Saturday, August 29, 2009
The Lord proclaims his grace abroad!
Behold, I change your hearts of stone;
Each shall renounce his idol-god,
And serve, henceforth, the Lord alone.
My grace, a flowing stream, proceeds
To wash your filthiness away;
Ye shall abhor your former deeds,
And learn my statutes to obey.
My truth the great design ensures,
I give myself away to you;
You shall be mine, I will be yours,
Your God unalterably true.
Yet not unsought, or unimplored,
The plenteous grace shall I confer;
No - your whole hearts shall seek the Lord,
I'll put a praying spirit there.
From the first breath of life divine,
Down to the last expiring hour,
The gracious work shall all be mine,
Begun and ended in my power.
Friday, August 28, 2009
In reality, they are not. The Scripture we will consider this Lord's Day tells us to be subject to human authorities while living as God's free men. And through our submission to the Word of God, may we all come to experience the freedom that only Christ can give.
All Glory, Laud, and Honor (#11)
And Can It Be? (#335)
Hark! the Glad Sound (#126)
Make Me a Captive, Lord (#565)
Thou Sweet Beloved Will of God (#528)
How Good Is the God We Adore (#738)
Subject to Civil Authority as Servants of God - 1 Peter 2:13-17
Thursday, August 27, 2009
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!
Preach the true gospel clearly and often, both to believers and unbelievers.
In doing this, we make the connection between Christ (and the gospel) and the church, family, and government. In other words, we uphold Christ as the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful as an heathen and publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance and received into the Church by a judge that hath authority thereto.
XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church
It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's word.
Whosoever through his private judgement willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly that other may fear to do the like, as he that offendeth against common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of the weak brethren.
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
Every self-governing group of people has the power to determine its terms of membership and to expel offenders. Without this power, the group ceases to be a recognizable group. This is the power that is assumed by Article 33, and it is entirely Scriptural for the Article to do so. Christ explicitly gave his church the authority to exercise the discipline of excommunication (Matt 18:15-18), and the apostles elaborated on this repeatedly. Baptists would differ with this article on the way a man may be reconciled to the church, since we believe that reception into the church is not accomplished a church official but by the congregation as a whole.
Article 34 recognizes that church customs and manners may differ from time to time and place to place, assuming that they are in keeping with the Word of God. At the same time, the Article does not allow this variation to be based upon the opinions of individuals. As can be seen from the third paragraph, the English churchmen were thinking in terms of a national or regional church. In their minds, the authority to determine the customs of the church rested with the officials of the national church. In this way they were trying to break with the errors of the Papists (paragraph 3), but at the same time protect themselves against the zeal of the Puritans (paragraph 2).
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
If you have a natural bent for scholarship; if you are attracted to the most difficult books out of an urgent need, and can spare years to devote yourself to them, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. But if this is not the case; if the thought of four more years sitting in a classroom makes your skin crawl, the good news is that you don't have to go through the motions and jump through the hoops for the sake of making a decent living. Even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers. You're likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems or low-level 'creative.' To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.
I would add that the same thing is true of Bible colleges. They are not necessary for everyone. The effort to get more and more Christian kids to go to Bible colleges drags down the quality of the education offered, as well as encouraging young adults to spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars on something that is not necessarily going to equip them for life any better than other, more productive choices.
Tocqueville foresaw a 'soft despotism' in which Americans would increasingly seek their security in, and become dependent upon, the state. His analysis must be extended in our time: the softly despotic tendencies of a nanny state are found in the large commercial enterprise as well, and indeed a case could be made that it is now outsized corporations, more than government, that exercise this peculiarly enervating form of authority in our lives, through work.
Tocqueville also saw a remedy for this evil, however: the small commercial enterprise, in which Americans reason together to solve some practical problem among themselves (p. 155).
