Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Five Arminian Articles

We have completed going through the Schleitheim Confession (Swiss Anabaptist), the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran), and the Thirty-Nine Articles (Church of England). But not long after the foundational reformation confessions were drawn up in the sixteenth century, one of the most famous theological controversies of all time developed—the controversy between “Arminianism” and “Calvinism.”

In 1610 a group of Dutch followers of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) published their “remonstrance” against five points of reformed doctrine. While our church does not agree with the Remonstrants, understanding their position is important. Their position was roundly condemned by the Synod of Dort (which we will cover next, Lord willing), yet their basic ideas have become the majority view of contemporary American evangelicalism.

Article I
That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ's sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the gospel in John iii. 36: 'He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of god abideth on him,' and according to other passages of Scripture also.

Article II
That, agreeable thereto, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins, yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John iii. 16: 'God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' And in the First Epistle of John ii. 2: 'And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.'

Article 1 teaches the Arminian view of election, which is that in eternity past God determined to save those who would believe and continue in belief. In other words, God's choice (election) is only to save people by faith. The article says nothing about God choosing anyone in particular and then bringing about that person's salvation. Rather, it teaches that God simply decided to save whoever would believe.

Article 2 publishes the Arminian doctrine on what Christ accomplished by his death on the cross. According to this article, Jesus Christ actually obtained redemption and the forgiveness of sins for everyone. Does this mean that everyone is saved? No, the Arminian replies, because not everyone believes. Jesus Christ paid for your redemption, but even though he paid the full price you will not receive it unless you believe. This is the basic Arminian position on the "extent" of the atonement.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Live as Free Men

"Give me liberty, or give me death." These words have echoed throughout the history of our nation and have been intimately connected with our national identity. But as Christians, we can see these words as true in a much deeper sense. We will either have liberty - the freedom from sin which Christ provides - or we will have death - condemnation to God's eternal death-house called hell. The Word of God tells us to live as free men, and we will explore and enjoy this freedom this Lord's Day!

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (#184)
Hark! the Glad Sound (#126)
And Can It Be? (#335)
Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today (#156)
Make Me a Captive, Lord (#565)

Scripture Reading
Psalm 40

Live as Free Men - 1 Peter 2:16

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 17)

XXXVIII. Of Christian men’s goods which are not common
The riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast; notwithstanding every man ought of such things as he possesseth liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

XXXIX. Of a Christian man’s Oath
As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, so we judge that Christian religion doth not prohibit but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet's teaching in justice, judgement, and truth.

Thus concludes the Thirty-Nine Articles. Both of these last two articles are aimed against certain Anabaptists (for example, see here). From our perspective today, things such as oaths do not seem to merit something as weighty as confessional status. Why is it so important that it must be placed into the official statement of faith?

The answer is fairly simple - such things were so debated because the very nature of human society was at stake. You might compare it to debates about health care today. Everyone in the debate recognizes that more than health care per se is at stake; consequently, it has become a focal point of contention for competing visions of human society. The same kind of thing was true about the debates over oaths in the days of the Reformation.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Praying Church

Since we as a church have been consciously committing ourselves to praying more and more like Jesus, I thought you might like to see the example of one church that is working on "Praying for More than a Few Minutes."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 16)

XXXVII. Of the Civil Magistrate
The Queen's Majesty hath the chief power in this realm of England and other her dominions, unto whom the chief government of all estates of this realm, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not nor ought to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen's Majesty the chief government, by which titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended, we give not to our princes the ministering either of God's word or of sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify: but only that prerogative which we see to have been given always to all godly princes in Holy Scriptures by God himself, that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.

The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.

The laws of the realm may punish Christian men with death for heinous and grievous offences.

It is lawful for Christian men at the commandment of the Magistrate to wear weapons and serve in the wars.

In this article we find a nice window into the political world of the sixteenth century in Europe. As with the preceding articles, it may seem a bit outdated from our twenty-first century perspective. Yet once again it is grappling with a perennial issue of human society.

It seems to me that society in those days was thought of as a seamless cloth. It was one. Yet within that unity there were two facets of life - spiritual and temporal. The Church had jurisdiction over the spiritual realm, and the Crown had jurisdiction over the temporal. Church and Crown thus worked together, with mutual obligations, responsibilities, and prerogatives. Naturally, there had always been some tension between Church and Crown on how these responsibilities and prerogatives played out. The Popes of the Roman Catholic church had tended toward claiming supreme authority for themselves. But in England a generation prior to the Thirty-Nine Articles, King Henry VIII had broken with the Roman church and made himself "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England." By the time of the Articles, the monarchy had lost some of this power, and Article 37 embraces a softer form of monarchical rule.

Thus the monarch was given rule over the church in England. However, this rule was not unlimited. The article specifically denies the ministry of God's word or the sacraments to the monarch. Although in a different political context, the stance taken in Article 37 is very similar to the position of the Augsburg Confession.

The struggle between Church and Crown in England set the stage for the political ideas that would later be acted out in our own country. In the seventeenth century, many Anglicans asserted strong monarchical power against rising ideas of popular sovereignty. The conflict ended up in a civil war during the 1640's. During that time, the Westminster Confession engaged Presbyterian ideas in the struggle for civil government. These ideas, combined with the writings of John Locke, would become more influential as time went on.

