Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 26 - The Church

26.13 Any church members who have taken offense at the behavior towards them of other church members, and who have obeyed the instructions laid down in Scripture for dealing with such cases, must refrain from disturbing the peace of the church, nor should they absent themselves from church assemblies or the administration of church ordinances on account of their being offended by certain of their fellow-members; but they must wait upon Christ in the further proceedings of the church. Matt. 18:15-17; Eph. 4:2,3.

26.14 All members of each local church are engaged to pray continually for the good and the prosperity of all churches of Christ, wherever located, and upon all occasions to assist all other believers, within the limits of their own areas and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces. It follows, therefore, that churches should seek fellowship one with another, so far as the providence of God provides opportunity for the enjoyment of such benefits. Ps. 122:6; Rom. 16:1,2; Eph. 6:18; 3 John 8-10.

26.15 When difficulties or differences occur in respect of doctrine or church government, and peace, unity and edification are at risk, one church only may be involved, or the churches in general may be concerned. Again, a member or members of a church may be injured by disciplinary proceedings not agreeable to truth and church order. In such cases as these it is according to the mind of Christ that many churches in fellowship together should meet and confer together through their chosen representatives, who are able to give their advice on the matters in dispute to all the churches concerned. It must be understood, however, that the representatives assembled are not entrusted with any church power properly so called, nor have they any jurisdiction over the churches themselves to exercise discipline upon any churches or persons, or to impose their conclusions on the churches or their officers. Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23,25; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 John 4:1.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Truth and Truth-Telling

The 9th commandment tells us not to bear false witness. The ramifications of this command are HUGE in our society today. Relativism has infected our thinking to the point that we aren't even sure if there is such a thing as true and false witness. Yet the 9th commandment assumes that there is absolute truth and that we can and must speak it. Join us as we learn to love the truth!

To God Be the Glory (#16)
Thou, the God Who Changes Never (#18)
Psalm 15b
Arise, My Soul, Arise (#174)
Praise the Savior (#17)
Take My Life and Let It Be (#560)

Scripture Reading
The Man Who Dwells with God - Psalm 15

The Command to Love the Truth and Your Neighbor's Good Name - Deuteronomy 5:20

P.S. If you are unfamiliar with the tune for Psalm 15b, you can find a MIDI file for it (along with all the hymns in our hymnbook) here. The songs are listed in the same order as in our hymnbook, so just scroll down until you find the one you want.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Second Commandment (Part 2)

A. W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[1] I truly believe that if we would grasp the truths being communicated in even the first two commandments that we have considered so far, it would totally transform us. If you hunger and thirst to know God, then these commands will be a feast for your souls.

We are picking up where we left off last week as we feed on the truth of the 2nd commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God….” Last week we discussed what is prohibited or forbidden by this command. It forbids all physical representations of God. It forbids all physical representations of anything for the purpose of worship. It also forbids elevating any created thing to the level of worship in our minds, which, as we said, takes us right back to the 1st commandment. This week we want to meditate further on the 2nd command by considering two additional truths: what is not prohibited and what is positively commanded.

What is not prohibited?

Briefly, this command does not prohibit paintings, sculptures, and other forms art when they are not of God and not used for worshiping God. For example, there are Amish folks who forbid taking photographs of themselves. But they have missed the point of the command. We know this for two reasons. First, the command itself specifies that it is talking about “bowing down” or “serving” these images. This is worship language. Furthermore, we find that God commanded Moses to construct a tabernacle with sculptures and engravings in it. So I believe it is clear that the 2nd commandment does not prohibit representative art per se. It only prohibits using any physical representation for worship.

What is commanded?

You have surely noticed that 8 of the 10 commandments are stated in the negative – “you shall not….” (By the way, this is a good lesson. We should not be afraid of saying “No.” Sometimes I feel as though we emphasize being positive so much that we try to become more pious than God himself. “Don’t be negative; be positive,” we say. But God isn’t afraid to say, “You shall not.” Neither should we be.) But even though they are stated in the negative, they always imply a certain positive. When the 1st commandment states that we are not to worship any other gods, positively it means that we are to worship the one true and living Lord. And so it is with the 2nd command.

And so what does this command mean positively? It means, as we have stated in the title of the message, to worship the Lord spiritually. Paul told that to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:29). The greatest NT exposition of this command came from our Lord Jesus himself when he was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). What does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth? While we may never unpack this statement entirely (cf. John 3:8), I believe there is still much we can learn.

Worship must correspond to the nature and character of God.

