Sunday, September 30, 2012

doctrines and creeds


I get it when people point to the misuse of doctrines and creeds through history. It is true that there have been and still are problems. But I don't get the abject hatred and bitterness toward those who hold to these. Moreover, I don't get the failure to see similar abuses on the part of those who do not proclaim to hold to doctrines or creeds. And, as Carl Trueman rightly notes, we all have these whether written and well articulated or not:
"Christians are not divided between those who have creeds and confessions and those who do not; rather, they are divided between those who have public creeds and confessions which are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique; and those who have private creeds and confessions which are often improvised, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not subject to testing by scripture to see whether they are true or not." ~ Carl Trueman
Mostly however, I'm shocked when I find professing Christians claim that our faith is not one of doctrines and that Jesus was the antithesis of these. Interestingly, I read the following last night in Bloodlines by John Piper:

One of the best historical illustrations of the way the gospel of Christ transforms persons and sustains structural intervention is the life of William Wilberforce (1759–1833) and the Clapham Sect. One of the most important and least known facts about the battle to abolish the slave trade in Britain two hundred years ago is that it was sustained by a passion for the doctrine of justification by faith alone—which is at the center of the gospel of Christ.

Wilberforce was a spiritually exuberant and doctrinally rigorous evangelical. He had been personally transformed by the gospel and was carried along by a passion for the glory of Christ and the good of his fellow men. He battled tirelessly in Parliament for the outlawing of the British slave trade. And though most people do not know it, the particular doctrines of the gospel are the power that sustained him in the battle that ended the vicious trade.

The key to understanding Wilberforce is to read his own book A Practical View of Christianity. There he argued that the fatal habit of his day was to separate Christian morals from Christian doctrines. His conviction was that there is “perfect harmony between the leading doctrines and the practical precepts of Christianity." He had seen the devastating effects of denying this: “The peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and . . . the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment.” But Wilberforce knew that “the whole superstructure of Christian morals is grounded on their deep and ample basis.”

This “ample basis” and these “peculiar doctrines” that sustained Wilberforce in the battle against the slave trade were the doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in a life devoted to good deeds. Wilberforce was not a political pragmatist. He was a radically God-centered, gospel-saturated Christian politician. And his zeal for Christ, rooted in this gospel, was the strength that sustained him in the battle.

At the center of these essential “gigantic truths” was (and is) justification by faith alone. The indomitable joy that perseveres in the battle for justice is grounded in the experience of Jesus Christ as our righteousness. “If we would . . . rejoice,” Wilberforce said, “as triumphantly as the first Christians did, we must learn, like them, to repose our entire trust in [Christ] and to adopt the language of the apostle, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ,’ ‘who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ [Gal. 6:14; 1 Cor. 1:30].”

In other words, the gospel of justification by faith alone is essential to right living—and that includes political living. Astonishingly, Wilberforce said that the spiritual and practical errors of his day that gave strength to the slave trade were owing to the failure to experience the truth of this doctrine:
They consider not that Christianity is a scheme “for justifying the ungodly” by Christ’s dying for them “when yet sinners”—a scheme “for reconciling us to God”—when enemies; and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled.
This was why he wrote A Practical View of Christianity. The “bulk” of Christians in his day, he observed, were “nominal”—that is, they pursued morality without first relying utterly on the free gift of justification by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone. They got things backward: first they strived for moral uplift; then they appealed to God for approval. That is not the Christian gospel.

And it will not transform a nation. It will not heal the racial wounds of a nation. It would not sustain a politician through eleven Parliamentary defeats over twenty years of vitriolic opposition.

The battle for abolition was sustained by getting the gospel right: “The true Christian . . . knows . . . that this holiness is not to precede his reconciliation to God, and be its cause; but to follow it, and be its effect. That, in short, it is by faith in Christ only that he is to be justified in the sight of God.” When Wilberforce put things in this order, he found invincible strength and courage to stand for the justice of abolition.

I pray that the gospel of Jesus Christ will have this kind of effect on many today. May it be spoken and lived by millions of true Christians in their daily lives. May it impel them into greater pursuits of racial diversity and harmony. May it awaken in some a passion for a public life of engagement in the community and the political arena. And may it conquer Satan, guilt, pride, hopelessness, paralyzing feelings of inferiority, greed, hate, fear, and apathy. In that triumph, may Christ be magnified and peoples of every race and ethnicity find harmony in him as their supreme treasure.

gospel and apathy

John Piper in Bloodlines on the gospel and apathy:

Apathy is passionless living. It is sitting in front of the television night after night and living your life from one moment of entertainment to the next. It is the inability to be shocked into action by the steady-state lostness and suffering of the world. It is the emptiness that comes from thinking of godliness as the avoidance of doing bad things instead of the aggressive pursuit of doing good things.

If that were God’s intention for the godliness of his people, why would Paul say, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12)? People who stay at home and watch clean videos don’t get persecuted. Godliness must mean something more public, more aggressively good.

In fact, the aim of the gospel is the creation of people who are passionate for doing good rather than settling for the passionless avoidance of evil. “[Christ] gave himself for us . . . to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). The gospel produces people who are created for good works (Eph. 2:10), and have a reputation for good works (1 Tim. 5:10), and are rich in good works (1 Tim. 6:18), and present a model of good works (Titus 2:7), and devote themselves to good works (Titus 3:8, 14), and stir each other up to good works (Heb. 10:24).

And when they set about them, the word they hear from God is, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). The gospel does not make us lazy. It makes us fervent. The Greek for fervent signifies boiling. The gospel opens our eyes to the eternal significance of things. Nothing is merely ordinary anymore.

Christ did not pursue us halfheartedly. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the uttermost (John 13:1). His death gives the deepest meaning to the word passion. Now he dwells in us. How will we not pray for the fullest experience of his zeal for the cause of justice and love? “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

Friday, September 28, 2012

small groups that matter


Rick Warren on building small groups that matter:

Authenticity

Authentic fellowship is not superficial, surface-level chit-chat. It is genuine, heart-to-heart, sometimes gut-level, sharing. It happens when people get honest about who they are and what is happening in their lives -- when they share their hurts, reveal their feelings, confess their failures, disclose their doubts, admit their fears, acknowledge their weaknesses, and ask for help and prayer.

Of course, being authentic requires both courage and humility. It means facing our fear of exposure, of rejection, and of being hurt again. Why would anyone take such a risk? Because it’s the only way to grow spiritually and maintain emotional health. The Bible says, “Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed” (James 5:16, Msg). We only grow by taking risks, and the most difficult risk of all is to be honest with ourselves and with others.

Mutuality

Mutuality is the art of giving and receiving. It’s depending on each other. The Bible says, “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part” (1 Corinthians 12:25, Msg).

Mutuality is the heart of fellowship. It’s building reciprocal relationships, sharing responsibilities, and helping each other. Paul said, “I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you” (Romans 1:12, NCV).

All of us are more consistent in our faith when others walk with and encourage us. The Bible commands mutual accountability, mutual encouragement, mutual serving, and mutual honoring. More than 50 times in the New Testament we are commanded to do different tasks to “one another” and “each other.” The Bible says, “Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19, NIV).

