Saturday, May 30, 2009

Live and Die Serving the Lord Jesus

Missionary John Paton on giving your life for Christ:

Almost everyone thought it was very foolish for a promising young man to go to live among the cruel and uncivilized natives of the islands of the South Pacific. One old man exclaimed, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!”

“Mr. Dixon,” replied the young missionary appointee, “you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether my body is eaten by cannibals or by worms.”

HT: Missions Mandate

Friday, May 29, 2009

Who May Partake?

The Lord's Supper is a visible manifestation of our union with Christ. As such, it is inevitably a visible manifestation of our union with the body of Christ. The apostle Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (ESV):

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

In the context, the apostle uses this as an illustration for why Christians may not participate in pagan sacrificial feasts. If they participated in these feasts, they were participating with demons. But what is true of idolatrous feasts is also true of the Lord's Supper. Those who participate are directly expressing fellowship with Christ. They are also expressing partnership or fellowship with the body of Christ, the church, with which they partake.

This biblical reasoning is what lies underneath the apostle's statement in the next chapter of 1 Corinthians.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Cor 11:27, ESV).

Don't miss the gravity of this statement. The Scripture is saying that anyone who eats and drinks unworthily will become liable for the death of Jesus. This supper represents the death of Christ. By partaking in a manner that is unworthy, they are in effect placing themselves in the same position as those who rejected Jesus and crucified him. With all this at stake, what does it mean to partake in a worthy manner? From the context, we can gather that it includes coming to the table in light of the cross of Christ, recognizing ourselves as unworthy sinners who depend upon him alone. This gives a reverence and humility to our approach to the table. It also includes recognizing fellow believers as equal partakers of Christ (v. 22) and so not partaking in a manner that humiliates others. This is our personal responsibility when coming to the Lord's Supper. We must rightly show the true meaning of the Supper.

But in addition to our personal responsibility, the church bears responsibility to guard the Table from those who are living in unrepentent sin. In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle tells the church to put out a man who was living in sexual immorality. This is what we commonly call church discipline. In v. 11 of that chapter, the Word says that we are not even to eat with such a person. While this is broader than merely the Lord's Supper, it would definitely include it. David Garland writes that this refusal to eat with such a person "breaks all social ties with them as well as excludes them from the Lord's Supper" (1 Corinthians, 189). The church must not admit anyone under church discipline to the Table.

Putting together the meaning of the Supper, the personal responsibility we bear when we come to it, and the church's responsibility to guard it, a very practical application is that only church members ought to partake of the Supper. This follows from the meaning of the Supper, for in it we confess that we are participating in the body of Christ. (We must remember that the visible manifestation of the body of Christ is the local church.) This also follows from the responsibility the church bears. In order to meaningfully participate together as a body in the Supper, a church must have some way of excluding those who may not partake. This requires some form of recognizable membership.

Now, we also recognize that other true churches are real manifestations of the body of Christ. Therefore, we can allow people who are members of true Christian churches, who have identified with Christ in believer's baptism, to participate with us when they visit our assembly. Even though we may not know these people personally, due to their baptism and church membership they have a credible profession of faith, and we then recognize them as fellow believers with whom we can enjoy fellowship at our Lord's Table (cf. Acts 20:7, 11).

All of this is in keeping with our noble doctrinal heritage. Edward T. Hiscox, a Baptist leader in the 19th century summarized this well.

Strictly speaking...the privileges of a Church are coextensive with the authority of the Church. A right to communion, therefore, is limited to those over whom the Church exercises the right of discipline; that is, its own members. Consequently, if the members of sister churches are invited to partake, it is an act of courtesy proffered, and not a right allowed. This rule would of itself forbid a general, open, or free communion, since that would bring in persons whose characters the Church could not know, and whom, if they were unworthy, the Church could not discipline or exclude (The New Directory for Baptist Churches, 139-40).

He later wrote,

Baptists are firmly convinced, that, to maintain the purity and spirituality of the churches, it is absolutely needful to restrict the Communion to regenerated persons, baptized on a profession of faith, and walking orderly Christian lives in Church fellowship [i.e. church membership]. To adopt any other rule, or allow any larger liberty, would break down the distinction between the Church and the world; would bring in a carnal and unconverted membership, with which to overshadow the spiritual, and control the household of faith; would virtually transfer the Communion from the house of God to the temple of Belial. To keep the churches pure, the ordinances must be kept pure and unperverted, both as to their substance and their form.