God is spirit and thus is incorporeal, simple, living, and personal. Here is how some theologians have attempted to unpack the amazing idea that God is spirit. “’God is spirit’ means that God is one indivisible, personal, living, and active being”.[2] “The first point is that God is personal, that is, self-conscious and self-determining, living and active”.[3] “The spirituality of God involves the two attributes of Life and Personality”.[4]

You see, spirit, in the Bible, is not merely non-physical. That idea comes more from Greek philosophy than from the Bible. That dualism was part of the problem that led to Gnosticism. In the Bible, spirit is always living, active, and personal. Spirit can perceive (Mk. 2:8), purpose (Acts 19:2), rejoice (Lk 1:47), and worship (John 4:24). Spirit is the seat of rationality (Mal 2:15), determination (Jer 51:1), attitude (Num 14:24), understanding (Job 20:3), emotions (Ps 77:3). This all goes back to Gen 2:7, where God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath (‘spirit’) of life. The breath of life includes spiritual understanding (Job 32:8) and conscience (Pr 20:27). Furthermore, in the OT, references to God’s Spirit usually contemplate divine activity, from creation onward.

So when Jesus said, “God is spirit,” he is giving us a crucial perspective on God’s nature. That perspective includes at least these four aspects. (1) God has no body or physical extension in space of any kind. (2) God cannot be divided into parts. (3) God is alive and active; he is the great I AM who from his own infinite self-existence intelligently plans and then does everything he wishes to do. (4) Most of all, God is personal. We can relate to God and respond to his revelation of himself because we are personal. And Jesus said that because God is spirit, we absolutely must worship him “in spirit and truth.”

This of course forbids any material, localized representation of God, as we have seen in the 2nd commandment. But that is only the beginning. More than that, it requires us to worship the Lord spiritually. The only kind of worship that God wants, which he seeks worshipers to give him, is spiritual worship. That means that everything we have just noted about ‘spirit’ comes into play when we worship God. We will examine the applications of this more closely later. But before we do that, there is more we can see in our text about worship.

Worship must correspond to the nature and character of God as he has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Because God is spirit, he cannot be known unless he truly reveals himself. But in the context of the book of John, that is exactly what God was doing in Jesus (see John 1:1, 14, 18; 4:25-26). Jesus is the Word who is the truth (John 14:6). He gives the Spirit. He accomplished redemption and reconciled men to God; therefore, we can worship God. I have said this before, but I will say it again – unless you are worshiping God in and through Jesus Christ, you are not worshiping in spirit and truth. You can be doing all the right actions – reading your Bible and praying every day, going to church every Sunday, giving money to the church, etc. – but if you are not rightly related to God through Christ, you are not worshiping God in the way he commands. If you are not trusting in and depending on Christ alone as the way, the truth, and the life, then you are not coming to the Father in your worship. You are worshiping some false god of your own making, thinking that your good deeds will be pleasing to God. This is why true Christian worship is always centered on the finished work of Christ – his death as a substitute for us, his resurrection in power, his exaltation to the right hand of God as the Lord of all, and his future coming again. True Christian worship, biblical worship, is gospel-centered, which is another way of saying that it is Christ-centered.

Are you worshiping God today on the basis of who Jesus is and what he has done? Without that, you are simply offering up to God your filthy rags. It is completely unacceptable worship. We must worship God according to his nature and character, particularly as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. This ties in closely with the next point.

Worship must come from our spirit as regenerated by the life-giving Spirit.

In the context of John 4, Jesus has been telling the Samaritan woman about the living water. This is the new life imparted by the Spirit of God, and this new life in our spirits is necessary if we are to worship God. That is the only way that our worship can correspond to the nature of God as the living, personal spirit. God is always active as the life-giving Spirit; therefore, the worship we give him must fit with his nature. It must come from living hearts that are actively engaged with him through his Spirit.

Notice here that there is no form of worship we can devise that can produce genuine worship. This is not at all to say that forms of worship are not important. The 2nd commandment is, in fact, dealing with how we worship God. Here at HCBC, we work hard to make our services most conducive to genuine worship. But it is to say that unless you surrender yourself to the work of the Spirit, which is simply to say you are living in true faith, abiding in Christ, there is no external form which can really make you worship. And if it seems to make you worship, then it is the devil’s substitute.

