Friday, December 28, 2007

Rejoicing in Christ as We Close 2007

In our service this Sunday, we will close out this year by celebrating all that God has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord. I'm looking forward to our service, and I hope you are, too!

Songs
Blessing Christ's Name
Ye Servants of God (#44)
Blessed Be the Name (stanzas only) (#41)
Christ's Life, Death, and Resurrection
Hark! the Glad Sound (#126)
O Sacred Head Now Wounded (#139)
Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today (#156)
Our Hope In Him
Arise, My Soul, Arise (#174)
Day by Day (#457)

Sermon
The Command to Enter into the Lord's Rest (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:12-15, et al

Good Advice on Family Worship

The Shepherd's Scrapbook posts some very good advice by J. Ligon Duncan on the practice of family worship, especially when children are young.

(HT: JT)

"The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulder"

Sociologist Robert Bellah, well-known for his 1967 essay "Civil Religion in America" and also for writings such as Habits of the Heart, has begun a series of posts entitled "Is a Global Civil Religion Possible?" In his first post, this statement stuck out to me:

But for the creation of a viable and coherent world order a world civil society is surely an essential precondition, and, dare I say it, any actual civil society will have a religious dimension, will need not only a legal and an ethical framework, but some notion that it conforms to the nature of ultimate reality.

I completely concur. In fact, Christians have always concurred. The ancient believing Israelites concurred, as well. That is why at Christmas time we celebrate what Isaiah prophesied so long ago:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).

We actually celebrate the real hope of a global religion that does conform to the nature of ultimate reality. This is ultimate reality - Jesus Christ is Lord. We proclaim him in order to "bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations" (Rom 1:5). I am glad that Professor Bellah recognizes this need. I only hope it will drive him to look away from any civil religion to the One who can give righteousness and peace - Jesus Christ the Lord.

(HT: Religion in American History)

"You are not going to sell your service on the basis of doctrine"

Last week I gave some of you men an article on marketing the church. In light of that, this post about Christmas Entertainment on Justin Taylor's blog caught my attention. He cites James Twitchell, a professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida, saying.

"It has nothing to do with the Christmas message. . . . It's selling a sensation, an experience. . . . What competitive churches understand is that you are not going to sell your service on the basis of doctrine because it's all the same. When people go to church they . . . want to know if there's a good show. And often that's not coming out of doctrine, it comes from music, theatrics and the sound system."

I guess that makes us a non-competitive church. Our doctrine is what defines us because that is what defines Christianity and the gospel. Without that, we are not a church. We would be just another 'good show.'

So be it. We have gathered as a church because we want to follow Christ. He is the good shepherd, we are his sheep, and we hear his voice. We find in him the joy and satisfaction of our souls both now and forever. We really have nothing else to offer to people. If that is not what they want, then we can't help. But we also know that Christ is what everyone needs, and so we will continue to preach Christ and him crucified!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 16)

Civic Virtues

As we interact with the people around us, we can show love to them in many important ways. Simple neighborliness is a key aspect of living the Christian life. We should serve those we live near and work for the common good (commonwealth). We should cultivate hospitality, gracious and truthful speech, and etiquette. And if the people with whom we live scorn our faith, we should endure persecution with grace (Rom 12:14ff; 1 Peter 2:12).

Christians can also contribute to community development in both concrete and relational aspects. The “new urbanists” are an example of some thinkers (not necessarily Christian) who are trying to develop what a virtuous civic development might look like in its concrete and spatial aspects. Some new urbanists are extreme and utopian in their views; nevertheless, they have some ideas that are valuable. Philip Bess has provided this “creed” of new urbanism.

1. We believe that individuals have both rights and obligations, that individual well-being requires good communities, and that liberty is not license.

2. We believe that individuals should have as much freedom as justice allows.

3. We affirm the political principle of subsidiarity, which holds that political decisions for the common good should be made at and through the smallest and most local institutional levels possible.

4. We believe that the Urban Transect as a principle both promotes and accounts for the widest possible variety of free, just and environmentally sustainable human settlements.

5. We contend that traditional towns and urban neighborhoods demonstrate historically that they both support and are supported by the free exchange of material goods and ideas, including private property.

6. We profess traditional urbanism in all its manifestations through the Urban Transect as the best way for human beings to organize and make human settlements.

7. We fight for those who desire to live in compact, mixed-use, mixed-class walkable communities, in the proximity of open landscape and a public realm of plazas, squares, and pedestrian-friendly streets.

8. We fight for the legal right to build traditional towns and neighborhoods.

9. We hope and believe that the merits of traditional towns and neighborhoods, manifest in various specific local forms, will cause traditional urbanism to once again someday prevail as a cultural norm.

10. We work for the common good now, and for the common good of future generations.[i]

The relational aspects of community building are just as important. The church body itself should be the supreme expression of genuine community. Christians do not have this kind of spiritual unity with the people who live in our communities, but we can still have a commitment to the actual people with whom we share our lives. This has always been a strength of folk cultures, but modernization worked to remove this from our lives and replaced it with the weak but titillating relationships on MySpace. Christians should make efforts to know our neighbors and develop face-to-face relationships with people. Hospitality can be a major expression of Christian love in a society decimated by fractured relationships.[ii]

Christians can also show love for God and others by the way in which we embrace technology with discrimination. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is a classic text on this. Christians are neither ascetics nor hedonists, although unbelievers might call us both. We simply operate according to a wholly different perspective on this world. This world is passing away, but we live for what is eternal.

Our present society places great stock in technological progress. In fact, we may fairly say that we live and die by technology. This is only logical if we worship Man and his greatest achievement, Science. But as Christians, we see the race of Adam for the farce and failure he is, and we put our trust only in the Second Adam, the God-man Jesus Christ. This means that while we will certainly use technology for the glory of God, we can never trust in it to achieve the good life.

Neil Postman, a leading social critic of recent years, has posed some helpful questions in his work, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century. Postman did not attempt to think biblically. Nevertheless, he did manage to keep technology at a sufficient distance to criticize it thoughtfully. Here are some questions he recommends.

1. What is the problem to which this technology is the solution? He goes on to write, “This question needs to be asked because there are technologies employed – indeed, invented – to solve problems that no normal person would regard as significant. Of course, any technology can be marketed to create an illusion of significance, but an intelligent, aware person need not believe it.” As Christians living in light of eternity, we should understand our problems and their solutions primarily in terms of what will allow us to participate with Christ in his mission. Technology must serve this goal.

