Friday, July 31, 2009

Observation on America by Octogenarian Historian

John Lukacs, who fled his native Hungary when the Russians took control after WWII, wrote this in his diary on January 18, 2005.

Sixty years ago today, 18 Jan. '45, 9:45 a.m. Budapest, the first Russians. It was something else than 'liberation,' it was Zero Hour. From then on, Russia and America. And now only America, with dwarves ruling it, and the world. I knew what the Russians meant, and I went, fled to America, for an older, more decent, freer life in a free country, in a free world. So much of that now...gone.

Last Rites, p. 99.

Love and Life

More reflections by Lukacs:

He quotes Lathrop, "The finest art, the finest in life, is formed by love."

Later, he quotes Edmund Burke, from Reflections on the Revolution in France: "To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind."

Finally, Lukacs himself: "When we love someone we see her as God sees her - I said that, more than once, to my wives. That has always been true. But in America I have learned something else too, which is that love is practical. Do not say that to your American wife. She might say: 'Yes. Now please go and empty the dishwasher.'"

These men are touching on a decisive component of a conservative way of life. I believe it springs from a biblical imperative, which is to love your neighbor. Apart from real love with real people in real life, we cannot truly live.

Living Stones (Part 2)

Jesus Christ is the great stone laid by God. The majority of men stumble over that stone, but regardless of man's opinion, he is God's chosen and honored Rock upon which God is building a temple in which he will dwell. And you - you! - who come to Christ in faith are a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices. This is a position of incomparable privilege, drawing near to God: "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God....Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise" (Psa 84:1-4)! Gather with us this Lord's Day for such joy.

God Himself Is Present
Come, Thou Almighty King (#63)
Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy (#300)
Come, Ye Disconsolate (#317)
What Think Ye of Christ (#363)
Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me (#362)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 118

Living Stones (Part 2) - 1 Peter 2:4-8

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good Fruit for your Musical Diet

Scott Aniol has provided a nice list of musical "fruit" - healthy snacks for your listening pleasure. These instrumental works are easily accessible, yet worthwhile.

Billy Graham

Over at Grace & Glory (a blog you will want to check regularly), Dr. David Doran answers the question, "Why are we so hung up on Billy Graham?"

Worse than Decadence

I recently picked up a copy of historian John Lukacs' latest book, Last Rites, at the library. Lukacs is an intriguing historian because he recognizes the importance of ideas. I find that when I read his books I am consistently challenged to stretch my mental capacity and to hone my verbal precision. But beyond that, I find some of his observations on Western society compelling. Here is one quote that is worth meditation.
...Puerility is a dangerous thing. There are, alas, many institutions in this country now, ranging from education to entertainment, that contribute to it, and powerfully so. But the sustenance of puerility may be even worse than decadence. (After all, decadence is chock full of dissolving maggots of maturity, of remnant memories that puerility does not possess.) (68).
The application of this wisdom to the church in America is rather unsettling, to say the least.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 10)

XXIV. Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a tongue as the people understandeth
It is a thing plainly repugnant to the word of God and the custom of the primitive Church, to have public prayer in the Church, or to minister the sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people.

XXV. Of the Sacraments
Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God's good will towards us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in Him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five, commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, have they a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as S. Paul saith.

Article 24 continues to denounce the unscriptural practices of Roman Catholicism, this time dealing with the language in which church services are conducted. We take it for granted today that when we show up at church meetings we will hear our own language. But this was not the case with the Roman Catholic church in that day. All liturgy was conducted in Latin. But the Reformation restored ministry to the people by restoring the use of the common language.

Article 25 also is largely concerned with cutting off the cancerous growths that Roman Catholicism had added to the biblical teaching on baptism and the Lord's Supper. However, attentive readers will also notice that the Anglican teaching on this subject is very close to the Lutheran teaching set forth in the Augsburg Confession and elsewhere. In fact, it is essentially the same as the Roman Catholic doctrine.