Right here we come into one of the perennial temptations of churches regarding worship. When churches notice that their worship services seem sluggish or not exciting, then they try to do something to stimulate excitement. They try to craft a slick presentation which will stimulate the interest level. They get professional musicians to work up the emotional level. They get a practiced worship leader who knows how to work a crowd. They bring in various forms of entertainment. But this is a major mistake. It is like saying, "My car is out of gas, so I will give it a new paint job." You can have the shiniest car around, but if you don’t have gas, you don’t have any power. A church can have the sharpest presentation around, yet be totally devoid of spiritual power. The most serious aspect of this mistake is that it may actually lead people to think that they are worshiping God, when in truth they are doing nothing of the sort. Worship must come from our spirit as regenerated by the life-giving Spirit!

So we can see here the Triune God at work seeking true worshipers. Without his work, there would be and could be no true worship. The 2nd commandment commands us to worship the Lord spiritually. This means, as Jesus taught us, that our worship must correspond with the character and nature of God. He is the living, active, personal God. We must engage with him in that way, which means that it is absolutely necessary that our worship is based on the person and work of Christ, and that it comes from our new hearts that the Spirit gives.

We still have much application to go. But let me close for now with this challenge. Consciously build your worship of the Triune God on the gospel. Meditate deeply on the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Don’t fall for short-cuts which seem to promise immediate emotional access to God through moving, emotionally stimulating images or schemes. Tozer was exactly right - what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. He went on to say, “The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us….With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence.” The 2nd commandment teaches us that we must not reduce our immortal, invisible God to something we can handle.

[1] The Knowledge of the Holy, 1.

[2] Lewis & Demarest, Integrative Theology, 197.

[3] Reymond, New Systematic Theology, 167.

[4] Strong, Systematic Theology, 251.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's a Boy!

Last Friday our second son and sixth child entered the world at 10:46 a.m. Miles Edward Parker weighed in at 10 lbs. 9 oz. and 21 1/2 inches long.

God has blessed us immensely. It is hard to describe how rich we feel. We are so thankful for another child. May he be a faithful man who will bring great honor to God!

I Would Gather Children

From Melanie Blank:

Some of your sermons recently have reminded me of this poem. Just thought I'd share it.

"Some would gather money along the path of life.
Some would gather roses and rest from worldly strife.
But I would gather children, from among the thorns of sin
I would seek a golden curl and a freckled grin.
For money cannot enter in that land of endless day
and the roses that are gathered soon wilt along the way.
But oh the laughing children as I cross the sunset sea
and the gates swing wide to heaven I can take along with me."

In Christ,

Thanks for sharing that, Melanie!

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 26 - The Church

26.10 Pastors are required to give constant attention to the service of Christ in His churches; they are to be engaged in the ministry of the Word and in prayer, and to seek the welfare of men's souls as those that must give account to the Lord. It is therefore imperative that the churches to which they minister should give them, according to the churches' ability, not only all due honor, but such abundance of this world's material good as will enable them to live in comfort, without the need to entangle themselves in secular employment, and which will also suffice to enable them to exercise hospitality towards others. Such an arrangement is required by the law of nature itself, and by the express command of our Lord Jesus, who has decreed that 'they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel'. Acts 6:4; 1 Cor. 9:6-14; Gal. 6:6,7; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17,18; 2 Tim. 2:4; Heb. 13:17.

26.11 Although it is the duty of the elders or pastors of the churches, according to their office, to be constantly active in preaching the Word, yet such a work is not to be regarded as confined wholly to them, for the Holy Spirit may qualify others for the same work by giving them the necessary gifts. In this case, when such men are approved and called to the work by the church, they may and ought to perform it. Acts 11:19-21; 1 Pet. 4:10,11.

26.12 All believers are under obligation to join themselves to local churches when and where they have opportunity to do so. It follows that all who are admitted to the privileges of church fellowship also become subject to the discipline and government of the church in accordance with the rule of Christ. 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6,14,15.

I highlighted the last point above because it is not well understood these days. Because the local church, or "particular Church gathered" as the Confession puts it, is the only biblically expressed manifestation of the Body of Christ, it follows that the only way to live out our union with Christ is to unite with a local church. The Confession is entirely correct that this is an obligation for all believers.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Second Commandment

The Command to Worship the Lord Spiritually

Deuteronomy 5:8-10

The covenant Lord, who is also the creator God and whom we now know as the Christ-like God, commands us to worship him exclusively. The next important thing to know, then, is that there is a right way and a wrong way to worship the Lord. It is not only the object of our worship that matters, the means of our worship also matters. It is not only who we worship; it is how we worship. The form that our worship takes matters to God. It matters because there is worship that matches with the nature and character of God, and there is worship which is inherently unworthy of him. It is an affront to him. It demeans him and degrades him. And, in fact, worship which does not match with the character of the true God turns out to be worshiping a false god. That is why this second command of the Ten Commandments is so crucial. It is the command to worship the Lord spiritually.

