Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 21 - Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

21.2 God alone is Lord of the conscience. He has set it free from all obligation to receive or obey any such doctrines or demands of men as are in any respect in opposition to His Word or not contained in it. Indeed, to believe and obey such doctrines and demands is tantamount to a betrayal of true liberty of conscience. It is against all reason, and nothing less than the destruction of liberty of conscience, when men demand of their fellows an implicit faith, in other words, an absolute and blind obedience. Matt. 15:9; Acts 4:19,29; Rom. 14:4; 1 Cor. 3:5; 7:23; 2 Cor. 1:24; Col. 2:20,22,23; Jas. 4:12.

21.3 Those who practice any sin, or harbour sin's evil desires, on a pretense of enjoying Christian liberty, pervert the main purpose of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, for thereby they entirely destroy the very purpose of Christian liberty, namely, that the Lord's people, 'being delivered out of the hand of their enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all their days'. Luke 1:74,75; Rom. 6:1,2; Gal. 5:13; 2 Pet. 2:18,21.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Who Should I Honor?

As a follow up to yesterday's sermon on honoring our fathers and mothers in their old age, you should read the post on Albert Mohler's blog today. Dr. Mohler points to an article written by two sociologists, Elizabeth Marquardt and Norval Glenn, who have studied the effects of divorce on the relationship between aging parents and their children. Divorce strains the relationships between parents and children, and remarriages make for great confusion about who the children should feel obligations to help. This is just another reminder of the great damage done to our society through rampant divorce.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Blue Laws?

Should federal, state, or local governments enact and enforce “blue laws”? From both Scripture and natural revelation, it is clear that a regular day of cessation from labor is good for all people. But with this question we are not merely asking if it is good for people. We are asking if it is the prerogative of government to enforce such rest. Just because something is good for people does not mean that the government should enforce its practice.

The Scripture gives us some helpful direction here. Jesus clearly affirmed the legitimacy of human government, but also limited its scope (Mk 12:13-17). There are things that are Caesars, but there are also things that are not. The apostles also clearly instructed us to obey the governing authorities (Rom 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17). We should obey them in order to obey God and also, practically speaking, in order to avoid punishment. We see a two-fold purpose for government here: to punish wrongdoing (Rom 13:2-5; 1 Peter 2:14) and to promote good (1 Peter 2:14). [Note here that government always presupposes and incorporates a particular moral perspective. It simply cannot be otherwise.]

From this information, Christian thinkers have distilled two important and related principles to direct the functioning of human government – the principle of sphere sovereignty, and the principle of subsidiarity. These principles must operate in the context of Christian or biblical thought. Thus we recognize three basic social institutions that God has sanctioned: the family, the government, and the church. These institutions are distinct yet interconnected. The principle of sphere sovereignty focuses on their distinctions. Each social unit has its proper role to play, and the others should not try to usurp that role. The principle of subsidiarity (subsidium: aid, support, safeguard, means of assistance) focuses on their proper interconnectedness. Each social function should be taken care of at the smallest possible social unit, with the other social institutions providing support, but not taking over that social function.

Recently, Robert P. George has summarized government’s role this way:

“The obligations and purposes of law and government are to protect public health, safety, and morals, and to advance the general welfare—including, preeminently, protecting people’s fundamental rights and basic liberties.

“At first blush, this classic formulation (or combination of classic formulations) seems to grant vast and sweeping powers to public authority. Yet, in truth, the general welfare—the common good—requires that government be limited. Government’s responsibility is primary when the questions involve defending the nation from attack and subversion, protecting people from physical assaults and various other forms of depredation, and maintaining public order. In other ways, however, its role is subsidiary: to support the work of the families, religious communities, and other institutions of civil society that shoulder the primary burden of forming upright and decent citizens, caring for those in need, encouraging people to meet their responsibilities to one another while also discouraging them from harming themselves or others.

“Governmental respect for individual freedom and the autonomy of nongovernmental spheres of authority is, then, a requirement of political morality. Government must not try to run people’s lives or usurp the roles and responsibilities of families, religious bodies, and other character- and culture-forming authoritative communities. The usurpation of the just authority of families, religious communities, and other institutions is unjust in principle, often seriously so, and the record of big government in the twentieth century—even when it has not degenerated into vicious totalitarianism—shows that it does little good in the long run and frequently harms those it seeks to help” (“Law and Moral Purpose,” First Things, January 2008).

Notice how his description of the proper function and role of government incorporates both of the principles mentioned above.

Passing blue laws does fit within the general purpose of protecting public health, safety, and morals. But should the government do this, or should it leave such things to families and churches? That is a difficult and debated question. At the beginning of our nation, wide-ranging blue laws were universal amongst the states. But these days, many states have done away with them, and those that have retained them have limited them greatly to things like prohibiting alcohol sales.

