Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he is the high priest who is able to sympathize with my weaknesses yet has no sinfulness (Heb 4:15).

Making Disciples

Voddie Baucham drew my attention to this podcast from the White Horse Inn - "What Is Discipleship?" It is an excellent discussion, and particularly relevant to what we are trying to accomplish as a church. I can't resist saying that their aesthetic judgment needs work (who picks the music for these things?), but their biblical perspective on making disciples is much needed! Take some time to listen to it today. (Look under the Listen Now label and click on the title "What Is Discipleship?")

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Man Shall not Live by Bread Alone

There is simply no substitute for systematic exposure to the entire Scripture. As you make plans to read and study the Bible next year, the ESV Bible Reading Plans may prove helpful to you. You can choose which plan works best for you, and you can also choose to receive it in several formats. I have used this for a couple years, and I find it very helpful. Whatever you do, remember that you need every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tell to the Coming Generation

Fathers, now is a perfect time to remind your families of the glorious deeds of the Lord in the past year.

Since we meditated upon the Lord's Prayer extensively this past year, I am using that passage as a framework to talk to my children this week. What Scripture are you using?

Understanding God's Story

As a follow-up to last Sunday's sermon on the importance of understanding the reality that the culmination of all things is near, here is good statement I came across in my reading today.

Those who know the contours of history are able to assess the significance of the present (Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Incarnation of the Son of God

As we celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God, it will be helpful for you to meditate on the person of Jesus Christ. Pastor David Doran is posting some clarifying comments on the many errors which can sneak into our beliefs about Jesus. If you have free time over the next few days, you will benefit from reading them.

Cornerstone or Stumbling Stone?

Ancient Heresies that Might Still Haunt Us

Modern Speculations and Heresy in Embryonic Form

Bad Chemistry, Worse Theology

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"We Must Still Be Biblical"

I found this post by the Zambian pastor Conrad Mbewe to be refreshing, despite its frank recognition of worldliness among the young believers in that country. It was refreshing for the simple reason that Pastor Mbewe evidences a real conviction that the Bible, and not "culture," must be the final guide for our conduct in all areas of life. His concerns about the drinking, dress, music, and dancing at the weddings of Zambian Christians sorely need to be heard in our own country, too.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Armed and Ready

A crucial lesson for believers to learn -

Resolve to suffer rather than sin, no matter how unbelievers judge you, for God has the final judgment.

Join us this Lord's Day to give praise to God.

Songs
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (#87)
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne (#93)
As with Gladness Men of Old (397)
The First Noel (#98)
See in Yonder Manger Low (#102)
What Child Is This? (#103)

Scripture Reading
Luke 2:1-52

Sermon
Armed for Suffering - 1 Peter 4:1-6

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he was made like us in every respect and became a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to satisfy God's wrath against the sins of his people (Heb 2:17).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 8)

As we conclude the series of posts on the Synod of Dort, I have just one comment to make. As I thought on this confession, I was impressed with its theological and pastoral integrity. It synthesizes all of the biblical revelation on these topics, if not perfectly, then at least with admirable consistency. In addition, it does so with an eye to the cause of Christ and the tender care of Christ's sheep. Don't miss the love that lights up the doctrine.

The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

I. Who teach: That the perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God, gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant, which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will. For the Holy Scripture testifies that this follows out of election, and is given the elect in virtue of the death, the resurrection and intercession of Christ: "But the elect obtained it and the rest were hardened," Romans 11:7. Likewise: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Romans 8:32-35.

II. Who teach: That God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient powers to persevere, and is ever ready to preserve these in him, if he will do his duty; but that though all things, which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God will use to preserve faith, are made use of, it even then ever depends on the pleasure of the will whether it will persevere or not. For this idea contains an outspoken Pelagianism, and while it would make men free, it makes them robbers of God's honor, contrary to the prevailing agreement of the evangelical doctrine, which takes from man all cause of boasting, and ascribes all the praise for this favor to the grace of God alone; and contrary to the Apostle, who declares: "That it is God, who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreprovable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ," I Corinthians 1:8.

III. Who teach: That the true believers and regenerate not only can fall from justifying faith and likewise from grace and salvation wholly and to the end, but indeed often do fall from this and are lost forever. For this conception makes powerless the grace, justification, regeneration, and continued keeping by Christ, contrary to the expressed words of the Apostle Paul: "That while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, being justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him," Romans 5:8,9. And contrary to the Apostle John: "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he can not sin, because he is begotten of God," I John 3:9. And also contrary to the words of Jesus Christ: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who hath given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand," John 10:28,29.

IV. Who teach: That true believers and regenerate can sin the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit. Since the same Apostle John, after having spoken in the fifth chapter of his first epistle, vss. 16 and 17, of those who sin unto death and having forbidden to pray for them, immediately adds to this in vs. 18: "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not (meaning a sin of that character), but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not," I John 5:18.

V. Who teach: That without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life. For by this doctrine the sure comfort of all believers is taken away in this life, and the doubts of the papist are again introduced into the church, while the Holy Scriptures constantly deduce this assurance, not from a special and extraordinary revelation, but from the marks proper to the children of God and from the constant promises of God. So especially the Apostle Paul: "No creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," Romans 8:39. And John declares: "And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us," I John 3:24.

VI. Who teach: That the doctrine of the certainty of perseverance and of salvation from its own character and nature is a cause of indolence and is injurious to godliness, good morals, prayers and other holy exercises, but that on the contrary it is praiseworthy to doubt. For these show that they do not know the power of divine grace and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And they contradict the Apostle John, who teaches the opposite with express words in his first epistle: "Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him, for we shall see him even as he is. And every one that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure," I John 3:2, 3. Furthermore, these are contradicted by the example of the saints, both of the Old and New Testament, who though they were assured of their perseverance and salvation, were nevertheless constant in prayers and other exercises of godliness.

VII. Who teach: That the faith of those, who believe for a time, does not differ from justifying and saving faith except only in duration. For Christ himself, in Matthew 13:20, Luke 8:13, and in other places, evidently notes, besides this duration, a threefold difference between those who believe only for a time and true believers, when he declares that the former receive the seed in stony ground, but the latter in the good ground or heart; that the former are without root, but that the latter have a firm root; that the former are without fruit, but that the latter bring forth their fruit in various measure, with constancy and steadfastness.

VIII. Who teach: That it is not absurd that one having lost his first regeneration, is again and even often born anew. For these deny by this doctrine the incorruptibleness of the seed of God, whereby we are born again. Contrary to the testimony of the Apostle Peter: "Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible," I Peter 1:23.

IX. Who teach: That Christ has in no place prayed that believers should infallibly continue in faith. For they contradict Christ himself, who says: "I have prayed for thee (Simon), that thy faith fail not," Luke 22:32; and the Evangelist John, who declares, that Christ has not prayed for the Apostles only, but also for those who through their word would believer: "Holy Father, keep them in thy name," and: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil one," John 17:11, 15, 20.