What is prohibited by this command?

Making any physical representation of God.

The Lord had already made this very plain to Israel (Deut 4:15-19). Carving an image sometimes entails animism. Animism believes that spiritual power is in the material itself. But perhaps the greatest reason humans have for carving a physical representation of deity is because we crave a god that we can see and, to one degree or another, control. You see, that is exactly what making an image of God does. It reduces him to something that we can conceive of, control, and even manipulate. For us to make any kind of representation of God is to exactly reverse the Creator-creature distinction. He is the infinite, incomprehensible God. How can we as mere humans possibly conceive of any adequate way to represent him physically? He is present everywhere. How can we confine him to one place? He is the all powerful God. How can we represent him with a totally impotent carving or painting? He is the God who hears prayer. How can we represent him with a stone that hears nothing? He is the God who is living and active. How can we represent him with some inert object? No created thing can properly represent the great I AM, the Lord.

We sometimes think of this as something that only occurs in uncivilized places with ignorant people, but such is not the case. There are other ways of violating the 2nd commandment.

Making any physical representation of anything for the purpose of worship.

Since God is who he is, not only may we not try to represent him physically, we may not make any kind of physical representation to help us worship him. Paintings, statues, sculptures, and such things should never be used to get us to worship the infinite, eternal God. The greatest violation of this in Western history is the Roman Catholic Church, with its crucifixes, statues, and icons. Here is how they justify this:

The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the Son of God has ushered in a new ‘economy’ of images: “Previously God, who has neither a body nor a face, absolutely could not be represented by an image. But now that he has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men, I can make an image of what I have seen of God…and contemplate the glory of the Lord, his face unveiled” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1159).

Is this biblical thinking? Notice what the apostle Paul preached after the coming of Christ. Acts 17:29 says, “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” You see, Jesus Christ was an exclusive representation of God. He was not a human creation. He was God in the flesh. He was God revealing himself. Any other representation of God was idolatrous then, and is still so today.

Yet we still need to be on our guard as Protestants against this kind of thing. It is for this reason that I discourage paintings and statues of Jesus hanging in our homes or especially our churches. I do not believe that it is inherently wrong to make a painting of Jesus in the same way that it is inherently wrong to make a painting of God (ex: Last Supper, The Creation of Adam on Sistine Chapel Ceiling). But I do believe that it is very unwise. Why? Jesus is supposed to be worshiped, and it is very natural for us to begin to use representations of Christ in worshipful ways. That would be a violation of the 2nd commandment.

There is one more way that I believe we can violate this command.

Elevating any created thing to the place of worship in our minds.

This really takes us back to the first commandment and what we talked about there.

The absolute foolishness of idolatry

In Isaiah 40:18ff, the prophet blasts the very thought of comparing the almighty Lord God with anything that can be crafted from gold or wood. You see, the whole system of idolatry works by self-deception. Isaiah says, “Everyone helps his neighbor and says to his brother, ‘Be strong!’ The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved” (41:6-7). Many people have commented on the spate of militant atheist books that have come out in recent years – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens. What are these men doing? They are “strengthening it with nails so that it cannot be moved.” Their god cannot do anything so they have to run around trying to prop it up all the time. They are working on an intellectual level, but on a more everyday level, take as an example our culture of immediate consumption. We have built ourselves a whole system of everyone saying “Be strong” and “It is good” - the lender, borrower, producer, consumer, advertiser. And when a bunch of people start defaulting on their housing loans and going bankrupt over credit card debt, what do we get? The calls start coming thick and fast for the government to pound some nails. Do something! Our idol is falling over! You want to know what a person’s or a society’s idols are? Look for where they start pounding nails when things start going wrong. They are propping their idol up.

But Isaiah isn’t done yet. In chapter 44:18-20 he says, “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” Idolatry takes away all the sense of those who practice it. “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” Sin makes you stupid. We have husbands and wives who can’t figure out why their marriage won’t work, and parents who have no idea in the world how to train up children, etc., etc. I’m not trying to bash everybody here this morning, but I am trying to get you to see that idolatry is totally foolish. It makes you senseless.

