Puritan Gems

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #8

The Sacraments

Even redeemed saints, tainted by remnants of their carnal natures, find it impossible to have their hearts and minds totally and consistently worshipping "in Spirit and in Truth" (John 4:24). Therefore God has condescended to us by providing physical signs for our spiritual growth and nourishment. These sacraments have been given to the church as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace (Genesis 17:11, Exodus 12:13, Romans 4:11).

In our modern age of individualistic, do-it-yourself spirituality, more teaching is needed on this particular subject, for the sacraments have long been the object of corruption and strange superstition, and modern evangelicalism is no exception. The elements of the sacraments in scripture, be they the cutting of circumcision, the lamb of the passover, the water of baptism, or the bread and wine of communion, have no magical power in and of themselves. They do not change into the body of Christ, nor serve as physical healing potions. They have no ability to provide justification or impart faith. Abraham received circumcision as a sign of the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:11), yet the sign itself did not impart such faith into Esau, Ishmael, and any number of Israelites. Likewise, baptism failed to impart such faith to Simon Magus, and the Lord's Supper only increases the condemnation of unworthy partakers (1 Corinthians 11:27) such as Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:23-25). The sacraments are made useful only by faith, though they do have in them nourishment for those of the faith.

"Wherefore, let it be a fixed point, that the office of the sacraments differs not from the word of God; and this is to hold forth and offer Christ to us, and, in him, the treasures of heavenly grace. They confer nothing, and avail nothing, if not received in faith, just as wine and oil, or any other liquor, however large the quantity which you pour out, will run away and perish unless there be an open vessel to receive it. When the vessel is not open, though it may be sprinkled all over, it will nevertheless remain entirely empty." (John Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter 14, Section 17)

The sacraments belong only to the church, and are not for individual use (1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 11:20-24). As it is God Himself that establishes His covenant, so only one who ministers in His name may administer the external signs of that covenant. Christ's physical presence does not join any of the physical elements of a sacraments. To promote this myth is to assign ubiquity to Christ's physical body, and is thus incompatible with Chalcedon christology. Nonetheless, Christ's spiritual presence is just as real, and acknowledged by those of the true faith.

There are only two sacraments in biblical Christianity, those being baptism and the Lord's Supper. It is these only that have been instituted by God, contain the presence of a visible and tangible element, signify Christ and his death and resurrection, and are used as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. May the church return to both a proper teaching and a proper practice concerning the sacraments, properly discerning the Lord's body.

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #7

Preaching The Word

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

"Preaching is broken...Why do I get to speak for 30 minutes and you don't?...A sermon is often a violent act, it's violence toward the will of the people who have to sit there and take it." (Doug Pagitt - Leader of the Emergent "Solomon's Porch".)

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 89

Q. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. (Neh. 8:8, 1 Cor. 14:24–25, Acts 26:18, Ps. 19:8, Acts 20:32, Rom. 15:4, 2 Tim. 3:15–17, Rom. 10:13–17, Rom. 1:16)

In many of today's pragmatic churches, preaching is viewed as increasingly archaic, being either an optional part of worship, or something that snuck in amongst the throngs of church entertainers, hoping that a nugget of that Word might sneak into a few hearts along the way. This type of thing happens when the zeal for church growth over rides the need for truth. The deceptive part of "evangelism by entertainment" is that it does appear in individual cases to increase church attendance, but at what cost? Is merely an increase in church attendance the sign of a true conversion? A church that does not rely on the preaching of the Word has given up on "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16). Oddly enough, many such churches proclaim a strong desire to be "apostolic" in terms of Spiritual gifts and ecclesiology, but have forsaken the apostolic message and method of spreading that message. Preaching is not optional, nor it is a church sideshow, but rather a crucial part of worship, the means by which God has ordained to save the lost as well as feed the saved.

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says,"Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:14-17)

In order to fulfill his ministry, Paul charged Timothy to "preach the Word". It stands to reason that preachers who refuse to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" via the preached Word are not faithful in fulfilling their ministries. What a shame that the preaching of the Word has been abandoned by many churches in favor of fluffy, pragmatic messages on successful living! The Word that is preached must be the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). A good preacher will preach on the glories of Heaven, the horrors of Hell, giving admonishment as well as encouragement to the saints, all with equal effectiveness. He will "labor in Word and Doctrine" (1 Timothy 5:17), seeking to be orthodox, doing his best as an uninspired prophet to remove any error from his exposition by diligent study, holding fast to sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), and "rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15). A good preacher is not concerned with pleasing man, but rather God. (Galatians 1:10). As such, the hard truths about man's sinfulness and God's wrath cannot be ignored. It is God's will that people are saved through the folly of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21), not by skits, clowns, and concerts.

“The pastor is called upon to feed the sheep. (Now that may seem quite obvious.) He is called upon to feed the sheep even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it in Goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness”. (William Still, The Work of the Pastor).

We live in a day when a person can send a $25 check to a web company and become an ordained minister. This is merely a symptom of a larger problem. The expectations, even among Christians, of preachers and the words they preach are at an all time low. However, the Word that is preached faithfully, is not only "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16), but is also "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Those who insist on the practice of "bait and switch" entertainment evangelism would do well to meditate on these passages, and renew their confidence in both the Word and the preaching of that Word as the effective, Biblical model of both evangelism and worship.

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #6

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:16-17)

So what kind of music is fitting for Biblical Worship? Does style matter? Should we use modern songs, old hymns, or a mixture of both?

I am of the private opinion that any church interested in music that is pleasing to God should always have a Psaltery available. The Psalms are superior to other songs in terms of worship, because they are divinely inspired worship songs. How better to worship God other than with songs that He has inspired? It is a shame to see so many churches eliminating the Psalms from their worship.

However, the Bible does not demand exclusive Psalms, and there is a vast richness of great songs that declare the glory of God.

Regarding musical instruments, Scripture allows them to be played in worship (Psalm 150:1-6), and skillfully (Psalm 33:3). Many of the Puritan mindset would disagree, adopting what appears to me to be a "dispensationalist" mindset when it comes to worship (ie. "The New Testament doesn't mention instruments".) Neither however, does it forbid them.

Having said that, it should be God who is glorified in our songs, not musicians or singers. The lyrics of many modern songs demand very little in the area of engaging our minds for worship, ranging from the theologically illiterate "I Have Decided To Follow Jesus" (Compare to Moses' Song "The Lord... Has Become My Salvation" - Exodus 15:2), to the empty repetitions of songs like "Celebrate Jesus". The emptiness of the repetitive lyrics in these songs must often be filled by Van Halen-like guitar solos, robbing God of the glory due to Him alone.