Therefore, in loving obedience to our Lord and for the good of his church, we at HCBC desire to begin graciously implementing these truths more consistently. We will be working on this in the weeks to come, and we ask that you would pray with us that the Lord through this will purify our worship and enable us to engage with him in spirit and truth!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Economics 101

You and I may not understand everything about our current economic situation, but we need not know everything in order to know some things truly. God has a great deal of economic wisdom in his Word. We need to remember a couple truths clearly.

Usury is still damaging, and debt is still slavery.

If we had really believed that, we wouldn't be in this mess.

The Thirty-Nine Articles

In order to understand ourselves and our faith today, it is most helpful to have an understanding of our history. Through this we can gain valuable perspective on what we believe and why we believe it. The doctrinal "conversation" that occured in Europe at the time known as the Reformation laid the foundation for the Christianity that would come to America and would eventually come to you and me.

We have already covered the Schleitheim Confession and the Augsburg Confession. After the Augsburg Confession (1530), many important statements of faith were written and approved throughout Europe, some of which are still in use today, such as the Belgic Confession (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). In England, the Church of England consolidated its doctrinal position with the Thirty-Nine Articles in 1562, and Queen Elizabeth I required all ministers to subscribe to these articles . (For sake of modern language, I am citing the 1801 American revision unless otherwise noted.)

I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in the unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that the two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Skyline of Our Society

In her book Under the Cope of Heaven, Patricia Bonomi opens with this intriguing description of religion in eighteenth century American life.

“The skylines of our eastern cities, say, in 1760 were in their way just as striking as they are now, perhaps more so. But what drew the eye then, and gave the horizon its definition, was a very different sort of edifice from those that mark it today – not skyscrapers but church spires – and beneath that contrast lies a fundamental shift in the spiritual perspective of the American population during the more than two centuries that have intervened. The seaboard cities of colonial America, though relatively small, were amply supplied with places of worship. You walked no distance at all, in any of them, without passing a meetinghouse, and you were never beyond earshot of church bells. The sights and sounds of today’s cities are not primarily symbolic of religion. But in eighteenth-century America – in city, village, and countryside – the idiom of religion permeated all discourse, underlay all thought, marked all observances, gave meaning to every public and private crisis. There was hardly a day of the week, to say nothing of the Sabbath, when colonial Americans could not repair to their churches for some occasion or other, all of which gave a certain tone to everything they did in their collective and communal capacity.

“The quintessential form of public edification was not the spectacle but the Word. The expression ‘popular entertainment’ had not come into being, but in any case the term does faint justice to satisfactions universally derived from the well-aimed and roundly delivered sermon” (3-4).

The author has uncovered an important connection which is crucial to what I want to talk about in this post. That connection is the link between a society’s most cherished beliefs and the organizations which embody them and the buildings which house them. Skylines have religious implications. Although these may not be immediately transparent, they are nonetheless discoverable.

I would like to make one small but important correction to what the author has written. She says that “the sights and sounds of today’s cities are not primarily symbolic of religion.” Given the definition of religion that she is using, she is correct to say this. However, if we understand the biblical perspective that every human being and all human societies are religious, then it is more accurate to say that the sights and sounds of today’s cities are not primarily symbolic of the Christian religion, as they were in eighteenth-century American cities. They are still symbolic of some religion; it just isn’t Christianity. They are still revealing the spiritual perspective of the American population.

Thus, if we take the sentences Bonomi has written, and change them a little to fit contemporary America, the results can reveal a great deal about our current religious orientation. For example, let’s try this experiment from the last sentence of her first paragraph. “There is hardly a day of the week, to say nothing of Sunday, when contemporary Americans can not repair to their shopping centers and restaurants for some occasion or other, all of which gave a certain tone to everything they do in their collective and communal capacities.” Or this: “There is hardly a day of the week, to say nothing of Sunday, when contemporary Americans can not repair to their sports stadiums for some occasion or other, all of which gave a certain tone to everything they do in their collective and communal capacities.” There is an evident contrast here with churches, which have enough trouble getting people to come on Sundays, not to mention any other day of the week.