God’s zeal for his glory

But there is an even greater reason why idolatry is foolish. It is foolish because it makes you stupid, but God gives an even more compelling reason right in our text this morning. The Lord is a jealous God! This does not mean that he is petty, as we sometimes use the word “jealous” these days. It means that God has a deep-seated, burning, even fiery zeal to maintain the exclusiveness of his covenant relationship. He will not allow any rivals in our worship or in our affections, which means, first of all, that he will punish sin. Those who hate him are those who will not obey his covenant. And they have nothing but judgment to look forward to. God will not trifle with idolatry.

But on the other hand, we who are his people should rejoice at God’s jealousy. That really is what gives us confidence in him. He will not quit, he will not fail, he will not stop until his covenant promises are fulfilled. He will not let us go! He will be faithful both now and forever!

So how are you doing today? Next week we will dig deeper by considering what this commandment positively commands. But don’t ever think that we are free from the temptations to idolatry or to making God into something that we can see, feel, touch – and ultimately, control.

Thinking in Centuries

The pope is in America, and this has generated all kinds of media coverage and commentary. As a conservative Catholic thinker, this pope is committed to many beliefs which I hold to be biblically and historically wrong. These differences between us are of the most profound nature and have eternal consequences. Nevertheless, George Weigel gave one description of Pope Benedict which I believe we can learn from. Weigel writes, "Benedict XVI thinks in centuries."

How I wish contemporary Protestants would think the same way. Our contemporary idea of being relevant and authentic is doing what feels immediately beneficial to the individual, stripped of all social, historical, and theological context. We feel like we are making a long-range plan if we think about our individual lives and ministries 10 years down the road. Therefore, our ministry tends to reinforce the very "social imagination" (to borrow from Charles Taylor) and social practice which is corrosive to Christian belief and practice. American conservative Protestants have done a great deal to undermine the faith because we do not think in centuries.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 26 - The Church

26.7 To each of these churches thus gathered according to the divine will made known in His Word, the Lord has given all the power and authority requisite for the carrying on of the form of worship and discipline which He has appointed for their observance. This extends to the provision of such commands and rules as are needful for the rightful and proper use of the power conferred on the churches. Matt. 18:17,18; 1 Cor. 5:4,5; 5:13; 2 Cor. 2:6-8.

26.8 A local church, gathered and fully organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members. By Christ's appointment the officers to be chosen and set apart by the church as called and gathered, are bishops (otherwise called elders) and deacons. It is their special responsibility to arrange for the carrying out of what the Lord has ordained, and to use the powers entrusted to them for the execution of their duties; and such arrangements are to continue in the church until the world ends. Acts 20:17,28; Phil. 1:1.

26.9 By Christ's appointment, any person who has been qualified and given the necessary gifts by the Holy Spirit for the work of bishop or elder in a church, must be chosen and called to that office by the common suffrage of the church itself. He must be solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with the laying on of the hands of the existing eldership, if there be such. Similarly, deacons are to be chosen by the common suffrage of the church, and set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands. Acts 6:3,5,6; 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Owner of Everything

"All the earth is mine" says the Lord. That puts a whole new perspective on what we call private property. But that is truly the foundation for all human property ownership. We will worship our Savior as Lord of all the earth this Sunday.

I Sing the Mighty Power of God (#19)
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (#23)
Salvation! O My Soul Rejoice (#291)
Hark! The Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)
Amazing Grace (#247)
Depth of Mercy (#282)

Scripture Reading
Treasure in Heaven - Matthew 6:19-34

The Command to Love Your Neighbor's Property - Deuteronomy 5:19

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taking Theology Seriously

Yesterday, the AFA hosted a forum called "USA's War on Terror: Not a Cosmic Battle Between Christianity and Islam." The panelists included former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, Mikey Weinstein, leader of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and Reza Aslan. You can read a report on the event from KXRM here and from the Gazette here, although you could also get an eyewitness account from our secretly embedded observer. Of course, for security reasons I have to withhold his name, but his initials are CT.

Much could be said about this kind of presentation, but on the blog I simply want to address a fundamental confusion that lies at the heart of the perspective promoted by the panelists. Allow me to do so by quoting from George Weigel's recent book Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism.

The great human questions, including the great questions of public life, are ultimately theological.

How men and women think about God - or don't think about God - has a great deal to do with how they envision the just society, and how they determine the appropriate means by which to build that society. This means taking theology seriously - which includes taking seriously others' concepts of God's nature and purposes, and their commitments to the beliefs arising from those concepts - as well as the theologies that have shaped the civilization of the West. If we have not learned this over the past five years, one wonders if we have learned anything.

