James White gets it exactly right in his post:
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Some months ago my friend Dan Edelen posted Are Small Groups Doomed? I'm not sure if he ever received his answer but as I reflect on these things at the end of the year it seemed helpful to repost the bulk of this original post. So enjoy and benefit:
As someone who grew up indoctrinated in the idea that the real life of the church happens in small groups, I worry about the small group model.
Some churches, especially those of the mega variety, pin their entire ministry model on the idea that people will flock to small groups and find there what they cannot within the larger ministry of the whole church. Many churches live and die by that ideal. It’s one reason why I’m concerned.
A few years back, Joe Myers, who happens to live in my general area, wrote a book called The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups. I struggled through that book in all honesty, partly because I thought it was a little too in love with its demographic studies and quotes from sociologists (pretty typical of Emerging lit) and because the studies and quotes painted a disturbing picture.
Myers’s assertions included the following:
1. A church that gets a third of its regular attendees involved in small groups does well. That being the case, it’s ridiculous to drive a church model based on small groups because two-thirds of attendees will never plug into one no matter how hard the church promotes small groups.
2. Having a small group meeting in a private home asks too much of people today. Far too many people feel uncomfortable walking into another person’s home.
Let me talk about the latter statement first.
One of the best parts of both of our groups is the shared meal. I think that echoes the early Church well. I love eating together. I enjoy making meals together, too. There’s a dynamic on that meal prep that bonds the group.
Problem is, that’s hard to do outside a home. Plus, for those people who have a gift of hospitality, part of their gift is thwarted by not being able to host in their own living space. This is not to say that people can’t be hospitable outside their own homes, only that something can be lost by moving to another venue. The Bible appears to reflect this ideal, also, by showing us how the early Church met in each other’s homes.
Worse, if Myers is to be believed on this point, I have got to wonder how bad off we are as a society when people can’t walk into another person’s living space without getting the heebie-jeebies. Honestly, if people today freak as badly as Myers insists they do on crossing the threshold of another person’s house, call Malcolm Gladwell because we’re not only past the tipping point, we may as a society be on the way to the point of no return. If my house scares you, then you’re going to be petrified of my personality. So much for any kind of small group dynamic—please pass the Paxil.
On the first point concerning the one-third involvement, my own experience proves that this is a general number that does, indeed, hold up under scrutiny. Now I know I’m going to get people who write in and say, “Well, in my church, half the people are in small groups.” Great. You are the exception to the rule. But by and large, I’ve been around enough to believe Myers’s statistic is true when viewed on a macro scale.
More to the point, I believe that the one-third number wil increasingly shrink for several compelling reasons:
Bowling Alone Syndrome – The seminal book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam has been quoted by every long-time leader I know, no matter what type of group they lead. Every last one laments the loss of community that once thrived in American culture as exemplified by our fraternal organizations. I don’t care what kind of public group we’re talking about—Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, Sierra Club, softball teams, card clubs, even churches—they’ve all seen the number of involved members drop precipitously. People just are not participating in face-to-face interpersonal groups like they once were. To many, the commitment asks too much. Couple this with the increasingly rootless nature of a society whose individuals spend less and less time in one place. These difficult realities pose enormous problems for churches, especially those that base their ministry model around small groups.
A lack of qualified small group leaders – Too many churches that expect their primary teaching and discipleship to occur in small groups pin their hopes on people who are increasingly less qualified to lead what they teach. In many cases, the leader of a small group is promoted out of another small group who may have had an inadequate leader. Law of diminishing effects anyone? As so many Evangelical churches have gone this route, is it any wonder that so many Evangelicals display ignorance of even the most basic biblical truths? And if the people lack knowledge, they perish, right? That’s not a formula for successfully perpetuating a thriving small group model.
The Hegelian Dialectic – I’ve talked about this many times here (see this post in particular), but the tendency toward thesis/antithesis/synthesis teaching in small groups undermines genuinely fruitful Bible study more than we care to admit. Unqualified teachers create some of that problem but so does the need not to make anyone feel uncomfortable should they hold an errant view on the topic being taught. I’ve long contended that small groups may do some things well, but, for most, teaching ain’t it.
Busyness – This comprises a part of the Bowling Alone Syndrome. Frankly, I find it amazing that any small group meets at all given how overly scheduled our lives are. To the people I talk with, it’s only getting worse. In the case of both small groups I’m a part of, year over year we’re seeing more scheduling issues. I can’t recall if our Vineyard group has met as an entire group so far this year. Due to the nature of our other small group, it’s never met with the same core people from one month to the next. That makes it hard to develop the momentum needed to keep growing in discipleship through the group.