The first paragraph of this article not only goes beyond the teachings of Zwingli and Calvin, it affirms that the sacraments are "effectual signs of grace." This is, in a nutshell, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which teaches that baptism in some manner gives us new spiritual life. As one Anglican commentator put it, "In baptism we are quickened by a gift of new life." This teaching is also confirmed by the Book of Common Prayer and catechism.

Furthermore, the Anglican belief in baptismal regeneration is confirmed by what the Article omitted. A previous statement of faith, the Thirteen Articles, provided a building block for the Thirty-nine Articles. Paragraph 4 of Article 25, in its previous usage contained a statement condemning the Roman Catholic doctrine that baptism works ex opere operato, which simply means that baptism is automatically effective as long as one does not put any obstacles in its way. But Article 25 dropped that condemnation, effectively endorsing the definition of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent. [See our discussion of this issue in the Augsburg Confession here.]

Consequently, the work of reformation needed to continue. In God's good providence he raised up Baptists in the next century in England to proclaim a more Scriptural view of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Update 7/30/09: The most recent edition of the journal Themelios contains an article which examines Martin Luther's doctrine of baptism in relationship to justification by faith: "Sola Fide Compromised? Martin Luther and the Doctrine of Baptism" by D. Patrick Ramsey.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Don't Moan or Squeak: Lessons on Public Prayer

In light of our efforts as a church to reform our corporate worship according to the Word of God, I thought you might like to read these quotes from Charles Spurgeon relating to public prayer, provided by Pastor Doug Roman.

Here is one quote that is humorous but true:

Never imitate those who are earnest. You know a good man who groans, and another whose voice grows shrill when he is carried away with zeal, but do not therefore moan or squeak in order to appear as zealous as they are. Just be natural the whole way through, and ask of God to be guided in it all.

Here is my favorite:

I feel, my brethren, that we ought to prepare ourselves by private prayer for public praying. By living near to God we ought to maintain prayerfulness of spirit, and then we shall not fail in our vocal pleadings.

(HT: Immoderate)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Living Stones

God's unstoppable purpose throughout human history has been to glorify himself by establishing his rule of loving sovereignty and fellowship with men and by dwelling with them forever. At the very moment you are reading this, he is accomplishing that purpose in all those who come to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Join with us this Lord's Day to see it in action as his people offer up spiritual sacrifices to him.

Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today (#156)
Lamb of God, Thou Now Art Seated (#160)
Jesus, in His Heavenly Glory (#170)
Father of Peace (#172)
Our Great High Priest Is Sitting (#173)
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (#184)

Scripture Reading
Isaiah 28

Living Stones - 1 Peter 2:4-5

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Let Him Pray!

Last night in our discussion of prayer we talked for a time about James 5:13-18. We didn't have time to talk about it thoroughly, so I really want to follow up on that discussion. Sadly, however, I do not have time to write out a careful and thorough post on the subject, so I am going to post an inferior substitute. Perhaps this isn't the wisest thing to do in a venue that the whole world can read, but I beg your leniency as you read. Below you will find a rough "transcript" of a sermon I preached on this passage on January 4 of this year. I hope it encourages you to pray!

Let Him Pray
The Prayer of Faith and the Salvation of the Sick
James 5:13-18

Today we are going to look at a passage of Scripture which “thwacks” our modern worldview pretty hard. In fact, this text nails it so hard that we often walk away from it shaking our heads and throwing up our hands. We don’t know what to do with it, so we generally just leave it alone. James 5:13-18.

However, we have come to a place in the life of our church where it is time for us to put this text into practice. We need to deal with it. And as I thought about it, I thought that this might be a perfect opportunity for us to start out the new year being transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is an opportunity for us to see life from God’s perspective and to put it into practice. In other words, it is trusting and obeying. Or, to add the emphasis of this passage, it is obeying by trusting and praying.

As you know, Rebecca has cancer and will be having surgery this week. Last week, the Bernhards asked if we could do exactly what this passage states. I said that we most certainly will do this. But because this is so foreign to us, I thought that it would be wise to preach through the text in order to obey it reverently and carefully. How many of you have ever participated in what this text is talking about? How many have never, ever seen this before? Let’s look at the Word of God and see what God wants us to do when one among us is gravely ill.