Those who would defend the "rock concert" atmosphere of modern worship often point to it's effectiveness in drawing unbelievers to church. However, the purpose of worship is not to entertain unbelievers, for what good does it do to simply get them to church for entertainment purposes? The purpose of worship is to worship, and it does matter how this is done.

Others would suggest that we just don't like the "style" of their worship. However, style being an aesthetic issue, my main objection to many modern "worship" songs is that so few of them actually worship God (Note: There are some good modern songs). A great many songs today are either songs about worship (ie, "I will praise Him", "we will worship Him") that never actually get around to worshipping, or else they are human centered songs about "how Jesus makes me feel". Consider these lyrics from a popular "Christian" song that I heard in a church I visited some time ago:

I waited for you today
But you didn't show
No no no
I needed you today
So where did you go?
You told me to call
Said you'd be there
And though I haven't seen You
Are you still there?

I cried out with no reply
And I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know
You're here, and I'm never alone

And though I cannot see You
And I can't explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance
You've placed in my life
We cannot separate
'Cause You're part of me
And though You're invisible
I'll trust the unseen

I cried out with no reply
And I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know
You're here, and I'm never alone

We cannot separate
'Cause You're part of me
And though You're invisible
I'll trust the unseen

I cried out with no reply
And I can't feel You by my side
So I'll hold tight to what I know
You're here, and I'm never alone

The lady who performed the song was very talented, but as she finished singing, I had one obvious question. Who is she singing to? Since the song was sung in a church, I'm assuming that this was a Christian song. Otherwise, I would have never guessed. This song could just as easily have been sung in a nightclub about her boyfriend.

Contrast these with the lyrics to Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", fast becoming my favorite hymn.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

It's not "style" that separates these two genres of music, but rather substance. May the church once again seek to please God in its worship music rather than using it as a church growth gimmick.

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #5

Tithes and Offerings

"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need." (Malachi 3:10)

There are few subjects as controversial in the church as that of money. It is unfortunate that many pastors will avoid the subject altogether for fear of offending the greater part of their congregations, who mostly react as a backlash against the robber-barons on TBN. Nonetheless, the Bible has much to say about subject of money, and particularly the subject of giving as part of our worship. One cannot proclaim the whole counsel of God and ignore this subject.

A proper view of the tithe consists of acknowledging the Lordship of God over all things. God owns everything (Psalm 50:10-11), and thus our giving is not for His benefit, but for ours (Psalm 50:12-15). The tithe is to be brought (not sent) into the local church, "that there may be food in my house" (Malachi 3:10). God has designed his church to function financially off of the tithe, in both the Old and New Testaments. A common argument from those who rejecting tithing is that the practice was part of the ceremonial law, and thus should not be observed today. Nothing could be further from the truth. David Chilton responds,

"It is commonly held that we are no longer under any obligation to tithe in this "dispensation." There is not a shred of evidence to support such a position: the law of the tithe has never been revoked. And, it should be noted, while the modern abandonment of tithing has a superficial appearance of freedom, it has actually been replaced with a tyrannical legalism. Listen to any radio or television preacher-or perhaps your own pastor-appealing for funds. If he rejects the tithe, what is the basis for his plea? LOVE. He does not, of course, define love as the Bible defines it- keeping God's commandments (Romans 13:10; 1 John 5:3) - but rather according to the perceived "needs" of his own ministry. God's simple requirement is that we give ten percent of our income; once we have paid His tax, we know that no more is demanded. The modern preacher, on the other hand, defines your love for God in terms of how much you give. ("How much do you love God? Only ten percent? Only twenty? Only thirty? Shame on you! You should love God lots more than that! If you really, completely love Him, you'll sign over your next paycheck to me and drop it in the plate. And don't worry about taking care of your family. How selfish of you. God will take care of them. After all, He's taking care of me, isn't He?") - (David Chilton - Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, p. 52)

Those who honor the law of tithing are free from the manipulation techniques of money hungry charlatans posing as gospel ministers. The tithe is NOT part of the ceremonial law (as some "red-letter Christians" would suggest), because Abram paid tithe before there ever was a ceremonial law. (Genesis 14:20). The writer of Hebrews sanctioned the tithe collected by Melchizedek (a typology of Christ) as being superior to the tithe collected by the Levites (Hebrews 7:8), all without the slightest hint that such practice was to be stopped. Jesus commanded the Pharisees not to neglected tithing in addition to obeying the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). Finally, Paul clearly tells us that the New Covenant Church was to operate financially in the same way as the Old Covenant Church.

"Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The New Covenant church is designed to function financially "in the same way" that the Old Covenant church functioned, via the tithe. A healthy church whose members tithe is a church that should not have the need to beg for money.

Throughout the Scriptures, the giving of tithes are offerings is an intrical part of the saints' worship. The tithe belongs to God (Leviticus 27:30), and therefore we have the duty to render it to Him (Matthew 22:21). Nonetheless, we should not give merely out of duty, but in thanksgiving toward the One who has blessed us to begin with. Other offerings, such as missions offerings, may be given in addition to the tithe as each person sees fit. These are given cheerfully, not begrudgingly (2 Corinthians 7:9).

As fallen creatures, we are constantly being drawn in by the cares of this world, thus the giving of our financial bounty is a good remedy to thwart the world's attempt to draw us away from the things of God, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21). Giving is a good test of one's true allegiance, whether we serve God or Mammon. Therefore, giving is an act of confessing your faith in the One who promises to provide the needs for his covenant children. (Matthew 6:25-30).

"Men trust good stewards with larger and larger sums, and so it frequently is with the Lord; He gives by cartloads to those who give by bushels. Where wealth is not bestowed the Lord makes the little much by the contentment which the sanctified heart feels in a portion of which the tithe has been dedicated to the Lord. Selfishness looks first at home, but godliness seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, yet in the long run selfishness is loss, and godliness is great gain. It needs faith to act towards our God with an open hand, but surely He deserves it of us; and all that we can do is a very poor acknowledgment of our amazing indebtedness to His goodness." (Charles Spurgeon on Haggai 1:9, from Morning and Evening)

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #4

Confession and Absolution

"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

"Accordingly, until God reveals himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather, we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know what we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself, and depends wholly on God." - John Calvin

How easy is it to pronounce “Woe” to those who live wicked lives in rebellion to the Lord, and not consider our own deformity? Isaiah, prophet of God, spent five chapters prophesying two sets of triple “Woes” against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 5:8-23). In Hebrew, repeating a word is tantamount to a superlative (ie. Holy of Holies), and using a word 3 times has special emphasis beyond the superlative. The woes of Judah can be contrasted by the “Holy, Holy, Holy” description of God given by the seraphim, a God whose majesty is such that even sinless angels must cover their faces.