Expectations – Here’s a loaded issue: group member expectations. I think more small groups burn out due to participants’ unmet expectations than for any other reason. I also think that this was less of an issue in the past because people then didn’t know what to expect of small groups, so their expectations were low. I will also contend that too many people today come to a group with a list of expectations an arm long because we’ve indoctrinated people into believing that the world exists to meet their needs. (In truth, the modern church’s constant catering to felt needs only exacerbates the issue.) That’s a huge problem to overcome because people will flee a small group the second it looks like it won’t meet their needs perfectly. They never find a home, instead flitting from one small group to the next. Worst of all, should the group cater to couples, if one of the spouses sours on the group because of unmet expectations, it puts the other spouse in a bind. You almost always wind up losing two people instead of just the discontented one.
All these issues combine to exert enormous pressure on small groups.
Resolving these issues requires smarter people than yours truly. Several of the problems exist at a societal level, requiring upheavals that too many church leaders are not willing to discuss. That timidity, though, is at the root of the failure.
I have never believed that the small group model works well in teaching the Scriptures to people. I’ve been in numerous small groups over the years, and only one or two have had solid teaching. Perhaps, then, we should focus on other things, especially discipleship through example, which means ensuring the fellowship works well—no small task in itself.
I also think we have to ask ourselves how important the basic philosophy of small groups is to our personal growth. If we believe in what small groups are supposed to provide, then we need to be committed to that belief. We can’t let outside influences distract us from the core vision.
I’ll be upfront and say that I’m pessimistic about the future of small group ministry within churches here in the United States. This is not to say that small groups will cease to exist, only that their influence within churches may be waning.
This begs a greater question: If small groups are increasingly under pressure to provide what churches depend on them to provide, what will replace small groups as the primary means of doing “what small groups do” within our churches? How will churches provide for the spiritual needs of their congregants should the small group model wither?
On this issue, where does your church stand?
A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy [emphasis mine]:
True religion confronts earth with heaven and brings eternity to bear upon time. The messenger of Christ, though he speaks from God, must also, as the Quakers used to say, “speak to the condition” of his hearers; otherwise he will speak a language known only to himself. His message must be not only timeless but timely. He must speak to his own generation.
The message of this book does not grow out of these times but it is appropriate to them. It is called forth by a condition which has existed in the Church for some years and is steadily growing worse. I refer to the loss of the concept of majesty from the popular religious mind. The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.
The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.
With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, “Be still, and know that I am God,” mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshipper in this middle period of the twentieth century.
This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.
The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.
As my humble contribution to a better understanding of the Majesty in the heavens I offer this reverent study of the attributes of God. Were Christians today reading such works as those of Augustine or Anselm a book like this would have no reason for being. But such illuminated masters are known to modern Christians only by name. Publishers dutifully reprint their books and in due time these appear on the shelves of our studies.
But the whole trouble lies right there: they remain on the shelves. The current religious mood makes the reading of them virtually impossible even for educated Christians. Apparently not many Christians will wade through hundreds of pages of heavy religious matter requiring sustained concentration. Such books remind too many persons of the secular classics they were forced to read while they were in school and they turn away from them with a feeling of discouragement. For that reason an effort such as this may be not without some beneficial effect. Since this book is neither esoteric nor technical, and since it is written in the language of worship with no pretension to elegant literary style, perhaps some persons may be drawn to read it. While I believe that nothing will be found here contrary to sound Christian theology, I yet write not for professional theologians but for plain persons whose hearts stir them up to seek after God Himself. It is my hope that this small book may contribute somewhat to the promotion of personal heart religion among us; and should a few persons by reading it be encouraged to begin the practice of reverent meditation on the being of God, that will more than repay the labor required to produce it.
Monday, December 30, 2013
The following from John MacArthur is one of the saddest things I read in 2013 due to the gravity of the accusation, the ignorance he represents, and the error he purports.
Drawing attention to serious error—error that’s being tolerated even in some of the otherwise-healthiest of churches—in order to recover and uphold the truth is a loving thing to do.
Errant pneumatology is not ancillary to the charismatic movement. It is the very thing that defines it. And when an entire movement is defined by a heterodox theology that threatens the purity of the church by tolerating and even promoting false forms of the gospel, it must be boldly confronted.
I do believe that modern tongues is an unsafe spiritual practice.
Thanks God for men such as Sam Storms who recently posted Does the NT Rebuke Christians for "seeking" and "praying" for Signs and Wonders?
Yet another argument one often hears from cessationists pertains to the alleged negative assessment in the NT regarding the nature, purpose and impact of signs, wonders and miracles. I had been taught and believed that it was an indication of spiritual immaturity to seek signs in any sense, that it was a weak faith, born of theological ignorance, that prayed for healing or a demonstration of divine power. Some are even more pointed in their opinion. James Boice, in his contribution to the book Power Religion (Moody, 1992) quotes with approval the sentiment of John Woodhouse, to the effect that “a desire for further signs and wonders is sinful and unbelieving” (126).