Although there is much that would need to be discussed about the particulars, at the end of the day, I believe that such laws are rooted in a fundamental good for all humanity. All people need the basic liberty of time for worship and for rest. The government can operate in a subsidiary way by ensuring that families and religious communities have a regular day of freedom from coercions to work or to conduct business. This is particularly important for those who are employed in entry-level, service-oriented work. If allowed free reign, the demands of the more wealthy for service will always compel them to have to work. Therefore, the government should protect this liberty from encroachment from marketing and manufacturing by incorporating laws to that end.

These laws would need to be guarded against becoming overbearing. If the laws became exhaustive, they would actually usurp the role of families and religious communities. I would argue that it is sufficient to prohibit marketing and manufacturing. For example, many of the blue laws in our nation’s history spelled out in detail what people could or could not do on Sundays. I believe that this is going too far. It should be left up to families and churches what they will and will not do on Sundays. Personal, family, and church discipline comes in precisely at this point. We need to discipline ourselves to set aside time to worship and time to rest, and to allow others to do the same. This would mean that we would not use our time of rest in a way which would force others to work on our behalf.

The way we operate in this area actually shows a great deal about what we consider to be our true good in life. The driving force behind the repeal of most blue laws has been the almighty dollar. If we believe in our minds and emotions that having people serve us and getting more stuff is what is good for us, then we will always fight against blue laws. But if we believe that our highest good is found in worshiping God, then we will find great delight and refreshment in having time set aside specifically for that purpose.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Honor and Obedience

This coming Lord's Day we will continue our application of the fifth commandment. Our love for others, which flows out of our love for God, will manifest itself first and foremost in our relationship with the natural superiors that God has given to us - our parents. We must honor them, and this honor includes the necessity of obedience until we reach our maturity. There is no other lesson so crucial for a young child to learn as yielding a glad submission to his parents.

To God Be the Glory (#16)
Praise Ye the Lord (#42)
Trust and Obey (#525)
Psalm 119d
There Is a Fountain (#267)
O Give Us Homes (#731)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 119:145-160

The Command to Love Your Parents with Honor (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:1-3

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 21 - Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

21.1 CHRIST has purchased for all believers a liberty inherent in the gospel. It comprises freedom from the guilt of sin, from the condemnation that follows upon guilt, from the wrath of God, and from the severity and curse of God's law. It also includes deliverance from this present evil world, and from all such things as bondage to Satan, sin's domination, the hurtfulness of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and eternal damnation. Furthermore, it includes free access to God and the yielding of obedience to Him, not as it were with the fear of a slave for his master, but with a childlike love and readiness.

All these blessings were more or less enjoyed by believers in Old Testament days, but under New Testament conditions Christian liberty becomes more extensive. It includes freedom from the burdens imposed by the ceremonial law to which the Jewish church was subjected, greater boldness in approaching to the throne of grace, and a larger measure of the free Spirit of God than was normally granted to saints in the pre-Christian era. [Luke 1:73-75; John 7:38,39; Acts 26:18; Rom. 8:3,15,28; 1 Cor. 15:54- 57; Gal. 1:4; 3:9,13,14; 2 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 10:19-21; 1 John 4:18.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No Idolatry Allowed, Not Even on the Campaign Trail

From Thomas Sowell's timely warning on "Dangerous Demagoguery," published today in the NRO:

Barack Obama says that he wants to “heal America and repair the world.” One wonders what he will do for an encore and whether he will rest on the seventh day.


I mention this here simply to reinforce the fact that as Christians we must put our trust in God and not in politicians who promise us things no man can deliver, whether conservative or liberal. One of the blessings of Christianity is that it keeps politics and politicians in their proper place with their proper role. When we trust in God, we will not trust in politicians who promise us things only God can deliver.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Honor Your Father and Your Mother

Each one of the Ten Commandments is like a bullet in the heart of some contemporary idolatry. It is no wonder that secularists want these things removed from the public square. They leave the rebellious heart no quarter, relentlessly condemning all who do not obey.

But God did not intend them to condemn only. Or to say it a different way, they condemn for a purpose. That purpose is to call men away from their sins and to a loving relationship with God. The only way to know God's blessing is through repentance and faith. When we realize that we are rebellious sinners, corrupt in every part, then by God's grace we are made willing to accept the cure he has provided through his Son Jesus Christ. When our hearts are made new by the Holy Spirit we find that living according to the eternal principles embodied in the Ten Commandments is a beautiful experience of the love of God.

I invite you to join us this Sunday as we consider the fifth powerful commandment: Honor your father and your mother.

Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
All Glory, Laud, and Honor (#11)
Fairest Lord Jesus (#21)
Thou, the God Who Changes Never (#18)
Lord, How Delightful (#726)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 119:129-144

The Command to Love Your Parents with Honor

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Good Congregational Singing

In our church we desire to improve greatly in our ability to glorify the Lord in song. To that end, I would like to direct your attention to a list of hallmarks of congregational singing by Brian Wren as posted by Chuck Bumgardner.