Yet that very question - what have we learned? - arises every time a commentator or politician or statesman uses "theology" as a synonym for "superstition," or "theological" as a contempt-riddled substitute for "mindless." Such glib (and truly mindless) usages must stop; they are an impediment to clear thinking about our situation. And our situation is too urgent for muddleheadedness arising from prejudice.

Weigel is right. There is no such thing as religious neutrality. This is just as true of secularists as it is of Christians or Muslims. Whatever one holds to be ultimate reality will shape one's views of morality, good and bad, right and wrong. The panelists themselves expressed strong views about things they believe are wrong. But of course, if they are going to claim something is wrong, then this is a moral evaluation. In order to make a moral evaluation, they have to have some standard by which they evaluate what is right and wrong. This standard is always grounded in whatever it is that they hold to be ultimate reality. And whatever they hold to be ultimate reality is their religious position. Thus, they have a "theology" just as much as anybody else does.

So when we listen to people such as Mikey Weinstein, we have to take his theology seriously. When we do, we will realize that it is a virulently anti-Christian theology. And thus we will not be surprised by the attitude and tone displayed at the forum. Weinstein is suing the Department of Defense because of his theology. This is his crusade. He is simply being true to his religion. So are the jihadists. One's theology matters very much.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Command to Worship the Lord Exclusively

The Command to Worship the Lord Exclusively

Deuteronomy 5:7

Who is this God?

The Covenant Lord

“I am the Lord.” When God says, “I am the Lord,” he establishes himself as eternally self-existent, the One who is pure, infinite being himself. I am sure as Moses preached this to the Israelites his mind must have gone back to his encounter with the Lord at the burning bush (Ex 3:13-15; 6:-7). All of his attributes are eternal and infinite. This is the God who does not depend upon anyone or anything for sustenance. He knows everything that was, is, or ever will be. He has infinite, self-generated power to do anything and everything he wishes to do. This is the God who upholds all things by the word of his power. This is the God who has no plan B because his plan A is always right and good. This is the God who does not change, and in whom there is no shadow of turning. He is truly Lord of all.

But beyond that, the wonderful truth here is that this God is who he is for his people. He takes all that he is and puts it into this relationship with his people. Notice what he said to Moses, “I will be with you.” And this relationship is a covenant relationship in which he will be their God and they will be his people. He is not a distant, far-off deity who has no connection to what is going on in the world here and now. And because he is the eternal, unchanging One, his covenant promises are good, true, and unbreakable.

When Israel heard, “I am the Lord your God” before “you shall have no other gods before me,” they knew that this was the God they could trust. And the same is true for us today. We have stressed complete, unquestioning obedience to the Lord in our messages from D. But I would like to add that this unquestioning obedience springs from a heart that is entirely confident in God. We trust him. He is the great I AM who can never fail. All the commands of God are opportunities to put faith into practice.

The Creator God

The God we are to worship is our covenant Lord. But standing behind that is the reality that he is the creator God. This makes all men accountable to him. He is the one in whom we live and move and have our being. Men wander around today saying, We don’t know who or what we should worship. One man’s opinion is as good as another’s. But God says, I am the true God and there is no other. There is no one like me. And he has made himself plain to all through his creation. There is no excuse for atheism. Unbelief is a capital crime and a heinous sin. It should provoke us dreadfully. When was the last time you were angered by the idolatry all around us? (As an aside, until we understand true hatred for sin, we will not perceive fully the love God manifested in saving sinful men.)

Now there is one more point we must make about who this God is before we move on to consider what he commands us to do. This point stems from the fact that that great event we call the Incarnation has happened. God became flesh. And so as we look back on this command from our NT perspective, we must recognize that this God is

The Christ-like God

When Jesus was here on this earth, he made this astounding statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (J 8:58). Everything we spoke of a moment ago about the great I AM is true of Jesus Christ. That is why we call him our Lord Jesus Christ. He told the crowds gathered to hear him (J 5:21-23). Ever since the coming of Jesus, if you do not worship him, you are not worshiping the true God. You are worshiping some false god. We need to make it very clear to our pluralistic society that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through him. Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses all worship a false God. President Bush said, "I believe in an Almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe." I’m sure he meant this sincerely, but he was sincerely wrong. Now we will certainly be called intolerant, bigoted, etc., for believing and proclaiming this truth, but in reality we are just being submissive to the one true God. If we take away this truth, we are actually damning men to hell. All men will stand before the one true and living God, the judge of the whole earth, and we are not doing them any favors if we do not uphold the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.

What is his command?