When Isaiah experiences this awesome presence, the focus of his pronouncement of judgment changes to himself; “Woe is me!” Isaiah, being a lowly creature, keeps his eyes low, and thus can only describe the activity at the feet of God, the train of His robe. At this point, Isaiah cannot but confess his sin, because “... my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts”. Thus I would think it fair to surmise that any “worship” service where confession of sin is not made either has no knowledge of God’s holiness, or just doesn’t take sin seriously.

“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?...Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;” (Isaiah 1:12, 16)

The “confession” of sin need not be made to an earthly priest, but to the one and only High Priest. In many Reformed Churches, the corporate confession of sin is proceeded by the Reading of the Law, since it is by the law that we can clearly see our unworthiness. This confession may be silent meditation, or a reading of Scripture such as Psalm 51, or another corporate confession.

O Lord,

My every sense, member, faculty, affection is a snare to me,
I can scarcely open my eyes but I envy those above me, or despise those below.
I covet honour and riches of the mighty, and am proud and unmerciful to the rags of others;
If I behold beauty it is a bait to lust, or see deformity, it stirs up loathing and disdain;
How soon to slanders, vain jests, and wanton speeches creep into my heart!
Am I comely? What a fuel for pride!
Am I deformed? What an occasion for repining!
Am I gifted? I lust after applause!
Am I unlearned? How I despise what I have not!
Am I in authority? How prone to abuse my trust, make will my law, exclude others’ enjoyments, serve my own interests and policy!
Am I inferior? How much I grudge others’ pre-eminence!
Am I rich? How exalted I become!
Thou knowest that all these are snares by my corruptions, and that my greatest snare is myself.
I bewail that my apprehensions are dull, my thoughts mean, my affections stupid, my expressions low, my life unbeseeming;
Yet what canst thou expect of dust but levity, of corruption but defilement?
Keep me ever mindful of my natural state, but let me not forget my heavenly title, or the grace that can deal with every sin.

(Self-Deprecation from “The Valley of Vision”.)

While our sin is ever before us, all of this is a precursor to the good news, and assurance of pardon. Immediate after Isaiah confesses his sin, he receives absolution. “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for". As such, it is befitting to read a portion of the gospel that speaks wondrously of this assurance.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psalm 32:1-5)

As glorious as Isaiah’s vision was, we have even a more glorious revelation through Christ, who is “… the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). It is then that Isaiah may answer the call of God "Here am I", or literally "Behold Me". What a change, from "Woe is me" to "Behold me"!

"he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him," (Colossians 1:22)

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #3

The Confession of Faith

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)

Reformed Worship is Confessional. In today's "do-it-yours-own-way" church environment, one may wonder about the importance of confessional worship. Confessional worship serves as a reminder of the gospel, as well as clarifies what the church believes.

Paul was addressing the above passage to Christians. He was writing "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:" (1 Corinthians 1:2). Yet even though they were Christians, Paul saw a need to "remind" them of the gospel that they received. Furthermore, Paul also received it. The gospel is not a human invention, but it is that which is received and passed on to others. As such, a biblical confession of faith is invaluable.

The corporate confession of faith is also an answer to the question, "Christian, what do you believe?" The confession of faith identifies who we are, and separates those who do not believe. As such, confessions of faith are a great tool to guard against errant doctrine. It is quite possible to sit in many churches today for months without knowing exactly what the saints there actually believe. The confessions of faith make clear what the Christian believes, and is to be professed corporately in public worship.

"The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says,"Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." (Romans 10:8-11)

The Church has a vast and rich collection of confessions of faith that have been passed on to us by saints of the past, and we should not hesitate to use all or part of them as corporate confessions in our worship. Some of the best and most popular are as follows:

The Apostle's Creed

The Nicene Creed

The Athanasian Creed

The Council of Chalcedon

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Belgic Confession

The Westminster Confession

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #2

The Prayer of Invocation

"Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, and said, "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart, who have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, 'You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.' Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, 'My name shall be there,' that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive." (1 Kings 8:22-30)

When God calls us to worship Him, His people respond with a prayer to invoke the presence of the Lord. While God is omnipresent, He has times and places where He is present in a special way. Thus we summon this special presence of the Lord in our worship, our new and redeemed hearts agreeing with our Lord's Call to worship in His presence.

What an awesome privilege it is to approach the throne of grace! It is not something to be taken lightly and casually. Proper Biblical worship is honoring to God, and irreverent worship displeases Him. For the redeemed, there is joy in the presence of the Lord, but we are also told to "Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling." (Psalm 2:11). It sounds strange for someone to "rejoice with trembling", but that is what a redeemed sinner does in the presence of a holy God.

Invoking the presence of the Lord is a serious matter indeed, and one who is truly aware of God's nature, and his own, cannot but be in awe. Even as those who are predestined to adoption, God should scare us. He is too big. We are too small. He is too Holy, and we are too wicked. The idea that we could approach him in a careless, irreverent manner is unthinkable to the sober man.

"The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!" (Psalm 99:1)

When we hear the universal call to worship each sabbath, let us respond in agreement with our Lord with a prayer of invocation, doing so soberly as we prepare to meet the true and living God, ready to beseech Him to "listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive".

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Monday, August 31, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #1

The Call To Worship

"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations" (Psalm 100:1-5)

"It is a throne of grace that God in Christ is represented to us upon; but yet it is a throne still whereon majesty and glory do reside, and God is always to be considered by us as on a throne." – John Owen

Man, due to his deformed nature, tends to worldliness and carnality, so much so that even the redeemed must be called by God to worship Him in a way that is acceptable and pleasing to Him. Thus the reading of Scripture, such as the Psalm above, serves to call God's people to Reformed, Biblical worship. It is no accident that those churches which stray away from Reformed worship tend to be man-pleasers in their worship, even to the point of using entertainment as a church growth gimmick, never considering that worship belongs to God, and He alone has the right to determine how he is to be worshiped.

When one considers that God, the Sovereign Creator of the Universe, has called us into His presence, a certain awe and reverence is bound to overtake us. When sinful man stands in the presence of a righteous and omnipotent God, what else may be our response other than "Woe is me, for I am undone". (Isaiah 6:5). In such a presence, there is no room for jugglers, clowns, silly skits, rock concerts, or whatever other irreverent items that are included in modern "worship". For the God who demands our worship tells us that we may not do these things (Deut. 12:32).