But consider, for example, Acts 4:29-31, which records this prayer of the church in Jerusalem:
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
This text is important for at least two reasons: it shows that it is good to pray for signs and wonders, that it is not evil or a sign of emotional and mental imbalance to petition God for demonstrations of his power; and, secondly, it shows that there is no necessary or inherent conflict between miracles and the message, between wonders and the word of the cross. Let me take each of these points in turn.
First, it is good and helpful and honoring to the Lord Jesus Christ to seek and pray for the demonstration of his power in healing, signs and wonders. But what about Matthew 12:39 and Matthew 16:4? Doesn’t Jesus denounce as wicked and adulterous those who “crave” and “seek” after signs (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22)? Yes, but note well whom he is addressing and why they are denounced. These are unbelieving scribes and Pharisees, not children of God. These who made such demands of Christ had no intention of following him. “Seeking signs from God is ‘wicked and adulterous’ when the demand for more and more evidence comes from a resistant heart and simply covers up an unwillingness to believe” (John Piper, “Signs and Wonders: Another View,” The Standard [October 1991], 23). Seeking signs as a pretext for criticizing Jesus or from a hankering to see the sensational is rightly rebuked. But that certainly wasn’t the motivation of the early church, nor need it be ours. Perhaps an illustration will help. John Piper explains:
If we are carrying on a love affair with the world, and our husband, Jesus, after a long separation comes to us and says, ‘I love you and I want you back,’ one of the best ways to protect our adulterous relationship with the world is to say, ‘You’re not really my husband; you don’t really love me. Prove it. Give me some sign.’ If that’s the way we demand a sign, we are a wicked and adulterous generation. But if we come to God with a heart aching with longing for vindication of his glory and the salvation of sinners, then we are not wicked and adulterous. We are a faithful wife, only wanting to honor our husband (23).
Do you come to God insistent on a miracle, being prompted by an unbelieving heart that demands he put on a show before you will obey him? Or do you come humbly, in prayer, with a desire to glorify God in the display of his power and an equal desire to minister his mercy and compassion and love to those in need? The former, God condemns. The latter, he commends.
Second, the power of signs and wonders does not dilute the power of the gospel nor is there any inherent inconsistency or unavoidable conflict between wonders and the word. Still, there are those who appeal to Romans 1:16 and 1 Corinthians 1:18,22-23, texts that assert the centrality of the cross and the power of the gospel to save (theological truths to which all of us, I am sure, wholeheartedly subscribe). But the author of these passages is Paul, the same man who described his evangelistic ministry as one characterized by the “power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:19), the same man who wrote 1 Corinthians 12-14 and about whom most of Acts, with all its miraculous phenomena, is concerned. It is none other than Paul, whose message and preaching came “not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). And it was Paul who reminded the Thessalonians that the gospel did not come to them “in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).
If there is an inherent inconsistency or conflict between miracles and the message then why was God himself "bearing witness to the word of his grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands" (Acts 14:3). If signs and wonders dilute the word of God’s grace, if signs and wonders detract from the centrality of the cross, if signs and wonders reflect a loss of confidence in the power of the gospel, then God cannot escape the charge of undermining his own activity. If there is a conflict between wonders and the word, it is in our minds that the problem exists. It isn’t in Paul’s mind. And it certainly isn’t in God’s.
Signs and wonders and miraculous phenomena could not save a soul then nor can they now. The power unto salvation is in the Holy Spirit working through the gospel of the cross of Christ. But such miraculous phenomena “can, if God pleases, shatter the shell of disinterest; they can shatter the shell of cynicism; they can shatter the shell of false religion. Like every other good witness to the word of grace, they can help the fallen heart to fix its gaze on the gospel where the soul-saving, self-authenticating glory of the Lord shines” (23).
Be it noted that if any generation was least in need of supernatural authentication, it was that of the early church. Yet they prayed earnestly for signs and wonders. Piper explains:
This was the generation whose preaching (of Peter and Stephen and Phillip and Paul) was more anointed than the preaching of any generation following. If any preaching was the power of God unto salvation and did not need accompanying signs and wonders, it was this preaching. Moreover, this was the generation with more immediate and compelling evidence of the truth of the resurrection than any generation since. Hundreds of eyewitnesses to the risen Lord were alive in Jerusalem. If any generation in the history of the church knew the power of preaching and the authentication of the gospel from first-hand evidence of the resurrection, it was this one. Yet it was they who prayed passionately for God to stretch forth His hand in signs and wonders (23).