Sympathy

Sympathy is not giving advice or offering quick, cosmetic help; sympathy is entering in and sharing the pain of others. The Bible commands: “Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NLT). Sympathy says, “I understand what you’re going through, and what you feel is neither strange nor crazy.” The fellowship of suffering is the deepest, most intense level of fellowship. It’s where we enter into each other’s pain and grief and carry each other’s burdens.

We need each other most during times of deep crisis, grief, and doubt. When circumstances crush us to the point that our faith falters, that’s when we need believing friends the most. We need a small group of friends to have faith in God for us and to pull us through. In a small group, the Body of Christ is real and tangible, even when God seems distant.

Mercy

Fellowship is a place of grace -- a place where mistakes aren’t rubbed in, they’re rubbed out. Fellowship happens when mercy wins over justice.

We all need mercy, because we all stumble and fall and require help getting back on track. We need to offer mercy and be willing to receive mercy from each other. God says, “When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won't give up in despair” (2 Corinthians 2:7, CEV).

Forgiveness must be immediate ... You can’t have fellowship without it. After sins are forgiven trust can be rebuilt. This takes time. The best place to restore trust is within the supportive context of a small group that offers both encouragement and accountability.

Real fellowship is an essential part of the Christian life. It cannot be overlooked. Building small groups around authenticity, mutuality, sympathy and mercy will provide a place where your members can find the fellowship they need and begin soaring in their walk with Christ.

shallow small groups

Time resurrect the shallow small group reminder.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

small group abc's

As one thinks about the typical small group, there's the Core Group (A), the Consistent Attendees (B), and the Newest People to the Group (C).


The core group can be expected to:

  • Plan group sessions
  • Model group life
  • Train B’s
  • Expand group

The consistent attendees can be expected to:

  • Imitate core leaders
  • Be involved in ministry
  • Keep in contact with C’s

And the newest people to the group can be expected to:

  • Just come
  • Primarily receive ministry, although they may assist the B’s

Monday, September 24, 2012

chan on discipleship

Clear points from Francis Chan on discipleship ...

life questions


50 questions to ask yourself and allow others to ask you:
  1. Do I have a vision for my life?
  2. Do I have a vision for the work I'm involved in?
  3. Do I enjoy what I do?
  4. Do I feel His pleasure in what I'm doing?
  5. Do I still have a passion?
  6. Do I pursue intimacy with Jesus?
  7. Do I make enough space for prayer?
  8. Do I study the Bible for me?
  9. Did the Bible live for me today?
  10. Am I seeking evidence of God's power in my life/ministry?
  11. Is Jesus real to me?
  12. Do I live out what I teach?
  13. Am I teachable and accountable?
  14. Am I available and approachable?
  15. Do I listen well?
  16. Do I make myself vulnerable to others?
  17. Am I leading with a servant heart?
  18. Can I be trusted?
  19. Do I keep my promises?
  20. Do I keep my perspectives?
  21. How do I handle pressure? (from people, work, or circumstances)
  22. How is my health?
  23. Am I eating well?
  24. Am I sleeping well?
  25. Is my family happy?
  26. How are my friendships?
  27. Do I have healthy relationships with those I serve: my peers, my leaders and with the opposite sex?
  28. What do I do when I'm hungry/angry/lonely/tired?
  29. Am I a slave to work, friendships, hobbies or habits?
  30. Am I taking enough rest?
  31. Do I manage my time well?
  32. How do I spend my spare time?
  33. Do I keep a healthy balance between church, work and home life?
  34. Am I making/maintaining relationships with non-Christians?
  35. Do I walk in grace and forgiveness or do I judge people?
  36. Is there anybody whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  37. Am I defeated in any part of my life, jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  38. Do I manage my money well?
  39. Do I give generously?
  40. Do I envy other people's opportunities/lives?
  41. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  42. Am I leading to promote myself, or to serve God and people?
  43. Am I walking with integrity?
  44. Am I decisive and confident?
  45. Am I willing to take risks?
  46. Am I making goals and reaching them?
  47. Am I willing to make sacrifices?
  48. Is the work I'm involved in growing?
  49. Am I keeping my cutting edge?
  50. Am I moving in the power of the Spirit?

the gospel and hate


John Piper in Bloodlines:

The gospel of Jesus cuts the nerve of hatred and anger and the bent to be a blaming person. It does so in many ways. I’ll mention two that seem almost opposite but are both crucial in the quest for racial justice and harmony.

First, when we receive the gracious provision of God to forgive our sins through Christ, our bent to be unforgiving is broken. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 4:32–5:1). Our kindness and forgiveness of others is empowered by our being forgiven. Our loving others is empowered by our being loved by God. We know we are sinners. We know that the offense we have given to God is greater than any offense others have given to us, and if God was gracious to us, we must be gracious to others. You cannot authentically rejoice in being treated better than you deserve while treating others the way they deserve, or worse.

The gospel cuts the nerve of hatred by making us feel the brokenhearted gratitude that God’s wrath was once on us and was removed, not because we deserved it but because of his absolutely free grace. Freely you have received; freely give. As the Father has sent me to love, Jesus said, so I send you. Love your enemies so that you may prove yourselves to be children of God, because that is the way he treated you. If you cherish grudges, you do not cherish God’s grace. But the definition of a Christian is one who receives and cherishes the grace of God in Christ.

Second, the gospel overcomes vengeance by promising that justice will be done. One of the emotional boosters behind our judicial sense is that justice must be done, especially when our rights are denied. And when it looks like justice will not be done to us, we feel the need to take matters into our hands and exact vengeance.

To this impulse, the gospel comes with a double message. All wrongs in the world will be punished justly, either on the cross (for the wrongdoers who trust Christ) or in hell (for the wrongdoers who don’t). “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Rom. 12:19–20).

What God is telling us is that forgiveness and love do not mean the perpetrators get away with their abuses and injustices. They don’t. If they come to faith in Christ, their sins will be covered by his blood. But if they do not come to Christ, their sins will come on their own head, and God will see that justice is done. In this way, a life of love and forgiveness—a life of treating bad people better than they deserve—is not a foolish life. God’s mercy and vengeance frees us from the soul-destroying bitterness of hatred and anger and blaming and vengeance. It makes us merciful without making us na├»ve about evil.

he's alive forever


Paul Beasley-Murray in The Message of the Resurrection:

Of first and basic importance is that the gospel centres on a life, namely the risen life of Christ. Without the resurrection of Jesus the death of Jesus would have no meaning and the cross would be devoid of its power. The crucified Christ whom Paul preached is the crucified and risen Lord.

The uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus does not lie just in his coming back to life, miraculous as that was. Jesus was no Lazarus, who came back to life only to die again. No, the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus lies in his having been raised to life and being alive for ever. Jesus is alive, and will be for all eternity.