Needless to say, much of what is done today in the "presence of the Lord" has little to do with God's presence. Many churches have reduced their worship to mere "celebration" services, never giving thought to their own sinfulness or to God's holiness. While the Christian should rejoice at his redemption, he must be mindful of the fact that God's throne of grace is still a throne, and an almighty and sovereign Judge sits upon that throne.

"You must never come into God’s presence but as a poor worm, and if there is any difference that is made between you and others in outward respects, it is nothing to you. When you are in the presence of God, you are as a base, vile worm though you are a prince or an emperor." (Jeremiah Burroughs - Gospel Worship, Soli Deo Gloria, p. 137)

The call to worship, being God's call, is not merely an invitation, but an authoritative commandment. The call is a universal call, going out to all people every sabbath, and there is no excuse for not heeding the call. The beauty of God's call to worship is that He calls us, as he did Adam and Eve, despite or fear and unworthiness. May we give attention to the importance of God's call to worship Him, and do so with reverence and awe.

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Problem of Evil Answered


One of the oldest, and still most popular, arguments against the Christian God is the so-called problem of evil. Dr. Walter Kaufmann, who tragically lost family members in the Holocaust, refers to the problem of evil as his strongest argument against Christianity, a "complete refutation of popular theism". H. J. McCloskey, in a 1960 Philosophical Quarterly article, wrote that "Evil is a problem, for the theist, in that a contradiction is involved in the fact of evil on the one hand and belief in the omnipotence and omniscience of God on the other."

Perhaps the original problem of evil argument was attributed Epicurus by Lactantius (See Lactantius - A Treatise on the Anger of God; Chap. XIII. - Of the Advantage and Use of the World and of the Seasons; AD 260-330). Although it is debatable if Lactantius chose the correct philosopher, it is clear that the "problem of evil" argument existed very early in Christendom. The Apostle Paul, in some rhetorical measure, dealt with the problem of evil in regards to the doctrine of unconditional election (Romans 9:14 - See Jay Adams' answer below).

The problem of evil is presented as a logical problem in regards to an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Deity. With a few variations, the arguments is stated as such:

P1: If God were omnipotent, He would be able to prevent all evil.
P2: If God were omnibenevolent, He would want to prevent all evil.
P3: Evil exists.
Conclusion: There is no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

The Atheist's Problem of Evil

While the problem is presented as an obstacle to Christianity, it must be pointed out that it presents two huge (and I would say, insurmountable) challenges to atheism. The first is the premise P3: Evil exists. The entire argument is based on the idea the evil is an objective reality. However, such a reality cannot be accounted for in an atheistic worldview. A judgment of "evil exists" requires an absolute moral standard, an objective "right and wrong" that goes well beyond simply subjectivism and "conventional wisdom". But how can a moral absolute come into existence in a materialistic universe? In an atheistic world, complete with its "survival of he fittest" ontology, there may be things that are painful, tragic, and grate against our sensibilities. However, such a worldview logically leads to genetic determinism, thus no grounds for proclaiming that evil exists. Yet, aside from Stoics who deny the existence of evil, every man has an innate and inescapable knowledge of evil, because they "by nature do what the law requires" (Romans 2:14), proving their knowledge of the one true God. And even if variable "secular" ethical theories could provide an objective moral standard, there is no grounds for demanding any life form to subject themselves to that standard. Materialism cannot produce morality, and "is" cannot justify "ought". C.S. Lewis explains this problem by looking back on his days as an atheist:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies." (C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity - Touchstone: New York, 1980 p.45-46)

The second obstacle is that the problem of evil argument presupposes, not just a god, but the one and True Christian God. To suppose any other deity would eliminate evil as being a problem. From a standpoint of "general theism" (whatever form it may take), there are many logical reasons why evil may exist. There could be an evil god, who loves to do evil things. There could be an irrational god, who cannot tell the difference between good and evil. There could be a weak god, who is unable to prevent evil.

So we must concluded that, if the problem of evil is a valid problem, then atheism is refuted, and the Christian God is presupposed a priori. Nonetheless, the Christian is commanded by His Lord to answer the problem (1 Peter 3:15), though the problem itself is proof of the unbeliever's suppressed knowledge of God (Romans 1:18).

Past Answers Attempted

There have been many attempts throughout history to answer the logical problem of evil, yet without examining the truth of it's premises. Irenaeus suggested that evil is necessary and useful for men to seek God. Variations consider that evil is necessary for free will to exist (Plantinga). Justin Martyr attributed evil to angels who "transgressed their appointment", but does not explain how this idea is compatible with God's omnipotence. Dionysius echoed the Stoic view that evil does not exist. Augustine suggested that evil was simply an absence of good, but unwittingly denies the omnipresence of God in the process. Various "Best Possible World" Theories have abounded. C.S. Lewis holds to a combination of the "best possible world" and "free will" theories. He suggests that "Perhaps this is not the 'best of all possible' universes, but the only possible one" (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 26). In Lewis's view, evil is a result of a "fixed nature of matter" (pp. 23-25), and is necessary for free will to exist. He writes, "We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment,...But such a world would be one in which all wrong actions would be impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void." (p. 24)

However, The Christian Doctrine of a perfect heaven is a death blow to "free will", necessary evil, or "best possible worlds" arguments. No Christian truly believes that this is the best possible world, for we all look for a better world yet to come, where evil will finally be defeated, and man's "will" shall truly be free of it's sinful nature.

Other theories tend to compromise God's attributes, making Him less than God. Monism holds that God is above good and evil, thus denying God's omnibenevolence. Dualism denies God's sovereignty, teaching that God produces only good, but a separate power (usually Satan) produces evil. Process Theology ("open" theism) flatly denies the omnipotence of God. The unthinkable result is that, in order to satisfy a weak intellect concerning the problem of evil, these poor deluded souls have no rational hope that evil won't eventually triumph in the universe. Those who hold that evil is "necessary" deny the solitariness of God, who does not need "anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything." (Acts 7:24-25). Whatever answer we come up with for the problem of evil, we cannot let that answer make God to be anything less than God.

The Problem of Evil Answered

Lactantius' answer to Epicurus' alleged statement over 1700 years ago was very close to the correct answer.