We do not see that early American skyline anymore, but we can imagine it. Can you imagine what it would be like if sermons took the place in popular discourse that sports now occupy? When you struck up a conversation with a stranger, the publically available topics to converse about would rarely include sports of any kind. While people would definitely play sports with gusto, it would not be cause for stardom, for sports are not worthy of that weightiness. (Ever heard of a sports star in colonial America?) But the publically available topics would include Christianity. People wouldn’t be posting on Facebook about the Nuggets and the Lakers; they would be talking about what this preacher preached or what that biblical passage says. People would worry just as much about who their church elder was as they would about the next Supreme Court justice. Being admitted to the Lord’s Supper would rank higher than health care on people’s emotional wish-list.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that colonial America was the kingdom of God on earth. Sinful human nature can twist any good thing into evil, and this happened, too, in colonial America. I am suggesting instead that Christianity was the publically controlling religion for life in colonial America, even for unbelievers, while today it is not. Whatever label you want to give the controlling religious perspective of today’s America, it is clearly not Christianity.

This fact brings up the question I want to consider here. If Bonomi is correct that there is a link between a society’s most cherished beliefs and the organizations which embody them and the buildings which house them, then what do our public buildings today reveal about the controlling religious perspective of our society?

Well, take a good look around. What public buildings are in ample supply in our society? What public buildings are within walking distance of everyone in every city and town? What public buildings are designed by social expectation for everyone to spend many, many years of life visiting regularly? What public buildings house a system which literally shapes the yearly calendar of the people living in our society?

I would like to argue that our society’s architecture reveals that public schools are the church houses of today’s American religion. Go inside of them and listen to what is being taught, and you will quickly learn America’s de facto controlling religion. The children are being catechized. You will find the feeder system that is at the root of the entertainment world, the sports world, and the political world of our society. You will find that meaningful, robust, coherent Christianity is definitely excluded. The historian Darryl Hart was spot on when he noted that the public school replaced the church in America as the social institution which was designed to transmit the ideals of America.

Therefore I want to suggest one more point. There is a huge inconsistency among Christians in America today who want American laws to reflect biblical values and American society to reflect biblical mores but who refuse to make the church central to their lives. They send their kids to public schools and ignore the local church. They say they want America to return to God, but they support the very institution which is at the heart of the anti-God system in America. They fervently believe that they can literally build our society in the right direction without changing the structure of the society, visibly manifested in public school buildings. They don’t even see that what we do when we gather as local churches is the single most important force for making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I say, you will never see the weightiness of God impressed on our society until the public schools are either abolished or taken over by Christianity (and I'm not sure Christianity would want to do this). You will never see the beauty of Christ impressing itself on our society until that beauty is enjoyed and expressed in the church.

Maybe our skylines do tell us a visible parable of the state of our society. May God give us eyes to see.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Lord's Supper in the Early Church

The communion was a regular and the most solemn part of the Sunday worship; or it was the worship of God in the stricter sense, in which none but full members of the church could engage. In many places and by many Christians it was celebrated even daily, after apostolic precedent.... The service began, after the dismission of the catechumens, with the kiss of peace, given by the men to men, and by the women to women, in token of mutual recognition as members of one redeemed family in the midst of a heartless and loveless world. It was based upon apostolic precedent, and is characteristic of the childlike simplicity, and love and joy of the early Christians.

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Vol 2: Ante-Nicene Christianity, reprint of 1858 ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 236-7.

The Privilege of Participating in the Grace of God

Given the financial instability and international insecurity of today's world, we might wish that we could have lived at some other time. But from the perspective of God's timetable for the world, we are privileged to be living today. Ancient prophets wished that they could find out more about these days. Angels watch intently what is going on in these days. Why?

Since Jesus Christ has come and suffered, we know that there is glory to follow. We are living in the days when the grace of God has been revealed in Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of the glorious eruption of the grace of God that will come with the full revelation of Jesus Christ in the future. Once we understand this, we will see that we are living in exciting times! It is a rare privilege to be a Christian in these days.