To extend Crawford's analysis a bit: over a century ago Hillaire Belloc noted how big government and big business go hand in glove. When the state weighs in on the side of big business by enacting laws and policies enforcing employer's liability, workman's compensation, unemployment, insurance, and minimum wages, there are legally fixed arrangements between owners and non-owners. Because these arrangements are fixed, the non-owners are effectively reduced to wage-slaves, totally dependent upon the companies for life and health and the pursuit of happiness. Today, a large number of Americans not only want their companies to provide all these benefits for them, they think that they cannot live without these benefits. This is truly the mindset of the slave. Or, to return to the figure of a nanny, now that the American public has been reared in the nursery of government education and company benefits, it is no wonder that the government thinks that we still need a nanny in virtually every area of life.
[You may want to look back over our discussion of the eighth commandment here and here.]
Saturday, August 22, 2009
by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eye but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
May this meditation stir up your souls to meet together tomorrow, devoting ourselves to the apostle's teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers!
Praise Ye the Lord (#42)
O Worship the King (#46)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)
Who Would True Valor See (#508)
My Soul Be On Thy Guard (#595)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)
Honorable Exiles - 1 Peter 2:11-12
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Here is today's example: the New York Times article "G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier." Albert Mohler rightly commented in response,
A nation's moral character is revealed in the way it fights its wars. This report, filled with documentation, reveals that our nation's moral character is now being redefined before our eyes....If we truly believe that God created men and women for different but complementary roles and shows his glory in the faithfulness of men as primary protectors and women as primary nurturers, the entry of women into combat roles is an open rejection of God's purpose.
So what should be our response?
Well, certainly we should openly oppose women in combat. But on what basis? Here is where our Christian response will show. We oppose women in combat because God is the just ruler of the universe. He judges sin. All men are sinners, and women in combat is just another example of mankind's moral rebellion. In other words, there is a whole lot more at stake here than merely winning or losing a war.
The good news is that because of his love, God sent his Son into the world, the man Jesus Christ. Jesus perfectly obeyed his Father and died on the cross in order to take the punishment for all who will believe on him. Jesus rose from the dead and now gives new life. In fact, he is coming again to rule this earth in perfect righteousness, so that he is the ultimate solution for all wars.
Those who truly believe this will not send their women out to fight their wars for them.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay people; for both parts of the Lord's sacrament, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.
XXXI. Of the One oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross
The offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said that the priests did offer Christ for the quick and the dead to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits.
XXXII. Of the Marriage of Priests
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are not commanded by God's laws either to vow the estate of single life or to abstain from marriage. Therefore it is lawful also for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.
On July 16, 1562, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent pronounced an anathema on anyone who claimed that "all and each of the faithful of Christ ought to receive both species of the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist." In 1563 the Church of England responded in Article 30, marking a return to a more biblical understanding of the Lord's Supper.
Article 31 is also aimed at correcting false and dangerous customs which were prevalent in the Roman church. It affirms that Christ's work upon the cross was a once-for-all atonement; therefore, nothing could or should be added to it. The idea that it was necessary for Christ to be, in effect, re-crucified at every service of the Mass for remission of sin is a direct attack on the complete work that Christ himself accomplished. It turns salvation into a work which we achieve through our continual sacrifices. The Church of England rightly rejected these destructive lies (see Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 25-28; 10:10).
Articles 32-39 of the Thirty-Nine Articles move on to deal with miscellaneous items related to the church and society. In Article 32, the English divines once again rejected a false Roman Catholic tradition which taught that priests must remain celibate. Unfortunately, they did not make a clear break with the tradition of having "priests" in the church.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I recently came across a personal testimony which hammers home this very point. PCA Pastor Tim Bayly has had plenty of experience with para-church organizations. He has seen first hand what happens when the doctrine of the church is lost in practice. Here is a sample of what he says:
More personally, though, when I moved to Bloomington, the church I served had almost all the Campus Crusade, Inter-Varsity, and other campus parachurch group leaders in the congregation. In fact, several of them served as elders. And in that congregation, there was no right administration of the Sacraments, no church discipline, and much opposition to Biblical preaching of the Word of God. Typical of the degree to which the parachurch had corrupted the church, the elders didn't preside over the membership list. Rather, the harried church secretary added and culled names as she alone saw fit. "Hmmm, haven't seen John and Jane Doe for a while, now, have I? I'll take them off the list." And bingo, they were gone.
