Friday, July 27, 2007

A Prayer Request

I don't often share personal prayer requests on this blog, since it is more of a public forum. Nevertheless, since most of you already know that we are moving toward my ordination in less than two months, I would like to ask for earnest prayer on my behalf as I prepare. Please pray that I will not be able to handle these great truths without awe and reverence, without joy and love, without fear and conviction, without faith and hope, in short, without worship. Please pray that I will come to know more deeply the one true and living God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - in all his attributes and actions. And please pray that he will glorify himself spectacularly in the process.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thoughts on the Attributes of God

Since I am in the throes of preparing a doctrinal statement for my ordination council, I thought I might put up some random thoughts on doctrinal subjects for you to peruse and interact with, if you wish. This first post is on the topic of God's attributes.

Is it correct to say that God is what his attributes are? To answer this question, we must ascertain precisely what we mean when we speak of “attributes.” The initial problem we face in this discussion is that “attribute” is not a biblical category for talking about God. Therefore we must take great care to use it within the conceptual realm delineated by Scripture.

An attribute is, in its simplest sense, a description. It is something that is “attributed” to a person, place, thing, or idea – in this case, to God. God is revealed in Scripture through his names, through his actions, and through descriptions. When we talk about the attributes of God, we are talking primarily about the descriptions either explicitly or implicitly revealed in Scripture. Since God has revealed himself as he really and truly is in the Scripture, these descriptions of God are descriptions by God of God in himself.[1] Therefore, it is correct to say that God is what his attributes are.

Sometimes people have a problem with saying that God is what his attributes are because they have a tendency to think of his attributes in abstract categories rather than in personal ones. When we say that God is love, we mean that love suffuses his entire person. It characterizes everything he is. When we say that God is holy, we mean that holiness is a property of his person. This, of course, means that his love is holy, and his holiness is loving. We could add in to this mix other attributes. God is infinite. This means that his holiness is infinite, and his infinity is holy, and that his love is infinite, while his infinity is loving. God is immense (which in theological terminology does not mean precisely that he is big or even omnipresent, but that he transcends space). Thus God’s infinity transcends space, his love transcends space, and his holiness transcends space, while at the same time his immensity is infinite and holy and loving. I have deliberately chosen a mixture here which includes so-called moral and natural attributes, for in the person of God all of these attributes co-inhere. All of this is an expression of the person of God.

God should not be thought of as the product of a recipe. God’s attributes are not abstract chunks of metaphysical ingredients which, when all mixed together in infinite amounts and baked at the right temperature, make a beautiful concoction called “god.” Nor should God’s attributes be thought of as components of an engine. Bolt them all together, give it energy, and – wahlah – you have “god.” In other words, you cannot just add together a bunch of attributes and get God. God’s attributes are the expression of or characteristics of God. Historically, this understanding has been connected with the simplicity of God (He is not composed of parts or capable of division), and this simplicity is a personal simplicity.

I often recall the words of my systematic theology professor who said, “The whole essence of God is in each attribute and each attribute inheres in the essence. God is not essence and attributes but essence in attributes.[2] This means that God is what the attributes are; he does not just have what they are…. And this also means that God is wholly loving, merciful, etc., and not that one part of Him is loving, another part is merciful, etc. The attributes cannot be separated from the essence ontologically, only theoretically. Being and attributes are inseparable in reality.... God is identical to His attributes.” [3]

[1] Some theologians have said that we cannot know God “in himself.” John Frame has an excellent response to this: “Certainly we cannot know God in himself, if that means to know him as he know himself, or to know him without any human interpretation, or to know him apart from his revelation to us. But if that means to know God as he is revealed, and therefore as he really and truly is, then we can and should know God in himself. God’s revelation tells us his very nature” (The Doctrine of God, 389-90).

[2] Gordon Lewis conceives of essence as composed of being and attributes. He writes, “The essence of anything, simply put, equals its being (substance) plus its attributes…. In speaking of the attributes of an entity, we refer to essential qualities that belong to or inhere in it. The being or substance is what stands under and unites the varied and multiple attributes in one unified entity” (“God, Attributes of,” in EDT, 451). I’m not sure that this distinction between being and attributes holds up. Is not “spirit” (which Lewis takes as God’s being) a descriptor (i.e. an attribute) of God’s essence? A. H. Strong seems to have held the same view as Lewis (Systematic Theology, 243-245).

[3] See also Berkof’s good discussion, Systematic Theology, 41-46, and Reymond, New Systematic Theology, 161-163.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Unity in the Church

As you folks know, we have been doing some serious thinking about the church lately. Here is one challenge designed to help us bolt the engine of truth to the transmission of practice regarding the church. See if you can come up with ten biblical reasons to leave a church. Let me know what you come up with.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 9 - Free Will

9.1 IN the natural order God has endued man's will with liberty and the power to act upon choice, so that it is neither forced from without, nor by any necessity arising from within itself, compelled to do good or evil. [Deut. 30:19; Mat. 17:12; Jas. 1:14.]