Songs
Psalm 117b
O for a Heart to Praise My God (#70)
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us (#503)
Jesus, Lover of My Soul (#489)
Let Us Love (#483)
Who Would True Valor See (#508)

Scripture Reading
The Servant of the Lord Brings Salvation to the Ends of the Earth - Isaiah 49

Sermon
The Privilege of Participating in the Grace of God - 1 Peter 1:10-12

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 12)

Article XXI—Of the Worship of Saints
Touching the worship of saints, they teach that the memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works according to our calling; as the Emperor may follow David’s example in making war to drive away the Turks from his country; for either of them is a king. But the Scripture teacheth not to invocate saints, or to ask help of saints, because it propoundeth unto us one Christ the Mediator, Propitiatory, High-Priest, and Intercessor. This Christ is to be invocated, and he hath promised that he will hear our prayers, and liketh this worship especially, to wit, that he be invocated in all afflictions. ‘If any man sin, we have an advocate with God, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John ii.1).

Article XXII
This is about the sum of doctrine among us, in which can be seen that there is nothing which is discrepant with the Scriptures, or with the Church Catholic, or even with the Roman Church, so far as that Church is known from writers [the writings of the Fathers]. This being the case, they judge us harshly who insist that we shall be regarded as heretics. But the dissension is concerning certain abuses, which without any certain authority have crept into the churches; in which things, even if there were some difference, yet would it be a becoming lenity on the part of the bishops hat, on account of the Confession which we have now presented, they should bear with us, since not even the Canons are so severe as to demand the same rites everywhere, nor were the rites of all churches at any time the same. Although among us in large part the ancient rites are diligently observed….

This concludes the first part of the AC, which deals with the chief articles of faith. The second part goes on to discuss the Lutheran corrections of certain incorrect practices common among Roman Catholic churches. We might have expected Article 21 to be discussed in the second part of the Confession; however, Lutherans considered this a doctrinal issue, and rightly so.

In Article 21, the Lutherans boldly rejected praying to Mary and the saints, and they set forth Christ as the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). The Roman Catholics in turn rejected the AC at this point. In fact, since the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholicism has only gotten worse, praying to Mary and trusting in Mary as one who is sinlessly perfect, the "All-Holy One." As an example of this veneration, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states "We give ourselves over to her now.... And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender 'the hour of our death' wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son's death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise" (Part 4, Chapter 2, Article 2). Although Roman Catholicism claims that Jesus is the only mediator, the role it ascribes to Mary usurps the place that Jesus Christ alone deserves. It is idolatrous, and by the grace of God the AC gave this idolatry the pounding it deserved.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Humility

Here is a challenge from Jonathan Edwards that I needed today. Perhaps it will be helpful for you, too.

The humble Christian is more apt to find fault with his own pride than with other men's. He is apt to put the best construction on others' words and behaviour, and to think that none are so proud as himself. But the proud hypocrite is quick to discern the mote in his brother's eye, in this respect, while he sees nothing of the beam in his own. He is very often denouncing others' pride, finding fault with others' apparel and way of living; and is affected ten times as much with his neighbor's ring and riband [ribbon] as with all the filthiness of his own heart.

The Religious Affections (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth), 261.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Grace of God Produces Hope in Salvation

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3, ESV). This is why we gather this Lord's Day, and this is what we will consider from the Word of God.

Songs
Rejoice! the Lord Is King (#13)
Praise Ye Jehovah (#4)
Call Jehovah Thy Salvation (#499)
The Solid Rock (#392)
O for a Faith that Will Endure (#593)
Rejoice, Believer, in the Lord (#627)

Scripture Reading
Our Inheritance - Revelation 21:1-8

Sermon
1 Peter 1:3-9

*Don't Forget! We will hold our baptismal service at 1 p.m. at the facilities of Rustic Hills Baptist Church (1927 N. Murray). The following is a note to help prepare us for this wonderful occasion.
______________________________________

This is the time of year in our society when many high school and college seniors can think of nothing but graduation. It is a milestone in their lives, and so all across America schools and families devise grand ceremonies and celebrations. We get dressed up in long gowns and flat caps named after something bricklayers use, we have speeches and music, we devise special symbolic actions and titles, we give gifts, and we host parties. Energy, enthusiasm, and excellence are poured into everything we do, and the excitement we feel comes out in shouts and songs and even tears of joy (or for those at USAFA, in throwing hats into the air). It is all a wonderful part of our human experience of life.