2. Whose problem is it? Just because “everyone” “needs” a given technology does not mean that you or I need it. Since we have different goals, it may well be that we do not need what the rest of the world needs. Conversely, we may need things that the rest of the world would scoff at.

3. Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution? Whether we pay attention to it or not, there are always trade-offs involved in adopting any given technology. Too often, we don’t pay attention, and we are caught spiritually unprepared for the changes that technology brings. The industrial revolution is an example writ large in the history books, but we could multiply more mundane examples in everyday. A growing family may opt to solve their scheduling issues by buying another car. This will certainly bring certain benefits. But it will also bring challenges that the family may only be dimly aware of until it has taken its toll on them. As Christians, we must be seriously concerned in our day about the institutions of the church and the family. We dare not rush into a technological solution to woes which cannot be solved by technology. The technology we do adopt must be done with eyes wide open to the possibilities and also the problems. Church historian Carl Trueman has astutely pointed out that the church has never learned to deal adequately with the widespread use of the automobile.

4. What new problems might be created because we have solved this problem? Postman writes, “It is doubtful that one can think of a single technology that did not generate new problems as a result of its having solved an old problem.” True. This is because at the root man’s problems are not technological. They are spiritual. Our ultimate needs are not for faster travel, faster communication, improved manufacturing, lower prices, and more stuff. We need righteousness, which is as much as to say, we need God. He alone can satisfy our souls. Technology will never give us God (remember the Tower of Babel), and more often than not it turns into our god. But worshiping hard drives and fiber optic cables is pretty low if we want any kind of a life.

5. What sort of people and institutions might acquire special economic and political power because of technological change? The obvious example Postman exploits is television. He correctly notes that Abraham Lincoln very likely would not have become president if there had been television in his day. Most political analysts credit John F. Kennedy’s victory in his campaign for president at least in part to his ability to look good on television. Because of television, those who are good at projecting personality and are good at delivering the sound bite acquire great social clout which they otherwise would not have had. In order to use technology wisely, we must be aware of this.

6. What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies, and what is being gained and lost by such changes?

Interestingly, from a Christian vantage point, I am not as pessimistic about technology as Postman seems to be. That is because I serve a God who is providentially directing this entire universe to his good ends. I also have a commission from him to exercise stewardship over this earth, using the capabilities he has given mankind. Furthermore, I have a commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ of all nations. Therefore, I am not at all afraid of developing new technologies. However, I do not want us to trust in technology to solve our problems, to give us a better world, or to make us happy. That is idolatrous. Let’s be aware of the real possibilities and problems with technology for our ultimate goal of glorifying and enjoying God forever. And remember, “The present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31).

Business practices are another important way in which Christians can show civic virtues. Christians must operate ethically with biblical stewardship, not bare profit, as the driving motivation and guiding principle. In Faith in the Halls of Power, D. Michael Lindsay profiles several business leaders who are attempting to apply their Christian faith to their business practices. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, chooses to keep his restaurants closed on Sundays and donates tens of millions of dollars to philanthropic causes. The company’s statement of purpose says that the firm exists “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” The president of ServiceMaster, C. William Pollard, told Lindsay that his faith made him realize that the firm had to be a moral community for shaping human character. [iii] These examples of thoughtfulness, while not always robust, are heartening, and these are the kinds of things all Christians should be conscientious about.

Though we might not immediately think of it, medicine is also an important arena of civic virtue. The health care industry has mushroomed into a major economic and ethical battleground in recent years, due to the increasing expectations of the populace, increasing technological capabilities, and increasing government involvement. There is no way to deal with all of the issues here, but at the very least Christians must be ethically informed in order to make wise and righteous judgments. We must reject all immoral medical practices, such as abortion and euthanasia, embryonic stem cell therapies, and reproductive technologies which destroy human life and separate reproduction from the context of heterosexual marriage.

We should be very skeptical, at the least, about all of the talk about “rights” to medical treatment. The scripture tells us that if we have food and clothing we should be content. The Bible does not give us a right to take something that belongs to someone else in order to get what we want. If I get cancer, I have no moral authorization from God to compel you to pay for my chemotherapy. If you wish to give me the money, that is right and good. But you ought not to be forced to contribute totally apart from all considerations of personal and covenantal responsibility. All federal programs for the redistribution of wealth and mandated health coverage fall afoul of the biblical principles of personal property ownership and responsibility. Federal programs cannot fulfill the biblical injunction to love our neighbor, for our neighbor is someone we can see, know, evaluate, and respond to with compassion. Government programs of necessity call on us to “help” nameless, faceless “poor” people, when we have no control over who truly needs help and what true help really is.

Christians should enthusiastically support and encourage all ethical medical advances, such as stem cell therapies derived from adult tissues or cord blood. We should encourage new developments in biological understanding and treatments of diseases. We can be thankful to God for all of these developments.

I would caution us to remember, however, that we should never expect medicine to solve all of life’s problems. Medicine can never deal with the spiritual aspect of man, and it does great damage to individuals, families, and societies when we try to solve spiritual issues with medical treatments. Christians can be a great example to the world in this regard, as well. When we refuse to medicalize sin, we can point the way to the cross of Christ, which is sinful man’s ultimate need.

Last but not least, Christians must strive for a biblically informed view and practice of state government. Such government is given by God and is good. Yet because humans are sinners, it is always in need of correction. This essay is not a treatise on politics, but let me suggest four things relative to cultivating faithfulness in regard to the government.

First, the government is accountable to God to operate in its proper sphere of jurisdiction with biblically normed justice in law and society, from the local to the international level, on everything from welfare to warfare. This is a tall order, and Christians have a multitude of issues here that we need to wrestle with biblically. If the government’s role is primarily to execute justice (Rom 13:1-7), then how can and should we operate in order to encourage and support the proper role of government while opposing its intrusions into other spheres? Here are some suggestions. (1) We need a major reformation of the tax code. Whatever challenges they pose, either the “fair tax” or “flat tax” ideas would be considerable improvements over the current convoluted system. The current system has been unjust ever since its implementation through the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. The government uses the current code to manage people’s lives through creating incentives or disincentives, and all kinds of special interest groups exploit the tax code for their own advantage. Furthermore, I would suggest that we outlaw property tax and inheritance tax, for these taxes blatantly violate personal property ownership and invade the covenantal economic unity of the family. I should make clear, by the way, that this is not an excuse to get out of paying one’s taxes. Christians should pay their taxes willingly. This is only a plea to work toward reforming the tax code because it reflects a government which is drunk on its own importance and power.