Helpful Husbands

Since my wife is expecting #6, this list gave my wife and me a good laugh: Top 10 Things Not to Say to Your Wife in the Last Week of Pregnancy.

(HT: Challies)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Christianity and Political Conservatism

Last week we considered the moral errors of political liberalism. Many Christians I talk to (though certainly not all) readily recognize those errors. But not as many recognize the moral problems involved in the varieties of conservatism on the contemporary scene. J. Budziszewski helps us see these in chapter 7 of his book The Revenge of Conscience. He begins by making what I believe is a crucial observation.

The danger, it would seem, is not in conserving, for anyone may have a vocation to care for precious things, but in conserving ideology, which sets forth a picture of these things at variance with the faith. The same is true of liberalism. From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision. For our allies' sake as well as our own, it behooves us to remember the difference. We do not need another Social Gospel - just the gospel.

He goes on to discuss eight moral errors of conservatism.

1. Civil religionism. According to this notion America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration; according to Christianity America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more. I believe that conservative Christians are guilty of this more than they realize, perhaps even more so since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Budziszewski correctly notes that Reagan "applied the image of the City Upon a Hill not to the remnant of the Church in America, but to America as such - its mission not to bear witness to the gospel, but to spread the bits and pieces of its secular ideology." But the United States of America is not God's chosen nation. The only entity on earth that can claim to be God's chosen is the true church of Jesus Christ. We make a major error if we confuse the two.
2. Instrumentalism. According to this notion faith should be used for the ends of the state; according to Christianity believers should certainly be good citizens, but faith should not be used.... Religious conservatives who pine for the days when jurists called America "a Christian country" and recognized Christianity as "the law of the land" are deeply in error if they think such statements expressed belief; what they usually expressed was instrumentalism.
3. Moralism. According to this notion God's grace needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks the state to get out of the way. We might say that while instrumentalism wants to make faith a tool of politics, moralism wants to make politics a tool of faith; on this reading, what instrumentalism is to secular conservatives, moralism is to religious conservatives. Surprisingly, though, many religious conservatives seem unable to tell the difference. Whether someone says "We need prayer in schools to make the children holy" or "We need prayer in schools to make the country strong," it sounds to them the same....
Christians...may certainly commend a law as good or condemn it as evil. They may declare it consistent or inconsistent with the faith. But not even a good law may be simply identified with the faith; Christians must not speak of a tax code, marriage ordinance, or welfare policy as "Christian" no matter how much, or even how rightly, they desire its enactment or preservation. That predicate has been preempted by the law of God. The civil law will be Christian - if it still exists at all - only when Christ Himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.
4. Caesarism. According to this notion the laws of man are higher than the laws of God; according to Christianity the laws of God are higher than the laws of man. With this error we have come back to secular conservatives. The peculiar thing about the American variety of Caesarism is that the state never says that its laws are higher than the laws of God; in the name of equal liberty for all religious sects, it simply refuses to acknowledge any laws of God.
...Therefore, [according to Caesarism] the First Amendment does not mean that people may act as their religion requires, but only that they may think as their religion requires; free exercise of religion makes no difference whatsoever to the scope of state power over conduct.
Perhaps the blame for our troubles lies with the Framers, for refusing to distinguish the kinds of religion whose exercise should be free from the kinds of religion whose exercise should not. But, foolishly thinking ignorance a friend of conscience, we have followed their lead. Afraid to judge among religions, we put them all beneath our feet; pursuing the will-o'-the-wisp of equal liberty, we tumble headlong into Caesarism.

5. Traditionalism. According to this notion what has been done is what should be done; Christianity, however, though it cherishes the unchanging truths of faith, insists that any merely human custom may have to be repented.
6. Neutralism. This may come as a surprise, because...neutralism also comes in a liberal variety. Whereas the liberal sort of neutralist exclaims, "Let a thousand flowers bloom," the conservative sort cries merely, "Leave me alone." In essence, conservative neutralism is the notion that because everyone ought to mind his own business, moral and religious judgment should be avoided. By contrast,...Christianity holds that moral and religious judgments can never be avoided. They must be straight and true before people can even agree as to what their business is.
7. Mammonism. According to this notion wealth is the object of commonwealth, and its continual increase even better; according to Christianity wealth is a snare, and its continual increase even worse. Mammonism is what the Big Tent that some political analysts urge for the Republican Party is all about: ditch the social issues, but keep that capital gains tax reduction. To hold onto your liberty you have to hold on to your money.... Capitalism depends on a moral spirit which it cannot supply and may even weaken; it is, in the most exact of senses, a parasite on the faith. But a Christian parasite is not by that fact Christian.
8. Meritism. According to this notion I should do unto others as they deserve. With the addition of mammonism, matters become even simpler, for then those who need help are by definition undeserving, while those is a position to help are by definition deserving. That meritism is not a Christian doctrine comes as a surprise to many people....What the New Testament actually teaches is that in what we need most, we are helpless; the grace of God is an undeserved gift. According to Christianity I should do unto other not as they deserve but as they need.
What does the contrast between meritism and charity look like in ordinary human relationships? Consider the government policy of paying women cash prizes for bearing children out of wedlock. Liberals want to continue the policy because they cannot tell need from desire. Meritists propose ending it because the subsidies are undeserved. Although a Christian may accept the cutoff, he cannot accept it for the reason given. All of us at times need and receive many things that we do not deserve. The problem with the subsidy is that they are not what is needed. They so completely split behavior from its natural consequences that they infantilize their supposed beneficiaries; to infantilize them is to debase them, and no one needs to be debased....After achieving the cutoff, the meritist thinks his work is done, but the Christian thinks his work has only begun. He must now find another way to offer help; and he had better be prepared to pay the price.