CONCLUSION
And this is the perspicuous, simple, and ingenious declaration of the orthodox doctrine respecting the five articles which have been controverted in the Belgic churches; and the rejection of the errors, with which they have for some time been troubled. This doctrine, the Synod judges to be drawn from the Word of God, and to be agreeable to the confessions of the Reformed churches. Whence it clearly appears, that some whom such conduct by no means became, have violated all truth, equity, and charity, in wishing to persuade the public:

"That the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination, and the points annexed to it, by its own genius and necessary tendency, leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh and by the devil, and the stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all; and from which he wounds multitudes, and mortally strikes through many with the darts both of despair and security; that it makes God the author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical; that it is nothing more than interpolated Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism; that it renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please; and therefore, that they may safely perpetrate every species of the most atrocious crimes; and that, if the reprobate should even perform truly all the works of the saints, their obedience would not in the least contribute to their salvation; that the same doctrine teaches, that God, by a mere arbitrary act of his will, without the least respect or view to sin, has predestinated the greatest part of the world to eternal damnation; and, has created them for this very purpose; that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety; that many children of the faithful are torn, guiltless, from their mothers' breasts, and tyrannically plunged into hell; so that, neither baptism, nor the prayers of the Church at their baptism, can at all profit by them;" and many other things of the same kind, which the Reformed Churches not only do not acknowledge, but even detest with their whole soul. Wherefore, this Synod of Dort, in the name of the Lord, conjures as many as piously call upon the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, to judge of the faith of the Reformed Churches, not from the calumnies, which, on every side, are heaped upon it; nor from the private expressions of a few among ancient and modern teachers, often dishonestly quoted, or corrupted, and wrested to a meaning quite foreign to their intention; but from the public confessions of the Churches themselves, and from the declaration of the orthodox doctrine, confirmed by the unanimous consent of all and each of the members of the whole Synod. Moreover, the Synod warns calumniators themselves, to consider the terrible judgment of God which awaits them, for bearing false witness against the confessions of so many Churches, for distressing the consciences of the weak; and for laboring to render suspected the society of the truly faithful. Finally, this Synod exhorts all their brethren in the gospel of Christ, to conduct themselves piously and religiously in handling this doctrine, both in the universities and churches; to direct it, as well in discourse, as in writing, to the glory of the Divine Name, to holiness of life, and to the consolation of afflicted souls; to regulate, by the Scripture, according to the analogy of faith, not only their sentiments, but also their language; and, to abstain from all those phrases which exceed the limits necessary to be observed in ascertaining the genuine sense of the holy Scriptures; and may furnish insolent sophists with a just pretext for violently assailing, or even vilifying, the doctrine of the Reformed Churches.

May Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, seated at the Father's right hand, gives gifts to men, sanctify us in the truth, bring to the truth those who err, shut the mouths of the calumniators of sound doctrine, and endue the faithful minister of his Word with the spirit of wisdom and discretion, that all their discourses may tend to the glory of God, and the edification of those who hear them. AMEN.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Don't Sacrifice Relationships for Drywall

Listen here to the stories of real families who are enjoying the blessings of living without debt.

Update: My wife brought this article to my attention. In it, four families talk about how they are learning to live on a cash only basis.

Friday, December 04, 2009

More Men Like Payne

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne was a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church during the 19th century. I recently read this observation on Payne's approach to culture. For Payne,

Theology defined appropriate "Christian culture." Culture was not to shape theology. The Bishop opposed the preservation of folk tradition at the expense of biblical orthodoxy.
(Thabiti Anyabwile, The Decline of African-American Theology, 226)

On this score, we need more men like Payne, not just in African-American churches, but in all churches.

Blessing through Suffering

Once we see that Jesus Christ, our leader, triumphed through suffering, it is no longer so difficult to understand why we sometimes suffer for doing good. We follow him. We walk the path he walked. We should expect to experience what he experienced.

But there is even more. Not only do believers follow him, we are also spiritually united to him in his death and resurrection. Because of this, we have the great confidence that we will participate with him in his triumph. Suffering for his sake is only a means to blessing.

Songs
O Come, All Ye Faithful (#88)
Angels We Have Heard on High (#89)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (#90)
Once in Royal David's City (#91)
Joy to the World! (#92)
Who Is He in Yonder Stall (#120)

Scripture Reading
Luke 1:26-80

Sermon
Blessing through Suffering (Part 2) - 1 Peter 3:18-22

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Perspectives on Family Ministry (Part 3)

I apologize for the hiatus in my interaction with Perspectives on Family Ministry. We will now resume our regular programming.

Part 1 consists of four chapters written by Timothy Paul Jones on why every church needs family ministry. By relating both personal experience and historical precedent, he does an excellent job of setting up the issues to be discussed in the book.

As he relates in chapter 1 ("Confessions of a Well-Meaning Youth Minister"), his experience as a youth minister led him to ask, "What if this separation between students and adults - something I had been trained to see as a solution - has actually been part of the problem? What if God never intended youth ministry staff members to become the primary sustainers of students' spiritual lives? What if something is profoundly wrong with the entire way the church has structured ministries to youth and children?"

Excellent questions, I say. So why has contemporary youth ministry followed the path of dis-integration? Jones answers that a single false assumption is the cornerstone of this flawed model. "The false assumption is simply this: Parents are not the primary persons responsible for their children's Christian formation" (13, emphasis original). Therefore he suggests that "this model is not biblical, and the results of this approach have not consistently reflected God's intentions for His people" (13). Instead, God has designed the family as the primary context for discipleship of young people.

Chapter 2 develops this last thought in a helpful way. There are some tasks, Jones suggests, which are simply too significant to delegate to someone else - "taking your spouse on a date, for example." No one else can do that job for you. In a similar way, the parents' responsibility to be the primary disciple-makers of their children is too important to be given to anyone else. This was the historic expectation of the church. Although churches have always engaged in some kind of age oriented ministry, and parents have always struggled to disciple their children, modern churches have developed an unprecedented mindset - ministry professionals are supposed to give children the spiritual training they need. While the vast majority of Christian parents verbally acknowledge that they are responsible to disciple their children, most of them rely on the church to do it for them.

So how did we get to where we are today? Chapter 3 provides the historical contexts for family ministry. Jones provides a crisp and accurate historical overview of twentieth century views on young people and ministry to young people, noting especially the invention of the teenager, the rise of age-focused ministries, and the release of parental responsibility. Bravo to Jones for this chapter.

Given where we are today, what do we do about it? This is the main question that drives the book. In chapter 4 Jones sets up the discussion between three models of family ministry.

Beginning next week, Lord willing, I will see if I can go a few rounds with the protagonists of each model without getting KO'd myself. It should be fun. I hope you can all get ringside seats.

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he partook of flesh and blood in order to destroy the devil and deliver me from slavery (Heb 2:14-15).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 7)

I do not believe in "eternal security"...

at least in the way many Christians use that term today. I most certainly do believe that God eternally keeps those who are his. This is a powerful biblical truth and an anchor of the soul. However, the way many Christians think of eternal security amounts to the rotten remains of a once vibrant biblical doctrine called the perseverance of the saints. "Eternal security" is reduced to sloganeering - "once saved, always saved" - with no ability to handle the warning texts and teachings of Scripture. "Eternal security" is a form of sacramentalism - "pray this prayer and then don't ever doubt your salvation." "Eternal security" gives place to carnal indifference in the pilgrimage to glory.

No, the biblical teaching on this matter is much more robust, much more challenging, much more humbling, and much more satisfying than that. Read the fifth head of doctrine below carefully, and you will understand it well.

FIFTH HEAD OF DOCTRINE
Of the Perseverance of the Saints

Article 1. Whom God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, he delivers also from the dominion and slavery of sin in this life; though not altogether from the body of sin, and from the infirmities of the flesh, so long as they continue in this world.

Article 2. Hence spring daily sins of infirmity, and hence spots adhere to the best works of the saints; which furnish them with constant matter for humiliation before God, and flying for refuge to Christ crucified; for mortifying the flesh more and more by the spirit of prayer, and by holy exercises of piety; and for pressing forward to the goal of perfection, till being at length delivered from this body of death, they are brought to reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.