Of course, graduation isn’t the only occasion for ceremony and celebration. Our lives are filled with these kinds of occasions – Independence Day and other historic days, New Year’s Day and other seasonal times, ceremonies of state, birthday parties, retirement ceremonies, grand openings, weddings, funerals, and so on and so forth. Have you ever wondered why we do this? The more important something is to our lives, the greater our ceremony and celebration. In fact, our ceremonies show a great deal about what we value in life. The things that we enact formally and symbolically are the things that we together feel deeply about.

And yet, as good as these things are, how many of our ceremonies matter eternally? What about…birthday parties? Obviously not. Presidential inaugurations? They affect a lot of people, but still clearly temporal. Weddings? Certainly vastly more important than birthday parties, they do have ramifications that transcend our personal lives. Yet weddings are still temporal markers, “until death do us part.”

This Lord’s Day we are going to participate in a ceremony and celebration that matters eternally. In obedience to our Lord and expressing their faith in him, Tracy and Beth Bookman are going to be baptized. The Lord ordained this ceremony to show our union with Christ, which union is the great unseen source of our entire spiritual life and salvation. Tracy and Beth will be formally and publicly identified with Jesus Christ and with his people as they call upon his name in the waters of baptism. Could there be any more important ceremony and celebration?

When we have been in glory with the Lord for immeasurable eons, I seriously doubt that we will feel that our high school or college graduations are all that important. The “weightiness” of these events, which we felt so keenly at the time, will all be seen in the blazing light of the “weightiness” of God, and they will seem very small. But our baptisms will still matter, for they are the means that Christ has given to us to show our participation in his resurrection glory.

And so I would like to urge you to attend this baptism this Lord’s Day with more gladness and more gravity than you would attend any graduation, wedding, or presidential inauguration. If you would make time in your busy week for some other special occasion that has only temporal significance, please make time for this momentous occasion. If your union with Christ means all glory to you, then may this baptismal service fill your hearts with joy unspeakable and full of glory. By faith, let us celebrate this ceremony with Tracy and Beth with all the glory of eternity in view!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Enjoy the Feast

Since the Lord's Supper is feeding upon Christ and all of his benefits, I want to encourage you to consider how you partake of this ordinance.

There is one all-important heart attitude that is necessary when we partake of the Lord's Supper, which is faith. The Supper becomes spiritually beneficial, not from any virtue in it or in the man who administers it, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of the Spirit in those who by faith receive it. We must come to the Supper trusting in Christ alone for our whole salvation. Here are some brief suggestions on how to do this before, during, and after partaking of the Lord's Supper.

Preparation

We should prepare ourselves to come to the Table rightly. This can be done most profitably, not in the few moments during the assembled worship just prior to the Supper, but in private in our own closets and with our families. We should examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, being truly united to Christ, and thus able to participate with him in the Supper. Assuming that we are spiritually assured of our union with Christ, preparing for the Lord's Supper ought to provoke us to examine our lives for sins and failings, for increase of faith and grace, for love to God and our brothers, for love even for our enemies, and for forgiveness toward all who have wronged us. It should cause us to ask ourselves if we delight in Christ, hunger and thirst after righteousness, and seek first the kingdom of God. It is a perfect opportunity to engage in serious meditation and fervent prayer.

Participation

Having prepared ourselves to commune with the Lord in the Supper, we ought to receive it in a manner worthy of the Lord. Our hearts ought to be filled with a holy reverence, mingling profound humility with powerful joy. Our affections should be drawn out to Christ for the glory of his person and work and all our desires should find satisfaction in him. Faith, love, and thankfulness should characterize our participation with him in the new covenant.

Furthermore, we must do this in unity as his body. We dine with him as his redeemed people, and there ought to be in our hearts love for all the saints. Selfishness, pride, and divisions have no place at this Table.


Practice

After preparing and participating in the Lord's Supper, we should put into practice all that it stands for. We ought first of all to see what benefits we have obtained from the Supper, and encourage ourselves to grow in them. If we have no discernable benefit from the Supper, we must repent of those sins that hinder us and seek the Lord's grace to feed spiritually upon all the benefits of Christ.