Others have argued that signs, wonders and miracles breed a spirit of triumphalism inconsistent with the call to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Those who desire and pray for the miraculous, so goes the charge, do not take seriously the painful realities of living in a fallen world. Weakness, afflictions, persecution and suffering are an inevitable part of living in the “not-yet” of the kingdom. But when I read the NT, I see no inherent conflict between signs and suffering, and it is the NT, not the posturing or glitz of certain TV evangelists, that must be allowed to decide the issue. Paul certainly sensed no incompatibility between the two, for they were both characteristic of his life and ministry. As C. K. Barrett put it, “Miracles were no contradiction of the theologia crucis he proclaimed and practised, since they were performed not in a context of triumphant success and prosperity, but in the midst of the distress and vilification he was obliged to endure” (Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 321).
As Piper has said, “Paul’s ‘thorn’ [in the flesh] no doubt pressed deeper with every healing he performed” (28). Personal trials and afflictions did not lead him to renounce the miraculous in his ministry. Nor did the supernatural displays of God’s power lead him into a naive, “Pollyanna” outlook on the human condition. Again, if signs and suffering are incompatible, one must look somewhere other than in the Bible to prove it.
One final point needs to be made. Some would dismiss my appeal to Acts 4:29-31 by insisting that such a prayer is valid only when “apostles” are present. But this will not do, given the fact that we see non-apostolic believers, such as Stephen (Acts 6:8), Philip (Acts 8:6-7, 13), Ananias (Acts 9:17-18), anonymous disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:6), women at Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9), believers in Galatia (Gal. 3:5), believers in Rome (Rom. 12:6), believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 12-14), believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:19-20), and believers in believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 12-14), believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:19-20), and believers in Ephesus (1 Timothy 4:14; 1:18-19), all exercising what even cessationists believe are miraculous gifts of the Spirit!
Kevin DeYoung posts What We Owe Each Other:
John Calvin summarizes beautifully the duties we owe each other in Christ:
Finally, let each one see to what extent he is in duty bound to others, and let him pay his debt faithfully.For this reason let a people hold all its rulers in honor, patiently bearing their government, obeying their laws and commands, refusing nothing that can be borne without losing God’s favor [Rom. 13:1 ff.; 1 Peter 2:13ff.; Titus 3:1].Again, let the rulers take care of their own common people, keep the public peace, protect the good, punish the evil. So let them manage all things as if they are about to render account of their services to God, the supreme Judge [cf. Deut. 17:19; 2 Chron. 19:6-7].
Let the ministers of churches faithfully attend to the ministry of the Word, not adulterating the teaching of salvation [cf. 2 Cor. 2:17], but delivering it pure and undefiled to God’s people. And let them instruct the people not only through teaching, but also through example of life. In short, let them exercise authority as good shepherds over their sheep [cf. 1 Tim., ch. 3; 2 Tim., chs. 2; 4; Titus 1:6ff.; 1 Peter, ch. 5].Let the people in their turn receive them as messengers and apostles of God, render to them that honor of which the highest Master has deemed them worthy, and give them those things necessary for their livelihood [cf. Matt. 10:10ff.; Rom. 10:15 and 15:15ff.; 1 Cor., ch. 9; Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17-18].Let parents undertake to nourish, govern, and teach, their children committed to them by God, not provoking their minds with cruelty or turning them against their parents [Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21]; but cherishing and embracing their children with such gentleness and kindness as becomes their character as parents.As we have already said, children owe obedience to their parents.Let youth reverence old age, as the Lord has willed that age to be worthy of honor.Also, let the aged guide the insufficiency of youth with their own wisdom and experience wherein they excel the younger, not railing harshly and loudly against them but tempering their severity with mildness and gentleness.Let servants show themselves diligent and eager to obey their masters—not for the eye, but from the heart, as if they were serving God.Also, let masters not conduct themselves peevishly and intractably toward their servants, oppressing them with undue rigor, or treating them abusively. Rather, let them recognize them as their brothers, their co-servants under the Lord of heaven, whom they ought to love mutually and treat humanely [cf. Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-25; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18-20; Col. 4:1; Philemon 16].In this manner, I say, let each man consider what, in his rank and station, he owes to his neighbors, and pay what he owes. Moreover, our mind must always have regard for the Lawgiver, that we may know that this rule was established for our hearts as well as for our hands, in order that men may strive to protect and promote the well-being and interests of others. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.viii.46)
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Here is a concise statement of beliefs from Bridgeway Church concerning homosexuality and ministering to persons with same-sex attraction. I agree with it.
A Statement of Beliefs Concerning Homosexuality and Ministering to Persons with Same Sex Attraction
1. We believe that heterosexuality is God’s revealed will for humankind and that, since God is loving, a chaste and faithful expression of this divine design (whether in singleness or in the marriage relationship between one man and one woman) is the ideal to which he calls all people.
2. We believe that homosexual behavior and same-sex attraction are a result of the fall of humanity into a sinful condition that pervades every person. Whatever biological or familial roots of homosexuality may be discovered, we do not believe that these would sanction or excuse homosexual behavior, though they would deepen our compassion and patience for those who are struggling to be free from sexual temptations.