Article 3. By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and the temptations of sin and of the world, those who are converted could not persevere in a state of grace, if left to their own strength. But God is faithful, who having conferred grace, mercifully confirms, and powerfully preserves them herein, even to the end.

Article 4. Although the weakness of the flesh cannot prevail against the power of God, who confirms and preserves true believers in a state of grace, yet converts are not always so influenced and actuated by the Spirit of God, as not in some particular instances sinfully to deviate from the guidance of divine grace, so as to be seduced by, and to comply with the lusts of the flesh; they must, therefore, be constant in watching and in prayer, that they be not led into temptation. When these are neglected, they are not only liable to be drawn into great and heinous sins, by Satan, the world and the flesh, but sometimes by the righteous permission of God actually fall into these evils. This, the lamentable fall of David, Peter, and other saints described in Holy Scripture, demonstrates.

Article 5. By such enormous sins, however, they very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound their consciences, and sometimes lose the sense of God's favor, for a time, until on their returning into the right way of serious repentance, the light of God's fatherly countenance again shines upon them.

Article 6. But God, who is rich in mercy, according to his unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from his own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit sins unto death; nor does he permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.

Article 7. For in the first place, in these falls he preserves them in the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by his Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore his mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

Article 8. Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits, or strength, but of God's free mercy, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves, is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail, neither can the call according to his purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.

Article 9. Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and ought to obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.

Article 10. This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God; but springs from faith in God's promises, which he has most abundantly revealed in his Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit, that we are children and heirs of God, Romans 8:16; and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience, and to perform good works. And if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort, that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge or earnest of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable.

Article 11. The Scripture moreover testifies, that believers in this life have to struggle with various carnal doubts, and that under grievous temptations they are not always sensible of this full assurance of faith and certainty of persevering. But God, who is the Father of all consolation, does not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that they may be able to bear it, I Corinthians 10:13, and by the Holy Spirit again inspires them with the comfortable assurance of persevering.

Article 12. This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering, and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God: so that the consideration of this benefit should serve as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as appears from the testimonies of Scripture, and the examples of the saints.

Article 13. Neither does renewed confidence or persevering produce licentiousness, or a disregard to piety in those who are recovering from backsliding; but it renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord, which he hath ordained, that they who walk therein may maintain an assurance of persevering, lest by abusing his fatherly kindness, God should turn away his gracious countenance from them, to behold which is to the godly dearer than life: the withdrawing thereof is more bitter than death, and they in consequence hereof should fall into more grievous torments of conscience.

Article 14. And as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so he preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of his Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, as well as by the use of the sacraments.

Article 15. The carnal mind is unable to comprehend this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and the certainty thereof; which God hath most abundantly revealed in his Word, for the glory of his name, and the consolation of pious souls, and which he impresses upon the hearts of the faithful. Satan abhors it; the world ridicules it; the ignorant and hypocrite abuse, and heretics oppose it; but the spouse of Christ hath always most tenderly loved and constantly defended it, as an inestimable treasure; and God, against whom neither counsel nor strength can prevail, will dispose her to continue this conduct to the end. Now, to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, forever. AMEN.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blessing through Suffering

"Why must I go through this?" is one of the hardest questions to answer when we encounter hardships or troubles brought on by doing what is right. It seems natural to understand that doing something wrong brings suffering and that doing something right brings blessing. But life doesn't always work that way. How are we to make sense of this and even have joy in it?

This Lord's Day we will hear from God's Word, demonstrating to us that it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is God's will, than for doing evil. Following Christ on the path of life that sometimes includes suffering is the way to ultimate, eternal blessing. We invite you to come and follow Christ with us!

Songs
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
All Glory, Laud, and Honor (#11)
Behold the Savior on the Cross (#153)
Lamb of God, Thou Now Art Seated (#160)
Thine Be the Glory (#162)
Look, Ye Saints (#163)

Scripture Reading
Jesus Brings Us to God - Ephesians 2

Sermon
Blessing through Suffering - 1 Peter 3:18-22

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 6)

Under the third and fourth heads of doctrine, dealing with "the corruption of man, his conversion to God, and the manner thereof," the Synod of Dort went on to specify which doctrinal errors it was rejecting. I would ask you to consider these errors carefully, for they are everywhere today.

The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

I. Who teach: That it cannot properly be said, that original sin in itself suffices to condemn the whole human race, or to deserve temporal and eternal punishment. For these contradict the Apostle, who declares: "Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned," Romans 5:12. And: "The judgment came of one unto condemnation," Romans 5:16. And: "The wages of sin is death," Romans 6:23.

II. Who teach: That the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as: goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall. For such is contrary to the description of the image of God, which the Apostle gives in Ephesians 4:24, where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.

III. Who teach: That in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will in itself has never been corrupted, but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections; and that, these hindrances having been removed, the will can then bring into operation its native powers, that is, that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. This is an innovation and an error, and tends to elevate the powers of the free will, contrary to the declaration of the Prophet: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt," Jeremiah 17:9; and of the Apostle: "Among whom (sons of disobedience) we also all once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind," Ephesians 2:3.

IV. Who teach: That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. For these are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture. "Ye were dead through trespasses and sins," Ephesians 2:1,5; and: "Every imagination of the thought of his heart are only evil continually," Genesis 6:5; 8:21.

Moreover, to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery, and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed. Psalm 51:10, 19; Matthew 5:6.

V. Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, namely, the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on his part shows himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since he applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion. For the experience of all ages and the Scriptures do both testify that this is untrue. "He showeth his Word unto Jacob, his statues and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his ordinances they have not known them," Psalm 147:19, 20. "Who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own way," Acts 14:16. And: "And they (Paul and his companions) having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit suffered them not," Acts 16:6, 7.

VI. Who teach: That in the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers or gifts can be infused by God into the will, and that therefore faith through which we are first converted, and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God, but only an act of man, and that it can not be said to be a gift, except in respect of the power to attain to this faith. For thereby they contradict the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of his love into our hearts: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write it," Jeremiah 31:33. And: "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon thy seed," Isaiah 44:3. And: "The love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which hath been given us," Romans 5:5. This is also repugnant to the continuous practice of the Church, which prays by the mouth of the Prophet thus: "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned," Jeremiah 31:18.

VII. Who teach: that the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, or (as others explain it), that this is the noblest manner of working in the conversion of man, and that this manner of working, which consists in advising, is most in harmony with man's nature; and that there is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual, indeed, that God does not produce the consent of the will except through this manner of advising; and that the power of the divine working, whereby it surpasses the working of Satan, consists in this, that God promises eternal, while Satan promises only temporal goods. But this is altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture which, besides this, teaches another and far more powerful and divine manner of the Holy Spirit's working in the conversion of man, as in Ezekiel: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh," Ezekiel 36:26.

VIII. Who teach: That God in the regeneration of man does not use such powers of his omnipotence as potently and infallibly bend man's will to faith and conversion; but that all the works of grace having been accomplished, which God employs to convert man, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit, when God intends man's regeneration and wills to regenerate him, and indeed that man often does so resist that he prevents entirely his regeneration, and that it therefore remains in man's power to be regenerated or not. For this is nothing less than the denial of all the efficiency of God's grace in our conversion, and the subjecting of the working of Almighty God to the will of man, which is contrary to the Apostles, who teach: "That we believe according to the working of the strength of his power," Ephesians 1:19. And: "That God fulfills every desire of goodness and every work of faith with power," 2 Thessalonians 1:11. And: "That his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness," 2 Peter 1:3.