We ought also to earnestly endeavor to live out the consecration to the Lord to which the Supper calls us. It is the height of ingratitude and unfaithfulness to eat and drink with Christ, and then to get up and go live like the world. If we have tasted that the Lord is good, we must live as his holy people, proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Through preparation, participation, and practice, may we truly delight in all the benefits of the Lord's Supper by faith!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 11)

Article XX—Of Good Works (excerpts)
First, that our works can not reconcile God, or deserve remission of sins, grace, and justification at his hands, but that these we obtain by faith only, when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake, who alone is appointed the Mediator and Propitiatory, by whom the Father is reconciled. He therefore that trusteth by his works to merit grace, doth despise the merit of and grace of Christ, and seeketh by his own power, without Christ, to come unto the Father; whereas Christ hath said expressly of himself, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John xiv.6)….


Another thing, which we teach men, is that in this place the name of Faith doth not only signify a knowledge of the history, which may be in the wicked, and in the devil, but that it signifieth a faith which believeth, not only the history, but also the effect of the history; to wit, the article of remission of sins; namely, that by Christ we have grace, righteousness , and remission of sins. Now he that knoweth that he hath the Father merciful to him through Christ, this man knoweth God truly….

Moreover, ours teach that it is necessary to do good works; not that we may trust that we deserve grace by them, but because it is the will of God that we should do them. By faith alone is apprehended remission of sins and grace. And because the Holy Spirit is received by faith, our hearts are now renewed, and so put on new affections, so that they are able to bring forth good works. For thus saith Ambrose: 'Faith is the begetter of a good will and of good actions.' For man's powers, without the Holy Spirit, are full of wicked affections, and are too weak to perform any good deed before God....


Hereby every man may see that this doctrine is not to be accused, as forbidding good works; but rather is much to be commended, because it showeth after what sort we must do good works. For without faith the nature of man can by no means perform the works of the First or Second Table. Without faith, it cannot call upon God, hope in God, bear the cross; but seeketh help from man, and trusteth in man's help. So it cometh to pass that all lusts and human counsels bear sway in the heart so long as faith and trust in God are absent.

Wherefore, also, Christ saith, 'Without me ye can do nothing' (John xv.5)....

In Article 20 the confession returns to a topic already touched on in Article 6. Since this was such a central point in the Lutheran efforts at reform, it was necessary to expand on it at some length. The confession emphasized that faith alone obtains remission of sins, grace, and justification. No works, no matter how good or great, can be trusted in to merit grace.

Furthermore, the confession is careful to explain the kind of faith that justifies. This faith is not merely historical acknowledgment but resting or trusting in Christ's accomplished work. And since the Holy Spirit is received through faith, all believers are renewed in their affections so that they are then enabled to do good works. Good works are the fruit of faith.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Stand Firm in the True Grace of God

When expectations collide with the hard edges of experience, the wreckage can be seen in the confusion, discouragement, and alienation that we feel. As Christians, we often face this while living as resident foreigners in this world. It can make us wonder how in the world we are supposed to live. The Holy Spirit directed the apostle Peter to give us answers to our conundrums, and this Lord's Day we will commence our series of sermons from the First Letter of Peter. May God's grace and peace be multiplied to you through his Word.

Songs
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
A Debtor to Mercy Alone (#614)
How Sad Our State (#333)
With Joy We Meditate the Grace (#270)
He Who Would Valiant Be (#507)

Scripture Reading
Confidence in Suffering - Psalm 143

Sermon
Stand Firm in the True Grace of God - 1 Peter 5:12

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Augsburg Confession (Part 10)

Article XVIII—Of Free Will
Concerning free will, they teach that man’s will hath some liberty to work a civil righteousness, and to choose such things as reason can reach unto; but that it hath no power to work the righteousness of God, or a spiritual righteousness, with out the Spirit of God; because that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor ii.14). But this is wrought in the heart when men do receive the Spirit of God through the Word….
They condemn the Pelagians and others, who teach that by the powers of nature alone, without the Spirit of God, we are able to love God above all things; also to perform the commandments of God, as touching the substance of our actions. For although nature be able in some sort to do the external works (for it is able to withhold the hands from theft and murder), yet it cannot work the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, and such like.