Command (v. 13-14)
As James comes to the end of his challenging little epistle (living wholeheartedly for God), he concludes with some exhortations, and one of his main concerns is that God’s people pray. He gives three specific situations in which our response should be to turn their eyes to the Lord.
First, if anyone is suffering, he should pray. This is difficulty or trouble of any kind. If you find yourself in financial difficulty, you should pray. If you find yourself in difficulty in a relationship with another person, you should pray. If circumstances are troubling, you should pray. Now James, as he does so well, is bearing down specifically in our lives. There are many exhortations to pray in the NT, but James is not content to simply call us to pray. He wants to emphasize how we should respond in the realities of life, so he breaks life down, points at one aspect, and says, How about this? What is your natural and instinctive reaction when life is difficult? Is it to whine or complain? Is it to get depressed and go get therapy? Is it to go eat chocolate? Is it to go spend money or go on a vacation? What is your instinctive response when life is difficult? James says it ought to be to pray.
Next, James points to a different scenario. Are you happy? Are you cheerful? Then sing psalms, songs of praise, to the Lord. Give praise to God. This should be the natural bent of your heart when you live wholeheartedly for the Lord.
Third, James points to one more scenario, and here is where we start to feel the “thwack” on our conception of life. But it is a good “thwack” for it should help us to live by faith. This scenario deals with someone who is sick. The picture we get from reading this passage is actually of some who is seriously ill (“sick, call for, pray over, raise up”). It is not a case of the sniffles or an upset stomach. This is someone who is evidently quite ill and possibly facing death.
I point this out because we should not try to use the instructions in this passage as a fix-it when we just don’t feel good. “I’ve had a cold for three weeks and it just won’t go away. I think I will call the elders.” No. As we will see later, that is actually a terrible distortion of the point of these instructions. This passage is talking about someone who is very ill.
Now, because of the difficulties of this passage, some have contended that it is not talking about a physically sick person, but a spiritually weak person. So right up front here I want to clarify why I believe that we should apply this to physically sick people. Whenever this Greek term means spiritual weakness, that is made clear by a modifier (Rom 14). Also, in the gospels, which heavily influence James, it always means sickness. Finally, the confluence of the other terms used in our text points convincingly toward physical sickness. That is why the leading Greek lexicon says that this term indicates “to suffer a debilitating illness, be sick.” This is also confirmed by Mark 6:13, which describes a similar situation to the one James is talking about. So we are dealing here with a very sick Christian.
What can a Christian do when he is faced with severe illness? Can he go to a doctor? Absolutely. Can he eat a healthy diet and take herbal supplements? Without a doubt. Can he try therapy? Certainly. None of these things are contrary to Scripture, or to what James is saying here. Nevertheless, whatever a Christian does to respond to severe illness, there is one thing that James says is absolutely crucial. Given what he has already said in v. 13, we have a good idea of what his main point is going to be. He wants us to respond by depending on God, and this faith or trust shows itself supremely in prayer. This is truly life-changing, worldview shaping kinds of stuff.
However, in this case, the Word of God instructs the sick Christian to do something a little bit different. If he is suffering, he can personally pray. If he is cheerful, he can personally sing psalms. But here, perhaps due to the gravity of the situation, he is to call someone else to pray. He is to call the elders of the church, and they are to come and pray over him. (This does not mean, of course, that he cannot pray himself as well.) It indicates that something very important is happening here, something with significance. From what follows in the text, I believe that the sick Christian is commanded to do this in order to demonstrate his faith in and consecration to the Lord. We will see this as we look at what he is to do.
He is, first of all, to call the elders of the church. The elders are the ones who are the overseers of the church. Their responsibility is to “shepherd” or “pastor” the flock of God. They are not doctors, nor are they magically invested with some ability to heal people. They are called because there is a real need for spiritual leadership in the situation. There is a real need for earnest, fervent, and faith-filled prayer. The spiritual leaders of the church should be the ones to do just that.
So the elders are to pray over the sick person. Again, let me emphasize that this is the main point of James’ exhortation. That’s why he keeps turning to this. But along with the prayer, the elders are instructed to anoint the sick Christian with oil. Now, here is where this starts to blow our minds as 21st century Americans, because this is very foreign to us. So let me just show you a little bit about how this is talked about in the Bible.