IX. Who teach: That grace and free will are partial causes, which together work the beginning of conversion, and that grace, in order of working, does not precede the working of the will; that is, that God does not efficiently help the will of man unto conversion until the will of man moves and determines to do this. For the ancient Church has long ago condemned this doctrine of the Pelagians according to the words of the Apostle: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy," Romans 9:16. Likewise: "For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" I Corinthians 4:7. And: "For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure," Philippians 2:13.

Darwin and Religion

Periodically I comment on the Gazette's religion blog, The Pulpit, written by Mark Barna. Since this week marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Barna asked about the relationship of religion and evolution. You can read the post and my comment here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

True Pleasures

While I was thinking on giving thanks to the Lord, and contrasting it with the emptiness of seeking satisfaction in this world, I came across this poem by William Cowper.

Lord, my soul with pleasure springs,
When Jesus’ name I hear;
And when God the Spirit brings
The word of promise near:
Beauties, too, in holiness,
Still delighted I perceive;
Nor have words that can express
The joys thy precepts give.

Clothed in sanctity and grace,
How sweet it is to see
Those who love thee as they pass,
Or when they wait on thee:
Pleasant, too, to sit and tell
What we owe to love divine;
Till our bosoms grateful swell,
And eyes begin to shine.

Those the comforts I possess,
Which God shall still increase,
All his ways are pleasantness,
And all his paths are peace.
Nothing Jesus did or spoke,
Henceforth let me ever slight;
For I love his easy yoke,
And find his burden light.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he has been made the perfect Savior for me through suffering (Heb 2:10).

Teaching the World to Sing

This Lord's Day, we will gather in order to teach the world to sing.

In 1971, Coca-Cola produced one of the most famous TV commercials of all-time with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in perfect harmony).” A generation later, the song sounds a bit trite. But it is even worse than that. It deals with a fundamental human longing – for peace and a good life – with the profound answer “Have a Coke.” But it was even worse than that. Having just come through “the sixties” in which paganism asserted itself forcefully in Western civilization, the world was looking for answers. If God was dead, then where was salvation to be found? The answer: prosperity and pleasure. Have a Coke. What a perfect illustration of the truth, “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.” And when men worship worthless idols, they lose all real hope. They cease to give thanks.

Coca-Cola was not the first to express a desire to see the world sing in harmony. Thousands of years ago, the psalmist under the direction of the Holy Spirit wrote, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!” Do you realize what a profound act Thanksgiving is? It is a public, quintessential act of worship of the one true God. It is a statement to all the world to come and bow before him. And though we are simple people, it is powerful. Though this world’s presidents and professors and pop stars promote their false ideals with all of this world’s wizardry, God has ordained that praise would come out of the mouths of babes to still the enemy and the avenger. We are simple people responding to an awesome God, and God blesses that to his glory.

So this Lord's Day, we are going to do something radical – we are going to give thanks to God. We are going to declare the Lord’s glory. We are going to worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness and tremble before him. In doing so, we are going to show the world in the most simple but the most powerful way that there is hope. There is meaning and purpose and beauty to life because the Lord is great. He is the Lord whose right hand and holy arm work salvation for him. We have great reason to be thankful. We have all the reason in the world to sing.

Songs
All Creatures of Our God and King (#19)
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come (#708)
Psalm 100
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)
Behold the Glories of the Lamb (#653)
Let All Things Now Living

Scripture
Bless the Lord - Psalm 145
Responsive Reading - Psalm 100
The Greatest Thanksgiving Day - Revelation 5:1-14

Sermon
Teaching the World to Sing - Psalm 96

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gambling

Phil Johnson has a helpful discussion of why gambling is always wrong, even though there is no proof text which forbids it.

Part 1: Is Gambling OK? Don't Bet on It

Part 2: Gambling: Some Definitions and Distinctions

What Is College For?

Douglas Wilson weighs in on the state college system.

This unholy alliance between higher education and industry was successfully accomplished, and the system has become unquestioned, and almost unquestionable. Moreover, it has become a system that many Christian parents insist on maintaining. Even while opposing Obama's proposals for socialistic health care (because they don't want "socialism"), they insist on perpetuating the central engine of socialism (as well as the central example of it) by having their kids go to the very schools that Marx demanded of us, and got. And on top of that, when someone proposes that their older student attend a liberal arts school that is seeking self-consciously to reestablish the old tradition, the parental (and Marxist) objection is often that "want their kid to be able to get a job." But before we think about getting a job, we need to train the next generation how to get a life.

Oh, and while you are in the culture questioning mood, have a listen to this interview with Ken Myers on the podcast Ordinary Means.

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 5)

Salvation is by grace alone! The third and fourth sections of the Canons of Dort uphold and defend this glorious truth which is at the heart of our faith.

THIRD AND FOURTH HEADS OF DOCTRINE
Of the Corruption of Man, His Conversion to God, and the Manner Thereof.

Article 1. Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy; but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.

Article 2. Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.

Article 3. Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.

Article 4. There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment. But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.

Article 5. In the same light are we to consider the law of the decalogue, delivered by God to his peculiar people the Jews, by the hands of Moses. For though it discovers the greatness of sin, and more and more convinces man thereof, yet as it neither points out a remedy, nor imparts strength to extricate him from misery, and thus being weak through the flesh, leaves the transgressor under the curse, man cannot by this law obtain saving grace.

Article 6. What therefore neither the light of nature, nor the law could do, that God performs by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the word or ministry of reconciliation: which is the glad tidings concerning the Messiah, by means whereof, it hath pleased God to save such as believe, as well under the Old, as under the New Testament.

Article 7. This mystery of his will God discovered to but a small number under the Old Testament; under the New, (the distinction between various peoples having been removed), he reveals himself to many, without any distinction of people. The cause of this dispensation is not to be ascribed to the superior worth of one nation above another, nor to their making a better use of the light of nature, but results wholly from the sovereign good pleasure and unmerited love of God. Hence they, to whom so great and so gracious a blessing is communicated, above their desert, or rather notwithstanding their demerits, are bound to acknowledge it with humble and grateful hearts, and with the apostle to adore, not curiously to pry into the severity and justice of God's judgments displayed to others, to whom this grace is not given.

Article 8. As many as are called by the gospel, are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in his Word, what is pleasing to him, namely, that those who are called should come to him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life, and rest, to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him.

Article 9. It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the word, refuse to come, and be converted: the fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the word of life; others, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the word by perplexing cares, and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. - This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower. Matthew 13.

Article 10. But that others who are called by the gospel, obey the call, and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others, equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversions, as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as he has chosen his own from eternity in Christ, so he confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son, that they may show forth the praises of him, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.

Article 11. But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illumines their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

Article 12. And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted, or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. - Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.

Article 13. The manner of this operation cannot be fully comprehended by believers in this life. Notwithstanding which, they rest satisfied with knowing and experiencing, that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart, and love their Savior.

Article 14. Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; or even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of that salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also.

Article 15. God is under no obligation to confer this grace upon any; for how can he be indebted to man, who had no precious gifts to bestow, as a foundation for such recompense? Nay, who has nothing of his own but sin and falsehood? He therefore who becomes the subject of this grace, owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives him thanks forever. Whoever is not made partaker thereof, is either altogether regardless of these spiritual gifts, and satisfied with his own condition; or is in no apprehension of danger, and vainly boasts the possession of that which he has not. With respect to those who make an external profession of faith, and live regular lives, we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner. For the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us. And as to others, who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not, as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ.