Because he is alive, not only sin but also death have been dealt with for ever. The resurrection of Jesus is the only hope for mortal men and women.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

leadership


Peter Drucker in The Leader of the Future:

Some unambiguous lessons about leadership
  • The first is that there may be "born leaders," but there surely are far too few to depend on them. Leadership must be learned and can be learned.
  • The second major lesson is that "leadership personality," "leadership style," and "leadership traits" do not exist. ... The one and only personality trait the effective ones I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no "charisma" and little use either for the term or for what it signifies.
What leaders know

All the effective leaders I have encountered-both those I worked with and those I merely watched-knew four simple things:
  • The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.
  • An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone whose followers do the right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.
  • Leaders are highly visible. They therefore set examples.
  • Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility.
What leaders do

Regardless of their almost limitless diversity with respect to personality, style, abilities, and interests, the effective leaders I have met, worked with, and observed also behaved much the same way:
  • They did not start out with the question, "What do I want?" They started out asking, "What needs to be done?"
  • Then they asked, "What can and should I do to make a difference?" This has to be something that both needs to be done and fits the leader's strengths and the way she or he is most effective.
  • They constantly asked, "What are the organization's mission and goals? What constitutes performance and results in this organization?"
  • They were extremely tolerant of diversity in people and did not look for carbon copies of themselves. It rarely even occurred to them to ask, "Do I like or dislike this person?" But they were totally-fiendishly-intolerant when it came to a person's performance, standards, and values.
  • They were not afraid of strength in their associates. They gloried in it. Whether they had heard of it or not, their motto was what Andrew Carnegie wanted to have put on his tombstone: "Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself."
  • One way or another, they submitted themselves to the "mirror test"-that is, they made sure that the person they saw in the mirror in the morning was the kind of person they wanted to be, respect, and believe in. This way they fortified themselves against the leader's greatest temptations-to do things that are popular rather than right and to do petty, mean, sleazy things.
Finally, these effective leaders were not preachers; they were doers. In the mid-1920s, when I was in my high school years, a whole spate of books on World War I and its campaigns suddenly appeared in English, French, and German. For our term project, our excellent history teacher - himself a badly wounded war veteran - told each of us to pick several of these books, read them carefully, and write a major essay on our selections. When we then discussed these essays in class, one of my fellow students said, "Every one of these books says that the Great War was a war of total military incompetence. Why was it?" Our teacher did not hesitate a second but shot right back, "Because not enough generals were killed; they stayed way behind the lines and let others do the fighting and dying."

Effective leaders delegate a good many things; they have to or they drown in trivia. But they do not delegate the one thing that only they can do with excellence, the one thing that will make a difference, the one thing that will set standards, the one thing they want to be remembered for. They do it.

21 principles


Twenty-one principles for the small group leader ...
  1. share life through conversational prayer and application of the Bible
  2. participation is key
  3. begin and close with conversational prayer
  4. respond lovingly to a need - immediately
  5. the Bible is the authority and guidebook
  6. encourage everyone in the group
  7. don’t allow doctrinal discussion that is divisive or argumentative
  8. practice mutual edification
  9. lead in love
  10. follow-up between meetings
  11. new members will keep the group alive and growing
  12. handle problem people away from the group 1:1
  13. don’t allow people to confess anyone else’s faults but their own
  14. don’t allow anyone to do all of the talking
  15. be tuned up spiritually
  16. keep learning - don’t have all of the answers
  17. hang loose and maintain a relaxed spirit in the group
  18. have a good sense of humor
  19. when you have a need, ask the group for help
  20. when you have problems or need help, go to your leader
  21. it’s Christ who does the leading - not us

divine nature


Peter Cockrell reminds us of CH Spurgeon's comments on 2 Pet 1.4:

To be a partaker of the divine nature is not, of course, to become God. That cannot be. The essence of Deity is not to be participated in by the creature. Between the creature and the Creator there must ever be a gulf fixed in respect of essence; but as the first man Adam was made in the image of God, so we, by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, are in a yet diviner sense made in the image of the Most High, and are partakers of the divine nature. We are, by grace, made like God. “God is love”; we become love—“He that loveth is born of God.” God is truth; we become true, and we love that which is true: God is good, and he makes us good by his grace, so that we become the pure in heart who shall see God. Moreover, we become partakers of the divine nature in even a higher sense than this—in fact, in as lofty a sense as can be conceived, short of our being absolutely divine. Do we not become members of the body of the divine person of Christ? Yes, the same blood which flows in the head flows in the hand: and the same life which quickens Christ quickens his people, for “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Nay, as if this were not enough, we are married unto Christ. He hath betrothed us unto himself in righteousness and in faithfulness, and he who is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Oh! marvellous mystery! we look into it, but who shall understand it? One with Jesus—so one with him that the branch is not more one with the vine than we are a part of the Lord, our Saviour, and our Redeemer! While we rejoice in this, let us remember that those who are made partakers of the divine nature will manifest their high and holy relationship in their intercourse with others, and make it evident by their daily walk and conversation that they have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. O for more divine holiness of life!

coexist?


Melinda Penner on coexisting ...

[L]ogic is a universal, basic feature of the way people think. Everyone uses logic everyday in everything they do. Contradictory claims can't both be true - it can't both be day and night at the same time in the same way. It's not a surprise to people who take religious claims seriously that their claims of reality are mutually exclusive. They can't all be true. To point that out isn't even yet to claim which one is true - or that any of them is true - just that they can't all be true.

The poster does add Jesus' claim that He's the only way, but that is in the Bible and it's obviously what Christianity claims - otherwise we wouldn't be Christians.

The poster doesn't suggest that we can't coexist, just that we can't all be right and Christians believe what Jesus said. That is what follows from logic and true tolerance: We believe we're right, but respect the people we disagree with.

Actually, the "coexist" bumper sticker is much more offensive because it asserts a particular religious view that most of the religions symbolized on it disagree with. The bumper sticker implies that all religions are equally true - something most religions reject. So it begins by denying the fundamental claims of most religions. And it suggests that if we don't accept that view of religious pluralism that we can't get along and "coexist." It suggests that if we take our religious claims seriously, we are sowing seeds of hostility. That's a pretty controversial suggestion.

And how about the response to the "Contradict" poster by those who apparently have the "Coexist" view of religious pluralism? When a Christian offers something logical and reflecting his beleif, the resopnse isn't very tolerant or coexist-like.

The irony is that "Contradict" makes a simple logical and Biblical claim that should be obvious. "Coexist" actually makes a controversial claim. But the reaction is exactly opposite.

marrying angels


RC Sproul on Who Are the Sons and Daughters of Men in Genesis 6.1-5? Crud - I sort of fancied the whole fallen angel theory ...

“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” — Genesis 6:1-5

There are several competing theories on this admittedly peculiar text, a few of them fantastic, at least one of them rather pedestrian, ordinary. Some suggest, for instance, that what is happening here is that angels, typically fallen angels or demons, are intermarrying with human women. My position is the far more pedestrian one, but one that carries with it an important lesson.

First, why I reject this more fantastic view. Angels, whether fallen or not, and though I am happy to concede they can appear in human form, are spirit beings. They have no bodies. Most of the time most of us remember this, though here some seem to forget. Because angels are spirit beings they are not equipped to consummate a marriage and to sire offspring. Demons can do all sorts of shocking and even frightening things. This, however, is not one of them. They can’t bring forth giants because they simply can’t bring forth.