(2) We should return the family to its role of providing for its members while removing government from any primary welfare role. Families can do this even now without waiting for the government. Yet long term this will require reforming the legal code to support and encourage familial economic unity. For example, why should businesses be given the legal status of a person to insure the continuity of their properties, while families are denied this status? Also, Christians have for too long been complicit in actually asking the government to take over in these areas. Here is just one quote to jump-start your thinking: “The Christian who votes for measures that will subsidize his business is using his ballot to take money from someone else to underwrite his program. The parent who applies for a government loan to pay his child’s education is using government force to take money from some private individual to pay for his child’s education.”[iv] Families should be responsible to provide for their own. Churches could also provide the safety net needed for their members, privately run and funded charities could help to fill the inevitable gaps, and, as a last resort, local governments (principle of subsidiarity) could insure that the basic survival needs of food and shelter were met. To give one practical benefit, this would be a major factor in fixing the problems of health care. It would take the control out of the hands of the current “trinity” of health care – government, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies – and return it to the hands of patients and physicians.

(3) I suggest we refocus the government on enforcing justice rather than on accumulating regulation. Whenever there is widespread ethical confusion, the path of least resistance for the government is simply to pile on regulation to supposedly help the problems. But this rarely accomplishes much more than bloating bureaucracies. Along these lines there needs to be a major overhaul of the judicial system to incorporate true justice, such as generally eliminating the prison system and putting proper retribution and restitution in its place.[v] (4) I further suggest that we return productive roles to the private sector, such as education, and remove subsidy programs, such as in agriculture. (5) Last, we should reinforce basic property rights against all government incursions, such as occurred in Kelo v. City of New London (2005).

Second, we can support governmental civic virtue by incorporating the principle of subsidiarity. This is an idea developed in Catholic social thought that I believe is wise. It basically says that all social issues should be dealt with at the smallest possible level of social units. This is the opposite of top-down kind of government.

Third, in our current milieu, Christians must work to keep democracy in check with transcendent revealed moral truths. The central problem of democracy from a Christian perspective is moral autonomy. Since we as Christians understand that men are sinners who reject God’s law, we do not place unfettered confidence in democracy, just as we do not place complete confidence in any form of government. Democracy will not bring world peace, and the United States does not have a moral obligation to construct democratic governments across the globe.[vi] When government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is taken to mean that government is not accountable to God, we must cry “halt.”

Last but certainly not least, Christians should faithfully pray for their civic leaders, so that we as Christians will be able to lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:2).



[i] “Why Architecture Matters, Part IV” (June 28, 2007), accessed 5 July 2007, available from http://rightreason.ektopos.com/archives/2007/06/why_architectur_1.html.

[ii] See especially Alexander Strauch, The Hospitality Commands (Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth, 1993).

[iii] Faith in the Halls of Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 180. Unfortunately, Lindsay also correctly observes that many evangelical business leaders gravitate toward the para-church model of ministry because it is run with corporate professionalism. Thus, he says, “The parachurch sector has become the fulcrum of evangelical influence in American society” (201). I believe this has contributed to the doctrinal instability, moral relativism, and individualism of American Christianity. Para-church ministry is always a genetic mutation of the results of the gospel which in the long run produces sterility. Cf. note 39 above.

[iv] R. C. Sproul, Jr. Money Matters (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1985), 134.

[v] For one attempt to wrestle with these issues biblically, see Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1991), chapters 11-16.

[vi] The U.S. government does have a moral obligation to protect its citizens, so in that sense the war on terror is just. Unfortunately, however, this has often gotten mixed up with being the good guy by installing democracy. This is not necessarily wise or just in every case.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 19 - The Law of God

19.5 Obedience to the moral law remains for ever binding upon both justified persons and all others, and that in respect of the actual content of the law, and also of the authority of God, the creator, who is its author. In the gospel Christ in no way cancels the necessity for this obedience; on the contrary He greatly stresses our obligation to obey the moral law. Mat. 5:17-19; Rom. 3:31; 13:8-10; Jas. 2:8,10-12.



Pastor’s note: The 2LBC takes the common view that the law of Moses can be divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial components. While this view is commendable for its desire to maintain the usefulness of the law, it introduces a distinction which cannot be supported biblically. The law of Moses is viewed as an indivisible whole in Scripture. The Ten Commandments cannot be separated out as the only "moral" part. It is better to see the entire Mosaic law as a concrete application of the eternal moral law for that time and place in history. The law of Moses has now been set aside in its entirety (Rom 6:14, 15; 7:4, 6; 10:4; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 2:16-20; 3:19, 24-25; 5:1, 15; Eph 2:15; Col 2:14). We live under a different covenant with a different legal code. Yet the entire law of Moses still functions for us a something of a precedent. It shows us how God's moral law was applied at that time and place, and thus it gives us perspective for how God's moral law can apply in our day and age, taking into account the relevant differences that obtain because of the coming of Christ. The law of Moses pointed to Christ, and Christ fulfilled the law (Matt 5:17). Therefore, whatever applications we may derive from the law of Moses must be seen from the perspective of Christ.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Good News

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
(Luke 4:17-19, ESV)


Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Command to Enter into the Lord's Rest

What, oh what, do we do with the 4th commandment? Deuteronomy 5:12 says, "Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy...." Christians through the centuries have wrestled with how to handle this old covenant command in a new covenant setting. Some say it is basically irrelevant; it has been abrogated; it has no application. On the other hand, some say it has simply been changed into the first day of the week - the Christian sabbath. Other Christians have ideas that fit into the spectrum everywhere in between. What should we make of this?

I would invite you to join us this Sunday as we delve into the 4th commandment. While we will deal with the meaning and application of the commandment, we do not do this as controversialists. We do this primarily to come to know and honor our great Lord. We want to bask in the sunshine of his glory revealed in this commandment. If your heart hungers to have a clear view of God in a world bent on obscuring him, then I think you will find our time together considering the 4th commandment to be deeply challenging and refreshing.

Songs
Angels from the Realms of Glory (#111)
As with Gladness Men of Old (#97)
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne (#93)
Away in a Manger (#113)
To Us a Child of Hope Is Born (#114)
We Three Kings (#108)
Joy to the World (#92)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 119:97-112

Sermon
"The Command to Worship the Lord Physically by Faith" - Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Who Is He in Yonder Stall?