Article 16. But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature, endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin which pervaded the whole race of mankind, deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and its properties, neither does violence thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist. Wherefore unless the admirable author of every good work wrought in us, man could have no hope of recovering from his fall by his own free will, by the abuse of which, in a state of innocence, he plunged himself into ruin.

Article 17. As the almighty operation of God, whereby he prolongs and supports this our natural life, does not exclude, but requires the use of means, by which God of his infinite mercy and goodness hath chosen to exert his influence, so also the before mentioned supernatural operation of God, by which we are regenerated, in no wise excludes, or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration, and food of the soul. Wherefore, as the apostles, and teachers who succeeded them, piously instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to his glory, and the abasement of all pride, and in the meantime, however, neglected not to keep them by the sacred precepts of the gospel in the exercise of the Word, sacraments and discipline; so even to this day, be it far from either instructors or instructed to presume to tempt God in the church by separating what he of his good pleasure hath most intimately joined together. For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is his work advanced; to whom alone all the glory both of means, and of their saving fruit and efficacy is forever due. Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Perspectives on Family Ministry (Part 2)

Before I begin discussing Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views, I would like to give you a little personal history. This will perhaps help you understand where I am coming from as I talk about the book. Please understand that I do not present this history as anything normative. It is simply a brief, simplified overview of what led me to think about these issues.

I, as most “churched” American youth do, grew up in the standard church youth ministries. I participated in junior church, AWANA, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Christian camping (most notably at Northland Camp) while a member of Grace Baptist Church in Owatonna, MN. My father was a student at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College at the time, and many of the college students were my teachers. The youth ministry of Grace Baptist was led at the time by an exceptional administrator and kind-hearted pastor, Chuck Phelps, who has since served as a senior pastor Trinity Baptist Church in New Hampshire, as president of Maranatha Baptist Bible College, and is now senior pastor of Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, IN.

By the time I entered my junior high and high school years, my family had returned to my native Colorado, and I continued in the standard teenage discipleship ministries, though at this time in much smaller churches. Besides the regular fare of Sunday School, youth group meetings, and outreach activities, we attended big events like youth rallies every year. My parents also sacrificed greatly so that I could attend Faith Baptist School in Longmont, CO, where I was blessed by a wonderfully dedicated faculty. Several of my teachers I regard as great spiritual examples to this day. Later, I completed my high school education at Ordway Baptist Christian School.

I went off to college with a desire to serve the Lord as a pastor, and my training at Northland Baptist Bible College (now Northland International University) reinforced everything I had ever known about youth ministry. The school offered a major for those who wanted to become youth pastors, and the closely connected camping ministry kept youth ministry front and center on the campus. Pastoral ministry majors, such as myself, were trained with the expectation that age-segregated ministry models would be part and parcel of our outreach and discipleship efforts. In short, my entire Christian experience up to my young adulthood was wrapped up in standard American-style youth ministry. I did not know that there was anything else.

Yet, surprisingly, it was during the last two years of college that fundamental questions began to form in my mind regarding ministry in general, including youth ministry. These questions were prompted by serious theological questions that I started to wrestle with as I studied the Scriptures. I had always been taught, and thankfully so, to study the Word of God constantly, and I did it with a right good will. Through this study, I began to think quite a bit about salvation and sanctification. I began to wonder how the ministry models in which I had grown up fit with what I was learning from Scripture. I didn’t have any answers at the time, but I was questioning.

Three experiences in particular spurred my questions to a full gallop. The first was the privilege I had of participating on a youth evangelism team for a year and a half. The team, known as the Watchmen, was the brainchild of my fellow student, Jason Janz, now the lead pastor of Providence Bible Church in Denver. He gathered a couple other earnest and talented young men, Will Galkin (now a nationally-known itinerant preacher) and Bobby DeAngelo to start the team. Somehow I ended up on the team, although I fear that I dragged down the quality level Jason wanted! Over time, a couple other great guys participated on the team, too – Justin Weberg and Ethan LaVigne. Together, we traveled thousands of miles to churches in places ranging from New York to Virginia to Idaho, holding youth rallies. We planned and prayed and preached with fervent abandon! We wanted teenagers to be saved! We wanted teenagers to dedicate their lives to the Lord! We had a lot to learn, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from serving the Lord. It was an exciting time. Nevertheless, the end results of our efforts were sobering to me. From the little feedback we received, I seriously questioned whether the Great Commission was being accomplished. I was left wondering, “What is the eternal value of what we have just done?”

A second experience was my marriage, or, more accurately, a relationship brought about by my marriage. As you all know, when you get married you also acquire in-laws, and in my case that has been a great spiritual blessing. (I say that in case my in-laws read this!) My father-in-law, Dick Barber, was converted as an adult, and ever since his conversion he has been a voracious student of the Scriptures. Since his background was not in “conservative” Christian circles, when he entered into the realm of “conservative” Christianity he questioned many of the practices he found. His perspective enabled him to see that many church practices have a rather tenuous connection to the Scriptures. My observations of him and my discussions with him forced me to ask new questions and seek new answers from the Word.

The third experience which set my mind a-questioning was my first ministry after college. I had the great honor of being invited back to my home church to serve as an assistant pastor, and part of my responsibility included working with the teenagers. This obviously forced me to think more specifically and strategically about how to produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ. By this time I was convinced of the necessity of reaching and teaching parents in order to see teenagers become mature followers of Christ, so we ended up with what would be called “family-based ministry,” according to the label given in the book. But throughout my nearly three years in this position, I kept asking, “How is what we are doing producing disciples of Jesus Christ?” I wasn’t seeing young people who were radically shaped by the Scriptures. I was learning more and more how much I thought more like an American than like a Christian, and I was starting to come to some conclusions that startled me.

Consequently, I set off to seminary wanting to have my ideas refined and tested through deeper study. I was not disappointed. My superb professors helped me improve greatly in handling the Word skillfully and accurately. I also gained a great deal of perspective on the relative importance of various issues. I hope that I gained a much greater humility through recognizing how much I do not know. Yet I also deepened my belief in the absolute sufficiency of God’s Word to direct us in accomplishing God’s work. That belief continues to be my North Star in the practical questions of ministry.

Since the time that we founded High Country Baptist Church, I have continued the drive to direct all of life according to the Word of God. Besides my personal study in the Word, I have read between two and four hundred books every year, listened to scores of lectures from leading scholars all over the world, and discussed these issues with friends and pastors so that I will have a well-rounded perspective. I then try to take everything I have learned and see it from God’s revealed perspective, thinking God’s thoughts after him. I want to know God and to make him known. I don’t want to serve an idol of my own invention, nor do I want to present to the world a caricature of my God. I want Jesus Christ to be exalted greatly as men and women are conformed to his image. I want the life-giving weightiness of the saving Lord to be impressed upon us at every point!

It is in that spirit, then, that I take up the discussion of Perspectives on Family Ministry. May the Lord use even this discussion to produce in us the mindset which was also in Christ Jesus, exemplified by the apostle Paul when he said “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Then we will be able to “let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he is the perfect man.

He fulfills everything that mankind was created to be (cf. Gen 1:26; Psa 8; Heb 2:5-8).

Suffering for Righteousness Sake

Last week we uncovered what the Scripture says about inheriting God's blessing. This Lord's Day we we will learn that suffering is not incompatible with receiving that blessing. If we do what is good, and still suffer for it, we will be blessed.

