Monday, September 29, 2014

faithful to preserve

Our competency comes from God. He begins and will complete His good work in us. Here is Richard Phillips on God's faithfulness to preserve His own.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Philippians 1:6 develops the theme of God’s preserving grace—which ensures the perseverance of His own—in three points.

First, Paul reminds us that since God has begun our salvation, we can rely on Him to complete it: “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” God always finishes what He starts, especially the salvation of His people.

It is in this way that God’s preserving grace fits with the other doctrines of grace. God the Father chose us in eternity past, and the Bible says that God’s purpose in election must prevail (Rom. 9:11). God the Son offered an atoning sacrifice for these same elect people. Should they fall into condemnation, then His blood would have been shed for them in vain. But He insists that not one of them shall perish and none shall be plucked from His hand (John 10:28). Likewise, the Holy Spirit brought these same elect sheep to eternal life by the irresistible working of His grace. Should eternal life be lost, the Spirit’s work would prove ineffective. Therefore, as faith is the gift of God’s grace, the Christian’s perseverance is the work of God’s continuing grace.

Second, Paul says that God, having begun His work in our lives, “will bring it” to completion. This indicates that God not only guarantees the completion of our salvation, but is actively involved in the believer’s life to bring this to pass. God works in our lives in the way a craftsman works to finish a product he has created. He smooths out the lines, sands the rough places, and puts its pieces together in proper proportion. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:
God does not merely initiate the work and then leave it, he continues with it; he leads us on, directing and manipulating our circumstances, restraining us at one time and urging us on at another. Paul’s whole conception of the Church is that it is a place where God is working in the hearts of men and women.
God’s work is manifested in His will playing out in our lives. This is what Paul says a bit later in Philippians: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:1–213). Being a Christian is not easy. Persevering in faith requires warfare with sin, labor in prayer, plowing in God’s Word, and performing His will in the world. We are God’s workmanship, Paul says, and this means we are called to “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). God will see to it that His work for each of us is carried to completion. By His preserving grace, He will carry us to our destination in heaven. We are called to work this out, but, Paul insists, God is all the while working it in us (Phil. 2:13).

Third, we can see in Philippians 1:6 our certainty of successful “completion” if God’s saving work truly has begun in us. Far from dreading the future, as we must if we look for signs of hope within ourselves, every believer possesses a hope that is certain for the most joyful, glorious, and holy destiny through faith in Jesus.

One of the reasons I love Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is the portrait he paints of the eternity God has secured for every believer. Speaking of the believer’s entry into heaven, he writes:
I saw in my dream the two men enter the gate. As they did, they were transfigured. They had garments that shined like gold. Harps and crowns were given them. The harps for praise and the crowns for honor. Then I heard in my dream all the bells in the city rang again for joy. It was said to them, “Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
This may be a fanciful rendering from the Bible’s promises, but still it is our future history and not fantasy. For as Paul insists, God brings us to completion. One of the meanings of the Greek word translated as “bring to completion” is “bring to perfection.” That is what God has promised to do for every sheep who hears Christ’s voice and who shows the reality of his or her faith by following after Him through life. Whatever hardships, disappointments, or failures await us in this world, a Christian can anticipate the certain fulfillment of David’s exultant words in Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Terribly flawed though we all are now, God will bring our journey to completion and us to perfection, so that arrayed in perfect holiness we will live forever in His love.

This excerpt is adapted from What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard Phillips.


J.I. Packer in Truth and Power:

Bowing to the living Lord, then, entails submitting mind and heart to the written Word. Disciples individually and churches corporately stand under the authority of Scripture because they stand under the lordship of Christ who rules by Scripture. This is not bibliolatry but Christianity in its most authentic form.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

the romans 7 man

I'll admit it, I'm a John Piper fan-boy; and while it's rare, I find I have disagreed with him. Adrian Warnock just posted on one of those. The below is Warnock's post with a lot of great links worth following.

The three sessions in Romans with John Piper yesterday were food for the soul. They were enjoyable, engaging, and illuminating. In fact they were life-changing. Nothing I am going to say in this article should in an way take away from that. And I would urge everyone reading this article to take the time to watch the entire series of five talks from this conference online. Three of them are available already:
What is crucial about these talks is that Piper opens the lid on how he approaches the text. These will not only teach you doctrine, they will teach you how to learn doctrine direct from the Bible. And crucially you don’t have to agree with him on every point to benefit from listening. I have already spoken about the strong impact that the first talk had on me.

The fact that I am not sure I agree on who the man of Romans 7 is doesn’t detract from the value of these talks one iota. When it comes to considering whether Paul is talking about his past, a hypothetical person, or himself as a mature Christian there are two dangers in my view. And they centre on the wretchedness of the man, crying out for deliverance. The key phrase reads as follows
“Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God!”
The question is at its core, is has this deliverance already happened? Or is Paul still in a state of wretchedness waiting for it?

There are some who do not think Paul is speaking of his current self, like me and heroes of mine like Terry Virgo and Lloyd-Jones. Our risk that we run is that we so want to focus on the deliverance, the new identity of the believer, and the victory against sin that Jesus has achieved, that we might neglect to mention that believers still do have a battle against sin.