This season of the year provides us with an excellent opportunity to meditate deeply on the incarnation of our Savior. Just who is this one called the Christ?

Kevin Bauder provides a stimulating meditation on the Word made flesh, showing how ancient and contemporary heresies force us to state precisely who Jesus Christ is. While we may never be able to comprehend the God-man fully, we can and must state accurately what he has revealed about himself in Scripture. This very activity of learning of him in this way will bring us to genuinely worship him as our Savior and our God! Please read this essay before Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 15)

Living Faithfully in the Community

When I speak of the community, I mean every level of human association beyond the family, whether clan, tribe, city, or state. I have divided the discussion into the categories of economic virtues, civic virtues, and cultural virtues (culture in its older sense of the arts and letters). In each and every area of life, we want to put into practice what it means to love God and to love our neighbor. We must not think of these virtues like the ancient Greeks or Romans did, for to do so would be to abandon our Christian world view. These are virtues which spring from love (1 Cor 13), for such is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:8).

Economic Virtues

Christians must cultivate economic virtues in, first of all, our attitude toward material possessions. We must confront the culture of consumption and debt with contentment (Phil 4:11-13; 1 Tim 6:6-10). How difficult it is for us as American Christians to be content with food and clothing, and yet what could speak to the world’s idolatry more clearly? We should also enjoy and encourage honest labor (Gen 2:15; Prov 12:11; Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 4:11), thrift (Prov 10:5; 13:11; 27:23-27), and charity (Prov 14:21; 31:20; Matt 5:42; Jas 1:27). The welfare mindset should not even be named among us (1 Thess 4:11-12; 1 Tim 5:13)! Christians should uphold the God-given idea of personal property ownership, along with the idea of stewardship and responsibility to God for all we own (Ex 19:5; 20:15). And the goal of all our economic activity should be to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). Advancing the cause of Christ, providing for our families, and giving to others are godly financial objectives.

We can also cultivate economic virtues by reclaiming the ideas of vocation (1 Cor 7:17) and craftsmanship (Col 3:23-24). We should understand that God has called us to work, and that our work should be done as unto him. This is totally contrary to the idea that we work simply to make money, and it also contradicts the throw-away consumerism so rampant among us. A craftsman loves what he does, and he strives to produce something of lasting value, beauty, and benefit.

Last, Christians can strive to uphold a moral framework for the market. We can live out alternatives to materialistic capitalism,[i] while being alert to the insights of agrarianism (e.g. Wendell Berry), distributism (e.g. G. K. Chesterton), “Christian realism” (e.g. Reinhold Niebuhr), or “Christian personalism” (e.g. Pope John Paul II). I am not endorsing the theology of these men, but they and others like them have sometimes been much more acutely observant of our economic practices than have American evangelicals. Christians should resist trying to impose one rigid economic system, for the Bible does not give us such. Nevertheless, we must be very alert to the moral foundations and implications of any particular economic approach (see e.g. James 5:1-6).



[i] Capitalism can be a good thing, but when it is rooted in a naturalistic worldview, it is spiritually dangerous. “…Both Marxist and capitalist societies depend on a material foundation for the pursuit of human happiness and deny the spiritual element of the person. The consumer society arrives at a similar denial of the spiritual aspect of life via a different route from that of communism; however, the consequences are largely the same” (Charles McDaniel, God & Money [Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007], 278). In discussing Pope John Paul II’s economic thought, McDaniel also writes, “John Paul…recognizes the phenomenon of conspicuous consumption that results in the construction of artificial needs. Any Christian notion of consumption must recognize the ‘interior dimension’ of the human person and enable a hierarchical ordering of goods that prioritizes that interior dimension” (ibid., 279).

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 19 - The Law of God

19.3 Besides the moral law God also gave to the people of Israel ceremonial laws which served as types of things to come. They fell into two main groups. In one group were rites, partly relating to worship, which pre-figured Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and the blessings He procured for us. The other group contained a variety of instructions about moral duties. By divine appointment all these ceremonial laws were to be observed, but only until they were abrogated in New Testament days by Jesus Christ, the true Messiah and only law-giver who was empowered by the Father to terminate them. 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 2:14,16; Col. 2:14,16,17; Heb. 10:1.

19.4 To the people of Israel God also gave sundry judicial laws which applied as long as they remained a nation. The principles of equity which appear in them are still valid, not because they are found in Moses' laws but in virtue of their unchanging character. 1 Cor. 9:8-10.

*See note under last week's post on the 2LBC.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Blessing of the World

This Sunday we will celebrate together the coming of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. There is a tremendous mystery here which should make us bow down in awe, but there is also great joy here, for Jesus is the one who will save his people from their sins. Charles Wesley put it this way in the hymn we will sing together, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing:
Christ, by highest heav'n adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin's womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th' incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Hail, the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.

Songs
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (#90)
The Savior of the World (#127)
The First Noel (#98)
What Child Is This? (#103)
Silent Night! Holy Night! (#109)
Joy to the World (#92)

Scripture Readings
Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Isaiah 9:2-7

Sermon
The Blessing of Abraham - Genesis 12:1-3; Gal 3:8

Marketing the Church

In the January 2008 issue of Tabletalk magazine, Michael Horton had some very good things to say about marketing the church. You would have to purchase the magazine to get the whole article, but let me give you a thought-provoking snippet.

It has often been observed that Sunday morning between 11 a.m. and noon is the most segregated hour in America. While there are some hopeful signs that race may not play as great a role in defining the body of Christ in the future, covenant families are increasingly broken up according to the demographic niches that have been created and enforced by a culture of marketing.

The world trains us ... to think in terms of its own headlines, regardless of how the passing fashions come and go. Daily exposed to the relentless bombardment of advertising that would define us and our children, we enter the Lord's Day as the "today" of salvation into which God creates His own cast for the real drama of the ages. On this day, the Lord of the covenant publicly placards Christ before us. It's a campaign that is not manipulative, nr is it one that leaves us with one more "make-over"; it's nothing less than the crucifixion of the self and its resurrection in Christ unto new life.
That's why the current fascination with church-planting and home missions based on niche demographics (that is, dividing the market up into age, race, gender, socio-economic strata, politics, etc.) is such a problem. The church becomes a collection of consumers or tourists rather than a communion of saints and pilgrims. However, it's not our choices, but God's, that create this new society.
The older denominational divisions are tragic enough, but at least many of these were due to different interpretations of biblical teaching. Today, in the same denomination, even in the same local church, there are new divisions that are not only tolerated but encouraged by the leadership. Where the only division that we find in Scripture is "in Adam" or "in Christ," our churches are increasingly divided by consumer loyalties - which means they can no longer be united by the public ministry of Word and sacrament. This means that where the whole church learned God's Word together, it is possible for the different segments to meet only in passing on their way to their specially-formatted events. Where the older men and women used to teach the younger (as Paul enjoined Timothy), now the likelihood of the youth learning the catechism of their parents and grandparents is diminished.