I make these brief comments for this purpose: to help you see that our ideas about religion, the Bible, and theology always have political ramifications. The church of Jesus Christ has no political mandate, but at the same time, her success or failure at making disciples of Jesus Christ will affect the political life of the society in which we live in a massive way.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Heart Healed and Changed By Mercy

Sin enslaved me many years,
And led me bound and blind;
Till at length a thousand fears
Came swarming o'er my mind.
"Where," I said, in deep distress,
"Will these sinful pleasures end?
How shall I secure my peace,
And make the Lord my friend?"

Friends and ministers said much
The gospel to enforce;
But my blindness still was such,
I chose a legal course:
Much I fasted, watch'd, and strove,
Scarce would show my face abroad,
Fear'd almost to speak or move,
A stranger still to God.

Thus afraid to trust his grace,
Long time did I rebel;
Till, despairing of my case,
Down at his feet I fell.
Then my stubborn heart he broke,
And subdued me to his sway;
By a simple word he spoke,
"Thy sins are done away."

William Cowper

Learning to Love the Lord: Homeschooling Coming of Age

Kevin Swanson, who has been a leader in the homeschooling movement for over a decade now, reflects back on the lessons learned and changes made within the homeschooling community. For those of you who homeschool, I think you will find this radio broadcast to be both thought provoking and encouraging.

As this broadcast demonstrates, homeschooling is not perfection, nor is it the entire picture of life. But if nothing else, I hope this broadcast will help you see that homeschooling truly fits within and pushes toward an entire way of life. It is a way of living which opposes the statist, collectivist, or individualist pagan ideologies of our day. Instead, with roots in robust Christian doctrine, it is battling to grow up to familist and personal community. It is at heart an earnest attempt to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors, not in sentimental ways, but in righteous ways.

Listen in...and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Savior of the World

Jesus Christ is the savior of all men, no matter what their national, ethnic, racial, social, or economic standing might be. This is the greatest news this weary world could ever hear, and it is our responsibility to take it to the world. Join us this Lord's Day as we seek to lift up the name of Jesus as the Savior!

Thou, the God Who Changes Never (#18)
Blessed Be the Name (no refrain) (#41)
The Name High Over All (#31)
O Savior, Precious Savior (#43)
Jesus Paid It All (#390)
Glory Be to God the Father (#72)

Scripture Reading
The Savior of the World - John 4:1-42

The Challenge of Muslim Ministry

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Turn the World Upside Down (Part 2)

We exist to glorify and enjoy God by knowing him and making him known. The unstoppable force that propels this is love from the Spirit - loving our Lord Jesus Christ with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. With this in mind, we want to provoke a reformation to honor Christ as the saving Lord!

Since we want all men to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, we need to remember those key practices we have singled out as starting levers to begin making disciples of Jesus Christ. I will be posting these on the blog and printing them in our bulletin over the next few weeks so that we can refresh our minds and renew our commitment to these practices which turn the world upside down!

Make corporate worship the focal point of the church's activity.

The church can do many things, but all of them drive toward this. If we worship God aright as a body, the rest of life will tend to fall into line with this eternal perspective. By doing this, we make clear that Jesus is the saving Lord who is calling out a people for his name's sake.

Every Human Life is Precious

This video of the brief life of Thomas Laux is one of the most poignant reminders I have ever seen of how precious every human life is.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Thirty-Nine Articles (Part 15)

XXXV. Of Homilies
The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome doctrine and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth: and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the ministers diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.

XXXVI. Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers
The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such consecration and ordering; neither hath it anything that of itself is superstitious or ungodly.

And therefore whosoever are consecrate or ordered according to the rites of that book, since the second year of King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same rites, we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated or ordered.

To us it may seem odd that these kinds of statements were placed into the official confession of the Church of England. They were certainly aimed at particular controversies of that day, and thus they seem rather dated now. However, they do reflect deeper issues which are of abiding concern for all churches.

Article 35 attempts to control both ignorant and partisan preaching. In other words, many clergymen in the Anglican church either had little doctrinal knowledge or else had ideas of their own which were contrary to official church doctrine. We must remember, too, that in those days the pulpit was a primary source of social knowledge, similar to the media today. Consequently, what was said in the pulpit carried great social weight. In order to manage this, church leaders gave a list of prepared sermons which they required the clergy to read distinctly.

Of course, the deeper issue here is whether the church leaders could rightfully exercise such authority. The Puritans vigorously disagreed, and in 1572 they demanded that Parliament remove the requirement for these homilies.

Article 36 also touches on a deeper issue which contemporary American Christians don't think much about. Yet in the days of the Reformation it was at the forefront of everyone's thinking. It is the issue of legitimacy. Who can legitimately be considered a church officer? The Roman Catholics claimed that the Church of England's ordination was null and void because it departed from their ordination. The Puritans, on the other hand, felt that the ordination of the Anglican church was worthless, and even blasphemous, because it went far beyond the Scripture.

On both of these issues, we would judge that the Puritans were closer to the Scriptural revelation.