The term used here means to pour or rub a liquid, usually oil or perfume. It is always used in a literal sense in the NT, such as of Mary anointing Christ’s feet with perfume (Luke 7:38, 46; cf. John 11:2; 12:3), the disciples anointing the sick with oil (Mark 6:13), or the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion (Mark 16:1). So when James says to anoint with oil, he means a literal pouring on of oil.
But what does it mean? Why would the Bible tell elders to pour oil on sick people? There are few errors to be avoided here. Pouring oil in this passage is not medicinal. This indicated by the use of the term and by the fact that it is elders who are called, not doctors. Pouring oil is also not magical. Magic presupposes a pagan worldview. It means having a secret way to get some forces in the universe to overcome other forces in the universe. If I know the right incantation, then I can control the secret powers of nature to do what I want. If I can just get my hands on that magic lamp, then I will get my three wishes from the genie. This kind of thinking is what eventually developed into the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction. This is also the same kind of thinking that underlies the health, wealth, and prosperity false teachers of our day. But it is clear that James puts no such trust in anointing with oil. The whole emphasis here is not on oil, but on prayer. Besides that, we see examples in Scripture of healing without anointing. Anointing with oil is something of a sideline here.
However, there is another error that we are perhaps more prone to fall into. This is the error that makes anointing with oil meaningless. There are those who say that anointing with oil is completely dispensable. It was something which had some meaning to those first century people, but to us sophisticated and enlightened Americans, it doesn’t mean anything, so we can just dispense with it. We are a people who tend to treat all symbolic actions lightly. (All humans are symbol making and symbol using creatures, but sometimes we recognize and develop this fact, while at other times we ignore and destroy this fact – decivilizing ourselves.) Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two key symbolic actions that we do not feel the significance of, and that trickles down into all the symbolic actions talked about in the NT. We tend to treat all of them as if they are completely dispensable. And do you know what happens in that kind of a scenario? We adopt the symbols of the world around us, and hence we adopt to one degree or another the meaning of the symbols of the world around us. Symbols always carry meaning, and our lives are always defined by some meaning. Therefore, the symbols we use influence the meaning of our lives tremendously.
I believe that one of the reasons Christians in our day are conformed to the world in deep ways is that we have lost all appreciation for the symbols that God has given us. No, we shouldn’t turn the symbols into sacraments. But we should define our lives by the meaningful actions we participate in.
Anointing with oil in Scripture most often signifies consecration to God, and I believe that meaning fits very well with our text. Turn to Exodus 40. Cf. how the Psalmist skillfully used this rich meaning in Psalm 133. Now back to our text.
While I fully acknowledge that James is not making oil a prerequisite for healing, I do want to say that he didn’t just throw that in there on a whim. Sometimes we treat these inspired words in that way. We spend all our time explaining why we really don’t have to do that, and I believe we are bit by bit explaining away a rich Christian worldview. In this text, James is calling on us to deal with our severe sicknesses in a specific way, in a Christian way, a way that shows the world that we trust in God. We believe that God is the source and sustainer of our lives, and we live for him.
This truth comes out powerfully in the little phrase that James appends to anointing with oil – “in the name of the Lord.” It is used in the Gospels in association with the coming of the Messianic King (Matt 21:9; 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38; John 12:13). And since Jesus sent the apostles on their mission by his authority, they carried out the work in his name. In Acts we find people being baptized in the name of the Lord (8:16; 19:5). Paul preached in the name of the Lord (9:27-28; cf. 5:27-32). The apostles healed in Christ’s name (3:6; cf. 19:13). *God’s people are characterized as those who call on his name (1 Cor 1:2). Church discipline is carried out in his name (Matt 18:20; 1 Cor 5:4; 2 Thess 3:6). Believers are to give thanks and do everything in Christ’s name (Eph 5:20; Col 3:17), and the name of the Lord is to be glorified in them (2 Thess 1:12). Our entire salvation can be said to come about in the name of the Lord (1 Cor 6:11). Thus, in our text, this phrase signifies that the prayer and anointing (1) invokes the authority of Jesus Christ, (2) depends upon or trusts in the power of Jesus Christ, and (3) is done for the cause of Christ. That’s why this action is so significant! Our sickness becomes an opportunity to demonstrate entire consecration to Christ.