What is called for in these, as in any other time, is a church that is a genuine covenantal community defined by the Gospel, rather than a service-provider defined by the laws of the market.... When the Word creates community, the result is a church and not a lobby, special interest group, or market niche.

May God help us to be a Word and Spirit created covenant community!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 14)

The Way of Life of Redeemed Humanity Must Be Our Practice

The ramifications of our faith touch every area of life. As we seek to work out what it means to live with Jesus as our Lord, we must keep an eschatological perspective (Matt 6:33; 1 Cor 7:31). This must also be coupled with humility (Psalm 90; Eccl 1:2; 12:13-14), trusting the Lord to accomplish his purposes (Ps 127:1), for there is much we do not know and cannot control about culture. In areas of life where we have clear revelation, we must pursue obedience boldly and uncompromisingly. When ethical issues are on the line, we must always promote righteousness based on God’s revelation and Christ’s lordship. In areas where we do not have as much special revelation, we would be wise to pursue change through building new and better ways of living, rather than through legislation or heavy handed demolition of existing structures. Furthermore, we must always remember that our goal is not to preserve “Western culture” or any other culture, per se. It is to follow Jesus Christ as Lord of all of life.

This perspective will do a couple things for us. First, it will help to keep us from overblowing the significance of the various particular expressions of culture that we interact with every day. Christians sometimes get fixated upon particular, isolated expressions of our current culture and make it into a battle ground as if this one thing could wreck Christianity forever. Not only is this terribly reductionistic, it has no support biblically, historically, or philosophically. While we must be alert to the impact of various cultural phenomena, we must keep it all in perspective.

Yet in addition to this, we should recognize that as we follow Jesus Christ as Lord of all of life, it will necessarily bring us into conflict with the ethos of contemporary pop culture. Ken Myers perceptively wrote, “Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about its content…. [P]opular culture’s greatest influence is in the way it shapes how we think and feel….”[i] In previous generations, following Christ as Lord of life may have brought us into conflict with high culture and its pretensions. But it is my opinion that high culture has eradicated itself from most American’s minds, and pop culture is our chief concern. Marcel Danesi has said that pop culture is culture by the people and for the people.[ii] I believe this description actually points to ideology – pop culture is driven by pagan ideas of human autonomy. This is not to say that everything pop culture produces is sinful, just as not everything Aristotle wrote was wrong. It is also not to say that we cannot appropriate or use aspects of pop culture, though we must use them from a thoroughly Christian position. But it is to say that we must perceive the fundamental irreconcilability of Christianity and pop culture as a mode of thought and feeling.

Living Faithfully in the Family

Biblically, a natural family is one man and one woman in a covenant relationship for life. The purpose of this relationship is (1) to rule the earth together for God, which necessarily means that husbands and wives must (2) reproduce God’s image bearers and disciple them in the Lord. As they do that, they are (3) to rejoice in one another as God’s good gift. By doing all of this, they will ultimately (4) reflect the relationship of Jesus and his followers.

Faithful family living is both productive and reproductive (Gen 1:28). The natural family should operate as one economic and sexual unit. Western society has largely forgotten that the husband-wife team should be one economic, productive unit, but this function is inherent in God’s plan for human kind to exercise dominion over the earth. The old terms for the skills needed to make a productive household were “husbandry” and “housewifery.” These skills are still critical today, even if in different forms. Fathers should train up their sons with the skills needed to provide for and lead their families. Mothers should pass on to their daughters the wisdom of being skillful helpers to their husbands and able keepers of the home.[iii] The family should be an economic team and the foremost unit for providing for its members personal needs.[iv] Grandparents’ needs should be met through the family (1 Tim 5:3-16). Christian families should reject a welfare mindset (1 Thess 4:11-12). This requires a multi-generational economic perspective.

The family should also be a reproductive unit. Marriage always entails the sexual union of a man and a woman, and a divinely intended result of this union is children (Mal 2:15). Christians must welcome children as gifts from God and reject the self-imposed sterility of contemporary Western societies. Christians must especially reject any and all forms of abortions and potential abortifacients. The children God gives are then to be brought up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.[v]

Faithful family living must include family worship. Matthew Henry said, “If therefore our houses be houses of the Lord, we shall for that reason love home, reckoning our daily devotion the sweetest of our daily delights; and our family-worship the most valuable of our family-comforts…. A church in the house will be a good legacy, nay, it will be a good inheritance, to be left to your children after you.” He also said, “Here the reformation must begin.”[vi]

Faithful family living will include family government and order. God has designed the family unit so that each member of the family has covenant rights and responsibilities. The husband is the covenantal head of the home who is responsible to lead the family and to care for his wife and train up his children (Eph 5:25-33; 6:4). He should cast a vision for the direction of the family. He should protect and provide for his family. The wife is the complement of her husband who is to help her husband accomplish their purpose as a family, primarily in the areas of bearing children and keeping the household (Eph 5:22-24; 1 Tim 2:15; 5:14). The children are to be obedient to their parents so that they will learn wisdom and become the next generation of faithful people (Eph 6:1-3; Prov 22:6).

Family government is the foundation for all social order. The pattern of complementarity between men and women should be reflected at all levels in society. Both men and women have vital and indispensable roles within the home, church, and society. Yet we must not confuse the distinctions between these roles. God has worked male headship and female submission into the foundations of society, so that it permeates and influences the whole of it. For example, if a woman was elected to public office, her husband would, in a biblical view, actually have been placed into a position of public authority, for he is her covenant head. It is a sign of God’s judgment to have women ruling in society (Isa 3:12). Likewise in the church, the leadership roles are reserved to men (1 Tim 2:11-12).