Songs
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (#19)
Though Troubles Assail (#45)
God Moves in a Mysterious Way (#56)
How Firm a Foundation (#610)
Our Great Savior (#434)
O Thou in Whose Presence (#451)

Scripture Reading
Isaiah 8

Sermon
Suffering for Righteousness Sake - 1 Peter 3:13-17

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 4)

After each major point of doctrine, in order to make the point more clear and firm, the synod specifically rejected certain errors. Here are the errors they rejected concerning the death of Christ and man's redemption.

The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

I. Who teach: That God the Father has ordained his Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, so that the necessity, profitableness and worth of what Christ merited by his death might have existed, and might remain in all its parts complete, perfect and intact, even if the merited redemption had never in fact been applied to any person. For this doctrine tends to the despising of the wisdom of the Father and of the merits of Jesus Christ, and is contrary to Scripture. For thus saith our Savior: "I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them," John 10:15,27. And the prophet Isaiah saith concerning the Savior: "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand," Isaiah 53:10. Finally, this contradicts the article of faith according to which we believe the catholic Christian church.

II. Who teach: That it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that he should confirm the new covenant of grace through his blood, but only that he should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as he might please, whether of grace or of works. For this is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that Christ has become the Surety and Mediator of a better, that is, the new covenant, and that a testament is of force where death has occurred. Hebrews 7:22; 9:15,17.

III. Who teach: That Christ by his satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that he merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, do in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error.

IV. Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of the law, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace. For these contradict the Scriptures: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood," Romans 3:24,25. And these proclaim, as did the wicked Socinus, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church.

V. Who teach: That all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin. For this opinion is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that we are by nature children of wrath. Ephesians 2:3.

VI. Who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as he is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they feign that they present this distinction, in a sound sense, seek to instill into the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.

VII. Who teach: That Christ neither could die, needed to die, nor did die for those whom God loved in the highest degree and elected to eternal life, and did not die for these, since these do not need the death of Christ. For they contradict the Apostle, who declares: "Christ loved me, and gave himself for me," Galatians 2:20. Likewise: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died," Romans 8:33,34, namely, for them; and the Savior who says: "I lay down my life for the sheep," John 10:15. And: "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," John 15:12,13.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Welcome to the Table

by William Cowper

This is the feast of heavenly wine,
And God invites to sup;
The juices of the living vine
Were pressed to fill the cup.

Oh! bless the Saviour, ye that eat,
With royal dainties fed;
Not heaven affords a costlier treat,
For Jesus is the bread.

The vile, the lost, he calls to them,
Ye trembling souls, appear!
The righteous in their own esteem
Have no acceptance here.

Approach, ye poor, nor dare refuse
The banquet spread for you;
Dear Saviour, this is welcome news,
Then I may venture too.

If guilt and sin afford a plea,
And may obtain a place,
Surely the Lord will welcome me,
And I shall see his face.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Perspectives on Family Ministry

On Monday I received in the mail a new book entitled Perspectives on Family Ministry: 3 Views. I ordered the book because it deals with a topic that is important to us as a church. We are rather unusual (that's a nice way to avoid saying "weird") among churches in Colorado Springs in that we do not have a youth pastor or a junior church or many of the other typical accouterments of youth ministry today. Many Christians look at us and say, "What is going on here?" Now that I have read this book, I've decided to blog through it in its entirety, in part to help to answer that very question.


I have another reason for blogging through the book. It is often helpful to engage with the best and most thoughtful proponents of other views in order to be sharpened biblically. It would be terribly damaging for me or for our church to simply stick our collective head in the sand on this issue, assuming that we are unquestionably right! In doing so, I would betray a less than biblical attitude already. My desire is that we would never think of ourselves as a good church just because "we don't compromise with youth culture" or something like that. I want us to pursue after Christ, filled with his love for others and in faithfulness to his Word. Having our practices challenged a bit can be good for us to help reveal whether we are more interested in our way of doing things or our walk with God.


Today I simply want to introduce the book. Next week, perhaps, I will share a bit of personal history that led me to think about the issues raised and debated in this book. After that, I will attempt to interact with the three models of ministry presented.



The book is edited by Timothy Paul Jones, who also wrote the first part of the book, introducing the issues and discussing the current state of youth ministry. I would like to state up front my appreciation to Dr. Jones for spearheading this project and advancing the discussion with this useful book. You can find some good information about his work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at the website Family Ministry Today. They teach and promote "family-equipping ministry," which I will discuss later.



The second part of the book consists of chapters written by proponents of three different models of ministering to families, followed by responses from the other contributors. The first model presented and critiqued is called "family-integrated ministry." Pastor Paul Renfro of Grace Family Baptist Church near Houston, TX champions this approach. GFBC is probably best known through the ministry of Voddie Baucham, most recently author of What He Must Be...If He Wants to Marry My Daughter.


Pastor Brandon Shields makes the case for "family-based ministry." He is the high school pastor at Highview Baptist Church, a multisite megachurch with seven campuses in the Louisville, KY area.


The final view explained and defended is "family-equipping ministry." This is ably presented by Jay Strother, pastor of emerging generations at Brentwood Baptist Church near Nashville, TN.

All of these men hold to the authority of the Scriptures, and each one believes his view to be biblical. So why the difference of opinion? Why the competing viewpoints? The answer to that question is one of the things I hope to address as we work through the book. I'm looking forward to this exercise, and I hope you find it profitable, too.

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he is the perfect Savior both in his exaltation and in his identification with us (Heb 1-2).

There simply is no other one so exactly suited to provide such a great salvation!

Inheriting a Blessing

Love toward those within and blessing toward those without - this is what God has called the community of Christians to express. It is a selfless and sacrificial calling. But in the end it results in an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, the blessing of God.

Songs
We Gather Together (#709)
Come, Let Us with Our Lord Arise (#25)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (#22)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 34

Sermon
Inheriting a Blessing - 1 Peter 3:8-12

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dort (Part 3)

Second Head of Doctrine

Of the Death of Christ, and the Redemption of Men thereby.

Article I
God is not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. And his justice requires (as he hath revealed himself in his Word) that our sins committed against his infinite majesty should be punished, not only with temporal, but with eternal punishments, both in body and soul; which we can not escape, unless satisfaction be made to the justice of God.

Article II
Since, therefore, we are unable to make that satisfaction in our own person, or to deliver ourselves from the wrath of God, he has been pleased of his infinite mercy to give his only-begotten Son for our surety, who was made sin, and became a curse for us and in our stead, that he might make satisfaction to divine justice on our behalf.

Article III
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

Article IV
This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations; because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute him a Savior for us; and because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

Article V
Moreover the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish,but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.

Article VI
And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

Article VII
But as any as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

Article VIII
For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.

Article XI
This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, has, from the beginning of the world to this day, been powerfully accomplished, and will, henceforward, still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell; so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there never may be wanting a Church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love and faithfully serve him as their Savior, who, as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross; and which may celebrate his praises here and through all eternity.

The articles are fairly self-explanatory, but I would like to make two comments.

Notice in Article 5 that the promise of the gospel ought to be declared to everyone "promiscuously and without distinction." "Calvinism" does not take away the urgency of gospel preaching, as has so often been slanderously asserted. Biblical Calvinists (as opposed to hyper-calvinists) strive to take the gospel to everyone in the whole world.

Next, take to heart what Article 9 says about the source and the goal of redemption. It comes from the love of God, and it leads to the worship of God. If your heart is captured by the love of God and the worship of God, then you will see that "Calvinism" is not dry speculation about abstract theological systems. It is ultimately about worshiping the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why I Love Jesus Christ

For a while now I've had something tumbling around in my mind and pressing on my heart. It is a need to think more consistently and conscientiously about the glories of my Savior. Knowing how fickle my heart can be, I decided that it would be good for me to post once a week on why I love my Savior. I don't know how long I will continue this, but in the mean time I am glad for the opportunity to praise him.