Fellow Patheosian Theology in the raw also recently posted an article arguing for the position that I do tend to hold, that Romans 7 cannot be describing a mature believer.

The risk for those, like Piper, who think Romans 7 is as good as it gets, is that it can lead to the sense that even mature Christians can only expect to know defeat in their battle against sin.

However, Piper did not fall into that trap this weekend. In his talk Free from Judgment, Fighting Sin, Full Assurance, just as when he spoke previously about Romans 7 he made it very clear that he believes the Christian has been given a victory against sin. So he said, for example, ““Christ took my condemnation to set me free so that I might walk by his Spirit.” and ““Our victory in Christ is not a deliverance from the battle, but an assurance that we will win.””

So whilst I do disagree with Piper, it is mainly because I want to ensure Christians do not think being defeated by sin is the best they can hope for. And Piper does not believe that. He does believe that at conversion there is both a legal chance “there is therefore now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1) AND a genuine transformation, “set you free” (Romans 8:2).

This conversation about Romans 7 is worth having, mostly because of the errors we can be at risk of falling into on both sides. The conclusions you come to on this matter need not themselves lead to either error. And as I said when I first wrote about this matter,
Romans 7 and Romans 8 seem to be setting forth two different life styles that are mutually inconsistent. The man who knows no freedom in Romans 7 has been set free from the law in Romans 8. While it is true that without the Spirit we can have the will to do good, but lack the ability to do it, with the Spirit it is no longer true that we cannot carry out good. Paul seems to almost yell at us in Romans 8—you CAN do it! I am no believer in Christians becoming perfect, but I do so hope that your view of Romans 7 doesn’t lead you to a feeling of despair against ever enjoying living a victorious Christian life. READ THE REST
I hope you will follow the links in this article and enjoy studying this. Theology is not merely of academic interest, but it can help us in our walk with Christ.

electing grace

Jonathan Edwards"Christians a Chosen Generation" in Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733:

Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine of electing grace shows what great reason you have to do so. If God so values you, set so much by you, has bestowed greater mercies upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercies, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you.

And this, rather, because there was nothing peculiar in you differing you from any other person that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you: you were as unworthy to be set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever as worthless and filthy. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

divorce v. homosexuality

Good post by Russell Moore:

This week my denomination, through its executive committee, voted to “disfellowship” a congregation in California that has acted to affirm same-sex sexual relationships. This sad but necessary move is hardly surprising, since this network of churches shares a Christian sexual ethic with all orthodox Christians of every denomination for 2,000 years. One of the arguments made by some, though, is that this is hypocritical since so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.

The argument is that conservative Protestants already embrace a “third way” because we’ve done so on divorce. Couples divorce, sometimes remarry others, and yet are welcomed within the congregation. We don’t necessarily affirm this as good, but we receive these people with mercy and grace. Why not, the argument goes, do the same with homosexuality.

The charge of hypocrisy is valid in some respects. I’ve argued for years and repeatedly that Southern Baptists and other evangelicals are slow-motion sexual revolutionaries, embracing elements of the sexual revolution twenty or thirty years behind the rest of the culture. This is to our shame, and the divorce culture is the number-one indicator of this capitulation. The preaching on divorce has been muted and hesitating all too often in our midst. Sometimes this is due to what the Bible calls “fear of man,” ministers and leaders afraid of angering divorced people (or their relatives) in power in congregations. Sometimes it’s due to the fact that divorce simply seems all too normal in this culture; it doesn’t shock us anymore.

A recovery of a Christian ethic of marriage will mean repentance, and a strong commitment by churches to courageously say, where applicable, what John the Baptist put his head on a platter to say to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” In that sense, the charge is correct.

But divorce and remarriage is not, beyond that, applicable to the same-sex marriage debate. First of all, there are arguably some circumstances where divorce and remarriage are biblically permitted. Most evangelical Christians acknowledge that sexual immorality can dissolve a marital union, and that innocent party is then free to remarry (Matt. 5:32). The same is true, for most, for abandonment (1 Cor. 7:11-15). If the church did what we ought, our divorce rate would be astoundingly lowered, since vast numbers of divorces do not fit into these categories. Still, we acknowledge that the category of a remarried person after divorce does not, on its face, indicate sin.

The second issue, though, is what repentance looks like in these cases. Take the worst-case scenario of an unbiblically divorced and remarried couple. Suppose this couple repents of their sin and ask to be received, or welcomed back, into the church. What does repentance look like for them? They have, in this scenario, committed an adulterous act (Matt. 5:32-33). Do they repent of this adultery by doing the same sinful action again, abandoning and divorcing one another? No. In most cases, the church recognizes that they should acknowledge their past sin and resolve to be faithful from now on to one another. Why is this the case? It’s because their marriages may have been sinfully entered into, but they are, in fact, marriages.

Jesus redemptively exposed the sin of the Samaritan woman at the well by noting that the man she was living with was not her husband. “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (Jn. 4:18). It could be that her husbands all died successively, but not necessarily. Christians are forbidden to marry non-Christians. This does not mean, though, that these are not marriages, or that, after repentance, these marriages are ongoing sins. Instead, the Scripture commands a repentance that looks like fidelity to that unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-17; 1 Pet. 3:1-2).