Family instruction is a vital component of faithful family living. Christians must recover the lost purpose of learning and the lost tools of learning,[vii] pursuing not merely accumulation of “facts” and technical training, but primarily wisdom (Prov 1:7). Education is ultimately so that we can know God. He has revealed himself to us, and as we develop the skills of learning we will be enabled to glorify and enjoy him. Education must take into account the fundamental realities of humanity. (1) We are made in the image of God; therefore, we can genuinely learn. We are not merely biological machines which are programmed to act or think in certain ways. (2) We are also sinners; therefore, learning to think rightly does not come naturally to us. Children need the disciplined training and instruction of the Lord, for naturally they are fools. We should do away with the myth of adolescence along with the faulty educational structure that supports it and bring our whole families to produce God-honoring accomplishments.

One crucial component of faithful family living is serving in and through the local church. The family and the church should not be operating with opposing agendas. Too often a false dichotomy develops between family life and church life. A family which is centered on Christ is going to have the mission of the church as the center of gravity in its life. A family cannot fulfill God’s calling on their lives without being involved in a local church. On the other hand, a church which is striving to build a culture of faithfulness will not attempt to take over the functions of the family, nor will it adopt individualistic models of ministry which inhibit faithful family living by refusing to recognize the covenantal unity of the family.

Not to be neglected in this discussion is the faithful single Christian. A Christian may be single because he or she never married (Matt 19:11-12; 1 Cor 7:17, 38), has been widowed (1 Cor 7:8; 1 Tim 5:3-16), or has been through a divorce (1 Cor 7:10-16). God expects most men and women to marry and bear children, but God has special opportunities of service for the faithful Christian whom he calls to live without a spouse (Matt 19:12; 1 Cor 7:17, 34). Opportunities abound to serve the Lord in and through the body of Christ. In fact, the single Christian can dedicate himself more intensively to the gospel ministry than a married person can. Living a chaste life of character, purity, and joy, serving others and not self, with a focus on God is a powerful testimony in our hedonistic society.



[i] All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989), xiii.

[ii] Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 4. Of course, Danesi means this as a descriptive phrase, not as a theological analysis. But I am arguing that as an accurate description, it points us to the ideological underpinnings.

[iii] In her recent work Keeping House (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), Margaret Kim Peterson points out compellingly that the labor of keeping a home is a fundamental way that Christians can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless (Matt 25:34-40). The financial contribution of homemaking to the family and to society cannot be overestimated and should not be overlooked. Unfortunately, in our cash/credit oriented society, this contribution is rarely considered. One Australian economist has estimated that the “gross household product” of his nation is nearly equal to all market production (Duncan Ironmonger, “Counting Outputs, Capital Inputs and Caring Labor: Estimating Gross Household Product,” Feminist Studies 2 (1996), 37-64, cited by Allan Carlson, “Two Becoming One Flesh,” 21-22). Yet I would also add that wives’ contribution of keeping house goes far beyond anything that can be measured in dollars and cents. In fact, it helps to keep us from viewing life in barren economic categories and keeps the moral, personal, spiritual dimension in everything.

[iv] There appears to be a historical correlation between a loss of productivity in the home and an increase of divorce. See note 12 above. There are many ways that households can become productive again, some of them as simple as making and eating meals together. A very good means is home schooling. Also, families who break the cycle of debt with a multi-generational financial perspective could free their family members from having to rely on creditors or insurance companies, not to mention the government. I believe this will become increasingly important for practical and ethical reasons in the future in our society, for it is always true that the one who pays the bills calls the shots. For more on this, see below under civic virtues.

[v] Incidentally, this is a factor in the propagation of Christianity. Part of the reason Christianity grew and spread in the Roman Empire was that Christians had more children than the pagans (cf. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996], 115-128). Philip Longman actually predicts that the same thing will happen as the result of our current demographic decline (“Falling Human Fertility and the Future of the Family,” accessed 2 August 2007, available from http://www.worldcongress.org/wcf4.spkrs/wcf4.longman.htm). Not only does marriage and childbearing spread Christianity through producing more people, it also tends to draw existing people into Christianity. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox has noted that people, especially men, are much more likely to be involved religiously when they are married with children (“As the Family Goes,” First Things [May 2007], available at http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5491).

[vi] Cited in Donald Whitney, Family Worship in the Bible, in History & in Your Home (Shepherdsville, KY: Center for Biblical Spirituality, 2005), 11.

[vii] Two highly recommended essays in this regard are John Milton, “Of Education” (available at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/of_education/) and Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning” (reprinted as appendix A in Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991] and widely available on the internet). Becoming educated is not a matter of getting degrees or diplomas from a school. Going to college does not necessarily make one educated, and Christians should not rely upon this cultural right of passage in and of itself to produce mature and wise young adults. Young people should have acquired the tools of learning and a healthy foundation of wisdom long before they think about going to college.

Next week: Living Faithfully in the Community

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 19 - The Law of God

19.1 GOD gave Adam a law, written in his heart, that required his full obedience; also one command in particular, namely, that he must not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Thereby Adam and all his posterity were bound to personal, complete, exact and perpetual obedience. God promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of the law, and endued Adam with power and ability to keep His law. Gen. 2:16,17; Eccles. 7:29; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10,12.

19.2 The same law that was first written in man's heart continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after Adam fell into sin, and was given by God upon Mount Sinai in the form of ten commandments, written in two tables. The first four commandments constitute our duty towards God and the remaining six our duty to man. The ten are known as the moral law. Deut. 10:4; Rom. 2:14,15.

Pastor’s note: The 2LBC takes the common view that the law of Moses can be divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial components. While this view is commendable for its desire to maintain the usefulness of the law, it introduces a distinction which cannot be supported biblically. The law of Moses is viewed as an indivisible whole in Scripture. The Ten Commandments cannot be separated out as the only "moral" part. It is better to see the entire Mosaic law as a concrete application of the eternal moral law for that time and place in history. The law of Moses has now been set aside in its entirety (Rom 6:14, 15; 7:4, 6; 10:4; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 2:16-20; 3:19, 24-25; 5:1, 15; Eph 2:15; Col 2:14). We live under a different covenant with a different legal code. Yet the entire law of Moses still functions for us a something of a precedent. It shows us how God's moral law was applied at that time and place, and thus it gives us perspective for how God's moral law can apply in our day and age, taking into account the relevant differences that obtain because of the coming of Christ. The law of Moses pointed to Christ, and Christ fulfilled the law (Matt 5:17). Therefore, whatever applications we may derive from the law of Moses must be seen from the perspective of Christ.