So my exhortation to you is, in all the political currents swirling around our country right now, do not mistake political conservatism for Christianity. Be discerning, vote wisely, support what is right and oppose what is wrong, and so on and so forth. But most of all, point people to Christ, for he is the hope of the world.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 20 - The Gospel and Its Gracious Extent

20.3 The revelation of the gospel to sinners, both to nations and to certain persons, together with the promises and precepts which belong to gospel obedience, has been made at various times and in a variety of places, according to the sovereign will and good pleasure of God. The promise of the making known of the gospel has not been made contingent upon any good use made by men of their native abilities developed by means of light common to all, for such a development has never taken place, nor can it do so. Hence in all ages the extent to which the gospel has been proclaimed, whether to wider or more confined areas, has been granted to persons and nations in greatly varying measures according to the all-wise will of God. Ps. 147:20; Acts 16:7; Rom. 1:18-32.

20.4 The gospel is the only external means of making Christ and saving grace known to men, and it is completely adequate for this purpose. But that men who are dead in their sins may be born again-that is to say, made alive, or regenerated-something further is essential, namely, an effectual, invincible work of the Holy Spirit upon every part of the soul of man, whereby a new spiritual life is produced. Nothing less than such a work will bring about conversion to God. Ps. 110:3; John 6:44; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4,6; Eph. 1:19,20.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Call to Family Worship

Today I reviewed an article I originally read about three years ago entitled "A Call to Family Worship." As I re-read the article, I thought, "If anyone wants to understand a lot of what we practice at High Country Baptist Church, they need to read this article." So, without further ado, I will post a link to it and strongly encourage all of you to read it. The authors' presbyterian convictions do come out at places, but the bulk of it should receive assent in every Baptist heart.

Please read and seriously consider "A Call to Family Worship."

Experiencing the Lord's Rest Today

Last week we considered that Christ is our rest, both now and forever. This is what the Old Testament Sabbath command pointed toward. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," Jesus said. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." As we rest in the finished work of Christ on our behalf, we are set free from sin the slave-driver.
But as we are on our pilgrimage to glory, we also find that our rest in Christ has very definite effects upon the way we live. In this way, too, the Sabbath command is helpful for us today, because it draws our attention to fundamental truths about reality that we need to live by. As we live by these truths, we find that life is not the rat race the world thinks it is. It is a beautiful participation with God in the outworking of his eternal plan. Join us as we rejoice together in the rest that Christ provides!

Come, Let Us with Our Lord Arise (#25)
Praise Ye the Lord (#42)
Take Time to Be Holy (#469)
Jesus, Where'er Thy People Meet (#666)
Rejoice, Believer, in the Lord (#627)
For All the Saints (#643)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 119:113-128

The Command to Enter into the Lord's Rest
Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Thursday, January 10, 2008

IVF and the Destruction of Human Life

Albert Mohler posts this morning on reports that over one million embryos have been destroyed in Great Britain. These embryos were "left overs" from the process of in vitro fertilization. He writes,

Far too many evangelicals seem to turn a blind eye to this reality. While we celebrate the birth of a child and the gift of life, we cannot blind ourselves to the harsh and grotesque reality that this technology also means the destruction of human life.

I mention this because I want you to keep it tucked in your minds until we get to the sixth commandment in our series through Deuteronomy. Technologies are changing rapidly, but our moral bearings do not change. Technology must always be controlled by our love for God and for others as spelled out in God's Word.

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Conclusion)

So there it is – a sketch of a pathway to building a culture of faithfulness. Much more is needed. But then again, there is no way that a faithful culture could ever be reduced to purely analytical description on a piece of paper. It is a living, breathing bent of the heart that defies all attempts at exhaustive exploration, for it touches on the deepest aspects of our existence. How could it be otherwise, for it is really touching on our relationship with the infinite, almighty God.

