Friday, February 26, 2010

What Is Suffering for Christ?

As we now come toward the end of our study of the first letter of the apostle Peter, I have become increasingly aware of something I should have preached about a long time ago. With all this talk about suffering in this letter, I have never taken the time to clearly communicate just what suffering for Christ is. I hope to rectify that oversight this Lord's Day.

Praise Ye the Lord (#42)
God Moves in a Mysterious Way (#56)
Though Troubles Assail (#45)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (#588)
God Is the Treasure of My Soul (#632)
O God Our Help In Ages Past (#49)

Scripture Reading
Suffering for the Glory of the Savior - Colossians 1:1-29

Grieved by Various Trials: Suffering in the Christian Life - 1 Peter

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he has secured an eternal redemption by his own blood (Heb 9:12).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Listen to "Christianity & Liberalism"

I've just discovered that one of the most important Christian books of the twentieth century - J. Gresham Machen's Christianity & Liberalism - is available in mp3 format for free here. I would definitely encourage you to listen it!

Or better yet, buy it and read it thoroughly.

The London Confession, 1644 (Part 2)

IV. IN the beginning God made all things very good; created man after His own Image, filled with all meet perfection of nature, and free from all sin; but long he abode not in this honor; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to seduce first Eve, then by her seducing Adam; who without any compulsion, in eating the forbidden fruit, transgressed the command of God, and fell, whereby death came upon all his posterity; who now are conceived in sin, and by nature the children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and other miseries in this world, and for ever, unless the Lord Jesus Christ set them free.

V. GOD in His infinite power and wisdom, doth dispose all things to the end for which they were created; that neither good nor evil befalls any by chance, or without His providence; and that whatsoever befalls the elect, is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good.

VI. ALL the elect being loved of God with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, nor their own works, lest any any man should boast, but, only and wholly by God, of His own free grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ, who is made unto us by God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and all in all, that he that rejoiceth, might rejoice in the Lord.

Although this confession does not go into great detail, we can clearly see the outlines of a Calvinistic understanding of salvation. Those who say that Calvinism is anti-Baptist are historically misinformed.

Adam's Sin, Christ's Righteousness, and You

Since we dealt with imputation in our last seminar class period, but did not have the time to discuss it thoroughly, I thought I would put up some links to other resources on the topic. In fact, I'll just put up one link, for this page contains a wealth of helpful sermons and articles. Check it out here.

On a related note, the recent article "Too Many Apologies" by Thomas Sowell shows one aspect of what happens in a society when sin and guilt are misunderstood.

Friday, February 19, 2010

By His Grace and For His Glory

We are coming toward the conclusion of the first letter of Peter. The Holy Spirit has pulled no punches in this letter. He has not painted a rosy picture of continual happiness and ease for Christians in this life. Instead, he has promised that there will be suffering (1:6). But conquering all suffering is the hope in this life of ultimate salvation in the end (1:3-5). This strengthens you to live as God’s holy people on your pilgrimage through this present world.

The two verses that we will consider this Lord's Day are in many ways the summation of all of the instruction in this letter. We have already learned that 5:12 is the main thrust of the exhortation in this letter, but that exhortation is based upon the truth, the instruction, summarized so powerfully in 5:10-11. Our whole life as elect exiles is by God’s grace and for God’s glory. We will glory in that together. Join us!


Praise the Savior (#17)

How Firm a Foundation (#610)

More Secure Is No One Ever (#613)

Rejoice, Believer, in the Lord (#627)

How Glorious Zion's Courts Appear (#631) New! (to us)

For All the Saints (#643)

Scripture Reading

Matthew 25:31-46


God Will Establish You - 1 Peter 5:10-11


Reading of Christ's temptations, I was struck with the devil's line of attack. He did not say, "If you hungry...," although Jesus certainly was. He said, "If you are the Son of God...." It reinforced to me that temptation is a spiritual issue, even when physical needs or desires provide the occasion for it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he has obtained the new covenant ministry, enacted on better promises than the old (Heb 8:6).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The London Confession, 1644

It is time to resume the conversation.

The Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, the Schleitheim Confession, the Augsburg Confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Arminian Articles, the Synod of Dort (all of which have appeared on this blog), among others, comprise an important background for understanding who we are at this juncture in church history. As men wrestled with the questions posed by the Scriptures and by the issues of their day, they formulated statements of faith to answer these questions. These answers have had a lasting effect on all of Western civilization, as well as Christianity. If we want to be wise people who understand our times and how to respond to them as Christians, we would do well to pay attention to these statements of faith. We need to understand what's going on in the conversation.

About the time that the Arminian Articles provoked a response at the Synod of Dort, a new Protestant group was emerging and consolidating. These people became known as the Baptists. The most formative early confession which they produced is known as the London Confession, set forward in 1644. It was entitled The Confession Of Faith, of those Churches which are commonly (though falsly) called Anabaptists. It was intended to refute false charges against these churches and to prove that they were not heretical. I will reproduce it here for you over the next several weeks.

I. THE Lord our God is but one God, whose subsistence is in Himself; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light, which no man can approach unto; who is in Himself most holy, every way infinite, in greatness, wisdom, power,love: merciful and gracious, long- suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; who giveth being, moving and preservation to all creatures.
1 Cor.8:6; lsa.44:6. 46:9; Exod.3:14; 1 Tim.6:16; Isa. 43:15; Ps.147:5; Deut.32:3; Job 36:5; Jer.10:12; Exod.34:6.7; Acts17:28; Rom.11:36.

II. IN this divine and infinite Being there is the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; each having the whole divine Essence, yet the Essence undivided; all infinite without any beginning, therefore but one God; who is not to be divided in nature, and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties.
1 Cor.1:3; John 1:1, 15:26; Exod.3:14; 1 Cor.8:6.

III. GOD hath decreed in Himself, before the world was, concerning all things, whether necessary, accidental or voluntary, with all the circumstances of them, to work, dispose, and bring about all things according to the counsel of His own will, to His glory: (Yet without being the author of sin, or having fellowship with anything therein) in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, unchangeableness, power, and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree: And God hath before the foundation of the world, foreordained some men to eternal life, through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of His grace; and leaving the rest in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His justice.
Isa.46:10; Eph.1:11; Rom.11:33; Ps.115:3, 135:6, 33:15; 1 Sam.10:9.26; Prov.21:6; Exod.21:13; Prov.16:33; Ps.144; Isa.45:7: Jer.14:22; Matt.6:28,30; Col.1:16, 17; Num.23:19.20 Rom.3:4; Jer.10:10; Eph.1:4,5. Jude 4.6; Prov.16:4.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

One Cunning Bosom Sin

Tomorrow, Lord willing, during our seminar time, we will study what the Scripture teaches about sin. This poem by George Herbert expresses well the extent of sin's cunning and power in our lives.

Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round!
Parents first season us: then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws; they send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and sundays, sorrow dogging sin,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
The sound of glory ringing in our ears.
Without, our shame; within, our consciences;
Angels and race, eternal hopes and fears.
Yet all these fences and their whole array
One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.

May the knowledge of our sin drive us to Christ, and may he be glorified by making us trophies of his grace.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Perspectives on Family Ministry (Part 8)

The final perspective presented in Perspectives on Family Ministry is called family-equipping ministry, championed by Jay Strother. He opens his chapter by recognizing the "cracks in the iceberg" of current youth ministry, citing the research of Christian Smith in Soul Searching (whose work I highly recommend, as well). His church's recognition of this problem led them to rethink and revamp how they work with their young people. It is evident from this chapter that Strother and his church have indeed put a lot of good work into how they disciple the young. He lays out in concise and clear terms how they seek to turn churches and families into co-champions.

Family-equipping churches are defined in this chapter as churches which retain some age-organized ministries but restructure the congregation to partner with parents at every level of ministry so that parents are acknowledged, equipped, and held accountable for the discipleship of their children (144).