9.2 In his state of innocency man had freedom and power to will and to do what was good and acceptable to God. Yet, being unstable, it was possible for him to fall from his uprightness. [Gen. 3:6; Eccles. 7:29.]

9.3 As the consequence of his fall into a state of sin, man has lost all ability to will the performance of any of those works, spiritually good, that accompany salvation. As a natural (unspiritual) man he is dead in sin and altogether opposed to that which is good. Hence he is not able, by any strength of his own, to turn himself to God, or even to prepare himself to turn to God. [John 6:44; Rom. 5:6; 8:7; Eph. 2:1,5; Titus 3:3-5.]

9.4 When God converts a sinner, and brings him out of sin into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage to sin and, by His grace alone, He enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good. Nevertheless certain corruptions remain in the sinner, so that his will is never completely and perfectly held in captivity to that which is good, but it also entertains evil. [John 8:36; Rom. 7:15,18,19,21,23; Phil. 2:13; Col.1:13.]

9.5 It is not until man enters the state of glory that he is made perfectly and immutably free to will that which is good, and that alone. [Eph. 4:13.]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Tragedy for Lack of Truth

This story is a real tragedy, not just for the terrible things the author witnessed, but also because the author himself never came to know the truth. Bill Lobdell's account of his conversion is sadly what often passes for being born again these days. This kind of a story should fire up our zeal to communicate the truth.

Megachurches, Relationships, and Doctrine

Robert Putnam, the Peter and Isabelle Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, made some interesting observations about megachurches in America in a recent interview with The Guardian. Here is the relevant excerpt:

What fascinates him is tracking where the new forms of social capital are developing and why they are successful. One of his key areas of interest is religion - religious affiliations account for half of all US social capital. He cites US megachurches which, typically, attract tens of thousands of members, as "the most interesting social invention of late 20th century."

He identifies the secret of their success: "They have very low barriers to entry - the doors are open, there are folding chairs out on the patio - they make it very easy to surf by. You can leave easily. But then they ramp people up to a huge commitment - at some megachurches, half of all members are tithing [giving a tenth of their income]. How do they get from the low to the high commitment? By a honeycomb structure of thousands of small groups: they have the mountain bikers for God group, the volleyball players for God, the breast cancer survivors for God, the spouses of the breast cancer survivors for God, and so on.

"The intense tie is not to the theology but in the emotional commitment to others in their small group. Most of these people are seeking meaning in their lives but they are also seeking friends. The small groups spend two hours a week together - doing the volleyball or the mountain biking and praying; they become your closest friends," he says.

"These churches form in places of high mobility - people live there for six weeks and the church provides the community connection. When you lose your job, they'll tide you over, when your wife gets ill, they'll bring the chicken soup."

Putnam believes that this low entry/ honeycomb structure could be successfully copied to reinvigorate many other organisations, from trade unions to scouts' clubs and rotary clubs. He points out that the leader of the US's biggest trade union, the Service Employees Union International, is intrigued by the potential of the megachurch model.

I believe Putnam is on to something in his assessment of megachurches. They are generally good at building relationships of a certain sort. And relationships are an important part of genuine Christianity. We are to love one another. But megachurches also tend to be poor at building truth commitments. Notice what Putnam said, "The intense tie is not to the theology but in the emotional commitment to others in their small group." People do not generally choose a megachurch primarily for its doctrinal stand, and they rarely define their allegiance to the church in theological categories.

Here I want to draw out an important implication of Putnam's observations. He does not explicitly make this connection, but I do believe it is implicit in what he says. The implication is this: when doctrine ceases to be at the heart of our Christian relationships, those relationships become less than Christian. The Scripture says that we are to build up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith (Eph 4:13). As we saw clearly in our study through the letter to the Philippians, all of our relationships must be centered around Christ and the gospel. Furthermore, the church is a body formed and empowered by the Spirit. Without the Spirit of God, the church cannot exist in any form.

When our relationships become predicated merely upon common interests, hobbies, or occupations, then those relationships are no different than relationships among unbelievers. There is nothing intrinsically Christian about them, even if we do add a little Bible study and prayer to the relationship. Again, pay careful attention to Putnam's observations. He rightly noted the "mountain bikers for God," "volleyball players for God," "breast cancer survivors for God," etc. The core of these relationships is the common interest or life experience. Putnam also believes that this structure could be used by many other organizations, once again indicating that there is nothing intrinsically Spiritual or Christian about this way of going about the church. Biblical church organization cannot exist and function apart from the work of the Spirit. It is frankly supernatural. But if any old organization can copy what churches are doing, then that is probably a good indication that churches are not operating spiritually.