"For God is able to do whatever He wishes, and there is no weakness or envy in God. He is able, therefore, to take away evils; but He does not wish to do so, and yet He is not on that account envious. For on this account He does not take them away, because He at the same time gives wisdom, as I have shown; and there is more of goodness and pleasure in wisdom than of annoyance in evils. For wisdom causes us even to know God, and by that knowledge to attain to immortality, which is the chief good. Therefore, unless we first know evil, we shall be unable to know good." (Lactantius - A Treatise on the Anger of God; Chap. XIII. - Of the Advantage and Use of the World and of the Seasons.)

Thomas Aquinas expounded this line of thought even further, holding that God is the primary cause of evil (as penalty), but not the secondary cause (as fault) (See Summa Theologica: Question XLVIII - The Distinction of Things in Particular.) Jay Adams was short to the biblical point, Evil exists for God to show his wrath on evildoers and "in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory" (Romans 9:23). While this is true, (as well as the broad argument that everything, including evil, exists for the glory of God), it doesn't provide a direct answer to the logical problem presented. Using a combination of the arguments above, let us re-examine the premises presented in the problem of evil.

P1: If God were omnipotent, He would be able to prevent all evil.
P2: If God were omnibenevolent, He would want to prevent all evil.
P3: Evil exists.
Conclusion: There is no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

Premise 1 is sound, God is clearly omnipotent and "he does all that he pleases." (Psalms 115:3). "...he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:35). These passages can be considered God's job description.

As we saw earlier, Premise 3 poses a problem for atheists, thus is a good starting point for discussion with one who uses this argument. But from the Christian perspective, it is quite obvious that evil does exist. Unbelievers are aware of evil, though they have issues defining it or accounting for it.

The real issue is Premise 2. Does an omnibenevolent God necessarily want to prevent all evil? How does this premise match the God of Scripture?

"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7 KJV)

Therefore Premise 2 is false. The Bible teaches that the omnibenevolent God does not want to prevent evil, but actually creates evil and uses it for His own ends. It will come as no surprise that many Christians are uncomfortable with this rendering, thus many translations substitute "calamity" in place of "evil", as though it really makes any difference (See also Amos 3:6). But why would a omnipotent, omnibenevolent God create evil? Based on the clear teachings of Scripture concerning God's omnipotence and His omnibenevolence, we may propose the following correction to Premise 2:

P2: If God were omnibenevolent, He would have a good purpose behind the evil He creates.

With this corrected premise, the problem of evil ceases to be a problem. The premise is biblical, and solves the logical problem with evil in God's universe. We may conclude that evil exists, therefore there is an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God who uses that evil for his own good purposes. We have also established that, without God, there can be no evil, only a material world governed by undesigned chance or blind fate. So it is the atheist worldview that has the real "problem with evil".

One may object to my correction of Premise 2 by asking what precisely is the "good purpose" for evil. That I have no answer for, nor do I need to in order to validate this answer for the problem with evil. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29)

We have clues as to why God sovereignly works in certain evil events. The kidnapping and enslavement of Joseph was a direct act of God (Genesis 45:7), yet while Joseph's brothers meant it for evil, "...God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive...". (Genesis 50:20). The most evil act in history was the death of God's own Son, delivered into the hand of wicked men according to the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23), for all these did nothing but "what the hand and counsel of God had decreed" (Acts 4:27-28). Yet the good that has come about by the evil act is wondrous indeed, the redemption of poor, deformed sinners, deserving of God's wrath, into adopted sons who have the promise of an inheritance.

We may not know what the ultimate "good" purpose for evil is in God's most wise and determinate counsel, for He has not revealed that to us. However, let not this keep us from the One who has all power and authority, and guarantees "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Atheism's Groundless Epistemology Exposed

"Tim The Teacher" tries to build his case against God by using arguments based on radical empiricism. In the end, he has no ground on which to stand. Let's pray that he will treat his own materialistic worldview with equal skepticism, and that the Master will claim Tim for His own.

See A Question Of Faith.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Eternal Security and Sanctification

“… In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

It is often said by the critics of the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints that such security trends to lead to lasciviousness. There is some cause for concern in this area, especially when this doctrine is mixed with “free will” salvation. I’ve met more than one poor deluded soul who, despite living a godless life, considered himself saved on the basis that, at one point in his life, he went to an altar and repeated a prayer (more on this tragic practice in a few weeks). In such cases, the problem with the “once saved, always saved” approach isn’t with the “always saved”, but rather with the “once saved”. Eternal security is not meant to be fire insurance for the wicked, and abuses of doctrine are not the cause of the doctrine itself. Those who profess such a vain religion would to well to heed the words of our Saviour.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:21-23)

For the believer, however, the Doctrine of Eternal Security should lead to greater sanctification, for it is the secure believer who has the freedom to dig deep within his wicked heart and purge whatever great deformity he may find. He may pray as David did, with confidence:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23-24)

In contrast, those who fear losing their salvation are rarely led to greater sanctification. They are dangerously relying on what Charles Spurgeon referred to as “Carnal Security”. Rather than take joy in their adoption, they rely on their own works to maintain their justification, and then foolishly think that they have succeeded. They must lower God’s standard of perfection, and cannot be honest about their own sinfulness. They think well of themselves if they attend a church service, say a few prayers and devotions, and avoid any “big” sins. I would ask such a person, “How much is required in order to maintain ones justification? How many sins does it take to lose it? Do sins such as gossip and private, lustful thoughts count?” Indeed, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength…” (Jeremiah 17:5)

Look at these beautiful words. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons…” (Ephesians 1:4-5). What glorious confidence that should provide for us as we continue to examine our hearts! Friend, there is no reason to hold anything back, for the Lord already sees it. Let us approach the Great Physician as a son approaches a father, allowing Him to perform the necessary heart surgery, confident that He is preparing us for glory.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Egalitarianism: An Examination of the Alleged Supporting Scriptures

“For those things which I have already mentioned might easily be performed by many even of those who are under authority, women as well as men; but when one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also… The divine law indeed has excluded women from the ministry, but they endeavor to thrust themselves into it; and since they can effect nothing of themselves, they do all through the agency of others; and they have become invested with so much power that they can appoint or eject priests at their will; things in fact are turned upside down, and the proverbial saying may be seen realized —“The ruled lead the rulers:” and would that it were men who do this instead of women, who have not received a commission to teach. Why do I say teach? For the blessed Paul did not suffer them even to speak in the Church.” (Chrysostom - The Priesthood 2:2 , 3:9).