So, on to the first reason.

I love Jesus Christ because he is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1:3).

Husbands Who Honor their Wives

The way men treat their wives shouts out their true character for all the world to hear. Christian husbands bring honor to God by showing honor to their wives, and we as men will be challenged from the Word of God this Lord's Day to live up to God's standard of husbandry.

Songs
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come (#708)
Fairest Lord Jesus (#21)
The Savior to Glory Is Come (#178)
Before the Throne of God Above (#177)
O Father All-Creating (#727)
Take My Life and Let It Be (#560)

Scripture Reading
Isaiah 62

Sermon
Husbands Who Honor a Woman as a Fellow-Heir - 1 Peter 3:7

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dordt (Part 2)

Under each main point of doctrine, the Synod of Dordt delineated the errors which they were refuting. They wanted to make crystal clear what they believed the Scripture taught and what was incompatible with the Scriptures. Here are the errors which they rejected concerning the doctrine of election.

Rejection of the Errors
by Which the Dutch Churches Have for Some Time Been Disturbed

Having set forth the orthodox teaching concerning election and reprobation, the Synod rejects the errors of those

I
Who teach that the will of God to save those who would believe and persevere in faith and in the obedience of faith is the whole and entire decision of election to salvation, and that nothing else concerning this decision has been revealed in God's Word.


For they deceive the simple and plainly contradict Holy Scripture in its testimony that God does not only wish to save those who would believe, but that he has also from eternity chosen certain particular people to whom, rather than to others, he would within time grant faith in Christ and perseverance. As Scripture says, I have revealed your name to those whom you gave me (John 17:6). Likewise, All who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48), and He chose us before the foundation of the world so that we should be holy... (Eph. 1:4).

II
Who teach that God's election to eternal life is of many kinds: one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and the latter in turn either incomplete, revocable, nonperemptory (or conditional), or else complete, irrevocable, and peremptory (or absolute). Likewise, who teach that there is one election to faith and another to salvation, so that there can be an election to justifying faith apart from a peremptory election to salvation.


For this is an invention of the human brain, devised apart from the Scriptures, which distorts the teaching concerning election and breaks up this golden chain of salvation: Those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:30).

III
Who teach that God's good pleasure and purpose, which Scripture mentions in its teaching of election, does not involve God's choosing certain particular people rather than others, but involves God's choosing, out of all possible conditions (including the works of the law) or out of the whole order of things, the intrinsically unworthy act of faith, as well as the imperfect obedience of faith, to be a condition of salvation; and it involves his graciously wishing to count this as perfect obedience and to look upon it as worthy of the reward of eternal life.


For by this pernicious error the good pleasure of God and the merit of Christ are robbed of their effectiveness and people are drawn away, by unprofitable inquiries, from the truth of undeserved justification and from the simplicity of the Scriptures. It also gives the lie to these words of the apostle: God called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of works, but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Tim. 1:9).

IV
Who teach that in election to faith a prerequisite condition is that man should rightly use the light of nature, be upright, unassuming, humble, and disposed to eternal life, as though election depended to some extent on these factors.


For this smacks of Pelagius, and it clearly calls into question the words of the apostle: We lived at one time in the passions of our flesh, following the will of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in transgressions, made us alive with Christ, by whose grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with him and seated us with him in heaven in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages we might show the surpassing riches of his grace, according to his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God) not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:3-9).

V
Who teach that the incomplete and nonperemptory election of particular persons to salvation occurred on the basis of a foreseen faith, repentance, holiness, and godliness, which has just begun or continued for some time; but that complete and peremptory election occurred on the basis of a foreseen perseverance to the end in faith, repentance, holiness, and godliness. And that this is the gracious and evangelical worthiness, on account of which the one who is chosen is more worthy than the one who is not chosen. And therefore that faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness, and perseverance are not fruits or effects of an unchangeable election to glory, but indispensable conditions and causes, which are prerequisite in those who are to be chosen in the complete election, and which are foreseen as achieved in them.


This runs counter to the entire Scripture, which throughout impresses upon our ears and hearts these sayings among others: Election is not by works, but by him who calls (Rom. 9:11-12); All who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48); He chose us in himself so that we should be holy (Eph. 1:4); You did not choose me, but I chose you (John 15:16); If by grace, not by works (Rom. 11:6); In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son (1 John 4:10).

VI
Who teach that not every election to salvation is unchangeable, but that some of the chosen can perish and do in fact perish eternally, with no decision of God to prevent it.


By this gross error they make God changeable, destroy the comfort of the godly concerning the steadfastness of their election, and contradict the Holy Scriptures, which teach that the elect cannot be led astray (Matt. 24:24), that Christ does not lose those given to him by the Father (John 6:39), and that those whom God predestined, called, and justified, he also glorifies (Rom. 8:30).

VII
Who teach that in this life there is no fruit, no awareness, and no assurance of one's unchangeable election to glory, except as conditional upon something changeable and contingent.

For not only is it absurd to speak of an uncertain assurance, but these things also militate against the experience of the saints, who with the apostle rejoice from an awareness of their election and sing the praises of this gift of God; who, as Christ urged, rejoice with his disciples that their names have been written in heaven (Luke 10:20); and finally who hold up against the flaming arrows of the devil's temptations the awareness of their election, with the question Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? (Rom. 8:33).

VIII
Who teach that it was not on the basis of his just will alone that God decided to leave anyone in the fall of Adam and in the common state of sin and condemnation or to pass anyone by in the imparting of grace necessary for faith and conversion.


For these words stand fast: He has mercy on whom he wishes, and he hardens whom he wishes (Rom. 9:18). And also: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given (Matt. 13:11). Likewise: I give glory to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and have revealed them to little children; yes, Father, because that was your pleasure (Matt. 11:25-26).

IX
Who teach that the cause for God's sending the gospel to one people rather than to another is not merely and solely God's good pleasure, but rather that one people is better and worthier than the other to whom the gospel is not communicated.


For Moses contradicts this when he addresses the people of Israel as follows: Behold, to Jehovah your God belong the heavens and the highest heavens, the earth and whatever is in it. But Jehovah was inclined in his affection to love your ancestors alone, and chose out their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day (Deut. 10:14-15). And also Christ: Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! for if those mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matt. 11:21).

* All quotations from Scripture are translations of the original Latin manuscript.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Holy Subjection

Real Christianity is a mystery to many people. The way Christians live simply doesn't make sense according to the world's calculations. But we have learned Christ, and we follow in his steps, therefore the way we live makes perfect sense. This way of living as God's holy people does bring suffering, but it also powerfully accomplishes God's good plan.

One facet of living honorable lives for God is submitting ourselves to proper authority. This hits home, literally, in the husband/wife relationship. The Word of God has direct instruction on this which confounds the wisdom of this age, but which also works with a power the world knows nothing of. Come and commit yourself to God's way this Lord's Day!

Songs
Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (#588)
A Sovereign Protector I Have (#615)
It Is Well with My Soul (#371)
Our Great Savior (#434)

Scripture Reading
Family Relationships Reflect the Trinity - 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Sermon
Holy Subjection to Husbands - 1 Peter 3:1-6

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Forming a More Perfect Union

This is just for fun.

Some time ago my wife and I discovered a "treaty" of sorts drawn up by one of our children (who shall remain nameless) after some disagreements had come up on sharing space. We got a good laugh out of it, and we are also extra glad that our children have to share space. It's good for them.