Even if these marriages were entered into sinfully in the first place, they are in fact marriages because they signify the Christ/church bond of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:22-31), embedded in God’s creation design of male and female together (Mk. 10:6-9).

Same-sex relationships do not reflect that cosmic mystery, and thus by their very nature signify something other than the gospel. The question of what repentance looks like in this case is to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), which means to cease such sexual activity in obedience to Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). A state, or church decree of these relationships as marital do not make them so.

We have much to repent for in the accommodation to a divorce culture in our churches. And if we do not articulate an alternative gospel vision of the definition of marriage, we will see the same wreckage we’ve seen on so many churches’ capitulation on the permanence of marriage. But our attitude should not be that so many have shirked their churchly responsibility in some things, so let’s then shirk our responsibilities in everything. That would be the equivalent of someone saying, “Since I have had lust in my heart, which Jesus identified as root adultery, I should go ahead and have an affair” or “Since I am angry with you, which Jesus identified as springing from a spirit of murder, I should go ahead and kill you.

Instead, our response ought to be a vision of marriage defined by the gospel, embodied in local congregations. This means preaching with both truth and grace, with accountability for entering marriages and, by the discipline of the church, for keeping those vows. We don’t remedy our past sins by adding new ones.

our true good

J.I. Packer in Truth and Power:

When Christians affirm the authority of the bible, meaning that biblical teaching reveals God's will and is the instrument of his rule over our lives, part of what they are claiming is that Scripture sets before us the factual and moral nature of things. God's law corresponds to created human nature, so that in fulfilling his requirements, we fulfill ourselves. The gospel of Christ answers to actual human need, as glove fits hand, so that all our responses to God work for our good….

church - what is it good for?

David Platt wrote the following list of seven activities that should be done by the Church:
  1. The church evangelizes: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matt 28:19)
  2. The church baptizes: “ . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19)
  3. The church teaches: “ . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:20)
  4. The church nurtures: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship . . .” (Acts 2:42)
  5. The church worships: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)
  6. The church prays: “And they devoted themselves to . . . the prayers.”
  7. The church multiplies: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31)

What additional key activity (and supporting Scripture) would you add to this list?

Monday, September 15, 2014

it's ok to want to be happy

Many are either criticizing or defending Gloria Osteen for saying, "I ... want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God ... we're doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we're happy. That's the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy."

I get the point of those that take issue. But since it is our habit to swing the pendulum too far, let's be careful, our happiness is important.

No one puts it as bluntly as Blaise Pascal in his Pensées:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. There you are. Warrior, pacifist, suicide, sluggard, workaholic; if you’re a human, you’re a hedonist. You can try to deny it, but you can’t change it.
If you want to try your hand at stoicism, forget the Bible. It has little for you. Scripture does not support the idea that our motives are more pure the less we are pursuing our own interested happiness. Nope. In fact, according to the Bible, unless we are pursuing our happiness we cannot even come to God: “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

What Pleasure Measures

God blatantly entices us to seek happiness, joy, pleasure — whatever you want to call it — in him with verses like this: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), and “in his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). We’re supposed to want pleasure.

Why does God want us to want pleasure? Because it is a crucial indicator. Pleasure is the meter in your heart that measures how valuable, how precious someone or something is to you. Pleasure is the measure of your treasure.

Your treasure is what you love. Your greatest treasure is what you love the most. “For where your treasure is, there your heart [your love] will be also” (Matthew 6:21). You glorify your treasure by the fact that it’s the object of your pleasure.

And that’s why God is not indifferent about your joy. It’s a big deal to him. Your pleasure in God is the measure of how much of a treasure he is to you.

The Whistleblower of Your Heart

This also makes pleasure the whistleblower of your heart. If something sinful gives you pleasure, it’s not a pleasure problem. It’s a treasure problem. Your pleasure mechanism is likely functioning just fine. It’s what you love that’s out of whack. And pleasure is outing you. It’s revealing that, despite what your mouth says and the image you try to project to others, something evil is precious to you.

That’s what sin is at the root: treasuring evil. Which makes the fight of faith in the Christian life a fight for delight. It’s a fight to believe God’s promises of happiness over the false promises of happiness we hear from the world, our fallen flesh, and the devil. And yes, it often involves denying ourselves pleasure, but only denying ourselves a lesser, viler pleasure in order to have a much higher pleasure (Luke 9:23–25).

Wonderful and Devastating

This biblical truth that we call Christian Hedonism is both wonderful and devastating. It is wonderful to realize that God’s pursuit of Glory and our pursuit of joy is not supposed to be different pursuits, but the same! Because, as John Piper says, “God is most glorified in you, when you are most satisfied in him.” That means that God’s glory in us depends on our being as happy as we possibly can be for all of eternity! If you’ve never read the book, Desiring God, dive into it this Fall and revel in what makes the Gospel so good (take advantage of our free PDF version to read or browse).

“There is greater joy in God than you’ve yet known.” Tweet But the devastating thing is that as soon as we realize that God receives the most glory from our satisfaction in him, we also realize how far short we fall in so many areas of finding our satisfaction in him. And if you’re in a slough of discouragement over this, then put When I Don’t Desire God on your Fall’s must-reads list (we have a free PDF for this one too!). It will encourage your heart and equip you with weapons in the fight for the right joy.