Promise (v. 15-16a)
The Word of God then gives this promise…. Our expectation is that the Lord will grant healing. We have good grounds from the Word of God to expect that he will raise up the sick Christian. (Remember that this is not a magic show.)

But then James adds another component of this promise which we tend to find baffling. Forgiveness of sins? Where did that comes from? I thought we were talking about sick people! We are, and if you will keep in mind all that we just talked about, you will understand how James easily brings up forgiveness of sins. In the biblical worldview, physiological illness is connected to spiritual issues, although the connection is not always clear. We cannot say that because someone is sick, they must have sinned (Job). James is careful to convey that there is not a direct linkage between sin and sickness. (He uses a 3rd class condition, which says nothing definite about sin being involved.) However, he clearly understands that sin and sickness are connected, and any given case of sickness may be related to personal sin.
So, before someone can be consecrated to God and see healing come about for the cause of Christ, sin has to be dealt with. If there is sin, it must be confessed, and fellow believers can pray then for the sick person.
When we do this, the Scripture gives us…

Encouragement (v. 16-18)
The encouragement is by way of one powerful truth and an illustration. This truth is pulsing with energy, intensity, power. We might be tempted to think, Can this really be true for us? Can we really do what James is saying and expect to see the Lord work? After all, we are not great spiritual giants!
In answer to our question the Word directs our attention to Elijah….

So as I conclude this message, I want us to start off 2009 as a church with this kind of faith, with this kind of prayer. May Rebecca’s cancer be a challenge to all of us to act by the authority of Christ, trusting in the power of Christ, for the cause of Christ. And as we do that, God will do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. And may God receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 9)

XXI. Of the Authority of General Councils
General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.

XXII. Of Purgatory
The Romish doctrine concerning Pugatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.

XXIII. Of Ministering in the Congregation
It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching or ministering the sacraments in the congregation, before he be lawfully called and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard.

As the Articles continue discussing the doctrine of the church, they make clear that general councils of the church are not infallible. This was an important point in overthrowing certain false teachings of the Roman Catholics (namely, purgatory, pardons, etc. in Article 22). It was also important in view of the fact that the Roman Catholics of that day had convened what they called an Ecumencial Council, the Council of Trent, to push back against the Reformation. The English churchmen in effect preempted any decisions that the council of Trent would formulate. Correctly, they asserted that the decisions of all councils must be according to Scripture.

The first sentence of Article 21 shines out like a neon light to Baptists, for it reveals a distinct difference in the idea of the church between Anglicans and Baptists. Of course, Baptists were not yet on the scene historically when the Articles were written, but Baptists later emerged in part because of their distinctive views on the church. As the Second London Baptist Confession would make clear, Baptists believe that Jesus Christ, as the sovereign head of his church, has given all the authority necessary to each church (Chapter 26.7). Therefore, any council which may be called has can only advise the particular churches concerned. It is not "entrusted with any Church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the Churches themselves" (Chapter 26.15). In this view, the "commandment and will of princes" has nothing to do with calling councils.

Article 23 describes the need for an external and lawful call for all who minister in the congregation. This was done in opposition to some Anabaptist views that every Christian man was qualified by the Spirit to minister without regard to authorization by church or state. This article also speaks of who may issue this external call. The language here is vague, but it is most likely to be interpreted in light of the episcopal system which the Church of England maintains. This means that the bishops of the church have the public authority to call and send ministers.