When we consider the context of this text we can better understand what Moses is explaining. In previous chapters we are given a glimpse of two competing lines, the godly line of Seth and the wicked line of Cain. Having established the antithesis in the garden, after affirming that there would be a constant struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent we are given snapshot pictures of each of these armies. We see Seth’s line about the business of exercising dominion, in submission to the Lord. We see Cain’s line dishonoring the law of God and making names for themselves. But the future is not mere co-existence between the two lines. The drama builds toward the great crisis of Noah’s flood right here in chapter 6. The great change, what creates the great downward spiral of humanity on the earth is that the two lines come together as one. That is, the godly line of Seth, the sons of God, seeing how attractive are the daughters of men, the wicked line of Cain, decide to take them as wives. The end result, however, isn’t mere dilution. It’s not that the now joined line becomes morally lukewarm, but that evil spreads, grows, deepens. This shouldn’t surprise as for as Chuck Swindoll reminds us, if you drop a white glove in the mud, the mud doesn’t get all glovey.

What we see is salt losing its savor. We see what becomes of intermarrying not with a different race, but a different covenant, or a different faith. What we see is what happens when we are unequally yoked. Nothing, of course, has changed. When the children of God find the world attractive, when we determine to yoke ourselves to it, calamity comes. The world does not get any better, but the church, no longer a light on the hill, becomes much worse, and darkness falls upon the land. We are no longer useful for anything and find ourselves trampled upon the ground.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

oswald and the gospel

Trevin Wax posts the folling on Oswald Chambers (1911) noting that redemption, not morality is the center of Christianity:

. . . separated to the gospel of God. . . —Romans 1:1

Our calling is not primarily to be holy men and women, but to be proclaimers of the gospel of God. The one all-important thing is that the gospel of God should be recognized as the abiding reality. Reality is not human goodness, or holiness, or heaven, or hell— it is redemption. The need to perceive this is the most vital need of the Christian worker today.

As workers, we have to get used to the revelation that redemption is the only reality. Personal holiness is an effect of redemption, not the cause of it. If we place our faith in human goodness we will go under when testing comes.

Paul did not say that he separated himself, but “when it pleased God, who separated me . . .” (Galatians 1:15). Paul was not overly interested in his own character. And as long as our eyes are focused on our own personal holiness, we will never even get close to the full reality of redemption. Christian workers fail because they place their desire for their own holiness above their desire to know God.

“Don’t ask me to be confronted with the strong reality of redemption on behalf of the filth of human life surrounding me today; what I want is anything God can do for me to make me more desirable in my own eyes.”

To talk that way is a sign that the reality of the gospel of God has not begun to touch me. There is no reckless abandon to God in that.

God cannot deliver me while my interest is merely in my own character. Paul was not conscious of himself. He was recklessly abandoned, totally surrendered, and separated by God for one purpose— to proclaim the gospel of God (see Romans 9:3).

Friday, September 21, 2012

god seeks us

John Stott in Basic Christianity:

We can never take God by surprise. We can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always there ‘in the beginning’. Before we existed, God took action. Before we decided to look for God, God had already been looking for us. The Bible isn’t about people trying to discover God, but about God reaching out to find us.

Many people imagine God sitting comfortably on a distant throne, remote, aloof, uninterested, a God who doesn’t really care for our needs and has to be badgered into taking action on our behalf. Such a view is completely wrong. The Bible reveals a God who, long before it even occurs to men and women to turn to him, while they are still lost in darkness and sunk in sin, takes the initiative, rises from his throne, lays aside his glory, and stoops to seek until he finds them.

mud

I really, really love this succinct post by Darryl Dash. He related it to church planting, I think one could substitute discipleship, small group multiplication, etc. with the same effect ...

I spent a lot of time watering mud last week. Nothing seemed to be happening. I felt a little foolish, actually.​

That all changed on Saturday when I went outside and saw this.​


It reminds me a lot of church planting.​

Thursday, September 20, 2012

treasures

John Piper in Bloodlines:

[T]he reason we can say with Martin Luther, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” is that Christ has become our supreme treasure. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). If I lose everything and die, I still have Christ. Therefore, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Which means that I am not enslaved to the treasures of this world. I can use them freely for love, because I don’t need them for my ego or my soul. I have the greatest treasure in the world—Christ.

[T]hose who stake their lives on the gospel get the universe thrown in along with Christ. “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21–23). The meek will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). Why would we covet this world when we already own it, and it is only a matter of time till we come into the fullness of our inheritance. “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). And Christ made and owns everything (Col. 1:16).

Therefore, the follower of Jesus, in the power of the promises of the gospel, does not lay up treasures on earth, but in heaven. How? By trusting Christ so fully that on earth we are driven by the joy of giving, not getting. We love being servants, not masters. We love meeting needs, not using people. Our Father will take care of us. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32–34).

Friday, September 14, 2012

opposing same-sex marriage

Some thoughts from White Horse Inn on extremes to avoid in regard to the same-sex marriage debate.

1. Treating references to homosexuality in the Old Testament as either irrelevant or directly applicable to the current question.

You see this in public debates of the issue, where extremists on both sides talk over (and past) each other. One thing they often share in common is interest in quoting passages from the Old Testament on the question. Then the person on the left reminds us that the sanction mentioned is stoning. “Do you want to stone gays?”, one shouts. “No, but I believe what the Bible says about homosexuality.” “Well, right next to that verse it says that you should stone disobedient children—Oh, and not eat pork, and not touch a woman who is having her period.” Bottom line: the skills of biblical interpretation are about equally as bad on both sides of the table.

The statements in Leviticus are part of the Mosaic covenant. They pertain uniquely to the covenant that God made with Israel as a nation. The laws that governed every aspect of private and public life, cult and culture, were a unique episode in redemptive history. Their divine purpose cannot be rationalized in terms of sanitation, public health, or personal well-being. The whole focus was on God and his desire to separate Israel from the nations, preparing the way for the Messiah to come from her womb. Therefore, there is no more biblical warrant for stoning homosexuals today than there is for avoiding Scottish cuisine.

If there’s every reason to distinguish these two covenants, we have to be very careful nonetheless that we don’t make the opposite interpretive blunder of contrasting the Old and New Testaments on the question of homosexual practice itself. I’ve heard of late several times committed Christians acknowledging that the Old Testament forbids it, but the New Testament is silent. It’s “mean Moses” versus “nice Jesus”: a familiar but completely baseless contrast. Affirming that the the civil laws are now obsolete doesn’t mean that the rationale explicitly given for some of these laws should be disregarded, especially when God singles some acts out not simply as dependent on God’s will for that time and place, but as “abominations.” Homosexuality is included in that list, as it is also in the New Testament (1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10—right up there with “murders, enslavers, liars, and perjurers”). The church does not have the power of the sword in the new covenant. Nevertheless, God’s statement on the matter is pretty clear: he hates homosexuality. It violates the natural order—reflecting the extent to which fallen humanity will go to suppress the truth—even that which can be known by reason—in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-32).