“In the New Testament the Holy Spirit, speaking through St Paul, ordained that women should be silent in the churches and assemblies (1 Cor. 14:34), and said that this is the Lord's commandment? In the congregations or churches where there is a ministry women are to be silent and not preach (1 Timothy 2:12).” (Martin Luther - Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers, Works 40:390-91).

In light of the recent close vote (446 to 427) in the PCA concerning the ordination of “deaconesses”, as well as the increasing number of female pastors in many denominations, I thought it would be profitable to examine some of the Scriptures that are commonly used in support of women in ordained ministry, despite the very clear commandment of 1 Timothy 2:12. The following arguments appear in a publication by a well known Pentecostal denomination which practices the ordination of women ministers.

1.) “Junia was a female apostle” (Romans 16:7).

Romans 16:7 does not state the Junia was an apostle, or any type of church leader. Some translations say that she was “of note among the apostles” (ASV. KVJ, etc.) The meaning is clarified by the ESV, that she was “well known to the apostles”. For that matter, it’s not even clear that Junia was a woman, since the Greek “Iounian” could also be translated “Junias” (a male name), as some early transcripts read.

In any case, there were only 14 Apostles (the original 12, plus Mattias and Paul). The term “Apostle” here referring to the church office, not the generic term that many try to cause confusion with.

2.) “in Christ, there is neither male or female” (Galatians 3:28).

Clearly a misused text (See Most Misused Bible Passages Poll). Taken to its logical extreme, this sort of exegesis could be used to support gay marriage (Don’t laugh, this is being done). The passage is clearly used to emphasize the fact that salvation is not dependent on social standing. The passage is not meant to blur the clear distinction between men and women, and thus their qualification for church office or teaching in public ministry.

3.) “Paul also allowed women to “teach” in (Romans 16:1-6; Philippians 4:2-3). Thus he presumably addressed 1Timothy to the specific situation in a specific community.”

The cited passages do not suggest that women are allowed to teach (not to mention that those who use this argument never manage to explain what the “specific situation” in 1 Timothy was). There are many ways that a woman can (and should) be “workers in Christ Jesus” without holding an ordained office or teaching in public worship. That same is true with Philippians 4, and there are many ways to “labor…in the gospel” without holding an ordained office or teaching in public worship.

The clearest passage regarding women teaching is 1 Timothy 2:12, and Paul really leaves no ambiguity in his statement. To suggest that Paul was addressing a “specific situation in a specific community.” is presumptuous indeed. Especially when Paul was clearly addressing Timothy in regards to “all people” (without distinction) (v. 1, 4, 6). Paul goes on to suggest that “in every place the men should pray” (v.8). Does that apply only to the specific situation in Timothy, or to men in every place? On what basis, then, would anyone suggest that Paul suddenly shift gears and applies vs. 12 to “a specific situation”? Certainly not sound biblical exegesis.

4.) “Joel explicitly emphasized that when God poured out His Spirit, women as well as men would prophesy (Joel 2:28-29).”

This is the most common argument, with another misused passage, though not quite as clear, since preaching is a form of prophesying. When Peter was citing this passage, he was applying it to what had just happened on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). There were 3,000 people with him, and yet he was the only one “preaching”. No one else was preaching, and no women had been ordained to church office. It’s best to let the Bible apply its own meaning to a passage rather than try to make it say something that it doesn’t.

5.) “Slaves can be saved and also receive gifts for ministry equally, so can Gentiles, so can women.”

Gifts for ministry do not necessarily entail preaching or ordination for church office. Over and over again, those offices are strictly limited to men. In 1 Timothy 2:12, God left no wiggle room for interpretation, nor did He contradict Himself on the other passages that we just dealt with.
I would ask those who voted “yes” in the GA, as I have often asked in regards to 1 Timothy 2:12: Let’s suppose, just for a second, the Paul had actually meant that he does “not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man”, and that “she is to remain quiet” in church. How else could he have expressed that sentiment any clearer than he did here? Versa ipsa loquitur.

6.) “Women ministers have led many to Christ”.

True or not, this is a common argument adopting a pragmatic worldview, that the end justifies the means. It is used to support everything from altar calls, church clowns and jugglers, Rock and Roll “Worship” services, and false TBN preachers. I would ask those who use this argument to consider if what Judas Iscariot did should be justified on the basis that it has saved so many people. Truth should never be expendable for perceived successful results. The ends never justify the means, especially when those means are unbiblical.

If it make anyone feel better, there are very few men that are qualified for ordained office as well, but those who do qualify are exclusively men. This last vote was a bit too close for my comfort.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Justification by Calvinism?

And I thought I was a doctrinal hardcase...

There is an interesting discussion on the Puritan Board concerning Arminianism and Salvation. Not a few posters have expressed the belief that Arminianism in any form disqualifies one from the kingdom of God.

As a former "saved Arminian" who knows quite a few saved Arminians, I needed to take exception to such a broad sweeping statement. The difficulty comes in trying to define what Arminianism is. Granted, the classic historical Arminian belief system is incompatible with Biblical Christianity. Fortunately, there are very few pure Arminians today. The vast majoity of those who call themselves Arminians would be shocked at what Arminianism actually teaches (ie. Christ death offered no payment for sins, etc.)

The question is whether one can obtain saving faith and still be in error about how that faith was obtained. I would answer in the affirmative. The Galatian Church taught justification by works. Paul unapologetically refuted the error, but never once suggested that the Galatian Church was anything other than a true church. We need the grace to recognize that "The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error" (WCF Chapter XXV:V.).

Arminianism in any form is a gross error, and we should do all in our power to correct it. But there is an equal danger of adding "Belief in Calvinism" to the Ordo Salutis, and teaching "Justification by Calvinism". I'm just not there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Be Thankful That Satan Treats You As His Enemy!

(A Letter from John Newton - November 13, 1772)

My dear Miss,

I am glad that you complain of evil thoughts and temptations; for, though these things are grievous, they always accompany a saving work of grace. Though every Christian does not suffer greatly by persecution, poverty, and worldly troubles--yet they all suffer much from indwelling sin, temptation and Satan.

As to evil thoughts, they as unavoidably arise from an evil nature--as steam arises from a boiling tea-kettle! Every cause will have its effect--and a sinful nature will have sinful effects. You can no more keep such thoughts out of your mind--than you can stop the course of the clouds!
But if the Lord had not taught you--you would not have been sensible of them, nor concerned about them. This is a token for good. By nature your thoughts would have been only evil, and that continually. But you find 'something' within you that makes you dislike these thoughts; makes you ashamed of them; makes you strive and pray against them.