No pastor or elder went out searching for the lost sheep; it was strictly a matter of individual options and choices. Baptisms were done over and over again, for a spiritual rush or to memorialize an act of re-commitment to Christ with no questions asked. And of course, the Lord's Table absolutely wasn't fenced, Biblically. Many souls took the Lord's Supper who had never been baptized and many souls who were baptized did not join the church. Rather, each man did that which was right in his own eyes.
And now, when Church of the Good Shepherd places a man under discipline, placing him under definite suspension from the Lord's Table, other churches in the community claiming the evangelical heritage welcome that man into their fellowship, allowing him to eat and drink with them, no questions asked, thereby subverting the discipline Christ commanded. What is bound on earth and Heaven is not bound within other Protestant congregations. After all, they've never heard of such a thing.
(Please read the whole thing.)
Many fundamentalists would be quick to point out the compromises in doctrine and association with Campus Crusade, Youth for Christ, and Inter-Varsity, to name a few broadly evangelical organizations. I couldn't agree more. But fundamental Baptists have generally followed the same methodology. They have very little idea of the practical ramifications of the doctrine of the church, and so they cannot see why it matters if they admit unbaptized persons to the Lord's Supper, or if they carefully shepherd those on their membership rolls, or if they allow persons to join their churches who have left other churches in an unbiblical manner. However, they are puppies at chow time when it comes to "reaching youth" with a new camping ministry or "reaching college students" with a new campus ministry.
This reveals how little their priorities are dominated by the Word of God and how much they are dominated by pragmatism. Camping and campus ministries are not Scripturally revealed priorities in making disciples. They have their place, but they are secondary at best. The assembly of God's people, the functions of elders, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, on the other hand, are all clearly biblically mandated and directed. So, do we truly have confidence in what God has revealed to be central to his plan? Or are we going to continue ripping the church to shreds by inventing our own ways in the name of serving God?
I plead with fellow believers to kick the bad habit of supplanting the church. Let us follow God's way. It is the best way.
Friday, August 14, 2009
What story do you know that begins like that? You probably know of no story which begins in that way, unless it is a silly children's story. And even if a story did begin in such a fashion, you would be seeking throughout the story to ferret out who this thingamabob is. You can't have a story if you don't know who the characters are.
Identity is important. The question, "Who am I?" matters to every person. Yet all too often Christians forget their true identity. Because they do not know biblically who they are, they have a difficult time figuring out how to live in this present world. They end up acting like thingamabobs, an unstable and ultimately unsustainable hybrid of worldling and saint.
But the scripture makes crystal clear who Christians are, and this we will consider this Lord's Day.
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Praise Ye Jehovah (#4)
Chosen of God (#290)
Church of God, Beloved and Chosen (#222)
Come, We that Love the Lord (#223)
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)
God's People - 1 Peter 2:9-10
Our Lord has given to his church two specific signs to be enacted continually until he comes again. These two practices, which we call ordinances, are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When churches practice the Lord’s Supper, sometimes called communion, their practice can be categorized most generically in two ways – open or closed. In simple terms, closed communion means restricting the Lord’s Supper to those who have been baptized (and the implications of that). Open communion means extending the Lord’s Supper to all professing Christians.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.
XXIX. Of the Wicked which do not eat the body of Christ, in the use of the Lord’s Supper
The wicked and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.
Complex metaphysical theories grew up around the Lord's Supper during the late Medieval era, which are reflected in the formulation of Articles 28 and 29. It was argued that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper has three parts: the outward sign, the inward thing signified, and the "virtue" or the excellence or worth of the sacrament. These articles basically assume this as their background. However, they reject the Roman Catholic position on transubstantiation, i.e. that the elements of the bread and wine physically become the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.