Unfortunately, many churches do intentionally build relationships upon something other than Christ and the gospel (and might I add that this problem is not limited to megachurches). But this is to build the church with wood, hay, and stubble. It takes the church off of the foundation of Christ and the apostles. It denies the unity produced by the Spirit in which we confess one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. It is, in the truest sense of the word, man-centered. And thus, in an ironic way, those churches that focus so much on building relationships without serious doctrinal commitments actually end up with relationships that are less than Christian. They are much more about us than they are about God.

I hope no one reads this as a criticism of building deep relationships in the church. I hope you realize that at High Country Baptist Church we are deeply committed to loving one another. But we are also deeply committed to relationships which are built squarely on Christ and the gospel. Our unity centers in our common commitment to the faith once delivered to the saints, and in the work of the Spirit making that faith a reality in our lives. In this way, we can stand firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and Christ will be honored in our body.


Friday, July 20, 2007

The Gospel and "Secondary Separation"

If you have ever heard of or wondered about something called "secondary separation," or even if you have never heard of it at all, you would do well to read this article by Kevin Bauder.

Or Ever Quit the Field

In light of our baptismal service coming up on Sunday, here is a great poem expressing the commitment we make in baptism. Spend a little time meditating on it.

Witness, ye men and angels now,

Before the Lord we speak;

To Him we make our solemn vow,

A vow we dare not break;

That, long as life itself shall last,

Ourselves to Christ we yield;

Nor from His cause will we depart,

Or ever quit the field.

We trust not in our native strength,

But on His grace rely,

That, with returning wants, the Lord

Will all our needs supply.

O guide our doubtful feet aright,

And keep us in Thy ways;

And while we turn our vows to prayers,

Turn Thou our prayers to praise.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Commanding Relevance

As I was doing some study today on the doctrine of the Bible, I dug out of my files this great quote by John Murray.

Let us learn from our tradition, let us prize our heritage, let us enter into other men's labours; but let us also know that it is not the tradition of the past, not a precious heritage, and not the labours of the fathers, that are to serve this generation and this hour, but the Word of the living and abiding God as deposited for us in Holy Scripture, and this Word as ministered by the church. And we must bring forth from its inexhaustible treasures, in exposition, proclamation, and application - application to every sphere of life - what is the wisdom and power of God for man in this age in all the particularity of his need, as for man in every age. There will be then commanding relevance, for it will be the message from God in the unction and power of the Spirit, not derived from the modern mentality, but declared to the modern mentality in all the desperateness of its anxiety and misery. (Collected Writings, Vol 1, p. 22)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 8 - Christ the Mediator

8.8 Christ certainly and effectually applies and communicates eternal redemption to all those for whom He has obtained it. His work of intercession is on their behalf. He unites them to Himself by His Spirit; He reveals to them, in and by the Word, the mystery of salvation; He persuades them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by His Word and Spirit; He overcomes all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, using those methods and ways which are most agreeable to the wonderful and unsearchable appointments of His providence. All these things are carried out in His free and sovereign grace, and unconditionally, nothing of merit being foreseen by Him in the elect. [Ps. 110:1; John 3:8; 6:37; 10:15,16; 17:6,9; Rom. 5:10; 8:9,14; 1 Cor. 15:25,26; Eph. 1:8,9; 1 John 5:20.]

8.9 Christ, and Christ alone, is fitted to be mediator between God and man. He is the prophet, priest and king of the church of God. His office as mediator cannot be transferred from Him to any other, either in whole or in part. [1 Tim. 2:5.]

8.10 Christ's threefold offices are necessary for us. Because of our ignorance we stand in need of His prophetical office; because of our estrangement from God and the imperfection of our services at their best, we need His priestly office to reconcile us to God and render us acceptable to Him; because we have turned away from God and are utterly unable to return to Him, and also because we need to be rescued and rendered secure from our spiritual adversaries, we need His kingly office to convince, subdue, draw, sustain, deliver and preserve us, until we finally enter His heavenly kingdom. [Ps. 110:3; Luke 1:74,75; John 1:18; 16:8; Gal. 5:17; Col. 1:21.]

Friday, July 13, 2007

The True Church?

There has been some talk lately about a recent statement on the doctrine of the church issued by the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and ratified by the pope. If you are interested in reading it, it will give you some insight into Roman Catholic thinking regarding the church. For example, this question and answer explains why they would not call High Country Baptist Church a "church."


Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of “Church” with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?


According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense

I would direct you to our current series of messages on the church if you have questions about this. Also, Albert Mohler has an excellent article dealing with how we should respond to such statements by the Roman Catholic church.