Again, this differs from our belief that each particular church has all the authorization it needs from Christ to call and send ministers. However, this does not mean that we believe that any man who feels like he is called to minister may automatically do so. 1 Timothy 3 and 5:22 are clear that there are objective standards which must be met before a man may be authorized to serve the congregation.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Living in an Equine Environment

If you are looking for a little instructive and entertaining reading this Saturday, here are a couple opinion pieces by two men known for their wit: Douglas Wilson on environmentalism, and Mark Steyn on an equine analogy to living in America today.

Teach Others Also

"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:1-2). The process described in this verse is at the heart of carrying on the faith of Jesus Christ, and this Lord's Day we will have the privilege of hearing from one who is committed to carrying this process forward in the land of Kenya. Jeremy Pittsley, along with his wife Jenny and new son Jonas, will be with us, and we look forward to hearing the Word from this brother.

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)
And Can It Be (#335)
Ho! Ye that Thirst (#678)
Revive Thy Work, O Lord (#687)
The Call for Reapers (#694)
For My Sake and the Gospel's, Go (#695)

Scripture Reading
2 Corinthians 4:1-18

Jeremy Pittsley - missionary appointee to Kenya

Going to Sunday School Is Detrimental

"Going to Sunday School statistically... is detrimental to the spiritual health of your children....They are better off if they didn't go to Sunday School." So says Ken Ham, speaking of recent research into why 2/3 of young adults who grow up in church leave the church. You'll have to listen to the whole thing to get why he said that.

What do you say?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Not Christian

I have been working slowly through the Articles of Religion of the Church of England on the blog. You can see from these articles that the original doctrinal formulations of the CoE (Anglican Church) were definitely within the bounds of orthodoxy. However, I should also make very clear that the days of the Anglican communion being a clearly orthodox body are long since past. The Episcopal Church USA, historically a branch of worldwide Anglicanism, is militantly defiant of biblical morality. It is not Christian in any biblical sense whatsoever.

See here for recent news. Albert Mohler also commented on the current situation on his blog today.

Update 7/17/09: Albert Mohler continues to demonstrate the total apostasy present in the ECUSA.

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 8)

The Articles conclude their confession regarding personal religion with Article 18, and they then move on to discuss corporate religion.

XVII. Of Obtaining Eternal Salvation Only by the Name of Christ
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.

XIX. Of the Church
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.

XX. Of the Authority of the Church
The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.

In the days of Elizabethan England, as well as in Obamathan America, there were those who believed that it does not matter what a man believes, as long as he is sincere in practicing his faith he will ultimately be saved. Article 18 takes pains to declare that this is an accursed error.

However, men have still found a way to evade the force of this article by focusing on what it does not say. In other words, they argue that this article only refers to those who live under the sound of the gospel and that it has no reference to the heathen. (See, for example, The Thirty-nine Articles by B. J. Kidd, pp. 159-60). I note this because this false teaching is still around today and is advocated by professing evangelicals. For those who wish to study this further, I recommend chapters 9 and 10 in For the Sake of His Name by Pearson Johnson.

On the doctrine of the church, I would refer you to the notes from our recent seminar in New Testament theology.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Wages of Sin Is Death

Sean Lucas makes an excellent application of the teaching of Proverbs to the tragic death of Steve McNair. It is another sobering reminder to stay off the path that leads to death and to turn wholeheartedly to Christ instead.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Getting Noticed

In case you haven't noticed, High Country Baptist Church strives to attain being a traditional, conservative church. But that very fact makes HCBC rather noticeable.

A Holy Longing for the Word

As those who are strangers and exiles in this world, we must love our brothers and sisters in Christ, which means that we must rigorously exclude all love-killers from our lives. But in addition to earnest love, we must have a holy longing for the spiritual nourishment we need in order to grow up to salvation. I hope that you will join us this Lord's Day with a longing for this pure milk and that our time together will whet your appetite for more.

