Thursday, January 08, 2015

Bet on the Proven Winner 

Two thousand years ago, when Christianity first came into the world, all the smartest, most educated, most powerful, richest and most admired men around believed it to be ridiculous nonsense, and said so loudly.  With long tradition, majority opinion and all the latest thinking behind them, they argued that men ought to worship the gods of the Roman pantheon as these had obviously led to the success of the Roman Empire, and that all the world believed in either the Roman gods or something very similar, and that this new religion was suitable only for the most ignorant and weakest in society, that it was a religion for slaves and women.

Now, two thousand years later, those arguing against Christianity are often the most educated, most powerful and most successful.  They have the wealth and prestige of the universities and governments of the world behind them.  Most of the most famous artists and musicians and scholars agree.  And they argue that Christianity is a religion for the ignorant and hateful, that it is absurd and cannot be taken seriously.  Yet their views of ethics and reality are far closer to Christianity than were those of Christianity's opponents from two thousand years ago.  Christianity's opponents have conceded much ground to Christianity, while Christianity continues as it always has.  Christianity has drastically altered the intellectual landscape of the world, and continues to do so.  People will continue to mock, but historically it has been the worldview of those who mock and ridicule Christianity which ends up on the dung-heap of history.

Christianity, this religion of women and slaves, is pretty much the same as it was two thousand years ago, and continues to cast down all opposition, continues to spread into all the world, not because of the prestige and status of those that champion it, but because it is true.  Jesus said that His kingdom would prevail and the gates of hell would not stand against it.  We have a two thousand year track record of victory, from 120 believers representing less than a millionth part of the world's population to two billion believers representing a third of that population, to confirm the truth of what He said.  Remember that the next time some rich, famous or prestigious person calls Christianity ridiculous and predicts its imminent demise.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

What Are You Looking Forward To? 

From Jay Adams:

Forget your New Years’ resolutions; they come from you. These wonderful events mentioned by Peter are no resolutions—they are the promises of God. 


"Show your wounds to the Lord, the most excellent physician, and seek remedy from Him.  Show them to Him, who does not reproach but most gently heals."  John Chrysostom, on the value and importance of confession of sin to God.


It's kind of funny when atheists post amazing pictures of the natural universe on Facebook or their websites and think that's supposed to detract somehow from the glory of the One who made the universe.  The more incredible we realize the universe to be, the less likely it is that it just accidentally happened.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Desperate Counter-attack 

From the Aquila Report, here's a great example of the dishonest tactics so often used to attack Christianity.  I think it should be taken as an unintended compliment, a tribute to the importance of Christianity.  If Christianity were irrelevant and dying, there'd be no need to go to all this effort.  That someone is willing to throw away their own intellectual credibility to make attacks like this just shows that it really does matter, and that the author of such attacks has very personal, non-intellectual reasons for being so desperate to find reasons not to submit to Jesus Christ.  Why not just ignore Jesus?  Because they can't.  This article feels to me like Hitler's last desperate attempts to defend Germany when his own generals all knew they were defeated.

At any rate, Michael Kruger does a great job of dismantling arguments that anyone with even a passing familiarity with church history would know were nonsense.  This is one really important reason to study church history, as we are doing at Christ Reformed- to recognize the foolishness of these kinds of slanders.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It is impossible to consistently believe in unguided evolution. 

If unguided evolution is true, then unguided evolution formed my brain.
If unguided evolution formed my brain then theism is false. (since theism entails the claim that God formed my brain)
If I believe in theism, then my brain has produced a false belief.
If my brain has produced a false belief, then unguided evolution formed my brain to produce a false belief.
If unguided evolution has formed my brain to produce false beliefs, then I cannot be confident that anything I believe is not also false, including unguided evolution.
Therefore, it is impossible to believe in unguided evolution, since the belief in unguided evolution entails the belief that I cannot truly know anything.

Secular Humanism can only live as a parasite on Christianity 

Secular humanism might be described as the philosophical belief that all human beings have value and dignity, which is inherent rather than defined by supernatural beliefs or religious dogma.

A couple of interesting points about secular humanism-
-It shares a number of beliefs with traditional Christianity, especially the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of a human being.
-It provides no basis for that belief; no way of proving that humans do have any inherent value, other than their desire that it be so.
-Historically, it arose in areas (western Europe and America, specifically) with deep Christian roots.

I conclude that secular humanism is a Christian heresy; meaning a belief system which is a distortion of Christian belief.  Secular humanism is an attempt to get the benefits of Christianity without paying the price, the price of submission to God.  It is the belief that the blessings that have come to the world through Christianity can be enjoyed while rejecting the supernatural basis for those beliefs.  It is a house built on sand, a philosophy with no epistemological foundation.

Even as secular humanists mock and deride Christianity, the fact is, that secular humanism could not exist without Christianity.  It is like a parasite.  It depends on a steady influx of people who accept the Christian belief in the inherent dignity of human beings.  But since it rejects the basis for that belief (that man was created in the image of God), it cannot actually inculcate that belief itself.  It can provide us with no reason why all human beings should have any particular worth, since in its philosophy we are all just matter.  Why should one collection of organic matter be more important than another?  Or why is organic matter of more inherent worth than non-organic matter?  And why should I view people of different genders or races as of equal value?  If Christianity were ever somehow to cease to exist, so would secular humanism, and the world would lapse back into barbarism and savagery.  Fortunately, that cannot happen, as God is God and has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church.

Secular humanism, therefore, is a great deal like the pagan attempts in late antiquity to stem the growing influence of Christianity by aping Christianity's success.  Julian the Apostate tried to encourage pagan temples to emulate the moral virtue and charity of the Christian clergy.  He failed, because paganism lacks any real reason to do those things.  Secular humanism will fail for the same reason; moral behavior and charity toward others can only really be grounded in the truth of a Creator that made us all in His image.

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.


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.

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