No worship, service, adoration, honor, allegiance, loyalty, or prayer may be given to anyone or anything other than the creator, covenant, Christ-like God. Israel had left a land of many of gods and they were about to enter a land of many gods. We, too, live in a land of many gods. Martin Luther in his Larger Catechism defined a god as that “to which your heart clings and entrusts itself.” He also said, “Whatever man loves, that is his god. For he carries it in his heart; he goes about with it night and day; he sleeps and wakes with it, be it what it may – wealth or self, pleasure or renown.”

So, what are the idols of our time and place in American history? We have an eclectic pantheon of idols, which fits with our fundamental idea of freedom as personal autonomy. Each person is free to choose which idols suit him best, as long as he doesn’t reject all of these idols for the one living and true God.

Many of the lesser gods in this pantheon relate to materialism or hedonism, which is why we live in a culture of consumption – retirement, vacations, bigger houses, more stuff, debt, constant entertainment, health, physical fitness, sports, therapy, and psychological wellness (self esteem, good feelings). Also included would be perpetual talk of personal rights and a fascination with sexuality coupled with a refusal to put any parameters on it.

But as we move up to the bigger gods, we find stark testimony that the creature is attempting to replace the Creator, just as Romans 1 describes. This humanism is revealed in many ways: Democracy with a capital D (our current war on terror has provided an opportunity to make this explicit, with multiple references to making the world safe through democracy); Equality defined in egalitarian terms; Freedom defined as self-autonomy or self-fulfillment. This is why there is such a deep attachment to positive law and such a desperate commitment to education and science as a savior. This also factors into the cult of youth and the youth culture which dominates the public arena. Yes, like Israel of old, we live in a land of many gods.

In fact, we must recognize that no one has any right to worship a false god. We tend to forget that and confuse things in our country. We often talk of America as a land of religious freedom, so that everyone is free to worship as he chooses. That is true, and it is good – legally. In other words, the state should not have jurisdiction to criminalize worship. Just because something is a sin does not make it a crime. I do believe that the church and the state operate in different spheres. But that should not confuse us to the fact that, while everyone has the legal right to worship as they please, they do not have a spiritual right to do so. This first commandment cuts like a buzz saw across all religious pluralism. It is absolute, and it is exclusive.

But what if we Christianize it a little bit? May we pray to and venerate saints or even Mary the mother of Jesus? Not in the least. Roman Catholicism has baptized idolatry in the name of Christianity, but it actually apostasy. This problem is not limited to Catholicism. The so-called evangelical churches in America are brimming over with self-focus and self-esteem and self-fulfillment worship. We idolize precisely the same things our pop culture idolizes. We must not give any allegiance to these idols whatsoever.

Positively, the command is to worship God in Jesus Christ. God says, “I will be your God.” God has designed and created us to be worshiping beings, and the only proper recipient of our worship is the Lord.

So how can you obey the first commandment today? Constantly surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The early Christians refused to say “Ceasar is Lord” because they would not even speak of anyone but Jesus as Lord. This is absolute allegiance and loyalty to him above all else – family, friends, country. Every area of life must be under his will or control. We must not reserve the right to do as we please in any area of life. “Not my will, but yours be done,” Jesus said. We should strive to have every thought taken captive to the obedience of Christ. We worship our Lord, Jesus Christ, exclusively.

Special Rules for Young Men (and for everyone)

This morning I met with the young men who are participating in our Christian leadership discipleship. It is a real privilege to work with godly parents to see God raise up another generation to carry on the mission of Christ. Right now the young men are reading Thoughts for Young Men by J. C. Ryle. As I thought about his excellent advice in the last chapter of that short work, I thought it would be good to share with everyone. All of us should take heed to this challenge!

1. For one thing, resolve at once, by God's help, to break off every known sin, however small.
2. Resolve, by God's help, to shun everything which may prove an occasion of sin.
3. Resolve never to forget the eye of God.
4. Be diligent in the practice of your Christianity.
5. Resolve that wherever you are, you will pray.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 26 - The Church

26.4 The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. By the appointment of the Father, all authority requisite for the calling, establishment, ordering and governing of the church is supremely and sovereignly invested in Him. It is impossible for the Pope of Rome in any true sense to be the head of the church, for he is the antichrist, described in Scripture as 'the man of sin', 'the son of perdition,' who 'exalts himself' in the church against Christ and 'above all that is called God', whom 'the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming'. Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11,12; Col. 1:18; 2 Thess. 2:2-9.