Nevertheless, it is evident here, as before, that the Thirty-Nine Articles tend to stay closer to Roman Catholicism than many other Reformed confessions. The Puritans in the Church of England did not appreciate this.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Rejoice, the Lord Is King (#13)
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (#19)
Not What These Hands Have Done (#347)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
Amazing Grace (#247)
Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands (#362)
Musical Offerings: This Is My Father's World, The Morning Trumpet
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Although not universal, closed communion of various varieties has been the historic norm amongst all kinds of churches. Yet today it is looked at as divisive and unduly restrictive. We believe that there are decisive biblical reasons for holding to close communion, but relating all of those reasons is beyond the purpose of this post. Rather, I would like to point out some of the problems inherent in open communion, the view that all professing believers ought to be able to partake of communion with all other professing believers. This view superficially seems to promote more unity in the body of Christ. However, note the following problems with this view, given by A. H. Strong in his Systematic Theology (pp. 977-80).
1. It assumes an unscriptural inequality between the two ordinances. The Lord's Supper holds no higher rank in Scripture than does Baptism. The obligation to commune is no more binding than the obligation to profess faith by being baptized. Open communion, however, treats baptism as if it were optional, while it insists upon communion as indispensable.
2. It tends to do away with baptism altogether. If the highest privilege of church membership may be enjoyed without baptism, baptism loses its place and importance as the initiatory ordinance of the church.
3. It tends to do away with all discipline. When Christians offend, the church must withdraw its fellowship from them. But upon the principle of open communion, such withdrawal is impossible, since the Lord's Supper, the highest expression of church fellowship, is open to every person who regards himself as a Christian.
4. It tends to do away with the visible church altogether. For no visible church is possible, unless some sign of membership be required, in addition to the signs of membership in the invisible church. Open communion logically leads to open church membership, and a church membership open to all, without reference to the qualifications required in Scripture, or without examination on the part of the church as to the existence of these qualifications in those who unite with it, is virtually an identification of the church with the world, and, without protest from Scripturally constituted bodies, would finally result in its actual extinction.
These objections show that, far from promoting true biblical unity, open communion ends up destroying the God-given expression of biblical unity, the local church.
Many Americans are up in arms over the Federal Government's push for health care coverage, truly insane fiscal policies, complete support for abortion and sodomy, etc, etc, etc. Consequently, a number of rallies have been organized to oppose this agenda. Rightly so.
But all of this can be like a band of plump old men, in dire danger of massive heart attacks, rallying to ban Twinkies while still eating two pounds of bacon for breakfast every morning. Yes, they should skip the Twinkies, but their opposition to heart attacks is hardly convincing. It looks suspiciously like they are blame-shifting, making Twinkies look bad in order to make themselves look good.
Americans have been actively clamoring for government intervention for at least 70 years now, and the vast majority who oppose Obamacare have been sucking at the Federal teat for most of their lives. In other words, they have had no problem with the United States government taking money from their neighbor in order to pay for what they wanted, whether or not the government had a moral right to do so.
- They received their education through government money. This is not just primary schooling. Many actively sought and received federal grants for college education. They expect the government to pay for their children's education, too.
- They received their health care by playing the tax game of exemption from income tax for employer provided insurance.
- They received their retirement through the federal ponzi scheme called Social Security. If they are not personally at retirement age, then they have passed the buck of all personal responsibility for their aging parents to the SSA.
- Not a few have cashed in on government hand outs, such as WIC, Medicaid, and food stamps, whether they truly needed it or not.
- Many have received federal government support or protection of their business through subsidies or tariffs.
In other words, many 'conservative' Americans really like milking the federal cash cow. They just don't like it when she steps on their toes. They don't want federal control, just the federal money.