Come Thou Almighty King (#63)
O Father, Thou Whose Love Profound (#29)
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above (#60)
This Is My Father's World (#61)
Psalm 1
Psalm 119d

Scripture Reading
John 21

A Holy Longing for the Word - 1 Peter 2:1-3

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 7)

XVII. Of Predestination and Election
Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.

All of the major streams of the Reformation affirmed predestination and election, except the Anabaptists. The Anglicans, however, took a softer position than did Luther or Calvin. Article 17 says nothing about reprobation. In fact, this article seems more concerned to deal with the practical use of the doctrine than it does with the specific content of the doctrine.

The second sentence of the first paragraph tries to guard against antinomianism. Sometimes the doctrine of predestination and election has been distorted into "once saved, always saved" with no thought for the way the grace of God actually works in a man's life. From this, many erroneously think that they can live like the devil and still be saved because of "eternal security." Article 17 clearly contradicts such thinking.

The article goes on to assert that this doctrine is beneficial for the converted but damaging for the unconverted. While I agree that an unbeliever must not use this doctrine in ways that God never intended it to be used, I'm not sure that the formulation adopted in this article does justice to the Scriptural example on this subject. The apostles did not preach expositions on election to the unconverted, it is true, but neither did they avoid the topic as if it were somehow damaging to the non-elect. Having "the sentence of God's predestination" before the eyes of unbelievers is not a "most dangerous downfall" unless the doctrine is twisted to become something God never intended.

The last sentence teaches that men must act according to God's revealed promises and instructions. This is certainly true, and the doctrine of predestination and election, rightly understood, does nothing to inhibit this.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Gospel of Grace

When Christians in this country think of freedom this weekend, we cannot help but be brought back to the good news of God's grace, which is the only means of true freedom. Thank God for his grace, and join us to worship the God who gives freedom from slavery to sin and Satan.

Praise Ye the Lord (#42)
The Name High Over All (#31)
Chosen of God (#290)
A Debtor to Mercy Alone (#614)
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
How Sweet and Awful Is the Place (#238)

Scripture Reading
The Resurrection - John 20

Give Thanks for the Evidence of the Gospel of Grace - Colossians 1:3-8
Joel Compton

Thursday, July 02, 2009

God Himself Is Present

This post follows on the same line as the previous one, but I felt that this was worth highlighting on its own. Ryan Martin has posted a sterling quote from Jonathan Edwards on worshiping the Lord reverently. Once again, Edwards hits us in the heart for our trite responses to the God of glory. Edwards wrote:

"When any social open act of devotion, or solemn worship of God is performed, God should be reverenced as visibly present, by those that are present."

Please read the entire post.

Thoughts on Church and Worship

I've not been posting much on the blog lately due to other responsibilities, but now I'd like to catch up a little bit with some links to a few things of note.

Terry Mattingly sums up the McChurch trend.

Chuck King examines applause, and other responses, in congregational worship. (HT: Religious Affections Ministries)

And speaking of Religious Affections Ministries, Scott Aniol is working diligently to train his children to worship God. He writes about it here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 6)

XIV. Of Works of Supererrogation
Voluntary works besides, over and above, God's commandments which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for His sake than of bounden duty is required: Whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We be unprofitable servants.

XV. Of Christ Alone without Sin
Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which He was clearly void, both in His flesh and in His spirit. He came to be the lamb without spot, Who by sacrifice of Himself once made, should take away the sins of the world: and sin, as S. John saith, was not in Him. But all we the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

XVI. Of Sin after Baptism
Not every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.

In these articles, the English reformers continued to refute or reject false traditions that had developed in Roman Catholicism. Article 16 brings up the subject of "the unpardonable sin," a subject that has caused not a little consternation among Christians over the centuries. I can only state briefly here my belief that the sin of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 12 is intentionally and knowledgeably attributing the miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit to the devil. It cannot be committed by believers in Jesus Christ. (For those who might be interested, you can read a thorough historical and exegetical discussion of the unpardonable sin here.)