Just the Facts

WSJ.com's Opinion Journal has posted an article by Jeffrey Lord criticizing Mitt Romney for having a passion for data without a passion for principle. Whether you agree with Lord about Romney or not, we must all agree that he raises a significant point. One important lesson we must all learn is that "facts" do not give us wisdom. "Data" cannot tell us what to think or what to do in any given situation. Bare statistics on a page cannot tell us what ought to be done. That word "ought" is important here, for it shows us that every decision made and action taken includes a moral component. That moral component will always include moral commitments or principles. If a man does not have a sharp moral vision, he will always be wandering hither and yon in a forest of facts.

I want to take this point and apply it to the work of the church. I fear that many church leaders look at the latest polls, studies, and research, and unthinkingly transmute these things into some kind of imperatives for action. If Barna research says that young adults are forsaking traditional church structures, then that must mean that we should find non-traditional structures to reach them. If Lifeway research says two-thirds of young adults between 18 and 22 drop out from church for at least a year, then that must mean that we have to find new ways to reach the college demographic. And so on and so forth.

My response is, Oh really? Why must the data mean that? The data actually means nothing of the sort. It is actually our own moral vision which determines how we will use the data. This is why we need Christian leaders who are deeply imbued with a biblical perspective on everything. We need men who are widely acquainted with history and humanity and not captive to the fads of the moment. We need men with more than education in the facts and techniques; we need men with wisdom. Men (especially young men) with narrow minds who think they are being so relevant by following all the latest studies and the latest cultural trends are some of the most disintegrating factors in our churches. In the hands of a barbarian, "just the facts" are potent weapons of destruction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tragedy in Colorado Springs

No doubt you have all been sucking in the news reports over the last two days regarding the tragic shootings at New Life Church and at YWAM in Arvada. I have as well. I wrote a letter to the senior pastor of New Life Church, expressing our sympathy and prayers. In that letter, I mentioned a text which has been on my mind in regard to this situation. It is Romans 15:8-13, a text which seems particularly apropos in this Christmas season. The apostle quotes Isaiah saying, "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope." And then the apostle closes with this prayer: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."

The root of Jesse is the answer to such devastating sinfulness. Through his salvation and his judgment, he will bring the day when "they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9).

Musical Discernment

I have heard that Indelible Grace has just released another CD. Indelible Grace specializes in taking old hymn texts and setting them to contemporary musical styles. In light of this, I would like to direct you to a substantive evaluation of Indelible Grace's work by Timothy Shafer, posted a couple months ago on Scott Aniol's blog. If you want to learn the art of musical discernment, this is a good example of how to go about it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Honoring the Name of the Lord - the Flame of True Worship

Last week we discovered from the 3rd commandment how seriously the Lord takes the way we use his name. He has committed himself, in all of his unfailing omnipotence, to punish all those who use his name to no good purpose. But if this is all we gain from this commandment, then I believe we are falling far short of what God wants and deserves. This commandment is not merely about washing our mouths out with soap if we use God's name as a cuss word. It goes far deeper than that. It is really pointing us to an attitude of the heart which treasures and honors God's name.
Those who love the Lord are commanded to call upon his name (1 Chron 16:8), ascribe glory to his name (1 Chron 16:29; Ps 29:2; 96:8), exalt his name (Ps 34:3), sing the glory of his name (Ps 66:2; 68:4; 135:3), bless his name (Ps 96:2; 100:4), and praise his name (Ps 148:13; 149:3). We are those who love his name (Ps 69:36) and call upon his name (Gen 4:26; Ps 105:1; Rom 10:13). We recognize his name as holy and awesome (Ps 111:9; Lk 1:49). We look and long for that day in which “the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one” (Zech 14:9). In other words, the Lord alone will be acknowledged by name as the rightful ruler of the universe. When we have this genuine attitude in our church, there we will find the flame of true worship!

Songs
Praise Ye the Lord (#42)
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
O Little Town of Bethlehem (#94)
Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming (#115)
See in Yonder Manger Low (#102)
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 119:81-96

Sermon
The Command to Worship the Lord with Honor - Deuteronomy 5:11

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 13)

Reclaiming a Kingdom Perspective

Jesus Christ commanded us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). How can we reclaim a kingdom perspective for our lives in 21st century American society? How can we live as citizens of heaven in this present age? How can we live according to our confession – Jesus Christ is Lord?

The first three points I present here, though not developed in great detail, are truly the most important and weighty aspects of building a culture of faithfulness. If we forget these, then no matter how “conservative” we may be in practice, we are not being faithful to God.


The Word of God Must Be Our Guide!

We must uphold the complete authority of Scripture. It is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. We must be confident in the sufficiency of Scripture.


The Purpose of God Must Burn In Our Hearts!

The glory of God must be our driving desire (Romans 11:36). The completed work and coming kingdom of Jesus Christ must be our foundation and our message (1 Cor 2:2; 15:1-4). The power of the Spirit must be our enablement (1 Cor 2:4). With this passion, the gospel will be central to our lives, and thus…


The Mission of the Church Must Be Our Focus! The local church is the center of gravity of God’s work in the world today, and it should be the center of gravity of our lives.[i]

This means, first of all, that we must strive for God-centered worship in the church. I firmly believe that worship drives culture. This is just another way of saying that we become like what we worship. David Peterson rightly says,

“Throughout the Bible, acceptable worship means approaching or engaging with God on the terms that he proposes and in the manner that he makes possible. It involves honouring, serving, and respecting him, abandoning any loyalty or devotion that hinders an exclusive relationship with him. Although some the Scripture’s terms for worship may refer to specific gestures of homage, rituals or priestly ministrations, worship is more fundamentally faith expressing itself in obedience and adoration. Consequently, in both Testaments it is often shown to be a personal and moral fellowship with God relevant to every sphere of life.”[ii]

In a sense, adding “God-centered” to worship is redundant. Genuine worship by its very nature is “God-centered.” But I add this qualifier because much of what passes for worship is not really “engaging with God on the terms that he proposes and in the manner that he makes possible.” In order to be God-centered, worship must be thoroughly biblical. It is never merely formal. It must always respond to God precisely as he has revealed himself (see first four commandments; cf. John 4:23-24). It is always driven by faith (Heb 11:6; 12:28). As Christians, our entire lives should be a proper response to God (Rom 11:36-12:2). The focal point of this worship is in and through the local church.