Pursue Your Highest Pleasure!

Fight for the right joy! There is greater joy in God than you’ve yet known. Don’t give up. Don’t settle for the lesser joys. Make it your aim to be a full, unashamed, bold Christian Hedonist! Pursue your pleasure in God, the greatest Treasure that exists, with all your heart (Matthew 22:37). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

intolerant haters

Christians being called intolerant haters - there's nothing new under the son.

The following is a great enjoinder from Amy Hall:

Christians: Intolerant Haters Since AD 33

Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor of Bithynia who, as Michael Kruger wrote in a recent post, thought that “intolerance of the Roman gods was enough of a reason to kill Christians, despite their [as noted by Pliny himself] holy lives,” commented back in the second century on the “stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy” of Christians who would not yield to the culture.
This obstinacy has been getting us into trouble for 2,000 years whenever a government makes the upsetting discovery that Christians place the authority of Jesus (as expressed in the unchangeable Bible) above that of civil authorities and so can’t be bent to their will no matter what. And I mean no matter what. The horrific tortures Christians have suffered over the ages are innumerable.
But guess what? We’re still here. And we’ll still be here 500 years from now, if Jesus hasn’t returned by then. I think our culture still does not know our God-enabled stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy. They still have hope that some pressure will convince us. But once it sinks in that they’ve met an immovable force…well, what happens next has not, in the past, proved to be fun for Christians. If a rock can’t be convinced to move along and stop impeding traffic in the middle of the road to progress, then the only thing left is to work at removing it.
Enter Michael Kruger’s post: “Regarded as ‘Intolerant Haters’: What’s New?
In the midst of the high-octane cultural wars of the last several years—particularly the debate over homosexual marriage—evangelical Christians have been slapped with all sorts of pejorative labels. Words such as bigoted, arrogant, exclusive, dogmatic, and homophobic are just a few.
But two labels particularly stand out. First, Christians are regularly regarded as intolerant. Christians are not only regarded as intolerant religiouslybecause they affirm the words of Jesus that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)—but they are regarded as intolerant ethically, because they refuse to approve any and all behaviors as morally good. 
Christians are also regularly (and ironically) regarded as haters. Apparently, our modern world regards the act of telling people they’re wrong as a form of hatred. It is never explained how the charge does not apply equally in the other direction, since those who make this charge are telling Christians they are wrong.
Needless to say, such a situation can discourage Christians in the modern day. We might be tempted to despair and think that the church is entering into dark days. But a little historical perspective might be useful. Truth be told, this is not the first time Christians have received such labels. Indeed, pejoratives were given to Christians from the beginning.
Read the rest of what Michael Kruger has to say about two ancient leaders who accused us of hatred and intolerance. He says these stories are both frightening and encouraging.
Do I have the strength and courage to stand with Jesus no matter what? Absolutely not. Though I’m committed to it, I have no delusions of grandeur about my own ability to do so. But thank God, I know that I am kept for Jesus Christ, and I trust Him to give me what I need when the time comes for me to need it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

lgbt debate in the church

When mainline denominations debate whether to ordain practicing homosexuals or to sanction same-sex marriages, one wonders: Where are the persons of Christian stature and theological wisdom who will stand up for the biblical truth about human sexuality? In Germany there is such a person: Wolfhart Pannenberg, eminent professor of theology at the University of Munich. While evangelicals would question aspects of Pannenberg's theology, his critique of liberation theology and his defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ have been widely influential. In this essay he takes his stand on the issue of homosexual behavior. Perhaps his voice will give courage to others to speak the truth about love—in love.
And translated the below from him:

Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other things more than God.

Jesus said, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37, NRSV). Love for God must take precedence over love for our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth commandment.

The will of God—Jesus' proclamation of God's lordship over our lives—must be the guiding star of our identity and self-determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus' teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees' question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator's will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9).

Since on this principle the Bible is not time-bound, Jesus' word is the foundation and the criterion for all Christian pronouncements on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus' teaching, human sexuality as male and as female is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior.

Jesus' perspective, by and large, corresponds to Jewish tradition, even though his stress on the indissolubility of marriage goes beyond the provision for divorce within Jewish law (Deut. 24:1). It was a shared Jewish conviction that men and women in their sexual identity are intended for the community of marriage. This also accounts for the Old Testament assessment of sexual behaviors that depart from this norm, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual relations.

The biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection, and all its statements on this subject agree without exception. The Holiness Code of Leviticus incontrovertibly affirms, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22). Leviticus 20 includes homosexual behavior among the crimes meriting capital punishment (Lev. 20:13; it is significant that the same applies to adultery in v. 10). On these matters, Judaism always knew itself to be distinct from other nations.

This same distinctiveness continued to determine the New Testament statements about homosexuality, in contrast to Hellenistic culture that took no offense at homosexual relations. In Romans, Paul included homosexual behavior among the consequences of turning away from God (1:27). In 1 Corinthians, homosexual practice belongs with fornication, adultery, idolatry, greed, drunkenness, theft, and robbery as behaviors that preclude participation in the kingdom of God (6:9f.); Paul affirms that through baptism Christians have become free from their entanglement in all these practices (6:11).