Jesus brings forgiveness of sins, not a new—supposedly easer, happier, more fulfilling law. In fact, he upbraids the lax view of divorce tolerated in his day. Jesus does not ground marriage between a man and a woman in the Mosaic covenant—or in the new covenant, but returns to the order of created nature: “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate’” (Mat 19:4-6).

It should be added that Paul’s point in Romans 1-3 is to sweep the whole world—Jew and Gentile—into a heap, condemned under the law, in order to announce that Christ is the Savior of all, Jew and Gentile, and justifies the ungodly who trust in him. We are all called to repent—lifelong repentance, in fact. In this, as in everything, we fall short; our imperfect repentance would be enough to condemn us if we weren’t clothed in Christ’s righteousness. However, to repent is to acknowledge that God is right and we are wrong—on the specifics of precisely where we want to assert our sovereignty.

2. Allowing same-sex marriage because since this isn’t a Christian nation, we should not seek to make the traditional Christian view public law.

Yes and no. The argument sounds like a “two-kingdoms” approach, but I think it’s actually more on the historic Anabaptist side.

First, it is certainly true that America is not a Christian nation and in any case Christians should not seek to promote distinctively Christian doctrines and practices through the properly coercive power of the state.

Second, however, I believe that we have to carefully distinguish general and special revelation, common and saving grace, the kingdoms of this age and the kingdom of God. Traditional Roman Catholics and Protestants are the vanguard of the pro-life movement, but in addition to witnessing to the depth of Christian conviction on the subject they also make arguments that can appeal to the conscience of non-Christians. The goal is certainly to legislate morality (just as the pro-abortion lobby attempts). However, it is the attempt to include the unborn in the category of those to whom the most basic right to life applies (namely, human beings). It is not a distinctively Christian view that the unborn are human beings (many pro-abortionists even agree, but rank the mother’s choice and happiness higher). Nor is it a distinctively Christian view that human beings shouldn’t be murdered—regardless of the parents’ economic or psychic well-being.

I think that the same can be said here as well. Marriage is not grounded in the gospel, but in creation. Special revelation corrects our twisted interpretations and gives us a better map, but general revelation gives sufficient evidence at least for minimal arguments from antiquity. Knowledgeable people will disagree about the strength of those arguments, since, for example, Greek elites often had teen-age boys entertain them on the side—with the approval or at least the awareness of their wives. Yes, others reply, but that was part of the downfall of the Greek civilization. In every case, it will be a debatable point—not to say that it isn’t worth arguing, but in the light especially of recent studies, it probably will not change a lot of minds.

Third, in my own wrestling with the political debate, love of neighbor looms large. Some on the right may offer arguments that reflect more the same demand for special rights as those on the left of the issue. The legal aspects of that are beyond my pay-grade—and they are important. Others may treat this issue as irrelevant: “Look, it doesn’t affect me. I just don’t want to live next door to some creepy home like that.” However, in terms of specifically Christian witness, love of neighbor (as God’s image-bearers) should be front-and-center. We have to care about our non-Christian neighbors (gay or straight) because God cares and calls us to contribute to the common good.

The challenge there is that two Christians who hold the same beliefs about marriage as Christians may appeal to neighbor-love to support or to oppose legalization of same-sex marriage.

On one hand, it may be said that if we can no longer say that “Judeo-Christian” ethics are part of our shared worldview as a republic, then the ban seems arbitrary. Why isn’t there a campaign being waged to ban providing legal benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples? Or to make divorce more difficult? It just seems more symbolic than anything else: it looks like our last-gasp effort to enforce our own private morality on the public. On the other hand, we might argue that every civilization at its height, regardless of religion, has not only privileged marriage of one man and one woman but has outlawed alternative arrangements. Same-sex marriage means adoption, which subjects other human beings to a parental relationship that they did not choose for themselves. Are we loving our LGBT neighbors—or their adopted children—or the wider society of neighbors by accommodating a move that will further destroy the fabric of society? I take the second view, but I recognize the former as wrestling as much as I’m trying to with the neighbor-love question. Legal benefits (“partnerships”) at least allowed a distinction between a contractual relationship and the covenant of marriage. However, the only improvement that “marriage” brings is social approval—treating homosexaul and heterosexual unions as equal. Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm domestic partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security. However, the “marriage card” is the demand for something that simply cannot consist in a same-sex relationship. Human love is defined not by a feeling, shared history, or animal attraction, but by something objective, something that measures us—namely, God’s moral law. To affirm this while concluding that it’s good for Christians but not for the rest of us seems to me to conclude that this law is not natural and universal, rooted in creation, and/or that we only love our Christian neighbors.

At the end of the day, what tips the scales toward the second view is that I can’t see how neighbor-love can be severed from love of God, which is after all the most basic command of all. Even if they do not acknowledge “nature and nature’s God”—or anything above their own sovereign freedom to choose—reality nevertheless stands unmovable. Like the law of gravity, the law of marriage (of one man and one woman) remains to the end of time—not just for Christians, but for all people everywhere.

prophecy v. preaching

A repost ...

Cessationists today typically see prophecy and preaching as one-in-the-same thing. Jesse Phillips offers several counters to that faulty thinking.

In his first post on the topic he hits three points:
Romans 12:6-7 : "If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;" Here, when Paul mentions prophecy, I don't think he means preaching-teaching, because he mentions teaching separately from prophecy. If prophesying were the same as preaching-teaching, this would be redundant. Also, the phrase, "in proportion to his faith" seems to imply some level of risk with respect to the validity of the prophetic utterance, something we would hardly tolerate in preaching the known truth of the gospel. In this passage the prophetic utterance contains unknown projections upon the future, requiring risk and faith, contrasted with the teaching gift that contains utterances about the past and known events surrounding Christ and his accomplishment on the cross.

Luke 1 (Zechariah): Luke records that Zechariah prophesied over Jesus. But this was not preaching or teaching, it was a prophetic song about the life of Christ. It certainly references Old Testament prophecies about Christ, but does not seem to be an example of the preaching-teaching gift, which would prohibit us from equating prophecy with preaching-teaching based on this passage. In fact, in this instance, prophecy seemed to involve divine revelation that was beyond scripture, not derived from it. Obviously, scripture promised a coming Messiah. But it was not until Zechariah received the additional revelation that this particular child of Mary was in fact the Messiah that he prophesied based on this new revelation. He wasn't expounding on scripture and preaching, he received instant inspiration and revelation, and "filled with the Holy Spirit" began this spontaneous prophecy, quite different than the preaching-teaching gift to which prophecy is at times equated.