This also means that we must pursue God-centered evangelism/missions, or disciple-making, through the church (Matt 28:18-20).[iii] Disciple-making must be rooted in the doctrines of grace and produce a passionate effort to call all the earth to the obedience of faith. Disciple-making must incorporate a proper understanding of conversion. It must also refuse to get sidetracked into purely social action (food, medicine, clothing, etc.). Finally, disciple-making must keep God’s sovereign glory as the central focus. It must not degenerate into a sales pitch or benefit evangelism.[iv]

Discipleship necessarily occurs in and through the church, for Christ’s command to baptize forms an unbreakable link with local church organization and life (Matt 28:19). Discipleship is concerned with passing on three interconnected aspects of life under Christ’s Lordship. One is orthodoxy, which can be upheld by a commitment to biblical authority, rigorous doctrine, and expositional preaching and teaching. This orthodoxy must then connect to orthopraxy, the right practice of the faith. This would include baptism and the Lord’s supper, holy living, Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy must be infused by orthopathy. This is love, a mindset of joyfully pursuing and proclaiming Christ with steadfastness and unity, and spiritual affections which spring from right judgment cultivated by right practice.[v]

In order for this discipleship to be most effective in building a culture of faithfulness, certain conditions must be met. I believe there are two things that have occurred in our history which have hindered this kind of disciple-making. The first problem is the splintering of the local churches, particularly when those divisions occur over insubstantial matters. There must be maximum possible unity in the church, including both historical continuity and contemporary unity. Structuring our churches according to market niches or demographic profiles or generational characteristics is a sure-fire way to destroy the fabric of time-tested truth and self-sacrificial love that is at the heart of biblical body life. Furthermore, starting new churches indiscriminately for non-essential reasons in areas where there are already Bible-believing churches can actually lead to degrading the gospel in the eyes of the community. It promotes confusion over what the church is all about. When we operate this way, we are assuming that the gospel works in the same way that Wal-Mart works, and we are making it practically impossible for the church to be the church[vi] and thus properly represent the gospel of Christ.

In addition to unity, there must be a clear line of demarcation between those who hold to the faith as revealed in Scripture and those who do not. While unity is essential to the church, this unity must always be according to truth. Any other unity is not spiritual unity at all, and unity with false teachers is fatal to the life and ministry of the church.



[i] This is in contrast with the so-called para-church ministries which proliferate in our age. I believe that those activities which fall within the parameters of the mission and purpose of the church should be reserved to the church. Christians may participate in other legitimate activities and organizations; however, these should not be considered equivalent to the mission of the church. For example, Christians who wish to apply their Christian principles to politics may rightly do so (in fact we all must do so), and they may determine that they would like to form a political action committee to accomplish this objective. This is good. But it is not good for them to claim that they are fulfilling the Great Commission or making disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did not leave his disciples with a political agenda that they were to pass on to others. Christ’s disciples are responsible to pass on the truth of God’s Word, and this is properly the function of the church. Another example: I recently received a letter introducing YWAM Colorado Springs. It stated, “YWAM is a multi-denominational and multi-cultural mission movement that operates in 150 nations. YWAM Colorado Springs has four main areas of Ministry: training and equipping believers to go the mission field, sending missionaries to the least reached people of the earth, mobilizing the North American church in missions, and sustaining long-term workers in the field.” While there is a legitimate role for missions agencies, I would argue that YWAM has gone far beyond its bounds and is usurping the place of the church in God’s plan.

[ii] Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 283.

[iii] This famous quote from John Piper bears repeating: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions” (Let the Nations Be Glad [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], 11).

[iv] For an excellent biblical/theological/historical consideration of these issues, see Doran, Johnson, and Eckman, For the Sake of His Name (Allen Park, MI: Student Global Impact, 2002), especially chapters 4-6, 8.

[v] Perhaps it is here that I should note what I believe are the deep connections between this point and what follows. If we want the church to be unified in accomplishing the mission of Christ, it is going to require a shared sympathy, a common sense of spiritual affection, and this is developed and worked out in our culture. Building a culture of faithfulness is our whole-hearted effort to work out in everyday life what it means for us to glorify and enjoy God forever.

[vi] For example, how can meaningful church discipline take place or lasting discipling community occur when professing Christians can simply church-hop to whatever church suits their taste at any given time?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Criticism

This post by Mark Dever on giving criticism was helpful for me today. I commend it to your consideration.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 18 - The Assurance of Grace and Salvation

18.3 The infallible assurance of salvation is not an essential part of salvation, for a true believer may wait for a long time, and struggle with many difficulties, before he attains to it. It is not a matter of extraordinary revelation, for if he makes a right use of the means of grace, and is enabled by the Spirit to know the things that believers receive freely from God, he may well attain to it. It therefore becomes the duty of every one to be as diligent as possible in making his calling and election sure. By doing this he will experience greater peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, greater love and thankfulness to God, and an increased strength and cheerfulness in dutiful obedience. These things are the natural outcome of the assurance of salvation, and they constitute strong evidence that assurance does not lead men into loose living. Ps. 77:1-12; Ps. 88; 119:32; Isa. 50:10; Rom. 5:1,2,5; 6:1,2; 14:17; Titus 2:11,12,14; Heb. 6:11,12; 1 John 4:13.

18.4 True believers may find that their assurance of salvation fluctuates; sometimes more, sometimes less. They may prove neglectful in preserving it, as for example, if they give way to some particular sin that wounds their conscience and grieves the Spirit; or a strong temptation may suddenly spring upon them; or God may see fit to withdraw 'the light of His countenance' and cause darkness to envelop them, a course He sometimes takes even with those who fear His name. Yet, whatever happens, certain things inevitably remain with them-the new nature which is born of God, the life of faith, the love of Christ and the brethren, sincerity of heart and conscience of duty-and by reason of these and through the work carried on by the Spirit within them, the assurance of salvation may in due time be revived. In the meantime the same influences preserve them from utter despair. Ps. 30:7; 31:22; 42:5,11; 51:8,12,14; 77:7,8; 116:11; Song 5:2,3,6; Lam. 3:26-31; Luke 22:32; 1 John 3:9.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pray for Steve



As I'm sure you all know, Steve left for Iraq yesterday. Please keep him, Traci, and the kids in prayer. If you want to get updates from Steve while he is away, you can check out his blog here.

Looking for Something Good to Read Online?

Alright. Here are a couple links to recent blog posts which will give you something good to think about.

Andreas Kostenberger responds to a Wall Street Journal report that he is "anti-tithing," and in the process he presents some good material on how we should think about our giving to God.

Ryan Martin has an excellent post on the importance of the church, complete with a quote from Jonathan Edwards.