Yet despite the mysteries involved, we press on, motivated by the burning desire to know God and to live for him wholly. In fact, we want to know him in ways that only a living culture can provide. For a culture is the distilled teaching-in-life of generations which imbues its pupils with perspectives, judgments, and tastes far richer and more complex than those that can be taught in a classroom or researched in a library, even over the course of a lifetime. Thus, “it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9-11). As God answers this prayer, we will build a culture of faithfulness.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Christianity and Political Liberalism

With the presidential races heating up, I want to put up a couple posts to remind us of one crucial point - as Christians, we will never line up with either the liberals or the conservatives. This is not to say that we cannot work with and within the society of which we are a part. But we make a major error in judgment when we suppose that we are just like everyone else. We aren't. We serve Jesus Christ as Lord. We have our citizenship in heaven. This will invariably affect the way we participate in politics, and if it doesn't, we are not being faithful.

I would like to quote some timely advice from J. Budziszewski's book The Revenge of Conscience. He wisely points out the problems with both liberalism and conservatism. In this post, I will share what he says about the moral problems with political liberalism.

1. Propitiationism. "According to this notion I should do to others as they want; according to Christianity I should do unto others as they need."
2. Expropriationism. This is the "Robin Hood fallacy." "According to this notion I may take from others to help the needy, giving nothing of my own; according to Christianity I should give of my own to help the needy, taking from no one.... Expropriation [i.e. theft] is wrong not because its causes are wrong, but because it is a violation of the Eighth Commandment."
3. Solipsism. "According to this notion human beings make themselves, belong to themselves, and have value in and of themselves; according to Christianity they are made by God, belong to Him, and have value because they are loved by Him and made in His image."
4. Absolutionism. "According to this notion we cannot be blamed when we violate the moral law, either because we cannot help it, because we have no choice, or even because it is our choice; according to Christianity, however, we must be blamed, because we are morally responsible beings."
5. Perfectionism. "According to this notion, human effort is adequate to cure human evil; according to Christianity our sin, like our guilt, can be erased only the grace of God through faith in Christ. Perfectionists also think the cure can be completed in human time. Some even believe it can be arranged for whole societies at once. By contrast, the faith teaches that God must start over with each person, and that although guilt is erased immediately, the cure of sin is not complete until we are at peace with Him in heaven."
6. Universalism. "According to this notion the human race forms a harmony whose divisions are ultimately either unreal or unimportant; according to Christianity human harmony has been shattered by sin and cannot be fully healed by any means short of conversion."
7. Neutralism. "According to this notion the virtue of tolerance requires suspending judgments about good and evil; according to Christianity it requires making judgments about good and evil.
8. Collectivism. "According to this notion the state is more important to the child than the family; according to Christianity the family is more important to the child than the state."
9. Desperate Gestures. "People do wrong, and I have to do something. People are unhappy, and I have to do something. People are foolish, and I have to do something. I will absolve them. I will give them things. I will take their children. At last we come to the ... most mysterious moral error of political liberalism: the fallacy of desperate gestures.... The desperationist acts to relieve his own [pain]: the pain of pity, the pain of impotence, the pain of indignation. He is like a man who beats on a foggy television screen with a pipe wrench, not because the wrench will fix the picture but because it is handy and feels good to use."

Budziszewski closes the chapter with this: "All we can do is keep up the critique which is in the gospel, and in the meantime go on being Christians: our eyes lifted up not to the spectacular idol of political salvation, but to the Cross. Let those who will, call this doing nothing; we know better."

Pay attention to what you hear coming from the candidates on the campaign trail. If you have some good examples of these errors, I'd appreciate your comments here.

Next time: The Problems with Conservatism

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 20 - The Gospel and Its Gracious Extent

20.1 AS the covenant of works was broken by man's sin and was unable to confer life, God in His mercy promised to send Christ, who would be woman-born; and by means of the promise the elect would be called, and faith and repentance wrought in their hearts. In this promise the very substance of the gospel was revealed as the effectual means for the conversion and salvation of sinners. Gen. 3:15; Rev. 7:9. [Pastor’s note: Recall that the idea of a “covenant of works” has very slight biblical support. It is better to think in terms of the biblical narrative itself. Nevertheless, the basic idea of this statement is correct.]

20.2 This promise of Christ and of salvation by Him is revealed to men by the Word of God alone. Neither the works of creation and providence, nor the light of nature, reveal Christ and His grace to men, not even in a general or obscure way; much less is it possible by their means for men who lack the revelation of Christ by the promise of the gospel to attain to saving faith or repentance. Prov. 29:18; Isa. 25:7; 60:2,3; Rom. 1:17; 10:14,15,17. [Pastor’s note: Excellent! Very Important!]

Perseverance and Personal Evangelism

Pulpit Magazine has had some good recent posts on the topics of the perseverance of the saints (here, here, and here) and personal evangelism. I would encourage you to read them.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Opening 2008 By Resting in Christ

Many people start off the new year with resolutions. But have you ever considered starting off the new year by resting? We live in times of deep restlessness, as is demonstrated by everything from presidential races to marketing campaigns to pop music. People want something to satisfy their souls. The fourth commandment, which we have been considering, is a command to enter into the Lord's rest. I hope you will join us Sunday as we seek and find that ultimate rest.