The New Testament contains not a single passage that might indicate a more positive assessment of homosexual activity to counterbalance these Pauline statements. Thus, the entire biblical witness includes practicing homosexuality without exception among the kinds of behavior that give particularly striking expression to humanity's turning away from God. This exegetical result places very narrow boundaries around the view of homosexuality in any church that is under the authority of Scripture.

What is more, the biblical statements on this subject merely represent the negative corollary to the Bible's positive views on the creational purpose of men and women in their sexuality. These texts that are negative toward homosexual behavior are not merely dealing with marginal opinions that could be neglected without detriment to the Christian message as a whole.

Moreover, the biblical statements about homosexuality cannot be relativized as the expressions of a cultural situation that today is simply outdated. The biblical witnesses from the outset deliberately opposed the assumptions of their cultural environment in the name of faith in the God of Israel, who in Creation appointed men and women for a particular identity.

Contemporary advocates for a change in the church's view of homosexuality commonly point out that the biblical statements were unaware of important modern anthropological evidence. This new evidence, it is said, suggests that homosexuality must be regarded as a given constituent of the psychosomatic identity of homosexual persons, entirely prior to any corresponding sexual expression. (For the sake of clarity, it is better to speak here of a homophile inclination as distinct from homosexual practice. ) Such phenomena occur not only in people who are homosexually active.

But inclination need not dictate practice. It is characteristic of human beings that our sexual impulses are not confined to a separate realm of behavior; they permeate our behavior in every area of life. This, of course, includes relationships with persons of the same sex. However, precisely because erotic motives are involved in all aspects of human behavior, we are faced with the task of integrating them into the whole of our life and conduct.

The mere existence of homophile inclinations does not automatically lead to homosexual practice. Rather, these inclinations can be integrated into a life in which they are subordinated to the relationship with the opposite sex where, in fact, the subject of sexual activity should not be the all-determining center of human life and vocation. As the sociologist Helmut Schelsky has rightly pointed out, one of the primary achievements of marriage as an institution is its enrollment of human sexuality in the service of ulterior tasks and goals.

The reality of homophile inclinations, therefore, need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem: and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife—in particular, adultery.

The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Monday, September 08, 2014

love the church

We're beginning a series on 1 Corintians. This past week we looked at the unity of the cross (1 Cor 1.1-9). It was noted that the early church had all of the same internal and external tensions and pressure toward ungodliness - and yet many today want to return to the early church. They failed as many ways as we do - and yet many today want to return to the early church. And they failed in many ways in spite of having the benefit of being planted by the great apostle Paul - and yet many today want to blame church leadership.


I love the church. She's not worse than she was in the past. The problems we face aren't bigger. Etc... There's really nothing new under the sun.

With that, here is Sam Storms' recent post on "I like Jesus. It's the Church I can't stand."

How many times have you heard it said: “I like Jesus. It’s the Church I can’t stand!” I wish I had time to write a lengthy article in response to that ill-informed and utterly misguided statement, but I don’t. So I must be brief.

I’m thoroughly convinced that people who declare their affection for Jesus but not the Church know little if anything about the Jesus they profess to admire. These people probably ignore the fact that this Jesus spoke more about hell and eternal condemnation than all the other NT authors combined.

They probably ignore the fact that this Jesus demanded undivided loyalty to himself and declared that only through faith in him alone could one experience a saving relationship with God the Father. This Jesus whom they say they like, perhaps even love, is also the Jesus who said that he would build his Church and that the powers of death would never prevail against it (Matt. 16).

This is the same Jesus who sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to inaugurate the life of the local church. This Jesus, says the apostle Paul, is himself the head of the church, which is his body.

This Jesus, whom these folk profess to like and perhaps even claim to worship, is the same Jesus who, according to Ephesians 5, “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor.”

This Jesus is the chief shepherd of the church (to use Peter’s language here in 1 Peter 5:4), the Lord of the church, the lover of the church, the savior of the church; he is the one who has such unrelenting passion for and commitment to the church that at the consummation of history he will eventually wed the church in what the Bible calls the marriage supper of the Lamb!

So, let me come straight to the point. Don’t give me any of this silly, high-minded claptrap and spiritual bologna about liking Jesus but not his church. Jesus himself simply will not let you get away with it. It’s not an option that he permits. The church is his body. The church is his bride. If you truly love him, you must love her.

That’s not to say, of course, that everything about the church is perfect. Only a fool would think that it was. We all see its flaws and shortcomings. Your experience of local church life, up to this point in time, may have been painful and disillusioning. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But let me be perfectly clear: There is no such thing as Churchless Christianity any more than there is such a thing as Christless Christianity! To believe in and receive and love and follow Jesus is to live as a member and supporter and lover of his body, the church.

vusa on lgbt

I loved the Vineyard and I miss being part of it. The following summary statement on the issues related to LGBT reminds me why. Note the Kingdom, the authority of Scripture, and the command for compassion and holiness all side-by-side. This summary along with some great reference material may be found here.
First, we must be committed to both mission and holiness. The message of the kingdom is a message of welcome. Anyone can come to the feast- Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. And at the same time, the message of the kingdom is repent, believe, and follow Jesus in every area of life. At times, it can feel as if these two principles are mutually exclusive. But we are convinced they are not. It is possible to offer the radical welcome of Jesus while calling people to high standards of discipleship.