3. We believe there is hope for the person who struggles with same-sex attraction and that Jesus Christ offers a healing alternative in which the power of sin is broken and the person is freed to know and experience his or her true identity in Christ and in the fellowship of his Church. We also believe that those guilty of heterosexual sin can find healing, freedom, and forgiveness through the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.
4. We believe that this freedom is attained through a process which includes not only recognizing homosexual behavior as a sin but also renouncing the practice of it. Sexual holiness also comes through the rediscovery of healthy, non-erotic friendships with people of the same sex; embracing a moral sexual lifestyle; pursuing Spirit-filled counseling, discipleship, and healing prayer, and in the age to come, rising from the dead with a new body free from every sinful impulse. This process parallels the similar process of sanctification needed in dealing with heterosexual sin and temptations as well. We believe that this freedom comes first and foremost through faith in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. We believe that all persons have been created in the image of God and should be accorded human dignity. We believe therefore that hateful, fearful, unconcerned harassment of persons with same-sex attraction should be repudiated. We believe that respect for persons with same-sex attraction involves, honest, reasoned, nonviolent sharing of facts concerning the immorality and liability of homosexual behavior. On the other hand, endorsing behavior which the Bible disapproves endangers persons and dishonors God.
6. We believe that Christian churches should reach out in love and truth to minister to people touched by homosexuality, and that those who contend biblically against their own sexual temptation should be patiently assisted in their battle, not ostracized or disdained. However, the more prominent a leadership role or modeling role a person holds in a church or institution, the higher will be the expectations for God’s ideal of sexual obedience and wholeness. We affirm that both heterosexual and homosexual persons should find help in the church to engage in the biblical battle against all improper sexual thoughts and behaviors.
Lewis B. Smedes in Union With Christ:
Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him. Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him. Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him. Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family. Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend. Paul was ‘in the flesh’; Christ set him ‘in the Spirit.’ Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace. Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God. How does one give reasons for this? He does not give reasons; he sings, ‘Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.’
Friday, December 27, 2013
Ray Ortlund post The True Nature of Christianity:
“A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility. But that of Augustine pleases me even more: ‘. . . so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second and third, and always I would answer ‘Humility.’”
John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11.
“Another observation, in a former letter of yours, has not escaped my remembrance – the three lessons which a minister has to learn: 1. Humility. 2. Humility. 3. Humility. How long are we learning the true nature of Christianity!”
Charles Simeon, quoted in Charles Simeon, by H. C. G. Moule (London, 1956), page 65.
“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison. It was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, 1958), page 94.
John Calvin in Commentary on Psalms commenting on Psalm 51:8:
It is the word of God alone which can first and effectually cheer the heart of any sinner. There is no true or solid peace to be enjoyed in the world except in the way of reposing upon the promises of God. Those who do not resort to them may succeed for a time in hushing or evading the terrors of conscience, but they must ever be strangers to true inward comfort.
And, granting that they may attain to the peace of insensibility, this is not a state which could satisfy any man who has seriously felt the fear of the Lord. The joy which he desires is that which flows from hearing the word of God, in which he promises to pardon our guilt, and readmit us into his favor. It is this alone which supports the believer amidst all the fears, dangers, and distresses of his earthly pilgrimage; for the joy of the Spirit is inseparable from faith.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Doug Wilson posts A Warehouse Full of Guile:
The contradictions of the secularist mindset have been exposed numerous times, but it is a rare opportunity when this happens while millions of people staring at it.
Put another way, the rhetoric of tolerance and mutual respect as preached by these intoleristas is a sham, a farce, a lie, a trick, a subterfuge, a whopper — it turns out we have a lot of words for this activity — a fabrication, a deceit, a mendacity, an inaccuracy, and a warehouse full of guile.
They constantly practice their form of the bait and switch, and every once in a while they get caught. And every once in a great while, they get caught with half the country looking on. When this happens, their attempts to explain themselves usually attain to the level of “Uh, aliens kidnapped me. What year is it?”
After my first post on L’affaire Robertson, one of my commenters raised a point which I then passed on to my Twitter feed, to wit, “Why does A&E get to refuse to do business with someone based on their views on sex, but bakers and photographers can’t?” This got retweeted a bunch, and this is how I think the question came swimming into the ken of folks who usually don’t have to try to answer these things. But millions are looking at this tolerance face plant . . . let’s have a try.
So one responded, “Easy, the baker, and photo people are retail, and must accept anyone.” So I replied, “Ah, got it. So Chick Fil A could refuse to buy from a wholesaler run by homosexuals, for that reason?”
Someone else argued that A&E had the right to choose who would represent them. I then replied, “So then, a restaurant owner can decline to hire homosexual waiters because he doesn’t want to be represented by them?” Before posting this, I went back to get the exact wording of the tweet I was responding to, but it had been taken down. I don’t remember whose tweet it was either, but I think it must have been brave, brave Sir Robin.