God of Our Fathers (#734)
How Firm a Foundation (#610)
Like a River Glorious (#352)
Trust and Obey (#525)
Jesus, I Am Resting (#447)
Jerusalem the Golden (#642)

The Lord's Supper

The Command to Enter into the Lord's Rest
Hebrews 3:7-4:13

Let me also share with you something from my reading this past week. These selections are from Augustine's closing of his famous Confessions, a work which is truly an act of faith in seeking to find rest in God.

Lord God, grant us peace; for you have given us all things (Isa 26:12), the peace of quietness, the peace of the sabbath, a peace with no evening (2 Thess 3:16). This entire most beautiful order of very good things will complete its course and then pass away; for in them by creation there is both morning and evening.

The seventh day has no evening and no ending. You sanctified it to abide everlastingly. After your 'very good' works, which you made while remaining yourself in repose, you 'rested on the seventh day'.... This utterance in your book foretells for us that after our works which, because they are your gift to us, are very good, we also may rest in you for the sabbath of eternal life.

There also you will rest in us, just as now you work in us. Your rest will be through us, just as now your works are done through us. But you, Lord are always working and always at rest....

Of your gift we have some good works, though not everlasting After them we hope to rest in your great sanctification. But you, the Good, in need of no other good, are ever at rest since you yourself are your own rest.

What man can enable the human mind to understand this? Which angel can interpret it to an angel? What angel can help a human being to grasp it? Only you can be asked, only you can be begged, only on your door can we knock (Matt 7:7-8). Yes indeed, that is how it is received, how it is found, how the door is opened.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"The Roman Catholic Church is No Church"

Robert Reymond has published a good article on the Roman Catholic claim to be the only true church.

Grieving the Loss of a Baby

Over at Reformation21 blog, Rick Phillips meditates on the pain and the blessings of his wife's miscarriage. "Losing Our Baby" is to me a good example of how Christians live by faith in this present vale of tears.

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 17)

[Note: I was unable to complete this series last year, so I will wrap it up with two more posts.]

“Cultural” Virtues

In those areas of life that are most often associated with civilization, Christians can operate by showing love to God and to others, as well.

In architecture, classical architect Quinlan Terry has argued that traditional construction is authoritatively superior to modern architecture in eight ways. (1) Materials – Traditional materials (brick, lime mortar, stone, stucco, slate, and wood) can last for hundreds of years and can be repaired and reused indefinitely. Besides durability, they are also superior to modern materials in their thermal expansion properties, so that buildings which use these materials are easier to heat and cool. Thus, although their initial cost is higher, traditional materials are much more cost effective over the life of the building. Furthermore, they are more pleasing to the eye and they fit better with their surroundings. (2) Construction. (3) Windows. (4) Span of rooms. (5) Roofs. (6) Symmetry – Everything that is beautiful is symmetrical. This provides the necessary discipline for the designer’s imagination. (7) Beauty in forms – The five Classical Orders - Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Composite, and Corinthian – embody enduring natural revelation. (8) Beauty in mouldings – Mouldings capture the interplay of light and shade which is pleasing to the eye.[i] Terry believes that the classical orders are more than merely natural revelation. He argues that they can be seen in incipient form in the revelation God gave to Moses for constructing the tabernacle.

I believe Terry is on to something important here. Given the debacle of twentieth century architecture, I believe Christians would be wise to refresh themselves at the springs of classical thinking for inspiration for future building projects.

In art and music, Christians of all people should promote the good, true, and beautiful. This requires the discipline of developing a discerning eye and ear for the world as God has made it and intends it to be, interpreting it properly according to a biblical understanding (see Section 1). It will also require us to submit to canons of goodness, truth, and beauty which are superior to ourselves. Thus we must discuss both the effects of art and music and also whether or not any given work is a proper object of aesthetic interest. That is to say, does it elicit proper sympathies in us that engender righteous patterns of judgment, which in turn help us to know God more? Also, we must ask if the form of the artwork or music is capable of sustaining and maturing the message it intends to communicate.

Music is an indispensable part of the Christian life (Psalms; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Jas 5:13), and thus we should be keenly interested in developing our musical abilities and our musical understanding. Over fifty years ago Frank Gaebelein asked, “Can it be that we evangelicals are not only aesthetically immature but that we also insist upon remaining so?”[ii] Sadly, the intervening fifty years have answered that question in the affirmative, as we seem to do little in our music other than follow the latest trends in pop music.

When it comes to literature, literary skills are paramount to Christians, simply because we have a Word-centered faith. We should strive to see to it that all believers can read skillfully.[iii] Moreover, verbal skills are critical to communicating our worship to God and our faith to others. Engaging classic literature from a biblical perspective is one of the best ways to deepen our understanding, broaden our perspective, train our affections, and sharpen our thinking.