Agabus, the prophet: One of the most well known prophets, and best examples of a New Testament prophet was Agabus. There are two occasions in which he prophesied. If these two examples of Agabus prophesying involved him preaching and teaching God's word, then we would have an example supporting the cessationists desire to equate the two gifts. But, Agabus did not preach or teach God's word when he prophesied. Rather he:

a) predicted a famine (Acts 11:27-30), and
b) predicted Paul's arrest (Acts 21:10-11)

This hardly sounds like a pastor-teacher fulfilling his mandate to preach and teach by "prophesying." It sounds more like a prophet predicting things that God shows him will happen. So in Agabus we find evidence that a prophet partakes in different activities than a pastor-teacher, implying that the two gifts are not synonymous.
In his second post he offers five more examples.
Prophecies made about Timothy: In 1 Timothy 1:18 Paul charges his young friend to persevere and remain faithful, "in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you." We learn from the second half of verse 18 that someone had prophesied that Timothy would wage good warfare and hold faith and a good conscience. Was Timothy's experience with prophecy akin to preaching? It doesn't seem so. The content of the prophecy in this instance was not scripture, as it would be in preaching. The subject of the revelation was some previously undisclosed details about Timothy's future. As Paul says, the prophetic revelation was "about you [Timothy]." So Paul's experience with prophets in this instance consisted not of preachers proclaiming God's word, but some prophet receiving information about Timothy's future and reporting that extra-Biblical revelation to Paul and Timothy for his edification.

Ephesians 4 Gifts: In Ephesians 4 Paul mentions that God has given certain gifts to the church. In this list he mentions apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This verse is similar to Romans 12 (see previous post) in that it differentiates prophets from teachers, implying a difference in the gifts of prophecy and preaching/teaching. Is prophecy the same as preaching and teaching? Then why are do prophets and teachers constitute two different offices, if they are precisely the same gift?

Women preachers in Joel 2? In Joel 2:28-29 there is a prediction of what will happen when the Holy Spirit comes at the day of Pentecost. One of the things that will happen is that "sons and daughters will prophecy." Paul was very careful to articulate that he did not "permit a woman to teach" but to "remain quiet" (1 Timothy 2:12) in the assembly. Yet it is very clear that women were permitted to prophesy. Joel predicted that sons and daughters, male and female servants all prophesying would be one of the indicators that the Spirit had come at Pentecost. Was Paul, by forbidding women to prophesy, trying to reverse or contain the scope of the Pentecost outpouring? Or, on the other hand, is it possible that a woman could actually prophecy but not teach, given that these two gifts are different in terms of functionality and authority? The latter is more likely, especially given the fact that Paul acknowledges without correction that women are prophesying in Corinth (1 Cor 11:5 [see Footnote 1] ) and tells all believers, men and women, to earnestly desire to prophesy (1 Cor 14:1).

Philip's daughters: Sticking with the theme of women prophets, we see in Acts that Philip the evangelist "had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied" (Acts 21:9). These four women had a notable prophetic ministry, given the fact that it warranted a mention in Scripture. Luke obviously saw their ministry as substantial and made a brief comment on it. It would seem far fetched that these four unmarried daughters had profound teaching and preaching ministries. Yet, this is what the cessationist understanding of prophecy would force us to conclude.

Church at Antioch: When the Antioch church was formed in the persecution after Stephen's death, there was a certain order with which Jerusalem sent aid, which proves to be instructive to our discussion here (see Acts 11).

1. Jerusalem sent the apostle
2. The apostle recruited the teacher
3. Jerusalem sends the prophets

In step one, upon hearing of the "great number" (Acts 21:11) of new converts in Antioch, Jerusalem sent Barnabas to establish this church (21:22) and provide apostolic oversight. Second in the order of events was the establishment of sound doctrine through the teaching and preaching gift of Paul (21:25). Thirdly, after the apostolic and teaching gifts had been established, Jerusalem sent prophets, including Agabus, to perform prophetic ministry for the church (21:27), saving the church from the effects of an impending famine.

What is the point here? If prophecy and preaching are the same thing, why would Jerusalem have considered it necessary to send prophets to minister even after Paul's teaching had been established "for a whole year" (21:25). If Paul had been prophesying (i.e. preaching) for a whole year, why send prophets?

Of course the prophets came to fulfill some task that was missing in the excellent teaching of Paul. What was missing? Agabus predicted a famine. What was missing was some divinely revealed, yet extra-Biblical knowledge that never could have been arrived at from studying scripture, as diligently as Paul was doing that.

logical fallacies

Some stuff I should stop doing by Justin Taylor:

Avoiding Logical Fallacies in Theology

Michael Horton provides some examples of informal logical fallacies, which should be avoided when writing a theological paper in his classes (and, of course, in all of life!). I’ve reprinted below the ones that he lists (along with some images, which have some relevance to the fallacy in one way or another).

Ad Hominem

First and foremost we need to avoid the ubiquitous ad hominem (“to/concerning the person”) variety—otherwise known as “personal attacks.”

Poor papers often focus on the person: both the critic and the one being criticized. This is easier, of course, because one only has to express one’s own opinions and reflections. A good paper will tell us more about the issues in the debate than about the debaters. (This of course does not rule out relevant biographical information on figures we’re engaging that is deemed essential to the argument.)

Red Herring

Closely related are red-herring arguments: poisoning the well, where you discredit a position at the outset (a pre-emptive strike), or creating a straw man (caricature) that can be easily demolished.

“Barth was a liberal,” “Roman Catholics do not believe that salvation is by grace,” “Luther said terrible things about Jews and Calvin approved the burning of Servetus—so how could you possibly take seriously anything they say?”

It’s an easy way of dismissing views that may be true even though those who taught them may have said or done other things that are reprehensible.

Genetic Fallacy

Closely related is the genetic fallacy, which requires merely that one trace an argument or position back to its source in order to discount it.

Simply to trace a view to its origin—as Roman Catholic, Arminian, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist/Baptist, etc.—is not to offer an argument for or against it. For example, we all believe in the Trinity; it’s not wrong because it’s also held by Roman Catholics. “Barth studied under Harnack and Herrmann, so we should already consider his doctrine of revelation suspect.” This assertion does not take into account the fact that Barth was reacting sharply against his liberal mentors and displays no effort to actually read, understand, and engage the primary or secondary sources.

Slippery Slope

Closely related to these fallacies is the all too familiar slippery slope argument. “Barth’s doctrine of revelation leads to atheism” or “Arminianism leads to Pelagianism” or “Calvinism leads to fatalism” would be examples. Even if one’s conclusion is correct, the argument has to be made, not merely asserted. The fact is, we often miss crucial moves that people make that are perfectly consistent with their thinking and do not lead to the extreme conclusions we attribute to them—not to mention the inconsistencies that all of us indulge. Honesty requires that you engage the positions that people actually hold, not conclusions you think they should hold if they are consistent.

If you’re going to make a logical argument that certain premises lead to a certain conclusion, then you need to make the case and must also be careful to clarify whether the interlocutor either did make that move or did not but (logically) should have.

Sweeping Generalization

Another closely related fallacy here is sweeping generalization. Until recently, it was common for historians to try to explain an entire system by identifying a “central dogma.” For example, Lutherans deduce everything from the central dogma of justification; Calvinists, from predestination and the sovereignty of God. Serious scholars who have actually studied these sources point out that these sweeping generalizations don’t have any foundation. However, sweeping generalizations are so common precisely because they make our job easier. We can embrace or dismiss positions easily without actually having to examine them closely. Usually, this means that a paper will be more “heat” than “light”: substituting emotional assertion for well-researched and logical argumentation.

“Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation is anti-scriptural and anti-Christian” is another sweeping generalization. If I were to ask you in person why you think Barth’s view of revelation is “anti-scriptural anti-Christian,” you might answer, “Well, I think that he draws too sharp a contrast between the Word of God and Scripture—and that this undermines a credible doctrine of revelation.” “Good,” I reply, “now why do you think he makes that move?” “I think it’s because he identifies the ‘Word of God’ with God’s essence and therefore regards any direct identification with a creaturely medium (like the Bible) as a form of idolatry. It’s part of his ‘veiling-unveiling’ dialectic.” OK, now we’re closer to a real thesis—something like, “Because Barth interprets revelation as nothing less than God’s essence (actualistically conceived), he draws a sharp contrast between Scripture and revelation.” A good argument for something like that will allow the reader to draw conclusions instead of strong-arming the reader with the force of your own personality.

Begging the Question

Also avoid the fallacy of begging the question. For example, question-begging is evident in the thesis statement: “Baptists exclude from the covenant those whom Christ has welcomed.” After all, you’re assuming your conclusion without defending it. Baptists don’t believe that children of believers are included in the covenant of grace. That’s the very reason why they do not baptize them. You need an argument.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

losing salvation

A response to "Can we lose our salvation?" from RC Sproul in Chosen by God:

We have already stated that it is possible to lose our assurance of salvation. That does not mean, however, that we lose the salvation itself. We are moving now to the question of eternal security. Can a justified person lose his justification?

We know how the Roman Catholic Church has answered that question. Rome insists that the grace of justification can in fact be lost. The sacrament of Penance, which demands Confession, was established for this very reason. Rome calls the sacrament of Penance the “second plank of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.”

According to Rome, saving grace is destroyed in the soul when a person commits a “mortal” sin. Mortal sin is so called because it has the power to kill grace. Grace can die. If it is destroyed by mortal sin, it must be restored through the sacrament of Penance or the sinner himself finally perishes.

The Reformed faith does not believe in mortal sin in the way Rome does. We believe that all sins are mortal in the sense that they deserve death but that no sin is mortal in the sense that it destroys the grace of salvation in the elect. (Later, we will consider the “unpardonable sin” about which Jesus warned.)

The Reformed view of eternal security is called the “perseverance of the saints,” the P in TULIP. The idea here is, “Once in grace, always in grace.” Another way of stating it is, “If you have it, you never lose it; if you lose it, you never had it.”

Our confidence in the perseverance of the saints does not rest upon our confidence in the saints’ ability, in themselves, to persevere. Again, I would like to modify the acrostic TULIP slightly. Same letter, new word. I prefer to speak of the preservation of the saints.

The reason true Christians do not fall from grace is that God graciously keeps them from falling. Perseverance is what we do. Preservation is what God does. We persevere because God preserves.

The doctrine of eternal security or perseverance is based on the promises of God. A few of the key biblical passages are listed below:
  • Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
  • My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).
  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
  • For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).
  • Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:33-39).
We see from these passages that the ground for our confidence in perseverance is the power of God. God promises to finish what he starts. Our confidence does not rest in the will of man. This difference between the will of man and the power of God separates Calvinists from Arminians. The Arminian holds that God elects persons to eternal life only on the condition of their voluntary cooperation with grace and perseverance in grace until death, as foreseen by him.

The Roman Catholic church, for example, has decreed the following: “If anyone says that a man once justified cannot lose grace and therefore that he who falls and sins never was truly justified, let him be accursed” (Council of Trent: 6/23).

Protestant Arminians made a similar statement: “Persons truly regenerate, by neglecting grace and grieving the Holy Spirit with sin, fall away totally, and at length finally, from grace into eternal reprobation” (see Conference of Remonstrants 11/7).

A chief argument given by Arminians is that it is inconsistent with man’s free will for God to “force” his perseverance. Yet the Arminians themselves believe that believers will not fall from grace in heaven. In our glorified state God will render us incapable of sinning. Yet the glorified saints in heaven are still free. If preservation and free will are consistent conditions in heaven, they cannot possibly be inconsistent conditions here on earth. The Arminians again try to prove too much with their view of human freedom. If God can preserve us in heaven without destroying our free will, he can preserve us on earth without destroying our free will.

We are able to persevere only because God works within us, with our free wills. And because God is at work in us, we are certain to persevere. The decrees of God concerning election are immutable. They do not change, because he does not change. All whom he justifies he glorifies. None of the elect is ever lost.

Why then does it seem to us that many people do fall away from grace? We have all known people who made zealous starts with the Christian faith only to repudiate their faith later. We have heard of great Christian leaders who have committed gross sins and scandalized their profession of faith.

The Reformed faith readily acknowledges that people make professions of faith and then repudiate them. We know that Christians “backslide.” We know that Christians are capable of and do in fact commit gross and heinous sins.

We believe that true Christians can fall seriously and radically. We do not believe that they can fall totally and finally. We observe the case of King David, who was guilty not only of adultery but of conspiracy in the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. David used his power and authority to make sure Uriah was killed in battle. In essence David was guilty of murder in the first degree, premeditated and with malice aforethought.

David’s conscience was so seared, his heart so hardened, that it required nothing less than direct confrontation with a prophet of God to bring him to his senses. His subsequent repentance was as deep as his sin. David sinned radically but not totally and finally. He was restored.

Consider the record of two famous persons in the New Testament. Both of them were called by Jesus to be disciples. Both of them walked beside Jesus during his earthly ministry. Both of them betrayed Jesus. Their names are Peter and Judas.

After Judas betrayed Christ, he went out and committed suicide. After Peter betrayed Christ, he repented and was restored, emerging as a pillar of the early church. What was the difference between these two men? Jesus predicted that both of them would betray him. When he finished speaking with Judas, he said to him, “What you have to do, do quickly.”

Jesus spoke differently to Peter. He said to him: “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31, 32).

Notice carefully what Jesus said. He did not say if but when. Jesus was confident that Peter would return. His fall would be radical and serious, but not total and final. It is clear that Jesus’ confidence in Peter’s return was not based on Peter’s strength. Jesus knew that Satan would sift Peter like wheat. That is like saying that Peter was a “piece of cake,” “duck soup,” for Satan. Jesus’ confidence was based upon the power of Jesus’ intercession. It is from the promise of Christ that he would be our Great High Priest, our Advocate with the Father, our Righteous Intercessor, that we believe that we will persevere. Our confidence is in our Savior and our Priest who prays for us.

The Bible records a prayer that Jesus offered for us in John 17. We ought to read this great high priestly prayer frequently. Let us examine a portion of it:

… keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled (vv. 11, 12).

Agaln we read:

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world (v. 24).

Our preservation is a trinitarian work. God the Father keeps and preserves us. God the Son intercedes for us. God the Holy Spirit indwells and assists us. We are given the “seal” and the “earnest” of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 2:19; Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:23). These images are all images of a divine guarantee. The seal of the Spirit is an indelible mark like the waxed imprint of a monarch’s signet ring. It indicates that we are his possession. The earnest of the Spirit is not identical to earnest money that is paid in modern real estate transactions. Such earnest money may be forfeited. In biblical terms the earnest of the Spirit is a down payment with a promise to pay the rest. God does not forfeit his earnest. He does not fail to finish the payments he began. The first fruits of the Spirit guarantee that the last fruits will be forthcoming.