26.5 In the exercise of the authority which has been entrusted to Him, the Lord Jesus, through the ministry of the Word and by His Spirit, calls to Himself out of the world those who are given to Him by His Father, that they may live in His sight, rendering Him the obedience prescribed by Him for them in the Scripture. He commands those thus called to form particular societies or churches to promote their common welfare, and to engage in the public worship which He requires them to carry on while they continue in the world. Matt. 18:15-20; 28:20; John 10:16; 12:32.

26.6 The members of these churches are saints by reason of the divine call, and in a visible manner they demonstrate and declare, both by their confession of Christ and their manner of life, that they obey Christ's call. They willingly consent to hold fellowship together according to Christ's instructions, giving themselves to the Lord and to one another as God wills, and yielding full assent to the requirements of the gospel. Acts 2:41,42; 5:13,14; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 9:13.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Command to Love Your Neighbor's Property

"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (Ps 24:1). "You have given [man] dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet" (Ps 8:6). These two great truths are the foundation for the 8th commandment, which we will hear from God's Word this Sunday. God is Lord of all and he owns everything because he made it, he sustains it, and he directs in to his appointed ends. Yet he has also given mankind a stewardship role in using his property. Thus there is such a thing as personal property rights. The right to private property is given by God, and as such it cannot be justly abrogated by mere human will, whether through fraud or through force. The eighth commandment protects this freedom so that we can fulfill God's perfect plan of exercising righteous dominion over his wonderful creation.

The eighth commandment also helps us keep a proper perspective on our property rights. Whatever we have is a gift from God and must be used for his glory and others' good. It is not at all like the little ditty I picked up in the schoolyard as a child:
"This land is my land;
This land ain't your land.
I got a shotgun,
and you ain't got one.
If you don't get off,
I'll blow your head off.
This land was made for me not you."
The Christian attitude toward private property is God-centered, not self-centered. May our time together on Sunday help us see all of our possessions as gifts from our good Creator to be used for his glory!

All Creatures of Our God and King (#59)
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above (#60)
This Is My Father's World (#61)
Fairest Lord Jesus (#21)
This Day, at Thy Creating Word (#64)
Take My Life, and Let It Be (#560)

The Lord's Supper

Scripture Reading
The Earth is the Lord's - Psalm 24

The Command to Love Your Neighbor's Property - Deuteronomy 5:19

A Couple Bits on Homeschooling

The Heritage Foundation has an overview of the growing trend toward homeschooling in America.

Doug Phillips has been blogging about a 200 year plan for multi-generational faithfulness.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 26 - The Church

THE catholic or universal church is invisible in respect of the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace. It consists of the whole number of the elect who have been, who are being, or who yet shall be gathered into one under Christ who is the church's head. The church is the wife, the body, the fullness of Christ, who 'fills all in all'. Eph. 1:10,22,23; 5:23,27,32; Col. 1:18; Heb. 12:23.

All persons throughout the world who profess to believe the gospel and to render gospel obedience unto God by Christ are, and may be called, visible saints, provided that they do not render void their profession of belief by holding fundamental errors or by living unholy lives; and of such persons all local churches should be composed.Acts 11:26; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:20-22.

The purest churches under heaven are liable to be troubled by mixture and error, and some have so far degenerated as no longer to be churches of Christ at all, but 'synagogues of Satan'. Nevertheless, Christ always has had a kingdom in this world of such as believe in Him and profess His name, and He ever will have such a kingdom to the world's end. Ps. 72:17; 102:28; Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 2:11,12; Rev. 2; 3; 12:17; 18:2.

Hear My Cry

At Between Two Worlds, David Powlison has some good thoughts about praying out loud.

On Marriage

Following up on Sunday's sermon, you ought to read today's commentary by Albert Mohler on Marriage and the Glory of God. Here is his conclusion:

The end of marriage is its beginning--the glory of God, the mystery of Christ and the church. The exclusivity and purity of the marriage bond points to the exclusivity and purity of the relationship between Christ and His church.

How does marriage glorify God? Tertullian, one of the early church fathers, offers wisdom: "How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice . . . Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit . . . They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God's church and partake God's banquet, side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other's company; they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts . . . Seeing this Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present."

Marriage is the source of great and unspeakable happiness. Yet because of sin it is not unmixed happiness. But marriage is not first and foremost about making us happy. It is for making us holy. And through the covenant of marriage two Christians pledge to live together so as to make each other holy before God, as a testimony to Christ.

Keep this in mind in the midst of today's frenzied marriage debates. Marriage is first and foremost about the glory of God. All of the manifold gifts of marriage are derived from that great fact.

If you were not able to be with us on Sunday, you can listen to the message here.