Education is a perennial issue. We have already noted that the family setting is the fundamental context for learning how to learn and to have wisdom. But what about “advanced” education? I put “advanced” in quotation marks, for even that way of stating the topic is slanted toward our modern presuppositions that the university or academic model is the best way to become educated. The reality is that our universities have fled from their historic role of training people in the meaning and purpose of life toward training them as technicians. I suggest that in many cases technical education could much more profitably and cheaply be carried out by the companies who need their employees to have such skills. Engineering firms could apprentice aspiring engineers to give them the practical skills necessary to their trade. Law firms, manufacturing firms, retail firms, and so on could do the same. Independent research labs could provide the services companies need without relying on government money to do it. This would allow the trainees to benefit from productive labor while also benefiting their companies through their work.

I am not saying that there is no place for a university type of education. It can be done in a proper way and for the glory of God. Nevertheless, this one model of education has become virtually the only model Americans seem to recognize, and thus it has taken on roles that are ill suited to its nature. I would particularly recommend that the training of ministers be taken out of a university context and put back into a church context.[iv] I do believe we need to encourage Christian scholarship, and it is this kind of endeavor which the university setting can foster and encourage.

Our mode of dress may be one of the most visible aspects of our cultural virtue, and judging by the looks of things, Americans do not have much cultural virtue in this area. In other words, our tastes in dress are not directed by love for God and love for others. As Christians, our love for God and for others should lead us to dress in ways which reflect eternal standards of beauty and good taste. Such taste must include the virtue of modesty, that is, an unwillingness to flaunt ourselves through gaudy or indecent attire. The Christian’s goal is to point people to Christ, not to a personal “attitude” or to bare flesh. I believe this rules out basically all contemporary swimwear and even much sports attire, not to mention what sometimes passes for classy evening wear. Furthermore, cleanliness and neatness are important aspects of our concern for others in our dress. Christians must always maintain sexual distinctions and boundaries in our dress. That is, men should dress distinctively like men, and women should dress like women. This includes such things as short hair on men and long hair on women.[v] We should avoid faddishness and the inauthentic “brand identity.” Our personal dress should reflect a transcendent ideal beyond the cult of the personal statement or personal comfort. This will show itself, for one thing, in having the discernment to wear what is appropriate to the weight of any given occasion. T-shirts and jeans are entirely appropriate to chopping wood on the back forty; they communicate something very different, however, when worn to a state dinner or to Sunday corporate worship. This discernment will also show itself in a recognition that clothing has functions beyond the personal. It is inevitably a public item, so that what we wear has public effects which are either beneficial or detrimental to those around us.

Menswear designer Alan Flusser, who is not a Christian, writes of “permanent fashion,” which is something few understand today. Indeed, as Flusser says, “when fashion is taken to mean a commitment to risk and change, mating it with the idea of permanence is bound to cause confusion, if not downright controversy.”[vi] Nevertheless, Flusser maintains that there are permanent principles of good taste in clothing, built on the basic realities of color and proportion. The wisdom of Flusser’s approach is that he recognizes basic created realities within which all human taste must function. Anything outside of these boundaries shows a perverse attempt remake the world in our image. It is an attempt to say, “I am my own man” (usually done in concert with a whole herd of people saying “I am my own man”), rather than, “I am a man humbly enjoying God’s gracious creation and seeking to elevate those with whom I interact because of my appearance.”

We cannot leave this area without at least touching on entertainment. Since we do live in such a wealthy society with so much discretionary time and money, every one of us will be faced with decisions about proper entertainment. The particular issues are so varied that we cannot hope to encompass them all here with any list of principles. I would urge the reader, however, to passionately pursue the application of biblical standards of righteousness in our leisure activities. This would include making the amount of time, effort, and money we spend on them proportionate to their eternal value. We would do well to promote enjoyment of the permanent things in all of life versus the fleeting indulgence of excitement. Pop culture is antithetical to these values, so we must partake of it with great discernment. Even those things which are seemingly innocent (no drugs, violence, and sex) are still often saturated with the ethos of immaturity, irreverence, and impermanence. For example, Russell Moore recently stated, "I would almost rather my children see an episode of Desperate Housewives than an episode of Veggie Tales because it would be easier to deconstruct the one than the other." This is keen discernment that all Christians should practice.

I realize that this whole area I have called cultural virtues is highly complex and highly debated. This, however, does not mean that Christians should be afraid to wade into it. These areas say more, perhaps, about the true sensibilities of our souls than our doctrinal statements do. If we are to build a culture of faithfulness, it will inevitably require us to make decisions here. We must strive to make those thousands and millions of decisions which will shape our souls in ways that make them most like the Savior.