Ultimately, I believe the problem is a spiritual one. We are a nation of idolaters, and rallies against federally mandated health care are not going to solve the problem. For the real question is, Why are you opposed to Obamacare? Is it because it will ration health care? That's not good, but since there is no such thing as a right to health care on someone else's dime anyway, this can simply be selfishness - a pretty rotund idol. Is it because it will support abortion and promote euthanasia? Well, now we are getting somewhere. But then we have to ask the next question, What is your moral basis for opposing abortion and euthanasia? Following the train of thought started here, sooner or later we are going to have to ask what god we are serving, what ultimate allegiance we have.
Christians who are serious about opposing Obamacare shouldn't just go to rallies. They should first of all preach the gospel, exalt Jesus Christ as Lord of all, especially as they gather in church on the Lord's Day, and unmask the god of this world for the liar and murderer that he is. Then they should live this vision out by pulling all Christian children out of the public school system, getting off of Medicaid and WIC, reinstating multi-generational family support for those who are elderly or in need, paying their own medical bills or getting into a Christian cost-sharing program (like Samaritan Ministries), getting out of debt, and so forth.
These are the kind of people who demonstrate that they are free men, and they are the kind of people who give real resistance to government oppression. All of those freeloaders who rave against the government programs at rallies are not a real threat. The bigwigs know that they just have to come up with the right way to finesse the situation or justify their actions in order to pacify these pragmatic people. But the government fears those who are truly free and who live by principle. The humble Christian, gratefully receiving the Word and the Lord's Supper in faith with his fellow believers, who lives in keeping with that, is the greatest threat to any and all world powers who exalt themselves.
And so I say, worship God in spirit and truth! This is real, Christ-centered resistance.
Just some thoughts.
There would need to be a great deal of letter writing going on today if we were to follow this advice! But then again, maybe we need to do this if we ever expect to see the church purified and reformed according the Word of God.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgment, be deposed.
XXVII. Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened, but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
As we noted last week, we reject baptismal regeneration and infant baptism. However, I want to note carefully that there are aspects of the underlying thinking reflected in Article 27 which are important to a faithful practice of baptism.
Most importantly, we agree with the Articles that no man is a Christian who is not baptized. This is clear from the meaning of baptism and the meaning of the term "Christian." When a man is baptized, he is confessing that he has repented of his sins and is trusting in Jesus alone for redemption (Acts 2:38). He is being united with Jesus Christ (Rom 6:3-5; Col 2:11-12). He is giving his allegiance to Jesus Christ and marking himself as a disciple of Jesus by taking his name (Matt 28:19; Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). He is calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16) and appealing to the Lord for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21).
The name "Christian" means one who is associated with Christ. It is a label applied to people which others can recognize and identify. At what point does the NT indicate that Christ’s name is publicly applied to us? We are baptized into his name. How do we publicly identify ourselves as followers or disciples of Jesus? We do it through baptism. If someone is unwilling to be baptized, then there is no reason to suppose that that person is a genuine follower of Christ. While we recognize that there may be people who are not baptized for a variety of reasons (sometimes something as simple as a lack of teaching about baptism), and thus there is the possibility that some unbaptized people might truly be neophyte believers, we have no God-given rite to acknowledge this fact other than the rite of baptism.
I emphasize this because it is either forgotten or flatly denied by vast numbers of professing believers today. Many are so afraid of the error of baptismal regeneration that they run into the error of supposing that baptism has virtually nothing to do with conversion to Christ. But the Bible blows this error away in almost every NT passage which addresses baptism. In NT terms, "unbaptized believer" is basically an oxymoron.
I believe that this error has had terribly corrosive effects upon American Christianity. It has divorced "Christianity" from the church. This has contributed greatly to the doctrinal instability and moral relativism we see all around us today. It has twisted evangelism by horribly disfiguring what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. In many ways, I believe that the error of the "unbaptized believer" has created every bit as much trouble in the church as has the error of baptismal regeneration.