Now, this 'something' that resists your evil thoughts--what can it be? It cannot be human nature; for we naturally love our vain imaginations. It is the grace of God! The Lord has made you sensible of your disease--that you might love and prize the great Physician! The knowledge of His love for you--shall make you hate these thoughts! Yet you will be pestered with them more or less, while you live in this world. For sin is wrought into our bodies, and our souls must be freed from our bodies--before we shall be fully freed from the evils under which we mourn!

Your other complaint of temptations is likewise a good one. If you were to visit some young ladies who know no other end of living--but to dress and dance and socialize; and if you were to ask them if they are troubled with Satan's temptations--they would think that you were out of your wits! Poor things! They know no better! They are blinded by the god of this world; they go on quietly in the way of sin and vanity, careless of their souls, and mindless of eternity! While they continue in this course, you may be sure that Satan will not disturb them! They are asleep, and it would not be for his interest to do anything that might awaken them out of their pleasant dream!

And if you yourself were thus asleep, Satan would be content that you should sleep on--and take your rest. But, when he sees anyone awakened out of this deadly sleep, he probably tries first to lull them asleep again. And, if the Lord prevents that by His mercy, then Satan alters his measures, and roars like a lion which has lost his prey! Be thankful, my dear, that he treats you as his enemy! For the state of those to whom he behaves as a friend, is miserable indeed! And always remember that he is a chained enemy! He may terrify--but he cannot devour those who have fled for refuge to Jesus!

You cannot be too jealous of your own heart, or too cautious of the snares which you are exposed to. But the Lord is able and faithful to keep those from falling, who, sensible of their own weakness, cry daily to Him, "Hold me up--and I shall be safe!" Continue in prayer, that you may be preserved humble and abased in your own eyes--and then I am sure that you will not fall.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil!" Ephesians 6:10-11

I am sincerely, your affectionate friend and servant,
John Newton

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Does It Mean To Believe?

"…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:31)

Errors concerning belief

There are many errors among Christian concerning “faith” and “belief”. In the broad evangelical world, true Christian belief is often associated with anti-intellectualism, or as Mark Twain’s schoolboy resounds, “Faith is believing what you know ain't so.” In Arminian/Pelagian thought, belief is something that we obtain through our own virtuous resources, or an act of our “free will”. If we exercise our “seed faith” the correct way, we can be saved. The Rhema/Word Faith movement uses “belief” as the means by which one can force God to submit to our every desire.

What is belief?

The term “believe” has a variety of meanings, not only in biblical Greek, but in everyday English usage as well. One could say, “I believe in Santa Claus”. In this case, “believe” refers to mental assent, acknowledging a statement of fact as valid or true. The Bible uses the term this way as well, such as in James 2:19. It is this mere assent to knowledge that the Cheap Grace (No Lordship) movement relies on for salvation. However, this form of belief is less profitable than the belief devils have, for at least the belief of devils causes them to tremble. Simon Magus believed (Acts 8:13), yet his belief was apparently no more than mental assent, since he was not saved (Acts 8:18-23). While assent to the facts of the gospel are necessary for salvation, mere assent is not saving faith.

In terms of salvation, the word “believe” requires one to completely entrust himself to the matter. In fact, the Greek word πιστεύω (pisteuō) is often translated “to entrust”.

“If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will “entrust” (πιστεύω) to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:11)

“but just as we have been approved by God to be “entrusted” (πιστεύω) with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

In both cases, we can see that πιστεύω refers to more than just mental assent. It requires a heartfelt trust in the work of Christ alone for salvation (Psalm 78:22). We often here of a sports superstar who finally wins a championship because he “believed” in his teammates. Obviously, the term does not mean that he simple acknowledged the existence of his teammates, but that he actually entrusted his hope of winning to their work. It is one thing to believe that a person can scale Niagara Falls in a barrel. It is quite another thing to climb into the barrel. Saving faith requires one to entrust their eternal salvation to the finished work of Christ.

What are we to believe?

We are to believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6). We must believe in Christ's divinity, "...for unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). We must believe the truth, having no pleasure in unrighteousness, lest we be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:12). We must believe in Christ’s resurrection (Romans 10:9) and our own coming resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:14). We must believe in the signs and wonders recorded in Scripture (John 20:31). We must believe God’s Word, and have it abiding in us (John 5:38). We must believe in the grace of God (Acts 15:11), which not only redeems us from the penalty of sin, but it’s dominion as well (Romans 6:14). Christ is both your savior and your Lord, or He is neither, for “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord AND (καί – “and also”) believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

How is belief obtained?

Faith is not obtained by raising hands, altar calls, or vain repetition of a “sinner’s prayer”. Neither may it obtained by baptism, confirmation, or any other work. If one desires saving faith, let him seek salvation in the Word of God. Let the Word convict him of his sinfulness, and make him tremble at God’s wrath upon that sinfulness. Let the Word convince him of his hopelessness sans Jesus Christ. It is the foolishness of preaching by which true belief is obtained. Let the sinner read God’s Word, meditate on it, and find a church where it is faithfully preached, since “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17). “And many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41). And do not be deceived into thinking that one may be saved by mere assent to the truths of this Word, being no better off than the devils who believe, but rather fully entrust your soul to Christ, not relying on your own flesh. We aren’t merely to acknowledge the truth of God's Word, but we are to live “…by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Lord’s Supper

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another-- if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home--so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

A Multitude of Mystical Errors

In an age where individualism is prized over corporate worship, there abounds a serious abuse of the Lord’s Supper among Christian’s today. Strange mysticism has been tied to this sacrament, and this is nothing new. In the middle ages, the Communion table became surrounded by the mysticism of “Transubstantiation”, where it was believed that the bread and wine actually became the literal body and blood of Christ. Though the elements appeared to still be bread and wine, it was believed that Christ was being sacrificed yet again for sins. Shreds of this Roman ignorance found its way among the early Reformers, as the Lutherans held to “Consubstantiation”, where Christ’s physical body was present, hiding under the physical elements of the bread and the wine. Both Romanism and Lutheranism hold these erroneous views to this very day.

Aside from being nothing more that sheer cannibalism (as well as gross idolatry), these views of the Lord’s Table give attributes to Christ’s humanity that are not human. Giving ubiquity to Christ’s physical body is not compatible with Chalcedon Christology, and denies the fact that Christ has “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12).