Second, the Bible promotes, celebrates and affirms marriage as a covenantal union between a man and a woman. Marriage is not the highest purpose of humanity. The apostle Paul himself was single, as was Jesus. At the same time, it must be honored as a sign and gift from God.

Third, we believe that all humans are to be treated with kindness and compassion, as the image-bearers of God on earth. We are all sinful, and it is profoundly unbiblical to pick out one sin that is stigmatized above others. In the history of the church, homosexual persons experienced such sinful stigmatization. We repent and renounce this sort of sinful treatment.

Fourth, we believe that outside of the boundaries of marriage, the Bible calls for abstinence. We know that in our culture, premarital sex, along with many other forms of non-marital sex, has become normative. We want to lovingly help people of any sexual orientation to live up to this standard. We recognize that it can be a difficult journey, and there must be grace along the way. The powerful, beautiful gift of human sexuality must be stewarded with seriousness and compassion within our movement.
I'm reading through VUSA's larger paper The Vineyard Movement and the LGBT Question now. Very, very well done! Worth the read.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

homosexuality and love

A year ago Mike Riccardi wrote this excellent piece in response to Kevin Rudd. I post it here for posterity.

A video of Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has gone viral, as a Christian pastor asks the Prime Minister, who supports homosexual “marriage” and also identifies as a “devout Christian,” why he doesn’t believe what the Bible says about the sinfulness of homosexuality.  You can hear his response here:
There’s a lot to address in his response. Al Mohler has already responded to the Prime Minister’s speech in his September 3rd episode of “The Briefing,” which you can (and should) listen to here. His treatment of this issue starts at around the 14:30 mark. Andrew Courtis provides a a transcript of portions of Mohler’s response here.
But I notice that Mr. Rudd makes a lot of the same arguments that we’ve actually already sought to address here at the Cripplegate (too bad he’s not a reader; we could have cleared all this up ahead of time!). And so I’d like to adapt the answers we’ve given to Rudd’s presentation above, not because I want to pick on him but because his reasoning represents that of an enormous amount of people who try to reconcile homosexuality with Christianity. It’s a bit longer than a normal post, but I hope it will be beneficial to you, and will serve those who erroneously believe that faith in Jesus and His Word can be reconciled with attempts to legitimize homosexuality.
Firstly, Rudd makes the argument that “the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition,” and so if we really obeyed the Bible we should have all fought for the U. S. Confederacy. Now, it’s been ably demonstrated that comparing homosexuality to civil rights and slavery is unbiblical, facile, and just flat-out unreasonable. This post is already too long, so I’ll direct you to those resources for more in-depth responses on those issues.

But aside from that, that argument concedes the point that the Bible condemns homosexuality as sinful, but reasons, “Since we ‘disobey’ the Bible in all sorts of other ways, let’s feel very free about disobeying it in regards to homosexuality as well.” The same unbiblical reasoning is employed when folks speak about mixing fabrics and eating shellfish and pork. But of course, “We disobey a bunch of stuff, why not one more?” is just not the way a Christian thinks about God’s Word.
Love the Word
Someone who loves God in the Person of Jesus Christ does not look for ways to legitimize their disobedience or to free themselves from what He’s actually said. The one who loves God loves His Word. The Word of God is the delight of the child of God (see Psalm 119Job 23:12;Jer 15:16). If God’s Word is something you feel you have to get around or escape, that may be quite a good indicator that you’re not truly a Christian at all.
The Human Condition
Further, Rudd suggests that the human condition changes, and so society must adapt to such changes. I agree with Mohler’s response to this:
This is not an intelligent argument. This is a profoundly unintelligent argument. It is an argument made by someone who claims to be a devout Christian but doesn’t know anything about interpreting the Scripture. And instead [he] simply throws the Scripture under the bus, so to speak…. To suggest that the human condition and the social conditions change and therefore we have to abandon the Scripture, is to defy the very nature of Scripture itself as not only the inerrant and infallible word of God but a word that has endured not only through the ages but will endure for eternity. In other words, even as social and human conditions change, we need to recognize that that change has been a constant since Genesis 3. It didn’t await the last couple of decades of Australian history.
Mohler hits the nail on the head when he mentions that whatever “changes” there have been in the human condition, those changes have been constant since the Fall of man into sin in Genesis 3. That’s another way of saying that while societal conventions may change on a superficial level, the human condition does not change at its fundamental core. And what is that fundamental core of the human condition? Sin. Rebellion against God. Unbelief in Him and in His Word. The expression of our sin will change at the societal and cultural level, but the human condition has not changed. And it won’t change until the Lord returns to judge the wicked and renew all things. To believe otherwise is, as Mohler says, “to defy the very nature of Scripture itself… as the inerrant and infallible Word of God.” This is not something that “a devout Christian”—or any kind of Christian—does.
Born that Way
Children of Wrath
Much of the Prime Minister’s view seems to hinge upon his belief that homosexuality seems “natural” to people. He reasons that since sexuality is not a choice, for someone to be homosexual  is natural; it’s “how people are built.” The implicit reasoning, there, is that human beings cannot be held accountable for moral wrongdoing if such actions are natural to them.
But this is also unbiblical thinking. See, every human being is born with a naturalpredisposition to love sin and hate righteousness. That is an effect of the Fall. We are all born with a sinful nature that rebels against God and all that is lovely and holy and to gratify our selfish lusts. But our natural state of sinfulness does not mitigate our moral accountability for that sin.
Some people are naturally inclined to one sin or another. For one, it might be drunkenness. For another, it might be lust and promiscuity. For another it might be greed. For another, laziness. And for another, sexual and emotional attraction to the same gender. But in all those cases, we do have a choice. The choice is, “Am I (1) going to give in to these impulses to drink heavily, to have sex outside of the covenant of marriage, to lust after money and wealth and power, which feel so right and seem so natural — or, am I (2) going to recognize that my Creator has commanded me not to do these things, and by His grace, am I going to fight these sinful inclinations?”
“Are you saying that people should not act upon their feelings? This is who they are! You’re telling them not to be who they are!” Yes, that’s right! That is precisely how the law of God speaks to us. It says to all of humanity, “Because your very nature is sinful, you desire sinful and evil things. But you must not do them. You must not act on those desires.” And the response from our society is, “That’s impossible!”