Philosophical Virtues

For our purposes, I need not say much here. I do, however, want to include this just to remind us that loving the Lord our God with all of our minds will require us to think like Christians. In all branches of philosophical inquiry, whether metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics and aesthetics, we should build rigorous systems of thought that are in keeping with God’s special revelation in the Bible. We do believe in genuine truth which can be known and followed. Faithful thinking is thinking that is full of faith in God’s inspired Word.

[i] “The Authority for Architecture and How It Should Develop in the Future” in Quinlan Terry (London: Academy Editions, 1993), 134-5.

[ii] The Pattern of God’s Truth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), 78, cited in Paul Jones, Singing and Making Music (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2006), 294.

[iii] Everyone should read Mortimer Adler and Charles VanDoren’s classic, How to Read a Book. You may well find out that you don’t know how to read as well as you thought you did!

[iv] For one thoughtful proposal along these lines, see John M. Frame, “Proposal for a New Seminary” available at

[v] Contrary to what some commentators assert (e.g. Fee, Garland), 1 Corinthians 11 clearly teaches by analogy that it is part of the natural order of things for men to keep their hair short while women keep their hair long. Fu,sij (physis) is used 14x in the NT, 11x by Paul, and it typically means the way things really are by reason of their intrinsic characteristics. This natural law provided universal moral standards, according to the Stoics and Hellenistic Jews. Paul uses the term in exactly the same way, except without some of the philosophical baggage that would have attached to the non-Christian conceptions. There is no basis either in the NT or outside of it for making physis culturally relative. In 1 Cor 11:14, Paul assumes it to be a universal natural characteristic that men are to keep their hair short and women are to keep their hair long. It is true that this was the Roman custom of Paul’s day, but that is definitely not the basis for Paul’s argument. It takes some fancy relativistic footwork to turn Paul’s assumption into its exact opposite, but this seems widespread among modern interpreters. The reason mankind does not always read the natural revelation rightly is the noetic effects of sin.

[vi] Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 14.

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 19 - The Law of God

19.6 So far as the law is a covenant of works under which justification or condemnation is awarded, it has no application to true believers. Yet in certain other ways it is of great use to them as well as to others, for as a rule of life it informs them of the will of God and instructs them in their duty. This done, it directs and binds them to obey it. It also reveals to them the sinful defilement of their natures, their hearts and their lives, so that as they examine themselves by the light of the law, they may be convicted more deeply of sin, and caused to humble themselves on account of it and to hate it the more. At the same time the law also gives them a clearer sight of their need of Christ, and the perfection of Christ's own obedience to the law. Similarly, as the law forbids sin, it causes the regenerate to fight against the evil inclinations to sin that they find in themselves. Furthermore, the threatenings of the law are of value in showing the regenerate what their sins deserve, and what afflictions their own disobedience may cause them in this life, even while they stand delivered from the curse and the unrestricted rigor of the law. In similar manner the promises attached to the law intimate God's approbation of obedience and set forth the blessings which flow from the fulfillment of the law, but with the proviso that those blessings do not accrue to men from the law viewed as a covenant of works. The fact that a man does good and refrains from evil because the law encourages the former and deters from the latter, is no evidence that the man is under the law and not under grace.

Rom. 3:20; 6:12-14; 7:7; 8:1; 10:4; Gal. 2:16; 1 Pet. 3:8-13.

The updated version of the 2LBC cited above changes the wording of the first sentence in a way that produces confusion about what the Confession was saying, in my opinion. It leaves the impression that the law God gave through Moses is a covenant of works under which justification or condemnation is awarded. But this is most definitely not the case. Throughout Scripture, God's commands come on the basis of his saving activity. His people do not keep his commands in order to be justified; they keep his commands because they are justified. Paul said that Israel did not attain righteousness because they sought it based on works and not by faith (Rom 9:30ff). Even under the Mosaic law, Israel was not to seek to be justified by keeping the law. They were to keep the law because they were justified by faith.

The original wording of the 2LBC reads, "Although true Believers be not under the Law, as a Covenant of Works, to be thereby Justified or condemned; yet it is of great use to them as well as to others...." We can see from this that the Confession is not implying that the law of Moses was a means of justification. In this the Confession is correct. I would also affirm with the Confession that the law of Moses is of great use to believers today, as I hope is evident in our current series of messages on the Ten Commandments.

I would argue, however, that the Confession is incorrect in its understanding of what the apostle Paul means when he asserts that believers are "not under the law" (Rom 6:14; 1 Cor 9:20). Paul is not saying that we are not under the law of Moses as a means of justification, but we are under the law as a means of sanctification. He is saying that believers of this time in the outworking of God's kingdom plan, since the coming of Christ, are not subject to the law's jurisdiction. The law of Moses, as a legal code, pertained to that time and that covenant. We are under a new covenant, and we live under the law of Christ.

Now, the law of Moses is still very useful for us, for it still stands as a concrete example of how the eternal moral law of God was applied in that time and place. But we must apply it today in light of the person and work of Christ (Matt 5:17). The law pointed to Christ, and Christ fulfilled the law.