True Religion

Ever since I read Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections many years ago, I have noticed how contemporary Christians tend to denigrate the term "religion" as if it were a bad thing. Christianity is supposedly all about a "relationship," not about "religion." This change in terminology may be, to some degree, merely a matter of semantic confusion. But I often think that it has deeper ramifications for how we conceive of our relationship with God and with our fellow Christians.

On his blog Historia Ecclesiastica, leading church historian Michael A. G. Haykin comments on this same phenomenon. Check it out. I believe his comments are right on target.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Captain Tossell

Many church folks were able to come today to Chad's promotion ceremony. Here are some pictures from this special event.

We were delighted to share as a church family in this special occasion.

Congratulations Chad!

Kids Club

The group of young people from Tri-City did a great job helping us this past weekend. They canvassed, ran a couple kid's clubs in the park, and ministered in many ways. We pray that God will give them fruit for their labor!

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 8 - Christ the Mediator

8.5 By His perfect obedience to God's law, and by a once-for-all offering up of Himself to God as a sacrifice through the eternal Spirit, the Lord Jesus has fully satisfied all the claims of divine justice. He has brought about reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those given to Him by His Father. [John 17:2; Rom. 3:25,26; Heb. 9:14,15.]

8.6 The price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ until after His birth in this world, but the value, efficacy and benefits of His redemptive work availed for His elect in all ages successively from the beginning of the world. This was accomplished by the promises, the types and the sacrifices in which He was revealed, and which signified Him to be the woman's 'seed' (offspring) who should bruise the head of the serpent (the devil), also 'the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world'. As the Christ He is 'the same yesterday, and today, and for ever'. [1 Cor. 4:10; Heb. 4:2; 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:10,11; Rev. 13:8.]

8.7 In His work as mediator between God and men, Christ acts according to His two natures, one divine, one human, in each nature doing that which is appropriate to it. Yet by reason of the unity of His Person, that which is appropriate to one nature is, in Scripture, sometimes attributed to the Person denominated by the other nature. [John 3:13; Acts 20:28.]

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Much Needed Question

Over at the Reformation 21 blog, I noticed a particularly important question which has been on my mind for some time now:
"Anyone want to ask the question as to whether such parachurch groups like A[lliance of] C[onfessing] E[vangelicals] actually help ecumenism or actually hinder it.....? Or, perhaps less contentiously ... to what extent has there been sufficiently self-critical reflection on the nature both of the church and then of the parachurch in order to determine the extent/limits of the two and how the latter can best serve the former?"

To be honest, I would appreciate your prayers for wisdom and your interaction on this subject. I believe this is a crucial question for the cause of Christ in our day.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Second London Baptist Confession

On the day that our nation celebrates its political independence, here is something that we as Christians can rejoice in which is the basis of true, eternal freedom.

Chapter 8- Christ the Mediator

8.3 The two natures, divine and human, being thus united in the person of God's Son, He was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit to an unlimited extent, and in Him are found all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He is replete with all that is pleasing to the Father, being holy, harmless, untouched by sin, and full of grace and truth. Thus He has become thoroughly qualified to execute the work of a mediator and surety. He did not take this work upon Himself uncalled, but was commissioned by His Father so to act. His Father also conferred upon Him full powers of jurisdiction and commanded Him to pass judgment on all. [Ps. 45:7; Matt. 28:18; John 1:14; 3:34; 5:22,27; Acts 2:36; 10:38; Col. 1:19; 2:3; Heb. 5:5; 7:22,26.]

8.4 The Lord Jesus most willingly undertook the office of mediator, and in order that He might discharge it He became subject to God's law, which He perfectly fulfilled. He also underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, for He bore our sins and was accursed for our sakes. He endured sorrows in His soul severe beyond our conception, and most painful sufferings in His body. His death was by crucifixion. While He remained in the state of the dead His body sustained no decay. The third day saw His resurrection in the same body in which He had suffered. In the same body also He ascended into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of His Father, interceding for His own. At the end of the world He will return to judge men and angels. [Ps. 40:7-8; Isa. 53:6; Matt. 3:15, 26:37-38, 27:46; Mark 16:19; Luke 22:44; John 10:18, 20:25, 20:27; Acts 1:9-11; 10:42; 13:37; Rom. 8:34; 14:9-10; 1Cor. 15:3,4; 2Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 4:4; Heb. 9:24; 10:5-10; 1Pet. 3:18; 2Pet. 2:4.]

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Loving the Church

Since we are dealing with the scriptural teaching about the church in our Sunday morning messages, I thought you might be interested in this series of articles being posted by John MacArthur on loving the church.

Thinking About Sundays

Russell Moore pens a plea for Christians to think seriously about what they do on Sundays. If we could at least do this, it would be a step in the right direction.