We, the citizens of the playroom and bedroom, in order to form a more perfect union, do hereby declare that A and B shall not come in the playroom during the time which C and D are dressing, the same opposite or vice versa.

B shall express at which times she would prefer privacy, likewise C and D shall have that privilege.

All citizens of the playroom and bedroom will not come in each other's rooms. They will be polite and bow to each other's wishes on privacy.

Signed, ________________________________________________________

No one signed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Canons of the Synod of Dordt

Once the Remonstrants had put forward their challenge, the Reformed churches of the Netherlands responded by convening a council (also known as a synod) to decide on these doctrinal issues. The majority of the council came from the Netherlands, but there were also voting members from eight foreign countries. These 84 members met in 154 sessions over the course of six months to consider the Arminian position in the light of Scripture. In the end, they completely rejected the five points of doctrine put forward by the Remonstrants. However, they felt it was inadequate to simply refute the Arminian position, so they also adopted a positive statement of Calvinistic beliefs. Thus their statement has been given the name "canons," which refers to a measure or standard of belief. It is important to remember that the synod did not attempt to give a full statement of belief. It only dealt with the five doctrinal points of dispute with the Arminians. It is from this that we get the popularly known "five points of Calvinism."

Besides publishing their canons, the synod endorsed the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, and ordered a thorough revision of the Dutch Bible from the Hebrew and Greek.

I'll reproduce here the first main point of doctrine.

The First Main Point of Doctrine

Divine Election and Reprobation

The Judgment Concerning Divine Predestination Which the Synod Declares to Be in Agreement with the Word of God and Accepted Till Now in the Reformed Churches, Set Forth in Several Articles

Article 1 - God's Right to Condemn All People
Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: "The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God" (Rom. 3:19), "All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), and "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).*[Scripture translations are from the Latin manuscript of the synod.]

Article 2 - The Manifestation of God's Love
But this is how God showed his love: he sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Article 3 - The Preaching of the Gospel
In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For "how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15).

Article 4 - A Twofold Response to the Gospel
God's anger remains on those who do not believe this gospel. But those who do accept it and embrace Jesus the Savior with a true and living faith are delivered through him from God's anger and from destruction, and receive the gift of eternal life.

Article 5 - The Sources of Unbelief and of Faith
The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man. Faith in Jesus Christ, however, and salvation through him is a free gift of God. As Scripture says, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is a gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). Likewise: "It has been freely given to you to believe in Christ" (Phil. 1:29).

Article 6 - God's Eternal Decision
The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For "all his works are known to God from eternity" (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to us his act—unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just—of distinguishing between people equally lost. This is the well-known decision of election and reprobation revealed in God's Word. This decision the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, but it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words.

Article 7 - Election
Election [or choosing] is God's unchangeable purpose by which he did the following:
Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, he chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race, which had fallen by its own fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin. Those chosen were neither better nor more deserving than the others, but lay with them in the common misery. He did this in Christ, whom he also appointed from eternity to be the mediator, the head of all those chosen, and the foundation of their salvation. And so he decided to give the chosen ones to Christ to be saved, and to call and draw them effectively into Christ's fellowship through his Word and Spirit. In other words, he decided to grant them true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally, after powerfully preserving them in the fellowship of his Son, to glorify them.

God did all this in order to demonstrate his mercy, to the praise of the riches of his glorious grace. As Scripture says, "God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, so that we should be holy and blameless before him with love; he predestined us whom he adopted as his children through Jesus Christ, in himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, by which he freely made us pleasing to himself in his beloved" (Eph. 1:4-6). And elsewhere, "Those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30).

Article 8 - A Single Decision of Election
This election is not of many kinds; it is one and the same election for all who were to be saved in the Old and the New Testament. For Scripture declares that there is a single good pleasure, purpose, and plan of God's will, by which he chose us from eternity both to grace and to glory, both to salvation and to the way of salvation, which he prepared in advance for us to walk in.

Article 9 - Election Not Based on Foreseen Faith
This same election took place, not on the basis of foreseen faith, of the obedience of faith, of holiness, or of any other good quality and disposition, as though it were based on a prerequisite cause or condition in the person to be chosen, but rather for the purpose of faith, of the obedience of faith, of holiness, and so on. Accordingly, election is the source of each of the benefits of salvation. Faith, holiness, and the other saving gifts, and at last eternal life itself, flow forth from election as its fruits and effects. As the apostle says, "He chose us" (not because we were, but) "so that we should be holy and blameless before him in love" (Eph. 1:4).

Article 10 - Election Based on God's Good Pleasure
But the cause of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God. This does not involve his choosing certain human qualities or actions from among all those possible as a condition of salvation, but rather involves his adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as his own possession. As Scripture says, "When the children were not yet born, and had done nothing either good or bad..., she" (Rebecca)" was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated"" (Rom. 9:11-13). Also, "All who were appointed for eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).

Article 11 - Election Unchangeable
Just as God himself is most wise, unchangeable, all-knowing, and almighty, so the election made by him can neither be suspended nor altered, revoked, or annulled; neither can his chosen ones be cast off, nor their number reduced.

Article 12 - The Assurance of Election
Assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God's Word— such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.

Article 13 - The Fruit of This Assurance
In their awareness and assurance of this election God's children daily find greater cause to humble themselves before God, to adore the fathomless depth of his mercies, to cleanse themselves, and to give fervent love in return to him who first so greatly loved them. This is far from saying that this teaching concerning election, and reflection upon it, make God's children lax in observing his commandments or carnally self-assured. By God's just judgment this does usually happen to those who casually take for granted the grace of election or engage in idle and brazen talk about it but are unwilling to walk in the ways of the chosen.

Article 14 - Teaching Election Properly
Just as, by God's wise plan, this teaching concerning divine election has been proclaimed through the prophets, Christ himself, and the apostles, in Old and New Testament times, and has subsequently been committed to writing in the Holy Scriptures, so also today in God's church, for which it was specifically intended, this teaching must be set forth—with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner, at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching into the ways of the Most High. This must be done for the glory of God's most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.

Article 15 - Reprobation
Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God's eternal election— those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision:
to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice.
And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.

Article 16 - Responses to the Teaching of Reprobation
Those who do not yet actively experience within themselves a living faith in Christ or an assured confidence of heart, peace of conscience, a zeal for childlike obedience, and a glorying in God through Christ, but who nevertheless use the means by which God has promised to work these things in us—such people ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to count themselves among the reprobate; rather they ought to continue diligently in the use of the means, to desire fervently a time of more abundant grace, and to wait for it in reverence and humility. On the other hand, those who seriously desire to turn to God, to be pleasing to him alone, and to be delivered from the body of death, but are not yet able to make such progress along the way of godliness and faith as they would like—such people ought much less to stand in fear of the teaching concerning reprobation, since our merciful God has promised that he will not snuff out a smoldering wick and that he will not break a bruised reed. However, those who have forgotten God and their Savior Jesus Christ and have abandoned themselves wholly to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh—such people have every reason to stand in fear of this teaching, as long as they do not seriously turn to God.

Article 17 - The Salvation of the Infants of Believers
Since we must make judgments about God's will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.

Article 18 - The Proper Attitude Toward Election and Reprobation
To those who complain about this grace of an undeserved election and about the severity of a just reprobation, we reply with the words of the apostle, "Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?" (Rom. 9:20), and with the words of our Savior, "Have I no right to do what I want with my own?" (Matt. 20:15). We, however, with reverent adoration of these secret things, cry out with the apostle: "Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways beyond tracing out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen" (Rom. 11:33-36).