An analogy of God’s work of preservation may be seen in the image of a father holding onto his small child’s hand as they walk together. In the Arminian view the safety of the child rests in the strength of the child’s grip on the father’s hand. If the child lets go he will perish. In the Calvinist view the safety of the child rests in the strength of the father’s grip on the child. If the child’s grip fails, the father’s grip holds firm. The arm of the Lord does not wax short.

Still we ask why it seems that some people do in fact fall away totally and finally. Here we must echo the words of the Apostle John: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19). We repeat our aphorism: If we have it we never lose it; if we lose it we never had it. We recognize that the church of Jesus Christ is a mixed body. There are tares that live side by side with the wheat; goats that live side by side with sheep. The parable of the sower makes it plain that people can experience a false conversion. They may have an appearance of faith, but that faith may not be genuine.

We know people who have been “converted” many times. Every time there is a church revival they go to the altar and get “saved.” One minister told of a man in his congregation who had been “saved” seventeen times. During a revival meeting the evangelist made an altar call for all who wanted to be filled with the Spirit. The man who had been converted so often made his way toward the altar again. A woman from the congregation shouted, “Don’t fill him, Lord. He leaks!”

We all leak to some degree, but no Christian is totally and finally of God’s Spirit. Those who become “unconverted” were never converted in the first place. Judas was a son of perdition from the beginning. His conversion was spurious. Jesus did not pray for his restoration. Judas did not lose the Holy Spirit, because he never had the Holy Spirit.

Of course there is nothing wrong with repeated calls to commitment to Christ. We may visit the altar many times or respond to invitations repeatedly and not be exactly sure which of the responses was truly genuine. Two benefits of repeated responses to evangelistic calls are to strengthen our assurance of salvation and to deepen our commitment to Christ.

BIBLICAL WARNINGS ABOUT FALLING AWAY

Probably the strongest arguments the Arminians offer against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints are drawn from the manifold warnings in Scripture against falling away. Paul, for example, writes: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

Paul elsewhere speaks of men who have been apostate: “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17, 18).

These passages suggest that it is possible for believers to be “disqualified” or to have their faith “overthrown.” It is important, however, to see how Paul concludes his statement to Timothy. “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’” (v. 19).

Peter also speaks of washed sows wallowing again and dogs who return to their vomit, comparing them to people who have turned away after being instructed in the way of righteousness. These are false converts whose natures have never been changed (2 Pet. 2:22).

HEBREWS 6

The text that contains the most solemn warning against falling away is also the most controversial regarding the doctrine of perseverance. It is found in Hebrews 6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have  become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame (vv. 4-6).

This passage strongly suggests that believers can and do fall away, totally and finally. How are we to understand it?

The full meaning of the passage is difficult for several reasons. The first is that we do not know for sure what issue of apostasy was involved in this text, since we are not certain of either the author or the destination of Hebrews. There were two burning issues in the early church that easily could have provoked this dire warning.

The first issue was the problem of the so-called lapsi. The lapsi were those people who during severe persecution did not keep the faith. Not every church member went to the lions singing hymns. Some broke down and recanted their faith. Some even betrayed their comrades and collaborated with the Romans. When the persecutions died down, some of these former collaborators repented and sought readmission to the church. How they were to be received was no small controversy.

The other burning issue was that provoked by the Judaizers. The destructive influence of this group is dealt with in several parts of the New Testament, most notably in the Book of Galatians. The Judaizers wanted to profess Christ and at the same time enforce the Old Testament cultic ceremonies. They insisted, for example, on ceremonial circumcision. I believe that it was the Judaizer heresy that the author of Hebrews was concerned with.

A second problem is to identify the nature of people who are being warned against falling away in Hebrews. Are they true believers or are they tares growing among the wheat? We must remember that there are three categories of people we are concerned with here. There are (1) believers, (2) unbelievers in the church, and (3) unbelievers outside of the church.

The Book of Hebrews draws several parallels with Old Testament Israel, especially with those in the camp who were apostates. Who are these people in Hebrews? How are they described? Let us list their attributes:

1. once enlightened
2. tasted the heavenly gift
3. partakers of the Holy Spirit
4. tasted the good Word of God
5. cannot be renewed again to repentance

At first glance this list certainly appears to describe true believers. However it may also be describing church members who are not believers, people who have made a false profession of faith. All of these attributes may be possessed by non-believers. The tares who come to church every week hear the Word of God taught and preached and thus are “enlightened.” They participate in all of the means of grace. They join in the Lord’s Supper. They partake of the Holy Spirit in the sense that they enjoy the nearness of his special immediate presence and his benefits. They have even made a kind of repentance, at least outwardly.

Many Calvinists thereby find a solution to this passage by relating it to non-believers in the church who repudiate Christ. I am not entirely satisfied by that interpretation. I think this passage may well be describing true Christians. The most important phrase for me is “renew again to repentance.” I know there is a false kind of repentance that the author elsewhere calls the repentance of Esau. But here he speaks of renewal. The new repentance, if it is renewed, must be like the old repentance. The renewed repentance of which he speaks is certainly the genuine kind. I assume therefore that the old was likewise genuine.

I think the author here is arguing in what we call an ad hominem style. An ad hominem argument is carried out by taking your opponent’s position and carrying it to its logical conclusion. The logical conclusion of the Judaizer heresy is to destroy any hope of salvation.

The logic goes like this. If a person embraced Christ and trusted in his atonement for sin, what would that person have if he went back to the covenant of Moses? In effect he would be repudiating the finished work of Christ. He would once again be a debtor to the law. If that were the case, where would he turn for salvation? He has repudiated the cross; he couldn’t turn to that. He would have no hope of salvation, because he would have no Savior. His theology does not allow a finished work of Christ.

The key to Hebrews 6 is found in verse 9. “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.”

Here the author himself notes that he is speaking in an unusual manner. His conclusion differs from those who find here a text for falling away. He concludes with a confidence of better things from the beloved, things that accompany salvation. Obviously falling away does not accompany salvation. The author does not say that any believer actually does fall away. In fact he says the opposite, that he is confident they will not fall away.

But if no one falls away, why even bother to warn people against it? It seems frivolous to exhort people to avoid the impossible. Here is where we must understand the relationship of perseverance to preservation. Perseverance is both a grace and a duty. We are to strive with all our might in our spiritual walk. Humanly speaking, it is possible to fall away. Yet as we strive we are to look to God who is preserving us. It is impossible that he should fail to keep us. Consider again the analogy of the child walking with his father. It is possible that the child will let go. If the father is God, it is not possible that he will let go. Even given the promise of the Father not to let go, it is still the duty of the child to hold on tightly. Thus the author of Hebrews warns believers against falling away. Luther called this the “evangelical use of exhortation.” It reminds us of our duty to be diligent in our walk with God. Finally, with respect to perseverance and preservation, we must look to the promise of God in the Old Testament. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises to make a new covenant with his people, a covenant that is everlasting. He says:

And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me (Jeremiah 32:40).

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