These people are in a bad jam. They want to pretend they are creating a society where all ideas are equal, but they are now caught with the necessity of saying that some ideas are more equal than others, those ideas turning out (conveniently) to be theirs. But this makes them sound like something out of Animal Farm, and not in a good way either. What to do?
So another commenter fell back on the old reliable of vituperation. “You are just a bigot preacher that preaches a message of hatred and division . . . ”
So keep your eyes fixed on this one thing. The mantra of secularism is that we can all believe, say and do things that others of us find reprehensible, but in the public square, the genius of secularism is that they have found a way for all of us to function with an admirable neutrality. The Christian photographer may personally disapprove of homosexual behavior but because he has stepped out into the marketplace with that camera of his for hire, he must set that personal conviction aside. And everyone must do this, or so the theory goes. But A&E didn’t do this. Robertson said something on his own time, and he was handed his hat about as quickly as Katherine Sebellius hasn’t been. A&E said that they had been ardent supporters of the whole LGBT thing ever since forever, darling.
I don’t want to get distracted from my main point here, but I would like to enquire what deep hatreds are making those execs leave off the Q. It is LGBTQ, people. But perhaps this is an indication of A&E acting in self-defense? They had been broadcasting Duck Dynasty for too long, and the sexual normativity was starting to spread? One day they noticed that Q was gone . . . They had to act fast.
So here is the bottom line. Every society must have standards, and must have a god of those standards. This is precisely what secularism has, because it has to, and a good part of the reason for the success of this scam has been their ability to pretend that in this society, their society, this inexorable law need not be true. But it is true, as millions of people can easily see for themselves. Want to prove me wrong? Then treat A&E like an evangelical baker or photographer.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Doug Wilson in God Rest Ye Merry:
Irenaeus refers to this as recapitulation. British theologian N.T. Wright calls the Lord’s life work in this the reconstitution of Israel. Classic Reformed theology calls it the active obedience of Christ. What it means, simply, is Christ for us. In your salvation, you were not given a fraction of Christ, but rather were given all that He ever did . . . In the life of Jesus, Israel finally does it right, and He does it right on behalf of all Israel, all who are gathered to Him by faith.
I share Mike Wittmer's sentiments:
My favorite picture of Old Saint Nicholas, who allegedly punched Arius in the face at the Council of Nicea, and so preserved the true meaning of Christmas (that the man Jesus is also consubstantial with the Father).
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
An important reminder from Amy Hall:
The Bible Is Offensive
Maybe we in the West were so steeped in Christianity for so long that its words ceased to be shocking and became merely familiar words. However it happened, somewhere along the way we forgot something very important: the Bible is offensive.
In his article titled “When You Defend Phil Robertson, Here’s What You’re Really Defending,” Josh Barro has this to say about the controversy over Phil Robertson’s GQ interview:
3. Robertson hates gay people. Robertson in [a speech at a church in] 2010: "Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions. They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil."
This last one [#3] is key. My inbox is full of "love the sinner, hate the sin" defenses of Robertson's 2013 remarks. But Robertson doesn't love gay people. He thinks they're, well, "full of murder." His views on gays are hateful, inasmuch as they are full of hate.
Barro sees this quote from Robertson as being the key bit of evidence that he hates gay people. The only problem is that this quote didn’t originally come from Robertson, it’s from Romans 1:26-30, and the passage is far worse than Barro thinks, because the “they” referred to in the second half of the quote isn’t who he thinks it is.
If this chapter—and the words of murder, envy, and strife—were only about gay people, then most of us could just rest easy, express some righteous indignation on behalf of “the other guy,” and then walk away without feeling personally confronted or facing any nagging fear of our own condemnation.
But the passage is much worse than that.
Romans 1-3 calls homosexuals sinners. And me. And you. And everyone under the Law, and everyone not under the Law, and…well, everyone. As the very first verse following the section quoted by Robertson points out:
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
The first three chapters of Romans are devoted to making it clear that God disapproves of your lifestyle of sin. No one except Jesus is exempted from these chapters. No one. Barro should be much more offended than he actually is.
The Duck Dynasty controversy is a good indication that our culture has come out of Christianity far enough to start feeling the impact of its radical words once again, and that’s not a bad thing if it can cause people to reflect on three things: 1) I am a sinner, 2) God is a perfect Judge, and 3) I need a savior.
If the media think the Bible only applies these three truths to gay people, just wait until they figure out how “hateful” the Bible really is. My hope is that when our culture finally does feel the full weight of the offense, the conclusion of Romans 1-3 will once again be seen as equally radical:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The glory of Christianity is that we don’t have to deny God’s justice or His loving grace. We can face our own sin without fear because the cross preserved God’s justice, making way for His grace.