In today’s evangelical world, strange mysticism continues to surround the Communion Table. Perry Stone has taken it upon himself to teach that the Lord’s Supper, instead of being a sacrament in remembrance of Christ’s death and burial, is actually a “Meal that Heals”. Stone boldly proclaims that “this revelation of daily Communion has been lost in the traditional church” (backcover), so he takes it upon himself to correct the church and share this “life-changing spiritual revelation of God’s healing covenant through the bread and fruit of the wine”. In all humility, Stone declares that he is “not interested in convincing a theologian, or receiving applause from a denomination, or debating those folks whose unbelief is founded upon tradition and not upon truth” (Introduction, p. vii). So despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing in Scripture that suggests that the Lord’s Supper is to be used for physical healing, Stone has declared it to be truth, and those who disagree are in “unbelief”. As a compliment to this book, the “The Healing Room” advertises a home communion set where believers can “at home or away, participate in all the blessings of daily communion.” (Of course, with no money back guarantee if one is not healed.)

A Proper View of the Lord’s Supper

In the orthodox, biblical view of the Lord’s Supper, there is nothing mystical about the bread and the wine. They don’t mysteriously change into Christ’s body, nor do they provide a magical healing potion for ones physical ailments. Christ’s presence at the Lord’s Supper is Spiritual, yet very real. The elements are external signs of the Covenant of Grace, done in remembrance of Christ, not in order to become Christ. A proper practice of the Lord’s Supper must be void of all charismatic superstitions and popish delusions.

Paul addresses the church at Corinth concerning the proper manner to worship in the Lord’s feast.

The Church alone has the authority to oversee Communion. The individual members of the Corinthian Church, like Perry Stone’s audience, were treating communion as a regular meal in their homes. This treatment of the Lord’s Supper is exactly what Paul was condemning in the opening passage. God gave Communion to His Church, not to individuals or families. The communion is to be taken “when you come together in one place” (1 Corinthians 11:17, 18, 20). We are instructed to “wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33). Communion is not to be done in a family or individual setting. Home was distinctly presented as a place for the regular meal, not Communion (1 Corinthians 11:22, 34). (In fact, the word “communion” itself denotes togetherness). Great care must be taken not to usurp the authority of God’s ecclesiastical government (His Church). Paul asks “do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?” (1 Corinthians 11:22). The elements were blessed by church leadership (1 Corinthians 10:16), and the whole body of partook of one bread (1 Corinthians 1:17). R. J. Anderson explains:

“Every place in God’s Word where we are told any thing about the observing of "The Lord’s Supper" it is a local church (and there is no other kind) that meets together to observe it. There is not a case in the Scripture; I have ever been able to discover, where messenger bodies or groups of Christians other than a local church ever observed "The Lord’s Supper." In as much as "The Lord’s Supper" is a church ordinance we must agree that all who are not members of a Scriptural church are scripturally barred from the Lord’s Table.” (R. J. Anderson – Vital Church Truths)

Communion is not for the purpose of filling the stomach. This is not a “meal that heals”, nor is it for the purpose of satisfying of one’s physical body. Instead, the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to “discern the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29). The Corinthians, instead of sharing Communion with the Lord’s body, were eager to stuff their faces in disregard for “those who have nothing” (1 Corinthians 11:22). Because of this “one is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21). (The Lord’s Supper consists of wine, as “grape juice” is a mid-19th century invention). Paul instructed the Corinthians to eat their own meal at home, but when they come to the Lord’s Table, they were “to wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:21)

Communion is a Token of the New Covenant, and is only for His people. Communion is Covenant Renewal, and therefore is exclusive. Where baptism is the initial sign of the Covenant, the Lord’s Supper is the continuing sign. The meal is not open for just anyone. It is only for those who have been accepted as part of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25). Ray Sutton explains the importance of a “demonstration” of faith.

“Paul says, “Let a man examine himself” (I Cor. 11:28). The command means demonstration of faithfulness. The word ‘examine” should be translated demonstrate. In other passages Paul uses the same Greek word where it is translated “prove.” He says, “But let every man Prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another’ (Gal. 6:4). This is a fundamental aspect of Christian self government.” (Ray Sutton – That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant, p. 306)

In is in this area that Communion is distinct from Baptism. Communion is tied directly to the work of Christ at Calvary, and requires self-examination. Baptism, on the other hand, is more passive, as no one can baptism themselves, even a professing adult.

It is no coincidence that Satan entered Judas Iscariot immediately after he received the Lord’s Supper as a Covenant breaker (John 13:26-27). Each person needs to examine himself before coming to the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:28).

The Lord’s Supper is not to be refused by Christians to whom it is offered. There is a gross misunderstanding that surrounds the “worthiness” spoken in Scripture, as if we needed to be sinless before coming to the Lord's Table. Do not assume that one is unworthy of Communion because he is battling sin, for that is when it is most needed. Rather it is the one who is not battling sin that is truly the unworthy one. To reject this sacrament is to suggest that Christ’s work is not sufficient to overcome sin.

The Lord’s Supper is a time for sharing a meal with the corporate body. Communion is a time of corporate judgment (1 Corinthians 11:31), not just for individual contemplation or meditation. As the token of Covenant Renewal, Communion is a time for sharing. Otherwise, “it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat…each one goes ahead with his own meal.” (1 Corinthians 11:20-21)

Communion separates us from the world. This is the positive result of internal judgment. “But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). Communion, like baptism, is a ceremonial cleansing, setting us apart from the world. Yet in order to be taken in a worthy manner, it also requires a moral cleansing as well. “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

A Proper Practice in Observing the Lord’s Supper

The Bible prescribes no set time for partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Some churches honor this sacrament monthly, some bi-monthly, and some weekly. Scripture's only admonition is that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Wilhelmus a’Brakel outlines the proper practice of those who participate in the Lord’s Supper.

1.) Preparation: consisting of…

  • A strong desire to be among God’s People.

  • An examination of self.

  • Spiritual Adornment by a quite and contemplative reflection on Christ’s redemptive work.

2.) Celebration: Consisting of…

  • Letting our heart distance itself from the world on the way to church.

  • Letting Holy Reverence arise upon entering church.

  • Let your heart be focused upon joining God’s People during the reading of God’s Word, singing, praying and preaching.

  • Reflecting upon the aspects of Christ’s suffering while approaching the table.

  • Considering oneself to be in the presence of God while at the table.

  • Enlivening ones heart to remain dear to Jesus upon departing from the table.

3.) Reflection: Consisting of…

  • A Reflection upon what your condition has been.

  • An Expression of Gratitude.

  • An Anticipation and enjoyment of having fellowship with God.

  • A Despising and Abandonment of the world.

  • A Public Manifestation of one’s Christianity.

  • A Public Confession of the Lord Jesus.