And they’re exactly right! The Bible says that it is impossible. Being a Christian—obtaining a righteousness by which we may be accepted into the holy presence of God—is not about making a few minor shifts in our character, behavior, or ideology! It’s not just about adhering to a few rituals, like church attendance or even Bible reading and prayer (all of which areessential!). Most fundamentally, a Christian is someone whose nature has been changed and renewed—someone whose entire fundamental constitution has 
You Must Be Born Again
changed as a result of a divine miracle operated upon our soul by the Spirit of God. Something is so fundamentally wrong with all of us thatnothing we can accomplish in and of ourselves can fix us. We need an entirely new nature. We need, as Jesus told Nicodemus, to be born again.
It needs to feel difficult. In needs to feelimpossible. If it didn’t, we would think that we can just go on and work our way to Heaven. But we can’t. If we believed that, we would deceive ourselves and do the worst thing we could do to ourselves: lull ourselves into complacency by believing we’re saved when we’re not. And that’s the point. We can’t look to ourselves for salvation. The inner transformation of the heart that salvation requires can only be accomplished by God. It falls to us, then, to humble ourselves, admit we can’t do it — any of it — and beg God to receive us by grace and mercy.
God’s commandments show us our sinfulness and the impossibility of doing anything about it in our own power. And in doing that, it points us to Christ, who only had righteous and godly feelings, and obeyed God in all the ways that we failed. And because He lived that perfect life and died on the cross in the place of sinners, if we purpose to turn from our sin, repudiate it, and cast ourselves on the mercy of Christ, trusting in His work alone to provide our acceptance with God, our natures can be renewed. When that happens, Christ dwells in our heart by faith through the Holy Spirit. And He gives us power from the inside to overcome those sinful feelings, not just so that we don’t do what we want, but in such a way that we begin to actually want different things—in such a way that we desire righteousness and holiness and truth.
Love: The Fundamental Principle of the New Testament
What is Love
But more than the rhetorical comparison to slavery and civil rights, and more than the appeal to natural desires, choices, and normality, Rudd’s response is founded upon his view of love. He says, “What is the fundamental principle of the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality, then I think we are missing the centrality of what the gospel, whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel or a spiritual gospel, is all about.”
That strikes at the very core of the worldview of the contemporary “wisdom” that seeks to marry homosexuality with biblical teaching: “In the midst of all of your fundamentalist attention to details of various Bible verses, you’ve lost the big picture. The cardinal virtue that Jesus taught His followers was love. If you value love, what’s the problem with two consenting adults making a commitment to each other out of love? Love is love. To insist that homosexuality is sinful and to deny them the right to get married is simply not loving, and therefore not Christian.”
But this argument, like the others, simply doesn’t hold biblical water. (In explaining why, I’m going to reprint something I’ve written a while ago when addressing this issue, adapted slightly.)
Love as Unconditional Acceptance