At this point something interesting emerges. Here at HCBC, we tend to identify ourselves as family-integrated. Yet according to this definition, we could be considered "family-equipping" because we provide things like the children's Bible classes on Sundays and the Mighty Men training for young men in the making. Yet I have already indicated that I tend to agree more with the ideals of the family-integrated view. Are we being inconsistent, or is there something else going on?

I found it intriguing, as I read this book, that Paul Renfro's response from the family-integrated perspective was basically to critique family-equipping ministry in practice, not in theory. In other words, Renfro simply thinks that family-equipping ministry is not practically as good as family-integrated ministry for accomplishing discipleship. These kinds of practical considerations are always worth pondering. As far as which practices are superior, I guess time will tell. But I wonder if there are not theological views which would tend to throw the weight one direction or another, even though in themselves these theological views under-determine the specific practices which flow from them.

What are some of these theological views which will affect how one works out the practical issues of family ministry? Obviously that's a huge question, but let me just tick off a few.
  • Theology of conversion
  • Theology of sanctification
  • Theology of the family (including things like the role of women in the church and society)
  • Theology of human society
  • Theology of the relationship of Christianity to culture and of the place and function of the church in the world in this age
  • Theology of the created order in relation to God's redemptive order
  • At a very deep level, the theology of the Trinity ought to shape one's practice in the church.
I say all this to point out that the specific practices any church engages in are never going to be entirely determined merely by whether that church is "family-integrated" or "family-equipping." There will always be the larger vision of the good life that is working in the background, making certain practices look more or less attractive.

And in this regard, let me mention that this debate will never be ultimately resolved at the merely theoretical level, as important as that is. It is going to be worked out and tested and rejected and refined in real churches with real people living real lives before the face of God. I say this so that real, constant love for God and for our neighbor remains the driving force in this debate.

I wish I had time to say more. I'm thankful for the contributors to this book who have invested a great amount of time and energy into presenting and practicing their views. I am in their debt. In these blog posts I've undertaken the comparatively easy task of critiquing their views. It is always much more of a challenge to develop a positive statement of one's views, and they have risen to the challenge. I trust this will provoke earnest and fruitful ministry for Christ's sake.

Make Disciples

We will be privileged this Lord's Day to have Dan Huffstutler with us. Dan and his family will be going to Kenya to train pastors. We are thrilled to see the work of Christ go forward in east Africa!

O Father, Thou Whose Love Profound (#29)
Chosen of God (#290)
Salvation! O My Soul Rejoice! (#291)
Hark! the Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)
Not What These Hands Have Done (#347)
When This Passing World Is Done (#342) [Note that this is a new hymn for us. I would recommend that you take some time to enjoy it at home before joining with the congregation to sing.]

Scripture Reading
New Covenant Ministry - 2 Corinthians 4

Missionary Dan Huffstutler

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he is a minister in the true tabernacle that the Lord set up, not man (Heb 8:2).

Vanishing Christianity

Make no mistake -- in the end, vanishing theological boundaries will amount to vanishing Christianity.

So concludes Albert Mohler, after considering a recent report on the state of the Presbyterian Church (USA). This is a lesson that all need to take to heart.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Online Resources Evaluating the New Perspectives on Paul

Some of you have asked me about the "New Perspectives on Paul" in the past, so I thought I would link to this page, which in turn links to many resources dealing with this topic.

Perspectives on Family Ministry (Part 7)

Now we come to chapter 7 of Perspectives on Family Ministry. It is entitled "Family-Based Ministry: Separated Contexts, Shared Focus," and it is written by Brandon Shields. For sake of time, let me jump to what I believe was the best part of Shields' chapter. Shields challenges some commonly cited statistics regarding the dropout rates of churched teenagers as they become adults. Shields points out faulty generalizations made from some research conducted by the Barna Group and LifeWay Research. Based upon his own research, he contends that "age-organized ministry is not the sole or primary cause of postgraduation church dropouts" (106).

