry, I realize how much better it is to say one thing well than twenty things badly.  Just saying one thing well is challenge enough.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Naturalism and the Possibility of Truth 

Thoughts inspired by and collected from Alvin Plantiga's Where the Conflict Really Lies:

Naturalism is the philosophical position that only natural phenomena exists.  According to the naturalist, everything that we see is therefore the result of the laws of nature.  Life exists as the result of unguided evolution, the gradual selection in living organisms among random genetic mutations for those mutations that make it more likely that the organism will successfully reproduce.

People in the past and present believe a great many things that are not true.  If unguided evolution is true, then religion is one example- most of the people of the world believe in God or a god of some kind, and in the past this was even more true than it is today.  Why did they believe these things?  If unguided evolution is true, then they believed it because it provided some survival advantage.  It is not necessary to even know why belief in evolution provided a survival advantage. We know it did because most people possessed the trait, and the trait would not have been so nearly universally selected unless it provided some such advantage.  Belief in religion causes the believer to expend a great many resources in the pursuit of his religious belief; if it did not provide some serious advantage, such a detrimental belief would soon be bred out, as those that believe it would be less fit for survival.  The normal explanation by Darwinists is that belief in religion is advantageous, or was in the past, because it encourages cooperation with others through the idea of absolute morality.  But the mechanism is ultimately unimportant; we know it provided a survival advantage because otherwise it would not exist.

But here's the problem- according to the believer in unguided evolution, belief in a God that guides everything is false.  Therefore a false belief provides a survival advantage.  For a belief to be evolutionarily advantageous it is not at all necessary that the belief is true, only that it provides some advantage to the survival and reproduction of the species.  Friedrich Nietzche, the atheistic nihilist, expressed the consequence of this belief well when he said that there is no more unfounded assertion in all of human thought than the assertion that truth is to be preferred to falsehood.  In his book Beyond Good And Evil he asserted that the only thing that is real is the will to power- not truth or falsity, good or evil.

But if he's right and beliefs can be held by many billions of people simply because those beliefs provide survival advantages, then how can we have any confidence in any of our beliefs?  In that case our minds are wired by evolutionary biology to believe things because they help us propagate, not because they are true.  And that includes our belief in unguided evolution.  Thus naturalism, the belief that only matter exists and all that is is the result of blind chance and natural laws, and random selection of genetic traits produced all the life that we see, renders all knowledge impossible and makes any assertion of the truth of one proposition over another a meaningless assertion.

One can repeat the same exercise with beliefs such as racism and sexism, things we Christians would agree are false.  And it can be repeated ad infinitum with any number of beliefs that people held in the past.  In the past they were believed because they provided a survival advantage.  Therefore evolution can and very frequently does result in people being hardwired to believe false things for survival advantage, and thus unguided evolution results in minds that are hardwired to believe what helps them survive and propagate, not what is true.  Natural selection ought therefore to select for people like Genghis Khan, who very successfully propagated his genes throughout Asia and Europe.  And the result is the complete overthrow of any such conception as truth.  Only the will to power remains.



Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Give us This Day Our Daily Bread 

Why pray, "Give us this day our daily bread", when the ungodly often have as much bread as the godly?

First, because the godly know their bread comes from God, and are thus incalculably better off than the one who does not know that. Knowledge of God is much more important than bread.

Second (related to the first), because while the ungodly might have bread in the short term, eventually all of God's blessings will be cut off from the one who never learns to acknowledge God in thankfulness as the source of all he has.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Science requires Faith 

More thoughts:

The scientist sacrifices a huge amount of time and effort and money to understand the world he lives in.  He fails, over and over and over and over again.  Why does he keep trying?  Why doesn't he just go have a beer?  Life is short.  Why bother?

The atheist scientist has no reason to ever expect that his efforts will be rewarded.  There is no necessary reason at all why his quest should succeed.  Why should the universe be known?  Why should things make sense?  How can he justify his sacrifice?

The Christian scientist (or the scientist who has unwittingly assumed Christian principles) has every reason to continue.  He believes, because the Bible tells him, that the universe is orderly and knowable, and that God created man to know and understand the universe; to be in dominion over it.  Therefore he believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that his efforts will be rewarded.  His years of failure are not wasted.  He presses on.

Science requires faith.

Knowledge and the Atheist 

Atheism is supposed to be the philosophy of evidence, which seeks explanations and understanding of the world we live in, instead of just resorting to “magic” to explain things.

A few of the things that the atheist must account for in his thinking:

Why anything exists?
Why it exists in an orderly fashion?
Why it exists in a form that is able to support human life?
Why it exists in a form that is understandable?
Why we exist in a form that is capable of understanding it?
Why we exist in a form that is capable of making value judgments about how things ought to be?
Why such value judgments are possible and valid in the first place?
Why knowing truth about the universe is important or valuable, let alone possible?
Why billions of people claim to have experienced the answer to these questions, having had a personal encounter with the divine?  Why they are all lying or ignorant, while the atheist is right?

So we have lots of questions which the atheist can only answer, “It just is.”  Christianity on the other hand has an answer to the question which holds together logically and is backed by evidence that is appropriate to the question being proved.

Atheism often accuse Christians of a “God of the gaps”, or just invoking God whenever we can’t explain something.  But the atheist invokes the cosmos, whenever he can’t explain something.  He says, "it just is."  The Christian, when faced with something he doesn't understand about the cosmos, can say that we know God made it that way and we don’t understand it, yet we have confidence that we will understand it one day since God intentionally created the cosmos to be understood by us.  The atheist, when faced with something he doesn't understand about the cosmos, must simply say that it is the way it is for no apparent reason, and he has no reason at all to believe that he ever will understand it.  The atheist cannot confidently say that he understands anything at all now.  He has no reason to even believe that his mind and senses are giving him accurate information about the world.


Christianity made the scientific revolution possible.  Atheism leads logically to nihilism and the denial of all truth.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What the Devil Cares About 

The devil wants you in hell.  He wants to destroy you.  That is his whole mission in life.  He stalks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

The devil doesn't care about abortion, or gay marriage, or evolution.  Believing in the Biblical teaching on any of those doctrines will not save you.  He only cares about one thing- the cross of Christ.  Only faith in the cross can save you.  So the devil uses all those other things to open up chinks in the Christian's trust in the Bible so that he can attack the one thing he really cares about.

That's why everything the Bible says, including what it says about abortion, gay marriage or evolution matters- all of those things exist inside the wall of the infallibility of Scripture.  If you let the enemy inside your wall because he promises he won't steal your greatest treasure, but only some smaller things that you think are unimportant, don't complain when he doesn't stop with those things.  If you let the thief in your house when he promises only to steal a little money, you have only yourself to blame when he steals it all.

Don't let the devil inside your house.  Don't believe that he will stop with abortion, or gay marriage, or evolution, any more than Hitler stopped with the Sudetenland.  He's after the whole kit and caboodle and he won't stop until he gets it.  Defend the wall at every point, even and especially where it's most seriously attacked.  Defend the authority of Scripture on every point regardless of how unpopular it is.  Because regardless of what you think is at stake, the same thing is always at stake when it comes to the authority of Scripture- the cross of Christ, and your soul.

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