Knowledge of these radically beautiful truths has to begin with knowledge of something radically ugly, something very offensive indeed: our own sin. Let one and all discover their just condemnation so we can show them the cross. We are all “by nature children of wrath, even as the rest,” make no mistake about it. As Phil Robertson has made clear about his own life, “Among [condemned sinners] we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh”…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-7).
Geoffrey T. Bull in The City and the Sign:
The Suffering-Servant, co-equal, though He be with God, endures the agony as man. He does not marshal legions from the sky. He rests in God alone, the only One who can deliver; and by such trusting, breaks the bounds of desolation. His innocence is genuine. With confidence He waits the final vindication.
The Judge of all the earth, He must do right; so now beneath the maelstrom of God’s wrath, He dares to look for heaven and home. All joy is there. With that in view He finds the strength to tread down shame and go right through to God’s righthand.
Doug Wilson on seeking the face of God:
One of the ways the Bible describes repentance and true godliness is with some variation on the phrase “seeking God’s face.” We see this in multiple places (1 Chron. 16:11; 2 Chron. 7:14; Ps. 24:6; Ps. 27:8; Ps. 105:4).
But of course this is a metaphor—God the Father is spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and truth. He has no body, and therefore He has no face. So how do we seek His face? The Scriptures teach us that we must do this through the gospel.
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). We seek the face of God by seeking the face of Jesus Christ. We seek the face of Jesus Christ, not because He is here physically, but rather because God has made a way for us to seek His face through the light of regeneration that is shining in our hearts.
Because this light is shining there, we come to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In other words, when the gospel word is declared—like this—God works powerfully, as powerfully as He did at the creation of the entire cosmos. So then, here is the Word that causes this to happen.
Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived a perfect sinless life on behalf of everyone needed that life lived on his or her behalf. He went to the cross, suffered, bled, and died, was laid in a tomb for three days, and then rose from the dead. After this He ascended into Heaven, and poured out His Holy Spirit upon us. There. That is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Monday, December 23, 2013
David Burnette on 4 reasons from Hebrews for the incarnation:
You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a greater and more glorious mystery than the incarnation. That God took on human flesh is a truth worthy of our deepest gratitude, wonder, and adoration. However, as we reflect on this mystery, my guess is that most of us haven't spent much time thinking about why God took on flesh. Sure, He was demonstrating his infinite love, but why did he do it this way?
The Bible answers this 'why' question from different angles, but I want to point you to four reasons for the incarnation from a book we don't normally associate with Christmas - Hebrews. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus shared in our "flesh and blood" (2:14), and it gives us four purposes for this glorious reality in Hebrews 2:14-18:
"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
According to this passage, the Son of God came in the flesh...
1. To Destroy the Devil (v. 14)Ever since the Fall, the devil has tempted men to sin and led them down a road of destruction. But Christ broke the devil's stranglehold on death by dying. This sinless man took the punishment for sin that only a man could take (14). He destroyed the devil, and the cross was his weapon. One day that destruction will be evident to all (Rev 20:10).
2 To Deliver Lifelong Slaves (v. 15)We are enslaved by the fear of death and the coming judgment. Whether we admit it or not, we know our sin will find us out. But Jesus removed that enslaving fear by tasting death for us (Heb 2:9). Because he has absorbed God's wrath, the devil can no longer hold this harrowing fate over our heads. For those who belong to Christ, the tables have turned: death is gain (Phil 1:21). We are free.
3. To Be a Merciful and Faithful High Priest (v. 17)By being made like us, Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). He knows what it is like to be tempted and to suffer as a man. He was also able to demonstrate his faithfulness by his unswerving and glad obedience to the Father while on earth (Heb 3:2). As his people, we have every reason to trust such a high priest.
4. To Make Propitiation for the Sins of His People (v. 17)A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice, and that's exactly what Jesus offered when he died on the cross. He removed our sin and the wrath we had incurred. Making sacrifices is what all priests do, but this high priest gave his own life for the sins of his people. Christ's death provides for us the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.
Much more could be said from Hebrews and from other places in God's Word about why Jesus came in the flesh. But for now, these four reasons from Hebrews 2:14-18 should give us enough to be thankful for to last a good while. Understanding not only that Jesus came in the flesh but also why he did gives us all the more reason to love and worship him.
Although there is less evidence as we enter the period of the Middle Ages (the reasons for which I’ve already noted), at no time did the gifts disappear altogether. Due to limitations of space I will only be able to list the names of those in whose ministries are numerous documented instances of the revelatory gifts of prophecy, healing, discerning of spirits, miracles, together with vivid accounts of dreams and visions.