Let me go on record as saying that I am glad that Shields challenged this use of statistics. Statistics can be useful, but it is crucial that they be well-understood within their context and used with the wisdom to see them in the big picture. All of us can be far too prone to say, "Since X is a fact, therefore we must do Y." For example, "Global warming is a fact; therefore, we must cut greenhouse gas emissions." This is completely illogical. No deduction about what should be done can be drawn from any isolated fact, assuming that it is indeed a fact. Furthermore, pastors or church leaders can tend to be influenced by statistics generated by nation-wide surveys far more than is reasonable. As pastors, we must make practical ministry decisions based primarily upon our first-hand knowledge of our local people and situations.

The effect of Shields' challenge is to focus the discussion more upon biblical or theological principles than upon statistic or results. This is great. However, it is at this very point that I believe this chapter was the weakest.

Shields begins his chapter by stating that "the two core values under-girding this philosophy [family-based ministry] are flexibility and balance" (98, italics original). I knew as soon as I read this that he and I were on totally separate pages. I actually hope that Shields does not mean this in the way he has stated it. I assume that he is taking for granted the fact that the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice and just skipping ahead to the practical decisions that must be made in any ministry. But even if that is the case, let's think about what this means for the lived reality of the authority of Scripture. Shields identifies "the two core values" that guide his philosophy of ministry. This is pretty important. He has analyzed those things which are absolutely crucial to his way of ministering and has boiled it all down to two non-negotiables. Those two non-negotiables are "flexibility and balance."

Given the high priority of flexibility and balance, it would seem we are well within our rights to ask for some biblical justification for these two particular values and for making them core values. I'm not asking for a proof-text. I just want to know how a deep understanding of the entire corpus of Scriptural truth can lead one to distill flexibility and balance as the two core values for ministering to young people. There ought to be some connection, especially if one is going to claim that these are core values. Did Jesus make flexibility and balance his core values? Did Paul make flexibility and balance his core values? Even if one could argue that flexibility and balance enter into consideration at some point, it is extremely difficult to see how they could be classified as core values. Hence, I would argue that Shields' philosophy of ministry is grounded in pragmatism, whether he intends it to be or not.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that striving for "balance" can take us away from Scripturally ordered ministry (see Losing Our Balance for more thoughts on this). Balance almost always becomes defined according to personal or communal, not Scriptural, standards. By appealing to balance as a core ministry value, Shields calls into question whether he is a consistently Trinitarian thinker or not. He does not appear to recognize how our doctrine shapes the way we think about everything.

The concern over Shields pragmatism only grows when he challenges the regulative principle (112-14). I don't mind if he wants to challenge the regulative principle, per se, but I would like to see him do it in a way that shows a strong consideration of all the relevant biblical truth. Instead, what I find is strong pragmatic statements backed up by thin theological appeals. For example, he states strongly, "I believe that shifts in Western culture demand the establishment of youth ministry and other age-organized practices of ministry" (113). But the only two theological reasons he gives to back up this strong claim are the priority of evangelism and the requirements of Christian compassion, both of which are pretty general. So what is it in Shields' model which drives the actual practices of the church? This is why Paul Renfro responds that "sola cultura is precisely the problem with family-based ministry" (123).

I wish I could say more right now, but time forbids. Suffice it to say that, while I mildly criticized family-integrated proponents for insufficient theological bases, my criticism here is much stronger. I believe family-integrated proponents have the right ideal, even if they fail to live up to it. I believe family-based ministry, as represented in this chapter, is not biblically accurate in its ideals.

The Devil Wants to Devour You

God cares for you - this is wonderfully true. But this is not the whole story. It is also true that the devil seeks to devour you. Resting in God's care for you is not the same as relaxing, for Christians face a tremendous foe, who would like nothing more than to see suffering make you turn back from following the Savior. May our time together this Lord's Day equip you to be alert and to resist the devil.

Rejoice, the Lord Is King (#13)
How Firm a Foundation (#610)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (#588)
A Debtor to Mercy Alone (#614)
A Sovereign Protector I Have (#615)
Psalm 27b

Scripture Reading
Satan Defeated - Revelation 12 and 20

The Devil Wants to Devour You - 1 Peter 5:8-9

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Why I Love Jesus Christ

I love Jesus Christ because he introduced a better hope than the law provided, through which we draw near to God (Heb 7:19).