Article XIX—Of the Cause of Sin
Touching the cause of sin, they teach that, although God doth create and preserve nature, yet the cause of sin is the will of the wicked; to wit, of the devil and ungodly men; which will, God not aiding, turneth itself from God, as Christ saith: ‘When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own’ (John viii.44).

At this point in the Augsburg Confession we run into a most important point - the freedom of the will. For Luther, this was a cardinal point of doctrine, for it impinged directly on justification by faith alone. Justification by faith alone demands that man has no inherent or natural ability to do good in God's sight. Thus "the bondage of the will" became the subject of one of Luther's most famous writings. Luther planted his feet like a rock on this issue and would not allow any compromise whatsoever.

Thus it is a little bit surprising to find a somewhat vague and insipid statement on free will in the AC. Perhaps political motivations motivated Melancthon (Luther's associate and the author of the AC) to keep this statement as general and conciliatory as possible. It did not really challenge the dominant Roman Catholic view of free will, and the Confutation found this article acceptable. Later, Melancthon himself moved away from Luther's views on free will.

But whatever the why's and wherefore's of the AC on this point, it still remains true that the biblical teaching on the inability of the natural man played a key role in recovering the biblical gospel at the time of the Reformation. The Word of God is crystal clear: "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8, ESV). We praise God for the recovery of this biblical truth in that day, and we want to uphold it in our day. Salvation is of the Lord!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Giving the Devil a Good Hand

Just today I came across these words by Mollie Hemingway:

The late Yale church historian Jaroslav Pelikan said it was an American conviction to believe that morality can be stripped of doctrine, that it is possible to summarize the best that men everywhere have discovered about the good life. "Biblical morality is inseparable from biblical doctrine and biblical doctrine is inseparable from the community of believers," he said.

This statement by Pelikan is correct, and it explains why Christians in America made a huge mistake in the 1830's and following when they accepted public schooling with generic, non-sectarian Bible reading as an adequate form of discipleship for their children. I'm sure the devil kept his poker face on at that point, but he knew he had been dealt a good hand.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Financial Breakdown: A Spiritual Diagnosis

If you have any interest in the current financial mess we are in, you must listen to this lecture by Dr. Paul Mills, given on April 22 at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. If you don't have any interest in the current financial mess we are in, you still must listen to this lecture.

"Why?" you may ask. Well, the answer is not that the lecture is dynamic or exciting. The answer is not that Dr. Mills holds a Ph.D. in economics from Cambridge University and is currently a senior economist at the International Monetary Fund, though these things are true. The answer is also not that Dr. Mills is a Christian and a member of Capitol Hill Baptist, though this is also true. The answer is that Dr. Mills unflinchingly applies the Bible's teachings to finances.

The results are deeply convicting. We are not a great nation. We have long worshipped at the altar of mammon, and Dr. Mills exposes this more clearly than anyone I have ever heard. But what is most damning to me is how totally we as Christians have bought into it. All I can say right now is

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

After listening to the lecture, you may want to meditate on the eighth commandment, the command to love your neighbor's property (here and here).

Compulsory Training in Secularism

Many Christian parents believe that our public education system is only bad when it gets really, really naughty, as when it uses elementary reading texts to teach sodomy. Thus they believe that our education system was basically good until 1962, when prayer was removed. But I submit that removing prayer was only a fruit of a longstanding movement to explicitly reject God. Here is what Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark observed in an address given in 1955.

The public schools with their compulsory attendance are to be used for the inculcation of secularism. And those who oppose secularism and who want to give their children Christian instruction are branded as antisocial, undemocratic, and divisive. Such events are straws in the wind that show how the humanists are using government agencies to curtail religious liberty.

Ambassadors for Christ

We have an obligation. It is an obligation to the entire world. It is an obligation to preach the gospel. It is of first importance that we deliver the good news that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This Lord's Day we will have the priviledge of hearing from one who is engaged in this task. Jeremy Estrema is a missionary to Argentina, and he will bring the Word to us as well as informing us about the work of Christ in that land.

Songs
O Worship the King (#46)
Salvation! O My Soul Rejoice (#291)
Hark! The Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)
Amazing Grace (#247)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
For My Sake and the Gospel's, Go (#695)

Scripture Reading
The Ministry of Reconciliation - 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:10

Sermon
Jeremy Estrema