For extensive documentation, see Stanley M. Burgess, The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation Traditions (Sixth-Sixteenth Centuries) (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997, 252 pp.), as well as his recent book, Christian Peoples of the Spirit: A Documentary History of Pentecostal Spirituality from the Early Church to the Present (New York: New York University Press, 2011, 309 pp.). Among those cited and described by Burgess as well as other authors (see Paul Thigpen, “Did the Power of the Spirit ever leave the Church?” in Charisma, September, 1992, 20-29; and Richard M. Riss, “Tongues and Other Miraculous Gifts in the Second through Nineteenth Centuries,” Basileia, 1985; and Ronald Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1984]), include:
John of Egypt (d. 394) and Pachomius (287-346 a.d.); Leo the Great (400-461 a.d.; he served as bishop of Rome from 440 until 461); Genevieve of Paris (422-500 a.d.); Gregory the Great (540-604); Gregory of Tours (538-594); the Venerable Bede (673-735; his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 731, contains numerous accounts of miraculous gifts in operation); Aidan, bishop of Lindisfarne (d. 651) and his successor Cuthbert (d. 687; both of whom served as missionaries in Britain); Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153); Bernard’s treatise on the Life and Death of Saint Malachy the Irishman (1094-1148); Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173); Anthony of Padua (1195-1231); Bonaventure (1217-1274); Francis of Assisi (1182-1226; documented in Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis); Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274); together with virtually all of the medieval mystics, among whom are several women: Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Gertrude of Helfta (1256-1301), Bergitta of Sweden (1302-1373), St. Clare of Montefalco (d. 1308), Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), Margery Kempe (1373-1433); Dominican preacher Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419); and Theresa of Avila (1515-1582).
If one should object that these are exclusively Roman Catholics, we must not forget that during this period in history there was hardly anyone else. Aside from a few splinter sects, there was little to no expression of Christianity outside the Church of Rome (the formal split with what became known as Eastern Orthodoxy did not occur until 1054 a.d.).
One should also not forget Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits and author of the Spiritual Exercises. Spiritual gifts, especially tongues, are reported to have been common among the Moravians, especially under the leadership of Count von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), as well among the French Huguenots in the late 17th century and the Jansenists of the first half of the eighteenth century. John Wesley (1703-1791) defended the on-going operation of tongues beyond the time of the apostles. One could also cite George Fox (1624-1691) who founded the Quaker church.
Those who insist that revelatory spiritual gifts such as prophecy, discerning of spirits, and word of knowledge ceased to function beyond the first century also have a difficult time accounting for the operation of these gifts in the lives of many who were involved in the Scottish Reformation, as well several who ministered in its aftermath. Jack Deere, in his book Surprised by the Voice of God (Zondervan, 1996, pp. 64-93), has provided extensive documentation of the gift of prophecy at work in and through such men as George Wishart (1513-1546; mentor of John Knox), John Knox himself (1514-1572), John Welsh (1570-1622), Robert Bruce (1554-1631), and Alexander Peden (1626-1686). I strongly encourage you to obtain Deere’s book and read the account of their supernatural ministries, not only in prophecy but often in gifts of healings. Deere also draws our attention to one of the historians of the seventeenth century, Robert Fleming (1630-1694), as well as one of the major architects of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), both of whom acknowledged the operation of the gifts in their day.
As noted earlier, I don't think it at all unlikely that numerous churches which advocated cessationism experienced these gifts but dismissed them as something less than the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
One illustration of this comes from the ministry of Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), who tells of an incident in the middle of his sermon where he paused and pointed at a man whom he accused of taking an unjust profit on Sunday, of all days! The culprit later described the event to a friend:
“Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul'" (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon [Curts & Jennings, 1899], II:226-27).
Spurgeon then adds this comment:
“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (ibid.).
On another occasion, Spurgeon broke off his sermon and pointed at a young man, declaring: “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer” (Autobiography: The Full Harvest, 2:60). After the service the man brought the gloves to Spurgeon and asked that he not tell his mother, who would be heartbroken to discover that her son was a thief!
My opinion is that this is a not uncommon example of what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Cor. 14:24-25. Spurgeon exercised the gift of prophecy (or some might say the word of knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8). He did not label it as such, but that does not alter the reality of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through him. If one were to examine Spurgeon’s theology and ministry, as well as recorded accounts of it by his contemporaries as well as subsequent biographers, most would conclude from the absence of explicit reference to miraculous charismata such as prophecy and the word of knowledge that such gifts had been withdrawn from church life. But Spurgeon’s own testimony inadvertently says otherwise!
Finally, of course, one would have to point to the last 100 or more years of contemporary church history and the emergence of the Pentecostal / Charismatic / Third Wave movements, together with the more than 600,000,000 adherents worldwide, many (most?) of whom personally testify to having experienced or witnessed in others the miraculous charismata.
I can only hope and pray that many will now see that it is both unwarranted and unwise to argue for cessationism based on the testimony of God’s people in the last 2,000 years of church history.