The reason, stated simply, is: the wisdom of secular society has failed to define love biblically. To our self-indulgent, narcissistic, perennially adolescent, self-willed culture, “love” means nothing more than Carl Rogers’ notion of unconditional positive regard. 
Just the Way You Are
To “love” someone, according to our society, is to affirm every decision they make and to applaud them just for being them. Bruno Mars’ hit songis the soundtrack to Western secularism’s gospel of unconditional acceptance: “You’re amazing, just the way you are.”
And that kinda thing feels good, doesn’t it? It feels really good to be affirmed without qualification—to be told that you’re amazing, just the way you are. And because of that, people have confused the idea of being affirmed, accepted, flattered, and made much of with true love. Loving me means making me feel good by making much of me. And this ideology of love as unconditional acceptance is woven into the fabric of the cultural consciousness of western society. To believe anything else is archaic, un-evolved, and priggish.
And then, those who have imbibed that definition of love turn to the Bible. And all of a sudden they start reading and hearing about love. God is love (1 John 4:8). For God so loved the world (John 3:16). The greatest commandment in the Law is that you love God and love others (Matt 22:37–40). Love your neighbor as yourself (Gal 5:14). By this everyone will know you’re My disciples: if you love one another (John 13:35). All of these wonderfully biblical concepts come flooding into their minds.
But then something tragic happens. Rather than surrendering their own preconceptions to the authority of God’s Word and seeking to understand how God defines love, they use their own distorted definition of love that they have imbibed from our society, and they foist that definition onto the Scriptures and onto their conception of God. So now, when they hear that “God is love,” they think, “God doesn’t ask people to change. God doesn’t judge people. God accepts everyone just as they are. And so Christians must do the same.”
Love Seeks the Objective Benefit
Rom 5;8
But this isn’t true, because this is emphatically not how God defines love. “In this is love,” says the Apostle John, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be thepropitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “God loved the world in this way: Hegave His One and Only Son, so thateveryone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, HCSB). “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). All of these passages and dozens more teach us that love is acting, even laboring, to secure someone’s greatest benefit.
These passages aren’t teaching us that God just thought we were so wonderful, just the way we were, that He would deliver His Son to death just to show us how great we were. No way. These passages teach us that God labors at great cost to Himself, and even suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ, in order to secure the greatest benefit of His beloved. When we were dead in our sin, cut off from God, and without hope, what would have been our greatest benefit at that moment? Answer: a perfectly righteous, wrath-propitiating, sin-bearing Substitute. And that is exactly what God gives us. God demonstrates His own love bybenefiting us with Himself in the person of His beloved Son.
Biblically, then, love does not mean to accept someone unconditionally, to affirm them without qualification, or to make them feel good by making much of them. Biblical love laborsfor the beloved’s greatest benefit.
What is Our Greatest Benefit?
That’s the question, then, isn’t it? If love labors to secure the beloved’s benefit, what’s someone’s greatest benefit?
I’ll tell you what it’s not. Our greatest benefit is not to be made to feel good about ourselves! To be made to feel that every unrighteous desire we have is normal and natural and should be unconditionally affirmed! “Well hey, why not?” you ask. “That doesn’t sound too bad.” Here’s why: If all I do in my effort to love you is try to make much of you—to work for your own self-exaltation and unconditional affirmation, I rob you of joy. I rob you of true and lasting satisfaction and happiness. “How in the world do you figure that, Mike?” Because your ownglory and self-exaltation (“You’re amazing just the way you are!” “Do what feels natural!”) might feel good for a little while, but they will not satisfy the longings of your soul for eternity. You just haven’t been designed that way. God didn’t design human beings to thrive on the glory of self. So the one who seeks to satisfy you by holding you up to yourself as an all-satisfying treasure does not love you. They lie to you, and lead you down a short road of naïve “happiness” to an eternity of misery.
Created for His Glory
But God did design you to thrive on the glory of Jesus Christ. Just as a car is designed to run on gasoline, you were created for the glory of God (Isa 43:7). He has designed your heart, your soul, your affections, your emotions—all of you—so that you are most satisfied by Him. He calls spiritual life the ability to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). This means that love is helping someone to see and know and enjoy God in the person of His Son! That is the greatest benefit you can do for anyone! The vision of your own glory and self-exaltation won’t satisfy the desires of your heart. But the vision of His glory will!
So love is not making much of someone. Love is laboring, and often times even suffering—even being called hateful and bigoted—so that the beloved might find joy in making much ofGod forever, because that (i.e., making much of God) is what will most truly and lastingly satisfy them.*
Loving Homosexuals
Can you see why, then, Kevin Rudd’s version of “loving your fellow man” is not love at all? Can you see why the unconditional acceptance and affirmation that our culture calls love, is actually hate? Can you see why never warning someone that fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–10), but encouraging them to engage happily in all these behaviors if it is natural to them, is the opposite of love? Because it is not in the best interest of sinners for Christians to affirm a lifestyle which, if unrepented of, will end in eternal destruction.
It’s like seeing a child running into the middle of the street, delightfully chasing one of his toys, tickled to death and seemingly enjoying himself—because he has no idea a truck is speeding through at 50 miles per hour. A good person—a loving person—does not stroke the child’s ego and encourage him in the fun that he’s having, because he doesn’t want to be judgmental. No, a good, helpful, loving person is going to yell, scream, warn, and even run in front of the truck to save that child. Christians—those who endeavor to obey Jesus in loving our neighbor as ourselves—refuse to affirm homosexuals in their sin and even speak out against it, because we desire to warn them that what seems like a delightful enterprise is actually going to end in tragedy, but that there’s still time to get out of the street. It is not hate to warn people of danger. It is hate to fail to issue such warnings.
We do not love like Jesus loved if we unconditionally affirm someone in a choice that robs them of true, abiding satisfaction and leads them to ruin. We love like Jesus loves when we graciously and patiently proclaim a message that has the power to free people from the bondage of their suicidal love affair with themselves—the power to liberate them into the freedom and the joy of making much of the glory of God. We love like God loves when we point people away from worshiping themselves and their own desires, and when we steer them toward their greatest benefit: God Himself.